At the risk of appearing obsessed, I write a second time about the separation of Jeff and Makenzie Bezos. This time my subject is again borrowed from the Wall Street Journal, but it’s not about the money. Rather, the Journal produced a prominent and adulatory article about the divorce announcement by the couple (actually Jeff) on Twitter. I thought it interesting because anyone who separates from a spouse or long time relationship is left asking; how do I let people know?
In olden days, this was done either by phone or in person. It creates an awkward moment because if you are the person getting the news, you are not certain just how to react. After the “I’m sorry to hear that….” the question becomes how far does the inquiry go? It seems cold to stop with the vague “I hope it works out.” Yet, is the person making the announcement asking for absolution? Therapy? There is no happy answer.
So, I think there is merit to a public announcement and despite my general abhorrence of Twitter, I see benefit in getting the word out. I don’t know whether it requires a “joint” announcement as the Bezos posting suggested. For most of us, separation does not suggest that we need to “calm the market” in Amazon stock. However, the many lawyers and therapists who commented upon the Bezos announcement liked the idea of controlling the message and communicating that the problems either have been or will be handled with civility.
If you read what was posted by Mr. Bezos, it was a bit treacly. In part, it says:
“After a period of loving exploration and trial separation, we have decided to divorce and continue our shared lives as friends.”
Perhaps this was all so amicable, but the news was immediately accompanied by reports that Herr Bezos already has a girlfriend. It also throws shade on the ambiguous phrase “loving exploration.” But, back to the main point… People want to know if you are separating. If they truly care about you, they would like to know things will be civil even if that is merely an aspiration. It is also a good way to signal to your spouse how you want him or her to respond. The beauty of the electronic approach is that it gets the word out and allows friends to control a responsive dialogue on their own terms.
I don’t do Twitter because I have witnessed a thousand prominent people see their public persona crash and burn. They did not think before they wrote. Twitter is best known as a place where people say stupid things. But perhaps Twitter might actually become an instrument of civility rather than a semantic battleground.
What to say? Well it may be ideal to issue a joint announcement. It is rare for couples to be finished with each other at the same time. Usually, one spouse is the catalyst. If that is your situation, keep it simple and avoid what will be perceived as over the top sentimentality.
“I wanted to let friends and family know that (Jeff ) and I are separating. I am hopeful that this process will preserve our dignity and not draw you into a conflict where you will feel the need or desire to take a side. I hope our friends will remain just that although we may no longer be a couple.”
Message sent. Now, when you run into the neighbor in the frozen food aisle, they “know” and can ask either how it’s going or confine the conversation to whether chicken Florentine is good with arugula. The recipients also know that you want to be an adult during the process.
So am I on the road to conversion as a Twitter acolyte? Perhaps. But then there is the recurring fear that if I joined the social media band no one would “follow.”