Looking back, you married very young. In retrospect, why do you think you did so?
All the usual reasons. Our physical chemistry was electric from our first kiss, but because of how I was raised, we waited – and that meant marriage. We were in love, we both wanted a family while we were young. I was seventeen going on thirty-five, and fearless. He was on a mission to succeed.
By all accounts in your book, you had a good childhood. But something about how you were raised programmed you to put others first – always. What do you think that was?
My mother. I idealized my mother and still do. Our family was her job, and keeping it a safe, happy place to be came first. In my turn, I picked up the gauntlet. After her impoverished background, if I were to resent or feel deprived of anything, I felt selfish… Until the day I walked out on my husband. I did that for me. It was a salvage job.
Looking back, what really was the first sign your husband was cheating? Why do you think you missed the sign(s)? Why do most women miss them?
I don’t think I missed them; I dismissed them. And, he was great at pushing all the right buttons. If I questioned whether he loved me when he became distant, cold, and quippy, he simply turned it on me. “Why are you so damned insecure?” It wasn’t his job to make me happy. He’d tell me to to look around at how many women would kill for my life. I needed to get my head out of romance novels and get real. And the real zinger: If I didn’t stop nagging him, he would screw around. Why not do it if he’s accused of it, right? We set the pattern of our relationship, designated him as in control very early on. What you give up and give into, you get.
Your husband was a bad-boy alpha male. And once you left him, you were still drawn to his type. Many women are. Why do you think that is?
I am drawn to strength in a man, and he was strong. He was responsible, capable. I loved his confidence. It never wavered. And the physical chemistry lasted until the last week before I left him. Some say that as women it is in our DNA to want a strong man; goes back to the days when they were the hunter/gatherers, the protectors. Not that we are not capable of taking care of ourselves – we are when we compensate and prepare. But we are often drawn to men we feel can and will fulfill this role. I’m a fairly strong person. I felt safe with him in the beginning.
You say that the person least in love controls the relationship. Explain why?
That’s “The Principle of Least Interest”—The person least interested in the relationship controls it. A psychology teacher I had said it is always true. The one who values the relationship least is most likely to walk away – something the person who values it more fears. If you fear losing him more than he wants you, you put power in his hands. He won’t be reluctant to back you into a corner, to hurt or make you mad. And you will be afraid that if you push back, he might leave. So, what is the solution? Value yourself at least as much, and preferably more, than you value the relationship. Value your feelings, your sense of self, and very probably, they will, too. Hindsight is sweet.
You were instrumental in the building of your family business, and yet you never seem to refer to yourself as a businesswoman. Why?
This is an Interesting question I’ve never considered. I suppose, in part, it is because my generation of women was still brought up to support our husbands; thus, whatever role we played, being a wife and mother was primary and being a support to my husbands defined my role in the family business. Thank goodness I had a great accountant that tutored me and supplemented his college accounting book. Computers were RTFM. Read the F*$%ing Manual. Ha! Also, he didn’t acknowledge my contribution. The only way people know what I did is when I tell them, and it feels defensive, immodest and almost childish. What it seems to come down to is that it’s up to us to believe in ourselves.
When you finally decided to leave, what were your greatest fears? Did any of them come to fruition?
By the time I left, I was too afraid I was losing myself to stay. This fear was strong enough to overpower everything else. I didn’t fear I’d regret leaving, only regret I’d stayed so long. I was more broken than I realized. Believed I’d failed. Had not been good enough. Ever. I still fear that I’ll never be held by someone who really loves me. The fears do not go away just because you leave, but they slink into the closet as you create a new life, embrace independence, and begin to recognize yourself for who you are.
When you planned to leave, you must have had an expectation of your husband’s response. What was it, and how did it differ from the response you received?
There were no surprises. He lost his temper, told me how fucked up I was. How he’d done everything. I didn’t deserve anything but kept shoveling stress on him. He didn’t need this shit! Not after busting his ass all week at work. He continued by telling me I was worthless. A mess and had better get a grip on that, not blame him. I wondered if that meant I should blame his girlfriends? lol
I walked away. Not a word after I said, “I’ve made a decision. I’m leaving you.” I had finally come to realize he never listened when I tried to explain anyway. Sometimes there is simply nothing left to say.
This realization that he would never get it, never care or change, never want or feel he needed to, was what made my decision to finally go. And it was what ultimately allowed me to stick with my decision and begin to create a new life.
How has your relationship with your children and grandchildren evolved since you left your husband?
We always love our children, want to spend time with them, but we become visitors in their new stage in life…as it should be, so after a point our focus really shifts to our grandchildren. We generally see our children at events, holidays, family gathering and therefore in group settings. I don’t spend as much time with my grandchildren since I left Phoenix and moved to Flagstaff, then CA so that is different. They still love to come visit me. Know I love them. And yes, I have regrets for this distance, but don’t wish I was back there living my old life, just single.
