I dreamt about Lee the other night. After all this time, we were going to get together for a glass of wine. And then something happened and we didn’t. I think I woke up trying to reschedule and then slowly realized it wasn’t real.
Sometimes I think he visits here. And sometimes I’m sure he doesn’t. I was so certain he’d come back into my life, but without any evidence or reason to believe.
For a long time, I checked out bald dudes. I started listening to Country music (you can check out my playlist on Spotify). I dug deep into how to communicate better in relationships. I stopped eating gluten and dairy. I’ve learned to more authentically stand in my truth. I have a rescue dog (that’s supposed to be my daughter’s).
I’m also in a relationship with a kind and loving man. It’s been more than two years now. We moved in after a year. Then he got a job out of state. We thought we’d make it a pretty balanced situation, where he’d be home two or three weeks a month. But it hasn’t worked out that way. And, in those times of distance and (not gonna lie) a bit of resentment, we’ve argued — and thoughts about how happy I’d been in relationship with Lee snuck in.
It’s indefensible, I know. It’s not fair to compare people — and, if it is, my current guy has several different legs up on Lee. But our relationship doesn’t have that same level of ease; we have to work on it. And sometimes I crave the harmony and stronger political alignment I shared with Lee.
I’ve tried to put my finger on what it was about that relationship that seemed so right. After all, I still had my own stuff — I struggled with some anxiety, I was on the verge of descending into consuming grief — but I liked myself and who I was in our relationship. I liked that I wanted to be my best self and was actively taking steps that ultimately resulted in a promotion at work and feeling pretty fit. I liked how natural we felt, as though our souls had known each other before. I felt authentic in how I was navigating the world. My personal momentum was toward the positive.
These days, I regularly feel angry and lethargic. Being positive seems to take extraordinary effort. And rather than casting about, trying to assign blame to a stressful situation at work or a normal, mostly positive relationship, I sometimes find myself wondering what life might be like if I were navigating it with Lee.
Deep down, I know the relationship we had wasn’t real, even as it felt more so than most. Let me clarify: the connection was real, the love was genuine. But our relationship didn’t have time to become real because we never got bored, never watched television together, never learned how to negotiate conflict with one another, were never tested. And this occasional fantasy can’t match a man who wants to create a life with me, even if his vision for our future makes me consider possibilities that are different from what I would have chosen for myself.
And there’s another possibility that plays into this malaise: What if my current mental state is simply a side effect of the outrage fatigue so many women I know are feeling… since right around January, 2017, and more so since the Kavanaugh confirmation fiasco (during which a series of ancient, shriveled white men demonstrated how little they value women, and a female senator from Maine rapturously sang the praises of an abusive drunk as though he was lapping at her labia even while she spoke).
I keep thinking I’ll be happier, calmer, better able to look forward after the next election… provided it’s free and fair, and hatred is defeated.
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?!
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.
Any Harry Potter fans out there? My children and I love the series, the characters, the theme parks, the movies… you get the idea. So last night, to celebrate JK Rowling’s birthday, we watched the first movie together.
In it, Harry discovers a mirror in which he can see the parents who died when he was an infant. They are standing behind him, smiling, his mother with a hand on his shoulder. Like a phantom pain, you can see how he nearly feels it and how badly he wants to feel it. Eventually, the headmaster and great wizard Dumbledore approaches Harry to gently send him away with these words:
“It shows us nothing more or less than the deepest, most desperate desire of our hearts… this mirror will give us neither knowledge or truth. Men have wasted away before it, entranced by what they have seen, or been driven mad, not knowing if what it shows is real or even possible.”
And this struck me deeply, as that’s exactly what I’ve been doing on and off for the past 27 months with Jeffrey, Mr. Meltsmyheart (though certainly more off than on, because I’m not that crazy!): I allowed myself to be transfixed by a fantasy, perhaps not quite driven mad, but certainly showing occasional signs of cray-cray. And that’s simply not the norm for a healthy, well-adjusted me. (Not that I’m always healthy or well-adjusted, but I’d like to think I am spend more time than not within those guardrails.)
Perhaps this article on break-ups sheds some light on what’s going on with the brain and why this has been an off-again, on-again obsessive theme for me. And, as I believe I’ve mentioned before, there has been enough other unpleasant emotional stuff going on in my life that it’s no wonder I prefer the addictive feeling of longing and heartache to the raw and wrenching work of simply dealing with everything else.
