Closing in on a billion users, Facebook is the world’s most popular social network. And it’s no wonder — with virtually everyone having an account on the service, it’s easy to find all your friends there.
But people don’t use the service just to keep track of what their friends are doing. That would be too obvious and simple.
Instead, many Facebook folks use the service to keep track of what their romantic partners are up to. And not just current romantic partners either — ex-partners are ripe for spying too.
A psychological researcher wondered, though — is it healthy to keep spying on your exes like this? Let’s find out.
Up to half of Facebook users use it to spy on ex-partners.
But we’re not just doing this with our friends. Most Facebook users use the service to keep tabs on their current romantic partner. And nearly anywhere from a third to half of Facebook users admit to using it to also spy on their former partners.3
If it was unhealthy for you and your ex to be together in the first place, how psychologically and emotionally healthy is it to keep spying on them after your relationship has ended?
In the past, such spying and keeping tabs with what your ex was up to was challenging. You could try and pry information from his or her friends, telephone, or drop by their place, but it was usually unlikely you’d turn up a whole lot of useful information.
This made it easy for people to distance themselves from the relationship and move on. Emotionally, this is what psychologists would consider a healthy breakup.
Enter Facebook. As long as you remain ‘friends’ with your ex, they are now able to keep tabs on everything you’re doing, day in and day out. It’s like the two of you never broke up. While satisfying a certain curiosity factor, it seems likely that it would make it far more difficult to actually emotionally distance yourself from your past relationship.
Research on Facebook and Exes
In a survey of 464 participants, most of whom were undergraduate students, Marshall4 found support for her hypothesis.
Namely, that people who remain Facebook friends with an ex-partner will experience poorer breakup adjustment and personal growth relative to those who do not remain Facebook friends:
[These findings suggest] continued online exposure to an ex-romantic partner may inhibit post-breakup recovery and growth, even after accounting for the contribution of offline exposure and well-established personality and relational predictors.
Notably, frequent monitoring of an ex-partner’s Facebook page and list of friends, even when one was not a Facebook friend of the ex-partner, was associated with greater current distress over the breakup, negative feelings, sexual desire, longing for the ex-partner, and lower personal growth.
The survey administered included questions about self-esteem, relationship quality, characteristics of their former relationship and breakup, and the amount and type of contact they’ve had with their ex-partner. The researcher also questioned how much distress participants experienced over their breakup, as well as personal growth.
The researcher was careful to note that due to the correlative design of her research, it couldn’t actually say that the use of Facebook to spy on an ex was causing this distress. “[It] is just as plausible that people who were hung up on an ex-partner were more likely to seek them out in person and engage in greater Facebook surveillance, which in turn sustained the pining for the former partner.”
The take-home message?
[K]eeping tabs on an ex-partner through Facebook is associated with poorer emotional recovery and personal growth following a breakup. Therefore, avoiding exposure to an ex-partner, both offline and online, may be the best remedy for healing a broken heart.
In other words, while the temptation is great and the technology makes it easier to do that making toast, you should avoid your ex online. It will likely only prolong your negative feelings connected to the breakup, and result in your spinning your wheels in a sort of emotional purgatory.5
Breakups happen for a reason — to help us find a person we’re more compatible with and can share our lives with. Hanging on to what you used to have through spying on your ex via Facebook just delays your life’s journey in finding a more suitable partner.
Read the full article (subscription required): Facebook Surveillance of Former Romantic Partners: Associations with PostBreakup Recovery and Personal Growth
- Joinson AN. (2008) ‘Looking at’, ‘looking up’ or ‘keeping up with’ people? Motives and uses of Facebook. In Proceedings of the 26th Annual SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (Florence, Italy, April 5–10, 2008), CHI’08. New York: ACM, pp. 1027–1036. [↩]
- Researchers technically call this “surveillance.” [↩]
- Chaulk K, Jones T. Online obsessive relational intrusion: further concerns about Facebook. Journal of Family Violence 2011; 26:245–254 [↩]
- Tara C. Marshall. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. -Not available-, ahead of print. doi:10.1089/cyber.2012.0125. [↩]
- Each time you do it, too, you’re likely unconsciously getting reinforced for the spying. So if you say to yourself, “Ah, I’ll just see what he’s up to just this once…” it’s unlikely to be “just this once.” [↩]