Tag Archives: single mother

a visit to my former life

Tonight I attended a fundraising dinner at my daughters’ school.  It is an event I have gone to every single year since Sabrina was in kindergarten and I was a stay-at-home mom, small business owner, and PTA member.

I remember how big and intimidating the school seemed that first year — so different from the daycare/preschool from which Sabrina had come and Bryn still attended.  The hallways seemed so wide and long, the furniture so large, the staff so foreign and unknown.  But when Sabrina started there, I threw myself into the Supermom role.  I volunteered in the classroom, I baked for the bake sales, I helped start the Brownie troop, I donated my business services to the silent auction.  The school became a home-away-from-home very quickly.  I’d breeze through the front door, waving at the office staff, on my way to one appointment or another.

I came to know the other moms (and some dads) really well.  We’d stand on the playground at the beginning and end of school and exchange news about our children or idle gossip about the school.   We arranged playdates and sleepovers and afterschool activities.  We compared notes about teachers and troublemakers and summer camps.  I felt a part of that community.  Known.  Appreciated.

When Bryn started kindergarten two years later, my marriage was coming apart at a rapid clip.  Little did I know when I kissed her off to her first day in that now-familiar room with that now-familiar teacher that life was about to change dramatically.  By the end of the school year, my husband and I were separated, and my place in that little community had shifted perceptibly.

I moved out of our family home in March of that year and so never really got to know the parents of Bryn’s school mates quite as well as Sabrina’s.  I worked part-time while Bryn was in first grade, so I was still there at drop-off and pick-up, waiting patiently with the other moms, but there was no more time for classroom volunteering or the PTA.   But it was a mixed blessing… not knowing the parents of Bryn’s classmates also meant that they didn’t have much emotional stake in my marital situation.  They didn’t know me or my family well enough to be shocked or upset by our divorce, so they received me, my ex, and the news of our divorce with more equanimity than the parents of Sabrina’s friends.  In fact, I think my divorce brought me closer to some of those women than I would have been otherwise.

But, perhaps not surprisingly, it is still some of the mothers of Sabrina’s classmates to which I gravitate at these school functions.  The ones who knew me before, supported me during, and accepted me after my divorce; these are the women who feel like old friends.  In truth, we probably hardly know each other, and yet there is something rich in watching your children grow up together, something bonding in moving through those early parenting years side by side. And I, of course, remember every small kindness paid and friendship given during the darkest times of my divorce.

Next year, Sabrina and her classmates will splinter off to multiple middle schools.  The easy familiarity of these school functions will be no longer as strange faces replace the well-known ones.  Some families I will likely never see again, which is an odd and discomforting thought.  This school, and these families, provided the context for the largest upheaval in my life to date.  For better or for worse, the drama of my divorce played out against the backdrop of the community built around this elementary school.   It was in those hallways that I was comforted by near strangers and dismissed by some I’d thought were friends.  It was those teachers and staff who sheltered and supported my children as they struggled to grasp their new reality.  It was that principal who called to check in with me every few months for the first year.

As I sat there tonight and wondered — for the sixth year — why the spaghetti was so bland and tasteless, I felt as if I were already a visitor to the school, rather than a current member of its community.  So much has changed since I was a PTA mom.  I looked around the room and remembered my old life.  I can’t say that I’d want to go back, but I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t miss parts of it, too.  So I savored those moments tonight, in easy conversation with the women who’ve watched me move through the wretched transitions of the last 3 years.  We shared memories of days past and fears of days to come and there was a bittersweet quality to all of it.   Or maybe that was just me.

When Sabrina goes to middle school next year, I’ll meet new parents, and they will only ever know me as Sabrina’s divorced mom.  Our seemingly-perfect intact family and the divorce that blew us apart will fade from collective memory.  Life will keep moving and changing and surprising us all.  And someday, probably very soon, the memories of those spaghetti dinners will be distant, treasured snippets of childhoods gone too soon, and a former life nearly forgotten.

2 Comments

Filed under general musings, parenthood, single mom

sucker punch

I took my labelmaker (yes, I’m the kind of mom who has a labelmaker) to work this morning so that our receptionist could label some things around the office.  But after only one label, it ran out of ribbon (yes, it was that kind of morning).

Arriving home late in evening after helping a work friend with an errand he needed to run, I headed to my craft box and began pawing through it, looking for the extra label ribbon that I knew was in there (yes, I’m the kind of mom who has extra label ribbon).   I couldn’t find it, so I took the box to the dining room table and dumped the contents across its surface.   Then, poking through the markers and paints and glues (aha!  I knew I had extra label ribbon!), my hand froze on a tube of paint, I felt the air sucked out of my lungs, and the memory washed over me….

It was Christmas Eve and I stood in front of James’s hearth, fingering the Christmas stockings hanging from the mantle.  Five identical stockings, plain and  unadorned.  I looked across the room at James and pointed to the stockings.  He crossed the room and explained that his ex-wife had taken all the stockings when she’d left.  “Well,” I said, “When Christmas is over, you need to let me take these and decorate them, personalize them.  This looks sad.  I’ll fix them up!”  He shrugged.  “Okay, sure.”

