How do I rehabilitate my SO's image on a message board I frequent?
July 21, 2014 12:48 PM   Subscribe

I have for some years participated in a genberal interest message board I enjoy, where people frequently post personal topics. My SO has changed a lot since I first started posting about him, but people still seem to be influenced by first impessions of him. Can I 'rehabilitate' them somehow? Should I even try to?

The board is a women's sort of gathering place type board where people talk about current events and stuff like that, but also general chatter aboout homes, jobs, families etc. There is a tendency to post more about stuff you need advice on, which is natual, I suppose (you seldom need advice about the stuff that's working!) and that's part of my problem.

But the other part is that when I met him, we were both older and had some baggage we hadn;t worked throuugh yet. Once we got past the starry-eyed lovebirds stage, we did have some struggles with how to deal with this stuff sanely---there were reasons his previous relationships did not work out, and reasons why some of MY coping strategies either helped or didn't help the siutation.

We stumbled upon (through advice from someone else) a fabulous therapist who has helped us both develop better coping strategies for the occassional tough thing, and to deal with our past baggage so we are better people both alone and together. We have come SUCH a long way and are actually really happy together 99% of the time, with the 1% we are not happy mostly the usual couple stuff that always comes up for anyone, or somebody being ill (this can be a big deal for him due to a health condition he has). We have just celebrated three years together, and are both in much better places than we were when we started.

The problem is that the message board people still seem to be influenced by stuff I posted about him before we made all this progress and did all this work. So if I ever say anything about him, they jump all over it as 'well, he's always been difficult' or 'well, if he did something wrong, maybe you should leave him' etc. They (obviously) so not see the full picture of our lives, nor is it necessarily their business, but I wish I could post about him with more of a cleaned slate. I don't know if it is possible, or desirable, to achieve this.

For what it's worth, the Boy thinks message boards (as a general concept) are stupid, and that the solution is to just stop posting there in the first place. But I find that my personality type is such that I do value this sort of advice/chat/gathering place. Sometimes, it is nice to hear how other people deal with problems. But if, every time I post about one, I am going top get jumped on about what a bad guy he is (which he is not!) I am losing that benefit.

I have tried, unsuccessfully, to look for a new board elsewhere. I have not found one that has decent traffic and participation, and covers the range of topics this one does. So, what is the solution here?
posted by JoannaC to Human Relations (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you've looked for alternative message boards, that implies you're not overly committed to the identity you've built on this one, so why not just open a new account with an unrelated handle and start fresh?
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:54 PM on July 21, 2014 [13 favorites]

Would it be a huge breach of community norms for you to bow out of your current username there and create a new one, and continue participating? Your husband made big changes for you, but your message board community doesn't see that firsthand, so maybe you need to make big changes for them, too.
posted by Tomorrowful at 12:55 PM on July 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

If it's the kind of place where everyone knows the details of most of the other posters, and if you think it would work, how about a "state of JoannaC's relationship" thread where you talk about your changing relationship and how much therapy has helped you two. You could even couch it as a kind of guide to couples therapy if that would be something relevant to the board?

If it's just a couple of people who keep bringing this up, I would consider messaging them privately to fill them in on how different things are now, and that you appreciate their concern but that it is misplaced.
posted by mymbleth at 12:56 PM on July 21, 2014 [8 favorites]

You could have a Brand New Day on that message board and start over with a new name. But the other solution would be to start posting lots of upbeat positive stuff about the ways your relationship is working really well. The board can only go on the information you give them, so if you want to rebalance their perspective, give them the positive information. "SO was so thoughtful!/I was thinking about what a long way we've come/I'm lucky to have built such a great life with him," and not just "Grah he forgot to take out the garbage again when will he ever learn."

But I've found a few communities where there's a sort of communal airing of grievances regarding the terrible men in their lives as a way of bonding -- which builds an overall environment of rampant negativity. If the social grooming in this board takes place through complaining about your SOs, maybe it's not a great board after all.
posted by Andrhia at 12:57 PM on July 21, 2014 [6 favorites]

Do not try to rehabilitate his image. Try to care a bit less about what people think and make your boundaries clear.

If you want to stay on this particular board, you might consider one post to clarify things (eg: "I don't want to hear about what an awful guy my partner is based on my earlier posts. We've come a long way.) If people don't respect those boundaries, then find another board.
posted by Gray Skies at 12:58 PM on July 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Not to thread-sit, but yes, it would be a huge breach of board etiquette to make a new account. People have tried that before and been banned for it. People like having the past context to work with when responding to someone, and I understand the rationale behind that. Generally, it works well but sometimes there is a pack mentality (I am not the only one who has been dumped on in the way I describe!) and a comment you don't think is anything turns out to be :)
posted by JoannaC at 12:59 PM on July 21, 2014

When you say something about him now, is it in a positive or negative context? If they're saying things like 'well, he's always been difficult' or 'well, if he did something wrong, maybe you should leave him' it sounds like you're still posting negative things about your relationship, but you don't want their answers to take your relationship history into account.

