Turns Out It’s Pretty Good: Looking at My Ex’s Instagram

Photo-Illustration: The Cut; Photo: Getty Images

Why are we so skeptical of the things right in front of us? “Turns Out It’s Pretty Good” is a series that examines the path from resisting the well-known to wholeheartedly endorsing it.

Four years after my ex and I broke up, I knew nothing about his life. I had no clue where he was or what he was doing or even who he was anymore, and I was fine with that. Not long after we broke up, I’d decided I’d never look at his social media again.

Unfollowing him was a gut reaction, but not a choice I made without evidence. I’d witnessed plenty of friends wrestle with the aftermath of continuing to follow an ex on social media. In seeing their distress, I decided that continuing to be in an ex’s social-media orbit could only bring trouble. And not just Instagram, but Facebook and LinkedIn, even (perhaps especially) Venmo. The pasta and cocktail emoji next to an unfamiliar name? That’s a date right there, and it’s with someone who’s not you.

The first week after we broke up, the very thought of typing my ex’s name would make my heart pound. My body felt tight and uncomfortable as I peeked at his accounts. For reasons unknown, he deleted his Instagram — the one that housed evidence I ever existed in his life — and made a new account. A clean slate. He followed me immediately as if to say, “Hey, look at me, I’m totally fine!!” I hid behind my phone screen and stared at the “follow back” suggestion. No, thank you. And I knew merely avoiding his social media wasn’t going to cut it. With my girlfriends cheering me on, I unfollowed all his friends and family on Instagram: “That’s a healthy boundary!” and “Good for you, girl.” I felt like I was really onto something.

In the four years after we broke up, my life, of course, continued. Lots happened: I moved from Vancouver to New York City. I paid my rent; I had sex with other people. I got over the heartbreak of losing my first love.

Then, 2020. Yes, I ordered a Nintendo Switch and, yes, watering my flowers on Animal Crossing did make my soul feel digitally soothed. All the extra time on my hands meant I was also scrolling for days on Instagram. My thumbs grew sore but I couldn’t stop — I needed to know what Seth Rogen’s latest vases looked like and what Cleo the Bunny was up to. I tried my best to distract myself. I dyed my hair pink and adopted an 11-year-old cat, but I knew where the tips of my fingers could take me, that with a simple search, I could easily find my ex-boyfriend online. And what else was there to do? Still, I was surprised that, even after four years, I still felt Petrified with a capital P at just the thought of looking at his Instagram.

It was in a session with my therapist, when she asked me about my first relationship, that I confessed I had no idea what my ex was up to because I had completely cut him out of my life four years ago. “Oh,” she said, looking alarmed. “You have to look before our session next week. You must.” She thought avoiding my ex completely was an extreme choice for what was once a healthy relationship and could be (definitely) adding to my general anxiety. So I mentally prepared myself for a nerve-racking three days and then I did the thing. I looked. And I’ll admit, I looked hard but not long.

He had a girlfriend. They had taken vacations together. They even had those captions that are just an inside joke between them. I laid against the cold porcelain of my bathtub and cried while the showerhead pummeled me with water. Later, I called my best friend and broke the news, “He has a girlfriend.” “I know,” she said gently, “but you told me not to tell you.”

What I hadn’t realized in all my avoidance was one very important thing: Avoidance is not processing. I had turned a sad thing into a big, bad scary monster. And it was this fear, this monster under the bed that held me captive, that stopped me from being able to completely move on. But I faced the dreadful unknown and accepted it. I even came out from under my covers and followed back our mutual friends that I had previously muted both digitally and mentally. Now, I go check his account every few months, just to see and normalize the experience. I actually feel very happy for him (it took me a while, but still). And I feel happy for myself too.

So go on, all those who are heartbroken, go look at their pictures. Maybe even like one! (Just one.)

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Turns Out It’s Pretty Good: Looking at My Ex’s Instagram