To be fair, I have done both:
- My will, trust and other legal documents have been updated. I’ve shored up my risk portfolio. And I’ve started talking to my family about my wishes in the unlikely event of my untimely demise.
- This evening I will say goodbye to Tom, the friend I mentioned earlier, who finally succumbed to his battle with brain cancer. I managed to stop in and visit him every few weeks over the past several months, and it feels good to me to have provided him some company and friendship.
- I have spent time in the sun and working out, doing my damnedest to turn the corner on a general malaise that has been hard to shake but that I cannot, in good conscience, quite call depression. And I finally feel I’ve largely shaken it.
- Oprah and Deepak sent me an invitation I couldn’t refuse, and I’ve spent 21 days enjoying their guided meditations on gratitude using their free app. I love to do the Chopra Center 21-day meditation challenges when I can, and I found this one genuinely spoke to me.
- I have taken action on the dating front, as well, and am now swiping left and right, often feeling disturbingly superficial about it all. There are many lessons to be learned from this activity, some of which I’m sure you’ll hear about soon. Why Tinder? A close friend met her fiancé with it, and sheer volume…another geeky friend encouraged me with, “so much of it is just a numbers game” — meaning, meet a lot of people and you’re bound to find one who’s a match eventually. (Of course he is also fond of bringing up a phrase from the used car industry: “There’s a butt for every seat.” I am genuinely repulsed by this analogy.)
My Mirror of Erised (“desire” in reverse, for those of who hadn’t figured that out) is safely stored away and all those fantasies…well, the top of that head of dark hair I’ve so often imagined between my thighs could be anybody, right!?
Lately a lot of people have been asking me how I’m doing: they know my ex has been struggling with health problems; they know my boss is certifiable; they know I’m a full-on single parent with a demanding job and hellacious commute and children’s activities and more than too much to try and squeeze into a day.
I tell them, “I’m fine.”
I am a liar.
The truth is that I’ve been struggling. For months. More than ever. And it hurts. I’ve never been in a place where my herbal antidepressants seem so ineffective, my endless optimism is so drained, my outlook — regardless of what I may tell my friends — is so bleak. I exercise and it is not enough. Summer is not enough. I am able to have fun; I am able to function; I can experience joy, but there’s a ceiling on this joy — an upper limit I don’t recall experiencing before. And my heart is broken.
Broken for the man I once loved and for the decline even our children must now observe. Broken for the friendships and full, rich life I once had and those who no longer call now that I’m a single parent. (What?! Do you think I’m somehow a threat to your relationship because I don’t have a husband? My life is still full and rich…so there!) Broken for my friend with a brain tumor, dying slowly or maybe less so after a lengthy seizure about a week ago.
There is a word for how I feel…lonely. I am constantly surrounded by friends, co-workers, children and people who want nothing but the best for me. And none of that is the same as being loved fully and unconditionally for who I am by a lover and mate. So I naturally poured my heartache into the fantasy of my one unrequited love, making so much more of that crush than ever really was…about whom, by now, I must have written a dozen times. Without ever even trying, the man completely lay me bare, left me defenseless. And I loved it because I loved me in the context of him: I loved the me who cared for a man because he was good and kind and competent and caring — and not for any superficial reason.
He had passion for me, too, in my dreams. I’ve woken at least a dozen times in his loving arms…I mean, it seemed like I had until I really woke up.
“I want to meet him,” says my friend and co-worker, Char. “But I think I’d probably slap him.” Char was raised by a single mother and, therefore, assumes that I am a stronger and better woman than I am. She thinks he’s crazy. (I do, too.)
Pouring my feelings into longing for someone with whom I’ve never had a relationship must somehow be easier than having to deal with the fact that my ex is an alcoholic and that my children have to watch his decline and all the other garbage that I won’t even go into right now. Heavens, it gets old to dredge up this shit!
So I swing between this genuine pain I am feeling, because I truly feel as thought the spate of difficulties is perhaps more trouble than I deserve just now, and the rational, Peppermint Patty voice inside my head telling me to “buck up” and, frankly (even though I’m not Catholic), guilt about feeling as I am when I know full well most of these are first world problems.
