Monthly Archives: September 2011

what’s in a name?

Have you ever noticed how people with certain names seem to reappear frequently in your life?  I definitely seem to attract lots of people with similar names and it seems like other people do, too.  I’ve noticed that when you look at people’s Facebook friend list, you tend to see different groupings of similar-sounding names.

I dated a guy once who had a thing for Saras.  His family even named them Sara 1, Sarah 2, and Sera 3.  No kidding.

James has way too many varieties of Carries in his life.  Sometimes we’ll be minutes into a conversation before I realize we’re talking about two different people.

For friends, I have always had a Christine/Christina/Kristen or two around, and there’s usually a Jill in the mix.  Amys tend to show up in my life to do the heavy lifting during a time of crisis.  I mentor Stephanies, and Kathys are long-distance soul-mates. Jesses are constant presences at the edges of my friendship galaxy, and Steves make me laugh.

On the flip side, Lauras usually despise me at first sight and do their best to make my life miserable, although there are two very strong exceptions to this long-standing rule.  All variety of Dianes seem rub me the wrong way, and Davids and I rarely hit it off.

On the boyfriend front, after my separation I went through a ridiculous period of attracting what seemed to be every Brian on match.com.  My friends and I gave them numbers, too (like the Saras).  In fact, nearly two years later, one who still keeps in touch occasionally has retained the moniker of “Brian 3.”   I have abysmal luck with Toms (lots of sweet-talk, very little substance), and Michaels play cat-and-mouse with my heart.

I have no idea why these groupings occur, but I do find it rather amusing.  Perhaps someday scientists will discover that certain names create gravity fields for one another.

Anyway, I need to go.  Amy is calling and a text from Christine just came in.

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Filed under friendships, general musings, relationships

mike. finally.

A couple of years ago, I met someone who changed my life.

His name is Mike.

I have not written much about Mike before, except in the most oblique reference.  I do not really talk about him except to my very closest friends.  I try not to think about him and what happened.

But I think it’s time.

When I met Mike, I was in a sad and vulnerable place and he was like the sun I hadn’t felt in years.  He was charming and funny and sexy and smart and interesting and informed.  He had eyes I could look into for hours, a mouth I could kiss for days, and a body that was astonishingly flawless.  We talked constantly and for hours on end and never grew tired of each other.  When we were together, neither of us could keep a goofy smile off our face.  I fell fast and I fell hard and I fell for real.

He did and said everything I had ever hoped for.  He wanted to know everything about me and he loved everything he discovered.  He loved my voice (“God, I could listen to you read the phone book,” he once told me); he loved my freckles (“You make them sexy.”); he loved my silly flannel pjs (“Doesn’t matter what you wear, you make everything look hot.”).  And I loved everything about him; I honestly would not admit to a single thing I would have changed.  We talked about how lucky we were to have found each other and how amazing life was going to be now that we had.  He was everything I’d ever wanted.  I thought I had found my soul mate, my one and only, my perfect match.

Boy, was I wrong.

When it ended with Mike I cried every day for weeks on end.  I threw myself into dating with a kind of blind, frenetic energy that only resulted in a few poor choices and no salvation.  I worried that I would never find someone who loved me like he had or for whom I had that same powerful connection.  I seriously wondered if I would ever get over him.

And then one day, I discovered who he really was, and it left me breathless.  I suddenly realized that the man with whom I’d been so desperately in love was a charlatan, a cad, a pretender.  Everything he’d ever told me — about us, himself, or anything at all — suddenly was called into question.  When my brain thought of something he’d told me, it was prefaced or followed by “allegedly.” I realized that I’d fallen completely and utterly in love with a truly terrible man.

It’s impossible to know how much of what Mike said to me was the truth and how much of it was a lie.  There is some evidence to suggest that he actually did love me, at least at some point.  There is also ample evidence to suggest that he is a pathological liar and that I was but one in a very long string of women that he deceived.

There were, to be sure, some warnings of his true nature.  And we’re not talking little red flags, here.  Oh no.  We’re talking large, blinking neon signs.  Plenty of indicators that this man was not worthy of my time or attention, but I rationalized them all away.  Looking back, I realize clearly that his lack of integrity and compassion and sincerity was obvious, but I never saw it then.  I was too busy being in love with him to trouble myself with such trifling issues.

