funny little failures

As the year comes to a close and I begin to think about what I’d like to create – now that I am the sole leader of the family, the uncontested head of household – for the coming year, it’s a great time to look back and see what I failed to accomplish in 2010:

  • I didn’t get in great shape or lose a lot of weight.
  • I didn’t get a new car.
  • I didn’t get my house and garage re-roofed.
  • I didn’t fall in love; I didn’t even begin dating again…not really, anyway.
  • I didn’t stop being a stronger, better version of me.
  • I didn’t say only politically correct, appropriate things.
  • I didn’t go into debt.
  • I didn’t lose the privilege of parenting my children daily.

Whew! Thank heavens for small failures! There are only a few things on this list that I might have liked to accomplish anyway. Maybe I’ll plan those for 2011.

While we’re here, let’s take a moment to recount the successes of 2010:

  • I own my own home – no liens, no co-signers, just me and my bank and my first mortgage and my fixer-upper.
  • People around me comment on the positive change in my energy and the energy in my home.
  • My daughter seems to be coming out of her shell in ways that show what a strong and determined woman she will grow to one day be.
  • My son is learning resilience and growing stronger and more self-assured.
  • We are managing all this, my little family of three.
  • I’ve started my writing again. (and I can’t seem to stop!)

What apparent failures turned out to be blessings in 2010? What magnificent successes will you celebrate?

death of a dream

The holidays can be a potent, emotionally charged time — especially among families that have suffered divorce. In fact, I’ve been so busy for the past week or so that the emotions of navigating all this family time by myself didn’t really hit me until it was all over.

Even if I don’t miss my ex, I do miss several of the traditions and memories we created and shared together. He’s Jewish; I come from a Christian background. We were blessed to celebrate Chanukah and Christmas. I miss sharing the season with him and his family. And while I’m in contact with some of the former in-laws, I’m no longer part of the family celebrations. I have to experience them through my children’s stories.

My ex missed this, too. When I dropped the children off to spend a few days of their break, he gave me a hug and told me he misses me. I’m smarter than to believe I should take this to mean anything of substance. I still love him. But I don’t miss living with him. And I doubt he misses living with me, aside from some of the happy memories we created together. After all, how can the holidays be recalled with anything but fondness?

So if we remember and reminisce about family celebrations, especially holidays, what is the impact of divorce? It’s the death of a dream. Certainly when we came together, vowed to love one another and brought children into the world, we did so believing that we would be together. We dreamt of a stable family life for our children and creating traditions of all kinds together.

And having failed at maintaining this, I can’t help but wonder what of our children’s dreams we have dashed?

the list, or brown hair

I was relaxing over a glass of wine with a girlfriend while her husband went outside to rake the lawn one last time, even as the snow began to fall. He didn’t want there to be any leaves in the children’s snowmen.

“You’ve got it pretty good,” I told her.

She agreed. “Yep, I got the brown hair.”

And then she went on to explain:  Years earlier, she had been set up with a guy. There was no attraction, but they became good friends. He asked her what qualities she wanted in a mate. And so she shared a long list of the things she had been looking for in a man:  brown hair, tall, gets along with his exes, a big kickstand, and more…all in all, it was a pretty thorough list.

After a couple more years of still being single and becoming more discouraged in her search for a mate, my girlfriend exclaimed to her friend, “Could I maybe just get the brown hair? I’d settle for that.” And then she met her husband, who does have brown hair, is good-looking, gets along with his exes, earns well, is kind and thoughtful, has a big kickstand…actually, I don’t know about that, but it sounded good. Ultimately, I’m willing to bet her husband has almost all of the qualities she was looking for.

Every woman has a list of qualities she’d like to find in a man — I had one before I met my husband. And, as I mentioned earlier, a failed relationship provides great clarity — an opportunity to reflect on how our values have changed, what we might do differently, and the choices we might make more wisely.

So here’s the new list of qualities and characteristics I’d like to find in a mate:

  • Single / available
  • Great sense of humor / quick to smile / playful
  • Presence / capacity / bandwidth
  • Kindness
  • Great manners
  • Income / provider / success mindset (optimism, determination, perseverance)
  • Responsible
  • Committed / honest / faithful
  • Loves children
  • Dark hair, kind eyes, nice smile, strong jaw line, relatively fit
  • Reads / intellectually curious – talks about ideas
  • 36 – 46 years old
  • Thoughtful – holds hands, gives gifts (willing to buy dresses, jewelry, handbags*…)
  • Likes to touch and unafraid of public displays of affection
  • Even tempered and steady / able to manage conflict
  • Active / adventuresome / likes to travel & explore new places, foods, cultures
  • Genuine / authentic
  • In to arts / music, an aesthete
  • Non-smoker / addiction free
  • Taller than me (by at least 3″)
  • Has strong family relationships (and ability to be friends with exes)
  • Healthy boundaries with friends and family
  • Emotional resilience – gets up quickly when down

Know anyone?

*I know this one’s a stretch, but I’d love a guy who has the courage to try!

are you available?

