As much as I hate to give crappy men credit, some of the healthiest life changes I’ve made have been brought on by my breakups. One pushed me to branch out and actively seek more friendships; another one got me into running; one inspired me to get a risky haircut I ended up loving; and another inadvertently helped me focus on my career.
I’d by lying if I said that I never ‘grammed any of these changes, hoping my most recent ex would see how much better off I was without him. But then the question remains: Is living your best life just as good for you as everyone says it is if you can’t wait for your ex to see the proof? In other words, is it bad to let yourself temporarily be petty when you’ve been treated badly in a relationship?
Well, it depends. It’s definitely important to admit to yourself that you *are* hurt by the breakup, which, as an ego-driven Leo, is a fact that I will carry to my grave. But owning your heartbreak is the first step to feeling better, according to Mariana Bockarova, Ph.D., who teaches relationship psychology at the University of Toronto. “In admitting that we feel hurt, we can deal with the emotion,” Bockarova explains. “This leads to an insight about what behavior we can tolerate or not within the context of an intimate relationship—all spurring personal growth and change.”
Being honest with yourself and knowing that, yeah, it’s been a week since the breakup and you’re still in the “I want them to miss me” phase—which is why you just posted that #TBT with your best friends—is less bad than pretending you already forgot your ex and pushing yourself to feel better ASAP. It’s also healthier to do things for yourself–like hanging out with your friends, working out, finding a new hobby, and so on, than it is to suddenly post a bunch of thirst traps or selfies with a new boo, for instance.
However, there’s a caveat here: When you post a photo with your friends or of that marathon you just ran, a part of you probably knows your ex will see it, and it seems impossible to not fully be conscious of it. “Knowing your ex will see your posts and posting because your ex will see it are two very different psychological states,” Bockarova says. It’s common knowledge that mindfulness and living in the present makes you feel better, but posting something with the intention of your ex seeing it in the future messes with that.
“The issue with posting in a negatively-motivated way is that if the person you are hoping to impress doesn’t respond in the way you hope, it will only bring on an avalanche of negative affects,” Bockarova says. “However, posting because you are proud of your achievement may bring on positive emotions—as long as they don’t hinge on the response of anyone, exes included.” In other words, if you were going to ‘gram that holiday party story anyway, by all means, go for it. And if it’s a dumb little plus to know your ex looked, so be it. But if you can’t stop refreshing to confirm they saw it, then you clearly have other motives… and ones that are taking you of the moment.
“Keeping the focus of doing something new only to impress your ex is still keeping the focus where it shouldn’t be,” Bockarova says. “The best way to avoid focusing on your ex in any negative way is truly to move forward with your life.”
The irony being: The moment you live the kind of life your ex could plausibly envy, you’re no longer spitefully wishing they’ll regret losing you. “You know you’ve moved on fully and in a healthy way when you no longer care about what your ex partner thinks,” Bockarova says.
Follow Julia on Twitter.