Category Archives: love

after the fairy tale

Some lessons are harder to learn than others.

And some of us are just slow learners.

Or perhaps we’re stubborn, or maybe it’s persistence, or optimism, or hopeless romanticism.  Whatever it is, some of us seem biologically incapable of letting go sometimes.

Like me.

I wish more than anything that I could write of how wonderful and perfect my life with James is now.  How happily we have merged our families and how blissfully in love we are.  How I now have everything I ever dreamed of when I broke my marriage apart.  But of course I can’t do that.  Because Cinderella isn’t real and neither is Prince Charming.

I have not written much since James and I reunited and moved in together.  At first, it was because I genuinely was so blissfully happy I didn’t want to sound like a horrid braggart at my good fortune.  Then, later, it became about not wanting to disappoint my readers, and later still, about not wanting to admit that I might have made an enormous mistake.  The conclusion I have reached now, however, is that I love writing and I love this interaction with all of you, and I love knowing that — just possibly! — I might put something into words that someone else can relate to and feel understood by or reassured by or empowered by.

And so I am picking up my keyboard again and going to try to write about a love that is terribly flawed, potentially damaging, and possibly beyond salvation.


With age has come the wisdom that it’s usually pretty impossible to pinpoint the precise moment that signals the beginning of the end of something.  I cannot exactly remember when I first wondered if James and I had made an awful mistake buying the house and moving in together.  But I know that, as often happens, that unwelcome thought has become more and more present and persistent in my head, culminating this summer with me making plans to move out and going so far as to look at several houses and inquire about financing. (That was an adventure in itself.  I was reminded that when a rental ad says that a property “needs some love,” you’d best expect broken floor boards, inoperable windows, and peeling paint.)  It was sad to admit defeat and contemplate separating, yes, but things were so very bad that there was also some relief in the idea of a small place of my own for me and my girls and the assurance of peace in my life.

The rub was that I still love him.  Perhaps I shouldn’t, given the things he has said over the past year, but I’ve never been a big fan of “shoulds.”  So before I took the leap into one of the houses that needed some love, I sat down and examined what it would take for me to stay.  I examined this question from a very pragmatic perspective — not what would I have to feel, but what he (and I) need to do in order for me to stay.  Actual, concrete steps or actions or promises.  So, because I’m a list-maker and addicted to my iPhone, I made a note on my phone containing my list.  Then I slept on it for a couple of days, revised it, and finally told James (via text because we were hardly speaking) that I had a final proposal to make to save our relationship, and if he was interested in discussing it, he should let me know.  I sent the text just days before his children left us to return to their mom’s for the school year, so I didn’t expect to hear anything back right away, and I didn’t.

The day his children left, I spent the day back-to-school shopping with my girls and returned home just before dinnertime.  James said he’d like to talk, made us some cocktails, and we went out to our balcony.  Then, using my iPhone list as a guide, I walked him through my proposal.  It included some relatively easy demands, including “No serious discussions before I’ve had caffeine in the morning,” as well as some more difficult ones, including couples counseling with a therapist of his choosing, and if he didn’t seem engaged in the process, I would not go or pay for it.  Given that James is quintessentially the man who does not like being told what to do, I was fully prepared for him to say, essentially, “No way, no how.”  I really was.  I had absolutely no expectations beyond being able to know that I had played my best hand at the end.

But he didn’t say no way, no how.  He agreed to my proposal, and I agreed to halt my moving plans.

It has been a long enough road for us that I knew not to be too optimistic about our commitment to this new path.  But, we did find some equanimity after that conversation.  We went away for the weekend to his eldest daughter’s college graduation and had a truly nice time together.  So nice, in fact, that I dreaded coming home.  I just wanted to stay in that warm cocoon of ease and peace for as a long as possible.  But when we returned, I was further heartened when James found the name of a counselor we had interviewed back in March and ended up not revisiting because she doesn’t take insurance, and called her for an appointment.  He also located the paperwork she’d given us at the time and started completing it.  So I did, too.

The first time we saw the counselor, Liz, she talked to us briefly about our goals for the therapy and how she typically works.  Some of it we remembered from our appointment in the spring.  At the end, she asked us to take two online tests that would help her understand our personalities better, how we probably relate to one another, and how she could best support us.  She wanted us to complete them and send her the results before our next meeting, four days later.  I could tell that James was loath to take the tests, but was pleased when he did the very next day.  The results were fascinating and we spent the better part of that day comparing our results and discussing how they made us feel.***  Again, I was heartened — this alone was progress!

Our next meeting with Liz — our first real counseling session with her — also went well, and we left feeling, I think, like we might be able to actually do this.  That perhaps we could be one of the couples who bucks the odds and saves our relationship!  I think we both knew how dire our straits were, so I don’t mean to make light or understate the depth of concern and fear that our relationship was beyond saving, but I also think that we were increasingly hopeful.  Unfortunately, she was leaving to spend a month back East and so our next session seemed far away.

My friend Annie has always described my relationship with James as taking two steps forward and one step back, and James and I are apparently slaves to our pattern, for not long after that counseling session we had another disagreement that culminated in him suggesting that we sell the house.

And that is where things sit, my friends.

Over the past six months or so, I have had some personal growth spurts unrelated to my situation with James, but those have served to better inform me of my own short-comings and blind spots.  I have tried to figure out what the wisest course of action is with regard to me and James.  I have tried to analyze what is right for my girls.  I have tried to dig deep and ask my heart what it truly wants.

But I don’t have any clear answers.  Because here is all I know:  No one ever said it was supposed to easy, but it shouldn’t be too hard, either.  I know that if we manage to make this work and grow old together, we will be one of those couples that signifies the value of hard work in a relationship, and this whole period will be told and re-told of evidence that relationships require work to survive. But if we don’t make it, we will both likely be saying, to others sometime in the future, that we should have pulled the plug sooner and not wasted so much time.

In my marriage, I knew when it was time to go, and once I knew, I hardly glanced back.  That almost unwavering certainty was of enormous comfort to me during the darkest days of my divorce, and the lack of it is what paralyzes me now.

