my myth-busting mania

After another stupid example of how I waste my time (e.g. last Friday’s “date“), let me acknowledge that I am in regular struggle with two aspects of myself:

  • There is the side that knows, with confidence, who I am and with whom I connect. I was pretty sure that date was going nowhere before I even got to the restaurant. It was as though the eager fellow got me to say yes and then self-sabotaged every step to follow.
  • And then there’s the side of me that argues that I need break out of my comfort zone, explore people, places and situations I might not have before and give others a chance.

This struggle, it’s fair to say, is something I’ve been conscious of since college. There was a guy who was so determined to date me that I allowed him to talk me in to it, even though I knew he was not my intellectual equal. It was flattering to have someone work so hard to win me over, I suppose. I must have learned something from the experience…like…hmmm…I don’t know, I guess maybe I learned how great it can feel to break up with someone, how powerful to reclaim the self, when one realizes that their initial impression was correct.

Nearly 20 years on, I suppose I believe I should be beyond all this. I’m stronger in many ways, and I know myself better. Yet divorce has shaken my self-esteem to the ground and broken my heart wide open. And the prevailing advice is that I should keep an open mind and allow myself to receive attention from all kinds of men to hone in on what really feels good to me.

And then I hear tidbits like this:  a friend told me a few days ago that I shouldn’t be wasting my time with anyone whose net worth is less than a million dollars. This sort of standard feels a bit arbitrary, but I think there’s an important point behind it. Who do I believe to be my equal, my match? And why am I attracting anything less?

As I pondered all this, I realized I’m not sure how to balance all the conflicting messages that come my way. And, on some level, I must be putting out some energy that’s not quite resolved within myself. So I set myself to the task of identifying my beliefs and misconceptions about men and dating, so that I might begin to release or clear those that no longer serve me.

To give you an example of the type of junk I’ve found in my mind, I can specifically recall a time last year when I was thinking about Max:  I was driving a familiar road near my home, on my way to run an errand and I remember thinking what a great, genuine, kind man he is. And then, that back-talk voice in my head (the one I sometimes describe as “rational”) argued, “I wonder what’s wrong with him? No man is that nice!” Luckily, I noticed myself thinking this — that he must have an internet porn addiction or shoot up or beat his stepchildren or some other hideous hidden flaw — because I believed that he simply could not be the kind, thoughtful, gentle, sexy soul he was. So I challenged this notion. There is also inside me a perpetual optimist, someone who believes in the good in all of us. This voice queried, “What if that’s all and he’s just a decent guy? What if he is kind and faithful and committed and flirtatious and sporty — and what if he does have flaws like the rest of us, but he’s not bad at all?”

And so I embarked on a more conscious, programmatic approach to challenging the kind of beliefs that might hinder me in attracting my ideal mate and relationship. Here is some of the “junk” I found I was hanging onto:

  • I’ll never find my perfect mate.
  • It’s hard to meet men in this city.
  • I’m too overweight / frumpy / motherly to be attractive.
  • If a man loves me, there must be something wrong with him.
  • Attractive men my age want someone skinny, blond and 20 years younger.
  • No one wants a woman who already has children.
  • No man will fully and completely love the real me.
  • I always choose the wrong man.
  • I have to be careful about letting anyone see the real me.
  • I don’t know how to communicate my needs in a relationship.
  • I am fundamentally unlovable (flawed).
  • I fail at love.
  • My perfect mate is not here.
  • I’ve already met my perfect mate and he doesn’t know it or doesn’t want me.
  • Quality men are hard to find.
  • All the good men are taken or gay.

Some of this garbage has been in my head probably since my first crush in grade school; thus the contradictions. Who even knows where a lot of it comes from, as it’s certainly not all from direct experience. And these old, worn-out beliefs are not serving any positive purpose in my life, so I’m going to challenge them by over-writing them with some new ones:

  • The right kind of men find me attractive for all the right reasons.
  • I know myself well enough to choose a perfect mate.
  • My heart is open to the abundance in the universe.
  • I am fully and completely lovable just as I am.
  • I am able to share myself fully and authentically in relationships.
  • There are many wonderful, attractive, intelligent, kind and thoughtful men looking for a genuine emotional connection right now.
  • My perfect mate is seeking me right now.

So now I’m going to commit to being a little more open and willing to take risks. I will put myself out there, meet new men and, in the process, test these new beliefs to see if I can come up with some even better ones!

my own worst enemy

I have a date planned today with someone I met online. I have vowed to keep an open mind, enjoy meeting new people, focus on how I feel when I’m with a man and, ultimately, make better relationship choices. I actually met this fellow for coffee a couple of weeks ago (working around our respective parenting schedules) and we enjoyed each other enough to agree to meet again.

