Divorce, Single Parenting, Dating, Sex, & Self-Recovery

anger

The Off Parent – Series: love, kids, divorce, humor, release, sex

when you lose everything, love comes into focus

when you lose everything, love comes into focusLet’s take a new approach. Let’s go after local resident and legend Adrian Grenier and see if we can give him another successful show. Let’s feature Austin, SXSW, ACL, Barton Springs, and Formula 1, all as part of what gives this show gravitas. It’s going to be a must-see on HBO (our first choice), because the heart behind the show is writer and single dad advocate, John McElhenney. (Me.)

How would a tv show bring about real change in the family law that gives dads the old 70/30 shaft and asks us to accept that moms should be given the house, the money, and the kids? That’s the way it was in the ’50s. But the states don’t want to give up the gravy train of child support collections. That’s what makes up 80% of most Attorney General’s budgets. And it’s paid for by the government. The states are incentivized to assign child support to one of the parents and then they make their money based on the “money” they have under management.

If you would like to be an early script reviewer or a pilot test group member, please reach out to me via email here: john.mcelhenney (at) gmail (dot) com.

Enjoy. Blessings.

 


Go Big This Time, Or Go Home: Looking for a Long-Term Relationship

girl in the deep end

 

Several more creative titles came to mind when framing up this post: “She’s Come Undone,” or “Girl In the Deep End of the Pool.” But I needed to remember that this is not a philosophical post, it’s a hardship post. It’s about the harder side of dating, that I had yet to encounter.

She texted me, “Don’t stand me up. I need a drink.”

But I’d already decided a few days ago that she was NOT the one. AND in my current state of mind, anything, anyone, BUT THE ONE, is a waste of time. So why is this so much harder to do than I anticipated?

The hard thing to realize, even if I know it, is that she will not hurt any less tomorrow if I go along with the plan tonight.

She’s nice. She’s pretty. She really really really likes me. (Might be a red flag.) And she just wants to get together again. In response to my “I’m not ready for this relationship right now,” text she pleaded, “Just call me. It’s not going to be hard. It will be a good call.” She was quite convincing about how easy-going she is. And how she understands “people with kids.”

She doesn’t understand at all.

So I paused the train. I attempted to get off without hurting any feelings. But it’s not going to be that easy. And today, Monday, it’s not going that well. She’s had a hard day. She began buzzing my phone about two hours ago. When her “contract” workday ended. I talked to her. And again she confessed to having a really shitty day. Looks like her work might not continue after another two weeks. And in the place where I would feel compassion and outreach for someone, I was wanting to be in a relationship with, I simply felt tired by the exchange. I didn’t want to meet her for a drink. And at this moment… I won’t. But she doesn’t know that yet.

Why is it easier for us to see disaster in another person’s life so much easier than in our own? I was having dinner with a friend last night and it was easy to coach her a bit in the “get the assholes stuff out of your house NOW” vein. And today she’s texting me, “How did it go?” I’m embarrassed to say, I was still embroiled.

I don’t want to be the bad guy. I don’t want to be the hurter. UG. BUT… here’s the point I’m clear on, I’m not going to be in a “relationship” with this woman. We kissed, it was good. We kissed a lot. And I realized I was not interested in her. END OF STORY.

The hard thing to realize, even if I know it, is that she will not hurt any less tomorrow if I go along with the plan tonight. In fact, I know, she will feel worse. Much less me. I don’t want to spend this evening nursing this dying quail of a relationship. I want to move on. I want to go for a walk. I want to think about NEXT. And her kisses don’t sound like a good idea under any circumstances.

While she’s not a drug addict or a mean person, she’s not the right relationship for me. Anything less is compromising.

So how do we extricate ourselves from a person who simply does not want to be extricated? How do we grow the balls to say NO with a firm and loving hand? EVEN when they’ve had a bad day, a hard life, any number of hardships. We still need to say NO. But it hurts.

So I’m going to call her now. I’m going to say no. I’m going to be firm.

Oh fuck, maybe I’ll go for a walk first. Sort my head a bit. Then call her. Tonight and her waiting is nothing compared to the drop of the other shoe. And I need to get myself in a place where I will not compromise. I told my friend, last night, “You need to get clear of this shit.” While she’s not a drug addict or a mean person, she’s not the right relationship for me. Anything less is compromising. And that’s the deal I have with myself today. NO COMPROMISE.

Easy to say, harder to do.

I’ll post an update, but first a walk. A good, long, walk. Alone. (Instead, I bought tickets for a movie and called her from the park near the theater. The story continues here: Obeying the Speed Limits, and The Daily Journey)

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

*post originally written April 2013

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Your Contempt for Me After the Divorce is Hurting All of Us

OFF-maidamerica

There were two minor events that happened in the first weeks of my relationship to the woman who became my wife and mother of my two outstanding kids.

About two years into the divorce, and a year after the full payments are in force, I hit a rough patch in my employment.

ONE: After we had begun our committed relationship, she got in the car one afternoon and said, “I’ve just gotten a new prescription for birth control pills.” EXCITEMENT PLUS. Woot!

TWO: She got in the car a few weeks later and asked me why I was upset. I told her that I had left $150 cash in the glove box of the rental car. I had called and, duh, they didn’t have the money. Her response was immediate. “Well, at least you are rich enough that you don’t need the money.” BOOM.

It not only hurt, but it also stung me quite deeply. I recoiled and had to ask her what she meant. She didn’t do a very good job of explaining how $150 to her would’ve been a huge deal, but to me, it was little more than an inconvenience.

That’s how she saw me. MONEY. Even early on in our relationship. MONEY. I’m just now getting clear on this. As she is still grilling, hammering, and looking for “enforcement” from the Attorney General’s Office about MONEY.

We got over the early yelp I gave out at her contempt for my slightly more affluent upbringing. And we moved along down the relationship road until she moved in with me. Into the house I owned. She never mentioned the money again, but now I can see, with 20/20 eyes, that it was much more important to her than I realized.

When she got pregnant, we made plans to move into a house, rather than my condo. So the kids would have a yard. So we could begin building our nest. The money for the down payment came from my family. And we bought a nice little house in a nice middle-class neighborhood. We probably bought about 3 years too early, because a tiny baby doesn’t really need his own room. But we were young, in love, and ambitious.

Fast forward the tape 10 years into the future and we’re getting a divorce. Suddenly my money is her money, the house that was made possible by my inheritance, and my owned condo was all we really had between us. And the breakdown of the finances left us on unequal footing. She got the house, I got some relief from the $2,400 a month child support and insurance payments.

When she didn’t get her money after two months and 27 days, she filed the whole thing with the Attorney General’s office.

About two years into the divorce, and a year after the full payments are in force, I hit a rough patch in my employment. We lose a client. I lose 50% of my income. I tell her immediately that I’m going to be a little late on the child support. She throws a fit.

Now, to slow things down a bit, let’s examine the situation.

I was paying $2,400 per month in child support and insurance. She was living in a house (basically covered by my child support payments) and only had utilities, food, and clothing to provide for the kids. She had a steady job. Had we still been together, we would’ve worked together to survive the lean months and made up the slack when I got another job.

As divorced parents, she was furious at me. She wanted her money. She refused to talk to me about the coming school year and parenting stuff. Her response to every request from me was, “When can I expect my money.” Seriously, it was like a bad cartoon.

Well, when she didn’t get her money after two months and 27 days, she filed the whole thing with the Attorney General’s office. If she couldn’t make me pay her what she was entitled to, maybe the lawyers and police could.

Now, even two years after the AG’s office has driven my credit into the dirt, and really gained nothing for her, she still believes there is a benefit to keeping them in the relationship between us.

Why?

I’ll let her tell you. From an email a month ago.

A fact it would be weird for me to ignore is that involvement of the AG corresponds with XX and XY receiving more support than they did for the year /18 months before the AG was involved. It’s our job as parents to represent the interest of J and C and them having more financial support is in their interest. Until  there is an alternate method to oversee the result of XX & XY receiving a percent of your income for their support, I’d be laying down my obligation to XX and XY if I said no thanks to the strategy that has coincided with you more consistently paying support.

And when I shared with her the payments coincided exactly with my employment. I have to have an income to pay you a portion of it.

What is it you are asking me to rely on to assure you voluntarily will pay? This isn’t a sarcastic question. Help me understand what has changed to make it so you’ll contribute a part of your income no matter your financial situation.

So that’s clear, right. The AG’s office means my contribution to my children’s welfare is compulsory rather than voluntary. What I think we’re seeing is her rationalizing the entire affair that has caused me to lose my house and several employment opportunities. She won’t ever say she’s sorry. But maybe she will eventually see the damage the AG’s involvement continues to have on her children’s lives and mine.

But that’s not likely to happen, now is it?

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

*this post was written April 2015

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image: maid in america, creative commons usage


We Said, “Til Death Do Us Part” and You’re Not Dead Yet

OFF-heartcentered

2022 Refresh: This is not a recovery blog. I am not trying to teach you anything. I am venting about a divorce I did not want, I fought against, and I eventually resigned to accept. I’m still not happy about the divorce. I AM happy that I am divorced from the woman who had such a cynical mindset, but the method of her departure and her continual betrayals, well, those make me mad. I still love the mother of my children, I still hope for her life to be less stressful and happy. But I will never forgive her for the 1/3 dad role she awarded me as she went on to get everything she asked for while continuing to be angry, vindictive, and anti-co-parent.

To her, this blog stands as a testament to my fury. My pain. My howl into the night of the divorced parent. “Off Parent” is a term used to describe the parent who does not have the kids on a given weekend. Of course, “off” also contains a deeper nugget of meaning, that I intended to be pointed directly at my ex and also at myself, “off” from the devastation of the divorce. Here is a post that was found yesterday by an avid reader. I thought it was worthwhile to resurface it. Cheers.

+++

I’ve failed at marriage twice. I don’t want to fail at it again. So, do I get married, EVER, again?

Somedays you wish your ex was dead. Then you remember your kids and how sad they would be and the visitation schedule that does give you nights and days to your own devices and potential dating/relating/loving again. It would be a huge blow to everyone.

Of course, the divorce was a huge blow as well. And somedays you wonder, WTF? Why did we have to get divorced? If we were still joining our financial strengths and not paying for two houses… Okay, that ship has sailed, but there is research that says often the divorced couple looks back, five years later, and says, “No things are not better now that I’m divorced.” The permanent solution to the transient problems of marriage, money, parenting, sex, and compatible love languages, is not always the best choice.

On the other hand, if I had stayed in my marriage, if I had won the fight and she had agreed to work on some of “my” issues rather than just the crisis of the moment and my problems, well… Again, probably I’d still be in a sexless marriage with a woman who was unhappy most of the time.

How did she become so unhappy? Was I the cause of her depression and anger? I sure tried all the things I knew to make things better.

How did she become so unhappy? Was I the cause of her depression and anger? I sure tried all the things I knew to make things better. More money in the bank. Less complaining about sex. Fewer demands for physical closeness. Cleaner house. And nothing worked. We talked about it once (see: Are You Having Sex, Because I’m Not) and it didn’t really make things better. In fact, she was mad at me for buying the book on reawakening your marriage. It was as if I was accusing her of the problem. I wasn’t. I was trying to figure out OUR part in the loss of passion. I never did get an answer.

I mean, I got these answers:

  • I’m tired
  • There are too many chores
  • The kids are in the next room
  • Not until the dishes and laundry are done
  • You’re not asking me the right way
  • I’m tired at night after the kids go to sleep
  • I’m not a morning person
  • That’s not a very romantic proposition
  • No, I don’t want a massage
  • I don’t like naps in the afternoon on a weekend
  • I need to work
  • The lawn needs to be mowed

And after a while, I think anyone begins to get discouraged. And perhaps, to her, it felt like a war. Like an invasion of her privacy, even in my asking. But the feeling to me was of being put in some sort of glass box. I could see her. I could adore her. I could try to reach out to her, but it was often rejected soundly, and with anger. What’s there to be angry about? I mean, we’re in this together, right?

