— Rumor has it one of the Sex and the City ladies will marry this season and another will be dumped via a Post-it Note. What's more surprising? It's getting hard to tell.
A happy marriage may be increasingly rare — but so is a good, old-fashioned, face-to-face breakup, where someone cries or gets a drink splashed in his face.
The miracles of technology are allowing increasing numbers of single Americans to become chickens. Why deal with the anxiety of giving someone the heave-ho in person when you have e-mail and text messaging?
E-Mail Blowoffs: It’s Not Just for Kids
You'd expect college kids to conduct all human contact via Internet and cell phone. But older Americans are sometimes even more inclined to hit the delete button when it's time to send an ex-lover packing.
Online dating service Match.com reports that 48 percent of online daters had experienced an e-mail breakup, and people 55 years old or older are the most likely.
The survey of 1,100 Internet daters conducted for the service by Zoomerang.com in March showed that only 37 percent thought it appropriate to send a "Dear John" e-mail. But that doesn't seem to be stopping many people.
"You think that these tools are for the young and the older you are, the more you cling to tradition," says Trish McDermott, Match.com's vice president of romance.
"Actually, as you get older, you also want to put something behind you quickly and avoid the pain you've seen in the past."
The Sly Way — FedEx an Ex
In matters of love, we often look to celebrities to summon the courage to do what's right. But movie heroes often turn out to be real-life cowards.
Sylvester Stallone set Hollywood gossip sheets on fire in 1994 when he broke up with Jennifer Flavin via FedEx. Unbelievably, the couple later reconciled and married.
But Rambo's technique seems absolutely quaint compared to that of Daniel Day-Lewis, who reportedly split with Isabelle Adjani by fax. Phil Collins apparently used the same method to ditch his second wife.
Even the most celebrated of recent teen romances — the love affair between Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears — is widely reported to have ended over a long-distance telephone call.
"Cry me a river," Justin might as well sing, "but don't make me watch."
Technology, to some extent, may have hardened today's kids. A Pew Internet and American Life survey sponsored by MSN revealed that 37 percent of instant message-using teens say they have employed IM to say something that they would not have said to somebody's face.
Still, cruelty existed way before the Internet.
As crude as the "Dear John" Post-it Note may be technologically, it's even cruder in intention — and it's not unheard of among college kids, says one dating expert.
"In today's world, the Post-It says, 'You're not worth the time to log on to my computer and send e-mail,' " says Robert Billingham, a professor of human development at Indiana University who teaches classes on dating and mate selection.
"It's nothing new. Before the Post-it, you could leave someone's number on the bathroom wall to humiliate them. But at least with the bathroom wall there was deniability," he says.
"You've always been able to hurt someone. Technology just allows you to reach out a little further."
Sill, whether you're getting rejected via cell phone, the Internet or carrier pigeon, it's good to know that some things never change — even blowoff lines.
According to the recent Match.com survey, here are the old standbys:
• "I'll call you" (and never call). Ten percent of guys say that's their thing.
• "I had a nice time" (and never speak to the person again). This is a favorite of 39 percent of the ladies. • "You're a great person, but I don't see a fit between us." A diplomatic choice for both sexes, it's the No. 1 choice of 27 percent of daters.
In the slapdash world of text messaging, you may want to shorten that last one to " U-R Gr-8. But I Don't C a Fit." Blast that off and smile through your emoticon, though in your heart you're weeping.
The Accoutrements of Modern Love
Rejection Business CardsCan't get rid of that annoying guy at the bar? You might need Rejection Business Cards from Rejectionhotline.com.
These bogus business cards are the perfect way to get rid of an overaggressive suitor. You just give him one of these cards, and he thinks he has your telephone number … until he calls the next day and gets this recording:
"Hello, this is not the person you were trying to reach … I know this sucks, but don't be too devastated … Maybe you are not this person's type … Maybe you're a general loser … Maybe you give off that creepy stalker vibe … Maybe the idea of going out with you seems as appealing as playing leapfrog with unicorns."
Perhaps that's harsh, but some people really need it spelled out.
