It’s a word abuse victims have had lobbed at them too many times to count.
For years, we hear it from our abuser.
Why are you so petty? Are you really going to be that petty and make a big deal about this? Don’t be petty. My ex-wife was always so damn petty – I thought you were better than that.
Then, when we leave, we hear it from so many other people, too.
That’s really petty if you can’t just get over yourself to let him be a dad.
These petty arguments need to stop or you two will always be in court.
Sticking to the court order is pretty petty, don’t you think? He just wants more time.
It’s really petty to not just give him make up time. I mean, he said he had work.
I am, quite literally, pettied the fuck out by now.
As with so many other things, x was not unique in that he almost always tried to spin legitimate concerns I had into petty squabbles I just wouldn’t let go of.
Affair? Jesus, let it go already.
Lying about everything? Stop being so damn petty. You don’t need to know everything.
Asking for info? You want to control every petty little thing.
Within a month of ending it, I could finally fully see that he was the one being petty.
I go away for a few days with a friend? He’d act supportive but then pick a huge fight and threaten to end the relationship within a week of me coming home.
My father gives us a lump of money to buy his son Christmas presents from Papa and we decide to give him the cash? A week long fight (and a big dramatic show of being upset and hurt and actually leaving for a few hours on Christmas morning) complete with weeping about how his son isn’t treated fairly because my nephews got all kinds of presents from Papa (that their parents bought and wrapped instead of giving them the cash).
Him refusing to show up to name change court. Him refusing to pay child support unless I do what he wants with visitation. Him lying on social media to paint me as a slumlord keeping the stuff he had left at my building for more than six months without caring about it.
Him posting on social media that some people just complain about being parents when I asked him to make sure to feed V dinner on his weeknight visitations after he’d returned her home and she was complaining she was hungry at bedtime because he’d only fed her one pretzel and a small chunk of cheese all night.
Me posting a new social media profile picture and him saying I had put up my man-catching single pic just to try to piss him off.
In those early free days, I actually almost ordered a package of 50 bumper stickers with nothing but a line drawing of Tom Petty’s face that coworkers wanted me to get so they could take turns just randomly slapping them on his bumper.
I still laugh when I remember that. I didn’t do it – because staying completely clean of the pettiness and bullshit was more important. As much as that would have felt really good to have others validate who he really was – the amount of petty joy it would have given me – my daughter’s safety and well-being was always more important and so I just made jokes about it. Made myself content with just imagining what it would be like to have him labeled correctly. Finally: some truth in advertising.
Slapping bumper stickers on x’s car would have been a little petty. True and well-earned, but also (only) a little petty (since clapping back after all the abuse isn’t something we should be completely denied – but if we are in family court, we definitely are denied that option or we risk our own credibility and endanger our children further).
What’s not at all petty are our very real complaints and concerns about our abuse and the abuse of our children.
Very real and concerning issues get dismissed as petty alllll the time anyway. We have to coat ourselves in Teflon to survive the day to day of being dismissed as petty. We join support groups so that we have other folks who know how hard it is to be so beyond petty in the hardest of moments when being above the fray is an Olympic feat.
Last week, in one of the closed groups I’m in with other moms like me, there was a break in the stream of horrible pleas for help with court chaos and harassment and abuse when one of the moms posted a meme that said something like: we’re really offended because they weren’t attractive enough to do what they did to us.
The sporadic comic posts in that group are like pressure release valves. We can laugh at things in that forum that we can’t really laugh at anywhere else. Only women who know what it’s like to be harassed by a million small pin pricks won’t call you petty for laughing at something like that.
One woman did comment that it was petty but that she agreed. She didn’t say it meanly or condesendingly and it didn’t upset me. But for days I’ve been thinking, again, about petty.
I had just seen the cake above a few days before on Instagram and had screenshot it. I had imagined sending it to x on my birthday even though he wouldn’t get the joke at all. It made me Tom-Petty-bumper-sticker smile.
