Is there a proper way to act on social media after a break-up?

Have you ever been torn in between staying friends with your ex on social media so you can stalk them every once in a while, or maybe once a day, or deleting them all together from every site you can possibly think of, even LinkedIn? There’s never a surefire way to move on from a breakup; each person does it differently and that’s okay. It seems like in the world today, absolutely everyone is on at least one social networking site (SNS) and probably dealt with this to some extent, so what is the proper way to approach a breakup when your ex-lover is clouding your feeds and profiles?

In the U.S. alone, it is estimated that 185 million people will use social media in 2016 and that number will exceed 200 million by 2020. Facebook leads the pack worldwide with Instagram shortly following behind, and Twitter coming in third. A few other social media sites that rank globally are LinkedIn, QZone, Facenama, VKontakte, Reddit, and Odnoklassniki.

While research is conducted daily on technology and its impact on the human race, a 2014 study out of large, diverse southern university specifically inspected the use of social networking sites, particularly Facebook, while adjusting to a romantic relationship dissolution. For this study, three scholars out of University of Wyoming, the University of Texas at Austin, and University of Puget Sound surveyed students and then created categories of certain behaviors. What they found was that people often act online as they do in their actual lives after a breakup.

The researchers, LeFebvre, Blackburn, and Brody, studied the post-breakup behaviors through the relationship dissolution model created by Duck in 1982 and later modified by Rollie in 2006. Relationship dissolution is a natural process of a relationship life cycle that includes five stages: intrapsychic, dyadic, social, grave dressing, and resurrection. However, the stages aren’t set in stone as they can overlap and occur simultaneously. The first stage, the intrapsychic stage, occurs when at least one partner takes a step back to reflect on the state of the relationship. The second dyadic stage occurs when the two partners discuss the problems they are facing and then a make decision to either end, fix, or pause the relationship. The third social stage is when the two partners face the “social and public consequences of publicizing their decision.” The fourth stage, the grave dressing stage, “focuses on tidying up the accounts representing explanations for past actions and events, which includes characterizations of self and significant others.” The final stage is resurrection, which is when the partners use their lessons learned from their failed relationship when entering a new romance. The experience one has after a breakup relies heavily on a variation of variables, such as “the [breakup] initiator, nature of the breakup, level of investment and commitment, and relationship length.”

To get the information they needed, the scholars asked 226 undergraduates at the university to provide information based on their past breakup behaviors associated with Facebook. For extra credit, they were then asked to fill in an online survey where only 208 participated. The Likert scale survey asked how frequently the participants had communicated face-to-face with their ex during the relationship and how frequently they used Facebook. The survey also explored whether or not the number of mutual friends on Facebook had any affect to their behaviors post-breakup.

We all claim to have our own special tricks at getting over someone, whether it be hooking up with someone else or eating an entire pint of Ben & Jerry’s, but when social media is involved, it’s a whole other ballgame. Before SNS existed, when you “creeped” on your ex, it literally meant driving by their house in the middle of the night. Social media has taken creeping to a whole other level and made it so you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your own bed. A different study, researching the same topic, found that 70% of the participants of that survey had found other means to stalk their ex on social media, such as logging into a mutual friend’s account. That same experiment claimed that the most popular behaviors were “re-reading or overanalyzing old messages or wall posts, being asked about the breakup on Facebook upon removal of the relationship states, and deleting pictures off Facebook with the ex-partner.” A few others were changing privacy settings, posting pictures intending to make their ex jealous, changing their status to a quote or song lyrics about the ex, deleting conversation history, and posting slanderous comments about their ex.

The previous study, completed by LeFebvre, Blackburn, and Brody, examined behaviors during the beginning stages of relationship dissolution and after the cycle ended. The typical behaviors both during and after were impression management, minimal to no Facebook activity, new relationship interest, normative Facebook activities, relational cleansing, self-regulating from Facebook and partner, surveillance, virtual mourning, and withdrawing access. The few behaviors that participants listed as only occurring after the relationship dissolution process were relational transgressions, social network support, and virtual reconciliation. Not all but some of these behaviors are similar to how people adjust to relationship dissolution in real life.

As technology advances, it only makes sense that what we do online affects what we do off-line and in real life. LeFebvre, Blackburn, and Brody suggest that individuals who view their ex’s SNS profiles and timelines, are hindering their own ability adjust to the breakup and fully complete the relationship dissolution process. The scholars found that those who claimed to have no Facebook-related behaviors after a breakup, meaning that they do not have a Facebook or they avoided Facebook at the time, reported a higher level of adjustment post-breakup.

In my opinion, deleting your past lover is the best way to move on. Remove them from it all – Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, whatever. If you aren’t seeing what they’re up to and who they’re with, how can you care? So do unfriend or unfollow them, resist the urge to creep, and give yourself a break from social media. And don’t post crazy statuses or tweets to hurt them or make revenge, don’t use social media drunk, and don’t give them any reason to stalk your page.