divorce, Ex, family, love, marriage

Proud to be a “good strong woman”…

Keb’ Mo’ has a new album coming out. I love his music, so I’ve preordered it. So far, two songs have been released. One is a remake of the Bill Withers’ classic, “Lean on Me.” The other is a song that features Darius Rucker. It’s called “Good Strong Woman”. I listened to that song this morning after having breakfast with Bill. He’s staying home again today, because he’s taking a couple more online classes at the Jung Institute in Zurich. Bill’s chance to study Jung directly from the source is one great thing that has come out of living in Germany. It’s really something he enjoys doing, which is as gratifying for me to see as it is for him to experience.

Below is the video for Keb’ Mo’s new song.

I love this song and its message. I try to be a “good strong woman” for Bill.

Our breakfast conversation was about a letter to advice columnist Carolyn Hax that was printed in today’s edition of The Washington Post. The letter writer is having a disagreement with her father over her treatment of his wife. Below is the letter in question:

Wow… my first thoughts? What a brat!

Regular readers probably know why this letter gave me pause. Technically, I am the stepmother to Bill’s two daughters. I’ve only met them in person one time. For many years, they were estranged from their dad, mainly because their mother is extremely toxic and immature and she was more interested in punishing Bill for not letting her continue to abuse him, than being a kind and attentive mother and a “good strong woman” to her current husband. There is ABSOLUTELY no reason why Bill and his daughters should have been kept apart, other than their mother’s warped and extremely petty vindictiveness. And if I sound bitter and snotty, so be it. I know Bill, and unfortunately, I know enough about his ex wife. I am definitely not the whole problem in our case.

Fortunately, Bill’s younger daughter has come around, and it’s plain that she’s not like her mother. So when Bill and his daughter Skype, I’m happy about it. Usually, unless I happen to be sitting in the room when they Skype, I give them their privacy. Almost two years ago, Bill finally got to see his daughter in person, after 15 years of separation. He met his grandchildren. They had plenty of time to talk privately, because when he was in Utah seeing his daughter, I was in Germany, hanging out with Arran. I encouraged this gathering, and was gratified when it went well. Bill’s older daughter remains estranged, but she’s 30 years old and has to make her own choices. So be it.

It should come as no surprise to my readers that I empathize with the letter writer’s stepmother. On the other hand, I also recognize that there isn’t a lot of information here. We don’t know how old the letter writer was when his dad married his second wife. We don’t know the circumstances of his split from the letter writer’s mother. All we know is that stepmom is only ten years older than her stepdaughter, and unlike my stepdaughters and me, this stepdaughter and her stepmom actually have a relationship. It sounds like their relationship, for whatever reason, isn’t a particularly good one.

I appreciated Carolyn’s response to this writer. I think she hit the nail on the head, too. Below is her take on this situation.

Stepdaughter: If the “so much more” resembles this, then you do owe your stepmother/dad’s wife/24-year family member that apology.

So many times with so many stories, things can go either way, depending on all the details I don’t have. And maybe this one still can, too; I obviously have little to work with.

But then, ooh, I get the Magic Aside, the throwaway scrap in a question that’s the comprehension equivalent of fumbling around in the dark and accidentally bumping a light switch.

“She’s only 10 years older than me.”

Ah.

How dare he.

Form a lasting partnership with someone younger than he is.

Right?

Think for a moment. If you had fallen in love with someone, a fellow adult, and your father was giving you grief because your partner was 20 years younger, would you be okay with that? I doubt you’d appreciate his being in a 24-year huff over it, and still imposing his huff on your family’s guest lists.

Could your stepmother have let this go? Maybe. But, 24 years. That’s how long she’s been part of your family, and you’re still pressuring others (successfully!) to treat her as an interloper. If you want backup for excluding someone from a gathering, then you need proof of malice on her part. Ookie age proximity or old wounds or not being your mom won’t cut it.

No, of course, you “shouldn’t be forced.” But your conscience, your better self, your love for your dad, your enduring peace of mind and your humanity are all inner voices that are overdue to exert some force.

Again, unless there’s malice — and I mean evident stepmotherly ill intent, not just missteps in a time of awkward transition — I urge you to hear the pleas, please, of your better angels for you to swallow your pride, let go, and respect her rightful place.

I know a lot of people who don’t know our story might want to “come at me”. I’ve heard many times over the years about how I should “be the bigger person” and “recognize that I’m an ‘interloper’ in an established relationship” and, even worse, some have even asked me if I broke up Bill’s first marriage. The answer to that question is a resounding “NO”. I didn’t even meet Bill in person until almost a year after his divorce.

In four days, Bill and I will have been married for 19 years. He’s almost eight years older than I am. If had been the mother of his daughters, I would have been a very young mom. But, at this point, Bill and I have been together about twice as long as he was with his ex wife. We are extremely compatible, which makes me very happy, because when I was in college, I went through seven roommates… and even that was with two semesters of living alone.

It’s not as bad as it sounds, though. One of those roommates basically kicked me out of the room after our first week of freshman year so she could bunk with the party girl across the hall. One moved in for part of a semester because she got kicked out of her room for being busted with pot. That roommate later got kicked out of school for not going to class. And another was a student teacher, who was only at school for a few weeks until she went home to student teach. I got along fine with three roommates, and barely tolerated a fourth. We simply weren’t compatible.

There are always extenuating circumstances, and things aren’t always as they seem at face value. Still, I had friends who found their besties during freshman year and roomed together the whole time we were in college. Some of them are now divorced, even if they’re still buddies with their former roommates. I, on the other hand, couldn’t find a really compatible roommate, but I did find a husband who is just about perfect for me. So what if I came second? Bill and I are married. We love each other. I am now part of his family, and he’s part of mine. And because we love each other and are family, neither of us has to be alone as we get older. I’m so glad that Bill’s younger daughter understands that, and supports it.

When I read the letter in Carolyn Hax’s column today, what really stood out to me was just how self-centered and petty the writer came across. The line about her father’s wife being “only 10 years older” reveals what I think is one of many bones of contention this lady has with her dad and his wife. She mentions there is “so much more to the story”, but chooses to mention the age difference instead of some other reason why she and stepmom aren’t friends. That, to me, is very telling. The age difference obviously really bugs her.

However, if stepmom was a legal adult when she and the letter writer’s dad got married, the age difference shouldn’t matter, especially since they have been married for 24 years. A marriage that has lasted that long probably works well on some level. If stepmom wasn’t a legal adult when she got married, then she was a victim, and shouldn’t be blamed. Either way, it sounds like dad and stepmom love and respect each other, and letter writer should, in turn, understand that, and grow the fuck up.

The fact that the letter writer’s dad is supporting his wife’s complaints about his daughter’s apparent toxic, petty behavior reveal that this isn’t a marriage strictly of convenience. I do know there are marriages that are like that– people get married solely for money, security, or some other commodity. For example, I suspect Ex and her husband have a loveless marriage, based on what I know about her first two husbands and the way she reportedly treats #3. But, based on the letter above, I don’t think that’s the situation for the letter writer’s dad and his wife. It sounds like the dad is supporting his wife. He has his wife’s back, not his daughter’s.

