Monthly Archives: May 2011

crickets and tumbleweeds on my iPhone

One of my friends found herself recently in a common dating dilemma:  to text or not to text.

The Clift’s Notes version is this:  She meets a hot guy at work.  They flirt a bit. He asks her out. She says yes. They go out on two dates in one weekend and things seem great. He alludes to things they’ll have to do together over the summer. She gets excited (in all the good ways). Then his kids arrive for his parenting week and he disappears completely.  Five days after their second date, he sends her a text wishing her a nice weekend.  She replies wishing him the same.  After that, nada.  Nothing.  Zilch.

Sigh.

I mean, really, What. The. Fuck.

I feel certain that I will never, in all my dating years, understand the person who shifts gears from “Here’s a list of all the great and romantic and fun things we should do together this summer!” to stone-cold radio silence in a matter of days without any explanation or obvious reason.  One of my guy friends calls this silence “crickets” — as in the awkward quiet that is filled in cartoons with the sounds of crickets chirping — and another refers to this as “tumbleweeds” — like in the old westerns when the tumbleweeds blow across a barren landscape and that music plays (he even does the sound effects).  But whether you call it crickets or tumbleweeds, it sucks.  Plain and simple.

Obviously, we can speculate — he decided he wasn’t that into her; he got crazy busy at work and at home; one of his kids got sick; etc.; etc.; etc. — but it would only be exactly that, speculation and nothing more.  And so it is pointless.

My friend has, of course, surmised every possible reason for this sudden and unexpected turn of events.  She has alternated between empowered moments of accepting that “it” just wasn’t there to insecure moments of questioning her physical attractiveness.  It is maddening, this unknown, this waiting for an explanation that may or may not ever come.  She can only try to put him out of her mind and press forward.

Or can she?

Maybe she could text him…. say something cute.  See what he does….  Maybe she should be flirty…. Or just friendly…. Or totally nonchalant.  Maybe she should say something reassuring him that she was interested (is it possible that he felt she wasn’t??  Wouldn’t that be terrible?)… Or maybe she should just say something open-ended, to (as she put it) leave the door of communication open….

In the end, she chose to do nothing, which was apparently the right decision because he is still MIA and she has moved on to a handful of other men who actually are interested enough to show it.

I know that men can be… how shall I put this delicately?…. reluctant to have difficult conversations with women.  I suppose that I must acknowledge that there are members of my gender (who have, it would seem, dated every single man alive) who turn into screaming banshees when, for instance, they are informed that a man no longer wants to date them.  These women also apparently sob uncontrollably and make wild, cruel, hurtful and false accusations about the man in front of them when confronted with a painful conversation.  Just to be clear, I don’t personally know any of these women, but based on what I’ve seen of men, they must be pretty strong and pretty intimidating to deal with.   And so, men generally avoid such conversations at all cost. Which makes us women tempted to turn into exactly the psycho bitches they expect us to be in the first place.

And so it goes.

I have had my own rendezvous with crickets and tumbleweeds.  My personal favorite is Tom, a ridiculously handsome and successful attorney several years younger than me.  Tom and I spent a year going back and forth, making ineffectual attempts at dating and never really getting anywhere (I can count on one hand the number of “dates” we actually went on).  Then one night, when he was stone cold sober, we had a multi-hour phone conversation during which he confessed that the problem between us was that he cared for me too deeply and it frightened him.  Turns out he wanted to make a whole life with me — a home, babies, dogs, the whole kit and caboodle.  I was, quite literally, speechless.  “Please,” he asked, “just tell me you’ll consider it.  Just tell me that you won’t say no right off.”  Well, even though I wasn’t sure about the whole White-Picket Fence Future he painted, I felt enough for him to agree to consider it.  Turns out that I needn’t have worried.  Because I didn’t hear from him again for another year.  Cross my heart.  Not a word.  Not a text, not a phone call, nothing.  Crickets and tumbleweeds.  For a whole year.  When he did resurface, a year later, last December, he wanted to pick up the conversation where we’d left off, so we went out once, to talk things through.  I listened patiently while he said a lot of sweet things, and then (as expected) disappeared, again.  I’ve pretty much decided that instead of a Christmas card from him, I can expect a declaration of undying love each December.  At least he’s original.

Look, I know those conversations aren’t any fun.  Telling someone you don’t love them anymore/aren’t interested/ have changed your mind/have met  someone else/aren’t attracted to them, etc., etc.  basically sucks.  But, we’re all supposed to be grown-ups here and as such, it sure would be nice if we could just bite the bullet and deliver the respect that nearly every one deserves.  None of us likes to have to say those things, and none of us likes to listen to them, but I think we can agree that we all prefer them to crickets and tumbleweeds.

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alter ego

My first relationship after my marriage had more than its share of complications and difficulties.  Easy, it was not.  But one of the best things about that relationship was, quite simply, me.

You see, in that relationship I re-discovered a “me” that I thought was long dead, a casualty of maturity and responsibility and propriety.  But it turns out that she wasn’t dead at all, just sleeping like a Disney princess awaiting Prince Charming’s life-affirming kiss.

