dating with children

Let me begin by describing my children:  they are healthy — free of allergies, asthma and chronic conditions. (Knock on wood…we should all be so blessed.) They are energetic and love to run and play. Each has a mellow and sweet disposition and both are well-liked. Also, they are beautiful. Sure, I have parenting challenges like anyone else, but I am blessed beyond measure to have these bright, loving and cooperative children to nurture.

I try to be a halfway decent mother (despite, at one time, having had the inclination to write a series of parenting manuals called “The Bad Parents’ Guide to…” Shoulda.). Therefore, it was pretty important to me to try to take the high road (as much as I could) during the dismantling of my marriage.

Part of this, in my mind, meant limiting my children’s exposure to my interpersonal relationships with other men. I didn’t want them to see me going from one relationship right into another. However, from the moment my ex moved out, this proved a difficult task:  Male friends seemed to come out of the woodwork in my first days, weeks and months of becoming single, stopping by to see if I needed something done around the house. One fixed the radiator on my car and another thanked me for a project I’d voluntarily done for him (well over a decade ago) with an envelope of cash. Others took us on outings to amusement parks or to the movies.

Children are keen to pick up energy, and mine sensed no hanky-panky as these were strictly platonic relationships. No harm was done — and, unfortunately, this volunteerism quickly tapered off.

As I’ve begun to date, however, I must be more vigilant about what I say and do around my children. They are my nearly constant companions and, at times, my confidantes. I try to maintain appropriate parent/adult-child boundaries yet, I have to confess, this can be difficult. My children are exposed to some prime time television, so they are not oblivious to the notion of crushes or liking others of the opposite sex or adults wanting to kiss. So they have witnessed a small handful of my (telephone) interactions with Chi-guy, for example. They were in the car when I called to wish him a happy birthday, and also when I asked him to take me on a date. They probably catch glimpses of my online dating site, but I doubt they understand what it is.

I feel blessed to be able to have open conversations with my children about having a boy for a friend but also having a crush on him. We speak in terms they can understand, and they have an opportunity to voice the requisite, “I wish you still liked Daddy.” Me too. That would have been much easier on all of us.

So what do my children know of my dating life? They know I have a friend in Chicago who I have a crush on. They know I want to meet men and find a life partner. They know I want to be married and live as a family together with a man other than their father, and that might mean with other children, too. And they ask questions about these things: “What will he be like?” He’ll be kind and loving. “Do you think Daddy might have a friend you’d like?” Um, I don’t think that would be a very good idea. “Will he like children?” He’s going to have to. And then I remind them about staying with Max and his family and how his step children snuggle right up to him.

The day I met more-like-it, my children got off the bus and my son asked how my day was. I told my children that it had been a great day — in fact, I’d met a really cool guy that morning for coffee. (I did not mention that it was a date.) My son asked, “Mommy, do you think you might have made a new friend?” I hope so, I told him.

I think I’ve managed all this pretty well so far. I have yet to date anyone seriously, so no love interests have been brought into my children’s lives. And I intend to err on the side of caution, dating on the weekends that the children are with their father. I plan to wait until a relationship is heading toward commitment before introducing any man into their lives. These are bridges I’ll cross when the time comes.

Meanwhile, my biggest fumble so far is leaving my sanitized vibrator on the counter top to dry and realizing it was still sitting there when my daughter dumped her water bottle in the sink after school. Oops! Not sure we’re ready for that conversation yet…

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…

do you have romantic regrets?

A recent NY Times article cited a study about regrets, saying 44 percent of females had a romantic regret…

I suspect there are many of us who occasionally think about the one that got away, the friend to whom we never confessed our true feelings, the relationship we unintentionally sabotaged, simply because we didn’t know any better…

Most of us who have gone through a divorce or major break-up have probably thought more than one of these regretful thoughts:

  • Why didn’t I settle for the guy / girl before him / her?
  • Why didn’t I leave sooner?
  • Why didn’t I work harder?
  • Why didn’t I see his / her true nature before we got married?
  • Why doesn’t he / she want me anymore?
  • Why wasn’t I enough?

None of these are productive questions. As I’ve said before, even if these kinds of questions were answerable, the answer(s) would never be satisfactory. If there were easy answers, I’m hopeful that we’re all smart enough to find them unacceptable. What could possibly explain away the upheaval, decimated self-esteem, cock-eyed financial shenanigans and ruined dreams (especially of our children)?

