Love & Breakups in the Facebook Age

I love social media. I tweet. I run a website. I have a Facebook page. Gear Diary has two Facebook pages. But sometimes … sometimes it just goes too far. Sometimes people lose site of the public nature of these things … or maybe it is just that they don’t use good judgment. Regardless of the reasons, let me tell you a story…

Two couples I know divorced earlier this year; ironically they were finalized on the same day, but in each case I had no idea that their marriages were even in trouble, that they had separated, or that they had been divorced until after the fact. Both of these women are Facebook Friends, and they both handled their divorces with dignity and class by taking the high road; there were no Facebook posts bashing their exes, there were no passive-agressive posts vaguely aimed at their exes even if not specifically addressed as such, there were no attempts at trying to raise support for their “side” amongst their mutual friends, and most importantly — since both couples had children together — there are now no permanent records of any public discord between the two ex-spouses for their children (or their children’s friends) to discover.

In other words, one day each woman’s status was set to “Married”, and then one day each simply wasn’t. They got to let their friends know what had happened on their own terms and at their own pace.

Contrast that to another couple I know, who recently went from “Married” to the confusing combo of “Married” & “It’s Complicated” , and then abruptly to “Single” … all in less than a week. Each status change brought a fresh round of support from the person’s friends — which has been heartening for each party, I’m sure. But since neither person is writing out exactly what happened (nor should they!), but instead they are making a series of enigmatic posts, their apparently imminent divorce has become grist for our small town’s gossip-mill. What really makes this story unfortunate is that the couple involved are not the type I would ordinarily expect to call such unwanted attention to themselves, but now they are getting it … in spades. And I need to be clear that this is not the first couple I have watched implode on Facebook, nor (I am sure) will it be the last.

The problem is that because the drama is now being played out in cyber-space there will be a cyber-echo of it for a very long time. If these two work things out, then everyone who ever knows them as a couple will potentially be reminded of the drama. If they do break up, they both run the risk of looking… well, of looking diminished.

Thankfully the latest couple haven’t started calling each other names … but who knows how this will play out. I certainly wouldn’t have expected what’s already happened, so your bet is as good as mine. And I have a feeling that there are some looking in — and I can almost picture them sitting at their computers with greasy fingers as they eat popcorn watching the drama play out — who are hoping that the name-calling will soon start. It might not concern me so much, but these are both good people; I am sad to see either of them becoming gossip fodder.

So let’s have an internet refresher course for just a moment — some DOs and DON’Ts of social networking during any breakup — realizing that the points made here can be applied to Facebook, Twitter or any other social networking site:

1. Surprise! “Facebook Friends” include a mix of people who may or may not actually be your friends. Some may be business contacts, acquaintances you met at an event once and have never again thought about, “friends” from childhood that you wouldn’t know in a line-up, people you “know” and that you friended because you didn’t want to hurt their feelings but you don’t particularly like, etc., etc., etc. In other words — you may have some family members and a few real life friends on Facebook, but I am willing to bet that a fair percentage of your Facebook Friends are people who you don’t necessarily need to let into your head, much less your breakup.

2. Things posted on the internet are FOREVER; this includes Facebook updates and photos! Never post anything that you don’t want seen by your mother, father, children (present or future), parents-in-law (present or future), siblings, best friend (present or future), spouse (present or future), employer (present or future), priest, rabbi, roommates, business partners (present or future), your grandmother, or by anyone who matters to you … because they are always the ones who will find this crap eventually, or have it pointed out to them. Bank on it.

3. Don’t think that because you post something and delete it, you are safe. Haven’t you heard of “right click + save” or “screen capture”? Once something is up  you can assume it is out there… Forever.

4. THINK before you post! You don’t think that flirty post you did out of spite won’t show up to haunt you in divorce proceedings? You don’t think the way you are bashing your ex won’t become a talking point for his or her lawyer to use against you? You don’t think that there are certain people who you think you know who can’t wait to gossip about the latest exchange between you and your soon-to-be-ex that they read on Facebook? And if you think you’ve been smart by “de-friending” your soon-to-be-ex, don’t kid yourself that there aren’t people who are reporting everything you say back to your nemesis.  THINK!

5. Support from Facebook Friends may make you feel good for a little while, and some of it may actually be genuine, but people are not always altruistic; that Facebook Friend who is offering you support publicly may be also be stabbing you in the back with the info you’re sharing. Why give them the knife?

6. During a breakup, keep your mouth shut; keep a diary of your feelings if you must — speak to a few close, personal friends if you must; speak to your shrink, priest, or rabbi if you must, but DO NOT publish it online! The less you say, the better things will turn out.

So in summary, if you want to survive a breakup virtually unscathed — online anyway — then you must keep your private business private.

Your friends and family want to give you love and support when you are hurting, so pick up the phone and let them know what’s going on. Tell them face to face about what a turd your ex is; give your real life friends and family a chance to support you.

Always take the high road on Facebook or anywhere else online; in other words — “don’t put your business in the street” as nothing good can possibly come from it. Nothing.

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5 replies

  1. Very wise words Judie!

  2. I’ve never been through a “social” breakup, so I really couldn’t comment personally on what I would do in that situation. Though I’d like to think it would be more like your first couple examples, rather than the latter. The one thing that makes me think I could avoid the more ugly of the two situations is the fact I detest drama. Drama of any sort drives me away faster than a cattle prod. I don’t even have any of my real family on Facebook, nor do I post under my full name.

    I’ve always been concerned about my privacy, and the way my online life might affect my offline life. If you were to Google my real name, you’d only find a handful of generic hits, mostly things like those “” links, and a couple 10+ year old pages I made when first starting out online. The fact that those pages — from Tripod / Geocities — even still exist is a testament to your “Things posted on the internet are FOREVER” line.

    As an older teenager back in the day, as soon as I realized that stuff online pretty much lives forever, I stopped using my real name. Resumes, job applications and shopping. Those are about the only 3 things that ever see my birth name.

    That isn’t to say that I can’t be found. I just don’t have a 15 year trail of my every online habit for dubious people to snoop at, and that is the way I like it.

  3. How very true! There is nothing at all anywhere on-line about my personal relationships.. Who I’m dating, who my ex is etcetera.. Oh wait! Those emails we had a year or two ago about my relationship troubles!! DOH! :-)

  4. @Josh – I used to think it would be awesome to be off the grid, and then I realized it was impossible … already too late. So I have just made sure that anything I ever put out there was something that I wouldn’t mind having read out loud at my funeral. 😉

    @Drew – I’ll never share those emails; as far as I am concerned they don’t exist! 😆