Divorce, 5 Years Later

It’s been five years since my divorce was finalized and I thought I would share what it’s been like.  My ex and I are still friends, I am proud to say that we held our own in front of the kids. We didn’t badmouth each other in their presence, we are there for their milestones, and we both love them for who they are and have never tried to use them as pawns.


The first step to a good divorce, and the hardest to correct if you get it wrong, is to marry a good person.  I don’t date assholes, and I didn’t marry one either. But the pain of a breakup often brings out our worst sides and it was hard to resist becoming one.  I also had an unfair advantage–I was the one who decided to end it. When people decide to end things, they end it in their head first; silently, without discussion, weighing the possible futures.  It can be a long process, taking months or years. But the longer the buildup, the more fixed the position. When that decision is finally brought to light, the other person *may* be able to bring up something new; some new argument or leverage that changes things.  But not always, and not often.


It does not feel good to break someone’s heart.  It feels awful. But I also knew that I had already been grieving for the end of it long before my ex did, and that he was at a disadvantage.  He wanted to do all the right things–how can we fix this? Counseling? We did do that, but it was too little, too late. Ironically, I had thought about counseling in the past and immediately would get angry–why is it on me to fix this?  I am supposed to do the work, in addition to everything I already do, to fix this? And so I didn’t, until it was too late. Emotionally I was done and I hadn’t even realized I had crossed that threshold. Suddenly, as things fell apart, I realized that I just didn’t care anymore.


Just to be clear, I’m not proud of that.


But the past is what it is:  we got divorced, and we both moved on.  He is dating a really awesome woman; smart, beautiful, and creative.  And I’ve been with my significant other for a few years now. We have come to a new normal.


I was reading a new book, “Decluttering at the Speed of Life,” which had a unexpectedly poignant section on decluttering dreams.  We assign meaning to our physical stuff. We assign meaning to how we label ourselves. When I was 18, I thought that someday I was going to get married and I was going to do it the smart way and I would be married for 50 years until we died.  Because I was going to be chaste and faithful and true. Turns out, you can be those things and still end up with a marriage that ends before five decades. You can make an informed choice at the time, be utterly sincere, and yet not be able to predict how life or either party will change over time.  I am not the wreck I was when making that decision, but I still feel sad about it sometimes.


So here are some questions from the book on decluttering dreams, on letting go.


Is this actually a dream?


Or is it a cool thing you thought you might like doing?  I respect people who get married, I respect those values.  And there were some parts to being married I did like, but I’ve never been one to care particularly about weddings or a ring on my finger or even talking about “my husband,” as though it was a status symbol.  I know myself enough that if that’s what I really wanted, I could have it again. But at the end of the day, it was about that day and the next and the one after that. The mundane, the ordinariness of everyday life.


Did you inherit this dream?


Is this your dream or someone else’s?  Certainly when I was younger, I absolutely wanted marriage.  It would have felt like I picked a waffling type of man if he couldn’t commit to me.  I wanted a public declaration of that commitment. I wanted that stability. My take on that has changed greatly.  Stability is only as present as the persons and circumstances allow. Now, I feel I don’t own anyone or owe anyone, and no one owns me.  I don’t know where this life journey is going to go. I can make a commitment as my present self, but I cannot speak for a future me that does not exist yet.  I may change my mind on this; after all, I changed it before. But for now, I am content to just see where the next few years go. And it ups my game to be the best person I can be.  If I want a great partner, then I need to be a great catch myself.


Was Collecting the Stuff the Best Part of the Dream?


Well, that was never much of an issue for me.  I used to live in a house, now I live in an apartment.  That works well for me. As far as furniture goes, I’m eclectic.


The Big Dreams


And then it gets to the hard stuff.


“I thought one day I would  ______________, but now I realize I never will.”


There is the small stuff, the regrets that I’m not going to be a major costumer and maybe I should get rid of my fabric stash under my bed.  I am no longer a stamper and I’m cool with that. I should unload those from the basement. Regret for the small stuff.


The big stuff comes with grief.


“There’s a form of grief that’s common in new marriages.  As you work to build the so-called perfect relationship, putting time and energy and focus on what it means to do marriage right, you start seeing the flaws in your own childhood and family.  While the way your family functioned was normal to you because it was all you knew, working on your own marriage means identifying things you want to do differently.”


That grief comes back when a marriage ends.  Because now the future possibilities you saw for yourself are erased and it takes time to navigate what the new possibilities will be.  For awhile, there can just be . . . uncertainty.  Five years later, I have dealt with most of that. I am happy where I am.

