Does Facebook prolong heartbreak?

Scientists are now convinced that the ready availability of images from the past and the present makes getting over a break-up more difficult. It also affects our ability to forgive.

Chris Matyszczyk
3 min read
Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

She left you for a Crocs-wearing busker from Bhutan, straight after you lost three fingers in a hang-gliding accident.

He left you for an administrative assistant from Wisconsin, three months after he asked you to marry him. A month later, he married the assistant in Madison. Wait, he met the assistant from Wisconsin the night he proposed to you?

How are you supposed to get over these things? In the world of Facebook, how are you ever supposed to forget them?

Scientists are now becoming increasingly concerned that it's possible you never will.

As the Daily Mail reports, Facebook makes it far too easy not only to stare at images of the past, but to cyberstalk images from the present.

Where once your mind could begin to forget, because it had fewer reminders from the past, now they're but a click and a heart palpitation away.

The Mail quotes Nigel Shadbolt, the chairman of the Open Data Institute and a leading British multidisciplinary scientist, as saying: "When bad, sad or indifferent things happened to us, over time you forgot. That is why time could be a great healer."

Now time can do little when Facebook makes it stand still. You don't merely hear that your ex is marrying a halfwit, you can see the pictures and his status updates: "Date night with Valerie Von Snodgrass at Wendy's!"

Shadbolt describes this as a "complete playback of people and episodes."

It's more than that, though. It's a constantly running soap opera, with contents that even the great Brazilian and Turkish soap opera producers of our time would blanche at.

There is a school of sensitive thought that social media profiles should be allowed to disappear after a certain time. Jonathan Zittrain, law professor at Harvard is a proponent of this.

As the Mail quoted him: "What I share with friends now I may wish only to share with family many years later -- or it could be the opposite."

Yes, it could be. But how will that help Facebook's advertising plans? The company doesn't need your complications. It needs to simply make more money.

There are even those academics who believe that Facebook prevents you from forgiving. If bad memories are being kept alive, how on earth are you supposed to let bygones be, well, gone?

It is left to us to retrain our brains. Somehow, we have to avoid looking at the profiles of exes. We have to stop stalking them on LinkedIn. (When I say "we," I mean "you," of course. My exes are all in nunneries.)

Should their picture suddenly appear on, say, Match.com, or its splendid little sister site, Tinder, we have to pretend not only that we don't recognize them, but that we don't find them remotely attractive.

There again, perhaps the fact that they still have a vast Facebook presence can help us forgive and forget. (The two are very much entwined.)

Perhaps the one useful purpose of Facebook is that it allows the hurt, the heartbroken and the forlorn to follow the lives of their exes and to hope that those lives disappear down a derelict path.

"It's five years now and she's STILL the office librarian?"

"It's three years and he's marrying someone twice his age?"

That's going to make you feel better, isn't it?