In late August, Shannon Neuman and her husband Chris went to the municipal court in Calgary, Alberta, to get a divorce. They had already filled out the forms and taken the requisite seminars. They navigated the 24-story Courts Centre and dropped their papers off.
Then, on their way out, Chris and Shannon — no longer the Neumans — paused in front of a courthouse sign. They snapped a selfie, both smiling.
“Here’s Chris Neuman and I yesterday after filing for divorce!” Shannon wrote in a Facebook post that was shared 11,000 times within its first hours online. (Wrote Chris, in the comments: “I couldn’t have hand-picked a better ex-wife if I tried.”)
Er … what is going on here? This isn’t at all the type of dialogue we expect around divorce, particularly since we’ve been taught that marriage is the only viable type of adult relationship or family structure. But in the era of platonic parenting and conscious uncoupling, these sorts of friendly, even triumphant #divorceselfies have become increasingly common. If you search the hashtag on Instagram, in fact, you’ll find over a hundred of them.
There were Keith Hinson and Michelle Knight, the Florida couple who split with a grinning selfie after three years. Jessica Hrivnak, the violin teacher who captioned hers “welcome to coparenting!” Amber Ortega and ex-husband Mike, who gives a thumbs-up to the phone.
“How is this a proud moment, seriously I’m curious?” One woman commented on Ortega’s Instagram.
“We were together for 13 yrs,” she wrote back. “Our time thriving together was fading and now we are able to step forward on separate paths.”
This is, incidentally, a common theme of #divorceselfies, no matter who posts them: The couples are always ecstatically, performatively happy. They’re optimistic about the future, and celebratory about the past. (A frequent, recurring caption: “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”)
Often, the messages include lengthy references to co-parenting or to children, a sort of Instagram-age update to “staying together for the kids.” The Neumans, of Calgary, are especially effusive on this: Their kids, they write, will never have to choose between them.
This should sound familiar, to anyone who’s read celebrity news in the past two years: It’s rather like the vision of “conscious uncoupling” that Gwyneth Paltrow described when she split from Chris Martin in 2014. It also echoes a recent trend toward “platonic parenting”: married couples who dissolve their romantic relationships, but remain together in the same house for their children.
In all those scenarios, couples have essentially reimagined what divorce is: neither a tragedy nor a failure nor a source of shame, in their minds, but a natural, amicable point of transition. In the process, of course, they’re reimagining what marriage is, as well: a partnership that, counter decades of Western thought, is not necessarily all-important, all-fulfilling or immutable. (“Perhaps the default for all of us should be ‘it’s complicated,’” argues the sociologist Jenny van Hooff.)
Regardless what you make of this new philosophy, it certainly seems to be the ethic embraced by the Neumans: On Facebook, Shannon wrote that she and her ex plan to “respectfully, thoughtfully and honorably” go forward as friends and “parenting partners” for their children.
“Now that you know it’s possible, please consider our way … or share our message,” Shannon wrote. As of this writing, nearly 35,000 people have done so.
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