Ending a relationship in 2019 involves a lot of unfollowing. To get over someone, common wisdom holds, you can’t have little reminders of them popping up on your phone nonstop. So you delete their number and you block each other on social media and you try very hard not to open an incognito window just to look at their blocked Twitter. But while I’ve done my share of unfollowing, my general approach to breaking up in the extremely online age involves surrendering to the digital footprints my exes have left in my feed. Lately, this has meant watching a lot of BMX videos on Instagram.
Earlier this year, I spent a few months hooking up with a BMX biker. (I am cool.) During this time, I followed him on Instagram, where he almost exclusively posted videos of himself BMXing. He tagged BMX publications and BMX teams, and I followed them, too. I decided it would be weird to follow the guys on his team—known in many circles as “his friends whom I had never met”—but I gave in and followed one guy anyway, mainly because I saw a video of him dunking a basketball using the wheel of his bike. I showed it to a friend, who responded, “I would follow him to hell.”
All of a sudden, my Instagram feed was largely BMX. To be totally honest, before hooking up with this guy, I did not know or care what BMX was. I thought maybe it was like snowmobiling. Turns out it’s just biking, and it has to do with men grinding and bonking their pegs at skate parks or on ramps and rails in the real world. It also turns out that BMX is actually very interesting.
When this guy and I decided to call things off, I didn’t unfollow him or any of the BMX accounts. By that point, they were some of my favorite things on Instagram. Watching any video of any dude rail-hopping any fence is much better than seeing screenshots of people’s tweets.
It feels a bit weird to be so into something solely because of someone I was romantically linked to. I’m afraid that I’m “watching boys do stuff” instead of pursuing my own interests, or that I’m obsessing over the thing they introduced me to as a metonym for them. But we all get into things because of romantic partners. Men and women have told me that, for exes, they went down wormholes of anime accounts, pro wrestling, experimental instrumental music, and “new-age chakra shit.” The last one was from my friend Harris, who explains, “To date in Brooklyn, you have to learn about tarot.”
So why not just unfollow those anime or wrestling or “new-age chakra shit” accounts when your relationship ends? Why subject yourself to those painful reminders when you could give yourself a clean slate by removing them, and your exes, and your exes’ friends, from your feed? I’m certainly not opposed to that, especially when you never liked the wormhole to begin with. I learned all about the Manning family of football fame for my high school crush, and when we graduated, I was very happy to stop pretending to care about Peyton Manning’s career and about the concept of football in general.
But I still love a lot of the things I learned about through old romantic interests. I became interested in Patti Smith and Joni Mitchell for a guy, and those women are now hugely important to me. Patti’s Just Kids showed me it was possible to be a young, broke idiot making art in New York. I listened to Joni’s travel album Hejira too many times and quit my job to drive around the country. (I’m fine.) It’s lame that I didn’t like these women until I had a crush on a man who did, but at this point I don’t remotely associate them with him. As a friend told me, “[My ex] got me into biking, and even though I wish he were dead, biking and its community have changed my life.”
And frankly, the idea of a “clean slate” is a fallacy—you can’t shoot people into space once you’re done with them, and you can’t magically erase them from your brain. Pretending that people you used to kiss just don’t exist anymore won’t change the fact that they had an effect on your life, so I don’t even try. (I am friends with most men I’ve ever been iNvOlvEd WiTh, which I consider healthy and cool but which many people consider strange and concerning and which I might be five years away from realizing is extremely self-sabotaging.)
Ultimately, I don’t necessarily mind falling down wormholes and picking up interests from exes. You have to learn about stuff somehow, and your mom and your friends can only recommend so much. It’s hot when people are passionate about things, when they can talk to you about those things and teach you about them. And if your relationship ends, it doesn’t mean you lose the right to care about, say, theFast and the Furious movies or the article about the goat trapped on a roof who respects only one man.
I ran a poll on Twitter, in fact, asking what I should do about all the BMX accounts I followed: Should I unfollow them, forget about BMX via concussion, start dating a new BMXer, or start BMXing myself? I’d been thinking about that last option for a while—learning to at least bunny hop or maybe skateboard, because watching so many men grinding and bonking their pegs on various ledges and poles had inspired me to be more adventurous with my body on simple machines, less of a physical coward. Twitter wanted me to BMX.