Oooh… now this would be exciting.

The daughter sounds like she is trying to dictate to her father the terms of their relationship. She’s trying to force him to choose between his wife and his daughter. It doesn’t sound like she’s considered the fact that he gets a vote, too. He may very well decide that his relationship with his wife, the woman with whom he shares a home, and presumably, a bed, is more important than a relationship with his grown daughter, who, at least in this letter, comes off as really petty and obnoxious. Like it or not, her dad has chosen to marry someone other than her mother. She should be grateful that he’s found love and isn’t alone. And yes, she should show some basic respect to her stepmother, just as she should to most people. Otherwise, why not simply go no contact?

The comments on this post are pretty interesting. Lots of people are on “team stepmom”. Lots of people are supporting the letter writer. It’s true that the dad/husband is responsible for the fact that his daughter exists. Many people feel that a person’s children should always come first. Personally, I disagree with that, since children usually grow up to be adults, and they need to learn that the world doesn’t always revolve around them.

If the dad decides that he’s willing to continue a relationship with his daughter without his wife’s involvement, that might work out fine. However, based on the way the dad reacted to his daughter’s behavior, it sounds like he’s putting his wife and marriage first. And that’s probably the best thing to do, in the long run. His daughter is grown up, now, so he should focus on living his life, making himself happy, and staying healthy. His daughter can fend for herself. If she doesn’t grow up and stop being so selfish, she may have to do that.

Divorce can really suck. It’s often expensive, painful, complicated, and heartbreaking. However, sometimes divorce is absolutely necessary. It was definitely necessary in Bill’s case. He couldn’t stay with his ex wife without risking his health, or even his life. And he should not have been expected to, especially not for the convenience of someone else– and certainly not for someone who is an adult. Bill’s stepmother had “issues” with Bill’s divorce, because it made it harder for her to see his kids, who technically aren’t even her grandchildren. She doesn’t know the whole story about everything that went wrong, or the most egregiously awful parts of the story, but she also didn’t have to live in that hellish situation. Bill did.

Maybe the letter writer had a legitimate gripe if she was a child when the divorce happened, and the stepmom was legitimately abusive to her in some way. She’s now a grown woman, though, and she probably needs to get over herself and accept her stepmother as a full member of the family. If she can’t or won’t do that, then maybe it’s time she went no contact. Of course, going no contact is a big decision, and it can come with significant consequences. But sometimes it really is the healthy thing to do for everyone involved. Either way, it sounds like dad is sticking with his wife, and she’s going to have to accept that.

I don’t know what went wrong in the relationship between the letter writer’s parents, but obviously, they couldn’t be together. Her dad has now found someone to love, and they’ve been together for a long time, in spite of the daughter’s disdain and disrespect toward their marriage. If the letter writer loves her dad, she should understand and respect that, and stop trying to divide the family with petty foolishness. It sounds like he’s found himself a “good strong woman”, and she should simply be happy for him and try to co-exist with her. I’m sure the letter writer’s dad would want the same kind of strong and supportive partner for her.

Below are the lyrics to Keb’ Mo’s new song, “Good Strong Woman”.

Mama said, “Son, listen to me
That girl is T-R-O-U-B-L-E
So watch out, I know you love her but she’s not your friend
She’ll only be there long as you got money to spend”

Life can be kinda hard on a man

You’re gonna need a good strong woman that’s got your back
Fill you back up when you’re outta gas
A good strong woman goes a long, long way
Makes the right now better than the yesterday
I’m talking ’bout a good strong woman (strong woman)
A good strong woman (strong woman)
A good strong woman (strong woman)
Hm, a good strong woman (strong woman)

She will never leave you if you treat her right
She’ll be there in the morning till the late of night
She’s the kind that’s never gonna let you down
Makes you put the bricks on the world around

Life can be kinda hard on a man

You’re gonna need a good strong woman that’s got your back
Fill you back up when you’re outta gas
A good strong woman goes a long, long way
Makes the right now better than the yesterday
I’m talking ’bout a good strong woman (strong woman)
A good strong woman (strong woman)
A good strong woman (strong woman)
A good strong woman (strong woman)

If you wanna make the bad times better
Make a good thing last forever

Life can be kinda hard on a man

You’re gonna need a good strong woman that’s got your back
Fill you back up when you’re outta gas
A good strong woman goes a long, long way
Makes the right now better than the yesterday

You’re gonna need a good strong woman that’s got your back
Fill you back up when you’re outta gas
A good strong woman goes a long, long way
Makes the right now better than the yesterday

I’m talking ’bout a good strong woman (strong woman)
A good strong woman (strong woman)
A good strong woman (strong woman)
Yeah, I’ll be a good strong woman

Oh, a good strong woman
She’s got your back, strong woman
Talking ’bout a good strong woman
(Good strong woman)

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divorce, LDS, mental health, narcissists, psychology

You CAN’T cross a narcissist’s chasm! It’s just a mirage!

Here’s another very personal post from yours truly. It’s not for people who don’t want to read deep thoughts. I’m sharing this, because I know there are a lot of people out there who are struggling in narcissistic relationships. I hope this offers some insight to those who are hurting.

Mood music for this piece…

This morning, Bill brought up some imagery he’s often used when he talks about his relationship with his narcissistic ex wife. He said that he imagined his ex wife on one side of a chasm with everyone else he loved– his kids, his ex stepson, extended family members, church people, and even his parents. And he was on the other side of the chasm, standing there all alone and miserable. Ex encouraged him to come over the chasm to join his loved ones. He could do that by changing into whatever her image of the perfect man was. Only if he did that, would he ever be able to join his loved ones on the other side of the chasm. But she was happy for him to keep trying to reach that goal, and she would always encourage him to try, even though it was an impossible feat.

After some wasted time spent trying to cross the divide, Bill finally wisely understood that if he’d ever actually crossed the chasm, he would cease to be who he is. Who he is, is not a bad person. Ex had made some unreasonable demands that he dance to her tune. She wanted him to seek counseling from an LDS bishop for his “hatred of women” (which doesn’t now, and never has existed). He refused to do it. In retrospect, he was wise not to agree to counseling with the bishop, since LDS bishops are not usually trained counselors. They’re unpaid laypeople who have professional jobs. He could have wound up spilling his guts to an accountant. Besides, he’s neither a pervert, nor a misogynist. Having been his wife for almost 19 years, I can attest to that fact.

Ex subsequently demanded a divorce, while the family was visiting Bill’s father and stepmother. The timing of her demand was surely done on purpose. She probably figured that asking for a divorce at the home of Bill’s dad and stepmother would make Bill think twice about agreeing to the split. She may have been thinking that he would acquiesce and do her bidding in order to save their marriage for eternity. I’m sure it was driven home that they were not on neutral territory when she made her demand. She later said that she’d been wanting to drive Bill to “rock bottom”, and show him what he was going to be giving up. I think Ex probably needs to work on her threats. A marriage to someone who deliberately sabotages their partners, attempts to shame and humiliate them in front of others, and tells bald faced lies about their characters is not exactly a prize worth anything.

