Real-life relationships on the internet

A couple walking together on a snowy day

I followed a girl and boy on Instagram about a year ago because I enjoyed seeing photos about their relationship as a couple.

The boy was a photographer in his spare time and posted a lot of his professional photography as well as more personal photos. Both he and his girlfriend posted photos of their relationship and they both had no shame for the fact that they loved to go out and eat. The girl didn’t post photos often.

The boy wrote many words of love for the girl in the captions for his photos. It was obvious that he really cared about her and loved her. She was supportive of him and his work, even though it sometimes required them to be apart for several months. They spent a lot of time together when he returned home from some time away, and she was the first person he saw.

Although I don’t have my eyes on my Instagram feed all the time, recently I saw that the boy posted a photo of him hugging another girl with the caption, ‘Missing you’. The girl tagged in the photo was not the girl I knew to be his girlfriend, and she had appeared in his Instagram story being referred to as ‘babe’.

I already knew, from his Instagram feed, that the boy had a few girlfriends in the past and the history was there if anyone were to look back. The last photo of him and the girl, though, was a couple of months ago.

When I revisited that last photo and revisited the girl’s Instagram feed, I noticed that there was not a trace of the boy.

She had deleted everything I remember seeing of her and her boyfriend.

It was as if they never had a relationship.

If you’re in need of relationship counseling, may be able to help.

What happened to x and y?

I sat on my curiosity for a moment, wondering what became of them.

This is not the first time this has happened.

In all honesty, this is not the first time I’ve seen a change in someone’s life and wondered about it. The life of someone whom I don’t know, or someone whom I only know – on the internet, as it were. And I ask myself the question why. It always seems as if it’s the girl in the relationship, or just one person in the relationship, who deletes every trace of the relationship, setting in stone that really – it’s over.

And yet, this takes me back to me. Why do I hold this curiosity?

I’m wondering, why would you delete these photos? Did you break up? Yeah, I mean, of course you did, but why would you want to get rid of everything that reminds you of someone?

Relationships can be happy, and they can also be really hard. Relationships are wont to either ending, or being together forever. One or the other.

If you think of relationships as that harsh reality, then you can understand.

I understand now.

What happened to me?

Breakups hurt. They are emotional and we need time to get over the pain. I understand that even though I might look back on a relationship positively once I have gotten over it, I feel uncomfortable having photos of me and my ex partners on social media profiles. Social media often represents us and who we are, and if there is a change, sometimes these photos stop reflecting who we are.

Sometimes we don’t want people to see what we consider private, and we feel like we are sharing our entire lives with the world. I was with one of my exes for almost seven years.

As I think about this, I realise that I did exactly the same thing.

If you trawl back through my blog you will find blog posts about myself and my ex partners, unedited. My blog is such a big part of my life that I feel like I am lying and erasing pieces of my life if I remove those posts I’ve written. I wrote a vague blog post when things ended. I hated to write it and kept it under wraps for a long time, because for so long, I’ve shared my life with the world and I felt like I owed it to people who read my blog.

I knew, just like me, they would be wondering.

Even when I moved on, they would be wondering.

On Instagram, I deleted a few photos. I wanted to move them further into the past without just hiding its existence altogether. So I left a few photos from old relationships that I still liked. Perhaps they were better moments than others, and reflected a time when things were better.

But I see why.

I see why now. I see why people delete photos because it gives them closure. On a regularly updated blog, my old posts become tucked away into the old stories and into the archives that people hardly – if ever – read. On Instagram, the visuals are more vibrant representations of life moments. I didn’t want painful reminders and I wanted to move on.

Answering the unasked questions

I got engaged almost four months ago. An old friend of mine – who had met me when I was with my previous partner – asked me the awkward question of what had happened between me and my previous partner.

I’ve well moved on, on my way to marrying someone else, and my friend, albeit one I was not close to, was asking about my previous relationship.

Whether or not people have the guts (or the nerve – if they’re someone who you wouldn’t even consider a friend) to ask you what happened with your previous relationship, know this: people will be curious.

I answered honestly. When my friends asked, I answered them honestly. I chose to leave a vague post on my blog, and I chose to continue with my life without mentioning what happened.

