Category Archives: single mom

be yourself. everyone else is taken.

At the end of my marriage, after Bryce and I had decided to divorce but before I had moved out of the house, we had a conversation standing in our sun-soaked kitchen that might prove to be the crowning achievement of our marriage.  We agreed that we had had a conventional marriage.  We had done everything we were “supposed” to do.  We had lived up to everyone’s expectations.  Except our own.  We vowed that our divorced relationship would be different.  We would make it what we wanted it to be, not what others thought was “right” or “appropriate” or, God forbid, “normal.”  We would craft something that worked for us and our children and everyone else could just deal with it — or not.  They weren’t our problem, and we’d spent too much of our lives living a relationship that had made everyone else comfortable and us eventually miserable.

To our credit — and my astonishment — we have kept that word to each other and ourselves.  Some people in our wide circle are uncomfortable with our situation.  How do we get along so well?  Why do we sit together — with our partners, even! — at school functions for our children?  Are we actually — gasp! — friends??? But fortunately those individuals are pretty rare.  Most of the people in our wide circle applaud us for fashioning something that is different from the standard divorced relationship paradigm.  I think they can see that it’s good for our children, but I also think that they can see that it’s good for us, too.  We are still, in many ways, a family, even though we are most definitely not a couple.  This makes us happy, and that’s really all that matters.

It has not always been an easy task — this concept of carving out a new relationship through the jungle of established habits, familial expectations, and emotional scars.  There have been times of post-divorce conflict, when one of us has had to remind the other of our shared vision for a healthy divorced relationship that works for all of us.  But those reminders have always successfully steered us back on course, which is, in and of itself, amazing.

It has been my experience that most of the dramatic change we experience in ourselves does not last.  We try on a new version of ourselves, wear it for a while, and then it loses its novelty and fades away.  And pretty soon we’re back to basically the same person we always were.  It’s as if our essential nature is some kind of homeostasis to which we return after a short disruption.  I am so very glad and very grateful that Bryce and I have remained strongly committed to that vision we shared that day in the kitchen.  And it has taught me that I am capable of making something different than what is the norm in our circle, and having that work for me. That lesson has been rolling around in my mind this week as I have unpacked the emotional shifts and “aha!” moments that occurred within me during my short visit back East.

And let’s just say, it’s been a busy week.

I’ve settled back into my Colorado life, but with some new understandings of what I want this life to look like and who I want to be in it.  I keep coming back around to the idea that the relationship model that works for so many around me is not going to work for me, and it is entirely likely that the romantic relationship that makes me the happiest might not make sense to other people.  And that’s okay.  Other people don’t have to be comfortable with it.  As long as I’m not hurting anyone else, I just need to be happy being me.

When I was much younger, I knew this about myself.  Katrina and  I used to half-jokingly say that she would be the school-teacher with 2.3 children and a house in suburbs, and I would be the cool “aunt” who would jet in from some far-flung end of the globe, bearing wonderful gifts and fun stories.  There was no judgment inherent in either path; we loved each other too much and too purely to have judged each other harshly.  It was simply an acknowledgment of our different approaches to life.

As it turns out, I did far more of the white-picket-fence experience than anyone ever expected or could have predicted, including me.  And I don’t regret a second of it.  Truly.  But I also see now that the choices that I have been making since my divorce were subconsciously guided by my need to create something different.  Those choices have made sense to some of my friends but not to others, who have offered well-intentioned advice shared with love.  I think I felt disapproval and internalized that in a way that left me confused about my vision for what I wanted my life and romantic relationships to be.  My friends wanted me to be happy, and so they encouraged me to be happy in the things that make them happy.  This is logical and kind and I treasure their good intentions.  But in my post-divorce state, I think it only served to confuse me.  Unlike in my endeavor with Bryce, I felt alone in my journey and I lost my clear vision of who and what I am and want to be as an individual.

But now I remember.

I have lately felt that I am my truest self again.  I feel at home with who I am and what I want and the understanding that it might be different from what others want from me or for me.  But the honest truth is, what they ultimately want is for me to be myself, whether they fully know it or not.  Because when I am most myself is also when I am most sought after by my friends.  We all naturally gravitate to people who are truly comfortable with themselves, who are real and present and open to the world. Whatever version of ourselves places us squarely in that description is truly our best version of ourselves.

Each of us must steer our own ship.  Only we command the helm.  The waves of opinion and expectation may buffet us, but if we hold a true course, we will reach our destination safely and triumphantly.  That is our challenge, every single day.

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Filed under divorce, friendships, general musings, personal growth, relationships, single mom

mommy martyrdom

I like that this blogger offers an alternative concept of what it means to be a “good mother.” As a woman who was, for too many years, sequestered in her roles of wife and mother, this really resonates with me. My post divorce life is full of meaningful friendships that I make a genuine priority in my life, and what a difference they make to my soul. I am definitely a better mother, daughter, employee, and partner when I have the warmth of girl time in my life.

