Divorce, Single Parenting, Dating, Sex, & Self-Recovery

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The Coffee Date Fail

Ah, the coffee date. It was a beautiful morning, I was hopeful and ready for coffee and conversation with a new woman. A woman I’d courted online for several weeks. A woman who inspired some sense of sexual interest in her online profile and then actually responded to one of my emails. The day and the meeting was set. It felt like a winning morning.

Nothing happened.

It’s my fault, perhaps. I don’t know that I’m really INTO IT. I mean, I know I don’t like being alone, and I’d like to start “building” a new relationship, but I’m simply not gung-ho about it. I think you’ve really got to bring a lot of energy and optimism to this dating process. If you’re just “meh” about the process, then you will get “meh” in return.

This date was okay. She was attractive. She was interesting. She was not interested in me. The disconnection was obvious. The chemistry was off from the first introduction inside the coffee shop when we first spotted each other. There were no outward signs of dissatisfaction. She was dressed nicely, looked fit and happy. She was chatting with a friend when I came in. I introduced myself and shook his hand too. Then I got my coffee and went outside and waited for her to fetch her fancy coffee.

I think I was already leaning out rather than leaning in on the introduction. I’m not sure what triggered it. I was happy to sit and talk for 30 minutes or so, but we were just killing the appropriate amount of time. We both agreed that being alone was working for us and we had trepidation about bringing someone into our lives. And we both had our doubts about how online dating might provide some realistic opportunities.

She mentioned how many men she met did not match up with their profiles. “Well, how am I doing compared to mine?” I asked. She paused. I was looking for some feedback. Was there something in my profile that I projected that didn’t show up at this coffee? “Your profile was pretty sparse,” she said, after considering it. She was talking about the words. I was interested in the pictures. I think that’s what we key on. I know that’s what I key on. Are they cute? (At 55 do women still want to be referred to as “cute?”)

The mass of women on OK Cupid and Match.com are not cute. And the ones that are usually ten years younger than me. And the few, this woman was one, who are my age and seem cute-enough for a closer look, are far and few in between. I don’t even visit the sites anymore. It’s the same faces. The same few women who ignore my emails. And more swiping through hundreds of sad profiles.

What are we doing? Is the reach of our online connection worth the disconnect of our emotional system? There was nothing in our profiles that prepared us for our coffee today. Neither of us felt it. That was obvious. But we’d decided to take the time and the risk to actually meet in person. And I wasn’t sad leaving the coffee shop. In some ways, I’m sure, I was relieved. Those next steps towards “dating” and building a relationship are so complex and time-consuming. I’m happy as I am right now.

The sky started misting as I was driving home. The fall air pushed in the cracked windows and lifted my spirits a bit. It was likely to be a rainy weekend. No tennis. Plenty of work. And no relationshiping. Okay, I’m resigned to that. Maybe next week I’ll open up the dating sites again and see if I can lure another woman into a conversation.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

@theoffparent

image: blue bottle coffee, creative commons usage

My Miss Fortune

In my first two marriages I had money in the bank. My relationship to money has been challenging my entire life, why should now be any different? I thought by the time I reached 50 I would’ve had this career-thing down. Turns out, the market is ever-changing, and ever more competitive than before. And if you happen to be in social media, the millennials have sort of taken over the game. I’m now considered an older worker. (For at least 10 years now, but I failed to make note of it before.)

In marriage one, my starter marriage, I had money in the bank, a good job, and the prospects for more. We lived pretty high on the hog. In fact, we both took off full-time work for over a year. It was a great year. I worked on my writing and small press publishing. She painted. But it couldn’t last. The estate of my father turned out to be a lot more complicated than originally thought and we were both back to working. I started working in Advertising. As the marriage broke up, she did some weird things, however. Months before the end she was putting money in a different account and buying a lot of expensive jewelry. I didn’t really see it coming, so I also didn’t suspect anything. Boom, I was taken for a lot. And in the end I paid her a good portion of the money I had in the bank to end the prospect of paying for both sides of a divorce.

In marriage two, the one with a pair of kids, I was also in a positive financial position at the start of the relationship. I must’ve looked like quite the catch. I owned my own condo near downtown, and was working freelance for a company out of Boston. She moved in with me over the first six months and we were already talking about having kids. We were getting to be that age. And as things went, my earning capacity stayed strong, if somewhat uneven, over the next six years we were married as we became new parents. And her full-time gig was put on hold, so someone, Mom, could meet the kids at the bus. The lifestyle we chose, and the neighborhood we selected for the schools, was just a bit too expensive to have her be a stay-at-home mom, though that would’ve been my preference. I never, we never, quite got there.

