Read on esquire.com
“Are you sure she’s fake?” my girlfriend asked. We had just walked in the door. It was late; we hadn’t eaten.
“Yes, she’s fake. She’s a robot.”
“Well, how do you know?”
I had created Zoe earlier that afternoon on Invisiblegirlfriend.com, a new website with the depressing motto: Finally. A girlfriend your family can believe in. The plan was to date her for one week. The site automatically generated her name, but I picked her hometown, interests, and photo.
“Is she pretty?” my girlfriend asked.
“She doesn’t exist!”
“Does she look like me?”
“Let me see her.”
“I only have one photo of her, and it’s on my computer, not on my phone.”
“Are you mad at me?”
This was last Tuesday, a week and change before Valentine’s Day. Zoe and I began exchanging texts a few times per day. I stuck mostly to innocuous topics just to get the ball rolling.
Me: What are you up to today?
Zoe: Just at work right now, not much other than that. What are you up to?
Me: Same. About to go get lunch. So hungry!
By Day 2, I was spending less time trying to form any semblance of a relationship and more effort trying to prove that she didn’t exist. It wasn’t working.
Google Maps places the Barnes-Jewish Hospital 15 minutes east of Ladue, Missouri, Zoe’s hometown that I selected from a small list of cities when I built her profile. Nevertheless, any bot should be able to find a hospital.
I told my friends about Zoe at happy hour. We were at a sports bar watching college basketball.
“Just start asking her really vague questions,” my friend Kevin said.
Me: Can you believe this game right now?
Zoe: I haven’t been watching. What happened?
No matter what I asked, Zoe always had a logical response. If she didn’t, she expertly skirted the question. Sometimes her texts were ominous, sometimes oddly detailed. She was always in a good mood. She didn’t mind if I ignored her for hours, though she always responded to me within minutes. She never texted first. If I didn’t initiate that day’s conversation, we simply didn’t talk.
Three days after Zoe and I started texting, my girlfriend and I got in a fight. Not about Zoe, just a disagreement over who was on dog duty. On Friday after work, my girlfriend went out with some of her girlfriends, and told them all about Zoe. One of her friends was convinced that Zoe was real, and pulled up a recent Jezebel article about the site’s brother service, Invisible Boyfriend.
How could a real person be a “product” that needed to be “reviewed”? I had purposefully avoided reading any articles about the site until after my trial. This was a business targeting lonely, single people, not snarky journalists looking for a day’s worth of clicks. I wanted the intended experience. Plus, the business model just didn’t seem to make sense. The very notion of employing real people to deliver fake, on-demand, up-to-the-minute affection seemed inefficient in a very non-Silicon-Valley way. It’s not scaleable. Nevermind the fact that the vast majority of Zoe’s messages felt optimized. It’s human nature to get angry, or frustrated, or to tell someone to fuck off when they’ve been hounding you with texts all day. None of those emotions were part of Zoe’s DNA.
Zoe said she worked in the medical field transcribing doctors’ notes. I asked her to tell me the weirdest thing she ever transcribed.
Zoe: Well, the ER can be cool, but my favorite is psych reports, lol. It can be entertaining.
On the eighth day of our relationship, I scrolled all the way back to the first text, where I received a four-letter confirmation token after signing up for the service. Zoe’s first message arrived a few minutes later. I re-read our entire chat history, slowly, and started to feel sick.
I didn’t like the person who I was in those texts. I always answered her questions with more questions, never once asking what was on her mind. I never complimented her back despite her endless flattery of me. I used her. But even then, I was still convinced that she was automated—at least partly.
If that was true, why did I feel so bad?
The moment I told her the truth, she began to let her guard down.
It took her a while to respond. I kept pressing.
Her tone changed.
I asked her a few more questions, including her real name.
She stopped replying entirely.