Views from the Couch

Some friends and I were chatting and the the above meme card came up, which has been posted around Facebook, and we discovered that we were unanimously annoyed with the implied sentiment. Listen up ladies, this isn’t the 1950’s! Your goal in life no longer has to be landing a husband so you can spend the rest of your life finding shoes to compliment your newest apron or dedicate yourself solely to dispensing little humans out of your vagina like Pez. Supposedly, the sky is the limit–okay, well the glass ceiling is the limit (wink, wink). You can go to college, and not just for your M.R.S. degree. You can have a career. You can have an active social life and go out with friends. The world is your oyster! That is, until you have a child. At that point, you are only supposed to concern yourself with all things…

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thomas murray: the bad penny who always turns up

In the midst of a weekend of unexpected encounters, this appeared on my blog comment list for my post thomas murray:  a cautionary tale:

“honestly, you are a c*nt… most of us can’t belive you since you are lostin the landscape and he hasn’t mentioned you, so be gone you fucking c*nt of a human. HE knows who you work for and he ruins lives…so just wait… he knows everything..do you really want him giving up you secrets?? No worries they are close. so many people are regulated and on top of who you are. The man you chose to make words with, isn’t just any man.

JKR”

[Blogger’s note:  I left in the misspellings and bad grammer.  Just for fun.}

Oh, Thomas. Surely you give me more credit than this? Surely you realize that I am smarter than you, and that anything you attempt to do to me will only come down on you tenfold? Yes, you know where I work, but no, you don’t actually know my secrets. You know what you think are my secrets, but again, please don’t discount my intelligence. Did it ever occur to you that I shared “secrets” with you to test your mettle? To see your responses and determine your strength as a man and integrity as a person? Are you so certain — even now — that you were not played, discovered and discarded?

And be careful, dear Thomas, whom you threaten. I have far too many people who love me in positions of power beyond your imagination who could make you seriously regret even threatening to harm me. Do not forget where I was born and raised, nor whom I grew up alongside. Always understand that my goodness has, and always will, trump your evil, and that even people with little conscience and too much power value goodness. So please, put the keyboard down and back away slowly before you or someone who used to love you gets hurt anymore. I know exactly who I’m dealing with and have made all the necessary accommodations. Unlike you, I am not impulsive or sloppy. I have been waiting for you to make a threat such as this — and do you realize that using the internet to do so makes it an interstate crime and therefore under federal jurisdiction? 🙂 Oh, Thomas, you really are the idiot I took you for. It’s almost entertaining.

I am further disappointed, my narcissistic friend, to see that you have not reconsidered your excessive drinking and associated behaviors. I would have thought that your Puerto Rican exploits might have given you pause to perhaps limit your imbibing of your precious rum.  But alas, your hubris once again outweighs your common sense.  What a pity.

For those of you who are relatively new to the fun game of Thomas pretending to be someone else, I know this is Thomas for several reasons… many of which I will not reveal, but here’s a fun little tidbit: After Thomas’ ill-conceived and even worse-executed jaunt to Puerto Rico with Jenni, a little searching uncovered a blog he’d been writing for www.usedboatyard.com. (Okay, so maybe he didn’t exactly own all those yachts; maybe he was simply the hired help with grandiose ideas of his own importance…) Particularly telling was this post, in which he even references his trip to Puerto Rico and the “unforeseen issues” that arose on that trip (those being, presumably, Jenni’s drugging, subsequent abuse, and his carefully constructed house of cards collapsing around him). As you’ll see, the writer is none other than the writer of this lovely comment.  However, the writer of usedboatyard post was previously identified as “T.” and used the same IP address as Thomas did for his infamous (and fake) blog, “Morning Wood,” as well as other past and current blogs. After the Puerto Rico debacle was revealed, he pulled down the blogs he’d been writing at the time and changed the blogger name on the usedboatyard site to DD. I expect now he’ll change it to something else and assume that we are all too stupid or unaware to connect the dots.

Thomas also attempted to post a comment on my post there’s no place like home, to gallantly warn Pete that I am “c*nty.” I’m not sure that’s even a word, or just Thomas’ poor vocabulary waving at us again.   Also, am I the only one to have noticed that, for a man who preached excessively about the importance of “being a gentleman,” he has routinely shown himself to be anything but?  I’m fairly certain that most gentleman don’t publicly describe anything or anyone as “c*nty.”  And I don’t know about you, my readers, but I find Thomas’ predilection for referring to himself in the third person exceptionally tiresome. Really, Thomas, would you please just humor us all and refrain from that particular sin? It’s really quite annoying, and an immediate indicator of a simple mind.

Anyway, in continuing fulfillment of my promise to keep writing as long as he keeps preying, I add this post to the growing category of “Thomas Murray,” and I will no longer hope aloud that he goes away. I have given up on his reformation and so only hope now for word to spread to the extent that he is always thwarted. So, ladies be warned and be vigilant. Remind your friends to approach men they meet on the internet – and all men who seem too good to be true – with a heavy amount of skepticism. It’s not because they are not amazing women deserving of something too good to be true; it’s because men of that ilk are ridiculous and, worse, potentially dangerous. Don’t be fooled and don’t be taken in. Our best protection is each other.

P.S. — One last thing:  It was a delightful source of giggles that Thomas has finally adopted a moniker that suits him — “JKR,” which one can only assume is a shortened version of JOKER.  Yes, I believe that is about right.  Of the Batman/Jack Nicholoson, ridiculous-mutation-of-a-human-variety.  If others of you have additional ideas as to what JKR might stand for, I await those with bated breath!

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

breakups are harder on men? let’s revisit this one…

My last post, breakups are harder on men? who knew?, prompted some interesting comments, including one from French blogger Lady E, who raised some  points that I suspect would have been echoed by others had they taken the same time to comment.  Her comment was very thought-provoking to me, and enjoyably so.  I was about to reply, but decided instead to address her salient points in a post.

