Caught in the Web

Before blogging about your ex, remember: The DELETE button doesn't exist online.

Illustration: Emily Flake

Ever since I saw Avenue Q a few years ago, whenever anyone starts a sentence with “The Internet is for…” I automatically fill in porn and then hum the tune, off-key, for the rest of the day. It’s an annoying habit, not only because I don’t know the rest of the words, but because it’s outdated.

The Internet is still for watching folks diddle, but it’s also for Googling your one-night stand, IMing your mistress, blogging about your significant other and now, for breaking up with a lover via Wikipedia. Oh yeah, and selling your ex’s clothes on eBay.

Unfortunately, the last three examples aren’t hypothetical. Recently, the harsh light of online infamy shone on Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, who broke up with his girlfriend, former Fox News commentator Rachel Marsden, on his site. She then forwarded their sordid IM conversations to the tech-gossip blog Valleywag and started an online revenge auction for his clothing. Hell hath no fury like a woman dumped via a Web page.

As she explained to me by e-mail, “If someone’s going to behave like a douche bag—particularly in public—toward a person whom they know to have a big megaphone, then they deserve whatever they get.”

Except now everyone has access to a megaphone. The old adage of “Don’t start a fight with men who buy ink by the barrel” has morphed into “Don’t start a fight with women who have a DSL line.”

This, my laptop-toting comrades, is the future: Online Relationships 2.0. And it should come with a warning label like that sad broken heart that appears when you change your Facebook status from “in a relationship” to “single.” It’s a dangerous broadband world out there, and a few unflattering photos in your Google Images cache are the least of your worries. Your IM chats will be archived, your e-mails will be forwarded, your IP address will be logged when posting an “anonymous” Craigslist casual-encounters ad.

Breaking up is already traumatic; you are literally going through a chemical withdrawal, a state akin to that of a recovering heroin addict. No one possesses good judgment during this time. This is why, for years, advice columnists have suggested writing angry letters to your ex and then throwing them away. Except now people vent via venomous blogs, which they delete. The only problem? The internet makes it very difficult to completely erase anything. And by then, the damage will have been done.

I should know. I tried the whole “blogging with my boyfriend” thing to “delve into the inner workings of a real relationship, with all its flaws,” as I naïvely wrote last November. Yeah. About that? Discuss your last squabble with your therapist—not in a public forum, where your words, your feelings and finally your relationship can be parsed, critiqued and ultimately destroyed by the unruly online masses.

In fact, after ending the site, I deleted entries, writing “Technically, I’ve just made the posts private. Which is what they should’ve been in the first place. At the very least, my public relationship struggles in the last seven months made others feel less alone. They certainly taught me quite a lesson—just not the lesson I thought I would learn.”

The lesson? When in a relationship and especially when ending one, take a deep breath and Step. Away. From. The computer. You and all of the people you date subsequently will thank me.

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See previous Julia Allison on dating