Ask an average millennial their favourite social network and the chances are they’ll respond with Instagram.
Twitter is overrun with journalists and politicians, Facebook has been taken over by our parents, and thanks to Instagram stories, we don’t really have much use for Snapchat anymore.
Not only have Instagram stories made Snapchat largely redundant, but they’ve also changed up the dating scene.
Or rather, the post-dating scene.
Whilst you have no way of knowing if your exes, former flings and one-night-stands of nights gone by are stalking your Instagram feed on a regular basis, you know if they’re still watching your stories.
And more often than not, they are. We are.
Not saying anything, not actively liking or commenting, just quietly watching.
Perhaps you went out with your girlfriend for three years but then she moved to the other side of the country and, after six months of trying, you just couldn’t make it work. So you ended it.
You know you need to give each other space but also want to see what she’s up to in her new city. Enter, Instagram stories.
Maybe you went out with a guy four times (you followed each other on date three when you wanted to show him this hilarious boomerang you did) before he unceremoniously ghosted you and ignored two of your messages (you’re not desperate enough to message again, you can take the hint).
You’re never going to speak to or see him again, but you both still know the other exists. Because you’re still watching each other’s stories.
Perhaps you met a girl in da club, went home and had a night of awkward, drunken sex. You both know you’re never going to see each other again, but you don’t want to seem rude come morning, so instead of exchanging numbers, you exchange Instagram handles.
And, because there are no hard feelings (and she was really fit), you keep watching her stories, finding more and more about a girl you never really knew but were simultaneously so close to.
When you’re intimate and vulnerable with someone, sometimes you can’t help wanting to feel close to them on some level. Instagram stories let you do that.
Take myself; of the 181 who’ve viewed my story in the past three hours, five are guys I’ve dated.
I am fairly certain none of these men have any interest in rekindling things with me, but they still watch my stories. There’s only one I’d say I’m actively friends with. And yet they watch.
Is it weird? Perhaps. But is it, on some level, comforting? Maybe.
“Two exes of mine watch every Instagram story I do religiously,” 25-year-old Lily* told The Independent.
“With one guy it’s not so bad because he also likes everything I do (which is a bit weird) but we only dated for a couple months and it was friendly.”
“But the other guy, who is lovely, was very very careful about never liking anything I did on social media until Instagram stories came along. I’m convinced he doesn’t know that I can see he looks at it, but yeah he watches every single one.”
For that is the catch – if you’ve never posted an Instagram story of your own, you may not be aware that people can see who’s viewed their stories.
And viewing is one thing, voting in a poll on a story is another – Instagram lets you see who’s voted each way, meaning you’ll not only know if an ex has taken an active interest in your life but what they think too.
If you’re prone to overthinking things – which some of us are – you might be paranoid about accidentally viewing an ex’s Instagram story. (Thanks to the way Instagram just ticks through one person’s story on to the next, you don’t know whose story is about to appear.
You might think you deliberately don’t want to view their story because you don’t want them to think you still care about them or are interested in their life. Even though you are.
And the trouble is that Instagram knows who you stalk most, so if you’re constantly checking your ex’s profile, thoughtful lil Instagram will make sure their story is always at the top of your feed.
There’s also the ever mysterious order of who’s viewed your story. It’s not chronological, but is it based on who stalks you most? Or who you interact with most? We know it means something, but no one knows exactly what.
Some people go one step further and create second Instagram accounts purely so they can stalk their exes without them knowing.
“Those in the know create a second account just for watching their ex’s stories,” Instagram expert Sara Tasker explained to The Independent. “And their ex’s new girlfriend’s stories too!
“Anyone with a random empty account that doesn’t follow them (they don’t want you to gain a follower!) but consistently watches all of their stories should suspect their ex.”
That might sound like a faff, but it’s surprisingly simple to toggle between accounts.
You might think all this would make it harder to move on and get over someone, but we’re so used to it now.
Watching an Instagram story could not be more passive – some people who view your story aren’t even watching, they’re just trying to click through to the next person as if clearing an inbox.
“I think it’s irresistible to people because stories provide an insight into real daily life, warts and all, in a way that the grid doesn’t,” Tasker says.
“Nobody really wants to see their ex having a great Insta-worthy life, right? Stories is the place where we see reality.”
But of course, it’s flattering to think your former conquests, lovers and partners are still interested in your life.
If anything, it just makes you feel a bit better about the fact that yes, you actually do want to know what they’re up to too.
Most of us hold a special interest for people with whom we were once involved, whether it’s an ex of three years or someone who was just yours for the night.