I own two memory boxes – one box houses a coin that fell from the pants of an American lover. It reminds me of his impeccable kissing skills – I’m a sentimental schmuck, what can I say? I like photo albums, holiday magnets, random mementos. My phone holds images of bygone partners: Should my ex’s photos be deleted?
Ex pictures on social media
Every day, a guy on Instagram published posts on his relationship. Fitness uploads turned to images of them hugging, kissing; gripping each other’s bodies as they stood in front of their bed. Pre-porno? The couple amassed admiring commenters, some in awe of their sweet romance. I found it fake and annoying – it’s like when you’re trapped on a packed train, forced to watch a couple sharing tongues. It’s only acceptable if I’m one of the tongues enjoying it. A few months in, and their relationship fell apart. With an Instagram feed dedicated to her, he couldn’t dodge the awkward “What happened?” concerned/nosey remarks. He deleted his Instagram shortly after.
Cosmopolitan advocates for social media deletion. The publication spoke to Dr. Fox (they produced a study on the topic), who explained how photographs can portray a rose-tinted, warped reality. Keeping loved-up photos can encourage an imbalanced view. A month down the line when you’re feeling lonely and horny, you may glance at your ex’s photos and forget their jealousy or overbearing judgement.
But if you can look at a picture and not feel too attached, surely, it’s worth keeping? I rarely scroll down my Instagram feed. It’s a spontaneous, one-off thing where I laugh at old outfits and realise my fitness progress had paid off. There are some photos on my blog and IG that I wish I hadn’t published. Yet, they are there, everyone has already seen them. I would prefer to leave them and move on.
Old boyfriend snaps on phone
Phone pictures feel different. Each time I think about deleting an ex’s photos, I feel I’m questioning if I should cancel out my history. It’s like with photos of friends – even if we no longer talk, I don’t want to pretend they didn’t exist. I’d look back over my life and just see pictures of me posing by myself, perhaps with a stranger, wandering away from the camera. A cheesy, beloved 2017 post of mine (one for you romantics) on soulmates, penned the words:
“And if I cannot be me without them, then surly in some ways our souls were supposed to meet. And for a flicker of a minute, they were supposed to be mates.”
I defined soulmate: as an individual who has shaped a person’s life. If you start to erase proof of them, can that be unhealthy? Might it take away from the art of photography? To edit forms of truth – or does that sound too indulging and overblown?
An old boyfriend’s clothes use to hang in my room like museum exhibits. His work shirts I use to sleep in, his pair of sunglasses I wore at rooftop bars, his plain t-shirts I matched with jeans. I didn’t want to give these items up, or give the items away. It seemed too permanent and sad; to suddenly remove the physical link between us. Within time, I slowly waved goodbye (keeping the sunglasses because they suit me). I was adamant photos of him couldn’t be deleted, even if that meant storing them on a memory card and emailing my favourites.
During lockdown, I began to organise my phone photos. Around five pictures featuring my ex appeared. I hadn’t seen them since my adamant self mentally demanded they stayed. Looking at them doesn’t create fuzzy feelings; neither a desperation to see him again. They were just… there. Something I want to have without stumbling upon. Did my mindset right after our split hold true, or does my pondering self now suggest I should rethink my ex’s photos?
What about nude snaps?
If you’ve read my post on sending nudes, you’ll know I’m happy to snap them – providing I don’t feel pressure to take. When a long-distance relationship ended, I asked an ex to delete the sexual images I sent – which he refused. Over the course of being together, I sent him positions of me in various stages of undress. When we broke up, we continued to talk, texting the odd joke and funny meme. I initially thought our “friendship” would make him agree to my request. Who was I kidding? I had gifted him these photos – who wants to throw away a present they’ve asked for? This sentiment was echoed on a Vice article: the piece notes that individuals hold different rules on gifts.
A Playboy article beautifully articulated my opinion: “we should all have the right to express our sexuality to our romantic partners without fear of retribution.” Despite nude pics being a gift, a person ought to respect a person’s sexual expression – particularly one who trusted them enough to be intimately vulnerable. If you’re asked to delete nude images, you should.
Do ex’s photos mean anything?
Social media has bombarded us for more than a decade; it likely a partner is going to have pictures of them and their ex somewhere on their social feeds. I’m not concerned about a partner deleting pictures. I think it’s a good thing if they don’t bother going through everything. I’m more concerned about the images a partner posts when we’re in a relationship.
On the topic of whether to delete my old boyfriend from my digital nostalgia, I still don’t feel confident on making a firm decision. Maybe I’ll stumble upon his pics in a few years and come to a better conclusion. I’m sure he wouldn’t care – no photos have potential to sexually exploit him. And the sexual images I sent to this particular ex, don’t mirror the ones I sent to the previous (the one who refused to delete).
There are several reasons why someone may choose to delete or save pictures from an old relationship. Part of it depends on how sentimental they are – if they view photos as just things/objects, or perceive pictures as beautiful portals to the past. Keeping the photos doesn’t necessarily mean a person still harbours feelings for their ex. And equally, deleting doesn’t mean a person has moved on and forgotten about an ex. Much of what we do relies on our emotions at a certain time – quickly reaching for the trash during the longing phase, and scrolling through when listening to Gwen Stefani’s song “Cool”.
Do you delete ex’s photos or keep them?