Driving Myself Crazy

They say a coward dies a thousand deaths, a hero only one.  It should be updated to say an imaginative person dies a thousand deaths, a dull person only one.  In neuroscience, it’s been shown that the pain of loss is twice the joy of comparable gain.  We feel loss more.  The problem with an imaginative brain is that you can see all the possibilities and know you get to choose one, or perhaps a few, out of thousands.  The thousand possible roads never taken–weighted or not, it’s overwhelming.

I look at my life and my one main regret is that I don’t write more.  I procrastinate.  I weigh choices, feel the ebb and flow of my emotions, and do nothing.  It is an ongoing regret, but apparently not one I feel keenly enough to do squat about.

This summer, after Sandy’s death, I kept waking up in the middle of the night, scared of my own mortality.  The feeling was, “Shit, I’m gonna die.”  Which is hilarious, because I’m always thinking about how I’m going to die.  I’ve been thinking about how I’m going to die since I was 11.  I made a conscious choice to be Christian at that age to diversify my eternal risk–if there was no god, then I had nothing to lose, so might as well believe in one.

But now I’m at a weird age where my parents are really going to die in the soonish future, anywhere between now and twenty years from now.  I have a teenager who is questioning her purpose her life, her meaning, probably because she’s thinking about how she’s going to die.  (No, actually, I think she worries more about my mortality than hers.)

And you know the regrets of the dying?   At least the ones in the book, “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying”?  I’ve got them covered.  Here they are:

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish I had let myself be happier.

I feel good about all of those points.  I should be ahead!  But I have this desire to make the world a better place by having lived in it, and I feel I’ve let the world down.  What is my meaning?  What is my purpose?  Do I really have gifts that the world needs?  (I sort of hate even writing that because it sounds a little too New-Agey for me)  How self-effacing is that?  It’s a weird mix of “who am I to feel like anyone special” versus “do what you gotta do then to make the world better, so why haven’t done it already?”

You know what brought this on?  I was supposed to write a post for my business group last week, and now it’s two weeks late.  And I just feel so lame.  I had fun doing the exercise, but I have some block about actually writing stuff down.  Woot, I get the prize for being lame.

It’s this feeling that my job isn’t what I want to be doing for the rest of my life X I don’t want to die having nothing to show for the life I’ve lived X the worry that it won’t matter, really, whether I’m great or mediocre or nothing at all.

The feeling will pass, of course, it always does.  (And of course, it will also come back)  I know that in my small circle, my life does have meaning, at least to others.  But it is irritating to me that I still have to wrestle with this stuff.  Does a mind ever calm down?




We’re not all like that


I was reading an interesting article on Thought Catalog entitled, “This is How We Date Now.”  It was about frivolous connections, frivolous dates, and that such aggressive romantic screening can screen out real possibilities.  I think the beginning part might be true for some, but not much for me.  Perhaps because I am older, perhaps because I am geek, perhaps because I used to be a gamer–but that appears to be an article about the woes of beautiful people and how impatient some can be.  However, I do agree that we adopt a public persona that sanitizes the sad parts and bad parts that we don’t want to talk about.  And I agree that we all want true connection.  Connection is a very powerful word for me.

I like Facebook for notice of births, weddings, and death.  I don’t expect it to give details.  I don’t expect to have deep friendships on there – but it can provide an introduction, which can grow offline.  I like too much of the senses.  I like the sight of a person not filtered by a screen.  I like to hug and cuddle people.  I like to hear a true voice and I like to smell the whiff of someone’s cologne, or shampoo.  That requires an investment of time. . . my favorite memories are often of people visiting me at my home, or me visiting them at theirs.

Time is one of the most precious resources we have.  It’s why with romantic relationships, I never do long distance because I need the physicality of presence.  And it’s why with platonic relationships, the ones who I am closest to are often close to me in location.  We just never know how much time we have.

Last year, when I used to take Rowan to her old school, we would have some time in the car together in the mornings.  One morning I was driving behind a semi-trailer from a safe distance, and as it approached a curve ahead of me, it suddenly put on the brakes and drove off to the side.  A cloud of dust came up from the gravel on the encroachment.  I slowed down, and prepared to stop.  I was thinking maybe a tire had burst, so I let the car creep up slowly.  But as we got closer, we could see a couple of smashed up cars beyond the semi.  At that point we turned around and took another way to get Rowan to school.

After dropping her off, I went home a different way.  It passed within sight of the highway, and I could see it was already cordoned off.  When I got to work, I was curious about the accident.  I found out that heading east, a man was trying to turn left into a residential driveway on the cusp of the curve.  A woman came up behind him, but she wasn’t expecting a stopped car, and the eastern sun was up and came into full view right around the curve.  Momentarily blinded, she hit the car in front of her.

