Limiting factors

I need to write today, but I also need to clear my head. I’ve been thinking a lot about my mental health lately. I’ve been thinking about the end of my last relationship and the factors involved. I’m sure that one day I will look back at the events that transpired with complete clarity, but right now, I’m not feeling very optimistic about any of it.

Things were going pretty great for most of it. We had probably the best communication I’ve ever experienced. We both did the work to be healthy, set good boundaries, and discuss anything that came up, well, until pretty much the end. The quarantine was problematic, because I think it gave her a lot of time to overthink things. And overthink them she did.

Today, I look back and I am still allowing myself to mourn the end of what was an amazing time. I really thought that I had finally gotten everything I could have asked for in a relationship. The kinds of things that movies and books and old people kissing at their 60th Anniversary parties promise you. But, it was not meant to be. I said goodbye to my girlfriend and my best friend that night. And not even with the ability to do it in person.

It was serendipitous to meet each other, and we always understood that. Sure, there were some kinks, but nothing communication couldn’t iron out. In the end, it was “nothing personal.” But when it is happening to you, it’s hard not to take it as personal. It was my situation. And on my side of things, it was her situation as well.

I am a divorced dad of three in my mid-forties. I have a former spouse with some serious cluster-B personality disorders, and though she has never done anything directly to anyone I’ve dated, she has been vicious to people I have been friends with online. Most of the time people just block her, tell me what happened, and then we all go on about our lives. Usually they throw me a “I can see why you got out!” Thanks. That helps. Usually her methods are a little different, which is what we will have to call my Situation.

I think back to 2018, Memorial Day Weekend. This was with another woman I dated. We had plans to go to Ouray, CO for the weekend, where we spent time hiking and sitting around in a hot springs all evening. That Monday morning, she came by the house at 6a.m. My daughter and my youngest son and I got up early to get ready, and I think she brought us something to snack on. It was the morning of the exchange. As anyone with a high-conflict ex-spouse situation knows, you rarely do the mature thing and drop the kids off at each other’s house. You have to meet at a neutral spot with plenty of witnesses. You have to continually remind the kids that there is History and Drama and their lives cannot be any more normal that a hostage swap at the Brandenburg Gate circa 1983, where Cold War spies are exchanged on moonless nights.

This particular morning, we took her car, a Lexus SUV. All black and Chrome. The look on my ex’s face was something to behold as this gorgeous luxury vehicle rolls up and out pile the two kids instead of from my characteristic beat up Jeep. I think she might have dropped her phone on whatever fake conversation she was having. We continued on down the road to our week alone, without the kids, listening to 80s hair metal. Singing along, telling stories. Then the frantic texts started rolling in.

My 15 year old daughter was in the middle of a heated discussion with her mom.

“Dad, she’s flipping out and I don’t know what to do!”

I told her to calm down and tell me what was happening. From what she told me, the moment they climbed into their mom’s car, the interrogation began. Nothing the kids could say would satisfy their mom’s demand for answers. Who was this? WHO?!? She had been working on the kids for the better part of an hour and a half. We were already just past Georgetown on I-70. The woman I was dating didn’t seem all that worried. She suggested my daughter tell her that she was a spy. Not much further down the road, the texts stopped.

I asked if everything was okay, and my daughter said, “Yeah, I just told her your car was in the shop and that was the Uber Driver. Then she shut up.”

These are the kinds of things my kids have had to do to protect themselves, and me. Once the story was something my ex could consider acceptable, she relented. But things from there on out were rocky between my daughter and I, especially when it came to dating that woman. My ex never tracked her down, but the kids have told me that her friends keep tabs on me. Take pictures of me, or follow me around in public if they see me. I don’t know how much of this is true or not. It could just be more bullshit she tells the kids. That constant buzzing in the background like when you know a fly is in your house and you just don’t want to stop and deal with it.

My last girlfriend knew the stories. She had spent time with my son and had heard his versions of the stories. They resonated with her own past experiences of psycho-exes, not having a lot of legal leverage on your side, and of course kids being caught in the middle. She knew that progressing further together meant a number of things. It meant eventually, my ex-spouse would know she existed, and it would be like that moment she demanded to know who the “Uber Driver” was times about 50. My son, the only remaining kid still going back and forth between houses, the only one my ex hasn’t peeled away yet with her campaign of abuse and alienation, would feel the full brunt of her wrath. My son never met a stranger. He has such a large capacity to love. He still has the light burning in his eyes and such innocence. But he would be caught in the middle.

For the next nine years, I will have to keep going to court every three years or so because my ex would rather spend money on an attorney for more money than actually get a full-time job, which would mean I wouldn’t have to pay as much child support. For the last six, this has been emotionally and economically crippling for myself and my extended family. Not to mention exhausting for the kids. All the money added up that has been thrown at the court systems could have taken the kids to Disney World several times over. It could have paid for braces, and even a large chunk of college for one of them. This is a reality.

