Monthly Archives: February 2012

the distinction between “happy with yourself” and “happy by yourself”

A couple of days ago, I wrote a post about feeling blue and weepy, despite having a full life and doing all the things that a modern, single mother should do to be happy on her own.  The particular source of my blues was centered on a fractured faith that my Mr. Right would eventually appear in my life at some point.  But I received a comment on my post that took my thinking back around to a common (and tired) theme that is revisited frequently for single people (and especially women).  It is the idea that somehow, some way, we must each find a way to perfectly happy and content alone before we can ever be such in a truly fulfilling, healthy relationship.

Well, I don’t think so.

I’m an only child who was raised by a single mom and a lot of babysitters.  I have traveled through and relocated to foreign countries alone, lived alone for most of my single life, spent holidays alone, taken short vacations alone, and I often go to the movies or out to eat alone.  Trust me, suggesting that I need to spend any more time with just myself is nothing short of insulting.  And frankly, I think that’s true for a lot of women, whether they have the passport stamps or other tangible evidence of their aloneness or not.

To a large extent, it seems that women have been convinced that if we desire a partner in this life, there is something inherently insecure or lacking or insufficient in us.  I would (and frequently do) argue loudly to the contrary.  Since when did the desire to make a heartfelt soul connection with a romantic partner become a weakness or a liability?  Why is it not evidence of an open and generous nature seeking the same?

Certainly there are many people out there (and I would argue that at least half of them are men) who simply pinball from one bad or mediocre relationship to another just to avoid any time with their own company.  We all know who they are; their discomfort with themselves doesn’t take a clinical psychology degree to recognize.  And yes, I would definitely agree that those folks would benefit from some serious alone time — to figure themselves out and how they fit in the world and what they really want from a relationship and this life they’re a part of.

But most of the women I know are not those people.  Most of the women I know are quite capable of being alone, they would simply prefer not to be.

Psychologists and psychiatrists have long understood that we need to be comfortable with ourselves and possess a love for ourselves and what we have to offer before we can successfully offer it to someone else, but pop psychology has lately mutated that into some kind of rationale that we should first be completely happy and fulfilled alone. That’s jacked up, if you ask me.  People who don’t need or seek deep emotional connections are what we call “emotionally unavailable”; indeed, at the furthest end of that spectrum, we label it autism.  Needing a deep emotional connection is not abnormal; it is, in fact, the very definition of normal.   I don’t think anyone should feel bad about admitting that they want a partner in this life.  There is nothing noble in being alone and not caring that you don’t have a heart full of love for someone.  To be truthful, the people that I have known who have most loudly proclaimed their comfort with being alone were also the most emotionally walled-off people I’ve met, without exception.

I think it all amounts to the difference between being happy with yourself and being happy by yourself.

It seems to me that the psychology researchers and professionals have been trying to encourage us to figure out how to be happy with yourself before trying to be happy with someone else.  But that is not the same as being happy by yourself.  Being happy with yourself focuses on how you feel about who you are and what you have to offer, whether you like yourself and your company, whether you know who you really are.  Being happy by yourself suggests that other people aren’t really necessary in your life to bring you happiness and fulfillment.  And let’s be honest, unless you’re an extremely devoted religious observer (like a Catholic nun or Buddhist monk), that probably isn’t a healthy — or reasonable — road to happiness for most of us.

Speaking of spirituality, I have friends who strongly believe that our souls come into this realm seeking to experience different things in different lifetimes. For some people, that means seeking to experience solitude or peace. For others, it might mean seeking to experience financial security or professional success. And for others — possibly most — it is seeking to experience and learn from a heart connection with other humans.  They believe that our souls come to Earth to have a human experience; something they can’t have in the other realm that you might call heaven or the beyond or whatever.  For most of these souls, a huge part of that human experience is human connection.  To this way of thinking, seeking that connection is not a weakness, but the fulfillment of a divine destiny.  How beautiful is that?

So maybe we should all let ourselves off the hook for hoping that somehow, someday, somewhere we will have someone magical to share our lives with.  Perhaps that desire is simply evidence of a healthy, beating heart.  Perhaps it is just part of being a perfectly normal human.  Perhaps it is nothing more than the pursuit of a divine destiny….

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

worst. sex. ever.

I don’t usually kiss and tell.  Well, actually, I do kiss and tell, but I don’t usually have sex and tell.  Unless it’s bad.  And then I spill the beans.

A friend reminded me recently of the story of my worst sex ever.  It’s  a story that he remembers because… well… everyone who’s heard it remembers it.

First, let me be clear that a guy has to be an over-achiever to claim the title of worst sex I’ve ever had.  I’ve had a lot of sex.  Some of it was worthy of whatever the Oscar for porn is, and some of it was just plain bad.

Before my marriage, my award for worst sex ever belonged to a really nice guy with a really small penis.  Now, I’m honestly curious what kind of karmic debt he’d incurred to force him to go through this life with such a remarkably small penis, but it was truly so small that I didn’t even realize when intercourse had actually begun.  This dubious distinction won him the cruel nickname of “Phantom Dick” from one of my girl friends.  (And, I’m not a size snob; in fact, I am biologically constructed in such a way that a guy has to be pretty darn tiny to not satisfy my size criteria….) But, anyway, Phantom Dick was so nice and smart and sweet that I was relieved when our relationship fell apart for other reasons, so I wouldn’t have to suffer the guilt of breaking up with a guy simply because nature had played a mean joke on him.

Twenty years later I realized that there are far worse things than phantom dicks.

The lover who currently holds my worst sex ever title we’ll call John, because… well, because that’s his name.  I dated John not too long after my separation.  By the time John and I took our clothes off, he had had a crush on me for several months and had been angling for just such an opportunity.  So, the sexual tension was high and the anticipation was thick.

