Social media has opened the door to instant updates on former S.O.s, ex-lovers, and the proverbial ones who got away.
It’s only natural that you might want to find out more about their current life and loves, and check in to see how life has treated them. But curiosity and accessibility may also inspire those of us who do not have professional detective skills to advanced levels of snooping, lurking, and occasionally obsessing over photos of an ex’s current life.
Reconnections with former sweethearts can be fun and may sometimes lead to a second chance at love. But there is a whole other cyber can of worms you might open each time you enter the name of a former flame into a search engine—especially if you or your ex are already spoken for.
Of course, the internet makes it so tempting to peek, but most experts agree you should think before you snoop. “The urge to cyber-stalk an ex can be unbearable,” says therapist Mary Beth Somich, MA, EdM. “You have to weigh in your mind whether or not the reward is worth the risk.”
We asked experts about the pros and cons of searching for an ex in social media. Here’s what you need to know about the rules of engagement:
1. IT’S NATURAL TO WANT TO SEE WHAT AN EX IS UP TO
In other words, you are not a crazy stalker. “From an evolutionary perspective, it is honestly pretty normal behavior to cyber-stalk an ex, especially if you are looking for information about his or her new potential partner,” says Somich.
“A woman’s natural instinct—talking cavewomen—is to look after her babies and partner and to fight anyone threatening that.”
Kids or not, some women tend to want all the information they can get and social media makes that easy, she says. “The good news is that once you’re actually over an ex, the urge to cyber-stalk significantly reduces.”
2. BUT YOU’VE GOT TO OWN UP TO YOUR MOTIVES.
There’s a vast difference between satisfying your natural curiosity about whatever happened to so-and-so and searching for the partner who was the best sex you ever had because you think the grass is greener on the other side of your committed relationship.
“Too often people are driven to reconnect when they are bored, lonely, or frustrated with life,” says cognitive therapist Paul DePompo, PsyD, ABPP, author of The Other Woman’s Affair.”If this is the case for you, it is not the right time, even though it may seem like the ‘best option.’”
DePompo and many experts suggest that you communicate directly with the person you are in relationship with—and spend time making changes, rather than trying to avoid problems by fantasizing about an old flame. “I have seen many affairs emerge due to online searches and reconnecting to past exes,” he says. “It often starts innocent and ends horribly.”
3. YOU MAY GET A SECOND CHANCE AT LOVE.
That said, sometimes the timing is right. There are many tales about former sweethearts finding each other years and decades later.
“It’s only been about ten to 15 years that we’ve been able to easily look for an ex-lover,” says Michael Arn, PsyD, an expert in relationship psychology, intimacy and communications. Reaching out is a great idea if both parties are open to it and free to pursue. “The ability to reconnect with an ex when the timing is right for both of you, has led to many former couples rekindling a relationship and making it last,” he says.
Jennifer Waller was curious to see how her high school “Prince Charming” was doing when she noticed his name pop up as a possible connection on .. “We were high school sweethearts in 1984 to 1985 and my parents adored him,” says Waller, who is the founder and CEO of Celtic Complexion Luxury Artisan Skincare.
“We broke up shortly after he graduated from high school and lost touch.” In 2010, they reconnected but timing was off because they were both in relationships. When things ended with other partners they found each other in 2013. “The entire whirlwind romance felt like something from a movie, and for this reason I’m indebted to Mark Zuckerberg,” she says. They finally reunited at an airport and ended up spending five days in the penthouse suite of a swanky hotel, talking and reminiscing about the time that had passed.
“By the end of those five days, we knew we wanted to be together,” she says. “On the way to the airport, we stopped at a jewelry store and he had me pick out a ring, and he proposed in my car.” They were married in 2014 and are now business partners, too.
4. EVEN IF YOU’RE SINGLE OR DIVORCED, YOU STILL NEED TO THINK BEFORE SEARCHING.
When you locate a past love and your heart goes pitter patter, it is easy to get excited. “If you are single, free, ready for a relationship and you feel you have learned from the past, then there is nothing wrong with reaching out to see if the flame can reignite now that you have grown,” says DePompo. But it is always gamble that can possibly trigger regret, he says. It’s important to keep the rose-colored glasses off so you can see clearly who this person is today.
5. YOU CAN BEGIN TO MAKE AMENDS.
For some people, finding a sense of completion or forgiveness for ways they may have hurt an ex is important. “Reaching out to say you are sorry is appropriate, if you are sorry, and if you don’t expect something in return,” say Dr. Gail Saltz, MD, psychiatrist and host of “The Power of Different” podcast.
“It can make a very big difference to the lasting impact of hurt, to apologize and if you are estranged, social media may be the only mechanism.” She says to lead with, “I am sorry for…” But be warned: Social media can allow two people to set things right, but it’s not the place to send a message saying you want to get back together or to have the entire apology conversation. “While you may start that way, if things get complex, a conversation is no doubt better,” says Dr. Saltz.
