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More Special Reports
|Posted April 20, 2008|
|When the Ex Writes a Blog,|
The Dirtiest Laundry Is Aired
|ANDY MANIS FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES|
|Penelope Trunk's marriage and divorce have been a frequent subject of her blog.|
|By LESLIE KAUFMAN|
This week, the potential of the Internet to expose and disgrace when marriages fall apart came into stark relief as Tricia Walsh Smith, who is being divorced by Philip Smith, a theater executive, put a video on YouTube announcing that they never had sex, and yet she found him hoarding Viagra, pornography and condoms.
Not surprisingly, Mr. Smiths lawyer, David Aronson, called the video appalling and said: Mr. Smith is a very private person. This is obviously embarrassing.
But in an era when more than one in 10 adult Internet users in the United States have blogs, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, many people are using the Web to tell their side of a marital saga. Despite the legal end of a marriage, the confessions can stretch toward eternity in a steady stream of enraged or despondent postings.
In separation, of course, one persons truth can be anothers lie. Often the postings are furtive. But even when the ex-spouse is well aware that he or she is starring in a blog and sues to stop it, recent rulings in New York and Vermont have showed the courts reluctant to intervene.
For the blogger, the writing can be therapeutic.
Until the morning her husband, David Sals, told her he was done with their marriage, Jennifer Neal had portrayed him so lovingly on her blog that he was called DearSweetDave. By the afternoon of that October day last year, Ms. Neal had shared what she portrayed as his perfidy with the 55,000 regular readers she says visit NakedJencom.
Soon after, readers came to know him by a far less flattering name, and as the guy whose insensitivity made Jen so sick that she was throwing up every day and so poor that she lost her house in Santa Cruz, Calif.
And when a despairing Jen discovered in February that her ex-husband had put his information up on Match.com, an Internet dating service, she linked to it from her blog, giving her readers a chance to share their thoughts.
Mr. Sals protested, but Ms. Neal held firm: If he wants to tell his side of the story, he should get his own blog.
Mr. Sals said that he had stopped reading her blog but that his family still sometimes looked at it and got upset. Ive never tried to make her stop, but Ive definitely had to adjust to giving up my privacy, he said.
It is impossible to say just how many people are blogging about divorce, but the percentage of Internet users with personal blogs has quadrupled in five years, according to Pew. Mary Madden, a senior researcher with the Pew Project who specializes in online relationships, said that in emotionally charged times, some people go to the Web.
It is a blank slate to unload all the frustrations and emotions of a personal crisis, Ms. Madden said.
There will certainly be consequences down the line of all this sharing. The long-term impact of the persistent information on line has not been fully felt, Ms. Madden said.
People tend to think that they are blogging for a small group of friends or that they are anonymous, she said. But that is not really the case, she said, because all it takes is one friend posting a link to your blog to out you.
Laurie, a Manhattan mother, started podcasting DivorcingDaze.com during her divorce in 2006. Each week Laurie and a divorced friend have a glass of wine and tape their discussions of the days topics spas, their boyfriends, Eliot Spitzer and then post to the web.
Laurie never told her ex-husband she was doing the programs because they were meant as advice to others and not as retribution, she said. She does not use her last name or her ex-husbands in her talks and asked that both names be withheld for this article.
Still, Laurie maintains no pretense of impartiality. The 10,000 monthly listeners she says download DivorcingDaze episodes have heard Laurie say that she discovered her ex-husband was having an affair with his boss from e-mail on his BlackBerry, and that he had told their older daughter he wasnt cheating because the marriage, in his mind, was already over
|Don't pick fights with people who buy pixels by the barrels.|
I am 100 percent aware that if he told his version of the marriage, it would be completely different, Laurie said.
So different in fact, that when her husband did find out about the podcasts last year, he sued her. He argued that they included statements that were obnoxious, derogatory or offensive and that they violated the terms of the divorce settlement that she not harass or malign him.
In a decision only weeks ago, however, a justice of the Supreme Court of the State of New York said his complaints were not grounds for blocking the podcast. While Lauries statements may be ill-advised and do not promote co-parenting, the court wrote, they were covered by the First Amendment.
Obviously, divorce lawyers are taking note. Deborah Lans of Cohen Lans, a Manhattan law firm with a thriving matrimonial practice, said, The last thing you want to see is angry people making uncontrolled statements.
Ms. Lans said her divorce agreements included a confidentiality provision that forbade either party to publish even fictionalized accounts of the marriage, but not every lawyer insists on that. The judge in Lauries case explicitly noted that her agreement did not have such a provision.
Earlier this year, a court in Vermont did tell William Krasnansky to take down his lightly disguised account of his divorce, in which he described his ex-wife in an unflattering light and blamed her for forcing him to sell their home at a ruinous loss. Mr. Krasnanksys ex-wife had complained that it was defamatory. But weeks later, after a firestorm of criticism, the court reversed itself and gave him the right to continue to publish.
For some ex-spouses, revenge is not the point. Writing about divorce can be good for readership.
The bloggers who are doing the best are those who are injecting their personal lives, said Penelope Trunk, the author of the Brazen Careerist blog, who has written frequently in the past year about the collapse of her 15-year marriage.
Ms. Trunk wrote about going to what she thought was a first session with a new marriage counselor chosen by her husband only to discover it was a divorce lawyers office. That was one of her most popular posts.
More painfully, she has written about the problems of a son who has Aspergers syndrome and said that both she and her husband believed the challenges of raising him helped cause their divorce.
But this kind of brutal honesty is not a good idea for children, especially since most harbor feelings of guilt about their parents divorce anyway, said Irene Goldenberg, a professor emeritus of psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles.
It is not good for children to get personal information in that way, Dr. Goldenberg said. And people have to consider doing things in the heat of the moment. The way they feel now will not be how they feel in two years, and there is no way it can be retrieved.
Ms. Trunk disagrees.
It is a generational issue, she said. We think it will be a big deal, but it wont be to them. By the time they are old enough to read it, they will have spent their entire life online. It will be like, Oh yeah, I expected that.
Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company. Reprinted from The New York Times, National, Friday, April 18, 2008.
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