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#604: Is there a Hallmark card for “I got divorced?”

Dear Captain Awkward,

I am a straight male in the process of getting a divorce. I am the one who filed for it. I did so out of necessity because my spouse has been increasingly unstable and abusive throughout the marriage. I spent years telling myself that things would get better any day and that there was no real cause for alarm. Additionally, my soon-to-be-ex-wife struggles with a lot of legitimate and confidential mental health issues. As a result, as this problem grew and my marriage slowly marched toward its end, I told very few people just how bad it was. Because I spent the first several months AFTER I filed for divorce falsely hoping that the divorce wouldn’t really have to happen, I also didn’t tell people what was going on as the process began.

At this point, she has moved out, and our small child has been placed primarily with me by mutual agreement. And still, many people in my life have not been properly clued in to this major life change. I still have relatives, friends, and co-workers who casually ask me how my wife is, or talk to me about what a wonderful family I have (really, I hid this well). When this happens, I visibly wince at this point. I no longer want to respond to those kinds of comments dishonestly, but I really don’t want to tell the whole story. All I want people to know are the two facts that are key to my current situation (and not easy to hide): the fact that I am divorced, and the fact that I am effectively now a solo parent. What is the quickest, least awkward way to say this when I feel I need to? My goal here is to minimize follow up questions, and ideally also minimize hurt feelings. I am finding that some people definitely feel put off that I hid the truth from them.

Sincerely,

Divorcee Unmasked

Dear Unmasked:

It sounds like you are doing the right thing for yourself and your family, in very trying and sad circumstances. I hope that this is the beginning of a new and better normal.

Facebook (ugh, I know) and your most chatty & socially connected friends, coworkers, and relatives are going to be your best helpers right now. Facebookwise, I’m stealing this/adapting this from something I saw in my feeds recently:

“Friends, forgive the mass posting, but I have some news that it’s past time to tell people about. Sadly Spouse and I have decided to end our marriage. Paperwork has is in process, Kid is living with me for now while we sort out the logistics. I know this may come as a surprise to many of you, but out of respect for each other’s privacy we wanted to keep the bad news between us until we were absolutely sure of our decision. Spouse could probably use some friendly faces around them right now, as could Kid and I.  I don’t want to go into more detail right now on here, but I did want to let people know what’s generally going on with me and recruit some willing babysitters & playdates for Kid. Much love to you all.”

You’ll get a lot of “Sad news! I hope you’re okay” and maybe one or two people will derail by asking for details or expressing shock – just ignore them, the other people in the thread will handle shushing them and messaging them privately with the details, you don’t owe them an answer or a history or an explanation that makes sense and convinces them it was the right decision. You don’t owe it to stay in an unhappy marriage just because you were personifying someone’s idea of a perfect family. I mean, let the ridiculousness of that expectation sink in for a minute. Also remember, you do not have to respond to every comment, and in fact, there is a little “x” next to people’s comments that lets you hide them. Use it if you need to.

With coworkers, family, friends, etc. you can also spread the word this way:  Find the friendliest, most connected, most likely to gossip or know people’s news people. Call them up or get them one-on-one, tell them the news, and tell them “This is really painful and embarrassing for me to talk about, and I’m really trying to be respectful of Spouse’s privacy and keep things amicable and constructive between us during a really painful and awkward time, so I don’t know if I can handle 50 more lunches/phone calls like this. Would you do me a huge favor and spread the word for me to (the others at work/the gaming group/the family)?” I can feel you, cringing through the internet a the idea of this, but listen: The Gossip Network of People Who Talk About Each Other’s Business is real. It is a thing. Private, reticent people like yourself flee and hide from it, with good reason, but it can be harnessed on occasion to save you from 50+ awkward lunches and phone calls. You’ll find that, as a little time goes on, people will already know your news. You may have to do the odd “I‘m so sorry, I just heard!”/”I know, it sucks, but we’re hopeful that there will be a whole lot less tension once it’s all worked out” dance a time or twelve, but you’ll also find that people will be very kind to you – you’re not the first person to go through something like this, and a lot of your fellow divorce and abusive-marriage survivors are hiding in plain sight, ready to help.

If you get pressed for details or people express surprise on the phone or in person, just let it wash over you. It’s forgivable for people to have a moment of surprise, as long as they understand that their surprised feelings are theirs (you’ve got enough feelings of your own to deal with right now). If you can prepare some safe things you can repeat, you’ll get through it. Go with the truth: “Thank you so much for the kind words, it’s still fresh and very hard for me to talk about, so can we talk about you? How is (that thing you do)(your family)(that local sports team you root for)?

The truth is your friend.  “Losing love is like a window in your heart. Everybody sees you’re blown apart.” It’s okay to say “I kept it to myself because it was an incredibly tough decision, and I knew that as soon as I told people it would become real. I wasn’t ready, for a long time, for it to be real.””I wish I could have told you sooner, but I really wasn’t ready before now. Thank you for understanding.” Anyone who gives you crap after that that trying to make the hardest decision in your life into something that’s about them and their status in the pecking order of your life. You weren’t lying, you were keeping something private while you dealt with the fallout, and it’s okay to say “I’m sorry you feel lied to, or excluded, that wasn’t my intention. But it was a decision that needed to stay just between Spouse and me until the ink was dry, especially since we were co-parenting all that time.” Then back away from that person for a bit while everyone’s boundaries reknit themselves.

Please also make sure you are talking to someone about the dirty, sad, painful, abusive, horrid details. Find someone who doesn’t need you to put on a brave face, or protect your wife’s public image or your kid’s vision of his mom. A therapist. Your best friend. Your family. She has some extreme diagnosable things going on, it sounds like, but your pain and grief and stress are just as real and just as deserving of love and care. Please don’t neglect your own needs, and our own sorrows during this time. I hope that informing people of what’s happening is one way to reach out to Team You, and that pretty soon some casseroles, friendly ears, and willing babysitters show up in your life and carry you into the next chapter.

Divorced Awkwardeers, how did you break the news?

 

 

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85 comments
  1. When I got my divorce paperwork in the mail in early December a few years ago, I went on Facebook and announced that I had received an early Christmas present from the court system!

    So that won’t be helpful in this situation, but I do think the sensitively-worded mass posting as suggested by the Captain is the way to go.

  2. My parents very much relied on the gossip network. My mum sent a group email to all her close friends and included something along the lines of “I hope you will inform those who may not hear through other means.” My dad told a couple colleagues and relied on them to spread the news. There were awkward moments for a surprising number of years but the bulk of people knew quite quickly.

  3. Jill said:

    Don’t stress so much about the people that will express anger at you! When I announced a high risk pregnancy, I was blown away by the number of women at work., church, & extended family that shared their own scary pregnancy, miscarriage, and other women’s health experiences – all that I never knew about before. I think you’ll find many more people that approach you with sympathy and “Hey, I’ve been there too” kind of conversation way more than the people who will be mad at you for keeping this private.

    A good script if you get jerks is, “I’m sure you can understand why I wouldn’t want to talk about this” then walk away or stare pointedly. The “I’m sure you can understand” phrase is a gentle but firm reminder that they aren’t putting themselves in your place. Anyone who keeps on pressing after that really is a lunkhead not worthy of your time.

  4. Nicole said:

    Immediate family (re: parents and sisters) knew we were in marriage counseling before the ultimate demise. They were also the people who saw the slow deterioration of my marriage so this came as no surprise. Similarly, closest friends new in some e-mail chains that we were in a “rough patch” and likely the virtual news-breaking wasn’t so harsh. Eventually, once the decision was made and he moved out, it was phone calls to my parents, a group text to my sisters, and eventually an update to the closest friends. Other people eventually came out of the woodwork to ask, similarly with sentiments of “I had no idea!” Well, uh, good, because a) it doesn’t pertain to you and b) that’s the point of keeping private business private.

