What's The Etch-A-Sketch Effect And How Can It Explain Relationship Behaviors?

Now let's go back to a simpler time. You're 10, maybe eight, or perhaps, 12. Either way, you're young, innocent, and have an entire life to live and years upon years to make mistakes, learn from them, and because you're human, make those exact same mistakes again. You also have an Etch-A-Sketch, a lovely red toy on which you can draw whatever your heart desires with two white knobs. It doesn't matter how it works exactly (something about aluminum powder), but you love it. Why? Because when you make a mistake, you can shake the heck out of it and — voilà! — the screen becomes a clean slate, and you get a do-over ... a do-over that you'll probably (and naïvely) carry into adulthood until you realize do-overs are, in fact, the stuff of childhood.


Etch-A-Sketch, as a kid, seemed like a magical device. In fact, having been invented by French electrician André Cassagnes, it was originally named "L'Ecran Magique," which translates to "The Magic Screen." It was (and still is), although we didn't know it as kids, a metaphor for so much to come because who hasn't wanted to shake the Etch-A-Sketch of their life every once in a while? Given the opportunity, lots of people would probably love to give their life a shake or two. It could actually solve a lot.

What's the Etch-A-Sketch effect

If you've ever been in a relationship that suddenly came to an abrupt end for what appears to be no apparent reason, there's a good chance you've been Etch-A-Sketched. If you haven't heard of the term, it's because it was invented by Cosmopolitan writer Kayla Kibbe — but give it a couple of weeks, and it's likely to be everywhere because she really has something here.


As Kibbe explains, when people (although she points out that it's mostly men who do this) are faced with something in their life that isn't working, something that requires emotional intelligence to deal with and overcome, they turn to the convenience of a do-over like the kind Etch-A-Sketch allows. "Essentially, he shakes the Etch a Sketch of his life to correct one small error and ends up erasing everything — including your relationship," writes Kibbe.

It's no secret that when things fall apart, people try to "fix" it in dramatic ways. How often do people cut or dye their hair in a not-very-them way after a breakup? Or the times people have lost their job and bought a one-way ticket to Sri Lanka to "find themselves?" When tragedy strikes, people act out and do things they wouldn't normally do.


"Tragedies can work in two ways: They can snap us awake to loving someone fully and right now, or they can make us shut off and back out," breakup coach Chelsea Leigh Trescott tells Elite Daily. "Especially if the tragedy was centered in an unexpected loss, it's likely that you broke up with your ex for fear of growing to love them too much as well as feeling like this breakup, on your terms, was the one loss you could control."

Why does it happen

There are two reasons why someone might Etch-A-Sketch, but one can't exist without the other. First, there's the control factor. If we can control at least something in our lives while the rest of it spins out of control, then we can feel like we have a grip on the situation. The second is a lack of emotional intelligence (EQ).


Emotional intelligence is the ability to not only be able to identify your emotions but regulate them so as not to throw a child-like fit and express them in a healthy and productive way. Unfortunately, not everyone is capable of doing this, so they deal with tragedy or the low times in their life by, essentially, slipping into tantrum mode because they don't know what else to do.

"I think this behavior is more common among men than women because men have a more difficult time processing emotion and compartmentalizing," relationship expert Rori Sassoon tells Cosmopolitan.

While this isn't to suggest that all men are on the lower end of the EQ scale, considering they're products of a society that puts masculinity on a pedestal, thereby going out of its way to discourage men from feeling deeply and sharing those feelings, one can't be entirely shocked that a man might turn to Etch-A-Sketching before actually having a conversation about what's going on with them. Although you may be able to get in front of a possible Etch-A-Sketch situation, it doesn't mean you can stop what's coming. Some people like to shake little toys to deal with their problems, and that's on them, not you.