Love In the Age of the Internet
Over at Aeon, Claire L Evans is processing what it means to break up in the shadow of Facebook and other social media:
Let’s return to that online breakup. In your attempts to clear the debris, you discover that, like an ecosystem, your social network reacts holistically to change. For one, it doesn’t want you to sever ties with anyone: at every turn, it seems to ask you to reconsider. The architecture of the social web, like that of a Las Vegas casino, always leads the user back inside. The engine depends on connections: groups, rather than individuals, are the commodity being sold.
She goes on to bemoan the internet in general, the way our over-connectedness destroys our ability to feel real emotions, or some similar nonsense that always shows up in these kinds of pieces. But as long as she’s keeping it out of Slow Media and focused on relationships, I’m intrigued.
I had a breakup about a month ago. This is perhaps the first time I’ve said that publicly on the internet, although I certainly dragged a few lucky confidants through every agonizing moment over instant message. Two weeks ago, some pictures from Hallowe’en, the two of us in full-on adorable couple mode, surfaced on Facebook. I didn’t untag myself or decide it was time to unfriend anyone, or in fact react with anything other than maybe nostalgia. Seeing pictures of happier times, in fact, forced me to remember how good that relationship was at its best, and not dwell only on the ways it fractured and failed. Both of those are true: we had really great times, and really terrible ones. I want to know both of those things.
But I’m also pretty sure I am living my relationships in exactly the private shadow Evans proposes. I changed my Facebook relationship status to “it’s complicated” about two and a half years ago when I started dating Thing One, and it hasn’t changed since. I tweet pretty constantly, but never about new love, or really any details of any of my relationships. Some of this is because I am open-door closeted about being polyamorous, and Twitter is the wrong place for my mom to learn I have multiple partners. (Of course, bringing a new paramour home to Thanksgiving didn’t trigger that revelation, either, so maybe she’s a special case.)
At the end of the year, Facebook’s algorithms automatically assembled a collection of “highlights” meant to represent that which was most important. Mine showed my most-commented on posts, and some job changes, and it was all pretty much expected. Until I scrolled back to January, and Facebook chose to highlight one friend that I had added from the whole year: Thing Two. With whom I had not been tagged in a photo until November, whom I use Facebook to communicate with very infrequently, who has never been connected to my online relationship status. Of course, we’ve been co-hosting a lot of Facebook events recently, including a fake wedding, and there sure are photos up now of him in a wedding dress and me in an over-patterned suit and maybe the algorithm is fancy enough to see that the kiss at the end of the ceremony wasn’t a joke. I’m not sure.
Thing Two and I are working on what we call a Partner Prenup, a big, written set of agreements about our relationship and how we want it to go down, right up to and including the end. Discussing that now, when we’re still very much in love and healthy and working, feels like one of the healthiest and smartest things I’ve done. We know, almost without a shadow of a doubt, that it will be me who gets tired of this relationship or grows past it first. If we get unhealthy, it’ll be Thing Two who pushes me to break up, but I’m going to be the one who says the words and makes it so. And we’ll figure out how to get all of our belongings out of each other’s houses, and divide our friends back up, and build new lives apart from each other. And now I’m thinking about the internet of our relationship. Will we unfriend each other? Will one of us un-tag the wedding photos? I hope not.
One of the things polyamory has taught me is that relationships end, and that’s okay. Part of escaping the relationship escalator is escaping that unhealthy idea that any relationship that ends is a “failure.” That the only definition of success is “one of you died and you were still in love.” Humans don’t work like that. We grow and we change and some people are really close to us for a time but not forever, and this is a thing to be celebrated. I’m glad that I can’t burn the reminders of my relationships like a box of love letters under the bed. I want the chance to remember how good it was, and what I learned. I want the chance to be emotionally honest.