Art/therapy by the author.

Act I: Acceptance

Nonetheless, whether pursuing or trying to flee, you are in love and it’s sort of terrible. Take it from me. I’m in love and it’s been a nightmare.

For those in a budding relationship, being in love is masochistically scary. For those at the end of a road, it’s painful. You are chained to your love no matter how hard you want to shove it aside, like an addict trying desperately to quit. Then, as if you need any more stress, the emotional maelstrom inside you manifests as an external daemon: a little green dot.

Green Dot Syndrome is the painful longing of the Internet Age. It’s sitting at your desk at work or in bed at night, scrolling through your chat bar on Facebook or G-Chat and seeing your lover online, then contemplating that fact.

I began showing signs of GDS as soon as she called me to say she needs time. Nothing kills a good morning like the “right guy, wrong time” scenario. She wanted to stay talking though. We don’t want to lose each other, we agreed.

As I write this, it’s been two weeks without contact.

How many days has it been since you last spoke with the person on the other side? Hours? Minutes? You know exactly how long it’s been, but you won’t admit it. They don’t talk to you. Every piece of advice from every friend, magazine, and hey, even common sense says you should not reach out either. Give them space, they say, ignoring that “space” has 6 billion definitions and you only know one.

Symptoms of GDS include:

  1. The inability to look away from or be without a computer/phone.
  2. A sensation comparable to paralysis due to wondering if your lover is actually online. This is usually exacerbated by the presence of photographs.
  3. Other, including: anxiety, depression, meticulous backtracking, and considering that life is a cruel joke and you are secretly the subject of a Truman Show-like spectacle on an intergalactic television network. Spoiler Alert: In Season 25 we learn happiness is unattainable.

The green dot is staring back at me. She is staring back at me. Such unbearable tension is typical GDS. Both lovers don’t want to make the first move for fear of realness — consequence. It’s a digital standoff where both parties desperately wait for each other to succumb to what’s considered weakness, i.e. giving in to the desire of communication they desperately want, but are convinced they should not have.

And yet, is it such a standoff? Is it actually mutual?

GDS is hypnotic speculation. You feel that special someone on the other side, yet you have no proof. You metaphorically (or quite literally) tear your hair out in quizzical longing just to know the answer to the question, “Are you there?” though what you really want to know is “Do I still matter to you?”

The unwavering light convinces you of things that may not be so, and yet the silence grows potential. Lovers become villains and profile pictures become harder to recognize. In breakup cases, you want to know what happened to the person you used to love, or maybe still do, actually definitely still do. The longer you stare into the green, the madder you drive yourself. The green dot amplifies a reality warped by your selfishness, but your selfishness is just a desire to love and be loved.

The times in which we live have allowed GDS to develop, for direct communication has been disrupted by technology, and Social Media has democratized social etiquette, ironically enabling anti-social tendencies. Screens have become such useful shields to life’s hard truths, but beyond the binary the internet is completely immaterial. It is a plane of unsureness. How could we expect our emotions to be safe in its obscurity? We put so much trust in our modes of communication that the betrayal of heartbreak is magnified by the heartlessness of digital existence, if one can even exist digitally in the first place.

Now here I sit, continuing to wonder if she’s okay. Wondering if all the confusion she’s taking the time to deal with is still bothering her and praying she feels safe. Why do I wonder these things? Out of genuine concern or validation — to convince myself I am still important, relevant, attractive, alive even?

I don’t want to be a slave to the Green Dot. I want to stop gazing and reach past it into the real world again, on the other side with her. I want to live and I want to live now, not in a digitally preserved, Stepfordian past. The only way I think I can do that is by actually communicating with the woman for whom I think I’ve fallen, but as I wonder again if she feels the same sense of conviction as me, I know the Green Dot has full control over me. My whole being is stuck somewhere in limbo between real and fantasy, much like the internet itself, but now, as I wrap up this sentence, I realize that’s probably what being in love has always felt like.

Act II: Questionable Aftermath

The thing about living with the internet is that we create two combative time streams for ourselves. While the tangible world forces one to move progressively, the internet can be catered. Life can be perfectly preserved from the wear and tear of affliction or euphoria all depending on the mood of the user — Fetished existence.

Such power can lead one to believe they are in control, but that’s a farce. Every user on the internet, knowingly or unknowingly, affects the digital worlds of others, creating an invasive, reactionary process in the real world. Online, people see the world through protective layers, immersing themselves in the elasticity of a temporal putty manufactured in complete denial of the fact that emotions cannot be controlled. They can be suppressed and they can be processed at different paces and levels of intensity, but they cannot be controlled. Emotions are like time, or maybe the two are actually the same. Is life not summed up by sentimental experiences in sequence?

The internet exacerbates the intolerance of emotional and temporal truth. I am sad and I don’t want to be sad, but I want to not be sad right now because I can see myself as happy with the click of a button. This is why the green dot is alluring and mesmerizing. It is the ultimate emotional gamble. It’s low risk to watch and hope. The payoff is worth every reluctant blink. But the house always wins. The uncontrollability of emotional response and sensation will always best you when you sit in front of a screen.

Is she ever coming back? I won’t know until I force my way past the green light, which is becoming more and more difficult. In betting against the green dot, I am really betting against myself.

Act III: Offline Memory (Real Acceptance)

One couple was talking about Tarantino’s new film, and by “talking,” I mean the loudmouthed Tisch student was talking at his partner, who looked as interested in him as her septum piercing was unique. She still smiled, even though you could tell she was the type of person who fought that urge whenever it (often) came.

The second couple was completely infatuated with each other. I don’t think they touched their food once. They were so engulfed in one another. It made me sick. Partly out of the waste of food, mostly out of jealousy. This place is supposed to house my positive memory.

You could tell the third pair was on a first date because of their phones, which they’d turned downwards to give the impression of focus, but then proceeded to flip over constantly like impatient fry cooks. And what were they doing? They were arguing, and it was glorious. They were just two people so not meant for each other that a date turned sour. I smiled. Not out of schadenfreude, but at the suppleness of experience.

I don’t know much when it comes to dating. What I do know is that, regardless of life’s outcomes and their representations online, I feel, and that is my most prized ability. It’s my reminder that I’m alive, for real. I can’t control what I feel and I certainly can’t control what the girl beyond the green dot feels, but the fact that we shared feelings, even for such a blip in the expanse of our lives, is something to savour. Like a memory to a place, we are joined together, but not by image or touch; by emotion.

Life is not the internet. I don’t want to exist in safety where relics preserve a state of being that has passed, and, while I clearly need things spelled out for me, I want to exist in a present that is as sure as the emotions that fuel it, that is to say, blissfully unsure.

So with that, I’m logging off for now. See you on the other side soon, perhaps.

Writer & artist. New York-raised, Diaspora style.

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