I’m going to get real personal this week. Let’s talk about breakups.

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Three years ago I left my husband when he became involved with someone else. For a while I had been in denial about the situation and thought there was a chance of reconciling the marriage. LOL. The relationship was over, but the technical work of becoming un-married was still ahead.

One morning, I left the house we still lived in together, went to work, logged in to Facebook, and saw that he had changed his relationship status from married to single. In a public post. And people had commented on it. “Is this a joke?” they said. “It’s real,” he said.

Thinking about how intertwined we were on social media hit me like a ton of bricks. We had hundreds of friends in common. There were photographs representing half a decade of shared experiences. I felt totally ill at the thought of how much work it would take to disentangle myself, and had no idea how I would manage the dread and grief I felt every time I signed in.

Photos are especially emotional reminders of the good times in a relationship. Even a photo of you that they took can bring up a lot of sadness. Maybe you’re looking in your own eyes as you looked at them. You see their loving, flattering perception of yourself. Wonderful while you’re together. Absolutely unbearable during a breakup.

I decided in that moment to just face the pain head on. I shut my office door, pulled up my albums on Facebook and got to work. Photos of him or us that I had uploaded, I deleted. Photos by others I hid from my timeline or untagged myself. I saved select pictures to my hard drive, to decide in the less emotional future whether to keep or permanently delete. I cried. A lot.

For me this felt like the real dissolution of the relationship. Cutting the digital ties. And yet you have to be diligent because sometimes they come back. Memory cards that weren’t wiped. An automatic upload to Picasa, Flickr, or iCloud. Files you swore you deleted, but really had in an unlabeled folder. Those pictures can pop up when you’re least expecting it, and they are day-ruiners.

Within a few hours (there were a lot of photos), I had completed my sickening task. There was no digital trace of him left on my profile. And I felt safe. I knew that I didn’t have to be afraid of a painful reminder springing up on Facebook.

Before you go for the full Eternal Sunshine, see if any of these tactics help:

  1. Save photos/emails/videos you may want to keep to a flash drive. Then delete them from your computer. Empty the trash/recycling bin.
  2. Put the flash drive in a place where you’re likely to forget about it. The back of a closet or some drawer you don’t use regularly.
  3. Give the flash drive to a trusted friend with instructions not to return it to you for at least a year. No matter how much you beg.
  4. Mail the drive to your parents and ask them to put it in their attic with all of your other stuff that you’re not ready to part with but don’t want at your house.
  5. Ask someone you trust to do the dirty work of downloading and deleting and have them hold on to everything (ps, I can help).

 

I’m very glad I saved some of the photos because with or without him, they represent experiences I want to remember. At some point in the future, you will look at them and you won’t feel like you’ve been punched in the guts. Until then, do yourself a huge favor and make those pictures completely inaccessible. You won’t regret it.