Sometimes, usually when I'm bored, I find myself thinking about the men from my friends' pasts. These dudes will just randomly pop into my mind, prompting me to give their Instagrams a quick scroll so I can seethe with anger the deeper I go.
Some of these guys now have grinning girlfriends who are blissfully unaware of how terrible their new boyfriend is; others remain a mystery, hardly posting at all, which then compels me to check their tagged pics, looking for...well, actually, I'm not even sure. One thing I do know with certainty, though: I'm still so angry at these men for hurting my friends, and "vicari-creeping" (as in, checking up on 'em on my friend's behalf) can make me feel like I was the one who was cheated on or unceremoniously dumped. Which sounds unnecessarily painful, right? So why can't I stop doing it?
Good news (for me, and for you guys if you also vicari-creep): Feeling livid over your friend's hurt is 100 percent natural. It's a sign that you care about your BFF's well-being! "If we look at it from an evolutionary perspective, sharing a friend's emotions—particularly strong negative emotions about an event that might have been very upsetting—is a way of saying 'I understand you,'" explains Dr. Mariana Bockarova, Ph.D., who teaches relationship psychology at the University of Toronto. Taking on some of your friend's pain can make her feel validated, and can even bring you closer together as friends, says Dr. Bockarova.
There is a cap for how much of this is healthy, though. "If you've taken on your friend’s emotions about an event which reminds you strongly of a past trauma that has happened in your own life, it could very well be indicative that you are still attached to the situation in some way," Dr. Bockarova warns. For instance, if your friend went through a breakup very similar to one you went through yourself, it could be your way of holding onto your own painful split.
Of course, I can recognize that looking for answers from a person I didn't even date myself is kind of a silly thing to do. But apparently this instinct has more to do with my current relationship than anyone else's past love, according to Dr. Bockarova. "We naturally process events as stories, simply as a way our brain makes sense of the world around us," Dr. Bockarova explains. "The idea is, within these stories, we will hopefully learn something of value that we hadn't previously considered, which can protect us from harm or add to our lives."
If your friend went through a breakup very similar to one you went through yourself, it could be your way of holding onto your own painful split.
I suppose it shouldn't come as a shock that my impulse to vicari-creep comes from a place of curiosity about my love life and a desire to compare my friends' experiences to my own. "Did the social media PDA start out strong and then slowly fizzle as his feelings waned?" is something I usually wonder as a scroll.
It's normal to pose this kind of question—for yourself and with your friend, as you help her cope with her feelings. The main thing, Bockarova notes, is that vicari-creeping isn't a daily habit of yours. "If you find yourself continuously digging for information about people you don't know, or trying to string together a story about someone else's life, it may be worth reflecting on why this is an important need," she says. "It may reveal some insecurities, whether in yourself or within your relationship, which you can then manage more effectively and directly instead of deflecting these feelings and looking for answers, even subconsciously, within the lives of others."
So while I will always care about my friends' breakups, I know there's a limit to sitting in that rage (and trying to apply logic to someone else's drama). I don't need to feel paranoid about my own relationship just because of some guy's social media dating habits. I'll still allow myself to do the occasional dipshit deep-dive, as long as I keep myself one degree removed from it all.
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This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.