I’m sure you’ve heard the term “gold digger” before, right?
Recently, I came across a post that was being shared around Social Media. It said “I want “gold digger” to include [people] that use [others’] emotional labour to “evolve” and “become better people”.
I have a better term for this, because my ex-wife is one of the above mentioned people.
I was 23 when I met him. He was 31. I had been in a long term relationship for just shy of four years. The relationship wasn’t unhappy… we just weren’t right for each other at the time. This man, with beautiful blue eyes and shoulder length hair (long hair has always been a weakness of mine, go figure), that lived in the exotic land of Virginia, USA. Married. Unhappily, he claimed. That always makes it easier, doesn’t it?
Back when we met, I was still in school, taking a two year diploma course on photography. He had also been to school in the past for the same thing. So, we bonded over our mutual love for taking photographs. He sent me countless gifts. Boxes full of old film cameras (I sure used to love shooting film). Flowers on my birthday delivered to me at school in front of all my friends. (What girl doesn’t want that?) Money (what broke student doesn’t love money?) Anyone that is familiar with narcissistic personalities and emotional abuse will recognize this behaviour as “love bombing”. I was so naive and self-conscious at that point in my life that I didn’t even think to question any of it.
Eventually, he planned a trip up to visit me. At this point, I had already fallen head over heels for him and broken up with my long-term boyfriend. We declared our mutual love for each other. I thought to myself, maybe this is it, the person I’m supposed to marry. It sure felt right.
It didn’t matter that he was already married to someone else, he was unhappy! They were planning to get divorced! The divorce was already happening before we met, so I had nothing to do with their relationship falling apart! Me? A home wrecker? No way! I became the glue that held him together, and would continue to, for the rest of our relationship.
I made several (expensive) trips down to visit him over our six year relationship. The night my Soul Digger arrived was the last time I saw him. He disappeared around a corner, never to be seen again. She emerged from our bedroom, fear in her eyes, clutching a plastic shopping bag. She threw it at my feet and motioned for me to examine the contents.
I upended the contents of the bag onto his living room floor. A small pile of women’s undergarments fell out onto the carpet in front of me. Confused, I looked up at the person that had emerged from his bedroom.
“I’ve never felt like a man, I’ve always felt like a woman. I’m transgender and I want to transition, I can’t hide who I am anymore.”
It was in that moment that my whole world crashed down around me. What did that mean for me? If I continued to love this person, would that make me a lesbian? I’d never looked at women in that way before. I suddenly found myself thrust into a world I knew nothing about.
I proposed to her just shy of two years into our relationship. Our wedding took place in a small bar in the mountains. It was a small ceremony, with a few of her friends, and none of mine. We both wore dresses. My dad made it down for my wedding, my mother refused. I know now that it was because of my ex-wife’s transition (a fact I don’t think she’ll ever admit – she blamed it on plane tickets being too expensive). At the time, it sure fucking hurt that only my dad thought it was important enough to attend. We live-streamed the wedding for my friends back home. A few people still refused to participate.
Years passed. She came out to her family. Some of them disowned her. She came out to her friends, and lost a few of them. I watched her body change from the hormone therapy. The person I thought loved faded away into nothing, and the Soul Digger’s personality took over. Tears were a regular nightly occurrence. In The Soul Digger’s eagerness to chase the life She’d always wanted, She forgot to check in with me. How was I taking this change? Was I ok? Did I need any support? My depression and anxiety was enough of an answer for my friends.
I stood by her side through it all. Sending what support I could from Canada. I thought that I was enough for her. Evidently, I was not. My wife the soul digger had dug right down to the clay.
It didn’t take long for Her patterns of behaviour to repeat themselves. So, a year or so into our marriage, He arrived.
He didn’t arrive guns-a-blazing, ready to sweep Her off her feet and run off into the sunset. He arrived like a shadow in the night and inserted himself into our relationship, unbeknownst to me. Suddenly, She kept mentioning His name.
At first, I didn’t think anything of it. I wasn’t a naturally jealous person, so what did I have to worry about? She was allowed to have friends, regardless of their gender. When He arrived, I was still under the impression that my relationship was rock solid. Things were still good, in my eyes.
I don’t remember what it was that tipped me off. I really don’t think it was one specific event. It was a slow drip… drip… drip… of things that didn’t add up. She sure talked about Him a lot. I finally put it together in my head. My anxiety gripped around my heart, even tighter.
The last time I set foot in Virginia to visit my Soul Digger was about six years ago. Six years ago, I found the proof that I needed. She had me twisted around her finger so tightly that I still believed anything she told me. At the beginning of our relationship, She gloated about how much she lied to people, to manipulate them, to get what she wanted. Oh, but don’t worry! She’d never lie to me. She didn’t lie to the people she loved… in the end, I still don’t know if She is capable of love.
There were three days to go until I could go home. This trip had been awful. I felt nothing but resentment and anger from Her. I unplugged the Christmas tree in Her bedroom so I could sleep at night (a long history of sleepless nights has since been blamed on my anxiety). She retaliated by angrily packing away the Christmas tree the next day, citing that I’d ruined Christmas.