So I wait.  I wait for a signpost signaling the next right path.  I wait for my heart and mind to synch up.  I wait for a certainty that won’t betray me later on.

amazing-trees-1-1


*** The personality tests that James and I took are called the RHETI Enneagram test and the Instinctual Variant Questionnaire (IVQ).  They are similar to the Myers-Briggs tests, but simpler and, for us, more accurate.   They can be found on the Enneagram Institute’s website.   The full RHETI Enneagram test is 145 questions and costs $10.  The IVQ is much shorter and costs $8.  The results can be emailed to you and do not require a therapist’s interpretation to be useful.

 

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Filed under love, relationships

recipe for happier holidays: blend well

During the holiday season, I am typically addicted to the sappy, predictable, sugary holiday fare that runs 24/7 on the Hallmark Channel that time of year.  From Thanksgiving to Christmas, I watch one perfect holiday-themed love story after another, sighing at the snow and the romance and the ease with which all the characters cheerfully handle the holiday drudgery that turns most of us into Grinches.

I really need to stop watching those movies.  I really do.

Because we all know that the holidays hardly ever actually resemble a Currier & Ives painting, let alone a Hollywood movie.  And when you factor in six kids and two parents trying to figure out how to successfully blend our family traditions, the results are often stressful and sometimes comical.

Maybe there’s a family out there that can pull off their first blended holiday season without an argument or a mishap, but ours is not that family.  Definitely not.  We love each other.  We want to be together.  But we also want to kill each other once in a while. That’s just the plain truth.

And because I consider it my duty to help inform those who might follow me of the snares and missteps along this post-divorce path I have taken, I feel obligated to share some of my discoveries.  So, purely for your edification, I offer you a list of things that James and I had to negotiate as we celebrated our first holiday season as a blended family:

1. What to stuff the turkey with.  He was used to sliced potatoes and bacon, while I favored the more traditional bread stuffing.

2. When to put up the Christmas decorations.

3.  Whether to get a live Christmas tree or an artificial one.

4.  Whether said Christmas tree should have white lights or colored lights.

5.  How much money to spend on each child for Christmas presents.

6. Who should do most of the Christmas present shopping.

7. Whether the Christmas presents from Santa should be wrapped or unwrapped.

8.  Whether the whole family should attend church on Christmas Eve or only those who choose to.

9.  Whether and how many gifts should be opened on Christmas Eve.

And so on.

Some of these points were more easily agreed upon than others.  Surprisingly, the question of how much money to spend on presents was pretty much a non-starter, but James and I worked out the issue of which lights to put on the tree while standing in the garage screaming at each other.  Go figure.

What this holiday season taught me about blended families is this:  you’ll never know until you try.  Most of the things on the list above we could never have anticipated prior to experiencing them this year.  I mean, sure you realize that blending families and holiday traditions might be difficult, but I think most of us think about those difficulties in terms of the Big Stuff:  how well the children will get along, or whether anyone will feel left out, or if the presents will be just right on Christmas morning.  But, like in a marriage, it’s more often the little things that open up the biggest holes.  And in a post-divorce relationship, preserving some of your previous traditions, particularly for the sake of the children, can feel more important than you’d ever thought.

I found it interesting that I most easily sacrificed the traditions that Bryce and I had made together and clung fast to the ones my girls and I had constructed since my divorce.  Those were important to me — and, I learned, to them — in ways that I hadn’t fully appreciated when we were stumbling along together after the divorce.  But what made them special to me was exactly that — we had created those small traditions together, in the midst of our early pain and uncertainty about the future.  We three had drawn together and made holiday patterns that felt good and right and reflected us.  And those were the ones that I fought over with James.  For him, it was the traditions that he’d carried with him from his childhood that he held most dear.

On the whole, I was pleasantly surprised at how easily our sense of what the holidays should be dovetailed.  It occurred to me that our common values around family and togetherness likely drove those similarities, and that was gratifying to discover.    And it was amazing and heartwarming to see the kids all acting like siblings during Christmas break.  But I think the best confirmation of how far we have come was delivered by my mom, the day after Christmas, when she said “You all really are a family.  No one who sees you all together could doubt it now.”

And, as for me and James, you could say we came through all the frustrations and negotiations and ended up full circle again.  Quite literally.  Perhaps a bit emotionally bruised from all the high drama of our non-Hollywood holidays, but none the worse for the wear as it turns out.  Because on Christmas morning, he surprised me with a beautiful ring that I have not taken off since.

I make no pretense that any of this is easy, because I can’t honestly say that it is.  Not for us, anyway.  But it has its moments of such pure sweetness and grace that I do not doubt that it is worth it.  Even with our struggles to make a family holiday that is uniquely and completely us, even with the arguments and the silences, I would not trade this holiday season for any one that came before it.  Sincerely.

So I will continue my journey down this path for another — likely eventful — year.  I welcome you to join me in creating my on-going happy ending.

Just don’t expect a Hollywood script.

ring 2

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Filed under blended families, divorce, love, single mom

chasing the finish line

I have been away from writing for so long.

The keys feel foreign beneath my fingertips and the words come achingly slowly.

I do not know how or where to begin, so I follow an old writing instructor’s credo — “If you don’t know where to begin, just start.”

For months now, I have been mulling the idea of The Finish Line in various life stages.  It seems to me that we are almost constantly chasing an invisible end point — that magical point at which we achieve a true and lasting happiness, or at least a huge and permanent warp speed thrust towards such a nirvana.  We tell ourselves that if we can just meet our soulmate, get that promotion, move to that exotic locale, finalize our divorce, or get pregnant, then — THEN! — we will be happy.  And why not?  After all, Hollywood assures us this is the case:  most movies end on an upbeat note that has you departing the theatre, comforted that the characters’ lives continued offscreen in some version of Happily Ever After.

But real life doesn’t usually work that way, does it?