The fact that the divorce stunt was carried out at Easter has always struck me as weirdly symbolic and prophetic. It was as if Bill finally got the opportunity to resurrect his life before it was too late. But then, Bill did something Ex never thought he’d do.

When Ex presented Bill with divorce papers, fully expecting him to cave and agree to her demands, he took her completely by surprise and agreed to divorce, instead. Ex was devastated, because she’d only meant to regain control of Bill. Bill was making responsible adult decisions like going back into the Army and doing work he was qualified for, and would be well paid to do, instead of working in crappy factory shift jobs. Ex knew the Army would, once again, trump her decisions about where they should live, and when Bill would be working. She didn’t want to surrender to that lifestyle again, because she wanted to be in control of everything. To regain control, Ex took some desperate and regrettable measures that ended up backfiring, as many of her harebrained schemes do in the long run.

First, Ex tried to convince Bill that he was a bad person with misogynistic tendencies. I think she knew damned well it wasn’t the truth. The truth is, Bill is kind and generous to a fault. He doesn’t have an abusive bone in his body. Ex, on the other hand, is very abusive. So she just projected herself onto Bill– yet another illusion. Maybe she should have been named Doug Henning! Like all narcissists, she’s a master at creating smoke and mirrors that confuse her targets and distorts their perceptions so that they see things inaccurately.

When Ex suggested that Bill was an abuser, it horrified him. Bill worked hard to prove to her that he wasn’t that person, even though they both knew he’s not abusive. I suspect that Ex was both repulsed and turned on by the way Bill reacted to the idea that he was a monster and his subsequent desperation to prove to her otherwise. I’m sure one part of her wished he would have taken a stand. But the other part of her probably realized that he’d let her change the narrative, and this could be a powerful point of control for her. When he didn’t settle down and give up the idea of going back into the Army, Ex got more desperate. That was when she decided to haul in the big guns and throw out the “D” word– knowing full well that Bill’s parents’ divorce had been very painful for him. She figured he would do anything to avoid a divorce from her and be separated from his children.

Ex never actually meant to end their marriage. At least not at that point. She just wanted to be in control again, and maybe somehow get Bill to change his mind about being in the Army. Or maybe she just wanted to punish and humiliate him for taking back some control over his own life. How dare he?! Either way, if she managed to convince Bill that he was “sick”, damaged, and abusive, and that she was the only woman who would accept him, he would stay with her and never let anyone or anything supersede her authority, including the Army.

This “divorce” stunt, which was supposed to make Bill desperate to appease Ex, had instead forced her into a situation that caused a severe narcissistic injury. She couldn’t backpedal when he said “yes” to her divorce proposal, because that would make the narcissistic injury and subsequent humiliation even worse. So she was forced to ride with Bill on the drive to the notary she’d lined up on Easter morning. It was not the outcome she’d ever expected or wanted. She thought she knew him, but there was still a part of him that he’d kept for himself. I think that’s the part of the situation that upset her the most. All this time, she thought she owned him, not realizing that there was still a little part of him that she didn’t know. I’m sure it enraged her that he’d done the unexpected.

Of course, being a narcissist, Ex only thought she knew Bill. Narcissists never take the time to really get to know anyone. They think they’re special and gifted, so why would they take the time to get to know someone’s heart? The reality is, she really only knew Bill on a superficial level. But she was convinced she had him pegged, and she was certain she knew how he was going to react in that situation. She thought that asking for a divorce while they visited family would pressure Bill into agreeing with her that he’s a monster and a pervert. It turns out Bill has much more self-respect and dignity than she ever realized. She didn’t know, and it was painfully obvious… and in the end, she lost big time.

I’ve heard Bill tell the story about feeling like he was standing alone at a chasm many times. This morning, something new occurred to me. I started thinking about all of the other people in Ex’s life. I have never met Ex in person, but I’ve talked to many people who have known her. She uniformly leaves a lot of angry, confused, and hurt people in her wake. I’ve done enough research about narcissists, and experienced enough of their shit myself, that it dawned on me that Bill must not have been the only one who felt alone and isolated from loved ones.

I suddenly realized that most of those people probably felt the same way Bill did, standing alone on the edge of the chasm, staring longingly at all of their loved ones beckoning them to come over the chasm to join the narcissist’s team. That means that the reality of the situation was, Ex was the one who was alone at the chasm.

Bill was never alone. He was standing there with all of the other people who were being pressured to dance to Ex’s tune and were never quite “good enough” to hang out in the fantasy world. But all of those people had, like Bill, been carefully trained not to ever talk to anyone about how they were feeling. They all had tunnel vision, and were completely unaware that she had a slew of people gazing across the chasm at her fantasy world.

I looked at Bill and blurted out, “She had you fooled. You weren’t standing alone on the chasm. She was. She was the one staring longingly at all of the people on the other side, wanting to join them. But instead of trusting people, being genuinely loving and caring, and making them want to join her because she’s truly a good person, she used lies, threats, manipulation, and devaluation to isolate her victims and make them think they’re alone.”

I am willing to bet that if Bill asked some of Ex’s other victims if they ever felt like they were standing alone at a chasm, more than one of them would say they did. If at least one other person felt like Bill did, that means he wasn’t alone. There were others there with him.

Much like the late Doug Henning was, Ex is a master of illusion… and she also has a similar hairstyle.

The narcissist is very good at convincing people that he or she is the “good one”, who has everyone’s approval. The victims are “bad” and standing alone at the chasm, desperate to make it to the party. But the reality is, it’s not the victims who are alone. Narcissists usually have many victims, and they make every single one of them feel like they’re alone. The truth is, it’s the narcissist who’s alone, and desperately trying to connect. They create a fantasy mirage that looks appealing to their confused and traumatized victims, who are made to feel like they have to cross the chasm. But crossing is impossible.

Narcissists are never actually satisfied, and always keep their prey at an arm’s length. They’re always keeping their victims fighting to be acceptable, and narcissists have ways of making their victims think they’re worthy of the battle. But the reality is, no matter what the victims do, they’re never quite good enough to join the narcissist’s party on the other side of the fissure. They can’t ever be good enough, because they can’t be the narcissist’s equal.

A narcissist who accepts a victim as having finally done enough to appease them can no longer be in control. Losing control is DEATH to the narcissist, so they’ll always move the goalposts. You will never be good enough for them, and if you don’t wise up and end the relationship, you will die trying to appease them. Or you will lose yourself and become a shell of who you were meant to be. You CAN’T cross the chasm. You can only keep chasing the dream, which is just an illusion… a mirage.

