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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?
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  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…
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.
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?
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.