Getting over someone in the digital age

Lara Monahan explores the difficulties that arise when it comes to exes and social media

With Valentine’s Day drawing ever nearer, the pressure to scrutinise our love lives peaks and, for better or worse, a thought preying on many minds will be their relationship status or at least the state of their relationship. If you are in the throes of a breakup, this time of year can be particularly painful; perhaps you are already deleting promotional Valentine’s Day emails or averting your gaze when passing heart-shaped chocolate boxes in Dunnes. However, in the digital age, escaping reminders of the ex-love of your life, who you might otherwise have been showering with Valentine’s cards of only the tackiest variety, is virtually impossible. 

“…before you have been able to build up the confidence and self-sufficiency often required to see an ex after a breakup, you are bombarded with them in digital form.”

Getting over someone with the existence of Instagram, Snapchat, and countless other popular social media apps can feel like an endurance test. How long can you bear to be reminded of the person you loved or maybe still love every day? Where previously we might have had the misfortune to pass an ex in the street and deal with the inevitable painful emotional fallout only a few times, on social media, we are often less lucky. BeReal, for example, intends for its users to pick up the phone wherever they are and share what they are up to at a certain time every day. This is surely an enormous hindrance to any attempt to get over someone, because before you have been able to build up the confidence and self-sufficiency often required to see an ex after a breakup, you are bombarded with them in digital form. 

The entire concept of a social media account is performative, showing only a highlight reel (or at least carefully selected parts) of lives far broader and more human. Even the attempt to appear to be nonconforming to these standards see the trendy Instagram photo dump is a careful performance, a constructed reality of being too cool to care about the strange unspoken rules of social media, while simultaneously following one of its trends. Therefore, it doesn’t matter whether your ex posts all the time or never, as we are encouraged to read into either of these possibilities. Are they posting all the time because they are genuinely having so much fun now that you are out of their life? Or are they posting all the time because they want it to seem like they are having so much fun? Or, arguably worse how do I decode the social media silence of my ex? Are they having too much fun to post? Or simply wanting it to seem that way?

“Social media becomes the battleground for speculation and revenge posting…”

As you can see, this thought process reaches the same conclusion whether your ex is posting all or none of the time. “Damned if you do and damned if you don’t” has never applied more. Social media becomes the battleground for speculation and revenge posting, as you might feel inclined to post yourself having the time of your life in an attempt to make that seem true, and to reaffirm that you are better off without one another, despite those awful breakup doubts. What musician EDEN sings about in his song Modern Warfare “weaponis[ing] the timeline” has become really common. The desire to outdo your ex in the game of “I’m more over it than you” might seem petty, but is unfortunately a fairly natural response that people tend to grow out of. Where previously both the initial unpleasant pettiness of a breakup and the personal growth that emerges from it wouldn’t be broadcasted to your family or mutual friends, it now can be displayed on social media. In fact, the birth of Facebook which many consider to be the birth of modern social media was the result of Mark Zuckerberg establishing an earlier site, FaceMash, which was essentially “hot or not”. Zuckerberg’s site was used to compare his Harvard classmates with one another allowing users to decide who was more attractive. With such competitive and vacuous beginnings, it is no surprise that social media is still used for these same ends during breakups. 

“It doesn’t help to see your ex when swiping and realise they are also moving on.”

So how do we balance the advantages and disadvantages of the digital age during a relationship split? Having a platform through which to speak to your friends is helpful, especially if they don’t live close to you. Furthermore, sometimes creating a highlight reel of your life really can help you be more grateful for the people around you and the life you live. Nonetheless, in my opinion, it is better to avoid the complicated beast of social media when your love life feels turbulent, or at least choose very carefully which ones you continue to use. In my experience, using platforms such as WhatsApp for text messaging your friends is fairly innocuous, as are any apps which are more focused on private messaging than For You or Explore pages, feeds or timelines. Dating apps seem like the obvious thing to download after a breakup. However, these aren’t quite safe either it doesn’t help to see your ex when swiping and realise they are also moving on. The ability to call them and know that they are merely a tap away can be challenging. Before, exes would have had to wait until the evening to call from the landline or walk to a phone box, giving them time to consider whether or not making that call would help and to let time soothe their momentary doubts or loneliness. Now, the temptation to call is all too well-facilitated. The tantalising ability to FaceTime, call, or message will unfortunately remain unless you get rid of every device you own, which is fairly unlikely in this day and age, not to mention pretty unnecessary. Part of the growth that comes from a breakup is moving past these compulsions to be in constant close contact with the person in question. Giving yourself the time to learn this is not only okay, but necessary. 

If this Valentine’s Day you will be exchanging what would have been a present from your ex with their presence on your feed, remember that social media is performative, time helps, and you are living in an era where breakups have been made more complex by the advent of social media. It probably isn’t you it is the endless scrolling. The good news, you ask? There is a couple more mismatched than you and your ex: social media and breakups can be a far more toxic combo.