Why We Seriously Need to Stop "Winning the Breakup"
In the time that's passed since your last breakup, have you:
A. Posted a photo of yourself looking happier — and hotter — than ever on Instagram?
B. Publicly humblebragged about your latest professional accomplishment via Facebook?
C. Generally projected the image of a carefree, envy-inducing life on social media with the hope that your ex would see it and feel even more dead inside than you do?
If you answered "yes" to the above questions, then congratulations: You've "won" your breakup. You've also gotten sucked into a vortex that combines our worst social media habits and our worst feelings about breakups into one painful, counterproductive tornado — from which no one emerges victorious.
The seductive filter of competition: While the petty nature of jealousy between exes may not be a particularly modern concept (we bet Jane Austen would have something to say about winning breakups), life-comparison software programs, also known as "social media apps," have obviously taken it to new levels.
"[With my ex,] all of his friends always like all my Instagrams and I secretly love that," Sarah*, 24, told Mic of winning one breakup. "It's usually photos of me looking cute or me doing something cool. Although I don't know whether to interpret that as they find me attractive or they like me as a person, either way, the validation is weirdly gratifying."
"Facebook is psychological theater," Robert Simmermon, a psychologist focusing on mass media, previously told Mic. "In a way, it's similar to reality TV, that it's not really reality and we know it. The pictures can be reality, certainly, but they're very carefully edited and chosen before they're put up."
Instagram, where the filters are stronger and the curation more hardcore, is even more psychological. "For a truly gladiatorial battle of the selfies, Instagram is the only rightful Colosseum," writes Slate's Jessica Winter.
"To feel like, 'I guess I won that' — it gives you an ego boost," Melanie*, 27, told Mic in regards to Facebook scans that reveal an ex has gained weight or been demoted at work. "Unless you're just the vigilant, near God-like person who unfriends their exes."
Focusing on the real competitor — yourself: That would be the healthy decision, but plenty of us keep the low-key stalking alive, despite one very clear fact: There's no way to win a breakup on social media.
"The only real winners are the people who don't care how they look on social media, to their ex or to anyone," James Hamblin wrote in a piece for the Atlantic in December. And pretty much everyone cares how they look on social media.
When Carrie*, 30, posted a Facebook status quipping about being tired of dating a man (her ex) who was always depressed, the post got a ton of likes — but it also got about 30 comments making fun of her. It didn't feel like she "won" anything.
What really constitutes "winning the breakup" is something we can't trust social media to show us authentically: being happy and content with yourself. Ironically, obsessing over "winning the breakup" on social media can leave us emotionally drained, without any room to actually take care of ourselves.
A healthier approach is to push forward and focus on transitioning from one life phase to another. Relationship expert Taylor Swift summed up this point nicely in the June issue of Elle when she mused that moving on from a breakup takes time. "You live your life and create new habits..." she said, "then all of a sudden one day you're in London and you realize you've been in the same place as your ex for two weeks and you're fine. And you hope he's fine."
Which brings us back to Melanie. When she told her recent ex that she felt like the loser in their breakup, he told her, "I don't want to win, because I don't want you to lose."
*Names have been changed to allow subject to speak freely on private matters.