As I go into this date, I am trying to be open to the possibility that I might allow myself to truly enjoy getting to know someone new — no artificial barriers, no comparisons to other men. I have vowed to enjoy dating. Yet I feel the old patterns trying to work their way back. Let me elaborate:

As a Libra, I’m born to partner. I enjoy the sharing and closeness of being in a relationship. I fall quickly and easily, and I feel natural and at ease in the throes of infatuation with a mate. I love falling in love — so much so that one might say I’m in love with being in love. This astrological affectation can also cause a girl to lose herself in the role of girlfriend / wife / lover.

Thus, I’ve been on a relationship treadmill pretty much since high school, from boyfriend to boyfriend, rarely spending enough time enjoying myself to know what I really want or how to express myself authentically in a relationship. The most alone time I’ve ever had was in my marriage — that’s when I figured out who I am, grew strong and realized that the kind of relationship I desire was vastly different from what I had.

When I wasn’t in a relationship, I was crushing hard on someone. Usually someone unavailable…look at Max, for example. Max, married and miles away, was part mad crush, part obsession and probably the perfect fantasy for someone half in and half out of a marriage. He affirmed my strength and renewed my hope that I could find love again. And, not so long after I let the idea of him go, I found someone else — another unavailable man, another long-distance object of my affection — to fill the gap.

I mentioned my current “high water mark” earlier. Most days, I find myself bemused by our flirtatious friendship; it just feels good to have a crush! Other days, I find myself a bit too married to the idea of exploring the energy between us and closed to the possibility that my ultimate life mate might be someone else. Part of me wants to cling to the thought that maybe someday, we might share something truly special. Because it feels somehow safe to think that way. Yet I’ve begun to see how I’m using this hope, this fantasy, as a defensive tactic to prevent me from getting close to anyone new, anyone real, anyone who’s actually here and available and wants to get to know me. He has become an emotional surrogate, an imaginary boyfriend, to whom I unconsciously pledged my faithfulness to prevent myself from letting anyone else in. For the second time in my life, I’m seeing a part of myself that would rather hold out for a fantasy than allow me to risk finding something real, and this realization scares the shit out of me!

I keep telling myself that my high water mark embodies all those qualities I want to find in a partner, but I don’t actually know him that well. This is to say that, while he may indeed have every single characteristic on my list, I haven’t been around him enough to witness or experience those things. And I also tell myself that I’m open to the universe bringing me all those wonderful qualities and more in a partner. But is being open to [insert guy’s name here]+more the same as being open to true possibility? I think not. I’m not truly detached to the outcome. So I’m likely to compare every new man I meet or date to this other guy, rather than measuring him on his own merits and what I experience with him.

Heartbreak creates the illusion that there are two paths to choose from:  on one hand, there’s the fear of being alone; on the other, the fear of setting one’s heart free to love again, to be vulnerable, to let someone in. But I see now that this is a false choice.

My path forward will be to revel in the happiness that can only come from loving myself. And I will cultivate courage, learn to lower my defenses and allow someone entirely new to see me authentically. For perhaps the first time in my life, I’m going to open myself to genuine possibility.

goodbye, Max

About a year ago…

On the final night that we stayed with Max and his family, I took the children to a local attraction while Max and his wife prepared their children for bed. For them, it was back to school as normal.

When we arrived back at the house, Max had already gone to bed, as he had to be to work very early in the morning. I asked his wife to make sure he said good-bye in the morning. It would be the last I’d see of him for who knew how long.

Sure enough, at some ungodly hour that seemed still the middle of the night to me, I heard stirring in the house as Max woke and began readying for work. I tossed and turned, trying to fall back asleep, telling myself it didn’t really matter whether he said good-bye or not. I thought about getting up and brushing my teeth, but didn’t. After what seemed a very long time, I heard steps coming toward the guest room and a knock at the door.

I bolted out of bed just as Max whispered, “I’m off to work, but I wanted to come and tell you good-bye.” We embraced tightly, caressing each others backs. Max leaned down and touched his lips to mine. Damn! Why hadn’t I gotten up to brush my teeth?! It was electric. All the passion we’d buried was in that simple, innocent gesture. We kissed again, lips closed and yet not at all chastely.

The thought that came into my mind is a saying that goes something like this:  A butterfly flaps its wings; far across the sea, a hurricane forms. As if all the energy in this simple act was channelled, reverberating somewhere halfway around the world. (Sure enough, days later, an earthquake occurred off the coast of Chile, causing tsunami fears as far away as Hawaii.)

