Ex, family, mental health, psychology

When Grandma gets canceled…

I used to read Slate Magazine’s advice column “Dear Prudence” fairly regularly, especially when we were still living in the States. I remember reading Dear Prudence in the Washington Post, too, especially when it was written by Emily Yoffe, who wrote an awesome book about adopting a beagle from BREW (Beagle Resource Education and Welfare). Bill and I have adopted three beagles from BREW ourselves, so naturally I wanted to read What the Dog Did: Tales from a Formerly Reluctant Dog Owner (2005). I remember Yoffe also famously wrote about competing in the Mrs. America pageant just for the sake of the experience. That was part of her “Human Guinea Pig” series for Slate. I probably ought to read Slate more often. It might annoy me less than The Atlantic does, with its daily doses of depressing articles about the rapidly degrading state of the world and how it’s never going to get better.

Anyway, this morning, a Facebook friend commented on a column by Dear Prudence. Dear Prudence is currently written by Daniel M. Lavery, who was born Mallory Ortberg and raised by evangelical Christians. I may have to read more about his story. I had not heard of him until today, but apparently he is well known and regarded as a writer, especially in transgender circles.

The topic that so intrigued me this morning is entitled “My Daughter Cut Me Out of Her Life! She didn’t even tell me she’s pregnant.” The letter that prompted the headline was from a mother, distraught that her formerly pleasant and cooperative adult daughter got married to a “controlling” man. Ever since the wedding, daughter has been much firmer with her mom– in fact, Mom thinks her daughter has “turned into a different person.” Recently, the daughter stopped taking her mother’s phone calls and texts. Below is the letter in question.

Dear Prudence,

Since my daughter married “Chris,” she has turned into a different person. It started on her wedding day, when she got drunk and screamed at me for “always putting her down” after I made a (not insulting!) comment about her non-traditional dress. That was four years ago, and things have gotten worse since then. She and Chris have spent every Christmas with his parents rather than me and my husband, she ignores calls and texts, and she has gone from attending every pre-pandemic family function with thoughtful gifts on birthdays to missing all but funerals and sending gift cards as Christmas presents. She has spoken to us twice since February, and on one of those occasions ended up screaming abuse at us until my husband hung up.

I found out the worst news recently and cannot process it. My daughter is pregnant, and not only had she not told us, but she didn’t plan to. I only found out, mortifyingly, because a friend saw something on social media and asked me about it (I’m not on social media). My husband and I tried getting through to our daughter, but she has changed her personal number and only Chris answers the house phone. When confronted, he told us that she no longer wanted any contact with us, and that “they” did not want us in their child’s life. My husband accused Chris of controlling our daughter, at which point Chris hung up. I have since called and pleaded with him to let me talk to my daughter, but to no avail. He has always been a cold person, but I never thought he would do something like this. I know that my daughter has some responsibility for her choices here, but I agree with my husband that Chris seems to be a powerful influence in isolating her from us in this extreme way. We are at a loss as to what to do from here. I cannot bear the thought of never meeting my own grandchild, and part of me can’t believe that our daughter would be so cruel as to follow through with this plan to keep us from them permanently. Is there anything I can say that might get through to Chris, or that I could put in a letter begging my daughter to reconcile? My husband and I miss the sweet, warm girl that we raised, and feel as though we’ve lost her to a cold, angry stranger.

—Heartbroken

Prudie gave the usual excellent advice. But what really stuck out to me was my friend’s comment. She wrote that the letter “smacked of ‘missing missing reasons.'” Prior to today, I had never heard of such a concept. I decided to follow the link my friend shared in her comment. I found myself on a blog page about parents and children who are estranged. It appears that the blog, Issendai.com, is mostly about psychology, and in particular, estrangement between parents and their children. I will have to explore it more thoroughly today.

The post my friend shared is entitled “The Missing Missing Reasons”, and it’s all about how parents of estranged children seem to “miss the boat” on why they are cut out of their adult children’s lives. These parents will say their children “never gave them a reason” for the estrangement. But then, after they start talking or writing, they reveal that their children actually DID give them a reason. It appears that the estranged parent simply didn’t acknowledge the reason.

In the above letter, the distraught mother claims that her daughter became someone she doesn’t know anymore after the daughter got married. She blames Chris, the husband, for the daughter’s change. She makes him out to be an abuser who is trying to prevent her from meeting her own grandchild. But if you read carefully, Mom also claims that her daughter “got drunk” at her wedding and yelled at her mother for “always putting her down” after the mom made a “not insulting” comment about her daughter’s unconventional wedding dress.

Just that initial part of her letter makes me think that “Heartbroken” has a habit of discounting her daughter’s feelings and expecting her adult child to defer to her. I suspect she might be the type of parent who think she’s always right and always deserves respect, even when she, herself, isn’t behaving in a respectable way. In her letter, I don’t see any acknowledgment from “Heartbroken” that she may have caused her daughter hurt or offense, even if it was completely unintentional. Instead, she assumes her daughter’s husband is entirely to blame for this estrangement.

Even though Heartbroken writes that her daughter “has some responsibility for her choices”, she doesn’t seem to understand that, as a competent adult, her daughter actually has complete responsibility for her choices. She isn’t a child anymore, and her mother is no longer the boss of her. It could be that Chris is helping her by screening her mother’s calls, but unless he’s the worst type of abusive monster, my guess is that he’s not doing it because he’s a control freak. He’s probably doing it because his mother-in-law is a possessive control freak who doesn’t see her daughter as a fully functioning adult, capable of having and expressing her own feelings and making decisions about who will, and who will not be, in her life. And unfortunately, until that unborn baby she’s carrying is also an adult, she is also capable of making choices for her child, which could mean that Grandma gets “canceled”.

