The day I met Omar, I excitedly told Bart and Peter about him. They responded with indifference. To be fair, we had all repeatedly fallen in love on first meeting, and it rarely failed to crash and burn. “What kind of attention does he require?” Peter asked. This was our way of saying “What kind of persona does he show on social media, and does it make him totally off-putting?” I had, of course, already searched for Omar on Instagram, and found nothing. “That’s like a jackpot!” said Bart. “He’s got a nameless account, if he even has an account at all.” In other words, it meant he doesn’t solicit feedback from total strangers for duck-faced selfies or suggestive, shirtless, “candid” bedtime shots. “He acts his age,” said Peter. “So he can stay.” Bart chimed in: “Meanwhile, my juvenile boyfriend is still acting his age.” He displayed Tyler’s somewhat smutty—and very public—Instagram account. It reeked of youth, of needing intervention.
One thing Sam never did with his clients was supervise their social media accounts, which I thought was a big oversight. I got in a sparring match with Tyler over his own shirtlessness that was smeared across his Instagram. “Every other person is doing it,” he said. “Plus, I’ve worked hard for this body, and I like when people remind me that I look good.” “But you know you look good,” I told him. “Why are you building a foundation of validation from total strangers, and, to be quite frank, creepy perverts?” I showed him a few examples of comments. One said “ohhh, yah, wish u were in dallas so i culd lick lick lick that mmmmhmm.” Another: “damn boyy, makin this hunny wanna slurp.” It was hard to keep a straight face after reading those: “Why is it that you invite this into your life?”
Tyler thought Bart would side with him, but the truth was, Bart was half the reason I got so adamant with Tyler about his online presence in the first place. He had called me one afternoon, furious after Tyler posted a photo of himself wrapped in bedsheets. The caption said “waking up alone. want to make me breakfast?” “I was in the kitchen, making him breakfast,” Bart exclaimed. “And he doesn’t understand why this is an issue.” A couple pop-culture blogs had picked it up, and even worse, the tumblr-sphere. So I pounced on Tyler: “You will not be taken seriously as an actor if this is your fallback. You’ve got a good role, and it’s supposed to be your first real impression for people. Do you think the studio wants this kind of buzz around you? Don’t you think the people who see you as a piece of meat will have a hard time taking you seriously as a dramatic actor? How do you WANT people to perceive you? Fix it. Now.”
My friends and I are very skeptical of social media anymore, because so often we know the real story that counters what someone is telling the world. When you work in film or theater and know the basics of character development, you know that each person has three dimensions: how he views himself, how others view him, and how he THINKS others view him. It is these three things that formulate an individual’s point of view and shape his behavior. Social media is creating a fourth dimension: how we WANT people to view us, and it blurs the first three dimensions. The sad truth is that it works, it fools people. You can send an optimistic status update or post a perfectly juxtaposed image, only to get heaps of support and validation from your friends and followers, earning positive reinforcement for something that may not be authentic. But there, just cropped out of frame, or filtered away, or tucked between your words, is the stuff you would never share. It’s that which we don’t want validation for—the ugly side of that fourth dimension—, and no fake social currency will obscure it from the depths of one’s own mind.
Aside from knowing that Tyler wasn’t ready to tell his followers that he had a boyfriend, Bart’s main frustration was that Tyler didn’t seem to appreciate the encouragement that he, Bart, was providing: “I compliment him almost daily about his fitness progress, and Lord knows how much I have to pamper him when we rehearse his lines. And yet, nothing in return but a simple ‘Thanks,’ as if to say ‘Yeah, I know. You’re stating the obvious.'” I reminded Bart that this was a common complaint from people who dated actors. “Sure, but actors should be good at giving compliments, right?” Bart replied. “Or at least giving fake ones, since they hear them enough. Why won’t he compliment me the same way? I’m in great shape, I can hold court with him no problem. Maybe he’s so used to all of those disgusting Instagram catcalls that mine feel too plain and obvious? I’m not about to tell him ‘damn boyy, makin this hunny wanna slurp.’ I’m not.”
The honeymoon was over for Tyler and Bart, but everything was fine in the grand scheme. Bart was patient but more vocal with his requests of his boyfriend, which only echoed my own. Gradually, in place of Tyler’s somewhat desperate selfies were photos of cast readings from the film set, or shots of his hairdresser’s dog, or a sunset run on the pier with Bart in the frame: “Jogging and talking life with my best friend Bart,” it said. Every client presents a unique set of problems, and this had simply been one of Tyler Weiland’s. It was my job to notice progress, and to validate each of them accordingly. Even if it was as mundane as a supportive comment on an Instagram photo: “Jealous you went on a run in this brisk weather. Beautiful night though, and also jealous of your company. I love both of you guys!” Terribly, in fact.