It’s Complicated: Breakup in the Social Age

When it’s over, it’s not quite over. Especially when there is your online life involved. No wonder teenagers adore Snapchat — they don’t want to carry their personal history around and showcase it to everyone (friends and “friends”).

After a breakup, even one that ended well and without fights, there's still a battlefield, and it's called social networks. Enter it unprepared and naïve — and you’ll fall victim to your ex’s planned or unplanned moves. Better come armed, as you might have two sides haunting you: your common history and their new life without you.

I clearly remember the first weeks that followed the biggest breakup of my life. After seven years together, he left me for another girl. We ended things up rather smoothly, but then came the social layer. We stayed friends in what is now known as “real life.” In addition, we had a side project together, that required online social presence, so it was only natural to stay friends on Facebook, Foursquare and the like. Little did I know how painful the posts, check-ins and (especially) pictures would be (thank you, Instagram, for that). Normally, you try to avoid meeting your ex right after the breakup. Facebook — oh no, Facebook’s got a different approach, choosing to show you what you've recently been interested in. And that, of course, includes him. The other side, though, is that you can show off your new date, or even select how much to reveal. In my case, a combination of a check-in at a restaurant and a close-up photo of a bouquet later in the evening suggested a date — that did not even happen in reality. It was a friend’s way of cheering me up, but for me it became a means to demonstrate to my ex that he wouldn't be that hard to replace. Mean? Yes. Worked? You bet!

Knife-throwing and gun shooting can get keep on with who checks in where on Foursquare. And there your combined history makes a move: “you've been here 7 times, but <your ex> has been here 8! You’re not going to let that stand, are you?” You check in at the same party with him? Hey, “that's your 239th checkin together.” Thanks, Foursquare, “together” doesn't apply anymore.

Heavy artillery, though, is your joined accounts. If you have a shared iTunes account (and iCloud), good luck with that! The geekier of the two gets all the stalking powers. Especially if the other party is careless enough to not pay attention (or know) what's stored in the cloud. Not only the ultimate couples’ weapon of Find my (and his) iPhone, but also synced notes, calendars and photo stream... If you gain the ’geek’ power, the question is what you do with it, and whether you use it. Exercise willpower and choose not to look at anything? Or give in to temptation and sniff around? Watch out, though — the weapons you're looking for may, and probably will, backfire as you expose yourself to more pain of seeing his private life. So, not only it’s a huge moral choice, but also a psychological one — do you want to use the access that you have to the (meant to be) private things, and are you ready to expose yourself to the other’s privacy? Because this is the war that you might be fighting against your better judgement and not for your own good.

When you're hyper-socialized online, a breakup can be tough in a way unknown before. It's complicated, even if your Facebook relationship status doesn't say so.