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

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Why Fathers Give Up After Divorce

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I see why divorced fathers give up. It’s all stacked against you from the first. The very first time she utters the word “divorce”, a father is screwed. The more you fight, the more it’s all your fight. The less you fight, the more is taken away, little by little. It’s really a no-win. It’s not just the system, it’s those ingrained by the system. It’s the everyday attitudes, the automatic assumptions, the resistance a father gets from those situated in his child’s life, which typically are women (nurses, secretaries, administrative, teachers, etc.). It’s being marginalized while being smiled at, patronized so “the father will just go away satisfied so we can get on with business with the REAL parent”.

Nathan S from a Father-centric FB Group.

Nathan is expressing the essence of divorce for dads. There is no WIN in divorce, and yet the courts are stacked in the favor of the mom from moment one. In Texas, where I live, 80% of the time the dad gets the SPO and the non-custodial parenting role.

SPO – standard possession order
You will have your kids approximately 30% of the time. Every other weekend and one day on the off weeks.

Non-custodial parent
She’s going to get the house and a nice child support check from you until each of your kids turns 18.

Parenting plan
From that starting point you will be asked to design a parenting plan. But really it’s designing what 70% of your kids lives you are going to give up. You decide on Christmas, Thanksgiving, Birthdays, and the summer. Oh, the threatening summer. And there’s this little carrot they give to the non-custodial father, the summer MONTH. If you’ve got a day job it’s never going to happen, but they like to balance out the imbalance on the books by giving the dad a full month in the summer. This is very important if you live in a distant city. But for us trying to make lives WITH our kids we cannot afford to have them for a full month, nor could we afford the additional child care if we had to work.

The deck is stacked against dads. And once the dust settles from the divorce decisions and getting the decree in place, you’re going to have to look for shelter, outside the home you once knew, with a significantly reduced paycheck. My ex-wife gets $1,300 per month for our two kids, AND I pay the health insurance for both of them, adding another $400 – $600 per month. So take that $2,000 out of your take home pay, because it’s taken AFTER taxes, and then see what you have remaining for rent. How does a crappy apartment sound to you? While your wife and kids get to keep on living in the style they have become accustomed to.

Money troubles are part of the biggest issue for dads after divorce. Just making ends meet after the child support and healthcare have been subtracted, well, you can see why a good full-time job is of critical importance. For me, I had to move in with my sister for several months before I was able to get a good-enough job to get a place on my own. While that arrangement had some advantages, I also had zero personal space, and zero disposable income.

Dads often give up because it feels like the deck is stacked against them. The money, the courts, the ex-wife, all want the dad to pay, and when he can’t pay (due to illness or layoffs) the court doesn’t care, the $2,000 is still due each month. No matter how careful you were when you set up your savings or retirement accounts, no matter what you make, that first paycheck to the ex-wife becomes a painful reminder of what a crappy deal you just got.

I’m not saying it’s easy for moms. Divorce is difficult for everyone. But the days when “moms were the best nurturers in the family” are long gone. In fact, my ex was not very nurturing at all. I was the breakfast-get-the-kids-to-school dad. That was me. She either slept in, or was doing her makeup and clothes for hours before leaving on some mysterious job interview, or business opportunity. That she made little more than $15,000 a year for the last few years of our marriage was fine, we made an arrangement, but she was NOT the top nurturer in the family.

Well, Dad, if you can afford it, get a lawyer, no matter the terms of your cooperative divorce, you need representation. Then fight for 50/50 parenting, joint custody, and NO CHILD SUPPORT. Yes, kids are expensive, but they should be equally shared as an expense and as a joy. This 70/30 split is bullshit. It’s demeaning to fathers. And it’s based on a parenting concept from the 50’s. Sure it makes it easier on the courts if everyone just goes with the plan. But don’t. If you want the time with your kids, fight for it.

Maybe it’s too late for me. Fighting my ex-wife for 50/50 custody would now be more upsetting to the kids. The benefit now, as they are teenagers is different. A lot of parenting teenagers is being a hotel and a taxi service. That’s okay, that’s the age they are. But as a parent, there are better things I could spend my time doing. Sure, I want my kids 50/50. It’s what I argued for when we first started divorce discussions. But in Texas, in 2010, I was likely to lose my court case. Today, I am told, you have a fighting chance, if you want 50/50. You should go for it.

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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You May Think I’m the Enemy, But You’re Misguided

screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-5-08-56-pmMy ex still thinks I’m her problem. When she vents at me I begin to feel like she’s got some unfinished business. Just like I did when we were married. People have to do their own work. You can’t do it for them. You can’t prod them into doing it. The business of healing is hard and avoided by most people. But in relationships that tactic is a disaster.

