The rules don’t apply to her…

I’m now going to write about a topic I have been purposely avoiding for the past couple of years. It’s time to write about it. I’ve wanted to write this post for ages, but didn’t feel safe enough to do it. Now, I’m ready.

Some readers may know that my husband and I lived for four years enduring abuse from our former landlady. On my old blog, I used to occasionally vent about the way she treated us. In my view, she was extremely disrespectful to us, especially to me. Her behavior made me want to respond in kind, although I usually did it on my blog. I stopped writing about her publicly because ex landlady had a “flying monkey” who was monitoring what I was doing and reporting back to her. The flying monkey probably still watches what I do. The difference is, I no longer care. It’s now abundantly clear that she was absolutely wrong to do what she did, and karma will catch up to her someday. She’d be really wise to give us a wide berth from now on, too.

I still struggle with thoughts about that totally mindfucking experience. We tolerated it for much longer than we should have, although I reached the end of my rope long before Bill did. Unfortunately, Bill and I have both been “trained” to tolerate a lot of abuse from people. We’ve gotten better at spotting it and dealing with it, but thanks to situations in both of our pasts, it still takes awhile before we’ll do what needs to be done when we encounter someone who is abusive. The end result is that we endure a lot of pain and sorrow for no good reason.

Ex landlady was surprisingly unabashed about her massive sense of entitlement and demonstrated a complete lack of regard for our privacy and right to live in peace. Now that we live in a place where we’re treated like adults, I can’t believe we spent four years in that hellhole. It pisses me off that we did. We should have left after the first year.

It’s taken me about two years to mostly recover from the psychic aftermath of that living situation. I’m not entirely recovered yet. I’m still upset that we were subjected to that treatment, but I’m also angry that, in the process of screwing us over and ripping us off, she had us feeling like we were “bad” and irresponsible people. The fact is, we’re not bad or irresponsible people at all. We did our best to be good tenants, and none of our other landlords have ever complained about us.

Ex landlady got her rent money early every month. We were fully insured. Bill was never anything but businesslike in his dealings with her, while she was frequently rude and abrasive to him (and we have the emails to prove it). While nobody’s perfect, I patiently listened to her complaints and suggestions and did my best to comply with what I thought were ridiculous and intrusive demands. She paid us back by completely shitting on us and boldly ripping off about 80% of our deposit. I think she was planning to keep ALL of the deposit, but finally conceded to giving 20% back because Bill pushed it. She should be ashamed of herself, but because she has a massive sense of entitlement and no regard for fairness, I know she’s not. In fact, in her mind, she’s the ultimate victim.

Her “reasons” for keeping our money were mostly illegal and completely unsubstantiated. Some of her claims were absolutely and obviously ludicrous. We did have a mishap with the awning on her property, but it was an act of God, and she accepted an insurance settlement for that. She was unhappy with the settlement, so she resolved to rip us off. Moreover, she wasn’t the least bit concerned that her failure to hire a real repairperson, when I pointed out that it was falling apart, could have resulted in one of us getting seriously injured or even killed. She was simply focused on herself and her own desires. Yet she accused US of being unfair to her. What a crock of shit.

She refused to compromise in an amicable way, so Bill sued her. It was his first time suing anyone. He hated to do it. We really just wanted to be done with her. But we finally determined that it wouldn’t be right to allow ex landlady to steal our money. She was not entitled to it. And while I can’t prove that she has a habit of ripping off people, I strongly suspect, based on her brazen behavior, that she’s done this kind of thing repeatedly and gotten away with it. She expected to get away with it this time, too, probably because Bill is such a decent person.

If there’s one thing I have learned over the years, dealing with and observing narcissistic creeps like Bill’s ex wife, his former war time boss, and Donald Trump, it’s that those types of people don’t think the rules apply to them. They will bitch and moan and scream about how they’re being disrespected and mistreated, but they refuse to acknowledge their own role in any problem. They put all of the blame on the other party and do their best to malign and marginalize them. It’s infuriating and crazy making. I have no doubt that we’ve been smeared to people in our former neighborhood, not that it really matters.

