another Chicago trip (part 14)

About six months ago…

While back home, I reflected on how nice it felt to spend time with a man who was a good conversationalist, a toucher and who wasn’t afraid to kiss me even with a sore on my lips. The note he’d left under my pillow was nice, too! True, the dialogue was too heavily weighted on divorce, our exes and our children.

He had mentioned that he liked strong, direct women. So I thought I’d play the part:  I called and left a voicemail, telling him that I’d really like it if he took me on a real, bona fide date when I got to town that weekend. What I meant wasn’t something formal or expensive or elaborately planned, I simply wanted to spend some time together getting to know each other — no exes, no children — just us talking about us. I let him know my best availability was Sunday evening.

I arrived in town Saturday morning. When I hadn’t heard from him by that afternoon, I knew I wouldn’t be seeing him. By the time Sunday evening arrived, I wanted nothing more than a hot bath and room service, so I was actually relieved to not have plans.

I heard from him Monday. His text read, “Sorry I couldn’t be there for you last night. I’m a hot mess.”

I replied, “I know, hon. My heart aches for you.” Even if he hadn’t been telling me where his head and heart were at all these weeks, it was easy to tell by his actions. He was very clearly communicating that he wasn’t ready to move on.

A day later, I got on a plane home, knowing that my last scheduled trip to Chicago — and our window of opportunity — had passed.

Looking back, I still find it somewhat surprising that he didn’t take me up on my no-strings offer. And yet, while it was easy for me to tell myself I was being…um…generous, I failed to account for all the longing I had wrapped up in this. I needed a man’s attention and touch more than I was willing to admit. And I’m sure my desperation was nothing less than terrifying to a man in Chi-guy’s shoes.

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what’s your wacky divorce story?

I’ve heard some truly bizarre stuff in talking with friends and colleagues about divorce. Seems once you put it out there, everyone’s willing to share a story.

Take, for instance, a local friend:  He’s not originally from these parts, and he was offered an opportunity to come and work here, in this lovely midwestern city, by a friend — his best friend. My friend bought a house, met a woman, got her pregnant, got married and is now divorced. My friend always did the bulk of the housework, brought in the bulk of income and did the lion’s share of parenting, as well. Since the split, he’s learned that his very best friend goes over to visit his ex, shovel the walk and babysit their child — without telling him!

Or another male friend:  Just over two years ago, his wife’s sister was going through a divorce. At the time, he remarked to his wife how stressful and sad that must be, and asked:  “I mean, if you were having feelings like that about me, we’d be talking about it, right?” Six months later, his wife’s brother was asked to move out / for a divorce. Six months after that, my friend was asked to move out and was on his way to a divorce. Six months after that, his ex-wife’s sister’s ex-husband and his ex-wife’s brother’s ex-wife are dating. Did you follow that? The in-law’s exes are dating. And then my friend’s ex-wife’s father made a feeble suicide attempt with a bottle of sleeping pills and a cry-for-help note. As I told my friend, “It’s not you. Clearly your ex and everyone in her family needs drama.”

When I was going through the worst of it, feeling emotionally unstable and questioning my sanity, stories like this kept me going. Like watching any of The Real Housewives franchises, it was incredibly grounding; I realized I wasn’t all that crazy.

So what’s the most bizarre divorce story you’ve heard? What crazy cues did you draw on to assure yourself of your sanity?

three conditions under which I might sleep with you

Recently, a dashing pauper volunteered to “fuck me stupid.”

