Should you stay friends with your ex on Facebook?

We all do it. Whether you’re fighting to stop yourself from keeping tabs on your ex’s status updates immediately post-breakup, or if you just like to check in with your old college boyfriend every now and then, we all stalk our exes on Facebook from time to time.

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Some would have you believe that this dirty little secret we all share is hazardous to your health. They even back it up with science! And science knows everything, right?

No, it doesn’t.

Your Tango cites a study of more than 400 Facebook users saying that people who were friends with their exes on Facebook showed poorer personal development.

The Daily Dot found that study, which is open-access on PubMed. We found that it had a much more nuanced message.

“Contrary to expectations, people who remained Facebook friends with an ex-partner were lower in negative feelings, sexual desire, and longing for the former partner than people who were not Facebook friends,” the author of the study wrote.

Okay, so that would suggest that staying Facebook friends helps you get over your ex, right? Seeing your exes’ mundane status updates every day might help you break the habit of romanticizing the past. It also might help you realize that your ex is a normal human, not some Adonis sex god with perfect recall of your favorite pizza toppings in descending order of deliciousness.

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The study also pointed out its own, huge, major, super-duper important limitation:

“The most notable limitation of this study is that the correlational design did not allow conclusions to be drawn about causal direction. Although these results suggested that offline contact and Facebook surveillance lead to poorer postbreakup adjustment and lower personal growth, 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.”

In other words, the study’s authors cautioned against people drawing conclusions about what happens if you stay Facebook friends with an ex after a breakup. And that makes sense because in order to truly know about Facebook’s role in breakups, the study’s authors would have to artificially create a bunch of relationships between humans, control for all the various aspects that can affect a break-up outside of Facebook, and then have the couples break up and see what happens.

So if you’ve just gone through a bad breakup, unfortunately you just can’t know for sure whether or not friending your ex on Facebook is a good idea. But if it’s been ages since the breakup and you still check your ex’s Facebook page regularly, perhaps you should consider def-riending for the sake of your own sanity.

Photo via Jhaymesisviphotography/Flickr (CC BY 2.0) 

Cynthia McKelvey

Cynthia McKelvey

Cynthia McKelvey covered the health and science for the Daily Dot until 2017. She earned a graduate degree in science communication from the University of California Santa Cruz in 2014. Her work has appeared in Gizmodo, Scientific American Mind, and Mic.com.