…as neuroses go…

I have a friend who blogs about dating. She’s a good decade younger than I am, and sometimes I enjoy taking a trip down memory lane to revisit the anxieties of singledom that I, too, once experienced through a much different lens than I do now. (In fact, I don’t have a lick of anxiety about being single just now…no ticking clock, no need for a partner, etc…)

So this post on imagining the worst kind of cracked me up. Turns out, my feelings about the worst thing you could learn about someone you’re dating are not that much different than this 20-Nothing’s list. STDs, bankruptcy, dishonesty, debt, violent crimes — yep, those pretty much top my list, too.

And I think being forty and having seen a lot of relationship “stuff” in the past couple of decades, one tends to mellow to a lot of the ethical conundrums that would have been deal-breakers at a younger age. And, in present tense, they may be deal breakers now…but to learn that someone we like may have made a misstep in his or her “youth” no longer evokes the same harsh moral judgement as it would have a decade ago.

Having been through a rocky relationship, I’ve experienced rage, temptation and vulnerability, meanwhile behaving at times in ways that are difficult to reconcile with the woman I know as me. We are all human and fallible, and my attitude toward many indiscretions has softened as a result of my experience.

To summarize, I still think STDs and murder top this list, though it’s something I don’t spend much time pondering. And I’d probably add “failing to provide for one’s children” — that’s right up there for me, too.

Independence Day status report

Today, Independence Day to be exact, seems like as good a day as any to report on the status of my own independence…and I do have some good news to report:

Today I felt that old, elusive feeling…the feeling I recall feeling at thirty (a decade ago), after I’d purchased my first condo and luxury car, knowing that I was self-reliant and could allow myself abundance. I felt a glimpse of that in-the-flow, abundant feeling, completely fulfilled, with no need of anything more than what I have here; complete in and grateful for all that I am and all that I have.

Wow! Seems like it’s been a long time since I’ve felt this way, and recognizing it brings the realization that I’ve spent too much time in the past couple of years feeling inadequate, damaged or lonely… in a word, like a failure.

The hidden message or blessing in this is that I don’t feel like I need a man in my life to be complete. At some point, I’d love to find a co-conspirator and partner, but right now I feel happy to be single me, happy to be a mother to my littles and simply filled with joy at being present.

Sure, I’m still dealing with some lingering pain, loneliness and resentment…but even acknowledging that is an act of further letting go, further allowing myself to heal.

And here’s where I come back to the dating thing. At this very moment, I don’t care if I date any time soon. Sure, I’d love to go out and have some fun — and to have someone fun with whom to have fun. But I do have those people — I have girlfriends. Many of the men I’ve met online have proven flaky and seem to not have taken the time to heal themselves. I’m not saying that as a judgment, because I’ve been pretty wishy-washy, too.

What I am saying is “do the work, people!” It’s worth it to heal yourself and be whole before you try it all over again.

my eyes are on the prize

The theme for the past week or so is keeping my eyes on the prize. It’s popped up in dialogue with friends, in horoscopes, on the radio…

So what is the prize?

Well…it’s not any of the men I’ve written about here, regardless of how much I’m intrigued by or adore them. It’s not my current day job.

The prize is enjoying life now.

The prize is spending quality time with my children.

The prize is good health.

The prize is a healthy, loving relationship.

The prize is fulfilling work that shares something positive with the world.

someone thinks I’m in a pretty good place

Two weeks ago…

The other night, I went out for a cocktail with…drumroll, please…more-like-it, a man who genuinely interests me:  I mean he interests me as a human, he interests me as a potential date, I am intrigued by the thought of spending time with him, getting to know him a little better and determining whether we share relationship potential …and I am interested in wild, randy, raunchy, dirty bedroom sorts of things with him. Wildly interested.