When I met Mike, I knew immediately that he was going to open up a whole new world for me.  Sadly, I didn’t realize that it would be a world in which I no longer have faith in myself or my decisions about men.  Mike taught me a lot, to be sure, but they are lessons I could have happily lived without.

Mike taught me that some people are simply incapable of the kind of love that I want to give and receive.  My therapist has helped me understand that some people are truly closed off in ways that I had never imagined.  They have walls that they hide behind and have no intention of crawling over, for anyone, ever.  I thought that everyone eventually wanted to be known and accepted, wholly and completely and without reservation.  I thought that everyone eventually wanted intimacy and connection on a deep and significant level.  It honestly never occurred to me that a man might actually want to be an island.  Until Mike.

Mike taught me that I would not necessarily recognize an asshole when I met him.  Or even when I fell in love with him.  Before Mike, I had dated some guys who weren’t any good for me, to be sure, but they weren’t bad people.  They were troubled or at a bad place in their life; they weren’t players who wanted to see how much they could get away with, without regard for anyone else’s feelings.  When they hurt me, they actually felt bad about it.  But Mike never seemed to feel bad about anything, and not just with me.  He seemed to be able to shrug off anything and everything he did to anyone.  I thought he was “easy-going”; now I realize he’s almost completely lacking in empathy or compassion.  I didn’t realize that such a man could fool me.  Until Mike.

Mike taught me that some people will say whatever is necessary to get what they want.  When I think about how masterfully he manipulated me, it still leaves me kind of stunned.  From our first conversation, to his first “I love you,” to his equivocal distancing later on, he adroitly moved the relationship exactly in the direction and at the pace that he wanted.  Even as things were ending, he was shameless in his willingness to lie and distort or massage the truth.  After months of telling me how much he loved me, he suddenly did an about-face and insisted that he’d never wanted anything serious, that I had invented it all in my head, that he’d been clear with me from the beginning.  It was crazy-making.  I spent too many nights second-guessing myself — had I misunderstood everything?  Was I clinically neurotic?  Was he really this great guy that I’d somehow messed everything up with?  I didn’t realize that being smart wouldn’t protect me from being manipulated.  Until Mike.

Mike taught me that some people will see my niceness and vulnerability as weaknesses and exploit them accordingly.  Mike used to always tell me that one of things he loved best about me was how nice I am… how much and deeply I care for the people around me and how my friends value me.  He used to say that he admired my “realness.”  I had always figured that these attributes were things about me that people would like and value and protect if they cared about me.  Until Mike.

I have long known — and have positive proof of it my own life — that one person can change another in profound and powerful ways, but I suppose I mostly thought about that in terms of good ways, not bad ones.  To be sure, I have had men do rotten (even criminal) things to me, but none have left me as uncertain in my own good judgment as Mike has.  None have made me question the motivations behind even the sweetest gestures as Mike has.  None have created as much fear around relationships as Mike has.  My friend Annie suggested today that perhaps dating at our age would necessarily involve more doubt and more hesitancy and less patience for perceived hurts and shortcomings.  I believe she is absolutely right.  After all, we all have more experiences — and those include more bad experiences — informing our behavior and our choices.  We are bound to be a little less fearless, a little more cautious, a little more skeptical.  And I think that I was pretty normal in that regard.  Until Mike.

Mike left a bad legacy in his wake, but perhaps the most damaging was my lack of faith in my own judgment.  I realized recently that my biggest fear around relationships is discovering that the man I am with is not at all who I thought he was.  That kind of realization is like a baseball bat to the belly — spinning you around, leaving you breathless and dizzy and dazed and doubled over from the pain.  I know that things sometimes don’t work out — most relationships do end — but being completely blindsided by your man as the relationship falls apart is a whole other story.

It’s odd to see what fear can do to you… to watch it from outside and see how it manipulates your reactions and your choices.  To feel your confidence in your own judgment about men evaporate and discover an insecurity you never knew before.  To see yourself behaving in ways that were never a part of who you were before him.  I feel Mike’s  lingering influence as an icy cold grip on my life, strangling my relationships.  After him, I spent more than a year running away at the first hint of trouble in any relationship, until I was spent from running and sick of his ghost.