He was already partially turned, so when she hit him, it catapulted him into the opposing lane–where the semi saw him too late and crashed into him.  He died on the scene.  He was a 40-something from Mt. Horeb, had a family, two boys.  Liked to coach their sports.  Just like that, on a day like any other, he died.  It was an accident all around that turned into a tragedy for that family.

And that’s the way it goes, doesn’t it?  No money can bring that life back.  His kids had him for a little while, not long enough.  All of us, like him, can remember the past, but we don’t know our future.  We never know when it will end.  And maybe like me, you wonder about your purpose.  It’s an ironic thing for me that I spent so much of my younger years thinking about hastening my death.  Now I expect I will live to be a ripe old age, barring accidents.  But of course, the price for living a long time is getting to witness the death, and sometimes sufferings, of our friends and family.  I expect I will outlive my brother–I don’t smoke and he does.  I certainly hope to die after my parents and not before–both for their sakes and sake of my children.  It just seems more natural that the earlier you were born, the closer to now you will die.

I guess that owning up to your mortality can really cause a person to go into two extreme directions.  One is screening your life for perfection, but then nothing is good enough.  Nothing gets through.  Or the other, being so open to potentiality–and fantasy–that nothing really good comes through.

It’s a balance.  What is it that you really want?  And is what you really want attainable?  Or worth what you would have to give in order to get it?

Then sometimes, what you really want just sort of happens.  In August, I went to a Conscious Life Workshop hosted by Steve Pavlina.  I’ve followed his blog for years.  The purpose of the workshop was to get clear about the kind of life you want to lead, and then you can screen what you accept into your life based on that.  For example, an 80 hour week corporate job is not a good fit for me–I have too many other interests to devote that much to one thing.  But my current 40 hour week corporate job, with a boss who never gives me grief about child care or sick days, is an excellent fit for me.

In the workshop, we also talked a bit about relationships.  What is it that you really want?  What is a dealbreaker?  A divorced man is not a dealbreaker for me, but a man who would want me to have his “own” kids would be.  In fact, I would probably prefer someone like me, divorced, who would get where I’m coming from and understand that journey.

Steve also talked about how he broadcasts his desires and is very open that he is polyamorous and a cuddleslut.  So the first day, I emailed and sent a cuddle invitation.  I can honestly say I’d never done that before – and was a bit afraid I would get rejected.  After all, this is a guy I’ve only ever known through his blog, not the real deal, not the real presence, and he might be different in real life.  Or, though I hate to admit it, I was bit afraid I might not be good enough.  Not intelligent enough to match wits, not pretty enough to pique his interest, or not evolved enough to be a good match.  I know I still have hangups sometimes.

But we exchanged phone numbers and planned to get together the last night.  And the workshop was great, so inspiring, so full of great people at all stages of their lives.  One day at lunch, going out with some new friends, one of the guys looked back and me and another woman I was chatting with and smiled.  “What are you smiling about?” I teased.  He replied back in all seriousness, “It’s just wonderful to be out walking with two beautiful women,” still with a smile on his face.  I knew he was sincere.

Being open like that, to compliments, to connection, to understand that sure there may be a sexual undercurrent, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t be friends, took time for me to develop.  I no longer believe like Harry that “women and men can’t be friends because the sex always gets in the way.”  Sex only happens if there is consent on both sides, but personally I like the friendships that have that extra flirty layer.  Why deny it? People are attractive.  I’m never going to sleep with all the people I find attractive–that’s not the point.  The point is accepting what is–what is now.  Maybe it will be something else in the future, but it doesn’t mean that today can’t be enjoyed just as it is.

And as for that last Sunday night, I had a great time.  I had dinner with Steve and bunch of people, and then we went walking down to my hotel.  We would bump into other workshop attendees who would ask, “Oh hey, what are you guys doing?” and I would answer, “Oh, we’re just going back to my hotel room to cuddle.”  I had the most insane grin because it was truthful and just not what one would normally say.

So we headed back and spent a few hours cuddling and talking.  That’s it, no sex, no weirdness–though I felt a bit astonished that it was just that easy.  It was two people, enjoying a physical intimacy and an emotional one.  It was, to be true, a fantasy of mine, to have a little bit of Steve time all to myself.  And then he left and it hasn’t been anything more.  Doesn’t need to be anything more.  For me, it was all about being honest about what I wanted, and also being open to the idea that someone who could be my equal could feel an attraction on multiple levels to me.

