Author Archives: failedatforty

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death gives our lives structure

I’m paraphrasing here, but I heard a sentiment today on a podcast that said something like, “death gives structure to our lives.” I wrote it down on a slip of paper, tore it off the pad and shoved it into my pocket as I left the office earlier.

Here’s why it stuck with me and I was compelled to bring it up:  To optimize choice, it’s suggested (based on computer algorithms) that we consider 37 percent of our options and then chose the next best option we come across. You can apply this to searching for a mate, a restaurant for dinner, a house…

But I’m in my mid forties. My life is, ostensibly, half over. And, as I shared with my children the other day, I am driven by fear. Meaning:  I am not driven by fear of water, fear of heights, fear of sharks, fear of injury… Nay, I am driven by fear of not experiencing all I want to experience while I am still physically able and alive. But, in truth, it is less fear than lust for life; I have already experienced so much more than many around me:  I have water skied, slalomed, knee boarded and tubed behind a boat; I have yet to wakeboard. I have paddle boarded and surfed in the ocean. I have also downhill skied, hiked, biked, learned karate, run, skated, tried and enjoyed many flavors and textures of food and drink… I have traveled, but not everywhere or even to every continent. In short, I am somewhat driven to experience as much as humanly possible.

Why call it fear? Mostly to contrast a “healthier” fear to one of my children’s sometimes limiting fear of heights.

By the same token, I am not afraid of living / spending my life alone. My desire for partnership is stronger than my fear of embarking on another round of online dating. If there is fear in my quest for partnership, it is only the fear of not giving my children what I believe so strongly they deserve:  a loving and healthy relationship model.

So these are the thoughts in my head as we embark on vacation number two for the year… I will embrace adventure for myself and for them, I will use my vacation time, and we will all get on an airplane no less than three times a year to explore all the wonderful places to see, meet all the people there are to meet and thrust ourselves into the world with abandon.

And then, when we come back, I will brave yet another round of online dating and see if I might be able to apply this 37 percent algorithm somehow. You’ll be the first to know!

slogging through the grief

Grief weighs on me. When I finally lie down at the end of the day, my body feels leaden as it sinks deep into my mattress.

Sometimes it feels like a battering ram to the chest. I spend entire days struggling to catch my breath, yawning, wondering if my inability to breathe is physical or psychological.

I’d like to maintain that I’ve always had a healthy emotional range, experiencing the rich ups and downs of a life fully embraced. But the intensity of my emotions lately is such that I wonder if I’ve ever felt anything before. Unfortunately, these emotions have been predominantly negative, difficult and hard — a real slog. The rage, sadness and deep hurt have been overwhelming at times. I’ve spent entire days at my desk on the verge of sobbing convulsively, only to go home, get on the lake and wonder why on earth I’d been so emotional earlier.

Meanwhile, I think I’m managing the work reasonably well, but it’s difficult to ask for recognition when your emotional bandwidth and, possibly, self awareness has been reduced to a minimum.

I recognize all of this as grief, all part of the process. And I am feeling my way, wading through it, as I know there are no other options. Do I wish it were easier, shorter, over? Hell yeah! Do I hope processing through it heals me deeply, permanently? Yes.

A good friend is full of aphorisms about grief:

Grief doesn’t give credit for time served.

There is no way around grief; only through it.

Grief is cumulative.

My ex’s death, the end of my relationship with Lee, the more recent passing of my last living grandparent, a tough school year, a doubled workload…add it up. It’s been a lot. Overwhelming, even. Somedays I wonder how it is that I’ve kept going, kept on getting out of bed, running, showering, feeding myself and my children, going to work… I won’t claim to have been doing any of it well. Every so often, I have a good, strong moment… a period during which I clear some clutter or plan ahead instead of just getting through.