I have some empathy for both sides of this situation. First off, I am a youngest child with family members who have historically discounted my opinions and treated me with contempt and disrespect. Fortunately, of all my family members, my mom has always had the most regard for me as an adult. In fact, when I was a child, my mom often expected me to be more adult than I was. She was in a hurry to see me grow up, because she had made it plain to me that she hadn’t expected or wanted a fourth child (me). I turned out to be a pretty good kid overall, but I had an attitude and wasn’t exactly genteel, high achieving, or well-behaved around her friends. Consequently, I often heard hurtful stories about how obnoxious I was as a toddler and small child. Some would say I never outgrew those traits, even though overall, I really wasn’t that difficult. I never got arrested or pregnant, and I finished high school, college, and graduate school on time, and with little help from anyone else, other than financially.

In my case, my mom became a lot easier to be around once I became an adult. She would probably say the same about me. I’m probably much less annoying as an adult. I certainly require less from her, so she can just be my friend. I notice my mom was also a lot less annoying once I got married. I think she was afraid I’d never be able to launch… or find a suitable mate. Bill turned out to be very acceptable and we’re doing fine, so Mom has relaxed a lot. I think it also helped when she no longer had to deal with my dad or keep their business from tanking.

And secondly, I’m married to a man who was estranged from his daughters. One adult daughter is still estranged. The other has reconnected, which is something I never thought would happen. Younger daughter has explained a lot about why the estrangement happened. When she and Bill started talking again, he approached gently and listened to her. In her case, the estrangement wasn’t so much because it was what she wanted. Her mother pretty much forced her to disconnect and filled her and her sister with fear and doubt.

In that process, I was painted as “the bad guy” because Bill stopped putting up with his ex wife’s abusive bullshit. I also made for a convenient scapegoat as a so-called home wrecking whore. Meanwhile, Bill approached Ex with calm assertiveness rather than meek submission or outright aggression. I’m sure that was infuriating and frustrating for Ex. She once even commented on how his tone had “changed”. She didn’t like it, because she was used to deference. And she blamed me, when she should have realized that he had simply recovered from her toxic bullshit and had made up his mind not to tolerate it anymore.

It took years, but that calm and gentle approach is paying off as Bill strengthens his ties to his daughter and her family. Meanwhile, it sounds to us like Ex is being shut out of at least two of her five children’s lives. And this time, the estrangement isn’t because they were forced– it’s because they’re now adults and they have chosen to disconnect, to some degree.

Ex is the type of person who will send an email full of emotional blackmail, blame, rage, and begging in order to get her way. She’s manipulative and disrespectful, and expects her children and other family members to kiss her ass. She has a one dimensional approach to relationships and sees them only in terms of how they relate to her, without any regard toward how her actions and behaviors affect other people. Meanwhile, she does everything she can to present a facade to the rest of the world about what an “amazing” person she is. It’s all a lie, and it’s obvious to most people who have any situational awareness.

I’m not saying I think “Heartbroken” is like Ex, though. She may have been a much better mother and may be a superior specimen when it comes to simple humanness. But in her letter, I read the words of a woman who blames other people for everything and doesn’t have much self-awareness or personal insight. For instance, she legitimately may not have meant her comment about her daughter’s wedding dress as an insult. However, that was clearly how it came across to her daughter. We can’t always control how people interpret what we say or do, but if someone does take offense to something we say or do, it’s his or her right. And then, we weigh whether or not we care about their being offended. If we care, maybe an apology or explanation is in order. If we don’t care, then fuck ’em, and we reap the consequences.

In this case, it sounds like Mom cares that her daughter has cut her out of her life. She doesn’t want to be canceled from her unborn grandchild’s life. With that being the case, she may have to humble herself and be a bit more introspective. She may have to alter her behavior and show her daughter more respect, or at least acknowledge that some of the things she’s said and done in the past have been hurtful and caused offense. If she isn’t willing to make that concession, she may stay canceled.

Most normal people don’t like being estranged from others, especially close relatives, like a parent. I’m sure “Heartbroken’s” daughter thought about it before she cut off her mom. She may have determined that being separated from/no contact with her mother is less painful than enduring her mother’s recurrent intrusiveness and disrespect. When a person is still a child, they have to tolerate a parent’s disregard and disrespect. But the wonderful thing about being an adult is that we all have the ability to make choices for ourselves. And it sounds like that is what “Heartbroken’s” daughter has done.

It may turn out that this relationship can be salvaged. The letter writer’s daughter may be a reasonable person, and she may welcome her mother back into her life if Mom starts treating her with some basic respect and civility. But it sounds like she’s not going to deal with her as she is today, and she’s not going to subject her child to her mother’s repeated disrespect, either.

The reason I think it’s been a pattern is because “Heartbroken’s” daughter mentioned it at her wedding, of all places. It was her day– a day I’m sure, drunk or not, she definitely wasn’t wanting to spend arguing with her mom. Then, the mom made the comment that she didn’t think she was insulting her daughter. But her daughter clearly took the comment about the wedding dress as insulting– on her day– and, more importantly, pointed out that it wasn’t the first time. So this has been an issue for a long time… and now that daughter has her own family, why does she “need” her mom? She doesn’t… at least not in the most basic ways. She’s a grown and functional person, with a husband who supports her, and soon a child of her own whose needs she will have to consider. And her mom, God help her, is still thinking only about herself and her needs as a mom and grandma.

