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

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17 Simple Ways to Say “I Love You”

OFF-bathSometimes it’s the little things that have the most impact. In relationships today, we are so pressed for time and often so exhausted, that the littlest things might be the turning point to lift our spirits. Here are 17 little things that can make a difference in your significant relationship(s).

It’s the little things that signal how much you care. 

It’s not what you say it’s what you do, is a phrase I’ve heard a lot in my past relationships, often as a battering ram to let me know things are not going well.

Texting is the modern love letter.

1. The Wakeup Message – “Good morning, sunshine. I know your presentation will kick ass.” The wakeup message is great for establishing a relationship-like rapport with someone, even before you’ve established a relationship. Just a simple “Thinking of you.” can brighten someone’s morning and give them warm thoughts that might lead to warmer acts later in the day.

2. The Little Flirt – “I can’t stop thinking about our makeout session last night.” Put that smile back on their face with a reminder of how good things went last time. Let them know you still have them on your mind. And give a simple nudge towards “next time” without mentioning it.

3. The Cheerleader Text – “You are going to rock those exams today.” Most of what we do for others is to provide a positive cheering section. When you know your partner is heading into a tough day, give them the little pocket vibration a few minutes before their event to let them know you’re with them in spirit.

4. Random Non-sequitur – Or Inside Joke – “Running shoes are sexy.” These are little bridges of connection that you begin to make with things that are important to the other person, running for example. And even if you may not share those passions you can high-five your friend on their enthusiasms.

5. Can I Get Anything For You? – “I’m at Costco, do you need anything?” Ah, the single parent’s dream. Remember when splitting the grocery duties were part of the plan? A good friend can easily offer to pick up some Costco bulk items. It’s a true sign of caring.

6. Fueling Desires – Often as single parents the actual time we get to be together alone is spaced by a lot of time apart. But you can heat up the flames of desire, just by letting the other person know something sexy is on you mind. “I’m kissing the back of your neck, in my mind.”

7. The Tuck In Message – “Good night, sweetie.” Ah, the last thing you think of at night is them. As you’re drifting off to sleep, let them know you will likely dream of them.

Actions Speak Louder Than Texts

8. Bring Random Goodies – The special food from the bakery across town can be just the thing to comfort a difficult day.

9. I’ve Got Dinner – Just let them know they can relax after work, you’ve got it covered. No cooking, no dishes, no effort. You’ll do it all.

10. A Peppermint Footrub – There is nothing more sensual than a good footrub with a special minty lotion. Sure, it may be a gateway to rubbing other things, but start with the feet.

11. Can I Give You a Massage? – Oh boy. One of the most exciting ways to give while receiving. I love giving massages. Depending on the intimacy between you, these can be clothed and casual or oily and wild. Again, it’s best to start these as non-sexual. And if the other person is tired, it’s best to stay there. Let them move things forward if they’re feeling it. Get into the touch and sight of their body. A feast for the eyes and hands.

12. Doing What They Like To Do – Even if you don’t like to run, it’s good form to go on a run from time to time, just to show your collaborative and supportive stripes. Or walk and run with them. Always offer.

13. Giving Them the Night Off – How can you take care of all the chores for one night? Can you give them a girl’s night out? Alone time build up desire, so make sure they get some so they can desire to see your smiling face even more next time.

14. The Tiny Gifts – A single flower, a bag of their favorite tangerines, a new essential oil massage oil. All these things show how you’re constantly thinking of them, and you want to appreciate them.

15. A Love Poem – So you’re not Shakespeare. But putting down a few words of affection, in random order, without syntax or reason, is a good sign of advanced expression of love. Sometimes it’s the two words that don’t belong together more than the three words “i love you” that unlocks a deeper expression. Try it. Read some love poems to help get you along your way. (See: Rumi and Neruda)

16. The Scented Bubble Bath – “Can I draw you a bath?” Again the best way to show affection is the caring things you can do that have no ulterior motives. If your partner is aroused by the candles and warm water they can initiate your participation. They might also like you to scrub their back and then leave them to soak.

17. Radiant Joy – Just let them know how much joy they bring into your life, not by doing anything, but just in being. And of course, being with you. Appreciations are the love drug of choice, we can never have enough appreciation.

It’s the little things that signal to another person how much you care about them. Sure the big things are more important, but it’s the little things that get you there. Even in the early stages of a relationship you can build the loving feeling by gifting the other person with some of these ideas. Share your appreciation and you’re likely to get some appreciation in return.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

Please share your additional little love ideas in the comments.

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image: relax, janet ramsten, creative commons usage


My Divorce: A Searching and Fearless Moral Inventory

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Step 4 of AA: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

Today is a day of reflection. I am examining what I’m doing here on The Off Parent. Assessing the damage and progress of my self-observation, self-obsession, self-centered divorce blog. Let’s see if we can get to the heart of the matter.

  1. Strive to cut deep into the pain and healing of divorce recovery.
  2. Express anger and hurt without blaming the other person.
  3. Eliminate cynicism.
  4. Always go for the truth, my truth, the painful truth.
  5. Protect the innocent through anonymity and discretion.
  6. Write for my own personal journey and healing, if there is a reader that’s fine, but I am not writing for anyone but myself.
  7. Lift my psychology out of the hurt and sadness of depression and towards the healing and recovery for all the members of my family.
  8. Do no harm.
  9. Take on no more shame.
  10. Leave this discussion behind in favor of the next love and romance in my life.

Those are my goals. I’m not sure if I hit the mark with 100% of what is left here, but that was (is) my intention. I have progressed from a confused and angry soon-to-be-ex-husband to a hopeful and romantic single father. That’s the ultimate goal, and for that I give thanks.

Writing is therapy.

I hope you find love along your journey through whatever challenges you are facing. We can live through this shit together. And I will continue to light the way along my path so that you might learn from my trespasses and mistakes.

For me, when I write down an experience, I begin to understand it in new ways. I find common threads with other experiences in my life. I hear echoes of past hurts. I recognise the hopeful little boy who survived a crappy divorce and has now grown into a divorce and family of my own. And here on these pages, sometimes, I process the hard stuff, I leave behind puddles of blood and anger that I no longer need. I am discarding these stories as fast as I can write them. Discharging the energy they might still hold on my emotional life, by putting down the bones of truth, as I remember it.

I am not writing for you.

I am glad you are here. I have gotten a lot of support and love through the four years that I have been writing this blog. I have been amazed by some of the comments, troubled by some of the misunderstandings, and encouraged to keep digging for gold. Digging for the heart of joy that is still inside that needs encouragement to hope and dream of loving again.

And I have found the language for that love again. I am writing aspirational love poems. There are still a few divorce poems, but for the most part, this blog has transformed from angry/divorce/rant to relationship/love/discovery. Sure, there will always be flares of anger and sadness when managing the ongoing life of a single parent, but there are also great wins and joys that I am determined to celebrate here, right along side the struggle.

Next Steps

As I continue to change and challenge myself in the coming years, I hope this blog will continue to evolve with me. As I do find that next relationship, I hope that I can write with care and tenderness as “we” this woman and I, journey down the next road of our lives together. Or maybe that will be a different blog. I don’t know. And I’m not trying to get too far ahead of myself, here, or in my relationships.

As I grow and parent this blog will still be the rally point for my emotional triumphs and struggles. And as I struggle with depression, or employment difficulties, I will also try to pull back the armor and release the dragons that still loom ahead for me.

In all cases, I thank you for coming along for the journey thus far. I encourage you to start with the INDEX and read chronologically from the beginning. Or jump to any subject or thread that interests you at this time in your life. And if you have a comment, I value the feedback of my readers more than you can imagine. So tell me.

I hope you find love along your journey through whatever challenges you are facing. We can live through this shit together. And I will continue to light the way along my path so that you might learn from my trespasses and mistakes.

Final note: Why why why write about this painful stuff? My kids were 5 and 7 when my then-wife decided for all of us that she was done with this marriage and wanted to move on to some other configuration. We’re still reeling from the fallout. Not all of it has been bad, but all of it has been transformative. I give thanks that she had the courage to step into the unknown and make the choice she thought was right for her and thus for all of us. Whatever the motivation or past, we are now a family in divorce. We have commitments and connections that will never cease between all of us. And in my attempts to heal myself I hope to continue to be a positive influence in my kids and ex’s lives. We’re in this together. Let’s evolve to a higher discussion.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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references: The 12-Steps of AA – wikipedia

image: practice, fabio bruna, creative commons usage


Sex: Men vs. Women… Wait, That’s the Wrong Approach

OFF-fk

When the intimacy dries up completely, it’s more about the relationship than it is about the animals in the relationship.

One of my posts on The Good Men Project got a very interesting comment from an articulate and intelligent woman. She was clearly trying to figure out the parts of her relationship (and sexual) experience in marriage. And I hear this a lot, about the fundamental differences between men and women when it comes to sex and sexual appetites. But let’s clear a few misconceptions up. There has been a lot of new science recently that shows women are just as interested in sex, and historically have not always been as repressed as they are today. I’ll get to that in a second, but here is my response to Erin’s comment. You can go read her full comment here on the GMP, but I think you’ll get the idea from my response.

Hmmm… You make a few assumptions that I don’t necessarily agree with, Erin.

1. Sex is about not disappointing your partner. Hmmm. I don’t think that’s the point. Sex should be a mutually desired part of any relationship. I don’t agree with all this stuff about monogamy becoming boring over time. After 11 years of marriage I was never bored or uninspired by my then-wife. Ever.

2. Men are just men and need sex, women can either comply or risk losing their man. Um… Well, some of that is true. But sex can come in many forms. Intercourse is not always the best option for either partner. And it’s true the male of the species has a more dominate drive, fueled by higher levels of testosterone. But both partners should want to be intimate, at least occasionally. Your milage may vary.

3. Sex is not about maintaining monogamy. And men will not necessarily go wandering sexually if they are not getting sex in their marriage. Just as not all women grow bored with sex after being married for a while. It’s simply the average story. But we’re not average, are we?

4. Men deal with the exact same thing, from the other side of the bed. Being constantly rejected for intimacy is hard to handle. I got creative with my requests. I had unspoken attempts. I had happy and playful attempts. I had lustful and passionate pleas. When nothing (and I mean nothing) worked, we were dealing with something other than a difference in libido.

+++

I could tell when she was closed down and when we were close, and some well-thought-out touches and supportive words were often all it took to get her to open up and tell me what was bugging her.

So let’s take as an assumption that men and women desire closeness and affection with the same intensity. And for men, often this affection is driven by the sexual drive inherent in our higher levels of testosterone and our natural hunter instinct. This is biological. BUT… That’s not the whole story, and it’s definitely not the answer for our differences in sexual desire, or desire for frequency of sex. It is part of the story, but in my opinion, not the most important part. Hear me out.

Sex is about hormones and release. Sure. I can agree with that, from an animal perspective. When we were beasts we conquered dinner on the hunt and we conquered women back at home, partially as reward for our prowess and success as a provider. Well, dear women and men, the modern era is much different. The concept of the hungry and sexually frustrated male is convenient, but not all that helpful in navigating or negotiating an equitable balance in touch and intimacy, both sexual and non-sexual.

If we put the imbalance idea on hold just for a second, let’s assume that both partners desire closeness and this involves cuddling, kissing, holding hands, and sexual interactions. If we start with the idea that both partners desire closeness, we can start solving for how to get that closeness, regardless of if it involves intercourse.

What started happening in my marriage to curb our intimacy (and this was just as much about casual touch and holding) was my then-wife began distancing herself physically and emotionally from me. As she got activated by something, anger, fear, frustration, overwhelm, exhaustion, she would withdraw rather than engage. Now, I do understand how any intimate interaction has the potential to become sexual, but that was not the issue. For me, I would’ve been happy with snuggling. But the threat of sex may have kept her from even asking for that simple nurturing.

When I get scared or sad I feel closer and more supported by a gentle touch. That connection, even a hand on my neck, shows me (in some animal – dog-like perhaps) that she is near, she cares, and she is available. Available not for sex but for hearing and supporting me whatever I’m going through.

Sex opens you up to another individual in a human way, that is very different from our Neanderthal ancestors. Some of us are still stuck in the model of that old hunter/conqueror vs breeding partner/reward dynamic.

I can see how in many relationships that are based on much more base, caveman-like, relationships that even a hand on the neck might signal, “hey let’s have sex” but this wasn’t how our 9 – 10 years of closeness had developed. I was as fulfilled by a hug, sometimes, as a good roll under the sheets.

But something emotional was beginning to happen in my marriage that was more fundamental. It was not about sex. It was about being seen and being honest.

If you have sex in a full and open way, you begin to see deeply into the other person’s nature. (I’m not talking woo woo here.) You begin to feel more connected and in my case, you crave that connection, that transparency. I could tell when she was closed down and when we were close, and some well-thought-out touches and supportive words were often all it took to get her to open up and tell me what was bugging her. And most of the time this was not about sex. I was sincerely opening my heart to hers to hear what was hurting her or freaking her out. And more often than not, in the earlier stages of our marriage, it was about external things, or someone else who had done something hurtful.

But… As we began to experience more stress in our marriage, due in large part to the financial collapse of everyone’s economy including ours, she began to avoid being close. If she got scared she would often withdraw. When I had energy and passion for her I would frequently seek her out and dig in my heels until she let me in and told me what was going on. This was the equivalent of a housekeeper making sure nothing was getting swept under the rug. And this type of closeness rarely evolved into sex. It was not about sex, it was about closeness and intimacy.

After a while, however, as things continued to slide, she was harder to reach. And she began to express uncontrollable anger, that would pop out from time to time as a “fuck you.” It was shocking the first time she just blurted it out. The second and third time I had the impression she was bottling up so much anger and rage (in her mind it was 100% about me) that she could no longer contain it in her isolation. But she was so withdrawn that I couldn’t talk her down either.

In some ways maybe she was avoiding sex too. But I think the sex we had was so open and opening she was avoiding sex in order to not be revealed. Whatever she was afraid of or angry about was so frightening she didn’t want me to open her up. She didn’t want to tell me what was really going on. And in the end she really didn’t want to tell me she was consulting an attorney and trying to figure out her best options in asking for a divorce.

