I was cleaning out my apartment when I came across an old issue of Entertainment Weekly with Mindy Kaling leaning out of a car window on the cover. My fingers clenched the magazine as I quickly thought to myself: “Should I? Yeah, whatever. It’ll be funny.” So I took out my phone, opened up Snapchat and sent my ex a photo of the cover.
The Mindy Project had a lot of emotional significance for us. One night while we were still dating, we came back to my room and ordered some pizza on Seamless. When the food finally came, I turned on The Mindy Project and made him watch a few episodes. He enjoyed it so much that he started watching the show on his own. A few weeks later, we broke up.
After I sent the snap, I checked the app’s home screen a few hours later. The pink box was empty. He had opened it. I silently cheered.
Now you might be asking: “Why are you still Snapchat friends with one of your exes?” Well, we broke up on pretty amicable terms and I just didn’t see an urgent need to delete him. After all, do you automatically unfriend all your exes on Facebook? Yeah, thought so.
Snapchat lets us reconnect with people that aren’t in our lives anymore, even if it’s just for less than 10 seconds.
Snapchat lets us reconnect with people that aren’t in our lives anymore, even if it’s for less than 10 seconds.
Because the ephemeral nature of Snapchat lends itself to sending dick pics and other lascivious messages, the app is often viewed as a conduit for illicit relationships. Even if you’re not sending commando under-the-desk selfies at work, you don’t typically use Snapchat to communicate with your grandma, put it that way.
Research seems to support the idea that Snapchat is associated with infidelity. In a recent study about Snapchat from the Knowledge Media Research Center in Germany, researchers found that participants were more jealous when their partner interacted with exes and randos on Snapchat than they were when their partners were on Facebook. As the authors of the study noted, “people seem to be more distrustful if the partner chooses a more private channel for communicating with a potential rival.”
If you’re publicly posting photos of you and an ex on Facebook, it isn’t really such a big deal. It’s like you’re sending the message, “Look, I’m so comfortable with hanging out with my ex that I don’t care if other people see.” That’s much more reassuring to your partner than a self-destructing message to someone you were once boning. But the same could be said about texting.
There are some who believe that the best course of action is to avoid all forms of digital communication with an ex, be it via Snapchat or iMessage, when you’re trying to build a relationship with someone new. But Snapchat has given me the opportunity to communicate with exes in a way that’s less aggressive and permanent than iMessaging a photo or sharing a link on a timeline.
There are some people who use Snapchat to keep in touch with exes in a way that definitely skirts the boundaries of appropriateness. One of my colleagues, for instance, still keeps in touch with a guy she hooked up with in college on Snapchat. Once, he asked her to send nudes, even though he knew that she was in a relationship with someone else. Surprisingly, it took her a few minutes to decide to turn him down.
“I considered it precisely because Snapchat is ephemeral,” she told me. “It wasn’t like he could keep them and jerk off to them or anything.”
Of course, she’s wrong about that. While a snap is supposed to be temporary, we all know they can easily be screengrabbed or replayed by the recipient. That’s one reason why we set any potentially embarrassing images to one mere second, so the recipient has no time to get their fingers in ready position for capturing the image. Still, if you send an ex a boob pic, you do with the knowledge that they could very well be adding it to their spank bank.
For me, Snapchatting my exes isn’t about sending late-night nudes or eggplant-and-peach emojis. I sent my ex that Mindy Kaling snap because it reminded me of that night where we got our drunchies on and watched The Mindy Project. I messaged my ex on Snapchat for one reason, and one reason only: nostalgia.
But what happens if you reach out into the digital ether to tap someone on the shoulder, and they tap you right back? What happens if you send a snap and your ex actually texts you or calls you in return?
What happens if you reach out into the digital ether to tap someone on the shoulder, and they tap you right back?
The first time my ex texted me after I sent him a snap was a few months after I sent him a snap video with the Timbaland/Katy Perry banger “If We Ever Meet Again” playing in the background, a song that we frequently listened to when we were dating. He texted me and we exchanged a few garbled messages of missing each other before we agreed to meet up soon.
Six months later, I sent a mass snap of a video of my roommate at the time watching a One Direction music video. My ex was one of the recipients, because he knew her as well. This time, his response was short but warm, as was my text back. It’s the last time we’ve talked since the obligatory “happy birthday.”
When you Snapchat an ex, you take a gamble that the snap will strike such an emotional chord that it will lead to a follow-up conversation, big or small. Although I’d thought I was over my ex, when he messaged me back, I realized that might not have been the case.
It’s fitting that the Snapchat logo is a friendly-looking ghost, because snaps from an ex sort feel like what I’d expect a ghost passing through my body would feel like. It’s a warm shiver, because it is a smiling specter. But Snapchat also brings some phantoms that are more of a nuisance. There’s the ex of a current beau, who always finds time to watch your Snapchat story. (People do know you can check who has viewed those, right?). There’s the nosy ex who always checked your “best friends” when the feature was still available, right after you called things off.
It’s peculiar that Snapchat has proven to be both titillating and reminiscent, both carnal and intimate. We live in an age where social media is molding our interactions with people. And while our exes may be the ghosts that roam our love lives and we’re theirs, sometimes it feels less like they’re haunting us and more like they’re gently reminding us of our shared past.
I was out with friends at a restaurant once when we started randomly talking to a guy eating alone with his dog. He was working on one of those dating apps that uses data from social media. He talked about a time when his ex-girlfriend sent him a Snapchat of their old dog. Old memories of them together, his ex and the dog, came rushing back when he opened the pink box. And although the snap soon retreated back into the digital ether, the nostalgia still lingered.
Illustration by Fernando Alfonso III