Some experiences are indisputably sh*tty. The unexpected death of a loved one. Being made redundant from a job. Missing a flash sale on Net-A-Porter. Splitting up with someone after investing time, finances and intimacy is similarly worthy of a notch on the ‘majorly unpleasant' side of life.
Films like Legally Blonde, Bridget Jones’s Diary and 500 Days of Summer illustrate the all-too familiar post-break-up scene – the tears and throwing of chocolate boxes, duvet cocoons and visits to the supermarket to buy milk and Jack Daniels in your pyjamas. Break-ups are mostly exhausting and self-esteem-dismantling. They involve sleepless nights, crying into crispy, snot-soaked tissues and relentless questioning of what could have been said, done and reacted to differently. They force you to learn how to be you again without another person in the picture.
It’s not just the emotional turmoil that makes a split torturous, but also the practical bits – the dividing of assets, friends and learning how to co-parent children. A break-up is murky and complex, regardless of the reason for it or who brought it about.
But contrary to what we all know from experience, the current spate of social media break-up posts would have us believe that all splits are amicable, jolly procedures, with everyone emerging head held high and the best of friends.
The ‘amicable break-up’ has become the latest, blood-boiling result of our pursuit of Instagram perfection. In addition to Anissa Kermiche vases placed just so and aerial-photographed bowls of homemade handkerchief pasta, your curated existence now has to include a relationship demise dressed in pastel colours with a bow on top.
In recent months, celebrities like Oscar nominated actor Armie Hammer and The Hills’ star Kristin Cavallari (to name just two) have announced their break-ups from partners on social media. Their near-identical, perfectly-packaged PR line normally includes the phrases ‘we have taken the tough decision to split’ and ‘we continue to love and respect each other as friends’.
Their decision to reveal this life-changing personal detail with followers is understandable – to an extent. After all, sharing a photograph of a morning oat latte and not a divorce betrays the 'authenticity' and community spirit we're led to believe is paramount on Instagram. And for business and legal reasons, it’s no surprise celebrities (largely) decide to forego an alcohol-fuelled rant about their ex on IG Live.
But who are we kidding? Splitting amicably is not the norm. Break-ups come as a result of infidelity, long-distance, falling out of love, changed and dangerous behaviours. The picture-perfect image of a break-up where all parties are happy, continue to love each other and remain friends is rare and, for many, inconceivable.
Sanitising and filtering your life for the 'gram isn't new, obviously, but a curated break-up on social media sets unrealistic standards that will only make other people feel much, much worse about an experience that is necessarily messy.
The genesis for the fallacy of the amicable separation can be traced back to 2014 with Gwyneth Paltrow’s infamous ‘conscious uncoupling’ from her now ex-husband Chris Martin. Earlier this month the Goop founder admitted that the phrase sounds ‘a bit full of itself’ but that she's proud of the way it’s ‘permeated the break-up culture’. ‘Instead of people approaching me with, “Why did you say that?”, they now approach me with, “How do you do that?”’ she said in an interview.
And herein lies the problem. When scrutinising celebrities and influencers’ seemingly stress-free and fortune-filled lives, we’re often left asking ‘how?’ ‘How did they become a millionaire?’ ‘How do they stay in shape?’’ How did they nab that A-list partner?’ The mystery behind someone’s success is often as intriguing and inspiring as it is disheartening and unnerving. And it's this same comparison culture that now makes us feel like we’re failing if we aren’t hanging out on Thanksgiving with our ex (Jennifer Aniston and Justin Theroux), cuddling up to an ex-husband’s new girlfriend (Paltrow and Dakota Johnson) or spending lockdown with them in matching pyjamas (Demi Moore and Bruce Willis).
As with almost everything we see on social media, we too easily forget that we're being force fed a snapshot of what a user wants us to see. No one wants to package the tears, screaming matches and slammed doors of a break-up into an Instagram reel or hashtag, regardless of how 'authentic' the feed.
Of course, some couples are able to split amicably and remain in each other’s lives. It’s encouraging to see that, sometimes, when a romantic relationship ends a friendship can prosper. And showing that a united front is a possible outcome from a split is positive, especially when children are involved. But for the majority of us, the end of a relationship involves a mourning process that's painful enough without feeling guilty that we haven't made our break-ups 'pretty.'
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