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How to Tolerate Ex in Close Proximity

awayDear Chump Lady,

I’m writing in hopes of finding some fresh advice. Quick backstory: My story is the same old, same old. Multiple D-days, lots of love-bombing on his part, lots of pick-me dancing on my part, but I eventually found you and got the courage to pursue divorce. We’re divorced, but we have a 3-year-old son together, plus we work for the same school district (different campuses, but that’s only because I requested a campus change), so I have lots of opportunities to practice gray rock and work on achieving meh.

I feel like I’m doing really well overall. I even had a chat with HR when I changed schools, to be sure I could be both honest and appropriate with what I said. There were lots of questions from coworkers about why I just disappeared from one school and reappeared at another, and I have a set of scripts that I default to in those awkward moments, many of which came from you or from CN.

So, here I am looking for more sage advice. Our school district is partnering with a local university to help people in education get their master’s degree. It’s a fabulous program and I applied right away. I got accepted as one of the top candidates and was really excited to finally get a graduate degree… until I found out FW applied at the last minute and also got accepted. It’s a 15-month intensive program, so we will literally be spending 40 hours a week together over the next two summers, plus a day per week during the school year.

I need a way to cope. I’m struggling extra hard with this because I already supported him through a master’s program. He failed out and never got his M.Div. because he was actually spending time with multiple APs instead of going to class or study group. I went to a church that was patriarchal and didn’t support divorce because he got to pick his sponsoring church and boy oh boy wasn’t that convenient for him.

I’m so furious that this is even a situation I’m in. I’ve just rebuilt my life after he burned it all down, can’t I just have this one? I mean, of course not. Why miss an opportunity to try to control me even more? I’m NOT dropping out of the program. He doesn’t get to take this from me too. Thus, my desire to seek advice. How can I walk into class every day all summer and not throat punch him? What strategies can I employ to keep on the path to MEH? How can I gray rock with him in my world so much? What scripts can I use when questions from classmates eventually arise? Help me Chump Lady.



Dear BattleDancingUnicorn,

This sounds like the worst aversion therapy ever. How to get over your ex? Spend 40 hours per week in a class room with him for two summers.

I mean, I’m sure this works with spiders… a little stimuli… a little discomfort. Eventually you stop reacting to spiders. But a cheating ex-husband? Ugh.

As you’re set on pursuing this opportunity and furthering your education — totally your right, yay you — you’re going to have to achieve Jedi-level gray rock skills. I hope some CN Jedis weigh in, because honestly I can’t imagine subjecting myself to that much contact unless my child was directly involved in some way.

In fact, I’m trying to imagine a scenario that would entice me. Aretha Franklin is raised from the dead and wants to sing a concert just for me? And I can sit at her knee? But FW is invited too? I’m sorry Aretha, you have to go back to the heavenly chorus. I can’t do it.

You’re a stronger person. And your fervor for higher education speaks really well of you. I’m sure it will pay dividends for your career.

Now, about your crappy ex. He’s really having his turd-in-the-punchbowl moment, isn’t he?

I’m so furious that this is even a situation I’m in. I’ve just rebuilt my life after he burned it all down, can’t I just have this one?

No. How could he resist so much centrality?

Look, this is a guy who dropped out of grad school already. And dropped out of marriage. Chances are he cannot sustain this commitment either.

Your job is to give him ZERO kibbles. No contact high of reaction. And with any luck he’ll bore of the effort.

Still, you have to go in there and tolerate him in the meantime. Strategies, strategies… Some thoughts.

1.) Can you confide in anyone? Do you know anyone else on this course besides him? You need a buffer. Your own tribe. I have no idea how large these classes will be, or how intimately small, but one snarky friend could go a long way here. With that much coursework and togetherness, you’re bound to make your own friend circle that doesn’t include him.

2.) Remind yourself how utterly irrelevant he is. You have a new life. You’re not the person who used to contort herself into pleasing shapes to win a FW. You know what he is — a loser. A Jesus cheater who needs the patriarchy to prop up his dick. Write “Trust That He Sucks” on your forearm each day before you head into class. He’s not someone you have to trifle with. Yes, even if you bred with him. He can be adjacent to your life — he’s not IN your life.  Unless you let him. Do NOT let him.

3.) Be awesome at your studies. Nothing succeeds like success. Enjoy crushing him in the academic arena. Get your own kibbles. He’ll hate it. (Not that his feelings matter.)

Now let’s do scripts.

What scripts can I use when questions from classmates eventually arise?

You don’t owe anyone an explanation, for starters. Of course, he can go in there all chummy and set you up as the Cold, Hard Bitch (see also I Fail to Understand Your Hostility.) But I think a sort of Bless Your Heart nonchalance works here. Southern women have perfected this. A kind of withering disdain that oozes politesse. Well, he tries. Isn’t that sweet for such a slow child?

Donald says you used to be married.

Bless his heart. 

Then change the subject to the syllabus.

Of course, if I were in this position, I’d probably go all Cassandra/truth-teller. “That’s nice, Donald. Are you going to rate this professor the way you rate your hookers?”

He is chancing it that you don’t expose him as the pathetic dickdribble that he is.

Let him live in fear. Good luck with your studies.

Ask Chump Lady

Got a question for the Chump Lady? Or a submission for the Universal Bullshit Translator? Write to me at [email protected]. Read more about submission guidelines.
  • I agree with Chump Lady. He’ll never make it.

    Cheater #1 was supported intellectually and financially by me through his undergraduate and honours degrees.

    I left him, and he pursued his alleged dream of a PhD at another university. But he never finished it. Guess it was all a bit harder without your own amanuensis and in-house editor.

    But please don’t be nice to this fuckwit if you see him in class. He’ll come fishing for study tips. You’ll have to maintain your rage, practice the Cut Direct, and ensure your boundaries are very strong.

    He’d love to see you fail at this. And if he can be a part of that failure, he will.

    • I agree…he’ll never follow through. It’s summertime, he’ll want to play, etc. and resent the 40 hours of study/class. BattleDancerUnicorn needs to go completely grey rock, set strict boundaries and I give cheater 2 weeks before he drops out.

    • I agree! He is not going to finish, he has a pattern of not committing to anything.

      DO NOT and I repeat DO NOT do any of his work. He needs to fail on his own.

    • Yep. He will stop going for sure. Why would a guy who never finished anything start now?

  • You can do this. Ultra focus on yourself. Easy, no. But possible. I had to live next door to cheater dickdribble fuckwit for 1.5 years. I thought it would kill me but it didn’t. My career soared and he had to sell and leave cuz he’s a fuckwit. I got $50 on his quitting.

    • I’ll throw another 50 in the pot, and add an extra bless his heart for trying to get a rise out of you. Doesn’t he realise he’s ancient history and what worked then are stale moves now.

  • Oh boy. Two words: group projects.

    I couldn’t do it. But hats off to you. Yes, he’ll probably fail, but you can’t count on that.

    Good luck. Resist any charm offensive on his part.

    (Note: This weekend I didn’t attend an event because the host tipped me off that x might be there. So that’s where I’m coming from. I know I’m not emotionally ready to be in the same room with that man.)

    • I will never be emotionally ready to be in the same room with my ex. And with the exception of my son’s wedding some day, I intend to avoid all gatherings that would put me there.

      • I was just discussing this with one of my friends who was chumped like me. When my kids get married I will gladly sit at a guest table – I will not sit with my Ex and his whore of the month; no matter how big the table. He left over 5 years ago. I am at MEH but can’t stand the thought of even seeing him.

      • Same. I know myself. Heck, I’m still momentarily thrown off by a business-like email from him about taxes or alimony.

        Seeing him would crush me. And if he’s with the AP? Yikes.

        p.s. I strongly doubt my kids would invite their dad to anything ???? ,but one niece and one nephew on his side just got engaged. Unless they tell me he will not attend, I will not go. I feel bad about this because I love those kids.

        And, honestly, even if he doesn’t go, I would need to think about whether I want to be in the same place with toxic x-MIL. Maybe a clean break from that entire side of the family is the way to go.

      • Same, Adelante. I’m seven years out from the final D-Day and I’m as meh as you can get while still raising kids with the FW, and I refuse to share space with the ex unless absolutely necessary. After graduation, that’ll be weddings and that’s it. Even if I hadn’t been married to him, I doubt I’d be comfortable anywhere near someone I know to be a lying, abusive asshole.

        • Ah, Betterdays, if only it were that easy. Weddings are one night but when the grandchildren come, it’s endless.
          I’ve gotten to be a pro. Say hi and move on.

    • There is only one place that I know of where I would see the FW – and I can and will avoid that. No kids together, and he moved away, so I rest easier knowing that I don’t have to see him ever again.

    • “Group projects” is indeed the horrifying thought that keeps me up at night. I’ve had a lot of practice working around him, since we were co-workers when the final d-day came around, but yes, the horror that is group projects combined with, well, HIM.

      • Get a jump on him and talk to the University. This is a possible safety issue.

        • Yes, this. I work at a university in New Zealand, so I’m not sure how they work overseas, but there will be official support available for you, Battle Dancing Unicorn.

          If you’re not completely put off religion by his actions, the chaplains would be a great place to start – whether you’re religious or not. Otherwise they should have a counselling service available. Both should be able to advocate for you, as would the students’ union.

          You could also contact your lecturer directly, but if that’s a bit daunting a friendly course administrator might be a good place to start.

          Or if you’re not sure how to get in contact with any of these people, you could just ring their call centre and tell them that a fellow student makes you uncomfortable and you need to know who would be best to talk with to support you through the situation.

