The celebrity DM is the great equalizer

It’s not every day that we hear about a gay lady couple with a 32-year age difference. So goes the story of actress Sarah Paulson and her much older lady love Holland Taylor, whose relationship first hit the Internet a few months ago. 

It was hard not to swoon over their adorable public tweets to each other. BuzzFeed picked up the story first, but they missed one crucial detail: It went down in the DM. The Twitter DM, man.

According to the New York Times, Paulson and Taylor met 10 years prior at a dinner party, back when Paulson was still dating actress Cherry Jones. They crossed paths again just a few years later, when Martha Plimpton asked them both to record videos for her reproductive rights organization A Is For. Paulson was filming American Horror Story: Asylum and Taylor was working on Ann, a one-woman play about former Texas governor Ann Richards. After that reconnection, they found each other on Twitter, which is really where it all began:

After that, they followed each other on Twitter and exchanged direct messages before finally deciding to go out for dinner. They have now been together for a little more than a year.

As we know from the article, the rest is a romance written in the stars, by the stars. Is it unusual for any sort of correspondence to begin in the DM, though?

Bob Saget recently tweeted the lyrics to Yo Gotti’s “Down in the DM,” which lays it all out: “It goes down in the DM.” Truly an inspiration for the sliding into DMs meme, we’ve all heard about weird dudes sliding into DMs as a form of harassment. There was that time Drake tried to slide into porn star Mia Khalifa’s Instagram DMs. And who could forget that time James Franco tried to hit it with an underage girl via Instagram DM?

But with sweet stories like Paulson and Taylor’s, it felt strange to categorize sliding into DMs as a predatory straight-dude move. What if the DM slide-in is more of a pop-in, a hello, a question? A response to a moment of curiosity, friendliness, or a random act of kindness?

Artist, actor, and director Miranda July had an interesting experience on the DM not long ago.

“Someone named Abigail Stone tweeted that her mom was obsessed with a blouse I was wearing in a pic in the NYT,” she told the Daily Dot. “It is really my favorite blouse, black velvet vintage Ungaro, and I got curious if I could find it on eBay. I didn’t, but I found another one that I thought was amazingly similar and much cheaper than mine. So I DM’d the Abigail Stone woman back with a link to the similar blouse.”

Miranda July

For July, this was a pleasant conversation with someone who shared an interest, but also a moment of realization about the nature of the interaction. (She notes that Twitter autocorrected “anger” for Ungaro.)

“At the time, I just felt satisfied in the realm of vintage hunting,” she said. “Only later did I think how odd it must have been from her perspective.”   

A shared interest is just one of the reasons to exchange messages. Sometimes, a funny DM is the result of a random coincidence. That’s how it went down for me and Sarah Silverman, one of my favorite comedians. 

I was on my way to cover a Silverman event at LACMA, and I’ll admit that I was in a confused mood, which I can only describe as a combination of tiredness, thinking too much about a crush, and a tingling sense of excitement because I was on my way to see Silverman. Her talk was fabulous, and I wanted to go say hello to her afterwards, but was too tired and didn’t want to make a bad first impression. I went home, wrote the article, filed it, and tweeted it to her a few days later.  

When she DM’ed me with a reply about something that I misquoted from a song she mentioned during the lecture—Allan Sherman’s “When You’re in Love, the Whole World Is Jewish”—I was overcome with excitement. I made the correction and admitted that I must’ve been distracted when taking notes, thinking about my crush and projecting that incorrect lyric into the story. We then chatted about emoji because we both love them. She wished me the best of luck with my crush, in all caps, with a heart emoji to boot.

I was ecstatic about the whole experience, but also felt like this was just a cool message from an awesome, inspiring lady whose writing I admire. And it all went down in the DM. (Silverman gave us permission to include a screengrab of the conversation.)

Alicia Eler

Sometimes an actor or comic might follow back someone who looks cool, which opens up the chance for a DM. That’s what happened to Len Kendall, VP at Carrot, Vice’s digital agency, and more popularly known on the Internet as that guy who proposed to his wife by taking over BuzzFeed. An actor who was a regular on The Office (Kendall declined to name the actor) followed him back on Twitter, and so he took a risk and slid into their DMs. The two ended up chatting casually as if they’d run into each other at a hip Silver Lake bar.

“I wanted to play it ‘cool’ and not DM them immediately, so after three days I sent them a private message praising their latest project,” Kendall told the Daily Dot. “It turned into 10 back and forth messages where they solicited feedback and I was offering ideas.”

It’s pretty exciting to happen upon the chance of chatting with a celebrity through any social Internet platform, whether it be Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or even Snapchat. But it’s also just a conversation online, because on social media anyone can talk with practically anyone so long as they’re granted access. Kendall sees this as part of the way communication is changing because of the Internet.

“I think that social media has become a great equalizer for celebrities,” Kendall said. “They’re not these idols that you only see on TV. They use Twitter or Instagram just like you and me.”

Illustration by Max Fleishman

Alicia Eler

Alicia Eler

Alicia Eler is the author of 'The Selfie Generation: How Our Self-Images Are Changing Our Notions of Privacy, Sex, Consent, and Culture.' She is the visual art critic at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis. Her work has been published in the Guardian, Glamour, Harper’s Bazaar, New York Magazine, CNN, LA Weekly, Chicago Tribune, and Chicago Sun-Times.