The Thinking Other Woman

What you should know BEFORE your affair.


Originally posted on Medium in 2019; reposted here so you can understand what's coming.

Posted by The Thinking Other Woman on February 19, 2022 at 7:10 PM

I just heard from my mother again after a lapse of about thirteen years.

For many years before that, my mother would bring problems with other people to me, expecting me to listen for literally hours on end as she went on and on about how badly someone had treated her.

I clocked her at three hours once, I'm not kidding.

If I heard from her, this made up the whole conversation about eighty percent of the time.

I found myself always stuck. She'd rail on and on with the kind of shrillness that suggested I'd get the same if I didn't agree with her. But I learned to watch every word I said.

I would often find that she'd repeat something I had said to the other party, in an apparent attempt to get this person to relent or apologize, lobbying them with what she had gotten me to say about them.

Many times this was not something I would have wanted them to hear.

Or, often, we'd be talking along about whatever, and she'd slip the knife in: "I was talking to Grandma and she said you looked horrible in that dress. She said your butt looked huge."

At a time when I was newly out of college, struggling in my career, and feeling bad about myself anyway, this kind of thing, I certainly didn't need.

If we'd just had a family gathering that looked like it went well, why would she do this? I'd be feeling good about having gotten together, bad about having dreaded it, and BLAM!

I got more and more guarded and stopped telling her anything. My default strategy: If you can agree, agree. If you can't, don't say anything and try to let it pass. I found myself acting, acting, acting. Biting my tongue all the time.

I couldn't get support from her that I could count on. My weight, for example, was okay when I agreed with her and not-okay when I didn't. But she bludgeoned support out of me all the time. I was too afraid of how she'd react to say how I really felt.

I used to tell myself I didn't need children. I had her.

As I got older, I happened to notice, from time to time, that someone she was on the outs with was, in fact, not being "ugly" to her, they were actually giving her good advice and trying to help her out, and she was the one being "ugly" to them.

Once I dropped the act, started speaking my mind, and told her what I really saw, I would get this horrible meltdown where she would ply me with how my grandparents abused her and she'd been treated badly all her life, and now her daughter was against her too. Then she'd bring up every fault I had and throw it up in my face.

Finally, distressed over what was happening, I bought relationship books. I damn near studied my brains out. I read Harriet Lerner, Susan Forward, Barbara DeAngelis. Victoria Secunda, When You and Your Mother Can't Be Friends.

How to best respond when you're getting triangulated? I didn't know, but I was determined to find out.

The Bitter End

During a particularly bad row between my mother and my younger brother, I had my husband listen to what I said as I practiced my new skills, and started documenting everything that was going on.

I documented that my mother acted one way when she thought she had witnesses. My husband and my grandmother were there as I tried to tactfully tell my mother she needed to solve her problems with my brother directly with him.

Mom had been staying at my grandparents' while my grandfather was in the hospital, and she was angry that my brother and his girlfriend had left her a mess at home.

My stomach turned over with nerves as I scanned the faces around me. Trying something new in an important relationship is never easy.

Everyone seemed to think what I was saying was entirely reasonable. Nobody thought it was bad.

Shortly after this, she called me up from my grandparents' to complain about my brother again.

My husband was sitting in the next room and could verify that I said, again, exactly what I'd said at dinner with my grandmother. (God knows, we'd rehearsed it often enough.)

Two days letter, along came a letter from my mother, telling me she was so upset I'd said my brother hadn't left the house messy, which was exactly the opposite of what I actually did say.

I counted them, four times, and my husband did, too: "I'm not saying he didn't leave an awful mess in there. No one's arguing that. All I'm saying is, you need to discuss that with him."

She'd cried half the night, she wrote, and my grandparents felt awful that she was upset. How could I say such things to her? And then came how I'd treated her over this and that, and how I was a stubborn child who broke the dryer when I was four. And how she hated herself and she knew I wished she'd die.

Because my husband was there and heard everything I'd actually said, I could see she was misperceiving reality in such a manner I knew something was seriously wrong. I'd seen this for years, but now I had proof.

It wasn't me. I wasn't crazy. It sounded a lot like something I'd uncovered in a book by borderline personality disorder authority Randi Kreger.

Desperate for some advice, I tried to get into a BPD clinic here in town with a nationally recognized expert.

Unfortunately, somebody in the family blabbed, and the message that came back to me through my grandmother was that my mother didn't think anything was wrong with her and she wasn't going to get any help.

I just quit speaking to her at that point and didn't offer up any explanation. Things like this had happened so often, I was at my wits' end. This was the worst yet.

So what if she was unhappy with what she perceived I said; didn't she have the self-control to not sob about it all night and upset two old people, one of whom had just spent weeks in the hospital? If it even happened and she wasn't exaggerating or bending the truth. It wasn't the first time she'd done things like this, either.

There was simply no reason to discuss it anymore with anyone. What did I expect making a big announcement to do?

I stopped speaking to other family members as well, because my mother is a scorekeeper, and it would just make her feel worse if I visited or spoke to others and not her.

Fast forward thirteen years to this year.

I became aware that my mother was going around social media posting that the reason I quit speaking to her is that she spoke out that my grandfather sexually abused her, and I was mad at her for it!

This greatly upset me, because I was there when she decided to come out about the abuse, and I had always supported her. I'm sure she's said plenty about me to others over the years, but this was beyond the pale.

Um, did she just not remember my last three years of high school, and the utter tumult in our home as she started to process what had happened? She flew into horrible rages, frightening me and my brother and stepfather as she stomped and stormed around the house. She'd get mad and drive off in the evenings and we had no idea where she was.

We watched Bradshaw on the Family together! I supported her the whole way … at too young an age, I might add. Nobody needs to hear that kind of family news at age fifteen.

