Thought Catalog
May 8, 2011

Why I Won’t Ask How You’re Doing

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Some nights, when I couldn’t sleep, I would do this thing–I’d look at the Facebook profile of a guy I used to date.

We weren’t together that long, only about a month, and it never really got that serious. But for that month, for that time we were together, we were together. We saw each other almost every day and got to know each other really quickly (maybe far too quickly). We didn’t share mutual friends, but we met each others’, we melted into each others’ lives, if only for a few minutes. It was nice. It felt…adult.

But in the end, it didn’t work out. We were never really compatible, and although there were many things I adored about him, we went our separate ways. Life happens. No hard feelings.

And it’s odd, in looking at his profile, I felt this objective sense of curiosity. No emotions colored my interest, there was no fevered clicking through photos, no frantic searching for updates on his life. He wasn’t dating anyone new, but even if he had been, I wouldn’t have cared. I just found myself asking simple questions. Who is this person? What does he do now? He must be the same, he lives in that same beautiful apartment that was always a few degrees too cold. He still wears that sweater that I loved, the one I occasionally stole.

And though we weren’t a great love story, although we were just a flash in the pan–two people in their twenties, laughing and bullshitting and drinking Blue Moon, we were something. I can remember the way he sounds, the way his hair felt, the way he made tea in the mornings when the sun melted through the window. I can still hear his laugh, still taste the strawberries we got at the farmer’s market, so juicy and ripe they almost fell apart in your hands. It’s all still here. But even with such visceral memories, he doesn’t exist to me anymore.

We remained “friends” in the social network sense, that odd cobweb of personal relationships that is as real as it is illusory. Yes, we can still see into each others’ lives; no, we are not a part of them. I suppose we never deleted each other because we never needed to. There was simply a day when we went our separate ways, and to remove each other electronically would have been too final, too cold. There was no need for all of that, everybody’s fine.

He will go on, get married, have children, and soon our relationship will be fifty years behind him. But I wonder, what happens to these moments that we share together? Am I a different person for having watched it snow from his fire escape, from surprising him at 3 AM, from sharing my favorite TV show with him? These stupid, mundane moments with people that didn’t greatly change my life often seem to be the ones that haunt me the most.

And it’s so gently unsettling that now, for the first time in human history, we have this funny, innocent little peephole into the lives of others. An acquaintance, an old flame, in any other period of history, would have faded away just as quickly as they came–now, they are here indefinitely. They linger on the bottom of our screens, they pop up in our news feeds, they are still here. Perhaps it’s better to allow the natural falling-out-of-touch process to run its course, perhaps too many peripheral contacts dilute the ones we should really be keeping. But it’s too late for that. For better or for worse, people remain in the corners of our lives, too far away to touch, too close to forget completely.

It’s easy to let your whole being shake and sigh when you think about the one who broke your heart, or the one who never loved you in return. Those earth-shattering events are ones that will clearly mold you, change you, point you in a different direction. But the little things can so easily fall through the cracks, and we are all standing beneath the drops with buckets and bowls, trying to catch every one. I need 900 photos of myself, I want every email we ever exchanged. I want to feel like these moments meant something, that I am a different person for having lived through them, that we are better for the experience.

I wanted to talk to him, to write to him, to ask him about his life. But I didn’t. And I won’t. It wouldn’t be appropriate. Strangely, we are encouraged to stay in “friendships” with people online that, if used to actually communicate, would suddenly seem odd and out-of-line. To see my picture on his computer every day wouldn’t be weird, but for me to say hello one day, well, he wouldn’t quite know how to respond. And I wouldn’t know what to open with in the first place. I don’t want to get back with him, I have no jealousy or ill will or untied ends, I don’t even have anything interesting to say. I just want to touch his life again, to know that it was real, to know that we are real, and to know that moments that pass don’t just evaporate into nothingness, even if I really know they do.

You can’t go back. I can’t go back. But I hope he’s doing well. TC mark

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