RE­LA­TION­SHIP So­cial me­dia’s role in the rise of on-and-off cou­pling.

Why does so­cial me­dia lure you back to your ex?

ELLE (Canada) - - News - By Sarah Treleaven

the ping of an in­stant mes­sage brought Diana (not her real name), a 35- year- old actress living in Toronto, back to­gether with her ex—two years af­ter they’d first bro­ken up. “He told me how much he had missed me and had wanted to con­tact me but he’d been re­spect­ing my bound­aries,” she says. Af­ter weeks of very in­tense tex­ting and mes­sag­ing—some­times up to 100 mes­sages a day—they were back to­gether. Then they broke up and got back to­gether twice more. But over and over, the is­sues that broke them up the first time resur­faced. He was still hotly jeal­ous and couldn’t make time for her. “It was the same old BS,” says Diana, who fi­nally deleted his num­ber and un­friended him on Face­book.

Singer Robin Thicke be­came the sub­ject of ridicule last sum­mer when he tried to win back his es­tranged wife, Paula Pat­ton, via tweets and a new al­bum called Paula, com­plete with su­per-cheesy lyrics: “Come on, baby, let me in / Don’t leave me out here in the cold / Ooh, turn the porch light on / At least open the doggy door.” (The Twit­ter cam­paign #FreePaula en­sued.) But he’s not the only one who has hoped for a sec­ond kick at the re­la­tion­ship can—and pro­fessed so via so­cial h

me­dia. Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez have been keep­ing ev­ery­one guess­ing with their sug­ges­tive are-they-or-aren’t-they tweets since 2010. And, con­firm­ing how this phe­nom­e­non has cap­tured the cul­tural zeit­geist, a fea­ture film ten­ta­tively en­ti­tled On Again Off Again was shot in Toronto last year. It’s about two twen­tysome­things who keep get­ting pushed to­gether and pulled apart—and it’s hard to imag­ine that text mes­sag­ing and so­cial me­dia will not play a key role.

Ac­cord­ing to re­search from the Uni­ver­sity of Texas at Austin, al­most 60 per­cent of peo­ple have got­ten back to­gether with an ex—and the av­er­age num­ber of times a cycli­cal cou­ple breaks up and gets back to­gether is 2.5. “Cycli­cal re­la­tion­ships can be an in­di­ca­tion that you’re de­pen­dent on hav­ing some­one in or­der to feel lov­able,” says Robi Ludwig, a psy­chother­a­pist based in New York City who spe­cial­izes in work­ing with cou­ples. She’s also a man­ag­ing edi­tor for Ex­a­, a web­site launched last sum­mer that of­fers a 12-step pro­gram de­signed to help the lovelorn kick the habit of their pre­vi­ous re­la­tion­ship.

De­spite the per­va­sive drive to rekin­dle re­la­tion­ships, the Uni­ver­sity of Texas at Austin stud­ies show that cou­ples who get back to­gether typ­i­cally ex­pe­ri­ence “less ef­fec­tive con­flict man­age­ment.” So why would a re­newed re­la­tion­ship that brings lower sat­is­fac­tion, fewer pos­i­tive in­ter­ac­tions and higher con­flict have such ap­peal?

The driv­ing mo­ti­va­tion be­hind cycli­cal cou­pling is a very big ques­tion, and the big an­swer just might lie at the in­ter­sec­tion of lin­ger­ing con­tact and a per­ceived lack of de­sir­able al­ter­na­tives. Cycli­cal re­la­tion­ships aren’t a new phe­nom­e­non, but what has changed is this: So­cial me­dia, in­creas­ingly a per­va­sive part of ev­ery­day life, can make the re­turn to a pre­vi­ously warmed bed even more tempt­ing. “We have eas­ier ac­cess to peo­ple now, which makes it eas­ier to fol­low through on im­pulse or cu­rios­ity,” says Ludwig. Hav­ing ac­cess to what an ex is now do­ing—say, through regular Face­book up­dates—can re­vive a dor­mant in­ter­est.

