Monthly Archives: October 2011

she was a lingerie model AND a professional chef?

Poor Annie.  She recently found out that her boyfriend’s last girlfriend was a personal trainer, and the one before that was a massage therapist.  Fantastic news, for sure.

Terrific body.

Terrific hands.

We can only hope that they both had terrific halitosis….

Annie is actually in very good shape — not just for a woman of her age, but of any age.  But still.  There’s nothing like really liking a guy and then running smack into a ghost from his past with perfect abs.

This is yet another thing that happens more frequently at this age than when we were younger.  I mean, let’s face it, the biggest nightmare when we were younger was probably the varsity cheerleader.  Now that “cheerleader” comes in a whole menu of nightmarish varieties. By the time we’re into our late 30’s and beyond, women have a far wider variety of accomplishments and accolades than we did as college co-eds.  And it is precisely those experiences and achievements that can be so threatening when we first learn of them.

I, for one, once dated a man whose ex-wife had climbed Mt. Everest — twice.  Try that on for size the next time you’re feeling accomplished and put together.  Then there was the guy with two ex-wives — both were aerobic instructors and one had (at one point in the distant past) even been a stripper.  So much for those exotic dancing classes I took right before dating him…  But my personal, all-time favorite was the  guy I dated whose ex-wife had a very successful and lucrative career as lingerie catalog model, before giving birth to three gorgeous children, serving as president of the PTA, and pursuing a culinary degree.   When he told me, I literally choked on my food.  Seriously, it was almost enough to forgive him for still being in love with her.  Hell, I was practically in love with her.

I’ve never had a female friend — no matter how accomplished or beautiful or intelligent or desirable — who did not, at one point or another, do battle with the ghost of a nightmare girlfriend or ex-wife.  In fact, I have one friend who is wildly successful — a published author with a law degree and a successful career in television and print journalism — and in possession of a physique that suggests Pamela Anderson might have a twin.  She routinely dates billionaires (yes, that’s a “b”), and when she fell for her last billionaire boyfriend, she found herself floundering when confronted with with the ghost of his high-school sweetheart who is the epitome of domestic bliss, complete with an apron.  So, really, this “You’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me.-How-can-I-compare-with-THAT?” experience seems to be universal.

The ironic thing is that, of course, the same woman worrying about measuring up to her new lover’s ex, might actually be the nightmare ex for some other poor woman.  Indeed, around the time that I was considering whether I should learn how to perfect coq au vin in my push-up bra and thong, one of my ex-boyfriends was being dumped by a woman who felt that she couldn’t measure up to his memory of me.  So there you have it.

Over time, of course, the seeming perfection of these nightmare ex-wives and girlfriends fades…. Their flaws come to the surface and their humanity is revealed.  The reasons why your guy is no longer with her becomes increasingly obvious, and your own superior suitability for him is apparent.  But until then, you can at least hope that she snored — really, really loudly, each and every night.

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crazymaking shit

I have had this conversation so many times lately, I feel like having it emblazoned on a t-shirt to save us all the trouble:

Friend:  So, have you heard from James yet?

Me:  No.

Friend:  Really?

Me:  Yep.

Friend:  Seriously?  Nothing?

Me:  Seriously.  Nothing.

Friend:  Wow.  Maybe you were right…. Hmmmm… maybe all those times you worried about how he felt, you were right….

Me:  Gee, ya think?

There’s an old saying that goes:

Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they aren’t watching you.

Tweak it a bit and you get:

Just because you’re insecure, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be.

I realize now that the reason I never felt secure in my relationship with James was because I never was secure in my relationship with James.  I didn’t know how he felt or what could end it or whether he was really invested.  And so, yes, I was insecure.  And apparently with good reason.

Here’s the thing about insecurity in relationships:  if you have it in every relationship you’re in, it’s probably about you.  It’s probably about your own sense of self-worth and self-esteem, rather than something your man is or is not doing. This kind of insecurity leaks into other aspects of your life — you might start questioning your value at work or feel less secure in your friendships or in your abilities to properly parent.  This is a form of chronic insecurity that no man is going to “fix.”  It requires some real work within yourself to overcome.  It’s serious and it’s deadly to any kind of healthy relationship, romantic or otherwise.

