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It all started with Reddit (as so many strange and terrible things do).
I was out at a bar’s trivia night with friends, and I really wasn’t supposed to have my phone out at all. I definitely wasn’t supposed to be lurking the various web presences of my ex-boyfriend, who had irrevocably scratched the record of our relationship just a few raw weeks prior. Nothing good could possibly come of clicking the links posted on his Facebook wall. But I clicked.
And under the headline “Spotted on the Highline,” I found a picture of my ex, sitting on a park bench with a typewriter on his lap. In the photo, he’s wearing a v-neck tee and the black frame glasses that I watched him place on a nightstand by our bed every night for two years. Under the picture were hundreds of comments, most centered on the idea that he was the epitome of hipster scum.
“Well, this is weird,” I thought.
The phone call that ended us had happened just a few weeks before the inception of his Internet infamy.
“I don’t think you should move to New York,” he’d said. He had paused after dropping that grenade, waiting for me to light the wick on the bomb that would end things more permanently.
“Are you breaking up with me?”
“Yes,” he had replied, sighing with what seemed to be relief.
Oddly, it wasn’t until after the requisite days of wailing and nausea that I started to realize how difficult the breakup was going to be. I could drop all of his handwritten letters in a shoebox in my closet, and I could shove the tee shirt I’d borrowed from him into the back of my sock drawer. But my laptop and my cell phone couldn’t be buried in my yard or thrown into the ocean (despite what innumerable romantic comedies have suggested), and the specter of The Ex continued to haunt them. There he was in my blog feed, posting new fiction he’d written about young love. He was on Twitter, somehow still feeling chipper enough to type out his delightfully odd jokes. He posted a picture of a girl friend on Instagram that was so fondly framed that I nearly threw up from jealous anxiety. Facebook was an unbearable reminder of our shared friends, memories, and photos. My Gmail continued to remind me of when he was online.
Now, roughly 6 weeks into forced singledom, I’ve dutifully detagged, defriended, unfollowed and unsubscribed from him. But, just like his kicked-off shoes used to somehow travel across the room to rest under my dresser, his newly meme-a-rific presence spread across the Internet, and he continues to show up in unlikely places.
That initial Reddit comment thread grew and spilled into the internet’s many bastions of snark. Suddenly, that picture of The Ex was popping up on 9Gag and Pinterest and on the Facebook walls of our many mutual friends. I think it was someone at TheMetaPicture who added the caption: “You’re not a real hipster until you bring your typewriter to the park.” That’s the iteration of the picture that’s gotten the thumbs up from over 90,000 Internet strangers. That’s also the picture that’s drawn the most laughter and scorn from my friends who’ve found out about the whole weird ordeal.
For some people (perhaps most), stumbling across multiple public forums in which strangers deride the man who broke your heart for being “some asshole” with a “pitiful” and “pathetic” desire to be noticed would be a schadenfreude-fueled delight. For me, it’s felt more strange than good. As Star Wars Kid can tell you, internet bullies can be unfathomably cruel, and I don’t wish those typed taunts on anyone, not even The Ex.
A friend recently pointed out that I could have been in that picture if I’d gone to New York as planned. My friend’s comment was meant to comfort, to remind me that I could easily have been on the park bench in that picture, now facing the web’s worldwide disdain. Instead of providing relief, this possibility only creates more anxiety. Why wasn’t I on that park bench next to him? Am I not quirky enough? Sure, I’ve never operated an illegal fry cart on the streets of San Francisco, or sold my own hand-sewn stuffed animals (The Ex has done both of those things), but I do wear knee socks and chew gum in the shower and say obnoxious things about Margot & The Nuclear So and So’s’ B sides. Shouldn’t I be the bespectacled Zooey by his side, rereading Ghost World and twirling my hair? Wouldn’t it feel better to be a stupid hipster, heart intact, than to be unloved and scorned?
Although the picture has gained popularity recently, I’m fairly certain that this particular meme will soon stop casting its shadow over my Internet usage. At least it wasn’t Good Guy Greg who dumped me over the phone after two years of dating. I can’t imagine how I’d feel if I was waiting for Lazy College Senior to ship my belongings back to me, one slow UPS box at a time. Thank Jesus Christ that I was never romantically entangled with Nyan Cat.
I hope this meme fades as quickly as it appeared. For my sake, and for The Ex, I hope that the Internet’s hive mind soon finds another hipster target to jab. Finally, I hope that my next boyfriend is Amish, because it seems way easier to avoid those guys online.