Perhaps later in the process, we’re asking instead:

  • How could I have done that?
  • Why did I behave so poorly?
  • How did I let that slip in front of the children?
  • Why did I fight so hard for or hang onto that (home, piece of furniture, or other physical object) for so long?
…or any number of other possible regrets.

This morning I met a strong, incredible and divorced woman for coffee. She asked me what happened, and I told her, “we just disagreed.” Yeah, it’s probably a cop-out. After awhile, the pain and resentment fade, the drama no longer seems to create a compelling narrative, and it seems I’m mostly looking forward.

When I’m feeling nostalgic, I just dig through my iTunes for this classic Dave Mason song:

So let’s leave it alone, ’cause we can’t see eye to eye…

There ain’t no good guys; there ain’t no bad guys;

There’s only you and me and we just disagree.

I’d like to think I’ve mostly moved on. Every so often there’s a flash of anger. I can hear it in my tone of voice when I’m cleaning the basement and marveling to anyone who will listen about something my ex hung on to, or when I come across another of his ineffective home repairs. Mostly, though, I am grateful for the lessons, grateful for our children, and very pleased with the woman emerging from the experience.

Do I have regrets? Sure. But most are fading regrets of misbehaviors that I’d like to think taught me a little something. There’s no one who got away. In this Zen moment and every other, everything is as it should be.

reflections on the fortieth birthday

About six months ago…

I’ve already written a bit about how this milestone birthday hit me — it is, after all, included in the title of this blog.

I am a Libra, in love with being in love, quick to fall. You’d think I’d know better by this time in life, yet there I was, falling again for the distant and unavailable man in Chicago, falling faster and harder than any rational, reasoning soul ought. It was as though everything out of his mouth was customized especially for a sucker like me!

Meanwhile, as my birthday approached, I was despairing my not having yet attained the stature or status in life that I would have like to have claimed for myself. The successful career and marriage I’d imagined for myself had eluded me — in fact, I had just that week interviewed unsuccessfully for a new role. I had envisioned I’d be spending my upcoming big day in France or Italy with the love of my life. Or, barring that, a poet.

I experienced some incredibly ugly feelings, a range from self-doubting and unworthy to angry, hateful and outraged. The best I could describe it was “prickly,” like a porcupine, as though anyone who came too near was in danger of me flaring some fierce quills. While my friends insisted on taking me out to celebrate my birthday, I was in no mood to inflict my toxic self on anyone.

I remember thinking that, if Chi-guy had been feeling anything like this that last time I’d seen him, no wonder he didn’t want to get close to me! He had been pretty low at that time, and what I was experiencing gave me greater empathy and opened me to be more forgiving. We had continued to be in contact, loosely — in fact, he had just texted me a very hot photo! After the attention I had paid to his birthday, I wondered what he might do for mine.

On the big day, I dragged myself to the store for a new outfit — dress and heels — to wear out on the town. As I shopped, I started to get excited for my night out and spending time with my girlfriends. Yet my excitement was muted, like being as happy as you can be when you’re depressed, which isn’t particularly happy. Even as I got ready, went to dinner, bar hopped and danced with some amazing girlfriends, I was very down and emotional. Meanwhile, I put on a smiley face and plowed forth.

I’m not always sure whether I’ve found the right balance between “fake it ’till you make it” and being truly authentic. I genuinely believe that happiness and contentment can be a conscious choice. Sometimes this involves deciding to make the best of a situation, putting on a brave face and going out. But my gamely facade crumbled when one of my girlfriends told me how beautiful I looked, how much she admired me, and how fabulous and empowered a strong and sexy forty-year-old me seemed to be. (This was from a woman who has yet to hit this milestone birthday.) I immediately began to tear up, because I felt none of those things — and, by the way, thank you for pointing out this conflict between how I look and how I feel and, therefore, bringing up all my feelings of inadequacy.

Chi-guy, meanwhile, had not called, texted, emailed or sent a card. One girlfriend remarked, “Well, it’s better to know now.” (He left a message a couple of days later. Miss.)

