Monthly Archives: June 2011

leave ’em wanting more

My friend Annie has a new man in her life, and yesterday she got an email from him, a portion of which read:

I feel like inviting you to join me in lots of my plans lately, but am also trying very hard to just take things slowly and get to know you.

He is wanting more of her than he can have right now.  Her life is so busy and her obligations so many that their time has been limited to relatively brief, platonic meetings.  But he is clearly not okay with that.  When the chemistry is right, there is no such thing as “out of sight, out of mind.”

Annie shared  his words with me with obvious delight and I couldn’t help but smile.  I mean, really, is there anything better than knowing that the thought of you is playing about in a man’s mind?  That he’s wanting to see you, talk to you, spend time with you?  That, perhaps against his basic nature or better judgment or emotional baggage, he is longing for more of you than he’s getting? That the thought of you is bringing a random smile to his lips, a faraway look to his eyes, a tightness to his jeans….

To me, it’s one of the most wonderfully delicious parts of a new relationship… that you’re-on-my-mind-constantly-and-it’s-making-me-crazy period when you both act a bit like ridiculous teenagers with raging hormones and romantic-comedy-inspired thoughts of true love and perfect sex.  This is the period when I sigh at the sound of his voice and giggle when I think of something funny he said and flush with the thoughts of what he did to me last night. Nothing reduces me to a quivering mass of femininity more quickly than when a man says, “So, when are you going to let me see you again?” Makes me want to swoon.  Seriously.

One of the pleasant surprises to me about dating this time around is how sustainable this period can be, when connection and chemistry really are right.  To me, this is one of the joys of dating in my 40’s.  With neither party in a rush to the altar, the courtship can last so much longer and be so much more fun.  Of course, not every relationship that starts with such promise survives, sometimes not even beyond the first few dates, but the ones that do are really special and fun and sweet.

Annie and her guy are still too new to make any predictions about their eventual outcome.  But for now, he’s busy staking his claim on her time, and she’s busy enjoying being claimed.

*sigh*

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plan b

Guilt seems to be a common theme around me right now…. I am watching several people struggle with some large and small “what ifs” that can be paralyzing and self-defeating.  I truly believe that most people are simply doing their best most of the time, and the lashings we give ourselves for our failings typically surpass anything an unbiased observer would render.

Before I left my husband, I received a gentle revelation from an unexpected source who knew nothing of my anguish.  It came in the form of a small print (which I later framed), and when I read it, it was like a balm for my aching soul.  It reminded me that, quite simply, sometimes things don’t turn out the way we had planned.  Life isn’t neat.  It doesn’t play by the rules.  Sometimes it throws all the rules out the window and leaves you wondering what the hell just happened.  And that’s when the really important stuff happens… what we do next…. how we manage “Plan B.”

I offer it today for anyone struggling with their own Plan B.   Here it is:

Plan B

Plan A is always my first choice.

You know, the one where everything works out to be happily ever-after.  But more often than not, I find myself dealing with the upside-down, inside-out version, where nothing goes as it should.  It’s at this point that the real test of my character comes in…  Do I sink, or do I swim?  Do I wallow in self-pity and play the victim, or simply shift gears and make the best of the situation?

The choice is all mine…

Life is all about how you handle Plan B.

(Author Unknown)

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in search of the happy ending….

Ever since my marriage fell apart, I’ve been looking for a happy ending.  Not even necessarily for me, but just in my vicinity.  I am fortunate to be acquainted with several couples who got it really right the first time around, and from them I take multiple and valuable lessons with me.  But at this point in my life, and for obvious reasons, I am most interested in those people who made it through a divorce to a truly happy place on the other side.

The difficulty in this research is that the definition of happy is always subjective, and one person’s happiness might not be another’s.  But because I know married people who have lives that I genuinely admire and envy, I feel certain that there must be divorced people about whom I would feel similarly, people who have constructed lives that I look at and go, “Yeah, that would do just fine, thank you!”

One of the difficulties for me in this pursuit has been acknowledging that my personal version of a happy ending does indeed involve a romantic relationship with a man.  I understand and appreciate and applaud those women for whom post-divorce happiness does not include a partner, but I am not one of them.  I can be quite content on my own, with my friends and my children, but joyfulness, for me, necessarily includes an intimate connection with a man.  My apologies to feminists everywhere, but there you have it.

And so I have watched vigilantly as women I know have moved through separations and divorces and begun and ended new relationships.  I have heard, through other friends, of many people who seem to be in healthy, good relationships, but as I don’t know those people or their relationships personally, I have no means of knowing whether they would qualify as happy by my own standards.  I have noticed that a lot of people, post-divorce, seem to settle very quickly, and I frequently get an energy from those couples that suggests that their relationship is solid, but not happy.  I’ve had solid, but not happy.  I’ll pass, thanks.