So sure, she was withdrawn and withholding of sex at this late stage. But it wasn’t about sex. It was about the closeness that often opened us both up to each other’s deep feelings. She didn’t want to share her hurt and pain. She didn’t want to tell me she was actually considering divorce and not just randomly shouting curses as me. She was so far gone she didn’t want me to see into her at all.

Sex opens you up to another individual in a human way, that is very different from our Neanderthal ancestors. Some of us are still stuck in the model of that old hunter/conqueror vs breeding partner/reward dynamic. That no longer holds true, if you are consciously coupling and relating with all of your intelligence. I do know that some relationships are not based on honesty and sharing, and I’ve seen examples of the caveman mentality too often to count. But that’s not us. That’s no you. That should not be your default understanding of the man vs. woman equation.

And it’s not the way it should be with sex. Sure we men want sex more often. And it is the woman who is the gatekeeper to her own body and the gift of that intimacy. When the intimacy dries up completely, it’s more about the relationship than it is about the animals in the relationship.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

reference: Good Sex: Or Five Ways to Avoid Bad Sex – The Good Men Project

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image: fk, marina caprara, creative commons usage


Dating A Divorced Dad: We Might Be Good For Each Other

OFF-kissme

This isn’t a mating call post, but more a look at some of the ways divorced dads are cool, flexible, and likely to understand divorced moms.

FIRST: Let’s compare notes on our kids. We’ve got our priorities straight. Our kids come first, our dates come second. Got it? Good. I don’t think any single parents will ever need to debate this. Now, dates without kids, or even parents who’s kids are long out of the nest, might present a bit more of a problem. There is an imbalance of time. I do spend more time with my kids than with my date. But, that’s only while we’re getting to know each other. But let’s stop right there and not get ahead of ourselves. We are talking about dating, after all.

So if this partner has their act together, even after a divorce, they’re probably pretty flexible and understanding when it comes to compromise and negotiating wants and needs.

SECOND: Let’s compare notes on our exes. I can lend a sympathetic ear to your stories about your dickish-ex. No problem, I’ve go my ex-y who can be a handful from time to time. I’m likely to take your side in any debate. And if you just need a sounding board, I’m here to say, “Wow, he really is a dick.”

THIRD: Let’s just say sex was getting less and less frequent and a bit less fun towards the end of my marriage. So, to say I’m hungry would be a bit of an understatement. Attentive might be a better word. I am so ready to make you feel good. Sure, we can get to me in a minute, but let’s just enjoy you for the moment.

FOURTH: By this time, even with a divorce and child support, we should have the money thing dialed in. Sure, there may be some setbacks (heck, I’m in the middle of the biggest one of my adult life right now, but…) along the money trail, but a partner with some history probably has found a way to make a living.

FIFTH: A well-balanced partner with kids and an ex has learned to get rid of the drama and strife. Divorce is one of the biggest stress potentials of our adult lives. So if this partner has their act together, even after a divorce, they’re probably pretty flexible and understanding when it comes to compromise and negotiating wants and needs. An unbalanced divorced parent is pretty easy to identify as well. Listen. Are they complaining about their ex? Do they have more drama than most people? If so you can move right along. But if your divorced partner still has a healthy sense of humor, they are likely to have a positive approach to navigating the path of developing a relationship.

If we can build our alignment of priorities around our kids health and happiness, then we can both relax when we are able to find time alone as a couple.

SIXTH: We’re going to understand if you’re too tired for the dinner and dancing plans. So you want to curl up on the couch, watch a romantic comedy and order chinese food? Sure, we get it. We’ll even rub your feet during the movie.

Relationships are not easy. But a divorced dad has a lot of experience under his belt that might come in handy as you too are dealing with parenting and dickish-ex issues. I’m pretty certain my next relationship will be with a divorced mom.

If we can build our alignment of priorities around our kids health and happiness, then we can both relax when we are able to find time alone as a couple. Perhaps that scarcity of time can build and sustain some of the honeymoon phase of the courtship. There is something quite motivating about sexual hunger for someone you are getting to know. Use that energy, prioritize your parenting, and have some fun. After all, we’re still talking about dating, we’re not going to get married or anything. (see What’s This About: Marriage?)

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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image: always kiss me goodnight, courtney carmody, creative commons usage


5 Wonderful and Unexpected Benefits of Being a Serial Monogamist

OFF-monogamist

When did monogamy become a negative term? Today a Google search of that term brings up a lot of snarky posts about things like “unable to spend any time alone” and “your friends forget exactly who you are dating.” What? It means something completely different to me and most of the people I hang out with, and when we talk about relationships, most of us are looking for some form of serial monogamy. Maybe it’s a generational thing. Perhaps the millennials are more interested in gratification and hooking up. I’m not sure where that leads them, but I’m pretty sure it’s not the right direction for me.

I’ve tried being a casual dater. Post-divorce I had ideas that I would go out and become a serial dater. I was ready to sow some unshackled seeds. But, it didn’t happen. In fact, given the opportunity to kiss a pretty woman several months ago on a first date, I didn’t. She was confused. I wasn’t.

1. Keeping Everything Honest

Sex is great, sex is important, but sex means very little when there is no relationship involved.

I tried “dating” two women at the same time in college. It didn’t end well. You see, no matter how you do it, you’re always going to be telling the other person what you’ve been doing the next time you get together. And if you’ve just had a wiz bang time with the “other” person, how are you going to reconcile that? My buddy, KP, confesses to being a casual dater with no intention of settling down, or even slowing down. He’s a model of vigor and sexual enthusiasm. But he’s also a bit sad. I saw how his life changed and his attitude lightened up when a woman nailed him down and claimed him for her own. It was good for him. I can’t keep secrets very well. I can keep quiet, I suppose, in order to get something that I want. But sex and dating is not the answer for me. I’m up for a relationship. Maybe even a Relationship.

2. All Available Time

I’ve got my kids nearly half the time. That doesn’t leave a whole heck of a lot of time for dating. And that’s okay with me. My priority is my kids and their well-being. I can’t imagine a situation where a date would get in the way of my parenting, or prevent me from responding to a text or call from them within a few minutes. I would love a relationship, but I have a great relationship with my kids. I can wait on the lover, until the right lover comes along.

3. Cutting Away the Distractions

If a woman doesn’t have long-term potential, I’m not all that interested in spending time with her. I’ve said it over and over again. It’s not that I am making long-term designs on a woman in the first months of a relationship. But if she’s not long-term material, I’m not really interested in putting a lot of energy or effort in to the relationship. I’ve passed up a lot of opportunities for sex, but that’s not really what I’m after either.

4. Focus on My Goals

I’ve got some rebuilding to do. I’m still recovering from my divorce in some ways (mainly financial) and I am taking steps to deal with my unfinished business. How could I really be 100% available for what’s next, when I’m not there myself. I am working on new financial goals. I am writing up a storm, though I know poetry and self-revelatory recovery books won’t provide a roof over my head. It’s best if I keep my focus on the aspects of my life that I am still trying to change or evolve. If I were too serious about the dating thing, or the finding the next long-term relationship, I would be taking focus and attention off the things I really need to get done.

5. My Kids Are Growing Up

At 11 and 13 I don’t have a huge amount of time left before both my kids are heading out into the world without me. And as a single parent, I already don’t get enough time with them. While I’m happy to explore relationships with other women, my real priority is my kids. Plain and simple: my dad duties come before my dick duties. And I put a significant amount of energy into doing Dad right. That’s my priority.

Being a happy dad is the most important role in my present life. If that’s ultimately attractive to another woman, awesome.

All that being said, I crave a relationship with another woman. I’d relish the moment that I find that connection again. I am happy moseying along, in the current mode. I’m okay with dating and keeping things simple, if that’s what it takes to keep the other person around. I’m really okay with that. And I’m not going out to try to find my next hookup. Sex is great, sex is important, but sex means very little when there is no relationship involved.

So yes, I’m a serial monogamist, but it’s not because I always have to be in a relationship. It is not because I cannot stand being alone. Nope, I’m a serial monogamist because I’m hoping to find the next relationship at some point. And that point in the future is very flexible in terms of time, and even in terms of what the person or the relationship looks and feels like. We know love when we feel it. I want love again from another woman. Until then I’ve got more than enough love for and from my kids.

Being a happy dad is the most important role in my present life. If that’s ultimately attractive to another woman, awesome. Until then, if you’re interested in checking things out, let’s go have a cup of coffee and see if anything sparks.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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image: l-system, exey panteleeve, creative commons usage


The Promise in a Thumbnail; Online Dating Hits and Misses

onlinedatinglies

The online dating profile, a mystery, a fantasy novel, a pulp fiction romance. Whatever the profile is, it’s not reality. In looking for love online, you’ve got a lot of obstacles. And getting a handle on the bullshit detection is a good start.

  1. Even the unattractive and obese can score a cute photo every now and then.
  2. Photos from 15 years ago may not be an accurate representation of the current state of affairs. You would hope that people would clearly label the “when I was younger” photos, but they don’t.
  3. The one photo profile. Um, why don’t you have some other photos of your gorgeous self?
  4. The “just checking this out” profile. Usually with only a few sentences about themselves and a couple photos. Variation: a friend put this up for me.
  5. The scammer account. Too cute. Way too young to be hitting on me. Has an age range that’s a bit odd. (example: female 32, seeks males 45 – 70)
  6. No profile photo. “Ask her for her photos.” Um, no.
  7. Sunglasses make for alluring photos, but they’re not very accurate.

As long as you know you are creating the fantasy when you look an online dating profile you’ll be okay. You are filling in the blanks and missing information in your head. And most likely you are filling it in on the positive side. Often that’s not the correct data at all. If a person is 1. ready for a relationship and 2. honest, you won’t have to go fishing for too much information.

Look for how this person articulates their desires. What are they looking for?

Screen Shot 2013-04-22 at 8.43.51 AMBad signs:

  • “I love to travel.”
  • “Just want to have fun.”
  • Every photo has a drink in hand.
  • Glamour photos.
  • The one photo that sticks out as “WOW-SHE’S-AMAZING.”
  • The one photo that sticks out, “What? How is this the same woman?”
  • Hyper-athletic. Too many mentions of “working out.”

Screen Shot 2013-04-22 at 8.18.57 AMGood signs:

  • “Intimacy.”
  • “Honesty.”
  • “One core relationship.”
  • “Low drama.”
  • Mentions a healthy relationship with the ex-partner.
  • Semi-athletic.
The goal in online dating is to minimise the false positives and set dates with the authentic potentials.

The goal in online dating is to minimise the false positives and set dates with the authentic potentials. That’s easier said than done. And culling down from 1,000+ matches can be a bit of a challenge. So you have to start somewhere. Find a couple of things that are really important to you. (My current desire is tennis. If I could find a tennis-playing girlfriend, I think I’d be a long way towards compatibility.)

Then if you find a potential you are interested in, go ahead and say hello. I have found that casual and funny is better than direct. You don’t need to ask for the date right off the bat. Mention a few things that you have in common, flatter them a bit (You’re very cute.) and see what their response is.

  • No response is a response.
  • A casual and playful response is a good sign.
  • A form-letter response is not so good. (Thank you.)
  • An engaging response with lots of information can be a good and bad thing. On the good side, they are probably very attracted to your “profile.” On the bad side, they may be trying too hard, because they are not getting enough dates, or their dates are not going well.

If someone is genuinely interested you should both be able to establish some rapport within 4 or 5 messages. And when the idea of meeting for coffee or wine is floated by either party, the other person accepts and you both agree on a time and place. This is great. Now, the temptation is to continue the conversation, learn more, keep being charming. But that’s a mistake.

Here is the goal of online dating: set the date without too much effort or build up.

We all know the deal. If it was a HIT we are probably both thinking “What’s next.” If you get a “What’s next” before leaving the first date, you’re well on your way to trying a real date.

Once you have the date set to meet face-to-face the rest is distraction. Get this straight: you can tell very little about the physical chemistry from online profiles or even electronic flirting. While it might be fun to rev each other up before you meet, it is really a waste of time. And the real danger is setting up these great expectations and then not feeling the chemistry at all. So then what do you do? You may have had a bit of fun, but you’ve used up a lot of energy, even flirting takes time and energy, and come up empty-handed.

Online dating is not a full-time job. If you are too hungry, too available, and always online the available partners might notice this. If you are too persistent and focused on getting a date, that might be an indication of a problem.

The best approach is simple hello flirting. Gut checking the profile for reality. See if their emails or texts are also witty and fun. And then set the date and move on in your search and in your mind. You’ve got the date. There is really nothing else to do before you meet in person. You can confirm the date the day before. It’s easy to provide a phone number (texting is okay) before the date “In case something comes up.”

And then chill out and see what develops when you meet. Getting to excited or too involved with a virtual date has never worked out for me. Never. But then I haven’t had very many hits with the in-person meetings. And the handful of women who were just my style weren’t quite interested. They may not have said as much, but they didn’t ask for the next date either.

If there’s no chemistry, don’t make a big deal about it. Enjoy the conversation and make your exit. You can send them a note about “Not quite a match for me” but it’s not necessary. We all know the deal. If it was a HIT we are probably both thinking “What’s next.” If you get a “What’s next” before leaving the first date, you’re well on your way to trying a real date. Good luck.

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Five Ways to Avoid Bad Sex

OFF-hotsex

When you are trying to have a kid, sex is ALWAYS an option. Once you have kids, sex is ALWAYS a negotiation.

Awhile back a woman asked me, “So what makes for bad sex?” It was an interesting question, and I hadn’t really thought much about it, but the concept has sort of haunted me. While I imagine that I’m pretty conscious in my sexual encounters, I’m certain there are times when I am a less-than-great lover. What makes for disconnected sex? By looking at some of these turn offs, perhaps it is possible to become more conscious when they are happening and try to steer the passion back towards the shore.

The Five Habits of Bad Sex

1. TDTF (too drunk to frack)

Alcohol and other mind altering substances can be fun for a bit. They can unleash the animal passions and loosen the inhibitions. BUT… they are not a key to great sex. If you require altered states to get aroused there might be a bit more at play. Of course, these changes can loosen the grip of some of the bad habits below, but if drinking is the gateway to sex, every single time, there might be a problem and a pattern that is being established that will lead to other destructive behaviors. A margarita and wild sex every now and then is fine. Three glasses of wine every night before rutting is not.

