I have a fascination with couples and long-standing (or even temporary) relationships. I like to wonder and question and draw lives for other people, even people I know well, even people I could just put questions to for clarification. Maybe I don’t want the clarification. But this narrative building works best with utter strangers who lead public lives. Not public in the “celebrity” sense, but public in the sense that the information is there if you want it. Basically, people who “live on the Internet” and people who I read most about on the Internet. This is why I have spent hours voraciously scrolling through people’s Facebook albums, Flickr streams, Twitter feeds and most dangerously, old blogs.
I remember a couple I knew of, who used to host a tech-based show on a tech-based channel I used to watch (I’m keeping it anonymous because they live on the Internet and know about Google Alerts!). They broke up because B spent his savings on a business venture instead of a house or something like that, therefore A went and got married to co-host C. That first part I got from a magazine article. I Googled all three parties and found that A had a photo stream that was full of mobile uploads, and if you went from the newest additions to the oldest, you could see her new relationship with C devolving back into her old relationship with A. Smushed noses kissy pictures! It felt like reading someone’s diary.
That rush of the forbidden, the what-should-be-and-remain-unseen happens to me every time I find an unlocked Facebook account with no privacy settings, or find an archive as deep as a decade. It’s like an inner triumphant “A-ha!”
Last night I delved into the Livejournals of a new trio of A, B and C, the first two being creative types I admire and “follow”. The archives go back to 2003, from the tail end of A & B’s three year relationship (there was an allusion to a three year anniversary). I had been clicking through from newest to oldest, and was already up to 2006 - in the midst of B & C’s relationship - when I thought to go back to the very beginning. So I was like a two headed snake, devouring something to the very middle from both ends, where the end ended and the start started. Even later than that I thought to read C’s blog, and found an account of the first time she met B, in which she knew him as I did, from the Internet, in a collaborative partnership with A. “How awkward,” I thought. How much is A involved in B’s new relationship? They seem close, they work together quite heavily still, and seem to be good friends. I wonder about that. I wonder if they talk about it in secret chats both parties have agreed not to share. I wonder about how often C mentions B on her blog, and the relative reticence of A, with B in the middle. What does it all mean?
It’s not for me to know, I know this. And I don’t even get to know very much, for all the time I spend devouring these people’s written, discarded lives. You go through 50 posts for one mention of a name, and even that mention could be the most mundane thing but it’s all you get for the next 50 posts before there is another mention. You read in between, because in between is all there is. It’s like knowing that two authors had/have an intimate relationship, and reading both their works trying to find the other, trying to find the marks and references. It’s like reading Sylvia Plath next to Ted Hughes.
I know my fascination is not rooted solely in lives on the Internet, that it extends to my encounters with “flesh and blood people” of the “real world”. But it is an entirely different experience on the Internet, maybe because most of the people I am reading about are still very much alive, still writing their stories so it feels as if the past you dig up is ephemeral, nothing has yet been set in stone. A could still return to B. The love story could happen all over again for you who had been too late.