Facebook stalking an ex is actually really, really bad for you

Facebook stalking: We’ve all done it, right? The Internet has made it way too easy to find out information about people we just met without having to directly engage them in conversation or, perhaps more commonly, keep tabs on people who were once in our lives but aren’t anymore for whatever reason. Maybe a friendship went sour, or you haven’t seen Jimmy since high school but heard he and his wife had adorable twins and want to see photos. But very often, it’s in the case of an ex.

And it starts off pretty innocently. We want to see that our exes are happy – or at least, that’s what we tell ourselves. But when it goes further than that, we can tend to try to justify it somehow. “Oh, I’m just looking, it doesn’t hurt anyone.” And though we might be right to an extent, as it doesn’t necessarily hurt our exes when we continually look at their Facebook activity, it does hurt someone: ourselves.

And now, there’s substantial proof of stalking our exes on Facebook actually being really unhealthy for us. Tara Marshall, a Psychology lecturer at Brunel University London,  said she discovered through her own research that checking out what our exes are doing via Facebook and potentially other social-media platforms may actually throw a sizable wrench in the process of getting over the breakup – that “this sort of surveillance was associated with greater distress over the breakup, protracted longing for an ex-partner, more negative feelings towards and sexual desire for the ex, and lower personal growth,” she writes in the Independent.

Marshall draws parallels between Facebook’s tendency to show only the highlight reels of people’s lives which can, in turn, make the gap between the ex’s seemingly newfound happiness and the stalker’s sadness seem even wider than it may actually be. She points out that, based on other studies, people who stalk their exes on Facebook are six times more likely to pursue something intimate (and unwanted) with that person again. Which I think we can all agree fits into the category of “I’ll probably regret this.”

She also notes that people who tend to exhibit anxious behavior in face-to-face social situations but still crave the companionship that comes along with it are especially prone to unhealthy Facebook use. “I’ve found that people with an anxious attachment style – that is, those with low self-esteem, a fear of rejection, and greater jealousy in relationships – are more likely to Facebook stalk current and ex-partners,” Marshall states. “They may monitor their Facebook profiles to feel close to them, and to identify or ward off any threats from real or imagined romantic rivals.”

This makes sense, but when we step back and really think about it, what is this monitoring actually doing for us? According to Marshall, only bad things; it “uniquely contributes to negative feelings after a breakup – more so than just what those with attachment anxiety might feel without using Facebook.”

Whether Facebook itself is the problem is a mystery, but if associated studies can be trusted, it goes without saying that moving forward by not stalking our exes online is probably the best thing we can do for ourselves, even if it’s hard. And if a newsfeed filter doesn’t work for you, there’s always the unfriend option. Whatever it takes to move forward without hurting ourselves or others is the right answer.

(Image via Shutterstock)

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