I track Jason’s location compulsively on Find My Friends. I have his location because we all shared them in freshman year in a nine person group chat we still use. Some weeks, at my best, I only check every couple of days. Other weeks, at my worst, it’s hourly. I thank god he’s a homebody —only at school, his apartment, Wendy’s, or occasionally Jack in the Box. The compulsion parallels my Belieber days, when I would spend hours scrolling through stan accounts on Twitter for clues of Justin Bieber’s most current whereabouts. I often feel more like a crazed fan of Jason’s than his secretly infatuated friend. It’s fitting they both share the same initials. I’ve coveted both my JBs from afar, spending years dreaming about them, wondering what it would be like to be with them.
Yet, there was something so intensely thrilling about fandom. Every new tweet, interview, or music video felt like Christmas. Obsession, mania, and passion compelled everything I did. I saw his documentary, Never Say Never, 17 times in theater. Every viewing was in 3D, except for the last, because by then I had run out of babysitting money. Every fact I knew —from his exact birth time to the last place he was seen— gave me a sense of ownership over him. Clearly, I was experiencing a strong sense of delusion, but it was all part of the appeal. Our love, or more accurately my unrequited infatuation, was its own reality. It had no rules and no end. It could never hurt me. And it couldn’t leave me because I conceived it.
The same could not be said for my real love life. I used to chase down Matt on the playground every day to see where I ranked on his list of crushes. I never made it above position seven. A year later, I’d be crushed during games of spin the bottle when a boy who ate his boogers and glued his hands together made faces of disgust when the bottle landed on me. My sixth grade crush, Alex, would lead me on over Gmail chat, eluding to his crush I always hoped was on me, but inevitably was always on someone else. I wrote a poem about how IM’ing with him felt like climbing up a slide. Just as I was about to reach the top, my foot would inevitably lose traction and skid down, desperately grasping at anything that could help me keep my progress.
This sentiment echoed in high school with Theo —a brooding, intense, soccer player with glacial blue eyes and hair almost as dark as his demons. He’d call me after he self-harmed. I’d drive right over, the road blurry from a steady stream of tears, and pleaded with him to stop. He always asked me why there weren’t other girls like me — which I tacitly understood to mean someone with my heart and mind, but a differently shaped body. He actually might have loved me, if he wasn’t so concerned with the fact that I was thirty pounds heavier than any girl he would ever admit to liking. He would never know the scars he left on my self-esteem. And then there was a mutual friend named Julian, whose offer to "check out" the empty house his mom had just bought, I naively accepted. When we got to his room there was just a pillow and a blanket on the floor. Even though I wasn’t interested, I didn’t feel powerful enough to communicate it. Mute, I took off every article of clothing he told me to.
There was a sense of safety and control in fandom I couldn’t recreate in my real life. “In the fantasy land of boy bands, the girl has all the power,” a fellow fan succinctly explained. With Jason and a couple of other boys I’ve pined over, I’ve reproduced the distance of fandom that’s provided a, perhaps distorted, sense of power. I have all the control if it’s one-sided. But I also have no agency.
I’ve spent many nights in bed, playing Rex Orange County’s “Best Friend” on repeat while I filled my journal with entries about my feelings for Jason. They were complicated, mainly because he was too simple. Just like a child, he’s content with a screen in front of him. He could take or leave interpersonal relationships. He has to be begged to leave the house to socialize. Which is made more challenging because he doesn’t answer texts even though he’s glued to his phone. Despite what it sounds like, he has redeeming qualities, too. He’s very intelligent, a history and anthropology major full of random facts and statistics acquired from years spent in different black holes of the internet. If you spend any time in his orbit, you’ll pick up his contagious personal idioms. Once he feels comfortable, his extroverted side fills a room like the smell of freshly baked cookies.
