Monthly Archives: November 2011

…but can you handle the truth?

A blogger friend recently wrote a poignant post about the examination of a marriage, as seen through the rear view mirror, receding into the distance.  Part of his post was about his on-going confusion and frustration stemming from his “runaway wife’s” refusal or inability to provide him with any solid reasons for her seemingly abrupt departure from the family.

Because I was suffering from terrible insomnia one evening, I posted a comment to his post that was so long that (as he later joked), I should have just written my own post and been done with it.  He was right, as he often is, and so I am now taking that comment and expanding  on it here.

If you read enough about divorce, you quickly discover that many left-behind spouses feel that they have been summarily abandoned by their former husbands or wives, with little or no explanation provided.  Even when reasons are offered, they are frequently labeled too mundane to have prompted such a grave move as divorce, and the abandoning spouse is seen as avoiding or withholding the “truth.”  The left-behind spouse feels certain that if he or she could simply get at the truth of why they have been left behind, somehow the whole predicament will make more sense and hurt much less.

I have watched friends and acquaintances who have filled the dismal role of the left-behind spouse grapple with their feelings and attempt to move on.  Indeed, I can see the obvious benefit attached to discovering a truth that suddenly removes the nagging uncertainty and deadens the raging imagination of horrors that plague the mind when it does not have a solid answer that screams “TRUTH!”

But there are a ton of assumptions built into that concept that the truth will set the mind free and ease the heart’s pain.   And not all of them hold up under closer examination….

Assumption #1.  Their truth will make sense and have value to me.

When I talk to people who feel that their spouses have suddenly and unjustly abandoned the relationship, I frequently hear them insist that they want to hear the “real reasons” for their spouse’s departure.  Digging a bit further, I usually discover that reasons have actually been provided, but they don’t seem serious enough to justify the departing spouse’s behavior or, most commonly, they “just don’t make sense.”

I would argue that most departing spouses likely have provided some or most of the truthful reasons for their leaving. I keep waiting to hear a left-behind spouse explicitly say, “I don’t want those reasons; I want the real reasons,” because I’ve heard so many variations on this theme.  The idea here is that the departing spouse likely has shared most of her reasons for leaving, but they aren’t good enough or grave enough to register with the left-behind spouse.

I, for one, can say with complete confidence and incredulity that I told my ex-husband as early as the first two years of our marriage that if he continued treating me the way he had begun to, I would be “gone in ten years.”  At the time, I was pulling that time frame out of thin air, but I did, in fact, end up leaving just before our 11th anniversary. Despite repeated warnings and tearful pleadings on my part throughout the years, he maintained his condescending nature and dismissive attitude, and then proclaimed loudly (and to anyone who would listen) that I had “left suddenly, and without warning or explanation.” I still cannot fathom how he has fashioned his truth from the reality we shared, but he has. So, I have to suspect that lots of other folks do something similar, too.  I suspect there are a plethora of marriages out there in which the departing spouse complained to the left-behind spouse of things over the years that the left-behind spouse dismissed or overlooked at the time.   Maybe she displayed patterns of disappointment over things in her life or their  marriage that seemed to the left-behind spouse (and probably to lots of others who knew her) to be trivial and therefore not something he need really worry about.  Meantime, her fatigue, disillusionment, and frustration was building.

I also do not doubt that most departing spouses hold something back.  I suspect that the biggest reason that they don’t ‘fess up to their complete and true list of reasons for leaving is that they are fully aware that those reasons will be judged, deemed insufficient, and the grounds for a debate with the spouse they have already decided to leave. This is probably a reasonable expectation on their part, as the party left behind usually does think that the reasons for the split are not valid or justifiable.  (Admittedly, it is the rare instance when one spouse comes home and says, “I think we should divorce and here are my reasons,” and the other spouse says, “Yes, you make some excellent points.  I agree.  Let’s get on with it.”)

It’s entirely understandable that the departing spouses aren’t eager to engage in a game of  To Tell the Truth with their left-behind spouse when it is likely to result in their reasons being diminished or mischaracterized.  After all, we all know that “truth is relative” in some regards.  I think it’s interesting how individuals — and sometimes even couples jointly — massage the truth to help it fit their personal constructs.  An interesting and obvious example of this is an affair:  when an affair has been discovered, but the couple is still working on the marriage, the truth of the affair is typically minimalized as “a symptom of a much bigger problem.”  But, when a marriage ends and an affair is part of it, the left-behind spouse frequently blames the affair (and the other adulterer) as the whole problem.  I don’t quite understand the logic:  why is it merely a symptom if you’re working on the marriage, but the “obvious” or “clear” (and presumably complete) reason  for the marriage’s collapse if you’re not?  But again, truth is relative…

In the age of no-fault divorce, a spouse can obtain a divorce over his or her partner’s objections, essentially making a unilateral decision to end the marriage. The other party has absolutely no say in the matter.  Given that I don’t believe that marriage should constitute ownership or control of another person, I find myself having to support this notion, despite its obvious pitfalls.

But here’s the crux of it:  the departing spouse does not have to prove his or her case.  He does not have to convince anyone that his reasons are good enough.  Indeed those very reasons — the entire truth of them, if known — might not be good enough for his left-behind spouse, his extended family, their mutual friends, or anyone else, but they don’t have to be. They only have to be good enough for him.  Is that sad and frustrating and bewildering to the left-behind spouse?  Yes, of course.  But in the end, that might be preferable to the whole truth…

Assumption #2:  I want the whole truth.

