Judging Divorced People: Just Don’t

 

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The moms were bored. They were about 20 hours into a 36-hour Girl Scout camping trip, an experience that was incredible and life-changing for the little girls.

For the moms, its was the old familiar mix of joy, laughter, hard work, responsibility – and lots and lots of sitting-around boredom.

And so it started.

“Oh, I feel so sorry for this dear friend of mine. She’s divorced….”

And the story unfolds. I try not to bristle. The friend cheated on her husband and has spent the last four years trying to win him back, unsuccessfully. And now he’s getting remarried to someone else, and she’s falling apart.

Oh, and she’s an alcoholic.

“It’s so sad, but I won’t let my daughter go over to her house anymore….”

I sigh to myself. The biggest alcohol abuser I know is a married mother down my block, and everyone seems to allow their children to go to her big old fancy house….

The story leads to another one – divorce and alcohol and heartbreak.

And then a third one, the best yet. “My husband and I just went to a funeral this week of an old college friend who died from drinking. Of course his wife had to divorce him, and that made it worse….”

At this point, I got up and walked away. It was abrupt. I didn’t look back, but I know they all must have looked at each other, shocked and guilty. None are bad people. They were just caught off guard; they forgot they had a divorced mom in their midst.

But it was the tone of over-the-top sympathy that got me. I don’t know the private lives of these particular women. But I know enough about the lives of our peers. Enough to know that feeling sorry for others must make at least some of these women feel better about their own problems, marital and otherwise.

When one of them came up to apologize later, she obviously felt awful. And she’s a nice person. Really. I looked at her and told her my truth: “Oh, don’t worry, I’m not upset. Frankly, when I look around, I don’t think that my married friends are any happier or unhappier than my divorced friends. But I did feel that it was gossipy.”

I paused.

“And I wouldn’t want anyone talking about me that way,” I continued.

“Not that I ever did anything wrong.”

But for some reason, my voice sort of trails away with these last few words. I think I’ve crossed some line.

And I walked away, from her, from the group – feeling proud and ashamed, independent and pathetic, filled with anticipation and regret – another few steps away from my old life.

Online Dating After Divorce: Bachelor Number One

bread

He seemed interesting and smart. I liked that he grew up in California, and that he kayaks in the rapids near our homes. He is super fit. He is sarcastic and witty. Sophisticated. All that stuff that I like, I guess. He can flirt one moment and be incredibly sweet and sincere the next. He reads my emails carefully and responds thoughtfully. That was all good to me.

And then the bread thing happened. I received this photo of three loaves of bread that he baked one snowy evening – at the same time that I was sweating through several layers of clothing, determined to shovel out my driveway myself – me, the single mom who doesn’t need any help from anyone.

And I didn’t like him anymore.

I know what you’re thinking: What a jerk. No wonder she got divorced and now has to start dating in her late forties. And what’s wrong with a nice guy who bakes? How great is that? All men should bake! Women should appreciate men who bake.

But I don’t care anymore what anyone else thinks. I know this won’t work, and since I’m the only person who has to date him, I need to follow my gut. And my gut hates that photo.

I cancelled our date that snowy evening. The roads were too dangerous anyhow, and he had some crazy idea to drive through the blizzard of the century to a faraway tavern. He was disappointed, and a bit angry. But I stood firm, unlike anything I would have done in the past. My ex-husband was always the guy who would drive through snow and ice storms, with me clutching the arm rest, praying we would survive. When we skied every weekend during those early winters, he would take off, leaving the groomed trails to dodge fields of trees at breakneck speeds. He thrived on this.

It took me years to stop following him.

I realized that the bread guy has a few other things in common with my ex. He is overeducated, and has given up good jobs under murky circumstances, and now he works at a tiny nonprofit. And he complains about it. But does nothing. He seems to believe the world owes him something. But I know better though experience. The world owes us nothing. We make our lives what they are, though hard work and smarts and hopefully some luck. I learned this from my father, a self-made New Yorker who started his first job as an accountant who didn’t know who to use a calculator.

I am like my father. I have my children 2/3 of the time (plus some), and I have gone back to work full-time. I often sneak off to my car at lunchtime to sleep because I’m so exhausted, but I will not give up, and I will not admit I’m tired. I bargain at work to carpool my children to and from school and lacrosse and dances and playdates. I complain to dear and patient friends, while I work my ass off, like my father did before me. I know I’m lucky, and that my family helps me, but at the same time, I’m a worker, as we used to say in New York. A fixer, a striver, for better or worse.

And I think I need to find another worker, another striver.

The bread guy and I are still corresponding via text. He’s funny and smart – probably smarter than me. But he’s lost interest too, I think.

And that is okay. This is a learning process, for me and for him. I hope it brings us one more step towards what we are looking for.

 

 

 

Dating After Divorce: Lessons from a breakup

I truly believe we learn something from all relationships we have – both those that we decide to end and those that we don’t. These experiences make us better selves, show us what we want/need, and help us to be better partners . . .

These words arrived today from a friend, after my first breakup in more than 20 years.