I have cut some people out of my life. It wasn’t easy for me. I think about all of the years I spent with some of the people I don’t talk to anymore. I have some great memories. But after awhile, the good memories are outweighed by bad ones, and feeling traumatized and angry after multiple toxic interactions. After awhile, healthy people tend to make the decision to stop drinking the poison and put the bottle aside… I’ve done that, and it’s overall been a good thing… even if I do still have some great memories. However, that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t listen if someone indicated that they wanted to talk to me, and it was an actual conversation involving more than one perspective. I think “Heartbroken” is firmly focused on her own perspective and how much she hurts. Until she realizes that her daughter was also hurt, she probably won’t get anywhere.

I think if “Heartbroken” is willing to open her heart and her mind, let her daughter know that she hears her and is willing to try to change the way she communicates, she may find her daughter is more willing to include her in her life. But if she just wants to blame her daughter and her son-in-law, I’m afraid Grandma is gonna stay canceled.

Anyway… I’m going to have to read more articles on Issendal.com. I’m glad I took a minute to read about “missing missing reasons”. It’s a concept that I think affects a lot of relationships involving high conflict, immature people who lack insight and introspection.

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Ex, LDS, psychology

The “princess treatment”…

About ten years ago, I was a big fan of the Project Rant series on YouTube. This channel featured actors who would take the most entertaining rants from Craig’s List and recite them as if they were the people who wrote them. I can’t remember which rant attracted me first, but I was hooked after I saw my first video– which wasn’t actually their first video. I have a habit of catching on to things after they’ve been established for awhile. For instance, it took me four years to discover Desperate Housewives. I never got into Nurse Jackie until long after it was off TV.

This morning, I discovered a video by Project Rant that I hadn’t yet seen. It’s entitled “Bully”, and appears below…

This one is a bit darker than most of them… I had somehow missed its release. I like her parting shot.

I hate bullies. I understand on a cognitive level that bullies exist because they have unmet psychological needs, and they take out their angst on people they perceive to be different and/or weaker than they are. I still hate them, though. I have been on the receiving end of bullies for most of my life, and it’s caused me a lot of pain. It’s also made me surprisingly resilient and resolute about some things. As I watched the above Project Rant video, I related to the actress as she describes mean people provoking her to take action.

What is a bully? Simply put, a bully is “a person who habitually seeks to harm or intimidate those whom they perceive as vulnerable”. I’ve seen some people and behaviors described as “bullying”, when they don’t actually fit the definition of “bully”. For instance, I don’t think mere criticism of someone counts as bullying. There has to be a threat or intimidation involved. There also has to be a perceived power imbalance– whether or not there is an actual power imbalance– which causes the bully to act.

This morning, Bill and I were discussing a sad and distressing situation involving a female bully and her victims. For years, we were the only ones who seemed to see what was happening. Other people have now noticed the bully and the bad behavior perpetrated by this person.

Having a relationship with a bully, particularly when it’s someone as close as one’s parent, is like falling into quicksand or being caught in an undertow. It’s very troublesome and exhausting to extricate oneself from those situations. Once you’re out of that metaphorical quicksand or undertow, you’re wise to stay out of the morass and avoid the area. That’s what going “no contact” is about. A person can go “no contact” with a bully and still forgive them, and even wish the best for them.

But, as the actress in the above Project Rant video points out, sometimes you have to take bullies down a notch. There are times when it’s appropriate and even necessary to take action against them. Sometimes, you have to fight back. Sometimes, the smallest and most subtle and obscure clues can be profound in how they illustrate an actual scenario of how a bully is operating. Context is important.

The above video is pretty funny… especially at the beginning, as the missionaries ring the doorbells to the stars.

This morning, Bill related a story he’d heard from someone who had served as a Mormon missionary. Mormon missionaries, as you may or may not know, are not often treated well by the public. They tend to get a lot of doors slammed in their faces. But every once in awhile, they run into people who offer unexpected kindness to them. It’s those people who are the most memorable, and who often have a profound affect on the missionary’s experiences in the field.

I have kind of a special affinity for missionaries. I spent two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer, which isn’t the same as being a Mormon missionary in terms of my purposes for being away, or the day to day lifestyle. How the experience is similar, however, is that Peace Corps Volunteers and missionaries are far away from home and typically don’t have a lot of money. Both groups of people can be somewhat vulnerable in a number of ways. And since they are so far from the comforts of home, some situations are magnified in terms of how they are experienced and remembered.

Sometimes, people are cruel, but sometimes they’re not. I think the LDS missionary and Peace Corps situations are also similar in that, a lot of times, missionaries and Volunteers find themselves daydreaming about being at home and feeling comfortable among material possessions and loved ones. However, it’s possible for a PCV to visit home during their service. It’s generally not possible for LDS missionaries to go home while they are “serving the Lord”, even if there’s an emergency. Being a Mormon missionary can be very tough, unpleasant, and uncomfortable.

