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Why I can’t fight

May 24, 2010

So let’s begin with the extreme position, and work our way backward.

A number of you wrote to say that I should change the locks on my doors, draw a line in the sand, brook no nonsense. My own mother, who has steadfastly (and mysteriously, I must say) defended my ex-husband much more than I would like, shares your opinion. She thinks I should re-enlist my lawyer’s assistance if I need to, and when ordering me to call in the big guns didn’t work, she switched tactics. “I don’t see why you’re so AFRAID of him,” she harrumphed. “I mean, you never USED to be afraid of him.”

She’s correct on both counts. I would be lying if I did not cop to being the tiniest bit afraid of my ex-husband, since we separated, (or, more accurately, since things went bad between us.) Hear me out. As I’ve said before, I have felt massively, toxically guilty for everything that happened since the wife of the fellow I not-so-innocently trifled with (it’s right there, in the archives, if you care to search–I don’t have any particular desire to link to that shameful confession, so knock yourselves out) called my ex-husband and announced she’d read her husband’s/my salacious emails. This was, as I’ve said, the first domino casually flicked over, the damning event that started it all. Had I handled things differently–had I not cringed so reflexively, been so apoplectically apologetic, had I maintained the levity the situation probably deserved–things might not have gone quite so far south. (Then again, they might have anyway. Who the fuck knows. My ex-husband turned out to be unable to cope with the very idea that I’d ever looked at another man with a twinkle in my eye, which is astonishing, given that I am a colossal and incorrigible flirt. We are getting off track here. Before I begin to foam at the mouth, let us return to our original topic: Sockgate.)

You are all correct to point out that it is infuriating, obnoxious, and just plain wrong that my ex feels entitled to walk into my house and help himself to whatever he thinks he needs. It is a persistent pattern, one that makes very little sense to me. I would rather be burned at the stake than behave in such an undignified manner, myself. Yet, since we separated, my ex-husband has felt compelled or entitled to borrow (I use the term loosely) the following:

Dog food, when the dog was still alive and went back and forth with the kids. He would also borrow her dog bed and her bowl. Every couple of days, these items would be schlepped back and forth. I bought a new bed, and a new bowl, and hid the dog food where he could not find it. “Uh, do you know where the bag of food is?” he asked a friend who was visiting me. She shrugged. He loitered in the kitchen a while, eyes darting about, before he gave up and (one assumes) bought some dog food of his very own.

A chin-up bar, which he unscrewed from the spare room doorway. It was his chin-up bar, which is fine. But the spare room was my bedroom at the time. It was downright spooky to realize something was amiss in my room, and spend several minutes trying to figure out what it was, and then, just like in the movies, slooooowly look up to see the empty screw sockets in the doorframe, and realize that the chin-up bar had VANISHED! Into thin air! The horror! I exaggerate. However, I did not particularly enjoy thinking that my ex-husband had been standing around dismantling things on the threshold of my bedroom without my knowledge.

Books. CDs. These I have let slide. I bought or acquired most of the books, but they are still, technically, marital books. I encouraged him to take what he wanted–anything without, oh, “To my daughter on her 25th, Happy Birthday, Love, Dad” written on the flyleaf was fair game. He took plenty, and then I culled the shelves and gave him plenty more. I also said he could come back and look around and see what else he wanted. He declined. Yet he still handpicks various items whenever it suits him.

Clothing for the kids, including (but not limited to) socks, in multiple prior offenses.

The lawnmower. Specifically, the push mower I bought during an eco-phase, with my birthday money, that he made fun of me for buying (our yard is enormous, and the push mower is rather inefficient.) He took the gas mower too, but I endorsed that (my father gave it to him, so I suppose technically it is his.)

The eggnog. Now we’re really getting petty. This past Christmas, while buying the rest of the festive groceries, I forgot to get eggnog–crucial to a Ritual Christmas Dish. He brought a small carton over for our depressing pseudo-family Xmas morning celebration, along with some half-and-half, and asked for both back when he left (without so much as washing a plate. I warned you I was getting petty.)

Various garden implements–clippers and the like. They disappear from my house, I drive myself insane looking for them, and then notice them sitting out front on his stoop, getting rusty in the rain (plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.) The other day he called to ask whether he could borrow the trowel. I said, um, I guess so. Well, he said, I’m here at the house, and I can’t find it. Do you happen to know where it is?

A fold out mattress and all three sleeping bags. Not a problem–my older son was having a friend sleep over–but he came in and got them out of the closet, and never asked me. Again, the frantic search, the certainty I’ve gone mad (how does one lose a fucking mattress?) and then the light-bulb-over-head moment, and the phone call. Oh, yeah, sorry, he said. I borrowed them last week. I thought I told you about it.

Change the locks! I can hear you chanting. Change the locks! Readers, I cannot. Perhaps it is due to some gargantuan psychological co-dependent clusterfuck in my own head–if divorce has taught me anything, it has taught me to mistrust my own motives. Perhaps it is, as my mother says, because I am afraid of my ex-husband–though I would venture that I am more afraid of my own reaction to my ex-husband’s disapproval and disdain. It has occurred to me recently that I am presently experiencing the “outside” version of my ex-husband’s personality–the part that made houseguests drink from the hose, as it were. (Again, see archives. Too depressed to link.)

