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Dating After Divorce: Mr. My Bitch Ex-Wife

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Before I get started with this one, I want to indicate that this problem is not gender specific.  Both men and women are equally obsessed with or tormented by a former spouse or partner.  Since I’m a woman, I’ll use the term Mr. My Bitch Ex-Wife but it could just as easily but a Ms. My Asshole Ex-Husband.

One of the biggest obstacles with dating after a divorce is getting past the damage caused by your former marriage.  It’s something I struggle with, as my divorce was incredibly traumatic.   I faced betrayal, lies, fraud, infidelity and was nearly destroyed both financially and emotionally.  I’ve been the very person I’m going to describe here, and I still struggle to get past it.  I’m not as bad as others, but I’ve got much room for improvement.

I’ve found on most dates I’ve had with total strangers, they usually blow their cover in the first 10 -15 minutes of the conversation.  It’s happened so often, that I could almost take a stopwatch and time the first comment that will issue a red flag in my head.  I’ve heard lines like the following before the waiter dropped off the menus.

  • My ex-wife is such a bitch
  • I hate my ex, she’s pure evil
  • My ex-wife is crazy, insane, psycho, etc.
  • Isn’t divorce hell, my stupid ex-wife ruined my life

For the rest of the date,  literally every topic somehow goes back to their ex-wife.  A drink reminds them of the bitch ex-wife, the food, my phone, my dress, a story from my past, my hair, it just doesn’t end.  The worst cases will demonize their former partners to such a degree, that I might believe their ex could be a danger to the public.. Their former partner is a complete raving lunatic, hellbent on destroying lives and impossibly cruel..  If I believed everything a Mr. My Bitch Ex-Wife tells me, then they were somehow a hapless victim who got tricked into marrying a she-devil who flipped out the minute their nuptials were final.

Now sometimes they could be speaking the truth.  Both men and women can unwittingly marry sociopaths, narcissists, serial cheaters, partners with untreated mental illness, substance abuse problems or violent raging tempers.  Marriage and relationships are a crap shoot, and most of us enter into them with the best of intentions.  No one has a crystal ball to see into the future and people do change their personalities, or deep-seated problems surface years into a marriage. Regardless, if their conversation revolves around stories about an ex, they’re probably not ready to date someone new. It’s doesn’t matter if they are beautiful, charming, funny or otherwise perfect, if they are that fixated on an ex there’s no room for a new partner. However there is some gray area here.  If you’re past the age of 35, you’re not going to find an age-appropriate partner who does not have some complicated baggage.  It’s hard for anyone to get past a major break-up or divorce, so it’s not unusual or unexpected behavior to vent about a former partner.  It’s also next to impossible to talk about your past if you have to block out 10 years or more to avoid talking about an ex.  No one is perfect but some warning signs to look for are the following.

Speak in absolutes – When they speak of their ex, it sounds as if they are describing a fairy tale villain.  There are no redeeming qualities, the person is completely evil, mean, cruel, or vicious.

Take no responsibility for picking their partner – Regardless of the circumstances of my divorce I do take full responsibility for choosing my husband.  Yes, he lied to me and was incredibly deceptive, but I chose to ignore several warning signs that could have indicated something was up.  I wanted to live in denial.  I didn’t want to face reality.

Portray themselves as complete victims – In some cases this is true, but how did the person react to abuse?  Did they take steps to get out of the marriage?  Did they fight back?  What did they try to do to change the situation?  In some marriages, especially ones with children, people can feel trapped.  What they do to save themselves or the situation is very telling. Even just standing up and calling out the abuse can be quite courageous and proactive.

Every ex is crazy – I knew one woman who literally claimed that all four of her ex-husbands tried to kill her.  The stories she told were fantastical, and she had problems keeping the details straight.  Anyone can make the mistake of marrying or dating someone with a propensity for violence, but it’s highly suspect if every former partner is unstable and violent. Either they love being in destructive relationships, or they are exaggerating their past.

Ultimately it comes down to what you are comfortable with.  If you want to take a chance on someone who spends half the date ripping apart their ex, then go for it.  You might be happier though with someone who actually wants to get to know you, and not treat you like a free therapist.  If he says the words “bitch” and “ex-wife” in the same sentence right after meeting you, it might be a clue that you’ll end up being the next “bitch ex” in his life he’ll complain about to someone new.

