Computer Love: Breaking up in the Digital Age

This is the story of a boy and a girl. Nightly, she sat behind her computer in the Midwest typing her poems into the ether and he sat at his monitor on the East Coast sharing his words with the world. Through online forums, instant messages, and e-mails the boy and the girl learned each other’s hearts and fell in love. They planned a life together via web browsers and moved from the ether into the physical. They married, created, and loved. Their lives, online and off, intertwined. 

This is the story of a boy and a girl now trying to disconnect the threads of their lives. 

Worse than endless requests for Farmville and Mafia Wars, it hurts to see his name come across my timeline, to see his mother on Facebook or mentions of his writing on my Tumblr dashboard. It’s hard to see his work published across the Internet.  What has been constant over the last twelve years, our intimate connection to each other via the Web, is now salt in the wound. Every word, twist of phrase, or social media shift seems designed to break my heart. Sadly, I don’t want to disconnect.

I have loved my husband’s work in some form since 1999 and he’s only getting better. In his words are memories of organizing my thesis on our living room floor and line editing what would be his first published story. My e-mail inbox still holds folders of private messages and our daily work chats. There are zip files of our first year conversing as a couple. And then there is the novella he wrote just for me. Our love has been in our words. Our love has been digital.

How do I manage to disengage from a relationship that has been very much public and very much publicized via social media? How do I learn to adjust to his new relationship being just as public while ours is breathing its last breath? It’s more than un-following, blocking, or deleting profiles.  There will always be small threads of him drifting across my consciousness. How do I find a way to delete these years without feeling a part of me is missing? We have both been guilty of unkind keystrokes and too much transparency when it comes to our demise. I hope that time heals these wounds.

Early in our separation, I began to disappear from the Internet. I deleted and deactivated profiles trying to convince myself that I didn’t need the web and I could disconnect from this pain. It lasted two weeks. My second wave of digital disconnection was cleaning house and deleting people who were more his friends than mine or those likely to re-blog, re-tweet or repost something he’d said. I sent a brief message into the world that it wasn’t personal, just necessary for my sanity and my heart. Again, this didn’t last long. Those people had nothing to do with what was going on in our marriage and I felt badly for blocking and deleting them.

Now, six months in and a few weeks from a finalized divorce, we are trying to find ways to stay connected. Our lives, in some ways, will always be intertwined whether it be through our literary magazine or our need to reach out to each other every now and then. At some point those touches, or clicks, will grow father apart, and I’m learning to be okay with that. The hardest part of all is knowing what was once such a foundation in my daily life, those e-mails, texts, instant messages, and private jokes, are now gone. We are simply one of hundreds of avatars on each other’s timelines. But deep down we are still that boy and girl typing our words into the ether hoping someone will pull them down from the cloud and connect.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Athena Dixon-DeMary is co-founder of Specter Literary Magazine, poetry editor of The Reprint, and a managing editor for Z-Composition. Her work has appeared both online and print and is forthcoming in several journals. She writes and edits in NE Ohio.

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