failures

Monday was Thomas and my wedding anniversary, but we’ve now been together long enough that I feel stupid and embarrassed writing about our anniversaries as though they were something to note, as though anyone cared to hear about them, as though there were anything new to say. People post all the time about the worst ways a couple can tweet or caption instagrams about each other and inevitably I’ve always done almost all of them. The only non-embarrassing option is to ignore it, is to not post one’s partner at all, to leave the photo un-captioned, maybe, as though it were possible for there to be some mystery about posting a photo of the face of this person who is obviously my husband, who has appeared in numerous photos and captions and anecdotes with me everywhere else on my social media, as though suddenly now it could be some kind of restrained and elegant secret if only I did it minimally enough. 

People aspire to minimalism because we are all hoping to be absolved. We have been sold the idea that if we make ourselves small enough we can be blameless, no longer accountable for our leaking enthusiasms or our past mistakes, lifted into a better category, carrying nothing. If only we were all clean enough rooms. Thomas and I also celebrated our anniversary on Friday; we got legally married at City Hall on September 20th, but we had a big party-wedding on September 23rd. We never picked one anniversary, we just celebrate both of them. We met for the first time, and went on our first date, on May 7th, and we celebrate that one, too. There’s a big gross maximalism to this, three anniversaries, cluttering up the calendar, refusing to organize the acknowledgements of our past, to pack it all into one celebration. Conventional wisdom says that having too much or too many of any one thing makes it matter less; to prove something’s worth it is necessary to concentrate it into a minimalist and legible form, standing out clear from the rest of the canvas, all the lines clean, all the borders strong. 

Social media is dying, which is different from saying that it is going away any time soon; it definitely isn’t. Like many people who make big pronouncements about social media, what I really mean is that my own personal experience has changed, and that I would like to wrap that change in the packaging of a larger context so that I do not feel alone, and do not have to feel that it is my own fault, that all I am really talking about is my own failure. But maybe I am. What I know is that the magic is gone, for me anyway. The thrill that social media once gave me was never really about connection or information, the sense of the world’s vastness and smallness at once, the ability to meet strangers and or to almost completely destroy the concept of strangers. It wasn’t even about the way in which these spaces once offered the freedom to invent new and imaginary selves (social media is no longer actually a place for self-reinvention, but it was for a little while). What did it for me was the celebration of the quotidian, that the unspectacular details of our lives were through these apps, for a brief period of time, elevated to the level of literature or news, that what was small and stupid was more interesting than what was big and impressive. 

There was a moment where it felt as though the social media on which I spent far, far, far too much of my time, and in which I had rooted all the tentpoles of my own emotional life, knew the big truth that what matters, what makes us lovable and human, is not our large, bright achievements, but our tiny embarrassments and unimportant triumphs, our smallest failures. It demonstrated that what is compelling about a person is not the most impressive thing on their resume, but the smallest annoyance on their Wednesday afternoon, their little personal grudges, their quiet anxieties and invisible braveries. The last time social media was good was when the “I ate a sandwich” jokes about twitter were accurate.

The internet is about anger and success now; of course it is. Any entity that becomes sufficiently large and successful and public enough eventually lands at those two values, be it a social-media website or a city or a corporation or a nation-state. But there was a time, however brief and small, when the internet was about failure, and joy. Or at least it seemed that way to me, in the bunker of the maybe thirty people I talked to across all the applications where I lived my life. 

I used to tell people Thomas and I met on the internet, but I don’t really anymore. The internet of even six and a half years ago, on which we met, seems so far away, and so antiquated, that now it feels more accurate to say we were introduced by a mutual friend (which is also, technically, true: It just took place on twitter). I don’t post about our relationship quite as much as I used to, but I miss it. Everything that people complain about couples doing online, or that people complain about individuals doing when posting about their personal lives, is something I miss about a slightly older internet, one just a few years ago, but also light years away. Having three anniversaries and talking out loud about all of them feels gauche in a way particularly out of step with the current moment, but I miss that sort of myopic posting, when one’s small personal stories were paramount and shameless. My life is too public and that’s nobody’s fault but my own. I am uncomfortable with it, but at the same time putting all this online is part of the maximalism I am continually seeking, clutter and abundance and disarray, a refusal to conform either visually or emotionally to the aesthetic of a luxury-goods store, all white walls and muted emotions and unmarked calendars, shrugging through the days, keeping everything quiet. 

Everyone is always hoping everyone else will fail. That’s not just the internet. Posting about my relationship this much gives strangers the chance to assume it will fail and to base that assumption on how much we post about each other. Betting a relationship will fail is always a good bet. I’ve been in a lot of relationships that were likely to fail, that were statistically unlikely to make it. Including this one. Both happiness and continuance are always losing bets, always wild-error results. None of this is the likelihood or the smart prediction. Posting about one’s anniversary is embarrassing in the same way writing essays about current personal relationships is embarrassing. Both seem to be drawing a line under definite future failures and inviting the largest possible crowd to watch, trading any chance of quiet and safe success for the certainty of loud disaster. 

One of the strangest things that happens when one gets into a serious relationship and especially when one gets married, is other people treat it as though you have achieved something. Relationships are happenstance, luck, compromise, personal preference and choice and priority; they are just about anything other than an achievement. They do take work, but no one is ever congratulating you on the work - the ugliness, the boredom, the boundary-setting, having a conversation when you’d rather go to bed, accepting what you cannot control - when they congratulate you on your marriage as though it were a job promotion or a genius grant.

But romantic love has nothing to do with success; romantic love is about failure. It’s our daily selves, not our gilded selves, the barely-presentable shit, not the bright occasions. It’s an unrewarded enterprise, and one that helps no one, not even ourselves. Anyone assuming a romantic relationship will fail just needs to wait long enough to get to say that they were right. The best possible outcome is a near-unimaginable tragedy. The minimalist form of public success, one ordered achievement after another, is the opposite of the maximalist ongoing of love. Love is a bad bet, a ridiculous proposition, and in this way, it is something to celebrate, in all its unlikely narrative, in each next day that shows up against long odds. Love is the old internet, where no one is trying to get a job and everyone is telling the story of how they embarrassed themselves and what they found beautiful. I ate a sandwich. I’m in love today. It’s been two years since our wedding, and look at us, look at us again, unlikely, set up for failure, going on anyway, still showing up every day, achieving nothing but ending another day together, cluttered and unfamous and small and good. 

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