My love/hate relationship with Girl on the Net

Image by the brilliant Stuart F Taylor

I bet sometimes Clark Kent wants to punch Superman. And I know this because I would happily punch Girl on the Net if she weren’t also basically me. I don’t hate her all the time, or even most of the time. But right now I hate her. And this is not the same thing as self-hate: it is richer and deeper and more intense. A purer kind of hatred, because GOTN isn’t me. She isn’t even real, so I can revel in the delicious satisfaction of hating her in the same way I can hate Voldemort.

The thing about letting a pseudonym become an alter ego is that at some point you start to buy into the lie of it. You start to think ‘this is what GOTN would do’ as opposed to ‘this is what I want to do.’ Girl on the Net is part-fact, part-fiction. A copy of my own self with the shit bits ignored, or played up for laughs, or dissected from an angle that allows for careful contemplation rather than panicky, irrational misery.

And I hate her.

Here are the top things I hate about GOTN:

GOTN is a smug twat

On the internet, you can edit what you say. You can choose your words carefully and precisely. If someone says something to you or about you, you can take a deep breath and step away from your screen, deciding before you reply what your ultimate strategy is. Will I give them some snark that’ll make me feel better? Or do they deserve a more thoughtful response? If it’s the latter I can calm down and take a breather, then return for some articulate debate. GOTN is far more diplomatic than I am. This is probably a good thing, overall, but it doesn’t stop me from hating her.

It means that in real life when I lose my temper or burst into tears or say something crap in the heat of the moment, I hold up my GOTN yardstick and find that I don’t measure up. GOTN wouldn’t have done that terrible thing, now, would she?

GOTN has a better sex life than I do

This one should be obvious, but I’m going to spell it out here again in case anyone missed it before: I am far less exciting in bed than GOTN is even on her off days. When I tell stories about sex I’ve had, I’m usually focused on one thing. I want to tell you about this specific incident or that particular kink. I rarely want to tell you about the time when I piled all the sex toys in the world up on the bed, tried to plan a sexy scene, and ended up crying and having to call the whole thing off.

GOTN exists outside of time, in multiple forms at once

That thing I said in point one about GOTN being diplomatic and kinder than I am? That’s simultaneously true and not-true. The recent blog posts, ones I’m usually more comfortable sharing, contain better-rehearsed arguments and more thoroughly-thought-through critiques. But I also have an archive autotweet running, which kicks out blog posts from as far back as 2011, and the GOTN who existed in 2011 – who STILL exists today via these windows into the past – was often a massive arsehole. Judgmental, dictatorial, absurdly hetero/cisnormative, and not nearly as funny as she thought she was.

I cannot escape GOTN, no matter how much I would like to

It’s alright for you lot – if you get sick of GOTN you can just click away to a different website and go read some other filth. I, on the other hand, have to live with this insufferable shadow-version of myself every fucking day. I have to wake up and check her emails, read her Twitter responses, and come up with new ideas. Sometimes I find myself halfway through writing a blog post and I wonder: is this actually what I think? Or is this just what I think GOTN would think?

There are over 200 drafts in this blog at the moment, many of them abandoned partway through because I got so sick of GOTN while I was writing.

It didn’t used to be like this. When I first started writing, I was GOTN – or as near as dammit. “Girl on the Net” was just a name I used to avoid awkward questions from my employers and accidentally turning up in a Google search when my grandparents wondered what I was up to. Now, though, she’s grown into something different.

It’s not all bad: some of GOTN’s qualities are good qualities. She’s more altruistic than I am, for example. Not for any worthy reasons, I suspect, probably just because more people know her (or know of her) and she, like me, wants desperately to be liked. GOTN is also better at sticking up for herself. As GOTN I can occasionally harness a self-confidence that I’d never display in real life: I may not be able to say ‘no’, but GOTN can because she has that authority. GOTN is also responsible for all of my income now: she scrapes together enough each month to pay the bills, and without her I’d be nothing but a pile of Final Demands and a gaping sense of terror.

So there are some things I like about GOTN. Occasionally having an alter-ego is like being able to put on a protective suit, and let bullets bounce off you: it’s not me this angry commenter hates, it’s GOTN! And GOTN isn’t really real, she’s just a mishmash of my own half-told story and other people’s expectations. But at other times having an alter-ego is like living with an irritating twin. They’re similar enough to show you all the things you hate about yourself, but different enough to allow for envy and competition.

And I can’t be the only one who feels like this. In a world where we’re all curating online lives, I bet there are other people out there who have similar love/hate relationships with their blogging personas, or the person they show the world on Instagram. Kayla Lords wrote recently about the benefits of being a brand, and she’s right that there are lots of positives. But there are weird bits too, like the occasional desire to push your own alter-ego into a river.

I hate GOTN, even though she protects me. And I hate her even though she provides for me. I created her even though she never asked to be born, and now I’m bitching about her even though she’s trying her best. What a horrible, bitchy, tedious prick I am.