I remember reading some of David Deida’s work on the polarity between men and women. In his writing, he recommends that the man and woman really work to enhance their polarity. The man works to become more manly, more masculine, more of the romantic poet home from the war to ravage his beauty. The woman’s job is to become more vivacious, more sexy, more desirable. And the heightening of these roles brings up the heat and the chemistry for more passionate love-making, and even, spiritual sex. Ah, yes, how I wanted David to come to have a chat with us, and see if he could offer some advice.

One of the concepts that I really liked in his work was that of not settling for the tired and depressed housewife. No. I wanted and was okay in asking for my wife to be energetic and juicy-alive. She could work to return to the vixen I fell in love with. And if she did that, I would do my part to do even more chivalrous male shit, and keep the home fires burning. Again, that didn’t happen.

Dammit. I’m not happy about this. I wasn’t happy about it then, and there are still parts of it, that chap my hide. Why didn’t she listen when I said we need to work on our sex life? Why did she put up defensive shields around touch and closeness, as a rule?

So what makes a non-emotional person fall in love with an emotional one? What makes a passionate poetic man go bonkers for a woman who was more comfortable running profit/loss scenarios?

I was coming home to a battlefield rather than a home. And in the closing year of our marriage, it was worse than ever. And I began to squawk for my wife to come back. I kept asking for her to stop working on a Saturday, and go with me and the kids to the pool. I kept trying alternative ways of asking for closeness. But even the non-sexual closeness had become painful to her in some way.

Obviously, I can see now, she was already gone. She had been leaving the marriage long before she asked for the divorce. My attempts and requests for more more more, were no longer falling on a receptive heart. She had put up the defenses and was working to cover her options. When I did confront her about going to see an attorney, and she said she had. I didn’t ask how long she had been consulting about her divorce plans. And of course, it doesn’t really matter, because the intentional exit of her passionate feminine energy had been going on for a while. Maybe even longer than I can imagine.

So what makes a non-emotional person fall in love with an emotional one? What makes a passionate poetic man go bonkers for a woman who was more comfortable running profit/loss scenarios? Beauty, yes, but something else as well. There were certain strengths she had that I found attractive. There were business-like decisions and plans that she was an expert at. And in our parenting roles, she excelled in proposing the “plan.”

And she was beautiful. She still is beautiful. She is still my physical type. But she was not from my same planet. And her love language profile was almost opposite from mine. Where I craved touch as my single most powerful indicator of love, her priorities and passions were more piqued by “acts of service.” The “do something for me” love language. And I can see that now. How even a burnt out lightbulb to her was a failure on my part. Why did I not see it and change it without her having to ask me?

Her joke, a line from a book, I think, was, “Another in a long series of disappointments.”

I guess in the end that’s what broke her spirit. She had been disappointed too many times in my fulfillment of her love language preference. And she was ready to pack up and look for her fulfillment somewhere else.

Of course, I don’t ever REALLY wish she were dead. But in some ways, our disconnect was like a death for both of us. I just took a lot longer to catch up to how much pain I was in.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

*this post written June 2014

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image: paint brushed heart, PhotoSteve101, creative commons usage


DATING METAPHOR: Two Tails Are Wagging or Neither Tail Is Wagging

the dating metaphor

OFF-bostons

From across a 100-foot divide I can tell if a woman is attractive to me. What? What am I looking at, at that distance? Like a dog, from behind, I can only be keying off her overall ratio (hip-waist), the cut and color of her hair, and what she’s wearing. How can those simple details be enough to get a rise out of me?

And when given more time, and more angles, but with about the same amount of information, how can I work myself up into a lather about a woman who I know nothing about?

And when the cutest woman in the world is sitting across from me, and has already asked it I wanted to kiss her (Here and Now) what is it that begins the turning away? A wag is just an initial blush of arousal. But without it, the arousal may never come. I do believe my metaphor about two dogs meeting in a park is quite accurate in assessing the “wag.”

The Dog Dating Metaphor

Two dogs meet in the park
a. either both tails are wagging
b. only one tail is wagging
c. neither tail is wagging

That’s it. It’s that simple. The quicker we can admit the wag or non-wag the quicker we can get to the next step. Relating. But without the WAG there’s no need to take the next step unless you are looking for a running buddy rather than a mate.

Taking the dog metaphor one step further, I believe we are born a certain type of dog. (I think I’m a Boston Terrier.) That’s how we look, how we behave, and it defines a lot about how attractive we are to other dogs. If you’re a poodle and you’re into Boston’s, we’re in business. If you think Boston’s are ugly, or simply don’t get your tail wagging, there’s not much else either of us can do about it. I’m a Boston: tenacious a bit on the muscular side, and very positive and boisterous.

So, seeing the woman with dark hair from 50 paces is very much like spotting one of my preferred breeds across an open field.

And when I get her to the table, even if she’s my type, and she’s interested, there’s got to be the next part: relating. Does she make my brain sizzle? Is our conversation equally balanced? Does she have more going on in her life than work and the gym? Is there a place to slot me in for some activities?

With the smiling woman, cute as a button, and run-obsessed, is there anything else? Is she working on anything extra? Does she have ambitions beyond having fun when she’s not running or working?

I wonder if I’m only going to be interested in artistic women. As a writer, I need someone else who shares a passion for creative expression. Another person who can appreciate the whim of the creative process can hear, “I’m really hitting stride on this project, can we skip tonight?” and not freak out. If the person doesn’t have that burning desire, what does this mean to them? Does it mean I’m not that interested in her? Does it mean that she is not a priority in my life?

But more than that, what is SHE bringing into the relationship? What passions and creative ideas can she bring into the relationship?

If there’s nothing there. The wag simply becomes a wag. “Wow, a very attractive woman.” Just like the woman at the top of the page. (Happily married, I’m sure < I project.) She is a woman with potential. She’s a breed and fit I like.

We are a lot more like animals than we think. By being closer to my animal instincts and listening to my internal Boston Terrier’s heart and compass, I am steering myself towards a partner with both WAG and SWAG.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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Note: this post was written May 2013

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image: boston terrier, creative commons usage


change of plans (a poem)

walking away from love

kissing her neck

i wanted her exactly as she appeared
i wanted a change
i asked
i prayed
love languaged
yelled
whispered
kissed
self-loved
inspired
lost
left
returned
left again
broke down
died
reanimated
to let go
one
more
dear heart

2-11-22


The Painful Business of Divorce

OFF-sadgirl

Divorce is big business. And fk that.

I’m not in the divorce business. I’m not a divorce counselor or coach. I’m kinda anti-divorce if you want to know the truth. But we all go through a divorce or two in our lives. If not you and your partner, than a friend or family member. It’s just how the modern world is.

If we could truly get our heads around “in the best interest of the children” we might be able to divorce in a friendly manner.

The other night, when picking my daughter and three of her friends up from a birthday party, I asked, “How many of you girls have divorced parents?” 100%. In our time, divorce is no longer the stigma it was when I was a kid. Today we plan things, we think about the kids first (at least I did) and we try our best not to damage them on the way out of our married life and into our divorced life. The exy and I did okay. I think I took the brunt of the swift kick to the ego, pocket-book, and time with my kids, but hey… I’m not trying to write a bitching post. I’ve done plenty of those.

No this post goes out to all the people involved in the business of divorce. The trolling for divorce attorneys. The coaches who are reposting and retweeting my articles to help their clients.

I’m just sick of the Divorce Business. Sick of it. It’s a necessary evil, I understand this, but does it have to be so sleazy? And sure, cooperative divorce ain’t for everyone, I get that. And I know there are high-conflict (usually coupled with high-wealth) divorces that require special handling. But if we were honest about divorce we’d all have a cooperative divorce. The problem is, things get messy. Divorce is emotional. And emotions can run hot and get you in a lot of trouble.

So we blabber, yell, and hurt to our attorneys, at $250 an hour (therapists are a lot cheaper) so that we can make the best deal. Again, I have a bitter taste in my mouth, and I apologize for my disdain, but my beef is with my ex-wife and not with the woman who advised her. My beef is with the woman who was paid to be our impartial divorce counselor and then told me to get with the program.

If we could truly get our heads around “in the best interest of the children” we might be able to divorce in a friendly manner. But it is often not about the children. How can a family that is democratic and fully shared be divided in a way as lopsided as the custodial/non-custodial parent?

Even when we attempted to do everything in a cooperative manner, we did not. Even when we agreed to a cooperative and fair divorce, she had other things on her mind.

Yes, my then-wife began to go after my parenting skills in the therapist’s office. She was convinced that she needed more time with the kids. She was certain that she could feed, shelter, and nurture them in a more consistent and “mothering” way. There was a fine line between the “interest of the children” and the interest of what she wanted. And according to the law in my state, she was entitled to get.

So even when we paid to be civil we were not. Even when we attempted to do everything in a cooperative manner, we did not. Even when we agreed to a cooperative and fair divorce, she had other things on her mind.

I don’t think she set out to screw me. But she had the jump on me by at least two months when she finally told me she wanted a divorce. She’d met with an attorney, and was no longer interested in our couple’s therapy. Her word was cynical. She no longer believed that any good would come from sticking it out with me. For the kids, or for herself, she saw the light at the end of our marriage as a way to happiness for herself.

She was wrong. Well, of course, I can’t say she was wrong about the marriage. On that front, she did me a favor. But she was wrong about the happiness. And she was only thinking of her happiness and not the happiness of our children, when she got a lawyer to consider her options. She was only thinking of herself at that point. She’d had enough of what I wasn’t giving her. She was done waiting for me to take care of something she could no longer ignore.

Unfortunately for me and the kids, I believe that thing was a sadness inside her that may not have an easy solution. That sadness that we both suffered from occasionally.

The dam burst in my dark heart and ice water began rushing up through my veins and I could hardly think after she spoke the betrayal.

Well, I chose to turn into the sadness and confront it. And from time to time, it got the better of me. I’ll admit that. And some of the times WE worked through together were unfathomable. We survived. We never quite made it back to thriving, but we supported and loved each other through some really tough blows on both sides.

But somewhere in the recoil and release of the hard years, she jumped out of the train and began looking for an escape path. For a while she didn’t tell me she wasn’t in the train any more. She was running along side the train, and I thought we were “good.” Or at least I thought we were okay. “Working on it.” Was how I would’ve framed it at the time. But she was way ahead of me on her exit trajectory. And the little lies, like why she no longer wanted to have sex. Or where she had been all afternoon when she wasn’t responding to my texts.

This is my howl into the dark night. Her change of heart derailed the train for all of us. And while we’ve done the best we can, and while I have to admit I am *much* happier in a new relationship, I still have sadness about how the trust between us was crushed with that single admission in couple’s therapy.

“Have you already been to see a lawyer,” I asked.

She was teary-eyed when she looked at the therapist and then me. “Yes.”

The dam burst in my dark heart and ice water began rushing up through my veins and I could hardly think after she spoke the betrayal.

Why hadn’t she brought the issues into therapy? How had she gone to an attorney before unpacking her grievances with me and our helper? Maybe the helper wasn’t helping enough. Maybe her father was passing her his sage advice. The man who married and divorced her mom twice. Maybe she was already in love with someone else.

Or maybe she just gave up on me.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

*this post was written August 2015

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The Whimsical Blowjob & Other Unexplainable Marital Ecstasies

I use the term blowjob interchangeably to apply to both sexes. And for me, the phrase, better to give than receive, actually fits. But it is also a sensuous desire that needs to flow both ways, for the full appreciation to be understood. Again, I’m out on an untested limb here, but I’m assuming a person is either “into” oral sex or they are not. Ideas like learning, or inexperienced, by the time one has passed out of their twenties… Well, I’m willing to bet, if the fascination isn’t there, the desire isn’t there either.

