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An Ordinary Life – Part 3

An Ordinary Life Part 1 — Setting the Scene

An Ordinary Life Part 2 — The Bad Years

This is Part 3 — Her Point of View

A reminder of the characters in the story.

Ian Yours truly; in my late 50s; an honourable man, but apparently a complete bore
Dawn My ex-wife; a Thai national; 3 years younger than me; a "good girl"; a university graduate
Peter First born son; just turned 21
Paul Second born son; just turned 18
Mary I don't have a daughter but if I did she would have this name
Udang My current partner; pronounced "oo-dung"; Thai national; 21 years younger than me (!)
John Udang's son; 15 going on 16

I'm the one telling the story and it's no doubt biased towards my point of view. But in this post I will give more background about Dawn and try to explain some important things in her mindset.

On a recent visit to Bangkok I used the services of Darling Turkish Bath on Sukhumvit soi 12. I've seen it from the main road many times but never gone inside; this time I decided to check it out. The room was a bit tired but served its purpose well. Most of the ladies also looked a bit "tired". I selected the one who best suited my taste (#3; Na, who looked quite tidy, not tired at all; and worked with great diligence). While I selected her based on appearance Na is perhaps in the wrong line of work because she gave the best insight to Dawn's thinking of anyone I've met. I mentioned in Part 1 that I generally go through my story with the ladies because they find it hard to believe I'm not married. Na listened politely and at the point when the lady screws up her face and says "she's crazy" Na said "she wanted to be free". She said Dawn was weighed down by the duties of being a wife & mother for so many years and reached the point where she just wanted to be free. Na should be a psychologist.

I outlined in earlier posts that Dawn is a good girl and a university graduate. She was a go getter who held positions in quality companies like a 5 star hotel in Bangkok and a US multinational. I suggested she was restless and wanted more than my / our lifestyle provided. What I haven't covered are the circumstances around our marriage and a description of her family background. Nor have I covered her strengths, of which there are many. If she wanted to end the marriage on the 2nd day of the honeymoon then maybe I should respect the fact that she toughed it out for 20 years, even though I'd prefer she finished it straight away. And near the end of the current story I'll cover how she showed her strength of character when we left the US.

Mitch. The butterfly effect. A man put on this earth as my adversary. A demonstration that the gods (or God if you believe in just one) have a sense of humour. Is it a coincidence this is my father's name, too?

Mitch is the reason Dawn wanted to end our marriage on the second day of the honeymoon. I mentioned Dawn lived in the US before we were re-introduced in Bangkok. She lived in New York and had a hot & steamy affair with Mitch. They wanted to get married but Mitch's family, with strong Irish-American roots, wouldn't hear of it. They had pulled themselves up by the bootstraps to get to a reasonable position in life; Mitch either was an attorney or aiming to be one. His family saw this girl from Thailand who was in the US for work experience, felt she didn't fit the mould for their son, for whom they aspired to greatness, and forbade the marriage. Dawn wasn't good enough for their son. By this time Dawn had lived in the US for a few years and was thinking about going home. This was the last straw. If she couldn't have Mitch then she couldn't have that lifestyle and she went back to Thailand soon after the breakup. But they never broke up, they kept in touch, maybe with phone calls but definitely with letters. I came across one she kept that must have been returned from delivery in the US. I wouldn't open a sealed envelope but I didn't mind peeking inside of one that was already opened. It was a letter to him with a photo of her one year old nephew and she wrote on the back "Isn't he cute? Do you want one?" The letter was dated before Dawn and I became an item but it was still jarring. I knew about Mitch in general terms but not that she still carried a flame for him after she left the US. As our engagement went on I learned more about him both from her and by digging a bit further; after we were married I learned more again and none of it made me feel comfortable. I even referred to him in my wedding speech. I don't know how many people understood what I said because I tried to be oblique, but decoded I said "And to the other guy, bad luck. I won, you lost". Classy, eh?

Why would I be so crass as to say that? Because when Dawn and I were engaged one of the first things she did was to tell him the news. I don't know if this was part of a plan to get him back or revenge of a woman spurned, but I do know the result. Mitch knew this was his last chance. He said "to hell with the family" and flew from NY to Bangkok to win back his woman. From this point onwards I think two things happened. One was the actual set of events and the other was what Dawn wished had unfolded. What actually happened was she crucified the guy. She teased him by making him think he could win her back but what she really wanted
was to be fussed and maybe fought over. In the actual events poor old Mitch didn't stand a chance. I know she told him things like "You've always treated me well. I love you. But I'm with Ian now and he treats me better than
you did. He's very generous and buys me nice things. You never spent money on me like that and I'm used to him doing it for me now". It sounds like revenge being a dish best served cold. Mitch had a certain style, though. He flew
half way around the world to see her on Valentine's Day which was quite romantic.

