The term “stalking” has become commonplace among young professionals (YPs) in the social media era.
Most of us can admit to an in-depth creep sesh of exes, their exes, their new significant others (SO), crushes, and even our best friend when they’re M.I.A. I know I have. If you haven’t, you’re probably lying.
“I’m going to go home and social media stalk my ex” is something many of us have heard a girlfriend say (or said so ourselves). The crush creep is just as common. And we laugh about it as though it’s the most normal way to spend a Sunday afternoon post-brunch.
It’s so easy, after all.
With just a few clicks, we can find out whether they’re in town, how they spent their weekend, and who they may be dating now. If we’re “lucky” enough that that said person may have an open profile (score), it’s easy to get sucked into the rabbit hole as you find yourself knowing everything from their new SO’s favourite restaurant to the names of their siblings.
But where – or how – do you draw the line when it comes to such stalking in an era when it’s so simple? Sure, it may be human nature to click on your ex’s new SO or on your crush. But it can also become unhealthy at best, and psychologically damaging at worst. Stumbling upon something like a picture of the person you’re in love with happily on vacation with a new SO is enough to ruin a day and send someone with an insecure or depressed mind into a downward spiral.
Not to mention, persistent social media stalking can foster a developing obsession and even more serious forms of harassment in some people. Quietly creeping someone on social media is one thing; but when it’s moved offline, it becomes quite another. And there’s nothing funny about it.
Here’s the thing: Social media and so-called “psycho exes” (a term I am not personally comfortable with but that gets tossed around a lot) seem to go hand in hand. It offers all the material they need to inspire a barrage of emails and persistent phone calls (as in, 20 missed calls in 30 minutes).
I know in the distant past – before my emotional maturity finally decided to settle in – that I have been that girlfriend who called repeatedly during an argument with my boyfriend. Similarly, I’ve sat there with girlfriends and watched as their boyfriends blew up their phones. And no, it never makes the caller look especially great.
In fact, if you must have called a thousand times, that’s ground for stalking. The University of Oklahoma’s Gender + Equality Center recently included Adele’s “Hello” lyric in a series of posters displayed on campus for National Stalking Awareness Month. Though I’m a month late, I feel compelled right now to discuss the whole concept of stalking.
I have had guys show up at events where I am because they saw a post on Instagram. I’ve been called, texted and verbally assaulted repeatedly by an ex’s new girlfriend. Most recently, I witnessed a truly disturbing display of behaviour on the part of a female my boyfriend was casually involved with before he met me.
To call the recent experience dramatic would be a massive understatement. But I won’t elaborate; the details are extraneous.
To be brutally honest, my initial reaction was something along the lines of, “what a psychopath,” feelings of violence (that I would never act on, of course), an innate protectiveness of my relationship, and intense hatred for this fellow female.
But after a few (or more) deep breaths I realized that these thoughts were pretty damn hypocritical of me in light of my passion for mental health issues and awareness. The escalating and alarming behaviour of this grown woman was a sign of something much more than a scorned former lover. It was of a sick woman.
And for that reason, despite that immature, spiteful voice in my head that wants to hate her for disrupting a quiet evening in with my man and berating us both, I feel a sense of compassion for her situation.
She clearly isn’t well, and as such took her obsession and heartbreak way beyond an online search and social media creep. But she isn’t the first person in our city’s young professional circles to do so; just the other day I saw a hysterical girl banging furiously on what was presumably her SO or lover’s door.
Social media stalking is one thing, but it’s something quite different to write nasty comments on pictures, call repeatedly, or to show up uninvited at someone’s place of residence (or workplace, for that matter) and make a scene. No matter how upset you are. No matter what he or she did to you. No matter whether you just need to “say one last thing.”
These things are serious offences that could seriously mess up your life (nobody wants to be slapped with a restraining order). No amount of calling, emailing, or door buzzing is going to help your cause; there’s nothing cute or romantic about it. In fact, it’s scary.
As I realize, before we go bashing our “psycho ex” or our SO’s “psycho ex,” we need to recognize that their behaviour could be the product of a larger mental health issue. Even if it isn’t, the term is offensive to people who do indeed struggle with mental illness.
Both broken hearts and broken egos in the wake of a breakup can inspire irrational thoughts and uncharacteristically erratic behaviour – and I get that. But if you’re feeling particularly vulnerable or unsettled, the last thing that’s going to help is the social media stalk. Or even worse, the real-life stalk.
If heartbreak has you feeling erratic and consumed, you may want to instead spend your online time researching resources available that will help you feel better instead. I’m not a therapist by any stretch, but I have been heartbroken. And I can tell you that deleting my ex from social media and refraining from Googling his name was the first step in the healing process.