Joe Alwyn and whether you should unfollow your friend’s ex-boyfriend

After Taylor Swift and the British actor ended their six-year relationship, members of the singer’s inner circle have unfollowed the pop star’s ex on social media. Vengeance or solidarity? Experts tell us what to consider before taking a side

Taylor Swift and Joe Alwyn
Taylor Swift and Joe Alwyn.

It has become one of the year’s hottest topics in the international gossip press. The singer Taylor Swift and actor Joe Alwyn, known for films like The Favorite, have ended their relationship after six years together. An article published on April 8 confirmed the murmurs that began after Alwyn did not attend any of the star’s concerts during her mega-tour in the United States, while the singer’s closest friends appeared regularly. Although the breakup, according to sources close to the protagonists, happened amicably and “not dramatically,” triggered only by a “difference in personalities” and the actor’s difficulties dealing with the Pennsylvanian’s increasing fame, a whole squadron of well-known confidants have made very clear their position in this separation. They have raised speculation about the real reasons for the schism and caused a dilemma among the couple’s followers.

The fans were alerted by actor Ryan Reynolds, who was the first to unfollow Joe Alwyn on his Instagram account after having dinner with his wife, the actress Blake Lively, and Swift herself, last April 20 in Los Angeles. Later, the pop star’s own brother, Austin, and the three members of the famous band Haim, also very close to the author of songs like Antihero, joined the erasure campaign. And the list has only grown in recent days: models Gigi Hadid, Lily Aldridge and Martha Hunt, actress and screenwriter Lena Dunham, producer Jack Antonoff and stylist Ashley Avignone also stopped following their close friend’s ex, over just a few hours. The digital frenzy is tarnishing Alwyn’s hitherto unpolluted public image, and it has reopened a debate yet to be answered: Should we stop following our friend’s ex when they break up?

“If the only thing that linked you to that person was that they were your friend’s partner, it doesn’t make much sense to continue having contact. If that is the case with Taylor’s friends, it is logical that they aren’t interested in his life and don’t see the need to have him on social media,” psychologist Silvia Llop says. Coach and couples therapist Carlos Garcia argues that, despite the media coverage of Taylor Swift and Joe Alwyn, what has happened is a fairly common occurrence for any couple. “Once the relationship is broken, that same gesture that led them to join their friend Taylor’s partner now makes them step away. It’s a gesture of social loyalty. One might even add that Joe doesn’t have to feel uncomfortable about this. It’s certainly not personal. Unless the friends have information that the rest of us don’t have.”

Whether it’s a wink of innocent solidarity between friends or a calculated media ploy, that group coordination — publicly disassociating themselves from Alwyn en masse and as quickly as possible — has called into question the supposedly “undramatic” separation. From those who point to Taylor’s friends as “childish,” to those who believe Alwyn “must have done something very wrong,” the singer’s fans are divided over their feelings about what happened. “It may be an express request from Taylor Swift, or perhaps the goal of her friends is not to have information about Joe or his life so they are not tempted to share it with her,” says psychologist and sexologist Silvia Sanz, who believes that not having information about the ex can be helpful in overcoming the mourning period after a separation. “Being aware of the ex’s life on social networks can make it more difficult to get over the breakup. Not having contact through social media at first can be healthy.”

Taylor Swift and Joe Alwyn at the 77th Annual Golden Globe Awards held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 5, 2020.
Taylor Swift and Joe Alwyn at the 77th Annual Golden Globe Awards held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 5, 2020. Christopher Polk/NBC (NBCU Photo Bank)

When it comes to the rest of us mortals, it is important to be honest with your friend if you want to keep in touch with their ex-partner. Silvia Llop, for example, believes that you should be able to talk to both parties and keep the relationship “because your breakup is independent of what you have built over time.” That is, if you believe that your bond with that person goes beyond their ex, and following them on social media is important to you, you should tell your friend the reasons for that decision. But do they have the right to tell you no? “If she takes that as a betrayal and demands that you break your friendship with her ex, maybe you should ask yourself if you are interested in maintaining a friendship with a person who does not give you the freedom to choose who you want to relate to.” Sanz agrees that it is a delicate issue, and it is important to be “empathetic and understanding and to respect the time that each one needs to process the breakup.”

When asked about the guidelines we should follow to navigate similar situations, experts agree that we should put our friends’ well-being first. “The most important thing is to remain close to them and help them through this time of grief. It is also important to remain calm and not to antagonize anyone gratuitously, because reconciliations exist and we can say things that we may later regret,” confirms Carlos García. Sexologist Silvia Sanz also stresses that aspect: “We should be respectful and not judge or give negative opinions about the ex’s actions or decisions. We should understand our friend’s emotions to help him or her overcome the breakup.”

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