Category Archives: personal growth

give yourself a winter solstice watershed

On a snowy winter day in early 2010, I got an email from my ex-boyfriend Mike, seeking sympathy because his 26-year-old girlfriend told him on his 43rd birthday that she was leaving him and moving to Utah.  Fortunately, I was alone in the office that day, because the news struck me like a sucker punch to the gut and I spent the remainder of the afternoon fighting back tears, mostly unsuccessfully.

It wasn’t that his girlfriend was leaving him (although this was clearly the stunner for him).

It wasn’t that he was seeking sympathy from me, a woman he’d treated so poorly.

It was that he was actually over me.

In hindsight and with the benefit of intelligence unclouded by misplaced love, I can see that of course he had been over for me some time (and that’s assuming that his feelings were ever deep enough to require “getting over”).  He had been in a relationship with her almost from the day ours had ended.  Never mind that the last time I’d heard from him he’d been dismissive and patronizing when speaking of her.  He was with her, not me, and that should have screamed volumes.  But it didn’t.

Sure, I was dating and my contact with Mike was limited to the occasional text or email, usually initiated by me.  Sure, I could articulate all the reasons that he was a Grade A Jerk and why I was far too good for him.  But deep down, I kept waiting for him to be the guy I thought he could be.  I kept waiting for my Hollywood ending — you know the one! — where the guy comes to his senses and rushes to the girl to declare what a fool he’s been and how much he loves her.  Yes, somewhere, in the recesses of my heart, hidden even from my own consciousness, I was still waiting for him.

But that day changed everything.

I can’t adequately describe how I felt that day, watching as his emails kept coming with more details of their relationship and his heartbreak, as stark truth assaulted my eyes.  I felt dizzy and nauseated.  I sincerely wondered if maybe I would faint.  When the postman came into the office with our mail, I discovered I couldn’t speak.

Moving through that pain was some of the worst emotional grieving I’ve ever done.  It sounds so ridiculous to me now — that I expended so much energy on a man so unworthy of it! — but the heart is a crazy organ that doesn’t play by the rules and has no regard for common sense or practicality and no sense of proportion.  Sometimes our grieving is as much about our contextual circumstances as about the tragedy that has struck our heart, and that was the case that snowy and cold day.

The pain of Mike’s revelation opened me up.  It blew me apart in ways that went far beyond my feelings or desires for him.  It was like a catalyst that brought down a little house of cards in my psyche.  Suddenly, I was grieving not only for the loss of my dream relationship with him (indeed that pain was quickly overshadowed), but for the expectations I’d held for myself and my life post-divorce.  I had to accept that I wasn’t going to segue effortlessly from my marriage into the relationship of my dreams.  I wasn’t going to move seamlessly from owning my small business into a professional legal position that could more adequately support me and my children.  None of this was going as I had planned. Then, before I’d rummaged through that psychic junk, another wave of reality hit me — the remaining anger and disappointment and grief I felt over my marriage.  I had thought I was done with that, but here it was, bitter and sour all over again. I felt buried under my own sense of loss and confusion and foolishness.  For weeks I foundered, seeking to right myself and find some sense of equanimity.

And then it came.  And it was beautiful.

Those final tears over Mike were a crucible, forging a whole new perspective for me.  It was a watershed of feelings I’d been holding onto that weren’t serving any useful purpose and were holding me back from moving into my next potential.  In the months that followed, my life changed. Light and laughter were rediscovered in greater quantities.  New possibilities appeared.  My life began to evolve into a life that was more healthy and sustainable.  After Mike’s revelation and the subsequent tears and soul-searching, I emerged better prepared to actually have the life I wanted, rather than some Hollywood-insprired imitation.

Sometimes, the worst pain gives birth to the best new beginnings, because in passing through that suffering, we emerge completely clean and unburdened, having shed it all through the tears and grief.  Indeed, a dear friend of mine likens those moments to childbirth itself — pain so raw and powerful and grinding, that eventually yields to a softness and joy unsurpassed.

I think it is altogether too easy to lose ourselves in the darkness of temporary uncertainty, grief, insecurity, or loss.  It can be so hard to see the sunshine on the horizon of whatever storm we’re navigating.  But on this day, a solstice, a time and season of rebirth and increasing light, I am resolving to work harder next year to not lose myself in the imagined permanence of that darkness.  Whatever dark moments 2013 brings will eventually pass, just as the solstice comes in the dead of winter to begin our long, slow march toward spring.  So, today, join me in giving yourself the gift of hope and peace and light.  Let go of whatever is holding you back and imagine a life without those burdens.  Today is a chance to take one more step — no matter how small! — toward that life.  Is that not a small thing compared to the fact that our 6,600,000,000,000,000,000,000-ton planet, spinning through space, will somehow shift on its axis once again?

Think on that one.

