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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

34

When Your Relationship Has 8,000 Facebook "Likes"


I was in one of those weird Saturday-night Internet black holes (the “History of cosmetics” page on Wikipedia, Googling “how do I do eyeliner,” makeup tutorials, an innocuous related link in the sidebar) when I first stumbled upon a Lucy and Kaelyn video. At 35 minutes, it was long for YouTube, and it wasn’t much more than two young gay women video-blogging their vacation together, set to a poppy soundtrack — laughing and holding hands over montages of their dates to sushi restaurants and the beach. I have a pretty short attention span, but I watched the entire thing. Judging from the 250,000+ views on that video, I’m totally not alone.

Kaelyn Petras, 25, is a veterinarian-in-training from Michigan; her girlfriend, Lucy Sutcliffe, is a 20-year-old film student from Oxford, England. In many respects, they’re a pretty normal example of what being in a long-distance relationship in 2013 looks like: After meeting online (on the micro-blogging site Tumblr), they’ve lived much of their relationship out on social media, in Instagram photos, and, most notably, by video-blogging the time they take to visit each other three or four times a year.

What’s so unusual about Kaelyn and Lucy is that most young couples don’t have 8,000 Facebook followers on their joint page, or fan-made drawings and collages pouring in daily, or an online merch store (the “Team Luclyn” T-shirt is a popular pick). Somehow, somewhere, in the past year or so, Lucy and Kaelyn’s relationship has amassed an army of fans, many of them young LGBTQ, who follow their progress with an incredible sense of intimacy. 

I'm so happy I found your videos,” a girl posts on their Facebook fan page. *I'm really struggling right now, but you two make it all better for me. ** Another Tweets *Every time I turn my laptop on I see the people who practically saved my life,” with an attached photo of Kaelyn and Lucy as her desktop background. Fan messages reach a crescendo around when the couple are scheduled to visit each other. “Weeeeeeeeh!!!!! sooooooow HAPPY FOR KAELYN AND LUCY! March 9, 2013 here we go!!!” “I'M SO EXCITED FOR YOU TWO SEEING EACH OTHER AGAIN.” And, on Kaelyn’s travel day: “Hi Lucy, if you get the chance can you just let us know when Kae is in the air.”

The two were kind enough to take the time to Skype with me during Kaelyn’s most recent visit to England. 

Hello Kaelyn and Lucy! I’m really awkward over Skype, so I apologize in advance.

Kaelyn: So are we!

Lucy: We’re quite shy, weirdly. We come across as quite confident in our videos, but we can be very shy.

I know you two met on Tumblr, but can you tell me a little bit more? I hear there was a Taylor Swift blog involved…

L: There was. There’s always a Taylor Swift blog involved! Kaelyn ran a Taylor Swift blog on Tumblr, and I followed it because I love Taylor Swift … I didn’t really have any idea who Kaelyn was or where she came from. I remember she posted something about being gay and finally coming to terms with who she was and accepting herself. And I was like, oh wow, I didn’t know this girl was gay, you know what, it won’t hurt to message her.

I was 17 at the time, and I was just kind of coming to terms with it myself and I hadn’t really considered myself as a gay person — it was all kind of the denial stage, if that makes sense. So I was like, there’s nothing to lose, I’ll email her and just say congratulations, I envy your position, and I wish you the best. She replied within two hours, and I was like…oh, okay.

K: That was the beginning.

L: And that was the beginning! We just literally emailed back and forth ever since.

K: The first email she sent me was on June 16, 2010, and that’s what we call our anniversary. It just went from there.

And you guys were together for a while before you actually met in person, right?

K: Yeah. We were together a little over thirteen months.

Oh my god!

L: It was really tough. That was probably the toughest part of our relationship.

So was the first montage video you filmed [in July 2011] actually the first time you met and visited each other?

Both: Yes.

And Lucy, you’re the mastermind behind the videos?

L: Yes, I’m studying film at university. I’ve always loved films and wanted to be a filmmaker, so this is an opportunity to make films out of my life. I’m always filming everything and I was just like, why not?

