Who's Better Off?

Character is not something that hides. It stands up, honestly, courageously and truly.
03/24/2014 03:48 pm ET Updated May 22, 2014

Let's see. It's been three years plus since the closing of the house we raised our three children marked the close of our 26 year marriage. Throughout the years that followed, I have heard the remark often: "Oh, you are so much better off without him," delivered in tones varying from the spirit of buoying me up to emphatic relief that I got out alive. My own children told me, "Mom, you shouldn't be with someone who would do that to you. You are...much better off without him." My mother with alzheimer's, who repeatedly asks about my ex husband, and to which I have to say, " No, he's with our..." to which she proclaims, definitively, as if on a pulpit, "Well then who needs him! Tell him to shove off! You are...much better off without him!" It does make me wonder, who is better off?

Are our children better off? They were as baffled, disappointed and hurt as I was about their father leaving our family. No matter what bumbling comments came out of his mouth and attempts to explain himself, they just don't stand up when you leave a long term marriage lying. The cowardice is not lost on children. The betrayal is not lost on children. There are not enough vacations or clothes or financial support to ever make up for not being true then making excuses for it. Behavior can be tolerated, because, what choice do our children have, they only have one father and one mother -- but, unfortunately, no matter how much you think you can bury behavior, you can't. It is always right there in the relationship with you and nobody is fooling anyone. I would not trade places with my ex on that front. What was he thinking?

Okay, he confirmed that he is desirable to somebody else. That is a door he opened. I understand that door, and came treacherously close to opening it myself, and am so glad now that I didn't. At the time I weighed what was important to me, and as close as I came, I paused. I am so grateful that I had red flags and inner alarms sounding off, and that I did not lose sight of three small people that meant so much to me that I could not do that to. I chose family. I chose my husband. I chose to re-direct my attention and to steady my gaze back home. As much as I was tempted, I knew it was a dangerous and hurtful choice. I am so much better off for being able to recognize the choice. I was able to see how tempting and intoxicating desire is, and to stop and consider what kind of a person I wanted to be. It is not as if I do not understand what desire feels like, how delicious and real it feels. It's that when push came to shove, I realized what mattered to me. I gained so much more than I could have ever imagined. My ex only proved he was more selfish, more focused on himself, more afraid to reveal himself in a real way, and that he was willing to put his children, and me, in harm's way, with no consideration of the effect of his actions. I don't envy him at all. I would not want to be living with those choices. He deals with them by having absolutely no remorse. Wouldn't want that in me either.

The girlfriend? Is she having the time of her life? Would that feel good to sneak around wanting someone else's husband who had a family? How has that settled in her soul? Has the thrill of the secret rendezvous gone? Have they left her with a residue of falseness? How does her memory frame her phone calls and emails with me, where she cheerfully chirped on and played the trustworthy, innocent helper? I would so not want to be her! She got a man who lied to his wife, felt nothing to betray the person he had married and been with since his twenties, could care less about the ramifications of his actions on his three amazing kids, who connived to get all he could from his wife in his teeth gritting divorce fervor, with no honor or decency. Lucky her? Oh, but yes, she has some lovely, cool clothes, and jewelry, and a new townhouse in the best part of town, etc. She can now vacation in the same place my ex went with me on our honeymoon, and where we went with our family and friends for years. Does she have a clue how weird that is? She does have a lot more goodies in her life and can sleep beside him, assured with the knowledge that this great guy left his wife and family, lied, cheated and betrayed, just for her, and he loves her. Just like he loved me, except different. She picked him up where he left me off. Does she know about the dinners when she is not in town? I do not envy her at all, not one bit. Everyone is right! I am so much better off!

Alright, he is definitely better off, financially, even though it was all supposed to be 50/50. The statistics are true. Women in traditional marriages, like I was, who trusted their husband, stayed at home with the kids and let their husband handle all the financials, get screwed with divorce, especially if the ex is not an honorable, trustworthy, honest or nice guy. I was not only left emotionally traumatized by my ex's betrayal, (it never occurred to me that he was capable of that), I was bulldozed by his meanness to get as much as he could from me in the divorce. He wanted half of the jewelry he gave me counted as an asset. That really said it all for me. All those notes with the jewelry, expressing his devotion, with always, forever, mon petit chou-chou, amour, you are the love of my life (I had saved them) exclaiming his true and eternal love, as it turns out, meant absolutely nothing.

I had been so touched and appreciative at the time. Now, I realize he meant none of it. He must have been covering for other behavior I wasn't aware of. In our divorce, he wanted the jewelry, proclaimed my parents' house as my asset so that he could give me less, and started the process to cut off my health insurance as soon as we were separated. I honestly couldn't find a response, I was in such shock. Who was this person? We divorced "in a financial downturn" which, he and his lawyer claimed was to explain how little he could give me. Yes, I had a lawyer, but she was not prepared for the chameleon my ex is, nor did she fully understand the significance of him being a resident alien (foreign assets) and that he was good at hiding. I was too consumed with crying and catching my breath with the waves of disbelief overwhelming me. She did the best she could. All I know now is he bought three places post divorce, and I am still renting a small apartment. My ex reassured a friend of ours, "I took care of Sally financially." Was that a joke? It was a cover. I am managing thanks to other things, but not because of him. What I am so grateful for now is that I know I would not want to be the kind of person he is, nor with that kind of person. I am better off.

I am still baffled by the portion of our friends who carry on like our divorce was no big deal. Years of vacationing together, dinners at each other's houses, watching our children grow up, they seemingly could care less about the disruption (to say the least) to our family, and they happily invite my ex and the girlfriend to dinner, as if to say, "the party must go on." By virtue of "not taking sides," they are saying, "Betrayal and lying, everyone's doing it; let it go!" This collective laissez-faire has been another one of the shocking reveals of divorce, this realization that our community creates the environment that enables the disrespectful and unhealthy behavior that prevails. Behavior that shouldn't be tolerated, moreover, should be shunned, is being welcomed by people who carry on socially like it's all fine. As my darling mother says all the time, "I don't get it, do you?" I don't get how the connections aren't being made that divorce, lies, betrayal, narcissism, hiding, impacts everyone in a community in a deep and defining way. We are all better off to have a community of individuals who truly care about how they treat people, especially the people closest to them.

At the end of the day, after all the lamenting and tears, I feel better off to not be the one who lied and betrayed and broke apart a family without remorse, explanation or decency. Character is not something that hides. It stands up, honestly, courageously and truly. It always makes itself known. People on their death bed, sometimes see the big picture more clearly, deeply recognizing the importance of how we treat oneanother and that every action matters. With more heightened awareness, and love, we would all be better off.