Here is her comment:

Biochemistry is all good and well, but extrapolating data from animals to humans who have an altogether different psychology, and have such a range of genetic make-ups (there is more variability within the male or female population than between any “average” male and female), not to mention the way more important experiences and cultures can be precarious, hence why when Glamour writers, who do like to select and misinterpret evidence, which backs up say their intuition : It’s not science. Not that it’s not interesting, because gut feelings, experience and personal wisdom are interesting and valid in their own way, but have virtually nothing to do with science.
Anyway, sorry, let me me get off my soap box, vasopressin playing a role in men’s sense of property, why not ?
But breakups being harder on men ? That would truly contradict my intuition that men land back on their feet way faster than women.

I understand the inherent dangers in extrapolating data from animals to humans, but I also know that a lot of respected biochemical psychology research is being produced in the States right now and subjected to the same scientific standards as other research, including being peer-reviewed and published (like the study quoted in Glamour, which was harvested from the Journal of Health and Social Behavior).  Not being a social scientist myself, I have only my natural skepticism and experiences to color my digestion of this research, and the startling aspect of it (to me, at least) is how the physiology of attraction or love or whatever can override the psychology.  In other words, our biochemistry is stronger at some times and in some regards than our psychology, causing us to do things and react in ways without any awareness of the “why.”

The science of brain chemistry is interesting to me not because I think it dictates how we behave, but because I think it influences us in ways of which we are completely unaware, regardless of intelligence, unless we know about it. Barring the scientifically-educated, most of us wander through our lives assuming it is free will that guides our choices, completely oblivious to why we like a particular person’s scent or body shape.  I first became opened to the idea of brain chemistry as it relates to human relationship behaviors, shortly after my separation, when I read The Female Brain, by Dr. Louann Brizendine, a UC Berkeley- and Yale-educated neurobiologist and medical doctor.  Her book, written in terms that every lay person can understand, amazed me and sparked a curiosity that has continued in the years since.  There is obviously much research to be done in this area, but I find it fascinating to watch it unfold.

Certainly, as with other aspects of biology (like heart health or female menstruation patterns), specific socio-geographic and cultural elements can strongly influence populations and change the nuances of the physiology.  Cultural differences likely play a strong role in modulating the influence of those chemicals in the brain.  It’s probably not without some degree of merit that we tend to stereotype Italians and Greeks as emotionally passionate, and Germans and Japanese as less so.  But, as is the case with all my posts, I’m writing from an American perspective, for an American audience, so it is the American experience that I am observing and on which I’m commenting.  I recognize that this is a limitation of my perspective.

But Lady E’s point that really arrested me (and one I’d expected to hear from more women, frankly) was made in the last line included here:

But breakups being harder on men ? That would truly contradict my intuition that men land back on their feet way faster than women.

This was exactly my sentiment when I first picked up the article, and I still feel it with some degree of persistence.  I think most women have shared the experience of watching an ex out gallivanting around with something in a mini-skirt, while we are still sitting at home, going through gallons of Haagen-Dazs and chick flicks.  And I think our impressions of that are not altogether wrong, but I think it’s worth asking why men seem to get over things faster, rather than assuming that they are simply cold-hearted jerks bent on turning our hearts into hamburger.  Here’s my hypothesis:  it’s because they aren’t necessarily in love when the breakup occurs.  In other words, I have a sneaking suspicion that men who are simply dating or messing around don’t have the experience of the woman becoming “home” to him, and therefore they aren’t going to suffer the breakup repercussions discussed in the Glamour article.  The article doesn’t explicitly lay this out, but when I read it, I assumed the study’s authors were considering only subjects who had been in committed, medium to long-term relationships.  It seems logical to me that there must be some duration of the relationship necessary to create the vasopressin-induced bonding that leads men to the breakup blues, but again, I’m just guessing here.  I also (again, perhaps wrongly) assumed that the male subjects were either broken up with or involved in a mutual break-up, and I think that this point would also greatly affect the man’s ability to “get over it.” Depending on the circumstances, most of us move on more easily when we’re the ones in control of the decision.  Finally, I think that the breakup studies likely did not include marriages or other long-term relationships in which one or both of the parties had grieved the relationship prior to the actual breakup.  Grieving the end before it occurs would surely diminish many of the effects of the subsequent breakup.

I think, however, that one more factor may be in play when Lady E and other women snort at the vasopressin/home concept, and that is this:  I have long thought that men take longer to get really, truly invested in a relationship.   And by longer, I’m not talking in terms of weeks or even months.  I’m talking years.  I’m not implying that men are cavalier about relationships, just musing that women seem to sink into a relationship sooner and reach their commitment equilibrium earlier on than men.  And maybe men sink more slowly as time goes on over many, many years.  In other words, I’m wondering if women are as in love and committed as they’re ever going to be fairly early on, whereas male commitment and bonding deepens over the years until it matches their mate’s.  I think that men who are recovering from the end of a really long-term marriage are just as shattered — if not more so — as their female counterparts, but men rebounding from a relationship of a year or two (or even less) seem to bounce back more easily than their exes.  I have absolutely no scientific proof of this theory as it is entirely anecdotal, but I won’t be surprised if the next round of scientific studies on the effect of brain chemistry on relationships bears me out.

Certainly there are so many variables at play in how relationships end and how we process that ending; it is part of the complexity of humanity that keeps us interesting.  And part of me hopes that science never fully unravels the mysteries…

And now, just for fun, some Google search results on this topic. Clearly more than one woman shares Lady E’s skepticism…

Do Men Go Through the Same Breakup Stages as Women?