It was a lovely offer, truly. But, as I’ve mentioned earlier, I have certain attitudes about casual sex just now, and I’m not interested in going there with this particular fellow at this juncture. So, in case you’re hopeful, here are three situations in which I might engage in a sexual relationship:

  1. I’ve ruled a man out, meaning that there is no possibility that I would ever want a relationship with him. Therefore, there is no danger that even a sexually-induced flood of oxytocin might cause me to become emotionally involved with the fool. And I’m likely kicking his ass out of my bed — or leaving his bed — at the earliest post-coital opportunity.
  2. I am in an exclusive, serious relationship that I believe to be headed toward commitment. Said man will have forgiven himself, forgiven his ex (if there is one), can believe in love, desires marriage and plans to commit for the rest of his life. I will sleep with him only if I believe we will enter into this act as though it were sacred, and with complete acceptance, love and a desire to open ourselves completely to the act of giving and receiving pleasure. And, at this point in the relationship, there should be no question that we want to wake up in each other’s arms.
  3. Number 1, above, is false. The conditions of number 2, above, might possibly be met at some time in the future and, in a moment of horniness, I change my mind.

In summary, there are no rules!

my next trip to Chicago (part 13)

About six months ago…

Given the confusion and misunderstandings of our last meeting, I wanted to connect with Chi-guy on the phone to ensure we were on the same page with expectations before I saw him in person again. After all, I’d spent our last conversation trying to convince him to go to bed with me. Surely he had no idea I’d changed my mind.

We set a date for Saturday night. He was to call me after his daughter went to sleep. He didn’t.

So I sent a text the next day:  “Dude, you are too flaky to be my lover. Take that off the table. Be friends / hang out?”

Later he replied. “I dunno. I might be too flaky for that.”

“I hope not. I’d love to see you when I’m in town.”

“Meant to text earlier that I was kidding. I’d love to hang out.”

And so we made plans to see one another, but I didn’t find a great opening to let him know that I didn’t want to sleep with him.

Again, I was there to work, so Chi-guy popped by around lunchtime to see me. He had been downtown at the mediator’s, trying to unravel his marriage. We went up to my hotel room, so that I could grab a jacket and he immediately sat on the bed as we talked. He vented about his ex and the process, and confessed that he’d grown his new goatee because his ex hated it.

As I went in to the bathroom to apply ointment to the cold sore that had recently emerged on my lip, he grabbed a pen and note pad next to the bed and scrawled something. I saw him shove it under a pillow. “That’s for later,” he said.

We headed out in search of a coffee shop and, as we walked, touching playfully along the way, I shared how I’d felt about turning 40.

“Mine wasn’t that great, either,” he confessed. And then he told me he’d celebrated in Paris (of course) and was, at that time, beginning to realize that his wife didn’t seem to like him very much anymore.

Chi-guy's note

We ordered our frothy four-dollar specialty drinks and, as we waited, Chi-guy leaned in and kissed me. This time it was me who leaned away.

“Aren’t you afraid of contracting my leprosy?” I asked.

He shook his head. He stirred his froth, and offered me a lick from his stir stick. As we sat down to chat, he continued to flirt and touch me playfully. I wondered whether it was the “Next time, more touch!” directive I’d written in his birthday card or that I’d told him he couldn’t be my lover. Whatever the case, I enjoyed the attention.

Too soon, he had to leave to pick up his daughter and I went back to my work. “You’re an angel,” he murmured in my ear, as he hugged me good-bye. We planned to meet for coffee again the next morning.

Suzanne was on site again. “OMG, he is so friggin’ handsome!” she exclaimed after Chi-guy left. Suzanne had been there at our  reunion, a few months before. I was compelled to bring her up-to-date on all that had — or, rather, had not — transpired since.

The next morning, I texted him my flight time. It was earlier than I’d previously thought. “No time. You’ll have to catch a cab to the airport,” he texted back. And so we missed again…

No matter, I had another trip in just a few days.

reflections on the fortieth birthday

About six months ago…

I’ve already written a bit about how this milestone birthday hit me — it is, after all, included in the title of this blog.

I am a Libra, in love with being in love, quick to fall. You’d think I’d know better by this time in life, yet there I was, falling again for the distant and unavailable man in Chicago, falling faster and harder than any rational, reasoning soul ought. It was as though everything out of his mouth was customized especially for a sucker like me!

Meanwhile, as my birthday approached, I was despairing my not having yet attained the stature or status in life that I would have like to have claimed for myself. The successful career and marriage I’d imagined for myself had eluded me — in fact, I had just that week interviewed unsuccessfully for a new role. I had envisioned I’d be spending my upcoming big day in France or Italy with the love of my life. Or, barring that, a poet.