So filming your time with Kaelyn was just a natural extension of your interests.

L: Yeah, it was just me being me.

K: It was more like the videos were for us to look at because we were apart for so long and we didn’t get to see each other. We never posted them originally on the Internet — just posted them privately on YouTube so I could watch them easily.

L: They were just a document, really, for us to watch back. We hardly ever get to see each other, so having that there keeps us going until the next time.

When did you decide to make those videos public?

L: I think I uploaded the April 2012 video, and I thought, you know what, people could enjoy this. I put it on public and just left it — I didn’t post it anywhere. People started commenting on it, out of the blue. They’d say, oh, you guys are so cute! And I was like, people watch these?

It was literally overnight, people started watching it, and I thought, we could make something out of this. We could help other people. We got messages from people saying, “Just watching your video helped me accept who I am.” I had no idea that we could have that impact.

K: After our April video we decided to make our own channel, so we could keep the videos together, so we posted our July and December [2011] video there and then our April video, and then … there goes everything else!

And when did you make your Facebook and Tumblr?

K: We made our Tumblr before the YouTube channel, and it was just because we had separate Tumblrs but we kept posting about our relationship so much that we just decided to make our own Tumblr, to reblog and document our relationship. And then people started following it. It was initially a way for us to connect in a long-distance relationship.

L: And then more people got involved as it began. We made the Facebook quite recently — in November or December last year.

Who is it that’s finding you guys and responding to your story — is it mainly people struggling with their sexuality, or maybe long-distance couples? Or others?

L: I think it’s a mixture of the two. We get quite a lot of parents of gay children, which is surprising. We get mothers and fathers who have said, “My kid came out as gay, what do I do?”

K: They YouTube it, and then they find one of our coming-out stories, and then they email us and watch the rest of our videos. They say, I was really concerned about what my child’s life was going to be like, because of the stigma, but then they watched all our videos—

L: They watch the progression.

K: And it makes them feel better.

L: That’s my favorite kind. But I think our main demographic on YouTube is 13- to 17-year-old girls. Obviously we get gay guys as well, but it’s mostly young teenage girls … people asking for advice, people thanking us.

Now that you’re aware so many people are watching you, have your videos changed at all — has it become about making something for other people as opposed to making something for yourselves?

K: I don’t think our focus is on making our montage videos different because people are watching. Our montage videos have definitely stayed the same. We’ll make funny little [side] videos because people ask for them, but I don’t think we’ve ever had to change to make our other videos.

L: With the videos, no one ever wants to see the negative aspects of your relationship. No one wants to put that on the Internet. So it’s not like we’re different for the camera — we select the best parts of our relationship to put on the Internet, because it’s good for us to watch and it makes us happy.

You do put the best parts of you forward, and I can’t imagine — even in the best relationships, you do get in fights and get angry and sad and dislike the other person. I can’t imagine getting fan art about how perfect my relationship is when I’m pissed at the other person!

L: Yeah. We fight a lot. I know it doesn’t come across that way, but we fight a lot, especially because it’s long distance.

K: The hardest thing for me is when we fight and then people are like “oh my god you’re so perfect, you made me believe in love again!” We can’t be this perfect ideal movie couple — we’re a real couple. In the back of our minds we know there is a slight chance that we could break up one day—

L: It’s being realistic and it’s being mature.

K: That’s just the way life is. So that is a little overwhelming.

I can see that if you’re 13 and gay on Tumblr, and you find these awesome gay girls in a loving relationship, you really want to believe that it’s everything you’ve ever heard about.

L: We try to make a point of putting most of what we can into our videos. We were thinking about making a video about fighting and realism in a relationship. It would surprise people, I’m sure, but I think it’s important, because people get these ideas about us and they see us as this perfect, ideal relationship. I don’t think there is such a thing as a perfect relationship, because every relationship is different, and every interaction can be negative or positive. And I think that’s just part of progressing together.

Is there anything else that can get challenging about having all these people following your relationship?

