Close Encounters Of The Ex-Husband Kind

First of all, I must offer an apology. To all of you who have come here seeking advice and reassurance from me, to all of you who have emailed and messaged, pouring your hearts out and thanking me for showing you that it is possible to get through a really hard divorce and be okay:

I'm sorry.

Because I am always the one waving the flags, cheering loudly and preaching about how you will survive, how you will be able to forgive and how you will get over it. I'm the one answering your heartbreaking pleas for help with paragraphs full of empowerment and hope.

"You've got this, sister!" and
"Yes, it hurts like hell when your hopes and dreams are blown to bits but you WILL rise again and be fabulous!" and
"There will come a day when seeing him won't be like a sharp knife being thrust right between your shoulder blades."

I crow about how well parallel parenting has worked for me. How basically pretending my ex-husband doesn't exist has made everything okey-dokie. Peachy keen. The bee's freaking knees!

I'm sorry to inform you that I'm full of shit. Kind of.

Why do I say I'm full of shit? Because a couple of weeks ago, I came face-to-face with my ex, and I didn't handle it the way someone who is fully recovered would have.

I handled it like an immature tween. Or worse, like a temperamental preschooler.

Let me set it up for you, okay?

Three nights a week I work late. Our elementary school has a before/after school childcare program, and there needs to be someone in the front office until they are closed, for security purposes.

Our gymnasium is used by our local Park and Rec department after school hours. There are a variety of programs offered, everything from adult volleyball leagues to martial arts to toddler gymnastics.

When I'm in the office those three evenings, sometimes I encounter the people coming into our school to participate in the Park and Rec programs.

See where I'm going with this?

So there I was, in the office that is essentially my home-away-from-home, doing what I do. Making copies, filing stuff, entering super important facts onto super important spreadsheets. Minding my own sweet business.

There's a Park and Rec employee who has a desk outside of our office. He is the one who usually buzzes people in for those non-school activities.

That day, his buzzer was broken. So, every so often I'd hear a little bumpy noise at my door, and I'd buzz the people in.

I was walking back to my desk from the copy room, and I saw a person standing outside the door. I rushed over to hit the button, to let them in. And that's when I saw who it was.

It was my ex. I froze, people. Like a mother effing popsicle. Did I mention that he wasn't alone?

He was there with his child, his little toddler/person he made with Secretary.

It was like a scene from the Matrix, only instead of Keanu Reeves in a long black coat dodging slow motion bullets, it was ME in a flowy black burka top and leggings, begging the universe to rip open so I could escape.

Our eyes met, and his face showed some shock. And some disbelief. Here's what my face looked like, at first:

image: Salon.com
Yes, the Rachel Dratch/Debbie Downer look is hot, y'all. I was trying really hard to process the moment. In those few seconds, every single thing that has gone down over the past decade tumbled over and under and through me. The good. The bad. And oh my God...the ugly.

Seeing him knocked the air out of me. Seeing him being all fatherly and sweet with a little kid who looks SO MUCH like our sons? I'll be honest with you. It made me sick. It dug up the bones of all my supposedly dead issues and they did a macabre little jig, right there in that little school office. Neither of us said anything.

What was there to say? I suppose I could have played it cool. Played it like most mature people would have done. I could have said:

"Oh, hey. How's it going?" or
"Hello." or maybe
"Well, fancy meeting you here!"

I could have gone the really snarky route and said something bitchy.

"Wow! So you're actually parenting this one?" or
"Oh my gosh what a cutie. How long until you walk out of his life?" or perhaps
"Hi, Satan."

Of course I didn't say any of that. The mature things I didn't say because obviously, I'm not mature. The snarky things I didn't say because I do have a heart, and I respect my place of employment too much to drag that crap in there. Also, it's not cool to be a dick in front of kids.

But, what I did do is something I'm not proud of. It wasn't even something I did with any intention, it was a physical response. I swear on all things holy and pure, it was a knee-jerk reaction.

I made a face.
I made a freaking face at my ex-husband.

Now, like I said, it was something organic. It happened naturally, without any thought behind it whatsoever. I have scoured the internet looking for the perfect picture, but couldn't find one. So, I tried to replicate it in selfie form. Here's what I looked like:

Yes. It was the look of someone who had just stepped in dog poop. Barefoot.