When a left-behind spouse imagines the reasons that her departing spouse is actually leaving, she usually focuses on things she can change and not things that are inherent in who she is.  I think this is a very natural way for our brain to protect us from potential pain.  It is so much easier to imagine that he is leaving because he hates that you leave your towel on the bathroom floor, than to think that it’s because he’s decided you’re not actually that smart.  So when left-behind spouses are aggressively seeking the truth, they are understandably doing so from a posture that the truth will be things they can work on and will want to change; most people do not imagine that it’s going to be some harsh truth that they cannot, in fact, change.

I think that sometimes the reasons, if provided in a forthright and honest fashion, would be so brutal, so painful to inflict, that common decency holds the departing spouse back. We all think we want the truth, but some truths are so terribly difficult to recover from that the damage caused would be arguably worse than the vague uncertainty.  For example, how many people would truly want to hear, “I realized that I married you for the wrong reasons” or “I was never physically attracted to you and was just a really, really good faker” or “I’ve completely lost respect for you as a person and can’t love someone I don’t respect”? I’ve heard these reasons from people who’ve left and who have chosen not to reveal them to their exes. Revelations such as these could positively devastate the left-behind spouse’s sense of self and self-worth, which seems a cruel parting shot.  They also could make the divorce proceedings far nastier than they need to be, and the irreparable damage could undermine any attempts at future co-parenting.

Indeed, it might be the long-term effects of those words that prompt the departing spouse to be so circumspect….

Assumption #3:  I can handle the truth.

So, let’s say that, for argument’s sake, the departing spouse chooses to ignore her therapist’s advice and reveal to the left-behind spouse that she is leaving because he is the world’s worst lover and she’s decided to finally have an orgasm after 40 years on this planet.

[Anyone who thinks he’s going to receive that truth with maturity and aplomb should contact me about some lovely Florida real estate I have to sell.  It’s not swamp.  Really.  I swear.]

Exes understandably believe and insist that they would ultimately benefit from the cold, hard truth, and I’m quite sure some (like my blogger friend who inspired this post) probably could.  But I don’t think most people could actually handle a truth such as these examples with any degree of grace or retention of self-confidence.  And it’s really not so surprising.  Divorce is gutting for so many reasons, but when you discover that the love of your life thinks something so terrible of you, it’s capable of smashing your self-confidence to levels from which it may never fully recover.

Take my parents, for instance:  In the face of her constant and abject pleas, my departing step-father had the fortitude to explain to my mother that he realized he’d married her hastily and based on lust more than love.  (This was, to be honest, a truth evident to all of us — including me, at age 13 — when they first married.) My mother repaid him for his honesty by hating him viciously for almost 15 years.  His words haunted her in ways that I’m sure he hadn’t expected, and he paid dearly for them.

Certainly there are some people who are mature enough and confident enough and objective enough to stomach even the worst realizations about their own marriage.  But I must argue that most people would not. Most people would be more like my mother — furious and hurt and determined to make the divorce even nastier than if the truth had not been revealed.   She wanted the truth, she was sure she could handle the truth, but it nearly destroyed her.  And the damage it did to me and our family is a whole post on its own.

No doubt the truth is a dicey thing.  Most of us have this tenuous love/hate relationship with it.  All of us like to think that we can handle it and benefit from it and be better for it.  But can we?  Really?

Being left with your heart shattered positively, absolutely sucks.  It feels horrible and unfair and devastating.  I have often said that during a divorce, people become their basest, worst selves, and some of those selves are pretty terrible.  Is it any wonder, under those circumstances, that some people faced with harsh truths handle them imperfectly?  And is it any wonder, under those circumstances, that some people guard them so carefully?  Very few people are at their best in the midst of pain at its worst.

I think the bottom line is that we all say we want the truth.  We all think we can handle the truth, but in actuality, not everyone who claims to want the truth really wants the actual truth.  Sometimes we only want a truth we can live with.

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Filed under dating, divorce, healing, marriage, personal growth, relationships, single mom

welcome to my new page… sort of…

What can I say?  I’m female.  I like to change my look once in a while.  I have friends I’ve known forever and furniture I refuse to part with, but my walls rarely stay the same color for more than a couple of years, and my hairstyle is likewise.

So, here we are:  on my fresh, new page.

Welcome!

This is the third page theme I’ve incorporated, and my page’s evolution roughly traces my own….

My original blog “theme” or “look” was something called “Tarski,” which only means something to other bloggers.  But basically it is a very rudimentary, stark, somewhat haunting, wispy, Asian-inspired theme that made me think of a solitary walk along a wintry New England beach.   It wasn’t exactly warm, or friendly, but it very much represented how I felt as I took my first tentative steps to writing for mostly strangers.  In those early weeks, I published prodigiously and told my friends that if even five people read my posts, I’d be happy and keep writing.  Because it wasn’t for those five readers that I was actually writing; it was for me.  I was reaching back to rediscover something I’d loved and given up during my 13-year relationship with my husband.

The first few times I clicked “Publish,” I literally did so with clammy palms.  Dear Lord, what was I doing? I would fret to myself.  But stringing those words together and making sense of the contents of my head was so very gratifying that I kept on clicking “Publish.”

And so my humble little blog was born…. of a love for words… of an attempt to rediscover something about myself I used to like… of plain and simple self-preservation.

Then things began to really get better in my “real” life.  I passed into that mystical place in the post-divorce world wherein I realized that I was happy more than I was sad or frightened.  My fledgling new life began to take a form, a shape of something I thought of as my “new normal.”  My therapist gave me a little bird figurine, because I was finally learning to fly.  I felt stronger, less tentative, but still very, very green….