We’d had some photographs done for the Love is Love project (http://loveisloveproject.org/). She showed up almost 2 hours late for a rushed portrait session. Was rude to the photographers. I was crushed and embarrassed. These photographs were really important to me. I still loved her, and all I wanted were some nice photos of us. Why was she being so mean? I considered packing my suitcase and walking the four miles to the nearest hotel. I didn’t have any money, so I stayed.
Three more days until I could go home. I don’t remember what we did that day. I think She worked. It was the evening, and She was going to get in the shower, and went into the bathroom to start the water before leaving (to grab a towel? I’m not sure). Realizing the precarious nature of my full bladder, I ran into the bathroom and locked the door to relieve myself before the bathroom was occupied for twenty minutes.
I didn’t even look around the room any more than usual until I heard banging on the door. She was yelling at me to open the door. I yelled out “I’M PEEING!!” and She rattled the door handle before slamming her fist into the door. I thought this behaviour was odd until I looked around the room and saw Her phone sitting on the counter. Unlocked. Screen open. At first glance, a text message conversation lit up the screen.
Her phone was never ever left unattended. Never unlocked in front of me, so I’d never know the password. Screen always turned away when in use. Not that it mattered, the thought of snooping through her phone had never crossed my mind.
While washing my hands, I glanced over at the screen. His name was the first thing I noticed. A millisecond later, an image filled my mind from the words he used to describe the things he would do to her, if I wasn’t in town. Her responses to Him filled in the gaps. I didn’t have to scroll or even touch her phone. The proof that I needed was right there in front of me. My breath caught in my chest and anxiety gripped my heart like a vice. I took a photo of her screen with my phone and locked Hers.
I couldn’t breathe. She was cheating on me. I couldn’t sleep. Was cheating on me. My mind made up scenarios and played them behind my eyelids. Cheating on me. I couldn’t prove it. On me. Why can’t I breathe? Me.
The Soul Digger burst into the bathroom as soon as I unlocked the door, lunging for her phone. Seeing that the screen was off, she relaxed. I stumbled out into the hallway, dazed, and the bathroom door shut and locked behind me. I couldn’t catch my breath, I felt like I had just run a marathon. The wind was knocked out of me. I sat on the couch in the living room. I was dizzy, nauseous, and felt like I could pass out at any second. Looking back on it now, I know that this was my first panic attack. I looked up and saw Her roommate staring at me with a confused look on his face. So as to not bother him, I went into Her bedroom instead. I sat on the edge of her mattress on the floor, and shook.
I confronted my Soul Digger immediately after her shower. The photo I took earlier would prove to be useful as she denied my accusations again, but quickly back-pedalled when asked “how do you explain this?”. Immediately, she turned herself into the victim and accused me of going through her phone, even though I hadn’t. I’d figured Her password out at this point by being observant, and took that final accusation as an invitation and looked through her phone the next night while she slept. I wish I hadn’t. The things that I read between the two of them took me years to forget. My imagination at night when I was trying to fall asleep ensured of that. My stomach still turns into knots when I think about it.
I still had three more nights in Virginia with my Soul Digger before I could go home, and I’d just had my heart broken by the same person I had to share a bed with at night.
When I was originally asked to write this blog post for the Your Cup of Tea Blog, one of the things she requested from me was how I would do things differently, if I could? I would have left Her immediately, had I been a stronger person. By the time that I found proof that She was cheating, I was a shell of the person that had picked Her up at the airport for the first time. It took me a full year to work up the courage to leave her.
In that year, I didn’t see my Soul Digger face-to-face. The last time I set eyes on her was at the Norfolk airport, Pepto Bismol tablets stuck in my teeth trying to fight my anxious nausea. Her claws were dug so deep under my skin from the manipulation, gaslighting, and emotional abuse I endured during our relationship that I found it hard to separate myself from her. Even though she’d so clearly moved on from me.
I know now, however, that the journey that my relationship with this Soul Digger took me on, made me into the person I am today. So, given the opportunity to do things differently, would I really? I don’t think I would. I had to hit rock bottom to really appreciate what was coming next. The kind, generous, and supportive man that would become my future husband. My relationship with Her made me stronger. It lit the fire in me to pursue my career in photography. Our relationship gave me the perspective I needed to appreciate the successes that were still to come to me.
It also made me cynical. I have a hard time trusting people, now. Interacting with people, even just making eye contact sometimes, is hard. I have trouble letting people in. I’m slowly changing these things, but like all things, that takes time.
Fill your cup.
Here’s the thing. It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s going to fucking suck. For a long time. For a while it’s going to feel like The Betrayal is the only thing that exists in your life. It consumes you. You have to let it. Wallow for a little bit. Eventually, other things in your life start filling in your cup. The water overflows a little, and The Betrayal doesn’t seem as easy to see. It’s still there. It always will be.
But, eventually… happy things start to fill your life again. You adopt a new kitten. Go on some half decent dates. You pick up your camera again. Eventually, you find yourself on a park bench eating ice cream. Chatting for hours with a person who accepts you for who you are. No questions asked. Maybe they have a lot of baggage, too. Everyone has a little baggage. You help each other through your collective shit. You’re shown what a real, loving relationship looks like. You’re shown what a supportive partner does. Your business thrives. Things get better. They always get better. You just need to give it time.