The Players: Me, 48, super responsible, divorced (by the grace of God), chronically exhausted working mom of two children who hasn’t had a chance to travel out of the country since 2000. My father, seventies, super duper responsible, self-made hard worker, … Continue reading
I would like to write that I have conquered crow pose. For a few exhilarating hours I believed I did.
But then I realized that my arms aren’t straight yet, and my knees are too far apart.
I’m just not there yet.
Not this week when my son has a second concussion, I’m missing deadlines, I suddenly and mysteriously gained weight, I am annoyed by the person I’m dating, and am dead tired.
Someday I know I’ll master crow position. But I don’t know if I can ever truly master this divorced, single, working, homeowning, volunteering, mom, friend, dating world. It’s stinking hard, and true balance seems beyond reach. Happiness and joy – I got those, often. But balance and mastery are still out of reach.
A leadership and time management class offered at work.
First thought: Excellent, I need that, BAD.
Second thought: Oh shit, it’s going to take up three days, and I can never fall that far behind.
And so it goes, the life of a single working mom with nearly 75 percent custody. A mom with two children playing on multiple sports teams and other activities, at a school where every other parent seems to be able to drop everything and show up – all the time. A homeowner, a dating mom, someone who likes to spend a lot of time with other friends, a bit of a runner and a bit of a yogi, a cook and a cleaner and a bill payer, a single mom who doles out discipline and hugs and hopefully some important values and life lessons along the way.
But it’s okay. It has to be. Because if I can’t embrace the craziness of this, I’ll miss the joy of these years.
So, everything gets stripped back. If my kids don’t send thank-you notes (I know – it’s bad – sorry!), if we’re late to practice, if I can’t attend evening work events, if I don’t make it to Girl Scouts (EVER), if I don’t change the oil in my car on time, if we don’t make it to church (almost ever), if I bring my kids out for pizza (AGAIN), if I am last on carpool line, if I can’t remember anyone’s names – it’s going to have to be okay.
But moms like me need to take care of themselves, because if I’m not in good shape, I cannot be a good mom to my kids. And they need me. So here are the things I am going to make necessities going forward: doctors appointments, hot yoga even if it’s at night when my kids are home, running, coffees with old friends to catch up, time with the person I’m dating, hair appointments (yes, I meant that!), a little bit of meditation, and a lot of home improvements since my home is my biggest financial asset.
And FUN. Fun with my two children who are growing up so fast that it takes my breath away. Because one day they will no longer want to hang out with me, and I never want to look back and regret missing this time with them. That would be the ultimate cruelty: the divorced mom who missing out on the joy because she’s scrambling so fast just to keep up.
We set an intention in every class, just as the heat begins rising through the room and everyone rises together into the first upward facing dog.
Today it’s Be Present.
The class makes you focus – through sweat and music and dim light and all the fit bodies moving in unison. It forces you to be present. Otherwise you will miss a pose, lose the flow, fall out of step.
Time slows down in this room.
There’s no room in your head to worry about work or lacrosse carpool when you’re trying to keep up and not fall on your face during eagle pose. It makes you fully present and engaged. For sixty minutes, you have no expectations for what will happen later, after they turn on the lights and turn down the heat and this class is over.
Lying in shavasana, taking the last few breaths of class, I think about divorce. Be Present. It’s what comes long after the trauma, long after the fight, long after the fear and adrenaline and shame have diminished. You focus on the present, no expectations for what comes next. The person you are dating may or may not be your forever person. Your ex may or may not lose his job and stop paying child support. He might or might not do something awful and go to jail. You may or may not ever regain the financial comfort you once enjoyed. You may or may not achieve Great Things in your post-divorce career.
And you realize you can live with this. You’ve learned to be present in this strange new world. No expectations, because after all, you once entered into a marriage with the best of intentions and the highest of hopes only to have them trampled. You’ve learned that expectations are usually false, and that life is way more like some temperamental bucking wave than a straight line. You have to learn to bend and balance and breathe so you don’t get toppled over.
And so you suddenly find yourself present. And calm. And content.
It didn’t end particularly well, this relationship of mine, my first new relationship since I was 23 and originally met my ex-husband.
I was hurt; he was a jerk. And my friends shook their heads and were thrilled it was over but said, “He’ll be back.”
And he is.
And I am elated in a petty and mean way. “Well, I guess it didn’t work out with the perfect new girlfriend,” I announced. “Well, I guess he wasn’t able to find anyone out there better than me!” I chortled.
And I ignore his texts. “Silence is the ultimate f*ck you,” I tell my friends.
But now I remember him all over again, and all our favorite restaurants and how he used to pick me up to go everywhere and when he trained my dog to stop jumping on people and the dinners he cooked for me and how he held my hand as we wandered through museums and down city streets on Saturday mornings.
And then I remember how he lied to me, and how there is no room for this in my life anymore. And how I didn’t think he was that nice to my dog. Or to waiters. And how I hated all his shoes. And then I nod and smile to myself and know it will all be okay, because no matter what, nothing will ever be as bad again as my divorce – every other setback or sadness pales in comparison. And I have learned from this relationship, about myself, about him, and about how the world works when you are divorced and starting over.
So I will never respond to him. But if I run into him, which is sure to happen eventually, I’ll smile and say hi and remember that he just wasn’t quite the person I thought he was.
And that’s okay. I choose to believe that he came into my life for a reason: to show me, however imperfectly, that there is love and light out there after divorce. And then he needed to shift out of the way so that I could keep moving towards that light.
Imaginary boyfriends. Suddenly they seem to be everywhere.
