As a blogger who writes about dating and relationships for a living, my answer is…it depends.
Let’s look at it another way. Let’s say your Ex was having a party. If you were to drop by unannounced, do you think you would be welcome? If not, then basic etiquette would dictate that you stay away.
This past spring the object of my sophomore year college crush, with whom I had shared a handful of nights, emailed me to tell me he had become a frequent reader of my column. A few weeks later he emailed again to compliment me on a particularly sensitive admission I had made in one of my essays. His words were met with sincere appreciation. I didn’t feel ashamed or worry he might form particular judgments, nor did I wonder if he had any agenda. This was a man who had never been anything but kind to me, whose comments conjured up images of innocent nights fumbling and exploring in a squeaky dorm room bed. Over time he had learned to gauge my moods, often checking in with messages of encouragement. A friendship had been rekindled. He’d refer to me by my college nickname. He became a confidante and cheerleader. Here was someone who knew me as an awkward teenager trying to figure herself out, not a pseudonym. So, in a sense, my blog reunited us. That’s a good thing, right?
Sure. But what if the Ex is someone whose presence brings back unpleasant memories?
Around the same time a more recent “ex” revealed that he had been reading my blog as well. This time my reaction was different. Because of our history and due to how he had unceremoniously dumped me, I was angry. This was a man who made it abundantly clear that he had no real use for me, telling me that had we lost touch for awhile he’d “almost certainly not initiate contact.” We were not friends, an edict laid down by him by which I abided. He’d often refer to my work as an “aunty agony” column and swore he never read it. When we parted ways, he stated that all that we had left was small talk and so he felt there was no need to stay in touch. Yet now he was insisting that I had become a favorite on his blog roll and that he “enjoyed my perspective” and dating-related musings. Over the course of the conversation I learned that he had been reading all these months, long after we parted ways. My resentment was palpable.
As a blogger, we can’t blame people for reading what we knowingly put out there for public consumption. Most of us write with the knowledge that not everybody will understand or support our perspective. Once you’ve had your share of critical comments, you learn to self-edit. It’s one thing to do that by choice, as a form of self-preservation. It’s entirely another to feel we were coerced in to doing so because some menacing stranger is watching. Critical comments from a faceless alias are easier to shrug off. Condescending statements from someone who knows you as more than an internet persona can be cutting.
The only way to survive is to choose, very carefully, what should be shared. Some things, like the inner-workings of a relationship, need to remain sacred if you hope for it to thrive and survive. This is why, if you are a reader of dating bloggers, you’ll notice very few are able to maintain any consistent level of intimacy with another person. Their blogs become their partners. It’s easy to become dependent on the external validation that writing a blog provides. The downside is, should you be lucky enough to garner an audience, you can become the perfect mark.
Just by writing a blog, you expose yourself to people looking for their own 15 minutes of fame. Should you be particularly captivated by one of them, you become blind to just how emotionally damaging they can be. They will sit in front of their laptops and watch, wearing a look of smug satisfaction on their face, waiting for you to publicly flame out. All because of them. You become their entertainment. You feel like a puppet on a string, your arms and legs kicking and thrashing. You’re being played, you see. Only you don’t know it, so you can’t figure out how to stop. After a few years of this, I learned the hard way to curtail my over-sharing.
This is the paradox of a blogger. Some of us have a compulsive, irrational need to discuss personal details publicly. We expose the underbelly of our private lives, all while having no ability to filter out those who might use our words against us. Then why share anything at all, you ask? For every blogger, it’s different. Some blog for release, some to enlighten, some to document a journey, some for attention. Many of us have a masochistic side. We share gory accounts of everything from our jobs to our families to our love lives, knowing we are possibly letting the wrong people in to our worlds. It’s almost as if we’re hoping we’ll be punished for our poor judgment and bad choices. Maybe we think this is the only way we can truly get past the shame or hurt we feel for allowing ourselves to be duped. Just punish us. Put us out of this misery we feel for believing when we should have run.
Most of those people who criticize us lurk in secret. That’s why we sometimes forget that they may be watching. So when an Ex makes his presence known, it can be creatively and psychologically stifling. In my case, I began re-thinking every word and reviewing everything I’d admitted in the past six months. Did he read that? Does he know this? Analysis Paralysis took over. I was unsettled by the disparity in power between us. I had no access to his life, nor did I have the ability to block him from mine. My blog was part of my work. Privatizing it wasn’t an option. I was vulnerable to his influence. Again.
What used to be a safe place for me to express myself had become a minefield. Is he somehow watching or mocking me? Why is he even here? There’s a certain level of powerlessness in knowing that the one person I never wished to see me so raw now had unlimited access to my thoughts, and there was nothing I could do about it. I had believed him when he had dismissed me those months ago, saying we would never be friends. Which is why I blogged as though he wasn’t watching. The worst part was the realization that, after doing this for so many years, I should have known better. Learning that he was looming re-opened a wound that had taken many months to heal.
Once he admitted to reading he said I shouldn’t take it personally. He was up to date on the goings on of several other women from his past. That revelation provided no comfort. It made me feel like he was a Collector of sorts, holding his ex-lovers captive in jars on a shelf, watching us flutter and gasp for air for his personal amusement.
In this age of over-sharing, to say you feel violated or judged because of something you chose to share publicly seems naive. Hoping to avoid all possible critical eyes is setting yourself up for failure. But even when we censor ourselves, as I began doing all those months before, it’s almost impossible to mask the feelings that lie beneath the surface. Our true emotions are often pervasive, permeating each paragraph.
It would be nice if the rules that apply to parties also applied to blogs. If you know you were intentionally left off the guest list, then it’s best to stay away at the risk of causing the host discomfort. Obviously, there’s no way to prevent this from happening. The only way to be free of such a concern is to wipe your memory of such people clean and pretend they don’t exist.
Yes, we bloggers choose to make our personal lives public. What we share we do so by choice. But just because you have access to the goings on in our heads doesn’t mean you belong there.