one big happy modern family

So this is what’s up:

My children left with my ex for the cabin this weekend. No, we don’t have a cabin; my ex’s friend has a cabin. (He lets his buddies go to stay — they just have to clean up before the next guests show…and, apparently, I’m “not allowed,” which is super hysterical because I just don’t have the energy to have such animosity toward anyone.) And both of my (divorced) parents are there…which kind of makes me feel bad for my mother, who will be caring for the children, cooking and cleaning all weekend.

A year ago, I was trying not to be bothered by the same situation…um, hello, boundaries? But now I’m glad things worked out this way; I’m glad that my ex can continue to have a relationship with my parents — and I’m glad that my children will be made healthy meals and be given a little more attention while they’re away.

We’re one big freaky modern family — keeping the fun in dysfunction. And I get a weekend to myself!

“I lost 200 pounds and got a raise!”

A girlfriend of mine is fond of saying this about her divorce. No, she didn’t actually lose weight (her ex weighed 200 pounds) and she didn’t actually get a raise (she just stopped having to support her “handyman” ex).

It strikes me as hilarious that, when she makes this joke to men, they look at her incredulously, as though her fit, petite frame might have ever been so overweight. It always takes them a bit to figure out that it’s a joke…about her divorce / ex.

I guess I could say the same thing, except my ex was probably closer to 170. But it felt more like losing an anchor to me — something that once seemed to be a balance for my airiness — stability. And releasing it was letting go of the negativity and weightiness that seemed to be pulling me down.

Today a girlfriend gave me another tip:  imagine the thread that still connects you, the one you won’t let go…then, visualize getting out your scissors and cut it. Watch the thread, the connection fall away as you release this past relationship.

What language or analogies have you used for a relationship that has ended? What tools or techniques have helped you let go?

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.

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.

what would you do if you won the lotto?

I’ve heard a lot of people lately sharing their fantasies of what they’d do if they won the lottery. What strikes me about these fantasies is their utter outlandishness…radical moves, big purchases — things like “taking a sailboat around the world” come from the mouths of folks who’ve never even sailed!

So here’s where I’m going to confess:  I buy a lotto ticket every so often and I have been known to entertain a fantasy shopping spree or two. Depending on the size of the prize, my big ridiculous fantasy is to have my own private island, preferably in the Caribbean and, ideally, near to Necker Island, family getaway and business retreat to one Sir Richard Branson. (In reality, I’m not such a recluse as all that, so I’m sure a place on St. Barth’s would do nicely. And then, the pragmatic me knows that it’s just as easy to go to rent a luxurious place, because being responsible for all the maintenance of yet another property is just not a necessary addition to my life.)

And my wildest fantasies are tempered by both an innate pragmatism and my spiritual practice. I have my own happiness to tend to, and I have children to raise to be decent, unspoilt contributors to society. Studies have shown that people who’ve won the lottery end up either as broke as before, completely miserable or both.

So here’s what I’d likely do (to preserve stability and happiness) were I to win great sums of money:

  • Buy a nice car, because I am a bit of a gear head at heart and I truly appreciate a nice ride!
  • Find a nice lot not far from where I already live and build a modern house, preferably one that incorporates sustainable design, quite possibly including reclaimed shipping containers.
  • Start a foundation to support women & children, both in developing countries / economies and in domestic areas of disadvantage (e.g. inner cities).
  • Spend more time with my children.
  • Buy art and support artists and creativity.
  • Travel more.

The reason I like to look at these things is based on a very simple philosophy:  I can make choices every day that support the way I want to live. I used to discuss this with my wasband. He might say something about winning the lottery and I would reply, “You already have. We already have.” We were blessed to be born into this country (in his case, he immigrated with his parents as a young child), to have earned an education, to have found someone special to with whom to share life, to have healthy children… These things, my friends, are winning! This is all that we need and more to know how truly, deeply blessed we are in this life! (…and, still, we manage to muck these things up.)

Another way to put it is, “How would you live if you knew that your prayers were already answered?” I ask myself such things regularly and then translate into present conditions. I may not have the financial wherewithal to buy a tropical island, but I can find ways in my current life to

  • increase the quality of time I spend with my children,
  • support art and artists, both locally and through etsy.comkickstarter.com and indiegogo.com,
  • give to United Way and offer micro loans to women and children around the world through kiva.org,
  • drive a decent car,
  • keep up my house and property, etc.

I think you get the idea… So this is the message I want to share with you. Live as if you’ve already won! Make the choices and take the steps that support your biggest dreams. Even if the steps you take are small, each one still brings you closer to the life you desire most.

there were things I hated, too

I wrote awhile back about how much I loved simply co-habiting and sharing the daily stuff of life with a partner…

Well, as it turns out, I was having coffee with another divorced, single mother in a similar field…and we got to chatting about our personal status. She shared how much she liked having her home, routines, closets, television remote and bed to herself, and said that she not only did not miss her ex-husband, but also had no real desire to let anyone else in to her life in the same way. And then I confessed how much I loved living with someone, and we continued this conversation about benefits and shortcomings of space sharing…until suddenly the stuff I hated about living with my ex bubbled through the surface and out into the open.