Yahoo Question on “Ask”:  Attention Men! Do you cry for a break-up?

AnswerBag Question:  Do guys really feel hurt after breakups?

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Filed under dating, divorce, healing, men, relationships, sadness, single mom

breakups are harder on men? who knew?

While reading my Glamour magazine recently,

Blogger’s Note:  I receive Glamour magazine because when my favorite interior design magazine was cancelled last year, the publishing company decided to fulfill my remaining subscription with Glamour.  I have no idea what demographics they were relying on when they made that assignment. I am certain that I am 20 years outside their target audience.  I read it rather than throwing it away because I like a good, trashy dose of brain fluff once-in-a-while.  Anyway, back to the point of this sentence….

I came across an article titled “Why Breakups are Harder on Men than on Women.”

SERIOUSLY?! This I just had to read.  But only after scoffing audibly while instantaneously calling to memory the countless hours I’ve spent crying and thrashing and eating ice cream and drinking wine (sometimes all at the same time) after my own breakups.

Now, if you’ve followed me for any length of time at all, you know I’m a huge, shameless fan of little relationship factoids.  I collect them the way some of my guy friends collect sports statistics.  In my quest to do better with relationships post-divorce, I devour and regurgitate relationship research constantly.  My friends are abundantly patient with me, and I think some of them actually find this stuff interesting, too. But I’ll admit that when I discover some new little factoid that I’ve never heard before, I get a little giddy, kind of like when Separated Dad calls me to wax lyrical about the iPhone 5’s new features.

So, I set aside my skepticism (okay, some of my skepticism) and proceeded to discover why breakups are harder on men.

For those of you without the time or inclination to read the whole article (men should probably avoid the part about why size matters…), here’s the relevant part:

“Sex releases bonding chemicals oxytocin and vasopressin into female and male brains, and it’s vasopressin that helps a man bond with you. For an animal-kingdom example, consider the usually monogamous male prairie vole, a cute little mouselike creature. Larry and his colleagues discovered that without the vasopressin effect, the vole would turn into a promiscuous cad. No vasopressin effect, no monogamy. When a human male is under the influence of vasopressin, as all are during sex, he forms a bond with you that’s kind of like an animal claiming a home; your scent, your eye color, even your apartment all become cues that make him crave you. Another animal example: If you give a male hamster a shot of vasopressin to the brain, he’ll run around peeing like crazy to mark territory—that’s his place, nobody else’s. Release a guy’s vasopressin by having sex with him, and he’ll unconsciously start to view you as the territory he’s bonded to. You don’t have to like it, but this is where much of that famous male possessiveness comes from.”

The idea then follows that when the man goes through a breakup, he loses not only his girlfriend, but his whole sense of “home.”  Apparently, the bonding chemicals affect females differently, causing us to nurture, rather than protect, our mates, so the breakup affects us differently, too.

Hmmmm….

A couple of things jumped out at me from this description, beyond the fascinating science.  One was the author’s use of the word “crave” to describe a man’s attraction to his woman.  I’ve often used that word in my own head when thinking about how some men seem to truly need that sexual –rather than simply some other physical — connection with me.  I’ve often wondered if their need of me went beyond satisfying some basic urge like hunger.

I also had to acknowledge the male possessiveness thing.  Almost without exception, the men that I perceived having the strongest sexual attraction to me were also the men who were the most possessive.  I had never, ever linked the two until reading this article, but for me, at least, it’s true.  I’m not exactly sure what that means.  Naturally higher vasopressin levels on their part?  Something in me that triggered more release of vasopressin during sex? I don’t know, and it doesn’t really matter.  But I find it intriguing.

But above all, I was captured by his use of the word “home” to describe how the man attaches to his mate.  I have noticed that men — in songs, poetry, and Hollywood declarations of love — frequently invoke this sense of a woman as “home,” but, to be truthful, I’ve never really understood it.  From my female perspective, some men have felt more comfortable or comforting or safe to me than others, but I don’t think I’ve ever described someone as feeling like “home,” nor have I ever heard any woman of my acquaintance do so.  This is very curious to me, since women are supposedly hard-wired to nest, to create a home, to want to feel “at home.”  And yet we don’t seem to invoke that lingo about our partners.  Men, on the other hand, are “kings of their castles” and “masters of their domains,” but hardly ever talk about seeking a home or creating a home or whatever.  And yet, when reaching for a word to describe their soulmate, they settle on “home.”  So now I wonder:  is that because, for a man, “home” is wherever his woman is?  Does he not seek to create a home so much as to find one in a mate? Does her scent, her hair, her possessions become that home for him?  If so, that is a positively lovely and precious and wonderful thing.  And if it means that he hurts more when it’s over, then that is sad, to be sure.  But also kind of wondrous.

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the smile in my voice

Last week, I was on the telephone very late one night, when Sabrina came into my room to tell me she was nervous about some things at school and so couldn’t sleep.  I briefly interrupted my conversation, reassured her and told her to go back to bed.  I would come tuck her in and check on her when I finished my conversation.

The following morning, as we were in the kitchen preparing breakfast, the following conversation ensued:

Sabrina:  Who were you talking to so late last night?

TPG:  Hmmm… Who do you think?

Sabrina (spoken with authority): Well, it wasn’t Pete.

TPG:  Really? How do you know?

Sabrina (shrugging):  Because you didn’t have your smile in your voice.

