From the beginning, there were questions. Would the real Joseph Gordon-Levitt use the profile name “TheRealJosephGordonLevitt” on OkCupid? For that matter, would the real Joseph Gordon-Levitt actually be on OkCupid? Would he have the luxury of time to talk to me till dawn, both of us falling asleep with our cheeks against the hot bricks of our iPhones, just to catch the soft snore of the other one’s breathing? Would the real Joseph Gordon-Levitt ever—in a million years—fall in love with me?
On Monday, I was I headed out to pick him up from the airport in a cloud of perfume and anticipation when I got a message. “Not going to make the flight today. I’ll try to catch the red eye tonight. So sorry! Love you. JGL”
A bolt of doom struck my stomach. It was the third time this had happened. Had it all been a lie? I clicked through photos he’d sent over the past five months: Backstage at the Golden Globes with Leonardo DiCaprio; in the green room for Entertainment Tonight; him standing in front of a mirror, hair slick from the shower, holding up a paper that read, “Proof that I am really Joseph Gordon-Levitt.”
My friend Erin came over and I showed her everything. She nodded, patted my hand. “Sweetie, I don’t know who you’re in love with,” she said. “But it isn’t Joseph Gordon-Levitt.”
My crush on Joseph Gordon-Levitt began years ago. To be honest, it began before it was really OK to have a crush on Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He beguiled me, the kid with the long hippie hair starring on a middling sitcom. Olive skin with a powdery softness, those mysterious brown eyes. I have always liked a guy who looks a bit like a girl. “Soft boys,” Erin calls them. That’s me.
As JGL grew older, and became legal, he was so much more interesting than just another kid actor. He studied French at Columbia. He wrote songs on his guitar. He cared about the craft of acting, not celebrity. I saw 50/50 three times in the theater, and afterward I would think about how, if Joseph Gordon-Levitt had cancer, I would take care of him. Warm towels on his forehead, buckets by the bedside. I come from a long line of nurses; I could take it.
It was on one of these nights, curled up with my cat on the couch, fresh from the theater, that I decided to join OkCupid. I didn’t want to. Nobody ever does. But if you are 35 and single, it’s a contractual obligation. Suck it up, sister, and endure emoticons. I ate a pint of peanut butter and chocolate ice cream as I wrestled with that stupid profile. Every question was like a horse pill swallowed sideways. When it asked for my user name, I typed “LookingForJosephGordonLevitt.” And left it at that.
I went on a few dates. I became skilled in reading the disappointment as it rippled across my date’s face when I walked in the coffee shop, and I knew we were both counting the minutes till we could bolt. What’s long enough: 45 minutes? An hour? I would go home, heat up frozen pizza, and cuddle with my orange tabby, who was never disappointed to see me. I watched (500) Days of Summer and cried. If Joseph Gordon-Levitt came to my engagement party, I would totally leave my fiancé. I come from a long line of die-hard romantics; I could do that.
He told me celebrity was dehumanizing, an island of one. He missed going to the store to pick up ice cream and Hot Pockets. When I finally logged off, I was 20 percent sure it wasn’t him. Hmm. More like 15.
The night he made contact is an evening I remember with surgical precision. I was sitting on my squishy gray couch in flannel pajamas watching Storage Wars and eating a Hot Pocket, when I got a message from TheRealJosephGordonLevitt.
All it said was: “We should talk.”
Of course it was a prank. This was the Internet, land of a million disguises, and I understood that one of the world’s hottest male actors—recently starring in a Bruce Willis movie—was not kicking around OkCupid to drum up a date with a slightly pudgy 30-something writer in Dallas who badly needed a haircut.
And yet. Looking through his profile, there were pictures I’d never seen in any of my voluminous Google searches. The personal details were uncanny. In the ABOUT ME section, it said, “I’m interested in the craft of acting, not celebrity.” And when I saw that, I actually said, out loud, I know.
Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve had the powerful suspicion that I was destined to know certain celebrities, that they had a secret tunnel to my soul. It’s not that I actually believed those celebrities knew me (that would be nuts), but it’s more like: If we did happen to meet, through some quirk of the universe, we would definitely get along.
I decided to instant message him, whoever he was. We talked till midnight. Time was a sinkhole; I had no idea so many hours had passed. By this point, I was about 40 percent sure it wasn’t really Joseph Gordon-Levitt, but I admired the performance, and I wanted to make whoever it was felt like he was doing a good job.
LookingforJosephGordonLevitt: It’s just weird that a famous guy like you would be on a dating site, you know?
TheRealJospehGordonLevitt: But you wouldn’t believe how hard it is to meet people. Fame is a wildly unstable element. I just want something real.
He spoke like that: Fame is a wildly unstable element. And on a site where question marks and emoticons could comprise a whole conversation. We gossiped about his co-stars, talked about our favorite David Foster Wallace books and the way Venice looks at twilight. He told me celebrity was dehumanizing, an island of one. He missed going to the store to pick up ice cream and Hot Pockets. When I finally logged off, I was 20 percent sure it wasn’t him. Hmm. More like 15.