I’m a throw-everything-at-it kind of person:  I’m going to acupuncture, seeing my chiropractor, spending time with friends, confiding in colleagues, eating healthy, taking supplements, exercising, meditating, getting lots of rest…

It has, for the past week or so, gotten easier. My perspective is shifting. I hope that’s a lasting trend.

And, after all of this, I’m actually looking forward to the grief counseling that starts in a couple of weeks.

mad, now sad

I’ve shared that I spent somewhere in the neighborhood of six to eight weeks feeling sheer, murderous rage… No, I didn’t hurt anybody, and I’ve moved on: Now I’m sad. Not depressed…but genuinely, deeply sad.

I credit all this to my ex who passed (or committed suicide, one sip at a time, depending on how you look at it) six months ago and the relationship that blossomed and disappeared all within two months of that…and then my workload doubled, my child got a concussion and my last remaining grandparent died, yada yada yada. This is life; I get it… but could the shit storm of it end for a few months, please?! All I’m asking is for a brief reprieve of ease, abundance, and good times — or a lotto win — to heal, to get beyond thinking about Lee every. single. day. Biggest mindfuck of my life! And biggest heartbreak.

As grateful as I am for a rich and rewarding life, my feelings are swaying me harder than they have ever before. I am able to get up and exercise, coach and manage others, move forward in life, behave as though everything is normal…and yet I ache. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt this much…or allowed myself to. And it sucks! Is every breakup worse than the one before?

The ridiculous thing is, I’ve been — off and on, when I’m feeling most emotionally healthy and balanced — meeting new people. I’m of two minds about this:  One is in no way am I emotionally in a place where I should be looking to start a relationship. Two is that no other cure beats getting back on that horse. Ugh. What strangeness it is to feel so broken and, at a macro level, so incredibly ready to find my life mate!

As my therapist would say, “hold the tension.”

Here’s the deal (in case the universe is listening — please tell me you saw the Bill Nye / Amy Schumer video about the universe!):  I’ve made my peace with being a single woman — I’ve learned to love single life, to live independently, to enjoy rich relationships with my children and girlfriends…and I. AM. SO. DONE. I want partnership. I’ve wanted partnership. I’ve stopped looking in the wrong places. I’ve stopped getting distracted by the latest bright, shiny object. I’ve found the balance between too many filters and not enough. I’m ready.

And I’m premenstrual. And, you’ll be glad to know, I’m starting grief counseling (along with my children) in two weeks.

sometimes when I think I’ve gone crazy…

I’ve had an emotional few days, after running into Lee and getting the cold shoulder. I recognize that my grief about the loss of our loving relationship is all tied up with my ex’s death, given their timing…so, when I’ve struggled emotionally, I’ve struggled mightily. I’m not trying to cast blame; I’m merely trying to get back to a good place — a place where my confidence doesn’t feel so shaken, a place where I can move forward, where I’m ready and able to meet someone and create something as amazing or better than what Lee and I shared.

Given the craziness of it all, I’ve occasionally had to check myself. Was it really that great? Am I just making up how good we were together?

Those friends of mine who’d met Lee had universally positive feedback — they could see how easy and natural we were together, they said he seemed solid and stable, and they commented on how clearly into me he was. That helps, but…

A couple of times now — after our email exchanges and after seeing him the other day — I’ve scrolled back through the relationship documented in our text history as if I were an anthropologist looking for evidence of how those two lived and related. Through these exchanges, I see two people clearly smitten with one another, flirting, teasing and making plans in a way that — had I not been a part of it — I would have envied.

But I was there. I (blue bubbles, below) was crazy about him. And he (gray) was crazy about me. Here are just a few examples:

This was an exchange the evening after he’d first told me he loved me:

A couple of days later, Lee’d had friends over for the evening. They were playing guitar and singing, while I was enjoying family time with my children.

This one may be TMI:

Then there was this…after I’d left his place on Valentine’s Day, when we’d planned the California vacation.

“You’re so right in so many ways.”