    I understand these are hard conversations to have, but for some people you might come across that you won’t see again soon (weird business acquaintances or the like), I think my default response was initially just to nod and smile and wait for that gossip network to make its way back around and catch the people who fell through the cracks the first go-round.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if, nearly a year after the fact, some people genuinely still don’t know we’re divorced. I didn’t make a big deal of it (no kids, no real big issues other than I wanted out) and thankfully he wasn’t so hurt that he went on a murderous social media rampage or anything. I kept it mostly mum, only really telling my grandmother about 6 months after it happened. Remember, you don’t owe ANYONE an explanation or an apology or anything, really. If you want to update them to avoid the awkwardness, sure, go for it. People who get all up in your business after, as the Captain said, are really worth stepping away from right now.

    Virtual hugs. Divorce is tough no matter the circumstances. Hope you and Kid are taking lots of time together for fun, stress-reducing things right now.

  5. tinyorc said:

    I’ve never been divorced, but I did use Technique #2: Harnessing the Power of Gossip when my dad got very suddenly and dramatically sick a few years ago. I was living abroad and had to drop everything and rush home with nothing but the clothes on my back and a toothbrush, not entirely sure if my dad was still going to be alive when I got off the plane at the other end. I was sick with worry and delirious with exhaustion and the last thing I wanted to do was tell anyone I was home or talk to them about what my family were going through. However – after running into a friend on the street in my relatively small city who greeted me with a delighted “No way, it’s TINYORC! I thought you were still half way across the globe! What are you doing here!? When did you get back!?” and watching his face melt into utter mortification and distress after I haltingly explained the circumstances of my return – I decided that I needed to take some necessary practical steps.

    I tried to write an email to send off to my closest friends, but getting the wording and the tone right was so stressful in itself that I ended up crying at the screen in frustration. In the public foyer of the hospital. So eventually, I just called A Trusted Friend, and was like “Hello, I’m back in the country, this has happened, I’m doing ok but really don’t want to see anyone or talk about it. Can you get the word out?”

    And he is awesome, so he did. And there was basically no unpleasant fallout or awkwardness after that. I got a few emails and texts with condolences. When I did eventually run into friends, and later started feeling ok enough to actively seek company, people mainly kept it to “I’m so sorry, I hope you’re doing ok. We don’t have to talk about it, but I’m here if you want to.” The vast majority of people are going to understand your desire not to talk about the painful details, and leave it at that.

    Anyone who says anything along the lines of “OMG, why didn’t you TELL ME!? I thought we were CLOSE” or uses your reticence as an excuse to get offended… those people are not safe or good people for you to be around right now, or maybe in general. Withdraw, heal and reassess those relationships.

    • Bibliophilian said:

      This technique is really my preferred method for handling crisis. It lets my friends “circle the wagons” around anyone that needs it without broadcasting personal details across social media.

      It basically works as the Captain said: you (person undergoing crisis) just have to let a few close friends know what’s going on. Those friends are responsible for semi-discreetly (no public posts) passing on that information to the remainder of the circle.

      The conversation can be initiated by the Person-in-crisis, or any friends who are aware of what’s going on.

      If you’re activating the system, you say: “Hey, [Crisis] is going on, and I don’t really feel up to talking about it with everyone. Can you let the rest of [group] know what’s up? It would be really helpful if they could [send puppies/bring food/get me out of the house].”

      If you’re asking if someone else would like to use the system: “I know [crisis] is really tough for you. Would it be helpful if I let [group] know what’s going on? (if yes) How much information do you want me to give? Would it help if they [send puppies/bring food/get you out of the house]?”

      • Anon said:

        Yes – when my husband was in the ICU with a health crisis that would require major follow up work once he was discharged, I called 3 friends and basically asked them to get the word out, focusing on: 1) what had happened, 2) what was next, 3) how could people help if they wanted, 4) how I would indicate we were ready for visitors/well wishers. Those friends were my lifeline, who allowed me to focus on what I needed to focus on, but also making it so I didn’t have to go through 80 “What happened?!?!” questions during and afterwards.

  6. miss_chevious said:

    When my nine year live-in relationship ended, I handled it with a mass email to the close friends I knew would be hurt if I didn’t tell them. It said this: “I’m not really sure how to put this, so I guess I’ll just say it outright: NAME and I have broken up. For good. I’m not really in a place to talk about it right now, but I wanted everyone to know so we can avoid the awkward conversation stoppers later. I’ll give you all the details when I’m a little steadier on my feet.”

    Everyone was really cool about it, and supportive, and no one bugged me. And after a few months when I could talk about it without having a meltdown, I did reach out, and everyone was really interested and supportive then, too.

  7. anon for this said:

    On a similar note – a somewhat emotionally reticent friend lost a parent recently. I’ve been trying to be as supportive as possible in the sense of providing distraction, and at first providing some material / emotional support to the family, but as I don’t see them too frequently, I’ve been wondering what the best way to provide a potential emotional outlet (or at least safe place) might be, without being the person who’s constantly insisting on knowing “How do you feeeeeeeel today? *intense overbearing CareStare*”.

    Any tips from people who have navigated similar?

    I don’t want to derail this too far from the LW’s letter, of course – priority is on figuring out the best way to transmit news without people like me running around worrying about how rudely they’re coming off! Feel free to delete if necessary.

    • vorsoisson said:

      Anon, I love that you realize that providing distraction is a way of helping. I’ve had good luck with just saying straight out “I want to be here for you in whatever way I can, whether that’s distracting you with other things or talking about it; let me know if you want to talk instead of being distracted.” Or, conversely, when they’re clearly having a tough day, saying “You seem to be having a tough day – do you want to talk about it? We can also just go back to discussing Doctor Who if you prefer.” Sometimes being able to babble cheerfully at someone about fantasy novels really is the most helpful service you can provide.

      And for other offers of help, I wholeheartedly endorse the standard advice that offering concrete things (“I would like to do thing X for you”) instead of just a generic “anything you need” offer is amazingly helpful if you can manage it. A friend of mine just organized our friends to finish moving me out of my apartment and took care of getting the keys back to the landlord so that I could fly across the country to be with my grandmother when she died. It was something which would never have occurred to me to ask for, and was absolutely amazing and exactly what I needed. Not to discourage you from making open-ended offers, too! But if you see something concrete that your friend needs, it’s an incredible gift to be able to offer it.

    • KellyK said:

      Maybe asking what they need? Saying things like, “Hey, i want to be supportive. Do you want to talk about it, or would you rather I distract you with fun things?”

    • JayJay said:

      I would offer something specific (meals, grocery shopping, pet care, transport, whatever you can provide) and resolve not to take it personally if they say no. Keep offering. Stay in touch. I would also write an actual condolence note – paper, pen, stamp, the whole deal – with some memories of the deceased, if you knew him/her, or a nice comment about how proud the parent would be of the person you do know. Actual condolence notes are lovely things.

      A “safe place” looks different to different people – some people need a respite from The Bad Thing and thus do well with a semblance of normal.

      • miss_chevious said:

        Cannot second the recommendation of the actual condolence letter highly enough. I did it when a friend of mine lost her mother because it had been impressed upon me in my youth that condolence letters were a Thing, and years later my friend told me that she still had it and read it when she missed her mother, because it was nice to know her mom had made an impact on other people, too.

    • If it’s anything like when I lost my mom or my friend, everyone, everyone, EVERYONE in that person’s life is already asking that. Everyone. EVERYONE. ALL THE TIME. At work, with family, with friends. Everyone. Not to mention getting super weird about how to help, or just flapping their mouths silently like fish while they figure out what to say, or offering vague support.

      And as someone who’s choosy about where I air my feelings: Don’t worry about providing a safe place; just *be* one. Grief is like a plastic shopping bag full of water: It’s going to spring leaks, and the person holding the bag never quite knows when that’ll happen or what’ll prompt it.

      Here are some wordy-ass listening tips, though it sounds like you’re already doing a great job:

      – When they bring up stuff related to the death, don’t put on a big “compassionate listening face”; just, y’know, listen.

      – If they mention feeling guilt or some other big, weird feeling, don’t jump in saying “No, don’t think about that!” or “No, that’s not true!” Bear witness. That is your job.

      – Poke them to see if they want to go out or need anything, but leave it up to them whether the grief thing comes up.

