Say you go out with a dude. It’s great or okay. You hook up. That’s great or okay. You never talk again. Eight-hundred miles and seven years later, they’re gone forever, right? Or so we thought till last summer, when Instagram Stories debuted. That’s when ghosts were granted the opportunity to orbit — or, rather, past romantic or sexual interests could keep apparent tabs on you without active interaction.
This August marks two years since rolling out the real-time, 24-hour-life-cycle glimpse into various accounts’ lives. Simply tap the eyeball icon to reveal the lingering ghosts of relationships past! As it turns out, we’re more likely to notice exes who have “seen” our Stories, thanks to Instagram’s totally opaque algorithm. A rep from Instagram says, “The list of people who view your story is ordered based on a number of signals — including people who recently viewed your story, accounts you interact with the most on Instagram, and more.”
Do they not know we can see them, or do they just not care? Are we all just bound to creep, because we can, long after the flame went out? I talked to 13 women about their experiences being orbited by people from their romantic and sexual pasts.
Sunni: For a year, my ex — who had a private account I wasn’t following — was at the top of [my Story queue]. He spent a year watching my every move. It was freaky because he broke up with me and I really did not like that he was keeping tabs on me, especially as the person who did the dumping.
Melissa: Mine are more of Snapchat Creeping Toms, but there are a few of note. Once was this guy I was on/off with for a whopping 13 years. I FINALLY, for-real told him off a little over a year ago. He used to watch every Story and like Instagrams. Now he still watches my Stories regularly but doesn’t like anything.
Another guy I dated long-distance approximately five years ago, who started dating his friend while we were still dating, watches most all of my Stories, still likes shit, and sometimes comments. Why?!
There are a handful of guys that I went on, like, one Bumble or Hinge date with, that follow me on Snapchat and watch my Stories but I don’t follow them.
I don’t know. Feels very common lately. I often wonder if they just watch everyone’s Stories? Or mine specifically? I try to avoid watching an ex’s Stories, or don’t follow them at all.
Tiffany: It’s so funny you asked about this because I’ve been thinking about how IG just knows when you start dating someone new by always surfacing them on your likes/Story views at the tippy-top. It’s insulting!
I do definitely notice when a former boyfriend/hookup watches my Stories, but I no longer think it means anything. Maybe it does — I want it to! In my dream world, they’re all enthralled with my boring life and kicking themselves with every slide for not making it work with me.
Abby: Pretty much every guy I’ve ever had a thing with watches all of my Stories. I recognize that that’s the whole thing with social media to begin with — having an audience — but somehow it gives me a weird feeling like I’m on a stage when these long-ago flames are so watchful of my content. The only time it’s ever really bothered me, was several months ago when a guy who extraordinarily broke my heart three years ago — we did not end on good terms, and I severed all ties — started religiously watching my Insta, the one thing I hadn’t blocked him from. Anticlimactic: I blocked him so my mind would no longer be haunted.
Ashleigh: I have a guy I dated for about one and a half months. During that time we had, like, three breakups — mostly because he couldn’t handle “my lifestyle” but always hit me up wanting back in. During the breakup periods then, and ever since we finally called it quits, he’s unfollowed me … so I’m no longer in his IG Story feed [but] he still watches all of my Stories.
Miranda: So I met this girl at a bar, and we exchanged numbers. We ended up getting drinks the next weekend and everything went really well. I stayed the night with her, and I was actually really into her.
We hung out later that week, then I went to a party at her place. I got there and she said one thing to me about my shirt. She didn’t talk to me the rest of the time. I was there for 30 minutes. I left and tried texting her after, and she really wasn’t responsive. So I unfollowed her on everything, but she didn’t. I noticed she kept looking at all my Insta Stories and I was really confused, so I told my friend about it. My friend was like, “Oh, just wait, she’s gonna reach back out.”
But she never did. And then she would like my statuses on Facebook. I ran into her pretty recently and I was like, “We should catch up.” And she didn’t respond, but she kept looking at all my Stories still.
And then she liked one of my photos, and I was like, “Okay, this is ridiculous.” So, I reached back out again, and I was like, “Hey! Why don’t we catch up? You keep looking at all my stuff.” And she once again didn’t respond. She has since stopped looking at everything. It’s like she got caught.
Sara: I got orbited by a guy who is now in my improv troupe — though we are chill now. We had a one-week, annoyingly intense fling, then poof! But I kept noticing him watching all my shit. Weeks. He drove me nuts. I was like, “Um, obviously you are on your phone so WHY CAN’T YOU JUST TALK TO ME?” So frustrating.
Carolyn: I think usually, in terms of orbiting, it’s been — for me — a guy who gets seriously involved with a different girl but doesn’t totally want to rule me out. The summer before I left for college, this happened. One day, we were hooking up and the next day, I’m ghosted — but he’s looking at me on ALL my socials. Two weeks later, he openly has a girlfriend. But he keeps looking at my socials for years. Like, through two girlfriends — with a month break in between.
About eight months ago, he actually got in contact with me when I was back home where he still lives and started heavily flirting with me. I knew he had a girlfriend so I was pretty cordial and just friendly. I get home, there’s a little talking then. A few weeks later, I send him and probably ten other people a Snapchat in which I’m wearing a sports bra and pants. I get a “Don’t you know I have a girlfriend?! This is totally inappropriate” message, and suddenly I’m blocked on all his socials. I’m guessing his girlfriend had seen him lurking and finally got fed up.
Elana: My former best friend who almost kissed me at summer camp when I was 14 while he was “hooking up” with my friend, and who was verbally abusive to me later on — with comments like, “You don’t have the type of body a guy would even want” — and now watches almost all of my Instagram Stories. It’s weird. I haven’t spoken to him since maybe 2012.
Also a guy I went on two dates with a year ago who I told we were better off as friends watches all my Instagram Stories. Stop them!!
Andrea: I Tinder-matched with an IRL acquaintance several times, and each time I would ask him out for a drink. Each time he never responded. To this day, he has never asked me on a date but HAS watched every one of my Instagram Stories.
Staci: Maybe unrelated but girls from [my live-in boyfriend]’s past or that currently seem like fangirls [of his band] always watch my Stories. It’s weird as fuck.
Katie: Does it count if my husband’s ex-girlfriend stalks my Insta Stories even though I rejected her Facebook friend request? I’ve never even met her. She lives in another state.
Marissa: I don’t know if this will be useful but I think it’s interesting. I actually mostly have women that do this to me — either women who have burned me in the past or women in my field I know actively talk shit about me. What’s crazy is that they usually don’t follow me, they just watch my Stories religiously. On the one hand, it’s upsetting to me, because I don’t want to see their names at the top of my list all the time when I know the horrible things they say about me. On the other hand, I take it as some sort of success — “love your haters,” etc. But it also just makes me feel sad for them. How jealous or unhappy do you have to be with your own life to obsessively watch someone you supposedly hate? Like, go do something that makes you happy! It’s so weird.