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

  • hilarious & every single word rang (so) true. thanks for this!


  • Passant

    Been there..You have no idea what that post makes me feel, it’s like your living with me! And yea people, he will not be longer in your brain feeds what ever he post or did, Even if he send you a message at 3am telling you that he miss you, IT WILL NOT MOVE A SINGLE HAIR FROM YOU (despise how much you love them), do it and don’t unfriend your ex’s, it will releave you and make you even happier when you see him that his the one that needs you after all.

  • Abigail

    I absolutely love this. The entire time I was reading it, I just kept thinking to myself, “I can totally relate” or “omg, I do that, why do I do that?”

    • kiki

      Hahahah me tooo!

  • Anon
    • Leandra Medine

      Yes–we saw (and loved) that article. This one has been in queue since March, though, and because it was so well-written and we didn’t want to squash it when that issue of the magazine came out, Margaret made some slight amendments to differentiate it from that piece and hopefully offers a different opinion in its current form. That said, though, all hail Ny Mag for doing EVERYTHING faster and better than anyone else.

      • Amatoria

        The comments on that NY Mag article are horrifying. People are so judgemental. Here’s a girl, sharing her embarrassing insecurities, and people have to point fingers, pretending that they are above such behavior.
        We all care about what at least a few of our exes are doing, on some level. Whether we cyber-stalk or not, finding out your ex is getting married or whatever else is going to cause some type of emotion.
        Thank you, Margaret, for sharing. I am sure many of us can relate to your experiences (even if some may deny it).

  • Sal

    This is why I broke up with facebook!
    It breaks down the genuine and fosters artificial relationships. If people are interested in my day, then they will text me or contact me.
    It’s such an amazing freedom.
    Cheers Cheers Cheers.

    • Ludapris

      Broke up with Facebook 2 years ago and feel amazing! FOMO be gone 😉

  • Penny Campbell Le

    “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.” My favourite bit. Yep, this is good humour all right. (Also- been there, went through that.)

    X, Comtesse Sofia

  • And yet another reason I completely moved on to Twitter in lieu of Facebook. I never liked Facebook anyway…*as she restores her Facebook account*

    Your Friend, Jess

  • Michael Madigan

    I am so so glad that I’m not alone on this one! Also, seeing their Instagram captions followed by thirty hashtags that was once somewhat cute, now only serves to irk you. The only pro arising from such irritation? The fulfilling knowledge of their deep insecurity and need for an online validation.

    Can I get a hell yes?

  • I’m still peeping my ex-boyfriend’s Facebook pages (or my husband’s ex-girlfriend’s FB pages), but I couldn’t care less, I’m happily married with kids. But it was another story 10 years ago, and it would probably kill me to see my husband’s social life if we separated. If this happens, I will happily join you in Amish country.
    Mafalda ❤

  • Funny and apt. the more exes you have, the more opportunities for an accidental smackdown, too.

  • Hudson Berry

    Holy moly, Margaret is fucking hilarious.

    “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.”

  • cate

    this is straight up amazeballs. perfect timing as linkedin asked me to congratulate my ex on his updated profile just yesterday after i thought i had digitally eradicated him. there is no escape! and thank you for bringing mulan back into my life. <3 #mushuforever

  • CarolinaG

    Love your blog!
    I’m posting looks from Los Angeles and accessories:

  • So funny! I could relate to this.

  • withluckblog

    Love this post. I remember when I broke up with my high school boyfriend in my senior year of college. We had come so far! And then the…. now what? I thought I was real sly and I took my relationship status off facebook completely but the next day when he just went in as single, it went up on my wall, too. People came out of the woodwork to send their messages “finally! Your better off” “lets go grab a drink” “I’m here if you need me!” Who needs any of that? And what kind of sick person “likes” a new breakup? Come on! This isn’t fun!

    oye… I really hated that.

  • ASULikeIt

    Ew, birthdays are the worst time to look at the stuff. Love this piece.

  • Slonko

    Yeah I can also relate… but for me the worst thing about ex’s in virtual life was cute videos and photos on fb which my boyfriend’s ex posted when they were together. When I was with my John Smith he didnt want to delete it from his profile and I couldnt force him to do it (I mean it should be his decision- I think), he was also keeping in touch with his ex on fb by casual chat talks and I felt that even he didnt want to be with her anymore he wasnt over her. Luckly he is not my John Smith anymore.

  • The internet even has ways of reminding you of ex’s from before Facebook was even a twinkle in Zuckerberg’s eye… recently I discovered I hadn’t updated my public profile since 2003, and I had my anniversary listed as the date I shared with my college boyfriend.

  • JA

    This is just what I needed to read today! Thanks!

  • Ahh Love and dating in the digital age..
    How things have changed.

    I completely relate to all of this. :/ and have subjected myself to the same torture of scouring the ex’s news feed only to wind up in tears elbows deep in ice cream.


  • MsDenbi

    This was a great read: funny and good for thought. I definitely agree that the more you try to take someone out of your online life, the more it seems like you care–like you’re the affected one. Best to ride the storm out and act like a badass that doesn’t care, while crying to chic flicks alone at night 😛

  • Charlotte

    Snapchat adds a whole complicated layer to the mix and why must the photos always be of the seaside?

  • Rebecca

    Sometimes with an ex it’s good to just wipe them from facebook/twitter and feel like the bigger (and much better man 🙂 )

    This is such good writing material though. Any little photo/status update/whatever can cause a shamefully strong sting of jealousy. However, in the bigger picture taking photos and writing is really a bit of harmless fun. Tricky times! x

  • Rebecca

    And to comment on de-friending, when I did it I just thought ‘can’t be even assed to have you in my life. See ya, over n out!’ haha

  • This is hilarious and so so true. I sometimes (read maybe once every few months) find myself checking out my ex’s profiles because there is always that small portion of you that thinks of the what-ifs. Social media does NOT make it better at all.

