What is up with the world asking me to be friends or friendly to Cheater Ex-Husband (XH)?!
I am two years out from D-Day and 18 months out from divorce after a 23 year relationship (12 married), and it seems like there are all sorts of periphery people who seem to think that my no contact/minimal contact (I have 3 kids – ages 8, 12, and 14) is an affront to the world or going to ruin my kids.
In just the last few weeks I’ve had three encounters with people who seem to think being friends with cheater ex-husband is my goal or a good idea.
My former mother-in-law texted me in mid-December after checking on one of my family member’s health with a random, “You and Cheater-X need to talk again. I hope you can. Not to fix anything, Just be the friends you were.”
And then a former friend (Switzerland friend, I stepped away from) I ran into over the holidays said, “You and X really have so much in common still. I hope you guys are friends again. I know he doesn’t have any hard feelings.”
I also have a new supervisor who is friends with my XH and on an outdoor community committee. My supervisor hasn’t directly told me to be friends, but he talks about his committee work and interactions with my XH as if XH and I are friends and that I know about these issues from XH. I mostly respond with, “hmmm, interesting,” and try to change the subject, but it gets under my skin that these keep happening. It’s like I’m being silently judged by my community for not being friendly to Cheater XH.
I know I handled my former mother-in-law wrongly by explaining too much. I texted her that “Friendship is not a possibility. This is not my goal or healthy for me or my kids. Setting and enforcing appropriate boundaries with XH are my goal. This is a big part of the reason that my kids are in therapy — to understand that their parents are not friends.”
It started a whole text string from her that I mostly ignored, but finally felt I had to respond, “It sounds like you’re hurt and texting about this isn’t helping either of us see each other’s perspectives clearly.”
But how do you and other chumps respond, or not respond, to these direct assumptions of post-divorce friendship that we get sold as the ultimate goal of having “made it” by people like Glennon Doyle and the happiness police of the divorce world?
Dear Hell Will Freeze…,
It’s absurd to respond to abuse with friendship.
I’d like to hope that if your husband pushed your face through a plate glass window, these people wouldn’t expect warm bonhomie. What’s going on here is a lack of awareness and a willful cluelessness.
1.) Lack of awareness. CN is trying to change a narrative about infidelity, that until I planted my flag in this little corner of the internet, was reconciliation assuming and victim-blaming and shaming.
Most people think being cheated on is a rejection on par with not be invited to the prom. They chose another partner! You didn’t get a corsage! Get over it!
The actual details of the abuse aren’t discussed in the literature — the devastation of the experience. What it is to be conspired against by the person you trusted most in this world. To have friends, neighbors, your own children, pressed into the secrecy of your abuse.
The health risks. The lack of consent. The STDs. The sexual humiliation. The psychological abuse, the gaslighting (“it’s not what it looks like”), the blameshifting (“if you hadn’t gotten fat/cancer/unemployed/prepared my pasta correctly I wouldn’t have cheated”), the minimization — by the cheater and the culture.
The financial theft. The opportunity costs. The complete unmooring of your reality.
I could go on and on. This blog is literally millions of people sharing their stories, archived for perpetuity about what the chump experience really is.
But, a lot of people still don’t get it. Because there’s still a societal taboo talking about it. (See also “Bitter”.) And cheating isn’t recognized as abuse, so much as bad manners. Well, gosh, he really should’ve told you about his girlfriend. But you’re divorced now, no harm, no foul.
2.) Willful cluelessness. The other Be Friends With Your Ex societal pressure is the hidden agenda. It makes it much easier for the people around you — and their comfort levels — if you’re not aggrieved. Their social calendars don’t have to change, their opinions about a person they like/love/gave birth to don’t have to absorb this disturbing information, and you will fit in as you always have.
That’s about THEM. Your mother in law is probably heartbroken and has a very vested interest in seeing her grandchildren. (Which is your ex’s job now, not yours.) She probably rightfully assumes you’re a more compliant object of persuasion than her son.
Because that’s the thing, chumps generally do not want to appear aggrieved. We don’t want to make waves or hurt the people around us, so we eat the shit sandwich to not discomfort others.
The boss who’s on a committee with your ex? He’s probably just socially awkward and thinks you have this Person in Common, and hasn’t given deep thought to the matter. Glennon Doyle, on the other hand, has an entire media empire predicated on the shit-sandwich eating of faux forgiveness. It’s a kind of superiority jujitsu, and that’s a whole other column.
Point is, you don’t have to aspire to shit sandwich eating. Friendship with your ex is a shit sandwich you can refuse. Politely. Firmly.
If you know your worth, you don’t just hand out friendship like bingo cards at the fire hall. It’s earned. Friendship is about affection, mutual regard, and respect. You’re not friends with the guy who shoved you in a locker in middle school, and you’re not friends with the guy who gave you genital warts and permanent trust issues.
If you’re co-parenting with a fuckwit, it’s enough that you respond with civility. That you follow court orders. Pay support. Show up for the orthodontist appointments and the school concerts. That you sane parent and don’t let this crap experience steal your joy, from raising your kids, or from building a fulfilling life. That’s a BIG LIFT. It takes quite a while to bounce back from divorce and infidelity.
The world out there, the folks missing empathy chips, or just not terribly deep thinkers, they may not get it. They don’t have to get it. You’re not required to explain it to them. Just change the subject. Or say something so banal no one ever engages in conversation with you again. “Yes, Bob really likes those storm sewer drains.” Then wander back to your desk to urgently organize your paper clips.
The best way to change the Friends With Ex narrative is to resist defensiveness and just pleasantly enjoy your shit-sandwich free life. Be authentic. Be engaged with your kids and oblivious to your ex. Meh.
Eventually the suggestion won’t offend you, it will just strike you as silly.