New Year’s Day: A Divorce History

On New Year’s Day 2011, the year I discovered that my NPD/sociopath ex-husband was living a double life, I woke up at a friend’s house with a hangover and the discovery that my her sweet puppy had died during the night.

After hot coffee and tears, we all trudged out into the January rain, probably a dozen of us, to bury the dog in a field behind the barn. I had no proper shoes, and my toes froze, and red Virginia mud covered my fancy party boots.

It was a grim beginning to a grim year. Back in the city, my ex-husband would become more elusive and stranger than ever, disappearing on business trips where hotel operators could never locate his name on their guest lists. Distracted by my two little children, I couldn’t keep up with all his lies. By September, things would reach a fever pitch, until the day I opened up his secret email account and everything became perfectly clear.

2011 was not a good year, and it was followed by several agonizing ones.

***

But by 2014, things started turning around. On New Year’s Eve, a friend turned to me and announced it was going to be a good year, and an interesting one. I smiled. “Perhaps, I said. Life is long and mysterious.”

Several hours later, at midnight, this same friend received some big news. Her 47-year-old bachelor brother had gotten engaged that night. This was an event no one predicted. “Life is mysterious,” we laughed.

For him, I suppose, it was a year filled with love and light. And for me, it was a good year, a good start to a good new life.

***

This year, New Year’s Day didn’t start out well  – my brother and his family left for a tourist attraction without us. I was packing our car to go home, and I took too long. They did not offer to help as I took trip after trip up and down the stairs of my parents old colonial, carrying my children’s suitcases and toys and hair dryers and stray boots. It took me forever to load our little SUV, and I got angry and furious and raised my voice and said some truthful but not very kind things about a certain relative or two.

I couldn’t fit everything into the car. I was furious.

But then I looked at my children’s faces, teary because they were missing this precious time with their cousins. I took a deep breath and pulled all the packages out of the car. I placed them on the driveway and slowly started all over again until everything finally fit.

We salvaged the day by skipping the tourist attraction and meeting my brother and his kids for lunch in the city before setting out for our long trip home.

In 2017, I will have to remember that sometimes we need a break. And I might need to redo the simplest of things – thankful that I have a second chance to make things right.

But also, I can’t depend too much on undependable people, even if I love them and my kids adore them. Make my own plans and stick to them if they are important. Sway, but don’t bend to theirs. Don’t agree to do things that make me angry and resentful.

***

But the drama wasn’t over yet. As we pulled into our driveway in the dark that evening, I noticed a light in our garage. I said something about it.

And then it went out.

We all gasped. We had been away for a week, the house should have been empty.

Very reluctantly and apologetically, I called the police. On New Year’s Day, I thought. What did this foreshadow for 2017?

One officer arrived, listened, and told me that others were on the way. Out here in the suburbs, the officers park up and down the block, no flashing lights, silent helpers in the dark. I started adding them up then lost count. They brought a dog. They fanned out across the yard and finally went into the house. I sent my children to a friend’s house. And I sat in the car alone and watched the flashlight beams in my house. Ah, they’re up in the attic, I thought. They’re in the basement. My bedroom. My closet.

And finally, laughter, as the officers came outside, ducking under the plastic sheeting protecting the newly painted door from the rain. For me, relief, and complete embarrassment.

Was someone in there? We don’t know. The officers were nice. Really nice. They told me I did the right thing. They said it could have been my painter, and I could have just missed him by a moment or two – the light stays on for exactly 4.5 minutes. Or it could have been a thief who slipped out the back door and jumped over our fence and into the darkness.

I thanked them, and it was over. My children came back, a friend came over, we poured wine and ordered pizza, and somehow the evening was saved in our bright, warm house.

***

When I think about our start to 2017, I will think about the helpers – those solid men and women in the night. I will marvel at the courage to walk into a house where danger might be waiting. I will remember that we all need help sometimes. And we are ridiculously thankful when people arrive to offer it, even if we’re also embarrassed.

For better or for worse, 2017 probably won’t be dull. I’m guessing another year of moving forward, falling back a bit, trying to do it myself, having to re-do it, and asking for help sometimes. Hopefully offering help too – and maybe even some happy endings.

 

The Issue of Time: A Divorced Mom

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.

 

They Always Come Back 2

bad-panny

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.

Like lying.

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.

Or ever.

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.

Judging Divorced People: Just Don’t

 

f2df086ce8d96e8d51028a36c57cadcc

The moms were bored. They were about 20 hours into a 36-hour Girl Scout camping trip, an experience that was incredible and life-changing for the little girls.

For the moms, its was the old familiar mix of joy, laughter, hard work, responsibility – and lots and lots of sitting-around boredom.

And so it started.

“Oh, I feel so sorry for this dear friend of mine. She’s divorced….”

And the story unfolds. I try not to bristle. The friend cheated on her husband and has spent the last four years trying to win him back, unsuccessfully. And now he’s getting remarried to someone else, and she’s falling apart.

Oh, and she’s an alcoholic.

“It’s so sad, but I won’t let my daughter go over to her house anymore….”

I sigh to myself. The biggest alcohol abuser I know is a married mother down my block, and everyone seems to allow their children to go to her big old fancy house….

The story leads to another one – divorce and alcohol and heartbreak.

And then a third one, the best yet. “My husband and I just went to a funeral this week of an old college friend who died from drinking. Of course his wife had to divorce him, and that made it worse….”

At this point, I got up and walked away. It was abrupt. I didn’t look back, but I know they all must have looked at each other, shocked and guilty. None are bad people. They were just caught off guard; they forgot they had a divorced mom in their midst.

But it was the tone of over-the-top sympathy that got me. I don’t know the private lives of these particular women. But I know enough about the lives of our peers. Enough to know that feeling sorry for others must make at least some of these women feel better about their own problems, marital and otherwise.

When one of them came up to apologize later, she obviously felt awful. And she’s a nice person. Really. I looked at her and told her my truth: “Oh, don’t worry, I’m not upset. Frankly, when I look around, I don’t think that my married friends are any happier or unhappier than my divorced friends. But I did feel that it was gossipy.”

I paused.

“And I wouldn’t want anyone talking about me that way,” I continued.

“Not that I ever did anything wrong.”

But for some reason, my voice sort of trails away with these last few words. I think I’ve crossed some line.

And I walked away, from her, from the group – feeling proud and ashamed, independent and pathetic, filled with anticipation and regret – another few steps away from my old life.

Imaginary Boyfriends and the Divorced Mom

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.

 

 

 

Online Dating After Divorce: Bachelor Number One

bread

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.

 

 

 

Dating After Divorce: Lessons from a breakup

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.