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Celery Stalkers in the House?

Celery stalkers are interrupting, or at least inconveniencing, marriages and committed relationships all across America, probably around the globe.

Photograph by Yuri_Arcurs/istockphoto.com

Jim always tells people I make up words for a living, but it’s categorically untrue. In fact, the phrase I’m introducing in this column, “celery stalkers,” is possibly the first one I have invented—versus hijacked from everyday speak.

Celery stalkers are interrupting, or at least inconveniencing, marriages and committed relationships all across America, probably around the globe.

At the heart of my tale, the rush to social media and how some women, and men, love to jump into conversations that don’t include them but begin with a status update. Once the person posting mixes in comments about kids and sprinkles in bits about food, especially if it’s a man, voila! The celery stalkers start rising like pizza dough.

When I met Jim a few years ago, he was a few years divorced, so he’d had to learn the basic domestic arts. Here was someone who had evolved from a messy man who couldn’t boil water to a spick-and-span Julia Child wannabe, armed with a touch of his mother’s Jewish spices and a minor supporting player (the cleaning man who appeared every other week, feather duster in tow). Jim had emerged a mini domestic god, a master of Stop & Shop, and in the kitchen a combination Rachael Ray/Sandra Lee.

But back to the celery stalkers. Every man—single, partnered or married—who dons an apron and grabs for a potholder probably has them. After Jim’s divorce, and a slow exodus from an insular Jewish community, he’d entered a different social world, a virtual smoothie of old and new friends and countless acquaintances, lots of whom were/are women in their 40s and 50s.

One of the few rituals Jim left in place for a long time—in fact, until all four kids moved in with us full-time nearly two years ago—was a multi-course home-cooked Friday night Sabbath dinner, even though the postmarital version had an ever smaller dollop of religion. Every other weekend, Jim planned and prepared this feast, making a mad dash to the grocery store at the crack of dawn on Friday mornings before heading 40 miles to his office. He continued with an equally frenzied return home late Friday afternoon to finalize each course.

To ensure that all four teens knew how anxious he was to see them and enjoy their evening, he took to previewing (read: showcasing) his menus on Facebook, hoping his kids would be excited for brisket and carrots, roast beef with mashed potatoes, or turkey with sage stuffing—and him, of course. He’d start building momentum by 1 p.m. with a status update on Facebook.

Celery stalking bubbled over one Saturday morning three years ago, after a Friday night of homemade French onion soup and garlic bread. As Jim stood in his little kitchen slaving over tomato sauce for some meatball grinders, his two teenage daughters were sunning themselves on the front lawn. Two neighborhood women strolled past and one called out: “Morning, girls. How was the French onion soup? Dad has turned into such a cook.” The girls flew into the house. Daughter One, hands on hips: “How does Mrs. X know what we ate for dinner?” Daughter Two, equally chagrined: “It’s weird, like they have a telescope on our dining room table.” As they talked, they began to realize: It was the revenge of Facebook. Daddy had celery stalkers—not quite hungry, but seriously engaged in whatever was in his refrigerator or on the stove.

“The girls are right,” I told Jim that afternoon. “Look at your Facebook page. When you post about politics or social injustices, you get radio silence. When you post about your beloved Allman Brothers, you get a few responses from men. But when you post about food or your challenges of solo parenting, 15, 20 women pile on, congratulating you for cooking, advising you on techniques, suggesting they’d like to come by to share the meal, gushing over how attractive the kids are, your meals are, your sauces look. What is with you, with all these celery stalks?”

From that moment on, I’ve been insanely aware that when a man posts his Sunday lunch plans or a new approach to corn muffins, he might get 30 to 40 comments, assuming he’s well followed, while he’ll get zippo if he asks how people are feeling about the local baseball team, the new high school principal or even the weather. Some people use Facebook to peek inside other people’s homes and nose around; the innocent status update on a meal is almost like an invitation to pull up a chair and get cozy.

Since I’ve used the celery stalker term with my girlfriends, they’ve each told me about an experience where they have felt forced to convince their spouse or significant other to unfriend someone, aka an inappropriate poster they felt was repeatedly drooling all over their man’s Facebook page. The common denominator on what brings out these very public celery stalkers? I’m afraid it’s a domesticated man in a virtual apron tucked into his kitchen, preferably preparing something wet and fragrant and warm.

I never suggested that Jim should unfriend any of his celery stalkers then, or now, after we’ve lived as a couple for nearly two years. Maybe I am stupid to be so laid back, but I’m more annoyed to have to read their (sometimes dumb) comments than I am bothered by their existence. I do admit, though, that when I met his first celery stalker face to face, I couldn’t hear what she was saying because I was so overtaken by memories of her often-written celery bits on his page. Who knew she cared so passionately about the plum tomatoes he folds into the sauce when he makes homemade chili?

I’m all for Facebook and everything in the SoMe space, but let’s remember Facebook’s roots in particular—it’s our Ivy League pig book automated. That’s right, the ultimate hookup service for people of all ages everywhere.

So before you say, “But the comments are so innocent,” remember those late-night calls you got sophomore year from Horny Harry up the hall. I’m here to argue that celery stalking is the revenge of the recipients of all those calls, the now liberated women who are plenty happy to pounce first, provided the salad is very well spun. Just food for thought.

Marian SalzmanMarian Salzman
CEO, Euro RSCG Worldwide PR, North America and ER Life PR

Named one of the world’s top five trendspotters, Marian Salzman, CEO of Euro RSCG Worldwide PR, an entrepreneurial agency network now ranked ninth in the world, was PRWeek’s 2011 PR Professional of the Year, among other top honors. Before heading @erwwpr, she was CMO at Porter Novelli, CMO at JWT Worldwide and CSO at Euro RSCG Worldwide. Among her most famous consumer campaigns are the launch of the metrosexual to create a marketplace for SAB Miller’s Peroni, Pepsi’s “It’s Like This,” and “It’s America Online.” She co-founded Cyberdialogue—the world’s first online market research company—in 1992. (Marian was named to New York magazine’s first “Cyber 60” list, in 1995, the same year she was honored by Crain’s New York Business as a “40 Under 40”; the following year, Fast Company said she was keeper of one of the best job titles on the planet: Director, Department of the Future.) Marian resides in Stamford.

Twitter: @erwwpr

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