Friday, April 11, 2014

So My Ex-Wife Got Engaged

     So my ex-wife got engaged.  Not today or anything, it happened about a month ago.  It bugs me when people say they have mixed feelings because most of the time it's a cop out answer to avoid saying their true feelings.  If there's ever a situation when mixed feelings is the truth, though, this is it.  I wasn't stunned by it.  I pretty much saw it coming but I hadn't felt any way about it until I heard it actually happened.  Then I felt a lot of ways.  The two most immediate emotions I felt were relief and anger.
     I was relieved because of a promise I made to her mother when I was sixteen.  I promised her mother I would take care of her and the seriousness of that promise was compounded when her mother passed away not long after.  It would have been easy to view that promise as just foolish words uttered by an adolescent but I've never looked at them that way.  That promise stayed with me during long nights at two full time jobs, when she battled cancer, her pregnancy and labor, her later lost pregnancies, and that promise is part of what kept me from even considering leaving in the final few years when our marriage wasn't working well.
     Obviously, since we separated I haven't really been capable of keeping this promise but I've still tried when I could whether she realizes it or not.  In the first year after we broke up, when we were navigating our way to divorce I made financial sacrifices to pay child support that was never court ordered and that I didn't ethically owe because we had fifty-fifty custody.  I also fixed things several times for her and even gave her advice about dating and the tricks men will play.  I didn't do these things because I wanted to win her back.  I gave up on that pretty quickly.  Of course, I didn't do these things completely because of the promise I made her mom either.  I was also trying to do what was best for our son but the promise was on my mind, too.
     Then when she decided to move away and give me custody of our son I made a very forgiving divorce settlement with her.  Judging from her divorce filing the settlement I made with her was much more forgiving than any settlement she would have made with me if she had the upper hand.  Then since she's moved I've done everything I can to make sure she sees our son as often as she can even when it's meant six hour drives or pinching pennies.  Again, it hasn't been all for her but mostly about what's best for our son.  Still, I can't forget the promise either.
     Since we split though, and especially since she's moved, it hasn't been possible to keep that promise and it has weighed on me because of what she has been through, or put herself through might be the more accurate description.  She sort of came unmoored.  In the two years since then she's lived in four states, in six different houses or apartments, had four different jobs, and has owned four different vehicles.  It worried me but I couldn't do anything about it.  I supposed that she would listen to what I had to say about her life about as much as I would listen to what she had to say about my life so I kept my mouth shut.
     Some people reading this are probably expecting me to write that I felt relieved over her engagement because she was someone else's problem now.  That does sound like something I would say but it wouldn't be true.  She may have caused me some problems but she hasn't been my problem, in that way, since we split.  I've felt the burden of the promise but haven't had responsibility for her if that makes any sense.  The relief I've felt is because her fiance has seemed to help her find her moorings in life and getting engaged is one more sign that her life is going to stabilize.  Marriage is the tie that binds they say and she seems to need that so I'm relieved that she seems to have found it.
     I'll bet people think the anger is easier to understand but unless they've been the custodial parent after a divorce their understanding is likely wrong.  It's not a jealous anger.  Jealousy is there, of course, but it's a tiny twinge of jealousy that's always going to be there.  I can see it in her when I'm with someone and I'm sure she can see it in me. After fifteen years together there is always going to be little bits of flotsam of feelings in the bloodstream of our hearts that will cause those twinges but the time has long since passed that the jealousy would be strong enough to be angering.
     The anger is over it being so much easier for her to find someone.  I don't even know if I want to find someone but I'm still angry that it's easier for her.  It seems it's always easier for the non-custodial parent to find someone else and I'm sure if I cared enough to look I could find data to support that conclusion.  After all, they simply have more time to look.  She has our son four days a month and I have him the rest of the time.  She could date on weeknights and she never had to worry about a babysitter or had to cancel dates because our son got sick.  I'm certain she never had someone say to her that they can't date her because she's too good of a parent as a few women have said to me.
     In all fairness to her, I have to mention that over the summer this situation is reversed but that's ten months compared to two months.  Maybe, it'll help me if I fall in love with a school teacher.  It isn't just the time, though.  She could and did move to find love while I stayed here because I feel it's what's best for our son.  I'm an odd bird, as the saying goes, and I don't think anyone will disagree with that.  As an ex-girlfriend of mine said eccentric attracts eccentric.  Most of them are beautiful and intelligent, thankfully, but there's only a small portion of the population that I'm compatible with.  If I could move to a more populous area I would have a better chance of finding someone but I can't and that pissed me off when I first heard the news that she was engaged.
