Posted by: itneverrainsinseattle | March 3, 2010

Exorcising the Ghosts

“How much you holding back on me,
When you say you’re giving all?
And in the dungeons of your mind,
Who you got chained to the wall?”

–Kenny Rogers and the First Edition

As I’ve gained resolve and conquered my fear of divorce, I’ve felt less inclined to continue excavating the details of how Penny and I ended up in our current situation. I’ve become more focused on how best to proceed (so as to make for the best possible future); trotting out the past to see how it looks hasn’t seemed as pressing.

Plus, as I mentioned in my post regarding my former roommate (the “Southern Gentleman” who wooed Penny away from me, leading to our big break-up all those years ago), I haven’t been eager to spend much more mental energy (or blog space) on that particular individual… and, continuing the story of Penny’s and my break-up would require giving him some air time.

When I wrote the post that described how I met him, I blurted out a couple of expletives (actually, far fewer than I might have a few years ago), and I briefly agonized over whether to leave them in. I decided to leave them in because, well, they came from an honest place even though they also revealed an ugly side of me. The side of me that hadn’t let go of that hurt.

The comments on that post have come in slowly compared to other posts, but they bring home a point that I agree with. The truth is, once I took out my history with the Southern Gentleman pre-break-up, I think it helped me to let go. That last line was like sucking up and spitting out some of the last of the venom that’s been festering in my mind all this time.

As commenters have noted (and as friends of mine “in real life” have pointed out), I shouldn’t be blaming him, I should be blaming Penny. The thing is… I’m not about blame. That’s not who I am. I am about responsibility. And when you get right down to it, I’ve always carried the responsibility of the break-up and the aftermath on me. Penny is responsible for her own actions, sure, and she is reaping the consequences of them now. But likewise, I’m responsible for mine, and am also reaping the consequences now.

But with regard to my former roommate, while it wasn’t about blame, I was nonetheless angry with him. Have been angry with him. Very angry, and for a long time. Blame? Responsibility? Those don’t enter into it. Emotions are what they are, and I’ve been mad. I felt betrayed by him. And with that post, I think I passed a major milestone on the road of letting go.

“Yes, but what about Penny?” Indeed, what about Penny? I’ve already told part of that story, and I’ll likely end up telling the rest. I’ve been spending over a dozen years processing what’s between Penny and me. I’ve spent the same amount of time not processing my anger at my former roommate. Anger doesn’t get me where I want to go. Better to just ignore it and let it go away, no?

In part of his comment on the post, Santaslil wrote:

“The clear hostility and resentment is understandable, but clearly many emotions have been left unprocessed inside you. This all should have been aired, hung to dry and put away when you got back together with Penny. It seems to me this never took place.” — Santaslil

Yes. I did what I could to air and put away what I could at the time. Turns out, though, that a great deal was “left unprocessed”, and now when I take it out of the trunk, it’s kinda moldy and stale. But just the act of starting to write it down has helped me in the process of letting go. And with regard to what should have happened when I got back together with Penny, well… there’s a lot of should haves that just never happened at all.

While this past weekend saw Penny and me taking another step toward a potentially good divorce, it was nonetheless a troubling weekend for me because I’ve been thinking a lot about our break-up all those years ago, and how catastrophically badly I handled it all. I’m not the same person now I was then, and I’m embarrassed as hell by the temporary insanity that gripped me during that period of my life.

And I don’t want to write about it.

And yet… if I’m going to clear the air and make sure I never repeat those mistakes….

So yes, that post made it sound like I blame the Southern Gentleman. I don’t blame him. But I was very angry at him. And now, sad to say, I’m mad at myself for letting things happen the way they did. I’m mad at myself for allowing the break-up to come up at all, and for being such a petulant baby about it afterwards. I’m mad at myself for taking Penny back afterwards, knowing full well that she still had issues of her own to deal with.

Oh, when I tell you that part of the story, about what happened when we first got back together…. [shudder]. I was such a fucking fool. And frankly, so was she. The Southern Gentleman was merely a hypocrite and an opportunist.

As I mentioned in a prior post, Penny had told me on Thanksgiving, 1996 that I was being a neglectful boyfriend, and that I needed to show her more attention or we would have to break up. Fine. I started showing her more attention. She pulled away. I showed her even more attention. She pulled back even further. And by New Year’s Eve, she broke up with me. By which point, I was fully locked into being the best boyfriend I could possibly be. I had tricked myself into falling in love with her.