While the intense malaise of my birthday lasted for about a week in total, I continued to feel low for several weeks — maybe months — following. That I was forty, in an unsatisfying job and without a loving partner in life were conditions that did not just evaporate, after all. And it was going to take some time and work to make the major transitions that would bring greater balance, peace and a feeling of forward progress.

the ex-husband-orcism

Last weekend, I invited girlfriends over to help me perform an exorcism:  the exorcism of my ex husband’s belongings, photos, spirit and trappings of our married life from my boudoir and other areas of the house.

I had long been thinking about the idea of a cleansing or a celebration, and I never felt quite certain about what was appropriate or acceptable. My plan took on definition for two reasons:

  • A girlfriend gently told me that, while I clearly cherished my “mother” identity, it didn’t belong in my bedroom. Every other room in our home is family friendly; my room should be a personal sanctuary, a child-free zone. The family photos and stuffed animals would have to go.
  • With each passing week that I failed to tackle the project of cleaning and re-organizing the basement, I knew that I was experiencing some major resistance to dealing with it all. This was not going to be an easy job for me.

I was going to have to call in some reinforcements. And I would need them to be both relentless and brutally honest. After all, my closet (and outdated wardrobe) was part of my bedroom.

I invited a bunch of fun girls, knowing that only a handful could or would show up — this sort of thing is not for everyone. In one day, what we could accomplish would be limited, so I prioritized:

  • Rearrange and organize my bedroom and closet
  • Organize the children’s artwork (my sister, the art major, would be assigned ultimate judge of what I should keep, purging the rest)
  • Begin the impossible task of cleaning the basement

I set out a spread of beverages and snacks — brie, hummos and the like — and the girls arrived in early afternoon. We began by moving furniture and de-cluttering in my room. Down came the belly cast from my second pregnancy, out went the family photos, and in came the “welcome to my boudoir” energy. Any trinkets or baubles that I’d received as gifts from my ex went into the garbage. After the momentary feeling of guilt that this might be appreciated by someone else, I willingly, gladly let go.

With a team of supporters around me, it was easy to enjoy the feeling of liberation that letting go, releasing what no longer served me, could provide. Sure, there were a few moments of compromise, a few items that, for sentimental reasons, I was not ready to let go. But mostly, perhaps because I was being watched, it was easy to say no to that oh-so-tartish Roxy tee shirt, a circa 1988 Benetton and a Coogi sweater (yeah, embarrassing) that I’d purchased while vacationing in Sydney with a boyfriend in 1996. What was I thinking, holding onto these for so long? Even after the girls left, I purged books and jewelry with glee.

We never got as far as the basement, but I now feel unstuck, as though the task might be something I could accomplish, little by little, on my own. And I think the biggest surprise to me was how easy it actually was. I thought I might have some bigger moments of resistance or feeling really emotional, maybe even tears. But there were none. It was fun, even empowering!

When the children returned from their weekend with their father, they were energized and began cleaning their own room. We’re on nine large bags for charitable donations and counting.

Sage smudge yet to come.

on co-habiting with the opposite sex

A girlfriend called a few days ago and, per usual, began a rant about the B.S. she’d put up with in relationship with her child’s father. She rehashed a litany of complaints about his slovenliness, assuming I would jump on the ex-bashing bandwagon. I didn’t.

Instead, I told her that I didn’t share her experience:  I LOVED sharing my home and my kitchen and my bed and the housework and all of it! Sure, the occasional coat of facial hair shavings on the bathroom sink was a mild irritant and I never liked the layout of the office, which was primarily his domain. But I loved co-creating our life together — from shopping together for what we each deemed necessary kitchen tools and negotiating menu plans — to our concern for one another when one of us wasn’t feeling well. I loved snuggling up against his warmth in bed. I loved the thought of our pant legs and shirt sleeves intertwined in the laundry.

It’s true that I carried most of the responsibility and had to make most of the decisions. The fact that I can clearly recall the time when my ex noticed that we were nearly out of t.p. and actually went to the store and purchased it speaks volumes. He was inflexible as it related to vacation destinations and ruled out countless menu options.

Living with someone can be a pain in the ass, and I am learning to enjoy the blessings of being the sole adult in my home. But I generally appreciated interdependence of partnership enough to overlook most of the little things. And I look forward to the day when I’m regularly waking up in the same bed as a man I love again!

the not-so-many splendors of man sex

About 8 – 11 months ago…

As mentioned previously, my counselor had recommended I allow myself to get out and have sex like a man. That is, sex unencumbered by any form of emotional attachment. After all, I was a libidinous nearly forty-year-old, and counting months between any sort of physical satisfaction was an awfully long time.

