Why Social Media Stalking is Virtual Self Harm

So, the relationship’s over. You’ve deleted your WhatsApp conversation. You’ve changed your phone’s background. You’ve played your part in getting them out of your silly head.

If you’re feeling particularly brave, or if you’ve had one too many glasses of wine and have Alanis Morrisett cranked a little too loudly, you may have finally unfriended them from Facebook, blocked their Instagram and unfollowed their whining on Twitter. Job done. 

But the next morning, once the wine has worn off, you start doubting yourself. Should you have done that? Does it make you look childish? What if they’re posting things in reference to you? What if they’re giving hints they miss you? 

After one day of freedom, you’ve succumbed. You log in to your friend’s Facebook and have a bit of a scroll. You click on every profile who commented on their status. You scroll through their pictures way too far back to pubescent school snaps. 

Twitter and Instagram are easy – they’re public accounts. You don’t even need another profile to look at their shit. As long as you’re not logged in as you, you can see everything. Simply open Chrome instead of Safari and you’re away. And as soon as the link is embedded in your history, it only takes an “inst” in the search bar to bring up their page. You click on their profile, and in the few seconds it takes to load the page, your heartbeat shoots up, the adrenaline pumps, you feel sick and nervous. You know it’s wrong. And if it loads, and nothing has changed, you’re flooded with this sense of relief that seems to fix everything. But when the number of Instagram posts goes from 156 to 157, you already know it’s going to be some new drama. 

We convince ourself it’s so we can be forewarned. Incase someone happens to go “Oh, did you see their new girlfriend?”, then you can be prepared to fend off their shitty questions.

So there you are. Staring at their life going on without you. You tell yourself that ‘Instagram is all fake, it’s just a window into the best bits of their life and is nothing to do with the real world.’ And that’s completely true, yes. Sure, they may be missing you horrifically, desperate to call you and can’t move on – but you’re not going to find that answer on Instagram anyway. 

I’m the worst for this. When the love of my life moved to Germany, leaving me in emotional turmoil, we unfollowed each other pretty quick. But then, one random day, I was blocked. It felt like my heart had been ripped out. Being blocked was worse than not speaking. That’s it then. You’re out of their life. 

But a simple log-out was enough to still check his Instagram. I kept our WhatsApp chat open so I could see his everchanging profile picture. Almost immediately, there were pictures of him on holiday with his arms around another girl. And everyday, I would check back to see even more pictures of them. And every time, I would cry. I’d screenshot the pics and send it to everyone in my friends list. There were never that many pictures when we were together, I’d say. But clearly his new love was far more Instagram worthy than me. Picture after picture, with captions saying how she was the most beautiful woman in the world. All photos I never got when I was with him. It took over my life and left me in a spiral of despair. I was heartbroken.  

From then on, I decided never to look again. I removed all trace of him from my internet history and decided that was it. That was over two years ago. And it feels amazing. I have no idea what he’s up to. No idea at all. I don’t know who he’s with. I don’t know where he’s living. I don’t have to see the fake life he’s putting on the internet for his handful of followers to gawk over. And best of all, now, I don’t want to.

So why do we do it? We know we’re going to see something bad. We know it’s only going to upset us. There is no possible way it could be a good thing.

We convince ourself it’s so we can be forewarned. Incase someone happens to go “Oh, did you see their new girlfriend?”, then you can be prepared to fend off their shitty questions. Or to dig for that hidden message of regret that they definitely haven’t posted. 

So what are we achieving? Essentially, we want to convince ourselves that their lives suck without us, that they’ll never be happy without you. But it’s never the case, is it. Because, in true Instagram fashion, all that shitty side – even if it were true – doesn’t get posted. If they wanted to text you, if they wanted to be with you, if they wanted any of it, they’d reach out. They wouldn’t post it in some shit cryptic inspiration quote. 

We want the pain. We want to see them again. We want to see their life, even if that means they’ve left us out of it. We’d rather see them happy than just focus on our own happiness. We’d rather make ourself miserable just to see what their perfect lives are like. 

When someone doesn’t text back, you check their profile instead. But why!? They’re already ignoring you. What are you achieving? To just confirm he’s really definitely ignoring you? To see him ignore you in as many formats as possible? If he’s not texting back, he’s ignoring you. No exceptions. Confirming this only pisses you off more. 

“Maybe he’s just busy”, you think, for all of a minute until you see him happily posting selfies all day. He’s got time for Instagram, but not for you. He’s got time to like his friend’s tweets, but not to reply to yours. 

So what’s the solution? How do we unplug from this poisoned drip to just move on with our life?

Quite simply, you have to want to do it. You have to acknowledge that it’s shitty and you’re going to stop. 

Then it’s just a process of deleting it all. The search history, the favourites, the screenshots. You have to slowly realise it’s only going to upset you.

Write a list of what you want to achieve by looking at their profile. Why are you doing it? To score what? To see what? What exactly do you want to get out of it? You’ll realise that there is no positive outcome. There’s really nothing to make this self harm worth it.

Have a favourite account at the top of your search history instead. Whenever you click the magnifying glass, your favourite inspirational star will appear, so you can click on them and scroll through their awesome posts instead. My favourite is @notanothersalon, a crazy hairdressers in Shoreditch that is ace. But one with inspirational quotes or cool tattoos or your favourite celebrity will work just as well. 

If you really need to know, ask a friend to have a peek. You don’t need to know every detail, but they can quash that fear of, well, whatever you’re fearing. Although, again, question yourself if that’s really what you need? Or find a good enough friend who will know what should and shouldn’t be revealed from a quick third-party stalk. 

If they’ve left you broken hearted, in a place where you feel you can’t get over them, why do you still care what they’re up to?

You’ll probably have old messages and photos on your phone. If you really feel you need that ex-fix, have a look through some old snaps. Especially if they’re of happy memories – you’ll remind yourself of fun days out, regardless of who else is in the picture. But if you’re feeling brave, deleting all the old pictures could be another positive boost to get them out of your life. 

But, mostly, do you even really care what they’re up to? If they’ve left you broken hearted, in a place where you feel you can’t get over them, why do you still care what they’re up to? If they’re as much of a horrible stupid person to not realise how awesome you are and want to be with you, why should you give two shits about their life?

Instead, you should focus on yourself. Go out and make moments worth Instagramming. Go out and have fun and live life and drink all the drinks and listen to music and get new hobbies, and tweet about all of it. 

Not for anyone else’s sake – for your own personal photo album. Your ex doesn’t deserve to see you happy. Block his accounts – he doesn’t deserve to be a part of your new life. They had no interest in your life before, so there’s no need for them to start showing an interest now. They don’t deserve to see you living a happy life. So don’t post it for them – block them if you need to. Use social media for your own fun, not for crying over everyone else’s. 

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