Facebook and the “D” Word

A few days ago while scrolling through the usual Facebook posts of obnoxious political rants, sports things I will never understand, and pictures of people’s pets and kids, I stopped to read a status update from a friend who lives out of state. He was announcing the end of his marriage.

This is a friend that I don’t see often, and our friendship isn’t one that would warrant a phone call for news like this. In fact, without Facebook, we would more than likely lose touch altogether. But the news was shocking: in one simple status update, my friend broke this painful and deeply personal news to his entire online community. The raw pain was evident in his words – he tried to make it work, wanted nothing more than to be close to his two young children, and asked his wife and kids to forgive him for not being able to stay. It was heartbreaking.

I wasn’t sure how to respond. Post a sensitive, caring comment for all to see? Call him, so in the middle of a life crisis he has to stop and take a call from someone he hasn’t seen since a wedding several years ago? My sister, who usually has the right answer for these kind of things, suggested that I send a private message to him. She did the same – we both wanted him to know that we loved him, supported him, and would offer him a place to stay if he wanted to get away for a bit.

So what is the best method to announce a divorce?

Pre-Facebook, the news of a couple’s divorce was shared through a direct conversation, perhaps a letter or email to small groups or individuals, or in my small East Texas hometown, a rapid gossip chain.

When I’m unsure about these matters, I turn to the etiquette experts at Emily Post, who advise, “A separation is not publicly announced. A couple should explain the situation to family and close friends, and word will spread. If the couple reunites, there is no public announcement.”

That’s all well and good, but there’s something about Facebook that allows you to rip the Band-Aid off all at once. In one fell swoop, everybody knows, all at the same time (with the exception of our techno-phobic grandparents and parents who deserve the phone call anyway). It’s quite efficient, really.

Part of me thinks that delivering news in this fashion is a very male thing to do. My friend is a no-nonsense kind of guy, and I can only imagine that in his mind, posting a divorce announcement on Facebook was the easiest way to handle it. But I also think that his announcement was a cry for support, and that by serving up the news to his entire friend base, perhaps the instant public support — almost completely from male friends — helped ease his pain.

But let’s not assume women are secretive about their relationship news. While I haven’t seen a woman announcing her divorce via Facebook, I’ve seen several make negative comments about their soon-to-be ex-husbands for the world to view. And yes, I participate in the voyeuristic nature of these posts, but they do make me feel uneasy. For starters, let’s face it; bashing your ex online is just tacky, no matter how tempting. And more importantly, it’s potentially damaging to the children and other family members involved, because once that dirty laundry is aired online, you never know who will see it.

I have a younger relative who posts some of the most reputation-damaging information you can ever imagine on Facebook. I cringe at least once a week at the things she finds acceptable to share. Call me old-fashioned, but I doubt many of your friends want to hear the details of your last gynecological exam, and if for some reason they are twisted enough to care, perhaps you might consider discussing that via phone or private text? Just maybe? And because potential employers are watching more and more closely, it’s probably a good idea to avoid sharing what happened last night after you had 14 jello shots.

So I don’t judge my friend’s decision to post such private news on Facebook, even though I couldn’t do that myself. If not for Facebook, I wouldn’t know about his crazy political views. I wouldn’t be able to see his kids grow up in pictures. And because the Emily Post suggestion for announcing a separation is designed for close family members and friends, I would have heard about his divorce through the grapevine.

Perhaps Facebook is, in many ways, the new grapevine. Deciding what to post and what not to post is extremely personal, and I’m okay with that. Now, if people start announcing their divorce on Twitter, I may have something to say about it, simply because that’s a tough message to deliver in 140 characters. But then again, if Tammy Wynette could get the point across by simply singing, “D-I-V-O-R-C-E,” maybe tweeting your upcoming divorce is the easiest way to go.

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