divorce, family, narcissists

Maybe Ex did me more than one favor…

Apologies in advance for yet another post about Ex. Now that Donald Trump is going to be back on mainstream social media, my fixation on her could be coming to an end soon. Or maybe not. After all, I’ve been married to her ex husband for twenty years, and I still can’t seem to move past the awesome fuckery of it all… Luckily, Bill is worth everything and more.

I’ve often said that Ex did me a favor when she divorced Bill. He’s the best friend I’ve ever had. We are disgustingly compatible, except in the mornings and the evenings. Case in point, last night at barely 9:00pm, Bill was sitting at the bench in our dining room, eyes closed, head leaned back, mouth open, and practically in a REM state. I was still quite wide awake.

This morning at 5:45 am…

He was really animated, trying to tell me about some film… He got annoyed when he realized I was taking a photo, but it was mainly because he’d inspired me, yet again.

I wasn’t quite awake at 5:45 am. I had just read a letter sent to an advice columnist in The New York Times. It was written by a second wife whose stepson was getting married. She and her husband had reached out to the bride’s parents, hoping to form a bond. Stepson discouraged her from contacting the bride’s mom. She soon found out why…

My stepson is getting married this year. His father and I embrace our future daughter-in-law and looked forward to meeting her family. I began corresponding with her mother and expressed our interest in flying out to meet them. My stepson discouraged this; he said they would be visiting our area soon. But we weren’t introduced to them when they came. Later, I received a call from his fiancée’s mother, who clearly mistook me for my husband’s ex-wife. She said she loved meeting me and referred to “the new wife” — me! — as “not blood.” At Thanksgiving, my stepson and his mother flew to visit his fiancée’s family and made lots of wedding plans, including for a rehearsal dinner for which we will pay half. How can we get past all these hurtful exclusions, some affecting our pocketbook? (I note: My husband’s relationship with his ex-wife is frosty.)

I hadn’t yet read the columnist’s advice as Bill went off on his early morning tear. I also hadn’t had any coffee, and wasn’t quite ready for Bill’s insane early morning energy. I did, however, see some of the crappy comments on Facebook regarding the situation in the advice column. Lots of people were projecting their own experiences in their reactions to this letter. Some people were downright mean!

I wasn’t focused on Bill’s early morning chatter, because my sleepy brain was still processing the advice column and people’s tone deaf comments regarding the situation. Stepmothers so often get a raw deal… even as I will admit some stepmothers deserve it. But not all stepmothers are assholes. Just like any other group of people, it takes all kinds. I saw a lot of people saying the stepmom in the letter was “whining”. Others wondered about the circumstances regarding how she and her husband got together. I notice that few people assume stepfathers are “the other man”, but stepmoms often get that assumption, especially if the first wife is still living.

I’ve mentioned before that more than one person has asked me if I caused my husband’s divorce. Um… that would be a NO. I had NOTHING to do with it. I didn’t know Bill when he and Ex separated. I didn’t meet him in person until almost a year after their divorce was final. And, thanks to Ex’s extreme parental alienation tactics, I didn’t have a chance to fuck up what was left of his daughters’ childhoods, either. I only saw them once when they were still kids. Meanwhile, Ex got her very generous child support in full and on time every month.

It’s not a secret that I’ve been pissed off at Ex forever for being such a hateful, mean-spirited cunt. Sorry… not a nice word, but in her case, it’s absolutely warranted. And I don’t feel that way just because she severely alienated the children, which was bad enough. I don’t even feel that way because she “invited” me to my own in laws’ house for Christmas. I feel that way because she abused Bill in ALL ways… including the ways that are too horrible and humiliating to mention.

Put it this way. If she were a man, she could have gone to prison for what she did. She absolutely could have gone to prison as a woman, too, but that would have meant admitting to being a sexual assault victim and reporting what she did to the police. It also would have meant seeing what she did for what it really was, which, at the time, was much too horrifying to ponder.

