My birthday is coming up, and I’m dreading it. Not because I’m getting older, but because I know my ex is going to find a way to make it shitty. I know he will do this, because he did it last year. He also did it with Christmas, Mother’s Day, and both of the kids’ birthdays, and any day that should be a nice day, since our divorce. He always finds a way to get under my skin to try to ruin what should be an enjoyable moment.
Before you ask, yes, I set boundaries. I have to. I work hard not to be a doormat. But even when I put up boundaries, he finds a way. For example, one of my sons’ birthdays fell last month on a weekend when the boys were with my ex-husband. My ex invited me to come over and have cake and ice cream. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Like an olive branch, or like my ex just being a nice guy who cares about his kids and wants to include their other parent in a celebration? Sadly, no. It’s a trap.
Knowing that he will say a bunch of passive-aggressive shit while I’m there, I could have opted out of going. But then he would tell my sons and the family and friends he wants to hate me that I chose not to see my child for his birthday. There was no way to escape this situation without experiencing a whole lot of emotional stress, no matter what I chose to do.
And of course I wanted to see my kid on his birthday. So I showed up as mentally prepared as I could be, ready to be so boring and unresponsive that my ex could not get the payoff of knowing he’d upset me. And it wasn’t the worst evening ever. But it took a huge amount of energy not to respond to my ex-husbands multiple jabs: “innocently” asking me if I’d put on weight. Asking do I “ever even cook real food” for the boys. (Huh??) Making a comment about my job that “pays crap.”
I smiled and nodded and “uh-huh”d my way through the evening, focusing all my attention on my sons and leaving as soon as I could. The next day I received an email from my ex saying how thankful he was that I came over. If you’re dealing with an ex like this, you know why he did this. He is careful about what he puts in writing. He goes out of his way to make sure there is a record of him being a Great Guy.
He also makes sure there is a written record that makes it appear as though I’m a neglectful parent. He messages to remind me that the boys need to shower or change clothes or eat, or that it’s time to register them for school, as if those things are not things that I do without needing a reminder and have always done without any help from him. I was the stay-at-home parent. I am the one who did all those things. He did not. Him not helping out enough around the house and with the boys was one of the main things we argued about.
It has been three years since I left him, over two years since our divorce. He is still furious that I chose a life without him. Not even “someone else” but just, a life without him. How dare I have the audacity to leave such a catch. I’ve been dating someone else for a year now, and he refuses to acknowledge it.
His passive-aggressive behaviors infect our every interaction. He can’t get through an exchange without making a snide remark. He messages my friends and family, trying to chat them up and remind them he really is a Great Guy. My family sees through him, but a couple of friends have ghosted me because they fell for his antics.
So, yeah, I’m dreading what he’ll pull for my upcoming birthday. I dread all occasions that should be special. He does everything he can to make them miserable, whether I draw boundaries or not. I can’t win. No matter what I do, no matter how calm I am, no matter how much I refuse to engage, he finds a way to dig the knife in. It’s like walking a tightrope trying to balance between limiting how much I have to interact with him and interacting with him just enough that he doesn’t accuse me of being difficult and uncooperative.
When we first got divorced, I really thought I would eventually learn to not care what he thought. I thought I’d be able to shrug and laugh about what a jerk he is. But it still gets to me. It does help that I don’t have to live with him every day, but the bitterness is still always there, like a tiger waiting to pounce. And I’m tired. I’m so, so fucking tired. I just want it to end. I want him to just move on already. It’s been years, and somehow he’s still so bitter and hateful and relentless, and I’m just tired. I want it to stop.