There is something I have learned, from being at both ends.

If you choose to have a trace of your relationships on the internet, some people will be curious as to what happened if things ever end.

It’s up to you if you answer them.

It’s up to you how you answer them.

Whether that’s coming right out and saying it; answering people if they ask what happened; posting a photo about your sad mood; posting a photo when you’ve moved on; writing about a new love later on; flat-out ignoring the questions.

There is no shame in choosing to remove traces of your ex that you’ve put on the internet. Likewise, there is nothing wrong with you having chosen to put so much online in the first place. There is nothing wrong with coming out with an emotional post about the breakup, and you are allowed to walk away and not address the breakup because it doesn’t have to be anyone’s business.

If you’ve observed a couple online, there’s nothing wrong with that – it’s only human to wonder what happened to them.

I’ll never know what really happened to that boy and girl, but I respect their wishes, and it looks like they’ve both moved on, and they seem happy now… and it’s really none of my business at all.

Comments on this post

This was an interesting post. I’ve only had two boyfriends; the first one, we had our relationship on Facebook. It was really only obvious through pictures and ‘checking in’ to places etc. When we broke up, I told close friends, and I made a post with song lyrics that summed up how I felt at the time. Many people read between the lines that we’d broken up. And if someone asked me I told them. I don’t think I deleted any photos of us, but I think I just simply made some profile pics or cover pics -private- instead, so nobody could see them but me.

My second relationship, was never on Facebook (his request). So nobody knew about it except close friends and family. We didn’t even have a photo together… And so when we broke up, nobody knew about it either haha! It was kind of good that way because there was no probing, no questioning. I grieved more ‘privately’ I suppose. I didn’t have to worry about deleting things.

I’ve recently been seeing a guy and it’s at the point where I’m thinking, “is this guy my boyfriend or not” lol. And we have each other on Facebook. We have even taken a few selfies together haha. He’s originally from Iran and I have a feeling he wouldn’t want our relationship on FB because of his family, but it’s something I’ll talk to him about. I will respect that if it’s the case. Maybe it’ll be nice to focus on each other instead of having our lives plastered on social media…

And yes, it goes back to what you said about the couple you followed on Instagram. You wondered what happened. I’m exactly the same too… I’m curious. I think it’s just part of human nature and our social construct. We want to know what’s happening in other peoples’ lives and that includes relationships. It’s probably why we are so obsessed with celebrity relationships, too. We image project our romances, which can make our followers feel envy, jealousy, happiness, wistfulness, joy, all kinds of things. I actually admire couples on my Facebook who seldom post about their relationship, or not at all. I think you strike a good balance on your blog.

I remember not reading your blog for a while, and when I came back to it there were posts about this Nick person and I thought… hang on, what happened to the other guy?! And I will admit I looked back through your archives to see if you’d posted about it haha…. I figured it was something that had happened privately and you didn’t really want to write about it, and that is absolutely fair enough :) I could see how happy you were in your new relationship and that was the most important thing anyway.

Sorry for the really long post! Geez haha.

I’m always curious about the lives of the people I follow online. A few months ago I shared a post about how I still think about those who just disappear from the internet without a trace. I think it’s just human nature to think and to care.

Reading this post reminded me of a couple who I used to follow online who broke up a few months back. She said nothing while he made the breakup very open and public. I think it all comes down to how people deal with the process of moving on. Some people will be able to hold back and not say anything, yet share subtle hints that something has happened. Others will need to get it out in the open in order for them to move on.

Fortunately I’ve never been in this situation so honestly I’m not sure how I would handle it.

I’m the sort of person who really wants to know what happened in a person’s life when something in their social media profile changes drastically. For example, I stalked my ex’s girlfriend for the longest time and I know she did the same for me because she accidentally liked my Instagram post, but when I opened the notification it had disappeared. It’s like you said “it’s only human to wonder what happened to them.”

It probably wasn’t healthy for me to stalk, but I still did it. After I deleted all the pictures of my ex and I though is when I felt much better. My ex was the second relationship I had ever posted about online, but he’s the only one I’ve actively gone about deleting things of him. Even my first boyfriend there are still some pictures on Facebook of us together. It was so long ago, though, so I don’t really mind – no one is looking that far back at my posts.

