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?