Finding that woman again was a tremendous relief and joy.  She was fun.  She laughed easily and genuinely.  She was brave and decisive and compassionate and open-hearted and funny.  She was flirty and sexy and playful.  I really, really liked her.  And when the relationship ended, one of the things I grieved most was her.  I was terrified that she was gone and I would never see her, embody her, feel her, again.

Fortunately, her disappearance that time was short-lived.  My dedication to her demanded that she not retreat entirely.  Oh no, I wasn’t about to let go of her.  The hope of her — of being able to embody her permanently — was truly the main reason I left my marriage, so I wasn’t going to say goodbye to her without a fight.  So I worked hard on identifying her and all the things I liked about her and hugging them tightly to my heart.  And slowly, she became, not my alter ego, but just simply me.

Even as I write this, I have to laugh at myself for sounding like one of those self-help books about “finding yourself” that my mom used to read in the 1970’s, with titles like “I’m Okay, You’re Okay.”  Ick.

But the plain truth is that I know lots and lots of women who feel the exact same way.  As they’ve approached 40, they’ve become increasingly dissatisfied with being a wife and mother and daughter and boss and not a woman of their own definition.  Some of them have managed to re-create or re-discover themselves within their existing marriages, while for others, divorce has created the necessary space and time to explore the question of who they really want to be.

Sometimes the idea of an alter ego is quite literally applied, as in the case of my friend who had an affair at the end of her marriage and discovered parts of herself that she’d never met before but fell immediately in love with.  In her case, the affair’s need for discretion prompted the use of dummy email accounts with contrived names.  Her lover had been raised in France and Switzerland, so they used French names on their emails and in their correspondence.  She became Nicole, a flirty, sexy, smart and sassy French woman, and discovered that she loved being her.  When the affair ended, and she left her husband, she quite plainly stated that she wanted a life that had room for Nicole in it.  She loved Nicole and she loved being Nicole.  Inhabiting Nicole’s persona full-time became a stated goal, and, in the new life she is building for herself, she is consciously making decisions that promote that goal.  For her, Nicole is non-negotiable.

Jerry McGuire made famous the line “You complete me,” and I’m sure I wasn’t the only person who cringed at his word choice.  I really hate the idea of being incomplete without another person — any person — but especially without a man.  But at the same time, I have to acknowledge that I think most of us are looking for roughly that same thing and it’s only a matter of semantics how we describe it.

We want someone who inspires us to be better, to be more fully ourselves.  We want someone who brings out our best qualities, who adores about us the same aspects we most adore about ourselves.  We want someone who provides us with a safe place to explore all the corners of our personality, nudging and encouraging those traits or talents that have hung back or hugged the wall, afraid to be seen and possibly ridiculed.  We want the space to find out which roles, which personas, fit us most comfortably and which are ones we’ve been wearing out of obligation or fear or boredom.  We want someone who champions our successes (no matter how small or meager) and feels our failures (no matter how grand or profound)  and helps us discover the lessons in both.  And, when it’s all said and done, and we have assembled that person that best represents “me,” we want someone who embraces that person, even if that isn’t their favorite version of us, because that is the one that we are most happy being.

I remember listening to Train’s “Drops of Jupiter” one day and asking my husband afterward, “What would you say if I needed to do that — to go away and ‘find’ myself?”  He hesitated only a moment and replied, “I’d say you needn’t come back.  I’m not waiting around while you find out who you want to be.  And you don’t get to take a break from your marriage to do it.”   His answer rang out like jailkeeper’s key in the lock.  He might as well have said, “I like you how you are and you’re not allowed to be anyone except who I want you to be.  I’m not comfortable with anything else and won’t tolerate it.”  Huh.  Okie dokie.

I think, from observing my own experiences and those of others, that often what we call “true love” is exactly this:  finding someone with whom we have that connection — who provides us with that jumping off place for personal growth and exploration and for whom we can return the favor.  Someone we like being around in part because we like who we are when we’re with them.

Does all this mean that we need someone to “complete” us?  Not necessarily.  Maybe it just means that it’s easier to complete ourselves when we have a partner in the effort, to cheer us on.  Maybe it means that the person who is “right” for us is the one who helps us most feel most “right” about ourselves.  Maybe it just means finding someone who invites our alter ego in, to sit down and stay a while, or maybe even forever.

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Filed under divorce, general musings, healing, love, personal growth, relationships

pretty woman for a day

Attention Male Readers: you will not understand this post, so don’t even try.  Today, you might want to spend your time over on The Man Shark’s blog, where I know I saw some mention of sports….

Ladies:  read on….

Over the weekend I got back together with the man — let’s call him “James” — with whom I’ve been on and off again with since September.  Basically, our communication skills really suck.  I swear, our relationship is like one long, bad episode of Three’s Company where (surprise!) there’s one misunderstanding after another. Honestly it’s getting ridiculous.  But, regardless, we’ve signed on for Round Three, and so far it’s awesome again.  (What can I say?  The man is under my skin….)