I surround myself with happy, positive people and am blessed to have this rich group of friends. Except, right now, it seems as though they’re all looking around pointing at rainbows and, the second I turn my head to look, thunder claps down around me. And I’ve been self isolating, which is never a good sign.
I don’t waste time wondering why. I do wonder how on earth I might find time to take forward steps…dare I say, to put myself out there, to date. Alas, I have no time to offer another person. I’m not even sure I have the time to be a good parent!
So when I took a walk with my therapist friend recently, she echoed what she’s heard from me for months and gently asked whether I thought it was time to try a different course of action. Yes. And what did I plan to do?
(That’s a good friend right there!)
I committed to a plan. And I spent more time in the sun and worked out and started meditating again and, for the past week or so, I have felt better. My head seems to be on straight again. My heart does not feel noticeably broken. And this, too, shall pass.
A few days ago, I learned that a man I’ve known (very casually) is dying of a brain tumor. Let’s call him Tom (not his real name).
When I left one corporate job (right around the time I started this blog), a friend and mentor recommended I network with Tom. We set up a coffee appointment, talked about my experience, what opportunities or possibilities he saw based on his connections, and networking groups I should attend. Tom was excited for me, positive about my very broad skill set and encouraged me to think big.
We saw each other a few more times for coffee over the past couple of years: the last time would have been over two years ago when he had left a job and asked me to return the favor. I shared some connections and helped him understand the organizational structure of the company I work for and see where there might be opportunities that aligned with his passions. He told me he’d take me out to dinner to thank me as soon as he’d landed the next job.
It was a year before I ran into him again, this time in our corporate cafeteria, where he was clearly having an interview lunch and didn’t have an opportunity to talk. And it was late autumn: buzz of a hiring freeze meant he wouldn’t be hired until at least the new year. What I didn’t know was that, in the meantime, he’d been diagnosed with and treated for a brain tumor.
Fast forward to this past fall, when I realized we were now working at the same company. In fact, Tom had the same role and leader as the object of my affections that I wrote about a couple of posts ago — you know, the one I haven’t managed to get over in two years… I reached out to Tom and suggested coffee or a happy hour, and he told me he’d been having some medical issues and would be back after the new year, at which point he’d reconnect.
Over the past few months, I checked every so often to see if Tom was online, but he wasn’t. I tried texting and social media, with no response. So I reached out to my unrequited love interest — you know, the one whose contact information I deleted for the sake of self preservation — who told me Tom had been out for awhile; that his tumor had come back, he was being treated and expected to be back in February. We vowed to let each other know if we heard news. Tom was the strong, athletic, vibrant type we knew would come back!
Except that he’s not. A few days ago, I heard from the same friend and mentor who’d introduced me to Tom in the first place that he’s declined rapidly and in hospice. I’ve felt gutted and raw and unsure how to grieve someone with whom I was never really very close; Tom was little more than a casual acquaintance and possibility to me. Now, not only did I have to share what I’d learned with my old flame, but the two of them are linked in my mind.
And that’s how I found myself grieving both of them last night: I grieved for Tom, who I’ll never get to truly know, and for the man for whom I fell so hard and who didn’t return those feelings. Once again, I found myself wondering when I’ll be able to release that energy, that longing, that heartache and move on… I cried over it for the first time and, suddenly, I realized something: this man, for whom I still care a great deal, was a near daily presence in my life for two years: he was like a best friend. And I realized that the loss I feel is not for the love that never was, but the loss of my best friend.
It was a cathartic release and realization. I am still unsure what to do with this new perspective, but I am now confident that I can properly grieve these loses for what they were and are.
The other thing about perspective is how well it plays as a cartoon: There’s me, with this huge thought bubble filled with everything you’ve read in this post and several others about the guy who should probably have a nickname or even a category on this blog because he’s played such a big part in my consciousness about men since we met. And then there’s him, with a thought bubble over his head that says something like, “Huh. Yeah, I know her…”
I suppose I should be flattered that a young person in my life approached me recently to tell me that she’s bisexual.
Here’s how I responded:
“All right. Do you want to talk about it?”
Here’s how I felt:
Freaked out. Because this youngster is only 13. And I guess I wasn’t ready to have someone in the same age range as my own children proclaim something about her sexuality. Not yet.
