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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psychology

Putting on the brakes: not getting on the bus to Abilene…

A couple of nights ago, Bill had a Skype session with his daughter. She told him that not long ago, she got a phone call from her mother, beseeching her to jump in her car and drive to a hospital a few hours from where she lives. Evidently, younger daughter’s cousin had been in a car accident and Ex felt that someone from the family should go to her. Younger daughter, in her infinite wisdom, declined to drive to the hospital. She’s pregnant, and has a toddler aged son. The hospital was a few hours away from where she lives, and she’s not particularly close to her cousin. She also had no idea what condition her cousin was in. She could have loaded up her toddler in the car, driven several hours, wasted precious gas and spent money she didn’t have, only to find that her cousin had only gotten bumps and bruises and was released. She had the courage to say no, but was apparently feeling a little guilty about it.

I listened to Bill explain to his daughter that sometimes her mother gets these ideas that something has to be done no matter what. She doesn’t stop and think about logistics, costs, or practicality. She just jumps in the car and goes… or she manipulates someone else to go in her stead. She reacts, rather than thoughtfully responds. I’m sure these kinds of reactions make her feel better in the short term, even if they turn out to be disastrous decisions. She feels like she has to do something. If she can’t do it, she’ll get someone else to do it, and that will make her feel better about herself. She’ll even take all the credit, even if she’s not the one who actually did anything.

I was instantly reminded of a similar situation I experienced back in 2010. Bill and I were living in Georgia. My dad was still alive, and was being hospitalized in North Carolina, near where my eldest sister lives. I got an email from another sister who lives in the Midwest. This sister was feeling guilty that our oldest sister was exclusively taking care of our parents. She felt like I should be doing more, so she took it upon herself to try to convince me to drive to North Carolina to visit our dad.

I remember the conversation started in an underhanded, manipulative way. She asked me how long it takes to drive from Georgia to North Carolina. I responded that it would take a few hours. Then she delivered the pitch. She wanted me to drive to North Carolina, split a hotel room with another sister who lives in Virginia, and visit our dad. She said she couldn’t do it herself because plane tickets were too expensive and she had work. She assumed that I could go in her stead and “help out”, even though the people directly involved hadn’t asked me for my help and were fully capable of asking. They are also not the type of people who wouldn’t ask for help if it was necessary. My mom is direct to a fault. She doesn’t keep quiet to spare other people’s feelings. It’s one of her best, and worst, qualities.

It so happened that I had just talked to our mother, and she had expressly told me she didn’t want me to visit. I hadn’t wanted to visit, nor had I suggested it, but she said things were hectic enough as it was. So, since I had just talked to our mom and she’d asked me not to add to the stress of the situation by visiting, I told my sister out in the Midwest, who was probably feeling guilty and helpless, that Mom had asked me not to go up there. Moreover, even though I don’t work outside of the home, I had other responsibilities. For one thing, I had dogs to take care of. I couldn’t just hop in the car and go, just because she suggested it. I would have to do something with them, since Bill works long hours and they aren’t used to being alone.

It takes discipline to do this, but in the long run, it will spare you a lot of grief.

I sent a calm response to my sister, indicating that our mom had specifically asked me not to visit and that I had other things going on. My sister proceeded to send me a pissy email full of guilt trips, which, of course, really annoyed me. Still, I managed to stay calm in my next response. I explained that I wasn’t going to just jump in the car and go up there on her say so, but I would call Mom and ask her if there was anything I could do for her. My sister seemed alright with that. She responded with a gushing, appreciative email, and added that I should email her to let her know how our parents were doing. I never did do that, and she never said anything about it. So much for her concern. Really, though, she was just feeling helpless and wanted to feel helpful. She figured she could bully me in to acting, which would make her feel better about herself, even if it was disrespectful toward me.

I called my mom, and she clarified that she wouldn’t be upset if I visited our dad, but that he was being transferred back to Virginia, so we might as well see him there. Then, she said she would like me to go to our house in Gloucester, which at that time she was trying to sell, and pick up the piano. I inherited my mom’s piano. It’s currently sitting in storage in Texas. It’s extremely heavy, and she needed it out of the house.

