How does one look back on a year such as mine? Three years ago, I ventured out into one of the scariest places I think I’ve ever been. Post divorce, 40-something, straddled with debt that wasn’t all mine, looking forward to fewer years to earn back the losses than I had behind me. While many would say I look good for my age, the fact that they had to add the phrase “for my age” said it all. I was divorced, single with more children than most, struggling to avoid bankruptcy, and wondering how I was going to pay the bills and put food on the table. I was frightened. I was destitute. I was humiliated and ashamed. I was alone. To make things better, I blew an engine on one car, and dropped the rear differential out of another. I had no credit, no cash, no clue what an engine or a rear differential was, and nowhere to turn. I was terrified. I wondered, often, how and if I was going to survive. I was also 40-something and it was only a matter of time before the aging process we all must eventually succumb to, became no longer disguisable. Further, I still had children at home, lots of them, and would probably retire (if that was still even a possibility for me) with them at home. Not exactly the formula for finding someone to spend your golden years with before you actually get to your golden years. Continue reading
I awoke early Tuesday morning with my throat so swollen and sore I couldn’t swallow, mucous streaming from nearly every orifice above my shoulders. I could not utter a sound that was even recognizable as speech. My daughter felt much the same. I knew I needed to call in a sub. Two days later, most of it spent sleeping and reading (I certainly had no energy for anything else and the reading was pushing my limits), I think I might be well enough to return to work tomorrow. The book I managed to devour between naps was, The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce, by Wallerstein, Lewis, & Blakeslee. I’m warning you. It isn’t a cheery read. In fact, I had tears streaming down my cheeks at points.
I stumbled across this little find at my local book exchange. I’m always up for reading some research (yeah, I’m kind of nerdy like that), especially about families of divorce, stepfamilies and how all of this impacts children. (Maybe because it is just a little close to home for me?) This one billed itself as a landmark study because it was the only one that tracked children of divorce from the time their parents split up until they reached full adulthood. It was a 25-year-study. Since I work with kids and their parents many of them divorced and re-married, and since I myself am the child of divorce as are my own children, I thought this might be an interesting read. It was indeed interesting, but it was not cheery. Wallerstein’s findings are sobering, relevant, deeply saddening, and yet more hopeful than one would expect.
I would recommend that anyone considering divorce, in the process of divorce, or now in the post-divorce family read this book. I wish I’d read it 4 years ago. It would have helped me support my children more effectively through the divorce process. Of course, to be honest, I was so stressed and fragmented (as many who undergo divorce are) that I’m not sure I’d have read it. Which just underscores a significant aspect of this research. The book also details children’s perspectives of parenting plans, remarriage, step-parents and life after divorce.
The most salient point of Wallerstein’s study, for me, is that no matter when the divorce occurs, no matter what the reason for the divorce, and regardless how amicable or not the divorce is, risk factors for children significantly increase while protective factors that were in place when the marriage was intact are diminished. I don’t think this is new news for any of us, but Wallerstein was able to get behind the eyes of the children in this study and reveal how that reality impacts and shapes children of divorce. She (Wallerstein) does not draw from this conclusion that divorce should never happen. The author does conclude that we’ve just not been aware of the impact divorce has on children from the child’s perspective until now. Maybe now, we can begin thinking more about divorce from the perspective of not just what works for the parents, but what works for the children throughout all their developmental levels. Wallerstein goes on to mention that the debilitating impact of divorce is often not evident until children reach adulthood and begin to enter into relationships and marriages of their own. In other words, divorce has lasting effects on children, no matter how good things appear on the outside. (Personally, I suspect most of us parents know this. We just feel uncertain as to how to deal with this reality.) These are just a few of the highlights I’ve gleaned and tried to summarize, and which were significant to me as I devoured her over 330 page book. Oh, and the book does include specifics about the research design and the statistical results of study for those who are interested.
As for me, it was impossible for me to read this book casually without some serious personal introspection. I am, after all, the mother of four children, all of whom experienced divorce, two of them when they were in elementary school and two of them when they were in preschool. This book forced me to look at myself and my parenting since the divorce. I’m asking myself questions because, if I’m to be the best support for my children that I can (and diminished parenting is cited by Wallerstein as one of the biggest perils of divorce), then I must take inventory.
- Given that children often tend to either act out or stuff their feelings behind an ultra compliant approach, how are my children really doing?
- Am I giving my children opportunities to express their fears and their anger (and yes they have both) about the divorce?
- Am I taking the necessary time to parent them or am I so preoccupied with survival and keeping the family afloat that I am unintentionally neglecting their very real emotional needs.
- Are any of my children taking on the parenting role? What am I doing to reinforce this if it is happening?
- How do I balance the stresses and demands of my adult world, the needs I have for adult love and companionship, with my children’s needs for protection, comfort, care and emotional connection with me…and…when do I get any rest? (I say that last a little bit tongue in cheek, but fatigue is a big stressor and leads to illness as I’ve learned of late.)
And there are more questions lurking within.
I’m really not depressed and I’m not beating myself up as a parent after reading this study, but, like the veil being lifted, I certainly see some areas I need to work on for my children’s sake. I also see some areas that I’ve done well, which is reassuring. It has certainly given me a great deal to consider regarding my parenting, dating as a single parent and, if it ever arises, the idea of remarriage. We grow a little at a time all throughout our lives. This book just revealed some areas that I think I need to check up on.
As I re-read this post, I realize I’ve only shared the down side aspects of the research. There is much cause for hope and encouragement as the result of Wallerstein’s work. I don’t want to be a spoiler, so you’ll just have to read it for yourself.
So, I posted yesterday’s post and a bunch of peeps contacted me today wondering if and why I had a broken heart.
Just to clarify…no…I am not currently experiencing Broken Heart Syndrome.
Yes, I have experienced it many times in the course of my life, with 2009 being a record-breaking year in the relationship department since being single. Contrary to popular belief, a broken heart doesn’t get easier to deal with as one gets older. I think it gets worse. I don’t know why this is.
