There are always challenges in the reshuffling of families, friendships and loyalties when it comes to a divorce. Over the many years since mine occurred, there have been waves of problems laced with intense hostility interspersed with moments of peacefulness and pleasant coexistence, and sometimes even laughter. One of the complicated issues is that my Ex and I live within very close proximity to each other, with an overlap of friends, in a county where everyone seems to either know each other, be related to each other, was married to each other, or has slept with each other. There are a lot of tangled webs around here.
I have divorced friends and acquaintances who have totally cut their ex-spouse out of their lives, to the point where the ex was not even allowed to come to the door or even step foot on the property to pick up their children for the weekend, sending the kids down the driveway or by the side of the road to wait. Or some who have just taken the kids and moved far away to get away from the ex. I know one who expected the ex drive two hours each way in heavy weekend traffic to pick up their kid without doing any accommodating to make this any easier for anybody, including their own child, and another who would not be home to greet their children at the appointed time and would leave the ex-spouse and her children waiting in the driveway for a good amount of time. I know someone who would send the kids off for the weekend without adequate clothing to wear (especially if the ex was taking them to a dress-up event), and sometimes didn’t send them with their medication! Many I know have arranged to have the Support Collection Unit be the intermediary regarding their child support payments, and a few have had to go after their exes to the point of threatening jail or actually jailing them for non-payment or lapses in support. They essentially have no contact with their exes. And when they do, it is always Weird or Unpleasant. In hindsight perhaps a few of these were prudent things to do, especially regarding the support part. Time and again people have told me that I need to protect myself from my Ex, both financially and emotionally.
People divorce for a reason, and I will take ownership for my part in it. But at the time I was going through divorce, all these maneuvers seemed so geared to not being a “nice person” and certainly not towards creating any sort of peace. These tactics seemed to go against my grain and appeared counter-productive to how I believed maintaining a decent post-marriage ought to be. I had seen how my own mother had been just severed from not only my father, but all their friends and his family after their divorce. A lifetime of relationships just erased. It was so terrible, and it caused her tremendous pain. Couldn’t there be a better way? I always felt it was about all of us, just not about me. And so I have been perhaps a bit Too Relaxed concerning the “Rules of Divorce”.
Throughout the past twenty-some odd years, but mostly when my children were younger, I had always felt it would be best to accommodate The Ex in most things concerning the kids. I invited him to their birthday parties so he would not miss out on those moments. I actually felt guilty that he was missing those moments, because I knew how I would feel, I knew how painful it felt to be left out, so I tried to include him where I could. I thought the kids would want him there too. I kept him informed of their music and play recitals, what was going on in school, teacher meetings, who their friends were, medical updates and any problems or emotional issues – even when it seemed he was not interested – because I felt as a parent he should know. I didn’t want to keep him so distanced from what was going on in their lives, now that he was no longer regularly part of those lives. Although he did not reciprocate the courtesy, I thought I was being Fair, and perhaps would just have to be the bigger person about it. I met him half way to drop off the kids on his weekends or even delivered them to him when I knew his car was not running well, or running at all. I even allowed temporary postponement and lapses of the child support when he had lost his job and was looking for other work, or when his car engine blew up and his money had to go into fixing it (to pick up the kids, to get to a job). I didn’t see the point in pummeling him. I figured I would get it back at the end and that it would all come out in the wash. I didn’t see the point of making everything Horrible, or making the spectre of divorce more horrible than it already was. Because it was painful, and it was horrible. But I believe in Good Faith.
Okay, call me a fool, I know, I feel the smirks and eye-rolls. In that crystal clear hindsight, perhaps I should have just taken the kids and moved back across the country to be near my own family, had the Support Unit garnish his wages and go after him for lapses, and just never talked to him or his people, or any of our friends again. But you know, I come from the Old School of Hippies. My heart is an open book. I knew people whose divorces were so incredibly hostile, so filled with acrimony and acid, that their children were puddles of emotional, weeping mush. I didn’t want that for my kids, even though I had become the puddle of emotional, weeping mush. I wanted everything to be mellow and relaxed, even when I desperately knew it wasn’t quite going in that direction. I had a vision of what I had hoped it could be. And I loved my in-laws, who were all good people, and just couldn’t see throwing out the bath water with the husband, so to speak.