And so, in the days immediately after Christmas, still on a happiness high from my amazing holiday weekend, I went out and bought tubes of paints in Christmas colors, plus puffy white paint to mimic snow, and silver glittery paint to make them festive.  I found an old t-shirt and spread it on the dining room table and starting practicing all the letters in their names, drawing snow flakes and holly leaves, ornaments and gifts.  I was determined to make those stockings perfect.  When the kids arrived at their dad’s next Christmas, they’d find pretty stockings, decorated with love.

But I never decorated those stockings.  By the end of that week, my relationship with James was blown apart, all my hopes for shared holidays to come, dashed.

I don’t remember cleaning up the paints or the practice t-shirt.   I must have done it when I was still numb with pain.  I had forgotten about all those colorful tubes, about my silly plans, about my offer to James to help make things special for his children.

Until tonight.

It’s so unfair how life can sucker punch you.  There you are, moving along pretty much okay, trying to just put everything behind you, letting go of what you never really had, and WOOMPH!, a sucker punch from left field ushers in all the grief and loss all over again.

I wish that I had decorated those stockings.  I wish that those children had some tangible token of my love.  They would likely never realize, or probably care, who had decorated them or why, but I would know.  I would know that each Christmas, a little tiny piece of me would be there, loving on them still.

7 Comments

Filed under healing, love, parenthood, relationships, sadness, single mom

call me crazy

Go ahead.  Call me crazy.  It’s likely you won’t be the only one….

I spent last evening — Valentine’s Day — with Mr. Airplane.  And it was — much as I expected — perfect.  Absolutely perfect.

I’d never been to his home before but he wanted to cook for me.  When I arrived, he busied himself opening a bottle of my favorite wine, while I wandered through his home, admiring it.  He has a truly beautiful home, full of dark woods, rich textiles, and beautiful art.  Everything was tasteful and well-appointed, impressive for a divorced man who’d moved in with nearly nothing.  Over our wine, he presented me with a beautiful blooming pink cyclamen and a sweet but funny Valentine.  Then, after a toast, it was on to dinner:  seared tuna sashimi with sticky rice, homemade spring rolls, and garnishes of avocado and strawberries, along with an Asian-inspired side salad with orange sesame dressing.  And if the food hadn’t won me over, the presentation would have:

Now, I don’t know about you, but my cooking never looks like this, special occasion or not.  Once again, I have managed to find a man whose culinary skills far outpace my own.  But that’s okay, I’m supposed to be learning to let someone take care of me and be nice to me, right?

But I digress….

After a candlelit dinner and some nice conversation, we cleaned up the dishes together and then settled in front of the fire to watch a surprisingly endearing romantic comedy, share some more wine, and snuggle.  When the movie ended, it was getting late, but he walked me to his grand piano and played for me.  He is a classically-trained pianist who plays entirely by ear and improvisation.  I sat in awe as his fingers moved deftly over the keys, easing from them songs of his own composition, classical favorites, and contemporary pop songs that we sung along to.  With me yawning and still getting over my vicious cold, we decided to call it a night.  He walked me to my car, gave me a sweet kiss, and made me promise to text him when I got home safely.

Yes, it was perfect.  Absolutely perfect.

Let’s sum up, shall we?  Here is a man who is smart, successful, funny, friendly, confident, accomplished, emotionally-healthy, artistic, generous, attentive, kind, affectionate, and a good father.  He wants to bring me chicken soup when I’m sick, shovel my driveway when it snows, and fly me to another state for dinner sometime just because he can.   He’s tall and broad-shouldered and nice looking. And he likes me.  He really, really likes me.

So, sometime very soon, I need to figure out how to break up with him.

Because for all these wonderful things that he is, there is one wonderful thing he is not:  right for me.  Something is missing.  Some intangible nuance, some chemical attraction, some soul connection is not there.  It’s as if the universe created the perfect checklist of a man for me and forgot to include the heart connection.  I kiss him, and I feel nothing.  Nada.  Zilch.  He touches me and, rather than press into him, I shift ever so slightly away.  When I hear from him, I am glad, but when I don’t, I don’t really notice.  I admire and respect and like him.  Under different circumstances, we could likely be great friends.  But right now, my heart and soul and body are not interested in anything more.  My brain would love to convince them otherwise, but they aren’t having it.  They’ve been fooled before and have some divorce papers to show for it.

So, because he really, really likes me, I have to break up with him.  He is a good man. A really good man.  He deserves a woman who tingles when he touches her and gets butterflies at the sound of his voice.  A woman who can’t wait to get his next text and share the rich and full life he has to offer.  He doesn’t deserve to fall in love with someone who will never truly love him back.  I’ve done that to men before and it was wrong.  And I’ve been in his shoes and it sucks even worse.

And so I have to break up with him.

Sigh.

Go ahead.  Call me crazy.  It’s likely you won’t be the only one….

103 Comments

Filed under dating, internet dating, love, relationships, single mom

the mother figure

I got home late from work, tossed the mail on the counter and was still taking off my coat as I grabbed the phone to pick up the messages indicated by the blinking red light.

When I heard the voice, I stopped.  Moving.  Breathing.  Thinking.