As for last night’s post, I just wrote and what came out is what came out. Were there any events that triggered that post? That’s a great question!
In all honesty, I’d have to say yes there were incidents that led up to me writing a post on the broken hearted, but it wasn’t my broken heart that started me down that path.
Nor was it the sense of any dying dream that I was coming to grips with having to give up.
In reality, I was just tired.
I was bone weary tired to be exact. It’s been a long, grueling, exhilarating six weeks. The adventure of doing new things, the excitement of opportunity, the hope of what can be possible is both energizing and exhausting. The most difficult element is that when the demanding pace slows, and the seeds that were planted lay momentarily dormant before bursting into full bloom, there is a season of waiting. This waiting can be somewhat anticlimactic.
I know this because I’ve been there in that place of let down after a great experience.
I am not there now. I don’t feel any let down or disappointment or anything other than a sense that something really exciting is just around the corner. Even if the most exciting thing that is around the corner is Spring Break, I still am feeling nowhere near sad, lovelorn or despairing because things somewhere in my life are less than I desire.
The reality is that some things in my life are less than I desire (except where the scale is concerned and then…well…let’s not go there in this post), but I’m not broken up over them. Well, at least, not today. The reality is also that some things in my life are better than I ever could have imagined at this point. It’s also true that there are many, many things in my life that are still unwritten, untold, unimagined. These are the things yet to be which are not now. It’s life. It’s my life. It’s everyone’s life to some degree, I think. The good, the bad, the becoming, the yet to be. The happy, the sad, the exciting, the disappointing…the ever so daily.
Life is just moving along and I like it…at least most of it, most of the time.
No broken heart here, though I’ve had my share of experiences with the Broken Heart Syndrome. No thwarted dreams, though I have a few of those too. The reason I wrote what I wrote yesterday is simply because I sat down to write last night and that post is what came out.
I liked it.
I posted it.
What kind of person are you? Do you have a high need to be with other people all the time, with noise, conversation and sound bouncing off walls and filling your home? Or are you the kind of person who can turn it all off and exist happily with no other person around and absolutely no noise other than the sounds of the silence enveloping your abode? I love crowds, the hustle and bustle of the city, the cozy cramped feeling of a trendy little joint packed with bodies listening to the cool reggae tunes of a live band passing through the area. I am at home in a crowded realm. I am also just as content to be solitary and silent. I can move through both worlds with ease, but I have to admit, I like my solitude.
Solitude or Isolation?
I don’t mind my own company and there are times when because I’ve just done so much wish granting for other people that when the weekend rolls around I don’t mind being alone and simply being. I do have the tendency, at times, to retreat from the world in an escapist fashion. I can tend to isolate myself if I’m not careful.
I was planning on that last night. It was going to be a quiet evening of introspective contemplation as I worked out and reassessed my focus and direction in life. You guessed it, I didn’t have a date.
At the last minute, as these things tend to happen, a good friend of mind came into my office at the end of the day and asked if I was going to go to the get together after work.
I sighed. Memories of the last time I got together with my party friends swam before my eyes. There was a vision of something vaguely reminiscent of broken drinking glasses and a missed chair or was it the floor ended up being where the chair should have been? I couldn’t remember. Well, I could, but I didn’t want to.
“You know I think I’m probably just going to go home.” Another memory like the ones I already couldn’t remember, memories of crazy, pain laced celebrations in the days and months following my divorce’s finality was not something I wanted to add to my thought processes.
My friend, sensing I wasn’t exactly on my game somewhere, came in sat down on a nearby stool and we chatted for a few. We shared. We caught up. It’s been months since we got together and pondered the deep questions of life and single parenting and dating. In fact, the last time we did that, I distinctly remember dropping my cell phone in the hot tub. Yet another interesting memory and one we laugh about now.
A Single Mom’s Loneliness
She’s feeling much of what I’m feeling these days it turns out. Her single mommy life is taxing her in many of the same ways mine is. We both love our freedom and our independence and all the many conveniences that come with being in the driver’s seat of our lives. Yet we both are missing the connection that comes when you have another very special person in your life to plan with, to dream with, to consult with, to disagree with, to make up with, to make out with, and to wake up to in the morning.
While I am often alone, I am not usually lonely, but I was in one of those very rare places where I was actually feeling alone and lonely. My friend sensed this and as she tends to do, she was right there for me. We ended up deciding to hang out together last night. It was a decision I’m glad we made.
I think it is easy for women to become disconnected sometimes, especially if we are single moms. We spend so much of our time making sure that the needs of those we love and who depend upon us are met that we forget about our own needs. Maybe it isn’t so much that we forget, as it is that, by the time we get around to being able to think about ourselves, we are simply exhausted and ready to collapse. We end up putting ourselves on the bottom of the priority pile. We end up too exhausted to want to make the effort to connect with the other women in our lives. For me, that includes the other single moms I know in my face-to-face world who have walked with me down the single parent road these last few years.
There is also something about being with another woman instead of a man on occasion. Now, don’t hear me say that I prefer this over company with men all the time. Both types of company are valuable, but they sometimes meet very different needs. At times, the company of a good same sex friend (because I’m sure men feel this way too on some levels) just can’t be beat. I don’t have to do the work of getting to know someone, because all that history and relationship has already been established. It’s comfortable. We know and accept each other. It is enough just to be together. It is also very nice sometimes to have another female perspective confirming for me in so many ways, that I’m not crazy, that I am just a busy single mom and that we are all feeling this way, which is most of the time stressed or tired. Especially of laundry.
It doesn’t happen often that we can all get babysitters or be child-free on the same evening and also have money to pay for our cover charges and drinks but last night the stars aligned and we were able to make it happen. It started out with just my friend and I, and we added one of our new colleagues to the mix. The laughter, the conversations, the self-revelations and the discussions that ran from the serious and intellectual (okay, sort of serious and intellectual) to quite tawdry, decisions to have Sex on the Beach but no Slow Comfortable Screw, while wondering who in the bar was there with who else, these things made up our night like a montage in a movie. From the comments about the cute guy in the hat dancing by himself in the middle of the crowded dance floor, to whether the guy in the suit was single or not, to refusing to pick up two guys who tried to convince us to let them in the car with us, to the older retired teacher guy who regaled me with stories while I waited for the others to complete their powder room break, it was simply something we all, for our own reasons, needed to do. We just needed to put our concerns and stress away for a few hours, to forget we were single moms, to forget that we cared about that. We needed a Ladies Night Out. We needed to just have fun.
