In high school I read a poem about a woman watching raindrops slide down her windowpane. Each drop reminds her of a different past lover. The memories accumulate on the same plane, slipping and colliding at unplanned intervals. I remember nothing about the author or the rest of the poem, but I remember wondering if it was possible to have as many boyfriends as raindrops, and feeling inexplicably sad. I didn’t yet have meaningful relationships that could be put in the past, so this was a foreboding sadness—a sense of a dark raincloud on the horizon.
In an interview with Grantland recently, Lena Dunham shares her many “passions,” one of which is a Tumblr called “Old Loves,” that aggregates pictures of celebrities who used to date. Dunham checks it once a week. “It’s how I kick back on like, a Friday night,” she says. She cites Glenn Close and Woody Harrelson as examples of people “who dated for like, a week and were pictured together wearing denim overalls.”
That pretty well sums up the Tumblr’s concept and why people like Dunham can’t get enough of it. But one day, “the craziest thing ever” happened: Dunham saw her own boyfriend on Old Loves. It was a picture of him and his girlfriend from high school. Who was the girl? None other than Scarlett Johansson, a woman who’s literally been deemed the “hottest woman alive.”
“I thought my mind was going to explode,” says Dunham on her discovery. “I’m not jealous, though.” Sure, I wouldn’t be either. But Johansson is happily engaged and pregnant now, so perhaps both the flame and the threat have dwindled. Dunham’s boyfriend is with her in the end, or as far into it as the present can be, and I guess that’s why she can enjoy the site. Her love is in the other room. He might even be there on Friday nights scrolling the site with her. For some of us, though, our old loves are the ones keeping us company.
Minutes after watching Dunham’s interview, I found myself sucked into the Tumblr. RYAN GOSLING AND SANDRA BULLOCK DATED? I needed to know more. I dove deeper and deeper into the site, feeling worse with each click. After the immediate shock of each new relationship discovery wore off, the reality set in: these couples were all broken up. Nothing lasts, I thought. They all look so happy in the pictures. From where I was standing the site looked less like a treasure trove than a graveyard of failed relationships.
Sam loved Andy Kaufman. Andy Kaufman used to date fellow comedian Elayne Boosler. They’re pictured together in a photo booth on Coney Island. In each frame she brings herself progressively closer to him, the final one ending with a kiss. Sam used to imitate Kaufman’s loudmouth characters, and it gave me the creeps, but I let him do it because it made him happy. No one made Sam laugh like Andy Kaufman, except for me.
Michael Jackson dated Brooke Shields, Tatum O’Neal and married Lisa Marie Presley. On that Tumblr there’s a GIF of him kissing Ms. Presley onstage at the 1994 MTV Music Video Awards. Underneath the video it says, “Before pulling Presley in for the kiss Jackson proclaimed: ‘Just think, nobody thought this would last.’”
When Michael Jackson died Sam and I texted each other at the exact same time saying the exact same thing, and the inexplicability of death was made a little bit smaller.
There are three pages of photos featuring Bob Dylan and Suze Rotolo. They fell in love at the same age Sam and I did and stayed together for almost the same length too. Their arms are roped around one another in every picture, as if they’re holding on for dear life—afraid to let go. I was listening to “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall” by Bob Dylan when I knew I was going to fall in love with Sam. Suze is on the song’s album cover with Dylan, their arms linked. It was late one night and I lay in bed, unable to fall asleep. I put in my headphones and began to listen to a mixtape Sam made me—the first of many to come. The Bob Dylan song started it off and by the chorus I loved it. I knew somehow that Sam would make me feel all the things that were colliding on my mental plane: euphoria, sadness. And I knew that, like the song, the feelings would inevitably end too.
Emilia Petrarca graduated from Vassar College in 2014 with a BA in English. She is currently an Online Editorial Intern for New York magazine and an Editorial Intern for ManRepeller.com. She has also written for Interview and The Daily Beast.