As often happens in my parenting moments, I was struck dumb.  Dumb by her wisdom. Dumb by her perception.  Dumb by her ability to so beautifully and succinctly capture in words the happiness I feel when I am sharing time with Pete, even over the phone.

But later, reflecting on the conversation, I was also aware of how profound that moment probably was for Sabrina, albeit unconsciously so.  What did she learn in that small moment about dating, how a man should make you feel, what falling in love might look like?  I often forget that I am constantly on stage for my daughters — they are critics in the front row, taking subconscious notes of my behaviors, my values, my choices.  My actions and words broadcast messages and lessons to them all day and in every way, and most times I am thankfully unaware of their scrutiny.  But every once in a while, it hits me.

I want my girls to have relationships with men who treat them so well and enrich their lives in ways that I cannot.  I want them to feel accepted and valued and safe.  I want them to fall in love without fear of that love being returned.  I want, someday, to overhear a conversation between them and their guy, and hear a smile in their voice.  And if I do, my heart will sing.

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Filed under dating, happy endings, love, pete, relationships, single mom

sure you’re in a relationship, but do you know how to “have” one?

My independent spirit, natural reserve, and aversion to needy men has often led me to men who are emotionally unavailable in some fashion or another.  Nice men, with one notable exception, but not really ready or able or willing to truly sink into a relationship, embrace it, and let it naturally evolve.  Sometimes these men were badly damaged by previous relationships (romantic or familial), sometimes they were shy to the point of being closed off, and sometimes they were just fun guys who had no real desire to go deep emotionally.  Whatever the reason, I have spent a lot of time in relationships in which I reached for my partner, only to have my hand close on nothing but air.

My therapist likes to talk about how some people simply “don’t know how to have.”  I refer to them in my head as “Have-nots.”  They basically are incapable of embracing and being genuinely happy with a new, healthy relationship, so they find ways to sabotage it.  These people often feel, deep down, that they are not deserving of a truly amazing relationship.  Guilt, shame, regret, or fear can cause them to pull away from anything that feels genuine and authentic.  Have-nots are hesitant to be really known by anyone, out of fear that rejection will somehow follow, and they worry that they won’t be able to sustain a real relationship.  Some Have-nots hide behind being “too busy” or “too hurt” or some other “too” to avoid really digging deep and creating something incredible.   It is easier and safer to be in something with clear and distinct boundaries and limits, so a deep and sincere intimacy isn’t ever really possible, but neither is heart-breaking pain.  When Have-nots encounter someone who is open and giving and loving, who attempts to create something real with them, they often react with irritability, confusion, or even anger.  Usually, their own inability to get close is blamed on the other person, who is often characterized as too demanding.

I think, like most emotional issues, this “inability to have” is a spectral thing, and I know that I have vacillated along the spectrum at different points in my life.  There have been definite and clear periods of my life when I have not been certain of what I deserved or able to give much, and other times when I have been open and loving and discovered myself involved with someone who was not.  Sometimes I have figured this out on the first date; other times it has taken months (or even years — yikes!) of mixed signals and roller-coaster emotions before I finally realized it.  Sometimes I’m the one sending the mixed signals, but more often I’m the one trying to decipher them.  Either way, it’s exhausting and unproductive and sad.

In fact, I have spent so much time in relationships like this, that I had pretty much forgotten what it feels like when it’s not.  I’d forgotten what it feels like when it flows easily.  When I don’t feel insecure about anything.  When I feel free to raise uncomfortable subjects and have them addressed.  When there wasn’t something hanging out there, like a dark thunder cloud in the distance, leaving me wondering how we’d handle that when it was overhead and whether it might do us in.

But I am, apparently, learning.

Somewhere in the darkness of my recent depression, when I wasn’t consciously analyzing anything, my subconscious was working out some really big questions.  And when I emerged from that darkness, I carried with me a quiet certainty, a soulful knowledge of what I wanted and deserved.  I didn’t feel like I needed to chase it down or apologize for it or worry that it wouldn’t show up.  It simply was, as much a part of me as my red hair or the freckles on my nose.  And then Pete appeared.

Pete could easily be a Have-not. The stories from his marriage, divorce, and subsequent life upheaval are epic and sad.  I can only figure that he survived them because he had two little girls depending on him and a strong core of integrity around his own actions and decisions.  He could easily have become bitter, resentful, and closed off.  But he didn’t.  He is open and present and available.  Steady and unwavering.  Patient and kind.  He has even, for his daughters’ sakes, negotiated a courteous relationship with his ex-wife; something for which I really admire him, especially given her behavior.

I think Pete’s ability to have — to truly, happily embrace our new relationship — is indicative of his strong sense of himself.  His unconscious sense of self-worth, of knowing that he deserves someone amazing and that he can be amazing, too.  He isn’t gun-shy about us, he doesn’t back-pedal or run away or over-analyze or freak out and blame me.  He doesn’t get defensive when I raise something touchy, and he goes out of his way to show me that I’m special to him, that he respects me and likes to spend time with me.  In turn, I don’t worry about anything — where our relationship is going, whether he cares about me, whether we can handle the challenges of four young girls while still carving out time for each other, and on and on.  I just know that we’re both here, happy and excited and wanting to see where it all leads, and applying our best selves to the effort.

I love that I can be every version of myself around Pete.  I love that he constantly surprises me by showing me more of himself that I wouldn’t have guessed at.  I love that we share an optimism about our relationship that allows us to playfully imagine lots of fun things in the future.  But I think the thing I like best is being able to finally be kind and loving toward a man and him wanting to have that, without reservation or holding back.  There is something particularly beautiful in telling someone how much you value them and seeing their face light up with delight, or doing some small thing for them and seeing them appreciate it without attaching some negative connotation to your motive.  These are simple things, but they are also the things that create trust in each other and faith in the relationship.  And I believe that those are the things that sustain you later on, when the initial blush of the new relationship fades.

