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Airing Your Dirty Linen in Public

by Hayley Doyle

‘You ok, hun?’

If you’ve ever had this response written in the comments below one of your social media posts, it’s likely you just aired your dirty linen for all to see…and judge. Maybe you meant it in jest. Maybe it was passive aggressive. Full-throttle or not, you’ve made a decision to share your privacy and make it available for whoever fancies a piece.

But, so what?

Your choice, right?

Surely we live in a world where we can say how we feel and not keep all of our anger locked and bolted between four walls? What if you needed to vent? Seek advice? Revenge? Help? Perhaps you find it easier to express your feelings this way, rather than actually talking to somebody face-to-face. Or, perhaps - just perhaps - you really love the drama.

The Johnny Depp and Amber Heard trial has shone a crazy spotlight on airing dirty linen in public. Throughout our lifetime, it’s been the norm to pick up trashy magazines and see celeb gossip splattered across the front page. But Johnny Depp recently winning his defamation case against ex-wife Amber Heard had the globe glued to their screens in what has been described by lawyer and broadcaster, Andrew Eborn, as toxic, traumatic and torrid, and overall, a ‘TikTok trial!’ And there was even the accusation of actual dirty linen, as opposed to all the metaphorical madness, but let’s not get into those filthy details, eh?

I was brought up in the kind of house where fights were whispered, unless the neighbours were on holiday. ‘I don’t want the whole street knowing our business,’ my mum would remind us whenever we raised a voice. If one of us slammed a door, my mum would dart after us and point towards next-door, hissing through gritted teeth, ‘They heard that.’ To which one of us would respond, ‘Oh, they don’t care.’ And my mum would say, (rather loudly, in all fairness), ‘Well, I care!’

The thing is, I am a huge sharer. Colossal. I can admit to somebody that I’m an open book within seconds of meeting them. I hate small talk. I love diving straight in and chewing the fat. I’ll tell an honest story and welcome anybody who feels the need to offload without judgement. However, all this exists in person. One-on-one. I listen to my gut instinct. Try my best to read a room. We have a cup of tea. Share a bag of Minstrels. We might crack open the bubbles, despite the lack of celebration. Because in person, you make the call on what you tell to whom you tell. You get a sense of whether you’re heading in the right or wrong direction. Body language, eye contact, engagement, heavy breathing, tension, and laughter, all of these and more, are signs leading you into a safe space to continue and feel supported, or to wrap up and walk away.

Have I ever overshared in public, though? On social media?

Well, if I have, it was unintentional.

Let’s rewind the clock back to 2008. You might remember this era as the ‘IS’ days, when Facebook had that little two-letter word beside your name. Logging into the still sorta newish platform (and accepting every single Friend Request as if we were collecting sweets) we’d spot our name followed by ‘is’ and feel utterly compelled to write what we were. How we felt. Otherwise, we were just…nothing. And if you were a total amateur to the game, like I was, the ‘is’ function was overused, usually for daft in-jokes or light shock/horror from pop culture. So when I wrote; Hayley Doyle is…devastated. I was flooded with responses of, ‘You okay, hun?’

So. To put this dramatic status into context, I’d been watching Grey’s Anatomy and one of my favourite characters had just been killed off unexpectedly. I truly hadn’t realised the impact of writing a cryptic feeling beside my name. That something I could put out there, in the heat of the moment, not to mention so meaningless in the grand scheme of things, would be taken so literally. So damn seriously. Family members I rarely spoke to privately messaged, asking if everything was alright. Friends I’d known since I was five (yet hadn’t seen in the flesh for 15 years) wrote on my wall, sending love. Many people simply wrote in the comments, ?????!!!!! Even my boss at the time read into this way too deeply. She called me to her office demanding to know what was “going on” with me. What had I done? What did this mean? Was I having a breakdown? Uhm, well. I was joking about. And clearly not one of my funniest moments. Of course, I updated those who expressed concern with the truth - without ‘spoilers’ - and had to admit that, yeah, maybe I was getting a bit too carried away with a TV show about surgeons (it happens, right?!). Soon after, Facebook scrapped the ‘is’, I stuck to posting bland birthday-type stuff and stopped accepting Friend Requests from people I worked for.

But that silly anecdote did make me wonder about those who choose to really let it out. Air that dirty linen, so to speak. I created a whole lot of drama over one word. How do people cope when they unleash the beasts? Certain celebrities air their dirty linen as part of their job, which can’t be easy. Sure, they might get paid for a magazine story or morning TV appearance, but behind closed doors, they still have to deal with whatever issues or trauma have become public. Those who survive the scandal generally express gratitude to their inner support network, the real people around them, helping to pick up the pieces rather than take a piece of the action.

But deciding to air your dirty linen online might create a false safe space. Yes, you can certainly expect to get a response. However, many of these responders don’t really care about your situation. They just reacted. They electronically sent you their love. But then, they shut down their laptop or opened a different app on their phone. Their support can be gone as quickly as it arrived. So if you’re hoping to get real emotional support, posting about it publicly is probably not the best way to go about it.

It’s a difficult one though, isn’t it? With the great advances of tech, we’ve also witnessed a loss in human connection. All we can do is strive daily to keep connected rather than isolated, but for many, it’s via social media. When you’re going through a traumatic time, it can be a relief to share what you’ve been up to, even if it’s faux-positive about living life to the full. But you must consider if your post is appropriate. Are you going through any kind of legal battle? Are children involved? As family lawyer and legal director, Kelly Gerrard says, ‘Don’t post anything that you would be embarrassed to have a judge read out in court. The same applies to e-mail communications which will frequently be admitted into evidence.’ You might have blocked your Ex, but you’re likely to have mutual friends, and we all know how painfully easy it is to share. It’s worth remembering how brilliant kids are with tech these days, too. Super savvy. If you’ve put something online that you regret and never want your children to see, well, unfortunately they will find it. A moment of madness from you could be longterm damage for them.

And it’s not just what you say, write or share that airs your dirty linen, either. If you comment or like somebody else’s post, this can speak volumes about what’s going on with you, too. Kelly Gerrard reminds us that, ‘In her divorce from Ant McPartlin, Lisa Armstrong was widely perceived as the wronged party. She said little publicly herself but liked a number of tweets criticising her former spouse and his new relationship with their former PA thus making her feelings very clear.’

On the flip side though, being told by your partner not to “air our dirty linen” can enforce an “us against the world” attitude, cutting you off from the emotional support you need. There is nothing wrong with speaking to a trusted friend about your so-called dirty linen. In fact, it can prevent you falling into the trap of a manipulative relationship with somebody who gaslights you. As Ramani Durvasula, a clinical psychologist specialising in narcissism and abuse in relationships, says, ‘If we feel like we’re being silenced, so we have no place to get help, that’s when that dynamic gets dangerous.’

So if your basket of dirty linen is overflowing, sift through it, one item at a time. Breathe. Talk to somebody who you know you can trust. The support is out there for you; the right support. And one day, that messy basket will be empty again and your linen will be clean and fresh!


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