Dating after Divorce:A Cautionary Tale

“When you loved someone and had to let them go, there will always be that small part of yourself that whispers, “What was it that you wanted and why didn’t you fight for it?”
― Shannon L. Alder

 

When I struggled with infertility for years and years and then finally got pregnant with twins, I felt like I won the lottery. Twins! Adorable little toddling twins. Best friends forever. Double stroller, double cuteness, double everything.

But most of all, they would make up for my painful years of infertility, when I fell behind my friends who had baby after baby after baby.

And then early in my second trimester, I lost one of the twins. Devastated, I struggled every single day though the remainder of that high-risk pregnancy. I never knew if my remaining baby would make it.

But he did. And then I went to get pregnant naturally, giving birth to my second miracle baby just 17 months later.

And now I have two beautiful children. But it was so much harder in every way than having those twins make my family automatically complete. I still mourn for that little baby. I miss that little baby.

….

After the divorce I finally got brave enough to try online dating. Only 24 hours later, I read one perfect little note in my in-box that was otherwise cluttered with random and disturbing weirdness.

Out of the millions and millions of men on the site, this man turned out to be a dad from my children’s tiny’s little school. What a coincidence! What a great story! I thought he was perfect – handsome, sweet, smart, a bit quiet, and, okay I admit it: a serious six pack. He liked the same things that I did, and he had many of the same viewpoints about life. And he held my hand decisively, and made decisions for us, and I felt safe and loved.

I had hit the lottery again. We looked so great together; we had so much fun together. He would make up for all the years of being married to a mentally ill, increasingly hideous-looking loud and evil man.

But my perfect man didn’t really end up being the man I thought he was. He is not a truly terrible person like my ex-husband, but he’s not right for me either.

Deep down I know that it will be okay. But it still hurts. A lot.

I should have known that the first man I met could not make me complete. He can’t take away my suffering. And perhaps that’s not even a fair thing to expect from a mere mortal.

So now I learn my lesson again. Quick and easy fixes are no substitute for the hard work of life. And so I cry and I hurt again like I didn’t know was possible at my age. I grieve something that never was – someone, like that little baby, who would never truly be mine.

But somewhere deep down I know I will pop out the other side of this eventually and start working again to be the best me possible and find the right person out there for my best possible me.

 

 

 

 

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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.

. . .

Online Dating Hell, Part 1

So I finally agreed to post a paragraph and two photos on an online dating site. Under much duress and hem-hawing and procrastinating.

Here’s my favorite response so far, from a thirty-year-old guy in a nearby city:

Welcome to dating world that leads to divorce 🙂 How do you like it so far ? Sorry your marriage didn’t work out.

Let’s see how long I last here.

Lessons from my Dog, Part 1

I got out of the car and stopped to admire the daffodils in my new front yard.

Then I hear it. Someone’s annoying dog barking and screeching and sounding really loud and really annoyingly high-pitched.

I look up, annoyed. Take care of your dog, folks, I think.

Then a movement catches my eye. It’s something popping up against the windows of my front door.

It’s my dog.

A long time ago, I learned a critical life lesson on a playground: Never ever judge another mom. Because before you know it, your kids will do the same thing as that mom’s child, and you will end up in the same position as the mom you once judged. It’s instant mom karma.

That lesson has served me well, but it’s faded a bit through time. I needed a fresh reminder.

I Reserve the Right to Change My Mind

My kids want a dog. Really really want a dog. As in, “if we just got a dog, our divorced family would be complete and perfect, mom!”

A good yank on the divorce guilt heartstrings.

Recently I started considering it. Now that the divorce has forced me from my awesomely fabulous city neighborhood and into the boring old burbs, we have more space. We have a fenced-in yard. And I can work from home once a week.

It’s a good time for a dog.

Or is it?

I asked three friends to be dog references for me. One enthusiastically stepped up to the plate and easily won over the doggie rescue folks. They loved her so much it was scary.

But the other two friends independently called me and begged me not to get a dog.

They are too nice to say, “Madness, you don’t like dogs. You don’t even like my dog!” Or “Madness, you are a neat freak and would lose your mind if your dog ever smelled or messed up your furniture.”