A mother of two, I no longer felt the need to preserve some sense of innocence — I clearly had no virginity to protect. And I didn’t have to “hold out,” as I wasn’t seeking any sort of relationship. Thus, I had given myself permission, within a certain window of time, to pick up men and sleep with them — safely, with protection — but without conscience. Not all of them were memorable, so I’m going to summarize a few here, rather than give each his own entry.

Okay, deep breath, this could get graphic:

Anthony:  My first post-marriage encounter (which I already wrote about here) was with a creative, attentive and sweet man who wanted to cuddle and talk. He was a great kisser. Our few hours together busted my myth that casual sex was impersonal, cold or awkward. He was genuinely interested in whether I was enjoying myself, took the time to prop pillows in the right places and incorporated a playful variety of techniques. Sure, there was plenty of room for improvement (after all, practice makes perfect). Yet the experience left me hopeful about new experiences to come…

Ze chef: I know a guy who cooks at a restaurant out East. We have a little history. So I felt confident that something would happen on my next trip there. He had text-book anatomy — straight, hard shaft, perfect mushroom top, and what I can only assume (based on my limited experience) was slightly above average length and girth. After minimal foreplay, he pulled me on top of him, and I was quickly satisfied. We rolled over, and he proceeded to move rhythmically, as though on a treadmill, until his eventual conclusion.

This approach is notable only because it was so surprising to me:  perhaps because my ex had always maintained such enthusiasm for it, I assumed men loved to go down and warm a girl up with a little oral action. I also assumed men loved boobs. I am generously endowed in this department, so I anticipated a little more attention to them. And then there’s the repetitious thing, as though he was on a stair climber — how about a little variety in thrust and tempo to keep it interesting? A girl is never going to achieve multiples that way! This guy had always carried a torch for me — why on earth wouldn’t he work at littler harder to impress? Ultimately, I have to say I was disappointed.

The entrepreneur:  However entrepreneurial my dinner date was in his daily work and in our fabulous conversations, he was a dud in bed. The second we were inside my door, his hands were all over me, his tongue was in my mouth and he was saying, “More tongue, more tongue…” We made it to my bed, our clothes falling piece by piece to the floor. Without further ado, he was on top of me trying to insert himself, his repeated mantra having changed to “stroke my balls, stroke my balls…” I tried to suggest, to guide, to see that my pleasure was also brought to the fore, but I was essentially a masturbatory aid. Clearly, he was most accustomed to his own handiwork (pun intended).

Thankfully, I was alone in my home by 10pm. Again, this was a guy who’d been interested for some time, so I definitely expected more from him…yet he will go down in my personal history for one thing only:  Worst. Lay. Ever. Even worse than any awkward high school or college first.

My casual experiences had only gone downhill. By this time, I couldn’t really decide whether I was more motivated than ever to seek out a great, hot younger lay or abandon the notion of casual sex altogether. At any rate, one path was clear:  I made a beeline to a boutique specializing in high-end adult toys for women and found surefire satisfaction.

doctor’s orders

About 13 months ago…

When I went to see my counsellor to talk through all the bizarre sexual / commitment swirl going on around me (and ultimately to decide whether to stay at Max’s family’s home while on vacation), she told me something else:

“Even if your husband hasn’t moved out, I think you should go out and have sex. It will help make the separation more real for you and allow you to move forward in your life.”

If this wasn’t ground-breaking psychotherapy, I’m not sure what to call it! Throughout it all, I had tried my best to take the high road, to be respectful and behave honorably. Clearly my sexual needs were not being met, but I was hoping to change that once my ex moved out. And now I was being offered a hall pass to go out and “have sex like a man” for a few months, regardless of whether we were still living under the same roof.

To be honest, I’ve never been a pick-up artist. And if I didn’t know how to pick up men in my twenties, I certainly didn’t know how the hell to do it as a frumpy mother of two! Actually, I barely even dated around, except for a few months in college. I’ve spent most of my life, since my teenage years, as a serial monogamist. By this time, I may have had one or two encounters/partners in my entire life that I would consider casual. (This does not count all those relationships that, now, I can look back and simply classify as stupid.)