I’ve written here before about how logical, rational, practical people try to convince me that “healthy” love is logical, rational, and practical.  That my ideas of what love is are unreasonable and unrealistic.  But when I remind them of our mutual friends who actually have those kinds of truly deep connections, they are at a loss.  The presence of these statistical outliers befuddles my pragmatic teachers.  Typically, the conversation ends with me being told, “Well, that’s really rare,” as if that settles it and I should stop being foolish and get on the sensible bandwagon and find another perfectly nice man and settle down again.

Thanks, but no thanks.

I’m okay with rare.  I’m good with uncommon.  I’ve made my peace with unlikely.

I know those relationships are rare, because, in the 2 1/2 years I’ve been searching for a post-divorce happy ending, I have seen very, very few.  I have seen divorced friends find love — and even get engaged — only to have it fall apart and them left to the task of nursing yet another broken heart.   I have seen other friends slowly close themselves off from the very possibility of love, thereby avoiding that heartbreak.

But…. there have been a few exceptions.  I have a couple of acquaintances whom I have seen create totally new and surprising and truly sweet relationships out of the rubble of their divorced lives.   I watch them with bated breath, praying that their relationships really do have that magical mix to make it through the rough stuff without succumbing to “solid, but not happy.”  I feel like an avid fan during the playoffs, hoping that my team can pull out the ultimate victory.

More than those couples, though, and much closer to me in emotional proximity, is the story of my dad and his wife.  Their story, more than any other, gives me hope when I begin to feel certain that post-divorce romantic love is an oxymoron.  They are my best example of a post-divorce happy ending.

My dad is married to his 5th wife.  He’s not proud of that fact, and I’m not proud of it for him, but he is of a different generation and not the kind of man to sleep with a woman for an extended period of time without marrying her.  So he did, again and again.  But, as he says with a wry smile, they were all just practice for Mary, his current wife and his only soulmate.  He married Mary when he was 65 (he is now 82), and they are as silly in love as they ever were.  They cuddle and flirt and spar like the equals they are and make up with a laugh and a kiss.  She had been married twice before, and they are achingly open about how this love of theirs surpasses anything they’d known before.  They know they are blessed; they appreciate each other and gives thanks for their good fortune in finding each other.  They are my touchstone for what can be, even after divorce.

I recently saw a beautiful plaque that reminded me of them.  It says, “Sometimes, in the midst of an ordinary life, a fairy tale happens.”  When I told my dad about it, his eyes filled with tears, and he took my hand and said “It’s true.  Don’t you ever believe that it’s not true.”

My dad is always right.  So I’ll keep looking.  Watching and waiting and hoping.  I honestly don’t need the happy ending to be my own.  I just need to know that they still exist.

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happy anniversary

June 27th.  Were I still married, this would have been my 13th wedding anniversary.

All day I have tried to ignore the symbolism of this day.  All day I have tried to keep my head down and just work, work, work through it.  All day I have just tried to make it to bedtime and another day.

I tried very hard today, as I do every day, to forget. To forget about the dreams dashed, sacrificed or surrendered.  To forget about the parts of myself lost along the way.  To forget about all those times that I reached for him and my hand closed on nothing but air. To forget how empty and artificial my life seemed to me.  To forget how it felt to be an afterthought, always.  To forget about my fear that it is, just possibly, too late to truly have the life I’d imagined.

But I can’t.

Today, I find myself unable to turn away from the carnage that was my marriage.  I keep looking back at it, part-amazed, part-disgusted, part-heartbroken, as it recedes further into the distance of my past.

I have spent many summers in tears.  Something about summertime always brought our problems to the forefront… maybe it was the golden possibilities never realized.  All the concerts never attended, moonlight walks never taken, romantic evening dinners never shared…. Maybe it was those things that left me deflated, acutely aware of my gilded cage that allowed me a glimpse of the world outside, but no access to it.  I could see that people — other people — did those things, but we did not.

I once had a long conversation with a guy I was dating about what we missed about being married.  We ultimately agreed that we didn’t actually miss all that much about our marriages, but we did miss — very, very much so — the hopes and optimism that had accompanied those marriages.  We wondered aloud whether the giddy promise of new love could ever be as good in our 40’s as it was in our 20’s.  We wondered if we could ever enter another relationship with such earnest certainty in its very rightness.  We wondered if anyone could ever convince us again that we are truly special. We wondered if anyone would ever really try.

