Tag Archives: relationships

at the speed of life

If you were friends with me in real life, your head would likely be spinning right now.  You see, my life has essentially two speeds:  Stop and Go.  There really isn’t a whole lot in between.  Occasionally, I’ll do that thing that most people do in their lives in which they work steadily and diligently toward a goal with all due time and effort and decisiveness, but most times that’s not the case.  More often, it’s a matter of my life appearing to careen from zero to 60 in a matter of seconds, and then coming to a screeching halt again seconds after that.  This can be disarming and alarming to friends not used to my life, and cause them considerable concern over my general welfare and decision-making.

But my old friends are used to it.  It’s incredibly rare for any of them to be particularly ruffled or surprised by any news I share.  They’ve become accustomed to the sometimes frenetic pace with which the universe lobs new opportunities and curve balls my way.  My friend Caitlin, who has known me since our freshman year of college, pretty much takes any news from me in stride.  Almost 23 years ago, I called her on a crackly trans-Atlantic connection to say, “So, I got to England, moved to a ghetto, fell in love with my third-cousin-once-removed who moved to Australia three days later, then I sailed through my coursework, and now I’m working in the music business and decided to stay an extra 3 months.” To which she calmly replied, without a moment’s hesitation, “Of course.  When will you be coming home or are you staying for good?”  Because, honestly, you can’t stay friends with me for very  long without accepting that my life seems to operate in some kind of alternative universe in which the typical rules of time and what qualifies as a Good Idea do not apply.

This probably sounds like great fun when the speed of my life is “Go.”  But when it’s at “Stop,” it’s a whole other story.  My life gets stuck more often and for longer periods it seems than most people’s, and that reality has caused me countless sleepless nights and frustrated days.  And again, Caitlin (and my other old friends) has weathered those storms, too.  “Why?!” I have moaned to her, “Why can’t my life just be like other people’s?  I’m doing everything that I’m supposed to be doing, and I’m still stuck!  It’s so unfair!  Other people can just do these things and they move forward with their lives; I do them and nothing happens!”  Caitlin’s typical response to these pity parties is to murmur sympathetically while I whine and then firmly  say, “Oh, stop being ridiculous.  Your life doesn’t work that way, and who wants to be ordinary anyway? Just wait.  Things will change.  They always do.”  And she’s always right. Of course.

In the first week of December 2012, my life shifted from Stop to Go, and it’s been a fast and furious ride since then.  Some of my friends who haven’t known me very long are pretty white-knuckled, but my longer-term friends are shaking their heads with bemused smiles on their faces.  Because, after all, I am me and this is my life.  In the last three months, I have:

  • created a stable, loving relationship with a man I was mostly apart from the entire year of 2012 and with whom I had all but given up on the hopes of a committed relationship;
  • weathered a personal crisis of his that rivals a good crime suspense novel;
  • moved him into my very small house with me and my girls;
  • found and placed under contract a beautiful home (in a neighboring town in which I have never lived) that is ideal for our family of 2 adults, 6 children, and 3 dogs;
  • been fired from my job 4 hours after placing said house under contract;
  • salvaged the house contract, against all odds, and preserved the March 25th closing date;
  • launched an aggressive job search, including multiple informational interviews per week and dogged networking in between;
  • met with a book editor interested in getting me a publishing contract to further discuss details of the proposed book (and made a fun new friend in the process);
  • begun to prepare for move-in to our new home during the first week of April; and
  • weathered the inevitable ups and downs of merging our families, particularly the boatload of attitude that Bryn has chosen to heap upon James following his move into our house.

As I was updating my friend Rob yesterday, his response was, “I’m tired after hearing all that.  Must go nap.  But first, is your name still TPG or has that changed, too?”  (Almost all my friends are fluent in Sarcasm, by the way.)  But the truth is, and Rob has known me long enough to know this, that when I am in Go speed, it doesn’t feel too fast for me.  This is my normal.  This is how my life works. I make decisions and I follow my intuition and I ride the rollercoaster. And honestly, it’s not because I’m so good at it; it’s because I don’t really have another choice, any more than when things are stuck.  Sure, I could throw on the brakes and refuse to engage the opportunities, but I’ve learned that doing so won’t slow the pace of my life.  Those opportunities won’t slow down to the speed limit; oh no, they’ll just whiz right past me.  And I’ve never regretted grabbing those opportunities and sailing along with them; it may sound surprising, but those aren’t any of the regrets I count when I’m feeling down.  I think the truth for me (and maybe all of us?) is that I don’t get to determine the temporal speed of my life when it’s going fast anymore than I do when it’s going slowly.  My only option — in both situations — is to make the most of what’s on offer.  So I try to.

