Breaking up in the digital age

breaking upAccording to the famous Neil Sedaka song, Breaking Up Is Hard To Do. But, it would appear it is even harder in the days of social media.

Psychologists from the University of California Santa Cruz say ending a relationship in the digital age is tougher because of the longevity of material posted on social networks.

Researchers talked to young people between the ages of 19 and 34 about how they coped after splitting up with a partner.

They found that while lovers in days gone by might have drawn a line in the sand by tearing up old photographs and love letters, nowadays images and messages on the likes of Facebook and Twitter are harder to remove, particularly if they’ve been posted by other people.

The study found that the enduring nature of such content “creates problems during a break-up” because estranged partners could never quite escape the reminders of their relationship.

The team presented their study at the Association for Computing Machinery in Paris, explaining that people found it hard to search through every remainder of their relationship online, meaning that some decided to delete nothing at all while others spent hours trying to erase everything they could.

Around 50 per cent of those questioned said they deleted everything they could from their digital devices while a third said they kept all records of their past relationships intact and just 16 per cent said they went through their messages and photographs choosing which ones to keep and which ones to delete.

The study found that people who kept everything found it harder to mend their broken heart although many of those who erased it all said they later regretted having done so.

One participant said: “Facebook doesn’t help because he can still contact my family even if I don’t speak to him. That hindered moving on because every time I thought I had got to the point of moving on, something would happen that would take me back to square one.”

Researchers suggested developing Pandora’s Box software to look through online profiles for any messages or images involving a former loved one before storing them in one place so users could easily decide what they wished to do with their memories.

The research is just the latest to show that while social networking can be a force for good, bringing friends together and allowing loved ones to keep in touch, it can also lead to emotional problems.

Psychologist Dr Tara Marshall from Brunel University, Uxbridge, recently published similar research based on her work with 464 participants.

“Previous research has found that continuing offline contact with an ex-romantic partner following a break-up may disrupt emotional recovery,” she explained.

“Analysis of the data revealed that Facebook surveillance was associated with greater current distress over the break-up, more negative feelings, sexual desire, and longing for the ex-partner and lower personal growth.

“Overall, these findings suggest that exposure to an ex-partner through Facebook may obstruct the process of healing and moving on from a past relationship.”