The end result of the lawsuit was that the ex landlady was forced to settle. She settled for less than what I think she should have had to. In my view, she should have had to give us all of our money back, at the very least. But, as I mentioned before, we really just want to be done with her. We also don’t need the money, and we know that it will pain her to have to pay us. And she WILL have to pay, even though she hasn’t yet. If she doesn’t give us the money we’re owed, she will still pay in another way. We have already reported her to the housing office in Stuttgart and we will make it our mission to see that she does not get tenants from the U.S. military community again. Bill has already sent the court paperwork to the office, so they will have real evidence of what kind of a person she is.

Taking action against people who are unfair and dishonest can be scary. However, it’s also empowering, and it’s morally the right thing to do. There are people who can’t fight back, for whatever reason. We were thinking of them when we decided to take legal action. Because the more people who let this kind of thing go, the more emboldened dishonest bullies become. I suspect that our former landlady has frequently gotten her way by being difficult, shaming “nice” people, and trying to play the “pity” card because she’s an older woman. When it comes right down to it, she’s dishonest and unethical and she deserves to be called out for that behavior.

I’ll tell you something else. When we had our mishap with the awning on her property, ex landlady was constantly up Bill’s ass about the money to pay for it. He told her to take it up with the insurance company, since she had decided to accept a claim from them. But now that the shoe is on the other foot, and she owes us, it’s been months and we haven’t seen a cent. Well… we have let our lawyer know, and I expect she will soon be contacted by the court… and if that happens, she may end up being forced to pay even more money. And all of this could have been avoided if she had just played fair in the first place.


Full circle… lessons learned

Bear with me, folks. Those of you who hate it when I write about Ex probably ought to pass on this post. I’m about to vent about old business.

In April 2006, when my husband’s ex stepson was 18 years old and planning to move out of his mother’s home, he called Bill at home. I answered the phone, because Bill was at work. Bill was overjoyed to hear from his ex stepson, since they hadn’t spoken for about a year and a half. Of course, he was just calling to make sure Bill would still pay child support to him, as he had promised when he and Ex divorced. Although ex stepson was technically not Bill’s legal responsibility, Bill had practically raised him and thought of him as his son. He assured ex stepson that he would support him with $850 a month.

Ex then called us at home. I answered the phone again. I remember her sounding very professional as she said, “Jenny, I hate to bother you, but may I please speak to Bill.” I handed the phone to Bill and they proceeded to have a very long and heated talk. Ex was basically telling Bill not to keep paying child support to his ex stepson, even though it was she who had demanded it in the divorce. She didn’t want ex stepson to have that money and the freedom it would bring him. Bill refused to grant Ex’s request, mainly because he felt ex stepson needed to get away from her.

That phone call started a tsunami of trouble that has lasted for years, but really crested about a week later, when Ex wrote Bill a hateful email. She wrote that everything bad that was happening, complete with ex stepson’s decision to move out, was Bill’s fault. She claimed he was a terrible father, conveniently forgetting that almost everything that had happened was her doing.

For those who haven’t read the backstory, here’s a brief recap. She tracked Bill down in Germany in the late 1980s, dumped her first ex, convinced Bill to marry her, had two kids with Bill, and then unilaterally decided to divorce him and completely estranged him from his kids. At the same time, she tried to force the kids to bond with her third husband and had two more kids with him. The youngest one has severe autism. She also did her very best to ruin Bill’s relationships with his own family of origin. Fortunately, that didn’t work, though there were some tense moments after Bill’s parents first heard Ex’s lies. She does lie convincingly.

In her email back in April 2006, Ex blamed most of her problems on us, but she also specifically called me out. She claimed the kids hated me, even though they only met me one time and I had seen firsthand that they had fun during their visit. Then she asked Bill not to tell me that they hated me. Bill doesn’t keep secrets from me, so he shared her email with me– specifically the parts she had written about how I was to blame for how terrible the situation was.

I knew that what Ex wrote was untrue. I was angry with her for bringing her drama into our marriage and for demanding that Bill keep secrets from me. So I wrote back to her. In some ways, I wish I hadn’t responded to Ex’s vitriol. In other ways, I think it was a good thing to do. At the very least, my email to her put a stop to her emails and phone calls to Bill. But I have also learned that whenever you respond to a narcissist, you give them ammunition. I’m sure she’s shared my email with people she could use to manipulate, not that it matters anymore. She no longer has any power over our lives. However, thanks to Ex’s hatefulness, Bill has missed out on a lot of his daughters’ lives. He missed younger daughter’s wedding, and ex stepson, who used to be a son to Bill, is now ex stepson. It didn’t have to be this way, and now the chickens have come home to roost.

