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Help! I Can't Stop Cyberstalking My Old Boyfriends!

Is it just curiosity — or a creepy obsession?

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Illustrated gif of woman peaking around the corner looking at a man in a house on a computer.
Paige Vickers
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Let me say upfront that my breakup with Scott was for the best. He exuded intelligence and treated me respectfully. He had a lovely one-bedroom apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, which his mom decorated in tasteful hues. Still, I admit that it bothered me that he was only 5-foot-3 to my 5-foot-5. I recall we didn’t laugh enough, either. Meh. And yet, I’ve Googled him occasionally over the past several years. And by “occasionally,” I mean at least 10 times.

Scott is not the only ex in my search history. If I’ve gone on a minimum three dates with a guy over the past 20 years, I’ve eventually typed his name into Google and waited for the results, my heart aflutter. Is he married now? What does his wife look like? Does he have kids? Does he still work as a news producer or did he leave the business? As a single woman, I suppose an armchair therapist would conclude I’m pining for these guys or wondering about the road not taken. But I rarely feel jealousy pangs for guys that were a mismatch from the start. I don’t pray they turned out to be doughy, unemployed losers, either. I firmly believe that rooting for someone to fail is bad mojo. Even if some of the guys were immature jerks who didn’t deserve me … subjectively speaking.

I reason that it’s not lightweight stalking if everyone else is doing it. Indeed, several of my legit-happily married girlfriends have copped to the same habit. Some pals research even further back, tracing high school flings with the same intensity that people do to locate their ancestors in the old country. I was recently on the phone with my friend Sarah when she blurted out, “Hey, do you know whatever happened to Mitch Davis? I can’t find him on Google, and he’s not on Facebook.” I hadn’t heard his name since the mid-’90s. The conversation had started as a condolence call about my recently deceased grandmother.

Part of the problem is the process. It’s too easy. We’re staring at screens for all the livelong day, desperate to take our minds off work, the news, insert something equally stressful here. A simple escapist Google search for, say, “why dogs like to be rubbed on their bellies” leads to cute videos of dogs playing with balls, which leads to photo scans for dogs that resemble your favorite childhood pooch, Goldie, which leads to thoughts about your ex, Greg Goldberg. Ding-ding-ding. A few effortless keystrokes later, you’ve stumbled upon the guy’s address and the cost of his mortgage. Best of all, he’ll never find out that you were on the case. It’s like an extremely advanced version of the old hang-up phone call.

Summoning my inner detective gives me a burst of accomplishment, like I’ve solved The Case of the Missing Summer Love. Go me. I also like the sense of control that comes with a successful Google search. Example: If I didn’t get complete closure at the time of the split, now I can finally write our epilogue. But I think at the heart of it, we track down these guys because they’re part of our past. As we get older, we adapt to settling into our routines. Our exes represent concrete proof that we once rendezvoused with late nights and awkward first kisses. Internet mini-investigations are the next best thing to a literal stroll down memory lane.

It’s not all satisfactory smiles. I can’t say that I’ve ever been ultrathrilled by the results of a Google search of an ex. No matter what I learn, the inferiority complex kicks in. (Ah, the joys of social media!) There’s also a valid argument for mystery. Consider that back in the days of yore — say, 25 years ago — we didn’t have the luxury of instant knowledge. Exes just faded away into the Great Unknown, unless we went to a reunion or ran into them on the street. We had to do actual legwork to glean information. Sometimes I wish that intriguing elusiveness were still an option. After all, who knows what guys are discovering and thinking when they Google me. But there’s no going back, unless I make a concerted effort to log off. For now, I’m feeling lucky.