Swipe This! Should I delete pictures of my ex from Facebook and Instagram?

“Swipe This!” is an advice column about how to navigate human relationships and connections in an age when we depend so heavily on technology. Have a question? Email [email protected]

Dear Swipe This!

I’m thinking about scrubbing signs of a toxic ex from my social media. I don’t normally do this with exes but I’m inclined to do so here. 

It took me a long time to disconnect from my ex. He was a master manipulator and he hurt me repeatedly. Every time I tried to move on and heal, he roped me back in. And then, when I was back in his clutches, he’d go cold on me again! In fact, one time, towards the end of our relationship, he took down a featured photo of us that he had up on Facebook simply because he was annoyed with me over something minor!

I know a lot of people would have no hesitation in a situation like this, but when I went to erase him, I hesitated. I guess I’m thinking that my experiences, good or bad, have made me, so is there something misguided about scrubbing an ex out of my social media presence? If I erase him, am I hiding or erasing a part of myself?

I’m also wondering what energy I’m bringing in if I go through with it. I don’t think it’s morally wrong to erase but will I seem petty? I’m definitely not petty, but I am ready to move on! 

Should I scrub him? 

Sincerely,
Unsure about Scrubbing a Scrub

Dear Unsure about Scrubbing a Scrub,

Do you remember decorating the inside of your locker in high school? Maybe you put up some goofy photos of you and your friends. Or you taped up a magazine cutout of your favorite movie star. Or maybe—just maybe—you had a high school sweetheart who earned a special space on the inside of your locker.

Social media sometimes feels like a hologram of that high school locker. It’s deeply personal, yet it’s also very public. So when our lives rearrange, it’s normal to take a look inside that locker and feel the urge to do some redecorating.

You’re careful to point out that this ex was toxic, but I honestly think you’d be well within your rights if you deleted evidence of even the most adoring, kind, and considerate ex from your social media existence. I know this is not popular wisdom. As you point out, some people think it’s cruel or petty to erase an ex. But I see it this way: You wouldn’t feel guilty taking their photo down from your locker or your nightstand, so why must you keep a shrine to your ex on social media? Sure, keeping photos on Instagram and Facebook is a little more passive than lighting candles at an altar every night. But keeping images of someone you’ve let go of tucked away in a part of your life that is both intimate and public feels like something that could potentially hold you back.

When you’re going through a breakup, it doesn’t matter whether your partner was wonderful or awful. Your first obligation is to take care of you! If your ex was a monster, you shouldn’t be worried about how deleting will make them feel. And if your ex was a sweetheart, they might be a little hurt but ultimately, they should want you to do whatever helps you to move forward and heal. Either way, deleting your ex is, in my book, always fair game. It’s part of cleaning the wound.

That said, I can understand why deleting a toxic ex is giving you pause. Often, when we’ve dated someone manipulative or uncaring, we fall into patterns of being extra generous with others at the expense of being stingy with ourselves. 

Maybe you were generous with your ex when he crossed your boundaries. Perhaps you gave him the benefit of the doubt. Were there times when he hurt you and you forgave him quickly because you thought, “Well, he didn’t mean any harm”? Or, “That hurt, but nobody’s perfect”? Sometimes we train ourselves to be so understanding of others that we don’t realize we’ve shifted our high standards for behavior over to ourselves. But all that can change now. Think of all the ways you were overly generous with your ex. Can you redistribute some of that generosity to yourself? 

The way you frame your dilemma is so extremely mature that I wonder if hesitating to delete these images isn’t just holding yourself to an unrealistic standard of “grown up” post-breakup behavior. There is no place like social media for evaluating and judging ourselves unrealistically. But you won’t win a prize for being so “together” that you were able to maintain a gallery of your terrible ex on social media. 

Right now, you’ve got the opportunity to give to yourself freely. And if scrubbing your ex’s face from social media will make you feel a bit freer, a bit more loved by yourself, I say go for it. Give yourself the gift of never having to see him when you’re scrolling back to find a well-loved photo with your friends or a hot pic of yourself for that new dating app you just downloaded. Give yourself the gift of never having to squirm because you get a notification reminding you that three years ago today, a very lousy partner bought you a semi-decent bouquet. 

You say you’re worried that erasing him might be akin to erasing a part of you. But I think nothing could be further from the truth. This isn’t about erasing a part of yourself. It’s about reclaiming yourself. When you said goodbye to your ex, you made space in your life for you

So go for it. You have my full permission to delete every last trace of this dud. And please rest assured that long after you do, all the ways this experience has made you stronger will still very much be with you.

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Nayomi Reghay

Nayomi Reghay

Nayomi Reghay is a frequent contributor to the Daily Dot, covering body positivity, feminism, sex, relationships, and gender. She is also the author of the advice column “Swipe This!” A former New York Teaching Fellow, her writing has been featured in Reductress, Rolling Stone, Mic, Someecards, and more.