Should You Delete Your Ex?

Getting rid of the physical remnants of a relationship in the wake of a bad breakup can be challenging enough, but what about the digital debris? All those photos, posts, and messages. What do we do with them once the relationship ends, especially if it ended badly? Turns out, based on my highly scientific process of asking my various group chats, there are a lot of different approaches and philosophies here. Let’s take a look at them to see what might be the best fit for you.

Should You Delete All Your Photos of an Ex After a Breakup?

The most extreme option, deleting all digital evidence of a past partner is perhaps reserved for the worst types of breakups — ones where you imagine you’ll be No Contact forever or for a very long time and ones where you prefer not to preserve any evidence of memories with the other person. Perhaps you’ve already blocked your ex and are ready to wipe the slate clean entirely. There are still some different options within this extreme approach to digital cleanup though: You can hard-delete all grid posts or you can archive everything.

You should think twice before hard-deleting. In the intense and immediate aftermath of a bad breakup, it might be tempting to do a swift full wipe, but it could lead to losing photos you’ll later wish you had access to. Instagram doesn’t have a trash folder — once they’re gone, they’re gone. As for photos deleted from your phone, they’ll live in the trash folder for thirty days before disappearing permanently. Once they’re gone forever, you again might find yourself wishing down the road that you still had them — not to revisit the relationship per se but rather to revisit a specific time of your life. Even in instances of bad breakups (unless we’re talking about abuse), I think we should normalize being able to look back on failed relationships as still meaningful, formative, and supplemental to our lives rather than just “wastes of time.” If I deleted every single photo of my ex from my phone, I’d lose whole important chunks of memories, including a lot of international trips, concerts, and big life events.

No matter what your breakup situation is, it’s best to delete nudes right away, unless you have an explicitly stated nudes protocol that doesn’t require deletion in the event of a breakup. For the most part though, few people would enjoy the idea of their nudes existing on an ex’s phone. Those gotta go.

Should I Remove My Ex From My Instagram Grid?

A slightly less extreme alternative to hard-deleting the social media remnants of your relationship, archiving posts and photos is sort of like the digital equivalent of shoving all the letters, mementos, and ephemera from your ex into a box and putting it in storage. Archiving posts on Instagram takes them off of your grid without altogether deleting them. You’ll still have access to them, and you can choose to unarchive them at any point (say, if you get back together). If you have the urge to hard-delete posts, maybe try archiving first and seeing how you feel after you’ve cooled down a bit. If you still want to delete, you can! Or you can leave them in the archive or unarchive them.

How Can I Hide Photos of My Ex on My Phone?

When it comes to the photos on your phone, you can add them to your hidden folder as a way of archiving. Click the three dots at the top of a photo in your library and select Hide. This puts photos into a locked album only accessible by your passcode/fingerprint/face ID. It prevents those photos from showing up in those little automated slideshows our phones LOVE to make and specifically LOVE to make about people who are no longer in our lives? Nothing an iPhone loves more than to push a slideshow of your dead pet or worst ex on you!!!!!!! Hide the photos, and they won’t pop up unannounced again. You’ll only be able to see the photos if you really want to.

If you, like me, often run into the issue of not having enough storage on your phone, it may be tempting to start hard-deleting photos of an ex as an easy way to free up some space. That’s fine to do if you really want to! But if you want an archival option that doesn’t take up space on your phone, get a hard drive and stash all the pics there or upload them to a free service, like Google Photos.

Other Options for Digital Cleanup After a Breakup

My group chat had a few different thoughts and ideas about this topic, including one friend who said she archives about half of the posts with another person after they breakup so that the relationship isn’t taking up too much real estate on her grid but hasn’t been erased altogether. The same friend said she tends to leave photos up of exes when they aren’t straight-on photos and when faces are obscured. She also leaves up carousel posts that feature the ex in swipe-throughs but not the lead image.

Another friend said she waits about a year before archiving and often does it piecemeal, starting with things like birthday posts dedicated to the ex, rather than archiving everything at once.

A lot of people expressed that it depends on whether they’re jumping right back into the dating pool or not. If not, there’s less pressure to clean up social media. But when jumping back into dating, some people prefer to remove their ex from their grid, at least when it comes to recent pictures. There’s also the option to untag photos, which will make it so potential dates can’t creep on your ex and also will take your own photos out of your ex’s tagged photos tab so no one can creep on you from their end.

All these approaches are, of course, optional! I started dating shortly after my last breakup, and I didn’t remove any photos of my ex. Even now that I’m fully married, it doesn’t take much scrolling to get to photos of my ex in my grid. I’ve only started deleting photos from my cameral roll of my main ex now, several years after our breakup, due to aforementioned storage woes. I never felt weird about dating people who could see all my photos with her, and I still don’t feel weird now even though we haven’t had any contact since 2019. The pictures that are hardest for me to see are the ones of the cat we shared, though my emotional response to those has gone way down through the years, so I’m glad I didn’t impulsively remove all of them.

But listen, if you need to figuratively burn it all down, I get it. Go for the full phone cleanse if that’s what you really need to work through your breakup!

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Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is the managing editor of Autostraddle and a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Orlando. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

Kayla has written 837 articles for us.


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