Breaking Up (on Facebook) Is Hard To Do

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Breaking up is almost always awful. But if there’s one thing that’s worse than breaking up, it’s being forced to talk about it. In the dark ages, your parents and close friends were the only ones who felt comfortable pressing for details about an ugly split or crowing, “He wasn’t good enough for you anyway!” But in the age of social media and oversharing, your heartache is now everybody’s news.

Facebook’s “relationship status change” is among the most awkward of social media status alerts, and it’s not difficult to see why. In the past, couples only sent out announcements for joyous occasions like engagements or births, and the expected response was “Congratulations!” But bad news is much harder to handle appropriately, and Facebook status updates provide a perplexingly small amount of information about breakups. Did she cheat? Was it a long time coming? Did it end in a huge fight or with a hug? That information affects how people react to the news of your breakup in real life, but on Facebook, you’re giving them news with no context. This can cause inquiries to come pouring in, and the recently-heartbroken usually feel one of two ways: either they want to talk about it, or they really, really don’t. Here’s how those in each camp can navigate Facebook in the days after the split:

If you want to talk about it…

  • Change your relationship status publicly, and post a vaguely breakup-related update that invites commentary. (“Doing okay, thanks to everyone who’s checked in.”). Avoid being high drama (“Lost in agony. My heart will never heal”) or slandering your ex, as both of these things make you look silly and prevent people from wanting to talk to you.
  • Respond to questions with a short thank you, and if you’re close, share whatever details you’re comfortable with. Try to be even-handed in your portrayal of your ex unless they’ve done something really heinous. This is especially important if you have mutual friends.
  • If you’re getting tons of mail, write out a short blanket answer to inquiries about the relationship. Provide only the bare facts. Send this mini note to people who deserve to know what’s up, but with whom you don’t feel like engaging in a long personal discussion.
  • Try not to go into gory detail on your wall or comments sections.Thank people for stopping by, but save the dishing on what happened and who’s to blame for private messages. People who are genuinely concerned will follow up a wall post with an e-mail if they see that you’re not giving the scoop on your wall.
  • Know that you don’t have to respond to strangers or casual acquaintances. It’s not nice, but some people just want something to gossip about. You are not obligated to provide it. You don’t have to be nice to ambulance-chasers, either. (You knowthat creepy guy expressing condolences on your wall is going to ask you out within the week).
  • Bottom line: Take care of you.Rely on the friends who are around all the time, not just those who appear when you’re facing drama. Remember that when you break up on Facebook, you’re breaking up publicly. The hurt and anger you feel immediately after a breakup will diminish, but the impressions you make when handling it are probably going to last. Do your best to conduct yourself with class and dignity. You may not have your former partner, but you can still hang on to your pride.

If you don’t want to talk about it…

Feel like doing the Facebook equivalent of turning off your phone and hiding out with Ben & Jerry until you’re pretty sure no one remembers you were in a relationship in the first place? Here’s how:

  • Consider changing your privacy options on Facebookto avoid broadcasting the news. You have two options:
    1. Prevent the status update from appearing in the News Feed.(You’ll find it under Settings> Privacy Settings > News Feed and Wall. Un-check the box in the Highlights section that says “Change relationship status”).
    2. Disable your relationship status.This removes the relationship status line from your profile entirely, and the change doesn’t appear in any feeds. (Click on the Profile link in the top navigation, then click on the Info tab. Click on “Edit Information” above the Basic Information section, then click on the drop-down Relationship Status menu. The top row of those selections (the one above“Single”) is blank. Select that blank row and click save. When you view your profile again, your relationship status will be nowhere in sight, and no one will have been notified of any changes.)
  • Pen a non-committal status update that doesn’t reference your breakup, but doesn’t mislead either or invite commentary from those who might know about the breakup. (“Low key day. Hiding out for a little while.”)
  • It’s totally appropriate to politely indicate that you need privacy.When faced with “OMG what happened!?!” just respond, “Hey, thanks for checking in. I’ll call you in a day or two when I feel more like talking, okay?” You can also avoid wall conversation by disabling your friends’ ability to comment on your wall. (Go to Settings > Privacy Settings > Profile > Wall Posts. Uncheck the “Friends may post to my wall” box).
  • Consider un-friending your ex.If they takes the “Everything’s fine, really, having the time of my life” approach, it may cause you to obsess over their profile when you really should be giving your own heart time to heal. (Also, remember that even if you choose the most under-the-radar way to change your own status, you have no control over how your former flame updates. If they update publicly, your news may still show up in the feeds of mutual friends.)
  • If you really can’t deal, there’s no shame in actually hiding out for a few days. Just indicate in your status update that you’re taking a break. (“Taking a few days off from FB. Back soon” should do the trick). Ultimately, managing your breakup is about what you need to do to feel okay. If you prefer to play matters of the heart close to the chest, it’s your right to do so. And if you’re the private sort, you may want to leave that relationship status disabled permanently. In the future, you can always announce new love in a wall post, a status update, or a profile picture without the awkwardness of having to un-relationship yourself if things turn sour down the road.

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