Sometimes I get overwhelmed, of course.  Just as I sometimes whine to my friends about my frustration when I am stuck in Stop, so do I sometimes complain about the stress of racing along at breakneck speed.  I mean, honestly, I am juggling so much right now that I’m not even sure how I’m managing it, but I suspect that, when hindsight appears after things have slowed to a Stop again, I will see clearly how the universe leveraged my resources and the opportunities against each other to keep me afloat.  For instance, I’m not sure I could manage all the new house and merging family issues if I were still working at my former job.  The stress level there was so high, it might have been my undoing.  So, losing that job might have been a necessary element in greasing the high-horsepower engine that is currently propelling me forward.

So, for right now, I am flying by the seat of my pants and yet feeling mostly calm about the frantic pace around me.  I can see clearly the abstract forms around me coming together to create a remarkable new life.  With awe, I am witnessing the universe as it works its magic to bring multiple dreams of mine to fruition at once.  Life is miraculous and, unlike us, the universe and the powers around us do not make any mistakes.  So, I am trusting that when my house stops spinning and I am deposited into my very own Oz, it will be exactly and precisely where I am meant to be.

tornado-rainbow

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intuition as faith

Last night I had a glass of Pinot Grigio with my friend “Gwen.”  Gwen is seven months into her separation and divorce proceedings, and I have watched her progress like a cheerleader on the sidelines of her life.  Gwen and I hadn’t seen each other in more than a month, and during that time, she had gracefully segued from casual match.com dating to now being in her first post-marriage exclusive relationship.

Shortly after she and her guy had the “we’re not seeing anyone else right now” conversation, he left on a weekend trip away.  And promptly fell into radio silence.  Nothing but crickets and tumbleweeds. Over the weekend, Gwen was left to wonder what had happened.  Had he gotten cold feet?  Had she made herself too available?  Was he playing some annoying power game?  Did he not really like her as much as she’d thought?  Had she been completely mistaken about the nature of their relationship??

It was the last question that nagged at her the hardest that weekend.  Gwen is a sensitive, intuitive woman with great people skills on which she has relied successfully both personally and professionally.  But as Friday turned into Saturday and Saturday gave way to Sunday, and still her guy was MIA, she began to question her gut instincts about the relationship, and, subsequently, about herself.  As it turned out, Gwen needn’t have worried — her guy finally responded late on Sunday to let her know that he’d unexpectedly been without wifi for the duration of the trip, that he was sorry, and would she like to meet up that evening?  Gwen reported feeling equal amounts of relief that he was still interested and that she hadn’t been so wrong about their budding relationship.

That nagging sense that perhaps your intuition has led you astray and so can no longer be trusted is frightening on a very primal level.  As we move from relationship to relationship and period to period in our life, the only consistent guide we really have is our own intuition.  Knowledge alone doesn’t do it, and other people can’t really do it for us.  We hold it inside and it keeps us safe.  To fear that you can’t trust it — and therefore not trust yourself — that is truly scary.  But when it’s validated, you feel empowered and less risk-averse.  You have a faith in yourself that no amount of compliments or external props can supply.

I find it interesting that this is true even when what is validated is something hurtful.  I have moved through this space recently with James as he has told me about his various feelings and actions during our on-again/off-again relationship.  Time and time again, I have had “aha!  I knew it!” moments that felt devastating in their truth, but enormously validating, too.  Feeling that you are perhaps a jealous, crazy, ridiculous girl is obviously undermining to one’s self-confidence; indeed, in my experience, it is more damaging than finding out that he did, in fact, do and feel the things I had suspected.  The relief of the validation and the return of my faith in myself far outweighed whatever pain I had from the revelations.  Because those revealed truths are all in the past; my faith in myself and my ability to read a person and situation are vital to my present and my future.

James has also been facing this personal rollercoaster of pain vs. validation.  Having been recently maliciously betrayed by a friend he loved like a brother, he is somewhat comforted by the fact that, upon first meeting that man, he knew something was “off.”  And throughout their friendship and business partnership, he could feel in his gut that something was wrong in his life, some imbalance or deception or manipulation was occurring around him, even if he couldn’t actually identify the source.  He could feel that a nasty, horrible shoe was about to drop; he just had no idea where or when.  When it finally did, he was crushed and heartsore, but remarkably unsurprised.  Because, of course, deep down, he had known…

We all ignore our intuition sometimes.  We choose to believe what we want to believe or what someone else would like us to believe.  But lurking just under the surface, sometimes even deeply in our sub-conscious, is the truth of what we know but cannot explain or defend.  And when we ignore that truth, we do so at our peril.

Gwen’s validation of her intuition came in the form of all good news — she and her guy are solid and happy right now — her fears that she’d misread the situation were unfounded.  In my case, the validation was a mixture — news that was hard to hear, but a relief at the same time — and from that validation, I can move forward more confidently now.  For James, the validation presently feels like meager consolation for what was lost.  But I suspect that, as time heals his emotional wounds, he will be increasingly comforted by the fact that he had, in fact, known what was happening, and next time he will not ignore that nagging warning in his gut.

