The following essay was sent into the New York Times a few weeks ago to be considered for one of their Modern Love columns; a section devoted to submissions of contemporary love stories in our confused, often alienating modern society. The essay was, unfortunately, rejected.
Note: Names and places have been changed to protect people’s identities.
My life seems divided into two parts. There was life before David friend-requested me on Facebook, and life afterwards.
I can remember watching the spinning dial whirring against the deep blue of the homepage as I hit “Enter.” I still get that quivering twist of anticipation in my stomach, every time I log in.
The page loaded, and I saw it: the small, delicate shock of red that encompassed a lone “1” next to the Friends icon. I immediately navigated away from my News Feed and clicked.
There it was, a virtual outstretched hand, signifying his display of vulnerability and sheer interest and fiery passion: a friend request from one David Graham.
He told me later he didn’t even know my name; he’d only seen me once at the gym a few blocks away from my apartment. I smiled at him before I realized he was probably smiling at the blond in the lululemons.
But like a postmodern knight on horseback in pursuit of his damsel, he took to Facebook in the hopes of tracking me down.
He’d checked to see if I’d Liked the local gym’s Facebook page. From there, he scoured and scrolled through tens, maybe even dozens of thumbnail-sized profile pictures, until he happened upon my face – then an Instagrammed snapshot of me, close up, my Ray Bans glinting against the setting crimson sun. At least, that’s what he told me. He remembered every profile picture I’ve ever posted.
I took a deep breath, and accepted.
In only minutes, he’d privately messaged me: “Hey, what’s up?”
What complexity, what bubbling subliminal metatextuality lay within these simple words? I knew I too had to play coy, to keep my turbulent emotions in check: “Not much. U?”
(I had debated spelling “you” as “Y-O-U” for nearly three minutes, but ultimately deemed that my compulsion may read to him as tired and old-fashioned. What modern, exciting, intelligent, cultured woman has the time to spell out “you” these days?)
His answer arrived quickly, and I knew instantly that my word choice had also captured his own thoughts: “Not much.”
We’d used the same words to describe our respective states in the present moment. We were one being, one entity.
From there, our messages continued with fervor. He Liked my every status, and I his. He never forgot to comment on a single photo, and not a day went by that he didn’t dedicate his Spotify selection to me.
But this, this was only the glorious beginning, like a delicate budding rose in spring. Four days later, that rose bloomed fully, in the form of a Relationship Request on Facebook.
Of course, I accepted, and from then on, we were an “us.” (Literally, we had an “us” page – Facebook does that now!) It documented every emoticon, every shared link to his Tumblr, and every last check in.
Every night, I’d click through our “us” page. I’d imagine myself as an outsider, peering in through pale, opaque curtains to get a glimpse – just one, fleeting glimpse — of what it’s like to be in love.
But then, jealousy reared it’s ugly, gnarled head. I changed my new profile picture to a photo of me and my cousin, an attractive young man named Tom who was home on leave from the Marines. Tom, naturally, Liked the photo, furthering David’s belief that my betrayal was not only deliberate, it was public.
Before I had a chance to explain, or to even create a caption for the photo, David had posted a new mobile upload straight to Facebook: him, at a bar, kissing another woman. The image was even filtered with Instagram’s golden light, and I knew then that it was over.
I cried, I screamed, I swore into the blackness of the night that I’d never love again. I scrolled again through the “us” page, tormenting myself by continuing to Like his statuses reporting on the color of his sandwich meat.
The rose wilted; the petals fell to the cold, hard floor. Facebook informed me that he was no longer In a Relationship with me.
Support poured in from the comments box as Facebook made its public pronouncement of our end. For the first time, I grew angry at Facebook. This public shame and pity seemed more than my withered soul could endure. In my state of crippled agony, I found some small solace in Celine Dion on Spotify.
Then, one spring day, as the pale grey rain misted on the sidewalk, I received a notification on my iPhone: another friend request.
It was someone new. I’d never seen or spoken him before. He had green eyes, a kind smile, and three mutual friends on Facebook. As I outstretched my finger to hit “Accept,” I paused. Could I do this again? Could I truly friend another?
Perhaps, I thought to myself, I should take things a bit slower this time.
The next day, I connected with him on LinkedIn.