In 2003, when Bill and I were first married, the kids visited us. It was the only visitation we ever had with them when they were minors. They clearly had a good time over the 48 hours they spent with us in our apartment in Fredericksburg, Virginia. We later heard from Bill’s dad and stepmother that they were raving about how much fun they’d had. Apparently, the fact that the kids had fun, particularly with me around, was deeply upsetting to Ex. So she decided to rattle her saber.

After that one visit in 2003, Ex wrote a hateful email to Bill, demanding that he double his life insurance coverage so that it totaled $1,000,000. Bill couldn’t afford to do that at the time, and it would have also required him to get another policy from a different life insurance company. So he declined to cooperate with her demands. He asked her to leave me out of her complaints about their divorce, as I had nothing to do with their decision to end their marriage. And yet, even though we’ve never met each other in person, she was certain I was doing all I could to sabotage her. I specifically remember her haughtily writing, “I’m so glad we have everything in writing so I won’t have to battle your wife in court.”

I remember being really pissed off and telling Bill, something along the lines of, “Next time that bitch writes something like that to you that includes me, I WILL be answering. And you bet your ass I would not hesitate to take her to court if I ever need to assert my rights. So you’d better stay healthy until your kids are grown.” Thankfully, he has.

So when Ex wrote to Bill in 2006, I ultimately decided to write back to her because I thought it was time someone explicitly called her out on her bullshit. Up until that point, it seemed like no one ever would. I had also made a promise to Bill that the next time Ex had a complaint about me, I was going to rip her a new one.

In my email, I remember writing to Ex that someday, she would pay for what she’d done. I told her that I knew her kids weren’t stupid. They would eventually grow up, and there would come a time when they would realize what she stole from them– not just their money, which she DID do, but also time with beloved family members. Ex was adopted and hadn’t met her biological parents at that point, so Bill’s family was the only biologically related family they knew. Keeping the children from Bill and his mother, and using visits with them as tools to control Bill’s dad and stepmother would eventually backfire. The older the kids got, the less power she’d have as they inevitably woke up to who she really is. There was a lot of other stuff I wrote, but thankfully, I no longer have the email.

Well… as Bill’s father died the other day, much of what I predicted in my warning to Ex has finally come to pass. Bill and I can’t make the funeral because we’re in Germany. If we could be at the funeral, Ex would not gain admittance. But even though we’re not able to attend, other people have decided that Ex isn’t welcome. Younger daughter decided not to send the obit to her older sister, who lives with Ex. Why? Because she doesn’t want her mother to crash the funeral. Ex may decide to crash it anyway. She can Google with the best of us. But at least two of her children know enough not to facilitate their mother’s getting her hooks back into Bill’s family, especially by using Bill’s older daughter.

Of course, in this age of COVID-19, it wouldn’t be wise for anyone to go to the funeral who isn’t local and very healthy. Ex and older daughter live in New Hampshire, and we have heard that older daughter mostly takes care of her mother’s youngest child, who has severe autism. They shouldn’t be traveling to Bill’s dad’s funeral because it’s so far away, and no one needs to be exposed to their cooties– COVID-19 related or just the plain fuckery that follows Ex wherever she goes. But knowing Ex, she wouldn’t have the consideration to stay away because of a silly pandemic. Her emotions are what matter most, at least in her mind.

We have also heard that older daughter has repeatedly tried to get SMIL’s permission to let her come down to see her grandfather/attend the funeral. I’m not completely sure if she knows her grandfather has died. I assume she knows, although it wouldn’t be up to us to tell her, since she hasn’t spoken to Bill in 15 years and is now 29 years old. In any case, SMIL has repeatedly denied her permission. Bill’s sister agreed with her mother’s decision, saying “We don’t need to deal with that BS right now.” Younger daughter supposedly reminded her sister that she hasn’t spoken to them in years, so what does she expect?

Bill said he wouldn’t have a problem with his older daughter attending the funeral, since he was her grandfather, and she did, at one time, have a loving relationship with him. I’m a bit more of a hardass, which probably comes from being the evil stepmother. Personally, I don’t think she should attend. She didn’t have enough respect for FIL when he was living to call, write, or visit him. Why should she be there to mourn him and share the grief with those who loved him enough to have a real relationship?