Imagine my surprise, then, when Bill said that this missionary had been treated like a “princess” by a couple she and her companion met when they were missionaries. The couple, who were members of the church, helped them out by giving them a place to stay for a couple of weeks. For some reason, the sister missionaries had nowhere to stay, so the couple had taken them in on a temporary basis. Years later, she remembers the experience of staying with the couple and describes their treatment of her as “like a princess”.

It’s my understanding that the church arranges apartments for the missionaries. The apartments tend to be cheap and spartan in nature, and sometimes they aren’t in the best or safest neighborhoods. But supposedly, the onus is not on the missionary to go out and find an apartment on their own. I am left thinking that the missionary in this story was waiting for a spot to open in an existing apartment, but I’m not sure exactly what the situation was.

I was just awestruck that the former missionary felt this couple who had taken her and her companion into their home– strangers to them, except for being fellow church members– had treated her so well that she felt like a princess. Either the couple who had offered hospitality are extraordinary people who weren’t aware of the concept of what missionary life is supposed to be like, or the missionary’s life at home was extraordinarily terrible. Bill happens to know something about this particular missionary’s home life. Indeed, he knows about it quite intimately. And he can attest that life at home was probably pretty horrible for her.

Still… hearing that story this morning really gobsmacked me. Over the years, I’ve read a lot of accounts from former LDS missionaries. I know that for a lot of them, the mission is pretty tough. It’s physically, emotionally, and mentally uncomfortable. Sometimes, it’s even dangerous. Sometimes missionaries come home with lifelong health issues related to their missions, or lose limbs or senses.

A number of missionaries have even died while serving. Some get sick with diseases like dysentery, or they become seriously ill because they don’t get adequate medical treatment. That tends to happen when the missionaries are in remote areas in developing countries. Some missionaries are victims of crimes. I remember in 2006, an “elder” (male missionary) from Utah was killed in Virginia when he and his companion stumbled across a criminal in the process of committing an offense. The criminal shot the missionaries, and one of them– Morgan Young– died, while the other was wounded.

Church members tend to regard those who die while serving a mission as somehow blessed– they had a special purpose that God needed them for in the Celestial Kingdom, or something. I remember, in particular, the missionary who died in Virginia, since that’s my home state and where I was living at the time of the death. His mother said her son had “died with his boots on”. Below is a quote from Gordon B. Hinckley, who was president of the LDS church when the missionary was murdered:

“I’m impressed with the thought that Elder Young has joined the ranks of a very select group who stand so very, very high in the estimate of God,” he said. “There is some special place and some special work for them to do under our Father’s plan.”

Some missionaries have accidents, which run the gamut from the garden variety car crash, to falling off cliffs while hiking, or even being mauled by animals. Many missionaries make it through the experience just fine, although some are left with emotional scars that haunt them. I’ve read a lot of stories by people who have been LDS missionaries and have left the experience worse for wear. But sometimes, the mission– as tough as it can be– is even better than being at home.

It’s not that different for Peace Corps Volunteers. Sometimes, PCVs die, have accidents, are victims of crimes, or contract exotic illnesses that affect them for the rest of their lives. I think that PCVs may have access to better healthcare. I know that they can be “medevacked” to the States or a western country for treatment, if it’s necessary. The LDS church, on the other hand, tends to do things as cheaply as possible. A lot of times, church members are tapped for help– donations of skills or material things, like a room in a house. So, say a church member is a doctor or a dentist. The church might call on that person to offer treatment for an ailing missionary free of charge, or at a much reduced rate. Sometimes people are glad to help, but other times, it’s an imposition.

I would think hosting two young women in a home, particularly since missionaries have to live by rather strict standards and rules, could be an imposition. I would not expect a missionary to be treated like royalty. But then, I also know that sometimes, just being treated with basic kindness, dignity, and respect when one has spent their whole lives being abused, can feel like royal treatment. So, knowing what we do about this situation, I guess I can understand why it felt like “princess treatment” for the missionary in question. She was getting treated like someone with value. And now, she wants to help others who are not being treated with value escape the morass, and get away from the bully who has victimized them for years.

It’s very satisfying to escape the toxic clutches of a bully. It’s even more satisfying to help someone else escape, and to help them realize that they can and should be treated with basic respect. But it’s absolutely mind blowing when someone describes being treated with dignity and decency as “the princess treatment”. I have no words for that. It’s possible that this missionary was really treated as if she was a princess, but I doubt it. I think being treated with warmth, friendliness, fairness, and love was so foreign and comforting to her that it felt like “the princess treatment”, much like a plate of bland vegetables or saltines tastes like the best food in the world to a starving person. It’s all about perspective.

Anyway… we hope we can help her take the bully down a notch. Maybe not with a literal baseball bat… but with something just as devastating and powerful. Time will tell.

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Ex

Ripple eff-Ex… volume 2– Sometimes “no” is the kindest word you’ll ever say.

This is a really long and personal blog post. Some people might find it offensive. If you are offended, I apologize… although this story isn’t easy to tell. It’s a lot more convoluted than I’ve explained here. I’ll just say that we tried… and we’re still trying to counteract the “Ripple eff-Ex”.

Back in 2013, on my original Overeducated Housewife blog, I wrote a post entitled “Ripple eff-Ex”. That post was basically the history of how my husband and I came to be as we were in August 2013. At the time, we had just moved from North Carolina to Texas. Neither of Bill’s daughters were speaking to him. Bill’s dad and stepmother were pressuring him to visit more, while his mom was a “neighbor”, in that she lived in the same city. I mused about how a series of decisions had led us to where we were. I was pretty bitter at the time. It looked like Bill had lost his daughters forever and we weren’t going to be having our own family, although I had wanted one. He was about to retire from the Army, and I was pretty anguished about the future.

