It’s over. So are all of the plans you two had for the future, and the peace you used to feel when you logged onto your laptop. In simpler days, before the love left, signing into your Instagram, Twitter or Facebook page meant a quick peek into your lover’s day, a photograph of the two of you dancing from the night before, or possibly him sharing an article or video with you. 

You’re not sure exactly how it happened, how your lives had become so desperately intertwined, online and off. But they did. And now it fills your fingers with anxiety when you go back to those familiar spaces online. After all, in the physical world you and your ex can avoid one another. You know the places he eats and where he kicks back. So you vow not to set foot in those places, and it’s settled. But what happens when you open your Instagram to a photo of him out in the world, smiling towards the flash of a mutual friend’s camera phone?

As outrageous as it may sound, it is much easier to leave an ex behind in the physical world. Detaching online, you’ll find, is far more insidious. There are traces of him everywhere, and all you really want to do is take your mind off the entire exhausting ordeal. 

According to New York Times reporter writer Laura Holson:

[W]hat it means to break up is also being redefined. Where once a spurned lover could use scissors (literally) to cut an ex out of the picture, digital images of the smiling couple in happier days abound on the Web and are difficult to delete. Status updates and tweets have a way of wending their way back to scorned exes, thanks to the interconnectedness of social media. And breakups, awkward and drawn-out in person, are even more so online as details are parsed by the curious, their faces pressed against the digital glass.

Regardless of the difficulty, it really must be done. And there are certainly things you should keep in mind as you move forward online after a breakup.

1. Take a break. Go offline for a few days after a breakup, even longer if being online triggers you. Take this time to spend with friends or shaking your tail feather, but be sure to do it. A period of separation is extremely beneficial after a breakup, providing some space to ensure that you won’t do or say things you’ll regret. When we’re hurting or angry, and we’ve created communities online, our feelings can’t help but pour over onto social media. But sharing too much about a breakup isn’t going to reflect well on you or your ex.

2. Don’t communicate in public forums. It’s heartbreaking to watch couples battle online. Regardless of the anger felt, no one wins by allowing people who shouldn’t be into your private affairs. If you and your ex end up mending things, you’re both going to wish you hadn’t given a bunch of strangers an in to your challenges as a couple. If things are never the same again, you’ll still look back at those exchanges and cringe. Just as it’s not easy to erase the memories of an ex from your virtual world, it’s also quite difficult to remove the hostile back and forth. It just isn’t worth it.

3. DELETE. There may come a time when you and your ex can be friends, and that time may come sooner than later. But until then, delete his photos, emails, and social media pages. Nostalgia can be a beautiful thing, reminding you of when the love between the two of you was fire. But sometimes we have difficulty dealing with reality when we get stuck in the past. Let that bag go, and him. Keeping up with his every move online isn’t going to help you move forward, and you must. You can reclaim your life before your (recent) past relationship, but you won’t if you’re checking who’s liking his Facebook posts every 30 minutes.

4. Consider whether connecting online so much may be detrimental. Now that you’ve lived through those moments you didn’t think you could live through, consider whether you want to share so much of your digital world with someone in the future. There’s nothing wrong with having healthy boundaries set concerning online interactions. It doesn’t mean that you’re hiding anything, just that you’ve grown wise.

Breaking up is hard; breaking up online is harder. But in the end we are alive, and if we watch how we move online, we can again find our joy.

Josie Pickens is an educator and scribe. Follow her musings on Twitter @jonubian.