And so I switched my blog theme.  Tarski no longer seemed appropriate.  Enter “Spring Loaded,” a theme heavy on greens and lushness and brightness.  It was a happy theme, full of springtime promise.  Young and vivid, just like I was feeling.

But it still never felt entirely personal, like it was me.  Lots of other bloggers out there were using the identical theme; the only thing differentiating my blog from theirs were the words on the screen.  Most of these themes allow for quite a bit of customization, but I’ve always steered clear of those theme options.  Too many decisions. Too much personalization requiring too much introspection.

But no longer.  One recent night, out of a boredom borne from stubborn insomnia, I began messing about with themes and found myself thinking, “Huh.  Well, if I used that one, I’d change that and that.  And I’d include a photo there and a little widget over there.”  And then it occurred me:  I was ready to customize my own page.  Finally.

Now, I used to own a small residential interior design firm and I always told my clients that, if possible, they should live in a space for a bit before making any major design decisions, even including a color scheme.  I suggested they develop a relationship with their home first and then take a sledgehammer to that wall and put that burgundy on the dining room walls.   The same is true in life, I’ve come to believe.  After a major change, you need to kind of just rest… establish a new relationship with yourself… figure out what you’re going to keep, what you’re going to renovate, and what needs to be demolished.   Peer into the dark corners, pay attention to what you use and rely on and what’s wasted space, and generally get to know yourself like you would a new home.  And then when you do, you can renovate and decorate your life (just as you would your home) with the confidence that it will adequately and accurately reflect who you are and how you want to live in it.

As for the choices I’ve made for this new page…. my close friends will not be surprised.  Most likely, they will smile and see me in all of them.  The raspberry title text is the same color as an accent wall in my bedroom.  (So sue me, I’m a woman and I embrace every ounce of my femininity.  Besides, I have always maintained that pink is soft and sexy…. at least all the pink parts of me are….)  The baroque black and white background is lifted from the business cards of my now-defunct interior design business.  And the boudoir image is exactly the kind of private room I’d have if I were a wealthy duchess living in a castle somewhere. (In fact, my ex-husband still has my leopard-print chairs that I loved…)  The rest of the page is clean and modern and casual… again, in line with my sensibility.

So, basically, this new page represents a new chapter of the new me.  I’ll probably change it again some day.  Or maybe not.

Either way, thanks for reading.  And I hope you like the new digs enough to stick around….

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Filed under general musings, healing, personal growth

my kryptonite

My phone rings and I lunge for it, a huge smile spreading across my face as his handsome photo pops up on the phone screen.  My heart pounds a little in my chest as I answer, and — even after all this time — his deep voice saying hello, his own smile heard clearly through his words, curls my toes and I giggle like a school girl, which makes him chuckle at me.

It’s ridiculous, and I know it.  But I can’t help it.  And I don’t want to.

For the first time in a long time, I have allowed myself to fall completely and unreservedly in love with a man.  I have stopped resisting my feelings, stopped talking myself out of it, stopped denying my feelings to myself, my friends, and him.  I am in.  All the way. With both feet.

And no parachute.

Our history is fraught.  Our obstacles are known and considerable.  But we can’t let go of each other; we’ve each walked away, and ultimately ventured back.  We know that there are too many special things about our relationship, too many things that we haven’t had with anyone else, too many reasons to keep trying.  We know it doesn’t make sense to some of the people around us, but they tend to see more of the bad times than the good.  They aren’t there for those tender moments when secrets are shared and understood.  They aren’t there when we lose ourselves in the wonder of simply kissing each other, even though, after all this time, it’s no longer novel or new.  They aren’t there when the phone rings and just the sound of our voices helps a rotten day feel a bit better.  They aren’t there when I awaken in the middle of the night, secure in his big arms, and feel a slow smile spread across my face as I snuggle into him in the dark.

He is not Mike.  It has taken me a long time to fully accept this and know it in my heart and not just in my mind.  It has taken me a long time to stop worrying that he is the same kind of cavalier heartbreaker who enjoyed the chase and the manipulation as if it were a competitive sport.  But he is not those things.  He is flawed and human and so frustrating sometimes that I want to punch him, but he is not Mike.  I know that now, and that knowledge is so liberating, I feel like a whole new world has opened up in front of me. Thank God he is stubbornly persistent in his patience with me and commitment to us.

I love his eyes.  I love his laugh.  I love that he is a good friend to the people in his life.  I love his strength.  I love that I think about him All. The. Time.  I love watching him work.  I love how our bodies fit together.  I love eating anything he cooks for me.  I love his hands.  I love how he is with his children and his parents.  I love his goofy jokes.  I love that I can’t help but sink into him when he kisses me.

I love that he’s my kryptonite.

And that I’m his.

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Filed under dating, love, personal growth, relationships, single mom

my life in pictures

Today was, like so many days after divorce, an exercise in looking forward and looking back.

I spent a few hours today Christmas shopping — happily gobbling up bargains on gifts I’d decided on for my nearest and dearest, and, at the end of my travels, discovered that I am approximately half-way finished with my shopping.  (Yay me!)