I did exactly what Brad told me to do…forged a new life. Went out on a limb. There is a knot in my stomach about this book. I’m sometimes afraid…I’m terrified I’ll regret exposing so much of me, the dicey topics, graphic descriptions. Afraid of the judgement and disapproval I may be hit with.
I think my sons may value me more; they have seen how involved I was in the business, they now see me as an independent woman – coming to visit is a holiday, not an obligation. We’re closer in fun ways. My grandchildren and I have a blast. They call ahead to schedule visits during school holidays and summer. So, while the physical distance makes getting to soccer games difficult, we are still close – and maybe even closer, as they see me as an individual. Okay…a bit of a maverick. LOL
What do you believe it takes to make a woman finally give up on a relationship?
I believe there comes a time when the pain and futility of the relationship becomes stronger than their fear of change. When we either matter enough to ourselves to try and salvage ourselves, or we numb out to life. Refuse to allow the light in our eyes and hearts to extinguish.
That’s what I feared most. That I could never be happy where I was. When sadness is so overwhelming, so often, you get tired of fighting. In the end, we have to believe we’re worth fighting for.
When you left, you first moved to Flagstaff, a couple of hours away. And you are now in San Diego, California. Why the moves? In what way did they help in the process of letting go?
Flagstaff was a place to go because we had a summer home there. I didn’t have to rent something or impose on a friend or relative. Brad raged that he wouldn’t budge. HE was still the one making all the money, working, and he intended to stay in our house in Phoenix. I could go to hell. So instead…I went to Flagstaff.
Flagstaff became a refuge. I could grieve in private. I don’t think anyone knew how much I cried, how desperate and alone I felt. I want readers to know that others feel what they are feeling. They aren’t alone or crazy or weak, they are grieving the loss of something, someone they loved.
This is the second step in fighting back. Standing up for ourselves. Leaving is first. That’s just guts. Allowing the grief, then the quest to figure out why we stayed is the long road. Why we weren’t enough. Why we matter at all. These are the next steps.
When Brad decided to move to Flagstaff part-time, with his new fiancé, to the development in which I was living, I knew my time there was limited. That eventually his tendency to rage would happen sooner or later in Flagstaff, if I stayed. And because his rages had escalated throughout the divorce process, I feared they might escalate, which in turn, could end up involving our sons.
I didn’t have to stay in Flagstaff until my house sold. If I did, I would be doing it by choice, not necessity. And I didn’t want the responsibility or regret of an incident with Brad. That he, the situation, gave me permission to leave turned out to be awesome. Sort of like the old rancher drilling for water who hit oil and it changed his life for the better.
I truly didn’t know where I wanted to end up, but how wrong could I go with a year’s lease near the ocean in southern California? It was a no brainer, once I hit I-40 on my way out of Flagstaff. Not even a glimmer of regret has touched me. I appreciate and am grateful for the ability to make these moves, to have been able to get away.
What one bit of advice do you wish you could give your seventeen-year-old married self?
My reaction to this question confused me…scared me a little. Not just a few tears welled up…a full-on-trash-my-mascara-runny-nose-bawl possessed me. I haven’t done this in ages!
I inserted a picture of me in a borrowed dress, full of wonder and anticipation, that says it all. I wouldn’t tell her not to do it…she wouldn’t have listened. I won’t tell her she’ll regret it…she regrets much, but her boys and grandchildren are worth it all. I would not tell her he doesn’t truly love her, never will. She believed he did and it kept her going.
I’d tell her that there will be times when she’ll think she’s falling apart…doesn’t want to go on…but she will. I’d tell her I know she’s stronger than she can imagine. I’d tell her to forgive herself for going wild one day…it was a phase she had to go through.
I’m stronger now, perhaps a little wiser. More in control than that first year I was single again.
What was the most difficult part of your journey to independence?
I was always independent. Spent a lot of time alone. Learning the reality of toxic relationships. Accepting that he never loved me. I still trip over that once in a while, but lots less than when I was snared in the relationship, too blind to know what, just that something was horribly wrong.
I see couples on the street hand in hand, then I’m the only one in the restaurant at a table alone. I don’t want to be alone forever, but I don’t want to be vulnerable to feel rejection either so I find and focus on reasons I want to be alone. It’s better. I think it’s working. And, of course, there is the fear of failure when I exercise my independence and publish this book.
What was the most surprising thing you learned about yourself along the way?
Lots of things. That I’d been in a no-win, futile relationship. It would never have gotten better. I never wanted to believe that. And I learned I should never drink tequila.
I also learned that at heart, I am a happy person. My roller coaster ride now takes me on energized, content rides, enjoying friends, family and activities and that sadness is like a gust of wind. Strong, every once in a while, but blows by quickly. This is better. This is awesome, actually.