I held it in all day, this grief and loss and fear.  This evening I loaded the dishwasher and did the laundry and kissed my girls to bed.  And then I let the tears come.  I’m not sure if I cried for myself or for my ex or for all the time irretrievably spent on a marriage too weak to survive.  I honestly don’t know.  I just know that it’s summertime and I still haven’t stopped crying and I’m beginning to wonder if I ever will.

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time to put on your big kid pants and get over it

This weekend I went to an outdoor concert with my friend Annie and ran into many other acquaintances.   Toward the end of the evening, I was engaged in a very entertaining conversation with my friend Antony when Annie’s ex-boyfriend, Ned, took a seat on my other side and commanded my attention.  I whispered an explanation to Antony, who smiled knowingly and sat back to watch.  Then I turned my full attention to Ned.

Big mistake.

Ned proceeded to explain to me how his life has completely come undone since his 4-month relationship with Annie ended two months ago.  He is distraught and angry and frustrated, and doesn’t understand how someone can go from “that kind of relationship” to “just flirting and dating with other people like it never even happened.”  He implied that Annie is fickle and heartless and cold and insensitive, and he seemed fully prepared for me, Annie’s best friend, to agree with him.

Ummm…. no.

What I wanted to say was this:  “Dude, it was a FOUR MONTH RELATIONSHIP! And you’ve been broken up for TWO MONTHS!  Get over it already!  Salvage whatever shred of dignity and self-respect you have and quit dumping on everyone who knows Annie, in a desperate attempt to find one of us who agrees with you!  (As best as I can tell, I was at the bottom of his list, as he seems to have worked his way through all their other mutual acquaintances…)  No “I love you”s were ever exchanged or promises made or implied.  She had only been separated for four months when you started dating her and you KNEW that!  She was honest with you and treated you well and ended it when she realized that it had run its course for her.  There was no deception or deceit in her actions.  As dating goes, it was a pretty clean and respectful relationship.  And it ended.  And then you stalked her for a month and she kept respectfully answering your emails, your calls, and giving you time when she ran into you to try and help you process through all your feelings.  But it wasn’t enough.  You seem to think you are entitled to her love — that she somehow owes it to you to be with you.  Here’s a newsflash:  she doesn’t.  She owes you only the respect and courtesy to be honest and kind and sincere, which she was.  So put on your big boy pants and GET OVER IT ALREADY!

But, because I am a basically nice person and have enormous compassion for people in pain, I didn’t say that to him.  Instead I gently pointed out that it had not been the same relationship for her as it was for him; I suggested that perhaps they were experiencing parallel relationships.  I reminded him that he’d been separated for over year, but she for only a few months.  I explained that it was normal for her to begin dating again; their relationship ended for her when it ended.  She is ready to move on, even if he is not.  That might not feel good to him, but it is her reality.  I pointed out that he’d known she was going to be at this concert, with these friends, and yet he’d still chosen to come and place himself in this situation.

He nodded politely, tried to argue a few points here and there, and basically let me know that I simply didn’t understand.  And then he finally left.

The next day, he resumed his angry emails to Annie.  So now I really wish I’d actually said what I’d wanted to.  And the next time I see him, I will.

My therapist likes to talk about how people get stuck in their emotions, churning around in their feelings, revisiting the same hurts and aches over and over, like someone touching a bruise they know will hurt, but can’t resist doing it.  Sometimes this takes the form of prolonged grief over the death of a loved one; in other cases, it’s about getting caught in the painful details of a relationship that has ended.  In some cases, people who feel wronged in a relationship churn in a stew of anger and resentment and pain.  They devote considerable time and energy to focusing on how they were wronged or misunderstood.  They see themselves purely as a victim and the other person as a one-dimensional villain who abused them.  They get stuck, and Ned is stuck, for sure.

When I first heard of this concept of being “stuck,” it set off multiple light bulbs in my psyche.  I have spent the better part of my life with a mother who is stuck, just as Ned is, in her resentment that my dad had stopped loving her and left.  Her anger seethes just below the surface and has tainted multiple relationships over the years, both romantic and familial, so I have seen the damage it has done.

The thing about this kind of anger that most confounds me is the inherent sense of entitlement that these people have to the other person’s love.  My mother has, on multiple occasions, said “How dare he stop loving me!” and Ned came awfully close to the same sentiment the other night.  Really?  I mean, seriously folks, are we really entitled to someone’s love?  Do we have a right to demand that they stay in a relationship with us?  I fully understand that, in my mom’s case, a marriage vow as made and broken, and I can appreciate that agony of loving someone who no longer loves you.  It is a grief that knows no bounds.