It would be nice if older daughter would learn from this experience, although I suspect that if she’s anything like her mother, she’ll let it turn her into more of a victim. I hope she isn’t like her mother. I thought younger daughter was, but she proved me wrong. I had always assumed, from my few interactions with her, that older daughter was a kind-hearted person. Maybe I was wrong about that.

Anyway… older daughter really should grow up. FIL won’t be the first person who dies in the family. She’s made a choice to have things her way, and that choice is now haunting her. And you better believe that if I survive Bill and she’s still behaving like this, she will get an even less welcoming response from me if she wants to attend Bill’s funeral.


Three Chords and the Truth… the song!

Six months ago we were alright…
Before the virus barreled through.
Now we all just want to fight.
And that’s three chords and the truth.

I just blog and play guitar…
While my friends claim I’m uncouth.
I’d rather be at a bar…
and call it three chords and the truth.

You can say I am a fool…
But things really suck and that ain’t cool…
That’s all I know, cuz’ it’s the rule…
To me that’s three chords and the truth.


You can say I am a fool…
But things really suck and that ain’t cool…
That’s all I know, cuz’ it’s the rule…
To me that’s three chords and the truth.

‘ronavirus is no joke…
Making folks cough, choke, and croak.
Cramping my style, making me blue…
Lord, that’s three chords and the truth…


Truth tellers…

Last night, just before I drifted off to sleep, I watched a really excellent YouTube video by Doctor Ramani, a psychologist who makes videos about narcissists and narcissism. The subject was “truth tellers” in family systems.

Really great video!

She begins by talking about family roles and how they can follow a person from childhood into adulthood. She explains that in every family system, there is ALWAYS a child who “gets it”. They see everything clearly and tell the truth, sometimes in a naive way. In most families, they’re the kid who blurts out observations about the way things are, whether or not those observations are flattering. The family may “train” the child not to be so blunt, but ultimately, they’re the child who doesn’t get on the bus to Abilene.

In a narcissistic family system, being a “truth teller” can be very dangerous. Narcissists expect the people close to them to keep secrets and tell lies. Keeping secrets and telling lies is anathema to what a truth teller is. And so, being the type of person who is naturally honest, but living in a narcissistic family system, can be hell for a truth teller. They tend to do desperate things to get out of that sistuation.

I wasn’t raised by narcissists, but I think I’m kind of a truth teller. I related a lot to what Doctor Ramani said, especially the part about moving far away from their families and doing “desperate” things to escape it. I think Bill’s younger daughter is also a truth teller. When I first met her, back in 2003, she seemed to be more like a “golden child“. But years later, when she started talking to Bill again, it seemed more like she was very observant. She recognized that she grew up in a really fucked up family. Her mother has had three husbands. Her mother’s adoptive mother had seven husbands. Younger daughter didn’t want that for herself.

When she turned 18, younger daughter decided she had to go her own way. She got no help from her mother, so she struck out on her own, and sought help from church members. The church helped her out, and she was able to go on a LDS mission. She met her husband when he was on his mission in Boston.

Ex wasn’t very happy about younger daughter’s decision to date a missionary from Utah. She wanted younger daughter to stay close and remain under her control. But younger daughter wasn’t having it. She left, even though her mother went to some extreme and dramatic lengths to change her mind. Eventually, younger daughter started talking to Bill again, even though Ex had tried to convince her that he’s an abusive monster.

When Bill went to see his daughter a few months ago, they talked, and younger daughter said, “Wow. Look at you helping me clean the kitchen. I’ll bet when you and Mom were married, you did all the work, didn’t you?”

Bill nodded, telling her about what that time was like.

“When Mom visits, she usually sits on the couch, plays with her phone, and complains. She never helps.” younger daughter said.

Bill in action… he’s good about helping. Ex isn’t, but she’ll still try to convince everyone that she’s a saint and Bill is a bastard, even when the evidence is overwhelmingly to the contrary.

More revelations came up over that visit. Younger daughter revealed more truths about what it was like to grow up with Ex, without Bill in her life. To her credit, despite all of the cognitive dissonance Ex tried to create, and even though it was easier to just “believe” and get on with things, younger daughter was never able to stop being a truth teller. She continued to see through the bullshit and, on occasion, she must have called it out.