Everything is so much more cheerful when you’re content, isn’t it?  The exhausted, screaming toddlers with their universal mantra of “But I want it!!” didn’t bother me.  The overstuffed parking lots didn’t bother me.  The aggressive, over-caffienated shopping crowds didn’t bother me.  Even the inconsiderate woman at the post office who cut in front of a line of 20 waiting people didn’t bother me.  I was in a happy little cocoon of contentment.  I thanked the sales ladies, held doors for old folks and young mothers, and slowly ticked things off the list on my iPhone.   Basically, I was precisely the kind of Pollyanna holiday shopper that I would have found terminally grating two years ago.  But that’s okay.  I served my sentence of a miserable holiday season the first year after my separation.  In fact, my divorce became final between Thanksgiving and Christmas that year.  And last year, James and I broke up suddenly, the week before Christmas.  So, I think I’m entitled to a little bit of a Jimmy Stewart Christmas this time around.

But all good things must come to an end, and this perfect day was no exception.

Upon arriving home and cataloging, then hiding, my purchases, I set upon the one big task I have given myself for this long weekend:  to finally tackle the photographs and empty albums that have been cluttering up my laundry room and clucking at my procrastination for two long years now.  Every few months, I have added another envelope from the Costco photo center to the pile in the box, and on multiple occasions I have quite sincerely added “Do Photo Albums” to my short-term to-do list.  And yet, somehow, the photos have proven horribly stubborn and refused to organize themselves and find their way into the albums.  No, instead they have sat there.  Silently mocking me.

So, it was time.

I like taking pictures.  I don’t have a great camera — most times I just use my iPhone camera — but I love capturing those moments that then become part of our history.  Indeed, I think I’ve been known to build my memories around my photos, allowing them to dictate the terms of the memory, rather than the actual memory stored in my brain.  So, obviously, my photographs are important to me.

When I was married, I filled album after album with photos of our family, friends, pets, and favorite places.  My ex-husband humored me and would just smile when I dragged out my albums and the various accoutrements necessary to compose a family keepsake.

But now, for more than two years, I have actively neglected my albums and the ever-expanding pile of photographs.

Until today.

With my girls gone and no other projects screaming for priority, I hauled the Rubbermaid plastic box overflowing with photographs into the dining room.  I organized my materials (Damn!  I left my paper cutter at my ex’s!), fixed myself a cup of tea, put on some good music, and commenced a photographic review of the last 2 1/2 years of my life….

To be honest, it was more tedious than painful.  Sifting through hundreds of photographs, deciding what to keep and use in the albums, what to toss, and what to give to the girls for their albums.  After 3 hours, I’d finished one year.

As the photos flitted across the table, from one pile to another or into the album, I found myself relaxing.  There weren’t actually many pictures of my formerly intact family; these photos were almost entirely acquired beginning 3 months after my departure from the family home.  Some I took, some my mother took, and some my ex took and forwarded on to me as a courtesy.  Generally, they weren’t special in any particular way.  Except that, in their very essence, they were extraordinary: what I saw, in the subtext of the pictures, was the processing of a pain and grief and bewilderment so powerful that I appear to have been holding my breath for many, many months.  Or at least that’s what it looks like in the photos.

There are the forced smiles of me and my girls and we struggle mightily to create a new “normal.”  The overly-extravagant birthday parties and cakes me, my ex, and our parents created for the girls that year, for reasons that are now unclear…. because we felt guilty?… because we thought a great cake and expensive party would somehow distract them from the fact that their family was broken?  The vacations in which I appear utterly exhausted by the effort to conceal the fact that I was crying into my pillow each night.  My dad and I in an embrace 4 months after my separation, and my hand holding his arm so tightly, I’m certain I was doing permanent damage to his circulation.

It’s all there, in glorious Kodachrome color.  The pain, the confusion, the determination to carry on.

Then, about half-way through that first year on my own, my smile begins to look less tight, the girls’ stances less stiff and posed.  We are carrying on, and not because we have to, but because we want to.  Hope has blessed us with her presence again.

By the time I stopped tonight, I was fatigued and headachy.  It is a lot to absorb in one sitting — the evidence of our sadness and fear and perseverance and re-emergence of hope.  But it is there.  All of it.  And now it is in pretty albums, preserved for the years to come.  So that we may look back and see how far we’ve traveled and know that we overcame the greatest and most difficult challenge a family faces — fracturing itself and having to create something new.  But we did it.  All of us.

And I have the pictures to prove it.

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Filed under divorce, healing, love, marriage, parenthood, personal growth, sadness, single mom

15 things i’m thankful for….

Tomorrow being the designated day of the year when it is most acceptable to openly express gratitude for all our blessings, I thought it might be fun to actually put some of mine on “paper.”  So, below are 15 things that I am particularly thankful for lately…

15.  The extra helpful and cheerful checkout girl at Whole Foods who solved my last-minute Thanksgiving meal dilemma.

14.  My new hand-mixer.

13.  A freshly-raked yard that’s ready for the winter.

12.  Pumpkin-flavored cream cheese on my morning bagel.

11.  This quote from MyJourneyMyRules: “I realize that even though I’m not where I want to be, I’m not where I used to be, and that’s enough for me.”

10.  The Harry Potter marathon on the ABC Family channel.

9.  The pie-baking lessons I got two years ago from my ex-husband’s friend, a restauranteur.

8.  My little house, which, despite being small and having a terribly outdated kitchen, is all mine and getting better all the time.

7.  My silly dogs, particular the mini-dachshund that makes me laugh when, because of her ridiculously short legs, my leisurely stroll around the block is her mad sprint.

6. A healthy, productive relationship with my ex-husband and his girlfriend that enables us to make the important upcoming school choices for Sabrina mutually.

5.  Friends and extended family who make me feel special and needed and loved each and every day.

4. My mom’s current good health — all four autoimmune disorders quiet at the moment, with a good short-term prognosis for the holiday season.

