As the first generation growing up in a world with social media, we often let our personal life spill over into our online presence without thought. From our day-to-day moments to the important landmarks of our life, much of who we are is available as public information. This creates overwhelming problems. A topic of contention that has developed as a society living with most of our lives online is: What do we do after a breakup?
Many of us use sites like Instagram or Twitter to share moments of our personal lives, and this often involves our romantic relationships too. What do we do after the relationship has fizzled out? Do we delete all evidence of this person in our life, leaving our accounts wiped like they never existed, or do we leave the posts up and continue on with our lives?
It’s such a weird, intricate concept that might not matter too much until it happens to you. Eight months ago, before my then-girlfriend and I went through our mutual breakup in the face of college, I thought it was stupid for all my friends to delete the relationship pictures of their old partners. A part of me criticized them for trying to “erase” the relationship in order to change their image; I thought it was shallow. I was adamant that I would keep up the pictures of my old relationship. I felt like it was an important part of my life that had been generally good—why would I want to erase that?
Now, months after the breakup, my Instagram holds maybe two pictures of her when it previously held about a dozen. The two still remaining are uneventful and purposefully made the cut because they make her seem like just a friend to anyone who doesn’t know better.
This change of heart occurred for a couple of reasons. We had trouble maintaining a friendship after our breakup, and I didn’t want to keep pictures of a person who now left a bad taste in my mouth. It started to feel weird that I had all of these reminders of a person I was trying to move on from on an account I looked at every day. It made me feel a little stuck in the past, and I was worried that other people might look at my account and see the pictures of us, thinking I hadn’t moved on from it. When I did delete most of the pictures, I felt a surprising amount of joy from it. It felt cathartic, like I was finally making moves into new, exciting stages of my life.
Our online presences are ever-changing reflections of ourselves. I don’t think any of us have perfected the steady ground of how to work them, how to balance them, or how we as a society should accept and deal with them. But they are reflections of ourselves, and as authentic people do, we change all the time. At the end of the day, we have control over how our social media accounts reflect who we are at that moment. At the end of the day, our social media accounts should be for ourselves. If someone doesn’t want to keep images of people who remind them of bad things, then they don’t have to.
There are always going to be people out there, like the me of eight months ago, who will have silent, snobbish opinions about what you choose to do. Now I look back on my train of thought and I think, Why did I think I was allowed to have a say in other people’s decisions and coping mechanisms? At the end of the day, as long as the decisions you make about your online presence make you feel healthy, confident, and happy, nobody else’s opinions matters. We’re all still trying to understand it, fumbling our way in the dark.
Illustration by: Francisco Guglielmino