Category Archives: love

please welcome our newest member

Last week I went to a concert with a woman I have known for 5 years and not spent more than 5 minutes alone with.  She emailed me, pretty much out of the blue, and asked if I’d like to go to this concert with her.  Her daughter had told her how much I love music (I’m famous among my daughters’ friends for playing my music loud and often and encouraging sing-a-longs in the car), so she thought of me when she realized she had an extra ticket.

Hmmmm…..

Turns out that was only half the story.

On the evening that we sat on the lawn, dining on Noodles & Co. prior to the show, she confided that she and her husband had just separated two weeks ago.  She had been in full agreement on the separation, but he had now announced that he wanted a divorce, and fast.  She was adjusting and processing all this information and her situation.  A whole new life was in front of her and she had lots of questions.  So, of course, since I was pretty much the first of our acquaintance to go through this (and therefore a veteran, right?), she called me.

I looked at my new friend (whom I’ll call “Gwen”), and was struck by the gulf of experience that lay between us.  She was mildly frightened, tentatively hopeful, and completely unaware of the emotional war zone she was about to wade into.  Gwen is a very intelligent, compassionate woman with two children and an 18-year marriage coming to a close.  She is not patently naive nor foolish, but it is nearly impossibly to appreciate what awaits you in Divorceland before you enter it.

I listened as she explained how it had come about and what their circumstances are now.  I saw her fervent hope that somehow this would be civil and they could still be friends, and I heard her enormous reluctance to do anything whatsoever that might anger her soon-to-be-ex-husband and threaten that future possibility of friendship.  I gently shared some basic framework of the road ahead and reminded her that she cannot control him or his feelings, and to take care of herself.

I didn’t share the ugly details of how disappointing it is to see your former spouse morph into someone you neither know nor respect.  I didn’t tell her how painful it can be to watch your children acclimate to their new normal.  I didn’t dismay her with tales of dating woes. Because she didn’t need to hear all of that.  She’ll find out soon enough.  Perhaps hers will be the divorce that is truly and completely amicable.  Maybe her children won’t struggle and dating won’t take the wind out of her.  Maybe, maybe, maybe.

Regardless, her future was not to be altered by my words, and I didn’t want it determined by them, either.

She relayed to me how someone close to her had cynically told her how horrible her separation and divorce were going to be and how foolish she was for thinking it could be otherwise.  My heart went out to her and I assured her that her story would be hers and her husband’s alone.  Not mine, not her other friend’s, not anyone else’s mattered.  Because that’s the truth, isn’t it?

Yes, divorce sucks.  There’s not much good to recommend the whole process.  But this is where she is now and scaring her silly is only going to make her situation worse.  None of us make our best decisions out of fear, so the longer she can avoid that particular zone, the better off she is. The other side — when she finally gets there — will be much better than where she is now.  But, damn, is there a lot of muck between here and there.  It’s kind of like having a baby:  if you really knew the pain of labor without the joy of the newborn, you might not have gotten pregnant that first time.  And the hard fact is that Gwen is already pregnant with her divorce proceedings.  There’s no going back.  Better to just hold her hand and remind her to breathe through it.

As the sun set and the opening act warmed up the audience, we talked about what her life might be like when it was all over.  I made her laugh and kept her focused on the possibilities in front of her.  She told me how much better she was feeling, and I was glad. We talked about the importance of female friendships and the need for community when going through something life-changing like this.

In the week since then, we’ve exchanged a few emails and I have noticed things that take me back to when I was newly separated.  The plot is so much the same, even if the story is unique.

Sometimes I am still surprised to realize that I am divorced — “What?!  When did that happen?!” — but then I look around me and the events of the last 3 1/2 years come rushing up to my consciousness and I remember that at some point, I joined this club.  It’s a strange club.  No one ever wants to join, or imagines that they will be a member someday.  And yet here we are.  Moving forward, glancing back, pushing on.

And reminding each other to breathe.

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

volunteer dads

Photo credit: Boulder Daily Camera.

When I was in kindergarten, I was a Bluebird.   It was a junior-level Campfire Girl, like a Brownie is for the Girl Scouts, but with blue uniforms and sashes.  I was abundantly proud of my uniform and of being part of my troop.  As a freckly-faced, redheaded, adopted, only child, with the only single parent in the whole school, fitting in did not come easily for me at that time, to say the least.

Our troop met at Mrs. Longo’s house for our meetings, where we would have the kinds of sugary snacks that my mom didn’t allow, then play games and do crafts.  It was all very exciting and grown-up, I thought.

One day, Mrs. Longo announced that our troop would be having a Father/Daughter Picnic. Everyone was very excited, but I was perplexed.  My dad had died before my first birthday, and I was uncertain of the protocol around a Father/Daughter picnic when one didn’t have a father.  I sat for a moment, feeling sad and confused and then had a great idea.  I approached Mrs. Longo and asked if my mom’s boyfriend could escort me to the Father/Daughter Picnic.  It made perfect sense to me.  He’d been with my mom for several years and was a lot of fun and liked me a whole lot.  I felt sure he’d be up for the job.

Mrs. Longo looked me, tilted her head quizzically to one side, and said, “But it’s a picnic for daddies and their little girls.  I don’t think boyfriends are the same thing, do you?”

