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Abby Tolchinsky

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E-nnouncing Divorce

Posted: 02/10/2012 12:30 pm

As a divorce mediator and lawyer, sometimes I feel like I've heard it all. I am terribly hard to shock. And yet, yesterday something shocked me: a divorce announcement via email. What's more, it was both thoughtful and tasteful.

The thrust of the email: We have been married a long time, we will always be friends and parent peacefully together. Please let me know if you notice anything when your child is with mine about which I should be concerned

I suppose in retrospect, the initial shock wasn't warranted. After all, if social media has been a contributing component of so many enormous world shifts (see Arab Spring), then why not as a means of announcing the most intimate of life changes? Among the tech-savvy youth, Facebook provides a community of sorts, interfacing with their social lives, monitoring their genuine and not-so-genuine friendships with moment-to-moment tracking of every social adjustment. For divorcing adults on Facebook, one need only change one's status from "married" to "single" or "in a relationship" in order to notify Facebook "friends" of the divorce.

But what does an e-nnouncement provide to a mature adult? Certainly, it seems to spare one the pain of face-to-face disclosures with all the people in life who occupy space somewhere outside of that most intimate inner circle. And these people still need to know. So social media provides a forum in which you can protect your children and "put out your own message," thereby setting the tone of the discourse (or inevitable gossip) to follow.

On a macro scale, the social media announcement implicitly acknowledges the extent to which we are all connected. After all, the rings of outer circles-- such as the families of your kids' occasional playdates, current and former co-workers, your children's sports coaches and the parents on whom you depend for weekly carpools, not to mention acquaintances at churches, synagogues and community centers-- are all meaningful parts of our lives, if not the most intimate people upon whom we share our innermost thoughts and feelings. And a simple, dignified and honest notice, sparing the heartache of repeated conversations, may also provide important information or referrals. Don't be surprised if someone in the carpool knows a kindhearted, experienced therapist or themselves is a seasoned financial planner or has the number of a terrific babysitter.

In a live-out-loud universe, the social media announcement invites intimacy in a controlled environment -- online. All those caring, outer-circle friends and acquaintances can discuss, online, how they can help you and you, in turn, can take in the support in your own way, from the privacy of your own smartphone or desktop. The social media announcement still protects your privacy to share thoughtfully, and to react or take in other's reactions to the extent that you want to, and when you want to -- the "how" and the "what" are yours to choose. So while some may call it living out loud, in reality, this is merely a thin layer of openness on something so historically private. In effect, it puts in place an outer shell of support, normalizing the divorce announcement so that it is no longer a dirty secret.

So, as technology assumes a vital role in effectuating political change, so too does technology assume a role and in the personal realm. And, as technology evolves, we shift with it -- finding ways for it to accommodate who we are and who we want to become.

This cyber-sharing then culminates here, on the Huff Po Divorce page, which is yet another exploration of what it means to have a community conversation about the intimate struggles so many of us face.