The social media life cycle of a breakup

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Similar to the stages or tasks of grief, there are different stages that become evident on a person’s social media once a significant breakup has taken place. They can be cycled through quickly, or revisited, and it can often take longer than anyone expects.

Silence

Depending on the person and the scope of the breakup, friends will often know that tension is building, and friction accumulating in uncomfortable corners. What may be announced by a sedated statement of fact (“We have gone our separate ways”) may be accompanied by general radio silence on social media, or just otherwise total silence on the issue. Follow-ups may be limited to direct statements about new housing situations/neighborhoods, but limited information about emotional state.

They may also go on a bender of deleting or un-tagging all the photos of them and their ex, until the only photo of them you find is from five years ago in their college roommate’s kitchen wearing cargo pants with their ex to the side of the frame eating cereal, six months before they became a couple.

They may not have told you, but they have quietly emailed all of the indie wedding blogs that they were featured on to pull their weddings from those featured. One day, you were spying on their color coordination choices of boutonnieres, next day it’s gone. At least some things can disappear from the internet.

This is followed by…

EXPLOSIONS.

It’s not uncommon for lesbians to have a spiral of some size after a significant break-up. This comes in a few different forms:

Highly visual people who may not previously have been an aspirational photographer suddenly get heavily into documenting their meals, outings, and time spent with friends. These are times when you can expect a lot of BEST FRIEND themed hashtags.  They may plan a trip together to somewhere that involves having to fly, or at the very least they get coordinating jewelry.

This can sometimes get a little hairier for everybody involved when folks also get heavily into dating one or a lot of new people, and documenting these interactions on social media. It’s also not uncommon for folks to dabble in body modifications (new haircut! New tattoo!) and these, while compelling, are also clear evidence of people working through their feelings.

I’m Not Afraid of My Feelings

These folks really incur my sympathy, but I think folks also get really irritated with them. These folks are open with their devastation, and post sad song lyrics, memes about romance, (a lot of the “when the right one comes along” and things like that), and are willing to post status updates that say things like “When will I stop crying?” I admire their vulnerability, but I know there is sometimes uncertainty about how people should respond to such public statements of devastation that may also read as needy.

Salt the Earth

It’s not uncommon to unfriend/block your ex on social media for a time. (I recommend leaving each other alone for an extended period of time if you actually intend to be friends later.) Sometimes people take a more aggressive approach of unfriending, asking their friends to unfriend the ex, and actively talking shit on social media. Sometimes this is warranted, other times not. 

Moving On

Some folks that weather a breakup are quick to rebound into self-improvement projects, or hobbies that they otherwise wouldn’t take an interest in. Mostly these play out fine, though I would encourage folks to take a one-day pasta making workshop over a five-week kettlebell training class, just in terms of cost sunk and the likelihood that you may not make it to all five weeks of kettlebell class. By all means, moving your body is awesome and has straightforward mental health benefits, but don’t throw money at something you can’t afford.

Regardless of the thing they do, some documentation of these new interests and activities are a clear gesture of moving forward. They do not necessarily indicate that a person has moved on, just that they have productively involved themselves in extracurricular activities, and have less time to moon over the spices and stray socks and old hair products left behind in the house that their ex forgot. No spontaneous crying in the middle of the afternoon for them over a bag of mustard seed, no ma’am! Their abundance of grief has simmered down to a dull ache and a heaviness in their chest that will only pass with time.

Shake a Tail Feather

It’s also common for folks to date around after a breakup, and lucky for us, most queer dance nights around town have photographers that are quick to document your excellent outfits, close dancing, and raucous laughter with cuties previously unknown to your social network. While you may have had the foresight not to send regrettable tweets to your ex, you still may get snapped mid-smooch and have that documentation circulating around the internet for all to see. Depending on who you are, this is great news, or slightly horrifying.

A Big Break

Depending on the scope of the breakup, sometimes ladies do big things like move across state lines, quit their job, go to grad school, marry the next person they meet or join a new-to-them religion. You have probably seen a couple of people pull one of these. Sometimes the change they make sticks, and other times you see them back in town six months later, a little less full of bluster but resigned or content that this place is their home for now. Seattle, where I live, seems to have this particular effect on a lot of people.

The New Normal

Eventually, everything becomes ordinary again, and life re-settles after a significant breakup. This person may have new glasses, and a greater penchant for sending you flame emojis, but is otherwise still the same person of your acquaintance. You may have sorted out the complicated business of how often you see their ex (only at parties, occasionally you go on hikes together, but you refrain from documenting these on social media except of the views from the vista) and everyone remains at a friendly distance.

Things are peaceable again, unless there is a big collision of feelings. These typically take place at weddings and other parties with lots of alcohol. But otherwise, things have shifted to a new normal, and you can settle in—at least until the next big break-up in your social network.

There are lots of ways people spiral out during a breakup, but it gets particularly thorny around the issue of social media. Block, hide, or delete as necessary, but also try to hold some compassion for folks going through a hard time—it was not that long ago that you were waist-deep in grief and retweeting memes about the fallacy of relationships. Everybody has their moment of acting out over the internet, and while you don’t have to stay tuned, you can suspend judgement, at least for awhile.

Maria Turner-Carney is a therapist and writer in Seattle. You can follow her at seattlefeministtherapy.com/blog.

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