In the uncomfortable aftermath of a breakup, navigating the treacherous landscape of online etiquette can be daunting. How do you cause yourself the least amount of embarrassment while simultaneously making it clear to the world that you are, unquestionably, single yet again?
While some would urge anyone in such a vulnerable position to unfriend or block their ex on all social social media platforms, I am here to say that, while unfollowing is certainly a reasonable course of action, you may want to think twice before unfriending your former paramour.
There are actually several fairly decent reasons for not immediately axing your ex from your list of online acquaintances:
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1. It gives the situation way too much power.
Shunning your ex for a period of time is inevitable, but going to the trouble of unfriending them is like hastily putting a lid on an overheated pot. Those unresolved feelings will still be there, all hot and stinky and gross, whenever you decide to lift off the lid and revisit the issue. Also, knowing that you have essentially cut them out of your (internet) life may give the illusion that there are dramatic and passionate feelings that don’t actually exist. Like it or not, “banishing” someone from your life (outside of the very real possibility of emotional or physical abuse) can become conflated in our minds with having very strong romantic feelings for said person. Unfollowing them, rather than unfriending them, turns down the heat and ultimate dramatic tension of the situation.
2. It adds unnecessary animosity.
If you unfriend your ex on social media, then you must accept the very real possibility that, the next time your paths cross, you are both likely to ignore one another or flee in opposite directions. There’s really no room for polite conversation or the veneer of manners once the “unfriend” button has been clicked. Some people may be willing to accept, or even relish in, such a reality — particularly in cases of infidelity. However, if you’re two people who simply couldn’t work out your differences, you may regret flipping your digital middle finger at the other person some day.
3. You’ll be reminded of the reasons that you are no longer together.
It’s difficult to see an ex living their life on social media, seemingly unaware of your existence. However, once the irons have cooled a bit, being exposed to their internet persona may actually serve as a reminder of why the two of you didn’t work out — and may even cause you to feel relief, eventually. One of the most intense and grueling breakups of my life now only occupies my mental space when I see one of his radical political posts, or a photo in which he’s let his beard grow out to frankly unhygienic lengths. Instead of being hurt by his presence on my newsfeed, I’m now just constantly reminded of how utterly thankful I am that we “didn’t work out.” It also makes me more appreciative of the fact that both of us have fundamentally changed as people since that rather dark time, and I’m pretty satisfied with the alternative direction that my life has taken.
4. You’ll know what’s up with them without having to ask.
If you have no idea what’s going on with former significant others, there will always be that annoying nagging at the back of your mind. The nagging that, if left unchecked, could lead to some dangerous “What ifs?” down the road. If you can see what’s going on with them, it may very well combat those random urges to “check in” and “see how things are going” — urges which, if we’re being honest with ourselves, are never borne out of purely good intentions. Sometimes it’s nice to just know what’s going on with someone from afar, without having to engage in an actual catch-up conversation.
5. It’s the more mature road.
While unfollowing your ex is passive and doesn’t actually hurt anybody, unfriending them is a knowing slap in the face. Though it may feel good in the heat of the moment, it’s allowing your anger to get the best of you, and it’s something you may regret doing farther down the road. No one is saying that you need to stay in contact with an ex, or attempt awkward chitchat with them. But if your breakup is on relatively non-contentious terms (i.e., nobody cheated, it just didn’t work out), then it makes sense to keep the animosity at bay and allow them to remain your friend on social media. At the very least, it’s a silent agreement: “We’re not together, but there’s no need to be dicks about it.”
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