Na na na na. Na na na na. Hey, hey. `You've got mail.'

Heartbreak: More people are turning to technology to deliver the cruelest of news.

February 20, 2003|By Wendy Navratil | Wendy Navratil,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

Before you get over it, you have to get it over with. The breakup, that is.

With today's exit strategies, it's all over a bit too quickly for some people's tastes - a little less like Casablanca and more like "How to lose a guy (or girl) in 10 seconds."

Thank e-mail and its kiss-off cousins - voice mail, even text messaging (because it's often cheaper than a cell-phone call) - for the instant-dumping epidemic. These innovations might make it possible to be in touch constantly, but they make it just as easy to vanish facelessly and sometimes voicelessly.

Take it from Jennifer Traut, 21, a senior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who has seen a trilogy of high-tech partings - thankfully, not the worst of them firsthand.

Part 1: Traut and a few friends joined an exchange group that spent 10 months in France last year. The students would go to the computer lab in Versailles to get warm words from home. One day, a friend burst into tears after opening a message.

" `This is going to hurt' - that was the title," Traut said. "Her boyfriend of two years broke up with her over e-mail."

Part 2: Back in Illinois this year, another of Traut's friends got engaged just before Thanksgiving. One day in December, the friend came home to a phone message from her fiance.

"He knew she was at work and he called and broke up with her voice mail," Traut said. "He just said, `We're too different' - the whole breakup routine."

Part 3: Here's where Traut's personal experience comes in: She met a guy at a party in Champaign in the fall. He lived in Kankakee, Ill., but the distance didn't seem to dampen his enthusiasm. He called three times the same night after they met, and came to visit her twice during the next few weeks.

Then, silence.

And, then, a text message. He apologized for being MIA - "a bunch of tests" in school, he said. She text-messaged back, they chatted once more with no parting words other than a typical goodbye. But then all lines of communication were closed.

The text message, it seems, was code for "I am using the least common denominator to let you know I exist, but not in your world anymore."

Or, code for "coward," some might say.

"The beauty of the 21st century is there are so many ingenious, high-tech ways to look as if you're relating to someone when you'd really rather not," said Laurie Frankel, 37, author of It's Not Me, It's YOU! A Modern Girl's Guide to Breaking Up (Sourcebooks, $14.95).

She and others argue for a return to face-time farewells. Or at least a real-time phone conversation. On a land line, not a cell phone - punctuated by the environmental noise that Frankel considers a little too symbolic of a person on the go.

In Frankel's hierarchy of needless insensitivity (which she sent by e-mail, fittingly), e-mailing your parting words to a work address is high up the pyramid. Like a cell call, it has the element of sucker-punch surprise.

E-mailing to a home address mitigates the incivility somewhat, Frankel said. "Hitting delete provides the intended with a morsel of satisfaction."

At the top of her breakup crime chart? Instant messaging. It's appropriate only "if you're completely pre-human and running on nothing but a brain stem and Red Bull," she said.

Often, there are extenuating circumstances for the unceremonious departures. That was true of Traut's testimonials, which featured geographic distance in two of the cases. College-level mentality coursed through all of them and seems to be the culprit behind some of the greatest dating indignities.

But trust us: The e-mail breakup has spread far beyond the university universe.

Britton Payne, 32, author of the book Dumped (Bloomsbury, $9.95), can attest to that. He said he's dating someone happily now. But before that, he was dumped three times in a row by e-mail with nearly identical messages.

"In all three cases, we had been dating a couple times, had our first kiss and I didn't hear from her for about a week. Then I got e-mail, saying I'm a great guy, she's not over her ex, so why don't we just stay friends. The first time I thought, that's OK. Second time, I was like, that's funny, what a crazy coincidence. The third time it happens, it's not funny anymore. ... I wondered at the time if I had stepped into some new trend."

E-mail seems to be a particularly popular dumping ground if the Internet figured prominently in the relationship's infancy. And it often does these days. Many now give their e-mail addresses as the initial point of contact instead of phone numbers for safety, and some may end tempestuous relationships the same way for the same reason.

Lynn Harris, 34, author and Dating Dictionary columnist for Glamour magazine, draws a distinction between breaking up and simply declining a date, early on, via e-mail.

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