The foreplay wasn’t awful.  It was, however, what I like to call “Checklist Foreplay.”  (Every woman over the age of 30 is nodding her head right now and going “Ohhh…. bummer.”)  Checklist Foreplay, for you young women and male readers, is when a guy seems to move through the motions simply because he knows he’s supposed to.  It goes something like this:

  1. Kiss mouth.  Check.
  2. Kiss neck.  Check.
  3. Fondle breasts.  Check.
  4. Kiss breasts. Check.
  5. etc, etc.  You get the idea, right?

Here’s a good rule, guys:  If you don’t enjoy doing something, don’t do it.  Sure, we’d probably rather that you did, but doing it without any enthusiasm is worse than not doing it at all.  I don’t do things in bed that I don’t like to do.  (Okay, in fairness, I’m not sure what those things might be, but if I find one, I swear I’m not going to do it.)

John tried to be sweet, paying me compliments.  Some hit the mark — “You have the body of a 25-year-old!” — while others did not — “Nice boobies!”  Ahem.  Another good rule of thumb, guys:  When in bed with a woman, don’t ever, ever refer to her body part by a name that her sexually-repressed grandmother might have used.  Go for a porn-worthy reference, or stick with the clinical term.  But don’t call our parts by cutesy names.  It’s not sexy.  It’s just icky.  If you doubt me on this, imagine how you’d feel if we said to you, “You’ve got a great pee-pee.”  Seriously.  Just don’t do it.

After the toe-curling pleasure of our 5-minute foreplay (not), it was off to the races.  I felt certain that things would improve once we really got rolling.  After all, this was a good-looking guy whom I knew to have no trouble seducing women and more than enough notches in his bedpost to suggest the development of serious artistry in the sex department.  So maybe foreplay wasn’t his thing.  It was bound to get better, right?

Umm.  No.

Because there are hardly words for what happened next.  Basically, he moved his car into the space, and threw it into park. And there it sat, idling.

At first, I was confused.  I looked at his face.  His eyes were closed and he had the look of someone thinking hard about something.  Okay, I thought, maybe I just need to do some of the work here.  But that wasn’t even possible — he was nearly 6 feet tall and about 190 lbs.  I could barely move my arms, let alone my hips.  Not that it really mattered, because, as I was contemplating how to manipulate my body, he sighed and pulled out of the parking place.  Job completed.

Then he smiled at me and said lots of sweet things and I got the hell out of there as fast as I could.

On the drive home, I was not only sexually frustrated but absolutely flabbergasted.   I mulled over any and all explanations for what had just happened.  Perhaps he was drunk and having to struggle to keep the car running?  Or maybe he was just so overwhelmed at the opportunity to have sex with me that the engine got too revved up too quickly? (I liked this explanation, personally.)  Or maybe this was some Kama Sutra thing that I’d have appreciated if I’d ever been disciplined enough to read the book instead of only look at the pictures?

Well, because I am a glutton for punishment very nice person, I gave John a second chance and confirmed that, whatever the reason, this was his personal style of sex.  To his credit, the second time lasted slightly longer; long enough, in fact, for me to remember that I’d forgotten to take the chicken out of the freezer for the next night’s dinner.  Now, I’ve had sex that literally made me dizzy and nearly pass out, so if you’ve got me thinking about frozen chicken while you’re supposedly making love to me, our relationship is not long for this world.

So, before we go on, let’s review for our male audience what we’ve learned:

  1. No Checklist Foreplay.  Unless the checklist consists of “Ravish her body passionately,” it’s just uncool and a buzzkill.
  2. No cutesy names for our female parts.  Not unless you want us to turn you on with references to your “pee-pee” and your “bum-bum.”
  3. Friction — actually, movement generally  — is a necessary element for intercourse.   Whatever you do, don’t park the car before taking it around the block a few times, please.

As it turned out, there were ample reasons that John and I did not belong together that are far more important than his claim as my worst sex ever.  But he still holds the title.

And, if there is a God in heaven, he always will.

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Filed under dating, relationships, sex

precariously lost

pre-car-i-ous, [pri-kair-ee-uhs], adjective:

  1. dependent on circumstances beyond one’s control; uncertain; unstable; insecure: a precarious livelihood.
  2. dependent on the will or pleasure of another; liable to be withdrawn or lost at the will of another: He held a precarious tenure under an arbitrary administration.
  3. exposed to or involving danger; dangerous; perilous; risky: the precarious life of an underseas diver.
  4. having insufficient, little, or no foundation: a precarious assumption.

It’s no coincidence that I named my blog after an Emily Dickinson poem.  And if you’ve been following me for the last year, you know how apt a name it is.  But I have been feeling particularly precarious of late….

There is nothing wrong, exactly.  In fact, there is plenty that is right.  As I sit here and contemplate my life, I can tick off nearly every aspect that is just about as good as I could possibly hope.  But something is definitely wrong.

Work right now is amazing.  I am spearheading a project for which I have no past experience, no staff, minimal training, and minimal resources.  Should I mess it up, the repercussions would be serious and long-lasting, generate terrible negative publicity, and could (possibly but not likely) result in expensive lawsuits.  But my colleagues seem to have unwavering confidence in me, and that is enormously gratifying.  I have attacked the project with a focus and determination I had nearly forgotten I possessed.  I have found myself calling on knowledge and skills I haven’t reached for in 10 years or more.  And so far, I have it in hand.  It has been a wonderful reminder that there are some things in my life that I truly do well.  And if that wasn’t enough on the professional front, I even received an award last night.  At a community dinner in the small town in which I work,  a “community champion” award was bestowed upon me.  How’s that for external validation?

