The Case for the Post-Breakup Social Media Cleanse 


Immediately prior to Big Bang Theory star Kaley Cuoco’s official split from her husband of just 21 months, Ryan Sweeting, both parties removed all Instagram evidence of their relationship. Sweeting also disabled his Facebook page.

The couple had married after a very brief courtship. “It’s only been three months but she knows Ryan is the one,” someone who claimed to know Cuoco told Us Weekly when the pair got hitched. “When you know, you know.”

Well, until you don’t. And when you no longer know, and the bloom is off the rose, you might begin to do damage control for the sake of appearances. How will you explain the breakup? To whom? In what way? Will you remain friends IRL, or online?

Social media can be terrible for the newly-single not only because of the various stalking temptations, but also because it offers up your whole history ripe for analysis, a flip book of love gone wrong. And yet, it’s also perhaps the one place you actually still have some modicum of control over how to frame this story. You can’t control your heart just yet, much less your ex’s, but you can sure as shit control your posts, comments, blocks, and follows.

Vogue warned last year that cutting someone out your social media after a breakup looks rash. Immature. Pathetic. Patricia Garcia spoke to several colleagues, one of whom surmised:

“You don’t want to erase someone’s complete memory,” says one fashion editor. “You can be sad it’s over, but why make a show of taking everything down?” In other words, it’s the old-school equivalent of burning the entire box of photos and love letters. “It was a part of your life. If you made the decision to date this person for a while, then own it,” says another editor.

Yes, the move to erase someone completely from your social media accounts, particularly when you’re in the limelight, suggests a less-than-amicable split—more let’s-pretend-this-never-happened than conscious uncoupling. If only we could all be so sophisticated as to move on with chummy, good-natured grace. But still, it’s refreshing to find out that some of us can’t.

I used to agree that the fast ditch was immature. But like shitty cars and starter homes, some things are not worth keeping around forever. Moving on can be a sign of knowing exactly what you’re capable of, including where you can put your energy. Lingering in the virtual space of an old relationship keeps you solidly outside the reach of greener pastures.

Amidst the chaos of a failed love, some people—mad props—can stand and face the wreckage, pore over it item by item, take stock of its value. Others must flee. I confess I’ve been both, and burning the box of love letters or its social media equivalent doesn’t mean you will ever really forget, unfortunately, but it can mean you simply don’t care to revisit it quite so specifically.

I used to believe, and still sometimes do, that all relationships offer some nugget of insight. Doesn’t every intimate interaction with a person impart some useful wisdom? Even the most incompatible pairings can teach you something essential about yourself, love, human frailty, the heart. Then I had a terrible relationship that was utterly irredeemable and thought, fuck this shit—delete! Some relationships, it turns out, are meant to be forgotten.

Once, in the wake of a boyfriend’s parent’s midlife crisis divorce, I saw a lifetime of framed family photos and albums full of childhood memories chucked out to the roadside, as if the truth they revealed was simply much too large for any one of them to take on as individuals. Later, when we broke up after nearly 8 years together, he would do the same thing to me—leave it all behind, never look back, act as if it never happened. It was brutal, but educational—at least for me. Nothing says “fuck you” like never speaking to an ex again, like pretending they never existed.

Over the years, I have gone from thinking this approach lacks closure to realizing it’s a perfectly acceptable, if extreme, example of it. They say living well is the best revenge, but perhaps it’s simply living light—so light that major histories can be tossed off, eliminated like a broken printer. A social media cleanse, when compared to its alternative—like stewing in the memories every time you click—can, under certain circumstances, seem positively evolved.

Images via Instagram/Kaley Cuoco Sweeting.

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