You don't have to be divorced to be sucked in by the new HuffPost Divorce section on The Huffington Post; you just have to have thought about getting one. Which basically includes every married person on the planet.
It began, as so many things do, with coffee. In June, Arianna Huffington, founder of the site; the writer and director Nora Ephron; and Alessandra Stanley, the chief television critic for The New York Times — each with at least one divorce behind them — were having breakfast at the Hamptons home Ephron shares with husband, Nicholas Pileggi.
Ephron had just completed an essay about divorce for her book "I Remember Nothing," which is about aging, and was musing aloud that The Huffington Post should devote some bandwidth to the subject. Now she's the founding editor of that part of the website.
"You think about all these people who buy magazines for weddings, something that takes, what? One year of your life?" she said. "But divorce is unending."
With Ephron aboard, Huffington spun into action; the tagline for the site became "Marriage comes and goes, but divorce is forever."
One week after its debut on Nov. 8, HuffPo's divorce section was the eighth most popular area on the site (out of 27 sections), with about 500,000 page views its first week, thousands and thousands of comments, and grim, slightly creepy ads (thecellsnoop.com, yourdivorcemediator.com).
"I've started calling it the Divorce Source," said Jane Greer, a couples counselor and author of "What About Me?," a book about how selfishness destroys relationships.
"People are paying attention because it allows readers to see very intelligent, often very powerful people who've been where they've been, who are just as hurt, shocked and furious — and who've overcome," she said.
Huffington agreed. "I think people love it when anyone is willing to be vulnerable about their own life, because so much out there, in women's magazines especially, is about the pretense of perfection," she said.
Huffington, who recalls being deeply relieved when her mother divorced her philandering father, had a much-publicized divorce from Michael Huffington, an oil millionaire and former congressman, in 1997. The site has given her a chance to write about her experience, including a family vacation with her children and her ex in 2009 — something that seemed inconceivable a few years ago.
"We wanted this section to acknowledge the serious and lighthearted aspects of what has become, for so many, a rite of passage," she said.
And so it does. It's not that there aren't other places online to get information and cranky opinions about what Ambrose Bierce defined as "a resumption of diplomatic relations and rectification of boundaries." But none can match the weird high culture/low culture mishmash on The Huffington Post.
There, Judith Wallerstein, author of the sobering "The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce," can share a place at the table with the novelist Jane Smiley and her contrarian offering: "Divorce! It's Good for the Children!" Men weigh in with regrets about their vasectomies, women with regrets about — well, everything else. There are happy divorces, bitter divorces — and reverse divorces. (One headline: "Britney Spears' Divorced Parents Back Together After 8 Years")
Then there's the Twitter feed titled "The Moment I Knew," where readers vent about everything from the quietly heartbreaking ("When he said to me I'd be important to him in 20 years, after his retirement") to the darkly hilarious ("He crumbled baguettes all over the food and serving utensils knowing I have a severe wheat allergy.")
And there's something to annoy everyone — including perhaps Ephron herself. Imagine being in the midst of a book tour and one day tuning in to your site to find a post by actor Alec Baldwin titled "Mum's the Word for a Smarter Divorce." It's about a famous couple named "Cal" and "Dora." Baldwin, a friend of "Cal's," is advising "Dora" to shut up already about the breakup.
Baldwin, who had his own very public divorce from Kim Basinger, apparently does not see the irony of telling others to not obsess about their messy divorces. He wrote: "It may be too late for Dora, who, if they gave prizes for bashing your ex, would have won the Pulitzer, Nobel and screenwriting Oscar by now."
Ephron, whose novel "Heartburn," a fictionalized account of her divorce from journalist Carl Bernstein, is one of the great evening-the-score books of the past 30 years, sounds both exasperated and amused.
"Am I going to answer him?" she asked. "No. No. Of course not."
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Still, she is the first to acknowledge the fascination with high-profile divorces like her own (See the Nov. 16 piece: "Expensive Divorces: 6 High-Profile Splits.) "Divorce has become such a spectator sport," she said. "We talk about Tipper and Al like we know them, even though none of us know the truth of anyone's marriage, much less their divorce."
Ephron — not exactly known for being a cockeyed optimist — even thinks that the site might have a salubrious effect on marriage in America.
"Who knows?" she said. "Maybe just reading all about this will scare people away."