When my big corporate gig ended, due to the 2009 economic meltdown, we began to fight about money. She wanted me to go straight back to another corporate, well-paid, gig. I wanted to take some of the six month severance time and look into doing something a little different for a living. She was not happy with that idea. But we agreed to disagree. Just over a year later we would be divorced. And a lot of it had to do with money. She didn’t really go back to full-time work until she decided she wanted a divorce. Then she had no option. And, jump forward to today, I am very happy my ex-wife has maintained a well-paid job ever since we divorced. She’s a great worker, and is a good and committed mom. No harm or foul there.

But the money had been the root of the disagreement. Now, looking back on it, I wonder, was she right?

Since the divorce, where I signed a contract to deliver child support based on my average $72,000 per year salary, I have not been able to achieve that income level for more than six months at a time. And the child support police don’t care if you’re unemployed. The bills keep coming in, the crackdowns keep happening, and despite any goodwill or promises, I’m seen in the eyes of the Texas Attorney Generals Office as a dead beat dad. I’ve paid her a percentage of everything I’ve ever earned. But it’s not enough. It’s not enough to make her happy. And by default, it’s not enough for the state of Texas either.

So I’m currently living in default, in deficit, as the asshole who won’t pay his ex-wife. Of course, I mean, pay the money for the support and care of my kids, but you’ll forgive my ambiguity. Today I have no money. I’m working an hourly job (I’m not whining here, just stating the facts.) that won’t make my car payment. And it certainly won’t make much of a payment on anything when she and the kids get 50% of all of it. How can a dad make ends meet?

The truth is, often the dads are the one’s who fall under the bus, financially. In my case, I was also challenged by some serious bouts of depression, resulting from the divorce. So, needless to say, I have never been able to pay 100% of my child support since year two. And two months after I was late my ex-wife called in the authorities to enforce the judgement. I don’t think it helped. I haven’t been looking for a job any harder since they entered the picture.

I’ve had a few jobs. I’ve had some good freelance gigs. I’ve made some money. But it’s never enough. And at the moment, it’s really not enough. But I stay positive anyway. I’m interviewing for real jobs. I’m exercising regularly. I’m happy. I’m single. And, while I don’t get to see my kids as much as I’d like, I think we’ve all come to an understanding. All of us except my ex-wife and the AG’s office. See, she could cut them out of the equation with a single phone call. But somehow, she feels it’s better for my kids to have the AG’s office on my ass, and a lien on my credit. She’s determined to get her money.

See, that’s the funny part. Or is it the sad part? I think I was being sarcastic. The sad part is, she was/is going to get all the money she is entitled to anyway. By law I cannot shirk a single penny of my obligation. I’m happy to pay it, as I keep working, and I will/am paying it. It’s just a bit slow at the moment. But somehow, she’s happy with the arrangement. She’s always been happy with her decision to toss me to the wolves. Her new husband once told me, about the AG’s office, “It’s just how everyone does it these days. They’re like an accounting department.”

Well, that’s bullshit. She never needed to file against me. She still doesn’t need to ask for their protection. And yet, there they are, freezing my bank account ever six months or so to take half of the cash am holding on to for bills and food.

Everyday she doesn’t release us from the AG’s supervision is a day that I wake up and have to forgive her for acting and continuing to act on her fear. I’m paying as fast as I can, it’s just less than we both expected.

Ho hum. And onward we go as single parents.

Note: If you are a woman and are reading this as a complaint, as a whining dead beat dad, I might ask you to reconsider this. Shouldn’t both sides of the family live at the level of income they can provide? Today she still lives in our nice home in the nice neighborhood, and for my kids that has provided unequalled stability. But she has done this even with my payments getting behind. Was it necessary to punish me with the AG’s involvement? I am struggling to find the money each month to keep food in my mouth, much less the mouths of my kids. She is not struggling, and that’s good for my kids. For that I give her my sincere thanks.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

@theoffparent

image: tango, creative commons usage

Going for Gratitude No Matter What

Every morning I wake up and contemplate my gratitudes. Often it is in contradiction to how I feel and I use the first moments of the day to reorient my attitude. It would be much easier to wallow in the negative, the losses, the current crappy situation I have landed in. But I know the negative can rule my life. I can live in the down and depressed. Anger on the other hand is an emotion that I have a hard time accessing. So if I can even be grateful for the anger in my life, perhaps I can harness some of the energy that’s caught up within that emotion.

This morning’s meditation came back with plenty of the negative aspects of my current situation, as it does many mornings.