Anyway.

I am not a woman who expects pampering.  I am lucky that some of the men whom I have dated in my life have been very sweet and taken the time to make me feel special and adored, but definitely not all.  And definitely not my husband.  He tried, sometimes, and every once in a while he really hit the mark.  But usually, his constant criticism drowned out any sweet nothings that were tossed my way.   So, I learned to live without it.

But that doesn’t mean I didn’t miss it.  Who among us doesn’t like to feel special or pretty or adored or desired?  There is something priceless in basking in the glow of that moment when someone we’re really into looks at us in just that way that clearly tells us that we’re rocking his world.  Seriously, how awesome is that?

It appears that sometime yesterday James decided that it’s been too long since I’d felt special and lovely, and truthfully, he’s probably right.  So, he did something about it.  And it was wonderful.

At my age, let’s face it, there aren’t a lot of “firsts” left to experience with a new guy, but James found one.  He walked me into a localclothing boutique that is so expensive that I’d literally never once stepped foot in it.  Together we worked our way around the shop, picking out anything and everything that struck my fancy.  Then he made himself comfy on the settee while I had my own personal little fashion show.  Now, of course I don’t need expensive clothes.  But, oh my.  The fabrics.  The tailoring.  The rich luxury of them.  I swear to God my body was saying to me, “What is this wondrous stuff and why haven’t you let us have it before???” Sigh.

Just as I was nearly done, James spotted one more dress he wanted me to try on.  It was a silk giraffe-print dress, shorter and tighter than I would normally wear (where did that cleavage come from?!), but as I pulled it over my head and it hugged my curves, I fell in love with it.

I stepped out of the dressing room and the look on his face was exactly what every woman everywhere wants to see on her man’s face when she emerges in a new dress:  sheer, unadulterated appreciation.  The salesgirl even laughed and said to me, “Don’t you just love it when they look at you like that?”

Then it was time to go.  We thanked the salesgirl for her time and I excused myself to use the restroom before leaving. Then, as we walked out of the store, a bag appeared and he handed it to me.  I was so surprised, I was honestly speechless.  Confused.  What had he done?  Sure enough, I peeked inside and there was the giraffe-print dress.  I was absolutely dumbstruck.  The dress cost more than my wedding dress.  It wasn’t a special occasion.  I hadn’t bought him anything.  My brain simply couldn’t compute.  I wanted to cry, but instead I threw my arms around him and kissed him.  We went back inside the store, and I changed into my new dress.

The rest of the afternoon, I felt like a bombshell.  That dress and the way he looked at me went to my head like champagne.  I could feel the eyes of others on me, too; some appreciative, some disapproving (it is a short dress!), but that didn’t really matter.  It was all about how pleased he looked and how amazing and feminine I felt.  It was a wonderful, long-forgotten feeling.

Now, I know that an expensive dress wouldn’t do it for some girls, and that’s okay, too.  Maybe for someone else, it would be that perfect coat they’d always wanted but couldn’t afford.  Or the impractical shoes that are way over-priced but the intense object of your desire.  Or the expensive visit to the hair stylist that makes you look red-carpet-chic.  The point is that we all need to have that feeling once in while.  Everyone deserves to be that woman some time.  Just for a moment.  Just for one sunny spring afternoon.

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ashley wilkes was not risk averse

A fellow blogger had an interesting post over the weekend that involved the idea of people being emotionally “risk averse.”  Her post was about the man whom she loves — a married man who has decided to stay with his wife but doesn’t want to let her go.  She sympathizes with his plight.  She feels bad that he is so torn.  She understands and accepts his decision, as well as his waffling, even as she tries mightily to disengage herself and move on.  She wrote of her lover being “risk averse” in assessing his marriage, their relationship, and the options before them.

I wrote a comment to her post and then decided that it was really worthy of a whole post of my own, because I think it’s a concept with which we frequently wrestle, in lots of relationship settings unrelated to infidelity.  It seems to me that if someone cannot or will not make a choice related to a relationship, they are frequently labeled as being risk averse to a potentially difficult outcome.

It got me thinking:  What do we really mean when we say someone is risk averse in an emotional setting?  One professional hat that I wear is that of risk manager, so I fully understand and appreciate and value the concept of weighing costs and benefits, but I think we’ve begun to apply it as a pretty euphemism for a not-pretty behavior…

Remember Ashley Wilkes in Gone With the Wind? Now, I understand Ashley… really I do. I’d probably be great friends with Ashley and spend hours in philosophical conversation with him. He’s basically a good guy and he has some interesting and poetic and romantic ideas.  But there is a reason he is not the hero of the book. This is because, quite frankly, he is a pansy (yes, I know there’s a better word for it, but I’m going with “pansy”). He spends the whole book wringing his hands and saying variations of “Oh my, what shall I do?” while Rhett Butler…. well… Rhett Butler is a man of action, right? He doesn’t dither, he doesn’t over-analyze. He acts. And we swoon. Every. Freakin’.  Time. That’s not to say Rhett isn’t complex, or tortured, or capable of being crazy in love, but just that he’s not an emotional coward.