We most certainly did that!
Not a glass was broken.
Not a chair was missed.
Not a cell phone fell into anything liquid.
And not one of us thought once about the laundry.
…but I am wondering where I left my shirt.
New Year’s Day, 2010
Yesterday’s post spoke about thinking more thematically about New Year’s Resolutions. To follow up on that, I feel I must give some more concrete examples of really what I mean. To that end, I have only one New Year’s Resolution. More aptly put, I believe this is a New Year’s theme that I hope characterize my year and the years to come. That theme is Healthy Living or Health.
You see, I could do what I did last year and talk about all the things I want to do, as though life were some sort of checklist to be completed before the end of it. As a product of the American baby boomer culture, I’ve seen life this way more often than not. I’d make my list, work frantically to accomplish it, come very close (or maybe not at all) and feel miserably unsuccessful or ineffective if I didn’t complete the list. I was what I could accomplish.
The problem with this thinking, at least for me, is that the list can never be completed because something is always being added to it. You check off one item only to put another objective in its place. What’s the sense of accomplishment in that? How does this manner of operating lead to peace and contentment? Even if you do accomplish something, the effect or result is only temporary, unless the item stays on the list and then, if you think according to the list, even if you’ve made progress, the danger of perceiving that you haven’t completed anything or not as much as you would have hoped exists. Lists are about completion not progress. I want to focus on progress, process and becoming.
Really, what I am talking about here with this whole New Year’s Theme thing is not giving myself more stuff to do (and more reasons to be disappointed if I fail) but instead I’m dealing with effecting lasting change in my life. There are areas I am not content with and I need to change.
Time for Change
Perhaps an example from my own life might serve to provide greater understanding of what I’m really driving at here. Several years ago, nearly a year, maybe almost two before my divorce even started beginning, things (as things in a failing marriage will tend to be) became very chaotic and conflicted. I was unhappy, he was unhappy, the kids were caught in the middle of that and dealing with the magnitude of kids that we had (11 in our blended situation), tensions were running at an all time high. We’d been separated and back together more times than I care to consider, and I was at the point where I knew that something had to change. I was afraid of what that might mean, but I knew I could not continue in the present situation any longer. My health was failing rapidly and it was only a matter of time before I experienced a serious and major collapse.
I really had to take some time and think about what it was I wanted. Now, I didn’t take the attitude of it’s all about me. I took the perspective that I needed to take care of me so that I could take care of those who depend and rely on me. In that case, my children, my support network, my community in a larger context, but admittedly I wasn’t thinking on that grand a scale back then. I was simply in survival mode thinking about what was going to be best for my children and I in the short run, but also in the long run. If you’ve ever been in this place you know what a difficult task that can be. How do you think about making monumental decisions that will be right for the immediate future and still be the right ones, down the road a piece? There are ways of doing this, I’ve since learned, but at that time I was floundering around in a state of hopelessness, fear and anxiety.
Respect and Survival
As I sat there in a school presentation where the speaker was talking about dealing with children respectfully and building a climate of respect in schools and in homes, everything crystallized for me. It all came together for me, not as a list of things I needed to do in a sequential order, but rather as a frame of mind I needed to adopt; as a way of being I needed to pursue. It became clear to me, in seconds, that what was lacking on so many levels and in so many areas in my life was, quit simply, respect. I wasn’t being treated respectfully, nor was I extending it to others in most areas of my life. Not only that, material possession, symbolic of someone’s effort, time, life and money were being treated disrespectfully, the world around us was not being treated with any measure of respect either by any of us. This is not how I wanted to live, nor was it the environment I wanted my children to grow up in learning that this manner of living was an accepted option.
With the theme being respect, I was then able to clearly see that in the current situation I was going to be crippled if not completely detained in my pursuit of a respectful home atmosphere and lifestyle. I was then able to make the hard and frightening decisions with confidence and assurance that I needed to make at that time to ensure for me and my children a life that involved treating each other with greater respect and infusing our home with respect. Three years after that day, I can look back and say it was the right way to look at things and, though we haven’t perfectly arrived, because we continue to learn more each day about areas where we can demonstrate greater respect to each other and because, quite frankly old ways of being die hard sometimes, we are in a much better place than we’ve ever been. We would not be here now if I hadn’t taken the necessary steps to start the process. I couldn’t have taken the necessary steps if I had focused on what I should or shouldn’t do. Focusing on what I wanted my children and I to be and experience made it possible for me to figure out the rest.
It seems I’ve come to another place where a theme is stepping up to the forefront and demanding attention. In the last three years, several themes have developed. First, was the theme of Respect. The next theme that characterized the first year after the divorce till now was Survival. The next theme which I believe to be developing in my life is that of Healthy Living or maybe just Health. It is a theme that encompasses not just the idea of physical fitness and healthy eating, but also the areas of spiritual health, intellectual health (sustenance and growth) and relational health.
These “themes” I am talking of, if that is even an appropriate terminology, are not something I adopt, carry around with me for a while and then discard because they no longer suit the situation. If you could think of building an onion from the inside out a layer at a time, you might come closer to how this all works for me. As each theme develops in my life, it becomes part of me with following themes overlaying themselves on pre-existing themes.
