Do you remember the people you were involved with? Do you remember that Tinder dude you hooked up with a year ago? That summer fling you never seemed to get over? The almost boyfriend that you never officially broke up with? And all the non-relationships that could be resumed with just a text message like nothing has changed? I bet you do. In fact, it’s incredibly hard to not remember in this digital age when you’re only one click away from their existence.
One click and you’ll know everything you need to know. You’ll be reminded of what they look like. You’ll learn that they’ve changed jobs, got a new girlfriend, tried a new diet. You might even find a piece of you somewhere if you scroll down far enough. You’ll be brought back to the last time you saw them, the last time you were in their bed. Old feelings will creep back into your heart, taking over your body even just for a brief second. You’ll feel weird because they’re right here yet they’re not here at all.
It’s 11 pm on a Friday night and you’re feeling lonely. You find yourself on the Instagram feed of a boy you dated casually last summer. You remember liking him and wanting to move the relationship forward but he was reluctant. You remember it eventually fizzled out. You remember deleting his phone number and having a hard time receiving his periodic “Hey you” text messages. You remember crying, trying to move on privately. You remember not knowing what to do with the overwhelming feelings you had for him but learning that over time they calmed themselves down as you distanced yourself from him.
You believe you feel fine now. It’s been a few months. It should be okay. Plus you’ve shown him you’re cool. He knows nothing about your real feelings. You’re on good terms with each other. You’re sure he would think nothing of your presence on his Instagram account. You’re safe. You double tap one photo, then two. You drop a friendly comment. A few minutes later, your phone screen lights up with a text message from him — Hey you! — as though you’re two good friends just catching up, no big deal.
Accepting that he doesn’t want anything serious with you, his reciprocation nevertheless gives you a good does of validation and you allow yourself that much. You both take turn to do the social dance of “How are you doing?”, “What have you been up to?” and eventually “We should hang out soon.” You tell yourself to be chill and think nothing more of this as he maintains a casual attitude towards you but you know… deep inside, whenever you two reconnect, you start having expectations.
You can’t lie to yourself that you haven’t already fantasised one meet-up would turn into two and two would turn into a real deal down the line. You can’t lie to yourself that you’re not looking for something solid with him. You know you are. Come on, be real to yourself. You know these banters, if they don’t die out, would lead to nowhere but another casual hook-up. You know if you go with it, it will be steady until it reaches a point again where you want more and he doesn’t. It will end without a goodbye and he will stay so frustratingly cool while you couldn’t even breathe properly interacting with him. You will find yourself on his Instagram, waiting for a reaction, another text message, another beginning, deluding yourself that this time it will be different.
It never will.
This is the reality of non-relationships. They never progress. They start in a grey zone and stay in a grey zone forever. They have been decided from the very beginning to be the way they are. You can keep stalking. You can keep the banters, keep answering to 11 pm texts, keep coming over to his flat, keep getting high on validation from his replies and invites. No one will tell you when to stop because really, there is no stop. He will still be there — all chilled out and unfazed. His social media accounts will still stay open to your visits. You can drop him a text message and he will keep replying to you. No one will scream to your face that this will never get you what you want until you get disappointed again and realise it the hard way yourself.
So feel free to trace your past on social media. Consume yourself with the people you used to be with who refused to be in your future. Save all the numbers you once said goodbye to just in case you’ll need them again on some lonely Friday night. The banters will keep on going. The high will last until the sun comes up and you can repeat the cycle how many times you want. It’s all up to you. But one day — hopefully one day soon — you will grow weary and you will ask yourself “What’s the point?” as you see no point. You will stare blankly at a “Hey you” text and suddenly question “What do I do with this?” and you will love yourself enough to stop. You will spend your time and energy better elsewhere.
Do yourself a favour and get rid of the stalking habit. Do yourself a favour and delete those phone numbers. Do yourself a favour and move on for good. You don’t need the ghosts of those people in your life no matter how desirable you perceive them to be — it’s no good as they didn’t choose you and would only cast shadow over your happiness. You don’t need to know what they’re up to. You don’t have to care anymore. They’re irrelevant now.
It’s okay to reconnect with people from the past but only invest in them if they demonstrate that they genuinely want to be part of your present. Take your time to filter people out and show them how to treat you. Don’t let them think they can walk in and out of your life as they please.
Next time if the Tinder boy you used to hook up with texts you, think twice before you hit reply. Think realistically about what you want and whether he will ever give it to you.
Next time when you’re lonely on social media, think twice before you look up his name. Think about what you will gain from it. Remember that eventually this will have to stop so better it be now?