I had lunch with my very funny and irreverent friend Miranda the other day. She, like me, has divorced a Very Important Person and has a child with behavior issues, so over gazpacho and Ricotta Terrines, we traded stories from our respective post-divorce trenches.
Miranda and I joke about how our boundlessly angry former husbands are two peas in a designer pod. Here are some of the techniques Miranda’s ex uses to remind her just how important he is.
Punish with Money
After Miranda’s ex-husband Ira left her he was engaged five minutes later to a size-zero young thing who, when she comes to Miranda’s son’s sports games, spends most of the time scraping the dirt off her Jimmy Choos.
Despite being the one to initiate the divorce, Ira, who drives a Bentley and has a $10,000-a-month mortgage, is livid about paying alimony and child support. Ira demands that his radically less-moneyed ex-wife split all their son’s expenses 50-50. This is fair when exes have the same income. This is not fair when one person hides money in off-shore accounts.
Sometimes, however, Ira will wave money in front of Miranda to remind her that he is a Very Important Person — lest she forget. Appalled by the wall-to-wall carpet in her rental house, which, he said, was accumulating pollen and dog hair that was sickening Sam, he “proceeded to peel off three crisp $100 bills for me to get the carpets professionally shampooed and a mobile dog groomer to come.”
When Ira wants total control over something, he will offer to pay for it 100%. But not without making Miranda suffer as much as possible.
Leave Nothing on the Table for the Other Person
Since his divorce, the formerly I’m-too-important-for-religion Ira has become very Jewish. He and his new wife Tiffany have shabbas dinner every custodial Friday night, although Ira won’t let Sam eat the challah because he doesn’t want him getting fat.
Despite living on the other side of town, Ira and Tiffany joined a temple just three blocks from Miranda’s house (that would be the Pissing-on-the-Other-Person’s-Turf Maneuver) and has begun donating large sums of money to said temple.
Recently, Ira took Miranda back to mediation in order to negotiate how many tables she was allowed to have at Sam’s bar mitzvah (five years away). Ira’s thinking was, since he was paying for the entire thing, that he should get to decide how many guests she could invite. He told her she could have only one table, but she got him to agree to two. Which I can tell you, having gone through similar negotiate-till-blood-comes-out-of-your-eyes episodes myself, was no small feat on Miranda’s part.
Miranda’s son Sam has behavioral issues similar to Luca’s. She is in the try-every-therapeutic-intervention-imaginable phase. A phase that’s hard enough when you’re going through it with a supportive partner, but is an ungodly nightmare when you’re going through it with a Very Important Ex who casts his shame (Very Important Exes don’t have imperfections) onto you.
Ira frequently tells Miranda that Sam “has no problems when he’s with me.” When e-mailing Sam’s therapist, Ira writes in a polite, reasonable fashion (this would be the Dissembling Manuever), then immediately fires off e-mails to Miranda, cyber-screaming about what a terrible parent she is.
Every move Miranda makes, according to Ira, is indicative of her “poor parenting” and “foolishness.”
She is a bad parent because she is somehow responsible for Sam getting dirty during soccer practice.
She is a bad parent because she wasted her son’s college money on a forensic accountant to sniff out the money Ira had hidden.
She is a bad parent because she spends money that could pay for vacations for Sam on a nanny (Miranda lives with a chronic pain condition and some days cannot get out of bed).
Very Important People love e-mail because it gives them unfettered access from which to harass their exes. Miranda and I both use the court-appointed Our Family Wizard e-mail program which was created — ostensibly — to enable exes to communicate in a reasonable manner.
All OFW e-mails are saved on a computer program and can be sent directly to court. Sometimes this incentivizes hostile exes to make nice. But Very Important People don’t stoop to being nice. And unless your ex writes in an OFW e-mail that he intends to stab you 47 times with a pick-axe on January 11th, a family court judge has little grounds to curb the bullying.
Like Prince, Ira uses OFW to threaten. As in, “if you don’t do x by tomorrow, I will do y.” He also uses it to remind her that she is not a Very Important Person. When she objected to washing her son’s urine-soaked laundry that he handed her after returning Sam from his custodial weekend, Ira e-mailed her, “that’s what I pay you for!”
People who don’t understand what it’s like to be on the receiving end of relentless cyber-bullying will tell you to just “ignore” it. But when you have the grave misfortune of “co-parenting” with a Very Important Ex you really can’t ignore it. And years of steeling oneself against e-mails designed to wear you down does, in fact, wear you down.
Consistency is for Regular People
Like Prince, Ira frequently jets out of town for destinations unknown. Could be work, could be vacation, could be the Bank of Cayman Islands ATM. To maintain their status as Very Important People, both Prince and Ira know that they cannot reveal where they are going, nor for how long.
