Discover more from Hugo Schwyzer
Victoria and I have separated. We will be divorcing.
Twenty years ago this summer, I started my first blog. In the later aughts, I became infamous as a relatively rare male participant in the culture of online oversharing. It was attention-seeking dressed up as the therapeutic. It was ego, disguised as generosity. “The more we share our secrets, the more we liberate ourselves and others from shame and self-loathing.” My fellow confessional bloggers and I told ourselves that airing one’s dirty laundry was an act of service, as it reminded others that stains were not evidence of failure or wickedness, but a reminder of one’s ordinary human frailty.
If we aired someone else’s dirty laundry – well, they shouldn’t have left their marks on our sheets. The truth shall set us free, and the more lurid the truth you shared, the freer you would be. I know a great many people who exchanged their private pain for clicks a decade or more ago. Many of them were very young when they wrote those essays. Not all found the experience as cathartic or rewarding as they had hoped. (Some did find healing in the oversharing, and I note that.)
To write is to calibrate. To be a memoirist, even in short essays, is to ask, again and again, “What am I sharing, and why am I sharing it? How will I feel about this in a year, or 20? How will my children feel? Who will it hurt, and who will it heal?”
Asking doesn’t mean you’re going to get a clear reply. If you poll therapists and counselors, friends and family, you may get conflicting answers. (Again, this is what ghostwriters and writing coaches do for a living – help you work through what should be shared, and what you should withhold. If you hire me, you are my client, but I am keenly concerned with how you will feel about this project years after it is done. I am concerned not just with the story you tell, but the story your loved ones read.). Sometimes, you just need to trust your instincts, even as you recognize that those instincts are often wrong.
This separation and impending divorce are painful. That’s an understatement, and it’s incomplete, and it leaves many questions unanswered. I could decide to not mention it at all, but enough of my readers know my private life that it would soon become untenable. Constantly being asked, “Are you going to write about it?” would get tiresome. Other friends who didn’t find out via the proverbial grapevine would be indignant if they found out months down the road.
Both after my second divorce in 1996 and my fourth divorce in 2013, I had a major breakdown. The latter was very public and very unpleasant and is seared into my memory and the memories of those who love me. Some people are understandably afraid of a repeat. I can assure you that I am doing everything I can to stay safe and stable. I can also say, with humor that verges on the scandalous and dark, that I only have breakdowns after an even-numbered divorce. I kept an even keel after the end of my first and third marriages, and I expect the demise of number five to see the same result.
Five divorces invite mockery, and comparisons to Liz Taylor or Jerry Lee Lewis. I will accept some teasing, but even the most inconstant and unreliable of us get to set some boundaries. Repetition, as any writer knows, turns tragedy into farce. That is the audience’s experience, but not the character’s. The actor playing King Lear on the stage must go mad with the same grief at the 27th performance as he did on opening night. There is no anesthesia in repetition.
There is pain, and there is grief, and there is shame, and the fact that I do not explain them in detail does not mean that I do not feel these feelings. Do not mistake a commitment to privacy for an absence of emotion. As I tell my clients, “You don’t need to show every scar to prove you’ve been wounded. You don’t have to confess every misdeed to prove you accept responsibility for your failings.”
I am ending things with someone to whom I promised I would never end things. I have hurt her, and I have hurt her friends and family. I have been hurt too, and we leave it there. To explain more is to compound injury. (I will say that we need to find a roommate for Victoria. If anyone is looking for a private room – and their own bathroom – in a very nice and bright apartment in Lawndale, California, please do let me know.)
I will take care of my children, and I will love my family, and I will meet the deadlines my clients set. I will find a way to accept myself in all my strange and maddening shortcomings, and I will ask the reader to remember that the absence of a detailed accounting is not evidence of the absence of either grief or responsibility.