I experienced some incredibly ugly feelings, a range from self-doubting and unworthy to angry, hateful and outraged. The best I could describe it was “prickly,” like a porcupine, as though anyone who came too near was in danger of me flaring some fierce quills. While my friends insisted on taking me out to celebrate my birthday, I was in no mood to inflict my toxic self on anyone.

I remember thinking that, if Chi-guy had been feeling anything like this that last time I’d seen him, no wonder he didn’t want to get close to me! He had been pretty low at that time, and what I was experiencing gave me greater empathy and opened me to be more forgiving. We had continued to be in contact, loosely — in fact, he had just texted me a very hot photo! After the attention I had paid to his birthday, I wondered what he might do for mine.

On the big day, I dragged myself to the store for a new outfit — dress and heels — to wear out on the town. As I shopped, I started to get excited for my night out and spending time with my girlfriends. Yet my excitement was muted, like being as happy as you can be when you’re depressed, which isn’t particularly happy. Even as I got ready, went to dinner, bar hopped and danced with some amazing girlfriends, I was very down and emotional. Meanwhile, I put on a smiley face and plowed forth.

I’m not always sure whether I’ve found the right balance between “fake it ’till you make it” and being truly authentic. I genuinely believe that happiness and contentment can be a conscious choice. Sometimes this involves deciding to make the best of a situation, putting on a brave face and going out. But my gamely facade crumbled when one of my girlfriends told me how beautiful I looked, how much she admired me, and how fabulous and empowered a strong and sexy forty-year-old me seemed to be. (This was from a woman who has yet to hit this milestone birthday.) I immediately began to tear up, because I felt none of those things — and, by the way, thank you for pointing out this conflict between how I look and how I feel and, therefore, bringing up all my feelings of inadequacy.

Chi-guy, meanwhile, had not called, texted, emailed or sent a card. One girlfriend remarked, “Well, it’s better to know now.” (He left a message a couple of days later. Miss.)

While the intense malaise of my birthday lasted for about a week in total, I continued to feel low for several weeks — maybe months — following. That I was forty, in an unsatisfying job and without a loving partner in life were conditions that did not just evaporate, after all. And it was going to take some time and work to make the major transitions that would bring greater balance, peace and a feeling of forward progress.

the hammer (part 12)

About six months ago…

Chi-guy and I communicated loosely through email and text, still flirting, keeping the energy flowing.

I confided to him that I had an interview coming up for a more analytical role. On the big day, I woke up to find a message with a fully nude photo of Chi-guy, in profile, holding a hammer erect where his privates should have been. The caption read, “Nail that interview!”

Ultimately, while inspiring, it was ineffective.

Of course I described it to all my girlfriends (and even showed a few of them). “Oh my God, he’s creative, clever, witty and smokin’ hot!” one exclaimed. “Perfect for you!”

It seemed that, just as I was retreating in my desire to get physical with Chi-guy, he might be warming to the idea…

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the ex-husband-orcism

Last weekend, I invited girlfriends over to help me perform an exorcism:  the exorcism of my ex husband’s belongings, photos, spirit and trappings of our married life from my boudoir and other areas of the house.

I had long been thinking about the idea of a cleansing or a celebration, and I never felt quite certain about what was appropriate or acceptable. My plan took on definition for two reasons:

  • A girlfriend gently told me that, while I clearly cherished my “mother” identity, it didn’t belong in my bedroom. Every other room in our home is family friendly; my room should be a personal sanctuary, a child-free zone. The family photos and stuffed animals would have to go.
  • With each passing week that I failed to tackle the project of cleaning and re-organizing the basement, I knew that I was experiencing some major resistance to dealing with it all. This was not going to be an easy job for me.

I was going to have to call in some reinforcements. And I would need them to be both relentless and brutally honest. After all, my closet (and outdated wardrobe) was part of my bedroom.