It was the sweet little voice of James’ 9-year-old daughter, Chelsea, calling from her mother’s home, across the country.  “Hi Miss _____,” she said softly.  “Or Bryn or Sabrina or whoever picks up this message.  It’s Chelsea, and I miss you so much.  I was just talking to my daddy and decided to call you and tell you how much I can’t wait to see you over Spring Break and the summer.  I wish I was in Colorado with you.  Call me back sometime soon.  I miss you.  Bye.”

By the time the voicemail clicked onto the next message, I was sitting on the floor of my foyer, coat half-on/half-off, with damp cheeks.  How I love those children of his…

Dating with kids is a dicey prospect at best.  In previous posts,  I have written about how much it hurt me to say goodbye to his children, and how upset my daughter Bryn was when I told her that James and I had broken up.  They are innocent passengers on our dating journeys, buffeted by the ups and downs of relationships they can’t begin to understand.

Just a short time ago, I was worrying about his three children as if they were my own.  Their mother is pretty chaotic and unstable, and unfortunately more interested in partying and drinking than in them.   The children don’t trust her or feel safe with her, and their reports of  physical and verbal abuse between her and her fiance had James racing to his attorney to evaluate his legal options.   They are smart, good kids caught in a difficult and sad situation.

My time with James’ children meant a lot to me, but I realize now that it was good for them, too.  In fact, I was probably one of the best things to happen to those kids in a long time.  Unlike their own mother, I know how to love completely and without conditions or manipulation.  Even when they pushed me away, I was steady and committed to them.  I cared for and about them without asking for anything in return.  I listened to them and supported them and showered them with affection.  And I offered a role model to the two little girls that they didn’t have anywhere else in their life.

And now I have to let them go.

James always said that the kids came first.  If that’s true, then the best thing he can do for those children is to create a safe, stable family for them.  I hope that he goes out and finds a good woman he can truly love who will love them and nurture them.  I hope that someday he models for them a healthy romantic relationship so that they will have some idea of what one looks like.  I hope that those precious girls have a woman in their life to guide them to their fullest potential, because they have so very much.  I hope that his son will have a mother figure who helps him understand that not all women will make him feel inadequate and helpless.

Is it too much to hope for?  Maybe.  But it’s all I can do now.

So, I picked myself up off the floor, shrugged off my coat, and sent a quick text to Chelsea letting her know that Bryn would call her over the weekend.   Then I said a silent prayer for all of them — that they be happy, healthy, and protected.

It’s all I can do.

6 Comments

Filed under dating, love, parenthood, relationships, sadness, single mom

was it worth it? (pt. 3)

Every once in a while, the universe delivers a message so powerful, so unambiguous, so affirming that it sends me spinning.  I got one of those loud-and-clear messages yesterday.

One of my first posts on this blog contemplated the question of whether my divorce was worth it.  Worth all the pain, all the disappointment, all the breaking down and rebuilding of the lives of the people I cared most about in the world.  Would I someday look back and know that I’d done what was truly best for all of us?

Last evening, I stopped at my ex-husband’s house on my way home from work to pick up some Girl Scout cookies I needed to deliver.  After hugs and kisses from my girls, I was just about to leave, when Sabrina told me that Bryce and his girlfriend, Debbie, had broken up after more than two years together.  I’m a caretaker, I can’t help it, so I headed to the kitchen, where I found Bryce opening the mail.  I asked him if he was okay and told him I was so sorry to hear about he and Debbie.  He offered the same condolences over my break-up with James, and the next thing I knew, we were engaged in a conversation that could only be described as surreal.

There we stood, in the kitchen I had designed and he had paid for when Sabrina was only a toddler, discussing the ends of our first loves after divorcing each other.  The children played in the living room as we traded, in broad brush strokes, the details of our break-ups.

I hesitated at first.  So used to his criticism, I braced myself for the possibility that he would insinuate that I was somehow to blame for James’ limitations.  But he didn’t.  He nodded sympathetically and agreed that I needed decent boundaries, and that I was teaching our girls the right thing by demonstrating those.  I told him how surprised I was at his relationship’s end; I had really thought that he and Debbie had staying power. He paused and then looked me in the eye and said, “You might be the only person that can actually appreciate this… but it was like dating me, the me before our divorce.  She was just like I used to be.  I could see it.  I could understand it.  But I couldn’t live with it.  I pulled the plug after two years.  I don’t know how you lasted 12.”

I didn’t know what to say.  I had liked Debbie, for sure, but I also know very well that it is impossible to know what people are like in a relationship until you are there with them, every single day.  And I also found myself feeling oddly loyal and protective of Bryce.  He is, after all, my daughters’ father.  I had his back, unequivocally, for more than a dozen years.  Funny how those old habits resurface.

More than anything, I was astounded at the ease and matter-of-fact delivery of his admission.  Where was the man who had almost never admitted he was wrong about anything?  Where was the man who had made me feel broken and crazy for even suggesting that he was flawed in any meaningful way?  Who was this self-effacing, authentic person in front of me, being vulnerable to his ex-wife??

