…as neuroses go…

I have a friend who blogs about dating. She’s a good decade younger than I am, and sometimes I enjoy taking a trip down memory lane to revisit the anxieties of singledom that I, too, once experienced through a much different lens than I do now. (In fact, I don’t have a lick of anxiety about being single just now…no ticking clock, no need for a partner, etc…)

So this post on imagining the worst kind of cracked me up. Turns out, my feelings about the worst thing you could learn about someone you’re dating are not that much different than this 20-Nothing’s list. STDs, bankruptcy, dishonesty, debt, violent crimes — yep, those pretty much top my list, too.

And I think being forty and having seen a lot of relationship “stuff” in the past couple of decades, one tends to mellow to a lot of the ethical conundrums that would have been deal-breakers at a younger age. And, in present tense, they may be deal breakers now…but to learn that someone we like may have made a misstep in his or her “youth” no longer evokes the same harsh moral judgement as it would have a decade ago.

Having been through a rocky relationship, I’ve experienced rage, temptation and vulnerability, meanwhile behaving at times in ways that are difficult to reconcile with the woman I know as me. We are all human and fallible, and my attitude toward many indiscretions has softened as a result of my experience.

To summarize, I still think STDs and murder top this list, though it’s something I don’t spend much time pondering. And I’d probably add “failing to provide for one’s children” — that’s right up there for me, too.

the big deal about proposals

I recently came across an article about the trend toward over-the-top marriage proposals, events that require significant planning on the part of the would-be groom. The stories were lavish, creative and required extensive planning. And some of them were ridiculous.

But I don’t want to criticize, because I think proposals should be planned — they should be thoughtful. Or spontaneous. In other words, they should be individual and personal. And a proposal is a great way for a man to shine, whereas the wedding is all about the bride.

As for my proposal:  When I was finally ready for marriage, it took several months for the love of my life to catch up…even though we already had a home and two children together. I feel a deep sense of shame as I confess that my ex was so cheap that he was surprised to learn that I wanted a ring.

He actually first proposed one night when we were out with another couple. His demeanor toward me had been so hostile that the couple we were with thought it was a joke. He ignored me or was rude toward me for much of the evening, and then he pulled out a gauche “drag queen” ring — the kind with an adjustable band that became popular about a year later. Needless to say, I requested a do-over (with a ring I might actually be inclined to wear). Lest I sound like a complete asshole (and maybe I am), we had gone out and looked at rings together. He knew exactly the style I was hoping for, as well as my ring size (and the budget we had discussed). He knew I was hoping for a little romance.

So let’s get back to the proposal, part deux, months later:  My mother was watching the children and my guy was going to take me out to dinner “somewhere special, somewhere we’d had drinks but not dinner.” We pulled up…and the restaurant was closed. So then we decided to go to a Thai place that we’d frequented before children. His proposal was interrupted by a server bringing out some egg rolls. In other words, there was little forethought and absolutely no planning put into what I had hoped would be a special and romantic memory for us to reminisce about for years to come. He hadn’t bothered to call and make a reservation, nor ordered champagne. I tried to be thrilled and delighted at this dream-come-true but, in my heart, I felt hurt that he hadn’t put thought or effort into creating something special. And, in the end, it was another in a long chain of disappointments.

Maybe some of you, maybe especially the guys, will read this and think that it’s my own foolish expectations that got me into this mess. But who among us doesn’t hope for a little romance? My desires were not unrealistic; my demands not too great…I left a great deal of my heart open to possibility, open to allowing myself to be surprised. Alas, it was not to be.

So cheers to those guys with the elaborate schemes. I’m sure the women in their lives will appreciate the thoughtfulness and planning, and they will have a story to share and remember for many years to come.

redefining responsibility

I was a solid step parent. I loved my wasband’s children, who were into their late teens and early adulthood during our relationship. Both of their parents were conflict and difficult topic averse, so I had many of the “difficult conversations” with them — we talked about sex, drugs, relationships and more. But where I really excelled in this role was not getting sucked into the shit and actually seeing and pointing out the dysfunction in my ex’s family.

Here’s what would happen:  someone from the outside, maybe a distant cousin, would attack my then partner. His children would then launch into two behaviors:

  • Protect their mother
  • Defend their father

Let me comment on these:  No child is ever responsible for protecting or defending either of their parents. I don’t care whether my stepchildren were already late teens or in early adulthood. The only time this behavior may be necessary is when the parents are compromised or infirm, through age, disease or mental disorders. But children often carve out roles in the family based on birth order, socialization or other circumstances, and end up contributing to the dysfunction rather than mitigating it. And then they carry these dysfunctional responses with them into adulthood, as many of us have.

The truly important thing here, and one that many of us overlook, is the way we respond to attacks or bad behavior:

Think of the word “responsible”  — it’s true meaning is “ability to respond.” So what are we responding to? The words or the behavior? Sometimes the ability to respond means knowing which of these to respond to. Often, rather than jumping in to a frenzy of verbal warfare (responding to the words), it’s best to simply say, “That was mean. I don’t appreciate you attacking my family. It’s none of your business” or “Ouch; that hurt!” (responding to the behavior).

