The Art of Venmo Stalking

by Julie Balefsky

Her name was Leah Perry. This is an imaginary name, which is why it kind of sounds like a cosmetics brand. She was a Brooklyn-based Reiki healer by way of San Diego. She was pretty, kind, and empathetic. She liked dogs and to record herself dancing wildly in the woods of Central Park, dressed like Calypso, queen of the nymphs. She made her own jewelry and sold it to passersby on weekends. She made tasteful Instagram videos of herself chatting about her journey to healing.  I thought she might be someone I’d get along with. I stalked her for about three months. 

I found her through a charge on my ex’s Venmo account titled “thangs and stuff”-- she paid him, which I figured made sense if it was for an experience they shared together, like a weekend getaway, an activity I’d often urged him to do with me. All of this, plus the fact that she was Jewish (confirmed by her father sending her money for Hanukkah), yoga-practicing, and a therapy enthusiast, convinced me that she was, in fact, his new lover. 

He told me he had started seeing someone in January, and the charge was from March, just enough time for them to get serious enough to split costs. I watched her stories every day and tried to deduce who she was from those 8-10 seconds of documentation. Sometimes, she’d post long, camera-facing inspirational videos.  She was a lovely dancer. 

She sold her jewelry at something called Wien Walk, a designated selling spot in Central Park’s southeast corner. I investigated a map. Easily, I could take the N or Q train from South Brooklyn to 59th Street and walk from there. I guessed she’d be there on Sunday, as she often had Venmo payments from that day with captions like “Beautiful necklace!” and “Thank you very much!”

Leah was beautiful. Her off-the-shoulder 1990s spaghetti straps and messy curls made me envy her cool-girl demeanor. I could never be that cool. I was known to send five text messages in a row and then throw my phone across the room so I didn’t have to stare at a barren screen.  Her eyes sparkled, and I tried to imagine what it felt like for him to gaze into them after he’d so long been gazing into mine. Leah never would have required him to sit around and talk about what we’d name our future dogs.

I woke up the morning of my planned outing, beaming with excitement. I couldn’t believe that Leah and I would finally be face-to-face. Would she recognize me from old photos of me and my ex. Had she stalked me in return? My Instagram was easily accessible, left public for this specific reason. 

Or would she have absolutely no idea who I am? 

I dressed for the occasion—something to say, “I try because I care but not so much that it’s embarrassing.” I wore a sundress and doused my skin in a new glow oil I purchased the day prior that cost a fourth of my unemployment check. I looked in the mirror before leaving the house. Confidence, I thought. 

The sun beat down. It wasn’t just hot, but humid, my sweat washing all the oil away immediately. I tried to walk as slowly as possible — armpits up — avoiding the glands.  But it was too late. 

What was I about to do? 

I was meeting friends. That was my story. I repeated it in my head, all the while thinking about what it would be like if he was also there, at Leah’s jewelry stand. What would he be wearing? Would she have already purchased him a new wardrobe to counteract my carefully curated selections of the past few years? I imagined the beautiful pair of khaki Everlane cuffed pants splayed over his trash can. 

My breath began to get shallow. I waited for the subway, urgency to sit taking over. Finally, after what felt like the longest three minutes of my life, the gust of wind from the subway car alleviated my momentary despair. The AC blared as I stumbled in and found a seat. It was crowded, so I put my head between my legs,tried taking a deep breath.  But it wasn’t there. 
Then I remembered I had recently downloaded a mediation app, recommended by Leah. 

My fingers fumbled for the blurry orange app, as I tried to breathe. You’re having a panic attack, I thought. I tried to feel my feet on the ground the way we did so often in yoga. I thought of what my friend Marissa would say if I had access to Wi-Fi to call her. As long as I could feel the ground, I was alive. Objects, people, landmarks – a piece of gum on the bottom of the seat, an old lady with a breathing tube, french fries, somewhere. Back in the present, tears were streaming from my eyes. 

I got as far as Union Square and escaped the car. Somehow, the heat felt less stifling at the farmers market, surrounded by normal, mentally healthy people doing normal, mentally healthy things like buying fresh vegetables. My heart sank as I remembered us cutting up a butternut squash together. 

A few days later, Leah announced on social media that she was moving upstate to the Catskills. I was sad. I’d miss her, but more importantly… were they already serious enough to do long-distance?  Did this mean they were no longer together and somehow I hadn’t deduced a breakup from a changed demeanor in her caption tone or her newly flaunted belly-button ring? 

I looked for answers, but it became hard to maintain my information addiction because I’d have to block her every time I viewed her story—a foolproof method I learned after creating Finstas with no followers just to view stories anonymously. 

And then, one day, I had a call with my ex. It was the call. The one where you finally, begrudgingly, have to let go because… “I’m seeing someone.”

“What’s her name?” I said with the anguish and contempt of already knowing.  

A pregnant pause hung in the air for what felt like years as I imagined him cooing her name like a parent telling you what they named their infant. 


Leah Perry was just a woman. A spiritual, fun, gymnast-like creature who I still check in on her from time to time. I’m not sure why. I guess I got so used to being enthralled by her, that I’ve forced a cosmic connection. I wonder, often, if she’s happy in the Catskills. 

There’s certainly a lesson in this if I’d be willing to learn it. And hopefully, I will in due time.  But for now…. Caroline…

illustrations by CB Murphy