And yet….

Love is not something to be controlled.  It is no more possible to continuing loving someone for whom you no longer feel that emotion, than it is stop loving someone for whom you do.  We don’t get to turn it off, but we don’t get to turn it on, either.  And — as I’ve asked my mother every single time she’s expressed her rage to me — do you really want to be with someone who no longer wants you?  Do you want them to pretend?  Try to convince themselves?

Or do you want to finally get past the pain and create something real with someone else?

Holding anger and resentment is like a cancer — it eats away at your very soul.  Its poison takes the best of you and mutates it into a bitterness and nastiness and self-absorption that drives away the good in your life.  And, perhaps most importantly, you bear the worst of it.  The true target of your rage is, most likely, relatively unaffected by your seething emotions.  You might wish and hope that someday they will “realize the errors of their ways” but, in my experience, that rarely happens.  Most people who leave a relationship make the right choice for themselves, and that can be the most maddening thing of all to those left behind.  Indeed, it is the other person’s ability to “move on” and past whatever you shared that is making you so angry and crazy.  So, they proceed to a new life of promise with others, while you stew in your self-pity, clutching your feelings of victimization and railing at the world for not damning that person to hell along with you.  It’s a lonely and hollow place to be; anger is not a warm companion.  And yet there you sit.  So, how’s that workin’ for ya?

I don’t mean to be insensitive or cold.  Honestly.  I have visited the depths of despair myself and have had my moments of anger during which I have lashed out and displayed a less-than-lovely side of myself.  But living with my mom’s anger taught me the importance of truly letting go and moving on.  It showed me that anger and resentment — whether justified or not — is simply not worth it.  Period.

I don’t believe that people can control their feelings, and I try to honor those feelings.  But what we do with them — how we allow them to affect our actions, how much power we give them over our thoughts, how much we allow them to dominate our internal conversations — those things we, as adults, can control.  Ned might want to spend half an hour unloading his burden and anger onto Annie’s best friend, but he doesn’t have to.  And he might want to keep sending her nasty emails, but he doesn’t have to.  And he might want to spend every waking moment fixating on all the ways that she “wronged” him, but he doesn’t have to.

At some point, we all have to make the choice to put on our big kid pants and move on.

Because it is a choice.

I’m not saying it’s easy, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing.  Yes, getting past anger and resentment requires some really heavy lifting.  You have to apply yourself to it, make it your goal, decide that you are not going to let it control your life.   Sometimes it requires therapy or major lifestyle changes or even geographical or professional moves.  Remaining in the resentment stew is definitely easier.  But the path of least resistance is rarely the best choice in this life.

I hope, for Ned’s sake, that he is able to move on in short order.  He is apparently back in therapy, which I hope will help him process through his feelings.  I hope that the anger he feels (which I believe goes back further, to his marriage) has not already become a familiar companion to him to which he will cling for the remainder of his life. I do not wish him ill, but I do wish he’d leave my friend alone.

Time to find the big boy pants, Ned.  And pronto.

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catch me, i’m falling….

I think when most of us choose to leave a marriage, we do so with some idea in our heads of what our “new life” will be like, and I’m sure those fantasies are as individual as the people dreaming them.

Mine went something like this:  I would live in a little house of my own, with a big, colorful flower garden and a patio for al fresco mealtimes.  My girls and I would share a life with singing and dancing and hugs and none of the quiet, steely tension that characterized the last year or so of my marriage to their father.  I would have a job that provided me with enough money to pay my bills and enough challenges to fulfill my intellect and rejuvenate my flagging self-confidence.  And someday, somehow, there’d be a great guy in the picture…. someone who made my heart skip and pulse race…. who called me on my bullshit and treated my heart tenderly…. who worked hard to make me laugh and even harder to not make me cry.  Mine was a simple dream, to be sure, but sincere and full of promise.  And over the last two years, I have clutched it to my heart through all the pain, all the stress, all the disappointments that have threatened to resign it permanently to the land of fairy tales.

Today, I am shocked to realize that I am living that dream.  On this sunny June day, I am sitting on my little patio, gazing at my riotous blooms, while James and his son dismantle and rebuild my younger daughter’s balcony.  I am simultaneously blissful and terrified.  Walking on clouds and looking over my shoulder for the storm.  Amazed at my good fortune and trying desperately not to screw it up.

And damn he looks good in that tool belt….

Conversation just now:

James: “What are you doing?”

Me:  “Writing a blog post.”

J: “Is it about me?”

Me: “Yes.” {grinning}

J: “Oh, boy.  {laughing} Do I get to read it?”

