With so much of life happening on the virtual landscape, it seems inevitable that technology would herald new social constructs for romance and dating. Relationships, in general, have evolved through the generations with today’s pairings looking very different from the ones that existed in the past decades. The last 20 years have ushered in an abundance of new technology: Email, instant messaging, social networking sites, SMS. Communicating now seems limitless, our social boundaries increasingly blurred with the unparalleled opportunity for meaningful connection. As such, digital interactions have morphed into a culture of their own, changing how we connect and disconnect from each other.
In a recent online survey of over 500 Filipinos, online selling and shopping destination Lazada investigates the impact of technology on modern day breakups.
The study reveals that a staggering 58% of respondents have resorted to breaking up over digital platforms. Breaking up via text messaging seems to be the favored medium, with close to 29% respondents ending things via SMS. A close second is a phone call, with 22% hanging things up permanently with a partner. Instant messaging applications were used the least, with roughly 7% of respondents using this platform to dash further romantic hopes.
[related:Thinking Out Loud: Confessions of a Breakup Survivor]
While heartbreak reduced to binary bits consisting of 1s and 0s appears emotionally brutal, there are some instances that cutting ties digitally is somewhat acceptable.
If a relationship remained on the realm of the digital landscape, a face-to-face breakup is unnecessary and pointless. Andre, a 30 year old app developer, is an avid online dater who frequents various dating websites for romantic liaisons. “I’ve started and ended a couple of my relationships online. There are times where I’ve never met the girl IRL, having most of our interactions in chat rooms and email messages. If that's how you were rolling all along, there’s no need to change, now that you guys are breaking up.”
For affairs that have not blossomed past its infancy stage, a digital cutoff is also deemed appropriate. Anna, a 32 year old nurse, broke off with a man through SMS. “It was a very casual thing. We’ve been seeing each other sporadically for a few months,” reveals Anna, “I simply declined a date invitation from him by sending a text message that I wasn’t really feeling a great connection. It was a clean break; no hard feelings on both ends.” Seth, a 28 year old real estate consultant concurs, “If we’ve only been on a few dates, I’m not even sure a breakup is necessary. But, I feel like I owe the other party some semblance of explanation. So, rather than ghost, I’d send a message through SMS. A sit down conversation or a handwritten letter seems a bit excessive for this particular situation.”
For others, geographical divides and practicality had a hand in the matter. Marie, a 37 year old freelance photographer who travels extensively for work, reveals: “I was living in Vietnam for a project that lasted several months. After my contract ended, my then boyfriend and I tried the LDR thing. But, since both our jobs involve moving around a lot, it was too much of a strain on our relationship. We mutually ended things over a Skype call. Quick, but certainly not painless.” Marie admits that it wasn’t the most ideal way to breakup. Major discussions between couples are best done in person but, in her case, this was not always possible. Using a text message or a VoIP call to initiate a breakup is often the only option, especially when the alternative is going through the expense and hassle of mustering up the courage to do the deed over a long weekend visit. “Given a choice, I would prefer that we sat down and discussed our issues in person. There were a lot of questions that were unanswered, issues left hanging. However, neither of us were willing to fly out for that one conversation. So, we both resorted to the most convenient means to end our relationship.”
David, a 42 year old physician, was also averse to a breakup in person, albeit for different reasons. “I just recently ended an extremely toxic long term relationship. For years, my ex and I see-sawed between bliss and battles. In the end, I sent her an email explaining my side, then went on to block her from all my social media platforms.” David acknowledges that he could have handled it better. “I could have done things differently, I suppose, but I don’t regret my decision. I was a bit scared about how she was going to handle the breakup conversation. I wanted to avoid all the drama and the possibility of our conversation escalating into an emotional outburst of epic proportions.”
Sometimes, the digital demise of a relationship was an unintentional result of a heated exchange over an instant messaging platform. “My boyfriend and I were arguing through WhatsApp one night. After a furious volley of angry messages from both sides, I finally texted him: ‘I’m done,’” relates Ellie, a 22 year old editorial assistant. “He replies: ‘Me too.’ That was the last conversation we had with each other.” Such an abrupt end leaves a lot of unanswered questions. But Ellie adamantly refuses to reach out and get clarification. “There was a point where I regretted how we left things hanging. There were moments when I wanted to send a text message to ask for an explanation. Then, I remember that my ex has an equal opportunity to do the same yet he chooses silence. This hardens my resolve. I think I’ll find closure on my own terms.” John, a 37 year old musician had a similar experience. “I accidentally broke up with someone through text. I sent her the ‘we need to talk’ message and she replied ‘Are you breaking up with me?’ In a panic, I replied ‘Yeah.’ We haven’t spoken since.”
Are these circumstances extenuating? Perhaps, perhaps not.
It appears that despite the conveniences that digital dumping provides, there are still people who are skeptical about it. Lazada also reports that almost 35% of the respondents ended their relationships face-to-face breakups, while approximately 6% penned a handwritten note. The ‘analog’ method, it would seem, offers some measure of human decency, as one goes through the logistical trouble of breaking up in person.
Joe, a 40 year old businessman, thinks it is all about giving a genuine relationship that has deteriorated the respect that it deserves. “I would not end things in such an impersonal way. It’s just not how I was brought up. If you’ve taken the time to connect with your soon-to-be ex the old-fashioned way, then you owe them a face-to-face conversation when you’re breaking it off. This will give you both the closure that you need. Anything less is just bad manners.”
Sarah, a 29 year old HR analyst, firmly believes that your message can be misconstrued if not discussed in person. “It’s difficult to interpret another person’s motivations from behind a screen, often leading to confusion and mixed messages. A well-composed email or text message cannot capture the variety of unspoken signals in live interactions. There is no body language to read, no smiles or frowns to acknowledge, and no human senses to clue us in on how the other person may be feeling or what their intended meanings might be,” she explains. “Verbalizing your message offers finality. It gives the other person a clearer picture of reality and allows them to move forward without lingering questions.”
This begs the question: Where should we draw the dividing line?
The traditional rules for disengagement need to be rewritten, as technology plays a larger role in romance and personal relationships. Life is such that all good (and sometimes not so good) things come to an end, relationships included. Alas, logistics are the enemy of love. For all intents and purposes, there really is no ideal way to break up with someone. The end of love is unpleasant in any form, be it written, spoken, or typed.
The poison one picks for cutting ties on a partner should be carefully considered. With the instant gratification provided by the digital world, it’s clear why people employ its platforms to put a punctuation on their relationships. A digital rejection can be ruthlessly efficient: A relationship dissolved in one impersonal paragraph.
However, for a great love that is lost, proper regard must be paid. Resorting to the digitized easy road feels both insensitive and disrespectful. Going through the inconvenience of a traditional separation tête-à-tête is a small price to pay for breaking another’s heart. After all, there is every possibility that someday, one could be on the other end of the spectrum.
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Infographic from: Lazada / Images from pexels.com, 9gag.com, thespiritscience.net, and wallpaperswide.com