It was just like any other Monday when I decided to post this really incredible YouTube video of a tap dancer going rogue at her dance recital onto the Facebook wall of my best friend. I am not one to spend hours on Facebook but I am certainly not beyond casually scrolling through my newsfeed now and then. With a click of a button I was transported from the safety of my bed into a spiraling vortex of doom from which I would not recover from for over an hour.
The first post on my newsfeed: Kelly Danes got a new car, cool. The second post: Molly Smith got kumquat after taking the “Which Piece of Fruit Are You Actually?” quiz, fine. But then the third post on my newsfeed was a picture of my high school sweetheart turned on-and off-college-paramour of four years with a new girl followed by the caption “James Cohen is in a relationship with Elle Woods” (names have been changed, not that it really makes a difference), NOT FINE.
The glaring visual of the man I loved for four years now with his lips smashed against some other pretty girl’s face was about as much as I could handle. There was no part of me that wanted or needed to see that or the deluge of photos on his Facebook wall that wholly and completely documented the beginning phases of their relationship that I willingly spent a half hour scrolling through. Here’s their first formal together, here’s their first Valentines Day together, here’s him wearing the shirt I gave him while holding her hand on our favorite beach.
And as if this wasn’t painful enough the masochist in me couldn’t stop: I went from one ex to the next and then moved beyond boyfriends to flings, to hookups, to painfully earnest crushes that I barely shared four words with. Opening each of their profiles like going through my very own little black book I analyzed their new post-Tara lives. For a moment I felt like I was sharing their slice of life again—Jack’s puppy has gotten so big! Oh, look at Tom and his mom in Hawaii. And then the page would start to buffer and I would again realize that though our lives were moving vertically parallel to one another, that the years a part had created vast horizontal space between us. What’s Tom’s mom’s name again?
Living in the digital age, it seems that we never really break up completely. It used to be, as I am told, that when one broke up with their ex they could move two towns over and never so much as hear their name again. But no matter where we move we have them with us, 24/7. They are updating statuses, retweeting our tweets, and sending 3 a.m. Snapchats. They are sharing Instagram photos and posting Vines. All of my exes live on in my life, constantly roaring their little digital heads. Just when I think I’ve forgotten one completely they send me a Linkedin request that prompts the question, what would life have been like married to a lawyer who now works at a top law firm in Boston? They are a part of our present as much as they are a part of our past. Our relationships with them fueled by regret, second thoughts, lust, neurosis, envy and fantasy live on in our interwoven social media worlds. Seeing them pop up on your Facebook feed causing a similar reaction to seeing them on the streets. Do you look at the post or do you just keep scrolling like you never saw their name?
The following are the top ten ways that social media makes breaking up so much worse.
1. The photographs. These make it all too clear how your ex’s life has moved on without you. The images that bore into your brain of their new life, their new lovers, their new hair cut that you begged them to get when you were together.
2. The check-ins. The constant knowledge of where he is going and where he has been. Places that you know you can go to “bump” into him and places you know to avoid like the plague when you don’t think you candle seeing her. And don’t even get me started on the “with who” feature. At your favorite Italian restaurant with— a new girl.
3. The unexpected social media run-ins. Those times when you have gotten your mind off of them and then just like that they like your Instagram photo and you’re back to wondering what they meant by “like.” Seeing a photo of them kissing their new paramour on Facebook can be just as painful as seeing them actually making out a party.
4. Easy access. The ease in which you can contact them and the amount of discipline required not to. What is the harm in sending a quick text or a late night Snapchat? With so many means for communication it’s almost impossible to make the right decision (whatever that is) every time on every platform. And vice-versa, how easy it is for them to slip into your back pocket with the buzz of a received text.
5. The virtual history book. The tangible history of your relationship is captured and preserved as if within amber on your various social media platforms. How easy it is to scroll down on your Facebook profile and relive your entire three-year relationship with photos, articles shared, nicknames, public displays of affection in the form of songs and sweet notes. You can relive them again and again because it hurts so good.
6. The songs. The Spotify updates may cause my most visceral reaction. Music is so personal and intimate and seeing what they’re listening to is like peering into their soul, are you listening to Bon Iver because you like the sad cadence of his voice or are you listening to him because you are horribly depressed and are regretting the day you let me walk out of your life and his voice is the only thing that will soothe your broken, aching heart?!
7. The friends. Other people liking and commenting on their statuses and pictures is a constant reminder that the rest of the world didn’t raise up their torches and pitchforks in defense of your broken heart but on the contrary think his new haircut is “super cute [insert heart emoji here].”
8. The tweets. Their tweets are a constant reminder of what it’s like to live in their world again. You remember how funny they were, how smart they were, how many interests you shared.
9. The image. The inner struggle between caring or not caring. It seems that the battle between exes is over who can care less. But does de-friending them mean you care too much or that you just don’t care at all?
10. The awkwardness. All the room for misinterpretation and error of judgment created by having so many means for communication. I wonder how much of our actions are lost translation? The Snapchat you group send to all your besties on a nostalgic night with the caption I love you can mean so many things to your ex whose name you accidentally checked when hitting send.