Natalie Holbrook's first Instagram post After her marriage ended, it was simple: three pink roses in a jar on a light pine table. & # 39; When life goes crazy and things get thrown all over, & # 39; the caption said, & # 39; can help photos of flowers. I hope. Courage, knuckles! "
The followers of Natalie assumed that the post was about the family's upcoming move to & # 39; a new home in their Idaho town, that the things that are & # 39; thrown everywhere & # 39; refers to furniture and clothing. They imagine the kind of low-interest chaos that has to do with a stylish momfluencer sponsored by Pantene and regrammed by Martha Stewart, who has a cute man and a cute boy, and soon another cute country house. & # 39; Literally the worst! & # 39; Cries one commentator, but & # 39; are we not so blessed? & # 39;
In fact, Natalie's marriage, Natalie's future, Natalie's very sense of self, were the things thrown all over her head. Two days earlier, on Fool's Day, she had traveled alone to the new house in the rain with a fast-leased U-Haul. She was just thrown away – her words – by her husband of more than a dozen years, the second man she ever kissed. Natalie later has many different ideas about how much maintenance they need, Natalie remembers. She had a college degree and experience with brand names. Couldn't she just get a job?
She couldn't. For the past ten years, Natalie's job was to have a sweet, strange wife and mother who documented her idyllic life online. It was hard to explain the long gap in her resume to potential employers. It was harder to explain to herself, her loved ones and her audience that the revered image she worked on was "illusory" for some time.
& # 39; I had to count that I lied to people, & # 39; tells Natalie (who now uses her maiden name, Lovin). & # 39; I had to go back to my word and say, & # 39; Just kidding, I was really miserable, I just didn't tell you. & # 39; & # 39; All the years she carved and cut her life, she says, & # 39; I wiped out evidence. I wiped myself out. "
Natalie and I sit in a Portland cafe and browse their Instagram side by side. We are trying to summarize the aftermath of her marriage and her blog career, which ended within weeks of each other in the spring of 2016. I had a sense of empathy for the gap between Natalie's posts from that period and what Natalie now tells me was really going on. Three weeks before my own dissolution with my husband, I posted a desperate act self-satisfied selfie of us crawling around on a beach towel. Things are always okay until it is not.
But for people like Natalie, who place an emotionally risky bet on earning their personal lives, divorce threatens to diminish the value of the cautious story. Influencers are no less susceptible to divorce than the rest of us. Many of the contemporaries blogging through Natalie's moms have since been separated from their husbands, such as Heather Armstrong of Dooce, Jill Smokler of Scary Mommy and Maggie Mason of Mighty Girl. In any case, the disintegration caused some identity crisis: Who am I, really, and what do I do with this blog?
When I first questioned Natalie Lovin in 2011, she was near the peak of her powers. Natalie, a 29-year-old mother living at home, lived on the Upper West Side in New York, in a small but well-appointed apartment with her breadwinner husband, known as Holbs & # 39 ;, and her baby, Huck. Her blog, Nat the Fat Rat, allowed her to make money out of family-friendly happiness – a Phyllis Schlafly horrible hypocrisy that may have seemed unbearable had it not been for her love of Hillary Clinton's preferred politics and Rachel Comey s chic clogs. & # 39; (The Holbs) is raising his Christmas beard for me, & # 39; she says wrote in December 2011. "Did I mention how that red beard made my knees shaky?" She struggled to conceive for two years, and when Huck was born, she wrote, "Have you ever realized a dream? That's what mine looks like. "
The family was proud of Mormon, although she does not blog about it regularly. Natalie struck me as prepared and fulfilled; & # 39; Her life is the life you want, & # 39; I wrote. Her 250,000 monthly readers agreed.
