Love and Lies on Instagram: My Online Relationship with Bobby Rolando

A year ago I had the worst breakup of my life. In the aftermath, it felt like my heart had been ripped out, like my life was coming to an end, like I’d lost the one person in the world who truly cared for me.

And So It Begins…

When Bobby Rolando and I started dating, I never imagined in a million years what lay in store.

It all started in January of 2015, when we became acquainted through Instagram. Ironically, I was the one who started the conversation after I found him through a hashtag. Still new to the app, I thought I had to be super-effusive to gain followers. So I left an encouraging comment on one of his photos, and his response was immediate. After a brief exchange of compliments, we were soon mutual followers.

Despite this promising start, I was tentative about how much to foster our friendship. As much as I use social media, I recognize its limits, in large part because I’ve seen friends of mine lured into online relationships with people who claim to be one thing and turn out to be another.

So I kept him in the friend zone — which Bobby likewise did with me after learning from the experience of his gay cousin Henry Fernot, who was the same age and had many similar experiences.

Nonetheless our friendship started to mature on the basis of common interests. These included photography, hiking, animals, baking, music, and running. (In all honesty, we had so many interests in common, I started to wonder if he wasn’t simply copying mine in order to score points and make his way out of the friend zone.)

Regardless of my doubts, he had the pictures on his Instagram account to prove his interest in photography and hiking, and it was through his photography that I became acquainted with some of his favorite places. Soon I began to feel as if the forests, hills, and mountains of Hewitt, New Jersey — where Bobby is from — were in my own backyard.

And with that sense of shared landscape, it was much easier for me to think of Bobby as a kindred spirit, as someone who cared about the same things I did and would respect me because of that.

Little did I know at the time.

Feelings Start to Grow

So we continued to get to know each other through Instagram and then Snapchat, never meeting in person or even looking at each other without a screen coming between us. Of course, with hindsight, I can look back on it now and see how unnatural it was. Yet at the time it didn’t feel unnatural at all. Quite the opposite.

Then, after six months of being my friend and nothing more, Bobby finally made his move.

It was July, and I was checking notifications on Instagram. I was in the middle of responding to someone else, when I suddenly saw the red notification blip in the top right corner of my screen, telling me I had received a direct message. Tapping it, I looked to see who it was.

And it was Bobby.

[In all of the following screenshots, my words are on the right and Bobby’s are on the left.]

With characteristic awkwardness, he asked me if I was “into guys.” Convinced that he was harmless, I opened up to him and told him I was.

Then, as a token of goodwill, I told him my age, assuming that would be enough to send him running. But he was unfazed. Surpised by this, I didn’t think to ask him his age. And beyond that, we were just friends, so what did it matter? (I came to find out much later that he was in fact seventeen — a year over the age of consent in New Jersey.)

After that, he added me on Kik, a notorious messaging app that’s known for being anonymous and untraceable. (As far as I know, Bobby was introduced to this and many similar things by his gay cousin Henry, who was well-versed in keeping secrets.) Appropriately enough, Bobby’s alias on Kik was “anonymous anonymous,” which should have been a major red flag. But I was willing to overlook his alias and other suspicious behavior because he’d been so nice to me and seemed genuinely interested in getting to know me.

Beyond that, I just thought it was an innocent crush and that he’d get over it sooner rather than later. So I went along with it.

Over the next few months, we chatted on Kik, covering many topics, from school to music to running to guys to relationships and everything in between. At every step, Bobby was attentive and kind, never pushing things or making me feel uncomfortable.

He was, in short, the perfect gentleman.

In addition, we had many deep and personal conversations about serious topics, almost all of which Bobby initiated. In these conversations, Bobby always took the lead and made me feel accepted and appreciated.

He also gave me more compliments than anyone I’ve ever known, telling me I was “super hot,” “a friggin porn star,” “amazing,” and even “perfect.”

Still convinced he was harmless, I believed him. And as a result, I let down my guard and allowed him to push our friendship to a level I never would’ve considered otherwise.

Together, or Something Like It

So we kept getting closer and closer without ever meeting. And because everything was so nebulous and noncommittal with him, it was easy to make excuses, to brush it off, to pretend it was no big deal. After all, Bobby never asked me to be “the one,” and I never agreed.

But at some point around the beginning of October, we became a couple. I remember it like yesterday because, ironically, I was on the verge of blocking him.