And now I had doctor’s orders to go out and find a casual partner and — perhaps most importantly — not allow myself to get attached.

I left the office considering the possibilities:  I would be on the prowl. I could be a cougar. I would commit to getting myself laid, stat!

But first, I went out and bought a Bliss Bikini Perfect grooming kit.

an unexpected call

Yesterday, I received one of the strangest phone calls of my life.

A long-time male friend of mine called, immediately chastised me for not having called him in a long time and told me that he understood why:  “I know you’re mad at me.” I’ll call this Mediterranean friend of mine Adonis — after all, most of my girlfriends do.

Some history:

  • I met Adonis well over a decade ago, before my marriage, while he was separated from his Midwestern wife. (They later reconciled; a few years ago, she committed suicide. He is now living with another woman from a Southern European country, who I’ll call Genna.)
  • Adonis and I went out a few times during his separation, but I soon stopped seeing him because I felt uncomfortable with the situation and his desire to move too quickly in our relationship.
  • I’ve never slept with him.
  • Without telling my ex how Adonis and I met, I had occasion to introduce the two. My husband thought Adonis was cool…so, from then on, our families celebrated children’s birthdays and other occasions together, socializing a few times a year. We were at his wife’s funeral.

After much small talk and some discussion of my ex and child support, he came back to the topic of my being mad at him. Again I insisted that I wasn’t angry with him. And then he said, “I know you like me…and I like you, too, but I’m in a relationship…”

I was flabbergasted! It’s true that I find Adonis attractive and, given our history, I feel comfortable being mildly flirtatious with him. I enjoy his attention. There was a time after his wife’s death when we talked a lot and I wondered if I might be the woman to whom he was most emotionally connected. I appreciate his sense of style, his DIY skills, his entrepreneurial skills…but (and it’s a big but) Adonis has a very black and white way of thinking: He has a temper, he can be argumentative, he is not often willing to consider other perspectives. He is remarkably non-judgmental, yet stubborn and resistant to change. I have often argued with him about parenting and other topics. In other words, I realized long ago we would not make a successful match.

Luckily, Adonis can go on about his point of view at length with no encouragement, so I sat stupefied while he went on:  “…I can’t disrupt my children’s lives and make them live through another loss like that. We may yell and fight, but the children love Genna.”

“Adonis,” I had gathered my wits, “I like you as a friend, and I know full well that we could never have a successful relationship. I’ve heard you complain about Genna and I’ve seen the two or you argue, and I simply think that you deserve someone with a greater capacity for joy in your life.” Not to mention, I thought, that all this arguing in front of the children does not provide a great example or bode well for the children’s future relationships. This and several other thoughts I kept to myself.

He went on:  “Well, the last time you were here, you said that you find me attractive and that you want to go out with me, and when you say things like that in front of her…” he trailed off.

Okay, wow! I admit that I can be bawdy, inappropriate and say or do provocative things (always with humorous, not harmful, intent). It was true that the last time I’d taken the children there for a play date, I had indulged in some wine. It’s true that I was generally of a mind to have my physical desires met around the time of my visit (though not by Adonis). It’s true that the conversation between me and Genna became uncomfortable later in the day (which I mostly attributed to our cultural differences). But I cannot recall nor possibly imagine how on Earth I would have said such things! I racked my brain.

There was a time that day when Genna was saying some mean / disrespectful things about Adonis. I may have jumped to my friend’s defense with a playful, “I’d date him” or something, meant in an entirely harmless fashion (even if it is inappropriate), save perhaps to remind her that she’d made a pretty good catch. Also, later in the evening, I suggested we go out for sushi sometime. Perhaps this was the “wanting to go out with him” part of this confusion.

Finally, I owned my bit of all this, “You know it’s true that I haven’t given Genna the level of respect she deserves as the woman of your house and, for that, I’m sorry.”

As if all of this were not random nor awkward enough, Adonis next suggested that, even if we were to go out and do things together, it would get complicated and mess up our friendship.

Okay, I had mentioned sushi, but that was clearly not what he was talking about.

I cut him short, “I would never do that.” And shortly thereafter I ended the call, thinking “Seriously, did this conversation really just happen?”

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.