Lovisa Tedestedt’s Facebook account is littered with ex-boyfriends.
Tedestedt has been married for 13 years, and her husband, Magnus, is aware of and accepting of her somewhat unconventional pool of friends, she said.
“If you are a jealous person, it wouldn’t work, but we’re not,” said Lovisa Tedestedt, a 45-year-old wedding designer who lives in Chicago. “There’s not going to be an ex-boyfriend who’s going to mess us up.”
Social media have changed the world of ex-relationships, and have made it very hard to make a clean break, to grieve and to move on.
“Not only is there the problem of you being friends on social media, but you will have many friends in common who will be posting about get-togethers with other friends and your ex; with the ex and the new love interest; and often, pictures are included,” said Toni Coleman, a psychotherapist, relationship coach and divorce mediator in McLean, Virginia. “A steady stream of news about the ex, what they are doing and who they are doing it with provides fresh reminders of the loss, and makes it hard to grieve.”
Add in your new love interest who may have a problem with you being friends with the ex (but may or may not voice that issue), and you’ve got a whole other new ex territory to explore.
This is an issue many people have, as it turns out that quite a few have exes hanging out on their social media.
A recent study from Western University found that 48 percent of people remain friends with their exes on Facebook, while 88 percent check out their ex-partner’s page to see what they are doing. Thirty-one percent post pictures to try to make their ex jealous.
Tedestedt said her choice to keep her exes on social media came from a place of platonic love.
“People are in your life for a reason, and you break up for different reasons,” she said. “I have a hard time removing people from my life who have also made an impact in my life, good or bad.”
Therapists have mixed ideas of whether you should continue being friends with an ex on social media, and much of it depends on your feelings about that ex.
Judy Rosenberg, a Beverly Hills-based clinical psychologist, has a simple rule: They’re your ex for a reason, and there are a lot of feelings there — so don’t do it.
“What’s the purpose? Are they your backup plan? Are you their backup plan? How will this make your spouse feel?” Rosenberg asked. “There’s always a little bit of a secret agenda: If my wife dies, I could contact them.”
Well, Rosenberg said, wait until your spouse dies, and then find your ex on social media, contact them, and if they’re available, then go for it.
It’s not always so sinister, but it’s a complicated issue, said Santiago Delboy, a Chicago-based psychotherapist.
Think first about your motives and intentions for keeping an ex on social media, Delboy said.
Do you genuinely care about your ex or is your intention to leave a door open to getting back together again? If you’re in denial about the end of your relationship, or if you are wallowing in self-pity, then you should delete them from social media, he said.
But regardless of your intentions, you most likely first need to grieve and process the loss of a relationship, and social media can make this process more difficult for a couple of reasons.
“First, we have much less control about whether someone stays in the past,” Delboy said. “Before social media, we could leave our exes in the past if we avoided certain people or places, did not answer the phone or moved out of town.”
But thanks to social media, your exes will pop up on your screen at any moment.
In addition, social media also provide an unobtrusive way to peek into their life, and this can make it more difficult to let go, especially during moments of longing.
“The ability to keep an ex-relationship in the past also depends on how we feel about ourselves and our lives today, whether we are in a new relationship or not,” Delboy said.
But even if you’re over your ex, and you’ve moved on to a new relationship, it still might not be healthy for you to ignore that delete button.
A 2017 study from Kansas State University found that being friends with an ex on social media can have repercussions on your new relationship.
The study looked at 7,000 couples who use social media, and found that those who were more accepting of boundary crossing — or communicating with someone whom they found physically attractive — had the most harmful current relationships.
While some accepted that their partner interacted with an ex, they weren’t happy about it, according to the study.
There are multiple reasons why a partner might have issues with you being friends with an ex, ranging from mistrust, jealousy or insecurity stemming from your current relationship or from their own past, Delboy said.
It’s something that comes up again and again for a lot of clients, said Kimberly Hershenson, a New York therapist.
“Some people have rules where they don’t mind if their partner is friends on social media with their exes, as long as they were friends before they dated,” Hershenson said.
But others have completely figured out how to be friends with their exes, even if they weren’t friends before the relationship — and everything is fine, Coleman said.
It all depends on these factors: how amicable the breakup was, if both people have successfully moved on and are now platonic friends; and if their friendship does not hinder either of them from moving on to a new relationship that’s a better fit for them.
“If there is a problem with any of these, a friendship could create mixed messages, an inability of one of the people to truly move on and accept that the relationship they had is over, and/or impact any new relationship of one of the exes,” McLean said.
It’s a tangled web we weave, but navigating this is key to a successful past and present relationship.