There’s a phrase I love about pointless arguments: “Never play chess with a pigeon: the pigeon just knocks all the pieces over, then shits all over the board, then struts around like it won.”
Looking back on some of my recent communication with E, it seems strangely appropriate.
These days communication between E and me is by email only. This pretty much means that I contact him only when I absolutely have to (and usually only when it’s pretty urgent). He then replies in his own sweet time. He ignores any emails I send about money for a minimum of a week, prompting me to email again, and again, until he eventually sends a massively patronising reply, telling me how extremely busy and important he is and how demanding I am. By contrast, I tend to respond to his emails immediately. This is because, on the very rare occasions he bothers to contact me, it’s about the kids, and, tempted though I am to not reply and give him a taste of his own medicine, I can’t bring myself to be that petty.
As my emails are usually about money, his lack of response causes me huge distress. The worst thing is that I can only assume that the delay is deliberate. He was in a relationship with me for 25 years and knows exactly how worried I get about money. He knows how deeply his not replying to emails about money upsets me. On top of that, his standard response re how busy he is (too busy to bother with me), deliberately highlights how unimportant I am to him and how little respect he has for me.
E has a huge salary by most people’s standards, but he also has massive debts, which means lots of his monthly income is tied up in debt repayments. As a result, when he left, I requested only the money I absolutely needed to cover the mortgage, the bills, the insurance, some money for the kids (things like music lessons and some cash to help Oldest Daughter through University). My salary (which equates to less than 15% of his) has to cover food, clothes, holidays, Christmas, school stuff, personal spending and all other expenses for the five of us. His contribution, whilst substantial (thanks largely to the fact we have a huge mortgage), does not allow for things like maintaining and decorating our house or unexpected expenses like calling an emergency plumber when the boiler packs in.
Now, I have no idea what his new life with P is costing, but I’m guessing that a Florida wedding, complete with two wedding dresses and close family guests (her close family, not his obvs), a trip to Singapore together this summer and a two-bedroom flat in Canary Wharf don’t come cheap. I’m also sure that, if you add that to his debts and his existing financial commitments to his kids, he’s pretty tied up financially, but I think you’ll forgive me when I say, I don’t have much sympathy. Even with his debts he earns enough to support his kids; it’s the new life that he’s chosen that’s leaching what left of his money.
As summer approached, Oldest Daughter needed some help financially. She’s pretty good at sticking to her budget at University (or at least staying within her overdraft limit), but she had £1,500 of unexpected money to find at the end of the year because she had to pay rent on the house she’ll be living in next year from July – September (she had to sign up for a year’s rental). She can only manage to eke out her student loan until the end of the June and her next loan payment isn’t until the end of September, so she was pretty stuck. I managed to find the first £500 (using my overdraft), but there was no way I could fund any more. So, towards the end of July, I began the long-process of emailing E to ask if he could help.
My first email pointed out that the money I had requested when he left only covered the essentials and that I had no room for extra payments like this. I also mentioned that my own earning capacity was limited – because I’d given up my career for 20 years to bring up our children and support him in his (I can’t even begin to imagine how easy it is to build a successful career if you never have to give up any time at all, ever, in the whole of that career, for childcare for your four children?) and that I couldn’t afford to take the kids on holiday this year, I reminded him that I still needed a car and that buying one would add to my expenses and mentioned all the things that needed doing to the house that I had no funds for. Whilst I was admittedly a little sarcastic about the fact that he and P currently had our seven seat car (and how much they must need it in London, that well known place of *No Public Transport*), the email was polite and calm, there was no reason to ignore it.
Obviously, he didn’t reply. So, five days later I emailed again. I told him how distressing it was that he wouldn’t reply re the money (we were facing being unable to afford Oldest Daughter’s rent at this point, we were pretty desperate). I also mentioned that Oldest Son’s birthday was coming up in a few days and I was unsure as to how I could afford it. I also mentioned that my income was likely to go down in the future (because of my struggle with depression, I am having to reduce my hours for a little while) and I said that I’ve never asked him for anything for me personally and pointed out that it was his decision to start a new life and that it wasn’t his kids fault he’s walked out of his old one. This email was slightly more sarcastic than the first one, but, it was still polite (which, under the circumstances, was I think very good of me).
Again. No response.
My third email was slightly brusquer (although I stayed the right side of polite)…..
Email number four – sent nine days after the original – was slightly snappier – pointing out that it was Oldest Son’s birthday within days and outlining (again) out all the extra expenses I had coming up
Finally, the next day, I got a reply.
