kid gloves

I feel friggin’ awesome! I love life! Yet it would be a total crock if I were to try and convince anyone that I weren’t still healing from my failed relationship. For example, I occasionally catch myself behaving in ways that suggest I’m reacting — seeking qualities that are opposite those of my ex or placing inordinate emphasis on things that might otherwise not draw my focus.

By this age, I’d say the same about the men I’ve met. Most are in some stage of healing or another…which got me thinking:  I’ve vowed that I won’t treat a man nor relationship as a project. I’ve vowed to be firm, direct and absolutely myself. I’ve vowed to be clear about my high expectations. And I’m not going to treat any man with kid gloves. So how do I maintain the balance between treating another with care vs. being careful?

And that’s when I realized that it’s all in the delivery. I can be conscious and kind, and still communicate what I want and need. Because there’s a difference between acknowledging that we may still be healing and treating each other as fragile, inferior beings.

what a wife wants

I hear my guy throw “I’m a bachelor” often in response to the way he takes care of himself — e.g. lots of take-out food, cigars, etc. I wouldn’t say there’s any issue with these behaviors, but the “I’m a bachelor” default could become a worrisome habit if we were to enter a more serious stage of our relationship. I often find myself wanting to coach or prep him for what a wife wants, whether that woman is me or some another lucky lady. But it’s hard to balance my commitment to not making a project of him with keeping up habits of excellent communication. I’d rather see what he has to offer than try to train him to be something I want…a husband who…

Plans for an abundant future, both financially and physically:

  • Takes care of home and property.
  • Saves for retirement.
  • Eats right, exercises, has healthy habits.
  • Releases what is no longer needed.

Pitches in around the house:

  • Can prepare a healthy meal for the family.
  • Can make a bed, do laundry, fold clothes, etc.
  • Can clean or, in lieu of cleaning, votes for hiring a housekeeper.

Keeps his own friends and interests:

  • We all need time alone and other healthy relationships.

Has good habits / manners:

  • Puts the toilet seat down.
  • Picks up after himself.
  • Keeps his stuff organized.

Is loving:

  • Prioritizes to make time to stay connected.
  • Plans the occasional surprise.
  • Learns my love language(s).


  • That where there are children involved, your time is not your own, and you must simply surrender to the present needs of the family.
  • How to fix a thing or two around the house, and when to call in the experts, instead.

we were married to the same man

Over the past two years or more, I cannot tell you how many times I heard, “Sounds like we were married to the same man!” I found women at work, women at the salon, and friends I’ve known for years who all expressed the same sentiment.

I guess what it comes down to is that there are a finite number of reasons that relationships don’t work out. And, as it happens, I’ve found several women who share a story not entirely unlike mine. Several, it seemed, had some sort of midlife crisis and then…

In one particular example, a high-end builder with an exclusive clientele just decided he didn’t want to do that sort of thing anymore. After bumbling about for a few years, taking some classes and trying to figure out what he wanted to do when he grew up, he ended up in retail. Because he was more mature than the high-schoolers reporting to him and had a bit of know-how, he was quickly promoted to supervisor. Cheers to the family dental plan…and a couple of hundred dollars a week in income! Sure, it was a contribution, but nothing like supporting a family with the income to which they’d become accustomed.

His wife was a trooper throughout this transition, but finally opened herself to the possibility that she didn’t have to be responsible for him financially or emotionally or otherwise. He had become another child to a woman weary of parenting.

Another woman’s husband spent much of his time lying about on the sofa watching the television when he was meant to be looking for a job. He racked up credit card debt and lied about money issues.

Here’s where the relationship rubber hits the road. We’re here to love and support one another in ways, as long as we agree to what those ways are. (Most, but not all of us, know what we’re getting into before we marry.) We’re not here to parent our spouses or support behaviors that don’t nurture us or our commitments. We’re not on this Earth for another lesson in co-dependence.

Long (years) after I’d asked my wasband to go back to work, he was still protesting that “we’d agreed that he would stay home with the children.” In truth, we’d “agreed” because he’d lost his job and it seemed like our best option at the time. Like a toddler on the verge of a decade-long tantrum, he’d dug in his heels and was not about to budge from his position. He changed his internal script to, “I gave up my career to be home with my children.” And he seemed to believe it!

Relationships must change and evolve. They require communication. Agreements made must often be renegotiated. And it takes two committed adults to embark on that sort of work.