          BDU you’re awesome, and you don’t have to do this alone. You won’t be the first person to be paced in a situation like this and there will be people to stand beside you. You should not be expected to be in the same class as, let alone complete group projects with, an abusive ex.

      • Notify the person in charge. All you have to do is share about the divorce and you prefer to be in a different group. It sounds like he starts anything that shows on his radar but never follows through. He is a child. If he stays the course good for him but it has nothing to do with you.

      • I hope things have changed since #MeToo and you can suss things out and ask not to be placed in groups with this guy. I hope the program directors aren’t abusers in their own right and not the types to treat the victim as the problem in the case this ex has anything else up his sleeves and decides to further victimize you. This smells a wee bit stalkery and I’m imagining your FWex is having narcissistic fantasies of how this will all go down. Is he imagining he’ll win you back? And if he can’t, will he parade a new schmoopie to class? Will he try to bang other students to get a rise out of you? Will he encroach on you? Will he fuck with you and then pretend you’re fabricating the fuckery to discredit you?

        I have one tentative suggestion of how to handle this. I promise it’s not about stirring the pot or setting a jealousy trap but about nixing any attempt your ex makes to preemptively spread malicious gossip, reverse blame, assassinate your character and isolate you within the program. Consider finding the biggest, best looking guy you can (who is utterly unknown to the ex) to walk you to your first day at the program. PDAs aren’t necessary. The beard walks you there, you chat long enough for people in the program to see this. Maybe he shows up again to pick you up a few times. Message #1: you have a body guard. Message #2: if your ex pulls any bs to trip you up during the program and then attempts to make you seem not credible if you try to report it by casting you as “jealous,” “bitter” and retaliatory, his story will fall flat because everyone will have seen that you’ve “moved on.”

        This worked when I had to finish a project working under someone who had harassed and threatened me when I was still in school. His original cover story– which he preemptively spread to discredit me as all veteran narcy predators do after they’ve done something heinous– was that it was me who was obsessed with him and that’s why I was “making up stories.” I was just starting out and this creep held sway and had status in the profession so there were flying monkeys and enablers around. I did gain one lifelong friend during that project who knew everything that was going on, then several people who stayed out of it though I was otherwise surrounded and outnumbered by perp allies. But having my strapping friend show up a few times to walk me to the studio or pick me up afterwards created a gordian knot where anything the freak did in my direction looked wrong, obsessive and stalkery to bystanders so the freak simply stopped and made my gray rock much easier. He lost ground. People weren’t so sure about him anymore.

        The project ended and the freak was arrested two days later. I had gray rocked while arranging a police report and meeting with the DA. The important thing is that I remained safe and relatively imperturbable in a professional situation where the deck was heavily stacked against me.

          • Thanks, this is ancient history and that scoundrel poses no danger, not to me at least. I hope getting arrested discouraged his behavior towards other women. I learned that justice is the best therapy for PTSD.

      • Many intensive grad programs don’t revolve around group projects because grad students have jobs, families and outside lives. Once Battle Dancing sees the syllabus, she can talk to the professor(s) if there is any mention of group projects. That’s a perfectly acceptable thing to do.

      • Once the class starts, if there is the possibility of group projects, go speak with the professor(s). I’d be honest and ask if they had any suggestions for a good partner for you.

        If he sits on the side, pick the other side. If he sits in the back, sit in the front. Or maybe claim the front so there’s no one between you and the professor.

        Keep your head up and focus on that bright, shiny masters in your future.

      • Dear BDU,

        I haven’t seen this mentioned in the comments here yet, but HOW exactly did he know you got into this program in the first place? You can be sure his application wasn’t a fluke, so obviously someone told him what you were up to.

        Did your school district make a big announcement about who got into the program? (You can’t control stuff like that, unfortunately.)

        Or did a coworker spill the beans? (Be wary of that person going forward. Tell them nothing you wouldn’t want your ex to know.)

        I agree with everyone that he’ll likely flunk out, given his track record, but I’d still want to know how he knew so you can be aware of future weaknesses for “data leaks.”

      • I’d tell the teacher about your situation privately, this for sure effects your education and I teach college-level classes myself and if it’s brief and private, I think your faculty will understand. (I’m always so sad to hear in someone’s last week that they have a hearing problem, or are on the autism spectrum, or something I could have helped plan around). This effects not just group projects, but being “grey rock” in class might leave faculty to think you’re uninterested or even brief and rude with class sharing, let alone times you’ll need to present things to the entire class. Tell your teachers in a context-appropriate manner and I think it will help make it much more tolerable.

    • Yikes!! Spinach is right though – group projects… I wonder if there is someone in the department you could/would chat with discreetly to request appropriate ground rules be set and or that you NOT get put on the same project team/study group etc? They may run into these situations more often than you’d think and can help you plan to really be there, fully engaged, contributing and learning in spite of a super crappy mindshare sucking obstacle Do whatever you have to in order to protect your own stake and your own results! Stay strong and stay mighty!

    • Not nearly as bad as ex cheater, but I did have to take intimate grad classes with a nasty colleague who wanted my job and did everything in her power to passive aggressively undermine me. I contacted the professor privately to tell her it was a delicate situation and to request not to be placed in groups with this colleague. You don’t have to give a big explanation, just the very basics (along the lines of this person is my ex and I do not feel comfortable working as his partner or in a group). Online was bad enough; I can’t imagine how trying and distracting it would be in person. Big shit sandwich for sure, but the OP sounds like she knows what she needs and will find a way to power through. I suspect and hope, like many others, that the FW will drop out.

  • Oh my, this is one of my worst nightmares come to life: close enforced proximity with FW. Once I heard from my children that FW and the Wifetress were looking for a new house and one of the places they were considering was my neighborhood. I lost sleep. I prayed to God to please please please don’t let them move nearby. (Happily they found another place that remained about half an hour away from me.)

    I have carefully organized my life, career, geography, and schedule in a way that maximizes their absence because it is in that absence where I flourish. Any time FW enters my life again I take an emotional dive. I even avoid professional events (we work in similar fields) where I know FW and Wifetress
    will be. I’ve lost out on many networking opportunities but I’ve accepted the trade. I would rather not be there. Boundaries and no contact are beautiful, beautiful things.

    So, this scenario, described above, is just horrifying. I’m so sorry.

    That said, I’m a big fan of reclaiming your life through higher education after trauma. It’s what I’m doing. You’re right, FW cannot take this away from you. You’re in for an unfortunate ride but, considering your X’s ability to commit and see things through to the end, I’m certain you’ll be the one finishing the program on top.

    I don’t know how the program and courses are organized. Can you do some proactive prep work before it begins? Maybe book personal meetings with the instructor(s) to briefly explain the situation–not to get them to take sides but to just ask them, for the sake of your mental health, to never partner you up with him for group work? And, if you are not on a particular regiment of mood stabilizers or antianxiety medications yet, have a talk with your doctor about getting on board with that for the tenure of your program. Anything to help you reach the finish line.

    You may have thought of these already or they may not apply; I’m just spitballing. In the meantime, take big, deep breaths and know that you can make it through to the other side. You’ve got this.

    • Good points Fourleaf!
      My ex and I had the same dentist. I arranged with the receptionist to make sure I never scheduled an appointment on a day where he might have one. They put a note in my chart (computer) to check his appointments before booking mine. I dreaded walking in the door to that office thinking I’d see him sitting in the waiting room.
      My only other suggestion is to pretend he’s not there. Like grey rocking your eyes, if that makes sense, and I agree, he won’t last.
      He’s a loser, you’re a winner.
      Best of luck to you!

      • Mine told the dentist that we were back together…I corrected her information with something realistic!!!

  • I think CL nailed this one. Grey rock of no, ok, bummer is great. But doing it the southern way is even better. He will quit so fast, he won’t see the second week, month. The condescending smile, the bless his heart. A small laugh looking his way. This will go ten times further then calling him a POS.

  • Since you’re committed to doing this, frame it as an opportunity to treat him like he’s nothing. Acknowledge him like you would any stranger and provide emotionless responses when necessary.

    That’ll get under his skin way more then you’ll be annoyed. These pricks HATE being treated like they’re nothing.

    • “These pricks HATE being treated like they’re nothing.”

      …which is our power. After mediation, x whined, “Why can’t you even look at me?”

      I did not respond, further infuriating him, I’m sure. I wanted to say, “Wait. Were you there?”

      • My bf and I are both cyclists and I happened to blow a tire near my ex’s neighborhood (we’re only a few miles apart). While bf is being a gentleman and fixing my flat ex happens to run by.

        Pathetic asshole is so desperate to be acknowledged that he stops, asks if he can help (he knows nothing about bikes) and when bf (who doesn’t know who he is) responded that we had it under control ex stands there and stares while waiting to be acknowledged. Didn’t introduce himself….just waited for me to acknowledge and introduce him. No doubt so he could pretend to be friendly…his phony nice guy image.

        He’s blocked on my phone (no kids together) and there’s no reason for him to think I want to speak to him.

        Eventually he runs off when he realizes I’m not going to acknowledge and introduce him.


        • “Eventually he runs off when he realizes I’m not going to acknowledge and introduce him.”


        • That scenario sounds like a dream come true. You handled that like a pro, Kim. Must’ve felt good.

      • X called me one month after leaving for the OW to ‘see how I was doing?’ I saw his number on the screen, took a deep breath and answered.

