Have you ever wondered how much checking someone’s status updates/tweets/photo uploads is normal/harmless, and when does re-checking their online activity become problematic? Most of us have caught ourselves clicking through someone’s social media activity because we have reason to be naturally curious them- maybe the person is someone we want to meet, or just started dating and want to know more about them. Other times we might scroll through our partner’s online activity as a way to check their daily mood, as counterintuitive as that may sound (since you likely see them or at least communicate with them regularly in person). Today’s prolific use of social media gives us an alternative glimpse into our partner’s emotional status and social exchanges that we may not otherwise pick up on. Even if someone’s online persona is carefully constructed for public consumption, having access to their online activity gives us an opportunity to interpret the meaning of their coming and goings, even their level of intimacy with others. If this person is an ex-romantic partner this may be all we have to go on- even if all we see is their profile picture and friend list, this information can still provide a rough approximation of their current situation. This dilemma recently became a topic of conversation in my coaching practice, where helping people improve their emotional intelligence is a common goal throughout the work that I do. Victoria, a bright and accomplished 24 year-old woman shared with me that constantly checking her boyfriend’s social media activity and online communication with his ex is taking a hard toll on her mood and relationship functioning. Me: “Have you ever talked to your boyfriend about what you see on his social media sites? That you’re concerned about who he’s interacting with online?” Her: “HELL NO! The last thing I want to do is come across as the person that I actually am- the type of person who stalks people online to see what they’re up to, and compare their successes to mine.” Checking people’s online activity, or ‘lightweight stalking‘ if you will, can run deep. We start out taking a quick glimpse at our partner’s tweet/Instagram pic of the day, only to find their ex decided to comment suggestively. It’s too easy to then check out our partner’s ex-boyfriend/girlfriend’s Twitter/Instagram/Facebook, etc (because dammit they have a public profile just begging to be explored). So begins the comparisons. Do they seem happier/sadder now? Does their taste in fashion/music/politics demonstrate that I’m a more tasteful/intelligent person? Is he/she in better shape than me? Our self-esteem may start to wane the more we compare ourselves to them. We end up heading into an emotional tailspin trying to interpret their ‘Vaguebooking‘ habit on Facebook. We’re left wondering if they’re pining for their old relationship. Do they want to rekindle things? Will they/have they tried? If trust hasn’t been well established in our relationship, we might become irrationally suspicious by mistrusting and/or questioning our partner for no substantial reason. Suddenly we’re starting arguments that undermine the health of our relationship.
Dr. Tara C. Marshall, Ph.D., explores online post-breakup fixations in her research article Facebook Surveillance of Former Romantic Partners: Associations with PostBreakup Recovery and Personal Growth. Results based on the responses of 464 participants revealed that one-half to two-thirds of people have made contact with an ex-romantic partner through Facebook, and that over half admit to having looked through an ex’s photos to find pictures of them with a new romantic partner. Findings from this study suggest that keeping tabs on an ex through social media is associated with poorer emotional recovery and personal growth following a breakup. Therefore, avoiding exposure to ex-partners, both ofﬂine and online, may be the best remedy for healing a broken heart.
Solution: Put Yourself on a Stalking Diet
- Do not allow yourself to stalk during the time of day when you know you are the most emotionally vulnerable and/or have unlimited time to comb through the internet for new postings. For many people this is late at night. Give yourself an 8 pm stalking curfew!!! Most likely after 8 pm, you’ll engage in other things that will bring your mood back to a normal, and you’ll be in a less anxious place before you sleep.
- If you know you’re not ready to quit cold turkey, put some “stalking hours” in place, like office hours, if you will. You’re only allowed to check on those you stalk between 2-4 pm, for example. That way if you find yourself curious about your ex at midnight (especially likely if you’ve been out drinking), you can rest assured you’ll have a chance to stalk to your heart’s content, just postponed a little. Chances are, you won’t have that same aching (likely misguided) curiosity during the logical hours of the next afternoon.
- Delete the social media app(s) that you use the most during your sleuthing for one week. This will allow you to see how much you actually miss compulsively scrolling through that particular social media site. You might discover that the cost of missing out (FOMO) is not creating as much emotional damage as stalking does.
- And if all else fails…