Jen Waite lived a nightmare we here at Chump Nation can all relate to — one terrible day she discovered her spouse had a double life. Her husband was not the person he represented himself to be. He was a fraud, a liar, a con. Jen’s world fell apart. She was a new mother at the time. Here’s where Jen distinguishes herself from the rest of us — she wrote a true life suspenseful account of her betrayal and landed a publishing deal with Penguin books.
Jen and I share an agent, which is how I heard of Jen’s incredible tale of mightiness. Today Jen, author, mom, former chump, is studying to be a therapist. A Beautiful, Terrible Thing is a new addition to the Chump Lit canon changing the narrative around infidelity.
I had the opportunity to interview Jen about her chump experience. You can check out her book here. Support the Chump Lit cause! Buy the book!
CL: Having once married a sociopath (raising my hand here too) — are you wary of sparkles? You say you knew he was “It” — does that kind of chemistry freak you out now?
This is a really good question and one I actually haven’t been asked a lot, but something I do think about quite a bit. The first year “post-sociopath” I was very, very wary of any kind of sparkles or chemistry or attention even from a man. I didn’t start dating at all until about a year had passed since everything happened and during that year I went through a good period of time where I decided that I never wanted a partner again.
But it was a decision made from fear and anger, not because I was truly happy being single (I am actually in that specific place now which is really lovely!). I spent a lot of time processing what happened and analyzing the “red flags” that I missed at the beginning of my relationship with my ex-husband. I also worked a lot in therapy to determine WHY I missed those red flags and that’s ultimately where I began to differentiate between chemistry and sparkles and love bombing, triangulation and a super heightened, disingenuous sense of intimacy. So I kind of ended up doing a 180 from when I was like “fuck no” to all men.
My grandmother told me something while I was uncovering piece by piece my ex-husband’s second life, she said: “Your stomach always tells the truth.” That might seem like a kind of “woo woo” principle to live by but if you feel sick to your stomach at the beginning (or end) of a relationship, your body is trying to tell you something. There is a big difference between having a healthy connection with someone and the “attraction” that results from love-bombing, triangulation, pity plays, etc. etc.
So long answer short, I’m not wary of chemistry anymore; sparkles are great and actually I think essential at the beginning of a relationship but I trust my stomach now and take in all the data as objectively as possible.
CL: When did the mask slip? Your D-Day was January 20, but did you have a mask slip earlier?
Yes, January 20th (that date will forever be seared into my mind) was the night that my husband came home from work a completely different person. I had found a strange email earlier that night and called him at work to ask him about it. He laughed it off and had a really genuine response but when he got home from work that night, it was like a switch flipped. Almost as if on the way home he decided “well cat’s out of the bag, I’m not gonna even try to keep up the act anymore.” It was eerie and shocking and confusing to the point that I felt completely panicked. I also had a newborn baby at this time and so I’m not sure what role sleep deprivation played but just suffice it to say that that was not a good night. That night was the intersection of the BEFORE and AFTER of my life.
At the time, on January 20th, I would have said, no, that was the first time the mask slipped, or was ripped off, but in hindsight I can pinpoint small moments from the end of my pregnancy that he started to let the mask slip a bit. He became somewhat disengaged around when I was about eight months pregnant — I chalked it up to the fact that he had a new job as the general manager of a trendy restaurant in downtown Manhattan so the hours were very late and long and (I believed) he was just insanely overworked and overtired. But I also remember him posting kind of weird, out of the ordinary, pictures to his social media for the first time. He posted a couple of quotes, like “inspirational” but really strange, like about being a lion or a tiger, and then he also became obsessed with New York City and “making it big.” I found out a bit later that his new “target” had just moved to New York from abroad and was equally obsessed with the city and partying and “making it big” in New York. He was starting to mirror her instead of me, for the first time since we’d met. At the time, it seemed subtle — behavior that I could pretty easily explain away, but now when I think about it, it’s totally creepy and obvious that his mask started slipping a couple of months before January 20th.
CL: Do you worry about Louisa’s exposure to her father? Is he out of your life? Or are you in our co-parenting with a fuckwit boat?
I am very fortunate that pretty much ever since D-Day, my ex-husband has kind of disappeared. I think once his lies were brought to light, he just wanted to slip away and start a new life. Right now I have sole legal and physical custody of my daughter. She is two and a half years old. At the very beginning, he would text once in a while, sometimes long, rambling, word-salady texts about needing time to “get better” and become the great father that he knew he could be, but now it has been over a year with pretty much zero word from him.
Louisa actually said the other day “What’s a daddy?” and it took me totally by surprise. I had heard another little girl in her daycare scream “daddy!!!” recently when her dad came to pick her up, so I think that’s where the question came from, but still my stomach flipped because I didn’t really have an answer prepared yet. I was about to go into some long explanation of “Well, someday you might have a dad but for now you have me and Mimi and Granddad and Uncle Ryan and…” etc. etc. and before I could answer she said, “Mama’s my daddy!!!!!”