At home, I have sunk myself into my children in the last two months.  We three girls have played more games and painted more nails and done more cooking than usual.  We’ve had more heart-to-heart talks and cuddles on the sofa and shared jokes.  I have felt closer, more connected, to my children than at any time since right after my separation.  They have confided things to me and asked me tough questions and engaged with me in ways that have made me feel like I must be doing something right in this whole mess we call parenting.

I have been putting my house in order, quite literally; ticking items off my to-do list and re-visiting projects that I abandoned in the chaos that was late December.  I have been running on my elliptical.  Doing yoga.  Reading for pleasure.  Re-connecting with friends.  Going to my favorite church. Puttering in my little yard.  Writing in my journal.  Getting sleep and taking vitamins and eating well.

In short, I am doing all the things that a person should do to feel grounded and safe and connected. But I don’t.  Not at all.

I feel, lately, as if I am merely moving through my life, rather than really living it.  I’m apparently doing an excellent job moving through it, though, for what that’s worth.  I suppose that, in much of life, just showing up is the point.  And I am definitely showing up.  No balls being dropped over here.  No mistakes or flubs or crises in my life right now.  Oh no, I’ve got it all under control, thankyouverymuch.

Except that I have found myself quite often teetering on the brink of tears for no apparent reason.  I sleep well and deeply and have pleasant dreams, but awaken feeling sad and… stuck.  I no longer have certainty in some of the cornerstone ideals that have guided me my entire life.  New, less promising and less optimistic futures play about in my head and create fears I have never, ever known before.  And something about this last break-up demolished my confidence in my appearance; I can barely stand to look in a mirror these days and the thought of getting naked in front of a man leaves me cold.  This is true, despite the fact that I have actually lost weight in the last two months and bought a smaller size jeans today.  Go figure.  Finally, and perhaps most disconcerting, I have started and abandoned a handful of posts for this blog… the words, the ideas, the concepts are not there.  And when I run out of words…. well, that is a bad sign, indeed.

There have been multiple times in my life during which I have felt as if I am holding it all together through the sheer force of will, and looking damn good while doing it.  I remember, in particular, a time in law school when I felt as if I were faking my way through every single day — juggling a full-time courseload at a rigorous university with a nearly full-time, incredibly demanding job and some vague semblance of a social life.  I felt like an utter fraud, because each and every day I wondered if it would simply all fall apart.

I feel that way again now.  Collecting my award last night was surreal.  I was acutely aware of what my image is to my colleagues and the townspeople, how they perceive me and respect me and experience me.  As I returned to my table and handed the award to my daughters (who promptly began fighting over it), I wondered at how much we conceal in our hearts.

Were I less encumbered with children and financial obligations, now would be the time that I would make a drastic change in my life to shake myself out of this place.  Something on the scale of moving to another country.  As it is, I am not certain of what to do next.  In fact, I find myself, for the first time in many, many years, quite frightened by the thought of what “next” will look like.  My greatest fear is that it will simply look like more of “now.”

My brain knows that this is not possible; that the only constant in this life is change.  Whether you’re happy or sad, you can be sure that it will change.  So, presumably, at some point, change will come again, and possibly it will be good change that chase away my feelings of mild melancholy.  (I am well aware that it could also go in the other direction and change could come in the form of a major health crisis or terrible emotional loss or financial ruin, but we’re going to pretend that those possibilities do not actually exist.  Just because I want to.  So humor me, please.)

My touchstone these days is this: A small patch of crocus and tulip and narcissus bulbs that have begun to push through the top soil and reach for the weak sun that bathes my courtyard.  Each day, I go out and check on their progress, for they are my harbingers of change, a tangible representation of what I so desperately need right now:  life in bloom. I allow myself to imagine that by the time they are actually blooming, things might be different in my heart.  Perhaps my soul will have recovered its old buoyancy.  Maybe my faith and hope and optimism in the future will have returned.  Or maybe I will have learned to be contented with some new version of my future that presently seems scary and foreign to me.

Time, in its inevitable march, will surely tell.

And until then, I’ll keep moving forward.  Precariously.

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Filed under general musings, personal growth, relationships, sadness, single mom

a visit to my former life

Tonight I attended a fundraising dinner at my daughters’ school.  It is an event I have gone to every single year since Sabrina was in kindergarten and I was a stay-at-home mom, small business owner, and PTA member.

I remember how big and intimidating the school seemed that first year — so different from the daycare/preschool from which Sabrina had come and Bryn still attended.  The hallways seemed so wide and long, the furniture so large, the staff so foreign and unknown.  But when Sabrina started there, I threw myself into the Supermom role.  I volunteered in the classroom, I baked for the bake sales, I helped start the Brownie troop, I donated my business services to the silent auction.  The school became a home-away-from-home very quickly.  I’d breeze through the front door, waving at the office staff, on my way to one appointment or another.

I came to know the other moms (and some dads) really well.  We’d stand on the playground at the beginning and end of school and exchange news about our children or idle gossip about the school.   We arranged playdates and sleepovers and afterschool activities.  We compared notes about teachers and troublemakers and summer camps.  I felt a part of that community.  Known.  Appreciated.

When Bryn started kindergarten two years later, my marriage was coming apart at a rapid clip.  Little did I know when I kissed her off to her first day in that now-familiar room with that now-familiar teacher that life was about to change dramatically.  By the end of the school year, my husband and I were separated, and my place in that little community had shifted perceptibly.

