Happily Ever After Marriage: Q&A with Author Sarah Hampson (Part 2)

Credit: The Globe and Mail (Photographer: John Ortner)

“Earlier in my post-divorce life, I thought marriage would never happen again for me. Having exited a painful one, I had no desire to enter another. Why would anyone want to repeat a difficult experience? I felt that my heart would never be as trusting as it once was. I had lost my faith in marriage. I wasn’t sure it was the best custodian of love. And I still feared how the wife identity could sabotage me. I was content to sit to the side and let others have their turn at giving the institution a whirl.”   – Sarah Hampson

In the first part of my interview with award-winning columnist and author Sarah Hampson, we chatted about the origins of her Generation Ex divorce column in The Globe and Mail and how she openly shared her personal experiences to write Happily Ever After Marriage: A Reinvention in Mid-Life.

The book’s final chapter ends with Sarah peering wistfully out an airplane window, pondering romantic love while thinking of those she has both loved and has yet to love. It’s a poignant moment, given the emotional journey she takes her readers on, but without a postscript, it does leave one wondering if she found love again.

As it turns out, about a month before the release of her book, Sarah met British-born, Toronto-based artist, designer and photographer Mark Raynes Roberts. But I’ll let her tell the rest of the story.

What events led up to meeting Mark?

I was in the final throes of writing the book in the early part of 2010. I’d revamped my career to become more financially secure and stable, going from freelance to being on staff at The Globe and Mail. And by then I had been on my own for almost nine years, with a couple of relationships and a few dating skirmishes here and there. But I’d been pretty much celibate for four years and was at the point that I wondered if I’d ever have sex again, let alone meet anyone and fall in love.

A very good friend of mine said, “I’ve been collaborating on a project with this British artist and I think you might enjoy meeting him.” I said, well okay, but not right now because I’m too busy with the book.

Weeks later, I was throwing a dinner party for someone I knew who was retiring and as I was putting together the guest list, realized that I needed to add single men. So my friend said, “Come on, just invite Mark. It’ll be fun. No obligation, just meet him.” So I said fine, fine, fine and I invited him to come.

What do you remember about your first meeting?

When Mark arrived at the door, this little voice in my head said, “Pay attention. He’s interesting.” And he was interesting, and also a very thoughtful, lovely human being. We had a few moments to chat, but because I was hosting and looking after guests, we didn’t get much chance for conversation. At one point during the party, my friends followed me into the kitchen and joked “Gee, do you want us all to leave?” They were so funny, the way they were giggling, but they could see the attraction was there.

The next day, Mark phoned to thank me and invited me to his place for dinner. I had to go out of town on business that week, but we made a date for the following weekend. Just before I left to go to his house, I took a look in the mirror and that little voice in my head said, “Your life is going to change.”

What made Mark different from the other men you’d dated?

I responded very much to his gentle humanity and I think I was just struck by his goodness. Previously, I had been hurt by the feeling that I’d given my life over to someone who didn’t treasure it enough to want to do the fair emotional thing with me. So I know I could never have married again if I couldn’t on some very deep level trust his goodness.

Mark and I got married almost two years after we met and we’re coming up to our fifth wedding anniversary in December. When we decided to get married, I said to my father, “If I think too much about it, I can think of a million reasons why I don’t feel ready to do this, but if I listen to my heart, this is the right thing to do.” And my father simply said, “Now is the time to follow your heart.”

Why did you decide to get married again and not just “shack up?”

I suppose it’s because we both believe in marriage. We wanted the institution of marriage because we both respect it and had been disappointed by it. I think part of it, too, was that I wanted it for my sons. I’m not saying I got married for the sake of my children, but I do think that I wanted to demonstrate to them that it’s not that I don’t believe in marriage, but sometimes you get married to the wrong person. And you can survive that. I think I wanted to prove that to myself too.

I remember telling myself that I didn’t want to get to the end of my life and not know what it’s really liked to be loved in a marriage. Of course, I was loved by my family growing up and I know that my children love me, but I remember envying people who had marriages with a calmness and a serenity about being together, of understanding each other really well. I remember feeling that I didn’t not want to know what that was like.