Mack Truck logic

While in a committed relationship, decisions must be made, compromises reached, peace kept, etc. Standard methods of give and take don’t always work, especially when both parties feel particularly strong about something…permanent birth control, for example.

I’d given birth twice, didn’t want to be on the pill and wasn’t in to the idea of having some sort of surgery to prevent another pregnancy. He didn’t want his junk messed with.

We had several civilized discussions, including with friends and neighbors, about the topic… one of them went like this:  A girlfriend stood in our front yard and gestured with her hands while saying, “Oh, come on! She’s pushed a head the size of a cantaloupe out a hole this big — twice! — and you can’t even have a minor outpatient procedure?!”

I thought we had reached agreement…yet the appointment was never scheduled. So I resorted to Mack Truck logic, which goes something like this:  “Look, you have older children and ours. If I get hit by a Mack Truck tomorrow, regardless of whether you re-marry, you’re done having children. If you get hit by a Mack Truck tomorrow, I might meet someone and want to have more children.”

Fast forward to dinner at another couple’s home weeks later. The other gentleman is talking about his vasectomy:

My husband:  “So did you have to shave yourself?”

Me:  “Oh my god, is that what this is about?! You’re afraid of shaving?!”

The next day I scheduled an appointment for him with a urologist by the name of Dr. Hackett. Poetic, no?

I’m not sure Mack Truck logic will work with every man or in every situation. But it made sense to me!

Try it. Let me know how it goes.

fair warning

For all of my potential beaus out there, I think it’s only fair that I warn you:  I told my daughter she could get a puppy when I get married.

It wasn’t a promise, really, more like a “when pigs fly” sort of statement…at least at the time.

Yet, somehow, the possibility seems not so far-fetched any longer…

a few recent discoveries

There are those who say we learn something new every day…I don’t know about every day, but my mind is always open to discoveries. Here are a few recent ones:

  • Justin Vernon, a.k.a. Bon Iver, was a huge X-Files and Indigo Girls fan. That dude and I would get along just fine!
  • When I was younger, all the males in the family and neighborhood helped shingle our church’s parsonage. Therefore, I always thought roofing was something anyone could do. Thus, it pissed me off that there was a man in my home who was home all the time and our garage didn’t have a decent roof — it’s not rocket science, after all! If my brother could do it, so could my mate, right?! Well…now I’ve seen a master at work, and roofing done right does take a little more skill than some young teenage boys hammering nails into a roof. In the end, I’m happy to have paid for this incredibly high-quality work.
  • My sister-in-law recommended I see Crazy, Stupid, Love, which she described as “hysterical.” I couldn’t agree more — the film captured several of the complex issues of marriage, infidelity and maintaining our identities within relationships, making for some poignant moments and a lot of laughs. Highly recommended!
  • Finally, my @failedatforty Twitter presence won me a free copy of Marriage Confidential by Pamela Haag, a brilliant, thoughtful and well-researched examination of modern marriage. While I’m only half-way through the book, I’ve discovered that I was a workhorse wife with a Tom Sawyer husband. It’s a thought-provoking read as we consider the history of marriage, in which roles were once so clearly defined, compared to the present, wherein we look to a spouse to be our everything — a best friend, soul mate, co-parent, earner, lover and more. That’s a lot to ask of one other person, and I think this book could provide the foundation for many great discussions among couples who are married or considering marriage.

women, men and infidelity

This one ought to raise a few people’s ire…

So, it’s like 2007-ish, right? And the rumors begin to circulate that Brad Pitt has left his wife, Jennifer Anniston, for his Mr. & Mrs. Smith co-star Angelina Jolie. Suddenly, the tabloids and press and groups of women are on fire everywhere with vitriol for this hussy who stole away the innocent Jen’s husband.

Well…what always surprised me about this phenomenon is how rarely Brad’s part in all this is mentioned (and, yes, I’ve now gone generic:  Brad and Jen are any committed couple, and Angelina is any “other” woman). There were two people in a committed relationship, two people responsible for their fidelity — and, yet, Brad got none of the blame, while Angelina — who had very little responsibility for another couple’s relationship, I might argue — took the brunt of the mass outrage:

  • She lured him.
  • Look at her! Who could blame him!
  • She’s a home wrecker.
Frankly, I think that’s all a bunch of bunk. Since when should men get a free pass for this behavior? He couldn’t help himself…Really?! Is that all the self-righteous masses could say?!

