We all watch, eyes peeled, through the messy celebrity breakup of the moment. Right now, plenty of eyes are on Noah Cyrus and Lil Xan. Initiated through an Instagram story, their breakup included memes, screenshotted text messages posted online, Instagram live stories, and a lot of accusations and crying. It came barely more than a week after a loving photo of the couple at the VMAs went viral. But the thing is, breakups are hardly ever easy, and they’re often stressful.
And in the age of social media, they’re also hardly ever the end of the story. We have continual, extensive access to one another’s lives through online profiles before and after a breakup — it’s as hard to avoid messy online dynamics in the aftermath of a split as it is while that split is happening. And all the technology involved in the Cyrus and Xan breakup suggests that their post-breakup story won’t be immune to social-media pitfalls.
Cyrus and Xan aren’t the first celeb exes to face the predicament of how to interact online, either — it’s not just the teens that struggle to execute this tricky maneuver. Lena Dunham and her ex Jack Antonoff are another example — Dunham’s tweets and Instagram comments to Antonoff frequently reference their six-year relationship in intimate ways. Selena Gomez and Justin Bieber, in the aftermath of their multiple breakups, have sometimes used social media to subtly throw shade at one another. And while there’s room, online, to interact with an ex in ways that either preserve unhealthy kinds of intimacy or foster unhealthy tension, neither are conducive to moving on. But it’s incredibly difficult (and stressful!) to know what to do with the information we access about exes online. And it doesn’t just affect celebrities — we all face this same question.
There’s a visceral reaction to seeing the face of an ex, be that in person or in a photograph. And there’s a visceral temptation to talk to someone, privately and publicly, with whom you once had frequent contact. Social media makes these scenarios easy and accessible.
We do, however, have to take steps to avoid those traps, and the resulting stress, because they are everywhere. There’s no sure-fire way or one-size-fits-all to moving on in a healthy way, and so there’s no corresponding one-size-fits-all social media etiquette to aid the process. But here are a few pieces of advice on ways to cope that we can draw from watching the aftermath of celeb splits.
Turn off Instagram stories and Facebook timeline updates
That goes for the updates of your ex and for your ex’s close friends, as well — don’t cheat by casually checking everyone’s stories your ex might show up in! It’s the daily, mundane, but also emotionally shocking contact of an Instagram story or unexpected Facebook post that is often the most harrowing part of putting your ex in the past. You don’t need to feel that, and spending less time online in general is a good idea when you’re going through a breakup. Distract yourself by what’s happening in the real world, rather than absorbing yourself in the world on your screen.
Unfollow or unfriend if you need to
Even if you want to maintain a friendly relationship with an ex, you have the right to unfollow any page that might provide too much emotional attachment to the past, or leave you with stress, resentment and anger.
If you think your ex may read this as an offensive move, explain to them that this is simply about claiming space for yourself to move on online; that’s just as important as claiming space IRL.
Turn your feelings into a creative project
It can be incredibly empowering to transform your pain about a breakup into creative output. Whether or not you think of yourself as an artist or writer, the process helps you demonstrate to yourself that you have power over your own narrative and the ability to make meaning and beauty out of a difficult or dark emotion. Collage, write a song or poem, or paint something — you have the power to transform thoughts about an ex into a de-stressing exercise that helps you focus on yourself and your own growth.