After a Breakup, Does an Ex Get to Stay on Your Grid?

Picture this: Your relationship is over. Now what? You probably let your close friends and family know, as well as your therapist, who will shepherd your healing journey. You might even turn to Spotify, Shakespeare or the StairMaster to cope.

Eventually, you’ll delete or hide away (“archive,” to use Instagram’s preferred term) every trace of your ex on your Instagram and other social media profiles. Or you won’t, choosing instead to leave the photos and videos of your past lover on your page. What do you do with the footprints of your relationship on Instagram once it’s over? There’s no right or wrong move. It really depends on whom you ask.

Averee Conkle, a human resources worker in Denver, said that she had removed every single ex from her Instagram page, which she likes to keep filled mostly with images of people who still mean a lot to her, like friends and family.

“I think if it would have maybe ended differently or things like that, I would have a different thought process behind it,” said Ms. Conkle, 26, who added that she hadn’t dated many very nice guys. “But from the boyfriends that I have had, I don’t think they deserve a spot on there.”

“Now, maybe the healed version of me wouldn’t care as much,” she added. “But the way things ended, I would just rather it’s out of sight, out of mind, and then I can just move on.”

The home of the “hard launch,” the Instagram grid has become the way many people announce their major life updates: a new relationship, an engagement, a marriage. And with the introduction of other features like Instagram Stories, which allows users to post photos and videos that disappear after 24 hours, the weight of the grid has become that much heavier.

While many might be worried that leaving an ex on one’s grid could signal to a potential suitor that there’s some processing still to be done, Ms. Conkle said that if she were to date a guy who still had his ex on his page, it wouldn’t really bother her.

“I think that maybe shows that they ended on a good note,” she said. “I think I’d maybe bring it up on a date. I don’t think I would ever make it about the post, but I would definitely like to know how their last relationship ended.”

In relationships, a grid post of a new girlfriend or boyfriend can be a declaration to the world that you are claiming this person in a serious way. If a relationship ends, it is common for some to quietly remove photos of their former partner, perhaps to signal to followers and new suitors that they are single, or because the heartbreak made it too painful or embarrassing to face the posts. Or they leave the posts up because those moments were a part of their life’s history and therefore should be remembered.

To save face, some people have a third approach: not posting the person they are dating at all until the couple are engaged.

Ashley C. Ford, an author and editor, started her Instagram page around 2011. Her husband, whom she has been with on and off for more than a decade, appears early on her profile, and even during periods when they weren’t involved. She’s in favor of leaving the posts up after breaking up.

“Even though we haven’t been together that entire time, there are other people who appear in photos who I was involved with when he and I were not together,” she said. “It’s this record of people who I’ve known, people I’ve loved, experiences I’ve had.”

Ms. Ford, who wrote the memoir “Somebody’s Daughter,” said that she understood why some people rush to remove evidence of their past relationships from public view, or why others say they won’t post a significant other until they’re engaged or on their honeymoon. But she doesn’t think it should be done out of shame.

“The embarrassment that you put in effort and it didn’t work out is so wild to me because that is literally the function of life,” she said. “You are going to try a lot of things, you are going to do a lot of things that are not going to work out. And 90 percent of the time, the reasons why it didn’t work out are completely out of your control.”

Indeed, you can’t control if someone lies to you, cheats on you or falls short on promises. Regardless of what stage you and the other person are in, whether you’re just beginning to date or in an exclusive relationship, “a ring won’t save you from that disappointment,” Ms. Ford said.

“I don’t want women to feel like the fact that you chose to love; that you were vulnerable; that you opened yourself up to someone and that you allowed them the opportunity to show up for you with as much love and with as much care and with as much commitment, and they failed?” she said. “That should never be your shame.”

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