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She’s Not Gonna Follow You Back, Bro

Twitter broadcasts the once-private shame of rejection to everyone on the World Wide Web — and #PleaseFollowMeBack tracks the most egregious cases

(Ringer illustration)
(Ringer illustration)

#PleaseFollowMeBack isn’t so much a hashtag as it is a state of m — well, hmm. Hang on.

In any courtship, there are instances of brutal, chest-clutching suspense, that seem to just stop whenever they feel like stopping. The dead air between call and response holds a small eternity in which your brain is attacked by pedantic, impossible, truly outrageous thoughts. Like, whether or not you said or typed “hi” wrong.

The knee-jerk response when presented with silence after sending a risky hello is, of course, to try to get to the bottom of why the object of your like is refusing to acknowledge your existence — and then to do all in your power to fix that silence, because it is unfamiliar and therefore wrong. You might think to send a teensy-weensy, friendly little follow-up message just to make sure they saw the first, you know, which … usually isn’t the best idea. It pronounces thirst where before you might’ve just been clumsily gesturing straight to your own desperation. But the incessant ???-ing also doesn’t factor in the possibility that Would-Be Boo might’ve actually seen “[‘sapiosexual’ voice] I appreciate how you be reading books, ma,” not laughed, and just continued living her life. If it feels as though any of this is directed specifically at you, it is important to remember that I am also sort of still talking about myself.

Following so far? OK. Thus far we’ve been talking about the private shame of indifferent rejection. While it may certainly sting, this variety of embarrassment is felt by you, known by maybe one other person or three more who happen to be looking on in person or in a group chat. Now expand the idea of a crush past tangible romantic interests to also include imaginary ones, and picture it all happening somewhere more aggressively public than in text messages or Gchats, which are still sort of public. Like, picture an amphitheater where anyone can end up onstage. #PleaseFollowMeBack on Twitter is basically that, in terms of setting.

Because it happens on Twitter — with the balance of getting no likes but without the IRL check of seeing a person’s face curdle as your joke falls flat — you can just keep upping the ante, never having to look at your cards. The thought that you could be annoying your intended may never even cross your mind. To be fair, there are at least 18 known cases of #WeMetOnTwitter, each adorable and YouTube-short worthy in its own special way. But those operated on a basis of mutual interest, like the beginning of every other kind of relationship. Those wayward souls that end up on #PleaseFollowMeBack make a grand misstep in even assuming mutual awareness. (I suppose I should note that women do this too, but I shouldn’t have to, because it’s really only dudes.)

#PleaseFollowMeBack is amazing, in the way that watching someone else fall on their face usually is, when everything else kind of sucks and you’re completely gone off the schadenfreude. People have been proverbially standing in the proverbial stocks at proverbial midday since screenshots, but before Twitter users @NarcoReus and @big_business_ I don’t think I had such a neat term for it. There is a grand taxonomy of #PleaseFollowMeBack tweets, as they can take many forms. Just like overtures in real life. There’s laughing too hard at a joke you can’t possibly think is that funny. There’s route-one excessive flattery, with complete disregard for the sender’s dignity. There’s the obvious Will Smith trying to bag in The Fresh Prince one-liners.

These displays of blatancy usually aren’t that serious because how could they be?

True enough, when you like someone who doesn’t know you, there is virtually no way to approach them that won’t make you function as at least a little bit of a nuisance. You are encouraged to shoot your shot, obviously. But you should also know that, if you miss the whole entire basket, by a lot, the crowd is well within its right to chant “air ball.” It’s the social contract.

Congratulating people for having interests is sort of how flirting works, but displays like this skip over actually discussing whatever the interest is, which I have to imagine was the point in the first place. In theory, it could just be an appreciation tweet, as people do those. Either way, you forced it.

Of course, these pursuits aren’t always romantic. Sometimes you just want to make friends. And everybody knows the best way to make friends is to neg somebody — it doesn’t really matter who — to give yourself a leg up over the masses to that great, big cool kids’ table in the sky. In the clouds. Cloud? On the internet, whatever.

That was a joke; this is actually the worst way to make friends. Though there is this other way that’s kind of volunteering as a confessor, or to soothe a conscience you feel needs absolving …

(Twitter)
(Twitter)

….which is actually just falling on your sword so that a singular white woman can feel better about using a word she shouldn’t have, and also hopefully notice you — and maybe even follow you back. That’s probably the second-worst way, my “ni&&a.”

For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the follow-back, but still end up out here looking very weak?