K: It’s challenging to keep up with it. Right now, I think we have 5,200 Tumblr messages that we haven’t answered.

L: It’s crazy.

K: And we have about 950 emails to respond to.

L: We feel bad, because we want to help every single person. Every single person deserves a personal, well thought-out response. The most challenging aspect of it is the time it takes to get back to people. But at the same time, it’s never been like an, ugh, we have to do this today. It’s always been, right, we’re going to do this. Because it makes us feel good — it makes us feel like we’re helping people. And I love that. That’s my favorite part about this whole thing — we’re helping people we’ve never met before and might never meet, but we’ve changed their lives in a good way. That spurs us on, really.

K: Over time, we’ve learned to handle it and balance our lives around it.

L: We also get negative, anonymous people on Tumblr and YouTube. The Internet is full of people like that. It used to really bother us, but now we just brush it off and just ignore it.

You must have more people supporting you than not, though.

L: Exactly. For every one bad person there’s 100 really nice, supportive people.

Have you guys had any “Beatles” moments? I know you had a fan meetup recently.

K: That was kind of a Beatles moment. I didn’t know what to expect — I didn’t know if there were going to be some creepy people who showed up — but every single person I could relate to, and they were all incredible.

L: They were so lovely. It was the best day ever — it was just like being with friends, it wasn’t like they were fans and then there was us. It was like we’d known them our whole lives. It was amazing.

K: We get recognized out a lot, but sometimes they’re afraid and they don’t come up to us.

L: We’ll get messages like, “Were you guys in the supermarket earlier?” We’re like…

Both: “Yes…”

L: We’re like, you saw us? That scares us a tiny bit. In a good way.

Do you two have anything that you won’t answer questions about or try to keep personal?

L: We don’t answer questions about sex, mainly because I don’t think we’re qualified to deal with that kind of thing. We’re not trained in that specific area. Relationship questions are fine, because we’re in one, but I feel like people ask us all sorts of questions about that and we don’t feel comfortable answering them. I guess it’s kind of a personal aspect of everyone’s life.

We also don’t answer questions about depression and anxiety and self-harm. We get a lot of questions about that—

K: We sometimes get … like, “help me, I’m suicidal.” [Lucy] actually sat one night until 3 a.m. emailing someone who was struggling. So we just had to say, okay, we’re not going to do that any more.

L: We feel so guilty, obviously, but there comes a point where it’s so stressful and so overwhelming. I just don’t think we are qualified to deal with those people … we’re not therapists, we’re not doctors. We do our best to send them on to people we think could help — we say, go to a doctor, find this blog — and there’s so many great therapy websites out there offering support, but we don’t answer those questions.

K: Just for our own personal well-being. So those are probably our two main things that we don’t talk about.

What’s up for you next?

K: I wish we could say!

L: There’s so much on our plates right now. I think the main issue with us is getting a visa for Kaelyn. At the moment, the plan is for her to move to England, because there’s no same-sex couples visa available in America right now, which sucks. So she’s planning on getting a worker’s visa, and hopefully moving over here next year … fingers crossed! And I’m in my second year of university and I’ve got one year left, so I would be finishing class and she would probably get a job. But that’s the plan at the moment, it’s always changing.

K: Lucy will be coming over to Chicago in June, and so far that’s our last visit planned.

Wow!

L: It’s scary. Because obviously we’ve only ever been long-distance, so to suddenly not have that any more is amazing.

Do you think if you two stay together, you’ll keep filming?

K: Yes.

L: Definitely. I feel like there’d be no reason not to. I think people love seeing the progression of our relationship and how we change, and I think if we kept filming, it would be amazing. Not only for them, but for us. Imagine if we’re, like, 70 and looking back on this, and how we went from the July 2011 video up to living together … I think it would be incredible.

K: For me too. You know, if I could tuck the kids in at night and turn on one of our montage videos. I think that would be great for the kids to see.

 

Molly Taft works at an investigative journalism institute. In her spare time, she enjoys night cheese. She is on Tumblr and Twitter.