The narcissist makes crossing that chasm seem so attractive. It may even look like it’s easy. All anyone has to do is make the narcissist happy and do what they want. Then they can join the party and be happy with the narcissist, who will finally stop being so mean, critical, and dictatorial. But that will never happen. There’s too much value in the narcissist keeping people wanting what they can’t have. So that chasm will forever remain uncrossed… but it’s really just a mirage, anyway, and probably about as enjoyable as Mormon Heaven is.

The sad thing is, narcissists have a knack for zeroing in on a person’s deepest insecurities and exploiting them for their own gain. They’re masters at triangulating their victims, using other people to present false narratives that make them think they are damaged and at risk of being alone. At the same time, like any garden variety abuser, narcissists isolate their victims, discouraging them from comparing notes while encouraging them to take sides and keep secrets. And so, the victims think they’re alone. But they’re not alone… and they can’t ever get across the chasm. So there’s no use trying. Instead of fighting for something you can never have, it’s better to find (or build) a bridge and get over it.

So ends today’s sermon. Go forth and enjoy your Sunday!

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book reviews, celebrities, divorce

A review of Sunshine Girl: An Unexpected Life, by Julianna Margulies…

Last spring, I happened to come across an article about actress Julianna Margulies, and the book she had just published, Sunshine Girl: An Unexpected Life. Although I never got into Julianna Margulies’ career beyond her stint on E.R., the article had made her new book sound compelling. Maybe it was because the article also mentioned George Clooney, an actor who didn’t impress me when I first saw him on the early 80s era sitcom, E/R, with Elliott Gould, or when he was on The Facts of Life during its shark jumping years. E.R. gave me new respect for George Clooney, and Julianna Margulies had great chemistry with him on that show. It was probably one of my favorite shows in my lifetime. I downloaded the book, but only now have gotten around to reading it.

I just finished Sunshine Girl this morning. I don’t know what I was expecting when I bought it. I think I was excited to get it, but for some reason, kept putting off reading it. And now that I’ve read it, I have huge new respect for Julianna Margulies. Wow– what an amazing life she’s led, on so many levels! She reveals a surprisingly intelligent, insightful, and experienced person beneath the roles she’s famously played on TV– Nurse Carol Hathaway on E.R., and then attorney, Alicia Florrick on The Good Wife. She can now add “successful author” to her long list of accomplishments. Aside from writing Sunshine Girl, Margulies is also the author of a children’s book titled Three Magic Balloons.

Margulies basics

Margulies was born the third daughter and youngest child to her parents, Paul and Francesca Margulies. Paul Margulies was a successful New York based ad executive. He’s the one who came up with the famous slogan for Alka-Seltzer, “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is.”

Julianna’s dad came up with this.

Julianna Margulies’ mother, Francesca, was a ballet dancer who taught eurythmy and was an expert in anthroposophy, concepts championed by Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian philosopher, scientist, and artist. It is Steiner’s ideas that propelled the educational movement behind Waldorf Schools. A Waldorf or Steiner Education focuses on developing students’ “intellectual, artistic, and practical skills in an integrated and holistic manner.” Julianna’s parents were incompatible, and got divorced when Julianna was very young. They were both of Jewish heritage, although Julianna’s mother converted to Christianity when Julianna and her sisters were children. She writes in her book that she considers herself Jewish, but is not religious.

For some reason, Julianna’s mother– referred to as Francesca in the dedication, as well as in other sources– is pictured at the end of the Kindle version of this book with the name Janice Marylin Gardner (nee Goldberg). I’m not sure if that was an error, or her mom changed her name. In any case, Julianna, and her two older sisters, Alexandra and Rachel, grew up moving from place to place as their mom worked in different Waldorf schools. Julianna was fluent in French because her mother had moved to France so that the girls could be close to their father, who was working in Paris. Then, they moved to Sussex, England, where Julianna developed a perfect British accent; she got mocked for it when she later moved to New York, only to move back to England for a couple more years. Then she landed in New Hampshire, where she had to learn to decipher the thick New England accents she encountered there.

All of the moving around was traumatic for Julianna and her sisters. Her eldest sister, Alexandra, had so much trouble dealing with their mother’s idiosyncrasies that when she became a teenager, she refused to live with her anymore. Alexandra was a talented ballet dancer and went to the School of American Ballet, while Rachel and Julianna continued to flit from place to place on two continents and through different countries. At one point, they were supposed to live in Germany, but Julianna’s mother had hated Germany. It reminded her too much of Hitler. She moved to England, abruptly changing the plans for Julianna and Rachel, and causing them massive stress from the upheaval.

The Sunshine Girl…

The incredible stress caused from living “hand to mouth” as a child– constantly leaving friends and beloved pets– and dealing with her mother’s penchant for loving and leaving different men– caused Julianna Margulies to become a people pleaser. This is a quality that reminds me a lot of my husband, who would rather die than hurt someone.

Julianna Margulies writes so many anecdotes about how she bent over for others, tolerating abuse from everyone from customers in restaurants where she waited tables to family members. She spent over ten years in an abusive relationship with another actor who took her for granted and expected her to cater to his needs. She tolerated abusive work environments, constantly pushing herself to the limits for other people and never taking the time to enjoy the fruits of her labors and talents. All the while, even though she was a “sunshine girl” to others, she was denying herself. Her mother had dubbed her the “sunshine girl” as a term of endearment, but that label became an albatross as she constantly yielded to other people’s needs, not wanting to rock the boat.

Why did Sunshine Girl affect me so much?

I think I was moved by Julianna Margulies’ life story because her story reminds me so much of my husband and his daughters. My husband, Bill, has two daughters with his ex wife. He wasn’t allowed to see or communicate with them after he and his ex wife divorced. We’re finding out now how that situation affected Bill’s younger daughter; the older one is still estranged. Julianna Margulies’ story, while not quite as tragic as Bill’s has been, is somewhat similar. I actually gained some perspective reading Sunshine Girl, and also some validation. I even read some of it aloud to Bill.

Julianna Margulies met some really good people– dear friends who have stayed in her life and offered her wisdom and kindness. She’s stayed down to earth and humble, in spite of her massive success as an actress. I felt like I could really relate to her as a person. She seems like someone I’d love to have as a friend, in spite of her unconventional life. Actually, Julianna Margulies’ life isn’t that strange to me, having heard my husband’s story. In many ways, they have things in common with each other… as do my husband’s daughters. My husband, in particular, could write a book, and probably should.

Julianna’s epiphany

Anyone who loved E.R. remembers how Julianna Margulies famously turned down 27 million dollars to extend her contract. So many people told her she was crazy to leave the show. She was in her early 30s at the time, and people didn’t expect her career to flourish beyond what seemed like the pinnacle. But Julianna ignored all of the advice given to her by so many people. She decided to quit because she wanted to act in a play. She didn’t like living in Los Angeles as much as she did New York, where the seasons change. The playwright had written a role expressly for her. It was a challenge that excited her. And she wisely realized, with help from her father, that money isn’t everything. Sometimes, you have to take a risk to get the most out of life.