In my divorce recovery class (I participated in one session, and facilitated at a second session) the most amazing meeting was the night we get to ask the sex questions. And without breaking any confidentiality here, this was the big “ah ha” moment for me and many of the others in the group.

BIG REVEAL: Oral sex is not for everyone. Many people (both men and women) can “take it or leave it.”

I was stunned by this revelation  Having had an insatiable desire to see, explore, play with, and taste, the female vagina, I have not known a time since my late teens that I wasn’t willing, ready, and able to dive into a woman’s nether region with abandon and enthusiasm.

I did not have an example of her withdrawal into logic and reason. I was not aware of how her stress response was to go into “spreadsheet” mode and try to map out the “plan.”

I do understand that people express love in many different ways. And if we take the 5 Love Languages as a model, there are 4 of them that are not physical touch. But still, if the sexual act and sexual organs are not objects of mesmerizing awe and curiosity, I suppose, in my definition that person is not all that sensual. I mean, sex is a yes, in most people, but oral sex, I am understanding is an acquired taste. Or perhaps a learned and cultivated behavior.

In one of my two classes, the question of oral sex made the rounds as a polling question. “Oral sex, yes or no?” And the answers ranged from “not so much” to “essential” to what became known as my answer, “deal killer.”

I am a sensuous human. I find my way, my security, my thrill, and my comfort in physical intimacy. And the actual act of having sex is less important to me than being in-process in some form of physical connection with my significant other when we are in close proximity. If I pass you in the kitchen as I’m heading to another room in the house, I am the one who is likely to pass close by so I can put my hand on your back or shoulder as I move close by you.

And when things get difficult in life or even in the relationship, I am the kind of person who would rather snuggle and support than almost anything else. It’s not avoidance. The tasks and trials will all be met, but let’s pause for a minute and gather our collective resources, be together with the event, and then move from that place of closeness to solving whatever is going on. My ex-y, I learned, was from a different planet. And while the signs were clearly marked when we were courting, had I known what to look for, we didn’t really hit any major stressful relating issues until well into our third or fourth year of marriage.

So, I did not have an example of her withdrawal into logic and reason. I was not aware of how her stress response was to go into “spreadsheet” mode and try to map out the “plan.” And as these two very different response and manage systems became engaged over and over again, perhaps that’s when and how we began to drift apart. We drifted towards our own individual comfort systems, and were saddened and hurt by the other partner’s inability to bridge the gap for us. And as things escalated we became even more locked into our patterns. I wanted a hug, she wanted the numbers.

I can now see how my need for closeness during stressful moments would trigger her need for logic.

In terms of sexual compatibility, however, the ex-y and I did share a great love of the sensual. She did love oral sex. And as our patterns of lovemaking evolved, it was clear that she was primarily orgasmic via manual or oral stimulation. So we got into it. I had found a partner who was willing to indulge my curiosity and passion for giving her a “blowjob.” So much so that the concept of “she comes first” was a badge of honor with me. Or at least a known competency.

So now, in my evolved patterns and tastes, when I think of having sex, the idea always starts with me diving in head first and not surfacing until “timeout” was requested. THEN, we’d get to me. (grin)

And I guess, I now understand, that my oral orientation is not universal. In fact, many of the women in the classes fell in the take it or leave it category. It was interesting how you could understand a bit more about the person’s makeup by knowing if they were “in to” or not “in to” oral sex.

One of the ways I learned to ask for sex from the ex-y was to suggest that I give her a blowjob. And I was perfectly happy giving her a big “O” and walking away. That rarely happened, but it was fine. I had sensuousness to last me days even without orgasming myself. Usually, it worked better if I offered to give her a massage. But I tried and refined my “ask” many times over, in an attempt to solve the question of why she was beginning to close me out. And the blowjob was one of our codes. But it often referred to me going down on her.

Looking back on everything, I can now see how my need for closeness during stressful moments would trigger her need for logic. My desire to solve things by hugging and kissing and napping was contraindicated in her brain. Her ask for money planning meetings, and mapping out summer schedules was a huge buzz kill for me. I would do it. And perhaps now I am understanding that she would “do it” for me in the same way. Hmmm.

I am not suggesting that my ex-y in some way didn’t enjoy sex, or that she wasn’t sensual. But her availability factor was about 10% of mine. And her passion level, when things got difficult, went into negative numbers pretty quickly. And that’s a shame because things are going to get difficult. Situations and life events are going to happen. Disagreements are going to be a part of living and evolving with someone. That’s exactly how we evolve.

If that person doesn’t do well with accepting or joining in closeness, even when things are difficult, then I am going to be feeling left out in the cold. It’s not abandonment as much as longing to JOIN around an activity or event.

GF 1 had a great phrase that embodied the idea. It was about experiencing something so great or fun that you wanted to go home and “have sex” about it. As if you could lock-in the great experience by joining together in love making.

So maybe the nap is also a form of sensual ecstasy. Or maybe to my ex-y it was a sign of laziness. Often she would need to get sick, before letting herself drop back into relax and take it easy mode. And she often resented my self-care needs of taking a nap on Saturday AND Sunday if I could arrange it. And it wasn’t like I was trying to nap in spite of her. I would try and arrange things so that we could nap together. Who knows, maybe we’d make love, maybe I’d give her a blowjob. Who knows?

She didn’t get more available for play or ecstasy. There was always something else. There was always the next thing.

But she was often too wrapped up in getting everything into a certain order that would make her feel safe. It was often money, or house cleaning, or catching up on her work, that would prevent her from allowing me to give her a blowjob or a massage. And how many times we missed those opportunities are uncountable. Maybe I would have been better served, or she would have been better encountered if I had demanded more naps with her. At some point, after ask number 75, you begin to get fatigued. And I suppose she might have had the same feeling about filling in the projections or modeling our financial future. If I had only participated more.

But my question is this. If I had only participated more in getting the chores done, or making sure there was enough money in the bank accounts, then what? Would she have opened up and become more receptive to sensual advances? Would she have accepted more offers to nap together and receive a blowjob or two?

I tried that. I worked hard to jump into action and pickup the house, get the kids off to friend’s houses, get the dishes clean, be a good earner so we wouldn’t have to worry about money. I did the dutiful husband role and I went through a two-year period where I stepped it up a notch. But it didn’t work. She didn’t get more available for play or ecstasy. There was always something else. There was always the next thing.

And I found myself giving myself blowjobs more often than giving them to her. (frown) And MAYBE I could have been more demanding there too. Maybe I should’ve made the sexual connection more of an issue in couples therapy, rather than letting most of our discussions and negotiations focus on some crisis that always seemed to be at the top of her list.

I don’t think I could’ve changed her, with any of my activities or requests, into being a more happy and whimsical human being. I don’t think that my asking for naps, or blowjobs, or sensuous connection could have gotten more creative and flexible. And no matter how hard I tried, and how many spreadsheets I participated in filling out. No matter how much money was in the back to make US feel secure. She did not willingly relax and let herself go, without a huge effort on both our parts.

I won’t be traveling that path again: trying to change a non-touch love language person, into a touch-oriented person. It does not work. It cannot work. The behaviors can change, but the wiring remains the same.

And there were things in the early stages of dating my ex-y, that I might have seen, had we even had the “love languages” model at that time. But I was head over heels in love with the body and beauty that brought me so much pleasure in those early days, before the stress of being a family, with kids and bills and insurance requirements. Before we experienced stress together things were rather dreamy.

Under stress, however, she became a different person. Maybe I did too. But our two corners of comfort were on different sides of the planet. I wanted holding, she wanted numbers.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

*post was written on April 2013.

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Strengthening Your Core Happiness Becomes More Important After a Breakup

OFF-openheart

The first “girlfriend” I had after divorce asked me early on in our dating experience, “What do you look like when you are happy?” She saw me struggling a bit with depression and sadness around my divorce and she genuinely wanted to know what my joy looked like. Perhaps so she could recognize it if it showed up, or to make sure she would still be in the mix when my happiness kicked off.

We’ve got a lot of programs to help strengthen your core abdominals, and therapy and philosophy to help us lift our hearts out of depression, but we are just learning about happiness. What makes people happy versus miserable. Guess what? It’s INSIDE YOU. It is not the other person. It’s not even your circumstances.

I know this sounds all woo woo, and looks a bit like a bumper sticker, but let me share a moment from an amazing book I’m reading. In this book, a woman has recently been told by her husband that he no longer loves her. It throws her world into a tailspin, BUT… She decides, has decided before it happens, NOT to let other’s or circumstances dictate her inner joy. She has just come back from a vacation retracing her college year abroad in Italy, where this moment happened for her. (She traveled with her daughter. Her husband and son stayed back in Montana.)

I was lying in bed that last day in Florence, looking at my daughter sleeping with her mouth open, listening to a dog bark on a balcony above the streets of Florence–the Vespas whizzing by, the polite exchanges of Buongiorno, the smell of coffee, and yes, exhaust, and something very old.

But I didn’t feel the panic I’d thought I would, knowing I had to leave all of it behind. The desperate need to go out in that world beyond the thick wooden shutters and our own tiny balcony just one more time alone–to feel twenty and charged. The frenzy to contact my old footprints, in a state of ravenous adventure. I didn’t need to be anywhere other than in my bed watching my daughter sleep.

In not quite a twenty-year-old’s voice, but not quite a forty-year-old’s either, I hear, quiet and with morning breath, It’s all here. It always was. — Laura Munson

Wow. For me, what that meant, that epiphany she had, was letting go of the need to jump up and accomplish, or jump up and adventure ahead into the world of the exciting, and instead to merely BE PRESENT. BE AWARE OF THE JOY. LISTEN. BREATHE.

I know it sounds kind of simple and zen, but the reality is quite simple. And I too have been studying how to get there, to achieve inner peace, even under extenuating and challenging circumstances. And while I am often NOT there, on occasion, when I can take the time to notice the simple joy of things, I CAN BE HAPPY. And it’s not about anyone else. Or the money in my bank account, or if my king-size bed is filled with two cats and a dog rather than a lover. MY INNER PEACE comes from stopping the rush to be/do/accomplish.

When you have kids, one of the most magical experiences is watching them sleep. There, just out of reach is your flesh and blood set off on a new mystical trajectory. And if things seemed hard or frightening, you could return to that quiet, that calm of their secure and loved slumber, and imagine the same nurturing for yourself. By loving them deeply, you learn to love yourself.

I want to give the ex this book. But why? Do I hope to fix her? To help her? Do I still wish her happiness? Or do I want to show her what an actualized woman did in the face of her husband’s struggles?

I won’t. I’ve learned that extending energy to others, when it has not been invited, is simply a waste of energy. I gave her a CD a year ago. (Dawes – Nothing Is Wrong) I had hoped to speak to her through some of the words of this music. Three weeks later, the CD was right where she had put it on the kitchen counter. I took it back. I could use it in my car.

She was not interested in hearing or feeling into what happened between us. What failed. She’s moved on, a bit too quickly, in my opinion, but that’s her struggle and her happiness that I can no longer take any part in.

The song, Time Spent In Los Angeles, talks about seeing “that special kind of sadness, that tragic set of charms.” And the moment that I was trying to capture and share was something about when I left my rock star dreams (during a pop-rock festival in Los Angeles) behind to become a more realistic husband.

But in my CORE HAPPINESS, I am playing music. And the man she met was fully actualized. I was playing in a band, playing live, and writing music. That’s the man she fell in love with. And then something changed. Kids. Money. Work. 9-11. But it changed in her, not in me.

I remained, remain, a musician and happy artist. And I am MOST happy when I’m creating music and poetry. Maybe music and poetry can bring on happiness, I don’t know. But I have not lost my joy at playing and writing, even if it’s for my kids and me alone.

And I won’t pass judgment on her at this point. Her core happiness is up to her to discover. And maybe it’s found with another relationship. Maybe there’s someone out there who “always” completes us. But I don’t think that’s where it’s found.

