Broderick Trial Was an Ordeal for La Jolla Divorcees : Experiences: Many who also had bitter marriage breakups said they identified with what they felt was Broderick’s revenge.
Looking back, Janet Allen sees those early years of her failed marriage as though she were living in some pampered nether world--a planet called Ignorance.
She was a good wife, dutiful spouse of a La Jolla pediatrician who was lost in the dreamscape afforded by the couple’s La Jolla Shores life. Her days were spent in a hazy, naive bliss--working as a school volunteer, Brownie leader and Junior League member, between the family’s frequent travels abroad.
In many ways, she was a 1970s precursor to Elisabeth Ann (Betty) Broderick, Allen says. Living not for herself, but for the couple’s two children. And for her husband.
“I see now that I did not take the steps to make my own identity,” she said. “I was very proud of him as a doctor and I was content to rely on that. I was raised in an era when women weren’t trained to be someone, but to find someone. He was my status. I didn’t realize then just how doomed I was.”
In the hours after Broderick, the former La Jolla socialite, was convicted of two counts of second-degree murder for the shooting of her ex-husband, Daniel, and his new wife, Allen and other divorced La Jolla women talked of their own painful experiences in dividing up the property and self-esteem pie with the rich and often-powerful men they once thought they had married for life.
Bitter divorce battles had cost many of them both husbands and the comfortable lives they once knew. The things that were key elements to own personas--expansive homes, children and cherished social standing.
Experts say La Jolla’s pedigreed small-town atmosphere and the staggering fortunes that are often at stake can make such domestic wars especially ugly.
For many women who have survived such divorce battles--including the courtroom encounters they claim leave their husbands laughing all the way to the bank--the forced new beginnings are as powerful as a slap in the face:
Lavish Mt. Soledad homes are replaced by rented Mission Valley condos. Former friends never call. There are nightmares about being effortlessly replaced by a younger woman. Fantasies of violence--not only against their former husbands but also against themselves.
According to interviews, some women who are still angry over breakups years before, have taken admitted satisfaction in the violent end met by Dan Broderick and his new wife of six months, Linda Kolkena Broderick--both shot dead in their bedroom.
Such identification with revenge is unhealthy and unproductive, several La Jolla psychologists and counselors said. It represents the kind of bitterness they have tried to exorcise from their patients.
“Shooting your ex-husband dead is not a solution,” said La Jolla clinical psychologist Edith Eva Eger, who has counseled numerous divorced women. “There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of potential Betty Brodericks out there who probably wish they could do the same thing to their husband.
“But we must find a way to break this pattern, this Wild West mentality.”
Janet Allen lived the Betty Broderick story--up to a point. Hers is a comeback tale of self-discovery and, if not total forgiveness, then coexistence with the memory of her former husband and the pain their break-up caused.
Allen, now 48, says she shouldn’t have been surprised when the end of her marriage came all those years ago. That’s when she discovered the receipt for the apartment her husband planned to take, when she got the news she was about to become the ex-Mrs. Allen--to be left, very suddenly, all on her own.
Drop-kicked. Punted. Divorced.
“I was, to say the least, shocked at what he was doing to me,” she now recalls of the split, which came soon after the couple relocated to Michigan.
The next years of her life became a messy time of two breakups from her husband, of moving back to La Jolla and trying their marriage a second time before its eventual demise.
But during those months, Allen took a step that she now says saved her life. She went to law school, carving out an identity that she could call her own.
And now, almost 20 years after the ugly day in which she discovered that deep down inside of her, there really was no there there, a renewed Janet Allen has returned to La Jolla and is at work to assure that other women suffering through bitter divorces from dominant men do not make the same mistake that Betty Broderick did.
A former corporate attorney and courtroom veteran who believes that an often-biased court system often makes bad divorces even worse, Allen now runs a mediation service for couples, trying to transform the brewing hatred into an arena of mutual respect.
She has also helped to sponsor divorce recovery workshops at several North County churches, seminars attended mostly by women, as a way to establish a support network for spouses who have all but lost their sense of self and must begin their lives again. The idea is to turn a divorced woman’s sense of powerlessness into a strength of mind and heart.
