How To Have An Ex-Wife

ex-wife

Anne’s job was to make sure I wasn’t breaking the law. I, of course, was trying to try break the law as much as possible.

I was working on my 3am website in 1996 for HBO.

Like, if a girl was a 15 year old runaway why should her face be blurred out?

Or if there was a logo in the background of a photo, why blur it out? Who really cares?

Or a naked woman, or a man claiming he killed someone. And so what if someone was drunk and didn’t sign a release form? I’d forge the signature. I had no problem with that.

Anne was assigned the job every week of making sure I didn’t break the law too much. So I did what I had to do. I asked her out.

I figured if she was dating me, I’d get away with more. And, believe me, I was correct.

On the fifth date I tried to kiss her but she said, “Too early.” So we waited until the sixth.

She had a stalker. The very first time I kissed her she screamed. Because right outside the window was not only the stalker but his father. Looking at us.

She had to go to her priest, who eventually spoke to the stalker, who then left us alone. But things like that happen in the beginning of something.

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At some point we had to decide, Work or Marry.

She was that age. She wanted kids. I didn’t want to have kids. But if we broke up, one of us had to leave the job, she said.

I had a business on the side. The main client of my business was HBO, where we both worked. So I didn’t want to quit.

This sounds unromantic. I loved her and wanted to be with her. But like everything you do in your 20s, I did everything too young.

We made a deal, marry and wait one year to have kids. Ok!

At the time I was living in the Chelsea Hotel. I didn’t want to move out of the Chelsea into Anne’s apartment after we got married. So we didn’t live together even after we were married.

At work, one of my friends asked, how come you don’t wear a wedding ring.

I don’t think men should wear jewelry, I said.

Maybe these things were signs. But everything is a sign later on.

A year after we were married, I was living in her apartment and she was pregnant.


The hardest part of a marriage, in my simple-minded opinion, is not about surviving negative things. A marriage, for the most part, cannot survive huge bad things.

But this is what a marriage should do:

In a marriage both sides should celebrate each other’s successes with blind abandon.

I think this is what we forgot to do. Or we didn’t yet know how to do.

She might disagree on this. But it’s just my opinion.


GETTING ALONG WITH AN EX

Here are my rules:

A) She is the mother of my children.

Nobody in my life is more important than my children. #1 and #2. Which means she is #3 in my life no matter what.

B) I never will say anything bad about her. 

I write bad things about myself all of the time. I have no shame.

But I will never say anything bad about her.

C) Money. 

Because of “A”, anything I have is hers also.

I hope she never feels the stress about money that I often feel.

D) Kid Decisions. 

I can give my opinion. And I have a lot of opinions. No college. No high school even. I tell my kids every day they don’t have to go to high school. They can just stay with me.

Here’s my high school plan for them: every day we watch a movie and talk about it. And you go to all of my podcasts and we talk about them.

And I will take you to any friends so you have a social life.

That’s my high school plan and I think it’s better than going to high school. But they don’t agree and I don’t think their mother does either.

I can give advice all day long. But they live with her. So I never once argue with her decision.

E) Disagreements. 

The arguments were so sore and bitter that at one point even our marriage counselor (our tenth) looked at us and just smiled and said, “I don’t think you two should be married anymore.”

Sometimes the arguments felt literally raw to the bone. No more blood left.

All of the energy and passion that we once had to staple things back together again was just gone.

And now when we disagree, it usually just signals the end of a conversation. No problem. We’ll talk again sooner or later. We have two kids.

When things have been hard for me, Anne has been there for me also. I am glad I have such a kind ex-wife.

She once asked, “Why don’t you ever mention me in anything you write?”

Well, here you go.


I thought I was a failure when my first marriage fell apart. I was so ashamed about it I would hide it from people.

And again when my second marriage fell apart.

I did a podcast with Kevin O’Leary from Shark Tank. Surprisingly, he had a lot of good advice about relationships.

But one thing he said scared me. He basically said a person is a failure if he can’t make two marriages work. Because no matter what happened, you have to accept part of the blame.

And I’m willing to believe that.

So I did what anyone should do.

I called Judy Blume.

Judy Blume wrote about a dozen young adult novels when I was growing up. I loved her books. “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing”. “Blubber”. “Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret”.

And then, of course, I learned a lot more about life from her more adult novels, “Forever” and then “Wifey”. It was the first time I read about sex.

Judy Blume said to me, “Listen. I represent your entire childhood, right?”

Right!

“I’m married to my third husband now for 30 years. He’s the love of my life and I’m 78 years old.

“Third time’s a charm,” she said.