Here are some of the thoughts that ran through my head:
- At 13, how on earth do you know something like that? Does that mean you’ve experienced something with someone? Already!? Or is it just a feeling? I mean, when I was young, we — meaning me and my friends, as far as I knew — didn’t know there was anything but heterosexual. I don’t recall being conscious of anyone around me being gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, inter-sex or in any other way different from this so-called norm. Times were different. There weren’t television shows or movies with clearly homosexual characters. Of course, I now know of a few people from my small hometown who do not identify as straight, and I have many gay and lesbian friends.
- Is being bisexual really a thing? Yes, I know, I know. I’ve heard that it legitimately is, but I can’t truly grasp it. I find women’s bodies beautiful. And I sometimes think about what a woman’s breast must look like or what it would feel like to caress it. But at the end of the day, I want a good, hard cock. I’ve always thought of myself as decidedly heterosexual. And sometimes also as bi-curious. But I’ve never thought of those things as mutually exclusive. Or of anything attraction related as mutually exclusive.
- And because I’ve had this women’s-bodies-are-beautiful conversation with so many women in my adult life, I’ve just come to accept as normal that there is a fluidity to our sexuality and desires that flow across a spectrum. There doesn’t seem to be much sense in or need to label it.
- Continuing from there… Is stepping into this label in some way harmful at such a young age? Is there a need to categorize oneself? Do others know? Will they persecute or bully? What land mines might await in her own psyche or in her experience as a result?
- Is identifying as such a first step in coming out as gay or lesbian? Is this the get-the-adults-around-me-used-to-this-first approach?
- In talking about it with this young person, I learned that a certain group of friends identifies as bisexual. So is this another one of those middle school things, like dying one’s hair or exchanging clothes, where they want to be like each other? Might it be a phase? Is it the cool thing to do or be? A dear older friend once told me about her daughter’s dalliance with a lesbian relationship in high school. This daughter went on to have a long term (now six years) relationship with a man through and after college. Will this young woman follow a similar path?
I’m certain many such musings paint me to be biased and ignorant. Truly, all of these ponderings flashed through my mind in the course of a couple of minutes. In the end, none of these things matter. As I told this young person, what’s truly important is to build loving, respectful, caring and healthy relationships with friends or lovers, in whatever relationships you choose, to honor your feelings and those of others, and to develop communication and other relationship skills.
I’ve been seeing a fellow for a bit, and it’s such that he’s met the children and things. Folks around me use the word “serious” when they learn of this. I don’t know whether it’s serious or not, only that I feel cared for and loved as close to fully as I’ve ever felt. And that’s certainly a nice feeling.
One of the ways he cares for me is by being helpful, and he comes by it quite naturally: he helps make and serve dinner, refusing to begin eating until I sit down to join him; he has the sort of handy skills that are transforming my basement and garage to vastly more functional spaces; he plans to paint a room while I’m away for a few days.
“It sounds like this guy really likes you,” my girlfriends have said.
He recently told me that I should anticipate having the greenest grass on the block this season.
For anyone who’s actually seen my block in the summertime, that distinction will be difficult to achieve; the DINKs have it won hands down. I’ve mentioned this double-income, no-kids couple before. They are workhorses, spending hours of work nearly every weekend perfecting their patch of urban landscape. She works tirelessly to plant and keep gardens, while his singular concern is the grass.
He of the DINKs spent years helping her fix up her home. The only way to enjoy a return on his investment, he teased, was to marry her. While he presents a sometimes gruff demeanor to the world, she enjoys a full-on adoration I’ve yet to witness in another couple. He is lavish in his affections, and spends two or three vacation days cooking, cleaning and preparing for her birthday party each summer. She basks in it and is grateful, and I am quite sure he needs no more than that.
So, back to the conversation at the bar the other night, during which my boyfriend claimed my lawn would look like a golf course. I thought of the DINKs down the street, a realization dawned on me, and I smiled.
“What are you smirking about?” he asked.
“You’ve yet to say so, but you love me,” I replied knowingly.
“Why haven’t you said so before?” I asked.
“I didn’t know whether you wanted me to,” he replied.
Our conversation went on for some time after that, and I continued to chuckle about the love equation at which I’d arrived: green grass = love.