2. TTTF (too tired to frack)

Yep, we’ve all done it. We’re about to fall over exhausted but something triggers our sexual appetite. Our lover comes in dressed to the nines, or perhaps sweating from a run, and we are turned on. Our physical and mental bodies are low on energy, but the sexual opportunity brings some life to the situation. And we’re in, trying to please the other person and perhaps please ourselves and just as things are ramping up, we lose our spark. For men this can mean losing your erection, even if you are enjoying the sex tremendously. For a woman… well, I have not idea, what that feels like, please enlighten me in the comments, if you’d like to share.

3. MEGO (my eyes glaze over) – “Are you done yet?”

Connected sex is what I’m after and what drives my fulfilling feelings. I get closeness from sex. I get relaxation and bonding from sex.

Apathetic sex is a killer. And it may not start out that way. It may be that moment, that opening for sex you’ve both been waiting for, and you are going about the task in a happy and healthy way… And something changes. It could be a combination of any of these other habits, or it could be something else, but what happens is your mind is distracted and you are no longer paying attention to your partner, or even yourself. Sex is mechanical and you’d just as soon it be over. (I know the first time this happened in my now-defunct marriage I was devastated. I had never noticed it before, if it had happened. I could see in her eyes that she was thinking about something else, and was simply waiting for me to finish.)

4. Hyper-focus on the orgasm. – “Did you come?”

Then the flip side of #3, is the “Hey, you didn’t come, let’s get you too.” And while this can be awesome, often it leads to this odd state of performance. Where you are trying to orgasm, partially to have an orgasm, and partially to fulfill your partners need for you to come. Let me tell you, for me, as a man, orgasm is awesome, but your orgasm is better. Yes I’d love to come, but if I hear you having a great time, I’m pretty fulfilled. And when the “focus” becomes my orgasm rather than the playful interchange of sex and passion, then I’m as likely to lose my erection as if I were being interviewed for a porn movie. Let’s play at sex, let’s not focus on either persons orgasm, and have fun. If we both orgasm, awesome. If we don’t awesome. If we can keep it about connecting instead of coming we are well on our way to compatibility.

5. Distractions and chores. – “Oh shit, look at that cobweb in the corner of the ceiling.”

Noticing the pile of laundry in the closet during sex and wondering how you’re going to get it done before the weekend is over, is a sexual killer. Once the mind is focused on other things, bills and chores being the most prevalent in my experience, there is no way to keep the connection. Once our focus shifts from looking into our partner’s eyes we begin to lose our charge. If I’m worried about an upcoming work deadline it can be hard for me to stay focused. I might be able to “get” you, but I’m probably not going to orgasm. If that’s okay, let’s go. If it’s a session of love-making you want, we might wait until the emotional connection is engaged.

Sex, for me, is about connection. There is pleasure involved, and the pleasure must go both ways. But for me, the pleasure is simply in the act of lovemaking, or screwing if we’re in an animal state.  When the connection is lost, for whatever reason, the sex becomes routine or functional. Sex should not be functional.

As men and women, we are in this dance together. Sex has many different flavors and colors. What get’s your passions heated? What turns them off?

There’s this myth that a man needs to orgasm every so often because his hormones or testosterone levels reach critical mass. It’s a myth. I’m sure a lot of men would like to foster the belief in this, and keep the mythology going so they can have more frequent sex. But your hormones don’t build up for release, they build up for the purpose of procreation. Your body wants to follow Darwin’s theory and continue their genetic line. You want to have sex, as an animal, for the purposes of having progeny. While this is a function of our mammalian brain, we’re a bit beyond that as humans.

If it is just sexual release I need, a discharge of my hormones, that’s easy enough to take care of myself. If I can rope my partner into thinking it’s part of my maleness and she should help, well, that’s a bit manipulative. It’s like when you are trying to have a kid, sex is ALWAYS an option. Once you have kids, sex is ALWAYS a negotiation.

Connected sex is what I’m after and what drives my fulfilling feelings. I get closeness from sex. I get relaxation and bonding from sex. And with my wiring (my Love Language is touch) sex or “skin time” is important. But skin time can be cuddling. Or hugging and kissing on the couch.

What ways have you found that sex becomes disconnected? I am learning, and hoping to provide a tiny glimpse into my unique male mammalian thought processes, and I’d love to hear from you about your perspectives. As men and women, we are in this dance together. Sex has many different flavors and colors. What get’s your passions heated? What turns them off? Please let me know, the comments are always open. (grin)

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Seven Signs of a Healthy Post-Divorce Relationship

OFF-healthycoupling

Divorce is hard. Dating after divorce is tricky too, and I’ve found some things I think are good indicators of how whole a person is, and how ready they are for a healthy relationship. Sure, your dating profile says something like, “Let’s be friends first and see where that takes us.” But most people I meet are really hoping that friendship takes us to the next wave of affection. I think we are mostly looking to me found and appreciated by another person, while having the opportunity to appreciate them back. We want to become the most fantastic cheerleader for their hopes and dreams and we expect that positive affirmation in return.

We don’t need a relationship. We want one. We are fine alone. We have found our own way out of the desert of depression and despair. And now, standing strong and alone again, we are ready to dip our toes into the idea of being loved and loving again. It is a huge risk. And some people can’t get over it. Their divorce is still too painful, or their relationship with their ex is still too volatile. They are really not ready for a relationship.

If, however you begin to think your shit is sufficiently together to date again, some new boundaries are in order. And here is what I’ve found to be the indicators of a healthy start.

You are going to be spending a lot of time with this person, out of the bedroom doing other things, and you’d be better of seeing if your “out of the sack” experience is good too.

1. The relationship with the ex is business-like and drama-free.

If your potential partner is still dramatically engaged or enraged at their ex partner, watch out. You are likely to take some of the “stand-in” damage for the anger that needs a place to dissipate. Irritation and conflict can always arise. But pay attention to how this person deals with these setbacks or conflicts. It’s likely this is how any future conflict with you might evolve, as well. Are they able to articulate what the problem is? Can they negotiate a solution and then let it go? The emotional baggage from divorce is huge. And it’s tough to get through all the processing that needs to happen before we can cut it loose and be free of the burden of our ex.

2. The other person puts their kids ahead of the relationship.

In my experience, I find a potential partner who has had kids (they can be older or younger than mine) is more likely to be accepting and accommodating of my relationship to my kids. When my kids call, they come first. Sure, it’s an interruption, and sure it puts the “special friend” in a secondary role, but it’s clear to me that my kids emotional and physical well-being is much more important than me having a girlfriend. At least at this point in my life, while they are still in school, and still very much under my influence. I have a deep respect for my role model as a dad, and as a man. I am showing both my daughter and my son how a man acts in the world. Even under duress, I am showing how I can remain calm, and make strong and positive decisions. And always, my kids come first. Especially in the early stages of a new relationship.

You’d think that if someone is dating again that they are ready for a relationship. But that’s often not the case.

3. In meeting the kids, there are no major hangups or obvious attachment issues.

Divorce traumatizes all of the family members. And often this trauma causes us to revert to old and unhealthy defense mechanisms. And of course, as a divorced, and now-single parent, I am going to do everything I can to take care of my kids needs. BUT… this has to be carefully done. I have seen both men and women who were WAY to enmeshed with their children. Maybe the kid was a brat who was completely undisciplined. Or perhaps the child was overly shy and withdrawn, folding themselves into the parent. At younger ages some of this behavior is acceptable. But as the child ages, and reaches the end of elementary school they should not need to be coddled or babied, because the other parent is trying to make up for some loss. The single parent cannot make up for the divorce. But everyone survives and moves on. Both the kids and the parents need to return to healthy boundaries and healthy communication styles, so that everyone can grow up, and let go of the stigma and shame of the divorce.

4. Conversations about divorce, parenting, or relationships are not tense.

In early stages of a relationship, most of the time you want to hear, “What happened?” And this opportunity to share your story and hear the divorce story of the other person, is a great time to listen for their repose. How have they accepted their own responsibility for the divorce. Even if the divorce was the result of some infidelity, have they been able to move beyond the anger? The best approach to the ex is to live and let be. Focus on the kids. Walking away from a marriage is hard work, and the way someone tells their divorce story is important. Listen.

5. Clarity of intention and honest expression of affection and desire.

You’d think that if someone is dating again that they are ready for a relationship. But that’s often not the case. You’d even imagine, that someone who puts up a dating profile online, and who talks about what they want in their next relationship, probably has some intention of being in a relationship. BUT, you might be wrong. I have been on quite a few dates where the woman had no idea what they wanted. I had one woman, who I connected with and had just spent nearly two hours talking to, tell me in the parking lot as she was getting into her car, “I can tell you at least three reasons I’m not right for you.” She didn’t, but she said she knew she had no real idea of what she wanted in a relationship. If you’re dating, be clear on if you want to “date” or have a relationship. I’ve heard that some people are into casual dating and casual sex. That’s never worked for me, but if that’s your thing, make sure that’s what the other person is saying as well. If the person cannot give  you a good idea of what they are looking for, how their next relationship might look or feel, they may not be ready to be in a relationship. And if you can’t articulate what you are looking for, if your vague, or simply lonely, you might want to keep working on yourself, and your approach to relationships before jumping right back into one.

Relationships are fun. And now that we have our kids, and our independence, we can be more intentional and clear about what we want in our next relationship.

6. Alcohol or tv are not constant sources of entertainment or escape.

Drinking together can be fun, but it shouldn’t be a lifestyle choice, unless you are both into it. If the person doesn’t really open up until a glass of wine or two, you might be rubbing up against someone who has a hard time expressing themselves. In moderation, as a celebration lifter, a few drinks on the weekend are no problem. But if it’s every single night, and the glass of whatever becomes like the cup of coffee in the morning, a necessary lubricant, there is probably an issue there. And I’ve seen TV become the same sort of numbing or escaping addiction. I went on a few dates with a woman who professed an addiction to reality TV shows. She also turned around and fought with me about the virtues of TV overall, and how TV was no less interactive than reading a book or playing a game with someone. Um…. Yeah.  Escapism should not be a common theme. You want clear and present as the normal relating condition between you and another consenting adult.

7. Affection that moves into sexual relations doesn’t change the overall tone of the friendship.

Of course, you’d like to be friends first. And if the chemistry is working, there may be a pull towards the bedroom. But of course you need to know that if you are looking for a relationship, sex, while important, is not the most important aspect of a relationship. You are going to be spending a lot of time with this person, out of the bedroom doing other things, and you’d be better of seeing if your “out of the sack” experience is good too. Don’t get me wrong, a good sexual chemistry is a powerful motivator. But don’t let the sex cloud your understanding of who the person is, and what other things you like to do together. You can’t screw all the time.

And initiation of sex shouldn’t cause major shifts in the relationship. You’re friendship should still remain a focus in all of the stages of a relationship. Perhaps that’s part of what led us to divorce, we stopped dating our partners and began to take them for granted. We stopped cheerleading and became more of a negotiator, or even antagonist.

Listen to yourself as you talk about the relationship as well. When you are describing your relationship to a friend, notice the words you use. How do you describe this new interest? What are the highlights that you are proud to share about this person?

And listen as you talk to this person as well. Are you open and free with your expressions of affection or desire? Can you say what you need? Are you holding back, or withholding some information for fear of upsetting the other person? All of these are clues that the relating part of the relationship might still need some exploration.

Relationships are fun. And now that we have our kids, and our independence, we can be more intentional and clear about what we want in our next relationship. It doesn’t have to be about marriage, but can be more about learning to love and feel loved again. Take your time. Be intentional with your time, attention, and actions. And if things don’t feel right, move along. If you’re not in a hurry, there are plenty of fish in the sea, and plenty of time to find one that’s just right. Or at least better than what you’ve done before.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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image: friend wedding, jessie clockwork, creative commons usage


Walking Away from the Wreckage

OFF-nightout

Love poems and reassurances are not enough. Breaking through someone else’s issues is not for a partner, lover, or friend. It can be, but it’s got to be a willingness to change and grow that fuels the rebirth. This would be no rebirth.

When she kept saying, “You want something else.” I kept feeling how fantastic she was, how much I could hold the relationship even as she fluttered away every week or so. And as we moved up towards and even passed my longest post-divorce dating milestone, she continued to toss molotov cocktails into my heart space. I don’t think she was doing it on purpose, but I do note that it always happened after a particularly close day/night together. The closer we got the more incendiary the love bombs she would hurl.

They both told me, “We don’t talk about you.” But it seemed that when the wine flowed, apparently the juicy tidbits were just too juicy to withhold.

Somewhere in my heart I knew it was a matter of time. Somehow, I thought, by the fifteenth breakup soliloquy or so, she would wear me down. I mean, I knew how capable I was of sustaining the fantasy, projecting the “okayness” of our time together, but I was also working to heal the part of me that wanted to be the hero, to be the bigger partner, to see and look out for obstacles. I could not anticipate the reasons for her breakup messages, but I could learn to do better at not responding, at not accepting what she was saying. But was that healthy? At some point, even if the chemistry and fascination quotients are high, don’t you have to walk away from the wreckage, before the next crash takes you down with it?

There was this one mitigating factor that kept finding it’s way into the equation, an unexpected antagonist. It was the one person who could draw the connections between the two of us. The one woman I had dated since divorce. The person I considered a confidant. I was wrong about that. In fact, she sort of got us together by inviting us to the same party. She then, however, counseled us both that we were not right for each other. And that’s where things got a little squishy.

We were all friends then, it seemed. And as the new woman and I began to spend time together, we both kept checking in with our mutual friend for advice, ideas, confirmations, and references. And as things went, most reports were stellar. I mean, she wouldn’t have continued for more than a week if our friend had told her really bad things about me.

But then they’d have a girls night and low and behold, my sweetheart would get strangely quiet. The first time it took about a week to cipher out what had happened, what disconnect had occurred between us. But the disconnect turned out to be something GF#1 shared with her. What?

They both told me, “We don’t talk about you.” But it seemed that when the wine flowed, apparently the juicy tidbits were just too juicy to withhold.

First it was discovered that I had “depression.” And the new sweetheart was confused as to why I hadn’t told her about it, especially since I had shared it with our friend. Of course, the friend mentioned it casually. But the implications were dark indeed. How had I shared it with her and not here in my present relationship yet? Um, we had a very different relationship.