That all being said… and I am being totally serious, here. I do realize that there’s a certain freedom in being so alienated from my husband’s daughters for so long. The wedding scenario in the letter above will never be a concern of mine. Bill wasn’t invited to his daughter’s wedding, which I gather was not official, as younger daughter and her husband are devout Mormons and no doubt did the religious ordinance sans the “unworthy”. Younger daughter did tell Bill she’d wanted to invite him, even though she got married before they started speaking again. I guess she figured inviting Bill would be more trouble than it was worth. I doubt Ex and #3 were there for the temple sealing, as they are reportedly not temple worthy. I doubt they got that way for a religious ordinance.

Because my husband’s daughters were so alienated, there wasn’t too much drama coming at us from them. I remember when we first got married, Ex ominously wrote in an email that she would never want the children to get in the way of our relationship. And then she did all she could to make it so they rejected Bill. That decision was calculated to hurt us, and it did. However, instead of breaking us up, it made us a stronger unit. Twenty years later, we still laugh at each other. We still inspire each other. Younger daughter speaks to Bill, and is now getting to know him again. And, aside from that one Christmas fiasco, I’ve never had to worry about any weird or awkward situations involving weddings, graduations, baptisms or other family events.

It’s hard to think of this as Ex doing me a favor. The truth is, it was all very hurtful. I totally understand the letter writer’s pain. What makes it even worse is that society, in general, has no regard or empathy for stepmothers. We’re often seen as interlopers, at best. While stepfathers are often commended for “stepping in” for bio dads who weren’t there… whether or not the bio dads wanted to be, stepmothers “can’t win for losin’.”

Over the past twenty years, I’ve heard that my husband’s kids are “none of my business.” I’ve also heard that I “must love them as if they are my own children”. I’ve been asked if I broke up my husband’s first marriage. I’ve been told that I should regard younger daughter’s children as “my grandchildren”. I’ve only met younger daughter in person once, and that was twenty years ago this summer.

I don’t think the vast majority of people really stop and think about the many scenarios that cause subsequent marriages. This is a subject that is so personal and painful for so many that people tend to come up with a narrative that they apply to all situations. It’s a type of prejudice. Many people who hear that someone is a subsequent wife wonder how she became a subsequent wife. I guess we can thank fairy tales for that image…

Stepmothers are presented as money grubbing evil shrews with no feelings. The bio mom is always innocent and sweet. The stepmom is a selfish bitch who steals other women’s men from them. It’s laughable, in my case. I barely ever dated before I met Bill. I’m definitely not a man stealing hussy, although sometimes I legitimately can be a bitch. 😉 I try hard not to be a bitch unless a situation calls for it.

In my case, being a second wife has been a weird experience. My parents never divorced. In fact, there’s very little divorce in my family, as a whole. I don’t have stepparents, and never expected to be one myself. So, when Bill and I decided to get married, I optimistically figured I’d just do the best I could. Bill had warned me that his ex wife was a mean person. In fact, he once told me she would “rip me to shreds.” Maybe she might have done that, if I took anything she says or does personally.

I don’t take Ex’s behavior personally, because I know that it wouldn’t have mattered to her who Bill married. She would have been nasty to ANYONE. She saw (and probably still sees) Bill as her possession, even though she threw him away, and she would have resented any subsequent spouse. I’m just glad I can see that for what it is and feel quite free to tell Ex to fuck off. She deserves it. Being nice to her would not have changed the way she would have treated me. In fact, it might make her feel even more threatened. If I was a “Snow White” type, all sweet and kind, she would have probably been even more spiteful and jealous, like the wicked queen in the aforementioned fairy tale. Ex doesn’t like other people showing her up, and being determined to fake keeping sweet for the sake of optics would have probably made her behavior much worse.

My husband’s ex wife is so incredibly dysfunctional that there was never a hope of my having a normal relationship with Bill’s kids. She treats them like possessions, rather than people in their own right. Fortunately, younger daughter claimed her own self-determination. Older daughter, I fear, is going to stay stuck. I don’t think my situation is necessarily the norm. Most mothers aren’t as hateful and selfish as Ex is. They don’t wish for their children to be mistreated or disliked by others. Ex talks a good game about being a good mom, but her actions are opposite to what she says. I was never going to get a chance, no matter what. So, I never had to worry about my feelings getting hurt by being snubbed by younger daughter’s mother-in-law. But we also didn’t have to contribute money toward her wedding.