As it goes in divorces, the friends pretty much sorted themselves into their respective camps. There was some overlap, but essentially the loyalties were pretty clearly divided. Sad, but it seems it’s always that way. Despite the loss of some old and dear friends, some wonderful ones stuck by me. Beyond that, over the years I have maintained very good and loving relationships with my Former In-Laws; the Ex-In-Laws….the Out-Laws….whatever you might call them. We have come together for births, weddings, funerals and reunions – those special events. My family has still been happy to see my Ex when these things arise too. In that respect, it’s been rather remarkable.
While we no longer share holidays together, for a number of summers in a row I have been graciously invited to my Former In-laws for the family reunion. I don’t stay for the whole weekend-long event, but I usually come for an afternoon to visit with everyone, catch up, give hugs, eat some good food, and then I leave. It’s been this way for some years now and it has been a nice thing. Not only does it leave warm fuzzies to see them all and the expanding generations, but they have even made my Significant Other welcome in their home. In addition, it has been an opportunity to see my own children and grandchildren interacting with their cousins and extended cousins that I have known since birth. Things have seemed to go along pretty well.
This year I was not invited.
I got wind of this because my children were talking about going and the logistics of getting there, and I hadn’t heard anything about it yet. My Former Sister-in-Law, who I consider a friend and who I am in contact with via email and Facebook probably a couple of times a week, had said nothing to me about it. I was flummoxed. And I felt incredibly hurt. When I vented to my friend on the phone about this mixture of sad and painful feelings, she said “It really hurts to be left out”. That pretty much says it all. It doesn’t matter if you are eight or eighty, in kindergarten, high school or the nursing home - it really does hurt to be excluded.
I didn’t know if I should just say nothing and sit here feeling badly, or mention it and end up coming off as rude, because of course they have no obligation to invite me to anything, and I feel they have been gracious all these years. But also, a precedent had been set, and these are people I have been related to and have been in contact with for decades. The worst part was that I actually found myself feeling way more depressed about it than I expected to be or wanted to be, or maybe should be – but I could not shake it. Both my kids felt I should ask my Former Sister-in-Law why this year was different. I hesitated, but then I did, and she told me.
It seems my Ex is bringing a date.
The Ex and dates are nothing new at all. There has been a very, very long line of “dates”. I think if he was introducing someone new to the family, this sort of would make sense. Who wants to be introduced to a family when the ex-wife is present? If they were worried about weirdness, I think it would have been the decent thing for my SIL to cue me in to the reason for the sudden non-invite. But the interesting part about this date is that it is someone who is not new on the scene. She has been there before. It is someone I actually know, and happen to like very much….and we are even Facebook friends! Not only that, we have run into each other and had lengthy chit-chat at the supermarket, at restaurants and at other social venues before, including sitting at the same table with her, The Ex and my S.O. at a wedding. All has been easy and fine with us. She seems as much at ease with me as I am with her. She’s actually someone I would have no qualms about inviting over to our place for a holiday event. Given that, in a way I feel even more hurt and disappointed at how ridiculous and unnecessary the exclusion was. I think it would have been fine.
But it is not my party. And honestly, I am suspecting that it is my Ex who really didn’t want me there, and that his sister acquiesced to him. Blood truly is thicker. Given that, I am still just so disappointed in the evasive way this went down. Which makes me feel that all my misguided hippie-dippy efforts to try and make everyone be “friends” and “get along” - all my accommodations and unappreciated good will towards trying to make this work all these years has been stupid and fruitless and delusional. It has been all for nothing.
It is times like these where I wish I had taken the children across the country and back to my family, or had locked the doors and made him stand at the far edge of the property like an outcast while he waited for them to come out. It sort of makes me wish I had contacted Support Collection from Day One and let them kick his ass instead of having to call him each and every time a payment was due, because he has never voluntarily sent it unless I asked for it. Each and every time. For years. It makes me wish I had never shared any information about our children, had never met him half way, never extended myself, never cared how he might be feeling at all, just let him remain a stranger. It makes me wish I had started a new life, far, far away. Perhaps it would have been so much better for my own mental health and self-esteem. Perhaps I should have just let things get way uglier than they ever had been.
I hate wishing I was that person because I hate that person. I just really hate feeling like this.