She liked to joke about “I guess it’s time to break up now.” Ha ha. I’d text back, “Yep, I guess I’ll have to go fire up my OK Cupid profile again.”

We got through it and we laughed it off. There were a few more breakups that were not related to our mutual friend, and then another night out and another strained silence appeared.

This time in a moment of honest debauchery a text message had been shared. A message from the earliest weeks of this new relationship. I was confiding in my friend about the woman who was breaking up with me because she was scared. And I was the devil, and our relationship was just not going to work. “We are too different.” And the pattern of getting the text or email effectively ending our relationship repeated again. At this point I was a bit irritated, but I laughed it off and attempted to put the context around the text that had been shared. I wondered again, why our “friend” had shared such a sensitive piece of our confidential correspondence.

We’ve ebbed and flowed through many panics. Sometimes it would be a love poem that I shared that would completely trip her out, “I can’t be that woman.” Or something I did or didn’t do. And sometimes even in our playful banter the raw underbelly of fear and hurt would peek out.

She liked to joke about “I guess it’s time to break up now.” Ha ha. I’d text back, “Yep, I guess I’ll have to go fire up my OK Cupid profile again.” And that was too painful for her and she would register her hurt. “You’ve gotten mean.” What?

Okay, so I learned that responding to her joking breakups with any indication that I’d move right along should that happen, were too terrifying. We agreed to not joke about either issue again. And then I made a declaration of the summer by shutting down my profiles. In my mind, it was a show of color, since she had been freaked out that I might be flirting with other women. I thought I’d show her that I wasn’t by closing my exit.

And in that moment, I also asked, “And you can’t break up with me for the Summer, either. Unless it’s something horrible, and we know that won’t happen.”

And somehow this idea worked for both of us. She admitted that it made her feel good. And we moved along with the baggage behind us, and the future ahead, looking controlled and casual, but hopeful.

Guess what?

Nine days later, Girls Night Out, final round. This time the issue was unrecoverable. The sharing by our friend was so casual and devastating that there would be no return.

I wondered, as I was trying to argue my side via text messages, what our friend’s purpose was? Was she protecting her friend? Was she angry at us for being happy? Was there some wounding that she was still acting out with me for not being the relationship she had hoped for?

I was weary of the struggle to prove… Something. What? That relationships were worthy efforts? That I was honest?

And then I imagined all the things our friend could, over time, share “in inebriated confidence” that would take our relationship down. And I saw that she could go really deep, if she wanted. And since they were high school friends, my chances were very low that I could continue to negotiate surrender and rebuilding over and over again. It was exhausting. And unfortunately, familiar. The crisis. OMG! And I’m digging myself out of some perceived wrong. That’s how my marriage descended into hell. There was always something wrong.

I would not recover this time. I went down with the flaming plane. I let the friend know what she had done, was “3-for-3 in inappropriate sharing.” She was sorry. She apologized. And my GF#2 became EX#2.

I guess now they have each other again. They can swap stories now at a deeper level. And I don’t have place at the table defend myself. But I was weary of the struggle to prove… Something. What? That relationships were worthy efforts? That I was honest?

No, I was really trying to convince her, to create in her, the lover that I so desired. I was willing to grow a bigger heart, to stretch my boundaries and relax my grip on the idea of “girlfriend” or “relationship.” But I was getting tired of being kicked to the curb, like Fred Flintstone, every week or so tossed out the window with a, “We are just two very different people.”

I don’t know, I don’t think it was on purpose. I don’t think it was either of them was conspiring to break us up. Our friend providing the ammo for some reason, my sweetheart using the new issue to support her fears.

You’re right, girls. It probably wouldn’t have worked. But I am so sorry this beautiful opportunity was smashed. I need some rest and a reset. Thanks for the love poems, and the amazing journey through relationship #2. (Sad face.)

I don’t walk away from this one unscathed. I was gaining confidence and joy in my time with her. And now I have, most likely, lost both of my friends: two friends who have seen inside my deepest parts, post-divorce. I guess it’s time to rest before I get back up again. I am very sad.

Namasté.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

[Note: this post is not written to either of them, though I suspect they will read it and be outraged. I guess this is my outrage.]

And if I could actually write what I feel, it would be closer to this poem: don’t tell me how it ends

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Perils of Dating a Relationship Blogger, Especially If You Know

OFF-kissbye

When she broke up with me the first time, I wasn’t sure if she knew about my blogs. And I wrote about the experience. She contacted me and said that what I had written was very honest and accurate, but not very flattering. She didn’t ask me to take it down. And eventually we continued dating.

She vowed to not read this blog. I know I would not be able to keep away if I knew she was pouring out pieces of her heart and soul. It’s too tempting.

She let me know that my love poems really tripped her out. “I don’t want to hold all that expectation for you. That’s not me.”

Her objections to my love poems, however were more troubling. As our relationship continued, I continued to express my desire, hopes, fantasies, and ultimately my sole-created projections.

And as much as I tried to explain to her that the love poem was an art form, and though she had been the inspiration for the passion and fury of the expression, I often lifted off into some altered state where I was writing to the gods. The love poem to end all love poems. The best love poem, ever. Still it freaked her out. So I learned not to share them. And she continued to profess not to read the blog.

But she read the blog and broke up with me several times over the next month. Still, I understand.

I can’t imagine what it would be like if the tables were turned. Well, in fact, I sort of can, a woman I dated for a while is also a blogger. And it’s a bit voyueristic. But we’re no longer involved, so it’s cool.

Anyway, the one time before that I dated someone who knew about the blog it didn’t go so well. I told her that I would not blog about us. And we proceeded to implode rather quickly, but I couldn’t write about it. It was my promise.

Moving on towards the present moment, I can understand the temptation to read the words of the person you are in a relationship with. In fact, it’s hard for me to imagine that I wouldn’t read the entire tome back to front, just to get oriented.

But rather than learn and explore with me, this woman tended to defend or take offense to much of my writing. And that was a bummer. She would miss the entire point of a post, to share her take on where I got it all wrong. Um, excuse me? Which part did I get wrong? The part where I didn’t agree with you?

Her objections to my love poems, however were more troubling. As our relationship continued, I continued to express my desire, hopes, fantasies, and ultimately my sole-created projections. I am aware that poems and even some posts are simply projections of what I want. She was not so easy to convince that not every single line was about. her. So she stopped reading the love poems too, and I learned not to send them to her. But that’s a bit of a problem right?

It makes me very sad to have invested so much heart and time into this wonderful startup, and yet have it fail.

It’s as if this blog is a loaded gun, pointed directly at our relationship. And if I am already unable to share what I’m thinking, dreaming, and hoping for… Well, that says something about how the relationship was going to progress, unless something amazing changed. And I know waiting for the other person to change is a big problem. (see: Waiting for the Other Person to Change)

Okay, so things aren’t going to change. And my poems and posts are going to freak her out… forever. That’s no way to be. And she’s now let me know, once again, that she’s not right for me. At this point, I am inclined to accept her protestation.

It makes me very sad to have invested so much heart and time into this wonderful startup, and yet have it fail. And now she can read this blog freely as I stumble to learn and move on from the experience of loving someone fully again.

Here’s how the story ends: Walking Away from the Wreckage

Here’s how it felt when it ended: don’t tell me how it ends < a poem

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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image: bye, bye 288, tim, creative commons usage


Taking a Break from Online Dating: Offline for the Summer

OFF-offline

It’s an exciting moment, being able to take your profiles down because there IS someone you want to be with. Without giving away any information, I am excited to tell you that the last series of love poems has been inspired by an actual woman. (go figure) And while I am putting the finishing touches on my Dating After Divorce book, I am happy, I tell you, happy happy happy to be working on the rest of the issues about relationship, and not just seeking someone who’s interested back. (In a funny synchronicity: her perfume is “happy” and our song is “happy” and we seem to be happy.)

And while I did not find this woman via online dating, it was the online dating that brought things to a head, so to speak. END.

I’m going to live this one, and take a break from blogging about this real-time relationship. Maybe a poem or two, but in respect for both of us, and to show that my intentions are deeper than some sort of sexual hunt, I’ll take the “issues” offline as well.

Screen Shot 2014-06-26 at 12.36.51 PM

It’s so easy to get things mixed up when the communications are online. In much the same way that texts and emails can be misconstrued, online is no way to grow trust and closeness. And of course, she knows about this blog, though she says she will refrain from reading it. How do you write about dating/sex/hunger/infinite desire for someone, when that someone is in the picture? You can’t. I can’t.

There are plenty of things to write about. I am hopeful that my “dating” quest is over for a bit. What’s next, who knows. The point is “something” is next and it’s happening now.

I appreciate the love and support of the readers here, and I will continue writing, but with a slightly different angle. The next chapter is in the opening months. Stay present. Go slow. Be honest. And trust that the time will take care of itself. There is no hurry.

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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image: little lovers so polite, morgan, creative commons usage

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The Malleable Trajectory of Desire in Online Dating

OFF-spicegirlsOnline dating is a weird phenomenon that has changed many of the rules we once knew to hold true for relationships. And one of the amazing aspects is the real estate like show of women and their profiles, likes, desires, must haves, and in the case of OK Cupid, maybe even their kinky fantasies. Outside of online pornography, never before have so many women been displayed online in photos and bullet points.

And in several discussions with friends about “dating” the superficial elements came up in two very different ways.

First Conversation: I was discussing this process with a woman who has never tried online dating, “and never will.”  Okay. “I just think it’s so wrong to judge someone on their looks alone. You might be missing the perfect woman for you, because she doesn’t meet some criteria that’s just about her looks.”

“Yes,” I agreed, “That’s true.”

“I think it’s wrong, and superficial, and I can’t believe you buy into it.”

“Okay, so let’s say you did, buy into it. And you had to weed down say 2,000 potential matches. What criteria would you use? How would you go about picking from that list?”

She was quiet.

“Because, you have to admit there’s got to be some physical attraction.”

“Of course,” she said. “But that’s so little of what goes into an actual relationship.”

I agreed. “You are right, but, without that spark of desire, there’s not much chance of moving on to the relationship part.”

“I know,” she agreed. “But it seems wrong to be judging these women from pictures. Like cattle, or things. It’s demeaning.”

“How would you go about solving the issue? How would you make choices and actually pick someone to approach?”

She was almost angry, at this point, “I wouldn’t. I would never do it.”

Okay, we were obviously not going to reach agreement on this one. Let’s move on.

Some are quick to accept the meeting idea and the plans are easily set. Some are allusive and won’t respond directly to an offer for a meeting. They’d rather chit chat for awhile.

Second Conversation: “I’ve got this great person for you. She’s amazing. But she didn’t want someone with young kids.”

“Sure, what’s her user name?”

“Well, don’t you want to hear about her? Call me on the phone.”

“Just give me her user name.”

“I mean, she was amazing, and she does the same thing you do. She was really hot, and sexy. And I gave her your website address and she said to send you her information.”

“She’s a bit older than my tastes.”

“Oh.”

Initially I laughed, but then I was kind of sad for this friend. Women of our own age are VERY attractive. And in my spectrum of desire, even more desirable than younger or fitter models. But the next revelation was more insightful for me. She didn’t want to date me, even though the chemistry between us was good, she even admitted that. But she didn’t want someone with younger kids. Her’s were out of the house. Mine were 11 and 13. Okay, same bias.

He didn’t want someone who was that old. She didn’t want someone who was younger, but had younger kids. Two misses in one transaction. Both a bit misguided and superficial, but ultimately we have to build some criteria for picking and choosing what it is we want next in a relationship, or date.

+++

In the online dating world I maintain profiles on two different sites. And now, after a few weeks back online, I have culled the list on one site to about 3 profiles, and this was from about 150 women. And on the second, more popular and paid site, I have gone from 1,234 matches to about 10.

And as the process goes, you wander through various permutations of physical courting, either “Hey let’s grab coffee” or “Hey, I’m into Game of Thrones too.” And the dance proceeds from there.

Some are quick to accept the meeting idea and the plans are easily set. Some are allusive and won’t respond directly to an offer for a meeting. They’d rather chit chat for awhile. It is possible that their dance cards are full and they are spacing you out a bit on their calendar, or they might not be that interested, but interested enough not to blow you off. It’s a hard thing to determine.

Either way, what you do in the dance, is try to get a meeting so you can both lay eyes on one another. Photos lie. And they sometimes lie big.

And as a romantic, I can get drawn into a photograph and begin to imagine connections that simply are not there when we meet. So for me, it’s best to set the date and chill the fk out. And from what I’ve found, most women like this approach as well. If you get too chatty, or too friendly, the throw up a red flag and either time you out, or drop you from their potentials list.

And while she was attractive and funny when we met, there were plenty of things that didn’t work out for me. I’m not sure how she felt, but it was a quick read for me.

So you set the date and you meet. Then things go from fantasy based on photographs to fantasy based on a physical meeting. Still fantasy. And here’s the amazing thing, your ideas of desire change dramatically based on the photos or profile highlights. And this too is pure fantasy, and yet these fantasies give us insight into turn-ons and turn-offs in our own hopeful quest.

For example, there is a woman in my small pond of desirable women who is an avid soccer player. She’s uber-fit, has a magnetic smile in her photos, and is sporting an interesting tattoo on her tan and strong arm. She is the meander type. We’ve been chatting and emailing for weeks. For awhile she was sick. For another week she was just starting a new job and wasn’t available. Now it’s the World Cup, and she’s just busy. When I ask her about availability, she says she’s gone on some dates, but hasn’t kissed the right frog yet.

But there’s nothing I have been able to do (chatting about soccer, world cup, which coffee shops she likes) to tip her over the edge of meeting me face-to-face. Even so, my fantastic mind has wrapped several times around this type of woman. Self-described tomboy, athletic, young, vigorous, likes to hang and drink with the boys. And in my malleable mind, I begin forming a life with her: short-form fantasy only, I’m not trying to write our history, just imagining dating, kissing, making love, not really planning our lives together. And for me, this woman still scores a very high number in my desirable book.

Another example is a women who seems a bit bookish in her photos. But a smile to knock you out. She was quick to accept an offer to meet and we agreed on a music club/coffee bar nearby. And for the few days before we met, we exchanged emails and eventually texts about things. She was funny, witty, and had a great sense of humor. And in her photos I was able to stretch out my imagination into something resembling desire, but… And here’s the but… I could see in her photos that there was the possibility of my fantasy being less grounded in reality. Nothing major, but some subtle hints that the top profile photo was an extraordinary moment, and not a view into the day-to-day woman I was going to meet.