Nearly 40 years later, I can still remember the way her brown hair was styled (in a 1960’s-style flip, even though it was 1974), the color of the carpeting in her den (burnt orange), and the way my mouth went suddenly dry.  “No,” I said clearly.  Then I turned around and walked out of the den, into the foyer, where I retrieved my little school bag, and then straight out the front door and the 1/2 mile home.  When I got home to my mother, I calmly explained what had happened.  And then I never went back to Bluebirds.

Some of us didn’t have the luxury of the kind of dad who married our mom, got her pregnant, and raised us.  When my birth mother sprung the news of my impending arrival on my birth father, she was met with a stammering confession that he actually already had a wife and four kids living in another state.  So much for  our happily ever after.

My adoptive parents certainly loved me, and my adoptive father didn’t want to die, but that was his destiny, and nobody could change it.  He left an amazing legacy a mile wide and twice as deep, but nonetheless, he is someone I know only through photos and related stories.  I wish I had had the good fortune to have known him, but our lives intersected for such a brief time, I can’t really say that I do.

But I was one of the lucky ones.  One after another, men lined up to fill the void.  To assume the role and all its attendant responsibilities.  My bear-like grandfather with his burly chest and loud bark, who allowed the six-year-old me to put rollers in his remaining hair and take pictures of it.   My mom’s boyfriend, Van, who taught me to build the best snowmen (and ladies — his even had boobs), and read me the Sunday comics in different voices for all the characters.  Countless uncles who doted on me and gave me advice and told me I was pretty and smart and wonderful.

And then, finally, there was my dad.  Insane enough to volunteer for the job when I was 13 and in real danger of becoming a bitchy, know-it-all teenager, he didn’t just tolerate my presence in his relationship with my mom, he embraced it.  He has told me, on more than one occasion, that he didn’t marry my mom in spite of me, but — in large part — because of me.   “You deserved to have a dad, and I knew I could be that for you, ” he told me a couple of years ago.

My dad didn’t tell me what to think, he taught me to think for myself, even when it meant that we had bitter political arguments.  He didn’t tell me what to do, he showed me how to make good decisions.  He taught me about consequences and apologies and changing a flat tire and cooking a cream sauce without burning it.  He gave me solid, honest advice about men, and never judged me for the unworthy ones — “All part of the learning experience,” he’d say.  During my first month of college, he sent me a box of condoms and pamphlets about AIDS and STDs  (I became the Safe Sex Dispensary for my dorm floor…), and after my separation, he sent me a care package of tools and related DIY books, because “Every single mom has to take care of herself.”  And when people tell me that I’m a lady, I know that it’s his influence they’re seeing.

When he left my mom, he refused to leave me.  I was confused, and angry, and would have let him go, but he stayed in touch, even when it fueled my mom’s anger and cost him in more ways than one.  As the years went by he continued to introduce me as his daughter, and kept me in his will (even over my step-brother’s strenuous objections), and wrote me long letters in his perfect penmanship about the books he was reading and the boats he was sailing.

We have talked plainly and openly about the irony of our relationship and how it confounds a lot of people.  But to us, it makes sense.  I am his daughter and he is my dad.

I opened my local paper today and discovered an editorial opinion piece poached from the Seattle Times — my dad’s local paper — along with the cartoon drawing posted here.  And I took a moment to be thankful for all the men along the way who worked extra hard to make sure I know what it means to have a father.  To all of them, wherever they are now, I say thank you from the deepest, darkest parts of my heart.  Not every guy will sign on to change the life of a little girl who is not even his own, but the ones who do re-define “Dad.”

Here’s the op-ed piece:

It’s Also the Day to Remember the Fathers Who Stepped In.

Happy Father’s Day.

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Filed under love, men, parenthood, single mom

first crush

Yesterday afternoon my 11-year-old daughter, Sabrina, returned from three days of wilderness camp with the 5th-grade.  She perched on the Tiffany-blue stool in my bathroom as I sprawled on the floor, tools in hand, replacing the guts of my toilet tank.  I expected a play-by-play rundown about camp, but she answered my questions obliquely and distractedly.

And then it was revealed that something else entirely was on her mind.

A boy.

Turns out my little girl arrived at her dad’s a week ago to discover that a boy she likes, whom we’ll call “Justin,” had called a day or two earlier to ask her to play tennis. They take tennis lessons together each week and have known each other distantly since they were toddlers.  Since she’d been at my house that week and her dad was clueless that this boy was anything special, he’d  simply asked Jay to call back another time.  Which he didn’t.  And poor Sabrina was beside herself today, a week later, when she returned to my house.   I struggled with the wrench as Sabrina laid out for me her worries.

Sabrina: Mom, what if he doesn’t really like me and he was just bored?  And what if, since I didn’t call him back, he asked the new girl in our class to play instead and now he likes her?! (She is kinda pretty….)  Or what if he does like me but he thinks I don’t like him because I didn’t call back right away and so he’s given up on me?  Ugh!!!

Poor Sabrina is in the throes of her first real crush.  We talked about Jay and what it is that she likes about him (“he’s smart and goofy and funny”), and what she wants with him (“just to hang out with him and be his friend and maybe later when we’re older, he can be my boyfriend”).

Out of the corner of my eye, I watched her rocking back and forth on the stool, face anxious, brow furrowed.  And I was struck by how our wants and our fears never really change.  No matter the age, we basically just want to be near that person — to share space with them and know more about them and feel the warmth of their attention on us.  And we worry about the unknowns —  Does he love me?  Does he love someone else more?  Will he love me tomorrow?  Does he know I love him?