“…good times ahead for you and I [sic].”

“I missed you five minutes after you walked out.”

I feel a little guilty about sharing these screen shots, almost as though I’ve invited you into the bedroom with us. Our relationship was ours, private and sacred, not something I’d be writing about at all if we were together today. Yet, for all the times someone’s asked me what happened, heard my story and assured me it’s not me who’s crazy, I still can’t wrap my head around how we went from bliss to no communication practically overnight — and, now, to icy civility.

I know I need to stop looking back in order to embrace today and move forward. Still, seeing real, tangible evidence that we were so, so good together helps me feel a little more sane.

an awkward answer

The more time that’s passed since I last saw Lee, the more the anger has dissipated. I’ve been meditating more again, trying to connect to the unified field and focusing on opening my heart to genuinely welcome my true mate.

Interestingly, when I closed my eyes and imagined him (this elusive life mate) walking toward me, taking my hands and standing face to face, it was often Lee’s face that appeared in my mind. One day recently, I was listening to an audio program about how to spot a conscious man (because “conscious” manifests differently in men than it does in women), when my son walked in the room. He listened for a moment to the ways the interviewee described a conscious male and said, “Lee.”

So my heart has been softening, fond memories resurfacing and, every so often, I’ve imagined what it would be like to see Lee again.

Today that happened.

Let me pause and share that my imagined reunions included a warm exchange of greetings followed by a long embrace. Have you ever watched a daytime drama? You know, where people greet each other with a dramatic and meaningful:

How are you?

And then they really listen for an answer. That’s how I imagined it would be, I guess…that we’d recognize that we cared for one another, that we shared fond memories, that we once meant something to one another.

That is not remotely how our meeting went.

My son and I were on a popular local walking path when I saw someone who looked vaguely familiar walking toward us along the path. As the distance decreased, it looked a lot like Lee. My heart skipped a beat as I realized it was Lee walking with a colleague I’d recognized from pictures. I’m sure my jaw dropped and I was ready to share a moment as he nodded, said “hello” and kept walking…

I turned my head and body around as he walked by, lowering my sunglasses and looking at him quizzically. Sensing that our now awkward interaction was not yet over, he turned and asked, “Doing well?”

“Yes,” I stupidly answered, though it was clearly a lie — at least in that moment, “You?”

“Doing well,” he answered, his body still facing the opposite way, willing him to get the hell out of there as quickly as humanly possible. Meanwhile, his confused colleague and I clearly were not going to be introduced.

We turned and kept walking, the distance between us growing, no longer possible to bridge.

Just a few days ago, as I dipped a toe back into the dating scene, I wondered whether Lee ever thought of me… I guess there was a part of my heart holding out hope that he might come back, thinking that he might be my unicorn.

Now I know for certain he’s not.

It’s only after an encounter like this that I wish I would have had the presence to be truly genuine, to answer transparently:

“No, actually; you broke my heart.”

The only minor satisfaction I get is knowing he had to explain the awkwardness to his colleague afterward… and noting that, like me, he hadn’t managed to drop any of his winter weight.

Beyoncé, where are you with that Lemonade when I need you?!

what would you do if…

Many of my friends have asked what I would do if Lee wanted to come back into my life, something he’s alluded to.

To be honest, I don’t know. I don’t know how I might respond if he called me tomorrow, or in three months or in a year. You’d think it would be easy to say:

Buzz off, douchebag!

But rarely is life so black and white. As my girlfriend and I surmised, you can’t go back and you can’t not go back.

You can’t go back because he bid adieu to a fantastic relationship via text, with nothing nearing a sufficient explanation. And then, when communication was — by reasonable person standards — called for, he ignored and delayed. And that, too, was hurtful.

And yet, when there is such a rare and unique connection which seems not to have run its course, it’s unimaginable to not try again. Certainly trust would need to be rebuilt, the pace would need to be slowed, serious consideration given up front to long-term wants and desires. I’m not certain Lee had ever even thought about what he might want post divorce.

