Breaking Up on Social Media: A Survival Guide

These days, when we dump or get dumped, we do it twice. Once in person (hopefully!) and once on all of our social media platforms. Okay, I guess that makes it even more than twice, considering all of the social media places where your relationship “lived.”

In a recent piece on the New York Times, writer Nick Bilton reflects on the challenges of sweeping up the online entrails of his relationship after his divorce. “The web was littered with pictures, videos, check-ins, likes and tweets of our every moment,” laments Bilton. “Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other sites are happy to lure you to post every intricate moment of your relationships online. Yet when things go wrong, these social tombs do nothing to help people easily delete those memories.”

So how do you handle the social media clean-up phase after breaking up? We have a few ideas. Here’s a step-by-step guide on wiping the slate clean on the big three: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Step 1: Address your relationship status. One of the biggest points of anxiety for a lot of people seems to be the change in relationship status. Who wants to make a public declaration of their breakup? Nobody. A side note of advice that won’t help you now but may help you later: maybe don’t change your relationship status next time? Until you’re engaged or married (and even not then, these days). Maybe it’s safest just to keep that little title offline. But back to the matter at hand: changing that puppy. I found out a little hack to changing that ‘ol status without making it pop up on your friends’ feeds and watching your aunt leave a comment that is just a sad face emoji and subsequently having to throw your phone in the ocean and start a new life. Success!

Step 2: Erase the most obviously lovey-dovey Facebook and Instagram photos. Now, when it comes to photos, I think there is the level 1 purge, and the level 2 purge. Level 1 is simply all of the photos of just the two of you. These are also hidden in old Facebook profile pics so make sure to dig in there too. I say focus on these for now, otherwise the task may feel too daunting. And, maybe (maybe?) some of the group photos you are both in will provide happy memories someday. But for now, the knife in the heart is absolutely any and all images of the two of you in like/love.

Step 3: Dig through your Facebook Timeline. Level 2 comes when you start dating again. This is may be when you go farther back and remove certain albums or photos that you wouldn’t want a potential suitor to see. Level 2 usually can happen with fewer tears and red wine. As for links and statuses, this one is still a Zuckerberg mystery. But also: who is going back and reading through your timeline besides you? So you might just want to consider letting some of them go, especially if the relationship lasted for several years. Your time is much better spent doing other things than it is trolling back years and years and deleting all mentions and comments. Trust me.

Step 4: Deal with the friendship question. It is entirely up to you whether to unfriend or not to unfriend. Remember there are ways to “unfollow” someone’s updates, as well as utilizing your privacy limitations (aka they cannot see new photos or status updates of yours, if you wish). This is only if you think sometime in the future you will want to be on good Facebook terms with them again. If not, unfriend that sucker and don’t look back.

Step 5: Unfollow on Twitter. Going through and deleting all retweets and replies will drive you mad and take you forever. What you can do is remove the ex from your lists, and unfollow them (and maybe some of their close friends?) so that the likelihood of seeing their thoughts about sports/food/politics is lowered. I went through a breakup a few years ago and for at least a year afterwards, Twitter would recommend him as someone I should follow. “Do you know @exboyfriend?” I would be like YES I DO, TWITTER. THANKS FOR NOTHING. But, like all breakup things, in time it just made me laugh. Also the blocking feature on Twitter is so useless you might as well not even bother. Although it does keep them from technically following you, unless you are private, they can still see your public feed.

Step 6: Institute social media road blocks. I do think that it helps not to follow their close friends on Instagram and Twitter for a while, just because you’re bound to see them pop up and it will undoubtedly take your breath away for a second and that is the pits. You can also hide their close friends’ updates by updating your Facebook privacy settings. I do recall in certain breakups, feeling like the problem wasn’t that I didn’t want to see their information online, it was that I didn’t want them to see what I was up to. After one particularly rough breakup, I asked my closest circle of friends to also unfriend my ex on Facebook, just because I didn’t want him having the privilege of seeing what I was up to, what we were doing. To me, he had lost that right and just me unfriending him didn’t feel like enough. I felt like a lunatic asking people, but they all obliged without a second thought: “Of course!” “DONE,” “I didn’t even realize he and I were FB friends,” and so on.

So as cliché as it sounds, your gut is the best breakup guide. So figure out what gives you the most peace and sanity, and do it one click at a time.

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