In that moment, I was so proud of him.  I have known him long enough and well enough to know how much emotional work it must have taken him to get to such a place with me.  I know that he must have applied himself to his personal growth with the same intense focus he applies to his legal practice.  He is not perfect, but he is trying harder than I’ve ever seen him, and I can’t help but respect that.

I thanked him for sharing with me.  I told him I was proud of him for the strides in self-awareness he’d made since we divorced.  Then we laughed at our mutual inability to model even one really good, really healthy intimate relationship for our daughters.  But we agreed to keep trying.  I told him I was counting on him, and he laughed and warned me not to hold my breath.

Then I gathered my cookies, kissed my daughters, and departed my former home, knowing, again, that it was indeed worth it.

Absolutely worth it.

3 Comments

Filed under divorce, friendships, healing, marriage, personal growth, relationships, single mom

for Lisa….

This morning I was introduced to a woman whose eyes took me back three years in time.  This post is dedicated to her and all the other “Lisas”….

“Lisa” and I met awkwardly and unexpectedly, in a waiting room, through a mutual friend.  Our friend wanted me to meet Lisa because she is struggling through the end of her marriage, and our friend thought my blog might help her.  I reached out my hand in hello and Lisa took it, but when she turned her eyes to me, my heart broke.

The tears were about to spill over, when she asked me, in a soft voice, “It does get better, right?”

Oh boy.

I remember those days.  I remember the fear and the helplessness.  The near desperation and the loneliness.  I knew no one my own age who was divorcing or had been divorced.  I felt like I was alone in a sea of people making different choices from me.  I didn’t have anyone to point to and say “THERE!  That’s what I want to have!  That’s what I’m aiming for, too!”  I remember saying to Annie, before she had left her marriage, “I need to see a divorced woman who has made it to the other side.  I need to see someone who is happy and content and past all of this.  I need to see it and I need to see it NOW because I am afraid that it doesn’t actually exist.”

When your marriage is falling apart — whether because you are leaving or he is — you’re awash in doubts and regrets and uncertainties.  It seems that every time you find something you feel certain about, another wave of doubt washes over you and you’re floating in ambivalence again.  The pain of the broken dreams and smashed hopes is palpable; it’s true:  depression hurts.  And the whole time, you’re grasping for a lifesaver that you can ride to the other side.

What has amazed me (and my friends who came through it after me) is how similar the process is for most of us.  No matter the reasons for the marriage’s failure, or the proportion of guilt assigned, the process of moving through those feelings and struggles is very, very similar.  True, some people stall at one point or another, and some are more extreme in the expression of their feelings at particular places along the way, but, overall, the journey is very similar.

And thank God for that.

Because, Lisa, there are lots and lots of us who have been where you are.  Who have had the same fears and sadness you are facing.  Who have had to pick up the pieces of lives blown apart and start anew.  Small steps…. little victories… until we begin to create a life that is whole and good and hopeful again.

In fact, hope might be the defining feature of these new lives.  Not the feigned or desperate or false hopes you’ve experienced time and again as your marriage has unraveled, but the true, buoyant hope of possibilities grounded in the certainty of your own strength and knowledge of your own needs and desires.  I have had my heart broken twice since my divorce, but it was an entirely different kind of pain.  It’s not the pain of being stuck or of being hopeless.  It’s the pain of being alive.  And that distinction is real and true and makes all the difference.

Moving through a divorce is not easy, and anyone who claims it was for them is either lying or delusional.  Building a new life is never easy, and when you’re weighed down by the guilt and fear and doubts that you carry out of a broken marriage, it’s doubly hard.  But nothing truly worth having has ever come easily.  Nothing.  And when you reach the other side and realize that, somewhere along the way, you have put the guilt aside, overcome the fear, and cast off the doubts, you’ll find yourself standing in the middle of a life you hardly recognize but can claim as your own.

I remember reading the book “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” to my daughters when they were small.  It’s the whimsical, lyrical tale of a family that sets off on an imaginary bear hunt (only to, quite comically, encounter a real bear).  The part of the book that I loved, and stressed to my girls, was the refrain the family chanted every time they hit an obstacle  — “Can’t go over it.  Can’t go under it.  Guess we’ll have to go through it!”  And so the family does.

Divorce is like a bear hunt.  There is no easy way around it or over it or under it.  You’ve just got to square your shoulders, straighten your back, set your focus, and go through it.   That’s the only way to the other side.  Sitting in your misery and expecting it will change of its own accord won’t do it.  Neither will hoping that someday you’ll have the strength.  There’s never a “good time” to get a divorce.  It’s never going to hurt less.  It will suck.

But then, one day, it won’t.

One of the first men I dated after my separation told me about his divorce recovery from his first wife.  He spoke about how he had simply put one foot in front of another for what seemed an eternity but was probably about 6 months.  He told me how he’d begun to wonder if he’d ever be happy again….  And then, one day, he was running errands on an ordinary Saturday, and he went into the bank to make a deposit.  He came out and the sun was shining. He stopped for a moment and let its warmth touch his face, and as he did, it hit him.  He was okay again.  In fact, he was kind of happy again.  He said he stood in the bank parking lot and cried silent tears of gratitude.  He had made it.  He had made it to the other side.  Life was beginning again.