So we tackled her concerns one at a time:  1) He wouldn’t have called to spend time with her if he didn’t like her; 5th grade boys don’t spend time with girls that they don’t like.  2) When we really like someone, we don’t change our mind in the span of a week, even at that age, and even if he did play tennis with the new girl, he might not end up liking her nearly as much as he likes Sabrina, because finding someone we really like is never easy.  3)  He probably does think that she’s not particularly interested in seeing him outside of tennis class, and I explained that it was her turn to call him back, acknowledge his phone call and see if he’d still like to play.  She visibly blanched at the idea, but I reminded her that she wasn’t having to ask him cold — he’d already taken the first step toward her and indicated that he’d like to be her friend.  She hesitantly agreed to the logic of that.   And then —

S — Maybe I should just ask him if he likes me.

Me — No, you won’t have to.  If he likes you, he’ll want to keep spending time with you.  You’ll know soon enough.  What he tells you won’t reveal nearly as much as how he behaves. He might not even know how to answer that.  He’s only 11.

S — But I just. want. to. know.now!

Me — <sighing>  I know sweetie.  Boy, do I know.

I withheld the obligatory and unhelpful lecture about how that feeling never changes and how she will be saddled with those uncertainties for the duration of her dating career, but I couldn’t help but wonder at how many variations on this precise conversation I’ve probably had in my life.  How much effort and energy do we expend toward trying to figure out the heart of another?

I also found that I was providing her with the same advice that I give myself (with varying degrees of success):  You can’t worry about that other girl or how he sees her; you can only be the best version of you and if he can’t see how amazing that is, or if it’s not what he wants, then that’s only his problem.   She received this advice with the same skepticism I sometimes feel when staring into the black hole of insecurity.  In fact, as she rolled her eyes, I couldn’t help but sympathize.

In the end, we agreed to obtain Jay’s phone number from her dad’s tennis club directory and Sabrina will call him for a friendly game of tennis.  I promised her I would help script her proposal so that she wouldn’t flub it.  She seemed satisfied with that resolution, but I could tell that it still sat heavily with her through dinner.

And she wasn’t alone.  I felt the heaviness of a different kind:  the realization that we had crossed yet another threshold on this journey to adulthood.  Somewhere in our shared future, she will revel in the soaring, overwhelming buoyancy of first love and the stunning, scintillating experience of sex.  She will discover new facets to herself and see her strengths and failings reflected back in the eyes of someone she wants to think her perfect.  And she will also suffer rejection and a broken heart and the disillusionment of the end of a fairytale.  All of these things are inevitable.  All of these things are life.

At this point, I am grateful that she so freely confides in me and allows me some entry into the affairs of her small, innocent heart.  I hope that this is always the case, but I know that in all likelihood, it will not be.  For now, though, I will do my very best to guide her, and protect her, and catch her, as she moves headlong toward the discovery of why crushes are called crushes.

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Filed under general musings, love, parenthood, relationships, single mom

elevator wisdom

My mother has a boyfriend.  It seems odd to say that of a 73-year-old woman, but what else do you call a man she’s dated for the last 10 years, but isn’t married to and doesn’t live with?  So, “boyfriend” it is.

But really, he’s a member of our family.  I’ll call him “Ted.”  Ted is a wonderful man:  kind, generous to a fault, patient, gentle, but also a “guy’s guy” who has slowed down athletically only because time has insisted upon it.  Ted is like a father to me and a grandfather to my children, and my ex-husband admitted that he was sad to lose Ted in the divorce.  I’d have been, too, if I were him.

Every year, my girls and I vacation in Cancun for a week with Ted and my mom.  It is Ted’s gift to my family, and we all look forward to all year long.  Coming from a land-locked state, my girls have grown up with those white sands and turquoise waters as their beach, and I have relished the giving them that experience.

Ted and I had an instant rapport.  We have some obvious commonalities — similar education, being an only child, same sense of humor — but, more importantly, we just seem to “get” each other.  There is an understanding there that has bound us together for many years now, facing my mother’s health crises, my divorce, his daughter’s addictions.  Despite our difference in age, we give each other advice, and respect it more than either of us does from most people.

One day when we were in Cancun a year and a half ago, I was struggling.  I’d awoken that morning from difficult dreams highlighting the hard choices I’d made recently with regard to my marriage, my children, my work… I felt lost and wondered if I was rushing headlong to disaster.

We were all sitting by the pool late that morning, when Ted announced that he was returning to his villa to retrieve his sun hat.  I took the opportunity to accompany him inside and check my email at my own villa.  As we stepped into the elevator, Ted turned to me, looked me squarely in the eye, and began speaking as if he were resuming a conversation we’d just paused in.  He said this:

Here’s the thing.  My dad wasn’t the smartest guy about some things, but every once in a while, he was pretty wise.  And he used to tell me that once a choice is made, there’s no going back, only forward.  Any choice can seem like a bad one in hindsight, and any choice can seem like a good one.  It depends on how you’re determined to see it.  The trick, he’d say, is to stop thinking of it as a choice once it’s made.  The guessing, the thinking, the analyzing, all that is over.  The choice isn’t a choice anymore; it’s a decision.  Treat it like a foregone conclusion or a mandate from God or however you have to think of it, but don’t look back, only forward.  Seek the opportunities hidden in it and remain open to the possibilities.  Second-guessing will only slow you down, and you’ll especially need the forward momentum if it really was a bad choice.  No matter.  It’s done.  Just look ahead and keep moving.  Okay, here’s my place.  See you down at the pool.

