October 15, 2019

Why bad things happen to good people

“Why do bad things happen to good people?” is a question as old as mankind and human memory. Though widely addressed through the ages by religious and secular scholars alike, the cause of this obviously unfair situation has remained shrouded in mystery. That is, until now — I think I've found a clue.

It may all begin in childhood, early socialization, and a kid's first moral lesson: Be fair. Indignant shouts of “That's not fair!” are heard daily in every preschool and among siblings in every family. The outrage may involve nothing more earth-shattering than who got the biggest slice of cake, or more time on PlayStation. But if one party feels slighted in any way, the sense of unfairness sits heavy on his or her young soul, far outweighing any real need or desire.

So it should come as no surprise that the absence of fairness in life should be the number one complaint voiced by moral adults who have acted honorably … and expect their just rewards in the here and now (and not only in the hereafter).

When “acts of god” such as natural disasters or epidemics come to wipe out entire populations — the good, the bad, and the morally ambiguous — all equally and together, there is less reason to complain. Sh*t happens. It's only fair that everyone suffer the same.

Then there are random instances of bad luck. This, too, can be seen as occurring to good and bad people in equal measure — with no divine hand guiding who “deserved” the cancer, the car crash, the death of a loved one. Some are just born “luckier” than others, people say. That's the way the dice rolls.

But there are instances, far too many, when bad things happen to good people in greater proportion (than the general population) specifically because of their “goodness.” The naive belief that others are as good and pure-hearted as they are makes them easy targets for ne’er-do-wells, and more susceptible to being taken advantage of. Because of their unsuspecting good nature, they may even be hurt and misled by those who don't start out with evil intentions. Nowhere is this more evident than when it comes to affairs of the heart.

This past week, I've been in a position to hear two attractive and sweet-tempered young women in their early 30s express anger, dismay, and general unhappiness with the state of their lives. (It's easy to lend a sympathetic ear for half an hour or more whilst undergoing a dental cleaning or receiving laser therapy to help heal a formerly fractured wrist.) And I came to realize that, to a large degree, the bad things that happened to my dental hygienist and physical therapist were the result of their good, trusting natures.

Seven years after the fact, my hygienist is still angry with her cheating ex-husband whom she'd caught in an adulterous affair with the married (and mother of three) next-door neighbor. Their first-born son was only three months old at the time. He'd then had the chutzpah to ask her to sign annulment papers so he could go on to marry this woman in the Catholic Church. (Yeah, this makes no sense to me either, on so many levels.) She's also angry at being stuck with joint custody because, as she explained, “nowadays mothers no longer automatically get the kids.”

I tried to find the one positive in her situation, which she acknowledges. Her son was so young at the time, he never knew a different lifestyle, and is doing fine. But seven years later, mom is still having a hard time moving on from the hurt and betrayal. (She told me they were high school sweethearts who'd been together for 12 years — and happily married for six — before she got pregnant. She's still trying to figure out exactly what went wrong.)

I wish I could tell her to ignore the past and just move on; but realize it's hard when you are continually in touch with your ex while raising a child together. I do think her life would have been a lot easier had she not continued to be “so nice.”

When she first discovered her husband's infidelity, she fled with the baby to her mother's. I can see not wanting to live next door to the cheaters, but then her house was put up for sale in the divorce settlement and she received only half. I also wish she'd told her adulterer husband who'd sent annulment papers for her signature (complete with an insert stating new papal rulings no longer consider the child of an annulled marriage a bastard) to go take a hike.

You can only swallow so much b.s. in the name of religion. His selfish request now also left her angry and disillusioned with what should have been a source of solace in hard times, the church of her faith. Anyone with half a brain knows annulment means no intercourse took place, and what could be greater proof to the lie than their baby boy? I would have advised her to respond with, “Fine, the child is all mine then. You can get your annulment after you relinquish your parental rights!”

As it's obvious this would not be acceptable to a father petitioning for joint custody, she could then have used his “request” as a bargaining chip for limited visitation and more support. In hindsight, I feel she would have been better served by a meaner and craftier lawyer, if only to match her ex's representation. Why should he, the instigator, come out of the divorce with all his wishes met, a new family ready to embrace him on his own terms, and no regrets? No wonder she's still hurt … and angry.

Women are taken advantage of far too easily when their husbands leave them, for whatever reason. Especially good women who've been conditioned to blame themselves for everything that doesn't go right in their lives, and so rightly or not (and most often not) feel it's their fault their marriage failed.