How is marriage different this time around?

Sometimes I say to Mark that one of the ways I know our marriage is so good is that there’s no double-think. I never have to analyze “Why is he saying that? Where’s he going? Why did he do that?” My first marriage was often like that and privately, I’d think there must have been something wrong with me. Double-think knocks you off your centre; it’s is like being in the middle of a knot trying to untangle the threads of it and never reaching the end. That’s one of the things that makes a marriage work; you just trust that the other person will do the right thing.

It’s not as though we don’t have little worries now and then, but I can say that after five years of marriage to Mark, I have never been happier. And it’s a calm, domestic happiness. Part of it may be the stage of life we are in. Being in our fifties, we have a different perspective of what we look for in a partner and how we define what makes us happy.

Do you have any dating advice to offer the newly-divorced?

One of the things that helped me most was being more self-aware. At times I felt as if I needed somebody else to anchor my life to make it better when what I actually needed was to take the time make things better for myself first.

After my divorce, I had an on-off relationship for 18 months that wasn’t so great. Looking back now, I can see that he was totally the wrong person for me, but at the time, part of me felt like I needed to be with someone in order to feel more secure. I remember thinking that I needed to take a step back from a relationship and start fixing what was not quite right in my own life. For me, that meant going from freelance to a salaried on-staff job that provided more financial security and helped me to rebuild. Once I did that, I felt more at ease with the whole dating thing.

Now that you have remarried, can we expect a sequel to Happily Ever After Married?

I don’t think there will be a follow-up, but you never know. There was a period in my life when writing the column and the book felt like it could be helpful to others and I didn’t mind using my personal experiences as a leaping-off point because the details were generic enough to resonate with a larger audience. It was about me and yet, it wasn’t about me, so that gave me the freedom to write about it. It’s funny, but now I have a sense of privacy and protectiveness about the happiness I’ve found. I’m not sure I want to mine my own experience again for a book, but as I said, you just never know.

My Ex is Getting Remarried. Yippee.

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I would have celebrated my 25th wedding anniversary this week. Instead, my ex-husband is getting married to one of several women he had affairs with during the years we were together.

As much as I have been trying to grin and bear it in preparation of this moment, the truth is, it sucks. I guess you never really know how you’re going to weather the storm until you’re in the midst of it.

To be totally honest with you friends, I’m dealing with a little angst this week. Okay, so maybe it’s more of an Alanis-sized “you told me you’d hold me ‘til you died, ‘til you died, but you’re still alive!” kind of angst, but it suits the occasion. This wedding has been a jagged little pill to swallow.

It’s unfair that infidelity gets a big party. Putting a ring on it does not pardon unacceptable behavior (“See? It really was true love after all.”). Marriage is something that I honor and value as sacred, so yeah, it  aggravates me to see a serial cheater who blatantly disregards the meaning of commitment be celebrated for making more empty promises. Unless he has miraculously undergone a scruples transplant recently, he is the same phony I discovered when our marriage finally buckled under the weight of his deception.

That being said, when it comes to my ex, most days I am contentedly floating in a state of “meh.” It’s not quite forgiveness, but basically an acceptance of yes, this happened to me; yes, I now see him for who he really is; and now I’m going to put the focus back on me, my healing and my new life. It means I don’t think of him much.

Yet, when something this momentous happens, it’s hard not to feel like your emotional Band-Aids are being scraped off with a cheese grater, opening up old wounds and causing anger and resentment to ooze out. It’s hard not to hurt or to feel self-pity.

So I’m making a “vow” of another kind, right here and right now. Whatever comes at me this week, my job is to accept what I am feeling, then let it go. I know that when I am down, the best thing I can do is to refocus. Refocus. Refocus. Refocus. So this week, I am going to try to take a deep breath, surrender my angst and put energy into finding gratitude.

