by Quinn Pierce
Today, after a trip to the psychologist with my children, I watched my ex-husband run to open the door for a very pregnant woman who looked extremely tired in the day’s intense heat. She immediately broke out into a grateful smile, her whole body relaxed, and I could see the combination of the cool air conditioning and the sweet gesture of this gentleman turned her whole day around.
But for me, it was like watching a car accident in slow motion. I was all at once sick and mesmerized by what I saw. I know it doesn’t sound like much of an incident to cause such a reaction, but it was so typical, and predictable, and…calculated. And that’s when I realized why it was so difficult to try to explain to other people what it was, exactly, that was so ‘terrible’ about this man.
He always portrays himself as the perfect (whatever the situation calls for). He can read people, anticipate what they need. He is the perfect chameleon at any social gathering. He could be at a dinner party one day praising new government reform, for example, and then stand on the sideline of a soccer game complaining about the very same policies- and with conviction each time.
I still don’t think, to this day, that he has ever had his own opinions about anything. He doesn’t need them; he only needs to know how to blend in, fit in, and be well liked by others. Even if he doesn’t like the people he’s joining arms with, it doesn’t matter, as long as he can paint himself likeable in their eyes.
Playing His Game
I used to watch him flip his alliances from person to person and think it was because he was insecure. It annoyed me, but to be honest, I learned how to use it to my advantage. I could get him to agree to things in front of other people that I knew he would refuse if it were just me asking him.
For example, he was against our child taking medication to treat depression, so I brought it up at a dinner party where there were doctors that I knew approved of treating children with medication. By the end of dinner, he was encouraging me to make an appointment. I didn’t care if he thought it was his idea, as long as my child could get treatment. In a sense, I was playing his game, but to my advantage…so I thought.
I didn’t realize how well planned this strategy was until we separated. All of a sudden, I found myself trying to explain a reality that only I saw. Friends, family, acquaintances, they all saw the persona he had presented over the years. I, on the other hand, was a very private person, and I learned quickly that being private was not a trait that would serve me well in the eyes of onlookers. What’s worse, not only was he cultivating his identity, but he was slowly planting seeds of my proposed ‘instability’ and ‘mental illness’.
He constantly told me I was crazy when we argued; apparently, he was describing me as being mentally unstable to family and friends, as well. I actually received several phone calls from ‘concerned’ family members asking me what medication I was taking and who my councilor was, because they thought they should call her and check in to tell her about my actions. I was stunned. My husband knew I was finally strong enough to leave him, and this was his way of turning my life upside down and taking away my credibility in the public eye.
I had very little support from family or friends when I went forward with my divorce. That was a totally separate grief process for me. I felt as though I had been stripped of my identity. My family actually helped him move, found him an apartment, and continued to interact with him on a friendly level. I was chastised for getting upset- after all, I was the one who kicked him out and ruined his life. It was nearly too much for me to bear at times.
It has taken me years to figure out how he was able to present himself as a compassionate, empathetic person, a caring and loving father, and a respectable member of society. I certainly believed he was all of these things for much of our marriage. But I eventually could see through this façade, why couldn’t anyone else?
Playing The Part of The Perfect…
I think the answer is quite simple, actually. He may not be capable of feeling certain emotions, but he is acutely aware of what behaviors represent these emotions. He knows exactly what society deems respectable, kind, considerate, etc. He understands what characteristics make a man seem like a great father. He can play the role without meaning any of it.
That is why he will show up at every doctor’s visit for the children, every school conference, every sporting event. For him, it’s essential. Plus, he enjoys it; he loves the attention. In reality, I could probably write down every significant statement he’s ever made at all these appointments combined on one sticky note.
In other words, he’s just there for show. But not only that, he wants to make sure I am not defaming him in any way. He often accuses me of embarrassing him, setting him up, or manipulating him when I say something that contradicts him. He’s found it much easier to not say anything at all these days.
Today’s appointment was no exception. We did a complete overhaul of my child’s medication after years of trying different things with adverse effects. My son cried, my other child hugged him and sat next to him the whole time. I was asking desperate questions and trying to make sense of the options versus the side effects. The only input my ex-husband had during the entire appointment was small talk about chewing gum.
A New Reality
And so, when we left the appointment, and he ran to open the door with his fake sincerity, it made my skin crawl. But when one of my children turned to give me a raised eyebrow and a smirk, I realized it didn’t matter what the outside world thought about my ex-husband or me.
My children are also able to see him for what he is. My decision to divorce this man is giving my children an opportunity to grow and strengthen in a healthy environment. I don’t need to ‘prove’ his real character to anyone. I only need to continue being myself: a woman who is getting stronger by the day, and a mother who is helping her children do the same.