I found out I was getting divorced through Facebook. Well, kinda. This is what I learned about online etiquette for really big life events.
The counseling was finished; He had decreed he preferred a divorce to ending his philandering. I sobbed in the car and when the tears subsided, I drove to Trader Joe's with puffy red eyes and picked up my favorite foods: red wine, 72 percent dark chocolate, microwavable packets of Indian food, frozen naan and bananas. I took the weekend off from the Internet, saw friends, played with my cat, read adventure beach books.
Monday started like any other: snag coffee, check work email, putz around online. I signed into Facebook and stopped breathing. There, in the center of my news feed, broadcast to absolutely everyone: "He has changed his status. He is no longer married." My heart thudded, my stomach dropped, my eyebrows shot up. I mean, yes, we'd had the conversation but this felt like a kick in the gut; it was so public, so final, so soon.
I swallowed a small hysterical snort of realization that I was now married to someone not married to me. Is that even possible? I clearly needed to fix it, pronto. Frantically I sought out our barely 21 year-old colleague and explained in a rush of words, "Hi I need your help I'm getting divorced and he just unmarried me now I need to change my status but not broadcast it and I don't really want any status posted at all but do you know how and can you show me?" A nervous laugh, the briefest of apologies and in 15 seconds we were done. I feebly thanked him and promised to buy the next round of coffees.
Like the wave of an unwelcome fairy wand, I went from married to unmarried with a deft stroke. I mean, we knew each other for over 10 years, were married for 5-plus years, our families lived 45 minutes apart for crying out loud! Isn't there some decorum, some etiquette, a precedent on how to publicly dissolve your joint lives? Apparently not. Somehow surprise un-marrying your spouse with a global announcement hardly seems the ticket.
Advice in five online spaces:
1. Emails to Socialize - as a Couple. Our former friends and housemates sent us an email announcing their engagement and asking us to come out for a drink to celebrate. I stared at the email and in a very toddler tantrum way, internally declared that I would NOT be the one to reply because I didn't create this situation, why should I have to craft some benign excuse? What was there to say? He put his degree in English literature to use and wrote a brief, poised email explaining that we were no longer together, but wished them the very best. I laughed at the kindness in his words which for so long had been absent from our conversations. But really, it was fine. I just wish we'd made a game plan, but then again, I didn't know that I needed one.
2. Facebook Photos and Friends. After changing my relationship status on Facebook I unfriended his family members in a heartbeat. 'Our' friends were tougher to delineate, so I sorted them by asking two questions: 'Did I ever hang out with them minus him? Could I imagine wanting to see them in the future?' Gradually I untagged and removed pictures: first the photos of just him, then of us, and today, very few pictures remain as evidence of my married life. We enjoyed some wonderful trips, but when I see those images, my mouth tastes a bit bitter. [Sidebar: If I look cute enough in any picture, it stayed -- made up rules be damned].
3. Evite Guest Lists. This felt petty and yet also definitive. Our friends didn't want to take sides but in truth, they almost had to. We were filing for a 'no fault' divorce but that's just words. A few months into our separation, I received an evite invitation to a Superbowl Party hosted by mutual friends. The guest list included his name but he hadn't replied. I wanted to attend -- be social, act normal, pretend like it was old times -- but if J were there, I'd rather not. In a junior high gesture, I wimped out and asked a friend to ask the host if He was coming. I said that it didn't matter but that I wanted to be prepared. It totally mattered. He didn't reply or show.
4. Email Addresses. Part of divorce is a redefinition of self -- in some obvious ways (no ring, change of address, great new hair color!), and in more subtle ways (need for sleep, avoidance of loud groups, uptick in phone calls home). But what if your email address if your married name? Do you keep it, change it, forward old mail to a new address? Is there a manual for this decision? The night He walked out the door with his ring on the bathroom counter I did two things: set up a new bank account and a new email account. Thank you Bank of America and Gmail. Fresh starts are a joy of the Internet.
5. What's in a Name? Which brings me to a point of contention: what about my name? I took his name when we married. Now I could hardly read my own last name without an emotional response. After some hemming and hawing, and a delightful website I decided to keep my first name (duh) and take back my maiden name as my last name. Since my maiden name was my middle name while married, I was left with a hole. Sure, my parents gave me a nice middle name at birth but it felt juvenile, little, limited. In conjunction with friends and a blessing from my parents, I chose a new middle name that I celebrated with a party. Over the course of about 9 months, I shifted my professional work to the new name and haven't once regretted it. It feels good. And my significant other knows my name is here to stay.
Like many steps on the path away from divorce, one of the hardest realizations is that no one can tell you the right decision to make when faced with the discomfort of change -- because there isn't ONE right action. I made a deliberate decision not to post any revenge stories, not to egg the homes of those who helped him hide his nefarious activities, and not to slut shame the other woman. I have a new name, a new home, a new someone and my own new adventures -- which taste sweeter than I could ever have imagined.