Virtual Lives and living vicariously

I read a thing tonight that had nothing to do with me whatsoever but which has somehow affected me greatly. A married couple I don’t even know in real life – never met ‘em before and really only know one of them even halfway, and then only in that way you kinda know someone on the Internet – are splitting up. 

I know nothing but the barest facts about them, really. Their social media presence is consciously and admittedly sculpted and curated in such a way that it’s clear that you don’t know that much about them even as they purport to share a great deal. Indeed, they have explicitly (and quite admirably) said that they aren’t sharing the real, highly-detailed truth about their lives with their followers. And make no mistake, I am more follower – audience, really – than friend, even if I have allowed myself to think of them as friends of a sort from time to time. 

Either way, there is no reason why this bit of their real life being revealed, even in the most oblique, privacy-preserving way in which they have admirably chosen to reveal it, should be affecting me so. I do not know them in real life and there should thus be some steps of removal between us that cause me to think of this as gossip or, at best, sad news, which should soon be filed away and soon forgotten by someone in my position. 

But it is affecting me. 

A large part of it is that while they have, in many ways, crafted a quasi-fictitious portrait of their lives on social media, it’s really just the literal truth that they have not shared. There are some truths – many, actually, even if broad – which have been revealed. Undeniable facts, such as the existence of their child and their pets and the city in which they live. Character notes and certain aspects of their lives that can’t truly be hidden given that, in most ways, their existence on social media is more roman à clef than it is actual fiction. To the small extent one can know someone they know like this, they’re likable and funny and make you want to know them even more even if everyone involved acknowledges that the nature of such social media interaction precludes actual, intimate knowledge.

I think a lot of why I’m so affected is that they’re literary people by both temperament and trade and they have deftly and lovingly crafted a really good story. One which resonates with me greatly for a lot of complicated reasons, many of which have to do with my own life and which reflect my own feelings about romance and family. My life and my divorce have conspired to convince me that there are a limited number of ways I can carry on in life and love while still holding on to what I consider to be important. Something about the way in which this couple carried themselves gave me hope that there were no such limits and no wrong answers and that anything was possible. 

Anything may still be possible, of course. Both for them and for me. If I learned anything in the past four years it’s that life is what you make of it and that rules and expectations to which we sometimes unthinkingly submit can be ignored without consequence. This story in which I became somewhat invested was, after all, just a story. I don’t know their real life and theirs has little to actually do with mine. We all have privacy and agency. 

As such, by morning light, I assume I’ll worry less about these two people. I’ll worry less because the same thoughtfulness and deftness with which they have crafted their virtual story is not something they likely lack in real life. Now it will be channeled into crafting their actual future which, once they emerge from the fog, will be a bright one, I am sure. They’re smart and their heads seem to be screwed on straight and, hell, if even messed up people who lack self-awareness like my ex and me made it work relatively seamlessly – and we have – these two will have no trouble whatsoever. 

But tonight I am sad about this. And I’m thinking more about two virtual strangers than I think about lot of people I know in flesh and blood. I’m worrying about them and hoping that things turn out OK for them.

Craig Calcaterra

Craig is the author of the daily baseball (and other things) newsletter, Cup of Coffee. He writes about other things at He lives in New Albany, Ohio with his wife, two kids, and many cats.

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