This is just another way that my ex gets to possess me. Or at least be the uninvited guest for nearly anything I want to do in my life. Things are going well? Ding-dong! Here’s a subpoena for more court. The kids were riding bikes instead of answering the constant phone calls? Knock-knock-knock, it’s the police doing another well-check! Hello? Child Protective Services? Again? You’d like to have me come in and talk about a recent “anonymous” report concerning my kids? Let me get my jacket.

This is the kind of shit I have to look forward to for the next nine years. As emotionally healthy as I have gotten myself through therapy, friends, travel, and just trying to be a better person tomorrow than I was today, this is what I can expect. As far as boyfriend material goes, I have been told that I don’t look so great on paper (thanks, Lexus Girl). And for my last girlfriend, this was just more of the same drama she had just left before we met, as much as I tried to shield her from it. It ate her up inside to see what I constantly had to fight, and though I took my punches, it was painful to watch. Like that scene in Raging Bull. “You never knocked me down, Ray!” As a single parent still tied to someone who will not move on, who will not relent in their anger and hostility against you, there isn’t much you can do (is there?). My advice was always “Just ignore her. The only thing she can take is my money.” But that’s not exactly true, is it?

There comes a time when you assess your life and you realize that you are pretty much undateable because of forces outside of your own control. Because of the actions another person will take to create drama, hurt your loved ones, and remind you every day that you don’t get to leave until they are done with you. My Situation was a condition of not being able to do much to stop this person from stirring up shit in my life or hurting my son emotionally because I decided to choose happiness. I had responsibilities of being a dad to a kid who needs me there for his own salvation. And because I am tied to this person through my kid, it’s not like I can just pull up stakes and move to a nicer town either. That was my situation.

It’s not fair. It sucks. But it’s what I have to contend with. I’m not sure how I could have handled it better without causing more conflict. The courts are no help.

As far as this last relationship went, it was a rare moment to meet a like-minded person who was pretty healthy–emotionally speaking this is a rarity–had the same core values, was physically attractive, and a multitude of other positive attributes. We also shared similar history, so she really did understand what it is to be a single parent and put others before yourself. Also, she wasn’t into cats. I really felt like she got me, and I got her. Sure, there were some bumps and kinks in the road, but I felt blessed. For quite some time. I guess it took a pandemic on top of a psycho baby-mama to derail things. I’m not exactly optimistic for my dating future. I see a lot more of the same. Getting close to someone, growing a relationship, and then that moment…it would either take someone who was unperturbed by those kinds of shenanigans, or I just need to wait out my forties and some of my fifties. Until then, existing as some kind of income generation robot for an ex while she goes to parties, dyes her hair stupid colors, and continues to make everyone’s life hell.

What a waste that second option feels like. I got out because I wanted to be more than an appliance in the house. A servant. A piggy bank. I wanted a fucking life! I just don’t see a lot of ways around this.

But here’s the thing. I might have had my situation, but her situation, just like Lexus Girl’s, was that she had expectations that there would be no situations. Everyone has some kind of difficulties going on in their lives. Whether it is a sick relative, trouble at work, a speeding ticket, or Coronavirus. That is why we bind together, to take on these challenges. I agree that my Situation sucks, and I don’t want to deal with it myself, but I do. I have flourished in spite of my challenges. Maybe it was just an excuse, but since then, I have spoken with some friends of mine and they have shared similar stories. Even times when a pretty solid marriage was in jeopardy because of the tom-fuckery of an ex-spouse without any boundaries.

But for my last two relationships, their Situation is just as flawed as mine, because it just shows that when things are less than ideal, they won’t be there. I don’t need that kind of bullshit in my life. And those kinds of expectations really don’t allow much room for mistakes, grace, or committment, do they? Yes, my situation is hard, but it isn’t impossible. I do it every day.

Today, I’m just not very optimistic than anyone else could (or should). But they did have their emotional and physical health to consider. And my kiddo’s too. It is never an easy decision, but unfortunately, I feel like it is one I will probably run into more often than not. I get tired of being told that I deserve someone who will love me and cherish me for the wonderful person I am. It’s a beautiful thought, and one that has from time to time given me comfort, and I have even allowed myself to feel it. These days, however, I am becoming a bit of a cynic. I’ll believe it when I see it, and even then, I doubt I will let myself trust it.

But hey, I’m open to suggestions.

I have writing I need to work on. This was just something I wanted to get off my chest. I hope maybe these words can support others in similar situations. You are not alone. No, it isn’t fair. But maybe things will work out for you. Just keep trying to be your best self. That’s all I’ve got. Now my head is clear and I can work.

3 thoughts on “Limiting factors

  1. I’m not sure what else you do, but this is the writing you needed to work on. Keep it up and you might work yourself into a quiet space. Luck.

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