Breaking Up in The Digital Age

Because your brain feed will never recover if your news feed doesn’t give it the chance.


breaking up in the digital age

Written by Margaret Boykin, illustration by Charlotte Fassler

On my 22nd birthday I decided to give myself a gift. I was sitting in the library, fake writing a paper on film noir while actually engaging in my favorite pastime: pretending to be someone else looking at my Facebook page. The birthday endorphins were getting to my head as I merrily clicked through my profile pictures, all like, look at that—she’s fun, she’s smart. That’s a hilarious photo of her as a baby.

Those are some daring creepers she’s sporting—what a cool girl! Glowing in this moment of self-satisfaction, I suddenly had the impulse to do something I hadn’t done in months—click over to my ex-boyfriend’s Facebook page. After all, I thought to myself, I’m 22 now. I’m great. Taylor Swift writes songs about me. I’m an adult, and I can handle this. I tapped a few keys and there was his annoyingly good-looking face, smiling at me in formal wear, right next to the glaring headline “John Smith Is Now in a Relationship With Fa Mulan”*

Happy fucking Birthday!

I spent the rest of my first day as a 22 year old sobbing, eating a large portion of what I’ll call soul food and eventually blacking out, but that’s neither here nor there. The point of my anecdote is that my episode of playing with Internet fire is hardly a unique one, but symptomatic of the technological time we live in. My peers and I are basically forced to wallow in past relationships 24/7 due to our generation’s unique affliction—social media.

Think about it–no one in the 1700s was getting blind-sighted by an oil painting of their former significant other with his new beau. From what I understand, it took about five years to send a letter and everyone died at 25. But today we literally carry pieces of our exes with us everywhere we go. They appear on our phones’ Instagram feeds looking better groomed than they used to, they tweet at bitches with handles not unlike, 2Cute2bTru and all too frequently check-in at bars that are supposed to be our spoils of war.

I have a friend who still receives random Snapchat messages months after she’s stopped talking to her ex. It’s like, thanks for that random picture of the seaside, bro. Help me out here, was the ocean supposed to represent the blue of my tears?

For even the most resilient of broken hearts, it appears there’s really no way to avoid an ex without straight-up murdering him. Technology has responded in kind. In a deft marketing move, entrepreneurs Erica Mannherz and Clara de Soto launched the app “KillSwitch” on Valentine’s Day. Designed for Androids and soon, iOs phones, the app will eradicate all evidence of your ex on your Facebook. Photos of the two of you, loving wall-to-wall banter, cheeky comments and messages all vanish—unless, of course, you elect to save the electronic memories in a special folder that you can access when you feel ready. Like on your birthday.

The concept of KillSwitch is not entirely novel–the digital era has welcomed the broken-hearted consumer with open arms. The “Ex-App” will block you from your calling or texting your ex’s number, eliminating the ever-graceful 3AM “hey, you up?”

“Never Liked It Anyway” will sell his stuff online for you. A high-tech version of the more cinematic choice: throwing all their shit out the window.

However, my problem with these apps is that it feels too aggressive to de-friend someone on Facebook that you used to date. Every time I’ve done it I’ve felt like I’m making some dramatic declaration, and that John Smith is going to one day absentmindedly look for me on the book and, upon discovering I’m no longer accessible, shake his head quietly and chuckle at the insane person he once shared a bed with. Even if you’re just doing it to avoid watching him post weirdly insensitive statuses about homeless people daily, de-friending an ex sends a message that says “I Care.”

Ultimately, the aftermath of a break-up always feels like a battle of who can care less.

There’s no doubt about it—breaking up in our digital age means that the pure act of not seeing someone in person any longer isn’t enough. You have to break up with their online presence, too, and because your lives are so interwoven through multiple social media platforms, that’s a marathon endeavor. I’m just not sure that creating a million apps and fire walls and whatever-the-fucks is the best way to deal with this new break-up climate. Facebook doesn’t look like it’s joining MySpace in the internet grave anytime soon, and Instagram has already inspired spin offs. We are going to continue to be connected to one another whether we want to or not–to put up a fight rather than emotionally adapt will be exhausting.

Maybe living in the world of birthday-inspired internet peeping will only cause us to grow thicker skin. Or perhaps it will act as a crutch, a way for people to exist artificially in each other’s lives until the months go by and you realize that although you still “follow” or “friend” their internet presence, in the real world, they’re no longer on your brain feed.

Only time will tell, but I’ll promise you this, if it doesn’t get easier, I’m moving to Amish country, and encourage you all to join me. After all, what’s more man repelling than a mandatory bonnet?

Disclaimer: Names have been replaced with those of classic Disney characters to preserve fragile identities that need protecting

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