It was almost half-way through the soccer season when Sara, her hand deep into the bag of organic, fair-trade flax seed blue corn chips I brought, asked me, "Who's that?"
"That brunette over there."
"I dunno. Must be related to one of the players. I've seen her at a few games."
So I inched over to the team busybody, Gayle. You know the type — a former stockbroker who turned all her MBA acumen into organizing the team's snack, driver and year-end party schedules.
"Hey Gayle, do you know who that brunette is?"
She pursed her lips. "Who wants to know?"
Gayle leaned over, teetering on the edge of her seat to give Sara the once-over. "Does she really want to know?"
Hmm, that's an odd reaction, I thought, to what seemed like a pretty simple question. After all, Sara is the former wife of the assistant coach — she's with the "in" crowd. I didn't expect to be cross-examined. "Uh, I'll ask," I said, realizing I just may have been wrong about her former profession. CIA operative, perhaps?
"She wants to know if you really want to know," I said to Sara.
"What is this? An interrogation? Of course I want to know!"
I inched back over to Gayle, feeling very much like the frustrated monkey in the middle of my elementary-school days.
"Yes, she wants to know."
Gayle took a deep breath and then leaned into me to whisper, "It's her ex's new girlfriend."
"What's in your water bottle?" I asked Sara as I slid back by her side.
"Water, duh. Why?"
Why doesn't anyone carry flasks of whiskey anymore?
"Take a sip," I sighed.
And so I told her, fully aware of how everyone always hates the messenger.
Now it was Sara giving Ms. Brunette the once-over. "She's a lot older that I am, wouldn't you say?"
"Absolutely! Even if she's not, she looks it."
"I guess that's why John's been so nice to me lately. He's finally getting laid! That always mellowed him out," Sara said with a matter-of-fact maturity that comes with being several years out of a marriage. But there was just a hint of wistfulness, too.
Nora Ephron sure had it right when she wrote, "Never marry a man you can't be divorced from." Because as good or bad as he was when the two of you were a couple, your relationship — especially if you have kids and you have to maintain a relationship — can often turn as stinky as a slice of Epoisses once you split.
That's why so many women are happy when their former hubbies get a girlfriend; it takes us off the hook. They're often so busy trying to please the new flame and navigating her issues that they finally ease up on ours — or the ones they think we have.
That's not to say that we're totally OK with it. I mean, how many of us have thought, "He'll never find anyone better than me!" or "He'll never find a woman who'll love him the way I did!" Well, once he gets hooked up, that pretty much blows that theory, even if she's truly not better than we are and has never loved anything beyond Fluffy, her childhood cat, and herself.
And if he gets married and we're still searching for Mr. Really Right This Time, it brings up some complicated feelings. After all, this is someone we once loved and who once loved us back, and if you have kids together, your kids are a genetic mash-up of you both. Those feelings pop up even if you can look at the new Mrs. and honestly say, "You want him? You can have him!"
But you have to psyche yourself up for the reality of him finding love with someone else, just like you have to be as prepared as a Boy Scout for the first accidental sighting of the happy couple.
It almost always happens at the most inopportune time, like when you're looking your worst.
Christine had a hectic morning recently — her youngest missed the school bus and so Christine had to rush her to school and make it to the bus stop in time for her to catch the express to her nonprofit San Francisco job. As she stepped off, sweating in her old Levi's (the relaxed tapered kind), roomy bamboo T-shirt and Merrells, whom did she bump into but her ex, leaving the hotel where he was leading a conference, and his new wife — in skin-tight Edun jeans, knee-high stiletto black suede boots and a cute top that accentuated her rather well-endowed, and natural, chest. Although Christine had met her a few times before, she didn't remember her being such a babe.
"He's so moved on from me, not that I would ever want to be with him," she sighed as we munched on chips and salsa at Joe's Taco Lounge last week. "But he's moved on with her, a busty, blond Stepford Wife — everything I'm not!"
"And everything you don't want to be, either. Because then you wouldn't have Steve, who loves you and adores you just the way you are," I reminded her. "And, you know, your kids like her, right?"
"Yes," she sighed again.
"That's what matters, more people to love your kids."
They just can’t call her Mom. And we all know from watching Disney movies and reading Aesop how well stepmoms fare!
But it’s tough to know exactly what to do with the new flame. Like her? Hate her? Ignore her? Feel sorry for her? Try to befriend her (and not just because you want to find out all that’s wrong with her so you can dish at the next girl’s night out)?
“Prepare for the worst but hope for the best, and take whatever comes,” advises Bunty Cutler in her book, “211 Things a Bright Girl Can Do.” But then she adds it’s best to bump into his new love with your new flame (or a hired escort) on your arm. “It’s sometimes better if your new man doesn’t know that this fellow is your ex. The subtle effect of this is to make your old flame and his new girlfriend feel insignificant when you airily introduce them, damning them with faint praise to the man on your arm — and getting her name and details a bit wrong in the process.”
That all seems rather juvenile. Plus, you don’t want the new girlfriend to actually hate you. In fact, it’s best to be you at your nicest, prettiest, perkiest, smartest and tallest whenever you meet her — better to have her wonder what’s wrong with him to dump such a fabulous gal rather than validate all the things he’s said that are wrong about you!
After all, being nice is the best revenge.