But we’re going to put that kind of insecurity aside for a moment.  Because that’s not what this post is about.  Oh no, this post is about the kind of insecurity that’s a little voice of warning… that useful, helpful, oh-so-wise voice we call Intuition.

Buddha and other spiritual leaders like to remind us to search for peace and contentment and value within ourselves, and not in how others define us or value us.  I get that, really I do.  I sincerely believe that when it comes to your basic self-worth as an individual, those teachings are the truest holy grail.  If we spend our time waiting for someone to make us feel like we have value and something to offer, it’s going to be a long, lonely wait.

However.

I don’t think Buddha (or any other wise person) intended for me to ignore the intuition that was telling me — loud and clear — that my relationship was not what it appeared from the outside.  I knew, from very, very early on, that something was not quite right.  I cast about for a reason — Was it another woman?  No.  Was it his children?  No.  Was it his friends?  No.  Was he essentially a bad guy or player?  No.  In the end, it seems that the answer was simple and timeless:  apparently, “it” just wasn’t there.

I might have figured that out earlier, but I got confused.

James liked to remind me that “actions speak louder than words.”   This is a handy little truism that had me chasing my tail for months.  Because, you see, in a way, it’s right.  For example, if  man tells you he loves you and then takes your best friend to bed, chances are he doesn’t really love you.  We all know this.

But what if it’s the other way around?  What if he treats you like he cares deeply for you, but tells you, directly and indirectly, otherwise?  What if he seems to incorporate you into his life, but then makes a point of letting you know that you are not a priority?  Then what?  What are you supposed to pay attention to?  The actions?  Or the words?

I’ve decided that it’s both, or rather, it’s the interaction of the two together.  My current hypothesis is that it’s congruency of the words and the actions that matters.  And I’ve got some psychology to back me up…

Psychologists have studied what happens to us as individuals when we think one way and act another.  For instance, when we do something that we know is wrong, it makes us anxious and nervous and unsettled.  The clinical term is “cognitive dissonance.”   Most of us (absent a personality disorder) cannot be comfortable when our words and our actions don’t match up.  So what about when someone we are in a relationship with seems to have mis-matched words and deeds?  My therapist has a clinical term for that, too:  “crazymaking shit.”  (Okay, so maybe it’s not exactly a clinical term, but I would argue that it should be.)

Some examples of crazymaking shit my friends and I have encountered when dating and/or being married:

1.  Introducing me to your entire family and then reminding me that we’re just dating and it’s nothing serious.  Really?  Tell that to your mom.

2.   Bringing me flowers, but only when company is coming.  They’re fooled.  I’m not.

3.  Telling me all the things you love about me, without realizing that those are all things I do for you, not things that I am.  So pretty much, any woman with a comprehensive to-do list could take my place.  Peachy.

4.  Introducing me as your girlfriend, when you’ve got your hands all over a female who is definitely not me.  I would venture that she might be a bit confused by that one, too….

5.  Bragging about how great I am to all of your friends, while saving your laundry list of my shortcomings for our special time together.  No wonder they think we’re so awesome together and I can’t figure out why you’re even here.

6.  Telling me how much you love me and how important I am to you, but then being “too busy” to spend time with me or check in.  I swear, Katrina once dated a man who was apparently busier than the President, because, last time I checked, even Barack and Michelle have the occasional date night.  But when Katrina would ask him about his apparent disinterest in spending time with her, his response was always, “Oh, baby, you know I love you!  I’m just busy.”  Now, that Crazymaking Shit deserves to be capitalized.

These kinds of behaviors — this incongruency between words and actions — are clear (and even kind of funny) when viewed in isolation.  But when part of a larger, textured relationship, they are just plain confusing.  In short, they are crazymaking shit.

My point is a plain and simple one:  sometimes people are insecure because they are insecure people, and sometimes they are insecure because they are in insecure relationships.  There is a difference.

