It would be nice to break up with someone and completely erase them from our memories – a la Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. But we all know how well that strategy turned out.
It’s hard to let go of an ex. You can’t just avoid them – they are always around, digitally speaking. How often do you try and let go of a painful breakup, only to be reminded of him on your three-year Facebook anniversary, or by a photo a mutual friend posts on Instagram? It can be devastating to relive these memories, to endure a second breakup – a digital breakup.
“Move on,” we hear from our friends. “Just unfollow him.” They mean well, but this isn’t easy.
A friend of mine broke up with her boyfriend several months ago, but it took her a few months to be able to unfriend him on Facebook and delete his contact information from her phone. A digital breakup is a huge step in severing romantic ties, but it’s like breaking up all over again. Unfortunately for my friend, she saw a photo posted of her ex with his new girlfriend, thanks to a mutual friend who had taken the picture. It showed up in her Facebook feed, even after she had unfriended him.
Of course, this opened the wound for her all over again. She started comparing herself to the new girlfriend, imagining who she was, where they might be. Instead of going about her day uninterrupted by painful memories, she was constantly reminded of what she was missing. Checking Instagram and Facebook became a source of anxiety. Just because she unfriended him didn’t mean that she could completely let go.
Our digital lives have created a new problem. They keep us tied to the past.
We get Facebook reminders of where we were on this day in 2014, for instance – happy and in love on some exotic vacation with the ex. Facebook doesn’t keep track of all the nuances of relationships. We are left picking up the pieces from digital breakups. How can you disentangle when networks are intertwined with mutual friends, with online history that doesn’t go away? Even if you try to erase any digital trail, eventually another photo of your ex will accidentally pop up.
There are some practical solutions. KillSwitch is an app that allows you to remove every tag or reference to your ex on Facebook, saving them in a file that you can re-access should you get back together. If you’re not ready to unfriend, you can also mute them from your feed. TweetDeck allows you to mute that ex you’re following on Twitter, too.
If you want to completely erase digital traces from all your social media sites, including Snapchat, Instagram and Tumblr, you can download the Block Your Ex browser plugin.
There are ways to minimize online contact, but it’s not foolproof. Here’s the catch: you first have to come to terms with letting go – mentally, emotionally, and physically, even when you can’t avoid your ex.
Your digital life is much like real life. Sometimes, you can’t avoid surprise encounters. Like when you run into your ex at the local coffeeshop when you’re all sweaty from a run and are wearing no makeup, and he appears with his hot new girlfriend looking way too happy. There is nothing that can prepare us for these moments, but we can choose to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and get on with our lives.
Because here’s the truth: you will move on. You will love again. And then, those old photos that show up on Facebook won’t hurt so much. After doing the hard work of letting go, digital reminders won’t be so painful. You will have moved on.