How to Breakup Online

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Breakups are a bitch. They’re messy, painful, and whether you’re the one causing the pain, or on the receiving end of punch, so to speak, there’s nothing easy about them. (If you’re unaffected by breakups then you’re a robot, and this doesn’t concern you.) Happy Valentine's Day!

As much as we’d wish a breakup would just go away, it’s not a matter you can sweep under the rug. The simple fact is that ending a relationship is more complex now more than ever.

As we’ve become a society that indulges in oversharing, ending your relationship online is convoluted and taxing, especially with so many intertwined links, images, and mutual contacts that bind the two of you together. Closing these various doors, while engulfed in a vulnerable state, is rough during the initial breakup, which is when people usually sever all ties. So where do you start?

Give Yourself Time

The excitement of making the grand announcement, to your Facebook contacts or your Twitter pals, that you’re “In a Relationship” or “engaged” can be quite a thrill.

But when it’s over, changing your relationship status, and/ or updating your followers, can be painful. The plain task of logging into Facebook and seeing everyone else’s happiness (which, for the most part, is perfectly curated to display a life that isn’t actually happening) can be such a drag. After a breakup, sometimes it’s best to go off the grid and avoid online activity altogether. Though, whether your contacts see the change in your status or not, they will eventually find out.

Sometimes breakups are apparent in subtle ways. It’s pretty common to attempt to draw less attention to yourself online, by posting less updates, and hiding certain photo albums, but other times, changes in a relationship are more obvious. Whether you post cryptic updates, that come through as “cries for help,” or straight up air your dirty laundry, your entire business becomes public knowledge.

Shelby, 22, didn’t hesitate about changing her status on Facebook to “Single” a day after her break-up.

“I had a lot of friends and contacts express concern,” Shelby said. “Some I would reply to and some I wouldn't.”

For Shelby, changing her status made her feel embarrassed because all of her contacts knew what was going on in her personal life, though she did refrain from deleting and untagging images of herself and her ex.

Greg, 22, also felt a sense of failure and disappointment after he changed his relationship status to “single.” “When we broke up I still really cared for the girl, so doing it hurt and gave me a horrible realization that it was over.”

Dr. Robin Young, a licensed psychoanalyst and clinical social worker, says the timing in which you reveal information about a breakup is different for each individual, and depends largely on how well you can cope with the situation.

“Some people can sort things out in a few days, for other people it takes longer,” Young said. “Break-ups are a loss. It throws you off. In the beginning of a breakup you’re going to have all kinds of feelings. When you change your status, [your contacts] misconstrue what you’re getting at. It’s very destructive. It’s better to protect yourself, so if you need support reach out to friends and family do so privately.”

So rather than announce to the world that you’re going through some rough times, take a breather from your online accounts. Give yourself time to process your new reality.

To Defriend or Block? Test the Waters

Cutting off an ex from Twitter or Instagram is fairly easier because you can unfollow, block, or delete images. However, the people we interviewed specifically focused on detaching themselves from their ex on Facebook due to the combined connections (mutual friends, networks, groups etc.).

Although both options are considerably the same, meaning, you won’t be seeing your ex on your timeline, the gesture behind blocking is a lot more significant. Defriending your ex suggests that while your relationship is over, you’ve, still somewhat, ended on respectable terms. Blocking your ex, on the other hand, shows you’re severing all ties completely, and wish to know nothing about them at all. It’s sort of like killing off someone from your life.

Amy Laurent, a self-proclaimed relationship expert and executive matchmaker, is cut throat when it comes to breakups, and advises that it’s best to be rid of your ex on Facebook, and other profiles, completely.

“If you met the person online, chances are they will be checking if your profile is back on the dating site, when your last login was, or visa versa,” Laurent says. “If you truly have called it quits and are moving on and severing ties, it serves both parties to just block their profile or hide them from your Facebook newsfeed so that you as well as he or she isn’t tempted to obsess.”

The Date Report's Editor in Chief, Brian Moylan, agrees with Laurent to a certain extent.

“Personally, I believe in a social media scorched-earth policy, at least immediately after a breakup,” Anthony says. “If I don't unfriend an ex and all of their friends (that weren't my friends first) then I will at least hide them. Whether you were the dumper or the dumpee, you want to avoid witnessing any publicly-expressed emotion or causing yourself any undue distress. But I also think sending a friend request to a recent ex or sending them a Facebook message is a good way to go from "exes" to "friends." It's less personal than text or email and lets you both test the waters a little bit before plunging in too far.”

Finding Your Own Way to Move On

Once it’s over, for the most part, via unlinking, untagging, deleting, and/or blocking, there’s still the painful process of moving on. Hopefully not seeing them on your social media pages helps, but sometimes a bit more is necessary.

When Lisa, 32, and her previous boyfriend began dating they both agreed that it “wasn’t their style” to disclose that they were in a relationship on Facebook. So when the two decided to part ways Lisa used the break up as a final incentive to quit Facebook altogether.

“I never specifically disclosed the break-up, but I did leave Facebook so I could no longer see what he was doing and so he wouldn't be updated on my life without my knowing it,” Lisa says.

“I had talked about leaving [Facebook] before the break-up because of other reasons such as privacy, and their botched IPO also contributed, but I think the break-up was really the main driver.”

If quitting Facebook isn’t something you can stomach, there’s other online options that won’t make it seem like you’re an internet hermit. Instead of venting on Twitter, or attempting to induce jealousy, in case they’re checking your Instagram, (which probably won’t work anyway), there’s more productive, and fun ways to move on, while still expressing yourself online.

Kellie Wagner, 25-year-old recent college graduate from Cleveland, Ohio, started the Breakup Blog, which chronicled her entire experience because “breaking up sucks!” and you “don't do it alone.”

Then there’s Annabel Acton who launched NeverLikedItAnyway.com, a site “where once loved gifts from once loved partners get a second chance.” On the site, prospective sellers submit a photo of the item they’re trying to sell including its “real world price,” as well as the “break up price,” and the story behind it. Acton is also in talks of turning her site into a television show. Apparently breakups can be profitable as well.

Whatever route you decide to take after your breakup it’s important to know that your online footprint shadows you forever. And who wants bad karma following you to your next relationship? The point to finding your way out of a heartbreak is to, ultimately, move on.

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This person -- who is typically older and who typically enjoys posting sassy cartoons about dogs -- will often enter into a discussion happening online, say on a Facebook thread, and prove that he or she does not understand how to use the medium (e.g. signing off each post with "Love, Aunt Ruth" or treating a Facebook status update like a text message directly to Mark Zuckerburg ) and does not understand what jokes or lyrics are.