And what of Scarlett? As strong as she is, she makes excuses for Ashley nearly the whole way through the book. She understands, she sympathizes, she tries to hold his pain for him. Until she finally realizes that it’s not that he’s loyal to Melanie; it’s not that he is such a great gentleman; it’s not that he’s smart; it’s that he’s too scared to do either the completely right thing or the completely wrong thing. So he dithers.

Today, we’d call Ashley Wilkes “risk averse.”

See my point? Now, I’m being kind of harsh here, I know, and I do honestly believe that “risk averse” can be appropriately applied in some emotional situations. When one has been terribly, terribly hurt, natural caution does (and should) emerge to make us much more calculated in our assessment of situations before we leap. But I’ve gradually realized that most people who call themselves risk averse have no greater reason for fear than most of us; they simply choose to hide behind it.

I have a friend who had her heart shattered a few months ago. She is, most definitely, risk averse right now. She is so wounded and cynical and frightened. But she has every reason to be… what happened to her was horrible and mean and she needs time to regain her confidence in assessing risk and her ability to take leaps of faith. And she will. This is a temporary, rational reaction to a very bad experience.

I’m also dating a man right now who falls into the risk averse category. Prior to his marriage, he was fearless (and I do mean fearless; I shudder at some of his stories). But his ex-wife is truly the stuff of a bad Lifetime movie… she is more deceitful and manipulative and calculating than I ever thought truly possible in real life; her diabolical schemes literally shock me.  But he loved her. He sincerely, deeply loved her. Bought her whole Brooklyn Bridge, and paid dearly for it in every possible way. Five years after their divorce, he is still gun-shy. Normally, I’d say man-up and get over it, but the more I hear what she did to him and to men since him, the more amazed I am that he’s opening up to me at all. But he is.  He’s trying.  He doesn’t want to be paralyzed forever by his fears of repeating one awful mistake.

I suspect that some readers might argue that maybe some people are just naturally risk averse and don’t need a specific reason to exercise extreme caution in their emotional affairs.  Perhaps.  But to that argument I fire back:  how is that different from emotional cowardice? Why do we grant this kind of emotional dithering a nice, almost-laudable label?  What happened to the value of decisiveness?  The idea of “strength of character”?  The concept of facing a fear head-on and deciding that we must overcome it and we must do so without a guarantee?  Show me an American hero — male or female — who was risk averse.  Just one.

So, my point to my fellow blogger was that maybe before we grant someone the sympathetic title of “risk averse,” it might be interesting to ask ourselves why.  Why is this person “risk averse”?  How is this behavior different from sheer emotional cowardice?  At what point does prudence become an excuse to wring our hands and say “Oh my, whatever will I do?”

I sincerely do not mean to be harsh toward those who are struggling through understanding their relationship or their capacity to be in that relationship.  What I am taking issue with is the Ashley Wilkeses of this world, for whom ongoing, drawn-out indecisiveness causes pain for themselves and others, and even wreaks havoc with their own life.   At some point, you’ve done enough thinking and it’s time to make a decision.  Or, as my one guy friend likes to say:  Grow a pair.

Because Ashley Wilkes was not risk averse.  Ashley Wilkes was  a pansy.

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i already miss her

My friend Lindsay is moving away tomorrow.  When I next hear from her, she will be 1,000 miles distant from me and beginning a new life that I cannot imagine and will not be a part of, except in the most tangential way.  So, I am sad.

She has been one of those friends whom I do not see very often due to our often-conflicting, equally-crazy schedules.  But our time together has always been rejuvenating to me.  We laugh hard, we connect deeply, and we support each other unconditionally.  During my divorce, she was one of my vocal defenders, taking to task another friend who thought nothing of publicly disparaging me and my character.  Ours has not been a perfect friendship; we have let each other down occasionally, not been the people we aspire to being at times.  But I have always known and felt her love and support and it has been invaluable to me.

Last night we had a final dinner together, with our daughters, who have shared their childhoods. I have known her girls for nearly as long as my own.  I have watched them grow and received their hugs and their smiles and been special in their lives.  I looked around the table and felt my throat closing on the tears that were welling.  How could she leave?  I don’t want this to end.  The selfish part of me wants her to stay, to forgo the wonderful opportunity and fresh start that awaits her in the Pacific Northwest.  I want her to be here, for me, for our monthly dinners and margaritas and connections. I already miss her.

But at the same time, I am so proud of her for going.  She is taking an enormous leap of faith, jumping into a life that is wholly uncharted.  Her family, her marriage, her career will never be exactly the same, and she is too smart to not be a little bit terrified of what lies ahead.  I know she will excel and expand and grow and improve in amazing ways, but I also know that no change comes without a price and without a struggle.  I hope hers will be relatively smooth and overwhelmingly fulfilling in all the ways that she desires.  I just wish I could be there to hold her hand and support her through it.