      – When you offer help, make it REAL clear what level of help you’re offering. When I mentioned to a friend that my mom was tests-at-the-oncologist sick, she interrupted me to say “If you need something, lemme know. You need a ride an hour south in the middle of the night to be there, call me.” At that point, I didn’t even know I’d need anything; knowing what level of interruption she could handle helped me months later when I really did need a hand for something.

      – Don’t be offended if they talk to someone else about what’s on their mind, and don’t dig at them. After I lost my mom, I was practically hounded by people making a big show of the helping, and I clammed up almost completely about it around anyone but family because people kept asking “How *are* you?” and looking disappointed when I didn’t grieve on the spot about it. I finally ended up talking about it to a coworker, because he was the first person outside my tight inner circle I’d talked to who wasn’t cowed by the hugeness of losing a parent, and just quietly listened and asked questions about what I was saying. You know, like an actual conversation, instead of making me be an exhausted audience for another on-the-spot production of Watch Me Help The Grieving And Relieve Their Suffering So I Get To Be The Hero And Don’t Have To Think Anymore About How Super Awkward I Feel.

    • boutet said:

      My dad passed away last year. I think the best thing I very rarely received (and could have used a lot more of) was offers of a specific activity and time and no pressure to attend. Like,” would you like to go to x movie on x day? I’ll text you the day before to see if you’re up for it.” That way there was a concrete plan that I did not have to contribute to at all, and they were doing the checking up to see if the plans were on. It also gave me a clear and clearly acceptable way to decline.
      Mostly I got a lot of vague come-see-you-sometime-soon type offers that never came to anything but stuck in my mind. Both as a disappointment that they didn’t follow through and also a vague guilt that maybe I was supposed to contact them first or something.
      If you can do the heavy lifting on the friendship end of things for a little while it will help a lot.

  8. Cara said:

    I am currently going through this right now. i told all my immediate friends and told them to relay it to others. However at work, it is so awkward. Because honestly I dont think it’s my works business, but people awkwardly ask about my husband and i wince as well. I guess it finally has to come out, bc i am not bringing him to the company christmas party next year. haha. I just am scared it will harm my work image, and am super paranoid about that.

  9. Sioushi said:

    Him. My advice would be more succinct:
    1. Change Facebook status to “divorced” or “single” or whatever the best option is.
    2. Pull direct supervisor aside and inform him/her you are now a single parent. Make it clear you are giving this information because single parenthood may affect your working hours, not because you want to discuss it. (Unless you do.)

    That’s it. Shocked people may message you or, more likely, turn to a family member/friend for details. You may want, as CA suggests, to prime someone as an info source. But the fact that you are NOT forthcoming should be a very clear signal that you are not ready to rehash details, and hopefully most people will give you space and respect.

    Actual family members may be hurt to find out second hand or via social media, so you may ask one family member to tell the rest. Or not. Do what you n need to. I wish you the best.

    • Painted_lady said:

      I agree with you to an extent. However, I have a friend who changed her Facebook status rather than make an announcement, and then a few months later started posting pictures with her new boyfriend. It was amazing the number of people who were like, “CHRIST ON A CRACKER WHO THE FUCK IS THAT GUY DOES HUSBAND KNOW” and then went back, checked her relationship status, and immediately posted, “Oh. Sorry. Didn’t see that change.” I’m not saying it’s the wrong approach, but I do think because people don’t often see the change of relationship status as readily as they do other posts (I, at least, see far fewer of those, even from people whose other posts I see) that it might lead to more awkward questions later on.

      • Muddie Mae said:

        Yeah, it doesn’t show up on your newsfeed anymore, unless you go the other way (single to anything else). They used to post it with a picture of a broken heart… stay classy, Facebook.

        • I always felt like that was so horrible. The one and only time I had to make that change, it was terribly humiliating to see the sympathetic comments that came under that little broken heart, especially since I was completely furious about the way it all went down. I’m so glad that function isn’t there anymore!

        • They still do? Idk I saw one yesterday with a big broken heart that said “So and so has ended their relationship.” I wonder how much it has to do with an individuals privacy settings.

          On that note though, the so and so in question handled it very gracefully. She responded to all of the “what? whys?” with the exact same copy+paste response of “it just wasn’t working, we remain a team caring for our kids, sometimes you work better apart than together and i wish ex all the best”

          • Muddie Mae said:

            Huh, maybe they took it away and then brought it back?

          • Possibly. It is the tacky sort of thing facebook seems to love doing!

          • The Facebook algorithm decides what it thinks you want to see, so if you, for a personal example, have a friend who posts thousands of things about ‘bad’ chemicals in foods and you reply to each one with something along the lines of “EVERYTHING IS CHEMICALS BECAUSE SCIENCE”, then FB will only show you the one post your auntie made last year about GMOs and nothing about the long hospital stay.

          • aw said:

            When I changed my status to “separated” last fall, it asked me if I wanted it displayed on my profile/friends’ news feeds. I opted not to display the painful, silly little “broken heart” but instead posted a status update (see comment way down below). Worked out quite well in my situation.

    • golden peanut said:

      “2. Pull direct supervisor aside and inform him/her you are now a single parent. Make it clear you are giving this information because single parenthood may affect your working hours, not because you want to discuss it.”

      In cases of major life upheaval, common advice is to inform your supervisor and stress that it won’t affect the quality of your work. Regardless of whether your supervisor cares about you as a person, and I hope they do though not everyone is that lucky, their first priority has to be making sure the work gets done. Affects to working hours should be downplayed.

      Also, supervisors hear about many people’s personal problems. They also gossip about many people’s person problems. If that is the desired route for spreading the news, then do nothing. If not, Supervisor needs to hear that you prefer they keep this information private.

      • Beth B said:

        Good addendum about making it clear to your supervisor how you want the news handled.

        My job entails, among other things, being a sort of communication center for a whole lot of people who are technically coworkers but have highly variable levels of actual day-to-day contact with each other. Whenever somebody comes to me with news of bereavement/illness/upheaval/etc in their lives, I try to ask whether they want me to keep it private, or announce it to everyone so they don’t have to, or announce it to a subset of everyone, or some other option — and stress that they don’t have to decide right that minute, and I’ll keep it private until then. If you know going in how you want your supervisor to handle the communication of the news, and can be upfront with them about that, it will help them a lot to do what you want rather than accidentally doing the most awkward thing possible.

        (I am, of course, here assuming that your supervisor is someone you trust to do what you’ve requested. If not, well, you know better than us what you need to do to manage that relationship, but I still don’t think it can hurt to go in with clear expectations about what you would like them to do and not do.)

  10. I’m going to disagree with the Facebook suggestion. My experience is similar to the LW but from the opposite site re: FB.

    Like the LW, I initiated proceedings to separate from my ex. I told my family in person, and my close friends have a private group on Facebook so I told them there.

    My ex didn’t tell anybody (not even his parents – I broke the news to them). Presumably he told somebody but in the end he did a public announcement on Facebook about the end of the relationship. I wasn’t particularly pleased, especially because he was still ‘friends’ with some of my friends and family members. Things were said in the comments by other people that upset both them and me (when word got back to me). The way I see it, you wouldn’t get up at a general party/in the office/on a street corner and make a blanket announcement about the end of the relationship.

    Now I understand that you’re not interested in managing other people’s feelings (and that’s OK!) but the last thing you want is to have to moderate/delete a conversation that gets nasty/dramatic/negative/crappy. It is worth considering:
    1 – who your Facebook friends are
    2 – how many mutual friends you have with ex
    3 – how all of those people are likely to react in what is, essentially, a public space

    I think emails, private messages, private groups (you could even create ‘events’ to share the news with different groups of people) etc are preferable to a general posting on Facebook – at least then you can control the audience and minimise potential conflict.

    • JenniferP said:

      This is all good info. I think the post I’m thinking of was filtered to the person’s circle.

    • Groovy Biscuit Intervention said:

      Mmmm. I see your point.

      While I was in the process of splitting up with an ex who I’d lived with for several years, we went to a (pre-booked) social event with a group of (mainly his) friends, at a time when the whole not-being-a-couple-anymore thing was new and I was still not really sure how to handle it. During the course of the day it became apparent that, without telling me, my ex had told everyone else present about or breakup, most of whom came up to me at some point or another to tell me how sorry they were, how it was such a shame, and so on.