These words made me sit down and think about the ways I improved myself and pushed myself and opened myself up in this relationship that ended.

These words made me sit down and think about what I want and need from future partners and friends. I could not have done this six months ago, without this relationship that ended.

And these words made me sit down and think about the ways that I could have done better too. And what I need to help me be better in future relationships.

All in all, I’ve learned a lot. Love and loss. Got it. Very different from my marriage. It’s going to be okay. It will just take a little tiny bit of time.

 

 

 

 

 

Divorcing a Cheater NPD: Dealing with the trauma

For two decades, I lived with a serial liar and serial cheater. He is also an alcoholic, a sex addict, a narcissistic personality disordered person, and a probable sociopath.

We call him Genius because of his great spiral downward, his fall from grace, his descent into insanity in his forties. It’s a reference to when he was called “Boy Genius” by some very important people way back when he fooled us all – just before his spectacular descent into insanity. I suppose I’ll never really know if he was always sick and hiding it, or if he started spiraling downward, faster and faster down the rabbit hole, after he turned forty and after his bipolar, domineering mother died from lung cancer after chain smoking cigarettes for decades.

They were not speaking at the time of her death. She cut her son out of her will and dissolved her grandchildren’s college accounts and would call our voicemail repeatedly and scream, “You can’t ignore ME.”

I would shudder. Somehow I knew that those voicemails had Power.

I am not claiming that the problems started with those voicemails. But they signaled the end of life as I knew it.

. . .

My ex-husband is a man that made a distinguished judge finally scream, “You are a liar. You would lie about anything. I don’t believe a word you say.”

This is a man who came up with regular fake business trips. He would tell me he was traveling to Houston, but then go to New Orleans and other cities to meet women he met online.

This is a man who used an app that sent him fake emails from clients thanking him for dinners that never occurred, late nights at the office that never occurred, and business trips that never occurred.

This is a man who would text anonymous sex partners on an app on his phone while driving in a car with his wife, children, and brother-in-law. An app that would erase everything if he tapped it.

The judge was correct: this was a man who would lie about anything.

. . .

So what is the legacy of the ex-wife?

One day I realized my marriage was sham, and my ex-husband was a crazy lying cheating thief, and that some anonymous sex partners might come knocking on my door at any time to attack me and my babies. My brain brain changed. My reality met my nightmare.

Afterwards I was told that good metaphor is that my skin was stripped off, and I am sometimes raw, exposed. If anyone touches me, I scream.

That is the legacy of the ex-wife.

. . .

There are many other legacies, still unknown, though I like to think that some of them are positive: honesty and courage and resilience and expanded empathy to others who are struggling.

But another legacy is this: you can’t trust your instincts.  Your instincts have spent years telling you that something was terribly wrong, and then when you speak up,  someone convinces you, over and over again, that your instincts are wrong.

This is a terrible thing. You stop trusting your judgement. And you need your judgement to live in this world. You need your instincts to survive. Without these things you can no longer tell when the world is a safe or dangerous place, or when someone is trustworthy or evil. You are so confused that you become paralyzed. Or you make bad decisions about which situations and people to trust, which is why I have to assume that women get caught up dating a certain kind of man over and over again.

And on the other hand, if you can’t trust your instincts, then you become hyper vigilant, and then maybe everyone is evil and cheating. Because that is the safest way to think about things. That way you won’t get hurt ever again.

Or maybe you just get caught up in the cycle that is so familiar to you: hyper vigilance, snooping, not trusting, second-guessing, never really knowing what reality is. It’s an ugly and stressful and soul-sucking place. It’s a place between two worlds: Madness and Euphoria.

And then the hard work begins. Because Madness is not an acceptable place to be. Not for a survivor, not for someone who wants to live again.

. . .

NPD and Divorce: A Traumatized Brain

I told the psychologist my story, or at least what could be told in 50 minutes. At least the parts that I haven’t blocked out.

“I think that a trauma-based framework is the best way to look at your therapy,” she said.

Of course, I thought. I am feeling the PTSD lately. It has arrived again, and I can not budge it, no matter how much I tell my friends that I’m okay – even when I agree with them that I have nothing to worry about. Intellectually perhaps they are right. But the PTSD is stronger than intellect: it gets inside my chest and heart and flows out through my body to my fingertips and toes and the top of my head. It tells me that there is danger out there again and that I need to be hyper vigilant. I can’t let history repeat itself. I need to watch out. I’m scared. A lot.

Along these lines, I mentioned casually to the therapist that Ex is on the Ashley Madison lists – certainly one of his more innocent online activities, actually – and that I was worried about my children finding out.

She asked me why I went and found the list in the first place to look for him. And immediately I knew I was in trouble. Fifty minutes into therapy and already I was showing her that I’m probably certifiable, still snooping on my Ex.

I admitted that I had developed a long history of snooping during the later years of my marriage, always trying to locate and identify the danger and betrayal that I knew were lurking out there. I told her about the years of gaslighting, rug-sweeping, and time after time when I accused my Ex of doing something he was doing, only to end up apologizing to him the next day after he convinced me I was wrong and crazy.