        MorryChump: Hello (super cheerful…heellooo)

        X: Hello (flat, monotone)

        Silence for about 15 seconds

        MorryChump: Who is this?

        X: It’s me

        MorryChump: Oh..yes thanks for calling back. Please extend my insurance..I’m fine with that

        X: It’s me!! (Voice getting louder) can you think I’m someone else! You would have seen my number on your screen!

        MorryChump: What do you want?

        X: To see how you are doing?

        MorryChump: Please don’t call me again. I’m dead to you.

        X: Please don’t say that

        MorryChump: I just did

        I then hung up.

        He was on the receiving end of a 60 second phone call where he felt insignificant amd it was obvious he wasn’t happy. I was on the receiving end of a 6 year relationship where I felt insignificant..but hey it’s OK for me to feel like that right?

        Copernicus called…and guess what FW…youre not the centre of the universe!

  • hmmm. i wonder if you would consider deferring acceptance to next year? i’m all for personal strength and soldiering on and standing on principle, but there comes a point when facing extreme daily stress harms you. and you deserve a good experience.

    i mean, he’ll likely drop out but could do a lot of damage on the way out.

    • I agree, I wouldn’t be able to concentrate with ex being in the same room.

    • This. If you defer for a year, that’ll take all the fun out of it for him and he’ll probably flunk out before you start.

    • It’s bad enough when you have to shrink your needs and yourself down to almost nothing when you’re with the cheater.
      But I am not a fan of voluntarily shrinking yourself after the relationship has been sundered.
      Why should dreams be deferred because cheaters don’t cede spaces to you?
      Yeah, being in the same airspace as a fuckwit is a big, fat, juicy shit-sandwich.
      But dropping out of a program that would benefit you because your x wormed in? No.
      He’ll fail again and you will flourish.
      In my mind, that’s worth the incredible discomfort you will initially feel.
      Sometimes you have to make your own karma.

      • damnitfeelsbadtobeachumpster suggested deferring not dropping out. I think damnit has a great idea. Even one term–if that’s possible–might put the OP on a different schedule. At the very least, I wonder if she could talk to the program director and try to structure something so that she can make it work sans FW.

        I’m all for claiming what’s yours and not shrinking for the x. Goodness knows I did too much of that in my 35-year mirage (thanks, VH). But I actually think deferring does just that. She’ll claim her space and her boundaries. She’ll create her schedule on her terms.

        I know I’m speaking as someone who could NEVER do what she’s proposing, but, it there’s a chance to structure the schedule to avoid the FW, it seems to me it might be worth a shot. Why eat shit sandwiches if you don’t have to? #mytwocents

      • I completely agree with this. I lost damn near everything in my divorce. I lost my home, my family, my job, everyone I had ever known except for my son and TWO people, just two, that’s all I got to keep. I didn’t even get to keep my own sister thanks to his smearing. She sees his side because he’s just such a victim.

        I won’t give up an inch of my new life, not a fucking inch. My advice to BattleDancingUnicorn is document, document, document. I should have done more of that. Continue your studies, don’t talk to him, just ignore him in class. If he escalates it by talking to an instructor, tell the instructor you aren’t comfortable speaking to your abusive ex husband and you’re already considering pursuing a restraining order since he followed you into this program to harass you. I bet anything the instructor shuts the fuck up and leaves it alone, as he or she should have anyways when some piece of shit man whines and demands a woman give him attention. You don’t have to give him shit. If he tries to get attention from you in class, treat him like you would any other entitled perverted stalker you might encounter in higher education. File reports. Make it known to those in power you simply want to be left alone and document every time he won’t leave you alone.

        He’ll either get bored because it’s no fun or he’ll escalate and get himself slapped with a restraining order and more complicated co parenting on his end. But you get that degree. If you wait a year, he might try to do the same. He’s a sick fuck. Only a sick fuck would do this shit. Ignore him and he’ll eventually go feed elsewhere.

        • I agree with KatiePig (I’m sure Katie is not a pig.) Don’t defer; go in there and kick ass. You may not get the opportunity again. Take advantage of opportunities when they come because they might not come around again…, funds won’t be there, you won’t be able due to sickness, life events prevent you to participate, etc. You already sound like you’re very mighty. And past history is that the fuckwit will fail … yet again. Fuckwits don’t change who they are. As CL says, they don’t get a character transplant. I suspect that the first glimpse (or two) that you have of the fuckwit may be stressful for you. But after you confront the issue, go home, focus on your studies, you’ll soon realize that you never had anything to worry about. Just recently, I had to go to a wedding where I stressed over seeing the fuckwit after 7 years of absence from my life. After it was all done and over, I thought, “What in the world was I afraid of?!” He’s totally not worth my time or angst anymore. But I had to confront my issue. Since then, I assure you, I won’t worry about being around the fuckwit or his skank again. In fact, I will show them how insignificant they are by not even bothering to acknowledge their presence. They will be nothing to me. Some people may think that by ignoring them I’m showing that they still have power over me. Nope. They’re just insignificant losers in my life and I don’t deal with losers anymore. And like KatyPig says, make sure you tell your instructor that you “aren’t comfortable speaking to your abusive ex husband and you’re already considering pursuing a restraining order since he followed you into this program to harass you.” Whether you do or don’t pursue a restraining order, the point is that your instructor will be on guard to ensure that you are not going to be working whatsoever with the fuckwit.

          • I guess this comes down the the OP knowing herself and how she’l react emotionally. If she can can handle his presence in her class, then she should jump in with both feet and not defer. If she thinks she’ll crumble (as I would), then she should do some creatively planning (including a potential deferment) to avoid the FW.

            I guess the OPs letter indicates she might be someone who can handle this situation. Y’all are stronger than I.

            • Totally agree – it comes down to what we know we can and cannot handle.

              This kind of proximity is going to require a lot of mental and emotional energy, and more power to anyone who can psych themselves up for it. I personally couldn’t do it, and there’s no shame in respecting your own limits. Yeah it’s unfair and a shit sandwich but there’s unfortunately a lot of those to choke down when you’ve bred with a fuckwit. I’m personally TIRED. 🙂 So nothing but admiration for anyone who’s made it through this kind of proximity and no shame for those who choose not to do battle.

            • Another thing to consider is the personality of the cheater.
              Ex is articulate, charming, funny, personable, intelligent. A great guy…

        • Amen, KP. Perps count on targets to remain polite and cede ground even when it’s to our peril. They rely on us to be afraid of being disliked for fighting back and holding ground. As a friend and professional mentor from the hood warned, my life would be hell until I got in touch with my inner fish wife. He was right. I had to learn not to take prisoners when it mattered.

    • If you defer, he could defer, too. The educational opportunity may be only a part of his game, another being forcing you to interact with him.

    • I suspect if you defer, the FW will defer, too. Don’t allow the FW to derail your dreams. Select a seat where it will be almost impossible to look at him. The front near the exit will allow only one seat next to you. Hopefully you can find a fellow student to grab that seat, before the FW has a chance.

      • Also programs like this offered through public schools have a way of suddenly drying up and getting cancelled on short notice (ask me how I know????) so I recommend not deferring if at al possible

    • Another vote for NOT deferring. No way. CN is behind you — nothing to shrink from.

    • it’s hard to know what to do and i’m glad it’s not me that has to make the decision. i’m getting stress hives thinking about this situation!

      it’s a lot.

      • Right there with you. I keep thinking about having to listen to the ex’s smug, fatheaded nonsense during class discussions and *shudder*.

      • Me too.., I was just going to say it makes me anxious just thinking about it.

    • In my experience, guilt makes perps obsessively driven to preemptively destroy their own victims. What if he manages to sidle up to the program directors and do so much snakey damage to her rep by being given the field that she’s denied a second chance?

    • I took scholarship money before I knew he was in, and it’s already been paid, so I’d have to pay it back. It did occur to me to try to defer, but I’ve worked so hard and gotten all the scholarships and grants to cover it already. Plus, it’s a small program that takes 2 summers, so delaying it would mean starting in 2024, not 2023. It’s solid advice, for sure, but in this case, deferring would make me even more furious.

  • We often forget how much power we have and this is one reason they like to intimidate. You know where the bodies are buried. You will have to practice looking right through him. He’s so lightweight as to be entirely transparent. He will be the most annoying person in class for whom you don’t have time for a fleeting notion. It’s an opportunity to see him as others have, while knowing that he’s a creepy lothario.

    My adult kids, ironically, have helped me understand the alternate interpretation of my former FW very effectively. It’s a bit like all the things they were embarrassed by as teens and the contempt people have for someone who talked a big game and fell very far from grace. I had interpreted the same actions differently but seem another way, suddenly my “how could he?” turned into “of course that guy did.”

    And the real me, the mighty me, the used-to-be-and-am-again me really has no time for a guy like that.

    This may give you the opportunity to solidify your meh. Good for you for not letting him dissuade you from living your best life.

  • For me, there’s no better motivator than rage. Kick ass in your studies. Leverage that into your next professional venture! You’re a badass, and I can’t wait to see a follow up from you in two years when you’ve earned your masters and he has once again quit because something got hard.

  • Keep focused on the goal of getting your master’s degree – the 15 months are a short bridge to a long island – the FW ex will likely drop out and as all FWits do he’ll likely use you/blame you for dropping out. “ oh, she made it so uncomfortable I couldn’t finish…” March into each class like you are 10 feet taller than he is because you are – your integrity, honesty, and dignity will fill up the room while the dip-dick sits in the corner assuredly trying to make himself out to be the good guy to other idiot women around him – he’ll be banging an OW in class in no time. Step up and over him – and oh yes, the southern “bless his heart” saying and askance glance with a sugar smile is brilliant. Saw a tee shirt and laughed, it said “ my boobs are real it’s my smile that’s fake”. Good luck and congratulations soon on your graduation. Don’t look back. You are not alone.

