The virtual break-up after the break-up
It has been six minutes since he was on Facebook.
He normally works on Thursdays at this time and can’t use his phone. Did he lose his job at the warehouse? I hope so. Or is he messaging someone else behind the boxes? Maybe she’s worth the risk. I never was.
My leg twitches at the realization.
I never used to twitch this much…probably because I was actually getting sleep. A quick Google search online informed me that twitching could be a symptom of stress. Even my nerves miss our connection.
He hasn’t told me he loved me for 25 days. We haven’t kissed in 24. We’ve been broken up for 22. I shouldn’t be this close if we can’t physically be close, but thanks to Facebook I can’t escape him. I stay connected by checking how long it’s been since he was active on chat or updated his profile photo, his status, his friend list.
I knew it was over when he hid his relationship status. Instead of slipping his ring off at the bar, he was slipping his relationship off online in shame. But the truth is, in modern relationships that predicts more about the trajectory of a happily ever after than it should.
The people who speak the prettiest words usually end up being the ugliest. The first night, we walked around downtown holding hands and getting to know each other, the fall air just cold enough to force us to sit and talk in his car so the heat could warm our skin as we warmed to each other. “I love truth. I seek truth,” he told me, among other lovely maxims.
Three months later, I tried to break things off prior to leaving for a semester in Italy. “Let’s stay together. I love you,” he said, looking me in the eyes.
How could I not?
Two years later, we had changed. After he moved cities to be with me and went back to school, the stresses of being in a relationship and seeing each other everyday took hold. This breakup was not our first, but it was the most final.
Small fights were constant after the first bug of insecurity flew into my room. It was a small insect, but masterful in the art of upheaval. The smallest bite, he asked me: “Don’t you ever think about dating other people?”
“No. Do you?”
“Sometimes I do,” he replied.
Seemingly, it was small, but it was an itch I couldn’t resist scratching. “Like who? One of my friends?”
“I dunno. Kim Kardashian.”
After a few days, my jealousy and insecurity had turned from a small bite to a bleeding wound. Who else was he really thinking about dating? I contemplated trying to log on to his Facebook and read his messages. We fought about petty things with deeper underlying insecurities. I would nag him to apply for college. Really what I wanted was assurance of his committal to our plan to stay together moving forward. He would graduate community college and go to a four-year university. I would graduate from Mizzou and get a job in the same city. It would work because we would work at it, because we loved each other.
It was 8 p.m. the day before my birthday. I opened the door, ready to kiss and eat cake. Although we had been fighting for two days, he wouldn’t break up with me tonight. I was so confident about this; I even shaved my legs for the event.
If I were watching the scene in a movie, I would have known. He hesitated to sit down. He didn’t look me in the eye. He pulled out a piece of paper from his pocket. Even the music seemed scripted as Lana del Rey crooned “Your love is deadly,” on shuffle in the background.
He told me, “I don’t want to grow old with you. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life with you.” I knew I had to outline it as a reality.
When I logged onto Facebook an hour later, he had taken our relationship off his profile completely. The reality of it was now etched in digital stone, and it was maddening.
On the morning of my 22nd birthday, I woke up to a single notification: “Nick’s Mom answered incorrectly on Trivia Crack. It’s your turn!”
I immediately burst into tears.
When the pinpricks of sadness subsided, rage took hold. And when I’m angry, I can’t help but express it.
“Bold strategy to play me now — just hours after your son broke up with me. RIGHT before my birthday,” I typed to his mother.
While there is no etiquette guide for virtually disconnecting after a breakup, it seemed to me that she had crossed some unwritten line. It was just too much to handle, the hurt too searing. Her playing me back on Trivia Crack only highlighted the absence of a text from him telling me he loved me, and to have a happy birthday and that he would see me later that day. He had cut the digital ties, but there were still a few frayed digital connections, shocking me with each touch.
