when life hands you a shit sandwich…

Lately a lot of people have been asking me how I’m doing:  they know my ex has been struggling with health problems; they know my boss is certifiable; they know I’m a full-on single parent with a demanding job and hellacious commute and children’s activities and more than too much to try and squeeze into a day.

I tell them, “I’m fine.”

I am a liar.

The truth is that I’ve been struggling. For months. More than ever. And it hurts. I’ve never been in a place where my herbal antidepressants seem so ineffective, my endless optimism is so drained, my outlook — regardless of what I may tell my friends — is so bleak. I exercise and it is not enough. Summer is not enough. I am able to have fun; I am able to function; I can experience joy, but there’s a ceiling on this joy — an upper limit I don’t recall experiencing before. And my heart is broken.

Broken for the man I once loved and for the decline even our children must now observe. Broken for the friendships and full, rich life I once had and those who no longer call now that I’m a single parent. (What?! Do you think I’m somehow a threat to your relationship because I don’t have a husband? My life is still full and rich…so there!) Broken for my friend with a brain tumor, dying slowly or maybe less so after a lengthy seizure about a week ago.

There is a word for how I feel…lonely. I am constantly surrounded by friends, co-workers, children and people who want nothing but the best for me. And none of that is the same as being loved fully and unconditionally for who I am by a lover and mate. So I naturally poured my heartache into the fantasy of my one unrequited love, making so much more of that crush than ever really was…about whom, by now, I must have written a dozen times. Without ever even trying, the man completely lay me bare, left me defenseless. And I loved it because I loved me in the context of him:  I loved the me who cared for a man because he was good and kind and competent and caring — and not for any superficial reason.

He had passion for me, too, in my dreams. I’ve woken at least a dozen times in his loving arms…I mean, it seemed like I had until I really woke up.

“I want to meet him,” says my friend and co-worker, Char. “But I think I’d probably slap him.” Char was raised by a single mother and, therefore, assumes that I am a stronger and better woman than I am. She thinks he’s crazy. (I do, too.)

Pouring my feelings into longing for someone with whom I’ve never had a relationship must somehow be easier than having to deal with the fact that my ex is an alcoholic and that my children have to watch his decline and all the other garbage that I won’t even go into right now. Heavens, it gets old to dredge up this shit!

So I swing between this genuine pain I am feeling, because I truly feel as thought the spate of difficulties is perhaps more trouble than I deserve just now, and the rational, Peppermint Patty voice inside my head telling me to “buck up” and, frankly (even though I’m not Catholic), guilt about feeling as I am when I know full well most of these are first world problems.

I surround myself with happy, positive people and am blessed to have this rich group of friends. Except, right now, it seems as though they’re all looking around pointing at rainbows and, the second I turn my head to look, thunder claps down around me. And I’ve been self isolating, which is never a good sign.

I don’t waste time wondering why. I do wonder how on earth I might find time to take forward steps…dare I say, to put myself out there, to date. Alas, I have no time to offer another person. I’m not even sure I have the time to be a good parent!

So when I took a walk with my therapist friend recently, she echoed what she’s heard from me for months and gently asked whether I thought it was time to try a different course of action. Yes. And what did I plan to do?

(That’s a good friend right there!)

I committed to a plan. And I spent more time in the sun and worked out and started meditating again and, for the past week or so, I have felt better. My head seems to be on straight again. My heart does not feel noticeably broken. And this, too, shall pass.


confidence shaken (not stirred)

When I re-read my post from yesterday and think of all the bullshit I’ve done to create an imaginary boyfriend in my head — and yes, among friends, I even refer to him as my IBF — I think this is exactly the sort of crap I’d expect from a younger version of myself. But not professional, healthy, adult, mother-of-two me.

And then I wonder why did I allow this to become such a big deal and why has this guy taken on such mythological proportions in my head?

Here’s why:  I was so utterly convinced — and still am — that we had something so incredibly worth exploring together that it never dawned on me that we wouldn’t. He’s worth it. I’m worth it. We had / have a chemistry and a closeness and enough in common to make us worth it, whatever other obstacles there may have been. We also have genuine differences; any two people do. And somewhere along the line, based on what he had gotten to know about me, I think he decided they were too big or too important to ignore. But he was very private in many ways, so I don’t know what those things are or how far apart we are, and I never had an opportunity to be part of that discussion or decision, so it has always felt unresolved.