Here’s what scared me most when Lee left:  Smart people are uniquely capable of being incredibly screwed up. If he decided that something about us was wrong; he would be able to create whatever reasoning or justification he needed as evidence to back it up. Who knows? Maybe that’s exactly what he needed to do to be able to walk away.

Another thing that I’ve frequently witnessed among men is that, after going through the harrowing, emotionally-intense process of divorce, they decide they never want to marry again. Many eventually do marry again; but I won’t be the woman compromising my own desires to be in a relationship with someone who says in the beginning that commitment is off the table.

Finally, the man who wants to be with me also must want to be a full-time parent to my children. For someone whose children are grown or who has a 50-50 custody arrangement, stepping into such a role may not appeal. 

As I shared all this with my therapist a few weeks back, she stated what should have been obvious:

You can never go back. You can only go forward. So if Lee comes back into your life someday, it won’t be ‘going back;’ it will be a new beginning.

So it’s a crapshoot. If Lee ever decides he wants to be back in my life, I know him well enough to know that he’ll work for it aggressively; he’ll have back-up plans and back-ups to his back-up plan to ensure our paths cross. And I’ll respond based on how I feel at the time.

Right now, I still think about him every day. Guess I’m not over it yet.

I have my theories…

I mentioned earlier that men and women reacted very differently to the story of Lee suddenly taking leave of our very happy relationship. It was mostly my male friends, who so adamantly wanted an explanation for me, who wanted to speculate…

Did he go to the doctor and get some sort of terminal diagnosis?

It seems people like to come up with outlandish reasons to explain why others do things that don’t make sense to them. It’s as though they need to match a dramatic act with something equally or more dramatic.

In talking with a close girlfriend, who was once a therapist, plus my actual therapist, we pieced together some clues that might just make some sense of what happened:

Lee spoke to his adult daughter two days before he sent me that awful, heart-wrenching text. He was going to ask her to join us on our California trip…

I was once a young woman with a divorced father. He would regale me with tales of women he flirted with, especially if they were younger. And I didn’t hesitate to let him know that I had zero interest in a step mother, especially if she came with even more dreaded younger step siblings.

Why would Lee’s daughter respond any differently? Perhaps she’s a bigger person than I was at her age. Perhaps she’s not.

So here’s her father, not yet divorced from her mother, asking her to come to California for a vacation where she’ll get to spend time with him…and his new girlfriend…and her two children. It doesn’t sound good, does it? It may have even been upsetting. Then imagine she talks to her mother…

The next day, Lee sent that weird text about his personal business, at the end of which he asked, “is that ok babe?” …which not only gave me a super-weird vibe, but also made it seem like this was unplanned. (Not that it would have mattered to me either way, because I didn’t expect to spend every evening with him, nor did I concern myself with his whereabouts.)

So perhaps it was a meeting with the lawyers during which his soon-to-be-ex unleashed her displeasure at how he was behaving, particularly in relation to their children (very upsetting!), then vowing to use her twenty-plus years of subject matter expertise on him to inflict as much pain and make the proceedings as drawn out as possible…

What is a man to do? Especially when he realizes that his ex is at least partially right as it relates to their children, grown or not. And that, while all along he’s been trying to play nice, he’s unintentionally sabotaged himself by being too free with his current happiness.

The next morning, he sent the text that left me shocked and bewildered.

Perhaps his ex is an emotionally unstable, vindictive bitch. Perhaps she has every reason to be angry. Perhaps she is a kind and decent human who is only looking out for the children. Perhaps she had her heart broken. Perhaps Lee is the villain of this story.

