BREAKING UP ON FACEBOOK: A Boomer/Millennial Conversation

by Tom McBride


 How Today’s High Tech Millennials Fall Out of Love  

 An Intergenerational Conversation Between

 Joan Gackstatter and Tom McBride 

 Millennial Joan Gackstatter (not her real name), is currently a writer living in New York. Baby Boomer Tom McBride is co-author of the annual Beloit College Mindset List®, The Mindset Lists of American History (Wiley, 2011), and a forthcoming study of mid twentieth century popular culture (Sourcebooks, 2014). . Here’s part of their discussion about love in cyberspace:

Tom: Here at The Mindset List® we’re always tracking what’s new. The Seattle Times called us “America’s cultural timekeepers.” We take that seriously. Yet we often find that a lot has stayed the same.

Joan: Yeah, Tom, but this time I think things have really changed. High tech has been pretty revolutionary. I’m not sure the older generation gets that.

Tom: But hey, Joan, surely not everything has changed. When you fall in love, it’s pretty much the same as it’s always been, right, even in the ancient time of my own youth. You’ve become each other’s emotional slave. You call each other silly pet names. You’re like a kid at your first birthday party. You have no identity beyond one another. But when it’s over, when you’ve fallen out of love, you’re supposed to be an adult all of sudden: get over it, move on, and all those other miserable and “responsible” things.

Joan: But here’s where I disagree, Tom, because so much really has changed. It’s harder to get finality now. With my generation you break up, then you text again right away, and you keep at it and before you know you may be back together again!  I guess when you were young, Tom—was that a hundred years ago–a lot of break-ups occurred with snail mail, and by the time you and she had exchanged a few letters, your feelings for each other had cooled already.

Tom: Yeah, everything was pretty final back then. I got a “Dear John” letter, as they called them when I was your age, and I don’t think I’ve ever gotten anything so conclusive. We were just totally over: no appeal!

Joan: And, Tom, there’s something else really new now as well. Your break-up goes public on Facebook. Sometimes break-ups get nasty and public there, and your friends take sides against his friends, and the whole business becomes like a political campaign. Or sometimes your friends and his friends just wait to see what happens and then take sides based on their convenience. It can be pretty disheartening.

Tom: Well, I guess something like that might have happened to me in the sixth grade, when I broke up with my girlfriend Charlotte—we were both twelve. She returned my broken heart necklace, and I recall a couple of my little buddies really disliked her for that. But they also thought I was better off without her: I had more time for baseball.

Joan: I’d like to have seen you play baseball, Tom; would pay good money for that. It was a while ago. Let me continue with what’s new these days. There’s also no out of sight-out of mind. He (or she) is always lurking around cyberspace. Even if you “de-friend” him, you still know some of his friends, and you’ll see his comments on their posts. And there’s always the temptation to Skype or text or email him.

Tom: Well, in my day we could always call long distance. But those calls were expensive back then. You could only afford to talk for about five minutes—hardly enough time to say all you thought you needed to say, much less get back together. You just felt bad after the call was over—partly because you had to pay the bill.

Joan: Even so, Tom one thing that has stayed the same is the awfulness of having to break up. There are so many ways to say, “I love you” but only one way to say, “This is over.” Even if you do it the coward’s way and just don’t reply to his messages, you’re still covering up complicated and contradictory feelings with a single, negative message.

Tom: Yeah, that was awful then, and it’s awful now. I guess the truth is that for some of us, when we do “break up,” we are running back and forth between relief and regret. If we’ve left one relationship for another, we might get buyer’s remorse. Hey, it happens when you buy a house, too! But tell me, Joan: Is it still customary to break up with someone face to face?

Joan: Not always. High tech communications makes it easier to do it on line.

Tom: Let me give you some of my hard-earned wisdom, Joan, about break-ups, whether face to face or not. As I recall my misspent youth, I have concluded that there were good reasons for all my break-ups. If there weren’t, they wouldn’t have happened. Of course I couldn’t see that at the time; I was too upset. And I was too young. If I’d only know that then, I could have accepted the facts and moved on a lot quicker. The young rarely learn fast.

Joan: Speaking of young, given my generation’s expectations of instant and pervasive communication we expect to fall in love faster and heal faster. Maybe we need to slow down, but in a world like ours, where the next new thing is always coming at you every hour, it’s easier said than done.

Tom: Easier said than done! Maybe if we were to ever bury Love and put down a marker for it, that could be inscribed: HERE LIES LOVE: It Was Easier Said Than Done.

Joan: I don’t expect to see that marker any time soon, Tom. You may be fantasizing again. Doesn’t that happen a lot with you old folks?

Tom: OK, Joan. Let’s not get personal here. We want to keep this a civil intergenerational dialogue!

Joan: Just kidding, Tom. My generation is pretty long on fantasy, too.

So: What’s new about falling out of love and what isn’t new? Post comments here at or post them on our Mindset List Facebook page, or send them to We’ll respect your privacy.


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