Empathy for the Devil


My friend Jane, who was raised by a Dorothy Parker-esque emotionally abusive alcoholic single mother and was functionally bonkers for years before she found Alanon, once mused that Prince must be in a lot of pain since he felt compelled to pulverize people–namely this people–who didn’t see things his way.  She suggested that I light a candle for him.

I found this infuriating.

Then I went to my therapist, who I can no longer afford to see because I am clavicle-deep in legal fees.  She told me to imagine Prince “in the light,” and that doing so might make him soften towards me.

I found this infuriating, and also kooky.

But perhaps worth a try. Or so I’ve been thinking lately. Obsessing about where Prince’s next dastardly curveball will be coming from,  or if I will develop rickets, or a tumor, or some other horrible stress-related affliction that will further deplete my pocketbook, does me absolutely no good.

This morning I was talking to Sophia Van Buren, who writes an excellent blog about being a non-custodial mother. She told me she decided to give her vengeful ex full physical custody because she didn’t want to hate him more than she loved her kids.

While I’m not nearly as evolved as Sophia, and I don’t know if I will ever feel strong enough to shrug off the stigma surrounding non-custodial mothers, I know this: I love my kids more than I’m mad at my ex.

So with that sentiment in my mind, I’m going to shine a little Empathy Light on Prince.

  1. He is the original Poor Little Rich Boy. His parents were more like Domestic CEOs than a mom and dad. He was raised by revolving nannies, given every material object his heart desired, and essentially ignored.
  2. He comes from a long line of wildly successful men, and wildly social-maven women. Since the moment he burst forth from the womb, he has been burdened with the expectation, and the pressure, to be an Uber-Success. And he’s not.
  3. He fields daily parental phone calls that resemble an Inquisition more than a conversation: What’s going on with his latest project? Why isn’t it further along? Is he aware that the living room rug doesn’t work at all? Is he playing tennis with the right people at the country club? And what happened to his serve, anyway? Does he understand that if he doesn’t use Rogaine every day he will end up with not one hair on his head?
  4. He spends most vacations with his parents, per their demand. Sure, he gets to go to fabulous resort locations, but only with his parents: King and Queen Machiavelli, who plan every meal and orchestrate every activity. There is no relaxing on these vacations. They are work. And they are yet another reminder that Prince will never get to become King.
  5. Prince’s parents are legendary for their cutthroated-ness. Wander outside their inner circle, and you’ll hear tale after tale of back-stabbing, undermining, ripping off other’s ideas. When Prince and I were married, Queen Machiavelli launched a lawsuit against an extended family member. The nuclear Machiavelli clan members relentlessly slandered this person, as if reading from the same script: that relative was “mentally ill!” “stupid!” “made bad decisions!” and was “an unfit parent!”–all allegations that Prince would later hurl at me. The point is, by becoming as cutthroat as his parents, Prince did what he had to do to survive. Any display of vulnerability was met with scorn. Any attempt he might have made to stand up to his parents, and he would have been destroyed.

Besides empathy, I owe Prince an amends. One afternoon shortly before our marriage blew up, I sat in my therapist’s office listing in minute detail all the things I hated about Prince. I said something to the effect of, “I love everything about my life but him.”

Over dinner that night, Prince said to me, “I feel like you love everything about your life but me.” I cringed. He then told me I must have accidentally hit the speed dial on my cell phone. When he answered his phone, he heard the entire therapy session. Every word.

I have often wondered how much that accidental phone call has fueled Prince’s rage over the years. Would we have had a kinder, gentler divorce if it had never happened?

Ultimately, I doubt it. Still, he didn’t deserve to hear me list the ways in which he made me miserable. (Even though he was miserable too). He didn’t need to hear me talk about how much happier I would be without him. The fact that the pain that I inflicted was unintentional didn’t make it less painful.

If I could talk to Prince, and if he could listen, I would tell him how sorry I am that I hurt him. I would tell him how much I wish I could take back what he heard. I would tell him that I can still remember the times, years ago, when he made me laugh, when he was both the object of my desire and my admiration, and when I couldn’t imagine my life without him.

