Tag Archives: dating

boobs

One of my favorite bloggers, The Edmonton Tourist, published a post recently about how desperately so many women (she and I included) have struggled at times to be someone’s physical ideal.

Raised in North America and fed a steady diet of fashion magazine models, MTV video stars, and movie queens, I think we women fail to even realize a lot of the time how much we measure ourselves against certain criteria, and typically find ourselves lacking. I think we’re aware of it in a big picture sense; but the insidious little moments when those doubts whisper in the back of our brains are probably far more common than we notice. Sure, I think it gets better with age – most of my female peers are relatively content with their appearance – but certain aspects of our bodies remain or become trigger points of insecurity. We all know the usual culprits: thighs, tummies, butts, and, with age, wrinkles, grey hair, and flabby arms. But really, the list goes on and is super-dependent on our individual bodies and how we perceive them.

The men that we are with – particularly the ones granted the privilege of seeing us naked – are incredibly powerful determiners of our self-image. And it’s taken me a pathetically long time to realize that men have almost no idea how easily an off-hand compliment or put-down can completely alter our sense of what is beautiful about our bodies. It’s almost frightening how much control we cede to them in this regard,and how perpetually clueless they are of this power.

When I was younger, I took every male comment of this kind as an absolute. If a guy said my legs were hot, I assumed all men would think so. It wasn’t just his personal opinion; I extrapolated and assumed that I simply had empirically hot legs. But the same was true with negative comments. It wasn’t just one guy who thought I was “too pale.” No, my fair skin was basically ugly and something all future men would have to look past if they were to be attracted to me.

Then I grew up (or, rather, grew older…), and it finally dawned on me that the same things that one man might not like about me, might be another man’s favorite. Let’s visit my pale skin, for example. My skin is pale, yes. It does not tan. I will never look like a summer goddess in a swimsuit. But, it is also silky soft, even on my arms and legs, as more than one partner has commented on. So, one man’s “ick” factor might be another’s quiet fetish.

But what’s interesting to me is how persistently (and subconsciously!) I held on to certain ideals about female bodies, even armed with this perspective granted by maturity. It seems I am still coming face-to-face with my own pre-conceived notions. For instance, I am relatively tall – 5’7” – and have always seen that as an asset. All my female friends who are short want to be taller, my daughter Bryn, who is short, wants to be taller, my mother always wanted to be taller. But James, being only about 5’9” himself, has always preferred petite women – small and tiny, which I am not. It’s strange to confront the idea that something I’d always banked on as a physical asset might not be so in every relationship. Here was something I’d never even questioned, and yet it, like all other aspects of physical beauty, was in the eye of the beholder apparently. Does my height bother James? No, I don’t think so. But is it his perfect ideal? No, it’s not.

Then there are the flagrant, incorrect assumptions based on gossamer-thin evidence that we make about what our man might prefer. Maybe these assumptions are founded on off-the-cuff comments about actresses, old girlfriends, or even women on the street. A couple of comments about other women’s “great legs” and we may – without even realizing it – assume we’re with a guy who places a high priority on long, shapely legs. And so we file that away and critically examine whether our legs stand up to that ideal.

In the best relationships, of course, these ideals don’t really matter or affect the relationship in any identifiable way, but I would argue that they usually creep in and get in the way without us even noticing.

And this is where boobs come into my story.

One of the first things I noticed about James when we started dating was that he’s a Boob Guy. In my experience, most guys are particularly fond of a certain part of women’s bodies – he might be an Ass Man, a Leg Man, a Boob Guy… you get the idea. Before getting a real glimpse of the woman’s personality, he is likely to notice and appreciate some part of her physicality. Seems like it’s just male nature, and, frankly, I think women are pretty much the same way, except that we don’t talk about it all the time. I, for example, am an unabashed Chest and Arms Girl. Legs? Eh. Six-pack? Whatever. But give me a man with a broad shoulders, great pecs, and strong biceps, and I melt. Sad, but true.

So, anyway, James is a Boob Guy, and unashameably so. It’s like he can’t help it. He’s never rude or creepy about it, but I’m certain that his particular idea of Heaven involves lots of well-endowed girls in bikini tops. And, as best I can tell, he’s always been this way. There is a long line of relatively large-chested (some made by God, others by man) women in his past, and as soon as I realized this, the little worm of insecurity started wiggling in my brain.

Because I am not big-busted. I am a solid B-cup. Aside from the years when I was nursing my babies, I have never been any bigger. There’s nothing wrong with my breasts but there’s nothing amazing about them, either. Were a musician to wax poetic about my attributes, my breasts would likely fall into the Fine-but-Forgettable category. I’ve never particularly thought much about them. They’re there. They’re fine. They functioned as needed for my babies. But I’ve never used them socially or capitalized on them the way women more physically gifted than I seem to.

