I was enjoying a drink with my husband in a local ski resort town bar, when a woman (who we didn’t know) started up a random conversation. She told us a tragic story about a lovely couple whose wife was diagnosed with terminal cancer. My husband and I had lived in the same town (which was only 5 hours away) a few years early, so we knew many of the same people. When we asked what the couple’s name was, we were shocked to learn she was spreading rumors about our dear friends.
We quickly got on the phone and called them, but only reached the husband who was busy and vague about his wife’s illness and her whereabouts. All he said was…”she left and is somewhere in LA.” After weeks of tracking her down, we finally got the truth. She didn’t have cancer. She was healthy, but terribly heartbroken. After 12 years of marriage, her husband told her he didn’t love her anymore as they were boarding a 20-plus hour flight from South Africa back to the States. Angry and probably embarrassed by the news, her mother-in-law spread the cancer rumor around town. Little did she know that her little white lie would spread from town to town, and her daughter-in-law’s reputation would be damaged across the state.
Shortly after, my marriage failed, and when it happened, I knew right away that I would have to be my own PR person. Whatever story be told, my sound bite would be passed on to others, whether I liked it or not. So, I told the truth, yet carefully crafted my words in such a way that spun the divorce in a sensitive light. I owned my story and, even though the process was extremely difficult, I felt OK about how we ended it.
I knew that being a Bitter Betty or Bitter Bob wasn’t an option, and I didn’t want to be known as the bitter divorcee. I had heard stories about divorced men and women who had done crazy things in the midst of their heartache. One man painted a big “bird” (the middle finger) on his roof so every time his wife drove by the house on her way to work, she would see it. Another woman won her husband’s yacht in the divorce settlement, then sold it for $1. And another lady threw poop on her husband’s girlfriend. Great stories, but seriously, think about the consequences. It’s not fun being labeled “that crazy person” unless you want to go down in history.
Even though there might be feelings of anger, or resentment between one party or another, the first story that people will hear is probably the one that will stick. So, think about the stickiness. What’s your sound bite and how do you want your story to be told and remembered?