In my “Ripple eff-Ex” post, I explained that Bill had made a bad decision in marrying his ex wife in August 1990, and that decision had affected many innocent people. It was ultimately a bad decision because they were not suited to each other. He had felt sorry for her and wanted to rescue her and her son. She was looking for a sugar daddy and a source of narcissistic supply. Bill is an empathetic person who hadn’t realized his own worth. He believed she might be his one chance at having a family. And she was looking to upgrade her life– ditching her son’s father, an enlisted man with whom she didn’t mesh– and hooking an officer. I don’t think “love” had much to do with anything.

Their marriage ended in June 2000. By then, Bill and I were Internet friends, and we would meet in person the following year and marry the year after that. Even meeting me offline was kind of a strange decision, given the conditions of how and where we met. Fortunately, our marriage has been successful, despite the odd circumstances that put us together. On the other hand, I kind of wasted three years in graduate school. Oh well… at least it’s paid for.

In any case, Bill’s decision to marry Ex wasn’t formed in a vacuum. It was the result of other people’s choices. There’s actually a whole lot to this part of the story, but I’m not going to get into that now, because it would make this post way too long and convoluted. Suffice to say that there was a series of misfortunes and missteps that had led Bill to his first encounter with his ex wife. And years after they met, it was like a perfect storm of dysfunction awaiting to put them on a crash course.

Bill met his ex wife because his mother had made a series of moves to escape a stalker who had threatened Bill’s life. She had initially left the Memphis area for Phoenix when Bill was a little boy; then they eventually ended up in Houston, Texas, where Bill’s aunt and uncle lived. Along the way, there were experiences Bill had that shaped who he is. Somehow, he learned that he should never disappoint people, even if pleasing others was detrimental to his own well-being or even their well-being. He never learned that sometimes not disappointing people leads to much larger disappointments in the long run.

Somehow, Bill never developed self-respect during that time– and I went into detail about how that came to be. I think a large part of it was because he wasn’t around his father much, and his mother had married a man who was actually a transgendered woman. Bill’s stepfather (or stepmother, if you’d rather– I don’t think he ever really transitioned) treated Bill badly during his formative years– from the time he was ten until he was fourteen, when Bill’s mom and his first stepfather (of two) got divorced. That was when he wound up in Houston, and he and Ex met.

Bill was three years older than Ex was, so they didn’t really get together during those early years. She went on to marry an enlisted Army guy, the father of her eldest son, who had also gone to high school with them. Bill went to college, then joined the Army. Fate put Ex’s first husband and Bill together on a flight to the States. First Ex husband told Ex about seeing Bill, and she tracked him down in Germany and gave him quite the sob story.

“No” is sometimes the kindest word you can say…

Bill never got comfortable with dating before he ran into Ex. He had little experience with women and didn’t think very highly of himself, even though he had a lot going for him. So, when Ex tracked him down in Germany after her first husband had run into Bill, she put the moves on him, and he was kind of like a sitting duck. No one ever sat him down and offered him any hard truths about the situation. Even though his inner voice had warned him not to marry Ex, he ignored it and went through with the wedding. That decision had many “ripple effects”– hence the name of the blog post. It had effects on so many people— his children, his parents, his stepmom, his sister, me, my family, Ex’s husband and their kids, and Ex herself, among others. Of course, had he not married Ex, he might have married some other woman. Maybe she would have been a better match, and I might have ended up an old maid.

Around the same time I wrote the Ripple eff-Ex post, I wrote another post called “Family Shit”. It was about how my mom was upset with me because my dad was in his last months of life, and she felt I was purposely distancing myself from the family. I was confused by it all, since our immediate family has never been particularly close. My parents were married for 56 years, but it’s not like we lived our lives like a Normal Rockwell painting. I have three much older sisters and we just don’t have a lot in common… and every time we’ve tried to have a family reunion, there’s inevitably some kind of fight. I swore off family gatherings, because too many of them had left me in tears and took weeks to get over.

I remember my Mom had wanted me to try to come home for Thanksgiving, but I demurred. I recall saying it was because of the cost. It wasn’t just because of the cost, though. It was also because I had been through so many dramatic and ruined holidays with my family of origin. I didn’t want to do it anymore. I had eventually learned to say no, because that was what was best for me. I don’t like to disappoint people either, but I had learned at a younger age that sometimes disappointing people is the best thing to do. It can spare a lot of heartbreak in the long run. I credit my mom for teaching me to avoid trouble by using my common sense. I know she was disappointed that my sisters and I weren’t closer friends– although that wasn’t just up to me. But in not giving in to guilt and going along to get along, I probably spared my mental health. I think I’m better off for it, even though it does pain me to disappoint people.

At that time in 2013, when I wrote “Ripple eff-Ex”, we were just recovering from the years of financial wreckage wrought in Bill’s first marriage. For the first years of our marriage, he was sending a lot of child support to his ex wife for his two daughters, and his former stepson, who was not even legally his. In 2009, we discovered that former stepson was planning a cruel “fuck you” to Bill, as he continued to collect money from the man he’d called “Dad” for years. That was also the year his older daughter turned 18. She refused to speak to Bill, so he cut off her child support. In 2011, he did the same to younger daughter, who also wouldn’t speak to him. Both daughters had sent him letters in 2006, disowning him and demanding that he give them up for adoption to their stepfather. Bill hadn’t agreed to the adoption, but they still refused to have anything to do with him. So, when they came of age and Bill was supposed to support them directly, he quit paying, even though he had tried, unsuccessfully, to contact his older daughter about his agreement to support her until she was 22 years old. Ex had never filed with child support enforcement, so this was easy to do. And there were never any repercussions.