My insecurity in my relationship with James didn’t bleed over to the rest of my life.  For the most part, it didn’t make me question my worth as a person or even as a woman.  But it sure as hell made me feel like I wasn’t truly important or special in that relationship.  And that was a message that I might have done well to heed.  Is it possible that James really did care for me, but just wasn’t able or maybe willing to tell me so?  Perhaps.  But that’s an explanation that requires a huge leap of speculation.  And does it really matter?  Whether he cared for me and couldn’t say it, or didn’t care for me at all, the result was the same:  a relationship that slipped the thin bonds holding it together.

I hasten to add that I am fully aware that men can be insecure, too.  Both because there are insecure men and because there are men who are in relationships that make them insecure.  I have been in relationships with both types, and with the latter, I will admit, their insecurity was justified.  In those relationships, I didn’t care for them as they did for me, they sensed it, and it made them insecure.  But the stereotype of the clinging, needy, insecure woman is the persistent one, and so that’s what I’m tackling here.

All of this crystallized for me recently because I am getting to know someone right now who has congruency between his words and actions.  I am watching him unfold himself to me and realizing that he does what he says and means what he does.  It’s really amazing to watch.  I don’t wonder if he likes me.  I don’t wonder if I’m enough or special or valuable.  I always knew I was, but now it’s like I’ve found someone who actually believes it, too.  No convincing required. Right now we’re hardly more than friends and it’s far too early to know where this will go, but at the very least, it’s reminded me that my intuition is far smarter than my brain.  It can smell crazymaking shit for what it is, even if I can’t.

So, in summary, my advice to my male friends and readers is this:

Before you label a woman you’re dating as “insecure” (or some synonymous label that is equally demeaning and patronizing), please take a moment to consider whether she seems insecure in other aspects of her life.  Because if she’s the kind of woman who seems to have it all together, is admired and respected and adored, then you might want to wonder if maybe — just maybe — it’s the relationship that’s insecure, and not the woman.  Because if the woman in question is truly amazing and not insecure in other parts of her life, it would be a good idea to check the bottom of your shoe for crazymaking shit.  Chances are it’s there, and you’ve been tracking it all over your relationship.

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matching scars for life

Well, I did it.  I have joined the inked masses.  I am now “tatted.”

At 42, I have my first intentional scar.

It is a tattoo.  And I love it.

My friend Katrina came for a visit this past weekend and we marked the occasion with matching tattoos on the inside of our right hip bones.  Small, almost identical Celtic symbols reflecting our belief and commitment to constant renewal and transformation in this life.  Difficult times come and go; nothing is for certain but change.  Fighting it is pointless; embracing it is liberating.  Tattoos, like our friendship, are permanent.

And it was another shared First for us.

Katrina and I met in elementary school and became friends when she called — with the generous lead time of approximately 30 minutes (I clearly wasn’t her first choice that day) — and invited me to a family picnic function.  I said yes and scampered out the door, and the rest, as they say, is history.  We quickly became the best of friends, which confounded my parents and frustrated hers (yes, the tattoo wasn’t the first time I’d flexed my muscles as The Bad Influence).  We were different enough that our circles of friends rarely overlapped, but similar in all the ways that really matter.

As we grew up, we took our first drink together, snuck out for the first time together, drove a car for the first time together (nice job running over that tree and getting a flat tire, by the way), and navigated first dates and boyfriends together.  We dated friends and even cousins.  When she got hurt, I turned the full force of my Irish temper on the poor idiot boy who dared to damage her.  When my household became nearly unbearable during my parents’ divorce, she stood silently by me and weathered more time in our home than any sane person who didn’t have to be there would have signed on for.

And then there were the bumps….

The times we’d argue and stop speaking.  The times we’d venture off with new friends, only to discover that they never quite felt the same as we did together.  The 13-year-gap that left a hole in both our lives and left us to muddle through our marriage issues without the support and comfort of each other.  When I heard from her for the first time after all those years, it was like nothing had changed between us.  Which was a good thing, because both of our worlds were falling apart.