During the day hundreds of acquaintances that I hadn’t talked to in ages wrote on my wall telling me to have a great day. Even his 87-year-old grandpa wished me a happy birthday. But Nick, the one who knew me intimately and whom I (used to) trust remained silent on all fronts. Not even a sorry-it-doesn’t-mean-much-but-I-hope-you-have-a-good-day message.
Social media has forced us to remain close. I knew he was online that day. I knew he was reading everyone else’s posts. Yet, still he said nothing. My friends from across the world in Australia could reach me to tell me happy birthday, yet the person who I cared most for, who was sitting right there, so close to me in that synthetic online reality, was loudly choosing to remain mute.
I was 5,000 miles away in Italy during the first birthday I celebrated while we were dating, and he had still found a way to tell me happy birthday and make me feel special. But somehow this emotional rift was too big for him to traverse.
Some days it’s hard to process. How close we still remain, but how far away we still feel.
My friends tell me it could be worse. Our virtual connections are vast, but it could be worse. At least I can still listen to music, one friend told me. When her boyfriend broke up with her she couldn’t listen to music because everything reminded her of him. She could even see the songs he was listening to on his iTunes via Last.fm. At least I still had music, she said. At least I had that.
During some of my angrier mood swings, I am sometimes tempted to ruin House of Cards for him. I binge-watched the whole new season when it came out last week, but I can see on his Netflix history that he’s only on episode three. I know it’s messed up that I can know all these intimate virtual details of his life, yet we can’t even manage to be civil with each other. But it’s all I have left and I just can’t stop. After getting so close to him for two years, I’m addicted to the connection. Following his virtual footprint is all I have left.
Everyone tells me I need to unfriend him.
That’s the quandary of relationships now. To unfriend or not to unfriend is a concept on which I would read pages upon pages of research. But such research does not exist, yet. So my fellow peers and I are forced to forge the path ourselves and figure it the etiquette for disconnecting online after a breakup. Do I still use his Netflix? Do I unfollow him on Instagram? Do I play his mom back on Trivia Crack? Do I unfriend him on Facebook?
Previous history between us says no. When he broke up with me the first time over the summer, a mere week and a half after I had moved to New York for an internship, I unfriended him as soon as he ended the call. How could he dump me a week after he promised me it would work out? Later when we started talking again, he said the reason he hadn’t reached out to me was because I unfriended him and he thought that was cruel. I guess he didn’t see the irony. He broke up with me, our real connection, but I was the cruel one for disconnecting with him online.
So this time I remain conflicted. Of course I feel by staying friends with him on Facebook, there is still some chance he will reform the physical connection and show up at my door telling me he missed me and that he didn’t mean what he said.
Staying friends with him on Facebook is my silent, covert way of saying I’m still here. I’m not giving up. It’s probably futile, but in this day and age, it’s all I’ve got. He can’t cross the bridge if I’ve burned it.
* * *
It’s been a year today since we broke up. I don’t remember exactly the last time we talked, maybe a few months ago. I can’t say for sure if I think about him every day, but I also can’t exactly say a day when I haven’t. We aren’t friends on Facebook. I had to delete him. It became a painful, depressive obsession to see who his new friends were and what they were saying—and even worse to imagine what they could be saying. Now I think of him in the same way I think about fond memories from my past that are restricted by time or age, as something that happened rather than something that could happen.
When I do stumble across something that reminds me he’s still a goofy human driving around in his work van, or playing the keyboard with his friends, it does sting. But not as bad as it did. So I just avoid it. I have to.
We did talk in person once a few months after we broke up before I moved cities. My body betrayed me. My nerves betrayed me. They were so happy to see him. I was so happy to see him. I wish I wasn’t. I wonder if my nerves would still recognize him, if they would still light up to see his face.
We’ve talked since then, but we aren’t friends. He recently made his Instagram private, not that he posted much anyway. Maybe he’s met someone. Maybe he hasn’t.
I can’t say that I care anymore. But I can’t say that I don’t.