a girl’s guide to surviving social media after a break-up
Imagine bumping into your ex, your ex’s ex, and your ex’s new partner every hour for the rest of your life. Fun fact: you already are!
"Everywhere I turn he's right there. I feel like I can't escape." This is a conversation most of us have had with friends who have just come out of relationships. Romance is brutal. Relationships can burn out slowly or end abruptly and pulling yourself back together after they do is never easy. But there is one thing, always present, that affects the process more than we give it credit for. As we fidget, play with our sleeves, pull rings on and off, or shrug our shoulders in bleak acceptance, we tend to be unconscious of the consistent presence of our phones.
Your phone might be face down on the table if present company is lucky, but it's more likely standing to attention by your elbow or gripped in one hand. And your friends aren't imagining it, he is "right there"; he's sitting at the dinner table with us and he'll be on your bus home and there's a 100 percent chance he'll be sleeping in your bed tonight.
We continue to underestimate the actual impact the culture of surveillance and self-surveillance created by social media has on us, but we are all victim to its repercussions. You can jokingly work out who's most depressed in your friend group by who's posting the most vacant selfies. Or who's Instagram storying so much, the top of the screen looks like a "cut here" mark. Regardless of how well you can cope with it on a good day, when it comes to relationships, no one is getting off scot-free. The connections we nurture in order to suspend loneliness are being colonized, undermined, and overwhelmed by the other world inside our phones. Relationships are born, live, and perpetually die on social media — haunting us with the ghosts of our failures for as long as we continue to log on.
Imagine for a moment that you've fallen asleep and woken up inside your Instagram account: You are surrounded and suffocated by the deafening lives of an extended group of tenuously connected acquaintances. Prowling amid these ephemeral "almost-friends" exist the eyes and bodies of people you truly deeply love or have loved. What does it mean when the debris of virtual strangers's insecurities float thickly around the most precious and excruciatingly intimate parts of our lives?
Social media after a break-up is a minefield — if you aren't going to delete it, make sure you're aware of it. Water a few seeds of cynicism and self-care when it comes to your hourly digital interactions and experiences. You don't have to exclude yourself, but try a little tenderness. Here's why:
You are addicted to checking your phone and it won't help
There are times when this is less significant and times when it is so destructively true. The fact that we are all addicted to social media is not something that's either up for discussion or really worth lamenting, but it's equally not something that draws enough consideration. In a period of mourning or confusion, we almost always turn to our phones. Our thumbs scroll vacantly until we find something that appears to somehow re-affirm a fear or suspicion. We absorb miles of superficial information in the search of one epiphanic secret hidden in a coded image. When doing this, we should ask ourselves: what are we here for? What information are we seeking? And are we likely to find it? You wouldn't walk into a library looking for a sandwich, so don't hunt for comfort and confidence in places you know it won't be.
Social media is too boring to heal you
Facebook is for friends, Twitter is for current affairs, and Instagram is for self-promotion — but these columns all hold up the same platform for what are largely meaningless interactions. Obviously we don't have the time or inclination to digest every single thing we see on social media. Instead, our brains have trained themselves to scan these pages of information until they land upon something seemingly useful or relevant. It's sort of like searching for a word in a dictionary — except you don't know what the word is. You just have a feeling it might start with the letter "p". When you feel rejected or vulnerable, it's all too easy to retreat into the painlessness of repetitive boredom. But this is not a safe place to distract yourself and your mind isn't really switching off — it's just coasting, looking for something to remind you of that person. Try reading a book or sleeping instead.
You can stalk people and they can stalk you right back
Social media is incredibly earnest. Even under the veneer of irony, this sharing of information remains, at its core, the desperate attempt to remind a random selection of people that you exist. We use these platforms to request recognition and acceptance using memes, selfies, #tbts, and whatever else. As our little iconographic offerings mill in with other peoples's, it becomes impossible not to compare them. While others digest and rate our posts, we return the favor and place ourselves subconsciously within a value system that functions by pitting peer against peer. Ex-partners of our partners become totems of a threatening past world we weren't a part of, compelling us to obsessively distill and dismiss them. There are the old friends we secretly check up on to ensure they haven't eclipsed our own successes, or the women we're intimidated by or disagree with that we continue to follow and update ourselves on multiple times a day. Within this toxic search for pointless knowledge about people we don't know, lies the understanding that, for all those we judge so harshly, there are people judging us just as harshly back. This culture of narcissistic competition does not give space for honest vulnerability. Instead, it creates a world where we must simply assert ourselves as better. Hate and jealousy are strong, powerful, and important emotions, but they are certainly not feelings you should be painfully overcome with every day.
It will almost certainly have long-term negative effects
Instagram is going to affect the very formulation of our adult identities. It creates a hyper-stressful environment in which the most important thing to do is project that you are better than fine. As we get older, we will upload and archive more and more images of people we have loved — reducing them to photographs and immortalizing our failures in likes. These serve as a constant reminder that we were not beautiful or sexy or stylish or busy enough to hold on to them. That we did not spend enough time grooming the perception of our body for examination by an online audience of, at once, both very many and very few. Imagine bumping into your ex, your ex's ex, and your ex's new partners every hour for the rest of your life. Fun fact: you already are!
If you've just stopped seeing someone, it's probably a good time to take a breather from social media, too. At first, you might feel stifled and isolated, but as time passes you will be swept up in little ripples of liberation. Your mornings do not see you reach immediately for your phone. Your nights out don't revolve around who has watched your story. Give yourself a break, build your confidence back up to where it was, and take a selfie for yourself for once.
Text Bertie Brandes