So, once again, we weathered the storm together.  By the time we reconnected, my marriage had already blown apart and I was picking up the pieces of my broken heart from my first post-marriage relationship.  She was trying to figure out how to disengage from her toxic marriage to a mentally unstable, abusive man.  The last two years have been rocky in a lot of ways, but it seems as if the worst is behind us (I say that tentatively and with all due respect to The Whammy).  And so, it seemed appropriate to mark the occasion.

Plenty of cultures use body decoration to signify important transitions, periods of personal growth, or battles overcome.  We have spent the last six months debating the artwork we would have carved into our skin.  I located the tattoo artist and booked the appointment.  We each climbed into his chair without any visible scars from our most recent battles and emerged marked women.

Upon her arrival home, Katrina’s 12-year-old daughter Carolyn informed her that tattoos are stupid and people only do that to rebel against their parents or their ex-husbands.  Carolyn’s attitude is not unique.  She is not the only person to react with disgust or distaste or annoyance at our decision.  But fortunately, we didn’t do this for anyone else.

We did this for ourselves.

We did it to acknowledge all that has passed and all that lies in front of us.

We did it to remind ourselves that we made it through some of the worst stuff life can throw at us.

We did it together.

Again.

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broken-hearted little girl

I knew it was coming.

This morning, after her sister had gone to school, my younger daughter, Bryn, asked me whether James and I had gotten back together yet.   I told her we hadn’t.  She frowned.

Bryn:  Why haven’t you gotten back together?  You always get back together.

Me:   Not this time, babe.  I’m sorry.  Really I am.

Bryn:  But why?  What happened?

What I wanted to say was something along the lines of “None of your business” or “It’s grown-up stuff” but the little voice in my head reminded me that this was a teachable moment, and I was, after all, responsible for her current state of confusion.  It was my conscious decision to begin to incorporate James into all of our lives…. to allow my children to see him as my “boyfriend” rather than a “friend”… to encourage them to get to know him and value him.  When I made the decision to finally commit myself to the relationship and not run away last May, I committed all of us.  And when he left, he left all of us.  Now I had to figure out how to put the pieces back together.

I took a deep breath, willed myself not to cry, and told her the truth:  he just didn’t love me.  Her little face scrunched up, confused.

Bryn:  But why not?  How does that happen?

Another big breath.  Swallow the lump in my throat.

I reminded her of the different kinds of love that people have for one another — the way I love her, the way she loves her sister, the way we all love the dogs, the way her dad loves his girlfriend.  We talked about how different those are and how the last kind of love doesn’t always go as smoothly as some other kinds.  I assured her that James still really liked her and her sister, and that this was only about me and him.

Except that it’s not.  And she’s way too smart to be fooled.

Bryn:  But if you don’t marry James, how can Chelsea and I be sisters and live together?

Sigh.  Bryn and James’ middle daughter, Chelsea, became fast friends over the summer.  Bryn is a popular little girl with lots of friends and activities, but she felt a special affinity for Chelsea.

Me:  Sweetie, James and I never talked about getting married.  You know that.

Bryn:  But me and Chelsea did!  We had it all planned out!  Do I even get to be friends with her now??

Me:  Yes, of course.  You and Chelsea will be friends for as long as you want to.

Bryn:  Good.  Because I’m going to write her a letter and I”m going to see her when she comes at Christmas and we’re going to stay friends!

She might as well have added “So there!” for good measure.  She turned her back to me and busied herself getting ready for school.  I left her packing her backpack and retreated to my bedroom, where I collapsed on the bed.

So, today I am carrying not only my own sadness at the relationship’s end, but my daughter’s as well.

Sigh.

When did it all get so complicated?  Should I never have included my children in our relationship? How long are you supposed to sneak around your kids before you trust that what you share has some long-term potential?  How in the world can I protect them from the disappointment of my failed relationships when I can’t even protect myself?

I simply don’t know the answers.

What I do know?  Someday, they will have their share of heartbreaks; they shouldn’t have to share in mine.

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men: read this… we’re begging you….

Apparently men have a hard time figuring women out. 

