Since more than a decade the biggest, most popular social media site is unarguably Facebook. It loudly resounds with our lives captured in posts, photos and different activities we so enthusiastically get engaged in.
The phenomena created by Mark Zuckerberg had a triumphant march across the globe, conquering people of all ages, all nations, and by now browsing our friends’ timeline has become our most cherished activity. Unfortunately. I’m saying unfortunately, because this kind of amusement is a little bit shameful. Or is hiding behind our laptops and smartphones, stalking our friends and acquaintances a noble deed? I don’t think so.
And when it comes to relationships, Facebook plays a major role.
Love is very much present on social media, all interlaced with its algorithms. Relationships are woven, and are interrupted in the Facebook universe. People “go Facebook official” – meaning they declare to the world that they are officially in a relationship with someone –, or they change their status to “single” if they break up.
The most important reasons people admit they use Facebook is to keep in touch with their friends and acquaintances, to monitor them, and to monitor their partner. As much as one third of people say, they use this site to access information concerning their exes. There even exists a slightly pathological sounding psychological term for this activity: interpersonal electronic surveillance.
According to researchers’ hypothesis those people are likely to engage in electronic surveillance, who are uncertain about their relationships, and have fears about the future of their relationship.
But what role does Facebook play in the post breakup period? Because this is when stalking really becomes unhealthy and sometimes quite painful. Of course, the constant surveillance has one goal: we want to know if he/she is suffering the way we do, or if he/she has already moved on.
But is cyberstalking your ex’s profile good for you or it only worsens the distress felt over the split? Does constantly checking your ex-partner’s Facebook activity for evidence of how they feel help, or does it delay the emotional recovery after a breakup? What is better for us: unfriending our former partner or remaining friends with him/her?
Research has been done, trying to answer the above questions. Researcher Tara Marshall of Brunel University, England did a study, which involved 464 participants, who were in different types of relationships. Of course, they all had a Facebook account and had been through at least one breakup in their lives. The fact if they had been engaged in surveillance of their ex partners was ascertained with questions like how often do they look at their ex’s page plus at their list of Facebook friends. (A bit of jealousy there?)
Those participants who were seeing their exes face to face on a regular basis, reported a lot of distress and longing for their former partner. The more offline contact the ex-couple had, the more negative feelings they experienced. Those engaged in Facebook surveillance after the breakup also reported current distress, longing and desire, but were experiencing less personal growth.
The persons who didn’t unfriend each other, but remained Facebook friends instead, surprisingly reported less desire and longing for the ex, but also scored lower on the level of personal growth. Meaning, remaining friends on the social media site meant, they were less likely to move on after the split.
According to the researcher, those people who remained friends on Facebook may not have loved their partners so much, or had a more amicable breakup.
So why is it, that if we are denied access into an ex’s post breakup lives via Facebook, we are more curious, we feel more longing and desire for him/her? As the researcher speculates, it might be because the former partners’ lives remain shrouded in mystery, which interestingly, sustains our longing.
Whereas if we remain in contact with the person we broke up with, we are exposed to their status updates, their photos, we can inspect their lives, their moves anytime, so there is not much of enigma to them. Consequently, the attraction felt towards them can slowly decrease, perhaps even gradually die out over a certain period.
The conclusion of the study may suggest, that remaining friends on Facebook with your formal romantic partner is better, than unfriending him/her, because then your curiosity is not so keyed up concerning the life of your ex. But being permanently exposed to your ex’s posts and photos may be unbearably painful, and you may think you will never get through the breakup. Perhaps in the beginning, you will think a lot about your unfriended ex, but in the long run, it might be wiser, to push him/her into obscurity and forget…
Yes, there is a time for moving on after a breakup, but when is it “time” to break up? According to statistics based on Facebook status-updates spring and winter are the top “breakup times” in the calendar.
Things are starting to build up in February during – ironically – Valentine’s Day, and breakups form a climax in the middle of March. (Could this be owing to spring cleaning?)
April Fool’s Day excels from the point of view of the breakups, but up until two weeks before the winter holidays statistics show a relatively low breakup activity on Facebook.
At Christmas time, it would be too cruel to show somebody the door, this is the time when breakup statistics show the lowest rate. Splits occur least during the end of summer and fall.
If you want to avoid a breakup, it’s important to talk to your partner about Facebook-related issues that pop up in a relationship. For example, it’s important to keep in mind, that on Facebook the small gestures, like liking or commenting a status update or a photo, can seem like a bigger gesture. It’s wiser to talk through, what that meant for the “clicking” person, this way one can avoid unnecessary complications or an eventual ending of the relationship.
Psychologists warn us, not to check on our ex-partners, as this only hinders the healing of wounds. Cyberstalking your ex only keeps the pain fresh.
Graff, Martin (2016) ‘Should You and Your Ex Still Be Facebook Friends? Psychology Today
Wei, Marlynn (2015) ‘How to Keep Social Media from Complicating Your Relationship’ Psychology Today
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