So, since the title of this post is about a healthy new year and since I did mention it earlier on in this now rather lengthy post, I suppose I should discuss it just a bit. Healthier Living, as a theme in my life, for this year, or for whatever amount of time it decides to be the forerunning focus, will help me make decisions daily regarding my time, my activities, my decisions, my focus. Instead of creating a list that I may or may not accomplish, depending upon my motivation level or my feelings, I will instead operate from the place of asking myself, “Is this the healthiest thing for me right now?” Or I might consider, “Is this particular choice going to move me closer to the healthy, whole life I see for my children and myself?” The particular questions help me sort the myriad choices I face each day in order to more closely align my life with the healthful vision I see of myself and for myself and my family (because I don’t just simply think of myself, ever, in isolation; what I choose impacts and affects many others whether I recognize it or not). So, in brief then, the theme works to direct my efforts, focus my energy and determine my choices. I am no longer burdened by a list that can never be accomplished. I am simply, moment by moment becoming healthier and these moments will, undoubtedly stack up and create a year that is much healthier than years previous.
Approaching life this way has, over the last three years, been very effective for me in implementing significant and incredibly positive change in my life over a relatively short period of time. This approach might not work for everyone, but I’ve found it to be incredibly effective for me in determining where to focus my energy, how to prioritize all the conflicting demands that bombard me daily as a single mom, and in helping me keep at it even when things become discouraging and disappointing as they likely will. It is an approach which instead of frustrating and defeating me, fills me with optimism, confidence, enthusiasm and hope. Since I’ve heard those are some of the key ingredients for someone in good mental health, I guess that’s not a bad place to start.
Oh, my! ‘Tis the snuggle season that’s for sure and several of my bloggy friends out there are bringing up the topic on everyone’s mind (or, at least, theirs)…sex. But is it really sex that is on people’s minds or is it romance, is it relationship, is it something else altogether? This post is a response to several other posts posted in the blogosphere earlier this week as well as my own personal convoluted thought path travelled in response to these various posts.
A Tale of 4 Blog Posts
The first post found here at Big Little Wolf’s Daily Plate of Crazy, talks about the confusion that can arise between the terms “sex” and “lovemaking”. Go there read it and return more informed about some of the thinking that gave rise (no pun intended) to my own post (also no pun intended) here. In a nutshell she poses a great many good questions on the topic with the ultimate being what is the difference between love-making and sex.
Add to that, this new blog friend at To Be Determined who is traveling down the post-divorce single path with me, though at a much earlier stage in her life. Like me, she’s often wished there were some sort of dating rulebook. Unlike me she still has her 30’s ahead of her and because of this her dating options are much greater than are mine though, admittedly, I am more fortunate in this regard than many. She also, as far as I can tell, doesn’t have the added complexity of trying to be a great mommy and trying to carve out time with another adult even if that time is merely coffee or a movie. Even so, my new friend at To Be Determined has dealt with the difficult issues and challenges divorce creates and I do wish I’d had her courage to blog more seriously and more intelligently about my own journey. Kudos in a big way to her for doing that!
The third post, and one that rather struck a bit of a nerve with me is the one that jassnight at The Critical Path wrote today. He talks about the nature of sex with older men, from the man’s perspective and he uses the really nice metaphor of running in the Master’s Division when competing in a marathon. He deals with how sex is viewed by men and how that view changes as men age.
And then, after all these ideas were simmering on the back burner of my mind, and as I was trying to find a quick easy recipe for those red potatoes I have in the fridge to go with the roast I’m attempting to destroy in the slow cooker (because, yes, once again, I am here with you and not watching the stove like I should be) I came across this most depressing thing. Of course, all the mom’s there are like, what, 35 and under, if that, but never mind. This last site only served to make me ask myself these questions:
- What defines hot?
- Who’s deciding?
- Do I qualify?
- Do I care?
I won’t be answering those particular questions here in depth, other than to say:
- I have no clue what men think is hot. What I’ve heard from my male friends is all over the board. This confuses me.
- I don’t know who’s deciding. I think I am. I think I’m more interested in just being comfortable with me in my own skin.
- I don’t know if I qualify as hot. It always makes me feel a bit uncomfortable to hear those words in reference to me. (I’m sure if I was totally in love with someone and he were saying that about me I’d have no problem, at least, I hope not!)
- Yeah, sadly, if I were to be honest, I think I do. I also think I care less and less with each passing day, not in a give up sort of way, but because I’m finding so much more of value to care about.
Things Are Different Over Here
It is tough being female, over 40 and single in our youth oriented culture, even if you look great. If you look good, or average or worse than average (however you would define that and most women are much harder on themselves than they ought to be) things get tougher, that is, if male companionship of a physical nature matters to them. It is tougher being female, over 40, single and wanting to experience a fantastic relationship someday before you die…or before you check in at the retirement home. There’s just so much of life to share with another person and having another adult around, if the relationship is healthy,it is energizing and motivating. Two people in a good relationship with each other can provide strength, encouragement, affection, intimacy. They can spot each other when one needs a break or is facing stresses. They can encourage each other to be better than either of them could be alone. They can challenge each other toward optimum growth in all areas of life. They can be there to stave off loneliness and support each other during the rough spots of life. They can build something together that is bigger than the both of them. Something that connects to the people and world around them and which makes a positive difference to all. This experience, while rare, is still a good thing. But how does it happen? For the woman suddenly single in her mid-40’s, the struggle with self-esteem issues that naturally accompany divorce can be exacerbated by the fact that if her 40’s are nearly over her opportunities for love seem to be diminishing and the rumor is, well, 50 is a big number. Besides, when a man of the same age can effectively court, woo, seduce or whatever a woman half his age and many of them do, how’s she to feel about what she’s got to bring to the table? Likely she’s got kids, responsibilities, a house payment, yard work, laundry and a job. Sadly in our culture the chipped nails due to weeding and the dry, cracked dishwasher hands just don’t shout “Hottie!” to most passersby. Younger women often come with half this amount of “baggage” and much tighter firmer (or, at least smaller) bottoms too boot.
If You Ain’t Hot, What Have You Got?
In our youth oriented culture, we worship the exterior. This leads us to assess each other on the external factors in our lives. We consider the quality of the cars we drive, the addresses of our homes, how neatly manicured the lawns are and whether or not the person has good job. Others even make assessments based on what kind of job the person has. While we are greatly privileged with many choices in this country and the ability to chose possessions that we like and which reflect our perceptions of ourselves, does this mean that in every case the vehicle reflects the person? Does this mean in every case that the job reflects the woman or man? Does this mean that I am somehow inadequate, because my yard is not perfectly edged and my walkway needs repair? Am I my job? Am I my wardrobe?
