Camila*, 24, realized her relationship was over when her boyfriend went on a road trip and uploaded a photo to Instagram in which, lo and behold, he had tagged another woman.
"It was a picture of him grinning at some diner. Right under it was a strange girl's Instagram handle. I looked at her account and saw it was filled with photos of them together," Camila told Mic. "Honestly, it was really hard to look at."
Thrown off, Camila texted him. "He replied, 'Yeah, we need to talk.' He broke up with me, explaining that he met someone else," she said. "It was heartbreaking, but what made it worse was that he didn't break up with me. Basically, a photo on Instagram did."
Welcome to the Insta-dump, the latest callous, evasive approach to ending modern relationships. Instead of being ghosted, the victim finds out they've been broken up with publicly, on social media.
If ghosting (or the slow fade) has become the ultimate silent treatment, painful in its vagueness, then Insta-dumping ups it. The passive cruelty coupled with a captive audience is the equivalent of calling a town hall to end the relationship. And it's more common than you think.
Dropping cruel hints: Learning that you're newly single through social media isn't as obvious as a Facebook status change. It is often more subtle, in the form of a caption or ambiguous quote.
This is what Meg*, 29, experienced while in the process of moving in with her boyfriend. He suddenly grew distant, and right before a planned weekend trip to Connecticut, he told her he couldn't afford the move. When he left town, he dropped out of communication. "He refused to talk to me, he refused to answer my calls, he wouldn't tell me what was going on," Meg told Mic. "I started getting really worried. We were in love, and I didn't want this little fight to end the relationship."
That is, until she saw his latest Instagram post. "On Monday, he posted an image to Instagram of a piece of graffiti with a little monster and a voice bubble that said, 'Fuck ya crew, I roll solo.' And he captioned it 'Wise words.' My heart dropped," Meg said. "I was sick to my stomach."
When she confronted him later that week, he admitted he wanted to break up — but he had no explanation for the photo. "I told him that he was cruel and awful, and the Instagram was mean. He had no reply," Meg said.
When it's obvious — to everyone: The public dumping makes the humiliation of the breakup magnified, while its frictionless execution makes it feel particularly disrespectful.
"A friend called me and asked me what was up with that dude in my girl's Facebook photo," Trevor*, 30, told Mic. "Thinking nothing of it, I logged on to see it, then noticed that we were no longer friends. I then requested my friend to screenshot the photo, which also displayed that they were in a relationship."
"[It felt] like the world was laughing at me," he said. When he got the courage to ask his ex why she had chosen Facebook as her breakup method, she admitted that "she didn't like confrontation, so she just avoided it."
Much like Trevor, Doug*, 26, who was dumped by his boyfriend on LiveJournal, felt the way he was broken up with (a simple, public comment under one of his posts: "Could you kindly unfriend me on LiveJournal?") made him feel more expendable. "It was easy to drown in a digital ocean of feelings and forget that you were high and dry IRL," Doug said. "It made a little bit of sense, but I thought I'd earned a little more."
Like ghosting, but worse: Nobody likes to do the breaking up, but most of us suck it up and do it. In a 1,802-person survey conducted by Mic using Google Consumer Surveys, a whopping 72% of 25- to 34-year-olds said they they usually break up "in person," while only 5% said they simply "avoid the conversation."
Which is the least destructive way to do it — and has the most integrity. The Insta-dump, much like ghosting, isn't just hurtful; it's cowardly, lazy and puts the onus on the dumped to fill in the blanks.
"He ripped my heart out and didn't give a shit," Meg told Mic. "I think he posted that image to Instagram to make it easier to break up with me, to somehow soften the blow or help me anticipate what he was going to do, but it just made things worse. It made me question myself over and over: Did he really mean it that way? Was I reading too much into it? Was I overreacting?"
That lack of closure can actually affect the healing process. A study in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science found that reflecting on what went wrong in a relationship, talking about it and even journaling can help speed recovery. Being able to meaningfully dwell on why a relationship ended and gain back your sense of self can help you move on faster.
But none of those benefits are conferred on the Insta-dump victim.
Ghosting might have its benefits. The Insta-dump? It might be time to draw a line.
* Names have been changed to allow subjects to speak freely on private matters.