You and your ex called it quits months ago. But since then, you’ve still been seeing a whole lot of him. Not actually in person: online. There he is on Facebook, hanging out with his friends. And popping up on Instagram, chilling on the beach on his vacation. And making one of his typical smart aleck remarks on Twitter. You’re pretty sure this isn’t helping you get over him, but you can’t seem to stop stalking your ex on social media!
Keeping tabs on an ex online is very common, it turns out. ‘Most people will casually look every now and then,’ psychology researcher Tara Marshall told Love Matters in an interview at the International Association for Relationship Research (IARR) conference.
But others struggle to keep themselves away. ‘Immediately after a break-up, some people feel addicted to looking. They can’t stop themselves. They check in a couple times a day just to see if there is any change.’
Despite the fact that checking an ex’s profile from time to time is pretty normal, researchers aren’t sure why some people do it casually while others become addicted to snooping. They also don’t know whether it helps or hurts you after a break-up.
To better understand the relationship between Facebook stalking and getting over an ex, Marshall found 234 people who’d come out of a relationship within the last three months. At the start of the study and then six months down the road, she asked them how often they checked their ex’s Facebook profile, whether they were the type to feel anxious in a relationship, and also how distressed they felt.
Ten times a day
After a break-up, checking an ex’s Facebook account about once a day is the norm, the research showed. But there was a lot of variation from one person to the next: some peruse profiles as often as five to ten times a day, Marshall says. Others are not at all interested in looking.
Though people who’d been anxiously attached to their ex were more likely to stalk them, even those who’d felt secure in their relationship checked in on a casual basis right after the break-up, Marshall explains.
Pain or gain?
So does stalking an ex on Facebook help you or hurt you when it comes to getting over your ex? Regularly snooping was linked to feeling more distressed about the break-up in the study. But it’s not clear if it actually causes break-up distress, or if it’s the other way around: it could be that people who are deeply heartbroken are more likely to keep tabs on their ex online.
Still, in some of her other research Marshall found that stalking is linked to longing and pining for an ex and less personal growth after breaking up. ‘What I would argue is that it’s connected to all sorts of negative feelings and not being able to move on from the relationship,’ she told Love Matters. ‘I guess I would suggest that it would be probably more healthy to stop looking. That will help you to get over the break-up and potentially to move on.’
How to avoid your ex on FB
Easier said than done, for many of us. Fortunately, Marshall offered some tips on how to stay away from your partner on Facebook.
One option is to use a tool she helped develop. When you change your status from ‘In a relationship’ to ‘Single,’ it lets you filter out your ex without de-friending them. It’s one way to avoid seeing him or her on your timeline or newsfeed.
Of course, you could also completely de-friend them. If you feel that’s too drastic, try to snoop less and less. And if that doesn’t work, well, blocking your ex might be the only solution to stop looking altogether, Marshall suggests.
This article was first published on September 17, 2016. The person in the picture is a model.
Tara C. Marshall Ph.D works at the Department of Psychology, School of Social Sciences, Brunel University, Uxbridge, United Kingdom. She is the author of Facebook Surveillance of Former Romantic Partners: Associations with Post-Breakup Recovery and Personal Growth
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