Web Wars (And The Road To Hell)

We know the expression. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

What else do we know?

The web can be a hotbed of hate, an open forum for letting loose all the nastiness we wouldn’t dare to inflict in person. Comments on the web provide anonymity for some, a sense of distance and safety for others, and the proverbial bully pulpit as well. But remember – these are words on a flat screen – stripped of the speaker’s facial expression, gestures, or tone of voice. No different than an email that may be taken the wrong way, leading to misunderstanding and lost opportunity for real communication.

Nothing unusual in any of this, right? We take it as a given, and try to do better the next time.

In one of my reading (and writing) corners on the web, there is a great deal of friction at the moment. Things are getting personal, and they seem to be escalating. And in the process, we are obscuring important issues.

Important Issues, Expert Opinions

When we’re talking about issues of extraordinary importance – the future of marriage, the drama of divorce, the necessity of divorce reform, the complexities of single parenting – issues that affect millions of us and our families – it’s critical that we not lose the substance, and the voice of expertise.

I believe we should tell our stories. I believe we should listen respectfully and with an open mind. I also believe we should rely upon voices of authority.

I believe we should write to share, to help, and not to judge. Every marriage is different. So is every divorce. And post-divorce life is something else again. As for the children, impacts will vary because each situation is unique, each child will respond differently, each adult possesses a varying capacity to put the needs of the child first. And some adults never put the needs of the child first.

Marital Advice, Divorce Advice

I read a number of writers who are divorced – both men and women. I see their disparate perspectives, including those who dismiss the experience of others as though it is exceptional or even, untrue. I view this as unfortunate, and also, a disservice. I don’t find it to be malicious; only ignorant.

It is the diversity of experience, including the negative, that will alert us to areas that require attention, that will inform us and lead to possible solutions – but only if we accept the spectrum of behaviors and their consequences as real – not to mention not somehow deserved and created by the individual concerned.

One of the writers I read from time to time has offered her post-divorce situation as a model of cooperative parenting that certainly seems worth striving for. I applaud her ability to pull this off, and I’m sure her children will be better off for the willingness of both parents to work together for their benefit. I wish her – and her family – well.

But at times she suggests that her model is a function of “work” and not luck, implying that if we all had the right attitude (and worked hard enough), we could live a similar scenario. At these times, her words deny the reality of the rest of us for whom there is no ex in the picture, there is no “time off for quiet,” or worse: the ex is always in the background, a constant thorn in the present, a malevolent force in the lives of the children – no matter how many times we’ve tried to wave a white flag and do anything for a bit of peace.

A remark was made that we make our own luck or more specifically: “luck is toil.”

My response to that?

  • Is an accident or injury the result of toil?
  • Is a dreadful economy that puts millions out of work the result of our lack of toil?
  • Is an ex who weasels out of support responsibilities a matter of toil?
  • Is insufficient funds to pay an attorney to fight for the support a matter of toil?
  • What about chronic illness, aging parents, lack of family – is any of that brought on by a lack of trying, of working, of hoping, of looking to the positive? Of toiling?

I don’t think so.

One Word: Tolerance

One of the life skills I’ve acquired in recent years is tolerance. I also work hard to remain open-minded. Just because I haven’t lived it doesn’t mean it isn’t real.

My natural tendency is one of trust. That has proven to be a problem at times, yet I remain convinced that most people I have encountered – in real life and on the web – have the best of intentions. And while we know the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, I choose to err on the side of believing that someone is trying to do good.

Yesterday, I also wrote about credibility and credentials, using one’s voice and expertise. I did so because it’s something I’ve been thinking about for some time. I published the piece when I read a dating coach with neither credentials nor appropriate experience stating that single parenting is ideal.

I believe that we lose our way on the web all too easily. We forget to “vet,” to check our sources, to use common sense, to value credentials and experience.

There is someone who has credentials and credibility in my book; she also has many years of real world experience helping men and women dealing with divorce. I only wish I had known this woman years ago, and been able to avail myself of her knowledge and counsel at that time. It could have made an enormous difference in my life, and in my children’s lives.

I call this woman my friend. I trust her. I respect her.

Marriages End

Give marital advice? Divorce advice? I tiptoe through both, partly serious and partly playfully; I do so as a function of my stories and my life, and nothing more. I recognize the contradictions in my own beliefs, my constant state of evolution, and the variety of perspectives that I consider valid.

