I knew I'd finally "made it" as an Internet writer when I encountered my first barrage of negative comments in response to one of my articles. When I became a Featured Writer on the SheKnows Network, they welcomed me with an email warning me how extra exposure is often accompanied by negative comments, and while they do their best to filter the awful ones, sometimes they seep through.
I've existed happily and comfortably in the blog bubble I created for the last 258 days, writing and sharing a deconstructed memoir in essay form daily to an audience of subscribers. Each morning, I hoarded my few dozen likes and comments and relished my smileys and hearts from Facebook; exactly the type of digital encouragement an insecure writer needs.
Also, I felt safe writing from a platform called "HeartsEverywhere." I love love; finding it and rediscovering it when I lost it. I look for the love (and comedy) in any scenario and when I can't find it, I cope with words. (I live by the Nora Ephron school of life: "everything is copy." ) I never imagined MY writing would yield nasty comments; especially hurtful because they didn't criticize my writing, but me, the human narrating the story.
Most of the unpleasant comments came from men, which is ironic on a site called SheKnows.
The post I wrote which sparked the hate was: "I Feel Like a Divorce Inspiration Club." I've been divorced for almost a dozen years and have found love again and been in that successful partnership for the last 11 years. It was with the benefit of hindsight and many years of healing that I was able to write about divorce and co-parenting with such candor.
The vilest of the comments came from a man who called me a prostitute - and he did this as a comment to every other comment on there (about 47 at the time). I flagged them and they were removed and I laughed it off. Another commenter took it a step further; he wrote an entire essay response to my piece.
He accused me of wanting to go out on dates with "multiple men each week" and of "denying my husband intimacy." He also charged me with "shopping at Saks Fifth Avenue for purses and cell phones" rather than doing the laundry ("how hard it is to be asked to press 1 button on a washing machine"). Finally, he ended with a zinger accusing me of getting "shit-faced at the bar grinding up against random dudebros when you had a baby at home."
His assumptions were preposterous and while he was potentially projecting or coming from a place of pain (why do I have to be a therapist and analyze his true intentions), my knee-jerk reaction was to take the bait and bite back. I wrote back, addressing every one of his idiotic, false assertions. As soon as I hit publish, I regretted it. I am a writer, not a fighter and I didn't have to defend my story because it wasn't about him nor was it up for judgment.
While I didn't want to sound defensive, I equally didn't want his rant to mislead other readers into considering any of his outlandish comments. I suspected he was an unhappy troll, who would soon retreat back to the closet under the stairs, but for a few short minutes, I let him in. Those comments were daggers stabbing my self-esteem and I plotted my move to fiction writing. Only 107 days of vulnerable essay writing to go.
But then it hit me: this was like internet terrorism. He wouldn't shut me up; I wouldn't be afraid of words written from behind an anonymous keyboard. I refused to give anyone that power.
Theoretically, the concept that my writing invoked a reaction, should actually make me proud. My words elicited a strong emotion from a reader, enough to incite action and write a comment. Yet somehow that pride took a backseat to the fragile little girl who emerged, standing in front of a class after reading her essay, and the mean boys threw sticks and stones at me. My instinct was to retreat and cry, but instead, I chuckled and vowed NEVER to reply to another antagonizing commenter again. (Although I won't stop from reading them yet.)
Some of the other non-hooker comments:
• Only 20% of second marriages last
• Don't have kids unless you are willing to put their happiness above your own. What the author is advocating is wrong.
• YOUR SON DOES NOT HAVE A CHANCE AT HAPPINESS
• You were married for 4 years? Not long enough to qualify as married.
• He said to men love your wife like Christ loved the church and he gave an example of that when he died on the cross for you and me. You are broken by sin in the form of selfishness
And my favorite, directed at my current husband at how to handle me:
• Toss her the blow dryer while she's showering but remember you have no idea how the crazy glue got on the circuit breaker just say she must have been suicidal and stick to that story.