When my ex and I broke up after a tumultuous relationship, I was seventeen and navigating my first weeks of college. Despite being continents apart and distracted from my new life, he was inescapable: photos plagued my phone, memories were strewn all over social media.
Images can be removed and messages can be deleted, yet his online presence haunted me as I was doing my utmost to move on.
It started with rather typical posts featuring depressing captions that someone would publish when they feel the hardship that comes with a break-up. However, things quickly escalated and I had no control over the impulsive sentimental narratives he was crafting to gain sympathy from others.
Scrolling, I felt helpless as a stained image of me was designed. I was painted as the evil ex in the eyes of anyone from his university who had never met me and was willing to believe his version of events.
The hardest part of it all was that these words were typed by someone I trusted, someone I thought would never intentionally try to hurt me. I suddenly didn’t know who the person I’d dated for the last year was. The way everything ensued after the break-up was beginning to taint the good memories I had of us.
While I don’t tend to spend a lot of time worrying about strangers’ opinions of me, this phenomenon forced me to experience firsthand the scary extent to which anyone can spread unverified facts through social media.
As he was blaming me for his panic attacks on his Instagram, he was also regularly sending me countless derogatory texts, saying he hoped that I’d “rot in hell”, and other harsh or death-related messages. While blocking was an option, that still didn’t stop his frenzied posts — posts that often got deleted as quickly as they were published.
I unfollowed him, but my friends still often notified me whenever something alluding to me was posted.
This lack of closure made me write dozens of letters I ultimately never sent him, many back-and-forths on whether the things he’d said about me were worth confronting. There was a petty part of my brain that fantasized about posting all the ‘receipts’ of the toxicity I went through with him — instead, I poured my emotions into my personal growth.
Then, suddenly, his online chronicles stopped.
He reached out to me, apologized, and we talked things through. After everything he put me through online, I wish I could say that I hated speaking to him, but I didn’t. I still felt affection for him even after it all. He made me understand that he was going through really hard times, and I understood that his posts served as (unhealthy) coping mechanisms. I even invested a couple of days helping him with his breakdowns. After the conversation, I thought we were on good terms. I thought the agitation would stop — that is, until I saw on my birthday, a few weeks later a post reading: “Happy birthday bitch hope it’s your last.”
This is when my brain finally understood how manipulative he was. Just like the way he put rose-colored glasses on me throughout our relationship, he was never going to stop caring about his pride and fabricating whatever story he wanted others to believe for his own sake.
However, there is an upside to all of this.
Seeing this side of him magnified reassured me of the path I was on in my own life. While I could not honestly say that I have completely forgiven him for his toxic behavior, I know that I am halfway there, and I still wish the best for him. The experience reminded me that the judgment of people who do not know me, doesn’t matter.
A tip to anyone who is currently in the middle of a break-up: as tempting as it may be, avoid publicizing your relationship or break-up online. Focus on your own mental wellbeing instead.