Dear Chump Lady,
I’ve been chumped for the second time.
My soon-to-be-ex Michelle and I first met in high school. At the time I had a huge crush on her, but she was involved with someone. Fast forward to after high school, I had just broken up with my girlfriend of two years. When lo and behold who should contact me out of the blue? Michelle. We started hanging out and from then on we were inseparable. I was warned by mutual friends at the time that she had quite the history of sleeping around, but like any chump I ignored the warning signs that were screaming at me. Surely, I’m what she’s been missing all these years!
Two years into the relationship, I popped the question. Things were moving along quite nicely. We were in love. We were engaged. I purchased our first home and we moved in together. This is when the first sign of trouble hit. We had been in our new home not quite a year, when one day she dropped a bomb on me. She’d never had much of a relationship with her scumbag father. Her mom and dad divorced when she was just 5 years old. The stories I had heard about him over the years proved to me what a scumbag he truly was. He cheated on my her mom quite a bit.
When they divorced he was even worse. He never paid child support. And he neglected his daughter. She told me stories about how she would beg him to pick her up and spend time with her. He would promise. And then never show. The only time he DID pay attention to her was when he had a new girlfriend. He would bring Michelle around. Parade her around for his new girlfriend, “Look at how beautiful my daughter is!” and then go back to not paying attention to her. She told me that she needed to be with her dad. He had come into her life and she wanted a relationship with him. Surely, it wasn’t possible to be married AND have a relationship with her dad! After much begging and pleading, true to my perfect chump form, she relented and stayed.
A year later we were married and she was pregnant with our first child. When our son was born, he had complications that required he stay in NICU for the first three months. Because of the struggle of my hours at my job being cut during the downturn and the piling up of medical debt, we filed for bankruptcy. We lost our house and had to move in with my parents. During this time came the second threat to leave. She didn’t love me anymore. I was always depressed etc… Again, after much pleading she stayed and we worked on it.
Now, the worst was yet to come. In 2014 she was 3 months pregnant with our second child. I was at work on a midnight shift when I got an alert on my phone that at 1 a.m. Michelle had “arrived home”. (Thank you find-my-phone for the alert!) I confronted her the next morning when I got home and she confessed to everything. She slept with an old ex-boyfriend she reconnected with on Facebook. She moved out two days later. I filed for divorce. Of course after after a month, she did the whole “I’m so sorry! I miss you! Let’s work on this! I wanna come home!” song and dance. And I took the bait.
The last 4 years have been hard work and lately everything had seemed to be going so well. We were closer than ever. Or so I thought.
One month ago she messages me while I’m at work. She’s been depressed. She doesn’t know who she is. She loves me, but, get this, she isn’t in love with me anymore! She wants to try and live life on her own. Figure out who she is. She doesn’t want to be with anyone. Doesn’t want a relationship. Which was all lying cheater speak for I want to fuck around. I found out she had been talking to a guy at her work for over a month. D-day was February 3rd. A week later she started dating a police officer who works security at her bank. She’s 31. He’s 50. He’s divorced with grown kids. The reason he’s divorced? He cheated on his wife. I know this because funny enough we have a mutual friend in common. She gave me a whole sob story about how her whole life she’s been chasing the love of her father and how she associates love with pain. I once again have filed for divorce. She and her father still don’t have much of a relationship. So, my question is this — Did the way her dad treated her when she was young truly fuck her up? Or is she using it as an excuse to be a scumbag cheater?
Looking for answers,
You’ve got a classic case of Untangling the Skein of Fuckupedness. It’s the coping mechanism chumps employ to understand How The Cheater Got This Way. I tell people not to untangle the skein because a) it keeps you from moving on with your own life; and b) it doesn’t matter. The simple answer is they cheat because they can. Because they did the cost-benefit analysis and fucking around (kibbles!) won out over your health and welfare. The choice to cheat is a matter of character.
But! But! FOO issues!
Cue Phillip Larkin… “They fuck you up, your mum and dad…” Whose parents didn’t fuck them up? Loads of people have far more dysfunctional childhoods and they don’t cheat, or grow up to be abusers. In fact, despite horrific life experiences many people wind up resilient and pretty solid citizens.
People carry scars. It’s what you choose to do with them. Heal them, or inflict injury on others and scar them?
Is she using it as an excuse to be a scumbag cheater?
Probably. But the bigger problem with untangling the skein is that YOU are using it as an excuse. If her Dad fucked her up, then at some level she couldn’t help hurting you. She didn’t have a fighting chance. She is absolved of a bit of responsibility. Maybe all responsibility? After all Dad was really an asshole.
You can spend a lot of time winding down that rabbit hole. Parsing out how this factor and that factor may have influenced her shitty behavior. Weighing her guilt, but also feeling empathy for her suffering — that poor little girl whose Daddy never showed up for her.
As a chump, that feels like a much better place for our feelings than rage at being betrayed. Hurt people HURT people, Tracy!
And it’s a gateway to codependency and further chumpdom. I can love all her hurt away! She will learn to trust me! By making myself vulnerable to her, she will be vulnerable to me!
Yeah. How many D-Days have you had? How’s that working for you?
Here’s the other problem with untangling the skein — untying those knots is hard (impossible) work. Great, now you have some place to throw all your attention — an unsolvable problem. Which very conveniently takes the focus off YOU. Which question do you think is more pressing: “How did Michelle become a cheater?” or “What is Hoosier going to do next with his life?”
Looking backwards is pointless. She did what she did without regard to you and your children. WHAT NEXT? You’re divorcing — good. Focus on being the sane parent, on rebuilding your life, and untangling your own skein — why you put so much value on this woman who didn’t value you.
Because that painful reckoning is really at the core of skein untangling — if we find the Magic Reason then we matter. Deep down she really loved you, but She Just Couldn’t Help Doing This Bad Thing Because…
Truth is she didn’t love you. Or not enough to prevent her from behaving unilaterally and selfishly. You just didn’t factor into her choices at all. And that’s devastating, because you invested so much of yourself, and because YOU loved deeply. We untangle precisely so we don’t have to feel the pain of that dissonance. She didn’t care. I don’t matter.
Hoosier, you MATTER. Your kids MATTER. You just invested in a lousy person. We’ve all been there. I’m sorry her dad was a cheating asshole. The lesson she needed to take from that was Don’t Be A Cheating Asshole. NOT Become A Cheating Asshole!
Maybe she does associate love with pain. Doesn’t mean you have to. Best wishes on that new life.