Dating after being married for a long time feels a little like being in a time capsule.  Who I was then is not who I am now, but there are still some fears.  Am I still that awkward dorky person who says all the wrong things?  If I want someone, does that automatically mean they won’t want me?  And the people who want me, I won’t want back?  Am I still really dumb about men?   How come people think I’m attractive now?  I was never an attractive teenager.  Of course the great thing about men is that if they didn’t want to at least have sex with you, they wouldn’t even try to date you.  Horribly crass, but refreshing in that you always know where you stand.  I am at least attractive enough to screw.   Good, good, at least I have that going for me.

I am feeling better these days about the balance of how I spend my time.  I love my kids, and damn, they know they are loved.  I love my friends, and I hope they know they are loved.  I love my job, though some days, yes, I just throw my hands into the air.  But hey, I have been given the opportunity to work on something I truly care about, so I’ll take the frustrations with the satisfaction of doing my best.  I am working on accepting myself more and more–I have made a lot of progress, certainly.  Though certain people can still undo me sometimes.  Is it mature to admit that?

Being open to what you want, admitting what you want, can also bring more of what you ask for.  The night of my cuddle date, I had three other invitations for cuddling.  Alas, just not enough of me to go around. 😉

Love what you can be, Be what you can give


Christmas is coming and with it, two weeks of staycation.  So excited to stay home with my eldest and not do anything!  I have been feeling burnt out just trying to get traction and order instilled with my multiple projects at work.  I’m still working on being more effective.  But because I have been excited and anxious about work, my life has been grievously out of balance, so it’s time to retune that with the new year.

Back in August, when I went to that workshop on living a conscious lifestyle, it brought up an interesting point concerning relationships.  That people often screen others on the wrong kind of things.  Everybody wants honesty and kindness, intelligence and humor – and most people consider themselves to have all those things.  So that’s not enough.  We know that not all matches have a good prognosis for success, so we screen for markers that means we think we have a good chance of success, whichever way we define it.  We look at political views, religious views, food views, vice views, etc.  Physical markers like height, weight, hair, physique.  Status like money, possessions, job title.

One of my friends was asking me if I was back on OKCupid.  He’s been married for awhile so he likes to hear horror dating stories.  Alas, I currently have no horror stories to amuse him with.  He has some other single female friends that are dating and he said he’s always amazed about they put their hopes up way too fast and try to see if this could be something “serious.”  He asked me, “Why do women do that?”  I told him that some women are lonely or want to be married, or want to have kids, and they’re screening for that compatibility.  But personally, I look for a lifestyle match.

I may not know everything about my future life, but I know what I’m shooting for.  I’m going to live my life no matter what, and the time will pass whether I’m single or not.  I told him, “You know what it’s like, you’ve been married over a decade.  When the infatuation of the beginning dissipates, your life ends up pretty much the same whether you have a partner or not.  If you were fairly happy, you will probably still be happy.  If you weren’t, you won’t.  The things you would do to pass the time, your hobbies, your passions – there are all still there.  So it really comes down to whether having someone in your life improves, has a net neutral effect, or makes your life worse.”

I agree that it’s very easy for women especially to fantasy about a future that doesn’t yet exist.  Probably some of that has to do with our culture and an ideal fostered on women to get married and have kids, as though somehow that makes you a success or a better person.  But when I was growing up, I fantasied about my funeral, not my wedding, so my take on it is a bit different.  (Artisan cocktails and my favorite foods will be a must to toast my passage from this world.  Enjoy what I enjoyed, folks!  Scatter my ashes and get drunk!)

I can know what I want for my future, and of course, it would be great if there was a partner in there.  There are still many things I want to accomplish and many experiences I would like to have–some of which would be better with a partner.  There’s a balance, isn’t there, in being self-sufficient yet being open to love?  Wanting to take responsibility of your future, yet knowing there are always things outside of one person’s control, whether in love or in life?  And trusting that no matter what happens, you will be okay.

One of the best lessons in love I’ve ever had was when I was making friends in college.  In high school and before, I bemoaned how unpopular and alone I was.  In college, I just decided to be me – and I made friends that I still have today.  The people who wouldn’t have liked me anyway, didn’t.  And the people who I could share a deep connection with found me.  But often, it was not the people I would have expected from the beginning.  The ones that have lasted over time were not the ones I would have predicted in my freshman year – but by being open, by flowing with what time unfolded, I found and grew with some beautiful people.

I am setting out my intentions on what I want to find in someone, and I am also putting out there what I have to offer someone.  My deal with the universe, if you will.  I know that someday, as some undefined point, I will find the loving relationship I seek.  Why?  Not because I deserve it, but because I am good at giving it.  If you could feel my heart, you could feel it too.  I love to love people.  I love to feel my heart blaze up like a thousand blazing suns.  And I know, somewhere, there is a great man that needs that light to fulfill his potential.  (Probably more than one, statistically.  I don’t believe in soul mates, but I believe there are many that could complement any one of us.)