Do you remember Couch Guy?
If you don’t have TikTok account, probably not. If that’s you, I shall explain: In September, a girl posted a video on TikTok surprise-visiting her long-distance boyfriend. People were quick to point out a lukewarm reaction; his sitting a bit too closely to the girl next to him; the girl next to him possibly even subtly slipping his phone back into his hand.
The whole thing was very suspicious and the internet went to work, slowing down and zooming into the video.
My TikTok feed was subsequently covered in parody videos of people surprising their significant others and getting a parodied lukewarm reaction.
The whole thing was quite funny, and went on for weeks. People speculating about whether he was cheating, and recreating over-the-top versions of the original. If there’s one thing that the internet enables, it’s being a part of a massive inside joke. Humans love to feel included in an inside joke.
But a couple months later, in December, I read an article in Slate written by Mr. Couch Guy himself: I’m the TikTok Couch Guy, the title reads. Here’s What It Was Like Being Investigated on the Internet.
In it, he details his side of the story: a meme about him that blew completely out of proportion, which led to millions of people seeing videos posted by his apartment neighbors slipping a note under his door after they discovered where he lived. The internet, in its infinite ability to pour resources and connections in one direction, had found him in real life. People started recognizing him in public.
After hearing that, my brain tries to rewrite history: yeah!, I tell myself, something about that didn’t sit right with me all along. But to be honest, I’d be lying if I said that.
I didn’t give a moment of thought to this guy when I was watching the TikToks in my feed. Maybe you did; maybe you’re a better person than I am. But in reading his perspective, I feel shame.
Shame that this guy, regardless of how he’d acted or how people perceived his behavior, was thrust into being a collective enemy. And shame that I watched it happen without thinking about him.
I think it’s a good reminder of something: it’s hard to stay angry at someone after you talk to them.
Many times I feel annoyance or anger building up inside of me against someone, and then a quick conversation with them shatters that. The picture of them that I’ve built up in my mind isn’t real. They’re more friendly, more reasonable, and more like me than I thought.
Sometimes I get myself into a position where I dislike the version of them that I’ve built up in my head. After that, everything they do plays into that caricature.
But after hearing from them, I realize: they’re not the caricature in my head. They’re a lot more reasonable—a lot more human—than I had imagined.
So the next time I have ill feelings against someone, I’ll try to remember Couch Guy. Are those ill feelings actually my own? Have I heard their side of things yet?
Or did I get swept up by wanting to be included in the inside joke of it all?