Relationships are hard enough as it is without social media getting involved. I feel like in my next relationship I don’t want to post any of it online – I want to keep it sacred. Also, I’m a superstitious person so I feel like I’ll be jinxing it. Maybe I’m just being paranoid, ha!

I’ve had this same experience as well. There was a really popular couple that I knew of for a long time (and their relationship sky-rocketed them into internet fame), but one day I was curious about whether or not they were still together and it was as if the relationship never existed. I think videos still circulate online (they were big on YouTube), but other than that…nothing.

For me, ending relationships means deleting mentions of them on social media. Instagram is big in that sense because it’s far too easy to post snapshots of life that no longer represent you later on. I think if it gives you closure then it’s okay. Sometimes you just need that.

I’ve been with the same person for a year now and they don’t really end up on social media. Part of that is because I’m not too sure how comfortable they are with being on my Instagram, Twitter, blog, etc., but part of it is because if this ends…I don’t want those inevitable questions. And you’re right — relationships either end or begin again in marriage (or some other form of long-term commitment). It’s a weird epiphany to have sometimes.

This reminds me of people on Facebook who choose to make their relationship public on Facebook VS the people who don’t. The former have to deal with the unfortunate circumstance of what will happen if they break up, while the latter we won’t always know if they are broken up. I have had several awkward encounters this year with people who I didn’t know had broken up with their partners :O and initially I was very apologetic for mentioning it until they reassured me it’s okay, while it got easier for me to notice their expressions later on and be there for them. <3 I agree it's definitely important for the person involved in the relationship to choose how they want to address the question.

I got a little taste of it this year – when I found out that a guy saw me as some kind of girlfriend (he refused to speak to me again when I told him I am not) I went through the process of removing traces of him from my life. We didn't have any photos together except for my university graduation, and I haven't had the courage yet to look at them and remove the ones that have him in it. :O I was more keen to remove our messages and texts altogether so that I won't ever have to look at the emotional abuse I experienced. And when I opened up about this to my friends, they were really assuring and exactly who I needed to talk to. I guess the part I lucked out on is random people asking me what happened.

this post reminds me of an article i read somewhere. in the article, it states that relationships are built based on determination, decisions, trust and loyalty and not just the feelings of being in love. i agree with that article. maybe it’s just me being a logical person who try to view things from the logical, rational perspective because i think feelings / emotion can be such a hindrance sometimes. however, for me personally, we can all fall in love with anyone. we can have multiple crushes on different people at the same time (i’ve seen this happened to my friend so i can say that this is not impossible lol). crushes are easy, love is not. and love isn’t just “feeling the butterflies” – even though to be honest, for me, i never felt those tingling sensation, probably because we started out as really, really close friends and we helped each other a lot throughout college years (no strings attached, no status but we started out from being friends to really, really close where hugs and physical contacts were normal for us). reflecting back to how me and my current boyfriend end up together, there were no butterflies involved. i’m not saying i believe for what i have now to be forever – it’d be awesome if this last forever, right but if it’s not, well that’s because one of us has finally decided to say, “i give up. i can’t do this anymore.” in that same article it was explained that a relationship only works when two people seriously want to work it out. i’ve seen a lot of people my age experiencing breakups every now and then and i wonder if the girl or the boy actually thought about this the same i do. i’m not saying my view is the perfect one but being in a relationship is more than feeling the novelty and the rainbows and the sugar coated hugs. from what i’ve learned (and i still am learning), i sometimes get mad at my boyfriend for thinking stupidly but i reason things out, i tell him that if there’s any problem then the problem should be discussed instead of having a competition where we’d be shouting at each other. to me, breakups are easy. the hardest job is maintaining the relationship and having that determination so neither of us raise our white flag and say, “goddamn i give up on you. let’s just break up.” i think this is sad if it happens which is why i always, always try to work things out and i want my boyfriend to do the same – although being selfless is good sometimes, overdoing it will make the relationship feels one-sided. i’m all about co-existence and i want my partner to know about that. it’s like, hey put some effort the way i do unto you, you know?