Happy Solstice. 🙂

winter solstice

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be a warrior in your life, not just a survivor

I work side-by-side with a very sweet, warm woman who, last year at this time, underwent a radical mastectomy after being diagnosed at Thanksgiving with advanced stage breast cancer.  Within a week of “Meredith’s” diagnosis, word came from the East Coast that her mother had advanced stage pancreatic cancer. Oomph.

Meredith pulled through her surgery and the resulting complications with barely missing a beat at work.  I can honestly say that I hardly ever had to pick up any additional slack because of her illness, surgery or recovery.  I have no idea how she juggled it all.  Almost as soon as she was back on her feet and fully recovered physically, her mother passed away before Meredith could get back home.  But again, she mustered what was left of her strength and pushed through the ensuing grief and emotional pain with hardly a misstep.  Never once did I hear her complain that life was unfair or that she couldn’t go on.

I hear people refer all the time to breast-cancer “survivors” and “survivors” of violence and “survivors” of divorce — it seems to be a general term linked to the worst that life throws at us.  But, to me, it suggests a passivity that I find mildly irritating.  Because the truth is, lots of people do a lot more than survive what life throws at them; a lot of people face those challenges head-on and emerge better and stronger and more intact spiritually than they were before the crisis befell them.  Meredith did not merely survive her cancer — she kicked its butt soundly.  She refused to allow it to change who she was or to make her bitter or to define her.  She accepted it and met the challenge and pushed back with everything at her disposal.  I admire her attitude enormously.  She is definitely more than a survivor.  She is a warrior.

survivor: (n.) one who survives; a person who continues to function or prosper in spite of opposition, hardship, or setbacks.

warrior: (n.)  a person engaged or experienced in warfare, soldier; a person who shows or has shown great vigor, courage, or aggressiveness.

Which would you rather be?

Lisa Arends, over at Lessons From the End of a Marriage, wrote a great post about rediscovering her inner warrior recently. In that post, she expressed some similar sentiments and made some other, very good points.  I think how we define ourselves in the midst of our struggles is very important to how we tackle those struggles.  Are we a victim of our circumstances?  Or are we drivers on a road with many obstacles in front of us that we must do our best to go around or through?

I think that we all feel beaten down by life at times.  Sometimes really bad things happen to really good people.  None of us is exempt from tragedy or pain or suffering or illness or injustice.  They happen.  I think the real test of character is in how we handle them when they do…

My girls and I have a favorite YouTube video.  It features some cancer patients and nurses at the Seattle Children’s Hospital singing and dancing along to Kelly Clarkson’s hit, “Stronger.”  When I first saw it last spring, it gave me chills — I mean, is there anything more tragic than a seriously ill child?  Or more inspiring than that same child facing her illness with a smile and a song?  My girls and I have talked at length about the video and how and why it inspires and awes us.  Those children and the women who care for them each day are most definitely warriors.

When I look around me, I see so many amazing people with similar stories of a life dotted with tragedy or pain or failure of some sort.  And I see that most of them have not let those moments define who they are.  They, like Meredith, have refused to become identified by one moment or circumstance in their lives.  They are a tapestry of moments and circumstances, rich and layered, and stronger for the challenges put before them.  They experience fear and insecurity and self-doubt, but that does not define them, either, because they push forward anyway.

So, whatever unsavory stuff came your way over this last year, why not grab it, take one last look at it, and then let it go? Meredith and I have talked about how glad we’ll both be to see 2012 in the rearview mirror, but we’ve also talked about how it will not be the year that changed everything.  Nope.  It will simply be another year of learning and growing and facing things neither of us wanted in our lives but got anyway.

And emerging stronger because of it.

Video bonus:  Seattle Children’s Hospital’s version of Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger”

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the incredible hulk inside (or why I resolve not to fight meanly)

When I was a little girl, I loved the television program, “The Incredible Hulk.”  Bill Bixby’s mild-mannered portrayal of Dr. David Banner captivated me.  I especially liked how he gently warned the nosy reporter, in the title sequence of each episode, “Mr. McGee, don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.” Given that anger routinely transformed him into “a 7-foot-tall, 330 lb, green-skinned savage creature, with a sub-human mind and superhuman strength,” that’s probably an extreme understatement.

With the end of the year fast-approaching, I have been reflecting quite a bit on how the last 12 months have passed for me.  This was not my best year, by far, and some of my posts detail the reasons why in pretty painful detail.  But my mother always told me that adversity builds character, so apparently this was my year to bank a hell of a lot of character.

While I don’t normally think regrets are useful on the whole, I’ve written about how I do believe that they can be signposts for things we could do better in the future.  One thing I thought of recently is fighting.  I used to be known for being incredibly calm and measured in my arguments — perhaps the natural lawyer in me? — but I think I lost ground over this last year.  When I look back on the arguments that James and I had this last year while broken up, I am not altogether proud of the things that came out of my mouth or the tone in which I hurled them.  Yes, I was upset, and, yes, I frequently had good reason to be.  And maybe that is reason enough for other people to let me off the hook, but I don’t do so as easily.

