Dating After Divorce: No Give

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.

 

 

 

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Dating after Divorce:A Cautionary Tale

“When you loved someone and had to let them go, there will always be that small part of yourself that whispers, “What was it that you wanted and why didn’t you fight for it?”
― Shannon L. Alder

 

When I struggled with infertility for years and years and then finally got pregnant with twins, I felt like I won the lottery. Twins! Adorable little toddling twins. Best friends forever. Double stroller, double cuteness, double everything.

But most of all, they would make up for my painful years of infertility, when I fell behind my friends who had baby after baby after baby.

And then early in my second trimester, I lost one of the twins. Devastated, I struggled every single day though the remainder of that high-risk pregnancy. I never knew if my remaining baby would make it.

But he did. And then I went to get pregnant naturally, giving birth to my second miracle baby just 17 months later.

And now I have two beautiful children. But it was so much harder in every way than having those twins make my family automatically complete. I still mourn for that little baby. I miss that little baby.

….

After the divorce I finally got brave enough to try online dating. Only 24 hours later, I read one perfect little note in my in-box that was otherwise cluttered with random and disturbing weirdness.

Out of the millions and millions of men on the site, this man turned out to be a dad from my children’s tiny’s little school. What a coincidence! What a great story! I thought he was perfect – handsome, sweet, smart, a bit quiet, and, okay I admit it: a serious six pack. He liked the same things that I did, and he had many of the same viewpoints about life. And he held my hand decisively, and made decisions for us, and I felt safe and loved.

I had hit the lottery again. We looked so great together; we had so much fun together. He would make up for all the years of being married to a mentally ill, increasingly hideous-looking loud and evil man.

But my perfect man didn’t really end up being the man I thought he was. He is not a truly terrible person like my ex-husband, but he’s not right for me either.

Deep down I know that it will be okay. But it still hurts. A lot.

I should have known that the first man I met could not make me complete. He can’t take away my suffering. And perhaps that’s not even a fair thing to expect from a mere mortal.

So now I learn my lesson again. Quick and easy fixes are no substitute for the hard work of life. And so I cry and I hurt again like I didn’t know was possible at my age. I grieve something that never was – someone, like that little baby, who would never truly be mine.

But somewhere deep down I know I will pop out the other side of this eventually and start working again to be the best me possible and find the right person out there for my best possible me.

 

 

 

 

When No One is Looking

I brought my son to sleepaway camp yesterday. Even though he loved it last year, he panicked yesterday on the long drive, suddenly saying that he didn’t want to go.

Twenty miles away from camp, he told me he was scared, and he was sad that only one friend going this year instead of two. He didn’t like the showers; he didn’t like the darkness; he missed his home and bed and sister and mom and friends.

So we stopped at a rest stop in the middle of nowhere for a treat, and as we walked back to the car, he suddenly took my hand – my little big ten-year-old who just started wearing men’s size shoes. I teased him to lighten the mood: “SO, you’re still not too old to hold hands with your mom!”

He looked around quickly: “Well, there’s no one here I know.” And he held my hand firmly.

And so it goes. My sweet son, caught in between childhood and tween-hood, in a place where no one really knows anyone or what comes next.

As we drove up to camp, those clouds that were following us turned very dark, and suddenly were were driving through pelting rain. My son begged me to take him home. Pretty desperately I babbled about other topics, future vacations and sports and playdates – an lame old coping mechanism left over from my terrible marriage. Sure enough, it didn’t really work.

Then we went around a curve and suddenly heard the singing of the teenage counselors standing up on a covered porch. My son started yelling that he spotted his last-year counselor among them. I noticed that through the rain, it was still sunny, and I started looking for a rainbow.

We stopped for parking directions, and suddenly my son’s window was open. He greeted the counselor and asked if they would have a big, huge surprise welcome-to-camp-game that night. He explained that this was his second year at camp.

The older boy smiled as he told my son that he wasn’t quite sure, and even if he knew, he couldn’t tell. And then he winked, welcomed my son back, and explained the parking, and the bags, and sign-in procedure. My son told him he knew it all from last year – and he did.

And so I let my little boy run the show and go off into the great unknown without me. He didn’t need me at all until the very end, when he jumped down off his top bunk to give me a huge hug. And I knew all was well with my little-big boy who didn’t huge me for two years during the Great Divorce.

He’s on his way, my boy.

My Son, the Bruiser

The school called me at work. My ten-year-old was involved in a “scuffle” on the playground.

The details were murky. Three boys were involved, my son jumped in last to “defend his teammate.”

