Confessions of a Facebook Stalker
The laptop was open. She knew she shouldn’t, but she was going to. Every time she promised herself it would be the last. It never was, although she had been better lately. It had actually been one of her New Year’s Resolutions: to stop the periodic Facebook stalking. She had held out for so long. Months and months. She couldn’t even remember at what point she cracked. Probably a night like this one, or else something prompted it. Holiday snaps or a big announcement of some kind. There had been a few this past year.
The conditions were right. It was late on a Friday night and work had, for the most part, been tolerable. She still felt like she left her soul at the gates every morning and picked it back up seven hours later, but at least this week hadn’t been dreadful. For that reason, she had deemed it safe to buy a bottle of white on the way home. Always something of a gamble. White wine and sorrow did not mix well, she knew.
Tonight her gamble had paid off. The hum of wine in her veins had given her a burst of energy. Friday nights usually found her lolling on the sofa, drinking cider and watching TV until she was almost asleep. Not tonight. Tonight she took the laptop up to the bedroom, plugged in her headphones and opened Spotify. She spent a minute scrolling through her playlists, deliberating as to which one best suited her mood. She decided on her Songs of Second Year playlist. It was the obvious choice, really.
The first song is one she used to listen to in her room when she was getting ready to go out. It makes her think of sparkly black dresses and heels, of dangly earrings and Beyoncé perfume. She opens up Facebook, goes to the search bar. She doesn’t just type his name in. No. She goes through someone else’s profile, a mutual friend. Even though only she can see her search history, she still doesn’t want his name showing up. She heard once that there is a way to see who has been looking at your profile. She hopes it’s not true.
Why? Why does she do it? What is she after? Is it mere curiosity? Possibly. He’s not the only person she checks on every now and then. Correction-they are not the only people she checks on. There aren’t many, only a handful. Ex-boyfriends, old flames. Surely it’s natural, being curious about people who meant a lot to her once upon a time? Natural, but not healthy. That’s why she does it in secret.
His profile loads within seconds. She scrolls through, ensuring she keeps the cursor hovering over the grey space between the timeline and the chat bar. She doesn’t want to accidentally like something. Then he would know she’s been snooping. Apparently there is a two-minute grace period during which you can unlike something without the person receiving a notification. This one she hopes is true. Not that it’s ever happened. Not during a stalking sesh. A couple of times when she has been mindlessly scrolling through her newsfeed on her lunch break, but they were inconsequential posts from inconsequential people. Easily undone, and nothing to feel guilty about.
She scrolls through now. There are more pictures of his daughter. She’ll be what? Nearly three months now? She remembers the exact moment she discovered the daughter existed. It was New Year’s Day, and she had been absent-mindedly scrolling through her newsfeed. It was full of the usual tripe: pictures of the night before, overly sentimental well-wishers and people vowing to lose half their body weight as part of their New Year’s Resolutions. And there, part of the way down, was a picture his fiancée had posted of a dark-haired baby girl in a crib. She isn’t friends with the fiancée-partly due to circumstances and partly because…well…she never actually liked her much. But as he was tagged, it popped up in her newsfeed all the same.
She remembers the feeling. The swooping sensation in her stomach, as if she was in a lift and someone had cut the cables. She stared at the wording, looking for any hint of ambiguity, anything to indicate that this was someone else’s baby. A niece or a god-daughter perhaps. But no. She was theirs. She’d had no idea they were expecting. They’d kept it well and truly under wraps. And she did not know how to feel. Or rather, she didn’t think she had any right to feel the way she did.
How did she feel exactly? Even now it was difficult to unpick. Happy for them-for him. But a little sorry for herself too. For the fact that she has not yet reached this milestone, and there is no telling when she will. If she will. No, when, she tells herself firmly. Please, let it be when. A little indignant, also. This is the girl he ditched her for, after all. Being passed over for someone else is never easy, regardless of the circumstances. But what makes it harder is knowing that she was succeeded immediately by the woman he would go on to spend the rest of his life with. Well, the foreseeable future, at least. Eight years together, an engagement, and now a baby.
