The Case for Facebook-Stalking Your Ex

Imagine getting a text informing you that your ex had just scooped a lottery jackpot. It's marginally less awful than receiving a message from your doctor saying, "Please come in to discuss test results!!! Urgent!!!" but definitely much worse than a succession of calls from withheld numbers demanding that you put in a claim for mis-sold PPI. Most of us would probably need a few deep breaths, a biscuit and some mild physio to allow us to fully unclench our jaws. But most of us are not Kirstine Hamilton.

Hamilton was on honeymoon in Mexico when she received a message from her mother informing her that her ex-partner, Neil Trotter, had just won £108m. According to the Daily Mail, she immediately sent him a congratulatory text, jokily saying: "That's just typical of you, Trotter." The pair are said to have remained on good terms since they split several years ago. I admit that no matter how fond I was of an ex, I'm not sure I could manage to remain entirely free of envy should they become £100m richer overnight through sheer luck.

The odds of encountering this scenario might be pretty small, but in 2014, it's almost impossible to avoid hearing about an ex's less extreme triumphs and disasters. Social media has given our relationships a more vivid afterlife and even though we might elect to delete the details of our old lovers, or avoid Twitter and Facebook altogether, we still run into our old relationship ghosts through well-meaning friends and family members, such as Hamilton's mother.

For some people, the afterlife of a relationship can become even more consuming and turbulent than the relationship itself. When I was a student and new to Facebook, I pored over the profiles of an ex-boyfriend and his new girlfriend daily, if not hourly. Obviously I was hoping for a status update that read: "Dave is newly single and miserable", and, perhaps as a punishment for my pre-emptive schadenfreude, I felt stung by every bit of good news, whether it was a high mark in an essay or photos capturing victory at the Ultimate Frisbee regional quarter finals.

However, having obsessively stalked exes on social media and having tried to avoid them completely, I would say that the former policy is marginally more sensible. With wedding season on its way, many friends report that their Facebook feeds are filled with engagement announcements or complaints about the rising cost of marquee hire. Those who have stayed Facebook friends with their former partners admit that although the news makes them feel a little uncomfortable, having watched their old flame's new relationship developing through a screen means that the news isn't shocking and the fact that they are moving on is a little easier to bear. I was talking to someone who had severed all ties with his first girlfriend, only to find out that she was getting married in six months after a chat with his mum's neighbour. "I guess that when I stopped speaking to her, a part of me stopped growing and maturing too. Even though I've been through relationships and break-ups since we went out, I've never been confronted with evidence that she's moved on, and I'm surprised to discover how uncomfortable it makes me. If we'd stayed in touch and I'd been aware of this new relationship gradually growing, I'd find the news of her engagement much easier to take."

In order to be relaxed about our exes' successes, be they personal or professional, it's tempting to appeal to fate to make sense of it all. Many of us, weeping after a break-up, will be comforted by elderly relatives who claim: "What's for you won't go by you." That ex was not for you even if, post-split, they find a stream of new partners, promotions, competitions and £20 notes on pavements that seem to be "for" them. I suspect if your ex finds good fortune after you are no longer together, it's probably a sign that you're better off apart.

George Herbert said, "Living well is the best revenge", but we can't see our exes living well, and take it personally. They're probably not trying to rub it in our faces, but life and technology dictate that their escapades will find their way to our eyes and ears as long as we're in an area with sufficient wifi signal. After being exposed to it for long enough, their happy news will stop hurting and start inspiring you. After all, if they are able to enjoy their new life, you can enjoy yours.

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