Monthly Archives: April 2011

your love is my drug

I heard a song today that reminded me of a man I once loved.  It was no ordinary love (as if there is such a thing), but an all-consuming, heart-opening, blood-pumping kind of love.  The kind of love that makes you earnestly nod along while watching Romeo and Juliet. The kind of love that makes you think that every love song is written for you.  The kind of love that usually includes amazingly hot sex.

When I was dating this man, I literally yearned for him.  You don’t truly know the meaning of that word — yearn — until you’ve had one of those relationships.  It is the kind of wanting that awakens you in the night, literally aching for him, that spontaneously visits you at work and leaves you flushed, that makes you restless and distracted almost constantly.  In short, you’re like a 14-year-old boy.  All. The. Time.

I remember receiving texts from him that left me breathless and blushing.  Hearing his voice made my heart flutter, and seeing him brought an involuntary grin to my face.  I was completely addicted him.  And to the sex we had.

When the relationship fell apart — actually, blew apart like a violent hurricane — and I had nothing but contempt left for him, I still couldn’t banish him from my skin and my body.  Long after I no longer missed his voice or his face, I still longed for how he touched me.  What we had done together was like heroin, and I was in serious withdrawal.

So, I searched for the methadone.  I went on lots of dates and kissed lots of men, testing them for whether they could spark the same high he’d given me.  But none came close.  It took a long, long, long time until another man finally succeeded in wiping him from my soul and toppling him from the pedestal of my sexual ideal.

During my divorce, I read The Female Brain and, for the first time, fully understood the chemical dynamics of sex.  I was almost relieved to learn  about the hormonal cocktail that pulses through our brains as we have amazing sex with someone, and the very real withdrawal that we experience when that lover is removed from our lives.  It’s not our imagination — sex and love really are drugs, at least from our brains’ perspective.

I don’t miss the man I used to love.  Not one bit, anymore.  But I do miss the feeling he gave me.  And it was more than great sex — what we shared was heightened and deepened by the fact that we fell in love.  The force of our emotions for each other was so powerful that it frequently left us dazed and bewildered by its strength.  I miss that.  I truly do.  I miss having that kind of connection with a man where we cannot possibly get close enough to each other.  I miss that hunger and that thirst for him.  I miss feeling that this person was so dialed into me that I couldn’t resist him, even if I’d wanted to.  I miss wanting someone so much that you’ll throw caution to the wind just to satisfy a base desire to conjoin with that person, NOW.

Some people argue that such an attraction is simply not sustainable.  I don’t know if they’re right; I’ve only experienced it a few times in my life, and none of those men are still in my life, so perhaps there is truth in that.  On the other hand, I have friends who have been married for more than a dozen years and still claim that kind of chemistry with their man, so I tend to think that, while rare, it’s far from impossible.

I have a theory that — for some of us — great chemistry is the glue that holds a relationship together, when anger or disappointment or frustration clouds our vision and makes us wonder why the hell we’re with this person.  When, even in the midst of an argument, I can look at the man across from me and I think, “But I still want you”, I have given myself one very tangible, uncomplicated reason for sticking around and talking things out.  In those moments, chemistry can break down the walls and serve as the gossamer bridge between lovers.

I think, for me at least, phenomenal chemistry is definitely not enough to make a great relationship, but I can’t have a great relationship without it.  So, I will continue to politely reject the synthetic substitute, and instead wait for the real thing to take my breath away.  Again.

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boundaries = good, walls = bad

I was talking to a friend today and it struck me, as it sometimes does, that it’s kind of amazing that we are friends.  You see, I knew him once long ago, and we were friends.  Then our lives took some twists and turns and we lost touch, no longer friends.  Then, because of Facebook, we became friends again, and closer than ever, until, because of Facebook, we were no longer friends, at all.

It was the kind of ending to a friendship that seems final even as it unfolds.  The wound he inflicted was so public and hurtful and unnecessary that not even our mutual friends would have faulted me for never speaking to him again.  And, quite honestly, when I blocked him on Facebook and erased his contact information from my phone, I had every intention of doing just that.

But then an odd thing happened.  He didn’t let me go.  For over a year, I heard from him every few weeks.  Sometimes it was an email with a news article that he thought I’d like.  Other times it was to tell me about a hard-won achievement of one of his children.  Still others it was as simple as a text that said “I miss knowing you.”  I didn’t respond to most of his communications, except for the ones about his children, for whom I care deeply.  And even then, it was with a terse, “Thanks for letting me know” and nothing more.  I figured eventually he would get the hint and leave me alone.   But he didn’t.