I told her briefly about my three-year divorce in which I peeled away layer and layer of deceit and dangerous activities by my Ex that could put myself and my children in terrible danger. I described how it never ended: every time I thought he couldn’t do anything worse, he did.

She nodded.

“You once needed to do that snooping,” she said. “Your brain developed coping mechanisms that served you and your children well during those dangerous times. They protected you.”

She paused.

“But now your life is different, and your brain needs to develop new patterns.”

I nodded.

“What you did by looking up those AM lists is re-traumatize yourself.”

I sit up straighter. I realize that’s exactly what I have done. I immediately regret it.

“We want to teach your brain to be quiet. Peaceful,” she said. “I think this is what you should be working towards.”

A peaceful brain, a peaceful mind, a peaceful life. Wow, I think. She just described the exact opposite of living with an addict, an NPD, a sociopath. They create chaos and conflict and danger wherever they go, and all innocent people around them get swept up too. This is what I know: this is the PTSD.

I have been working so hard towards the peaceful life since my divorce. I have come so far, it’s amazing. But I didn’t make the connection. Peace doesn’t come from the safe home, the orderly house, the easy job. It comes from within.

The Journey Back

My son got sick on Tuesday morning, really sick, with a nearly 104 degree temperature. Burning up, hacking, crying that his head hurt.

My daughter got sick, but not as bad, on Wednesday.

Last night I got it. I haven’t been this sick in ages and ages. I wanted to just lay in bed and sleep until the pain went away. I lost track of time.

And today was another snow day. My children, 8 and 10, made themselves soup and read books and watched tv. They did not fight once, as far as I know. I knew that some of their friends were probably out sledding, but I didn’t want to call in any favors today. I just wanted to sleep and wake up better tomorrow.

About halfway through the afternoon, my son came up and opened my blinds. Pale winter light entered my sick room, and I sat up to watch the fat, happy flakes come down. My children helped to clean up the kitchen tonight, and for a while, they sat on the sofa singing a song from school together. They both hugged me good night and said, “I hope you feel better, mom.”

Perfection is not the goal. Perfection is in the journey.

Divorcing a NPD, part 2

When you divorce a NPD, and the support is several weeks late as usual, and you write a pointed email to ask when it will arrive . . .

you very well may get a garbled and rambling email in return, informing you that you should be thankful for all the money he is providing for you, and that in addition to this court-ordered money, he is paying for food and clothes and medicine when the children are visiting him during his court-appointed time, in his home.

The email might even go on to say the he pays for sporting equipment for the sport that you don’t want your child to play, expensive Nike basketball shoes that your child doesn’t need, and a camp that is an hour away and again involves the sport mentioned above. Of course you will think “But I didn’t ask for these thing. I don’t even agree with them. I disapprove of them.”

And then you will start to wonder why he is so proud of paying for those basketball sneakers when he hasn’t paid his court-ordered portion of healthcare expenses for his children . . . ever.

And then, as a kicker, you will see the last line of his email, chiding you for putting your son in snow boots that are growing too small.

And then, if you are like me, you hit the ceiling, thinking of how beautifully dressed your children are every day. It is thanks to you, even though you go to work now, full-time at an office, unlike your ex who has mysterious clients and elusive and wildly fluctuating sources of income. You think of how your sweet children always show up with their homework and signed permission slips and book reports and class projects and sports equipment and new ballet shoes and and multiplication drills and new books and haircuts and ballet buns and proper vaccinations and white shiny teeth thanks to the dentist appointments you take them to. And the teacher conferences and the extra trips to the school with forgotten lunch boxes and the countless hours clocked with other moms anguishing over and redshirting and little girls with summer birthdays and big boy bullies and mean girls and organic food and everyday math and building resilience and self esteem. And the things you’ve taught your children like folding a sheet and making a bed and how to do laundry and hold a fork and say please and thank you and use the microwave and tie their shoelaces and brush their hair and floss their teeth. And the playdates and parties and endless carpooling and the hugs and family meetings and values and lessons learned and pep talks after a lost soccer game and all the talks about love and values and self-esteem and doing right and how we don’t practice perfect in this house because anyone who tries their best is doing good enough.

And then you will remind yourself to stop, because otherwise you will go crazy. If your son’s boots will soon be too small, it is okay. You will remind yourself that your ex is not well. And that his goal is to gaslight you and undermine you and start a long fight. But you will not rise to the occasion. You will write a short email correcting the facts only to make sure the truth is documented because you will never forget the words of your attorney: “Madness, even though this divorce is technically over, this guy is going to bring you back to court again and again because he’s so crazy.”

And so you write the note and then you call a friend or have a glass of wine or laugh with your kids or go for a walk or run. Or you blog and vent and hope you’re not the crazy one, as your NPD ex wants you to believe.

And because you didn’t engage with him and continue the fight he wanted, you’ll have the energy to step back into the light again, moving forward into a bigger and happier world, full of possibilities.