Years after my own parents’ divorce, my father used to call me and, during every conversation, he would bring up my mother with some snide or sarcastic remark like, “Your mother called to tell you she loves you.” However true it may have been that my mother was, at this time, reserved and relatively inattentive, I eventually had to ask my father to stop bringing her up in conversation and that I would have my own relationship with my mother, thank you very much.

My mother, for her part, called and visited frequently while going through her own divorce. Again, I listened and empathized…but, after I’d heard her repeating the same feelings and questions (e.g. “why?”) several times, I reflected back to her that she was allowing her mind to dwell in these thoughts — much like a broken record skips back and plays the same part of a song over and over (for those of you who remember turntables and vinyl, anyway). I suggested she talk to a therapist and, while I didn’t hear from her again for a few weeks immediately following my pointed recommendation, our relationship is now more open than ever.

So today I ask you to think about the relationships in your life and what type of responsibility you have in them. How able are you to respond? Are you responding to words or behaviors? How well do you navigate which to use when?

I’d love to hear your thoughts or stories.

does character have any correlation with looks?

This Huffington Post article recommending that women think twice before getting serious with attractive men generated more discussion than I’ve seen in a long time. Then there was the rebuttal, also on Huffington Post, from a man’s perspective, as well as numerous other responses in blogs, social media and the like.

Even after reading and participating in some of the discussion, my unscientific and completely un-researched response remains the same:  looks have nothing to do with character. And whether someone cheats is a question of a) character and b) vulnerability.

Webster’s defines character as “…a distinctive trait, behavior typical of a person or group, moral strength, reputation…”

For the purposes of this discussion, let’s focus on the behavior part of this definition. Being in any sort of relationship with another human allows us to observe a series or pattern of behaviors. These behaviors began to take shape in childhood, through the guidance of parenting or at school or various other forms of social engagement. Over time, we can see patterns in those behaviors that make up character.

This entire discussion reminds me of a little chat I had with my former brother-in-law. I’d heard his family was about to host a teacher from another country for several months. This young Spanish fellow had friended my sister-in-law on Facebook and she had remarked to me that he was really good-looking. So, when my bro-in-law asked if I’d heard the news, I said, “Yeah, that’s really cool, and Veronica said he’s pretty cute, too!”

Of course I was teasing, but this came back to haunt me in a later conversation when I was “sat down and given a talking to.” My brother-in-law apparently didn’t have a sense of humor about this, and asked me if I was able to see how he might be upset and yada-yada-yada. My response, “No. You should know your wife better than I do. And I can imagine she’s ever given you any reason to question her trustworthiness.”

In other words, it cuts both ways — I mean for men and for women. You should know by now the character of the people you’re closest to. And looks don’t have a damn thing to do with it.

As for vulnerability…well, that’s another discussion entirely. Let’s just say that most people who “fall into” a relationship that they didn’t plan on were vulnerable, either because they weren’t getting needs fulfilled at home or because they failed to put the proper guard rails in place.

At forty, I can no longer say “never,” because I’ve simply seen and experienced too much. But I think we can mitigate the chances of finding ourselves with a cheater by observing character and giving our relationship the proper attention.

cheers to the independent girls!

I spent time with a girlfriend over the weekend with whom I have a few things in common. We’re both divorced; our relationships fell apart right around the same time in our lives (roughly 40, and with children at about the same ages) — the difference is that she’s a decade older, and so her divorce has been final for far longer.

And here’s what I noticed about our interactions:

  • We met at a beach, and she’s clearly more comfortable with her body / in her skin. I suspect some of this has to do with her being more fit than I am, but women have a bad habit of being self-critical regardless of physical condition — so either that’s maturity or a natural self-assuredness or perhaps it’s just that she hasn’t had someone making negative remarks to her in the past decade. Surprising how long it can take to banish that voice!
  • She is completely self-sufficient and free. Her children are both college-aged, independent, working and, while they’re living at home for the summer, they help with the grocery shopping and such, too. She doesn’t have to think about picking them up from childcare at a certain time…how nice!
  • She looks amazing and nowhere near her age — and she doesn’t wear makeup. Maybe I should try going au natural? I rarely wore makeup (before that last corporate gig where everyone seemed to be in a fashion show), and I’m big on letting my inner beauty shine through.
  • She is so over the ex, the divorce, etc. I start talking about my past relationship, and I find myself becoming snarky, bitter, resentful or angry. I’m thrilled to know that, at some point, all of that baggage will just be gone.
  • She’s bought herself a fabulous car and has had a great deal of remodeling done on her house — clearly she is comfortably in the driver’s seat in her life. Sometimes I still feel as though I’m looking around, waiting for some man to magically appear in a tool belt to take care of things.