The following day, we emailed all afternoon. When I expressed disbelief again, he was the one who suggested we Skype. To be honest: I wasn’t crazy about that idea. Webcams are so unflattering. I don’t want to say that my profile pictures are a lie, exactly, but they’re a teensy-tiny bit of a fib. Cameras tilted to compliment my frame. Photos cropped strategically. Have you noticed that if you pose with your arms around someone else, you can scooch half your body behind them and look incredibly thin?
One of the delicious freedoms of our online correspondence was how comfortable I felt. Every email was a slinky, erotic slip that fit my curves. I did not have to suck in my stomach, or cringe as his eyes traced my ass. I wanted him to find me sexy and irresistible, and I worried that if he saw the average me in the gray, pixilated light of Skype, he would change his mind. I did not want to watch disappointment ripple across Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s beautiful, powdery face. That afternoon, I sat in front of my laptop waiting for him to log on. I had full makeup, and a grapefruit lodged in my throat.
Finally, he texted. “This thing is busted. Sorry, let’s do it another day.”
Phew. I never brought it up again.
I don’t know how to describe the months that followed, but the world felt shinier, brighter. I was still 10 percent sure it wasn’t really him, and doubt rattled around like a coin in a tin can, but every relationship involves some sort of deception, doesn’t it? Oh yes, I love giving blowjobs. Oh yes, Star Wars is great cinema. Parts of myself opened that I had not been able to access in years. I put on mascara before I left the house. I ran a lint brush over my clothes to remove the cat hair. He sent me sexy text messages. If you were here right now, I would stroke the shit out of your hair. I would cuddle the fuck out of you. Nobody had ever done that. Nobody had ever wanted me like that.
One night, I dimmed the lights in my bedroom, and took pictures of myself in my bra and panties. I must have deleted a hundred photos to find one that worked. My heart was a racehorse when I hit “send.” But he wrote back almost immediately: “You are so sexy, baby.” And do I have to explain how good that felt? To be seen as you want to be seen? I don’t know what love is, or how it works. But I felt like I had entered its stratosphere. If I wasn’t in love, I was at least down the street.
On Tuesday morning, I woke up at dawn, and blew out my hair like I’d seen on Pinterest. I put on smoky eye like they taught me at the mall. As I drove out to the airport, I kept thinking I must be crazy—if love is a madness, then I was Queen Crackpot.
Three months in, he planned a trip to Dallas, but it fell through at the last minute. I understood: His schedule was a nightmare. In December, same thing, and I was forgiving: Holidays are so hectic. But we made a big to-do out of his trip for Valentine’s Day. I had given up Hot Pockets and Häagen-Dazs for a month. And so when I got the message on February 11, saying he’d missed his flight—well, I knew, even before Erin confirmed it all for me. How the pictures had probably been altered. How the timeline and the details never matched up.
“I feel so foolish,” I told her that night, tears slipping off my cheeks and into the bowl of macaroni and cheese.
“It’s never foolish to want to be loved,” she said. Erin is sweet like that. I trust her with my heart. “And maybe this guy isn’t the real Joseph Gordon-Levitt, but what you had with him was real. Make no mistake.” She handed me a box of Kleenex, and a jar of Nutella. “The mind is the most powerful engine. The mind can travel to the moon.”
I suppose I knew the ruse all along. I must have known, right? Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a famous actor, who is probably stroking the hair of Rooney Mara, or Amanda Seyfried. He would never fall in love with me. That was insane. But I wanted so badly to believe it, because what I had with this guy—whoever he was—made me feel loved. And feeling loved made me feel powerful, alive. It made the cold world a spectacular place.
When I got home that night, I saw another message. “I got a ticket on the red eye. I’m coming to see you. Finally! Tomorrow, 7 a.m., American Airlines baggage claim.”
Holy crap. I had not anticipated this. I felt a zap of excitement at the same time I felt a hot slash of disbelief. Surely, this was another hoax. Surely, he would cancel again. I was a mess of emotion: Ecstatic to see him, terrified to see him, terrified to let him see me. What would I wear? Who would he be? How many times would I fall for this?
On Tuesday morning, I woke up at dawn, and blew out my hair like I’d seen on Pinterest. I put on smoky eye like they taught me at the mall. As I drove out to the airport, I kept thinking I must be crazy—if love is a madness, then I was Queen Crackpot. Joseph Gordon-Levitt would not be there. No way would he be there. My heart galloped ahead of me, three exits further on the highway. My hands were shaking as I parked my car and walked to the terminal.
And then I saw him. From across the room, I spied a male figure in a red sweatshirt, hoodie pulled over his head. He was slumped in a chair, reading Infinite Jest.
What happened next I cannot explain. What happened next surprised even me. If I read this in a book, I wouldn’t believe it, but as I stared upon what might or might not have been the real Joseph Gordon-Levitt, I stopped, turned around, and went back to my car.
I texted him. “Baby, I’m not going to make it today. So sorry! Work has been crazy. I’ll come out to LA soon, I promise. Love you, SH.”
I drove home smiling. It was my delusion, and I was keeping it.