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Breaking up is hard to do

Molly Wood Jun 18, 2012

Breaking up is hard to do. And in this world of Facebook and Twitter, separating can be even harder.

Catherine Saint Louis recently wrote a story for the New York Times on social media and estranged families, and says, “Even if you don’t want to be on Facebook or on Twitter or on Instagram, or any of these things, now anyone who is [using social media] might see the daughter or son who doesn’t talk to you, or the sibling you no longer talk to — see what they post online. And it might be stuff you really kinda should know about, like they just had a child or they just got married. It can be incredibly painful and humiliating, to not know these basic facts about a relative.”

She says more often than not, social media makes the separation harder.

Catherine Saint Louis: One therapist I talked to in San Francisco counsels her patients to stop looking at Facebook for a while until they kind of get to the acceptance stage of grieving for their loss. They don’t always follow her advice, some of them keep looking at it, but she says to set rules, like for example, do a 10:00 p.m. cut-off so you won’t have trouble sleeping. That kind of thing.

Hill: I guess this speaks to the bigger issue of just breaking up in this social media age.

Saint Louis: Exactly, estrangement is just one of the break ups or cut-offs that we have.

In some ways, social media has changed the way we say goodbye.

Ilana Gershon is the author of “The Breakup 2.0: Disconnecting over New Media.”

Ilana Gershon: Some of the break-up conversations will involve negotiating when you end things publicly as well as when you have ended things privately.

Hill: So people will actually sit down and say, ‘all right, we’ll break up, but please don’t let anyone on Facebook know for another week until I’ve told my close friends or something.’

Gershon: Right. Because it’s not only that it’s embarrassing, but your close friends might be really offended to find out by Facebook that you have broken up instead of being told. I mean, well, it depends on how angry that break-up conversation is.

Hill: Now, can I really say ‘I never want to see you again,’ and mean it in this social media environment?

Gershon: It takes a different kind of work than it used to, but yeah, I think you can. You may have to completely quit using a particular medium in order to be able to do this.

Gershon thinks there can be value in the social nature of these painful experiences.

Gershon: Talking about it as a social media problem, can be a very useful way to talk about estrangement and all of the feelings you may have about it, do you see what I mean? Social media becomes an easy way to move into talking about these issues instead of talking about these issues head-on…

Hill: You can say, ‘Oh my god, I saw this on Facebook,’ and that’s actually a way to talk about your feelings [about] not being connected to this person.

Gershon: And it’s a way to also talk only about what does it mean that this is problem that you got this information by Facebook, how should you respond if you know about this by Facebook, instead of talking about how unhappy you are.

And while we’re talking about technology and loneliness, we move to empty, forgotten, digital spaces, those created and then abandoned on the virtual reality site Second Life.

Laura Hall has been taking pictures of those sites. The pictures that inspired her were shots of forgotten spaces in real life cities like Detroit. But the empty spaces in Second life are pristine, just missing the people and interactions they were built for.

You can find Hall’s pictures here.

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