Skeletons in my closet: To Friend or Not to Friend the Ex.
The other shoe dropped for me last week.
One shoe: The internet.
Other shoe: The past.
Don’t be smug. You think you’re ungoogleable? You think it won’t happen to you? It will. Skeletons have broadband access in your closet. Prepare yourselves.
I’m going to tell you the story knowing full well that the person I mention, my ex-boyfriend, will probably be reading this. Normally, I am quite polite. I’d steer quite clear of this breach of privacy, but the situation is more and more common and we could all use some help. We need to sit down and talk about this.
So, in the interest of science and all life digital, I will tell you the story.
My ex-boyfriend found me online.
We’re not talking the ex from gradeschool, the cute one with the first kiss behind the willow tree on the playground, in the breezy shade from the summer sun. (That ex friended me too, and that’s cool).
No. We’re talking the person that I thought I was going to marry. A college love. Serious. Meaningful. Heartbreaking. The mess you never ever want to see your children go through. The Break-Up of the Century. That was over 15 years ago. This Ex and I didn’t end well. There was no contact and no closure. I was OK with this.
But then I made the mistake of extending my presence online. See, this web stuff is not only fun for me but it is my job. I freelance and consult about social media. I podcast about social media with 5 other talented people at Push My Follow. My living is made online.
Not that finding me off-line would’ve taken much effort. I still live in the same state. I still keep in contact with mutual friends from college. I even went to a reunion last year (that the Ex didn’t attend). But I suppose ex-boyfriends feel stalkery if they do an analog search. Searching the web, in secret, in private, for someone’s name is easy. It’s almost becoming an obligation. I’ll admit that I’ve looked for my high school boyfriend. If he had a website, I’d look at it. I wouldn’t friend him on Facebook, but I’d like to know how he is doing.
OK, so I’m ALL OVER “teh interwebz.” Search on my name “Christine Cavalier” and you get an 80’s soft porn B-movie star and me. If you search my username, PurpleCar, you get me. Not rocket surgery.
So last week, the Ex that broke my heart and that I never really expected to hear from again found me on Linked-In. He sent the standard first contact connection message: “I would like to add you to my network on LinkedIn,” signed with his name. I knew who it was immediately.
“What do I do?” I thought. Ignoring or declining the connection request seemed bitter. I mean, it has been many years since the Break-Up of the Century. If I decline the request, I’ll look like I’m too weak to have moved on. And I have moved on. Really. But you know… I don’t forget either.
I decided to go Zen. I accepted the friendship.
“Ok” I thought. “That is going to be that.” A connection online doesn’t mean much. It’s just two ships passing in the night. Maybe in a year or two some silly exchange between college connections would happen, and the Ex and I would be in the same comment stream. Hypothetically:Mutual Friend #1 (sent to college friends group): Do you guys remember that time in the quad?
The Ex: (reply to all): Oh my god, that was so crazy!
Me: (reply to all): zOMG I forgot all about that! LOL!
And that would be it. Because in real life, that WOULD be it. In real life, the Ex would offer a greeting and see my face and my husband’s scowl and realize that we weren’t exactly comfortable reliving certain old times.
But alas, this isn’t real life. It is online and it is Bizarro World. And my skeletons are clued in to my FIOS install.
Back to the friending. It could have gone better, almost immediately. Here are my Ex’s four Grave Errors and suggestions to avoid them yourself:
Grave Error #1: The Ex didn’t edit the standard first contact message.
Mandate #1: If you are an Ex contacting an old flame, you MUST change the first contact message and it MUST say something like this:
“Hi. I found you on here and I just wanted to say, I was a real jerk. I’m sorry. I hope you are happy. I’m happy and I really wish the best for you.”
Boom. PERFECT. From this I, the ex-girlfriend and contactee, get three facts:
The Ex won’t hit me with sob stories of his failing marriage.
The Ex has matured and developed some healthy regret.
The Ex wants some closure and he’s probably safe to connect with.
Grave Error #2: The Ex immediately sends me email.
Mandate #2: DO NOT send email. A “friending” or a connection is very minimal and holds little meaning. It is NOT permission to send your Ex email. You should’ve said what you wanted to say in the initial message (see Mandate #1). You should always wait for the contactee to open up conversations. If that is never, so be it.
Grave Error #3: The Ex compliments my photo, asking playfully if it is a college pic (it’s a recent photo).
Mandate #3: DON’T compliment the ex’s physical appearance. This same compliment, in face-to-face conversation, can be totally appropriate and can be done in a casual way. In fact, if you run into an Ex face-to-face the FIRST thing you must say is “YOU LOOK GREAT!” But in online Bizarro World, this is a total NO NO. Why? Because online conversations tend to get intimate quickly, and flirting online is rampant. To look legit online, you have to be a bit more formal in your first interactions with others.
Ok, so at this point, I figure that he doesn’t spend much time online and doesn’t know these rules. Writing back, I curtly say I spend more time on Facebook than LinkedIn.
The Ex then finds me on Facebook.
Ok, so, again, I accept the friendship, because really, I directed him to Facebook. Still no apologies or explanation for his contact.
He sends an email with a picture of him and his family, the ages of his kids. I did the math: He married and had children soon after the Break-Up of The Century. Ouch. Those skeletons really hurt when they rattle, don’t they? I’d heard rumors about his quick-ish marriage at the time, but I put a lot of effort back then into forgetting it. And here it was, a harsh reminder of those days, dropped in my lap and on my laptop so many years later. Stupid skeletons.
So, yeah, I guess I’m still bitter.
After few days going over this situation with friends, including my husband, I realize that the Ex had committed Grave Error #4.
Grave Error #4: The Ex has friended no-one else.
Mandate #4: Friend other people BEFORE and AFTER you friend the Ex. Friending only the Ex is a classic stalker move.
I gave the Ex 5 whole days to friend at least one other person besides me. In Bizarro World, 5 days is equal to 1.5 Paleolithic Eras. Plenty of time to shed the stalker image.
After 5 days, I did the deed. I de-friended. Both in LinkedIn and in Facebook.
Why? Because whether his intentions were good or bad, he just broke too many rules of the online culture. His behavior made me uncomfortable. I should’ve just clicked the “ignore” button in the first place.
He can still Google me. He can still find this blog and my email address. And maybe this blog post isn’t just to get us all talking about this but to also explain my behavior to him in an indirect way.
But it was all just too weird. And I hated finding this big heap of bitter I have still inside me. Bizarro World has this peculiar ability to strip you naked, from the inside out. Skeletons prefer you that way.
So that is the whole sordid story of last week. I hope it provides more detail than the Mel Robbins show I did on Bordersmedia.com which airs Friday, Feb. 6th at 10 a.m.
Has this happened to you? How did you handle it? Let’s talk.
Except, of course, if you are my Ex.