Me:  “Nope.” {still grinning}

J:  “Uh oh.” {laughing again}

If he only knew….

The past couple of weeks have been a whirlwind of emotions for me.  I have battled my fear and inclination to run every single day.  I want this man, I really do, but the scars of the past are still sore and aching.  My self-protectionist brain has been diligently cataloging every possible reason why this thing we have cannot work, even as we’ve had so many perfect moments, and I can feel my carefully constructed walls crumbling between us.

In a rare moment of true exasperation, my therapist admonished me for risking sabotaging this relationship, for allowing my fear of ultimately being hurt get in the way of enjoying this wondrous gift in front of me.   My friends laugh at me as I earnestly describe the things that are bothering me.  “Get over it,” they say.  “You’re just scared.”  Even my mother told me to loosen up and just go with it.  “He’s a good man, and I can see how you look at him and hear how you talk about him.  Stop worrying and just let it happen.”

And the thing is:  they are all right.  I know they are, and I know how I feel when he smiles at me and when he touches me and when I hear his voice on the phone.  And it all scares me to death.  I hate to think of myself as a fearful person; I have always been proud of my fearlessness.  But this is different.  And I am afraid.

Love means risk.  I know this.  My head knows this and my heart knows this.  But knowing it in the abstract and embracing it in the reality are two different things.  I know, with every cell of my body and every corner of my soul, that if I just let go, I will tumble head over heels for this man.  I also know that the simple truth is that most relationships end.  So, chances are, somewhere down the road one or both of us will end up with a broken heart.  The thought of it scares me to death.

But, something else scares me more:  the possibility of letting this go (or worse yet, trashing it myself) because I was too fearful to fully embrace it.  The idea that maybe, years from now, I will look back on this relationship as the one that got away…. bitter with regret that I hadn’t been brave enough to see where it might go.  That is far more terrifying to me.

So, I will keep moving forward, pushing through my fear.  I know that months ago, it was him who was holding back, him whose past hurts and betrayals were making him hesitant and reluctant.  I don’t know what changed, but he seems so fully present  now, so open and available to me.  I almost envy him that.  Last night, lying in bed, a tangle of arms and legs, his cheek resting on my breast, I asked him why he wasn’t afraid anymore.  “Who says I’m not afraid?” he murmured before drifting off to sleep. Hmmm….

So maybe the fear doesn’t exactly go away.  Maybe, at this point in our lives, it is just part and parcel of creating intimacy with someone.  Maybe every successful relationship is about refusing to allow your fear to dominate the conversation.  Maybe it’s about wanting this person outweighing your fear of losing him.

He’s patient.  He’s steady. He’s strong.  I just hope that when I tumble, he’s there to catch me.

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sir isaac newton’s law of relationship momentum (well, kind of anyway….)

Tonight I am thinking about love and relationships and momentum.  Sir Isaac Newton would be so proud.

There is a law of physics (conceived of by Galileo and later formulated by Newton) that says (basically) that objects in motion tend to stay in motion and objects at rest tend to stay at rest, absent some external force or propulsion.  Today, we refer to this as momentum. In other words, if something gets going, it will keep going unless something stops it, and, once stopped, it will stay stopped unless something intervenes to propel it forward.

Now, I never took physics in high school, but I’ve always found this theory fascinating, particularly as it relates to human relationships.

Because it does relate to human relationships.  Definitely.

Relationships need momentum — they need forward motion — particularly when they are new and fresh and young.  Once stalled, it is incredibly difficult to get them moving again.  And, it seems, the newer the relationship, the harder it is to regain lost momentum….

My friend Annie had a short-lived flirtation recently with a guy she met on match.com.  They exchanged emails, had some great phone conversations, and a really nice first date.  On that first date, however, he explained that he was a member of the “take it slow” club, and that he wasn’t in a hurry to rush into anything.  She agreed, but then discovered, in the days to come, that his idea of “taking it slow” amounted to nothing at all.  Minimal contact, no date for another full week, pretty much nothing of substance to follow the great first date.  And, not surprisingly, her interest in him plummeted. Indeed, she canceled their second date and moved on.

Some people will read that and immediately assume that she couldn’t have been THAT into him if her interest in him cooled that quickly, and there may be some truth to that.  But I talked to her immediately following the first date, and she was definitely interested.  That wasn’t the problem.  The problem was that the fledgling relationship lost momentum almost before it got started. Or, put another way, he stopped watering the seedling before it had even completely sprouted.