Because Ira wanted to be able to reach Sam on a regular basis, he took Miranda to mediation to make her get their 8-year-old a cell phone. She did, and Ira insisted Sam be available everyday at 5:00 pm for his call. Except that he rarely calls.
Ira also demanded that Miranda install a texting app on Sam’s iPod. But he almost never uses that either.
This kind of obfuscation is perfectly acceptable if you’re a CIA operative, but not if you’re a parent. When you play the daddy version of “Where’s Waldo?” with kids, it messes them up. They get anxious.
But Ira, being a Very Important Person, is never to blame for Sam’s anxiety. Lucky for him, he’s got Miranda for that!
Surviving the Post-Divorce from a Very Important Person
All joking aside, divorcing a Very Important Person who uses you as an emotional punching bag is traumatizing. And since you must retain some contact with your ex if you have children, you will need to develop coping tools to employ when your Very Important Ex trashes you in person, via e-mail, or to others.
Humor helps. So does blogging, if you’re inclined to blog, and I would recommend you do so anonymously. Therapy. Alanon, perhaps. Books on dealing with difficult people.
Miranda and I would love to hear from other targets of Very Important Exes: what methods do you use to stay sane when you’re dealing with crazy?
He doesn’t want his kid to eat the challah? What kind of Jew doesn’t let his kid eat the challah?? He needs an uptight Jewish grandmother like mine was to tell him what’s what. Sounds like the most narcissistic person on the planet.
Okay, in all seriousness, Miranda should be in charge of the phone. If dad says he’s going to call at 5 but regularly flakes, she needs to give child a heads up about this. “Dad would like to talk/text, but can’t always when he says he will.” She should be in charge of the phone, and not have kid wait causing anxiety. She can hold phone at 5. If dad calls, get kid from whatever he’s doing. If dad doesn’t call then he doesn’t call. “Dad’s not always reliable,” should be answer if kid asks. It isn’t a damaging message, it’s the truth. If kid doesn’t ask, then don’t say anything.
Also, I think Miranda should not talk to Dad if she doesn’t have to. When she does have to, text. Don’t even email. She needs to use this mantra: disengage. And if he gets nasty she should always say the same sentence. “You’re not allowed to talk to me that way.: Do not engage with a narcissist.
Have door unlocked when it’s time for drop off so kid can walk in by himself so mom and dad don’t have to have interaction. Kid is old enough to walk into house by himself.
Dad is a disgusting human being. Miranda isn’t going to change him. But she can change the way she responds. I’m sorry she’s going through this.
My response is very long. But I, um, sort of related to this post.
HA! Yes, I can tell you have some personal experience with this personality type, Hayley! Unfortunately, Miranda has to e-mail via Our Family Wizard because it’s part of their divorce agreement. But your reaction just goes to show that these guys have the same M.O.
Mia J. says
Your posts are so real. I am so grateful for your writing. I remember my own divorce and how absolutely lonely it was. The person I thought would be my friend (even through divorce) became the ugliest person I knew. We are thrown into difficult things-harder than anything we can imagine–and its centered around our family and tests our well being daily. Thank you for the stark honesty. You are brave.
You’re welcome! And hang in there, Mia.
Ugh I so don’t like fathers like that… I know that when my kids were to see their dad regularly and then he’d flake out for weeks and months at a time I would just wish that he’d either be in the kids life regularly or just walk away. Now we’re back into flake mode, he saw both kids 8/19 then his son for 11/4 and his daughter 11/23. Both kids (17 and 7) have numerous ways that their dad can interact with them that he just doesn’t use. And in return neither kid contacts him on their own either, though they are more than welcome to. I’ve had to pull the “Your daddy loves you”, “I don’t know why daddy acts like that”, “ask your daddy when you see him next” many times. Thankfully both kids outwardly seem ok with this, my son remembers how his dad was when he was little. His response at 16 when I asked him if he wanted to call his dad says it all. “I don’t want to bother him.”
I interact via text, and those emails with a ? followed by something from my sons school. I’m at the point now where its all humor. I try and figure out how he’s going to blame me for something before he does…
I come from the other side, he’s not a VIP with tons of $$. He makes more than I do, so does pay CS if you call 268 twice a month child support. But I’m happy for it, when it comes we tend to have the feast or famine approach to CS here. But what gets to me is that he still owes 50% on several things for my son and a few other things. When he never paid I had to find a way to pay for it. If I hadn’t my son would still be wearing braces today, he had them an extra 6 months since the ortho was waiting payment. And for other things with the kids, ex talks a good game “let me know what you need and I’ll see” But when the need comes he never chips in and I’m scrambling finding a way. Last time he offered me an advance on the CS, when he was already late with 3 payments.. check was in the mail.
