Dear Wayne and Wanda,
What’s the social media protocol after a break-up? I was with “Chris” for a couple of years. We are both in our later 40s and were new to dating again after long marriages and divorces.
Before I dated Chris, most of my social media activity was just sharing pictures of my kids. After my divorce, I did delete many photos with my husband, only because the memories were painful and I wanted to feel like I was starting fresh. I left some that were of him and the children.
This feels different. Chris and I were friends before we got together and because we work in the same field and have many coworkers and friends in common, I expect we will stay in touch. Our breakup was amicable and mutual (unlike my divorce). In two years, we amassed a lot of photos together – cute selfies, photos from trips and romantic meals, random photos of him just doing what at the time I found to be incredibly cute things.
Now that we aren’t involved anymore, it feels weird – it’s like there are more photos of him in my social media archives than of myself! Do I delete them? Do I just leave them? I could take this even further; there are several posts from over the years where I gush about what an amazing boyfriend he is. It seems weird those are there now. Should I take them down? And I guess on a related note, during the couple of years we dated, many of Chris’ friends sent me friend requests, but frankly these are folks I may never hang out with or socially speak to again. Should I just delete them?
I don’t know the protocol for any of this. Advice is appreciated.
First, relax: you don’t know the protocol because there simply isn’t any! Social media creates a very peculiar predicament in the aftermath of relationships, leaving incredibly visceral digital evidence of the romance that is no more. As you’ve probably already realized, the questions you’re asking yourself will feel very different for every person based on the relationship itself and how it ended.
For instance, if Chris was a jerk, or cheated on you, or ghosted you, you might want to just rip the Band-Aid off and go full offense – unfriending him, blocking him, and deleting everything with slash-and-burn diligence. It’s the 2019 version of how we long ago dealt with mementos like love notes, movie ticket stubs and actual printed photographs; we either trashed that stuff with vengeance, or fondly tucked it away in a shoebox beneath the bed.
Because Chris is a nice guy, and it sounds like this is a “no harm, no foul" parting, you may want to hang on to things, considering these past two years a pleasant and progressive part of your life journey. So the right answer here is don’t worry about what others would expect you to do, or even what Chris would want: do what you need to do to move on in a happy and healthy way.
It’s similar to that mantra circulating now about how to deal with actual life clutter: if seeing old photos with Chris brings you joy, keep them. But if images of happier, coupled-up times leave you feeling down and out, buh-bye! A good rule of thumb: if it makes you feel defeat, delete! And repeat. And repeat. And repeat. Apply that methodology as needed to pictures, posts, and even friendships. Retain relics of the past that make you happy, only because you want to keep them. And definitely don’t worry about how others will react if you feel some digital spring cleaning is in order.
Wanda’s right, as always. The only perspective about your social media presence that you should concern yourself with right now is your own. Let the timelines reflect what provides peace as you move forward from the end of this relationship – whether it’s a clean sweep of deletes, some selectively hidden “friends” and photos, or leaving it all out there in cyberspace where it’s always been.
Sorry, though: this is not the last internal social media debate you’ll face about your post-relationship posts. When you start dating again, you’ll probably want to revisit your timeline selection and ask yourself how much of your love life history you’re comfortable letting new prospects see. Because any person you get to know even semi-seriously will most likely also want to get to know more about you. And an easy way to learn more about someone – and just about anyone – is online, and particularly on their social media accounts.
Some will drop a friend request on you after a chance meeting or after a date or two; most will do some level of cyber sleuthing beyond social media. Prospective employers do it all the time; prospective partners should, too. Eventually, they’ll slide into your timelines – unless you lock them out, which makes them wonder exactly what you’re hiding. Who knows how a new love interest will respond when he sees a photo of you looking lovingly at a former love interest just six months ago. How would you respond? And how far back would you scroll from there? Probably all the way. Even if you’ve both been open about past relationships, it’s still a little jarring to actually see that relationship on display, read friends’ comments about it, and count up all of those hearts, smiley faces and thumbs-ups.
Again, this doesn’t mean you should delete it all, hide certain things, or leave everything untouched. But you do have to be aware that your timelines are windows into your life, and the viewers will have impressions and reactions to it.