And then he exited the elevator, and I was left, mouth agape, wondering how in the world he’d known what I was struggling with that morning.

Ted was right, of course, and I’ve thought about his words often in the time since.  It’s so easy to play the “what if” game with the benefit of additional information and experience and wisdom, but where does it get us really?  Reflection from a distance can be useful, definitely, but not when it stalls our progress.  Not when it mires us in self-doubt and uncertainty that is likely borne more of fear and insecurity than of a truly rationale evaluation of our earlier decision.  If a decision was truly wrong, we usually know it immediately and can correct our course in that short timeframe.  Revisiting an old decision is usually nothing more than a way to give power to our fears.  Most of us make good decisions, for us, for that moment.  They may not take us where we’d thought they would, but they probably take us where we need to be.

Ted’s advice was exactly what I needed to hit my internal reset button and push past the moribund wallowing in which I was engaging.  Relinquishing the weight of self-doubt and second-guessing frees up so much energy and stamina and clarity to identify and tackle the good stuff that might be just around the corner.

Plus, it gives me time to try and figure out how Ted managed to frame and solve my emotional crisis in the span of a 5-floor elevator ride…..

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

moments

I started my morning today with a friend who told me the story of a man she’d recently met in a local photo shop.  They started talking cameras and ended up talking about friendship.  It was one of those simple moments in which we make a connection with a perfect stranger that stays with us, even days later.  Not a romantic connection, but the kind of connection in which there is a recognition of a similar way of thinking, of a similar wanting in this world, of a similar desire for human connectedness.  Some might call it a soul connection.

As I drove to work, my mind played with the kinds of moments I’ve shared with strangers.  Some are very simple, others life-changing.  In some of those moments, I am convinced that the other person shared the experience, but in others, I suspect that I passed through their life with little impression or impact.  That doesn’t, of course, make those moments any less special to me.

Hours later, driving home from work, a song cycled through my iPhone and I was reminded of one such moment that I shared with a man, 20 years ago.  At that time I was barely 23-years-old, working in the British music industry, promoting artists to radio and television outlets.  It was late afternoon on an early summer day, and I was backstage at a radio station-sponsored charity concert, supporting one of our acts.   They finished and filed off the stage, grumbling about their performance (and granted, it wasn’t their best).  I murmured words of encouragement and offered hugs, then turned to follow them out of the stage area.  As we moved, single-file, the next band was coming on, single-file next to us in the narrow, short hallway.  From a short distance, I made eye contact with the other band’s singer.  We locked eyes, holding the gaze as he walked past me, so close I could smell him and see the flecks in his eyes.  As I passed, I craned my neck to hold his gaze, and he managed to turn himself completely around in the tight space, guitar in hand, watching me move away from him until his bandmate shoved him onto the stage.  As he struck the first chords on his guitar, my colleagues and I stepped out the door, into the blinding sunlight, and away from him.  I’d never seen him before, and I never saw him again.  But 20 years later, I still remember that moment.

Now remember, I was a young American girl in the British music industry who favored body-hugging catsuits and thigh-high boots.  Turning heads backstage was not an uncommon occurrence in those days.  But that moment was different.  Deeper.  Special somehow. What was it about him that arrested me in that moment? It wasn’t his good looks; he actually wasn’t the physical type I went for back then, and I’d never given him a second thought, despite the fact that his band was splashed all over magazines and tv in Britain at that time.  No, as I looked into his eyes, I felt something different… a pull… a desire to sit and talk to and know this person.  Likewise, in his eyes, I saw not the simple, hot, predatory hunger of lust that I was used to, but a kind of…. recognition… surprise… attraction. Later, his band skyrocketed to fame and had two gigantic hits stateside after my return.  But to me, he’s always been a pair of hazel eyes in a dim hallway.

Life is made richest by those precious, unexpected moments of connection.  Some are shared with people we already love, when we discover a new intersection of understanding or shared passion.  Others — and in many ways these are the more delightful — are shared with people we barely know.  They are reminders of interconnectedness, of the fact that we are not alone in this universe, small islands merely bumping into each other as we navigate the physical world.

I have very few of these moments these days.  My life is so constructed as to limit the opportunities for me to meet new and dynamic people.   Sometimes when I think of how many of those moments I experienced in my 20’s, I want to go back and shake that young woman.  I want to tell her how much rarer those moments become as we age.  I want to yell at her to turn around and talk to that young man backstage, to wait for his set to end and him to come find her.  I want to inform her that those are the moments that change our lives.

Then again, my life in my 20’s was very different.  When I was living in England, I was surrounded by artists of all kinds — musicians, actors, painters.  Their way of looking at the world challenged me and pushed the limits of my creativity.  I spent most nights in nightclubs and recording studios, often not arriving home until noon the next day.  When I gave that up, I plunged myself headfirst into law school.  Again, I was surrounded by people who pushed me, scared me with their intellect, and forced me to debate and defend my beliefs.  Those two periods of my life were very different in so many ways, but shared a vital similarity:  I was open and curious and hungry for the world around me in my 20’s.

In some ways, I am still that young girl.  I am still emotionally and intellectually curious.  I am still intrigued and arrested by dynamic people who can blow me away in one fashion or another.  But age has bred caution, and knowledge, and a certain disappointment in human limitations.

Even so, every once in a while, I am still blessed with one of those perfect moments.  And now, the awareness of their rarity makes them all more sweeter.

Someone asked me today what I want most right now.

Moments.  I want moments.

