I never hear from my very first boyfriend, the one I dated pre-mobile phones. He’s not my Facebook friend, he doesn’t follow my Twitter or my blog. We’re not connected by Gmail, Skype or LinkedIn. If I wanted to, I suppose I could google him. But I don’t. Because, y’know, I’m not a masochist.
In 2013, such luxury is lost to us. For my social-media-obsessed generation, which sleeps with its smartphones, our exes are never out of our beds. They swarm our iClouds like herpes, occasionally receding, but never truly gone.
I’ve dated two men who follow me on Twitter. On my Facebook I’ve got two former boyfriends, one holiday romance, two dates, one disastrous fling and someone I snogged at the Christmas party. Most of these men I rarely speak to. Instead, I watch their lives unfold on my newsfeed, where they tag pictures of themselves at festivals with hot new girlfriends, post wedding pictures and flattering selfies.
My friends have the same ever-present exes. Kat appears in sarcastic comments on her ex’s Twitter feed. Lauren complains one partner she’d cut contact with has recently re-emerged and started “endorsing” her on LinkedIn. “It just brought up all the memories of our relationship,” she says, “and how he used to disappear for weeks at a time and manipulate me.” Even my own mother — not a navel-gazing millennial — bumped into an ex online: her teenage sweetheart was on Friends Reunited and she ended up on a date with him. (Verdict: bald, divorced, dull.)
Sherry Turkle, a professor of the social studies of science and technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, thinks “Technology appeals to us where we feel most vulnerable.” It gives us clear tools to negotiate complex emotions. Online we have distance to deal with people in sporadic and scripted ways.
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