Finally, after a year of this, I responded to one of his emails and asked him what he wanted and why he kept writing.  His response was winding and nonsensical and quite possibly the most rambling and illogical apology I’ve ever received.  But it was a start.  We began slowly, creeping toward a friendship again.  He knows me well enough to know that, once wounded, I will dart at the first sign of betrayal again.  So he has been steady but  not pushy.  Available but not needy.  He shares his stories of his children and his girlfriend, and pretends not to notice when I fail to reciprocate.  He offers advice when I ask, but shows restraint when I don’t.  He acknowledges that he has much work to do to regain my trust and friendship, but claims willing to assume that task.  He tells me that he will never hurt me again.

I asked him today why he didn’t let me go, and he said this:  “Because I don’t like my life without you in it.”  The simplicity of his answer makes me believe him.

I have spent much time since my divorce analyzing the creation and maintenance of healthy boundaries, because I didn’t have them in my marriage.  My life was my husband’s life, his needs became my needs, everything that was unique to me fell away and was lost.  I didn’t know how to create healthy spaces for our relationship, for him, and for me as an individual.  I thought love and forgiveness and acceptance meant compliance and submission.  But it doesn’t.

My friend does not fault me for shutting him out for a year.  On the contrary, he tells me how grateful he is for a second chance, and how much he admires my ability to offer it without extracting a penance.  What he doesn’t realize is how much this experience has taught me.  I am learning how to forgive without submitting, how to be open without feeling a fool, and how to trust that I really am special enough to someone that they will not let me go when I stand my ground.

It is easy, when we are hurt, to throw up walls for self-protection.  And sometimes those walls are good and valuable and necessary.  They allow us an opportunity to re-group, to evaluate, to determine our next course.  But sometimes they also serve to close us in, to limit our future opportunities for connection, to trap us with our bitterness and fear.  I am tentatively feeling my way along… discerning the difference between the healthy boundaries that serve my sense of individuality and allow my soul the room to breathe and grow, and the walls that keep out the people who might truly care for me and keep me from reaching my full potential.

I think I needed that year’s break from my friend, and I don’t regret it.  I needed to figure out whether I could be his friend again, and I needed him to show me what I was really worth to him.  But mostly, I needed us both to know that I could live without him if I had to, and that my self-respect had its limits.

I guess I don’t know if we’ll be friends forever.   But I do know that he has helped me learn invaluable things about myself through this process, and for that I will always be grateful.  Sometimes life is messy, but even in the mess there is wisdom.  If we just look hard enough.

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my blessing and my curse

A man I was involved with, who later stayed a friend, once told me that it is impossible to have a superficial relationship of any sort with me.  It is, he said, my blessing and my curse. At the time, I was flattered and only heard the blessing part of that statement.  The curse component has become more apparent with time.

I have realized that the reason for this blessing/curse is that I find banality intolerable.  And by banality, I do not mean fun or humor or light-heartedness — surely only a true fool doesn’t see the immense value in those things.  I just cannot maintain more than temporary contact with people with whom I must be guarded or to whom I must play a role or feel that the topics of conversation are limited to “safe subjects.”

Being open to the world has granted me some amazing opportunities to know people who astound me and inspire me and create a richness and texture to my life that would not exist without them.  I have been places and had experiences that would never have been available had I been more timid or closed off or fearful.  But my heart also bears the scars and bruises that come from taking the kinds of emotional chances that I do.  I am the first to admit that sometimes it is unwise to allow people in as easily or as quickly as I do.  I sometimes envy my friends who are more judicious in allowing people in, more reserved in revealing themselves.  I envy their sense of self-preservation.  It seems so natural and so smart.

Last week, I visited my bank and had a short interaction with my bank manager.  As I was leaving, he stopped me and told me that it was always nice to see me because he considers me a friend.  Then he seemed surprised at himself for his own candor and blushed.  There was nothing untoward in his words, no sexual advance or innuendo in how or what he said.  I think he just let his guard down for a moment, for reasons I’ll never know and he didn’t expect.

My blessing and my curse.

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the no-vacancy heart

When I was in my 20’s, this was a constant fear my girlfriends and I dodged:  that the young man we were interested in was somehow still hung up on his ex-girlfriend.  Usually, this wasn’t actually the case.  Sure, maybe some residual physical attraction lingered, and the knowledge of that never feels good, but generally those relationships hadn’t lasted long enough or involved deep enough feelings and expectations to really claim the young man’s heart.

Ah… the good ol’ days….

Since my divorce, I have encountered a seemingly endless supply of men who are, quite plainly and quite simply, still hung up on a woman from their past.  Sometimes the past is quite recent —  like the guy I dated mere months after he caught the woman he’d been planning to marry in bed with another man — but sometimes it’s quite distant — like the 44-year-old I saw recently who never quite got over his college sweetheart.  Sometimes the pain and the emotional distance is obvious, but other times it’s buried deep enough that I don’t find it until I’ve already invested myself in this man.  No matter.  Their hearts are taken, spoken for, fully occupied.