So now I do the only thing I can:  I try and fight back.  I try to push through my fears.  I have ridiculous conversations with myself, reminders that the Mikes of this world are rare and I hadn’t encountered one before him and am unlikely to encounter another.  I try to make conscious, deliberate decisions, so that I won’t slip unknowingly into that same dark place again.  I try to remember what it was like — what I was like — before Mike. I try to see my reactions and fears for what they really are — just remnants of pain that I don’t have to embrace anymore.  I try to remember that Mike didn’t force me to do anything; I was a willing participant in that relationship and I have the ability to avoid those situations.

And I do these things with varying degrees of success.

I think I am writing about this now to try and release it.  To try and not give him any more of my life than he’s already taken.  To try and quiet his echo. Once and for all.  I don’t often use my blog in this fashion, but a friend recently told me that sometimes you have to announce your biggest fear as a means of overcoming it.  So here I am.  Doing it.  I want it done.  I don’t want to be afraid that every man I date will end up another Mike.  I want to give each guy his own chance to prove himself or fail, all on his own merits.  I want to shrug off the cynicism that Mike shouldered me with and re-discover just a little bit of the hopeless romantic he bruised.   I want him gone.  For good.  I want to be free.  Finally.

Once and for all.

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

paradise, interrupted

I spent the better part of today marveling at how quickly things can change.  It’s like you’re moving along just fine, thank-you-very-much, when WHAM!  suddenly you hit a bump in the road that spins you around and leaves you sprawled across the pavement.

Earlier this week, I wrote optimistically about how different this trip to Cancun was going to be from previous years… how I was finally happy in the important ways and ready to enjoy a peaceful and relaxing and rejuvenating week with my children and family.  Sure, work was unbelievably stressful, but every other part of my life seemed to be falling into a really comfortable, productive, healthy rhythm.

Or maybe not.

For nearly 13 years, my emotional life was mostly predictable and constant.  It wasn’t good, but it was definitely not uncertain.  These days, I feel like I genuinely and without exaggeration never know what the day will hold.  I suppose that could be exciting, but mostly it just feels puzzling to me. The last couple of days have left me once again shaking my head at the perpetual uncertainty of my life these days, because, apparently, life’s little twists don’t take a vacation.  Even when you do.

Not all of life’s surprises are bad, of course.  For instance, this week my work situation has improved dramatically in my absence, alleviating an enormous amount of stress that had been plaguing me for weeks and interfering with my sleep and health and relationships.  It is an unexpected blessing and one for which I am very grateful.

But, almost simultaneous with that improvement came the disintegration (yet again!) of my parenting relationship with my ex.  After a couple of months of peaceful negotiating and working together on parenting issues for the children, he resumed his “Me First” stance and then became petulant when I pointed out to him that by ignoring a suggestion of the girls’ therapist, he wasn’t thinking in the best interests of his children.  He often becomes petulant with me these days when we argue.  I think it’s because after 13 years of me quietly going along with whatever edict he forced upon us, I am finally standing up for myself and our girls.  This unfamiliar territory can’t feel good to him and his verbal tantrums call to mind all variety of toddler behavior.

So, it would seem that even when he is not here in Cancun with me, my ex-husband still knows how to ruin my Mexican vacations for me.  How comforting to know that some things never change.

But, in fairness, he is not the only man of my acquaintance causing me to reach often for a margarita refill.  Just the other morning, while missing him terribly, I managed to get a phone call in with James.  But instead of leaving me with the warm gooey feeling of butterflies and yummy infatuation, my dollar-per-minute conversation left me cold and deflated after hearing that I apparently wasn’t being missed to nearly the same degree.  So instead of happy and warm and appreciated, I simply felt ridiculous.  Again.

