Ask An Adult: What's The Best Way To Deal With An Ex On Social Media?
The Debrief: Because we can't all go and live in the mountains for five years after a particularly nasty break-up. Annoyingly.
Sometimes I pity Jane Austen. Not only did she get to lie around all day complaining of 'weak nerves' if she couldn't be arsed doing the shopping, but once a relationship was over, she didn't have to worry about defriending them on Facebook. Or blocking them on Twitter. Or unfollowing them on Instagram. Or throwing her laptop out of the window and watching it burn while crying into their old tee shirt.
According to research, even 1-2 years after breaking up, 56% of people occasionally check out their ex's Facebook profile once every couple of weeks. God, I still do it. Not because I'm desperately in love with him, or even care, but just because I think some sick part of me wants to keep tabs just to make sure I'm still doing way better in life. And there's no concrete way to tell that via Facebook so I just pretend I am.
Oh, it got all personal for a second there, but apparently these feelings are pretty normal. 'Most people do it now and again, and the more time that passes, the less harmful it becomes. It's only the immediate aftermath that can cause pain and emotional issues,' explains Dr. Tara Marshall, who has just conducted a large amount of research into ex surveillance on social media (i.e. e-stalking). 'If it was a particularly painful breakup, then people report that seeing their ex's Facebook profile is like a stab in the heart.'
So what's the best way to go about dealing with an ex on social media? Surely there's a better way to cope than defriending them, messaging them to apologise for defriending them, adding them as a friend, blocking them one night when you get drunk and can't stop crying, then adding them again only to change your profile picture every six hours to ensure your life looks incredible. Not that I'd know. Or ever did that. Look I was young and naive, OK?
We asked adult Dr Marshall for some tips:
Defriending them is the best option... maybe
Apparently it depends on your emotional state and, unfortunately, you're in a terrible position to determine this. Interestingly, Dr Marshall's research found that those who defriended their exes on Facebook displayed more emotional distress than those who didn't – whether this is down to the fact that those defriending their exes might be more cut up to begin with, or the horrible mystery of having no idea what your ex is doing, remains to be seen. 'While my other research shows that the less contact you have, the better, there's also a case for keeping them as a friend,' she explains. 'People become different over time, so if you stay friends with your ex and they're posting boring statuses and look a lot less attractive than they used to, then this could decrease your attraction and help you get over them.'
But, on the whole, defriending is better. 'I would recommend definitely defriending them if you care a lot about them and they've hurt you,' she adds. 'It's tempting to stay friends and follow their every movement, but breaking contact is the best way. If you don't want them to find out you've defriended them, then you can always remove their posts, but that's if you trust yourself not to go looking at their profile.' You need to have a deep, heart-to-heart with either yourself or a close friend who knows you better than you know yourself. Get them to do it if you're crying too hard to find their profile. Because, if you're crying that hard, and you're that worried about doing the deed, that probably means the deed has to be done. If, on the other hand, you're totally not arsed, then don't bother. Congratulations. I wish I was you.
Also block them on Twitter
'I recently did a study where I looked at both Facebook and Twitter, and found parallel results. If they're likely to look on Facebook, then they're equally likely to check Twitter,' says Dr. Marshall. If you think about it, Twitter is actually worse. Even if you block them, you can still see their goddamn profile, and people tend to be a lot more relaxed on Twitter, which is weird considering it's more public than Facebook. 'You can potentially harvest a lot of information from Twitter, and people will go to great lengths to get the information they want...'
Again, I wish I didn't want to raise my glass (of soft drink, it's 5pm and I'm at work) and yell 'PREACH.'
It's not actually your fault
Stalking your ex is usually down to your personality, which you can't help. Sorry about that. 'I find there are certain personality types who engage in this behaviour to extreme extents; people who are anxious attachment personalities fear rejection more than others, so when it actually happens, they tend to act a lot worse.' says Dr. Marshall. But, in saying this, it seems to be something that pretty much everyone indulges in now and again. 'Almost everybody I know has experiences with this, and this research came about from the discussions I had with friends and students, so you shouldn't feel guilty,' she adds. 'It's a normative behaviour and, no, I'm not going to admit whether it's something I've done...'
If it's becoming an addiction, there are steps you can take
While I'd definitely check what my ex was up to when drunk or vulnerable, there are some people who reported that it was the first thing they did upon waking up. Which, according to Dr. Marshall, isn't that out of the ordinary. 'How many times they look at ex's Facebook page is related to an increase in negative emotions – when it starts getting obsessive, and dysfunctional, that's when you need to think about coping strategies,' she says. 'There are so many apps you can get that will scrape through your Newsfeeds and get rid of all traces of your ex. Blocking is a good way to get around this.' So, as with any addiction, it's important to go cold turkey. In fact, for your dignity, it's important to go cold turkey in the weeks and months after your break-up anyway - whether that's texting or social media. 'People have a tendency to start texting their ex when vulnerabl, drunk or upset. This is always a bad idea because the less contact, the better, so you need a cushion after you've split up.' It's about being kind to yourself.
Don't think about the fact that he (or she) is probably stalking you, too
If you've defriended, then suddenly your cover photo (which is always public) becomes mad crazy pictures of your incredible life. And your instagram URL turns up on your About section so, if he really wanted to, he could flick through images of your Kelvin filtered success. 'People do tend to do a lot of impression management tactics, and these tend to be the people who have been on the receiving end of the break-up,' says Dr. Marshall. 'It's more like a 'eat your heart out' to their ex partner, except they're probably not looking. It just prolongs the connection.' However, and interestingly, she found no differences between the genders when it came to Facebook stalking specifically – an equal amount of guys check out their exes as girls.
There are other, non app-related, ways you can stop yourself
A mate of mine (all right, it was me. Jesus) changed her (my) desktop background to be a list of all the shit things her (my) ex did so whenever she (I) opened her (my) laptop at 4am for a quick stalk-and-a-cry, it'd act as a deterrent. Happily, this technique totally helped my mate (me) out, and Dr. Marshall agrees that, in her preliminary research into how to combat ex-surveillance, it's looking like this is a good way to kick Facebook stalking in the tits. 'Also, if people who are involved in a new relationship are continuing to stalk their ex. it can be disruptive to their current relationship. Reminding of the good things about the current partner seems to help with this,' she says.
Failing that, you could always throw your computer out of the window and burn it while crying into his old tee shirt every time you're tempted to check out his profile. It's an expensive method, but he's certainly not worth wasting a good quality laptop over.
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Picture: Beth Hoeckel
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