I am grateful for perspective. After all, their wedding has nothing to do with me. I must remember that these people are in my past and have zero impact on my future. I have my own hopes and dreams to look forward to. I am responsible for creating my own happiness and I am successful at doing that.

I am grateful for having moved on. I am completely in love with my partner and our life together. In fact, he and I are taking a well-deserved beach vacation this week in a place that makes us feel wonderfully relaxed. He knows just what I need.

I am grateful that my kids’ circle of love has expanded to include new people in their lives who adore and appreciate them the way their biological parents do. And yes, I am grateful that my kids are able to see their parents happy.

I am also grateful for having been able to connect with others who have experienced (and survived) hard things like this before me and have words of wisdom to pass along so that I, too, can find acceptance. One example is this blog excerpt from First Wives World titled “How Will You Feel When Your Ex-Husband Remarries”:

It has taken years to re-establish my life with confidence and courage, on a journey to find and accept and love myself, for all my strengths and weaknesses.

I can honestly now wish my ex-husband’s “new marriage” well. Good luck to both of them! I hope they find their way! But I can do that now because I became proactive and took the time to truly learn and understand why and how relationships happen at all. It’s because of that understanding that I started to see the BIGGER PICTURE. From there, I began a true spiritual journey for myself. I gained clarity and insight into human nature. It also became a task about learning to see others in a new light. I began respecting people in a whole new way.

I am not the same person I was while I was married to my ex-husband. I have personally grown and matured, and if the ex and I met today, I probably wouldn’t like nor be attracted to him. He’s no longer my “type.” My personal interests and goals have changed. I am different. I enjoy my freedom and love all the new challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for myself.

I can’t say I’d be happy for the newlyweds, as I don’t believe they are happy with themselves as individuals. They are starting off a partnership together that is built upon a desperate and weak foundation. I’ve gained wisdom here – that guy was stealing my light. I am equally grateful for the lessons I learned while being married, as I am for the lesson I learned through divorce. I’ve gained far more than I’ve lost.

Actually, upon hearing the news about “their” wedding day, I know I will feel peaceful and almost relieved as that will finally “close the door” on that chapter of my life. I expect a few tears, based upon sentimentality and the sadness for what “should have been” a good marriage for me. I was a willing and able wife. But the reality is, the man I chose CHOSE not to be a committed and faithful man. That said, maybe just maybe, there won’t be any tears. Maybe I will actually enjoy the moment when I remind myself of just how free I am and how strong I am!

This week marks a big milestone. It is a relief to know that it will come and go and then I will never have to pass this way again. I am already looking forward to the kids returning home next week so that life can get back to normal and I can resume my state of meh.

The Cabbie & The Divorcee

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A funny thing happened on the way to the airport. I climbed into the taxi that pulled up in front of my hotel, bleary eyed from a lack of sleep and decent coffee thanks to an early wake up call. Still, I was in a cheerful mood, happy to be going home to the people I love.

My cab driver nodded and smiled, quietly detecting whether or not his passenger wanted to engage in conversation. He started making small talk with me about the weather and some big movie shoot that was causing detours around neighborhood streets. It was a pleasant and lighthearted chat.

As we traveled along the expressway, he shifted the conversation to family. I learned that his daughter is 11, and his son, 6. His wife is expecting again in October. Baby number three came as a surprise. They had given away all of their baby clothes and toys just a couple of weeks before they found out they were pregnant. Oh, and it’s a boy.

His wife is the love of his life and he is speaks adoringly of her as the mother of his children and as his partner in life. She works full time, so in the evenings he insists on making dinner for the family while she puts her feet up. A former restaurant chef, he enjoys cooking for her, and is especially delighted to cater to her whimsical cravings.

When they married, his mother told him two things: to always treat his bride like a queen and to always let her handle the finances. He got it half right. Within a few short years, he had made a series of unwise financial choices that left them deeply in debt. They nearly lost everything and he admitted that he would cry on his wife’s shoulder every night. With barely enough to buy milk to feed his infant daughter, he felt so helpless about the situation that he considered suicide just to free his wife from the burden of embarrassment he had caused.