Let’s take this one step further, and address physical beauty. What is beautiful? What is sexy? What is hot? It’s a pretty common understanding that women’s standards of beauty are different than men’s. This is where I believe the confusion, if there is confusion, arises. Women and men see this topic differently and our image oriented society with the help of airbrushed and digitized perfect bodies doesn’t help do anything except further the notion that in order to have a great relationship you’ve got to look great first.
Does physical beauty impact the quality of the sexual relationship? If so, how and in what ways?
I mean, really. Let’s think about that logic. If physical beauty were the pre-requisite for an incredibly mind-blowing sexual experience then how come people don’t just jump into the sack on this basis alone. (Well, okay, maybe some do, but for the rest of us?) On the other hand, being attracted to someone is important too because there is that thing we like to refer to as “chemistry”. It doesn’t make sense. Just look around. We see couples every day in our daily pass through this life that are not extraordinarily good looking but who enjoy a good connection with a partner.
Or is the question more like what exactly determines attractiveness? And doesn’t that question have as many individual answers as people asking it?
Might I suggest, that physical beauty is a nice thing but, it is not the most important thing.
In the end, I think it boils down to what the individual is seeking in terms of relationship with another. I think those individual priorities determine the level of attraction to another person and the quality of any sexual encounter if a mutual interest were to exist.
So, to go back to my To Be Determined friend’s questions as to where is the Dating Rule Book, I have to respond with there isn’t one because the dating situation is as specific as the two different individuals involved. There might be some broad brush rules of thumb but beyond that it really is up to the individuals to chart their own course and navigate their own way.
As for jassnight’s assessments at The Critical Path of men and what they hope for and expect as they age, I can only hope some of that is true. But, truth be told, I think what people look for, what people consider important and what people value is as individual as the individual’s themselves. The difficulty is more a matter of coming up with a good fit between two people.
Regarding my friend, BLW’s post, about Sex vs. Lovemaking the same holds true. I know she is not confused. I know she is just posing the questions to begin dialogue. Many, though, do seem to be confused. I don’t think any of us really are confused. I think we all know the difference. Sometimes we let good sex convince us there is more to the relationship than really exists. Sometimes the lack of instantaneously mind blowing sex dissuades us from pursuing what might turn out to be a very loving, nurturing and lasting relationship.
We all know when we’ve just “had sex”. Even when it is “mind-blowing” sex, it is still “just sex” and we know it. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure it out. When we make love there’s an added ingredient or two or three, that can’t be orchestrated as the result of putting two good-looking people in a room and telling them to have at it. It isn’t any of it based on what either partner is individually, but rather, on what the two of them are together, what they share and what they’ve created between them, personally, privately, intimately. When they make love the core of their union as people is expressed physically. This doesn’t happen overnight.
This doesn’t happen instantaneously.
It doesn’t happen with a revolving door of partners, at least, not from what most people who’ve told me they’ve had a revolving door of partners say.
It doesn’t happen outside the context of something important and meaningful and loving.
It takes time to build something of value and anything of value costs something in terms of time, dedication, commitment, devotion and caring.
Making love happens in the context of a loving, healthy, relationship where trust and commitment are key ingredients.
The rest of it is just great sex.
Where’s the confusion?
“Never regret. If it’s good, it’s wonderful. If it’s bad, it’s experience.” ~Victoria Holt
Never regret. Those words on the surface sound like a great way to live. Live life so that you have no regrets. The idea is great, the reality non-existent, I suspect. I don’t think it is possible to live a life completely without regret. I don’t think one needs to wallow in and torture oneself with regret either. We can learn from our mistakes and our past, and move on but still be saddened by the way our past plays out in our present. I for one, never wanted to be in my forties parenting four children alone. Here I am and doing well, but it is not what I would have chosen. I would have chosen a loving marriage that worked over single parenting any day.
A Nice Idea
When it comes to love, marriage, divorce and single parenting there’s an entire galaxy of regret to be realized. Regrets of time and emotion wasted, of poor choices, of insufficient self knowledge, of the realities that now face the person tasked with parenting a child or children alone without the help of a loving, supportive, participatory partner in a marriage that worked. Regrets of diminished financial resources and not being able to now provide the childhood experiences that you once hoped you could, not to mention the increased demands on the dwindling time and energyof the single parent. Granted, this isn’t everyone’s single parent reality. It is the reality for many, however. Specifically, on many levels, it has been mine. I don’t think I’m alone here. When it comes to life after divorce, especially if that life now involves single parenting, the idea of living with no regrets is simply that: a nice idea.
Mixed Feelings About Single Parenting
I’ve recently come across a fellow blogger who seems to be a kindred spirit. She’s walked the single parent road for much longer than I. Her tour of duty in Single Parent World is just two years from being over, while I have a decade of duty left. Her recent article titled, “Single Parenthood: How Do You Really Feel?” resonated with me. I, too, am proud of what I’ve accomplished in the last few years, the stability and safety I’ve fought for and aquired for my children and I, and the slow, arduous climb back from financial disaster. These are accomplishments I celebrate, but with every celebration there is that cloud of regret that hovers over the silver lining. It’s a mixed bag. On one hand I’d never go back to the nightmare I was living before. At the same time, I prefer that I’d made better choices, known myself better, behaved better myself so that I could have avoided being in this place now.
The regret is that while I am content in my life as a single parent it would have been far better for us all to be part of an intact family with a marriage that worked for us all than not. Single parenting, while far superior to my previous reality, is not what I ever wanted for myself or my children and it isn’t the existence I’d choose even now had I any other choice, most particularly, that of sharing with a partner who fit us, who was loving and supportive and personally competent.
Things Are Forever Different Now
Personally, the word “baggage” is a term that rankles me.