About nine months ago…

When I began to unravel the habits, behaviors and shared responsibilities of married life, I realized something. It had been months since I’d been touched. Sure, I mean it would have been nice to have someone hold my hand, put an arm around me, embrace me…but I suddenly felt quite eager (i.e. desperate) to get naked and, well, randy. And with another human of the opposite sex.

I reached out to a number of my male friends, most of whom are married, to ask if they knew of any guy friends who might be in a situation similar to mine, which I summarized as such:  “If horniness were fatal, I’d be dead already!”

Imagine my surprise when a couple of them inquired about my other criteria  — coyly disguised as a request for descriptors, such as height, hair color…and whether this fellow’s being single was a requirement. I won’t guess whether these (ahem) gentlemen were inquiring about such details for themselves or friends of theirs, but I made a decision at that moment:

Even if I was only looking for sport, I wanted someone who was available. Someone reachable when I wanted to reach out, someone without such certain limits, someone who could actually contribute something to the interaction.

And availability isn’t just about whether someone is married or not. It’s about whether he is free and willing to engage, connect, share presence. Some married men are more than willing to make themselves available, while some single men — such as my recently divorcing friend, Chi-guy — just can’t wrap their heads around opening themselves to such opportunity.

At least not yet…

what a woman wants

I’m loving some of the things Rabbi Shmuley Boteach has to say in this article on Huffington Post Divorce.

The thesis of his article is that a woman wants to be chosen and that, only by asking her to marry him, can a man truly demonstrate to a woman that he is choosing her. He makes a pretty good argument.

And yet women also want to feel loved. We get love from all kinds of sources, but we want to feel loved romantically by our mates. Often this feeling fades.

So how does love fade? Gary Chapman would argue that there are five love languages and that, after the infatuation wears off, we don’t feel loved if our partner is speaking a different language. I read Chapman’s book on a single flight and immediately thought it was the simplest, smartest relationship advice I’d ever read. Unfortunately, it was already too late for me.

My ex didn’t speak my love language. I could occasionally see that he was trying to demonstrate his love, but he fumbled around doing things that simply didn’t matter to me. When I shared what I wanted, he either ignored my requests or told me that my wishes were foolish or materialistic. In other words, he wasn’t willing to learn my love language.

So I’ll close with a note to my second husband (who I’m not even dating — and not sure I’ve even met — yet):

Choose me. And then choose me over and over again by learning my love language. Share your love language with me, so I can love you back. After all, like choose, love is a verb.

intuition, interrupted

About 18 months ago…

Let’s get back to the fun stuff!

As spring turned to summer, I had another opportunity to work with Max, my out-of-state office crush. We emailed and occasionally spoke on the phone to communicate. One day after I emailed off a request, I got this reply from Max:

“You should know by now I will do whatever you ask.”

I excitedly waved a co-worker into my cubicle and said, “look at this! I think this cute guy might be flirting with me!” She agreed that he was most definitely flirting. (Perhaps you’ll find it sad that I needed confirmation from another, but this was not the sort of thing that is always self-evident to someone whose primary relationship is spiraling toward Hades.)

And so things got interesting. A fairly attractive man (who was also a newly wed) was offering a little bit more positive attention than was strictly required by his job. Which was nice.

But there was something deeper and more profound going on:  I had gotten a vibe around Max, something that made me think he might have some special potential in my life (at least until I heard he was getting married). And now I was getting some feedback suggesting that energy was mutual. My feminine intuition seemed to be functioning properly! After years of being told I was “crazy” every time I verbalized something I was feeling intuitively, I was now getting affirmation of what my sixth sense was telling me. My mojo — I guess they call it jojo for women — was coming back!

And I had an upcoming work trip to Max’s region, so I would see him soon!

Festivus for the ex of us

Happy Festivus, everyone! Today is the day Seinfeld followers honor with traditions including the Festivus pole, Feats of Strength and the Airing of Grievances.

What a great opportunity to send a back-handed holiday greeting to my ex, right?!

It would be easy to be bitter and place blame when you come out of a relationship like mine. In fact, I’ve spent much too much energy on these very behaviors. And I know damned well how unproductive that is!

Most of the time, I try to be conscious about the energy I’m putting out in the world, my language and my general outlook on life. I believe what we put out affects what we get back. (There are some excellent books on this topic by Michael Losier and John Assaraf, among others.) So I try to stay positive, express my gratitude and always view my cup as overflowing.

This can be difficult when, throughout most of my relationship, I was the primary or only breadwinner. I earn a healthy living. Nothing spectacular, but I’m able pay the mortgage, buy groceries and take my family on an occasional vacation. The designer clothes and handbags of my days as a single are no more, and my car has celebrated its 15th birthday. Still, I recognize that I am blessed. This is kind of a big thing for me…

You see, there have been times in my life when my outlook was not so bright, when I was incapable of feeling genuine happiness for a friend who met a great new guy, got engaged, had a baby or got a fabulous new job. I was jealous of those I perceived as having more or better. These were things that I wanted! Why weren’t they happening to me? Probably because I was focusing on the lack.