Among them:

  • I am for living together – if that is what adults choose to do.
  • I am for marriage – when couples wish to sanctify and legalize their union, realizing the implications.
  • I am for adults loving each other, expressing it sexually, and living a model of family that works for them.
  • I am not against divorce. I am against an attitude of “if it doesn’t work out, you can always divorce.”
  • I am against easy divorce when children are involved.
  • I believe the reasons for divorce matter, that the sort of pain we feel varies; abuse is different from infidelity, falling out of love, wanting to find oneself, or even the “empty marriage.”
  • I do not believe that one person’s happiness trumps another’s.
  • I am against disparities in state-specific divorce laws that govern everything from support to custody, and the unenforceability of these agreements when up against a clever adversary.
  • I am against a family court system that allows attorneys to make vast sums of money with no apparent accountability.
  • I believe that both genders suffer from these injustices, as do our children.

I believe in being positive but not naive. This is the result of my experience; it may not be yours. Had I been less naive 10 years ago, or 8 years ago, or even 5 years ago – or luckier - it would not be mine.

Make Love, Not War

I am aghast that for those of us whose marriages have ended, who are trying hard to raise our sons and daughters as best we can, that we aren’t banding together to listen to and support each other – trying to find solutions to systemic problems.

These problems are tangled up in our employment environments which are not family friendly (whether you are married or not), our cultural propensity to live at the surface rather than doing the hard work of introspection, our growing preference for gender-based “game” over real communication, our lack of social benefits (lose your job or your marriage, and say goodbye to your medical care, your life insurance, your disability, all of which increases your spiral into financial ruin).

Post-divorce life isn’t simplistically rearranged by magical thinking; by adopting faux forgiveness in the face of one who continues to beat you down, by claiming positive attitude as the cure-all, by any one-size-fits-all strategy or approach.

Check Your Sources, Listen to Your Gut

As for the web wars – there are many who position themselves as experts either explicitly or indirectly; some misrepresent, while others lie outright. I am all for American ingenuity and entrepreneurship; if you can create yourself a business out of some sort of experience or skill – good for you. But it’s always a matter of caveat emptor – buyer beware – whether you are a consumer of products or services, or a consumer of information. Let’s not forget those distinctions I made yesterday – authenticity versus authority, expertise versus a voice.

And perhaps we should add – infomercial versus information.

Despite all this, I still put my money on good intentions. I believe most of us want essentials: someone to love who will love us back; a committed relationship that suits our lifestyle (however you may define that); satisfying work, and some measure of security that we will not find ourselves on the street despite plenty of “toil” and too little “luck.” If we have children, we want them to grow up with the best possible experience we can offer – one which is never perfect because not only is that impossible, but it would teach nothing of survival in the real world.

I wonder – if we were sitting face to face over coffee or tea, rather than dealing in isolation, hunched over our computer screens – might we find a greater measure of moderation? Would we set aside the posturing in favor of sharing? Would it be easier to “play nice,” to put our good hearts, our good minds, our skills and our diverse experiences to positive ends – accepting that what others have to say is valid whether we’ve lived it or not, knowing that we are a single community with more in common than that which divides us?

As for that road to Hell, I’d say that’s a matter of opening our eyes. It is neither luck nor toil; we all take the wrong turn at times, and I’m surely no exception. But nothing says we can’t pause, take a breath, look around, and join forces to take a better road, or at least – the higher one. 



© D A Wolf

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Comments

  1. Great, thoughtful article. This is why I write a personal blog on divorce. I don’t feel I’m an expert of anything except my own experience. I think divorces are as individual as snowflakes…but I do find there are common threads. I focus on the bloggers I relate to.

    On another point you raised: there is way too much snarkiness in web comments. It’s fine to disagree, but only if this can be done respectfully.

  2. As always you’ve peeled away all the layers and gotten down to the heart of the issue.

    It is about working together to understand and learn from each other. Not about arming ourselves against each other. We all have something to learn and share with the other.

    Thank you for once again putting the proper spin on a situation that does more harm than good and certainly keeps any of us from coming at a problem with an open heart and mind.

  3. When I was going through my divorce, I cared what everyone thought about it, my parents, my friends, my kids’ friends and parents, the list went on and on. My close friends were the hardest on me and it took me years to figure out why. They were scared. If this could happen to Michelle, it could happen to me. They weren’t happy in their marriages and were lonely, too, but instead of taking a good hard long look at theirselves , they turned the mirror on me. Here’s the best advice I’d give anyone who is going through a divorce or are divorced: FOCUS ON YOUR KIDS AND GO WITH YOUR GUT. I’m the expert in my life and no one else is.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      Michelle, I agree that fear sits at the heart of many of our motivations, including in this arena. Friends distance themselves as though divorce is contagious; other divorced individuals distance themselves or assign fault because the possibility that “there but for the grace of God go I” is too hard to process.

