Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality

The Ex-Factor: Characteristics of Online and Offline Post-Relationship Contact and Tracking among Canadian Emerging Adults

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality

The Ex-Factor: Characteristics of Online and Offline Post-Relationship Contact and Tracking among Canadian Emerging Adults

Article excerpt

The breakup of an intimate relationship is a highly distressing event among emerging adults (Cutler, Glaeser, Norberg, 2001) and can often be accompanied by difficulty adjusting to the loss and "letting go" (Mearns, 1991). Research on stalking and cyberstalking behaviours address criminal activities that incite fear in a target (e.g., Spitzberg & Cupach, 2007). Little is known about more general post-relationship contact and tracking (PRCT), that is, efforts to maintain or re-establish contact with an ex-partner or to track their whereabouts, new partnerships or activities. To understand both the use and experience of PRCT, we examined reports from 271 Canadian emerging adults (aged 18-25) regarding their most recent breakup within the prior year. Results indicated that online and offline forms of post-relationship contact and tracking were common, characterizing 87.8% of all recent breakups, and were typically used in conjunction. In fact, online forms rarely occurred in isolation. Attempts to keep in contact were most commonly reported by users and targets of behaviours, whereas extreme and threatening behaviours that might comprise stalking or cyberstalking were rare. No gender differences were found in the use of PRCT behaviours, although women reported experiencing more offline forms.

KEYWORDS: Relationships, breakups, stalking, cyberstalking, online, emerging adulthood

INTRODUCTION

The breakups of romantic relationships among young adults are frequently referred to as "worst events" during this developmental period. Many individuals struggle to adjust to a breakup, indicating trouble letting go of a relationship, and wanting to re-establish contact at some level. Researchers and health professionals have long known about the extreme impact associated with relationship dissolution among adults, with the focus almost exclusively on divorce (Fine & Sacher, 1997; Peterson, Rosenbaum, & Conn, 1985). Surprisingly little is known about premarital relationship dissolution and more specifically, about the adjustment of individuals after a breakup. The current study examined efforts to maintain or re-establish contact with an ex-partner or track the ex-partner's whereabouts, new partnerships or activities.

Salience of Relationships and Relationship Loss in Emerging Adulthood

In industrialized, Western cultures, emerging adulthood is commonly defined as individuals ranging from their late adolescence through the twenties, particularly those between the ages of 18-25 years old (Arnett, 2000). This developmental period is, for many individuals, a time of exploration as well as frequent and dramatic social changes in numerous realms, including education, work, and intimate relationships (Arnett, 2000; Erikson, 1968). Pertinent to the current study, romantic relationships for emerging adults are characterized by higher levels of emotional intensity and commitment compared to those during adolescence, with increases in the levels of emotional and physical intimacy of their relationships (Arnett, 2000). The greater importance and value that emerging adults place on their romantic relationships compared to earlier ages (Collins, 2003), as well as high rates of near-constant interactions using new technologies, serve to emphasize the potential distress of loss associated with breakups for this age. Emerging adulthood is characterized by high rates of relationship turnover (as compared to older adults; Connolly & McIsaac, 2009), yet many report that relationship loss in this stage are the most painful life events that they experience. Breakups are known to be a leading cause of psychological trauma (Chung et al., 2002; Sprecher, 1994). They are the strongest predictor of first onset of Major Depressive Disorder (Monroe, Rohde, Seeley, & Lewinsohn, 1999), and are a leading cause of suicide among young people (Cutler, Glaeser, Norberg, 2001; US. National Violent Data Reporting System, 2013). …

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