Should You Keep, Delete, or Archive Past Relationships?

            One of the more difficult aspects of dating in the 21st century is the overwhelming presence and connectivity of social media not only in my life, but in the lives of people I may be pursuing. Obviously, as I grew up during this technology boom it’s changed and adapted multiple times and, due to that and general human behaviors, my feelings about showing and telling relationship-type stuff has also changed.

            The thing is the more social media apps you use and peruse, the higher the possibility is that people can track your life and its histories (including relationships) through various updates, pictures, and pins. I began on MySpace where I changed my relationship status about as often as my profile song because I didn’t understand that dating was different than a relationship and I liked to jump into things. Then I moved to Facebook where I began by doing the typical TMI status updates about my on-and-off again relationship at the time. Later, I posted pictures of my long-term boyfriend and I kissing or being cute together. Eventually, I did the grand relationship update about getting engaged and got so many comments and likes (because that is what our society now expects). I branched out to Instagram and Twitter and blogs. It was a veritable trail of relationships, ups and downs, and details of my past.

            The thing is people you want to date may judge you by what you have posted on your social media, your web presence. It may be a persona, but, with over ten years of accumulated history, there’s a lot of possible unpacking one can do on another person—if you let them. A great thing about social media is it largely gives us some control over what we have posted and, if one chooses, they can almost erase the past. But should you?


            Look, when we cleaned my grandparent’s house, we found photos of both of their former sweethearts and a box of love letters from an old boyfriend of my grandma’s. They were tucked away and basically hidden. Did that make their current relationship any less strong? Not at all. However, there is a bit a difference between hiding your former relationships in a box in the closet and keeping that photo from your vacation together posted on Instagram. It’s public versus private. Another argument can be made that your friends already know that the relationship happened; they’ve already seen the photos, the history, etc. Getting rid of them won’t get rid of the collective memory. And honesty can sometimes be refreshing for future friends and lovers should they find it automatically there. Plus, look, I know it’s exhausting to dig through possibly years of profile and scrounge out the details if you want to. It is much easier to just leave it as is, and explain if needed. It is your history and why should you be ashamed?


            I often think of that scene in Friends where Phoebe, Rachel, and Monica burn photos of their exes. Like, it’s the ultimate deletion. And while clicking ‘Delete’ is not nearly as satisfying as a pyre it does have the same effect—the history, the person, the information is pretty much gone (as much as anything can be gone from the Internet). You can have a lot of reasons why you might want to delete the past relationship. That whole Facebook Memories thing can get pretty annoying when it’s reminding you of your ex. Maybe the relationship wasn’t a good one. Maybe you just don’t want it posted anymore. Or maybe it’s a been a while and those old status updates about ‘The One’ seem childish. Whatever the reason, deleting is a permanent thing. The pictures and words will be gone, but the memories will still remain; it will go from a public to a private thing. And until we have the technology from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind complete deletion won’t be happening. It won’t erase others’ memories of the relationship, but you’ll be free to disclose your history as you choose—which is kind of powerful. It is, however, a tedious process.


            Blessed be social media for offering another option. Rather than deleting everything or leaving it public, many sites—like Facebook or Instagram—allow users to make posts private or archive them. This means that friends and the public won’t see these posts anymore, but you can still access them, see them, and remember them as they were. They’re essentially hidden away in a digital closet. The benefit is that you can still find that random status update from however long ago about that nice thing your ex did, or that photo from your birthday they’re in. The downside is that is still tedious to go through everything and privatize it, especially if you’ve been particularly active online with your relationship. Additionally, as before, it doesn’t totally erase this person; you can’t control what other people have posted—only what you have—and figuring that out can be a bit of a struggle sometimes.

What Did I Do?

            Honestly, I’m a mix of all three. I deleted my high school boyfriend and regret it because now I don’t have anything left from what was actually a decent relationship—just the memories. I don’t have a picture of us together or any of the letters we wrote or any of that. So, yeah, think seriously and don’t delete in a moment of anger/frustration. I recently discovered that old status updates about another high school boyfriend were still up (and public!) so I deleted a lot of those, but archived some because they were funny.

            I kept my most recent ex public for a while. It didn’t really help because Facebook doesn’t do that thing anymore where they tell people your relationship is over so I still had to tell people I wasn’t engaged—for like years after the break-up. I thought that I didn’t want to hide my past because it was part of me and made me who I am and stronger, better, etc. But, over the summer, after yet another Facebook Memory notification, I decided it was time to take charge of my story. I kept him in my Twitter statuses because they needed to be cohesive, and this blog because it shows my growth and my truth. I archived the few Instagram posts of us and changed some captions. I archived most of my Facebook posts and pictures, and anything that couldn’t be was deleted. I untagged myself in photos and untagged him in almost everything. By the end, after a long, long night of listening to “Burn” from Hamilton on repeat, I had erased him from the narrative. And I felt free.

            Your reasons for keeping, deleting, or archiving your past relationships are your own. You don’t need to explain why you keep one, delete another, or archive bits and pieces. Each relationship, like each person within it, is unique and, in this crazy, digital world the way we react to separations and moving forward is too. We just have to be a little aware that future partners may go digging, and we do have the power to control what they find. Our dating lives may be largely online now, but we can find a way to make it work for us.