How to deal with a break-up in the age of social media

Last month, Facebook announced that it is testing new tools that will make dealing with a break-up in the virtual world a whole lot easier. Rather than blocking an ex immediately, these new tools will ensure that a user gets the option to see fewer posts of his or her former partner when changing the user’s relationship status. The fact that Facebook is testing such tools isn’t extraordinary. After all, in an increasingly digital world, dealing with a break-up, especially when both parties are active on social media platforms or spend a considerable portion of their day logged in, can be rather tough.

Karuna Keswani agrees. The 30-year-old marketing executive met Tanuj Shah, also 30, on Twitter. “We hit it off almost immediately over our love for cricket, Bollywood and good food,” she says. However, after dating for over three years, the couple parted ways. “There was no acrimony between us, but it was difficult to move on. I didn’t want to seem rude by blocking him on Twitter or unfriending him on Facebook, but I found myself tracking his activities online. I’d get very affected if I saw him flirting with a new girl or if he’d visit our favourite haunts with his friends. I eventually had to block him to move on,” she adds.

In the age of the Internet, while it has become easy to forge new relationships on the World Wide Web, it has become equally hard to deal with a break-up. Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have turned the chance encounter with an ex into an inevitability. And even if you manage to log out of these platforms, it is difficult to avoid emails and messages on OTT apps, like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Hike.

Vrushali Patil, 28, shares her story. The IT consultant blocked her ex, who she had dated for four years, on her social networking sites after a bitter split. “He was constantly liking and commenting on my posts, and begging me to get back together. It was embarrassing,” she says. In her case, even blocking didn’t work. “He’d send me emails, texts, WhatsApp messages and even post pictures of us together on Instagram. I felt harassed, but didn’t know how to make it stop,” she says, adding that the online stalking stopped only six months later, when her ex started dating someone else.

While almost everyone recommends that “going cold turkey” at the end of a relationship is the best way to deal with a break-up, it is clearly easier said than done. A recent study by the University of Hawaii at Manoa and Ohio State University, USA, backs this. It suggests that partners more hurt by a break-up are the ones who are more likely to prolong their suffering by stalking an ex. As the researchers put it, social media sites are like “virtual scrapbooks for relationships”, which jilted lovers can turn to when they want to masochistically ruminate on what they once had while spying on their former partner. That’s not all. Previous studies have also shown that stalking an ex online or frequently checking his or her profile and friends list is linked with greater current distress over the breakup, more negative feelings, more sexual desire, more longing for the ex-partner, and lower personal growth.

But media professional Pernia Sharma, 25, and Sunny Shah, 27, believe that the end of a relationship need not always be unhealthy. Shah says, “We wanted to be civil with each other, so we consciously decided to stay away from each other’s timelines for six months. To do so, we muted each other out, and refrained from texting one another. Once we were in a happy space individually, we spoke to each other and removed these restrictions. We had dated for nearly five years, and simple social media etiquette helped us stay friends long after the bitter feelings had disappeared.”

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