It’s been a long, long time since I’ve written about my divorce — so long in fact, that many of you may not even know that Mike is my second husband, and that Chelsea and Conor are my children by my first marriage. This is primarily because as more and more time has passed — and I’ve led a rich full life — I’ve had less need to write about it. My kids have not talked to their dad in years, and we no longer have any ties legally or financially.
But today marks 20 years since I ended that marriage, and it’s been on my mind for the last few months leading up to it. I mean, 20 years is kind of a big deal in general, but this anniversary also marks the beginning of my ex being out of my life longer than he was in it.
Weirdly, though, it’s not him that I’ve been thinking about as this date approached — but rather, her. “Her”, for those of you who don’t know, refers to the woman he left me for, after what I found out was a long, ongoing affair. An affair that was going on basically right under my nose. And ironically it was not because they were being very discreet about it. But since I knew her, and trusted him it wasn’t that difficult.
And what I’ve been thinking MOST about lately is how much power (SO. MUCH. POWER.) I let this woman hold over me for more than a decade after I ended my marriage.
And she didn’t even know I had been idealizing her ever since I found out about their affair.
It’s a complicated thing when marriage ends with infidelity. Friends would say to me, “What are you mad at her for? If he didn’t want to cheat there would have been nothing she could do — be mad at him”! And believe me, I was. I was REALLY mad at him.
But I was also going through a messy divorce. Our children were young, I was dependent on him financially, and the advice from my lawyer was “play nice till the papers are signed”. So as angry, heartbroken and betrayed as I was, it was just easier to transfer all those feelings to her.
But here’s what happened – as time passed, those feelings had the net effect of turning this woman into an almost freakishly larger-than-life figure in my head. I became fixated on the clearly superhuman powers she must have had to pry my husband away from me, and as the years went on she became more clever, more beautiful, more EVERYTHING.
She was like the evil queen in a Disney movie — 10 feet tall, cold, striking and unstoppable. I never saw her, never had any interactions with her, and the children never ever mentioned her — so this myth-of-my-own-making took on a life of its own. Even now, as I think of myself during that time, I get almost lightheaded from the overwhelming feeling just the THOUGHT of her could bring on.
And then in 2016 my ex threw a lawsuit at me. There had been several over the years, but they were all dealt with through the lawyers, and in relatively short order. Not this one. This one went on for months, and it was ugly — and almost wound up in court.
As I sat in the anteroom of the courthouse on what would have been the first day of the trial, I was literally vibrating. I was nervous about this fight, and equally nervous about being in the same orbit as my ex (something I always tried to avoid at all cost).
And then he walked past me — with her. I had seen glimpses of him occasionally over the years but hadn’t seen her in all this time. I actually did a double take because I wasn’t even sure it WAS her. But it was.
And here’s the thing:
She was utterly unremarkable. Which is to say she was attractive enough, but nothing special.
Her clothes, her hair, her presence didn’t cleave the room — or me — in two, and she was as far from the Maleficent-type creature I had conjured up over the last 16 years as she could possibly be.
We wound up settling without going to court, but I was left to sort out what had happened in that anteroom for many weeks to follow. How. How could I have so grossly exaggerated another human being? How. How could I have wasted more than a decade obsessed with some imaginary wily beauty who bested me in my own marriage?
Because I let her. I let an ordinary woman — who did nothing more clever than have an affair with a married man — take up space in my head that knocked around in there for enough years to distort any sense of clear thinking I might have had.
I did eventually sort things out, and it was a seminal experience for me — the kind that you can sometimes only learn from only after actually going through it. And I was left with a peace of mind that nothing — not meeting and marrying a wonderful man, raising three amazing kids or having a long, full and truly wonderful life – could fully give me till then.
I always told the kids that the only actions you can control in life are your own.
But I didn’t take my advice in this case. Not for many years. I wish I had. But today as I reflect on the 20 “before” and the 20 “after”, I also know that you have to be ready to take that advice, and for me it took the time that it did.
Sheri Silver is a blogger, food photographer and lifelong New Yorker. She is wife to 1 wonderful guy and mom to 3 amazing kids (plus 2 rescue pups).
This article was originally published at Sheri Silver. Reprinted with permission from the author.