And then Max left.

I tossed and turned some more, trying to sleep. Eventually, I heard Max’s children getting ready for school, and I woke my own offspring to bid them goodbye. We packed our things for a mid-day departure and took Max’s wife and a mutual friend out for breakfast. We said our good-byes, loaded the rental car and made a few last-minute souvenir stops on our way toward the airport.

As I drove past the intersection at which I would have turned to go to the local office — Max’s office — tears began streaming from my eyes. I wept silently and uncontrollably, dabbing at my eyes and blowing my nose with whatever napkins I could find in the car, trying to contain myself for the sake of my children safely strapped in the back seat. I wept for all that I would never know or share with this man, and for the hope that I would find a partner of my own. I wept all the way to the airport and was, only then, able to pull myself together and brace myself for the our flight back to reality.

vacation to Max land

About a year ago…

And so it was decided:  my children and I would travel to the coast on vacation and stay with family and friends, including Max and his family, while my ex packed up his belongings.

I was nervous, excited and sooo not ready to be seen in a bathing suit by a hottie!

We began our vacation staying with friends and family, going to the beach, the pool, on hikes, boating and more. It was wonderful, relaxing and fun! I felt both embraced in love by the people around me and pushed to the limits of adventure.

As we ventured closer geographically to Max’s home and to the days we would be spending with him and his family, my excitement and nervousness grew. At the same time, I knew that he knew I was near, and both hoped and feared he would reach out to me. He did not.

The day we were to begin our three-night stay at Max’s home, the children and I had a day trip planned. We arrived just in time for dinner, shared warm hugs all around, introduced our children and enjoyed a nice meal.

After dinner, Max’s wife and I sat on the patio with a glass of wine and bonded over horror stories about our failed first marriages. Max excused himself to flip through channels.

Over the next couple of days, we went to the beach, talked work war stories, shared family meals and relaxed. Max’s boss was making his life miserable, and Max was stressed and hangdog about having to go back to the office on Monday. When we talked, it was about exes or work, avoiding anything too intimate or discussion of the closeness that had developed between us via text and email; our relationship was the elephant in the corner.

I pined to reach out and touch Max each and every time we were physically near each other, but of course I daren’t. I was so watchfully conscious of my own behavior that I felt physically awkward. I would have loved to have had some time alone with Max, but I didn’t know whether I could trust myself.

As our families spent our last evening together dining on the patio together, I felt a mild disappointment. Max was a decent guy — still gorgeous, who seemed to be conditioned by an older generation’s gender roles, appeared to be very into his cable channels (read boring) and was, ultimately, disappointingly human. Alas, he was not the super human life force I had recalled from our previous face-to-face encounters. And likely nor was I the dynamic woman he’d anticipated seeing.

It was fair to assume that we were no longer infatuated with one another.

vacation planning

About a year ago…

I was SO stressed out! The children knew we were getting a divorce and I was counting the days until my husband would vacate our home. Winter was raging. I needed a break!

With some trepidation, I approached my boss:  “I’m thinking of taking a two-week vacation with the children while my husband moves out.”

To my surprise, she was very supportive. “Do what you need to do,” she said.

So it was decided. I looked for and bought airline tickets, made plans with the children’s teachers, reached out to friends and relatives on the coast and began to form a plan. Max, of course, was among my friends in the region we’d be visiting.

To my surprise, he was the first to respond with an email, “I think you need to come and stay with us. We have an extra room for you.”

Wow! I was intrigued, titillated, flattered and VERY hesitant.

I confessed the news of Max’s offer to my coworkers in the morning as we met for coffee. “Absolutely not,” my boss advised. “That is a horrible idea!” The other gals agreed that it was quite sweet for him to offer, but sympathized with how difficult it might be for me.

My life was turning into one big swirl of crazy:  one of my girlfriends was leaving her husband for another man, another married girlfriend was exploring her sexuality outside of her marriage, and yet another friend suggested, “Maybe Max and his wife are in to threesomes.”

All this weirdness drove me straight to my counsellor’s office, where I told her every last detail about what was going on in my life and all around me and, of course, about Max…with whom I was pondering staying for part of my family vacation.

Finally she remarked, “It sounds as though you and Max have developed a good friendship. Staying with him and his wife could be very good for you. Being around the example of a healthy, loving relationship may be just what you need.”

Whew! Finally I could confess that I had come to the same conclusion. It would be good to spend time with Max and his wife and children. And having my children there as well would provide remarkably solid guard rails against any temptation I might have.

