Dear Chump Lady,
Approximately two years ago, I left my ex after discovering that he cheated, and I’ve been no contact successfully for about 18 months. We live in a small town where most everybody knows everybody else. I’m well over 50, have many friends and family here, and I plan to spend the rest of my life in this town.
The problem is the smear campaign. It seems to be a new twist on “If I can’t have her, nobody will.” He is telling everyone he sees that I told him the reason I left him is because I am “gay.”
The fact is, if I were a lesbian, I would admit it. But I am not. Even though I can’t say I particularly want to date or begin a new relationship, he is closing those doors for me and that is not his prerogative.
When I first heard this rumor about 18 months ago, I just thought it was silly. Considering the source, and that he is quite the homophobe, I laughed it off. But the more I heard it, the less funny it became. And when I heard it again recently from an elderly family member who seemed to believe it because she considered her source reliable and had been told the original source was me, it hurt me to think that she was hurt by it due to her religious beliefs (right or wrong).
To say that I am not a lesbian is a negative that is difficult to prove. To say that I am definitively heterosexual is much more easy to believe in that I have only ever been in hetero relationships and I have two children. I have made no attempt to make a public outcry about this because I haven’t wanted to draw attention to it myself and thereby appear to “protest too much.” I thought it might lose ground quickly, but evidently it hasn’t as I heard it twice just last week.
Do you have any words of wisdom for me? Is there anything at all I can do to quiet this rumor? Or, better yet, put some egg on this rumor-monger’s face?
It’s no insult to lesbians to say “I’m not a lesbian.” It’s time to speak up. That is NOT protesting too much — it’s setting the record straight.
Next time you hear this rumor say, “I’m not a lesbian. My ex is saying the marriage ended because I am gay. The truth is I left him because he was cheating on me.”
That’s three declarative sentences. And it’s the truth. Speak the truth and let go. You can’t control what other people think, but you CAN put the truth out there.
Frankly, to small town gossips believing you are an exotic, closeted lesbian is a far juicier narrative than believing you’re a middle-aged woman who got chumped. If they want to believe you’re a lesbian, I’m sure they’ll marshall their evidence accordingly. “She wears flannel!” “I always knew she enjoyed soft ball!” “I heard she drives a Suburu Outback!”
As for warding off potential suitors, my understanding is that men find lesbians hot. Girl on girl is quite the straight guy fantasy. I don’t think this falsehood about your purported sexuality is going to keep men away. And I hope when you’re ready to date, you’ll consider men outside the radius of your small town. So please put this worry to rest.
The larger issue here is the smear campaign. Your vindictive ex, to cover the stink of his own crimes, wants to spread a nasty rumor about you, that yes, he probably does hope will ruin your ability to move on from him. Being homophobic, he probably assumes everyone thinks like he does. Lesbian = pariah. Anyone who thinks like your ex does is not someone you want to associate with anyway. He’s done you a favor, filtering out the small-minded jerks.
But the injustice! I get it Bewildered. I really do. It’s what these disordered freaks do. Character assassination is the norm. My serial cheating ex told people our marriage ended because I cheated on HIM. (That’s also what he told me about his two ex-wives.) No one who knew me believed it, but I’m sure a lot of his new girlfriends did.
I don’t control that. The truth wins out over time. Those women found out the truth him, painfully I’m sure.
All you can do is speak your truth and live your truth. Let go of what other people think. More than preventing you from moving on, I think your ex is creating this narrative for his own impression management. It’s a twist on the classic, I didn’t get enough sex, that’s why I cheated. So of course if you were a lesbian, you weren’t giving him sex. So what he did Was Totally Understandable. Poor sausage.
This is why it’s so important not to keep his secrets. Feel free to tell anyone you want to why your marriage ended. Really, that is what he fears, which is why he’s trying to get to the narrative first.
If it’s any consolation, I had a very similar thing happen to me when I moved to small town Texas. My husband’s ex still lived here when I first arrived. I’m quite convinced that she told everyone in town that my husband cheated on HER. It would be the easily believed stereotype. Lawyer, mid-life crisis, moves his bimbo into the marital home.
Fact is, she was a serial cheater who moved her STILL MARRIED boyfriend into her former marital home, but let’s not quibble. She had to assassinate my husband’s character so people wouldn’t know who she really is.
I got the stink eye from strangers for a solid year. Let me tell you, it was really awkward. But this is what I did — I told the truth. That my husband and I had both been cheated on in our former marriages. And if anyone asked about her, I said she was living with her current, married affair partner down the street.
And then, I was just myself. I started an art club. I went to church. I made friends. I joined a charitable sorority. People formed their own opinions about me. I’m sure there are still people in this town who probably think I was a mistress, but who cares? Fuck them. I don’t control that. The people that matter to me hold me in good regard.
It also helps if you live next door to the former mayor’s widow. Every small town has an influence broker. Get to know yours. Mine conveniently lives next door. She has a glowing opinion of my husband, and after a year I think she decided she liked me too. She said over the fence one day, very Southern, apropos of nothing: “That woman was an idiot. Her loss was your gain.”
And that narrative, I believe, took over the earlier propaganda campaign. She was a cheater and an idiot. She didn’t appreciate a good man. Now he’s got a woman who appreciates him.
Live your truth, Bewildered, and your truth is going to overtake the propaganda in time. Bewildered is a good woman who got cheated on. Can you believe he did that and then told everyone she was a lesbian? What an asshole. She’s so much happier now. And can you blame her?
You never get to see the egg on the cheater’s face. With any luck, when their narrative doesn’t stick, they move out of town. That’s what happened to me. And I hope that’s what happens to you too.