I had a foreshadowing of this illusion when I was still young and arrogant enough to faithfully trust that the illusion was real.  I was about to graduate from college, and some friends of mine were experiencing worldwide music success on a scale they’d only dreamed of.  Their songs were racing up the music charts, their faces graced magazine covers, celebrities knew of them and approached them, and their tour dates were selling out spectacularly fast.  After a tour that took them through most of Western Europe, Russia, and the Far East, they returned home to find their girlfriends the object of hate mail and their homes staked out by paparazzi.  A few days later, in the wee hours of the morning, after a night on the town, I found myself standing in my kitchen with the founding member of the band.  I waxed on about how wonderful their success was and how amazing it must be to experience.  He paused a moment, licked his lips slowly, as if considering his words carefully, and said, “Nothing is ever what you think it will be.  And sometimes the pieces you thought would be so great are the biggest disappointment, and the precious moments take you by surprise.”  I was shocked and asked if he somehow regretted their success.  He quickly answered, “God, no.  It is amazing.  But you think, before it happens, that if only it would happen, you’d never be sad or lonely or insecure or bored again.  But you are. You really are.”  I left him that evening feeling that perhaps he’d had a fight with his girlfriend or was overly tired, because, really, how couldn’t you be happy when you’re becoming rich and famous?!

But life doesn’t usually work that way, does it?

Some people have hoped for a happy ending to this blog — that somehow, some way, after these months and years of writing and analyzing and crying and persevering, I might finally have my Happily Ever After.  Some wish this because they know me and care about me personally.  Others wish this because they need a beacon for their own journey, some reassurance that such a thing exists.

I wish I could report to you that now that James and I have purchased a home, moved into it, and blended our families, life feels constantly sweet and comforting and certain.  But it doesn’t.  It really doesn’t.

In fact, we are struggling.  Getting back together and making a big commitment did not serve to wrap a pretty little bow around us and leave me blissfully smiling my way through the rest of my life.  I wish it did.  I would love nothing more than to write post after flowery post about how perfect my life is now and how wonderfully loved and cherished I am.

But I can’t.

So, instead, I will remain true to my one commitment I made to myself and my readers — to be real, and honest, and authentic here.  Some readers may be disappointed that I resist the embellishments that would permit me to write a very satisfying fiction, and a few are likely to be smugly satisfied at the lack of a fairytale ending, but none of that changes what is real for me.

I remind myself frequently these days that life is about the journey and not the destination.  I allow myself the luxury of spending some days (or long nights) just being along for the ride, watching it unfold and trying not to cling too hard to expectations or wishes.  I hold my blessings tightly, counting them like a miser with his gold.

And I wonder whether what I am experiencing is wisdom or disappointment.

Only time will tell, I guess.

Because that’s how life usually works, doesn’t it?

picture in our head

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Filed under divorce, happy endings, love, relationships

was it worth it? (pt. 4)

Following my announcement to my husband Bryce that I was leaving our marriage of nearly 11 years, I had one final conversation with my then-best friend, which ended with her caustically telling me, “Well, I just hope it’s worth it, what you’re doing.  Because I really doubt it will be.”

Certain moments get frozen your mind.  Sealed for the remainder of your life in a corner of your brain where they might gather dust, but they never fade.  Crystallized, every small detail recollected with the same power and force they wielded when first experienced.  That was one such moment for me.

Her yawning question has echoed in my brain and in the hollows of my heart as the months and years since that day have passed.  It has served as a touchstone for me — a chance to check in with myself and the consequences of my fateful choice.  I have revisited the question in my writing, too:

was it worth it? (pt. 1)  (Feb. 2011)

was it worth it? (pt. 2)  (May 2011)

was it worth it? (pt. 3) (Jan. 2012)

Yesterday, James and I closed on a beautiful house that will become a home to us, our children, and our animals.  Afterwards, we had a romantic celebratory dinner at the restaurant we visited on our first date, in September 2010.  We had not been back since then, and the sense of having completed some imaginary circle was palpable to us.  We reminisced about our first date — where we sat, what I was wearing, what we were each thinking — and throughout dinner I sat across the table from him and tried to figure out how in the world we have landed where we are now.

I have that feeling often these days.  I will look at him and it suddenly hits me that it has happened.  I have actually found what I had been searching for since I first fell in love with Parker at age 22 and discovered what true love, mixed with destiny and fate, actually can be like.  Every single day since then, I have hoped to once again be blessed enough to find it.  There were many, many dark days and darker nights during which I wondered if perhaps I was requesting too much of the universe; I had been fortunate enough to experience true love once, perhaps it was asking too much to want it again?

But I couldn’t give up.  Or, rather, my heart wouldn’t let me.  My brain argued quite rationally and logically.  It urged me to settle for good enough and be happy with that.  It berated me for expecting so much.  It pointed out my arrogance in hoping that I was special enough to be so blessed twice.  But the pounding of my heart drowned out the rational logic of my brain.  Thump, thump, thump… like a mantra it reminded me, forced me to remember what it had once felt like to be loved so completely and purely and deeply, and to return that love equally.

And now here I am.  I feel as if I am sitting upon a beautiful mountain top, surveying a valley below lush with possibilities and promise.  The world feels wide open and full of choices, any one of which might become the next great adventure of my life.  My blessings are so many, I feel almost embarrassed by their abundance.  But then I remember my dark times and how much I have struggled to find this space of emotional security, happiness, and expansiveness.  This time is what I have been searching for, defending to my detractors, and protecting from the naysayers.  It is here and I am in it.  And it is even better, richer, deeper than it was the first time around.

But what of the others so deeply affected by my choice?  My ex-husband Bryce seems happier than I think I have ever known him to be.  His countenance is relaxed, his outlook optimistic, his relationship seemingly solid and fulfilling.  My daughters are thriving in every way and embracing our changing circumstances with greater poise and enthusiasm and trust than I could have possibly expected.  They still don’t like moving back and forth between me and their dad each week, but it is the logistics that bother them now, not the emotional aspects of so many good-byes and hellos.  I watch over them protectively, awaiting signs to indicate that I have permanently scarred them with my choice to divorce their father and dismantle their family.  But such scars have yet to appear.  We talk through feelings with compassion and patience, and I wonder if possibly they are learning that dramatic life changes do not always portend endless grief and struggle.  I wonder if they are learning how resilient they are as individuals and we are as a family….

