“I can’t believe you honestly think I would do something like that. I’m not messing around with your cousin. She’s not my type, she’s too young, and I would never stoop that low. Yes, I get it is hard to believe after everything I put you through, but you have to believe me.”
His expression of shock, pain, and disbelief seemed genuine.
So for the last time in my life, I gobbled up his lies. I shrugged.
“Look, maybe you’re telling the truth, and nothing is going on right now, but you are playing with fire. Please don’t mess with my family. Don’t make things worse than they already are.”
I didn’t have the energy to debate him, so I decided to move on and let the situation go.
But my family wasn’t ready to let go. I have a big family, and they had big questions. My whole family had been invited to our wedding — which I’d canceled after I found out my ex had been cheating on me for five years. So it was weird for everyone that he kept popping up in my cousin’s company instead of disappearing from our lives.
One auntie bluntly asked me about it. I told her they were just friends. “We talked about it, and he said he’d never stoop so low.”
My aunties aren’t stupid. They knew damn well he was stooping lower than ever before, but there was no proof — yet.
Then out of the blue, my ex called me.
I was having dinner with a friend, and without hesitating, I turned off my phone and slipped it into my bag. He had already ruined so much of my life; I didn’t want him to ruin this dinner. I continued the conversation as if nothing had happened, but I felt anxious.
Our separation was all wrapped up; there were no open ends. His suddenly reaching out again meant drama was around the corner, and I didn’t want anything to do with it.
During the next couple of days, he rang again. Both times he’d quickly hang up before I could even consider answering. He didn’t leave a voicemail or send a message. Even though I had no intention of ever picking up, it bothered me that I didn’t know what he wanted.
I decided to ignore the lingering sense of impending doom. Until I couldn’t ignore it any longer. The doom had arrived at my doorstep in the shape of an email.
“I didn’t want to do this over email, but you aren’t picking up your phone. I want to let you know that I have been in a relationship with your cousin for a couple of weeks now. I am sorry about this. And everything.”
There it was. In writing. The proof I had been right all along, he did stoop that low.
Even though it wasn’t a surprise, I was still shocked. This email meant they were done sneaking around and felt secure enough to take their affair public. Which implied he would probably be accompanying her to family visits and events.
I had worked hard to let go of my crappy narrative — the woman who had to cancel her wedding because she was too dumb to see her fiancé was a two-timing twat — and now I was being drawn into a whole new messy situation; the woman who’s toxic ex is part of her family.
Dating two women from the same family is very efficient, though.
He didn’t have to worry about meeting the extended family because he’d been attending our events for seventeen years. That’s where they met, at a party my grandparents had organized. She was eleven; he was almost thirty. And now she was sleeping in my bed. It felt incestuous.
His actions weren’t surprising, but the fact that she was dating him was puzzling. What was she thinking? “This man has been in my family for nearly two decades; he messed up my cousin’s life by cheating all the time; I was supposed to be at their canceled wedding — yes, this is a good candidate to go on a date with.”
Even though I felt betrayed, I didn’t want her to have to deal with the same crap I had to endure. I had to talk to her. It was one of the most frustrating conversations I ever had. She said she had no control over who she fell in love with and that they were very happy.
She didn’t understand why I felt betrayed because she and I had never been that close.
I tried to explain that I wasn’t calling as the bitter ex who can’t accept the other party has moved on, but to warn her. “I don’t think you understand what you’re getting yourself into. He is not a good man.”
She asked if I said that because of the serial cheating.
“It is not just that. Yes, he cheated on me. He has cheated on his other exes too. But that is just the tip of the iceberg; it’s all the lies, gaslighting, manipulation, abuse, and —”
She interrupted me and explained that he had changed. “That is also why he called you to talk about this. I told him that was the best thing to do, that you had to hear it from him. You know, no sneaking around and stuff.”
Now I understood why he kept calling me. Because he could show her, he’d called repeatedly, and it wasn’t his fault that he couldn’t reach me. Classic. This way, he could take the easy way out and send me a cowardly email instead of having to confess his lies on the phone.
It was only then I fully realized how useless this conversation was. They were in love.
Of course, he was good to her. He was good to me, too, in the beginning. My cousin has had some bad experiences, so I fully understand how she fell for him and his grand gestures. After dealing with snotty boys, an older man shows up, promising you everything you’ve always dreamed of.
“You know him way longer and better than I do, but everything feels good, you know,” she beamed.
I wished her all the best. She offered to talk again at a later stage to sort everything out. Politely, I refused her offer, hung up the phone, and punched the pillows on my couch.
There was nothing to talk about, nothing to sort out. My ex started dating my cousin after I specifically asked him not to. This was very on-brand for him.
And her? I can’t blame her for making the same mistake I had made decades prior. She grew up in a broken home and —just like me — has no clue what a healthy relationship looks like.
And honestly? They’re a good match. I am a goody-two-shoes, and my ex is — well, the type of guy that will survive the apocalypse because he’s selling clean water for a thousand dollars a bottle. And my cousin will stand proudly next to him, applauding his entrepreneurial spirit and using a pitchfork to keep the angry mob away.
(Because their massively overpriced water isn’t even clean.)
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Even though I never asked anyone in my family to pick sides, it did happen. Going public with their relationship was very unpleasant for everyone involved, and there were a couple of fights between my other cousins.
And because my ex and my cousin were willing to go through all this family drama, I knew this was more than a fling.
So when I heard she’d moved into my old house, I wasn’t surprised. My ex had always been on the fence about having children, and before we split up, he said he felt he was too old. But my cousin? She’d always wanted to become a mother, so I figured she’d be pregnant soon.
Their healthy baby boy was born a couple of months ago. My toxic ex’s kid is my first cousin, once removed. Our families are linked by blood.
This situation has forced me to become an expert in the art of radical acceptance. Radical acceptance means accepting that suffering isn’t caused by the pain someone else has inflicted on you but by your attachment to that pain.
His actions are reprehensible. But I also understand he’s not doing this to be cruel to me. He didn’t have a baby to cause drama in my family. She didn’t move into my house to taunt me. They didn’t fall in love to annoy me. He didn’t lie about it to mess with my head, but because he’s a pathological liar.
They’re simply two people with questionable morals who fell in love and had a baby. And they happened to meet because I am related to one of them and was about to marry the other.
In a fair and just world, he would have started a family with one of the billions of women I am not related to, and I wouldn’t have to worry about bumping into my toxic ex at my auntie’s birthday.
But in this unfair and unjust world, I have learned to no longer give my ex the power to cast shadows over my life. For way too many years, I have put his needs and wants over mine, and after our break-up, I finally started prioritizing my well-being and happiness.
And part of protecting my well-being is not holding on to things that hurt.
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Judith Valentijn is a writer, psychology student, and certified non-duality coach.