3/2/16

You Don't Have To Be Friends With Your Ex. Really.



My camrade-in-divorced-arms and fellow writer, Tracy Schorn (aka "The Chump Lady") wrote a piece for HuffPost divorce about why we shouldn't feel bad if we're not exchanging friendship necklaces with our exes. And as I read it, I kept thinking about how tired I am of defending my decision to NOT be chums with my ex-husband every time a story about "Exies Who Are Besties" makes the social media rounds.
Case in point: The Hollywood Celeb's Guide to Harmonic Uncoupling. The latest duo to break up and join the rest of us here in Divorce Club are Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck. Jen (can I call her Jen? Since we both wear Danskos and are now both divorced, I think I can) recently had a very "read between the lines" interview in Vanity Fair magazine, wherein she says so much without really saying anything. She even drops the good ol' bless his heart line, which is the one reason I wish I was a southern belle. It just doesn't have the same feel when said in a nasally Midwestern accent. 
Jen's interview was touching due to her insistence that while Ben may have very well been playing Hide the Sausage with their nanny, he's still the love of her life and because of how much their kids love him, she intends to stay friendly with him. 
Most write-ups about that article include the words "classy" and "high road" but interestingly enough, only where SHE is concerned. Why are so many people insistent that those who are left to pick up the pieces be "the bigger person"? Where are the crowds encouraging the philandering spouses to take that higher road? To be the classy ones?
Is The High Road for ladies/the ones left behind only? 
Every.Single.Article written about exes who are buddies is trailed by a string of comments proclaiming that "more divorced people should do this" and "people need to put their petty differences aside" and the ever-popular "you need to do what's best for the childrennnnnnn".
These comments kill me. They kill me because not all divorced people can be friends with their ex. Sometimes, those 'petty differences' are things like pride, self respect and dignity.
Sometimes, what's best for the kids is to see their parent be strong. Be proud. And not take any more shit.
Kids are not blind baby squirrels. They know what's happening, even if the gory details are kept under wraps (as they should be). They can read between lines, they see things we think we have hidden and above all they can sense who is making a real effort to be part of their lives.
When people ask me why I am not BFFs with my ex and his wife, I say to them: "If these people had broken into my home, beat me nearly to death, stolen my identity and anything else of value from me...and then on their way out, started the house on fire, would you be standing here scratching your head, wondering why I'm not making Sunday mother effing dinner for them?" Nope? Okay then. Now, maybe you can understand why they are not the first people I turn to when I need a friend.
As the old saying goes, with friends like that...you get the gist.
I don't disparage my ex and his wife in front of my kids. I have not, nor will I ever, stand between him and the kids. I encourage my children, even after all these years, to keep their hearts open where their father is concerned. The crappy stuff? That's between him and me. Period.
You know what other headlines make me twitchy? The ones about those who have mastered the art of co-parenting. For example: 
Because apparently this is all some weird Hunger Games thing, right? Parenting after divorce isn't hard enough, now we have to worry about where the hell we place.
The term "co-parenting" implies two people working together. Co-workers, co-signers, co-stars. A team, a united front, two separate entities exerting equal amounts of effort to sustain something. Or someone.
For many of us, that "co" isn't there. If parenting was an airplane, I wouldn't have a co-pilot. I'd have a stowaway in the belly of the plane, who crawls out now and then to schmooze with the passengers and hand out stale bags of honey roasted peanuts. But the flying? Dude. I'm alone in that cockpit. It's not the way I envisioned it would be. It's not the perfect way.
But for now, it's my way. Our way.
And me talking about it here probably isn't taking the high road. It's most certainly not going to get me labeled as "Classy" and I can guarantee you not one person will comment "NOW THIS IS THE WAY ALL DIVORCED PARENTS SHOULD ACT!". I might be called bitter. I might be told to move on/get over it/be the mature one. I might not care.
For all of you who are in this same boat, who are struggling to just keep everyone and everything fine and happy, know you aren't alone. For those of you who have decided that being friends with your ex isn't your cup of tea, know you're not alone.
For those of you who have decided that the road you're on, regardless of elevation, is the high road? Rock on, my friends. There are so many of us here. And for what it's worth? I think we are classy as hell.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have some roads to take.

