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Cringe

June 27, 2012

I used to feel sick to my stomach every time I had to see, or talk to, my ex-husband. It’s odd to remember that, because he does not faze me in the slightest any more. (I don’t particularly like seeing him, nor talking to him, but I do not get upset about it.) Then, after time dulled some of my discomfort, I disliked sitting next to him at whatever child-related events we both had to attend. I didn’t like spending holidays with him, which certainly makes sense (how awkward, and how strange it now seems, that we both felt the need to pretend we still belonged together at Christmas), and I didn’t like sitting next to him in the car (though it seemed churlish not to drive him to the airport when he asked me to, and so I did).

I didn’t like introducing him to my boyfriend’s children. I didn’t like introducing him to my boyfriend. (I have since transferred the discomfort of that particular day to you, dear readers, since that was the cliff I left you hanging on before I jumped the good ship Babble–block that metaphor!–nearly one whole year ago.) I still don’t like it when those two come into each other’s orbit, though (spoiler alert) they have both behaved gracefully since the moment they met. I dreaded seeing my mother-in-law after splitting up with her son–there’s just no good way to spin the fact that I wanted to separate and he didn’t, and I can only imagine how grumpy I’d be at someone who failed to appreciate my offspring–but I knew I had to, and she was gracious enough to make the effort, and these days (because my mother-in-law is so generous, and so kind) I look forward to seeing her, or talking on the phone.  We’re friends, after a fashion. I never would have thought it possible.

One by one, it seems, the old awkwardnesses have evaporated. But there’s a final frontier that still irks, and it’s staring me in the face this week. My erstwhile brother-in-law and his family are visiting my ex-husband.

The last time they came to town, I tucked tail and fled. (Here.) This time, they’re staying several days. My younger son’s baseball tournament team is advancing, game by game, and the ex-in-laws and their children–my nephews!–will be in attendance. I saw my former brother-in-law a month or so ago–my ex-husband showed up with him at a different baseball game, without warning me (though why should he have warned me?) and it was both terrible and no worse than I’d expected, if that makes any sense. My brother-in-law never liked me much, and I never liked him much. We exchanged pleasantries, sort of, and then he sat apart from me and my older son and made a series of calls on his iPhone while eavesdropping. From time to time he injected an obnoxious comment (my son and I were talking about colleges, and my former brother-in-law said things like, “Heh, I see you somewhere like Bryn Mawr! Or Wellesley! Heh! That’s the right kind of school for you!”) that reminded me how much he bugged the shit out of me even when my ex-husband and I were together. He is my ex-husband’s only sibling, and the open secret of our contentious relationship was always a thorn in my side. His wife and I got along better than he and I did, but not by much. We are very different. And since the separation, I have not seen her, or even spoken to her, once.

Their two sons are five years older than the last time we crossed paths. They’re my kids’ beloved cousins, and my older son has made it clear that he, at least, would like it if the cousins and I hung out. It’s never urgent, never a “please salve this domestic wound” so much as a “you should see how cute/tall/different cousin X or Y is now.” In all things divorce-related, I have tried very hard to be matter-of-fact. When in doubt, I pretended the divorce was an external imposition, a change in circumstance that had nothing to do with volition or guilt: I would talk about the divorce as if it were, say, a change of employment that necessitated a move out of state. Yes, it is upsetting and sad. Yes, it is inconvenient. Yes, one wishes it had not occurred, one misses the way things were. But here we are, and I love you, and your father loves you, and let us all make the best we can of it.

(This, by the way, is a version of an old mental trick I deployed when my kids were contrasuggestive toddlers: Treat every vital issue as if it were the carseat. You don’t argue with your two-year-old about the carseat. You stick him in and buckle him up, no matter how much he doesn’t want to be buckled up, and then you turn the radio up, the better to drown out the angry screams from the backseat, and drive away.)

So the last thing I want is to be all squeamish and immature about seeing my ex-siblings-in-law. My older son has had all his antennae out since day one. He does not miss a trick. I am required by the very laws I myself imposed to grit my teeth and make nice, all in the service of seeing my nephews, whom I (sadly) hardly know any more.

I wish I weren’t so cowardly about it, though. I know there’s nothing for it, but I’m dreading the fake hellos and how-are-you’s with people I know despise me (justifiably, I suppose). I wish I could see the kids without seeing their parents. I wish I were out of town. I wish it were next week, and whatever strained post-divorce interaction my nephews and their parents and I are fated to have were, like the others I’ve passed through unscathed, safely behind me.

