Entries Tagged 'Blog' ↓

Does He Really Have Your Back?

I wanted to sob when I saw Sandra Bullock, at the Golden Globes thanking  her husband with   “There’s no surprise that my work got better when I met you. Because I never knew what it felt like for someone to have my back.”

The worst thing about divorce is that no one has your back anymore.    No longer are you the beloved, the one special person whom your husband protects and supports.   In fact overnight that person, who formerly was your biggest defender, becomes your worst enemy—especially when infidelity is involved.   I was married to someone for eighteen years who I felt was my best friend, who  “had my back,” That’s why I couldn’t leave him even when he went into rages and turned on me, which he did frequently.   I was always waiting for that best friend to reappear.   Eventually he left me, something I could never have done.    I’m not proud of it, but I was totally dependent on that feeling that someone “had my back,” and was willing to put up with just about anything to keep it.   I think I know how Sandra Bullock must feel about now, and it’s about the worst feeling you could possibly have.

Bullock, unlike other impossibly beautiful actresses, seems like one of us.   On Barbara Walters special she was down to earth, vulnerable, genuine.   Despite her gorgeousness, I felt like she could be my buddy, we could have a drink together and share war stories about men.   I have no idea what she’s really like, of course, because the reality is she is a Hollywood star and that changes people.   She’s not the girl next door.    However, she did wait until she was forty to get married, which shows a certain reluctance to give up her independence—and possibly a lack of confidence in her own choice of a life partner.     She certainly chose an unlikely man to have her back—a bad boy type who had been previously married to a porn star.    Part of the shock of his infidelity, with, of course the same type of trashy woman he’d been involved with previously, is the shattering of the dream.   We all think we can change the bad boy into our ideal man.    She must have wanted a protector, someone who would give her the feeling of being understood and accepted for exactly who she was no matter what.   Actors and Hollywood types like herself, whom she had gone for previously, are narcissists who want the attention for themselves.  They were not going to worship her like this macho reality TV guy who had probably never gone out with a real movie star, only porn stars.    He probably told her, you’re my world, you’re my everything, and I will be there for you no matter what.  He projected an illusion of strength and promised to be that knight in shining armor that we all dream about, and she bought it  because she wanted to buy it, not because it was true.

His fall from grace is, unfortunately, also hers, calling into question her judgment in marrying Mr. Wrong.    It’s also an occasion for us women to look at our own choices in men, at what sacrifices and bad judgment we will use to find someone who  “has our back.”    It’s very hard to wind up alone when you’re not young and gorgeous because the guy who you thought had your back was only a fantasy man—you invented that quality in him, he didn’t really have it.    Sandra Bullock will bounce back—she has lots of support—and so will most of us.   But the only way she, and we, can avoid making the same mistake twice is not to look to a man for the kind of unconditional love we missed out on when we were kids.   There is true love and true friendship, but it usually doesn’t come in a package like Jesse James.

The Family Mediation from Hell

I haven’t reported lately on my progress with my ex and my daughter and wish I had great news to report.  I haven’t seen Freda since Halloween.  Here’s what I wrote to her shrink about it the next day:

My visit with Freda on Friday night was great but Halloween was a disaster.  She decided on Friday night that she wanted to go to the parade because she found  outfits for us in her room (I bought them a couple of years ago).  We were both going as grim reapers..  She had a skull mask and skeleton outfit and I had a robe with hood.    I think she liked the mask idea because no one would see her.  We were planning to bring Shadow because he had a cute skeleton outfit so we’d all match.   But when we got there she flipped out and wanted to go home because she saw only little kids with parents.  She also started in on Shadow.  I said I’d leave him in the car but that didn’t make a difference.   She insisted it was my idea to go to the parade not hers—not true of course—but I think she lost it  because kids her age were there with friends and she wasn’t.