22 comments:

  1. Please remember the children, who absolutely thru no fault of their own, suffer thru parental alienation under the guise of "no contact". You have always taken the higher road, and I appreciate your amazing writing. The moment you give birth, it is and always should be about the children. And yes, I am one of those people, who will "co-parent" until the day I die, even if I am doing 99.99% of the parenting. Friends with him, not necessarily.. but connected with him and his new wife, absolutely! because he is 1/2 of their genes, and I have to own that I picked him.

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    1. Cleveland, first of all, I always look forward to your perspective. You are always kind and respectful.

      I think what you have said here has merit. And I agree with you, 1001% about parental alienation and how the kids should always, ALWAYS be front and center in our worlds.

      My kids are my life. I think you know that, since you've been here a long time. And I would give anything for them to have an active, involved and loving father. I'd co-parent the hell out of that situation.

      Unfortunately my kids have a dad who is a master at sporadic parenting. He's not consistent. He drops in and out of their lives like a goateed seagull. It hurts to see them hurt. I'm sure you know what that feels like.

      I think the whole no-contact thing evolved out of necessity. Not only for my sanity, but to protect them from the constant let downs and half-assed attempts at parenting. I have always always been so careful to let them know that they should keep an open mind, and open heart where their dad is concerned. I just can't be the one to act as the go-between.

      I hope that makes sense and doesn't sound like an excuse ♥

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  2. Amen sister! You feel like my sister. I cannot even speak to my ex-husband let alone be friends with him. I have tried to co-parent and am very envious of those are able to. It does not work with us. Every time I extend an olive branch, I get a beating with it. I am done with that. I would like to just come to Jennifer Garner's defense though. Remember she is relatively new to this party. She may need us later. Love you, Jenny. I wish I had found you years before I did.

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    1. Oh Melissa. I didn't mean any harm to Jennifer Garner. God knows we have all been there, and her circumstances are so completely different from most of ours: the very fact that they are both "movie stars" means a whole different set of rules. For both of them. I wouldn't be surprised if they had to sign some sort of non-disclosure/we still love each other contract.

      I love you right back, girl. And glad you found your way here.

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  3. Hi! I'm new here and on my way to the 'Big D'. Thank you for pointing out the obvious and supporting those of us who know our exes no longer need to be part of our lives.

    Mine has begged me to stay friends and I have declined. I ended up telling him that if he had been interested in staying friends, then he wouldn't have flushed our marriage down the sh*tter!! I'm far from perfect myself but I found it hard to battle the constant narcissism from him & his mother.

    I say screw the high road! I need self preservation & self respect so that I can be present for my kids. The kids also need to learn how to recognise a deteriorating situation and extract themselves with the same dignity and respect should they find themselves in such a situation. Our kids learn by example and I want to set the best one I'm capable of giving. Pretending everything is ok only teaches them to pretend in their adult life and I'm a believer in keeping things authentic.

    If you don't mind, I'll stay & visit you here for a while... Thank you for your blog.

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    1. Welcome, missuslindy! I'm sorry you're going through this. We are here for you ♥

      You sound like you've learned a lot already. I wish I had known about that whole self preservation thing earlier on in the game.

      And you nailed it, my dear: kids learn from example. Sure, if I invited the whole motley crew over for the holidays, it would probably teach the kids something. Family is family and all that jazz. But it would also teach them that what those people did to us is somehow okay. I have forgiven my ex, mentally, because I found the anger was too much to carry around. But I don't feel as though being friends with him, or even being the one who sits next to them at school events and graduations, is necessary. My kids, all of our kids...they learn how to be resilient, how to stand up for yourself, how to draw a line in the sand that just cannot be crossed.

      I don't mind you staying here at all! In fact, I'd be sad if you didn't. So, so glad to meet you and welcome you to the "club"!

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  4. Your road - your choice. (PERIOD.) We so often get tied up in what *should* be and how things *should* be...without recognizing that somethings just ARE. We each have to face our own real - and just do what we have to do. Personally, I think dealing with my own real is enough to keep me busy without foisting opinions on someone else's handling of their own real. In other words - you stomp the hell out of that road. No explanations necessary.

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    1. Thank you Jean! Here's to all of us and our reals.

      I think most people who think there's one right way for divorced families to operate either haven't been through it or their own "real" was lightyears different from ours. I don't have time to tell other people what to do. I can't even figure out my own life half the time.

      Thanks a bunch for being here!

