The New Online Breakup: What Are The Consequences?

The New Online Breakup: What Are The Consequences?

Has technology changed how (and how often) we end relationships?

Let's face it: Breakups suck.

But in the era of social media where Facebook friends morph within nanoseconds into real-time lovers, then descend just as quickly into frenemy territory, splits and their attendant issues now live on the World Wide Web for all your so-called "friends" to see and engage with. News about relationship difficulties, alleged infidelity, outright cheating, divorce battles, and garden variety breakups that used to reside in the private domain between two people and maybe a handful of close friends can be spread farther and faster than a rhinovirus in winter. Aided and abetted by web-based and wireless technology, breakups, dissing your ex, and nailing a cheating partner can get downright nasty.

In the on-demand world of text messaging, moment-to-moment Twitter updates, blogging, instant messaging, email, and continuous RSS feeds, relationship vicissitudes can be logged, and by the same token, monitored, with the exacting precision of a military campaign. And with myriad computer software applications and websites, uncovering (and unloading) cheating, lying, two-faced lovers is as easy as a pointing and clicking.

Which all begs the question: Is technology changing the nature—and the frequency of—the breakup?

Public Domain

Sixteen-year-old Amalia Rudnik, a dating newbie who's had two boyfriends break up with her on Facebook, says the "status" box where people indicate whether they're "in a relationship," "single," or "it's complicated," can easily be used as a weapon, as well as the "wall" on your profile page and the graffiti application.

"If you're friends with someone and you can see their profile, when they break up with someone everyone will know you've broken up—your whole network of friends will know." It's important, she says, to update your status after a breakup or friends will think you're still pining for the guy who broke up with you. It happened to her. While breakup No. 1 occurred offline, her ex changed his Facebook status right away to "single," while hers remained unchanged for hours: "You don't want to look like an idiot."

The ex-boyfriend made fun of Rudnik by drawing a picture of her with the graffiti application and posting it on his profile. She had to ask a friend to convince him to remove it. Rudknik also says Facebook and MySpace groups often form instantaneously to gang up on either side in a breakup or campaign to humiliate someone.

Forget about Ms. Manners or civility. Etiquette? What etiquette? Technology has enabled everyone to take the easy way out via text message, instant message, email, voicemail, blog post, and even online video hubs like YouTube.

Using instant messages and texts to end a personal relationship can be less viral than turning to Facebook or MySpace, though people can forward messages to a group in their BlackBerry or cell phone address book. According to the findings of a global study commissioned by Skype and Harris Interactive, 21% of the men ages 18-24 surveyed feel the new forms of communication encourage less honesty and openness. The study found that 81% of respondents said face-to-face communication is still the most acceptable way to end a relationship, while 7% said doing so via email was acceptable and 3% said via IM was acceptable.

Think it's just teenagers and young adults who are reeling from the new breakup modes? Think again.

Patti Wood, a 49-year-old Atlanta-based body language expert, trainer and speaker, recently experienced a breakup over email after three dates that were interspersed with continuous phone contact and email. The man she'd been dating initiated the breakup by asking a few personal questions and apparently, she says, not liking the answers he received.

"I felt devastated and made to feel less than, or not worthy of a face-to-face interaction. We weren't physical in any way, but it felt so cold and inappropriate to the level of self-disclosure and connection," Wood explains.

Given her professional training, she was all the more surprised by the curveball. "It was a lesson learned for me in that I got pulled into that emailing relationship world for the first time as a major form of trying to communicate [with a potential partner] even with all of my knowledge."

What a Tangled (World Wide) Web We Weave

Technology rules in the fictional world as well. In USA Network's mini series The Starter Wife, Gracie Pollock is dumped by cell phone by her boy/man of a movie producer husband just before her 10th wedding anniversary.

Social network sites like DontDateHimGirl.com offer women a place to exchange information and compare notes about men they're dating. The site started as a tell-all venue for women to wave red flags about their experiences with specific cads but is now a basic relationships and dating site.

The web, it seems, is being used for everything from trash-talking exes post-breakup to confirming a partner is cheating via computer software. There are even websites that create random phone numbers where you can send messages to your partner from a fake person to see if he or she is carrying on an affair. SpoofTel.com offers the ability to change your Caller ID information to show any phone number you want, change your voice to male or female, record the conversation or text message, and your real number won’t show up on the Caller ID screen. You can even capture a user name and password, then do a reverse phone lookup on the Web.

To monitor sites a partner visits, email, IM, and other online activities, Spectorsoft Internet monitoring software ($99) checks everything, including screen captures, about every two seconds and all keystrokes.

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