Relationship status: It’s complicated. – By @currantjones
By Tommy Currant Jones
Relationship status: It’s complicated.
It is a crisp and brilliant day in southern New Zealand. The light shimmers off the lightly rippling water of the lake in front of me and on the opposite shore fir trees climb a substantial hill. In the background, mountains, snow-capped and jagged, stand preposterously beautiful. I am looking at my phone.
I have just driven for two hours through equally beautiful countryside and I can be excused, I think, for this brief respite from reality. I could be reading the book in my pocket but instead I am scrolling through Facebook. If pushed for a reason why I would struggle to give one. While my phone use remains high, I have cut down my use of Facebook substantially. This owes less to will power than to it no longer providing much of interest, beyond my mother frequently sharing her own posts. But the conditioning of the last 10 years still clearly has some pull for I find myself mindlessly scrolling through my timeline, looking but not really seeing. Until quite suddenly, I see very clearly.
What has arrested me is the discovery that my ex-girlfriend is dating a mutual acquaintance from university. This information causes my internal organs to flap around in my body as I spasm in the clutches of some strong emotions. I have in fact suspected the relationship for some time but here is proof in the form of a changed profile picture.
At the end of our relationship I had quite quickly unfollowed my ex on most social media accounts. I had learned from previous relationships that tracking a former partner’s life was rarely a joyful experience and made moving on substantially harder. So unfriend, unfollow, unsubscribe I did. But then came all the connections I had made while in a year long relationship. As our lives became intertwined, so did our social spheres. I had formed no great friendships as part of this but when it came time to unfriend her friends I didn’t do it. To myself, I justified it as being too melodramatic but in truth I was leaving the door open a crack, leaving myself occasional glimpses into her life.
In the year that we have been broken up I have been rewarded with a few such glimpses; a photo from a night out, a name tagged in a meme, a birthday celebrated on an Instagram story. Each of these have been painful and electrifying. Each time, I have been forced to consider preventing myself from seeing such things but I don’t because the raw surge of emotion that they bring on is intoxicating. The development of social media to reward our brain in such a way has been much commented on recently and even dramatized, but why would I want to see these insights that would bring me pain and anxiety?
A good place to start would probably be the emotions that I felt on discovering the news. If I can identify these, perhaps I can work out what drove me to seek them:
Jealousy, a fairly standard reaction to seeing an ex with someone else.
Vindication, that my snooping and deduction had been proven right.
Familiarity, a sense of seeing an old friend after a time apart.
It was a surprise to me to discover that within the cavalcade of emotions that flooded over me, and left me feeling anxious for several days after, that some of them were quite positive. Vindication and familiarity are both quite nice things to feel.
What does any of this have to do with advertising? It’s all about emotions, our stock in trade. “What do we want the customer to feel?” our briefs ask of us. Happy, sad, envious, generous… But what I hope this narrative has made clear is that human emotions are not clear cut. They are melanges of hope, desire and regret all muddled up inside of highly developed apes who have almost no resources to untangle them. Our job therefore, is not just getting them to feel something but letting them know what it is that they’re feeling. This is not going to be an easy job.