Several posts ago, in the comments section of the article titled Kip’s Challenge, I was quite pointedly and not-so-nicely accused of having baggage. He made the comment that most men reading my blog would slowly back away from their computer monitors and retreat to the companionship of other men in a bar. The implication being that relationship with me would be too much work. (Now, how he would know what other single men would or would not do since he is a.) not one of them and, b.) not a woman dating them, is beyond me, but, yeah, we’ll go with that for now.) Supposedly, Kip has an inside track to the normal healthy available male mind (the aberrant, unhealthy and unavailable don’t interest me, for obvious reasons.
That comment of Kip’s elicited a flurry of comments which ended in Kip silently backing away from his computer monitor and retreating into silence without much of a fight. It’s been said that silence is interpreted as agreement. Need I say more about that?
I’m not entirely certain what Kip meant by baggage, but if, as I think he did, he was referring to the typical things that people refer to when labeling someone as having “baggage” (kids, past failed marriages, life history and experience, a career, some debt, and a life of my own that I actually enjoy and am not willing to necessarily tube for some dolt with a penis and a pocketbook) then I suppose he is right. I have baggage and loads of it. The fact that he said it, doesn’t really bother me so much, the fact that he was the one saying it, when I know full well he is sitting on top of a load of baggage far messier and larger than my own, is what I found humorous. But you can go read all that for yourself over there if you like. I’d suggest you not waste your time…unless you actually like some drama.
Over the last two years, I’ve done some thinking about the word baggage, and Kip’s comment forced me to revisit and take another look at this ugly word.
It is an ugly, ugly word. It is ugly because it attacks the person at the core of their being but doesn’t mean anything at the same time.
Upon entering the dating scene nearly two years ago,now, I like most others just coming out of a disastrous marriage, was in no shape to begin dating. Even so, I ventured forth against the advice of good friends who knew me and knew better. I dated for about six months, learned a lot about myself and eventually quite dating, because I determined my friends were right. I need to sort myself out first before I was going to even be able to recognize a soul mate should he ever venture onto the scene.
During this initial dating period, I tried several different methods of meeting people. One of them being, online dating. In fact, I tried nearly all the prominent well known ones and some of the not so well known ones. During this online dating phase, I encountered the word baggage more often than I care to remember.
Baggage is an ugly, derogatory word that contains a million diffferent meanings depending upon who is using the word and what their particular definition of it might be. It is like the word love in reverse. People love God, or they love their significant other or their kids, and they love movie theatre popcorn or stiletto pumps, or lobster. Another vague and meaningless word like this is the word, “good”. What exactly is good? He felt good. That movie was good. You are a good person. Baggage is yet another word that is so vague as to be meaningless anymore except when it is used it can really sting. Even if it isn’t true.
You often hear folks mention it in their profiles saying things like this, “Those with baggage need not apply.” LOL! Like, first of all anyone with baggage is really going to admit it and second of all, what exactly are you calling baggage there, buddy? I mean, really? Seriously? As if the person writing it who is pushing 50 has a clean slate themselves. If they do, that’s the biggest piece of baggage! Baggage for me (not divorced, a lot of drama associated with the past because the divorce settlement or parenting time was vague, too many financial loose ends involving the ex, a volatile or violent ex, emotional instability, a prison record, unemployed, homeless, addicted) could be entirely different for someone else. Most men seem to state kids, addictions, and insecurities as the main elements of baggage. Most men do not include a stalker woman as one who has baggage since they mostly like to be stalked. Expecially if the woman is beautiful, tiny and has had her breasts magically enlarged so that they are significantly larger than her buttocks. What they don’t really recognize though, is that a woman like that (unless she paid for the services herself) is probably carrying a load of “baggage” (read insecurities and not comfortable in her own skin) and has even bigger expectations for relationship which don’t center around accepting the man as he is but instead focus on measuring him in light of the depth and breadth of his pocketbook. But I digress.
Most of the time, when someone says, “He/She has a ton of baggage” it is intended as malicious insult aimed at undermining the recipient’s competence as an adult human being. It simply means “He/she is incapable of doing life”. They are an incompetent individual unable to deal successfully with the challenges of adult life, therefore they are being crossed off the list of life by someone, usually, who has enough baggage of their own as to make the person they are criticizing look bag free.
It doesn’t mean merely that person was not a good fit. It doesn’t mean that the person made some bad choices in the past but they are overcoming them and they’ll be alright. It’s a completely derogatory term usually used by the middle aged single people for other middle aged single people. And most people don’t mean “life experience” or “the past” when they are talking about it. They definitely mean to lump all the person’s issues into one neat and tidy word without specifying anything but with the clear intent to verbally knock the person flat. Because really, the term baggage is so vague, so broad, who honestly can argue with it?
To many, I would be someone with a lot of baggage: four kids, a home that I own that I have not foreclosed on, but which needs some cosmetic improvements and which has a yard that needs tending to in order to keep it beautiful, a diminishing debt load and a successful career that requires a lot of time and energy from me during 9 months of the year. That would be baggage for some.
For others, my baggage would center around the fact that I have two marriages that didn’t work out. Okay, I’ll say it: I have two failed marriages. And, yes, they failed because I was as much a part of the problem as the other person. That admission somehow sends off alarms to all (well, at least the unhealthy insecure “all”) that I’m incompetent in relationship. People make assumptions instead of asking the critical question, “What was that about for you?” For others, my baggage would center around the fact that I’ve spent a fair amount of time after my last divorce thinking through exactly that very question and reflecting not only on what the other person did or didn’t do that didn’t work for me, but also on how I contributed to the problem. The result is, in some areas I’m very clear on what I will or will not tolerate in relationship. I’m clear on what the foundations of a good relationship must be and how to recognize them. I’m becoming more and more clear on what my limitations are and what does or doesn’t work for me and my boundaries in this regard are getting firmer daily. I’m also unwilling to waste time in any relationship that doesn’t demonstrate at least the basics of emotional, financial and legal availability and the biggie: mutual acceptance and respect . Many men, especially those, who haven’t a clear concept of their own self identity, who are insecure or immature, and/or who need a woman to take care of them or fulfill them or to meet their self-centered needs, or who are simply stupid, can’t stand me.