So, I think being able to really have a relationship must also be important to its long-term sustainability.  I think that knowing that you and your partner both value what you have is huge.  And being able to look at each other and agree that you’re both lucky is priceless.  The rest I’m still figuring out, but that I know for sure.

Me and “Pete” 🙂

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blossoming

As every parent knows, transitions are hard.  We learn pretty quickly from our newborns that small humans do not like change.  Oh no, they like structure and predictability and safety.  But, later, some of them grow into risk-takers, adrenaline-junkies who push the envelope and seek the kinds of challenges that make a mother’s heart stop beating for a few seconds.  Those children face change straight-on, with gusto, even.

My 11-year-old daughter, Sabrina, is not one of those children.

Sabrina has always resisted change of any sort.  Even good change is not good change to Sabrina.  My former mother-in-law likes to tell the story of how she offered to buy my daughters a new playhouse to replace the decrepit hand-me-down one in backyard at the time.  My then-husband’s only pre-requisite:  that the existing playhouse would have to go to make room for the new one.  The new playhouse was amazing — big enough for all their friends and with lots of bells and whistles — while the old playhouse was small and faded and broken-down.  Bryn, Sabrina’s younger sister, was on-board immediately.  But not Sabrina.  She dug her heels in and refused.  She absolutely did not want to replace the old playhouse, even though she rarely played in it because she was already getting too tall to stand comfortably.  But she did not want it changed out.  No siree.  Not happening.  No way.  No how.  And the old playhouse still sits there, more than 4 years later.

So, when Sabrina went off to middle school last week, I braced myself. This was a huge change.  She wouldn’t have anyone she knew in her classes, would be riding her bike to school, and would have to navigate all the daunting aspects of middle school — lockers, switching classes, changing for gym class — all on her own.  I wondered what would happen, what emotional drama would ensue, how badly this change would set back her fragile self-confidence.

Instead, my little girl has faced her challenges with a grace I had not known she possessed.

Middle school is, almost by definition, an in-between, back-and-forth, mixed-up, confusing place.  Throw in a brainy young girl who prefers books to most people and it becomes positively cringe-worthy.  Sabrina is tall and awkward, and very, very aware of her awkwardness, especially by comparison to the “popular girls” she has quickly identified and is giving wide berth to.  And with only 8 days of school under her belt, she has already suffered one of the worst nightmares imaginable to a girl her age:  her Spanish teacher asked the children to pair up for an assignment.  My sweet Sabrina asked three kids to be her partner, and they each declined, including the one who chose to work alone.  When she told me the story, it took everything I had not to cry for her, and the mean part of me hated those children for hurting her that way.  I felt broken, but she, amazingly, persevered.

Sabrina is negotiating the treacherous world of Girl Politics, managing her much longer homework list, and making tentative forays to things outside her comfort zone.  She is genuinely trying to proactively command her own destiny, in her shy but determined manner, and she is positively in love with her new teachers, her new classes, and her new routine.  She is bubbly and glowing and excited about everything.  Somehow, someway, my quiet, cautious, sensitive little girl is heady with the thrill of her latest adventure.  She has even found her way to shrugging ruefully about her Spanish class mortification, and today she set off for school an hour early to try out for an elite girls’ choir that she stands little chance of making as 6th-grader.  But she is putting herself out there and trying and testing her personal boundaries.  And in between waves of feeling so grateful I could cry, I’m astonished.

Sabrina has been on a roll, actually.  She shocked me a couple of weeks ago, when we attended her first private voice lesson.  Her dad and I insist that the girls do a sport and an art or music activity.  After a few years of flute, Sabrina gave it up, claiming she was bored.  All last year, she resisted taking up another instrument, until finally, reluctantly, agreeing to play the guitar.  Then, just as I was shopping for a guitar for her, she hesitantly asked me if voice lessons would count towards music.  Assured that they would, she was then adamant:  voice or nothing.  Her dad and I were skeptical. True, Sabrina had done well enough with flute, but neither of us had ever heard Sabrina really sing.

But again, she surprised us.

Who knew that my daughter has nearly perfect pitch and the ability to sight-read music?  Who knew that she possessed such a lovely, clear, strong singing voice?  Who knew that her range was so broad?

Sabrina bounces out of her voice lessons as if she has springs in her sneakers.  “I love, love, LOVE voice lessons, Mommy!” she sings to me.  She is so visibly elated and pleased with herself that I can’t help but laugh out loud.  This is my child who so often stands in the shadow of her charismatic and out-going sister, my sweet girl who struggles with self-esteem and self-identity, my precious baby who clings to all that is safe and known.

One of the things that I love about parenting is how often it kicks my butt and shows me how much I don’t know.  No matter how certain I may be that I understand my children, can predict their behaviors, know all their talents and short-comings, they always seem to be able to surprise me.  Nothing pulls me up short more than to discover something new and unexpected in my children.  Sometimes it’s a delightful discovery, like Bryn’s writing ability, while other times it’s discouraging, like Sabrina’s capacity for lying.  But no matter what it is, I’m always left a little dumbfounded, wondering how the hell I hadn’t known this about someone that I literally manufactured from my own cells.