    • This exactly, Jo!

      Someone told me in another forum that should you run into ex, walk in like Scarlet O’Hara in the red dress. Own the room and situation. You got this!

      • If theres any room in your budget, i really love the idea of hiring the large bodyguard. If the school will let him or her audit the class, even better. If a friend will do it for free, better. Combined with notifying at least the prof privately as soon as you know which prof will be teaching the classes, best. All of this assumes reasonable humanity on the part of school personnel. And when x quits because “something got hard”, youll be golden, so you might not have to spend much. Another brainstorm/two cents would be if you can hire a PI who goes with you and audits the class, so when people are sharing what they do, your companion doesnt have to say “im a bodyguard”. #2cents #totalbrainstorm

    • You are exactly right, Jo. OP has to do what is best for her but if it were me? I would defer or otherwise run from an educational opportunity because klootzak is there? Fuck that guy! HE should be running, deferring, ashamed and unable to look OP in the eye. Of course, they are too dim witted, but like hell would I duck and dive for him.

      I’m laying low now waiting to file but once I do, hell hath no fury! No reason to kowtow to his sorry ass any more. Once he finally leaves the house, I’m changing the locks and not looking back. Remember OP, you know where the bodies are buried. I would come to class looking like the cat that ate the canary. Ace the courses. Don’t waste two words on him. He’s a speed bump in your life.

  • With my ex I am a bemused anthropologist. His ways and customs are foreign to me and I just stand back and watch what happens.

  • My first thought is he won’t last. He couldn’t keep a commitment if he wanted too! My other thought is don’t give him grey rock just don’t give him anything. Be absolutely blah and don’t even talk to him. Sometimes I feel people use grey rock way to much when they shouldn’t be responding at all.

    • Agree. Give him nothing. I remember swim meets for my son and I pretended like I didn’t know ex from anyone. I completely ignored him and he soon stopped attending anything.

  • I agree with treat him like he has no value whatsoever, use your Oscar winning nonchalance that simply knocks him over with pure disregard for his existence.
    Nothing can get under these cheaters’ skin more than being absolutely irrelevant.
    Don’t go with anger or show you are flustered or any affected emotion because of him. They love to affect the gravity of the world, doesn’t matter if good or bad, just as long as THEY make it all happen, it’s a bizarre power need of theirs. Don’t give him that.
    He just does not exist on your plane of view, just keep forcing your mind to take the focus off of him.
    You will be concentrating so diligently on your studies and breeze your way with flying colors through those two summers. Whether he finishes or drops out, it is completely meaningless to you.
    I think this experience, as uncomfortable and awkward as it feels it will be right now, will give you a stronger force field against him in the future.
    I don’t feel you will need any drugs to make you calmer to get through this myself. Your powers lie in not being a deceitful lying cheater, there’s your strength, wear it proudly.
    Good luck with the program and may the force be with you.

  • Could you talk to the professor? I’d let him/her know the background of the situation and ask for their help in avoiding him as much as possible in the class.

    • Sadder but Wiser, this is great advice. I think the professor would be sensitive to the situation and try to help out. Also, knowing the professor will be doing that will reduce the anticipatory anxiety of going in and seeing ex’s name with yours on a group project assignment. A straight-up, “if you pair me with him in a group project, I may feel obliged to drop out of the program” will probably be motivating (and then of course, don’t drop out if that happened – yuck – but the threat of losing $$ is motivating to these graduate programs.)

    • As a professor who teaches MA programmes – there isn’t going to be a great deal that they will be able to do, aside from making sure you are not together for group work or projects. But maybe this is enough. We are required to treat all students with parity. Also, from a different perspective, as a student, I always wanted to make sure it was my work I was noticed for, not my problems. I’d say best to request in advance you are not placed in a group with the ex ‘for personal reasons, which I can expand on if necessary’ and continue as if he does not exist. If you think him being there will impact your emotional health and concentration I’d say deferral is a good option.

  • Is this a Master of Divinity? Is it church based? If so, I would definitely talk to a course supervisor or your programme mentor. He could be stalking you. And like others have said here, once he gets his jollies making you miserable, he is actually too lazy to follow through.

    • This is not the M.Div program. He failed out of that one a few years ago. He is currently disqualified from completing that program because his secrets came to light.They tend to frown upon affairs, ya know? Lol.

      This is a new program for people who are or are seeking to be educators in SPED.

      • With his history of being disordered, I’m bemused as to how he even got into the program. Wouldn’t he have had to provide character references? A cheating FW is not the sort of character you would want working around vulnerable youth.

      • Oh dear God I hope he drops out. My middle child was in SPED for a bit because of a chronic illness that caused cognitive symptoms and speech issues. My son is since largely recovered and thank God for that because our experience is that SPED attracts only the best and the worst among educators and little in between. Unfortunately the district school where we were was incredibly corrupt and they chased out the “best” who might have stopped mistreatment of disabled students (it got quite serious– restraint, injury, secret seclusion rooms, denying food and drink as “punishment,” etc.) or at least reported it. What remained were the dysfunctional freaks who took it out on the most vulnerable. And when their poor treatment of disabled students predictably increased some students’ disruptive behavior (sometimes driving confused parents to sedate their kids with medications that carry side effects like violence and self harm, d’oh), the culprits would double back the blame on students and families and play victim. But I saw exactly what was happening early on and pulled my son before he was made aggressive or “violentized” as they say. The school attempted to cover up this toxic system for years until the whole thing finally blew up with a child sexual abuse scandal that hit the headlines. I feel terrible for the victims, some of whom I met when fellow parents and I organized a community meeting, but the scandal exonerated us for having to fight back.

        What I’ve learned is that abusers of all stripes– from domestic creeps to institutional creeps– operate from the same playbook. They’re all DARVO experts. And abusers tend to hide in the “hero/rescuer/helper” roles in society because, as Jean Paul Sartre (FW in his own right) wrote, “everything is permitted the hero.” It makes it tough for colleagues who are there for the right reasons to work around such snakey perps. The perps ruin it for everyone, triggering parental jaundice that tends to be scattershot and makes all educators’ jobs even harder. And people doing lousy things also tend to preemptively attack anyone they even suspect might do the right thing and blow the whistle, making the perps politically very dangerous. So for the sake of all that is right and good, I hope your ex fails and bails yet again! But I’m very happy to hear that empathic and mighty folks such as you are entering the field. It’s desperately needed. Don’t give up, don’t get chased away or discouraged by the bastards who don’t belong there.

        • p.s. I should note that there are certainly lousy parents who “violentize” their own children. But a dept. head at Vanderbilt who advised me on educating my son warned that, in his thirty years of experience, 3/4 of the cases he’d seen where disabled children– particularly non- or low-verbal children– were “violentized,” it was due to mistreatment in schools and institutions. He told me to be wary of the spin that violent behavior is solely due to the child’s condition and to investigate if I saw my son becoming more aggressive after starting school.

          This department head had sued and won against his own school for use of Rifton-type chairs and other punitive treatments disguised as therapeutic and was an international advocate. The GAO reported similar stats in 2014 and the Harvard School of Risk Analysis reported worse in the 90s. So again, don’t let yourself get chased out. Maybe it can help to depersonalize your ex by viewing him as the symbol of everything crappy and your battle to be about a wider right vs. wrong. The well meaning people need to prevail.

  • Dear Battle, as we say in my country, what a tight skirt for you!

    But My first thought was the same as CL’s: “Look, this is a guy who dropped out of grad school already. And dropped out of marriage. Chances are he cannot sustain this commitment either.”
    I bet you will only have to put up with him for a few days.

    I will be damned if FW pushes me out of advancing my professional qualifications.

    If he lasts longer than expected, confide in a supervisor to keep you out of harm’s way (no joint study groups or whatever learning strategies are used that would require interacting with FW).

    Good luck and let CN know when you graduate!

  • Haven’t experienced this myself, so these are also top of mind thoughts. And I’m so sorry he’s put you in this situation.

    I think it’s important to speak to the department chair and each instructor in advance and explain the situation, including that you applied early and he applied last minute, after your acceptance, although he knows you want no further contact with him other than what’s necessary for co-parenting. These people should be smart enough to figure that at least one of his motives is to harass you. Let them know that you will never send messages through him and he doesn’t speak for your best interests.

    If there was any kind of abuse, including emotional and financial, OR if he’s ever been the least bit threatening to you, you might even drop something like, “I haven’t sought a restraining order, but some of his behavior has been abusive/threatening.”

    If you’re the one who filed for divorce, be sure to say so when you speak to instructors and if it comes up in class or group projects. Something like, “I divorced him, changed school campuses, and he still finds ways to be where I am.”

    CL and CN are right to use the “Bless his heart,” and “No, OK, bummer.”

    You could greet him at the first class with something like, “I divorced you to get away from you, yet here you are again. Gee, can’t I get away from you?” On the other hand, I agree with Kim that if you treat him like nothing/a stranger, it will bother him more than anything.

    If he says anything rude, what about, “You work in education. Surely you understand classroom bullying is not tolerated.”

    Think of him as “penny,” because like a bad one he keeps turning up, but he’s not worth your two cents.

    Yes, a lot will depend on how many students are in the program. Try to build a network ASAP, not just one or two.