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Filed under friendships, general musings, happy endings, love, personal growth, relationships, single mom

thomas murray, epilogue

I have been waiting to write this post until the sad missives stopped arriving, and I believe that day has finally come.  The stream of emails to my inbox from hurt or deceived women has ceased.  Jenni is healing and has moved on.  Our blogging community proved itself capable of surrounding and protecting our own.  Thomas Murray, and all his ridiculous, self-aggrandizing attempts at dazzling (and possibly victimizing) women searching for their heart’s love, is a pathetic chapter I will be glad to close.

But not without some final words.

Sometime ago I received an email from a woman I will call “Kay.”  I am choosing to relate her story here because it demonstrates that Thomas’ approaches and avenues are varied and adaptable.  Kay, like a lot of women, found my Thomas Murray posts through a Facebook friend who had also had dealings with Thomas at some point in the past. (Is it just me or are there an exhausting number of such women?!  How in God’s name does he keep track? I’m envisioning a massive Excel spreadsheet…)

But I digress.

Thomas contacted Kay via Yahoo Personals sometime in 2006, using an alias of “Noah.”  She was living in Texas; he in Oklahoma.  She had no idea he was married, and they began “a whirlwind romance.”  She shared some of his loving and romantic phrases with me, and they were easily recognizable as his trademark “love bombing” technique.  (One of my commentators coined that term and, frankly, I freaking love it.  Makes me smile every time….)  According to Noah/Thomas, he was divorced, with two sons, and his ex-wife worked for his mother in their family-owned cosmetic import/export business dealing with high-end department store cosmetic brands. [Note to liars:  pick something you know something about.  There is no import/export business for department store cosmetics.]

Fortunately for Kay, the “in-person” portion of their romance was abruptly interrupted when he told her that his company was relocating him to the Middle East to “stop bad people from doing bad things.”  (Btw, I’m laughing so hard right now I can barely type.  Oh, Thomas, you are nothing if not entertaining!)  They tried to stay in touch, but Kay decided that the relationship didn’t have enough to keep it going.  They agreed to be friends and that seemed to be the end of it.

Reality check:  Sometime in late 2006 or early 2007, Thomas and his family relocated to the Virgin Islands, where they purchased the small resort building that they currently own and manage.  So, unless the Iraqis surreptitiously invaded St. Thomas without the U.S. press or government noticing, it’s a pretty sure bet that he moved to paradise and not a war zone.  But more on his war zone activities later…

Fast forward to 2011: Kay and Thomas stayed occasional email friends over the years, until last spring, when their emails increased in frequency.  Kay reports that Thomas had dramatically changed in the years since she’d really known him, becoming more aggressive and bossy and critical.  She relates how he immediately began offering her “advice” concerning the improvements she needed to make in order to be worthy of him (for those of you keeping track of red flags, this is a big one).  She also noted that he had lost a great deal of weight, which he attributed to the injuries he’d suffered from being ambushed in the Middle East and taking on shrapnel.  Once again, I’m chuckling so hard typing is difficult… Thomas never was one to waste a perfectly good lie.  Might as well get as much mileage as possible out of it, I guess!  As a side note, Kay surmises that he actually had lap-band surgery in the intervening years, as his diet was consistent with the post-surgical maintenance recommended for that procedure.  I find this small point particularly hilarious, given Thomas’ brutal assault on others’ lack of self-discipline….  Guess we all need a little help once in a while, eh, Thomas?  It was also during this time that Thomas began pressuring Kay to meet him in….. <drumroll, please>….  beautiful, sunny Puerto Rico!  She declined, telling me that his “life coaching” had turned her off and she simply stopped communicating with him.

Lucky, lucky woman, no?

Kay, as well as others I heard from, commended Thomas’ excellent taste in women as his one redeeming quality.  I would like to second that sentiment.  Loudly.  I have heard from some very articulate, intelligent women whose email signatures suggest impressive professional achievements.  At least he has that going for him.  What a shame he’ll never be worthy of any of those women.

A final reminder:  Ladies, be careful.  Noah/The T/Thomas/Tommy… a chameleon changes his colors, but not his nature.  I don’t care what his name is, if he’s love bombing you and he’s never met you, proceed with extreme caution.  If he really thinks you’re amazing, you “feel like home” to him, and he’s never met anyone like you, he’s going to be willing to hang tough while he earns your trust. We’re grown-ups now; we have to take care of ourselves and each other.  The Thomases of this world are the “bad guys doing bad things.”  And, in a dogfight with those “bad guys,” my money is on the smart, determined woman every. single. time.

And on that note, I close the book on Thomas Murray.  Good riddance to bad rubbish.

The End.

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

always was

One cold January day in 2009, I sat in my therapist’s office and numbly contemplated the options before me.  I could leave my then-husband and break up my family.  I could stay and we could attempt couples’ counseling.  Or I could stay, not do couples counseling, and agree with my husband that it was all just a mid-life crisis that we could simply put behind us and resume life as (mostly) normal.  “Given our specific problems and their origins and duration,” I asked my therapist, “approximately how long will we have to do couples therapy before there would likely be any significant changes to our dynamic?”

She paused, obviously choosing her words carefully.  “Weekly intensive therapy with a real desire on both your parts’ to make progress… approximately 2 years… give or take.”

I think I just stared calmly at her at first.  My ears were ringing, my heart was pounding, and there was voice in my head screaming at the top of her lungs: “NOOOOO!!!  No way can I do this for 2 more years!  No way.  No how.  I won’t make it.  I swear I can’t do!”

