Audience: A women’s based magazine, such as Cosmo, Women’s Weekly, etc. I’ve adapted this piece to fit a general, heterosexual female audience by using terms like “ex-boyfriend” and other male pronouns when referring to relationship titles.
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Let's face it: We all have “that ex.”
Your prince charming. The guy who gets you weak in the knees and hot in the sheets. The one you thought you'd marry.
But it didn't quite work out that way.
Sure, you've deleted his contact information, but you had those digits memorized the moment he handed you the crumpled “call me” coaster at the local bar. You've thrown out the clothes he left at your apartment, you've washed his smell out of your bed, you've buried your face in a pint of Ben and Jerry's and watched whatever sappy breakup movie you could find. And yeah, you've taken down all the pictures of you two, but let's be real- you've been on his Facebook page more in the past week than you had the entire time you were with him.
Every once in a while, his face pops up on your newsfeed. He's been tweeting more than usual lately and he's even Instagramed a few pictures of his family's golden retriever. You could push “like.” You could favorite his tweets. Or you could get offline.
There was a time where all your ex's lived in Texas and all you had to do was move to Tennessee. In a world of over 2 billion internet users, it's no longer than simple. New York Times writer Laura M. Holson brings up a good point about breaking up in a digital world: when we commit to a network of friends on the internet, we open ourselves up to public interaction, and by doing that, we not only redefine what a “relationship” is, but we also redefine what it means to “break up.”
So brace yourself, because when your ex gets a new beau, you're going to see it- and in big, flashing letters. The new girl might even shoot you a friend request. You'll be reminded to wish him a happy birthday, invited to his band's upcoming show and you'll probably get a few pokes here and there. If you have a Facebook page, a Twitter, Instagram or Spotify account or even a simple email address, congratulations: you're perpetually stuck in your ex's permanent presence. He's online too, and so are his ex's, and her ex's, and her ex's ex's... you catch my drift.
It's hard to realize in the heat of a breakup that you not only need to burn the physical reminders of your previous partners, but your digital memories, too. All of the photos, tweets, videos and wall posts that once flaunted your perfect relationship now haunt you every time you get online.
According to researchers at the University of California and Lancaster University, you'll fall into one of three categories during your breakup blues: deleters, those who delete any reminders of the previous relationship, keepers, who do the exact opposite and selective disposers, those who delete most things but choose to hold onto a few significant keepsakes.
Because people are increasingly logging into the online world, especially through social networking sites, our everyday “possessions” have digitalized too. Personal belongings no longer have to be tangible items; in fact, they can include text messages, photographs, music files... the list goes on and on. Why do we have such an attachment for saved voicemails and old Facebook messages? Researchers suggest that just like physical possessions, digital ones also have symbolic meaning and can trigger the same emotional responses. This idea of a digital scrapbook plays a huge role in separating the deleters from the keepers from the selective disposers.
Perhaps you're a deleter. Deleters simply want to get rid of any memory that triggers a negative emotional response. But be careful- sometimes members of this group become too worked up in the cleansing process and end up deleting more than they would have liked, leaving themselves with absolutely no reminders of the past relationship. After all, relationships are a big component of your life and it won't hurt you to have small reminders of the Mr. Wrong that led you to Mr. Right.
Keepers, however, keep a few too many reminders. You don't want to be this guy. This group is more likely to hold onto anything and everything they can, especially in digital form. This means old instant messages, email threads, saved playlists... anything that will remind them of the happy, positive times in the relationship. You know that “obsessive ex” that your friends refer to? If you're a keeper, they mean you.
And finally, the selective disposers exhibit the healthiest, most adaptive strategy. They hold onto the things that they couldn't bear to part with, primarily physical gifts like jewelry or birthday presents, and disposed of almost every digital possession. This group is the most likely to limit their use of social media during the breakup stage, too. Of course, a little goes a long way. You don't have to delete your Facebook altogether, but if you're not his girlfriend, there's no need to be his Facebook friend.
Whether you're a keeper, a deleter or a selective disposer, breakups are a challenging process, even before the influence of social media- the proliferation of Facebook posts and Twitter updates just seem to make it exponentially worse. Any social networking site, by design, gratifies an always-hungry curiosity.
Alisha Marr, a 23-year old graduate student at the State University of New York at Fredonia recently ended a relationship with her boyfriend of 5 years. After a struggle to keep the long distance relationship alive and exciting, the two split (rather acrimoniously). Four months later, the two no longer speak and have no desire to rekindle their past. However, despite the messy breakup the two remain Facebook friends. Every now and again, Alisha scrolls though his Facebook profile seeking new news.
“It's a scary temptation,” Alisha says. “And I know I shouldn't be checking up on an ex-boyfriend, but I do, even if it's against my better judgment. I want to see who he's dating nowadays. I want to see if his new girlfriend is better looking than me. I want to see if he's traveling or if he's finished up school yet- and even though I hate to admit it, I want to see if there's any sign that he misses me. It's a thought that's always in the back of your head; social networking just makes it easier to figure it out.”
“The thing with social media,” Alisha continues, “is that the relationship never really ended. And it never really will.”
Holson, Laura M. "Breaking Up in a Digital Fishbowl." The New York Times. N.p., 06 Jan. 2010. Web. 23 Sept. 2013.
Marr, Alisha. Personal interview. 20 Sept. 2013.
Sas, C., Whittaker, S.: Design for Forgetting: Disposing of Digital Possessions After a Breakup. In: Proceedings of the Forthcoming SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM, New York (2013).