Breaking Up with Social Media

Of all the “wisdom” out there about relationships, there seems to be one, universal, capital-T Truth that no one in their right mind would disagree with: break-ups suck. They eat away at you from the inside out and try to rip you apart and it takes all your willpower to keep yourself in one piece and put one foot in front of the other. It takes all your energy to complete simple tasks that used to be automatic, like pulling yourself out of bed in the morning. Even eating can feel like a chore when you’re heartbroken. You feel like you’re at war with yourself and it’s confusing and exhausting and it sucks. You desperately want to feel better.

Research shows “that feelings of intense romantic love engage regions of the brain’s ‘reward system,’ specifically dopamine pathways associated with energy, focus, motivation, ecstasy, and craving, including primary regions associated with addiction.” When you are absolutely miserable while going through a breakup and you try to reason with yourself that it’s “just a breakup,” you are actually experiencing powerful withdrawals. It’s not “just” a breakup. And, like any addict, you crave your next fix.

Now, you might be wondering what this has to do with tech and social media. The answer is everything. There are countless reasons why social media is unhealthy following a split. For one, relationships in 2019 are increasingly electronic, and it can be really painful that there’s a gigantic digital footprint left behind. That former special someone will automatically pop up at the top of your Facebook news feed. They’re on your Snapchat best friends list with a little heart next to their name. You can hop on Spotify to get some tunes going and incidentally see what they’re listening to.

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To add insult to injury, every time you text your ex, look at their Facebook profile, or check their Twitter, you’re going after that fix that you crave in the midst of your withdrawals after a heartbreak. And reading old texts that have to do with something that no longer exists is a dangerous game and you must resist the temptation to play it. While it might provide some respite in the moment, it only makes you feel worse down the line. No one trying to recover from an addiction would tell you they’re glad they relapsed. Using social media to see what your ex is up to after a breakup bears striking similarity: no one feels better after they see their ex’s most recent story on Snapchat.

That’s precisely why, immediately after a breakup, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to break up again, this time with social media. You need to dump Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat; you need to slash the amount of time you spend on your phone. It might seem harsh or irrational, especially if the breakup was amicable, but you need to block them. On everything. Even Venmo (which, by the way, I believe is an underrated form of social media). I once had a friend who would check her ex’s location on Snapchat a few times a day. I had to physically pry her phone out of her hands and remove her ex from her friends. Then I deleted the app. She protested, but she eventually thanked me when she realized that being on social media would not help her recover.

You see, staying on social media immediately following a breakup is like a recovering alcoholic, a few days into sobriety, stockpiling their room full of liquor they know they can’t drink. And leaving social media on your phone is not all that different from a recovering alcoholic keeping a full flask in his or her purse, backpack, or briefcase.

Compounding this is the fact that when we look at social media, we see a false portrayal of reality. And that messes with us. We often want to see that the other person is suffering the way we’re suffering, and when we check their Facebook, we don’t see suffering. We see the exact opposite. They seem to be doing perfectly fine, enjoying a drink outside with their friends. They seem to be loving life when we feel crushed, and that makes us feel terrible. “Do they even miss me?” we wonder. “Did they ever even care?”

Of course they miss you! Of course they cared! The problem is, no one (with the exception of a few brave but sad souls) airs out their grief on social media. I have seen a good deal of heartbreak among my friends, and not a single one of those forlorn, heavy-hearted people has ever posted on social media about how they’re really feeling after a breakup. In fact, in the aftermath of a painful breakup, we often see the opposite: increased activity on Facebook, frequent sharing on Instagram, and incessant adding to snap stories. It’s all done in an attempt to convince everyone that they’re having so much fun without their ex. It’s a twisted lie that only serves to underscore the dark side of social media. We must use social media for good; otherwise, we’re feeding into the very culture that has made most of us, at some point, feel at least a little bit bad. Now, again, I’m not instructing anyone to wallow about their grief on social media (that’s what friends and–more importantly–ice cream are for). No one wants to see that.