I don’t understand this, but I have accepted it.  So, as my public service for today, I point you to a brilliant article by a relationship counselor who summarizes it more clearly and succinctly than I ever could.

Read it.  Study it.  Be it.

Please.

(Oh, and ladies, you can address your thank you notes to thatprecariousgait@yahoo.com…..  😉 )

19 Things Women Wished Men Knew About Sex and Relationships

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ladies: read this…. your man will love you for it

I have the benefit of several great male friends.  Some I have known for what seems like an eternity; others for only a few years.  Some have graduate degrees, others high school diplomas.  Some are married, others are not.  Some live on the coasts, others in the middle.

And they all have the same, identical primary complaint in their relationships.  I have heard it so much that I am sick to death of it.  This is why good men leave.  Or why they stay and resign themselves to terminal sadness and/or frustration.

Here it is.  Read it.  Learn it.  Don’t do it.

Please.

The #1 Mistake Most Wives Make

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with this ring….

“I just sold my wedding ring.  I think I might throw up.”

That’s the text I got from my friend Katrina last weekend.  When I read it, I thought I might just throw up, too.  My tummy did a flip, my throat caught, and my heart sunk.  Oh. My. God.

This action wasn’t exactly unexpected.  Katrina has been separated for over a year and didn’t wear her wedding ring for the last 4 years of her marriage (yes, it was that bad).  So, it’s not like she was strolling through the mall and thought, “Hey, I’ll bet I can get some good dough for this bauble!”, yanked the ring off her finger and plonked it on the jeweler’s counter.  No, this was a long, long time coming.  This was the exit of a symbol that had ended up feeling more like a spiked choke collar around her neck than a token of forever love on her finger.

And yet.

I knew exactly how she was feeling.  Because I was feeling it for her, too.  Katrina and I have known each other since elementary school.  We started dating at the same time.  We dated friends and even cousins.  So many of our shared romantic notions of love and marriage were borne of hours of lying around my room or hers, contemplating the mysteries of boys and marriage and “forever.”   How did we get here?  How did we — two girls who were so very good at long-term relationships, even in our teen years! — land in this pile of the divorce statistics?  I was there the night she met her husband.  I was at her wedding — hell, I was in her wedding party.  How did we not know this was coming? How did we not foresee that someday one of us would be standing at a jeweler’s counter, ridding herself of the very thing that she had most dreamed about for half her life?

I think one of the cruelest aspects of divorce is how you never simply get divorced.  You are divorced.  Forever.   It becomes a permanent part of who you are…. like a scar from a bad car accident on a day that started with so much promise.  And every once in a while, usually when you least expect it, it suddenly dawns on you:  I am divorced.  I did not get forever.  My friends and I live through those moments together in a kind of shared understanding that this is now part of our truth and the rest of our lives may be peppered with these small moments of “Why?”

Katrina recovered from her nausea and was nearly back to herself within a few hours.  At this point, the pain from those moments doesn’t cause us to collapse, only to stumble.  And we have each other to catch us at the elbow, right us again, and send us moving forward once more.

Into forever.

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{ping}

When my children are with me, I say good night to each of them by lying in bed with them, chatting about their days and saying prayers.  At the end, just before I get up to leave, I ask them to tell me one thing for which they are grateful.  I do this because I think it’s important to encourage a habit of gratitude and because I want them to close their day on a positive note.  When they were itty-bitties, I would refer to this time as me spending a minute with them before they sleep; it has since been shortened and is now simply called, by all of us, “Our Minute.”

My ex-husband has his own traditions with the girls, but they have both told me how much they miss Our Minute together at the end of the day when they are at their dad’s.  I hate that I cannot be there with them every night.  I miss their soft little cheeks and bubbling stories of their days.  I miss holding their hands or softly stroking their hair while we recite our prayers together.  I hate that the decisions that I made 2 1/2 years ago keep me from sharing Our Minute with them every single night.

My phone pinged 4 times in rapid succession, and I picked it up to discover multiple texts from my older daughter, Sabrina…

The texts contained, without preamble or explanation, her two prayers that we typically say together.  Then a separate text that simply read, “Here are our prayers.  I miss you sitting with me.”

