Last week I started my big corporate job again and my ex-wife couldn’t be more excited. So excited, in fact, that the morning before I started my first day she sent me instructions about how I should set up the kid’s insurance and recommending that I set the child support on auto-withdrawal. “It’s better for the kids.”
It’s not much different than the way she acted the last time I got the big corporate job that pulled our family up out of an economic recession. That time I was on my orientation trip to San Francisco, and the first morning, before I’d even had a chance to meet my new colleagues she was hassling me about what day the kid’s insurance would kick in and when my first check would be deposited, and why didn’t the company pre-pay for the hotel room, before I checked in. We got in a dramatic yelling argument about how I was being irresponsible for not getting this information upfront. I hadn’t even made it to the office to get my employee packet, and she was angry with me for not doing it right.
I couldn’t fathom back then, six or more years ago, that she could be mad at me when the tap was about to be turned back on, in a big way. How was it possible that at the moment of my start she was pissed about how I was treating her, how I was behaving. This seems to be a pattern. And unfortunately it does not seem to have abated in the nearly five years we’ve been divorced.
On Monday of this week, day four of my job, she was asking for the insurance card, even though I gave her the group number and company on Thursday (day 2) and said the new plan would kick in on Feb. 1. Even with that information she said she wanted the card to schedule an appointment for our daughter. When I told her about the Feb. 1 start date and the number that I’d already given her, she snapped back that she was just getting ready to set up our daughter’s annual physical. She said, of course she could wait until the policy started.
And there are a few more things she’s on-top of at the moment. It’s as if, the moment things look up, improve, she’s got to act quickly so she doesn’t miss anything. Or is she so aggressive when I have new changes, usually for the better, that she feels she needs to bring me down a notch, knock a little sense into my euphoria.
In San Francisco, I asked her to come join me. I had made arrangements for the kids to be taken care of by my mom and sister. We needed a romantic break. We needed something nice. She got even more mad about this fantasy. She was incensed that I was considering spending the $450 dollars for her round-trip ticket. Of course the hotel room was already covered. And we’d need to be buying and eating food no matter where we were. But she was pissed.
And in some ways she’s never gotten un-pissed. And I’m still not all that clear what she’s mad about. She hasn’t always been mad. But she got mad at some point and stayed that way. Mad when going to bed. Mad when waking up in the morning. And somehow I was usually the recipient of the antagonist’s laurel. Well, I’m sorry she’s mad, but it’s really not my problem any more. Oh yes, I still have to deal with it, but when she began blowing up my phone on Monday morning with angry text messages, I did not have to respond.
And I’m sure it has been hard for her, having to do with less in the nice house. Not being able to afford a maid. Having to work full-time. I’m sure those are things that could be pinned on me, as the issue. But I’m no longer there to stand in as her target. And I no longer need to respond to her every complaint or rant. And sometimes silence is the best response.
The culmination of all this angst yesterday came in a text that started, “I hate to text you about this, but…”
I didn’t respond.
She sent the same message 15 minutes later via email.
I am learning to let go. And perhaps she can still be influenced towards a more empathetic approach. Or maybe not. Either way my response, or non-response is up to me. I can only control my own actions, and that’s fine. As a divorced parent, there are a few things I still have to engage with her about. But that tick list is short. And if it’s not about the kids… Well, silence and not attacking in-kind is my compassionate repose.
The Off Parent
< back to The Hard Stuff posts
- Back to the Beginning: Serenity with Your Coparent
- she says yes
- Entitlement & Narcissism: The Blurry Lines Between Divorced Parents
- The Best Will Come Out, Eventually… But First This
- Texts From the Ex. What’s the Crisis?
- Give Me a Bullet to Bite On: My Ex and Her Anger
- Patience Please, I’m Doing The Best I Can
image: beach blizzard, scott o’donnell, creative commons usage
There are many ways to parse the “repair” in this title.
A repair is the type of statement offered by one of the two people in a disagreement that is supposed to form a bridge back to wholeness. A repair is a minor chore that involves fixing something. A repair is when the cable is out and you’ve got to schedule time to meet the repairman during the work day, so you can get your tv or high-speed internet working again.
There are always a few small repairs awaiting attention in any relationship or house. But when used as a measure or a gauge of the health of a relationship, there is often the aggrieved party and the oblivious party. Or, in the case of marriage, the party who is irritated by the burnt out lightbulb or weeds in the yard, and the party who is generally happy, or oblivious of such tragedies.
In our case, I was aware that there was a bulb out in the hall. But it didn’t bother me and the other two worked fine to illuminate the paths of my loved ones. To the ex-y the bulb was an example of my inattention to her. Why didn’t I care enough to want her, or my kids, to have three working lights in the hall? Why, if I knew it bothered her, didn’t I just fix the fucking light?
