Shocked but not Surprised...
Just when I think it’s safe to exhale, I find myself hyperventilating. Being divorced is an exercise in holding your breath and waiting for the other shoe to drop. 10 years in, I think I can breath easy and then…BAM! Something from the general direction of my ex throws me for a loop. That dread, sorrow and annoyance seeps through and my chest tightens all over again. Though I’ve learned that the coast will never be all clear, it still surprises me, every time.
Not every surprise moment is directly courtesy of my ex... the divorce in general has its own clever way of throwing random reminders in my path. When traveling for work, I’ll often treat myself to a nice meal or cocktail at an interesting spot. Sitting in a resort lounge with a spectacular view of the mountains at sunset, sipping a delicious cocktail, I watched a young family heading out to dinner. The children were beautifully dressed. The boys wore jackets and button-down shirts and the girls twirled in pleated dresses and sandals. My breath caught as I recognized the scene from my past. Our children were just like that…beautifully dressed and oblivious that their lives would ever change. Overwhelmed with sorrow for the loss of my children’s innocence, I watched as the sunset faded. I was shocked by my response to this lovely family, but not surprised. Divorce is a loss.
My boyfriend/partner has been divorced far longer than I. He and his ex-wife made a huge effort at putting their kids first before any squabbles and before their own preferences. Still – out of the blue, a text from his ex can ruin an evening. “Can you believe…?” My reaction is often, “What? No way!”. But am I really surprised? No. We divorce because we can no longer see eye to eye. Be it our flawed relationship as a married couple or how differently we view the world, we split because something goes wrong. We can’t expect an easy time afterwards.
Some people are shocked to find that their co-parent has no interest in their children. If we look at why the marriage ended, can we really be surprised? When one spouse leaves due to an ongoing external relationship, their energy on establishing a new home and perhaps even a new family can distract them from parental involvement. If a spouse’s work was always more important than their family, does it truly astonish us that they virtually ignore their children post-divorce? In some ways it makes is easier for the parenting spouse to make decisions unencumbered by their ex. But how do you deal with the fallout for the children? Are they stunned by the lack of interest, or is their suspicion that they were never a priority fully confirmed?
My divorce isn’t recent, but occasionally a text from my ex-husband or a message sent through the kids can send me into a downward spiral. Recently we’re working out the festivities for my son’s college graduation. Wires were crossed as to which night one parent would spend with “the graduate” versus the other. My gut is always to have everyone together for dinner, brunch or whatever we do. My Dad and a few siblings are flying in, so the more the merrier, right? But my ex leans towards separate celebrations. The last thing I want to do is put my child in the middle, but why am I still shocked that I am expected to yield and change my plans to accommodate the other parent? It’s not surprising that we disagree, so why does it hit me so hard? Why does it feel like I’m the bad guy for forging ahead with reservations including whomever wants to come?
I sent a welcoming, yet firm text for my ex to join us, but not acquiescing to a change of plans. 5 days later, I’m still waiting to hear back. Why am I not surprised?