Mind & Body

Why I Regret Deleting My Ex’s Pictures From Instagram

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For as long as I could remember, I’ve been devoted to hoarding relics from my past relationships. The myriads of letters I’ve written to boys and men — with no intention to mail, lest my therapist disown me as a patient for never taking her advice — is buried inside a drawer filled to the brim along with the makings of a happy couple. Everything from concert ticket stubs, golf-score sheets, birthday cards, photo booth snapshots, and most notably, an empty Godiva box gifted to me over Valentine’s Day — six years ago.

I’m not proud of keeping these skeletons from ex-boyfriends past sitting in my closet to remind me of why we didn’t last as a couple, but I can’t seem to get rid of them. And yet, even with these countless tangible memories flooding my childhood room, I had no qualms deleting every picture of my first love from social media when we broke up over five years ago.

We were 13 when we first met at a mutual friend’s house the year before high school began. My first memory of him was one that foreshadowed the dynamic of our imminent relationship. I remember him staring at the ground, shuffling his feet behind his friends, with a six-foot stature that distinguished him from the rest of the pack. He was shy and to himself; I was outspoken and easy to read. We ended up at the same high school and quickly became best friends. As most cliché high school stories tend to go, we fell in love and started dating each other at the end of our junior year. Then, like most cliché high school romances end, we broke up when we went off to college. Since then, we’ve been in and out of each other’s lives, our mutual friends and tight-knit hometown acting as our common thread.

But at 18, the world as I knew it turned on its axis. I had no idea who I was without him as the stable buoy anchoring my life. So after a month of singlehood, I started seeing someone almost ten years my senior who I met at a Friday night dinner party in Israel. He was getting his master’s at NYU and lived alone in an apartment on the Upper East Side. When I shared my poetry with him, he responded by saying I was wise beyond my years. I felt mature! I felt sophisticated! I was dating an intellectual who thought my writing had a place in this world. I, myself, was finding my place in this world without my ex, too.

And so, with little thought, I deleted every last picture I had of my first love and me off my Instagram. But now, a few revolutions around the sun later, I have come to regret my impulsive decision to wipe my social media clean of memories of something that used to be important to me.

At first, I deleted them because I thought it would give me the closure I needed to move on. But mainly, it was the thought of a new prospective suitor having complete access to my past relationship — including the pet names we used to call each other and the places we used to frequent — that sent me in a panic. I haven’t thought about that guy since we ended things in Washington Square Park all those years ago after only a mere month of dating. He’s married now living with his wife and their child halfway across the world. I’m still in and out of relationships, living in my hometown, trying to keep my plants alive. For someone who held little space in my life, I took away memories that are a big part of who I am today.

As I look back at my Instagram feed, I wish I could fill in the missing gaps I deleted post-haste. Those empty spaces where me and my high school boyfriend’s pictures used to be — like our senior prom or a celebratory dinner for getting my driver’s license — tell a very fragmented story now of my formative years. I’ve never deleted my old blog posts, even if I now disagree with some of my former sentiments, so why was this any different?

People delete pictures of their significant other when they go through an ugly breakup or they want to tell the world that they’re back on the market. That wasn’t the case for me. I deleted mine because I didn’t want any man who came into my life after the man I loved to be threatened by my past relationship or my naive teenage years.

Looking back now, that wasn’t fair to me or any of my future partners, because I’ve come to realize that a good partner won’t judge you or feel threatened by your past. They won’t think of maturity and naivety as mutually exclusive character traits. They will see you for your entirety: The high school girl in you that still makes an appearance now and again, and the woman that you are now.

If I could do it all over again, I would choose not to delete them the way I did when I was young and heartbroken. Whenever I become cynical about love, those memories are a testament for myself and for others that I was able to love and be loved.

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