A friend of mine, a warm and generally positive woman in her late 60s who was divorced 20 years ago, admits she still resents her ex. She especially can't stand the idea that her fantasy retirement was co-opted by her former husband and his new honey. She'd always been a good wife and mother, she says, and feels it's simply unfair how now they are enjoying “her” dream house in the country while she can barely afford rent on a tiny studio atop a garage. She might have purchased a condo, but at the time of the divorce, her ex convinced her donate her portion of the settlement to help finance a nice home for their newlywed son. Soon after, she was laid off from her clerk's job, and now resorts to cleaning houses for cash.

I feel my friend's ex played the “mom” card during their divorce so that he wouldn't be asked to help their two grown children financially… And then took off to enjoy his golden years with nary a care in the world. At the time, she'd been way too nice and accommodating, and has paid for this selfless motherly act by remaining embittered (and just like the young mother in her 30s, soured on men) for far too long. (She never remarried.)

My physical therapist shared that she suffers from PMDD (a severe form of premenstrual syndrome), but can no longer afford the monthly birth control pills that used to provide some relief. Her preferred contraceptive brand (the one with least side effects) costs a whopping $150 a month! While a large portion of this cost was covered last year by government-sponsored health insurance, this year, she could only find part-time work and so no longer qualified. (Florida does not offer its own plans and has refused to expand the state's Medicaid program. She now numbers among the 669,000 — or 18% of Floridians — who fall into this insurance gap.)

Sadly, this young woman, in her innocence and sense of fairness, had assumed that because she now only works part-time and so earns less, the Obamacare benefit would definitely be there to help. Our government does bad things to good people, too.

For some reason, she saw fit to assure me that her need for “the pill” had nothing to do with sex, as she wasn't having any. I didn't pry, but have a feeling she, too, has been hurt by a man or men, and is now gun-shy when it comes to exploring new relationships. Hopefully, she'll at least take my advice to visit Planned Parenthood for more affordable contraception. They don't offer her brand, but might deliver something to keep the worst of her PMDD symptoms in check.

As I've got at least several more sessions of therapy coming up to get my wrist back in shape, I'm also hoping we'll chat some more, and she'll let me convince her to stick up for herself while not giving up on love altogether. All these wonderful single women have so much to offer some lucky, nice guy. If they could only let go of past resentments, find inner peace, and allow hope, once again, to enter their hearts. I want to tell them it's worth taking a chance. They can make it as a couple  — with a new and improved partner, of course.

I'm also beginning to think bad things happen to good people because they are not savvy or suspicious enough. They expect people and institutions to do what they say they will, and to work properly. Some people simply sail through life unscathed despite their innocence … or have more crafty people looking out for them. But they are the lucky few.

I used to be one of those innocents myself. When my ex and I finally divorced after splitting up and trying again for about ten years (I had married young and naively at age  20, but that's a whole nother story), I agreed to meet him in the Lower East Side of Manhattan to see a rabbi about a get.

On the street, right outside the rav's door, he suddenly presented me with a paper to sign stating I would not pursue any financial compensation from him then — or anytime in the future. It was obvious blackmail (all the more shocking because I had never asked him for anything). It did, however, reinforce my decision to be rid, once and for all, of this selfish s.o.b. I wanted the get, so I signed. We had no children; a no-fault divorce was already in the works (orchestrated by his paralegal sister) that ended up faulting me for “abandonment.” (Whatever, I thought, at least it was over.) Still, as he well knew, I coveted this Jewish divorce in order to please my Orthodox parents.  

In hindsight, and as I've often been told by friends, I was crazy to sign this document.  Hadn't I stopped my own education after getting my teacher's degree to support him financially through graduate school — and even written some of his papers and most of his doctoral thesis?

Of course a good lawyer would have seen to it that my years of support were reimbursed out of my ex-husband's future professional employment. But, like I said, we had no kids (he hadn't wanted any, and so it was real easy for me to convince the rabbi to issue that get). And, this being in the days before social-media stalking, I was truly able to have nothing to do with him ever again … and never look back. Only a year later, despite my trepidation, I allowed myself to fall in love once more — this time with my “forever husband.” September will mark our 33rd anniversary.

So my best advice to everyone with anger issues about their exes and the perceived unfairness of their “living the good life” after they left you, is to simply turn a blind eye. Your relationship is over. Sure they were idiots and they were wrong and you were right. And perhaps you were screwed over in more ways than one. You need not forgive, just forget a little and move on. Please, please, for your own mental health, ignore enough of the past to get on with your life and become whole again.

Now is the time to discover the best version of yourself. Don't let their former bad actions define and influence who you are today. Who you'll become. Learn from your mistakes; then use that knowledge to become wiser and more discerning. But do still allow yourself to take the leap of faith that lands on true love. Even if it's not forever (for who can predict the future?), it's still worth taking that chance for as long as love lasts … and makes your good heart sing.

© 2015 Mindy Leaf

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