My joy is up to me. My core happiness comes from my own commitment to dig into it. And more importantly to give up on the outcome of the product and simply enjoy the process. Sure, I’d like everyone to enjoy one of my songs, someday. But the joy I experience at catching a moment just right (in song, poem, or even her in this confession) is mine alone. No amount of praise, fame, or money, or lack of those things can affect my inner satisfaction.

This is not an easy place to find in yourself. And from time to time we lose sight of what makes us most happy. But we must keep listening. We must keep stopping in the moment, when the happiness is strongest, and firming it in. Affirming, as Laura Munson did in Italy.

  • THIS RIGHT HERE.
  • THIS IS MY JOY.
  • BREATHE.
  • AND REMEMBER THIS, no matter what.
  • REMEMBER YOUR INNER JOY IS YOURS ALONE.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

*this post was written on July, 2013.

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The Crushing Impact of Emotional Infidelity on My Marriage

OFF-lunching

True Confessions Of A Cheating Suburban Mom says, ” I am a 40-something woman near the end of my divorce, and I am the one who was unfaithful.” < thus started a popular post on DivorcedMoms.com and Huffington Post’s Divorce section. And just the title irritated me. Sensationalizing cheating seems like a bad idea, sure you might get massive hits and comments, but confessional divorce material needs to have a redeeming quality, if it’s just a tell-all, it’s more of a Hollywood Housewives, rather than material for growth and self-understanding.

+++

Did I really need to read this post? Is this “suburban mom” going to give me some advice that will be helpful in my recovery from infidelity and divorce? Is there something educational or illuminating about this confessional, or is it more of a slowing-down-to-gawk-at-the-car-crash-moment? I’m not interested in the later, and I spend a lot of time trying to pull apart my own dysfunctional mistakes as I move forward as a single dad. But again, this headline and first sentence have me forming my response before I’ve heard her “True Confession.” Even that title starts us off on the wrong foot, with a sensational tabloid headline like that, how can this be an introspective or evolutionary post. I will pause here and read her post… Back in a minute… Please stand by…

+++

“I didn’t consider divorce. What I hadn’t realized is that over time I grieved the end of my marriage while I was still in it. I lay awake in bed at night crying, wondering how it was ever going to get better. He was next to me in bed, never a word to me, never wrapped his arms around me, never asked what was wrong.” – ibid

“I threw myself into my children and work and ignored my own needs. I did this for a very long time and continued to put myself last on my own priority list.” – ibid

“A friendship with another man grew into something that was not tawdry sex, but a renewed sense of happiness and hope. It evolved over time and wasn’t based in lust, but conversation, appreciation and understanding.” – ibid

“If I had known what would happen, and was aware of myself enough to understand what it all meant, I would go back and end my marriage before any infidelity took place.” – ibid

+++

She got it. Okay, I’m relieved the popularity was not based on some drive-by sensationalism. In fact, the author, keeps things very clean and honest. And if this were my ex-wife I would have to applaud her for digging in an figuring out how disconnected she had become from her marriage, herself, and finally waking up when another man showed her the respect and care she was starving for.

The emotional infidelity is probably what signaled the demise of my marriage, but the behavior was evident at the beginning of the relationship.

It’s true, when we marry we have not real idea what’s ahead. When we add children to the mix, all things are changed forever. We’ve got a completely different responsibility at that point. For me, my needs and dreams, took a back seat to supporting and loving my family (both wife and two kids). I was a committed and engaged father. And we experienced some of the moments of joy in our lives that were unimaginable before kids. That will never be lost.

The magic and mystery of your first child is like nothing you can imagine. I can’t begin to tell you what’s going to happen. You have to let it happen, you have to be open to the transformation to take place in your life. But if you dig in deep with your wife and new baby you will find… spirituality unlike anything church can provide. (I’ll leave the religious epiphanies out of this post.) And that awe changes everything you do, and for me, everything I then dreamed of and worked towards. I was transformed even as our son was in the womb being prepared for his journey into my hands at his birth.

The doctor let me catch him as he sprung forth into the light of our lives. AMAZING. I didn’t need to cut the cord, I was already blissed out. And the days and weeks after his arrival passed in a haze of love and bliss and reconstitution. I was blown apart by the arrival of my son. I was father, son, and holy ghost all in one second. And then I had a new mission in life. Be the dad I wanted. And be the father that would nurture and protect this little fella throughout his life.

And that’s not exactly the way it worked out. But that was the plan and the dream and motivation going into the efforts of having a second child. We, as a family, sailed on into the chaos of post 9-11 emotional and economic free fall. And we nested as a new family unit seeking protection and joy. It was a hard and dark time for everyone. And our blissful moments, while still sparkling and plentiful, were also punctuated with depression, stress, financial woes, and eventually relationship strain.

Somewhere in that morass of bliss and brokenness, my then-wife began having lunches with a young work colleague. She wasn’t telling me about these liaisons. And if I look back at how we began our courtship, they too started with lunches. And though I didn’t know it at the time, she was living with a man at the time we began lunching.

So lunching was a gateway thing. And something that she needed to not tell me about. Hmm.

When I was checking the shared computer one afternoon, there was an odd message in the open gmail account. As I was the IT-manager of the family, and this subject line looked like SPAM I clicked on it to delete it with the “filter this type of email” button. But the first sentence was not an offer for New Internet Cable, as I suspected from the subject line. It was a thinly veiled love letter from this young colleague.

She never quite copped to the fact that it was an emotional infidelity. Or that her actions were an obvious exit from the relationship.

To be fair, I don’t think my ex-wife ever slept with this young single male. But she was lunching and exchanging emails with him. As I sat, horrified, I read about the struggles of my marriage, my depression, and my difficulties finding work. These were issues that he was responding to in this email back to my wife. And at the end of the letter, the kicker. “Thanks for showing me the library. It was a great place to talk and get a free cup of coffee. I’m sure I’ll go there often. It was great to see you.”

Boom. I was shot dead at that very moment. The lunches, the sharing of our local library (books and coffee – a huge connection between my wife and myself) and the deep sharing about her husband’s issues. And here was this sympathetic young man, offering his support and future correspondence, as she needed it. And future lunches or coffees in the library down the street in our neighborhood.

I didn’t know how deep this cut me, at the moment. I was suffering through some depressive issues of my own, it’s true, but those hurts and issues should’ve been something my then-wife expressed to me. Or at least in therapy. But not to another man. Not over lunches. And NOT in our local library.

I still visit the library. It’s a wonderful place with coffee by donation, nice books, and comfy chairs. And still, somehow, the ache of that found email that caused our family great heartache and drama. We eventually worked through most of the issues in therapy. She apologized immediately and said she recognized how it could’ve been hurtful to me.

She never quite copped to the fact that it was an emotional infidelity. Or that her actions were an obvious exit from the relationship. And years later she chose to ask for the actual exit. I’m grateful we didn’t split back then, when our kids were 1 and 3. And while we had some wonderful times between then and when we finally split up, the patterns (hidden lunches with another man) were part of her DNA from before we met.

It always surprised me when the secret lunches would come up on random conversations. A comment on her Facebook page from her ex-husband for example. Maybe I should’ve been more diligent. Or more laid back. But the lunches when we started getting reacquainted were quite special and less-than-innocent. If I had known she was living with a man, I probably would’ve cut them off all together. But I didn’t and we continued until she asked me to a Dear John lunch. She said she needed to complete or commit to her relationship with another man before we went any further in our dates.

I might have made a different decision at that point had I been given the truth.

I always thanked her for that. It seemed honest and clean at the time. But what I didn’t know, was that she was living with him while she was lunching with me. I’m sorry, but that’s an infidelity any way you look at it. Unless she was willing to tell both of us, she was not being honest or giving us the ability to make our own decisions about the nature of our relationship.

The emotional infidelity is probably what signaled the demise of my marriage, but the behavior was evident at the beginning of the relationship. I just didn’t have the sense to ask more questions or probe into the depth of this “other man” relationship she mentioned as she was cutting things off with me. We’d had some lunches and one evening date where we kissed quite a bit.

I might have made a different decision at that point had I been given the truth.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

*this post was written in 2014

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The Evolving Single Dad: Failure to Hopefulness Again

OFF-dadfeet-gmp

After divorce, struggling with identity and depression is common. This single dad has found strength by focusing on hopefulness and cultivating a joyfulness within himself.

It’s been over five years since I walked out of my family home and changed everyone’s life forever. Sounds dramatic now, but when I was going through it, I was not sure what the rest of my life held. There were moments I could not tell you one good thing that was ahead for me. And I cratered for a bit, taking refuge at my sister’s house while I decided what I was going to do.

When you’re flat on your back in depression and failure, what you learn is how to get back up.

Now, looking back on it, the worst event I can recall in my personal history, I have somehow grown more resilient after having survived it. And I suppose my kids have also gained a bit of survival-in-the-face-of-the-storm strength. And today, even though I’m in a similar start over place, I am not afraid or unhappy. I have taken a tumble as the result of my own actions, my own over-optimism, and the hostile ex. I have landed here. Starting over again. And there is hope here. The horizon is bright.

And the evolution of The Off Parent has followed a similar trajectory. I have come from angry and vindictive to forgiveness and now letting go. And reaching this point offers some new opportunities. Rather than dealing with divorce, I am thinking more about Dating and what another relationship might look like. Rather than writing vitriolic screed, I’m leaning into love poems.

And I have learned a lot on this path. And even today, with a chest cold a fever, I can say I am happy. I have learned to take, even the catastrophic failure and flip it around into opportunity. And then somehow continue to see the hope in that opportunity. There really is a wide range of paths out of this moment of pause. And there is no reason to thrash. I will reemerge when the next job provides the means to support both myself and my kids. And until then I’m going to enjoy this moment to the fullest. I’m recommitting to tennis and fitness. I’m starting to sing songs again.

I have been able to not only show them, but instill in them this tendency towards optimism and hope.

When you’re flat on your back in depression and failure what you learn is how to get back up. And inside that how is the hope that is self-generated and self-sustaining. Hope is the key. Without it the daily grind is brutal and even the smiling pictures of your children don’t lift you. But if you can imagine a single hopeful idea, cling to it, set it on fire and tend the hopefulness. You can find the energy again to reach out for what you need by building and nurturing hopefulness in yourself.

