The Art of the Digital Break-up


Because my teenage years were spent in the nineties, I enjoy having conversations with thirtysomethings regarding the absence of social media during our early dating years. We are nostalgic for our pay phones and pagers; we are grateful that we understand what life was like before “relationship statuses” and the addictive feeling of instant gratification; and most importantly, we are downright relieved that we aren’t as numbed and callous to it all as younger generations seem to be when we were that age.

Interestingly, for as much as social media allows us to be better informed about current events, it also allows us to be very informed with the ever-so-personal details about the lives of our “friends,” especially their break-ups. It is the oversharing of these endings that poses the most concern, at least for me; relationships are not always built to last, especially those of yours truly. How do we ever really know which ones should be shared at all? Perception is reality online, sadly.

Ted McGrath/ Flickr
Ted McGrath/ Flickr

Once, I had a fairly public relationship online. It started with a few pictures of us together, hinting that I might be involved. We enjoyed each other and I was happy, boastful even. I changed my relationship status to “In a relationship,” and he did too (at my frivolous urging). I had started a blog that occasionally put humorous highlights of our lives on the information superhighway. Eventually “In a relationship” shifted to “Engaged,” and then I blogged about our wedding planning. “Engaged” became “Married,” and our favorite wedding messages from guests were published, along with a virtual photo album. And as if that wasn’t enough, our wedding was featured quite largely in a local magazine’s spring wedding guide.

But things changed. While the internet is forever, our marriage was not. Thus, the dilemma existed in deciding how I would reflect those changes online with dignity and subtlety because I’d seen so many get it wrong (i.e. someone actually posted a picture of their divorce decree). The answer was simpler than one might think. Silence.

I chose to take the pictures of us down slowly. I unfriended former family members and hid my relationship status from my profile. And it wasn’t fun, but I was determined that my social media and my blog would never be the line on which I hung my dirty laundry. My feelings and failings were mine; my ex didn’t deserve the exposure.

And now, two years later, I can say that one online break-up was enough for me. I doubt that I’ll share another relationship online again, or at least not to the extent that I did. While I fully understand that a facebook status update is a virtual mountaintop from which to muster up our digital courage and exercise our First Amendment rights by shouting whatever our heart desires, it is also a place that impersonalizes our most meaningful relationships by exposing relatively intimate sentiments to an audience. Ultimately, I believe that we all could benefit from sharing a little less about our break-ups online and simply processing what’s happening offline without the audience.