  • I’m homeless (my last relationship included her house)
  • I’m alone (as it should be, I’m refinding my solo-self)
  • I’m working a shit job (it’s the most fun I’ve had at work, but it won’t pay my car payment)
  • My ex-wife gets half of everything I earn, after taxes, so my effective hourly rate is somewhere in the $5 – $6 hr range.
  • I feel the frustration of the pennilessness every day.
  • I no longer see my kids every other weekend, I don’t have rooms for them, so I see them “as I can make dates with them” and with teenagers that’s a challenging goal

And somehow I feel entitled to more. I should have a job that utilizes my 15 year career and college degree. I should have rooms for my kids, though things are a lot easier on all of us now that we’re not switching every other weekend. I would love a relationship, an opportunity to be building again towards the future. And I’d really be happy to reach some arrangement with my ex-wife that takes the impossible financial burden off my daily life and ties the payoff to the sale of a piece of property that I inherited. But that’s not how things work. We go through hard times, we survive, and we come out the other side changed. And I think we either come out smarter, leaner, and more optimistic, or we break and become bitter. It is through the active reframing of my life, with positive affirmations and prayers, that I am changing my attitude about my situation.

  • I am grateful that my kids are healthy and doing well in school and life.
  • I am grateful that my ex-wife has maintained gainful employment since the divorce.
  • I am grateful that my mom (humbling disclosure) still has an extra room that I inhabit.
  • I am grateful that I am able to maintain joy in my current job.
  • I am grateful that I have the financial help of my mom, as strained and emasculating as that is.
  • I’m grateful that I am super healthy and getting plenty of sleep.
  • I’m grateful that my creative energy is strong and my inspiration is growing.

Today, I have everything I need. I may not be close to having everything I want. But my basics (food, shelter, safety, community) are pretty well covered. If I can keep my attitude at the proper trajectory I can see that my current state is temporary and my prospects are ever-growing and improving. I have to believe that. I have to believe that I can find a high-tech marketing job as an “older worker.” I have to believe that I will grow out of this phase of my life back into the self-sufficient adult that I thought I was, that I have been, that I will be again. It’s like a prayer, really, these affirmations. I keep repeating my thankfulness. I keep appreciating what I have. I keep letting go of my expectations and immediate gratifications. And I am learning, everyday, to be closer to living in the moment. I am appreciating my current life, my current job, my current loneliness. And sitting in this place, I am also learning to become more conscious, more compassionate, and more humble about what I have vs. what I want.

Just for today, I will rise above it.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

@theoffparent

image: man in stress, creative commons usage

Recovery and Why the Okay Counselor is Not Enough

First let me say, I mean no disrespect to my former counselor. He worked with me through rough times. And gosh darn it, I survived, so I’ve got that going for me. And, more importantly, I don’t think any version of talk-therapy could’ve brought me out of a depression that was so obviously chemical. And with all that, firing him and getting a new counselor enlightened me to the benefit of having a more engaged and more active counselor.

Let me explain.

At several points over my dark period I was asking my counselor for a “plan,” something I could rally around. And like a normal therapist he reflected that question back to me. “If you had a plan, what would that look like.” Now, I get it, I understand the theme behind what he was doing. But when I asked the third or fourth time, I think it was time to give me some help. I needed hope desperately. I needed to imagine I had a plan, even if I had no plan. I needed him to think ahead of me a bit, and give me some ideas about what I should be hoping for in my recovery. What is the goal? What’s our path? Where are we going?

Now, I imagined him working really hard with me, and thinking about ways to challenge and encourage me along in my deep struggle. But at this point, reflecting back, I don’t think he was doing any “homework” on me or my case. I think he was going along in his tried and true method, and being the encouraging counselor that he was, and asking me to come up with the plan, the goal, the hope. That’s not what I needed. I was broken. After several sessions I complained that no hope, no plan, was forthcoming. I needed some help.

Again, we talked around it. We talked through a lot of stuff. We talked about the things I was having a hard time with. But we never came up with a plan. I’m not sure if he didn’t want to give me a plan, didn’t think it was in my best interest in coming up with a plan for me, or had no idea what a plan would look like, but the result was the same. I did not get a plan. And as a result, I really didn’t find hopefulness either.

One of the targets we agreed on was my need to feel anger. But beyond asking me to get mad at him, or encouraging me to express my disappointment at him, directly at him, we had a hard time accessing my anger. Let me put that more correctly, I had a hard time accessing my anger, and he had a hard time giving me direction that would help me get there. We were at an obvious impasse. But again, as I imagined perhaps he would be consulting his books, his notes, some recent research to come up with ideas, he came up with nada. We cruised along though our twice a week hour-long sessions doing the same old thing. Both being frustrated that I couldn’t seem to muster up my anger.

