(All screenshots of messages are recreations of actual messages)
There are few birthdays more special than an 18th birthday, and few people more special than my sister, Amy. I honestly hate to admit it, but just a week ago, as I peered at her from over the little flames atop her birthday cake, I knew I could not have been more thankful that she was in my life. Sure, our parents were sharing stories of how we were always at each other’s throats when we were younger, and to this day we flip each other off at any slight inconvenience we cause one another. I seethe any time I catch her in my favorite top and she raises hell when I steal her chocolate. I find nothing more infuriating than the fact that Amy has four inches on me even though I’ve got two years on her. However, this is the girl who saved me from suffocating in a bouncy castle when I was 8 years old. This is the girl who took my hands and prayed for me in the comfort of her room. This is the girl who introduced me to Dustin, who became the love of my life when I was around Amy’s age.
If you read the first part of this series, you’ll know Dustin as anime-husbando incarnate – the boyfriend who I met online. But we are going to put my journey in an online relationship on hold for a bit. Let us first discuss Amy’s journey in an online relationship, from my point of view.
July 2016. My family and I were on our way home from vacation, but we were spending the night at a hotel in New Mexico. As usual, my sister and I were awake while our parents snored away in their separate bed. She and I laid with our backs turned to one another, scrolling through bright screens in a pitch-black room.
“Julie.” Her whisper caught my attention immediately, not only because it broke the silence, but because it held a shaky note of uncertainty. “I have to tell you something.”
“What is it?” I didn’t shut off my phone or even do so much as roll to face her. To be honest, I figured she probably just needed a tampon or something – no big deal, I came prepared.
“I have a boyfriend.”
Uhhh no she didn’t. I would have known right off the bat. Plus, it was the middle of summer break and there were no boys for miles. “Girl, I’m not falling for that.”
“No, seriously.” The quilts shuffled beside me, and her voice was a little clearer when she continued explaining, “I’ve known him for a year. I met him in my anime group chat just a few days after I created it.”
I rolled my eyes and rolled over to search hers for that lying twinkle. Instead, I found a nervous quiver as her eyes flitted from side to side, most likely scanning my face for any sign of judgement, which was only natural for her to expect from me with news like this. But instead, what she got was an ecstatic, “Tell me EVERYTHING.”
The guy’s name was Hiram. He lived on the Wyoming countryside with his large family. Hiram and Amy would talk on the phone each time Amy got the house to herself during her flute practice. The two of them even had a mock wedding on the anime group chat AND I WASN’T INVITED??? Amy allowed me to text Hiram that night, and what ensued was an awkward amount of fire emojis and sweating laughing faces on his part, but he seemed like a cute match for my sister.
The fact that Amy had kept her relationship a secret for an entire year boggled my mind, but I finally understood why I had always been denied entrance into her anime group chat, despite my incessant pleading. Hiram was very precious to her, and she couldn’t risk losing him to the potential disapproval of her family due to the nature of the relationship. Amy knew that she would have to spill the beans at some point if she wanted to close the distance, so I was the first person she ever told about Hiram’s existence.
“But you can’t tell Mom and Dad. I’m not ready yet.”
Back to the future – November 2016. Dustin and I were going strong, by a two-month, long distance relationship’s standards. As high school seniors, college was on both of our minds, so we frequently discussed the possibility of attending university together. We even toyed around with the idea of meeting up within that month, at a mall in my area. We were naïve and in love, so we both dreamed a little too much – heck, every dream I had at night included him.
None of this would have ever happened if my sister hadn’t allowed me to join her group chat, let alone introduce me to this Mr. Right. As I mentioned in Part 1, Amy and Dustin were friends, a fact that made me believe our relationship was meant to be…which was why the truth was so hard to swallow when I saw it.
“Julie.” Amy’s whisper caught my attention immediately, not only because it broke the silence, but because it held a shaky note of uncertainty. “I have to tell you something.”
“What is it?”
She handed me her phone, and this is what I saw:
I was shattered, but not just because the sight of this hurt. Everything about this message seemed to prove all the warnings I had been given by other people who knew Dustin.
“He’s a bit of a player.”
“He never seemed dangerous, but I’d be careful if I were you.”
“He likes the chase.”
As I’ve explained, I had chosen to ignore all these warnings, but now something more precious than my relationship was at stake – was Dustin trying to create drama in Amy and Hiram’s relationship? I confronted him immediately.
Looking back, it’s easy for me to ridicule myself. If I was true to myself and my sister, I would have cut things off right then and there. But in that moment, I believed Dustin. I thought of his face and his caring nature, how he always gave people advice and looked out for them. Would someone like that really try hurting his girlfriend and his girlfriend’s sister? Perhaps everyone really did just misunderstand him.
The following weeks were rocky between us. Dustin began taking longer to reply to me, but I tried to excuse it as “He’s just busy.” He wouldn’t text me until I texted him first in the mornings. Yet, he still told me “I love you” each night before we went to sleep. I told myself that the slump in our relationship was only natural – perhaps we were simply getting to that comfortable stage? Perhaps he felt bad about what he said to my sister? Or perhaps, we were forgetting how real our relationship was, despite it being online.
I was determined to show Dustin just how precious he was to me. I wanted to close the distance with him some day. So, in the security of my living room, I spilled the beans to Mom and Dad. I told them everything. I showed them pictures. I filled them in on all our cute moments. I informed them of Dustin’s part-time job, his family, his school background, etc.
Then, Amy entered the room with tears streaming down her streaks. “I don’t know how to say this, but…I have a boyfriend too.” She sat down next to me on our sofa and began relaying her story to our parents. She may have failed to stifle the sniffles and hiccups, but she had successfully overcome her fear. I was proud of her, but also of myself. Not only had I gathered up the courage to talk about my relationship, but I had created an environment in which my sister felt she could finally tell the truth about the man who meant everything to her. I didn’t even mind that I’d been cut off in the middle of talking about Dustin – Amy had every right to this moment.
To our surprise, our parents were quite accepting. My dad even believed that online relationships were ideal in this day in age, because it was easier for introverted people to connect and express themselves. That night, my sister and I went to sleep with a massive weight off our chests. We really couldn’t have reached this peace if we hadn’t been by each other’s side from the very beginning.
I texted Dustin all about my parents’ reaction to the news, knowing that his heart would be touched by the fact that I really did care about us.
I got his response the next morning.