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Posts from May 2008

A Man

There is thunder, there is lightning. It's a hard rain a' falling in the middle of a humid May day.

I was lying on my love seat, not doing any of the things I need to be doing, but doing, instead, what I really needed to do. And the door bell rang. Buzzz buzz. I am not expecting anyone. One daughter is in her room, the other is at at friend's Bat Mitzvah. Again, buzzz buzz. Maybe it's a realtor coming to see the house? I went downstairs. I could see a figure beyond the glass door. I opened it; there was a man standing there.

It took me specks of time to recognize that man. It was my ex-husband. When I realized who it is I turned around and went upstairs. His response was "oh." A man in an orange polo shirt, hair just cut. He has no wings. He has no halo. He has no fire coming out of his mouth. Just a man. And there was nothing in my heart when I saw him: not hatred, not remembrance of lost love, not anger, not pity. Merely recognition. 

A sad encounter on a hard rainy Saturday.

It's Finally Over: Niceties

Remember some things that people have done for you or said to you that made you feel good, and which were done out of a pure expression of love and friendship. Even in the midst of all the badness, there has been some goodness—remember that, and hold onto it. You need to lose your claustrophobia that every relationship will be how yours was. Then you can begin to create and find openings in your life.

Get Your Words Off Me: Excerpt Seven

Need for a Hug

I need a hug. I need to be encased and enclosed within masculine compassion. It’s not asking for much, but it is certainly more than I have gotten in years, and more than I expect to get for years to come. A simple warm embrace that a man and a woman exchange, and share. It’s not an invitation to sex, but it does not deny passion. It’s not cordial, there is, after all, some chemistry required to make it a warm embrace and not simply an air-kiss hug.

My younger daughter does the hug-thing, and my parents do it when they come to visit and when they leave; it’s all I get, but it’s not what I need. My daughters, well, that is me transferring my love and hopes and encouragement onto them. My parents, when they come to visit they give a “you look better or worse (depending on the trip) than we expected” hug and then when they go it’s a “be strong and let us out of here, you and all your neediness” hug. Neither are what a woman, this woman, needs.

There’s the friend hug, too. That can be wonderful, but it’s more of a mutual commiseration, it does not answer any physical needs other than to say you are a good friend and when I see you I need to do more than just say hi and get to talking.

9/11 was another, your-marriage-is-over day. I needed an existential hug, one that affirmed and reaffirmed my belief in the world and the still existent good. But my husband was distant. He did not come over to me within all of my weepiness and join me. And I, seeing that distraction, did not call him over or go over to him. Something like that should have been felt, should have been automatic. He focused on the terrorists and their viciousness, the need for revenge; whereas I focused on the victims and their tragedies. His focus kept a rage and anger at the boiling-point, which did not have room for trembling with the victim. My focus required a hug to coalesce all of the sorrow and emptiness and compassion I had in me, and which had no outlet.

My parents, knowing of my need for that human contact came to visit a few days later. My embrace with each of them was warm and supportive. But, still, it was a parent and a child. I am a grown woman, and I need something else. But why? What does a hug represent for me? Why has it become something so vital that I mull over its loss, and analyze those I receive or participate in? A hug is, after all, simply a momentary embrace. It is a letting down of one’s guard; a non-verbal interaction in a words-filled life; a purely physical moment in a too cerebral world. Perhaps, for me, someone who does not get moved in prayer or by prayer it is my deep connection with something greater than myself. Maybe it’s a basic life force or universal energy or godliness that I am seeking and which I have found—hope to find again—at that juncture of man and woman. Or perhaps it is my wishful condensing of all my needs at this time into that one thing that I can’t have, rather than spread out all of my needs and desires into an endless list and array of things that would be overwhelming, I have chosen to focus on this seemingly attainable thing.

Maybe I am downsizing my needs. Now that my marriage has fallen apart and I have been sleeping on a mattress on the floor and then a love seat in the guest bedroom for more than three years, maybe that is all I can hope to attain. Maybe it symbolizes my journey into the future, by focusing on something that can only happen in the future, I am easing myself out of this horrible place I am in currently.

Walking the Line When Drawing Up the PSA

“My parents invited the girls to visit them in Florida during the winter break.”

“So, you’re telling me that you don’t want to be with your daughters during the winter break.”

“Purchases or expenditures of over $200 must be discussed.” How is it that his purchases (even in the supermarket) usually range from $150 to just under $200?

“Store receipts must be put on the refrigerator immediately.” Apparently, the only interpretation of the word “immediately” is “the second you walk into the house’” otherwise, if you went upstairs or stopped in the bathroom without first putting the receipt on the refrigerator, the receipt would be voided and I would not be reimbursed for my expenditures.