If a girl is interested she will take the date offer. If she’s mildly interested she might string you on a bit. If she’s not interested she won’t respond to anything you say or do.

And while she was attractive and funny when we met, there were plenty of things that didn’t work out for me. I’m not sure how she felt, but it was a quick read for me. Something about that gut instinct. It really wasn’t anything in particular. She was cute, funny, talkative. She had two kids and seemed to have her relationship to her ex-husband sorted out. But, sadly, it was a no for me.

Even when we think we know what we want, until we see her and hear her and begin to understand her, we’re projecting a fantasy of what we want her to be. And neither of these women were what I expected. And I’m still waiting to get an acceptance from the soccer-babe. I’m guessing I’m just outside of her desirable scale and she’s postponing out of courtesy, and not wanting to piss me off.

What I’ve learned: If a girl is interested she will take the date offer. If she’s mildly interested she might string you on a bit. If she’s not interested she won’t respond to anything you say or do.

Either way, my imagination is strong and while my list is fairly short on both sites, there are a few new women per week that show up. And the expectation is that they too are looking for some level of a relationship. And thus we go on projecting, hoping, and molding our concepts of what we want to match up the profiles that appear attractive to us on little more than a pretty photo and a few touch points of interest.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

Back to On Dating Again

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image: the spice girls, wikipedia, creative commons usage


Divorce Recovery: Loving Yourself Better, So You Can Eventually Love Again

OFF-lovehandles

Getting right with yourself after divorce is the biggest challenge you’re going to face. All the mechanics of divorce, will eventually take care of themselves. But the emotional fallout might be a bit tougher. I often rely on the language and support of the 12-steps to recover my balance when I’m under the rock of depression or sadness.

And for me, the biggest part of that recovery was regaining some self-confidence and self-love. I felt defeated and broken when I walked out of my marital home and into the world of single dads everywhere. I knew the loss that was coming, now and for the rest of my life I would not have unlimited access to my kids and their hopes and dreams. That loss is still the hardest part for me. I used to love going in late at night and appreciate (give thanks) for their beating and healthy little hearts. Now I can’t to that on most of the nights.

But the areas in me that needed healing were much more personal.

  • I didn’t feel sexy or desirable
  • My extra weight felt like a fat-sumo-wrestling-suit
  • The sadness made it hard to exercise at all
  • My initial attempts at dating felt desperate and disconnected
  • Loss of all touch and closeness (except from friends and my kids)
  • Loss of the hope that I would ever be with another woman
  • My mental processes were so wrapped up in ruminating the past, that I felt slow and unintelligent most of the time

And at the deepest core of my pain, I wasn’t sure my body, my soul, was worth all the effort it was going to take to resurface and regain my position as a strong father. A strong single father. At a few dark moments, it just didn’t seem worth it. But then I remembered my dad, and what the loss of him in my early twenties did to me, and I soldiered on.

I go from moments of feeling fit and healthy to feeling fat and uninspired, often in the course of one day. And it’s not that I’m fat one day and not-fat the next. It’s more about how I see and talk to myself.

Today, four-ish years after I walked out on my kids and married life (not my idea) there are still points of pain and sadness, but overall I’d have to say I’ve recovered most of my energy and enthusiasm. I still miss my kids on the nights they are not here with me, but we’re managing. All of us are managing.

Today I read a piece about how the human body ages over time, written from a very healthy and zen perspective. And while I don’t do all these things, I wanted to share them, and the source post, in hopes that you might find some inspiration for your own journey. You are worth it. Whatever you have to go through to get back on top of your game, whatever it is, DO IT.

Here are the  8 Things I Learned from 50 Naked People – published in The Elephant Journal.

breath in - the off parent

click for larger version

So let’s spend a brief moment together, breathing *that* in. I could spend a long time trying to absorb these wonderful affirmations into my own self-image.

The physical body needs love: Your body doesn’t lie.

What are the things that need healing around your body image? I’ll share mine.

The thing your most embarrassed about: my size. Notice I didn’t say weight. I go from moments of feeling fit and healthy to feeling fat and uninspired, often in the course of one day. And it’s not that I’m fat one day and not-fat the next. It’s more about how I see and talk to myself. And I’m working on it, on just loving whatever I am at the moment. Today those emotions are more tripped up by something I ate, or bloating, rather than some massive increase in my girth.

And what I can do about it:

  1. A better diet (not dieting)
  2. Fewer rich indulgences (the tend to breed next indulgences: frappacinos, ice creams)
  3. More activity (doing what I love)
  4. More energy from healthy activities; 4
  5. Emotional boost and joy from being in a relationship (when that happens).

I’ve got a gentler way of talking to my 50+ year-old self. I’m still easily influenced and sometimes angered by fat obsession. And I’ve never really felt fit enough since I left high school hyper athletics: I lettered in three sports and was always driving myself to win.

Now, of course, the matches are less important, and it’s the game that makes me happy. Even losing, I can appreciate the skill and performance of the other players. (Tennis is my passion.) But I love playing. I love seeing a player who has it all and disassembles my game with several well placed shots at critical moments during the match. It’s a chance to watch my own emotions and my own reaction to winning (when I win) and losing (when I get creamed). And that too is about balance.

So I lost at marriage. And here on out I have to learn to be a single dad to my two kids. So what. Sometimes the game doesn’t go the way you want it to, so you move on, try something different, and give up only after the last point is played.

Perhaps a partner who’s on the same trajectory of self-love and healing from fat-shaming. We’re not fat. We’re where we are. And we’re here to love ourselves, and with luck, others.

So my embarrassment about my fatness is really left over shit. I’m not *that* fat. I’ve been much fatter. And healthy, for me, is not obsessing about fit or fat, but focusing on eating better and playing more tennis. And knowing that we’re not getting any younger, when I look back at some college photos of me, when I was (at that time) feeling quite fat, and noticing how great I looked.

I’m guessing if we could look back on our “now” selves from our “much older” selves, we’d admire our energy and vigor. We would probably not say how fat we were. We might, but those are the tapes I am eliminating from my vocabulary, both inner and outer. So much of what we say to ourselves is mean. If you say it out loud, you might hear how to be more supportive of your process, as you would be supportive of a friend.

I’m not trying to become a model. I’m not really trying to call in some much younger women who are super-fit and perhaps more focused on super-fit guys. I’m not going to be that guy. But I am aware of things more tangible, like my energy, my optimism and creativity, my blood pressure. All those signs are GREAT. What more can I ask for?

Perhaps a partner who’s on the same trajectory of self-love and healing from fat-shaming. We’re not fat. We’re where we are. And we’re here to love ourselves, and with luck, others.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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image: love handles are whorey handles, laura g, creative commons usage


In Defense of Dalliance

dalliance - the off parent

Why so serious?

My thoughts are changing on this subject. I’d have to say, initially, as a single man, re-entering the dating pool after 12 years as a married man, I was seeking my next “relationship.”

“I don’t understand casual sex,” I said to a life coach friend. “Try it,” she said. “There are plenty of women who would be into it with you. And unless you try it, you’ll never know if you like it.”

What I heard at that time was casual sex is okay, but not for me. Today, I’m not so sure I understand my motivations for marriage (SEE What’s This About: Marriage?) much less a serious relationship. Okay, scratch that last sentence. I’d like to think I could hear an attractive woman talking about her lovers and not cringe a little bit. She was sexually attractive to me, for sure, but in more of an animal (sexual needs) kind of way. I wasn’t interested in dating her, only screwing her. And I wasn’t actually making any moves or giving any indications that this was where I wanted to go with the conversation. And we didn’t.

Still, what’s all this attachment to single-mate-for-life shit? It hasn’t worked out for me very well. And of course, I take that back, I have two great kids… and an ex-wife or two. But entering into those marriages I was saying YES PLEASE to the life-long commitment. But… Why?

Marriage was the path for me and my ex-wife, that we saw necessary to the progress and process of having children together. We both wanted kids. We both wanted marriage as a way to get kids. We got divorced when the relationship pain outweighed the relationship advantage.

How will I know if I like casual sex if I don’t try it? I’m still wondering this.

Take the last three online “hello” dates. Two of them were very attractive and obviously sexually active. And if I interpreted the signals right, eventually we would get to sex, if things progressed along the normal trajectories. And even the answers in OK Cupid are pretty clear. How soon after dating would you initiate sex? a. right away, b. 1 – 3 dates; c. 3 – 5 dates; d. 6 or more dates; e. I’m not interested in sex at all.

My sexual projections of what sex might be like with that smile, those eyes, those breasts, are just like you might imagine most men are. And then something stops me.

I THINK I’m a 3 – 5 dates kind of a guy. But I’ve also answered “Would you have sex on a first date?” with an unqualified yes.

Umm… Right. In theory. Back in college I think I did this twice. Once when I was drinking heavily and once when I tried the drug ecstasy while in New Mexico. Both times were about as sexually fulfilling as masturbation. And with porn these days, masturbation is often the easier answer. No after sex conversations. No messy breakups. No STD threats.

So what in the world would have to happen for my casual sex, let’s go ahead and jump in the sack, response to be triggered? And if triggered, would the impulse be worth the repercussions?

  • What would have to happen:
  • Beautiful
  • Intoxicating chemistry
  • Mental acuity and banter
  • Eyes that shine like diamonds
  • A roaring heat in my chest (a fantasy of love, perhaps)
  • Some intangible magic

Something extraordinary would have to happen for me to want to sleep with a woman within 24 hours of meeting her. I’m not saying my body wouldn’t rise to the occasion, and my libido doesn’t rage at the thought of a beautiful woman in or out of mensa. It does. And my sexual projections of what sex might be like with that smile, those eyes, those breasts, are just like you might imagine most men are.

And then something stops me.

I’ve had a few sexual relationships since I’ve been divorced. Most of them have been pleasant. Many of them I did not want to repeat after once or twice, for various reasons. And I keep coming back to the driving force in my relationship past, find a good woman and develop a lasting relationship with her. This simplifies a lot of our energy. And for me, gives me an emotional and sexual base from which to launch off into my other emotional and creative passions.

I’m wired this way, I’m afraid.

My sexual brain is different. Unbridled and wild sex with multiple women always sounds like a good idea, to my smaller head. I used to imagine that I would’ve loved living in the sixties time of free love. And yet, now in this post-divorce life, I’m sort of in that position again. The online dating profile seems to be attracting women. And some of the women I find attractive as well. And …

The thought of my beloved being ravaged by someone else would give me a real heart attack. And I do want a beloved again.

So what happens when my sexual energies light up? And if the woman is of the same mind, what happens when things do progress, and we do start “relating?” So far, I have not been able to detach the part of my heart that begins mapping ideas of how we should/will/might be together for the long-term.

I’m dialing this back at the moment. I’m learning to live in the touch/taste present. And I’m reeling back thoughts of marriage and “what’s next.” But I’m not on a dating frenzy. Given a stable of available and sexually attractive women, I think I would find the ONE and drop the others.

I know some people can be wired differently. And I know that my inclinations once I was released from my sad marriage finish, was to be a philandering mad man. Didn’t happen. And chances are, it’s not ever going to happen. Again, who knows, perhaps I’ll be surprised. But the one time in my college years that I “dated” two women at the same time, things didn’t end so well. And even while things were working out, I wasn’t all that honest with either one of them.

I don’t know how I could ever be in an OPEN relationship. The thought of my beloved being ravaged by someone else would give me a real heart attack. And I do want a beloved again.

Maybe if I keep things on the surface, or don’t find a willing partner of that quality, I could entertain the idea of taking on another lover at the same time. But they’d have to know about each other, and that’s a bit more complicated. My wiring not’s that flexible after all.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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Online Dating Undercover Revelations: OK Cupid (Pt. 2)

OFF-lovers

Let’s dig a little deeper into OK Cupid’s DNA, and what we’re looking for when we go online to find a “partner” a “hookup” or “a relationship to last the rest of my life.” (Start here: Online Dating Undercover Revelations: OK Cupid (Pt. 1) )

They offer a little “What’s my best picture” service that delivers some interesting feedback about the demographics and the types of women who find your pictures attractive. Well, it’s not a very scientific process, as most of my raters were in their early 20’s, and pretty far from my desired demographic. But the data is fun anyway, and heck, they picked my main profile picture for me, so that’s good. Here are my top three photos and the fuzzy data that goes with them.

attractiveness demographics from OK Cupid

click to view larger version

So in my demographic of 31+ girls (eh hm: women, thanks) here are my big winners. These are my rater’s self-identified types. I’m glad conservative and stoner fell right off my map all together.

Artists
Nerd < maybe
Liberal
Free Spirit
Deviant

If you find it’s working. That might be even more frightening, for both of you. What if… So don’t go there. Slow down. 

And sure enough the picture of me as a parent (with daughter) doesn’t even register with the 18 – 22 yo girls. Okay, fine, so the man as an artist appeals to my demographic. Fine.

But it all really boils down to who I’m interested in. And I’d say my top types are in alignment with my tastes, so we’ll go with that photo for now. And let’s see how it’s worked so far, in my two weeks back on the site.

OKC reports I get about 5 views a week. Hmm… That sucks. I’ve been sending out emails and “Hellos.” Again, I’m guessing a lot of women are using the A-List paid option to NOT show up in my visitors list. Oh well.

So let’s see if I’ve gotten any responses via email. messages on OK Cupid

Yep, a few have responded. And a couple I’ve gotten to texting with. That’s a higher form of intimacy, because it requires the exchange of phone numbers. I don’t think you’d give a creep your phone number. And it usually takes a bit of emailing first to establish a mutual appreciation. And then you move to the quick and telling text exchanges. You can tell a lot about someone’s self-expression. How do they respond to jokes? Are they playful? Are they friendly? Are they tech-savvy?

One of the best reality checks I’ve come up with for online dating is to send a real-time selfie. If the person on the other end is overly self-conscious they won’t be able to send one back. They’ll send something else or ignore your request all together. The selfie is the lowest common denominator of glamour shots. If they radiate in a selfie, you have pretty good odds that their profile photography isn’t photoshopped or glammed into unreality.