  • Olivia

    oh my! i hardly ever comment on blogs but this is so true and so hilllllariously (yet eliquontly!) put i just had to. i think this rings true with so many women (and men perhaps!) out there. god damn facebook is what i say, god damn it! Even the strongest will powered woman on earth could not resist and facebook stalk! and i so identify with the deleting thing – it always feels like it will be judged as a venomous event but really its just trying to get them as far away as possible!

  • L

    Great article!

  • Meg

    Oh man the worst is always when social media suggests that you follow your ex. Someone really needs to teach them the difference between people you may know and people you used to know but stopped talking to years ago because of a break-up PLEASE STOP REMINDING ME, TWITTER, k thx.

  • Lauren at adorn la femme

    So delightful and hilarious! Who does’t do this, I want to know!!!!!


    Lauren at adorn la femme

  • hanneli

    No need to unfriend him, I will just tick “not show in news feed” =))

  • yvonne

    I was contemplating if I should delete profile photos of us together.

  • Emma

    I tend to believe that good things come at the right place, in the right time. Unfortunately, a couple of days ago, I “accidentally” went on my first love’s facebook profile. Although we have broken up a year ago, I saw that he and the even-so-perfect-model-like-golddigger girlfriend he left me for have been on a vacation somewhere, and I wished we were doing that. Sometimes I wish our relationship was displayed like that, but now I chuckle and see how annoying it must be for the others to be spammed with sugary posts every day.

    Facebook is a threat to me, whenever I have a lot to do I tend to forget about it, and then when I log in, I am afraid that I’ll see that my current crush is in a relationship with a “whats-her-face”. Yeah, good for them, be happy, but for me it is too much, considering the fact that it has happened plenty of time, and that the firstly mentioned ex has intentionally put his relationship on FB on my birthday. Way to go, champ.

    Thank you for this article, really. It has brightened up my morning and it helped the process of “letting go”. 🙂

  • Naomi R Tallin

    “My peers and I are basically forced to wallow in past relationships 24/7 due to our generation’s unique affliction—social media.”

    I totally don’t agree with this! You choose to look him up, facebook didn’t decide to be a jerk and post him all over your wall, for you to wallow in your own self pity! I think we forget that when we break up with someone or are broken up with, its usually for a pretty good reason, i.e.: it didn’t work out! It was so great until it wasn’t, whatever.You shouldn’t want to get back into that less-than-stellar relationship, no matter how good looking he is. So, just don’t look him up.

  • grace kane

    Lovely writer:) Thoroughly entertaining while she hit this nail right on the head.

  • Paco T.

    it even more hurts that breaking up with a text message.

  • Issa

    This is so true :)) And funny. I love your writing 🙂 Sadly enough (or not), we just have to deal with this social media thing. And virtually kill ex boyfriends :))


  • Lexi

    This article is hilariously on point in so many ways. I’ve experienced this first-hand with a guy I’ve known since elementary school. After four solid years together, the break up was traumatic and two years later I still haven’t fully recovered from the emotional attachment. In addition to making a fake account, I went to the unspeakably brazen extreme of messaging both his parents on FB, chronicling all the times he forced me to go Dutch on dates, the countless times he forcibly pushed my head down (a tactic he picked up from his frat brothers) and recounted to his mom how comfortable her bed was. 82 messages later, I was shellshocked. Directly after the breakup, i rushed to the nearest psychic in hopes that she would provide some insight into my tumultuous past 4 years with him. The two psychics I’ve been to reassured me he was my soulmate and that he’d come back, and one of them even recalled his name without me uttering a word, which made me even more hopeful that there was something real about our unshakable love for each other. I am so lost and broken and he keeps blocking and unblocking me on Facebook which only reaffirms his mutual turmoil. I know this may come off as shocking, and you must be thinking, this girl is irrufutably crazy, but parting with a first love will make you go full-fledged psychotic (literally). I urge all the man repellers out there to consider converting to asexuality.

  • The Divorce one

    too much I can’t poor girl

  • EvaFalco
  • I’m great. Taylor Swift writes songs about me.

    Somehow I don’t feel as if this sentiment will ever change.

  • Hamdi

    Love it! Felt like I was reading my own diary!!


  • Kloe Wallace

    I love this post! It was relatable and I completely agree with most of what was said. I recently went through a break up and seeing him all over my news feed and such is really driving me crazy, especially since his life seem’s to have vastly improved since! I keep going to unfriend him but I feel like that’s too harsh I mean we were together for 2 years, I deleted his number so I couldn’t text him but he’s the one who talks to me online and I just want to knock him out! It doesn’t help much! Haha.
    Anyway I’m rambling great post, you’ve got a new follower! Haha
    Kloe xx

  • Nicky

    great article!

  • ZA

    Love this. So relatable and witty. Couldn’t have said it better myself, and I’ve done almost everything you’ve listed.

  • I think you can, like, block a person without them knowing? But for realz, exes everywhere!!!

  • Becca Fleming

    “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.”

    This resonated with me more than anything else in this piece. I have lived on this earth for a looong 18 (almost 19!) years, and with all my friends about to depart for their respective universities, I can’t help but realize I most likely won’t give two shits about them in 5 months, even though I want to give at LEAST 3 shits about them! I completely agree with you Margaret! A “like” on Instagram isn’t the same as a text asking about their day, but I can’t help feeling like we as a society are starting to think they are interchangeable.

    As always, fantastically written!

  • Clara de Soto

    Great article! Here’s to reclaiming outta sight outta mind (and never needing our app again)!