Life is not done, of course, and oftentimes regrets sneak up on you long after you hope the final verdict has been read.  But I humbly suspect that this will not be such a case.  Bryce, our daughters, and I have turned some corner, crossed some bridge, this year.  The divorce has ceased to be the defining construct in our lives anymore.  It is merely a reality of our existence now — like living in Colorado or having two dogs.  Four years later, it no longer constrains us or informs our feelings about everything.  My once-intact family has stretched and grown beyond the pain and grief that accompanied its breakage.  We have each evolved into more fully-formed individuals, with a greater sense of our own possibilities.   We love and support each other, secure in the knowledge that our separateness has granted us hopes and dreams that were not possible in our togetherness.

I can look at the long road since that conversation with my former best friend more than 4 years ago.  I can see how many times her warning scold seemed frighteningly true.  I am aware of how easily fate could have shifted slightly and she would have been proven correct.

But that is not what happened.  She was wrong.  Very, very wrong.  Because it has been worth it.  The good, the bad, the painful, the joyful.  All of it.  Absolutely, positively worth it.

chautauqua trail

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Filed under divorce, love, perfect little miracles, personal growth, relationships

an open letter to my friends

To my Dear Friends, far and near:

I am writing to say thank you.  Thank you for your love and support and concern and worry.  Thank you for your friendship and your shoulders to cry on and your ears to bend.  Thank you for the memories and the knowledge that you are also part of my future.  Thank you for wanting all that is good and happy and easy for me.

I am indeed blessed to have you in my life.

But.

(You knew there was a “but,” didn’t you? I thought so.  You’re smart that way.)

But the thing is, this is my life.  Not yours.  Mine.  I know you know this, but sometimes when we love someone, we tend to forget it.  We get so wrapped up in our hopes and fears for this other person, that we forget that each of us has to walk our own path, and that ultimately we walk it alone, no matter how many loving people offer their help or companionship on the journey.  Inevitably, we must make our own choices; ironically, even if we succumb to the influence of others, the choices are still ours alone and we alone are responsible for their consequences.

I know that all you want for me is to be happy and safe and at peace.  And I want those things for me, too.  But how I get there, and how you might want me to get there… well, those might be different paths.

I know that some of you are concerned about James.  You have held me while I sobbed over him and listened to my heart break.  You have propped me up and dusted off my ego and refused to allow me to fall completely apart over his past actions.  And you are reluctant and frightened to see me travel that well-worn path again.

I understand that you would prefer that I put James behind me and find some nice, quiet, solid guy with whom to make a life that is drama-free and steady.  I comprehend your hesitancy to accept that this time with him might be any different.  I respect your fear that I am fooling myself and will suffer a humiliating and painful crash in the very near future.

I cannot convince you otherwise.

Nor will I try.

What I will say is this:  I have never taken the easy road.  That is not to say that I have not led a life blessed with many wonderful things, but simply that few of them came to me easily.  In fact, when two paths were before me, I have mostly taken the more difficult one.   And — go ahead, admit it — it is one of the things you love most about me, is it not?

You say that you admire my strength.  Well, what strength is there in opting for the safe route, when one’s heart cries out for the riskier one?  What strength is there in admitting defeat when you don’t really feel defeated?

You say that I inspire you.  How inspired would you be were I to acknowledge that I love James with all my heart but was choosing to be “smart” and settle for someone I feel less for?  Can you even imagine me doing such a thing?

You say that my life is interesting.  What is interesting about it?  The times that I played it safe and made the choices that others wanted for me?  Or the times that I politely told everyone to take a flying leap and struck out in a direction on my own?

I don’t mean to belabor the point (or is it already too late?), but would you really want me any other way?  Is not my choice to throw all my chips on the table with James not the epitome of everything that you value and love about me?

I know you’re scared.  I am, too.  But I’m still me.  I’m still determined to have that Happily Ever After that I’ve believed in my whole life.  And I want you there with me, amazed at the wonder of it all as it unfolds.  I want to share the beauty of this with you and the authenticity of how damn hard it is some days.  I want to know that I’ve been real and true to myself, and that you have shared that.

I cannot make you comfortable with my choices; no amount of reassurances would assuage your fears or discomfort.  But I can ask you to remember what you love and admire and value most about me.  Because I am exactly and entirely that person these days.  I am true to exactly who I said I would be when I left my marriage 4 years ago and you cheered me on for my bravery to take that monumental risk.

The risks don’t stop.  And I won’t start shying away from them now.  No one is more acutely aware than me of how dreadfully painful it will be if James and I fall apart this time, but I can only tell you that I don’t see it happening.  Beyond that, I can offer no guarantees.  Neither can James. And neither can you.  None of us has any way of knowing if we shall ultimately emerge a cautionary tale or one of those cute, old couples that no one can imagine not being together. I have my inkling, and you have yours, but none is more valid than the other.

So, I will continue to endure your qualified support for my happiness, your obvious expectation that our relationship will fall apart at any moment, your unwillingness to invest in us as a couple.  I will do this because I truly love you, and I am truly grateful for your friendship and support, however limited it has become due to my decision to be with James.

I only hope that someday you will fully join me and James (and other members of my family and friends) in this new chapter of my life.  I will be waiting and hoping.  But in the meantime, I will continue to live my life according to my own instincts and sense of what is right and true for me in this moment.

And really, would you honestly expect or want anything different from me?

road less traveled

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Filed under dating, happy endings, love, relationships

my pinch me life

At the moment, I sit in my favorite leopard print chair in my bedroom, feet perched on the brown leather ottoman, cup of tea on the bench to my right.  Around me is my bedroom, with all its familiar photos, lamps, and furniture.  And yet what I notice is the unfamiliar — the family photos that are not mine, the television sitting on the second dresser, the baseball cap hanging casually from the doorknob.