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  5. Thank you, I needed this today. Co-parenting with someone who just flatly refuses to participate is the pits. Letting go of the vision that I had of him at least being present for them, despite him blowing our relationship to the high heavens, has been really hard especially with all of the stories about EVERYONE (it feels like) being best buds with their ex. For a long time I have resorted to blaming myself, if I communicate with him more perhaps he will come around, if he gets more photos, if he gets real-time updates, if he hears their voices on the phone... my kids are 4, 5 and 10 so we are still in the early days, but knowing that sometimes you just have to drop your end of the rope and that I am not the first makes this transition a bit easier.

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    1. Hi Studymum :)

      You are totally not alone! And I'm glad you stopped blaming yourself. All you can do is make sure you communicate the "biggies" with him.

      I'm sorry you're going through this. But know that while some people really DO get along well, a lot of us just lead our separate lives and everyone survives.

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  6. Jenny,
    I am sort of one of those gets along with my ex. For the most part, I do only because he's really smart enough to not be physically present. We get along in email and we limit the amount we see each other. Since he's always out of town, the kids (older teens) and I don't even try and pretend he co-parents. Can't co-parent if you only see the kids 2x year. Like you said, the kids know what's going on. They contact him when they feel like it and when he complains via email that they never talk to him, I shrug and reply basically that it's not my problem. Best advice I got about divorce relationships with kids: There is a triangle. From my corner, I can only follow the line that goes to my kids and the one that goes to the ex. I can't influence or touch the line from the ex to the kids. That's between them. If he wants to burn it, that's his problem. But I really liked this post, because yes, I took the high road despite his cheating and stayed civil for the kids and the workings of the divorce agreement. It worked for me, but I'd never assume it works for everybody. That's like saying a size 3 is going to fit my fat butt because it was made for women. Ridiculous. Besides, my last one hits college in 4 years. After that, I brush my hands and don't even have to talk to him. Kinda looking forward to it actually.

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    1. Oh man! So much wisdom in this comment. I am LOVING the triangle analogy. It's so, so true. And I think a lot of women get caught up in maintaining ALL three sides of it when, like you said, all we can do is take care of the two sides attached to US.

      I'm also looking forward to not having to deal with mine at all anymore. 2 1/2 more years here :)

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  7. Thank you for your honesty and your insightful posts. I am almost divorced, my children's father is a gentleman by trade but has not seen these kids more than twice since he moved out 9 months ago. When we initially separated he wanted to go to co-parenting counseling, but it ended up being an awful weekly argument about our marriage. THen he sorta dropped out of their lives. (My kids are 21, 17 and 12.) He doesn't contact them because he says, "Why bother? THey never contact me so what's the point?" I have no words. I don't bash him to them - ever - but I will also never act as the go-between. I work hard to be a good mother and to be there for the kids, without any motivation from him. Why can't he do the same? It's not, and never will be, my job to talk him up for these kids. THey are old enough to see. I felt bad at first, but now I just don't. Guess we'll never be BFFs either. I hope his new life is worth it, but so often I wonder what he's telling his friends, his "friends" and his co-workers. Does he even acknowledge these kids to others? All I know is that I do. And I always will. THey know they have me. And that's all that matters. Don't worry about what anyone else thinks of your situation except you. Haters gonna hate no matter what. Do whatever helps you sleep at night. (Maybe that's just me.)

    Anyway, you probably know this but you are a savior to millions, including me. I started reading your blog when I was still married, never knowing I would see so much of myself in you. I hope you always know that so many people value your words and appreciate your kindness and look forward to reading each new entry. Hugs!!

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    1. Oh Tiffany! What a wonderful comment to read (the stuff at the end, I mean, the other stuff is great too but for different reasons, ha!!)

      Aughh...my ex uses that same excuse too: "They don't try to be with me so I'm not going to try anymore". It's hard explaining teenagers/tween behavior to someone who isn't used to being around them.

      I'm right there with you, sister: it's not my job to help him parent. I will not prevent him from doing so, EVER, but he is an adult and he needs to be the one to take responsibility for his role in the kid's lives. None of that lies on me.

      I wonder that too, about how they discuss the kids with "others". How do they explain their lack of relationships with them?? There's no way to doctor that up, is there? Unless they insinuate that we are somehow responsible for it.

