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When Stalking Seems Reasonable
"We'd now been not-dating for longer than we were ever together, and I'd been acting crazy for longer than I'd ever been acting sane."
by Claire Litton
My friend Robert once said to me in the half-light of my living room, "When we're in love we become actually crazy. I mean, literally deranged." At the time, I could only nod and agree.
Last year I fell in love online, inopportunely. I found myself in virtual conversation with a man I met through a series of improbable coincidences; he was funny, attractive, thoughtful, and actually listened when I spoke. He lived in New York, I lived in Canada, but we fell for each other like old ladies collapsing at Jazzercise. Things had changed since the last time I was in a long-distance relationship: now there was Twitter, Skype, and constant texting. We stayed up until 4 a.m. grinning at each other over spotty webcams, and left our instant messaging programs on all day. We both worked from home, at computers, which mostly meant we could justify answering each email in mere minutes. We were constantly in one another's pockets, always available.
When we finally met in person, we finished each other's sentences in a way that made it seem we'd been together three years, not three weeks. I knew his online selves so well, but in person he was a collection of a thousand habits I wanted to memorize: he liked black coffee, hated the sound of a teakettle boiling, stepped in front of me to block the wind when there was a freak Nor'easter the week after Sandy. I did yoga in his living room while he cooked pasta and watched me, at one point saying, "I just want to touch you all the time. But I'm afraid if I do, you'll fall over." Upside down in Half-Moon, I grinned and said, "You can touch me anytime." At night, we curled together in his memory foam cocoon, breathing the smell of each other's skin and sweaty sex we were always either having or finishing.
Both of us were swimming with murky abandon in the dangerous waters of limerence, and it couldn't last. Later, I counted: we dated, such as you could call it that, for 50 days. Of which we'd actually been in each other's presence for 9, though we Skyped for hours daily. For nine days worth of commitment, it shouldn't have destroyed me the way it did, but when he called me a week after we had the big I'm-polyamorous-well-I'm-monogamous conversation, and said "We need to talk," I had no idea what was waiting for me. We cried, had a tidy little conversation about wishing each other the best, and that was supposedly that. In theory, I was reasonable, accepting the logic of his decision and agreeing that neither of us should compromise who we were for the other. In practice, I went from constant contact with a guy I fell in love with to nothing.
I don't know if you've ever had the plug of your relationship pulled when you are literally in the most chemically dependent stage of it, but it is almost identical to a junkie being denied access to his favorite stash. I'd never been through this kind of heartbreak before, so I had no guidelines for how to act. Since we'd split over a major lifestyle difference, not because we didn't like each other, we were both wrung out with longing. I was miserable; he was miserable. I asked if we could talk about it. He replied that he didn't think much would come of it, but kept responding to the increasingly bizarre messages I sent him.
He didn't have Facebook, but in the name of distance I unfollowed him from Twitter and deleted him from my Skype contacts, installed LeechBlock to stop myself from going to his websites. Then, I watched myself sit at my computer and type his name into the "To:" field with detachment, mailing him a funny link as though my fingers belonged to someone else.
This happened again. And again. In desperation, I googled "how to block yourself from sending emails to someone" and found a Yahoo answers suggestion that I replace the name in my contacts with "DO NOT CALL." Also, it suggested, "get some self control." Several days later, I succumbed again and got a reply: "I like my new name in your address book." Damn it. I deleted him from my contacts altogether. Then I unfortunately discovered I'd memorized his email address.
The same technological advances that had introduced me to his clever one-liners and endearing hand gestures were now making me nuts. I obsessively circumvented my own block systems to stare at his Twitter feed, several times an hour. I followed him...then unfollowed him. I blocked him, then unblocked him, then he refollowed me. Reasoning that it couldn't hurt, I refollowed him. It was like two very confused cows circling each other through a pasture. I had graphic fantasies about letting myself into his apartment and waiting for him to come home from work; in the movies, this is seen as romantic and touching and nobody ever gets a restraining order. If I'd been on the East Coast, I'd probably be facing felony charges right now, but fortunately, I was on a trip to Los Angeles, so in a fit of sanity, I mailed his keys back. I came home from sunny SoCal slightly more functional, having written in big block letters in my journal: "I'M DEFINITELY OVER HIM." If it was in my journal, it was true, right? I was sad, I missed him, but at least I'd stopped re-reading his old emails every day.
Then I went to New York for New Year's Eve, and it all fell apart.