In the bed to my left sleeps a man I love possibly more than I have ever loved anyone.  He breathes softly and regularly, sleeping the sleep of the supremely tired.  In a few moments, I will crawl into the bed next to him, he will drowsily pull me close to him, and I will fall asleep feeling safe and adored.

James and I have moved in together.

The circumstances of our decision to take this bold move were, in some important ways, not ideal.  A personal and professional crisis hit his life like a tornado, coinciding with a planned move from the gorgeous family home he had built as a his dreamhouse.  Major life changes were afoot and, as we talked through his options, the logical one — for practical and emotional reasons — was for him to stay with me and my daughters for a while.  At first, that idea took the form of him keeping a few clothes and things at my house, while using his parents’ ranch in the foothills as his main homebase.  But the more we talked about it and got comfortable with the idea, the more it evolved into a decision to actually merge our lives.

And so, one Sunday, a mere 6 weeks after deciding to give it another try, we took the biggest step of our relationship.

The moving part was arduous but also fun and exciting in some ways, as we watched our individual things blend together far more harmoniously than we’d expected.   Boxes were unpacked, artwork was hung, clothes were shifted, and space was made.  We admired our progress and smiled at each other — a lot.  There were also moments of deep sadness, as James was giving up a home that he’d truly thought would be where he’d raise a family and have grandchildren playing someday.  But I think, for me, those early days were mostly like a surreal dream.  How in the world had this really come to be?  How had we, who had for so long viewed each other over the top of a thick, high wall of emotional defense, suddenly found ourselves sharing space with the intention of becoming a family at last?

The first week, James and I were on our own, as my girls were off at their dad’s and his children live out-of-state with their mother most of the time.  This was a good thing, as it gave us a chance to deal with the basic logistics how we’d combine our material possessions and schedules, but also because it allowed us to shake off the initial jitters of our decision.  At one point, at the end of our first day as a co-habitating couple, after considerable prodding from him, I admitted that I was freaking out just a little bit.  Since then, we have spent much time talking about how scary this is for both of us, working through the same kinds of feelings that would have held us back previously and instead finding ways to leverage those feelings to a deeper connection.

My life these days seems to be a series of unbelievable moments.  This weekend, we went house-hunting for a house that could accommodate the two of us, our five school-age children and one college-aged child, and three dogs.  Over the last 2 1/2 years of knowing each other, I have spent many, many days house-hunting with him, but never with my own family in mind.  And yet, there we were, side-by-side, contemplating taking that wall down or creating two bedrooms out of that space, expanding that kitchen or re-landscaping that lot.

I awake every morning to his smiling face, and return every evening to the delicious smells of his cooking in my kitchen.  He is constant and steady and solid.  And I, who spent so many months wishing for a relationship with this man that was even half this good, am amazed every moment.

The obstacles in front of us are huge.  How to blend our families, rebuild his company, strengthen our crippled finances, and stave off our fears of loss and abandonment.  There are moments in which those obstacles seem overwhelming and insurmountable, but then I remember that the only way we can be together is to move through it, and my resolve returns.

When most of us dream about a relationship after divorce, we think only of the beauty of a new love, but the reality is far more complicated.  And I cannot imagine taking this journey with someone with whom I was not crazy in love.  When I think of the men that I have dated who were perfectly nice and yet completely not right for me, I realize how impossible it would have been to face the challenges inherent in a post-divorce relationship with any of those men.  Because this journey can either be a struggle or an adventure, and I think the definition depends, in large part, on your travel companion.

I am not naive about us at this point.  James has revealed too much truth for me to be so.  I have a pretty good understanding of what happened in our first 2 1/2 years together, and I know that I have no guarantees that the man sleeping so beautifully near me tonight will always be there.  But none of us gets any guarantees of lasting happiness; my divorce taught me that.  And so, each day, we simply affirm our commitment to each other and this road we are on.  Because, in the end, that is all we can do.

That, and love each other.  Truly and deeply.

photo

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an unconventional love story

Today, I want to share a love story with you.  It is not a typical love story, but it is my current favorite.  This story doesn’t read like a standard romantic comedy from a major Hollywood studio; at best it’s an arthouse film with flawed protagonists and a convoluted plot.  But it has a certain charm for me.

It concerns a couple who met many, many years ago — almost 15 years ago, actually — and knew each other only in passing for most of those years. The day of their first meeting was a sunny, warm spring day when they were both young and in love with other people.  She remembers that he was handsome and soft-spoken, but perhaps arrogant.  He remembers that she was smart and intriguing.  Every few years, their paths would cross for some brief moment, and they gradually formed ideas about each other.   They came to know each other in the way that you might know someone to whom you spoke casually and infrequently over the course of many years.  During that time, they each got married and had children and then later divorced.

He divorced first — a long, bitter, nasty battle that left him emotionally scarred and terrified of intimate connection.  He dated, but didn’t allow anyone to get close to him, lest his heart be ripped from his chest yet again.  Two years later, she divorced, too.  Hers was more amicable, but her self-confidence had suffered badly during her marriage and a post-divorce relationship with a terrible charmer had left her bruised and burned.

The summer after her divorce was final, she contacted him on a business matter.  When the office manager discovered that she was divorced, she quietly played matchmaker, setting up a rare Saturday appointment for the two (so there would be no time constraints on him to attend to other appointments) and explaining to each that it was the only time the other could make it.  Both grumbled, but agreed.  At that first appointment, they talked for a long time, first about business, then about life.  A second business appointment quickly dissolved into a lengthy discussion of marriage, divorce, and love.  The third appointment, several months later at the conclusion of their business together, ended with a dinner date.

Both were dating other people at the time, but there was something between them that outpaced the others.  For several months, they dated and got to know each other more deeply.  They spent many hours in intimate conversation, gradually opening up to each other, but still guarded.  Then, a misunderstanding triggered their mutual fears, spiraled out of control, and they broke up.

A couple of months went by and she found herself surprised by how much she missed him.  She went on dates, but nothing compared to how she felt with him.  So, when he called and asked her to go out for drinks, she said yes.  And they began dating again.

