Friday, February 6, 2009

How Social Networking Sites Have Changed The Breakup Game

In the musical "South Pacific," Nellie made breaking up sound easy when she sang, "I'm gonna wash that man right outa my hair."

But Nellie didn't have Facebook in 1949, when the musical opened. If she had, forgetting him might have been a lot harder.

With Facebook, it's only a click away, and news of an ex even arrives unbidden, unless you take steps to stop it. There are constant reminders.

Indeed, all that interwoven connectedness, which can help ease the way into a relationship, makes it all the harder to disengage at the end.

Even if you do "unfriend" an ex, you'll still most likely encounter him often on the Facebook sites of mutual friends where his photos and comments may likely turn up.

If it's over, it's not quite over on Facebook. Updates like "Barry is in a new relationship" or "Sarah went dancing all night last night" or photos of your ex with a new man are sure to rankle.

It's all part of the fish-bowl visibility — from start to finish — that social networking sites give to what once were largely private matters of the heart.

For the mostly teens and twenty-somethings who live out their romantic lives on Facebook, the flirting often begins with one person posting a seemingly casual comment on another's wall. The very public nature of the wall — a space on a user's profile where friends can post messages — makes it possible to explore the possibility of a relationship without revealing much.

In the past, when a relationship flourished, it might be marked by a pin or a letter sweater or a friendship ring. Today it often leads to a talk: Should we change our status on Facebook from being single to being in a relationship? Or, with the more dysfunctional dyad, one member may post a change in his or her relationship status without telling the other.

Which brings us to breaking up in the Facebook arena. Libby Simpson's boyfriend had just broken up with her when she started getting calls from friends who weren't her closest asking, "How are you?" "Are you OK?"

"What are you talking about?" Simpson, a junior at the University of Massachusetts, asked them.

"We saw it on Facebook," they said. Her ex, Andrew, had changed his status to single, and an automatic message had been sent out, accompanied with a broken heart, signaling the end of their relationship.

"I was kind of mortified," said Simpson, who has 342 friends on Facebook. "First of all I was just getting over the shock, saying OK, this is real … I didn't get out of bed for a week."

After such an experience, many Facebook users opt not to record any details about their romantic status, so that if it changes, at least they avoid having any notifications sent out. After the break-up, Simpson also weathered the Facebook updates containing tidbits about Andrew's whereabouts, reminding her of what he was doing, which friends he was seeing.

Kathleen Bogle, a professor of sociology at La Salle University in Philadelphia and the author of "Hooking Up: Sex, Dating, and Relationships on Campus," said having so much access to information about your ex "can really take jealousy to a new level."

Michael Rabby, an assistant professor of communication studies at the University of Portland in Oregon and an expert on relationships and the Internet, said it's a "hard-and-fast rule, if you break up with somebody, you really should 'unfriend' them.

"You don't want to know if they are dating or really what they are feeling because you're not going to really, recover. You're not going to heal yourself if you're constantly attuned to what your ex is doing."

But many don't "unfriend" easily, even with someone they are mad at.

Back to Nellie and the late '40s. Turns out she had more trouble than she thought in her plan to "drum him out" of her "dreams." By the end of the play, she and her boyfriend are back together.


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