one reason why i don’t go around posting pictures of me and my boyfriend on instagram is because for me, if things do not work out and we have to go separate ways, i have to go through the trouble of deleting the pictures of us together on internet and like you said, that will make people curious. more questions will be asked and as a person who likes her own personal space untouched by others, it will piss me to know why do i need to tell the world as to why i’m no longer with my partner. of course, my boyfriend and i discuss things in a civil manner and we always apologize at the end of the day if either of us is pissed (most of the time, it’s him apologizing because he never got mad at me, surprisingly).

honestly, i don’t know how to face breakups. i’ve never had any and there’s no intention for that.
i agree that anyone can post a status update or post a picture with their significant other online. you do you even though i personally dislike doing that. everyone has different ways of feeling happy is what i’d like to think. and nobody owes anyone an explanation too if something happens to them. the thing is, once you start publishing something from your life to the internet, online friends or even real life acquaintances and relatives will start treating your life like a hot potato on sale.

i’m not gonna lie, i do feel curious when i saw nick on your blog and instagram. i was like hm wait where’s james? (i hope you’re ok with me mentioning his name) but i can see that you’re happy now and i’m sure you managed to grow for the better :D i really wish i won’t have to experience the pain though but well, we all have to brace for the uncalled things right.

sorry for the super long rant, wow. i’m going off topic, ain’t i :))

I always thought it’s cute when couples post pictures of each other. There were times when I ask myself what happened to couples as well; only to find out they broke up. I guess it really depends on how they take the breakup. If it was a mutual thing where they both still love each other (in some aspect), then they might keep a picture or two. Nothing wrong with that :). Nothing wrong with erasing traces of an ex as well!

This reminded me of an ex-couple who used to post so many pictures of them together and one day, they stopped. The guy deleted all traces of them ever being together while the girl kept the pictures on Instagram. Meanwhile on Facebook, the guy kept posting statuses of how much he misses “her” while the girl slams the guy (all indirect posts). I’m still confused to this day, but it is what it is. At the end, it’s up to the person’s choice on whether they want to talk about it at all and that’s fine! :)

I think I would find it harder to delete the photos. To erase times that were part of my life. They happened, and trying to deny them seems… unnatural, I guess. Like trying to pretend all those hours and events and smiles weren’t real. I want to look back on them sometimes, even if the present is far removed and the people long gone. They still happened and I don’t know why I would want to pretend otherwise.

Hmm, I’ve never had relationships on the web but I respect those that do. It’s real as any other and besides, a good friend of mine ended up meeting and falling more in love with her web boyfriend. They ended up moving back to his home country of I believe it was Australia or New Zealand? I can’t remember which, but I do know that they are still very happy even now ^^

Um, what? Did you even read the post?

That’s a rhetorical question, because the answer is no: you read nothing past the title—not even the summary on the homepage. 😩😬😒

I totally get that curiosity! I get it all the time, especially when I follow people I don’t really know. I think you bring up at interesting point about closure. I think that people find closure in different ways. Like you said, some people do it by erasing traces of their exes but others just leave it up. I think it totally depends up to the person.

But like you mentioned, people cope with breakups in different ways and none of those ways are for us to judge or are wrong. I was walking on a street once and I was watching everyone walk past me and I had the realization of “Wow all these people have lives.” So weird and random but totally true!

I’ve never experienced a breakup (since I’ve never even had a boyfriend) but I enjoyed reading this because I agree – it’s only human to wonder.

I talked about my now-ex-boyfriend on my blog before 6birds, but I don’t quite remember what I said once we’d broken up. I think I mentioned him once or thrice, then just dropped that mess. When it comes to my romantic relationships, I’m kind of weird about them because I prefer them be kept quiet. I don’t flood my Facebook or other social media profiles with pictures of my significant other and I.

If I met someone and was serious with them, maybe I’d talk on my blog about them. I do wonder about other bloggers’ relationships sometimes, though; when you stopped blogging so much about James, I was like, “Wait, did I miss something?” and legit looked through your archives trying to find the breakup post—I searched your blog for “James”—the whole nine yards. 😳 It wasn’t my business, but it slightly made me feel like a bad friend because I didn’t know right off the bat what had happened. 😳

It baffles me, though, when people remove every trace of an ex’s existence. I guess I understand they want that person out of their lives, and also if/when the relationship ended with a huge fight, but even when couples mutually agree the relationship is doomed, the pictures start disappearing.