He looked at me, and then looked down at his boy. I suppose to make sure none of the scathing lasers from my crazy Marty Feldman eye had burned the lad. He looked back at me, one more time, and I was still in face mode.

Only by that time, the shock was beginning to wear off and I'm sure the sadness showed.

After he left my office, I began shaking. Not like, withdrawal shakes or anything, but a trembling-hand sort of thing. I felt sick to my stomach, just a little bit. And there was something else.

I felt ashamed.

Ashamed that I didn't just say hello. Ashamed that there he was, enjoying a fun night with his child and there I was, working in an elementary school office, buzzing people in like a nightwatchman.

Ashamed that after all these years, after all these words, after all of my HEAR ME ROAR proclamations and after all of the so-called bravery and forgiveness and recovery I'm always spewing...

I made a face. That's all I had.

On the brief drive home I ranted to myself. Beat myself up a bit, and also, calling him out. Telling the imaginary him in my car what a shitty person I think he is, what a cruel man he is, what a heartless meanie he is. I gripped the steering wheel hard, like I was on the Autobahn instead of a little Minneapolis suburb street.

When I got home, the boys were gone. Out with friends, playing basketball at the park. I was alone with my shame and my anger. I texted my best friend and poured out the contents of my heart. She listened. She comforted.

I made a martini, and then I sat out on my porch and I cried.

How's that for "moving on"?
How's that for "getting over it"?

After I recovered from FaceGate '15, I decided a few things. Number One: maybe this parallel parenting thing isn't all it's cracked up to be. Perhaps if I was forced to interact with him on a more regular basis, seeing him wouldn't be such a shock. But there's the rub...we don't have many opportunities to be face to face. And as much as I'd like to nudge my maturity along, I sure as hell am not going to call him up and invite him to coffee just to desensitize myself.

Number Two, is that I need to admit to myself, and to those of you who are here seeking advice and support, that I'm not that strong. I'm not as far along in the healing process as I claim to be.

Number Three...this shit is hard. And some days are harder than others. We need to be forgiving, not only to those around us, but to ourselves. It's like I tell so many women just beginning this trek: You're going to screw up. And that's okay.

We are all going to be okay. Right?


  1. I am "lucky" in that I have many interactions. I was forced to forgive and accept. I even have coffee with our version of "the secretary" although it wasn't exactly an adultery situation. It took pushing through the discomfort to get where we are, the three of us. We each have to make the choice to be good to each other. If one of us decided they weren't willing to play along, it wouldn't work. I still have times when I pull away from "their house" and feel overwhelming sadness. But I know we are all making the best of the situation and I really do like my new life. But I can't say that I don't get sad at times or even jealous. He does things with her he didn't do when we were together. But it is what it is.

  2. I really don't know what else you could have done. Let's face it, it is his fault you were working there at that time, anyway. He EARNED that look you gave him. Just give yourself credit for not saying anything nasty to him in front of his son. The kid will find out soon enough anyway what sort of person his dad is.

  3. Couldn't read this and not comment. That's rough, sucks to have feelings sometimes and to have such little control over them, especially those sneaky ones that jump up and bite us in the ass when we least expect it.

  4. Yes! We're all going to be fine. So you flubbed. I haven't lived with my ex in 5 years, I see him all the time, and feel nothing but gratitude for his being a jerk, because had I stayed with him, I wouldn't be as happy as I am now. But sometimes I just feel like giving him the business because deep down, I still feel he deserves it. My proudest moments? Of course not. Next time, just stick your tongue out at him.

  5. It's been a crappy week. I broke a tooth, I screwed up something major at work, and then the black clouds that linger when you have an ex-husband and kids to support.

    It's just been a crappy week.
    But I read this and thought about the times I royally screwed up those face-to-face meetings and I actually laughed... Because I try so hard to be the bigger person, to be the one who is better off and stronger, but most of the time those efforts fall flat.

    "You're going to screw up. And that's okay."

    I needed to hear that. This isn't instant happily ever after. A happy life doesn't mean easy, free of hardships. It just means happy.

    When we're punched, we keep going and do our best to dodge the punch next time. If we can't dodge it, at least we have abs of steel. ;)

    Thanks for the reminder.

