Everyone is doing divorce better than you. At least, that’s how it feels when you gaze upon the divorce selfie, a social media snapshot taken in or around the moment of legal dissolution that commemorates the death of a marriage, for all to see. But before you toss up your own smug, celebratory or sincere divorce selfie for the world to awkwardly peruse, consider a few things.
First, the posts. The faces and places are different, but they are overwhelmingly similar, and typically feature the newly liberated couple holding up the official divorce decree while standing outside a courthouse, some other blandly bureaucratic setting, or their house or car gazing at the camera with a happy or resigned or gleeful or pensive pose. But the messages are the same: We did this hard thing but are so grateful and loved each other a lot! No animus here! Definitely a cool divorce!
Buzzfeed rounded up a slew of these chronicles of human triumph over woe, and categorized them as awkward, amazing or pure. By their criteria:
On Instagram, there are currently just over 500 such posts with the tag. Some of them are the solo person boasting about the jailbreak they’re about to score:
But most are the couples themselves, smiling widely, if tentatively, about finally breaking out.
These selfies do the amicable Facebook post one better by not just posting about moment they were finally cut free from the legal leash, but showing their faces while asserting the same sentiments — gratitude, relief, friendship and most of all, transcendence.
It’s a bold announcement of something we all typically go to great lengths to keep private, including celebrities, whose boilerplate divorce announcement —Ben Stiller and Christine Taylor’s is just the latest—is that they remain close friends, deeply respectful and totally committed to coparenting (whether it’s true or not). They ask that their privacy be respected during this difficult time.
The divorce selfie is a clear descendant of conscious uncoupling, introduced and exemplified by Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin’s transcendent, very chill split that has set the tone for divorce ever since (and for some time before that). But that doesn’t mean everyone can do it, or should broadcast it. MEL talked to therapist and breakup expert Jacqueline Duke, who has nursed many a client through post-breakup blues, to help us parse this trend and whether it seems like these people are bragging or protesting too much.
First off, not all divorces are unhappy, she tells us. When Duke told people of her own divorce five years ago, people reflexively told her how sorry they were to hear it. “I’d say, ‘No, it’s a good thing,’” she explains. “Happy couples don’t get divorced. So if the divorce is happy, there IS some cause of celebration. People previously did a girls’ trip or some kind of connection with others. While I don’t think social media is as good as that, I think that’s how they are getting that dopamine response or that connection.”
Second, divorce can be one of the loneliest times in a person’s life, she says, even when it’s amicable. (Divorce ranks as one of the top five stressors a person can experience in life, second only to the death of a loved one, which to some people going through a divorce, might be the preferable stressor.) “You can feel all alone, that everyone hates you, and you’re losing at least 50 percent of your friends,” Duke said. “Putting something about it out there [on social media] might make you feel a little less lonely.”
There’s also a great deal of shame associated with the “failure” of divorce, and posting about that shame can be a way through, a way of empowering yourself. “Speaking the words, or in this case, putting it out there on social media, is a way that, all the sudden, you’re not a slave to this shameful part of you,” Duke says.
It’s also a way of signaling a few things to friends and acquaintances. “Hey, we’re good, you don’t have to choose sides,” is one signal, she points out. It’s also, Duke says, a great way to broadcast that you’re free to date. “If they are already thinking forward about moving on — and in some the selfies they look good and are saying ‘I’m dateable, I’m single’ — it could be saying ‘Yes, I’m getting divorce, and there’s no baggage,” she says. “‘Look how drama-free I am.’”
It’s also possible that the divorce announcement or selfie is a sly courtesy move before announcing a new relationship. Duke noticed a friend online who posted a divorce announcement with a long, detailed, heartfelt explanation for the split. A week later, he posted pictures with a new girlfriend.
The potentially unhealthy side, though, Duke says, is if it’s overcompensation. “It has been made cool to have a conscious uncoupling,” she says. So it’s possible that someone who is actually going through a very difficult divorce simply wants to telegraph positivity, no matter the reality. It’s hard to blame someone for wanting to put a positive spin on a shitty thing, but no post at all might be the better option there.
But those of us perusing these posts should remember that with most social media, the picture never tells the real story. Duke notes that even the most stress-free divorces still involve legal systems and courts, and are never a cakewalk. Plus, social media allows us all to curate our lives and experiences. We post our best photos, not the ones when we just woke up in the morning. We post good times with friends, not fights with our partners. Divorce is no different: We don’t post images of ourselves sobbing in the corner, or poring over old photos, or fighting over the shared iTunes library. We post the end, with a measured, controlled message that curates the brand: Us.
One big caveat: The divorce isn’t really the end, anyway—certainly not if there are kids, and even if there aren’t. In Duke’s practice, she notes that after a divorce, good or bad, the real issues don’t often arise until one person moves on before the other one. “That’s usually when the bigger problems begin,” she said. “Especially if they are trying to remain friends.”
For these reasons, Duke says to consider a few things before tossing up that divorce selfie. She always says we should question doing anything major during such a raw time when so many important decisions are being made. “It’s the same thing as don’t make big decisions when you’re drunk,” she says. But most importantly, ask yourself what you’re trying to get out of doing it.
“Look at your intentions,” Duke continues. “Think about how much privacy you want. Are you looking to receive support from this post? Is it attention, positive or negative? Is it to make a statement to reduce the shame? Everyone feels shameful going through this, no matter how positive they are.”
A bit more etiquette worth considering: A slew of etiquette experts told MEL recently to consider a few factors about the Facebook divorce announcement, and those apply with divorce selfies, too. Namely, be sure you’ve already told everyone who needs to know before going full monty. Don’t criticize your ex, or reveal details about the why. (Love this guy, even tho he cheated #lol #freedom!) Think about how it looks to your ex’s family — your glee may be their great sadness, and although you may arguably no longer care, it may undermine the point. What’s great for you is not great for everyone. Especially if there are children and in-laws.
Ultimately, when it comes to telling private stuff to all 418 of your closest friends or your public Twitter, less is more. Curate and brand away, but don’t be surprised if you get a slew of prying questions — some sincere, some nosy, some schadenfreude. That’s divorce. It’s also social media. Unless, of course, that’s precisely what you wanted.