It makes me sad, because to me, photos and other momentos are some of the only things I have of a memory. Sometimes, the memory is gone—I can’t remember any details—,but I can look at a momento and know it was happy or sad.

I guess it’s just bittersweet. Really brings FOB’s “Thnks fr th Mmrs” to life (sans still sleeping together).

I do feel, even today, like keeping something from my blog sometimes. I dislike censoring myself when it’s forced, but when disclosing is solely at my discretion, and I choose to, I oftentimes feel guilty wanting that particular detail to just be mine. Sometimes, I want the detail to simmer a while until it comes to fruit later, or just to…be a secret I’ll never share.

Even though we’re not celebrities, all it takes is the right person to read and share a blog post for that post to blow up…and some other bloggers are like vultures, craving whatever potential drama may come of it—or people in my life who read my blog, who want to blow up one tiny thing and make me hate myself over it.

I’m reading this book about how story biologically affects us from the moment we’re born—which is why we’re naturally curious about others’ lives, even more so when we’ve been keeping up with their story. It puts the thoughts of this post in perspective, at least for me. It’s kinda cool to have actually found an opportunity to use it in real life. 😅

I can’t comment much on the relationship aspect, but I will ask what happen with close friends . . . but not always. It depends for me because it’s an awkward subject. Like one of my teachers who I became friends with was having marital issues, and I noticed some strange things going on. For example, the wife — also a teacher — always came to her husband’s room for lunch. I started joining with them and one year I noticed that she didn’t come up much. I asked once about it, and he just said she was busy. She started came back again, but then stopped once more. Eventually, they divorced because he was cheating on her with another woman. Uhm. Yeah. I heard about it because word spread, but I never came out to confirm with him because . . . it’s just a super awkward thing to ask a former teacher!

I definitely understand why some people want to remove all traces of their previous relationship if a break-up happens. Like you said, many people need that closure or they just don’t want to be reminded of their ex. I’d probably do the same myself, but maybe not. I still have my own blog entries from 2002 up here, and while those entries make me cringe and question my intelligence back then, I find myself unable to delete them because they are a part of who I am. And while I doubt anybody ever reads something that far back, I feel comfortable with myself to where I’ll keep those up.

But who knows. My mind may change in another few years. I may continue to keep those up, and I may not. Either or, those long gone days and entries are all apart of me, and they’re not the best part of me, but they’re still me, if that made any sense, haha!

A very well-written post, Georgie.
I have a lot of Facebook friends who love sharing their relationship pictures and posts. I do so myself too, but when I have fights with my boyfriend I often wonder what I would feel if we broke up about the exposure of relationship on social media. (I do hope that never happens)

I remember when you had mentioned Nick as your boyfriend in one of our chats, I had wondered who Nick is, cuz I knew you were with that other guy. But since it’s none of my business I didn’t like asking you about it.

I feel some people make a hype out of their break up by posting a lot about it on social media, which may not be necessary since you bring it into public attention. Yes, staying quiet about it will make people even more curious but it’s better, in my opinion than turning it into a public spectacle.

I have the same curiosity when something changes, and the person didn’t explain. I mean, they don’t have to explain, but it does make me wonder about what happened.

When I was dating my first two boyfriends, social media wasn’t big yet (oh man, that made me feel old), and I’ve lost all past blog posts before my current blog. It makes me wonder how much I would have shared back then, and what I would have done with those posts and photos after our break-ups.

I agree that it makes sense to want to delete the public history of the relationship though, even if it was a clean break-up. It feels kind of awkward to leave them around, especially if you’ve moved onto someone else. At the end, it’s up to what’s comfortable for each person :)

That was an interesting read. I do admit I follow a lot of average people on instagram who post pretty pictures, and when they post private aspects of their lives, I feel invested in them, almost as if I was consuming a show or something. When we post our stories online, we’re creating a curated version of our real lives. I’ve done the same with my last relationship, where I posted varying degrees of details, and when it fell apart I just stopped talking about it. I’m sure plenty of people who followed me wondered what happened, but no one asked.