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. Kathryn Conway permalink
    June 27, 2012 5:12 pm

    oh lord you have no idea how much i appreciate this post. i have a party coming up where i will be in the presence of 2 (!) ex-husbands and their significant others. i won’t bore you with the intricacies of it other than to say my mother (who will also be attending) may well have a self-induced stroke prior to the event date in order to avoid dying from the embarrassment of having a twice-divorced daughter….anyway, the real point i want to make here is, you, your writing, it makes a difference in my life. i feel less alone – a little less crazy and somehow, because of strong women who posses the incredible gift of wit the way you do, somehow i can manage to even find some humor in it. from the bottom of my heart – thank you.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      June 28, 2012 11:44 am

      This is a lovely comment, and thank you very much (and thank you, Connie, for seconding it). Head held high! Gallows humor! Once more into the breach!

  2. June 27, 2012 5:57 pm

    Ditto Katherine’s comments. Love your writing.

  3. June 27, 2012 9:53 pm

    IS there no way to see the kids without seeing the grownups? not that i don’t believe you, i just wonder, are you assuming that’s not an option when, perhaps, it is? maybe you could offer to pose as babysitter for the grownups to take a night out. your boys seem so sweet, i imagine they’d want to hang out with their cousins even if they’re much younger. the BIL sounds dreadful, so perhaps he’d insist upon joining his boys in any visit to your place just to be disagreeable. i hope you’re able to figure something out; i love that your son wants you to see them.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      June 27, 2012 9:57 pm

      I’m scheming to take them all to ice cream–the kids, that is–tomorrow. I’ll have to appear to gather them up, and make nice with the grown ups, but it’s okay. I just didn’t want to sit awkwardly with the out-laws for two hours at a little league game…. But yes. I will at least attempt to see the kids. Who are nice kids, if memory serves.

  4. June 27, 2012 10:55 pm

    ‘Cringe’ is the perfect title for this post. It’s not enough to justify violence or desperate measures when confronted with such situations, but it’s AWFUL. I have relatives that I don’t get to divorce that if you told me I never had to be in the same room with again I would be so deeply relieved about it I can’t even tell you.

    Good luck, and I’ll be thinking of you. (And has it really been a year since Babble dropped you? Stupid Babble.)

  5. Linda Koftan permalink
    June 28, 2012 6:49 am

    Chances are the experience won’t be half as bad as you imagine it will be, and at the most, it’ll be, what? a couple of hours? Hold your head up, straighten your backbone, and be proud that you took the steps necessary to lead a happier life. It’s time you put the guilt behind you. Everyone survived, and everyone is better off. Just think, if you hadn’t taken the steps to split with your ex, you’d be spending 24 hrs. a day with your out-laws, and how dreadful would that be? Make nice with them, no matter how they act, for the sake of your sons. And, oh yeah, by the way, good luck.

  6. irretrievablybroken permalink*
    June 28, 2012 11:49 am

    I actually just ran into both out-laws, their older son, and my ex-husband while walking with consoling-windows friend and her dog. (My sons, and their younger son, were at work/ at our town’s morning sports camp.) Oh, it was lovely to have my best ally there by my side, to note the curled lips (theirs), the condescension, the failure to greet (except my cute nephew, who came over and hugged me) and the lack of politeness…. I’m taking the kids for ice cream, perhaps, this afternoon (though it was discussed as if I was being granted an especial favor). No matter! Consoling-windows friend was outraged, and they were rude to her too. Ah, well. Let the record show that I tried.

  7. June 28, 2012 1:44 pm

    Take them out to a movie too!! Show the adults how adult you can be!!

  8. h2o_girl permalink
    June 28, 2012 2:23 pm

    I’ve said this over and over, but thank you for your writing. I would totally agree with Kathryn above. Also, I love that you have Little League references – my kid is playing as well and I am on our local board and just had to round up everyone on the team’s birth certificates and three proofs of address to take to the district officials to inspect. Crikey – it was totally stressful, like I was auditioning for something.

  9. June 28, 2012 6:41 pm

    Does it help that your out-laws seem to be well-versed in the arts of the nasty cold shoulder? I would think it would help. Although I am a sucker for surfaces, so for me, it would not help.

  10. Sarah permalink
    March 15, 2013 6:48 pm

    The car seat? The car seat? Flipping brilliant!!! (Oh I can see the curled lip of my sister-in-law already).

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