Over the years I realised that while Dawn teased Mitch and perhaps wanted revenge, her real wish was to be with him. He was the one that got away. In real life I won but in her mind Mitch did. I think every time I did something she didn't like or every time I was a disappointment she was thinking "I should have chosen Mitch". When she was telling friends she wanted to end our marriage on the second day of the honeymoon the full thought was "Why did I choose this jerk when I could have had Mitch, my true love?" I am not imagining this, she confirmed it for me during the divorce proceedings when she told me the main reason she chose me back in 1992 was because her mother thought I was a better choice. She then said because of that she'd made one major (bad) decision in her life and even though her mother wanted her to stay married to me she wasn't going to make that mistake again. In a few sentences she confirmed all the suspicions I held for 20 years.

By the time we lived in the US Dawn and I were on shaky ground. She wasn't happy about even the first job search experience. She wasn't happy about a lot of things; she was restless and wanted more meaning in her life. She wanted to work again but her visa class wouldn't allow it. I knew in my heart that things weren't right but tried to paper over the cracks for the sake of Peter & Paul and because the lifestyle we had in the US was great — at least I thought so. I learned more than ten years later that she contacted Mitch when we lived in the States. I don't know if it was early or late in the stay but she wanted to see if there was any chance of rekindling the flame. She admitted it to me during the separation. He said he was happily married with kids and she didn't feel she could be a home wrecker (to him?). Because he was happy she left it at that. What am I to think? I ended up as #2 again? She wouldn't wreck his marriage in 2000 but she'd wreck ours in 2010? This didn't do much for my self-esteem.

You might say that I knew all (or most) about Mitch before the wedding so you don't have sympathy for me with the way things panned out. I don't think you understand Dawn's willpower. I always felt I was the better choice, I gave her a good life and she'd see that over time. But looking back at the marriage I think she always wanted someone better than me and that was Mitch. In her mind she made him into the perfect guy. Whenever I did something she didn't like she would think "Mitch wouldn't do that" or if I said "no", in her mind she'd say "Mitch would have said yes". She worshipped at the temple of Mitch and there was nothing I could do to compete against that perfect guy because he always did what she wanted — at least in her mind.

I've read this can sometimes happen if you get involved with a widow / widower — they remember the first spouse with rose coloured glasses. Over time they forget the bad things and only remember the good times. The husband or wife might be dead but they're not buried, at least in the mind of the remaining spouse. The same thing happened with Dawn — except Mitch didn't have to die.

I'm not sure how this relates to the marriage but there is another strange thing that happened at the wedding, something I have never figured out. One of the guests, a farang male invited by Dawn, gave us a recorder (the musical instrument) as a wedding gift. He made a big deal of it. The recorder was made by Yamaha and was clearly a quality instrument. But a recorder? I thought it was a phallic symbol. I asked Dawn what it was all about — was it some kind of private joke? Did he mean "Hey, Dawn, remember me? Mine's really big". She never really answered that. Did his manhood play music when she … ? Her role in the US multinational included helping people with financial problems and she said she'd met this guy because some of his finances were messed up; she claimed they'd never gone out. I didn't believe that. I still think there is something fishy about it. I'll probably only find out the truth when it's too late (see Part 6) but it puzzles me. I tell you this because things with Dawn don't always seem to make sense, but surely when all the facts are known everything becomes clear?

Dawn and Sex

This entire story isn't about rocking the bedroom. But marriage is the legal, cultural and religious blessing of sex between two people so it has to be covered somewhere. There's an urban legend that if you put one jelly bean into a jar every time you have sex in the first two years of a marriage and take one out every time after that the jar will never get empty — meaning a typical marriage loses its physical intensity after those first few years.

The definition of a sexless marriage is one with sex 10 times a year or less. Using that definition I had a sexless marriage for many years. I don't remember when it started but I remember counting the number of times we had sex one year when we lived in the US (so sometime between 1999 to 2001) and came up with eight. I do remember, though, when I was first worried about it — New Year's Eve in Bangkok 1998 (the new year would be 1999) — so this was during my first period of unemployment. Dawn was working night shift in a family business and came back home around 1 AM; I was looking forward to welcoming the New Year in style with my hot looking wife and she simply said "No". I don't think I'm unusual wanting to celebrate milestones with a good roll in the hay. Birthdays, Christmas, New Year, anniversaries — these all became no go zones. In the 2½ years before the divorce it was truly sexless — and I mean zero sex. Eighteen months were due to the separation but for 12 months before that she simply refused physical engagement. Was she unhappy with me because I didn't have an income? Was she yearning for Mitch? I'll probably never know but that jar of jelly beans was disturbingly full.

