Tag Archives: divorce

the unlikely hug

There are so many moments, post-divorce, that are nothing short of surreal.  Sometimes precious, sometimes horrible, but never anything you could have possibly imagined as you stood across from each other and spoke the vows that should have bound you together forever.  I have stopped wondering if such moments will ever stop and have come to accept them as part of the “new normal.”

Christmas Day delivered another such moment.

My official parenting plan with Bryce dictates that we take annual turns having the girls for Christmas Eve and Christmas morning, then turn them over to the other parent at noon on Christmas Day.  We’ve never stuck to this mandate, however, opting instead to share Christmas morning together with our children and parents at whomever’s house the girls are at for Christmas morning, and then depositing them at the other home after lunchtime.  Last year, Bryce’s then-girlfriend joined us, which might have been awkward, but honestly wasn’t.  This year, however, neither of us had partners there.

Our Christmas morning routine has raised more than a few eyebrows among our mutual and individual friends, but we have agreed that as long as Bryn believes in Santa Claus, we will continue this tradition so that we both get to see the girls experience Christmas morning.  Those years are certainly numbered now; in fact, I suspect we just celebrated our last Christmas morning together, as I think Bryn has begun to piece together the truth about Santa.   But if this was to be the last Christmas for our original nuclear family, plus grandmothers, to celebrate together, then I shall be at peace with it, as I think we’ve achieved our mutual goal of creating mostly conflict-free holidays for our young children.

This year, Christmas morning was over at Bryce’s house.  My mom and I attended the traditional, adrenaline-filled present frenzy and returned home to the peace and quiet of a cup of tea, the sofa, and a Christmas movie on tv.  Bryce dropped the girls and their foyer-bursting haul off at the usual time.  We had a laugh about our daughters and all their gifts, wished each other a Merry Christmas, and then, as he was leaving, it happened.

We hugged.

It wasn’t a romantic hug or a long hug or a tender hug, but it was the first time we’ve touched each other that way since I announced that I was leaving almost 4 years ago.

A simple gesture, that was profound in its simplicity.

After he left, I stood in my foyer and briefly contemplated the long road that had brought us to that hug.  Yes, the hug was spontaneous, but we are long past the slips that used to happen right after our separation — the moments when one of us off-handedly used a nickname or started to utter a habitual “Love you” before hanging up the phone.  No, this was a moment of ease mixed with intent.  It was the culmination of so many small, difficult sacrifices, compromises, and acquiesces over the past few years as we sought to forge some kind of relationship that we can both live with in the future.  One that will allow us to co-parent our children — and, hopefully, grandchildren — while still accommodating our changed circumstances.

There are a lot of books about how to have a great relationship with your former spouse.  I have read none of them.  I have tried my best to stick to one goal for my relationship with Bryce — that I might, one day, truly call him a friend.  I have not been in a hurry to reach this destination.  Nor have I taken any time to define what that friendship might look like.  No, I have simply known, since the time I realized that I had to end my marriage, that Bryce and I would have been very successful friends if we had only stopped at that crossroad all those years ago.  I would not go back and alter our past, but I felt that if we had to pick a future that did not include a lovestory for us, well then, I picked friendship.

True, it isn’t a  friendship of any ordinary definition.  There will always be things about him that make me glad he is not my husband any more, just as I am sure there are moments he is deeply grateful to be rid of me as a wife.  He is a guarded, private man, and I am no longer a confidant, which I fully accept and respect, but there are also parts of his life that I understand better than anyone, and I have noticed that he still appreciates that perspective on occasion.   There are mutual hurts between us that will probably never be healed, and disappointments that can’t be overcome, and those will likely create boundaries that friendships not borne of the ashes of a marriage do not have.  But that’s okay.

There is so much on the internet and on blogs and in books about how awful divorce is and how much anger and hatred and dysfunction it visits on everyone touched by it, that I feel consistently compelled to share with you the small ways that Bryce and I are charting a different course.  I absolutely do not mean to glamorize divorce — the pain of severing a family is one I sincerely wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy — but I also do not think that it needs to become the action that forever ruins everyone involved.  There are other choices, other paths, and other ways of being divorced.  And I personally wish that each couple had the freedom and motivation to make a pattern all their own, that works best for them and their family, to move forward through the pain and regret and disappointment.

I am enormously grateful to Bryce for staying committed to this course with me and creating a present for our daughters of which they can be proud.   As more of their friends’ parents divorce, our girls are slowly realizing that our relationship is more of an exception than a rule, and I talk with them plainly about how hard it has been at times for their dad and I to keep communicating and working on this new kind of relationship.  I want them to understand that none of us can take this for granted.

Divorce is such a strange, strange journey.  I have learned so many things that I never knew I didn’t know.  I have come to want things I never imagined wanting.  And my life resembles nothing I had ever planned or hoped for.  And yet, that is all okay, too.

Maybe it’s crazy to want to be friends with my ex-husband.  Maybe it’s ridiculous to even hope for it.  But one thing that divorce has taught me is that all the things I felt so certain about for the first half of my life didn’t hold up as I expected them to.  So now I’m exploring the stuff that’s “impossible.” And if someday, somehow, we defy the odds and I am able to call Bryce a friend first and my ex-husband second, I will simply be grateful and accepting of what we were able to create.

Who knows?  Four years ago, I’ve have bet all my chips against a hug on Christmas Day….

hugging

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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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Filed under divorce, parenthood, relationships, single mom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2.  Don’t assume anything.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10.  Love is not a race.

