As I was putting the finishing touches on my blogger play recently - my very first play, so exciting - I received the following e-mail from my most recent ex. "I'm really sorry. There's not really any good way for me to say this, but I think I need to de-tag the pictures of us on Facebook. This is not about me erasing or forgetting anything; I have all of these saved on my computer, but more importantly, in my head. I just think it's not such a great idea for me to have them on my Facebook now that we've been broken up for a while. I'm sorry."
Now, as you can imagine, this sort of came out of nowhere and it was kind of shocking to read. Of course, because I am human and I have feelings, my initial gut reaction was something along the dreadful lines of "UGHHHH he's really over me how can he do this owwww this hurts," but the more I read over his words, the more that feeling was replaced with an indignant feeling I'll call, Who cares?
Things worth noting:
1. My ex and I have not been Facebook friends for four months. I unfriended him literally the day after he broke up with me, and when I did so I sent him a courtesy e-mail letting him know. Thus I have not seen his profile since we were dating, and really have no idea what's going on in his FBL (Facebook Life).
2. He and I have not had a meaningful conversation in more than two months.
3. The number of photos of us together on Facebook is (was) pretty limited. Maybe 25-30, tops. A small percentage, when you consider that there are nearly 1,500 photos of me currently tagged on Facebook. (Aside: WTF?!)
His e-mail struck a chord in me. It got me wondering - Carrie Bradshaw-style - about the modern break-up, and all that it entails. I imagine that only 10 years ago, the 20-something breakup was a totally different, and likely a somewhat easier, experience. You shared a last coffee or meal with your significant other, or maybe one last phone call - placed from a land line, of course - and that was that. Maybe you made a courtesy call every now and then, just to catch up and say hello, but aside from that, your contact with the person was probably limited to random run-ins - if you had the unfortunate experience of sharing a city - or group outings - if you had the even more unfortunate experience of sharing friends.
But now, it's different. It can take months to purge someone from your social life. Once the initial break-up happens, depending on how close you were with the person and how long you dated, there can be lots of steps required to completely wash him out of your life. If you have an iPhone, you have to delete the text conversation that might literally span the length of your whole relationship. You gotta delete his number from your phone, and any voicemails you might have. You have to avoid reading his blog, which you had probably made a habit of checking everyday. It's best to unfriend on Facebook, and if you can't bring yourself to do that, you have to avoid checking his profile constantly. (I actually have a friend who found herself obsessively checking an ex's profile, so she changed her FB password to a Hemingway quote - like, an entire two lines' worth - to discourage herself from logging in. Tellingly, it didn't keep her from logging in at all - she just quickly memorized the quote.)
And lastly, the (apparently?) epic Facebook photo de-tag. Up until this point, I've considered all the previous steps necessary to moving on with my life and really getting over a person. But I don't fully understand the urge to untag. I've actually never untagged myself from photos with any of my exes, and still don't intend to. My hunch is that someone might do this when he starts dating someone new and the new girl doesn't feel comfortable seeing pictures of him and his ex (ahem, that's me) together. And I guess I just don't really get that. The past is the past. I've never had a problem seeing photos of my boyfriends and their exes together; I acknowledge that all the people I meet in my life had lives - and significant others - before they met me. Also, I fully expect my next significant other not to care about Facebook photos that range anywhere from several months to more than a year old.
So the over-arching question is this, and I think my lovely host blogstress will soon write a response: Does Facebook reallymatter? Has it become such an important part of our young lives that a courtesy e-mail or phone call is expected when you are about to unfriend your ex or de-tag photos with him? Clearly, some - and likely most - think so. But I'm here to dissent, to say no, to say it doesn't matter.
I find that the older I get - Jesus fuck I'm almost 24 - the less Facebook means to me. In college, it was a big deal. I updated my status a lot, changed my profile information frequently and uploaded photos constantly. The further I move away from college, the more other/better outlets I find for expression - namely, my beloved blog and all its offshoots - and the more I see Facebook as nothing but a useful tool for self-promotion. (Though, arguably, not as useful as Twitter.) It's also fun to keep photo albums there and be able to have a commenting community with your friends. But aside from that, the more Facebook itself evolves, with new apps and games and quizzes, the more annoying it becomes.
I do acknowledge that it is undeniable how intertwined Facebook has become with real-life breakups. Going from "In a relationship" to "Single" can be a traumatic experience, as it can lure from the woodwork lots of people you haven't talked to in years (for a reason). It can be a big deal to unfriend someone you once dated, or to see photos of your ex with someone new, or to untag photos with your ex, or whatever. Of course anything along those lines is going to be hurtful to one or both parties - but I would argue that has more to do with the extreme availability of information - combined with the vulnerability of being recently singled - than with Facebook itself. Facebook serves to reflect the very real experiences of being alive - including (but by no means limited to) relationship status, religion, gender and favorite books - but Facebook itself is not real life.
I just have to cling to the belief that how we interact with each other in real life - how we actually treat our friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, colleagues and, yes, exes - is what really matters. I have to cling to the belief that how we handle Facebook in all its social intricacies does not wholly reflect how we truly feel about the relationship we once had with someone. I have to cling to the belief that I will eventually find a man who acknowledges my past and doesn't care if there are photos - and, even more revealing, blog posts - on the Internet that hearken back to the days of my ex. I have to believe that there are better things on which to focus my energy than whether there are 1,500 photos of me tagged on Facebook, or slightly fewer.
You know, like writing an entire blog post about it.