As far as I can tell Dawn enjoyed sex — just perhaps not with me. I'm pretty sure throughout the marriage she was faithful so if she liked sex why was there so little? Does she have a low sex drive? I wake up with an erection every morning; it's not my super power, it's a normal guy thing (Google 'Men NPT'). Not once in 20 years of marriage did Dawn explore with her hands or eyes to notice I was aroused; that's 365 x 20 = 7,300 times she could have noticed the obvious but she never did. That, my friend, is either a low sex drive or one very unobservant lady.

Back to the Story

While she had a good education and worked in quality companies Dawn wasn't high up on the totem pole. She had jobs that in my home country would be assigned to a high school leaver with a few years of experience. When I said "she gave up all of that for me" she wasn't giving up a lot; she wasn't on track to be the CEO of a company in Thailand somewhere down the track. At first she revelled in the expat wife lifestyle. She met the other ladies, Thai and non-Thai, made it into their groups, went on lunches, shopping expeditions and played tennis every day. Her little insurance policies, Peter & Paul, came along after 2 & 5 years of marriage respectively with an unfortunate miscarriage in between; I'm sure that baby was a girl, which is why I named them Peter Paul & Mary for this story. In the six years between our wedding and when we left Indonesia because of the Asian Economic Crisis (see Part 2) we had one miscarriage, two babies and three international relocations. But after years of the expat wife lifestyle and being a good Mom she got bored and wanted to do more. This was her restless nature coming to the fore.

I think we absorb our family background by osmosis and it comes out later in life. There are a few people who are determined to do better than their parents and want to climb to the top of their profession or the corporate ladder, but most of us absorb our roots and unconsciously return to them in times of trouble. Dawn's family are sole traders. Her Mom had a small grocery shop on a khlong near Bangkok. Her older sister (still) has a minimart near her house. Her younger sister has had a number of small businesses selling jewellery, shoes or clothes. The sole proprietor businesses of her family are a subsistence model — they barely survive, they work far too many hours every day of the week and only make enough money to put food on the table with little left over for anything else. This is the kind of business Dawn thinks about when she wants to do something — it's in her blood.

In the last 10 years of our marriage Dawn felt she wanted to do more than just being an expat wife. She started businesses in various places that were clearly not destined to succeed. By this time my opinion was worthless so when I tried to give alternate advice I was ignored. She felt I was negative and not encouraging of her ideas, so my opinion had no value. In that time she tried:

  • Opening a minimart in Bangkok. Not a franchise like 7 Eleven or Family Mart, but an independent minimart. Virtually all the stock was bought on a daily shopping expedition to Tesco Lotus with a margin added for sale in the minimart. It's hard to make money when you're marking up cans of soda from Baht 10 to 13. It opened at 7 AM and closed at 1 AM seven days a week.

  • A realtor company selling existing houses. Bangkok is one of the few markets (another is Jakarta) where the value of existing property goes down, not up. People want to buy new houses from developers, not existing properties from other people. There are a surprising number of existing properties that are passed on to family members for this very reason. In its later years this business showed some potential because Dawn started to get exposure to commercial deals. She didn't make a deal but started to get information that might have led to one or two, which would have provided a big pay day. I wasn't sure if these were real deals or just Thai businessmen thinking they had the opportunity to bed her but at least she was in the mix with information about the market.

  • A cook / server in a food court in my home country. She didn't own the business, she worked in it (her equivalent of flipping burgers).

  • A coffee shop in my home country — now her home country. This could be quite good but it's one coffee shop in a shopping strip that had three a few years ago and now has five. She has a poor location and hasn't managed to build enough following to get significant traffic into her shop. As far as I can tell her product is good, though. She opens the shop at 7 AM and closes around 5 PM; by the time she cleans up she leaves around 7 PM. The shop's open 7 days a week and I'm told she now takes off one day a week.

Do you see the trend? All small shops; all small turnover; all require significant working hours; mostly staffed by herself or family; none provide a return on investment for the number of hours worked. After a while she gets tired of the work & lack of reward and throws in the towel. She wastes all that time, effort and money. It's a consistent pattern. She does try, she tries really hard, she just doesn't have the background to think of other things; and she isn't open to suggestions, particularly mine.

