Online lessons in love from Rory McIlroy and Caroline Wozniacki

Opinion: ‘A heartbroken sport celebrity yearning for the days of yore? Now that’s a future I can get on board with’

Rory McIlroy: “I haven’t turned on my phone for a few days and I’ve given my laptop away, I’m sort of living like I’m in the Seventies.” Photograph: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

Rory McIlroy: “I haven’t turned on my phone for a few days and I’ve given my laptop away, I’m sort of living like I’m in the Seventies.” Photograph: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

Mon, May 26, 2014, 15:26

Looking to sports stars for life lessons isn’t the worst idea. Rory McIlroy and Caroline Wozniacki have achieved near supremacy in golf and tennis through talent, practice, grit, resolve, determination, dedication and loads of other things that we should probably all aim to adopt as characteristics. But upon McIlroy announcing his split from Wozniacki after their wedding invitations were sent out there’s one modern-day trap he couldn’t chip out of the rough: living out a relationship online.

In the olden days (about five years ago), relationship publicity was the preserve of celebrities who heralded their bliss with greater amplification the further you progressed through the celebrity alphabet from A- to Z-list. Celebs would turn up in awkward photo shoots in stately homes as if they were on their way to a terrible debs but had stopped off first to feel the fabric of heavy, floor- length curtains and drape themselves on chaises longues in front of too many cushions. Nothing says “together forever” like standing against fleur-de-lis wallpaper in monogrammed bathrobes. Now everyone is their own PR, plugging their relationship across Facebook and Instagram just in case we forget what their relationship status is. It might be cute for the participants and embarrassing for the observers but it’s also just a bit weird.

Privacy may be invaded when one is famous but it’s also not entirely impossible to maintain a divide between public and private. The Wozilroys did what many young couples do: they brought the internet into their relationship. With a bit of passive observation one could track their coupledom from tweeted photos of McIlroy asleep in bed to a collage of pictures celebrating their engagement last New Year’s Eve. And like one’s personal digital footprint, that online legacy of partnership doesn’t disappear. Above all, it’s inane.

Clogging my brain
I quit Instagram because, getting gradually sick of most social media, I realised one day, while absentmindedly scrolling through colour- distorted photographs of flat whites, weekend walks, selfies (ugh!) and holidays I’m not on, that I just didn’t care. Why was I clogging my brain with other people’s lives? And why did this annoy me so much? I decided it would be even more futile to spend time dissecting these questions, so pressed delete. Life is too short.

But documenting relationships online doubles up the narcissistic factor. By migrating to social media we project an idealised identity of ourselves. We act in a manner that’s not real but is about how we would like to be perceived. Eventually, perhaps, that outsourced identity will start to influence our real-life one. So once we start projecting our relationships on social media, where does the real, private relationship begin and the online one end?

And what about the aftermath of relationships? Before, if the heartbreak was acute, you might tear up the few photos of your ex while listening to break-up songs and crying on the phone to your mates. Now there’s a tormenting feed of their activity on social media either made up of a pretend “look how I’m getting on with my life” flavour or ambiguous inspirational quotes displayed in cursive with a backdrop of a sunset: “Stars can’t shine without darkness”; “Sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.” According to Pinterest, Marilyn Monroe said that.

Defriend or not defriend?
Then there comes the additional step in contemporary break- ups: extracting the ex from your social media. Is blocking too harsh or do you just stop following them? They probably won’t notice unless they’re one of those exceptionally insecure people who has an alert set up to see who has dropped off their “friends” number. Yes, that exists. Do you “defriend”? Do you check their social media vicariously though a friend’s account? You see, social media does not allow for contracting peer groups, only ever-expanding ones, until you know the most pointless and detailed information about people you couldn’t care less about. And their children. And cats. And coffee consumption.

Putting your coupledom online also opens your relationship up to ridicule. Everyone rolls their eyes at oversharing couples. No one needs to know how much you love your babe by you writing that on their Facebook wall. No one needs to have a live feed from your date night. You don’t need to be legitimised by acquaintances. I’m delighted for you but it’s your business, not mine.

At the BMW PGA championship McIlroy said one of the wisest sentences he has ever uttered: “I haven’t turned on my phone for a few days and I’ve given my laptop away; I’m sort of living like I’m in the Seventies.” A heartbroken sport celebrity yearning for the days of yore? Now that’s a future I can get on board with. Oversharing couples, take note, because aside from his golf swing and putting prowess, that’s probably the best lesson McIlroy can teach.

 

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