“Gabi, did you see what Spencer* just posted on Instagram?” my three friends wrote as they simultaneously texted me.
My heart stopped while I waited for one of my friends to finish typing and loading a screenshot. Spencer and I had officially broken up three days before. What could he have possibly posted? A sad selfie? A picture of new girl? An unflattering photo of me? (Just kidding, those don’t exist.)
Instead, my friend sent a screenshot of a photobooth snap of Spencer and me holding up a DIY sign that said “bye,” which was one of three frames that spelled out the lyrics to our favorite NSYNC song, “Bye Bye Bye.” It was a project we started together when we were deeply in love.
This image hurt me more than anything else he could’ve posted. I always begged him to post a photo of us when we were together, but he never did.
I should’ve ignored it and been the bigger person, but because I was still hurt by the shattering of our future, I bit back by posting a similar photo from the same photo booth series on my Instagram. It was an image of me holding up the “bye” sign with the caption “thank you, next.” I have to say, this was incredibly timely, posted at the height of Ariana Grande’s 2018 monster hit.
Looking back, I handled that breakup poorly by hiding my broken heart behind subtweets, social media stalking, and crying over photos of us, photos where I looked happy and our future looked bright.
Even though I now realize how unhealthy that whole experience was, there was no proper social media breakup etiquette rulebook to follow. Do you Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind your social media accounts by pretending your partnership never happened? Do you block your ex? Where do you even begin? To help answer all these questions, we connected with a few relationship experts to get to the bottom of this uncomfortable situation.
What to do with your social media accounts after you break up with your S.O.
1Mute, but don’t block.
You might have a hard time deciding if you should mute, block, or unfollow an ex after a breakup. Lindsey Metselaar, relationship expert and host of the We Met At Acme podcast, says, “This definitely depends on how the relationship ended, but I would say not to block your ex, and instead, to ‘mute’ their posts and stories on social media. It’s probably inevitable that you’re going to want to stalk them and see who they moved on with, so if you have to do that to a certain extent, it’s okay. But make sure you’re also trying to move on and live your life as well. You’ll know you’re over them completely when you stop keeping tabs.”
2Don’t compare your journey of singlehood to your ex’s.
It’s easy to compare yourself to your ex when you check their social media accounts. Keeping tabs on who “won” the breakup (hint: no one, you both lost someone you used to love) can only make your recovery that much harder. Therapist and author John Kim explains what you should do in this situation.
But you don’t have to mute or unfollow your ex until the end of time, as time really does heal all wounds. Kim advises, “If you have distance, the relationship ended with peace and love, [and there are] respect and healthy boundaries [between the two of you], then you can still follow your ex with the intention of supporting and championing their story.”
3If a new partner’s ex stalks you, don’t make a big thing out of it.
Now that I’m in a new relationship, my current boyfriend’s ex has started watching my Instagram stories. Even though I’m guilty of social media stalking every now and then, I would never have the balls to look at all of my ex’s new S.O.’s stories. But according to Metselaar, my mentioning this is a serious violation of the girl code. She explains, “If your new partner’s ex starts looking at your Instagram stories, be flattered! It’s likely that they are [stalking you] regardless of whether you see their name pop up or not. Maybe they’re looking from a fake account. We all do it, so don’t make a big stink out of it and tell your partner. It’s kind of like a girl code.”
4Don’t feel guilty if you become obsessive.
There is good news: While it’s not great for you to obsessively keep tabs on your ex, it’s a totally normal thing to do, according to licensed professional counselor Dr. Rebecca Cowen, Ph.D., LPC, NCC.
This is why you need to not only mute your ex but also get them out of your social media orbit, so you can heal.
“Remove your ex and anything related to his or her world from your orbit. I’ve seen too many instances where exes fixate on each other and use social media posts as ‘evidence’ in divorce proceedings or worse, use it in child custody disputes,” explains divorce mediator and coach Dori Shwirtz.
5Block your ex if it’s affecting your mental health.
Let’s say you’ve done the mature thing by muting your ex and doing everything in your power to move on, but you notice that your ex is still watching all of your Instagram stories, liking and even commenting on your posts. Mental health counselor Dr. Vassilia Binensztok, explains what this really means: “We call [this behavior] intermittent reinforcement (a rush of brain chemicals whenever we encounter the person, which can increase our attachment to them). This can delay or even prevent healing from [happening]. In this case, you could talk to the ex and request they stop the social media interactions. If the ex refuses, it might be time to block them.”
Author and podcast host Julie Lauren describes another time when it’s appropriate to block an ex: “If you broke up with them and you know they still have very strong feelings for you, but you also know they’re likely looking at every move you make, then block them out of respect for their feelings. And on the flip side, if they broke up with you and you’re having a hard time moving on, block [them]. There is no need to see what they’re up to. It’ll just make it harder on you.”
6Mute mutual friends if they post about your ex.
When it comes to mutual friends, Dr. Binsensztok advises, “Usually, friends will choose sides themselves, [which,] unfortunately, might [mean you’ll] lose some friends. I’d only suggest unfollowing friends if they are posting updates that include your ex or if you find yourself obsessing over their profiles for clues about your ex.”
7Delete past posts if they’ll trigger you.
Maria Sullivan, dating expert, and VP of Dating.com suggests for you to delete the past so you can move on. “After a breakup, it’s helpful to erase all content [on social media] that includes your ex, so you don’t have to be reminded of old memories with them,” she says. “This may seem dramatic to some, but how are you supposed to move on from the relationship when reminders of your past are all over your social media feeds.”
8Try not to post about the breakup.
While a social media breakup announcement might make you feel powerful and could get you all the likes, this post could just make the breakup harder than it needs to be. “A breakup is something that has happened between you and your partner, and it’s private,” says Janice Formichella, founder of the Broken Heart Repair Kit explains. “The results can be unpredictable and the act can serve to keep you connected with the person you should be trying to distance yourself from. If you need validation about what has just happened, turn to a friend for a real-life conversation.”
This also goes for the subtweets. Don’t post about your breakup on Twitter either. “Remember, just because you can delete something, it doesn’t mean people will forget it,” says Formichella.
9Focus on yourself.
While it’s completely normal to obsess about your ex, etiquette consultant, Jodi RR Smith, says to try and focus on yourself instead. “As tough as it can be, it’s best to act like an adult during your breakup. Avoid drunk dialing, cyberstalking or googling your ex. Stop allowing them to take up space in your brain,” she says.
So what kind of activities should you do? “Get active, and do things you like to do. Get out, meet friends, see movies, take classes, or travel. Focus on [yourself] instead of your ex,” she says. “And, if you find you’re not able to move on, see a mental health professional [to] help you find the perspective you need, [if it fits within your budget].”
So what can you post about the post-breakup? According to Chris Seiter, relationship consultant and breakup specialist, instead of posting anything angsty about the breakup, “Post photos of you having a good time with friends, showing new and interesting things that you’re doing,” he says. Just remember: You don’t have to put up a front on social media. If you want to say you’re sad, say it. If you want to be vulnerable about your pain, do it. This is your personal journey you’re navigating, and you don’t need to pretend everything is fine when it’s not. Plus, posting about your breakup journey could help someone else. Just be mindful of your personal boundaries and step away from your accounts if things begin to feel too overwhelming.
Well, there you have it—a social media etiquette post-breakup rulebook. While moving on and getting over your ex might seem impossible right now, it can get easier each day, especially if you mute your ex and try to live your best life off social media.