Mindlessly jump on Instagram for the twenty-second time that day with your feet digging into Virginia Beach sand. Soak up the fact that you are exactly 201 miles from home, and although this is not the tropical getaway you hoped for at the start of 2016, it’s the first trip you’ve taken for leisure in two years. That counts for something. Inhale the happiness that comes with traveling simply for the sake of relaxation and a few good, hard laughs with the friends who know you inside and out. Breathe in the little bit of golden fortune that life has offered you in this particular moment.
Then stop scrolling when you see his photo.
Wonder for approximately one minute and fifteen seconds why his photos are even still popping up on your Instagram feed. Contemplate what stopped you from deleting him sooner. Peer at the photo and then read the caption three consecutive times. Ruminate about the woman next to him in the photo. Observe her curly hair. Her toothy smile. Speculate about who she is and how she got pulled into his orbit. Make up facts you’ll never be able to verify like “She’s probably into yoga” or “I bet she owns mason jars” or “She’s definitely the kind of person who remembers to bring reusable bags to the grocery store.” Tell yourself she’s everything you’re not, and observe your confidence as it shrinks three sizes.
Feel like a jackass. Keep staring at the photo.
Recall that time three months ago when you called him at 5 p.m. on a Sunday and tried to pretend everything was normal, like you routinely called him at 5 p.m. on Sundays to chit chat about the weather. Then recall the time six months before when he sent you four lengthy texts in a row, gray blobs of emotions you couldn’t decipher. Remember how you responded by telling him his words were “ambiguous” and “overly decorative.” Relive that time three years ago when he couldn’t gather the courage to walk toward you and you couldn’t summon the nerve to walk away.
Feel like a jackass again.
Read the photo caption once more before you decide that the older you get, the less recklessly you will handle your heart. Remember that you are more of an adult now than you were three years ago, or even three months ago, and your tolerance for emotional masochism is withering away. Admit to yourself that most things are hardly ever as complicated as you and your stirred up soul make them out to be. Confess that once you strip this story of its melodramatic decorations, you are left with a tale as old as time: boy meets girl; it does not work out. Bite your tongue until you taste the bittersweet blood of reality.
Observe your confidence as it expands two sizes. Sink your toes deeper into the sand.
Remind yourself that most feelings are not like the neatly packaged lyrics of a Taylor Swift refrain. No, most feelings are a hazy and disjointed mess of flashes that will yank you around until you choose to steer the ship of your own spirit.
See this instance for what it is. Decide that your heart has been battle-tested enough. Choose to steer the ship of your own spirit.
And when Instagram asks if you really want to unfollow him, do not let the cancel button tempt you. Don’t let your thumb hover over it for long. Let it go. Say goodbye. Bid farewell to the social media ghosts of bygone lovers. Decide your present joy is worth much more than pollution from the bullshit of your past choices.
And remember that this life is a continuous unfolding of the things you take on, the things you let go, and sometimes the things you cling to for far too long.