When I picked up my son on carpool line and asked him how his day went, he chirped, “GREAT.” His face was bright red and he refused to make eye contact with me. Apparently he wasn’t going to spill the beans. I know the parenting experts would tell me to wait it out, but I don’t have the time or patience for that anymore.

“So, you got into a fight with N and M, huh?”

His eyes widened and then filled with tears. I listened to his side of the story. I got it. And then I told him:

“I don’t care who is doing what to your teammate. You never, ever get involved in a fight like that. You find a teacher. You never, ever touch another person in anger.”

I thought more about it.

“Okay, unless your friend is being hurt. I would understand if the bigger kid was beating up M and you felt like you needed to help. And of course you would only do this if no teacher was around.”

I don’t know if this was the right answer. In our schools today, fights are serious business. I’m lucky that the teachers know my son well – and that adults were close enough to jump in. It’s the kind of school that understands that three good kids can get into a scuffle over a football play.

But for a moment, I wished I could rent a husband for a few hours. A strong and positive male role model who would know what to do and say.

Instead, I called up one of the moms of the boys involved.

Within minutes, we were laughing. “Well, you know,” she said, “they’re BOYS.”

“The most competitive group of boys I’ve ever seen,” I said.

“Yeah and they were playing football when it happened,” she said.

“Ummmhmmmm,” we both said at the same time.

The boys will be all good with each other again. It’s okay, it’s normal, it’s not something that happened because of the divorce.

And I didn’t need to rent a husband after all. It would be good for my son to have a strong male role model in his life (a better one than this dad, obviously). But I think it’s time that we stop believing that only men can instill values in their sons. Women have been raising children alone for centuries. If they could do it, so can I.

Divorce, PTSD, and an Early Mother’s Day Gift

My son shut down my laptop when I walked into the room tonight. He is ten.

I froze, panic sweeping over me as I thought of everything his father had hidden on his computer. I got the old familiar jolt of adrenaline, stronger than electricity, that raced everywhere from my core and made my fingers tingle. My chest got tight – and hurt. As always, I think: shit, finally, a heart attack – I’m too young to have a heart attack – and HE will get my children.

On that last thought, I sit up and breathe and suck it up.

This was my son, not my ex-husband. I would not ruin this special evening with him and his sister. They returned from their father’s house at 5 in good spirits, pounding on the door and throwing themselves into my arms. We grabbed a basketball and walked down to the playground in our new neighborhood and hit the courts.

It was fun. No fighting over the ball, no cheating accusations. For the first time, I really saw my son exceed my physically at basketball. It felt good – and bittersweet. Afterwards, we walked back together up the big hill to our new home.

But after they went to sleep, I opened the computer, finally.

BEST GIFTS FOR WOMEN.

I nearly died. What in the world? I remembered the strange charges on ex’s credit card, and on my credit card – he was even once stupid enough to order bizarre sex items (trust me) using his father-in-law’s credit card, which he stole from my wallet, probably in some drunken stupor. Or worse, someone else stole the card from his wallet.

It haunts me.

But I look again. Another page is open on my laptop.

It is Amazon.com, one of about ten sites my children are allowed to visit on Safari.

BEST MOTHERS GIFT. It’s filled with things called gold rose foil flowers and superpower mom mugs.

I get teary as the adrenaline leaves my body and I realize that I have left my ex behind more than six month ago. He is no longer allowed to affect me this way.

I breathe. The world is a good place, generally. People are good, generally.

My children are good, period.

We are going to make it.

Happy New Year: Hope after Divorce and Dealing with a Crazy Person

I hope it’s okay, on this New Year’s Eve, to cut and paste words from the brilliant and so-lovable Anne Lamott:

There was a cartoon in the New Yorker decades ago, that I’ve never forgotten, of two men chained at the wrists and ankles to the wall, off the ground, in a jail cell, in a cave. One man turns to the other, and says, “Okay, here’s my plan….”

That’s how I feel about the last two weeks of holidays, the days of death by cookie, bad nerves, tight smiles and overwhelm. Doomed, like a prisoner, or space alien, but you know what? Also full of hope.

Hope? What a nut huh?

What a nut. Yes, that’s me. When I tell my story, and people praise me for being strong or brave or positive, I know the truth. I had to be dragged into my battle, kicking and screaming while pretending that nothing was wrong – my marriage was perfect. But opening my ex-husband’s secret email account finally showed me the truth – my marriage was a sham –  2,000 pages of the most awful, perverse, and graphic words in front of me. Words that made divorce attorneys divert their eyes from mine. I couldn’t deny the truth any longer. My ex-husband had been lying to me and gas lighting me for years.

