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Confessions of a Facebook Stalker

A Woman Reveals Her Sneaky Online Behavior

Compared with my other ex-boyfriends, Nick was a latecomer to Facebook, which meant I wasn't able to reconnect with him until last year.

Because this former beau shares a name with hundreds of other people, and because we have few friends in common, he turned out to be frustratingly elusive. Every so often, when I fell prey to boredom or procrastination, I'd embark upon a fact-finding mission of PI-style doggedness. But I'm no Veronica Mars, so until Nick joined the other 500 million people on Facebook, I was unable to figure out even his most basic details: where he lived, what he did, how he looked, whom he had married — if he had married. And I really wanted — no, needed — to know.

Over time, my casual curiosity developed into a distracting compulsion that waxed and waned in intensity.

It's not that I wanted to see Nick again, though he'd certainly been easy on the eyes. In a film about New England prep schools, he'd have played the prankster who's always getting into trouble, then charming the headmistress into letting him off the hook. When I met him a decade ago, I was in the market for those kinds of giggles and antics, but that wasn't the role that the real-life Nick was interested in playing — he'd outgrown the mischief-making. We were ill-matched, and not in an opposites-attract kind of way. Our conversations were frequently interrupted by the static of awkwardness, which is why we, um, didn't spend much time talking. After about a year, our physical communication started to sputter. When we finally acknowledged that our relationship wasn't going anywhere, the question that stumped us wasn't why we'd broken up but why we'd stayed together for so long. ...Read More

About a year after Nick and I broke up, I met a life partner who was right for me in all the ways that everyone else had been wrong. But Nick still felt like an unsolved mystery. I'm the kind of person who feels bereft if a friend ends a story prematurely without revealing the ending. I'm also obsessed with figuring people out — if you know me, then I've probably googled you. Eventually, wasting time sleuthing for information about Nick started to feel sneaky and dishonest, and I worried that it would upset my boyfriend — but that didn't stop me. I couldn't get that Alanis Morissette song “Unsent” — the one where she writes letters to her former lovers that sum up their relationships — out of my head. If this were my song, here's how his verse would go: “dear nick/you were irresistible and i loved how all the girls noticed you when you walked into a bar/but we had absolutely nothing in common/i think i always wanted you to be someone you weren't/[filler guitar music] and what did you ever see in me?” I thought that maybe finding out more about Nick would give me insight into myself.

But would it really work out that neatly?

In the past, if you wanted to spy on an ex, it usually meant enduring plates of limp crudités served in backwater high school reunions, with current spouses on hand to chaperone. Now all we need is Wi-Fi, and the only way our partner will find out is if he goes looking too. Facebook, which allows us to peruse photos of people we've never even met, is especially useful in finding answers to all of our burning questions about the one who got away. It's even spawned a felonious all-purpose verb: I had become a Facebook-stalker.

I prefer to think of this activity as “research.” Considering my inquisitive nature, I was surprised to learn that only 40 percent of women between the ages of 18 and 54 fessed up to using Facebook to track their exes, according to a recent Oxygen Media survey of more than 1,600 social-media users. Brits seem more likely to stalk-and-tell: In a poll of 1,700 people in the UK conducted last year by a people-search engine called Yasni.com, 62 percent of women — compared with 42 percent of men — admitted to having looked up a former love interest online (cheers, mates!).

Online stalking has been scientifically proven to feel good. This past spring, researchers at the University of Missouri School of Journalism hooked 36 students up to sensors and monitored their faces and palms while they navigated Facebook. By measuring physiological responses associated with motivation and emotion, the researchers found that the students derived the most pleasure from activities described as “social searching”: “goal-oriented surveillance” (yikes!) that involved visiting another friend's profile page, reading their Wall posts, perusing their photos, checking out the events they'd recently attended.

Another reason we cyber-stalk: It makes us feel like Nancy Drew. “It's like, ‘I am Super Sleuth!'” says my friend Annie. Facebook is really just a convenience for Annie. Long before the site launched, she tracked down information about a doofus who, after dating her for three years, broke up with her over the phone. “We never really had closure,” she says. When she heard he was getting married, she searched for his profile on a wedding website and found out where the reception was taking place. After the event, she called the venue and asked them for the name of the person who took the photos. Then she tricked the photographer into thinking she was a member of the wedding party so that he'd divulge the password for the online photo gallery. It may seem extreme to go to these lengths, but Annie wasn't dating anyone seriously at the time, and she says she never had any intention of contacting her ex or his bride.

Unfortunately, the thrill of the chase doesn't always lead to a fulfilling outcome. While Annie says that discovering the photos that revealed the wedding to be a rather “drab affair” gave her a small sense of satisfaction, she admits that finding her mark also stirred up feelings of resentment. “I'd like to say it felt good, but it didn't really. I wanted him to live forever with his Campbell's soup-for-one, without anyone or anything.” She added, “And I'm sure my time would have been better spent doing something other than this.”

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Confessions of a Facebook Stalker
A Woman Reveals Her Sneaky Online Behavior
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