Love (and Breakups) in the Digital Age

This month will be one year since we broke up.

Last October was a difficult month. October’s always seem to be busy for me, full of fall activities and homecomings, and last year was no different. But I usually had him at my side during the rush and ramble of autumn. Which is why when I attended a friend’s wedding without him just 2 days after finally having the talk where I admitted we had come to our ending, so many friends quietly came to me and asked why he wasn’t there. October was a special month for us, and I suppose it was fitting that our ending came then too. But all this is to say, as I experience every new season without him, the nostalgia sometimes feels like it can swallow me whole.

All in all though, I think I’m doing considerably better than I was last October. I’ve been healing in fits and spurts even if I do find myself unexpectedly bursting my stitches every now and then. Usually because I’m reminded of a new way in which our love (and demise) has been preserved in a digital time capsule.

The first and easiest reminder has been Facebook’s “On This Day” feature which daily shows me past cute and inconsequential posts we made on each other’s walls and photos we posted together. I researched early on if this was something I could change, and you can filter out people and places from your memories. But I didn’t like the idea of changing what was actually a memory for me, even if it was just on Facebook. Sometimes they make me a little sad, but overall it was all public and well-curated enough that it didn’t include any real visceral emotions. Just the cotton-candy-esque relationship we allowed the social media world to see.

The next step was remembering we had years worth of Facebook messages. Fortunately, most of those are silly memes or videos we shared with one another. We only really had real conversations via Facebook if one or both of us lost access to our phones for a period of time. But it still stings to see how happy and oblivious we seemed at the time.

Then about two months ago, I had the masochistic epiphany that I still had some voicemails from him and spent a good twenty minutes listening and dissecting every word. There’s a part of me that wishes I had them all from the beginning of our relationship, but the practical side of me knows, that the few I have since my last phone change is painful enough.  But to hear his voice again after so many months–forgetting, imagining, distorting–it brought tears to my eyes. To hear him say “I love you,” sincerely, one more time. To hear him talk about inane things or making fun of the fact that we’d been playing phone tag all afternoon. It made my heart ache in a way it hadn’t in months.

And it was stupid, wasn’t it? To open back up that wound, for fun essentially?

But then this week, for no real reason other than being reminded that in two weeks it would be the day I spoke my fears into reality and was met with no denial, I pulled up our text messages and started scrolling. I wanted to see how far back I’d have to scroll to see an an “I love you” text. There’s actually one from October of last year. But a few days later, there’s one from me explaining how that morning on his way out the door I’d said “I love you” expecting it back but instead was met with “Have a good day too!” and though my gut was telling me that was intentional, that he didn’t want to say he loved me back, because he didn’t anymore, I hoped that by trying to clarify it via text while we were at work, he would simply say “Oh sorry! I love you too!”

But he didn’t.

He didn’t text back at all.

So now I’m left with the “I love you’s” and the texts left on “Read” which are more subtle but I know what they mean. I could delete it all. One of my good friends has said he always gets rid of everything reminding him of his ex. The physical gifts to the voicemails to the texts. And I understand why he does it. And why it might be good for me to as well. Why I will probably do it at some point, if only by accident when I change phones and it’s been so long that I don’t even think twice about wiping my old phone before it’s too late.

Right now, when I look back at those texts, I’m still reminded of him. It’s not as painful, but it still twists my heart in different directions. He’s texted me a few times over the summer. We don’t last more than 2 or 3 exchanges before one of us (usually him) doesn’t respond for another month or so. Our short conversations are not anything like they used to be, but also still uniquely true to him/us. We’re back to trying so hard to impress the other. Wanting to sound educated and witty. Typing things but not really saying anything.

I don’t want to remember our conversations like that. I want to remember the ones where we talk about the water being out and how he needed to shower and poop. Or how he missed me during the long stretches of time apart. Or how he was having an awful day at work and just wanted some reassurance. If I were a digital archeologist, I hope that’s what I’d find the most interesting. Because it was how we navigated our love.  

So maybe I’ll delete them one day (though, as we all know, anything that’s digital isn’t really deleted that easily). But mostly I hope that I find myself wanting to scroll through them less and less until I can. Because as Jen Wood sings in the final hook of The Postal Service’s song “Nothing Better:”

Don’t you feed me lies about some idealistic future.

Your heart won’t heal right if you keep tearing out the sutures.

“Nothing Better” | The Postal Service

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