What Happens When You Meet Your Reply Guy?

A cautionary tale about dating your fan.


My therapist told me that story likes are a drug. Not so different from gambling, they release dopamine in our brains and trigger a reward system that tells us to post more. Reply guys are the perfect facilitators of this system. When addicted to them, you can post a million times just to feel the rush from one reply.

The term reply guy was first coined in 2019. It was used to describe male trolls who would incessantly harass women on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. Now, the term has evolved to describe anyone who regularly likes, comments, or replies to your social media posts. The relationship between you two is strictly parasocial. You’ve never met them, but they’ll do anything for your attention. Love them or hate them, when your birthday comes around, you know they’ll be the first ones to wish you a happy birthday. TLDR, a reply guy is a fan.

While some reply guys may live forever in our requests folder, a few lucky ones make it past. If you’re currently dating one, here’s a forewarning: meeting someone you have a parasocial crush on can destroy you.

My inspiration for this piece came from my own experience of meeting and briefly dating one of my reply guys. When we started seeing each other, the lines between my desire for his attention and my attraction to him blurred. His likes blinded me from seeing that the online relationship we spent weeks building was the most appealing thing about him. Since I barely knew him, his flirty replies left endless room for my imagination to go wild.

“While some reply guys may live forever in our requests folder, a few lucky ones make it past.”

After five months of following each other, I finally gave in to my urge to flirt back with my reply guy. He was so ecstatic to finally meet me. The first week was magical; he was love-bombing me through text, and I, freshly out of my first relationship, believed everything he told me. My crush on him came to a halt when I realized a change in his behavior. He stopped being my reply guy. No more story likes and not a single reply. He went from being the first to like my posts to going hours without viewing my story. Did I even look hot in my selfie if he didn’t approve? My heart sank when I realized what I had done wrong: I had given him exactly what he wanted.

Aside from my anxious attachment issues, it became obvious to me that the source of my obsession with him was fueled by his absence in my DMs. I went unwillingly sober from a source of dopamine that fed my self-esteem. I began shitposting to get his attention, convinced that one like from him would keep my day going. I cried to my friends about my troubles, and one of them looked at me with compassion: “Never meet your heroes,” she said.

Quinn’s* distaste for dating reply guys began when they realized they were being perceived as a character. Fresh out of a relationship, they weren’t ready to date again but were “craving that validation and attention.” They began seeing a reply guy in a relationship they describe as very casual, though they knew the reply guy felt a little different about their situation. “He was super into me… I was heavily enjoying the attention from it and it was super toxic on my end,” they go on to explain.

“My heart sank when I realized what I had done wrong: I had given him exactly what he wanted.”

Once Quinn began focusing on themselves and prioritizing their hobbies over seeing the reply guy, they broke up. “I was never really into him. But after we broke up, I realized I desired traits about him that were the prototypical nice guy. He also told me my aesthetic was scary, but online, I was already looking goth. He just didn’t want to be seen with someone who had that aesthetic.” Through a friend, they heard that the reply guy described their relationship as too difficult. “It was just crazy to me that, in his mind, I was this perfect, beautiful person who could do no wrong. I find that men just put you on pedestals, especially women or femmes… They just get really intimidated when they feel like you are too independent from them.”

Esme Bale, co-host of The Too Much Podcast, has had her fair share of experiences with reply guys, each serving a purpose in different stages of her life. Her first experience with one came as a “stepping stone into the dating world” as the first crush she had out of a relationship, she explains. They matched on Hinge and had mutual friends from university. He would reply to her stories to share his comments on her podcast episodes and laugh at her jokes. He was interested in her personality, not her selfies.

She entertained his replies as she waited for him to ask her out. Yet, he would always ignore her suggestions to meet up. That is until they ended up at the same party. Her excitement to meet him quickly waned when he became paralyzed at the sight of her and ran away. “He has a girlfriend,” his friend revealed. He was lying about being single, and when he couldn’t keep his story straight, lied about being in an open relationship.

“It was just crazy to me that, in his mind, I was this perfect, beautiful person who could do no wrong.”

This crushed Esme’s hopes that they would ever go on a date. During the month they spent talking back and forth, she had time to create a fantasy about their romance together. She didn’t see him as a reply guy but as a mutual crush. After the party, he fell completely silent on her feed. Anxious thoughts quickly filled her brain: “I fucked it up by meeting him, now I can no longer look forward to him replying to my stories.”

Since she wasn’t dating anyone at the time, this reply guy was the only person who was giving her consistent validation. “I felt empty. It was the thing that was keeping me going,” she explains. Though she realized she was idolizing him and his attention, it only took three days for him to start liking her stories again and for her to learn that he’d always come back.

She defines their relationship as transcendental. Her reply guy was a parasocial cheater: not too scared to create new Hinge profiles or consistently reply to stories but terrified of meeting in real life. He would never know of the impact he’s had on her. This experience was a turning point in her dating life. “Reply guys do feel really safe, and when you have low self-esteem and feel like you have no connection in your life, reply guys can be a life force.” Her dynamic towards him changed when the power from his attention transitioned to the people she was dating in the real world.

Now, Esme uses reply guys for her entertainment. Disinterested in the ones who lead with obvious flirting, the ones she keeps around are always more subtle. She explains that the appeal of talking to them is that you want them to one day call you pretty but not give you all their attention right away. “I don’t pay attention to reply, guys unless I’m going through a period when I’m not dating at all.” When they like her stories while she’s seeing someone, she realizes she doesn’t care as much. “I have real things to do,” she says.

Is it a coincidence we all used our reply guys to help us transition from our relationships to the dating world? No, I think their trap is too easy to fall into. When you’re already used to the comforts of a relationship, you’ll gravitate towards something safe and familiar. They’re the first ones to make you realize you’re desired by others. The key to keeping a healthy relationship with your reply guy is to give them enough that they keep replying but not too much to kill the fantasy. They love the chase, and so should you.

*Name changed to protect privacy

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