The good thing about drinking is that it tastes great and makes you feel good, and the bad thing is that it makes you think about your ex. I carry around a little wooden lockbox of feelings and the key to it is a high-alcohol saison or a Manhattan poured by a bartender who thinks they’re doing me a favour.
I was still in the throes of getting over her, and I was in my unlocked state, at another bar after meeting the kind of friends who have two drinks and then go home to be in bed by 10. Somehow it seemed important to see the whole thing at once, to make sense of it. So I took out my phone and started writing the whole story of my ex and me. I typed out all the highlights on my phone and posted it on my favourite social network.
Normally, this would be an insane thing to do.
But the social network in question here was Peach. It is a small, cute social app that exploded in a burst of popularity one Friday in early 2016 and then evaporated about a week later. Or, it almost did. A small, dedicated group of users just stuck with it, and inexplicably, the tiny team who run it let it stay up. If I had to guess, there are probably a few thousand people on it. Generally, everyone agreed not to talk about it publicly, but now its future is in question, so the rules have changed.
There is something about the app that appeals: its soft pastel colours, or surprisingly charming features that would be cheesy elsewhere, like letting you post good morning or what movie you were watching. Most of all, there is no central feed. Instead, you have to click on each friend’s individual profile, which, first, limits the number of people you want to have on it, and second, makes things weirdly intimate, confessional, like you’re really writing to yourself and other people just happen to read. Of the odd mix that makes up my friend list of about fifteen—a couple of IRL friends, a few pals from Twitter, and a few complete strangers in another country—most use it as a sort of ongoing diary for the things you can’t say elsewhere, a release valve from the glare of Twitter. It is the sort of app where you talk about having a headache, the fact that you’re horny, a memory you have of your father that still fucks you up, and of course, pictures of your dog, mostly to a cobbled-together group of people you’ve never even met who, for some unknown reason, have all agreed not to judge.
So I wrote, mostly because I didn’t know what else to do. My therapist had little more to offer than saying I should move on, and I had already exhausted my friends’ patience for listening me talk about this woman. I sat there and typed until I was too drunk to write more and then I spent the rest of the weekend periodically picking up my phone when something else occurred to me. There was nothing bitter in it, because I have no reason to be, but every major thing in the decade-plus-long saga, I wrote, and when I was done, a friend said: “I hope you saved it. It’s a sad tale, beautifully told.”
I’m still not sure why I did that, or why I, a 42 year old man, still confess crushes, or talk about my obsessive, deferential relationship to beauty, or why it fills me with joy when people I don’t really know post about their successes or happiness. Maybe it is a proxy for the kind of intimacy others can take for granted: some people have partners with whom they share everything; others have those kinds of deep, roiling friendships that fill me with envy; and others have the group chat. Me? I have Peach.
I am the sort of person who is hardly guarded on social media. I type all sorts of dumb shit into those vacant white boxes. I once tweeted that having no intimate relationships in your life is like being scraped raw from the inside. One person responded by saying “I think we should be pals maybe?” and when I told another friend, she almost curled in on herself with embarrassment for me. That is the risk and reward of public confession—some people will find it achingly human, and some will feel a mix of pity and revulsion.
But there is more at stake in the public sphere of social media than embarrassment. Discourse moves along rails, and things that rattle and judder off them can bring all sorts of consequences. It’s not, as some stupidly assert, that you can’t say what you want anymore. Rather, if you don’t have the words or haven’t built up the goodwill to dabble in heterodoxy or just the plain ill-thought-out, you can find yourself becoming a lightning rod for an issue much bigger than you. You can confess in public but boy do you have to be careful about it.
The ex in question and I sort of reconciled about a year ago, and have now settled into a slightly awkward if deeply comforting friendship. I tell her I love her without blinking and she does too. There is a kind of rawness to it that is discomfiting yet reassuring, like the shudder of stepping into a hot shower on a cold day that ends up leaving you warm to the core. That’s the thing, though. If you want to allow intimacy to flourish, you have to get naked. I mean, don’t do in public, obviously. You just have to find the right place.