A few weeks ago I broke up with my fiancée.
It was a difficult breakup, so I immediately stopped following her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and deleted her name from my iPhone address book.
I thought that would be enough to disconnect her from my digital life. But I’m finding out – as many others have in the age of smartphones and social networks – that connecting is easy, but severing ties online is nearly impossible.
Take even the basic task of doing an Internet search.
When I type in the letter “T” into my Web browser, Google suggests Twitter and just below that it lists my former fiancée’s Twitter handle.
Other social media platforms serve up similar reminders. No matter what I do, I run into her online.
Ka-Yuet Liu, a sociologist who studies social networks at the University of California-Los Angeles, said I’m not alone. Social networks have taken away some of the controls that we have over our social lives.
As soon as we post information, it is forever on the Internet somewhere, she said. That means you can’t undo or wipe away a memory by merely pressing the delete button.
Adrian Miller, who runs a Web branding firm in Los Angeles, recently ended a relationship with his longtime girlfriend, leading him to swear off social media so that he can focus his attention on other things.
“I just have not looked at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or any of that, and I’m not going to for another, at least, month,” he said. “Do something else. Go to a movie, get in the community. At the end of the day, you cannot let social media dictate you or your life.”
Miller, 43, said that disconnecting is tough because many people rely on the Internet to manage a great deal of their social lives, so they share too much personal information.
He has kept busy working on HeartBreakSecrets.com, a new website he created that gives users who are dealing with breakups a place to go to write about their experiences anonymously.
“Just bleed your heart. Tell your story,” he said. “Because you don’t want to do that on your Facebook page.”
But it’s not just romantic breakups that can be distressing when it comes to disconnecting.
A few years back, Miller left a job under less-than-friendly terms. In the years before social networking, he would have naturally stopped seeing his former colleagues and hearing about them unless he sought them out. But because he was friends with them on Facebook, Miller said he had to manually delete all of them, one by one.
“I just didn’t want to deal with any of those people anymore,” he said.
Or in my case, efforts by social networks to make it easier for me to connect has made it impossible for me to disconnect from my former fiancee.
After my breakup, when I typed “V” (the initial of my former fiancée’s first name) into the Twitter search feature, her profile was the first suggestion that popped up.
When I use Facebook’s Messenger app, her name is the first suggestion when I want to start a new chat.
We’ve been apart for a few weeks now, but the most recent instance of randomly coming across her on the Web was one that was particularly devastating.
It came courtesy of LinkedIn, the social network for professionals.
I logged into LinkedIn because I hadn’t used the service in a while, and I had a lot of notifications that needed attention.
I went through dozens of connection requests and was feeling very proud of myself for clearing them out. I finished the last request, and that’s when I felt as if Tyler Durden of “Fight Club” had punched me right in the stomach.
“Join V … , Dustin and 313 others who have found people they already know,” the service said, hoping to keep me on its website a little longer.
When I saw her avatar right below that suggestion, LinkedIn nearly brought me to tears.