The divorce particulars won’t break new ground in the genre, and I don’t pretend my experience is any more or less painful than what others have gone through.
But in the era of Facebook, Twitter, Google, e-mail, and blogs, this literally isn’t your parents’ divorce anymore. Thanks to the Internet there are things we never before had to worry about confronting, and no roadmap on how to get through. The essentials of divorce may be the same, but the digital landscape new divorcees confront is new and deeply strange.
A Life Lived Online
Lest you think the peculiar challenges of getting divorced in the Internet era are limited solely to the highly connected, I should say I’ve never really lived my life in public. My Internet presence is devoted almost entirely to my professional life, and while I might peel back the curtain to flaunt my horrific taste in television shows, my day-to-day life has mostly been off-limits.
But my personal life inevitably crept onto the Internet, whether I wanted it to or not. I never even told the Internet I was getting married in 2008, but when I announced on my blog that I would be featuring guest posts for a few weeks, one anonymous commenter guessed that I was going on my honeymoon. Then another managed to find (and link to) my gift registry, which I hadn’t even realized was online. I deleted those comments, but shortly thereafter “Nathan Bransford Wedding” became the second most-searched term involving my name, a position it has bizarrely occupied ever since. (“Nathan Bransford Divorce” has risen to #3 on Google, despite my never having mentioned the divorce online.)
Shortly after our marriage, my then-wife started a blog that chronicled and photographed our real life. Despite being uncomfortable blurring our public and private spheres, I linked to her and mentioned her by name.
My private life was creeping online anyway. It seemed futile to resist the semi-public nature of the Web, which was fine until my marriage unraveled.
That Awkward Moment When You Run Into Your Ex on Facebook…
Post-divorce, the Internet has become a personal minefield. There was the time shortly after the split when LinkedIn suggested I connect with my ex’s new boyfriend. There was a time when Facebook kept surfacing “remember this moment?” photos of me and my ex from my mom’s profile. I hid and changed my relationship status in the dead of night so as few people as possible would notice the change and ask me about it.
Worst of all is Gmail, which has one of the most maddening “features” to confront anyone going through a breakup. Nearly every time I wrote an e-mail to friends this past year, Gmail oh-so-helpfully suggested I include my ex-wife in the e-mail. And you can’t turn this off. It still happens, despite my pleas to Google to make it optional. (Google obviously doesn’t employ enough divorcees.)
That awkward moment of running into your ex can happen virtually at any time, even when you’re comfortably sitting at home. Every mutual friend’s Instagram feed is an encounter waiting to happen. Every search through e-mail to find an address or a phone number is a danger zone of old conversations and memories.
Blog readers and interviewers still ask after my wife, questions I have become increasingly skilled at dodging. Uncomfortable as it is, I can’t put the genie back in the bottle.
When my ex and I split, she adopted a scorched Earth approach to social media. She deleted her Facebook profile and blog entirely and started new ones. (Facebook dutifully suggested I befriend her new profile.)
I didn’t have the luxury of starting over. I had four years of posts devoted to writing and publishing, and discarding all of that because of a few mentions of my ex wouldn’t have made any sense. I could have gone back and scrubbed all mentions of her, but who has that kind of time?
It’s all out there anyway. It’s my life, I can’t pretend it didn’t happen. The Internet makes it impossible to cover your tracks.
The Web Doesn’t Forget
To move on emotionally after a divorce or a breakup, you have to forget. You gradually move on from the pain, the particulars of fraught conversations fade, your memories of being together become hazy, and you reconstruct your life. The relationship eventually feels like a strange dream you once had, and you move on. That’s how we heal.
But the Internet doesn’t forget. It has a perfect memory. And, what’s more, it’s constructed to force memories on you with the assumption that the experience will be pleasant.
Most people don’t have a photo album of themselves and their ex sitting on their coffee table, but Facebook Timeline shows your past to all your friends unless you go back and spend a lot of time revising your past. My ex’s new life isn’t entirely out of view — it keeps popping into my social media feeds and Google Reader.
I’ve had to draw up new blueprints with mutual friends to figure out how to navigate parties I’m not at that will be mentioned online. I’ve had to get used to the weirdness of commenting on the same friends’ Facebook photos as my ex and living a strangely distant parallel life that sometimes can also feel way too close.
Our natural coping strategies can’t compete with Facebook and Twitter.
There is one big benefit to divorce in 2012, though. Now when I date new people, I don’t have to have a painfully awkward conversation where I break the news that I’m divorced. Anyone who is a halfway-decent Google stalker has already figured it out.
This is My Life
I debated whether to write this post for a very long time. Telling everyone I’m divorced on the Internet isn’t really my style. I’m a naturally private person, and a children’s book author at that.