We started at a networking event, running in to people he knew before we’d even reached the bar. They looked me up and down while asking him about his divorce. And then we found my people, who gave him pretty much the equivalent treatment. And when the requisite connections were made, we found our way to another bar, sitting side by side, laughing and flirting. We shared stories and he touched my knee. We talked, confessed and went off on tangents. Every cell in my body felt awake, present and ready for whatever might happen. There was no intense or burning passion, no urgency, what I felt when with him was more like a rhythm bass, a low thrumming, or  the deep, throaty idle of a powerful engine. Finally, we walked back to my car and he kissed me goodnight.

He seems not ready, in my estimation, for the things that I might be interested in doing with him. Or, if he is, he doesn’t appear to be interested in me, particularly. We came about this cocktail in a sort of very roundabout way, and he has not directly asked me out. Nor has he ever paid me any compliments about my appearance. He initiates communication with me sometimes, which suggests some level of desire to stay connected, but… Oh well, I’m not going to analyze. My ways of understanding a man’s interest are 1) that he finds a way to let me know that he finds me attractive and 2) he asks me out. So, unless or until these items are met, I have little to work with.

So there’s me, probably in the friend zone again, because I am understanding and accepting of others and I genuinely believe it’s okay to be where you are. And if not ready is where he is…well, then, there’s not a lot I can do about that. No matter how freakin’ fabulous I am — and regardless of how fun that naughtiness I have in mind is gonna be!

I think the “current state” thing about me that excites me most is a little incident that occurred at a party last weekend. I was out with friends I rarely see, all of whom went to college together. (We do not share this alma mater.) I sat next to the usual guy, whose wife was otherwise engaged, and we caught up while chatting with another couple. After it had been established that we were not “together” (no funny business here, folks), we chatted about the last year of my life — divorce, turning forty, quitting my job.

After a while, the wife (of the other couple) observed, “You seem like you’re in a very good place. You’re not completely healed, there’s still a little bit of something there…but you’re doing well.”

Why a complete stranger would say something like this to me, and why it would mean something, is a mystery. Yet it was a gift. I needed to hear that, yeah, I’m still a bit of a freak show (or hot mess, however you prefer to put it), but healing is a journey and it’s nice to hear that, at least by appearance, I’m nearly there.

And I guess maybe that it’s because I’m not fully, completely ready to meet someone special that I can be okay with an intriguing guy being unready and just leave things alone. As much as I’d like to go out and play, I don’t want to mess things up. And if he gets ready and still has no interest in me…well, I’ll have to get okay with that, too. But I’m strong enough to manage. After all, I’m nearly healed.

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.

cheap sex? on my terms

Slate recently published an article called Sex is Cheap:  Why young men have the upper hand in bed, even when they’re failing in life. The article, written by a man, is based on research and data from around the world.

My colleague and 20-Nothings author, Jessie Rosen, followed up with her astute commentary here.

And still I think it’s worth exploring whether the equation changes as we get older, specifically for single women approaching or into their forties. First, let’s acknowledge that, by this time in life, some things have changed for women:

  • Our libidos are more active. While men are alleged to peak in sex drive at 19, women’s libidos allegedly peak at 30. I say allegedly, because most women I know would argue that we’re even more libidinous at 40. (And because I’ve experienced 50-year-olds with as much energy as any 19-year-old.)
  • For many of us, sex is no longer about our biological clock and securing commitment, DNA and a provider for our children. Many of us have already met that need, more or less.
  • We’re more confident — this means being more comfortable in our bodies, more assertive about getting our needs met, more able to be direct and more able to walk away (after all, by this time in life, we’re likely to have acquired more toys — a.k.a. The Elite Sophisticate, Doc Johnson or simply BOB, for Battery-Operated Boyfriend).
  • We’ve gained a lot more relationship experience, whether we’ve been married and divorced or not.

So…is sex still cheap? A quick look at the dynamics on online dating sites or in any bar will assure you that, yes, sex is still cheap . Men, it seems, are able to find willing partners whatever their station in life. As are women.

But, based on my own experience and some anecdotal evidence from my contemporaries, the balance of power has undergone a nuanced shift:  the women I know who are serious about seeking a mate date multiple men — and they wait to sleep with any of the serious contenders. They’ve learned a thing or two about how to develop a relationship and they know that sex can complicate their emotions when they’re exploring whether someone is right for them. Instead, they enjoy steamy liaisons with a hot guy who they’ve already concluded is Mr. Wrong.