And then there’s Annie’s latest boyfriend, who ended their relationship this week with a single, formal phone call and who is now mysteriously unavailable for any further information-gathering or understanding of what, precisely, went wrong.  I will simply never understand how anyone goes from “I think I’m falling for you” to ignoring a polite voice mail asking for further clarification in the span of a couple of weeks.  I just don’t get it.  Once I’m intimate with somebody, I don’t start treating them like they are disposable just because they go from “current” to “ex” boyfriend.   It’s called grace, people.  Use it.

The only upside to all this drama is that I know the pendulum will swing again.  I’ve no idea in which direction or with what outcome, but I’m pretty damn sure I won’t spend much time in this particular emotional space — even if I wanted to.   The only predictable thing about my post-divorce life is its chronic unpredictability.

Oh, well.  At least I can pass the time waiting with another margarita.

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Filed under divorce, general musings, relationships, single mom

yowza.

Every once in a while, I have a Single Parent Moment that leaves my married parent friends shaking their heads in amazement and quiet relief that they are not in my boat. Last week, I had such a moment.

James and I have been on-again, off-again for just over a year now.  My daughters, aged 10 and 8, have known him for many years, became reacquainted with him before we started dating last September, and have been mostly unaware of our relationship ups and downs.  To them, he has been a constant over the last year.  They know him, they like him, they have vacationed with him, and for the last few months, they have known that we sometimes spend the night together.  But he has never stayed over at my house when my girls are also there.

Until last week.

I decided it was time, so I told the girls that James would be coming over, was going to spend the night, and that he’d be there when they awoke in the morning.  My youngest, Bryn, teased me about it with a grin.  Sabrina, my 10-year-old, shrugged.

James arrived as I was putting Sabrina to bed.  He let himself in the open front door and shouted up his hellos to us all.  And then it began:

Sabrina:  So, is James coming over to have a drink with you?

Me:  Yes, and remember I told you that he’s going to spend the night tonight?

Sabrina:  Uh-huh.  So…. are you guys gonna have sex?

YOWZA.

I wish I could report that I responded maturely and gracefully, but I’d be lying.  What I did instead… was laugh.  Yes, that’s right.  I laughed.  I giggled until I had tears squeezing from the corners of my eyes and I was clutching my tummy.  At first, Sabrina looked at me, puzzled, but then she started laughing, too.  We ended up lying on her bed, clutching each other amidst fits of giggles.  It was ridiculous.

Eventually I recovered, and, wiping my tears of silliness away, replied thusly:

Me:  Baby, I’m a grown-up and you’re a child, and so who I do or don’t have sex with isn’t something we are going to discuss.  In fact, who I do or don’t have sex with isn’t really anyone else’s business except for the man I’m involved with.  That’s not even a question that other grown-ups typically ask each other.  And, when you’re a grown-up, whether and with whom you’re having sex won’t be any of my business either.   Do you understand?

Sabrina:  Hmmm…. Yes, I think so.  I guess I feel like it should be my business if I’m going to end up with a little baby brother or sister.

This dramatically illustrated the fact that, while I have instructed her quite a bit about the biology of sex, I haven’t quite gotten around to the idea that adults have sex for reasons other than procreation of the species…  So I punted and went with what I had:

Me:  I can absolutely, positively assure you that you will not be gaining a little brother or sister.

Sabrina:  Phew.  Okay.  That’s really good news.   Thanks, Mom.

Me:  Sure, baby.  Anytime.

There is so much about single parenting that is surreal.  So many conversations that I never imagined having, so many events that I never pictured, so many moments altered by the simple, pivotal fact that their father and I no longer live together.  Parenting is always something of an exercise in Extreme Winging It, but single parenting throws in the extra curve balls.  Just for fun.

I am sure that there will be many more moments such as that one, many more conversations that leave me speechless or giggling at the absurdity of the situation.  But I feel quite certain that, even if I should live another 42 years, I will never, ever, ever forget the night my 10-year-old asked me if I was going to have sex.

Yowza.

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reflections on the water

I sit tonight on a veranda in Mexico.

The warm breezes caress my cheeks and the gentle rhythm of the crashing waves on the beach in front of me is like a long-remembered lullaby.  The moon is full and it casts a shimmering path across the Caribbean to my veranda’s edge.

I am here, once again, in Cancun.