Ultimately, I shook my head determinedly.  “No,” I said firmly.  “I don’t have enough left.  I just can’t do it anymore.”

The trouble with difficult relationship dynamics is that what we fear most is that things will be how they always were.  He will be who he always was.  I will be who I always was.  Nothing will change. What always was, will always be.

Always was is a powerful idea.

As a college advertising student, I was fascinated by the piles of psychological and sociological studies that confirmed, over and over again, in study after study after study, that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior.  This applies as much to the way that we handle communication in a relationship as to the kind of toothpaste we buy.  We humans are amazingly predictable; at least from a scientific standpoint.  We are animals who fall into comfortable patterns that we cling to, even if those patterns no longer serve us.  Unlike other animals, who mostly have no psychological attachment to their pattern, we cling to ours, pulling in denial, projection, and blame to defend them.

Later, as a law student, I spent lots of time contemplating the various rules of evidence barring admission of most previous crimes and behaviors, unless they have a direct and immediate baring on the case at hand.  I sympathized with juries infuriated to learn, after issuing a Not Guilty verdict, that the defendant had been charged or convicted multiple times for similar or identical offenses.  Even some of our most poorly educated citizens know that “if he’s done it before, he’s more likely to do it again.”

But, of course, it’s not always true.  What always was does not have to always be.

I wrote a whole post not too long entitled “can people change?” and I am a firm believer in our human ability to arrest a behavior or pattern that we no longer like about ourselves and change it.  People overcome horrible childhoods, abusive relationship choices, and personal addictions everyday.  But the real tough part about change is when the pattern involves not just our own behavior, but our partner’s, as well.  That partner — and his behavior — is the uncontrolled variable in the equation.  As every successful rehab program knows, changing the addicted individual only gets you so far, if the people and influences around her remain toxic or undermine her attempts toward positive growth, she is most likely to fail in her attempts to affect real and substantial and lasting change.

Likewise, if the individual simply changes her surroundings, but not herself, the likelihood of repeating previous patterns is also high.  I think a good example of this is the woman who moves from abusive relationship to abusive relationship, always thinking that the next guy will be “different,” without ever examining her own role in those choices or that abusive dynamic.  The next guy might indeed be “different,” but if she is the same, the outcome might be eerily similar if not downright identical.

For most of us, these triggers and patterns are more nuanced than an addiction or an abusive relationship.  They manifest as small patterns in our relationships… the way we retreat or attack when hurt… how we approach conflict… what we expect in terms of attention or affection or affirmation…  how controlling or passive we are… the list goes on and on.

I recently had reason to consider my fear of what always was in the context of remarrying.  Since my divorce, I have sworn, without reservation, that I will not remarry.  Not because I am opposed to marriage as an institution, or because I don’t believe in commitment, or because of some feminist ideal, but because I came to fundamentally dislike who I was when I was married.  I see clearly the things I did wrong in my marriage, my contributions to its failing, and the woman I became during that time.  By the time I left my marriage, I didn’t really like her anymore.  She was scared and closed off and depressed and impatient and fatalistic about things.  She had sacrificed the best parts of herself to the altar of his criticisms and was left empty because of it, moving through a life that felt lonely and meaningless.  I don’t ever, ever, ever want to be that woman again.  But, I am afraid that what I always was then, is what I would always be the next time.

I watch with some degree of envy as other women assume that by trading out a mate, they are assured of creating a different outcome for their marital happiness.  I am not convinced that it is so easy.  True, the men I’ve dated since my divorce are almost complete opposites from my ex-husband in every way that matters, but that only accounts for half the equation, right?  What about me?  Have I changed enough to avoid all those old patterns?  Have I figured out alternative responses and behaviors for the triggers that made me so unhappy in my marriage?  Certainly a different partner will create a different environment and bring different trials and treasures to the table, but if I have not addressed my own dysfunctions, how will what always was no longer be?

And here’s what I realized:  I have done a ton of work on myself since my marriage ended.  I have no idea whether I would be the same person I used to be if I remarried, but if I’m really being honest with myself, I strongly doubt it. Not because of any particular partner I might someday share my life with, but because of me.  I have changed.  I’m no longer that woman I was and I can’t imagine letting her back in. Sure, I could hold onto that fear of what always was, and allow it choke away possibilities for my future, but that’s actually something that the old me would have done.  So freeing myself of that “always was” fear is yet another way to liberate myself from her influence. I have no idea if I’ll every marry again, but I guess it’s time to let go of that particular fear and acknowledge some of the progress I’ve made.  None of us gets any guarantees.  We can only do our best and keep trying to do better.

As for my ex-husband, we have now been separated for just over 3 years and he has been doing his own therapeutic work during that time.  He is also a different person than when we were married.  Could we be happily married to each other now, having both worked so hard on ourselves as individuals?  I don’t think so.  The fundamental differences in our personalities are still there and they grate in ways that are still so confounding and discouraging sometimes.  But we’re able to be pretty good friends to each other now, which might be all we ever should have been in the first place.  A few years ago, it was a friendship I might have wished for, but never really expected.

Yet another example that what always was doesn’t have to always be.

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Filed under dating, divorce, happy endings, love, marriage, personal growth, relationships

thomas murray: a cautionary tale

I suppose I have known for nearly a year that this post was coming, but a part of me hoped not.  Then again, I suffered through Mike Boot-Camp, so I guess I know a cad and a charlatan when I encounter one now.  Anticipating the inevitable destructive outcome is just part of the territory…

Pull up a seat and grab a glass of wine.  This is a long one, and you’ll need both.