In the five years, I’ve shown my children a lot of emotional sides of myself. I’ve remained true to my promise of keeping all money issues and anger out of my relationship with them. The adult stuff needs to be handled outside their sphere. And I’ve shown them how to rebound with hope and energy time and again. In recent years, as my life has stabilized quite a bit, I have been able to not only show them but instill in them this tendency towards optimism and hope. That’s my gift. Seeing them dealing with setbacks in their young lives with similar resilience has been a fine reward for both their mom and me.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

*post was written in 2014

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she takes her shirt off (a poem)

she takes her shirt off (a poem)

she takes her shirt off (a poem)

there is a moment
things are not going well
and
she takes her shirt off
it was a ninja move
catching me off guard
unbalancing my argument
with other urges
desires
that required far less discussion

this time
i didn’t indulge her
the elephant was making noise
it was time to get clear
about our rapt attention
and sustainability
so
there she was
looking confused
her beautiful naked magic fairy dust move
proved ineffective
this was a deeper conversation

and our last

12-08-21


for the trees (a poem)

forest for the trees

forest for the trees

there was the forest
and the trees
her
and me
the road ahead looked cold
strait
narrow
tightly controlled
and her lack of smile
said all i needed to know
she was the one leaving
not arriving
she needed me to know
why

i smiled
she didn’t expect that
it was her idea
this breakup
she was telling me why
i was pleasantly surprised
by her reasoning
the objections were quite sound
as she droned on
about what wasn’t working
what she needed
how i was the issue
not us
me

that might have been the problem right there
this amazingly beautiful woman
giving me the letdown
to go down in history
was not responsible
for her own meltdowns
somehow i was not playing
by the rules
as she understood them

just a few days before
in the middle of a crisis
she took off all of her clothes
and cried
i sat nearby on the bed
consoled as best i could
but the issue was not apparent
her sadness
from some distant pain
overwhelmed her thin white body
pale in the romantic lighting
the song
do you realize
seemed to be in some reloop
or perhaps it was time that was looping

i am not sure what to do here i said
but i can be here with you
beside you
i can hold you
she seemed more confused
additional tears poured
this appears to be something a bit bigger
than our erotic liaison gone amiss
i can leave if you’d rather be alone

a bit later
the conversation moved towards
a curious exploration
between us
she was still undressed
and looking as delightful as ever
it’s like your naked fairy dust isn’t working
i said
she stopped cold
what?
it’s as if your hot body would solve any issues
without any work
we’d just blow over the upset
and blow on each other
to quell the glaring heat
of something unpleasant
fill the void
with the passion
see if that gives us/you
some relief

that’s not me
that’s not what happened
i waited to find her again
but she had retreated
again
into an angry silence
she put her pajamas on
i kissed her forehead
and left

maybe that’s the answer
to my ease
as i see it
as she will never see it
as beautiful as she is
smart
happy
and
broken

11-29-21


grey moon (a poem)

grey moon

grey moon

there was this moment
when i felt the end
of my love
it wasn’t a big thing
more like a quiet pop
as i imagined your leaving
and my relief

the weather had turned colder
the beds were unmade
and warm from snuggling
something in the coffee
tasted bitter
sent a shiver to my deepest heart

i will pause here
reconsider
be quiet
observe
listen to the words
and less to my cooling mood

knowing i don’t always
make the right decision
when it comes to the heart
or leaving
or staying
or letting go

11-22-21


Maybe I Needed An Angry Ex-wife to Push Me: To Feel Anger

my angry ex-wife

my angry ex-wife

She’s got a way of making me mad. Just knowing how she slit the throat of both my marriage and my entire financial life in one selfish move… Fk. Yeah, today, it is easy for me to get in touch with anger and resentment.

How My Ex-wife Did Us Wrong

Divorce is a two-way street. The decision to get a divorce, however, can be made unilaterally by one partner. If you have kids, that decision is going to affect all of you for the rest of your lives. Please take care with your decisions. Don’t just GO FOR IT, because you think you might WIN. (SEE: 7 Strategies for Winning Divorce)  Don’t listen to the lawyer who is selling the “package” divorce to you. It’s not what’s best for the kids. Even if you think you can’t go on, PLEASE, talk to your co-parent BEFORE talking to a lawyer. And if you’re in couples’ therapy, please use that time to bring up your issues BEFORE divorce becomes your escape hatch.

She was just so tired all the time. And mad.

For the last year of my marriage, my then-wife was angry. And it wasn’t passive-aggressive anger. It was a “fuck you” anger that she was unable to control. She couldn’t really be honest in therapy about what was causing her to be so furious. But she obviously got the message to the attorney who advised her to take the deal.

Here’s what the typical divorce package looks like:

  • Mom gets the majority of the kids’ time
  • Dad gets the majority of the kids’ bills
  • Mom gets the house and car
  • If you don’t have kids, the divorce should be easy

The Imbalanced Divorce Laws Are Bad for Everyone

Yes, I lament my single dad getting the shaft deal, but it wasn’t all bad. There was an aspect of the freedom, once the divorce went through, that was refreshing. I recall buying a $100 pair of Oakley sunglasses without having to beg anyone. I didn’t have to negotiate every single purchase I wanted to make. I was free.

I was also burdened with a mortgage-sized child support obligation. (1,600+ per month, plus medical coverage for both kids.) Yes, but… I was free.

What I lost was 70% of my time with my son and daughter. And what my mad ex-wife gained was a weapon she would use against me time and again over the course of the next eleven years. (My daughter turned 18 a year ago, but I paid child support up until June of this year, the end of the school year.) There was a significant imbalance of time and power when she was decreed the Custodial Parent.

She suddenly had an entitlement to the money each month. She kept saying it was “for the kids” as she bought expensive shoes for herself, took trips without the kids, and hired babysitters so she could date during the week. She pawned my kids off on babysitters, rather than give me equal time. If she wanted time off, she should’ve followed through on the 50/50 parenting discussion we began at the onset of the divorce process.

What I Lost in the Divorce

I lost my kids. That was the biggest setback I’ve had in my life. Losing so much time with them, losing even more touch with them as they became driving teenagers. But, primarily, my kids lived with their mom and they visited me. My house was never able to be a home. It was more like a hotel on the weekends my ex-wife had off.

That was really what it felt like to my kids. Their lives continued in the same house, the same school, the same routines, except I was just on an extended (forever) business trip. While their lives went somewhat unmolested, everything about my life was turned to ashes.

I lost my house, my best friend, my neighborhood and friends, my tennis leagues that were a block from the house, my kids. Mainly my kids. But, the reality is, the parent who leaves the kids and house behind has to ACTUALLY START OVER. I still don’t have a proper toolbox. I left that at the house. And it’s taken me 11 full years to have the financial balance sheet to afford even a modest home.

I’m Mad About the Way I Was Treated

Yes, I’m mad. I’m furious. And I’ve been furious since my wife changed the game a month before we filed all of our papers with the family courts. When we had negotiated 50/50 shared parenting, I was unhappy but cooperative. At the end, after the finances had been negotiated, and the holidays, and “joint custody” was the plan, after all that, she decided to go for the divorce package. Fk the dad. Let’s go for the best deal we can get. His problems are no longer mine.

And that would’ve been enough, I suppose. She could’ve celebrated her victory and left me at peace, but that was not what happened. Several years after we were divorced, my employer lost a key client and let me know they would need to catch up on my paychecks over the coming months, as we moved to replace the business. I let my ex-wife know as soon as I got this news. I asked her to be patient as I worked to get caught up. I was not yet behind on my child support, but I imagined the $1,600 payments were going to be a problem very soon after my employer couldnt’ make payroll.

When I was ONE WEEK LATE, my ex-wife filed her case to the Enforcement Division of the Attorney General’s Office with the state of Texas. And boom, my credit was crushed. I was unable to refinance my meager house. I was shit out of luck.

I’m Mad She Would Hurt Her Co-Parent

You can’t swing a heavy bat at your ex-partner without hitting the kids. While my ex-wife must’ve imagined she was hurting me alone, she was also hurting our two children. This is a pattern that would be repeated over the next several years as she also decided to stop including me in any family decisions, even though this was agreed to in our divorce decree. She simply stopped co-parenting. What were my options? Sue her? For what?

My ex-wife crippled my earning power, my buying power, and my livelihood for the last 9 years. In this action she was hurting my ability to buy Christmas presents for my kids, to afford a place big enough to have them over on my weekends. She didn’t care. She was pressing the matter at every opportunity. She, sort of, still does. But, I’ve learned to never ask her for anything. That’s the way she must’ve wanted it. And that’s what she got. But she will understand at some point, the damage she did to her children when she was hoping to crush me.

The dreams of my parenting (during marriage and after divorce) were cast aside by a series of decisions and actions my then-wife and ultimately ex-wife chose. She did this. I’ve got my freedom, yes, and the love of my children. Someday, I hope she gets the recoil of the weapon she fired at her former partner and father of her children.

Namasté,

John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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The Data Set of My Divorce: Adding Things Up

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We were married for over ten years. We spawned two great kids. But I’d have to say there were very few years that weren’t somewhat tumultuous. It seemed like I was always begin accused of some transgression: not doing enough of the chores, asking for sex too often, not being honest, not being responsible enough. And while these weren’t leveraged at me as an excuse for not wanting to make love, it was more often than not one of these complaints that shut her libido completely off. Zero.

What she failed to mention, well into our “lunches” that got progressively more flirty, is that she was living with a man.

But there has been a lot of time since then, and you think I’d let go of it, but some parts of the divorce and thus marriage still have big question marks for me. Could I have done more? Was I at fault? Was I a child? In trying to examine these things about my role in the relationship, I’ve come to discover there were a lot of things in her story that didn’t add up. There were some key pieces of information that were being left out at various points along the way, that have me wondering. Was it her fault? Was she dishonest from the beginning? When she told me, in couples therapy, that she’d already seen a lawyer, was it couple’s therapy or divorce counseling we’d been doing?

The first big X was when we were just getting re-acquainted with each other. We’d known each other in high school and had started “doing lunch” on a semi-weekly basis. What she failed to mention, well into our “lunches” that got progressively more flirty, is that she was living with a man. Not just dating him, but living in his house.

The second big X came during one of our hardest moments. As 9-11 had torn everyone’s financial stability to the ground and I was struggling with how I wanted to reenter the workplace, she began a series of lunches with a young man she worked with. It wasn’t that she was having lunch with him, it’s that she wasn’t telling me about him. And the day I stumbled onto an email about “his depression” and “my loneliness” I knew I was discovering what emotional infidelity felt like. We weathered this one, she admitted her mistake and vowed to never do it again. But a deep fundamental trust had been broken.

So three strikes of dishonesty and deceit. And I was the one always being accused of being untrustworthy.

The final X came when she confessed to consulting with an attorney while we were in couple’s therapy. She didn’t let on that things were that bad IN therapy, and only admitted her “discovery phase” because I asked her. She was not being honest. She was not opening up in couple’s therapy. She was planning her options. She wanted to know what she was going to get if we divorced. It’s a fear she had expressed to me earlier, in some moment of wine-induced honesty. “If you leave me, I’ll have nothing.” It was a false statement, but it was an indication of just how deep her fear went.

So three strikes of dishonesty and deceit. And I was the one always being accused of being untrustworthy. Sometimes it is projection that shows up. If she was feeling unfaithful, untrustworthy, perhaps projecting those fears on to me help her deal with her own guilt.

In the dataset I see, she was withholding and misrepresenting herself all along. This is a hard nut to swallow at this point. But it’s easier than trying to figure out what I did wrong. Because I was the partner who was still ALL-IN at the end. She’d made a decision to leave, made plans to cover her needs, and then with the backing of the State of Texas, she ripped my world in two.

I was given a 1/3 – 2/3 parenting schedule. (Called the Standard Possession Order). I was given the non-custodial parent role, that comes with a large child support payment. And I was asked to leave the house I funded. Because it was “in the best interest of the kids.”

What was not in the best interest of anyone was the bad deal I got. Rather than cooperating during tough times, she decided to file on me after three months of being late. I was telling her she would get paid. I was showing her my bank statements and my pursuit of new business. But she was impatient and entitled. So she let the dogs loose on her ex-husband. And while this big X doesn’t show up on the chart, it’s the biggest one. I can never trust her again. Perhaps my biggest mistake was trusting her after she told me she was living with a guy.

Respectfully,

John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
Facebook  | Instagram | Pinterest |  @theoffparent

As a certified life coach, I’ve been helping men and women find fulfilling relationships. If you’d like to chat for 30-minutes about your dating/relationship challenges, I always give the first 30-session away for free. LEARN ABOUT COACHING WITH JOHN. There are no obligations to continue. But I get excited every time I talk to someone new. I can offer new perspectives and experiences from my post-divorce dating journey. Most of all, I can offer hope.

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The Nap Was a Source of Great Conflict In My Marriage. Why?

Yes, Virginia, there are always going to be more chores to do.
More things that need fixin.
More honey-dos than any man could ever do.

There needs to be a release point in any relationship or marriage, a moment when you can relax and let go of the shoulds coulds and wouldn’t it be nices. However, that ability became rarer and rarer in my ex-wife. I’m not sure if she’s ever satisfied that enough clothes are washed, that enough money is in the back, or that there isn’t some other pile of stuff that needed going through and decluttering.

Perhaps it was a defense mechanism that she used as she began to pull away from me. But she generally seemed unhappy, most of the time. It wasn’t me. I was pretty sure of that. In any relationship, you can have complaints, mistakes, anger, and frustration, but her CONSTANT GRUMPINESS probably had more to do with her internal workings than whether I cleaned the litter box before I went to bed.

