The week of February 14, 2016

Looking for love when you’re 16 and famous on YouTube

By Rae Votta

It’d been a good date for 16-year-old Anthony Quintal. He’d met a boy (who shall remain nameless) for a hike at Runyon Canyon Park in Los Angeles. They’d talked about their passions, passing joggers and off-leash dogs as they made their way along the path, enjoying sweeping city views. Quintal appreciated his date’s good manners and the way he’d really seemed to listen—Quintal had really opened up to him. 

Then it happened. The same thing that’s happened with all his dates.

“He asked me to take a video for his sister,” sighs Quintal, better known as Lohanthony on YouTube, where he has 1.5 million subscribers. He’s been YouTube-famous since he was 13, when his “Calling All the Basic Bitches” video went viral. He’s a child star: famous at a young age, without much experience of any other kind of life. Now he’s trying to date, only to have boys he likes ask for Instagram shoutouts or YouTube cameos.

“It’s super confusing, because how are they going to sit on this date with me and get to know me, and then pop that at the end,” asks Quintal. “It’s so discouraging. It’s a huge slap in the face.” It’s complicated: He knows that at some point he’s going to have to reconcile his particular kind of fame with his dating life. He’d just like to save it for the second date—and in the meantime, to feel like his fame isn’t the most attractive thing about him. “It does take away from getting to know a person because they’re so infatuated with that side of my life,” he says. “They don’t want to get to know me; they want to get to know what it’s like being me.”

But, he says, “I did do the video.” This was his personal life—he was on a date!—but like many popular YouTubers, for him there is virtually no “off camera.” He’s cultivated an open online persona; part of his appeal lies in fans feel they know him in an intimate, personal way that they don’t get from other celebrities. But his date’s sister was a fan, and he doesn’t want to be seen as too stuck up—too above it all, too inaccessible—to say hi to a fan. And for someone who’s put so much of his life on camera, maybe it’s harder for him to now draw a line around his personal life. Or explain to a date that not every moment of his life is fanservice. 

“Was I supposed to say no?” he asks. “I felt bad for his sister.”

• • •

For all his onscreen flair, Quintal admits when it comes to dating he’s got some trepidation. After all, he’s spent a long time with the eye of the Internet focused on him, and most of his interactions have happened in a relatively controlled environment. YouTube popularity built his confidence. He remembers feeling more open posting a video for strangers than standing in front of the class to talk about his passions.

“They don’t want to get to know me, they want to get to know what it’s like being me.”

But dating’s not like being on YouTube. “Being raised with the Internet, it really can mess up your social skills,” he continues. “I’m just so used to being able to come up with a witty response online. Having to do it face to face with someone who makes me a little bit nervous is really rough.” With YouTube, he could speak to his audience without having to see them; in real life, he’s found, there are no second takes, and his “audience” can speak back in unexpected ways.

Not surprisingly, he’s tried dating apps—the under-18 area of Tinder—but tries to steer clear of anyone who might be a star chaser. Basically, anyone who follows him on Instagram or Twitter is out.

Frustrated with the experience, he’s returned to familiar ground by putting his love life on camera. He’s teamed up with a fellow YouTuber, the 19-year-old Rickey Thompson, and turned their joint search for boyfriends into Lohanthony & Rickey’s Guide to Dating. It’s essentially a reality dating show: In one episode, they pepper a trio of boys with questions like what music they’d use to set the mood. (Justin Bieber’s “Sorry,” answers the first contestant.)

Fans of Quintal and Thompson won’t be surprised by the show; it has the same tone and personality that they bring to their personal channels. But Quintal—who’s only had what he calls “middle school relationships”—hopes to use the show to learn more about what kind of relationship might work for him. 

“If I could go back in time, I’d definitely take it easy on the social media.”

Of course, he realizes that the show’s likely to attract the same kind of camera-hungry suitor that he’s tried to avoid on dating apps. And he wonders, if he does find someone, how he’ll manage both his relationship and his fame. “I’ve never been in a huge relationship since the whole Internet thing started,” he says. “When I actually find someone who I want to call my boyfriend, how’s that going to work? Are they going to let me tag them on Instagram, are they going to let me talk about them in a video?”

He wonders, even, if it will change his online persona. “I feel like it will make me more reserved and make me more inactive on the Internet,” he says. “Once that actually happens and I do have that special someone, I may be less drawn to the Internet because I have someone there for me in real life.” For someone who’s successfully cultivated a persona as being single, that could be a real shift. (He says, though, that he’d never give up the Internet, not even for love.)

His co-star has a little more experience and knows the effect his fans’ attention can have. Thompson recalls seeing follower counts rise when he’s been affiliated with other people, and he’s wary of how potential dates might take advantage of his social-media currency. “So I’d rather not [publicize a relationship] that until I’m really sure that this person is not going to use me in the long run,” he says.

And he’s already learned to dial back his oversharing. “When I got my very first boyfriend, I made it public way too much,” he explained. “I honestly wish I could take that back. It got to the point where other people were trying to find him. If I could go back in time, I’d definitely take it easy on the social media.”

Quintal, on the other hand, wants to keep himself out there. It’s part of who he is, he says. “I am the most open person, you really can’t change that about me, no matter how hard you try,” he says. He’s open with his love life and wants others to share it. (He makes a point to note that no one in his family or on his team has ever told him to play coy on that question.) “I want those questions, even though the answer is going to remain the same.”

“It was unrealistic to think I’d find someone.”

Lohanthony & Rickey’s Guide to Dating didn’t lead to love for either of its co-hosts. With no new prospects, Thompson is talking with his ex again, and he worries about fans’ reactions to the newly rekindled romance.

• • •

“It makes me so nervous,” Thompson says. “He was here maybe three weeks ago and I had him in my Snapchat for a quick second. People saw and were tweeting me, ‘Oh my god, you and your ex are back together.’ I know this time I have to keep it a little quiet.”

Quintal has nothing to keep quiet about. He’s still single.

“I genuinely wanted to leave the last day [of the show] in a relationship,” he says. “I was a little discouraged, but I kept my hopes low, ultimately. It was unrealistic to think I’d find someone.”

So it’s back to the apps, and to asking friends for help, and to hoping to run into his dream boy at a coffee shop. And while he’s waiting for his own love story to start, he’s turning to support—where else?—on YouTube, to the happy couples who’ve turned their combined fame into a fairy-tale ending.

“They give me hope for the future,” he says. “They let me know that you can find your soulmate out there somewhere in the world.”

Photo via Lohanthony & Rickey’s Guide to Dating/YouTube | Remix by Jason Reed