I understand, in a way that some of her other friends do not, her need to go, to leave this wonderful community in which we live in order to find something new for herself.  I have made similar decisions in the past.  I have hugged dear friends, wiped the tears from my cheeks, and then turned and gotten on a plane for a journey that would end the chapter we had just shared together.  And while I have frequently missed people — sometimes with the most horrible ache in my chest — I have never, ever regretted going forward, following my wanderlust for more, for different, for better for myself. So, Lindsay must go.  She must take the leap and see what possibilities await her and embrace the challenges she has been offered.

It is said that at the end of our lives, it will be the chances we did not take that we will regret, not the ones that we did.  I happen to believe that.

So, last night after dinner, I hugged Lindsay tightly and wished her joy and let her go.  But I already miss her.

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Filed under friendships, general musings, sadness

are you kidding me?! (pt. 1)

The relationship between me and my ex has been deteriorating at the speed of light lately.  He seems to have decided that now that he and his girlfriend are going to be together forever, he can treat me like ex-husbands are supposed to treat ex-wives, which basically means like shit.  I have absolutely no idea why, with two children between us, he is so systematically dismantling the really nice co-parenting situation we created together, but he is.  And, oh, is he good at it, too.

I worked about a 14-hour day at work today.  While I was in a late meeting this evening, he texted me to say that he and his girlfriend, “Debbie,” had stopped by my house to see my eldest daughter who stayed home from school today with a terrible — but fake — illness of unknown origin and vague symptoms.   He had stopped by the house with Debbie before, so I thought nothing of it.

Until I got home and got the scoop from my nanny.

Apparently he had called our nanny in advance, ascertained that I wasn’t home, and then, for the first time ever, invited Debbie into my house with him when he stopped by.  Usually, per our understanding, we don’t bring friends of any sort into each other’s homes without permission when we stop to visit the girls.  I guess he forgot.  Or not.  Either way, it sounds like Debbie got quite the tour of my house while I was away and my nanny stood — silent, helpless, and uncomfortable — watching.

When I returned home at 11:00PM this evening, my nanny was beside herself.  She apologized and explained that she felt like it wasn’t her place to tell them to leave (which, of course, it wasn’t).

The crazy thing is that I’m not a privacy nut, and I don’t have anything against Debbie whatsoever.  But it’s one more thing in a growing list of examples of how my ex just can’t seem to show me the basic courtesy and respect that two adults should extend to each other.  If he had asked me first if they could stop by and she could come in, and I had been home at the time, I would have almost certainly said yes, but as it is I feel violated… as if they got a peep inside my life without my permission.

I cannot believe that he would think this is okay.  In fact, I don’t believe that he does.  Had I done this to him, he would probably change the locks, call his lawyer, and forbid my boyfriend to physically be anywhere on his property.  Seriously.  No, I don’t think he thought it was okay.  I think he didn’t care.  I think he wanted to stop by and see our daughter.  I think Debbie is naturally curious about me and my life and my home.   And I think he had an opportunity to satisfy that curiosity and he took it.

How was I ever married to this man?  And why, oh why, did I take so long to divorce him?

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healing

Yesterday I ran into a girl who did some part-time temporary work for me at my office last year.  The first time I met her, I was struck by her gentleness and apparent fragility.  I couldn’t have told you then why she seemed fragile to me, but she did… like a small, wounded bird taking tentative, hesitant steps.  She smiled easily and often, but her eyes held a sadness so deep that I immediately felt protective of her and offered her as much encouragement and support as I could.

One day, while our office was being remodeled, she was literally forced to sit on the floor of my office to do her work, which she did without complaint.  We chatted as we often did, and then, after a lull in conversation, she asked me about my divorce and how I’d rebuilt my life. I told her a bit about my story, and she listened intently.  Then, in her soft voice, and without a trace of self-pity, she shared her story with me:

She had recently been engaged to a wonderful young man named Dan, who, about a month before, had died in a tragic and grotesque motorcycle accident just outside of town.  I knew who she meant as soon as she told me, as I work in a very small town and he was well-known and well-loved.  The whole community had mourned his passing.  She continued her filing work as she told me how she felt numb.  How she couldn’t imagine a life without Dan.  How special and brilliant and talented he had been.  And how haunted she was every day by the way in which he left this life.  She said she felt like she didn’t belong anywhere anymore… like she was untethered and lost.  She couldn’t sleep and couldn’t eat.  Her parents were encouraging her to move back East and her friends were begging her to stay put.  She felt torn in every sense of the word.  She knew that she needed to move on someday, but she couldn’t begin to imagine what that would look like or feel like.

I sat there with her, in silence, holding her pain with her for a moment.  She didn’t cry.  I don’t think she had anything left, to be honest.   I had few words of encouragement, but I did tell her that I could see that she had been a young woman with a bright light and that I had faith that it would shine again.  She offered a gentle, hopeful smile in return. Then the office got busy and the moment passed.