Long time readers of my blog might remember that things came to a head in November 2016, when we were in Ireland celebrating our 14th wedding anniversary. Our finances were finally getting straightened out. We had started to accept that the kids weren’t going to come around. My dad died in July 2014, and I had managed to see him before he passed.

It was during that trip to Ireland that Bill’s younger daughter came up on Facebook as a “person he might know”. I was really upset about it, because for years the kids wouldn’t speak to or acknowledge Bill. And yet, they would somehow find ways to “intrude”. Bill would call his father (who died in November 2020) for Christmas and his dad would tell him about speaking to his children, adding that they hadn’t wanted to talk to or about Bill. It had happened so many times over the years… and I was just sick of it. I felt like if they didn’t want to see or speak to Bill, they should just leave us alone and get on with their own lives.

James Taylor gets it. I’ll bet younger daughter can relate to this song.

But then in 2017, Bill’s younger daughter came around. She started to trade messages with Bill. They started to Skype. They slowly got to know each other again. In March 2020, after fifteen years of physical separation, Bill got to hug his daughter again. He saw his grandchildren and met his son-in-law. Then, he made it back to Germany just in time before the borders closed. During that visit, Bill learned a lot more about what went on during those years they weren’t speaking. Bill’s daughter, having talked to Bill for a couple of days, very astutely came to the same conclusion I had, years before. Bill was a victim of domestic violence in his first marriage. She even sent him an article about it. I suspect she knew the truth about Bill, because she’s observed the same behaviors in Ex’s relationship with her third husband.

More has come to light recently. Younger daughter has opened up more… and we’ve learned that much of what happened back then was due to Ex’s bullying tactics to keep her children under her control. She was abusive in all ways, and used manipulation, triangulation, and other forms of emotional terrorism to keep Bill’s daughters away from him and his mother. Bill’s dad and stepmom were marginally acceptable, although the girls were discouraged from contacting them, too.

Bill has often felt guilty for the disaster his first marriage was. He went through financial ruin– bankruptcy and foreclosure. He was estranged from his children and remains estranged from his former stepson and his older daughter. He prematurely left the Army at his ex wife’s behest, although he was able to rectify that decision later. He had a vasectomy because his ex wanted him to have one, although that was later reversed. And now, he’s found out that he was not the only one who was profoundly abused by his ex wife.

What would have happened if Bill had said “No” to his ex wife in 1989? What if he hadn’t taken the bait? He’s not in a bad place now. He has a good marriage to a woman who loves him. One of his daughters has come around to speaking to him again. He has a good job, and has completely recovered from the financial ruin he was in when Bill and I met. He’s even become more assertive and willing to fight for his own interests. But if he had just learned to say “no” sooner, he could have spared himself and others pain.

There’s not much sense in looking back, I guess– except to learn the lesson that major life altering decisions affect more than just one person. By marrying Ex, he brought an extremely toxic and dangerous person into the lives of innocent people. Exposure to Ex is dangerous– she’s affected me profoundly, even though we’ve never even met face to face. But this is not really a sad story. We’ve learned some very difficult and painful lessons. I know how much Bill respects people and wants them to be happy. But somehow, he never learned to make himself happy first.

Now he’s learning that lesson and standing up for himself and his interests. He’s learning that sometimes “No” is the kindest thing you can say to someone. He knows that he shouldn’t have married Ex, simply because he pitied her and had no faith in himself. Marrying someone because you feel sorry for them is not particularly kind in the long run. Because you don’t actually love them… Ex knew Bill didn’t love her. She didn’t love him, either. They made children who have suffered, although both have turned out to be surprisingly resilient and resourceful.

Younger daughter told Bill that she’s paid off her student loans, although I don’t think she’s finished her degree yet. She said that she’s so happy to have paid that debt… which we discovered she undertook at about 16 years of age. At that time, Ex had made her drop out of high school and get a GED so she could take college courses. Ex got younger daughter to take out loans, then used the extra money for herself. That was around the time Bill had quit paying child support for older daughter. Instead of talking to Bill about arranging for the child support beyond age 18, Ex chose to steal from her daughters, forcing them to pay back loans that she had coerced them into getting. She refused to communicate with the father of those girls– the man she CHOSE to be their father– and she ripped them off. I would not be the least bit surprised if she’s also got credit cards in their names, but I don’t know that for certain. I did, back around 2009, find evidence that Ex was using younger daughter’s name on a dating site. She used her age and location, but younger daughter’s name. It’s not a stretch that she also got credit that way, since she would have access to their Social Security numbers. I hope those girls have checked their credit reports.

I think Bill has survived Ex. I think younger daughter has, too… and former stepson, who really doesn’t have anything to do with anyone in his family anymore. Older daughter is still trapped, but I think she knows how toxic her mother is. She’s still there for the youngest child, who has severe autism and will probably always need help. Ex doesn’t take care of him. That’s left to Bill’s older daughter, who is supposedly also on the spectrum. Older daughter was reportedly very upset when Bill’s father died… but she hasn’t had a relationship with Bill or his parents in years. She hasn’t learned to say “no” to her mother and do what is in her own best interest. For her sake, I hope she figures it out soon. There are many people waiting to help her, when she’s ready to take that step.

