My parents are divorced, and have been for quite some time now. I don’t have much of a problem with it anymore, except for the fact that my dad doesn’t respect my mom. He treats her like what she has to do and how she lives her life no longer matters. When we go to his house, it’s just like we’re staying with mom again because he dumps us onto her because he has to go to a dinner with his girlfriend. And here comes the second problem. My dad’s girlfriend. Well, NEW girlfriend. Let’s start simple for now. We’ll call my dad’s first girlfriend Red, and his new one Blue.
Red was very emotionally abusive to my 9-year-old brother and my 14-year-old self. She called us names, called us ungrateful, and every compliment and gift were minefields for us. We met her when I was 9, and my brother was 4. We didn’t have a great impression at first, since my dad took us to her house, introduced us, and forced us to sleep in her 9-year-old son’s room on the floor. I offered to let us sleep on the couch or Red’s 6-year-old daughter’s floor, but she insisted. After five years of putting up with her and going to therapy, I finally voice my opinion that I dislike her. So what does she do when she gets into a fight with my dad? Leaves and blames it on my brother.
Red is gone now, and we haven’t seen her in five months. It is emotionally relieving and my brother has started to gain his own voice. The catch of the situation is that my dad immediately started dating Blue once Red was gone. He told us a while later and introduced my brother to her. He also introduced my mom. I, however, am refusing to meet her. I had such a bad experience with Red that I’m afraid the same thing could happen to Blue. She’s already given me gifts and written me a letter saying how excited she is to meet me. She said that she respects my decision and will wait as long as I want to until we meet. I’m not sure I ever want that day to come. Am I being selfish for not wanting to meet her? Is there any way I could convince or help my dad learn how to respect my mom more? And is there any way I could take my fear of Red out of my opinion of Blue?
I can certainly think of one way, Sparkler! But I must warn you, you’re not going to like it.
Because if there’s one thing that’ll prove to you immediately and concretely that Blue isn’t just Red 2.0, it’s meeting her in person.
Which is why your refusal to let that happen isn’t necessarily selfish, per se, but it is self-sabotaging. You’re denying yourself the one thing that might actually give you some peace of mind, and dwelling on an imaginary nightmare scenario in a way that simply doesn’t serve you. (Not to mention that these women are two entirely different people, and blaming Blue for Red’s bad behavior isn’t exactly fair to anyone.) And look, sweet pea: Ultimately, this is your call. In fact, one of the more encouraging things about your letter is that all the adults involved are apparently giving you the space to work through this on your own. But considering that your current approach is doing nothing to make you feel better or decrease your fear of this woman, I have to suggest that you shore up your courage and get past it sooner rather than later. I promise, you’ll feel better once you do. At the very least, you’ll have a real, actual human to replace the monster you’ve made up in your head—and even if IRL Blue isn’t exactly your favorite person, she also can’t possibly be as terrible as the boogeyman you imagine.
However, before you do that, there’s something I suspect you’ll need to do first: namely, recognize the limits of your control vis-a-vis your parental relationships, and particularly the part where their relationship with each other is just not yours to interfere with. If your dad doesn’t seem especially interested in or respectful of your mom anymore, then yes, that completely sucks—but it’s something that happens when people divorce. (It might even be one of the reasons why they split up in the first place.) The fact that their marriage ended means that something wasn’t working there to begin with, and if it’s continuing not to work now that they’re apart, then that’s unfortunate, but not surprising. Not every relationship between exes is easy, friendly, or even fair. And while you can and should speak up if, say, your dad talks about your mom to you in a way you find upsetting, you’re also going to need to make peace with a certain amount of imperfection in the way they relate to each other—which, for what it’s worth, is probably what they’ve done themselves. The way they feel isn’t something they can change; they can only do their best to deal with it.
Meanwhile, your parents have almost certainly made mistakes, and will continue to make them. There’s no manual for this stuff, and it’s really, really hard. But there’s also a lot in your letter to suggest that they’re doing their best, and that the best thing you can do is let them. You know that they want to see you coping as well as you can (see: sending you to a therapist); you know that you’ll be listened to when you raise concerns (see: your dad’s relationship with Red); you know you have a choice over how and when you meet your dad’s new girlfriend. And that’s encouraging, darling. It says you’re supported and safe, and that your feelings are being respected.
It also suggests that in the unlikely event your dad’s new girlfriend turns out to be the literal devil, you’ll be safe to express your concerns and have them taken seriously, which means that you have nothing to lose by meeting her and seeing what she’s like.
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