    I’d also prepare to say, “Excuse me. I was speaking.” He may try to speak over you whenever possible. On the other hand, he may try to goad you so he appears to be more rational.

    It certainly seems intentional on his part, but perhaps not to harass you, but so he doesn’t feel you’ve surpassed him.

    Ugh, this seems so childish/petty/mean on his part. Don’t let him force you out of the degree and learning experience you want. It should be an enjoyable experience for you. I hope it will be.

  • “He’s really having his turd-in-the-punchbowl moment, isn’t he?”

    Oh Tracy, you do know how to turn a phrase. This one is priceless.

    When FW and I were first married, young and in love, we moved to a different state for his career, where we both had to take the bar exam. His career was much more important, because he was just naturally superior — went to an Ivy League law school, worked at the premier white-shoe law firm in New York City, blah blah blah. I had graduated from a second-rate law school and was an associate at a vastly inferior firm.

    So we both studied together, and went in on exam day clutching our exam tickets. Together with several thousand others, we wandered around the room until we found the seat that matched our ticket … they’d sorted us all alphabetically by last name.

    We had to sit side by side. The whole test, I could sense his frustration, hear him scrambling to write an essay under the time limits, hear his breathing and his stressing.

    It’s so hard, when your knee-jerk reaction is always to comfort and protect him. We got our test results two months later. I’d passed. He hadn’t.

    Of course, I didn’t celebrate that night. It would have been un-ladylike. But, I did savor the moment during our divorce where I got to remind him that I’d passed the California bar exam just like he eventually did, only I did it on the first try.

    Talk about the turd in the punch bowl.

    • You rock! I’m a lawyer too, congrats on the CA bar exam, very, very tough. Your story made me smile! If you litigate, I’m sure you’re impossible to rattle in the courtroom, too!

      • Another lawyer here (England). As is the ex. I passed my finals first time. He had to retake his the maximum 3 times (he was in the last chance saloon). He had a fine selection of reasons for why that was, none of them his fault. My career was and is much more successful than his. He has been described as ‘a bit slow’ by those who have worked with him in real estate (I’m a litigator). In his mind, though, he is superior intellectually to everyone else and he lets everyone know it. I did my best to make him feel good about himself including diminishing myself. I could see that he was putting up a front. Not any more!

    • Love this!!!! I earned more AmJur awards than XH in lawschool and a coveted federal clerkship. That was 30 years ago— it still bothers him. ????‍♀️????‍♀️????‍♀️????‍♀️ I didn’t know that was a major red flag of a narcissist.

  • He might make it through summer with some absences but I doubt he will make it to Christmas. Email all tutors with the information that your ex is in the class and you would prefer to be in different groups when the class is split. Save socialising outside class with the other students for when the ex has dropped out.

  • I would definitely speak with instructors/teachers to let them know that you don’t want to be partnered with him in any group projects. No need to go into gory detail. Just that you are divorced, it was not a good situation, he seems to be intentionally following you, and you would like to avoid being put in direct contact with him.

    Sit in front of him in any classes if you can, so you don’t have to see him. Don’t mind in the least if he watches you, you have other things to do.

    I used to have to be in work meetings with my abusive ex AND OW. I would sit on the opposite side of the room with people that I knew and just ignore both of them. You can do this. As you said, he doesn’t get to take this from you. Sounds like he doesn’t have a great track record of follow-through, so best case scenario he drops out quickly. Remember that this is a professional situation, so you stay professional, and handle him as you would any coworker or client whom you can’t stand but have to be civil to. No need to be chatty. And no need to feel intimidated. He literally does not matter. You have your own life and he’s not a part of it.

    One thing that really helped me when I had to be in close proximity to my ex was to journal all my anger, frustration, disgust, whatever. If I got it all out on “paper” (it was my phone’s Note app, but still) ahead of time, it made it a lot easier to be cool and collected when I saw him and/or OW.

    It’s not easy to do, but the strategy that I wish I would have implemented (my ex is dead now, so…) is to think like a queen. You don’t even deign to notice those so far beneath you. Nothing they do can ruffle you. If he tries to talk to you, just icily say “Were you speaking to ME?” and then move on with your day. Feeling good about yourself helps a lot in these situations, so maybe indulge in a nice haircut or some killer shoes or something before the first day, so you have that extra boost of confidence in how fabulous you are. I had to encounter a lot of “friends” at my ex’s funeral that had been awful to me, but I looked like a million bucks (and like I could kick ass) and that helped to give me the composure to handle myself with class.

    • “I used to have to be in work meetings with my abusive ex AND OW…”

      Double whammy. We bow down before you, oh mighty one! I can’t even imagine the kind of spine it takes to endure that without projectile vomiting. You’re made of strong stuff.

      As I mentioned earlier, I was stuck working for a time under someone who had harassed me and whom I was in the process of reporting to authorities. I think dealing with an abusive ex (moreover an ex and proxy-cheater) in that setting would be much harder because my situation didn’t involve the same emotions and wasn’t the same brand of betrayal but it wasn’t easy. I’m pretty good at bland gray rocking but have such an aversion to traitors that it was particularly challenging in a professional situation where I had no power and was being cornered into interacting. But any contact with creeps makes me ill. Conundrum! I feel dirty if their ears even hear my voice directed at them, like the sound waves might rebound off their filthy brains and splatter sewage in my face. My eyes feel dirty if I have to look at them so I gaze away or in a middle distance. I had a habit of suddenly getting important imaginary calls/messages on my cell that allowed me to walk away if someone I can’t stand tries to talk (hoover) to me casually. Give ’em the old “just a sec” hand gesture and dodge. They soon get tired of it and can hardly complain without looking like a paranoid whiner.

      That was the thing. I understood this was all a war or staring contest to sway bystanders and I felt like I was losing if he could make me seem “rude” or unprofessional or even mousy and tense and distracted and incompetent. And losing felt dangerous even beyond professional consequences. Could he, when he eventually had the charges read to him, try to get bystanders to testify that I was a nut, hostile, bitter, unprofessional, whatever? If I looked like an unprofessional loser with no future in the field, maybe bystanders wouldn’t fear future consequences of crossing me and might be more likely to lie or hyperbolize to win points with a power figure? I couldn’t risk it. I spent a month doing a kind of choreographed performance art routine of maintaining spotless professionalism coupled with quiet nonchalance (bleah, exhausting). If he put me on the spot by demanding help, I would call out for someone I deemed could help/answer their question better and just engage the third party in the quandary, offer the third party my facilitation, then slip away while never having directed a single word to the creep. It was exasperating to the boundary-bounder and flattering to the person being delegated to. Very tricky since I was again gray rocking an actual employer back then (and his minions), but another thing I would do if he would try to give me commands under the guise of professionalism (but really just to force me to engage) was stare off to the side while arguably appearing to listen (hey, I was standing there) and eat something while he talked. Pistachios in the shell require concentration and came in handy.

      I did this so regularly that he once told me irritably to stop eating while he was talking. You could feel the room cringing. Ew. He lost a point and his “jolly, friendly, non-micro-managing boss” mask slipped. I just stared blandly off to the side and complied, then walked away when he was done rambling at me and kept casually cracking shells. And checked my phone. And doing something important. La-dee-dah, la-dee-dah.

      After the project was over, he was called to the police station to voluntarily give himself up and I won the case against him– at least he had to plead nolo as a first time offender (not really according to other women)– and I gained a few allies. I saw that swaggering, two-faced perv only once years later while walking through an underground garage to my car. He was behind the wheel but still shrank down and went pale. I don’t think my heart rate even changed and I didn’t bother to mention the incident to friends at the time. But now I recall it because I’m proud of how I– a generally nervous Nelly– managed such a fraught situation. I can repeat the performance if needed but of course would rather not.

      • I didn’t feel mighty at the time. I was an absolute mess. I lost a ton of weight, couldn’t sleep, sometimes barely held back tears. People at work were quite worried about me. Ex and OW used to intentionally come over the building where I worked just to cause me distress (our boss works in my building, but they could have made a phone call, or one or the other of them could have come alone, but they made a point of coming together – later coworkers started telling me that no one at our job approved of the relationship, and most of them were on my side. My ex and OW didn’t realize how much people were watching and frankly laughing at them). I didn’t let the two of them drive me out of my job. Eventually it got too “uncomfortable” for THEM, and they both left to work elsewhere (together). OW eventually left my ex, and consequently walked out on her fairly new job with no notice. My ex ended up killing himself a few months later. I’m doing great, I’m still at my job, I got a promotion, and now make more money than either of them did. So I’m all for OP not letting her ex dictate what she does professionally.

        My boss was and is very supportive of me. I’m sorry you had to deal with such an a-hole at your job, but I’m glad it all resolved for you. It is empowering when you realize the other party is afraid of YOU, not the other way around. OW eventually was afraid of me, and my ex was too. I found my confidence and new I had right on my side. Other people, particularly in the courts, started seeing that and things were swinging in my favor. It’s a good feeling.

  • I suppose there’s some “advantage” to having your son’s other parent also moving forward with education and career. On the other hand, doesn’t this screw up your summer child care or custody schedule?

    I’m of the “speak with your instructor(s)” opinion. IF you think you can do this as long as you’re not in the same study group, give it a try. Auto pilot.

    My money is also on him dropping out. Dick.

