Dear Miss Manners: Within the past year, in the midst of a family crisis, my former husband poured out his heart to me and stated his deep regret that our marriage ended in divorce. We have been divorced for a decade, after a 22-year marriage, and I have been married to my second husband for almost four years.
He added that he was still very much in love with me, couldn't remember what went wrong and couldn't -- and didn't want to -- "let go." This confession was accompanied by heart-wrenching sobs and preceded by obvious flirting, references to past intimacies, and even a serenade of songs that had meant something to us. It was followed by an electronic correspondence for several months.
Yes, I participated in this correspondence, to my eternal chagrin. I was highly flattered and at a critical low point in my present marriage, which is no excuse. I did, however, inform my ex-husband that things had gone far enough, and "well enough" should be left alone.
Shortly after this bizarre episode, my ex-husband announced his intention to marry a woman he met by chance on a business trip. Ironically, this type of extra-curricular activity was a factor in our break-up. He informed me of his decision to petition the church for annulment of his marriage to me, at the request of his betrothed.
The happy couple plan a civil ceremony, followed by a big church wedding once the annulment is granted, a seemingly foregone conclusion. Everything my ex-husband did to destroy the marriage -- the lies, the abuse, the infidelity, the drinking -- will only serve to accomplish his purpose. The process can take as long as three years, and my participation is optional.
I am opposed to the annulment, believing that ours was a valid marriage into which I entered with pure intentions and true love.
How do I conduct myself in the company of these people?
We will be thrown together at several family functions where my non-attendance is out of the question. I have no desire to socialize with him, his fiancee or my former in-laws, who have agreed to be witnesses to this travesty.
This annulment process has upset my adult children and will cause me untold distress. I am already re-experiencing a terrifying recurrent nightmare which plagued me throughout the six-year dissolution of the marriage (the divorce was not initiated by me, but I insisted upon seeing it through).
In the past, when forced to be in the company of my ex-husband's paramour at obligatory business functions we attended while still married, I acted as though she were non-existent. I cannot see how the same behavior can be employed now without putting me in an unflattering light.
Gentle Reader: Let's see if Miss Manners has this right:
Within the year, your former husband behaved as if the divorce and your remarriage had not existed. Now he is trying to establish that your marriage to him never existed. While it did exist, you behaved as if his paramour didn't exist.
You are in Never-Never Land. So behave as if the situation didn't exist. That is, venture among these people as if you don't quite remember why you don't like them, and maintain as calm and civil a distance from them as you can.
Please understand that Miss Manners recommends these Never-Never Land tactics for social use only, and is by no means suggesting that you concede the annulment. You know what actually existed, and that included your decision to divorce yourself from this entire mess.
Address your etiquette questions to Miss Manners, in care of The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, N.Y. 14240. The quill shortage prevents Miss Manners from answering questions except through this column.