We all know how the story goes: boy meets girl, boy and girl date, boy and girl breakup, boy and girl go their separate ways, and boy and girl eventually move on with other people. In these tales, the boy and girl usually don’t hear from each other again unless they happen to run into each other down the road. Of course, there are exceptions. I grew up in a small town which meant seeing each other often following a breakup, but the standard etiquette is to keep to yourself. It’s a normal practice that allows healing and growth following a close relationship.
Welcome to the 21st century. Here’s the problem: I posted a few photos on Facebook recently and noticed one of the “likes” came from my ex-boyfriend. I haven’t seen him in a long time and our relationship ended over 3 years ago. Yet, there he was, liking photos of my current life. A life I share with my husband, residing nearly 400 kms away from him. There he was and there he’ll always be. He and I are on good terms so it wasn’t upsetting or unusual in any way but it got me thinking about a truth few of us have confronted: The typical breakup story is no longer the norm in today’s highly connected society. Skeletons don’t remain in the closet and ghosts don’t stay in the past. The ghosts of relationships past are the very same people following you on Twitter, liking your Facebook status, and scrolling through your Instagram posts.
In the digital age, there is no escaping and we don’t leave things behind.
So, what does this mean for our future relationships? It’s not like you can’t be friends or at least civil with an ex, but in many circumstances we are forced to cope with things we don’t really want to and shouldn’t have to. New partners get jealous, exes start to have regrets and interfere with your present, awkwardness ensues, and the “what-if” mindset reaches an all-time high. The simple truth is, we are forced to know things we don’t want to know. I think it’s a big part of why dating is so messy in this day and age. Every person you date becomes part of not only your history but your life from that point on. You will see them living their life without you. You will see their new partners and you will compare your life to theirs. You will know that anytime you click “Post” or “Share”, they’re seeing it all. You will always have one foot in the past.
Is this really the way dating culture should be?
I’m just not sure that having such accessibility and easy contact with a person you’re supposed to be moving on from makes much sense. At least, not in the beginning. I understand lots of people grow up and move forward. There are often no issues with forming wonderful friendships with exes from your youth. But when the wounds are still fresh, it certainly makes the healing process harder. How many people can honestly say that during the aftermath of a breakup, they never visited the profile of their ex? At the very least, you’re going to be subjected to updates from them that automatically appear on your homepage. I can’t imagine that seeing their every move while trying to let them go is a helpful thing. It just feels like it’s a lot of unnecessary extra pain.
Along with this challenge comes that culture we’ve built of “winning” breakups. It’s existed before the digital age, but it’s so much more rampant now. Who seems to be having more fun after the breakup? Who begins a new relationship first? Who’s conveying the proper emotions and behaviours at the proper times? This overly attached system allows us to drag things on way longer than we should and fuels more gossiping and judging than any person needs in their life.
We can all say we don’t carry baggage from the past. We can all work towards cultivating healthy, happy relationships. But the fact is we are living in an age that breeds baggage. Our exes are automatically granted access into our futures and we are dragged kicking and screaming into theirs. Behind that computer screen lies every decision you’ve ever made and they can haunt you for the rest of your life, if you allow it. I’m not saying we should be blocking every person from our past. There’s no reason to totally cut anyone or anything off because your history is what brought you to where you are today. However, I think it’s time to accept the very real possibility that breaking up isn’t what it used to be. You can delete every photo, every post, every mention of their name but they will always exist.
At some point we need to all decide for ourselves who will be part of our tomorrows and to what degree. Your past only has as much power over your future as you allow it to.