My kids just roll with it thankfully…. I just keep giving my son tips on how not to act and my daughter tips on how to respond if her DH were to act this way. My son will also get an ear full if he ever becomes a father on how he will act to his children even if he’s 50….
lisa thomson says
Definitely sounds like the Narcissist. I also divorce a VIP and struggled through various types of abuse so I can relate to you and Miranda. I guess there is no one right answer to how to handle it. She has to preserve her sanity though, most importantly. I know from experience when they stop getting a big reaction they slowly retreat. One area Miranda will have to be strong is being truthful to her son and honest as things are happening. She has to counter his lies and put downs immediately to preserve her relationship with her son. This is a case where you don’t ‘take the high road’ because there isn’t one when you’re dealing with crazy. Great post, Pauline.
UGH, MLA, you landed yourself a doozy ex-husband. “Throwing away the keys to the kingdom” — love it! He won’t get any better, but over time you will find ways to distance yourself emotionally. You are just two years out, which I’m sure feels like an eternity. And one day your child will be grown and there will be far less “co-parenting” nonsense.
I’m so grateful for these stories, even in all their awfulness, because I know that I’m not alone. My VIP refuses to use OFW because it’s “ineffective” and “inefficient.” He’s already gotten in trouble for his emails, so he’s gun-shy about putting anything in writing. Which, now, is a problem because I won’t talk to him in person or on the phone since there is no proof of those interactions. (It only took me about 20 times of verbal agreements falling through and costing me upwards of $40,000 to learn that lesson…)
His latest attempts to coerce interaction are 1) refusing to pay me for any of our 50/50 expenses since last February. Like Miranda, I’ve got one of those awesome “you have 50% custody and 50% of the expenses” divorces, even though our income differential is the largest our original mediator has ever seen. So, right now I’m paying 100% of quite a few things. Also, 2) all of a sudden one of my kids needs to see a psychiatrist (Why? Good question). I’ve been informed by my child that my ex has already contacted a doctor and will be making an appointment. Since I’m a legal guardian and pay 50% of unreimbursed medical, too, this is a HUGE problem! My poor child feels down sometimes and I’m trying to discern how much of this “need” for a psychiatrist is an attempt to get me to talk to him (the ex) or to sniff out some issue with my parenting or if my child really needs help. I’m erring on the side of my child really needs help, but I hate having to second-guess whether to help my child or defend against the craziness of the ex. But, I’ve heard NOTHING from my ex on any of this except for one voicemail where he mentioned that a psychiatrist might be in order for low grades (which aren’t low).
I don’t know how to get him to pay without attending mediation (he’s totally holding those reimbursements hostage — the money I’d get in reimbursement will easily be eaten up by the mediator). He wants to mediate communication so that he can have access to my personal email address again and perhaps even have in-person meetings (no way in hell).
There’s been territory-pissing, too. I told him not to come on my property, so he pulled his car right up to my garage door and wouldn’t move it, even though I was in my car, with the car in reverse, and needed to leave my house for a school function. (He drove the car in, then moved to the passenger seat to allow one of the kids to drive after they got their things from inside the house.) We sat there in stalemate for seven minutes. That’s a long time to sit with the car in reverse waiting for someone to move. Makes me wish the restraining order I had earlier this year was still in effect…
Sorry for the long comment. I can’t blog anymore (apparently no anonymous identity is too anonymous to be found by my ex) and have to stay as quiet as possible. Stinks. Hopefully he doesn’t find this too…
Thanks, Pauline and Miranda for your stories. They help more than you know.
Your long comment is welcome! VIP survivors need to share their stories. Love that your ex wants your son to see a psychiatrist for “low grades.” Priceless.
I often read Pauline’s posts and I feel happy, sad and helpless. I am being bullied by someone with money. Not through emails but through endless motions after motion. I am faced with an attorney that is committing fraud and using every trick he has to assist in the bullying I am Pro Se because I choose to use what limited funds I have for the care of my child.( I am sure that they often have great laughs at my expense).
I don’t have to speak to my nemesis and I am so grateful for that, my child has no interest in knowing him either, which I find sad. I hope that my child isn’t suffering now or later for not having that kind of healthy relationship with their father.
My friend sent me this verse from the bible:
The race is not to the swift – It is not by swiftness, nor by strength and valor, that races are gained and battles won. God causes the lame often to take the prey, the prize; and so works that the weak overthrow the strong; therefore, no man should confide in himself. All things are under the government, and at the disposal of God……Ecclesiastes 9:11
There are laws that need to be changed and someone has to pay attention. Anyone else think that whoever has the most money should not be the determining factor in who will win the case?
