I'm so mad at my ex I could explode!

He said he didn't have sex with me because he was "broken inside." A week after our 24-year marriage ends, he's hot and heavy with a 30-year-old.

Published July 14, 2006 11:15AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I moved out of my home on Feb. 1 of this year. My husband of 24 years and I began mediation proceedings shortly after. They were amicable, and we were both satisfied with the results and kind to each other throughout. My divorce will be final in about a month.

Here's the rub. Turns out he began seeing someone about a week after I moved out. He assures me (and I believe) he didn't begin seeing her until I moved out. That might be hurtful under the best circumstances, but here's why it just about kills me: He never initiated sex with me; he attributed this to something being "broken" inside him; he never took me on overnights or dates and is now taking her; she's 30 (I'm 45); he bragged to our 19-year-old son about her and mentioned starting a new family with her.

So yeah, I'm better off without the jerk. I know this, but I'm also eaten up by thoughts and visuals of her getting the goodies I never got. I'm angry at myself for putting up with an emotionally and physically absent man. I'm angry that I gave so much and expected so little in return. I'm angry I'm 45 and not 30 when I should have dumped his bony ass.

I knew things were bad, but now I'm struck by how really crappy things were (filmstrips in my head) and how I sublimated those details to be able to stay and raise my kids in an intact home.

On the other hand, I know I stayed because I was waiting for our two kids to leave home. I made a conscious decision to stay and try to make things work. Seven months after our youngest left, I left.

Why was it OK when I thought he was "broken" and impotent (and if I really loved him, why is that better?) but thoroughly despicable when he just did not dig me and found someone else (anyone) the minute I left? Do I have a right to be angry at him? How long must I drag this dead horse around with me before I realize what a wonderful hottie I am and I'm best rid of him?

Molten Lava, Red Hot, Angry Chick

Dear Molten Lava,

First of all, dear, you don't need a right to be angry. You don't need permission. It's how you feel. You're angry. That's fine.

Second, I predict that this state of intense anger will not last too long. It sounds like the kind of anger that is appropriate and accompanies the full realization of what has happened, but that it will not persist with this intensity for your whole life.

Your anger says, Yes, this has happened. Yes, indeed, this is the truth. How outlandish!

This happened to you and it has happened to many, many women. This is one of the things men do: They hide the truth until they are free of the marriage they thought was keeping them prisoner, then they blossom, awkwardly, with astounding lack of dignity, mismatched and feverish like eighth graders; they come onto the dance floor expectant like virgins; it is both heartbreaking and touching and funny and just awful, but it happens -- and often they succeed, for a time, with surprisingly desirable younger women. Maybe it is the very purity of their approach, as though they actually were virgins, that guarantees at least some initial success. They are charming and naive. Women sometimes go for that.

It must be most intensely heartbreaking for the recent ex-wife, who asks, Why didn't I get some of that? But I think if you keep watching you will see what unfolds. You will not envy for long the woman your ex lands on.

But why do women and men go so long not understanding the basic truth of their relationship? Why and how?

This happens all too often for it to be a surprise to anyone. And yet it always does seem to be a surprise.

Frankly, I think the illusions women and men share to shield each other and themselves from the truth are so essential because the truth is so wrenching, so unacceptable.

What if he had told you you're just too old and not attractive to him anymore? What if he had told you that the only women he finds sexually attractive are women 10 to 15 years younger? Would you have greeted such a frank admission with gratitude for its candor? I rather think you would have found it rank and tasteless beyond all imagining. And it would have been. Moreover, it would have been untrue in the sense that you are still, objectively speaking, a very hot, beautiful, desirable woman -- to any sane man except your husband.

So what is a man to do when he reaches such a state when the actual, honest-to-God truth is something so repugnant, something that flies in the face of everything we had dreamed about, all those notions of sexuality mellowing and becoming deeper and slower and stronger, more meaningful if less frequent? What if it just goes away? What's he supposed to do? I don't know what he's supposed to do. But I know what he often does do.

He lies. He says, It's not you, it's me. He says, Oh, honey, I'm broken inside. There's something wrong with me. And he passively waits for the wife to end the relationship. By which time much opportunity for the wife has been lost.

That would be a good question for men to try to answer: What are you doing in this relationship if your sexual feeling for your wife is gone? Are you also staying in it for the children? Or are you simply too out of touch, do you simply have too little responsibility for your own life to announce that the romance is gone?

So why, you ask, was it OK when you thought that his emotional absence was not his fault? Because you felt it was something beyond his control, and in a way it was. But the precise way in which such a thing can be out of a man's control is simply too sad and infuriating to accept: He has lost interest. That is just too painful to accept with equanimity. It is a deal breaker. And you are naturally angry. You ought to be angry. Anger is also a kind of power, a kind of retribution: You can regain some of what you have lost by channeling some of that anger.

As for how you handled this, in spite of how painful all of it has been, it sounds like you did the right thing: You raised your kids in an intact home. You stuck it out. Give yourself some credit. And now go out and raise some hell.

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