But even if you know him well, he closes off parts of himself by only sharing the surface of his thoughts and memories. There’s breadth. We’ve talked about a myriad of topics in these last three and a half years, covering family to religion, hometowns to politics, and music to history. He has told me, fondly, about the summers he’s spent fishing, building, and cooking in the Faroes. He’s told me he always has and always will love the Sacramento Kings and no scoreboard could ever change that. But it all lacks depth. He won’t tell me why he thinks his aunt and uncle shouldn’t have adopted the child they did. He’s never told me why he thinks he won’t ever get married, just that he won’t.
I often think about how little I know about him. I don’t know if he’s ever been in love. I don’t know what kind of music he listens to when walking to class. I don’t know his cat’s name. I don’t know what scares him. I try to use his actions, or more accurately, his inaction to discern what he’s thinking or feeling. When he lets my calls go to voicemail and only responds to a handful of texts I’ve sent, I find myself thinking, why does he hate me? Or when I reflect on how he’s never initiated spending time together I deduce he doesn’t like being around me.
Yet, he has driven from Sacramento to Los Angeles to spend the week with me and our mutual friend. His feeling comfortable staying at my house during a music festival showed me he considers us close. And what little time he does spend socializing outside of his house he spends with me. The discrepancy between how when I’m with him I can tell he cares about me, but when we’re not together it’s like I don’t exist, gnaws at me. The dissonance I experience —in yearning for someone who confuses and infuriates me—creates a tension I would miss if it disappeared. He’s a puzzle that seems unsolvable, frustrating yet also motivating.
My relationship to Justin Bieber draws parallels but was different. While I loved him and was convinced I knew him, I realize now I was only familiar with a manicured version him, the one his management team produced. A version further distorted by my fantasy of who I wanted him to be. Nonetheless, I spent a lot of time trying to know him. I consumed hours of interviews, checked his Twitter “Likes” tab daily, and tried glimpse the “real” him through fan-posted videos of impromptu run-ins. But it wasn’t until several years after my intense Belieber stage that I got to know Justin more authentically. Headlines about DUIs, strippers, and vandalism gave me insight to his wild side. I became aware of his depression that had emerged from missing out on a normal boyhood and never being given the room to make mistakes. And even though he always thanked God, overnight he became emphatically religious. His Instagram filled with posts about his church and holy experiences. While it finally gave me insight into a more genuine version of Justin, I wasn’t drawn to what I saw. The illusion of the Justin I built fell apart when the reality of him became harder to hide.
I fear someday the same will happen with Jason. Sometimes I wonder whether the feelings I have for him are based in reality enough to make a relationship work. Do I like him or the version of him that exists in my head? The rendition that lacks his nuances, the Jason I’ve embellished? I’ve filled in his gaps with my own guesses and hopes. Without telling him I’ll never know how accurate I’ve been. Even though I feel comfortable in his ignorance, I’m dominated by “what-ifs” that fuel my interest. Despite having valued security over possibility, I am brutally aware that in order to experience reciprocated love, I’m going to have to give up my sense of safety.
I frequently consider telling Jason how I feel about him. Furtive glances and reading into things he’s said are less enthralling than they used to be. I’ve written a letter I’ll never give him; it’s too formal for a boy who exclusively wears basketball shorts and flip flops. Plus, if he doesn’t know, there’s still potential —like Schrodinger’s cat. He both loves me back and doesn’t. I always thought wondering was better than knowing, partially because I love in a way that surpasses the need for return and partially because it keeps the possibility open and alive. Both came from fandom. I don’t regret my Belieber days because being in love with Justin was exciting and gave me a sense of control, but it instilled a passivity in me keeping me from what I want. I need to break my comfortable cycle of privately pining after an idealized version of my romantic interest and welcome in the discomfort of reality.
This piece was composed in a creative non-fiction class. The assignment was to write something that followed the guidelines of the New York Times Modern Love column.
This piece demonstrates my ability to write authentically and share my persoanl experiences with the world. It also highlights both my delusion and my self-awareness of it.