Before the introduction of the internet, one traditional way for people to move on after a breakup was to throw away mementos such as old photographs and love letters by burning them. These days, it’s not as easy as it used to be. People generate and use enormous volumes of digital content: 33 trillion gigabytes of data were created and consumed online in 2018, and this figure has almost certainly increased since then.
Even if more day-to-day life is being lived and recorded online, there is still no guidebook for how to handle breakups in this day and age. If having bonfires wasn’t your thing in the past, you could just toss out love letters, gifts, and photographs, or you can put them in a container and keep them in the basement, where they would be out of sight and out of memory. In other words, you could get rid of them.
Now, as you read scroll through your feed, you may find that you are brought back to your own memories. These may include reminders of your previous lovers, which continue to exist long after the end of a romantic connection. As researchers in the field of communication, we have carried out a number of studies to investigate how individuals choose whether or not to hold or delete something after the end of a relationship, as well as how these decisions influence their capacity to move on to other things.
A “Cleanse” From the Relationship
When we were doing some of our earlier study, which was back in 2013, we looked at how people utilized social media after they had ended a romantic relationship. Our investigation revealed that they frequently engaged in a practice that we refer to as “relational cleansing.” This consisted of activities such as concealing their relationship status, erasing images, and removing previous social media posts.
In a separate piece of research, we discovered that those who, after the end of a relationship, spent a significant number of hours looking at old digital images of their relationships as well as those who tracked their former partners on social media had a more difficult time moving on. A follow-up study was conducted by us to investigate these findings in greater depth. The purpose of this study was to determine whether or not retaining or deleting virtual objects after a breakup assisted people move on with their lives and emotionally recover after the end of their romantic relationship.
We discovered that individuals who felt more sentimental, were more inclined to keep virtual images from their former relationship, and that the preservation of those objects tended to make it more difficult to adjust to the end of the relationship. During the process of analyzing the findings, we came to the conclusion that when people repeatedly access these digitized memories, they are unable to entirely remove themselves from the associated link. The findings of this research inspired us to develop a model that we term the Virtual Relational Memory. To be more specific, we recommend that people going through a breakup think about three aspects of their online life: things, stories, and connections.
Should I Purge or Should I Not Purge?
People create a treasure trove of digital items, such as texts and images, that symbolize and chronicle the relationships they have with one another while they are in a romantic relationship. Those cheerful and joyful photographs taken on previous anniversaries and vacations are likely to remain in internet photo albums for a significant amount of time after the relationship has ended.
The fact that many of these digital artifacts are dispersed over various channels and profiles – many of which the general public does not have access to – increases the likelihood that they will continue to exist. The appearance of old photographs and recollections can also be algorithmically triggered at inconvenient times, which can provoke unexpected thoughts about your significant other.
Nevertheless, you have some say over whether or not to save the memories you have accessibility to and whether or not to delete them. You might be able to continue to think on the relationship, which can be a catalyst for personal development if you keep the things. It’s possible that removing them can help you move on more swiftly from your former partner and get ready for the next one you’ll be in a relationship with.
Having Lost Grip of the Story
People who are going through a split should consider the story, or tale, of the breakup in addition to thinking how to manage items like old messages and images. The heartbreaking tales that people tell about the end of their relationships serve as potent reminders of those times. People are able to make peace with one another and go on to new relationships as a result.
When a romantic relationship comes to an end, people frequently create a narrative to explain what happened, and this narrative might change depending on who hears it. If your parents ask you why your relationship ended, you might explain it by saying that you wanted different things out of life. If your friends ask you why the relationship didn’t work out, you may tell them that you just aren’t good at resolving disagreements.
The process of developing a story is made more complex by the presence of social media due to the increased difficulty in constructing unique narratives for various target audiences. For instance, some individuals have a primary Instagram account in addition to a “Finsta” account that showcases a more genuine side of their identity. Someone who posts graphic details about their breakup on their personal Instagram account will have a tough time reconciling those facts with the narrative they provide on their main page, which is more carefully manicured than the personal account.
As time passes after the end of a romantic relationship, individuals frequently modify the account of what transpired during the breakup that they relay to others. It’s possible that with time, their narrative will become less antagonistic toward their partner or more tolerant of the fact that they need to end the relationship. People’s stories can swiftly simply revert to the tales they formed immediately after the relationship ended if they are subjected to virtual elements such as old images or texts.
Making Adjustments to Your Network
Next, it is essential to give some consideration to your network, which may be defined as the linkages within which our personal relationships are rooted. When you’re in a relationship, you frequently connect with the extended family and friends of your partner on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. If you don’t make a conscious effort to cut ties with those networks after a relationship has ended, it’s likely that those connections will continue to exist.
It’s possible that you’re questioning whether or not it really matters to you what your childhood ex- boyfriend’s closest mate is doing to while he’s on vacation. To make matters even worse, your past significant other might be in some of those vacation images. It shouldn’t be that difficult to remove your ex from your social media following. But what about the people they hang out with?
Because of the durability of these networks, it is more difficult to end ties. These networks, which behave in a manner analogous to that of the brain by storing virtual memories via social connections that are then capable of being reactivated by the social media network,
Although studies into the consequences of these factors are still being conducted, particularly in light of the continual development of technology, we recommend that individuals give serious consideration to the things, stories, and networks that they wish to keep and those that they wish to get rid of. The results of our studies collectively imply, despite the fact that these findings are speculative, that individuals who obsessively preserve or delete items do worse after a breakup than those who make a conscious effort to keep or delete only certain things. To put it another way, everything should be done in moderation.
It’s possible that breaking up was less difficult in the ’90s, as country music singer Sam Hunt described it. However, this does not imply that you cannot retake control over how you wish to move on with your life – and choose which virtual remnants of your relationships to save and which to permanently delete from your life.