But, despite all their wonderful long talks, they struggled to communicate effectively about issues between them.  They were, in many superficial ways, opposites, and some of those differences caused chronic and painful misunderstandings that quickly devolved into defensiveness and the silent treatment from him, and panic and mistrust from her.  So, over the next year, they dated and broke up three more times.  In between, they always dated other people, but neither of them discovered anything that rivaled what they experienced with each other.  They kept coming back, but always the same dynamic quickly re-established itself between them — one borne of mistrust, insecurity and fear.

The last break-up, after 15 months of dating off and on, left them both exhausted and miserable.  They had each tried so hard, in their own ways, but it hadn’t been enough.  It was over.

Over the next year, they connected occasionally, but never with any success. They might see each other for a week or two before some disagreement blew them apart again.  Their interactions were fraught with the pain of past hurts and the fear of hurts yet to be inflicted.  To be sure, the chemistry, the emotional bond, and the energetic pull that had first brought them together was still there, but both realized that they could not continue to hurt each other over and over again.  It wasn’t going to work.

So they went off and dated new people  — him more than her, but her more seriously than him.  But always… lurking somewhere in the corner of their hearts, was disbelief that, with so much great stuff between them, they simply couldn’t make it work.

And then something happened.  If this were a scripted romance, the something would be monumental — a dramatic climax to a perfectly crafted story, perhaps.  But, alas, this is not a scripted romance, it is real life, and the shift was not dramatic, or even perceptible.  It was silent and invisible and impossible, even now, to pinpoint.  But something changed.

In her, the change manifested itself as a loss of fear.  Not all fear, mind you, but the fear of not being enough for him.  She found herself ready, finally, to ask the hard questions of him, to hear the truth, and to receive it with compassion, even if understanding eluded her.  She was ready to talk about what had gone wrong between them without fear of losing him.  Because, after all, she already had.

For his part, he finally decided that he was tired of running from her and from what they could be together. The risk of letting her in was terrifying, but losing her forever was more so.  He wasn’t sure he could be what she needed, that he was whole enough to be the partner she deserved, but he knew he needed to try harder or risk watching some other man finally claim her heart.

So, one night, they met at their favorite bar for drinks.  It was a familiar scenario; many of their earlier, failed attempts had originated at that same bar.   But tonight was somehow different.  First he talked and she listened, then she talked and he listened. They listened for understanding,  intently and without judgment, asking questions for clarity but without defensiveness.  They talked about all the issues that had been landmines in their relationship — the ones that the mere mention of would immediately generate tension and a retreat to opposing corners.  Each was surprised by the other’s open nature that night, and the conversation went on for several hours, until their tongues were tired and their brains were full.

They separated that evening knowing that something had happened.  What that something was, was still unclear, but it was different and they could both feel it.  “That was the most productive conversation we’ve ever had,” he said to her when he called the next day. “Thank you.”  She agreed and thanked him, too.

And so they began to try to know each other in this new way, from this new approach.  Both had sincere trepidations, given their long and complicated history, but they made a point, in those early weeks, of having fun together again.  It had been so long since they had laughed and teased freely and with ease.  They spent time together, and time apart, and each was mindful of the other’s feelings and needs, without falling into that dreaded “walking on eggshells” trap that had characterized so many of their earlier attempts to work on things.

During their year apart, she had focused on trying to learn to relinquish her expectations of certain outcomes, and she found that she was more comfortable, more secure, and happier with him when she did so in the context of their relationship.  Loosening her tight focus on a single destination for them liberated her to finally relax and truly enjoy the precious, small moments they were creating together.  By living in the now, she discovered that more wonderful little nows were quick to follow.

Not feeling the usual pressure from her that had scared him and caused him to push her away, he was able to let her in.  He told her things he’d never told her before, and appreciated her in ways he hadn’t before.  When a personal and professional crisis that had been looming in his life finally exploded, he discovered in her a best friend, confidant, and trusted adviser.  She was his quiet support and his tender comfort.  They agreed that if they could weather his storm together, they could tackle anything…

So, are you wondering how the story ended?  Are you wondering if they got their happy-ever-after?

Well, the truth is, I don’t know yet.  Because this love story is mine.

It is the story of me and James, and it’s far from over.   It’s not perfect, and yet it is.  We will still argue, because we are human.  We are both still terrified of getting hurt or left or humiliated.  We know we have a lot of hurdles in front of us in order to create something sustainable and healthy, but — for once — we’re talking openly about our fears and trying to support and understand each other.   Who knows if we’ll be able to stay on this track, but I have more confidence in us than I have ever had before.  And, I honestly don’t spend a lot of time trying to figure out our future right now.  The present is just right — even with the tough stuff — that I am simply grateful to watch each moment unfold.  Some romances are nice and neat and easy; ours is not.  But is it real and it is beautiful to me.

I awoke recently to find him sleeping next to me, breathing softly and holding my hand tightly.  I rolled over and looked at his peaceful face and felt, as I always do, my heart skip a small beat.

I don’t know what our ending will be, but this, my friends, is my happy new beginning.

swans

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I need patience and I need it now

Sunday, at yoga, the teacher instructed us to set an intention for our practice that day — specifically, she asked that we each focus on something that we need this holiday season.  As I stood, eyes closed and hands over my heart, I knew immediately what I wanted — patience.

My life is currently in a space of flux.  Typically, for me, this happens with lightning speed.  Life changes are not dithered over in my world.  I make a decision, I execute said decision, and I move forward.  Simple as that.

Except when it’s not all in my control. Then it often comes To. A. Screeching. Halt.

Right now there are a couple areas of my life that require a measure of patience and acceptance that does not come easily to me.  In one area, I am only partly responsible for the outcome, and in the other, I have no say whatsoever.  In either case, I cannot rush to the conclusion.  I cannot extract a guaranteed outcome.  I cannot peek into the future and get a hint of what lies ahead.

No, I simply have to be patient.

Which isn’t simple at all.

