I spent the summer of 2017 taking things really personally. As someone who doesn’t like to hang out late, the hot season following my first big breakup was dreadful. It was unlikely that I would have any video of a wild night out to post on Instagram and prove I was having a good time while newly single. Yes, I had my own things going on, but I felt the need to perform being “OK” for my Instagram followers—more specifically, my ex. Especially because it seemed like his life was spectacularly well, as I’d determined from obsessively watching his Instagram stories. Despite how little we talked, I always knew what he was up to—social media made it so easy! It felt like every person he hung out with and everywhere he went was an attack on me and our relationship. I spent a lot of time laying in bed swiping and scrolling, discovering more and more things I wished I hadn’t seen. I was a week away from starting my fall semester when I realized I had wasted my whole summer being a self-destructive Sherlock Holmes. As much as I didn’t like it, I knew there was only one thing to do: unfollow him.
The temptation to watch
At first, following your ex might seem harmless. If the relationship ended on good terms then what’s the big deal, right? The truth is, though, we’re curious and social media allows us to take our curiosity to the extreme. So it’s oddly satisfying to find out where your ex is and what they’re doing just by swiping your finger. Most of the time, doing so ends up feeding our insecurities about ourselves and the endings of our relationships. Maybe you always thought they would hang out with this person, or maybe you think they posted something just to get your attention. Whatever the case may be, I’m sure the feeling will leave you swiping to see more. And more. And even more. When I was three hours deep into watching stories and clicking on tagged photos, I found myself unable to stop despite the tears in my eyes. Why wasn’t I the person hanging out until 3 AM? Why wasn’t I out having fun? Why wasn’t I okay?
I kept looking at who my ex was hanging out with and what they were doing, creating a story in my head of what their life was like without me. Did they miss me? Did they know I was having fun without them (even though I wasn’t)? Did they even care? Obsessing over what they were doing was my way of getting answers to questions I didn’t have the courage to ask. While you might think you’re getting answers to your most pressing questions, we all know that people only show us what they want us to see on social media. Had I not been so obsessed with being sneaky, I might’ve had some fun of my own instead of living through someone else’s posts. Reading “clues” and making inferences based on body language I thought I saw in a 10-second Snapchat story didn’t actually answer any questions for me—it just aided me in creating a narrative that was based on my sadness. Misery loves company, and I was looking for more reasons to be sad. Curiosity might be what drives us forward in life, but rewatching the same stories to find out who’s sitting next to your ex is not freedom.
From mutuals to strangers
The idea of unfollowing or blocking someone I once considered my best friend felt so weighted. I know it seems harsh. Trust me, I didn’t want to do it. But let me be the one to tell you, it has to be done. If you can’t avoid watching your ex’s stories and obsessing over their posts, unfollow them. If you’re like me and can’t help but type their username in the search bar, block them. You’re 100% entitled to curating a timeline that serves you, and no one should be able to make you feel guilty for removing them from that said space. The most important thing is that you stop looking. Your questions will never be answered by a cryptic caption or a blurry Snapchat story; you can’t receive that closure from anything or anyone but yourself. Every time you think about checking your ex’s profile, start occupying your time and mind with something else. These are the steps I followed, and I’ll be honest—at first it was really difficult. I must have done at least a hundred Sudoku puzzles that summer trying to distract myself from looking at Instagram stories that weren’t meant for my eyes. But before I knew it, it had been weeks since I’d even thought about what my ex was doing.
Oh, and if your ex reaches out to you and says “Why did you block/unfollow me?”, at least you know you weren’t the only one obsessing.