I am unashamed to say that I don’t handle breakups well. I handle being dumped even worse. But you’d never know that from looking at my social media. The thing is, I’ve been dumped so many times I have a bonafide playbook on how to survive the social media minefield with your dignity relatively intact. During my last not-so-great breakup, a friend sincerely told me that, “You know, you look like you’re doing fine. Thriving, even.”
I was not fine and was far from thriving. Just as with every other breakup—big or small—I was a pathetic fool pining for someone who ultimately didn’t respect me. I had a strategy in place, and yet this time my heartbreak was so great that I found myself occasionally straying from my tried and true methods. I spent my days refreshing their Twitter and Instagram feeds, scrolling through their likes, and carrying my phone everywhere on the off-chance they’d text. (And oh, if I waited long enough, they always would.) I wrote shitty poetry and quoted song lyrics in my social media status updates. I spent way too much time trying to take and post hot selfies because, hey, why not remind them of what they were missing out on while also soothing my wounded pride?
It happens—no one is strong all the time. But after a few weeks, I started to regain my grip. That is until one night, after destroying my best friend’s shirt with my tears following a tough day at work, I made the mistake of checking my former paramour’s feed. They were with someone else. At that point, I’d done a pretty good job for roughly three years to not totally embarrass myself online after being unceremoniously dumped. I had a playbook, after all. Except at that moment, I failed. Staring at a happy picture of an ex-lover with, presumably, their new lover I stooped to a new low.
Who was this person? From whence did they come? I was good at finding information online. What could I discover? Were they hotter, smarter, kinder than me? I spent a good two hours playing dogged internet sleuth, and afterward, I probably could’ve told you their entire life story. I did this night after night for longer than I care to admit until I intimately knew everything about a stranger who had no idea I existed. At times, it felt like I knew their face better than mine. Of course, this was all done privately, in secret. I had zero intention of reaching out to this person or my former flame because it wasn’t about them. It was about finding out what specifically was “wrong” with me and why I wasn’t good enough.
It also turned out they were just friends and not dating. I had, in fact, made a complete and utter ass out of myself. But even if they were, it didn’t matter. This wasn’t something my “normal” self would ever do, and I felt my shame permeate every bone in my body.
It didn’t matter that no one else knew I’d done this. You don’t have to publicly melt down, and you certainly don’t need a witness in order to abuse the information social media and the internet provides. In fact, I think it’s easier to justify behavior you wouldn’t usually engage in when you know no one’s watching.
Well, you might say, you wouldn’t have done that if you’d just gone cold turkey and blocked them on every platform like a healthy, well-adjusted adult would. Possibly. But part of me also thinks that’s a load of horse shit. I’ve been the person telling a friend to just “block their ass and move on.” I’ve also been the desperately forlorn schmuck pleading, “Do I have to? I think we can be friends.” If time heals all things, it does so by blunting your memory of how bad it hurts to be left. We’re all left reeling when a reliable source of love suddenly disappears. Trying to drastically change ingrained habits all at once, to pretend that loss doesn’t exist, doesn’t work for most people. So what, then, are you supposed to do?
For starters, don’t send that long text or DM begging for closure. After my first serious breakup, I sent an embarrassingly long, 2,000-word email to my ex detailing the ways they’d hurt me, asking why they lied, and demanding an answer as to why they didn’t have the decency to give me the breakup I deserved after five years together. When I didn’t get a response—because how could anyone really respond to that?—I wasted months trying to piece together why things ended the way they did. In the end, what I found out was something I’d already known deep down all along. You can trick yourself into believing that if you bully an ex into giving you one final explanation, you’ll be free to move on. It’s hard to accept, but no one, not even someone who’s wronged you, owes you an itemized list of reasons why they dumped you. It’s not their job to make you feel better.
But that doesn’t mean there’s no value in putting words to your ugly emotions. I encourage it, so long as you never send them. Over the years, I’ve kept my angry letters to exes in my diaries, where after the ink has dried, no one but my future self will ever read them. After making the same mistake too many times, I’ve realized you don’t really want to send these kinds of letters. You only think you do because you want the person who hurt you to acknowledge that. You’re secretly hoping for some kind of validation. But even if you got it, would it stop the pain? No. But it’s worth keeping a record of those feelings, if only so you can look back years later, when your heart is healed or newly broken, and remember you’ve survived this before.
Second, you’re going to be weak and stalk their feed. At least for a little bit. It’s OK, they’re probably doing it to you too. Looking is not a moral failing. You can do things, however, to make the process easier. Mute them on Twitter if you don’t feel strong enough to block. Delete Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or whatever other platforms they’re on from your phone. Screen Time and other apps like it exist, so if you don’t have the strength to delete the app, you can put time limits on it. Better yet, force yourself to use your laptop or desktop anytime you want to snoop. At night, keep your laptop or phone in another room or, if you live with a friend, have them hide it in their room.
Will you find ways around these self-made hurdles? Yes. I’ve done all these things and been caught trying to filch my phone from my sleeping best friend’s hand. The glare she gave me when I failed was sharp enough to snap me out of my temporary loss of good judgment. It’s not about having inhuman reserves of willpower. It’s about adding as many obstacles as you can so eventually, you’re too tired to make the effort.
Don’t initiate DMs or conversations. If you fail at that—and you probably will at first—try not to beat yourself up about it. If they’re a turd who can’t give you space, you don’t have to respond beyond a cursory “lol” or, “Thanks!” If they ask how you are, the only thing they deserve is a, “I’m doing fine. You don’t have to check on me.” If you really can’t stop talking to them, hand your phone to a trusted friend, your ride or die. Have them delete every related photo and app from your phone, block their number, and change all your passwords to lock yourself out of your own social media accounts until you can go a whole week without feeling tempted to snoop. Repeat as needed.
None of these things will cure a broken heart. They’re not supposed to—they’re just a way to minimize social media from becoming an instrument of emotional self-torture. They’re ways to make sure that while you nurse your grief, you remain (mostly) yourself and not a stranger who behaves in a way you don’t recognize.
When I met my future husband, he was going through a godawful breakup that spanned multiple states. Meanwhile, I was in a bad place. I was struggling to stick to my playbook and in the habit of reliving all my failed romances by meticulously studying all my exes’ social media profiles. Then, we started commiserating over pictures of our failed loves and the shitty texts they sent us months after splitting up. Suddenly, the painful things weren’t things that I had shoulder alone. They could be laughed at. It was comforting to know the experience was universal, that it was actually incredibly normal to feel traumatized by an ex’s social media presence when a relationship ends. That at any given point, someone else knows exactly how you’re feeling.
After a while, I noticed the number of days between checking my exes’ profiles had slowly turned into weeks. Those weeks then turned into months. Eventually, an ex liking a post of mine or sending a text didn’t give me a rush of adrenaline or send me spiraling. When I pictured them in my mind, I saw ordinary, unremarkable people. I was free to unblock them, and I did. I haven’t glanced at their profiles since.