The Month I Dated An Invisible Girl

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I am not one to make a vainglorious display of my love life. I’ve never broadcasted my relationship status on Facebook, and do not intend to until (or unless) I get married. Having entered adulthood in the era of over sharing, I’ve witnessed too many messy, public rows, status updates composed of passive aggressive song lyrics, or mischievous third parties “liking” someone else’s break up, to want to throw my own business into the rapacious fray. I did create a show based loosely on one of my real relationships, but even then, my co-creator called me a squirrel to her peacock; while she is given to declaring her most intimate secrets to a room-full of strangers, I tend to protectively stow away the details of my interpersonal life from everyone save my closest friends. This dynamic played out in our fictionalized characters, too.

One might not think a squirrel-person would fall into the ideal demographic to use a service intended to dupe peers into believing you’re in a relationship. But I’m also endlessly curious, having already dabbled in most online dating resources, including those not explicitly intended for dating. So, when AfterEllen posed the challenge to try out and write about a new beta site that invites you to “build a girlfriend that works for you,” it was a concept novel and end-of-days enough to catch my interest, and I enthusiastically accepted.   

One month, ten voicemails, and 100 text messages later, I’m grateful to be on the other side of this passionless affair. Invisible Girlfriend is a service that seems to shoot for the recreation of Joaquin Phoenix’s relationship to Scarlett Johannson in Spike Jonze’s Her, but in practice lands closer to dating a tamagotchi. Yet, despite the absurdity of this social experiment, I did experience a range of real emotions as a result of engaging in this artificial intimacy. 

Building A Narrative

Upon entering in your credit card information on Invisible Girlfriend, a bright and clean interface guides you through choosing one face among several, racially diverse stock photos.  You are then prompted to select a name for your girlfriend. I opted to use the random name generator, which christened my new girlfriend with the Midwestern-sounding, good-girl moniker of “Erin Vickie Lawson.” I made her 37 years old, which has historically been a good age for me to date.

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A free-form question asked me to describe our origin story. I rattled off something pompous about meeting at a wine tasting in Sonoma County.

I was impressed by the epically long drop-down menu of choices for gender. From pangender to two-spirit, every conceivable gender identity was covered, including many I’d never heard of.

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Strangely, the optional selections for Erin’s personal interests were comparatively clipped. The site offered a mere 17 special interests, compared to the dozens of gender identities. Erin could be “androgyne” or “neutrois” but she could only like a bizarrely specific handful of things like “dressage” or “debate club”. It was as if the set-up page was created by a Gender Studies Phd with the extracurricular interests of a Barbie doll.

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Finally, I was asked to identify the reason I wanted an Invisible Girlfriend. “I’m a journalist or reporter…” felt a bit too on-the-nose, and “crushing loneliness” wasn’t an option, so I went with “I want to focus on my work but keep up the appearance of having a relationship.” Other conceivable reasons included using this tool to hide your sexuality from your family, or the especially healthy option of making an ex jealous.

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