It all started a few years ago with an ex and one innocent Google search. In a moment of missing Jeremy*, a guy I’d dated a couple of years earlier, I typed his name and pressed “Enter,” thinking, What could it hurt? It did hurt though when the results returned an article about him and his new girlfriend, whom, I read, he now lived with.
Despite how painful this news was, after that initial Google I became addicted to looking him up online. My cocktail of choice was one parts Googling, two parts his blog, and three parts Twitter. With these sources mixed together, I could feel like I was somehow still connected to him. I was hooked, and I’d go through periods of reading his Twitter several times a day, every day.
“I don’t think Jeremy’s the right guy for me,” I said to my therapist one day, trying to convince myself that it was all for the best that things hadn’t worked out between us. “He drinks too much, he’s always Tweeting about getting wasted. And he flirts with tons of women on Twitter. I’d be so jealous, I’d hate that if we were dating.”
“Jen …” my therapist said. “He’s not the right guy for you because he lives with his girlfriend.”
But even though he was wrong for me for all these reasons and more, I continued to check for updates of how much he’d drank and how many women he was flirting with. I found out he got married by seeing it on Twitter. I discovered they had a baby by reading about it on his blog.
The upside of learning that he had a baby was that it was so extreme it made it easy for me to quit cold turkey. Woken up to the fact that he’d undeniably moved on and I was stuck in the past, I was jolted out of my addictive pattern. I didn’t want to check his Twitter anymore, and luckily I’d never accepted his Facebook friend request years before because given our on-again, off-again relationship, I’d anticipated that that could one day become a problem.
A few months later, I started seeing Mark*. Early on, I knew he was looking me up on Facebook and Twitter because he often referenced things I’d posted about in our conversations. It didn’t take long until I found myself regularly checking his social media, too, especially at times when he was out of touch.
If he hadn’t responded to an email I’d sent, I wanted to think that it was just because he was busy at work. But if he was so busy, I wondered, how did he have time to read and re-tweet seven New York Times articles? And why did he have so many new Facebook friends, and why were they all pretty 22-year-old girls who interned at The New Yorker, vacationed in Paris, and wore bikinis in their profile pictures?
Almost everything I saw on his Facebook and Twitter was upsetting for one reason or another, yet I couldn’t keep from looking at it daily. At the time I was unemployed and home alone all day, and checking his social media deceptively felt like contact and interaction, when in reality it only made me feel more isolated and alone.
When he abruptly ended things, I was devastated. And that’s when looking him up on Facebook and Twitter got really bad. As much as I knew it made me feel horrible and wanted to stop, I couldn’t. Compelled to keep checking, I noticed that I’d feel an initial high from having this small form of contact, followed by an intense low. It was like his social media was a drug and I had taken a hit.
After describing this feeling to a friend, she suggested that I count days off his social media. I couldn’t remember if I’d already checked that day, so that night I looked him up on Facebook one last time. The next day was Day 1. And then, like a junkie counting days off heroin, I kept counting. One day turned into a week and then two, and once I had some success under my belt, I was determined not to break my streak.
For the first month, I cheated a little. I wouldn’t look him up but we were still Facebook friends, so I’d scroll through my news feed scanning for his updates. One night, when I posted about something I’d written, he immediately “liked” it. Staring at his name next to the thumbs up symbol, I couldn’t breathe.
Is he thinking of me? Does he miss me? Does he still care about me?
My heart was racing and I was overwhelmed with sadness, longing, and missing him. I knew that having any connection whatsoever to him would just lead to more pain, so I unfriended him.
Even though I hadn’t wanted to sever all social media ties with Mark, I immediately felt better once he wasn’t popping up in my news feed anymore. Thinking back, I realized that nothing good had ever come out of looking up a crush, guy I was dating, or ex on Facebook. I’d never once done this and then thought, Wow, now I feel really good about myself! Regardless of the guy and whether or not he was currently in my life, there were always photos and wall posts that could be misinterpreted—or correctly interpreted—to make me feel jealous and insecure.
Part of the reason checking a guy’s Facebook or Twitter is so compelling is that seems like this totally harmless thing you do when you’re bored or curious that only takes a couple of seconds. But it can actually be very self-destructive, and a waste of time at best. In my experience, it robbed me of time and energy that could have been better spent focusing on myself, and took a toll on my self-esteem.
For anyone who’s counting, it’s been over a year since I checked Mark’s Facebook or Twitter, and about six months ago I quit looking up all exes online. Period. Don’t think I’m going to start looking to get that social media fix with any new guys either. This may sound incredibly old-fashioned, but I’d prefer not to know anything about the next man I date other than what he tells me. These days, I’m not even tempted to pick up this old behavior again because quitting has given me such a tremendous payoff, freeing up my time and energy so I can put it firmly back where it belongs—on the status of my own life.
*Names have been changed