Dear Chump Lady,
My tragicomedy of chumpdom is well-known here, so I won’t waste space rehashing it. I’m pretty far out at this point: my divorce was final two years ago, and it’s been more than four years since the D-day and separation (not counting a foolish eight months in bogus reconciliation.)
Like most chumps here, my ex did a real number on my head and heart. Total mindfuckery.
Well, I’ve been dating a good guy for five months. That’s obviously not long enough to know everything about him, but it’s a decent chunk of time. I have not seen any red flags so far. He has some baggage, of course, as do I. We are both well into middle age, so it would be strange if we DIDN’T have baggage.
He treats me very well. He was very respectful of my need to wait a couple months before we had any physical intimacy beyond holding hands. He does what he says he is going to do when he says he’s going to do it. He was married 25 years, has held a good job at the same company for 20 years, has three adult children he sees frequently. He isn’t at all flashy or sparkly, but he has a sense of humor and a variety of interests. We have fun together, we talk for hours, I feel very at ease and comfortable with him. As far as I know, there was no infidelity in his marriage. My friends and family all like him, and say he seems very nice, stable and normal (as you can imagine, NORMAL is very important to me now.)
Here’s the thing: I find it so hard to trust. I feel like I’m just waiting to find out what he must be hiding — that he’s a liar, or an addict, or a cheater, or a rage-a-holic or some other fatal flaw (not that I’ve seen any sign of those things). I feel like he couldn’t possibly really love me, that he’ll grow tired of me and toss me away cruelly. I read so many stories here of cheaters who seemed like great guys right up until the truth came out, and it’s hard to believe that ALL guys aren’t like that.
I’m not looking for a man to save me or sweep me off my feet. I have a pretty good life on my own, and feel better about myself than I have in years. But I would like to be with a nice, honest, smart and funny man. I really like this guy, and he seems to really like me too. But I’m wondering: how does one leave behind the damage done by a sociopath cheating freak? How did you learn to trust your current husband after what you went through after what you went through with the first?
I’m sure I’m not the only chump in this situation, or wondering how to ever trust again once in a new relationship. Any words of wisdom for me?
You wrote: “I read so many stories here of cheaters who seemed like great guys right up until the truth came out.”
In the earlier days, I might’ve agreed with you. With distance, and being in a healthy relationship now, I can tell you that my cheater was NOT a great guy until the truth came out. I had a bunch of red flags, and if I’d had a better picker, if I’d had any context to put some of the weirdness and love bombing in, and I hadn’t been so chumpy (unable to believe people could behave a certain way) — I would’ve dumped my ex sooner.
Your years of being a chump were NOT wasted — not if you learn from it. NOW you have that context to assess weirdness, NOW you know how dreadful it is to be in a relationship that is chaotic and disrespectful so you won’t settle, NOW you know your worth. And most important of all — you’ve come back from disaster. You know how to rebuild a life.
Let this self knowledge give you some hard-earned confidence.
No relationship is without risk. All you can do is your due diligence — judge their character, make sure their words align with their actions, and listen to your gut. Know your worth. If the worst were to happen, and he’s not the man you thought — you will draw boundaries and enforce them. The Glad who knows her worth is able to walk away.
I know I’m a broken record, but all we control is ourselves. There is a lot of comfort in that!
The chump tendency is to try and control others — a dynamic doomed to failure. If I just try harder, if I dance faster, if I eat the shit sandwiches — then This Person Will Stop Doing Bad Things. We waste all our energy trying to control outcomes, instead of controlling ourselves. How about — If This Person Does Bad Things? I’m outta here!
Do you think that’s heartbreaking? Your fragile self could never recover a second time? Yes, of course it would hurt. But not NEARLY as much as what you’ve been through! You’re forged steel, Glad. What could happen that you haven’t already wrestled that motherfucker to the ground and survived? Betrayal? Abandonment? Humiliation? Raising a kid on your own? Supporting yourself? Compared with — a guy I’ve know 5 months might turn out to be a schmuck?
You asked: How did you learn to trust your current husband after what you went through with the first?
Glad, for the record — I am a TWO-time chump. My husband is my third husband. (I wear the chump crown. Do not challenge me for the title.) I know, it’s an unseemly number — three husbands. To muddle Oscar Wilde: “To lose one husband may look like misfortune. To lose two husbands looks like carelessness.”
I married young and my first marriage was a largely unhappy one. No infidelity (that I know of), but he had a mental illness that grew worse over time and he refused to treat it. I was married nearly a decade — most of it spent in counseling trying to “cure” a man who didn’t think there was anything wrong with him. (He had OCD/hoarding.)
I fault myself. He was sending me a very clear message (“I’m not going to change”) — I adamantly refused to listen to it.
I finally left when my son was 4 years old. I’ve told the story here before — my ex spent the next decade suing me for custody, being found unfit, representing himself in court, and costing me untold heartache and shit loads of money. (He has dead beat issues as well.) The whole mess was sad, costly, and pointless. The guy is disordered. How much of that I attribute to mental illness and how much of that I attribute to him being a monstrous asshole is a skein I no longer untangle. My son is a great kid and has turned out wonderfully despite it all.
So that’s the context in which I met my second husband — a serial cheater. I was a single mother and as much as I’d like to tell you I fixed my picker and did therapy, I did not know my worth. I internalized the judgment that I was “less than” as a single mother. That I had failed at marriage. I was surrounded by Stepford stay-at-home mommies. (Best thing I did was move into the city.) My family treated my marriage as a mortifying mistake that gave them a grandkid. Less said, the better.