34 Comments / Post A Comment

Quinn A@twitter

Awww. I'd never heard of them, but I wish them well!

iceberg

@Quinn A@twitter yeah at first I was like "get these adorable gay kids off my lawn with their videoblogged relationship", but this interview makes me glad they exist, even if I still don't care to watch any of it (only because it will make me feel old I'm sure). It sounds like this is one of those things where their visibility is helpful to others.

vittoriama

lucy has a really good singing voice@v

cosmia

This is the best possible thing that could've ever resulted from Taylor Swift existing.

Lyesmith

This is really sweet! Having so many outside people invested in your relationship seems like a lot of pressure, however.

Lily Rowan

@Lyesmith Seriously.

anachronistique

@Lyesmith Yeah, having watched something play out on a much, MUCH smaller scale, it didn't help when things started going south. But I wish Kaelyn and Lucy the best.

MilesofMountains

@Lyesmith Yeah, it'll be a nightmare if they break up. I won't even move in with my boyfriend because I know I'll be less likely to leave if it stops working for me if I have no place to go. Having to deal with thousands of hurt, angry teenage girls if we broke up would probably make me stay forever, even if it wasn't working at all.

emmycantbemeeko

@Lyesmith

Yes, this. On the one hand- they're so sweet! On the other hand, I'm breaking out in anxiety-hives imagining having this kind of PR infrastructure on the relationship I was in at 17-20.

quarterback

@Lyesmith Was thinking that too.

Decca

When I read the headline and the first couple of paragraphs, something rubbed me up the wrong way about the whole situation. But by the end, they'd convinced me. I wish you two the best!

laurainarizona

@Decca Same. My knee jerk reaction was super cynical. I still think that's a lot of pressure to have on a relationship, but I hope it works out the best way possible for them.

Apocalypstick

Awwww. And they sound so sensible! I mean, it's still quite a bizarre senario, but they're using it as a force for good!

packedsuitcase

Trying to stomp down my bitter, jealous feelings that they get to be together and be happy for them. (Really, I am...just, wow. Jealous.)

I was definitely in the "get these kids off my lawn!" camp, but I think it's great that they're trying to help people and also recognizing their limitations as far as that goes.

j-bird

Anybody else find Kaelyn's baby voice just a bit annoying? I think it's great what they are doing and the reaction they are getting, but I really think they should show the (sometimes) unpleasant side of things. I'm tired of all of the sugar coating that people do on the internet.

packedsuitcase

@j-bird I agree to a point, but if their primary purpose here was to make videos for them to enjoy and to feel a little less lonely when they're apart, it wouldn't help. When Dudefriend and I are on our respective sides of the Atlantic, I don't want to remember fighting. Fighting happens often enough when you're stressed and lonely and frustrated with life. I want happy pictures, and videos, and little messages he leaves on my phone.

But now that they have an audience, yes, I think addressing the fighting and acknowledging it's not all sunshine and daisies would be good. But if, above all else, this is for them...I don't think it's needed. Nice, but not necessary.

Kayla Vinson ッ@twitter

@j-bird They do not sugar coat things. If you read their blogs, they get hate mail every day, and somewhat take on the burdens others are going through in order to give decent advice as well.. They just don't tell about all the hate mail, as many people look up to them solely for strength.

Urwelt

That's... different! I'm not quite sure how I would react if my friend brought her teenage girlfriend along for dinner and told me she was filming it for their Youtube fans.

windydays

I have thought about the insane amount of pressure they must feel knowing that their relationship is also an ideal and source of hope for so many people. It's no doubt their popularity has most likely taken off seemingly overnight, and they're just like "What? Whoa" and are taking the responsibility in stride to the best of their ability.