The reason for this was simple. He had whipped out his thing in the middle of conversation and gone to town without my consent. Then he finished and essentially blew me off, hardly saying a word to me for three days afterward.

When this happened, I was deeply hurt. It felt like I was nothing but a human sex toy. And that was when I considered blocking him.

But after three days or so, he texted me and called me “babe” for the very first time, and all that changed. He went back to being his normal, sweet, sensitive self, and I went back to believing that he genuinely cared about me as a person, not merely a sex toy.

After this, we started having daily conversations, during which we would frequently talk for hours at a time. By now, these conversations were regularly explicit on Bobby’s part. And though I never let on about it, I was deeply uncomfortable with this. But I tolerated his behavior because he had earned my trust over the course of months, and I honestly believed he would never hurt me.

Then, in December, after two months of being together and never meeting, I finally blurted out the big question: “When are we going to meet?”

Following a brief conversation, we decided to meet in March of 2016, during his spring break. Even at the mention of this, Bobby seemed enthusiastic, saying he would “have to stay a while” and then adding that if he had his way he would stay “longer than either of us would live.”

And I, in my innocence, took him at his word and started counting the days.

The Disappearance

Then, in January of 2016, out of the blue and for no apparent reason, Bobby disappeared. He stopped responding to my texts, my snaps, and my comments on Instagram. It was like he’d fallen off the face of the planet.

At first, I thought there must have been a simple miscommunication. After all, there’d been nothing to precipitate such a radical shift. We’d been getting along just fine.

Then I tried to send him yet another message on Snapchat, just to make sure he got it. But unlike the others, this one didn’t go through. Panicking, I entered his name in the search bar and brought up his profile. And that was when I realized he’d blocked me.

(I was later to find out Bobby’s gay cousin Henry suddenly reappeared in Bobby’s life at this time, most likely to give him advice to cut off his relationship with me before it progressed further. Why he did this is anyone’s guess, but it may have been a combination of jealousy and misdirected empathy.)

For weeks afterward, I was paralyzed and heartbroken, and I didn’t know what to do. Then, with time and thought, a plan materialized.

The Plan

On Valentine’s Day of 2016, I put up a post on my Instagram account telling the story of how we fell in love. I tagged Bobby in the photo and mentioned him by name to make sure he’d know I meant it for him. Still believing we were meant for each other, I thought he’d be happy about my display of affection.

Such was not the case.

Instead his response was, “you’re hurting me more than you could ever know. if you really do love me, let me go.”

It was like he’d stolen prepackaged lyrics from a Katy Perry song and then dumbed them down for a preteen audience. Not only were the words insulting to the English language; they simply didn’t make sense.

After all, how could I be hurting him when all I was doing was reciprocating the feelings he’d expressed for me on more occasions than I could count? And beyond that, how did my truthful and heartfelt story come to deserve a warning from Instagram that my post had “endangered” another user and had to be removed as a result?

None of it made any sense, and I was getting desperate.

Taking Action

So I took an unplanned step.

I sent a group message on Instagram to a number of Bobby’s friends and family members, telling them everything that had happened and asking for an explanation for his increasingly erratic behavior. In response to this, I received numerous allegations that I was a “fake,” a “stalker,” and “spam.”

Reeling from these allegations, I reconsidered my approach. If my truthful and heartfelt story wasn’t enough to convince these people that I was being perfectly honest, then something more was required.

So, without thinking, I sent what I had: a partial nude of Bobby, in which he told me how much he wanted me in no uncertain terms. As you can imagine, it was a sudden decision and one that I didn’t have time to think through.

Within minutes, I had results.

Calling me frantically, Bobby gave me a piece of his mind. He started by yelling at me; then he broke down in tears; then he finally explained what he was dealing with.

[To hear a snippet from our actual phone conversation, click the arrow on the far left of the gray bar below.]

He explained that his family was extremely religious and would never accept him being in a relationship with a man. He explained that he’d seen his gay cousin Henry briefly institutionalized and then kept under virtual house arrest after being found out by his mother. He explained that he was terrified the same thing would happen to him.

And most importantly Bobby told me that he loved me.

[To hear Bobby say this, click the arrow on the far left below.]

After this conversation, he and I got back together briefly on the condition that I delete the message I sent to his friends and family. Still believing that he wanted to be with me, I did this without delay. And for three days, everything seemed fine.

Then all hell broke loose again.