Of course, now that she’s talking to Bill again, younger daughter does get financial and other help from her dad on occasion. Bill gave his daughter and her husband some money for the deposit on the place where they are now living. To her credit, younger daughter offered to pay Bill back. Apparently, Ex would make her older kids pay her back for things, even as she’d happily take their birthday money to buy diapers for their younger siblings. Bill was horrified, and told her to consider the money a wedding gift. She was very grateful and thanked him profusely.

I think, if I were the stepmother in the above scenario, and my feelings were really hurt, I might consider having my husband go to the wedding alone. Then I’d hit a spa, take a short trip, or do something else fun for me. So many people were commenting that the stepmother should just step aside and know her place. I figure in a situation like that, my “place” might be outside the wedding venue, somewhere where I’ll be welcomed. But that’s just me. And, in fact, this was the approach I took in 2004, when Ex invited me to my in-laws’ house for Christmas. I stayed home, and Bill went to see his kids… for the last time, it turned out, until 2020.

If going to a spa is too self-indulgent or ballsy, then maybe the stepmom should just enjoy the wedding like any other guest. Don’t offer to help in ANY way, unless it’s specifically requested. Let the moms do the heavy lifting. And then, if the wedding gets too boring, cut out and go do something more interesting. It sounds to me like the stepson doesn’t like her very much, anyway. She married his dad, not him. Let Dad handle the bullshit. Stepmom can detach and please herself. Some will say this is a self-centered solution, but it doesn’t sound to me like the stepmom can win in this scenario. Either she cares too much, or not enough. So she might as well please herself.

I am a very lucky woman. My husband is wonderful. He’s kind, generous, reasonable, and adorable to me. He’s his own person. He accepts me for who I am. In fact, he even celebrates it. Bill told me this morning that he enjoys my outspoken personality, because I often say the things he’s thinking. He worries a lot more about offending people than I do, so we balance each other out. If I were more like him, I doubt our marriage would have lasted twenty years. People would be constantly violating our boundaries.

Below is the columnist’s advice… which I think was pretty sound:

I totally understand your bruised feelings. That phone call on which you were mistaken for your husband’s ex-wife sounds awful! I suspect the explanation lies largely in that “frosty” relationship between your husband and his former wife. Visits seem to have been organized to keep them apart and to prioritize your stepson’s mother. (I get that: I happen to be a mama’s boy myself.)

Now, your stepson certainly could have handled introductions more deftly. But ceremonial occasions — like “meet the parents” — can be tough for children of divorce if their parents are antagonistic. So, unless I am misreading this situation, try to forgive your stepson and take the long view: Life won’t end at the wedding! Getting to know your stepson’s in-laws may simply take longer than you expected.

As for splitting the costs of the rehearsal dinner — which I assume was acceptable until you were treated unkindly — I would stick with that plan. If my assumption is wrong or if the price exceeds your budget, speak up. But don’t make a fuss on principle. Letting the small stuff slide in favor of building better relationships is often a wise strategy. I hope it works for you and your husband.

Again… if it were me, I might consider making other plans for the wedding day. It would depend on the level of disrespect shown to me, and my husband’s feelings on the matter. I don’t enjoy getting into conflicts with people or going to places where people don’t want me around. Stepmothers have feelings, too, and I’m not one to show up for things just to promote the status quo. But that’s me… and my husband is the type of person who understands. My focus is my relationship with him, because I married him. The stepson in this case is an adult, and presumably intelligent enough to understand that his perspective isn’t the only one that matters.

I know a lot of people read my rantings about Ex and think I’m the problem. I’m being honest when I say that I married Bill because I love him. I always hoped to have a good relationship with his daughters. I was definitely willing. At first, I was willing to be cordial to Ex, too. She made it very clear from the beginning that she saw me as a competitor and an adversary. She didn’t want her daughters to get to know me, and did all she could to see that we never interacted without her close supervision. I’m not Ex’s ass monkey, so I opted out of the arrangement she unilaterally made for me without my input. I think, as an adult, I have the right to opt out of her plans for handling me. She made it abundantly clear that the kids weren’t “mine”, and she would heavily moderate any influence I might have. So I figured the best thing to do was to let her have HER kids. I had no rights to them, but neither did I have any responsibility.

