Why Heartbreak Apps Make Promises They Can’t Keep

Break-up and hook-up apps like KillSwitch and Bang With Friends rarely actually work. So why do they keep getting made?

Earlier this month, KillSwitch, an app that promises to remove “all traces” of your ex from your Facebook profile, and previously only available on Android, became available on iPhone.

Under the larger umbrella of dating apps, there is a subsection that could maybe more accurately be called “heartbreak apps.” KillSwitch is one, and so are its Chrome extension counterparts like Eternal Sunshine and Block Your Ex. There’s an argument to be made that so-called hookup apps like Bang With Friends and On The Rebound fit the bill, too; these aren’t apps you’re likely to turn to if you haven’t been burned.

There must be some pervasive perception that there’s a market for apps like these because there’s a new one out every month. They’re punchy, and they’re fun to talk about, they create controversy but never too much, and sometimes (like in the case of Bang With Friends), they earn their creators a million dollars in funding. But for all the buzzy media coverage and the thousands or millions of people downloading them onto their phones, heartbreak apps suffer one fairly major flaw: they don’t really work.

The many restrictions of KillSwitch.

In the best of worlds, where apps do as they say they do, the entirety of KillSwitch’s offering is to delete photos and statuses in which you’ve tagged your ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend. That’s it! Working at its best, it won’t erase pictures where your ex isn’t tagged, it won’t erase pictures he or she posted of you, and it won’t erase private message threads, the likeliest locus of Facebook-centric relationship agony. And even still, what it DOES do, it does poorly. It doesn’t REALLY delete the pictures and statuses — it stores them in a “secret” folder. And it only does THAT (at least for some users, according to the reviews) if the app is continuously left open.

Bang With Friends, million-plus-dollar funding and all, offers, at best, a chance to click on a friend’s face and later find out that friend has also clicked on yours. There is a small chance this means there is sex with this person in your future. More likely than not, you’ve found someone else who thought the phrase “Bang With Friends” was kind of funny, for a few minutes.

It’s virtually impossible (and we should probably be thankful that it is so) for any one app to “erase” someone from your life, to get you over an ex, to find out someone you’ve known for years has secretly been in love with you this whole time. But people keep trying to make one that will anyway, because going through these processes the old-fashioned way (IRL) just … sucks. In an interview, the creators of KillSwitch explained that the “manual process” of removing one’s ex from one’s internet records is “traumatic for most people.” The manual process is, I guess, now what we’re calling “life.”

Breaking up isn’t fun, of course, and it’s nice (but also strange) to think there could be something you could download to your phone to make it all easier. This, presumably, is why essentially non-functional apps like these keep getting made. They’re self-help posters and fad diets for the emotionally volatile internet set, swearing that this time, with this one product, things will be easier.

But this just isn’t true, and it’s also potentially harmful. KillSwitch and Bang With Friends aim to replace more decisive moves — like actually just defriending your ex, or legitimately asking someone out — with buggy half-measures in the name of pain soothing and embarrassment prevention. In other words, they’re exercises in conflict avoidance (just what the internet needs more of!) more than they are adept at doing what they claim to.

That’s not to say they serve no other purpose; downloading them, for users, can feel like a ritualistic step in recovery, even if the app itself does nothing for them. You downloaded a breakup app! You’re ready(-ish) to move on, kind of. And downloading it in the first place is really all that matters to creators — enough people do that, and buzz builds easily and quickly. It’s a short leap from 20,000 downloads to becoming a supposed sign of “the way we internet now,” whether or not the app ever served a demonstrable purpose at all. They keep getting made, in other words, because we keep paying attention to them, and downloading them, and hoping they might do something for us. This time could be different, but usually it’s not.

Breaking up is awful. Facebook flirting is awful. Talking to people is hard. I’m so sorry to say it like this, but I have to: there is no app for that.

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