I invited a bunch of fun girls, knowing that only a handful could or would show up — this sort of thing is not for everyone. In one day, what we could accomplish would be limited, so I prioritized:

  • Rearrange and organize my bedroom and closet
  • Organize the children’s artwork (my sister, the art major, would be assigned ultimate judge of what I should keep, purging the rest)
  • Begin the impossible task of cleaning the basement

I set out a spread of beverages and snacks — brie, hummos and the like — and the girls arrived in early afternoon. We began by moving furniture and de-cluttering in my room. Down came the belly cast from my second pregnancy, out went the family photos, and in came the “welcome to my boudoir” energy. Any trinkets or baubles that I’d received as gifts from my ex went into the garbage. After the momentary feeling of guilt that this might be appreciated by someone else, I willingly, gladly let go.

With a team of supporters around me, it was easy to enjoy the feeling of liberation that letting go, releasing what no longer served me, could provide. Sure, there were a few moments of compromise, a few items that, for sentimental reasons, I was not ready to let go. But mostly, perhaps because I was being watched, it was easy to say no to that oh-so-tartish Roxy tee shirt, a circa 1988 Benetton and a Coogi sweater (yeah, embarrassing) that I’d purchased while vacationing in Sydney with a boyfriend in 1996. What was I thinking, holding onto these for so long? Even after the girls left, I purged books and jewelry with glee.

We never got as far as the basement, but I now feel unstuck, as though the task might be something I could accomplish, little by little, on my own. And I think the biggest surprise to me was how easy it actually was. I thought I might have some bigger moments of resistance or feeling really emotional, maybe even tears. But there were none. It was fun, even empowering!

When the children returned from their weekend with their father, they were energized and began cleaning their own room. We’re on nine large bags for charitable donations and counting.

Sage smudge yet to come.

talking it out with Chi-guy (part 11)

About seven months ago…

I sent Chi-guy’s birthday gift off with a card that let him know what a great time I’d had on our day together. I wrote that I’d appreciated getting to know him better and thought he had a sexy brain. Then I added, “p.s. Next time, more touch!” I enclosed a little something for his daughter, as well, as her birthday was later in the week.

We continued to text each other throughout the week, and he thanked me for the thoughtful gift and my kind words.

Meanwhile, I had rattled off the story of my tragically sexless weekend to anyone who would listen — my girlfriends, my sister and even my mother, who said, “So you finally met a decent man!”

Just more than a week had gone by when we were able to talk again. He had just gotten home from a shopping trip to IKEA and recounted his purchases:  a full-length mirror, a dresser and lamp for his daughter’s room, a cinnamon roll and a cookie cutter.

“Cookie cutter?” I inquired.

“Yeah. I was reading the paper yesterday and well, you know, it’s back to school season, and there was an article with ideas for packing school lunches…”

The knowing mother, I chimed in, “so you’re going to make sandwiches in fun shapes for your daughter’s lunch . . .”

“Yeah, I thought that would be fun,” he affirmed. I swooned.

We chatted casually a bit and then I took a deep breath and began:

“So last time I saw you, I really enjoyed the time we spent together, until the end of the evening, which was very confusing for me…so I wanted to talk about that and try to understand what you were thinking?”

Him:  “Hmm…what were you thinking?” Coward!

Me:  “Well…do you remember when we had coffee last summer and you told me you were getting a divorce? …My heart went out to you because I know (even if we’re approaching this from different angles) how much it hurts and how difficult it is, and I felt so bad for you, because I could see that you were hurting. But somewhere inside, there was this little part of me that was screaming ‘YES!!!!’…

“Aw, that’s sweet,” he replied.

“…And I started thinking that there’s always been a kind of energy between us, and that we seem to have an attraction for one another, and we’re both recently single at the same time and – what an opportunity! I rarely travel to Chicago, and I’ve got three trips schedule for Chicago this autumn…I thought, you seemed in such a bad place last summer, that I would help you get your mojo back…”

“Oh…”

“I know, isn’t that noble of me? My intentions were soooo altruistic!” I giggled.

