This article originally appeared in Brooding, a newsletter delivering deep thoughts on modern family life. Sign up here.
Joanna Goddard, founder of the Cup of Jo website, creator of the idea of the “Brooklyn mom,” and standard-bearer of breezy taste for busy women, announced last week that she and her husband of 13 years, New York Times writer Alex Williams, are divorcing. The news, which she broke on her site with her usual light touch, was received in the comments with no small amount of shock and a tidal wave of heartfelt support.
Close observers of the Cup of Jo social feed, which Joanna maintains as a personal account, had noticed that pictures of Williams had become infrequent in the past year or so. But even among those Brooklyn moms who suspected there might be something up, the news came as a surprise. One longtime reader I spoke to said she was “floored.” A friend of mine in Italy texted to say she’d had a “physical reaction” when she read about it. “We’ve all been following her for so long,” another reader told me.
The breakup came after what Joanna describes as three tough years of growing apart, but she emphasized to me, when we talked on the phone the day after the divorce announcement, that there was “no big scandal,” no cheating.
Since its founding 16 years ago, Cup of Jo has skated above the trends in digital media — pivots to social content, video, outrage peddling, and all the rest — to remain exactly what it started out as: A nonconfrontational lifestyle blog for a readership that has come, over the years, to feel like a (very) large group of sympathetic lady friends. I’ve been reading the site since 2008, and I’ve followed her engagement, her marriage, and the birth of her two sons and stayed with her as Goddard’s brought on other writers to contribute to the site while maintaining its sense of intimacy. Few other blogs — kottke.org and Smitten Kitchen are the only two that spring to mind — have remained so consistent for so long.
Cup of Jo is the website equivalent of a Nancy Meyers movie kitchen: roomy, well lit, viscerally appealing. Goddard confirms that “a really huge percentage” of readers still type “cup of jo” into their web browsers rather than finding the content through social platforms as is the industry standard. “It feels very cozy and old-school,” Goddard told me.
There is an inscrutability to Joanna’s editorial persona that fascinates readers. Only Jo can publish a blog titled “How gorgeous is my girlfriend’s nail polish?” and have it read as somehow soulful and essential in addition to being fluff. As my friend Kate put it, “It’s a branch of science that only she knows how to do.” After enduring decades of women’s media steeped in condescension, exaggeration, pandering, and vacuous neo-feminist pabulum, Cup of Jo is bewilderingly un-annoying. Navigating to the site after a day spent on the internet can make you feel like Goldilocks finally tasting the porridge that’s just right.
Joanna wields impressive influence over her readers; products routinely sell out within minutes of her recommending them. She laughed it off when I wondered if she might spark a mass exodus of women from their marriages, but I suspect she knows I’m not wrong. We spoke about her divorce, her local celebrity, and “parallel parenting.” This conversation has been edited.
In terms of sharing personal information on your site, do you have any basic guidelines that you follow?
I’m a really open book or I wouldn’t have this job. But I don’t want to share other people’s stories without their being really onboard with it. When my sister’s husband was sick, for example, I didn’t mention anything until they wanted me to. It was such a huge thing that was happening in my life, and I wouldn’t have breathed a word about it on my site. And things that go on with my kids — you know, parenting is so huge, and they have their huge lives, and I’m not going to mention anything that’s a real part of their story other than funny things they say or fun things we do on vacation, because that’s their story.
So I’m not going to talk about ups and downs with my marriage because it’s not fully my story to tell. But as you pass through it, or as things are reaching a conclusion of some kind, it feels better to share. Of course, Alex knew when I was going to post about it; he read the draft and gave me feedback because it’s a part of his story as well.
Was there ever a time when you guys were having a hard time and you thought to yourself, How am I going to square this with the narrative arc of Cup of Jo?
For like a year, while we were going through stuff, I worried about what ending our marriage might look like to the outside world. If you’re a really longtime reader, you’ve seen the whole story: I met Alex, we fell in love, he moved in, he proposed, we planned our wedding, we had a honeymoon baby. It’s this whole narrative that’s been going on for so long. Will this disappoint people? Will it hurt the site in some way? I just couldn’t imagine writing a post announcing that news. It felt terrifying. And shameful. There’s still so much stigma — just the word divorce, I can still barely say it. In my post, or when I’m talking to people, I’ll say we’re “separating” or we’re “splitting.” Because that word just reminds me of 1980s dads running off with their secretaries, and the moms are at home chain smoking with a bunch of kids running around. It just sounds so bad. And then on the flipside there’s that “conscious uncoupling,” which feels saccharine.
