Managing a public identity and depersonalizing and distancing ourselves from others are the two biggest reasons users register for social networking sites, according to Kimberly S. Young, PhD, the world's first cyberpsychologist. My case was a perfect example: Right after I went from "In a relationship" to "Single," I felt an urgent need to update my status.
Krissy is the box read. Krissy is deleting old text messages from her phone? Too bitter. Krissy is hoping you're not all laughing at her for another effed up relationship? Too true. Krissy is pondering the meanings of life and love? Too sappy.
Krissy is... Krissy is a new leaf. Perfect—fragile, but surging with new life. In truth I was faking the "new life" bit—I was bleary-eyed and deflated.
Next, I deleted the ex from my friend list. Sure, cutting off virtual contact would hurt him. But it would have been more brutal if we'd remained friends and I'd had to see his page fill up with wall posts from his ex.
Are you sure you want to end this friendship? Facebook asked. God, it was so grave. This cannot be undone. It was like pulling the pin on a bomb. I closed my eyes, held my breath, and hit Delete Friend.
The next the morning I woke up to supportive messages from four Facebook friends, including an old sorority sister who shocked me when she said, "Snuggle up with some chick lit, eat lots of chocolate and then get back out there." People weren't laughing—they were helping. Another friend commented, "You ok? I just deleted him too." A guy pal grabbed me on chat. "Who was this idiot anyway?"
"He's actually a really good guy, Ed. We just weren't right for each other."
"Oh. Well then I'm sorry for calling him an idiot."
"It's fine. I know you have my back. I need support right now."
"Well you have mine," he replied. "Nobody screws with my Krissy."
I will never delete Ed.
Friend lists may be virtual, but friendships are real. As I struggled over the loss of a failed friend, others jumped in to support.
Around lunchtime the ex called to see how I was doing. "I'm fine, just getting used to this," I said.
"I don't think it's sunk in with me yet." He paused. "I saw you deleted me from Facebook."
"I saw you re-added your crazy ex. Anyway, we don't need to know each other's business."
"She re-added me! Somebody told her I'm single again."
Over the next few weeks he wiggled back into my good graces, so I re-friended him. But being Facebook friends was different this time. A woman he met at a wedding wrote on his wall, "I had a great time with you, we definitely owned the dance floor!" One of his friends asked me out on my wall. Then he said it felt too weird to be regular friends, so I deleted him from my friend list, again.
I friended an old flame whom I'd been in love with for years and scurried to untag my face from all the summer photos with my more recent ex. I scrolled down on the old ex's profile and saw that when he was with me he'd been Facebook-poking a girl named Bonnie. So I deleted him too. It was my declaration of independence from every relationship that had ever made me feel silly—in front of an online audience or otherwise.
A breakup hurts when it goes Facebook public—but the announcement can actually help the healing. To the people who stepped in when they saw I was suffering: you are friends on Facebook, and you are friends for life.