By Dena Landon
Ah, for the good old days. When you could get a divorce and not see pictures of your ex with his new girlfriend the next time you looked at your Instagram feed. When venting may have happened at a bar with girlfriends but not in a public forum where the whole world can see. If you’re struggling trying to figure out what is and isn’t okay to post about your divorce and your ex on social media the guidelines below might help.
1. Always remember – social media is forever.
But I can delete a post! I can hear you exclaiming. Can you? Because someone might have taken a screen shot in the meantime. Even if you think your divorce is the best conscious uncoupling since Gwyneth Paltrow’s you never know when things can turn nasty. I thought my divorce was only going to take six months – tops. A year and nine months later…Given that you don’t know, it’s better to be safe than sorry. And when you meet that next guy – and you will! – do you want him scrolling through your tweets and seeing all the horrible things you said about your ex? While they only reflect a point in time, and that anger or bitterness in that moment might have been completely justified, do you really want a record of that low moment?
2. Yes, you can complain. But filter it.
When giving advice about how to handle an ex online a lot of people will tell you to never say anything negative. They’re thinking of some of the issues I discussed above – screenshots that could be used against you in a custody or hearing or bitterness and anger that you later regret. My friends and family are scattered all over the country. My sister lives in Seattle, two of my best friends live in Boston, and other good friends live in New York. If I had to get on the phone, or send a text or an email, to update each of them on my ex’s latest shenanigans it would be a full-time job! One of the benefits of social media is how it allows you to keep in touch across distance and time zones.
My friends prodded me to leave my ex, gave me strength to stick with the decision, and cheered on each milestone. I don’t know if I could have made it without them. But I also didn’t want random high school friends that I hadn’t spoken to in twenty years reading about everything. So I created groups, I filtered posts, and I sent group messages to a select few. It allowed me to safely vent without worrying that I was oversharing with casual acquaintances or mutual friends who might screenshot and send it to my ex. If you need to vent online I’d recommend you do the same.
Of all the promises you make to yourself at the beginning of a new year, promise yourself to not give up on the hope they represent.
3. It’s okay to creep a little bit.
For a while there I was having a really hard time with creeping on an ex-boyfriend’s social media. I felt vaguely guilty about it – even though it was all public – and slightly embarrassed. And I couldn’t seem to quit! Until I was talking with love coach Kavita J. Patel and she pointed out something really powerful to me – the moment we’re told not to do something, what do we want to do? It starts in childhood as defiance and exploring boundaries, but the allure of the forbidden can carry into adulthood. By making it ‘bad,’ and vaguely naughty I was also making it something I couldn’t quit. I gave myself permission to scratch the itch occasionally and guess what? The urge naturally faded.
It’s also completely natural to want to see how someone you once loved is doing, within moderation. If it’s sparking feelings of jealousy or inadequacy (a younger, hotter girlfriend?), then you’re probably not doing yourself any favors to creep. And if it’s turning into a full-time job it might be time to see less of his Facebook feed and more of your therapist. Follow your gut and, if in doubt, ask yourself a simple question – would I be embarrassed if someone was looking over my shoulder right now?
4. Remember the kids.
Tempted to complain publicly about their poor behavior after being at the ex’s house? Don’t. Never assume that your child won’t someday read what you’ve written about your ex. As a writer who draws on my life in my work, this is something I’m conscious of every time I sit down to write. I’m aware that someday my son may read what I’ve written about verbal abuse. However, my son remembers what happened when my ex lived with us and will comment about Daddy not being nice to me and yelling a lot. My hope is that someday he’ll read those articles and gain some insight and understanding. Again, ask yourself if what you’re posting will embarrass your child when they’re older? Humiliate them? Will they be angry with you for what you said about their other parent?
I remember one time when my father called me during my freshman year at college to bash my mother, complaining about how she’d grown fat after their divorce (she was a size 4), how stupid she was (she had a Master’s degree), and how glad he was she’d divorced him. I finally interrupted him with – “Dad, she’s half my DNA? Could you please stop?” It hurt me to hear him talk that way about her, and I remember that interaction every time I talk to my son about my ex or post about my ex on social media.
Be honest with yourself and always ask – how is this serving me? Is this healthy?
5. Should you unfriend the ex?
It depends. My divorce got nasty. And I noticed that as soon as I friended someone new on Facebook, my ex would send them a friend request. It creeped me out. I’d stayed friends with him even as things soured because it’s hard not to know what your children are doing when they’re over at the ex’s place. When I saw a photo or a quick update, from his weekends it reassured me. But I realized that I needed a safe space to vent, to share details of my new life, and to solicit advice from divorced friends who’d gone before me. What if I forgot to filter him off a post? Eventually, I unfriended him.
The decision of whether or not to unfriend is a personal one and depends on the circumstances of your divorce. In an amicable situation perhaps you can share pictures of the kids and remain friends. Perhaps there’s no need to vent to a supportive circle. But even in that instance, are you going to be able to handle seeing pictures of the ex with someone new? Be honest with yourself and always ask – how is this serving me? Is this healthy?
There’s no doubt about it – social media has added a new layer of complexity to divorce. But if you practice some common sense and good judgment you can continue connecting with your friends online without worry.
About the author
Dena Landon is a single mom who eats raw cookie dough, passionately debates intersectional feminism and frequently tangles herself in yarn. Her work has appeared on The Washington Post, Narrative.ly, Salon, bust.com, and in Dance Teacher and Dance Spirit magazines. Her first novel was published by Dutton Children’s Publishing in 2005. She blogs at femmefeminism.com, and can be found on Instagram and Facebook.