And then I ended up with a Boob Guy. After many months together, I realized that I was avoiding walking around bra-less or naked on top in James’ presence. When we were in bed, I would pull the sheet to cover myself without thinking. In fact, if I thought about it all, it was only to be grateful that he was so strongly attracted to me despite my breasts being not the best he’d seen.

But I was wrong.

One night, as I lay naked in his arms and we watched television, James commented – so casually that it took my breath away – that I had the most perfect breasts. Sincerely shocked, I looked at him to see if he was being facetious, but he wasn’t. In fact, continuing in the same tone, he very matter-of-factly enumerated what he loved about them. I was so stunned, I don’t think I even responded. Perfect breasts? Me???

The Moral of the Story should be obvious, but in case it’s not, I’ll spell it out for you: Men are more complicated than we give them credit for much of the time. What attracts and holds them is most definitely not as simple as the latest Cosmopolitan would like us to believe. There is truly no empirical ideal of female beauty, THANK GOD for that. Seriously. A man’s ability to appreciate and admire so many different aspects and manifestations of female beauty is a blessing and a wonderful treasure that we should never discount or ignore.

So, whatever part of your body you’re scared of showing off, or whatever piece of yourself you’ve been covering up in front of your guy, STOP. You never know what he’s thinking or how many parts of you make him totally, crazy hot. The fun is in the finding out.

So go find out. Right now. What are you waiting for?

cleavage

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Filed under personal growth, relationships, single mom

an open letter to my friends

To my Dear Friends, far and near:

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

I am indeed blessed to have you in my life.

But.

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

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

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

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

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

I cannot convince you otherwise.

Nor will I try.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

road less traveled

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Filed under dating, happy endings, love, relationships

my pinch me life

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

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

James and I have moved in together.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That, and love each other.  Truly and deeply.

photo

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Filed under happy endings, love, relationships, single mom

an unconventional love story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

swans

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the assumption pitfall

There are few things that get me in more personal trouble than my tendency to assume things.  Yes, of course I’ve heard the old saying that “To assume makes an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me'” and I swear that I don’t mean to assume things… but I do.  As an adult, I’ve realized that there is a certain arrogance inherent in an assumption — basically what we’re saying is that we are so smart that we can discern what someone else is thinking or feeling based on selected, minimal, or even no evidence.

It’s no wonder that our assumptions are wrong at least as much as they are right.  But because humans tend to ignore information that contradicts our belief structure, I think we generally place more weight on memories of the times our assumptions were correct.  “Aha!” we cry, “See?! I knew it all along!” This reinforces our future reliance on our brilliant ability to assume conclusions that may or may not true.

Crises of self-doubt result when our assumptions are wrong, so I think we try to avoid addressing those head-on.  Admitting that we based decisions, hopes, dreams, or even just directed emotional energy toward something that was born from a very flawed assumption is pretty hard to swallow sometimes.  And it seems like when we do face the fact that we relied heavily and to our detriment on a flawed assumption, everything from mild embarrassment to complete self-loathing can occur, depending on how erroneous and painful the actual truth was.

Most of my assumptions tend to the negative, although there are some ridiculous, Pollyanna-ish exceptions in my past that still cause me to grimace in shame.  But, if I’m being honest, I know that most of the time, when I’m scared and uncertain, I’m assuming a poor outcome will result and rationalizing it under the “Assume the Worst; Hope for the Best” rubric.  And we all know how easily this can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, which is a whole other post in itself, I think.

I think that most of the time we cling to our negative assumptions out of fear — fear of being duped, fear of repeating past mistakes, fear of being wrong.  Basically, it’s fear.  And I think that we cling to our positive assumptions out of hope — hope that things are not as they seem, hope that they will resolve themselves, hope that if we wish hard enough, it will be true.  So, basically, it’s hope.

Both kinds of assumptions are bad news in relationships.  In my relationship with Pete, he assumed certain things about my feelings and about us, based on his own feelings and wishes, which he projected onto me.  As a result, he was far more upset at our relationship’s end than he might have been if I had realized the assumptions he was making and made necessary adjustments.  He was basing his assumptions on what felt like good, solid evidence, but mostly he was just being hopeful, and there’s really nothing wrong with that.  It just sucks when you’re wrong. We frequently see this kind of post-break-up assumption in the form of our expectation that the object of our desire will “come to their senses” or “see the light” and realize how special and wonderful our relationship was.  Sometimes this does happen, but it’s pretty rare, isn’t it? A couple of years ago, my friend Annie had a boyfriend of four months, Ned, who simply refused to accept that her feelings for him were never as deep as his for her.  Months later, he was still blathering on about it and resenting her for being heartless and moving on.  Most of us have been in Ned’s position at one point or another, and it definitely feels terrible.  But clinging to assumptions that are nothing but false hope is one of the worst forms of self-torture.

