Stalking exes on Facebook is a well-loved (and hated) pastime of perpetually jilted lovers like me. I still allow myself the occasional sheepish glance at my ex-boyfriend’s page, usually with the excuse that I just happened to see a nondescript picture of him come up on a mutual friend’s newsfeed and I just thought I’d check in and “see what was goin’ on,” since I unsubscribed from his updates and all.
My ex-boyfriend, however, is never active enough on Facebook to justify excessive lurking of his page. Even if he were seeing someone else, I’d probably never know it, since I dated him for nearly a year and there isn’t a single photo of us tagged together on Facebook, nor did we write on one another’s walls. We just “weren’t like that.” Once, when our courtship was young, I posted a picture of a swan to his wall. Those were halcyon days, indeed.
This is all my way of saying that, in the wake of the relationship’s ending, rather than torturing myself by constantly reminding myself of all the social events my ex was attending without me and apparently enjoying all the more for my absence, I devised a far more effective way to torture myself with obsessive remembrance, painful emotions, and false hope: lurking my ex’s Last.fm page.
Like most couples, my ex-boyfriend and I spent a lot of time listening to music together. We spent time introducing each other to things we liked, enjoying our shared taste, and quietly enduring things that one of us liked but the other didn’t: for me, it was reggae, jazz, and most of his friends’ bands; for him, it was my unfortunate and telling preoccupation with Red House Painters.
Music is dangerous. It holds memories and forgotten feelings like a sonic sponge you can squeeze whenever you masochistically please. There are songs and entire albums I can’t listen to anymore because I might, on hearing them, find myself composing lyrical emails to my ex expressing my Dashed Hopes and Deep Heartache, neither of which would ordinarily seem like appropriate topics for an email. These emails invariably begin with the phrase, “You don’t have to respond to this, but…” and end by saying something along the lines of, “I know I never expressed my feelings for you in so many words, and I know it’s too late, but you should know that it’s because I have trust issues, and I know you don’t care anymore, but I care, I will care forever, I’m pretty sure that I will care forever.”
Needless to say, I can’t really afford to put my iTunes on shuffle anymore.
A few days after my ex and I started dating, after discovering our relatively compatible taste in music, we “friended” each other on Last.fm. A few days after my ex broke up with me, after it was made clear that I was going to handle the whole thing in the craziest, most emotionally intense way possible, regardless of how happy I’d actually been in the relationship (not very), I “unfriended” him on Last.fm. “I can’t handle knowing what he’s listening to!” I melodramatically insisted. “And he can’t have the pleasure of knowing that all I’m listening to is Red House Painters on repeat.” That just wouldn’t be fair.
But—the thing about the Internet is that you don’t have to be friends with someone to memorize the web address of a page they control or update. And a few months after my ex and I broke up, I began obsessively lurking his Last.fm page, looking for clues that might help me answer the important questions. Why did we break up? Did he still love me? Did he even deserve me? What psychological issues—fear of commitment, inability to sustain interest, jealous tendencies—did his “Most Played” list reveal, and was he listening to anything that might remind him of me? Oh, and how many Red House Painters plays did he have? (Answer: a measly 43, as compared to my 930.)
I began to draw tenuous-at-best connections between my ex’s musical tastes and the way that he had treated me. The 1,144 Smog plays that topped out his “Overall” chart suddenly seemed less like an innocent love of lo-fi and more like a harbinger of Certain Relationship Doom that I had somehow overlooked. Smog? You mean, Bill Callahan? You mean the guy who famously broke the smoky, soggy, alcoholic heart of Cat Power, and then later, the sweet, cerebral, unsuspecting spirit of Joanna Newsom?
How many Joanna Newsom plays did my ex have, anyway? Nine, as opposed to my 331? Well! No man who loves Smog that much could possibly love a delicate woman, at least not in any sort of healthy way. Yeah, and what about those 260 Bill Callahan plays? You like solo projects, don’t you? Don’t you, ya jerk?
His 861 Philip Glass plays then became, not a manifestation of a perfectly pedestrian love of popular modern classical, but a sublimated enjoyment of disharmony incarnate—just listen to those screaming bowstrings, those broken rhythms! Yeah? Yeah? You like minimalism, asshole? You like unpredictability? Well I don’t! I submit to you that no man who loves Philip Glass that much could ever sustain a happy relationship for long.
The more I lurked, the more absurd my associations became. One by one, every artist my ex likes became—somehow, someway—associated with the downfall of our relationship. “Even Madvillain?” I hear you ask. Yes, even Madvillain. My ex-boyfriend’s deep and lasting love of weed, which always seemed to far outstrip his love of me, is shared and encouraged by Madvillain, you see. “What about Yo La Tengo?” you say. How could Yo La Tengo possibly be involved? Well, this one time, a little while after our break-up, my ex visited my hometown to see a Yo La Tengo concert, but didn’t visit me. My ex clearly loves Yo La Tengo more than he will ever love me.
Eventually, my lurking became chronic and, finally, boring. Overanalyzing every song my ex haphazardly scrobbled became exhausting and pointless. It became tiring, upon observing that he was listening to, say, “1979” by the Smashing Pumpkins, to have to ask myself “Why’s he doing that?” Because the answer, eventually, could only be, “He digs the hook.” Because that song has nothing to do with me, even if Last.fm continues to tell me my compatibility with my ex is “high.”
The truth is, none of the things my ex listened to post-breakup ever had much to do with me. He never cared enough to spend time wallowing in my memory, and I just have an unhealthy desire for answers where they can’t be found. Music may be a carrier for our memories, a harbor for our deepest feelings, and a catalyst for the emergence of both, but it’s also more and less than that: it’s a beat, a melody, and often an excellent reason to dance.
For now, forget remembering, ‘cause I just wanna dance.