But she will not step back into the courtroom in the role as divorce attorney.
“The court system does too much damage to divorcing couples,” she said. “Judges have told me that they know they’re the worst possible people to be making decisions. They don’t know anything about the case. They often don’t even have time to read the file before making split-second decisions that two people will be forced to live with the rest of their lives.”
In the recovery workshops, divorced women often tell their own stories of living like obedient children in the homes of their dominant husbands, of threats made and carried out. The stories always end up the same way--broken, angry, vengeful women talking of their shattered lives.
Like the businessman’s wife who for years remained dependent on her husband at his urging. Now he is angry that his former wife can’t immediately go out and find a job.
Or the woman in her late 60s who found that her university professor husband had for years lived a dual life--secretly keeping a younger woman, a job and home in some other town--before finally dumping his wife of several decades.
Then there’s the women who helped her husband establish his own business and centered her social life around it, until he left her for another woman once the business took off.
“At least he didn’t leave me for a teen-ager, I give him that much credit,” said the woman, who left La Jolla and the couple’s $2.6-million home for a 1,500-square-foot bungalow.
She remembers the day he finally told her of his plans: “You don’t like me, do you?” he asked before lowering the boom. “Well, I don’t love you any more. I’ve found someone else.”
Within days, she was told to leave the office where she had worked as an accountant. None of her former friends there were allowed to keep in touch with her for fear of their own jobs.
While her settlement at first sounded adequate, she soon learned a cruel lesson about divorce. “On paper, a divorce often sounds good, but when you expect the checks and they don’t come, you learn otherwise,” she said.
Divorce experts say the statistics of divorce paint women as losers.
Nationwide, half of all marriages end in court. That statistic rises to more than 70% for second marriages, they say. And the financial breakdown isn’t much cheerier. On the average, the husband’s income increases by 40% while the ex-wife’s decreases by more than 60%.
More than 80% of divorces involve the infamous “other woman,” they say.
“Dealing with the presence of the other woman is one of the most devastating things about many divorces,” Allen said. “On top of all the rest, it robs a woman of her self-worth and her sense of desirability.”
Money can play the same divisive role, which is one reason why counselors say La Jolla is a place where divorce can be an especially dirty word--an insular town within the larger city where there are often vast fortunes involved and where word of personal disaster travels fast.
“There are two places in San Diego where this is especially true--Coronado and La Jolla,” said Mary Schiffman, a La Jolla marriage, family and child counselor. “These places are such small societies that personal affairs as divorces often take on the fish bowl quality, where outsiders are looking in.”
When one spouse has married into money, the financial base can be quickly withdrawn during a divorce. The result, counselors, is that many divorcees are forced to move out of La Jolla to more-affordable living arrangements. They often lose exclusive memberships to such places as the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club and the relationships that go with it.
Some leave the community for fear of running into former friends or seeing their husband with his new mate.
“The shunning aspect, you really don’t find people from other communities talking about it,” Schiffman said. “It’s unique to areas like La Jolla.”
The spouses of their ex-husband’s business partners will often turn their back on divorced wives--cutting them off not only from their husbands but any potential support network as well.
“In La Jolla, people have some pretty powerful business relationships,” she said. “And those ties are respected above personal relationships.”
The return of a divorced woman’s self-respect, counselors say, begins when she lets go of the anger.
“For many formerly wealthy women, the key is realizing that the center is located within the self and not in another person, to be confident in whatever course their lives take,” said Anne Berlin, a La Jolla counselor. “Whether its having a very wealthy husband or going back and teaching grade school.”
Psychologist Eger echoed the importance of sense of self.
“Dependency breeds depression,” she said. “Don’t do what Betty Broderick did--put your eggs in one basket, your husband’s basket.
“And after the divorce, don’t go looking for another man. Marry yourself for awhile. Get to know you . Because all relationships eventually end. You’re the only one you’ll have for a lifetime.”