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April 02, 2006

Digital Prenuptials

The Wall Street Journal last Monday had an interesting article discussing the travails of modern breakups in the light of the pervasive technologies of the 21st century, and moreover, the ends to which people go to delete, both metaphorically and literally, their former significant other (a/k/a exso) from their lives. I don't think it should surprise any of you that I have something to say about this, considering it has to do with two topics near and dear to me: technology and (the failure of) relationships.

What can I possibly add to this topic that an A1 above-the-fold article in the WSJ didn't address? Well, the article does a comprehensive job of discussing the complications of the post-breakup purge, but if there's one thing I've learned in my brief time as a consultant in the nebulous field of risk management, it's that prevention is always preferable to detection, or in this case, reaction (this can be said about many other things, notably contraception). So, in a way that is likely to make all you perilous idealists and hopeless romantics utter the all-too-familiar words of rohit sucks, allow me to present a small checklist of tasks collectively intended as a digital prenuptial.

The entire notion of a digital prenuptial hinges on a very reasonable concept (if you ask me) with a significant history in the field of computer science: segmentation. (Computer geeks: think virtual memory.) Put another way, why delete a significant other after a breakup when we can get away with never inserting (pun intended) him or her in the first place. In the sections that follow, I will outline several tasks you can take in the nascent stages of any romantic entanglement that will make the purging process trivial (and scriptable!) when the time to bitterly part ways inevitably arrives. For the basic computer examples outlined below, variables are defined below:

  • $EXSO_EMAIL - E-mail address of your soon-to-be ex
  • $EXSO_LOGIN - Login handle of your soon-to-be ex


The Problem: E-mail is an ubiquitous form of communication in our age, and there is no doubt you will exchange e-mail with your significant other in the course of your relationship. Finding, cataloging, and deleting (or archiving) this e-mail when (not if, mind you) you break up is likely to be a tedious, annoying, and particularly bitter endeavor.

The Digital Prenuptial Solution: Set up a filter on your e-mail client to separate e-mails from your significant other as soon as your relationship is established. Search your mailbox and move any messages from your soon-to-be ex now, when you're still consumed by false notions of sentiment. A suitable procmail rule would be:

# Filter out e-mails from your (ex) significant other
# to a separate folder (added bonus is that you can put
# multiple ex-significant-others in one folder (exso/)
* ^from.*$EXSO_EMAIL

Archiving (or purging) all e-mails from your ex then becomes trivial:

# Archive all e-mails and (optionally) delete
tar -cvf $EXSO_LOGIN-email.tar $MAIL/exso/$EXSO_LOGIN/
gz $EXSO_LOGIN-email.tar
rm -rf $MAIL/exso/$EXSO_LOGIN

# optional
rm $EXSO_LOGIN-email.tar.gz

Computer Access

The Problem: Assuming your relationship progresses beyond a month (a questionable assumption for yours truly), computer access will inevitably become an issue. Your soon-to-be ex will be at your place and want to use your computer, and, well, it's hard to think of a believable excuse to deny his or her request (if you know of one, tell me). What happens most often is that you simply give your password to your soon-to-be significant other, and when it's time to part ways, you have the additional hassle of changing all your passwords (because you only use one, right?).

The Digital Prenuptial Solution: Create a separate account for your soon-to-be ex, with a separate password, a separate home directory, and separate account preferences. In addition to not having your own cherished home directory and settings sullied, it also creates a simple way to purge your ex when the time comes. The following is an example for FreeBSD:

# Drop your exso like he/she's hot
rmuser -y $EXSO_LOGIN

Social Networks

The Problem: Intoxicated by false notions of love (or lust), you idiotically agreed to be attached to your soon-to-be ex on a social networking site (e.g., Facebook) and now you have the unenviable task of dropping your ex on the said site. This is a lose-lose situation: if you do it, you're an asshole; if you don't, you're a tool.

The Digital Prenuptial Solution: Don't become attached to anyone on social networking sites, you idiot!

Instant Messaging

The Problem: You are liable to send potentially embarrassing and foolish messages to your ex over IM (possibly in an intoxicated state).

The Digital Prenuptials Solution: Avoid instant messaging your soon-to-be ex during the course of the relationship so as to not make it a habit. Further, keep your soon-to-be ex isolated to a separate group that is usually hidden to prevent lapses in discipline.

Cellular Phones

The Problem: You are liable to send potentially embarrassing and foolish messages to your ex over SMS (possibly in an intoxicated state).

The Digital Prenuptials Solution: Delete your ex's phone number from your phone when you breakup, dumbass.

* * *

Using the techniques outlined above as a digital prenuptial, you should be able to avoid much of the hassle of a modern age digital breakup. As for the real life part, may I recommend it's not you, it's me? Believe me, it's always me. Go figure.


probably the one true comprehensive list identifying the absolute extent of the tediousness of today's breakup as compared to what my parents went through (just tearing a page out of the phone book)

I love this.
that's all i have to say.

If you delete your ex's phone number from your phone, how will you know when they're calling so you can avoid picking up? In my opinion, that's the last thing you ever want to do.

Cody, I solve this problem by not picking up any call for which I don't know/recognize the phone number. If it's important, the person will leave me a voice mail. And if they don't, then they probably don't matter that much.

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