Too proud to accept a loan from his family, including a brother who is a successful doctor in New York City, he decided to sell his home to avoid total bankruptcy. They downsized to a modest apartment in an affordable but less desirable part of the city until they could get back on their feet again. Today, he continues to work hard and takes nothing for granted. He is out of debt and is proud to owe nothing to creditors. More importantly, he said, he has the freedom to buy his children whatever they want and to take his family on nice vacations.

He told me that he may never have a big bank account, but he knows he is a rich man.

Some people do not like “oversharing” because it somehow pushes unseen social boundaries, but I was riveted by his account. By the time we pulled up to the departures area, I felt as if I’d been invited to a place of honor at his table. The man had poured out his soul in a very intimate way. He didn’t expect me to reciprocate and asked nothing from me except to pray for him and his family and said that he would do the same for me and mine.

I wondered whether he revealed himself so openly to every passenger that slid across the backseat of his taxi, but I choose to believe he doesn’t. It seemed too sincere, too unrehearsed for it to be anything less than an attempt at genuine human contact. For a moment, we were just two people headed in the same direction.

What particularly struck me was that the cab driver was not ashamed about exposing his flaws and his fears, his weaknesses and regrets. He was seemed proud of what he’d been through, like Elton John’s Levon, who wears his war wound like a crown.

It made me think about my own story and I recalled the first time I told a room of complete strangers about what I’d been through. It was at a support group for divorced parents. Sharing what happened actually helped me to feel less isolated. I was in a safe environment, surrounded by people who understood what I was feeling without fear of judgement. It was liberating.

When we share with others, it bridges the gap between us. More importantly, by laying bare our experiences, we claim ownership of our past and give ourselves permission to put down what we don’t want to carry alone anymore.

I suppose that is really the point of maintaining a blog such as this. I am putting myself out there because I don’t want to carry around this pain anymore. I choose to retell my story so that I might achieve understanding and perhaps someday, forgiveness – but also in hopes that what I say here might resonate and help someone going through the same thing not feel so alone.

At the same time, I think it’s important not to cling to our stories. At our divorce support group, we would start each meeting by going around the circle, introducing ourselves by our stories. Soon it started to bother me that I was leading with the same narrative. Yes, this terrible thing really did happen to me, but no – it does not define me. I refuse to wear my war wound like a crown. I don’t need my story to be my badge of honor, lest people think it’s the most interesting aspect of who I am.

“Those who do not have power over the story that dominates their lives, the power to retell it, rethink it, deconstruct it, joke about it, and change it as times change, truly are powerless, because they cannot think new thoughts,” Salman Rushdie wrote.

So now, when given an opportunity to retell my story, I try to relay it from a higher perspective – what did I learn from this experience? Why was it a good thing that it happened? How is my life so much better for having lived through this? Why do I feel so happy and grateful today?

I truly believe that by expanding my viewpoint of the circumstances, the more rewarding my story becomes and the freer I am from it.

The Winner Takes It All

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Remember “The Winner Takes it All” by ABBA? It’s one of the most beautiful and cruelest pop songs ever written.

Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson penned the crushing ballad , and then Björn’s ex-wife-slash-bandmate Agnetha Fältskog sang the lead vocals. The lyrics were rumored to mirror their divorce, although Björn denied it was the basis for the song, saying it was about “the experience of a divorce, but it’s fiction. There wasn’t a winner or loser in our case. A lot of people think it’s straight out of reality, but it’s not.”

I don’t want to talk
About the things we’ve gone through
Though it’s hurting me
Now it’s history
I’ve played all my cards
And that’s what you’ve done too
Nothing more to say
No more ace to play

The winner takes it all
The loser standing small
Beside the victory
That’s her destiny

I was in your arms
Thinking I belonged there
I figured it made sense
Building me a fence
Building me a home
Thinking I’d be strong there
But I was a fool
Playing by the rules

With lyrics that raw, there’s no way I buy that they weren’t about the end of the nine-year marriage between Ulvaeus and Fältskog – and neither did Spin magazine writer Chuck Klosterman. He said “The Winner Takes it All” is the only pop song “that examines the self-aware guilt one feels when talking to a person who has humanely obliterated your heart.”