And, like women, their hearts make no logical sense.  Take the last guy I dated, who had a lovely photo of his former girlfriend with his children displayed prominently in his living room.  This is the same girlfriend, mind you, who cheated on him four times (that’s right — that’s the number FOUR), and had a nasty habit of getting falling down drunk quite often.  Or how about the guy I dated last autumn, who was still in love with his ex-wife, even though she’d started sleeping with his friends during their marriage.  Granted, she was a former lingerie model with a culinary degree (I’m not kidding; it was almost a relief to not have to compete with that anymore…), but, nonetheless, she’d treated him atrociously and he still loved her.

I suppose that there should be something comforting in  knowing that men can carry torches for us beyond all reason.  And yet, most of the time, I would not want to be lumped in with the women for whom these torches burn.  In my small, unscientific study, they seem to be very selfish, insecure, and manipulative people.  Not exactly a class I’m itching to join.

Now, I’m not saying that men are alone in holding on to their longing.  Women pine and mourn and hold onto the shreds of a once-great love for far too long, too.  But — and this is a big but — most of us don’t pretend otherwise. We know that we’re not over him and that if he walked back in the door, we’d be there in a second.  It once took me four years to get over a great love, which is considerably longer than the relationship itself lasted.  But I knew, all that time, that I still loved him.  And when I was over him — finally! — I knew that, too.

By contrast, most of the men that I’ve met and dated when they were still hung up on someone else would have sworn on a stack of Bibles that they were over the women they were not actually over.  It’s only later, when we’re friends and not lovers, that they sometimes own up to possibility that maybe, just maybe, they aren’t really over her after all.   I credit the male credo of “I’m good.  It’s all good.” with helping them bury their feelings and convince themselves that those feelings no longer exist.  Women don’t have that luxury, and even if we wanted it, our girl friends would call out bullshit mighty quickly, and it would probably go something like this:

“I’m over him.  I totally am.  I feel really good!” 

“Really?  Are you sure?”

“No!  {sob} I still miss him!  Why do I still miss him?!”

I think a lot of women have suffered the experience of being relationship roadkill to a man who is oblivious to his own heartache and just rolls right over her feelings.  In this situation, typically the woman is faulted for having “cared too much.”  This makes my head want to explode.  I can’t remember the last time I actually criticized someone for caring too much about me; as far as I’m concerned, love in any degree is a gift and an honor.  I’ve had my share of men claim to love me when I didn’t seek or desire their love, but I never faulted them for it; I was always touched and honored that they’d bestowed that upon me, even when the feeling was far from mutual.  But maybe that’s just me.

A large part of me feels enormous compassion and empathy for these men.  It was not so long ago that I my own heart was broken and I was wondering if I had anything left for anyone, ever.  It is terrible to desire someone that can no longer be yours, for whatever reason.  But I just wish that they came with a prominent surgeon general’s warning label or a no vacancy sign, so that I could avoid becoming entangled with them.  Is that really too much to ask?

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how’s that workin’ for ya?

Laugh if you must, but Dr. Phil has a saying that’s pretty powerful.  When he’s confronted with someone who is fiercely holding onto and defending a belief or approach or behavior that seems to be causing problems in his life, Dr. Phil will frequently ask of the person:  “So, how’s that workin’ for ya?”  Most of the time, this results in the person being left stumbling for words, his posturing and defensiveness deflated.  Because, quite obviously, if it it were indeed “working” for him, he wouldn’t be sitting on national television talking to a therapist about it.

To be fair to the poor sucker embarrassed on national television, we all do this.  We cling to ideas or behaviors that no longer benefit us because they are familiar and comfortable, or because they serve us in ways that feel good in the short term, but we pay for doubly in the long term.  My personal example of this is my attempt to avoid anger at all costs.  It’s quite a bit like being conflict-averse:  I will do everything in my power to keep the peace and not make someone angry with me, even when doing so is disingenuous or completely betrays my own needs or violates my own boundaries.  This lovely habit is no longer serving my best interests (if, in fact, it ever did, which is certainly up for debate), so I am working — hard — on eradicating it.

My ex-husband’s crutch involves his chronic use of the exasperating phrase “It is what it is.”  This is a handy little mechanism for absolving him of any responsibility to truly deal with or solve problems as they arise.  By invoking this phrase, he declares his utter powerlessness to fix anything and so doesn’t have to bother, nor feel guilty about not doing so.  It served him so well, he was served with divorce papers.  But I digress….

But, as we all know by now, admitting the problem is only the first step.  What the hell do we do next?

