50 new ways to leave your lover
Modern technology offers cowards a choice of easy ways to worm out of a relationship, writes Ed Power
Rachel Marsden didn't know whether to punch the computer or burst into tears. Last week the 33-year-old Canadian, a well-known right wing pundit in her home country, logged on to online encyclopedia Wikipedia to discover she'd been dumped -- by the website's founder.
Freshly posted to the site was a terse message from Jimmy Wales, the 41-year-old bearded creator of Wikipedia and Marsden's long-term boyfriend: "I am no longer involved with Rachel Marsden."
Once the shock had subsided, Marsden did what any firebrand cyber-pundit would: she went nuclear on her former lover. She retrieved a shirt and jumper belonging to Wales and put them for sale on eBay.
"My name is Rachel," she wrote. "My (now ex) boyfriend, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, just broke up with me via an announcement on Wikipedia." By the end of the day, bids for the items had topped e400.
Celebrities have been using technology to wriggle out of relationships since the dawn of the telegram -- cowardly cads from the annals include Phil Collins who asked his wife for a divorce by fax and James Brown, who informed his wife that their marriage was at an end by taking out a full page advertisement in Variety magazine.
Presumably he felt a note left on the mantlepiece wouldn't get the message across with sufficient clarity.
For the modern celeb, however, television is increasingly the medium of choice when it comes to breaking the news to your (soon-to-be-ex) significant other.
Eddie Murphy said he was splitting from Spice Girl Mel B in a live interview, suggesting that the baby she was carrying might not be his. Naturally, this came as a surprise to Scary Spice, forced to go to court for a DNA test to prove Murphy's parentage.
Matt Damon, meanwhile, chose to go on the Oprah show to tell the public -- including girlfriend Minnie Driver -- he was no longer attached.
Should you be truly adverse to conflict, though, nothing trumps the text message. It's alleged that Britney Spears bid adieu to wide-boy husband Kevin Federline via text -- you can even see him receiving the news in a documentary clip posted to YouTube.
Never one to engage in needless banter, Kate Moss, for her part, is rumoured to have finished with Pete Doherty via a late-night text.
If you consider these to be merely unseemly examples of celebrity tawdriness, think again. Breaking up by text and email is an increasingly routine way of conducting our personal lives.
"It happens mostly in short-term relationships," says counsellor Beth Fitzpatrick.
"You'll go out with someone for a while and decide it's not working out. If you don't want to create a scene or put yourself in an uncomfortable situation, sending a text or email is a very easy way out. But I don't think it's happening much in long-term relationships.
"I would say that is very rare -- although, of course, technology can undermine relationships in other ways. I've heard many cases where one partner spends all of their time on the internet and becomes withdrawn and divorced from people around them."
Needless to say, technology also makes it easier for us to undermine our relationships in the first place.
"It's so much easier to cheat thanks to the internet," says Fitzpatrick.
"If you are married and you want to have an affair then there are websites that will help you do that. On the other hand, the internet may also implicate you. We all know of cases where relationships were destroyed after one party found incriminating emails or texts. It goes both ways."
Some technology gurus believe the ubiquity of text messaging and email, and the rise of social network sites such as Bebo and Facebook has created a generation with little experience of, or appetite for, face-to-face conflict.
In a Europe-wide survey carried out by Swiss researchers last year, 9pc of mobile phone users had sent a "ur dumped" text at some stage (1pc did so via a social network site).
"A certain amount of this involves lack of courage and inability to face up to things, which people often have to struggle with," said technology consultant Bernard Guerney Jr.
"You grow some when you face these things, and I think you lose something when you have to resort to tricky things and not confront people about things that are intimately important."
How Wales must dearly wish he had done things the old fashioned way. Having flogged his clothes to Wikipedia geeks, Marsden has since ratcheted up her revenge mission by publishing transcripts of steamy instant message conversations between the lovers.
These appeared to show Wales transgressing Wikipedia's commitment to neutrality by helping to puff up Marsden's Wikipedia biog.
Consequently, his image as a selfless servant of the web community has taken a pummelling and could actually damage Wikipedia's reputation (which, ultimately, is the only thing it has going for it).
Sometimes, it's still wiser to pick up the phone and have that difficult conversation.