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.

no more sex

About 18 months ago…

There was simply no emotional intimacy in my marriage any longer. My husband was dishonest and had made decisions that affected our family without talking to me; the betrayals were insidious. My mistrust was so complete that I was constantly wondering what and when the next big betrayal would be. I had lost hope. And I had already determined to end it.

So it came as a surprise to me when, after so many months of abstinence, my husband complained about not getting any sex.

I raged, “How can you expect physical intimacy when you’ve denied me emotional intimacy for so long?! It goes both ways.”

The fact is, I enjoy sex. I probably wanted it more than he did. And I always found him physically attractive. But I couldn’t even look him in the eye anymore, much less share myself in such an intimate way.

But I think the bigger question is this:  Are men really that clueless? Do they really think if they’re not getting any, that they have nothing to do with it?

Oh, wait…I think I may be able to answer this one myself…

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.

telling the children

about a year ago…

We sat down in the living room on a snowy Saturday morning to tell the children that we didn’t want to be together anymore, and that Daddy would be moving out. It should have been obvious to me that he would throw me under the bus:  he clarified, “this is what Mommy wants.”

My younger was emotional; my older merely shrugged. The discussion was over almost before it began, and I later wondered why I had held so much fear about this moment. It was certainly something I had never wanted to do. I never wanted to have to tell my children that what they knew as a family could no longer remain intact. And yet somehow, at least my oldest, had known it was coming.

The children and I put on our wraps and went out to play in the snow. My older child, my daughter, was met at the playground by her best friend who, upon hearing the news, lamented, “That is so sad. My parents promised never to get a divorce.”

“Yes,” I said. “It is very sad.” I explained that I never would have wanted this for my children nor for myself. “You see the way your parents treat one another:  they talk with each other, touch and laugh together. Your parents are best friends. I would have loved that kind of partnership. But, as you’ve seen, we didn’t have that.”

Children have such a beautiful and authentic way of expressing themselves. I did my best to match that authenticity in sharing with my daughter’s friend, and on a level that all three children might hear and understand. In so doing, I was immediately reassured that the three of us, my children and I, would be all right after all.

I knew there would be difficult conversations, hurt and pointed questions from my children. What I did not anticipate was my own confidence and clarity in speaking to them. My own honesty and directness in this and other teaching moments has been a pleasant door open to trust and dialogue.

the right way to do it

A male work colleague and I have a standing bi-monthly lunch date. He is probably as familiar with my failed marriage saga as anyone, having lent a sympathetic ear along the way.

The last time we met, he asked me about the back-end logistics, the shared parenting, the legal details. And then he confessed that he and his wife had been deep in crisis, had discussed divorce and had gone so far as to sit down and develop their plan:

She would get the house, they would share parenting time, etc. It was then that she told him that he would have to find a place nearby, that they should still cooperate and share children’s birthdays, spend holidays together and more. He balked at being told where he had to live, and he was even more flabbergasted that she would think they could transition smoothly from marriage to best friends. Ultimately, they both realized that, even as a divorced couple, their expectations were going to be vastly different.

…which may be how they realized that they could just as easily work through those differing expectations within their marriage, because life wasn’t going to be easier or better outside of it. In planning every last detail of their landscape, they realized the grass really wasn’t going to get any greener. They acted maturely and decided to recommit to their marriage.

Although it may not work for everyone, I applaud their approach and maturity. And I congratulate them on developing their plans early enough for the possibility of staying together to occur as a viable choice for them both.

waiting is torture

About a year ago…

My husband had agreed to move out. We had discussed this in September.

He first said he would try to be out by October 31. And then he was going to try to move out by Thanksgiving. And when that failed to become a material reality, he stopped providing me updates.

As autumn became winter, the atmosphere inside our home chilled just as the weather outdoors. I was tired of waiting for my life to begin again. I was tired of being on edge. And I was tired of a surly man sleeping on the sofa, impeding my ability to do a morning yoga routine.

If I had felt as though I were walking on pins and needles during much of my marriage, I was now tip-toeing. Where we’d had a communication break-down in the past, we now avoided each other almost completely. It was miserable, torturous.

Finally, I drafted a few bullet points of what I thought might be a good “agreement” on my computer, offered him some cash to move out by March 1, and handed it to him.

We now had a timeline, and a basis for the discussions I would have with my lawyer. Forward ho!

the moment of opportunity

About 16 months ago…

My ex did a really dumb thing. I mean aside from all the dumb things that he did throughout our relationship, including eventually losing me. The really dumb thing he did was to get pulled over after having a few drinks. When the phone rang that night at 10:30pm, I didn’t answer. When it rang again, I knew there was bad news.

The sad thing about it was that I’d been waiting for it. I was pretty sure that the time would come when he would make the choice to drive after drinking too much. And, frankly, I think many (if not most) of us have probably also made that choice once or more and realized after the fact that we were past the point at which we should have been operating heavy machinery (i.e. a vehicle).

When he arrived home at 3:30am and crawled into bed, he reached to me. And he said, “I really want to turn things around. But I need a loving relationship to do it.”

This from a man who had, more than a year ago, pronounced me manipulative and controlling, then threatened to leave. Never once did he apologize, explain himself or make any attempt to make amends. And now it seemed that he was pushing responsibility off on me, again. He was to be charged with Driving Under the Influence (Driving While Intoxicated?), and it was because I wasn’t loving enough?! Bullshit!