This post could be about the value of therapy and how I believe that everyone — at every age — should have a therapist to work out what it is that they’re doing here on this earth and how they can do it better.  But that’s not actually what this post is about.

I think the challenge, when we discover that we’re stuck doing something or believing something that is, frankly, no good for us, is figuring out how to let go of it and what to replace it with.

The letting go of it part is really hard.  Most likely, our grip on this particular hindrance is pretty tight, or it would have sloughed off ages ago from the constant friction it causes in our lives.   No, in order for it to still be here, we must have been protecting it and defending it and nurturing it all along.  So, first we must stop that.  Immediately.  We must stop rationalizing its value and defending it from criticism and protecting it from the parts of our brain and our heart that know it’s simply no good.  Acknowledging that something you do or believe isn’t working for you anymore is a huge, important step; by truly accepting that you need to find a different way, you’ve already diminished the power that behavior or idea used to have over your life.  But you have to honestly know and feel that this part of you isn’t good, isn’t worth holding onto.  Just agreeing with another person’s assessment isn’t the same thing.  That’s why good therapists will let you get there on your own, leading you perhaps, but never pushing you.  Because unless you decide on your own, for yourself, that it’s time for a change, the change won’t stick.

So, what about the what to replace it with part?  Yeah, I know that this part sounds easier, but it’s really not.  Relinquishing a paradigm that we have internalized and acted on for years creates a significant void in how we see and experience and approach the world.  So I think it’s important to replace it with another idea that feels comfortable and right and good, and that our heart agrees is going to move us in the direction we need to go.

This last part is important, so I’m going to be annoying and state it again:  and that our heart agrees is going to move us in the direction we need to go.  Because, we know in our hearts (or our guts or our third eyes — wherever your intuition speaks to you), whether a possible path is truly right or just another cop-out or falsehood.

The typical reaction to rejecting an existing paradigm, I believe, is to resort to the other extreme.  A really good example of this is one I encountered recently in a man I dated.  After experiencing a couple of  mind-blowingly untrustworthy, insincere and insecure women, he decided his normally trusting, knight-in-shining-armor-to-the-rescue approach to women wasn’t serving him well and discarded it.  In its place, he embraced a very guarded heart and strong sense of mistrust masquerading as disciplined mindfulness and mature caution.  Is it serving his best interests?  I guess only he knows the answer to that.

Drawing on my own problem area, I suppose the logical and easy extreme would be to refuse to engage at all on any terms other than my own (sounds silly, but I’ve seen divorced women do this, and you probably have, too).  I have known all along that this path would not lead me — by any stretch of the imagination — to a healthy relationship, and so I have tried to avoid it.  But I’m still struggling to find the middle ground, the healthy place, the right alternative. With much coaching from my therapist, I have come to realize that it has to do with learning to speak my truth cleanly and clearly and without investment in the other person’s reaction (see my previous post, speaking your truth, gracefully for the full story).

Last week was one long exercise in this struggle.  I had opportunity after unwelcome opportunity to practice my commitment to my new approach.  I wouldn’t say it went smoothly, but progress was made.  Definitely.

Trying to figure out what aspects of your belief system or behavior patterns are no longer serving you well and how to replace those with something that will is definitely not a short-term or easy project.  But I do think — sincerely believe — that it’s worth asking yourself, frequently:  how’s that workin’ for ya?

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you can’t get it if you don’t ask for it

Many, many years ago, I stumbled across an article entitled “Glenna’s Goal Book.”  It was in the pre-Internet era, but I’m sure if it were circulating now, it would go viral. I was in a very difficult place in my life and actively searching for guidance and support.  When I read the article, it felt as if someone were speaking directly to me.

Here it is:

In 1977 I was a single mother with three young daughters, a house payment, a car payment, and a need to rekindle some dreams.  One evening  I attended a seminar and heard a man speak on the I x V = R Principle (Imagination mixed with Vividness becomes Reality).  The speaker pointed out that the mind thinks in pictures, not in words.  And as we vividly picture in our mind what we desire, it will become a reality.

This concept struck a chord of creativity in my heart.  I knew the Biblical truth that the Lord gives us “the desires of our heart” (Psalms 37:4) and that “as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7).  I was determined to take my written prayer list and turn it into pictures.  I began cutting up old magazines and gather pictures that depicted the “desires of my heart.”  I arranged them in an expensive photo album and waited expectantly.  I was very specific with my pictures.  They included:

1.  A good-looking man.
2.  A woman in a wedding gown and a man in a tuxedo.
3.  Bouquets of flowers (I’m a romantic).
4.  Beautiful diamond jewelry (I rationalized that God loved David and Solomon and they were two of the richest men who ever lived).
5. An island in the sparkling Caribbean.
6.  A lovely home.
7.  New furniture.
8.  A woman who had recently become the vice-president of a large corporation.  (I was working for a company that had no female officers.  I wanted to be the first vice-president in that company.)