For example:  his retreating immediately to the living room after dinner, lying across the entire sofa with a transistor radio and headphones in his ears, listening to god-knows-what programs about UFOs and conspiracy theories and the like…

The woman across the table from me cracked a smile, which became a cackle and then a guffaw as we both began to laugh aloud, our bodies shaking, and I saw in stark relief, for the first time, how freakin’ bizarre this scene was! And I realized that, in fact, I did not love everything about living with another person, at least not when he was so emotionally checked out and disinterested in relating.

So let me revise my initial treatise to confess that I loved living with my partner…when he was a partner. Time’s passage must have colored all my memories rosy, because I seemed to have forgotten how hard it was, at times, to accept and forgive when he’d shrunk a favorite sweater in the wash or broken my grandfather’s China while doing the dishes. And it especially sucked to watch his escape into the crackle and faraway voices of a transistor radio, a stupid little hand-crankable, battery-powered device, as its allure replaced any desire for my company, closeness, unity or intimacy.

I am describing what I believe is some sort of undiagnosed, untreated mental illness…nothing extraordinary, possibly just your run-of-the-mill depression. To see it and face it is difficult enough; to suggest or cajole that a loved one seek help is even more potent; to watch as it slowly erodes any hope for a positive future is devastating. And I’m sure it’s no different from anyone else’s experience of realizing that their relationship is doomed, that the end is near and that they are utterly powerless to do anything to save it. But living with that sucked!

my shit, your shit

My ex used to describe me as Teflon; nothing sticks. He wanted to push blame and responsibility for everything wrong in our relationship onto me. He also described my personality as swinging wildly between Deepak Chopra and Leona Helmsley. Frankly, I’m actually somewhat proud of that description — it makes me sound such a unique combination of serene and fierce!

Through it all, I developed a great sense of clarity when it came to “his shit” and “my shit.” We all bring it in to relationships, and the best of us own our own baggage.

Yes, I screw up. I don’t always do things right. But if you’re willing to point out to me where I’m going astray, I will happily take stock and try to do right. My ex wanted a mind reader. I went about my business assuming I was being a decent partner until he blew up about my not arriving home before six each evening or some other offense that I might have remedied eons ago, if only I’d known it bothered him. Truth be told, I would have liked to learn how I might have been a better partner to him. It might have helped me in future relationships, as well.

He made interpretations about me and my actions that were so far removed from anything I said or meant or intended that it was crazy-making! In other words, he heard my words or saw my expressions through a filter that had nothing to do with me, but then assumed that meaning was fixed, forgetting that there is intent and tone and nuance to consider.

I was reminded of all this over the weekend, when he picked up the children, criticized my housekeeping and told me I hadn’t created anything in 15 years. It was tempting to tell him about the 130 odd posts here on this blog, among other things. But let him learn the hard way or remain blissfully ignorant. He may still get a rise out of me, but I’m able to care a lot less about it than I used to.

Bottom line:  I’ve got plenty of shit. I uncovered a lot of it all by myself. But I sure wish I’d had a partner who could have helped me see, heal and shovel more. And I’m sure hoping I can find someone more encouraging and life affirming, who will let me know directly when I misbehave, with whom to share my future!

seeing more clearly

Today, as I dropped off my children with my ex, I pulled him aside for a brief conversation and, in those few moments, I saw in him a glimpse of the man I once so deeply loved. And I saw him for who he is.

There is no possibility for reconciliation, but it’s nice to be able to see his warmth again.

the relationship as a mirror

I’ve long believed that relationships are our mirrors into ourselves, bringing out the best and the worst, but always the potential within us. There are few people I’ve ever truly disliked, yet I’ve had the wisdom to ask what it is about them that I don’t like in myself. The answer wasn’t and isn’t always clear.

When tension began to grow in my marriage, I looked first within myself to see how I was creating and affecting and directing the relationship. I changed many of my own thoughts and behaviors, using the opportunity to grow. I stopped reading into and interpreting my husband’s behavior in ways that were harmful to me. His behavior had nothing to do with me — I could accept it or like it or neither. Perhaps my fault in this was that I was so busy taking on the task of growing myself that I forgot to pause and communicate that I wasn’t willing to accept the impact of certain of these behaviors on me or my (our) family.

Meanwhile, as I’ve begun to more actively focus on healing myself after the split, I’ve enlisted the help of Debbie Ford‘s wise Spiritual Divorce. In following the exercises at the end of one of her chapters, I listed all the qualities in my ex that I disliked or hated. There were really only a few, but they were kind of big buckets. Then I contemplated the judgments I made about those characteristics and, finally, I mused about how those very qualities exist within me. I was surprised at how easy this was…until I was lying in bed that night:  suddenly, I thought of approximately a dozen additional character flaws that I positively hated about my ex!

I made a mental note to revisit these qualities in the next couple of days and to follow through on the exercise of searching within my own psyche for how these characteristics manifest within my own behaviors. I have yet to follow through. These must be the sticky ones…