By forty, most single women can walk into a bar, pick up a man, take him home, sleep with him and forget it. And they can communicate to men they really care about that they’re looking for commitment and not willing to get sexually involved without it. They know how to respect themselves and, thus, demand respect from a man. (And if you’re a single woman and this doesn’t resonate with you, you’ve at least got to admit to having learned enough to know what you’re getting in to.)

The implication for men at this juncture in life is that, especially if they are finally looking for a life mate, the tables may have turned. If a woman sleeps with a man right away, it could very well be a relationship death knell. It may mean she’s already ruled him out.

I’ve become a cliche

I haven’t posted for a few days, partly because I’ve been making some major transitions (in real time), which I’ve alluded to in recent posts. So here it is:  I left my job. Wednesday was my last day. And I haven’t written since earlier in the week because I’ve struggled with what to say about that.

To briefly recap the past year of my life:  I got divorced, turned forty and quit my job. On the surface, this may appear to be a mid-life crisis. I am officially a cliche. Ewwww!

And another funny thing about this is that I’ve been jumping back in forth in time and, in telling the story of my failed marriage, I haven’t even gotten to the part about my fortieth birthday. Man, good luck following all this!

I’ve seen so many people do this:  they get divorced, and then they realize that everything else in their life rubs them wrong, as well. It’s like they need to shed their skin or other things in life become like a proverbial rash. They redecorate, job hop, screw around or whatever seemingly immature or crazy things they need to do to lash out.

And now I’m realizing that maybe, just maybe, all those fools I’ve seen behave in this cliched way simply decided that life is too short to be unhappy. Yes, this is also a cliche. I seem to be full of them today. So once they’ve made the step of deciding they don’t need to be unhappy in their primary relationship, they begin to look at the other aspects of their life that are causing them grief and make changes in those areas, too.

For me, my ex finally got a job. It’s a small step and a small job. But I’m hoping it leads to him regaining his confidence and becoming the force of talent, skill and creativity he once was. This man has a lot of gifts — unfortunately, he undercuts himself all the time. But the point is, he got a job and can, ostensibly, provide a small amount of child support to me and cover the children’s health insurance and that lifted just enough weight from my shoulders so that I no longer felt confined.

I’ve actually been working, on the creative level, at finding a new job for several weeks. I was noticing how many people seem to have more balance and more income, and I’ve decided that I can be one of those people. They are not inherently smarter or more educated than I am — it’s simply a matter of re-packaging my transferrable skills. And I wanted to give myself the time to really focus hard on the type of opportunity I’m seeking, rather than rashly jump into something thinking of it as a foot in the door.

So I jumped ship. I am blessed to be able to manage for a couple of months before I need to do something desperate. And I’m likely to be more open and available to spot broader opportunities by giving myself this space.

Send positive vibes! And send contacts if you know of mentors I should talk to or connections I should make. I’m both terrified and thrilled for this next chapter in my life.

Festivus for the ex of us

Happy Festivus, everyone! Today is the day Seinfeld followers honor with traditions including the Festivus pole, Feats of Strength and the Airing of Grievances.

What a great opportunity to send a back-handed holiday greeting to my ex, right?!

It would be easy to be bitter and place blame when you come out of a relationship like mine. In fact, I’ve spent much too much energy on these very behaviors. And I know damned well how unproductive that is!

Most of the time, I try to be conscious about the energy I’m putting out in the world, my language and my general outlook on life. I believe what we put out affects what we get back. (There are some excellent books on this topic by Michael Losier and John Assaraf, among others.) So I try to stay positive, express my gratitude and always view my cup as overflowing.

