When I fell in love with my fiancé Olivier, I knew he had some baggage. He had been married before and, admittedly, it bothered me a bit. I had always assumed that I would marry someone who was also tying the knot for the first time, but that’s not how it worked out. Olivier also has a four-year-old daughter, and although I’m what you would call a “kid person” — I’m pretty sure I don’t want my own — I loved him enough that I was willing to adjust and deal with the occasional inconveniences that a child of that age can present.
But what never really came into my head, as a potential obstacle, was his ex-wife. She was his ex, after all, but having zero experience at dating men with kids, it never really quite registered that maybe, just maybe, there would be some drama there as well. Despite having seen hundreds of bad rom-coms where an ex-wife does everything in her power to make the new wife miserable, I was not prepared to experience such a cliche in my own life. I wasn’t expecting an ex who probably had watched those same bad rom-coms, but mistook them for coaching seminars.
When I met Olivier, he was single — well, separated, to be exact. The divorce papers had been filed, but it was yet to be legally set in stone in court, or however they do things in France. Their marriage had crumbled for a variety of different reasons that are not in my jurisdiction to discuss, but I had nothing to do with it. I didn’t even know Olivier existed, an ocean away, when he and his wife decided it was time to split. However, despite these facts of space and time, his ex treats me as though I’m the Angelina Jolie to her Jennifer Aniston. She does her damnedest to make sure her presence is never too far away and, sadly, she uses their daughter as a pawn.
In the beginning, it was just small things like insulting my looks (we’ve never met, but she apparently did a little Facebook stalking). I’ve long held the belief that nothing says “tragically unoriginal” like calling someone “fat” or “ugly.” Really? That’s all you have? Try harder, please. I chalked it up to jealousy. I knew that if I were in her position, single again and watching the man I used to be married to moving on quicker than I was, I’d probably be upset, too.
Once she got all the cheap insults out of her system, Olivier’s parenting skills were next in her crosshairs. Olivier is a horrible parent for “abandoning” his child so he could visit me in New York City for a couple weeks. He’s also the worst father in the world for wanting to go on a honeymoon, which would mean that she would have to be entirely responsible for her own child for two weeks, And both Olivier and I are the devil incarnate because we’re having a child-free wedding. The ex can’t wrap her brain around the fact that our wedding, being an intimate, formal, nighttime affair, might not be the best place for a four-year-old. In her opinion, when the kid gets tried midway through the wedding, someone, whether it be Olivier himself or one of his sisters, should just bring her home. Ladies and gentleman, the first dance has been postponed until the groom returns!
The ex is constantly argumentative. She sees her child as a burden who she’ll be “stuck” with when Olivier and I will be on our honeymoon. She takes no responsibility for the endless barrage of hate and anger she’s cast not only upon Olivier, but on he and I as a couple, as well as her own daughter. If I’m a terrible person for having a child-free wedding, what does it say about a woman who describes the rare Saturday night alone with her daughter as something she’s “stuck” doing?
I was in college the first time I saw “Stepmom” with Julia Roberts and Susan Sarandon. Having come from a family where divorce and step-anything wasn’t part of the equation, I took the side of Sarandon’s character. (What? You don’t side with characters in movies?) Who the hell was this young woman, waltzing into the lives of this mom and her children, messing everything up? Julia was the worst.
I remember the part that resonated with me the most was when the son said to Sarandon’s character, regarding his new stepmother, “If you want me to hate her, I will.” That bond fueled and almost justified the drama Saradon’s character caused in the movie. But now I’m Roberts’ character – with less awesome hair – and it sucks.
Every constraint, harsh word, or juvenile game of tug-of-war Olivier’s ex pulls affects me as much as much as it affects him. While I may not be the one dealing with the blows directly, as his partner, I’m the one who feels the repercussions of her actions and words. It is a daily struggle to anticipate what’s next on her roster of insults or stunts that are not just jeopardizing the relationship Olivier has with his daughter, but her own relationship with the little girl as well. His sisters have to make concessions by putting their life on hold to babysit when he has to work and his ex doesn’t feel like being a mom, and everyone walks on eggshells when dealing with her, because there’s no telling how she will react. She is treated like a child, because that’s exactly how she behaves.
And look, in some ways, I get it. I can’t imagine the conflict of feelings that must come with your ex moving on not just before you, but without you, or the reality of there being a new woman in the life of one’s child. I’ve tried to put myself in her shoes and looked for justifications for her behavior, but it infuriates me, because I don’t think I should have to. I shouldn’t have to come up with excuses for the way she treats the people around her. I shouldn’t have to live in fear of what shit she’ll pull next, that she’ll do something rash to make sure we don’t go on our honeymoon to Italy, that Olivier will be completely cut out of his child’s life in some misguided attempt at “revenge,” or that any of this will still be a concern in 10 years. I did not sign up for this. I agreed to marry Olivier; I did not agree to marry his baggage. Did I?
But the real hell of it all is that there is nothing I can do. It is not my place to step in and get involved. I have to tough it out, until she hopefully takes a deep breath, calms down and has some sort epiphany about what a waste of time and energy this is. Not just for me, but for the sanity of everyone involved, especially their daughter.