The Very Strange Way I Met My Ex-Husband’s Girlfriend

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woman reading a book

My friends enter the restaurant in front of me. Suddenly, they scooch backward and turn to face me. I look beyond them and see my ex-husband and his girlfriend.

I’m not gonna lie.

I need a minute to collect myself. Not because I am bothered by seeing them but because this moment has finally arrived.

In many ways I am relieved. I want to meet her and get it over with. Let’s move on and co-exist.

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"We can sit somewhere else," my friends say.

"No," I say. "We are going in."

It’s odd to see my ex-husband with his arm around another woman but I feel nothing. No sadness, no pain, no nostalgia, no anger. I am emotionally flat-lined.

But it is weird. How could it not be? I’d been with him since I was nineteen.

I am determined to meet her despite them being oblivious to me.

It’s been tiresome avoiding my favorite Irish pub. The one that’s located in the town I grew up in. The town we raised our own children in. The place all three of our children worked at during high school and college. The place that went from being the first place my boys and I wanted to go to, to the place all four of us began to avoid.

And not just because my ex-husband brings his girlfriend there. But because he now frequents this particular venue four to five days a week.

But I am feeling good, no not good, great! Back to my old self.

The rose-colored glasses my marriage counselor told me had once turned black are returning to their flowery pink hue. 

If I meet her then my boys and I can go back to our old routine. No more avoidance. We don’t have to be besties. Just civil enough to wave at one another from across the room.

Finally, they walk past us and I can say hello. 

The exchange is uneventful. I can’t tell whether I am being well-received or ignored. Though I lean towards the latter.

But then in the world of you can’t make this stuff up, I run into her the next day.

She walks past me as we both enter a store.

Now I have a decision to make.

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Do I ignore her? And seem rude? Say something to her?

What’s the protocol for awkward encounters of the second kind? I believe she must have seen me because she walked behind and then around me. I call her name.

She turns and somehow doesn’t seem to recognize me.

"It’s Colleen," I say. "I met you last night."

Finally, a hint of recognition that she understands who I am.

"Isn’t this weird?" I ask. "So weird that we’ve never met and now we run into each other the next day? It’s like it was meant to be."

On a side note, they’ve been dating for about a year and a half so it was more than a coincidence to run into her the following day. But as my friend later says, "You talked to her like you ran into some old high school friend and probably overwhelmed her, haha."

My friend is right, again, I am happy to see her, ready to co-exist.

"Look," I say. "I grew up in that town and I’ve been avoiding going there because it would be awkward. I don’t have a problem with you. I would have no reason to."

We exchanged a few words and I will give her the privacy she deserves because it wasn’t unpleasant.

I honestly felt like it was a Godwink. A sign of movement in the right direction.

Dare I say healing?

Only one comment made me have a moment. 

My ex-husband supposedly conveying he just wants me to be happy, which led me to say the following.

"I’m sure he does want me to be happy," I say. "Totally believable since no children should experience a five-year divorce and a woman be left with no savings and retirement."

Thankfully, those were my parting words.

Then under my breath, I thought, "Totally believable, what a great guy! I’m sure you would think you’ve won the lottery with the type of man who only wants the best for his ex-wife. Darn, how did I get so lucky? An emotionally and financially abusive man who terrorized his own family to get every single dime he could but worries about my happiness. Lucky me."

But still, it felt good to talk to her.

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She’s a beautiful woman and knows nothing of my true experience with my husband. 

Would I have been a little happier if she had seemed as excited to run into me, as relieved as me? Yes. Because it’s not just about an Irish pub. I have three boys who may become a bigger part of her life.

Anyway, I took it as a win for ailing divorcees, both my ex and me.

Time marches on.

Until a few weeks later when I run into someone who had also been at the restaurant that night. I relate some of my experiences but she finds me negative. Soon tears fall down my face. In this person’s defense, they felt terrible about what they had said. So no hard feelings.

But in that instant, I realized it’s not healthy to play in my ex’s playground.

I own every mistake I made in the five years I attempted to save my marriage.

I own none of what happened during an abusive five-year divorce.

Or how I’ve struggled these past several years to rebuild.

That trauma was attributable to my ex-husband.

It’s one of the reasons I have zero emotion left for him. When you realize a man is willing to hurt his own children to hurt you, it will beat any remaining feelings out of you.

It was naive of me to think I could reclaim my own hometown.

I will continue to occasionally pass through as I have since he retook it.

Because I am finally healing and I recognize myself again.

I am unwilling to endanger that.

And honestly, had I not run into him that evening, I would have had an entirely different conversation with the person who found my recounting negative.

Tears didn’t fall down my face because she hurt me. They fell because it reminded me of the person I became trying to escape my ex-husband. The person I didn’t like.

I’ve fought hard to forgive myself and to like my inner girl again.

I don’t need to wave across the room at anyone.

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Colleen Sheehy Orme is a national relationship columnist, journalist, and former business columnist. She writes bout love, life, relationships, family, parenting, divorce, and narcissism.

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.