In early June of last year, the night before our 8 month anniversary and my 36th birthday party, Keith gave me the gift that keeps on giving:
I discovered that for months he’d been “liking” every selfie his old roommate, Hannah, posted on her Instagram and had commented on one of them “I miss those eyes.”
Oh really? He missed the eyes of his face-punching “rapist?” Yeah, that fucking checked out.
If he was trying to provoke me into a crime of passion, he was doing an outstanding job.
I had always known that he was lying about the nature of their past relationship and now I knew that he was trying to get her attention again and had been for a while…while I kept his physical, emotional, financial and professional life together, devoted myself to his children, and back-burnered my life to put out all his endless fires.
We had a huge fight about his Instagram flirtations and continued lies about his past with Hannah and almost broke up as he fed me shit-sandwich after shit-sandwich of lies hoping I’d bite into one and like the taste.
I cancelled my birthday party and we spent a godawful and exhausting 24 hours trying to sort things out.
I don’t remember how it happened, but we did sort it out and within a day we’d returned to normal and our relationship survived another 6 months.
However, it had officially rained on my love parade and things were never the same: Keith became steadily less dependable and more brutally self-centered and selfish. And over time, I lost respect for him, then interest, then I fell out of love entirely.
Lies and drama are perfectly effective dominos in their own right, but the biggest contributor to our collapse was his passivity as a parent.
Fatherhood and victimhood were his two calling cards and they depended on each other to survive: he couldn’t be a victim without his fatherhood in upheaval.
He said all the right things about the kids, but after he got the “you’re an amazing dad,” validation he wanted, he’d do almost nothing.
He wouldn’t contact the kids to check-in between visits; He refused to get a schedule of extracurricular activities or have any involvement with their schooling; He did absolutely nothing to prepare for the custody mediation hearing he’d waited two years to get and didn’t open the accompanying legal paperwork until the night before; He once, while we were dating, legit tried to sign over his parental rights and claimed it was because his ex tricked him into believing that she would let him see the kids more if he did.
(What’s the emoji for my brain is exploding?)
Of course I fixed, intervened, managed, crisis controlled and took care of all of the above so that he couldn’t torpedo our lives with his fuckery or constantly disappoint his children and make me guilty by association.
While it was infuriating, the initial wave of parenting-related disappointments happened before custody changed, before the kids started living with us on weekends, so I gave Keith the benefit of the doubt. I believed that once his parenting went from 4 hours at a time to 48 hours, he’d be all in. I was sure that when he stopped expecting someone to take them away from him again, he’d relax and slide back into parenting easily.
And in some ways he did: he cooked great meals, was up in the middle of the night for pukes, was playful, encouraging and super affectionate. But the world still ultimately revolved around him, so he could never focus solely on the kids.
Despite (allegedly) being the primary parent since their infancy, when we had the kids for the weekends, he was easily frazzled, constantly distracted, always anxious, not great at correcting behavior and lazy about engaging them outside of quick bursts of fun, usually involving things he wanted to do anyway, like play video games.
Most selfishly, he never protected them from adult concerns and made them complicit in his woes, which left them nervous and insecure and me in a position to constantly reassure and provide security. They adored their dad, but figured out rather quickly that he was mercurial and flighty.
In contrast, I was the obvious anchor: dependable, consistent, responsive. The kids quickly learned to come to me with things and I became the unlikely primary parent in our weekend household–both practically and as the emotional center.
I cherished the role, but hated Keith for making it one of necessity by not stepping all the way up, even for the one thing I had been sure he was sincere about: his kids.
As summer turned into fall, I knew our relationship was ending. Months of earnest conversations had resulted in no changes and I knew he just didn’t give a shit.
I saw him clearly and I was no longer in love.
I’d been ready to end it in September or October, but I didn’t want to leave the kids with only him; I didn’t want to leave the kids at all.
We made it through our first anniversary in October and then Thanksgiving with his family, but things were strained and I knew we couldn’t go through Christmas as a couple.
I accepted that I couldn’t stay for the kids and started quietly apartment hunting. Then one evening in early December I just told him that it was over.
He spent the evening crying on and off and lots of days afterward begging me to change my mind. And I cried too, especially for the kids, who I was heartcrushed to leave after promising them I never would.
But that first night, we ate dinner together, cried together and started talking about the logistics of separation.
We agreed that I would find an apartment, but stay until I found the right place–no hurry– and he would sleep in one of the kid’s room until then.
We wouldn’t tell the kids until after Christmas as to not ruin the holiday and I would remain in their lives and see them regularly.
We wouldn’t make a public announcement until we knew when I was moving out and where I was going.
We still loved each other and we’d stay friends.
Of course, it didn’t exactly work out that way…