Because the thing is, as is often said, our behavior reflects most strongly on us, not on the object of our wrath.  When they are long gone, we will still have to live with ourselves.  I have always been proud of the fact that no matter what horrible insults or below-the-belt meanness was launched my way, I refused to respond in kind.  It was incredibly rare for me to be intentionally hurtful, even in the heat of a moment, and when I was, it was almost without exception done in the act of protecting a friend or a child.  In those situations, I can admittedly and without reservation or apology be an uber-bitch.  But when it was my own relationship or my own situation in question, I had a good track record for not allowing my emotions to get the better of me and abandoning the good grace and poise that my dad hammered into me.

Besides, I had a natural resistance to fighting dirty, having seen and been the recipient of my mom’s take-no-prisoners approach to arguments.  I had watched her angry words cause people to recoil and seen their spirits broken.  I had felt her rage and known how little “I’m sorry” cures that particular kind of injury.  So, even when the occasional boyfriend or friend or colleague or stranger would take a cheap shot, I held my ground and refused to respond in kind.

But, this year was not a banner year for my poise.  In my arguments with James at the very tail end of our relationship and throughout this year, I seemed to abandon my normal reservation and unleash my full fury in his direction.  And each and every time, I felt horrible about it afterward.  Not because I was immediately convinced that he didn’t deserve it, but because I didn’t like that about myself.  I didn’t like behaving like someone I wouldn’t respect and admire.  In short, I was ashamed.

As a part of my spiritual book club many years ago, we did some reading about something I’ll call “soul damage.”  Basically, it was the idea that only those physical injuries that also include severe emotional trauma travel with the soul to heaven and beyond.  Additionally, we read that emotional trauma, including that inflicted by hurtful words, can, on its own, create eternal damage to the soul.  I have no way of knowing if this is true, but it certainly reconciles with my own life experiences — words have hurt me far more often and far more deeply than actions.  And the mere possibility of doing such harm to another person’s soul is enough to make me feel true remorse over my behavior.

So one of my New Year’s Resolutions (for lack of a better term, I suppose) is to be the best version of myself in an argument, without reference to other people.  Maybe they will be nasty.  Maybe they will intentionally sit on my emotional buttons until I want to scream.  Maybe they will hurt me and the primal part of me will want to hurt them back.  But I hope I won’t.  I want to be gracious and kind — not because they necessarily deserve it — but because that is who I am.

Because, let’s face it, at the end of the line, what they did to me will be far less important than how I lived and what impressions I left on this world.  I want to know, when it’s all said and done, that I tried my best each time, and succeeded more than I failed, to be the best version of myself.

Even in arguments.

hulk

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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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the good enough thanksgiving (or why holidays are so intense)

Holidays are funny, aren’t they?  We put so much pressure on them to live up to expectations that are often unrealistic.  You can never tell when a holiday celebration will fall completely flat, or, surprisingly, exceed even your best hopes.  But it seems like most fall somewhere in between, don’t they?

I spent my Thanksgiving with my girls this year, which automatically catapults it into the “Bound To Be Good” category. We baked a pumpkin pie from scratch (yes, even the crust!) and made my yummy mashed potatoes — my former mother-in-law likes to joke that the thing she grieved the most in our divorce was the potential loss of my holiday mashed potatoes.  But she wasn’t grieving this year, because, through a series of small coincidences, the girls and I landed at her house for Thanksgiving this year.  Yes, that’s right:  I spent Thanksgiving with my former in-laws and two very nice ladies who work with my ex-MIL and were holiday orphans.  I know some of you are scratching your heads, but it was actually quite lovely, and the culmination of a full-circle acceptance back into his family that began early this year with a Facebook friend request from one of my former sisters-in-law.  To be honest, I am not sure that I would select all of these folks as my friends, but, by virtue of my children, they are family, and so I am thankful for their acceptance and forgiveness.  And so very glad to be able to give my children the gift of family holidays.

But there were aspects of my holiday weekend that disappointed, as well. I am awaiting a decision on a job that I very much want and need, and my second interview on Monday did not go as I had hoped.  So, I have been revisiting that hour all week long, torturing myself with better answers I could have given and imagining all sorts of possibilities on the part of my potential employers.

Then, on Friday, I succumbed to the stomach bug that both my daughters suffered through pre-Thanksgiving.  It hit me hard and laid me flat for a little over 24 hours.  This was not part of my carefully-constructed plans for the weekend, and I was highly annoyed at the bug’s appearance.  But then I remembered that I am lucky to have a basically healthy constitution and a body that allows me to do the things I love.  So I got over being pissy.  But isn’t it funny how indignant we get when life doesn’t accommodate our Rockwellian holiday ideals?