I’m totally okay with that!
The term baggage, however, is one of those words which while intended to harm the person talked about, also implicates the person wielding the word. When someone uses that word, eyebrows raise and the question goes out, “Oh, really, what do you mean?” It works like this. You use the word “baggage”. The question goes out, “What do you mean?” The word is uselessly vague so you must clarify the word and in clarifying the word you malign the other person somehow. When you malign another from your past, especially when on a date with a new person, it is the death knell. You’ve succeeded in assassinating the person you were talking about but you made yourself look just as bad in the process. Baggage is an ugly word which when used reflects badly on both the person targeted but even more so the person using the word.
How do you feel about the word “baggage”? What does that word mean to you?
My day so rocked! I mean I kicked it from beginning to end instead of it kicking me. Me, kicking it, has become the norm lately instead of the sad state of affairs I was in last summer with no money, no transportation and, well, post-divorce realities staring me down like a mugger in a back alley at night.
So all excited as I was, I spent 40 minutes writing this great post, at the end of which I realized no one was going to care about but me, so I drafted it instead of publishing it. I hate when that happens!
Now I’ve used up most of my writing time for the evening on a post I can’t even go back and see that no one commented on, and, well, I hate when that happens too!
I also have so much to say and write about because, seriously?, right now, life is so on for me that it is exciting and, well, almost as much fun as those days in my early 20’s when everything was colored with hope and possibility.
Three months ago, I would never have believed (though I would have still hoped) that I could actually ever experience that optimism I experienced as a 20-something adult. You know, the experience of waking up every day thinking it was an adventure, that the possibilities were endless and that you had your whole life ahead of you. Do you remember those days? The hope? The optimism? The confidence?
Those days have returned to my life and I can’t tell you how good it feels to be back in the game again.
And, look, if you’re out there thinking life’s passed you by or your winnings have been gambled and lost, think a-freaking-gen! Life turns on a dime. It might not look good now, but if you give up now it sure isn’t going to look any better than it does right now! Keep putting one stupid, boring , unproductive, worthless (or seemingly so) foot in front of the other and guess what? One day, that tunnel somehow seems a little brighter. Then, a bit later on, you actually can discern a light at the end of said tunnel. At that point, things get easier, you can see the light getting brighter and brighter and then suddenly everything for you begins to just go crazy in your favor.
The reality of life is this. We are all going to have our rainy days. Some of those days will accumulate into the longest freaking winter of our lives. We’ll want to die, give up, cave in, drink or self-medicate. We’ll feel like losers and that we screwed up and there is no hope.
there is always hope. There is always tomorrow. There is always another chance to try again or to continue doing what we know we have to do to get out of the pit we dug for ourselves…or maybe…that someone else dug for us.
Today is not the day to give up.
Today is the day to press on and keep going because there are better days ahead.
Hang in there. You’ll make it!
(If it doesn’t now, give it a while, it will soon!)
So, you know how life is? You cruise along and everything is really chill and you are making forward progress toward all your goals. You have your game on and you are kickin’ it. You are just moving through life like water-skiing on glass. It’s a complete breeze. All you have to do is hold on to the rope and you don’t even need both hands. Jumping the wake is effortless and every single time you land it cutting sharp with rooster tail flying. Life doesn’t get any better than that!
We all know life turns on a dime though.
In the water-skiing arena of life all it takes is that submerged rock or floating log that the driver of the boat didn’t see or that edge you catch because you aren’t paying attention and then suddenly you are hurling over water at nearly 34 miles an hour which is breakneck speed when you are wearing almost nothing and the surface of the water is throwing you back into the air like a red rubber bouncy ball on cement. It’s simply no fun. In fact, depending on the wipeout, and I have had a few of these, after the motion stops you wonder if you are, first, still alive and second, how badly you might be bleeding. Hitting glass at that speed is like jumping onto the freeway from a car traveling the speed limit. It hurts…bad!
But then life isn’t just the water-skiing thing happening in isolation. In real life you could be water-skiing, but then someone says something and another person sends you an email and a kid looks up at you and asks you the most random question or you have someone new enter your life you totally pushes your game and suddenly there you are…
hurtling buns over teakettle…
waiting for it all to stop. Wondering if it will stop. And you can’t do anything to make it stop.
Yeah. That’s pretty much how life can be sometimes. And that is exactly how my life has been.
So, let’s go over the skiing on glass experiences:
Two years ago I left Ex #2, who was emotionally, spiritually and verging on the point of physically, abusive. To put it kindly, he was a very cruel, selfish, immature, irresponsible, manic/depressive and unkind person. I got out of that marriage and managed to keep my health, home and some of my stuff but I ended up having to take on all the marital debt. Because why? Because during the marriage, I was the one with the rockin’ credit score and he couldn’t even beg bread on the corner so everything (credit wise and I was worth a decent amount…then) was in my name. I was smart enough on one level to never combine accounts with the man, but in the end, that also killed me, because those are the debts I am now paying off. Sure, I could have fought for a judgement that forced him to pay half, but he wouldn’t have paid it (I know this man well) and that would have screwed my credit score and my ethics. It wasn’t a risk I was willing to take. So, Ex leaves with no obligations, I carry on with all of them. As the marriage goes, so goes the divorce.
True, he goes home to live with mommy (and pay no bills) and he actively seeks for and finds his replacement for me. Easy freaking come, easy freaking go.
Sad thing about that is…when I was there…I wasn’t taking it so lightly and I really cared. Clearly he didn’t.
So, two years post-divorce and I’m just barely beginning to see this dim light at the end of the tunnel and thinking life is actually going to be peaceful where this man is concerned (that’s the glass part) where this crazy man is concerned and he runs off to Vegas and marries someone and not even someone he has really had an opportunity to meet or interact with in real time. Worse, my daughter’s only met her twice. And now he’s announcing to the world how they are already actively working on having a family and they haven’t been married a week. Better. Get this. He already has 8 children he is not paying for or supporting either emortionally or financially!!!!! I could really care less what he’s doing or who he’s doing…except that it seems incredibly unfair that the schmuck here can find fun far faster than the responsible, mature, thinking person. There is seriously something wrong with this world…or maybe it is this country…or maybe it is convervative Christians…or maybe it is just him. (He’s an amazing con artist!) Enough.of.that!