When the time comes to draw up your PSA, please, please keep in mind that there is a difference between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. And your ex-to-be is probably aware of that.

The letter of the law is defined as “the exact words of a law and not its general meaning.”

The spirit of the law is defined as “the idea or ideas that the people who made the law wanted to have occur in response.”

And so it is with the wording of your agreement: there is what the words—devoid of all subjective understanding—say, and then there is how any normal person would understand them to mean. And that, you must know are not the same. The words, the exact words, are what seem to count. It apparently it is an easier test: none of this what did you mean by or what were you thinking when or that’s not what I meant, just the facts ma’am—just the words and their strict interpretation.

I remember one of mr. ex’s lessons to me when he was in law school was about the reasonable person standard. Legally, a reasonable person is understood to be “a hypothetical person who exercises qualities of attention, knowledge, intelligence, and judgment that society requires of its members for the protection of their own interest and the interests of others.”

He is trying to skew this reasonable person into one who sees the letter of the law, and not the spirit of the law, as being the reasonable person. And he’s taking it to the judge. And so far, me—the reasonable person in the mix (and the one for whom words have connotations and how they fit in a sentence determines their meaning and the history of what the words were intended to mean is carried with them)—is being sideswiped by his denuded look at the PSA. And it is not making me a happy person, never mind reasonable.

As I tell my students, words matter. Remember that when you’re sitting around the table. Think of all the ways a phrase can be interpreted and use the words that best suit how you think they should be interpreted—reasonable person or not. At least try. I was aware of some wordings and how they could be skewed, but that was my bargain with the devil to divorce the devil.

Controlling Men: He Won't Let Me

If he says No, I say run. If at any time your response to something that you want to do is he won’t let me, referring to your boyfriend or your husband, know that you are in a controlling relationship—and they are inherently bad relationships.

Maybe I’m exaggerating. Maybe not.

Think of the opposite situation. Could that same man, who flagrantly says No to you, say, at any time, No, I’m not going to do whatever because my girlfriend or wife says no? If not, you need to assess what it is that you get out of the relationship. If you want someone to guide you, well then good for you, you found him. But, even in this situation, you need to make sure that you don’t relinquish your decision-making process; it’s one thing to get suggestions, it’s another to have that person decide for you, or for you to feel uncomfortable if you don’t want to do what he suggests. Controllers are not suggesters, they are deciders who don’t like their suggestions not taken. And it’s hard to live with someone who doesn’t like to be contradicted, because that’s how they see non-compliance.

I had lunch the other day with a woman in her seventies who had lived through a controlling marriage for over fifteen years, divorcing the controller more than 30 years ago. When I was telling her some of the things that my ex has done or said, she had parallel stories. And she began many of her stories with the same awful expression that has run through my head: he wouldn’t let me about various things, important and not. Not that I ever thought that I had a unique situation, but hearing her talk of living through the same experiences a generation earlier made me feel so sad, so utterly dejected that this cycle is so obviously a cycle and not an aberration of time or place.

Some of the most basic no’s had to do with: where I was going, what I was doing, and what I was wearing. Sounds pretty comprehensive, all-encompassing even.

It took a while to realize that he was controlling me. I can’t decide if it was a good day the day I realized that his concern was really his controlling me. It let me mentally break free, finally, but it also set in place years of anguish—both in the future as I would work my way out of the marriage (and his increasing nastiness once I said the biggest NO possible to him) and as I re-evaluated our past, taking off my lovely rose-colored glasses.

Continue reading "Controlling Men: He Won't Let Me" »

Isolation Ward or Home?

It’s Monday night at the end of a three-day weekend. It’s dark outside, it’s quiet inside. My ex-husband is in the master bedroom with the door closed; my older daughter is in her bedroom with the door closed; my younger daughter is in her bedroom with the door closed; and I am at the dining room table. I am listening to Barbra Streisand sing about her man and about not letting the parade rain on her. It is quiet, which is lovely, but it is so sad in here—in this house that is not a home.

I had so wanted to create a boisterous home for my daughters, my husband, myself. Instead there is such isolation, we have created an isolation ward instead of a family home. One of the reasons why I so liked living in Israel was because it was so family-centric, people still went to their parent’s homes for Friday night dinner. And when we first dated, we were at his parent’s for Friday night dinner whenever he was in town, and even though I didn’t understand what everyone was saying (it took a while for my Hebrew to follow a simultaneous six-way conversation presided over by my ex’s father). It was only after we married that those dinners were cut back, and not because we were not invited, he didn’t want to go. I should have seen that as a sign of his trying to isolate us, but how much can a person’s desire for rest and quiet in his own home be interpreted as a sign of trouble brewing? Surprisingly, I became the daughter-in-law asking to go to the in-laws’. Togetherness, family, sharing—that’s what I wanted, that’s what I thought I was getting. Instead, I got a man for whom his home was his island and his castle.