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

Bonus Tip:  You will be okay.

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

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

And yours.

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the spiritual book club

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read on and consider for yourself….

The OTHER 15 Ways I Blew My Marriage.

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the best relationship advice to men I’ve ever read

As most of my favorite bloggers have not been writing lately, I have been stretching beyond my usual reading circle, and today I was introduced to the blog single dad laughing.  I fell in love with this blog instantly, and the post that brought me to his blog is likely to be a long-term favorite.  I have already bookmarked it.

Yes, it’s that good.

Read it.  Now.  I’ll wait.

16 Ways I Blew My Marriage

There are so many things I love about this post — its gentle witticism, its self-deprecating humor, its brutal honesty.  But it also made me sadder than anything I’ve read in a long time, because it resonated with me so very strongly.  As Dan, the blogger, writes, he could have gone on for much longer, and I almost wish he had.  His 16 points go far to summarizing the best of every relationship book and article I’ve ever read, and I would strongly argue that most of his points could be applied to both men and women in relationships.  With that in mind, his post played through my head all day yesterday and I came up with my own ideas of what I might add to his list.  So, here are some of my proposed additions to make an even 20, necessarily from the viewpoint of a woman (since I still don’t have a penis):

17.) Tell him that you admire him and why — and do it often.

Since my divorce, I have realized how important it is to men to feel admired and respected by the woman in their life.  I think this is akin to how women want to feel cherished and adored.  We want to feel admired and respected, too, of course, but with men, it seems to take on a different texture…  You can attach whatever judgment you want to the sex roles biology has shouldered us with, but I think most men really need validation that they are strong and able protectors and providers for their family.  I now realize how important it is to frequently — and sincerely — tell my man how much I admire how hard he works and the sacrifices he makes and how proud I am of him.  I definitely didn’t understand this before.

18.)  Make a mutually-fulfilling sex life a priority.

Women can bitch about it all they want, but we have thousands (if not millions) of years of biology working against us:  men need sex in different ways and for different reasons than we do.  Yes, there are more similarities in how and why men and women need sex, but it is the differences that cause the problems, and so it’s useful to acknowledge those outright.  Men communicate through sex the way most women communicate through words — it’s how they connect with us, show us how they love us, and feel close to us.  Talking all night feels good to them, but not as good as a sexual connection.  The sooner we realize and accept that and work with it, the more likely we are to get the relationship we want.

I think the male need for sex to get close to a woman is a lot like a woman’s need for a man to be supportive in order for her to feel close to him.  Hands down the biggest turn-on I hear my friends talk about is a guy who helps with the kids and around the house.  That makes her feel close to him and appreciated by him and loving toward him.  I think sex is like that for men.  Just as we get the warm fuzzies when they tell us to take the afternoon and get a massage while they tangle with the little monsters, so do they get the warm fuzzies when we spend a long evening making love to them.

And I think the “mutually-fullfilling” part is important, because I think most men — nearly all men, in fact — really want to be good lovers to their partners.  They want to know what works for us and what doesn’t and how they can rock our world.  They want to hear it, and it’s our job to tell them.  How is that not a win-win?

19.)  Step lightly around his ego.

I know, I know, I know.  The male ego can make even the most poised woman crazy trying to manage.  It’s more tender and delicate than a newborn baby, and, when injured, takes a helluva lot longer to mend.  But unless you’re willing to go to bat for the other team on a permanent basis, you have to make your peace with the male ego.  It’s fragile.  It needs reassurance.  If you demean it or emasculate it, it may not recover.  So be careful what you say or do.  Putting your man down will never work out in your favor.  Ever.

20.)  Give him time to be him.

The men in my life have always given me high scores on this one, but my male friends have almost uniformly complained that they felt like they weren’t allowed to have individual hobbies or interests outside the relationship without feeling guilty.  I think most grown-ups know in our heads that it’s important for us to have some “me time” — to work out, to hang with friends, to participate in hobbies, or to just escape the duties and obligations of our parenting and professional lives.  Some of us need more of this time, and others less, but it’s important to figure out what his needs are in this area and try to support those.  And we don’t need to understand it (I, for one, would rather watch paint dry than a golf tournament, but, hey, that’s just me), we just need to support what’s important to them and makes them happier.  We expect no less from them, right? And happier partners makes for a happier relationship, for sure.

I’m not pretending that I have all the answers, obviously.  But I do think that my dating research has brought me lots of data to chew on and digest for your benefit.  I’ve listened to men and I’ve listened to women and I think the roadmaps to better relationships really are out there.  We just have to see them and use them, and that’s the hard part.  It’s so much easy to keep doing things in much the same way as we always have, under the guise that we are good enough and anyone who loves us will surely put up with our crappy parts.  While that may be true, I think the greater the number of crappy parts we’re asking potential partners to bear, the smaller the pool of potential candidates.  Weed out the psychos, the predators, and the garden variety creeps and you’ve got an even smaller number.  So maybe taking a look at how we can be better partners is kind of like amending the soil before planting a garden?

Yesterday, on the sidelines of Bryn’s soccer game, I had another surreal conversation with Bryce; this time about his perspective on my dating life . It was fascinating to hear him weigh in, given how well he knows me in some regards.  Toward the end of the conversation, I told him about single dad laughing’s blog post and asked if I could send it to him, as I thought he’d be interested.  “Sure,” he said, “always good to figure out how to do better.”

Indeed.

Photo courtesy of Dan Peace. single dad laughing.

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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

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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