“Wow. I guess I just thought that we were flirting and that it didn’t really mean anything and I thought, ‘she couldn’t possibly want me.’ Besides, I think I’m falling for you…”

Now this is where a smarter woman, a woman who is more fully present, who understands how to communicate in a relationship would have stopped to savor the moment and, perhaps, to investigate. To this day, I wish I could go back and ask him to tell me more or explain what he meant. Or even just ask, “I’m sorry, could you repeat that?”

But I was not that smarter woman. No; I rambled on, intent on advocating my case that we should go to bed together. Me:  “Even if we were flirting, I was being very genuine about what I felt and what I wanted. When I told you that you have a sexy voice, I wasn’t just stroking you, I really dig your voice. There’s something about the resonance that drives me wild. And when I asked what it was going to take to get into your CKs, it’s because I genuinely wanted to get in your CKs!”

Him:  “But wouldn’t it just have been meaningless?”

Me:  “I think there’s a difference between casual and meaningless. We seem to have some concern for each other, and I think we could give ourselves a free pass, and share something really beautiful that doesn’t have to be about our future or anything. I think because we’re in a very similar place right now, we’d have a lot to offer one another – and it would be really fun!”

Him:  “That’s a good distinction. I wouldn’t have thought about it like that…”

I asked him about other things he had said to me that night, about The Road Less Traveled and his moral compass — did he truly intend to be celibate until his divorce was final?

“No. I’m a guy,” he said, “I’d like to sleep with any woman who I’ll never have to see or talk to again.”

We laughed; I admired him all the more for his candor. I went on to argue (again) that we were adults, we didn’t have to play games, we could be friends and lovers, too, and that the similar timing and situations made our circumstances all the more ideal.

By the time we finally said goodnight, I had spent the better part of an hour convincing him — I thought successfully — that it would be fine for us to sleep together. And before I’d even hung up the phone, I regretted it.

We were expressing our gratitude for one another when, suddenly, I realized there may be something special about Chi-guy, something worth holding out for. I didn’t want to be his rebound girl, after all. Rebounds never last. Here was a guy I loved talking with, who had genuine companionship potential, who was a loving father and making thoughtful changes in himself. And I no longer wanted to share myself with him for a cheap thrill.

I had no plans, no future in mind. We still lived in different cities and were likely to for some time, given the bonds of parenthood. But — and maybe this has to do with my seeing Eat, Pray, Love in the movie theater around that time — if ever I were to share something with Chi-guy, I wanted it to be when he had forgiven his ex, had forgiven himself and could believe in love again. And I would have to leap those hurdles myself, too.

I later recounted our conversation to a girlfriend. I told her, “I basically spent the majority of the time we talked trying to convince him that it was okay to go to bed with me. And now I don’t want to. I don’t want to be his rebound girl. I like him. He had me at ‘cookie cutter.’ And I think he said something resembling, ‘I’m falling for you.’”

“It sounds as though you two have something special,” she said. “You’ve been incredibly honest with each other. I think you need to tell him how you feel before you see him again.”

I meant to. As it turned out, I didn’t

reconciling with God

There’s been a shift in my life recently that I’ve been meaning to write about, and it seems appropriate to share on a Sunday:  I think I have finally reconciled with God.

I grew up in a small, tight-knit church community. The things I remember most about my church-going experiences were:

  • Eagerly volunteering (at age 3, my first day) an answer to the Sunday School question, “How do we grow big and strong?” My answer:  “spinach.” I knew this from the Popeye cartoon series, duh. (The correct answer was, of course, Jesus.)
  • Adults and teens around me judging others based on the clothes they were wearing, their make-up or hair, or with whom or where they were sitting.
  • Our patriarchal God, it was taught, was alternately loving and wrathful. (And, it goes without saying, bearded and white…it’s man who was made in his image, remember?)
  • The parties (alcohol and porn included) we held at our teen youth group leader’s house. And this same youth leader trying to take me to bed as soon as I’d graduated from his school. But don’t worry, it was a volunteer position — he wasn’t actually paid for getting a bunch of teens drunk, renting porn for the guys or trying to peel off my clothes.

