Breakups highlight how it’s hard to separate our real and virtual lives.
No one tells you that when you break up with someone, you’ll actually break up twice: Once in person (or over the phone, if you’re a jerk) and once with your significant other’s collective online presence.
It used to be that breaking up was more of a physical process: You systematically returned the other person’s records or CDs or “stuff.” You possibly even ripped up a few pictures. That was then.
In today’s technology-driven world, however, you can do most of the dirty work with the click of a mouse — untag, delete, block, even unfriend. At the same time, there is much more permanence to our relationships, both platonic and romantic, since the retweeting, following, messaging and replying doesn’t necessarily end when the relationship does.
Having been with the same person for virtually my entire college career, I was not aware of how entangled our real and virtual lives had become until it ended. I would feel silly, for instance, deleting a playlist he made for me off of my iTunes. It’s much harder to get rid of the photographic evidence from a past relationship, even with the convenience of untagging or deleting it.
It’s not even that it was a bad or publicly drawn-out breakup, so I’m certainly not complaining. But with the advent of Facebook relationship statuses, I didn’t even need to say a word about it if I didn’t want to because there it was, broadcast on the news feeds of all of my Facebook friends: “Chloe went from being ‘in a relationship’ to ‘single.’”
Think of how much more we now know about one another thanks to social media. It’s a lot easier to reveal things to your social networks and a lot harder to hide them. For instance, if I asked you what your best friend’s profile picture on Facebook is right now, you would probably be able to tell me. Same goes for his or her Twitter handle or your most recent Instagram picture together (assuming you aren’t one of those people that only Instagrams pictures of their food, which is also perfectly respectable in my book).
While the wealth of information that social media provides about the objects of our desire can work to our advantage, in the modern-day courtship process, technological communication is nuanced. For instance, how long do you wait to friend someone on Facebook? Or follow them on Twitter? You don’t want to force anything, but you don’t want to beat around the bush. And then there are the technological milestones to a relationship, from the mundane “becoming friends on Facebook” to the very culmination of dating today: “Facebook official,” or FBO. I would also argue that being on someone’s speed dial is a pretty high up there, too.
Now that I’m once again a single lady, it’s the permanency of flirtation via technology that’s really scary to me. The ability to go back and reread conversations from weeks and months prior is a startling prospect. I find myself over-analyzing text messages, which usually culminates in my girlfriends and I debating the merits of repeating letters for emphasis and proper emoticon usage or placement.
Collegiate men, do you know how much thought was put into that seemingly spontaneous two-line text message you just received? It might’ve taken three people a half-hour to compose “See you later” or “See you soon” or “See ya.”
I think a lot of people forget that when you break up with someone, it’s not as if you’ve banished them from your life. You won’t just stop talking. You can’t just delete them from your phonebook and be done with them forever.
I will still text his mom on her birthday. He will still play Words with Friends with my dad. Our relationship, while no longer romantically linked, will not unlink completely, and I consider myself one of the lucky ones. Not only do we remain friends on Facebook, but we remain the rarest thing of all: friends in real life.
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