I moved out of our family home in March of that year and so never really got to know the parents of Bryn’s school mates quite as well as Sabrina’s.  I worked part-time while Bryn was in first grade, so I was still there at drop-off and pick-up, waiting patiently with the other moms, but there was no more time for classroom volunteering or the PTA.   But it was a mixed blessing… not knowing the parents of Bryn’s classmates also meant that they didn’t have much emotional stake in my marital situation.  They didn’t know me or my family well enough to be shocked or upset by our divorce, so they received me, my ex, and the news of our divorce with more equanimity than the parents of Sabrina’s friends.  In fact, I think my divorce brought me closer to some of those women than I would have been otherwise.

But, perhaps not surprisingly, it is still some of the mothers of Sabrina’s classmates to which I gravitate at these school functions.  The ones who knew me before, supported me during, and accepted me after my divorce; these are the women who feel like old friends.  In truth, we probably hardly know each other, and yet there is something rich in watching your children grow up together, something bonding in moving through those early parenting years side by side. And I, of course, remember every small kindness paid and friendship given during the darkest times of my divorce.

Next year, Sabrina and her classmates will splinter off to multiple middle schools.  The easy familiarity of these school functions will be no longer as strange faces replace the well-known ones.  Some families I will likely never see again, which is an odd and discomforting thought.  This school, and these families, provided the context for the largest upheaval in my life to date.  For better or for worse, the drama of my divorce played out against the backdrop of the community built around this elementary school.   It was in those hallways that I was comforted by near strangers and dismissed by some I’d thought were friends.  It was those teachers and staff who sheltered and supported my children as they struggled to grasp their new reality.  It was that principal who called to check in with me every few months for the first year.

As I sat there tonight and wondered — for the sixth year — why the spaghetti was so bland and tasteless, I felt as if I were already a visitor to the school, rather than a current member of its community.  So much has changed since I was a PTA mom.  I looked around the room and remembered my old life.  I can’t say that I’d want to go back, but I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t miss parts of it, too.  So I savored those moments tonight, in easy conversation with the women who’ve watched me move through the wretched transitions of the last 3 years.  We shared memories of days past and fears of days to come and there was a bittersweet quality to all of it.   Or maybe that was just me.

When Sabrina goes to middle school next year, I’ll meet new parents, and they will only ever know me as Sabrina’s divorced mom.  Our seemingly-perfect intact family and the divorce that blew us apart will fade from collective memory.  Life will keep moving and changing and surprising us all.  And someday, probably very soon, the memories of those spaghetti dinners will be distant, treasured snippets of childhoods gone too soon, and a former life nearly forgotten.

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Filed under general musings, parenthood, single mom

sucker punch

I took my labelmaker (yes, I’m the kind of mom who has a labelmaker) to work this morning so that our receptionist could label some things around the office.  But after only one label, it ran out of ribbon (yes, it was that kind of morning).

Arriving home late in evening after helping a work friend with an errand he needed to run, I headed to my craft box and began pawing through it, looking for the extra label ribbon that I knew was in there (yes, I’m the kind of mom who has extra label ribbon).   I couldn’t find it, so I took the box to the dining room table and dumped the contents across its surface.   Then, poking through the markers and paints and glues (aha!  I knew I had extra label ribbon!), my hand froze on a tube of paint, I felt the air sucked out of my lungs, and the memory washed over me….

It was Christmas Eve and I stood in front of James’s hearth, fingering the Christmas stockings hanging from the mantle.  Five identical stockings, plain and  unadorned.  I looked across the room at James and pointed to the stockings.  He crossed the room and explained that his ex-wife had taken all the stockings when she’d left.  “Well,” I said, “When Christmas is over, you need to let me take these and decorate them, personalize them.  This looks sad.  I’ll fix them up!”  He shrugged.  “Okay, sure.”

And so, in the days immediately after Christmas, still on a happiness high from my amazing holiday weekend, I went out and bought tubes of paints in Christmas colors, plus puffy white paint to mimic snow, and silver glittery paint to make them festive.  I found an old t-shirt and spread it on the dining room table and starting practicing all the letters in their names, drawing snow flakes and holly leaves, ornaments and gifts.  I was determined to make those stockings perfect.  When the kids arrived at their dad’s next Christmas, they’d find pretty stockings, decorated with love.

But I never decorated those stockings.  By the end of that week, my relationship with James was blown apart, all my hopes for shared holidays to come, dashed.

I don’t remember cleaning up the paints or the practice t-shirt.   I must have done it when I was still numb with pain.  I had forgotten about all those colorful tubes, about my silly plans, about my offer to James to help make things special for his children.

Until tonight.

It’s so unfair how life can sucker punch you.  There you are, moving along pretty much okay, trying to just put everything behind you, letting go of what you never really had, and WOOMPH!, a sucker punch from left field ushers in all the grief and loss all over again.

I wish that I had decorated those stockings.  I wish that those children had some tangible token of my love.  They would likely never realize, or probably care, who had decorated them or why, but I would know.  I would know that each Christmas, a little tiny piece of me would be there, loving on them still.

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Filed under healing, love, parenthood, relationships, sadness, single mom

call me crazy

Go ahead.  Call me crazy.  It’s likely you won’t be the only one….

I spent last evening — Valentine’s Day — with Mr. Airplane.  And it was — much as I expected — perfect.  Absolutely perfect.

I’d never been to his home before but he wanted to cook for me.  When I arrived, he busied himself opening a bottle of my favorite wine, while I wandered through his home, admiring it.  He has a truly beautiful home, full of dark woods, rich textiles, and beautiful art.  Everything was tasteful and well-appointed, impressive for a divorced man who’d moved in with nearly nothing.  Over our wine, he presented me with a beautiful blooming pink cyclamen and a sweet but funny Valentine.  Then, after a toast, it was on to dinner:  seared tuna sashimi with sticky rice, homemade spring rolls, and garnishes of avocado and strawberries, along with an Asian-inspired side salad with orange sesame dressing.  And if the food hadn’t won me over, the presentation would have:

Now, I don’t know about you, but my cooking never looks like this, special occasion or not.  Once again, I have managed to find a man whose culinary skills far outpace my own.  But that’s okay, I’m supposed to be learning to let someone take care of me and be nice to me, right?

