It’s not often that you hear people talk about the real-world impact of our online behaviours.
When they do, it’s those eyebrow-raising stories around sexting, porn and online gaming that seem to get all the glory – especially if they involved the secret lives of celebrities. But when it comes to the affairs of the heart, the stuff that really matters, the line goes quiet.
And it’s not for want of a good story.
If you’re old enough to remember romance in a pre-internet world, chances are you’ll be able to recall a few gloomy breakups and how you muddled your way through them. It’s easy to think we now have it easy by comparison – from playmates to marriage, if you’re on the rebound and you’re looking for a partner of any variety, you can access and browse through literally millions of profiles at the click of a button.
But we haven’t evolved at the same rate as our technology – we still form deep attachments to those we love, and we still find it just as hard to let go when relationships fall apart.
The question is, how can we help ourselves to move on?
Well, in a recent study, psychologist Dr. Tara Marshall from Brunel University set out to discover just that .
She polled over 450 Facebook users (of whom 84% were female) to investigate whether continued online contact with an ex-partner (by remaining friends or ‘engaging in surveillance’ of their page) made it harder to adjust and grow after a break-up (above and beyond offline contact). Here’s what she found.
Those who surveilled their ex-partners experienced:
- greater current distress over the breakup
- more negative feelings
- sexual desire
- longing for the ex-partner
- lower personal growth
On the other hand, those who remained Facebook friends with their ex-partners (versus those who didn’t) reported less negative feelings, sexual desire, and longing for the former partner, but they nonetheless experienced lower personal growth.
If you’re battling with post breakup blues, your best bet is to take the bull by the horns and ditch Facebook while you heal. Yes, it’s painfully tempting to reach out and make contact or surreptitiously keep tabs, but the short-term gains will almost certainly be out-weighted by the long-term costs.
The bottom line is this – if you want to give yourself a fighting chance of healing and moving on from a past relationship, there’s only one thing for it – and that’s to go cold-turkey.
 Tara C. Marshall (2012) Cyberpsychology: Behavior, and Social Networking. October 2012, 15(10): 521-526.