It seems like the some­times-toxic in­flu­ence of tech­nol­ogy and so­cial me­dia—where you can now watch your ex-boyfriend’s wed­ding in real time—is mak­ing it harder and harder to say good­bye for­ever. Brenda Lee, a Ph.D. can­di­date in psy­chol­ogy at the Uni­ver­sity of New Brunswick, sur­veyed young adults aged 18 to 25 and found that 87 per­cent ad­mit­ted to post-re­la­tion­ship con­tact and the track­ing of an ex’s be­hav­iour.

“It’s the norm nowa­days to main­tain con­tact with peo­ple even af­ter you’ve bro­ken up,” says Rene Dai­ley, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of com­mu­ni­ca­tion stud­ies at the Uni­ver­sity of Texas at Austin. “That makes it a lot eas­ier to go back to them if you don’t have an al­ter­na­tive.”

Jacqueline Duke, an Illi­nois-based con­sult­ing psy­chol­o­gist for Ex­a­, says that the idea of miss­ing out on “the one” can also com­pli­cate things. “A lot of peo­ple get stuck on this false idea. When we make a fi­nal choice to ter­mi­nate our fore­see­able op­tion for love, it can be ex­tremely dif­fi­cult,” she says. Lee’s re­search shows that 42 per­cent of Canadian young adults thought that a pre­vi­ous re­la­tion­ship would last a life­time. “When things fall apart, a breakup can trig­ger se­ri­ous psy­cho­log­i­cal dif­fi­cul­ties, in­clud­ing de­pres­sion and sui­ci­dal thoughts,” she says. It’s un­der­stand­able that one might per­ceive rec­on­cil­i­a­tion as the key to re­lief. But while the de­sire to fix some­thing bro­ken is an hon­ourable im­pulse, it gets tricky when that bro­ken thing is a re­la­tion­ship that’s im­mune to re­pair.

Duke cau­tions re­la­tion­ship re­cy­clers to keep their eyes wide open rather than sim­ply in­dulging a com­fort­able pat­tern. Some cou­ples get back to­gether and are able to make pos­i­tive changes, but one of the big­gest red flags is more than one breakup. “You need to pause and think about what you’ve done dur­ing your time apart that will change the wants and needs that weren’t be­ing met the first time,” she says. Com­mu­ni­ca­tion, as in all re­la­tion­ships, is very im­por­tant, and Duke rec­om­mends tak­ing a prag­matic ap­proach. “Ne­go­ti­ate things clearly, dis­cuss ex­actly what is go­ing to change or im­prove and then keep talk­ing about the on­go­ing sta­tus of the com­mit­ment,” she says.

If the re­la­tion­ship is past the point of what should be no re­turn and it’s time to call it quits for good, you need to be firm in your de­ci­sion, says Ludwig. “Once you have ended it, cut off con­tact and put your­self on a re­la­tion­ship detox—which means no call­ing, tex­ting or fol­low­ing on so­cial me­dia.”

Alexan­dra (not her real name), a Canadian in her mid-30s living in Lon­don, Eng­land, found that out the hard way. She re­turned over and over to a re­la­tion­ship with a clear pat­tern: Things would hum along, seem­ingly fine, un­til her ex would ex­plode over some per­ceived slight. “He would play on my in­se­cu­ri­ties, say­ing that I was cold, that I was al­ways pok­ing fun while he was al­ways com­pli­ment­ing me,” she says. They would break up, but soon he would be back on her heels, beg­ging for an­other chance via text and email. “Then he would say that he didn’t re­ally want to break up, that he loved me.” They rec­on­ciled a to­tal of three times. “And be­cause he played on my in­se­cu­ri­ties, and I think I’m bad at re­la­tion­ships, I did think it was my fault,” she says.

Alexan­dra’s fi­nal straw was a late-night show­down on the street in Lon­don. “He was re­ally drunk, he swore at me and he sent me loads of aw­ful texts,” she says. “Be­ing treated that way made it clear to me that we had to break up for good.” She cut him off cold turkey and deleted him from her con­tacts lists and so­cial net­works.

Now, with the ben­e­fit of hind­sight, the ex­pe­ri­ence of re­turn­ing over and over to a dys­func­tional re­la­tion­ship has given Alexan­dra con­text when it comes to fu­ture en­tan­gle­ments: “That re­la­tion­ship made me more aware that I should trust my in­stincts,” she says. “I shouldn’t have gone along with some­thing that didn’t feel right.” n

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