3. Thanksgiving dinner with a guy I adore more than I want to admit.

2.  Holiday songs and decorations with my girls this weekend.

1.  Waking up each morning with a smile on my face because, even in my sleep, I know how good my life is.

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all.  xo

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Filed under general musings

advice… with a grain of salt

Advice from your friends is like the weather, some of it is good, some of it is bad. ~ Proverb

A few days ago, I was mulling over a problem that had kept me awake the night before, when my friend Seamus offered to listen and provide some advice.

I hesitated.

The nature of the problem was such that I wasn’t sure he would be able to be objective enough to really help me, and I told him so.  Which was the start of a lengthy conversation about advice, specifically the quality of advice, that well-intentioned friends and family members often provide.

Seamus and I talked about how, sometimes, you have a problem for which there doesn’t seem to be anyone who could reasonably be expected to offer an objective opinion, either due to their own current circumstances, past experiences, present feelings toward you, general world view, etc.  Indeed, every time each of us opens our mouth or strikes a keyboard to offer advice, our words are, however unintentionally, colored by something.  Most of us are not really capable of entirely objective advice-giving (although, I should probably add that Seamus comes pretty close).

Advice is what we ask for when we already know the answer but wish we didn’t. ~ Erica Jong

Since that conversation with Seamus, I have been contemplating the ways in which we seek out advice.  Most often it seems that we seek only targeted advice — that advice which will most firmly support our current beliefs.  This might mean finding those friends who will “take our side” in an argument or conflict, or it could mean seeking out those who believe as we do and so will validate our point of view.

The blogging world is particularly guilty of this, in my opinion.  What is frequently appreciated as “support” is arguably more accurately described as affirmation or validation.  “Support” connotes a general concern for a person’s well-being; not simply a validation of their position on a particular matter.  I think most of us would agree that a truly good friend is one who “supports” us, but doesn’t always validate us.  That truth doesn’t seem to hold as true in the cyber world.  It would seem that here, dissension is somewhat akin to betrayal, which strikes me as very odd, to be honest, given that the anonymity afforded us here would suggest the potential for greater honesty rather than less.

Seeking advice from only those who will support our current belief structure not only undermines our positive personal growth, but — to me, at least — begins to resemble co-dependency.  Not in the addiction-related sense, but in the sense that it encourages or enables that which is not good for us.  Surrounding ourselves with people who validate our negative thoughts, anger, or fears is the simplest means of ensuring that those aspects of ourselves stick around.

Not too long ago, I had a friend accuse me of not being supportive of her new relationship.  From her perspective, because I was pointing out aspects of their relationship that I felt might be of concern to her later, I was not adequately supporting her happiness and the potential she saw in the relationship.  I seriously considered her accusation, but decided that, given a do-over, I would do the same thing again.  To me, being a loyal friend does not include being a Yes-Girl.  When asked, I will offer my most honest advice and not be offended or hurt if it is disregarded.  But I will not lie to or placate anyone I love with false advice.

It takes nearly as much ability to know how to profit by good advice as to know how to act for one’s self. ~ Francois de Rouchefoucauld

Nobody likes hearing the tough stuff — sometimes the truth really stings, for sure.  Validation feels so much better.  And I think that most of us tend to engage in this kind of collective co-dependency when we are most lost or hurt or frightened.  But that is precisely when we most need honesty and support, rather than simple validation.

I’m not talking about the brutal kind of advice that comes off feeling vaguely condescending or smarmy or self-serving.  I’m talking about sincere, heartfelt counsel intended to point out a new perspective or nudge us in a better, healthier direction.  Even if we chose not to follow such advice, the consideration of it can only serve us well, requiring us to examine our commitment to our current path, and whether that path is leading us toward our ultimate goals… or away from them.

I owe my success to having listened respectfully to the very best advice, and then going away and doing the exact opposite. ~ G.K. Chesterton

During our conversation, Seamus reminded me that, as grown-ups, we have the luxury of receiving and considering advice, its source, and the filter(s) through which it was delivered.  Then we get to do with it what we want.  We are permitted to examine the possible colorations that influenced the advice-giver and factor those into our determination of the advice’s value.  Indeed, not all advice is created equal; nor do we need to treat it so.

This reminded me of a conversation I had recently with my friend Katrina, who got very angry with me because of some time I had spent with James.  I listened carefully to her concerns; given that she is patently incapable of any meanness of any kind, her fury resembles that of an angry bee buzzing around, threatening to sting, rather than anything hurtful or unkind.  Her feelings on my choices did not change my mind, but I was extraordinarily grateful that we have the kind of friendship that allows her to speak her mind clearly to me and apparently without hesitation.  Of course, it would have been nice to have had her validation, but her concern for my well-being is so much more valuable to me.  I will gladly suffer my friends’ approbation when it stems from their sincere love for me and desire for my happiness.   And, to be truthful, given that I am frequently the bearer of unwelcome advice, it would be terribly hypocritical of me to not receive and consider hers in kind.  But, I am permitted to hear her out and then do precisely what I want to do.  It’s my prerogative and one that I freely exercise.  And I expect my friends to do the same.

Indeed, about a year ago, when Katrina asked my opinion about flying off for a romantic weekend with an old flame, I implored her not to go, explaining that I thought she needed to get a better sense of where he was trying to go with the relationship first.  She ignored me and bought her ticket (which is, of course, what we would all probably do), and from that moment, I was her cheerleader.  If she was jumping in after hearing my advice, well then I wasn’t there to rain on her parade, but to hope right alongside her that she and her guy found their happy ending.  And when the happy ending crashed and burned?  I didn’t feel the slightest pleasure in being vindicated… only grief and sadness alongside her own.  Because the point wasn’t whether she took my advice; it was only ever whether she was happy.

