Gwyneth Paltrow's decision to announce her 'conscious decoupling' from husband, Coldplay's frontman Chris Martin, on her official website Goop, yet again underscored the ubiquitous presence of social media in the lives of celebrities.
But it's not just celebrity couples whose private lives are being played out on websites. We lesser mortals can't escape the impact of the internet either, thanks to Twitter, Facebook et al. Sure, it's easier to romance these days thanks to texting, selfies, Skype etc - but it's also a damn sight more difficult to survive a break-up - or even a 'conscious decoupling'.
It was so much easier to walk away from a broken relationship back in my parents' day in the 70s, when Gloria Gaynor was belting out 'I will Survive'. Gloria's exhortation, 'Now go / Walk out the door / Just turn around now / Cos you're not welcome anymore!' is as popular as ever, still blaring out at karaoke nights in pubs and clubs nationwide. But as a guide to how to get on with life post-break-up, the song is as outdated as landline telephones. And more useless. When Gloria slammed the door, she probably just popped on a vinyl, poured herself a White Russian and got on with her life. Because, unlike us, she didn't have the option of going online, logging on to Facebook and literally looking back.
Put it this way - for all Glors knew, her ex could be on the next flight to Kathmandu, married with five kids, or two streets away living a miserable life. But quite frankly, what did she care? It's not like she was going to run into him by chance, (because let's face it, that almost never happens), and she had the glorious luxury of anonymity that the pre-internet world afforded. We, on the other hand, have an incredibly powerful, not to mention dangerously addictive, tool at our disposal. Thanks to social networking we can find out where our ex has been on holiday, what clubs he's been going to, if he's changed jobs, is living in a different borough or - if you're lucky enough to have an ex with his own blog or twitter account; both in my case- probably what his plans for Saturday night are or what he's done with his day off - all in the nanosecond it takes to click a mouse!
OK, the internet has its uses, like facilitating ground-breaking technological advances, educating the masses and generally shrinking our world. But does it help us get through a break-up? No. Break-ups are impossible enough as it is. It really does require 'all the strength you have not to fall apart'. So how in God's name are we supposed to forget and move on, when there so many reminders and temptations online to suck us back into the fray, so that we end up back at square one? No matter how hard you try, in the age of the virtual world, is it ever really possible to cut all ties with your ex?
After the afore-mentioned break-up, I fell prey to the horrors of 'online ex-stalking'. Last year, two days before Valentine's Day, at precisely 4pm on a Sunday afternoon, my boyfriend of two and a half years arrived back from a holiday in Dublin and promptly dumped me on the street. In the space of approximately fifteen minutes, my life, as I knew it, had been turned upside down. I was homeless and hopeless.
As I lay on my dad's couch in my pyjamas, under a mountain of crumpled tissues, surrounded by half the Cadbury's factory and the entire contents of my life stuffed into a suitcase and 3 bin-liners, I did the only thing I could think of to begin to make a new start: I wiped my relationship history; Photos, wall posts, holiday albums, they all went - anything which could possibly remind me of his earthly existence was gone. This included not only deleting, but blocking people from my friends list (and PS: I had to delete a dog), thus safeguarding myself against the possibility of any photos popping up which he was tagged in. All in all it took two hours, including crying fits and toilet trips. When it was over, I sat, staring numbly at the screen and thought, two and a half years of my life - gone in the blink of an eye, or so many mouse-clicks.
I comforted myself with the thought that our online contact had diminished even if the memories hadn't. To my horror though, it appeared the battle had only just begun. Because my ex is an aspiring writer/comedian, the internet soon became a minefield - with one false click I could land on a potential bomb, which threatened to blow up my confident façade. A whole host of sites became the enemy. There were videos on You tube, articles and numerous blog, detailing titbits of daily life and, accompanied by photos of boozy nights out, in which he,of course, looked supremely happy. And then there's Twitter. Ah, Twitter. No matter what anyone says about it, I stand unmoved. As far as I'm concerned, it's nothing but an indulgent forum for the interminably self-important and narcissistic. And after a break-up it becomes Enemy Number One.
You see, in my naivety, I hadn't realised that you can access Twitter without having your own account. Luddite that I am, I'd never even been on the site! But sure enough, within two weeks of breaking-up, I had suddenly become an expert, navigating his wall and deciphering tweets with the trained skill of an M15 code breaker. I remember a particularly grey Sunday when, in a moment of weakness, I decided to innocently 'peruse' my ex's account. After all, how bad could it be? He can't have all that much to say, and perhaps he'd even insinuated, through some cryptic words only comprehensible to me, how desperately he was missing me? Unsurprisingly, this was not the case. Five minutes of maniacal scrolling later, I was reaching for my Camel Lights, heart racing. I can't remember every tweet because I think I went temporarily blind, but they went something like this: 'Can't wait to bag a fit bridesmaid tonight!', 'Spent all day Sunday in my pants after a HUGE night out - single days are here again!!', and my personal favourite: 'I cried more when The Wire ended than I did at the end of my last serious relationship'. It was slightly sobering to realise the entirety of our two and a half year relationship been reduced to a few quips on Twitter which probably took all of ten seconds to compose.
After my Twitter meltdown I decided to take action and had my housemate install a parental safety lock on my computer which blocked me from any sites relating to him. This involved using a password, which I could only retrieve if I e-mailed my housemate to ask for it - and that would just be embarrassing. I looked at my laptop thinking, 'HA - now who's boss?' But my battle wasn't quite over - I had blocked myself from webpages, but how to block myself from texting? Delete his number? Memorised. Exercise self-control? Clearly I have none. I called my mobile provider and enquired whether there was any way to put a block on a number. After explaining numerous times to the baffled Indian call-centre man that it was myself I wanted to block from calling or texting another number, and not someone else from texting me, I heard something which sounded like a snort on the other end of the line: 'Excuse me miss....but can't you just not call him. I mean, use self-control?' Mortified, I hung up. I had hit an astronomical low. I think that's when I accepted defeat.
Yes, it's a losing battle. No matter how hard you try to destroy the evidence of a past relationship, or deny the existence of your ex, it, and they, will always be out there, eternally documented in cyber space. My only counsel is this: take a deep breath, back away from the computer and get the hell on with your life. It's the only way to survive. And if all else fails, call Darshan at 3 Mobile. He's probably got some better advice.