And when I tried to bring my friends into the castle, they were critiqued. So I stopped inviting them. My boisterous home never came into being. Because how could I be a gracious hostess, time and again, for his friends when he did not reciprocate for mine?

My younger daughter has just come down, she wants tea. The dog has come down, he wants whatever food will be served. Sounds of life have returned. And now my older daughter is down, she has discovered the tuna fish that I prepared for tomorrow after school. And she says that it’s good. And she says that the hamburger that I made for lunch was good, too. I guess it’s not as lonely in here as I thought.

But now he has come down to turn the AC down to 65 so we can all bundle up inside. And he’s checking with my daughter that she ate the baguette; I assume to ensure that I didn’t eat from the one thing that he bought this month. Some things don’t change. The isolation ward: I guess it’s preferable to this surveillance and supervision.

Please, please someone make us an offer we can’t refuse! I still have it in me to create a warm and boisterous home, but for how much longer?

Get Your Words Off Me: Excerpt Six

Hold those Communications

The roots of the end of my marriage can also be found many years ago when I it occurred to me that when there is a problem or an issue to be discussed, I would raise points, whereas my husband made decisions. So, at some point, and not consciously mind you, I stopped bringing up some things for discussion; in that way I was able to make decisions myself. Even if I agreed with his decisions, the dismissal of my vote as ever being able to be the determining vote was insulting and hurtful.

Initially this process of making decisions on my own was accepted, albeit reluctantly and only after he realized, I think, that he just didn’t have the time to accompany me everywhere I go in order to tell me what to buy. In the course of time there seemed to be things that he was willing to give up control over, like which sneakers to get for our daughters and what kind of birthday party to have. But, in all essential things, his need to make all decisions finally unveiled itself as his need to control our lives—to control me. To realize that your voice and mind are not counted is pretty tough, demoralizing even.

One day, when we were already in the process of getting a divorce but living (horribly) separate in the same house, I started telling my husband that I would not be taking our daughters for a planned trip the next day, but rather the following week. He stood there, puffing his chest out in all his glory, and told me that he would have to think about it. I puffed myself up, too, and said that this is not something for him to decide but rather to discuss—as equals. At the suggestion of our being equal partners in this marriage he bristled, and with his coffee and cigarette stained teeth mere inches from my face he finally came right out and said it: “What I say is more important than what you say.” At that nasty insistence of superiority I simply turned and walked away. What can you say to a man who is unable to relent, who cannot change his vision of the world and his centrality in it? Who made him God? (He came back to me later that day to tell me that it would be alright if I take them. Relentless. As if I cared.)

When we first met we were young, we didn’t talk about the important issues, we just enjoyed being together. The tough questions we never even brought up; I guess we figured that we could ride through it all. I guess we were wrong.

After we had our first child, we did not discuss my future employment plans. I’m stunned by this now, but that is truly an indication—more than sixteen years ago—that this was not a healthy marriage. Rather than discuss when and if I would go back to work, I simply did what I thought was right: I was a stay-at-home mother for a year and a half. If we had discussed it, he would have said that I need to go back to work and that would have been it, I would have needed to go back to work or defy him. How is it that we were never able to talk things over, how is it that we talked past each other?

I can remember early into our marriage we would do everything together. We would do the grocery shopping together. He would go clothes shopping with me, suggesting what I should try on. And me, needing approval, needing for him to like the way I looked, I would try on and buy the clothes he suggested. At that point it wasn’t that I was losing myself and my personality in his decisions, it was rather that I lacked confidence in myself and was following his confidence. It wasn’t that he was controlling me, it was more that I was enabling him to make decisions for me.

Why didn’t I have self confidence, or why didn’t I have enough self-confidence to stand against him. Or was it that I was following what I thought was the role a wife should have; was I simply following the way my mother had acted with my father? She let him make all the decisions, or so it seemed. She waited for him and was guided by him. It seemed to work for them, why did it become oppressive for me? Was I, the independent daughter who went to live abroad at 22, really less independent? Was I looking for guidance? Or did I simply select the wrong man?

What makes a man think that he is more important than his wife? How can a man say that what he says is more important than what his wife says?