You get 250 Rejection Business Cards for only $20, and they can be printed with a real or phony name. The cards will indicate that the person holds a position at Noitcejer Technologies. (For you really dense types, Noitcejer is "rejection" spelled backward.) There are now rejection hotlines in 16 states.
Handheld Lie Detector When love dies, it's never pretty. But why bother making your final conversation an interrogation when you can have a lie detector at your disposal?
Sophisticated polygraphs cost $5,000 and require serious training. The Handy Truster from LieBusters.com exposes fibbers by detecting tremors in their voice and claims 82 percent accuracy for $25.
Who's going to agree to be strapped to a lie detector? No one. That's why The Handy Truster works without physical contact.
You can attach it to your telephone and it will analyze your lover's voice as you ask simple yes-or-no questions. Of course, 82 percent honesty might not be enough to sustain a relationship. But it's better than nothing.
Bitch-and-Moan Webcam Just because you've been dumped, you don't have to sit home alone drowning your sorrow in Haagen-Dazs. Now, you and other computer users across the world can watch each other pig out. All you need is a computer and a Webcam.
Anywebcam.com — the Internet's largest online Webcam community — is reporting that bitch-and-moan video chat rooms and two-way conferencing are the natural solution to faceless, coldhearted e-mail breakup.
"Most people think of the Internet just for making love connections, but you can just as easily use it to heal your wounds. I recently broke off my engagement and found kindred spirits," says Natalie Daniel, an Anywebcam.com spokeswoman.
You don't need to be rich or technically gifted to set up an Internet video camera. They hook up to your computer easily and prices start at less than $100. Anyweb.com boasts more than 700,000 users, and it's hardly a gloomy place. The founder, David Thompson of Australia, met his wife via Webcam.
Voice Changer: Be Your Own Jealous Boyfriend Smart women don't answer the phone. There's caller ID and voice mail — great buffers when you're avoiding a guy who just doesn't deserve a second date.
If a gal really wants to scare the daylights out of an ungentlemanly caller, she can digitally alter her ladylike voice to a gravely baritone and pretend to have a new boyfriend — who's rip-roaring mad that another man is calling his sweetie.
Indeed, sometimes it pays to have a man around the house. But it might be much more economical to have a Voice Manipulator XE — a $30 device that fits over the phone from Gadgets.com. Even if you sing soprano, it can make you sound like a gruff, steroid-popping lumberjack.
Matchmakers are not only finding boyfriends and girlfriends for their clients — they're delivering bad news when you're not wanted.
Sarah Kathryn Smith, president of 8at8, a dating service that sets up dinner parties for singles, says that contemporary daters like the idea of having a hired gun do their dirty work.
If one 8at8 diner wants another diner's telephone number, he can ask directly. But modern-day cowards will often chicken out and ask indirectly, through the matchmaker.
"It can get ugly. You can hear someone say, 'I wouldn't date that fat, unemployed so-and-so,' " says Smith.
To soften the blow, 8at8 sends a diplomatic e-mail response: "The person you inquired about would like to politely decline your invitation to exchange information."
But modern singles tend to like the safety of having an intermediary as an alternative to a blind date — and Smith says her diner's club, with branches in Atlanta, Dallas, New York and Chicago, has led to 20 marriages and plans to open in more than 20 cities in the coming months.
Our Relationship Sleeps With the Fishes
Is it time to retaliate? If your ex gave you a Post-it Note heave-ho, the Internet offers various obnoxious services to escalate a petty war. A bucket of dead fish can be delivered to the doorstep of whoever did you wrong.
Perhaps there's no better token to pronounce your relationship dead than a toe tag from the L.A. Coroner's Office — just like the ones they put on cadavers in the morgue.
Everyone in Hollywood is a star, of course, and the coroner's office has investigated so many celebrated crimes, that it maintains a gift shop. The blue toe tags — which make great key chains — can even be inscribed with a 14-word message that leaves no room for doubt. For instance, "Call one more time … and this could be you."
Buck Wolf is entertainment producer at ABCNEWS.com. The Wolf Files is published Tuesdays. If you want to receive weekly notice when a new column is published, join the e-mail list.