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When my oldest kid was just five years old I showed her a movie about Hiroshima. In the movie, a little boy watches his sister melt from radiation burns because he couldn’t save her.

Stupid me!

In the middle of the night, I heard her crying and I ran downstairs. She was still asleep but she was crying and hitting her pillow and yelling “Why!”

I woke her up and comforted her. I felt so bad. I caused her to have a nightmare. She kept crying in my arms.

Eventually she calmed down and, still in my arms, she fell asleep.

After the divorce, except for when she was staying with me, I realized I would never again be there to comfort my kids if either was having a nightmare.

How many nightmares has she had since then? How many have I missed?

There are a lot of bad things that can happen in a marriage. And each set of bad things is different for each marriage. Get over it.

But missing the nightmares was the worst thing about divorce.

As for my ex-wife. I’m glad you are such a good mother and friend. I realize it wasn’t so easy being with me.

  • Tracey Stark

    Relationships are such a challenge. I’d talk about my current one, but she might be reading this, so I’ll hold off. But I promise, you would enjoy hearing about it because it isn’t something I’ve heard of from anyone else.

  • Manisha Gupta

    this is so overwhelming I can cry… but I am not… but way too much… ughhhhhhh….

  • Angie Clark

    If your teenage daughters don’t hate you by now, you must be doing something right. They enjoy school, too. Smart girls. And you still have a friendship with your ex-wife. You’re luckier than most divorced families. Nothing’s perfect. Listen to Judy Blume’s advice. She’s the oracle of inner monologue and true romance. Your late 70s/early 80s pop culture references remind me that there are too few Gen-X writers. I had completely forgotten about her “Forever” novel. One of my friends nabbed her older sister’s copy, and it was the most thumbed-through and dog-eared book in circulation. It all makes sense now…

  • The body is like foam,
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  • shuchi

    So the more important question is “Are you ready for third time’s charm?”
    Would you like to try someone who claims knowing you better than you know yourself?
    Ok lemme be straight, let’s get married. I AM serious!

  • Commentary2015

    I know this is about ex-wives and kudos to you for how well you are managing things.

    with regard to the Next as opposed to the Ex: when you make your kids your number 1 priority, as opposed to the current woman in your life, she feels it and it’s not good. put your current woman first, then the kids. it’s the best way to show them how to have a healthy relationship where they aren’t the centre of the universe.

    • Totally agree! My parents always put each other first, and that gave my sister and I an incredible feeling of security. We were safe because they were. They were happily married for 56 years until my father’s death. The idea that children should come first is poisonous – to the parents’ relationship and to the children, IMO.

      • I think that is not what this post is about. Children’s worlds change drastically when they are tiny and their parents leave each other. So it’s good for them to know that their parents still love each other and they can feel safe in that. This has really nothing to do with new relationships. New relationships are the most exciting thing in the world when they happen and of course kids want their parents to be happy. There is enough love to go around in healthy relationships. That’s the important thing to remember. Nothing else.

        • shuchi

          Indeed! After all kids also would need to understand at some point in life that new relationships are the most exciting thing in the world when they happen, so why not present an example to them right from the beginning about enough love and healthy relationship.

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  • Stimpy

    Really, no High School? Not even calling it home schooling? Truancy is nothing to be encouraged.

    • I encourage it. Kids should drop out of school NOW. And just sit in on all of my podcasts. Or watch movies. I can’t remember a single day of Geometry but Lawrence of Arabia changed my life. Schindler’s List. Casablanca. The Conversation. And, of course, the Batman Lego Movie (3 million lego pieces used).

      • shuchi

        Yes!!!! RIGHT NOW. What 29 years of my life failed in making me learn by the standardized methods which are used for almost every kid, I learned in past 2 years exactly by what you are talking about.

      • Rick Stabile

        Dude, I remember my Geometry class. It was cool. I also remember my Trig class — the teacher was confused and wrong (he didn’t know trig …), so I ended up having to teach it. That’s when I figured out the best way to learn something is to teach it. I also remember my high school Calculus class – tough, but fun. I only kept in touch with two teachers after high school, my Calculus teacher and my German teacher. Those guys had a huge influence on my life, and I’ve always been thankful for them.

        Not everyone is cut out for school, that’s true. And today school is a lot more structured than it used to be. But I’m still not dismissing it.

  • Sakani D’Angeles

    Thanks for sharing James! Sakani

  • Tolulope

    Awww, this broke me…I am so touched by this…

    Have you ever thought about getting back together with the mother of your kids? It could be worth it.

    I am also happy with the fact that your girls don’t follow your school of thought concerning school. Lol.

