How I Went From Internet Troll To Best Friend (And Business Partner)

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I used to be an Internet troll. I spent some of my spare time each day hate-reading the blogs of women who made a living by posting outfit shots and camera phone photos of the peanut butter and banana oatmeal they ate for breakfast. I was mostly a passive aggressive and silent troll (or lurker), but would occasionally have too much $4 wine and email a famous blogger something like "CAN YOU PLEASE WEAR SOMETHING BESIDES FLARED JEANS." Not the most provocative trolling; I was not very good at it.

Jordan Reid was one of my regular targets. It wasn't hard to hate her. From my little Internet telescope, I watched the lifestyle blogger very publicly team up with a certain notorious Silicon Valley social climber and fameball who was pretty much the definition of navel-gazing vapidity in the mid-2000s blogosphere. I watched her traipse around awful, fancy parties with fashion types wearing too-tall shoes, then head home to stir delicate marinara sauces for her musician husband.

My favorite Jordanism was her penchant for displaying food in a non-edible food bowl: store-bought lemon sorbet scooped into hollowed-out lemons, pumpkin risotto in a deseeded pumpkin with two floppy thyme sprigs sticking out the top like retro antennae. Who has time for that?

I, on the other hand, lived an honorable life. I, unlike Jordan, did not go to an Ivy League college (and anyway my major was the $5 beer/shot combo, dictatorial control of any bar jukebox, and 80-cent buttered bagels). When I discovered Jordan’s blog, I was a temp for a huge corporation in midtown Manhattan. I felt simultaneous chronic disappointment with why the world wasn’t better to me, and hatred of anyone I perceived as having their shit together (which never seemed to me to be the product of hard work, but of luck or privilege).

So when I wasn't slipping films of microfiche in and out of the scanner (thank you, $80,000 bachelors degree), I sat at my desk and hate-read blogs. In Jordan's case, I read about how the pretty blonde woman made her living by taking selfies and writing about seasonal handbags. I was so much better than her! After all, I made art, completed New York Times crossword puzzles (on Mondays), and read philosophy (in high school). And I put food in actual bowls, which is where food belongs.

In 2010 the lifestyle blog where Jordan worked folded, and she left and started her current blog, Ramshackle Glam. I followed her there, because who knew what food she might spoon into other hollow food skins next? I continued to hate-read her blog and others, but I also started to get my own life together. I stopped living at bars, got a job I liked, and fell in love with someone who also loved making weird art.

One weekend my mom came into the city for work and wanted to get dinner in Hell's Kitchen. I thought of Jordan, who had grown up there, and emailed her for a restaurant recommendation. It didn’t occur to me that this was bizarre behavior, because I felt like I knew her. In my email, I described myself nonchalantly as a "long-time reader," which was technically true. She wrote back with the names of a few restaurants and wished me a great meal. So annoying.

In 2012, Jordan wrote a few posts describing the process of home-buying, having just done it. My now-husband and I had been saving up to buy a place in Westchester, because a couple sharing a 500-square-foot studio with two cats for $1850 a month should be classified as cruel and unusual. Her posts were thorough, detailed, and explained the very complicated process in an easy way. I emailed her again, this time asking if she’d share the name of her real estate agent.

There’s a strange sense of entitlement that's part of seemingly consuming someone’s entire life online. I felt like I knew Jordan, and my dislike of her persona made her owe me something. She put herself online for a living, and because I absorbed it, I deserved her attention in response.

At some point my painfully predictable millennial journey veered from bitter twenty-something who refused to grow up (and hated anyone who might have), to person building a life I was proud of, at least in small ways. I lost a lot of my bitterness about the world, and my animosity towards women who I’d deemed more successful than me.

Had my tiny studio apartment had a closet, I would've locked my neon troll wig away and never looked back (not that I was going to join their ranks and start frolicking around in cute outfits with my camera phone on timer). It’s not that I now required earnest instruction on how to wear white after Labor Day, but that I began to appreciate that there was an actual person in the white after Labor Day, who could go ahead and dance around in heels as high as she wanted to. Why should I care? My self worth was no longer contingent on how many other women I stepped over on my way to the top of the snark heap.

In 2013, while looking at houses with our now-mutual real estate agent, she asked how I knew Jordan. "From her blog," I said, without further elaboration. She said that Jordan and I had a lot in common, that she could introduce us. I was slightly surprised and vaguely horrified. Transitioning from lurking hater to neutral consumer is one thing, but IRL friends?

We put an offer in on an odd, red ranch and closed the deal. We packed up our studio and headed for the suburbs, where I didn’t know a soul. Maybe Jordan’s not that bad, I thought.