So I already had petty on the mind when I read her comment.
The thing is: that meme’s not petty. Not really.
Our abusers had very little going for them and they punched above their weight.
Abusers like x target successful, strong women and then break them down slowly and methodically. They praise us for things like integrity and independence and then spend years trying to shame us for those same things.
X’s ex-wife is smart and organized and works her ass off. I held our family together both financially and in the day to day while working fulltime and making the money that afforded us any of our ‘extras’. His girlfriend after me had worked her way from bartender to a more prestigious position in an international brewing company. He lived in her apartment and drove her much nicer car when his self-repairs on his own car left it stationary.
Abusers are like evil butterfly catchers. They can’t fly and see us flying and they say they love that we can fly but they really just want to net us and then pin our wings to a board and cover us in glass until we can’t breathe, or at least until we can’t get away from their black-eyed gaze.
The fact that they didn’t deserve us and didn’t come to the table with much of anything is as much the point as anything else. Especially when it comes to us healing and making sense of our past so we can never ever let someone like them in again.
The fact that we saw them as more attractive and loving than they are is because they performed a long grift on us and that fact is not beside the point or meaningless.
It is not secondary. It is not trivial. It is not of little importance.
When I saw the pretty/petty cake, I was surprised by how amused I was to see those words played off of each other. And as I thought about why I would want that cake when I was called that and have worked so hard to be anything but, I realized that it’s because I no longer care if anyone thinks I’m petty.
I guarantee you that x could get twenty people, easy, with less than a day’s notice, to stand up and say I’m petty.
Doesn’t make it any more true than the lies he’s filed in court documents or the lies he’s told me to my face for years.
Hell, I could probably pull together at least three or four family members of mine who think I’m petty. Some he’s contacted to tell his tales of woe and others who just don’t get what he’s really like behind closed doors.
Again, doesn’t make it true.
Once you start to hold really strong boundaries with one person, you start to see the true shape of lots of people who don’t think you should hold boundaries at all. And lots and lots of them call you petty to try to deny that fact that you need the boundaries at all.
Can I make petty jokes? Absolutely. A lot less of them now than I did ten years ago, though.
There’s something about someone spending years belittling you, bit by bit, that makes lots of harmless jokes seem a lot less harmless now.
Surviving x and also raising a daughter who has had to weather his lies and crazy-making has made me really soft, as far as my sharply (and cruelly) sarcastic family is concerned.
I no longer find humor in barbing someone who doesn’t want to be barbed.
But do I still wish I could wallpaper x’s car with Tom Petty’s face? Fuck yes. There is a part of me that will always enjoy imagining that.
But I won’t do it.
Because I am not, actually, petty. But I already knew that.
The beautiful thing I’ve realized through this last week is that I absolutely don’t feel a damn thing about anyone else who doesn’t actually know my life thinking that I’m petty. Somehow without me realizing it, in the last year or so, I’ve become immune to those accusations.
There are times in the abuse, but even more so when you are freshly out, that you can’t imagine ever being free of the pain of unjustly being accused of being mean, evil, petty. You don’t think you’ll ever reach the point where you can ‘nothing the x’ – where they don’t make you feel anything at all. Where even those who do their bidding will not make a blip on your emotional meter.
But I’m there. I seriously don’t care.
It’s easier for me, even at this point being three years out, because my daughter is shielded from his abuse, giving me the luxury and the privilege of healing without being constantly re-wounded.
But even if you are in the trenches now and you feel the barbed sting of people thinking that the things you do for survival, to protect your child and yourself, are petty – or trivial or bitter or cruel or abusive – please know that petty is a tool meant to silence those who speak up, those who don’t allow others to abuse them.
It is especially meant to punish any of us who dare to be strong enough to laugh at any part of what we’ve endured.
Don’t absorb it.
You know. You should allow yourself to fully believe it. Don’t wonder.
We are not petty.
Fuck anyone who lobs that word at you.