Over the past year and since my divorce, I've watched video snippets of my ex-second cousin getting married; watched another ex-cousin's daughter grow through toddlerhood and monitored an ex-Aunt's move to Florida. I've caught photos of my little ex-nephews who will never really know me; but I'll know them and what they're up to: playing soccer, starting kindergarten, dressing up for Halloween. Facebook takes some of the mystery out of what ever happened to so-and-so--we all know that. But when it's your only connection to people who once considered you family, Facebook can help and hurt.
Is "seeing" and feeling left out of ex-family celebrations you see on Facebook strange or sad? It's probably a little of both. Is tracking ex-family members' milestones and mindless status updates understandable or downright sneaky? Sure, the marriage is over, but moving on from an ex's family can take time well beyond the date on the divorce decree.
I monitor my ex-sister in law's status updates so I know when she's been promoted, traveling on business, or simply navigating a rainy day without her umbrella. I read it because I still care, and this kind of harmless cyber-stalking makes me feel oddly connected.
I appreciate the insightful comments one of my ex's especially intelligent cousin's posts about the unrest in Egypt, and flash back to funny conversations we had at a dozen Passover seders. While I don't miss the four-hour seders, I miss having that sense of tradition, and the matzo-ball soup.
When my former mother-in-law popped up on "People I May Know," that was weird, but that would have always been weird (much has been written about how people freak out when their parents "Friend" them on Facebook, but for a whole other set of reasons...). Still, I will be watching for her updates. Will she plant those amazing tomotoes this spring, "Like" this season of Grey's Anatomy and become a "Fan" of the museums she likes to frequent?
Everyone knows Facebook as a story of bringing lost family members together--adoptive children finding their birth mothers; fathers and daughters reuniting after custody cases gone wrong; siblings staying in touch from different countries. The untold story is how Facebook can make you feel when you're supposed to moving the opposite way--breaking up and away with an ex's family members who are no longer supposed to be part of everyday life. Yet, they are right there on your computer screen.
Old photo albums buried in the bottom box of my basement will always hold part of the story, my story, of a life once rich with siblings and great uncles and even a father figure that I was lucky enough to have for a time. As those family traditions start to fade from my mind each year, so could memories of the ex-family's holiday dinners that lasted too long but were filled with laughter, and times where once-strangers first welcomed me into a family with open arms.
To friend or not to friend an ex-family member on Facebook--that is not even the question. It's what you choose to peek at when you're on and how you deal with it when you do. I wonder if disconnecting from the past was easier for people who got divorced before the age of social networking. Any of you out there and can you respond?