Digital technologies can be great when looking for love, and displaying togetherness to the world. But for those who are facing Valentine’s Day with a newly broken heart, we offer a more useful gift than roses or chocolates. Inspired by Dua Lipa’s pithy advice in her hit song, New Rules, we have produced a practical checklist for how to deal with the digital aftermath of a romantic break up.
1) ‘Don’t pick up the phone’
As tempting as it might be to check up on your ex online, don’t do it. Yes, it’s easy to take a peek at your ex’s Facebook profile or Instagram feed and see what they’ve been up to, without them ever knowing you were there, but still …
This kind of Facebook “stalking” is fairly common, but it really isn’t a good idea. It can lead to an increase in longing and sexual desire for your ex, levels of distress, and negative feelings, as well as a decrease in personal growth post-break up. Every time you visit your ex’s profile, it makes moving on that much harder for you (but doesn’t affect them in the slightest). Why put yourself through the pain?
2) ‘Don’t let him (or her) in’
When you’re in a relationship, all of the different ways you have of keeping in touch with your partner online are the bee’s knees. Facebook, Snapchat, WhatsApp, or Google make keeping up-to-date with each other so easy; but what about after a break up? Suddenly the WhatsApp thread that you used to make plans together can turn into a direct line for your ex to get a hold of you, while the location data you shared with each other on Google can make stalking you infinitely easier. What about the passwords you shared, or the logins you saved on your ex’s laptop – how much access does your ex actually have to you and your online accounts?
After a break up, take steps to reduce their access. Some social media platforms such as Facebook have an option to end sessions on particular devices, and others, such as Google, give you the option of logging out of all devices. Consider changing your passwords or adding extra security to your accounts with two-step verification. You can also turn off location services on your mobile phone and other devices.
3) ‘Don’t be his (or her) friend’
This one is tricky. After you break up, should you “unfriend” your ex, and sever connections across social media? Severing your online connections might seem brutal, yet a big part of being able to move on after a break up is about being separate from your ex, both on and offline.
If you don’t want to completely sever connections, there are other options. A good one is to add your ex to your “restricted list” on Facebook. This sneaky option means that it looks like you’re still friends with your ex, but you only share your posts with them when you choose “public” as the audience, or when you tag them in a post. And you can still see their posts – even though you know that’s not a good idea.
4) ‘If you’re under them, you ain’t getting over them’
Facebook “pushes” content at us. It reminds us of our own past posts, based on their popularity. It alerts us to new posts by the people who are important to us.
On a bad day, you could get notifications about your ex’s current activities and reminders of memories of happier days as a couple. To dodge these bullets, do two things. First, alter your Facebook “on this day preferences” to remove people (your ex) or significant dates, and stop those unwelcome memories from coming at you.
Second (if you are still Facebook “friends” with your ex), change the preferences for your news feed. There is an option to “prioritise who to see first”. Take that little blue star off of your ex’s photo, and their updates will no longer be top of your Facebook feed.
5) ‘He (or she) doesn’t love me’
If you have set your “status” on your Facebook profile to indicate romantic togetherness - for example, in a relationship, engaged, civil partnership – you may want to change it. A change from togetherness to singledom will only appear on your timeline if you choose for it to do so.
Sharing news of the break up with your friends on social media can be like ripping off a plaster – painful but you only have to do it once. However, breaking the news will likely generate responses from your friends – for better or for worse. And if your friends aren’t too tech-savvy, those opinions may be quite public. Think about letting your friends know that you’d rather communicate privately with them about the break up, online or offline.
6) ‘I’ve got new rules’ (for using my Netflix)
If you were cohabiting, it’s likely that you shared online accounts for everything from utilities to media streaming services like Spotify. Often, these accounts are intended to be used by just one person, and are password protected.
If you are the account holder, change your passwords. Now.
If you are not the account holder, get all of the details that you need from the accounts (for example the name of your electricity provider, the Game of Thrones episode you were watching) before your ex changes the password and you lose access.
7) ‘Write it down and read it out’
It’s tempting to make it look like you are coping really well and having an amazing time in your newfound singledom, by posting only very positive images and text about your fun activities and new friends. If your aim is to show your ex that you are doing great without them, go right ahead.
But bear in mind that if your friends see those same posts, they may be less likely to offer you their support, exactly because you look like you are doing fine.
So make good use of your online social media, and make it a force for good after a romantic break up. Don’t look at what your ex is doing. Do let your friends know that you need them. And things will start to look up.
Wendy Moncur receives funding from EPSRC, the Centre for Research and Evidence on Security Threats (CREST) and Microsoft Research.
Daniel Herron receives funding for his PhD research from the EPSRC via a DTP.