      I am so happy you are here. Not WHY you're here, of course but the fact that you are is very heartwarming and I appreciate it more than you'll ever know. You are all the best support group, evah.

      Lots of love to you!

      Jenny

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  8. Jenny,
    Sorry to be so blunt but I think Cleveland is respectfully full of CRAP. When people answer this way they're typically hiding the truth of their situation. No person cheated on, whose spouse divorces, leaves the home they share with their wife and children and starts a new life with the affair partner is going to tolerate and friend the new wife and keep being friendly with the ex spouse. The shit sandwich stinks and to just accept it for the sake of your children is disrespecting yourself.

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    1. I respectfully disagree. Thanks for your comment, but while you are entitled to your opinion and the way you live your life, so am I without judgement from you.

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    2. Cleveland is a long time reader and has always, always been thoughtful and kind in her comments/observations. Although we may not employ the same tactics in our post-divorce lives, I respect her choices...and hope that this will remain a place where we can express ourselves.

      Anonymous, you know I understand exactly what you mean in regards to dealing with the people who brought such pain and breakage. I'm with you there, obviously 100%. And yep, shit sandwiches are not awesome.

      But what I have learned over the past few years is this: while so many of us have gone through similar experiences (cheating spouses, sad kids, picking up the pieces, etc) we all handle it in our own ways.

      I've had people jump down my throat because they think how I've chosen to process all of it is bad. Or bitter. Or alienating. I know my methods won't work for everyone, but I also know that for now, they work for me. Just like how Cleveland has chosen to deal works for her, and however you are doing it, hopefully works for you.

      We are all just trying. That's all we can do, right? Try and try and try. I love having all of you here and love the fact that you all bring your own stories and smiles and tears. I hope you stay. All of you ♥

      Jenny

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  9. Jenny,

    I love your writing and your posts always get me thinking. With my own situation I always struggle with...how would things be different if the OW wasn't a part of the equation. I think we still would have gotten divorced but the coparenting / friend situation would be totally different. Even if I wanted to be friends with my Ex the OW would never allow it. In addition, I am sure she encourages my Ex to limit the contact with the kids because she would rather forget they existed.

    I am babbling but your post really got me thinking about why I can't be friends with my EX and the source of my anger.

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  10. I'm alone in that cockpit too. My ex decided he'd rather live homeless and jobless than pay alimony and child support. He drops in on the kids every few months, mostly to drum up sympathy. The last time our 18 YO daughter refused to see him. He told our 16 YO daughter he was cold and asked her for a blanket. She cried when she told me that because she is so worried about him. He told our 22 YO son (who is high functioning autistic) that he is sick and "it isn't good." I'm about to decide that the kids are better off with no contact from him until he gets his life back together. They all have anxiety and depression issues as it is, and he is too self absorbed to do any parenting at all, let alone co-parent with me. I'm all alone in flying the plane and also busy cleaning up his messes after he jumps out.

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  11. You are completely right Jenny and completely on point. You are not bad mouthing your ex to your children and you don't get in the way of them seeing their dad. Mission accomplished! And though some of your children are still minors, they are old enough to navigate their relationship with their dad. Wait until they're all adults-that's the best!

    Cheaters throw the friendship thing out the window when they decide to have sex with someone who isn't their spouse. The end! I'm lucky because my kids were adults when their dad decided to follow his pecker to (perceived) greener pastures. One of them had a graduation last year (MS degree in college) and my only rule was that I would not take any pictures with him that his dad was in. Obviously I wouldn't sit with him and his new wife either but seating isn't assigned for these things in college.

    Some of my friends thought I should've take a photo with them as a family but the only family in that photo was my son. I also had the same argument for them you make in your post. I wouldn't create a photo op with a burglar that stole everything from my house so why would I take a picture with someone I have no respect for and who showed none for me?

    Nothing wrong with parallel parenting and no contact. Nothing what so ever.

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  12. Amen and amen. Just like kids are not baby squirrels, men are not hapless, helpless animals who must be continually protected from the truth...the truth of themselves. Most of them wish we could pretend they are not abusive so they continue to look like super dad, as if being superficial should be conflated with "parenting". Please. Taking the high toad means telling the truth through your living because it is the right thing to do. Anything else makes it seem as if ex-y has no choice in the matter and he totally does.

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    1. high road...surely high toad is some kind of Freudian anomaly

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