I’m addicted to other people’s relationships (online)

Online intimacy is not something we should shy away from

Artwork: Jocelin Chan

What I value the most about tumblr is not the aesthetic; not the careful display of the ultimate distillation of one’s Self. What I love is the unfiltered, the impassioned, the emotional. Discovering the blog of a stranger through a mutual, often via a deeply personal photo caption or text-post, cultivates a kinship incomparable to other social media interactions and ‘real life’ relationships.

In fact, these moments distinctly lack typical influence of online fame. I’m drawn in by the blogger’s vulnerability, rather than follower count or number of notes; and it is their emotional openness in online spaces that ultimately sustains my emotional investment. My relationship with them notably differs from ‘IRL’ relationships, in that my investment in these people is disproportionately greater than the sum of our interactions.

Take Priya*, for example. I followed Priya through a series of her tumultuous, dysfunctional situation-ships, feeling as frustrated as her every time she was left heartbroken. When she settled into a healthy committed partnership, I was genuinely thrilled. This response was very similar to how happy I felt when my best friend started dating her long-term boyfriend after years of emotional turmoil with exes. One year and two overseas trips later, my heart sank when I saw the following post appear on my dashboard: ‘i fucking loved him i gave him so many chances and all the while hes never believed in us he told me he started doubting our relationship 8 months ago what the fuck is wrong with me!’

My reaction was visceral. I continued to read, compassion following naturally. I was not alone in my empathy; I shared details of my shock with a friend, who had a virtually identical response despite knowing little about Priya. Processing Priya’s situation spearheaded a long, thoughtful conversation about the core elements of successful relationships, and just how rarely they are borne out. We compared Priya and her ex-boyfriend to people we knew, contemplated our futures and expressed similar values about love.

In effect, realms of intimacy across our digital and ‘real’ lives have fused to the point that there is no real distinction between the two. Amidst the saturation of heavily edited, airbrushed content on Instagram and rampant sardonic humour    on Twitter, perhaps now more than ever, it is critical to pursue non-commodified intimacy where we least expect it on social media.

There is tremendous value in embracing vulnerability through sharing the nuances of heartbreak, friendship breakups and the process of navigating mental illnesses and cultural identity online. It demands unconditional celebration, not just from loved ones, but from anyone who absorbs it, and inevitably reflects on their own life.

*Names have been changed