Not to mention, when we look at any form of social media after a breakup, we’re comparing our behind-the-scenes (which, in this context, is likely misery) to everyone else’s personal highlight reels, including our ex’s. It’s unfair to ourselves and, frankly, it’s toxic.

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Although social media is a fantastic tool for keeping in touch with friends and family who live hundreds or thousands of miles away, it can also be a significant barrier to moving on and getting over. And that is precisely why the end of any relationship needs to be the end of a relationship with social media, at least for a little while. Once you’ve successfully broken up with social media for a sustained period of time and injected seeds of normalcy back into your life that eventually blossom into real normalcy, you may return to the digital realm. Remember, however, that it must be used for good, not to trick anyone into believing a falsehood.

12 comments

  1. I love this post and could not agree more! Social media intensifies a breakup and only allows us to feel more vulnerable, at fault and sad. All we want to do is feel better and not feel the heartache, and by engaging in social media, we think this is going to be our medicine, our bandaid to patch things up. Delete apps, break up with social media and focus on you! We love to distract ourselves with what we could have had or what we don’t have, prolonging the harsh reality of pain. Even plunging into online dating apps links to the usage of social media.

  2. Not related to a romantic breakup but I quit facebook when I moved to Boston almost four years ago. It was my first significant move after several years of working in DC after graduating GW. Unlike most Boston folk I met at the time, I didn’t really have any connections, family, or friends in the city and man was social media tough at the time. I spent a lot of time dwelling about how other friends had thrived in similar moves (via their photo albums) and seeing how much my friends back in DC were having on the weekends. The last straw for me was having a college friend who I hadn’t heard much from reach out to me and after some small talk asking for a favor to connect with a friend of hers for a job. I downloaded a folder of my FB archive, jotted down key friends birthdays (because of course I never bothered to memorize them anymore), and deleted. It was probably one of the best things for my mental health at the time. Since I didn’t have anything to really to “catch up” about on facebook I felt like I really put in an effort to get out and meet people organically (a lot harder than it sounds apparently — took a lot of non-organic setups like social sports clubs) but eventually carved my own social circle in the city. Don’t get me wrong I haven’t quit all social (I guess technically with my Instagram use I’m still part of Facebook, Inc. and I’m a pretty active Twitter/Reddit user), but I think being able to self reflect when social is negatively impacting you can be a very difficult thing. At the same time, it makes a lot really simple. You do have to put in more work in keeping up with friends and occasionally have to deal with the awkward conversation (for example, I recently asked a friend about her partner when apparently it had been facebook unofficial for a few weeks now) but all in all I’ve managed without.

  3. Venmo is totally an underrated form of social media. Amen. It’s unfortunate that we’ve turned such a supposed positive social platform into something to compare our lives with others. I know for me, while bored over Christmas break I would endlessly scroll through social feeds seeing all the fun things my friends were doing and feeling lame for spending the day on my couch. Sometimes we need breaks from social media to ground us back into our own lives rather than festering about whats going on in others. I’ve definitely taken breaks from different social media platforms because I felt myself falling down the comparison rabbit hole when I was going through something and someone else appeared to be thriving. I really liked your comparison to alcohol addiction because I think both love and social media fall into the same category, deliciously indulgent but oh so overwhelming at times. My boyfriend is not too big on social media but by either a blessing or a curse I just convinced him to get an Instagram. However, that was mostly for maximum meme sending ability.

  4. I found this post so interesting to read, and think that it applies not just to romantic relationships but to other kinds of relationships as well (lost friendships, particularly). Whether a relationship ended as a result of drifting apart, amicably, or not so amicably, we all want to feel like we ended up doing better than the other, or, at the very least, appear that way. This can lead down such a toxic road because so much of the time, social media is not an even remotely accurate representation of how someones life actually is. While I have no plans to delete Instagram and snapchat any time soon (even though I’m sure I would survive without it), it is so important to remind ourselves that just as our social media profiles do not come close to encompassing all that we are as people and all of our experiences and emotions (good and bad), the same is true for every person who is seemingly living the perfect life that we scroll by on our feed.

