My phone lights up. It doesn’t buzz, so I don't need to look down to know that it's an Instagram notification. Pretending not to notice, I focus even harder on the television and initiate the familiar game of trying to prove that I’m not emotionally dependent on my battered little iPhone. Cue the momentary belief that the glow of activity in the bottom left corner of my eye isn't stronger than I am.
Turns out, it is. Social media: 1,723. Jazmin: 0.
I pick up my phone, having already anticipated a number of scenarios. I’m to face the cruel irony of being followed by yet another #gymspiration account (I hate the gym. I'm also far too cynical to buy into hashtag-friendly compound words); or one of my friends has DM-ed a meme relating to how hungover we are (I am indeed very hungover).
I don’t particularly fancy any of these outcomes but I've fired up the app for much less, so here we are.
"[EX-BOYFRIEND] commented: smirking face emoji" the notification reads.
"Ugh, seriously?!" I return ungratefully.
I’d blame my despair on the hangover, had this type of commenting not become a regular occurrence. I had not spoken to him IRL in about six months. This had been a monumental achievement for me, the girl who would fervently assure her mates that she was completely over the relationship and definitely wasn't going back but who would also drunkenly leave 16 missed calls on Ex’s phone at 4am because she was definitely not over it.
In those six months, Ex and I had overcome the post-relationship turbulence and were cruising at an appropriately low altitude. I’d unfollowed him on socials, we were finally behaving like we’d broken up, and I'd defined myself as legitimately single for the first time since 'online dating' meant little more than a free trial on Match.com. And so, I started engaging with other men – romantically interesting men – on social media. My coupled-up friends would joke about living 'the single life' vicariously through my social media profiles and I’d laugh dutifully, both happy to assume that I was fulfilling my new identity and pissed off that they were feeding off my new fun.
Post-Break-Up Jazmin was more fond of a selfie than Relationship Jazmin had been. My Instagram feed featured more of those classic 'look at me posing in a sexy dress as I linger in the corridor of my shared flat with a glass of pre-drinks wine' photos. Single Jazmin was thriving and the new boys I'd been chatting to seemed to be into it, too. Sure, I’d rarely take anything further than a little flirt in the comments, but it was the perfect amount of attention for the sceptically needy and newly single me. My behaviour also caught Ex's attention, though. And Ex decided to get involved.
I'm not sure whether it was that my pictures were radiating 'I'm moving on' vibes but something on the timeline prompted him to start leaving his mark on my posts, both, I felt, for me and the guys I was talking to. I knew it had nothing to do with keeping me interested and I know he certainly didn't want to be involved with me (those drunk calls were never answered). It was just this weird presence that straddled the line between sinister and laughable.
At first I thought nothing of it. I'd even convinced myself that it was quite nice that someone I used to be with felt comfortable enough to pop up every now and again. But it wasn't. Beneath new guys' wildly uninspired, low-key compliments like "ur stunnin bbz" and "is dat for me yh? ;)" I'd start to find comments from Ex. His name would pop up on days-old pictures and it wasn't long before he was consistently the first person to like anything I posted. I noticed, my friends noticed, other boys noticed. And when people asked whether I was with this guy who had spewed his name all over my social media posts (some of my mates even created a new group chat to discuss 'Return of the Ex'), the answer was always no. But it sounded less and less convincing every time the word left my mouth.
"Your fringe is back [heart eyes emoji]!" he'd write. "Lol, remember what happened when we went to [tagged location]?" "Still looking good [pet name]." It made me nervous and I stopped responding to other comments so that Ex wouldn't know I'd seen his. It slowed the amount of time I spent interacting with other guys AND it put the brakes on my newfound enthusiasm for posting pictures of myself. He was making my social media his territory, and he was making sure that potential suitors knew it was his territory too. Ex was cockblocking me. But, like, online?
It's one of those things that, once noticed, you can't really un-notice, especially when it proves to be such a mind fuck. His social media stalking wasn't complemented by texts, phone calls, lunch dates. Far from it. There was only ever this public communication that shouted to the rest of the world: "HELLO! I'M STILL IN JAZMIN'S LIFE SO YOU CAN'T HAVE HER."
Digital cockblocking is easy territory to slip into. Although my own compulsive double tapping of a different ex-boyfriend's social media posts didn't prompt a WhatsApp intervention, I'm probably guilty of similar behaviour somewhere down the line. In the early days of a break-up, the last thing you want to do is consider your former partner with anyone else AND, short of following them around and physically sabotaging their dates, lurking in the corners of their social media feeds seems a far more logical (it's not, don't do it) avenue.
A friend of mine went one better – she admitted to sidestepping her ex's social media and commenting instead on their mum's Facebook posts as a passive-aggressive deterrent to other women. Another friend told me that when she assumed her ex was over the break-up, she fell into the same weird pattern as my Ex, with the specific intention of keeping him single until she was over the break-up too. It's not healthy, it's not nice but it happens.
Beyond the obvious annoyance and unnecessary emotional turmoil, I can assure you that digital cockblocking is only so effective, though. Largely because, funnily enough, our lives continue offline too, and flirting with people in the real world is absolutely still a thing. But that doesn't make warding off a social media sex saboteur any more appealing.
The solution, for the cockblocked, is actually spectacularly straightforward. I had to hit that little red button that I was convinced I'd never touch for an ex. I had to hit 'Block' and remember that sometimes, accidentally leaving a window open to an ex – platonically or not – isn't always the best idea for moving on.