About eight weeks later, I was driving down a California freeway, minding my own business at 10:30 in the morning.  Suddenly a gorgeous red and white Cadillac passed me.  I looked at the car because it was a beautiful care.  And the driver looked at me and smiled, and I smiled back because I always smile.  Now I was deep trouble.  Have you ever done that?  I tried to pretend that I hadn’t looked.  “Who me?  I didn’t look at you!”  He followed me for the next 15 miles.  Scared me to death!  I drove a few miles, he drove a few miles.  I parked, he parked…. and eventually I married him!

On the first day after our first date, Jim sent me a dozen roses.  Then I found out that he had a hobby.  His hobby was collecting diamonds.  Big ones!  And he was looking for somebody to decorate.  I volunteered!  We dated for about two years and every Monday morning I received a long-stemmed red rose and a love note from him.

About three months before we were getting married, Jim said to me, “I have found the perfect place to go on our honeymoon.  We will go to St. John’s island down in the Caribbean.”  I laughingly said, “I never would have thought of that!”

I did not confess the truth about my picture book until Jim and I had been married for almost a year.  It was then that we were moving into our gorgeous new home and furnishing it with the elegant furniture that I had pictured.  (Jim turned out to be the West Coast wholesale distributor for one of the finest Eastern furniture manufacturers.)

By the way, the wedding was in Laguna Beach, CA, and included the gown and tuxedo as realities.  Eight months after I created my dream book, I became the Vice-President of Human Resources in the company where I worked.

In some sense this sounds like a fairy tale, but it is absolutely true.  Jim and I have made many “picture books” since we have been married.  God has filled our lives with the demonstration of these powerful principles of faith at work.

Decide what it is that you want in every area of your life.  Imagine it vividly.  Then act on your desires by actually constructing your personal goal book.  Convert your dreams to into concrete realities through this simple exercise.  There are no impossible dreams.  And remember, God has promised to give his children the desires of of their hearts.

I did just as Glenna directed.  I gathered together a huge stack of old magazines, grabbed a pair of scissors, and began to assemble my own goal book.  My goal book included pages on my career (which was in its infancy), my love life, my hoped-for future family life, my future home, and my ideal wardrobe (I was VERY poor at that point, and clothes were like diamonds for me then).  For the first few months, I looked at it frequently, gently running my fingers across the pictures and imagining that they were real, genuine, mine.  Then I put it away and mostly forgot about it, until earlier this week, when I was going through some old boxes of keepsakes and memories and there, at the bottom, was the daisy-embellished photo album:  my goal book.

I hesitated to open it.  There is something very painful in coming face to face with unrealized dreams.  But open it I did, and I was astounded.  As I turned page after page, I got chill after chill, for there, before me on those yellowed photo album pages, were images that could have been taken from my own life, rather than random magazines and newspapers.  I had constructed this goal book sometime in 1994 or 1995, prior to finishing graduate school or  meeting my husband.  But nearly every single aspect of my goal book had been achieved within the a few short years of its creation.

Much has been made of the power of visualization.  We humans are hungry for a surefire plan that leads to the realization of all of our deepest hopes and desires.  The Secret and The Law of Attraction each sold millions recently, but long before that, Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking and Werner Erhard’s “est” seminars offered up guidance on how to use our minds to influence our realities. Indeed, even Glenna Salsbury, author of the piece above, went on to become a successful motivational speaker.

Now, I’m generally of the mindset that where there’s a lot of smoke, there must be some fire, and this applies to even fringe beliefs or practices.   If they’ve been around a long time, in one form or another, and haven’t been completely discarded, then I tend to think that there is a little kernel of truth wrapped up inside whatever the contemporary packaging of the day is.  And lately, this concept of visualization has been a recurring theme in my life.

I recently spent a day with a friend with whom I share similar spiritual philosophies.  I frequently turn to her for guidance when I’m stuck.  After telling her where I was in my life, she told me stories of people she knew (including herself) who had declared their deepest needs or most precious desires publicly to a close group of caring friends and found their declarations answered in short order.

The story of one woman, in particular, stuck with me.  For some time, her life had been filled with frustration and pain and loneliness.  She finally grew weary of it, and one night she stood up and declared, in front of her friends, what she needed in her life (in her case, it was a “good man.”)  Her friends applauded and vouched their support. Within two months, she was dating said “good man,” and was so stunned by her good fortune that she was scared to believe it.  Ultimately, she must have overcome her fear, because they are now married.