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Divorce: My ex-husband the Clown

Joel Jeske

Joel Jeske (Photo credit: Prehensile Eye)

I remember telling my parents when I first met the man who is now my ex-husband.  I started with the positives– he was college educated, worked with the touring company of Chicago’s acclaimed Second City, studied with the Cambridge Footlights in England and had toured the world a few times over as a performer.   Then I finally let the cat out of the bag so to speak and said.

“He is a clown”

My parents were oddly accepting, I think they had grandchild in mind and half-clown grandchildren were better than no grandchildren.

As far as clowns go, my ex was quite accomplished.  He has been nominated for two Drama Desk awards, performed with every major circus in the country and has also performed extensively in Europe and Asia.   I always say

“He is kind of a big deal…if you are a clown”

But being married to a clown, even a semi-famous one is not a barrel of fun.  For starters there were the other clowns, many of which were extremely snobby.  The pecking order went something like this

  • Theater Clowns – Well trained, college degrees or higher, performances not always comical, sometimes only entertaining to other clowns.  Considered the most artistic.
  • Circus Clowns – Some join the circus straight out of high school, have skills such as juggling, stilts, acrobatics, etc, always funny, have a reputation for being rough around the edges
  • Birthday Party Clowns – Derided by Theater and Circus clowns, yet some birthday party clowns make more money than any other type of clown
  • Hobby Clowns – Amateurs who dream of one day becoming circus clowns, a few even follow circuses around like groupies.
  • Gospel Clowns – Clowns who view clowning as a “calling” rather than a job, use clowning to proselytize.  Many don’t believe in getting paid.
  • Rodeo Clowns – Work with animals rather than people:  in a category all their own.

To the rest of the population, a clown is a clown.  So a highly skilled theatrical clown like my ex is the same as a hobby clown named Sparkles–A man wearing a rainbow wig, scary make up, a dirty costume, and plastic shoes who twists balloon animals in the park for tips.

As a result of this common misconception about clowns, the clown world is full of rules and standards.  In order to be a “real” clown one had to study with Lecoq in France or Commedia dell’arte.  Clown college, which was run by Ringling Bros., was shut down in 1997, so any circus clown that came after that time was viewed as having lesser training.

So imagine marrying a highly regarded member of the red nose mafia.  They weren’t exactly the most welcoming group, and what made my situation worse was when my ex decided that I should become his partner-in-crime.  I thought that working as a clown might be better than as a mostly out-of-work actress, so I took the plunge and attended a brief clown school in Manhattan.  I liked the training, but found some of it to be completely inane.  In one class we were told to shout obscenities and throw tennis balls at each other, it was beyond useless.

My ex and I made great clown partners, but for years no matter how many gigs I booked, and no matter how many huge audiences I entertained, I never felt completely accepted.  I often felt treated like the Yoko Ono of clowning.  I was even accused of influencing my husband to not work with certain people or to only work with me.  It was all nonsense.  I never had any aspirations of running away with the circus or becoming a famous clown.  By joining my spouse in his passion,  I was trying to make my marriage stronger, as this art form was so important to him.  But I made a mistake many spouses make and put his dreams before my own.  By subjugating my own desires and needs for his, I was making our lives too interdependent.  His happiness became more important than my own and I would ultimately pay the price for this.   When the marriage fell apart, I not only lost my partner but my ability to earn an income.

Most of the clowns cut me off immediately.  I went from working all the time to nothing.   I tried to get traditional employment but in this competitive job market I had no luck.  I have joked that being a clown for nine years is the same as working in the sex industry, it is the stain that won’t wash off.   And thanks to the internet I can’t hide my past, so I stopped trying to go straight and went back to clowning.  I had to build up my own clients and relationships with new entertainment agents but I am slowly pulling myself up.

Now that it is all over, I am the one with the strange occupation trying to explain to people how I got myself into this line of work.  It is never easy to say to new people, especially potential dates

“I am a clown, my ex-husband got me into it”

A shocked expression usually flashes over their faces, as if I am about to start some type of joke.  Sadly I am not.