Do You Check Your Ex’s Instagram? How to Get Over a Lover with No Social Media Presence

Love and Sex

Do You Check Your Ex’s Instagram? How to Get Over a Lover with No Social Media Presence

Illustration: Nayonika Ghosh


There’s not much we can agree on in an age where it is fashionable to have an opinion.

(Except, of course, the really obvious stuff. Like Priyanka Chopra needs to take a social media break.) But we can certainly agree that break-ups are the worst. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the dump-ee or the dumped. Heartbreaks are the emotional equivalent of a 100 wrecking balls doused with acid oscillating wildly between the brain and the tummy. 

As is probably evident by now, I don’t subscribe to the conscious uncoupling school of nonsense. I believe in committing to the ferocity of my feelings. Break-ups are dementors and I am the viciously hunted Sirius Black. And the thing about break-ups is that they get suckier with age. Especially with social media thrown into the godless mix, with all the people you’ve seriously, casually, and not-quite-dated dated lurking in weird corners of the internet, armed with enough intimate knowledge of your twisted mind to say something that can make your stomach drop. That an ex should have so much power to manipulate your feelings and colonise your thoughts is really wicked. But at least there is some solace in knowing that you too have the power to make their heart burn with fabricated, but well-timed evidence of you living your completely made-up “best life”. Do it too soon after the split, and you’re the tactless wannabe. Wait too long, and you’ve already lost the moving on race. There’s a very small window for when it is acceptable to show up for the first time on an ex’s social media feed after a break-up. 

Sounds exhausting? It is. But let me tell you what’s infinitely worse. Having an ex who has no social media footprint. None. Nada. Zilch. That’s a different kind of hell, and it’s much, much worse, as I’ve recently had the misfortune of finding out. Let me explain. When we started dating three years ago, his complete and utter lack of FOMO was one of the things I most found attractive about him. He was — is — one of those rare people who grabbed a fork instead of a phone when his food arrived at a restaurant, and felt absolutely no need to wax eloquently about his wanderlusting ways on Instagram. When he had something nice to say to me, he actually said it, instead of putting up a cringeworthy post online. I thought I had died and gone to dating heaven. It was what being in an adult relationship felt like, and I highly recommended it at the time.

When he had something nice to say to me, he actually said it, instead of putting up a cringeworthy post online.

I am careful to include the “at the time” clause because all of this came back to sting me in my ample posterior in the immediate aftermath of our decision to go our separate ways. If you think watching your ex gingerly dip their feet into the dating pool with witty comments on posts or enthusiastic liking of photos shared by that conniving witch from his office (who you totally knew had a thing for him even while you were together), you’ll find that it’s a picnic compared to the deafening sound of radio silence. Because in the absence of social media evidence of their awfulness and lack of respect for your relationship, your brain starts conjuring up tales no reality can outdo. Ask me, I know.

For the first six weeks, I tortured myself with thoughts of all the people he’d have time to meet and interact with since unlike me, he wasn’t wasting all of his online. Was he out drinking while I sat at home in my holey pajamas tugging at my unwashed hair, hyperventilating over the notion? Maybe he was finally taking that trip to Greece or Istanbul, the one I was always too busy/broke to take. What if he was on Tinder and hooking up with exotic-looking women from all over the world? What if he’s fallen in love with one of them, and he proposed and she said yes, and they’re eloping at the exact moment I was being badgered by Sharma Aunty to make a matrimonial profile? It is possible that in a fit of anxiety, I purchased a paid subscription to the app just so I could swipe in all the places I imagined him to be vacationing in. It is also possible that I started obsessively tracking his “last seen at” on WhatsApp to deduce when he was awake or sleeping, extrapolating which part of the world he might be in based on my knowledge of his sleeping patterns and the schedule he kept. I can neither confirm, nor deny such a mortifying display of weakness. In my defence, at least I managed to check the urge to open up his LinkedIn profile and staring at it so I could feel, if only fleetingly, that we still existed in the same universe.

Honestly, I blame him. Why couldn’t he, like most millennials post cryptic gibberish online? Why did he have to be so sensible about heartbreak? Why did his grieving process — if the heartless humanoid even had one — have to be so private and dignified; while I lived in mortal fear of accidentally friending his friends or colleagues as I silently prowled through their social media profiles in a desperate attempt to glean some intel on him and his whereabouts? There was none to be found, in case you were wondering. Not even so much as an accidental photobomb at a company party. Was he human, even? Maybe I’d been dating a ghost.  

But somewhere between the seventh and eighth week, I turned another, unexpected corner. You might be surprised to learn this — I certainly was — but it is the nature of human beings to eventually tire of checking someone’s last online time. There is only so much time you can spend doing it before the pitifulness of the situation hits you. When did (unsuccessfully) trying to stalk your ex online become your life’s principal occupation? You were raised better than this, you tell yourself. A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle, and even though this bike ride was particularly joyful, you’ll survive without it, you tell yourself. You do, FYI.

When did (unsuccessfully) trying to stalk your ex online become your life’s principal occupation?

When you have an ex who doesn’t leave behind a digital footprint, you realise that you’re going to have to find closure the old-fashioned way — by throwing yourself into work, family, friendships, and other meaningful projects. You also realise that it’s possible to feel the whole gamut of emotions that follow the death of a relationship — turmoil, sadness, disappointment, anger — without necessarily needing the easy hooks provided by social media. But most importantly, you realise that you’re simply going to have to wait for that first electrifying shock of reconnection. It could happen in a week, a month, or a year… There’s no way of knowing. It could happen as you walk toward your favourite coffee shop in the city you share, or your eyes could clash while dancing in a club in a corner of the world you never expected to see a familiar face in, and there will be no screen to protect you when that happens. But you know what you can do? Cross the street. Or ask them to join you for old times’ sake. Either way, there’s no way to plot or plan that moment. It’s almost worth the heartache that goes into its making. Almost.