The next statement sounds sexual but it isn't — I mean it exactly as it's written. She's great with her hands; she can do anything with her hands (except that one thing). She is fantastic with arts and crafts; she can paint; she can carve fruit; she can mould soap into figures; she can knit and crochet; she can cook. Man, can she cook. In our marriage she cooked so well that I put on 1 kg a year for many years; then she criticised me for being too fat.

I advised her to take any one of these skills and use it to make money but that was never a good idea because it came from me. Painting is a good example. In Jakarta she went with some of her expat wife friends for oil painting lessons. The first thing they painted was a fruit bowl (still life). The other ladies needed a lot of help. The instructor gave Dawn a tip here and there but she was doing well by herself. When they showed the paintings the instructor said to her "You're fine. You don't need me. Just go and paint". I can only remember five paintings she did including that one. The fourth one was a horse's head painted from a photo in a magazine. It looks true to life. Her fifth painting was inspired — it was a Buddha in silhouette against a sunset background painted in a pointillist style. (Sorry about the flower blocking part of the image.)

I'm sure she could paint for a living. She could start by selling locally or if she was lucky she could make a collection for a small gallery. After a short while I'm sure she'd have a following and could make good money. But she won't do it; maybe she lacks confidence or she doesn't think it's a way to make a living.

Her cooking is sensational — she can cook any style of food. She makes great Thai beef noodle soup. Her soup is rich and tastes as good as anything I've eaten anywhere. When she was working in the food court I told her this was her play. Set up a stall selling beef noodles. The soup requires preparation, which she can do overnight, and the actual serving is fast and easy because it's only quickly dipping the beef and noodles in the hot soup then putting them in a bowl; it should be a great way to make money. She wouldn't do it because she didn't want a stall selling one thing, she wanted a restaurant with lots of dishes so people could choose what they wanted. As usual she thinks I'm the dummy and I think she has the impossible dream. She would have made a killing selling beef noodles.

She thought she could serve food in her coffee shop but because of local regulations in my home country she can't. She can sell prepared food but isn't allowed to cook on the premises. I come from one of those nanny states where they over-regulate.

Food today is very trendy. There are lots of cooking shows on TV; magazines and shops are full of gadgets and advice to bring out the best in the kitchen. If Dawn and I were on good terms today I'd advise her to give cooking lessons to people in her local area. Just put posters around the local shops advertising lunch time cooking classes that cost $40 per person; offer a 25% discount for the first month or two to get some word of mouth going. Push the angle that you eat what you cook. That way the people can think of it as $20 for lunch and $20 for the lesson. She speaks good English, has an engaging personality, makes friends easily, has all the equipment & ingredients she needs and her cooking is great. She could do it from home, meaning zero overhead. The menu could change every day based on her mood and available ingredients, so it wouldn't be a problem having repeat customers. I'm thinking there might be 5 people with takings of $200 per day. That's $1,000 in her pocket per week minus costs, which is a lot more than she makes from the coffee shop, working far fewer hours and without the problems of running a business (supplier payments, VAT calculations, bookkeeping, tax returns, etc).

I have one last story to that shows her commitment. I outlined in Part 2 the circumstances of our departure from the US. I said when you lose your authorisation to work you don't go from being legal to illegal in one step, it happens gradually over six months. One price to pay, though, is your visa has been cancelled so you can't leave and re-enter the US. If you leave you need a new visa to return. Just a few weeks before we left Dawn's father passed away. She should have gone back for the funeral but if she did she could not come back to help with the move. Moving is a bitch; especially for us because we had so many things — a full 40' container of household goods. We hadn't started packing yet so it needed a lot of organisation and work. Peter was 7 & Paul was 4 and I'd already booked the theme parks' trip specifically for them. That would have been ruined if she went back to Thailand with them for the funeral. If she went alone I would have to organise and manage the move myself while looking after the boys; I didn't think I could do that or at least, not do it well. She gave up her father's funeral so we could all move together.

My conclusion is she was restless. She had the easy expat wife lifestyle but it became too dull and repetitive. She wanted to do something to stay occupied but she wouldn't take advice — at least not from me — and with her background she started businesses that had no hope of success. She felt I was holding her back and her solution was to get rid of me. It was clear for many years before we were divorced my opinion meant nothing and my advice was neither sought nor respected. Her view was that everything negative in her life was because of me and I could never convince her otherwise.

I'm torn as to whether Dawn is a good or bad person. She has many good points but also many bad ones. She was pressured into choosing me over Mitch by her mother and that turned into bitterness over time. She convicted herself to a prison sentence and chose to make it 20 years not life. She grew to resent me as the prison warden. In the end, as Na said, she just wanted to be free.

Part 4, titled The Aftermath, will follow soon …