I generally like to make peace with my exes, since we once shared a life, or at least a large fries. But the last time I tried to reach out to one in particular, a guy who was so traumatised by our break-up, he fled overnight to Laos (no, I don’t get it either), my attempt to strike up a conversation on a train platform resulted in him panicking and running headlong into Federation Square. I had only wanted to express my well wishes and hope that he was still getting Centrelink payments.
“Because you’re a decent human being and you deserve that,” I said.
Clearly, he misread the situation, as he was apt to do in most cases, and there’s nothing much I can do for someone who refuses to communicate with government bodies. Still, where was my closure?
When I can’t make face-to-face contact with an ex, the Internet calls out to me like a siren. Because I want to know. Anything. Everything. Are they alive? In prison? Running for parliament in a marginal seat? For years, I’ve conducted semi-annual websearches for most of my exes, once on the anniversary of our break-up, and once again at Christmas time, because you’ve got to do something with the holidays, when you’ve run out of Tim Allen movies and the will to live. Technically, it isn’t stalking. Just indulging a natural curiosity and making use of my neighbour’s broadband. But is it healthy? And is there a point?
Did anyone better know their exes from their trail of tweets, photos or favourite Simpsons quotes? Did anyone ever get closure from a .gif? There is no prescribed end to stalking, no point at which I have ever felt resolved or satisfied. On the contrary, I just end up with more questions, like, “What is with those sideburns?” and “Are you really happy there, or did you finally get your hands on peyote?” Well, I guess I’ll never know.
I’ll also never get that time back. I’ve easily spent hundreds of hours of my life accumulating data about people from whom I am long estranged. Why? And why let it go on? Because at some point, the need to “make peace” slipped over into morbid fascination and became a free form of entertainment that fuels an irrelevant part of my personality, the part that stole their vinyl collection.
I have a theory that I’m not searching for my exes at all, but searching for the versions of myself that they dated. The teenager. The punk. The muse. And whatever version of me that felt she “needed” an original pressing of Weird Al Yankovic’s “Like a Surgeon”. Who was I? And what was I thinking? But the past makes no more more sense the more I examine my exes. When I recently tried searching for my first boyfriend, a maverick arsehole and the only person upon whom I wish an anvil, I found nothing, as per my previous semi-annual websearches, aside from a picture of his forehead from 2007. I actually cried. There’s no way I’m still mourning the loss of him or the loss of the relationship. But perhaps I lost myself. Perhaps I just want the Internet to show me … me.
Even if I’m wrong, there are better, more constructive things to do than stare into a monitor and pick a wound. Like anything. Like actually learning something. Or building a homeless shelter. Or making profiteroles.
So I’ve stopped stalking. It goes against an impulse that’s existed for years, an addiction I’ve nurtured and Facebook’s prime directive. But there are things I don’t need to know, things I never needed to know and a whole world out there. Including Laos.
This article first appeared in Frankie Magazine issue 67 (Sept/Oct 2015).