I realize it won’t always be that simple, and I plan on being truthful with her in an age-appropriate way. But for now, while the girl is two, mama’s her daddy and I’m good with that.
CL: What advice do you have for people who unearth double lives of their partners? You lived this nightmare — do you feel unique? Like Freak of the Week, or do you think this experience is more common than we know?
This experience is shockingly more common than we think, or at least, than I thought. Since coming forward with my story, I have received hundreds of emails from other women (and a few men) who have lived through similar betrayals. There is a shame stigma surrounding this kind of life-altering betrayal. On the one hand, you feel like you should have seen it coming, and then on the other hand, if you try to explain to friends and family what really happened, you end up sounding crazy. And I’ll be the first to admit to having these thoughts about myself — that I should have known better and that I was going insane during the devalue/discard. I used to have this idea that when couples break up in a less than amicable fashion, there were problems under the surface for a while — you know that saying “it takes two to tango”? Well, I used to believe that fully — that a “sudden” breakup or betrayal in a relationship, while horrible, was always the result of a slow degradation of communications and feelings between two people.
Now I know that there are certain people (namely narcissists and sociopaths) who take pleasure in pulling the rug out and dropping you on your ass when you least expect it. While there are absolutely red flags in the beginning of a relationship with a narcissist and/or sociopath (thank God), the devalue and discard are designed to inflict as much confusion and hurt as possible, and at the same time convince you (via gaslighting) that you were to blame for the sudden absolute 180.
I suppose my advice first and foremost is to be gentle with yourself. I spent a lot of time beating myself up for not “recovering” fast enough or for being angry or sad or ashamed. I wished that I could fast forward to being strong and resilient and healed. So my first piece of advice is: let yourself feel whatever you need to feel without judgment. Be gentle and kind to yourself during this process.
And then my second piece of advice is: when you’re ready, go back and think about what drew you to that particular person. I realized that I was desperate for external validation and I thought that getting it from my ex-husband, who seemed very “hard to get,” would be the ultimate validation. The only reason though that he seemed like a prize is because he used triangulation and said one thing and did another, which left me in a constant state of confusion and infatuation. At the end of the day “winning” my ex-husband didn’t make me special, it made me a woman in a relationship, and then marriage, with a person who had shown himself to be completely lacking in character and integrity. So, look, my point is, ain’t no shame in the psychopath game (yes I just coined that phrase), they are highly manipulative con artists programmed to exploit vulnerabilities and insecurities. However, it is an opportunity to rebuild yourself (because you feel shattered and broken at the end of the relationship, I know, I was there) and finally, finally, FINALLY fall in love with yourself.
CL: Tell us about how you’re rebuilding your life and about your memoir. (We love mighty stories!)
It was a long process and for many, many months I suffered from anxiety and panic attacks. The more I researched psychopathy and learned about personality disorders, the more I was able to very slowly align what my mind knew and what my heart felt. I went through a long period of cognitive dissonance where I technically understood that my husband very likely was on the psychopathy spectrum, had no empathy and our entire relationship was a lie, but I could not feel it. It was like my brain and my heart were at war.
I also was suddenly a single parent to a newborn, which gave me purpose and a reason to trudge forward, but was excruciatingly painful and difficult and a bit terrifying.
Basically, the first six months after D-Day were bad. Really, really bad. I was kind of on auto pilot, and just trying to make sure my daughter was healthy.
The silver lining though of being completely shattered, is that you get to piece yourself back together. I felt like everything I thought I knew had been ripped away, and, while terrifying, that eventually allowed me to start over in a way — to rebuild my self-worth and how I saw the world. I realized that I had lost a lot of myself in trying to please other people, whether it be family or friends or societal expectations in general. It suddenly became very clear what I wanted and who I wanted in my life. And I found that disengaging with people and things that negatively affected me (or made me feel slightly sick to my stomach) improved my quality of life immensely; suddenly I had more time to dedicate to the people and things that were truly important to me.
Six months later (from January 20th), I started writing. Six months after that, I finished a memoir. It was, as cliché as it sounds, kind of an out of body experience. Every minute that I could find during the day, and at night after my daughter went to bed, I would write feverishly, as if the entire memoir was inside my body and needed to get out. Because I uncovered my husband’s double life piece by piece in real life, that’s how I wrote the memoir, and it took the shape of a psychological thriller — not so fun in real life but it made for (I hope) a very compelling book. Writing everything out was also immensely healing for me and I hope it will validate other peoples’ experiences, and remove some of the shame, from this type of relationship.
I am also finding the life my daughter and I have created to be so simple and satisfying. It is so hard being a single parent (the first two years especially, it seems to be getting easier now…though she could be tricking me), but there is also a freedom and agency that comes with being a single parent. Being able to make all the decisions myself can sometimes feel daunting and overwhelming, but on the flip side it is so freaking satisfying and empowering. At the end of the day, we’re figuring it out as we go along!