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About perilsofdivorcedpauline

I am a survivor of a world-class gnarly divorce. My dastardly ex-husband is suing me for full custody of my son, and more time with my daughter. He’s super-rich and I’m super-not. You get the picture.
This entry was posted in Divorce, Custody, and Parental Alienation and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Empathy for the Devil

  1. Sophia says:

    Beautiful essay.

    I think many of us, while engulfed in pain, sorrow and anger, lash out at the person who “caused” it. It’s expected actually, in this society. I’ve been conditioned to think I’m weak if I don’t respond to my ex’s injustice towards me with guns blazing… But maybe, if instead of feeling defensive and ready to do battle, we take a moment, and like you, try to look at things from “the other guys” perspective, we might see things in a new light. Good for you for stepping back, and being empathetic of a guy who sounds like a volcanic asshole, but who you still have to parent with!

    By taking the high road, and distancing yourself from an angry or vengeful person, you are not only doing the right thing in the long run for your kids, but I think it takes a great weight off your own shoulders and heart. It’s better for your health. Emotional and physical.

    I feel sorry for your ex, and no matter how much money or social/business success he may aquire, it doesn’t sound like any of it is worth it. He sounds like he’s in constant turmoil.

    What a way to spend a life.

    • Thanks, Sophia. Practicing empathy where my ex is concerned is challenging, to the say the least, but I did notice that I felt slightly calmer after writing this. At the very least, it can’t hurt to send empathy waves out into the post-divorce universe.

  2. I find it so interesting that you blogged this today. I’ve felt this little, annoying tickle on the back of my neck for about two days that I owe my ex some thanks for all of this. There’s part of me that wants to say, “Hey, buddy — thanks for leaving me no choice but to leave you, because now my life is really, really cool.” It’s not all THAT cool yet, but you know what I mean. Without him, there’s no me-how-I-am-now. And that helps mitigate my anger at him sometimes.

    What didn’t help mitigate my anger at my ex was this email from him yesterday: “Sorry about the confusion…simply too much on plate with all the [sports] stuff going on, work and the kids. Not an excuse or sob story, I’m just under water.”
    It was really difficult to not get angry at that email since 1) he volunteered himself right out of the marriage by spending all his time on “sports stuff”, 2) work…work was the thing that took him up and left me at home all the time, and 3) he demanded to have the kids as much as he does because I wasn’t a “good enough” mother. I don’t feel sorry for him. Not one bit. Not after that.

    But I can be grateful, in calm moments, for the path (however painful). Karma may be a bitch, but I’d like to think she’s also running her fingers through my hair sometimes and whispering in my ear that I did okay.

    That’s what “lighting a candle” can do, I think.

    • Sports stuff? Like watching it on TV? Or is he in some kind of league?? Did he really say you were not a “good enough mother?” Ick.

      I am reminded of that line from whatever book I’m sure we all read in school: “It’s better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness.”

      True, but oh, so hard, especially when the Darkness is chomping at your heels.

  3. Pauline – This was beautifully written. I understand where you’re coming from and understand the feeling of calm after writing something like this. Totally get it.

    Jennifer – I’m going to make a t-shirt out of this line. No! I’m going to demand that Hallmark make a card with these words:
    “Hey, buddy — thanks for leaving me no choice but to leave you, because now my life is really, really cool.”

    Like you said, it’s not at all that cool yet, but it will be, girlfriend, it will be. For all of us…

  4. Carrie Ella says:

    I have found writing to be a profoundly therapeutic and healing exercise. It frees the mind and soul, enables us to analyze our own thoughts and behaviors, and then we gain the insight necessary to make amends when and where they’re needed as well as change our perspective going forward.

    While you may not believe you’re there yet, I’d say you’ve come a long way, baby. You sound pretty enlightened to me.

  5. Kalpana Misra says:

    Empathy for your ex brings about great changes in the way the divorce proceeds. It a Buddhist concept that I followed with awesome results. Its very difficult to do but it works. Congratulations. And thank you for writing such a beautiful post.

  6. AmyInOhio says:

    I’m late getting here…

    Just wondered if you ever did tell him any of this?

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