It’s not like cheating and illicit hookups didn’t exist pre-Facebook, but it’s undeniable that our impulsivity has been heightened with social media tools. I dissect this and other sensitive social-media dilemmas in my book, Unfriending My Ex (and Other Things I’ll Never Do).
My friend Emily, an NYC-based musician, says that she never would have cheated on her ex-boyfriend had current communication technology not existed. Her boyfriend Todd was her band’s drummer, and the two of them hired a producer, Dylan, to work on one of their albums. After many long days in the studio getting to know each other, and what seemed like harmless flirting, Emily and Dylan started texting sporadically. One night, she received a text from him that said, Feeling totally conflicted about having the hots for you. Emily was drinking at my house and, coincidentally, was on a break (they had many) with Todd.
(By the way, I totally subscribe to the Rachel argument in Rachel vs. Ross—yes I’m talking about the television show Friends—that it is still cheating even if one is on a “break.”) The argument, her anger, the booze, and her phone drove Emily to write back almost immediately with meet me on 14th n 2nd, and the rest is history. “I never would have called Dylan on the phone and invited him over,” she said. “And if this were 1995 and I had called him on a landline, he never would have been home anyway. So if not for texting, that night wouldn’t have happened.”
After a week of cheating on Todd with Dylan, Emily realized she needed time to figure things out. She told Dylan she was taking a month off from talking to him, and over the next few days, they refrained from speaking or texting. Thanks to the Internet, however, Dylan was still present in her life, and the allure of mysterious messages sent through Twitter and Facebook proved to be too difficult to resist. “I knew that every tweet he posted was like a secret message to me,” Emily told me. “He would tweet lyrics to songs we had listened to together . . . He would send coded messages that no one would understand but me, and through them, he wasn’t violating our no-contact agreement while I cleaned up the mess with Todd.” The secrecy of their messages, hidden in plain sight, made everything sexier and heightened the sense of romance. Although Emily might have eventually ended things with Todd, her texting and tweeting with Dylan expedited her breakup as well as the initiation of a new and lasting relationship. I remember another time when Emily sat at my house debating whether or not to text Dylan. After a long debate, we decided that she should. She asked him where to meet her; he said he would meet her “anytime anywhere.” So naturally, they chose the Upper East Side, near my house. I attended their wedding last summer. So sometimes there is a happy ending to the “illegitimate” text. Just… not often.