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Better Internetting: How to Break Up… Online

‘Better Internetting’ is our etiquette column for a better (digital) you

Going through a breakup is enough of a bummer without having to worry about social media. But on top of basic considerations like, “Will we talk at parties?” and “What if we spot one another at Walgreens?” you’re probably maintaining a handful of feeds where your former bae is algorithmically weighted to play a starring role. Here’s how to do right by yourself (and each other) during this shitty time.

Change your relationship status on Facebook, quietly

If you’re an old-timey romantic and went Facebook-official, you’re probably dreading having to change your relationship status back to “single.” Being on the receiving end of a cascade of “You go girl!!!!” or “Aw, what happened!!!” comments is enough to gag anyone, so to avoid publicizing your breakup on your Timeline, just:

  1. In your About section, change the relationship status viewing options to “Only Me.”

2. Hit save.
3. Now change your relationship status to single (or, better yet, blank).
4. Hit save again.
5. You did it. No one saw.

Have a conversation about your preferences

If you and your ex are on friendly terms, it’s a good idea to hash out what you’re expecting engagement-wise moving forward. Do you still want to follow each other? Is it okay for them to smash that like button? Maybe less-trafficked platforms like LinkedIn are fine to stay friends on, but big boys like Snapchat call for an unfriend. It’s up to you.

If you prefer they disappear off the face of the Earth for a while so you can live your life, be sure to let them know in advance. That way you’re not secretly fuming if they reply “lol” when you tweet a joke about Views from the 6.

Slow down, don’t delete everything

I can name more than one person in my life (and plenty of celebs) who went back through their Instagram after a breakup and deleted all evidence of a former relationship. It’s always stricken me as drastic. Yes, seeing a random JPEG from the good times might knock the wind out of you right now, but that’s a natural reaction to post-breakup pain. You had someone you cared about, they’re no longer part of your life in the same way, and you’re having the appropriate and proportional response to those circumstances. When your brain tugs your sleeve and says, “Ow!” you shouldn’t respond with, “FUCK IT! TORCH IT ALL!” Your reaction can be, “Yes, sweetie. Ow.”

Avoiding experiences that force you to confront the empty space where your relationship once resided is definitely one way to cope, but it’s not sustainable. Pain’s tricky that way. If you don’t let it manifest where it wants to, it’ll just latch on to whatever other events and relationships you have lying around. So baby-proofing your Instagram backlogs isn’t going to resolve your weird feelings, it’s just going to delete a bunch of evidence that—at one point or another—you two were happy together. And someday that might be nice to remember.

Plus, the idea of going back through your entire digital footprint to “erase” someone seems an awful lot like obsessively combing through the archaeological remains instead of just letting them be what they are: fossils. Don’t fixate. Your relationship is now an artifact. And yes, sometimes that will mean, “Ow,” but learning to let things be beautiful and painful at the same time is one of the most important things any of us can do in this world.

As the days and weeks and months pass, those pics you took while you were in love won’t bother you as much. In the meantime, if you don’t wanna see them, ‘gram like nine new things and then do your best not to scroll back for a while.

Mute whatever the fuck you want

That said, there’s a huge difference between letting the past exist from a respectful distance and marinating in it like a sad steak. There’s absolutely no reason to be getting nonstop digital reminders of an old relationship all day — especially when you’re fresh out of that breakup.

If you dated this person for more than 30 seconds, keyword-searching any term in Gmail will probably produce a bunch of Gchat records you not only weren’t looking for, but don’t need to see. Luckily, Google’s filters let you hide messages from any particular address without having to delete them all — here’s how to set that up.

If you’re still a little tender seeing your ex’s name pop up in your Twitter and Facebook feeds, but you’re not inclined to unfriend or unfollow, try a soft block or mute. Rule one of your post-relationship lifestyle is that you don’t need to see or hear anything from them until you’re ready.

Shared Netflix and Hulu? Just straight-up change your passwords. Delete their little user icon off your main menu and never look back. You don’t even have to warn them if you don’t want to (they can get a friend’s login in two texts or less, and they were lucky you let them in on that action in the first place). Let yourself feel a little about it, because guess what? You’re the captain now.

Chill with the light espionage

Whether you’re the dumper or the dumped, breaking up can cast some spooky shadows with the spiderwebs in your brain. It doesn’t take a lot for the freshly un-bae’d to get snoopy if they’re left to their own devices, so if you’re the type of air-breathing mortal who might feel inclined to check in on your ex’s activities, know that about yourself and have some alternate content sources ready to go.

Bookmark some soothing food videos for when you catch yourself wondering what tweets they’ve faved lately. Or throw on some headphones and click over to the ASMR YouTube lady if you’re considering checking their Facebook wall. Practice channeling your petty energy into all of your dumb and wonderful interests, and after a while, you won’t have to remind yourself to.

Christine Friar is a writer from Brooklyn.