I heard through the grapevine that she was going to be forced, due to financial considerations, to leave town and return to the Northeast.  But then, a couple of months ago, I ran into her, working in a local restaurant.  She looked brighter and less fragile.  She told me that she’d gotten a better job, found a place to live and convinced her parents to let her stay without worrying themselves sick.  She looked good, and I told her so.  She smiled and said that she was still putting one foot in front of the other, but beginning to heal.

Yesterday, I saw her again at the restaurant and we talked privately for the first time since that day in my office.  She brought me up to date on her life, including a new man she just started seeing.  Her eyes were bright and her smile easy and she seemed excited and content as she related various stories from her life now.  She had celebrated a milestone birthday last week and we talked about new beginnings and how significant they can be sometimes. We talked about Dan and what he had meant to her and the gifts he had given her that she would always have.  She spoke softly about how he’d taught her what real love was and how it was meant to feel and how people who love each other are meant to treat one another.  But she also talked about how proud he would be of her, for making this new life for herself.  I told her how sincerely that I was proud, too.  She beamed.  We parted with a hug.

I sat for a moment alone, before the friend that I’d eaten with returned, and contemplated my young friend.  She was so clearly healing, recovering from the devastating blow she’d suffered.  Her loss was beyond my comprehension, but her pain, during that early time of our acquaintance, was palpable.  And now, here she was:  hopeful and optimistic and bright again, bravely creating a life she’d never anticipated.

I think the resiliency of the human spirit is truly awe-inspiring.  The depth and breadth of despair and pain and hopelessness from which we can recover never fails to amaze me.  Nearly all of us have had dark moments, when recovery seems unimaginable and life brutally unfair and unkind.  And yet, somehow, we push through and move forward and create new things and gravitate toward a better space.  Eventually, the sun comes out and warms our face and we have one of those incredibly small moments that makes life so precious and rich and worth it.  So that the next time the clouds appear and torrents begin, we don’t give up.  Again.

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I hate men. I really do. except that I don’t.

This week I’ve been back in contact with my most recent ex.  It started with him asking me for some contact information for a summer program for his kids, segued into me asking if I could purchase some landscaping materials from his company because I couldn’t find them anywhere else, and ended with him asking me to go to bed with him.

I said no.  But I really, really, really wanted to say yes.  And that pisses me off.

After our last break-up a few weeks ago, I put the whole thing to rest. We didn’t hate each other; we just wanted different things at this point in our life.  It ended kindly and politely and almost warmly, and I felt like I had closure and finality and all those good things you need to move on.  I found that I accepted the end with a great deal of alacrity, and even I was surprised by how quickly I let go of the hopes I’d had for us.

So I guess I overestimated how “over” him I was.

Yesterday, he started texting me about the landscaping materials when I happened to be at a party near his house.  I told him so as I was leaving the party and he asked me to stop by since I was so close (he lives on a spread in the country and I live in town).  I told him I couldn’t; that I had my children with me.  He said, “Even better.  Let them finally see my place. ”  I should have known then that I was in trouble.

We got there.  My girls got big hugs.  I got a sexy smile.  Damn.

He looked…. really, really good.  Tan.  Fit.  He’d just gotten off a job site and was still looking rugged and scruffy.  He gave the girls a tour of his house, and they oohed and aahed.  Then he offered to show them the pool and the barns.  I stood at the backdoor, leaning on the doorjamb, as they meandered around the property.  They disappeared into one of the barns, and the next thing I knew, the three of them came roaring out on an ATV, my girls squealing with delight.  I watched as they tore around the property and finally arrived back at the house, covered in mud and breathless.

Damn him again.

I mean, really… is there anything so sexy as a man who truly likes kids?

Damn him.  Damn him. Damn him.

Finally, he showed me the landscaping materials, and then I announced that we needed to go.  As we were leaving, he hugged my kids and gave me a slow, sweet smile that I couldn’t help but return.  “Made you smile,” he said with a wink.

Damn him again.

I would like to report that I left and didn’t give him another thought, but I’d be lying like a rug.  I tossed and turned last night, trying to ignore the fact that he’d gotten under my skin.  Again.  I’m honestly not worried that we’ll go down the same road we’ve visited twice before.  I was consistent and clear with him yesterday that my answer to his invitation is a reluctant but firm “no.”  I reiterated what I want in a relationship.  I made it clear that I wasn’t going to jump in bed with him, no matter how much he teased and tempted.  I was strong.

But I didn’t want to be.  I was genuinely surprised by how I reacted to him physically.  If you’d have asked me before yesterday, I’d have been certain — certain — the he could no longer have any effect on me.  Apparently I was wrong.

Damn him again.

I hate men.  I really, really do.  Except that I don’t.

Sigh.

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fine is a four-letter word

When I was newly separated and had just begun dating again, I would call one of my best girl friends every morning after a date.  Let’s call her “Annie.”

Annie:  “Soooo?  How was it?”

Me:  “Um, fine…. It was fine.”

Annie:  “Ugh.  I’m so sorry.”

