I had a great joke for my ex-wife yesterday.
No, I didn’t mistype. ”For” – not “about.”
I’ve been open about my journey through divorce. I have even been on tv and spoke about it. My relationship now with my ex-wife mostly consists of questions I have about the pets (she’s a veterinarian) and something funny I know she’ll laugh at.
We probably only chat live maybe once a month, and never about anything other than those two topics. (four “t” words in a row! And yet, it’s not a hey-I-just-used-for-t-words-in-a-row thing. You hadn’t even noticed.)
I called up yesterday expecting to get her voicemail so I could just leave the joke. It was a one-liner about our cat. Not funny enough to reproduce here, but she would have dug it.
I think it’s important to note that I didn’t write the joke for my ex-wife. My brain is wired to always look for humor. The joke about my cat wrote itself. Then I realized that my wife would laugh if she heard it. Nobody else would.
Anyway, when I called, for the first time ever, she was sort of cold and distant. You could tell she had probably picked up the call by accident. I got the impression she was in a group of people in a public place. Halfway through the joke (which was all of seven seconds) I felt a “don’t call me with this bullshit” vibe. Now, she loves a good joke and has never responded that before. But I could feel it.
And after I told the joke she politiely laughed, said it was funny and then, “I have to go. I’m sitting down to dinner.” I apologized for bugging her and hung up.
She could have been out with friends, or a boyfriend, or her parents. No idea. But it was obvious she was somewhere where she didn’t want to explain why she was laughing hysterically on the phone with her ex-husband. I understand this.
I was devastated. I didn’t realize that her approval still meant so much to me. I don’t long for her. I don’t have fantasies where we’re together again. But I was saddened that she brushed me off.
And then, right then, I realized that even though a good joke is a good joke, I had been using my ex-wife to validate me since the divorce. If I said something funny to her, she would laugh. I would feel good. This dynamic is not totally crazy as she validated me a lot when we were together. I have struggled to validate and self-soothe my whole life. I mean, I write a blog. A good chunk of that is about external validation.
The message I had been transmitting to my ex-wife from me was, “Don’t leave me again! I’m good! Can’t you see?” Now, please understand, I have a girlfriend show loves and supports me very much. More than any other relationship I’ve ever had. I could not be more grateful or happy to be with her.
Obviously I won’t be calling my wife the rest of my life whenever a one-liner about my cat comes up. And I hope I can get to a point where if I reach out to her it’s not to get something I need for myself.
So, to help me, I’ll make a deal with you. I’ll just tell the jokes about my cat. And you can pretend to laugh. Deal?