It was a startling reminder that our three year relationship was over and, as I stared at the app on my phone, my body went numb with confusion and curiosity. But before I could decide whether or not to accept, the request disappeared.
Feeling bold, I sent her a message and she replied immediately, sounding apologetic and embarrassed. Her friend request to me was an accident: she had been scoping out my profile, Facebook stalking the ex, and her finger slipped. I got it. I pushed past how weird I felt, telling myself it was hypocritical to be jealous. After all, I had started dating someone new, too.
A month later, it was my turn to commit the same cringe-worthy social media sin.
When Stephen* posted a photo with Celine* – their first digital display of affection – I was hovering over her photo tag and accidentally clicked “add friend”. The wave of embarrassment I felt was immediate and searing. But she accepted, and we exchanged a few tentative messages: I gushed over how cute Stephen’s family dog is, and she mentioned that we might meet if she and Stephen visited his hometown, where I still live.
It wasn’t long before she culled me when they broke up. Even then, based only on Celine’s online profile, I felt as if I had lost someone who could have been a friend.
Nearly a year after their breakup, I found her again. My favourite YouTuber – an Englishwoman who talks about books and feminism – had a new video up and the top comment was from Celine. I couldn’t shake the weird, meant-to-be feeling of seeing her name, so I replied to her comment, wishing her well and marvelling that we were both fans.
Five minutes later, enveloped in a haze of panic, I deleted my comment.
It didn’t matter – she had already seen it and she’d sent me another friend request. I couldn’t help but laugh at our growing list of bizarre online encounters, but I was secretly thrilled that we had the chance to get to know each other.
We started having online conversations that stretched over days, before deciding to go analogue and become pen pals. We bonded over having dated Stephen – and survived – but fell in friend-love over how many things we had in common: we have similar taste in books and music, and our social and political opinions are eerily in sync. I learnt later how poorly our mutual ex had treated her, and hearing her story forced me to exhume the skeletons of my past relationship that had become quieter, more easily disregarded ghosts.
Six months after that YouTube comment, we met in person for the first time.
Celine flew hundreds of kilometres to visit me, and it wasn’t until I was driving to pick her up from the airport that I was nearly suffocated by the strangeness of how our friendship had begun. Wave after wave of nausea hit me. I gripped the steering wheel and told myself it was too late to stop my car and turn around. She arrived with a gift – one of her favourite books, beautifully gift-wrapped – and we laughed about what we’d say when people inevitably asked, “So, how do you two know each other?”
“The best thing that came from dating Stephen,” she told me once, “was meeting you.” I got married in May and Celine came to my wedding. I introduced her to my family and she fit in seamlessly with my friends. Stephen wasn’t invited.
This story appeared on our April 2018 issue of Marie Claire.