“I don’t want you to think the grass is greener somewhere else,” he said before he kissed me goodnight.
I was out for a walk with a younger girlfriend one day not long ago and, suddenly, it dawned on me — out of nowhere — to ask her, “Are you a virgin?”
She confessed that technically, just by a hair (so to speak), she was.
And it was as I pondered this wonder that I realized that, in this calendar year, I am also a virgin. OMG, I thought, how in the heck did that happen?! How is it that, in 2013, I’ve had what — in retrospect — I’d call a dry spell?
I thought about the dating…relationships? no, not really the right word…more like dating situations I’d gotten into: two or three of them might have been heading toward physical intimacy, but with no great momentum or desire on my part. I was merely considering my willingness when things ended.
So it’s not as though I’m a prude or that I’ve intentionally abstained or that no one’s been interested. It’s just that I’m ready for something special, dammit, and I’m not willing to settle for another jerk or nowhere relationship!
Further, I’ve spent a great deal of time with toys, sometimes routinely using one each night for a period of days or weeks at a time. I found this had two effects:
- I generally felt less needy or seeking of male attention.
- I slept soundly all night.
Another girlfriend suggested I consider whether it’s had the unintentional effect of making me lazy in my “search.” Would a month of pent-up desire change how I behave when out among potential suitors? Or change my energy or appeal to them?
To define what I’m looking / holding out for more specifically: the last time a relationship felt truly special and magical was with my last boyfriend, who I met around this time (gulp) nearly two years ago. And we hung out a few times before feeling any emotional closeness. And we talked a lot on the dates we’d had. And, even though it took me less than a month to ask him to spend the night — and I really, honestly meant just to cuddle, but you know how that goes (especially when you haven’t really planned it out and end up topless after removing your bra because you failed to change in advance or have a tee-shirt ready) — it was sweet and tender and slow. It’s even fair to say I didn’t fully appreciate it at the moment but, if I could only use one word to describe how he behaved toward me and discovering my body for the first time, I would use “reverential.”
So I’m looking for reverence; that experience of someone who cares for me and is capable of tenderness and connection, someone who values me and cherishes my feelings, someone who genuinely desires the whole of me. And I’m just not interested in getting physically involved for anything less.
I cut another one loose a week ago. We’d been casually seeing each other for awhile and it just wasn’t going to work out: He described himself as a day trader who tried to live modestly (miserly). He wanted to travel the world, having never been much of anywhere by the age of 47. He didn’t text and communicated only by phone, often leaving messages that went something like this:
Hi, it’s Steve. Sorry I missed you. I just called to say hello. Hope you’re having a good weekend.
I know that sounds perfectly normal, except that when you’re a single parent, you kinda want they guy to call and say something more like:
Hi Beautiful, it’s Steve. Wanted to see if you’re free Saturday night — I’ve got some great ideas for dinner. Ring me back!
At any rate, he sounded a bit too much like Eeyore. I found myself screening his calls, waiting two or three days to return his calls and generally disinterested in seeing him.
So last week, I set up one more dinner. I think I meant to give myself one more chance to feel some magic. But I didn’t. He walked me to my car, then I drove him to his across the lot. And I let him know that I didn’t feel our relationship developing into anything serious. I thought it would be most respectful to do it in person. I thought it would be quick and easy: he’d get out of my car and drive away.
But he wanted to discuss: He asked me if there was anything specific he’d done or hadn’t done.
I repeated that I just wasn’t feeling it, that I was very busy with work and some remodeling projects and parenting…
He told me that, while it’s difficult to date as a single parent, people who want to work at it can be successful.
See, that’s just it: I’m not feeling that special something that makes me want to work at it.
All the way home, I thought about how good-looking and kind he was, how nice it felt when he touched me and kissed me, and how auspicious the size of his extremities appeared to be. We always seemed to laugh when we were together. I wondered if I’d made a mistake, particularly since I hadn’t yet verified a correlation between the size of his hands and…well, you know.
Then, while telling a co-worker about it the next day, she laughed and said, “You mean you were just too nice to be honest! You had an entire list of things you didn’t like about this guy and why it wouldn’t work.”
All those things came flooding back to me. I realized she was right. And that I’d made the right decision.