I found myself last night lecturing my 9-year-old about patience as she was whining that she absolutely, positively CANNOT wait until Christmas morning to see what Santa is bringing her.  She had herself all worked up into a grumpy mood because she is terribly worried that she won’t get her heart’s desire (an electric scooter) on Christmas morning.  And so, as every good mother does, I lectured her on the value of enjoying the journey — in this case, the Christmas season — and not rushing through it to get to the end.  I reminded her that this is her favorite time of the year, what with all the yummy treats, the Christmas carols, the decorations (nothing Bryn loves more than a little bling all over the house), and the delicious anticipation of Christmas morning. I was able to smooth her cranky mood, and we cuddled in the big chair, watching a favorite Christmas movie.

But after putting her to bed (“What are you grateful for tonight, Bryn?”  “Christmas, of course!”), I fixed myself a cup of steaming tea and reflected on how hard it really is to follow the advice I had so blithely delivered to my daughter.  It is so very easy to believe in the concept of The Journey Rather Than the Destination, and so much harder to live it every day.  “If only someone would tell me it was going to end well, then I could enjoy the waiting time,” we lament.  But that defeats the purpose, does it not?  The whole idea — the whole challenge — of embracing the journey is to do so without certainty in the outcome.  Learning to relish the moments as they come, as an end in and of themselves, rather than simply a means to another conclusion, that’s supposedly the elusive secret to happiness, right?

Reflecting on my advice to her, I was made aware of how much I would be missing were I to give into the anxiety and fear surrounding the potential outcomes to the unresolved parts of my life.  I can easily imagine my stomach in knots and my throat constricted as I, like my daughter, hold too tightly to my fear that I will not achieve my own heart’s desire.  Indeed, earlier this weekend, I briefly felt irritable and out of sorts, possibilities and scenarios swirling around in my head.  But I quickly snapped out of it. Because, as we all know in the logical parts of our brain,  no amount of  fussing and worrying will  promote anything beneficial; indeed, it could wreck the only pieces over which I have any control.  My head knows, with complete certainty, that the only positive path lies through the door marked “Patience.”

I know this, but it still pisses me off sometimes.

Sometimes we just have to wait and see.

As a rule, I am terrible at waiting and seeing.  But the alternative for me at this point is to ruin my favorite time of the year (and possibly more) by being grouchy over issues beyond my complete control.  And I would once again be sacrificing what could be wonderful, precious moments to nothing more than speculative fears.

So, instead, I am focused on being present and patient.  I know from past experience that sometimes the slowest moments afford the sweetest memories.  I have been grounding myself in the conscious decision to be present in all the preciousness unfolding around me right now… Christmas cards to friends I haven’t had contact with all year, a holiday party with work colleagues that are my only reason for smiling during the work day, snuggles in front of the fire with my girls as we catch up on each others’ days, and special moments with friends that remind me what’s important to me and why.  All of this, I would be missing if I were caught in the anxiety and insecurity of the unknown outcome.

Perhaps this contentedness is nothing more than borrowed time and in a few weeks or a month, I will be sad and frustrated by the outcomes as they play out.  But perhaps not.  And until or unless that happens, I refuse to relinquish my Christmastime to anticipating such sadness.  If it is to happen that way, it will.  But at least I’ll have some nice days in the meantime.  And if it doesn’t happen that way — if all that is churning along resolves itself positively — then I won’t have to look back on this short period as I do so many others and castigate myself for foolishly rushing past the wonder of the in-between to get to the endgame.

Whether your anticipation rests on the delivery of presents by a jolly man in a red suit or something a little less legendary, patience can be very, very difficult.  But it can also give birth to some pretty special moments to cherish, no matter what.

patience2

Video bonus: If you’re old enough to remember this song, you might be surprised at how well it’s held up.  Enjoy….

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how to write a love letter, by Johnny Cash

In the course of my life, I have been the privileged recipient of many love letters.  Some so tender they are heart-breaking, others so sweet they made me tingle, and still others so suggestive, I involuntarily blushed while reading them.  But the best — always and without exception — were the ones that were short and simple and devastating in their sincerity.

This morning, I was rendered dumbstruck — truly, mouth gaping, breath holding, eyes wide — when I read two love letters written by Johnny Cash for his wife, June Carter Cash.  They were published by Letters of Note, a blog that is something of an altar to the written word, in all of its power and beauty.

You might remember John and June’s love story as portrayed in the film, “Walk the Line,” and you probably assumed that the love story was embellished for Hollywood’s sake, but you’d be mostly wrong.  June Carter blew him away from the beginning and Johnny Cash didn’t stand a chance of getting over her.  Despite being married, despite being a screw-up and an addict, when love hit Johnny Cash over the head, he knew it and he was utterly powerless in its wake.  For a certified bad-ass, it’s especially touching how vulnerable he was to his feelings for this woman.

I think that John’s letter to June on her 65th birthday in June 1994 is so perfect that I hesitate to dissect it too much, lest I disturb its beauty.  I think I would love it no matter what, but I am fiercely attached to it because John composed it as an ode, not to a young woman, unblemished by time or nature, but to an older woman whose spirit and soul continued to shine and entrance him.

Letter courtesy of House of Cash, from Letters of Note.

Letter courtesy of House of Cash, as posted by Letters of Note.

Sigh.

The second letter is bittersweet, having been written just a couple of months after June’s death in 2003.  Its simplicity conveys so much —  grief, and loss, and yearning.

June's an angel

Letter courtesy of House of Cash, as posted by Letters of Note.

John died two months after writing this note, four short months after June.  Their children expressed surprise that he lasted that long without her.

Do you suppose that June Carter Cash knew what she had?  Do you suppose that by the time they got together (he’d been married once and she multiple times), she understood how rare and priceless a connection such as theirs is? Do you suppose that she loved him back just as much?

Looking at this photo, I’d say the answer to all is a definite “yes.”

John and June

Photo courtesy of via.