She said she wanted to go home to Ira, but I initially said no.  When we got back to my house she continued raging, threatened to walk home, called Ira, took the car keys, etc etc.   Finally, when she threatened to call Laura–who was in the hospital with her mother– I took her home.   On the way home, in addition to carrying on about what a horrible person I was,  she talked about how she had no friends, no one would sit with her at lunch.  She’s in a lot of pain about that.  She also said that when Laura heard about the bad visit she’d say “I told you so,”

After that night Freda refused to see me yet again—this has gone on repeatedly for years now.   Today I sat in a room with her stepmother Laura and her father Ira for the first time in three years.  It was excrutiating.  I don’t know how I’m going to do it again.  Laura is like a monolithic force of nature—she just totally denies everything.  She portrays herself as the good mom, the real mom and she’s damned convincing.  They portray me as inconsistent, unable to do what’s in the best interests of Freda.  I shrivel up and start feeling so totally humiliated and like a nonentity that I can barely breathe.  I admitted I had a hard time dealing with Freda alone, which just makes it worse. They insist they support my parenting, but reality is that when they have to step in they make me pay by being angry, making it clear to me and to Freda how ineffectual I am.    I am the family scapegoat, nothing has changed, and meeting with them is horrible.

I will do it one more time.   The mediators really weren’t much help.  They kept on trying to come up with practical things we could do, but until the underlying assumptions change there is nothing to doAnAAF My shrink friend Wendy suggests I ask them if they see my relationship with Freda as part of the family dynamic, or do they see it as only my fault.   If they see themselves as playing a part, I want to know what they see as their part.  If they can’t admit any responsibility I don’t see the point of continuing with mediation.   I will just have to wait for Freda to come around and start making decisions for herself.   Sometimes in life you just have to admit defeat—you have to admit that life sucks, you have no control over anyone—least of all yourself–, and all you can do is wait and pray for things to change.    What are the other options?  Are there any? .

Tiger Woods ‘R Us

I’ve been wondering why the Tiger Woods thing is such a big deal in the media.  Why do people care about Tiger’s infidelities?  After all, it seems to me that infidelity is treated as no big deal in this country.  Men cheat every day, get caught, get divorced, leave their kids, drag their kids into the home of the other woman and truly no one gives a damn, including the courts.    Adultery isn’t even a cause for divorce in 48 states (still is in New York—bless my state).   So why the big fuss?

I read the thread on the ABC news site about the story and almost 100% of the comments said it was a private matter, no big deal, leave the guy alone. My favorite comment was by a woman who caught her husband cheating and took a golf club to his Lexus.  She still remembers how much fun that was.   Some commenters speculated he would go off his game, lose his sponsors, and wind up leaving the golf world in disgrace, but the majority couldn’t understand why the media was making such a fuss about mere cheating.

No one mentioned his children, who I had to Google to find out he actually had.  He has two children, babies, who luckily aren’t old enough to be affected by this scandal—NOW.  But they sure will be in the future.  Those kids will be the victims of this scandal if it ends in divorce—or even if it doesn’t, because they will be old enough to read someday.   I find it really amazing that Tiger’s children were totally ignored by the media during this scandal.

If there are just two adults involved, married or not, I agree that cheating should be a private affair.  Of course cheating hurts no matter what, marriage vows shouldn’t be violated, but maybe your marriage should end, you should move on.   Cheating can also be a wake-up call for your marriage—time to reevaluate what’s going on between the two of you and try to establish a different relationship—an honest one.

When there are children involved cheating is another level of offense—against those children as well as your spouse.   Children who have to face a parent’s infidelity are going to be devastated, if not now, then later, and that is not right.   I wonder if Tiger ever thought of his kids when he was running after women, if he considered that he might lose them.  I wonder if he cared if he’d lose them.  I think he probably was in denial like most cheating parents in a time when infidelity is considered trivial.

My husband is probably typical.   Our daughter was four when he left for another woman.   I said, “How can you leave her.”   He said, “I’m not leaving her, she’ll see me all the time, I’m just moving.”  Huh???    She was devastated but he never acknowledged the damage he did, not then, not now.     Tiger seems to be remorseful at least.   If he’s actually sincere about that I have to commend him for it. Too many men blame their wives for their own infidelity—somehow it becomes her fault because she wasn’t a good enough wife.   Remorse is a good first step when it comes to dealing with infidelity.   Maybe Tiger can be a role model in that area as well as golf.

