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Breaking up in the time of Twitter

Breaking up in the time of Twitter
Christopher Trout
Christopher Trout|@Mr_Trout|August 6, 2015 10:00 AM

For nearly 10 years, we shared everything, but it never occurred to me that sharing a four-digit PIN could ruin it all.

In late May, I was up at night dealing with a heinous cough and, seeking home remedies for post-nasal drip, grabbed the closest thing with an internet connection. That thing just happened to be my boyfriend's iPhone. But before I could go down the rabbit hole of questionable medical advice, I was thrust into a conversation between the man I loved and a cook at a restaurant we frequented. I scrolled for hours through flirtatious word bubbles and scandalous selfies and with every iMessage, my heart broke just a little bit more.

For two months, I'd been sitting idly by while the love of my life shared his love with someone else. I hated those little blue word bubbles almost as much as I hated my boyfriend and his culinary sidepiece. If it weren't for those bulbous harbingers of despair, I'd be living in ignorant bliss. Instead, there I was, gasping for breath in my tighty whities, bawling uncontrollably, the bright light of his iPhone screen filling my living room with dread.

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Not now

The internet had become my escape, my personal pause button for emotional impulses.

The next day I kicked him to the curb, in proper mid-'90s talk show fashion, but within two weeks he was back. We were forced to cohabitate, as so many estranged couples in the Bay Area are these days. With online business booming and rent rising, it's no easy feat finding an affordable place to stay on short notice. His presence was a constant reminder of the damage done. So I threw myself into my work to shake the nagging mix of anger and sadness. As the editor of a major online publication, that meant spending even more of my life on the internet. It may be a breeding ground for negativity, but I was numb to the kind of cruelty you find in the comments section of a smartphone review. The cruelty I'd felt in the real world, however, was oppressive.

For weeks, work was all I needed. From about 8AM until 6PM every day, I was free from my heartbreak. As soon as I woke up, I'd grab my phone to check my email and for the next 10 hours, I'd be wrapped in the sweet embrace of Twitter feeds, Slack notifications, Google docs and sluggish CMSs.

Days were relatively painless; at night the hurt crept in. True to the cliche, everything reminded me of him and the future we'd lost. More often than not, I'd cry myself to sleep after throwing back half a bottle of Rosé or a handful of martinis -- up, with a twist and always stirred, naturally. When I wasn't pre-occupied with the minute-by-minute crush of online publishing, life was just too much to bear. The internet had become my escape, my personal pause button for emotional impulses.

And then it happened. Love won. And I lost.

Like it or not, the internet was decidedly on the side of feels.

On June 26th, the Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution ensures the right to same-sex marriage, upending archaic laws and effectively leveling the playing field for gay men and women in the hunt for eternal, state-recognized partnership. Twitter, Facebook and just about every online media outlet were abuzz with the news. As a gay man who'd spent the better part of the last decade in a committed relationship, I should have been shooting rainbow-colored hearts from every orifice. And I was thrilled... until I looked at my Twitter timeline.

A hashtag's success is never guaranteed, but on that day, #lovewins won. Unfortunately for me, the internet decided to focus on the emotional side of the Supreme Court decision. Instead of reflecting the giant leap in human rights, herd mentality was charging ahead, heart first. Everyone and their mothers were rainbow coating their profile pics (with the help of Facebook's opportunistic avatar editor) and my feed was flooded with sappy sentiment. According to AdWeek, Talkwalker, a social media analytics company, recorded 284,730 mentions of the #lovewins hashtag in the first hour. The less emotive, and selfishly preferable, #MarriageEquality pulled in 63,968 mentions in the same period. Like it or not, the internet was decidedly on the side of feels.

On just about any other day, I would have embraced the warm and fuzzy atmosphere, but I was miserable. Trending Twitter was killing me. As the outpouring of support for equal love reached fever pitch, I began to feel the crushing pain I'd avoided during many of my waking hours. With every new instance of #lovewins, I was reminded of love lost. My timeline was overflowing with support for couples who could finally see their eternal commitment validated by this great country. And I was overwhelmed with loneliness. For nine-plus years, my boyfriend and I had gone back and forth on the idea of marriage. We weren't sure we wanted to be a part of a largely religious institution, but we were sure we wouldn't take the plunge until our marriage counted the same as any other. Our chance had finally come and everywhere I turned, I was reminded of how that chance was squandered.

Thanks to an otherwise unthreatening hashtag, my safe space -- the internet -- had become a hell-scape. I could no longer rely on the sweet sense of denial online life afforded me. And I couldn't just shut Twitter off. It is, after all, the media's lifeline to the real world. So there I sat, choking back tears and half-heartedly campaigning for a hashtag that set love aside. But I'm not Kim Kardashian. I don't have 34 million followers or the ability to break the internet with my bare ass alone. I am just me, and online, the power of one has nothing on the herd.

Eventually, the world would take off its rainbow-tinted glasses, and turn its gaze on another trending topic, leaving me to pick up the pieces of my broken heart in the real world.

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