I had lunch with my funny and irreverent friend "Miranda" the other day. She, like me, has divorced a Very Important Person and has a child with behavior issues, so over gazpacho and Ricotta terrines, we traded stories from our respective post-divorce trenches.
Here are some of the techniques Miranda's ex uses to remind her just how important he is.
Punish with money
Despite being the one to initiate the divorce, "Ira," who drives a Bentley and has a $10,000-a-month mortgage, is livid about paying alimony and child support. Ira demands that his radically less-moneyed ex-wife split all their son's expenses 50-50. This is fair when exes have the same income. This is not fair when one person hides money in off-shore accounts.
Sometimes Ira waves money in front of Miranda to remind her that he is a Very Important Person -- lest she forget. Appalled by the wall-to-wall carpet in her rental house, which, he said, was accumulating dog hair that was sickening "Sam," he "proceeded to peel off three crisp $100 bills for me to get the carpets professionally shampooed and a mobile dog groomer to come."
When Ira wants total control over something, he offers to pay for it 100%. But not without making Miranda suffer.
Leave nothing on the table for the other person
Since his divorce, the formerly I'm-too-important-for-religion Ira has become much more observant of Judaism. He and his new wife, Tiffany, have shabbat dinner every custodial Friday night, although Ira won't let Sam eat the challah because he doesn't want him getting fat.
Despite living on the other side of town, Ira and Tiffany joined a temple three blocks from Miranda's house (that would be the Pissing-on-the-Other-Person's-Turf Maneuver) and have begun donating lots of money to said temple.
Recently, Ira took Miranda back to mediation to negotiate how many tables she could have at Sam's bar mitzvah (five years away). Ira told Miranda she could have one table, but she got him to agree to two. Which I can tell you, having gone through similar negotiate-till-blood-comes-out-of-your-eyes episodes myself, was no small feat on Miranda's part.
Miranda's son Sam has behavioral issues. She's in the try-every-therapeutic-intervention-imaginable phase. A phase that's hard when you're going through it with a supportive partner, but hell when you have a Very Important Ex who casts his shame (Very Important Exes don't have imperfections) onto you.
Ira tells Miranda "Sam has no problems when he's with me." When e-mailing Sam's therapist, Ira writes in a polite, reasonable fashion (this would be the Dissembling Manuever), then immediately fires off e-mails to Miranda, cyber-screaming about what a terrible parent she is.
Every move Miranda makes, according to Ira, is indicative of her "poor parenting" and "foolishness."
She's a bad parent because she is somehow responsible for Sam getting dirty during soccer practice. She's a bad parent because she wasted her son's college money on a forensic accountant to sniff out the money Ira had hidden. She's a bad parent because she spends money that could pay for vacations for Sam on a nanny (Miranda lives with a chronic pain condition and some days cannot get out of bed).
Very Important People love e-mail because it gives them unfettered access from which to harass their exes. Miranda and I both use the Our Family Wizard e-mail program that was created -- ostensibly -- to enable exes to communicate in a reasonable manner.
All OFW e-mails are saved on a computer program and can be sent directly to court. Sometimes this incentivizes hostile exes to make nice. But Very Important People don't stoop to being nice. And unless your ex writes in an OFW e-mail that he intends to stab you 47 times with a pick-axe on January 11th, a family court judge has little grounds to curb the bullying.
Like my ex, Ira uses OFW to threaten. As in, "if you don't do X by tomorrow, I will do Y." He also uses it to remind her that she is not a Very Important Person. When she objected to washing her son's urine-soaked laundry that he handed her after returning Sam from his custodial weekend, Ira e-mailed her, "that's what I pay you for!"
People who don't understand what it's like to be on the receiving end of cyber-bullying will tell you to just "ignore" it. But when you have the misfortune of "co-parenting" with a Very Important Ex you really can't ignore it. And years of steeling oneself against e-mails designed to wear you down does, in fact, wear you down.
Ignore consistency (It's for regular people)
Like my ex, Ira frequently jets out of town for destinations unknown. Could be work, could be vacation, could be the Bank of Cayman Islands ATM. To maintain their status as Very Important People, our exes don't reveal where they are going, nor for how long.
Because Ira wanted to be able to reach Sam on a regular basis, he took Miranda to mediation to make her get their 8-year-old a cell phone. She did, and Ira insisted Sam be available everyday at 5:00 pm for his call. Except that he rarely calls.
Ira also demanded that Miranda install a texting app on Sam's iPod. But he almost never uses that either.
This kind of obfuscation is acceptable if you're a CIA operative, but not if you're a parent. When you play the daddy version of "Where's Waldo?" with kids, it messes them up.
But Ira, being a Very Important Person, is never to blame for Sam's anxiety. He's got Miranda for that!
Surviving post-divorce from a Very Important Person
Divorcing a Very Important Person who uses you as an emotional punching bag is traumatizing. And since you must retain contact with your ex if you have children, you will need to develop coping tools to employ when your Very Important Ex trashes you in person, via e-mail, or to others.
Miranda and I would love to hear from other targets of Very Important Exes: what methods do you use to stay sane when you're dealing with crazy?