Family Feud

This past Thanksgiving I traveled to Detroit, a city I’d never seen, to meet my father’s last surviving brother for the first time.  He is 92, I am 60, my father has been dead for 20 years and his other 2 brothers and sister are also long gone.    I never met any of them, nor any of my myriad first cousins on my father’s side.     The reason: a family feud over $200 back in the 1930s.

My father and his brothers were all extremely poor back then.  They came to New York City from Detroit together  to make their fortune, but wound up more destitute than they’d been when they had arrived.  They were reduced to selling fruit on the street  to survive.    My father never spoke about the feud, but my mother claimed that my grandfather and my father’s brothers took all his belongings and went back to Detroit, leaving him in New York with nothing.  Another version of the story is that my father loaned them $200 before they left that they never repaid.

Barney, the brother I just met, told me that the final rift took place in the 1940s or maybe early 1950’s when my parents discovered that Barney and Sidney, the brothers who returned to Detroit, had gone into business together, done very well for themselves, and subsequently lived in comfortable circumstances, yet still had  never repaid the $200.  According to Barney, my mother wrote a letter asking them for $5,000 for a down payment on a house.   A whiz at math, my mom had figured out that the $200 with interest would have appreciated to about that much.  She wrote that since they had nice houses, she and my father should have one too.  In response, they wrote a nasty letter which Barney regrets to this day, basically telling my parents to get lost.  He and Sidney  had taken  care of their father and mother into their old age.  They resented the fact that my dad never took an interest in his ailing parents, and refused to help with their care.

It was eerie to look into Barney’s face, the face of someone who resembled my long dead father, and instead of the sour, nasty person my parents had portrayed, there sat a sweet, lovely man who was still haunted by that long ago feud.   I asked him about my father, what kind of man he was, and he said my dad was always a queer duck, not very communicative, that he was angry and resentful and no one in the family knew what to make of him.   That sounded about right-my father spent his life being depressed and withdrawn.  However, I had been indoctrinated that he was the victim of the family feud, that he was an  innocent who had been taken advantage of by his crass, materialistic father and brothers.  In reality my father was the black sheep of the family.  His brothers all were successful and became wealthy contractors.  He was the artist, the dreamer, the one who couldn’t keep a job.

When my grandfather died, Barney explained, his final request was to see his son, my father, one last time. My father flew to Detroit from New York, walked into the hospital room and, without taking off his hat or coat or sitting down, said a quick goodbye.  He then turned around and took a cab to the airport and flew back home.  My cousin Ellen

still remembers that day. She was desperate to meet my father, so she got  all dressed up and waited, fruitlessly..   She felt desolate when she learned he had gone back to the airport without seeing her.   It seemed impossible to her that she had an uncle that she couldn’t even meet, let alone get to know

I am an only child who desperately wanted a big family.  Growing up, I felt lonely and deprived, envying friends with large, contentious families who fought but remained close.  I married very late in life and never had children.   My mother’s death six years ago, fifteen years after the death of my father, left me  terribly bereft.   Despite our often explosive arguments, she was the only family member I’d ever been close to and I was extremely devoted to her.

I decided to search for my father’s family.   With little effort I plugged his last name, Katzman ,and Detroit, into the internet White Pages and voila, about three Katzmans turned up, all in the same community.  It turned out that Katzman was a fairly unusual name-at least in Detroit-and all the Detroit Katzmans were my family members.  From there I started calling cousins.  I arranged to spend some time with Ellen, my wonderful cousin who told me the story of wanting to meet my father.   I found out about my father’s family who, as it turned out, were just the kind of clan I’d been longing for.   There were lots of cousins, close and loving despite different backgrounds and interests  and having moved to far flung parts of the country..   They’d grown up together in Detroit and that was what bound them-a childhood together, memories that couldn’t be replaced.