She spent days, weeks, wondering why. Why this girl and not her? He said at the time that he knew they wouldn’t work as a couple. He had reservations over the fact it was getting “very couply,” when he was the one making it so. When the two of them went out he was the one who reached for her hand. In fact, it was he who suggested going out in the first place. Talk about mixed signals.
It wasn’t that she’d wanted a relationship. Yes, she had liked him-a lot-but on balance he was probably right. They wouldn’t have worked. She can’t imagine it, and she likes to think she has a pretty good imagination. So, if it not relationship, what? And why was she so devastated when, a month or so after the last time she saw him, she discovered he had a girlfriend?
It had taken her a while to figure it out, but when she did, the answer was simple. She wanted the option. They met up afterwards for the talk, and she was all bristling indignation. Accused him of only texting her when he “fancied a shag.” While this was not incorrect, she cannot pretend it didn’t suit her. The truth is she was pissed because it had ended, and not on her terms.
She was nursing a hangover that day, having been out the night before with two friends from her language class. She’d had every intention of getting drunk, having had her suspicions confirmed earlier that afternoon. She already knew, of course. Had known since the moment she clapped eyes on that Facebook comment left by one of his friends: Rachel’s a lucky girl. Four little words. That was all it took. Much like the baby news she had stared at it, desperately searching for an alternative explanation before reluctantly conceding that there was none. He had moved on, and he hadn’t told her.
That was the worst part. That he hadn’t felt it necessary to tell her. She doubts she would have reacted quite so badly if he had. Yes, she would have been disappointed, a little sad, but she would have picked herself up after a day or so and got on with it. She wouldn’t have been consumed by anger and self-pity that had her downing vodkas like it was a competition.
She regretted it the next day when she felt queasy all through their talk, and was almost sick in the street upon leaving. He’d been quick to steer her into a pub, thus sparing her the embarrassment of hurling on the pavement in front of shoppers. When she emerged from the toilets, he was leaning against the bar holding a glass of water for her. However much she was hurting, he was not a bad guy. Maybe it would have been easier if he were.
She had wanted to congratulate him on the birth of his daughter. It was the decent thing to do after all. She tied herself in knots wondering if she should, what to say and how he would react. After thinking about it for a while, she composed the following message:
Hi Ollie, I just wanted to say a huge, slightly belated congratulations to you and Rachel, as I saw you became parents recently. Your little girl is beautiful and the name you have chosen for her is lovely. Hope she and Rachel are both doing well, and you are enjoying parenthood. All the best to you all, Layla.
She stared at it for some time afterwards. Was it too much? Not enough? Too pally? Too formal? How would he respond when he saw it? Would he respond at all?
He did respond, fairly quickly and very cordially.
Hi Layla-thanks a lot! We’re pretty happy with her 😊 and really enjoying some pat leave time off! She and Rachel are both doing pretty well, I’m happy to say. Hope everything is going well for you, and teaching isn’t driving you too mad (I couldn’t hack it…) Nice to hear from you.
Why was she so surprised? What had she been expecting? For him to fire back an angry message saying, ‘Why the hell are you contacting me, you absolute bitch? We haven’t spoken for eight years, what makes you think you can congratulate me on reaching one of life’s biggest milestones?’ Of course he wasn’t going to say that. One: they never fell out and two: he’s not an arsehole.
Even more surprising to her was the revelation that he knew what job she did, although exactly why this surprised her is anybody’s guess. It would take only the most cursory of glances through her newsfeed to figure out her chosen career path-she posts about it often enough. He’d have to make a conscious effort to ignore every one of her posts to not know she was a teacher.
You mean that isn’t what he’s been doing? Shock horror!
Why? Why does it surprise her that a man with whom she shared a deep and meaningful connection is still aware of her existence? Why is she so willing to believe that, in the years since they last spoke, he will have stopped giving even the slightest shit about her? What does that say about her weird, messed-up brain and its convoluted machinations?
She could spend a lifetime unpacking it all, but for now she closes the laptop. Already the shock of it is subsiding as the reality begins to settle. It’s not something they ever teach you: how to process the revelation that a man you deflowered in university is now a father. It’s something you have to just muddle through on your own, hoping that the people you confide in don’t think you’re crazy for feeling the way you do. Note to self: they don’t. She is happy for him. She always was. She hopes he knows that. He probably does.