It’s hard to imagine a clean break. First there’s something, then nothing forever.
Clean breaks are nice to think about. It’s nice to think that, after a one-night stand or a three-year relationship, people can just go their separate ways. That’s rarely the case anymore.
Of all the people I follow on Instagram, most fall into the category of people I’d never call on the phone. Many others, I would never text out of the blue. Still, they’re there in my feed every day. I could tell you where a lot of these people live and what they do every day despite the fact that I’d never text them to find out.
It’s hard to leave people in the past. Once you’re connected via social media, the other person doesn’t have to make much of an effort to still remain in the periphery of your life.
It used to be that if someone lost your phone number, they lost contact with you. Now, they can simply send a snap; one that they also sent to five other people. They like one of your posts or reply to your story with a fire emoji and still do enough to remain in your side mirror.
Never in focus, but never completely out of view.
These micro-relationships exist because of old hookups, almost-friends, former partners, and vacation acquaintances. We keep people in our lives despite having no idea when we’ll ever see them again. Micro-relationships don’t require much effort, but they don’t require zero effort either.
Maybe there’s nothing wrong with keeping these side characters in your life. We’re all hyper-connected, and while we can be more connected to the people we care about, we also stay connected with people we used to lose track of.
At their worst, these micro-relationships inhibit some people from moving forward and finding new relationships. There’s often a rationale for continuing to follow someone you barely know. So things didn’t work out with that girl you met at the bar, but who’s to say that things won’t work out between you in the future? Maybe if you follow her long enough on Instagram, you’ll find out.
The lack of clean breaks doesn’t just apply to romantic interests, but it’s certainly where the phenomenon is most noticeable. Any time you think about unfollowing that old fling, then don’t because you might reconnect someday, you’re convincing yourself you might reach out to them in the future. It’s a mind trick that keeps people in our peripherals.
These connections are strenuous at best, and even sound a little ridiculous when typed out, but they’re real. They’re why you follow 500 people even though you don’t have 500 friends. Micro-relationships allow us to hold on to past moments in our lives in the hopes that they might resurface, and whether that’s healthy or not, it’s the reality of a world without clean breaks.