But if GOTN were here, she’d be so understanding.

And that makes me hate her even more.


  • Vida says:

    Ah, meta-blogging and narcissm squared, I love it.

    From my sage, reader of online problems perspective (as opposed to my actual overthinker, dysfunctional failure self) I want to tell you that you don’t need to think about this as much as you are doing. Let her do her thing and let each day be new. All it says here is that you’ve evolved and you’re more professional at work than you are in the personal moment. I think that’s desirable. She’s not better than you, she’s a good part of you.

    And that illustration is utterly wonderful. Love it.

  • SweetTheSting says:

    Great post.

  • FarmerDan says:

    Good prose as always. Makes me feel for the billions that only show their shiny side on line but don’t have your nous to deal with the consequences.

  • tdygoblue says:

    Well, I disagree. You ARE GOTN. You have to be! I am in love with the real, live GOTN. So sexy; so inciteful. So out there and cool.
    Unless that’s my alter ego talking.

  • SpaceCaptainSmith says:

    That was weirdly touching.

    I think something like this is indeed true of anyone with an online profile, even if it’s just a Facebook page. We shape our personas, and thereafter they shape us. But surely true for sex writers more than most.

    Of course, if you got totally sick of GOTN, you always could abandon this site and start again with something else… but that seems like it would be a bit extreme, and costly.

  • JanisTheMagiciansAssistant says:

    I hate my work self. Because she’s so nice. And giving. And capable. People think she’s me, which is even worse. I need a holiday from myself. Her. Oh I dunno. And if I kill her off? I’d have to moan about my real self and that might be even more terrible. 💕hugs

  • TheMan From Uncle says:

    We all have alter egos, whether online or for real. Please don’t hate yourself: GOTN is still you, after all.

  • Adrea Kore says:

    Wow. You’re right that you’re not alone in this scenario. I didn’t just love this, I needed it. I metaphorically rolled around in every paragraph. Me AND my alter-ego – who I’ve been mostly annoyed with and distanced from for the last year, at least. You could say we’ve had a falling-out.
    I appreciated how angry and frustrated you let yourself be here .. and eloquently so. If I let my sex alter-ego try and write a post like this, it would come out all pholosophical and tamped-down, and I (real-me) wouldn’t feel any better at all. I also loved your black humour. We begin thinking we’ve created a sex super-hero and then one day, we look in the mirror and she’s turned into Frankenstein. Or we have, It can be hard to tel, when disillusion sets in.
    My “solution” has been to honour a need to step away, and *not* explain. To re-discover what my real-self is interested in *now*, and to take the pressure off projecting / producing a predominantly sexual persona. I still have to show up at the screen with her (like you, she earns me money), but I’ve taken the pressure off blogging and constantly tweeting. We all have to find a way to feel authentic with our creativity – what served you 6 years, 4 years ago, may not be serving you now. Or you may just need a break from each other. See who you are now in the aftermath of this uber-creation – ‘cos I can guarantee you – you’ve got new super-powers from birthing and being GOTN that she doesn’t know about! Maybe don’t apply kryptonite just yet!
    Thanks (both of you) for an awesome post. ( Psst – I’m hitting enter quickly before SHE deletes this.)

  • Hyacinth says:

    Jesus Fucking Christ can I relate. Hy is me and I am Hy and yet she is an albatross around my neck. She stifles AND sets me free. It’s a fucking goddamned mess and sometimes I think “No on will ever understand this,” and then I read a post like this and know that I’ve got friends who know EXACTLY what this means. xx

  • Phillip says:

    The woman who does my taxes told that I should have a blog. She has told me more than once. I told her what I always say. “No”. Then I told her about following you and what a master of the blog you are, but that despite that it was tough sledding. She is very religious, but I did write that I would send her the link if she wanted it. I also said that I was afraid that I was a double strength vanilla guy and that I thought Americans must be very sexually repressed. Then I wrote that if she googled GOTN that she might be able to find you. Then I wondered if that would work. Yes and no. It took ‘girl on the net’ to do the job. I started reading and I thought “THIS IS GOTN!” I always wonder who you are and I still don’t exactly know!


  • I’m not sure I hate AM, but I very much empathise with the idea that he is a distilate. Sometimes he’s better than me, but sometimes he proves himself to be just a bit of an opinionated cunt. (Or maybe he just lacks a different kind of self censorship to mine.)
    If he irritates me in just one way, it is that he won’t leave me alone. A couple of times I’ve walked out into the blogosphere with him, and quietly tried to slip away, leaving him to his own musings, never to trouble the world again. (With any luck he’ll get predated by some ravenous Grammasite.) But the bastard just seems ot be a bit of a survivor and keeps coming back.
    Ironically, I’m actually a little jealous of him, as he does seem to look an aweful lot better than I do wearing his underpants on the outside or in his rubber superhero suit.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.