“Fine” had become, for us, synonymous with “good enough” and “okay” and “not bad” and “I suppose I could live with this… if I had to.”  Fine was… well, fine… but definitely not what I had left my marriage for.  If all I needed was “fine,” well then, I could have bloody well stayed and saved us all a heap of trouble.

I will be the first to acknowledge that a relationship that I might deem “fine” could make another woman deliriously happy, and another woman’s “fine” could be my worst nightmare:  relationships are necessarily relative.  What we each need at any given time is truly unique to our circumstances and personal history.  No matter what Hollywood tell us, there is no one recipe for a perfect relationship (thank God!); our relationships and what we need from them are as unique and fluid as the people in them. Our judgment of each potential relationship and the possibilities therein are informed by a huge number of variables, including where we are emotionally, intellectually, sexually, hormonally, socially, financially, etc. etc. etc.  I think that’s why we hear the old yarn about timing being everything… because the exact same relationship, at an entirely different time in your life, might be a completely different experience.  I have even realized that men I discarded quickly during those initial dating months after my separation might have been worth a closer look.  I don’t exactly regret not having dated them for longer, but I do wonder at my criteria during that time.

But the point of this post is that, whatever your definition, “fine” shouldn’t be good enough.  I know this seems to contradict my earlier assertion that we all want different things, but it doesn’t.  Everybody deserves to love someone and feel loved and feel like what they have together is special and unique and so very much better than “fine.”  Even if nine out of ten couples can look at couple number ten and deem their relationship horribly boring/mundane/suffocating/pick your adjective, if the couple in question thinks they’ve hit the jackpot, then what does it matter?  But, if the couple in question also feels that their relationship is only “fine,” well then, I would suggest that that’s a problem.

I understand that people date and marry for many, many reasons, and that not all relationships and marriages are about love.  I sincerely understand and appreciate that.  I also happen to respect it, when the individuals in those relationships are able to be honest with themselves about their choices.  It’s definitely not my place to tell anyone why they should or shouldn’t be in a given relationship.  In those circumstances, I just advocate for authenticity.

But for the rest of us, for whom dating and marriage are primarily about love, “fine” is definitely not an adequate standard.  Look at it this way:  think of your best and dearest friend in the world.  Would you wish for her to have a relationship that was “fine”?  Is that the extent of your aspirations for her?  If not, then why would you settle for that for yourself?

Recognizing that your relationship is merely “fine” is no easy feat.  It can be gut-wrenching.  In my experience, most married women living in a “fine” state can’t leave it  until the emptiness in their heart threatens to swallow them whole.  And even once you acknowledge that your relationship is — and probably has been for quite a while — only “fine,” there’s still a lot of work to do to discover whether “fine” is its permanent state or only a temporary phase to be worked through and overcome. To leave a marriage that is “fine” is never easy work; the reasons aren’t obvious and, as I said before, one woman’s “fine” might be another’s “dream come true,” so the self-doubt and potential guilt are heavy and ominous.

My dating-as-research phase really helped raise my awareness of when something was only “fine.”  I sat across from too many perfectly nice, attractive, successful, intelligent men and thought, “I could do this.  This could work out.  And it would be ‘fine’.”  And so I didn’t go out with them again. Because even before I was sure about what I wanted, I knew I didn’t want “fine.”

My friend Annie is now making the same discoveries.  Following her separation, she quickly settled into a relationship with a very nice man, whom I’ll call Ned.  Ned is a nice guy, with a successful business, and he and Annie enjoyed doing many of the same things.  Right from the beginning, the relationship was pretty solid and stable and easy-going.  I could tell that Annie liked Ned, and I was happy that she’d found someone to spend time with and help distract her from the hell that is divorce negotiations.  But I could also tell, from the beginning, that Ned was only “fine.”  For a short time, I was worried that the security and constancy Ned offered would be seductive enough for her, and she would call it good and settle down with Ned.   But I needn’t have worried for her; because, like me, she’d left a perfectly “fine” marriage and her heart won’t allow her to contemplate another tour of that duty.  To her enormous credit, she was able to recognize what was missing and muster the strength of conviction to break up with Ned.  It wasn’t easy.  Security, stability, and constancy are all very attractive qualities, especially to someone in that post-separation, pre-divorce no-man’s land.  But if there’s one thing that you learn from leaving a marriage, it’s that the path of least resistance is only a short term solution.  It buys you time, but it doesn’t usually solve your problem.

Ned fought the break-up.  To him, the relationship was so much more than “fine.”  He cajoled and pleaded and guilted and played every possible angle to get Annie to agree to come to back to him.  But Annie didn’t waver.  She knows that she — and Ned, too, for that matter! — deserves and desires more than “fine.”

Shortly after breaking up with Ned, the universe rewarded Annie with Ricardo, a tall, dark, and handsome college professor.   The way Annie felt about Ricardo was definitely better than “fine,” and a few dates with him reminded her that deliciously tingly feelings are infinitely preferable to “fine.”  True, they open you up to potentially greater pain as well, but no great reward comes without great risk.  Put another way, you get what you pay for:  play it safe, and you’ll probably get “fine.”  Roll the dice, and you might just get “giddy.”