Can you reframe how you interact with the board? If you're looking for some place to vent about your relationship issues, you won't be able to rehabilitate his image because that is not the goal.

It sounds like the board you're describing is a toxic one for you. What are you looking for in a board?
posted by RainyJay at 1:01 PM on July 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

I can sort of relate to this. My husband and I went through a seriously trying time about 9 years ago and I have had the same tight group of internet friends before, during, and after. My advice is twofold:

1. Don't go to a great effort to convince them how great he is. This type of thing never, ever convinces anyone and in fact usually has the opposite effect of making people think you're trying too hard and therefore must be covering up some sort of badness. Just keep posting like you always have. Trust is regained in time, whether in a one-on-one relationship or in a larger group. That said:

2. Stop complaining about him - in general, not just on the internet. It's my feeling that my relationship with my husband is sacred, and yeah, maybe its annoying how he {fill in the blank} but that's not really anyone's business. We love each other and we're good and nobody needs to know the nitty-gritty. I think a lot of times, especially on the internet, people complain about their spouses (and all parts of life, really) in solidarity or to feel like a part of the group, but in reality all that does is foster negativity that can become realer than it was in the first place, and drag down everyone involved. So I will make occasional jokes about how my husband wasted the entire afternoon soldering a 3.5" floppy disk drive into a modern computer for fun (yesterday!), but I will not ever go into detailed actual complaints with people outside my inner circle. There's just no point and to me it devalues our relationship to complain about him to acquaintances just so I can participate in an internet conversation.
posted by something something at 1:02 PM on July 21, 2014 [28 favorites]

I've seen this happen on message boards. The only thing that seems to fix it is time. You have to consider that the other posters aren't actually trying to be difficult (probably), it's just that LOTS of people really do stay with abusive/awful/incompatible partners for horrible reasons, and when the other posters don't know your whole story but recall the difficulties you post about, it's not illogical when they assume you might be one of those people. But once you've been married for ten years and you're still writing about your happy life - incidentally, not in a forced, protesting-too-much way - they'll get over it. They might still be thinking "hmm, what's up with that?" but they won't post those thoughts anymore.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 1:28 PM on July 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

It sounds like the board you're describing is a toxic one for you.


Stop talking about him, and put users who insist on bringing it up on your ignore list (most board with strict no-new-name rules have such features).

Make yourself read while logged out (and give yourself a long password that's hard to type in) and wean yourself off.

Set a counter. "It's been 3 days since I last posted / 2 days since I last read." and eventually DTMFMB.

Life is too short to let their constant natter drive your self-worth.
posted by Buttons Bellbottom at 1:28 PM on July 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

I am having a hard time reconciling your statement that this place is a useful source of advice for you with the suggestion that you can't write about him w/o this inappropriate fixation on his past personality. Is it really as useful as you think? Toxic seems strong, but there's some disconnect here.

But, if you're sure you get value out of this place but it's polluted by the past - I'd say you violate the Brand New Day etiquette and just don't get caught. Having an established identity is nice but this seems to be an impossible either-or.

Because to answer your question: no, don't try to rehabilitate him in their eyes. Because doing so in any other way than simply continuing to post honestly is going to be transparent and have the exact opposite effect.
posted by phearlez at 1:36 PM on July 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Is it absolutely imperative that you get your advice on THIS board? If you can't create a new account without being banned, then perhaps you should find a new board.
posted by tckma at 1:45 PM on July 21, 2014

Well, once someone gets a bad reputation, it never goes away no matter what you do afterwards. So I think there's nothing you can do to rehabilitate him in the eyes of people who don't even know him in person. I think you probably need to either dump the board entirely if this bothers you, or just never speak about your SO specifically there because you know what kind of responses you'll get.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:15 PM on July 21, 2014

Just make any issues with partner a no-go on that board. Find another place to ask for relationship. It's not like you're getting great advice there anyway if the well is poisoned when it comes to the impression others have of your partner.
posted by quince at 2:21 PM on July 21, 2014

If the perceptions you're trying to override are about him and not you, maybe you could try the "shoot the hostage" approach and claim that you're with someone new. Thus getting a blank slate with which to describe him, but receiving the same kind of feedback you've always enjoyed.