I’m only speculating here, and certainly not offering excuses for Lee’s or anyone else’s bad behavior. It just seemed fitting to close out this chapter by acknowledging that there may be a plausible explanation for what seemed so incredibly crazy from my perspective and those of my friends…

Still. It doesn’t change the fact that my heart is broken.

feelings not mutual

A bit ago I told you about a someone who’d befriended me using Tinder. I got to know his family, and they were generous and kind and supportive, especially as I was going through the loss of my children’s father / my ex.

In addition to those positive qualities, he was also insistent, pushy, interruptive — I mean he texted me waaaay too often during the workday. Sometimes I was put off by the way he behaved toward his wife, who I genuinely liked. And I was very direct with him about his being too needy, wanting to take up my time, insisting he become my best friend, etc. All of which is a bit weird, right? But I chalked it up to cultural differences and maintained my own boundaries.

Sometimes he was too suggestive, and I would immediately put him in his place. There is no way someone who is not available (single) is going to get away with disrespecting his wife / marriage — or me, for that matter — with that sort of crap. He passed this behavior off as his desire for a “Frazier – Roz” type relationship. I told him Frazier was single, so that wasn’t happening.

I had coffee with his wife once. She told me she appreciated how I put him in his place and said that our friendship had actually strengthened their marriage. I told her, truthfully, that I thought of him as a running buddy.

And then, while on a family vacation, this friend sent me an email expressing his feelings. He suggested that I was in his thoughts far too often, expressed his jealousy of Lee, wrote that he would commit to me in a heartbeat if things were different… Ultimately, it sounded almost like an offer. And, candidly, I was extremely put off. His missive was verging on an Anna Karenina type tragedy — lovers who pine for each other but cannot be together.

Except that I had no such feelings for him. Never have. Not even a little bit.

I was repulsed, and I found it repugnant that he would say such things — especially since he was supposed to be spending quality time with his family.

So I ended our friendship. I couldn’t possibly continue in a relationship of any kind with someone who thought that way about me, but was married.

Then I got an email from his wife, who thanked me for no longer being friends with her husband but asked if she could continue to be friends with me.

All of which left me shaking my damn head.

I made an effort to become friends with people very unlike me in ways — with cultural and religious differences. I thought this relationship might enrich both of our families. And for awhile, it appeared that might be the case. But I’m not willing to risk putting myself or others in a situation that’s not healthy for all involved.

Seems all kinds of relationships are coming to a conclusion in my life…but I’m not able to feel equally at peace about them all.

where we left off

A few weeks had gone by since Lee had texted me. I spent the time getting plenty of rest, meditating, exercising, taking care of minor household projects that had been put off because I’d spent so much time with him, I hadn’t found the time to take care of them. It felt good to hang a few pictures and such.

I respected his need for space…for the most part. Yeah, I slipped once and sent him a link to a tragic song that I was listening to on replay. He didn’t reply.

As I mentioned, I got a lot of advice after telling friends that we were no longer an item. But here’s something you can use:

Don’t take relationship advice from someone who’s single.

Remember, as far as I knew, Lee still had a plane ticket for our California trip, and there was no way I wanted him tagging along on a family vacation given where things stood. I was sure he wouldn’t think of it, but we had made the plans together, which legitimately required some discussion. So, with the sensible guidance of a long-married girlfriend (not to mention numerous reassurances that several long-time couples had “taken a break”), I sent a neutral-sounding text:

Hey, it’s been a few weeks. Hope you’re well. We should probably discuss California.

No response.

If you’ve imagined that, by now, steam is coming out of my ears, you’d be right! I was pi-issed! (Yeah; two syllables.)

So after a few days, I sent an email laying out my assumptions…also restraining myself as much as possible to sound at least somewhat neutral, as if his response didn’t matter in the least to me. He replied, apologizing, confirming he wasn’t going to be on the flight (thank heavens!) and answering my logistical question. And then he tripped up:

“I will cherish much of the time we spent together.”

…which, at this point, was just unnecessarily rubbing salt into the open wound that was my heart. You guessed it — more steam coming out of my ears!