Looking back, Natalie says, it was the & # 39; good years & # 39 ;. She really liked her mother, she was hired by New York and had a lot of fun making a home. Blogging was a creative outlet and an engaged, supportive community. The Holbs make good money as a financial services manager at a well-known accounting firm, and if she got free wagons to blog about – well, that was the icing on the cake. She wrote a book with advice, Hey Natalie Jean, it's a time capsule of the cutest version of herself. & # 39; I live & # 39; enchanted life & # 39 ;, start a section called & # 39; How to Beat the Blahs & # 39 ;. & # 39; & # 39; I know I'm really happy. I walk around most days and feel really beautiful. Absolutely happy, even. It's gross. & # 39;
As Natalie's audience grew, the warm and fuzzy "mommy blogging" culture I wrote about gave way to disinfected influencer culture. At the request of a talent agency, she changed her blog's name to the less playful Hey Natalie Jean. The content has become more photo-heavy and product-driven. She started collaborating with brands like Nina Z and Tiffany & Co; she finds herself at parties with Julia Stiles and Emily Ratajkowski. At its peak, she earned $ 70,000 a year and the site attracts nearly 700,000 visitors a month. The blog has made her life so vibrant that almost all of her purchases were business expenses. & # 39; Make-up to Duane Reade? Write it down. Made Well? That too. Michael's? Amazon? & # 39; My apartment is my showroom, & # 39; she thought. Buying clothes and household goods during the course of her career. The problem was that converting her blog into a career took the pleasure out of it. "The magic of it," says Natalie, "was completely gone."
When she was writing Hey Natalie Jean, in March 2015, it was months ago that Natalie was something close to the absurdly happy woman describing the book. She became a contestant on GOMI, a website dedicated to personal blogs that hate reading. & # 39; A tear developed between her and another Mormon style blogger at her church, and the fallout again feels like middle school cafeteria politics. She had never felt a deep connection to Mormonism, and she was increasingly shocked by the anti-LGBTQ doctrine. After she and the Holbs stopped going to church the spring of 2014, she started wearing tank tops and got tattoos and drinks. She lost a lot of weight and felt wired and shaky, like & # 39; all the time & # 39; a scared mouse & # 39 ;. Every decision was overwhelming and she struggled to sleep.
Once outside the church, Natalie says, she could see the cracks in her marriage. Natalie and her husband knew they were polar opposites since tying the knot in 2003 after meeting at BYU. At first, their differences were refreshing, but over the years they set them apart. In New York, they found success, but not security. They were saddled with student debt, and everything was expensive. They fought over money and, according to Natalie, he talked about starting in Utah, where his parents lived. They were both so busy, living on & # 39; separate islands & # 39 ;.
Natalie began to think that what she had been brought up to believe about marriage was sexist. She could see the Holbs & # 39; fulfilling the role & # 39; what he was taught and felt immense pressure to be a presenter. She got the feeling that he was also casting her in an old-fashioned role: as Adam's rib, as an aide and cheerleader whose goal is to support him and raise his children. No wonder she liked being a mom, she realized. She was "ultimately in control of something."
After that, the Holbs & # 39; were offered a professorship that led the family back to Moscow, Idaho, where the couple lived while attaining his rights at the University of Idaho, before Huck was born. Suddenly Natalie was miles away from her beloved city, in a tiny, snowy western city. She was struggling to conceive again and had a miscarriage. She feels nuts from the Clomid she takes to begin her ovulation. She scaled her blog for the sake of her mental health and her marriage.
They were disappointed, exhausted and fighting all the time. She sometimes thought her husband was cruel, but the cruelty seemed to be wrapped up in their inherited ideas of marriage. & # 39; He treated me as & # 39; an extension of himself, & # 39; she says. & # 39; So it didn't seem inappropriate to be harsh with me because I reflected on him. & # 39;
Natalie was raised to put it out to make the best out of a difficult situation, but the day they were supposed to pick up the key for their new home, she says, the Holbs picked up all the reasons not to be together. (Natalie's ex-husband refused to comment on this story.) The next day, Natalie rented a U-Haul, filled it with everything she could carry, and it & # 39; s a few minutes on the way to the new home she was supposed to be driving to share with her family.
None of this pain has it in the announcement she posted in May 2016 that she was terminating Hey Natalie Jean. & # 39; It's time, & # 39; she wrote on Instagram. & # 39; It feels really good. & # 39; She left the post & # 39; s a few weeks and then closed the blog.
The trajectory of a divorce can be long and fraught for years, the branches of self-actualization followed by despair. In Natalie's case, these extremes were compounded by a parallel loss of her career, the path of which was suddenly uncertain. Immediately after the breakup, she felt tremendous relief, but as the reality of her new life subsided, she wondered what she would do for work. Her followers have declined since she closed the blog; Whatever the case, her routine in Moscow was not nearly as glamorous as her life in New York. & # 39; I remember being like & # 39; That breeder was & # 39; & # 39; she remembers now. & # 39; & # 39; Now that I need it, it's no longer there. & # 39; & # 39;
The lows come two years after they separated. She moved from Moscow to Portland, Ore. For a job at a start that evaporated within a few months. Unemployed and without structure or routine, she could barely pull herself off the couch every day after driving her son to school. She was worried that her estranged husband would cut her cash flow, and she cut a tight budget. But one day, sick of the depression, she took $ 16 of the Holbs money and joined a ballet class.