  • So I stay far far away from my ex. Then I spent time with a friend who will wave & say hello to her ex (small place). He looks either like a deer caught in the headlights or has a smarmy grin & acts like he’s the cool guy on campus. She is breezy “how are you? Barely let’s him answer, looks at her watch, then says “oh boy, a thousands things to do bye” & walks away while he’s still talking. She has reached meh. However, she said she had to fake it to make it. And no way, was she going to hide from him like he’s the boogeyman. She doesn’t play his games or give him kibbles. She treats him like dog shit but apparently does it politely enough that he hasn’t caught on yet. I waved to my ex the other day driving by & he was so shocked that he told my kids. I felt nothing. He is just someone I used to know. This isn’t a strategy for everyone but I think the more you treat your ex like a casual meh, the more he’ll actually become a casual meh. Happy Studying!

  • Just a curiosity…
    Do you think he found out you enrolled? Could he purposely be doing this to upset you? Meaning is this kind of thing his MO?
    Has he tried being in contact with you – to no avail, and maybe sees this as his opportunity?
    Is he still with the AP?
    Ok. Inquiry over!

    • I’m not sure, but it’s likely, since word travels. I’m not totally sure, as it’s just a really good opportunity, but I’m sure annoying me is a benefit.
      He is always trying to be in contact with me. Perhaps you’re right.
      There were at least a dozen AP’s that I knew of, so maybe? He’s probably with someone, anyway.

  • After Dday and monster-daddy’s cruel threats and discard, our middle teen attempted suicide. During the divorce from hell we attended year-long weekly mandatory family group sessions. Picture 5 families and two therapists in a small conference room for 90 minutes discussing trauma, distress tolerance, strategies for managing stress. XH, who was diagnosed but refused treatment for bi-polar II was in full-on narcissist rage mode because I had gone grey rock, filed for divorce, was moving on and cut off the 26-year history of kibbles. He refused to sit at the table, was on his phone during sessions despite strict rules against that, and didn’t do the homework or participate when called on. Therapists took me aside to find out what was “wrong” with him. Not my monkey! Sitting there week after week and enduring that proximity, sometimes only minutes after receiving the latest vile moves he made in the divorce, almost broke me. But, my child needed a sane mama so I resolved to hold my head high and ignore the stranger he’d become. Excruciating but those days passed. Divorce obtained, kids grew up, I have perfected no contact and built a huge new life. XH really is someone I used to think I knew, but never really did.

    • Who on earth made a year of weekly family group sessions mandatory? What were these therapists thinking, having a family discuss trauma in front of four other families, while in the midst of a contentious divorce? It seems that this would exacerbate the stress. Kudos to you for surviving this, and thriving.

      • Sounds like something ordered by the court. I’ve had to attend a Love and Logic parenting workshop, and I’ve been ordered to attend “co-parenting counseling” with my ex. It’s court-ordered abuse in my opinion.

  • I’m building networks and performance skills by being out in my small community at the few venues that have regular stages/open mics/small festivals. I see my ex around quite a bit and even have returned to sharing a stage with him. I do this because the rooms are very small and I find it easier to interact with everyone, and talk to him using inner/verbal boundaries, rather than try to avoid him. And I find if he thinks there’s no issue for me in talking to him, then he’s not going to try as hard to overcome my rejection and he may in fact speak to me less.

    This wasn’t easy and for a long time I couldn’t be in the same room. I’m still hyperaware of where he is if he’s in the same space. But what helped me turn the corner was realizing that he only ever had power with me by mirroring me and seeming to relate; he never could genuinely empathize. I got curious about his mirroring and wondered what he’d do/reflect back if I was civil but didn’t share A THING about my personal/inner world. What I learned is that he will try and try to get something personal out of me, and that I have lots of control over what I share. I began to notice what kinds of things he wanted to know in order to feel that I was still into him.

    One of the hardest things for me in any situation is to try to contain my enthusiasms or my genuineness; I hate having to play act or be deliberately cold to try to get someone to go away. I learned that if I stick to the topic of my music, i.e. stick to business talk, I can make chit-chat that gives nothing personal away. If we are in a group together, I’m talking about gigs, about musicians I like, etc. Not health, not friends, not things I feel vulnerable about.

    I would make sure not to work together in any group work with your ex, though. I wouldn’t want my mark depending on my ex coming through on a project with me.

    But maybe this strategy could help. Picture him as desperate to know that you’re upset about him and that he affects you. I wouldn’t worry about body language showing that you are. As long as your words and behaviour are civil, he doesn’t get any solid data and can’t mirror some kind of faux caring/empathy. After a while, it will get really boring for him to talk to someone who is fine to talk to him but doesn’t get personal. And if your experience is like mine, you’ll begin to see him in another light because you will feel your own self-containment, and realize he is powerless over your peace.

    You’ve got this!

  • Weird isn’t it how he turned up on the same course. But like when I put my car into be fixed and there he was at the garage….coincidence?

    So I can do grey rock on parenting apps but I can’t do it so good in person. I’m just not that advanced in the shit sandwich buffet. So I let the school or the childrens mental health team or anybody else who wants me and the ex in the same room that I had to divorce him because of abuse and I don’t feel safe around him and no one has ever asked me to sit in a meeting with him, they have arranged separate meetings. I’m not saying that would work for the course, but I would defo give the tutors the heads up. I would also sit near an exit, behind if if I had a choice. Very tough but you absolutely rock studying for an MSc….I’m in my second year MSc and I love it!!

  • So I’m now in the phase of FW trying to reintegrate into the family by showing up at grandkids games and birthday parties (he was on hiatus for most of these for a blessed 4 yrs). The first couple were difficult and now it’s nothing. I just stay away, smile and say Hi for the benefit off the family. I feel nothing about him..yes-it surprised me too. I’m guessing now that you know who he really is, you’ll be repulsed by him and naturally stay away. Find a study group early on that doesn’t include him and rock that opportunity. Good luck! And good for you! You are mighty!

  • I couldn’t have done this the first few years after I left. But now? I bet I would fucking ENJOY messing with his head each and every class. Especially now that I’m over the finish line with kid graduating from HS and turning 18 in a few months. I don’t have to worry about any ‘interactions’ that may be used against me in the future.

    I would so enjoy absolutely ignoring him, while also delivering small, subtle, passive aggressive moments at every opportunity. “Oh, was that your notebook that I accidentally spilled coffee on? Sorry!” And yes, I was born and raised in the Deep South. I know how to smother someone with molasses.

    But really, I’m betting 5:1 that the ex never finishes out first quarter. You got this. And you HAVE to come back and let us know how it went!

    Rock on!

  • The oblivious is strong with this one (the X phony husband).

    I have concerns about the effects of this situation on your mental and emotional well-being. I am so so very truly sorry about this awful situation. I don’t even know either of you and I want to throat punch him myself for majorly pooping all over your party. ????

    I’d have a frank discussion with the instructor, sticking to facts. Be frank with facts in the interest of shoring up the force field and protecting yourself.
    You need protective allies!

    In my daughter’s class was a kid, a neighbor of ours, who said some things to her that would get him fired for sexual harassment if he was an adult. I told the instructor what happened and requested that he never be in a study group or small group project with her.

    Cheating is abuse of the highest level, which inflicts invisible wounds that make it easy for the uninitiated to deny how painful, destructive, and injurious it is. Being in frequent close contact with your X is nuclear kryptonite that can challenge the strongest of boundaries. I have to meet Traitor X once a week at a business meeting. Just an hour, but it knocks me over emotionally and he’s been gone four years.

    1) enlist instructor for in-class logistics and protocols that will protect you.

    2) remember the situation is temporary

    3) be honest, sticking with facts. You don’t have to cover for him. I am betting he is counting on you staying silent. Don’t.

    Like others have said, I would not be surprised if he bombs, yet I would not count on it.

    • Above all, respect how you feel. There is power in voicing and acknowledging how you truly feel and not pretending otherwise.

      Some people might feel completely neutral, others might feel totally triggered. It’s very individual and subjective.

      There is no shame in being unable to be in sustained close contact with someone who virtually stabbed, raped, assaulted, abused you.

      However you decide to handle the situation, the main thing is to make sure your response plan loves, honors, cherishes, respects, protects, acknowledges YOU.

  • I would bet next week’s housekeeping on the idea that he certainly never finishes that course, and a solid 5 quid on the idea that he never actually starts because *life* gets in his way. You know how it is, right? It strikes me he’s more of an instant-gratification, impulsive chap, grinding away over SUMMER for 40 hours a WEEK… that’s quite… blah. Also, he has form because he flunked out before. Not that people can’t change and finish their studies of course, but usually it requires some fairly steely resolve and as we’ve seen, your guy is… not great on boring old ”resolve”.

    Be that as it may, just carry on. Go, be courteous. Let the facilitator / lecturer know in advance that you do not wish to be partnered with him under any circumstances at all please-and-thank-you, and above all, do not get dragged into ”going for coffee” or any darting into Where Did We Go Wrong navel-gazing. Just smile vaguely and deflect.

    But my guess is that if he goes at all, it won’t be for the whole 9 yards, and this will be a non-problem soon enough.

  • He will not be able to sustain the effort, LW, I can promise you that. He will flame out of this like he does everything else.

  • One idea I haven’t seen mentioned yet… headphones! Put them on for your walk into class, sit down someplace that would make it inconvenient for ex to sit next to you. Take off the headphones when class starts, then pop those bad boys back in for your exit. Bonus points for sunglasses. Both tips courtesy of taking public transit in places you want to discourage strangers from interacting with you.

    • Make sure they’re the noise cancelling kind. Bonus is they’ll make your solo study sessions nice and quiet.