What if we tried something different?

That would’ve been great, but I don’t think it was in his mindset. And I’m guessing he was not actually “working” on my case outside of our hour. My guess, and this is 100% projection, is that he was just cruising along on with his routine counseling method. And since I fell outside the zone, he was okay with simply repeating the same session over and over, each week.

I was distraught. I was in no position to manage up. He was the therapist, I was the patient. And still, I was constantly asking him for new ideas, and any new ideas he might have for getting to a plan. We didn’t. He didn’t. And we soldiered along. But it was not very productive. There were no insights or forward movements that I could point to when my girlfriend asked, “What did you guys work on today?”

And then my new meds kicked in. And after one more session I fired him. It was too obvious to me at that time that we were not making progress. That he had no new arrows in his quiver.

My new therapist is like night and day. I was mad within 30 minutes of meeting him. No problem triggering my anger. Sure, it was still hard for me to get there, or stay there, but there was no lack of ideas for exposing my unresolved anger. I’ve got a lot of it.

So, in the world of recovery and counseling, make sure you asking for what you need. And when you keep asking for it, and getting the same results, it might be time to change horses, so to speak. Get a therapist that challenges you. One that keeps a few steps ahead of you along some path or plan that HE keeps in mind for both of you. Aimless, feel-good therapy, is not where it’s at for treating depression. And while I survived, I think I would’ve suffered much less with my new therapist.

Keep going to new therapists until you find one who fits. And when they fall in a rut and don’t serve your needs, get rid of them. You are the customer, and you can demand an awesome therapist.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

@theoffparent

image: padding, creative commons usage

Sexual Energy and the Power of #Desire in Men and Women

I have no authority to write this post, and perhaps it will piss some people off, but I’ve been thinking a lot about sexual energy and the power of desire. Let me explain. As human animals, specifically men, we have been told we are programmed by our sexual desire to be in continuous pursuit for a sexual partner. It’s animal, we’re trying to reproduce and ensure the continuation of our genes. And this sexual pursuit is hard-wired into our brain and body. And from what I experience of my own behavior and fantasies this appears to be true. To a point.

I do love looking at women. Men, not so much. And I do enjoy seeing young, fit, attractive women as well. But they are not sexual objects to me. They are not targets for my affection, they are merely beautiful creations to be appreciative of. The same way I admire a Ferrari. I don’t want a Ferrari, and I don’t really want any of the young women sexually, but they are both amazing to look at. Is this the same thing?

What makes “people watching” so fascinating? I think it is the flow of human beauty that we enjoy looking at. Again, we might initially be more drawn to the fertile and nubile of our human tribe, but this gut reaction is not all about sex. And one thing I’ve noticed about myself, even when I’m sexually depleted, having zero sexual energy, I’m still attracted to watching the flow of women passing by. What could that be about? It’s not about passing my seed, unless this is an unconscious drive, and that’s Freud’s assumption. But it is something sexual. I’m not drawn to men in the same way. Still, I find it fascinating, that even when I have no sexual energy or passion, my mind still get’s “up” for a pretty woman.

As it stands, I’m not in the market for a lover. I have two children, so I’m not in need of procreation. And yet, women, the female form, fascinates me. Is the unconscious hard-wiring that strong? It’s as if I can’t look away without effort. And my attention is not only on the youngest and fittest. In fact, most of the young women resonated with thoughts of my daughter and are actually less interesting for that reason. And maybe that’s the crux. “For that reason” does point towards some sort of sexual tension.

And coming from a man’s perspective, I’m curious if women approach people watching from a similar perspective? I’ve read that women don’t feel sexual energy the same way men do, something about testosterone, but I’ve also read that we underestimate the sexual desire in women due to social mores. I can see how a man might be more driven, if you will forgive my pun, for release. And women might be more driven by security and power. But is that just clichéd thinking? Do women view attractive men in a less sexual manner?

I’m sure there is a difference in the chemistry of men’s and women’s bodies. And I’m sure that testosterone has a role in that “drive” towards sexual fulfillment. But I’m curious, for a population in their 40s – 50s, with “families” already established if the sexual drive is more similar in men and women? Do we both enjoy the sexual thoughts that come from people watching? Aren’t we essentially doing the same thing? Asking that tried and true question of our inexperienced, and pre-family youth, “Would ya do them?”

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

@theoffparent

image: frame rate, creative commons usage