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divorce, Ex

A long, strange trip…

This morning started like any other morning, nowadays. I woke up at about 4:00am. I thought maybe Arran needed to go out, but apparently it was just my internal alarm clock. About a half hour later, I got up to let the dogs pee and feed them. I prefer to feed them a little later, but they were obviously ready to eat. Then I went back to bed to read up on current events.

A couple of hours later, I came across a column in The Atlantic written by Lori Gottlieb, a therapist who has also written several books. I read one of her books years ago. It was called Stick Figure: A Diary of My Former Self, and it was a surprisingly entertaining account of her experiences with anorexia nervosa. Which isn’t to say that I think Gottlieb’s book is the best one on the subject. I do remember writing a review for Epinions.com and not giving it a glowing review, even though I thought the writing was kind of oddly quirky and sometimes even funny.

Anyway, Gottlieb, who grew up in California, is now a columnist for The Atlantic and works as a psychotherapist in New York City. This morning, there was a link to a column she posted on January 28, 2019. The post was entitled “Dear Therapist: I’m Dating a Divorced Man With Kids, and It’s Harder Than I Thought”. This was written in the days before the fucking COVID-19 pandemic happened. As such, it seems oddly normal.

The letter writer explains that she’s 33 years old and her boyfriend is 48. He is divorced, while she’s never been married. He has three kids from his failed marriage. Letter writer has none. Right off the bat, I connected. I am almost eight years younger than Bill is, and of course, he was divorced and had two kids with his ex wife. He also has an ex stepson that he’d always treated (and paid for) as his own son, although it later became clear that ex stepson didn’t see Bill the way Bill saw him. Maybe his sentiments have changed with age, but he hasn’t spoken to Bill since 2009, when he got busted red-handed trying to pull a fast one over Bill’s money.

The letter writer explains that she is fed up with her boyfriend’s ex wife, who is very needy, dramatic, and apparently a leech. Letter writer is having trouble coming to terms with having the ex in her life. She texts the boyfriend for all manner of things including discipline of the kids. Letter writer feels intruded upon and although she loves her man very much, the ex looms in the shadows. And every time the phone goes off, the letter writer feels violated.

I know how she feels. For most of my marriage to Bill, I have had a deep resentment and outright hatred for his ex wife. I’m not going to sugar coat it, because that’s truly how I’ve felt, and it hasn’t been without reason. However, unlike the ex in the letter writer’s situation, Bill’s ex was infinitely more toxic and hateful. She made it impossible for Bill to have any relationship whatsoever with his children as she bled him dry financially. She told baldfaced lies to the children about how Bill and I met and told his parents lies about his behavior toward her. For years, she had Bill’s stepmother believing that he was a wife beater. My husband’s stepmother actually asked me if Bill abused me like he did Ex. I actually laughed out loud at that notion because it was so ridiculous.

The first few years of our marriage were truly “broke” years, as Bill sent half his salary to his ex wife, who treated him like shit. I blame my husband’s ex wife for the fact that I never had children. I don’t think I’m wrong to blame her, either. Bill had a vasectomy because she demanded that he get one. Then she divorced Bill and had two more children with her third husband. Meanwhile, we were too broke to be able to afford reproductive assistance at the time when it would have been the most likely to be successful. Bill did, at least, have the vasectomy reversed by the Army. That felt like taking back a bad decision that Bill was bullied into making. I wish we could have had a baby together… but as I’ve said recently, maybe it’s a blessing that we didn’t.

As we’ve gotten older, our financial situation has markedly improved, but I had to let go of the idea of being a mother. Meanwhile, Bill’s daughters disowned him and refused to speak to him at all for about fifteen years. I can’t tell you how many times Bill cried over being shut out of his daughters’ lives. It was extremely painful and totally unnecessary. What can I say? She’s more interested in maintaining control and hurting people than doing the right thing for her children.

As time went on, the resentment simmered… until early 2017, when Bill and his younger daughter started to reconnect. I was beginning to think I would always have rage toward my husband’s ex wife and daughters. I didn’t trust younger daughter when she started talking to Bill. I didn’t want her in our lives, because I was under the impression that she was like her mother. For the first fourteen years of our marriage, they were always in the shadows, looming over everything. I was tired of the drama and the intrusions, especially on holidays. Ex had made it clear that she only wanted Bill’s money and to blame him for the way her life was. The children wouldn’t speak to him or even acknowledge him as their father. I wanted them to cut ties once and for all and just leave us alone.

It turned out that younger daughter isn’t like Ex at all. In fact, it turns out that she’s really Bill’s daughter in terms of her looks and her behavior. A year ago, Bill was in Utah visiting her for the first time since Christmas 2004. A year ago, I wrote a scathing blog post about the revelations that came out after that visit. I was seething with anger about what had happened… but this time, it wasn’t just for Bill. It was for his daughters, too… and everyone else who suffered because of Ex’s lies and manipulations.

The writer of the letter in Lori Gottlieb’s column doesn’t have it nearly as bad as Bill and I did. Although in her case, the ex is certainly a nuisance, it’s clear that the ex lets the children see and speak to their father. She may be needy and intrusive, but it doesn’t sound like she’s purely evil. I’m sure that column will get a lot of rude comments from the masses who have no empathy for women who date men with kids. People always expect women to have endless compassion, patience, and love for the children in a relationship, even if it’s impossible, undeserved, or even undesired.