Once we thought we might be going down this road, I started talking to friends, and friends of friends, whose marriages had ended, and it felt so different actually talking to real people. It was so incredibly helpful to hear real examples of people whom I know who have handled it already because it’s still so negative in the culture. Like when I’d Google “divorce and kids,” all these articles at the top are from different religious organizations and it’s all, “Divorce is never good for children! Every age is the worst age!” But once I talked to people, I learned that there is another way. That took the fear away.
What’s scary or exciting, looking ahead?
Dating on apps? I got married before online dating was such a big thing. I went on one date on, what was it, Nerve? Yeah, my kids asked me, “Will you date people now?” and I was like, “Do you want me to, or not want me to?” And they were like, “NOT!” It was funny. I’d say the three of us aren’t very ready for that yet. But we’ll see. It’s also exciting to think about, you know? I believe in love.
The other part that’s been kind of nice has been more solo time. These regular nights off that I can always plan for, or a weekend? It’s so different from before. At first the nights off were hard and lonely. The house was so quiet. Even if the boys are sleeping downstairs, I love that energy of their little breathing in the house. Sometimes I would light a candle just to have something, anything, moving in the house besides just me. But now I’m getting used to it. There’s something really nice about waking up in a house alone. It feels kind of quietly revolutionary.
What’s your living situation now?
Alex has his own apartment now, this very cool loft that feels like L.A. It feels very “him.” It’s temporary, so at some point he’ll move to another apartment. But, like, we’ll throw listings back and forth. It will be like, “Look, this place has a gym in the building!” Or “Look how pretty this light is!”
And you’re staying at your place in Cobble Hill?
Oh, yeah — I want to live and die here. I love this house so much. So the boys go back and forth.
Will there be different parenting styles at your respective homes? In your divorce announcement, you mentioned the kids drinking 7Up at Alex’s, and as a mom, I made a note of that.
One million percent. The kids are now so whiny about the food in my fridge. They’re like, “Daddy has such better groceries. Daddy lets us stay up past nine o’clock!” And it’s like, Okay! Good for Daddy! They can be a little swearier over there. Sometimes when they come back I have to kind of reset them with the whole swear thing.
Someone mentioned to me the concept of “parallel parenting”. It’s okay to parallel-parent with your partner. They might have different rules — it doesn’t have to be so similar in both places. Also, I keep in mind that kids experience different rules all the time — different rules in restaurants, at school, at Grandma’s house. So they can handle it.
You know, kids are still kids. They’re still their sneaky little selves. When we sat the boys down to tell them, we’d already been separated, but it was like, Okay now this is permanent. They were teary. They had a bunch of questions. And then afterward, Toby was like, “You know what would cheer us all up? Going to a Nets game tonight!” Kids know! They’ll do whatever they can to get something good. We did not go to the Nets game.
Do you think your approach to content on Cup of Jo will change at all, given this change in your life?
Not really — I’ve written CoJ through all sorts of life events (a wedding, pregnancies, babies, depression, trips, loss, you name it), and the site always keeps going and growing. It feels like a life raft at times like this! The only thing is, I would love to write more about divorce, breakups, and fresh starts of all kinds. CoJ is my favorite conversation place, and I would love to get more into these topics with our readers.
You’re a bit of a local celebrity in your part of Brooklyn. Do the kids get recognized on the street?
They do. Sometimes I’ll get an email to the main Cup of Jo account saying, “I just want to say, your babysitter is doing a wonderful job!” Or people will come up to us. That is kinda weird. People are cool about it though. I mean, I’ve made friends that way! Some of the people we actually hang out with are people who came up to us at the park, and now we hang out.
Has it been strange navigating this change as a person whom people recognize?
Socially, of course, people knew. We told people that we knew through the school. But it’s funny being a person walking around in the world in this situation. The kids were with Alex for Christmas. I went to dinner at Rucola with my close guy friend on Christmas eve, and I could tell that we were recognized when we walked in. And I was kind of laughing, like, I’m with this handsome gentleman — what must they think? And then, when I flew to San Francisco after Christmas to meet up with the children, I got recognized by this woman and her family in the Uber line at the airport. I had to make up this story on the spot about why Alex and the kids weren’t with me. It was such a begged question just hanging in the air.
And then today, the day after announcing it on the site, I was going to meet my friend for coffee and two people stopped me on the street and gave me hugs. It’s kind of intense, but I mean, it does remind you that so many people go through the same stuff. You’re never alone, whatever you’re going through.
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