The first time it happened to me, I was ‘broken up with’ via a message in 2011. I remember feeling truly gutted and genuinely hurt that this man – with whom I had shared more time than any other since around 2004 – ended up having so little respect for me that he could say goodbye with such coldness. Instead of talking to me, looking me in the eye when he said goodbye … he ended something special in a most undignified and impersonal way. No goodbye kiss, no respectful ‘I’ll miss you and wish you well’ and definitely no kindness. Of course, he came back a few weeks later after he’d cooled down but the hurt of his emotional heartlessness lingered.
Well, just a few hours ago a friend of mine was offended by something I left in the comment stream of a Facebook post surrounding a controversial topic. They left a comment that inspired me to soften my words a bit, so a few minutes later I edited my original comment. And a few minutes later I received a friend request from them. Without even noticing it, it turned out that they had automatically unfriended me before I even had the chance to see their point (and I’m pretty sure blocked me on LinkedIn too because I can’t see them there anymore!). There was no ‘hey, Ange, that really bothered me, can we talk?’ or ‘I think it’s best if we aren’t connected on FB any longer’ or any of that…
This seems to happen more and more. In fact in this day and age, what I experienced is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to using technology to avoid being personal in our personal lives. I watched an interesting story yesterday on The Young Turks about the increasing phenomenon of people ending relationships by ‘ghosting’ their partner. From one day to another, they just stop picking up calls, unfriend them and ignore any attempts the other person makes to connect – as if they were a ghost! No explanation, no closure, no breaking up … just, ADIOS!
Power or Cowardess?
Decades ago, there was no email or messaging and we all picked up the phone every time it rang because there was no caller ID. Then along came answering machines and we could screen calls if we needed or wanted to for whatever reason. Then caller ID gave us real power and forever changed the game.
Today we can block phone numbers from our iPhones, block people on Whatsapp, Facebook, Skype, LinkedIn and any other social media platform out there. We can have emails from certain people instantly routed to the bin and NEVER communicate with someone unless we actually run into them in person. It’s extremely simple, and I can attest that it is actually a GOOD thing at times. I wrote an article a couple of weeks ago about the wonderful benefits of cutting out negative people from our lives and I’ve employed every measure I just mentioned in this paragraph to ensure that one person stays out of my life forever now (he is the guy with the smooth break-up moves that I wrote about at the start of this post).
In the embarrassing spirit of transparency, my teenage daughter has ignored me for days on end at times, regardless of how many messages I sent or how I tried to reach her. Because we live in separate countries now I can’t just walk into her room and clear the air when we’ve had a disagreement. Being a clever girl, she wields her power in a way that she knows will really irk me. She doesn’t block me, of course, but she has ghosted me for a few days every now and again, which gives her control (and power over me).
So is that the core of it? Technology enables us with a new set of power tools that can really take the ‘personal’ out of our relationships? In the case of breaking up or really going to the extreme I would say it can also very much be about cowardice and cruelty, and taking the EASY way out. If someone doesn’t want to deal with the guilt of hurting someone or wants to avoid confrontation and just wants to walk away, then all of these power tools must be the next best things since sliced bread, right?
Taking a breath and clearing ones head before responding to someone (even if it’s for a few days) is very different to blocking someone from our life without notice, or without giving a dignified end to a relationship.
So How Far Is Too Far?
When is it OK to cut and run or ghost someone and when is it a deplorable thing to do? That funny episode from Sex and the City where Carrie is broken up with on a Post-It note is certainly the old-school version of all of this.
Blocking out that negative person makes me guilty of doing the same thing I’m bitching about at the moment but I think that’s an extreme case and my life has been better the past 2 months for doing it. Technology is amazing, and I’m sure none of us could imagine leaving behind all of the apps and platforms that make it so easy for us to stay in touch with our friends and family spread out around the world. I think each of us simply needs to set some personal ground rules for just how impersonal we are willing to be when it comes to potentially hurting people in our lives…to keep the personal in our personal relationships at a standard we can always be proud of.
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