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Why social media makes break-ups so much worse

28 July 2015, 16:11Michele Macfarlane

Many years ago I went through a horrible break-up. Even though the relationship had become toxic and damaging, and I knew intellectually that the break was best all around, I was still heartbroken.

Now, going through a break-up is bad enough, add Facebook and it becomes sheer agony.

Is anything more painful after a break-up than seeing a photograph of a loved one gazing longingly into a new loves eyes, or sharing a passionate kiss, or reading the sickening captions, "thanks to my #bestgirlfriendever for breakfast in bed this morning"?

So why torture oneself? Just block, unfriend or take a Facebook break while healing from a broken heart. Easy. And easier said than done.

Trying hard not to stalk your ex

Almost five years ago, soon after my break-up (I shall refer to my ex as X), my hand hovered over the keys of my computer. Don’t do it, I told myself, you have a choice. Just block her. I’ll block her, today, I vowed, just as soon as I’ve had one last look at her profile.

As much as I tried not to, I had a masochistic compulsion to keep checking on X’s Facebook page, even though it was sheer torture. And stupid.

It is never a good idea to look at an ex’s profile, especially if said ex posts self-pitying, distorted drivel. This is just my perspective of course and boy, in a break-up there certainly are two sides to a story, but when you do post regular updates of how awful your ex is, you are definitely trying to sway public opinion in your direction.

And trying to get under your ex's skin, because unless you’ve been blocked you know that the ex is no doubt going to read your message. It’s the modern equivalent of turning up at the same party as with your new squeeze and flashily snogging her each time you suspect your ex is watching.

You can never avoid your ex's updates

So, while you can avoid parties where you know your ex is going to be, it’s harder to avoid them on social media. Especially when certain friends seem to take a spectators glee in the whole thing: “Did you see what X posted? Oh my God. You didn’t? I’ve copy and pasted it. I’ll just sms it to you.”

So of course, when this happened I read them all.

Heart-wrenching updates such as:

“For those of you who have been asking questions, Michele and I have split up. It is a very heart-breaking time and I would like to ask you all to please leave me to grieve in peace.”

“I gave her my heart in her hands and she crushed it.”

Most of the posts directed at me were taken down, but not before a flurry of sympathetic responses:

“Oh you poor thing.” “I’m so sorry.”

“Sending you strength”; to some of the more nasty comments (from people I’ve never met) “what a bitch” go on, glass her!” (I’m not making that last one up).

Oh, the righteous indignation I felt. The sheer unfairness of it! I wanted to defend myself, to set the record straight. But to who?

Of course I could drum up my own online support, gain some cyber-sympathy, but why? The people closest to me knew the truth and that’s all that mattered.

Posting bad things about your ex

So I didn’t post anything negative targeted at X. I behaved with restraint and dignity.

Not that it was easy. There was one night that my friend Tessa, came over with a bottle of wine to give me some support and sympathy. A couple of glasses of wine later, and she was running away from me with my phone (she had already hidden my laptop, when I went for a quick wee)

“No,” she insisted you’re not drunk Facebooking. It had taken a couple of glasses of wine and a photograph on X’s profile to trash my restraint. The picture was of X at a club. A cigarette in one hand, a beer in the other, with both arms hooked around a blonde and a brunette.

All I wanted to do was post “poor X, grieving in peace.”

“Give me my phone,” I made a grab for it.

“You’ll thank me for this,” Tessa insisted holding it above her head.

I did thank her eventually and I finally blocked X from Facebook.

However, I did once, very unwisely view X’s profile via a friend’s soon after vowing not to.

When your ex has a new partner

X was now ‘in a relationship’ and judging from the pictures and posts, not just any relationship, a serious relationship. My stomach curdled as I looked at photos of X looking lovingly into the eyes of a brunette (the one who she had her arm draped around in a previous post); the two of them kissing, holding hands; laughing together.

Laughing?! What happened to the grief that she had espoused so regularly on Facebook?

Pain, jealousy, anger and heartbreak roared energetically through my entire system. And confusion; how is it possible to move on so fast when very recently you claimed to love me so much. I was still reeling from the pain and shock of our break-up and here it seemed that X was transferring an entire relationship onto someone else at such speed and with such ease.

That’s it, I decided. No more stalking exes. It’s never a good idea.

But what of all the things left unsaid. The messages I would have loved to have sent but never did.

There should be social media break-up rules

When I was a child, my mom used to tell me that if I was very angry and upset with someone, to "write them a letter. Re-read it a few days later and decide if you still want to send it."

It was good advice, and I wish that more people would use it before writing unregulated, emotional posts and pressing send. I have a drawer with many unsent letters gathering dust, because, on balance the words were best left unsaid.

The letters are also a reminder of how time can indeed heal pain. I am no longer heartbroken, jealous and angry. But boy, according to a letter I found during a recent clear-out, four years ago I really was.

In summary, I think that there should be some kind of Facebook etiquette followed post break-up. It should have rules like:

- Wait at least a few months after a break-up before posting pictures of a new loved one.

- When you do start posting, don’t post insensitive captions such as "new best family" accompanied with a photograph of you, new partner and the child you share with your ex.

- Don’t post slating messages about your ex… there could be so many more ‘’rules’’.

I think the premise should be that if you have only just recently broken up, chances are that you and your ex are still going to be pretty upset, so I think the general rule should be sensitivity. You know your ex, you know which pictures or posts are going to hurt them.

But, hey, luckily time heals and we move on. Given enough time and chances are you won't flinch when an ex posts a ring sitting in a flower with the ecstatic caption "I said yes!!"

- Women24


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