Open Letter to the Blogosphere: Blogger “Responsibility”

Note: this post has nothing to do with my blog or you, my readers … but is rather a reaction to an observation I made in the blogosphere.

This week, one of the most well-known female bloggers, Heather Armstrong of dooce.com fame, announced she and her husband Jon were in the midst of a trial separation.

I’d heard of her, but never really read her blog — until today. Her announcement post is absolutely gut-wrenching, to say the least — especially the part where she expresses a moment that suicide crossed her mind … and though doesn’t go into any details about why the couple is splitting, it’s obvious she is pained about the decision but knows it must be done.

I read the comments and they seemed  supportive — people were shocked, surprised, sad … as readers, they feel they  KNOW the blogger, they CONNECT to the blogger … this I totally expected; I have gotten similar support (on a different level and regarding a different challenge) here on my own blog.

What I was surprised by was the reaction from the peanut gallery in posts analyzing the couples’ demise, where some people seemed to feel offended and blind-sided, as though Heather “owed” them something (i.e., hints along the way that something was amiss, etc.) simply because she is a blogger who writes about her personal life and has, in the past, written about her relationship with her husband.

Here’s my take: while we hope bloggers chronicling their lives will be transparent and speak honestly, bloggers don’t “owe” their readers anything. If you read, it’s your choice–you don’t pay to read blogs. Bloggers write what they feel like sharing, and some parts of bloggers’ lives are (believe it or not) off-limits. This doesn’t mean they are necessarily being dishonest by omitting certain aspects of their lives … it just means that not everything is bloggable.

As a friend noted about Facebook recently, “people only share their highlights … not their lowlights. It’s selective sharing.” I don’t disagree; the same could certainly be said for the blogosphere. Ultimately, both spaces are only as authentic as we want them to be. And as bloggers, we choose what and how much we wish to divulge, recognizing (for better or for worse) that we are literally one search away from Google fame (i.e.,being ranked #1 , 2, 3 and 4, under Wikipedia’s link if you Google “disordered eater.”)

For example, I blogged about my disordered eating history as it was unfolding … but you won’t find me blogging about my relationship with my husband or my parents. I don’t blog about work and I don’t blog about my friends. I blog about many things … and might talk about other topics related to them, but certain realms of my life are off-limits. Not because those areas of my life are perfect — nothing truly is — but because that’s not my blog’s focus.

And to be honest, even if something WAS amiss in one of those areas, I don’t know I’d take to the blogosphere to share them, even if I did typically talk about them, out of respect to my husband/mom/etc. Does that make me inauthentic? No, I don’t think it does. I think it makes me human … and humans, by nature, selectively share. Sometimes with their significant others, sometimes with their best friends …

Maybe Heather used to feel comfortable sharing things and then realized it wasn’t in her (or her husband’s) best interest to continue doing so once things weren’t going well, and she couldn’t cope with it on her blog — completely understandable, in my opinion. Maybe she trusted in a friend, a confidante, a family member … but it’d be too much to share all her uncertainties with the blogosphere. Can you really blame her?

Because really, it’s none of our business, as readers, how much a writer shares — it’s his/her prerogative. I guess my message to the people who feel “blind-sided” by Heather’s announcement (or any blogger’s sudden life change) … you are entitled to feel however you do … but please do remember bloggers are people, too. You might feel they “owed” it to you to be honest all along … but the only person they need to be truly honest with is themselves. And maybe she was struggling with that very notion until now.

With respect to the couple at hand, I wish them the best and hope their marriage can be repaired — it sounds like there’s a glimmer of hope — but if it can’t, I don’t think anyone should fault Heather or make her feel worse for not sharing the nitty-gritty details along the way. It seems she had changed her focus away from family to more generic topics anyway the past few months, and hopefully she’ll continue to write for those who support her through thick and thin, without judgment.

OK, stepping off my soapbox now. 🙂

I leave you with this quote by Plato … “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

And on a totally upbeat note …  speaking of announcement posts … a super-happy one made its way to the blogosphere this weekend 🙂 I’d like to say DOUBLE congrats to one of my favorite bloggers, Heather of Heather Eats Almond Butter, who is pregnant with TWINS! Summer is going to be the best big sister; congrats to you and CD 🙂 Wishing you a wonderful pregnancy — we are all looking forward to hearing all about it!

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11 thoughts on “Open Letter to the Blogosphere: Blogger “Responsibility”

  1. Really interesting and I totally agree. Bloggers don’t owe you anything. Two mantras/philosophies come to mind: 1 – the only people who can ever truly know what is going on in a relationship are the people in that relationship and 2 – you should not tell other people’s stories on your blog (got the second one from The Bloggess). And when your relationship is awry, it’s not only your story. I feel like she shared enough.