Taking It Off

When I got married my ex had just finished his military service (in Israel it’s a requirement) and was about to start college, while I supported us working as a technical writer. (I wrote those software manuals that come in shrinkwrap that no one ever opens.) So, we didn’t have the money for a compare-and-contrast engagement ring. (Not that I wanted one any way, getting away from that mentality was one of the reasons why I ended up in Israel.) The ring wasn’t part of the “will you marry me” performance, so it wasn’t a requirement; in fact, we picked it out together about a week after he popped the question—down on his knee, shopping with his father, who had the final say (checkbook, that is) on the ring we selected. We got a plain gold band and an engagement ring with ten small diamonds in a diagonal band. (According to Jewish law the husband must buy the wedding ring, so his parents bought the engagement ring, since he didn’t have the money for both rings.)

About seven years after we got married, when he was just starting to practice law and our older daughter was about a year on the scene, we bought a ruby and diamond ring. Well, we were still struggling, so it was a ruby and zircon ring. But it was beautiful, and I wore it instead of the wedding band and engagement ring. Then, about two years later he surprised me with a real diamond for the ring. I loved that ring. It was beautiful, it was different (designed in Italy, I will have you know), it was the one piece of jewelry that I had that made me understand how jewelry can make a woman feel as beautiful as the jewel itself.

I kept wearing that ring, even after my fortieth birthday when he bought me a bigger diamond in a platinum setting. I didn’t like that ring; I rarely wore it. It wasn’t my taste; it was his taste. It wasn’t even a compromise. He may have been trying to make me happy by giving it to me—an extravagant surprise—but it just made me feel how much we had grown apart. Not only didn’t I like it, but he got very angry when I gently tried to suggest that maybe a different setting would be more fitting. Anyway, I kept it, it was easier that way. And I wore it on occasions when we were together, but since those were getting scarcer, I hardly wore it. But the ruby and diamond, that stayed fixed on my left ring finger.

That is until one day when I divorced him in my own private ceremony by taking it off and putting it into my jewelry box, never to put it on again. It was, for me, as symbolic an act as could be. That day I ceased seeing him as my husband and so I took the ring off. I wouldn’t let any indication of his ownership of or partnership with me remain. I can’t remember exactly what happened that day that my camel’s back got broken, but I distinctly remember an argument, his insulting me (probably calling me useless or nothing, since this was his ammunition of choice) and realizing—suddenly—that I no longer consider him my husband—that he was no longer my husband. It occurred to me in a moment that a husband can’t speak to his wife that way, can’t treat his wife that way, and so, in that instant, he ceased being my husband. What a simple divorce. It took years for the details to be worked out, but those were technicalities, from the moment I took off the ring, he was no longer my husband—there was no connection between us that had any meaning, it was all extraneous.

At a meeting the other day, a woman I haven’t seen in a long time came up to me and flashed her ringless left hand at me. It was her sign that she had joined me amongst the ranks of the divorced. And boy did she look proud to be caratless.


It's unfathomable how much I hate my ex-husband. The extent to which this being is depraved should be unconscionable; I should not have to acknowledge—in my own life and not just by reading about it in books and thinking oh the evil in the heart of man—how truly evil people can be. How selfish, self-absorbed, vengeful, vindictive and useless a person can be is hard to take, time after time after time after time. How can a person keep up the bile for so long, so consistently before he poisons himself just from sucking on his saliva? A 45-year-old man should be worth something beyond the meanness that creeps into the world from his presence, from his very thoughts.

What did I do? I loved. I married. I ceased loving. I divorced. Why the punishment?

I said I want a divorce. He asked to wait until he finds a job. I waited a year and a half. I said, okay, let’s get the paperwork done. He asked to wait until he passes his licensing exams. I waited six months. And then the worst housing market in decades descended. And I am stuck in the same house as this being. But that, I see now, is just the tip of the iceberg.

We did divorce; we put words on paper and signed those papers, and had them formalized in a court of law by a man in a robe. But I am stuck with an ex-husband for whom the world is just ass-wiping paper. People and their papers are simply there for him to play with, for him to transform into what will serve him. There is no parity, equity, decency. There is no humanity.

How do I live? How do I live, indeed?    


Get Your Words Off Me: Excerpt Five


Another divide in our relationship was that while I would provide input, he made decisions. How did that happen? In the beginning I seemed so strong, so equal; I knew that he has a strong personality, but I did not wither before him. In fact, I think that my opposition to him was what attracted him to me, and my ability to stand up to his strength gave me strength, and he seemed to respect that. I’ve been thinking about decisions that were made at the beginning of our relationship, and I was calling a lot of the shots. Did he consciously try to bring me down later?