     There are plenty of reasons that I shouldn't be angry about this and that's why anger was just an immediate emotion I felt and hasn't lasted.  Being the custodial parent helps to weed people out.  Those women that said I'm too good of a father to date, I wouldn't have wanted them anyway.  Plus, I'd be lying to myself if I didn't admit that my parenting is part of the attraction for women that are attracted to me.  I've often been told how cute it is us two guys living on our own.  I've always been slightly offended by that because no one would tell a single mom how cute her difficult living situation is but I keep my mouth shut because I realize that when it comes to sexist remarks women owe men about billion of them.  Besides, they think I'm cute so it's all good.
     I don't even know if I want to find someone and get married anyway.  There's a simpleness to living by myself that appeals to me.  Also, it's pretty cool it being just me and my son.  We've always had a stronger bond than even most fathers and sons but this just makes it get stronger day after day.  If I were forced to answer now I'd say I'm open to a serious relationship with someone if the right person in the right situation comes along but I'm not really looking for one.  So the anger I felt at first has since faded.
     As time has passed the relief has remained but it's a relief that doesn't have much to do with the promise I made her mother.  A while after our marriage ended it sank in that she would eventually find someone else and that worried me.  Someone else was going to come into my son's life that I had no control over choosing.  That was frightening to me. There are some really bad men out there and my ex-wife hasn't always had the greatest of taste.  After all, once upon a time she actually chose me.  I knew my son was going to have a stepdad someday but I didn't like it.
     Now obviously I don't know a whole lot about who her fiance really is.  Guys generally don't reveal themselves to their woman's exes.  Still, he seems mainly to me to be just a nice guy and, all joking aside, that makes sense with my ex-wife's taste in men.  I'm pretty sure she fell for me mainly because I'm a nice guy and that she would tell you she divorced me because I wasn't so nice anymore.  That's true too but she wasn't exactly nice to me anymore either.  Trying to figure out who stopped being nice first is a chicken or egg type thing that's just a waste of time so I don't bother anymore.
     More importantly than me thinking he's nice, our son thinks her fiance is a nice guy.  They get along well and they like each other.  I always assumed I would feel some jealousy if my son bonded with whoever ended up being his stepdad but I haven't.  When I see a picture of the two of them smiling together I'm just happy my son is having a good time.  I think there are a few reasons I don't feel jealous.  My bond with my son is so strong that his bonds with anyone else don't feel at all like a threat to it and to her fiance's credit he doesn't seem to want to be a threat to it or interfere with it at all.  I was lucky enough to have a few extra father figures and have many bonds with men besides my father when I was growing up and it didn't lessen my bond with my father one bit so I know from experience.  Plus, I'm just too relieved about the kind of man her fiance seems to be, to be jealous of him.
     There are, of course, other emotions stirred up by this but they're more subtle, more complex, and would take a novel or two to explain if I was talented enough to be able to. It's mostly relief I feel and because I'm so relieved I'm happy for them and I'm happy for my son.  Since I'm happy about it I'm also a little worried that in describing my immediate reactions I might offend her.  She might not read this but I have a feeling she'll probably be curious so I want to say a few things.  I might have made it sound at times like our marriage going south was all her fault, I think everyone does that to some extent with their past relationships, but I hope she knows I don't actually think that.  She didn't get into our marriage by herself and she didn't get out of it by herself either.  It takes two to tango and two to duel.  She also might be offended by my saying that she became unmoored but I think that if she examines her life since our split she'd realize the truth behind that statement.  She's just another human being trying to figure out life and she has a hard time of it sometimes like the rest of us.  It should just make her feel grateful, and maybe even as relieved as I am, that she seems to have found the man she needs.


  1. I'm proud of you Paul! Bradley is lucky to have you and I'm glad that you feel the way you do because your #1 priority has always been your son. It is not always easy setting aside the emotions you feel towards your ex (whatever they may be) but it is important for our children to know they are loved and their best interest is always on our minds. Btw...I agree that it is going to be easier for the non-custodial parent to date, but I also agree that sometimes dating becomes unimportant to the custodial parent.

    1. Exactly. Sometimes it doesn't matter much to not have a date in the rush of homework, sports, grocery shopping, laundry, bike riding, video game playing.