Watching Sabrina blossom over the last month has reminded me that none of us truly knows how much we are capable of or what we might accomplish if we only try.  We can never be fully known because there are always new pieces to discover, new aspects to explore.  Even at 11, Sabrina had begun to define herself in static and not often flattering terms, and yet she has surprised all of us, including herself, again and again this month.  And she has faced her setbacks with grace and determination, which is all that any of us can hope.

I have often found myself in awe of my children, wondering at their talents that I do not possess, admiring their attributes that I would do well to emulate.  I am overjoyed to watch my little Sabrina bloom into the fine young woman she is becoming, and so very grateful to be along for the ride.

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target date

Last night, after I attended two Back-to-School picnics with my daughters, Pete and I stole away for some special, quality time alone.

At Super Target.

That’s right, folks.  We went grocery shopping together.  I helped him pick out a new shower curtain, and he stood gamely by while I picked up a new blush compact and some bagels.

This is what passes for romance when you’re both single parents of two small children each.  Sexy, no?

But, to be honest, it was really nice.  We strolled along, him pushing the cart, me holding his arm.  I poked around through the handbags (I can’t resist handbags anywhere) and he weighed in on the ineffectiveness of using 3M Command Strip hooks to hang up towels.  We kicked off our shoes to test drive the bathmats, and he made jokes about what a shame it was that the bedding section didn’t actually have any beds to, you know, “try out.”   Weaving through the aisles, we chatted aimlessly about the kids and work and various bits and pieces that I don’t even remember.

What I do remember is how nice it felt.

When my marriage was in shambles, I read a book that very plainly laid out, in question form, whether your marriage had the necessary ingredients to re-establish a good union.  One of the points that struck me — hard, in the gut — was the question of could you do nothing with this person and still feel that you passed the time pleasantly?  Without the benefit of a fun schedule of activities, the company of friends, or expensive toys or vacations.  Could you, quite simply, just be with that person and still feel fulfilled?  When I read that section of the book, I felt my heart sink.  My husband and I had long ago reached the point where, without some pleasant distraction, the air between us was heavy and sad and tense.   It seemed like it had been ages since we had been able to just be together — just us — and enjoy each other.  I didn’t know where we had gone wrong or how we had gotten off track, but when I looked over my shoulder, I saw that the road behind us was thick with overgrown problems and resentments.  There was no going back.

But from that sad moment, I extracted a valuable lesson:  to cultivate and nurture the simple times.  When a couple is first together, everything is fun because you’re still learning about each other, hearing stories, exploring your relationship.  But later, after the first few months or years, it is all too easy to begin to disengage.  To begin dividing chores and duties, spending less time together and more apart, developing common interests and experiences with people other than your partner.  Until one day, you have traveled so far away from each other down divergent paths, and the road behind you is too thick to find your way back to each other.

One of the gifts of divorce, if we choose to embrace it, is the chance to be more mindful in our choices and our patterns; to make different mistakes than we made the first time; to recognize how patterns established early on will influence and direct the course of the relationship in the long-term.  We can do things differently, and hopefully find a different result.

I’m not talking about being hyper-vigilant or over-analyzing everything and suffocating the natural evolution of a relationship.  What I’m getting at is recognizing and acknowledging the good stuff you share and protecting it because you value it, making course corrections as necessary to preserve it, and not allowing the noise and stresses of life to distract you while the relationship goes off the rails to crash and burn in a fiery divorce.  I get that this isn’t easy, but I don’t think it’s supposed to be easy every day, all the time.  I know that when my ex-husband and I married, we understood that there would be “hard times,” but we imagined them to be akin to the struggles we faced with my daughter’s health, and the financial scares of my husband’s lay-offs.  We congratulated ourselves on weathering those times quite well and solidly as a couple.  But we didn’t fully understand that perhaps the hardest part of a relationship is just keeping it healthy.  Healthy bodies can sometimes withstand even a severe, acute illness, but unhealthy bodies can be laid low by simple viruses.  Our divorce was definitely precipitated by lots of small viruses, rather than one, massive heart attack.  I believe the same is true of relationships —  and it is far harder to restore them to health once they are unhealthy than it is to maintain their health in the first place.

So, I am busy noticing the easy things and the simple times and remembering that it’s important to nurture the aspects of a relationship that you love and value; to not take them for granted as somehow being inherent in relationship, unchangeable and constant.  Because even those wonderful elements that come so easily in the beginning can fall away over the years like sand through our fingers unless we are conscious and present in our attempts to keep them full of life and energy.

I know that some days will surely suck — we’ll argue, we’ll be sad, or we just plain won’t like each other that much.  But the only thing I can do to protect us from those days’ damage is to celebrate and reinforce all the awesomeness we’re creating now.  Even when that awesomeness happens in the aisles of a Super Target.

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

creating space for the love you want

One of my favorite bloggers, MyJourneyMyRules, published a post today that was, in part, about her struggle to stay focused on a guy she’s just started seeing who may have some potential, when she is being seriously tempted by a “bad habit” crush of hers.  As she points out, nearly all of us have experienced that push-pull of what we know is good for us and what tempts us to be naughty.  While oftentimes our surrender to the naughty side is harmless and fun, it also — at least as far as dating goes — can beget some pretty ugly emotional hangovers.

