"Idols of March" -- art and words about idolatry, hero-worship, and putting people on a pedestal. Share your stories of meeting bigwigs, being fanboys, and autographs.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

That One Time I Met John Green

By Ellen Grafton

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.”

She what?

“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.”

“Bye, Mom.”

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.


  1. John Green just posted this on his social media accounts :) You're a great writer #DFTBA

  2. This is so beautiful. This is why I love his books, his community... how much he's created for his community. :3

  3. I was linked here by John Green himself. This is lovely, and don't worry, we've all made that mistake. Mine landed me in Oklahoma of all places...

  4. Great story! I love your writing style, it's very entertaining. Have a nice day!

  5. This made me sob happily. Yes, "life as a dumpee" goes on and gets better. A good message for all. And for what it's worth, I think he did care :)

  6. Rock on. Not only is this a fabulous blog post, I got here because John Green posted it on Facebook. Pretty sure you didn't forget to be awesome!

  7. Way to write! Love the reminder. It's nice to keep in mind that awesome people have not-so-awesome moments too. DFTBA

  8. GAH! I'm so disappointed John Green didn't post a response here.

  9. Loved your story and your writing style. Wishing you the best of luck! DFTBA

  10. This is a fantastic story! Thanks for sharing.

  11. This is an excellent story =) Thank you for sharing with the rest of us <3

  12. I definitely think there's better karma in being the dumpee! Especially when we've got John Green in our corner :)
    Was sent here by the man himself and let's just say that if I ever see your name on a shelf in a bookstore, know that I'll be buying your book asap.
    Love from The Other Side of the World

  13. I think John Green is brilliant. And I am really far from being a teen at the ripe old age of 37! I don't think it is an age thing at all. I think we all just recognize talent and a person's ability to write in a way that connects to his readers.

  14. I'm currently going through the exact same thing (moved to be with someone and then utterly rejected by them) this is the first morning I've had to get up without him in my life and it feels like there's an inescapable gash in my side. I've never written on internet comments on anything before but I just wanted to tell you that this just gave me the smallest spark of hope. I wanted to thank you.

  15. Just for the record, I'm thirty-five and a proud member of the nerdfighter community. I really enjoyed your article. Nerdfighters stick together. I have no doubt wonderful things are in your real future.

  16. Wonderfully written -- and I, too, got here because John Green linked to it on Facebook. And just for the record, I'm 45 and just wrote my first YA novel. I have no intention of forgetting to be awesome -- and you clearly don't, either.

  17. John Green seems like the nicest guy ever. I loved this! I also came here from JG's Facebook link.

  18. I've done the 'take a non-nerdfighter, non-teenager friend to a John Green event' before. You captured that perfectly. :)

  19. This was so beautifully written and so easy to relate to. You're talented!

  20. Life is beautiful. Nothing is forever.
    But dont ever let that fact limet your dreams, your love or your hope for the future.

    Thank you for an awesome reading. DFTBA!

  21. Here's a video of John Green talking about the summer he got dumped in Alaska and lost a toaster oven. It's a great story.

  22. 32 and a huge John and Hank fan! I read the books, but only after watching all the videos :). You're totally not alone, DFTBA!

  23. Amazing and beautifully written blog post and story. The line, "There is nothing as lonely as living in a place haunted by an imagined future" is going to haunt me for months.

  24. I'm glad you were able to move on. I relate to your story so much: the being a 20-something fan amid a crowd of teenagers, dragging a half-interested friend to an event and trying not to geek out too much, moving back in with your parents after graduating and also getting dumped. I hope you have been able to crawl out of all that. I know how rough it was.

    Also, what you wrote about being haunted by an imagined future is beautiful.


  25. If John Green was lying to you about being dumped by a girl that he moved to Alaska to be with, he has been quite consistent about that lie. He repeated it in a Swoodilypoopers video.

  26. Beautifully written and an amazing story!! :) DFTBA

  27. Great story! Just reading it felt cathartic. You're a good writer! DFTBA!