Before he got out of the army, when he was thinking about staying in, I simply told him that I was not interested in being married to a man in the military and if he were to stay, then I would go back to New York. I also let him know that I was expecting to get married, or at least engaged, a few months after he completed his military service. Was I pushy? Did I force him into doing things that I wanted but he didn’t? I don’t know. After being together for two years, with my being in a foreign country for those two years, I just knew some things that were essential for me. He did not have to agree. There was no arm twisting. I was not needy nor was I hanging onto him for dear life. I had a good job, had acclimated just fine, I was not dependent on him. Maybe he wanted me to be? Who knows? All I know is that things were definitely different in the beginning of our relationship than how it unfolded. There didn’t seem to be big warning signs about dangers ahead: we were two young people trying to make our way, together.

When did things start to fall apart? When did he start to take a leadership position in the marriage? When did I accede control to him? I think I can trace it to when he started making pronouncements about my friends. At that point I started changing how I interacted with them, and that, in such a small but substantial nutshell, was, I think, the first seed of our discord. Although I had been in Israel for two years before we got married, I had only a few acquaintances from work and classes I was taking. I do not make friends easily; I generally keep to myself. So what was the problem with my having a few friends, even if he didn’t like them (not that he even knew them), or even my spending time with those few friends? All of our joint friends were his friends, from the university, the army, his childhood. I was on my own; a new person in a new place just starting to establish friendships. Was this why he was attracted to me, the fact that I was unencumbered, and he would not have to fight for my time and attention, he would have me full-time with no competition from friends or family?

He would tell me that someone wasn’t interesting enough or intelligent enough or successful enough to be friends with. It’s not that I agreed with him, I did confront him sometimes, but why set out to upset your husband? Only now, years later did it occur to me to think the converse, why was he purposely upsetting me?

He had friends who I didn’t like, and so we did not see them often. But that’s normal, isn’t it? I did not preface my comments by finding fault with his friends, I would simply say that I didn’t like so-and-so and was bored when we got together, so he should get together with them alone. Isn’t there a difference between that and claiming someone is unworthy of being your friend because of some bogus reason, like she has a tattoo, or she’s a secretary? In mediation, mediators are taught to tell the arguing parties that they should focus on the issue and not the personalities; they shouldn’t insult each other but rather look at the problem from different perspectives. He has always done the opposite; he goes right to the jugular, right to the biting insult. Even when we were trying to work on our marriage, it would only be about me and my faultiness, and not about the issue under discussion.

Instead of standing up to him, defying him, telling him that he is ridiculous, “this is my friend, she doesn’t have to be yours,” I would just not talk about my friends with him. Unfortunately, this dishonest situation was uncomfortable, so I came up with an appalling alternative, I did not seek out friends. I stayed isolated—with the man who was isolating me. Did I see this as an insult? If he found such fault with my friends then wouldn’t he be finding fault with me as well? I think I took this in subconsciously, by distancing myself from my imperfect friends. In that way I stayed on his good side, I stayed perfect, untainted. Moreover, since these were our first years of wedded bliss, I was not seeking outsiders, our little unit was still comforting, still fulfilling. The gradual undermining of and damage to my psyche was happening below the surface in so many of our interactions, and I was so unaware of their presence and impact. I was, still, delusionally happy.

Rather than risk hearing his judgment of my friends and hence losing them after the inevitable condemnation and then distancing, I never brought my friends around, not to our house and not to go out with us. Again, there weren’t many friends, but I did not want him to ruin the few I had by making me doubt them, and myself.

My parents never told me if they liked a boyfriend of mine or not. They were hands-off parents; letting me make and grow from my own mistakes. I wonder if, with him, I became lazy, leaning on his assessments and not having to make my own. Did I just concede decision-making to him so I wouldn’t have to? It seems that there is a true dichotomy here: part of me enjoyed having a patron who made decisions for me, while the other part resented him and his decisions.

It wasn’t just about my friends, he had a very self-righteous and arrogant attitude. He would call people derogatory names and stereotype them. Initially, my being in an exalted group made me feel good—made me feel worthy, fed my weak self-image. I was finally in an in-group. But as time went by, this disturbed me, his intolerance. I had always prided myself on being open and accepting of all, and here I was throwing my morals away for a man.

Perhaps I protected my placement in the exalted circle by not opposing him. My comfort or safety in his in-group superseded my ideals. Is this when I started to live a double life, when I became the woman married to this man as distinct from the woman alone? How could I have done that to myself? It makes me a hypocrite. No wonder the extent of my animosity towards him now, since it probably feeds off of my feeling that he stole some truly vital things from me, and resulted in compromising core values of self. But it may also explain my vengeance for wanting to get out of this marriage.