I remember when my youngest was a toddler — I could watch the push-pull play out across her face as she struggled with what she was supposed to do versus what she wanted to do.  Her forehead would crinkle in concentration and her eyes grow serious, and then — even before she’d made a move in either direction! — the chosen path would be announced by her expression:  disappointment and resignation if she decided to be a good girl; a stubborn set to her chin if she’d embraced her inner bad girl.  Because, even at the age of two, we all know what we’re supposed to do.  It’s doing it that’s harder.

My blogging friend knows that she needs to give this new guy a chance.  She knows that she needs to eliminate the distractions of men who are not good for her and what-if scenarios that undermine her attention to her new relationship.  But she admits that she’s not sure which path she’ll chose, and while I have no idea what she will do, I know that in my experience, hesitation has always meant that I knew full well that I was going to be bad girl, but I hadn’t decided to acknowledge it just yet.

My friend Katrina once got an invitation to fly up the coast and meet up with a hot, former professional athlete that we’ve known since high school.  For a couple of weeks, she insisted that she hadn’t made up her mind whether she was going, even though we both knew full and well that her mind was made up as soon as she received the invitation.  I mean, it was just too tempting, and with no strong counterbalance weighing against going, it was a done deal.

I think the challenging thing about doing the right thing when dating is that often “the right thing” means doing nothing.  Sitting alone, sleeping alone, moving through your day wondering if or when someone great might saunter into your life.  Doing the right thing rarely means going out with that superhot guy you know damn well is NOT going to call you next week.  And that’s the frustrating part, isn’t it?  Doing nothing does not feel empowering, it feels passive.  Doing nothing does not feel strong, it feels lonely.  But the truth is that sometimes doing nothing is making an affirmative choice.  And a hard one at that.

As with any general rule, there are some exceptions — the time I spent dating without commitment immediately following my divorce was necessary and useful to my personal growth.  I definitely went out with guys I wouldn’t give the time of day to now, but at the time it was fun, and fun was the only pre-requisite.  And I knew that I really didn’t have much to offer besides being fun myself at that point, so it felt appropriate for the time. But, for the most part, most of the time, dating players and other versions of the commitment-phobic is not a good idea.

The blogosphere is rife with posts railing against the admonition that “It will happen when it’s right,” and I have certainly contributed my share to this body of work.  The thing I hate about this platitude is that it seems to imply that love (or whatever good fortune you’re seeking) will come along when you have all your metaphorical ducks perfectly in a row.  I resisted this because I can quite sincerely tell you that I have never, not for one minute of my life, had all my ducks neatly in a row; inevitably, there is always some corner of my life that is a hot mess.  So, the idea that payoff for being a good girl making good choices was only going to come once all my ducks were in that row was more than a little discouraging and frustrating.

But I’ve lately been contemplating the possibility that the adage actually means something more like “It will happen when there’s space.”  In other words, when you make emotional space in your life for a change or transition or addition, then it will be more likely to appear.  I think this is why we intuitively know that as long as we’re playing with Mr. Wrong, Mr. Right isn’t going to show up.  But in the absence of a direct choice between Mr. Wrong and Mr. Right, most of us think, “What the heck — I might as well have fun with Mr. Wrong while I wait for Mr. Right to finally get here!”

I think that the reason that Mr. Right doesn’t show up as long as we’re playing with Mr. Wrong (or even multiple Mr. Wrongs, as the case may be), is because there isn’t any real room.  The space is taken.  Our emotional energy and attention are split or even entirely focused on that relationship with Mr. Wrong, however unfulfilling or meaningless it may be.  It’s only when we fully clear the decks and truly open ourselves affirmatively in the direction of our hopes that something good shows up.  It’s almost like the presence of a go-nowhere relationship in which we’re still invested serves as a repellant to a relationship that might actually make us happy.

I have written about how the noise in our lives can be so distracting that it’s hard to find our emotional focus and center.  I’m a firm believer that some time alone — and by this I don’t just mean boyfriend-less, but truly alone with ourselves and our thoughts — is the only way to find the peace in the silence, to fully realize who we are and what we ultimately want.   It’s not easy to say no to a date that might offer the immediate gratification of attention and laughter in order to hold our space for something deeper and more sustainable, but I suspect that that is precisely what we have to do in order to create the right space for that something.

I am not saying that when we are ready for love we should cloister ourselves away from the world and not date or go out or proactively seek our happiness — I am simply suggesting that we probably shouldn’t spend our precious time and energy traversing roads we already know to be dead ends.  I think if we want The Real Deal, we have to make room for it and be open to it.  Fully and completely.  We have to decide, once and for all, that our long-term happiness is more important than short-term fun and respect our needs and desires enough to reject anything that doesn’t move us toward that goal.

Easier said than done?  Sure.  And life can be a cruel temptress.  All too often she shows up and says, “Are you sure you don’t want a little bit of this?”  As if to prove my point, as I was about 1/2 way through writing this post, Coach texted me to ask me out for this weekend.  I declined and told him I was dating someone now.  I declined, but not because I had to; because I honestly, finally wanted to.  Just as I did the last he contacted me, in June.  And just as I will the next time he asks me out.  He is fun, to be sure, but I want fun and a whole lot more right now.

Knowing what you want and making the space for it in your life are two different things.  It’s so much harder than people who are happily ensconced in relationships will acknowledge, because loneliness and fear are strong motivators to settle for less than we deserve.  I’m obviously no expert at resisting temptation, but in the past couple of years, I’ve learned the hard lessons that come with surrendering to what I know isn’t good for me.  So, I’ve been working on creating space for the stuff that’s good for me.  And you know what?  I’ve discovered that sometimes in that good space you even get to be bad.

Jackpot.

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