I became more aware of the resentment in these little details as time went on and the veneer began to wear thin on the relationship. A dying or overgrown yard was an indication of how I was neglecting her, or showing my lack of love and respect for my entire family. I still get a sad chuckle out of the thought, once voiced in the flurry of an argument, that went something like this:
“If you saw the fucking light bulb was out, why didn’t you fix it?”
“If you were bummed out about the light bulb, why didn’t you just replace it?”
“It’s as if you just don’t care. You’re fine with the whole place going to shit.”
“Um, no. I just wasn’t aware that the lightbulb was that big of a deal. And if it was bugging me it would take less than a minute to fix it.”
“So why didn’t you replace it?”
“It wasn’t bugging me.
“Did you notice it was burned out?”
“Well why didn’t you fucking fix it?”
“Um. If it was bugging the crap out of you, why didn’t YOU fix it?”
“You just don’t fucking care. About me, or anything.”
“No. I wasn’t aware that the lightbulb was that big a deal.”
“It’s not the lightbulb, it’s everything. It’s always like this.”
At some point you either dig in your heels and say to yourself, “I’m never changing the fucking lightbulb.” Or, “She can fix the fucking lightbulb herself.” And even when you know the unmowed lawn is bugging her, you don’t mow it. Not out of spite, but because it’s 2 hours in the middle of your potentially productive weekend, and it’s not that big of a deal. Even when you know she’s seething.
I wonder what it was like when she realized when it dawned on her, that she was going to have to fix the fucking lightbulb herself? Or when she decided she needed to learn how to mow the fucking lawn herself on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. Or when she realized, just in the last three months, that working a real full-time job was hell. And that all of those years I was hoofin it off to the cube farm, she might have had a tiny bit more sympathy on a weekend when I just wanted to chill, or nap, or play with the kids.
I remember a point in our final breakdown when I asked her, “How do you think we’re going to be able to afford two houses in this school district?” She wasn’t thinking about me. She could care less if I got to stay near my kids, or near their school. Of course she’d been the one “volunteering” at the elementary school. Because we could afford to have her working part-time or “consulting.”
And looking over the tax return together, the last joint tax return we ever filed, she was pretty self-righteous about the fact that her contribution to the income for the year had actually be a negative. “Do you think financial stress had anything to do with our breakup?” I might have asked her. But I didn’t.
Today we struggle along, affording two houses in the affluent district where we pay for good schools for our kids minds and souls. And I’ve scaled way back and down. I’m happy. I’m not complaining.
But the “honey do” repair on her house, that is now going on six months in its gross state of disrepair, does give me a tiny bit of satisfaction. I met her boyfriend accidentally one afternoon when I was dropping the kids back at her house.
They were tearing the front, mostly ornamental decks, off the front of the house. I shook this sort of pudgy and academic man’s hand, amazed at the lack of his Carry-Grant-ness.
“Yes, they were going to charge us $3,500 to fix the decks,” he said, with some joy. “But I knew we could do it ourselves for less.”
WOW. My first thought was, “Dang, $3,500 seems pretty cheap compared to the number of weekends it is going to take to do it yourself.” She was standing there, satisfied with his statement. She was fixing up the house to sell it. He was saying “us.”
And I realized at that moment that she had found a lover who spoke her love language. All this time we had just been slightly mismatched in what kinds of things represented “being loved” to us. She wanted someone who did things for her. “Do something to help me and I feel loved.”
I’m sure my love language is touch. “Give me a hug or a snuggle and I will feel loved.”
So there we were, the three of us, and it was like an “ah ha” went off in my head. “She’s found her honey do.”
Of course, now, six months later, I’m thinking, “Yeah, how’s that working for you?”
The torn up decks make me a little sad for my kids. They must know it looks like crap to have the front of the house torn up and unfinished. (How’s that $3,500 looking, now?) But I can’t control or change that. So I keep it to myself. But there is some inner smile going on, as I think of his saying, “They were going to charge us $3,500.”
I think it’s best to not be waiting on repairs, in any of the potential situations. If the disagreement is heated, it’s okay to be the first one to go for the repair. “I’m sorry. You are right. I fucked up.”
In the case of my repair I would be looking for a hug or acknowledgement that we were still connected physically For the ex-y she’d be looking for me to replace burnt out lightbulbs with more consistency and timeliness. I know it sounds trivial, but I don’t think it is. I think it is part of what makes her feel loved. And in this repair I often failed. As we were awash in disagreement, I failed on purpose.
“Fuck if I’m going to change that lightbulb,” I thought. “She’ll either do it herself, or get madder than hell. But I’m not going to be manipulated by her control issues. Both of us can change the lightbulb. If it’s bugging you/her then fix it. Don’t sit around bitching about me not fixing it.”
She got mad. She stayed mad. I guess there were always things that needed repair in her world and she was waiting on me to do them.
Of course, today she doesn’t have that luxury. Or that torture, depending on your perspective. Neither do I.
The Off Parent
the story continues…
image: creative commons useage: #4 lightbulb moment