I also couldn’t help but to reflect on my life last year at this time and remember how happy I was to be spending the holidays with James.  But I also remembered the pressures of those first holidays together — wanting so much for them to be perfect and so worried that anything short of perfection might portend bad things for us as a couple.  As it turned out, we had a picture-perfect holiday season — truly perfect! — only to spectacularly implode on New Year’s Eve.  So there you go, I suppose.

There is something so intense about the holidays, and I think it’s about more than expectations.  I think the heightened emotions of the holidays make us more raw and vulnerable to all sorts of feelings.  The highs are higher and lows feel lower.  I think those heightened emotions can offer us clarity and hope, even in the midst of fretting or feeling anxious.  For me, really intense emotional times act as a crucible of sorts, clarifying and organizing my thoughts and feelings.  Sometimes there is joy in that clarity, other times there is pain, but either way we can use it as something positive to gain insight or understanding.

This year, I resolved to be present in my holidays, not lost in the atmosphere of what if’s or why not’s or what’s missing or wrong.  I want my holidays to be more than something to endure with a pasted smile and a fretful heart.  I do not demand or expect perfection this year.  I just want good enough.

And now, with the fire blazing and the Christmas carols filling the house, I must join my daughters to trim the tree.

What do you hope for your holidays this year?  Are they different hopes from last year?

Whatever you wish for, I hope you find it in your own holiday traditions.

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the perfect day (or defining happiness through little things)

This being the time of year when we are supposed to be consciously thankful for the good things in our life, I have been contemplating the idea of gratitude.

Gratitude is a tough one.  The Dalai Lama teaches us that we cannot have happiness without gratitude.  For myself, this is true.  I can be exuberant or excited or giddy without gratitude but to be truly happy — to wake up with a smile and go to sleep with a sigh — I must have gratitude.

I think the tricky part of gratitude is that we all tend to hang it on a couple of big things.  Or we have socialized ideas of what it “should” look like.  Or we merely graze the surface when noticing the good stuff in our life — like being thankful for our kids, rather than specifically noticing how lucky we feel that our kids have talents that bring them joy and confidence.  I am as guilty of these trespasses as anyone else.

I read something once that the best way to locate your gratitude is to get into a gratitude habit.  The suggestion was that you start each day, before even getting out of bed, by counting your blessings, in detail.  Spending a few moments, each morning, running through a list of the small things for which you’re grateful, so that pretty soon, recognizing those small, perfect things becomes a habit that you do all day long.

I wish I could say that I have mastered this, but I have not.  I am working on it, in much the same way I am working on my yoga practice, which is also far from perfect.   But today, I had a glimpse of what it must be like to carry gratitude with you throughout your day, every day.

It was a simple day.  A perfect day.  I awoke early, well-rested, for a haircut appointment with my stylist.  For breakfast, I had my favorite bagel with my pumpkin-flavored cream cheese that is only available this time of year.  That, my hot chai tea, and one of my favorite blogs provided a nourishing and warm breakfast.  I ate consciously, enjoying every bite and every word.   I drove to my stylist’s and was grateful that I was on my side of highway and not the other, where there was a long traffic jam behind a bad accident.   At my stylist’s, I was aware of how wonderful it feels to have someone else shampoo my hair… the gentle fingers massaging my scalp, like a mini spa for a few precious moments.  We chatted as she clipped, about family, holiday food, and the state of my love life.  As always, my Korean friend had a wonderful Eastern-based perspective, for which I was thankful.  After, I went shopping for Christmas presents for my children and food for our Thanksgiving dinner.  As I selected the presents and the food, I was grateful that I have the money to make those purchases.  Every small stocking stuffer and every piece of fruit separate me from those less fortunate.

Once I had unpacked my purchases, I took my sweet dog and went for a long walk on a trail by the creek.  I watched the angle of the sun glancing off the water, and how happy my dog was, trotting gleefully from creek to tree to rock, taking in all the smells and running back to jump on me, as if saying, “Isn’t this positively the BEST?!!”  When we returned from our walk, I gave the dog a bone and I laid down for a nap.  I drifted off with the window open and the slanted sunlight on my face.

After my nap, I went to a yoga class hosted by one of my favorite instructors.  I was grateful that I arrived early enough to get a good spot and that the instructor moved us through our poses firmly but gently.  The sweat was pouring from my shoulders, and my arms felt like over-stretched rubberbands, but I was thankful for a body that allows me to move and stretch.

I came home, started the fire, and took a hot shower.  I fed my skin with my best-smelling, all-natural lotion and closed my eyes to absorb the perfection of the scent.  Then I made a delicious dinner that I savored while watching a favorite movie in front of the fire.  I sit there now, sipping a cup of my favorite tea and grateful for this outlet for my creativity.  Soon I will go to bed, quietly preparing for a day tomorrow with my eldest daughter.

