When it comes to exes on Instagram, I’ve done it all.
I’ve followed one in fear that unfollowing would rock the boat. I’ve muted another for peace of mind.
I’ve unfollowed, I’ve re-followed, I’ve unfollowed again.
Each situation obviously varies greatly depending on how amicably the situation ends, but, no matter what, navigating around exes on Instagram can be rather precarious.
In fact, there’s quite a lot of politics that surrounds exes on Instagram. This makes sense, given that our relationships are now inextricably linked to our phones and social media. Many will comment that this is a sad reality, and in many respects it’s true, but that’s just how we’ve evolved, I guess.
In an ideal world, we’d all be able to follow our exes. I mean, if the situation ended amicably – if you can genuinely envisage a friendship, and if the thought of them dating someone new and posting them on their stories doesn’t catapult you into a downward spiral – by all means, follow. That’s obviously the ideal situation.
The issue with this is that break-ups are rarely that defined.
I guess I’m referring to people who have found themselves in a bit of a grey area with their ex. That turbulent limbo between lovers, fuck-buddies, friends or strangers. That uncomfortable zone, where the solution isn’t so clear cut.
What do you do then, when your judgement is clouded by a tangle of loose strings?
Scrolling anxiety is a thing
Scrolling anxiety is a term first coined by myself right now. It refers to the fear, when scrolling through your IG feed, that your ex will pop up at any moment – happy, smiling, thriving – and send you into a quivering mess.
That simmering anxiety is something that many of us have come to accept as the norm, when it shouldn’t be the case at all.
Listen to your gut. If you have scrolling anxiety – like, your stomach dropping upon seeing a picture of them smiling in Bali or an inevitable twinge of jealousy when watching their going out stories on a Saturday night – they need to be off your feed.
To mute or not to mute?
Temporarily muting your ex is great start. Muting can be useful if the break-up is fresh and you’re currently getting over your heartbreak, but only if you are certain that a beneficial friendship will develop in the future.
Muting someone long term brings up a whole new can of worms – like, if you plan on muting them for the long term without ever wanting to reconcile a friendship, ask yourself why you aren’t just unfollowing them – is there a fear of unfollowing them because you’re trying to preserve that person from feeling pain or rejection? Are you trying to show them how unbothered you are?
These are all common experiences. Take my friend, for example, who muted her ex instead of unfollowing him: “Honestly, I didn’t want him to think he bothered me… I was trying to rise above and not give him the satisfaction, you know?”
This is a wholly justifiable response, given that dating can often seem like a never-ending game of who can seem the least affected – the most chill.
So many people I know continue to follow their exes out of politeness despite the fact that it brings them great pain. But if you’re basing your moves around how they may feel, you’re not prioritising nor being truthful to how you feel.
If unfollowing them does make them feel a certain kind of way (be it anger, pain or satisfaction), so be it – that, too, shall pass. The truth is, it’s no longer your responsibility to care about how they feel. Self-care is now paramount.
It’s immature to unfollow?
I’m over the narrative that unfollowing your ex is immature, as if feeling morally-bound to follow someone, despite it affecting your anxiety or ability to get over them, is a sign of maturity.
Besides, if they didn’t respect you in the first place, why should they deserve a follow? If you see them out and both of you don’t speak or say hello, what’s the point? Sometimes it’s just best to cut them off – short term pain, long term gain.
New kid on the block
In other instances, when it’s too easy easy to type their handle in and give them a good ol’ stalk, unfollowing just isn’t enough.
“By doing this it just feeds into that awful cycle,” Shannon says, “because once you feel you’re over it, you stalk and then BOOM heartache.”
Vanna agrees: “I don’t trust myself. I’ll just peep it all the time if I haven’t blocked.”
The discovery setting, Vanna also notes, can be your worst enemy. “He’ll pop up there like no ones business. Instagram may as well be like, ‘REMEMBER THIS GUY? WE DO!’”
As long as you’re prioritising your happiness, any subsequent move (be it following, unfollowing, muting or blocking) is a mature one. Conversely, not taking control of your feelings – hanging around out of politeness even though it causes you pain – is the real immature option.
Check in with yourself and be honest. If you want to buy some time, mute them. If they’re toxic, and you recognise that they always will be, there’s literally no harm in chopping the the umbilical cord.
Simply thank u, next their ass. It’ll only take 2 seconds. Then take a deep breathe, walk outside, smell the flowers, throw your phone into a lake and realise that your sanity and peace of mind is more important than a profile on a screen.