Forgetting a past breakup is no easy feat in a world where eveybody's most intimate details can be accessed by way of the Internet. Social networking sites like Facebook allow you to sing the praises of a current love affair, but what happens when you and your significant other part ways?

Researchers Corina Sas and Steve Whittaker analyzed the role that digital mementos play in hindering one's ability to move on from a relationship. In doing so, they issued questionnaires to 24 adults over the age of 19 to decide what material and digital possessions reminded them of their ex.

Questions featured in the survey included: What types of digital possessions are relevant to romantic relationship dissolution? What functions do such possessions serve in the breakup? What strategies do people use for managing possessions? How do people enact disposal practices?

Upon the research team's findings, study participants were sorted into three categories: "deleters" who get rid of all physical and digital reminders almost immediately, "keepers" who hold onto meaningful reminders, and "selective disposers" who only get rid of some but not all romantic keepsakes.

Getting rid of all reminiscence of a past relationship facilitates space from the breakup and time to forge a newly self-reliant identity.

One "deleter" told Sas and Whittaker, "Having photos on my phone and computer did cause me to feel sad, but I immediately removed them after the breakup, in order to move on."

Those who held onto the physical and digital reminders of a failed romance did so in an attempt to maintain ties with their former significant other. In doing so, they did not to deter their emotional attachment and only prolonged the grieving process.

"Sometimes looking at [photos] made me miss him, and want him back, though I knew I shouldn't," said one of the keepers. Another stated, "When I noticed her updated blog about her new life I felt pity and envy."

Sas and Whittaker were able to provide healthier strategies for managing digital and material reminders of a former relationship.

"Our findings led to a number of design implications that would help people better manage this process, including automatic harvesting of digital possessions, tools for self-control, artifact crafting as sense-making, and digital spaces for shared possessions," the team explained.

"The proposed design implications should help people convert what is currently a Pandora's Box into a treasure chest of memories, to more adaptively respond to the difficult life transition of relationship dissolution."

The results of this study were presented to the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems held in Paris at the beginning of this month.