One woman realized that her 40-something, never-married boyfriend was never going to commit, no matter how hard she tried. Blitzed on $15 fancy cocktails, she slid into his bed after a night out with the girls. When she woke up, she knew. Her perfect boyfriend was an illusion, and she was his booty call, and he would dump her if her demands get too serious. The relationship she believed in was imaginary. It existed only in her head, not his.
Another woman clung too hard to her first relationship after divorce because she was so afraid of living through the pain of breaking up again. The first few weeks with this man were perfect, but it was downhill after that. He was a liar and a creep. But she believed this must be a series of terrible coincidences, and if she worked hard enough, things would go back to those blissful early days. Needless to say, they did not, and day after day as she lost her self-confidence and self-esteem. It all ended when she got dumped, in a maelstrom of yelling and slammed doors and lost car keys and crocodile tears.
A beautiful divorced mom has a long, perfect relationship with a man she cannot marry because he is still married to someone else, a mentally ill woman who never leaves her house. He spends nearly all his time with his girlfriend, but she has never met his children, and probably never will, because he will never get divorced. And the girlfriend continues to date him, and he hangs out with her children and her lovely friends, as she she settles for an imaginary “almost” world.
A recently divorced woman met an almost fully divorced man from back home over the holidays and slept with him right away for fun. After all, she was unhappily married for 20 years, and she should just have fun. Right? But meanwhile, his life was consumed by divorce attorneys who didn’t call back, and angry teenage children, and screaming fights, and threatening emails from a personality-disordered soon-to-be-ex-wife. But the divorced mom hung on to this shit storm, pretending it didn’t matter – after all, it was all casual, right? But deep inside, she cared in a very unimaginary way.
A divorced mom meets a seriously handsome guy just right for her. Yet he’s a bit of a leech, waiting for an inheritance. He has many things going for him, but they all lead to the same thing: making himself indispensable to people who can help him. She does not break up with him – yet – he’s nice and handsome and helpful and cool. People like him. But he’s not the guy she wants him to be. And the relationship limps on, perfect on the outside, until she drinks too much and tells the real story of her imaginary perfect relationship.
The list goes on and on, story after story.
On the outside, these are not the sad, sorry stories of divorce. These are the women who have survived, overcome ugly histories, have have good jobs, and good friends, and whose children love them – women with fabulous hair and skin who fit into tiny jeans. These are the women who are not afraid to put themselves out there, to date again, to fall in love, to risk heartache and failure.
Some may say it’s low self esteem. But I believe it’s something different. I believe it all starts with the sorry state of online dating after divorce and men feeling that there is always someone better out there around the corner. And for this particular group of women, it’s knowing that when you work hard enough at most things, they work out. After all, that’s been their experience so far in life. So why not this, too?
And it’s wanting something so bad that you believe you can fix a situation that’s not fixable.
But sometimes life doesn’t work that way. And now, a rash of imaginary boyfriends. Where it ends I don’t know.
He seemed interesting and smart. I liked that he grew up in California, and that he kayaks in the rapids near our homes. He is super fit. He is sarcastic and witty. Sophisticated. All that stuff that I like, I guess. He can flirt one moment and be incredibly sweet and sincere the next. He reads my emails carefully and responds thoughtfully. That was all good to me.
And then the bread thing happened. I received this photo of three loaves of bread that he baked one snowy evening – at the same time that I was sweating through several layers of clothing, determined to shovel out my driveway myself – me, the single mom who doesn’t need any help from anyone.
And I didn’t like him anymore.
I know what you’re thinking: What a jerk. No wonder she got divorced and now has to start dating in her late forties. And what’s wrong with a nice guy who bakes? How great is that? All men should bake! Women should appreciate men who bake.
But I don’t care anymore what anyone else thinks. I know this won’t work, and since I’m the only person who has to date him, I need to follow my gut. And my gut hates that photo.
I cancelled our date that snowy evening. The roads were too dangerous anyhow, and he had some crazy idea to drive through the blizzard of the century to a faraway tavern. He was disappointed, and a bit angry. But I stood firm, unlike anything I would have done in the past. My ex-husband was always the guy who would drive through snow and ice storms, with me clutching the arm rest, praying we would survive. When we skied every weekend during those early winters, he would take off, leaving the groomed trails to dodge fields of trees at breakneck speeds. He thrived on this.
It took me years to stop following him.
I realized that the bread guy has a few other things in common with my ex. He is overeducated, and has given up good jobs under murky circumstances, and now he works at a tiny nonprofit. And he complains about it. But does nothing. He seems to believe the world owes him something. But I know better though experience. The world owes us nothing. We make our lives what they are, though hard work and smarts and hopefully some luck. I learned this from my father, a self-made New Yorker who started his first job as an accountant who didn’t know who to use a calculator.
I am like my father. I have my children 2/3 of the time (plus some), and I have gone back to work full-time. I often sneak off to my car at lunchtime to sleep because I’m so exhausted, but I will not give up, and I will not admit I’m tired. I bargain at work to carpool my children to and from school and lacrosse and dances and playdates. I complain to dear and patient friends, while I work my ass off, like my father did before me. I know I’m lucky, and that my family helps me, but at the same time, I’m a worker, as we used to say in New York. A fixer, a striver, for better or worse.
And I think I need to find another worker, another striver.
The bread guy and I are still corresponding via text. He’s funny and smart – probably smarter than me. But he’s lost interest too, I think.
And that is okay. This is a learning process, for me and for him. I hope it brings us one more step towards what we are looking for.