  • Kudos to you for living your best life and moving on. I second everyone’s opinion that you should just ignore the ass and ace the program. He is the one stuck in the past if he signed up to mess with you, you’re not. But don’t try to puzzle out his reasons because they are irrelevant to you. Whatever you do, don’t give him centrality, even in your mind. It may be hard since your divorce is still so fresh, but try and imagine yourself 10 years from now, having aced your course, your career and achieved your dreams. The FW is but a speck in your rear view mirror, a mistake you’ve learned from. You are this person. Channel this future you and focus on what’s important to you.

  • I would definitely let the professor know NOT to put you in any group activities with him. I am stuck sitting in a small conference room with my ex fuckwit for IEP meetings. Everyone at the school knows what a piece of shit he is (Hell, CPS came to interview our child at school because of him abusing our child!). I control the meeting, the teachers and admin look to me to ask the questions. I ignore him and counter his inaccuracies, I never acknowledge him, I don’t look at him. His contribution is nothing, he bring zippo to the table. My ex was intimidated by my PhD and said I didn’t even go to a real school to get my degree – Umm, Temple University. After I left him, he started a PhD Program at Temple and failed out! I am sure yours will fail out as well! Boy did I marry below my intelligence level – Thank the Good Lord my kids got my brains and are way smarter than him – and they know it!

  • I hate to say it but he will likely stick with the program if you are present because of his ego or centrality issues. At least that is the worst case scenario. If it’s a formal setting perhaps sitting strategic where you don’t have to look at him and be able to focus better on the class. Use this to channel your mighty by taking care of yourself by completely rocking the program. If he tries to say hello and interact before or after class do not give him relevance. Zero. He does not exist. Ignore him and you will get the point that you want to be left alone and he no longer matters to you. It is a hard situation for sure.

  • One of my favorite expressions (from The Art of War, I think?):
    “If you stand by the river long enough, you will see the body of your enemy float by.”

    You won’t have to stand there very long, BattleDancingUnicorn. ????????

  • Keep the focus on you. This is YOUR achievement. Do you know how many people sat next to Ted Bundy and never knew he was serial killer? You’re in a similar situation, but you know. SO – stay away. Keep out of his narrative about anything… the color of the sky… you having been married before… shrug. You’re not that person anymore. You are a mighty Chump, single sane parent, and educator with some awesome skills that deserve this opportunity.

    Congratulations! Meh means putting down the mic… go live your life with the wonderful “no comment” way of living.

  • Scripts to prepare:
    1) 1st day of class intros. Possibility exists that he goes 1st and says something stupid like “Oh my ex-wife is in this class, also!” You smile in the “bless his soul” way and “how lucky for all of us”

    2) Group projects/studying/assignment help asks from him. “Pound sand”.

    3) Any one asking why did you divorce: “because we were so happily in love we couldn’t stand it anymore”. ???????????? kidding. I just hate prying questions. However you could say something along the lines of “it’s bad enough I’m in class with him. I prefer not to talk about it”.

    You’re mighty. I can’t decide if it’s more kibblely to drop out or stay in. Either way, your reasoning is enough. It’s your thing, you got accepted and he’s not going to derail anymore of your life.

  • FW exes self-combust when discipline and responsibility have them cornered. It happened to mine!

  • Some people have an internal sense as to who is morally bankrupt…and they will be polite, use extremely good manners and never let on. Go to all the classes he happens to be in with you because you are a better person than the morally bankrupt one. Better people glow with a good light and that is not because they are flawless or neve make mistakes, have accidentally hurt someone’s feelings etc…goodness glows and others do see that

    • “goodness glows and others do see that”

      I wish that was always the case, but people are pretty stupid. Just ask all the chumps who were angels but an obviously evil FW still took all their friends away from them and even their kids. FWs are good at lying and convincing others you are the bad guy. Unfortunately, you have to develop some crafty PR skills yourself in order to deal with their smear campaigns.

      • I agree…I clearly do not have that ability as demonstrated by the fact that I married a FW and stayed through enough emotional abuse that I had no friends…NONE for almost 10 years because of the emotional damage….but I know people who do have that ability and there will be some in this class.

  • One perspective I picked up (not my own idea) was to work on accepting the belief: He does not exist. This is particularly true if you know them to have an undiagnosed personality disorder (my situation).

    I remind myself: the person I thought I married does not exist. The partner I had pledge my life to does not exist. The person who pretended to prioritize me and our life together did not exist, and never really existed. The person who seemed honest, trustworthy and on my side, was not any of these things and instead hid his true self, which was self-absorbed, entitled and pretending to have empathy with others. His existence involves a lot of deception, lying and pretense. So that former idea of this person wasn’t real. He doesn’t exist.

    So I tell myself, this person (if I run into him now) is a total stranger. He truly is. And it did happen. I ran into him once, and thought of him as a stranger, and it worked OK. I just thought to myself, “oh him, I figured I might run into him somewhere.” I don’t really know this person. And I moved on. Since you share custody, this may be more difficult because that person is still your child’s parent. But I hope this helps.

    • That really is brilliant. And I think many in CN can attest that it truly is as though you no longer recognize them when the mask comes off. The shark eyes and all. You find yourself wondering who this is. At one point I felt as though the person I thought I knew had died and been replaced. Was tougher to accept that he never existed. But useful to change the mindset down the road. This person looks like someone you share history with but it’s just a shadow of a person who doesn’t exist.

  • Just popping in during my prep hour to say thank you to Chump Lady and Chump Nation. You are amazing people, and I wouldn’t be as far into meh as I am without you. Heck, I’d probably still be pick-me dancing.

    I did come to one helpful realization while reading through all of your truly thoughtful posts– I can tell the whole truth about him in this setting. At work, I can’t say much because he is an employee of the same (very small) district. In this grad school setting, I can be indifferently honest.

    This is freeing, even if I never use it.

    • “I can be indifferently honest.”

      That’s exactly how to play it. Not like you’re angry, but that you’re more or less indifferent, consider him a joke and are amused by the situation. Then he can’t get by with a claim that you’re making things up because you’re “bitter.”

    • I don’t know how much his behavior would be a problem for the employer, but I would think twice about not telling the truth in your workplace. Two of my ex husband’s affair partners got jobs at my workplace, so they could harass me. I told the person in charge of hiring that I preferred to keep my personal life private, but that I was unable to do that in this case because there was information the employer needed to know. I told them that my husband had fathered a child with the first AP, and that she had been sending me “anonymous” hate mail to me at work for over a year. Now that she had been hired to sit at the desk where everyone must enter the building, I was very uncomfortable with the situation. My employer said she was just substituting for the regular employee and that they would ensure she didn’t again.

      The second AP got a job substitute teaching in the high school where I had taught for decades. My son received a text message from a student in her class saying that the substitute teacher was telling the class that his mom had cheated on his dad. I am not sure how that came up in the art class? I told my son that I had never cheated, but that his dad did and that I was sorry that he had to deal with this level of crap. I was supported by the administration again when I brought this to their attention, and she was banned from ever working in my building again.

      I recommend being proactive in the workplace, and communicate as soon as anything seems off. I do not regret telling the unvarnished truth to people. I believe that the emotional effects on me of keeping secrets were unnecessary, and decent people will support you when they know what you are dealing with. I would not hesitate to tell the whole truth to the administration, and ask for their suggestions on how to deal with this. It comes off as less whiney if you state the facts and just ask for their suggestions. It enlists them on your side.

  • I think it will be awful at first but do that thing where you fake it and just go in like you don’t give two shits. Give him a look that says you aren’t up for taking any shit and crack on. Yeah it will be hard but after few sessions you won’t ever care and then you’ll feel even more mighty. I mean I might take a beta blocker the first night. You’ll probably just end up seeing what a pathetic loser he is. Yeah act like he is an insignificant piece of chewing gum stuck to your shoe. We’ll all be there in that first class giving him the evil eye in spirit, don’t worry.

  • In class sit in the front. Do not sit in the back so you can see the back of his head and be reminding of what a evil dick he is. Do not do group study with him. Pick a group the first day of class. Exclude him.

    • I would do the opposite. I would sit at the back so I wouldn’t feel his eyes on me. And in my case, I would just see the bald spot and ears sticking out like a car with the doors left open. lol. And wonder what I ever saw in him!

  • Here’s my two cents on how to deal with a jackass in a graduate class:
    1. Don’t initiate any contact with him. It’s not clear whether the grad cohort you are entering with is all from your district. If so, and you know most of them, you can chat with the people you know. If there are people from multiple districts, it’s likely that everyone will be a little tentative for the first few days. I went all the way through the Ph.D. and there were people in the cohort that I hardly ever spoke to. If he approaches you, just say “good luck in the program” and excuse yourself.
    2. If anyone asks you about the situation, say: “We were married. I have a 3-year old son. It’s painful to talk about. But I’m excited to be in the program.” And then change the subject. The easiest way is by asking about the other person: “What made you apply?” “Where do you teach?” And so on.
    3. It’s likely that your Resting Bitch Face and one-word replies will keep him from pestering you, but if he makes you uncomfortable by demanding your attention, have your attorney write a “cease-and-desist” letter.
    4. You can help yourself by maintaining strict “very low contact” rules in other areas. You don’t pick up the phone, ever. Even in an emergency, let it go to voicemail. You don’t text, ever. Use email or a parenting app for all child-related business. Set up kiddo exchange so there is no opportunity for him to chit-chat. This establishes your baseline.
    Key scripts: OK. No, that won’t work for me. Kiddo had sore throat; Dr. says it’s strep & prescribed antibiotic. Caught in traffic–will be a few minutes late. Pick-up time is 6 pm.
    5. Ignore everything that isn’t strictly business. Consistency is key.
    6. If he tries to cross that boundary in this public space: “I choose to have no interaction with you beyond what is required to parent Kiddo. Don’t approach me again in the classroom setting.”
    7. Always have something to occupy you on breaks or at lunch. Once you make a friend, that will be less of a problem.
    8. When he whines, “Why can’t we be friends?” the answer is: “My friends aren’t liars and cheats.”