      And the thing is, ex was perfectly entitled to end the relationship that wasn’t the right thing for him; and was perfectly entitled to tell people about it… but I would *really* have appreciated a heads up that other people knew. I spent the day feeling incredibly uncomfortable and trapped (the event was out of town, and I had no real way of getting home until it was finished). Had I known he planned to tell people that day, I could have prepared myself to reply to people’s sympathies, or chosen not to go in the first place. It felt very much like sabotage. (LW, think about it from the flipside – imagine if, during the time you kept what was going on carefully to yourself, everyone suddenly knew and came up to you to talk about it!)

      Obviously, what I’ve described was a much less intense situation than a divorce in a relationship where you’ve had a child – but that makes it potentially more of issue. LW, I’m not suggesting that you should defer to your ex-wife in what you communicate or with whom – you’re free to tell whomever you want whatever you want. But, it might be worth considering whether/what you feel you can also communicate with her about the fact you’re doing that. Even if the people you’re telling are primarily ‘yours’, they may know her, too; or be friends of friends; or there may be connections through your child (e.g.parents of classmates/playmates); and things could become messy when I imagine you’d rather keep them as civil as possible. Is there any mileage in advising your ex that you will be beginning to let others know about your divorce (or, if you think she might react unpredictably or in some way sabotage things, at least let her know after you’ve done so but before she starts hearing about it from other people)? And, depending on the age and level of understanding your child has of what the situation is, you may also want to think about preparing them for other people knowing about it, too.

      • MargoVictorious said:

        I agree. I think the Captain’s advice is excellent and under more normal circumstances Facebook would work just fine. But I worry about a FB post when the Letter Writer describes his ex as abusive with mental health issues.

        That was my brother’s exact situation during his divorce a few years ago. If he had announced it on Facebook it would have created a lot more drama for him and his kids. Yes, you can adjust the post to only go out to certain people, but once people start commenting on it any one of their friends can see it. And if my sister-in-law had seen one it would have set her off. If the LW does choose the Facebook route, it is important that he send it as a Facebook MESSAGE instead of just a post. Then he can better control who sees it. (My cousin just did this last month and it seems to have worked out well.)

        In my brother’s case, he did exactly what the Captain also suggested. Our mother is The World’s Most Gossipy Busybody, which has plagued her children all our life, but all those years were worth it for the magic it worked in this case. He asked her to tell people and she sent an email to all of our family and friends. She briefly explained the situation and then asked them to be understanding and give him space and privacy to deal with it. She was so happy to have a way to help him and he was happy not to have to deal with it. (My brother isn’t exactly and email/Facebook kind of guy.) As a side bonus it also gave him an easy way to tell our mother exactly what he did and didn’t need, while giving her something productive to do so she didn’t feel shut out of caring for her son.

        The added benefit of having a third party spread the news is that they can be blunt about leaving you alone in a way that you can’t without it coming across as rude. My mom could spell out exactly what my brother did and didn’t need without putting people off since it came across as sort of he-would-never-tell-you-this-himself-but…

        Jedi hugs to you, Letter Writer. I wish you and your child a happier, healthier road ahead.

    • Painted_lady said:

      You have a really good point, but another friend did something similar when she and her husband divorced (I’m just realizing how many of my friends have gone through a divorce in the last 18 months, haha. I guess I’m at the age where all the “got married young” types are now realizing why it’s not *always* the best idea to do that). BUT, she did say something to the effect of, “I still plan on remaining friends with Ex, and please be sensitive to the fact that many of our mutual friends and family are still going to remain part of my life if you choose to leave a comment on this post.” I don’t think there was anyone who disrespected that.

      • JenniferP said:

        Good approach!

        • Yeah, she and Ex didn’t actually remain all that friendly, but for that post, it was a really useful approach, even if it wasn’t totally 100% honest. People aren’t entitled to that anyway.

      • Marvel said:

        Yeah, I think this is a good approach. Back when I used Facebook (I eventually gave up on it), I would often preface or addendum posts like that, if there were certain responses I explicitly Did Not Want.

      • Nice! I’ve had to remind friends bickering with each other in my FB comments that “Guys, I don’t want to hear anything from any of you that you wouldn’t say to each other at my kitchen table.” Naming a familiar space seems to make a big difference!

      • The first thing I thought of was that LW should probably be wary of friends who hear the news and then unload on the Ex with both barrels under the misapprehension that this is helpful.

  11. Different scenario but the technique might work. When my grandparents passed away none of us really felt like dealing with making a million phone calls where we had to say the same thing and then hear the same thing. My uncle was sort of unofficially elected to write up a generic “this happened, we are sad” post and then the rest of us in the immediate family went ahead and shared away (my mom also made a list of people who don’t use facebook and we divided up who would be responsible for breaking the news). That kind of sharing at will might not be your jam, but it was a very effective way of getting the word out while providing a nice big internet buffer around all of us (I personally was able to avoid reading the comments until several days after, because while all were nice I didn’t have the energy for sympathy, something I couldn’t avoid in person).

    • monologue said:

      Jumping off of your comment because it’s also about people passing away and not divorce and I don’t want to massively derail the thread. Anyway, 2 things quickly.

      – when my mom died, I did a post to all my fb friends without filtering or anything. Because I didn’t filter, I kept the post as concise and light as I could. I let people know she died and how and that I would miss her, and accompanied that with one of my fav recent photos of us together. Anyone who wanted to talk about it more or ask me about funeral arrangements, I took those conversations to fb messenger or another medium. Would accompanying your post with a cute photo of you and your son be appropriate here? Maybe to be like, we have sad news but also here’s son and I chillin doing this, we’re gonna get through it.

      – I can definitely second the tell other people to spread the word if you don’t feel like it bit. If you want, you could think of someone you know won’t mind the task of “pls tell mom’s side of the family this news” or “pls tell the rock climbing friend group this news” for some of the big networks of family and acquaintances that you want to have the news but that you don’t feel the need to give half an hour of major detail to. If it’s someone you’re close to and trust, then you can even ask them, “pls don’t get into this or that conflict that you know about that I don’t want everyone to know in detail etc.” A ton of people attended my mom’s funeral and I spoke personally with like 10-20 of them maybe to tell them the news. The rest was social phone/email tree + newspaper ad.

      • monologue said:

        Whoops, sorry, just realized I fucked up and can’t edit. I was thinking you mentioned your son in the OP, LW, but actually no gender was mentioned. Sorry about that!

  12. J. said:

    LW, I’m sorry this has happened. I am betting that the next chapter of your story will be better.

    I third (or whatever) the idea of letting others spread the word. I was recently in a situation more like tinyorc’s than like yours (family illness, had to quit my job and leave my life abroad and come back to an unhappy situation) and I just could not talk about it to anyone without bursting into tears. Putting in the resignation was a misery, but I finally gathered the courage to tell my office mates that I was leaving. I asked them to please spread the word for me, because I wasn’t ready to tell all the random people at work. They did, within a few days, and I got nothing but comfort and support from people who heard. Even kind acknowledgments were hard, but that was a measure I could handle. It got better over time. I hope you have a similarly supportive network and that time will be on your side. Wishing you well.

    (tinyorc, sorry to hear about your experience. I relate. Your words are right on.)

  13. LouBee said:

    I’ve ended a couple significant long-term relationships in my adult life. The first time, I was very restrictive with details as things were spiraling down because I have a tendency to want to put on a strong face, not ask for help, etc. Once I finally disclosed to my close friends how bad things had gotten, they expressed surprise because I had never reached out to them in the darkest moments. They did NOT get mad at me for leaving them out though – rather, they showed me love and gently reminded me that I could rely on them both during and after the storm – that I didn’t have to wait until I was done crying to call them. That was so important for me to hear. This most recent time ending a relationship, I definitely took that to heart and had a few select people who got all the nitty gritty throughout – I think this helped cut down on my own feelings of failure and shame about things ending (again) because I had had some positive reinforcements all along.

    Anyway, if you don’t have those power people in your life right now, that is something to consider as you cast characters for this next chapter.

