Does the web keep you more connected than a clean breakup allows?
When the pain is at its worst, can you imagine being able to make a clean break from everything and everyone that reminds you of your ex? With modern technology, the incredible amount of access you have to your ex makes a clean break nearly impossible. Figuring out how to sever the ties with your ex, and just how many obscure connections there are is utterly mind-blowing. Today, unless you’re standing at someone’s deathbed, goodbye isn’t so much an ending as a “communcate with you later.” As the rules of breaking up change with the speed of technology, are we keeping pace?
Technology clouds not only the ends of romantic relationships, but for many of us therapists, blurred endings happen in the therapy setting as well. A decade ago, when a patient felt finished with the process of psychotherapy, we had an official “termination.” We planned and prepared and kept an eye on the end date, so my patient and I would have the opportunity to say goodbye in a full, boundaried, definitive way. This process allowed leaving with finality, but also feeling the power of the connection and all that was learned in the process. We could both look back fondly on the relationship we had created in the room, be empowered by it, but goodbye meant goodbye.
Now, saying goodbye doesn’t feel as final. In therapy and in life, you and your ex are not severed from each other in the same way. Mere days, weeks, months or years from now, there might be a Facebook birthday reminder or a notification from LinkedIn that your ex or their cousins want to (re)connect with you, or you are already contending with a mass email message that starts with “Hi Friends, You're Invited!” and there’s your ex on the list. Rather than an ending, there’s the assumption that whether you mean to or not, you’ll have contact with your ex over and over again, unless you remain ever-vigilant to severing the ties that pop up everywhere. You have to really want the breakup to be able to make it stick for yourself.
Navigating breakups has become a brave new world. The information available out there makes breakups for one or both parties even more boundariless and confusing (if that’s even possible) than ever before. There’s so much more fluidity of contact with people and places at all times on so many different levels. You can re-find your ex, or what your highschool sweetheart ate for dinner tonight, and where he or she ate it. And you can know your first true love is still available, or available again. Everything has gotten so overly accessible, and therefore, so complicated. There is so much dangled in front of us to keep us hooked in. But what is a breakup supposed to be if not a real, solid, absolute goodbye that allows you to move forward with less emotional pollution in your life? How are you supposed to move on if you don't escape technology’s web of connections, which just intensifies the emotional pollution and complicates an already complicated process even more?
Your tremendous difficulty at creating a clean break from your ex isn’t the only influence technology has on breakups. Imagine back to a time before the Internet. Unless you were going to incessantly call your ex’s home phone or do some old-fashioned real-time searching for him or her by foot or by car, there was no way, after awhile, to keep holding on. It just became too inconvenient to keep waiting outside the store your ex sometimes went to. Eventually you had to let go, making the breakup feel far more final.
With finality and definitiveness comes intense grief, which is also the beginning of recovery. A definitive ending helps you to be able to sit with your feelings during and after breakup and experience your individual process of recovery.
In real life, we work at a frenetic pace which heightens the pressure to move through recovery and move on. Sure, some “relationships” are nothing more than a coffee-date-with-potential and when it doesn’t work out, you move on to the next Internet-arranged date. Technology compels us to move quickly at the expense of our personal emotional needs. Your body is still biologically attuned to mourn and grieve at its own pace.
Therefore, in order to mourn your breakup (as in THIS previous post), you may have to work on actively protecting your grieving process. If that includes unplugging for a bit, so be it. If that includes taking pains to sever the digital threads that bind you to your ex, then so be that as well. If it means talking to everyone and anyone who will listen (except your ex), do that too. Despite the pull of technology that blurs the boundaries of breakup and rushes the process of recovery, your body knows what you need. And if that includes a clean break and more time, then instead of forcing your recovery from breakup into the confines of technology, work toward transforming how much you allow technology into your process of letting go. In this way you can take care of yourself better at the time you most need to — during great trial and loss — so that the process of recovery can begin.