This can be difficult when, throughout most of my relationship, I was the primary or only breadwinner. I earn a healthy living. Nothing spectacular, but I’m able pay the mortgage, buy groceries and take my family on an occasional vacation. The designer clothes and handbags of my days as a single are no more, and my car has celebrated its 15th birthday. Still, I recognize that I am blessed. This is kind of a big thing for me…

You see, there have been times in my life when my outlook was not so bright, when I was incapable of feeling genuine happiness for a friend who met a great new guy, got engaged, had a baby or got a fabulous new job. I was jealous of those I perceived as having more or better. These were things that I wanted! Why weren’t they happening to me? Probably because I was focusing on the lack.

Going through a divorce, turning forty…I’ve felt a lot of lack these past many months, along with a powerful urge to place blame. It was easy to believe that I drove an old car and lived in a house with some urgent repairs needed and skimped on my wardrobe because my ex wasn’t contributing enough financially. I thought that if he loved me enough, he would work harder to help provide the things that were important to me and our family. But neither this belief nor my resentment has produced positive results.

For my birthday, a friend took me to a Michael Franti & Spearhead concert. If you’ve never been to one of these shows, I recommend it:  it’s as much a spiritual experience as it is an opportunity to see a pretty cool live show. The band and the fans are happy, smiling and joyful. Everyone is dancing and waving their arms. I imagine it’s something like a revival.

There I was at the show, jumping up and down, smiling so hard that my face hurt, as Michael sung these lyrics:  “Wise men count their blessings; fools count their problems…” I had an ah-ha moment, quickly recognizing that I was being a fool, counting my problems.

So now I’m focused on counting my blessings; I’m monitoring my thoughts, my words and the people with whom I choose to surround myself; I’m working to be conscious and deliberate about the energy I allow in my life. I’m noticing when good things happen, even small things, and I’m writing them down in a gratitude journal.

And I’m not indulging the ugly little urge to be petty. Today it felt good to send my ex a Festivus greeting with a positive wish for the future. I left out the long list of grievances altogether.

And, in case you were wondering, the very next line in that Michael Franti song is “…but you’re both of them to me.” How apropos!

failed at forty

I suppose it’s time I addressed the title of my blog. The truth is, it wasn’t my first choice. I had a lot of ideas…until I Googled those working titles and some explicitly naughty things came up (…seems the XXX folks can find a way to associate nearly any topic with their content). I went through an entire list, hopes dashed. I awoke the next morning with “Failed at Forty” in my head, Googled it, and then began right away. I’m calling it inspired.

A few months ago, I turned forty. At the time, I faced this milestone with more than a modicum of dread. These “big” birthdays often inspire a deeper level of self-reflection than the one-through-fours or six-through-nines, and all I could think about was how far from what I wanted my life had become.

I think that I expected, at forty, to be happily married. If pressed to elaborate, I might have come up with something like this:  My husband would be handsome and successful, a lawyer or architect or something; he’d love spending time with me and our children; he would surprise me with gifts of Marc Jacobs handbags, David Yurman jewelry, books and other things I love. I would be happy and successful in my career. My husband and I would take turns shuttling our children from school to piano lessons to soccer and skiing. We would have a spacious home, support the arts, entertain often and take Caribbean and ski vacations. I was sure I’d be celebrating my fortieth with a spectacular trip to the Amalfi Coast, Paris or Thailand with my loving husband.

In fact, I spent my birthday at home in middle America, paying off my ex’s debt and setting a court date. I had contemplated a trip somewhere by myself, perhaps to visit a friend, but some unhappy financial surprises would have made such an extravagance imprudent. Sure I went out with girlfriends, but my heart was not engaged in any sort of celebration. I felt like a failure. So much of what I wanted seemed further from my grasp than ever. To be honest, I was pretty depressed about my situation.

The brilliant thing about failure is that, with time, it brings about great clarity. It is because of the experiences I’ve had — my failed relationship, my attainment of a mediocre position in my career — that I now know more clearly than ever what is truly and deeply important to me. I have a fairly well-developed grasp of my own strengths and weaknesses, and have discovered what makes me feel whole, fulfilled and alive. I am grateful for these lessons learned.

Thus, it is because I am failed at forty that I am more poised than ever to set about creating the life I truly want. And that, my friends, feels like a pretty darned blessed place to be!