This is where I first saw her, eight years after our last interview: standing in black, a messy braid to the right. It occurred to me that Natalie probably did ballet as a child, and by inviting me, she offered her new twist to a previous life. Each of the dancers in the room – the teacher with a tiger print trousers, the man with a nice pink ballet slipper, the woman with two punky high buns and a hole-like t-shirt – were tapping into the recesses of their childhood education, escaping or resuming the discipline they had retained as leisure.
Natalie kept coming back to ballet because it was a place where I was allowed to hold myself hard and expect perfection from me, "she explains to the class over coffee. & # 39; I was lost, so it was nice to go somewhere and like & # 39; It's my hour and a half to criticize myself as crazy, and then I have to stop. & # 39; & # 39;
Natalie lives 40 minutes south of the ballet class in Wilsonville, a suburb in Portland. Her apartment complex is filled with what she calls middlemen: "people who have just moved or want to buy a home, people who are waiting for their lives to begin. Her home has a clear style: vibrant and feminine , with a nod to her childhood in Mesa, Arizona. The place is decorated with hanging guitars, cacti, a peacock rattan chair, a light pink vintage quilt, as well as many of her own creations. knit blanket on the sofa and has several baskets full of cloths she embroidered with phrases such as & # 39; # stilwithher & # 39; # 39; to pursue a career. She decides against it, she says, because "I didn't want to destroy cunning things like I ruined writing. "
She's not the only lifestyle blogger to feel that way. Taking advantage of one's daily life and what one loves in one's life is an unsustainable business model, says Heather Armstrong, the Dooce blogger who recently published a book about her own depression, The Valedictorian of Being dead. & # 39; It's totally demoralizing. The constant need to track and document what you do to people – the burnout is real. "
When Armstrong realized she wanted to leave her husband, she immediately made calculations in her head. & # 39; I was like destroying the happy mom blogger narrative, destroying the career, & # 39; she tells me by phone. & # 39; Do I stay miserable within this marriage, or break out and find out how I can live the rest of my life? & # 39; She moved into a giant home as a business investment – a backdrop for documenting activities on her website, which her entire family supported. She panicked for a total of six weeks before asking for a divorce. As with Natalie, the confluence of online vitriol and a difficult divorce has plunged Armstrong into a deep depression.
Brand sponsors don't care about your broken marriage, says Mae Karwowski, founder of the influencer marketing business. Obviously, as long as your followers stay with you. & # 39; We see brands doing perfectly well with & # 39; divorce, or & # 39; my child is autistic & # 39; or & # 39; we go to couples & # 39;. & # 39; & # 39; Meanwhile, the influencer culture is moving away from a polished, ambitious lifestyle content in favor of the trustworthy honesty that audiences now desire. As Eva Chen, Instagram's director of fashion partnerships, said Tavi Gevinson: "People want to see you let your hair down."
But Natalie couldn't bring herself to rebrand, and she couldn't blog herself because of it. She still posted on Instagram, and former readers realized that something was going on. & # 39; The Holbs & # 39; has & # 39; the father of Huck & # 39; became. We all noticed the five-year-old photos with very cute captions, a forearm full of fresh tattoos, and a photo of her new home in Portland with #lifestylebloggerptsd. & # 39; I can tell that something happened, I can say that you are divorced, & # 39; people will email her. & # 39; I go through it too, and I'm lost, and I wish you would write about it. & # 39;
She never did. Natalie's discomfort with packing her life became too much. & # 39; I didn't want to exist for other people, & # 39; she says. & # 39; I was still very aware that I didn't even know what the story was. & # 39; Instead, she wrote in her diary – ugly, dark things she didn't want anyone to know.
In May 2018, it seemed like blogger Natalie was resurrected. She is posting her archives again online and has announced her intention to start writing again. In a post titled “In which I live behind the target& # 39; She referred in the past to the late stages of her marriage (& # 39; & # 39; a complete cuddle & # 39;) and the stress of maintaining her blog (& # 39; & # 39 a kind of self-flagellation prison (# 39; & # 39;). She described herself as "clinging to the final remnants of streamed dreams like a five-year-old clinging to your leg at kindergarten." She seems to be making a determined turn on things, and concluded with a pick-up and a smiley face emoticon.
