Yesterday, this comment popped up in my review queue:
At first glance, it’s not anything noteworthy. I’m a public figure and share lots of the details of my family life online; I get lots of criticism from people who disagree with my perspective. That’s okay. I don’t pretend to be perfect (as my unshowered IG stories can attest).
But what drew my attention to it is the use of quotation marks around my name.
Kate Chapman isn’t the name I use in my daily life. Very few people know that. I chose to use a variation of a family name to share our story. While I want divorced parents and stepparents to be able to find me easily via a quick web search, I don’t want our children’s friends 15 years from now to be able to do the same thing.
If we met in real life, I wouldn’t tell you I write one of the top divorce blogs on the internet. I wouldn’t tell you I write at all. This blog is and always has been my story, and protecting the privacy of those close to me, who have their own stories, is critically important.
It appears that Becky knows me, but I don’t know her. She’s making a clear, powerful statement about me and my family, with no firsthand information.
This may strike you as strange, but it is all too familiar to me.
I once had lunch with a new friend I’d met in our small town, and caught her looking at me just a little too long as our dessert was served. “I just can’t imagine you doing what I heard you did,” she said. I’d been the topic of discussion at at her book club meeting.
My stepchildren’s friends’ mothers are standoffish when they first meet me. After they know me, they often share what they’ve heard about me. They are always much too tactful to ask if it’s true, but the question lingers unasked above our wine glasses.
Editors who publish my work often receive long tirades about “who I really am,” and “what I’ve done.” Babysitters often mention how different I am from “what they expected.” A valuable work relationship ended after I made a public LinkedIn connection, but well before it had a chance to begin, with no explanation. My children have come home from church events asking me if what they heard about me from a visiting youth group member is true.
I am the subject of a long-standing, nasty rumor.
The story swirling about me is long and involved and very compelling. It suggests the betrayal of a close friend and a long-term affair and includes details that would make a terrific Lifetime movie.
But it isn’t true.
I’ve shared many of the details about my divorce, my reluctant re-entry into the dating world, and my marriage to Gabe here. What I haven’t shared remains private, but I can assure you the details would bore you. While I know some of the story around Gabe’s divorce, I believe that is also better kept private, and the property of Gabe and his ex.
That’s the reality of this life. There’s a story still told around town, years later, that isn’t true. I walk into conference rooms and onto soccer fields knowing that people may believe something about me that is patently untrue, wildly unkind, and morally objectionable. And yet, I’ve never proactively addressed it. I’ve only said it isn’t true when directly pressed.
It used to eat me alive.
Just after our engagement, I got a nasty email diatribe that left me sobbing for hours. I used to lie awake at night fantasizing about how to address the rumors. I crafted elaborate scenarios in my head where I told everyone what really happened and watched their jaws drop.
I’d bring the full weight of my pain and anger into other, barely related conversations with my husband. I let it rest on the shoulders of my stepchildren, making it difficult to kiss their foreheads and return their snuggles and help with their homework.
But it doesn’t bother me anymore.
Sure, I notice it. I care enough to be curious about the woman who sent the email last night, laboring under a negative impression that I didn’t create. I care enough to respond and ask her to call me (she hasn’t yet).
Yes, I wish it were different, in the same way I wish all children had enough to eat and no one ever died alone and we owned a beach house. I wish the truth was as compelling as the story murmured at book club.
But I don’t care enough to let it impact me beyond that passing curiosity and disappointment.
I don’t have time to waste.
I know what’s true. The people who matter most to me also know the truth. The others? They have plenty of time and information to make up their own minds, and what they ultimately decide is none of my concern.
This life I am living is richer than I ever could have dreamed.
The children I have the good fortune to be parenting (even with a prefix) fill my life with a joy and wonder I never expected. I birthed three children and ended up with six. They are tall and loud and sassy and so full of life I can barely stand it. I drove Amy home from dance tonight and marveled at the kind, capable young woman she is becoming. I touched Lottie’s soft cheek as she slept and had to fight back tears. What an incredible gift.
My partner on this journey? I still catch my breath when I think of him. I have no stronger supporter, at work, home or behind the keyboard than the man I married (after he asked the second time). He makes me laugh and plays the piano for me and weeds the borders on Saturday afternoons while I nap. I am grateful beyond measure that I will spend every day until my last by his side.
This “work” I do? Connecting with people who allow me to bear witness as they create incredible, positive change in their life? Holding space for grief when it becomes too heavy for others to bear? Being a companion to someone who thought she was alone? How did this even happen? How did I get so lucky?
To spend more than a passing minute of this life on the silliness of a story that isn’t true, woven from what I can only imagine is disappointment and anger and self-loathing, would be a crime. To battle on the fields of internet comments and PTA whispers is a waste of precious time.
The story doesn’t matter. The person who started it doesn’t matter. How or when it is retold doesn’t matter.
It isn’t real.
This wild, chaotic, noisy life in progress? That’s what’s real. These people I love fiercely, the man standing beside me and the work that serves something bigger than myself. That’s what deserves every bit of my attention, because it there’s magic and mess in every minute. And I don’t want to miss a single second.
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Note to my most faithful readers worried about my use of a pen name: thank you for allowing me the grace to share our story truthfully and candidly while protecting my family’s privacy. Kate is a name I love and answer to proudly. It is very much who I am, and the images of me and events I talk about are real. You know me in a way many in my real life do not. I’m still your Kate.