Not to mention that the song’s original title was said to be “The Story of My Life.” So the jig is up, Björn.

The gods may throw a dice
Their minds as cold as ice
And someone way down here
Loses someone dear
The winner takes it all
The loser has to fall
It’s simple and it’s plain
Why should I complain

Agnetha finally confirmed the truth in 2013 during an interview with the Daily Mail. “Björn wrote it about us after the breakdown of our marriage. The fact he wrote it exactly when we divorced is touching really. I didn’t mind. It was fantastic to do that song because I could put in such feeling.”

I’m not sure I would have been so gracious. Writing a song about your divorce and then making your ex-wife get up on stage and sing it every night in front of thousands of people sounds like torture, but hey, maybe that’s how they handle their grief in Sweden.

And what about Björn’s stance that there was no winner or loser in their divorce? I can’t quite swallow that pickled herring either. There is always a winner and a loser, as amicable as you may try to be. The winner is the leaver, the loser is the one left. The winner writes the song, the loser has to sing the tune.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about winners and losers. Very few of us believe we come out on top after divorce. Ask a man if he thinks men get the short end of the stick in the divorce and they’ll emphatically agree; ask a woman if she thinks women get a raw deal in divorce and she’ll say yes for certain.

It’s really about perspective, which is subjective because it is colored by our personal life experiences. Once we form our perspective on something, it’s nearly impossible to change and everything we see and hear afterwards either supports our truth or is just plain wrong.

Both women and men form a belief that their gender gets screwed over by divorce but the truth is, neither are winners. The justice system ensures no one gets more than they deserve and yet, both sides believe they have given up too much. But when there are no clear winners, each side assumes that they must be the loser. Again, perspective.

In my case, one of us walked away from daily obligations, moved to a coastal city where temperatures rarely dip below light jacket weather, got promoted at work, took vacations we never used to be able to afford, and got engaged. The other got a six-figure mortgage attached to a 30-year-old house in need of paint and various repairs.

But I also have the kids seven days a week, so if we’re keeping score, that puts me ahead.

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Although this house is still mostly owned by the bank and showing signs of age, it’s still home sweet home to us. It has pretty nice curb appeal and it keeps us safe and warm and (on most days) dry. Under this roof is where we share our nightly meals and our birthday cakes, put up the Christmas tree, and hunker down together to watch Swamp People. We work, create and study, we play, we sleep, and most of all, we love each other here. There is a true feeling of home.

When I tally up everything divorce has given me, I feel enormously grateful. I get to see and spend time with my kids seven days a week – admittedly, some of those days are harder than others, but as they are now young adults, I appreciate how precious our time together is before they spread their wings and leave the nest. I am in awe of the neat people they are and their existence continues to give me purpose and yes, perspective.

One of the best things I can do for my kids is show them how to pick yourself up again and live happily. While divorce lifted a weight off my shoulders and brought a surprising sense of peace and assurance that everything would be all right, it wasn’t until I met my partner that I realized how good things could get. I was happy, but meeting him turned up my inner pilot light from a flicker to a bigger, brighter flame. I remember thinking, “Oh, yes, this is how it’s supposed to be.”

For the first time ever, I feel like I am in charge of my life. I think that I can attribute that to having experienced a journey of personal growth and self-exploration that got cut short when I got married at 20. Although I had to mature very fast, it wasn’t until after age 40 that I was able to gain a healthy knowledge of who I am as an individual. I feel more confident than ever to successfully handle whatever might come my way next.

Most of all, I feel like in this second chapter of my life, I am living the truest version of myself. That’s what I call winning.

Q&A With The Chump Lady

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Lemonade, anyone? A new research study by Binghamton University reveals that women betrayed by unfaithful partners end up in stronger relationships later in life.

