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Breaking Up (Online) Is Hard to Do

We explored how some Millennial love stories lived out in the digital public eye are gaining fan followings, but what happens when the lines are disconnected and the love story ends? When a relationship has a fan following, breaking up effects more people than just the two who are putting things to an end.
Famous online personalities are finding they have to tread water lightly when dealing with fans who have emotionally invested in their lives. Jenna Marbles, a comedic video blogger who we named as a must watch online series, isn’t afraid to let her fans into her personal life, often featuring once-boyfriend Max Weisz in her videos. Max even built a YouTube following that spawned from Jenna’s. When they broke up she also had to break it to her followers and worried about how the news would effect what she calls her many “Internet friends” since viewers had taken to Max. After announcing the split, her fans mourned on Twitter saying, “I feel like my parents are getting divorced” and used #crying in their messages.
Heather B. Armstrong became the so-called “queen of mommy blogging” with her blatantly honest blog Dooce, where she documented the day-to-days of her marriage, family, unemployment (caused ironically by a blog post), and battles with depression. But when she and her husband decided to divorce after 10 years of marriage, the prospect of telling fans was daunting. She released a statement much like a press release announcing the divorce, but kept the matter private until more time had passed. For people in the public digital eye, crafting a break-up announcement online is personal PR, and weighing the reaction of followers, readers, and friends with the personal needs of the heartbroken is a part of the process. Online personalities are using the medium as a support system, and a strong connection to online communities has supportive fans offering emotional support and helping them pick up the pieces when relationships fall apart. Armstrong’s divorce was even the focus of a post on popular blog Hello Giggles called “Stay Together For the Blog: Coping When Your Favorite Blogger Gets Divorced,” which offered the advice, “If you’re a fan of a certain blogger that’s going through a life change, the best advice is to show support. Even though you’re most likely hearing one side of the story, remember that you’re a fan of the person and their voice, and not their relationship.”
Some online personalities take a creative approach to announcing their break. Jonathan Mann set out to write and perform a “Song A Day” on his YouTube channel, so when he and his girlfriend of five years, Ivory King, decided to break up, a video was the obvious medium for them to share the news. In a video titled “We’ve Got to Break Up” they performed a pop-jazz tune and danced in synchronization, making light of the sad reality of their breakup (he wants babies and she doesn’t). The playful video, with a rather catchy tune, went viral in December 2012 and has garnered 1,334,802 views to date. Its popularity could indicate that sharing news of your breakup online is a situation that Millennials are finding relatable. (And also that the song is incredibly catchy.)
The woes of the broken hearted and internet-famous are unique, but are also an amplified version of what a lot of average social media using Millennials deal with post-breakup. No, they may not have thousands of fans mourning the demise of their relationship, but having a public record of a romance to deal with is a reality for a huge number of young people. As Millennial writer Maureen O’Connor wrote in her NY Magazine piece “All My Exes Live in Texts,” Millennials’ exes inevitably live in their online worlds, leaving reminders of all the people they dated, or hooked up with. For active social media users, ending a relationship also means ending it officially online, whether through changing relationship statuses or deleting the public album of wedding pictures with their now ex.