It shouldn’t matter anyway, because the only way a relationship can be successful (in my experience) is if a man pursues it…which he started to, and then didn’t. Game over. Move on.

That experience has shaken my confidence more than probably any other relationship encounter I’ve had in the past five years.

There’s a solution for it, though; one I have some faith will work. I’ve got to start dating again. However unready I feel I am, I have to put myself out there and begin again.


I have a jeremy, and his name is jeffrey

I read this Modern Love essay months ago, and it continues to resonate:

“He’s the guy we never really dated and never really got over.”

“I think maybe you’re addicted to the memories, in love with a person you’ve idealized who probably isn’t real.”

My Jeremy’s name is Jeffrey. And, unlike the essay’s author, I am not in college and am, in fact, twice “college age” and I ought to know better. I do know better. Yet I can’t seem to help myself.

It’s baffling that an otherwise successful, intelligent adult woman who keeps my financial house in order, my parenting on point (I think, for the most part) and my professional life progressing, can’t seem to properly contextualize, process and move on from a relationship that never actually happened. I’ll even go so far as to say that it’s a little crazy. And yet, this is what I’m doing.

It’s as though to avoid dealing with some of the emotional processing, grieving and other emotional self work I must do to deal with my ex’s issues (and the real possibility he may leave my children fatherless in the not-too-distant future), my friend’s progressing cancer, my grandmother’s decline and a certain measure of dysfunction in the workplace, I’ve decided to create a mental loop wherein I’ve poured all my unfulfilled hopes and pain into longing for an imaginary relationship scenario that I know, intellectually, is not a real possibility.

Yet the heart wants…


can a modern woman love an old-fashioned man?

Here I shall reveal my latest idiocy:  I had happy hour with the guy…yeah, the one I can’t get over. Something inside me thinks:  it’s been a long time, I won’t still feel it, we’ll just catch up like old friends and then part ways. I keep thinking I will find a way to bless what I’ve learned and move on. And, even though I suspect it was just two colleagues keeping in touch to him, I have spent the last two days and will spend the next many more wishing and hoping that something inside him, something about the way he perceived me, would shift and that he would be compelled to call and ask to see me again.

Simultaneously, I wish something inside me would change and allow me to get on with my life and attract a relationship with someone who can love and appreciate me without ever waffling about it.

In other words, the happy hour was just one among an unabridged dictionary’s worth of missteps with Mr. Meltsmyheart.

I wish I could recall how it came up but, at one point, he complained to me that chivalry is dead and an old-fashioned guy like him didn’t stand a chance with women today, particularly liberated ones.

Okay…first:  WHAT?! Why the heck did he think I was (am) so head-over-heels interested in him? It was all that commanding, masculine energy that turned me to mush inside! It was my intuition telling me that, after a long day of putting on my man pants, going to work, making a million decisions and having to be in charge or everything under the sun, with a man like him I could relax into my femininity and enjoy it. It was knowing that he could treat a woman with respect. It was sensing that, if we ever became physically involved, he would treat those moments of intimate discovery with a certain amount of reverence. It was believing that he might have the maturity and relationship skills to cherish me. It was feeling a growing sweetness within myself whenever we were together.

I fell for him because of those feelings. And because of his kindness, warmth, wit, intellect, decency, calm, commitment, hard work and so much more. For all the right reasons, for once. And I still revel in all of those senses and feelings when he’s near! The way I feel in his presence always leaves me wanting for more. And probably that’s why I was so heartbroken that it never went anywhere.

Did I say all that? No. But I did tell him how far off he was, and just how much a woman like me desires more than anything to find a chivalrous man, with manners and decency — a man stronger than me, who can stand up to me and for me, a man worthy of leading our family. I offered up an example:  the Southern gentlemen I’d dated a few years back, who opened doors, arranged dates and knew how to properly behave. Ah, it was dreamy!

He was shocked, completely taken aback. “You just blew my mind,” he confessed.

I don’t recall exactly where our chat went from there, as we soon had to part to pick up our evening parenting duties. We hugged our goodbyes and, later, when I thanked him for a nice time, I teased that I liked poking holes in his theory of me, too.

…I just wish it were mind blowing enough to keep him coming back for more!


everything is better and worse all at once

I could hardly wait for spring break to come:  I was going to drop my children off at their father’s for the weekend, spend a morning with the friend in hospice I told you about (Tom), enjoy a pedicure, pack and get ready for our trip west…and then sunshine!