I have done quite a bit of reading about the power of asking the universe, or God, or whatever force you believe in, for help in achieving your goals, whatever they may be.  And a constant — and I do mean constant — thread running through various spiritual and secular approaches is that you must ask for the help, and you must be clear in your intention.  In fact, it seems that the clearer you are (as in the example of Glenna’s goal book), the better the universal forces will be able to line up your heart’s desires.

This being the case, I’m kind of surprised that the woman from the example above was able to find her happiness with a request as vague as “a good man,” but perhaps she truly was at a place where that one, broad definition was all she needed.  Or maybe, in her private moments, she provided more detail as to what “good” meant for her, what it looked like, how it would feel.  Either way, the point is that she felt her prayer or declaration had been answered, and isn’t that really the important part?

I have numerous examples from my own life when I have, in moments of desperation or empowerment, declared my needs to the universe and found them granted in such an obvious and clear fashion that I am left stunned by own relative powerlessness.  In my experience, the more specific my requests, the more quickly they are delivered in a manner in which I recognize them.   However, sometimes, when I’m really not sure what will work for me, I offer a vague prayer along with the trust that some being I can’t see will know better than I what it is that I need.  This was true a year after my separation, when the part-time jobs I had were no longer going to be able to sustain me financially.  I calmly sent out word that I needed a job.  A good one.  Fast.  Within a month, I had applied for two good jobs (the job market was shockingly bad), and got one of them.

So much of my life is really very rich and blessed, that sometimes I feel terribly guilty for not being satisfied with what I already have.  But then I remind myself that we are not in control of our own heart; it wants what it wants without reference to or permission from our brain.  And so I forgive myself for my wanting and try to figure out how to get that for which my heart is clamoring.  I am not yet at a place where I could comfortably and confidently declare to my friends my heart’s desire, although I can feel and appreciate the power in that, and so have set it as a personal goal.   In the meantime, I will work on a new goal book, and meditate or pray — vividly and with specificity — on my desires, and see what appears.

Stay tuned……

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for he’s a jolly good fellow….

Today is my ex-husband’s birthday.  It is a day that has hit me unexpectedly hard, and for reasons that are still not entirely clear to me.   Perhaps it’s all those years of trying to make his birthday special, and never really having any clear idea of whether I succeeded (showing appreciation was not a strength of his).  Or maybe it’s the last of his birthdays that we spent together — the one where I surprised him with a weekend in Las Vegas with our two closest couple friends in a vain attempt to re-connect with him.  Or it could be, quite simply, that I miss having someone to celebrate.

My grandmother used to say that someone’s birthday is your opportunity to truly appreciate them — to imagine the hole in your life had they not been born and to celebrate all they bring to you.  I love that philosophy and have lived it and shared it my entire life.  Even as our marriage was falling apart, I booked the tickets to Vegas and focused on all that we had and all that we shared.

Tonight, he took our daughters and his girlfriend out to dinner at his favorite Mexican restaurant and then they all went back to his house (formerly our house) for cake and presents.  A simple celebration, to be sure, but when my girls came bouncing in the door of my house more than an hour late, they were glowing and happy and brimming with love.  And it occurred to me, as it has quite often of late, that I was on the outside, looking in on the family I’d created.  And it made my heart ache.

Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t want him back.  Too many of his birthdays felt like fruitless efforts to appease someone for whom I was never going to be sufficient.  I have still-vivid memories of (especially during the last few years of our marriage) putting on my best game face and struggling to come up with a present and a card that wouldn’t belie my increasingly shallow and resentful feelings.  No, indeed, I don’t want to go back.

But I envy him for going forward.   I am not jealous, because I do not want him, but I am envious.  I am envious that he believes himself to be in love with a woman who also seems to be in love with him.  I am envious that they get to have happy family times with our children, while I am perpetually a party of three.  I am envious that he has created a new life with such relative ease.

Of course, by now I know that things are not always what they seem from the outside, and I also know how quickly “perfection” can crumble under its own weight.  I have recently been made aware that he is, to a certain extent, posturing for my sake, gloating over his own good fortune, and delighting in my obvious singlehood.  Furthermore, I know, as well as any child on the playground, that gloating only comes back to bite you in the ass eventually (and usually with a vengeance).  But I also know him, so I know how much perverse satisfaction he is receiving from the inequities of our situations.  I know him well enough to see, as it plays across his face, how validated and vindicated he feels to be the one with the “family” again, while I continue to struggle.

I wish I could say that I am such a big person, with such warmth and compassion for all living creatures, that this doesn’t bother me.  But I’d be lying.  It bothers me.  A lot. I positively hate the smirk that appears when I arrive, alone once again, at a school function or a soccer game.  I despise the superior tone he takes when he explains plans that he and his girlfriend have with our daughters.  Honestly, it brings out the basest, most primal feelings of anger in me.  Quite simply, I want to smack that smug look off his face.  But so far I haven’t, and for that, I congratulate myself.

