life after love

Don’t burn that bridge! 10 tips for a healthy break-up in the social media age

Breaking up is hard to do — and it was that way long before social media turned it into a virtual nightmare.

It’s such an undeniable sentiment that Neil Sedaka used it as the title of a pop hit twice, in 1962 and 1975. The first time I ever broke up not to make up, I cried to my mother that I’d never love that way again. I didn’t, but I did love again … and again.

No matter how crummy you feel about life after love right after love, things can only get better — if you play it right.

I’ve never mastered the art of remaining friends with my exes, and I’m perfectly fine not having them as regular presences in my life. But every so often, I long to revisit torn-up or deleted photos or wish I could reread old emails and letters for a bit of hindsight perspective.

Writing about Jayden, my last great love lost, in my book Is It True What They Say About Black Men? would have been so much easier if I’d saved all of our written communication for reference. (Thankfully, I kept all the photos.)

Six years after we said goodbye for the final time, I was ready to reach out to him at last, but our post-split behavior made it as hard to do as breaking up with him was. Since Jayden blocked me on Facebook, I couldn’t send him a random “Thinking about you” message there. And he’s not a Twitter kind of guy (and neither am I), so my only option was to create an Instagram account and “slide into his DMs” there. My profile will self-destruct as soon as I hear from him. Erm, I hope I hear from him.

It would have been much easier to reconnect if I had followed my own advice below on how to break-up without compromising your future. Here are some tips I’ll be sure to follow next time.

1. Erase him from your social media if you must, but don’t toss those photos.

At some point, it won’t hurt so bad to look at them. That probably will be around when you’re finally able to feel a bit nostalgic for the way things were without wanting to press repeat. You can banish him from your life, but you can’t erase your history. Better to save it on a PIN drive and put it where it’s out of sight and out of mind — until you’re ready for it not to be.

2. Step away from the computer, tablet, or phone before deleting your email and text-message history.

Take a deep breath and archive them instead. They will come in handy one day when it’s time to write the story of your life. And if you feel like reaching out in the future but he’s blocked you on social media (see number three), you’ll still have his email address.

3. Unfriend and unfollow. Don’t block.

It’s perfectly understandable if you don’t want updates on him regularly popping up in your feeds. But nothing says “Don’t ever speak to me again” like blocking a new ex on Facebook. And how is he supposed to see that you’re finally living your best life without him if you’ve vanished from his search options? How is he supposed to “stalk” you on Facebook? Come on, you know you want him to.

4. Speaking of online stalking, don’t go there.

Do you really need to see how “happy” he is without you? If he’s living in a state of constant torment, you won’t see that in his Facebook profile. He’ll probably look better than he actually does, as is typically the case with the one that just got away. If the urge to spy is too strong, deactivate for as long as it takes for it not to matter anymore.

5. Forget his number. Just don’t lose it.

Write it down, stash it somewhere safe but not readily accessible, then delete it from your phone after archiving the texts. This way, drunk-calling or drunk-texting him will be too much trouble, but if, in a moment of stone-cold sobriety, you decide you want to reach out, all you’ll have to do is remember where you put his number.

6. Resist the urge to send a “Dear John, This is why I dumped you” or a “Dear John, why did you dump me?” letter/email/text.

If it matters, it’s probably worth saying in person or over the phone or in your personal diary. Long-winded written communication leaves you too vulnerable to misinterpretation and endless back-and-forth, which can burn the bridge behind you as thoroughly as setting it on fire.

7. Stop yourself from badmouthing him to anyone who knows and likes him.

Venting is a recommended part of any break-up recovery, but don’t do it in his hometown. People talk, and it’s likely to get back to him. Confide in a friend who hates him as much as you do right now, or pay for the undivided attention and understanding ear of a licensed, impartial professional who is obligated by law not to tattle.

8. Don’t throw it all away.

The urge to part with gifts and other assorted mementos will be strong, and since I’m a firm believer in minimalism, I say feel free to toss most of it. But hang on to at least one item. Someday it will go from being painful junk to being valuable history.

9. Those rose-colored glasses you’re tempted to put on may flatter the ex, but they’re not a good look for you. 

Splits happen, and yours didn’t go down because he was the perfect partner or because you had an ideal relationship. Dwell on his bad qualities for as long as it takes to get him out of your system.

10. Be warned: Grindr is no place for the broken-hearted.

You’ll only “meet” so many jerks that you’ll become even more jaded and discouraged than you already are. And do you want to risk running into him on the grid? If you must get over one guy by getting under another one, why not rebound with your favorite mistake (i.e., a different ex)? You still have his number, right?