Public Parting: How Social Media has Changed Breakups
Originally published on June 22, 2010 on SexReally.com.
Once upon a time…say, in the late 90’s…one of the biggest post-breakup fears was running into your ex in person. If everything went according to plan, you could strategize the perfect “oh this old thing?” outfit that made him drool and suffer. The “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” episode of Sex and the City, which first aired in 1999, had Carrie thinking about her run-in clothing and her perfect post-breakup accessory—a New York Yankee.
My, how times have changed. Not only are people thinking about what to wear when they see their ex, they are rethinking their entire online persona. The advent of social media—and, by extension, the public outing of private information—has made the navigation of breakups more complex.
For example, you just broke up with your significant other. Do you:
a) Immediately change your Facebook profile picture to one of you looking saucy.
b) Break into your ex’s Twitter page (because you have the password) and announce his deviant behavior to the whole world.
c) Start to obsessively track where he is on Foursquare. That way you can “accidentally” run into him when you’re out with your girlfriends, looking fabulous.
d) All of the above.
Of course these options don’t represent the entire spectrum of how to respond after a breakup. They are examples of new options that can significantly affect what happens after a relationship falls apart. Regardless of how things go down, you (or your ex) can put a spin on what happened and tell hundreds of friends the entire scenario with the simple click of a button. Revenge, it seems, is a dish best served online.
And sometimes it is freakin’ hilarious. Consider what I read on Twitter this past week (names withheld to protect the innocent. Or guilty, depending on what happened):
“I’m officially the world’s biggest asshole.”
“Yeah, shit went down. I lied to her continuously, ignored her all the time, treated her like shit….what can I say?”
“Perhaps going out drinking and getting toked every night of the week was a bad idea.”
The thing that makes it hilarious is that the situation is completely transparent. It takes all of 10 seconds to understand the backstory—someone else wrote the tweets and they were ticked. And that someone was an ex.
In a matter of minutes the tweets were deleted and one of the accounts had posted this:
“Just got hacked by the ex on here. Wonderful. For those of you that saw, I’m sorry.”
Even if you aren’t a person who has 50,000 followers on Twitter, chances are you are connected in a public way to your immediate social circle. You don’t have to be a Britney, Miley, or Rihanna to know what it feels like to have your private life exposed. Social media has leveled the playing field and forced us into doing our own PR damage control.
My friend Carolyn experienced a taste of this when she broke up with her boyfriend of six years. It was a reasonably amicable separation—they didn’t leave on bad terms or fight it out until the bloody end. They just had an adult conversation and decided to go their separate ways. Their conversation ended at 11:30pm and by the time she woke up the next morning he had already changed his relationship status on Facebook.
“I thought it was a bit callous to tell the world online before I’d had a chance to tell my friends,” Carolyn said.
She also admitted that she went on to his Facebook page (since she had the password) and made the relationship status private so a “…big broken heart wouldn’t be in everyone’s newsfeed.” It’s also important to note that’s all she did. Once the relationship status was changed she left his Facebook page alone.
I talked to another woman, Annie, who told me how she changed her profile pictures once her boyfriend of two years dumped her.
“Put simply…it’s a way of putting on a brave face and showing how little you care. Even if in person you want to dissolve into tears every time you see him, your profile picture is still smiling away,” Annie said.
While there’s no doubt that social media is changing the way we deal with breakups, how those changes play out can vary greatly from person to person. There is a huge difference between taking back your power and getting dreadfully close to becoming the mayor of Crazyville. Putting up a new profile picture is a simple way of taking control of post-breakup identity. Spewing facts of how he cheated to everyone on Twitter is something else entirely.
However you deal with a broken heart, remember that what you put online can never be taken back. You might rightfully reveal that he is a complete scumbag, but you can cross the line to coming off as desperate and manipulative. Which is never a great way to portray yourself, even if you are temporarily feeling that way after a separation.
So take a deep breath. Talk to people who love you and can empathize with how you are feeling. Take yourself out for a pedicure, join a new club, finally start painting again, and reconnect with good friends from your past. But think twice about going public with your heartache. And, for goodness sake, change your passwords.
Kaarin Moore is the owner of Closet Caucus, a fashion consulting company located in Washington, DC. Her goal is to help clients express who they are through the medium of clothing. You can reach her at www.closetcaucus.com or on twitter (@closetcaucus).