Why I won't share my relationship status.
When Sarah told me she thought we should break-up, her reasons were vague to say the least.
She said she was “uncertain” and had a "feeling in her gut" it wouldn't work out, but couldn't put her finger on why. I had feelings too, they were called love and then shock. The whole thing came as a complete surprise to me, and evidently I wasn’t the only one.
"I don't know what's going on with you guys," her door lady, Jackie, sighed, handing me a shopping bag full of my clothes.
“I don’t know either, Jackie,” I replied.
"I really thought you were the winner." She raised her fists in the air like an Olympic sprinter celebrating a gold medal victory. I tried to get my head around what that even meant before turning silently to leave.
I suppose it would be silly of me not to admit that I missed a sign here or there. I must have, but with hardly a negative word uttered between us in our nine months together, the whole thing seemed incongruous. Our proclamations of love and a holiday visit with her entire family – including aunts, uncles and cousins–had me believing I was going to be around for a while. I was a ways away from bending my knee, but I thought we were having fun and made each other happy. Hardly a guarantee we would spend the rest of our lives together, but at least an indication that when it did end there would be an argument, a toilet seat left up one too many times, a stray meteor, something.
In the end, after more than a month of banging my head against the brick wall that had suddenly appeared between us, we went our separate ways, and I was left to assess what had happened with very little information and only the benefit of hindsight.
So naturally I went to the contemporary archivist of everything that happens in our lives, Facebook. It was there I discovered that I hadn't been in a relationship at all. You can imagine my relief.
It would be hard for me not to put meeting Sarah at the top of the list of things that happened to me in 2012. Well, ahead of my 38th birthday, my 20th high school reunion and a two-week, Hurricane Sandy-related trip to Louisiana. Those last three things all made it onto my timeline, while Sarah is conspicuously missing.
The death of Welcome Back Kotter actor Ron "Horshack" Palillo, a rant about HBO's The Newsroom, and a night of drunken Jenga with co-workers were all catalogued. Falling in love? Not so much.
It is true that I’m a relatively recent convert. I mean to say; I went from someone who didn't use Facebook at all, to a voyeur, to posting the odd photo and even the occasional status update.
One thing I had never done was share my relationship status. I guess it hadn't mattered enough to me in the moment, otherwise I would have found the entirely manageable amount of time and motivation required to click "update info" and "relationship". But now I sort of regretted it. I wanted a record to be kept. I wanted people to know, and to remind myself, that my life amounted to more than pop culture references and bar games. In 2012 I fell in love, and for a time it would seem, someone fell in love with me.
Before Sarah there was Beth and she, too, is conspicuously missing from the Timeline of my life.
We shared friends, tax returns, and even an apartment in the leafy suburbs of Munich, Germany. Yet if someone were to deconstruct my past by way of my Facebook profile, they would hardly know her as anything but one of hundreds of "friends" or a blur of dirty blond hair in the background of some drunken Oktoberfest revelry.
Ironically, the only relationship that registered above a whisper in social media terms was one of my more fleeting.
In the summer of 2008, a job as a media relations representative for a European basketball federation had me spending two weeks on Italy's Adriatic Coast in a small city called Pescara, where a tournament was in full swing.
I stayed in an aging pile of a hotel called The Esplanade. It looked like it might be something special from the outside but its best days, upon closer examination, were clearly behind it. The lobby was all marble and glass, filled with faded leather sofas in odd corners and vases of plastic flowers.
Next to the entrance a card table had been set up where a beautiful young local dispensed daily schedules and warm smiles. In my two weeks shuttling back and forth from a stuffy arena, we became friends and eventually, something more.
Her name was Giorgia, and she was a vision of Italian beauty under a mop of curly black hair, constructing profoundly broken sentences in English that made my knees weak. She called me her “American Boy”, in reference to a popular song that was all over the radio at the time.
Late at night we would wander along the waterfront, stopping for a glass of wine at one of the many bars that fronted the seaside or just making out on a park bench. Eventually, and all too soon, however, I had to jet off to another tournament, but we stayed in touch.
I spent a long weekend in Rome and she came to Munich around the holidays where we wandered through Christmas markets looking for hand-made ornaments and drinking steaming mugs of mulled wine.
All in all, we probably spent a total of two weeks together, but she's all over my Facebook Timeline: The two of us on the Aventine Hill with St. Peter's in the distance, sharing a pretzel in Nuremberg or a beer and a selfie in a dimly lit bar. She even posted on my timeline, something neither Beth nor Sarah ever did.
Before that there were only pre-Facebook relationships, with the exception of Becky whom I had dated for the five or six months just before I left for Europe. I liked her a lot, and she holds the distinction of being my very first Facebook friend.
There are of course other exes with whom I became "friends" long after our romantic relationships had ended. Carla, Stacey and Amber smile at me daily from their 180 x 180 pixel boxes like thumbnail sized ghosts from my romantic past. Sarah is not one of those ghosts.
In the minutes immediately following our last phone call, I deleted her from my life. Her contact from my phone, photos from my iPad and after just a moments hesitation, I “unfriended” her. However reticent my conversion to Facebook had been, I was now a regular user. I couldn’t stand the thought of logging in every day to see the face of the person I loved, but could not be with, staring back at me from an instant messaging application or one of the ubiquitous boxes of friends that pepper my profile.
As it turned out, unfriending Sarah did little to untie the knots in my stomach when I thought about her, which was all the time. I looked at my profile and tried to imagine how my life appeared to others. Truthfully it no more reflected my break-up than it did the relationship that preceded it. But where that once seemed unsettling, it would soon enough begin to serve a useful purpose.
In the months since I had last seen Sarah, anyone logging in to check on me would probably think things were going swimmingly. They might even be jealous, after all I had been busy. Sitting in on the recording session of a well known singer-songwriter, spending the holidays in Rome, attending a taping of The Daily Show, and partying on Bourbon Street the week of the Super Bowl.
No empty gin bottles, no sleepless nights, no endless and exhausting sessions at the gym, no Sunday afternoons spent watching soldiers homecoming videos on YouTube in an attempt to release a little of the pressure in my chest. What a full and depression-free life I was leading. How comforting to know that not only had the relationship never happened, but neither had the break-up, which now that I thought about it, was perversely self-evident.
They say when your heart’s been broken, you should go easy on yourself. I don't know about that, but there's no doubt that a little perspective can't hurt. Where my profile once seemed to be missing all the important stuff, now it was what was missing that made it a useful tool. This was, in fact, my real life stripped of all the negative, self-defeating stuff going on inside my head. Just like I didn’t need Facebook to remind me of Sarah when we were together, I hardly required its help in reminding me of how much I missed her; that’s what the empty feeling in my chest was for.