I have been coming to Cancun — to the same resort, in fact — for many years.  My aunt first discovered this place more than 15 years ago and promptly bought property here, followed by my cousins and then my mother and her boyfriend.  Every year we come.  And every year my time spent on this veranda, with this sea before me, is transformational.

Most of us have benchmarks in our lives — pivotal moments that cause us to reflect, to make active choices, or to notice the passage of time and the changes it brings.  More times than not, Cancun has been a benchmark for me.

The first time I came here was with my ex-husband when he was only my boyfriend of less than a year.  We were months away from moving in together, not quite a year from moving across the country, and nearly two years away from getting married.  I remember that trip very clearly and the fun we had together.  Our time together in Cancun solidified my belief that this was someone I could spend a lifetime with.  I was too young and naive, however, to realize that in a place like Cancun you can have fun with almost anyone.   I had no idea of the difficulties before us.

Then there were the years when our children were small and coming here meant packing what seemed to be platoon-sized rations for one short week, and vacation did not mean respite.  We seemed to run non-stop with the children and had to work doubly hard to keep them entertained and occupied without all their usual routines and toys.  Those vacations were fun in their own way — we laughed a lot and bonded as a family — but they never served to recharge or enrich us as individuals or as a couple.   Indeed, as the years wore on, the fissures between us became increasingly most apparent when we were on vacation and denied the day-to-day distractions afforded to us at home.

Then came September 2008 and the horrible moment when I realized, here in Cancun, that something drastic had to happen…. that I could no longer continue with the life I was leading.  In that moment, desperation arrived in my life and set in motion the series of events that ultimately led to me leaving my home and my husband a scant six months later.

The following year, I was broken and heartsick.  I came to Cancun with my girls, and we all exhausted ourselves pretending that it was all fine, really, everything was just peachy and a-okay.  I spent the evenings, while the girls were in bed, drinking multiple pina coladas on this veranda and typing furiously in my journal as tears coursed down my face.  My self-pity was boundless — this was not what I’d wanted my new life to be like with my girls.  And yet, even through my tears, the solitude of the enormous, yawning bed was preferable to having a man in it, waiting for me, whom I no longer wanted to touch me.

Last year I came alone again with my girls.   My mother, whose health is unpredictable at best, arrived and immediately fell ill, and a wildfire of epic proportions threatened my town at home.  My relationship with K.C. had come to a crashing end not long before our trip, and I had no idea that James was planning on asking me out upon my return home.  I spent my evenings on the veranda wondering what the future held and feeling restless and worried and exhausted. I was relieved to leave.

And now, here I am again.  For a multitude of reasons, none of which are dramatic or interesting, this may be our last annual trip to Cancun.  My last week on this veranda that has served as a temple of self-reflection.  My last week to be in this unchangeable environment that, each year, gives me pause to examine how much else has changed.

Perhaps I should be sad, but I’m not.  As my friend Annie pointed out last night when I was talking to her and packing, I am in such a different place — a better place — than I have possibly ever been coming to Cancun.  I couldn’t explain with any degree of beauty or clarity what exactly is different because the answer is nothing… and everything.  I have some enormous joys in my life right now — and some enormous stressors.  But what it boils down to is this:  when we arrived this afternoon and I first stepped out onto the veranda, the turquoise of the Caribbean took my breath away as it always does, and tears of gratitude sprang to my eyes and spilled onto my cheeks before I’d hardly realized they were there.  But those tears — those spontaneous, joyful tears of appreciation for the beauty and blessings around me — are likely to be the only tears I shed this year in Cancun.

And that’s huge.

Anyone who has ever overcome a great grief or loss, such as a divorce or death, knows that there are certain moments when you realize with perfect clarity that you are on the right path, and you are moving forward, and all the rest of it behind you is just that — behind you.  And you will continue to get better and do better and feel better.

And after such a big loss, that knowledge alone feels like a tremendous gift.

So, this year, I will sit on my veranda in the evenings while my children sleep deeply inside, and I will catch up on my writing and I will watch the moon play on the waves and I will meditate on the perfection of the sea breezes.

And I will be grateful.  And I will be happy.  In Cancun.

Finally.

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