Now Bill’s daughters are adults, and they can theoretically decide for themselves what’s best. I’m glad that younger daughter gave Bill a chance and is now able to bond with him. Maybe if more stepmothers saw themselves as wives first, there might be some less pain in these situations. But then, sometimes stepmothers really are second moms. Like I mentioned above, everybody’s got a story, and not all situations are the same. The right way to handle any situation depends a lot on the people involved. In my case, Ex is so toxic that it’s best to simply opt out to the extent possible.

I will say, though, that opting out of Christmas 2004 was one of the smartest things I’ve ever done. She tried to punish me for doing that… I guess, assuming that Bill would resent me for the way Ex retaliated. But Ex is an adult, and responsible for her own actions. If she wants to try to punish me for not dancing to her tune, she can certainly try. I don’t accept her punishment. And it’s clear that she never knew Bill, nor did she ever love him. I do love him, and because I love him, he probably won’t be alone when he’s an old man. Ex, on the other hand, probably will be. And now that the kids are grown, I’m having a good laugh at her. 😀

divorce, Trump

Mrs. Obama makes an unfortunate comment about “divorced dads”…

This morning, I woke up to an article shared by a friend of mine. He recently divorced his wife and they have two young children. Without going into details about his personal situation, I’ll just say that like a lot of divorced fathers, my friend is dealing with the harmful stereotypes suffered by a lot of dads. It’s only natural that he’d take offense at Michelle Obama’s recent decision to compare Donald Trump’s presidency to that of a parenting style of a “divorced dad”. The implication is that divorced dads are irresponsible and inept. It’s all fun and games at Dad’s house until you get sick and need care. Then, apparently, you’re better off with your mom.

Those of you who have been reading my blog already know that I’m married to a man who was denied the right to parent his daughters. This wasn’t at all because Bill is “irresponsible” or in any way unfit. It was because his ex wife is a selfish narcissist who thinks of her children as extensions of herself, and she did her best to alienate the children from their dad(s). She has been married three times and has had a total of five children: one from her first ex, two by Bill, and two by her current husband.

Although he probably could have taken her to court and forced her to give him access to his children, Bill chose not to. It was mainly because he didn’t have the time or the money to devote to a court fight that might very well end badly. Instead of lawyering up and fighting his ex wife, Bill chose to rebuild the shambles his life was left in after their divorce. Although it was extremely painful for him to be kept away from his daughters, Bill has managed to thrive. Now, one of his daughters has finally reconnected with him.

I had a feeling that this would happen, although I didn’t think it would turn out as well as it has so far. It seems that despite everything, Bill’s younger daughter managed to develop good common sense. It’s gratifying to see that she wants to break the cycle of craziness in her family and raise her own children with the stability and access to family members that she didn’t have. But it still doesn’t erase all of those years when she refused to speak to Bill and made him out to be a person he’s not. And a large part of the reason his ex wife was so easily able to smear Bill is because divorced fathers get a terrible rap when it comes to their parenting skills.

Mrs. Obama, a very popular first lady, is not doing guys like Bill any favors when she compares Donald Trump’s presidency to a visit to divorced dad’s house. Plenty of dads are wonderful parents who take excellent care of their children. And there are also moms out there who are neglectful and abusive. They make the abuse worse by alienating their children from their healthier parent, who in some cases turns out to be the male half. Some of those dads are also taking to their blogs, writing about why Mrs. Obama’s comments are so “tone deaf”.

By the way, as an American, I don’t see Trump as the “fun” parent in a divorce situation. I see him as a demented, out-of-control, narcissistic despot, not unlike an abusive parent who lashes out the first time their kid smarts off at them. These last two years, while not personally horrible for Bill and me, have been very traumatic to watch as Trump’s decisions have had real life devastating consequences for thousands of innocent people. I worry about the future of my homeland because of Trump’s insistence on alienating everyone who doesn’t kiss his ass and because he’s just grossly incompetent. He’s also just plain gross… on so many levels.

Bill made this juice with green apples, pears, celery, spinach, and lemon juice. It was delicious! He also made the coffee. Yesterday, he made another juice with carrots, cucumbers, and other assorted produce.