“Anyone else think that whoever has the most money should not be the determining factor in who will win the case?” I do too!
Holy moly! Hang in there Miranda. You’re amazing.
Noriko Nakada says
Wow. How do Very Important People get so very important? They absolutely amaze me. Poor Miranda, and from reading the comments, poor everyone divorcing or breathing the same air as a Very Important Person. Talk about air pollution.
Pauline, your struggles and the struggles of your friend leave me breathless. I don’t have personal experience with this type of nightmare, but you both have my sympathy and admiration. However, I do wish we could get away from vilifying other women by describing their body size. I know it is a small, small part of your post, but snarkily describing Miranda’s ex’s new fiance as a “size zero” is just as bad (in my book) as calling a woman a “tank” or “cow” because she happens to be overweight. I grew up underweight by virtue of genes and am now raising a teenage daughter who is my body-type twin. (And my mother has long been morbidly obese, so I have compassion for all body size issues.) It irks me that it is somehow socially acceptable to call a thin woman a “skinny bitch,” and most people just roll their eyes and laugh it off. (Not that you used those words… just using this as the worst example.) I hope you’ll be more mindful and leave these kinds of descriptions out of future posts.
That’s a good point, Ellen. I have another blogger friend who is naturally thin and bristles at what she feels is “thin-shaming.” The point I was trying to make, and I guess it didn’t come across, is that this is a woman who has a lot of time to spend on her gym, shopping, and on her appearance (not that any of those things in and of themselves are bad) and tends to lead with her appearance…which can be irksome for a single mom who’s busting her butt with single momhood. But I do understand your point…
Oh this so aptly fits my life once again. Thanks, I read this and don’t feel like the only person as I so often do. My VIP is only mean to me and people who are or have been very close to him. He works very hard to make people like him. We used to be in a somewhat successful band together and he LOVES to let anyone and everyone know how he is a success. He gave our guardian some of the recent records he put out which to me is inappropriate and is a means of influencing. He friends all of my friends on Facebook that he doesn’t know, and tries to get to know them. I have since warned my friends about it even though I would just prefer not to have to talk about it or him. His wife is just as insane. She doesn’t have to work and has too much time on her hands. She sends my son to our house with a laminated check off list of what to bring back. If I take him shopping and buy him clothes and things that he likes and asks for, they send them back to me in a tied up plastic bag that looks like they were so disgusted by it they had to conceal it.
When he deals with me, he bullies me, he doesn’t let me talk and makes it clear that I am a loser and will never amount to anything and that he is completely in charge. He tells my son that if it weren’t for him, and if it were up to me to take care of, he could never have become so good at piano, and all of his subjects because I’m not capable of that type of thing. We finally, painstakingly hammered out a schedule for this year with our lawyers present. I had our son over thanksgiving and he texted and emailed me constantly asking for Christmas day because an amazing trip opportunity had come up and our son would be so hurt if I didn’t give him this day. It was really hard, but I stood my ground and didn’t budge, but of course that makes our relationship even that much more strained, and it’s exhausting.He wears me down, he’s good at it. I used to give in frequently, but ever since the horrible thing he pulled on me this spring and summer I have stopped giving in and it’s very difficult. I feel like either way, I never win and my son gets to hear from them what a worthless person they think I am. It’s sad to hear all of you who go through similar things, though I appreciate your stories so that I know for sure that I’m not the only one.
UGH! Hilarie, so sorry you’re dealing with this. It’s SO hard when these guys look fabulous to other people but are horrible to you. Really crazy-making. Also, it’s hard to remember that they are really projecting their unowned shame onto you. And of course they generally find a new wife who goes along with it. Love the laminated checklist! How “helpful”! LOL.
Ellen, would you object less to the term “Trophy Wife”? Bcz that’s what she sounds like to me…
(My very-important-in-his-own-mind Ex remarried a painfully-thin, verging on pro-ana person whom I tower over like a giantess. It leaves me scratching my head – while I know my weight gain was always a big issue, ar ar – it isn’t as if I could have lost HEIGHT!?!?!)
Things have greatly simmered down (knock wood) since Ex “cowboy’d up” i.e. formalized his arrangements w/GF of 12+ yrs to whom he is currently married. I should count my blessings instead of holding my breath waiting for next conflict…
Yay — so happy to hear that your ex is apparently distracted by his new marriage. Hope it stays that way.
Wow! My EX exactly…one big fat lying narcisistic bully!!
I highly recommend, “It’s All Your Fault!” It’s helping me cope on several levels.
Erin, I love that book — and anything by Bill Eddy.