For instance, Ex had told the kids a wild and completely made up story about how Bill and I had a torrid affair when they were still married. Younger daughter never really believed it, but she still wanted confirmation. She asked Bill how and when we met, and he told her. She said her mother had said Bill was cheating on her… conveniently forgetting that she had moved her third husband into the house Bill was paying for before the divorce was final. And yes, they were having sex outside of marriage, despite being so-called ” devout Mormons”!

By contrast, Bill and I lived together from May 2002, almost two whole years after the divorce was final. We did not have sex for the first time until about two weeks after our wedding day, in November of that year. In fact, Bill even wore his first wedding ring until the day his divorce was final. But, in Ex’s eyes, I’m nothing but a homewrecking whore who weakened Bill’s resolve, and if it wasn’t for me, she and Bill would not have divorced. That is a lie, but I know it’s not personal. She would have hated any woman who married Bill. It wouldn’t have mattered how kind, cooperative, and forgiving she was. And I am not the kindest, most cooperative or forgiving person. Like younger daughter, I am also a bit of a truth teller.

The more I learn about younger daughter, the more respect I have for her. I know it wasn’t easy to pull off what she did. She grew up sheltered, and was told a lot of lies. Ex did everything she could to sabotage her kids and keep them from abandoning her. She tried to cripple younger daughter. But younger daughter saw through the bullshit and had enough resilience and strength of character to break away from that mess and get out on her own. As Dr. Ramani says in her video, younger daughter was willing to do the extreme to escape a situation in which she had to suppress her need to be truthful and authentic. She turned to the church for help, went off to college with nothing but the clothes on her back, went on a mission, and made up her mind to get married and start a family. And now she can make her own choices.

However… I do wonder if Bill’s visit wasn’t traumatizing to her on some level. I wonder if she looks at him, clearly the more stable parent, and realizes that if he had raised her, her life would have been completely different. I wonder if it makes her sad that they didn’t speak for fifteen years, and she missed out on having him in her life. Having a mother who is mentally ill and narcissistic is a huge burden, but God forbid she say that out loud. She’d be called disrespectful. But it’s the truth, isn’t it?

We now know that Ex’s current husband was not a substitute for Bill. Even though Ex tried to convince Bill that #3 had fallen right into the “daddy” role and it fit like a glove, the truth was, #3’s attempt to fill Bill’s shoes was a failure. The kids were forced to call him “Dad”. Why? Because during their one and only visitation with Bill, older daughter was holding Ex’s first child with #3 ,and she pointed to Bill and said, “That’s Daddy.” #3 got very upset and jealous, and Ex told the kids that henceforth, #3 would be “Daddy”. Why? Because she didn’t want another marriage to fail… so they all had to buy into a fantasy that Bill and #1 had never existed. They’d always been a happy, cohesive family, just like the fucking Brady Bunch! It was all a crock of shit. And younger daughter knew it, even from a tender age.

These days, younger daughter doesn’t have much to do with #3. She says he isn’t in the best of health, and Ex isn’t very nice to him. But they’re still together, probably by sheer will and lots of threats on Ex’s part. She knows that finding husband #4 might be hard, and she’s done having babies. Ex’s youngest child has severe autism and may never be able to live on his own. She’s been trying to coerce her other children into promising to take care of him, even though he’s not actually their responsibility.

Years ago, I predicted that Bill would hear from his younger daughter. I knew that one day, she would approach him. I didn’t think it would be on such good terms, though. I originally suspected that because she’d been the first to reject Bill and because she was so young when Ex divorced Bill, younger daughter was the most brainwashed. However, I also suspected that she had a strong will, and she and Ex would eventually clash. And when that happened, younger daughter would approach Bill, if only to piss off her mother and rebel.

It turns out that younger daughter initially didn’t want to upset her mother. She didn’t tell her that she was talking to Bill until some time had passed. Ex eventually found out and hit the roof. She still thinks she can dictate to her adult children who they are allowed to speak to and associate with. She still thinks she has the right and ability to tell them to avoid the man she chose to make their father, even though Bill’s daughters are well past 21 years old. She sees them as extensions of herself, subject to her command, even though they’re grown women.

It must be very frustrating for Ex to lose control. It must be very sad for younger daughter to have a mother who is more interested in being in control than being a mother. For someone who feels compelled to call bullshit, it must be difficult to keep toeing the line. That’s why younger daughter got the hell out of Dodge while she could. I really can’t blame her at all. I suspect we’ll soon be hearing more truths as time passes.