I think most of us have similar moments we could relate.  They are precious and they are sacred, and, if I could, I would box them up and deliver them to you, Lisa, to carry you through the days ahead.  But since I can’t, you’ll just have to have faith that yours are awaiting you.

One small step after another.  It’s the only way any of us got here.  It’s how you’ll get here, too.

And someday, you’ll feel the sun on your face and the hope in your heart.  Again.

P.S. — There is an email button on this website.  Feel free to use it.  🙂

10 Comments

Filed under divorce, healing, marriage, relationships, sadness, single mom

the simplicity of first impressions

Saturday night at Annie’s New Year’s Eve party, I spent quite a bit of time conversing with a man I’ll call “Francisco.”  The following afternoon, Annie received an email from him that included a request for my contact information along with the following compliments, “I enjoyed talking with your friend, [insert my name here].  🙂 She’s bright, insightful, attractive, sensitive, and a caring mom.”

I was flattered by his kindness, but I am in no way in a position to offer him anything other than friendship.  And so friendship it is.

But after reading Francisco’s email to Annie, what struck me most was this:  right now, at this moment in time, I am precisely those five adjectives to Francisco.  Probably no more and no less.  In the realm of first impressions, his picture of me is comprised of that information alone.  Since our meeting, he may have subconsciously filled in some other details — perhaps he assumes that I like the same foods he does, or listen to the same music, or share the same political views.  Maybe he imagines me to be charitable or a dog-lover.  Or perhaps his brain has done none of those things and he is simply aware that he liked my smile.  Regardless, he knows basically nothing of me yet.  His complete experience of me was of a very pleasant conversation in a comfortable atmosphere.

So how long would it take for him to really know me?  How long before he discovered that I am kinda complicated?  How long before he realized that dating me is not for amateurs?  How long before those first impressions gave way to less favorable, more nuanced ideas?

First impressions are delicious in their simplicity. They tend to be single-dimensional and as much a reflection of the recipient’s frame of mind as of the giver’s actual nature.  I think, quite often, when we are predisposed to like someone, we come away with a positive impression of them.  It’s far less common, I think, to find ourselves drawn to someone we hadn’t expected to like.   For instance, I think Francisco came to Annie’s party with gentle and sincere aspirations of meeting someone special, and so, upon meeting me, was predisposed to find me all of things he has attributed to me.  There is certainly nothing wrong with that; in fact, it’s rather sweet.  But it’s also not necessarily real.

First impressions for me have always been kind of dicey.  Women either love me or hate me, almost on sight.  With men, I tend to make a strong and positive first impression, but not one  — I have come to realize — that is entirely accurate.  I assure you that I don’t actively seek to mislead anyone or conceal anything about myself…. it’s more that I think those parts of me that you meet first tend to be my best parts.  (I think that is true for many people, but certainly not all.  I have had friends who were notorious for making poor first impressions, including one male friend who was never successful with women — despite being handsome — until they got to know him.)

James never shared much about his first impression of me beyond saying that I “intrigued” him, but other men have and their impressions have been fairly consistent.  And often quite far off the mark.  They imagine me to be easy-going in relationships (ahem, not really) and so confident that I have no apparent insecurities whatsoever (!?!).  I’ve been consistently told that I come across as sublimely open and trusting (umm, guarded and naive is more like it) and that I seem to have an easy time developing intimacy with people (seriously, where do they get this shit?? This is true on some level, but certainly not as a rule).  All of these impressions are very nice and kindly-intended, but they are simply wrong.  And they set me up for a tumble off the pedestal that inevitably occurs if I actually open my heart to them at all.

The men who have weathered my pedestal tumble and still staked out a place in my life are die-hards.  They are the kind of men who are able to smile at my failings and love me through my neuroses. Maybe one of these days, I will fall in love with a die-hard who will consider the effort to be with me worth it, and the lasting impression more valuable than the initial one.

A girl can hope, can’t she?

9 Comments

Filed under dating, love, relationships, single mom

meet the modern American family

I have been spending an inordinate amount of time lately with my ex-husband, Bryce.  No, we’re not grabbing beers together after work or hitting the tennis court for a doubles match.  We’re attending informational meetings, open houses, and promotional tours for local middle schools in the hopes of selecting the best fit for my elder daughter, Sabrina.  It is a choice we will make jointly.

Now, for those of you who are not from this area and are already scratching your head, our school district is somewhat unique in that you can “open enroll” your child in any school in the district.  You are guaranteed a place in your local, neighborhood school, but if you’d like to enroll in a different school, you may do so through the open enrollment system.  Essentially, with open enrollment, you toss your child’s name into a lottery system for that school, which determines their acceptance or not.   So, there is a lot of school shopping in my town.  Sabrina is a very bright kid with some special needs  at the talented and gifted end of the spectrum so we’re visiting four different schools, all of them more than once, to make this decision with her.

And tonight, quite unexpectedly, I found myself facing one of those surreal divorce moments that always seem to sneak up on me….

I was sitting in an auditorium, with Sabrina on one side and Bryce on the other, when one of the elementary school moms I’d once been friends with walked in.  Our eyes met briefly, then I saw them sweep and take in Bryce and Sabrina, and finally determinedly look elsewhere.  I couldn’t help but grin.