My friends have pointed out all the possible reasons why he is happily settled and playing house, and I am not.  They have tirelessly reminded me that he did not really date after our divorce, but simply grabbed one of the first girls he found and called it good.  As best anyone can tell, he has not spent any real time meditating on what went wrong in our marriage.  And, as one friend bluntly put it, he’s not as damaged from our marriage as I was, because I spent 13 years building him up before I got tired and left, while he spent the same amount of time tearing me down.  That’s hard to hear, but not far off the mark. And by that  measure, he should be embarrassed, not vindicated, by my solitude:  if I am too damaged to maintain a healthy relationship, he is certainly quite a bit to blame for that sad reality.

One friend in particular likes to remind me of the numbers:  most people remarry within 5 years of their divorce, but 75% of second marriages end in another divorce. Based on this, I suppose I am expected to congratulate myself on being wiser somehow than those poor suckers who fall in love quickly.  Funny, but as I climb into bed alone most nights, wise is definitely not what I’m feeling.

I want to be in a place where my happiness and sense of worth exists without reference to what he is doing or what he has, but I am not there yet.  I am strong enough that I have resisted allowing this petty competition of his to suck me in to his game, but not strong enough to have his game not bother me.   I have refused to compete:  I have not grabbed some “good enough” guy and set up house, just to spite my ex.  And I have resisted the desire to arrive at one of the school functions with my handsome, strapping 30-year-old male friend and watch my ex’s jaw drop, but that doesn’t mean I don’t fantasize about it.  Hey, I’m only human, after all.

So, for now, I shall bear his smirky smiles and condescending insinuations as best I can.  And I will continue my journey of personal growth and experience and development.  And I will hope against hope that someday, somewhere, somehow, I will have the opportunity to see his smirk fade and his jaw drop and that I will have the grace and decency to pretend not to notice.

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speaking your truth, gracefully

I have learned with age that sometimes we measure our progress in this life not by our successes, but by how gracefully we handle our failures.  I endeavored — and for the most part prevailed, I believe — to walk out of my marriage with as much grace as possible.  I have broken up with friends and walked away with my head held high while they hurled venomous insults at my retreating figure.  Sometimes, I have discovered, dignity is all we have left when everything else has crumbled.

My therapist spends a lot of time talking about “speaking your truth.”  This is a mighty hard one for a lot of women, myself included.  Being able to calmly and clearly state your needs and boundaries and feelings, without playing games or manipulating or succumbing to the victim role…. well, it’s not easy.  But under her kind and gentle tutelage, I am gradually learning its profound value.

Today, I finally spoke my truth — cleanly and clearly and gently and without drama or accusation — to the man who has been in my life, off and on, for 7 months.  I was finally able to say to him that I cannot date as we have been.  That I like him too much to keep things casual and that dating in this manner is neither who I really am or what I want at this point.  That I understand that he is in a different place and that his feelings for me are not strong enough to prompt a commitment.  That I would never want to be in a commitment with someone who didn’t offer it freely and willingly and with an open heart.  That I don’t blame him; I’m not angry at him.  That I recognize that he has done nothing to mislead me or intentionally hurt me.  That people simply can’t control their feelings; sometimes “it’s” there, and sometimes not. That I’ve been in his position before and had to deliver this same conversation in reverse to men I’ve dated.  And finally, that because I am not enough for him at this point, he should date other women, but not date me.

None of this was easy to say.  There is, beneath these admissions, a painful humiliation that, if permitted, could easily swallow me whole and munch on my self-confidence for dessert.

I didn’t want to say these things.  What I wanted to say was, “Sure, let’s keep dating your way.  That way I don’t have to let go of you and tell you goodbye forever and run into you someday with some beautiful woman on your arm.”  But saying those things would have dug me further into a falsehood on which I was already beginning to choke.

So I had to say these things.  I cannot make him feel more for me, nor me less for him.  I cannot continue to date him as I have been and have it eat away at my self-esteem.  I only had two roads before me, and I chose the high one.  And by doing so, I salvaged from the wreckage of our relationship some modicum of dignity, some piece of respect for myself and for him, that will hopefully enable me to put this relationship into the “It Just Didn’t Work Out” column, rather than the “What a Fucking Mistake THAT Was” column.

At the close of our conversation, he said he needed to do some “soul searching,” and I know that I will hear from him again someday.  But I don’t anticipate a different end to the conversation.  My life is not a Hollywood movie where it takes Richard Gere just a short barefoot romp in the grass to realize that Julia Roberts is simply too amazing to let go of.  No, in real life, more often than not, they let you go.

We had a second chance, my guy and I.  But sometimes second chances are just a chance to find out that the only possible outcome for you is the outcome you got the first time.  The only difference this time is that I spoke my truth.  Gracefully.

