The Null Device

Dumped online

The Irish Independent has a piece on how social networking websites are changing relationships, and in particular, how they end and what happens afterward:
I started getting clues that I might be about to become a free man when my girlfriend's friends posted messages to her that read: "Good luck with tonight -- it's for the best."
First came the announcement online of my new 'Single' status. Deftly inserted into Facebook's running newsfeed, it informed everyone that both she and I knew that I had been dumped, in much the same way that Reuters proclaims the engagement of a minor member of the British royal family. There was no way of deleting it, so it sat there haunting me.
But then her status updates started to tell a story. Just three days after we broke up, she changed hers to: "2008, new job (check), new flat (check), new man (working on it)."
Your ex's blog may only be read by five and half people, but you still don't really want them telling complete strangers how you were unable to put the loo seat down and never really gave the choosing of shelves the attention it deserved, and how these things were symptomatic of your lack of commitment to the relationship.
It makes me think that our grandparents had an easier time. If one of their relationships went bad they could always go to sea -- or at least the next village -- and never see the other person again.
The whole issue of relationship breakups in the age of the internet recently hit the spotlight spectacularly with Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales' breakup with his girlfriend, FoxNews journalist Rachel Marsden. Wales apparently dumped her on Wikipedia, and she retaliated by releasing transcripts of their online chats, the major upshot of which was a revelation that these lofty public figures were, scandalously, quite into having sex with each other while they were going out.

It'll be interesting to see how the standards of socially acceptable conduct evolve once it is literally impossible to dissociate oneself from an ex without becoming a hermit. Will slagging off one's exes and their failings in public blogs become taboo, or restricted to some acceptable bounds of fair play? Or will people get used to the fact that anyone in the dating marketplace probably has several scathingly negative references from their various exes? (Perhaps there is a niche for a site which aggregates exes' references, along with reputation scores for the referers?) Will things like Rachel Marsden's release of the chat transcripts become unacceptable, the social equivalent of a nuclear first strike?

There are 3 comments on "Dumped online":

Posted by: Greg Sat Mar 8 03:22:12 2008

The instant-publicity of the internet puts a new spin on breakups, but the underlying dynamics seem the same. These situations look a bit like Prisoners Dilemma. When couples split up, each can choose to "cooperate" (be supportive of the ex, and even their new romances) or "defect" (try to impair their ability to get a new spouse, perhaps by slander). Two x two choices implies four outcomes, only one of which is salubrious. If either choose to slander, they hold the weapon of heightened credibility as a result of having already been in an intimate relationship with the person - tempered by the third party's understanding that they are probably biased.

Posted by: acb Sat Mar 8 13:56:47 2008

Though classic Prisoner's Dilemma assumes no history of previous bouts. In real life, somebody who has a reputation for slagging off their exes and publicising intimate and unflattering details about them would damage their credibility as a witness, as well as their position in the marketplace (nobody wants to be next), so there would be pressure to exercise restraint.

The internet adds more persistence to reputations and amplifies the effect of cooperating or defecting. In a sense, it's like carrying a gun on a space station.

Posted by: Greg Sun Mar 9 08:17:16 2008

Sounds likely. But might there be exceptions? Someone who is nasty to their exes might be perceived as especially competitive. Whereas, say, business relationships produce no further benefit to either party after ending, a mating relationship, if children are produced, means that fitness benefits can still accrue after breakup - if the other partner is a strong competitor. Seeking out a mating partner like this might not be anyone's first choice, but it might not be their last either. Some of the research in the Oxford Handbook I mentioned suggests that (negative) childhood experiences may lower people's expectations and predispose them to seemingly irrational choices like this.