    Of course that leaves a large swath of looser friends, family, and associates who still aren’t going to be in the know until post-storm (and don’t need to be until then). I have an aunt who cannot keep her mouth shut, so she is definitely a go-to for me once I want all my family to know something but I don’t want to be the one to tell them. I don’t even have to say, “can you let everyone else know?” because she just will. Ha.

    As far as other people go – don’t put too much pressure on yourself to notify everyone. Start slow – practice with key confidants or those who probably need to know, like your boss or close coworkers who will notice if you’re inexplicably not on your game. It will become easier to tell more people with some practice. The words will flow better and not feel so heavy and cumbersome. Low-ranked social media friends will figure it out eventually if they care – I tend to notice that the people in the pictures change – for example you will probably post more photos of just you and your kid. If someone cares, they might reach out and say, “hey I just noticed…are things ok?”. Or they will just go about their way passively caring or not caring about their facebook friends’ lives.

    All the best to you. Take your time and be kind to yourself. Sometimes we have to push things forward and other times we can let them just unfurl on their own – both have their place.

  14. Loren said:

    I understand the reticence to make a PUBLIC Facebook post that might not be best. But when my father died a few years ago I told my boss, and a few good friends and asked them to spread the word specifically so that I did not have to have a million difficult conversations. It really does help.
    I have also been on the ‘tell people’ side of the conversation and spread the word about more than one break-up/divorce/death in the family for good friends. Pick a couple people you know you can trust, give them as many details as you are comfortable, be sure to include what is happening with small child, that you were the one that ended it, and ask them to let other people know.
    Another positive is that If the relationship was verbally/emotionally abusive this might help head off any kind of damaging misinformation the ex might try to spread. The letter didn’t mention anything like this but with bad relationships it can be a common occurrence.

    • VG said:

      I had other people spread the word when my husband died, and then again when my father died, for exactly the same reason. With a marriage, you’ll probably still find yourself re-explaining even years down the line, because new acquaintances will ask if you’re married, or if there are kids they’ll ask about the child’s other parent. (Sometimes other kids will ask too – I’ve had to explain to more than one child that my daughter’s dad can’t come to the campout/school play/etc. because he’s dead, not because he doesn’t want to.) But, those are one-off conversations, plus as time passes it gets easier to say “Nope, divorced” or “Oh, s/he died a long time ago” and move things along quickly.

  15. ordinarygoddess said:

    Oh, Unmasked, I feel for you. That’s a sad and hard situation to be in. I also went through an Extremely Discreet Divorce, which went down the way it did basically because my ex and I (I in a very public-facing job, he trying to run a small business, in a small town) were both pretty much terrified of gossip and there was an “I will not air the emotional and economic abuse, and you will not out Teh Queer” agreement between us. We did all the paperwork ourselves, nailed down an airtight agreement, spent ten minutes in front of a judge, I threw my wedding ring in a river and we got the hell on with our lives. Living six blocks apart and talking twice a year.

    We did such a good job of it that I had people stopping me in the grocery store A YEAR LATER to try to get me to guilt him into returning their phone calls. (A phenomenon that, not incidentally, led at least in part to my finally filing for divorce in the first damn place: being expected to “wife AT” a guy who had no respect or sense of partnership for/with me.) It was very awkward and uncomfortable and upsetting.

    One of the most uncomfortable conversations, that as turned out later to be of great comfort to me, was an out-of-the-blue phone call from a friend I’d lost touch with, with whom I’d last spoken four or five years before the divorce. When I told him of my new circumstances, he gushed, “But you guys were so GOOD together!” and I hesitated and said, “No… not really – actually, faking the good-together as well as we did is just an indicator of how controlling and repressive the situation really was.” And the floodgates opened and I talked for probably fifteen minutes solid, sobbing for a good part of it. At the end, my friend was very quiet for a minute, and then said, “So… basically… you’re divorced because therapy works.” WORDS OF TRUTH AND BEAUTY that I have carried in my heart ever since.

    I absolutely nth talking to your boss, in the ways and for the reasons other people have covered above, and talking to SOMEONE about all of it, likewise. Unfortunately I don’t have any advice to offer for friends and family – I have very little family, and as we moved cross-country not that long before the beginning of the final collapse, my friends are mostly either 1.) very close long-time friends from our old community who knew the whole story as it was going down, or 2.) new friends who never knew him. I cannot strongly enough encourage you to make some new friends as you settle into your new normal. New Normal should be YOURS. I can’t tell you how awesome it is, a few years on, to have the love and friendship of people who never knew the timid and broken woman I was before my divorce, who see me as strong and smart and self-sufficient and capable. It’s weird and wonderful.

    For the casual inquirer, some scripts that worked for me:

    – How’s your husband? – Not my husband anymore, I really don’t know. [Steadfast awkward silence]
    – Can you tell $ex [message]? – Nope, I actually don’t have an up-to-date phone number for him anymore. [Steadfast awkward silence]
    – How are your kids? – Good, busy with [ONE current, publicly known current interest - sport, club, whatever.] [Change subject, disinvite further travel down the Smalltown Children-Are-Everybody's-Property gossip rabbithole]
    – You’re married to [the guy who runs that business], right? – Nope.
    – You have a wonderful family. – Thank you. [My kids and new partner ARE my family.]
    – I saw $ex last week, he told me you split up! How awful, what happened? – Well, as he told you, we split up. [Steadfast awkward silence.]
    – Are you staying friends? – Nope. [Steadfast awkward silence]
    – What about the children? – The children are fine, thank you. [see above]
    – But you were so good together! – Well, it did seem that way, didn’t it? Not so much, actually.
    – Are you okay? – As well as can be expected. This [workplace, grocery store, etc] is really the last place in the world I’d like to discuss it. We could go out for a beer sometime. [People who actually, you know, CARE, will take that as an explicit invitation and follow up. People who are making social-convention smalltalk will recognize the emotional mine and step around it.]

    I hope that helps you. I wish you all the best on your new, better, less frightened and angry and secretive life. *solidarity high-fives*

    • Painted_lady said:

      It floors me how stupid some people can be about public vs private faces of relationships, romantic or otherwise. I had a couple of people comment after my last relationship ended say things like, “But you guys were so good together!” I was so gutted at the time that I had no emotional energy for a filter and started snapping things like, “Obviously not, since we broke up.” Or in one case with someone really pushy, “You know, that’s funny, I thought we were too, till the night he came over and dumped me out of the blue and told me I should have seen it coming. I felt pretty stupid, and you’re reminding me of that. Please stop.” I’m currently in the process of disentangling myself from a pretty toxic relationship with my father, which ATM involves not speaking to him at all. And several people have expressed similar surprise: “But he seems like such a good guy!” My response is, “If he really were, I’d still be talking to him, don’t you think?” I finally got over the idea that I need to put on a happy face and deal with things privately. For me – which I realize is not for everyone – it’s much easier to be blunt and not pretend things are okay so that people know quickly if they continue to push, it’s going to be more uncomfortable than maybe they wanted. I didn’t do the shitty things my dad and my ex did, so it’s not my job to pretend we’re still totally awesome. And I don’t have to make sure other people aren’t embarrassed for fishing for information that isn’t anyone else’s business.

      • Oh dear!

        I had the opposite problem: ‘well we never liked him anyway, we were just being polite’.

        We had split because things had fizzled, but we remained best friends and so that was NOT a helpful response from friends & family. Made me feel even more alone at a time when I needed support.

        OP, I hope your life from here on is positive and enjoyable, and your friends respond with consideration.

      • ordinarygoddess said:

        Right?!? I cut my out-of-touch friend some slack because it seemed like it was more of a “this happened while I was away” thing than a “what I am not astute enough to observe must not exist” thing, but I was always just floored by people who knew us at the time it was happening and insisted that their perceptions were more valid than mine.

        I did soemtimes reply to the “seems like such a good guy” comments with a very deliberate, even-toned “yes, he is very charming/charismatic/does come off that way” – and the inquirer got very quiet, went, “…oh,” and went away. People know this stuff if they just THINK, but too often they don’t stop to THINK.