  6. *hugs* There's no telling what I would have done. Probably waved with one finger, if you know what I mean. And I don't do that ever. The only time I know I will see him is at my daughter's graduation at the end of the month, and it will be in public, so I will be on my best behavior.

  7. First a big hug from Minneapolis. I have read your blog from beginning to present and honestly after everything he has done and put you through not to mention your wonderful kids, I would not beat yourself up over it. Keep writing and we all fall off the high road time to time. Proud of you for not saying the snarky stuff.

  8. I've been separated from my husband for 2 months now (yes, we're still married because our state requires us to be legally separated for 6 months before we can file - ugh), and I haven't seen him in that amount of time. I moved to a different state, and we communicate via email. I talked to him once on the phone when he had to tell me that he needed to change the payment terms of my spousal support. The bottom line is, he broke my heart into a million and one pieces after 13 years of marriage and 20 together, and now we're practically strangers to each other. If I had been in your shoes, I probably would've reacted the same way. Just reading about it made me nervous and sick to my stomach FOR you.

    You're human. And this is some TOUGH shit to get through. We're all just taking it one day at a time. So stop beating yourself up, and move forward with gusto, girl!

  9. Had one of those moments too. I don't talk to my ex, he still takes any opportunity to be hurtful so I limit our contact to emails and texts. Other than ignoring him from a distance at school events I don't see him. But the other day I went to pick my kids up from their church group and my son came running up to me wanting to introduce me to his step brother (who had never gone to the group before and who I had never met). I froze, didn't know what to say, and my ex walked in he next second so I grabbed my boys and bolted. Look back now and am horrified at how I reacted. He was just a kid and I am so hoping that because it was crazy busy and kids were everywhere he didn't notice that I didn't say hi. If I had been aware and could have planned ahead I totally would have handled it better. That's the kicker, when it sneaks up on you and totally blindsides you. I wish I was stronger too, and could let his comments amuse me or at least roll off my back so I could be around him more often and it wouldn't turn me into a statue each time I don't expect it, but I certainly haven't gotten there yet, pretty sure I never will. Right now I consider it good enough that I'm happy all on my own and I no longer let his emails turn me into a shaking mess. Sometimes we are just human no matter how much we wish we could be more, and we need to forgive ourselves for that.

  10. When I first became seperated, a couple of people with experience promised me that it would get better and easier. But they also warned me that I would never fully get over it-that the hurt will sneak up from time to time in the future depending on what was happening.
    And that is so true. Nearly 2 years on, and I'm so happy we're Seperated, but similar to Michelle, the pain (mainly anger) will surprise me when I hear him spending more timeand doing things he never used to, with his girlfriends kids and our kids. Or when I think of the big home they can afford to buy, while I will struggle to afford a 'renovators delight'. Or when I am frazzled from working full time and being a mum to three kids under 8 with no other family apart from my ex to help.
    So yes, we can roar and be fabulous-but we can still be entitled to want to 'rip him a new one' as well!

  11. Yep. We all are going to be okay. This post was hilarious. :-)

  12. I think you let him off easy, while you easily could have made it much, MUCH uglier on him! (damn girl, I love your hair!!) I have no doubt it was uncomfortable - but cut yourself some slack! What he did to you & the kids is not something I think you (or they) will ever forget. I think in the long run he did you a favor. You are truly much too good for him.

  13. Well, if a pile of dog poo suddenly appeared on your doorstep, you'd make a face because you aren't expecting it. So there you have it. Frankly, I think a face if a fine gesture of expression. It says so much without saying anything at all. And he deserves it.

    I don't think you ever "get over" a divorce. As Nora Ephron wrote, "Marriages come and go, but divorce is forever." That's probably the thing that causes me the most resentment.

  14. I hope we are all going to be fine. I am in battle fortyleven of my war that seems to have no end. I am exhausted. He throws screaming tantrums in the style of a thirteen year old girl when he doesn't get what he wants and you cannot be emotional with him in any way about anything. I so understand where you are coming from. I have reached apathy with my ex--a place I thought would be the best place to be. But it is not. It just feels like I am letting my kids down. Hang in there. Deep wounds take time to heal.