But I digress….

After a candlelit dinner and some nice conversation, we cleaned up the dishes together and then settled in front of the fire to watch a surprisingly endearing romantic comedy, share some more wine, and snuggle.  When the movie ended, it was getting late, but he walked me to his grand piano and played for me.  He is a classically-trained pianist who plays entirely by ear and improvisation.  I sat in awe as his fingers moved deftly over the keys, easing from them songs of his own composition, classical favorites, and contemporary pop songs that we sung along to.  With me yawning and still getting over my vicious cold, we decided to call it a night.  He walked me to my car, gave me a sweet kiss, and made me promise to text him when I got home safely.

Yes, it was perfect.  Absolutely perfect.

Let’s sum up, shall we?  Here is a man who is smart, successful, funny, friendly, confident, accomplished, emotionally-healthy, artistic, generous, attentive, kind, affectionate, and a good father.  He wants to bring me chicken soup when I’m sick, shovel my driveway when it snows, and fly me to another state for dinner sometime just because he can.   He’s tall and broad-shouldered and nice looking. And he likes me.  He really, really likes me.

So, sometime very soon, I need to figure out how to break up with him.

Because for all these wonderful things that he is, there is one wonderful thing he is not:  right for me.  Something is missing.  Some intangible nuance, some chemical attraction, some soul connection is not there.  It’s as if the universe created the perfect checklist of a man for me and forgot to include the heart connection.  I kiss him, and I feel nothing.  Nada.  Zilch.  He touches me and, rather than press into him, I shift ever so slightly away.  When I hear from him, I am glad, but when I don’t, I don’t really notice.  I admire and respect and like him.  Under different circumstances, we could likely be great friends.  But right now, my heart and soul and body are not interested in anything more.  My brain would love to convince them otherwise, but they aren’t having it.  They’ve been fooled before and have some divorce papers to show for it.

So, because he really, really likes me, I have to break up with him.  He is a good man. A really good man.  He deserves a woman who tingles when he touches her and gets butterflies at the sound of his voice.  A woman who can’t wait to get his next text and share the rich and full life he has to offer.  He doesn’t deserve to fall in love with someone who will never truly love him back.  I’ve done that to men before and it was wrong.  And I’ve been in his shoes and it sucks even worse.

And so I have to break up with him.

Sigh.

Go ahead.  Call me crazy.  It’s likely you won’t be the only one….

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Filed under dating, internet dating, love, relationships, single mom

a valentine’s day fairytale

Sometimes, in the middle of an ordinary life, a fairytale happens. — Anonymous

I awoke this morning thinking of my friend “Laela.”  Laela is a truly amazing woman; one of those people in my life who forever altered me by being my friend.  I was fortunate enough to meet her my first day of law school and we became fast and steady friends.  She is one of those women who, when she enters a room, every eye is upon her.  Many like to dismiss that effect as merely a function of her beauty, for she is, indeed, strikingly beautiful in a Hollywood blond bombshell kind of way.  But what I quickly realized is that it isn’t Laela’s physical beauty that draws people to her; it is her wide open heart and a lightness she exudes.  She loves easily and openly and loyally.  She celebrates her friends without a trace of jealousy.  She makes everyone in her life feel like they are a little closer to the sun when in her orbit.

But Laela, like many women, went through a long period of poor choices in men.  Not horrendous choices… just unhealthy ones.  It culminated when she met “David.”  David was dashing and erudite and could match Laela’s intelligence and ambition step for step.  She fell madly, deeply in love with him.  As they were both regulars in the society pages, their romance was followed avidly and David’s planned Valentine’s Day proposal was reported in a major national paper before Laela even knew  of it.  But their relationship wasn’t the  fairytale the papers and gossip columnists wanted it to be.  After many months of decline, their relationship came to a screeching end when David did something so unforgivable, Laela could barely speak of it.

I met David once while they were dating, and couldn’t have despised him more if he had made a pass at me or physically assaulted me.  He was pompous, patronizing, and spent the few minutes we had alone denigrating Laela and then me.  It was phenomenally horrible and I grieved for her when we parted.  When the news came that the relationship had ended, I was nothing but relieved for her.

But life is funny.  And that’s not the end of their story.

After her relationship with David imploded, Laela was devastated.  She had been working with a therapist for some time, but without any real progress.  I suspected that her therapist — like most people who meet Laela — was in awe of her and not truly able to guide her to and through her blind spots.  But after David, Laela’s devastation prompted her to make some serious changes in her life, including firing her existing therapist and signing on with a new one.  And for the next several years, Laela went to intensive weekly sessions that left her alternately drained, exuberant, terrified, and hopeful.   You see, Laela was like many of us — a smooth, calm surface on the outside, but underneath were layers of hurts and pains and fears that were leaking into every aspect of her life, holding her back from achieving happiness in the ways that were most important to her.  I watched from half a continent away as Laela began tentatively dating again.  She wrote a book and did a book tour.  She jettisoned “friends” who were merely hangers-on and hunkered down with the people who really loved her.  She drew healthy boundaries around family members who were undermining her and causing her pain and fear.  Very slowly, Leala blossomed in all the best ways.

Then tragedy struck.

