Texting, Twitter, and tepidity: Exes in the age of social media

Within the span of a week, a boatload of miserable information was delivered to me. I found out one of my exes — who for the longest time said we could never be anything more than we were because he wasn’t ready — was thinking of marriage less than a year after we broke up. Another ex had just become a father at 28, and being 24, I was worried he was eclipsing me in life. Then I found out one of my current partners had been using me to make his ex jealous.

Well, shit.

It wasn’t just that I had received this information within a 100-hour period, but it was the way I learned about it that infuriated me. A picture of my ex holding his newborn son on Facebook, which I had only seen because of a mutual friend commented on the photo.

“He’s real cute,” our friend wrote. “Glad to see everything is coming up Brian!”*

Logically, I knew that being happy for Brian and congratulating him would have been the mature, adult way to behave but I couldn’t stop the jealousy from rolling in. I didn’t even want kids, but seeing an ex doing better than you is always a hard thing to reconcile with and in that moment I was at my worst. So I did the only thing I could: I blocked him.

It wasn’t one of my prouder moments, I’ll admit, but I didn’t want to have to stop logging into Facebook. I had just deleted my Twitter account and I wasn’t ready for a full social media scrub down.

Which, ironically enough, is how I learned about my other ex. Trent* and I were in a weird relationship type thing that seems to define millennial dating in the year 2016 for just over six months. The briefness of the relationship didn’t matter. It was intense. It went from being a very sexual connection, to one of the deepest emotional relationships I ever had with someone to one of the most depressive. We weren’t good for each other, and we knew that. We made each other miserable. We cared for each other immensely, but we didn’t like the other person. I was a burden on him and he took me for granted. I was willing to travel back and forth to see him and he wasn’t. At the end of the day, I was disposable to him and he wasn’t to me.

One of the reasons that Trent and I didn’t work out was because he wasn’t ready to get into a big emotional relationship having just come out of a long-term, complicated situation. He didn’t want to be there emotionally for someone, despite texting, sexting, Skyping and messaging each other while we were at our jobs nearly 24/7. Technology was what brought us together in the first place and it was the reason that we had become as emotionally reliant on each other as we did. Or, at the very least, as I did. When we broke up, I told Trent that we were essentially digital pen pals who fucked a ton, but we didn’t have the kind of in-person connection you want to have with someone. I had fallen for the man he made himself to be on Facebook, Twitter, Skype, and through text. For a while, I had come to hate the person who sat on the couch snuggling up with me or the man holding me in bed, whispering, “I’m really glad you’re here right now.”

It’s easier to lie to someone about who you are when you rely on a series of emoticons and punctuation to make up your frame. As I would learn, it’s also a lot easier to fall in love with an exclamation mark and a heart emoticon than it is a real human being.

All of which leads me to Trent re-entering my life just recently. I hadn’t talked to him for months in an attempt to get over him and was doing pretty well. I had managed to find Sam*, the new boy, and was falling hard for him, when my friend DMed me a link to something he had posted on Facebook about being ready for marriage.

You know in old cartoons when the characters’ heads would start to blow up, their eyes getting ridiculously big and red, steam coming out of their ears, until they just lost their shit? That was essentially where I was at when I read it. It’s not fair to Trent, either. Trent’s a good guy, one of the best, actually, and deserves to be happy. Hell, I’m rooting for his happiness. But nothing could stop the pain of seeing that post and the jealousy that ran through my body over not being that girl.

I wanted to be that girl. I had told Trent I wanted to be that girl, but he didn’t want to be that guy for me. And after blocking him on Skype, unfriending him on Facebook, muting him on Twitter, and deleting his number from my phone, it was easier to stop wanting to be that girl. The pain was going away because all of our communication had ceased to exist. I’m a firm believer in the idea that you never get over your exes, but the hole in your heart starts to stitch itself back together as time goes on, communication ends, and other people enter your life.

But I couldn’t stop my friends from sending me links to his Facebook or Twitter, captioning each one with, “I told you I didn’t like him.” Even though I had gone out of my way to get rid of him on my feed, I couldn’t stop social media from existing and I couldn’t prevent humans from doing what we do best: gossiping. The combination of the two meant I was going to see things he had posted, whether I wanted to or not, and as we try to mend the hole in our heart by doing what we can to protect ourselves, that thread trying to stitch it back together keeps getting cut by these little reminders.

Technology. It’s a double-edged sword in dating, but that’s not breaking news to anyone. Take example number three, Sam. Sam and I flirted on Twitter for months before we actually met. Actually, we had flirted for some time on Twitter before getting into a all-night text conversation with each other while we were smashed and admitting to each other that we had a crush on one another. It was cute and it was exciting and it was fun. Seven days later, we spent an entire week together. Two weeks after that, we did it again. It was one of the most passionate encounters I had with someone in a long time and, while still recovering from my last relationship, I realized that I had serious feelings for this person.

But I also had to reconcile with that fact that the patterns were eerily similar. I had started to fall in love with the words he would send me, our texting and Facebook conversations, and it terrified me that when this ended, it would leave me in the same state that my last relationship did. It didn’t help that I was still getting over my ex and he was still very much in love with his. Sam and I decided, for those reasons, that we couldn’t be anything serious and we would just enjoy each other’s company while the other was single. It’s what we’ve been doing and it’s been fantastic, but I still find myself yearning for those constant messages from him, the random @’s on Twitter, the double-tapped like on Instagram. This attention that we’re all so desperate for and that we’re still trying to figure out.

When do we stop dating the message bubble and start falling for the person behind it? When do we stop dating the version someone makes themselves out to be through iMessage and start actually paying attention to the person we’re spending time with?

Dating has changed spectacularly within the past 5 to 10 years and that means that certain things have become a little easier: falling in love with someone halfway around the world, making dates, joining a community that you identify with, and so on. But it also means that, in many ways, we’re replacing actual intimacy with a fever dream version of what intimacy is.

That’s not to say that relationships are doomed. We’re still falling in love, getting married, or entering long-term relationships. We’re still writing about this complicating, exciting, terrifying, and orgasmic area that we all want to exist within. I’m still learning how to deal with having exes in an era when they don’t just disappear from your life and I’m still learning to look for the person beyond the iMessage typing bubble, but it’s something that we’re all experiencing.

As more platforms, like Instagram and Snapchat, start to get used by those far younger than me for dating, I’m constantly reminded that what dating looks like now will be much different five years from now. As petrifying as that future looks for me, I’m also excited to see how that makes dating all the more fun.

I want to leave you all on this: You are human beings who are valuable and your opinions and feelings are valid. Your emotions or feelings are not silly and you’re entitled to be happy or sad or scared or excited when you are. You’re allowed to be foolish and you’re allowed to be protective of your heart. Don’t let anyone ever make you feel bad for being a disastrous, messy human being. We’re all a little broken on the inside.

*The names of the three men mentioned throughout have been changed to protect their identity.