Settling for “crumbs of contentment”…

It’s hard to believe that back in the mid 1990s, my husband Bill, who had a degree in international relations from American University, years of military experience as an officer, and an excellent attitude toward work, was reduced to working at a toy factory for about $33,000 a year. On that salary, he was expected to support his ex wife, their two daughters, his former stepson, Ex’s sister, and Ex’s sister’s daughter. It was not work Bill enjoyed. In fact, he had been thinking about becoming a police officer, or perhaps a parole officer. But those jobs were very dangerous and paid about the same as working at the factory did.

How did this happen? Here was this guy, still in his prime in his early 30s, living in podunk Arkansas. They were there because Ex had fantasies of living in an idyllic small town with conservative values. With Ex’s encouragement, Bill decided to leave his position as an active duty Army officer, take a $40,000 severance, and embrace life as a civilian. Upon leaving the Army, Bill joined the Arkansas National Guard.

Freed from the constraints of the Army, no longer beholden to the Army’s whims as to where they’d live, Ex decided they should to go live in a small town in Arkansas. She found a house. It looked like one she’d seen in a snow globe. Even though they didn’t have much money and the house was a money pit, Ex decided they’d make it work. And Bill, being someone who doesn’t like contention or strife, tried to go along with it.

The problem was, there wasn’t a lot for a guy like Bill to do in that part of Arkansas. In the 1990s, there was factory work. There was police work. There was probably retail. I believe Ex worked at Walmart for awhile, eventually getting into bookkeeping and/or management. But she didn’t work all the time. She only did enough so that it looked like she worked. Most of the time, Bill was left both earning the money and taking care of the children.

Bill would have preferred to do police work over factory work. But he had a family to support, and police work in that town offered long hours, very low pay (about $7.50 an hour), and dangerous conditions. So that’s how he ended up making plastic toys on the second shift… boring work in a town that offered little for him personally. Ex wasn’t all that happy, either, even when Bill later got a job working at a now defunct Whirlpool factory. It was his job to supervise a bunch of guys making refrigerator doors, screwing three screws into the doors all day. Those guys were happy to do that job, racking up years of seniority and extra dollars per hour. Bill was bored, and even though Whirlpool paid more, it was still a hell of a lot less money than he needed.

This morning, we were talking about this… We’ve been talking about this a lot since he saw his daughter a few months ago. As they processed their experiences living with a narcissist, they realized that they were conditioned to settle for crumbs of contentment. When you spend your time with a narcissist, you learn to settle for whatever they throw at you. The smallest pleasures are satisfying as you’re driven to give up more and more of yourself for the narcissist’s whims. It’s soul destroying.

Whenever I listen to Bill talk, I see the spark in his bright blue eyes as he tells me about the things that interest him. He likes talking about movies, music, history, religion, literature, and food. Since we’ve been together, I’ve watched him turn into a gourmet cook, a beer brewer, a wine connoisseur, and most recently, a beginning guitar player. When he was married to Ex, he wasn’t allowed to have hobbies. They were deemed “self-indulgent”. His job was to work, and to make enough money for the family’s survival. His happiness didn’t matter.

I remember seeing his old ID card from Whirlpool. He looked about twenty years older than he was. The jovial, kind, friendly expression I’m used to seeing was completely absent. He looked depressed, vacant, and unhealthy– used up and spent. I wouldn’t have recognized him.

After a few years of working in factories, Bill got the opportunity to go back to work full time for the Army National Guard. It would be like he’d rejoined active duty, only he’d be paid by the state of Arkansas and work as a federalized National Guardsman. Even though he would be paid over twice what he earned in factories; he’d have excellent medical benefits; and the work would be much better suited to him, Ex was not onboard with the idea. She wanted to stay in Arkansas in the house that was falling apart. She expected Bill to keep working in the factory to prove his love and devotion to her. When he asked her to give up on her Arkansas dream, she refused. So Bill went off to Kansas by himself.

It was about that time that he and I met online. I was starting graduate school in South Carolina. We chatted online for about 18 months before we met in person. During that time, he and Ex divorced. He lived on $600 a month, because the rest of his money went to her, as she shacked up with her now third husband in the house Bill bought for her. We have heard that #3 is now a certified nursing assistant. To be sure, it’s not his passion, but he’s now having to pay the bills, since Bill isn’t paying Ex anymore. They have two more children to support, and Ex has lots of debt racked up from her failed visions that were overcome by events.

