Millennial Heartbreak

What did our parents do?

Being a twenty-something in a digital age where information is widespread and communication is instant, this is a question I repeatedly find myself asking.

With the global explosion of smartphones and digitized, well — everything, it’s no surprise that our social lives have followed a similar norm of impulsivity, convenience, and temptation to document for the sake of a favorable image.

Social media platforms have become branches upon which users can extend themselves into a world that expands beyond immediate proximity. Every experience, friendship, and relationship is documented so that not only those involved can experience it, but one can share their experiences with their digital circle.

I bring up this question of “What did our parents do?” most often in the context of heartbreak.

Heartbreak comes in many forms and none of it feels good. Whether it be a dramatic split or a peaceful departure, heartbreak is something that attacks every aspect of our egos and rattles what our lives looked before. Although breakups and broken hearts are nothing new, this disturbance of ego presents a problematic clash for our digital selves.

A breakup is something that used to be a painful moment in time. But now it’s something to be reminded of, edited, and readjusted for the public. By using platforms that publicly share personal interests and activities, we subject ourselves not only to the initial pain of a breakup, but to the small kicks to the heart that follow us thereafter. 

There’s the moment you realize your ex unfollowed you on Instagram. Kick.

The moment you see that they like and/or follow a new, attractive person. Huge kick.

The moment you feared the most, when they post a photo with someone — not you —to show the world that they have moved on. Not only does this kick you in the heart, it can cause a total relapse that digs up and un-stitches whatever progress you’ve made with the initial wound, one that’s said to only heal with time.

So that is the problem: time.

As millennials we participate in not just one, but two relative time zones. We subject ourselves to a type of pain that was not nearly as accessible or even imaginable to our parents. Think of it this way — you’re here, in real time. You take a break from real time to scroll through Instagram. You see something upsetting and you are no longer in real time, but in a time that has backtracked. Suddenly you are lost in a different space, one that makes you feel like you’ve regressed more than you’ve progressed. Before you know it, you’ve lost minutes, maybe, if whatever you saw was triggering enough, you lose your whole day.

And here’s another problem: the only thing that makes it better is proving to everyone else that time wasn’t actually spent obsessing over what they posted.

So you, in turn, post a story to show that you’re out, having a good time. Or post a photo to show you got a new outfit, met a new friend. And this makes us feel better only momentarily as we feel validated in our willfulness to “move on” and “have fun,” but doesn’t acknowledge the root of the very unique sadness that comes from looking at photos or content that is painful to our hearts.

We need more love, not “likes.” This different time zone that exists within social media is not a satisfying alternative to real time, and often takes time away from actually thinking or feeling and gives to posting and showing.

The overwhelming sadness and loss that accompanies a broken heart is something as old as humans themselves. Evidenced from Homer to Tolstoy to every pair of eyes sunk in a phone, heartbreak is an inexplicable feeling that continues to be both profound and unbearable. It is an inevitable aspect of what it means to love someone who is only part of your story, not all of it.

So, what did our parents do?

Not this. They felt the same things, but they experienced sadness in real time and didn’t split it with this virtual time zone. There is something powerful in embracing a certain kind of melancholy head on, with full force, rather than numb it with temporary fixes.

Your ex unfollowed you? That doesn’t mean they will forget you.

They posted a picture with their new significant other? That doesn’t mean you were nothing.

With so many different mediums to check in on those who have left our lives, it can be difficult to keep our heads clear of self-doubt and false valuing of every relationship. It goes without saying that this new layer of heartbreak is somewhat unavoidable as our social lives continue to be even more intertwined with technology. I’m the first to say that I have fully appreciated and engaged in the ways social media has allowed me to share, connect, and reflect. I recognize both the beneficial and harmful assets of living in two time zones, but what I mostly realized is the importance of putting my real time and my real self first — not my Instagram self. I have vowed to listen to my heart and what I need in every moment before being quick to show the world that I’m doing #great.

I vow to tend to my heart with care and consideration to what it needs before falling deeper into a time zone that not only doesn’t exist, but doesn’t love back.



First two photos by Maria del Carmen and the following two by Jairo Granados.