Margulies writes that people were merciless to her in the wake of that decision. She got raked over the coals by the pundits on The View. Barbara Walters and Joy Behar were both particularly nasty and haughty about Margulies’ decision. Walters even asked, “Who does this girl think she is?” And Behar predicted Margulies would never work as an actress again. Happily, Margulies proved them BOTH wrong, when she landed her role as Alicia Florrick on The Good Wife, a show that went on for seven successful seasons. I never got into that show myself, but now I might have to watch it.

Julianna confronts her parents…

One other aspect of the book really stands out to me. That’s when Margulies confronts her parents for the way she was raised. On one hand, she really did live an interesting and unexpected life. Despite being “broke” a lot of the time, she had some pretty cool experiences in England and France, and she got to attend Sarah Lawrence College, a very expensive and exclusive institution of higher learning. She also completed a semester abroad in Florence, Italy, but she actually hated it there. Like me, when I was growing up, she rode ponies and competed in horse shows. She even took care of a pony she “found” in England who had been cast out as too stubborn to work with. I related to that, too… And, like me, Julianna is also a Gemini.

In spite of those experiences, though, she largely grew up without her father in her life. He stayed in New York, so she didn’t get to spend much time with him. Her mother was erratic and irresponsible. Julianna and her sisters had to grow up fast. When Julianna was pregnant with her son, she read a bundle of letters she’d written to her dad. He had given them to her as a Christmas gift, thinking she would love to read them. What the letters actually did, though, was remind Julianna of how difficult her childhood was, and how much she’d missed her father. She confronted him, and he ended up explaining his perspective. She hadn’t had all of the information about how he’d been affected by the divorce. She hadn’t known how much he’d missed her, and how much he’d struggled emotionally and financially, after the divorce. I was glad to see that she acquired wisdom, as she also found the answers to questions that obviously plagued her when she was coming of age.

I have witnessed this same phenomenon, as my husband’s younger daughter has been filling Bill in on life after divorce. Likewise, he’s explained to her what it was like for him. Together, they have come to a mutual understanding. Julianna was lucky in that her parents seemingly were able to work together. She wasn’t totally estranged from her dad, like my husband’s daughters have been. But she did have a mom who was self-absorbed and inconsiderate on many levels, and very stubborn when it came to doing whatever she wanted, regardless of other people’s needs.. Thankfully, Julianna also confronted her mom, and her mom was able to apologize… in her own sort of histrionic way. Julianna explains the apology was all she needed.

I’m glad Julianna Margulies was able to reconcile these issues with her parents. Her father passed away in 2014, the same year my dad died. I’m sure she would have been devastated if she’d never been able to work this out with her dad before his life ended.

Caveats

I will caution to anyone looking for “dirt” about ER or The Good Wife that this book may not be what they want to read. This isn’t a “dishy” book about her shows. This is a book about Julianna Margulies. I think her life’s events make for an excellent story, in and of itself. Maybe someone should turn it into a mini-series. Maybe someone will.

I also note that some of the stories in this book can be found in articles online. Those who have followed Julianna Margulies’ career closer than I have may be frustrated that they’ve heard on Oprah or read in magazines some of the material that is presented in this book. That was not an issue for me, though, because I haven’t heard or read anything about her in the years since she left E.R., and I would not expect to read about Margulies’ co-stars in a book that is clearly about Julianna Margulies’ life.

Julianna Margulies talks about her book.

Overall

I found Sunshine Girl: An Unexpected Life to be a very satisfying read. So often, when it comes to celebrity memoirs, it turns out the author has nothing to say. I don’t think that’s true in Julianna Margulies’ story. She’s led a “fairytale life”, as her dad put it, but she’s definitely paid her dues. She’s humble, wise, and real, and yet has a very intriguing history. I’m grateful she was able to share it in her book. I truly got a lot out of Sunshine Girl, and found it to be a fast paced and well-written book. I also enjoyed the photos of Julianna and her family, and appreciated getting a sense of who she is off camera.

If you’re interested in a good life story, I think Sunshine Girl is well worth reading. I think learning about anthroposophy and eurhythmy alone is worth the price of the book. Not surprisingly, my husband already knew all about both. 😉

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book reviews, divorce, Ex

Repost: My review of Say Goodbye To Crazy by Paul Elam and Dr. Tara J. Palmatier

This is a repost of a book review I wrote in 2015, about 18 months or so before Bill reconciled with his younger daughter. At the time, I was hanging out on Shrink4Men.com, run by Dr. Tara Palmatier. I have less of a need to hang out on that site now, since Bill has reconnected with his daughter. I still think this is a good book, though, so I’m sharing this as/is review for those who might find it useful.

In November of this year, I will have been married to my husband, Bill, for thirteen years.  We have had a great marriage for the most part, except for dealing with his former wife and the two kids he had with her.  Those adult children are extremely alienated and haven’t spoken to Bill since 2004– with the exception of letters they supposedly wrote in 2006, formally disowning him.  One might think that Bill is an utter failure at being a parent, but I know the truth about what happened and I know that had he not chosen to have kids with a crazy woman, he would have been a much beloved and highly successful father.  In fact, he was much beloved by his kids until he got divorced and married me.

Before anyone asks– no, I am not the cause of Bill’s first marriage breaking up. I did not meet Bill in person until 2001, almost a whole year after he and his ex wife legally split. I did meet him online prior to that, but Bill’s marriage was already in a death spiral by that time. Moreover, we were strictly platonic until the divorce was final (and really until we actually met in person). Ex, on the other hand, had a boyfriend, and was quick to move him into the house Bill was still paying for, right after they separated. Boyfriend is now Ex’s third husband. She has five children with three different men, and after each of her divorces, the resulting children ended up alienated from their fathers.

It’s been a few years since Ex last directly harassed us, though every once in awhile she rears her ugly head and does something to remind us that she’s lurking.  Overall, things have gotten much better for us, though.  It’s sad that Bill lost contact with his kids and former stepson, but letting go of them ultimately proved to be the best thing he could do for his sanity, his wallet, and our marriage.  Even though Ex mostly leaves us alone now, I am still fascinated by people with high conflict personalities. 

A few years ago, I found Dr. Tara Palmatier’s excellent Web site, Shrink4Men.com. Dr. T’s blog is written for men who are involved with abusive women and the non abusive people who love them. While many might scoff at the idea of an abused man, I know for a fact that there are a lot of guys out there who have suffered abuse at the hands of women. I think Dr. T’s Web site is an important resource that serves an underserved group of people. There are plenty of places for abused women to get relationship help if they need it. Men, by contrast, often have to go it alone.

