The Modern Man has an iPhone 6 Plus and goes to Coachella every year. He’s thinking about starting a blog and has been “like really into standup lately.” He has a favorite microbrewery because he likes his beer really hoppy, whatever that means. He has a fun Twitter feed and interesting theories about what could happen on “House of Cards.”
Peter had all the makings of a Modern Man. His Twitter feed was super-witty. He drank only local beer. He owned one of those weed pen vapor things. He wore cardigans and insisted on managing the music at every party, saying, “Trust me, you’ll see this artist on the Coachella lineup in two years.”
Peter was funny, cultured, well dressed and well read, and I took pride in dating a guy who was so keenly cool. But like most modern men, when confronted after weeks of sleeping together with mild inquiries regarding commitment, he crumbled. The Modern Man is “just not into labels” and is “only trying to have some fun.”
When I asked Peter what that was supposed to mean, he said, “Chill.”
Yet “chill” I did not.
Later, I met a friend for lunch. “Peter and I broke up,” I announced.
“Yeah, but it wasn’t on Facebook,” she said. “It’s only real if it’s on Facebook.”
I was devastated when Peter and I stopped seeing each other, except for the fact that when we stopped seeing each other, we couldn’t stop seeing each other, because we followed each other on Twitter and Instagram and were friends on Facebook. So I saw him all the time, his grinning profile picture shadowing my feed.
“Unfollow him!” my friends would roar.
I couldn’t. There was something so enthralling about being able to track his social life.
I’d find myself scrolling through his tweets and Instagram posts, which included photos of other women. I’d shove my phone into my friends’ faces, their noses practically fogging the screen, and ask, “Is she prettier than me?”
I remembered the wisdom of George Costanza. In a classic episode of “Seinfeld”, George, in realizing that his life is a failure, decides he should do the opposite of what he normally does, reasoning that if every instinct he has is wrong, the opposite must be right.
With this in mind, I decided to swear off modern men. No more Twitter games. No more Instagram dissections. No more Facebook predation. I wanted someone mature.
What I wanted
Byron was 10 years my senior and mature. He wore thick-rim glasses and grown-up shoes. He was completely off the grid: no Twitter, no Instagram. He didn’t even have Facebook.
How sexy is that?
Byron was old-school.
When we started getting to know each other, because we already somewhat knew each other, it felt as if all the most exciting parts of a new relationship had been combined with all the ease and familiarity of an old friend.
For a while, as long as we lasted, I wanted, and got, something quieter. I wanted, and got, something more intimate. I wanted, and got, something too big to contain in 140 characters and that couldn’t be improved upon by filters.
And then, suddenly, it was over for us, too.
When we came to an end, my instinct was to gain closure in the ways I had in the past: to rid any semblance of him from my life, my apartment, my phone. But he was already gone. There was nowhere to avoid him because he was nowhere to be found. His online presence was nonexistent. He left nothing in my apartment. I clawed through my life only to find no trace of him.
Except in one place. I held my phone gingerly in my hands and for hours reread months of texts, all that remained of us. I lingered over funny or sexy ones and clutched my heart at ones in which he called me “baby.” But after savoring them, I decided to erase those traces, too. Swipe. Tap. Delete.
Before Byron, romantic loss had produced for me mere heartache. The loss of Byron had rendered me heartbroken.
There was something miraculous in caring about someone so deeply in an age where it’s considered wise to appear to care about nothing at all.
Then I downloaded Tinder.
I walked up to my first (and only) Tinder date with heavy feet and a slow-boiling regret. I spent most of the date wondering what Byron was doing while calculating how drunk I would have to get to make this evening not awful.
On the way home, I bought stamps. It had been months since we’d spoken, and although I held no hope for second chances, I missed him too much not to say so. That night, I wrote Byron a hold-it-in-your hands letter.
Days later, because letters take days, his name flashed on my phone.
“Hey,” his text read. And then, after a long, pulsing ellipsis: “I miss you, too.”
Jochebed Smith attends Santa Monica College in Los Angeles.