Dear Chump Lady,
I don’t think I’ve ever seen you cover this topic, and my fellow chumpy friends and I are mystified by this behavior…
Schmoopie (the one that my husband/partner of 23 years left me for last year) gives ME (the chumpy ex-wife) gifts! What the…..?
I have never met Schmoopie in person. She is almost a decade older than my ex, and divorced with two older children. My two younger children have the privilege of spending time with Schmoops at her house — and on special occasions (Christmas, Mother’s Day, my birthday, Groundhog Day) over the past year, she has given me gifts under the guise of them being “from” my children. Mind you, I am absolutely certain that my ex didn’t purchase or select these gifts, nor my children, so there is only one person who could have initiated the purchases and executed the elaborate wrapping, minus any cards or notes.
So far, the gifts have included: a plush robe, a pair of gray floral fuzzy pajamas, a set of bath gels, a chambray shirtdress (which is too big — because I lost 30 lbs on the divorce diet), a silver bracelet with a charm that says “I Love Mom”, a custom-framed portrait of my children, and handpainted pots with flowers. These gifts are sent home with the children, without any explanation or pleasantries. Like pretty little time bombs.
From anyone else, the gifts would be warmly appreciated. From her, it’s a complete mindfuck. How am I supposed to interpret the intent behind these goodies? As peace offerings? As consolation prizes? As “I feel sorry for imploding your marriage and family… have a nice bath”? I can’t wrap my brain around it.
Not only that — but she constantly goes out of her way to “one up” me, by being super crafty and thoughtful. She freaking made a fancy brownie platter for my Divorce Care support group meeting potluck (delivered by my 9-year-old daughter who attends the children’s group)!!! Let that one sink in — the mistress made dessert for the ex-wife’s divorce group, and they did NOT have medical marijuana or laxatives in them! And because of this, I have dubbed her the “Martha Stewart of mistresses.” I have always considered myself to be a top-notch gift-giver and hostess, and this chick is bound and determined to outshine me every chance she gets. She already won the “booby prize”, but apparently she wants honorable mention too.
And here’s the kicker — my divorce is not final yet, and my ex and I are currently spending thousands in legal fees — so what kind of logic goes into the opposition buying GIFTS for the other team?? My ex doesn’t even talk to me at all, so why is his gal going out of her way to play nice?
It’s one thing to lavish my children with bribes (oops, I meant gifts) — but why ME?? Here’s a shiny object to distract you from the absence of your husband! Apparently she missed the class at cheater school where they teach you etiquette: Rule #1: Don’t buy gifts for your co-cheater’s soon-to-be-ex-wife.
So, the thing I’m struggling with is that old saying “don’t look a gift whore (oops, I meant horse) in the mouth.” Does it make me seem bitter and ungrateful that I can’t just grit my teeth and happily accept the gifts? Or that I won’t reciprocate and buy her a gift, or at least send a handwritten thank you note? I feel like I’m in the Twilight Zone. Is she trying to kill me with kindness and show she’s the bigger person?
Do I just file this under the category of “untangling the skein of fuckupedness“?
It’s a trap!
There is absolutely no good way to respond to this platter of shit brownies. If you accept them with thanks, you’re buying into the “friends” narrative, that there’s absolutely nothing transgressive about this menopausal homewrecker screwing your husband. On the flip side, if you reject her gifts, if you catapult brownie bites at her head, or regift that fuzzy bathrobe to your nearest homeless person and photograph said person wearing said bathrobe, and upload the pix to OW’s social media (just a suggestion) — yes, then you’re “bitter and ungrateful.” Hell, if you fail to send a thank you note you’re probably bitter and ungrateful.
And that’s the point, isn’t it? To bombard you with bogus magnanimity and faux graciousness so you appear sullen and angry by contrast. Gosh, I’m such a Nice Person. Too bad Gifted can’t let go of her anger and accept!
The gifts are pure impression management.
They’re a beautifully wrapped fuck you presented by your children. Ouch. And the worst thing about these wackadoodle acts of performance art is that they’re meant to manipulate your children too. See, OW comes in peace! Pay no attention to your parents’ divorce — here’s a shiny thing! And one for your mother too!
I think you’re being remarkably gracious by not responding. Because yes, while it’s totally comedic, this kind of mindfuck is also abhorrent. It’s not a new set of pajamas, it’s a blundering attempt to get you to normalize injustice.
Oprah Winfrey has famously told the story of being raped as a 9-year old child. Afterwards, her abuser took her out for ice cream.
It seems preposterous, but anyone who has ever suffered abuse knows that this incongruity is typical. Man beats his wife, then buys her new clothes. Enslave a people and promote a few as “good Negros” or “credits to their race.” Buy the narrative that what I did was okay, and you’re okay with it, and you will be rewarded. I will think well of you! You will think well of me! And say no more about the Bad Thing! That wasn’t really Bad but For The Best!
This mindfuck is as old as time. What you’re experiencing is violation with ice cream.
Your family is breaking up, your still-husband is putting you through an acrimonious divorce, and this horrible woman is trying to insinuate herself into your DivorceCare group for fuck’s sake!
So what do you do?
You have a couple choices here.
1.) You can continue your strategy of ignoring her. However, that exposes your children to the continual mindfuck of delivering you “gifts.” OW may eventually give up, but do speak to your children about how inappropriate these gifts are. Do it as unemotionally as you can.
2.) Tell your children that you only want gifts from them. Not the OW. You cherish the pipe cleaner bracelet and homemade cards, and you know they don’t have money to afford fancy pajama sets. Divorce means Dad doesn’t buy gifts for mom anymore. And his OW shouldn’t buy gifts either. We’re two separate families. It’s okay for you to enjoy gifts at their house, but it’s not appropriate here. (See above.)
3.) Confront the OW. Borrow from the Bill Eddy advice when dealing with Difficult People — be BIFF. Brief. Informative. Friendly. Firm. “Dear OW, I received your bathrobe. I am returning it, as it is not appropriate for me to be receiving gifts from the children, which they did not purchase themselves. Or which are proxy gifts from you or their father. Please respect my wishes. All the best, Gifted!”
And if these do not work, consider the Machiavellian.
1.) Do it to her. Turnabout is fair play. Regift that shit. Did you get pajamas for Mother’s Day? Rewrap it and send it via the children to her on Groundhog Day. Do it every. single. holiday for every. single. gift.
2.) Ridicule it. Create a blog where you upload pictures of these presents. Call it “Shit My Husband’s Mistress Gave Me.” Post links on every divorce support site. Invite people’s suggestions of what to do with these gifts. Make memes. Upload photos of feral pigs eating the brownie platter. Dogs wearing chambray shirt dresses.
And if it gets back to her? Impression management fail! Narcs hate to be ridiculed.
Hey, if you’re going to be bitter and ungrateful, you may as have fun. Good luck!
This is an updated post.