Don’t follow any advice, no matter how good, until you feel as deeply in your spirit as you think in your mind that the counsel is wise. ~ Joan Rivers

I guess the bottom line is that advice is only as good as its source, and different sources are valuable at different times.  But validation isn’t always support, and dissension isn’t always disloyalty.  Hearing what your friends and family have to say, and then listening to your spirit for guidance is still the best approach for any of us, I think.  Because, after all, it is only us who has to truly live with the outcome.

Take your life in your own hands, and what happens?  A terrible thing:  no one to blame.  ~ Erica Jong

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surrendering to the bliss

This week I learned that I have become adept at sabotaging my relationships.

This is, needless to say, not good news.

Apparently, in my quest to be ever-vigilant for the tell-tale signs that a relationship or person is bad or unhealthy for me, I have become mired in my fears.  Certainly, it’s useful and good to be grounded and aware of potential problems as you move into and through a new relationship, but when that vigilance creates the kind of stress on a relationship that births a self-fulfilling prophecy… well, then it’s not serving a useful purpose anymore.  I haven’t allowed myself to absorb and appreciate and savor my relationship happiness.  I haven’t been able to just enjoy what I have, without waiting for the proverbial house of cards to come tumbling down around me.  No, apparently, I have reached a place in my life in which I can talk myself out of even the best relationship.

What can I say? I was always an over-achiever….

I suspect that this is not uncommon, but — common or not — it’s standing between me and the happiness and contentment that I so dearly want .  So it has to go.  My friend Marcus recently informed me that he thinks I’ve been doing this for as long as he’s known me.  Ummm…. that would be nearly 20 years, people. Ouch.  Square on the heels of that conversation, I received a firm scolding from my therapist on this topic, and specifically on how it has effected my relationship with James. These scoldings are rare… and, in hindsight, always deserved.  So, clearly I have some work to do.

At first glance, re-ordering this behavior of mine doesn’t sound so easy to me.  After all, apparently I’ve been doing this for a long time.  Hmmm…

But, hang on a minute.  Really, how hard is it to just let yourself be happy?  Happiness is like a magnet… pulling you toward its warmth and softness and bliss.  If I sit with the truth, I know in my soul that I am resisting the happiness.  I am so afraid of being duped or misled or just plain mistaken, that I am fighting that pull, countering every good thing with an example of a bad thing or a possible pitfall or a failing on his part.  So fearful of being a naive Pollyanna that I am turning myself into a Negative Nelly.  Yes, it really is that simple:  I don’t want to be one of those women again who walks around telling everyone how fabulous her relationship is, seemingly oblivious to the harsh truth that is apparent to everyone else. So, instead, I qualify everything and diminish everything and constantly focus on the “what ifs”.  Gee, when I put it that way, it’s curious any of these men stick around….

But back to the happiness magnet.  What would happen if I just sunk into it?  If I surrendered to the bliss and the butterflies and the blind faith that this person I am kissing is just like me — here for the right reasons and trying his best to make something amazing happen between us. What if I employed just a little bit of the same blind faith I afford my other relationships?  I don’t go around wondering if my friends really care about me or mean what they say or are about to pull the rug from under my life.   What is the worst that would happen if I celebrated, just a little, all the awesome things that a man does for me, instead of looking for or waiting for that ridiculous shoe to drop?  Yes, maybe he would turn out to be a cad or worse, but will I cry less or feel better just because I suspected it all along? Actually, I can answer this one unequivocally — No.  My vigilance has not saved me from any tears, and moral vindication is cold comfort, especially when it’s tinged with the very real possibility that the outcome was influenced by that same vigilance.

When we’ve been hurt — really, brutally hurt — it’s easy to hide behind our newfound “wisdom” and employ every means at our disposal to insure that we are never, ever hurt again.  With enough intelligent reconnaissance and due diligence we can surely guarantee that we’ll accurately read the situation and only invest further in those that present the greatest return for the smallest risk.  Right?

But is that any way to live?  Maybe initially, when we’re still stinging from the new wound, that approach has some validity and serves some protective purpose.  But I’m three years on from my divorce and nearly two years away from Mike.  It’s time to allow myself to enjoy it.  To stop being so guarded and careful and deliberate about everything.  Time to stop using my brain to read extra messages into every action and word, and let it just enjoy the yummy hormonal cocktail that is created when he’s in the room.  Time to be as uninhibited with my feelings as I am with my body.  Time to — as my therapist chided me — really see what is happening right before me, accepting it without overanalyzing it, enjoying it without feeling that I don’t deserve it or that it can’t be real.

So a few days ago, I decided to do just that:  surrender to the bliss.  Embrace all the good stuff and let the other stuff fall where it may.  Trust that my heart (not my brain) will signal the best path to take.  Just allow the butterflies and the tingles and the smiles to carry me as far as the relationship can really go.

Because, really, isn’t that what love actually is?

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my laws of attraction

I am reminded today of how we all begin relationships… with the best of intentions and the greatest of hopes.  We meet someone new and the possibilities seem endless.  We delight in the prospect of what we might just have been fortunate enough to have stumbled upon.

