It’s over! People using social media to end relationships

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by J. Williams-Gibson
For New Pittsburgh Courier

(INDIANAPOLIS, IN)—Once upon a time, when couples decided to end their relationship, they did so face-to-face. The break up rules and norms have somewhat changed. Today, some individuals are ending their relationships by using other, and arguably tactless, ways to say goodbye—social media.

Just ask Andrew Locke.

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Locke and his girlfriend (let’s call her Evillene) had been seriously dating for more than six months. After deciding to visit her mother in Texas for the New Year, Evillene had not returned to Indianapolis, even after saying she would.

In early March, Locke received a message on BlackPlanet.com from Evillene that said she has “moved on with her new life in Texas and isn’t coming back” because she believed that even if she did return, their relationship wouldn’t work. She also informed Locke that she was pregnant.

“I couldn’t believe she did that to me,” said Locke.

Ilana Gershon, assistant professor for the department of communication and culture at Indiana University, has heard stories like Locke’s (and worse) through her research on how people are using new mediums to end relationships.

“I teach a class where I ask the question ‘What makes a bad break up?’ I thought I was going to get stories like ‘I found them in bed together,’ but instead they said ‘it was by e-mail or by facebook,’” said Gershon.

New mediums, such as text messaging or Twitter, are designed to connect people. Gershon went on to say that when using these methods to disconnect with one another, that divide goes further than simply saying “It’s over.”

Gershon took this information (and more) and compiled her research into a book titled “The Breakup 2.0: Disconnecting over New Media.” Her findings may raise some eyebrows.

After interviewing individuals of various ages and races, she found that there is no black and white answer when dealing with break up aftermath, like deleting photos or blocking profiles or messages from one’s former mate.

She also found that although social media isn’t a good representation of real life, many people use technology to act as sleuths or stalkers to look for reasons behind the breakup and whether the other party has moved on to other relationships.

Through all of her research, Gershon concluded that certain mediums and social technology is so new, society has yet to form standard practices, responses or etiquette.

“The other thing you can learn from this is to change your password if you think you’re about to break up,” laughs Gershon. “Even good, kind people break into someone else’s account because they still need to know.”

A Nielson study on Internet management says that worldwide, people spend about 22 percent of their time on social networks. This stat brings a shred of understanding as to why more relationships end via social media.

Tamara Wilhelm, a licensed mental health counselor at Imagine Hope Counseling Group, isn’t really surprised that people are using social media to end relationships.

“People are pretty conflict avoidant, don’t want to hurt their feelings or tell them how they really feel so they’ll find whatever methods they can to avoid that face-to-face approach,” said Wilhelm. “Social media makes it so easy to do that. Plus some people are oblivious and don’t have empathy for others.”

Wilhelm also believes that social media has desensitized people into understanding what true, healthy relationships are all about. She suggests that people build relationships around clear communication, intimacy (such as spending quality time together), safety, healthy conflict, individual interest and create social media boundaries.

Effective communication is key, however, Gershon maintains her stance on not judging those who take a less forward approach when breaking up.

“One of the reasons why people do this is because they’ve tried face-to-face; they’ve tried to break up and it doesn’t work,” said Gershon. “They turn to these forms because they’re just tired; they can’t get out.”

Wilhelm suggests that people discuss honestly why they want to break up, not feel guilty about their reasons, and both parties take time to heal after the breakup.

“You’re patching the wounds and you really need to feel the pain of that loss. There are a lot of answers in that pain. Find the silver lining,” said Wilhelm.

(Reprinted from the Indianapolis Recorder.)

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