Going through a divorce, turning forty…I’ve felt a lot of lack these past many months, along with a powerful urge to place blame. It was easy to believe that I drove an old car and lived in a house with some urgent repairs needed and skimped on my wardrobe because my ex wasn’t contributing enough financially. I thought that if he loved me enough, he would work harder to help provide the things that were important to me and our family. But neither this belief nor my resentment has produced positive results.

For my birthday, a friend took me to a Michael Franti & Spearhead concert. If you’ve never been to one of these shows, I recommend it:  it’s as much a spiritual experience as it is an opportunity to see a pretty cool live show. The band and the fans are happy, smiling and joyful. Everyone is dancing and waving their arms. I imagine it’s something like a revival.

There I was at the show, jumping up and down, smiling so hard that my face hurt, as Michael sung these lyrics:  “Wise men count their blessings; fools count their problems…” I had an ah-ha moment, quickly recognizing that I was being a fool, counting my problems.

So now I’m focused on counting my blessings; I’m monitoring my thoughts, my words and the people with whom I choose to surround myself; I’m working to be conscious and deliberate about the energy I allow in my life. I’m noticing when good things happen, even small things, and I’m writing them down in a gratitude journal.

And I’m not indulging the ugly little urge to be petty. Today it felt good to send my ex a Festivus greeting with a positive wish for the future. I left out the long list of grievances altogether.

And, in case you were wondering, the very next line in that Michael Franti song is “…but you’re both of them to me.” How apropos!

making plans

If you are following this, you may understand that much of what I’m writing happened many months ago. I’m jumping around a bit. It seems right to disclose now that my mind is adept at forecasting far ahead and logistics. Perhaps this makes me calculating. You decide.

To recap my timeline:

  • It was autumn (just over two years ago) when I saw my OB and had the major realization that it had literally been years since my spouse and I were friends.
  • I stopped wearing my ring that winter, two years ago.
  • About 21 months ago, in the spring, I decided finally that our broken marriage was irreparable. And I met Max.

During this time, I was making mental preparations, beginning to envision my life without this relationship, without the anchor…unfortunately, none of the ways I could describe what our relationship had become were positive. And if it sounds as though I was doing this work alone, I was. My husband and I had long since ceased to have adult conversations about difficult topics. He was unable to engage in calm and thoughtful discussions that required maturity. He withdrew, avoided conflict, or became angry.

So, given that I was going down this path alone, I created milestones, or hurdles:

  • I would have to get through the summer, during which I had a demanding work load including a great deal of travel.
  • My children were in different schools and, pending the outcome of an arcane lottery process, they might finally be in the same school, on the same schedule, in the autumn.
  • And THEN I could ask my husband to leave.

Why not just cut it off quickly, move on, put an immediate end to the agony? Why all this planning and thinking ahead?

My spouse performed more of the physical, functional chores of parenting than I did: preparing meals, making lunches, driving the children. (I provided the nurturing, comfort, homework assistance; I read to them and tucked them into their beds each night.) My work was (and is) demanding. I needed to reach a point where I could envision managing the logistics of parenting on my own, while still doing my day job. I knew I couldn’t expect much partnership or cooperation in creating a schedule or shared responsibilities. And there was still the risk that he would fight for primary physical custody.

If I acted slowly and deliberately, that was by design. There was a lot to think through, create and plan for. Slowly was the only way I knew I could manage.

on failure

I’ve had some interesting reactions from friends and followers as it relates to the title of this blog, failed at forty. Most — those who know me well — issue forth a quick guffaw and exclaim “awesome!” or “hilarious!” or some such. They know my quirky, cheeky sense of humor and ability to poke fun at myself.

Others sincerely tell me I shouldn’t think of or call myself a failure. It’s as though they believe failure is a bad thing.

For a time in my life, I had frequent occasion to downhill ski. I recall letting some of my friends know that I felt good, was getting in my groove, hadn’t wiped out in a long time. And then one of them piped up:  “If you haven’t wiped out, you’re not pushing yourself hard enough.”

Let’s pause for a moment to look at the silver lining inherent in failure:

  • To fail means we’ve taken a risk, acted boldly, pushed forward out of our safety zone.
  • We’ve gained some clarity about what doesn’t work, and can now adjust course to create a more positive outcome.
  • We’re afforded a new beginning, an opportunity to confess that we didn’t really know it all anyway, made mistakes and are ready to move on.
  • We’re older, wiser and can choose to endeavor forth with much already gained.

As for me, I can point to some rather spectacular results of the past decade of my life:

  • I have two amazing, beautiful, loving children.
  • I have a home in a lovely neighborhood.
  • I’ve increased my income by more than 60% over this time.
  • I’ve met amazing new friends and colleagues, as well as continuing to nurture old friendships.
  • I’ve had some tremendous, remarkable, memorable experiences.
  • I’ve healed, matured and grown in more ways that I can recount.

Do I really think of myself as a failure? No. But I’ve had some pretty spectacular moments. You could say failure and I are on a first-name basis. So let’s raise a glass to failure. Failure, you haven’t beat me — I’ll always persevere. And I’m grateful for the lessons!