I had to stand up and walk into the light. And then I had to fight for three long years to divorce this man. I had to fight to protect my children from him. I didn’t do it for myself. I did it for my beautiful, innocent children.

And finally when the battle was over, the new crazy started: a new boss, a three-week deadline to fix up my home and sell it, two weeks to find a new home, and then the move, all in the middle of a family wedding and the holidays. At moments, I wanted to quit my job without notice, laugh in the face of my sanctimonious and childless co-worker, send my kids far away to boarding school – or give them away to the first interested person – scream at my real estate agent, and get out of my car at intersections ask drivers why they think it is okay to ignore stop signs. And then climb into bed until it was all over.

But at the same time, something kept propelling me forward. It was knowing that I was making progress – it was hope. Hope for a better life, a new home, success at work, financial security – a new life, peace.

What a nut. Someone who is giddy with hope for 2015 as she sits alone in her new furniture-less house on New Year’s Eve after a 6 pm dinner with friends. But hope is everything – I’ve never felt anything so powerful, except for love.

And talking of love and hope, tonight my friend’s bachelor-for-life brother proposed to his girlfriend. Another divorced friend got a break, a little vacation with her children for a few days, just when she felt she might crack. My brother has mysteriously found the love of his life. A friend-of-a-friend has survived year three of the most awful cancer, the kind that requires countless rounds of chemo and horrible surgeries that remove organs – her own doctor told their mutual friends that she would not survive, but the cancer is now in remission. My own father has survived open heart surgery this year, and now it looks like he will survive prostrate cancer too. Another friend is about to offer a stranger an incredible gift that might give her the second chance she needs in her very difficult life. And my extended family, which has grown apart through the decades, came together this year, bound together first by collective grief and then by the joy of a surprise wedding.

As my friend said tonight, 2015 is going to be wild. Yes, I replied, and interesting and very very mysterious, I am sure.

Happy New Year.

When You Have Something Funny to Say, I Will Laugh

My new house has old termite damage. We brought in a contractor because I haven’t closed yet on the house, and the current owners are responsible for fixing any issues. But the contractor didn’t bring flashlight even though he knew he was there to inspect  a dimly lit basement’s subfloors and joists. On top of that, he seemed to believe that I should just move into a house with termite damage without asking the current owners to fix it at all.

He smirked. He interrupted me. He made some bad jokes, making light of the situation.

I did not laugh.

First his jokes were not funny.

Second his jokes were making light of my very legitimate concerns about (1) damage and (2) safety and (3) reselling the house someday and having to declare termite damage.

It was quite possibly the first time in my life that I didn’t laugh at a man’s bad jokes.

He didn’t take it well. Possibly a tough young feminist wouldn’t have bothered to watch him afterwards – to observe his eyes harden in a very unpleasant and mean way.

But I did. I saw it all. And I wasn’t afraid. In fact, he shriveled in front of my eyes – he was instantly revealed as a fat bully, both incompetent and untrustworthy. I found myself wondering why this man would even think for a second that someone like me would laugh along with him. And then I realized that most women would do it. Just to be nice. Just to be pleasant. Just to avoid conflict. I have done this my entire life, and it has never ended well. I think of the mailroom bully in my first job thirty years ago, and I think of the nonprofit misogynist colleague fifteen years ago who used an Australian accent to hide his hostility and incompetence.

The contractor knows that I am the kind of woman who will laugh. He learned it a long time ago, making fun of other women who don’t know if they have wood or vinyl windows, or where their water shut-off valve is located, or how many gallons of water are contained in their water heater. Using humor to demean them.

But now he’s wrong about me. And unwittingly he gave me a new gift and a new mantra: if you’re the kind of man who makes idiotic jokes at someone else’s expense, I will no longer laugh.

I will let the silence sit out there. I am comfortable with this for the first time in my life. You have a choice at this point to man up or to shrivel up.

Oh, and when my trustworthy handyman showed up later to offer a second opinion, he identified the damage immediately without me having to point it out to him. He suggested either pulling up a whole section of flooring or simply adding substantial supports to the joists. I smiled when he told me. I’m not sure yet if I need to blow up my entire nice-girl belief system or just start bolstering myself up more.

Like in that basement, my damage is visible on the surface, and I’m not certain how deep and hidden it goes. I have a feeling that a few things might need to blow up before the rebuilding really begins.