Back in the good old days when all we had were pagers — scratch that, let’s go even further. Back in the good old days when all we had were answering machines and a mailbox, breaking up was much easier to do. All you had to do was stop sending mail and calling each other. Perhaps you might bump into each other randomly at a grocery store, but other than that, the person was — zap! — out of your life.
Nowadays, there’s this digital stream of interconnectedness that makes breaking up (or in my case, divorcing) a real pain in the Kim Kardashian. Breaking contact is near impossible in the millennial age. And when you have a child with someone, the relationship, while different, still goes on forever.
Now there are phone calls, texts, emails, and the omnipresent social-media beings, like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, blogs, etc. If you can’t find someone these days via an online search, they’re either a hit man, a toddler, or in his or her 80s. So you can imagine the fiasco that can happen when you drop your married name off your Facebook profile or change the relationship status from “ooh we’re in love and married” to “it’s complicated” or worse, “it’s dunzo.” I tried to do the slick thing and simply remove my relationship status on my profile, but whenever you see the “ask” next to relationship status, we all know it’s code for “it’s over, kids.”
Dropping the married name from my profile was a decision that induced considerable angst. Will everyone message me frantically asking what’s going on? Will people post condolences on my timeline? Will my ex’s family notice (of course they will!), and when they do, will they still want to be my Facebook friend, and more importantly, will they still like me now that I’m just a distant part of their family, not related by marriage but related by my child? The day I dropped the Hernandez from Lifshitz felt monumental to me. To other folks, it was barely a blip in the news feed, but for me, it opened the door to the world. Facebook, we are getting a divorce.
But the biggest choice after changing your profile name and perhaps deleting an ex (I didn’t) is: do you keep your ex’s family as social media friends?
For many people, deleting an ex’s family on social media may be a no-brainer. I had a friend once ask me if I thought it would be OK to get rid of some of her ex’s family on Facebook, and I said sure, as long as she didn’t have close relationships with these people. The relationships weren’t essential to her, and at some point, having privacy from the past as you’re heading into the future can be key. Some family members may also not be your best friends once you announce you’re getting the “D” word, so imagining a bunch of people scowling at your statuses, tweets, and photos may be enough for you to want to “unfriend.” But for me, the choice isn’t so black and white. All of my ex’s family who are my Facebook friends are lovely people. When I made the divorce “social-media official,” I had the opposite conundrum: I worried that they would delete me. That they would hate me.
For me, I chose to keep the family on my social media accounts due to two factors. To start, my ex is very quiet and is not into social media, so he doesn’t post a lot. I’m the one, like many other moms, sharing photos, moments, and videos of my daughter for all to see. We have a small family, and to cut off that tie to these moments in our daughter’s life would be horrible for them and also for my kid down the line. It’s not the same as seeing her, but it still gives them some knowledge of her life and the ability to connect/create a dialogue when they see her with my ex, or perhaps with me. I also happen to like these people very, very much, which I know doesn’t happen in all divorce situations. My ex’s cousins are some of my favorite people. When we would visit them, we all got along very well. Just their positivity, warmth, and company helped our moods. I am not sure if I will see them again, and this upsets me greatly. How do you have a consistent relationship with family members on your ex’s side after divorce, or any relationship at all? What is the protocol? Do I ask them to be my friend? Do I let the relationship happen organically? And what would my ex prefer? Would he rather I didn’t see them ever?
When it comes to all of this, I still haven’t figured out what is the most appropriate or right thing to do. Divorce is like an obstacle course: as you go along, some parts of the course are easily navigable, and other parts, you find yourself struggling to get over. Eventually, you get to the finish line as a more exhausted but hopefully stronger “you.”
My current strategy is to keep up to date on social media with the family members I know fairly well by posting comments and “likes,” along with an occasional message. I do this so they know that I care about them despite losing my Hernandez and so they know that being a part of my child’s life still matters to me.
For the lesser-known family members that are my friends (I have a few that are states away), this at least gives them a chance to see photos of our kid and watch her grow. As much as social media can cause harm, it’s also really helpful for maintaining long-distance friendships and family relationships. Maybe one day if I date someone it may be awkward. Would they want to see me smiling next to another dude? And, sure, on bad days when my ex has made me sad or hurt me, it makes choosing what to post on social media difficult but crucial. Being mature in divorce, while hard at times, is absolutely necessary.
The moral of this Facebook story? For those of you with toxic ex family members to deal with, delete those suckers today. You don’t want them stalking your every date, move, and check-in. But for those of us with some great ex family members, consider how deleting them removes them from the kids — and from you. The next battle to deal with is whether you keep your ex on social media or not, but that’s a whole ‘nother story, kids!