We met in college. She was cute, blonde, studied in the same theater program as I did, and loved to laugh. We stumbled home together one night — she in a pillowcase dress, me in a pair of trousers constructed from garbage bags — after an “ABC” (Anything But Clothes) party. The rest, as they say, is history.

Six tumultuous years later, we were on the dance floor at our wedding, beneath a white tent perched by a cool lake in Wisconsin, while McCartney’s “When I’m Sixty-Four” crooned through the DJ’s speakers. We drank whiskey while camping in Yosemite on our honeymoon and made love in a tent under the stars.

I was in shock. So I did what any sane, recently abandoned person would do and pretended I was okay on social media.

Two years later, she moved out of our one-bedroom apartment, taking one of our two cats and leaving me with a broken heart.

I’ve never been the most prolific Facebooker, and I attribute that largely to spending much of my adulthood in a relationship. For me, a creature of instinct, if someone you like is sitting on the couch next to you, you focus on them. But that wasn’t the only reason I often stayed off Facebook. Even in its early days, I mistrusted the site. Facebook used to have a certain persona in my eyes — it was the callous, charismatic person at the party who gets everyone to play some strangely invasive, half-offensive game involving status. (Remember the Superlatives Game? Hey, Sally, who is hotter, Brad or Paul?) Somehow this robot had become the popular kid, and I mistrusted it. Perhaps I was jealous.

During our marriage, I was often chagrined when it flirted with my wife. We would be out on a date, and the robot would brush against her hand, saying, “Hey, honey, have you seen these sweet corgi puppies?”

This is private,” my wife would say. “Sheesh. Look at your own phone.”

Yeah, buster,” Facebook would chime in. “We’re talking about how Hunter’s opinions are, like, so pertinent to today’s political hurdles. We’re liking what he has to say.”

I want to share my opinion on those things, too,” I would say quietly to myself, and watch as Facebook and my wife stared deeply into each other’s eyes—her eyes absorbed and green, its eyes confident and blue.


Marriage, by nature, is a social unit — and a sort of group project. Two people commit to building something together. In its primitive, ceremonial way, marriage is profound. It’s organic. That means that when it ends, it isn’t untying a knot so much as ripping off a limb. And when the raw reality of divorce meets the brassy town square of social media, it can get ugly.

My initial reaction to my impending divorce was to try and convince everyone on social media that I was doing great. I was going to learn from the robot’s mojo — that callous, charismatic persona — and become the sort of swell guy who no sane broad would have ever broken it off with. I posted encouraging quotes and positive status updates, interspersed with cute pictures of my cat.

Ironically, it had quite the opposite effect on my intended audience: my wife. During one of our sit-downs after the split, she told me that all her friends thought I was acting crazy on Facebook. I simmered but pretended I didn’t care. Afterward, I stopped posting as much, chagrined.

In the weeks that followed, I grew more quiet, but the nature of Facebook hadn’t changed. It was still the kid throwing the party, and I was walking, like a ghost, unseen in the middle of it. It hurt terribly to see photos of my wife standing with other guys’ arms around her at social events, grinning into the camera while I ate my TV dinner and tried to Netflix my pain away. Days were hard, nights were worse. To have and to hold and to let go is an awful feeling. To be reminded of it by a robot is hilarious and terrible.

Being connected to an ex on social media is the equivalent of having a lawn chair outside the window to their living room and being convinced to sit there for a while every time you go to check on the price of your bitcoin or text your mother. Right next to the metaphorical lawn chair is a literal photo album of the greatest moments you two have had together. Remember the night you first kissed? Remember your wedding dance? And finally, tantalizingly, there’s a metaphorical megaphone hanging from a strap right on the back of the chair. You can, if you feel like it, turn that bad boy on and say anything you want to her right now. The neighborhood is going to hear it, but your feelings are important, right?

And so on and so forth, the cheeky robot urges you to watch. To remember. To get back in touch.

I sat on Facebook’s lawn chair with red, bleary eyes and looked at that old album, wishing beyond hope that she would just come to the door and say, “Come on in. I’ve missed you so bad.”

I was a mess, and I was becoming better and better friends with this robot formerly known as “The Facebook” in the desperate hope that it could give me insight and support where all the counseling, family advice, and friend outreach had failed. As I stared at the blue screen, I barely noticed how my relationship with Facebook itself had changed. Familiarity had bred out contempt. These days, Facebook felt less like a rival and more like an aide — something that waited with me, distracting me.

My jealousy turned to sadness. My sadness to despair. My wife was not coming back. A few closed-off coffee dates, a canceled therapy session, a call from my mother-in-law, then radio silence. Life moved on and I waited for a divorce paper.

Facebook still described me to my friends as “married,” but I was alone. I stopped wearing my wedding ring in public. I cropped her out of my profile picture (the two of us grinning at the camera, squinting against the California sun, at a friend’s wedding). During the day, I took up woodworking and began biking more. Every night, I fought the urge to use the megaphone.

Time moved slowly.

Finally I took action. Petty, millennial action. A glass of red wine in hand, I opened “edit” on my profile and changed my relationship status from “married to” to blank. I was taking control, moving first, ripping off the limb. Desperate for the healing process.

The instant my status changed, Facebook did something extraordinary. It gently asked me if I would like to “see less of this person.” I was stunned. The insensitive robot interloper had been programmed to care about my feelings.

I said yes, and something changed in my relationship to Facebook. No longer was it a meddlesome pain in the ass, reminding me of what I was missing. No longer was it an insensitive bot who just wanted to generate targeted ad campaigns. Facebook became my friend. The callous, charismatic robot became the friend who tells you, “Don’t call her,” and then takes away your phone. Facebook and I sat on the couch, drinking our wine, watching TV, and commiserating.

In the past few months, the vines of real life have grown up through the clean blue party house of Facebook’s digital world. After I changed my relationship status, I decided to go full Monty and fully unfriend my wife. It felt fitting, so I kept going, unfriending the friends who picked sides, which felt even better. I began to see the frame that had always surrounded the online album of my life. I unfriended with grim abandon, purging my robot friend of his burden of making tidy what nature intended to be terrible.

Story of John Telfer by John Telfer