This morning, as I was waking up to another Monday morning, I happened to read a letter to an advice column in the Washington Post (it’s unlocked for people who don’t subscribe). Sometimes letters to Carolyn Hax trigger me a little bit. And then I read other people’s comments, and I get triggered all the more. That’s what happened this morning. So now I need to vent in my blog. Below is the letter that got me all hot and bothered:
Dear Carolyn: I very recently had a baby with my boyfriend of several years. We were both married when we met, but after developing feelings for each other we divorced our spouses and committed to each other. Neither marriage was fulfilling, but I’m on very good terms with my ex as we co-parent our children as a united team.
My boyfriend’s ex-wife, however, has continued a pattern of manipulative and controlling behavior. For example, she told my boyfriend that the pastor at their church expects him to apologize to the church leaders for having divorced his wife. When my boyfriend sought to clarify this with the pastor, the pastor was stunned and assured him she never had a conversation like that with the ex-wife.
His 16-year-old, “Sam,” also refuses to meet the baby without his mother present. And JUST his mother present. My boyfriend is desperate to reconnect with his son (whose estrangement is enabled by the ex) and thinks meeting the baby will soften his son’s heart. I’m incredibly uncomfortable with the conditions. For context: I’ve learned his ex-wife has on multiple occasions made fun of the name we chose for our daughter. She also demanded to know all sorts of intimate details about me, such as my plans for breastfeeding.
His ex-wife has been pushing hard to meet the baby. My boyfriend says she and Sam are a package deal. But my mama instincts are screaming that my baby is not safe around this woman. She recently made it clear she expects to meet the baby soon, whether Sam does or not.
I am obviously sleep-deprived and hormones are crashing, but am I being unreasonable? I know she will someday meet her, but I don’t see why it’s necessary for her to have this experience with my newborn.
— Mama Bear
I actually liked Carolyn’s advice. Her first sentence summed it up nicely. She wrote, “There isn’t enough hell for this no.” I totally agree with her. I’ve never had a child, but I can plainly see how inappropriate this demand is. But other people didn’t see it Carolyn’s way at all. I probably shouldn’t be surprised, because we’re dealing with people in a culture who automatically see men and any subsequent female partners at fault when a heterosexual relationship falls apart. And some people seem to think that the jilted woman is automatically entitled to whatever she wants. Can you believe the ex wife in the above example thinks she’s entitled to meet the baby even without her son in tow?
To Carolyn’s credit, she simply looked at what was written in the letter. She didn’t attempt to recreate the letter from the ex wife’s perspective, as one reader did. It’s not that I don’t think it’s useful to consider the ex wife’s perspective so much, as that the person who did it added details to the situation that didn’t exist in the original letter. I saw a lot of people projecting their own opinions and experiences into this situation, complicating what, to me, looks like a pretty cut and dried situation. The letter writer has a brand new baby. It’s HER baby. She’s the mom, and she gets to decide who is around her newborn baby. Ex wife has ZERO standing to demand anything regarding the letter writer’s brand new baby, her son with the boyfriend notwithstanding. Below was one commenter’s take.
As for “Sam”, my comment would be that it’s regrettable that he evidently doesn’t want to meet his half-sister. He can meet her when he grows up, if he wants to. But his mom is not in this, and needs to butt out immediately. She has absolutely no right to demand to meet the baby, at all.
I write this from the perspective of a second wife whose husband was denied access to his daughters for many years. One of them finally came around five years ago, and we continually find out more about the total fuckery that went on during those years they weren’t talking and continues to go on today. I know, in our case, there really is a wacko ex involved. I also know that when there’s a wacko ex, you have to be careful not to give ’em an inch, or they will take a mile. The bit about the fabricated church leader story, coupled with the demands to know about breastfeeding habits, makes me think the ex in this story could be a bit looney.
I also write this as a woman who DID NOT have an affair with a married man, but many people assume that I broke up his marriage to his ex wife, simply because people often think that about second or subsequent wives and girlfriends. Many people commenting made the assumption that this couple had an affair. Nowhere in the letter does it say that. It’s entirely possible this couple met and had a platonic relationship until they got divorced. That’s how it happened between Bill and me.
We met online in a chat room back in late 1999. Both of us were lonely. I was single and in graduate school. He and Ex had separated because he had decided to rejoin the Army full time. She was already dating #3. Bill and I chatted for three whole months before he finally sent me an email explaining his situation. I was shocked by the email and sorry about Bill’s marriage breaking up, but I never expected to ever meet him in person, let alone marry him. I had never thought to ask him about his marital status, because we weren’t talking about or doing intimate stuff that would necessitate my knowledge of his marital status. Our relationship at that time consisted entirely of chatting online and emails. We also lived in different states and time zones, and at the time, I had never met anyone offline that I had originally met on the Internet.
A couple of months after Bill explained his situation to me, it was time for that infamous Easter confrontation in his father’s house, where Ex dramatically presented an ultimatum that Bill bend to her will, or dissolve the marriage. She knew nothing about me or my existence, and I had absolutely NOTHING to do with her ultimatum. She didn’t find out about me until we had been dating for about eight months; by that time, #3 was already living in the house Bill was still paying for, and had proposed to her a couple of times.