And really that’s all we’re trying to establish at this point. Is this person real? Are they authentic in their behavior (texting and responding) and their appearance (if you can get a selfie)?

And next can you move it to an in-person meeting? How smooth is that transaction? Time and place? Do they reset the date several times? Do the postpone? Often it has been my experience that a postponement (even if they say they are sick) really means they are having second thoughts. Or they have started up with someone else and are hedging their bets. The longer the postponement, the more likely it will not happen at all. And that’s okay, you don’t want someone who’s sort of in and sort of out.

The most frustrating near-miss is the one with someone who’s not sure what they are looking for. If they are on a dating site, shouldn’t they be interested in a relationship? Or is the R-word scary? Maybe they really just want to “date.”

And one of the things we can be sure of, none of us has the answers. What does dating after divorce, or dating as a single parent look like?

There are a few controls built-in that help buffer the startup process, in my opinion. If we both have kids and ex’s in town, we will be navigating a fairly complex scheduling process. And you can get a feel very quickly if it’s going to be easy to negotiate or a pain in the ass. If it’s really hard to find the time to get together, it’s probably not a fit. Or perhaps the other person is scared to get in a Relationship. No problem, move on.

Here’s what you want, regardless of what you call it.

  • Time together.
  • Both people making efforts to come up with solutions to the scheduling issues.
  • Laughter and easy-going conversation.
  • Fascination beyond the physical attraction.
  • Sexual chemistry.
  • Emotionally and mentally stable, as far as you can tell.
  • Deals with changes and uncertainty easily.
  • Joy.

And in my estimation those qualities in ONE PERSON are hard to find. Don’t rush through it, if you’ve started to make a match. Slow. Keep building on the friendship. (Does that sound cliché? It might, but really, you get over the “let’s just have sex” part of relating to someone pretty quickly. And I’m pretty sure most women would not be okay with every date night having us say, “Let’s just stay in and do it. I’ll bring Chinese.” It doesn’t work that way in the long-term, and it shouldn’t be your focus in the short-term.)

If you get too far ahead of yourself, thinking about pairing up, or how they would do as a step-parent, you might need to take a time out. This is no longer a race against time, it’s a race with time. You’ve got limited time. You need to make the most of the opportunities you do have to meet and greet. If there are a lot of signals that “this is not working very easily” you might consider resetting expectations and going back to the dating pool.

Do you know what’s enough for you? I know my ideas change all the time. But I keep coming back to the smile, the joy, and the friendship.

BUT…

If you find it’s working. That might be even more frightening, for both of you. What if… So don’t go there. Slow down. Take it easy. Enjoy each other’s company, in and most importantly out of bed. And then just bask in the time you do find to be together. And see how flexible you can be with the idiosyncrasies of life as a single parent. There is a long way to go before you need to begin planning.

So don’t set your expectations too far in the future. Stay in the moment and see how compatible you are, how close your friendship can become. See, for me, part of the problem is I was drawn in and captured by the beauty and sex thing before I really got a deep understanding of the person I was committing too. Don’t make the same mistake again. There’s no hurry to move into the next stages, and in fact, just mentioning them might freak both of you out. When you hear yourself talking about (enter your freak out here: moving in, marriage, step-parenting) just take a deep breath and drop back into the moment, into the presence of this cool person, who happens, if things go well, to think you’re cool too.

For now, that’s as far as I’ve gotten. I like you. I like hanging out with you. And that’s enough.

Do you know what’s enough for you? I know my ideas change all the time. But I keep coming back to the smile, the joy, and the friendship.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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image: she is my drug, bryan brenneman, creative commons usage


Sex is Fun: Should You Settle for Apathetic Sex?

sex is fun[Disclaimer: This post is not about my experiences with any women, past, present or future. All examples/stories are fictitious and made up in my twisted little mind.]

Sex should be fun. And after divorce, for whatever reason you got divorced, you’ve got a new lease on your sex life. What might have become routine or mundane sex can now be awakened again. Sex can be exhilarating again. Touching someone for the first time, should be a thrill. And perhaps in your marriage, touching your partner became a bit of a chore, or (for me) a navigation through a conditional minefield that often resulted in a fight rather than sex.

FIRST LAW OF DATING AFTER DIVORCE: Don’t take your show on the road until you’ve gotten through the bitterness, anger, and sadness of your divorce.

If you know your love language is TOUCH, you’ve got to get this straight: sex is one of the ways we feel connected, loved, included. Sex isn’t the only way. We’re the one’s always reaching out to brush our partner’s back as we pass through a room. It IS more about touch than sex, but if sex goes off the table, so goes the healthy feelings of love for the Touch-person. I am a touch person. My wife is a “do things for me” person. And while we made it long enough to have two wonderful kids, we couldn’t navigate the end game of love and sex beyond the parenting duties. Some things became more important than sex. The term TTFS became a joke for a while, but then it became a curse. (TTFS: too tired for sex.)

Well, if that’s where you find yourself, entering the new kingdom of adult sex, welcome. We’ve got a lot of things to learn and a lot of new potential partners to meet. Again, it’s not all about sex, but a lot of it is about sex. At least initially, sex is what drives us men so hard to seek a partner. It’s kinda hard-wired. Like our animal DNA trying to find a way to spread in any means possible.

Of course, adult, post-divorce sex, for me has nothing to do with procreation and everything to do with … Well, we’re still exploring what the goals are in my self-talk, but we do agree that sex should be fun. Sex as a chore, or sex without joy isn’t sex at all. It’s something else. It’s what we don’t want. Yuck.

So where are we? We’re recently out of a long-term relationship. (4-years for me today) We’re starving for touch. (Me, a touch-focused person.) And we’ve done a lot of work at healing ourselves post-divorce. (If you haven’t done your “work” to get through your divorce sadness and anger, you’re likely to act out, or repeat the same situation again. Do the work. Get yourself healthy before you get back in the game of love and sex.) So what are our options?

  1. Meeting people at social gatherings (churches, athletic events, school events, bars, live music clubs)
  2. Meeting people through friends (I don’t know why, but people don’t think of introducing their single friends very much.
  3. Meeting people through networking (old friends, high-school sweethearts, Facebook connections, reunions)
  4. Meeting people through the net (Online dating, online dating, online hookups, online sex, hookup apps)
  5. Not meeting people and staying home watching movies or porn. (ACK! This can work for a bit, but you need to get back out there if you’re going to get your needs met.

FIRST LAW OF DATING AFTER DIVORCE: Don’t take your show on the road until you’ve gotten through the bitterness, anger, and sadness of your divorce.

Most of those options are fine, but only #4 gives you any real power to take the matter into your own hands. So let’s look at the couple of types of online dating sites available and discuss the pros and cons of each.

Plain old Dating Sites (This group has your best potential of resulting in a relationship, if that’s what you want.)

  • OK Cupid – one of the big daddy’s of online dating. It’s free, there are a lot of potential mates, and their questions are deep and extensive. Sometimes you can learn way too much before you ever meet the person, using OKC.
  • eHarmony – the “we know best” dating site. I hated it because there was no browsing. eH sets you up with matches. And those are the only people you can contact or even look at. No thanks.
  • Match.com – sort of like OK Cupid but you pay to get on. What I’ve noticed recently is there are a lot more women in my age group and women in my tribe on Match. You will know what I’m talking about when you spend anytime on these sites.
  • Plenty-of-Fish – Another big free site. I set up a profile years ago, but didn’t find any initial hits when I started.

Of all of these, I have been happy with OKC (my only relationship was initiated on OKC) and Match.com. You’ll find what you like and what you don’t. And there are tons more. See what floats your boat.

Sex with experienced partners is a blast. Get this, they are probably hungry for sex too. But don’t jump in to fast, sex with a less-than-stable person can really mess up your simple life.

Hookup Sites (Um, these are mostly spam sites with people trying to generate money through porn or pay-per-view video sex chat. Not my cup of tea. But you might be curious, so check them out.

  • Adult Friend Finder (The motherload of “Maybe get laid tonight” sites) Free to join, pay to make contact. But make sure you spend a bit of time looking before you pay. You’ll notice most of the profiles are way to good to be true, and they’re not. 20-yo hotties do not look for men 40 – 60 yo. Nope. They are going to ask you to view their private show, or private set of pictures, or something… “You don’t need a credit card or anything to join, come see me there…” Nope, don’t do it. Ever. It’s bullshit.
  • Fling (there are a billion of these spin-offs and half the ads on AFF are to other dating/hookup-tonight sites.) These are all spam-tastic sites. They will start mailing you 10 – 15 matches an hour. Women willing to hookup with you today. BUT you’ll have to pay for the privilege of reading their email, where they will invite you to view their pictures on…
  • Tender (the App that seems to have caught on in the younger groups) Use your Facebook friends and friends of friends to find attractive potentials and if they find you attractive too you can communicate. It’s never worked for me, keeps timing out when it tries to establish my Facebook connection. Oh well.

There are tons of new sites and apps daily for whatever kink you’re into. But most of them are revenue generators and could care less if YOU get lucky. And most of the profiles are either fake or made by professional performers who would like to perform for you in some way or another.

Cheating Sites

  • AshleyMadison (Yep, there’s a dating site for people in committed relationships who want some on the side) If you’re cool with the idea, go for it. You’re going to pay to read any emails from anyone. And you’ll be emailed to death with “Likes” and “Collect $ Emails” from lots of women. But you pay to get access to chat, or email, or often to even see a single picture. Um, yeah, forget about it.

I’m sure there are other cheating sites, and probably cheating apps, but that’s way off the path in my book. If you want to hookup for a night do it. If you’re married or in a committed relationship and have that urge, take matters into your own hands and forget about it. It’s not worth it.

Apathetic sex is what got me here. When sex became more of a chore than a joy our marriage was winding down. The two were inextricably entwined in my book.

Okay, so let’s say you’ve found some matches on the legit dating sites, you’ve had a few dates, and …

Sex with experienced partners is a blast. Get this, they are probably hungry for sex too. But don’t jump in to fast, sex with a less-than-stable person can really mess up your simple life. The stories I’ve heard… Not good. So don’t jump in the sack too fast, even if you want to, it’s best to get a picture of the potential partner over a few dates and even a few disappointments. You’ll learn a lot. And maybe even start to have a real attraction to the person rather than just the sex appeal. But on to the sex.

Yes please. With partners your own age (and new women, who you’ve never slept with, who are not your partner over the last 11 years, who are excited and as revved up about sex as you are) you may be in for a treat. These folks SHOULD know what they want. They should have ideas about sex and pleasure and connecting. And if you’re lucky you’ll both be amazed and fascinated with the passion and power of having sex with someone new. I’m sure it’s a drug. I’m also sure people get addicted to the rush of new sex, new love, new partners. I don’t think that’s me, but it is a thrill either way, to see a new body disrobed and ready before you.

Hopefully, you have some idea of what makes you tick as well. And if the dance party goes well, perhaps you make it on to the post-coital date where you really begin to evaluate the person as a potential mate. Or not. That mate-thing is up to you. I know a friend who’s into sex with as many partners as possible. When the commitment things comes up, he’s gone. Not my idea of intimacy, but he seems satisfied with his high.

Apathetic sex is what got me here. When sex became more of a chore than a joy our marriage was winding down. The two were inextricably entwined in my book. My ex, with a different love language, was happy with infrequent sex. I was dying.

I’m not dying now. I’m not drowning in sex juices either. That’s not my way. I think I’m a serial monogamist. If that involves dating, or coupling, or marriage, I have no idea. And the good thing is, I don’t have to decide until I have to decide. I haven’t gotten close to marriage, but I have had one girlfriend. And whatever that means, I’m open to having another. [BTW: this is not an advertisement for me or my dating profile. (grin)]

Good sex to you all out there. Do what feels good. Walk away from what hurts or seems inappropriate. With divorce on the rise, we’re growing in numbers, and that’s good for all of us.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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image: egypt sex, creative commons usage


Zen and the Art of Lovemaking – Won’t Save Your Marriage

OFF-tattoo

I was heartbroken to learn that great sex was not the answer to a long-lasting marriage. I have no idea what makes that possible, and now that I’m on the other side of that wall (divorced) I’m wondering if I’ll ever go back to being married. I mean… What’s the point?

I’ve been a sex enthusiast since a very young age. I don’t know where I got the idea, but once I had the idea I worked like a mad man to learn more, and this was long before I ever had the opportunity to touch a girl, much less a woman. You see, when I was 10-years-old I bought Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex, But Were Afraid to Ask, at a convenience store on the way back from a beach trip. My mom and her friend were in the front seat, and the whole way back from Corpus Christi I was hiding my precious and my book. I can only imagine the smile on the clerk’s face when he rang me out, two moms sitting in the idling car. I don’t know where I hid the book when I walked back to the car. I must’ve bought a slurpee. It was not a pre-meditated act. I saw the book and seized the opportunity.

Turned out the sex bible of the 70’s was a gateway drug, and I soon graduated to harder drugs. And I should probably confess, I’m addicted. I love sex. And not in the Sex Addicts Anonymous kind of way, I know how to stop. (grin) I just don’t want to. Ever.

I must’ve been huddled down pretty low and faked being asleep most of the way back as I entered the world of oral sex, masturbation, and the idea that IT IS ALL OKAY. I was a sexually liberated 10-year-old in a matter of hours on that road trip home.

And our initial chemistry and passion was high. Sure mine might have been a bit more obsessive, and bit higher, but she was matching me stroke for stroke in the beginning.

Of course I had to wait a bit before experimenting on live subjects. And so I practiced on myself, and in my mind. Again, I’m not sure what the compulsion was, maybe I should talk to my therapist about it. Sure, I was starved for my dad’s love, but gosh.

And into middle school I was the fountain of knowledge for my uneducated male friends. I made  up stories. But mostly shared what I knew thus far, and I shared my Playboy collection. And in about seventh grade girls were no longer untouchable, but it took a while longer before I got to actually touch one. And after that I was hopelessly hooked. And something in my early education led me to the goal of pleasing the woman first. I’d get mine later. (See: She Comes First) I was just that interested. It was like science or mysticism. Women, the great mystery.