      Again, I believe there are good intentions at work, and perhaps a certain path can work successfully for some. But preparation, not relying on legal counsel to get you through, and a healthy dose of wide open eyes is necessary for most of us. And seeking to find solutions – together – to a host of interrelated challenges.

  4. batticus says:

    To state that everyone can achieve a respectful divorce is naive at best (intellectual dishonesty at worst), and as you point out, if one partner is vindictive and/or uncooperative, there is no amount of spiritual mumbo jumbo or “toil” that can change the other person nor change the environment you have to deal with. The cliche that we can only change ourselves is a cliche for a reason, it is usually true and when faced with adversity, it is all you can do.

  5. As the blogger in question, I must say that just because I believe that it was work that allowed me to achieve my peaceful divorce doesn’t mean that the inverse is true. Just because someone has a bitter divorce doesn’t mean that it was because they didn’t work hard enough. Of course some divorces are going to be awful. But you know what, that doesn’t have to always be the case.

    Like Pauline, my blog is based on personal experience and my own perspective, as is yours D. If people have a chance to make their divorce more harmonious, they can read me and glean what they can from it. If they need help to arm themselves for battle, they can read you or Cathy.

    There’s room for us all in the divorce blogging world. We just have different audiences, that’s all. And I certainly wouldn’t want to see us reproduce in the blogsphere the kind of acrimony that is often typical of a broken marriage.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      I don’t disagree with you, Molly, in principle. But here is my concern, as I have stated before. I was like you during my marriage – intent on pleasing, staying positive, and full of denial about the reality of the relationship. Throughout the beginning of the divorce and the long divorcing process, I remained (naively) convinced that my husband would never do the things he was doing, in particular, what impacted the children. For the 3 or 4 years that followed – even as he moved into a big job, a brand new life and marriage, and continued to disregard the financial, logistical, and emotional responsibilities of parenting, I maintained a stance of trying harder, trying to appease him, thinking it would get better.

      I wasted years in a state of incredulity that the father of my children would behave in a certain manner. Denial is a powerful force, but not always positive. I will live with the consequences of that lack of preparation, that belief in the man I married (rather than the man I was divorcing), and while I’ve softened the cost for my children, I’ve borne it in every other way. I did so willingly; it was my foolish refusal to see reality that played into it.

      I would wish for no other parent to live what I have lived, and continue to deal with, 10 years later. And we ain’t done yet.

      • BigLittleWolf says:

        I will add one thing, Molly – we do not have different audiences. We have different viewpoints. Mine, from 10 years post divorce and a different state. You, from what you have been fortunate enough to experience.

        But the women (and men) who read us – should read us both. And arm themselves (yes “arm” themselves) with knowledge and options. As much as they can.

  6. Just a few thoughts:

    1) We all have to use common sense when going through something like this. Sure, you can break your back working hard for peace, but if the other person is hell bent on being miserable, it’s not going to work.

    2) That being said, even if my soon to be ex husband is being hateful and difficult, it won’t make me feel any better to be hateful and difficult back. My concern is about me and the kids. I’ve got that covered. In my particular situation, being peaceful and kind towards him is making things better for me, for him and especially for the kids.

    My final thought is this. When this first happened, I began looking for a therapist. I can tell you right now, there are some voices of authority I definitely do not respect. Therapists are human and bring their baggage with them too. We should all take care in that regard as well. Being in the midst of divorce made me very vulnerable. Basically, we do have to trust our gut and use our heads.

    RC

  7. I think that was an excellent and well said article, as usual! Your insights are powerful and thoughtful and yes, there is room for all of us in this great big world we call divorce.

    I do believe that those behind computers find license in the anonymity and can be incredibly mean and thoughtless, and I also find it disturbing. Having been on the receiving end more than once of nasty comments and posts being written about things that I have written about, this piece is timely.

    I consider Cathy not only incredibly intelligent and a wonderful friend, but love the tell it like it is attitude she adopts, which is so much like my own. I also love that Molly has made a wonderful post divorce life for herself and her ex for the kids.

    I also know that in my world and most of the worlds of those I speak to, both men and women, it is not only not realistic it is not a workable situation. And, yes, although it is work to make it good, sometimes it is work to make it not horrendous.

    For those of us in the boat of it not being horrendous, we are working hard to get by every day without committing capital crimes… and believe me, that takes work most days.

  8. “If they need help to arm themselves for battle, they can read you or Cathy.”