I didn’t hear from the children’s father on Friday. My daughter volunteered at the popcorn stand in the bingo hall at the local church fish fry. My son and I met some friends there for dinner.

Saturday morning, I was nearly sick with anxiety as I drove to hospice to see Tom…I had absolutely no idea what to expect. But he had been texting and asked for a latte, so I stopped to get us coffee and treats. I walked quietly into the room where he was sleeping and, as he woke, he recognized me immediately. We sipped our lattes and nibbled on muffins while he asked me about my children, life and work. He enthusiastically empathized with my parenting stories, saying “Oh, I know!” as though he’d raised a half-dozen himself (he is childless). Not long after he’d excused himself to clean up, a skiing buddy stopped by…and then a friend from high school…and then some family members. His room was like Grand Central. And I was both uplifted and comforted, knowing that he was surrounded by love and laughter — and that he was still very much able to enjoy reliving his many adventures.

Then, having connected with my ex, I dropped the children off that afternoon for an overnight with him. Minutes later, my daughter called, upset:  there was dried blood splattered all over the kitchen. I drove back and went in. His place was messier than usual; he seemed a little more disheveled than usual…but he convincingly argued that everything was fine, that he had merely fallen down, that he would clean up. My daughter was overly tired after a sleepover. He urged her to take a nap and me to go about my day. I left again. My daughter called less than an hour later, hysterical: her father had fallen and hit his head, she had called 911 and the paramedics were there. I rushed back to collect and comfort my children, then called my ex’s eldest and met him at the ER.

Sunday we visited the hospital again, as my ex couldn’t maintain his balance, seemed disoriented and showed signs of a brain injury. Aside from visiting, there was nothing more I could do:  no one would share details of his injury or treatment with me, the non-family. I cornered a compassionate nurse and told her of his sudden, steep decline over the past few months and the symptoms I’d observed. It was a terrifying blur, and I felt helpless and heartbroken.

And the next day, I took my children on our best vacation yet! We stayed with my ex’s son, played with my children’s new niece, lay by the pool, ran on the beach, ate sushi with my ex’s daughter — and the children loved their time with their half-siblings. I am perhaps all too conscious that these former step children of mine don’t have to be so welcoming as to invite me into their lives and homes, yet they are — if not familial exactly — then warm and generous in ways that continue to surprise me. And they love my children, their younger siblings. The time we spent together as a sort of family was an unexpected blessing and I am comforted to know that this family culture, not my ex’s disease nor his slow, one-sip-at-a-time suicide, will be their family legacy.

I have begun settling into the notion that I am now a full-time single parent, with no likely reprieve nor partnership in parenting on the horizon. This may be the new normal. It is heartbreaking and wrenching to grasp that he is no longer the fun-loving father he once was, much less the man I once loved. I am at a loss for how to make sense of all this to my children. I don’t write this to elicit pity or sympathy; I state it as fact. Facing their father’s coming death, whether imminent or prolonged, is no easy feat. Imagine! This is the man I once loved.

Acceptance and peace for these new circumstances is slowly dawning. I have purpose; I know clearly my true north. I will raise these children to be compassionate, loving, functional adults. And I will not do it entirely alone, as I see how their older siblings rally around and love them. And my family and friends, too. Regardless what happens to their father, regardless of what he is doing to himself, they will be raised in a loving, stable home.


reflections on californication

Probably one of the factors involved in the emotional discord I felt over the holidays was binge-watching one of the most depressing television shows I can imagine:  Californication. I freely admit to being hopelessly behind the cool kids, as I’m not willing to pay for that much cable and am, therefore, relegated to catching up on Netflix. I was intrigued by this show because of my undying love for the X-Files’ Fox Mulder, because revelations about David Duchovny Why-Don’t-You-Love-Me’s personal life made me wonder whether this was life imitating art or vice versa, and because I’d heard it was funny.

Instead, I found it sad.

Certainly there were funny moments. I, too, fell in love with the captivating Karen, although I couldn’t imagine the soft spot in her heart for Hank would not have hardened over in a more resolute manner over more than 20 years of his refusal to behave like a grown man. Sure, he possessed a certainly amount of chivalrous charm, but no woman’s gonna cling to that for two decades. It simply failed to suspend my disbelief, the most fundamental tenet of fiction. Perhaps that’s because the affable man-child reminded me so much of my ex and father of my children, whose juvenile behaviors have caused me no end of misery for the past couple of months (never mind the entire decade before that).

