Dear Chump Lady,
My D-Day involved a stranger texting me about my cheater’s profile on a “sugar baby” site. He had spent $30K (much of it my money) on sex with dozens of women. He eventually revealed that he’d had an affair during his first marriage — something he always adamantly denied, saying “I wasn’t sexually attracted to her, but I would never have fooled around. That’s not the kind of man I am.” Oh, and his university degree? That was a lie too. So I’m certain there are many, many more lies and more cheating that I don’t know about. Needless to say, I was obliterated.
He had presented himself to me as a good guy — my safe space, my refuge after my first marriage ended in infidelity. We marveled at how our love was fated, at what a blessing it was to find true love in middle age. Our love would move mountains! The stars sang for us! Our desire for each other was intense, and we jumped into commitment (or so I thought) very quickly. He love bombed me good. I’ve forgiven myself for falling for his act. He’s a very good con and I have a big heart. But I will never be chumped again.
After DDay, we went to therapy together, and he convinced me (for a very short time) to consider opening our marriage. I was vulnerable and in shock. But after just a month of talking about it, I put an end to that BS. It’s not what I want, it doesn’t reflect my values. And no matter how he tried to package it up, what he did wasn’t polyamory or ethical monogamy, it was CHEATING.
That time after discovery was painful on a level I didn’t know possible. Going in for STD tests, hearing details about his “arrangements” with these women, questioning my own reality, and finally, realizing that our marriage was an illusion and he is a liar and cheat. A textbook narcissist who used me in every way he could for nine years, violating my health, my financial life, my personal safety, and my well-being.
After I left, he tried to convince me to “work on ourselves” during the separation, so we could come back together in time (yummy, cake!). He told me I was his best friend, his one great love. He said that he would never love anyone the way he loves me, and he will carry me in his heart until the day he dies. The fact that he can say those things to me after what he did just confirmed my clear-eyed assessment that he is disordered.
I am awake now. I had my “Tuesday” — seven months after DDay and three months after I moved out. No contact with the cheater has broken the spell and freed me to move forward and create the life I want. I am safe, I am healthy, I am strong, I am free.
For a time after DDay, I checked his social media (not anymore – I’ve blocked him everywhere). The day I told him it was over, he started writing “poems” and posting them to Instagram. He even paid a marketing firm to grow his Instragram “base” (yummy, more kibbles!).
His posts alternate between “poor me” tales of a lost love (yes, apparently his story about our break is that I left him brokenhearted) and graphic descriptions of sex with his “new love.” He’s using the same language he used with me when we met. He’s saying he’s waited his whole life for a love like this. Looking at the dates, I realize that he emailed me to say I was his “one great love” and posted the very same thing about this new woman – on the same day. I didn’t respond, of course, and it doesn’t hurt my heart. It’s just disturbing and pathetic.
And here’s the thing (we’re getting to my question, I promise!) … his daughter is “liking” all his posts, including the ones with graphic sex. Awful for her, especially at an age when she’s coming into her own sexuality. I really feel for her, especially because her mom has been diagnosed with NPD. Yep, poor thing has two narcissists for parents.
The cheater and I married when his daughter was seven years old (she’s 15 now). He has 50/50 custody. I cared for his daughter in every way I knew how, and she and I got along just fine. I love children (would’ve been a mom if I could have), but I never really bonded with her, not in a heartfelt way. I always felt shame about that. But a lack of connection didn’t stop me from taking her to all her doctor appointments, attending parent-teacher conferences, planning her activities, helping with homework, taking her shopping and getting mani/pedis together, enjoying long talks about friends and boys and life, etc. Oh, and paying for everything.
The cheater was broke when we got together (just months after he separated from his ex — red flag #1 of thousands). I paid his daughter’s child support and her mom’s alimony for years. Also the cheater’s back taxes and legal fees, our mortgage, car payments, family vacations, and every other bill. I know, I know. I look back now and I’m absolutely shocked. But the cheater is a clever con and he love bombed me hard. I felt chosen. I thought we were a team. He sparkled. I spackled. I told everyone about the “potential” of the business he was building — I just didn’t tell family and friends that I was going into deep debt to finance it.
When I moved out, the cheater and I sat down with his daughter and told her that we love her very much and she didn’t do anything wrong, that it’s between us. We didn’t tell her what the cheater had done. We said sometimes things happen, life changes, we make choices, and we try to move forward with grace. She was sad, but it’s not the same as her parents’ divorce. Her mom and dad aren’t going anywhere. Her first question was “if you’re gone, will Dad and I ever do anything fun?” Hmm. She knew where the money was coming from, apparently.
