I’m glad I didn’t have to go through a divorce on Facebook. I am watching three long-term marriages disintegrate right now, two on Facebook and another soon to be played out in social media as well. It’s as painful to watch these couples break up as it is to watch them try to stay together. With everyone else weighing in on the public splattering of their divorce on Facebook, it rivals anything on reality TV, with people taking sides when they haven’t been asked to and others bringing secrets and allegations of secrets to the public trial of social media.
The sad thing is that some of these couples might actually be able to work things out or at least part amicably if their Facebook friends and family would stay out of it and stop bringing more hostility into an already bad situation.
Divorce on Facebook turns into a divorce by Facebook, often. Mutual friends of the couple rush to one or the other with their judgments and not only is the marital relationship lost, but so are many friendships. The more offensive party is unfriended en masse or blocked.
I can count myself fortunate, I suppose, that I didn’t have a divorce on Facebook. A public trial of our problems would have made it even harder for me to leave. If I’d been guilt-tripped by 532 Facebook friends, I probably would have left my marriage by slitting my own wrists instead because, yes, I was that miserable. And at that point, there was no way out for me except death or divorce. Hmmm. Well, I suppose those are the only two ways out of a marriage…unless you count the silent checking-out of the relationship and remaining together as roommates that so many people do.
Divorce on Facebook: why a couple really calls it quits
So I count myself lucky that I didn’t have a divorce on Facebook or on MySpace or any of the other social media that was kicking into high gear 8-plus years ago. Back then, only college students were on Facebook, and hardly anyone knew the problems in my marriage. My best friend. Two counselors who were trying to help me through. That was it. The family members and colleagues who did know how miserable I was focused not on the problem but on masking it, warning me to swallow my misery…for the kids, for appearances, for God, you name it.
To outsiders, we were the perfect couple, but inside the marriage, I was perfectly miserable and constantly second-guessing if I should leave or just give up on ever being happy, either with someone else or alone. In the 6 months of legal wrangling after I filed papers, we told no one in our social circles and only told family at the end. I did tell my supervisors, who were very, very kind to me, but only because I had to. My closest friends at work did not know until the week my divorce went final–I’d seen enough colleagues tried and convicted via gossip (divorce at the water cooler, not divorce on Facebook) so I let it be a complete surprise at work. None of it played out in the social media. No divorce of Facebook, on MySpace, anywhere. Small miracles.
What did later (about a year post-divorce) go public was my healing journal, which I had started quietly on Livejournal months later with a group of women who’d been through plenty of trauma themselves. Livejournal was for soul-searching and essays about how we were dealing, not vague 140-character tweets or a scathing Facebook notice about how much we hated our situations. I didn’t write under my own name, and only a handful of people I trusted knew about those first few essays that later became my Life in the Third Degree books.
Until an ex-inlaw found my healing journal through my daughter’s healing journal and became my most interested follower. After that, various ex-inlaws, ex’s girlfriends, ex’s best friends, x’s social circle, etc, all weighed in on the emotions I was working through in my journal, and I figured what the hell? Might as well make it public now. Even so, there were still many things I never wrote of publicly, and when I was done dissecting my relationship with my ex and with myself, then I started in on my relationship with my father. It was a long, worthwhile process, and I still share new insights about my divorce on Facebook as well in my blog posts because I am still learning from past mistakes as I find new love in new relationships.
Meanwhile, I find it somewhat frustrating whenever I see yet another divorce on Facebook, with graphic and tragic and sometimes fictional details splattered over weeks of posts and comments and likes. Invariably, people will point to some inciting incident–she cheated, he has a drinking problem, he lost his job, she sided with her parents against him–as the reason for the divorce on Facebook. Often enough, Facebook itself takes the blame for being the medium through which two old lovers are reunited or either two strangers fall in love with each other’s comments on politics or religion and realize someone really does (gasp) understand them.
It’s not that simple. It’s never that simple.
People may think they’ll leave a marriage if the other cheats or lies or does something illegal, but often that’s not enough. They’ll stay through things that other people consider worse than the worse in better or worse. But if it’s the last thing, the last thing they can bear, then it’s the perfect excuse to be done with the relationship. It’s rarely, in my observation, any one thing that breaks a good marriage or a good relationship. It’s a whole bunch of silent little daggers that most people don’t see.
I liken it to a back injury. It’s the constant pain and strain and wear and tear over a long period, and then one day, you bend over to pick up the newspaper in the driveway…and your back goes out.
For me, I stayed in a marriage long past the threshold into misery because I couldn’t point to any one great big thing that I could say, “See? That’s proof I should leave!” Someone–a counselor, I believe–finally said to me, “When is your personal happiness enough reason to change your situation?”
So when you see a divorce on Facebook, especially one that is playing out publicly and everyone is trying to guess what caused the break-up and how to fix that particular thing, look at it this way: the last thing that occurred to break them up was probably just the last thing in a line of something-wrongs. I don’t remember ever seeing a couple where everything was truly, truly great one day and then over then next.