But then, more often than not, some harsh reality slips into the mix, like a thief through a back door inadvertently left open.  Perhaps it’s a flaw in him — he’s uncommunicative or a terrible kisser.  Maybe it’s a flaw in your dynamic — he needs more together time and you’re more independent.  Or maybe it’s neither of those things.  Maybe it’s simply those intangibles not lining up — those things that pull us toward one another in some mysterious cosmic dance that humans have mulled for centuries and seem no closer to understanding.  Pheromones.  Biorhythms.  Soul connections.  Whatever they are, they are mostly undefinable and immutable, at least in my experience.   They are the things that separate a perfectly nice relationship from a great love.

I have had a few truly life-changing relationships.  They varied in how they started, how long they lasted, and how healthy they were.  But all of them — the rare relationships that have been meaningful in my life, that affected me the most, that altered me for the better in some fashion — spoke to my soul almost  immediately. Each of them had a moment — very, very early on — in which I recognized that something in me had shifted… that I was being pulled toward this man in a way that was beyond my simple comprehension.  One time that moment comprised an unexpectedly great conversation on a first date.  Another time it was a first kiss that left me weak in the knees.  Yet another time it was the revelation of a tender side to him that was entirely unanticipated.  In all of these moments, I felt, in my soul, the stirrings of a connection that was going to matter.

The other element that these relationships had in common was physical chemistry.  Strong, undeniable, unforgettable physical chemistry.  The kind that leaves you yearning for him long after you’ve broken up.  The kind that everyone in your mutual vicinity is aware of.  The kind that offers the framework for the most fulfilling physical intimacy possible.  But I’m not only talking about physical attraction here — whether he has a hunky body or beautiful eyes or whatever — I’m also and primarily talking about biological chemistry.  The way he smells and tastes.  The way his skin feels under my fingers.  The electricity that’s  exchanged when his lips brush mine.

Of course, these two ingredients don’t guarantee a happy ending.  Indeed, some of my memorable relationships did not end well at all.  Some of them made no sense to my friends, and some of them resulted in me getting my heart broken.  But I wouldn’t sacrifice a minute of any of them.  Those relationships enriched all the best parts of me and brought me greater joy than practically anything else in this world, even if they later ended.

I am not looking for neat and tidy.  I am not looking for safe or logical.  I want spectacular.  I want deep and rich and textured.  I want to tear his clothes off and hold his heart tenderly.  I want to talk until the wee hours and wake up in the middle of night to make love.  I want to challenge each other and push each other to be better than we are.  I want the kind of love that brings a smile to my face when I see it happening for other people.  I will not — cannot — settle for one iota less.

My determination in this regard is not based only on theory, but on experience.  I have tried the rational route.  I married a man who was seemingly perfect for me.  On paper, we were an ideal match — so much in common, so many similarities.  Having both been very hurt before, I suspect that we opted for safe and secure and sane.  Surely anything that was lacking could be overcome by our overwhelming compatibility in so many other areas….?

Not quite.

I may not be a rocket scientist, but 13 years is long enough for me to learn any lesson, and I learned this one well.  I will compromise on many, many things, but not on this. Never again on this.

I was mulling over this very topic this morning in a waiting room when I happened upon an advice column in Women’s Health magazine, with the following exchange:

Q:  Can you create passion or is it an innate feeling?

A:  You can sustain passion, but creating it is a whole different kind of sorcery.  There’s always the chance you’ll find a new spark between you and your guy as you both change over time, but that’s a long shot.  If those tricky little parts of your brain stem buried deep within your emotional compass aren’t popping to life every time he’s around, you’re in trouble.  Bottom line:  Passion is either there or it’s not.  Without that pull, a relationship that makes perfect sense on paper can end up just as flat.

At this point in my life, I didn’t need a magazine expert to validate my sensibility, but I thought it was very well put.  (In fact, it’s taken me nearly 1000 words to say what he said in approximately 100.)

Of additional interest was a readers’ poll further down the page, which asked “Did you have instant chemistry with your partner?”  Fifty-one percent of readers responding answered “Yes, definitely!”; 28% answered “No, our bond grew over time”; and 21% answered “Doesn’t apply to me.”  (I’m not entirely sure what that last response means, but I’m pretty darn sure that I wouldn’t be happy in those relationships.)  Based on this supremely scientific polling, I am apparently in the majority in our country.  Or at least in the readers of Women’s Health.

During my divorce, I realized that my idea of a perfect love is not shared by the entire world, and not even by some of my friends.  But that’s okay.  I’m good with it.  I am completely comfortable with the knowledge that my particular definition of a perfect love only has to be shared by one special, amazing guy with whom I share some toe-curling chemistry and a heart-pounding connection.

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the key to the kingdom

One of the things I love about dating is how much it teaches you about yourself.  By having to explain and reveal yourself to someone new, you are often forced to see or discover aspects of yourself of which you’d been unaware.

I had an interesting conversation this weekend with a man whom I’ll call “Seamus.”  Seamus opined that people in a new relationship show all their best parts to each other in those early days, in an understandable and normal attempt to impress.  I agreed in concept, but then thought about that for a second and realized that, to a certain extent, he is wrong.  At least about me.

Because, the thing is, I don’t show the best of myself right away.  Of course, in some ways I do the same as everyone else does:  I use my best manners, pull out my cutest clothes,  flirt madly. But, in truth, I hold the best stuff back.

I’m not talking about my dirtiest secrets or my new tattoo or my secret fantasies.  I’m talking about the sweetest, most loving, most intimate parts of my heart.  The things I do and say and give to the men who have taken part of my heart with them when we parted.  With them, I am different.  With them, I am wide open and completely vulnerable.  With them, I don’t hide anything or hold back.  They get the whole me.

