The Internet has overhauled every aspect of modern life, from business to shopping to personal communication. It's also completely changed the way people, both young and old, create and dissolve intimate relationships.
When the latter occurs, and personal heartbreak goes public on Facebook, things can turn ugly in a hurry. Private grievances suddenly appear posted to public profiles, mutual online friends are abruptly excommunicated, and virtual salt is rubbed into very real wounds.
Distraught exes do and say things on Facebook that they'd never do or say face to face. They slander and lie, try to elicit jealousy, or seek revenge in a multitude of other ways. Passionate online poems turn into passive-aggressive pandering for the affection of mutual friends.
You might immediately change your relationship status to single and then begin posting photos of yourself laughing and holding hands with another person. Simultaneously, you're waiting and hoping for signs of loneliness on your ex's wall.
The ultimate results of these efforts often backfire. Worse, they simply spread ill will amongst a large social network and may create even more hard feelings, making it more difficult for everyone to move on with their lives.
In other words, Facebook can quickly turn private relationships into very public and very messy dramas that reflect poorly on both parties. But it doesn't have to end this way.
The following five tips, listed in no particular order, will offer a few pointers for avoiding humiliating drama on Facebook. With a little care and gentleness, you can gracefully end a high-tech relationship without you, or your ex-lover, stooping to online lows.
5: Use blocking and privacy settings
A significant percentage of relationships end with bad blood and anger. To avoid drama on Facebook, instead of seeking vengeance, use your excess emotional energy to focus on your steadfast friends. In this regard, Facebook's privacy settings are extremely helpful.
You may want to begin by blocking your ex and some of your mutual friends. When you block another user, it means you'll remove that person from your list of friends and your profile becomes invisible to him or her. In turn, that person's profile will become invisible to you.
The simplest way to block someone is to visit his or her profile and click Report/Block This Person at the bottom of the page. When you're done, you're immune to pokes, messages, and wall posts from the blocked person. There's one exception -- if a mutual friend posts content to Facebook, you'll both be able to see each others' comments. In the event that you're trying to sever all contact with a person, that's a loophole worth remembering.
Facebook's customizable privacy settings also let you control the information you share with others. With just a few seconds of tweaking, you can create custom settings that let only your friends see your status, photos, tagged photos of you and relationship information.
4: Avoid Facebook stalking
After you break up with someone you've spent a lot of time with, you can't help wondering what they're up to. Thanks to the power of Facebook, you may still be able to follow many of your ex-partner's activities.
If you're trying to remain friendly with each other, perhaps you'll remain friends on Facebook, meaning you'll be able to view revealing wall posts and comments. And even if you unfriend each other, you may very well be able to keep a running narrative of your ex's social life by reading comments and posts by your mutual friends.
Trying to piece together what your ex does each day and tracking his or her whereabouts is tantamount to online stalking. You might use these clues to construct plots of revenge or reconciliation. Or you might use the photos of your old boyfriend kissing his new squeeze to torture yourself emotionally.
Regardless of how you use the information you gather from your surveillance, understand that stalking is a compulsive, unsatisfying behavior. As a result, it may leave you feeling emptier than the breakup did or drive you to do things you wouldn't normally do.
Instead of stalking your ex, use your emotional energy to reconnect with other friends. Find new hobbies and interests. Tell a close friend that you're having a hard time not cruising your ex's wall and profile, and ask them for the emotional support you need to stop this self-flagellating behavior.
3: The only standard is common sense
Facebook and other social networking tools are ubiquitous, but in the timeline of human evolution, they're brand-new. Although we all use these Web sites, none of us have developed a universal set of standards to guide us in online interaction. So when it comes to breaking up in the digital age, caution -- not spontaneity -- is advised.
With no clear guidelines or etiquette for Facebook breakups, there is only one way to be sure of avoiding drama. In short, be nice, and break up without posting it to your wall.
You can change your relationship status without making a public announcement. In your Privacy Settings, click the News Feed and Wall link. In the Highlights section, deselect Change Relationship Status. Now you're quietly again listed as single. You can also remove your relationship status from your profile completely.
Also, don't use Facebook as an open diary to show that you're hurting. Yes, you can use public posts on Facebook to elicit sympathy from your supporters and make your ex look like a thoughtless, inconsiderate jerk. But don't let the technology trump your emotional intelligence.
If your ex tries to draw your ire by posting negative comments about you, don't be sucked into a petty online battle. Refrain from posting retaliatory remarks and immediately unfriend him or her.
Start an all-out war on your ex through the power of online cluster bombs, however, and you can expect a counterattack. The resulting battles will make both of you appear immature and unstable. The online explosions might make for good theater, but both of you will pay for public attack and retribution.
2: Resist publicizing your love life
Facebook and other technologies make it easy to share every aspect of your life, instantly, with hundreds of other people. But just because you can doesn't mean you should. That's especially true when it comes to intimate relationships.
Whether you're in high school or in a retirement home, it's understandable that you're excited about a new squeeze. But just as you wouldn't stand up in front of the cafeteria to shout out your new relationship status, you may want to refrain from doing the same on Facebook.
Your closest friends already know when you're dating someone new. Likewise, they'll know when that relationship ends. They'll advertise both situations to a larger social group. In short, there's no need to trumpet new lovers online, or lash out with an immediate "Single" status change when that love dies in a huge ball of flames.
By simply hiding your relationship status as a permanent part of your profile, you can avoid many of the soap operas that flare up on Facebook. You'll also project a sense of maturity and self-confidence, in that you don't need a Facebook relationship status to signal your life's course.
1: Take a break from Facebook
Some relationships end with barely a whimper, the expected result from a bond of two parties without a real dedication to commitment. Other relationships end in the kind of rending heartache that leaves deep emotional injuries that take years to heal.
If you find yourself drowning in tears during a breakup, and you feel a distinct inability to keep those emotions separate from your Facebook activities, it may be time for a break from this particular Web site. No, really -- take a break from your Facebook account.
Your friends will understand if you post a status update that indicates, "I'm taking a break from Facebook for a while. I will catch up with all of you very soon!"
You can also take things a step further and deactivate your account. And before you decry the end of your online social life, understand that deactivating your Facebook account isn't a permanent action. Facebook saves all of your profile and account information.
When you feel emotionally healed enough to interact in the massive public forum of Facebook again, you can simply reactivate your account and pick up where you left off, whether that day comes weeks or months later.
Finally, keep this last tip in mind. Breaking up is less about technology and more about you as a human being. It's important to watch your online etiquette of course, but taking stock of your emotional development is more important.
You may find that disengaging from mass interaction and spending time in one-on-one communication with valued friends is more rewarding and fulfilling. And fittingly, that's perhaps the best way to get the support you need to heal from your breakup and move on with your life.