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
Mr. Perfect is back. The first man I dated after my divorce – a man who looks great but shares a lot of extremely undesirable traits with my ex husband.
He started popping up last spring with short perky texts asking me to go for coffee. Most of me was annoyed, but a teeny part of me was thrilled that he just couldn’t stay away, and finally I relented out of curiosity and maybe a little bit of hubris.
But then he tried to switch coffee to a different day. And I remembered who he really was: an unreliable and not trustworthy person.
No thank you, I wrote, and I’m going to be very busy for a long long time so I will not be able to go to coffee with you, Mr. Perfect, not for a very long time in the foreseeable future.
But now, several months later he’s sending texts again. My memory is short these days (Is this the effects of my single working mom life, or too much social media, or just being in my forties?). But I distinctively remember Mr. Perfect looking at me in the eyes and lying to me.
So he’s back, like a bad penny my grandmother would say.
I looked up the expression: Proverb. a bad penny always turns up. A person or thing which is unpleasant, dishonorable, or unwanted tends to appear (or reappear), especially at inopportune times.
I hate the idea of someone being mad at me, or not liking me, especially someone with so many overlapping social ties. But I did nothing wrong. He did.
Should I ignore or block or write a blunt note back? I haven’t decided, but it’s time to get rid of my bad penny for good. I’m finally ready.
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.
I truly believe we learn something from all relationships we have – both those that we decide to end and those that we don’t. These experiences make us better selves, show us what we want/need, and help us to be better partners . . .
These words arrived today from a friend, after my first breakup in more than 20 years.
These words made me sit down and think about the ways I improved myself and pushed myself and opened myself up in this relationship that ended.
These words made me sit down and think about what I want and need from future partners and friends. I could not have done this six months ago, without this relationship that ended.
And these words made me sit down and think about the ways that I could have done better too. And what I need to help me be better in future relationships.
All in all, I’ve learned a lot. Love and loss. Got it. Very different from my marriage. It’s going to be okay. It will just take a little tiny bit of time.
I put my head on his shoulder but could never find a good spot. His arms and shoulders and torso were all rock hard despite his age. He exercised every day: running, biking, lifting, 90-minute pick-up soccer games.
My neck would get sore. Fast.
“You have no soft spot there,” I said.
And at the end, I finally realized, very few soft spots, period.