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  • Rachel Evelyn Nichols

    I commend you on not bad-mouthing your ex-wife. For all you divorced parents out there please, for goodness sake, don’t dis your ex in front of your kids! They are already having it rough.

  • Katherine Welsh

    I like your rules. I also like how much you like rules.

  • Damian

    Excellent. One of your best. Made me feel calm, like nothing matters too much – there is always something worse

  • Yan Amenta

    James, it’s Now time for you and Anne to get married again. You still love each other.
    That’s the Charm! Love and Blessings <3

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  • James McKnight

    The manner in which you honor the mother of your children and your ex-wife will communicate beautiful volumes to your current companion. You come across as a man who willingly acknowledges your mistakes. You are not a “blamer”. Bravo! I suspect that your current companion really appreciates that in her man.

    Love is beautiful and relationships when they are right are wonderful. You do so much good for others. May you enjoy both for a long long time.

  • Cathy Hasty

    I enjoyed reading your reflections and the reactions of others. I hope that the third time is a charm for you. THERE is enough love-it expands. The priorities shift as the needs shift. When one of us: parents, friends, family or children have a crisis, they become number 1. I have reflected on marriage; I’ve been married 34 years to the same partner. We were in a marriage and family therapy class the month after we were married and both of us were professionally trained as a therapists who do marriage therapy and, most important, we have been in marriage therapy off and on since 3 months after we got married. The first therapist later told me we were the most motivated couple she had ever seen. Nothing has kept us from fighting and failing and trying again. The first therapist in 6 weeks helped us to fight fair. She identified what behaviors were below the belt, the ones that do so much damage. Like threats of divorce, contempt, stonewalling… Marriage is a crap shoot, a crucible for growth where you are both cremated and refined, a terrible reckoning with all the wounds of childhood and one hell of an education. When the intensity gets too high to have a productive conversation (often) we have a structure of private timed listening. WE set a timer for as little as 1 minute or as much as 2 minutes. One person speaks without interruption. We set a timer for silence for the same amount of time. Then a timer for the second person to speak for 1 minute. Repeat. I do not know if it would work for other couples.
    What I know is the comfort of having a partner and the joy of family; especially as we age; it is worth the work.

  • rcastag

    James,
    Those missed nightmares and triumphs too are what, in my opinion, make up a huge part of fatherhood. That is the true cost of divorce in my opinion.
    I really appreciate your perspective on your first ex wife. I have a great ex-wife too. It makes life much easier and my kids are happy!

    Louis CK has a great standup about divorce:
    “Marriage is for how long you can hack it. But divorce just gets stronger like a piece of oak. Nobody ever says ‘oh, my divorce is falling apart, it’s over, I can’t take it.'”

  • JDSmith

    YES! NO ONE ever talks about the “Nightmares.” IT’s the worst part of losing your children, and I think, personally, Fathers are very valuable in that sense, and the reason I support at least 50/50 custody of children after a divorce, no parent has the “right” to children, if you can’t live together, you live apart, but with your children. Children NEED the polarity of their parents, and that whole “Fatherless Epidemic…” I thinnk the financial incentives could explain some of the most awful situations in the most awful places where it’s worth more to divorce and not marry. But that aside, Father’s WANT to be fathers, we’re just left out of the most important experiences, those times when our children need us the most, in the middle of the night, when they’re scared, when they want to feel their father’s strength. There’s 2 ways to look at every problem, either 85% of inmates are in prison bc they don’t have fathers, OOOOR… They’re in prison because mothers cannot be fathers, and designating someone that important in the development of BOTH sexes as a “visitor” at best… well, it’s a crime that which we haven’t in the United States since Slavery. It’s certainly indentured servitude, bc support is not a check, it’s holding your child while they’re terrified.

    • Vive108

      50/50 custody is very adult-centered and just continues the nuclear family disaster. Grow up dude. A real father respects the mother of the children, who carried them into this world – and doesn’t project his own ego needs onto the children. The stability of place & time that children need cannot be substituted – and what we see is that a lot of parents are too immature to respect that fact – especially fathers who use child custody battles to further harass or abuse their former partner. Actual child development studies show that children of single mothers thrive well without fathers (it’s the mothers who are most at risk when they are underprivileged) as long as they have alternate, healthy male role models in their lives, such as grandfathers, uncles, teachers, mentors.

      Altucher’s poignant points seem completely lost on losers who suffer from aggrieved entitlement, narcissism, and/or plain ole misogyny. “Men’s Rights Activists” are nothing more than “Men Without Chests” as C.S. Lewis described it – the condition of apathy and toxic masculinity.