I said, “I really hope you turn things around, for yourself and for your children.” And I rolled back over and went back to sleep.

But I was glad it happened, for two reasons:

  • He had finally acknowledged that there was no longer love in our relationship and opened the door for communication about it.
  • I no longer feared that he could ask for primary physical custody of our children. With all my travel, it’s possible he might have been able to argue that he was the primary caregiver and a stable force in our children’s lives. In the case he wanted to argue, I now had a counter point.

A few days later, I approached him while he was sitting on the sofa. I reminded him that he had asked for a loving relationship and told him that I didn’t want to try any longer. I told him that I had lost hope for us. And I explained that I had imagined every possible scenario, and could see no other way for the children to continue to live in our home but for him to move out.

It was one of the saddest, scariest and most empowering moments in my life. But it absolutely, positively had to happen.

And he agreed.

another break-up coming

While strolling through the bookstore on my lunch break today, I picked up a random book on relationships. I’ve been a little stressed lately, and snappish with my children at times… so when I saw a chapter on verbal abuse, I was compelled to look more closely to see if I could recognize myself among some of the highlighted behaviors and find some alternative ways to deal.

Instead, I found myself recognizing my ex…in many more ways than I ever anticipated. On some level, I was consciously aware of his means to undermine me throughout our relationship. And my growing strength in myself was what ultimately tore our marriage apart. Yet this book opened my eyes to a level of subtle and insidious behaviors that pervaded our relationship from start to finish. I’m ashamed to confess there were times that I didn’t stand up for myself or draw immediate boundaries (I found many new tools for dealing with verbal abuse in this book) — largely because I was caught so completely off guard that someone I loved — and who allegedly loved me — could possibly behave in such a hurtful and inappropriate way.

But I think the bigger realization I had today was that there’s another abusive relationship I need to break:  my job. I’m not in a bad “situation” there; no one is verbally abusing me. Rather, the nature of going into a place every day that no longer nurtures my passion nor values the tremendous assets I bring is causing me more harm than good.

I recently told my ex I was going to look for a new job. His response, “What, for $XX grand a year, you can’t give them what they want?!”

I said, “No. What they want is not in my nature.”

It’s a big company. We are all bound, at times, to feel like cogs in a wheel. So I’m going to find a place where my experience and skills are respected and rewarded.

I guess, with more presence of mind, I might have responded to my ex: “What? To save your marriage, home and family, you couldn’t stop drinking, see a counsellor and get a decent job!?”

But those things probably weren’t in his nature, either.

love is a verb

Sure, love is something we feel. But, more importantly, it’s something we do.

It’s something Stephen Covey talks about in his 7 Habits training. And there are actually several books by this title.

But I’m here to write about how this applies to men.

Men can be very charming and sweet and well-intended. They’ll say things that make your heart swoon. And the truth is, they often mean those things when they say them . . . it’s just that they maybe got busy with something else and forgot. We’ve all met guys who can talk smooth and woo any woman they meet.

And that’s exactly why you have to pay attention to their actions.

One of my neighbors is burly, acerbic and gruff. In fact, he’s more than a little intimidating before you get to know him. By all accounts, this is not the type of man one might consider even dating. But he is married to a sweet and strong woman who adores him. How is this? If you could just imagine he had a volume and you turned it all the way down, you would see that his actions are constantly full of love. He has remodeled their home on evenings and weekends; he is obsessed with the quality of the lawn; he took three days vacation to plan, prepare and host his wife’s 40th birthday party; he does anything she asks. In short, he treats her like a queen.

In your next interaction, don’t get so caught up in the words. Sure, his words are cues, and the conversation has got to be good. But his actions will tell you everything you need to know. Does he have great manners? Do you feel completely amazing when you’re with him because of how he behaves toward you? Does he speak kindly of others? Step back from the passion and fantasy and infatuation and really observe. How he treats you, treats others and treats his family are important signs of how he’s going to treat you and others in the future.

Love is blind.  I was so in love with my husband during our courtship that I took him for his word and missed important cues that might have saved me (or at least prepared me for) a lot of heartache later. If I had been paying closer attention to what he was doing than what he was saying, I might have seen some of those disasters coming.

love is tragic

I grew up in a houseful of books, and I’m certain I’d read just about everything on the shelves at least once by the time I was 13. By this I mean Anna Karenina, Jane Eyre, books by Wharton, Austen, Dickens, etc. — all before achieving a level of emotional maturity or ability to discuss and interpret the themes found in several of these novels.

Combine this with my parents’ off-and-on tumultuous relationship, and it’s no wonder I’ve grown up believing that tragic love is the norm. In fact, I think I’ve always expected that love would be romantic, passionate, dramatic, heart-wrenching and that there would be obstacles to be overcome.

The early part of my relationship with my husband was full of these things. My love for him was ferocious, we pined for one another when we were apart, and I was certain we could overcome anything.

And then our life together became routine and steady. Ultimately, it was the boring, staid comfort of sharing daily life that I loved the most. For many years, I loved going home to him, the warmth of his body next to mine in bed each night, communicating in the shorthand we developed over time, his scent each morning when we hugged in the kitchen.

I’d like to believe that I’ve learned and matured enough to turn around and run if love comes with drama, tragedy and the kind of obstacles with lingering effects. Sure, I’m still hoping for a little romance, chemistry and excitement in my future, but I’ll be holding out for loving behaviors tempered by steadiness, companionship and responsibility.