Is there a right way to announce a breakup?
On YouTube, there is.
Like how celebrity couples release joint statements to the tabloid press when they break up, it's become somewhat of a requirement for popular YouTubers to announce the demise of their relationships in joint videos posted to their channels.
The latest participants in the breakup video trend were the YouTube couple: Liza Koshy and David Dobrik.
Liza, 22, and David, 21, built a content empire together over the last few years. Between their two main channels and two side channels, Liza and David collectively had more than 32 million subscribers — to put that into perspective, their total subscribers outnumber the population of Haiti, Greece, and Portugal. Combined.
They celebrated their two-year anniversary in November 2017, and in a sweet Instagram post David wrote, "I am in love with all that you do and all that you create."
But this week, David posted a video to his main channel announcing the end of their relationship. It deviates from his usual goofy vlogs — instead of all-caps clickbait titles like "WE PUT TWO POOLS IN A MOVING TRUCK!! (SCARY)" and "JUMPING OFF THE ROOF INTO 10,000 POUNDS OF DRY ICE!!" the video's title is a somber "we broke up." Between sobbing and laughing, Liza and David explained that although their romantic relationship was over, they planned on staying best friends.
"We already felt like we were living separate lives," Liza says in a tone that sounded a lot like parents explaining a divorce, "But neither of us were coming to terms with it."
The video reached #1 on YouTube's trending, and in the last week it's gained 26 million views. And people are still crying about the breakup.
So much of these vloggers' content revolves around their personal lives, from discussing their morning routines to recording apartment tours. It's only natural that when they start dating someone, they become part of the content they create.
But it also means that when the relationship ends, they have to explain it to their faithful subscribers. Julie Spira, founder of Cyber Dating Expert, expected Liza and David to vlog about ending their relationship because they already shared so much of their lives on YouTube.
"Millions of people have shared an intimate glance at the couple for quite some time," Spira says. "Since so many millions of followers watched the relationship blossom, it's natural to announce their breakup on this platform."
It's kind of addicting to fall into a rabbit hole of someone else's relationship. When YouTube was blowing up in the late aughts, Jenna Marbles and MaxNoSleeves were the internet's sweethearts. As one of the first established YouTube couples, they recorded the classic "boyfriend does my makeup" videos together and charmed their followers with their two dogs. When they broke up after four years, they blindsided their followers by announcing it in the middle of a drunk Christmas tree decorating post.
"For the record, MaxNoSleeves and I did breakup," Jenna slurs in the video, leaning into her ex, "We've been broken up for like two weeks. It's been really not fun. I was really sad. Were you sad?"
Then the video cuts to the pair resuming their holiday decorating.
Obviously, YouTubers don't owe their followers any explanations of their personal lives. But for the millions of followers, watching a public relationship fall apart is like having their hearts broken, too. Fans mourned when Hollywood's iconic couples like Brad and Angelina (or Brad and Jen, depending on who you ask) split up, but with vloggers, it's even more personal. It's literally their job to share such intimate parts of their lives.
And since vloggers' audience demographics skew younger, their fans feel the end of a relationship more viscerally — and usually vent about it on social media.
"For young adults who haven't been in a serious relationship and looked at this couple as the ideal relationship, it can break their hearts as viewers because they had them on a pedestal," Spira says.
"It's like there was a breakup in their own life as well," she adds.
It's almost cathartic to watch breakup videos. When Colleen Ballinger — better known by her wild alter ego Miranda Sings — announced her divorce in 2016 after an eight-year relationship, it was just as heartbreaking as watching a best friend end a marriage. Her viewers watched her get engaged, plan a wedding, and exchange vows. With a couple name like "Joshleen," Colleen and her husband became a YouTube fairytale.
In a deleted video, Colleen acknowledged her fans' emotional investment in their relationship: “I know a lot of you are going to be really disappointed and really mad and really hurt by this because you do feel really close to us and you looked up to our relationship and our love." She also took her wedding video down from her channel.
Like when "Joshleen" announced their divorce, reactions to David and Liza's breakup dominated Twitter — their subscribers were just as heartbroken as the ex-couple.
As heartbreaking as it is to watch, Kongit Farrell, a relationship and sex therapist, points out the benefits of such public announcements.
"It gives a sense of finality to a relationship when you make it public," she says, comparing it to declaring a weight loss goal. "If you announce it to your community then there is some accountability."
If you search "breakup" on YouTube, you'll find hundreds of videos like Liza and David's
It can also provide some closure, Farrell says: "Once you announce it you kind of have to stick to it."
If you search "breakup" on YouTube, you'll find hundreds of videos like Liza and David's. Posts like "we are breaking up," "why we broke up," and "A NEW CHAPTER" all share the same message with their followers: it's over, we don't hate each other, please let us move on. Spira calls it "conscious uncoupling" — the phrase skyrocketed into the public sphere after Gwyneth Paltrow used it to describe her breakup with Coldplay frontman Chris Martin.
"If you have two people who genuinely like each other and genuinely love each other, but they're going in different directions and they still want to stay part of each other's lives, it's an effort to do so but [conscious uncoupling] results in friends not having to take sides," she says.
Or for vloggers and influencers, fans don't have to take sides. Spira compares it to when Jim Carrey and Jenny McCarthy announced their split on Twitter. In 2010, using social media to confirm the end of a relationship was totally new.
Farrell agrees that this is the most mature way to breakup with someone publicly. The stakes are different in ending a toxic or abusive relationship, but if two people are splitting up because they grew apart, Farrell says, "it doesn't have to be a negative thing."
"You don't want it to be hostile because this is somebody you shared your life with," she says. "If you were together then there was obviously something good about the person, so why not honor the time you had together by carrying that forward?"
Publicly announcing that you're done doesn't just provide closure to your fans, but also to yourself. Is there a "right" way to disclose a breakup? Yes — just look at Liza and David.
"People change, people grow. Why burn a bridge?" Farrell says. "If you're gonna breakup that's kind of the way to go."