At the end of April 2011, when James and I were briefly broken up, a man known online only as “T” began commenting on my blog with some very provocative comments.  I noticed and was surprised.  At that point, to my knowledge, I didn’t have a single male follower.  His first comment is here, on a post I wrote on April 24th, entitled “how’s that workin’ for ya?”  I’d never read his blog or known of him prior to his first comment, but I promptly visited his blog and was oddly intrigued.  At first, I couldn’t figure out if his hyper-testosterone bluster (his blog was called “Morning Wood”) and blatant self-promotion were real or tongue-in-cheek.  Most of his commentators were women, and I noticed immediately how they fawned on him, fought for his attention, and flirtatiously bolstered his ample ego.  Obviously, that was a little off-putting, but I was  new to the blogging world and unsure what to make of it.  “T” and I began trading blog comments, and then I received my first email from him, on April 29, 2011:

You know…Darling, I would never do anything to offend you…it’s not my style.  What you think actually means something to me when most of the time, I don’t care about most  people’s opinions.  You seem to read me a bit too easily…the best part of that?  I enjoy it…

Since we’re not on the forum of comments, I want to know…what bothered you..and yes…complete honesty works here…I have my ideas of what could have done it, but I want it from you….

T.

Thus began an email and IM correspondence that lasted just over one week.  One tumultuous, heady, confusing week.  I became acquainted with “Thomas” and he attempted to romance me, to impress me, to lure me into his life.  All said, I received 57 emails from him, and sent nearly that many in return, along with 38 yahoo chats back and forth and 8 photos of him (all G-rated).  His attention was consistent and aggressive; his intent clear and unwavering:  he was looking for the love of his life and, just possibly, I was it.

His words were romantic and passionate:

…if nothing less, I’ve found someone who stimulates my thoughts and evokes the mystery of needing more to be revealed…  Intimate strangers reaching to start a solid foundation of friendship.  I put no limits on any opportunity I see…   To limit my conversations with you would be limiting who I think you are capable of being..and since I know so little but enough that I’m intrigued to put myself out there means I don’t take you lightly.  I NEVER put myself out there…however, where there is risk, there is reward.  I’m expecting nothing from you, however a woman like you seems more than interesting….I’m not a reader…  but I read everything that you have to say… it’s more than that, it is how you say it…  do I think you have your devilsh moments?  of course..as do I…but for now, the man who has everyting is looking for sanctuary…  the only way I will find it is to prepare for that moment when you see a fleeting opportunity that looks inconsequential and it becomes everything you ever wished for.  Those are the opportunities that I have always been able to see and what has delivered me.

But it wasn’t just his poetic words, it was the dashing life he had — an incredibly successful real estate developer and high-end financial consultant living the grand life in the U.S. Virgin Islands.  Multiple properties scattered across the Caribbean and the U.S., and a chateau being built in rural France.  Luxury boats and a penchant for Hemingway-esque feats of daring.  A divorced father with a devoted group of friends and business colleagues.  A career so flexible and in-demand that he could move anywhere, and within days was assuring me that Colorado was not out of the question.  He seemed beyond perfect.  By the end of that week, he was persuading me to visit him in the Caribbean — to meet him in Puerto Rico for a long weekend of fun and romance.

And that’s when the little voice in my head kicked into gear.

I’m not going to reveal here what he did to slip up, as he might be reading and I hope he continues to make those mistakes, but slip up he did.  And the bells in my head went off.  I decided that a little background investigation was necessary, and within 5 minutes discovered that he was collecting women far and wide.  I wrote him an email, politely informing him that I wouldn’t be visiting him in Puerto Rico or anywhere else.  After a few terse exchanges, our short “relationship” ended.   I mentioned it on my blog here.  I didn’t hear from him again until August, 2011, when he sent me the following:

For all the sweet things you say…you should know…  you’re an unforgettable personality…sexy…and you effin wear it well….

I wanted you…and i wanted you in the most real way possible..

T.

By that time I was in love with James and had decided that Thomas’ self-aggrandizing ways were nauseating, but I wrote back kindly and sent him on his way with wishes for good luck.

That should have been in the end of the story.  But it wasn’t.  Not by a long shot.

You see, on the very same day in April that he first emailed me, he also contacted, for the first time, another blogger, named Jenni.  Jenni authors a wildly popular blog, and I actually discovered her thanks to Thomas.   After my contact with him ended, I kept an eye on her blog and on his… something in his manner toward her worried me a bit.  I knew that he was a sophisticated manipulator and that she was easily manipulated by men.  Bad combination.  But, to be honest, I held out some hope that perhaps he could rise to the occasion and be the man she needed, and that she could be the strong woman to finally corral him.  It seems ridiculous in hindsight, but I’ve never claimed to be anything less than a hopeless romantic about love…

Sure enough, in the fall, Thomas began pursuing Jenni relentlessly.  By December, he had convinced her to visit him in the Caribbean later in the winter.  Against his wishes, she blogged about it all, and I stood by, reading as she fell madly in love with a man I knew to be a conniving liar.  But, at that point, I really only knew the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Jenni went to Puerto Rico and spent four days with Thomas in early February.  Four days that vacillated wildly between utter bliss and utter nightmare, culminating with being drugged with a roofie on her last night there, and awakening bruised and battered and confused.   She has recently written about all the sad, sordid, heart-breaking details on her blog (if you’re interested, visit her there and read the posts about Puerto Rico and those immediately following).  After reading about her experience upon her return, I grew suspicious and began investigating Thomas more fully, as did a few other bloggers.  What we turned up was nothing less than shocking.