At 27, I got married to a fiery Basque woman. Small and hot. Dark skinned, dark curly locks, and a rocket body that initially gave me a lot of new experience. Once married, however, things changed, so dramatically I was shocked. I won’t go too far into it, but she had been sexually abused. As she felt more and more comfortable in the marriage, and she started going to therapy, the demons of that past began to creep into our sex life. Before long, sex became a very difficult balancing act. And it was harder still because she was so beautiful. I had thought I was getting a great package deal when I married her, but the skeletons soon came out and wrecked our sex life and ultimately our marriage. I learned at this time that sex could be a lure that was covering up much deeper issues. I was out-of-town when she filed for divorce and the papers were served to me at work when I returned. Harsh. I count my blessings that we had never contemplated kids.

I walked around wounded and hungry for a several years after that. I had a few girlfriends, but nothing that lasted. I was so needy and empty. I had no idea what I wanted, in life or in a future relationship. The sex drive was still alive and well, but the means were less available, and my wounding prevented me from being a very avid pursuer.

Then an old high school crush walked back into my life and our paths quickly entwined. Again, I was mesmerized by her beauty. Her smile, her fit body, her easy-going chatter. We were dating within a few months and living together within the year. I remember early on, as we were leaving the coffee shop where we re-met, she turned and said to me, with a sly smile, “I just got back on the pill.” Thrillsville.

And our initial chemistry and passion was high. Sure mine might have been a bit more obsessive, and bit higher, but she was matching me stroke for stroke in the beginning. And we started talking about unprotected sex while we were on our honeymoon in France. More thrills. All warm fuzzies, fantastic momentum and affection… AND…

What I know is I was starving to death for affection from a beautiful woman who was lying right beside me. And there was very little I could do about it.

Our son was born. And for a few months we cooled, of course, as our lives were melted and reformed around this new priority. But soon our sexual activity came back online, a bit less, but still very healthy and honest. Of course, we wanted a second child, and within a year she was pregnant again. Good times. Sex with a pregnant woman is highly erotic, even if infrequent. She was more beautiful than I could ever have imagined. I fell in love with her every day, repeatedly. We were happy.

I’ve covered a lot of the disruption in our marriage in other posts, but the part that I didn’t see coming, at this point was how her sexual drive was about to take a nose dive. Sure, postpartum hangovers and all that, but several years after our daughter was born, we were not having sex very often at all. I was not sure what had happened, and I wanted to find our previous connection again. And for a period of about six weeks we had a miracle rekindling. I got a vasectomy. Affirming both our intentions of now enjoying an unfettered sex life. And for the weeks following the surgery, we had a project together. A sex project. I had to have 30 ejaculations before I could be tested for the efficacy of the vasectomy. And like jack rabbits my wife was into it. We did it in the shower. She would do me at the drop of a hat. And I was pretty easy in those days. And we chalked up the wins and headed back to the doctor’s office for my test and BOOM we were cleared for take off. What happened however was more like a grounding.

Over the next few months our rabid sexual pairings became fewer and fewer. The problem in my mind was she didn’t want to have sex any more. The problem in her eyes, as she expressed it at the time was chores, and money, and kids, and house cleaning, and stress, and tiredness. There was nothing really that I could do. I could try and ask in different ways. I could try and pick up the house between the weekly maid visits. I could try and earn more money and put more money in the bank. However, nothing seemed to work.

It’s possible that her sex drive was goal oriented. We used to joke about it. That when she had the chart and the goal she was very hot for sex. But after that, even she admitted, she liked sex, but it wasn’t really all that essential to her happiness or feeling of connectedness.And again, I can’t know what all was going through her head, but what I noticed was she would go weeks without expressing a single romantic desire. And if I didn’t howl or plead for affection, she was okay to just live that way. It was not part of her essential need. And maybe that’s a Love Language thing. And maybe it was the natural level of sexual desire returning to normal after the missions had been accomplished. I don’t know.

What I know is I was starving to death for affection from a beautiful woman who was lying right beside me. And there was very little I could do about it. And it wasn’t about the quality of the sex, as I’ve said before, I was dedicated to getting her off first. Perhaps it was the routine we got into. Or perhaps, as she expressed occasionally, it was just too much effort. She did have a more difficult time reaching climax, but I was always up for the challenge. And maybe when a woman gets tired, something about sex becomes a chore more than a pleasure. It never was for me. Never has been. I’m still fascinated by it. I’m still studying. And, holy cow, now I’m being given a chance to experience new women.

So divorce hasn’t really been the worst thing that ever happened to me. But the end of sexual joy in my marriage was certainly up there with the big disappointments of my first 50 years of life.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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Negotiating Love and Desire

Learning about LoveThere’s a great moment in the first season of HBO’s House of Cards, where the young female reporter is talking to a date as they get out of a taxi. “Oh, you thought you were going to get laid?” she said to the young man. “I’m sorry, but if I was going to fuck you, you’d already know.”

Crushing.

Women, do you know? And if you know, could you let us men know?

It seems like navigating sex is a huge disconnect between men and women. Men are like hunters, we’re trained to track, approach, and go for the close. We are hunting for sex, in some form or another, even if we’re just out for a date. At some level, we are negotiating for sex. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit it, but there it is.

The Off Parent: Dear ladies

Women, it is said, are negotiating for love. But it has been revealed lately, that women desire sex with the same hunger as men. However, the social morals look down upon aggressive and libidinous women. And as the idea goes, rather than going to a bar to pick up a man, they go across the street to get batteries.

“So where are we?” It’s kind of embarrassing to ask. It makes us both feel like youngsters. And if it’s a miss, it really makes us men feel small when we put it out there and get shot down. So can we come to an understanding on this? Can you let us know sooner? Can you telegraph the signals more clearly? I’m doing my best, as a representative of my male counterparts, to be clear.

It’s like the end of the first date, the “hello” date, when you are wrapping up… If you have to ask, perhaps the signals have been mixed. When the YES is big enough, you don’t have to ask. There’s a feeling between the two of you, that says, “What’s next?” At least that’s what you hope for.

I’m less experienced at the YES.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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Burn the Maps! Do You Think You Know About Dating After Divorce?

Burn the Maps - the off parent

Do I repeat myself? Then I repeat myself. I am large. I contain multitudes. — Walt Whitman

So much of this blog has been about trying to figure things out. Figure myself out (wants, desires, depressions, ecstasies), to figure out my divorce (what happened, how to get over it, and how to move on in a healthy way), to figure out single parenting as a dad, and ultimately, where we find ourselves (me) today, dating and the mechanics of desire, relationship, coupling, or not coupling. And this much is clear. I have no idea what I’m talking about.

It’s like trying to write about being a parent if you have never had kids. Or imagining what it will be like when you’re married, before you’ve ever experienced it. And I believe I’m on a similar precipice. I THINK I want the next relationship. But it’s only because that’s what I know, that’s what I think I’m comfortable with. “I’m good in relationship,” I like to say to myself, and occasional dates. I’m looking for that again.

Pause. Relax. Enjoy the process. There is no hurry. Really. Get this. There. Is. No. Hurry.

But am I? Or is it just what’s familiar? I was married the first time for seven years. Then single and sad for a couple of years and married again for eleven years. So since I was 27 years old, I’ve spent most of my time married. So I kinda know what that was like. And both experiences were eye-opening and transformational. And it’s my natural tendency to want to get back in that couple-mode again. At least I think so.

As I am embarking on this more recent path of discovering myself in “dating” mode I’m not sure I have all the information or tools. I certainly don’t know what my optimal date would look like, though I’m trying to construct maps. I’m doing my reading, planning, and sketching thing, and trying to figure it out. But the real answer is this: There is no figuring it out.

I simply don’t know. And all the posts leading up to this moment, this awareness, are theoretical meanderings of a man who thinks he wants to be back in “relationship.” And they are all lies. Because I can’t know. I can’t imagine. I am trying to write the symphony to the next love of my life without having met her. How do I know where to begin? How can I dream her up, if she’s not revealed herself to me? Quite simply, I can’t.

Here’s what I can do.

Pause. Relax. Enjoy the process. There is no hurry. Really. Get this. There. Is. No. Hurry.

And I can keep imagining my treasure maps, but I have to be willing to be swept away by the unknown and unexplainable. I think that’s what love is. OH BOY, I used the L word. When and how does *that* come into it?

I’ve learned that the spark comes from the eyes, the smile, and the intelligence inside. If there is joy, it usually shows through the eyes.

What I do know is this. Present moment exploration is the only way to go. Present moment conversations and discussions. Present moment dating. Present moment sex, if it presents itself. ANNNNDDDD STOP. That’s it. Stop. Stay with the “touch” part. Stay with the conversation about current events. Stay with the fascination about the person in front of you, and not the idea you have.

I do a lot of projecting. (Hello! Have you been reading this blog long?) And often that projection process is misleading both to myself and the potential date. I write love poems. And occasionally those love poems are inspired by actual events in my life, a kiss, a missed opportunity, a chance meeting with an old flame. But they are no more real than my maps of the “next relationship” or finding “The ONE.” Bunk. All bunk.

And yet… All very useful in self-revelation. I AM learning more about my desires. I am learning how to deconstruct my wants and desires and see which ones serve me and which ones I can leave behind. I’ve learned some really valuable lessons along the way, but they are not maps, they are notes.

I’ve learned that much of the programming I received about beauty came from pornographic magazines. But even when I was ten I was reading Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex, But Were Afraid to Ask, so I’ve been studying women and sex and pleasure for a while.

I can only imagine… And for now that’s all I’ve got. And these maps, which I will gladly set alight in her flame.

I’ve broken the idea, for myself, that youth is beauty. And what I’ve discovered is youth is more about the animal need to procreate and breed with the most attractive and available woman. And get this, women in their 20’s who are uber-fit and good-looking, will appear to be perfect mates, to my reptilian brain. And yet, I’m not interested in procreation, or having sex with 20-year-olds or really even 30-year-olds.

I’ve learned that the spark comes from the eyes, the smile, and the intelligence inside. If there is joy, it usually shows through the eyes. And if there’s deep intelligence, I find I’m more turned on than any physical attribute. Except of course the smile. And the joy.

I’ve learned that I don’t have much experience in dating after divorce. We are much different than we were “back in the day.” And our parameters and needs are very different. And our boundaries and priorities are very different as well. AND we won’t put up with much bullshit before we call a foul and move on.

I’ve learned that the real sparks are very hard to find. And valuing that connection is often more important than any idea or roadmap I’ve ever made up.

And finally I’ve learned that working on myself if the best strategy for finding who’s “next” for me. And that includes this writing (self-examination), exercise (health and self-care), and putting myself out there as “available.”

While I don’t like first dates, they are a necessary evil if you are going to date. [What does that word even mean? Date?] And I don’t like online dating. But I find it another necessary evil, like looking for a needle in a haystack. Looking for the spark to set the haystack on fire.

And really that’s what I’m looking for, the fire. To feel the burn and intoxication again. This time with some tethers to the ground (and sobriety of my past experiences). But for the fire to come and burn my maps, I have to start with the spark. And since I’ve only seen a few sparks in the last four years, I know the journey ahead may be longer than I want. (I guess it already has been. *Grin* )

And, here I will repeat myself again, I am excited and terrified about the transformation that will occur when SHE shows up. And yet I am pushing towards her, calling her in, writing love poems to “HER.”

I can only imagine… And for now that’s all I’ve got. And these maps, which I will gladly set alight in her flame.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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For inspiration read this: Dating Don’ts for the Single Mom – from SingleParentingIsHard

image: screen grab from Republica video below.

+++ And though I say, “Baby, I’m ready to go,” I have no idea what that looks like.


All Kinds of Women and the Sparks of Desire

OFF-lady

I spend more time thinking about dating and kissing than I actually get to date or kiss. It’s okay, it’s highly motivational. Today walking around the lake and watching the running, walking, and jogging girls, I was observing the things I found attractive.

It was the same sort of experience a few weeks ago when I turned my OK Cupid profile back on, just to check in. Just to remember how many women there are in the world looking for a partner. AND how few of them are within my range of desire. I know it’s my issue.

Looking over hundreds and hundreds of women you begin to make some assumptions on a dating site. Here are a few of my observations:

  1. Too pretty – never going to give me the time of day
  2. Too homely – not interested in those with lack of flair or confidence, please no more bathroom mirror shots, ever
  3. Too much makeup or glamour shots – never been my style
  4. Too young – I’m attracted to the younger women, but I’m not sure we’d have a lot in common
  5. Too many drink-in-hand shots – drinking is fine, but you don’t have to prove it, or flaunt it, might indicate a problem
  6. Too sporty – I also love fitness, but obsessive running, or talking all the time about your trainer… well, do it, but you don’t need to over do it
  7. Too religious – again, my bias, but I don’t have anything against religion, but you might not lead with it

And watching the athletic people exercising around the lake I made a few more observations:

  1. The uber-fit are often running with the uber-fit. Those amazing abs must be attracted to other amazing abs. I’d rather not spend so much time running.
  2. Women with baby strollers are beautiful, and of course YOUNG.
  3. We’re all walking and running to make our bodies more attractive or more healthy. Nice to see, and nice to have the energy and motivation to participate.
  4. My range of desire seems to be greater when the woman is exercising, or is it because I can see the whole body?
  5. Something about exercise shows energy and determination. That’s attractive.
  6. Some women look at you and look away. Some smile. Some never look up, as if afraid.
  7. As women pass by running, I notice the twist of their body, how they’re moving, their ratio (are they h/w proportionate), and did I get a whiff of their perfume? Too much perfume is a turn off, but just the right (essential oil-ish) scent is really good.

What would happen if a woman came along who was within my attractive range and was interested in a relationship? I guess I would get the opportunity to feel the pressure that I occasionally put on “dates.” I’m not sure what’s ahead, but I’m interested in finding out how I learn and grow in my next relationship, with a partner who wants a relationship.

Then sparks will fly.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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Fractured Women: Learning About Boundaries in Dating After Divorce

OFF-womenWe are all fractured after a divorce. Each of us must do the work necessary to heal the wounding before we venture out into the dating pool. Two fractured people cannot have a healthy relationship. And once you’ve begun to heal, the visibility of the fractures is much more clear.

Dating is what you do before you really know the person. Dating shows intent and a commitment of time. That’s it. Aside from that, dating is like a probationary period. What you’re looking to establish is compatibility and joyfulness together. What you’re looking to avoid, or put boundaries around are the things the don’t work. Sometimes we call them Red Flags. The “uh oh” moments in early stages of dating that signal something is off.

