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Trapped in the net

Nathan Bransford (via SMH) | March 5, 2013
Thanks to social media there's no hiding from a marriage breakup, writes children's book author Nathan Bransford.

Post-divorce, the internet has become a personal minefield. There was the time shortly after the split when LinkedIn suggested I connect with my ex's new boyfriend. And Facebook kept surfacing "Remember this moment?" photos of me and my ex from my mum's profile. I hid and changed my relationship status in the dead of night so as few people as possible would notice the change and ask me about it.

Worst of all is Gmail, which has one of the most maddening "features" to confront anyone going through a breakup. Nearly every time I wrote an email to friends this past year, Gmail oh-so-helpfully suggested I include my ex-wife.

That awkward moment of running into your ex can happen virtually at any time, even when you're sitting at home. Every mutual friend's Instagram feed is an encounter waiting to happen. Every search through email to find an address or a phone number is a danger zone of old conversations and memories. Blog readers and interviewers still ask after my wife, questions I have become increasingly skilled at dodging. Uncomfortable as it is, I can't put the genie back in the bottle.

When my ex and I split, she adopted a scorched earth approach to social media. She deleted her Facebook profile and blog entirely and started new ones. (Facebook dutifully suggested I befriend her new profile.)

I didn't have that luxury. I had four years of posts devoted to writing and publishing, and discarding it all because of a few mentions of my ex wouldn't have made any sense. I could have gone back and scrubbed all mentions of her, but who has that kind of time?

It's all out there, anyway. It's my life, I can't pretend it didn't happen. The internet makes it impossible to cover your tracks.

To move on emotionally after a breakup, you have to forget. The particulars of fraught conversations fade, your memories of being together become hazy, and you reconstruct your life. The relationship eventually feels like a strange dream you once had. That's how we heal. But the internet doesn't forget. It has a perfect memory. Worse, it's constructed to force memories on you with the assumption that the experience will be pleasant.

Most people don't have a photo album of themselves and their ex sitting on their coffee table, but Facebook Timeline shows your past to all your friends unless you go back and spend a lot of time revising it. My ex's new life isn't entirely out of view -- it keeps popping into my social-media feeds and Google Reader. I've had to get used to the weirdness of commenting on the same friends' Facebook photos as my ex and living a strangely distant parallel life that sometimes can also feel way too close.


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