No one said, “That must’ve been very hard. You were very brave to leave.” No one painted a rosy picture of my future. My uncle told me I was a “loser” who had fallen from grace as the Good Kid. My grandmother said, “You’ll never remarry. You can’t expect another man to love your child.”
They showed their support by arranging my inheritance in such away that I could afford my legal bills. My mother said “Do you KNOW HOW MUCH THIS IS COSTING YOU?” And I responded: “I’m being sued for custody. Do I have an alternative?”
I did not know about character disorder, and didn’t have any way to view my ex’s legal harassment. I felt as if I had to take it, because he “couldn’t help it,” he was ill.
I did my best. I raised my kid and had a happy single life in many, many respects. Good friends, good work, some enjoyable forays into dating. I thought I was healed up when the love-bombing narcissist turned up on the scene. I see now that I wasn’t. He waved red flags — subtle ones at first, but they built — and I spackled. I wanted that validation. This Successful Guy Wanted Me! It was a lopsided trade from the start. In exchange for love bombing, I got a guy who wooed me, and made me feel off balance. Who dazzled me, and then canceled dates. Who earned a patent attorney’s salary but was quite happy to let a single mom earning half his income pay 50%. Hell, I even lent him money. After we were engaged, he moved in and paid zero expenses. We married (I paid for it), I financed his career move and our new home (my cash down payment, his credit limit), and I told myself — based on MOUNDS OF EVIDENCE TO THE CONTRARY — that he would’ve done the same for me.
Really Tracy? Dude wouldn’t even pick up the dinner check.
Glad — there were SIGNS. The biggest was my gut. Every time he left I got an uneasy feeling. I’d be strangely angry at him, even though we never fought. And when I saw him, he’d charm me and I’d feel like I was being unreasonable. And the money? There were all these excuses I thought believable — his ex-wife took his money, his house was still for sale, I had liquidity, he just had credit, and wouldn’t it be better for OUR financial future if we paid down (his) debt and used (my) cash.
Married 6 months, the long-term mistress called. D-Days… This is already too long. My point is — I got defrauded. I was a chump.
How did I ever trust again after that?
I stopped being a chump. I painfully, torturously learned the hard lessons. I started PAYING ATTENTION in ways I didn’t pay attention before. I started believing in MYSELF for a change. I began to believe in my worth. When I dumped my cheater, I knew the divorce ropes. I knew I could rebuild. Of course, I hated that I had to do it and was exceptionally miserable about it for a time. (It’s part of why I had so many D-Days — Failure Is Not An Option. I was trying very hard to control an outcome that I could not control.) But fucking hey, I did it. I left.
When my (now) husband came on the scene, I paid attention to his actions (consistent). I paid attention to my gut. (I felt safe with him.) I gave it time to see his character over time. (1.5 years of long-distant courtship.) I knew myself. I knew I could end it with him and be okay if it tanked. I accepted who I was — and fuck off to anyone who thinks I’m less than as a single mother. I told MYSELF I was brave and strong for leaving. I had infidelity support groups tell me that. And I write this blog every day to tell YOU that.
Dating my husband I didn’t feel flinchy. I didn’t wonder if he had a secret life as a gambler, or cheater, or circus sideshow freak. I felt (and he hasn’t disappointed me yet) that he is wonderful.
Not sparkly wonderful (although he has his quirky charms), but solid wonderful. Like your best friend that you want to hang out with and you never run out of things to say to one other.
And when I compared THAT to the highs and lows of courtship with my cheater? It wasn’t remotely similar. No drama. No love bombing. No 23 messages on my voice mail. No moving too fast. No razzle dazzle, bad gut feelings, charm onslaught.
If you want to compare the courtship with my first husband — the difference is I had actual things in COMMON with my now husband. When I met my first husband I was in my early 20s. I hadn’t a clue. I’d try anything. Live in Africa? Okay! Work a job I know nothing about? Okay! Get married? Okay! Why the hell not? I haven’t tried that before! I didn’t have a single practical thought in my head, except marriage felt Grown Up and I liked his ’67 Ford Fairlane.
Oh, but how did I TRUST again? Well, I would’ve preferred a risk-free investment. Instead God sent me the EXACT SITUATION I vowed to avoid! Another lawyer! Another out of state move! God’s got a sick sense of humor.
My point is, Glad — love doesn’t come without risk. You may be required to give your whole heart to someone and move to Texas, a state the color of dead grass. You may think you’re playing it safe, and fall very messily and inconveniently in love. (Oh no! I haven’t mourned a month for every year I was married!) Things may not go according to plan.
But what’s the alternative? Curl up in a hermitically sealed bunker and die? Never give of yourself again? Refuse the joys of intimacy?
You met a nice man, Glad. ENJOY THE NICE! If you don’t go forward into life, you’re giving your cheating ex the power to alter your future. Hasn’t he stolen enough from you? Don’t you deserve some nice after years with the crazy Sasquatch man? Doesn’t every minute with the Nice Man feel fundamentally different than time spent with the dancing Yeti? Do you think the majority of the world’s population are sociopaths? No! They’re a freaky minority, and with proper Narc-dar we can learn to avoid them.
So trust yourself, Glad. You’ve got this. You deserve some happiness. Enjoy!