None of these things in my day could be described as particularly unusual, but they were special.  They were special because I saw them — perceived them — as such.  It is not always easy to notice our blessings in the midst of our hectic lives.  And when some of the big things are absent or going wrong, it can be particularly hard.  But every time, every day, it is still a choice.

Today, I choose to be grateful.

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dating as research, pt. 2 (or ten things I’ve learned along the way)

My first post ever (on this or any other blog) was “dating as research,” and in it I laid out my theory that dating after divorce is a useful way to really get to know yourself again — who you are in a relationship, what you seek from it, what you can or cannot abide in another person.  I still believe the words in that post, and I am grateful for each and every man along the way who has taught me a little bit about myself, no matter how short our interaction.

I have a couple of good friends who are wading into the dating pool after their divorces for the first time in many years.  Listening to their first, tentative successes and failures, hopes and dreams, has inspired me to contemplate what, if anything, I’ve learned over the last 3 1/2 years since my separation.  And I discovered that I’ve actually learned quite a lot.  So I’m going to share my observations with them, and with you.

1.  Not every relationship is supposed to be The One.

Not every relationship is meant to result in a love story that rivals Scarlett and Rhett or Napoleon and Josephine.  Some are meant to teach us things, reinforce things we already know, or even correct a course that isn’t working for us.  Most of the time, I think it’s hard to know what a relationship was supposed to be until you look back on it from a distance, but sometimes it’s apparent quickly.  Either way, it still has value to me.

In America, we equate divorce and breaking-up with failure — why couldn’t we make it work?  what was wrong with that relationship?  But not every culture sees things this way.  Lots of people are able to see the bigger picture… the idea that people (and the relationships we form with them) come into our lives for a period or time or for a particular reason, and then leave in the same fashion.  The fact that they left does not in any way diminish their impact or value to our lives; it simply means that life has other plans that don’t include them anymore.

So don’t force it.  Let it be what it’s supposed to be and be grateful for whatever it gives you.  Then move on.

2.  Don’t assume anything.

No matter what they tell you or how they act or what you think you know, none of us can truly know what another person is feeling.  What one person means when he says “I love you” may be a very different feeling from what another person means.  Sometimes we assume (or believe) things that lead us to think we are involved in a Hollywood-worthy love affair, when in actuality our mate doesn’t feel particularly deeply about us at all.  Other times we assume (or believe) that our partner’s feelings are relatively superficial, only to discover that they are stronger and more persistent than we had suspected. Our brains can’t know, and our hearts are blind; only our intuition can accurately detect the truth in any given moment.  And, more often than not, that intuition is drowned out by a host of other feelings, wishes, and expectations.  Ask questions, listen closely, and don’t get defensive with what your intuition is telling you. Deep down you know the answers.

3.  Almost everybody seems great for the first month or two.  Only time and experience will tell you what you need to know about a relationship. 

Lots of dating has helped me discern when I’m feeling infatuated, really “in like,” or truly in love.  I’m not often confused, and I’m not in a hurry to cross the Love Finish Line.  Because the truth is that you can be infatuated with lots of people, but only time and bumping past some rough spots will give you a real sense of what kind of emotional connection you have with a given partner.   Neither one alone is going to show you everything you need you know.  And if you find yourself “falling in love” with everyone you date, it might be time to take a big step back, spend some time by yourself, and really evaluate what you know about love and how you define it.

4.  Relationship envy is a waste of time.  Appearances are deceiving, and love is more than window-dressing.

You’d think that after spending so long in a marriage that looked picture-perfect from the outside, I wouldn’t have had to re-learn this one, but I did.  Repeatedly, in the last three years. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve observed new couples who have all the appearances of the “perfect couple,” and yet there was a vague sense of something being off…. like they’re going through the expected motions, but without any real depth.  They do and say all the right things, but something feels…. a little forced, a little false…  Like I’m watching a show more than witnessing a love affair.   Sometimes it has made me second-guess my own choices; after all ease and perfection can be very seductive.  But then I snap out of it and realize that I’d prefer deep and messy over shallow and placid any day of the week.  And usually, when those “perfect” couples break up, you see pretty quickly how imperfect the relationship really was.

5.  Figure out what you want in a relationship and don’t let anybody talk you out of it.

Nobody has to live your life but you.  Period.  You, and you alone, have to live with the full force of the consequences of your actions.  You are responsible for the repercussions, be they good or bad, and recognizing that is the first step toward something that really suits you and your life.  Opinions and advice of friends and family, however well-intentioned, are only opinions and advice.  Don’t let anybody tell you what’s right for you.  Only you can decide that.