But there’s barely such a thing left as a personal life anymore. Your life is preserved in Facebook status updates, Google searches, public records, and it’s impossible to erase the past. Whether that’s a good or terrifying thing is beside the point. It just is.
I could keep it ambiguous online, or just clear up the mystery. I could continue to dodge questions about my wife, or I could just come out and say I’m divorced.
I’m divorced. There’s no hiding from it in the social media era.
Richard Mabry says
Nathan, So very sorry for the situation that brought about this post, but happy that you were so open and honest in sharing how it's affected you. Thanks, and best wishes for a better day tomorrow, and the next, and the one after that.
J.C. Martin says
Why is it I subscribe to receive blog updates but didn't receive this in my inbox? Sorry to hear about your rough patch. It's true that with the Internet, nothing is private these days. Might as well be honest and open about it. Not that your relationship status will make anyone think less of you as a person. If they do, then they are shallow, narrow-minded people.
This is the most honest and heartfelt thing I have read in a long time. So well done, Nathan. As always, you are really tapped into this new internet age, and the pros and cons of our obsession with technology.
Ishta Mercurio says
Hang in there. I can't speak about divorce from personal experience except as the child of divorced parents (whose divorce was messy, drawn-out, and involved many legal battles over custody and child support), and all I can say is that eventually, it does get better. My mother hated my father for years, and my father felt ripped apart for years, but now they're both able to speak of each other with genuine respect, even though some of the hurt and regret still remain.
Take it one day at a time. This too shall pass. There is a future for you in which you will look back on this as something that made you stronger in some way. And thank you for telling us.
Hallie Sawyer says
Ugh, I can only imagine what you are going through in private and then having to try to wade through it delicately on the internet. I'm sorry that you have to go through this.
But I did want you to know that I picked up your first book at the library for my son and he finished it. You don't know how monumental this is. This is a Diary of a Wimpy Kid kind of reader. Just enough to get by.
He LOVED your book. He took it everywhere with him and he thinks you are very funny. So thank you! Thank you, thank you! YOU are a wonderful writer. Having your private life thrust in the public eye unwittingly could be a huge distraction but I hope you look at writing more books as a great coping mechanism!
So what were you saying about a divorce, or something? 🙂
Nora Lester Murad in Palestine says
A beautifully human post. Sharing it with us is a gift on many levels.
Very sorry to hear this.
One thing that makes this even harder is…there's no such thing as scorched earth when it comes to the internet.
I mean, I suppose if you're VERY clever you can insert robots.txt files in your blogs and then it will never be cached, but otherwise it is quite possible to be able to find someone's blog.
One blogger I followed by adding her blog to my Google reader deleted all six years of entries, but I still have half of those in my reader.
At the time of reading your blog entry, I had no idea who your wife was. A bit of Googling, some playing about with archive.org, and maybe ten minutes later I am now reading her back entries at the erased blog.
And I am far from being any kind of internet expert.
My basic, fundamental rule is, never put anything on the internet that you don't want your boss or your mother to read. But even that doesn't solve all the problems.
I went through a divorce many years ago and still remember the acutely painful feelings that lingered for years. Eventually, the strangest part of it seemed to be that two good and sincere people who had planned to spend their lives together ended up never speaking or seeing each other again.
Now, I have no idea where she is or what she is doing. But, as I age and the importance of relationships becomes clearer, I still find that, though I have no desire to rekindle it, the aspect of complete and utter separation is oddly unnatural.
Eventually, you'll get over the hurt – hopefully, you'll stay in touch.
Thanks for sharing this most human and touching bit of personal history – and for all that you do for us, the writing community.
This is the first time I have ever posted on a blog. The funny thing is, that whilst your email sat in my inbox unread,(saved for savouring), I had the urge to write to you for the very first time. Not because I knew you were experiencing the transformation that is divorce, but because I wanted to thank you. I wanted to thank you for being so consistently there. Your writing advice convinced me to 'DO IT' and your continued advice and opinions convinced me on how and where to 'fix it up'. I was also going through a lonely time (though still in a relationship), but the urge to write, and the writing community, headed by your noble self was inspiration and community with a capital 'I' and "C'. So, as you can see, I am a burgeoning writer, with a smile on my face and I just wanted to say thanks, because what you do, in just being you, has really help more people than you will ever know! Besos y brazos muy fuerte! Cate from Australia.
You know, a few weeks ago, you had a post about the trials of getting published. I commented anonymously, saying that I was going through an incredibly hard time, but the plus side was, it certainly had put getting published in perspective.
You very kindly commented after me, saying you hoped things would turn out okay for me. That comment meant more than you know.
I am writing all this now because my hard times are of the marital variety. I am not going through a divorce – yet – and hopefully I won't. But it's a possibility, and I have found this to be the hardest time in my life. As a side note, my life not so much butterflies and rainbows to begin with.