After my marriage broke up a year and a half ago I wanted to meet my family more than ever, so I went to Detroit for Thanksgiving.  There I met another charming cousin, Jane, with whom I had a lot in common, and two aunts, in addition to Barney.   They were thrilled to meet me at long last, and kept telling me how beautiful I was and how much I looked like my father. I felt proud to be part of such a charismatic and successful clan.  However, they were strangers and would basically remain so.  There was no replacing all those years that we never knew each other, all those years that we could have spent holidays and summers together, all those years that we could have stayed in touch.    They are a tightly-knit family-I will always be an outsider.   This makes me unutterably sad.

I’m dating a man now who is going through a divorce and has an only child.  He has a brother he dislikes intensely and a sister with whom he rarely speaks because they had an argument about some trivial matter.  I’ve been pressuring him to mend fences with his siblings-that otherwise his daughter will never get to know her cousins, that she needs a family when he and her mother are gone.  He doesn’t understand because unlike me and his daughter, he has siblings, even though he isn’t close to them.  I can’t convey to him the emptiness of having no one to share your past with as an adult, no family who claims you as theirs.

People who do have families are often annoyed or angered by them, because they don’t have anything in common , or they don’t approve of each other’s lifestyles, or they don’t live up to some imagined Norman Rockwell ideal.   What they don’t realize is that they need to hold on to that family for the sake of their kids if not themselves.   Painful though it is, parents need to  project themselves  into the future and imagine their childrens’ lives when they’re gone.  Who is going to be family to your kids when you’re not there anymore?  Where are they going to go on Thanksgiving?   Who are they going to invite to their weddings, bar mitzvahs?   Blood relatives are special, irreplaceable, and must be nurtured and treasured, or we lose our past, our history, our uniqueness in the world.

Infidelity as Aggression

Have you been wondering why the man who cheated on you is also so furious at you?  Where does he get  off blaming you when he was the one who cheated?   When my ex told me he was leaving I kept asking him why he was so angry at me, what did I do that was so terrible?   He insisted that it wasn’t about me.  “Why do you always think everything is about you.” he’d snap at me..  I guess he  meant it was about her – he fell in love with someone else.   Then why was he so angry at me?  Why did he blame me for the demise of the relationship, why did he seem to feel entitled to leave me for someone else, why the constant rage?   I was bewildered by that.

“Dumping someone is certainly an act of fear, aggressiveness and symbolic violence .  When an individual dumps a partner he expresses narcissistic rage comparable to a child’s temper tantrum,” explains sociologist Catherine B. Silver, in an essay in Cut Loose; edited by Nan Bauer-Maglin.    This is the difference between men who are simply unfaithful but want to stay in the marriage and men who find someone else and dump their wives-the act of aggression.   Why are some men so cruel?    It’s all about neediness.   He needs you to admire and approve of him, but hates himself for having these unacceptable, “unmanly”  needs.      Men see us on some level as their mothers and when mommy lets them down they get mad, especially if their actual mommies  let them down when they were kids.    My ex’s mom let him down big time by totally ignoring his emotional needs.  I was supposed to take mommy’s place and be the big tit, but I fell down on the job.   When men hit middle age this internal conflict intensifies because they see that most of their life is over and they’re never going to get whatever it was they wanted from mommy,  i.e admiration, unconditional love. They direct their hatred at us, their longtime wife/mommy combo, because they’re so dependent on us.  Finding a new love  cuts the umbilical cord.  Of course the same pattern repeats with the new love, but by that time the marriage is long over.

I couldn’t understand why my ex never expressed remorse for what he’d done to me,  just  regret at what our daughter suffered.  He’d always been extremely concerned about me while we were married, worried about my health, mental and physical.  He’d always apologized every time he blew up at me.  I was stunned at his coldness.   He did say to me on various occasions that he felt “guilty” but he never apologized or showed any empathy for my suffering.   “Infidelity is harder on women, who are more vulnerable to feelings while men are a law unto themselves,”  explains   psychoanalyst Simone Sternberg.  “Men don’t allow themselves to empathize with women’s suffering.  It’s too threatening.  Also  underneath male supposed indifference or even hostility is self-hate which they project onto  the wife.  They can’t afford to empathize or they’ll have to experience the full force of that emotion.”  This went a long to way to explain Zeke’s cruelty.