I think that new relationships — of any kind — need nurturing.  Just a little bit of attention to keep things moving forward.  Maybe those are emails or texts or phone calls or stolen coffee breaks or whatever, but some kind of contact that continues to build a connection and explore the possibility of real intimacy in between actual dates.  Romantic relationships fall into this category for me, but so do friendships — how many times have we met someone and thought, later, that we could have been really great friends, if only we’d had more opportunity to spend time together, get to know one another, etc. etc.?

Over a few margaritas recently, Annie and I were musing that, in terms of momentum,  romantic relationships are a lot like sex:  the best ones start out with some playful flirting, move on to some more intimate communication (foreplay) and then fall into a steady rhythm that feels good (like intercourse) and then climax into the head-long fall into love (like an orgasm).  Plenty of relationships get stalled at foreplay, and others progress to intercourse, but most don’t carry you all the way to climax.

There are, of course, lots of reasons why relationships don’t climax into a head-over-heels love, and most of them are very good reasons — lack of attraction, or compatibility, or integrity.  An awful lot of my relationships stall out in the “intercourse” stage…. moving along just fine but then…. no more forward motion.  No love, no butterflies, no… anything.  No climax.  And usually, once stalled, they don’t naturally and spontaneously begin moving forward again, just as Newton’s law assures us.

I think a lot of relationships die due to a lack of momentum.  I think those relationships are the ones we look back on and qualify as having had “bad timing” — they looked really good at first, seemed to have all the right ingredients, but never quite got off the ground, for reasons that seemed external to the relationship.

One guy I dated after my divorce  has re-surfaced in my life multiple times, but we have never, ever been able to regain the traction our relationship had the first, short time around.  It kind of sparks with some promise, but then fizzles very quickly, like a faulty firework on July 4th.  I have no idea or means of measuring whether that is indicative of the fact that we are not “meant” for each other, but I do know that I cannot imagine us ever having enough momentum to be anything meaningful to each other, beyond the friendship we now have.

My guy friend, K.C. strongly believes in the momentum theory and uses it to his advantage, but from the reverse angle:  he makes sure that he doesn’t spend too much time with or attention to a new girl, lest she begin to fall in love with him and “complicate things.”  He aims for only the good, steady rhythm phase and intentionally doesn’t allow it to progress beyond that.  It sounds impossible, but he is truly a master at this technique.  And, maybe not surprisingly, after a little while of lukewarm attention from him, the girls typically do settle into a comfortable relationship of limited intimacy.  It is exactly and precisely the opposite of what I’d find fulfilling, but it seems to work for him.

I think a lack of momentum can be deadly even in a stable, committed relationship.  Because “stable” shouldn’t mean “stagnant.”  Even in a stable relationship — like a marriage — the couple has to nurture it and themselves and constantly be moving the relationship forward.  Maybe not by the leaps and bounds it experienced in the dating phase, but still in small, important increments.  When that forward momentum ceases, the intimacy begins to die.

I am beginning to realize that momentum is so much harder to maintain when you’re dating the second time around.  The magnitude of distractions and obligations can make it hard to devote the time and energy necessary to keep a new relationship alive.  When you’re young and childless and ex-less, you can devote nearly all your emotional energy at your new relationship, channeling all that intent and focus and feeling into that seedling and waiting to see what it grows into.  But the second time around…. it’s a whole different ball of wax, as they say.

Momentum has been on my mind lately because — not surprisingly — it is relevant to my own romantic relationship right now.  My guy and I are being separated at the moment — not by time or distance, but by a few circumstances outside of and separate from our relationship — and it is likely that this separation will last for at least the rest of the summer.  I will see him occasionally, talk to him frequently, possibly share a few stolen moments, but we will have no privacy.  No intimacy.  No momentum.

I saw him tonight.  Sat across the table from him.  Exchanged snippets of conversation about our days.  And missed him terribly, even when he was in arm’s reach.  And I drove home feeling very, very far away from him.

I wonder at our chances now.  This is our third attempt at this relationship.  The other two times we stumbled before we were able to take our momentum and run with it.   And now, just as we were entering the good, steady rhythm phase of the relationship, life has intervened and altered our course.  And I wonder if what we have is strong enough, or good enough, or valued enough to weather the change in course direction that has stalled our momentum.

What will be left of our relationship after weeks on hold?  Once at rest, will we be able to re-start yet again?  Or will we go the way of so many relationships…. lost in the archives of what might have been, if only things had been different… if only we hadn’t lost our momentum…..

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Filed under dating, divorce, general musings, personal growth, relationships, single mom

rescue me

Last Sunday sucked.  Really, just completely sucked.  It was one of those days when being a single mom feels like an interminable life sentence rather than a gentle joy.

