So many relationships begin online. Now they’re also ending – messily, publicly – on the net, aided by a raft of sites that facilitate dishing the dirt post-break-up
Once my best friend and I were dumped at the same time. It was a Friday. That night my shoe broke on the dancefloor and she was sick in a leather glove on the cab journey home. On the Saturday we lay in the dark at my parents’ house and watched Gosford Park. It was an ugly weekend, and looking back, it future-spoiled Downton Abbey for us, too, so: double bad. But I was dumped, and it took ages, and at times it felt like my throat had been replaced with sodden bungee cords and my heart with a hard-boiled egg, but I dealt with it. And I’m glad I was dumped before social networking crystallised, shell-like, over our lives, because however painful it was, the experience seems now quite pure.
Break-ups today are torturous, a series of online tasks that drip through the broken gutter of your grief. Instead of lying still and doing nothing, as was the case in my Gosford Park day, contemporary break-ups require action. You have to unfriend your ex, unfollow them, remove them from your circles, your Magic Numbers, your Gchat list. Acknowledging the fact that so many relationships begin online, and the digital admin that goes into ending them, there are sites that exist purely for the afterwards – post-dating sites, if you will. My current favourites are WotWentWrong, which allows dumpees to hassle their dumpers for answers via a third party (the dumper provides their reasons for not calling them back, and the site sends the dumpee advice on how to do better next time), and NeverLikedItAnyway, a sort of eBay for the stuff that remains after a relationship dies, a ranty marketplace of engagement rings and I Wuv You teddies. Both sites exist in that agonising no man’s land of feeling where the constant hum of heartbreak, like feedback from a faulty amp, adds significance to every mention of their name; both feed the need to talk about it.
The first site acts as a neutral Paddy McGuinness in Take Me Out mode, asking potential suitors why they’ve turned their lights off. It’s formalised stalking. It’s a kick in the balls of 2004′s He’s Just Not That Into You. But why must every encounter be assessed? Who’s to say this guy you once shared the second cheapest bottle of wine with (largely, if you’re being honest, just because you liked his veiny arms) has any great insight into your failings? It reminds me of the problem with those makeover shows where a woman is paraded in front of judgemental strangers – that exhausting and endless validation of the male gaze – but this time it’s digital. The second site offers a different kind of relief for dumpees. There’s something to be said for break-up brutality, for telling the story of your split to the whole of the internet – this site feeds that need. I like that your screamy rant become a sales pitch. Beccey0609 writes: “I tried on this dress and fell in love!” discussing her “Never Been Worn Wedding Dress, break-up price $400″. “Unfortunately my relationship ended due to the fact that he was a cheater.” Cuddles, Beccey0609.
There used to be ways of disappearing. You could let the phone ring out. You could stop drinking in a certain pub. No more. We are all permanently on call. Our cars are always in the driveway. And the degrees of separation have got littler – we are now forever a single click away from an ex. But instead of trying to return to a pre-digital age, to delete them from your timeline, could it in fact be helpful to do as these new sites do, and weld your heart back together online? There are new rules, of course. Be wary of scrolling too far back on their profile page, through their drunken whoops, through the silent evenings, back to where they still fancied you. Beware of constructing your own narrative of an ex’s new life from the twigs they offer on Facebook. Acknowledge that the face they present to the world seems unrecognisable because this is the face everyone else sees, not the one you remember from across an Ikea pillow. This is how we split up now. It’s a broadband break-up. This is the new upset reality. But we’ll be fine. We’ll be fine.