    • Muddie Mae said:

      “As well as can be expected.” is one of my favorite phrases of ever. It’s honest, vague, and doesn’t really invite further questions. It has it all!

    • caseymoocow said:

      I have used (when getting phone calls for my ex years after he moved out) “He doesn’t live here anymore” [awkward silence].

  16. stickyrice said:

    My in-laws (big, emotionally-close extended family spread across many states) have designated one person as the Family Communicator. When something happens (good news, bad news, Big Life Changes of various sorts), if you email her, she’ll make sure the word passes. It’s remarkably helpful to have the “who do I tell?” question answered up front – I tell my immediate in-laws, and Aunt B. Solved.

    • attica said:

      My aunt is going through a Health Thing at the moment. When it began, it was agreed that information would pass through one of her kids, to limit the ‘what’s going on’ back-and-forths. In my aunt’s (she’s 85 and adorbs) words, “When there’s an update, [Cousin] will send an Internet.”

  17. I have to say, I really dislike the word gossip as it’s used in the Captain’s post. Gossip is a negative, often nasty, speculative thing that people do when they share things that are not their business with other people who also have no business knowing. By very definition it cannot be gossip when you ask someone to tell your mutual loved/liked-ones. That’s people helping people, and I think hanging this negative word on it makes it harder to ask people to help you – something that many of us have trouble with already.

    • Beth B said:

      I’d say the opposite: gossip is a word that describes the sharing of news about third parties who aren’t present in a conversation. This can be a kind service to someone who doesn’t want to give the same update a hundred times, as described in this post; it can be a fairly neutral way of maintaining community ties in a close-knit community (whether a geographical one or not); it can be negative, back-biting, negative speculation used to ostracize or to keep people in their place. The fact that some people immediately associate the word only with the third version doesn’t negate the others.

      • Laboratory Unicorn said:

        Also, gossip is highly gendered. I’m with Beth on this, it mostly works as a way of getting info around now that I’m with friends of mine.

    • JenniferP said:

      Like Beth and Lab Unicorn said, I don’t have that same association with “gossip.” It CAN be negative, but it is, at its base, people (usually seen as women) sharing news and talking about people who aren’t around. It serves a social function!

      • uuuuuuuuuuuh said:

        This is why I prefer to say “Lashon Hara” when criticising the act of sharing information about someone even though it’s a bit of hebrew jargon, since it has a very specific meaning of “Negative but truthful things you say about someone else when you have no business talking about said negative things”. For example “so-and-so broke up with their SO, you should not ask how the former SO is doing via so-and-so” anymore is not lashon hara because it is not negative and is factually valuable and desired by both parties to be public.

    • Jenna said:

      Gossip is a thing that humans do, and have done forever. It’s a cultural tool, and one of the things that just about every culture that I have heard of has in common. Like many tools( matches, knives, screwdrivers, power saws, debt, contracts…) it can be used to build or destroy, to help or to harm. News often needs to spread, and humans have always networked.
      Criticism of gossip is often gendered. Women gossip, and men do things like run newspapers or media empires. I generalize, but, it’s often true that the men or the people in power get the media, and women get to gossip.
      This particular instance is a leveraging of social networking savvy to spread interpersonal news now, to save pain and embarrassment later, and possibly to get support for needed tasks(play dates, watching the kidlet, social support). This is useful, and an example of using the tool to build.
      I have seen gossip used to tear people down, too, with speculation, destruction and harm intended.
      Look at that list of tools. Speculation, destruction and harm intended with matches, knives, screwdrivers, power saws, debt, or contracts can wreck havoc, too.

  18. Phira said:

    So I really appreciate this letter because I’ve been irritated and angry at my brother for the past year because he didn’t tell me that he was getting a divorce. He told our parents and our sibling, but my mom had to be the one to tell me (he asked her to). I’ve spent the past year holding a grudge about it, and this letter has helped me let go of that anger. Because what matters is that my brother was going through a really rough situation, and he was afraid to tell people about it, and that ended up meaning that someone else had to tell me on his behalf.

    My point here is NOT that you should be afraid of people getting angry with you, but that there’s definitely this whole, “I HAVE to hear it from the person involved in [dramatic situation] or else I AM HURT” thing that a lot of us cling to, and that’s not fair to you. It wasn’t fair to my brother. I’ve got some apologizing to do.

    • “I’ve spent the past year holding a grudge about it, and this letter has helped me let go of that anger.”

      Aw, a tiny awkward angel just got its wings. :)

  19. This post and its subsequent comments are also really helpful for me. Though I’m not going through a divorce or breakup and hope I never need to again as Current Partner is pretty fucking cool and also got me a pretty fucking cool ring that came in a pretty fucking cool TARDIS he made (yes, my engagement ring box is a TARDIS, be jealous), this definitely makes very clear why some of my mother’s poor sense of boundaries has always gotten under my skin. My entire family on my mother’s side are really terrible at romantic relationships, and as a consequence, there have been quite a few divorces, or long-term breakups as my uncle has only recently been able to marry in his home state. My mom, who is in many ways very awesome, always expresses distress that the divorces are conducted in such a way that the decision is made before she has a chance to know that there’s trouble. As she puts it, “You may be in that place, but I’m just learning about it, so I’m not there yet.” As if anyone needs her to be “there.” Sorry, not trying to threadjack, but reading the letter and some of the comments have made me out into concrete words exactly why that bothers me – she’s upset basically that whomever is getting a divorce isn’t checking in with her, and she needs a chance to get used to the idea, like she’s going to be granting permission, and like everyone else needs to deal with her emotions.

    ANYWAY, to bring it back to the original topic, LW, unfortunately you’re probably going to encounter some people like my mother, who would only be okay with your divorce happening on their schedule and with you running your every emotion by them. There are those people who would make you feel guilty for not telling them before now, when really the only way they would be happy is if you were regularly clueing them in to trouble and were given a play-by-play of the divorce process. Don’t let those people make you feel badly. You don’t owe them anything, and if they feel like you do owe them, then feel free to do what you need to set your boundaries.

    • JenniferP said:

      Ok, there was a Letter Writer who was making a Tardis box for their partner’s engagement ring a while back and now I wonder if you paired off with them and am about to die of sweetness. :)

      And yep, other people’s lives don’t have to conform to your mom’s idea of how they should go, and they don’t have to manage her feelings about their big decisions.

      • He also dressed up in a Ten-type costume and had my favorite piece of music from the score playing when I got home from roller derby practice – I was completely gross, and it was perfect. In this case my mom’s intrusiveness was handled by him beautifully – he sent her a text day of, and she met us after with champagne at a bar by our house because she really just likes to be involved and just sometimes doesn’t…get? why that comes across as self-centered

  20. I don’t that I necessarily recommend this approach, but essentially I didn’t say anything to anyone except for my closest friends until we’d been separated for a while and I started dating someone new. There was general shock on Facebook when I posted a picture or update about something I was doing with New Partner (“what?!? I thought you and X were married? What happened?” Etc) and I just let my lovely gossipy friends handle explaining things to those out of the loop.

    I think I was lucky though (hah, lucky) that most people in my life were aware that my ex was abusive and had some serious issues that she was vomiting all over me and our mutual friends throughout our marriage. And just after our split she sent a really unhinged Facebook message to my parents and brother “helpfully informing them” that I was a bad person and that I shouldn’t have custody of my child anymore. So that was helpful to me in that I didn’t need to explain to my family that ex-wife was abusive and manipulative, because obviously they could see for themselves.

  21. Muddie Mae said:

    My Ex and I split very amicably without kids, so thankfully we were able to tell our closest friends all at once and request that they not try to manage our relationship for us or pass negative info or whatever.

    That said, I still only had so much telling I felt I could do. At work I just told my main boss, and let her tell people. By the time it came up in conversation I was “over it”, so to speak. I didn’t post on Facebook, but my ex did and hid the post from me (at my request). For my parents, I sent them an email that also specified I wasn’t going to be in touch for a couple of weeks.

    One thing I learned the hard way – if you want someone to be the designated news spreader, tell them explicitly. I thought one of my aunts would do it, because she seemed like that kind of person, but in an effort to be respectful of me she didn’t tell anyone. They didn’t find out for 6 months.