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the heart wants what it wants (or why love doesn’t always make sense)

I had a conversation with a friend recently about how the heart seems to have a mind of its own.  It yields when we want it to remain strong and resolute, clings when our brain is clamoring that there is no hope, and refuses admittance to some people who seem to be a really good fit.  For centuries, poets and balladeers have struggled to make sense of the unpredictability of the heart, while psychologists and social scientists have attempted to explain and understand its irrationality.  But I don’t think anyone has figured it out yet.

When “Pete” and I broke up last month, he (and other, well-meaning, male friends) attempted to convince me of the reasons why we belonged together.  These reasons consisted primarily of apparent similarities in our present lives, family structures, and goals.  They were concrete, they were rational, and they were the kinds of similarities on which online dating algorithms rely heavily.  I listened quietly to Pete (and those friends), and noticed that how I felt did not seem to enter into the equation.  The fact that my feelings toward Pete had changed as a result of the natural evolution of learning more about him and us seemed almost irrelevant.  The facts and evidence of our suitability were there and acknowledged and so, it seemed, should trump any reservations my heart was expressing.  In fact, at one point I even said to Pete, “Love is a matter of the heart, not the mind.”  To which he replied, “I don’t think that’s always true.”

I had a more visceral and emotionally aggressive reaction to his words than many people probably would, because, for me, that was an important and clear demonstration of how differently we approach relationships and think about love.  I do not expect love to be practical.  I do not expect love to be a matter of adding a column of numbers and reaching an immutable conclusion.   I see dating as gathering qualitative, not just quantitative, data about how we fit (or don’t).  The greatest loves of my life were amazing qualitative fits and seemed completely wrong for me quantitatively.

I think of quantitative similarities as the kinds of things you might find on someone’s “life resume” — cultural upbringing, religious background, education, relationship experience, socio-economic status, parenting style, geographic proximity, level of professional attainment, etc.  Qualitative elements might include outlook on life, values, dreams, physical attraction, curiosity about the other person or the broader world, or a sense of relating to someone on a “soul” level instead of or in addition to an intellectual level, etc.  When couples share quantitative similarities, they seem to line up and “fit” in ways that are obvious and identifiable to almost anyone.  These couples make sense to us.  Successful couples who do not share quantitative similarities are often considered “opposites” and we lump them into the “Opposites Attract” adage.  I would argue that they are likely not true opposites, but that they share commonalities that are not as easily perceived to outsiders.

But the heart doesn’t always make sense, and I would argue that no one falls in love –truly, madly, deeply in love — with their partner’s quantitative traits.  I do understand that most people are attracted to people who are similar to themselves in these ways, but I don’t think those similarities alone constitute love.  They contribute to comfort, companionship, understanding, and ease.  But you can have all those things and still not have love.   I think that people who have both similar life resumes and a deep and abiding love often point to the quantitative data to show their compatibility because that is more easily explained and understood, even though it is actually the qualitative elements that bind them so tightly.

But regardless of what is true for others, my heart knows what it wants, and I have learned the hard way that to allow my brain veto power over my heart is disastrous for all involved.

I have met many, many men in my life whom I’ve wished I’d felt more for.  Men who were good, practical, honest men but whom I absolutely did not want to wake up next to every morning forever.  Sometimes, my heart will play along for a while, seeming to appreciate or warm to a guy who appears to be a good fit on paper.  And my brain cheers and crows victoriously.  But soon enough, my heart sheepishly admits that it simply isn’t real, and my brain rages at the heart’s apparent unwillingness to get with the general program.  But my heart persists, unfazed by my brain’s tantrums.

I’ve also spent many sad moments begging my heart to relinquish its attachment to men with whom a future is not possible.  As I’ve written before, it took me 4 years to get over Parker… to stop using him as the measure for every other man I dated.  Four long and mostly lonely years when my heart whimpered and pouted and cried out for him, even as my brain forced us on lots of dates and through a couple of meaningless relationships.

I guess I simply do not believe that we can force ourselves to love someone anymore than we can force ourselves to stop loving someone.  We love who we love, whether we should or not.

I think, to a very large extent, this is true for most of us.  Our heart wants what it wants, and then we cite the quantitative data to support that decision so that it feels more rational and right to us.  I also think that, for many people, the quantitative data lines up more neatly and more consistently than it does for me.  For instance, I was a lawyer.  A lot of lawyers enjoy relationships with similarly educated and/or employed mates.  I’m sure this is because most of the people who choose my profession are somewhat similar in nature.  But here’s the kick for me — not one of my close friends from law school is married to anyone remotely similar to them in profession.  In fact, my two best friends from law school are married to a Broadway producer and a sales manager, respectively.  This is not surprising to us because we three were very dissimilar from most of our law school classmates.  We were slightly odd, slightly different.  And it is those differences that speak loudly in relationship contexts, I think.  On the flip side, I have friends who are much more representative of their chosen fields of endeavor and they do seem to select people who quantitatively match them.

So, when someone argues with me over why I should or should not love someone, I find it pretty perplexing.  Am I not an intelligent, emotionally-aware woman capable of understanding and expressing my feelings and desires?  I am not particularly impulsive, nor overly judgmental of minor faults, but I do know what I value, what my dealbreakers are, and how I want to feel in a relationship.  Are those not a good enough basis to make a decision without facing an appeal that is, to be honest, a bit patronizing? And furthermore, I would absolutely, positively never want to be with someone that I had to convince to be with me.  Sure, it’s tempting to make those arguments, but if you persevere, what have you really won?  Reluctant love? Love by forfeit?  Don’t we all deserve more than that?

And what of our friends who are still aching for a love that is no more?  Why do we expect them to simply “get over it”?  Why do we value the ability to forget so easily what we once thought so special? Maybe we, as outsiders, don’t value their love as they do, but does that even matter?

Time and experience are great teachers.  They have the power to guide us gently and tenderly into great love, and they have the power to eventually guide us out, as well.  They alone influence our hearts, I believe.  Not our minds, not our friends, not our life resumes.  They abide by no rules or algorithms.  They follow no trend or dictate.  And if it were any other way, love would be far less special, far less rare, and far less magical.

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