Reeling from a recent breakup? Keep busy, hit the gym hard, surround yourself with friends, and don't track your ex on Facebook. New research shows that peeping at a former partner's social media posts, photos, and "friend" activities can prolong the pain, distress, and anger from a derailed relationship and keep you from moving on to happier times and hotter hookups.
Tara Marshall, a psychology researcher at Brunel University in the United Kingdom, surveyed 464 people with Facebook accounts who've broken up with at least one other Facebook user. She found that those who regularly checked an ex-lover's page – regardless of whether or not they were actually Facebook friends – had greater anguish over the fallout, more negative feelings about the ex, greater longing and sexual desire for him or her, and less personal growth. "People who purposely seek information about a former partner probably have not recovered from the breakup or moved on," Marshall says. "Therefore, the more information about the ex they are exposed to, the more their negative feelings about or desire for that person may be reinforced."
Marshall's findings suggest that this type of cyber-stalking may be even more detrimental than real-life physical or verbal communication, since it's voluntary versus, say, unavoidably running into an ex because you both work in the same office or have kids together. "Seeing [an ex] in these contexts might be painful but not purposely sought out, suggesting that lingering feelings for your ex aren't driving the contact," she says. "People who have to see their ex offline might also develop coping mechanisms, such as trying to be civil, which may help them recover from the breakup."
Surprisingly, Marshall determined that merely staying Facebook friends doesn't necessarily hinder healing and may even be helpful. She says being exposed to boring or annoying status updates or unappealing photos may make you less attracted to your former flame and remind you why you'd decided to end the relationship in the first place. Also, if you're going to stalk, you'll likely do it whether you're Facebook friends or not. "Defriending an ex-partner may not be the answer, because people tend to still look at an ex's page," Marshall says. "It's okay to stay friends as long as you aren't obsessing over their profile and postings, but if the temptation to look is too great, I'd recommend not only defriending the ex, but blocking them as well. Out of sight, out of mind."