Still, I felt I had to call Max to discuss:

“Thank you for your generous offer to let us stay with you,” I began. “Have you discussed with your wife?”

“Of course,” he said. “She’s looking forward to seeing you.”

“I hope you’ll understand if I take some time to think about it,” I went on. “It might be kind of difficult for me emotionally, and I’m not sure I’m feeling that strong.”

“Okay,” he said doubtfully, as though he couldn’t possibly understand how this might be an emotional dilemma for me. “We’d love to have you. And the children are eager to make love new friends.”

“I’ll let you know, ” I said and said good-bye.

I suspect men have a lot more practice being friends with women who they find attractive. Personally, I don’t recall having much experience having platonic relationships with men I’ve been drawn to physically and emotionally. Determining how to just be friends with Max was a new challenge for me. And I had no confidence that I’d be any good at it.

me or Max, misunderstood

About 14 months ago…

It was actually before we broke the news to our children that their father was moving out that I had a “lovers’ quarrel” of sorts with Max. Of course we weren’t lovers, and it was more of a misunderstanding that went something like this:

I misinterpreted a joke (I took it too literally) and thought, with disgust, “Who does he think I am? Does he really think I’m that stupid?!” I probably should have responded with this thought, but I’m sure my reply (I no longer recall exactly) was something more passive-aggressive in nature.

He replied with a text, “One of the things I always liked about you was your sense of humor.”

In a haze of loneliness and hormones (read PMS), I escalated, lashed out and started a drama cycle that lasted from one evening through the next morning from text to email and back again. I confess I spent a few hours in tears for, during this “spat,” three things happened:

  1. I recently mentioned a conversation about being alone with a divorced colleague who asked me if I’d ever feared being alone for the rest of my life. Well, this emotional crisis, this exchange with Max took me there. Somewhere in the midst of it, I experienced that horrific fear that maybe, just maybe, I would be alone for the rest of my life. I had connected with another man, but connecting with unavailable men was only going to get me to where? Alone.
  2. I realized how emotionally dependent I’d become on a man who was not available to me. And then I realized this was my pattern. Many of my relationships had been long distance, I had crushed on too many fellas that were gay or already in relationships or, for whatever reason, were not going to be able to commit to me. And, as part of this realization, it dawned on me once again that…
  3. I don’t want to be anyone’s fantasy. I want to be a wonderful man’s wonderful reality. And if he’s not in a position to commit to me and be in a relationship and create a real life together, then I want nothing to do with it! I mean, I can flirt and play, but I’ll be in control and I’m not going to let myself get attached to or involved with another man who sees me as a distraction, a daydream or fantasy. The men can fantasize all they want, but I’m going to keep myself from being emotionally drawn into it.

And with these realizations, I knew that my relationship with Max could not go on as it was, that I needed to be less dependent on him. As much as he and his attention had been gifts and had helped me to reclaim my intuition and confidence, our flirtatious friendship — or, rather, my reliance on it — was now doing me as much harm as good. To him, I may have been an intelligent, beautiful, attractive woman with whom he shared chemistry and mutual crush. But no matter how much he respected me, our relationship could never be one of equals, because he was going home to his wife and step-children each day, while I was sleeping alone.

on the phone with Max

About 17 months ago…

I was struggling, and it was obvious to everyone. My family life was a lie; I had yet to ask my husband to move out. School would be starting soon and, with two children in the same school and on the same schedule, I had no more excuses.

Max and I exchanged a few texts and, evidently, he was concerned or touched enough to call on Sunday night while waiting for a flight. I grabbed my phone and headed out to the back yard, where I hoped no one inside the house would hear my part of the conversation.

It was a lovely chat between friends, with only a hint of flirtation and no romance whatever. Max asked me then if there was any way I could save my marriage.

“No,” I said, “Don’t you think I would if I could?! How much easier would it be to go back to someone who knows me, whose touch is familiar, with whom I share domestic habits?What will I have left? It’s the unknown, and that’s very frightening.”

“Don’t be afraid,” Max calmed me. “You’ve made the decision that you know is best for your family. And rather than seeing the failure, see all the progress you’ve made in the past decade:  you have a house, you have two beautiful children, you’ve come far in your career.”

I was grateful for the reminder to view my glass as more than half full, to have a clear view of my blessings.

Too soon, Max had to board his flight and hang up. I went to bed that night with a smile on my face and a knowing in my heart:  I had found a true friend and confidante.

the 20-year reunion

About 17 months ago…

During the time that my textual flirtation with Max was going strong, I attended my 20th class reunion. By this time, I was open with others that my marriage was in trouble.