When Bill and I met in person, he’d been divorced for almost a year. He showed up at my apartment in bedraggled clothes that were several years out of style. Ex had bought them at yard sales. I remember wondering how I felt about him. Common sense would have told me to run the other way. But there was something in those startling blue eyes. He was so kind-hearted and intelligent… I wonder how it must have felt to be with someone who valued his opinions and didn’t see him as a slave with no right to enjoy living.

Last night, Bill made a Jordanian dish with tomatoes, peppers, and lavash (pictured above) as we listened to music on Alexa and I tried to play along with the Eagles on my guitar. Then he got his guitar and I showed him a new chord. Neither of us plays well yet, but this is something we can share.

Bill now makes over three times the money he made at the factories in Arkansas. He’s earned two master’s degrees since he left Ex, who seemed to resent that Bill had a bachelor’s degree (when they were married, she hadn’t finished college). He works mostly from home right now, doing work that interests him and suits his talents. Today, we’re going out to lunch at one of our favorite restaurants, where I’ll watch his eyes widen as he tastes something interesting… something that didn’t come out of a can or a box. When I met Bill, he could only cook a few things. Now he tries all kinds of recipes. He’s not afraid of attempting things that are beyond his comfort zone.

I think about what Bill settled for in those years. He would have tried to keep going, but it was impossible. If he had kept living that way, I have no doubt that he would not be who he is today. He would definitely not be as healthy and happy as he is. There was a price to be paid. He missed out on watching his daughters come of age, and they also suffered under their mother’s tyranny. I know he wishes he’d fought harder for them now… or better yet, not settled for marrying their mother. She never did offer more than crumbs of contentment, even early in their relationship.

Somehow, when he was growing up, he missed the very important lesson that you can’t help others until you help yourself. He saw Ex as a damsel in distress needing someone to save her. He felt valiant by rescuing her, but deep down, he felt that she was all he deserved. He thought no one else would value him and, in fact, didn’t actually value her that much, since he settled for her.

She reinforced the idea that she was the best he could do repeatedly, telling him that no other woman would want him and convincing him that she was right. So he stayed with her for almost ten years and settled for what she deigned to let him have. By contrast, we’ve been together for almost 18 years, and those years have been a hell of a lot more fun for him. One time, not long after their divorce, Ex actually accused Bill of taking Rogaine. His hair was fuller and he looked healthier. I look at pictures of Bill as a 56 year old man and he STILL looks younger, healthier, and happier than he did in that Whirlpool factory ID he had when he was in his early to mid 30s.

I don’t blame Bill for staying with Ex. Leaving an abusive environment is difficult. Abusive people have a way of convincing their victims that leaving them is worse than staying. In an abusive situation, a victim can start to believe that the next situation will be worse. They’d rather stick with what they know. I’m not immune to this issue myself. I originally didn’t want to move to Wiesbaden because I was afraid we’d wind up in a worse living situation than what we were in. I was wrong. We ended up in a much better situation. There are things I miss about where we were before, but overall, moving on was the right thing to do.

The last point I would make is that sometimes it takes time to get where you’re going. The first five years of our marriage were lean as we tried to pay off debts and Bill supported his kids and former stepson. But we knew it was a temporary situation if we just worked together and kept our eyes on the prize. We made small financial changes that helped us get ahead on debt and eventually retire it. We stayed flexible toward each other’s goals and needs for happiness. And in spite of everything, we’re still very much in love. We have our ups and downs, like everyone does. But I don’t get off on sabotaging Bill’s successes. I like it when he succeeds, and I do what I can to help him get ahead. Likewise, he wants me to succeed, too, and he does what he can to help me.

Your life is your own. Sometimes you have to make concessions in order to survive. But when it comes down to it, settling for crumbs tossed out by an abuser is not productive. It doesn’t lead to anything good. If I had ever had a child of my own, I hope I would have taught him or her not to settle for crumbs of happiness. Don’t marry someone because you don’t think you can do better or you think they need rescuing. Don’t stay somewhere toxic because you don’t think the next place will be better. Sometimes, you have to take the plunge. Or, as my spirit animal George Carlin would say, you have to “take a fuckin’ chance”.