Monday, October 10, 2005

Dear Bitch,
I was involved with this married guy for three years until I finally "got" what a lying creep he is, and that any future with him would only end up with me being the next one cheated on. I recently found out from a friend that right after I dumped him, he finally moved out, got divorced and remarried a much younger woman six months later.

My friend says the new Mrs. believes that his ex-wife is a rotten bitch for no good reason. (She has a good reason. She found out that even though he'd promised her it was over after he got caught, he'd never stopped seeing me.)

This offends my sense of karmic justice, and I'm tempted to contact the new wife and tell her what really happened. I know it would only hurt her and she wouldn't believe me - at least, not at first. I even know what he'd tell her because it's what happened when his ex-wife first found out about me - I was "some nut who kept throwing herself" at him and "nothing happened." She was smart enough to know he was lying.

I'm also now stricken with remorse at how indifferent I was to the feelings of his ex. She's remarried now, too, and I hope she's happy. Would it be inappropriate of me to apologize at this late date?

When my friend told me he was married, I didn't sleep that night. I was shocked to realize I was still so angry at him.

What do I do now?

The Invisible One

Dear TIO,
This is the first letter I've gotten in a long time. I didn't know anyone still read this!

I feel bad for you because boy, does this bring back some painful memories. (Let's just say been there, done that, got the T-shirt. He even used the same "crazy" line.) There's a damned good reason for all those cliches about married men - they're usually true. There might be some guys in this situation who are okay, but for purposes of female mental health, they're statistically insignificant. Just assume the worst and odds are, you'll be right.

Mine was even worse than your run-of-the-mill serial cheater, if you can believe it. So yeah, I know a little something about the emotional aftermath of a train wreck. It ain't pretty - and it sure as hell ain't easy.

First of all, don't do anything. The longer you don't do anything, the better you'll feel. Don't Google him, don't pump your friend for information. (In fact, tell your friend you don't want to hear about him again.) Don't feed the demon dog of obsession.

And that means you don't apologize to his ex-wife. Odds are, she doesn't want to hear it, and you probably don't want to do this for her - it's really just a sneaky way of sticking a knife in your ex. Maybe you don't see that right now, but trust me on this.

What you're struggling with right now is the need to regain a sense of control. You have some awful feelings because this man you loved (and believed loved you back) has done something that indicates you didn't even make a dent in his heart or soul. And you know what? You'll never know if you did. That sucks, but there it is.

You probably told yourself he was incapable of making a commitment, and yet here he is, married again.

What's that old saying? "Women mourn, men replace." Don't torture yourself by assuming the facade of his life is somehow suddenly more meaningful this time, and that you weren't worthy enough to be a contender. Odds are, he will act exactly the same with his new wife as he did with his old one. (As one of my male friends says, "When was the last time you saw a leopard with squares instead of spots?")

And when you're dealing with cheaters, you have to consider that her main attraction might simply be that she seems young and gullible enough to believe his stories. (You know, the way you used to be.)

I read recently that the biggest tool for spiritual growth is the ability to accept paradox. So how can we possibly accept the idea that someone might have really loved us, yet acted in the most craven, unloving way possible?

The answer is, we have to. Otherwise, you've agreed to be hobbled by your own past. Please accept that on some level, you did matter to this man. It's not your fault that he's so flawed. Some damaged men feel like the only way anyone will love them is if they manage to hide their true selves. So they compulsively seek periodic fresh starts, denying the reality of their own emotionally chaotic past.

You feel rejected. That nagging self-doubt that let you fall into this mess in the first place tells you there was a contest, that she (the new wife) won and you lost. But knowing what you know now about this man, is that really true? Seems to me you're the real winner here.

I occasionally hear about my ex, and almost always, it's fine. Once in a great while, it's not, and I can't believe how quickly I spiral down. The paradox I have trouble balancing? The undisputed fact that he's such a deeply disturbed man against the depressing admission that I still have residual emotions for someone so crazy. It makes me feel ashamed, somehow. Like a chump.

It's probably not much more complicated than this. When you're a normal, caring human being, you just get into the habit of loving someone and it's difficult to make it stop on command. (My ex-husband and I still called each other "honey" for a long time after the divorce.)

Although I never smoked, my mother did. Even though she loved smoking, she knew it was bad for her and she stopped when her sister had a stroke. And now, several decades later, she says she still really, really misses it. Not enough to start again, not enough to harm herself like that - but some mornings, she's struck by a powerful wave of longing for a cigarette.

I think it's like that. Sometimes I just remember the sensation, the sheer pleasure of loving him - without ever, ever wanting to go back. Without ever forgetting how very, very bad he was for me.

Once you accept that paradox, you'll feel better, I think.

The Bitch

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