Melanie assures me her story is boring, vanilla, and then laughs. ‘I am not angry. Shane and I are good friends, use our names’. I won’t.
Melanie attended grad school in Michigan at the age of 22. She dated the usual ‘assholes’ - you know the kind of guys that like to get drunk and throw frat parties, immature and away from home. Melanie wasn’t against this, she loved a good party and being away from home. She just wasn’t interested in dating ‘boys’. She joined the Anti-Defamation League, code for meet singles, which is where she met Shane. It was obvious he was different, mature and a gentleman. Coming from a loving, old-fashioned family, she found his values and behaviour incredibly attractive and as boring as it may sound, Shane was reliable. He was a local boy who worked in the family business and he took good care of Melanie. One specific night she experienced a near break-in, he called the police and stayed by her side the entire night so she would feel safe enough to sleep.
'He is the nicest person and gentleman. The guy that opens the car door when he collects you and drops you off home to your front door.'
A year and a half later Shane flew across the country to ask permission to marry Melanie and returned with her Grandmother’s ring, her childhood dream. He formally proposed over dinner and she said ‘yes’. He knew what was important to her and he got the small details effortlessly, the ring meant everything to her.
'The fairy tale existed there and then.'
The wedding planning was a nightmare for Melanie, highjacked by her mother who insisted on a formal event, whilst her dream was a fun, hippy, beach wedding. Her mother said NO to everything and Melanie became so distressed she almost called the whole thing off. Shane, unfazed by her family dynamics, persuaded her to let her mother win. It wasn’t worth the war, and he wanted to be married. Shane had an innate ability to see the other side of tense situations and simplify everything.
‘What did Shane want?’ I ask ‘He wanted whatever made me happy. He was the guy that said yes to everything.’
Yes, the wedding was beautiful, but it wasn’t her special day.
Melanie loved being part of his family. She reveals she was adopted as a baby and Shane's mother Patricia was adopted too. This revelation forged a deep friendship.
Shane was an agreeable, kind man who said yes to nearly everything. It sounds ideal, but in time it grated on her nerves. The only thing he said no to was travel, he had no desire to travel the world or even go on a road trip.
'He is the kind of man that is happy to sit in a cabin and never venture out.'
Melanie desperately wanted to explore the world and had to travel without him. Even whilst she was a student out partying and drinking till the early hours he preferred to stay home. He would collect her to ensure she got home safely. It didn’t matter in the beginning, Melanie saw the positive side in that he never tried to stop her from doing what she wanted. She thought she had the best of both worlds.
Married, graduated and working at the age of 26 she fell pregnant and then a few years later again. Melanie hated being pregnant, it wasn’t fun at all. She heaves thinking about it, and I don’t think she is aware of her physical response to this memory. Shane was caring and compassionate throughout.
‘There was nothing fun about it, and I didn’t glow.’
Meanwhile, Shane’s family business was struggling. Shane, behind her back, emptied their son’s savings account to save the business. It was a significant amount gifted when he was born. She believes this is where the lies started and the first of many. For her, it was the beginning of the end. He justified it, saying that he was always going to return the money. Had he been upfront she would have helped them. Instead, she found out by accident and was forced to confront his deceit.
'He is a bad decision maker. He would lie about what he ate for lunch, he hated to disappoint.'
Melanie kept all of this a secret from everyone in her life, especially her family. She tried so hard to trust him again. They tried therapy, their priest, and more until they exhausted every method of help. Melanie wanted to go home. Emotionally wiped out with two young children she ached for her family. They packed up and moved, still keeping all the pain and lies a secret, thinking that moving and buying a house to create a fresh start would be ideal. It was a disaster. Melanie's grandfather died soon after the move, and left money to the grandchildren. Shockingly, Melanie found out by accident that both children’s bank accounts had been emptied by Shane. Ashamed and distressed, she confronted him and then asked for a divorce. Shane agreed, even though he didn’t want to. Again, she refused to confide in her family who thought the world of him and she didn’t want them to see how she had failed.
Melanie saw herself as the failure in this story.
They wrote their own divorce agreement and parenting plan and when they submitted it to the courts, the courts disapproved on the grounds that they thought it was too good to be true.
I never knew this was an option, maybe it’s an American thing?
They didn’t fight over money and with his low income, she accepted when he stopped paying child support for many years. No, she didn’t take him to court. He was a great dad and bad luck followed him. Everyone felt bad for him.
'Why would I take him to court? He didn’t have the money and he is the father of my children.'
Little does Melanie know how many men end up in court, and sometimes jail.
They split the money from the sale of the home and that was that. Except, as we all know, life is never that simple. Their son became sick and kept being hospitalised and Shane turned up not only as a parent but as a partner. He remained reliable in so many good ways. The anxiety of parenting a sick child caused them to become closer.
‘We almost reconciled.’
Melanie went back to Grad School to complete her MA and with Shane sharing a lot of the parenting load she climbed up the career ladder. Without his help, she would never have completed her MA. On the flip side, life for Shane was harder, he was miserable and wanted to return home. Melanie let him leave and he would fly in every weekend to be with the kids, staying with her at the family home. It made sense.
Melanie is a social worker who has spent a lot of time learning and practicing psychological awareness and yet she blames and shames herself that she had chosen what she sees as the easiest path. Riddled with guilt, she believed that maybe they should have stayed married.
Her parents' disappointment in her added to her guilt, and to this day Melanie has never shared the reasons why she lost trust and faith in Shane. Generationally, they come from the old school of thought that women should be subservient and were angry that she didn’t have a man to take care of her. I think that maybe they were worried more than angry. Melanie had the luxury to lean on Shane around her parents and invited him to family events to utilise his skill to keep her calm. He was always invited by her parents anyway, they adored him. Even when she was angry with him for being incapable of supporting his family she swallowed it and kept it all inside. He was always by her side co-parenting and being supportive of her. He still cared.
I ask her why she didn't try again, she responds that it was that he violated her trust and she couldn't get over it.
Today they are great friends and he makes more than enough money to help their children. They know no different as she never said, ‘Your father never paid’. She never speaks badly of him. Her children know very little of their story and her struggles raising them financially.
If you could have given yourself some advice back then what would it be?
‘Maybe try a little harder for Shane to help himself’
Would you have listened?
‘Probably not, I was fiercely independent and thought I knew better.’
We thank each other for the interview and I share my insight into her story. I suspect that had she not been so ashamed and reluctant to share the humiliation she felt she probably wouldn’t have the relationship she has with Shane today. Her parent's disappointment and disapproval of her decisions in life caused her to hide her reality which allowed them to embrace him and force her to keep the peace. This allowed her children a present father. They couldn’t go to war without the truth being revealed.
Obviously, suppressing emotions isn’t healthy, but to be able to still speak fondly of the father of your children is a gift for all.
If you want to share your story or you are a professional who wants to share some insights please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org