There is no question that the Bible is filled with invaluable lessons and is the basis for much of Western thought, civilization and history. And that many other people have healthy church communities and experiences.

After high school, I left the country for Asia, the Orient, a world in which this whole virgin-giving-birth story simply didn’t make sense. (Eastern religions often incorporate elements of nature; thus anyone who could believe such a tall tale might be considered loony-bin worthy.) And it was commonly known among the foreign (white) population that many ethically-questionable Christian missionaries simply memorized a litany of thought-provoking questions in the local language and nodded politely during the answers they couldn’t understand.

In summary, many of my formative experiences were ones that turned me off to organized religion. I began exploring Eastern religions, such as Buddhism, Taoism and, later, New Age thought. For a long time now, I’ve believed that terms like the divine, collective conscious (or collective unconscious), loving intelligence, universe, universal consciousness, etc. are the same thing as God, but a redefined God — a loving incorporation of our most vile and beautiful energies and potentials all rolled into one, a God with no opposite.

I continue to see examples of faith or religion — Christianity, Islam and others — used to further the forces of evil, such as lobbying against the right for homosexuals to marry. I’ve even heard there’s some wacky group of believers who drive gas-guzzling SUVs and do their best to pollute the environment in the hope that it will speed the second coming, when they will all be raptured away to the kingdom of heaven. But I also see signs of hope. It seems that some congregations are broadening their view of God, integrating mysticism back into the scriptures, engendering hope and allowing for the possibility that miracles can happen in our contemporary lives. It’s nice to believe that not all the “good stuff” happened 2,000 years ago.

Still, for a long time, people bringing up God or religious beliefs made me feel uncomfortable — visibly and viscerally. My mind was prone to make judgments about people who practiced their faiths in certain ways. And even the name God brought up an inner resistance to this notion that the masculine, patriarchal and wrathful could be the creator of all things. The ultimate act of creation — giving birth — is, after all, a feat of the feminine.

Whether this shift in consciousness has been my own or part of a greater, universal shift, I think I can finally say that I’ve let go of the baggage. I respect people for practicing their religions, whether I agree with them or not, as long as they don’t cast judgments on others or use their beliefs as weapons to combat love, acceptance and forgiveness. In the end, religion, science and life experience provides great evidence that we are all more alike than not and that The Golden Rule is the ultimate moral code.

I still don’t go to church, but I’m inching toward beginning a tour of several diverse services for me and my children (after all, I kind of like the music). And now that I’ve redefined my understanding and embraced all the inherent contradictions, I can finally hear or say the word God without cringing. I’m just a little surprised that it took me so long to get here!

on co-habiting with the opposite sex

A girlfriend called a few days ago and, per usual, began a rant about the B.S. she’d put up with in relationship with her child’s father. She rehashed a litany of complaints about his slovenliness, assuming I would jump on the ex-bashing bandwagon. I didn’t.

Instead, I told her that I didn’t share her experience:  I LOVED sharing my home and my kitchen and my bed and the housework and all of it! Sure, the occasional coat of facial hair shavings on the bathroom sink was a mild irritant and I never liked the layout of the office, which was primarily his domain. But I loved co-creating our life together — from shopping together for what we each deemed necessary kitchen tools and negotiating menu plans — to our concern for one another when one of us wasn’t feeling well. I loved snuggling up against his warmth in bed. I loved the thought of our pant legs and shirt sleeves intertwined in the laundry.

It’s true that I carried most of the responsibility and had to make most of the decisions. The fact that I can clearly recall the time when my ex noticed that we were nearly out of t.p. and actually went to the store and purchased it speaks volumes. He was inflexible as it related to vacation destinations and ruled out countless menu options.

Living with someone can be a pain in the ass, and I am learning to enjoy the blessings of being the sole adult in my home. But I generally appreciated interdependence of partnership enough to overlook most of the little things. And I look forward to the day when I’m regularly waking up in the same bed as a man I love again!