I can recall a number of conversations that sounded like this.

“If you’ll do the dishes, I’ll put the kids in bed and we can meet in our room in fifteen minutes.”

Trying to make things even easier, I’d suggest, “How about I put the kids to bed, you go get ready for bed and I will do the dishes in the morning before you guys get up?

And it always struck a nerve. And in the last couple of years (amazing how long misery and complaint can go on) she woke up with an inflamed sense of “what are you doing now to disappoint me?” It seemed she was ALWAYS MAD about something.

She generally seemed unhappy, most of the time. It wasn’t me. I was pretty sure of that. Her constant grumpiness must have had more to do with her internal workings than whether I cleaned the litter box before I laid down on the bed in the middle of a Sunday afternoon.

I saw the world as pretty positive. And it was as if she was expressing the opposite viewpoint, just to counter my happiness. Of course, this is an oversimplification. But in the last weeks of my attempts to show her she was making a mistake, as I was still living in the house with her, I said, “Do you really think that I’m going to walk out that door and you are suddenly going to become a happy person?” It was a rhetorical question.

So how did our holidays and weekends become such divergent opportunities?

We would be coming up on Spring Break and she would ask, “So what are your goals for the weekend?” Fair question, if that’s really what she was asking.

“Um, I don’t know. Play some tennis, relax, maybe catch a nap or two.”

“Hmmm,” she’d say. Not in response, but in a sort of disapproval. So I would inevitably ask, “And you, sweet wife, what do you have in mind for this coming holiday?”

And out would come the projects, the plans, the ideas for WORK. Homework, yes, but not R&R. And somehow, my GOAL of a nap seemed to infuriate her.

Of course, at this point, she was still working part-time and managing the home front. [Nice job if you can afford to have someone do it.] And while I was commuting back and forth to a large technology company, she had very little sympathy for my weekend decompression requests.

Today, I think the shoe is on the other foot for the first time since before we were married.

She changed jobs recently to a “butts in seats, you earn 1.5 vacation days a month” kinda job. And while I’m sorry for my kids, I’m a bit self-satisfied that she’s dealing with the rigid authority and ownership of the corporate job that I’d been navigating our entire relationship.

Oh, what goes around… I’d be her napping requests have gone up a bit. And since any time she doesn’t have the kids she’s camped out at her boyfriend’s house, well, I’d bet she’s not all that focused on HIS chores. Meanwhile, the porch, her boyfriend and her started to replace in November, is still less than half-finished four months later. I guess her honey-do on that one is either expired or so inflamed she can’t stand being at her own house. Probably something altogether different, but I chuckle when I see the whole front half of the old house torn off and looking like crap.

Ultimately, it’s her choice, her honey-do, and her boyfriend that she’s signed up for a long series of weekend working sessions. I just want a nap when I look at it. I would have paid the $3k and had it done in a week. But we do things differently. Always have.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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Trusting Your Unreliable Ex: As a Single Dad I Had No Other Option

OFF-stones

The course of divorce is long and winding. You have good weeks, good days, maybe even good periods, but something is bound to come up. At some point during my 5.5 years of being a divorced dad and co-parent to two great kids, my ex-wife decided that rather than negotiate and work with me on the money part of our contract, she would file everything with Attorney General’s office with the state of Texas. I’m sure, somewhere, she thought she was doing the right and responsible thing.

That action has caused repercussions in my life, chronicled here in this blog and thought the time since being listed as a dead beat dad. Not because I was refusing to pay, but because I had lost my job and was unable to pay child support and keep a roof over my head. But at that time, she was not concerned or even considerate of me, the father of her children. She wanted her money. And some part of her afraid mind made her feel threatened enough to turn me over to the state to deal with.

The consequences of that action now carry a weight in our relationship that is hard for me to ignore. I should forgive and forget, right? I mean, “in the best interest of the children” I should always strive to be positive and accepting of my ex-wife and her requests. But there’s this sword that’s kind of over my head. I suppose if she got mad she could get the police to arrest me and put me in jail for back child support. It’s not that I’m hiding the money. It’s not that I diverted any of my income to extravagant luxuries, or that I squandered away money that should’ve gone to her. No, she’s simply entitled to the money, due to the contract we agreed to when we got a divorce, and she wants the fucking money.

I tried, and am trying to work out the details yet again with her. But now we don’t have any way of negotiating between us. If we wanted to change anything it would require lawyers and more money. And yet we have to continue parenting together. We have to put the loving parent face on for our kids. And we have always agreed to keep money disagreements out of the parenting work and out of our kid’s lives.

And yet, there it is. I have a huge black mark on my credit that hinders me in getting a car, a job, a rental house. And I won’t get that mark off my name and credit score until I have paid her in full, all the child support she is owed, past, present, and future. But here’s the rub. That was ALWAYS my intention. I have never attempted to hide or keep secrets from her regarding my work or my commitment to pay. Yet, in spite of my pleadings with her, and in spite of my promises and agreement to be more transparent about my financial plans, she brought in the state to account for my delinquency.

Maybe it was a punishment and she was mad. But today it gives us no room to discuss other options for payment, or delays or transfers to other things that the kids need money for, like summer camp. Nope, the state knows the divorce decree and any changes will require legal fees. So I’m a little stuck. When she said something like, “And we can talk about reducing the child support accordingly,” as it relates to the story below, I have to wonder… Does she get it? Does she register it was a mistake and now limits us and severely limits me for the next 6 – 7 years?

I don’t know. But it puts a bad taste in my mouth when she asks for changes and hints that we could offset some of the money I owed. Because we BOTH KNOW that THAT IS NOT GOING TO HAPPEN. She’s happy to let the clock roll and her money clicks along, rain or shine, regardless of what job I have or if I am able to have a place to live. Again, I understand her priority to protect and provide for the kids, but their OUR kids. And my health and welfare are also in the equation when measuring out the relationship between the four of us. She obviously doesn’t see it this way.

+++

My ex asks for things, and she’s good at it. She’s always asked for what she wanted, regardless of the cost, regardless of the consequence. I think the divorce happened a lot along with those patterns as well. And were at it again.

So, it’s easy to ask for an adjustment in the schedule. And two years ago when she was dating a new man I agreed to alter the parenting plan to her alternating weekends so they matched up with his weekends. I didn’t need to do it. I actually lost my occasional double weekend in the bargain. But there was no reason I could think of to deny her request, except to be mean.

And more recently, she’s been asking to switch up the parenting schedule in a big way. To go on a more “week-on-week-off” schedule. The reason, she says, is to alleviate the multiple house changes each week for the kids. And yes, there is some frustration about the constant moving, but I don’t think that’s the real reason she’s asking for the change. It could be. But I’ve come to be skeptical of her good faith requests, they usually pack something underneath.

Now, I don’t think she’s suggesting this new schedule to be mean, or to upset the growing relationship in my life. But I also, don’t fully trust WHAT she is asking for.

Here’s my take. She’s tired of having the majority of the school morning parenting. It’s hard. I get it. She’d like a break. She’d like me to take more school mornings. Just as she’d like me to be more attentive, more responsible, and better at helping out. “Wait, that sounds like when we were married.”

In the bargain, that I cut in the closing days of my marriage, I agreed to the standard possession order (SPO) and non-custodial parent role. I was asking for 50/50 parenting back then. But that would’ve been a very different outcome. As it stands, I am obligated to pay her 1,150 per month in child support for the remainder of my kids pre-18 years.  And for that hefty stipend, I get less time with my kids. I guess so I can go earn the extra money.

Okay, that’s the way it is. And then she felt it necessary to file with the Attorney General’s Office to enforce the child support, even though I was talking to her and never trying to withhold any money that I had. So that’s put us in a difficult (correction) that’s put me in a difficult situation. She’s owed the money if I have a job or not. She’s owed that money, AND I’m responsible for the kids’ insurance as well.

She even hinted that we might consider a reduction in payments if we went to this new schedule. (Something she’s never mentioned before. Even as she’s hiding behind the AG’s enforcement.)

It’s hard to trust your ex-partner when they have done so many things to hurt you. When they have put the state’s attorney on you that allows for zero flexibility and zero negotiation. So as far as that money is concerned, it’s hers and the state will extract it from me and tack credit crushing levy against me until I’m caught up again.

So in that light, she’s asking to get fewer mornings as the custodial parent. She wants the money, the 50/50 schedule, and it’s really because of the kids.

I’m not so sure and I’m even considering giving back the off Fridays. If it’s about the kids switching, we can reduce that. But if it’s about the school day hardships, well, she’s already taken most of that early school years from me, so she can deal with more of the teenage years as well. I mean, as long as I’m paying for her to handle more of the kid care, at least I should get that benefit.

Yes, it is because of the kids. Yes, I would like to make my kids happier about transferring from our two houses less. But there are ways to do this that don’t involve me taking on more days in some vague promise of reducing my child support payments. And I’m standing firm that this request is about the kids and her. And my response will be most appropriately focused on the kids’ request rather than hers.

It’s hard to keep up the positive attitude with so much sludge under the bridge, but that’s the only choice I have. But when she is requesting a major schedule change, this time I’m going to remember MY requirements, and also what’s best for me.

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Deal Breakers, Red Flags, and Hand Grenades: Relationship Building 101

OFF-mermaid-split

There are a number of red flags (issues) when you’re dating relationship begins to move towards a Relationship. Here are 8 indicators and warning lights to keep you on your toes when you are evaluating a potential match. Once the dating has gone beyond the 4 – 6 dates and you are beginning to get really comfortable with each other, this is when the deeper relationship issues might begin to creep out of the closet, like old skeletons.

Walk away from the burning building slowly and without panic. You didn’t cause the fire, and you certainly can cure the fire starter.

Learn from your previous mistakes in dating or marriage. You probably have well-learned responses to some of these issues, that worked for you in the past. Listen to what this person is saying and what they are doing. And then make your own decisions about the viability of the relationship. If you want a relationship it will take work. With too many of these issues still in play, you might not want to put in the effort and relentless bridgebuilding it takes to maintain a wobbly fit. “But it feels so good, sometimes.” I can hear myself say it. Damn. I’m sorry about that. Listen. Evaluate. And when things keep showing up for repair, consider mending your fishing gear.

1. You’ve got to figure out the collective goal. Where are you going? Not the timing or the plan to get there, but you need to make sure you are on the same page.

2. Dealing with disappointments and conflicts. So, let’s say you’ve got a “date” planned and all the preparations have been made, anticipation anticipated… And something happens, and you can’t make the date. Of course, there are hurt feelings, and of course, there are repairs to be made. Can you make them? Can you move on and reset for the next “date” or does this first miss become a harbinger of dramas yet to come?

3. Kids and Parenting and All That. Okay, so what if the kid eats like an animal when you are with your potential? Not bad manners, but exaggerated bad manners? Eating habits that embarrass you a bit when the waiter comes by? That could be an issue in the long run. How your friend parents can tell a lot about their level of maturity. The health of their relationship with the child, and the ex. All of these things factor into the bargain. If their parenting rules and regulations are out-of-bounds, well, consider what it indicates. (I’m not a psychologist and I don’t play one on my blog.)

It’s best to bless your former date, wish them well, and step back into the fishing boat.

4. Flexibility. How good is this person at adapting to different situations, different levels of affection, and even the spaces in-between that are bound to happen? How is the silence between you? Do you begin to wonder what is wrong when they get quiet? Does their texting drop from 5 a day to 0? Or 10 a day to 1? If you get the sinking feeling, you might listen to that. You might be right. You know how intuition served you well in your previous marriage? Well, your holy-crap-whats-wrong-now radar might still be on high alert, but that doesn’t mean you can discount the warning blips and pings.