“Thomas” is Thomas Murray.  He does, indeed, live in St. Thomas, with his wife(!) and at least two children.  While Thomas was cavorting in Puerto Rico with Jenni, his wife was writing a charming and achingly innocent blog post about her gardening and subsequent rum cocktail (she has since pulled down her blog).  Thomas is not a successful financier and real estate developer, but just a guy who owns a small vacation condo rental block with his wife.  All those boats in the photos and stories of sailing?  That’s because he owns — or maybe just manages? —  a used boat company, and blogs about it here.  There is no chateau in France, no running with the bulls in Pamplona, no climbing mountains in New Zealand.  He is, however, a chronic womanizer — the hotel staff in Puerto Rico told Jenni he was a regular there.  Yes, Thomas Murray is a less-than-average man in nearly every way imaginable.

But in one way, Thomas Murray is extraordinary:  at the very least, Thomas is a sociopathic liar who preys on the feelings of vulnerable women.  At the worst, he is a sexual predator capable of drugging an innocent young woman who flew 4,000 miles in the hopes of finding her true love.

When Jenni returned from Puerto Rico, Thomas — most likely terrified that his house of cards was about to come crashing down — began threatening her, should she be tempted to reveal anything about him or write anything negative about him.  Jenni, still believing that the whole thing was a horrible misunderstanding and hoping that she could salvage something, was judicious in her treatment of him and circumspect in writing about their time together.  But then the emails started rolling in from women like me — women all over North America! — whom he’d romanced and invited to Puerto Rico.  And then, the clincher:  when I found his wife’s blog and confirmed — once and for all — that they were indeed still married.  Jenni used that blog to contact his wife and the two have since talked, sharing their joint misery and utter disbelief.   The whole sad debacle is incredibly painful; I get knots in my stomach just thinking about what those two women have been through, and what his wife still has to wrestle with.  I am not one to typically cast stones at a spouse who strays — no one knows another’s marriage unless they’re living it — but the depth and breadth of his lies and deceptions are what takes my breath away.  The number of unsuspecting women he has involved in his web is truly staggering.

And I also feel guilty.  In November, a mutual blogging friend asked me if I shouldn’t contact Jenni and try to dissuade her — after all, I had all the emails and IMs to show her — but I demurred, feeling that she wouldn’t believe me and would be certain that she was “different.”  Jenni has since confirmed my reading of where she was at that point, but it does little to assuage my sense that I had a suspicion that this man was more than a garden-variety cad… I did wonder what he was capable of.  But it was poor Jenni who had the bad luck to find out first-hand.

After Puerto Rico, I had warned Thomas, via comments on Jenni’s blog, that if he didn’t leave her alone, I would out him here with a hate blog to verbally castrate him beyond recognition.  I have his phone number,  I have his address, I have the names of his wife and children, I have lots of photos, I have all kinds of emails and IP addresses.  I was ready to post them all.

But I’m not going to.

Out of respect for his wife and the brutal pain she must be enduring now, I will not eradicate any measure of privacy she may have to deal with her current situation.  I do hope against hope that she does not allow the silver-tongued liar to slither out of his culpability, but that is her choice rather than mine.  All I can do, as a measure of sisterly solidarity, is to offer her some modicum of privacy. Hopefully, he will reap what he has sown without any further assistance on my part.  Leading Jenni to his wife’s blog was my contribution to his inevitable discovery, and will hopefully lead to some very serious therapeutic (if not criminal justice-based) intervention.

But I can’t stand the thought of his next victim.  You see, I feel certain that Thomas will lay low for a little while and then resurface — perhaps with a new persona.  I think he will entrap more women and ruin more dreams.  And that has literally cost me sleep over the last two weeks.

So, I am offering my very own little public service:  If you think that you or a friend is being wooed by Thomas Murray online or through a blog, email me — there’s an email button on my blog — and I will try to confirm or refute your suspicion, based on the information I currently have.  I absolutely despise the idea that Thomas Murray should ever, ever be successful again in ensnaring another wonderful woman. Don’t feel foolish — just ask.  Let’s help each other avoid the kind of man who ruins good and decent women for the more-deserving men out there who would treat them properly.  There is probably little I can do to stop him, I know, but I feel better making the offer.

I think the lessons here are obvious, but clearly worth stating again.  Ladies, if he seems too good to be true, he probably is.  And no man whom you haven’t met — no matter how much you’ve emailed or texted or talked on the phone — can possibly know that you’re amazing and wonderful and the woman of his dreams.  Real men who are grounded in reality and not lies do not talk like that.  Real men know that you might be interesting and special and lots of great things, but they have to meet you before they really know that.

One final thought.  My ex-husband has a lot of handy phrases, some of which make me crazy, but some of which are so accurate that I can’t deny them.  One of the latter is this:  “If you’re the only one saying it, then it probably isn’t true.”  So, when a man is so busy telling you what a Man he is and how giving and generous and smart and successful and romantic and loving and perfect he is — RUN!  That’s right, Run, Don’t Walk!  And find someone who waits for you to say it.  Because chances are, he’s none of those things.  And you don’t want to find that out the hard way…. like Jenni did.

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Filed under dating, love, relationships, single mom, thomas murray

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