This article originally appeared on VICE US.
I used to joke that I had a crush on my ex-boyfriend’s Bitmoji. It looked vaguely like him but was mostly a ridiculous caricature. The guy was a little stinker! His preferred outfit was this red, Adidas-esque tracksuit and a little black fedora—two clothing items the human version of my boyfriend didn’t actually own. And he was always doing the most ridiculous shit, like spewing coffee from his tiny mouth or exploding an anatomically correct heart right out of his chest to connote love. He was just crazy like that; a real wild card.
I didn’t think the stupid Bitmoji, who I always found very charming, would ever make me cry. A few days after my boyfriend and I broke up, his devilish little face popped up on my phone screen after I accidentally tapped into the Bitmoji keyboard while typing a text to a friend. A jolt went through my brain. At some point during our relationship, I’d used a feature in the Bitmoji app that lets you pair two cartoon people together (called, quite wholesomely, “Friendmoji”). There were our little avatars, blowing exaggerated kisses to each other, cheersing foamy beers, and generally having a ball together, completely unaware that their real-life counterparts no longer did any of those things. I frantically closed the texting app, embarassed by how owned I felt by a cartoon I created.
That was just the first in a series of depraved surprises I found lurking in my phone in the weeks after our breakup. I thought I’d taken all the proper steps to protect myself from any digital surprises: in the raw, immediate aftermath of our split, I’d removed him from my phone’s “favorites” list and buried our text thread underneath a bunch of other messages. Historically, this has been enough to cleanse my phone of any painful artifacts. (The only other thing I might have previously done is unfollow him on Twitter and Instagram, but I’d ultimately decided against that in this case.) I didn’t realize how tangled up our lives had become, and how much of our relationship was pumped into my phone, until the time came to do all the untangling.
Here’s the still-developing list of things I’ve had to do in the time since our breakup: Unfriend him on the Pattern, which kept serving me notifications about his emotional state according to the stars or some shit; delete our shared Google Calendar; delete the perpetual event I had in my phone calendar for his birthday (and tell my mom to delete it from hers, too); mute his Instagram Stories from my feed; and, of course, break up our oblivious Bitmojis, which honestly felt kinda cruel. It’s not their fault their creators couldn’t keep it together; I’m sure they would’ve been happy to keep canoodling and fucking around together within the app for a lot longer.
When did it get this fucking hard to wipe a relationship from your phone? My first breakup with an iPhone was in college, in 2011. I don’t remember having to do much to cleanse my phone of the relationship; I mostly just remember shoving all physical reminders of him into an extremely cursed box that now lives underneath a bed in my mom’s house. Subsequent breakups got slightly more complicated. Later in college, I blocked a phone number for the first time and had a friend hide all photos we had together in an iCloud album I couldn’t access and cry over. Breakups in adulthood have kinda stayed on this level; I can’t tell if this is a testament to my aversion to Really Letting People In :), or a testament to how much an extension of my body my phone’s become in the past two years. Probably it’s a little bit of both.
There’s a lot of fuss about how Millennials are delaying a bunch of sacred relationship steps. Research shows that my cohort gets married later; dates more discerningly than previous generations; and doesn’t cohabitate until shit is extremely real. My ex and I never made it to the living together phase—something I imagine is logistical and emotional hell to sort out after a breakup—but our lives were becoming increasingly entwined on our phones, like we were beta-testing what it might be like if we shared a life in a more substantial way.
I keep finding evidence of how connected we were; I’m not sure when I’ll reach the end of it. Each little thing I discover brings back specific memories of times in which I was so sure and happy, I didn’t think twice about the potential for future pain. My phone, of course, doesn’t understand the emotional gravity of what it’s doing. (.........Or does it?)
Part of me is sick of having to intentionally go into my stupid apps and alert them to my breakup. It’s, frankly, very fucked up to have to tell an astrology app that your relationship has failed. But another part of me is scared to hit the inevitable end of the digital traces of our relationship. Each thing reminds me of time I felt so optimistic about our future that I wasn’t even considering the end. That’s a nice way to feel about someone.
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