A few weeks into dating him, when it wasn’t even clear that we were doing more than falling into bed and blogging the pillow talk the morning after, he texted me to ask, “We’re not secret right?”
“Secret?” I wrote back. “Aren’t we on Flickr?”
That’s the moment when it got, as the uselessly succinct Facebook menu options put it, both “serious” and “complicated.”
Our relationship wasn’t founded simply on this trendy sort of self-disclosure: we were just reporting on our sex lives before anyone else did. It shouldn’t have shocked me, let alone the audience we gained along the way, that it’d all have to end online, too. So how do you deal with a breakup like that, without breaking up with the Internet?Cancel, unsubscribe, unfollow. Sort out how you want to react to the breakup only after you’ve canceled the relationship, unsubscribed from her Tumblr, or blocked him from Twitter. To undo a relationship that made it online in any form — whether you’ve got photos together all over MySpace or earned your own tag on Gawker — requires investing as much shared exposure as you put in. Make a cold calculation: in my case, that meant reframing a year-and-a-half long affair, across half a dozen online networks, and doing it in just a few days. This condenses everything: how much it hurts, how fast you have to react. You had weeks or months to attach to one another’s blogs, profiles, and endearingly staged snapshots. Now you have to delete or address it all, all at once.
We live in public. Those of us who document even a small part of our lives online hit that moment when we realize our audience isn’t just our friends: they’re more like fans. Any girl whose kept a LiveJournal or posted photos of her shoes to it has felt this. In talking about your breakup, you’re addressing those “friends,” not your ex — and if your ex has an online footprint equal to or greater than yours? Take charge of your own reputation by telling your story — even if that’s to say you’re going to keep it discreet.
Focus, and cause no collateral damage. The heart’s built-in amnesia – time healing all wounds – is not going to guide your sense of judgment in an online breakup. What will give you resilience later is to tell only your own side now, even if that self-imposed silence aches. The one thing I’d take back from my breakup-blogging is a reference to the sex life of someone close to my ex. But addressing the woman who named me in her own screeds against my ex, after those became the subject of comment for our mutual friends? That not only felt fair, but necessary. In the case of involving those outside the breakup: only expose what you absolutely need to, and only about those equally desperate for the attention.
A pre-emptive makeup? The strange thing is, it really wasn’t hard to read what strangers — who had no interest in my relationship when it was going well — had to say when I was torching it in their RSS reader. It was easy, and easy to obsess on having the crowd vet “what it all meant.” By the time my ex and I reconciled – and screwed, and cried – the worst things we could’ve said to one another had already been said, in front of an audience. Their reblogged attention was gratifying just long enough for us to figure out how little we needed them to make sense of our relationship ourselves.