For this was one of a handful of women who stopped speaking to me altogether when word hit the grapevine that I was leaving Bryce.  She didn’t know Bryce — I’m pretty sure they’d never spoken before — but she was instantly judgmental and appalled at my gall.   She and her friends haughtily and publicly insisted that I was making a big mistake and would regret it in short order.

Except that I wasn’t and I haven’t.

And frankly, I’m not sure which aspect of my present life confounds and annoys them more…

  • Is it that I didn’t crumple under the weight of guilt and regret and become a frumpy and pathetic divorcee?
  • Is it that I have made a life — however modest and humble — of which I am proud and with which I am content?
  • Is it that my standing within our community has not been altered or affected in any appreciable way?
  • Is it that Bryce and I have (at least on the surface) a very congenial and mutually-supportive friendship?
  • Is it that we have both found happiness with others and have accepted those other partners?
  • Or is it that they were so damn wrong and can’t figure out how or why???

I know that after the divorce, I was supposed to slink around town looking guilt-ridden and glum, but I didn’t feel that way and wasn’t about to play that role for anyone’s benefit.  I know that my relationship with Bryce — the fact that we sit with each other at soccer games and school functions and community events — is surprising and confusing to those who don’t know us and our commitment to our daughters.  I know that my sincere acceptance and welcome of his girlfriend Debbie makes some people just plain uncomfortable.

But you know what?

They need to just get over it.

Because it’s actually pretty simple:  Bryce is not a terrible person; he just wasn’t the right partner for me, nor me for him.  Debbie is a very nice, sweet, friendly woman whom I have absolutely no reason to dislike.  We are all doing our mutual best to support and raise my daughters.  For the life of me, I will never understand what is wrong with this picture.

I had a phone conversation this week with a guy friend I’ve known for 27 years, during which he told me that he thinks it’s “unnatural” for Bryce and Debbie and me to attend the girls’ events together.  Now it was my turn to be confused.  “Unnatural”??  Seriously?  What exactly are we “supposed” to do — take turns loving them?  Maybe I should only love them on Tuesdays and Thursdays so that Bryce and Debbie can also get their days?  Or perhaps we should do the time-honored thing and shove them in the middle of some acrimony so that they can get the more traditional divorce experience?

So here we are now, reviewing and considering schools, discussing pros and cons for Sabrina and trying to make the best choices possible for her, and I am reminded — once again — that even in our attempts to do what is best by our girls, we are somehow different.

I have made my peace with different.  I am proud of where we are now and what it’s taken us to get here.  I am glad that my children are not embarrassed by our behavior, nor do they feel torn between us.  There will be arguments and hurt feelings and maybe even legal battles down the road, but we are establishing a good, strong precedent for working together for the sake of our children. We are integrating new partners and trying to support each other in our new lives.  We are the embodiment of the modern American family, for better or for worse.

And we’re not going anywhere.

1 Comment

Filed under dating, divorce, marriage, parenthood, sadness

…but can you handle the truth?

A blogger friend recently wrote a poignant post about the examination of a marriage, as seen through the rear view mirror, receding into the distance.  Part of his post was about his on-going confusion and frustration stemming from his “runaway wife’s” refusal or inability to provide him with any solid reasons for her seemingly abrupt departure from the family.

Because I was suffering from terrible insomnia one evening, I posted a comment to his post that was so long that (as he later joked), I should have just written my own post and been done with it.  He was right, as he often is, and so I am now taking that comment and expanding  on it here.

If you read enough about divorce, you quickly discover that many left-behind spouses feel that they have been summarily abandoned by their former husbands or wives, with little or no explanation provided.  Even when reasons are offered, they are frequently labeled too mundane to have prompted such a grave move as divorce, and the abandoning spouse is seen as avoiding or withholding the “truth.”  The left-behind spouse feels certain that if he or she could simply get at the truth of why they have been left behind, somehow the whole predicament will make more sense and hurt much less.

I have watched friends and acquaintances who have filled the dismal role of the left-behind spouse grapple with their feelings and attempt to move on.  Indeed, I can see the obvious benefit attached to discovering a truth that suddenly removes the nagging uncertainty and deadens the raging imagination of horrors that plague the mind when it does not have a solid answer that screams “TRUTH!”

But there are a ton of assumptions built into that concept that the truth will set the mind free and ease the heart’s pain.   And not all of them hold up under closer examination….

Assumption #1.  Their truth will make sense and have value to me.

When I talk to people who feel that their spouses have suddenly and unjustly abandoned the relationship, I frequently hear them insist that they want to hear the “real reasons” for their spouse’s departure.  Digging a bit further, I usually discover that reasons have actually been provided, but they don’t seem serious enough to justify the departing spouse’s behavior or, most commonly, they “just don’t make sense.”

I would argue that most departing spouses likely have provided some or most of the truthful reasons for their leaving. I keep waiting to hear a left-behind spouse explicitly say, “I don’t want those reasons; I want the real reasons,” because I’ve heard so many variations on this theme.  The idea here is that the departing spouse likely has shared most of her reasons for leaving, but they aren’t good enough or grave enough to register with the left-behind spouse.

