The last thing I remember was the tears of joy running down my cheek as I confirmed that, yes, I did want to update the relationship status on my Facebook page to “it’s complicated.”
My lifelong dream—one I had scribbled on the back of a cocktail napkin during freshman year in college—had finally been achieved.
Several hours later, nursing a hangover from my solo celebration, I was woken by the sound of cartoons blaring from the television in my living room. My face looked like a dented and swollen potato after I fell asleep on a corduroy pillow. And a bottle of bourbon, now empty, lay discarded amid a mess of crumpled paper, ripped and torn from my early attempts at creating a top twenty list of potential women to date alongside my girlfriend.
My laptop was nearby on the coffee table and my Facebook notifications were telling me that I had several new messages waiting for me. For a moment, as I started to put all the pieces together—like how I ended up on the floor and why I had clipped pictures of Lady Gaga and Michelle Obama from the stack of magazines on the coffee table—I felt strangely anxious, not from eating all the jello shooters left over from my girlfriend’s thirtieth birthday party last month, but from what waited for me on the Internet.
“Please, God, let them be hot,” I thought. “All of them—hot.”
This had all begun a few weeks earlier, when my girlfriend and I were watching an interview with that celebrity—you know the one, he was in the movie with the talking animals, or was it talking cars?—and she suggested that we try an open relationship. Saying yes, even without jumping to my feet, seemed like stepping into a trap that had been carefully laid for me. But being able to put the moves on single women I saw tagged in all of my friends’ Facebook photos convinced me to accept my girlfriend’s offer.
The web is littered with pictures, videos, check-ins, likes and tweets of young people having wild times. Suddenly, the online reality show that I had watched with secret envy for so long was now reminding that I was practically single, and even better, my girlfriend wasn’t going anywhere.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other sites are happy to lure you into announcing that you’re available to the first—or second or third—lucky woman that happens along. Yet when things go wrong, these social flytraps do nothing to help people hide the fact that saying yes to being open was probably not the answer your girlfriend was looking for.
Anyone who was in an open relationship before 2005 knows that committing to being not very committed was a lot harder in the old days. Open couples blended into society without the advantage of a publicly visible relationship status announcing their availability to other like-minded polygamists.
Not anymore. If being open is liberating, being open in the age of social media is like being freed from prison after twenty years and dropped onto an island of virgins or unlimited Twinkies, depending on your particular fetish.
My own simple solution to advertising my sexual wares was to change my Facebook status to “in an open relationship,” followed by a long night of friending women I had hardly known in college and friends-of-friends who looked like they might be open to what I was offering. After all was said and done, I had sent so many friend requests that Facebook told me to slow it down.
My open relationship started three years ago. Since then, you would hope that sites like Facebook and Twitter would have made it easier for you to take it all back. Maybe giving us a big “what the heck was I thinking” button that erases, or at least hides from public consumption, all evidence that you ever thought sleeping with women other than your own girlfriend would be a good idea.
Sadly, they still haven’t invented that button yet.
Social networking sites really have no interest in helping people cover up their major sexual mistakes because it goes against the companies’ goal of having more embarrassing content that can be inadvertently shared by your online friends.
Instead, all that’s left from a major open relationship fail is a virtual “I’m a pig” sign that you can’t escape. There are trails of come-on tweets to old friends, stalkings on Foursquare, pick-up lines, <3s, LOLs, winky faces and that horrible relationship status on Facebook.
When I tried to figure out how to quietly brush all of my “open” foolishness under the rug, my friends suggested that I change my name and move to a place where Al Gore never invented the Internet. But, as I explained, what would happen when I wanted to date a woman who worshipped Google Glass and posted pictures of her lattes on Facebook?
The minefield of the modern open relationship doesn’t stop at misreading why your girlfriend brought it up in the first place. It extends into spending an entire night drunkenly trying to pick up every woman you can find online. And restricting the Facebook posts visible to your girlfriend, poking her single friends until they notice your new relationship status and hiding all of this from your family.
Even worse is being the one to fire the first shot on Facebook. There’s no joy in being premature.
When my status changed to “in an open relationship,” I remember gasping and letting out a sound similar to a kitten seeing its first bowl of milk.
That milk quickly soured when I realized it had all been part of my girlfriend’s test of our relationship.
There are no guidelines for what to do when an open relationship fails online, but maybe somebody will come up with some way to handle it gracefully. At the very least, we might learn how not to announce our openness in the first place.
In spite of how it all went down, I’m glad I kept my status “open” until the very end. At least I could show that I was committed to something … even if it was just my relationship status.
A year after my girlfriend and I decided to date other people — or so I thought at the time — she ended up meeting a man on Facebook through a mutual friend I had tried to pick up. They fell in love and are now married.
Six months after her wedding, I changed my relationship status again — to “it’s complicated.” And I didn’t need a bottle of bourbon to do it.
Inspired by Nick Bilton’s New York Times article, “Tangled Web of Memories Lingers After a Breakup”
- Couple Walking in Park and Man’s Shadow, © 2014 by Shawn Radcliffe / Branáin
- The Big Red Button, Wikipedia by Yarl
- Internet address bar, Wikipedia by Rock1997