The opposite of “fine,” for me and Annie, is “giddy.”  “Giddy” is how you feel when you are really, really digging someone.  When a text from them puts a goofy smile on your face that no amount of professionalism can hide.  When you can talk about the minutiae of your last date with your best girlfriend for an hour and still be excited.  When you realize that you’re acting not unlike your middle-school-aged niece experiencing her latest crush.  “Fine” is pleasant and comfortable and feels nice.  “Giddy” is wonderful and buoyant and joyful.   “Fine” is good for companionship and friendship and decent sex.  “Giddy” involves intimacy and passion and crazy hot sex.

See the difference?

I think one of the saddest rationalizations that people make to themselves when they settle is this:  “Giddy” doesn’t last anyway, so you might as well skip it and go straight to “fine.”   Except for one thing.  I have never known a relationship that didn’t mellow with time.  So, if you start out with “giddy” then maybe someday you’ll end up with “fine.”  But, if you start out with “fine,” where the heck do you go from there?  In my experience, you start down a road with stops at “Okay,” “Not bad,” and the final destination:  “Ugh.”

Now, I know that someone out there is reading this and saying vigorously, “Not true!  My parents/grandparents/co-worker/neighbor’s fourth cousin met someone that they didn’t really like and they dated and it was only fine and then they fell in love and lived happily ever after!”  To you I say, That’s great!  Seriously!  I love a happy ending — any happy ending — so long as it’s really happy.  Being married for 50 years doesn’t count if 49 of those years were miserable or only “fine.”  Secondly, I have no doubt that some relationships do not fit neatly into my little formula, because, as I said above, our relationships are truly unique and often defy generalizations.

Which leads me back to my original beef with having a “fine” relationship.  If you’re in a “fine” relationship and that feels good to you, then chances are, it’s not really just “fine.”  Because “fine,” in the way that I intend it here, doesn’t feel really good.  It feels vaguely….. uncomfortable…. like a really warm wool sweater on bitter cold day, but the wool is slightly too scratchy to really feel good.  It seems like it should, but it doesn’t.  It gets the job of keeping you warm done, but it doesn’t feel just right.   Declining a relationship that is “fine” sounds easy, but usually isn’t.  Most of the time, we have to wear that sweater around a little while before we determine that it really is itchy and not a good fit for us.

The bottom line is this:  “Fine” is all around us.  It’s common.  It’s easy.  It’s readily-available.  And, to me,  it’s a four-letter word.

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my angel on the subway

Something happened at work today that brought to mind an encounter I hadn’t thought about in years….

Late one night, when I was 25-years-old and in graduate school, I was riding the subway home by myself after a night out barhopping with friends.  As I took my seat on the empty subway car, I could feel the tears begin to well in my eyes and threaten to spill over.  It was a stressful and difficult period in my life, and that night I was feeling lonely and hopeless and unloved.  At the next stop, a group of deaf and hard-of-hearing boys and girls about my age got on the car and settled at the opposite end.  They were laughing and signing furiously and just generally enjoying themselves.  I looked down to hide my tears and when I looked up again, sitting before me was one of the young men.  “What is wrong?” he mouthed.  I shook my head, swatted at some escaping tears, and pulled out my rusty sign language skills to tell him that my life felt hopeless.  For a moment, we just sat and stared at each other.  His face showed sympathy, empathy even, for this stranger on the subway.  And then he signed back, “You are a beautiful person — inside, too.  I can tell.  Now is hard, but it will get better.  Just hang in there.  Please.”  By now, the tears were streaming down my face and all I could do was silently mouth the words “Thank you” as he stood up to exit the subway car with his friends.  But his caring eyes stayed on me and we watched each other as the cars pulled away.

I never saw my angel on the subway again, so I never got to thank him.  That night was a turning point of sorts for me, and I credit that to him.  The tenderness and compassion he showed for a lonely young woman was exactly and only what I needed at that moment.  He was joyful, and rather than shun the sad figure on the other end of the subway car, he choose to extend some of that goodwill in my direction.

Most of us lead very busy lives, rushing to and fro, checking off our obligations and responsibilities.  We are necessarily engaged and engrossed in the task at hand.   How often do we really take the time to spread a little happiness?  How often do we notice that someone looks nice today and not say it?  Or feel pride in our children and not voice it?  Or love someone dearly and neglect to tell them except for special occasions or when they desperately need to hear it?  When was the last time you told a checkout girl at the grocery store to “Have a nice day” and actually meant it?   Everyone has their story and you never know when your small act of kindness or gratitude might turn around a person’s whole day.

I know that this is nearly impossible to do when we’re down or sad or feeling overwhelmed.  But in those special moments — those sparkling moments of sheer joy or quiet bliss that make life so incredibly worth it — don’t we almost owe it to each other to share that feeling?

You never know…. you might be someone’s turning point.

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