After surveying more than 5,000 women in 96 different countries, researchers found that although a woman may “lose” her mate, she actually ends up the winner in the long run. Not only will she experience personal growth, she overcomes being cheated on with a higher mating intelligence that allows her to make better decisions in the future.

That “winning” is the foundation for an empowering new book called Leave a Cheater, Gain a Life by journalist, cartoonist and relationship blogger Tracy Schorn, aka The Chump Lady. Chump Lady is a wildly successful blog that combines sass and satire with solid advice that champions self-respect. Think about it. Much attention is focused on serial cheaters’ unmet needs or their challenges with monogamy. Chump Lady has changed the conversation by lampooning such blameshifting and putting the focus squarely on the cheated upon (“chumps”) and their needs.

I was thrilled to have an opportunity to interview Tracy about the origins of her blog and her new book – a fresh voice for “chumps” seeking a new message about infidelity as they find the courage to start all over again.

How did “Chump Lady” begin? Was it a way of dealing with your own betrayal and if so, what was the turning point for you in deciding to turn pain into something positive that could help others?
Chump Lady: My experience with infidelity was in 2006. I’d been married six months. Eighteen months and several more D-days (the ugly surprises known as Discovery Days), separations and false reconciliations later, we were divorced. When I went through it, online support was hugely important to me, however, it was unfocused. The blind leading the blind, really. The happiest and sanest people I found were divorced. Even when I was healed up and remarried (in 2010, to a fellow chump) — I was still out there trying to give advice to other chumps. The why isn’t my own making sense of it (I had made sense of it – he sucks), but more from a sense of injustice that the advice for infidelity out there was so universally AWFUL and assumed reconciliation.

chumplady_400x400My husband said, “You should write a book.” That seemed like too much of a commitment, so I thought, I’ll start a blog. Just a brain dump of everything I learned about infidelity and chumpdom, so other people wouldn’t repeat my mistakes. I initially thought of it as a clearinghouse. Hey, I’m done with this crap, but please skip ahead. Hope it helps you. The blog became very popular quite quickly. Within 3 months, I was invited to write for Huffington Post Divorce and that in turn, brought more readers. People wrote to say how much it helped them, so I kept at it.

Do you think “Chump Lady” comes from a place of anger or acceptance? 
CL: Both. Anger at the Reconciliation Industrial Complex, which assumes entitlement as natural and that chumps’ default position must be winning back cheaters and Making the Marriage a Good Place to Be – AND acceptance. I had a MUCH happier life after I left a cheater. I’m very happily remarried. Yes, as a squidgy, middle-aged, twice-divorced, uber-chumpy woman in her 40s. If I can get to the other side and have a good life, anyone can.

I wouldn’t have thought being a “chump” was a badge of honor. How do you define it?
CL: “Chumped” is how it FEELS. You feel stupid, conned, played for a fool. The term “wayward partner” is offensive to me – cheaters do not lose their way; their manipulations are deliberate and chosen. Adults have agency. “Chump” is also a way of taking language back; to take a slur and make it a term of empowerment. Okay, I got played. I was a chump. And now I’m mighty.

Chump Lady is very funny – is it important to get over betrayal with a sense of humor?
CL: I don’t know how to write about infidelity any other way. It IS absurd and comically pathetic. Also, humor is a way of asserting power; of turning things on their head and looking at them differently and laughing.

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You have a colorful vocabulary, like “cake” for instance. What does “cake” mean?
CL: Cake-eating or cake means having the marriage AND the affair, and trying to maintain that position of advantage. But I didn’t make up “cake” – that one is on all the infidelity boards. I do have other terms that are uniquely Chump Lady — kibbles, untangling the skein of fuckupedness, etc.

One of your most popular features is the UBT (Universal Bullshit Translator) which debunks articles about infidelity. Why do we still buy into myths like “he cheated because you didn’t give him what he wanted?”
CL: Because it gives chumps a sense of control. When your world has fallen apart, control is a very seductive commodity. If I did something wrong, then I can FIX it and stop that terrible thing from ever happening again! It’s much harder to feel vulnerable and powerless because you trusted someone and got played.

