My ex-boyfriend and I broke up almost a year ago, but I’m still receiving messages from strangers asking how and why.
When we first met, almost six years ago, Instagram barely existed. Young and in love, we uploaded selfies with sappy captions about how much we adored each other.
As our relationship progressed from one year to three to five, we kept posting. As with most millennials, social media became an extension of our lives — and we were the biggest part of each others’ — so evidence of our relationship was everywhere.
Because of how public we were on social media, nearly every time I ventured out of my house without him, at least one person would ask where or how he was. I found it kind of annoying; we weren’t attached at the hip, after all. But I had no idea how much worse it would be once we were done.
A breakup is hard enough without an audience. I am by no means Kim Kardashian, but for the first time I began to understand what it must feel like to have so much scrutiny on your personal life. When we called it quits last summer, in addition to the heartbreak over losing my best friend, I found myself overly concerned with what other people might say. How could I explain that #relationshipgoals weren’t a real thing? That everything was temporary, including this.
Before social media, breakups came with their own set of problems: How do you divide your belongings? Your friends? Do you continue going to all those places — bars, restaurants, coffee shops — you used to go to together?
With social media, the problems increase. Do you delete all those photos that now make you cringe? Do you unfollow each other? How to avoid making indirect mentions of your ex or the breakup when it’s all you think about?
After the breakup, I took a leave from social media and from real life for a few weeks. When I resurfaced, I fended off questions about him, regretting the front-row seat we’d given everyone in our expanded social circle.
Popping up in the comments under my photos, into my Twitter direct messages, on my WhatsApp and in my face IRL, practical strangers were dragging me aside at parties, seemingly incensed and asking why the hell we broke up. “You guys were like Bonnie and Clyde!” one person told me. “But you guys were perfect!” another said, all of them wanting answers, some even attempting to wade in and repair what couldn’t be fixed.
When you’re hurting from a breakup, none of this is very nice to deal with. Not to mention the fact that it was none of their business.
But that’s the problem with social media. Inviting an audience to look in and “like” the images of a happy relationship, everyone draws their own conclusions about how people should live. Similar to how we judge and talk about celebrities as if they’re not real people, Instagram and Snapchat and the many ways we create a narrative about ourselves is turning us all into walking, talking TV shows. People don’t like it all that much when you yell: “PLOT TWIST!” In real life, however, you never know when your own plot twist is coming.
Some guys I’ve been interested in — and as far as I know, have been interested in me — have even kept their distance, saying that it’s out of respect for the love they saw on social media. As if they fear they won’t be able to measure up.
The ghost of a relationship is hard enough to deal with when it’s in your head, let alone in everyone else’s, too. The next time I’m in love, we’re keeping it for ourselves.