    The above comment is belittling Molly and that is what I don’t understand about your reaction to someone disagreeing with you.

    I challenge you to point out anywhere in this article that states a spouse should do battle. Why do there have to be different audiences? We are one audience, divorcing or divorced women and in my opinion that audience is best served by seeing and learning about both sides of the divorce process.

    Big Little Wolf extended an olive branch with this article. You responded by insisting, in a covert way that there are two sides and those sides should not come together.

    How is that harmonious?

  9. Thanks for sharing your concerns, D. I don’t see why pursuing a harmonious relationship with your ex has to mean that you are going to get screwed. Our deal has been equitable, and in fact, he was probably more generous because of our peaceful relationship.

    If things were to change (like him becoming unexpectedly rich and not sharing it with the kids), then I would take the appropriate steps. I am certainly no pushover nor do I really appease him much. I just took the initial steps towards making our relationship a friendly one, and once he saw that it was beneficial for both the kids and him, he then had an incentive to continue the peace between us. And I always let him know if he takes advantage of me. One month he just decided not to pay me (because he is in a bad economic situation), and I told him that he needed to respect our agreements if he wanted to still be friendly and have family dinners. He admitted his mistake and remedied the situation.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      Molly,
      I suggest that you re-read the entirety of what I have written, and you will see nothing but respect for what you and your ex are doing at this time. Never did I say that pursuing a harmonious relationship results in getting screwed. And I find it ironic that you take a hard-line position, and he acquiesces. Clearly, you married a man who is either afraid of you or easily swayed. Also I presume he lives in the same state (try exercising your legal right across state lines) and, clearly, you aren’t concerned about a $5,000 retainer to get an attorney, and $500/hour fees thereafter.

      I dare say that if most of us said “if you want to be friendly then respect our agreement” that our exes wouldn’t do anything but have a chuckle and another beer. I could enumerate the occasions during which I calmly reminded my ex of his financial obligations, followed mandated procedure by then informing him in writing, only to be told by attorneys that without their retainer and hourly fees – regardless of my legal rights – I’d have to navigate my state’s system alone, and oh by the way – I should count on a year or more to do so.

      You have a special situation, or so it seems to me. Your approach is your approach; none of this conversation solves the root problems: going into marriage as honorable individuals and with our eyes open, the problems of enforcing visitation and support across state lines, the state-specific handling that clearly favors some in certain states, and leaves others hanging in the wind, not to mention the sanctimonious attitude of those who have lived another experience, and thus remain judgmental.

      Let’s stop being part of the problem and begin working on the solution. Not just a solution that works for one case – yours – but armed, yes armed – with knowledge. When facing any of life’s challenges – illness, accident, new job, finances, relocation, marriage, and yes – divorce – that knowledge and those options make us more able to compromise, negotiate, and protect ourselves and our families.

      One last thought – if someone is beating you and your children, do you ask them to be more respectful, or do you throw your body on your kids, take the blows, and then get away as quickly as you can?

  10. The word arm comes from D’s response to my Huff Po piece. I see “arming” as a term for preparing for battle. You are right that we do have one audience but I believe that your article was quite polarizing and said that my approach would do harm to our so-called audience. Do that seem harmonious to you? Yes, we have very different approaches and as I said we can all coexist together. But I suspect, as I have seen from the comments on all of our blogs, that there are certain people who will gravitate more to one approach or another because people tend to seek out the kind of information that suits them best.
    Let’s move on. Peace.

  11. NoNameRequired says:

    Sigh. As someone whose divorce is more like BLW’s, I will say that we never know the horror of this until we are in it. One former partner who cannot reconcile love of children with hatred of former spouse makes for very bad days whatever the response of the more centered partner. VERY. BAD. DAYS.

    My response to vitriol hardly matters in the short and mid run: my children are so hard wired to love both of us that they miss the truth — which I can see as an adaptive strategy to stay sane.

    My ex spouse is so subtle in the ways to attack, malign, or simply ignore responsibilities that our children simply do know what is happening. At this point, they do not believe the missed support or refusal to pay for college, etc. The children cannot believe it. Slowing, this reality is trickling out YET, they still do not believe it.

    I must ensure somehow that meet my expectations of my self for civility and honor. I lie down at night, knowing that I behaved honorably. That must be enough. I hope that over the long run, my children have a measure of reality but I no longer think this actually a high probability. And, perhaps does not matter. I clearly cannot control this. Shall be honorable and face myself and God, with ease at my conduct. Sad, that this conduct does not ensure happiness for the children….and did not ensure adequate food for me two summers ago. (Heat was 50 all winter, to ensure college app money and sports fees and food….we can live at 50 but was chilly.)