6.  It’s good to date lots of different people.  

I sat down and counted recently:  since my separation I have been on dates ( at least first dates) with 28 different men.  I have dated men of various colors, shapes, and sizes.  Some have been brilliant and some dumb as a box of bricks.  Some have been mouth-wateringly handsome and others not so much.  But they all have a story, and they all have a perspective, and I learned a little bit more each and every time.  When I date people who haven’t dated much, I can immediately sense the chasm of experience between us.  The world is home to billions of people.  Meet lots of them.  It’s good for you.

7.  You cannot control other people, their feelings, or your own.

Control is a big thing for a lot of us.  By the time you’re in your 40’s, you’re likely running a family, a career, a household, and any number of other responsibilities, obligations or commitments.  It gives us a false sense of being able to set our own destiny, exactly how we want it, exactly when we want it.  Of course, in our brains, we know this isn’t true, but accepting it in our hearts is another matter entirely.  Relinquishing that control, learning to sit with patience and without holding too tightly to outcomes is an enormous challenge.   But it’s important.  Maybe the most important relationship lesson we have the opportunity to learn as an adult….

8.  When considering past hurts, you usually have a choice of being righteous or being happy.  Not both.

It’s very easy to get stuck.  To decide that you simply cannot get past some pain that you’ve endured due to a relationship ending.  It’s easy to cling to it and feel that you are entitled to your pain and to your injuries and to expect the world around you to bend and accommodate and account for what you’ve endured.  But in my experience, that posture is a lonely one.  Friends and family quickly tire of propping up a victim who appears unwilling to move forward.  New people will always be aghast at your tale, but then they, too, will grow weary of it and move on to those who inspire and motivate them.  Being happy is a choice.  I don’t happen to believe that it’s an overnight choice or as simple as a pithy poster, but I do think that it’s about making choices that lead you to your best and highest self. And I’m pretty sure that no one’s best and highest self includes bitterness, rage, or vindictiveness.

9.   Dating — searching for that “just right” relationship — should be a side dish at your life’s table, not the main course.

I know of a woman who, when she is single, attacks dating like a part-time job.  She goes out almost every night, she attends a wide variety of functions, and she devotes countless hours to online dating. And you know what?  She’s never single for very long.  But you know what else?  She doesn’t have much of a life outside of her relationship and her work and familial obligations.  She never really took the time to develop one after her divorce, despite the fact that her lack of an individual life was one of her primary complaints in her marriage.  Now, I don’t have a crystal ball, but I would suspect that this doesn’t bode well for her 5 or 10 years down the road in a long-term relationship.  See, it seems to me that the people who maintain the longest and best relationships are ones who are partners in life, not conjoined twins. So start right now, when you’re first dating after your separation, to build the life that you want to have.  Fill it with people and hobbies and experiences that feed your soul.  The rest, including a great relationship, will likely follow.  And if it doesn’t?  Well, at least you’ll have that great life you made for yourself!

10.  Love is not a race.

I remember when my girls were babies, and some of the moms were hyper-competitive about when their children had hit various milestones — sitting up, crawling, walking, talking.  Around that time, I saw a movie in which one of the characters pointed out that none of that mattered because none of us as adults still wears diapers or drinks from a bottle.  Everybody gets there at their own pace, but they do eventually get there.  And simply doing it first doesn’t mean you do it best.  I’m pretty certain this applies to relationships, too.

Bonus Tip:  You will be okay.

There have been many moments in the last few years during which I have quite seriously contemplated how many times a single heart can break.  The answer? Infinitely.  But no matter how many disappointments we might suffer or tears we might shed, somewhere on the other side there is a place called “Okay,” and we’ll all get there someday.  All we have to do is want to.

So I guess I’ve learned to just slow down, smell the rose bushes, drink the pinot grigio, and learn as much as I can from this journey.  Because while I can manipulate the variables and control for some factors, the outcome of the dating experiment is beyond my control.

And yours.

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the spiritual book club

In the last years of my marriage, I was part of a very special book club.  We started out as a normal enough book club — four women who were acquainted with each other to varying degrees, but all connected through a local daycare center/preschool.  Two were teachers there and the other two of us had worked together at the county attorney’s office and now had children at the preschool. We were from different religious and geographical backgrounds, but we shared a love of books and discussion.

It started normally enough — a novel here, a biography there.  Long discussions of the books over coffee or brunch, with frequent detours discussing mothering, sex, or careers.  It was, in most ways, pretty much your run-of-the-mill book club.  But there were early signs that it was different, too.  Something in how we related to each other… trusted each other… made our book club meetings so much more than book discussions.  I can’t speak for the others, but they were my soul food during those years, and some of those conversations sincerely changed my life.  Most notably, we read Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, and my friends’ comments in our discussion that autumn day unwittingly launched me on my stumbling path toward divorce.  It was, for me, the point of no return, but I’m sure they had no idea.