And what of Jen and Brad in their relationship? They were responsible for nurturing, loving, communicating and compromising with one another. Somehow, it broke apart from within first. A strong and solid committed man would be impervious to external influences, right?

Well, even I admit that Italy and Angelina could be tempting…

I’ve personally experienced or witnessed many shades of this hue — from my own parents’ divorce (which ended in infidelity) to the temptations I encountered while feeling vulnerable while in my own marriage to feeling completely helpless when I couldn’t seem to recapture any of my husband’s wayward energy. I never cheated, and I don’t know that my ex did, either…but we weren’t equally committed at all times (or ever). And yet I was always conscious of our responsibility for our relationship.

If my ex had been unfaithful (and I suppose it’s possible that he was), I can assure you I would have held him squarely responsible. This does not mean that I would have had any positive or warm feelings toward the other woman; only that I wouldn’t automatically assume malicious intent on her part. What if she had done nothing to lure him? What if he had made the first move?

When I was younger, my attitude was far more cavalier. I had a few encounters with married men myself. I don’t condone this behavior; I now view it as wrong. At the time, my behaviors were foolish and naive, with no intent to hurt others. I never made any first moves. I assumed these men just didn’t value their marriages. And if they didn’t, why should I bother? (And, of course, I see how such dalliances hurt me most of all in the end.)

Having lived through more than a decade of commitment, I certainly see how misguided my perspective once was. I believe those around us — our friends, our families and society in general — ought to be generally inclined to support us in our commitments, whatever they may be. Still, I lean toward placing the greatest onus for any marriage or commitment on the two people in it. And, while I hope others around us will adopt behaviors that support those commitments, I’m not sure the support of those outside of our commitments is the relationship glue we should rely on.

pros and cons

The fellow I met this weekend was once charged with several felony counts of aggravated assault. It’s a long story but, according to this gent, he was falsely accused and a victim of police brutality. He offered to bring along papers that show that, after a legal struggle of several years, all charges have been dropped with no conditions.

I suppose this brings up some interesting questions of personal safety — e.g. if he brought paperwork proving he was exonerated, how would I know it wasn’t forged?

At one point in our conversation, he said he was surprised I’d agreed to meet him after hearing his story over the phone. Well…he seemed genuine and honest. So I asked him how he would know if I am who I say I am, and whether he’d like to see papers proving that I am single.

The truth is that there are a lot of wing nuts out there:  sociopaths, psychopaths, professional manipulators, compulsive liars…I could go on. (My mother, who is reading a book entitled The Sociopath Next Door, might warn me to be on heightened alert.) But, at some point, you’ve got to go with your gut and give someone the benefit of the doubt, or you’ll never get out of the starting gate. By the time we’re forty, whether never married or divorced, we’ve all got a little ‘splainin’ to do. There are few among us without some sort of a past.

I think the more interesting discussion we had was about what, on the surface, might look appealing to another. Briefly, this gent’s a salesman…he was not at all shy about letting me know that I should find certain facts about him appealing:

  • He is single, never married.
  • He has no children.
  • He is financially stable and successful in his career.
  • He does not drink.

Also, to his credit, he has a southern accent, good manners, brown hair and eyes, and an infectious energy and enthusiasm for living. He is both interesting and interested.

Yet, as I told him, it would be impossible to tell whether his never having been married was truly a pro or a con. After all, I explained, divorced men — in my experience — have gone through something so incredibly humbling, something requiring such deep introspection, that they may be more prepared to know the hard work truly involved in nurturing a successful relationship. No doubt they enter new relationships with few romantic illusions.

And then there’s parenting…

He graciously conceded these points…and, then:  “I just want to find someone who’s crazy about me and who I’m crazy about!”

Alas, it could be hard not to go crazy for someone with that kind of innocent, idealistic and perhaps naive enthusiasm.

You should know that this gent didn’t give me his last name before we met, though I typically insist. While on our date, I told him that he would give me his last name before our date ended, so that I could Google the monstrous allegations against him. He cocked a brow. I smiled and said, “It’s a choice, but I think it’s one you’ll want to make.” He laughed, showed me his state-issued driver’s license and told me what to anticipate learning via my Google search.