Unfaithful husbands-even husbands who have always been loving– can be inexplicably brutal.   The incongruence between you makes it all worse.  He’s already found a new partner, and doesn’t feel the loss of the marriage.  You, on the other hand, are shattered, terrified of the future and  collapsing on friends and relatives.  His  happiness  is the unkindest cut of all.   He’s already detached from you, or is in the process of detaching, which makes him excruciatingly insensitive.   For us older women this scenario is even more painful, since the departing husband has found love, usually with a younger woman,  and we knows that we’re unlikely to do the same–our  years of prime sexual attractiveness are over and  available men will be few and far between at our age.   I was furious that  my husband waited so  long to leave when he insisted  he’d been unhappy since day one,,  Then why hadn’t he left on day two when I was young enough to find another partner?.  He admitted he never could have left unless he’d found another woman, which was honest at least.

Sheree, a tall impeccably dressed brunette girlfriend,  fifty-two, was treated despicably by her unfaithful ex despite her description of  her marriage as “fun, more good times than bad.  We both had a sense of adventure, we were good partners, a good team, worked together well as  parents, coached Little League together.  But five or six years ago he started to keep secrets, became nasty and distancing.”   This didn’t prepare her for what he told her when he left for another woman.  She relates with bewilderment and hurt that said “he was counting the days until the kids graduated from high school to leave.  He told me he hated me.  He’d had a plan to leave for twelve years before he left.”    Her husband, who had always been a good father, refuses to see his children now because they won’t accept his girlfriend.

When Sheree was in my divorce support group a few years ago she still hadn’t totally absorbed his brutality, she still called him looking for approval.     I’m happy to report that she no longer wants his approval, just the money he owes her. Emotionally she has finally “moved on.”

Miracle of Miracles…A Civil Conversation with My Ex

Submitted by: Erica

I actually had a cordial conversation with my ex last week. It took 7 years, a big crisis, and my daughter’s therapist being away for the summer for it to happen. 

Here’s some background. I’m 66 and my adopted daughter is 11, my ex husband is 14 years younger than me. Why did I adopt a child at age 55? A misguided attempt to keep my marriage together.

Of course the opposite happened. The stress broke up my already shaky marriage. I was much too old to deal with a baby, especially a hyperactive baby like my daughter, who had been drug exposed in utero. 

My ex and I fought constantly about what he saw as my “selfishness,” because I expected him to do the lion’s share of parenting. A “friend” from the office who had been in love with him for years saw her opportunity and she pounced.

The woman he left me for is ten years younger than him. They were much better able to supervise my emotionally disturbed daughter than I was, so at age seven she left to live with them. She kept visiting with me but to make a long story somewhat shorter, the conflict between me and them escalated as my daughter acted out more and more with me, and they blamed me for her problems. 

My daughter finally wound up in a psychiatric hospital and in special ed. They badmouthed me to her more and more as time went on, and I accused them of parental alienation which they denied. Things got so ugly and heated that we started communicating only through the therapist who ran her Special Ed program. 

I didn’t see my daughter for an entire year-at her request. The therapist said she couldn’t handle the conflict between the two families and since she was living with them, and more dependent on them, she felt my daughter had to choose.   

Her therapist ran interference between them and me very skillfully, so my daughter and I started visiting again six months ago. Things were going well until this summer.

Of course school is out in the summer, so there was no one to run interference. My daughter, who may be emotionally disturbed but is also extremely intelligent, is no slouch at playing both ends against the middle.

She told me a bunch of stuff that they said that really pissed me off, so I wrote one of my famous inflammatory emails to my ex. He calls them “toxic” emails. Things went downhill from there. The kid got furious at me for revealing her secrets and refused to visit with me again.

