Q: My boyfriend of 2 years just broke up with me. We’re still “Friends” on Facebook and follow each other on Instagram and a few other social networks (Snapchat & Vine). When we broke up, I unsubscribed from his newsfeed but I can’t help looking up his profile every now and then. I also see pics and videos of him on my other “Friends” accounts as we go to the same high school. It makes me sad and angry when I see him with other girls. My real friends tell me that I need to just block him from everything, but I think this is virtually impossible (unless I deactivate all of my social media accounts) and my friends and I end up cyberstalking all of our exes when we get together anyway. It always makes me feel terrible, but I can’t stop checking because I just wonder what he is up to when I don’t. Is there anything I can do?
~ Breaking Down About Breaking Up
A: Dear Breaking,
How to handle romantic relationships is a dilemma that many struggle with in today’s digitally connected society. Social media have dramatically changed how we relate to each other, from flirting to establishing a relationship, to maintaining and nurturing romance, to ending a connection that just doesn’t work. Because so much of what we do in the social media sphere is a part of who we are and how we relate to others, we have to think very carefully about how we act while using social media and how those actions affect others and ourselves.
While some social media now have tools to help users more gracefully and more subtly sever ties when a relationship is declared over on social media, these tools aren’t foolproof and do require the user to use them. In the old days (like 10 years ago) you could just break up, stay at home and not answer calls. Because social media allow us to be constantly broadcasting our lives and watching those of others, they elicit some of our deepest insecurities. However badly it may have ended, a relationship represents an important part of one’s life. Whether processing what went wrong or simply curious about what and how our ex is doing, we can simply look at his or mutual friends’ profiles and piece together a picture. The trouble is, whether the pics, posts, videos, and tweets show that he’s happy or sad, moving on or stuck, that picture will undoubtedly make us unhappy.
We need to step back and think about why we are “cyberstalking” our ex. Would we stalk him in the ‘real world’? What are we hoping to learn? How is this making us feel? When we see that our actions are driven by our own sadness, anger, loneliness and insecurity, we can recognize and understand that whatever we find will only result in our own heartbreak. Once we realize that cyberstalking only hurts us, it is easier to stop ourselves.
To be able to move on in life and establish new relationships, the healthiest strategy is to cut oneself off from all communication with or about one’s ex. Like pulling off a Band-Aid fast, it is terrifying to contemplate, but ultimately easier and less painful than dragging it out. That said, it is often more than a little difficult to fully cut off all information flow, because we are nested in social networks of common friends, places, and activities. It can be nearly impossible, especially after a long relationship, to anticipate all of these connections. But as unexpected intersections with one’s ex’s life occur, they can be severed easily and quickly if the decision to do so has already been made.
Your decision to cut yourself off from your ex is entirely personal; everyone needs to think it through for themselves. But when a group of friends begin to cyberstalk their exes together, you may have the opportunity to step up and lead by example. You can let them know that you’ve come to realize that it isn’t good for you and that you won’t be participating. Just like choosing to be the designated driver while others drink, you are not telling your friends what to do, but showing them that you value taking care of yourself – and maybe they will come to the same conclusion for themselves.
Seeking information about an ex, especially right after a painful break up, is human nature and quite common, but know that it does get easier as time passes. The most agonizing point is usually just before you actually cut off communication, clicking “unfriend”, blocking or deleting the account of someone you used to, or may still love – but the click itself can be cathartic and liberating. By giving yourself the distance you need, you can retain the good memories, heal from the bad, and move forward.
Enjoy your media, and use them wisely,