Curating "Dear Old Love", a website and now book of short, anonymous notes to old loves, has provided me with an email box full of insight into the ways relationships pull apart. This evidence is highly unscientific, largely because the site's most active users skew young. "Dear Old Love", like much of pop music, is oiled with the blood of teen heartbreak and yearning. (Well, also collegiate and 20-something heartbreak and yearning.) Still, there are some universal patterns to splitting up, and from these patterns maybe I can provide a little bit of guidance and advice.
First, if a relationship ends badly, change your passwords! I am amazed by the number of submissions I've gotten about situations where an affair has ended, but one party is still poking around the other's email or Facebook account. The primary "Dear Old Love" lament on this topic is: "Please change your email password. I'm addicted." We just can't help ourselves.
It would probably also be prudent to change the passions and interests you use to generate passwords. Proof is this ex who wonders if a former love and ardent Yankee fan updated his password "to reflect the 27 wins." I know of some older folks who continue to have a "family" email address, often an old AOL, that's joint property. This baffles me. In this Age of the Overshare--condos and hotels with glass walls, scatological blogs (I assume), our email seems to be a last zone of privacy--nobody else knows exactly what our inbox looks like. I figured we take these accounts with us to the grave. And yet, young people are sharing not only their bodies and hearts, but their passwords. Who is ready for that level of intimacy? No one. But if you're going to be promiscuous about this stuff, do a password sweep after you cut it off. However, the following technique of one Dear Old Lover is not necessarily recommended: "You'd shake your head when I couldn't remember passwords. I've changed them all to something I can't forget: your name."
Online networking has made parting ways a lot stickier since when we loved in analog. In college, my friends and I liked to say, "Clean break!" Rarely was this motto followed, but it was simple at least to know what you were supposed to do: After you break up, don't call or have sex with them. That's it! And news of exes wasn't always easy to come by. You had to wait for someone you knew to run into someone they knew. Or sometimes for parents to run into parents. Now, when you get mixed up on the the web, it's temping to keep an eye on an ex: "I'm still waiting for the day I check the boy I'm dating's Facebook page before yours." A search for "Facebook" yields 29 "Dear Old Love" notes (nearly 200 have been submitted on the topic)--from creeped out to devastated.
Obviously, I can't suggest that when starting with someone new you avoid all online interaction. New relationships are nurtured, if not born, online. The intertwining of various web-fingers is now one of the thrills of courtship. So, we might just do well to revise the classic breakup line to say, "I think we should just be friends. But not on the internet."
Going lo-fi, I'm surprised by the number of submissions that reference bathroom implements, but I shouldn't be. Toothbrushes have long been a tangible sign of intimacy. Do you share one? Do you keep one at his place? If you believe in toothbrush voodoo, you should probably do whatever it takes to get your brush back after a rough split. Otherwise, you might end up with a funny taste in your mouth. As one note declares, "I finally threw out your toothbrush, but before I tossed it I used it to clean the toilet. I've never enjoyed cleaning the bathroom more." If you don't believe in toothbrush voodoo, this is at least an oblique way of encouraging, if not exactly doing, more housework.
Then again, there may not be any reason to worry about changing passwords or chasing down toothbrushes. While the site proves bitterness is out there, it also highlights much fondness: "Snowfalls, to me, are your body under mine, on a sled, flying." No matter how jerky you were, someone may very well be masturbating to you. Whether you're losing your hair or holding onto it, it's likely being thought about. And chances are good that even if you don't celebrate your birthday any more, there is some old lover who still does, whether they want to or not.