They actually talked her into changing her mind, and she did make one visit, but got furious for another reason and stalked out, saying she didn’t want to come back. At this point there was no therapist to talk to so I had to call my ex.

The ex and I actually had a civil conversation where we both expressed bewilderment about what was going on with her, and we both agreed that she was better off not visiting with me until the fall when she had the support of her special ed program and therapist. 

We discussed the parental alienation issue and he said, “do you really think I did that?” He obviously was totally clueless and in denial about the whole thing. I said, “I don’t think you did it intentionally, but yes, you did it.”  

Actually it was much more her stepmother than him who did the badmouthing but I didn’t want to get into that. Anyway we had an agreeable talk, I apologized for the toxic emails, and he said he’d contact me if she changed her mind and wanted to see me.

I am very sad about not seeing my daughter for God knows how long yet again, but I think it’s best for her. I’ve been harboring a huge amount of rage against him and his wife for years, and all of a sudden it’s gone. I finally realize they did what they did and the damage has been done, there’s nothing I can do about it now but accept it. I feel a whole lot better not being angry although I can’t say I’ve a come to a place of forgiveness yet.  

I will write more about forgiveness in the future.

Dating, Sex and the Older Woman

Submitted by: Erica


I was interviewed for a radio show today, by Kacey on WHUD.com in the Hudson Valley. I’ll post the interview when it’s available. Anyway, Kacey asked me about dating because I’d been very upbeat about it in my book. I had to admit the truth, I’ve stopped dating. I’m 66 and I feel like I’ve aged out of the dating market. My ex and I split when I was 59, which doesn’t seem like that much of a difference age-wise, but it is. I got into Internet dating heavy duty at 60, but I lied on dating sites and said I was 55. I could pass at the time. I was also thinner. There’s nothing like divorce to help you take off weight.

About a year after separating I rediscovered my sex drive which had pretty much gone underground during my 18 years of marriage to a man I wasn’t turned on to. I became obsessed with Internet dating, spending hours on Match.com, Jdate, and Cupid.com. I was like the proverbial kid in a candy store, fantasizing about every guy I saw, wondering if he was good in bed. I got onto the Internet dating rollercoaster. There were guys I rejected, guys who rejected me, guys who wanted phone sex, a guy I had phone sex with, young guys, guys who wanted cybersex, AOL chat room late night weirdness, men who weren’t what they seemed and also two really great guys who I dated and fell in love with.

The first, Bob, was a recent separatee who told me he loved me, but  didn’t want to be exclusive. I’d been dumped by my ex and couldn’t deal with the jealousy. The next one, Jamie, was in the same situation, recent separatee and didn’t want to make a commitment yet. I was also a recent separatee, but unlike guys we girls aren’t that good at screwing around. At least we older girls aren’t. Maybe the younger generation is different. It was just too soon and it didn’t work out with either of them. I lost my dating oomph after these experiences.  

I was lucky to find Bob and Jamie, both of whom were delightful and would have been perfect for me. They both went on to find permanent relationships very quickly. Some men do that. They can’t stand being alone and will find a permanent relationship, either marriage or living together, very quickly. It’s so much easier for them because of demographics—there are just so many available women. Bob married someone 11 years younger than him, Jamie is living with a woman 5 years younger. I was a couple of years older than both of them. Unfortunately, men will rarely stay with the FIRST woman they meet after their divorce. That woman is the transitional woman—they often wind up settling down with number two. Unfortunately I was the transitional woman for both Bob and Jamie. 

I did some dating after Bob and Jamie but never found anyone even remotely as attractive or suitable for me as they were. Eventually, I got used to living alone and stopped feeling so desperate to find a man. It takes a hell of a lot of energy to date at my age. Just getting gussied up every day just in case you run into Mr. Senior Right at the supermarket checkout takes too much energy. Plus the likelihood of finding him plummets the older you get.

