'How' more important than 'why' when describing break-ups
A new study by an Indiana University professor has shown that the narratives of breakups in the United States differ from those in other countries
American undergraduates focus on the `how’ of a breakup when describing their breakups, not the `why’ or the `who,’“ said Ilana Gershon, associate professor of communication and culture in IU’s College of Arts and Sciences.
She looked at how people write to break up today, including through texts, emails and social media.
Ilana Gershon said that part of what makes the breakup stories she collected into American stories is that the medium seems so important to the message when breaking off relationships.
Gershon also is the author of the 2010 book, “The Breakup 2.0: Disconnecting over New Media” (Cornell University Press), which argued that Facebook and other forms of social networking have radically changed the playing field of dating today.
She interviewed 72 people at length for her paper, including 66 undergraduate college students who communicate frequently with new technologies. She found that when American college students tell their breakup stories, they consist of a string of conversations, and people always describe when anyone switched media to continue the conversations.
“The medium used for the conversation mattered enough to be almost always mentioned. People would invariably mark when a different medium was used, explaining when communication shifted from voicemail to texting to Facebook and then to phone,” Gershon said.
Her results differ from other ethnographic research done elsewhere, such as in Japan and Britain, where the story often focuses on justifying why the relationship had to end. Character was the emphasis overseas, not the method.
“The American undergraduates I interviewed were not discussing their breakups in terms of the right balance of dependence, or even the kind of people who might break up,” Gershon added.
Her paper is published in the journal Anthropology.