Our real estate agent made the introduction. We met her at the YMCA in Jordan’s town, where she was signing copies of her book. She was immediately nice in the expected jaunty way, but was also surprisingly unpolished (more ramshackle than glam). The slick varnish of the edited persona had been stripped away, and in its place was a slightly disheveled, moderately pregnant, mostly normal woman.

We went out for a quick drink after the signing was over, which I found flinchingly awkward. Of course, Jordan didn't know that I used to get real joy from making fun of her. We chatted and got to know one another, except I already knew half of the things she mentioned about herself because I'd read them online. I wanted to be nice but felt inauthentic for it. I struggled through a drink and a half, and felt a rush of relief when Jordan announced she had to head home and tuck her son in.

And that was it; I didn’t see her again for months.

Almost a year later, she invited me to her son's birthday party. By that time I was hugely pregnant, and motivated to be around children for the first time ever. I still hadn’t made a lot of new friends in Westchester (OK, any) because I was working in Manhattan and pretending I hadn’t moved. Our book signing/drinks date hadn’t been that bad. She was nice! I said thanks for the invite, googled “toy a three year old would like 2014,” and went to the party.

My biggest party disappointment was that giant pregnant ladies were not allowed in the bouncy castle. The highlight: pizza. The discomfort I’d felt faded as we bonded over baby anxiety, elastic waist jeans, and whose pets are more annoying. We decided to hang out again.

"Tell me the truth,” Jordan said one afternoon months later, while we sat in a ramen restaurant with our kids at the totally normal dinner hour of 4:30 p.m., “You totally used to hate-read my blog, didn’t you.” I gave her a look. "Tell me the truth,” she said again.

So I did. At first I hedged my story, saying I only mildly hate-read her, and mostly by association. But piece by piece, the strange foundation of our friendship, which began years before we met or she knew that I existed, came to light.

Mostly what I said was that I used to be unhappy. As sophomoric as it sounded, I hate-read her because tearing down her accomplishments made me feel better about my own perceived failures. How could her measure of true success be how much she got paid for a selfie, or how many people clicked on a chicken recipe? I told myself, back then, that her success was worthless, and that my own lack of real achievement was noble, because at least I was authentic. It was fake to prance around on a rooftop in a fur vest and stilettos. At least I gallantly womanned my cubicle, and honestly suffered the mind-numbing corporate bullshit and $5 cafeteria sushi.

She got it. Just as I now understood that Jordan, like all bloggers, is not the sum of her posts, she understood why her job sometimes seemed ridiculous. She’s struggled with her desire to reliably communicate her real life with her readers, while staying professional and authoritative on her wheelhouse topics.

How do you share your honest reality as a blogger when you’re cropping the pile of dirty clothes out of the new laundry room reveal? She’s not showing her readers everything; she chooses what is seen and what isn’t, a necessary deception. Her photographs are of her life as it is, but they’re chosen, artfully brightened, and tastefully filtered. Come to think of it, so are mine. I never got around to posting that Instagram where I have a lazy eye and a tidal wave of cellulite cascading down my thigh. How could I fault her for this disingenuousness when my own online life, though much smaller in scale, is built from the same carefully selected, lo-fi-filtered duplicity?

Over the next few months, Jordan and I realized we actually had a lot in common, besides a mutual appreciation for ramen. We are both lifelong devotees to janky crafting, also known as attempting to make stuff you saw on Pinterest that you have no idea how to make. We made dream catchers together and gossiped about our ex boyfriends. We wove weird little bowls out of yarn and talked about the kind of parents we wanted to be. She was easy to talk to, relatable, and we became close friends.

Before she moved to California, we used to fantasize about opening our own little store in Tarrytown, NY. I'd pick out home goods and sell my art, Jordan would curate beautiful accessories and cute things for kids. We’d sit behind the counter all day hanging out, gossiping, drinking coffee, and chatting up customers. It sounded dreamy.

While the brick-and-mortar store didn't work out, we pursued the idea anyway.

Last week, Jordan and I launched our first project together, a little web store called glam | camp. We sell handmade baby bibs, beautiful jewelry, strange art things, and other oddities (does anyone need a George Washington pillow?). We want to share the stuff we make ourselves, and collections by small designers and manufactures, many of whom are also women making their way in the world.

Though it feels grandiose to claim that an e-commerce site represents something about the immense transition a reformed troll and one of the objects of her disdain made from anonymous hate to genuine friendship, I’m claiming it. We came together and built something. We sat together in a real, offline room and made actual things, and we want to share them.

We also really want to sell you that George Washington pillow.

Erin Williams is the co-founder of the online shop glam | camp (@glamcampshop on Instagram). She blogs at goosecamp.co.