When I met John Green it was 2008, and everything was falling apart. I was supposed to have a job, but the economy had transformed into a black hole of despair and I had only occasional work as an audiobook narrator. I was supposed to have a beautiful apartment and an exciting social life, but instead I was living at my parents’ house and going to bed at nine. Most of all, I was supposed to be with my first real love, my college boyfriend, but instead I was single and he wasn’t speaking to me.
One of the reasons I loved John Green was for his dumper/dumpee theory. According to this theory, the people in relationship are either a dumper or a dumpee—dumpees are desperate for attention, and dumpers are cold and distant, put off by the neediness of dumpees. Their inborn tendencies push them apart until they break up. I liked this theory because it made me seem like a victim of an inescapable tragedy rather than an insecure girl who behaved like a crazy person for the last third of her relationship.
John Green, if you don’t already know, is the king of a certain corner of the internet. His kingdom is mostly inhabited by teenage girls who proselytize for his YA novels, but some of its citizens are twenty-somethings like me. I like his books, but the YouTube videos he makes with his brother, Hank, are closest to my heart. I became a fan the summer after I graduated. That summer I had an internship in London. I had taken that internship—even though it was unpaid and located in one of the most expensive cities on earth—so I could be close to my boyfriend, who lived about an hour away. Then he dumped me. I went anyway. There is nothing as lonely as living in a place haunted by an imagined future. I spent my days doing menial intern stuff, and I spent my nights on the bed of my subleased room, either observing the slow spread of mildew across the ceiling or watching John and Hank Green’s videos. And then the summer ended and I returned home, broke and brokenhearted.
After several months living with my parents, I planned a trip to LA to pursue possible job leads and get out of the house. In a weird bit of luck, John Green was having a book signing in LA during my visit. I told my mom about my plans to attend the signing and she asked if I would take an audiobook. My mother, an audiobook director, had directed the audiobooks of Green’s novels and briefly met him when he toured the studios. I agreed, and a few weeks later I was at the signing with my book and my mother’s audiobook in hand.
I brought my friend, Julia, to the signing. She didn’t share my love of John Green’s videos, but she was willing to support any activity that didn’t involve me moaning about my breakup. We showed up early, but not early enough. Fans—mostly women between the ages of 12 and 17—had been waiting for hours. From the library’s overflow room we watched a live feed of John Green reading, and then we joined the autograph line. In front of us, two young teen girls traded quotes from the books. They wore white T-shirts with handwritten phrases referencing inside jokes from the videos, the scrawled words still smelling faintly of Sharpie. I wanted to join their conversation, but I didn’t want to seem a) like a weird old creeper or b) even more bizarre to Julia, who surveyed the very long line with a mix of exasperation and resignation.
Finally we reached the signing table. John Green signed the print book without looking up, but the audiobook made him pause.
“Huh,” he said. “I’ve never signed an audiobook before.”
I was having a conversation with John Green. I felt a surge of happiness—rare since my breakup—and blurted, “My mom directed it.”
“Oh, really?” he said, and looked at me. I look a lot like my mom, which is maybe why I saw a flash of recognition in his face. “Oh,” he said. “I know your mom. I like your mom.”
He knew my mom? To my knowledge, my mom said hello to him once, months ago. But maybe he was just being nice. The guy must meet hundreds of people a day. He probably says that about everyone he meets.
“I like my mom, too,” I said, jokingly, like: Who doesn't like their mom?
He didn’t laugh, but he kept looking at me. “Yeah, I remember now,” he said. “She told me about you.”
“You were living in London, or something? With an English boyfriend?”
Oh. My. God. Here I was, talking to creator of the stuff that had saved me, the one part of my life that hadn’t been sullied by my romantic failure, and even he knew about my breakup. How was it possible? I tried to think of a clever remark, but my brain froze.
“I—we’re not—he’s no good now,” I sputtered.
John Green looked down at the books on the table and finished signing them. “Oh, he wasn’t good then, either,” he responded knowingly, and then handed the books back to me. “DFTBA,” he said, reciting the mantra of his videos as he looked to the next fan in line. I was dismissed.
I walked away from the signing table, stunned. Julia, who had been standing next to me, couldn’t stop laughing.
Once out of earshot of the table, I called my mom.
“Hi! How’s LA?”
“Did you tell John Green about my breakup?”
“John Green. Just referenced my breakup. Did you tell him?”
“Oh, I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?”
“It may have come up.”
“How would it have come up? What did you say? ‘Hello, John Green, I’m your audiobook director and my daughter just got dumped’?”
Mom sighed. “Don’t be ridiculous,” she said. “Your father and I were at a party with him, and I’m sure we were just chatting about you, because you’re our kid—“
“A party? You were at a party? With John Green?”
“It wasn’t like it was the three of us. It was more of a company thing—“
“You talked about me?”
Mom ignored my indignation. “Oh, I remember now. We were talking about how you had just graduated and moved to London, and then he told some story about following a girlfriend to Alaska before she broke up with him.”
“Oh,” I said. “And that’s it?”
“That’s it,” my mom said. “How’s LA?”
“Fine,” I said. “I should go. Julia’s waiting.”
“Okay, sweetie. Love you. Call us later.”
I don’t have delusions that famous people care about my existence. I think John Green was just making conversation with me, a stranger among many, many strangers whom he was contractually obligated to interact with that day. He has never spent a moment thinking about our similarity of bad fortune. And it’s possible my mom got his story wrong. It’s possible that he never moved far away, never had his heart broken, never discovered that he was completely and utterly wrong about someone he thought he knew completely and utterly. And yet. . . . John Green might have been dumped. Not only that, but he might have moved thousands of miles away to be with someone who turned out to be his dumper. Just the possibility that we made the same kind of mistake gave me hope. Because here he was, years later—married, making cool videos, writing clever books, and saying hello to people who lined up for hours just for him. Life as a dumpee not only went on, it could get spectacularly better.
Julia had been texting on her phone nearby, waiting for me to finish freaking out. She put her phone away when she saw that I had calmed down.
“Ready to move on?” she asked, gesturing to the door.
“Yeah,” I said, and followed her outside.