Laela collapsed and was rushed to the hospital, unconscious and seriously ill. The hospital personnel consulted her “Next of Kin” listing and guess who it was?  That’s right, David.  Leala had never changed her forms with her insurance company or her doctor.  And so David was summoned and rushed to the hospital, where he assumed the power of attorney granted to him and made the decisions that ultimately saved her life.  When Laela finally awoke in her hospital room, David was sitting there, a worried mess.

Now, if this were Hollywood, there would be a passionate embrace and a slow fade out, signaling a happy-ever-after.  But this is real life, so it didn’t happen quite that way.

They talked.  They learned that they’d both spent those intervening years in therapy, working through some really difficult, really intimidating personal stuff.  They learned that the things they’d liked about each other hadn’t changed, just a lot of the stuff that they hadn’t liked.  And they fell back in love.   Less than a year later, Laela and David were married on a rooftop patio in Italy.  It’s been 3 years and they are still madly in love.

I offer you this true story as evidence that fairytales do happen.  But my real point is this:  they only happen when we’re ready for them.  Laela and David had a chance earlier and failed miserably.  And, to be fair, although David was the one who made the final mistake, neither of them were ready at that point to be the partner the other one wanted and needed.  They had to be ready.  They had to be whole and complete and capable before they could be that partner for someone else.  We all deserve a fairytale, we’re all inherently lovable, we all want to love and be loved.  But are you ready?  Really ready?

So, this Valentine’s Day, as you’re pondering your own relationship or lack thereof, try asking yourself:  Are you the partner you would want?  When was the last time you took a long, hard look at what you’re bringing to the table instead of pointing the finger away from yourself?  Can you look in the mirror and honestly say that you’d want to be in a relationship with yourself? (This is a tough one.  Ask it out loud and then wait.  The truth is there.)  Are you defensive?  Controlling?  Bossy?  Do you keep score of chores done?  Small hurts incurred?  Do you judge your partner harshly?  Is there room for mistakes in your world?  Can you listen — really listen — to your partner, even if their truth is not the same as yours?  Do you treat your relationship with integrity and value?  Do you understand that commitment means more than keeping your pants zipped?  Can you be vulnerable and open, even when it’s scary?  Do you ask for more than you give, emotionally?  Physically?  Do you feel protective and loving and kind towards your partner?  Or do you see them as something to be fixed, advised, or directed?  Do you know how to be fun, to be playful?  Do you understand the difference between being fun and being juvenile?  Do you want to make your relationship better, or is that your partner’s “job”?  Is their sexual satisfaction important to you?  When was the last time you talked about it?  Do you hold grudges?  Do you withhold love or time spent together or sex as a means to get what you want or obtain the upper hand?  Is your relationship about power?  Or love?

These are the kinds of questions I’ve been mulling lately.

For the last three years I have devoted one hour a week to working on myself.  Only me.  Not my career.  Not my kids.  Not my house.  Me.  No matter how busy I am or how chaotic the rest of my life, I set that time aside to poke around in my head and my heart and do a little housecleaning…. a little redecorating… some serious demolition.  Sometimes it’s difficult.  Sometimes I cry.  But it’s worth it.  My god is it worth it.  My last boyfriend used to scoff at me for it, his tone indicating that he felt that I was somehow lesser for “needing” that therapeutic assistance to guide my self-improvement.  But I was unfazed.  How can I possibly expect to be ready — really, truly ready — for my own prince (in whatever form he takes) if I don’t work on my own shit along the way?  Yes, I want to be loved for who I am; we all do.  But I’m not letting myself off the hook.  He deserves the best version of me, just as I deserve the best version of him.  And even when we’re ready for each other, we won’t be done with that journey of self-discovery and self-improvement… it’s never-ending, and that’s part of its beauty.

Laela and David still work on things.  Every day.  But now they realize that their individual problems nearly cost them their fairytale.  So they work on things as they come up.  And they do it with love and real commitment.

Their story is not about David coming back.  It’s not about his apology or her forgiveness or staying in a relationship that’s unhealthy.  It’s about Laela and David being ready for each other. Finally.  Ready for their own, personal, real fairytale.

Are you ready?

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

social media flunkie

Personally, technology and I have not always gotten along.

There was the infamous-among-my-friends episode in which I inadvertently employed the use of the match.com “Thanks, but no thanks” button four times in one night at the same guy.  And I’ve certainly had my share of misdirected texts, Reply-All emails, and cringe-worthy Facebook moments.  But nothing on the scale of today’s social media epic fail.

The funny thing is that I actually do this for a living.  Really, I do.  As part of my job, I host a successful Facebook page and Twitter feed for the city that employs me, and I’ve created and maintained a website with double the traffic of its predecessor.  So, it would be fair to expect that I’d have a decent grasp of this stuff.

But no.  Not really.

Today, I received an Invitation to Connect from LinkedIn.  Turns out one of my work colleagues wanted to connect with me.  Fine, no problem there.  I logged in and accepted his invitation.  And that’s when LinkedIn did a really mean thing to me.

It showed me a window with about 6-8 people in it and suggested that I make some new connections.  I looked over the people in the suggestion window, shrugged, and thought, “Sure, why not?”  And then I clicked on the “Add Connections” button.  The next page cheerfully informed that 178 Invitations had been sent.

WHAAATTT?!?!?!?!?!?!

That’s right, folks, LinkedIn sent Invitations to Connect to everyone in my Yahoo address book who was currently on LinkedIn and not connected to me.  One. Hundred. Seventy. Eight.

You know why I wasn’t connected to most of those people?  BECAUSE I DIDN’T WANT TO BE CONNECTED TO MOST OF THOSE PEOPLE!!

