I haven’t met my ex-husband’s new girlfriend. In fact, I didn’t even know she existed until I learned about her through a third party, but that’s hardly unexpected. My ex wasn’t good at a lot of things, but he excelled at secrecy.
I imagine our relationship is somewhat of a difficult topic to bring up with a new romantic partner. “I choked my ex-wife,” isn’t a great conversation starter. Neither is “I regularly threatened to murder her,” or “it ended when she went to the police, even after I told her I’d kill our child if she did.”
But he has to have told her something, right? Some sort of version of events in which he emerges as the clear protagonist and I the spiteful villain? Some kind of spin on the classic tale of domestic violence wherein I was 1) asking for it, 2) making it all up, or 3) a typical “crazy woman,” like a narcissist’s choose-your-own-adventure where the ending always involves the reader feeling sorry for the heroic but tortured man who just needed the right woman to fix him (not me, obviously, but definitely her), the real princess who would tolerate his toxic flaws and thus save him from himself, Disney style.
Or maybe he told her nothing. Maybe he’s banking on our paths never crossing. But that’s far from a safe bet, given the protective orders and custody filings and messy legal proceedings that have ensured this abusive relationship, like many, will never really be over — only postponed indefinitely, limping along like some sort of zombie, collapsing only to be reanimated by some doomed third-tier character (A misguided former mother-in-law? A lawyer on retainer? A new girlfriend?), or more likely in the case of my ex, a depressive episode in his ongoing and inconsistently-treated bipolar disorder. Plus the whole “we-have-a-kid-together thing” he selectively forgets.
My ex has never been a truth-teller, nor one to volunteer information unprodded (there are no lies of omission in his world — cheating isn’t lying, after all, because I never asked if he were cheating). He’s also not one to apologize or accept blame. He was physically, verbally and emotionally abusive to me for a decade. In other words: not a great relationship resume.
So when I hear that he’s found a new partner, I admit to being curious. What kind of woman would be with a man like that?
I don’t have to know her name (which is great, because I don’t, and he certainly won’t tell me despite demanding the addresses, phone numbers and SSN’s of every acquaintance of mine who might share the same oxygen as our child) to know a few things about her.
If she’s the kind of woman that will let her boyfriend periodically go through her phone, even when he won’t allow her to be in the same room as his unsupervised, she’s probably unwaveringly loyal to her romantic partners and trusting of them in turn. Maybe she’s never cheated on someone in the past, no matter what. Regardless, she’s one hundred percent positive that she won’t be unfaithful in the present. She’s stalwart in relationships.
If she’s a woman who will watch as a full-grown man flies into a violent rage that can include property damage or physical abuse to her person (intentional or accidental), then comfort him afterwards with no expectation that he’d perform the same emotional labor for her, she’s undoubtedly a compassionate, empathetic human being with a tremendous amount of love to give. She may be altruistic, someone who loves selflessly and feels rewarded from the act of giving that love alone, regardless of the recipient’s capacity (or inclination) to return it.
If she’s a woman who fully understands the history and difficulties of the mental illness that her partner has, including his lifelong struggle to consistently treat it in a way that isn’t harmful or unduly burdensome to his loved ones, and she dates him anyway, she’s brave to an admirable degree. She’s likely more knowledgeable when it comes to mental health than the average person. Maybe she’s had struggles of her own, or helped loved ones who did. She’s probably got enough patience to warrant canonization.
If she’s the kind of woman who knows a man has done unforgivable things to other women in the past, but doesn’t believe he’ll do them to her, then she’s optimistic. Her worldview is a positive one. She believes that people are inherently good, that they can change, that they can improve upon their flaws and shape themselves into better versions of themselves than others have known. Maybe she has motivational cat posters covering every surface of her home.
In other words, if she’s willing to date the same person I did, she’s probably a lot like me.
She’s probably a genuinely good person who sees the best in others, no matter what. Such a positive outlook is worthy of praise, to be sure, but these are also the personality traits abusers know to seek out. A person is never abused by their partner because they weren’t a good enough girlfriend or boyfriend. On the contrary, it’s our best qualities that make us the best targets: patient, empathetic, kind, loving, forgiving.
Maybe my ex has changed. Maybe his new partner is dating someone completely different from the man I’ve known for most of my (and his) life. But as Matthew Wolfe writes in The Atlantic, most studies have shown that men who abuse cannot be rehabilitated, whether through men’s groups specifically designed for domestic violence perpetrators or traditional cognitive behavioral therapy.
Regardless, my ex has likely found in his new partner a unicorn, a diamond-in-the-rough, a resolute woman of tremendous patience and compassion and love.
I only hope she fares better than I did.
Abuse can come in many forms and from any type of person — regardless of gender or sexual orientation. If you feel that you may be in an abusive relationship, seek help. The National Domestic Violence Hotline can help victims and survivors of domestic violence. Call 1–800–799–7233 or chat with an advocate on their website. Click here for updated information on COVID-19 for survivors and victims of domestic violence.