I awoke Sunday morning to discover that my younger daughter and her sleepover friend had made “oobleck” in my kitchen at the break of dawn.  If you’re not familiar with oobleck, it’s like a homemade goo…. somewhere between playdoh and glue.  Its only ingredients are water, flour, and cornstarch.  And it was all over my kitchen.  In every nook and cranny, covering every horizontal and vertical surface — I actually had to ask them if they had purposefully smeared it over all the surfaces?? — and clogging my sink drain to the point that the disposal could only muster a weak whine when turned on.

I was furious.  I am not a morning person on the best of days, but this kind of thing makes me crazy.  It especially makes me crazy because I know that they would  not have dared to do this at my ex-husband’s house.   No, they only pull this kind of naughtiness at my house.  So, the sleepover friend went home and my daughter went to her room to have a good, long think about why she’d created such a mess in our home.

I swallowed my frustration and hurt and sense of complete unfairness, put on my rubber work gloves, and started scrubbing.  Nearly 90 minutes later, my kitchen smelled of vinegar (the only known means of removing oobleck from wooden cabinets, I learned), and I was reaching for my morning cup of tea.

But my girls and I never really recovered our day after that.  We were all kind of exhausted by the emotional upheaval of the morning.  I felt like my job was mostly to just get us all to bedtime without any more tears — theirs or mine.

And then, after dinner, James called.  Our conversation went something like this:

J:  I was wondering if your daughters would like to join me for ice cream this evening.

Me:  You mean all of us?

J:  No, I mean your daughters.  And me.

Me:  Really?  Why?

J:  Because you need a break.

Me:  <speechless>

J:  Hello?

And so that is how James came to take my daughters out for an ice cream cone and a stroll downtown while I stayed at home, drank chamomile tea and laid in my hammock staring at the sky.  By the time they returned home nearly 2 hours later, we were all in much better spirits.

I was married to my ex-husband for 11 years, and 8 1/2 of those years we were parents.  I do not recall — not once — him ever offering me a break when I was overwhelmed.  I remember asking at times, and feeling that the help was reluctantly provided or that a trade could be made, but never did I feel that he was simply stepping in to carry my burden for a little while so that I could recover my balance.  Never.

As I lay in the hammock that evening, I contemplated the small gift James had given me — and my girls.  The gift of space and time to recover from our little emotional hiccup.  The gift of feeling cared for and cared about.  I examined that little gesture with awe and amazement, feeling certain that James would never — could never — understand how much it meant to me.  Not as some grand declaration of love, but just as a small token of one person caring for another.  And it was truly and exactly perfect.

And I wondered if this was what it felt like to be with someone who understood that parenting is not always a joy.  It’s not always those special, tender moments that are made for Kodak pictures.  Sometimes it’s annoying and frustrating and stressful, and — damn! — how wonderful it is to not have to pretend otherwise.  Parenting is hard enough work without trying to be June Cleaver every single day.

The next day, when I saw him, I kissed him and thanked him.  “What for?” he said.  “I guess just for being you,” I said.  “And for being different than what I’ve known before.”

But what I meant was, thank you for rescuing me.

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Filed under divorce, general musings, healing, parenthood, relationships, single mom

i do

I married someone today.

No, I am not a wife now.  I work at a town hall in a very small town  and I performed a wedding ceremony as part of my job.  It was a beautiful day, and the couple was so very sweet.  She was in her 50’s and so nervous and giddy.  He was a bit younger and beaming like luckiest man in the world.  They were in love.  They had waited for this day.  They were confident in each other and what they share.  Just being near them was intoxicating.

I don’t have any desire to remarry.  I know that is an unpopular thing to say and that some would assume that I had exited my marriage a cynical and negative person who had lost faith in the institution of marriage.

On the contrary.

I am still very much a romantic and I believe — strongly and without reservation — in the existence and power of true love.  I believe in the wonder of a marriage as a “forever” bond, between the right people at the right time.  My friends all know that I am a champion of every kind of happy ending there is.

I think that being in love is one of the small miracles of the world. I don’t know why God blessed us with the ability to connect to someone so deeply, to desire their happiness even above our own, to discover in ourselves a selflessness that we’d never seen, to be childlike and joyful in a way that we might not be in any other area of our life.  It is amazing to me that we cannot quantify it or fully describe it or capture it or synthetically produce it, and yet love is a currency valued in every culture known to man.  For every person that values money above all else, there are 10 others for whom the search for a true love is their life’s ambition.   More poems, songs, sonnets, and odes have been written about love than about any other condition or being.  Even God is only a close second.

