The other day, this guy I dated once texted me.
I mean that literally: We went out on one date. Actually, I don’t even think I realised it was a date until I got there — we worked together for a time, and he asked me if I wanted to go for a drink. It was only once I got to the bar that I understood it was more than a between-colleagues thing. It just as quickly became clear me to me that it wasn’t going to work. If you don’t understand that I’m being sarcastic much of the time, well, then you don’t much understand me. Anyhow, he didn’t have much longer left on his contract. I was cordial, and then hoped that, once our paths no longer crossed in the lunchroom, I could just disappear from his life and he from mine.
But technology has made doing that graceful fade tougher. I’m still in his cell phone, ripe for the drunken text. Indeed, as Maureen O’Connor makes clear in the punnily-headlined, “All My Exes Live in Texts,” (ah, the zany copy editors!) it takes real determination to disengage. Breaking up doesn’t mean breaking things off, not really.
I was looking at Facebook the other day, and counted about a half-dozen exes among my friends. It might’ve been more, but I was in a relationship that stretched back to before Mark Zuckerberg stole idea for “thefacebook” from the Winklevii. So, most of my online connections are
boyfriends or relationships that were more platonic than passionate or so long enough ago to be firmly nostalgic. I read their updates with a sort of generic interest, applaud major milestones, and occasionally wonder if they were always such jerks. In that, my response isn’t dissimilar to the many other not-quite-friends I have on social media.
Yet, as O’Connor notes, there is something markedly different about the ongoing interaction with an ex with whom you have less distance, emotionally or timewise, no matter how passive that interaction might be. Or, maybe it’s, in part, because it is passive. Used to be, if you split up, you could choose to remain friends or you could choose to go your separate ways. There was none of this limbo. You didn’t occasionally get a peek into a life that, but for circumstances, could’ve been yours. You see that he’s taking her to the same places, your old haunts — or, just as bad, to the places you’d always planned on going together. There are photos of her sitting on your sofa, or of him in the tie you bought him that time in London. They’re hanging with your friends, posting chummy notes on the walls of mutual acquaintances. And what are you going to do? Yes, you can unfriend, unfollow, block — but are you systematically going to do that for everyone who was once part of your shared life, too?
Virtual are the ties that bind.