Then, finally, a moment later, “P.S. I’m thankful for being able to text you.”

I was overcome by those simple, sweet messages.

Leave it to a 10-year-old, and the technology of her generation, to close the distance and space between us in an instant.   She is so much smarter than me.

And I am grateful for that.

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back in the saddle again

It’s funny how you never know when you’re going to turn a corner from sadness into something less raw.  Just as the pain always seems to sneak up on you — no matter how much you should have seen it coming — so does the return of lightness and hope.

For the first time in awhile, I awoke recently in the company of Hope and her friend, Peace.  I was so happy to see them again, a long, slow smile spread across my face. I rolled over, grasped my phone, and lost myself in an email from a new friend that was so funny and sweet and open and comforting that it both made me chuckle out loud and brought tears to my eyes.  As I laid in bed after reading it, I was conscious of the absence of that heaviness I’d been carrying around, the weight of my dead-end feelings for James.  I was…. dare I say it?… happy again.

There comes a time, post-break-up, when you realize that you can either sit around waiting for the Hollywood ending or you can push forward and resume the search for a new script.  Grieving the loss of someone who has been important to you is necessary and valuable; wallowing in your sadness and what ifs is not.  I have been known, on occasion, to wallow.  But I’ve decided to try something new this time. It’s called not wallowing.

I am lucky that I have girlfriends who circle the wagons and take care of me when I’m a mess.  They listen to the same tears and fears over and over, patiently reassuring me each time.  They were routing for me and James, but even my hopelessly romantic friends have been forced to acknowledge that he doesn’t seem to have cared for me as I did for him.  They have been encouraging me to date, to revisit my old match.com stomping ground, to get out and be seen and wait for the phone to start ringing.  I love them for it. God only knows what I’d do without them.

My work colleagues know only that it is over, but they, too, have begun appearing in my doorway with conversations that begin with “You know who would be perfect for you?” and “Would it be okay if I set you up with….?”  Again, the sweetness and support is so very gratifying.  My closest work friend rallied me with the brutally honest, “You can’t make someone love you, so you might as well get busy not loving them.”  Truer words….

My guy friends, being penis-endowed, are insisting that the best antidote is time spent with another guy.  “Let some new guy tell you how awesome you are, if he can’t,” one of them said.  I am not really one to pinball from one relationship to another; I am very good at dating casually and just for fun.  I am not ready to fall in love with someone else, but a nice distraction would certainly be welcome….

So I am going out on a date.  A real date.  With a man who has pursued me for two years.  And I am going to have fun and laugh and r-e-l-a-x.  He’s aware of my situation but, again, being penis-endowed, doesn’t mind.  He’s just plain happy that he gets to take me out.  I’ll take a double order of that, please.

But bigger than any of these things this week was the realization I had one morning driving up the canyon to work…. the aspens were gold, the sunshine was gentle, and I was aware of the passing seasons and how much has changed in a few short years.  I was busy missing James and wondering why we couldn’t just make it work, when something inside me shifted.  And instead of focusing on what had gone wrong, I found myself starkly aware of what had gone right.  I hadn’t run.  I had spoken up.  I had used my voice, as my friend Rob implored me.  It wasn’t pretty or eloquent or my best moment, for sure.  There were a lot of tears (blubbering might even be accurate) but there was also honesty and vulnerability. I did it.  Finally.  After 13 years of swallowing my own needs and another couple spent running away from risking the pain of being told “Sorry, but I can’t/won’t give you what you need,” I finally did it. Instead of bolting or hiding behind a casual, flirtatious persona, I planted both feet, let myself feel something deep and rich for a man, and opened myself to all the possibilities.  The sad ending doesn’t negate the good work done.

And from that realization sprang the first trickles of happiness and hope and peace.  Sure, my delivery technique could stand some serious improvement and I need to open my mouth sooner in the relationship.  But growth of any kind usually happens in baby steps.  My goal is to simply keep moving forward, however precarious my gait.

Oh, and when I’m dating, it’s a crazy ride.  Better hold on tight.  Here we go again.

