When my ex-wife and I got married, Facebook was just being born. Sure, we had email and AOL Instant Messenger and faxing. But 'social networking' hadn't yet hit critical mass in the form of Zuckerberg's fantastic connection machine.
By the time my ex and I filed for divorce, however, Facebook was so ingrained in our lives, it was actually on the table during mediation.
"I think we need to unfriend each other," my soon-to-be ex wife said across the big conference room table.
We hadn't even begun discussing splitting up the furniture or the house or the dogs.
All of a sudden, my divorce was Real. And perhaps there is no better symbol of the finality of a divorce than how it's borne out online. After several years of learning how to communicate with each other (and thousands of dollars in therapist's fees), we were now deciding not to communicate via the world's easiest way to stay connected.
Which is to say, for all the remarkable bringing together that social networking affords us--for all the warm fuzzy long lost high school classmates and unknown cousins and dictatorships brought down--there's another side to the phenomenon.
It makes it really hard to let go of someone.
As soon as that mediation meeting was settled, I went home and unfriended my now ex-wife. But at least half my Facebook friends were also friends with her. Was I supposed to unfriend them, too? And what about my friends who were friends with my ex? Was this going to be a war of attrition, where we whittled all our mutuals down, leaving just those people from high school we couldn't remember in the first place?
We've been divorced three years this week. Our mutuals have remained just that, with very little cross-contamination. Although, most of them, as it turns out, aren't really that friendly, after all. We 'like' each other's posts once in a while, but that's pretty much it. We're like neighbors in Los Angeles. We'll wave to each other in passing, but otherwise, we'll pretend there's something more interesting on the dashboard before having a conversation. Just like real life.
I'm glad my ex and I chose to not 'stay friends' or 'be a part of each others' lives' or 'communicate in any way.' It's actually made moving on a little easier.
But every once in a while I get a bee in my bonnet (for you youngsters reading out there, a bonnet is an old fashioned kind of lady hat) and need to express a little divorced guy humor to make myself feel good. You know, just a little eye-rolling fun at my now generic ex-wife's expense. The daily audience that is my core Facebook constituency seems to enjoy it.
So a few months ago, I posted a joke that referenced my ex. It felt cathartic to have a little corner of the world in which to vent and be childish. The internet is a lot of things, but social networking has really made it the world's Hyde Park. We all get our own soapbox there and can spout whatever nonsense we want. The only difference is, on the internet, our raving is preserved forever.
I shouldn't have been surprised, then, when just last week a close buddy heard from my ex that she saw my little joke. Clearly some mutual had forwarded the Facebook post to her. She wasn't pleased.
And neither was I. There was a rat in my kitchen. And although I thought I'd plugged up all the holes, Facebook's ever-shifting security and privacy options left open some way for a mutual to pass on my little mean joke.
So: lesson learned. Obviously, I should just learn to keep my mouth shut, or at least keep the ex-wife jokes to the open-mic nights (because no one will hear them there). I'm allowed to make some hay out of my pain, but it's always best to tread lightly when including other parties. I get it.
But the real lesson, I think, is this: we're all in this brave new world together. We've got to behave as though everything we say and do is going to see the light of day at some point. And we've got to be ok with it.
Which is why I'll just use this forum to say, "R., I'm sorry if what I said hurt you. It was kind of mean and wasn't meant for you to see. It's still hard to let go. Hope you're well."
The rest of you can find my open mic dates on my Facebook page. Be sure to 'like' me!