Ask Giz: The 7 Steps of the Online Break Up

Things didn't go so well, huh, champ? We've talked a lot about love, but now it's time for our resident love doctor to talk about what happens when romance goes south. Here are the steps to breaking up... online.

Breaking up is hard to do, so the song goes, but it can be particularly painful in the digital world. If you find yourself separating from someone you'd created a digital identity with, follow these steps to keep your dignity (and assets) in tact:

1) Change Your Relationship Status If you don't do it, they will, which makes the preemptive relationship status change the way to go. Holding on to a fake "in a relationship with" could make you look desperate to your ex or any friends who know the truth. Better to cut the cord and move on, sadness and all. If you're not yet ready to move on and meet others (or don't want to provoke an online war with your ex), just remove the "in a relationship with" part but don't actually add "Single" or "Looking for Random Play." (Yet.)

2) Yank Some Pictures Some people remove all online signs of their relationship, including Facebook photos of the two of them in happier times. If you're both comfortable with the reminders of your time together, then no harm done (though it may make some future partners wary about why you continue to hold on to and display photos of your ex). If your ex would feel better with no photos online, then by all means respect her or his wishes. Whenever you have a choice, try to choose kindness.

3) To Unfriend or Not to Unfriend Might their feelings get hurt if you unfriend them? Yes, but such is life and love. It's fine to unfriend someone as long as you don't do it in a cruel way, like by sending them an evil message telling them that you're unfriending them due to their bad breath or the way they took nearly an hour to make it through their angel hair pasta. Before unfriending, though, consider whether you might want to date or be friends again in the future. If so, unfriending could be a wrong turn. Is it really that terrible that they might read your status updates or wall posts? Wait, really?

4) Limit Their Access Let's say you decide to stay Facebook friends but you want some boundaries. Change your privacy settings to either put them on limited profile or to modify their access for specific parts of your profile. You can limit their visibility by altering what they can or cannot see (such as placing an "Everyone but" limitation on new photos).

5) Change Your Passwords I don't care how much you trust the person. If you shared your passwords while you were together (for some, it's a sign of intimacy or trust), change your passwords. People sometimes do rash things in fits of jealousy, sadness, depression or revenge. As a sex and relationships columnist, I've heard all sorts of stories involving people breaking into each other's email accounts, bank accounts, Facebooks and more. There's nothing wrong with protecting yourself and your assets.

6) Save Things You Want Before your ex takes photos you want off of their Facebook (or god forbid their MySpace, if they still have one), copy any photos you want to your computer just in case it gets awkward to ask for them later. Even if you don't think you'll want them later on, you might – even if only for the memories. If seeing the photos makes you sad, transfer them to a folder on your hard drive. Still looking at them too often? Save them to an external hard drive. Still peeking? Have a friend babysit your external hard drive until you're able to move on.

7) Consider Blocking Them Hopefully you'll never need to block someone, but there are always those few key creepy people. Maybe it makes you feel gross to imagine that they have any sort of access to your life or that you ever kissed them or allowed them to insert Part A into Part B (and not in a cool gadget sort of way). If that's the case, why stop at unfriending? Block them and move on, as long as you're okay with not being able to see their profile either (which is what Facebook blocking entails). On Gmail and many other email systems, you can also set up rules to have their emails diverted into a separate folder in case you want to be able to receive emails from them but don't want their constant emails reminding you of what went wrong when you're trying to get work done.

Sometimes breakups are necessary and wanted. Other times they are exceedingly sad. If you're stuck in a real rut of sadness or depression, check out Peter McWilliams' classic How to Survive the Loss of a Love.

Ask Giz: The 7 Steps of the Online Break Up

Read more of Dr. Debby's love advice here during Gizmodo's Bad Valentine celebration.

Debby Herbenick, PhD is a Research Scientist and Associate Director of The Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University, a sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute and author of Because It Feels Good: A Woman's Guide to Sexual Pleasure and Satisfaction. She blogs at MySexProfessor.com.

Gingerbread heartbreak shot by Jared Zimmerman/Flickr used under CC license

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