Digital aids that help ease the pain of getting over a breakup

Updated: 2013-03-24 07:58

By Natalie Kitroeff (The New York Times)

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 Digital aids that help ease the pain of getting over a breakup

Bettye Dewey said the Web site Never Liked It Anyway helped her dispose of unwanted gifts from her ex-husband. Michael F. Mcelroy for The New York Times

At least in the old days lovers could split, move on and retain their dignity. Now, in the age of social media, extrication is nearly impossible. The pain of a breakup is nourished by an endless real-time stream of Facebook status updates, Instagram photos and tweets about one's ex.

Until recently, anyone with two fingers and a smartphone was subjected to this kind of self-torture. But new apps and Web sites created to ease the pain of breakups may be changing that.

One is Killswitch, a mobile app that promises to "seamlessly and discreetly remove all traces of your ex from your Facebook."

Erica Mannherz, 28, who created the app with her friend, Clara de Soto, 27, said the app reduces the bitter taste of a breakup. The two women, who live in New York, came up with the idea after seeing a friend go through breakup after breakup online.

"The poor girl, her Facebook profile was a minefield of elements of her defunct relationship," Ms. de Soto said. "We couldn't believe there wasn't a mechanism on Facebook or on social media that answered that."

Ms. de Soto said the app is the digital version of throwing an ex's gifts and belongings into the trash, something she has her fair share of experience with. "I've seen Clara's ex-boyfriend boxes, and they aren't pretty," Ms. Mannherz confirmed.

In a digital age, getting rid of memories isn't that easy. Being connected to so many people across a web of overlapping social networks means that "defriending" or "unfollowing" people rarely removes them completely from your virtual world.

"It was a lot easier before because you could actually achieve out of sight, out of mind," Ms. de Soto said, "but you can't do that online." For proof that the need is real, walk into any bar and listen in on a conversation between 20-somethings. It's almost certain that at some point, the fateful question will be asked aloud: "Should I text him?"

For extra support, an app developed by the Brazilian soft drink company Guarana Antarctica called the Ex-Lover Blocker, also tries to tackle the impulse to reconnect. Anytime you try to call an ex, the app sends a text message to your closest friends so they can come to your rescue before you make a tragic mistake. The app also posts an update on Facebook alerting the world of your imminent transgression.

"It's kind of like, hey, if you call him everyone is going to see on Facebook how weak you were," said Marco Versolato, 46, creative vice president for DDB Brasil, the Sao Paulo-based advertising agency that created the app, which for now is available only in Portuguese. "Self-control depends on the person but when you're not emotionally stable you can use the Ex-Lover Blocker's help as friend."

Annabel Acton, 29, had a different approach in mind when she started Never Liked It Anyway, a Web site on which spurned lovers can sell gifts from their exes that are too painful to keep. The site turns online social networks into a potential lifeline. It is the digital version of throwing your ex's stuff onto the street for a profit.

"I think it's very cathartic," said Ms. Acton, who lives in New York. "It's a sign to yourself that you're moving on."

Bettye Dewey, 29, of Euclid, Ohio, needed to move on after divorcing her multimillionaire husband two years ago. She had discovered that he was having an affair - and buying another woman duplicates of gifts he bought for Ms. Dewey.

After they split, Ms. Dewey was left with a pile of Louis Vuitton purses, Dolce and Gabbana dresses and Chanel jewelry that she didn't want to throw away, but couldn't bear to look at. So when she found Never Liked It Anyway, she was thrilled.

"I mean, cathartic isn't even the word," she said. "I feel like I am puking this stuff out of my life."

The New York Times

(China Daily 03/24/2013 page12)