“Everyone knows that bitch got knocked up by someone else and TRICKED him into marriage! Ugly slut! I hope they divorce!”
It sounds like a comment you would find on a Daily Mail article about some celebrity drama. But the poor man allegedly “TRICKED” into marriage is meant to be my husband. And the “ugly slut” is me. A friend who had written a blog entry about how my husband and I collaborated on a play together encountered these comments, and many more. She deleted them, but not before I had already read them. The friend was shocked, but I wasn’t. The same person who had posted those comments had already tweeted at me, left abusive comments on my site, and sent me detailed arguments as to why all of my much my pictures suck via Facebook. And she wouldn’t be the first to pursue this course of action.
Hi, my name is Natalia. My husband’s fangirls stalk me on the Internet.
Alexey is a film director, theater director and actor in Moscow. He’s part of a fairly small, yet intense subculture. And his latest project, “Winter, Go Away!”, which he collaborated on with ten other filmmakers (who, miraculously, did not come to blows as they put this hilarious look at the protest movement in Russia together), has been making waves and winning awards recently.
And Russians revere their directors like they revere their writers – which is great, until it suddenly isn’t so great.
The first person to harass me online with regard to my husband was a fairly well-known writer who started e-mailing me when my husband and I announced our decision to get married and circulated wedding invitations (we hadn’t really advertised our relationship to all and sundry, so there was the whole “ZOMG ALEXEY IS GETTING HITCHED” aspect to it). She wrote to tell me that she felt I was “trapping” my husband into marriage, that it was “obvious” that he was only marrying me to get a chance at a U.S. citizenship – oh, and that “marriage right now would hurt his career.” She’s a thoughtful, kind lady, as you can probably tell.
These bursts of activity are always random and always take me by surprise. Last year, at a festival, my husband acquired a new “number one fan.” Elvira (no relationship to the Mistress of the Dark, from what I can tell), a self-described “lost girl” with emo hair and make-up, saw him on the stage and, as she put it, “fell in love.” She bombarded him with e-mails before proceeding to contact a number of our friends, trying to find out the details of our relationship, whether or not “he’s happy or sad,” whether or not “he was prone to cheating.” Then she got a hold of my e-mail address, and wrote to me about my appearance, my weight and my intellect. As a harried working mother, I found myself suddenly feeling defensive. Blocking her was easy – getting rid of the shitty feeling that I was pathetic for letting her get to me was another story.
Alexey has a zillion exes, and while most of them are perfectly nice, a couple are somewhat, ah, interesting. I remember one party we went to a few months before the birth of our son. An ex-girlfriend he hadn’t seen in years went up to say hello – and proceeded to have an genuine freak-out when he said, “Hey, meet my wife.” “YOU GOT MARRIED? WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU GOT MARRIED? WHAT IS THIS? SHE’S HAVING A BABY? IS IT YOURS? I DON’T UNDERSTAND!” People began to stare. I had opened my mouth to say hi to her, and then had forgotten to close it. “Oh, don’t mind that, she always does this,” my husband laughed after she stormed off. “The hilarious part is – she dumped *me*.” A few days later, at another party, a friend of mine tapped me on the shoulder and asked who on earth was the woman who was standing in a corner, staring at me as if she wanted to rip my face off. “Oh, that’s just one of Alexey’s ex-girlfriends.” Now she keeps writing to Alexey and wishing him “all of the happiness in the world.” He doesn’t ask her if she means it, writing polite “thank you”‘s back.
This year, the “Natalia is an ugly slut who tricked Alexey into marriage” character suddenly appeared. Once again, I know the woman – she had originally commented on my site using her name, and has been a pathetic failure at hiding her IP address (well, now that I’ve banned her several times, I have to compliment her for learning how to use a proxy). She’s a quiet girl I’ve only met once and she would troll me sporadically – whenever I’ve forgotten about her existence, there she is again. “Just get used to it,” a colleague of my husband’s told me over a beer. “You married someone who’s in the public eye. And girls like him. That’s all there is to it.”
And yet the soap opera has begun to get to me. Facing stress at work and dealing with a desperate desire to lose the weight I had gained while breastfeeding, I completely lost when Alexey inadvertently invited another unpleasant character into our life. Performing at yet another out-of-town festival, he danced with a girl at one of the parties there. “It was just for fun,” he told me later. “They were playing oldies.” Unfortunately, the girl had friends who had pinned high hopes on Alexey, convinced that their friend, who hadn’t dated in a while, had met The One. And when he casually offered all of them free passes to his show, they became even more convinced. And then one of them saw a Facebook update from me where I joked that women were “lining up to dance with my husband like Soviets used to line up for bread” and went ape-shit. After having to delete a slew of hateful messages, I went nuclear on my husband, since there was no one else to nuclear on. “Why do you encourage them? Don’t you understand that I’m TIRED of this crap, I DON’T find it funny, I DON’T feel comfortable with this kind of attention?” I remembered that he and I had not danced in months, and yet some other chick got to do that. I told him that I hated him. I cried.
Worst of all, I found myself sinking down to their level. I wanted to call them “bitches” and “whores” and “fat, ugly sluts” and “stupid cows.” I realized they were flinging sexist insults at me and generally harassing me because they didn’t know any better. I knew better, but here’s the thing – knowing wasn’t enough. I was The Wife in a culture where men cheated brazenly and women took on lovers on the sly. And though I trusted Alexey, I was worn out by the negative attention – so much so that all of the positive attention coming his way was eclipsed by this handful of maladjusted individuals. “I’m hurt by this – she hurt me,” I told him after I calmed down. “I’m not supposed to feel hurt – but there it is. Your fangirls can be horrible. And I’m becoming horrible too.” He poured me a glass of wine and we went to the bedroom and watched our son sleep. He promised to take me dancing.
I have an acquaintance whose boyfriend is the frontman for a rock band out on the West Coast – and having reconnected online, we have bonded over our experiences of the fan culture. She told me about an admirer of her husband’s who had sent her dead flowers. She told me about googling herself and discovering an entire thread in a forum where people were discussing whether or not she was “good enough” to be with the man of their dreams. “They’re immature. They connect with the music, or with a movie, or something – and suddenly, it’s like they ‘own’ the musician, or the actor,” she said. “It’s always worse for the big stars – but it’s also true that when you’re dealing with a kind of subculture, or an emerging subculture, where everyone is accessible, and it’s as if there are no boundaries.”
A lovely actor friend of mine, whose recent performance in a provocative Russian epic (ETA: taken off the trailer, to protect the actor’s privacy), has to deal with a former colleague who has gone as far as create social networking profiles in her name – and filled them with invitations for men to “give her a good raping”. “I wanted to hurt her back, of course,” the actor in question said. “In fact, I wanted to punch her in the head – because she listed my actual e-mail address, and I was getting scary messages from scary dudes because of her little stunt. But we work in an extreme industry – the competition is extreme, and so is the sexism. And all I ended up saying to her, at the end of the day, was that I hope that no one ever treats her like she treated me.”
It’s what I wrote to the Facebook fiend who had caused me to have a mini-meltdown last week, after she came back to troll me under a new identity. Well, almost. What I wrote to her was, “Lady, what goes around comes around. Enjoy!”
And then I put the smartphone down and we took our toddler for a walk in the park and watched him try and fail to chase the ducks – the perfect antidote to, well, pretty much everything.