    • Stephanie said:

      This is similar to my situation – maybe not “very amicably” but close enough, we weren’t married long, and we had no kids. This was also pre-social media, so these type of concerns were not relevant.

      Anyway, it did take quite a while for the information to filter its way through everyone who needed to know. Someone else upthread mentioned the occasional person a year down the road who won’t know, and that for sure was the way it was for me.

      What was awkward then was that so much time had passed (and I was OK with the split to begin with, so I wasn’t mourning a loss) that when someone found out and instantly went into “OMG HOW HORRIBLE I AM SO SORRY, I DID NOT KNOW” mode, I would just shrug and say “whatever, no problem.” But you could still feel how awkward people felt for not knowing!

      • Muddie Mae said:

        ” someone found out and instantly went into “OMG HOW HORRIBLE I AM SO SORRY, I DID NOT KNOW” mode, I would just shrug and say “whatever, no problem.” ”

        Oof, yeah. I just had a family reunion last week, the first one since Ex and I split up, and it included some of my more geographically distant family who had met him a few times but weren’t necessarily in the loop over the last year. My favorite comment was a slightly upbeat but mostly neutral “so you’re a single lady now”. Oddly enough, that came from a great-uncle I don’t particularly care for. Maybe he was trying to be sarcastic, but I prefer to think not.

  22. Jabey said:

    The Captain’s suggestions regarding spreading the word were great, and should hopefully resolve some of the LW’s anxiety. The problems I experienced in telling people about my divorce were more along the lines of them being startlingly intrusive. I was asked why we were divorcing, told that there are only 3 “accepted” reasons for divorce (according to the Bible), and asked repeatedly if there was infidelity on either part. I don’t know why people felt it was okay to ask such personal questions, and I found myself wishing I had a really great, awesome script (a la the Cap) I could use to politely tell them to go to hell.

    My heart goes out to the LW – I am happy and hopeful for you and your child, and your new beginnings.

    • Laughing Giraffe said:

      The thing that popped into my head, if someone told me there were “acceptable” reasons to get divorced, was “Then I guess I’m getting an unacceptable divorce. See you in hell!”

    • Drew said:

      This is another perfect place for the “Wow” response. “Wow. What an inappropriate question.” Full stop. Let the awkwardness build. If there are other parties present, give it a few seconds and then turn to someone else and start an entirely new conversation, or restart the conversation you were having before the awkwardness. If it’s just you and your interlocutor, now you’ll have a chance to study the expressions of someone desperately trying to find the right words to dig themselves out of a very deep hole. (Or you’ll learn that this person has no boundary sense, when the reply is, “I was just ASKING!”)

  23. Erinwithans said:

    We spammed social media. It’s awkward, especially as someone who had also hidden the problem for a long time (we’d been separated for half a year, and maybe a handful of people knew). We posted everywhere, from facebook to livejournal. We did get some clueless comments, both people expressing shock and even a note that someone was sure we’d work it out (really no we won’t, thanks for weighing in on something about which you know nothing). It was awkward, and caused some conversation for a while, but nearly everyone knew, and those that didn’t heard quickly.

    Best of luck to you, LW. I’m sorry for all the painful parts, and on to a better normal.

  24. Wholelottalove said:

    I’m going through a difficult time right now. (Failed IVF treatment). I’m definitely not putting it all over my social media, but I have used the gossip network. I’ve told the three close friends that I confided in directly that while it is not a secret, there’s no need to actively go out there and spread the word. however they are welcome to tell other friends why we are not at various social events that are coming up if they ask and to stress to them that I do not want to talk about it unless I raise the subject.
    So far everyone has been great. Everyone has respected our privacy and been really understanding.

    I spent some time weighing up what the right option for me would be and thought carefully about who among my friends would handle this the best. Ad no the choice isn’t gendered, it’s personality, not bits, that helped me make my choice.

  25. Courtney said:

    We told a few key people in person and then posted a bare bones announcement on livejournal. Neither of us was on Facebook at the time, though I’m sure others spread it through facebook. When I moved out, I sent a new address email to several friends.

  26. The people closest to me knew it was coming. When I was ready for the world to know I tried the Gossip Network thing, which didn’t pan out because the person I told turned out to be less of a gossip than I thought she was (yay? or possibly boo to me for thinking that about her). I honestly didn’t post anything on Facebook, except to delete my relationship status and change my city. But I also don’t use FB to keep up with family, so everybody on my friends list who “needed” to know found out directly from me. I forget if I told my grandparents. I might have let my dad do it.

    Consider the fact that you don’t actually owe most people this information. You should tell people who are fairly involved in your life, like family and close (or at least frequent) friends, but at work? Tell HR and your boss, to deal with any address or benefits changes and so your boss knows what’s up in case it becomes relevant to your work (especially since you say you’re single-parenting at the moment). The guys you occasionally grab a beer with? Maybe don’t worry so much about the Serious Revelation. It’ll come up eventually, and it’ll probably get around at work, but people tend to be basically tactful. Even without the gritty details it’s an uncomfortable enough topic that if you just say it deadpan the next time someone asks after your wife (“Well, I haven’t spoken to her much since she moved out, but as far as I know she’s fine. How’s your family?”), you’ll get shock, but most people will take their cues from you. I got a lot of mileage out of, “Oh, you didn’t hear? Yeah, that happened a couple of months ago. [subject change].” This actually works really well for lots of things that you don’t want people making a huge deal about.

    I know this is an incredibly hard time for you, but you don’t owe anybody more information than you want to give them, and you certainly don’t owe them a Shakespearean death scene starring your marriage. That won’t stop some people from asking, or even trying to pry it out of you, but that is not your circus and not your monkeys, my friend. “It didn’t work out, I’m doing fine” said matter-of-factly (even if the second part is a lie), is definitely appropriate, and anyone who pushes is being a jerk.

  27. Jen said:

    That was pretty much my approach. I don’t do Facebook, but many of my friends do, so I only needed to tell my two or three closest friends, then asked one them to spread the word there (which she did very well – just a bare bones message that my partner and I had separated, that I was ok but needed a couple of days to myself, I was living at [location] and would welcome visitors after [date]). Then I called my wonderfully understanding boss and explained the situation and asked to take a couple of days sick leave, and also asked him to spread the word around my colleagues. So by the time I was ready to face the world again a few days later (or at least, ready enough that I knew I wouldn’t burst into tears every few minutes), the grapevine had done its work and pretty much everyone knew (and even better, it was already starting to be old news), so I was spared too many difficult conversations.

    Of course, I still ran into the odd person who hadn’t heard (and in fact, I still do occasionally, many months later), but they’re mostly acquaintances rather than good friends, so I can respond to their “How’s [partner]?” with a simple “Actually, we separated in [month], but as far as I know he’s doing ok”, without having to go into details. My close friends know the horribly messy details, nobody else needs to (and if anyone is ever crass enough to ask, they get a “I’d rather not talk about it, thanks”).

  28. Anon said:

    I separates from my abusive ex husband a year ago (woohoo!). My parents and my best friend knew it was coming for about twelve months and were heartily relieved I’d finally called it quits. I told all my other friends and siblings via text message, and received all appropriate non-intrusive responses (hooray good friends). As for acquaintances, I told one person for each ‘group’ and let the grapevine handle it (my old church, my current church, my workplace, my extended family). My parents also told *all* their friends (or at least the grapevine did, as my parents are high profile in their community and divorce is a big deal for them and I suspect my parents also may have let it get out that he was a bit ‘troubled’ (read: ‘abusive’)), so I got quite a surprise when all these people of my parents’ circles that I hadn’t spoken to for ten years came up to me to say they had heard the news and offer sympathy. The whole thing was made a lot easier by the fact that I was so damn relieved to be (mostly) free of him that I had no problem telling anybody who cared that we were separated and I was very happy about it and it was the right decision. I was relieved not to have to tell the minister who married us (old church grapevine took care of that) because I really felt like I had let him down (I know, not logical). But yeah, it was all easier because I really really enjoy affirming how separate we now are.

