The online complications of breaking up with someone
Shortly after texting arrived, I noticed that the clean break was becoming a thing of the past
Did you ever give your ex your Google password? Does your smartphone have location services turned on?
Breaking up is hard to do, but the presence of the digital world in every corner of our lives is making it, not only hard, but scarily complicated. It’s like dipping your hands into a big can of glue – getting unstuck is going to take a lot of hard work.
Once upon a time it was easier. If you got a letter from your ex you could mark it “return to sender” and fling it right back. Or if you got a phone call you could slam down the receiver.
Shortly after texting arrived, I noticed that the clean break was becoming a thing of the past. People would have magnificent fights by text, which took a lot of rage-fuelled energy back in the Nokia days. Then, after they broke up, the unhappier of the two could could bombard the other with pleading or insulting text messages.
Something about text messages gets past the defences and makes people want to read them, even if they don’t want to receive them. So even a one-sided long goodbye could be dragged out for ages.
At least then, though, the text message was about the height of it and was far preferred to emails which don’t figure all that much in relationship battles.
Since then, everything has become remarkably complicated, as was borne in on me by recent article, How to digitally disentangle after a break up – some new rules, by Dr Wendy Moncur, professor of digital living, and Daniel Herron, a phd candidate – both of the University of Dundee.
Some of it’s fairly obvious – not stalking your ex on Facebook, changing your relationship status, and unfriending your ex or at least not sharing all your posts, all of this also on Facebook.
But did you ever give your ex your Google password? That could be a gateway to your world. For instance, does your smartphone have location services turned on?
If so, and if you use Google Maps, your ex could access a daily picture of where you’ve been and how you got there. Time, maybe, to change your Google password or to switch off location services.
Or maybe you should sign up for that two-step verification you’re always getting nagged about. You might also like to look up how to log out of all devices when you log out of Facebook.
Did you save logins to various websites and services on your ex’s computer? Maybe you need to change those too.
You might have to make a choice about whether to respond to messages on WhatsApp. And as for Snapchat – look, I don’t know a single thing about Snapchat, but it’s probably another way your ex can make his or her presence felt.
Are you going to be discussing the breakup on Facebook? Consider telling your friends to send their more blistering remarks to you privately instead of making them public. You can defame people on Facebook and it can cost you money.
If you were living together, you might have shared accounts for everything from Netflix to electricity.
One that isn’t mentioned in the article but that occurs to my sometimes suspicious mind is that if you and your ex used to link your Fitbits, you will each continue to know how many steps the other walked in a day. Unlink, unless you want a continuous stream of information flowing from your device to theirs.
Isn’t it scary?
And that’s without even a mention of those intimate conversations that used to begin: “Can I use your card to book the flight?”
It’s too much.
You can’t think of everything and the digital ghost of the relationship could well be around forever. But it’s worth putting the time in to secure your digital world as best you can after a breakup.
A vindictive ex with a password, or one who – because they can get into your email – can change your passwords using those “Lost your password?” links, can create unexpected pain and loss.
– Padraig O’Morain (firstname.lastname@example.org) is accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His latest book is Mindfulness for Worriers. His daily mindfulness reminder is free by email. Twitter: @PadraigOMorain