  5. Really nice post. I do confess that I find the effect of social media on sociology and psychology to be a fascinating topic, as the impact is still being uncovered.

  6. This is a really interesting idea for a blog, and I could not agree more with the toxic side of social media, which you have portrayed in your post. Social media is great when we are doing great. It’s a useful way to stay in touch with far away friends and family. It’s the perfect way to show all the happy moments in your life. However, it becomes dangerous when we start to twist reality by only posting the good stuff. In my capstone class we recently discussed this idea of false realities on social media. We did so in the context of a news story about a college freshman, who tragically committed suicide. The point of the news story was essentially from an outside perspective it would have been nearly impossible to spot the signs based on what the young woman was posting. I’ll link the video below. Overall, sometimes we all need a break from social media, and our phones in general.

  7. Lol, thanks for the relatable post! But in all seriousness, I think it’s something that hits home for many people: how social media impacts our mental health and our normal cognitive functioning. This is definitely one of the most pressing issues facing our current consumption of social media. I think it’s so interesting how we realize how it negatively impacts our lives, but we still use it every day. It really is a modern day addiction. I also consider the even greater impact it has on younger generations who essentially grew up with social media. While I can realize how it impacts my mental health, will it become harder for those following us to do so in the future when it has been a part of their every day life for their entire childhood/adolescence?

  8. Thank you for this. I have such a love/hate relationship with social media, and this is exactly why. It’s debilitating to constantly feel like everyone around you is thriving and living their best life from the looks of their Instagram. Truth is, social media is a lie. Dark, I know. But let’s be real- nobody really posts about their bad days and negative emotions. Instead, they capture snapshots of their best moments and strategically curate a picture-perfect life through Instagram. I think many people in our generation and younger generations suffer as a consequence of this, whether it’s decreased self-esteem or increased superficiality. The concept of “FOMO” even came to existence as a result of social media. I admit, I’ve tried deactivating my social media countless times before in an effort to take a break and focus on myself, but just like your analogy to alcohol addiction, it’s incredibly difficult. I feel so free and content when I do, not having to worry about what other people around me are doing, but I also feel so disconnected and way out of the loop. Social media has become such an integral part of our daily lives. I can’t even imagine life without Venmo!

  9. This was an awesome blog! Thinking back to my teenage years, I would’ve benefitted from deleting social media right away. Of course, I learned that the hard way and would continue browsing and wondering what the ex was doing at the time. It is always easier said than done but once you break past that phase of needing or wanting to see what the other person is doing, you’ll start to realize how much of a barrier social media was in the first place. It’s true that most of the time social media serves as the best representation of someone, and people need to realize that no one is perfect and what is posted online is just ONE side of the story. Not to be dark but how often have we seen celebrities post happy photos of themselves and then end up needing to go to rehab in the following months, or even worse, committed suicide. There is a huge falsehood in the way things are presented on social media and it goes back to our discussion on fake news as well. With nearly all things posted digitally nowadays, people really have to be careful about what they see and what they believe.

  10. Great blog! It is amazing the effects of social media on our life. Slightly related, but this post got me thinking of the effects of social media on relationships in the future. What will the future of instagram look like as our generation begins to move past college life and into lives involving work and family. Will we be instagramming our kids or will we quit social media all together, leaving it in our past.

  11. First things first. Venmo should not be a social media!!!!

    Second: I like the topic a lot, but I’m mostly just an advocate against social media. It’s always a punch in the stomach when you’re scrolling through your timeline and the ex, whom you have unfriended, somehow pops up because they went out with their friends, whom you didn’t unfriend, and they post a photo. BOOM! Instant sadness.

    One thing that didn’t get brought up is the fact that Tinder uses your Facebook for authentication. So it’s probably best to keep that one, just saying.

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