I just read these depressing statistics from a study in Sweden which was supposed to be about how much sex has improved for seniors.  “Sexual activity has increased for unmarried seniors. Among the single, 54 percent of the men and 12 percent of the women reported having sex, up from 30 percent of men and less than 1 percent of women in the 1970s.” It’s probably the same here. Twelve percent is not an encouraging statistic even though it’s a hell of a lot better than 1 percent. Of course the 54 percent of single senior men having sex are probably having it with younger women. Who does that leave for us senior women?

Maybe things will change, maybe I’ll get my mojo back sometime, but right now I really don’t give a damn. I’m perfectly happy to sleep with Shadow, my chihuahua, and talk to my friends. Yes, I’d love to have a mate, and I miss sex, but I’m not going to beat myself up for not dating, or trying to date. It’s really ok to be alone, it’s taken me this long to actually enjoy my solitude and I refuse to feel bad about not looking for a man.

To Tell Or Not To Tell—About His Affairs

Submitted by: Erica

I spoke at a divorce support group last night and heard some interesting stories about adult children of divorce. One woman’s ex told her 19-year-old son that he was about to divorce her before he told her. Actually he asked his son whether he thought it was a good idea. I thought I’d heard everything but this was a new twist. The poor kid suffered a breakdown after the divorce. 
Another woman shared with the group that her husband was a serial philanderer but she hadn’t told her 21-year-old son the real reason they split. It seemed he had a variety of mental health problems and she was afraid of his reaction. Her marriage counselor and his therapist agreed. 

However, her son was curious about the reason for the divorce, and what his father had done and kept asking her. Her ex just lied to him, she said. I told her I felt her son deserved the truth. She didn’t have to tell him the details, just that his father had affairs, period, but I feel that family secrets are toxic.

I shared with her that my parents split up when I was ten, and got back together six months later. I had no idea why they split and neither of them told me. After my dad died, when I was 35, I asked my very proper mother why they broke up and she at first said, “we had problems.” I asked, “what kind of problems?” She said, “you know, problems.” I said, “mom, I’m thirty-five, you can tell me.” Finally she said, looking very embarrassed, “well he had affairs.” Strangely, I wasn’t shocked although I had no clue he’d ever had affairs. I never saw my dad flirt with other women or any signs that he’d screwed around. But somehow it made sense, considering who they were and what their relationship was like. 

She was the domineering wife, who controlled the marriage and took care of him, me and everything else. He was the dependent and resentful spouse, who acted like a rebellious teenager, just like my ex who also cheated, but just with the woman he left me for. It made sense that my handsome dad would rebel by having affairs. He was too dependent on my mom to actually leave.
I told the woman at the group that I wished I’d known about my father’s affairs. She asked why. I told her it would have helped me understand their relationship, my adolescence which was hell, and my own life. I thought I had a right to know about them, if only to sort out my own problems and issues. 

I wonder how other older divorced women have handled this issue?  How have you dealt with your adult children when it came to explaining their dad’s cheating, or your own for that matter?

Midlife Divorce: Housing Options For Older Divorced Women

Submitted by: Erica

Divorcées who sink try desperately to maintain their old lifestyle because radical change is too frightening. Divorcées who swim plunge into new ways of living. Are you reading to take the plunge?

My favorite example is from Calling It Quits: Late Life Divorce and Starting Over by Deirdre Bair. She interviewed a divorcée who wanted to keep her Spanish-hacienda-style house in an exclusive area of Southern California but simply couldn’t afford the mortgage.

So she rented the house for a year at $15,000 a month to a European executive while she advertised her services as a house and pet sitter. She wound up living the whole year for free, and was planning to do the same thing for another year at an even higher rent, after which she’d be set for life.

There were some unexpected benefits: She was delighted with her year of itinerant life, saying it was a “well-earned vacation” that was also physically good for her. She lost weight from walking dogs three to four times a day; she made friends with other dog walkers, and even dated two of them. Now, that is thinking outside the box.

Consider the movement among seniors to live communally, which will help you pool resources. Co-housing communities are becoming more popular-they allow residents to own their own homes but pool a variety of resources, plus alleviate loneliness through communal activities such as nightly shared dinners. These communities aren’t necessarily cheap, but if you can afford co-housing it’s a great way to transition to a new life after a midlife divorce. If you find a mate, or want to share your house with family, that’s allowed as well. Check out www.cohousing.org.