What I didn’t know then, but would find out soon enough, was that my Southern Gentleman housemate had started wooing her before that Thanksgiving. And when Penny told me I needed to shape up, she fully expected me to opt for shipping out. And after that conversation, when I asked to get together with her, the reason she couldn’t was because she was that she already had plans. To be at my house. But in Southern Gentleman’s apartment, not mine.

But it turns out that she had to tell me she was seeing him, and she ended up doing so no more than a few days after New Year’s. Not because she figured I would eventually discover she was at my house visiting him. No.

You see, Penny was working for the company where I was a business partner. When she had returned to our city after grad school, she needed a job. And I knew that one of my business partners was looking for an assistant. Against my better judgement, I introduced them. He hired her. At first, no big deal — we were all working out of our respective homes, so she was not working in my home. But by this point, we finally had an office building and were all working together in one facility.

Oh, and one more thing. The Southern Gentleman? Yeah, we had hired him, too.

And we were all going together to a trade show in California in early January.

So she told me, a few days after breaking up with me, and a few days before flying out to California, that she and he were seeing each other, and would that be a problem? Because she didn’t want it to be a shock if I saw the two of them together.

I said, “No big deal.” But inside, my house of cards was imploding and giving my heart paper cuts. And that trade show, even as I attained one of my biggest professional victories, was one of the most painful experiences of my life.



  1. When I went though therapy after my breakup, I asked myself (and my therapist) why I hadn’t dealt with some of the stuff that was coming up for over 20 years. Or at least, I had dealt with it – over and over again in fact – but never really taken the full blow and put it to rest. And she told me I should give myself a break, because the fact is, we’re wired for survival and I hadn’t been ready. You did the best you could at the time, and you’ve obviously been part-processing ever since, and now you’re ready to really feel it and process it and move on. That’s great news, but don’t beat yourself up about the past. You’re not the guy you were then. And, as Maya Angelou puts it, ‘when you knew better, you did better’. Now you know better, you’ll do better.

  2. Sigh… I keep mentioning fraud, and here you go. She lied to you; you bought it hook, line and sinker, and it got you this. I’m glad you’ve brought this to the light because it WILL be important the next time. When you’re dating someone new who asks something of you (or we’ll break up) and then rejects your giving it, you’ll see the red flag you avoided with Penny. This is why you bring the moldy crap out of the closet. You want them cleaned out to make room for the next person.

    … and because I’m judgmental… what a “punt” (only with a c). I respect her less because she didn’t have the balls to break up with you honestly and then quit. I think you had two people who lacked honor… PUNT.

  3. Letting go of the “should ofs” and “what ifs” will give you enormous peace. Know also that you are who you are today for all of your experiences.

  4. Your response of “No Big Deal” is interesting. I wonder why people so often hide their pain from others, especially those who are the source of that pain. Were you trying to protect her, even as she screwed you over? Was it a pride thing– not giving her the satisfaction of knowing she’d hurt you? Trying to take the high road? Professionalism?

    Your response is not atypical, but I, personally, would have let her know how much of a problem I had with the arrangement– but then I tend to be a martyr like that.

  5. Writing is such a helpful way to process and get things out. it has made a world of difference for me and my growth. As with you, it has taken a long time of denial, or at least consiously avoiding. But we are doing it now and that is all that matters.

  6. Inris, Diary of a Divorced Guy wrote a similar post today about anger:

  7. wow…that is INSANE. i can’t imagine being on that trade show…

    i understand that writing all this out is hard, but i hope it’s also being therapeutic in some way. i realize i prodded you for the info–mostly because i was always wondering what happened…i’m nosy like that.

    but if it is TOO hard for you, i’ll be ok. no worries.

    whatever works best for YOU!

  8. It is so interesting to hear the rest of this story slowly unfold, the backstory, if you will, and your hindsight looking back now, than when you were going through it. You can already tell you are learning a lot about what went wrong, learning to accept some of the blame and letting go of some of the anger and frustration. Great post.

  9. Itneverrains, better late than never! No matter how long ago this took place, you have isolated the event that set off the chain reaction of what is today a total disaster.

    Often we men [and will restrict this to men only because it is my experience as a man in break ups] otherwise full of confidence, are thrown into shock after a break up. The extent to which you’ve compromised your individuality in the relationship will determine the severity of the shock.

    Your pursuit of Penny in the months prior to your break up could only have done one thing. Push her away. Nothing more repulsive than a partner reeking of neediness, and lacking confidence to justify leaving them behind. She could have you, so she left you.

