It’s complicated. That should have been my permanent Facebook status in 2011. I initially joined Facebook for the ability to easily share pictures of my children with my family and friends who lived in states from Florida to Oregon. So my obvious network included my family – who at that time included my in-laws.
You can imagine my surprise when I realized one day after separating from my husband that I had been unfriended by some of those I had considered family for more than 10 years. To say it stung is an understatement. And I noticed the deletion by virtue of the fact that I enjoyed keeping up with their lives and pictures of their children. How could I go from being family to not even being a Facebook friend? It was shocking and hurtful.
Another complicated Facebook maneuver was making the divorce public. I had a name change. I updated that change while tucked away in Ireland and after a night in the pub (with my Mom) – being in another country seemed to make ripping that band-aid off easier. My former spouse and I agreed when we would simultaneously change our marital status on Facebook.
I have observed some people make declarations of divorce on their status updates and noticed name changes or the disappearance of spouses in pictures. It is a tricky thing. After starting this blog, I received a heartfelt message from an old friend offering supportive words and saying she hadn’t been sure there had been a divorce and was sorry she hadn’t been there sooner.
And then there is the afterlife – my former husband sent me a message asking me if it was okay to post pictures of the weekend events that included pictures of my girls with his girlfriend. I am lucky. He asks and warns me. Fortunately, I was not the mother of a toddler who learned her daughter had transitioned to a “big girl bed” by seeing a photo posted to Facebook.
For those going through divorce, Facebook is an acute reminder of the stigma attached to divorce in our society. For those observing it from the outside in, it can be feel awkward when the intention to support seemingly conflicts with the desire to respect privacy.
My advice is to navigate the Facebook changes as you do any of the other changes that come with divorce. Carefully, steadily and in small steps. Be mindful of the impact your posts may have on your former spouse, your former in-laws and your family. Instead of unfriending, you can hide people until the rawness of the divorce is over – then decide if that action still seems necessary. Instead of posting a negative comment about your ex, call a friend to gripe privately. I urge you, above all, to take actions that will ultimately allow you to save face.