Maybe every day.
Maybe several times a day.
Or, maybe, you’re hoping their searching you.
If that’s you, you’re completely normal (even though some of your behaviors are super creepy).
Actually, it’s so normal that researchers study this stuff.
Yep, they study why we internet stalk our exes.
Why do we do it?
How do we do it?
Who does it specifically?
And, does it help us?
Or, does it prevent us from moving forward?
Of course, we can’t give you all the answers. For one, I’m not a social researcher. But for two, we need more studies to be sure of the data we do have.
And, when you think about it, Facebook is relatively new—it was created in 2004. So, while we have decades of research on relationships and breakups, we have a lot less on Facebook specifically.
Still, a growing body of actual, real-life, SCIENTIFIC data that suggests that Facebook creeping can damage the healing and moving on process.
Here’s what researchers have learned when they study this modern act of prolonging hurt.
So, what do we mean when we talk about “Facebook creeping?” Well, it’s pretty much any activity you do on Facebook to gain information about your ex. Researchers wanted to know more about how we creep on exes. They learned there’s 3 specific areas we watch out for:
If I were to guess who creeps more, the breakup-er or the breakup-ee, it would be the breakup-ee. That’s because I’d assume they’d be more broken hearted and sulking over their ex. But I’m actually wrong. And that’s true to my experience, too. Even though the breakup was my decision, I’ve been guilty of checking out his Facebook more than a few times (a day).
As it turns out, studies show that the person who initiated the breakup is more likely to act out “information-seeking” behaviors. So why would this be the case? One possible reason is that when we break up with someone, we may have more uncertainty. It could also be that the heartbroken just search less because they know it’s over and don’t desire any more knowledge.
Not surprisingly, according to one study, people who use Facebook as “electronic surveillance” more often are more likely to experience distress. In another study of over 450 people, Facebook “stalking” an ex was associated with greater current distress.
One thing to consider is do distressed people creep more? Or does creeping cause distress? Studies control for this factor—meaning that the former shouldn’t be true. It can be easy to see how constantly checking could cause distress too. One embarrassing example is me creeping an ex and then proceeding to creep several other girls on his profile. Whether they were actually dating or not, I won’t know—but I could write a 500-page novel with all the stories I made up for each. It goes without saying, but I’ll say it: Obsessively checking seems to lead to distress (and, in my case, a brief break with reality).
Checking on an ex was associated with more negative feelings in a 2014 study. If you’re wondering what exactly researchers mean by “negative,” it’s pretty much anything you’d think of. Researchers scored people for their:
Collectively, these feelings were higher when people used social media to see what their ex was up to.
Although some on this list seem obvious, this one was more choking to me. Stalking your ex makes you want sex with them more? In an ideal world, it would be the opposite (ex. “Thanks for showing your true stupidity, Jeff. This solidifies my decision to never sleep with you again.”).
But, for whatever reason, creeping is associated with sexual desire. Researchers measured this by lust, sexual arousal and desire. I don’t have any explanations, but maybe it’s all the sexy selfies our exes post??
Unsurprisingly, online activity surrounding your partner made missing them worse, according to a study. To measure whether these Facebook creepers were longing for their exes, researchers asked them a few questions, such as:
This is another finding that makes a lot of sense to me. If you completely delete someone from your life, you’ll probably have less opportunities to think about then. But when you’re seeking them out (even if just online), it creates more thoughts about them. Now, instead of just a curious harmless creep, your action has become a breeding ground for missing them.
So, staying friends with your ex will make your feelings worse, right? Actually, it may be the opposite. One study found that, in contrast, to popular opinion, those who stayed Facebook friends with their ex had a lower amount of negative feelings, sexual desire and longing. It’s possible that those who don’t click “unfriend” simply care less about their ex to do it in the first place. But, researchers say this doesn’t appear to be the case.=
They say another possibility is that when we don’t set out to see updates from our ex–but do anyway–it lessens our feelings. But, when these updates aren’t readily available, they could be “shrouded in an alluring mystique.” This may further give you reason to stalk and be compelled. Something to keep in mind though: Those that remained friends had lower personal growth. This means it could still affect the moving on process. But, many people who go through traumatic events don’t appear to grow right after it anyway.
The “secret” behavior many of us do is not so secret to researchers. Several studies have looked at how and why people creep their exes after a breakup. Although both the heartbreakers and heartbroken do it, there seems to be some harmful effects. For example, it could prolong longing for them, cause distress and prevent you from moving on. Although your knee-jerk reaction may be to unfriend and unblock, that may not help either.
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