New research released today by insurer Direct Line, in partnership with relationship expert Anna Williamson, shines a light on the way young people process break ups.

The insurance company, which can provide practical help when relationships fall apart, has worked with Celeb’s Go Dating’s Anna Williamson to offer advice to help young people, and the brand’s research has revealed new trends in relationship fall outs.

In particular the research discovered social media caused additional pressures on top of the practical difficulties of a break up, such as having to find somewhere new to live.


Digital Dating


The digital age has impacted the way that we date, particularly when it comes to the younger generation. The majority (20 per cent) of people aged 17 – 25 met their partner through a dating app or on social media, followed by through a friend (12 per cent), at work (8 per cent) and clubbing (4 per cent). For people 26 and over, the top ways to meet a partner were through a friend (17 per cent), at a bar or nightclub, (17 per cent), and at work (14 per cent).


Meeting online means that young people’s relationships stay focused on the online – almost a quarter (23 per cent) of young people have stalked their exes on social media, over one in six (16 per cent) have checked their partner’s phone without their knowledge and over a quarter (26 per cent) regularly ask them what they’re doing on their phone.


Do you do the following in your relationship?
Scenario 17 – 25 year olds Over 26 year olds
Ask them what they’re doing on their phone 26% 24%
Stalk their exes on social media 23% 10%
Deliberately ‘ghost’ to keep partner on toes 18% 11%
Get angry if they don’t tell you where they’re going with their friends 17% 14%
Get annoyed if they like other people’s photos 16% 10%




Media Overload


Worryingly, a sixth (14 per cent) of young people compare their relationships to couples they follow online and one fifth (20 per cent) of young people say that they get in relationships for tactical reasons rather than romantic ones – such as looking good in Instagram pictures together (6 per cent).


Almost a fifth (19 per cent) of young people say that shows like Love Island make them feel anxious because they aren’t as good looking as the contestants, and a further 19% say that seeing contestants’ heads turn on the show make them worry their partner could do the same.


The Break Up


It’s far more common for people to be broken up with via technology for the young generation.


Almost two fifths (38 per cent) of young people have been broken up with via text, a sixth (15 per cent) have been broken up with via social media, a sixth (15 per cent) have been ghosted and an eighth (12 per cent) have been dumped by phone. Just 14 per cent of young people have been broken up with in person.


Worst Way Someone Has Broken Up With You?
Scenario 17 – 25 year olds Over 26s
Over text 38% 23%
Via Social Media 15% 6%
Ghosting 15% 10%
In Person 14% 19%
Phone Call 12% 11%


Social Separation


With the online world impacting the way young people are getting into relationships and how they act in them, it’s no surprise that social media has changed the way young people deal with separation when a relationship ends.


The Five Stages of Grief, made famous by Elizabeth Kugler-Ross in 1969, are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. The new research suggests that 50 years on, there are now 9 stages of grief young people go through.


When asked to rank their emotions in order of when they felt them following a break up, Gen Z experienced the following stages of grief:


  1. Heartbreak
  2. Confusion
  3. Shock
  4. Overwhelmed
  5. Bitterness
  6. Denial
  7. Vengefulness
  8. Desperation
  9. Relief


In the first stage of relationship grief, the majority of Gen Z described a feeling of heartbreak. During this stage the most common actions taken to deal with the emotion are:


  1. Hanging out with friends (14 per cent)
  2. Binging on Netflix (13 per cent)
  3. Eating everything in sight (13 per cent)
  4. Obsessively checking their mobile phones (12 per cent)
  5. Blocking their ex on social media (10 per cent)


As Gen Z get to the final stage of the break up, their actions tend to change. Rather than binge eating and obsessively checking phones, young people move on to pampering themselves (14 per cent), hooking up with someone new (11 per cent) and taking up new hobbies (11 per cent).


Anna Williamson, Life Coach, says “Going through a breakup is tough for most people, and we can feel a whole cocktail of emotions thoughts and feelings. It’s important to surround yourself with people you love and trust, and that make you feel supported and good about yourself. Resist any urges to look at exes’ social media profiles as it will just exacerbate any upsetting feelings. Instead do some fun things with your friends and family, whose company you enjoy, to help distract and pull you through the break up grief.”


Revenge Is Sweet


The digital age has also impacted the way young people act towards their partners after a break up.


Two fifths (41 per cent) unfollowed their ex on social media following a break up, one in six (14 per cent) changed their Netflix password and one in eight (12 per cent) went as far as making a social media account to stalk or troll them.


Revenge carries on in real life too, as one in 10 (10 per cent) slept with their exes friend, a further one in six (14 per cent) kissed their exes friend while one in 12 (8 per cent) tried to sabotage their exes new relationship.


“In My Day”


A third (35 per cent) of young people think that love lives were easier before the emergence of social media and technology, and look at past generations for romantic advice. 35 per cent say that dating has become less romantic and respectful, and over a fifth (22 per cent) say that they are worried they’ll never settle down.


A fifth (20 per cent) of young people say dating is hard as their parents are no longer together, with almost a third (30 per cent) saying that their parents taught them that relationships can be hard work or don’t work.


Netflix & Splurge


When relationships don’t work, in addition to the emotional fall out, there are also practical concerns young people need to deal with. When asked why they found it difficult to move on after a break up, one in twelve (8 per cent) revealed that they had to find somewhere else to live, whilst one in twenty (5 per cent) had to learn how to drive as their ex was the driver in their relationship.


In addition, break ups for gen Z can be costly. The research revealed that the average young person will spend £1,140 in the aftermath of a break up, with the top items young people spend money on to cope being new clothes (34 per cent), nights out (33 per cent), comfort eating (30 per cent), beauty treatments (20 per cent) and intoxicating substances such as alcohol and drugs (19 per cent).


Whilst a third of Gen X admitted to indulging in food when they’re going through a break up, it’s safe to say they’re probably staying in and binging on box sets, with 1 in 6 spending money on subscription service, Netflix, in order to get through the tough time.


Average spend on break up essentials by 17 – 25 year olds
Outgoing Average spend
Event Tickets £158.33
Intoxicating Substances £136.05
Weekend Away £153.99
New Clothes £127.12
Beauty Treatments £104.40
Night Out £95.93
Comfort Eating £89.91
Hair Cuts £78.33
Gym £79.58


Relationship Relief Packs

In response to the findings, Direct Line have created a small number of Relationship Relief Packs to help people through their break ups, whatever stage you’re at. The contents include everything from Netflix vouchers to event tickets. A number of packs are available to win via a prize draw that will be promoted on @nerdabouttown’s Instagram from 19thAugust.  Although they can’t mend a heart, they can certainly help with the collateral damage.


Rachael Lynch, for Direct Line, commented: “This research has highlighted just how much of an impact social media has on our relationship. We’re working toward helping Generation Z with their break up because we know how hard it can be in an online driven world. We can’t help with the heartbreak but we can help with the collateral damage.


“At Direct Line, we pride ourselves on helping people deal with their problems effectively. Breaking up with someone can mean having to find a new place to live or even buying a new car and learning to drive; we make sure we can fix things by making it easy to change policies, so people can spend more time on themselves and less time worrying about everything else.”


Anna Williamson, Dating Expert, said: “This research is so important to understanding our relationship process when we go through a break in our current society, we are so focused on image that we forget to properly heal ourselves. Our obsession with social media means we’re losing the impact of what a meaningful relationship is. It’s so much more than a quick like and unfollow.”



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