“Ugh, why does she always have to look like that?” I groan as I stare at the grid of pictures, the three in each row depicting the same smiling girl. She was either holding a drink, hugging the shoulders of a friend, or giving the camera a flirty nod. Yet another girl’s Instagram had pictures of artfully arranged food –or, well, art– and had the sort of quirky, biting comments I couldn’t mimic myself. They all reflected a sort of perfection I couldn’t help but judge. Or look away from.
Why the fuck was I still looking? Glancing up from my phone, I realized I hadn’t voiced my presumed disdain aloud. My friends were just as unattentive, scrolling through their own social media feeds and commenting on what they saw.
If I had said anything, I always expected the backlash of, “why do you care? She’s irrelevant to your life,” in response. I used to be more candid, but now? I partake in my own inner commentary on what I happen to be looking at, if it draws enough emotion to summon even a, “wow,” with a scoff. At this point, no one knows how badly I stalk — sometimes not responding to texts for hours — because I don’t feel the need to have others interact with my perception. But also because there’s a certain shame I feel. Most of the time I just look at all of the writing, picture taking, favoriting that is supposed to give you an idea of what a person’s core being wants you to know — I dwell in how very detached from it all I feel.
I call it, “hate-stalking,” a despicable act that can be achieved through the thumbs touching the screen, a recitation of tired name spelling in my brain, a type of giddy euphoria from seeing a NEW! UPDATE! And then a sense of “what the fuck was the point of that?” after a second. Any new drug that has you inhale has you eventually disappointedly exhale, and exhaling is the worst part of hate-stalking. I sit and wonder why I wasted 30 seconds of my life and cell phone data checking up on someone’s useless posts (useless to me, at least, not them!) and feel bad.
I believe hate is such a strong word for the emotion I feel, which is meta-annoyance at myself for engaging my social affairs the way I do. That emotion I feel when I click on certain routine names is not quite hate, but it is strong. It’s prescient in my gut. It’s not quite obsession, because I don’t want to know anything. I just want to be updated and consume information with which I don’t know what to do.
And that disgusts me. Maybe hate-stalking sounds too much like I hate the sin of the stalkee, as opposed to the sinner, me, the stalker.
I don’t keep up with close friends’ updates as hard. Does that make me an asshole? I hope not. But yes, my most searched names is phenomenon I like to keep hidden, always tilting the screen thus when asked to look up someone, so no one sees my secret.
What am I looking for, exactly? Often nothing. I don’t know what I expect. Something that would enchant me? Probably not. ****, *******, ***, ******* have no idea I even notice their existence. They’re just ordinary people, and what’s not ordinary is my perceived apathy to them otherwise. When I pass them on the street, I give a terse nod, a half-smile, maybe a cheery fake greeting if it strikes my fancy. I give off the impression I could care less about them. Little do they know that by night, I am examining their captions for the soul that I know is inside, pretending for seconds at a time that I know them —
Every day, it’s routine that as I glance through Facebook — Instagram — Twitter — Linkedin on a good day — I’ll go through the same people. Sometimes, if they haven’t had updates in a while, I’ll go all the way to the depths of their profiles — wow 112w!! — and just observe.
See, for you to merit me “hate-stalking” you, it’s because you’ve achieved a level of immortality that exists outside any need to interact with you in the real world. Who fits the profile of most-searched-covert-names? Anyone from a former friend, to a classmate who is aloof and hard to talk to, to your former crush’s new girlfriend, to a beautiful stranger that I’ve heard many talk about but never gotten the opportunity to interact with myself. Anyone who has put up a barrier between me, him, her, them — does it matter? I don’t want to talk to you, but I want to go through the motions of obsessing over you.
If you were ever to break the 13th wall or whatever wall that’s keeping us from being true friends and graduating to a status where I wouldn’t have to stalk you, for we’d just be talking!!! Then that would be ideal.
The further I get into my stalking routine, the more I notice my lack of motivation to post. I’m done returning any perceived stalk-back favors. Was the stalking furthering a need for anonymity? Were the hours I used to spend sharing about myself now mandatorily occupied by time spent on others? I didn’t consider myself a lurker until I started feeling like people wouldn’t find me worthy of watching. So I decided to give them nothing to work with. I’m a shadow right now; my likes aren’t worth shit, but I don’t dole them out as often as I once did. Maybe that’s why despite having a large Facebook/Instagram/Twitter following, I don’t say much.
The best part of hate-stalking is feeling like you’ve outsmarted the person every time you see them in person.
“Oh wow, I had noooo idea you cut your hair!” Bitch. Yeah I did. It was all over your Instagram. But there’s a power in refusing to bridge a gap between your expressing and my obsessing. I’m not going to let you have the satisfaction of knowing I saw.
There’s a power in being like, oh, you have to go out of your way to alter your reality and TELL — SHOW — CONVEY TO ME what is going on with you. Even if I know it already, don’t be lazy; I’m not going to go out of my way to *let* you know I have this knowledge. SPELL IT OUT, YOU POTENTIALLY PRETENTIOUS HUMAN —
On the flip side, sometimes knowing is a power play more than not knowing.
“Oh yeah, I knew you cut your hair. It was on your Instagram, haha? Are you like, surprised I saw? Haha, then why did you post it!!! Yeah, I keep up with you. Don’t you dare talk to me about anything substantial when I could just read or see about you on the Internet :)”
There is no winning. Hate-stalking entails an empty sensation, because it makes you a slave to your own routine — checking frequently, but to what end?? To get your own feelings out and away from everything? Perhaps. Anyone who fits the profile, and unsuspecting. I think what I resent most about the hate-stalking is the perception these people don’t want to let me in. I’ve picked up on it, and the glamour of knowing if I talk to them, they won’t respond, is just good enough. Might as well settle.
Will hate-stalking ever stop? Maybe. Why should it matter what form my curiosity takes? Is there value in that miniscule triumph of not letting onto them? Don’t our lives spin madly on regardless?
A tight-lipped lack of acknowledgment doesn’t alleviate that yearning to be relevant, as relevant to you as you sadly are and shouldn’t be, to me. Even after viewing your Snap story for the umpteenth time, I don’t know anything, at all.
But the fact that I cared to notice means there’s always a part of me — no matter how I justify it away — that wants to, begs for you to, tell me that story. I’m here!!! Hungering for your insides. To see… About the human who is more than just a filter, a button, an unrevealing smile asking for favorites. A person who wants attention of any sort, for there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be noted.
Originally published at crystalduan.com on June 6, 2016.