I recall reading Junot Diaz’s “This Is How You Lose Her” in a 200-level English course. One line in particular stood out: “The half-life of love is forever.” I’m not usually one to mull over the romantic (or feel so inclined to write about it), but I think Diaz had a point. The memory of love may be more enduring than a relationship itself, making a mountain-out-of-a-molehill, so to speak. The headspace that romantic relationships occupy is non-negotiable; we ruminate over the failures and triumphs of our intimate lives, what was or what could have been.
Perhaps that’s just human nature. But I would venture to say that our generation fosters a digital culture where the maintenance of memory (collective or private) is a priority. In the age of social media and iCloud, nothing is forgotten. My Instagram feed shows photos of friends with whom I haven’t connected since high school. My dog died five years ago, and still, there is a post paying tribute to his Halloween costume. What fades into the past mentally lives on in cyberspace, so long as we scroll down far enough.
Retaining excess is a tendency of Gen Z, especially when it comes to romantic relationships. Last January, I returned to Colgate after a semester abroad, carrying home with me the ill-defined backwash of a ‘situationship.’ He and I weren’t exactly dating, but it wasn’t casual either. We agreed that the rendezvous would end when we both returned to America but communication between us didn’t halt entirely. Occasional FaceTime conversations and phone calls filled a void on both of our ends, and by late February, it felt as though little had changed. Perhaps we weren’t physically together, but daily communication forged the illusion of intimacy. So long as I had my phone, the fling seemed ongoing.
I wasn’t truly present those first weeks back at school, entertaining the fantasy that I could relive virtual positive memories from abroad. It didn’t feel great, of course, when I learned through Instagram that he had started dating someone else, even though we talked that same morning. The disunion of fantasy and reality became clear to me; through iMessage we could sustain a fanciful narrative that was in truth just a daydream.
The digital age is conducive to our impulse to hold on, even when letting go may be the healthier option. Nowadays we are adjoined at the hip by followers and likes, to the extent that it takes more effort to break ties than to keep in touch. We’ve come far from the time when “over meant over,” and long-distance was practically impossible. Of course, it’s instinctual to mull over romantic relationships. What we don’t need, however, are cellphones to constantly remind us of that someone when the appropriate duration of post break-up contact has expired. The half-life of any emotional attachment can actually be forever. So, at the least, let’s unfollow and unsubscribe; you don’t need to see that notification from so-and-so. I promise.