In Praise of Facebook Stalking An Ex

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I'm puzzled and impressed when people tell me they're still friends with their exes. When I'm done, I'm done. I stay in relationships so long that all the despising and recovery happens while we're still together. By the time the bags are packed, a handshake will cover any remaining need I have for closure.

It might not be the best strategy -- it's pretty time-consuming -- but it does leave me with a slate clean of regret, which is a big plus. No post-break-up hook-ups and drunk dials: I'm out. (Insert sound of mic hitting the floor of that beautifully renovated dining room in the apartment my last ex and I lived in. That place was great. I missed it way more than I missed him. Big sigh. San Francisco real estate can be so cruel.)

There have been a few poorly-defined, unfinished relationships that have stuck with me past the departure date though. Those are the ones where I've found that some mild cyberstalking can really put the lid on things.


Photo by Spirit-Fire. (Flickr)

I know this doesn't sound right. People worry about finding old flames who have lots of money, a fabulous life and a wife much hotter than them, but that hasn't happened to me. Everyone I've looked up has turned out to be satisfyingly, um, what's the tactful word? Unappealing? I can think of other less tactful ones, but, for the sake of maturity and diplomacy, let's go with "unappealing."

It's awesome. At least for my peace of mind.

If you've been holding off on Googling that pesky ex who won't make his way out of your emotional peripheral vision, my advice is to have at it. Look him up and let the waves of relief wash over you.

Exhibit A

A year or two ago, I got an invitation to join a Facebook group of alumni of a top-notch arts program I attended ages ago. That got me wondering about the guy I'd fallen for there. He was an Adonis brimming with well-placed self-confidence: handsome, rich, ridiculously privileged and smooth like creamy Jif.

We had a brief thing -- nothing official but enough to make my heart pound. I was stunned by his bright light and good luck. I yearned, he wrote me a song, we had a lot of awkward phone conversations, and then our connection faded in among all our travels and transitions.

And his girlfriends at home. That too.

I'd heard a a few details -- college, traveling, brief artistic success -- and then nothing. It's not that I thought of him often -- maybe once every year or two -- but those occasional thoughts always had the same unpleasant taste of insecurity they had when we left off.

Thank you, Facebook! A two-second search turned him up and any regret I ever had, any what-ifs, were answered by the picture he'd posted of a 20-something in a tiny bikini and the accompanying words, "I love women."

Let me pause here. Have you ever heard a guy -- any guy: an older one, that kid on Modern Family, the college professor you thought was maybe hitting on you -- say that he loves women, and it didn't sound creepy?

I'm not saying there aren't men who genuinely love women. I'm saying if you say, "I love women," you probably mean, "I love hot chicks in bikinis," or, "I love having sex and if I play my cards right, you're next," or, "I have unresolved issues with my mother that have led me to idolize women in a way that will make our relationship weird and lead to peculiar sex. Oh - and I might be gay."

Anyway, it turns out that the creamy Jif passed its expiration date a while ago and is now covered by a layer of strange oil. The suspicions that were raised by that kick-off have been confirmed by his subsequent posts. Today's? "I bet women who work in lingerie stores just wanna have sex all the time."

You're killing me, dude. Killing me.

What was charming and age-appropriate at 18 -- all that ego, wealth and potential! All those cars and bikes! -- seems to have remained unchanged and, at 40, is just... odd. To me, at least, several years out.

And not "odd" in that, "Gee, I wish I still had that!" way. "Odd" in that "Why are you still doing that?" way. Like losing my passion for Lincoln Logs when I was ten, I'm not into the same things I was when I was 18. Don't get me wrong: I still respect my choice to build my dolls an unstable home with pre-whittled wood, but I've moved on to other interesting things (or, in the case of things I've always loved, different versions of them).

Of course, I'm not saying unequivocally that he hasn't -- what do I know from Facebook feeds? I'm not sure I'd want to be judged on mine (which is probably why I don't post that often) -- just that whatever it is he's evolved into publicly isn't something I feel any pangs about not being involved with, which is a great feeling of freedom from the pervasive adolescent sense of inadequacy that trailed out in the wake of our unfinished relationship.

Exhibit B

Every year or so, I've been feeling rotten about this other guy. Not an ex-boyfriend but still an ex. An ex-friend, I guess. It ended badly. Maybe my fault, I've thought. Probably my fault. Karmic burden and what not. So I finally tracked him down. (We're talking less than five minutes of effort here: I'm not Colombo.)

After a startling wrong turn into the gay marriage announcements -- they sounded really happy and upbeat and I was genuinely happy for the guy for a minute -- I located my ex-friend and his email.

Here's what I found out:

His computer apparently still doesn't have a caps button, which makes his emails less like bright e.e. cummings poems and more like deciphering the phrasing of a heavy metal song: baffling, prone to error and requiring more effort than seems reasonable.

He's the same guy he was back then. At least to me, that is. Sure, yes, maybe he's a changed man and has a wonderful, envy-worthy life. But with each other, we are -- and maybe were -- awful. In the space of a few hours I was reminded of all the ways we sucked together: he's withholding and provoking which, in turn, brings out the worst in me -- judgment, disapproval -- and the whole thing is a car crash of unpleasantness for everyone involved.

It took a jolt of the self-awareness I've accumulated since I last saw him not to fall back into our old habits, and after a few carefully civil words on my part and chilly ones on his, my insecurities about the whole thing -- how it ended, if I could have handled things differently -- were all tucked up in bed, their little chins on the edge of the nicely folded sheet, put to sleep once and for all. That brief reintroduction was exactly the reminder I needed of why we don't hang out anymore, and I'm honestly grateful for both our sakes that we don't.

So here's my point: stalk it up. Not a lot. Just a little. Trust me: you're both different now. Put that annual 5:00 AM wondering behind you already. You have awesome things to do with your time, right? Worrying about how nice the decking maybe was on that already-sunk battleship is not one of them.

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