I suppose it depends on how much previous relationship history gets brought up in new discussions, whether you'd have difficulty keeping Old Boy and New Boy separate and not conflating them and arousing suspicion. Also, you'd get to draw a moustache on him in any new photos you post.
posted by XMLicious at 2:26 PM on July 21, 2014

The problem is that the message board people still seem to be influenced by stuff I posted about him before we made all this progress and did all this work. So if I ever say anything about him, they jump all over it as 'well, he's always been difficult' or 'well, if he did something wrong, maybe you should leave him' etc. They (obviously) so not see the full picture of our lives, nor is it necessarily their business, but I wish I could post about him with more of a cleaned slate. I don't know if it is possible, or desirable, to achieve this.

I have seen this happen a zillion times. Sometimes a person will have a specific friend or group of friends to whom they vent about their significant other, or look for advice regarding their relationship. The outcome is always the same: That friend, or group of friends, wind up hating the partner because they hear so much horrible shit about him or her. We are not kind when we vent; we do not consider the most balanced position possible when we ask for advice regarding difficulties with our significant others.

This isn't salvageable the way you want it to be; you can't rehabilitate his image with them and you shouldn't bother trying. They are not going to think of him the way you want them to think of him. In the future, do not say anything negative about your partner on this message board. Don't talk about him at all if you can help it; the odd complimentary thing here and there wouldn't go amiss but do not ask them for any more advice about him and do not vent to them about him. You have (inadvertently) strip-mined this resource and you won't be able to get useful feedback from them about your partner.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 3:29 PM on July 21, 2014 [7 favorites]

tell them what you think. why not just let them know the truth. You don't have to knock anyone down, but write a post about him and how things are much better than they were and how its great now. You can counter direct statements.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:46 PM on July 21, 2014

Best answer: I think people have made a lot of great points so this is just to add to that even though it's a bit late in the game. I, too, was part of a similar online community for many years and can understand how it feels like so much like home to you. However, I have to agree with previous posters that it doesn't sound like the healthiest -- or at the least, happiest -- place for you right now. Should you decide to keep posting there -- and that's totally your choice -- I agree that either not mentioning your relationship or minimizing what you share would probably be best. It's super hard to do that but even harder to change people's minds: it's SO easy to sit behind a keyboard dispensing wisdom -- right? I mean, we're all there right now but I have to say that Metafilter is good at encouraging people to be self-aware while discouraging drama. People will definitely say DTMFA at times (like in terms of abuse which doesn't sound the case here at all) but I think people are also life-experienced enough to know that relationships are a two-way street and that no one's perfect. I don't know your relationship details but if you two could find a good workable solution through a therapist, then who's to say it's not working out?!

Back to being behind the screen: in my particular community, most people had some very negative relationship experience so having a relationship that seemed "healthy" was very important in that it was a sign that we were all "better" and that we were truly living by the advice we were dispensing left and right. It turned out that many people were NOT in the healthiest of relationships themselves but that the environment made it hard to truly be honest -- as you said and others have said, when we're in a rut, we are painfully honest and sometimes the sharing comes back to haunt us (even as we come to understand and accept the complexities, others may not. And that's OK, just hard for you!) I would certainly hope that those in your community are having healthy and happy relationships but some (many?) are not and perhaps their anger is partially a projection. Life is complicated and it's hard, if not impossible, to truly comprehend online, as much as we may share!

I eventually left the community, although it took a few tries over a few years. I'm glad to have joined Metafilter as it enables me to enjoy participating in a messageboard but with a bit more distance (and maturity!) than the other one. I have kept in touch with my closest buddies from the other community -- most of whom I've met in person and all of whom I feel are truly understanding and mature when it comes to the complexities of relationships. I rarely give out advice to friends or students (I'm an educator) unless they ask and, even then, am really careful about what I say or how I say it. (I get the irony of my posting advice here right now, haha, and that's OK!) I would sincerely hope that the members of your community have matured, too, and give you the benefit of the doubt that you deserve but it doesn't sound like the case, sadly. In person, it'd be a whole 'nother story as it's mostly observational rather than the carefully curated written word.

One more thing to consider in terms of your partner's POV: you say that he finds message boards stupid in general, which may be the case (even if it's a bit off-putting to hear. ;-) However, I have to wonder if it's more about his reaction to your being part of that particular community? He may not have read your posts or what not but he surely sees how you are feeling after posting or reading there. Of course, no one likes being talked badly about but perhaps the thing bothering him most is seeing you become unhappy after posting there and he's calling you out on it. (My partner does this to me -- and vice versa -- and it's been helpful in increasing my self-awareness, which is overall good but not always the strongest online because of the limitations of the medium.) Again, this is all more about sharing my personal experience in case you see any parallels rather than my assuming how your situation is, and I certainly understand all the positives that come with belonging to a tightly-knit online community. Best of luck to you, and you are welcome to PM me if you would like to discuss this a little bit more privately.
posted by smorgasbord at 4:52 PM on July 23, 2014

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