  15. I loved your response. Fakery of happy times or whatever to him just isn't you. I was sick to my stomach for you while reading this. I mean, it had to happen eventually. But I'm sure it was the last thing you wanted, to set your eyes upon this piece of work at the end of a long work day, along with cute little toddler spawn. It would have been like a knock-out punch to the gut, just winding me.. I'm surprised you didn't deck the fucker, or kick him in the nuts. It's hard to be graceful in this situation so give yourself some credit.

  16. Thought it might help to see the other side of this. I divorced my abusive husband many years ago. I haven't seen or spoken to him in at least 15 or so years. I raised our babies to adulthood on no child support from him while he and his parents made my life a living hell. My now adult daughter had an incredibly traumatic thing happen to her a few months ago - I now live 700 miles from her, he lives about 15 minutes away. It took several calls (not to mention a lot of thought - but it was my kid so....) to get a phone number for him. I called, gave a brief description of the situation and asked if he would go to her house and check on her. I asked if he would change her locks, I offered to send a check for any expense if he needed me to. Long silence......then he said - "welllllll I'll do it for her but not for you. Don't think I am doing anything for you" Unfreakingbelieveable. Moral of my tale - what you did was nothing in comparison to this.

  17. You handled it. You might not handled it how you thought you could/should/would have. But you kept functioning and life didn't implode. Good for you. I recently had the pleasure (not) of sitting in a hospital delivery waiting room with my ex, we had 3 kids together many moons ago, and we were waiting for our 2nd grandchild to be born. I haven't spoken to him for at least 7 years, we separated 22 years ago. In those speaking years we only talked about necessary things like kid access and child support, absolutely nothing personal. Then there we were, not one other person buffering our many hours together in the waiting room. I decided to suck it up and talk to him. He is still the same jerk I met 30 years ago, all caught up in him. He told one of our kids later that it was good to have closure with me. I never thought there was lose ends. A good thing about running into an ex is that you can later reflect on why you aren't together and thank god you have moved on.

  18. You're human. You had a human reaction. I've been on the other side of this too. I'm the new wife with the young child who has received the "face" that you describe. But my husband has taken very good care of his older children. So there's that.

  19. Over a year ago I signed the decree. Since then, he's basically dropped off the face of the world. He lives with the woman he killed a 20 yr marriage + 7 yr relationship for. And emotionally abandoned 2 teen sons. He'll text and whine about why the boys won't talk to him. This after both needed counseling. One for cutting, the other running away and throwing dangerous fits. Now, they and I deal with him as politely as one can but know he's toxic sludge. Your ex is the same. The look you gave wasn't awful. It looked similar to someone realizing the turd in front of you wasn't worth your time. This sucks all around because it ended badily in the first place. The fact you didn't take him out at the knees shows the progress you've made. Besides, I bet it pissed him off some that you only showed such a look.

  20. Don't you just hate buzzards...oops, meant to say buzzers.

  21. I think the face is perfect. What he did to you and your kids was disgusting and when caught off guard your face showed that disgust. You let him in, so you get points for that.

  22. Not for nothing girl, but your hair looks amazing!

  23. I have seen my ex once since we divorced. Sorta. We were in traffic. But flowing traffic.... not stopped traffic.... like 50 miles per hour on a straight road traffic. He was in the passenger seat of a truck that was passing my minivan that held two of my kids in the back. The two he donated sperm for. I looked over, and he looked over, and he made this scared face at me.... because the face I was making was one of RAGE and ANGER. Like, if I could have reached over into that truck and pulled him out of it and dragged his flailing body down the road by my angry fists, I would have done so.

    It wasn't the most mature reaction, but it was the one that happened.

    I think your face was pretty awesome, actually.

  24. Hey you did better than me. You are human And entitled to feelings. I think you did great.

  25. I think a wordless dog poop face is perfect. Kid doesn't get hurt, adult gets deserved negativity without any explanation, which he doesn't deserve and wouldn't handle like a healthy person anyway, and you get to walk away without having said words you wish you hadn't said. Seems rather perfect to me.

    The feelings you feel about it are valid, though, I just wonder if there is really any action you could have taken that would have left you feeling ok. My bet is, you would have felt crappy after seeing them no matter how you responded, because you have a conscience, which he appears to lack.

    Keep being awesome. :)


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