    Bottom line is that grad school is a grind, especially an intensive program. The chances that he lasts the summer aren’t good. However, if he makes it through, won’t their be a raise for him? And might that mean more child support?

    • I’ve actually said, “I’m not friends with people that lie or cheat.” It shuts down the topic immediately.

  • Yes, I agree. He may not make it through. I would sit as far away from his as possible. Pretend he doesn’t exist. Try to ignore him. If there are any issues, and you need to address it, tell the professor in private. You could also go to HR dept at the university as a preemptive strike. But I would be careful not to bad mouth him to other students. If anyone tries to gossip, you could say yes we used to be married and leave it at that. I have seen first hand that people who say nothing regarding what occurred seem to come out on top instead of saying anything for people to gossip about. Loose lips sink ships. You want to shout it from the rooftops what a scumbag they are, but it doesn’t serve you. Eventually, scumbags reveal who they are to everyone.

  • Wow and I was worried about seeing FW for first time since divorce was finalized tonight at sons academic award ceremony.

  • I wouldn’t do it. MAs in education are offered at a lot of universities – albeit maybe not the intensive version this school offers. I would look really hard for another good option for yourself. Of course, then he’ll probably drop out. As far as him not making it, I suspect he’s going to get a lot of juice from your presence and that may serve as a motivator for him to stay in, at least for a little while, but I agree this guy doesn’t seem to follow through well. If it were me, it would be just so unpalatable that it would ruin the entire experience.

  • I guess the ultimate fantasy goal for any chump is to get to a place where FW is so irrelevant you could blithly ignore him even if you had to spend 40 hours a week in his presence. But you’re not there and maybe you never will be. It’s probably impossible. Personally, I would not hesitate to tell anyone who asks why I’m giving him the cold shoulder. Get to your classmates before he can, because he’ll surely lie about you, but don’t be too eager or too obvious about it. Make like you’re somewhat reluctant to tell them what a clown he is, but you think it’s best that they know what they’re dealing with. It may well encourage him to fail at this course even faster than he otherwise would if he finds himself unpopular. Because you know he’s going to screw up. It’s just a question of how soon and how badly. So by all means let anyone who is curious know about him. Be sure to keep it light and make fun of him rather than to seem angry and vengeful. People are less apt to take his side if he’s shown as a ludicrous figure. I think it also helps a chump to see the FW that way rather than as a threat. Just remember that losers like him are gonna keep on losing. I doubt he’s given up his habit of blowing off class to chase tail. You can encourage him to need that reassurance by giving him the daily ego thrashing of treating him as a joke. Do not puff his ego up by either by being visibly intimidated or by playing his “But we’re friends now, right?” game. A well placed contemptuous smirk can do wonders for getting a FW to come unglued. Grey Rock if you’re called upon to speak to him, but the subtext is that you’re laughing at him.

    • Another crazy brainstorm i got reading your comment OFFSS to add to the ones above: hire the sexiest possible arm candy to go with you. If the ex approaches you, instruct her to engage with him and slide away as others suggested previously……. Of course thats probably expensive and not a milieu you’re comfortable in, but maybe it can spark a different helpful idea. Way to go, never regretted my Masters!

  • The thing I see about the fact that he got in last minute is he probably already knew she would be there before he applied. That being said if she lets him scare her out of this he will enroll in any thing she tries to enroll in. My advice was go in like someone challenged you to a game and be determined to win. This is not a friend but a fierce challenger.

  • I too am a teacher, FW is as well, but unlike you I did not transfer schools -I have a support system, friends, reputation…I was NOT going to run away. That being said, it’s been extremely difficult. Even after listening to “Leave a Cheater” multiple times, I still with full awareness made all of the mistakes. But the school year is just about over. And I don’t do those things anymore. I’ve gotten really good at not “seeing” him. I spoke with my administrators and asked not to be paired with FW, seated by or grouped with him. For the most part it worked. I choose my seats. I don’t look at him. If he speaks to me, I gray rock the shit out of the interaction. He stopped showing up at my classroom a few months ago. I’m getting close and closer to meh – I don’t look for his car in the parking lot as quickly or at all on some days, I have changed my building habits (where and when I show up in places he may be), etc. Now I can sit in a faculty meeting and go stretches without feeling his presence so acutely. The point is, you can do it. This is a necessarily evil in choosing yourself. What I needed was the support system of the amazing people in my department, and what you need is this educational opportunity. Talk to the teacher(s) and let that person know that an ex spouse is in the room and it is traumatizing for you (no need to name names) and ask what their group work practices will be so you can come up with a strategy. Sit at the very front/out of sight of the door so you don’t have to see when he enters the room. Busy yourself with the work you are doing, and bring extra if needed so you never have to look around and potentially make eye contact. And then get friendly with people around you – he is the one losing out on working with you – in class AND in marriage. Fake it until you believe it.

  • This is a classic narcissist move. All his life, he used you as a model for how to act and he just repeats after you. Ignore him. If you act bothered or angry, that’s his cue to keep at it. After 23 years of marriage, staying at home, and FW reaching the pinnacle of his career, my divorce was final last year. I enrolled in grad school this year to help me reenter the workforce. Next thing I know, he emails the kids, “Hey what do you think about dad going back to school?” His career trajectory could literally not go any higher so this is not for that. He was awful academically (we were classmates in college) and hates reading anything, period. Me going back to school is his cue to want it too. It’s pathetic. If you don’t do this, he will sniff out your next move then do it too. Just carry on as if he doesn’t exist. Easier said than done but we got this!

  • I have taught graduate students in Education programs, and they are usually very small cohorts, so I find it likely you will be asked to work together at times. I suggest preparing a script to share with instructors. As a teacher, I would expect you to work with other students in the classroom setting, but I would also respect a polite request from any student who asked not to be grouped with one other person on projects that require out-of-class communication or meetings.

    So, as soon as you see a syllabus or get a hint that out-of-class group work is expected, request a conference with the instructor and say, “I am divorced from X because he cheated on me. I am professional and can work with him during class if need be, although if at all possible, I’ll be pairing with other students when we exchange work (or whatever the pedagogical strategy is), however, it is important I limit my communication and contact with him out of class both for my own well being and to prevent situations that might require my lawyer to intervene. If you place us in any groups that are expected to exchange work, or emails, or meet beyond class time, please place me in a different group than X is in.

    Once I had heard this request, I would understand why you always kept to one side of the room or ignored “feedback” from a specific classmate, etc. I’d be more attentive to not pairing you with your EX, though it might not always be possible for me to arrange every class activity in a way that prevented you and him having some communication in class.

    If the instructor seems anything other than supportive of your request to have no outside-the-classroom contact with your EX, ask who at the university you might speak with to get clarity on school policies.

    I also hope you will be able to find a fellow student ally in every class who can serve as a buffer when one is needed! I cannot imagine taking classes with my EX, but I would certainly need one to even attempt it. I am also hopeful your EX will soon give up on this degree, but it is stunning how good these people are at being persistent jerks when they can’t commit to any other aspect of their lives.

  • That sucks. I’m so sorry you’re in that position. For various reasons (we have a child) there are times when I am also around FW and the OW (who he now has a baby with).
    Reminding myself that he sucks helps. Write a list of all the shitty things he does/ did and carry it with you to those classes. Also, lessen his opportunity to engage with you. Get headphones and blast music to yourself before class and during breaks, arrive right on time and sit in a different area of the room to him. And do a lot of mindfulness- if your brain is anything like mine, being around this moron is going to make you worry about the future or bring up painful stuff from the past. Help yourself stay in the present and remind yourself that you’re doing the course for YOU. I like that you’re not going to let this weasel stop you from doing things that matter to you. You already sound mighty, you’re going to be forged by fire at the end of it.

  • Man, this is tough…but I agree that getting this degree will really benefit you and you deserve it! Not sure what all other advice you got, aside from CL’s great tip to find a class buddy to insulate you, but I recommend you make this all about the business. Show up for class just on time, or early, or whatever to be sure you get to choose a seat behind him or in another location where he’s the least bothersome to you. Leave class immediately after it ends, even if this means missing out on some delightfully stimulating post-class discussions. Do whatever work you can remotely or online. Never engage in conversations with him about class, no matter how hard he tries. With my ex, I’ve taken to simply staring at him blankly for a second when he brings up a topic I refuse to discuss, as if either I didn’t hear him or I don’t care, and then moving on without any further acknowledgement of his comment. I think it drives him crazy, but I’ve done it enough now that he just sighs and walks away. Sadly, this is progress.

    The key is to remember that the degree and knowledge is what you want to get from this opportunity–the experience of the course is secondary. So, tailor your situation to reach the goal and avoid him as much as possible. This is common BTW for working and busy parents who go back to school. When I went through law school with a small child, I was a ghost on campus. I did what I had to do to get through and let my teachers know when and where I needed accommodations. They were always cool about it. Yours probably will be too.

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