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dating like a girl

In my last post, “dating like a guy,” I related how one of my guy friends gave me the advice that I needed to stop caring so much and go back to dating like guys do. At one time, about a year ago, I was capable of that; indeed that was about all I was capable of at that point. I was emotionally bruised and pretty closed off. I could flirt and tease and have fun, but anything beyond that and I ran away. I rationalized my speedy jettisoning of relationships by pointing out that the guys in question had all messed up, which of course they had, because they’re guys and that comes with the territory. But two men who dated me during that period and are now friends have helped me understand that I was pretty cavalier and impossible to get close to. I demanded almost nothing. “Needy” wasn’t a label they ever applied to me. But they got very, very little in return, too. I guess I was just dating like a guy.

For the last 10 days, I have been taking my friend’s advice and dating like a guy again. Or, rather, I have been trying to. And here is what I have learned: I can’t. I just can’t do it. It’s not who I really am or what I really want. It was a phase in my life, post-divorce and post-heartbreak. Nothing more. I cannot casually date someone for months at a time…sharing their bed, hearing their stories, knowing every inch of their body, and revealing more and more about myself each day… and the whole time have them mean essentially nothing to me and me essentially nothing to them.  If I find someone I like, I want to date him and only him.  I want to spend some time figuring him out and us out without juggling multiple men.  If I decide that I really, really like him, I want to feel special to him. I want to feel important and valued. I want to know that I’m more than just a fun time, a placeholder until something better comes along. Maybe at my age, it’s too late to be the big love of someone’s life, but is it too much to ask to just be someone they truly, really want to be with?

I’m not saying that I want every man that I date to feel this way about me, because I sure as hell don’t feel that way about all of them. Casual dating certainly has its place, and I wouldn’t judge anyone for enjoying it. But – for me, for now – it would be nice, once in a while, to find someone who wants the same thing I do. I would like very much to have someone to shower with affection and attention. Someone to do nice things for and make smile. Someone to hold and cuddle and make love to all night long. And maybe, in the midst of all that, we’d fall in love. And maybe not. But at least it wouldn’t feel like nothing. At least I wouldn’t feel like nothing.

So, I suppose I will go back to dating like a girl. And maybe, someday, some guy will come along and decide that what I want is just what he wants, too.

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dating like a guy

Yesterday I was talking to a male friend of mine about my most recent dating mishap.  He listened patiently and then said, very matter-of-factly, “You need to go back to dating like a guy.  It’s that simple.”  Sure it is….. huh???

When I explained that I wasn’t sure what he meant, he sighed, and in that voice you use when you’re talking to either a toddler or a slightly demented senior, he said (and I am going to quote him as directly as I can):

“Men and women are different, and they approach dating really differently.  Most guys don’t date to find a relationship.  They date to get laid.  If it ends up as more, then great.  That’s why it’s called ‘falling in love’ and not ‘planning on love.’  When we fall in love, we just kind of wake up one morning and realize that — damn! — we’re crazy in love with this girl.  We don’t see it coming or anticipate it.  Guys are much better at dating without expectation.  They just see where it goes and when it doesn’t work out, they tend to write it off as being good while it lasted, without having to label it as a ‘mistake’ or a ‘waste of time.’  Women spend a lot of time regretting men, but we don’t usually spend much time regretting you.  We just move on.  ”

Hmmmm…   I had to admit that he had just possibly provided the most succinct and accurate summary of the male/female dating divide that I’d ever heard.  But what was I to do with this information?

And again, in the overly patient, slightly bemused voice he explained:

“A year ago, you were great at dating.  You dated lots of different people and you just did it for fun.  And you didn’t put up with any shit.  As soon as some guy stepped out of line, you got rid of him.  You weren’t a bitch about it, but you didn’t grant a lot of second chances.  You weren’t looking for anything, and — if I remember correctly — you’ve told me that you weren’t in a position emotionally to offer a guy anything real even if he had wanted more.  You were dating without expectation.  You were dating like a guy.  So your chances of getting hurt were pretty slim.  Pretty hard to get hurt when you’re not invested in the outcome.  I think you need to go back to that.  I think it’s healthier.  Quit giving away the best parts of you — and I don’t mean sex, either — to any guy you like.  They haven’t earned the right to be your friend or know your secrets or get under your skin.  Just have fun and quit thinking about what they need and focus on yourself and what feels good to you.  We don’t spend much time wondering what you need, at least in the beginning.   It’s okay to be a little selfish.  If they’re really worth it, they’ll stick around and then you’ll know.”

So, the moral of the story is that I should start dating like a guy again?

“Yeah,” he said.  “Or maybe you should just stop dating dickheads.  That would do it, too.”

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