When a celebrity couple like Selena Gomez and The Weeknd breaks up, they aren’t usually the ones who break the news. There are always a few hardcore fans who monitor every move celebrities make on social media, and they’re often able to anticipate an imminent split. Before Gomez and The Weeknd confirmed that they were no longer together, gossip websites reported that Abel Tesfaye had unfollowed Gomez’s friends and family on Instagram. Even after the breakup was official, more “news” came out, noting the deletion of several photos of Gomez from Tesfaye’s Instagram feed, and pointing out when the two performers unfollowed each other.
Breakups are hard even for people who aren’t famous, and in the age of social media, they are harder than ever. It’s no longer possible to put all the photos of your ex in a box—or burn them—and forget what they look like. “You used to maybe run into the person on the street or at a party, or if you were really unlucky, you worked with them and you’d run into them at work. Now, it’s like they’re in your pocket. Anytime you’re feeling a little bit weak, and you want just one more glimpse at their face, it’s available to you. That makes it hard to let go,” says Mary Chen, LMFT, a relationship therapist.
Playboy asked Chen about the best ways to handle social media after a breakup. The answer? It depends on the situation and how much you’re hurting. She says, “The person who has had their heart broken is the one who kind of has the difficulty with social media. You’re the one who is gonna be upset and triggered when you get force fed information and images about somebody that you’re trying to forget.” If you’re in denial about the breakup and treating social media as a way to stay connected with your ex, it’s important to remember that these apps and websites often depict idealized versions of ourselves. Chen says, “The narrative around social media is so hard already, where it just looks like everybody is having the best life and everything is fine. If you are heartbroken, it’s going to look like that person is riding off into the sunset, and now their life is so much better because they’re not with you.”
It’s also important to avoid torturing yourself, and that effort surely won’t be accomplished when you check an ex’s profile page for updates. Maybe it’s a good time to take a break from social media altogether. Chen says, “If this person is really wrapped up in your social circle, where even if you hide them or unfriend them, you’re still going to end up seeing a lot of stuff about them, then yeah, take a break and do lots of good self-care.” At the very least, just delete the apps from your phone so the temptation isn’t constant.
Whether or not you fast from popular platforms, eventually you’ll have to make a decision about choosing to follow or unfollow your ex. Should you stay friends, but hide their posts? Should you delete every photo you ever posted of them, and untag yourself from the ones they posted? Should you block them and try to forget they ever existed? There’s not a single “right” answer that works for everyone, but Chen shared some advice on how to figure out what’s best for you.
Even if you’re cursing them out as you click “Unfollow,” Chen says breaking the connection can make you look vulnerable. “You’re sort of letting them know, ‘This breakup affected me. I am hurt right now, and I need to heal.’” Another thing to think about is whether you may ever want to be this person’s friend in the future. Cutting things off completely could make it harder to reconnect—even on a platonic level—down the line. The safer route is muting or hiding the person, which is an option on both Facebook and Twitter. You’ll still technically be connected, but your ex’s posts won’t show up in your feed, and they won’t have a clue about the change. Chen says, "I can see the benefits to that, and I think it’s a good sort of medium-level action to take.” She cautions, though, “If you try to pretend that person doesn’t exist, then you run into them and it’s like ‘Aaaah!’ and you have to deal with it all at once.”
As for whether to delete all the photos of your ex, like The Weeknd did, it’s a matter of personal preference. Chen says, “Some people don’t want to erase their history. They’re sort of like, ‘That relationship is a part of who I am,’ or ‘I still care about that person, I’m still friends with that person, I consider that person family, and so I’m not going to pretend I was never with them.’ Other people have the philosophy that every new partner should be this brand new fresh start, and ‘This is the one that’s going to work. All of the other relationships didn’t work, so it’s like they never existed.’”
When should you block an ex? The choice to block someone you’ve dated needs to happen if you really can’t trust yourself to avoid checking what they’re up to or if that ex just won’t leave you alone. Chen adds, “I’m in favor of always trying direct communication and telling somebody, ‘I’m not interested in talking to you anymore.’ Try that first, and if they’re really violating boundaries, I think that’s what blocking is for.”
Bottom line: Trust your intuition. Chen says, “Check in with your gut about whether it’s causing you more pleasure or harm to be connected with that person on social media. And then do what is good for you.”