In any case, I wanted to thank you for your kind comment some time ago, and I wanted to extend the same to you. I think there are few things as agonizing as divorce. Living such a thing publicly would be all the more painful. You have my sympathy, Nathan, as well as my best wishes.
Laurence King says
So sorry to hear about your divorce, Nathan! It is never an easy thing to go through and I can't imagine what it must be like when pieces of your life get scattered on the Internet for the whole world to see…It is incredibly brave of you to share this with us! Best wishes to you.
Dana Seilhan says
When I was a kid, particularly when I was a teenager going through all that awkwardness, I HATED having my picture taken. I mean, *despised* it. It was much more of a relief than it should have been when my high-school senior portrait turned out OK. I have a big nose and a crooked smile and missing teeth from my orthodontics days and hair that would put Harry Potter's to shame in how little it wants to behave for me and… no. Just no.
And then one day I realized that everyone around me was seeing the very same face in real life that I dreaded seeing in photographs. And I got over it. I mean, I've got some really butt-ugly pictures of myself and I'd put them on the Internet because they don't bother me at all.
I think a lot of this embarrassment and shame over major life stuff comes from feeling as if we're the only ones who go through said major life stuff. Or maybe we think we're supposed to be above and beyond it–that we made all the right choices, so why is reality still taking a dump on us? It can be tough to handle. Shame is a powerful emotion.
But when you realize that everyone else goes through the bad stuff too, even folks who seem much less than deserving of bad stuff? And when you realize that most people are too wrapped up in themselves to care what you're doing? It gets better then. Much better.
I never really know what's appropriate to say in this kind of situation. I want to offer sympathies and condolences, because it's such a loss.
Thank you for sharing your experience. Wishing you well.
I'm very sorry to hear about what you had gone through in the last year. I wish only good things for you as you move forward.
While I'm sure this post wasn't written for me, I just got out of a relationship that lasted eight years. Now this post feels like aloe vera on fresh sunburns.
Thank you, thank you, thank you, from the bottom of my heart.
My heartfelt sympathies to you on having your private life splattered across the internet like some road-kill. Honestly, you're not paid enough as an author to have the kind of voyeur-laden celebrity status foisted on you. I wish you the best in trying to get on with your life and getting over the pain of the divorce.
Optional Delusion says
Very thought provoking. Thanks for sharing.
Amy Cochran says
Break ups are never easy. Occasionally, they're mutual. Sometimes they're not, but they always hurt.
However, I'm not convinced hiding is the way to go, but I understand the need to lessen the emotional burden.
And yes, you can lessen the pain in the modern era. On Facebook, you can 'unfriend' people, hide posts and steer clear of mutual friends. Or better yet, set up a fan's page for yourself. Having a personal page and a fan's page is a perfect way to keep your personal life and your professional life separate. I strongly recommend this. On Gmail, you can delete offending contacts so they don't pop up.
However, the question is do you really want to do this. Those memories sting now, but in time they might again prove to be sweet, if not a bit bitter.
Hang in there.
Sharon Lynn Fisher says
This is the first post I've seen on this topic (how social media and your home computer join forces to torture you after a painful loss). Yay you for having the courage to share this, as well as the followup about writing during difficult periods of your life (which I wish I'd read three months ago!).
you were smart to realize that changing your status would make it "public domain". i am recently separated and my ex decided to spitefully change his status to "separated" (we separated the year before for 8 months yet neither of us changed our statuses). it was like a dagger in the heart when i saw it, so in response i immaturely changed mine and it opened up the flood gates. i did not realize that it would post the change in everyone's feed nor the need for outside parties to make comments and jabs on such a painful, private matter.
i am now very careful what i do on fb and opt for "never mind" over "go ahead".
i commend you for your courage to post this. it's information i wish i had sooner.
Tiffany N. York says
I think the most effective posts and articles combine facts with personal experience. When you recount something from your personal life, it resonates more with the reader. At least it does with me. It makes you seem more human.
I rue the day Facebook was created. As I hit upon my son's elementary school principal's page, there she was embracing my boyfriend. They're now married. I know this thanks to FB (and the obsessive-compulsive need to check her page every now and then).
Oh, yes. Social media's a bitch.
Tara needs a divorce says
@ Sarah Singer – words are so true. I kept it secret from my friends for quite awhile that we had been talking about a divorce but when I finally cracked I was amazed at how kind and supportive every one was. It was only then that I started to realize that my life wasn't over and that this was not only the end of a part of my life but also the beginning of something new! With new possibilities!
You're not fooling anybody. You are as queer as a three dollar bill.
AJM Mousseau says
It's bad enough to deal with the D let alone having to relive it over and over and have an entire world social media content about that part of your life.I hope you felt some semblance of closure participating in the BBC report.
What's more is you are also a celebrity. I think on poor J. Aniston and wonder when the media will ever get over the obsession.
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