For me, love and marriage proved to be two very separate things.  I like who I am when I am in love.  I am a good girlfriend.  I did not like who I was when I was married.  I was a “good” wife, but I was a miserable wife.  And I have no certainty that I would know how to do it differently.  So, for me, marriage is off the table.  I do not want another wedding because I do not want another marriage.

But I do still love weddings.  I love the optimism and the hopefulness and the bravery of that act.  I love that, in our culture,  it is one of the only times that the open and unabashed display of love is acceptable and celebrated. I love that, in spite of our collective pragmatism and cynicism, we have held onto the wedding ceremony as a means of shouting to the world that we love each other and we are going to try our damnedest to make our own happy ending.

I am not naive.  I know what our divorce rate is and I fully understand why it is so high.  I get that at least half of us make a mess of our first marriages, and around 75% of us do the same on our second marriages.  But that doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with marriage.  That means there is something wrong with us.

I have known some amazing marriages…. quiet fairy tales in the midst of everyday, common life.  They weather the ups and the downs, the “I-Can’t-Get-Enough-of-You” and “I-Never-Want-to-See-You-Again” moments, the highs and lows of sexual attraction, the challenges and victories of child-rearing.  And when I have seen those couples look into each other eyes, when they think no one is watching, and I have witnessed the tenderness between them, my heart has melted.  Every single time.  Cinderella is all fine and well, as is the hoopla of the royal wedding.  But the real miracle comes later, as the fabric of the marriage is woven and the texture acquired and the life lived side by side.

I watched my couple today, as they held hands and smiled at each other through tears during the service, and I said a silent prayer for them…. that whatever happy ending they were mutually imagining could please come true.  That they could find in each other their own special fairy tale.  Because I still believe in weddings.  And I still believe in marriage.

I do.

___________________________________________________________

Below is the text of the wedding ceremony I wrote for our civil wedding ceremonies.

Hello everyone and welcome.

We have gathered here today to observe one of life’s most precious moments:  the decision of two people to join their lives together in the covenant we call marriage.

This decision is not to be entered into lightly.  It deserves the benefit of long hours of soul searching and thoughtful contemplation.  It calls for knowing oneself and what one needs and desires and has to give another.  It requires an appreciation of the promise that is being made and the bond that is being formed.

Finding that person that we each believe to be perfect for us is truly a miracle.  The world is large, and growing.  To realize, just for a moment, that the two people before us somehow managed to find each other and recognize in each other a specialness, a “rightness,” a “fit” that surpassed what they had found or encountered previously… it is truly awesome.   The story of how they met, got to know one another, fell in love, and began a journey that brought them to this place on this day is no doubt one of life’s most amazing little miracles.  Whether simple or complicated, mundane or extravagant, it is a testament to the universally human desire to love and be loved.

Love brought them here, but love will not be enough to sustain them.  It will have to be joined by respect, compassion, empathy, support, and patience.  It will need constant nurturing and attention.  It will need each of you to recommit, every single day, to its well-being and good health.  And in return, it will sustain you and comfort you and enrich you.

Are you prepared for this commitment?

[Couple responds, as one, ‘”We are.”]

As marriage is necessarily the joining of two individuals – with separate identities, personalities, and ideas, I now ask each of you:

Do you, __________________ and _______________________, promise, to each other and the world as a witness:

  • To love one another and show affection to one another and prioritize the physical and emotional connection you have with one another?
  •  To comfort one another without criticism or negativity, but from a place of love and support?
  •  To honor and respect one another’s feelings, concerns, beliefs, opinions, talents, and needs, whether you share them or not?
  •  To hold as sacred whatever aspects of your relationship you mutually agree should be so?
  •  To banish sarcasm, cynicism, and contempt from your arguments and debates, so as to cultivate respect and courtesy for one another?
  •  To support each other’s personal growth and self-awareness as being necessary components to the growth and sustainability of your union?
  •  To be even more patient, more kind, and more loving to one another than you are to the rest of the world?
  •  To be one another’s soft place to land when the world seems hard and unyielding?
  •  To strive to make one another feel special and desired and important?
  • To be the one person in the whole world that each other can count on unconditionally and without reservation?
  • To nurture and protect and guard your love from the stresses and pressures and temptations of life, such that your union grows stronger and more powerful over time?

 [The couple answers, one at a time, “I do,” and exchange rings, if desired.]

[Optional: The couple has expressed the desire to each make a personal declaration.

The couple takes turns making their declaration, if desired.]

By virtue of your love for one another and the commitment you have just made, I now pronounce you husband and wife.  You may seal this bond with the eternal symbol of a kiss.

[The couple kisses, if they so choose.]

Now go forth and share this wonderful journey of life together.  Congratulations!

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Filed under general musings, love, marriage, relationships