how I fell

It’s laughable, really, how quickly we can fall and for what reasons. I could give you a nearly endless list of the things I loved about my last boyfriend. But when a friend asked me a different question recently — how did you fall in love? — I thought back to those milestones in our courtship that brought me closer to him…things I’m sure he’d laugh at if he only knew:

  • One of his children is gay. It was one of the things I learned the first night we met, and I knew when he told me, the way he told me, that we shared certain values and perspectives on parenting.
  • I asked him what the worst job he’d ever had was. “Castrating hogs,” he said, and something inside me melted. Knowing he’d grown up in a rural community performing hard, gory work gave him a boy-next-door quality and made me feel familiar and comfortable around him. Despite his middle aged physical manifestation, I could clearly see him young and tan and shirtless, in work boots and jeans, a blade of grass dangling from his lopsided smile.
  • Once, very early in our relationship, I mentioned something about the college funds I’m saving for my children. He said, “You mean you don’t need me?” Swoon! “I didn’t say that,” I replied, “We just may want to postpone the nuptials until after the FAFSA forms are sent in.” And we laughed together.
  • I told him about the research facility at which a relative works and, before I could get into the details, he said, “Did you know they’re aiming a laser at the bottom of a mine looking for neutrinos?” Actually I did, but how many guys are smart nerdy enough to contribute that random fact into a conversation?!
  • Sledding.

Of course there was so much more, but I guess you can boil it down to my being a sucker for a liberal, compassionate, hard working, breadwinning, nerdy sort of guy who still likes to go sledding.

 

the bachelorette taught me how to date

I’ve always been a monogamist. Sure, while dating online, I’ve gone out and met a series of guys around the same time…maybe even had a few dates with several different men. But then it always seemed to become clear which one I was going to date, even if only for a bit, even before any of them asked me to be exclusive.

For that reason, it’s always been a little bit difficult to watch those Bachelorette scenes in which she talks about how much she’s looking forward to going out with (let’s say) Randy, getting to know him better, feeling the chemistry, etc. And then, not 20 minutes later (even though it’s probably a whole 24 hours in real life), she’s expressing nearly the exact same thing about Dave. And there are several guys who she thinks are great guys and she can’t wait to get to know them all better. (We, the viewers, can clearly see otherwise, so the trick is to attempt to suspend disbelief.)

At this moment in life, I’m still getting over heartache. And I know the best way to move forward and get over it is to date. So I’m taking The Bachelorette approach. I’m super clear to everyone I meet that I’ve been through some difficult stuff over the past year, that I’m mostly over it, and that I want to take my time and get to know them slowly. And I’m not going to let myself get pulled in any one direction too quickly.

I have met several guys and I am nearly in the same place I was about a year ago (except then I was getting over the ego wound I called Brad, rather than genuine heartache) — I’m going in fairly indifferent, no expectations, working to keep a positive outlook. I find it my best default position. I’ve had some really fun dates — and with some guys I am genuinely excited to meet again:  there’s the East Coast Jewish guy, the local Irish Catholic (even with the stereotypical O’lastname), the traveling salesman who’s good for a fun dinner out every few weeks. All are so very different, and yet I’ve found a certain comfort and connection with each. No Lees in the bunch — yes, I still compare them all to him, but I didn’t feel what I felt for Lee until our fifth date — and our fifth date was a five-day trip!

Whether there’s a keeper among them is TBD, but there might be one among them who will finally help me get over that last guy for once and for all!

that happy

If you had told me a year ago that I would soon fall for a short, bald, portly man who felt like sunshine, I would have called you crazy. But fall I did… for a man I refer to here as Lee.

Even before we’d met, I sketched out a vision of what I wanted, in terms of lifestyle and a mate:

  • Regular travel — especially opportunities to adventure, ski or escape the cold midwestern winters.
  • Good food. A prospective mate must love sushi. And wine. And my cooking.
  • Some toys… I’d love a boat, enjoy biking, paddle boarding and more.
  • Experiences with someone who enjoys live music, theater, cooking and says “yes” to fun of all kinds.
  • A partner whose income as, at minimum, equal to mine. (I’ve had to support a man before. I did not enjoy it.)
  • And, looking ahead, I want his children to be at least as old as mine… because when mine are off to college, the heavens open up, the hallelujah chorus plays and even more travel and fun can begin for us as my / our children are off chasing their own dreams!

I never imagined I’d find all these things, even if in a package I didn’t expect — or, at first, appreciate. But he was persistent, kind, generous and thoughtful, not to mention intelligent and a ton of fun! He said yes to me, up until it was a no.

And, now, if you asked me what I want in life, I’d simply refer back to the time Lee and I spent together and say, “I want to feel that happy.” I honestly can’t imagine feeling more happy, content and fulfilled. Lee dotted all my i’s and crossed all my t’s; we seemed like a near perfect fit.

If it sounds like I’m crediting a man for all my happiness, that’s simply not true. I am a happy person because I’ve shaped my life and psyche to cultivate and nurture my own happiness. But there’s something to be said for finding someone with whom to share it all…

I’ve had to work extremely hard to get past the hurt, grief, anger and disappointment of the loss of said relationship. I’m finally moving on, meeting new men and allowing myself to have fun on dates.

So far, there have been no Lees…but I’ll know I’ve met someone special when I feel that happy.

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.