Then, on Instagram, I saw her posts become less cryptic, raw and more desperate. In one postShe apparently wrote about her sister's death, about her fruitless and never-ending job search, about supporting a man in his quest for a bread-winning job for only 15 years to miss the benefits of it because he dumps you. "
Past was the gosh-dern-it, glass-half-full Natalie I met years ago, or even the resilient 35-year-old divorcing Natalie who started the blog post in May. & # 39; There is so much wrong here, & # 39; she wrote. & # 39; Life is so full of BS. It's all a crapshoot. "
Natalie and her ex, she says, are both on "Team Huck." The things between them are now cordial, even friendly. When I met Huck's dad last spring, he drove every other weekend to Pullman, WA, a city near Moscow, to Wilsonville and stayed in Natalie's parents' home in Tualatin, not far from her apartment; he has since moved to Wilsonville. After the ballet, a white Jeep Wrangler joined her to swing to school and pick up Huck, now a real eight-year-old man with decent manners and a penchant for shallower soft drinks. We brought him to his grandparents, where the man formerly known as the Holbs slept in the former bedroom of Natalie.
& # 39; You're on a sunny day in Portland, & # 39; he says, and walks down the hall to congratulate me.
& # 39; You have sunburn, & # 39; tells Natalie.
& # 39; You know me, & # 39; he says. & # 39; Share cherry tomato. & # 39;
It's not easy to see Team Huck getting caught up in a messy breakup. But the next day about IPAs and finger foods, Natalie brings me back to what she describes as the dark place.
After Natalie drove off in the rented U-Haul, her ex moved to Pullman, Washington, 10 miles away. She stayed in Moscow in the little house they were supposed to live with. She buys a lot of chickens, two ducks and a turkey named Ruth Bader Ginsburg. & # 39; I had to set my picking order again, & # 39; she says. She had her hair cut and diagnosed with ADD; Natalie heard that Adderall works best if you sweat, so she started going to the gym. She had a temporary job at a real estate office and started selling embroidered scarves and other crafts online to finish. She and Huck's dad played to get back together, and amid the faltering reading Natalie Betty Friedan's 1963 classic, The Feminine Mystique.
& # 39; I wanted to make sure I knew what I was talking about, & # 39; she says. She always considered feminism – & # 39; not to & # 39; love a man & # 39; & # 39; – & # 39; part of her identity. But as she read Friedan, she realized that she had been with men's shit all her life. If she were to reunite with her husband, she would do so with "both eyes open." After a trip through the American West, they decide to reconcile.
& # 39; A year after the separation, she downloaded Tinder. & # 39; I made up for lost time, & # 39; she says. She joined students and travelers, all "with a few lips," and decided to kiss one man for every year she was married. The first time she had sex with someone else, & # 39; a beautiful graduate student named who studied the habitat of wolves and & # 39; cried a little if he was lucky, she was on her period. There was blood all over his face and the sheets. By the end, the place looked like & # 39; a & # 39; murder scene & # 39; equal. Natalie has never had sex before; she has & # 39; all kinds of band aids & # 39; ripped off. & # 39; It was exciting.
Finally, in February 2018, she picks up and moves to Portland with her blessing and the startup performance. After the startup folded, she applied and turned down numerous posts. Her strange resume has confused employers; she over-qualified and under-qualified at the same time. She seemed like a successful blogger on paper, but without documenting an ambitious home life, her earning potential diminished.
Meanwhile, Natalie went back and forth with her ex's attorney about maintenance. For the time being, she still had access to Huck's father's checking account, but she couldn't shake her anxiety: It can disappear at any moment. I need to do something quickly. & # 39; I don't think he understood – and didn't even understand – what it takes to start from scratch and build from nothing if you & # 39; re a stay-at-home mom, & # 39 ; she says. & # 39; That's when I first experienced how much it costs to be & # 39; being a woman. & # 39;
In the past, she says, her idea of feminism had to be taken seriously and men still had to hold the door. Suddenly it was, "I need a job, and I have to explain to people why I haven't worked for ten years."
Talking through these important changes, it's easy to see why Natalie was such a successful blog style. She is an accomplished storyteller who arranges folk metaphors and peculiar details such as accent pillows. She knew that ballet class would telegraph a journalist's attachment, pain and femininity, and that I would get a kick if she visited a teenager through the bedroom. Personal brands die hard.