101: How To Avoid The Ex On The Internets

There was a time when all it took to ease the pain of a rough breakup was a cardboard box. A convenient receptacle for the leftover trappings of your now-dead relationship, the Box Method offered a quick and easy way to eradicate all evidence of the dude in question from your immediate radius. Photos? Into the box! Ticket stubs from that thing you did together? Into the box! The stray pair of his boxer briefs you found wedged under your mattress? Oh, for the love of … take those OFF, and put them in the box.

Yes, with all your memories safely stowed away, you could rest free from worry that a chance encounter with some memento would leave you blubbering on the floor, snotting copiously into a pint of ice cream, and auto-redialing your now-ex’s number in order to leave Nancy Kerrigan-esque cries of “Whyyyyyyyyyyy!” on his voicemail. (Not that we have ever done that.) But alas, times have changed. And while you can still put all the physical evidence of your relationship safely out of sight, the same can’t be said for all the memories that lurk out there in cyberspace — a minefield of old emails, Facebook posts, Foursquare alerts, tagged photos, and HOLYOMG, is that a picture of him making out with another girl?!!!

WHYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY.

Taking good care of your heartbroken self means moving on, hard as it is. And because there is no cardboard box big enough to hold the entire Internet, we’ve put together a three-tier checklist of tech-related action to be taken in the immediate aftermath of your breakup, to keep that boy off your radar and out of your head.

Tier 1: The Light Blues
Symptoms: Mild sadness, fleeting curiosity about the ex’s whereabouts
If you’re mostly doing OK — whether it’s because you only dated briefly, because the breakup was amicable, or because you’re just not that invested in the ex in question — your only concern should be keeping him out of your hair. Get rid of any alerts that let you know when he’s online, move him to the bottom of your chat list, stop following him on Twitter, and — if you’re connected on Facebook — tweak your settings so that you’re seeing less of him. When you’re not miserable or obsessing over the end of the relationship, all you need is to keep the ex from intruding on your otherwise-fine life.

Tier 2: Medium Misery
Symptoms: Standard crying, occasional fantasizing about reconciliation, hyper-awareness of the ex’s online activities
If seeing him comment on another girl’s Facebook wall makes you weepy, or your stomach ties itself in knots whenever his G-chat status shows as “Available,” beware: these feelings are a common precursor to drinking one beer too many and then sending him a 3:00am, dignity-shattering chat message begging for another chance. Get that boy off your radar, now. In addition to the Tier 1 actions that keep him from intruding on your day-to-day, you’ll need to remove the temptation to stalk; hide him from your Facebook feed, de-friend him on any proximity apps like Foursquare, and block him from your chat, IM, etc. (Knowing that he’s active and available on the other side of that screen is the source of 90% of all obsessive online stalking.)

Tier 3: Crazy Town
Symptoms: Hysterical bawling, desperation, stalking, and hours spent poring over his (and his friends’) Facebook/Twitter for evidence of what he’s doing and who he’s with
By the time you’ve reached this level of angst, the problem is two-fold: Not only is every reminder of your ex’s existence painful, but your misery over the end of the relationship means that you’re spending a lot more time at home and online. (You just KNOW that Netflix streaming was invented specifically for the recently-dumped.) In cases like this, scrubbing all evidence of him from your online life is the way to go; you can always reconnect later when the hurt isn’t so raw, but for now, it’s time to unfollow, untag, de-friend and delete. Be thorough, and be honest with yourself: Can you really get over him if you’re still following his sister on Twitter? Will seeing him in the photo album of a mutual friend reopen old wounds? Your No. 1 priority is your own mental health, so don’t be afraid to admit that something’s too much for you — or to hide or unsubscribe from information that’ll only make you crazy.

Because technology allows us to get so completely enmeshed in each other’s lives, the virtual connections that remain after a breakup can be as hard to sever as the relationship itself. The important thing to remember is that they’re not lifelines to a reconciliation — they’re death-strings tied to the nasty, rotting carcass of your former relationship. Ew, right? So stop dragging the carcass, move on, and be strong.

And when you’re asked, “Are you sure you want to delete this person?,” you know what to do.

Now get clicking.

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