    Maggie of Mighty Maggie split from her husband last year, wrote one post about it, and barely mentioned it since. It amounts to informing your readers that something in what they’re used to has changed.

    In one way, I wish more people were able to blog about their marriages without the sort of judgmental and hateful comments we know they’d get because I would find it really helpful (in the same way I find parenting blogs helpful and try not to judge them). With parenting, you can look all over and go, “Oh, okay, I’m not the only parent who’s had this problem.” With marriage issues, you’re hard-pressed to find someone sane who’s blogged about it.

    For what it’s worth, I hope they work it out. I have a soft spot in my heart for couples who go through stuff like this and keep it together.

    1. I totally agree–bloggers can’t often discuss their marriages–for obvious reasons; someone else is taken into account. But I agree it’s a shame … I find I reserve my marriage conversations for my best friend; somehow that seems “safer” than sharing anything here … but I agree, it’d be nice, especially if you’re a couple like we are: coming from two different cultures, two different religions, two different upbringings … we go it alone and find our way, but it’d be nice to know how others deal with these challenges.

      1. Yeah, I guess why I’d like to read about it online is because I don’t have anyone to talk to about it, unfortunately. It definitely is “safer” because you have a trustworthy listener and someone you know isn’t going to gossip about you or judge you, which is exactly what you need with marriage talk.

      2. We need to come up with a semi-private space … where women can (even anonymously) post their marriage-related posts and share experiences and offer counsel … because no couple is perfect and no marriage is without its challenges in one respect or another. (I’m always leery of couples who say “we never fight!” because that makes NO sense to me … how can two people possibly agree on every single thing!? Someone has to be holding back somewhere!)

      3. I like that idea. We were that couple that never fought, but we had nothing to fight about. Now the stakes are really high (having a child). I also grew up with parents who never fought. I saw them argue maybe 3x my whole life? So I thought not fighting was the norm. It’s been (and is) a steep learning curve. Your assessment that someone has to be holding back something is right on, I think.

      4. Wow–sadly, I can’t even imagine only 3 fights in a lifetime! My parents fought quite a bit – and still do – but they also love each other passionately and are both pretty headstrong people (as are me and Luis)… been together since they were 13. I’m not saying it’s right to fight ALL the time, either — I tend to poke at Luis when I’m mad and then he gets upset with me for poking, more than the initial issue at hand! — but some degree of discord is not out of the norm, at least, not MY norm! 😉

  2. A-freaking-men.

    I think the only thing (if I even dare say anything) is that its tough when a blogger you feel super-connected to is vague about something happening in their life. It isn’t inauthentic or still even my business to know what’s up, but it does make me wonder and then I feel a bit, almost, helpless?

    At any rate, I totally agree with what you’re saying and wish the best to Heather and all bloggers who face an uphill battle. Life is just so messy.

    1. Life IS so messy … and what you are saying makes sense about feeling almost helpless; not that you or anyone could have done anything to change it, but maybe there would have been new dialogues opened by her raising her concerns … though with him being an equally public figure, I guess it makes sense why she didn’t.

  3. I both agree and disagree. I think that bloggers have every right to keep the private things private, but I also think that as a consequence of being “public figures”, they’re absolutely opening themselves to scrutiny and criticism and it’s naive to think that people should only be supportive of everything they say and do. I don’t read Dooce, but I know that she and her husband make a living off the blog. As in, hundreds of thousands of dollars – if not more – off of their readers each year. If people don’t like what she writes, regardless of the reason, then they have every right to voice their dissent. And if she doesn’t want criticism, she should choose a different career (although don’t ask me which one! 😉 I read the comments on Dooce’s post and 99% of them seem positive and supportive, so I think it’s pretty natural to expect that a few people wouldn’t be.

    So yes, I agree, bloggers are people too, but so are celebrities and actors, and by making hundreds of millions of dollars on being public figures, they open their personal lives up to scrutiny too. I couldn’t handle that kind of life, which is why I could never do it for a living!

    1. I see your side, too, Alison; politicians and celebs are in the same boat — they are open to scrutiny the rest of the world isn’t simply because of the nature of their jobs. I shouldn’t lump bloggers into a separate category; you are right–women like Ree (PW) or Heather (Dooce) are famous because of their blogs … their PERSONAL blogs … but I still stand that readers shouldn’t feel blind-sided. Like Heidi Klum and Seal divorcing … came as a shock to me — they renewed their vows EVERY year! But what do I know about their relationship? Nada. And they owe me nothing, simply because I might enjoy their crafts.

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