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CHELSEA O'BYRNE

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The other day I had an argument with my husband of more than 40 years – the same argument we’ve been having on and off since the early 1970s.

Him: If you carry on like this, we’ll be eating cat food when we’re old.

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Me: We are old!

Same crap, different year, I thought, and went into my study. I opened my laptop. An article on Facebook relationship statuses caught my eye. I scanned it and discovered, to my surprise, that there are 11 relationship options. Eleven! How had I missed that?

I opened up my Facebook account, which my youngest son had set up for me years ago. I don’t think I’ve ever checked to see if it was correct. My main page was pretty accurate except that I don’t live in Ottawa anymore. Under “Family and relationships” I found that yes, I was married, they got that right, and there was a little heart beside the word to prove it. Off to the side – way off to the side – was a tiny innocuous-looking square with one word inside: edit.

I clicked on it and was transported to a world where I could be, if I wanted: Single, In a Relationship, Engaged, Married, In a Civil Union, In a Domestic Partnership, In an Open Relationship, It’s Complicated, Separated, Divorced or Widowed.

On a whim – and because there was no 12th option for “In an Uncivil Union,” I chose, from the convenient drop-down menu, It’s Complicated. Then, after spending a couple of minutes scrolling through my feed, I closed my laptop, went into the kitchen and put the kettle on. It’s Complicated was definitely not a lie, I decided, as I reached for the teabags. You can qualify for that status and still be married. What could be more complicated than the relationship between an optimistic Canadian-American woman and a cynical, parsimonious Canadian-Brit? The word “complicated” doesn’t necessarily imply anything negative, it’s a kind of neutral word, meaning … well … complicated. Was that so bad?

A few minutes later, I was back in my study checking my e-mails. There were 13! There was one from each of my three sisters and one from my stepmother. There were a few from members of my writing group. My best childhood friend had written, as had two women I hadn’t spoken with since moving from Ottawa three years ago. I thought I’d heard that one of them was dead, but apparently not. There was even one from the man with the red face and questionable breath who came from the shredding company every six months to collect our papers.

“Are you okay?” one sister asked.

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“Was that a joke?” said another.

“Did you have a fight?” said the third, and I was sure I could detect a triumphant note in the question.

The penny dropped, as my husband says. I opened my Facebook page and there it was, screaming out at me and all 254 of my FB friends: In a complicated relationship. It even had that cute little heart next to it.

I went back to my e-mail and clicked on the message from Shredder Guy: “Wanna get a coffee sometime?”

As I drank my tea, I marvelled at how easy it was to change your relationship status. You didn’t even have to submit your wedding certificate, your divorce papers or your partner’s death certificate to some anonymous Facebook committee for approval.

The phone rang. It was my brother in South Florida. I had spoken to him no more than two hours before.

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“So what’s new?” he asked, his voice slow and casual.

“I’ll call you back!” I shrieked. Then I went into Facebook and with one little click, got myself remarried. Breathing a sigh of relief, I packed up my things for my meeting and drove downtown.

But when I got home later, there were 30 more e-mails. The first, from my oldest friend in Ottawa, said simply: “You got some ‘splainin’ to do.”

What? My complicated relationship hadn’t lasted more than 20 minutes. Had 30 “friends” actually checked out my status between 11:10 and 11:30 on a Thursday morning? Who were these people? Didn’t they have anything better to do with their time?

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I went back into my Facebook timeline. At the top were the words “Bobbie Jean got married!” only this time, they were printed inside a large white rectangle. Above the words were two white hearts inside a blue circle. The whole thing looked like what Facebook obviously intended it to resemble: a wedding announcement. Beneath it were 20 or so comments about my “wedding.” “Next time let me know and I’ll fly up,” winked my brother. My dead friend wrote, “That was quick!”

How hilarious they all thought they were. I could visualize my friends and family members all having a great laugh at my expense. I went back to my earlier e-mails, clicking on each and replying, in two shaming sentences: “I was having a moment this morning. Haven’t you ever had a moment?”

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My final and easiest response was to Shredder Guy. “Please disregard my status updates,” I typed, and followed it up with, “Our papers are ready and waiting, just inside the back door to the garage. Have a nice day.”

Then I went back to Facebook and unfriended him.

I didn’t mention any of this when my husband came in from work. I didn’t have to. The first thing he said was, “So what’s with this Facebook thing?”

He’s not on Facebook, but it turns out his receptionist is, and so is his programmer and his production manager, and by noon everyone in the office had heard the word.

“Nothing,” I said, passing him a glass of wine. He didn’t respond, except to raise his eyebrow, that subtle yet annoying British mannerism that says, “I don’t believe a word you’re saying, but in the interest of household harmony, I won’t press the issue.”

“Never mind,” I said. “It’s complicated.”

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Bobbie Jean Huff lives in Pennington, N.J.

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