By Stephanie McFeeters | Boston Globe
Like most celebrity couples going through a breakup, Miss Piggy and Kermit the Frog chose their words carefully. The decision to split, which they “announced” in a joint statement on social media Tuesday, came “after careful thought, thoughtful consideration, and considerable squabbling.”
Whether the couple involved is Muppet or human, the amicable public parting is, and always has been, celebrity PR fiction. It’s little more than ghostwritten damage control and a plea for the media to stay away.
Think of Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin. Their split was a “conscious uncoupling” — a term Paltrow recently revealed she did not coin. Or Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner. They recently released a statement that said, “we go forward with love and friendship for one another and a commitment to co-parenting.” Marital dissolutions cordially etched in cyberspace, and so it must be — for celebrities.
Not so much for the rest of us.
Despite our fascination with Facebook and Twitter — and with sharing our most personal details online — posting about divorce remains a dicey social media proposition.
Bruce Watson, a Quincy divorce lawyer, said that in his experience couples tend to be discreet about separating, notifying friends and family members individually.
“Most divorce issues are painful and thus relatively private matters,” he said. “There’s too much rancor or emotional pain for them to be able to agree on a statement.”
Quite the opposite. More often than not, social media is a flash point for separating couples, rather than a space to diplomatically announce the news.
“People in my practice are constantly fighting over the way each person might represent [himself or herself],” said Michele Weiner-Davis, a Colorado-based relationship therapist and founder of divorcebusting.com.
There’s the woman who likes to bare her soul on the Internet, and the husband who cringes as their dirty laundry is analyzed by relatives thrice removed. Or the man who changes his relationship status to “it’s complicated” preemptively, hoping to signal availability.
“I’m in the trenches with couples, and here’s the truth about divorce,” Weiner-Davis said. “It’s almost always a unilateral decision, which makes it so much less likely couples are going to undergo a process where they can uncouple in a gentle, loving, understanding way.”
Sorry Kermit and Miss Piggy.
But there are exceptions, people who can stop bickering long enough to use Facebook as a way of notifying acquaintances about their split: Why one parent will be attending soccer practice and the other piano recitals. And the extreme: an Orlando couple shared a divorce selfie — grinning outside the courtroom.
Indeed, more couples are deciding together when to change their Facebook status or tell others, and this is healthy, said Brette Sember, author of “The Divorce Organizer & Planner.”
“It demonstrates there is at least some level of civility and cooperation which can only be a boon moving forward with the divorce,” she wrote in an e-mail.
Even if they aren’t quite as popular as baby photos, there may be a role among ordinary people for a virtual divorce announcement.
Sharing the news on social media can prevent awkward questions and invite friends to reach out and offer support, said Jodi R. R. Smith, founder of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting in Marblehead. For instance, if she and Miss Piggy were sorority sisters who hadn’t kept in touch and she saw the tweet, Smith said, perhaps she would send her old friend a card and offer to take her out for tea.
Telling people en masse, online, has the potential of reducing discomfort for those involved in the divorce, said Karen Ruskin, a Sharon-based marriage and family therapist. But it could create an uncomfortable situation for recipients, who might not know how to respond.
“Suddenly your mother’s cousin’s aunt knows before your mother’s cousin knows,” Ruskin said.
There are guidelines. Smith said family and close friends should be notified before the public proclamation — preferably in person, but a phone or Skype call will do. The statement itself should be short and sweet, any details about an affair with the nanny excluded. Be especially sensitive if children are involved. And as for friends reacting to the news, feel free to comment “thinking of you” and then send a more personal private message. Don’t click “like.”
Celebrity or not, sharing the news of a divorce is always awkward.
“Imagine you’re at a cocktail party in downtown Boston, and Kermit is there and you run over to him and give him a great big hug and you say, ‘Oh Kermit, it’s great to see you. How’s Piggy?’ And he bursts into tears, because you didn’t realize they were getting a divorce,” Smith said. “It’s something that can be very personal and raw and painful for people. And frogs.”