Breaking Up is Hard to Do...Online

Does changing your relationship status online have to mean digital drama?

I still remember the toughest break-up I’ve ever had (don’t we all?). There was a huge fight over the phone, a lot of apologizing and tears, and finally the sad realization that there was nothing more to be said.

Oh, except this: “Just a heads-up; I’m updating my relationship status on Facebook right now.”

This is an element of breaking up that not all generations of Facebook users have faced. For example, my parents don’t even have separate Facebook accounts; their joint profile declares their obvious “married” status. They’ve never had to wonder at what point they wanted to make their relationship Facebook-official. They’ve definitely never dealt with the double-whammy of having that “we need to talk” conversation and then trying to be the first to declare their “single” status on Facebook.

However, many members of my generation use Facebook to reflect what’s happening in our lives -- including our romantic relationships. Tor us, breaking up online can be as difficult and messy as it is in real life.

Not only does the ability to publish your relationship status online make a breakup more public, but it can also make whatever you do after the break-up more public, as well. Here are a few typical types of Facebook post-breakup methods and why they may or may not be the best idea:

The Cleanser

This person may have one of two objectives: 1) she’s making a clean break, or 2) she’s on a bitter rampage. The cleanser will not stop at changing her relationship status to “single”. She will also unfriend her ex, delete any photos (or entire albums) in which her ex appears, and untag herself from anyone else’s photos of the former couple. She will also probably strip her profile of any likes, interests, or hobbies that she and the ex shared.

Why it works: It may sound extreme, but for some people this is the only way to get over someone. A college friend once explained to me that she finally had to unfriend her ex because she was always tempted to check up on his Facebook profile for clues about whether he was seeing other girls. Removing the temptation helped her to butt out of his business and become more concerned with moving her own life forward.

Why it doesn’t: This extreme method may be a mistake if it isn’t thought through. If you profile-purge out of anger one lonely night, you may wake up the next morning to discover you now can’t find that epic picture of yourself from last year’s Halloween party because it was in one of your ex’s photo albums. If you realize that unfriending your ex was a bit too extreme, you now have to swallow your pride and request him or her to be your friend again. Ouch.

The Stalker Ex

While the Cleanser opts to quit his ex cold turkey, the Stalker Ex is quick to give into that temptation to keep tabs on his former flame, thus fanning the fires of jealousy. Does this freak you out? It probably should. Especially if it sounds like you. A Stalker Ex will not only constantly peruse his ex’s profile; he’ll also Facebook-stalk any guy who leaves a comment on her wall or appears in a picture with her. He may even leave nasty or disparaging comments on people’s pictures and posts.

Why it works: It doesn’t. Well, not for the Stalker Ex, at least. He will probably lose friends and respect from handling the breakup so creepily. His behavior will assure the stalked ex that breaking up was a smart move.

Why it doesn’t: Unless you really enjoy being jealous and bitter, constantly checking up on your ex won’t help you move on with your life or increase your chances of finding someone new. You would probably be better off trying the Cleanser’s method.

The Free Agent

Welcome to a Stalker Ex’s worst nightmare: the person who is newly single and proud of it. She's not the kind to discreetly remove that little broken heart icon from her Facebook feed, because within five-minutes of changing her relationship status, 41 of her friends have “liked” it. Her new profile picture will either be an extremely flattering photo of herself with her ex cropped out of it, or it will be changed every week to display her with a different guy (or girl, as it goes).

Why this works: The message is clear: you've moved on. That can be a good thing, because it doesn’t give your ex any false hope that you’ll eventually get back together. Plus, the social butterfly routine is a lot better than moping around and posting lyrics to John Mayer songs in your status updates.

Why it doesn’t: If you have just broken off a meaningful relationship with someone you care about, flaunting your single status can be really insensitive to your ex. Just like the Stalker Ex, the Free Agent could damage some friendships and respect due to disregard for others’ feelings. If you’re going to publicize your freedom, you might consider at least altering your privacy settings to avoid rubbing your ex’s face in it.

The Flip-Floppers

Everyone knows this couple; maybe some of you have even been this couple before. They are on a relationship roller coaster, and they’re taking everyone they know along for the ride. They break up, they get back together, they go on another break, they reunite, they break up again. Tthey update their relationship status every step of the way.

Why this works: I guess at least this keeps everyone up to speed about where you are in your relationship. But unless your names are Ross and Rachel, Sam and Diane, Tim and Dawn, Jim and Pam, Chuck and Blair, Will and Emma, Barbie and Ken, or Kermit and Miss Piggy, we probably don’t really care!

Why it doesn’t: Flip-Floppers annoy and exhaust their friends by filling up their Facebook feeds with relationship status updates. These two either need to hold off on making it Facebook-official until they really get things figured out, or they need to just stick with “It’s Complicated” and keep the details to themselves.

Is Status-Free the Way to Be?

Of course, one option that helps bypass the Facebook relationship drama is not to post any relationship status on your profile. However, some people today actually feel that making a relationship Facebook-official is an important step, so you may get some friction from a significant other if you don’t want to go public with your relationship.

Whatever you decide, just remember the cardinal rule of online relationships: don’t declare any type of status, whether single, engaged, open, or complicated, without letting the other person know first. If you can coordinate your updates this perfectly, that’s even better.

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