He is what one could politely term a one-man-dog–if he has decided you are one of “his” people, you can do no wrong. If he does not like you, you can do no right–though he may still treat you with benign indifference or even deign to smile if you chance to amuse him. (His outside personality has been, over the years, good for my vocabulary in both French and English. Our first landlady in Paris told me she found him méprisant, which I had to look up. And I can recite synonyms for “supercilious” as if channeling Roget himself.) At any rate, his behavior is nothing new, nor is it evil-intentioned, I don’t think. On the other hand, I am loath to say that he has (as many of you suggested) Asperger’s, because I have seen him act perfectly lovely when he feels like it, and if my understanding of Asperger’s is correct, it is not something you can turn on and off at will.

He probably knows it is obnoxious to take books et cetera, but–and this is the bottom line–he does not care whether I find it vexing. He is not trying to vex me per se. He simply does not care. He knows, because I have asked him specifically to stop, that I do not want him traipsing all over the house peering into doorways and helping himself to socks. He does not, however, give a shit that I don’t want him to do those things, because he feels like doing them, and he does not care.

To misquote P. J. O’Rourke, you can always reason with someone who does not care. You can always reason with a barnyard animal, too, for all the good it does. And this, my friends, though it may seem defeatist and pathetic, is why I save my arguing muscle for things that really matter–like forbidding him to keep the trampoline he inherited from a neighbor and wanted to put in his yard for our kids, and overturning his conviction that leaving our seven-year-old unattended at his baseball games is perfectly all right (argument yet to come.) Stay tuned!

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. LMM permalink
    May 24, 2010 2:23 pm

    I hesitate a bit to say this because I know you’re doing all you can to get out of that house, but that will make a big difference in his behaviour. It seems he still feels some sense of ownership when it comes to your house – he’s comfortable entering and taking things because, on some level, he still thinks of it as partly his house.
    Once you’re out of there, I think a lot of this will stop. Here’s hoping you get a buyer soon.

  2. May 24, 2010 2:45 pm

    I know what you mean about being afraid…..there is just something intangible about not knowing exactly how your ex is going to react over something – even something reasonable – and there is a certain level of fear about how it could all play out with you and especially your kids.

    That being said, his behavior smacks of passive aggressiveness. It’s sort of like a big f-you. You did this horrible thing to him, to your marriage and – though you are pretty certain it would have turned out this way in the long run, you probably would not have picked this particular path to this outcome – now it’s sort of like he’s doing this stuff *to you*, petty though it seems. I believe you when you say he’s for the most part clueless of his inappropriate behavior (my dad is also clueless in this way), but I still think his behavior is comparable to you going over to his house and leaving tacks in his bed and then claiming no knowledge of them later. He knows it upsets you that he goes into your house and takes things – even things that legally belong to him – and he continues to do it because on some subconscious (or conscious) level it feels good to “get you”. And you get gotten, again and again and again when you react. It feels good to him, which is why he continues to do it despite you telling him it upsets you. I don’t, however, think you should stop telling him you don’t like it and don’t want him to do it anymore or he will claim that it never bothered you before and he doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about. I don’t know with what level of emotion you convey your feelings about it, but perhaps make sure you have as little emotion as possible, to minimize the impact of his actions on you in his eyes.

    I agree with the above poster – when you finally sell the house and get a place of your own the boundaries will be much more clear and you won’t need to worry about it as much. If it continues though, I still suggest an attorney. The divorce is final. He may own the house with you, but it is your residence and he cannot enter it without your consent. Period.

  3. irretrievablybroken permalink*
    May 24, 2010 3:13 pm

    You guys are both brilliant and wise. LMM, I agree wholeheartedly, which is one reason I’m desperate to sell and get out. I think it will be hugely different if I have a new place. When, I mean, when I have a new place…not if. When. (Deep, shuddering breath.)

    Julie–you are precisely correct about the nature of my anxiety, the nature of his passive-aggression, and the best way to handle things. Whether or not he keeps coming in is not the issue; my refusal to cave is. I try my best to be completely matter of fact (polite but firm emails) but the real thing I should write, and don’t, because I am a wimp, is this: “Don’t fucking come in my house. Send the kids in for their stuff but stay the hell out. You may ask me if you can borrow things or have them, and I will decide whether the answer is yes.”

    I realize I didn’t quite make the point I set out to make in this post, and will attempt to finish my own thought in the next one. Meanwhile, thank you both.

  4. May 24, 2010 3:20 pm

    Yes. Why are we so afraid to respond to inappropriate behavior with a strongly worded request (including swear words)? Because that will add fuel to their passive aggressive fire and what will be next? He will view it as upping the ante, and blame you in the end for “making him” respond that way because you were such a bitch. Oh wait. That’s me and my ex. I’m not sure how yours would respond. But the fear comes from not knowing, and being afraid of making a bad situation worse. I get it.