    That so many cannot simply believe or accept that IN SOME DIVORCES the acrimony arises primarily out of the behavior of one are either kidding themselves or they have drunk the Koolaid of two-tango-ing. If, God forbid, they divorce, I pray that Molly’s hard-fought/Lucky stars prevail. I would not wish my situation on my worst enemy. I would not wish this on them EVEN at the chance of learning compassion for others like me. TIS THAT BAD FOR CHILDREN.

    Interestingly, some of my kindest supporters arise out of webland, including BLW.

    This post — indeed the lack of social humility that inspired it (not Molly but the broader problem) — is making me cry. I will go outside and look at the emerging stars. I will rise to work hard in the morning and thank God and the stars for shreds of compassion and money for groceries when I find them.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      NoName – You know I know where you’re coming from. And I can hear the fatigue even through your words on the screen. I get it.
      One bright note, perhaps – I have just spent the past 4 months navigating the “exception” processes when it comes to the more convoluted post-divorce financial aid applications for college-ready kids. There’s much more than FAFSA and CSS, but it is school specific and takes a great deal of persistence and detailed documentation. I wasn’t prepared (or aware) of this when it was time for my first-born to go to college (I feel guilt that I hadn’t figured it out then), but I have some ideas that may be of use to you which I’ve gained in pursuing this for my younger son.

  12. Pause. Breathe. The only thing I can add from personal experience is that This Too Will Pass. I can skip my horror stories and am grateful to be removed from all this now. When you find the right one, the rest is all so much ancient history. There are always challenges, but a good relationship is crucial to dealing with them. Hope. Pause. Breathe.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      I agree entirely with hope / pause / breathe, Paul. But I don’t think the issue is relationship, though certainly, a good relationship adds an element of balance to life that is not quite like anything else.

      What we are dealing with here is fear, ignorance, judgment, and weariness – on the part of many of us. We’re dealing with varying degrees of scraping by, and the need to survive. We are, in some instances, dealing with extremes, which is why it is hard for some to give credence to the fact that these extremes are real and can happen to any one of us. We are dealing with our institutions – legal, medical, governmental – letting children (and parents) fall through the cracks, sometimes quickly. Sometimes slowly.

      There are no simple solutions to the issues around divorced families, but the drag on our social systems – such as they are – seems evident. And the waste in human potential, even more so.

  13. So when I first clicked over, I had a specific thought. By the time I finished skimming the comments, I have 20 thoughts. I hope I won’t wear out my welcome here, so I’ll try to keep it somewhere in between.
    My first thought was, I wish it was just a web war, BLW, but it’s not. I hear ignorant comments all too often in real life that are just as ignorant; supposedly innocent or well-meaning remarks that people should just stick it out for the kids or just work harder. Nobody really knows what goes on in someone else’s home. And some of us can be really good at hiding it for a really long time. I’m not talking about abuse here (although that is also valid). I’m talking about people who just shouldn’t be living together. It doesn’t even have to be someone’s fault. Sometimes, it just doesn’t work. Sometimes, someone takes all the funds for drugs. Marriages are as unique as the participants. No one has the right to say whether or not the marriage could work than the ones in it.

    Same goes for a divorce. While the ideal is the co-parenting situation, if one parent is unwilling or unable to do so, there is absolutely nothing the other parent can do about it. No matter how hard some of us have tried.

    To Paul, I’m sure you meant well with the “this too shall pass” comment. And sure, the war on the web or whatever will. But BLW has taught me something that is so important to me. This is not our past, but our present. The divorce may be 5, 10, 15 years ago, but when you have kids with someone, it’s never completely over. As the active parent, we are always dealing with the consequences. Months can go by with no contact, and yet, it is still there. It doesn’t pass. and that’s what makes it even harder when people refuse to acknowledge and accept our own truths. Some days, we’re barely holding on. And having someone deny us our truth on the worst days certainly isn’t helping us or our kids, or anyone, really.

  14. In the short time that I’ve been reading your blog, this (for me) is the most insightful entry you’ve offered. And I thank you for the time it took to author and respond to many, many comments.

    Though I have read, three times, your entry to be sure that I’ve extracted everything I believe that you wanted to convey, I find that I most enjoyed what began with ‘Marriages End’.

    Thank you for causing me to think.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      Thank you, MTFFH, for such gracious feedback.

      And April, I have some sense of what you have lived, and continue to live. You are such a terrific mother through it all. My hat is off to you.

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