Intuition is a tricky thing, but a rich blessing, too.  It isn’t about intelligence or education or wealth.  It doesn’t discriminate by age or sex or race.  It is there all the time, quietly watching, interpreting, and protecting us from all that might harm us.  All we have to do is be quiet and listen.

albert-einstein-intuition1

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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

“the lonely girl with no friends”

Honestly, sometimes I think parenting is God’s biggest antidote to conceit.  Just when you’ve put one crisis to bed, congratulated yourself on navigating yet another challenge, and have the foolish temerity to think you’ll get a little break from the endless rollercoaster, Life shows up to say, “Oh wait!  Did I forget to mention this one little thing?  Yes, you’ll need to attend to this now, and be sure to do it well, lest you forever ruin this small person I’ve entrusted to you.”  And so, with a sigh, you put on your battle gear again and wade into the guerilla warfare that is  Parenting.

I’ve written a bit about Sabrina’s struggles as she’s transitioned to middle school from elementary school this year.  She is at a school of her selection (with our agreement, after a pretty exhausting consideration of possible schools), but not the one most of her elementary school friends and acquaintances attend.  She loves her school, her teachers, and the academic successes she has worked hard for and achieved.  But middle school these days is, for young girls at least, a snake pit of vipers clothed in Forever 21.  I think it might possibly be even harder to navigate than I remember from my own experiences at her age.  Sabrina is a quiet girl who is very reserved unless she is around those she knows well, socially awkward and emotionally immature — a bookworm who still prefers her American Girl dolls to chasing boys.  Needless to say, the social soup of middle school has not been kind to her.

One night recently, as I was tucking Sabrina into bed and only a few hours after telling a friend how peaceful things currently were with my kids (can you say, “WHAMMY!”?), Sabrina broke down crying.  She confided in me that her social situation at school had become so bad that she’d been reduced to eating by herself at a solitary table during lunch.  Lonely and rock-solid certain that every child in the cafeteria noticed her alienation, her pain was capped off when a teacher approached and asked if Sabrina would like help finding a table of other kids to sit with.  Well-intentioned, for sure, but also concrete evidence in Sabrina’s mind that her social deficiencies were obvious to all.

I was at a loss.  I don’t remember this part of middle school; I’m not sure I ever experienced it.  I held her while she cried and soothed her with sincere words of reassurance that she is a brilliant, special, amazing girl that the other children have simply not discovered yet.  She pulled away from me, stared at me skeptically and with disappointment, and said, “No, Mom.  They just see me as that lonely girl with no friends.”

I sucked my breath in and fought tears of panic.  I saw very clearly the danger in what she had just done — she had just labeled herself with a powerful, negative, demoralizing label, and, if she embraced it for very long, it would surely damage her, becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy with enormous ramifications for all kinds of relationships she might have, or not have.

As adults, we can see the harm inflicted by negative labels — both those we place on ourselves, and those we place on others.   We see it in young girls who decide they are simply “bad at math” and therefore give up on it, and in adult women who sell themselves short because they can’t see that they deserve more than they have.  I knew immediately that, while the lunch table issue was temporally painful, it was the label that could emotionally cripple my sweet girl over the longer term.  And it scared me to death.

I often acknowledge that I see parenting as a series of hits and misses — sometimes we are solidly on our game, and hit the ball straight out of the park; but other times we swing and swing, failing to connect with the ball at all, impotent in our attempts to meet the challenges tossed at us.  That night with Sabrina, I was striking out, and I could feel it clearly.  I could see it in her eyes and feel it in her pain.  My inadequacy to address the problem was palpable.

I finally left her upstairs, returning to the living room, where I deposited the whole mess in James’ lap.  He listened, acknowledged that my words would have been empty to her — how many of us believe our mothers when they tell us how wonderful and special we are? — and then set off upstairs to talk to her himself.

For the second time that night, my breath caught in my throat.  Should I stop him?  This was my child, after all.  What if he said something wrong?  But I did not stop him, and many minutes later he returned, having given her a pep talk I could not have, and in doing so, taught me a lesson as well.

James told Sabrina that she is a truly beautiful girl with a good heart and a sweet nature.  He told her it was perfectly okay to be exactly who she is right now; that she is not less than the other kids, maybe just a little different.  And then he told her that when he was a teenager — handsome and athletic and popular — he’d done what boys like him did and dated the pretty, popular girls, but it was the girls like her — the quietly beautiful, smart, and sweet ones that he’d always noticed and wondered about.  And that he’d always wished he’d have had the courage to approach them, get to know them, ask them out on a date.  This last part, coming from the person who is currently Sabrina’s masculine ideal of a man, was gratifying in a way that nothing that I could have said ever would have been.  In short, he said exactly what she needed to hear.