As I look back, the evolution of the book club was fateful… each progression carefully choreographed and occurring at precisely the right time; proof that the universe knows better than we when things should happen.  The big turning point occurred one day when my attorney friend, Michelle, brought a new book to the club.  It was Don’t Kiss Them Goodbye by Allison Dubois, the psychic on whom the television show “Medium” was based.  Michelle was a practicing Jew, and, in my experience, the most reserved, pragmatic, and practical of us all.  But following a death in her extended family, her son had begun asking difficult questions and life and death and the beyond, and so Michelle found herself stretching past the tenets of Judaism for answers for him. She had started reading the book and wanted desperately to talk to someone about it, but was concerned that her other friends would think her crazy.  So she brought it to us.  And it changed everything.

We read the book and discussed it, each of us taking small, tentative steps to reveal things that we’d experienced, thought about or believed in.  And we discovered a shared fascination with the spiritual world, and a surprisingly coherent understanding of God and our place in the universe, despite our divergent religious backgrounds.  I’m not exactly sure if or when we agreed to take the book club into a different direction, but after that first Allison Dubois book, I don’t think we read another “regular” book together.

For the next few years, we embarked on a journey of spiritual discovery together.  We read books about religion and ghosts, psychic phenomena and channeling, auras and spirit guides, reincarnation and past lives, God and death and angels.  Then, we began doing “field trips” — we had our auras cleansed and our past lives read and shelled out money to hear internationally-known psychics speak.  It was fascinating and expansive and left us all reeling from the possibilities we had never considered.  We approached all things with an open mind and a healthy dose of skepticism, but never cynicism.  Sometimes we debated, sometimes we agreed.  Some of our experiences and readings spoke to some of us and not so much to others.  We were honest and thoughtful and supportive of each others’ journey.  Occasionally, we would consider adding a new member to our little group, but we never actually did.  Somehow we knew that the dynamic of the 4 of us was just as it should be.

The book club broke apart right around the time of my separation.  I’ve never known if my separation was somehow the cause — did the others feel, as I did, that our work together had helped lead me to that place, and perhaps they felt uncomfortable with that knowledge? — but for whatever reason, one and then the other got too busy to meet anymore.  The bonds that had been formed quietly fell away.  Perhaps our work together was simply done.

The last thing my book club did together was a yoga retreat in the mountains.  It was beautiful and special, but I could feel the space between us.  At lunch that day, we sat in the sun on a deck and shared stories of the small miracles and wondrous things that had happened to us since our last meeting together; our meetings had mostly devolved into sharing those stories — the things you couldn’t tell anyone else without them looking at you sideways.  But I could sense the distance between us, too.  And it made me a little sad.

There are certain people and times in your life that leave indelible marks on your soul forever.  The book club was like that for me.  Those women provided a safe place for me to explore and examine aspects of myself that had been dormant for many years.  Our time together reminded me of the girl I had been and lost somewhere along the way, and the spiritual foundation I uncovered within myself gave me the strength and courage to make the scariest decision of my life.

The book club gave me one more thing — a dear friend that I see rarely but cherish very much.  Although she is several years younger than me, I admire her immensely and rely on her to ground me when I lose my way.  We understand each other in a way that goes beyond my feeble human comprehension.  The book club is over, but it’s impact on my life is felt every day.  Some of the books we read remain touchstones for me, dog-eared from multiple readings, and the things I learned about life and death and myself from those years inform everything I do now.

I’ve recently given thought to starting a new book club, with a different focus….  Maybe it’s time for another adventure…..

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the best relationship advice to men I’ve ever read… continued!

Last week, I blogged about a post that I thought was pretty amazing, entitled “The 16 Ways I Blew My Marriage” by Dan Peace.  Well, apparently, I wasn’t the only one who thought so, because the post went viral.  In response, Dan has treated us to the other 15 ways he’d left off his first list, for fear of going on too long and/or looking like a relationship flunkie. The items on this list are just as good as the first list, and I think equally applicable in a gender-neutral fashion.  Seriously, I think his list is my new relationship bible.

Read on and consider for yourself….

The OTHER 15 Ways I Blew My Marriage.

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to love deeply, we must risk greatly

One of the challenges of dating the second time around is being a grown-up about your baggage.  Sure, there are still some people who seem to think that they have gotten this far in life and are still all perfectly shiny and unscathed, but I think most of us can acknowledge that we’re carting around some stuff that gets in our way from time to time.  It may be the same stuff that undid our marriages, or it may be scars incurred by the nastiness of a relationship coming apart, or it may predate either of those events.  Whatever, it’s still clutter that obscures the truth and mangles our feelings and messes with our heads.

In talking with people, I am sometimes astonished at how comfortable some are with their personal baggage.  They can discuss it honestly and dispassionately, with acknowledgment but no self-judgment.  They are not defensive, nor do they offer it as an excuse for their bad behavior.  It simply is. Nothing more, and nothing less.  I sense that, for these people, their baggage is like having a small bank balance — something you have to work around, but not a complete obstruction to getting what you want. That is what I am striving for:  not the elimination of my baggage, but the better management of it and the feelings it engenders.

