“Diane” was a single mom raising her four-year old daughter, “Lola.” Two years ago, Diane met “Bruce” via an online dating website. She fell instantly in love and she told me about him in one giddy coloring session after the next. You see, Diane was my hair stylist. Bruce was two years older than Diane and he had two daughters that were around Lola’s age. He was recently divorced and lived with his parents almost two hours away. It was a match made in heaven.
A few weeks after their first meeting, it was Diane’s birthday and she gathered all her friends and family and we all met for dinner at a local restaurant. It’s the first time I met Bruce. I sat next to a mutual friend and we both commented that our initial impressions of Bruce was that he was either gay or something was “off.”
“He might be giving Diane loads of sex but I think he’s fantasizing about other men during the act,” our mutual friend said. I laughed… but I agreed with her. Something wasn’t right but, hey, if Diane was happy, good for her.
Because Bruce and Diane lived so far apart, being together almost every day was getting rather difficult. Within two months, Bruce found a new job and moved in with Diane into Diane’s parents’ basement. I thought it was way too fast to move a guy in with her, a guy she hardly knew, when her young daughter was in the bedroom next to her. And I was even more surprised that Diane’s parents, who are very conservative and religious, allowed it. But it wasn’t my decision so I kept my mouth shut (not always an easy task for me).
Several weeks later, I went in for my hair appointment and Diane shared with me the terrible events of the week prior. Bruce’s younger sister, who was 15-years old, told a school therapist that Bruce had molested her and had tried to rape her more than once. Bruce was arrested at her parents’ home and had posted bail. His parents loaned him $10,000 to pay for the upcoming legal fees and he hired an attorney.
“I just don’t believe he did it,” Diane said. “His sister has been having problems for a long time and she’s a liar.”
I stopped her. “Or she has problems because her brother has been molesting and assaulting her. If she is a liar, and you don’t know that she is, maybe there’s a good reason for it.”
“Bruce’s mom and dad don’t know what to think but now we can’t even go to their house!” she lamented. “And his ex-wife doesn’t want Bruce to have unsupervised visits with his daughters. She’s filed for full custody and for Bruce to have only supervised visits. She’s such a bitch.”
“First, Bruce’s ex-wife doesn’t sound like a bitch to me. She sounds like a wise, cautious mom. Second, Diane, you are new to this family. You have no idea their dynamics. Hopefully he didn’t do it but you have no idea. The fact is, you have a young daughter and it is your responsibility as her mother to put your new love interest aside and focus on her. What if it’s true? You can’t allow Bruce around Lola. You have to protect her. If Lola’s dad finds out, he’ll file for custody of Lola and he could win. Are you ok with that?”
She wasn’t happy with me.
After that appointment, I switched stylists. I just couldn’t listen to the horrible stories that Diane was telling me and, it was clear, she didn’t want to hear it either. Over the next year, Diane and Bruce got married, they got a small apartment of their own, and Bruce was getting ready to formally plead guilty to a lesser charge of assault on a minor, which would mean probation.
…And then I got a text from Diane. “He hurt her,” it said. My heart stopped. Dear God.
I called her. “What do you mean he hurt her? Who hurt who?” I asked.
Diane said she picked up Lola from school and told her that they were going to pick up Bruce from work in a few hours. In a matter-of-fact tone, Lola said, “I like Bruce but he touches me and shows me his pee pee.”
I have to give it to Diane– she immediately drove to the police station and told the intake officer what Lola said. “What am I supposed to do?” Diane asked. The police called a Child Protective Services worker, who came to the police station and interviewed Lola and Diane separately. Hours later, they put out an arrest warrant for Bruce, and he was currently sitting in jail.
It’s been almost a year and Bruce is still in jail. He took another plea and will get out in a few months. Bruce’s parents will have nothing to do with Diane, they blame her for having their son put in jail. Bruce’s ex-wife will not allow Diane or Lola to see their children. Diane’s parents feel sorry for Bruce and tell Diane that he needs a lot of support, and he will need even more love and support when he gets out of jail. Diane misses Bruce. She still wonders if maybe he really didn’t molest Lola. She hesitates filing for divorce because she loves him and wonders if there is a way they can be together again.
Diane and I went to dinner a few weeks ago. “Diane, you cannot allow Bruce back into your home. If you do, what message are you sending to Lola? When she gets older, she will understand full well what kind of choice you made. And what if he hurts her again?”
“I know. But I miss him, I love him, he says he didn’t do it,” she teared up.
I wanted to find Diane’s parents and scream at them. Bruce needs love and support? How about your daughter and granddaughter? What about giving them love and support, helping Diane be strong, and keeping Lola safe? Where was the state in offering therapy for this wavering mother? What about therapy for the young child who was molested (or believes she was molested anyway)?
Today, I am sick. In some cultures, marriage means one is “whole.” A single person is “less than” and to be pitied. And in the religious culture in which I live now, this message is driven home loud and clear. One aspires to marriage. Young girls are told that their number one goal is to be a wife and mother.
Sure, a great ideal. But… that fairytale all too often doesn’t pan out. As those of us who are divorced know all too well, a bad marriage is far worse than a divorce. Singlehood can be far more healthy and wonderful than the wrong relationship. What about teaching our children that? How about teaching adults (and youth) to be healthy, strong and resilient on our own first. And, if we have children, our number one legal, moral and ethical obligation is their health, safety and wellbeing? Too often, those messages are missing entirely.
Except not in this mom’s home. If my guy and my children don’t “connect,” our relationship is over. If there are any warning signs of abuse or neglect, my responsibility is to them, not the new lover. If only more parents felt the same way. If only Diane somehow embraces that concept before Bruce gets out of jail.