  5. Julie permalink
    May 24, 2010 4:34 pm

    Please, please read Lundy Bancrofts book ‘why does he do that?’. It might well not apply to much in your life (happily) but there is a very interesting section on seperating safely you might appreciate. Be well,

  6. MEP permalink
    May 24, 2010 6:23 pm

    “I am more afraid of my own reaction to my ex-husband’s disapproval and disdain.” YEP. Amen, sister. Especially since he’s been so erratic lately with his behavior — after a totally unannounced, face-t0-face meeting with my boyfriend that nearly caused my bowels to empty, he was polite and calm, and never mentioned it. Today after I told him I was going out of town for the holiday, he unloaded on me. I suppose the two events could be related, but Jesus. Right when I’m sure we’re over the hump, he sets us back. And I am freaking tired of the setbacks.

  7. Katie permalink
    May 24, 2010 6:59 pm

    So much of this sounds like my husband. Can I say one thing about aspergers (I don’t want to chant) but they CAN turn behaviour on. Their inappopriateness is natural behaviour but the charm and perfectly civilised behaviour that can appear is learned behaviour. Unfortunately, they can never maintain it.
    Love this comment: “My ex-husband turned out to be unable to cope with the very idea that I’d ever looked at another man with a twinkle in my eye, which is astonishing, given that I am a colossal and incorrigible flirt”.
    Sums me up perfectly!

  8. Celeste permalink
    May 24, 2010 9:37 pm

    I’ve learned to hate confrontation, so I can’t really blame you for wanting to sit this one out if you don’t HAVE to do it. It sounds like you have decided that you can live with it (somehow). My mantra in these situations is, it won’t always be like this. There is an end to this, and every day brings you closer to it–whether it’s a move, or just the kids growing older and not needing him to provide them transportation over there. And also, regarding the stuff he has taken? Not one piece of it is something you would run back into a burning building to retrieve.

    I hope I didn’t sound too harsh in the “change the locks” comments. I just couldn’t see going to the trouble of photographing your stuff if you weren’t attached enough to it to safeguard it. But that’s my eyeglass prescription, not yours! Thanks for the clarification.

  9. May 25, 2010 5:03 am

    I’m with LMM on this probably stopping when you are somewhere new. I wonder if he behaves the same way towards his parents’ house and things there? It would be interesting to know whether this is all some sort of entitlement thing.

  10. Apple permalink
    May 25, 2010 10:05 am

    I don’t know a whole lot about Asperger Syndrome, but since it keeps coming up, I want to mention Borderline Personality Disorder. Many of the characteristics you all mention fit the disorder…a great book to check out is “Walking on Eggshells”. I am still convinced my ex has it.

    And I do understand your feelings about changing the locks. I ended up doing it under the premise that I thought someone (besides him) had come into my home while I was on vacation. It took me over a year to finally make the decision and do it, but it made me feel immensely better when I finally did. I suppose if I were planning to move, I would have stuck it out, too, just to avoid the bs.

  11. Mary permalink
    May 25, 2010 12:22 pm

    So you fell down, you got back up. But he’s an ass, and I’d still change all the locks and get a security system. Screw him, stop being his door mat. If he gets mad tell him you were tired of asking him to not go into your home and remove things with out asking. Mary

  12. May 25, 2010 10:22 pm

    The move will help. While putting laundry away in my bedroom, I looked up one day and there was my ex standing there like the big lummox he is, having walked through the entire house to get to the bedroom without so much as a by-your-leave or a knock on a door. One riot act, read.

    I say you have fun with this. Empty out the entire bookcase into boxes and store them somewhere else. (You may not have the energy for this. Perhaps one shelf would do. Every third book?)

    Store things that would never normally be stored under the bed that he is likely to pilfer under the bed.

    Put all the kids’ socks into a garbage bag and put it in the trunk of your car then replace them after he goes.

    When he asks about the missing items, disavow all knowledge of their absence and ask, “Are you SURE??? They’re all there now.”

    C’mon. Have fun with it.

  13. carol permalink
    February 5, 2016 3:01 pm

    Levity? Betrayal of trust, rejection, disloyalty, lying, cheating, two families blown apart…… I thank you so much for your blog and allowing me to view things from the perspective of my ex-husband, another eternal narcissist. You may talk all you want about what was wrong in your marriage and how people change but you always had choices. You chose cheating and lying and humiliating the person that you said you loved. There is no rationale good enough. For all your talk of his insensitivity, you are completely unable to view this from his perspective. How wonderful that you felt guilt! I would have chosen the nuisance of a little guilt and pity over the heartbreak of rejection and broken trust and beliefs. You should get over yourself. You really have nothing to say that isn’t me, me, me. No one should be forced to be unhappy. The thing is though that you are unlikely to ever be satisfied. There is always a better choice than deception. I sincerely hope for your sake that you never have this experience. Hopefully, the new boyfriend will not cheat again, as you know he is able to do. True love, my ass.

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