Circumstances of late have reminded me that baggage only comes into play when the feelings are deep enough to unlock the trunk and spill out its contents.  When feelings are more superficial, baggage is easily managed because it really doesn’t show up all that much.  Those relationships are placid and easy, with little risk taken and few opportunities for our deepest fears or insecurities to emerge.

I used to think that the goal was to find someone who wouldn’t spill my baggage.  Someone who wouldn’t trigger any of my insecurities or fears.  Someone who was safe and consistent.  But I don’t think that anymore.  I think that we are spiritual beings having a human experience in order to learn and grow.  And I don’t think that the safe road is the road to growth.  I think if we want to grow, we must seek out the people who challenge us and our beliefs, the ones who love us while pushing us to face the things we most fear and the challenges we most dread, so that we may push past our fears or failings and reach our full potential.

I think that human nature intuitively knows this to be true.  Even people who never take the road less traveled nod along quietly with the Robert Frost poem.   And people who constantly hug the edges of safety were moved by Robin Williams’ “Carpe Diem!” cry in Dead Poets’ Society.  Deep down, we all know that we have to test ourselves and push ourselves in order to truly experience all the richness of life, but it is so much easier to play it safe, isn’t it?

I realized recently that the men I have loved most deeply made me feel truly alive — radiant, vibrating with life and love and with the whole world in front of me.  Granted, they also generally made me completely crazy sometimes, and I told every single one of them that I never wanted to see them again at least once.  Those relationships scared me and they challenged me and they forced me to grow.

I’ll be honest — I don’t like pain.  Emotional, physical, whatever.  I don’t like it.  And I have the same strong inclination to avoid it as anyone else.  But what I have that’s stronger is the drive to love deeply and fully.  And that sometimes requires plowing through some pain, even if the only pain I encounter is that which springs from my own baggage.

Because here’s the thing:  if I love someone deeply, my baggage shows up.  If I don’t, it doesn’t.  I can be the most easy, breezy, self-assured modern woman of the millennium if my feelings for a guy are only superficial. But if I really love him?  Well, then I get scared.  Scared of losing him.  Scared of him not loving me back.  Scared that he will just disappear and forget about me and I will feel foolish and duped and lost.  Every bit of abandonment issue that I have comes roaring out of the trunk to devour the reasonable and logical and intuitive parts of me.

So I have a simple choice:  I can choose the safe route.  I can pick someone who is very nice and very kind and treats me well and does not challenge me too strongly.  I can have a safe relationship with no baggage.  And, in doing so, I can make little to no progress in overcoming my baggage.

Or, I can choose the rocky route.  I can choose to love deeply in spite of my fears.  I can face those fears and acknowledge them and know that my baggage is waiting there to undermine me,  and I can decide to push through it anyway with someone I love so deeply it terrifies me.  I can acknowledge that to have the love I want, I will have to first master the work-arounds necessary to accommodate my baggage.  I can accept that I get no guarantees and that the experience itself may be the only trophy gained.  And I can accept that pain will likely be part of this process.

Because here’s the thing:  even though we commonly refer to it as “baggage,” this junk we all carry around isn’t nearly that neat and tidy.  Nor is it a static thing that just happened once and scarred us.  The solution is not in avoiding the triggers — because those triggers are our own deep feelings.  My abandonment issues may stem from circumstances of my infancy, but the real problem is the patterns I’ve reinforced over the years because of that fear.  The choices I’ve made that set me up to feel lost, the times I’ve associated being rejected or left with being abandoned, the circumstances I have misconstrued to fit my own fearful construct, etc., etc., etc.   It’s not about just suddenly seeing that this situation or this relationship does not represent something from our past and then magically shrugging off the yoke that has held us back in past relationships — it’s about learning how to respond differently and how to emotionally frame things differently so that we do not continue to allow our baggage to get in our way.  It’s creating the work-arounds that allow us to co-exist with our baggage without giving it so much power.

Now, some people are reading this and thinking rather smugly, “I don’t think I have anything like that to work on.”  Really?  What about control issues?  What about defensiveness?  What about being overly critical?  What about being condescending? What about anger?  What about being selfish? What about being fearful? All of these things can undermine a relationship.  And whatever you have, you can choose to work on it or you can choose not to.  But it won’t just go away.  That much I know.

So, before you judge that person with the crazy relationship too harshly, take a moment and wonder if, just maybe, they’re learning a whole lot and growing a whole lot and living a whole lot through that experience.  They just might emerge on the other side with a more intact spirit and a deeper understanding of themselves, which might not have been possible in a safe, easy relationship.

Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it, and to love deeply, we must risk greatly.

Good luck to all of you facing your demons and trying to do better.  I wish you success, whatever that happens to look like.

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