Dear Suzie, My story happened like textbook. He said he loved me, but he left me flat when his wife found out about us. Now he doesn’t return calls and he blocks all my emails. I am devastated. I feel like the bottom fell out of my world. I know what we had was real. How could he just walk away? I know it’s about the children… but what about us? My heart hurts and I ache in a million places. I know I need to move on, but I can’t seem to get past the feeling of anger that she gets to win, just because she has his children. How do I get past this?
I think I understand how you might feel. Last night, my daughter walked into the kitchen while I was on the phone talking to her dad. He was in the middle of telling me something funny, and I was laughing my head off. So when she tugged on my arm and said, “I need to talk to you, Mommy,” I brushed her off and said, “Not now, Sydney, I’m talking to Daddy.” Without paying it a second thought, I went back to the phone call. From my periphery, I noticed her body language — the sagging shoulders, the pout, the sense of sadness, and how she just kind of threw her body on the couch, and laid there like Gumby. So, I quickly got off the call because it occurred to me there was more going on than I first thought. As I approached the couch, the giant tears were a dead giveaway
I don’t know if you have children yourself, but here’s the thing:
When your child cries… it has a way of slowing down the world around you.
And when my daughter cries, it’s not the loud wailing type of cry that comes with a lot of tears running down the cheeks. Nope. Instead, her cry is more of the silent type, with huge clear liquid drops that crawl slowly and with much reluctance down her cheeks before making a giant splash on the front of her shirt. I swear, if you were to catch one of these teardrops in your hand, you could see the reflection of your entire head in it.
I’ve always felt like I would be better prepared to handle raging tears, but these slow creepers tug at my heart so deeply, I find it hard to breathe when I see them.
“What’s wrong, sweet girl?” I asked gently.
“I have a big problem,” she told me. “I just got my feelings hurt, and I wanted to talk to you about it and you ignored me, and then I got my feelings hurt even more.” (More giant tears.)
“I’m so sorry, Sydney. I had no idea you needed my attention right away. Remember, we talked about the fact that Mommy can’t read your mind, and so it’s important that you use your words?”
“Yes,” she said, “but I did tell you I wanted to talk to you, and you didn’t listen to me. And then you started laughing, and it felt like you were laughing at me.”
Now, at this point, I had a choice.
I could continue to invalidate her perspective on what just happened.
I could say, “No, that’s not exactly what happened.” and I could retrace our steps, and give her the same situation from my perspective and insist that the way I saw it was closer to reality.
And that’s exactly what I almost did.
Until I remembered that she said she had gotten her feelings hurt before she walked in the door. So maybe this wasn’t really what it was about. I had to back up the timeline in order to discover what I was really dealing with.
“Well,” I said, “I’m very sorry about that. I was laughing at something Daddy said, not at you. If I had known your feelings were hurt, I would have probably put that conversation off and come right over here and asked you to tell me what’s going on.”
“But since I didn’t do it then, can you allow me to do it now? What’s going on? How did you get your feelings hurt?”
Then she proceeded to tell me what was really going on. Here’s the story in a nutshell:
She has two friends, Paige and Pooja.
Paige leaves every summer to visit her father in Nebraska.
While she’s away…
Sydney and Pooja decided they would become each other’s best friend.
Now, it’s the end of summer and Paige has returned, only to discover these two have now formed an exclusive bond that she’s been left out of.
So, Paige decides to do something about it. She pulls Pooja to the side and complains to her, “You shouldn’t be playing with Sydney so much because we were friends long before she moved here. I want you to play with me more.” And apparently, Sydney overheard this… and got her feelings hurt.
Without saying a word to the other girls, she got on her scooter and rode home, hurt and upset.
When I asked Sydney…
“What is it about the incident that’s causing the most upset?”
She said, “It’s because Paige is trying to take Pooja away from me.”
And then I asked her, “Well, what would it mean if Paige takes Pooja away from you?”
She said, “It would mean I wouldn’t have a best friend any more, and I love to play with Pooja the best. It’s not the same with anyone else.” (Now the tears are coming down faster and faster, the shoulders are slumped, lips are quivering, and the pain and hurt is written all over her face.)