Some context:  I had grown up in a classroom full of rowdies in a small town. In the class ahead of mine, it was very cool to be athletic and intelligent. In my class, it was cool to be an underachiever, rebel or class clown. Indeed, many of the guys in my class had become blue-collar workers, some with two-year or vocational degrees, and most had stayed close to home . . . and what a delight they all were! These trouble-makers had become kind, friendly, engaging, successful and responsible men. Most were married with children, committed husbands and fathers. They were generous both with drinks and laughter. It was an unexpected pleasure to see them all again, particularly in this light.

Many of the women from my class seemed content, too. Most had achieved a higher level of education than the guys. Most were happily married with children. And none of them seemed as stressed out as I was, in their personal lives nor in their professions.

Observing this made me wonder about the life I’d chosen — ambition, a private, liberal arts college, international travel, art museums and theatres, my urban lifestyle . . . I wouldn’t have been happy staying in my hometown, yet most of my classmates seemed to find more fulfillment in their more modest life choices than I was experiencing in mine.

In the midst of our mirthful reminiscing, my best friend from high school and I were sitting at the bar. I was filling her in on the events of my life, telling her about Max, the one thing besides my children that seemed to put a smile on my face. Another classmate had joined the conversation. After quietly listening for awhile, he said, “‘Work crush,’ is that what you call it these days? It used to be known as adultery!”

Wow. That seemed a bit harsh. It hit me like a slap in the face. And it gave me something more to think about:  Was my emotional attachment to Max — or our attachment to each other — crossing an inappropriate boundary? It tried to be very cognizant of his marriage, but on some level, I maintained fantasies of our being together. Was the mere act of continuing correspondence with him morally reprehensible? Did trying to be a decent human mean I had to sever ties with Max completely, and now? And what if this doomed flirtation was the only thing I had going for me at the moment? Did it matter if this was my lifeline?

flirting in 160 characters or less

About 17 months ago…

If you’ve been following and reading about my attraction to Max, you’ve read that we’ve shared some powerful words via text. And so began our flirtation, in 160 characters or less.

Who knew this genre could be so complicated? I soon learned to edit my thoughts into a single, 160-character message, as well as how many ways I could possibly communicate in this abbreviated form:

  • start an exchange,
  • keep the conversation going,
  • end a conversation,
  • have the last word (and realized this was not entirely desirable)
  • and more.

We texted almost daily. Nothing inappropriate, just flirtatious. It became such a lifeline for me that I began checking my phone in the middle of the night to see if Max had texted me. After all, we were in different time zones and he often texted after I had gone to sleep. It was nice to wake and get a sweet message like, “I have a hard time believing that the man in your home doesn’t appreciate you” or “How did it take this long for us to find each other?”

There was never a time when I took any of these things to mean more than the sweet thoughts that they were. A flirtation blossomed.

Were we crossing the lines of what was appropriate, given that Max was married? I suppose a few times we did. But one of us always brought the conversation back into the realm of what was safe and appropriate.

miss you already

About 17 months ago…

Two girlfriends and I were having a few cocktails after work, one of whom has been married for more than a decade — really married, and the other successful, single and not dating. In other words, I was clearly providing the conversation / drama / entertainment.

No one really ever wants to talk about divorce in public. The heartbreak, the pain — it’s all better swept under the rug lest the weepies rear their ugly heads. And so I told them about Max and what happened since I’d last seen him.

“You texted WHAT?,” Cynthia asked. “How could you?!”

“What?,” I asked innocently, “‘Miss you already’ is perfectly innocent. I would say the same thing to a girlfriend or a niece or my own children.”

“He’s not your girlfriend or niece,” Cynthia pressed. “It was suggestive. And he’s a married man!”

Seriously, it’s not as though I told him I wanted to get naked and rub my body up against him,” I argued.

Cynthia:  “No, that would have been being direct.”

Kristine, meanwhile, was doubled over with laughter and merely kept repeating, “Miss you already. Miss you already. That is priceless!”

They asked what happened next, they made me show them photos and then I told them about Max’s wife:

“You told her you had a crush on her husband?!,” they asked incredulously. I generally gravitate toward honesty. I may not always be appropriate or have the best boundaries, but I have my ethics.

“Yes,” I confirmed. “And she was cool, she was fun, and she was as inappropriate as any of us. And she would fit in perfectly sitting right here with us in this empty chair. We would have a grand time!”

Even as we put on our wraps, paid the tab and walked out of the bar, the girls were still laughing and giggling over what would become our inside joke:  “miss you already!”