I, for one, can say with complete confidence and incredulity that I told my ex-husband as early as the first two years of our marriage that if he continued treating me the way he had begun to, I would be “gone in ten years.”  At the time, I was pulling that time frame out of thin air, but I did, in fact, end up leaving just before our 11th anniversary. Despite repeated warnings and tearful pleadings on my part throughout the years, he maintained his condescending nature and dismissive attitude, and then proclaimed loudly (and to anyone who would listen) that I had “left suddenly, and without warning or explanation.” I still cannot fathom how he has fashioned his truth from the reality we shared, but he has. So, I have to suspect that lots of other folks do something similar, too.  I suspect there are a plethora of marriages out there in which the departing spouse complained to the left-behind spouse of things over the years that the left-behind spouse dismissed or overlooked at the time.   Maybe she displayed patterns of disappointment over things in her life or their  marriage that seemed to the left-behind spouse (and probably to lots of others who knew her) to be trivial and therefore not something he need really worry about.  Meantime, her fatigue, disillusionment, and frustration was building.

I also do not doubt that most departing spouses hold something back.  I suspect that the biggest reason that they don’t ‘fess up to their complete and true list of reasons for leaving is that they are fully aware that those reasons will be judged, deemed insufficient, and the grounds for a debate with the spouse they have already decided to leave. This is probably a reasonable expectation on their part, as the party left behind usually does think that the reasons for the split are not valid or justifiable.  (Admittedly, it is the rare instance when one spouse comes home and says, “I think we should divorce and here are my reasons,” and the other spouse says, “Yes, you make some excellent points.  I agree.  Let’s get on with it.”)

It’s entirely understandable that the departing spouses aren’t eager to engage in a game of  To Tell the Truth with their left-behind spouse when it is likely to result in their reasons being diminished or mischaracterized.  After all, we all know that “truth is relative” in some regards.  I think it’s interesting how individuals — and sometimes even couples jointly — massage the truth to help it fit their personal constructs.  An interesting and obvious example of this is an affair:  when an affair has been discovered, but the couple is still working on the marriage, the truth of the affair is typically minimalized as “a symptom of a much bigger problem.”  But, when a marriage ends and an affair is part of it, the left-behind spouse frequently blames the affair (and the other adulterer) as the whole problem.  I don’t quite understand the logic:  why is it merely a symptom if you’re working on the marriage, but the “obvious” or “clear” (and presumably complete) reason  for the marriage’s collapse if you’re not?  But again, truth is relative…

In the age of no-fault divorce, a spouse can obtain a divorce over his or her partner’s objections, essentially making a unilateral decision to end the marriage. The other party has absolutely no say in the matter.  Given that I don’t believe that marriage should constitute ownership or control of another person, I find myself having to support this notion, despite its obvious pitfalls.

But here’s the crux of it:  the departing spouse does not have to prove his or her case.  He does not have to convince anyone that his reasons are good enough.  Indeed those very reasons — the entire truth of them, if known — might not be good enough for his left-behind spouse, his extended family, their mutual friends, or anyone else, but they don’t have to be. They only have to be good enough for him.  Is that sad and frustrating and bewildering to the left-behind spouse?  Yes, of course.  But in the end, that might be preferable to the whole truth…

Assumption #2:  I want the whole truth.

When a left-behind spouse imagines the reasons that her departing spouse is actually leaving, she usually focuses on things she can change and not things that are inherent in who she is.  I think this is a very natural way for our brain to protect us from potential pain.  It is so much easier to imagine that he is leaving because he hates that you leave your towel on the bathroom floor, than to think that it’s because he’s decided you’re not actually that smart.  So when left-behind spouses are aggressively seeking the truth, they are understandably doing so from a posture that the truth will be things they can work on and will want to change; most people do not imagine that it’s going to be some harsh truth that they cannot, in fact, change.

I think that sometimes the reasons, if provided in a forthright and honest fashion, would be so brutal, so painful to inflict, that common decency holds the departing spouse back. We all think we want the truth, but some truths are so terribly difficult to recover from that the damage caused would be arguably worse than the vague uncertainty.  For example, how many people would truly want to hear, “I realized that I married you for the wrong reasons” or “I was never physically attracted to you and was just a really, really good faker” or “I’ve completely lost respect for you as a person and can’t love someone I don’t respect”? I’ve heard these reasons from people who’ve left and who have chosen not to reveal them to their exes. Revelations such as these could positively devastate the left-behind spouse’s sense of self and self-worth, which seems a cruel parting shot.  They also could make the divorce proceedings far nastier than they need to be, and the irreparable damage could undermine any attempts at future co-parenting.

Indeed, it might be the long-term effects of those words that prompt the departing spouse to be so circumspect….

Assumption #3:  I can handle the truth.

So, let’s say that, for argument’s sake, the departing spouse chooses to ignore her therapist’s advice and reveal to the left-behind spouse that she is leaving because he is the world’s worst lover and she’s decided to finally have an orgasm after 40 years on this planet.