Conversely, in my relationship with James, I have made many erroneous negative assumptions, again based on what felt like good, solid evidence, but was mostly just fear.  I have a long list of moments when I was too petrified to ask a pointed question, lest my worst fears be confirmed.  So instead, I clung to my assumptions, which were generally worse than any reality might have been.  This is a particularly insidious kind of assumption, as it allows you to beat yourself up with the assumed facts first, and then go round two with yourself when you discover the error in your assumption.  Good times all around, for sure.

Assumptions are pretty easily avoided, of course.  “Just ask,” would seem to be solid advice in this regard.  But it’s not really that easy, is it?  Because we can be blinded by both hope and fear, and most times we’re not even aware that we’re assuming.  It’s only that pesky hindsight that usually shows us how fast we traveled Assumption Road toward Conclusion City.

So, I don’t have any answers to this particular problem, except to say that I’m really working on it in my own life. And I hope it will get easier. Or at least I assume so.

assumption sign

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two daddies

Last evening, while I was driving my little family to an elementary school fundraiser, my 9-year-old daughter, Bryn, piped up from the back seat and said, a propos of nothing, “You know, Mommy, when you get remarried, it’s going to be awkward at first because we’ll have to get used to having two daddies.”

Well.

As is typical of our most serious discussions, my daughter had caught me completely off-guard.  My head was pre-occupied with work issues and worries about finding parking at the mall amidst the onslaught of holiday shoppers, and this was when she chose to have this all-important conversation?  Very well.  I drew a long, deep breath, slowed down to give us more time to talk, and thought to myself, “Stay focused.  Here we go.”

First, I tackled the question of “two daddies,” by pointing out that she already had one really good dad and no one coming into her life was ever, ever going to replace him. That’s simply not how it works.  I used myself as an example, pointing out that I have a variety of mothers — a birthmother, an adoptive mother, and a step-mother — all of whom I love in very different ways and with whom I have varying degrees of closeness.

At this point in the conversation, something surprising happened — my elder daughter, Sabrina, interjected and began explaining to Bryn that any man in my life (and by necessity, theirs) would be their good friend and maybe even super-close friend, like an uncle or something, but not a dad.  Because their daddy was and always would be their dad, but they could have lots of great friends who cared about them and supported them and taught them things.  Furthermore, she pointed out to Bryn, the girls have a couple of step-grandfathers and that doesn’t make them love their other grandfathers any less.

I was rendered temporarily speechless.  Clearly, Sabrina had given this considerable thought, and reached some remarkably mature conclusions.  To be honest, she was handling it better than I.

Next, Bryn expressed her fear that I would marry someone that she didn’t know very well, and what if she ended up disliking him?  This is, of course, a common fear of children in divorced families.  And here, I again, had my own example to share with her, since my mom had married my step-dad after knowing him for all of 9 (yes, that’s a 9) months total.  While he is a good man and she a good woman, it was a terrible match, and certainly set my 13-year-old world a-spinning.  My daughters know the story of my parents’ marriage and how miserable it was, both during and as it came apart.  So, once more, Sabrina spoke up and reminded Bryn that, having gone through that, I would never do that to them.  Sabrina and I also reminded Bryn, by way of concrete example, that James and I had dated for nearly 9 months before he spent any real time with my girls and it was a whole year before he spent the night at the house with all of us.  Going “too fast” is not in my nature.

I could feel Bryn relax in the seat behind me, but not entirely.

“But Mommy,” she insisted, “it would still be awkward at first, wouldn’t it? I mean, it would be strange to get used to a whole new member of our family.  It would change things.”

I paused, trying to figure out how to address this.  She was right, of course.  Anyone who’s been through the effort of blending families knows that it has its very specific challenges.  The Brady Bunch it is definitely not.  So how to acknowledge the validity of her concerns while still assuaging her anxiety?

Again, it was Sabrina to the rescue:

“Bryn, of course it would be a little strange at first.  But if Mommy marries someone, chances are good that we’ll like him.  And we’ll just figure it out as we go along.  Together. like we always do.  Because we’re a family.”

I reinforced what Sabrina had said and noted that I couldn’t have said it better.  I could feel and hear Bryn relax completely.

The girls then spent the remainder of the ride contemplating whether their parents would ever get married again to other people (they decided probably yes), and, if so, which one would be the first to do so (they decided their dad would).

I drove the rest of the way through the dark, saying a silent prayer of gratitude.  That we had come so far since the divorce.  That we could talk so openly and comfort each other about the big, hard questions.  That it seems that I was doing an okay job of this whole “mothering” thing. And that the universe had allowed me a hand in raising these two amazing little humans.

Yes, especially that last one.

stepparents

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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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Filed under dating, general musings, love, personal growth, relationships

how to write a love letter, by Johnny Cash

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sigh.

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

June's an angel

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

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

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

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

John and June

Photo courtesy of via.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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