What's good about this is they are providing an example of a gay female relationship for young girls who feel shamed or awkward in what they cannot change about themselves, and for parents who are struggling with the same perceptions with their own child. Additionally, they are providing means for a connection with people who are straight who consciously or subconsciously may feel like gay people are so different from themselves. It's easy to say "them," "they," "lesbians," with disconnect from an individual's straight self. Acceptance but no connection. Lucy and Kaelyn's real life look into their relationship breaks down that disconnect through something that is universal regardless of orientation, which is love. When people feel that connection and can relate, the barriers and impersonality of having a different orientation breaks down. It is no longer "they" and "lesbians," but instead becomes uniquely human. "They" and "lesbians" becomes "Kaelyn and Lucy," individuals just like everyone else and a very real relationship, rather than faceless labels for an orientation and the stereotypes that some may associate with that. I strongly believe many people are not against but may be a little weirded out by the very idea of gay relationships simply because they have not been exposed to them aside from possibly, maybe, seeing a gay couple holding hands in public, or a checker at the store who may fit the gay stereotype. Gay relationships are so much more than that, and at the root they are normal as well as deep. They are the other side of a coin, not an entirely different coin all together.

As someone who has long since half halfheartedly questioned my own sexuality with a large dose of terror and denial, and wondered why I didn't feel the draw to boys that everyone else seems to have, I stumbled upon Lucy's coming out video a few months ago. As she talks about her "aha" moment while watching Chely Wright on Ellen, watching Lucy's video coming out video was my "aha" moment. I both acknowledged, came to terms with, and accepted that I am most definitely not entirely straight. I felt as though a weight had been lifted from my shoulders because I had accepted that it was OK to pursue what would actually make me happy. In the following weeks, I found that when talking with a girl who I knew was interested in me, flirting came easily for the first time in my life. The prior fleeting feelings of anxiety or feeling "trapped" in relations before a relationship had even started with a boy, which I had always felt every time, was not there. In general, happiness came more easily. Confidence came more easily. I discovered it was not that there was something wrong with me all these years as I felt different from others in a way I could not put my finger on, but that I had been trying to fit myself into a box defined by society that was not meant for me. It is impossible to feel comfortable in your own skin if you do not accept, notice, or acknowledge all of who you are. In the past few months I have felt happier and more self assured than ever before because I now know what is right for me, what will make me happy, and fully intend to head in that direction. I feel better in my life and in my own skin. Kaelyn and Lucy's videos should come with a warning label: Accepting your orientation may cause confidence.

iceberg

@windydays this is lovely to read. I'm so glad the videos helped you! I have a close loved one who ran terrified from her true orientation for many many years and is now so much happier to be her real self, I wish it had been easier for her.

windydays

@iceberg,

I'm really happy to hear that she is doing well now! :)

mrs psmith

Hmm! I'm torn between thinking that this is weirdly sweet and lovely, and wanting to flee screaming back to the middle ages, far from blogs tumblr twitter youtube and "personal branding" of any kind.

Miss Maszkerádi

Yeah, mixed feelings here. On the one hand they are adorable and obviously a force for good. On the other hand.....selling....T-shirts?

krisisisipoo

Jakob & Julia? Anyone? I just don't know about public & online relationships.... these girls seem cute, though, and I guess they aren't Julia Allison, so they've got that going for them.

theaddiejohnson

I feel like this is really forced... troll-y almost... Lucy is not as "into it" as Kaelyn, and Kaelyn is unable to mask her awkwardness with comical voices.

HuynhGiaMoc Funiture

both girls are beautifill | Quán nhậu

kienduong

I'm so glad the videos helped you! I have a close loved one who ran terrified from her true orientation for many many years and is now so much happier to be her real self, ao thunI wish it had been easier for her.

kienduong

I don't want to remember fighting. Fighting happens often enough when you're stressed and lonely and frustrated with life. may xuat khau I want happy pictures, and videos, and little messages he leaves on my phone.

Hasse

Nicole looks like she saw a frigging ghost - or perhaps a facebook hack account

kimvang

I'm so glad the videos helped you! dong phuc cong nhan wish it had been easier for her.

sanahiwinari

they are so popular, but i think i miss them,, good luck and be carefull with your popularity..

Cara Mendaftar Facebook

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