This situation happened to be going on over Memorial Day weekend, so Bill went to UHaul, got a tow bar put on our SUV, and we made the arrangements to board our dogs and go to Virginia to get the instrument. We drove up to Gloucester, got a UHaul, and picked up the piano. Then, we visited my Dad, who was in a physical rehab hospital.

My dad was not in his right mind. He called me by my sister’s name and complained that I’d gained weight (my sister has dark hair and is a size two, and I’m a blonde and… not a size two), then he completely ignored me and talked to Bill, who was just great with him. In my dad’s mind, he was still an officer in the Air Force. My dad was talking as if he was in a briefing. Bill caught on quickly and started speaking to my dad as if he was a general. Dad responded in the most uncanny way. He calmed down. Afterwards, Bill and I took my mom out for a drink. Just as we were about to get in the car to take Mom home, a nurse called and asked her to come back and sit with Dad, because he was agitated. Mom bitched out the nurse, which made me feel a little sorry for Dad’s caregivers. I remember her telling them that she didn’t have the stamina to sit with him all the time and it was their job to deal with him. I guess they were able to, since we left and Mom got to rest.

What would have happened if I had just done what my sister had demanded? I think it would have turned into a wild goose chase. If I had gone up to North Carolina, I probably would have missed seeing my dad. I would have wasted gas, and there’s no way I would have been able to do what my mom ultimately needed done, getting that heavy piano out of the house. I needed Bill to help with that. Maybe my sister would have been temporarily happy that I’d done as she demanded, but in the long run, doing her bidding wouldn’t have been very useful. She thought she knew better, though, and incorrectly assumed she could still order me around. News flash… I’m not eight years old anymore.

My sister wanted to do something, but wasn’t able to do it herself. She was feeling guilty and helpless. She figured I wasn’t busy, and decided to use manipulative tactics to try to spur me into action. When I demurred, she laid the guilt on even thicker and heavier. The end result is that she really pissed me off. I lost some respect for her when she resorted, yet again, to manipulation instead of making a respectful request of me. But then, this is something my sister has always done. Somehow, despite being raised by very direct and forthright parents, two of my sisters have learned that in order to get their way, they have to be manipulative. It’s a very common strategy. I no longer have much patience or tolerance for it. When people use fear, obligation, and guilt to try to get me to do something, I usually resist.

I think sometimes people who have grown up in abusive situations, or are surrounded by people who are manipulative and prone to employing guilt trips, are conditioned to do the bidding of others without ever questioning it. My husband calls this “getting on the bus to Abilene”, although I’m not sure he quite gets the euphemism right. Getting on the bus to Abilene suggests group think– people giving into a bad idea because they don’t want to be the person who resists, even though secretly, everyone is against the idea. The trip to Abilene is pointless and uncomfortable, but everyone goes along to get along and everyone suffers for it. And then it turns out no one wanted to go in the first place.

Maybe this anecdote isn’t helpful for everyone, but it’s helpful for me. There’s no reason why I can’t rely on my own good sense to make my own decisions. I don’t have to respond to people who use guilt tactics and manipulation to get me to do their bidding. In fact, it’s in my best interest to teach them NOT to approach me that way.

You’re not a marionette. You can dance to your own tune.

I did end up helping our mom, but I did it in a way that was doable for me and ultimately more helpful for her. I’m glad to hear that Bill’s daughter has similarly learned to say “no” to her mom when she pulls this kind of manipulative shit. If you’re an adult, and you’re functional, you don’t have to take manipulation from other people. Manipulation is, at its core, a kind of bullying. It’s unfair and disrespectful. It may seem easier to give in to manipulation, but in the long run, it only encourages more of the same behavior. Set boundaries and enforce them. If someone proposes a bad idea, you don’t have to go along with it. Do what works for you.

Back in 2010, I wrote about this incident as it was happening. I was unusually calm about it. I would have thought there would have been more ranting and swearing, but in 2010, I was more circumspect than I am now.

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