At the time Ex demanded the divorce, I was just Bill’s Internet acquaintance, anyway. We were completely platonic until after his divorce, which happened less than nine months after we encountered each other online. Bill decided to accept Ex’s divorce proposal because he knew his marriage wasn’t working and wouldn’t get better. He was tired of living hand to mouth, and wanted to have a job that paid better than factory work. He loved the Army; it’s his vocation. And he and Ex have nothing in common, other than their kids and where they went to high school.
To be honest, I was a little uncomfortable with the idea of meeting Bill when the idea first came up. When were still talking online a year later, I agreed to it. And even after the first in person meeting, I wasn’t sure where our friendship was going.
About three months after that dramatic Easter scene, their divorce was final. Bill and I met in person almost a year later, when the Army sent him on a work trip to the city where I was living at the time. That’s when we started dating offline, as Bill later relocated to Virginia, which is my home state. On long weekends, I would drive from South Carolina to Virginia to see him, and he would sometimes return the favor. We did not have a sexual relationship until two weeks after our wedding.
I know some people might not believe me, but I swear it’s the truth, and yes, of course it’s possible. Neither of us were much into dating when we were growing up. When I met Bill, he was my first boyfriend since high school, and he is my only sexual partner, ever. Besides Ex, I am his only partner. And if we can do it that way, anyone can.
I’m not implying that what happened in my case is what happened in the letter writer’s situation, only that it could have happened that way. There’s nothing in the letter to indicate that this couple had an affair before they divorced their ex spouses. All it says is that they were both in unfulfilling marriages, and that they had been together for a few years before their daughter was born. No, they aren’t married, but not everyone wants or needs to be married to have children. God knows, that happens every day, although personally, I would not want to have a baby out of wedlock. But that’s just me… and at my age, it’s no longer a possibility, anyway.
“Sam” is estranged from his dad. Regrettably, that’s not uncommon when parents divorce, and it’s often the fathers who wind up alienated. The letter writer’s boyfriend obviously loves his son and wants to be in his life. It sounds like his ex wife is not facilitating things, which is also a common and, perhaps, even an understandable reaction after divorce. A lot of people are bitter after a divorce, and that leads to asking other people to take sides, especially if they are the custodial parents of a child that came from the relationship. But you know what? In two years, Sam will be an adult, and he can make his own choices.
If Sam’s parents’ divorce is the most painful thing he ever deals with, he’s going to be lucky. Maybe his father is a jerk, but maybe he’s not. It will be up to Sam to decide if he really wants to jettison his father forever. He may eventually realize that this isn’t a decision that should be made lightly. But, it could turn out that after a few years and some perspective, Sam may come to realize that he was used as a weapon. Or maybe that isn’t the situation. Either way, it’s not up to him or his mother to dictate, if, when, or how he meets his half-sister. At age 16, he’s allowed to say no to visitation with his dad, even if it’s not the wisest decision. At age 18, it will be entirely up to him, legally speaking. Of course, if his mother is anything like Ex is, she might still make it extremely difficult for the wounds to heal. It might take a few years of adulthood before the blinders come off and Sam is ready to have a relationship with his father on his own terms.
In twenty years of marriage, I have only met my husband’s daughters in person once, and that was many years ago, because his ex wife refused to cooperate and actively sabotaged the loving relationship Bill once had with his kids. She did this for purely vindictive, selfish, narcissistic reasons. And now, younger daughter can see, plain as day, what happened, because she’s been treated in the same disrespectful way that Bill was. Now that they’re finally speaking, younger daughter is finding out things she hadn’t known, and I have a feeling that some of what she’s learning is very upsetting. Pieces of the puzzle are finally coming together… and if I’m honest, I worry what will happen when she finally understands just what she was denied when she was growing up. Her mother betrayed her by alienating her from her father and trying to force her to bond with #3, a man who clearly doesn’t care about her.
For Bill’s part, he now very much regrets not fighting much harder for his daughters. That was a terrible mistake. All he can do now is be there for the present and future, if they want him around. On the other hand, we’ve also learned that life continues to go on if there’s estrangement. There are some things you can’t control, like trying to force a horse to drink water. I would say reconnecting with estranged children often falls into this category. Sometimes these situations happen even when there hasn’t been a divorce. One person can’t control how another person feels or reacts. Ha ha… Ex actually said that to Bill once. “I can’t help how you feel.” Well, that goes for her, too… It goes for EVERYONE.
Another one of Ex’s expressions that Bill brought into our marriage is “Murder will out.” I had never heard that expression before I married Bill, but he’s said it many times over the years. And I can see by Ex’s very public social media accounts that she says it, too. Things are coming home to roost now, and I suspect they could get very dramatic soon. I probably shouldn’t read Carolyn Hax’s advice column, because letters like the one I read this morning are still very triggering for me. Our situation is extreme, but it’s been educational for me, and it’s taught me that stereotypical explanations of situations aren’t always accurate. Many commenters were assuming that the boyfriend in this letter was a spineless coward who cheated. I’m sure there’s a lot more to it than that.
But… bottom line is, the ex wife in this situation has absolutely no standing to demand that the letter writer surrender her baby for a private meeting with the ex and “Sam”. As I mentioned up post, I have never been a mother myself, but I would imagine that those mama bear instincts are there for very good reason. Yes, she’s the girlfriend, but she’s also the MOM of that baby, and it’s her job to protect her child. So she should politely tell the ex to fuck off, if she deems it appropriate. If it means Sam doesn’t meet his half-sister for the time being, so be it.
Edited to add…. Sorry, this letter really got under my skin. Lately, we’ve been getting a lot of upsetting new information that has me a bit spun up.