I wrote her a long, heartfelt letter. I reminded her of all the people who love and support her, and I told her how sorry I am if this change causes her pain. She’s faced a lot of tough stuff in her life, and I told her how strong she is. I let her know that she will be okay, we will all be okay, and I’m here if she ever needs someone to talk to. I sent a few texts when I moved out, just quick notes to check in and see how her summer was going. She responded in a short, easy breezy way, which is her style. She didn’t initiate contact except one text to say she’s considering having sex and getting on birth control. I texted back, “Wow, that’s big! I’m so glad you have your mom and your dad to support you through this.” No contact between us since then.
The cheater, meanwhile, has begged me to stay in his daughter’s life. He told me, “you’re more of a mom to her than her mom!” He had his best friend reach out to me to say the same (he was best man at our wedding and knew about the prostitutes all along – not someone I trust). The cheater’s ex texted me to say I could see her daughter on her time whenever I wanted. I did not respond to any of them.
I do not want to hurt this child. But the truth is, I do not want her in my life. A connection to her is a doorway to her dad, and I will not allow that opening. He has proven to be a threat to my well-being. And I am not bonded with this child. I don’t particularly like her. I don’t dislike her, she’s just not my cup of tea. I don’t think I’m hers, either. It’s not for nothing that she’s not the one begging me to stay in her life. We remain connected on social media, and I can see that she’s having fun with her friends and doing her thing.
So my question, Chump Lady, is this: I have walked away from the cheater and will remain in no contact. Can I apply that to his daughter as well? Am I a cold-hearted bitch for walking away from a child? Do I have a responsibility to her that supersedes my decision re: the cheater?
Dear Ex-Stepmom Chump,
You have a responsibility to align your words with your deeds. And if you cannot do that, to be honest about it.
I let her know that she will be okay, we will all be okay, and I’m here if she ever needs someone to talk to.
You told her you were available for her. And she reached out on something big — first time sex — and you deflected it back to her parents with a breezy non-answer.
So your real question to me is “Can I ghost a teenager and not be a shitty person?”
No. Ghosting is shitty. Especially to a child to whom you devoted years of your life. You don’t like her? Very few 15 year olds are likable. By 15, teenagers have perfected their unlikable. That’s besides the point. Everyone in her life now is an unstable flake. I’m not saying you have to continue to PARENT her, I’m saying you may not mindfuck her.
I think the ethical thing to do here is issue an apology. “Dear Step Daughter, I know I said I would be here for you, but I’ve since realized that I need to maintain strict boundaries in my life with regards to your father. It’s not fair that you’re in the middle. I’m so sorry, but I have to go no contact for my sanity and healing. While you’re still a minor, any connection to you, is a connection to him. I’m sorry I misrepresented my intentions. I wish you all the best. — Ex-Stepmom”
Does that feel awful? It’s a boundary and it’s honest. Waffle-y half measures and promising support that doesn’t follow through is infinitely more painful — to her and to you.
I don’t fault your reasons for going no contact. That’s a sad part of divorce — rightly or wrongly we lose half of our former family. I wouldn’t read much into that girl liking her father’s posts — she wants his approval. She’s a kid. It’s fucked up and it’s no longer your fucked up. We can’t save everyone.
Does that sound cold? As a chump, OMG (raising my hand here) we want to save people. We feel responsible for things that we are not responsible for — other people’s debts, other people’s bad feelings, other people’s messes. We get a lot of kibbles for being caring, clean-shit-up kind of people. We’re needed! Useful! Special!
It’s okay to say no and recognize your limitations.
Some people manage relationships with their ex stepchildren. But this would take a level of meh for your ex that you do not have 7 months past D-Day. It would take a masterclass in boundaries, and you’re a person who was chumped to the tune of $30K. It would also take liking the person and desiring a relationship. We don’t do ANYONE any favors pretending to like people we do not like.
But the problem with being authentic and setting boundaries, is that often the receiver of the boundary doesn’t like it. Doesn’t like us. And to the people pleasing chumps, that’s kryptonite.
Fact is, the marriage broke up because dad is a predator. You would’ve continued to be a chump, and been in that child’s life had it not been for a kind stranger with a Sugar Daddy screenshot. The fallout is on him. It pains you to pain her. That makes you human. It doesn’t make you responsible.
You’ve pronounced your Tuesday, sworn you’ll never be a chump again. I’m not convinced. Going forward, please fix the picker and do the hard work on yourself.
I paid his daughter’s child support and her mom’s alimony for years. Also the cheater’s back taxes and legal fees, our mortgage, car payments, family vacations, and every other bill. I know, I know. I look back now and I’m absolutely shocked.
If you know yourself and do a brutal self-assessment, you won’t be shocked. You’ll understand why you did it (cue “I’m Needed! Useful! Special!”). Yes, cons are good — you’ve got to be better. That begins with knowing where you start and other people end.