5. Fights Fair, Stays Present, Doesn’t Generalize. I know that’s a lot. But good grief, we’re adults, mid-life adults, we should know how to fight fair. Disappointments and disagreements come and go, but the second the potential whips out the “I just don’t think we’re going to work out.” Or, “You’re always blowing me off. It’s always about what you want to do.” Listen for “always” that’s the word of choice for generalizations. Try and stop them when they come up. “Are you trying to say that I’m always late?” for example if you are late for the first time and it causes a ruckus. Arguments don’t need to escalate into shouting matches. “I’m mad with you” doesn’t have to turn into “Maybe it’s just too difficult for two single parents to be in a relationship.” Wow, really. That’s pretty much an ultimatum. An ending statement. You might need to hear the “Get the hell out of dodge” message and move on.

The close woman, the smart and smiling woman, needs to go back to her isolation, and you, need to continue your quest for healthy and happy potential dates.

6. Stays Positive and Works Towards a Solution. Too many times we’ve been the caretaker. Listen for the needy, the wounded, the moaning. And then decide if you’re ready for another relationship where you are trying to take care of the wounded or explosive partner. “You always try to say I’m the one with the problems,” when shouted at high volume, sort of makes its own point, don’t you think?

7. The Grass on Your Side of the Fence. If you want a relationship, even in the face of signs in the first six items, you’re in fairly deep. Tread lightly. Perhaps you are one of those, “Grass is actually pretty green right here, honey, come look” people. Be careful, you’re leaning into a dark forest if things continue to be rough. Sure you REALLY DIG this person, and sure you’re willing to go for 110% effort, but watch your overly optimistic attitude when things keep spinning into difficulties.

8. When you get really close, watch out. Often insecure people will sabotage things just when there is the time or moment for even more closeness. Say you’ve had a date planned for weeks, and you’re finally to the big evening. THEN, surprisingly (or is it?) some minor miscommunication blows the whole thing into an issue. Suddenly, and without much warning (if you’ve been ignoring the earlier steps and signs), the whole date/weekend/trip is off. And of course, you’ve screwed it all up. Just when this person is feeling the most comfortable, if they are afraid of closeness, they will toss a hand grenade into the mix just to see how you react. It’s like an acid test. “Oh you’re really digging me, well see how you handle this little love bomb.”

And sometimes you really do have to cut bait and go fishing again. The close woman, the smart and smiling woman, needs to go back to her corner, and you, need to continue your quest for healthy and happy potential dates. All this wallowing in the issues is too hard and too soon. When the big bombs show up early, even if the chemistry and sexual heat are there, beware of the hand grenades and land mines. You can’t prepare for them or sniff them out. But sometimes, your old “husband’s in trouble” alarms will still tip you off to what’s in progress.

Walk away from the burning building slowly and without panic. You didn’t cause the fire, and you certainly can cure the fire starter. It’s best to bless your former date, wish them well, and step back into the fishing boat. Sadly, sometimes, even with a ton of potential, there’s just nothing else to be done.

[Funny note: So mermaids kill men when they take them under, right? An interesting metaphor for relationships.]

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

see the poem of the night: dark woundings of my own

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Wait. I’m the Father of Your Children, Remember?

OFF-header-beewitch

When my business hit the skids about three years ago I had to fight to keep my house. My ex-wife grew impatient with my excuses. “I’ve got bills to pay, too,” she said. “Kids come before our needs,” she said. I pleaded with her to be patient. “My setback is temporary, I will get caught up as soon as we replace the anchor client.” I lost the fight and I lost my house. She didn’t care. She wanted her money. The kids money. She was mad and mad about it.

It seems to me, women go into divorce knowing they have the advantage. That’s why my then-wife went and “checked on her options” with an attorney, before she ever told me.

Then when I tried to schedule a team meeting about the kids, she would defer with this type of statement. “When can I expect the money?” And she would refuse to give me the time of day unless I could answer that question. The problem was, I couldn’t answer. So rather than lie and fail, I said, “I’m not sure.”

What is it that made her so mad? How did the money become MY problem and not a shared problem? Didn’t she get the house? Didn’t she get custody? Didn’t she get the money she wanted? Didn’t I have to pay for the kid’s insurance as well? What did she have to be impatient about? Impatient enough to throw the AG’s office at me?

It seems to me, women go into divorce knowing they have the advantage. That’s why my then-wife went and “checked on her options” with an attorney, before she ever told me. Even though we were in couple’s therapy, she kept that critical little detail from me. Why? So when she did get her ducks in a row, she could spring it on me, creating a tactical advantage.

The summer I left my house I was disoriented, homeless, and missing my kids with an empty feeling. And missing my kids about 70% of the time. She literally got everything. She got the package deal. Why is it we think this is still “in the best interest of the kids?” It’s not. It’s in the best interest of their mom, but against the good will and good fortune of the father.

Dad’s asked to leave the house, leave a hefty part of his paycheck, and most of his parenting schedule. There’s no science behind this equation. It’s just “old school” divorce.

Today she still has the sweet end of the deal. She’s still got the house, that has tripled in value. She still gets a hefty paycheck from me, tax-free. She gets the child tax credit.

Today, you can fight this bad deal. And even if you vow to do a collaborative divorce, you need to know that around the money issues, things will get tough. It’s as if she was threatened by the money. Like she was fighting for her survival. I can understand this while the initial negotiations were going on, but three years into the deal, her deal, she should’ve been able to lighten up and realize she got the sweet end of the deal.

Today she still has the sweet end of the deal. She’s still got the house, that has tripled in value. She still gets a hefty paycheck from me, tax-free. She gets the child tax credit. And she’s still asking me for more money for stuff. Nope. Done. She’s had her fun. There are at least 5 more years until my second child is 18. And that’s a lot of money.

I feel like the expenses should be shared not just thrust on the dad. And when he loses his house, the financial burden becomes even more difficult. How could my wife then file our divorce with the AG’s office? It was as if she were turning me in for collections.

  1. I never said I was trying not to pay her.
  2. I begged her to pause and consider her actions and the damage it would cause me AND the kids
  3. I showed her my income statements.
  4. I told her I was trying to save my house from foreclosure.

She still filed against me with the AG’s office, effectively listing me as a dead beat dad. I had never been doing anything but trying to accommodate her demands. Today she would tell you that I was saying I wasn’t going to pay her. Today she would tell you that she was protecting the interests of the kids. Really? What about the interest of the breadwinner of the family?

When you divorce you both want whats best for the kids. But don’t be blinded by that rhetoric. Your ex-wife wants whats best for her.

So my ex-wife filed her grievance with the AG’s office. So she could ENFORCE her judgement against me. Wait, what? It should’ve been our collaborative agreement that outlined the best case scenario for our finances moving forward. Then with honest communications, it should’ve been adjusted as our situations changed. It was not. I still owe my ex-wife $1,200 a month for two kids. AND I’m paying another $1,200 a month for COBRA health insurance. AND she get’s the child tax credit? Something is not right with this situation.

But it takes money to consult with an attorney. It takes money to save money. And somewhere in my sad dad bones I’m being mean. But that’s not really fair, is it?

When you divorce you both want whats best for the kids. But don’t be blinded by that rhetoric. Your ex-wife wants whats best for her. And no matter how collaborative you are, no matter how much of a good dad and good guy you want to be, there may come a time when she’s going to press charges on you and coerce you in to giving her the money. Even when you tell her she’s going to get her money.

I still tell my ex-wife I will catch up with the money. Even when we should’ve been splitting the costs all along. She’s considering letting me buy the kids their cars and forgiving the judgement that she has against me. That debt sits on my credit as a lien to the State of Texas, Child Support Division. You know what this says about me?

I am a deadbeat dad, even if I’ve paid every single month I’ve had an income. Every single month. She doesn’t get it. And she’s paid nothing to me.

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Rationalizing Your Divorce

There’s no getting over the fact that a divorce is a failure. And I may never forgive my ex-wife for changing my time with my kids forever. The system is rigged in a mom’s favor, and as a dad I was given my “deal” and told to grin and bear it “for the benefit of the kids.”

FK That.

My kids were 5 and 7 when they lost me. And my ex-wife made the plans to move on, without even letting me know. Sure we were in couple’s therapy, but I thought we were doing it to save our marriage. I think she was doing it to plan for her future. I never understood how cynical she’d become, and I didn’t clue to the fact that her toxic anger was directed 99% of the time at me. I didn’t get it. I was so in love with being a parent and being a good father, that I missed the clues she was putting off.

There were some clues I couldn’t ignore. In the last year, when I was still clueless to my then-wife’s scheming, she would occasionally burst out with a, “Fuck you.”

She had to apologize several times when she shot the verbal FU in-front of friends. She was incapable of keeping her rage contained. “Where,” I wondered aloud, “is her individual therapist in this situation?” How could a good therapist allow their client to seethe month after month?

While divorce is a terrible thing, a worse crime is staying in a marriage “for the kids.” I suppose, if I were to be honest, in the last few months, before she went to see an attorney, we were not very happy. I was definitely “staying for the kids.”

But I was staying out of strength and conviction that our marriage and our love relationship was worth saving. She was occupied with another pursuit. She wanted to know her options. She wanted to build financial models base on our assets. She must have known months in advance, how much money she would need to survive after divorce, even if I gave her the house.

I didn’t fight, once she’d told me she’d consulted a lawyer, “to understand her options.” I should’ve lawyered up at the same time, but I didn’t. I naively thought that our good intentions would serve us. I stupidly imagined that the phrase, “In the best interest of the children,” actually meant we would cooperate to find the resolution of our relationship that would benefit our children the most.

Her idea: Mom gets 70% of the kids time. Mom gets the house. Mom gets a nice monthly stipend so she doesn’t have to work quite so hard at being a breadwinner during this trying time.

My idea: We shouldn’t be getting a divorce at all. If she would get real she’d see that this hard time was the perfect moment to reset, rebuild, and recommit to our marriage. AND if we were going to divorce, I wanted 50/50 parenting, with a 50/50 schedule.

The divorce therapist we met with sold me down the river. Sure it was 2010, but I really didn’t have a chance.

“This is what you would get if you guys went to court,” the therapist said to me in private when the 50/50 idea was being railroaded by both her and my soon-to-be-ex. “So why don’t we start there and work on the things you have some say over.”

Wait, what? I was paying this woman to tell me 50/50 was out of the question. I still wonder if my ex had been talking to her on the side before we got into our parenting plan negotiations. I was almost laughed out of the therapy session when I brought in my 50/50 schedule and my three books that told why co-parenting was better than custodial parenting.

I lost everything. For every night I had my kids, my ex-wife had two nights. I fell into despair. Had I been more susceptible to alcoholism, I know this would’ve done the trick to slip me into the addiction. As it was I dealt with a nasty episode of depression. Ouch. AND I dealt with missing my kids twice as much as my newly divorced ex-wife had to.

The deck is still stacked in the mom’s favor. In Texas, my home state, the man gets the non-custodial role in 80% of all divorces. The mom gets the house and the child support payment. I guess in a wealthy divorce that’s the split that makes everyone happy. Dad gets less time with the kids but more time to make money. Mom get’s to hold on to her matriarch role and get paid well for the privilege of staying home with the kids.

The good news, I don’t ever have to go through that again. More good news, the state is doing 50/50 plans, with ZERO CHILD SUPPORT, about 50% of the time these days. And if the parents agree to joint custody and 50/50 parenting, the AG’s office doesn’t get involved.

That’s not how it worked out for me and my kids. As a result, I will always have a sad place in my heart and memory about that time. But we’ve moved on. My kids are now 13 and 15 and we are entering a new “teen” phase of our relationship. And I have to hand it to my angry ex-wife, we’ve done a good job at being civil and keeping the relationship between us focused on being good parents first, and financial partners second. We’ve never gotten our priorities mixed up. Well, except for my wife’s angry move to involve the AG for enforcement of the decree when I was 60 days behind on child support. She will never be forgiven for that violation of trust and integrity.