A recent AARP study found that more than a third of the 1,200-plus women forty-five and older surveyed said they’d be interested in sharing a house with friends or other women, as long as it included private space. “Communal living is catching on among divorced people,” says Bair, citing as an example a group of first wives of wealthy men, women who pooled money from their divorce settlements to buy a four-story brownstone in New York City that none of them could have afforded alone. They dine together every night so no one hides in her room and becomes too depressed to get out of bed. This sounds terribly appealing to me. I wish I could move in with them.

Communal living can also mean renting out part of your house, like I do. My renters, a lovely young couple, have become my support system as well as my tenants. They take care of the yard work and any heavy maintenance, and I know I can call on them if I need help. They bring me Latino dishes when they make something special, and I share extra food with them that’s too much for me to finish myself. It’s very reassuring to me to know they’re there, plus I rely on the income. I’ve rented my garage as a workshop to a couple of carpenters, and if something needs fixing, I know they’re around.

Some divorcées stay in their houses and take in boarders, or roommates, others sell their homes and move to condos, and still others move in with their kids. This may sound like a drastic solution, but it can work well if you get along with your children, and you have your own space.

The secret is to take chances, be adventurous, don’t rule out unorthodox financial solutions.

Alimony…Should he Pay if he Trades in the Old Model After 30 or 40 Years of Marriage?

Submitted by: Erica

I recently saw Terry Hekker on the Today Show and was struck by her story. Terry, now in her sixties, was a traditional housewife during the 70s and 80s.  She even wrote a book, Ever Since Adam and Eve at the end of the 1970s extolling the virtues of staying home and raising the kids.

Her book countered the rising feminist tide of women giving up the housewife role to find careers. It illustrated the stories of so many women who I interviewed for my book, He’s History; You’re Not: Surviving Divorce After Forty. 

Back then there was a huge amount of controversy about career women. Most women took on the housewife role as a matter of course. 

Terry, with admirable honesty, has now written: Disregard the First Book. It seems her husband handed her divorce papers on their 40th wedding anniversary, leaving her financially and emotionally destitute. 

The judge only gave her “rehabilitative” alimony for a few years. Somehow, she was supposed to find a job at age 67, with no training and no job experience-during a recession when even 27 years olds can’t find work. In the meantime, her ex husband was in Cancun with his girlfriend. This story is all too common among divorcees of a certain age, mostly over 55.

I was a feminist early on, but so many women of my generation missed the feminist revolution completely. They were isolated in the suburbs with their families, and that is the way they liked it. Or at least, like Terry, they said that’s the way they liked it. 

Those women, the ones who stayed home to raise children and help promote their husband’s careers are now being blindsided by husbands who are going through the stereotypical midlife crisis.

Their husbands are trading in the older model for the latest one.  We feminists shot ourselves in the foot-or pocketbook-by convincing the courts we were independent women and didn’t need alimony. Alimony for life, which I think should be standard in cases like Terry’s, is now a rarity, especially in my state, New York, which is where Terry also lives.

Eventually the argument that women should stay home with the kids became moot because most families needed two incomes to survive. Women had to go to work to keep their families afloat. 

However, we’re now experiencing a backlash where mommyhood is being extolled as a new route to sainthood, and “helicopter” moms spend so much time hovering over their kids they barely have time for a job. Terry is out there speaking to college classes convincing young girls that they must have a career and not depend on husbands, who may or may not stick around.

I totally agree, but this isn’t going to solve the problem of today’s older divorcee who doesn’t have a career and isn’t likely to find one in her fifties and sixties. I believe lifetime alimony has to be restored as the default for women who spent their lives as homemakers.  

Those women’s contributions to the marriage have to be calculated in dollars. How much would it have cost their husbands to hire someone to cook, clean and raise the kids for 40 years? That’s what their wives contributed to the marriage and that asset has to be taken into account, just like the house and the IRA and other marital assets.