I would have loved to have been able to have a child with my husband. He’s an excellent caretaker, very loving, kind, and nurturing. Case in point, this week, he’s been using our juicer to make me fresh juice in the mornings. He also made me fruit salad.

Does this look like the kind of thing an irresponsible “divorced dad” would serve? Yes, I’m his wife, but I would imagine that he would show at least as much love and regard for his daughters, given the chance.

A lot of people seem to assume all men are hopeless and act like children. A divorced dad has to deal with the stereotype that he eats take out pizza all the time and lives in a swinging bachelor pad reminiscent of a frat house. That’s definitely not necessarily so. When I visited Bill’s apartment for the first time, before we were married, I was surprised by how very spartan it was. He slept on a futon mattress placed on a wooden crate. He also had a futon couch, much like the one we have now that needs to be hauled to the dump. He had a bowl, a couple of pieces of silverware, and a wok to his name. I immediately insisted that we visit Target and get him some proper dishes. Then, I suggested he move the futon mattress that served as his bed to the futon mattress on his futon couch. That doubled the cushioning and immediately made him more comfortable. He had a TV and a table and two chairs that he bought at Bed, Bath, and Beyond… and maybe a cheap bookcase. That was it. In those days, most of his money went to paying child support and for the debt his ex wife left him in. He worked very hard and was very responsible. That’s one of many reasons why I found him so attractive.

Years later, I remember visiting a dentist when we lived in Georgia. I was getting my teeth cleaned and the hygienist asked me if I had any children. I said I didn’t, and her response was something along the lines of, “Oh, I guess your husband is enough of a child.” She’d said it in a sympathetic way, but I found her comment a bit offensive. As most thinking people know, there are any number of reasons why someone doesn’t have children. A lot of those reasons are personal and painful. I don’t mind talking about why I don’t have kids, although people who ask me such personal questions usually really regret it. Make no mistake about it. I would have been proud to have children with Bill, even if we eventually split up. He’s a wonderful person and a very caring, empathetic, and responsible father. And, sad to say it, but he’s a much better parent than his ex wife is. It’s really too bad he couldn’t have had primary custody of his daughters. I think their childhoods would have been much better if he had.

But, this mentality that dads are automatically the weaker parent also seems to go hand in hand with the idea that men are “weak”, especially when it comes to sex, and that subsequent spouses are the result of affairs. I remember a few years ago, telling our former landlady that I’m Bill’s second wife. Much to my shock, she asked me if I’d caused his divorce. The fact is, I hadn’t. Even if I had, I sure as hell wouldn’t tell her that.

I didn’t know Bill when he and his wife were married. I met him online when they were separated and we had a platonic friendship. I didn’t even know he had a wife until we’d been chatting consistently for about three months. He hadn’t mentioned it because I hadn’t asked… and the subject never came up, because we weren’t chatting about anything we couldn’t talk about to anyone else. Our early talks were mostly about military living, travel, my grad school courses, and his work in the Army.

One day, he sent me a long email explaining what was going on, sure I would “hate” him. He wanted me to know, because he’d become fond of me. I never thought we’d meet offline and I certainly never thought we’d marry. I was shocked by the email, but mainly because he seemed convinced that I’d look down on him because he was divorcing his wife. She had him thinking the whole thing was his fault and that he was “damaged goods”.

I told him I was sorry about his situation, and that I didn’t hate him. In fact, I didn’t think his marital status was my business, although I appreciated that he explained it to me. Months later, his divorce was final. By that time, I was delighted by the news, because in the months after that email, we’d gotten closer and I really wanted to date him. But we didn’t meet in person until a year later, almost a year after his divorce was official. Some people might assume I’m lying, but I’m not. That’s really how it happened. And we waited until after we were married to consummate the relationship. Does this sound like a man who is irresponsible, fixated on fun, and only thinking about himself? I think not.

Anyway… I think Mrs. Obama owes divorced dads an apology. She can do better than throwing all divorced men under the bus with her analogy, comparing them to Trump’s disastrous leadership. This time, she “went low”, and she should resolve to set a better example for everyone.