    She then gets involved with a colleague and a direct report to you. She either was incredibly naive for a full grown woman, or has a knack for amoral behavior of the cruelest kind. Neither of these was good. She the chooses to stay not too far away from you [the under satement of the decade].

    What is unique about your story Neverrains is, that you succeeded where many of us men fail. You got your girl back, and you married her. You my friend are a success story. You are Da Man, the alpha man. But what happened?

    Penny should have come back to you because her attraction for you was reignited not because you provided or offered for what she “needed” to have in a boyfriend. If in the process for getting her back, She got the impression that having her back at all cost was all you needed, then from the start the relationship was based on what she needed, and not what you wanted [or what she wanted for that matter]. Your need for Penny was only increased by not only loosing her to another man, but to a colleague. It is possible your pursuit of Penny was driven purely by the pain of rejection.

    Again You succeeded where many of us have failed but you could have improved on the process to ensure Penny really consider her true feelings for you, instead of taking you back for convenience [keeping the job?].

    To Snark B’s point, You could have accepted the break up as you did but ask Penny to leave [Yes fire her]. It represented a conflict of interest, specially if she dates Jeepers Creeper [Alias Southern Gentleman], also a direct report to you. You also put him on notice, Penny is fired, explain the reason, and ask him he can claim conscientious objector status leave the battle field now, or behave like a man and stop sticking his willie in the payroll for good [for future Reference Jeepers, nothing against your vices, but this is a business and it shall be respected!].

    Had Penny wanted you back [and usually the signal is a request for friendship but there are many variations for this ruse, for both male and female dumpers] this scenario would have forced her to face her own demons, accept her mistakes, her own crass behavior and ultimately evaluate her true feelings for you. Your role was to do the same, but ultimately decide if you would want her back in your life.

    Fast forward to the day after the marriage ceremony, You are happily married. You two as two consenting adult wanted to get married and did. At some point two things should have been discussed. One, clear her affair (because practically it was one) and your feelings Neverrain about how it made you feel (the trip to CA), you then of common agreement forgive and move on basing your relationship on what you want from the other, not what you need.

    Regardless of how you and Penny came to marry one essential aspect of your unhappy life together remains unchanged: The right you each have to have what you want from the partnership and ask for it, and your responsibility to give and contribute to what the other wants. You committed? You give, and if you can’t or don’t know how? You ask for instructions to the other sentient being, chances are he or she knows!

    Again you’ve risen to the occasion and you have been asking Penny for years for what you want, She simply has not provided. Jeepers Creeper or not, misperception of you being needy after the break up or not, it is her duty as your wife of ten years to have listened and provided. She has failed and you want a Divorce. Fair enough if you ask me.

    I think you’ve done a remarkable job of navigating and negotiation obstacles in your relationship & marriage and have held up your end of your bargain. Rather than point my finger with my comments I simply intended to point to the fact that even in exceptional cases such as yours, when one partner is fully equipped and willing to deal with challenges, if the other partner has unresolved issues the relationship will not be viable. And Yes, from now on you tell Penny what you want, what you think, and why. This is your new life on your terms. The life you have always wanted.

  10. I’m going to tell you the same thing I told Sam last night. He’s holding onto a lot of guilt, a lot of regret for what he put me and the kids through. And I told him to let it go. I think it was best expressed in Under The Tuscan Sun…

    “Regret is the past’s way of crippling us in the present.”

    The past doesn’t matter. What matters is now and what you do with it.

    Let it go and get on living. Big hugs.

    Know that I’m thinking of you.

  11. I can relate to much of this – as well as the feelings. I know you haven’t been reading me long but my divorce is the result of my “best-friend” and husband’s affair. It was a huge betrayal by both of them and I am also certain it was what she set out to do when I met her. My husband and I were both her pawns to achieving her ultimate goal. They have been together ever since and now this calculating, manipulative woman is my children’s stepmother as well as the instigator of all the legal issues I continue to face all these years later. My ex is not blameless but like you said, it’s not really about blame but responsibility. He has abandoned his while dumping a shitload more on me and she accepts none, of course. It’s just something I’ve had to learn to live with because I cant change it and yeah, sometimes it sucks more than others. It is a process though. Hang in there.

  12. We have to give ourselves a break. We are human. It is so easy to look back now and say I should have done this or that. But we did the best we could at the time and with what information we had . We can all sit and point fingers months later. We are all working on letting it go right now.

  13. Um, wow. I want to hit my head on this glass coffee table on your behalf. I agree with Suzanne’s “analysis” (and normally I object vehemently to the use of the “c” word).

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