Hello Faithful Readers, and welcome to August’s edition of Gothic Charm School. This month, the Lady of theManners is going to address a problem that seems to be happening more and more these days — romantic break-ups. Now before you think the Lady of the Manners is poaching on Miss Lonely Hearts’ territory, rest assured that the Lady of the Manners isn’t going to try and give all of you advice on how to heal your lovelorn heart. Nope, not even going to try. Instead the Lady of the Manners is going to expound upon the etiquette of break-ups; specifically, how to gracefully deal with a break-up in this digital age.
Rule the First: do not break up with someone over email. Tacky, tacky, tacky. However, even WORSE than that is to not bother breaking up with someone, but let them discover your affections are moving elsewhere via reading a web journal or blogger.
Now, the Lady of the Manners is sure that ALL of you are horrified to find that she even has to spell that out. Goodness knows the Lady of the Manners was horrified when she heard about this sort of thing happening. It is her very sorry duty to report that yes indeed, there are shallow and clueless people out there who obsessively update their web journal with their every thought and emotional whim, but seem to forget to tell others in their lives about the thoughts and emotional whims that might have an impact on those others.
Which brings us to Rule the Second: after the break-up, do not post personal details and habits about your ex on your on-line journal. Don’t. That sort of venting and carrying on should be strictly private, and only indulged in where various semi-acquaintences and bored strangers surfing the web won’t run across it. Catharsis is all well and good, but PUBLIC catharsis can be messy. After a romantic flame-out, both parties concerned should try to appear as calm and rational as possible (in public, that is. In private, feel free to vent your spleen, cry, denounce the other party as a loathsome cad. But ONLY do that IN PRIVATE, or in the company of friends who can be trusted to keep their mouths shut).
Why is this such a big deal? Part of it is the Golden Rule of “treat others the way you would like to be treated.” In the event of the dissolution of a romance, would you want the other party to be posting things such as, “My ex was stupid, smelled funny, and laughed at only their own jokes?” Would you want that posted in a forum where anyone with a connection to the internet could run across it and read it?
(Wait, wait, the Lady of the Manners can see one of you waving a hand. No, leaving out the person’s name doesn’t make it any better, and is a coward’s excuse. Or are you going to try and tell the Lady of the Manners that you and your ex had no mutual acquaintances or friends who might read your webpage? Oh, you don’t care what they think? Then perhaps you shouldn’t be allowed to have romantic entanglements.)
Now some of you may be aghast at the harshness of the Lady of the Manners’ opinions on this topic. But the Lady of the Manners has had to deal with one too many instances of watching people she knows break up, and then enduring the rounds of emails and conversations that go “did you read MissGawthick’s web log today? She said horrible things about GoffyBoi, and she was the one who did the breaking up!” That gets tiring, children. And let’s not even contemplate the horrors of dueling web-logs — an on-line “he said/she-said” path to madness.
However, the Lady of the Manners does not want anyone to read this as her telling them not to mope and wallow in the inevitable mood swings that follow a break-up. Not at all (even tho’ that sort of wallowing is also better done in private). The idea the Lady of the Manners is trying to get across is that you don’t publicly badmouth the other party. And publicly includes the Web, oh yes it does. You may rant, fume, and slander them all you want in private — but in public, strive for a calm appearance. If someone starts a conversation that involves insulting your ex, change the topic, even if you’ve been dying to complain about them.
Part of the reason for using this behavior is that it will place you on the Moral High Ground, which is a lovely, lovely place. If you can manage to not spout bile every time your ex is mentioned, you give the impression of being someone who is in control of their emotions, and who is able to deal with personal hurts in an adult manner.
Another reason is because no matter how supportive your friends are, they will eventually get the teensiest bit tired of listening to you rant and foam at the mouth, especially if you have a habit of reacting to break-ups by trying to trash the other person’s reputation. Because if you always act like that in times of emotional trauma, then not only will your friends not be able to tell when it is really important that they be supportive of you, but they may not care. Besides, that sort of behavior is best left to the alarming sorts who turn up on the Jerry Springer show, not by well-mannered goths. Right? Nod in agreement with the Lady of the Manners on this point, or she’ll become quite testy.
Finally we reach Rule the Third, which is that private email should STAY private. If you think that someone’s nasty email is best dealt with by bcc-ing the whole social group you are both part of, you are WRONG. It doesn’t matter if it isn’t even your break-up and you are just trying to defend someone. Private email should not be broadcast across mailing lists or entire address books. Because even if you have some good and coherent points to make about the other person’s behavior, you will immediately lose ALL credibility you have with the people you have involved. Why? Because many people (even your friends) don’t want to be involved in email arguments between two people; instead of rallying to your side and agreeing with you, they may dismiss your comments entirely (or agree with the other party), all because you ignored the clearly-drawn line between public and private communication. The defense of “I know that it was wrong, but I was doing it to humiliate the other person” is not an acceptable one. Just because you deliberately decided to flout etiquette and common sense about this doesn’t make it any better — in fact, it might make you look even more hot-tempered and . . . well . . . childish. While a child-like sense of wonder and glee is something everyone should cultivate, a child-like trait of tattling is not.
With that ringing denouncement, the Lady of the Manners feels she is done holding forth on this topic, and is going to go laze about in her back yard drinking tea and playing croquet. Come back next month, when the Lady of the Manners will get all cross about some other etiquette lapse she’s had to endure recently. As always, if you (yes, you there, in the back) have a question, send a polite email to firstname.lastname@example.org; then you may become the topic of a future column. Which should fill you with a giddy sense of excitement, yes it should.