I’m proud of how I’ve handled myself after leaving Brad and through the divorce. We never saw a courtroom. Mediation was an excellent way to go. I’ve learned to stop being angry at myself…hadn’t known how much I was. I learned how much I’d suppressed. There was a lot of shit under that rug. I learned how much I’d isolated myself… And I learned how much I’d value true friends and to be vulnerable enough with them to be one.
You’re worried about the explicit-personal content in the book. How it will reflect on you, affect your family. Why did you do it? Do you think it will serve some greater good to shine a spotlight on it?
In writing this book, I wanted to stir a social awareness. I began writing this book long before the women in Hollywood made headlines with the ‘#metoo’ movement and set up a fund for sexually abused women.
I wrote Chapter 8 within twenty-four hours of that ‘bad’ sexual encounter. It was my first-time encounter, over a year after I left Brad. I was somehow compelled to write about it. Putting it on a paper kept me from bottling it up. I couldn’t bottle any more up. Be a victim. Be used, hurt and angry and just shut up and take it.
Should I have kept it in a private journal? We’ll see. I hope other women will chime in on the chat room on my website. Let’s shake that damned bottle up, spray it all over the walls. Join hands, get a heads up, and heal.
I had no case to take to the authorities. It was distasteful but not physically damaging. I’d gone along with it. Had been afraid not to. If I had resisted, maybe I would have had a case, but it wouldn’t have been worth it. Stupidity with a side of bruises or a few broken bones.
Without graphic details I began talking to other women about being scared, feeling used, enduring and surviving a bad sexual experience, being drugged, and wasn’t prepared for the nearly unanimous nods. An odd pattern evolved when instead of details, names, or places they remembered when. Nearly all told me when. I was fifteen. Thirty-five, or in my freshman year in college. It had happened at one time or another to so many of us, but few had talked about it until I fessed up to my Chapter 8 experience or about the date rape drug from a man I’d been going out with for over three months.
I decided to break the sound barrier. It came out in first person. The pages, my readers, became my therapist. That’s how therapy works: telling someone, verbalizing, takes the power out of it. Manifests realizations, not just about scary sex, but about dysfunctional relationships, emotional abuse, why we stay, how we stay, what it takes to leave, how broken we are when we do, how glad and lucky and alive we are now. That there is passion to look forward to, as well.
Perhaps some mothers will see the potential positives if they give their daughters my book, let the relationship dynamics make them aware of how covertly and easily dysfunctional patterns develop. Let them read Chapter 8, read about my Ambien episode, watch their drinks and each other’s backs. One woman told me she’d been drugged. Woke up in her car, her panties on backwards. Was relieved to see a couple of condoms on the floor. The stories abound. The reality that it’s out there is part of being single, young or older.
In the book, you focused on Brad’s bad traits, not extolling his good ones. Do you consider this cognitive bias?
Like many women in bad relationships, I exercised cognitive bias for over forty years, focusing on his good qualities, the reasons I loved him, swept away the reality of his coldness, infidelities and emotional abuse. It’s how we stay in a bad relationship. My mom used to say, “You see what you look for.” I looked for the good.
After I left him you bet I had to switch my focus. I still loved him, had to break the spell. I had to focus on the reasons I needed to leave and stay away, to not be drawn back in. It was damned time.
Any regrets about having left?
I sometimes regret that I didn’t leave 28 years ago, but then I’ll never know how much I’d have to regret now, if I had. It is what it is.
Maybe I’m not doing a good thing for my readers saying this, but I’m glad now that I didn’t know how hard that first 6 months would be. But am glad I did it…now know I was strong enough to do it and so are they.
NO. I don’t regret leaving Brad. It took me a long time to regain the pieces of myself I’d scattered over all the years, but they’re coming together. Not bitter, but wiser. That’s the objective.
You’re divorced and single. Are you dating? Are you looking for a man to spend your life with?
I am getting out there in Meetup groups, with new friends, and dating. I do fantasize about being held, loved, made love to. But I threw out the three-date rule. I am dating, having fun, making friends, but when I decide to become intimate with a man, I’ll clear the bench. Want to be exclusive. Not part of a harem or a sleep-around.
In the meantime, I go dancing, sailing, watch sunsets, and am getting to know some great men. Am I close? Not at the moment, but if lightning strikes, I’m grounded and ready.
How would you describe your life now? And what are you most looking forward to?
I go to bed content and wake up grateful for a great night’s sleep. I drew an audible breath and had a shiver of excited anticipation this morning when I was told I’d be able to open and see my new website by the end of the week.
I love that new milestones excite me, that I feel untethered, that possibilities are endless. I’m not afraid of the challenge. I’m over-the-top excited about my book coming out.
Make it or not, I’m proud and happy to have finished and seen it to publication. I look forward to working on the novels I wrote years ago again. I am a writer and a businesswoman. It feels good to say that aloud.