As I assessed the damage, I discovered that the little window had a scroll function that I’d failed to notice… the six or eight people I saw were merely — and without exaggeration — the tip of the iceberg.  In reviewing the entire list of my newest LinkedIn Connections, I realized that the lucky recipients fell generally into several sub-categories:

  1. Friends and colleagues that I actually would like to be connected with but hadn’t realized they were on LinkedIn (perhaps a dozen people at most, including Parker);
  2. Acquaintances that I have no reason to be connected to, usually because they were from a former career or because my relationship with them truly consisted of a single email about my daughter’s soccer practice two years ago;
  3. People whom I simply don’t recognize at all (seriously — even after many of them accepted my invitations, I now have several dozen “connections” with people I don’t have the foggiest idea who they are or how I supposedly know them); and, of course,
  4. Those individuals that I really should have permanently deleted from my contacts folder because I have no wish to ever speak to them again (and yes, this category contains several ex-boyfriends of dubious character).

Sigh.

Now, my fondest hope was that everyone in Categories 2-4 would receive my invitation, view it and think “WTF?” and then politely disregard it, sending it quickly on it’s way to the little cyber trashcan in their email program.

But no.  Not really.

One of the first acceptances came from the guy I dated with the lingerie model/professional chef ex-wife.  A few acceptances later, I received one from a work colleague who, I happen to know, hated my very existence on this planet.  And then, of course, there were the flurry of acceptances from people who I’m sure are very nice, but I’ve no freaking clue who they are.  But the icing on the cake was, of course, the acceptance from Mike, the man who broke my heart in ways I hadn’t even known could happen.  Ugh and Ick.

Even as I sit here typing this, my phone happily pings me every few minutes with the announcement of another acceptance.  Yay me!

Annie has delighted in poking fun at me about this, and, really, who can blame her?  If she’d done it, I’d be having fun at her expense for weeks to come.  But she also reminded me that maybe I’d done this for a reason… Maybe the universe has a greater plan for my guffaw than merely providing fodder for my friends to tease me mercilessly….  I suppose we shall see.

Anyway, I guess I might as well head over to LinkedIn and try to figure out who these new connections are and why in the world they think we should be connected.  Or maybe I’ll just go pin some stuff on my Pinterest board… it’s probably safer.

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Filed under friendships, general musings, relationships, single mom

letting him be nice to me

Life sure is funny.

Within the last two weeks I have had two wise women tell me that I need to learn to let a man be nice to me, that my personal growth this year needs to focus on learning to allow myself to be cared for.  Now, some of you are reading this and feeling very confused, because you don’t do this.  No, I’ve come to realize that there are people who just naturally expect others to appreciate them and think they’re amazing…. and then there are the rest of us.  The first kind of person is a little bewildered and surprised when someone doesn’t see how wonderful they are; the second kind is a little bewildered and surprised when someone does.

This idea is slightly different from self-esteem or a sense of general self-worth.  I know very well that I have value and I know of what I am capable and I know what makes me special.  Sincerely, I do.  I can write a killer resume – personal or professional.  That’s not the issue.  It’s when someone else knows it, too?  Then I get thrown off-balance.

I’m not talking about my friends, here, of course.  Male and female, they are unwavering in their support and friendship.  But if the person in question is a man in whom I might be interested?  Hmmm…. I turn into a dating dork.  He pays me a compliment, and I stammer.  He tries to be helpful or caring, and I’m lost.

I know that I want this.  I know that I need this.  I know that I deserve this.  But I’m not sure that I know how to have this.  So, I’m working on it.

Mr. Airplane is my current tutor in this regard, and he’s really, really good at being nice to me.  My plan to simply window-shop on match.com is getting turned on its head.  He is so fully present and kind that I am not sure what to do with him.  He seems, quite simply, nice.  And, when I say “nice,” I’m not talking about just being polite or having gentlemanly manners (although that is part of it).  I’m talking about a person who shows compassion, empathy, sympathy, or concern for another person in a concrete way.  Someone who takes an interest in another person and is active and engaged in that interest.

Now, “nice” for a lot of us is a dicey moniker.  I am definitely of the class of women that does not like men who are “too nice.”  Sorry guys, but there is such a thing.  “Too nice” is usually a euphemism for needy or a doormat or a wimp or a big, fat red flag for a future passive-aggressive manipulator.  It’s true.  Fortunately, there are women out there who want all those types (okay, maybe not the future passive-aggressive manipulator…), but I’m simply not one of them.  And this might be part of my trouble with “nice.”  I want nice.  I can appreciate nice.  But if you venture into the land of “too nice,” whatever attraction I felt for you promptly dissipates.  Poof!

Mr. Airplane, thus far, is not too nice.  He is just plain nice.

Case in Point #1:  I was sick in bed last week when our part of the state got pummeled with 20 inches of snow.  I had a driveway that needed shoveling.  I could barely get out of bed; never mind shoveling all that wet snow in the damp cold.  He offered to drive in from two towns over to shovel my driveway.  And he offered it in that protective, sexy man way – “Don’t be ridiculous.  You shouldn’t be shoveling.  Call a neighbor or a local kid or let me come over there and do it.  You need to be in bed, resting and getting well.” Yessir.

Case in Point #2:  He asked me out for Valentine’s Day.  First of all, I can’t remember the last time I dated a man who didn’t have an extreme repulsion for the mere mention of Valentine’s Day.  The idea of having to do something special seems to be too much pressure for a lot of guys, which is interesting since most women I know would appreciate just a little something – truly! – just as much as a grand gesture.  We’re really not that hard to figure out.  Second of all, he asked me out via a text that he worded to sound like a formal invitation.  It tickled me.  Definitely.  A text sounding like an engraved invitation = respectful and romantic.  An actual engraved invitation = creepy.  It’s not that hard.