Instead, they said, “This is your time to shine! You’re finally relaxed and happy! A dog will keep you chained to the house, and you need to get out there!” (Or something to that effect.) One bluntly told me that she was a stay at home mom, and even she needed her husband’s help at night with the dog. Then she started describing her dog’s “delicate stomach” and I imagined all my future rugs soiled and destroyed. My other friend asked me what I would do on my rare nights off from the kids: “What about the time when you went to work, got your hair cut, and then met me for drinks? You couldn’t have done that if you had to go home to walk a dog,” she pointed out. And then the first friend reminded me that dog walkers around here charge something like $25 a visit. I cringed. I could buy a lot of wine for $25 a day!

My friends are right. And it’s not really that I don’t like dogs. I like some dogs very much. (At least a few of them, anyhow.) And its not even my house. I think I could manage the mess, maybe. But it’s the commitment. I’ve spent the last decade or more managing the unmanageable: a mentally ill, addicted, serial cheater  husband. Then I spent three years fighting him like a dog in court to protect my children. Now that I’ve finally escaped from him, I can finally begin to breathe for the first time in probably 15 years.

So I told my children tonight that we must wait to get a dog. They wailed, they sobbed, they made me cry. But I already have a full plate: I’m a single mom with primary physical custody who works full-time and constantly needs a break. Someone who couldn’t recover from the flu in less than ten full days. Someone who is now worried about pneumonia and what would happen to her job and kids if this comes next.

It’s my time to hang out in bed on Saturday mornings when my children are with their dad, to go to long yoga classes and meet friends for coffee afterwards. To go to the gym  after work when my kids aren’t around and then to go out for drinks or dinner. To actually make it to a book reading or a museum instead of school fundraisers and mommy nights out. To pull together a life, independent of my children, for the first time in a decade.

I’m so sorry, but I made a mistake. I’m not ready for a dog. Not this, not now.

The Moving Blues

It’s the little things that bring me back.

The horseradish sauce with the Hebrew lettering on the side of the bottle. I am in second grade, back in the Bronx, eating a Passover seder at my friend Jody’s house. The horseradish has been mixed with beets, and I am mesmerized by the color. Something so beautiful must taste so good, I think, but I am disappointed.

Her grandfather hides the matzo in a cloth napkin, and her littlest brother finds it. He gets a dollar and I am envious. We should all celebrate seder.

. . .

Then I spot the Gravy Master in the back of a cabinet. No expiration date, which makes sense because I don’t think it contains real food. My grandmother Mary, who came to the United States from Ireland all by herself when she was 16, used Gravy Master all the time on her famous roasts. You could smell them as soon as you got out of the elevator at her Yonkers apartment building: roasted chicken, roasted turkey, roasted pork chops – and roasted beef for special occasions.

My grandmother taught me: Take the pan drippings and pour off the fat. Add flour and Gravy Master and make a nice, dark roux. Add water, or chicken broth if you’re feeling rich. Beat the lumps.

My grandmother didn’t have to go through Ellis Island because she had a sponsor. This was special; my grandmother was lucky. Then her sponsor took her to Vermont to scrub floors and didn’t get my grandmother a winter coat. More than 60 years later when I married someone from Vermont, my grandmother shivered and said she would never to step into that state again.

Before that I never knew that my grandmother was a maid.

I miss my grandma Mary all the time. I wonder what she would think of me, getting myself into all this trouble with my bad husband. With children involved, too.

I somehow think she would understand. I’ve never heard the entire story about my grandfather, a handsome and dashing Irishman who seemed to be chronically unemployed and who died when I was a baby. I suspect something dark, but no living person will confirm it.

His secrets died with my grandmother.

I wish she was here to talk with me.

Expired

All the spices in my cupboard expired in 2012. I learned this tonight as I started to pack up my kitchen for my move.

I bought all my spices in 2011, the last time I thought my life was normal.

I toss every single bottle: cumin and coriander, Hungarian paprika, hot chili flakes, cinnamon and nutmeg, curry, basil and mustard powder, rosemary and thyme, marjoram and parsley, cloves and turmeric, sea salt and black peppercorns.

My hands smell like faraway places and possibilities.