While all that was going down in my life and I’m reeling from the realization that I wasted 7 very critical years of my life with a man who really did only view me as something less than the dogs and completely replace-able, other things were going on too. A friend sent me one of those joke emails. I’d post it in here, but I’m not sure how to make it work. In this particular case, it was an invitation to a barbecue at a beautiful resort in the South Pacific. You know the place. Bungalows built out over the water, floors of glass looking into the ocean and fish swimming below. Beautiful. Sunny. Warm. Serene. Isolated. Isolated. Solitary. Relaxing isolation.
Back at home, the kids are angry because I have limits and won’t adjust (much) when they inform me at the last minute. I’m also doing the same ole teenage fight that centers around balancing home obligations (read chores…or in my kids’ case “chore”) with social desires. It doesn’t make me popular around here. And now, my youngest, who is clearly having her dad and The Replacement plan fun things in her presence when they know she will be with me (as an attempt to upset her and indirectly coerce me into allowing her to be with him) is very, very angry and unhappy…supposedly with me. Not like he could pick up the phone and call and say, “Hey, we have this big family thing we’d like her to be a part of can she come?” instead he has to directly involve her and use her to manipulate me.
Like I said earlier….as the marriage goes, so goes the divorce.
I’m also way into the most stressful month I’ve yet to experience in my life since leaving the Ex and in this week alone I have more obligations due than most people in my position have in a year…and more were added this week. I seriously need to be mainlining vodka crans…no…Long Island Ice Teas…in order to self-medicate here!
The next unrelated incident that happened was a digital friend, who in very casual conversation made this statement, “You can’t control anything another person does.” Obvious enough, true enough and old knowledge for me…but in the context of all the other things hitting me on the glassy surface of life at 35+ miles/knotts an hour this one caused some different synapses to fire.
It all culminated with the young, beautiful, intelligent and wise Student Teacher who has her complete game on coming into my classroom this last week and putting a picture up on the big screen of a freaking bungalow built over the water in Tahiti as a writing prompt for the kids. I so did not need to see that. And, who does she think she is anyway, coming into my classroom and freaking challenging me to amp up my instruction to the next level????? Well, all I can say to that is, “Bring it, girlfriend! We’ll rock this sleepy little joint with the proverbial as iron sharpens iron thing!” Anyway….I hate her.
I hate her for putting that image up.
I hate that the fact that this particular image has haunted me throughout the week.
And that’s when, my water-skiing on glass life became the wipeout of the century…sort of.
“Mommy, over break Daddy and his girfriend went to a drive through Chapel in Vegas and got married.”
Images of bungalows built over the ocean.
“Mommy, I want to go live with my dad. He’s more fun and I want to be with my stepmom.” (Daggers in my heart.)
“You can’t control what other people do.”
“You can’t control what other people do.” Well, what is it I want to do, now that it doesn’t matter to anyone else?
“You can’t control what other people do.” Tahiti. Glass floors. 14 nights of solitude.
“You can’t control what other people do.” What I really want to do is spend 14 nights of solitude in the South Pacific. I would be a completely different person after that.
It was strange. As I sat there lying face down on the proveribial post-divorce surface of the now choppy lake, I thought, “I am free. I am really no longer obligated to consider him in any decision I make regarding our child. In over two years, he’s not concerned himself in communicating with me, why am I concerned about making the attempt with him. My duty now rests completely with making my daughter’s childhood the best it can be in spite of him…and I’m not going to give him the heads up about it.”
Simultaneously the question my mother use to plague me with ran through my mind, “You need to decide what it is you want to do and then do it.” For the first time in my life…I can really answer this question. What I really want to do is spend 14 nights, three weeks or a month if I could afford it, in one of those bungalows over the South Pacific all.by.myself.
“What???!!! Like not even with a guy???!!” A friend of mine asked. Yeah, she can, she’s happily married. “No,” I answered, “Not today, at least. Not even with a guy. Alone.”
So, while the last three weeks or so have done their best to slap me around (and, yes, it’s been painful), the feeling and the awareness that comes when the skier realizes they just survived a major wipeout and they’re still alive and still able to pick up the rope and continue skiing (even if they have to sojourn in the boat awhile) is like life reborn. The second wind, the second chance, the next 40 years. However, you want to phrase it, it was one of those weeks for me.
I will be heading to the South Pacific and I’ve set a goal and a deadline. Further, I really do want to go alone but if Mr. Soulmate finds me before then and would like to join me…truly…I’d be disappointed…in a way…that I wasn’t going alone…and I’d consider it a complete gift in another way. Quality relationships are difficult to find…and even more difficult to keep. If you find yourself blessed by being part of one, make it a priority.
Even further, since fourth grade, I’ve wanted to write a book, but I’ve never been able to come up with a storyline or even a basic plot. And I’ve been too afraid to make the attempt (yeah, I know I don’t particularly strike anyone as the fearful type, but I am). All of that changed for me this week. I not only have the characters named and fleshed out, but I have the setting, basic plot, problem and….yes…even the conclusion for my story. And I’m not afraid to write it and not afraid to submit it to scrutiny a million times if need be. It may never get published. But it will be written.
My story starts in pain, continues in Tahiti and ends in hope.
I feel like the last several weeks I’ve gone from just beginning to feel like I’m water-skiing on glass to feeling like I’m experiencing the wipeout of the century. After crawling in the boat and resting for a bit (and moaning and groaning like a blasted wuss all the while) I feel like I’m ready to trade in the boat and skis and purchase a ticket to the South Pacific. Not because I hate skiing or because I’m gun shy, or because I’m a bad skier, but because, while I really love water-skiing, it just isn’t what I want to really be doing right now.
Bungalow over the water.
I have Tahiti on my mind.