This year, Dr. T and noted men’s rights activist Paul Elam teamed up to write a book called Say Goodbye To Crazy: How to Get Rid of His Crazy Ex and Restore Sanity to Your Life.  This book, which was released on Mother’s Day, is primarily written for women like me, married or in a relationship with a man whose ex is toxic and abusive.  Why?  My guess is that it’s because women are more likely to read self help books than men are.  Look at all the heavy hitting books out there that have been popular like Women Who Love Too Much and Men are From Mars; Women are From Venus.  These are books directed to women about relationships with abusive men.  They were hugely successful with their easily quoted titles.  Even though both of those books been around for decades, people still remember their titles.  I think Elam and Dr. T were smart to recognize who their audience really is.   

Though Say Goodbye To Crazy is a great book for men trying to reclaim their lives after being involved with a destructive, “crazy” woman, the authors write as if it’s the man’s new wife or girlfriend reading, rather than the abused man himself.  They refer to the destructive ex wife or girlfriend as “Crazy”, as if that’s her name.  Using a conversational, empathetic tone, the authors explain what and who “crazy” is and describe some of the destructive antics women with high conflict personalities will stoop to in order to get their way and wreak havoc on other peoples’ lives. 

Reading about things “crazy” does was like reading Bill’s life story for the ten years he was involved with her and the few years immediately following their divorce, as she struggled to keep him bending to her will.  As I read, I often found myself nodding in agreement, both in terms of our experiences dealing with Bill’s ex wife and the things we did that finally got her to leave us alone.  It is unfortunate that in Bill’s case, saying goodbye to crazy meant also saying goodbye to his kids.  On the other hand, not having contact with the kids and not letting Ex use them as weapons means that we also have no contact with Ex.  And that has meant peace, harmony, sanity, and prosperity.

Say Goodbye To Crazy helps men choose appropriate and effective attorneys and therapists.  For instance, the authors explain what kinds of questions to ask therapists and attorneys before hiring them.  They point out ways to spot biased and/or ignorant therapists and lawyers before wasting time and money.  They also explain the differences between counselors and their training.  Indeed, they even take a shot at social work, the profession I was trained to enter before I became an Army wife.

Dr. T and Elam explain that social workers tend to be female centric and biased toward feminism.  As someone who has a master’s degree in social work, I have to agree with them.  While there are social workers out there who are open minded about gender, the profession is female dominated and people within the social work profession generally deal with women’s issues.  There was a time when this strong emphasis on feminism was needed.  Unfortunately, I think in some situations it’s gone too far in the other direction and some men are being treated unfairly by social workers due to their gender. 

Please don’t get me wrong.  It’s not that I don’t think women need champions or that women aren’t victimized by men; it’s more that if you are a male who is dealing with an abusive woman, you don’t need someone telling you to be more empathetic and tolerant toward her crazy behavior.  You need someone to be YOUR champion and help you escape the abuse.  If you can find a competent social worker who can do that for you, by all means, take the help.  Just remember who the patient/client is.   

Elam and Dr. T also write about the concept of “parallel parenting” and why it’s so important when you are trying to raise a child with a high conflict parent.  They offer advice on how to find mental health and legal professionals who will support the idea of parallel parenting to minimize the post divorce craziness in your life.

Dr. T and Paul Elam write about the many ways “crazy” will try to manipulate and control people– anyone who is within her sphere of influence.  I can speak from experience that Ex tried very hard to get me under control, even to the point of inviting Bill and me to Bill’s father’s house for Christmas one year.  She expected me to go along with her wishes in the interest of “making nice” and showing the kids that we’re all a big happy family.  She did not ask me if I wanted to go.  She did not speak to me about it at all.  Instead, she told Bill this was how we’d all be spending our holidays and just expected that I would acquiesce.  She thought I would be desperate to try to win over the kids and the in-laws.  I understood that the kids had no interest in seeing me and the in-laws just wanted to hang out with the grandkids, so that made it easy to say “no” to her crazy and ridiculous demands.

I stayed home while Bill visited his kids at his dad’s house.  He booked a hotel while Ex and her current husband stayed with Bill’s family.  Ex ended up looking like a gigantic asshole as Bill sat alone at the Christmas table with a hotel reservation and a rented car.  Bill’s dad and stepmother initially blamed me for not coming and tried to get Bill to stay with relatives.  He declined, since he’d already paid for everything and he wanted his family to understand that his ex is an asshole… and by allowing this spectacle, they aided and abetted her asshole behavior.   

Of course, what Ex was really trying to do was force me to bend to her will and get me on turf where I’d feel forced to tolerate her abuse.  To achieve that end, she used her own children like human shields.  I suspect she figured I would not want to risk upsetting or alienating them or my husband’s father and stepmother, but she made a serious miscalculation in her assessment of me.  I understood that I could never take her place as the mother to her kids and wouldn’t want to try.  I have my own family and I don’t even tolerate much manipulative bullshit from them anymore.  Why would I take it from my husband’s former wife?

In the short term, I got a lot of crap from Bill’s dad and stepmother for not going with Bill and standing by him while also enduring Ex’s toxic bullshit.  However, in the long run, not going was the best and smartest thing I could do.  Crazy, high conflict people are masters at finding peoples’ hot buttons.  Had I exposed myself to Bill’s ex wife, she would have gotten information about what makes me tick.  She would have then used that information to drive a wedge between Bill and me and others in his family.  At the very least, that holiday would have been completely ruined and, God forbid, had it gone well, Ex would have a reason to make it an annual event. 

You may think I’m being dramatic.  I’m not.  I am deadly serious about this.  High conflict people, males and females, live to cause drama and love to destroy friendships, romantic relationships, and family ties.  Bill’s ex wife successfully alienated him from his two daughters.  But that wasn’t enough.  She also tried to turn his own parents against him.  She told them bald faced lies about the kind of person he is, twisting situations and things that were said to make it look like their beloved son is a monster who hates women.  She went on a campaign to turn his extended relatives and friends against him.  And she did all of this despite the fact that he really is a decent guy who bent over backwards for her and their kids. 

I am aware that there are a lot of men who walk away from their parental responsibilities.  Bill is not one of those guys.  He paid a lot of child support for his two daughters and Ex’s son from her first marriage (whom Bill never adopted).  He frequently tried to set up visitations and phone calls.  Ex successfully did everything in her power to thwart his attempts to stay in his kids’ lives until they finally sent him hateful letters disowning him just in time for his birthday.  Ex also sent adoption papers, which she invited Bill to sign so that her current victim could legally become “daddy”.  Bill didn’t sign, though the temptation was certainly there.

While I have pretty much written off Bill’s kids, Bill has not.  He still loves them and would see them if they asked to meet.  I, on the other hand, don’t care if we never see them again.  As far as I’m concerned, they’ve revealed to us who they really are.  They claim we don’t deserve to know them?  I submit that the opposite is true.  I would never tolerate that behavior from people I don’t know.  As far as I’m concerned, Bill’s kids are strangers, not family members.  I have only met them once and I am not their mother.  In fact, I barely qualify as a stepmother.  And I am not the one who made them strangers to us; that was their mother’s and their own decision.  Understandably, Bill has different feelings about his daughters.  If and when they eventually contact him, he will handle the situation as he sees fit and I will do my best to stay out of it.