You must receive a lot of mail. Have you heard it all or are you still surprised by things people tell you?
CL: I’m still surprised. I do get a ton of mail, but certain telling details still catch me up. Like the cheater who took his mistress to Disney World instead of his kids; and the chump had to spend the Disney savings in the money jar to buy groceries. I still get pissed off at those things. Which keeps me writing and lampooning narcissists.

What would you say you’ve learned most since becoming the Chump Lady?
CL: That people are very, very resilient. I’ve read tens of thousands of stories, and people bounce back from the most horrific stuff. I think the saddest stories I read are from people who were cheated on while pregnant, and divorced cheaters with infants or high-risk pregnancies, or toddlers at home, who are physically and financially vulnerable on top of everything else. When those people make it, I cheer. I LOVE the “tell me how you’re mighty” stories.

holly_petraeusI’d say my other takeaway is that no one should ever be a stay-at-home mother unless they have a trust fund. I hate to come down on the mommy wars; I worked part-time when my son was little. I just think to take yourself out of the workplace is a terrible risk. The odds of divorce are 50/50. Now factor in disease, disability, early death? You should always have a way of supporting yourself. (And before the Men’s Rights people beat me up — I think stay-at-home parenthood sucks for men too: she cheats and gets alimony because she was out of the workplace.) Chumps who are financially vulnerable have fewer good choices. I want everyone to have good choices. Infidelity and divorce can still be overcome, but in my opinion, it’s much harder without a safety net. You gotta be very scrappy in court.

What do you hope readers get from reading your book?
CL: I hope my book is exactly what it advertises itself to be — a survival guide to infidelity. I want chumps to protect themselves after infidelity and focus on THEIR needs over those of cheaters.

Lastly, what are your thoughts on monogamy? Is it achievable?
CL: Of course it is. Cheating isn’t a monogamy problem, it’s a character problem. The reason people feign monogamy and then cheat is to maintain an unfair advantage — you invest all your resources in THEM, you play by the rules, and they keep their options open (cake!). That’s a character issue. Don’t use and abuse people. We are created to bond with one another, and trust is the social glue that holds us all together. I don’t think that’s ever going to change. And I think it will always be aberrant and painful when people violate those norms.lovemonkey

I think everyone should love again after infidelity. I don’t necessarily mean being coupled up again in the traditional sense; I mean don’t let a cheater be the last person you ever invest in. Go engage with the world, give of yourself and “gain a life.”

 

Tracy Schorn’s book Leave a Cheater, Gain a Life: The Chump Lady’s Survival Guide (Running Press) is available now. 

If We Were Having Coffee…

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If we were having coffee, I’d listen quietly while you got it off your chest. You’ve been trying to rationalize the irrational, processing how the person you once committed all your love and life to has gone from being your closest ally to the antagonist who pushes all your buttons.

And if we were having coffee, I’d tell you that I’m proud of you for taking the high road and not turning every tense conversation with him into a volcanic event. I know it’s hard when he brings out the profanity-spewing, sarcasm-wielding Medusa in you. I know it’s hard when everything he says comes across like a condescending dig or a critical jab. You’re ultra-sensitive because divorce rips away all of your protective layers, leaving your emotions raw and your nerve endings dangerously exposed.

I’d nod knowingly because dealing with my ex used to set me off all the time; even seeing his name on the call display spiked my blood pressure. Sometimes it still does. But I’ve learned to handle it by using the 10-10-10 rule:

  • 10 seconds: Count to 10 to cool down before opening your mouth to speak.
  • 10 minutes: Take 10 minutes to cool down before returning a call.
  • 10 hours: Give yourself 10 hours (roughly equal to a good night’s sleep, coincidentally) to cool down before responding in writing.

I know it sounds like kindergarten, but trust me, it really works. The next time you sense your inner Medusa rising, try counting to 10 and see if that keeps all your venomous serpents under wraps.