Lori Gottlieb gave the letter writer sensible advice, letting them know that when you date a man with children, the ex is often part of the package. In most cases, so are the children. I remember being fully prepared to accept Bill’s children, although not being a child of divorce myself, I couldn’t necessarily relate to their trauma. But I had an open mind and an open heart, and I was prepared to do what I could… at least in the early years. When they were at their most alienated, I will admit I closed myself off. I was really fed up with the bullshit and it was the only way I could stand it.

I’m glad Bill didn’t close off his heart. A year ago today, he saw his daughter in person and they shared a long hug and spent two solid days talking. It was a very good visit, overall. Bill met his son in law and grandchildren. But, as it always is whenever Ex is involved in anything, there was a lot of time spent debriefing and clearing the air. I’ve visited Bill’s late dad’s house three times. All three times, we basically sat around and talked about Ex and her crazy shit. Bill’s dad never got a chance to really get to know me before he died last year. So much time and energy was spent trying to deal with the crazy shit she threw at us. The same went for Bill’s two short days with his daughter, with whom he faithfully Skypes and emails now. Older daughter remains estranged, to her detriment.

This morning, I changed the privacy settings on those two posts I wrote about last year’s visit. The first one is very raw and profane, because I was extremely angry about how Ex had gotten away with torturing her family for so many years. The second one is less intense, but I had it protected anyway. A year has passed and the pain is much less intense now… with a year, comes perspective. Bill and I know we can survive, and our love has stood some pretty horrible stuff. I’ve come to respect Bill’s younger daughter. I can’t say I love her yet, because we’ve still only met in person once. But I’m willing to try, because I know Bill adores his daughters. Nothing would please him more than to have both of them in his life.

I used to have a flaming hot rage toward Ex. I truly hated her with a passion. I was obsessed with my hatred for her and my outrage at how she got away with blatant abuse that other people tolerated. I know that hating her was harmful to me, but I just couldn’t help it. She was just a despicable, horrible, abusive woman. And people would blame me for her shit. I couldn’t even talk about it without risking comments from the uninformed, trying to blame it on me. Listen… I am plenty willing to accept responsibility when I screw up. But I honestly had nothing to do with my husband’s divorce from his ex wife, and I never had the chance to screw with his ex wife or their kids. All I did was encourage Bill to be strong and assertive. Abusive liars don’t like that, of course. It makes them angry.

This sums it up.

I can say now that these days, I pretty much don’t care about Ex and rarely think about her anymore. I mostly see her as pathetic now. I hate what she did, and I was extremely angry to hear about the things she did… the lies she told… and the way she treated her children like possessions to be jealously guarded or cast out, as the mood suited her. Ex isn’t a threat to me personally anymore, though, so I don’t really give a shit what happens to her, as long as she stays the fuck away from us.

I pretty much feel the same way about toxic ex landlady, too. As long as she and her flying monkeys don’t mess with me, they are safe from ever having to see or talk to me again. It’s taken me a long time to move past these traumas, but at least I know it’s possible. For a long time, I wondered if I’d ever be able to calm down and stop feeling so agitated about the way we were treated.

I guess what I’ve learned from dealing with that type of person is that you can’t let them get away with their shit. Or, best case scenario, you have to leave them in the dust and go no contact. Sometimes it’s sad or difficult to do that– if the person is a relative or an old friend. Sometimes it’s impossible to go no contact, such as when you have to co-parent and your children haven’t been completely estranged. Other times, it’s nothing but a relief, even if you spend years waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop.

It’s always regrettable when a relationship goes sour. In some ways, maybe it’s a blessing that Bill didn’t have to deal with his Ex much when the kids were growing up, other than a few very dramatic incidents and sending her so much money every month. But now the girls are women, well over the age of 21 and living their own lives. We don’t have to deal with Ex ever again. Bill and I finally have our peace… for the most part, anyway. I could do without these marathon TDYs.

I guess if I could advise the woman who wrote to Lori Gottlieb, I would tell her that eventually, children grow up and have their own lives. It may seem like the years are stretching ahead, but in our case, they flew by. I can remember thinking how, back in 2004, we would have so many years of dealing with Ex. Before we knew it, those difficult early years were gone. If you love your partner and are determined to hang in there, this situation can pass. It did in our case. In fact, it’s turned around in a very unexpected way. Ex used to infuriate me. I still find her infuriating, but I rarely think about her and mostly pity her on some level. She’s mentally ill and tragic. And she is not a threat.

On another note, I’ve been watching the whole Harry and Meghan drama. I didn’t see their interview with Oprah Winfrey, because I’m not in the USA. But I have read about it… I’m not sure where, exactly, the truth lies. I have a feeling there’s stuff from all sides contributing to the sad situation of today. I do think it’s too bad that Harry and Meghan felt they needed to leave Britain with Archie. All of this stuff is embarrassing and dysfunctional, but in a way, it sort of humanizes the British Royal Family. They have their family dramas, idiosyncrasies, and dysfunction too. It looks like Harry is very alienated right now, and whether or not it’s his fault, I feel for him. Bill’s situation with his daughters has given me more empathy toward children of divorce. It’s much worse when your life is as public as Harry’s has always been.

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