I was struck also by the similarities between his character and that of Mary Louise Parker in Weeds. Clearly she played the role with more depth, but they were two narcissists who could not seem to help themselves from making the same self-defeating decisions over and over again. My feelings for Duchovny now veer toward ambivalence, and I may have to revisit the X-Files to recapture the fondness I once felt for him — luckily for me, FOX just announced it has ordered six new episodes!

But my feelings for the entertainment industry and their persistence in creating an endless supply of drivel glorifying men who fail to self actualize (see also Mad Men, The Hangover series, etc.) are of frustration. Yes, I chose to watch this depressing and wretched series through to the end; I freely admit it. I consider it a bit of education in weeding out such types quickly in real life. But surely, there must be something interesting or entertaining about men who are faithful, loving, devoted, nurturing or mature — think of the characters in Parenthood, for example, or Downton Abbey… I’m sure there are more. These are fellows I’d be more likely to give my time — both on Netflix and in real life.


and, now, I can properly grieve…

A few days ago, I learned that a man I’ve known (very casually) is dying of a brain tumor. Let’s call him Tom (not his real name).

When I left one corporate job (right around the time I started this blog), a friend and mentor recommended I network with Tom. We set up a coffee appointment, talked about my experience, what opportunities or possibilities he saw based on his connections, and networking groups I should attend. Tom was excited for me, positive about my very broad skill set and encouraged me to think big.

We saw each other a few more times for coffee over the past couple of years:  the last time would have been over two years ago when he had left a job and asked me to return the favor. I shared some connections and helped him understand the organizational structure of the company I work for and see where there might be opportunities that aligned with his passions. He told me he’d take me out to dinner to thank me as soon as he’d landed the next job.

It was a year before I ran into him again, this time in our corporate cafeteria, where he was clearly having an interview lunch and didn’t have an opportunity to talk. And it was late autumn: buzz of a hiring freeze meant he wouldn’t be hired until at least the new year. What I didn’t know was that, in the meantime, he’d been diagnosed with and treated for a brain tumor.

Fast forward to this past fall, when I realized we were now working at the same company. In fact, Tom had the same role and leader as the object of my affections that I wrote about a couple of posts ago — you know, the one I haven’t managed to get over in two years… I reached out to Tom and suggested coffee or a happy hour, and he told me he’d been having some medical issues and would be back after the new year, at which point he’d reconnect.

Over the past few months, I checked every so often to see if Tom was online, but he wasn’t. I tried texting and social media, with no response. So I reached out to my unrequited love interest — you know, the one whose contact information I deleted for the sake of self preservation — who told me Tom had been out for awhile; that his tumor had come back, he was being treated and expected to be back in February. We vowed to let each other know if we heard news. Tom was the strong, athletic, vibrant type we knew would come back!

Except that he’s not. A few days ago, I heard from the same friend and mentor who’d introduced me to Tom in the first place that he’s declined rapidly and in hospice. I’ve felt gutted and raw and unsure how to grieve someone with whom I was never really very close; Tom was little more than a casual acquaintance and possibility to me. Now, not only did I have to share what I’d learned with my old flame, but the two of them are linked in my mind.

And that’s how I found myself grieving both of them last night:  I grieved for Tom, who I’ll never get to truly know, and for the man for whom I fell so hard and who didn’t return those feelings. Once again, I found myself wondering when I’ll be able to release that energy, that longing, that heartache and move on… I cried over it for the first time and, suddenly, I realized something:  this man, for whom I still care a great deal, was a near daily presence in my life for two years:  he was like a best friend. And I realized that the loss I feel is not for the love that never was, but the loss of my best friend.

It was a cathartic release and realization. I am still unsure what to do with this new perspective, but I am now confident that I can properly grieve these loses for what they were and are.

The other thing about perspective is how well it plays as a cartoon:  There’s me, with this huge thought bubble filled with everything you’ve read in this post and several others about the guy who should probably have a nickname or even a category on this blog because he’s played such a big part in my consciousness about men since we met. And then there’s him, with a thought bubble over his head that says something like, “Huh. Yeah, I know her…”


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