It’s water under the bridge they say. And today I focus on my happy and well-adjusted kids. She’s 50% of that parenting team. And while she still holds the loaded gun to my head financially, she’s kept her mom-hat and mom-responsibility in the proper ratio. Our kids are doing great in school, they seem to be thriving in their lives, and as they grow older, I know our relationships will continue to change and prosper. But when we were going through it, it was all I could do to agree to the divorce, much less FIGHT with my soon-to-be-ex about custody, parenting plans, and money.

I give you my thanks dear exy. And I hope you choke on your own vitriol while keeping our kids happy and well-fed.

Peace and CoParenting,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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The Story I Never Wanted to Write: An Ending Arrives with a Storm

understanding the end of a relationship

understanding the end of a relationshipIt’s a devastating blow when a relationship ends. 9 years or 9 months, the failure and shame feel the same. But the loss is just as unfathomable.

There Is a Time and a Place to Say Goodbye

Let’s say you’ve been in a relationship for a few years, but the misses and misunderstandings keep happening. What if you’ve asked for behavior modifications and nothing has changed over the time you’ve been together? You’ve done some couples counseling, and it’s still status quo. At what point does our individual pain inform us about the obvious fracture in our romantic relationship? Is there one thing that happens to put it all in perspective? Or do the crushing breakdowns simply keep happening, with no regard for the chaos and pain that is being caused for everyone?

Can You Be In and Lose a Great Relationship at the Same Time?

Tonight, I think the answer is yes. As deep as I go, as far as I stretch, there is still some fundamental lack of understanding. Some empathetic pathway that goes to anger rather than compassion. A kneejerk reaction that is both terrifying and debilitating at the same moment. And the moments of disconnect keep coming. And then there are amazing moments in between. And deeper moments on my end. And I believe we’re hitting a new level of mutual understanding and nurture, and boom, in a one-minute transaction the entire castle of trust comes crashing down. I’m the one in pain. My partner is confused, frustrated, and expresses a tad of remorse.

But it’s not about the miss. It’s about the misunderstanding at why I have to be the problem, why I have to be the one in pain all the time. There’s no crisis here. If we could just roll over it. Roll through the next two weeks. Relax. Don’t panic. Breathe. And try again.

At some point, I will become like the frog in the frying pan. As the heat is raised I am warm, warmer, and suddenly I’m cooked. That’s the way my emotional system works. I am uber-flexible. I am demanding. I am forgiving. And I recover well. However, if my partner continues to smash the trust between us, there is no amount of love, affection, and “I’m sorry I upset you” statements, that are going to make it better. Here’s the news flash: It’s not going to get better. If your partner wanted to change, understood the pain they are causing you, there would be movement. There are flashes of connection and like an addict, there is a slip.

As I have been responding to this unstable universe of love I have also been compensating for my pain with food, exercise, and creative work. I’m a bit overweight again. I’m in a creatively driven cycle. I’m not sleeping well. And something about these combined factors can cause me to respond physically in unhealthy ways.

  • I can shut down to try and not feel the disconnections
  • I can overeat (my drug of choice is ice cream) to numb out
  • I can pretend to be happy, I can over-inflate the “greatness” of my relationship
  • I can begin denying my own needs and desires
  • I can feel depressed and begin pointing my rocketship towards isolation rather than connection
  • I can give my partner graceful acceptance (“this is a hard place we’re in”)
  • I can act out in some spasm of anger or mania and go in search of a new high

The Real Answer is This Sucks

As I try to be flexible, adaptable, laid-back, accepting of my partner’s perspective, I begin to turn into back into a frog. I am not a prince, but I am also not just another relationship. I am working my ass off, I am honoring commitments, I am speaking up when it hurts, and I don’t think I’m being matched by my partner.

I don’t want to be alone again. I don’t want to give up the ground we’ve covered together. But as I try and convince myself that “given time” things will get better, I know I’m lying to myself. My inner-child is the one being hurt the most. My sad little boy inside is crying out, and the adults in the room aren’t responding. I am not being cared for by myself. I am losing the self-care struggle as I try and make sense of a situation that will never make sense.

There is no amount of apologies that can repair repeated damage. What happens is my inner-child begins to distrust my partner and as the pain continues begins to distrust my adult-self. The painful events keep happening. They keep happening. Will they stop happening? Or does the adult in me have to step back into the arena and call it a TKO when I am knocked the fk out?

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Dear Ex-Wife, You’re Missing the Point

Screen Shot 2016-09-06 at 8.18.40 PM

Three years ago when my ex-wife tossed our child support issue to the Attorney General’s office I had no idea the world of hurt I was about to get slapped around with. She was doing “what she thought was best for the kids” by making me into a dead beat dad in the eyes of the state of Texas.

Even though:

  • I told her I had lost my income due to a client loss (I was working for a small business at the time and the one client was 90% of my income)
  • I told her I would get caught up as soon as I could, and that I was not looking to reduce the amount owed
  • She agreed that I was not hiding income from her
  • She didn’t need the money, she had a nice job and the house was nearly paid for

But that wasn’t reason enough for her to delay her bomb drop for more than a month. Somehow she thought that filing with the AG’s office was like adding an accountant to the equation, so THEY could keep track of what I owed vs. what I paid. Of course, my ex was an excel wiz so she was doing models and spreadsheets herself, but maybe the state’s attorneys would help.

A week before Wells Fargo refused my restructuring offer, she said, “Sorry about the timing, but I just filed with the AG’s office.”

She thought that she would get me back in line sooner if the law was involved. Well, in theory I guess that would’ve happened if I had disappeared or was trying to not pay her at all. That’s what the Attorney General’s office is for. Dead beat dads skip out on their kids, refuse to pay, demand paternity testing, and basically try to not pay for anything for their kids.

In our case, upper middle-class white folks with 99 problems… But my commitment and stated plan was 100% in compliance with the law. But, and it’s a big but, I had lost my client and income for an unknown length of time. I worked daily on new business, on getting a job (It was going to take me about 100k a year to pay the child support and live in an apartment.) and told her she would get a percentage of everything I made. It wasn’t good enough for her.

Today, three years later, I can’t get a used car loan on my own. Unless I’m willing to pay 19% interest. I’ve been turned down on two job offers once they ran my credit as part of the background check. And while I didn’t get foreclosed on, I had to sell my only, my post-divorce house, in a hurry. I did make $5,000 on the deal. And, of course, she wanted her cut of that as well.

Did she think what it would do to me? No. Did she think it was going to get my checks coming regularly even when I didn’t have a job? I don’t know. Did she think of the best interest of her children when she threw the father of her children to the debt collectors know as the OAG? (Office of the Attorney General) Absolutely not.

Today I ask her if she’d consider getting the AG’s office out of our pants. She says, “I’m not there yet.” I say, “Did you know they take a 10% fee out of the child support payments I make?” She says, “Are you sure of that?” I say, “You only get money when I make money, I don’t have any assets. You’re living in the only asset we had.” She said, “Help me understand why I only started getting paid after the AG’s office was in the picture?”

It’s because I didn’t have a job. When I got a job I started paying you 45% of every dollar I made. For the care and feeding of my kids. Excuse me, our kids.

I ask, “How do I know what the money is going to?” She says, “It’s none of your business.”

When your ex throws you to the wolves, what sympathy does she deserve? How do you maintain a civil relationship “for the kids?” I don’t know the answer, but you just do. I have never mentioned to my kids that their mom was the reason we lost the house and had to move in with grandma for 9 months. I never told the kids that the reason my bank account was frozen twice was due to their mom’s actions, and the AG’s aggressive actions to recover “her money.”

I could be mad about it. I could do things to get even. But I won’t. I have to rise above the blame and “imagine” that she’s doing the best she can. That keeping me in the dog house does something for them. Perhaps it makes her feel better. Demonstrates how childish I was. How I was irresponsible.

All I think it does is fuck me on a daily basis when I go looking for a job, try to rent an apartment, or rent a car. All I think it does is give her a stiff spike stiletto heel on my neck.

Oh well, in 5 years this will all be over. I’ll still owe her the money, but I’ll be paying her back as fast as I can. Cause, “it’s the kids money.” Um, yeah, right.

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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What Every Dad Loses In Divorce

Everyone loses in divorce. But in many ways the dad in the equation typically loses more and much faster than any other member. It doesn’t have to be this way. In my opinion, 50/50 parenting with no child support should be the norm. It’s not what I go, even though I asked for the 50/50 split regardless of the money. That’s not what my then-wife wanted and her lawyer had told her what she’d get if we went to court, so we started negotiations there. It sucked. It was unfair. And as the dad, I lost everything in a single stroke of the pen.

In Texas courts, seven years ago I was handed a divorce I didn’t want with a schedule that was unfair, and a financial burden that continues to make my life very difficult. It’s just the standard deal given to men when divorcing in this state. The mom gets the kids, the house, and the money. Period. You can fight it, and you might win, but that’s going to cost you more money and turn an amicable divorce into a contested divorce.

I took the idea of a collaborative divorce to heart. But in the end there was no collaboration. I lost all my issues. All that “collaborative” meant was that I wasn’t going to sue my soon-to-be-ex during the negotiations of our divorce. That was my mistake. I was trying to be the nice guy, the stand up dad, the conscious one. And I believe we were both trying to do what was best for the kids, in our own minds. But society has this idea that a mom’s love is more valuable than a father’s love. Maybe 25 years ago, when the man typically worked as the sole breadwinner and the wife was a stay at home mom. You can see how that family system might make sense after divorce as well. But that’s not the financial society we live in today.

If I want to rent a small apartment, one bedroom, no space for my kids to sleep over, I’m going to first have to pay the child support, $1,350 after taxes and their healthcare, $550 after taxes. THEN if I have money left over I can eat and pay for cellphones and gas. And then, if I have a really fucking great job, I have the money left over to think about rent. Whereas my ex-wife got a house with mortgage payments that are significantly lower than my child support payments. How is that balanced? It’s not. There’s nothing fair or balanced about divorce. Dad’s prepare to get screwed or fight for your right both to your kids and to the financial arrangement that is equitable.

It can get worse. Once I got a month behind on my child support, because I had lost a large client in my freelance business, my then-ex filed with the Attorney General’s office to begin proceedings to collect the child support she was owed. Less than 45 days in, she put me in a losing battle with the state’s attorneys who behave like collections agents. Their most fun technique is to freeze your bank account. All outstanding checks and charges bounce and you pay those fees. And you pay for the privilege of having a lien put on your account. The first time it happened I was eating dinner at a restaurant with my kids. My card was declined. I was surprised. I pulled up my phone app and saw that I was $43,645 overdrawn. Luckily my daughter had just been given some cash for an upcoming vacation. I had to borrow money from my 10 yo daughter to pay for dinner. That was pretty humiliating. Of course, I couldn’t tell the kids, “Your mom is the reason this happened.” I had to make up some excuse about a bank error.

And today, seven years later, she’s still got the AG’s jackbook on my throat.  Everyday, she wakes up and decides not to call off the AG and resolve the matter between us. Everyday she puts my credit and masculinity up on the wall as a “dead beat father.” And she has made this decision everyday now for over five and a half years. We get close to an agreement and she always backs out. We get close to meeting with the AG’s office to reduce my payment, and there’s always a problem with her schedule. For two years I’ve been trying to get her to meet with me so we can set a more reasonable child support payment based on what I make. And she’s stalled every time. “I’m so sorry, I can’t make it.” And I have to ask the AG’s office for another meeting and it goes back to being scheduled six months later.

Divorce is a bitch. There is not two ways about it. But it does not have to be a war. My ex-wife puts me on the losing end of the deal everyday. Not because she needs the money. Not because she thinks I won’t pay her. But because it gives her some satisfaction that the AG’s office is running my finances until both kids turn 18. Well, if you’re in this situation and just beginning your divorce journey, lawyer up and ask for 50/50 with no child support. You pay for them when you’ve got them and you split the bills. That’s the only fair way to go. I support you in getting time with your kids and a reasonable financial arrangement that doesn’t cripple your future.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

@theoffparent

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