There is a person in my life who occupies a very dark place in my heart and mind; my thoughts and feelings about her make me question my integrity. Every time I hear her name, a hard nugget of bitterness rises in my chest. I feel anger and disdain at the mention of her. Sometimes I catalogue her faults; everything from her annoyingly frizzy hair and bushy eyebrows, to her outdated fashion choices, to her self-righteous smugness, to her pollyanna way of rejecting anything that is even slightly “inappropriate”. The problem with all of this is that I KNOW she is a perfectly decent person, her hair is just fine, and she has never really done anything to me. But, as the girlfriend of my ex-husband, she is a daily presence in my children’s lives while I am not. My irrational resentment of this fact is sometimes unbearable, and sometimes it consumes me. I know I must reframe this in the interest of my own emotional well-being, as well as for my children.
As I consider the patterns of my reactions to The Other Woman over the past couple of years, I notice that there are layers. The outermost layer is like a wild animal, primitive and raw, wanting to eliminate the threat she poses by tearing her apart, limb by limb. My daughter mentions over the phone that The Other Woman braided her hair before bed last night, and my mind is flooded with a vision of slamming The Other Woman’s face into a wall. My blood is boiling, but I say, “Oh, that was nice of her,” as matter-of-factly as I can manage and change the subject. Once the visceral initial reaction passes, the next layer is like the reaction of a petulant child. I run through the index of The Other Woman’s failings that I have stored in my brain and assure myself that although she is with my children (in my fucking place!), she is inferior in every way, so her presence cannot possibly pose a threat to my relationship with my daughters. Her weakness of character, bad taste, and poor sense of humor cannot hold a candle to me, right? The final layer is where my civilized adult mind steps in and returns me to a state of acceptance, albeit reluctant and tenuous. I remind myself that this situation is of my own design, and that The Other Woman really is a good person, and that she has no intention of taking my place or interfering with my relationship with my daughters. In fact, she is a positive influence in their lives.
My typical approach to problem solving involves casting the brightest flood light I can find on an issue. This is my way of disarming things; I feel compelled to remove as much of the unknown as possible so I can clearly assess and handle things. I tried to apply this to my relationship with The Other Woman, thinking that if I could have a candid conversation with her, we could clear the air and I could stop this cycle. I even had a little hope that we could have some kind of ongoing rapport. I initiated the conversation, she told me what I already knew; she doesn’t want to take a motherly role with my kids. That was the extent of her interest in interacting with me. It was profoundly unsatisfying. She was completely oblivious to the drama and emotional energy that was happening on my side of this relationship. I got the impression that to her, dealing with me was a mundane incidental interaction like you have with the receptionist at the dentist’s office; a polite and utilitarian transaction with no import beyond the exchange itself. My attempt to shine a light on the problem revealed what felt like bare white walls with nothing but a smooth unyielding surface, no texture, no warmth, no softness.
Clearly, my standard tools were not right for the job of finding peace with the presence of The Other Woman in my life, and I have since returned to the repeating loop of vitriolic anger followed by petty bitterness and unquiet settling. One thing I learned from my initial attempt to change this was that the problem is mine alone. The Other Woman is not impacted by nor concerned with the difficulty I experience around her existence. In some ways, this gives me a bit of satisfaction, as it supports my paradigm of her inferiority and allows me to cast myself as the bigger person, and even a bit of a martyr. But, that satisfaction is artificial and hollow. As they say, “anger harms the vessel,” and my search for a way to gracefully empty this vessel continues.