If it makes you feel any better, you don’t have to become friends with your ex – but since you share children, you’re going to have to co-parent with each other for a long, long time. If you want to put the kids first, which we all do of course, you’ve got to find a healthier way to communicate for their benefit.

One thing that seems to help in conflict resolution evolution is to take emotion out of it; keep your dealings strictly professional (just think like your lawyer speaks) as if you were merely business associates. If that means eliminating face-to-face conversation and using only voice mail, text, or email in order to stay cool, calm and collected that’s perfectly fine, as long as the messages are civil, concise and child-focused.

Look, I don’t have all the answers. I’m just saying what’s worked for me might just work for you too. Communicating with your ex-partner during a divorce is like walking over hot coals – it’s excruciating, unpredictable and leaves you blistering. You wish like hell you didn’t have to endure the direct contact, but since you can’t avoid it, you might as well focus on getting through it as unscathed as possible.

If we were having coffee, it would be time for a refill and maybe a cookie or brownie to go with it. You deserve it while you’re trying to work through all this, my friend. You’re doing great.

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This post is part of the #WeekendCoffeeShare social experiment, inviting the WordPress.com blogging community to share what they’d say to their readers if they were sitting down together over a cup of coffee.

 

Photographic Memory

photo album

For more than a year, I avoided looking through our family photo albums. I’d just closed the book on a 20-year relationship and had zero interest in reopening old wounds by cracking the pages of an album filled with distant happier times.

Truth be told, I’d wrestled with tossing out the albums altogether or taking the scissors to some select photos, but I quickly came to my senses (you’ll thank me later, kids). I could not rob my children or future grandchildren of continuity in their life story. No matter what happened between their mom and dad, they should always be able to access visual evidence that they were loved and cherished by both of their parents.

Feeling particularly courageous and charitable one afternoon, I decided to take down the old albums from the top of my closet and divvy up a portion of their contents for my ex. He did not request them, but I figured he deserved to have a few mementos from the kids’ early years. Besides, I was no longer comfortable being the family’s lone historian, the keeper of nostalgia, the guardian of joyful memories now tainted by disappointment.

Without allowing myself to linger wistfully on any one image, I made a pile of pictures that I thought my ex would appreciate. Methodically, I chose photos from his timeline – college, with friends and relatives, as well as those taken with the kids from the day they were born up until memories went digital. I skipped over any photos that I was included in, editing myself out of his history as if I’d never been part of it.

It was surprisingly easy to emotionally detach myself from the photos and sort them without reminiscing. I think that was because they had lost their sentimentality.

neuralizerOur abrupt divorce rendered me with acute amnesia, wiping out two decades of good marriage memories from my cerebral cortex as if they’d been erased by the Men in Black’s neuralyzer. Once you reach a point where you don’t know what feelings were genuine and which acts of love were authentic, you question if anything you ever experienced in your marriage was real, including if happy memories were actually happy or merely illusion.

That’s the thing about photos: they are only illusions. While they capture a moment in time, they aren’t actual accounts of what was likely happening when the shutter clicked. The image is distorted by deeper meaning, colored by nostalgia, as what we remember is not always the same as what we actually witnessed. That is a good thing to remember when you are trying to distance yourself from the past.

Revisiting the early chapters of courtship and marriage did make me wonder why I chose this person for a mate in the first place. If I could rewind my life, knowing what I know now, would I have zigged instead of zagged? I shook off the notion. There are no do-overs, at least not in this lifetime. Imagining what could’ve been is a worthless exercise, and there is no point in living with regret.

Before I put away the photos away, I took one long last look at the kids splashing at the beach, playing dress up, getting silly in the backyard and otherwise hamming it up for the camera. I allowed myself to stop and gaze, to clearly see them, hear them and feel them. It was a relief to know that those memories were still well preserved in me; they had not disappeared but were only shelved while my heart focused on the healing it needed to do.

Once upon a time, those old photo albums were intended as commemorative storybooks. Now they serve as proof that our kids were always surrounded by love and laughter and that, yes, we really did have some good days worth remembering. I sure am glad I kept a record of it.