It turned out his sister Jess had seen the message I sent, and she confronted Bobby about it. What happened after that was unclear because Bobby never spelled it out. But he led me to believe that he told his parents about our relationship.

The Guillotine Falls

A day or two later, he texted to tell me we couldn’t be together.

Reeling, I asked for some explanation, but all I got from Bobby was a static monophonic line: “they didn’t convince me. I made this decision on my own.” (Never mind that Bobby had already seen what happened to his gay cousin Henry and was terrified that the same thing would happen to him — that he would be institutionalized and cut off from the outside world by his own family.) Reading and re-reading his words, I just couldn’t make sense of them. So I asked him to call me the following day.

The following day, Bobby called. Once again I asked him why he was breaking it off with me. In response, he deflected the reason away from his family, saying that certain individuals in his community were considering legal action against me in response to the photo I had sent, alleging I was “trafficking pornography.”

(For the record, I don’t even use pornography, let alone traffic it. On the contrary, I oppose its very existence. The only reason I sent a partial nude of Bobby — which was honestly less explicit than you might find in some PG-13 movies — was because I had no other way to prove my case when Bobby was lying to his friends by saying I was merely a “nice guy who got the wrong idea.”)

Hearing this, I was floored. How could the act of explaining a relationship — which Bobby, as a consenting adult in the state of New Jersey, had initiated and escalated at every step — constitute grounds for legal action? In short, how could love be a criminal offense?

To this question, Bobby gave no answer. Then the conversation ended, and his voice faded to nothingness.

Nevertheless we did text for a little while longer. But, as with any relationship that’s on a collision course with destiny, the accusations were soon flying back and forth, and Bobby was soon ready to do what he had already done before: cut and run.

So, at the end of our final conversation, after we both said some pretty awful and unnecessary things, he told me never to speak to him again.

And though I gave no indication of my feelings at the time, I put down my phone and sobbed.

Life Goes On, Inch by Inch

Since that day at the end of February 2016, Bobby Rolando has done nothing to reconcile with me or atone for his sexual misconduct. Instead he’s taken the easy way out; he’s done what his family wanted; he’s destroyed our relationship, our friendship, and every bond of human kindness between us on their behalf — all because of their hatred and bigotry.

As such, there is no happy ending to this story. I’ve gone on with my life in the year since we parted ways, but there’s no mistaking the hole Bobby Rolando left in my heart. And despite my best efforts, I often find myself thinking about him, about what went wrong, and about whether there was anything I could’ve done to avoid our estrangement.

But the truth is this: nothing on my part could’ve changed the outcome so long as Bobby was unwilling to fight for our love or separate himself from those who were trying to destroy it.

And that is the hard, simple truth of every family — and every culture — that chooses bigotry over love.

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48 thoughts on “Love and Lies on Instagram: My Online Relationship with Bobby Rolando

  1. Wow, I am so sorry. I wish you peace and healing. I hope Bobby finds his way and can sort it out with his family. It is sad what religion can do to people. Hang in there. 🙂

    Like

  2. He was Robert to us. He practically lived in our home for a year, then he went into the army. He told my son a horrible lie in order to break off the relationship. He knew our son believed everything he said, even though we warned him none of what he said could possibly be true. Our son was willing to live in an alternate universe because he loved this boy. He thought they would marry and have kids. So did we. I hope you feel better knowing he was an impossible lie. He did this to another and he will do it again. I think his family may be as messed up as he says. So I feel badly for him. He’s never been himself completely with anyone. He lives a lie and will probably never know how to tell the truth. You know what’s sadder? He was Bobby to you, Robert to us and a lie under both names. But whoever he is to his family: they know him less than we do. They’ve never met nor know the true Bobby/Robert. How lonely a life this guy must lead.

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  3. Your story left me in a small puddle of tears My best friend who is transgender read this as well and he started to sob. Mark you write in a way that makes the reader not only feel what you do but leave knowing you better. My friend says thank you for being strong.
    An Aspiring Survivalist

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much. It means a great deal to me to know that someone benefited in some way from reading about my experience, horrible though it was.

      I wish you and your friend all the best.

      Like

  4. Hey Mark,
    This story of yours left me speechless! True that at times people break our hearts and glad that you found your own ways to get out of that heartbreak. Don’t worry dear, one day you will definitely find your love 🙂
    Cheers, T.

    Liked by 1 person

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