I realize that not all men who have been married to crazy women have situations as extreme as ours has been.  For those guys (and their girlfriends or wives), Say Goodbye to Crazy is an excellent guide.  For me, it was just more affirmation that as “crazy” as Bill’s ex has always seemed, there are many more people like her, male and female.  In fact, many people have it much worse than we ever did.  We are not alone.  If you have the misfortune of being in a relationship with a high conflict person, you are not alone, either. 

I highly recommend Say Goodbye To Crazy. Dr. T also has a YouTube channel that might be helpful.    

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condescending twatbags, divorce, domestic violence, Ex

Promoting the myth of “one big happy family”…

I’ve been a subscriber of The Atlantic since last year. I do read a lot of the articles. In fact, I read more of The Atlantic than I do a lot of the other periodicals to which I am subscribed. However, over the past year I’ve noticed a few things.

First off, a lot of the articles are recycled repeatedly on Facebook. Secondly, they keep nagging me to turn auto-renew on, even though I clearly made a conscious decision to disable it (big surprise– auto-renew is turned on by default). In their emails pleading with me “not to miss an issue”, they point out that they’ll tell me before they charge me, and I always have the choice to disable auto-renew. If that’s the case, why not just let me make that choice for myself and leave me the fuck alone about it? And thirdly, so many of The Atlantic’s articles are incredibly depressing, outright ridiculous, and/or overly and annoyingly “woke”. I’m not sure if I will resubscribe when my current subscription ends next month, but the emails pleading for me to let them automatically take my money are off putting.

Reading The Atlantic the other day kind of led to yesterday’s slow news day on my blog. I kind of had to take a mental health day and just write a book review. I went a little nuts on Tuesday. It started with the cannelloni I decided to make for lunch. I wanted some red wine to go with it, even though I usually try not to imbibe when Bill isn’t home. Well… I started enjoying the wine, then I got online and read an article in The Atlantic. It was another one of Lori Gottlieb’s Dear Therapist columns, dated from June 2019. The piece was entitled “Dear Therapist: I Can’t Stand My Fiancée’s Ex-Husband”. The sub title-explanation was, “He wants to take pictures with her and their daughter like they’re still one happy family—and I want him to stop.” Below is the letter in the article:

Dear Therapist,

I am engaged to be married to a wonderful woman who has a 6-year-old daughter with her ex-husband. They share joint custody. A major contributing factor in her decision to end their marriage was her ex’s controlling nature. Even now, after being divorced for more than two years, he tries to control her life.

One of the ways he tries to do this is by insisting on taking pictures of the three of them at every function where they are all present. First day of school, graduations, etc.—he has to have pictures taken of himself with my fiancée and their daughter as if they are still one big happy family.

Since the divorce, he has gotten engaged as well. I can only assume his fiancée must find these odd “not-a-family pictures” as strange as my fiancée and I do. The sole reason we haven’t shut him down when he insists on them is that we think maybe it is a nice thing for the little girl to have pictures of herself with her mom and dad. But we dread every event when we know he is going to expect this.

Will it do the daughter any harm to stop him the next time he starts insisting on this  awkward situation?

Lori Gottlieb’s advice to the letter writer who can’t stand his fiancee’s ex husband was to cooperate for the sake of the child. She explained that she has had many children of divorce in her office who have lamented about how their parents didn’t get along. She evidently sees nothing wrong with the letter writer’s ex husband insisting on family pictures, even though both his fiancee and the ex husband have found new partners and the fiancee, apparently, doesn’t like the forced picture taking either. I do think the letter writer is pretty classy for realizing that the photos with both parents might be nice for the daughter. Hopefully, it will mean that he doesn’t try to replace his soon to be stepdaughter’s father. Sounds to me like bio dad isn’t about to let that happen. I can’t blame bio dad for that, but I also don’t think bio dad should be pressuring his ex to do something she’s not comfortable with doing, for the sake of pushing a “one big happy family” myth.

Those of you who know me at all, might know that I automatically sympathize with the letter writer. I didn’t even have to read the guy’s letter to sympathize. Ex pulled that “one big happy family” bullshit on Bill, too… I would include myself in that comment, but she never asked or even considered how I would feel about pushing that narrative. And that was just one of MANY reasons why, over 18 years after my wedding day, I still can’t stand her and don’t want to be associated with her. I have very good reasons for not being able to stand her. At the very top of the list is the fact that my husband saw one of his daughters last year for the first time since 2004!

That’s right. She categorically denied Bill visitation for years while she happily took $2550 a month from him for three children– one of whom wasn’t even his kid (she denied eldest son access to his father, too). Early in our marriage, she tried to strong arm Bill into naming her the beneficiary of life insurance policies valuing $1,000,000, even though he was paying her about half his salary in child support and had already provided $500,000 in life insurance coverage to her. She told vicious lies about him (and me) to the children and even tried to turn his own parents against him. She also abused him in ALL ways– mentally, emotionally, physically, financially, sexually… you name it, she probably did it. He still bears the scars from the physical abuse. Through it all, my husband has been extraordinarily classy. To this day, he doesn’t trash talk his ex wife, although he does commiserate with his younger daughter about her. It turns out she treats her kids as badly as she does her husbands.

I, on the other hand, have absolutely no qualms about trash talking Ex. She totally deserves it, and I make no apologies for despising her. But it didn’t start out that way. Back in 2002, when I was blissfully ignorant about her, I imagined myself being kind and patient and understanding toward Ex and the children. I wanted to be a good stepmother, loving to Bill’s children and sharing access to him with his kids. I didn’t think I’d be friends with Ex, but I thought maybe we could be civil. I really try to be civil to most people unless they give me a good reason not to be. I encouraged Bill to stay involved with his daughters. I hoped and expected he’d visit them and be part of their lives. I hoped and expected I would be part of their lives, too, in whatever way. In those days, I probably would have been among the naive, glibly telling people in step situations that they must always do everything for the child’s sake, no matter what.

But, as some of my more regular readers know, I’ve only met Bill’s daughters once, back in 2003. I had no influence on their lives, because I wasn’t allowed to be part of their lives. I could have seen them at Christmas in 2004, which was when Bill last saw them together. That last meeting was, unfortunately, a trap, although Ex had tried to frame as a way to show the children that we’re “all one big happy family”. After that Christmas, Ex completely cut off access to the children and Bill lost contact with them for years. Yes, he could have tried going to court, and he did speak to a lawyer about doing that. But in those days, he simply didn’t have the money or the time to devote to child custody hearings. After his divorce, Bill was saddled with a bankruptcy and a foreclosure, and with the kids on the other side of the country, there was no way he could fight without courting financial and professional ruin– two conditions that would not have made him look good to a family court judge, anyway. It probably also would have ruined our marriage, because unlike Ex, Bill would have allowed his daughters total access to their mom. And we would have been fighting with her constantly.