His opening gambit was:
“Firstly, sorry if you think I have been ignoring your emails. Quite the contrary. Not responding is not the same as ignoring.”
Well, I’m glad we’ve established that. Because, it might just be me, but I find it really difficult to tell if someone is ignoring me or ‘not responding’ to me when they don’t answer my emails for weeks at a time.
The rest of his email was about how much he paid me already and how he’d cleared *my* debts last year (this would be the loan I took out to support us until we received the legal settlement payment, expenses incurred for work on the house and the costs for the Singapore trip with the kids that we’d already agreed to).
“Regarding Oldest Daughter, I agreed to give her £250 towards Budapest. I agreed that ages ago. I asked her (several times) to send me her bank details so I could forward the money, and never got a response. In fact, the only response to anything I have had from Oldest Daughter in recent weeks was a complaint (well several actually) and a refusal to see me while she is back home. But, despite this, I said I would send this money so if I can have her bank details I will send it asap.”
Now, I can’t imagine Oldest Daughter “complaining” about anything to him, her communication with her Dad has been too limited for her to complain about anything, but I’m pretty sure she’s very capable of pointing out his character flaws when required, so I’m guessing that was what he was talking about. I also know she refuses to see him (I think the conversation C and M had in the bar with him and P and his failure to address it with her was the final straw). However, the bit about this sentence that concerned me were the weasel words “despite this”. He was happy to help her despite the fact she’s complained and she won’t see him? Does this mean that his future help is dependent upon her being nice to him?
One part of the email made me laugh out loud though. Youngest Daughter had responded to Oldest Daughter’s distress re her rent payments, by contacting her Dad for the first time in months. She sent a deliberately silly/funny/quite rude text, (I suspect to get his attention for herself as much as for her sister). Predictably (and upsetting her further) he completely ignored it. She showed it to me after she’d sent it, and whilst her language was a bit ripe, it made me laugh too. His response to this was:
“Youngest Daughter. I can’t see the point in saying much (especially to her directly) as I suspect anything I say will only make matters worse, but she sent me a text (first contact in ages) over the weekend which read as follows (apologies if you have already seen it):
“Yo fuck-Nut you payed dat 500 pound over to your own fucking kid. I’m going to keep this message going until I know you have payed that 500 dumb dumb”
At the time I had no idea what it meant. I can only now assume that she is asking whether I have paid money for Oldest Daughter’s rent. If I am missing something and you know different, please tell me.”
The fact that he couldn’t “see the point” in responding to her (she is utterly desperate for some love and approval from her Dad), made me very sad, but the fact that he was so censorious about her text, that he completely missed her humour, that he didn’t appreciate her staunch defence of her big sister and didn’t find the sheer ‘teenage-ness’ of the text funny, made me laugh (in fact, I’m now seriously considering starting all future correspondence to him with “Yo fuck-Nut”).
In the last part of his reply, he finally agreed to help with Oldest Daughter’s rent (whilst emphasising again how extremely difficult this was for him), he also said:
“The only joint item I took was the car, and even that is now up for discussion.”
I’m not sure if this was meant to make me feel sorry for him, or even guilty for putting so much financial pressure on him, but the fact is that he was welcome to almost any of our joint things (such as they are – we don’t actually jointly own anything expensive or desirable). Our furniture is old and cat-scratched, our crockery is chipped, I often joke about the fact that I’ve got nothing of value in the house because I have (and I prefer) cats and kids. He could have had a TV, a table, bookshelves, a couple of sofas, bedding, some pots, pans, plates or cutlery. He didn’t take, or ever ask to take, any of those things (I assume they’ve used P’s stuff, or bought new stuff on credit, for their flat). The car was literally the only joint thing that I needed. I was gobsmacked – he seemed to think that taking the car was a completely reasonable thing to do given that he’d taken nothing else…. How on earth did he expect me to get the kids anywhere? For the last 18 months we’ve managed with walking and cabs where necessary, but I’ve had to rely on friends for lifts to important hospital appointments and places that aren’t on public transport links, whilst all the time, our family car has been parked at his new flat in London. I tried really, really, hard, but I couldn’t see how this could ever be a reasonable scenario.
At this point I remembered the pigeon analogy and realised that there was very little point in trying to reason with him or being distracted by his strutting. If you travel down the rabbit hole and into the Wonderland reality of E’s life, his behaviour is perfectly reasonable. His view of his conduct, like his view of his affairs, is clearly that it is perfectly reasonable. I can put forward all the rational arguments I like as to why my view of our reality is correct, but it will get me nowhere. He’s too busy shitting on the chessboard to pay any attention.