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Heartbreak 2.0

There’s got to be a better way to get over a breakup, and creative technology is showing us how

Image courtesy Allison Wade

In the age of the internet, reminders of breakups past seem to lurk around every virtual corner, from that unwelcome Facebook friend suggestion to a LinkedIn invitation from a long-ago office fling. But as technology has transformed the dating scene, so too is it disrupting the timeless pain of a romance gone sour.

An artist who turns text messages into paintings, a radio DJ who broadcasts love songs online, and an ex-Google employee who has created a virtual space for the brokenhearted are all part of the shift that’s giving heartbreak a much longed-for update.

New York-based artist Allison Wade explores the way our smartphone-powered communications are affecting our relationships. “I’m really interested in how technology puts us further away from each other. It’s almost an easy way to discard people,” Wade says. Her voice sounds heavy over the phone; she admits she’s bruised from yet another recent breakup. “I think with online dating, it kind of became more common to break-up with people over text, because that’s how you meet them … on a dating website.”

Image courtesy Allison Wade

She was recently part of the show “It’s Not You” at Rick Wester Fine Art in New York where she turned terrible text messages to and from her exes into works of art. Her paintings feature messages that include anger (“I knew you would do this to me”) and perplexity (“if i ever see you i will want to kiss you. but i am, at the moment, quite emotionally unavailable.”). By bringing her text messages into a physical space, Wade hopes that other people facing the 2015 version of Sex and the City’s infamous post-it note break-up realize they aren't alone.

Wade’s works, which often elicits chuckles at the “It’s Not You” exhibit, exemplify that the once solitary experience of heartbreak is becoming increasingly communal thanks to technology—and that community can be a surprisingly lighthearted, comforting place.

On the opposite coast, radio DJ Elisa Sol Garcia is also stitching back together her heart, through her online Radio Sombra show. She broadcasts out of Espacio 1839, a book/art/record/clothing store meets radio studio located in East Los Angeles’ Boyle Heights neighborhood. Here, every Monday, the buoyant Garcia graces the airwaves with her warm, syrupy voice, paying tribute to the lovesick with her “Heartbreak Radio” program. As she sits in the radio booth across from Gabriel Garcia Marquez books and vibrant Chicano art prints, she selects songs that vary from former Smiths crooner Morrissey to romantic ballads from Jose Jose. A single mother of three, Garcia is all too familiar with heartbreak. “It started when I was on Facebook and I was going through a breakup,” Garcia explains, her gold hoops bouncing above her shoulders. “Like everybody else, you kind of put your business online to deal with it, and I wanted to talk about what I was going through but not divulge any real information.”

Image courtesy Allison Wade

So, a few years ago she created a “Heartbreak Mondays” Facebook page where she and her friends would post their favorite songs devoted to lost love. Around that same time, her friend Marco Amador, Radio Sombra’s program director, was recruiting diverse voices as hosts for his station. According to Garcia, he told her ‘C’mon! You can do it,’ and wouldn’t let her say no.

“Now, I really enjoy doing the show I’m not half as sad as I was when I started,” Garcia says with a laugh. “Heartbreak Radio” guests have included Roy Choi, the creator of the Kogi Korean taco trucks, DJ Nu-Mark, perhaps best known as member of hip-hop’s Jurassic 5, and social issues/pop culture writer Oliver Wang, among others. The intimacy of what one listens to when they’re brokenhearted has bonded Garcia with radio guests, and with her music-loving listeners who appreciate the sonic permission to be sad for a while. “At a time when everyone lives these hyper-curated lives online, and everyone’s posting all these things about how great their lives are,” Garcia explains, “It’s kind of interesting to have the dynamic [of] ‘you know, today kind of sucked and I’m going to listen to this song to get through it.’”

Ellen Huerta collects love songs on her website, too. Across Los Angeles from Boyle Heights in her Venice apartment, with its Maria de Guadalupe prayer candles, stacks of books, and standing desk, she admits that she has become a heartbreak magnet. Taxi drivers, beach-bum neighbors, and a businessman from Hong Kong have all divulged their stories of romances gone sour to Huerta. That’s because she’s the founder of Mend, a virtual space to heal when relationships end, which launched this October. On people can post and read breakup stories, get frank advice, and take part in a 14-day “heartbreak cleanse.”

Image courtesy Allison Wade

Huerta created Mend partly as an antidote to our tech-fueled interactions with exes. “A lot of our relationships happen online, or on our phone, so there are all these memories that are all still there and they persist, and we have to figure out how to manage that,” Huerta says between sips of dandelion tea in her bright, tidy apartment. She explains that she was attempting to learn how to “manage” a tough break up just three years ago when she was living in San Francisco and working at Google. “I felt like I had talked about it to death with my family and friends. And I wasn’t quite ready to see a therapist,” Huerta says. “So I found myself searching online for help.” But she found most websites offering advice to be generic and soulless, full of disappointing insights like “it just takes time,” and depressing tips to “post a picture of yourself with someone new.” So she set out to create a better online experience for the newly single.

Along with learning to code, Huerta pored over research related to post-trauma healing. Through her own trial-and-error, she found that practices like meditation, breathing exercises, and mindfulness can help. “I was basically doing all these things to test what research had shown to help someone who is going through trauma, because a break-up, or someone going through a divorce, is traumatic,” Huerta explains. She incorporates what she learned into Mend’s heartbreak cleanse, as well as soon-to-be launched virtual coaching and meditation sessions.

On Mend, Huerta compares a healthy break-up to kintsugi, an artistic tradition in Japan in which broken pottery is reconstructed—and renewed—with gold so that cracks are illuminated, not hidden. Technology is criticized for isolating people and breaking them apart, but the work of Huerta, Garcia, and Wade shows that losing love can bring people together, cracks and all.

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