Here’s a situation I’ve encountered many times among dating friends. Friend will swoon with excitement over new man in her life. Man is divorced. Being the horrible Chump Lady killjoy that I am, I’ll ask why. (Sorry, Mr. Prospect. You don’t date someone I love without being vetted.) And invariably I’ll get the nebulous tale of an ex-wife who one day, inexplicably, just went batshit crazy.
This is never a good sign, people.
I call this the Bitch-Be-Crazy red flag. “Oh, well she had mental problems. No, really. Even the neighbors say she was fine and then one day she turned on him. It’s like something snapped!”
I am skeptical. Now, it’s true that the world possesses many crazy bitches, and that crazy can be the factor in many divorces. I don’t doubt that. However I DO doubt the nebulous case of Crazy Bitch that just descends on otherwise fine women one day, who take leave of their senses and turn on wonderful partners like rabid raccoons. Symptoms include “jealousy” and failing to sufficiently appreciate him.
As someone who actually divorced someone for their untreated mental illness (my first husband), I can speak to leaving crazy. Here’s what distinguishes leaving actual crazy for vague crazy — I can tell you his diagnosis. What doctors we went to and for how long. I can tell you every symptom of the illness and the drugs used to treat it. What support sites are online and what your Amazon reading list should include. And I can tell you that untreated mental illness tends to be a slow, confusing decline — and that unless you suffered a traumatic brain injury, crazy doesn’t come on all of a sudden. Either you’ve suffered with it for most of your life (depression, anxiety), or things that were once eccentric or in the range of normal become chaotic and untenable over time. There are a lot of irrational conversations and embarrassing confrontations.
Most important — if you’re any kind of loving person, you tried to get your partner help and understand the illness, and you struggled with the decision to divorce or be divorced. Sure, you can be angry, but mostly divorcing someone with a mental illness is just sad as hell. “Crazy” isn’t a one-size-fits-all excuse for leaving someone.
So, if someone lays the Bitch Be Crazy narrative on you — ask some pointed questions. Don’t spackle. Pay attention to the answers. “What was her diagnosis?” “How much time did she spend in treatment?” “Why do you think she’s angry with you?” “Did you cheat on her?”
And on the flip side, if you have a terrible ex-wife and you’re at pains to explain your failed relationship — just cut to the chase — share that she cheated on you. You don’t have to say she’s crazy. Your date will take in the wonderfulness of you, and conclude that herself.
And if your ex describes you as that Crazy Bitch? Not a thing you can do about it. (Okay, except maybe worry for the next chump.) Enjoy your freedom from a cheater. The sanity is priceless.