They get, as Seamus described it, “the key to the kingdom.”

Holding back the “key to the kingdom” is not about being scared, or being closed off.  It’s a conscious choice to save only the best parts of myself for the men who deserve them, by virtue of the fact that they have somehow become so special to me that they have earned the best I have to give.  These men are very few and far between.

I think, at this point in my life, I hold the key to the kingdom even more tightly than I used to.  Not only because I’ve been so hurt (although that is certainly part of it), but also because, at this age, it’s harder than ever to be special to each other.  There aren’t many “firsts” left — we’re not virgins, we’ve been in love before, we’ve been brokenhearted, we’ve been married, we’ve created children, we’ve established households — life’s milestones have been mostly shared with other people.  When I meet someone special, I can’t offer him some emotional or physical trophy.  But what I can offer him is a part of me that most other guys don’t get near.

Several of the men whom I’ve dated that haven’t received the “key to the kingdom” have known, of course, that I was holding something back, and have responded with varying degrees of frustration or irritation.  One man even asked me once, in exasperation, “Why won’t you let me really know you?”

The shame of it, of course, is that the men who do receive the key to the kingdom have no way of really knowing that their experience of me is special and not shared by every other man I’ve dated. After all, none of us can really know what our lover was like with someone else.  Was he as sweet and caring?  Did he call every girl this much?  Did he spend as much time with the others?  So, sometimes, my boyfriends will take for granted the things I do, not realizing that those things are gigantic billboards evidencing my affection for them.   But that’s okay, I guess.  Because when I give my heart, mind, body, and soul to someone I love, I do it because I don’t have a choice.  I do it because I am compelled to try and show him how much he means to me.  I do it because, when I’m in love, it makes me happy to feel really seen and completely heard and intimately known and none of those things can happen without me being open.

I used to assume that everyone was the same in this fashion, but I’ve realized that people are not all the same in any fashion.  Some people really are pretty identical with just about everyone they date.  They tell all the same stories, they reveal all the same things, they do all the same sweet gestures for everyone they are with.  Not necessarily to manipulate, but just because that’s just how they move through the world.  But dating has helped me realize that I’m not that way.  For better or for worse, I’m just not.  Maybe if I were, I would more have more numerous, successful relationships.  Then again, maybe not.

I’d like to think that someday I’ll meet a guy who will understand and appreciate that the way I am with him is different and special and an ode to how awesome I think he is.  And when I offer him the “key to the kingdom,” he’ll cherish it and protect it and fight to hold on to it.

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lucky girl

Coach resurfaced this morning, of course.

For those of you who haven’t taken the time to draw complicated flow charts and graphs of everyone mentioned in my blog posts (and really, that begs the obvious question of “Why the hell not?!”), Coach is a guy I dated for the first time nearly two years ago.  He comes and goes from my life in a way that no one else does, and has an uncanny (some would say spooky) ability to appear just when I need comfort, a gentle reminder, or some nudge from the universe towards clarity.  It’s a complicated relationship in some regards that is probably worthy of its own post, but that’s not what this is about today.

Today it’s about being lucky.

Coach’s reappearance today took the form of an unexpected call when I was knee deep in a short deadline.  Normally, I might have ignored it under those circumstances, but I answered it this time.  Basically he was just checking in, putting his feelers out for my weekend plans… trying to figure out if I might be available and make some time for him.

He asked how my life is going, and because I know that he’s a friend on some level and genuinely interested in the answer, I took a moment to consider his question.  And then I told him honestly:

I’m really happy.

Sincerely, really happy.

Not every minute of every day.  Not when my kids are fighting.  Not when my ex is being snarky.  Not when my boss is being frustrating.

But most of the time.

I wake up with a smile.  I go to sleep with a smile.  I smile a lot in between.

My kids are happy and productive and mostly getting along.  Their school reports are strong and their energy is bouncy.

Things with my ex-husband are generally peaceful and easy.  I feel like we have settled into one of our good times, when we are both too happy and distracted to pick at each other.

Work is steadily busy and the chaos and difficulties of the late summer have subsided.  Our friendly banter, mutual support, and sarcastic humor have returned.

My love life is opening and expanding in ways that only fate understands.  I am watching in awe and amazement.

And I am in the middle of all this, with a soft smile on my face and hope in my heart.  I have emerged from my first major post-divorce relationship with my hope intact.  I have the most amazing friends around me.  I am bathed in love and support and possibility. Everything I hoped for when I left my marriage has either come to fruition or is still possible in front of me.  Two and a half years ago, I took a giant leap of faith.  I risked everything on the furtive hope that life could be better.  I rolled the dice that what I was doing would be better for all of us.  I prayed for a time when life wouldn’t feel so hopeless, so sad, so stuck.

And it happened.  Life isn’t supposed to be perfect, or easy.  And mine isn’t either.  But it is rich and full and busy and contented.  I have created a life for myself that holds all the promise that was missing three years ago.  I may feel grumpy sometimes, or nostalgic, or even sad, but hopeless?  No.  Definitely not hopeless.

I took a huge gamble.  I bet on myself and those who truly love me and my faith in the universe.  And I won the lottery.

How often do we really take the time to be aware of and grateful for our own happiness?  How often do we say a silent prayer of thanks for the life we have fought for and worked for and struggled for?  I am glad for Coach’s interruption today, because it allowed me a moment of reflection for how much I risked and how far I’ve come.

And when I told Coach all of this?  He told me what I already know….

I am a lucky girl.

 

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