The next morning, Sabrina came downstairs after James had already left for work.  She was a different girl from the night before — smiling and chattering about what was on tap at school that day.  I asked about James’ pep talk, and she beamed, rattling off what he’d said about her, blushing and squirming with delight.

I was enormously grateful to James that morning.  Not just for the precious words he gave to my struggling daughter, but for reminding me that parenting is, if you’re lucky, a team sport.  So, even if you’re having a off-day and can’t seem to score, your teammate can step up to the plate and save the day.  In the years since my divorce, I had missed and then nearly forgotten the sweet benefit of having a teammate — someone with whom to talk over these things, share these little burdens, help you find the right strategy when you’re stuck.

It’s a cliche that parenting is the hardest job in the world, and the most gratifying.  But it’s also a great opportunity to help one another make better decisions and tackle the hard stuff and ultimately make the world a better place by leaving behind better people.  Especially if you work as a team.

FamilyWalkingAway

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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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when the student is ready…

Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to just get out of our own way.  Learning a new language or a new job or how to care for a new baby or how to play a musical instrument — none of these things seems as difficult as learning how to do something we have always done, in a different way.

Or maybe that’s just me?

I tend to cling to my convictions pretty hard.  I am a red-headed only child; both nature and nurture have predisposed me to stubbornly dig in and try to fit the world to my view of of it, rather than amend my world view to accommodate new possibilities.  Almost every hour of therapy I have done in my life has been basically about trying to overcome this tendency in one arena or another, to change my view of, or response to, or persistent feelings about something in my life.

At various times, I have actively sought to push back against the paradigm that is no longer serving me.  When I left to study abroad in college, I consciously did so with the intention of becoming different, expanding my ideas about the world, seeing how other people thought and acted and re-acted.  I find that, more than 20 years later, I don’t often require such dramatic efforts; sometimes simply having a stimulating conversation with someone new is enough.  The point is that these moments — these small experiences — are expansive opportunities for growth.

Around the time I gave up battling the Year of the Dragon, I had one of my “Fine.  You win.” conversations with the universe in which I generally concede that I have a lot of learning to do and need lots of help to do it.  Then I wait.  And always, without fail, the help I need appears.

This time, my first teacher came in the form of a fellow blogger, whom I shall call “Achilles.” At times, he has been a regular commentator on my blog, but it was our off-line conversations that were really interesting.  Quite often, we approached things from differing viewpoints; my posts frequently challenged his truths and my positions could easily have offended his feelings and/or his sensibilities.  But rather than turn away from me and seek the comfort of like-minded bloggers, he kept at me — asking me probing questions and for further explanations, sharing his own reasoning without much concern for altering my own. And so began a dialogue that focused moreso on me providing my perspective to situations and concerns we had in common.

Through the course of these conversations, I gathered certain things about him that led me to believe that he was, in some very important, fundamental ways, very similar to my ex-boyfriend, James.  Despite being broken-up for the better part of a year, the late autumn found me still struggling with a fair number of unresolved questions about my relationship with James.  Questions I was too afraid to ask him, even though I could see clearly my need to.  So, I turned the tables and sought out Achilles.  I asked for his perspective, rather than his advice.  I wanted to understand his reasoning and his feelings and his motives, not to support my own tired ideas about my relationship with James, but on the off-chance that they might provide a different outlook or understanding than I’d been able to gain before.

Achilles answered my questions honestly and directly.  Some of his answers made me cringe, but even those gave me pause.  Much of what he said consisted of angles and approaches that were foreign to my way of thinking.  “Really?” was a common response of mine during that chat.  And that night I went to sleep turning over in my head the things he said, feeling comforted and wondrous at the same time.

The next month saw a veritable march of caring, unexpected souls who extended simple words of wisdom, thoughtful perspectives, or unsolicited support.  It is almost mystical to me how every single question I asked of the ether that evening after the job slipped away has now been answered.  I find myself in the happy posture of feeling grounded, and hopeful, and confident, and content.  The issues that crushed me in 2012 have not been resolved, but my faith in my ability to resolve them has returned because I no longer feel constrained by the thoughts and fears that held me captive so much of last year. I once again have confidence in my ability to adapt and consider and be present in the moment.

So often we think we need a change to make us happy.  But sometimes what we need — first and foremost — is a change of perspective.  That can be really hard to do on our own, but the teachers are all around us.  Every day.  We just need to be open and willing and available to the messages and experiences and wisdom they’re offering.   And then watch what happens…

master 2

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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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give yourself a winter solstice watershed

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

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

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

It was that he was actually over me.

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

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

But that day changed everything.

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

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

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

And then it came.  And it was beautiful.

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

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

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

Think on that one.

Happy Solstice. 🙂

winter solstice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even in arguments.

hulk

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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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