A relationship is what begins to develop over time. As you find time to be together things begin to progress forward or they don’t. The momentum and path of that arc is up to the participation of both partners. One person cannot create a relationship with someone else who is not willing. Perhaps they are afraid. Perhaps they want to play the field a bit, not sure if you’re the right one. Perhaps even the concept of “Relationship” freaks them out, and they will buck and run at the first sign that things are moving towards coupling.

There are no simple rules for navigating either of these plateaus of getting to know someone. I used to think I had some effective strategies and maps for doing better and better until I located the right partner. I was deluded. I thought I had a good handle on my boundaries and how many red flags I was willing to tolerate before kissing off a potential partner. Again I was wrong.

Then something happened that broke through my easy-going acceptance of our differences. We had a date planned and she texted me that she was running late.

Assuming you know anything about where things are going to go, is a bad idea. Of course we make assumptions, and that’s how we move forward. But you’re assumptions are often wrong, and based on previous experience. The person in front of you, is unlike any previous experience you’ve ever had. Still there are some concepts you can stay with.

Boundaries are imaginary lines you believe you will not accept. Behaviours you will not put up with, this time around. And positive boundaries about things you want to do and want to cultivate in a dating relationship. But boundaries are imaginary, and can be crossed and broken at any time. So set them, watch them, believe in the idea of them, but know that this person you are negotiating with may jump the fence at anytime. The jump may be towards you, as in “Hey, I kinda want to have sex with you right now.” Or away from you, “Sorry, I can’t do this anymore, can we still be friends.” Your response should be based in the present moment and not in some idea you have of what is right or wrong.

It’s still hard to negotiate this setting and breaking of boundaries. This building and crushing of expectations. It’s best to talk through as much of it as possible. Say something when you are uncomfortable. Risk throwing a red flag if things are going in a direction that feels wrong.

And example from a previous post-divorce relationship involved a woman who was much younger than me. There was some disconnect there, to start with, but I was open-minded and willing. But something kept happening that I couldn’t quite reconcile with my idea of boundaries. She kept bringing up drugs. It wasn’t hard core stuff, but I was surprised every time she mentioned, “Hey we could smoke some pot.” I wasn’t opposed to the idea, but the idea wouldn’t have occurred to me. Ever. Back in college, perhaps, but today… Um, not so much. Still I was willing to pass through that boundary to meet this woman halfway. We didn’t smoke pot together, however, but we moved along.

Then something happened that broke through my easy-going acceptance of our differences. We had a date planned and she texted me that she was running late. Okay, no big deal. I could go into her house, it was open, and wait for her. It was 10 pm. Still, fine, no worries yet. When she got there, around 10:20 she was loving and sexy as usual, and we moved on into the evening’s festivities without much discussion of what had held her up.

She wasn’t hiding from me, she usually said what she was thinking. As we went out to a club and had a few beers she told me she’d been visiting one of her friends and he’d invited her upstairs to get high. Um. Hello red flag. A few more unexpected twists and we were done. Parting as friends. No worries.

More recently I had a very different experience of boundaries and red flags. I’d say things were going swimmingly with this relationship, but something was a bit off. I couldn’t put my finger on what, but I was listening intently. There was something to the quality of her affection that seemed to reveal something underneath that was not being expressed. She liked to say how “sexy” I was. Not a bad thing, but also sort of focused on the surface, when it became the refrain. Okay, so sexy was good, right?

There comes a time when you have to pack your goodwill hunting and leave a good thing. Sadly that’s where it ends.

And as we moved along she would jerk back occasionally when things go too close. No Relationship at this time please, was the request. Okay. But the pull backs kept happening at regular intervals. Hmm. Perhaps this needed watching as well. And my own denial of these hiccups, was also something I became aware of. Okay, we’re watching the “relationship” discussion and I’m watching my own obsessive behavior that was allowing me to ignore some warning signs. But I was completely turned-on by this woman and I was willing to jump boundaries together, as long as we kept going.

And then in less than 24 hours she threw out so many red flags (well, technically she red flagged me right out of the relationship) that everything changed without any input from me. I was unaware that I’d been sidelined until we got together for dinner. But there was a strange quality to the night. Even the cadence and tone of our texting had changed. Come-on’s like “I really want you,” were simply ignored, where before they would always raise a sexy response.

And the responsiveness never returned although we limped along for a few days, apart, while she entertained guests. And then the well-considered FRIENDS email came. Okay, there comes a time when you have to pack your goodwill hunting and leave a good thing. Sadly that’s where it ends. Even though I was the one who was red carded due to unknown fouls, she was the one who had thrown the final red flag on my playing field. And I knew it, felt it, that first night of disconnect.

And like that she was gone. The love was gone. The heat was iced. And that was much more telling than just being “sexy, and darling, and fun.”

So we set up expectations. We reset them and agree to different boundaries. We try and meet a person where they are, but occasionally (perhaps often) we run out of ways to accept the variations. And the final red flag can come from either party, in this case it happened overnight.

In looking for a partner you have to be willing to stretch and reset your imaginary boundaries. You have to listen and adapt, learn, the ways of this mysterious other person. But when the real fracture comes you have to be ready to hear it and move on.

I’m still early in this re-partnering as an adult. I don’t have a huge number of “dates” to go on, but I’m beginning to understand that the percentage of wounded adults is a lot higher than the ones who have done the work to heal themselves after divorce. So we continue on down the path and look forward to the next learning opportunity.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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No Means No

OFF-kissgoodbyeSee if this sounds familiar.

She said no. I didn’t listen. She said no, I convinced her otherwise. She said no, she was afraid to move towards anything that remotely resembled a relationship. I acquiesced and agreed to her terms. She said no.

Sometimes, if the heat is good enough, you can weather a lot of objections. If the hopefulness is high you can swat away objections and focus on what is working. If both parties are willing to be honest, you can even jump through rings of fire to arrive at an arrangement. But something is missing, if the balance is always off. If one partner keeps saying no. And for a time, the good feelings and electricity will keep the momentum moving forward. Until something breaks.

Something broke. It was silent and painless. It was how you might imagine dying in your sleep. And then the warmth and energy that had begun to flourish again was tamped out by yet another freak out. And the no this time, would be accepted. Why fight about something you can’t control. Why try again and again to convince the other person how things could be however they chose, if they could just make up their mind. She said no, again and again. I tried again and again.

But the funny thing is from massive love poem to dear John letter, the arc was less than a week. And the real disconnect happened, perhaps as a result of the love poem, perhaps as a result of an extended period without contact. Of course, I cannot imagine to understand her thoughts and feelings. But I can be happy and amazed at the capture and release efficiency of this near miss.

I’m sure I will feel the pull down over the next few days, but it’s more about reaching out for someone who was willing and witty and fun, more than reaching out for the next relationship.

One person cannot create the lover out of the other person who is unsure. Both lovers have to show up at the same time, conscious and aware of their part in the process. If one person is not ready, it won’t work. It simply cannot be forced. It is painful and frustrating to come close and yet feel the miss.

But taking inventory this time I can see how much I’ve grown in the process.

It was 5 days ago when I was meeting her best friend for the first time when I saw the unravelling. I was saddened even in the moment to be aware of how much distance she was putting between us, even when I was present and attempting to connect. I watched from across the room as she did her thing, worked the kitchen, played with her best friend, and passively ignored me. I was present, but irrelevant. I could feel it.

It was at that moment that I felt she was gone. I took a moment to watch her and accept all the things I really loved about her. I could also see the illusion I was spinning about her. The part that led her to say, “I’m not as great as you seem to think I am. I’m boring.”

I was able to pull back the love poem just a bit and expose the real woman. I still wanted her passionately, but her spirit, her engagement with me, had already flown. There was zero flirty-witty woman. There was zero touch. Even casual brushes of affection were not returned. It was as clear as if she had asked me to leave.

I’m sure I will feel the pull down over the next few days, but it’s more about reaching out for someone who was willing and witty and fun, more than reaching out for the next relationship. And while I was okay with those parameters, set up by earlier dear John letters, I was not part of the next decision that took place between the time I sent her the symphony and storm love poem and the following night when we had dinner with her best friend.

I wished her well tonight. I really didn’t want to respond. To send energy after her tucked tail. But I did. I said only two things.

Sometimes we arrive at the same place at the same time.  Three Loves: Eros, Filial, Agape

I hope you find love.

You see, in that post, I wrote the truth that I already understood from her behavior four days earlier.

But when she shows up before me, and says, “YES,” I won’t hesitate. I will know. But I can’t go out questing for her. I can’t write poems to capture her. I cannot make her into the lover I imagine.

Trying is not fair to either of us.

Peace sweet woman. I wish you well on your next journey.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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Three Loves: Eros, Filial, Agape

OFF-snakeI’ve been trying to create a lover from thin air. Using all my conjuring powers, all my musical and romantic tricks to summon the next great lover. And… I’m not sure I have been doing it right. I learned something this morning as I revved forward into a peaceful Sunday morning, alone.

At church I was listening and not listening to the sermon. I had not been in over a year. But I did love this preacher and this feeling of home that was comfort and solace in my past joys and pains. But for brief moments I was trolling. I was scanning the entire church for attractive women. WHAT?

Sid, was giving a sermon on love. WHAT? Maybe it was time to give my search a rest and listen. Maybe this morning was no random occurrence. And in my somewhat mixed state I listened and scanned. But I became aware of the frivolousness of my longing. The type-a searching, that had produced ZERO ecstatic partners, may not be serving me. What if I relaxed. Sat back. And grooved on being present and lovable. Loveable even to myself.

The words from a song by the band Bush kept running through my head.

Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breath out…

So, there was one woman. She was familiar. She had been part of the church for at least 5 years. She had joined as a recently divorced mom with a three-year-old daughter. She was beautiful.

Eros: is often thought of as the love of sex. But it’s much more than sexual. It’s the fire, the passion, the drive to create. And noticing that much of my eros, or erotic energy was focused on finding a partner, I could understand how that energy was being funneled away from the other creative passions. In my attempts to create the lover I wanted, to woo in a certain way that the other person becomes inflamed at the same level, was draining some of my resources and some of my beauty with all the effort.

It was not her. I was too intent on looking for someone. Perhaps I was too intent on “creating” someone who loved me back. But my impatience could lead me to a lot of unnecessary churn.

In fact, I want to let go and present myself a bit more low-key and wait for some of the flame to come from the other person. I wanted patience. Even in the heat and rush of passion I did not want to be the 90% generator of the flames. I would not create my lover. My lover needed to come fully created and meet me on the field. Anything else, was beginning to feel like pushing the river.

Filial Love: family, community, connectedness. This was the love I was being washed in, sitting alone with friends. Sometimes, in the darkness, even this filial love is not enough, and we’d rather stay in our quiet, dark, boxes and suffer alone. But just knowing that our family was out there, that our filial ties were strong even when we were all silent… Today I felt the family I had been missing. And the love from the family of origin that I had never gotten as a child.

Agape Love: the flat-out powerful love of the creator, however you care to imagine her. God, Jesus, Mohammed… Native American gods. All part of the whole. The GOD of gods. However you chose to believe, however you chose to be amazed, that was the god of Agape. And while it could be sustaining, it was not nourishing in the same way as the first two. And certainly not as filling and energetic as the first one, Erotic.

So if I am running around, poetry-ing, wooing, sending love letters to someone who I hope to awaken, perhaps I am draining some of the essence that I could be using elsewhere, if I just relaxed into the process. Time is the key. Time is everything. And timing is important too.

Let’s look at the woman in the congregation. She was obviously attractive to me and known to me. She was the only sexually attractive person in the congregation of about 120 people. And that’s it. We caught each other’s eye several times. I flirted in my mind, and tried to return to the message Sid was delivering. I had mixed results. But I did learn something.

  1. I found 1-person-out-of-120 people sexually attractive.
  2. Her physical beauty was what drew my attention in, as I was scanning.
  3. What I knew about her, other than her initial introduction to the church, was nothing. She was alone today, but that’s all I could tell.
  4. She smiled at me. Or was she smiling in my direction? Hard to know.

If I had been determined and focused on finding a partner I might have stayed after church and initiated a conversation with her. I didn’t.

This one attractive person was amazing, and the revelation of my above-average tastes was also revealing.

I do understand the commitment, beyond all measure, to continue the search for love and loving within the entire arc of our relationship.

It was not her. I was too intent on looking for someone. Perhaps I was too intent on “creating” someone who loved me back. But my impatience could lead me to a lot of unnecessary churn.

I learned something from what Sid said about marriage today and the line of the marriage vow, the part about “until death do us part.” It seems so archaic today. Do we really believe in marriage, or that vow, with today’s marriage statistics?

What I learned, or heard at least, was that this vow was more about commitment. Could we commit to wanting and working towards a love that would last. That we could put ourselves all in, and vow to do whatever it takes to keep the relationship and love growing, in spite of setbacks both personal, financial, and physical? Could we say YES to the full thrust of the LOVE we were being asked to participate in?

It’s food for thought. I don’t know about marriage. I don’t know what the ring and the vows mean today, in my life. But I do understand the commitment, beyond all measure, to continue the search for love and loving within the entire arc of our relationship. Where it will all lead, that is more of a mystery. But when she shows up before me, and says, “YES,” I won’t hesitate. I will know. But I can’t go out questing for her. I can’t write poems to capture her. I cannot make her into the lover I imagine.

Trying is not fair to either of us.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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Dating After Divorce – Kindle/Nook Available

Today we’re pre-publishing the Dating After Divorce book on Kindle and Nook. Take The Off Parent with you in an easy to read format. And receive free updates when more material is added.

Visit the NIBL Store of The Off Parent

From the Intro:
This is not a manual, but a single man’s experience of reentering the dating scene after 11-years of marriage. The challenges of being a single parent and trying to find energy and time to go “out on a date” is often daunting. And sometimes it didn’t seem worth it. Maybe I would be alone from here on out. Well, at least I have wonderful kids.

Dating After Divorce (when I get your receipt I will email you the file for your Kindle or Nook)

KINDLE VERSION 9.95 US


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Dating After Divorce
NOOK/iBOOK VERSION 9.95 US