  29. solecism said:

    In my case, I broke up with abusive ex, moved out, and had to share new contact information with people. When I gave out the new phone number, I made it clear that it wasn’t to be passed along ever to anyone, so that I didn’t have to say don’t share it with my ex who has stalker tendencies. It was 8 years ago now, and I just don’t remember specifics. I told a couple of close friends who I asked to help me move out while my ex was at work. But I think he was the one who broadcast it through our shared social network and beyond as he tried to enlist support in telling me that I was wrong to break up with him. That included going through my personal phone book unbeknowst to me to call up various people in my life including parents and people he’d met only once. Problem solved, I guess? I started getting calls from people wanting to know if I was okay as a result. I ended up doing a lot of apologizing. The whole thing was rather uncomfortable for me because I am private, but this breakup was extremely public as a result of my ex’s actions.

    I don’t have any advice to add to all the excellent stuff already said. Pick out a couple of innocuous replies that you can repeat ad nauseum to people, particularly if they try to press or make it about them. Reevaluate those relationships. Work on developing a good Team You and Kid moving forward. Take care of yourself. Good luck.

  30. I think it’s worth remembering also that people may simply not know how to react (if they didn’t previously know) when you say ‘we separated’ or whatever, and may say something silly or inappropriate out of sheer awkwardness. I would say use your personal knowledge of each individual to colour how you judge THEIR response to YOUR news. An inappropriate or hurtful response, or an insistent “BUT WHAT HAPPENNNNNNNED” may just be Awkward Turtle sticking his neck out – your friend may go home later, stick their head in a cushion, and be utterly mortified at their earlier response. Sometimes it’s good to just Let It Go.

  31. YesVirginia said:

    I recently went through something similar – except that I had no clue the divorce was happening until “Surprise, divorce!” and then everything fell apart all at once. (Details spared, but divorce, cancer, house selling, car breakdown, job loss all at once.) Anyways, the suggestion to put it out there for the gossipy friends is great – Team You can really take off some of the heat. Here are things that really helped me:
    – Having a sort of quick “pat” response and a quick subject change works really well for in person meetings. “Oh, I didn’t even know you were in trouble/getting divorced/having problems!” My standard, “Me either, so don’t feel bad.” You could use something like, “Surprisingly, the red tape is cut pretty fast these days” or “Yeah, it was really quick,” followed by a subject change by asking them a question about their life.
    – Be prepared to have people ask you the most awkward questions – “Did you know?” “Counseling?” “WHYYYY?” Knowing you don’t have to answer them is great. “I just can’t talk about this right now, I hope you’ll understand” is a good response. Some people are hellishly nosey; don’t feel badly about Shutting Them Down.
    – One of my worst problems was FB – people would comment on how much they “Missed me and X” or “You and X were awesome at this thing I used to do.” Private message is your friend: it’s really easy to say, “Just wanted to let you know that X and I got a divorce. Scanty details enough to not allow questions and a hope you are doing well.” For whatever reason, it’s easier than an email to me at least.
    – I also used private messages on FB SO MUCH for when I had to go to a wedding that X would be there. A “Hey, we’re both going to so-and-so’s wedding, I wanted to let you know that X and I are getting a divorce, so I hope you’ll understand if I don’t or do [something that is going to cause me pain, like approach your table when X is there], but I’m really looking forward to seeing you and catching up. Please makes sure to say ‘Hi!'” to me there!”
    – Always, “Munckin and I are taking it one day at a time, but we’re doing as well as can be expected. Thanks for your concern, and I hope you’ll understand if it’s painful for me to talk about right now.” Only but the most insensitive clods will come after you then.
    – Some people really don’t know what to say, and it’s okay to just tell them, “I’d really not like to talk about it” or “I can’t talk about X, but I’d love to hear about your upcoming Africa trip” or “Please don’t think I’m rude, but I am just too tired to tell the story again – you can ask Team Lead if you’re really interested.” You can tell people what you want from them.

    And, LW, I know you only asked about how to tell people, but people’s responses will tell you a lot about their character. I was surprised by some friends I lost/shy away from now – they simply couldn’t handle my not being a relationship, and can’t figure out why I’m “not over it” yet. I am hoping that with time, things might be better between us, but I have had to say “I cannot handle you playing devil’s advocate right now. I need sympathy not advice.” But was the most surprising was the amount of love and support I have gotten. I am so, so very grateful for the support and love I’ve gotten from the strangest places (old college professor, boss, coworkers, “work friends,” random person tom whom I broke down at the doctor’s office). Each telling gets easier. I wish you and your kiddo the best of luck.

  32. Diziet Sma said:

    When my husband was first diagnosed with cancer I could not talk about it at all without breaking down (or fearing that I might, perhaps). My boss was really good about telling coworkers and we did most of it by email even though I sat opposite her. I emailed and texted a couple of friends in different circles who put the word out and for the most part, people have been awesome about letting me take the lead in terms of talking/not talking about it. In fact the only person who has tried to make it all about her is my mom, so no real surprise there (support, to her, is what she thinks it is and makes her feel better, nothing to do with what I want or need, and her total inability to grasp this has done untold damage to our relationship). Tldr: I’ve found that when given clear cues, most people will get it and using social nodes type people to get it out there has no downside.

  33. aw said:

    This is what I posted to FB when I separated from my husband last fall:
    For those of you who haven’t already been told: [husband] and I are separating. It is friendly and we are working together, but this has been very hard on me. It has been nearly seven years since I moved here, and we have been together over a decade, since high school. Needless to say I am having difficulty adjusting. I will make something good out of this, but right now each day is a struggle. From my friends, I need both support and space, please. Help me focus on anything and everything other than this topic. If and when I need to talk about it, I will. Thank you all for being such terrific friends (even the ones I don’t talk to often). I do pick good ones.
    I will not respond to comments on this post – I’m sorry, I just can’t handle it. But I do see likes/comments and I do appreciate your support.

    I was cheated on by him; he had trouble dealing with some of the consequences of my physical disability. The separation (and now in-process divorce) was definitely for the better, but nobody needed to know the reasons for it. Just telling them that it was difficult, but private, seemed to work well. People respected my space and didn’t ask me too many questions about it. People who didn’t know something asked other friends instead of me. I got through those rough first months, and now I’m doing pretty well, in part because I was able to lean on my friends in ways I could handle, and not feel overwhelmed and want to run away from their attempts at support.

    Best of luck. It’s really hard right now (and I know having a kid adds a dimension to this I can’t address) but it will absolutely get better. You will make something good out of this too.

    • JenniferP said:

      Looks like your posting issue cleared up! Yay.

      • aw said:

        I had to install a different browser, but it works! Hooray! Thank you for responding to my email about it.

  34. Divorced 5 years ago said:

    When my husband of 17 years and I separated I immediately changed my name and changed this on Facebook. Some people noticed. I quietly changed my status to separated but didn’t allow it to show in my feed. I didn’t change to single until the divorce was final a year later and only a few people commented, and it was positive. Mostly other divorces that know what a significant milestone that is. Others don’t say anything, because liking it seems inappropriate. Like liking someone’s pet has died.

    The way I announced was in my annual Christmas card. I basically said thst we were separated, the divorce will be final at this time in the future, and here is his new address. He wasn’t really telling anyone including his family because he was ashamed. The card idea is great because it’s one way communication, no response required. Especially since I often don’t mail my cards until January.

    In my experience, no one really asks all these nosy questions. They mostly act embarrassed and don’t know what to say. I got similar reactions when I told people I had cancer. Also, I tried not to sling mud, but it would have been easy to do. Once you start that you open up your stuff to public comment. You think thst would help you feel validated, but it almost never works thst way. Marriage is complicated.

  35. Rampant Rabid said:

    I facebooked my ex’s wall with “Congratulations on your divorce” the day it became absolute, and that struck the right tone for me.

    After it was all over it was much easier to tell people. During the decision-making and separation stage life at home was really weird but I never spoke about it except to close friends. Once I did want to spread the news though I found the usually gossipy relatives I was relying on suddenly clammed up, which was surprising, and I ended up having conversations with people I assumed knew I was divorced who knew nothing about it.

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