Case in Point #3:  He is complimentary, without seeming like he’s auditioning for the role of Prince Charming.  I got over my Casanova complex a couple of years ago.  Mike taught me that if they say all the right things, something is surely very wrong.  Mr. Airplane has made clear his interest, without gushing over me.  He is consistent, but not constant.  The difference is subtle, but damn it’s important.

Maybe the best part so far is that I’m honestly enjoying it.  I don’t worry if I’ll hear from him.  I don’t stress about what comes next.  My mind isn’t full of “what if’s” or “maybe not’s.”  I hardly know him yet, and I’ve learned the hard way that nearly every guy looks good during the first month.  Any moment either of us might discover something about the other that we just can’t tolerate. But for right now, right in this moment, it’s lovely.

And the most ironic part?  I bought James flight lessons for Christmas.

Like I said, life sure is funny.

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

the birth of a blog… and rebirth of a woman

On this night, a year ago, my blog was born.  It began with this post — “dating as research.”

That first post was the next step in a life spent writing.  I started my first novel at the age of nine, at my kitchen table while my mother cooked dinner in the evenings.  It was a story about two pre-adolescents growing up in a West Virginia coal mining town.  I was a young girl living in suburban Maryland.  Absent having visited that part of West Virginia a few times, I was completely unfamiliar with my subject matter, and I’m certain it showed.  When I read a draft of the first chapter to my mom, she gave me my first (and best) piece of writing advice:  Write what you know.  And I have, ever since.

I have journaled for most of my life; I still have my diary from elementary school.  I have a few partially-finished novels and even more ideas.  When I moved in with my now ex-husband, I discovered that I didn’t have much personal time or space for writing.   I tried to hold onto my love of writing; when Bryce and I moved to Colorado, I even took a creative writing course at the local university.  My instructor urged me to develop my talent, telling me that I had a unique and compelling voice.  But he, like my mother before him, urged me to write what I knew.  And that I could no longer do.  While in theory he supported and valued my writing, Bryce was never comfortable with the idea that I was putting to paper or screen anything that might have to do with him.  The “write what you know” approach made him decidely uncomfortable.

So I gave it up.  Completely.  Even journaling. I stopped writing for pleasure or personal value.  My profession required me to write quite a lot, but it was more in a technical vein and did nothing to feed my soul.

As my marriage came apart, I began journaling again.  Furiously and almost constantly.  I poured all the nastiness and pain into words.  Those cyber pages held all my anguish and despair and anger.

In therapy, I was exploring the pieces of myself that I’d lost or given up during my marriage.  A recurring theme was the concept of being heard — truly heard — by someone.   Very early in my marriage, I had relinquished my voice.  I had begun capitulating to all of my husband’s demands and assuming his opinions of me as fact.  I had stopped speaking up effectively or productively, and I had stopped believing that the things that made me special had real value in this world.  Reclaiming my voice was clearly an important element of reclaiming my space and my life.

My therapist was the first to suggest that I start writing seriously again, for an audience beyond just me.  After much urging on her part, and quiet consideration on my part, the universe opened the door and shoved me through it.  At work, I was tasked with creating a new website.  Our website designer selected a WordPress platform, and together we created the website.  During that process, he told me about blogs and how the blog platform worked… and the idea was planted.  The same month our website premiered, so did my anonymous blog.

I wrote that first post in one sitting, with minimal proofreading or editing, which is pretty much how I’ve written every post since.  I think 15 people read that first post within 24 hours, and I was thrilled.  FIFTEEN PEOPLE READ WHAT I WROTE!!!  I couldn’t believe it. Wary of guarding my anonymity, I confided the existence of my blog in only a handful of trusted friends, most of whom became my earliest subscribers.   These friends, some of whom have graciously permitted me to examine their lives alongside my own in these posts, have been my strongest champions.  They have publicized my blog to their friends, applauded my milestones, and encouraged me when I was wrought with doubts.

It has not always gone smoothly.  I have written things that have hurt people and things that have offended people, including some of my closest friends.  Most of the men I have dated have not known of my blog, and among those who did, some were supportive, but some were not.  But I promised myself when I began the blog that it would be real, authentic, honest.  And I can sincerely say that I feel that I’ve kept that promise.

The blog has introduced me to people I’d never have known without it.  Some are fellow bloggers and some are not.  I have emails I will save forever from perfect strangers who have told me how a post touched them or changed them or encouraged them or supported them.  Those emails are profoundly humbling and encouraging.

Then there are the women for whom my blog has become a therapeutic tool.  Apparently, these women use my blog as a point of reference or framework for examining issues that they are struggling with or through.  It’s incredibly gratifying to know that the words on this screen might actually help someone else get to a better place in their life.

But the main reason I write is still the first reason:  because I need to, for me.  Writing is my meditation.  It is my way of making sense of the world and my way of cataloging my lessons and epiphanies.  It helps me stay grounded and it reminds me of what’s important to me.  Writing forces me to clear my head.  It allows me to celebrate a part of myself that I like.

I think we all need something like writing.  I suspect that many, many of us have given up a part of ourselves that we mourn.  I suspect that we have put aside or thrown away or surrendered aspects of ourselves that fed our soul, contributed to our radiance, and made us whole.  Maybe it was salsa dancing, or pottery throwing, or sewing, or piano lessons.  Maybe it was time spent with girlfriends or at art galleries or taking photographs.  Maybe it was volleyball, or running, or yoga.   Or maybe it was writing…

Whatever your reasons for coming to my blog, I thank you.  Thank you for sharing this journey with me.  Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings with me over this last year.  Thank you for giving me such an amazing audience for my musings and contemplations.  I value you and am grateful for you.  I hope that you’ll stick around for a while, because I’m only just getting started.

Happy Anniversary to Us.

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Filed under general musings, healing, personal growth, relationships