This post originally appeared on Bed Crumbs.
I was walking home from the subway when I saw it. Perpetually multitasking, glued to my phone like the millennial trash you must think I am, I scrolled through my Facebook feed as I weaved through throngs of people littering the sidewalk, the people who crept at an agonizingly slow pace, the people I passed with a sigh, eyes flicking back down to the screen again.
And I saw it. Well, for a brief millisecond. I swiped past it quickly, then caught myself and slowly inched back.
John Allen* is now in a relationship.
My fevered pace came to a grinding halt. I complain incessantly about people suddenly stopping in the middle of busy sidewalks, and yet here I was, paralyzed, causing traffic to jam and divert around me as I stood still for a moment, fixated on the phone in my hand.
Why would you do this to me, Facebook? I thought, feeling almost betrayed. Did it somehow know that I was thinking of him again, that he began to creep back into my consciousness, how the other day I had wondered if I should text him again?
Without hesitation, I clicked his new girlfriend’s name. I didn’t know her. She looked pretty. Not prettier than me, I immediately thought, my bitchy subconscious rearing its head. But she seemed sweet. Sweeter than I ever was, than I ever could be. Their “official relationship status” picture was a little corny – they smiled widely standing in the middle of a mini golf course, as if they were still saying “cheese” like we did when we were little – but there was nothing saccharine about it. They looked genuinely happy.
John and I weren’t together anymore. We were never together. We weren’t even hooking up. We kissed once and I told him he was too good of a friend, told him it was like kissing my brother, and we stopped speaking for months. This was five years ago. I had no right to feel jealous, yet I still felt some sort of strange ownership over him.
It’s not like John and I never spoke again. We did. Things changed when I moved to New York and left him in Philly. John had liked me ever since freshman year of college, and I knew he still liked me – he told me enough for me to stop doubting it. Long distance made it easier to open up. You’re not as vulnerable when you’re not there having difficult conversations in the flesh, when you can sit protected behind a screen.
There were many late night texts and Facebook chats and tweets back and forth. They usually started with I miss you-s and I’m sorry-s, followed by wondering aloud what it was we were doing, how it was we really felt, if we we could ever be more than friends. He would ask me to come to Philadelphia and I would hesitate. It could go one of two ways: it could be great, and then I would return to New York feeling like I couldn’t do long distance, or it could be incredibly awkward, and I would be stuck with him for the weekend. Was this what I wanted, or was I just lonely? Would I feel like I was settling? He never offered to come to New York. Each conversation ended the same way: he would tell me I was scared and leading him on, I would argue that he was selfish and pressuring me. We would stop talking. Months would pass. The vicious cycle would repeat.
There was never a clean break. Is there ever a clean break? At least, in today’s world? Maybe before the age of Facebook and texting, things were easier. You broke up (or whatever you wanted to call it) and didn’t hear from them again, save for updates from mutual friends.
Sure, you could chose to delete them now, choose to ignore their always-on digital presence, but most of us are too curious for our own good, self-centered masochists who want to know what the other one is doing, how they’re doing, how their lives after compare to ours. Even if we still care for the other person, we hold out hope that we will be the silent victors, that the filtered versions of our lives we share with the world will appear superior when the two are laid side by side. We don’t anticipate that for every bit of information that makes us feel better about ourselves, there is bound to be a moment where we are taken aback, hit with news we wish we hadn’t seen to begin with.
It probably used to be easier, too, to not know much – if anything – about the person chosen to move on with. You could rely on rumors or second hand news to feed your appetite for information. If you were lucky, you’d be appeased by the opinions of others. “You’re prettier and skinnier than her,” they’d reassure you, true or not. “She’s an idiot. You’re so much smarter. I don’t know what he sees in her.”
But now you can just tap your finger and find out all you need to know – the true version, too. It’s objectively laid out. She’s funny, you can tell by her clever tweets and status updates. There are countless photos of her cementing her “cool girl” status, front row at festivals, beer in her hand, eyes brighter than the stage lights, the basement party selfies mixed in with gallery openings. She of course volunteers and has a smart person job and is everything you are not. You shouldn’t have looked, but you could, so you did. You’re not supposed to be the one stalking the profile of some girl you don’t know, some girl you will likely never know. But here you are, scrolling endlessly, looking for some sort of self validating flaw in her character.
That’s the digital age for you. Everything that you shouldn’t know you do, because you can. Why do we do this to ourselves? Didn’t curiosity kill the cat? We stay friends when we’re not really still friends, just because we crave information that, if we were playing this out 20 years ago, we’d never even know. I guess we’re hoping for that satisfaction to bring us back.
I began feeling lonely and slightly sorry for myself. A boyfriend hadn’t even crossed my mind for the past few months, but this shook me a little, made me reconsider. Sometimes I worry that I’m too focused on working and writing and creating that I will never make time for romance in my life. So I sighed and opened up my long dormant OkCupid account.
First unread message: “You’re like a phantasmic chimera that rears its in head in triumphant anguish. I dig it.”
If this is modern love, I don’t know how I feel about it.
*name has been changed