6. REALIZE THAT YOU MAY NOT BE SEEING THINGS REALISTICALLY.
Consider the possibility that the one who got away… got away for a reason. “If it didn’t work out the first time (or second, third or fourth), it probably won’t work out the fifth,” says relationship expert Allison Abrams, LCSW. She says we hang on to old loves that have long expired because our selective memory tends to kick in.
“Suddenly all of the ugly, negative parts of the relationship that made us leave in the first place, get suppressed, no longer exist, or are minimized,” she says. Our skewed memory of actual events leaves us with recall of only the positive aspects of the person and, she adds, “Oscar-worthy scenes in our heads of the good times.”
7. SEXUAL ATTRACTION CAN TRICK YOUR BRAIN INTO THINKING IT’S LOVE.
The allure of an ex can lead us to believe our former flames are better than our current loves, says Love Biologist Dawn Maslar, author of Men Chase, Women Choose: The Neuroscience of Meeting, Dating, Losing Your Mind, and Finding True Love.
“If they find the person and the attraction is still there, this can trigger the release of norepinephrine,” she says. “That’s what gives you feeling of attraction such as sweaty palms and rapid heartbeat.” Physical reactions and sexual desire can be mistaken for love. “This can be compounded especially if it’s a first love or very emotional love, because norepinephrine causes those [happy] memories to be more dominant in the brain.”
In real time, the good ole days—and your ex—may not have been as great as they seem now.
8. THE URGE TO CONNECT IS OFTEN JUST WISTFULNESS FOR THE PAST.
Just as we enjoy seeing movies that remind us of certain times of life, an ex can conjure memories of a more carefree, romantic, or sexy time. “People are often driven to reconnect by nostalgia,” points out marriage and family therapist Talia Wagner. Sometimes we wish we could go back and do it better.
“Time serves its part in our ability to reflect on old relationships and hindsight allows us to think about things that we could have said or done differently.” The desire to return to former loves especially heats up when our current lives do not materialize the way we would have liked, she says.
9. THERE’S A GREATER RISK OF HAVING AN EMOTIONAL AFFAIR.
Inappropriate bonds can form way before anyone takes their clothes off. “It is just too easy to reconnect and remember only the good feelings, the lust, the feeling [of being] appreciated without being reminded of the lousy times,” says Saltz. “This is why [reconnecting] leads to a seemingly intense emotional connection quickly—because of the romantic history, [there’s] an increased likelihood of flirtation and movement into a romantic attachment.” She and so many experts advise not looking up an ex if you are in a current relationship that you don’t want to ruin. “It’s just a slippery slope,” she says.
10. IMAGES OF A HAPPY EX CAN HAUNT YOU LIKE A GHOST.
Swimwear designer Jennifer Lowe wishes she’d never accidentally stumbled on her ex’s page. “You don’t want to make that first click because it’s a downward spiral and it’s not going to make you feel any better,” she says. “[Even if] his new girlfriend looks awful, is 50 pounds heavier, and is much older,” she points out, seeing it with your own eyes can lead to jealousy or wondering what would had been. “I’ve already mourned the loss once,” she says, which is why she looked away and never looked back. Arn adds, “It’s human nature to compare ourselves to other people and even to compare our current dating life with our ex’s.” But don’t linger in their world. “Make sure to be getting out there and to be living in the present moment with the people in your real life,” he says.
11. YOU MAY BE PRONE TO INAPPROPRIATE CYBER ETIQUETTE.
Don’t take the bait if it seems like an ex is posting things to make you feel bad on purpose. “At least do yourself a favor and resist the urge to comment, post, call, email, message, or express any jealousy or anger based on what you’ve seen,” says Somich. “If you are afraid you might react this way it means you are not ready. Your ex deserves privacy. If they are posting things just to provoke a jealous . from you then they are not for you.” Be the bigger person, she says, ignore it, and move on.
12. YOUR HEART CAN GET YOUR HEART BROKEN—AGAIN.
And it may take longer to heal. Jesse Fox and Robert S. Tokunaga researched breakup-. “interpersonal surveillance,” which they also referred to as “. stalking,” and shared their findings in the September 2015 edition of Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. “Analysis of the data provided by 464 participants revealed that . surveillance was associated with greater current distress over the breakup, more negative feelings, sexual desire, and longing for the ex-partner, and lower personal growth,” they wrote. Frequent monitoring of an ex partner’s . page and list of friends, even when one was not a . friend of the ex-partner, was common. And certain information “intensifies heartbreak, such as news that the former partner is involved in a new relationship,” they wrote. The research showed that people who constantly monitored their ex via . found it harder to move on.
If you are still in love with—or grieving over—an ex, the best approach if is to stay away from his/her social media pages, advises therapist Abrams. “Cutting off contact completely with the person you are trying to get over is the most effective, and quickest, way to move on,” she says. “Though communication through social media may not necessarily be interactive, it is still communication and will make the healing process that much harder. It may be time to de-friend the memory altogether.”
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