[Editor’s note: I do not advocate actual stalking.]
Nearly two years ago–okay, one year and eight months ago–my longest and strongest relationship ended. Actually, “ended” is a mild word for what happened. The relationship combusted.
The breakup started off fairly amicable. I was living in New Hampshire at the time (where I’d moved to be with him for his final year of college), and he was doing an internship in New York City. Our communication was faltering. Our dialogue was stilted. His “I love you” sounded like about as genuine as a three-year-old’s “I’m sorry.” So I asked if he wanted to break up–assuring him that I did not want to break up–and he said yes.
For a few hours I was okay. And then the enormity of what had happened hit me: I’d just been broken up with. In rural New Hampshire. After three years (okay, two years and nine months). In the ensuing weeks, I cried all the time forever, had fantastic but emotionally crippling breakup sex, failed miserably at my first job post-college, and contracted shingles. “God got confused and added an ‘H’ to single,” I would tell my friends through a pained smile. Then I would escape to the bathroom to cry some more.
I started dating somebody new. And then somebody newer. And so on. I slept with boys of all shapes and sizes. And I did it well. I enjoyed these things for what they were, but in the back of my head I couldn’t shake the feeling that I would never be “over” my ex, that the nature or form of our breakup had damaged me and that I would spend the rest of my days angsting about what had gone wrong. I checked up on his Facebook incessantly, hoping to catch some glimpse of what he was feeling towards me.
And then, one day, it hit me: we broke up because we were not compatible. In fact, we were worse than “not compatible;” we were toxic. I was emotionally (and professionally, and sexually) unpredictable, and he was compulsively regimented. I tended towards polyamory and he was obsessively monogamous. I liked the word “partner” (or no word at all) and he liked “boyfriend.” I wanted to stay private; he wanted to be Facebook official. During finals, I liked to bake cookies and sing raucous songs, and he literally locked himself in his room. And we were simply not good at working these things out because I talk to think, and he has to think for weeks before he can talk. We were not for each other. If we’d stayed together we would have ended up miserable or dead.
But I still stalk him on Facebook.
Um. Am I two years old? Isn’t that unhealthy? Doesn’t my current partner feel a little bit weird about the fact that my ex’s name is one of the first to pop up when I click on the Facebook search bar? Probably. But I’m not going to stop, and here’s why: if I sever all ties with him, he will cease to be a real person. He will become a concept. Specifically, he will become The Person Who Broke Up With Me Because I’m Garbage (remember, I have historically suffered from low self-esteem). And this is a problem, because as a concept my ex is really amazing for me (anyone can be amazing as a concept, it turns out). The actual things that he does, though–what he posts on Facebook, how he interacts with people–prove to me over and over again that I am happier without him.
Let me be clear: he’s not a horrible person. If your ex is a horrible person, there are probably better things for you to be doing than stalking them. Mine, however, is simply a flawed person who caused me severe amounts of misery. I don’t Facebook stalk him in the hopes that he’s miserable or worse off than I am; I Facebook stalk him to remind myself that we were a shitty couple.
So go ahead. Take a look at what your ex is doing or saying on Facebook. See beyond their glitzy vacation photos or how many awesome friends they seem to have. Do not compare your life to theirs. That’s not the point of this exercise. Instead, look for the things that annoy you or simply don’t interest you. Remember the worst moments in the relationship–the bad behaviors that you pulled out of your ex and the bad behaviors that they pulled out of you. Feel whatever rage or anger or sadness you have to feel, and then remember: those were things you felt in the relationship. They’re gone now.
Of course, that exercise (activity? meditation?) might not work for everyone. For a lot of people–especially people who are trying to get some emotional distance from their exes–Facebook stalking is not helpful and can be crushingly painful, so proceed at your own risk.
I’d advocate for this sort of indulgence above “letting go” or “getting over it” any day of the week, though, and here’s why: people and experiences should stay with us. If we forget what our old relationships were like, we’re liable to repeat the same mistakes over, and over, and over again. My relationship with my partner is kind, caring, and peaceful because of the lessons I’ve learned (and continue to learn) from considering my past relationships. Maybe Facebook stalking is a particularly immature way of accessing this form of self-awareness, but sometimes it’s important to be childlike.
Maybe one day I’ll unfriend my ex or simply for get to look at his profile. Until then, I can rest happy knowing that I deserved better. And he deserved… well, I hope he gets what he deserves.
(Just kidding! He deserved better, too).