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use your voice. don’t be a chickenshit.

One night not too long ago, just as I was about to log off my computer, my dear friend Ryan popped open a chat window, which surprised me.  Ryan spent much of the summer angry with me because he felt that I was not particularly supportive of him after his girlfriend, Cate, left him.  I would argue (and have argued) that I was supportive of him, but not of his anger and antipathy toward her.  When she left him, his claim was that she hadn’t tried hard enough; my perspective was that she tried as hard as she could muster.  And that’s how we’d left it.

But that night, Ryan’s perspective had altered slightly as he’d been processing his feelings and conducting a post-mortem of their relationship.  That night he talked to me of his frustration that she hadn’t told him how she was feeling, hadn’t told him what he was doing wrong, hadn’t allowed him the opportunity to do better and not just save their relationship, but enrich it.  He wished she had yelled at him, if necessary, and stood her ground and really been vocal about her needs and fears.  But she didn’t.  As she was leaving, she told him that she was afraid that it wouldn’t matter…. afraid that he’d stop loving her if she complained… afraid that she was not what he wanted or needed.  Her insecurity in their relationship accumulated, along with her certainty that he did not truly love her.  And so, she left before he could leave her.

And now Ryan sits in the house they bought together and catalogs all the missteps he made and the things about her that he misses and tries to create a new life for himself without her in it.

How many of you men have been Ryan?  Trying to figure out the clues you missed, how and when things “changed,” and why in the world the woman you loved couldn’t talk to you about her darkest fears about your relationship?  How many of you have wished for that do-over?  How many of you have shed a tear over the wasted promise of a relationship that you thought just might last forever?

And how many of us have been Cate?  So afraid to be vulnerable in front of a strong man that we withdraw instead?  So afraid to be found lacking somehow that we don’t reach for the very reassurance that might assuage those fears?  So certain that he doesn’t care that we don’t offer him an opportunity to prove us wrong?

The biggest question, of course, is Would It Have Mattered?  Would Ryan and Cate have found the same outcome even if she’d have spoken up?  Would he have listened and heard her and responded in a fashion that would have reassured her and offered her the security within the relationship to explore her fears and concerns so they could be addressed in a healthy, open manner?

I have no real answer, of course.  I know that Ryan is one of the most emotionally intelligent men I know.  I know that he is capable of enormous compassion and acceptance towards others.  But I have no real idea if he would have genuinely heard her or whether their relationship could have been saved.

Ryan first met me when I was a 21-year-old sorority girl.  He was taken in by my ginger hair and my sassy sweetness but he stuck around because he values my friendship and my efforts to be better at being myself.  And Ryan knows me the way someone knows you after all those years.  He knows I have been known to run when I get scared and he knows that I have been known to underestimate a man’s feelings for me.  He has watched me take remarkably foolish leaps with my heart in my hands, and he’s seen me hold back beyond all reasonable logic.

When we were chatting that evening, Ryan had no idea what is going on in my life right now.  As I said, we hadn’t spoken in many weeks, and the last few times we did communicate, it was only about him and Cate.  Despite that, as we were signing off that night, Ryan took the opportunity to stress his point to me:

“Have the courage to use your voice.  Please.  You’re an amazing woman and whatever guy you’re with probably knows that, so give him the chance to hang on to you.  He can only make things safe to a certain degree.  After that, you have take a leap of faith.  You’re hard work, but if he’s smart, he knows that all the best ones are.  Please.  Jesus, just don’t be a chickenshit.”

A lump caught in my throat.  He didn’t realize that it’s too late for that advice…. he didn’t realize that my last guy and I waltzed a similar dance to he and Cate… with the same, sad result. Would it have mattered if I had spoken up?  Maybe, but maybe not.  I tried to, honestly I did, but it only seemed to make things worse.  So who knows….

But I will hold his words to my soul and try to remember them next time.  I will try not to assume the worst.  I will try to speak up and say what I feel and what I need.  I will try to make myself vulnerable again, even if the guy across from me doesn’t respond in kind.

I will try to not be a chickenshit.

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