If you’ve ever found yourself deep on your ex’s Instagram post-breakup, you know that the app can make it difficult to move on. Lurking on social media is a classic form of self-sabotage for the heartbroken, but I’ve found it especially challenging to navigate when I’m in a relationship.
Have you ever scrolled through your Discover feed and realized that Instagram’s algorithm has surfaced a photo of a mysterious girl for you because the person you’re dating liked it? I have. Multiple times, with one particular guy. Each time, my life would descend into chaos. I’d take screenshots, text my friends, call my mom and, of course, try to figure out who in the world that girl even was.
We were a few months into our relationship the first time it happened; he was working across the country at the time. After seeing his likes on booty pic after booty pic, I started wondering what in the world was going on 2,000 miles away. (And, more pressingly, was there something wrong with my butt?) When I finally worked up the nerve to mention it, I did so over text and received a really apologetic and understanding response. I thought the issue was settled.
Fast forward one year. We’re still together, I’m scrolling through Instagram and there it is again: a trail of likes on unfamiliar women’s photos. Seriously? I felt an all-too-familiar wave of nausea. I again resorted to sending him a text asking what was up with all the liking. The answer I got wasn’t as receptive as the last; he said something along the lines of, “Am I not allowed to think my friends look good?” That he actually knew them somehow irked me more. He eventually toned down the defensiveness and told me it didn’t mean anything, and that’s what I tried to focus on.
I’m not going to pretend it didn’t matter to me. With hindsight, it’s clear how much it did. I remember feeling completely crushed and unappreciated. Even today, I’m still unsure whether my reaction was warranted. I’m still not confident of whose perspective, mine or his, was more in need of adjusting. On one hand, I’m on Instagram mindlessly liking pictures all day. Maybe he was, too. On the other, his actions felt like a betrayal of trust the way my liking photos of shoes never would. I recall a friend comparing his liking to checking out a girl on the street — weren’t they both harmless? I understood her point; even in the thick of love, a living, breathing human can still notice a person is attractive. And yet, this felt more hurtful than an on-the-street glance.
All relationships are different, but when I found myself years-deep in a random woman’s Instagram at 4 a.m., I realized that mine was nothing if I didn’t trust my boyfriend. Eventually our relationship ended. I’d hesitate to cite the Instagram liking as an actual reason — there were a few things wrong — but I know now that, for me, it’s important to create boundaries for what I choose to take in and disclose. Instagram may be the framework through which we choose to see and share information, but how we interact with it is our prerogative. Nowadays, the only photos I click on in my Discover feed are those of well-dressed chihuahuas, and I don’t scroll through my followers’ activities.
On Instagram, we have the power to present ourselves in the way we want, whether that’s true to who we really are or not. My ex-boyfriend claimed his behavior was not flirtatious, yet he still felt compelled to double-tap — to send the tiniest beam of communication. Perhaps I was being naive, or perhaps there is a larger social narrative at play here, where men are so accustomed to evaluating women that they practically don’t even notice themselves doing it.
Have you experienced this? What do you think about it? I’m eager to hear more perspectives.
Photos by Louisiana Mei Gelpi.