I replied:

“…much of the time…” Classy.

Two days later, he emailed back to — again — apologize, tell me he enjoyed every moment of our time together, acknowledge he’d behaved badly, say he hoped I could forgive him and that he’d like to connect after his divorce was final, and to wish me a fabulous vacation. Oh, and perhaps most importantly, he highlighted our trip to paradise and sledding among the best of our times together.

Now I wasn’t just angry; I was conflicted. I waited until vacation to respond, then affirming that he had behaved deplorably (because badly didn’t convey the egregiousness of his offense), that I was processing through a number of mixed feelings, and that I couldn’t have imagined that anyone could have walked away from what we had.

No response.

I want to wrap this up quickly because, as I’ve been writing about it, I’ve been processing through it all again, spending a few days in a very dark, very angry mood. I spoke with my daughter about it, apologizing for my crabbiness over a couple of days, and she said:

“Couple of days? Try the last six weeks!”

So I acknowledged that I’d been incredibly happy when Lee and I were together, and that I hadn’t dealt very well with this break, whatever it was… Part of the issue was ambiguity:  I’d had the rug pulled out from under me, and I didn’t have a voice in any of it. In writing the posts leading up to this one, I referred back to our text history — which further confirmed the wonderful exchanges of plans and feelings we’d shared — and brought a lot of feelings back to the surface. I didn’t know whether Lee would try to come back into my life or when, and I didn’t know how I’d respond if he did.

I’m generally pretty good at screwing my head back on straight, but this time I finally decided to set up time with my therapist. And then I emailed Lee again, asking him to be a dear and please put a few of the belongings I’d left at his place into the mail for me. I ended the message with “Goodbye.”

It was a small act, but it made me feel as though I’d had some say — that I could bookend our relationship, which I needed to do in order to move on.

how men and women reacted differently to this news

As I mentioned, I was confused, hurt, angry and more about Lee’s text telling me he needed some time. For a while I was convinced that he’d chucked me, then I was hopeful I’d hear from him after a few weeks. I also thought ahead to what might happen if he did want to come back into my life:  it would be difficult to regain the trust I’d had for him after a move like that…if it was possible at all.

Colleagues and friends asked me how things were going and, after catching them up on recent happenings, I noticed a trend in the way men and women responded to the news:

My girlfriends:

It’s not you; this is all about him.

When God closes a door, he opens a window.

This one’s not meant to be. Something better is just around the corner.

Move on. Get back on the horse.

He wasn’t the one for you. The one for you is looking for you now.

In other words, the women’s advice was largely something like, “let it go; move on.”

My male friends and colleagues had a very different response to my story:

You deserve an explanation.

You need to call him and demand answers!

Something had to have happened, and you deserve to know what it was.


You need / deserve closure.

My response to these well-intended gentlemen was this:  What reason could possibly be good enough? Particularly given the way he left things. Had he met me somewhere and sat down and actually talked about his feelings and asked me for understanding, this situation would look much different than it does. As it stands, there is no possible explanation that could suffice for what he did and the way he did it.

One male friend actually said:

This is a good thing. You need him to finalize his divorce, so that he can be available to you. And don’t worry:  there are not trainloads of women looking for a man like Lee.

Perhaps the most hilarious response came from a girlfriend with a penchant for calling while consuming wine. She is often slurring by the end of our conversations. She told me how nice it had been to meet my boyfriend and went on to say how comfortable he seemed amidst the chaos (of the fish fry, at which all of our children were present)…

She went on until I cut her off with:

We’re through. He needed some time.

She said:

You should keep that door open. He seemed stable, kind and well-adjusted.

I said:

He ended it via text.

She said:

I hope you never speak to him again! The man’s an idiot. He has no idea how dumb a move he just made! You were totally out of his league. You look a good 15 years younger than he does. Not smart enough to know how good he had it!

But wait! There’s more to this story…I’ll fill you in soon.