As it stands now, only Bill’s younger daughter is speaking to him. We both feel fortunate that this happened– because for a long time, we never thought it would. And, personally, I had also gotten to the point at which I was trying not to care anymore and just wanted them to leave us alone. Of course, now I’m glad younger daughter is in contact with Bill. She’s turned out to be a good person. Older daughter remains estranged and, at this point, I’m beginning to think that’s the way it will always be. Maybe that’s the way it should be.

Bill had told me when we were dating that his ex wife could “rip me to shreds”. I kind of laughed at that… and it didn’t turn out to be true. I never let her get close enough to me to be able to “rip me to shreds.” I’m not afraid of her. I think she’s a pathetic loser, and I am pissed off that she was able to do the damage she’s done and continues to do. I’m truly sorry that she was abused as a child and is mentally ill, but that does NOT give her the right to harm other people And the fact that she has done SO MUCH HARM to SO MANY PEOPLE means that I can’t stand her, and will NOT cooperate with her, EVER. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with my stance about Bill’s ex wife. She’s not a good person. Fortunately, the girls are now grown women, and I no longer have to worry about pushing the “one big happy family” myth for their sakes.

Anyway… on Tuesday, as I read that article, I visited the comment section and wrote, “Can’t blame him. There’s a reason they’re exes. I can’t stand my husband’s ex wife, either… actually, that is a massive understatement.”

I knew the reaction to my comment was probably going to be negative. I did immediately get one angry emoji. That person apparently blocked me, too. Oh fucking well.

But then I got this comment from some guy named Steve, who wrote… “but if your husband has kids with her, please encourage and support him in being civil for the sake of the children. Being a stepparent that appears against the children’s mother is going to make everything, including your relationship with the kids, much more difficult and stressful for everyone.”

Oh please. This tired screed again? So I responded to the guy, more aggressively than maybe I should have. I won’t lie. I found his comment pretty offensive and presumptuous. I mean, I guess one could assume that I’m the problem because I flat out stated that I can’t stand my husband’s ex. Not knowing anything about me, maybe I would make a similar assumption. It’s a human thing to do. Still, I just felt this overwhelming urge to speak up for people in my situation. It’s really tiresome when people glibly make suggestions like the one Steve made to me. Why would Steve or anyone else assume that someone who comes second or later is going to automatically be the problem when it comes to fostering relationships between divorced parents and their children? Why would he assume that I can’t stand the ex simply because she’s the ex?

There really is a reason why people become exes… and I don’t blame the letter writer for not liking the forced family photos. Those forced family photos are not a reflection of reality, and the ex husband’s insistence on taking them may, indeed, be due to his control issues. Not knowing the people involved, I can only assume they know each other and the situation better than any reader ever could. And while Lori Gottlieb does write that oftentimes, when she speaks to couples, she finds that both parties are equally to blame for problems in a relationship, there are also a lot of situations in which one partner really is a control freak or a narcissistic abuser. The ex insisting on something like taking family photos may seem very minor, in the grand scheme of things, but that might be part of a much larger issue that led to the couple’s split. In any case, I think the fiancee should have the right to veto the photos if she wants to, and no one should judge her for that. The letter writer should be supportive and understanding, no matter what his fiancee chooses to do.

I also agree that divorced couples with children should do their best to work together whenever possible. There’s nothing wrong with encouraging people to be civilized and occasionally “take one for the team”. But when people split up, they should not be expected to promote a false “happy family” image for the child’s sake. If they can do so realistically, that’s one thing. But it sounds like in the letter writer’s situation, at least two of the adults aren’t comfortable with promoting the charade. Their opinions should be respected, too.

Perhaps against my better judgment, I ended up explaining some of my situation to Steve. I’ll admit, my responses were pretty angry– remember, I’m currently lonely, stressed out, and at that point, had been drinking wine. Steve’s off the cuff “advice” had made me angry, because it’s the kind of useless shit I’ve been hearing for years. I’m tired of people assuming I’m the problem, simply because I’m not the mom and I happened to come second. I would have been delighted to have worked with my husband’s ex wife, if she had been similarly willing to cooperate. Unfortunately, that was not how the situation was when the girls were minors. She’s still spinning tales, and taking advantage of anyone who allows her to, and apparently, getting away with it… although younger daughter, at least, has figured her out and doesn’t want her near her children.

When I responded to Steve, I was thinking of the letter writer, as well as all of the other people I know who are in this very same boat. I know my personal story is probably kind of extraordinary. Most people’s exes aren’t as horrifying as Bill’s ex wife is. Most people are in a position to be able to enforce visitation rights, at the very least. Or their exes realize that by denying their children access to their natural parent (as long as there isn’t a damned good reason for them NOT to be), they are hurting the children. On the other hand, I do know some people who are dealing with truly awful, manipulative, controlling, abusive exes… and the people– especially the women– who subsequently get involved with them often end up being labeled as “wicked”, “homewrecker”, or “obstructive”, or they have to endure rude assumptions and questions like “Are you the reason they got divorced?”

Steve and I went back and forth a few times. He turned out to be a pretty okay guy, and I even ended up thanking him, because in the end, he was ultimately understanding and kind. And now that I’m reading my responses to him, sans wine, I realize that I was a bit triggered and, perhaps, more hostile than I should have been. The truth is, things are pretty stressful right now. Bill is on an extended TDY, so I don’t have anyone to talk to, other than online. This isn’t the first time I’ve spent weeks alone, but doing this routine during a pandemic, in a foreign country, and after having been “locked down” for months, is very trying.

I do know things could be worse. Bill is not in a war zone with a narcissist; he isn’t regularly fighting with his ex wife; we are both healthy; and we have plenty of money to pay our bills. I know there are many people out there who would laugh at me and tell me to get over myself. But even though I know things aren’t really that bad and have historically been worse, that doesn’t change the fact that the other day, it was like I’d run into a perfect storm of triggers that got me pretty wound up. The truth is, I kind of exploded… then imploded.

I ended up going to bed early on Tuesday, after a tense and very brief– and incoherent– chat with Bill. We had a much better chat last night and I apologized for the state I was in on Tuesday. He was understanding, as usual, reminding me that this is a “stressful time”. And it is… the boredom, loneliness, and hopelessness of the past fourteen months have taken their toll. It doesn’t help that my husband, who is half vaccinated, is on yet another business trip lasting weeks. I feel like we’re separated. There is a light at the end of the lockdown tunnel, though. In a few weeks, we’ll both be fully vaccinated, and it looks like the TDYs from hell may be over for awhile. And maybe we can do something enjoyable and spend some money on a trip somewhere. Hope springs eternal.

Anyway… I know I should avoid comment sections for the sake of my blood pressure and mental health. But, if I didn’t read comments, I probably wouldn’t have enough material to blog every day. Other people’s reactions and perceptions can make for fertile content mining. I also know that there are people out there who were glad I spoke up about that fake “one big happy family” falsehood. For a lot of us in these step relationships, that just isn’t reality… and I don’t think we do good when we try to present it that way.

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