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He Sent Me a DM. How Do I Tell If It’s Love?


In this weekly advice column by John Paul Brammer, we tackle the evasive task of finding self-worth online.

Welcome to !Hola Papi!, the advice column where John Paul Brammer helps people work through their anxieties, fears, and life's queerest questions. If you need advice, send him a question at

!Hola Papi!

I have a modern, relatable, and ultimately meaningless problem for you. Like many of your readers, I follow tons of people on both Twitter and Instagram. My relationships tend to fall into similar camps on both platforms. Either we're good online friends, good IRL friends, fav-but-don't-chat acquaintances, flirty and sexty in the DMs, or entirely non-communicative. Same behaviors, different platforms.

There's this one boy, though, who loves me on Twitter but seems pained by the idea of holding any conversation on Insta. Like, he constantly RTs and favs me, but when I reply to his stories I get a simple like or a two-word answer. He seems to only want me for my dad jokes, not my dad bod. I haven't been overly thirsty, and I always respect people's boundaries, but he seems like someone I'd like to get to know more, and I don't know, aren't people supposed to be attracted to personality?

Anyway, Papi, my brain is absolutely broken by the internet at this point, but I was wondering how you'd reconcile all this. Sorry for the absolute dumbest first-world BS you'll ever receive.

Down in the DMs

Hey there, D in the DMs!

No worries about writing in with first-world problems. That's the world I live in myself, and it sounds like you're experiencing something many internet queers can relate to: unrequited online thirst.

I don't think there are mixed messages here. Someone can like your tweets while not wanting to get chatty with you. He might enjoy your sense of humor or your online presence, but that doesn't necessarily mean he wants to go any deeper than that. He's not doing anything wrong. Most of us have had ill-fated ventures into the DMs, and you're doing the right thing by not pushing it and respecting his boundaries.

In terms of advice, we could probably stop there. But that wouldn't be very fun, would it? And if you're anything like me, you're at least a little interested in the why of people's online behavior, especially in this queer digital space we live and languish in. So here's one Twitter-addled, promiscuous homosexual's take on the broader situation, take it or leave it.

Online thirst is a natural byproduct of social media's general goal to produce desire: for a lifestyle, for a following, for human connection, and, sure, for stuff. All kinds of stuff. Instagram knows exactly what kind of stuff I want. They shove ads in my face of pretty boy models in mesh tops and billowy pants and, you know what? I want that stuff. I think that stuff would look nice on me and make me feel a lot better. So, it's working!

But the point is, envy is the language of social media, and while social media is a great tool for meeting people and for throwing digital tomatoes at former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, it's important to keep in mind that, by design, these platforms rely on a visual vocabulary of exclusivity. Or in other words, social media brands and personalities only work by being aspirational. You can't actually have them or touch them, but they give the illusion that you can. That's what we in the biz call "engagement."

This isn't just true for big companies and "influencers," mind you. It's true for most people on social media, and "thirst traps" advertising chiseled bodies or angular jawlines or whatever gets you going aren't the only way to do it. With what you post, what you decide to retweet, and who you choose to engage with, you can signal taste: good humor, politically savvy, an admirable, contrarian edge that says, "Yes, I live in Brooklyn and I am a dumpster, but at least I'm smarter than you." It's not the same as "thirst," per se. But isn't it?

I'm not saying everyone on social media is a big phony setting out to deceive people. I do think, however, that social media offers a unique set of handy tools toward that end, and, hell, I think most people online are trying to deceive themselves before anyone else. I mean, when I make a joke, I'm trying to make people laugh, but I also want to affirm myself that, yes, I'm funny and therefore a worthwhile human endeavor. Don't get me wrong. I've made a lot of great friends and plenty of useful connections because of Twitter. Using it is also rotting my brain and making me feel inadequate on a daily basis.

It's important to remember that these feelings are normal -- necessary, even, for the social media ecosystem to function. If we were all content with ourselves, confident in our abilities, and leading fulfilling personal lives with satisfying sex, what would the point of logging on be? Keeping up with world events? Those are depressing. We could just share memes about existential dread, I guess, the only true, ethical and democratic use of any platform. But as it stands, want is the fuel of social media culture, and it's a want that can't ever be met, otherwise there'd be little point

In your case, Down in the DMs, this guy probably isn't interested in developing a personal friendship with you or in sexting with you. That's fine. Other people will be. But your quest to get some reciprocity out of this parasocial relationship sounds quixotic, and it's the kind of dynamic many of us have with our "thirst follows," be they of the intellectual or sensual sort. Remember that this is the name of the social media game, as it were, and it's not a unique situation. If it's bugging you or making you feel worse about yourself, unfollow or mute him and move on with your life, online and off.

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