As I wrote in my last post, I am getting better about these things. I am stepping back into full accountability for everything in my life — my happiness, my home, my car, my career, my parenting and all my decisions. And I am beginning to feel fulfilled again regardless of whether there’s a man in my life — I can live happily without.

I am also committed to being myself, flying my freak flag and letting the men (and women) who are intimidated or turned off by that to opt out of my life. It’s okay; they’re doing me a favor. I am (to take a phrase from John Randolph Price’s The Abundance Book) my source and my substance.

Independence Day status report

Today, Independence Day to be exact, seems like as good a day as any to report on the status of my own independence…and I do have some good news to report:

Today I felt that old, elusive feeling…the feeling I recall feeling at thirty (a decade ago), after I’d purchased my first condo and luxury car, knowing that I was self-reliant and could allow myself abundance. I felt a glimpse of that in-the-flow, abundant feeling, completely fulfilled, with no need of anything more than what I have here; complete in and grateful for all that I am and all that I have.

Wow! Seems like it’s been a long time since I’ve felt this way, and recognizing it brings the realization that I’ve spent too much time in the past couple of years feeling inadequate, damaged or lonely… in a word, like a failure.

The hidden message or blessing in this is that I don’t feel like I need a man in my life to be complete. At some point, I’d love to find a co-conspirator and partner, but right now I feel happy to be single me, happy to be a mother to my littles and simply filled with joy at being present.

Sure, I’m still dealing with some lingering pain, loneliness and resentment…but even acknowledging that is an act of further letting go, further allowing myself to heal.

And here’s where I come back to the dating thing. At this very moment, I don’t care if I date any time soon. Sure, I’d love to go out and have some fun — and to have someone fun with whom to have fun. But I do have those people — I have girlfriends. Many of the men I’ve met online have proven flaky and seem to not have taken the time to heal themselves. I’m not saying that as a judgment, because I’ve been pretty wishy-washy, too.

What I am saying is “do the work, people!” It’s worth it to heal yourself and be whole before you try it all over again.

independent, with nagging doubts

Happy Independence Day! It’s an incredibly beautiful day here, and I’ve spent the first part of my day enjoying the sunshine and cool breeze, chatting with neighbors, puttering about doing some household projects, and reflecting on all I have to be grateful for this long, holiday weekend to myself.

This weekend, my daughter has gone with a friend to their family cabin. This is her first long weekend away with anyone other than family…and it kind of scares me.

While the girls have been discussing this potential for some time, I had cautioned my daughter that I hadn’t yet connected with her friend’s parents. First, I would have anticipated a call from them inviting my daughter to go along with them. And then I would have anticipated detailed information:

  • Where is the cabin?
  • At what number can my daughter / they be reached?
  • Who will be there?
Because I hadn’t heard from my daughter’s friend’s parents, I assumed they had made a decision that their daughter would not be bringing friends along for this “family” weekend. (Let me add here that I have at least met the parents, though I don’t know them well compared to other families of my children’s friends.) When my daughter brought it up during the week, I told her she needed to call her friend and begin the conversation. She never did.
Still, I suppose I should not have been surprised when my daughter tearfully called late Friday afternoon saying that she and her friend were still conspiring for this weekend trip. I expressed my concerns with my daughter and with my ex, who was “responsible” for the children for the weekend. While I allowed for him, my daughter and the friend’s parents to make this decision, I gave him a list of information to acquire in the process. He, of course, protested that I should have called the parents and gotten this information during the week. However, to my earlier point, I assumed the friend’s parents had no intention of including my daughter — and how weird is it to call someone and say, “So, are you planning on taking my child to your cabin this weekend? Because I have some questions…” It’s like calling someone and saying, “So I heard you’re having a party; am I invited?”
I have since heard nothing. So, while I would feel more responsible if I called my ex and asked him if he got all that information I’d asked for, just thinking about it makes me feel like a nag. And I’ve never considered myself a nag, never wanted to be a nag and have only occasionally found myself driven to nag under circumstances such as this, where there was no communication nor action. And I shouldn’t have to. My wasband should be as concerned for our daughter’s welfare as I am, and he should have the decency to fill me in on the details.
So, while I enjoy the weekend, I also occasionally stew, wondering if I should have been a firmer parent and just said “no” and being irritated with my ex for his lack of follow-up. Meanwhile, I trust in my daughter’s solid sense of self and her excellent memorization of my phone number.
At some point, we have to let go and trust that we’ve taught them well, right? I’m just not entirely certain I was ready for this yet.

my eyes are on the prize

The theme for the past week or so is keeping my eyes on the prize. It’s popped up in dialogue with friends, in horoscopes, on the radio…

So what is the prize?

Well…it’s not any of the men I’ve written about here, regardless of how much I’m intrigued by or adore them. It’s not my current day job.

The prize is enjoying life now.

The prize is spending quality time with my children.

The prize is good health.

The prize is a healthy, loving relationship.

The prize is fulfilling work that shares something positive with the world.