Of course, as a mother, my heart is aching.
I struggle to remain objective and I fail. A part of me (the emotional part) wants to march down to Paige’s house and say to her, “Hey, little miss, get your own best friend.” But another part (the more evolved and rational part) was asking this question:
What’s the real lesson here? (I firmly believe that everything that happens, happens FOR us.)
So how could I use this teaching opportunity to be a better mother?
The funny thing about the brain is that it works like a computer. It always gives you the exact answer for the exact question you put to it. It never fails.
And in a flash, a thought occurred to me!
It’s time to tell Sydney the true and unedited version of the Cinderella fairy tale.
So I asked her, “Do you remember that fairy tale about Cinderella? The girl with the wicked stepmother and the three mean stepsisters?”
“Yes,” she said.
“And do you, by any chance, remember the names of the three wicked stepsisters?”
After thinking about it for a while…
“No,” she answered.
“That’s OK,” I told her, “Because in most fairy tales, their names are never mentioned. But their real names are Envy, Jealousy, and Possessiveness. But because fairy tales are pointers, the wicked stepsisters weren’t really people but qualities that every Cinderella has to deal with in life. You met two of them today.”
“Which two do you think you met today?”
“I don’t know,” she said.
“Well,” I said. “If you think about it, weren’t Paige and Pooja best friends before we moved to this neighborhood?”
“Yes,” she said in a very small voice.
“So before you showed up, they used to play a lot together, and now that’s changed for Paige. Now she doesn’t have anyone to play with. How do you think she feels about that?”
“She’s hurt.” (Sydney’s listening more now.)
“Exactly. And what is the name of the hurt people feel when they’re afraid of being left out?”
“Jealousy?” she said.
“Yes, and what do you think jealousy is made up of?”
“Being afraid?” she said.
“Yes,” I agreed, “jealousy is mostly about fear. And what about that second stepsister? Which do you think it was?”
“Possessiveness?” she said tentatively.
“Yes,” I said, “but on who’s part?”
“Mine?” she asked.
“Exactly. And what is possessiveness made up of?”
“Being afraid,” she said.
“You’re right about that. So when you think about it, both you, and Paige, are dealing with the same thing… fear. On the one hand, Paige is afraid of being left out. And on the other hand, you’re afraid of losing a best friend. Now, here’s the thing about possessiveness. It always comes from confusion — the confusion between things that can be owned, and things that are just on loan to us. Only objects can be owned. People cannot be owned.
“Think about it this way…
“The things you buy at the store are objects. You own them. However, people are more like books you borrow from a library; you don’t own them. They’re not yours, and they’re not your possessions.
“This is true for everybody in your life. Nobody belongs to us; they’re all on loan to us. Like books you borrow from God’s library.
“That’s why every friendship is a gift to be cherished, and not a prize to be competed for. Neither you nor Paige can own Pooja’s friendship. Her friendship is a gift that you appreciate.
“Now, do you think you could find a way to include Paige more, now that you know that it’s fear of being left out that’s causing her pain?”
“I guess I could,” she said. (By now, about 15 minutes have passed. The tears are gone. The energy is back. And she’s off the couch… putting on her helmet.)
“OK, Mommy, I’m going back to play now.”
With that… she dashed out the door, and I went upstairs to my office to answer your question and share this same lesson with you.
You might also be experiencing some confusion of terms. Let’s take a look at a few of them.
You haven’t lost, because he wasn’t an object to be competed for. He is a living, breathing, sentient being — not an object or a prize to be won or lost. Put the idea of winning and losing people out of your mind. It’s illogical.
Letting go is a key life skill. Because every relationship is temporary, learning to let go is an important life skill. It seems to me this experience brings you a valuable opportunity to practice that skill.
We’re all on a collision course with goodbye. Why? Because anything that has a beginning must also have an ending. You don’t have to feel envy, anger, or jealousy towards anyone. We’re all on a collision course with loss, pain, and separation. I suggest you bless him. Bless her. Bless their family. And move on.
Here are my final thoughts:
The end of the affair is not the end, it’s actually a door opening to a new life. Therefore, it’s OK to close that chapter of your life, because the book of your life has many more chapters.