Breakups are supposed to be the end of a relationship. Whether the end came via a fight or a fizzle, after a relationship used to end, it required some significant effort to contact an ex or figure out what was going on in his or her life. Now, social networking sites can keep you digitally connected to exes, whether or not it’s good for you.
A growing body of research demonstrates that although we could delete that connection and “defriend” an ex, we often choose to stay virtually linked. We don’t necessarily maintain this connection due to feelings of closeness or friendship, though; users typically admit staying linked so they can “Facebook stalk” to see how an ex moves on (or not) after the breakup:
Before social networking sites, we’d often have to rely on updates from common friends if we wanted information about an ex without directly contacting them. Now Facebook is ready and willing to share this information with a few quick clicks. And the site will never chastise you for asking.
Although social networking sites enable you to access such information, when you’re distressed about a breakup, it’s in your best interest not to do it. Ruminating too much about a terminated relationship tends to augment feelings of sadness and regret and stifle your healing process. Similarly, looking at artifacts of the relationship or “creeping” on an ex’s Facebook profile can keep you stuck in a post-breakup funk. Research by Tara Marshall has shown that, regardless of any offline contact, following an ex’s activity on Facebook will prolong your distress, increase negative feelings, promote more longing, and postpone emotional recovery.
The role of attachment
As noted in my earlier post, people with anxious attachment styles are more likely to engage in Facebook stalking. Thus, those with preoccupied and fearful attachment styles may be at higher risk of post-breakup distress and hindered recovery due to intensive monitoring an ex on Facebook.
The end of relationships are especially hard on those with anxious attachment styles. As Katie Warber notes:
“Such individuals tend to become preoccupied with checking their ex's Facebook page. They find themselves looking at pictures and status updates—even asking friends to monitor their former partner's page—which can ultimately compound feelings of loneliness and loss.”
Your best bet, then, is not to monitor an ex on Facebook at all, especially if you have an anxious attachment style. Willpower can be lacking when you’re emotionally drained, so even if you’re typically a limited Facebook user, you may need to figure out ways to keep yourself away from your ex’s page. Here are some options:
In the end, it’s up to you to take control of your life after a breakup, and part of that means dealing with social media. Keep your use positive and productive to promote healthy healing and recovery.