In the romantic film Before Sunrise (1995), the protagonists spend a night together in Vienna and know that they will have a hard time keeping in touch once each returns home. But if the story were to unfold today, almost 30 years later, the situation would be very different. They would exchange Instagram or Telegram profiles or talk via WhatsApp to keep in touch despite the distance. Maybe the end of the movie would be different, since as we know, social media makes it much easier to stay connected. It’s a win for the fictional couple. But what about when you want the exact opposite? What happens when what you want to end the relationship, but you are closely connected online? Breakups today are also projected in online life.
A few years ago, a story claiming that an estimated 28 million couples broke up because of social media went viral. Although it turned out to be fake — there is no data on how many couples may have broken up for this reason — we do know that how a person acts on social media can trigger jealousy and insecurities and that, when trust is shaken, these feelings can blow up and end up breaking the relationship.
Breaking up over WhatsApp is an increasingly common option. Some people see it as disrespectful or cowardly, while others think face-to-face breakups are overrated. For the person who wants to break up, ending a relationship via a message makes it easier for them to express their intention, and this can prevent a dying relationship from dragging on as they wait for the right moment to end things.
For the person who is being left, receiving a breakup message lets them manage the emotional impact of the news in private. And if they want to respond, they can also do so thoughtfully, in writing, where there is less likelihood of descending into arguments or dramas. The breakup will be painful, but not necessarily more so than if it were done in person. In the end, how things are done is more important than the medium used.
You can end a relationship via WhatsApp and write a reply to the breakup message, but what if the other person has blocked you? It is not uncommon for something like this to happen, and if the goal is to disengage, it’s not a bad move. Keep in mind that simply writing a response to the breakup message is therapeutic; the ex-partner doesn’t really need to read it.
When a relationship ends, there is the question of what to do on social networks. “I don’t want to block him on Instagram, we can still be friends,” is a phrase I hear regularly from patients. Breaking all contact is a step that often makes it easier to overcome the sadness of the breakup. Continuing to see your former partner’s Instagram stories makes you feel closer to that person as you are witnessing their day-to-day life. There is also the risk that you may misinterpret messages, thinking a post is a hint or aimed specifically at you. This can make you feel confused about your own, and other people’s, feelings. When two people have shared a very strong bond, it’s advisable that they unfollow one another on social media. And if there really is a good feeling and an intention to remain friends, this can be done in a healthy way by communicating to the other person that a time of disconnection is needed. After that period, which varies for each person, you can recover contact in networks. Following and unfollowing are reversible.
“I no longer talk to him/her, but if he/she writes to me, I will answer,” is another phrase I hear. Be careful with this because you are leaving control of the communication in someone else’s hands. To overcome a breakup, you need to take the reins. In cases where there is emotional dependency, or if the breakup is not clear, more forceful action may be advisable, i.e. blocking the ex-partner.
If you are in a relationship with someone, you are likely to have photos together on Instagram and other social media sites. When the relationship is over, we should not forget the nice moments we shared, and the good things that it brought. But some choose to delete every trace of that happiness from social media after the breakup. And it makes sense, since it can help us to turn the page. This is called sanitizing, and it also involves deleting photos taken by your ex, posts that remind you of him or her, muting common friends so that you don’t see them with their new partner, deleting playlists made with your ex... It should not be done from a place of resentment, but rather as something you are doing for your own benefit.
Zero contact is a good way of disengaging, getting over the breakup, and following one’s own path. But it can be complicated, and even more so when social networks make it so easy to connect. Falling into the temptation of stalking your ex is another risk of Instagram that will not help you move on. You have to stand firm and overcome temptations. Maybe when the necessary time passes, you will talk again and, who knows, perhaps you can start the relationship in a different way. Or maybe not. There are many fish in the sea and new and beautiful stories to create.
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