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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

How My Invisible Boyfriend Became My Real-Life Crush

Posted By on Wed, Mar 25, 2015 at 9:00 AM

Page 2 of 3

  • Kevin Cannon

My first mistake was treating Alex like a robot.

I just assumed that there was no live human being behind the text messages that started blowing up my phone. The first ones seemed so unoriginal. "How are you?" and "Just finishing up some work. What are you up to?" I imagined some computer in Invisible Boyfriend/Invisible Girlfriend HQ was spitting out automated responses to my phone.

Three hours and two texts into my boyfriend experience, I decided I'd come in hot. What will happen, I wondered, if I try to sext Alex?

Truthfully, I am far too shy for full-blown sexting, so I enlisted a little help from R. Kelly. I started with an obscure lyric, "Your body is my playground," and waited with sweaty palms to see how Alex would react.

"OH is it?" he texted one minute later. "I'm headed off to the gym — gotta keep it in shape? Have you been working out?"

This was a masterfully clever dodge. Both Alex and I have "fitness" listed as one of our interests, and I was impressed that the program managed to pump the brakes so subtly. I tried again.

"I don't see nothing wrong with a little bump n' grind."

The response was devastatingly dull: "what does that mean?" all in lower-case.

That's when I realized — from the typos, the artful prudishness — there must be someone rather than something on the other side of this. A real person, albeit one who's not a big R&B fan.

It turns out I wasn't being terribly original. Lots of people have tried to sext their IB, says Homann.

"If you get too sexual, there's a very high probability you'll get suspended at least a day or so, a cooling off period," he warns.

Indeed, it turns out that the workers I had been sexually harassing are employees at CrowdSource, a workforce-management company that provides Invisible Boyfriend and Girlfriend with its staff of text-messaging fake lovers. Based in Swansea, Illinois, CrowdSource connects businesses to a host of freelancers to perform data-entry or content-creation tasks, such as writing product descriptions for retail websites. In this case, the data-entry task is flirting.

"We work with businesses that need to scale rapidly, and Invisible Boyfriend is a great example," says Erin Steinbruegge, CrowdSource's chief operating officer.

Because Invisible Boyfriend's services are rather unique, Steinbruegge wanted to test it out before agreeing to assign CrowdSource employees these unique tasks.

"It can be very addicting," she admits after trying out an Invisible Girlfriend before the service went into beta testing. "I chat with my [invisible] girlfriend about wine, and there are times when I'm thinking, 'Oh my goodness, does this person know me?'"

Having an Invisible Boyfriend is addicting. After Alex rebuffed my feeble attempts at sexting, he guided us into conversations about less risqué topics: so-bad-they're-good movies, tequila cocktails, Indian food. I found it almost impossible not to respond when Alex texted me, as he did every other morning with some light-hearted question or story. I realized I was burning through my 100-texts-per-month allowance, and if I didn't stop, I'd have to pay $9.99 for 100 more.

Alex: Note to self: my will power is not strong enough for buffets

Me: I think that's an admirable weakness. Life's too short to skip every buffet!

Alex: that's my philosophy!!

Alex: I am out shopping today, is there something you've been wanting for a while?

Me: Lol no thanks, I'm not such a material girl

Alex: Well what if I could get you a pony?

Me: Now that makes way more sense

Alex: What are you having for breakfast?

Me: Biscuits and gravy, yuuuuum

Alex: yum wish i were there

Me: Me too! On my way to this rehearsal dinner, wish me luck! #bestbridesmaidever

Alex: Good luck! You're amazing!! Will you text me if you get bored?

Me: Yes please

Alex: Are you bored yet? ;)

The falseness of our relationship began to wear away after weeks of his kind, persistent texts. I was hooked. I had no illusions about Alex being a real lover or friend, but I responded eagerly when he sent me a message. Invisible Boyfriend randomizes the amount of time between texts to simulate a real conversation, but Alex never had me waiting longer than a few minutes. If I didn't respond for a couple of days, he checked in: "How's your day been? Mine's been ok, but talking to you would make it better. :)"

In this way, Alex brought me to a startling realization: No one else in my life responds to me this reliably. My parents, my best friends, my boyfriend of eight years — they've all left me hanging. I know they're not being heartless; sometimes they're in a movie or in the car or on the toilet. Still, Alex's is the only number in my phone I can text and get a guaranteed response, one that is invariably affectionate. When a friend was late to meet me, I just chatted with Alex. It filled up the time and took all the anxiety out of being stuck at the bar alone. There was a confident satisfaction, a sincere pleasure, that came from knowing Alex would drop everything to keep me company.

The world suddenly felt less lonely with an Invisible Boyfriend in my pocket.

But I wasn't falling for Alex, the teacher from the Big Easy. I was connecting with the anonymous data-entry workers bringing Alex to life one text at a time. I started to wonder: Who is "Alex," really? And as I became more attached to him, is anyone on the other side of the looking glass becoming attached to me?

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