This week, she starts posting pity-me-sounding posts on my late husband's author page on Facebook, lamenting that she never got to know him (implying that it was my fault), not realizing I'm the person running the page.

I took the opportunity to confront her about this lie, only to get this "I don't know why you hold grudges, poor, poor me," kind of response.

(What, was I just supposed to forget that she's going around telling everybody this horrible lie about me? And posting things like how her own daughter has never cooked her a meal? Note: I can't cook.)

Then she goes back into the old self-hatred I remember from every time in the past I'd ever disagreed with her: "I'm a horrible person and everybody's always abused me and you hate me and I hate myself and I can't do anything right and I hope I die." (Imagine several iterations of that, all in capital letters.)

Somehow we managed to talk enough about the incident to piece together what had actually happened. My grandfather told her this tale about why I had disappeared, clearly without a lot of basis since I didn't announce or explain my decision to anyone.

So at least we figured that out. And part of it was a pleasant conversation, at least. The rest of it ... ugh. The rest of it was her going on and on about how she had been abused and how I picked all the marigolds she planted when I was eight.

Until she handed me an ultimatum: Either I quit bringing up the past and just get together and have nice times again like we used to, or she didn't want to speak to me anymore.

Complete, of course, with sound bites from all the people she had told about how I was acting, who'd said I was a horrible daughter and some kids just don't know how to act and blame their parents for everything!

Well. The door is open. We could resume a relationship.

But I'm screwed here, because the fact, is I just don't trust my mom.

Everything will be all well and good until she wants to complain about some third party to me (which will happen, right away), and then the whole thing will start all over again.

Or until she decides to tell me something mean someone said about me, out of the clear blue sky, or until I don't do something she wants and she brings up how I broke the dryer when I was four.

If she wants to get together or invite me for Thanksgiving or something, I don't feel at all comfortable.

I know we haven't solved anything.

Going back over our conversation (it's all saved on Facebook), I can see why she felt attacked. In her mind, she was just posting on my husband's author page and I brought up stuff from the past and hit her with it for no reason. But, c'mon. She was on there thinking someone else was running the page and would ask her what happened and then she could badmouth me and get sympathy. I was the mean old wife who didn't want her family to know her husband.

Well. my husband knew, all right. He saw all the bizarre emails she wrote me. He knew how she acted. He even based a character in his last book on her!

But: Can she look at what she's written about me and see why I reacted the way I did? No. In her mind, she can write anything about me in public she pleases, and if I'm upset, I'm holding a grudge.

If she's having a problem with my stepfather, she can go over all the things in the past that suggest a pattern she'd like to change about their relationship, and I'm supposed to see that (and so should he).

If, however, I have a problem with her, she is unable to take the same perspective in her relationship with me. I'm supposed to take her as she is, no matter what. And this is proving to be impossible.

For many years, I thought my mother must secretly hate me and just hid it most of the time, hitting me with it when she was mad at me, until I finally stumbled upon the truth in a book by BPD expert John Preston: In BPD, memory is emotion-dependent.

When angry or upset, a BP literally cannot remember anything good you have ever done.

It explained a lot.

Literally for decades, I pored over book after book about toxic parents, childhood sexual abuse, codependency, problem relationships, anything I could get my hands on to try to understand what was happening.

What could I do differently? Amazing how many times *I* ask myself that in relation to other people, but nobody asks that in relation to ME.

Has she ever, even once, opened a book to try to understand what was happening, or what she might do differently?

She's angry at me because I've told people I think she has BPD. Um … correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure all of the above are symptomatic of BPD.

Here is the crux of the problem:

In close relationships, as Diane Poole Heller writes, we all long to get gotten and feel felt.

My mother demands this of me, endlessly and in utter perfection. Yet she is incapable of offering the same.

She remembers the times when she could, does not remember the times when she couldn't, and tells people the ratio is 70:30 when in fact it's more like 30:70. I am not there anymore because, by the time I opted out, there was literally nothing positive in the relationship for me any more. I know we're not supposed to say, You always and You never, but in this case it was literally true. There was nothing, nothing about it that felt good to me anymore. Nothing I looked forward to. And a whole, whole lot I dreaded. "So-and-so did this to me and so-and-so did that to me and so-and-so did this to me and so-and-so did that to me ..." And I was required to say, "Oh, you poor baby." And that was our relationship. Period. This is NOT supposed to be your relationship with your mother. BUT, nobody sees this or hears about any of this.

And, because she tells people a one-sided story, and no one has any other way to know any different, what's left of my family of origin, and God knows who in my hometown, all think the same.

Here's the thing about relationships:

If you're going to give two hundred percent in one, you have to get back what you're giving.

Not the other person's very disturbed recollection. Not someone who insists they deserve everything because they were abused as a child, does not acknowledge any work you've done to try to understand the problems and do better, and believes they don't have to do any work to do better.

What my mother doesn't understand, and never will, is that during those times it "looked" like it "wasn't working," that it "looked" like I was treating her "worse," what was actually happening was I was treating myself better.


Unless both people can make strides of understanding in a relationship, it will never be a real relationship. Not for both people.

After our conversation concluded, I worried my mother would ask to "friend" me on Facebook.

She hasn't. I think she's written me off, and will soon be posting all over Facebook, once again, how badly I've treated her. (UPDATE, 5/16/20: Yup. I've stumbled across the same lie, again, even though we've discussed it, she knows where it came from isn't accurate, and I have asked her to stop.)

I don't think her and my brother are going to suddenly decide we're a family again and invite me to Thanksgiving or Christmas.

And I'm relieved.

Sad, but relieved.

Categories: Life Lessons, Decisions, Post-Mortem, Now That It's All Over