When I did get a chance to look him up, his arrest and allegations merited only a few column inches on page five of a minor newspaper. And those allegations, as written, sounded like a bizarre fabrication anyway. I have to confess that a part of me was hoping for more…as in front page, above the fold, Miami Herald or better. Exoneration in the form of a death row pardon is, after all, far more dramatic and exciting than your run-of-the-mill dropped charges. Heck, My Cousin Vinnie looks more dramatic from my vantage point (which is not at all meant to diminish the trauma this fellow experienced at the hands of poorly trained officers of the law, a night in jail, legal fees, the stress of facing charges that could result in serious prison time, etc.).

At any rate, since we’ve talked twice and exchanged several text messages since our brief coffee date, I suspect I’ll be seeing him again. And it’s possible that all this drama and danger associated with his alleged criminal past might make it all the more interesting!

relationship article round-up

I’ve noticed a lot of interesting stuff out there on the inter webs. I don’t have a ton of time for commentary so, for now, I’ll just direct your attention to a few:

Imagine my surprise when I saw this article on trends website PSFK. Evidently anonymous blog The Plankton, which discusses dating from the perspective of a woman as “a plankton on the food chain of sexuality,” has attracted worldwide interest for its unique point of view. As a 40-year-old woman, I can’t say that I consider myself to be at the bottom of the sexual food chain. I have, however, experienced some disinterest that — and this is a gut feeling only — might be attributed to the difficulty in dating a nearly full-time single mother…and that bums me out a little.

This headline on HuffPost Divorce popped out at me the other day:  On Second Thought, Don’t Get Married by Dr. Neil Clark Warren. For those of you who don’t know, the author is the dude who founded Americans believe, in large numbers, that marriage is becoming obsolete. Yet millions of couples still marry, and millions more want to, but are not allowed to in most states. I absolutely see both sides of this issue, as I’ve lived it. And I agree with Clark Warren that we don’t focus enough on learning how to choose a mate, build successful relationships and resolve conflict.

Finally, I’m a big fan of Dan Savage and all the work he’s done to share frank, open discussions about sexuality and sexual ethics (not to mention the amazing It Gets Better project and his political activism). In this NYT Magazine piece, Savage talks about covering off on sexual expectations before commitment — think of it like having the financial pre-nup discussion, but about fidelity. It’s actually kind of ground-breaking thinking and while, as a monogamist, it’s still kind of hard to wrap my head around it, it certainly bears discussing — e.g. If one of us cheats, does that mean the relationship is over? Could we forgive, work it out and move on? What might it mean? etc. Good discussions to have before taking the plunge, right?

the D word

In the interest of transparency and authenticity, I have another confession:

I’ve been writing about the D word, divorce. In truth, I was never legally married. My ex and I were together for more than a decade; we owned a home together and had two beautiful children; I wore a ring. We were a post-modern couple, unsure that we needed a certificate in a world of domestic partner benefits, hyphenated names and all kinds of modern families.

By the time we’d decided it was time (I’d processed through a slew of misgivings and beliefs about marriage and its meaning, which is one of the reasons Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed resonates with me so), we determined that remodeling the kitchen was more likely to have a positive and profound impact on our daily lives than a marriage certificate. While we could have just gone to the courthouse, I wanted a ceremony; I wanted to get married on the beach with friends and family standing in support of us.

We believed the conventional knowledge that “common law” was seven years. In my mind, we should have married before the seven-year mark for it to really mean something. Yet, by then, I was beginning to see the signs of all this unraveling… (As it happens, there is not common law marriage in this state.)

Still we called each other husband and wife and described ourselves as married in most (though not legal) situations. It was more than shorthand, it was what we felt. I was fully committed. My ex thought he was fully committed, though I would not have described his participation as such. He believed that staying, being there, co-existing was commitment. I believe commitment means partnership, co-creating a life for our family, and a vow to work at regular communication and presence.

And so now I write about divorce as though I’ve actually been divorced, and some may make judgments about that, just as there were judgements about our non-marriage. In fact, I hired a lawyer, there were legal documents and processes relating to joint property and custody and child support, hearings, paperwork and heartache. True, I didn’t have to gut my retirement account, but I suspect everything else — the emotional turmoil and pain, severed or strained friendships, etc. were of the same magnitude. And so I don’t use the term lightly or intend anyone offense by its use… it’s simply the best way for me to name what I’ve been through.