During the work day, there are a few internet-based guilty pleasures I indulge in: taking Buzzfeed quizzes, bidding on crop tops on eBay and low-key stalking my boyfriend's social media pages. I look at everything from recently added friends to previous Tweets I may have missed and Instagram likes — the works.
Mostly, I stalk my boyfriend throughout the day to cure my boredom — but it also causes my imagination to run wild. If he gets a single like from a Tumblr-famous comedic artist with a fondness for succulents and crystal grids, I'll immediately start creating fantasies in my head where he's planning to leave me for her. Is it healthy? No. Is it boring? Never.
I'm not alone in this behavior. One of my best friends knows her ex-fiancé's new girlfriend's social calendar better than her own as a result of constantly stalking her. Recently, however, when she told me this, we both agreed to put an end to our nasty stalking habits. For an entire month, we said no to any social media check-ups of any exes, current lovers, or current lovers' exes — and the results were game-changing.
I'm keeping up the social media cleanse – and here's why you should, too.
1) You're not fooling anyone.
It's easy to believe that a simple "clear search history" or a high-scoring password will keep your browsing activity between you and your god. Don't kid yourself, though: Your partner probably already knows what you're doing to begin with.
"Of course your partner will find out if you're doing this kind of stalking," clinical psychologist and relationship expert Barbara Greenberg, Ph.D., said in a phone interview. Think of it this way: If your partner mentions a woman she went to college with, and you accidentally respond: "Oh! Jane with the weed tattoo on her ass? She just moved to Brooklyn, right?," she'll figure out what's up.
You may think you're hiding it well, but if you obsess over your partner's online activity, you're likely to start seeming paranoid and asking them ridiculous questions, leading them to figure out what's up. If you let yourself get worked up over, say, him liking an ex's cat photo, they're going to catch on to your crazy — especially if the like was just a reflexive reaction to seeing a cat while scrolling through Instagram during a long poop.
2) Suspicion is not sexy.
If you're anything like me, you just don't have the acting chops to hide your surreptitiously obtained knowledge that the red plaid shirt he always wears was actually a gift from an ex-boyfriend, as discovered from a 2007 Facebook post.
When you ask your partner why they love that shirt so much, it won't exactly put them in the mood for a romantic night of lovemaking. It'll just make you seem, well, a little bit insane.
"Insecurity and jealousy are never associated with anything appealing or attractive. That's not how you want to present yourself to your partner," Greenberg said. While hints of jealousy can be a cute way to signify your interest in someone, like perfume, too much is just a disaster.
3) Trust matters.
Sometimes, people do learn their partners are cheating on them by tracking their social media presence. In college, when things got a little weird in my relationship, I suspected that my boyfriend was stepping out on me with a blonde exchange student he'd just friended on Facebook — and I turned out to be right.
In retrospect, there were signs all over the place that my college relationship was off the tracks, like the fact that he showed no sexual interest in me after a while and never answered his phone at night. However, it's worth asking yourself why you're so suspicious of your partner in the first place. Are you obsessively refreshing his Instagram feed because your gut is screaming that there's trouble in paradise? Or are you just a little bored and using social media stalking as one might use a Harry Potter Sorting Hat quiz?
Consider the importance of building trust in a relationship. When you stalk, "you give your partner the impression that you don't trust him or her," Greenberg said. "Now who wants to be with somebody who is suspicious and doesn't trust you?"
4) Exes are exes for a reason.
When our parents heard stories about their partner's high-school sweethearts, they were just that: stories. Millennials have the disadvantage of being able to flip through Facebook and find old photos, cute statuses, or the many mutual friends their partner's exes still share. These are electronic fossils of past relationships — and they should stay buried.
If your partner broke up with his ex, they probably weren't right for each other to begin with, meaning there's nothing to worry about. "People have exes for a reason," Greenberg said.
The reality is that our partner's past relationships are ancient history, and they should stay that way. Otherwise, "you can convince yourself that the historic feelings are present feelings," Greenberg warned. "Maybe they did have a good moment there, five years ago. Those feelings could be long gone, yet you convince yourself the fire is still burning when it's actually not."
5) You're creating problems that don't exist.
Just as looking at photos of someone's ex can bring ancient history into the present, obsessively stalking your partner and searing for missteps probably won't uncover any problems. It can, however, create its own.
"If you're looking at somebody's Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat, and you start to get suspicious, you will create a problem," Greenberg said. "The problem you create may eventually lead to the demise of the relationship, because you may start inventing fantasy stories. Then you can end up being mad at your partner and your partner doesn't know why."
I honestly have no idea who my partner has followed, friended or favorited in the past month and counting — and our relationship has never been better. By forcing myself to give up on embedding myself in my partner's online habits, I've had more time to enthrall myself with our relationship. Because the only one spending so much time thinking about the beautiful, raven-haired woman he works with who keeps liking his photos, it turns out, was me.
Being present and trusting in a relationship is extremely challenging. It's much easier (and more satisfying in the short-term) to embed oneself in their partner's social media interactions in an attempt to validate any little suspicion. However, as Greenberg points out, "I don't think you need to have much of a social media relationship with your partner other than private exchanges between the two of you. You're supposed to really focus on being present in the relationship."