Sometimes it’s easy to forget that our perspective, our view of a situation, is so much different than someone else’s, even when they are very close to us. I’ve read before on so many stepmom blogs, either jokingly or simply incredulously, the question, “What on earth did he ever see in her?” about the ex.
Walking in after the hostility has erupted, after the rotten behavior has blistered and exploded, it becomes damn near impossible to view this individual as anything but selfish, hateful, and completely lacking in any redeeming qualities. Witnessing the flurry of excessive legal nonsense, hearing the same repugnant false allegations over and over again, watching the kids bleeding as poison is rammed into their skulls, we are disgusted and aghast that any human being chooses such behavior, let alone a parent.
One day I realized that as painful and unbelievable as this is for stepmoms to watch, it must be a hundred times worse for someone who once loved this woman.
Once upon a time, before the lawyers and insults and accusations and daggers, it is likely these two people loved each other and genuinely believed they were partners, lovers. Or, at least, one person of the two believed this. How does it feel now to see that same face cast in anger and hate, that same voice biting off insults, the same handwriting that once scrawled “I love you” now signing legal documents full of accusations and venom and spite?
The closest comparison I have is my dear friend Jim, with whom I no longer speak and haven’t seen in years. At one time he was fun, giving, lively, a good friend. People change. It is painful to watch a person shift to someone you don’t recognize. It was heartbreaking to hear the same voice I used to smile at the sound of, become a sound that caused me to tense up and feel sick to the gut. It was unbearable to look into those same eyes and see ice instead of the warmth that once was there. His face was a mask, something familiar and loved stretched over something I couldn’t stand to be near. The sharp contrast and the ugly changes became something I could not tolerate, and I finally realized that sometimes, people change for the worst and there is simply nothing left for me. I walked away.
But what if you can’t? What if the person you once loved is someone you must have frequent contact with, and you face ongoing reminders that this once-loved person is not coming back, was maybe always someone other than who you knew? What if that person is someone you shared your heart, life, dreams, and children with, believing them to be someone who would always be at your side?
I wonder sometimes how it would feel to try to talk with Jim now. I feel hollow and sad about how he changed, how his choices and behaviors shifted him into someone I couldn’t recognize. It’s deeper than pain, more visceral than hurt; it’s a betrayal and an experience that left me feeling haunted by what once was, what was supposed to be, a surefire path that suddenly and inexplicably collapsed into nothing.
People who only know him now say he is a jerk, an asshole, a loser. I become defensive, though I know these words describe his behavior well now; but for a fleeting moment, the Jim I used to know stands in my heart, and I remember what he used to be. I am uncomfortable with hearing people call him “druggie” or put him down or call him names. I know he is no longer my friend, but once someone is imbedded in your heart, tearing them out piece by piece seems to never end.
So I wonder if this is how it feels for those with hostile, combative exes who wager endless war and bear only a dim resemblance now to the person they fell in love with. I wonder if too much has been said and done for any gentle feelings to remain, or if it still hurts to be attacked, still leaves them wondering what happened, still makes them search for the person they thought they knew.
And, even worse, I wonder how all of this will take shape in the kids’ minds, their perceptions and feelings as they get older and tighten their grasp on what has happened, what keeps happening. It’s not fair the kids are forced to shoulder a running tab for this ordeal.