[Anyone who thinks he’s going to receive that truth with maturity and aplomb should contact me about some lovely Florida real estate I have to sell.  It’s not swamp.  Really.  I swear.]

Exes understandably believe and insist that they would ultimately benefit from the cold, hard truth, and I’m quite sure some (like my blogger friend who inspired this post) probably could.  But I don’t think most people could actually handle a truth such as these examples with any degree of grace or retention of self-confidence.  And it’s really not so surprising.  Divorce is gutting for so many reasons, but when you discover that the love of your life thinks something so terrible of you, it’s capable of smashing your self-confidence to levels from which it may never fully recover.

Take my parents, for instance:  In the face of her constant and abject pleas, my departing step-father had the fortitude to explain to my mother that he realized he’d married her hastily and based on lust more than love.  (This was, to be honest, a truth evident to all of us — including me, at age 13 — when they first married.) My mother repaid him for his honesty by hating him viciously for almost 15 years.  His words haunted her in ways that I’m sure he hadn’t expected, and he paid dearly for them.

Certainly there are some people who are mature enough and confident enough and objective enough to stomach even the worst realizations about their own marriage.  But I must argue that most people would not. Most people would be more like my mother — furious and hurt and determined to make the divorce even nastier than if the truth had not been revealed.   She wanted the truth, she was sure she could handle the truth, but it nearly destroyed her.  And the damage it did to me and our family is a whole post on its own.

No doubt the truth is a dicey thing.  Most of us have this tenuous love/hate relationship with it.  All of us like to think that we can handle it and benefit from it and be better for it.  But can we?  Really?

Being left with your heart shattered positively, absolutely sucks.  It feels horrible and unfair and devastating.  I have often said that during a divorce, people become their basest, worst selves, and some of those selves are pretty terrible.  Is it any wonder, under those circumstances, that some people faced with harsh truths handle them imperfectly?  And is it any wonder, under those circumstances, that some people guard them so carefully?  Very few people are at their best in the midst of pain at its worst.

I think the bottom line is that we all say we want the truth.  We all think we can handle the truth, but in actuality, not everyone who claims to want the truth really wants the actual truth.  Sometimes we only want a truth we can live with.

19 Comments

Filed under dating, divorce, healing, marriage, personal growth, relationships, single mom

she was a lingerie model AND a professional chef?

Poor Annie.  She recently found out that her boyfriend’s last girlfriend was a personal trainer, and the one before that was a massage therapist.  Fantastic news, for sure.

Terrific body.

Terrific hands.

We can only hope that they both had terrific halitosis….

Annie is actually in very good shape — not just for a woman of her age, but of any age.  But still.  There’s nothing like really liking a guy and then running smack into a ghost from his past with perfect abs.

This is yet another thing that happens more frequently at this age than when we were younger.  I mean, let’s face it, the biggest nightmare when we were younger was probably the varsity cheerleader.  Now that “cheerleader” comes in a whole menu of nightmarish varieties. By the time we’re into our late 30’s and beyond, women have a far wider variety of accomplishments and accolades than we did as college co-eds.  And it is precisely those experiences and achievements that can be so threatening when we first learn of them.

I, for one, once dated a man whose ex-wife had climbed Mt. Everest — twice.  Try that on for size the next time you’re feeling accomplished and put together.  Then there was the guy with two ex-wives — both were aerobic instructors and one had (at one point in the distant past) even been a stripper.  So much for those exotic dancing classes I took right before dating him…  But my personal, all-time favorite was the  guy I dated whose ex-wife had a very successful and lucrative career as lingerie catalog model, before giving birth to three gorgeous children, serving as president of the PTA, and pursuing a culinary degree.   When he told me, I literally choked on my food.  Seriously, it was almost enough to forgive him for still being in love with her.  Hell, I was practically in love with her.

I’ve never had a female friend — no matter how accomplished or beautiful or intelligent or desirable — who did not, at one point or another, do battle with the ghost of a nightmare girlfriend or ex-wife.  In fact, I have one friend who is wildly successful — a published author with a law degree and a successful career in television and print journalism — and in possession of a physique that suggests Pamela Anderson might have a twin.  She routinely dates billionaires (yes, that’s a “b”), and when she fell for her last billionaire boyfriend, she found herself floundering when confronted with with the ghost of his high-school sweetheart who is the epitome of domestic bliss, complete with an apron.  So, really, this “You’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me.-How-can-I-compare-with-THAT?” experience seems to be universal.

The ironic thing is that, of course, the same woman worrying about measuring up to her new lover’s ex, might actually be the nightmare ex for some other poor woman.  Indeed, around the time that I was considering whether I should learn how to perfect coq au vin in my push-up bra and thong, one of my ex-boyfriends was being dumped by a woman who felt that she couldn’t measure up to his memory of me.  So there you have it.

Over time, of course, the seeming perfection of these nightmare ex-wives and girlfriends fades…. Their flaws come to the surface and their humanity is revealed.  The reasons why your guy is no longer with her becomes increasingly obvious, and your own superior suitability for him is apparent.  But until then, you can at least hope that she snored — really, really loudly, each and every night.

13 Comments

Filed under dating, love, relationships, single mom