So she didn’t talk to me then. She doesn’t really talk to me now, unless it’s a text about something she wants. She couches the request as something “the kids” want, but 99% of the time it’s just a variance request from her. “Will you take the kids to the dentist next week?”

Maybe she’s just unhappy. And if she can’t point to me as the reason for her unhappiness, well, that takes a lot of pressure off her and her own self management.

Coparenting is fine, it’s the goal, it’s the only way to be divorced parents. But when one partner is still playing with loaded dice the room for civility and compromise is impaired. She’s so mad at me… It’s been six years, so I’m not sure why, but it’s a fact. When I ask her a simple question I often get a vitriolic message with so much anger that I often don’t make it past the first few sentences. I’m learning not to ask. Kind of like when we were married. Don’t talk, don’t ask, don’t tell. Not the way to a healthy marriage, and today, not the way to a healthy coparenting relationship.

If I’m not the enemy, and she understood that, what would she have left to work on? Herself, perhaps? Or she’d have to own the damage she did in the way she’s gone about the divorce. She’d have to admit she was wrong to turn me over to the collection agency of the state’s attorney general’s office. She’d have to look at what she’s still doing to fuel the rage and resentment at me. She won’t do it.

And perhaps I’m a good foil for the difficulties in her life. Perhaps it’s easier if you’ve got someone to blame. It’s no longer about money, she married a wealthy man. It’s no longer about my work habits or sexual desires. She doesn’t have to worry about those. It’s not even about the money I owe her from the 9 months that I was unemployed and looking for work. What reason could she have for still being mad at me?

Maybe she’s just unhappy. And if she can’t point to me as the reason for her unhappiness, well, that takes a lot of pressure off her and her own self management. It’s not like she doesn’t have a therapist. She had the same one the entire time we were married. Unfortunately all therapists are not created equal. This “yes therapist” just reassure her, tells her she’s doing great. There are no big issues. There’s no mention of her anger. And thus she gets a clean bill of health and does none of the work that still needs to be done. This is the way it was in my marriage. Plenty of work for both of us. I was doing it. She was talking about doing it.

I own my part of the divorce. I own not speaking up when I began to sublimate my desire. I know I did things wrong. But I’m no longer mad at her.

We all have our issues. I get that. And while this may sound like I’m taking her inventory, I’m really trying to call it as I see it. If my ex-wife is still mad at me six years after the divorce was finalized, don’t you think she needs to get some help with her anger issue?

I own my part of the divorce. I own not speaking up when I began to sublimate my desire. I know I did things wrong. But I’m no longer mad at her. I’m trying to get over the anger she shoots at me on a routine basis. I’m trying to make things easier for my kids, and low and behold, for my ex-wife as well. That’s not always appreciated or acknowledged, but hey, I’m not after any kudos from her. I’m done with her. And to the extent that I can be DONE with her, I’d rather not talk to her at all. We still have to. And we will have to for the rest of our lives, but with someone who’s harboring so much venom, I’d really like to move along with less and less contact with her.

This is not the way it has to be, but her unresolved anger keeps the walls up between us. What’s my part in it all? Do my confrontations on her unreasonableness have any effect? No. Do my friendly offers for help, or extra carpool support, or running errands with them, make any difference in the timbre of her voice? Nope. She’s not done with me, she’s furious with me, still.

That’s something I wish she’d get over. It’s not necessary and it hurts all of us in subtle ways.

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Showing Up In Spite of the Lizards (Surviving the Depression)

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 10.12.42 AMI was seeing lizards everywhere. And not the good kind. The kind of lizards that were whispering to me, telling me lies, breaking my heart, and causing me to break the promises I made to myself.

I had a hard holiday season. I have a history of hard holiday seasons ever since my oldest sister committed suicide by jumping of a nearby bridge into a dry creek bed. So this Christmas was a bitch. But it also taught me a number of things about myself and my resilience.

In the first day of the spiral, I could tell what was happening. It’s sort of like a metallic taste in my mouth.
I’ve had depressive episodes since my teens. I didn’t know what was going on back then. Today I know exactly what’s happening. That’s not to say I can stop the slid into darkness when I feel it happening. (That’s what I’m getting better at, but I know it will happen again.) I feel the tingle in my groin that shares the same sensation with looking over the edge of a tall building. The thrill, the terror, the flight. It’s like that. But in a bad, not exhilarating way.

This holiday season I had a number of factors that brought me down. (And by brought me down, I mean going from upright enthusiastic and hopeful, to ready to follow my sister off the bridge.) I was stressed about my job. I was tired from a long day of traveling home from vacation. AND I had the holidays staring me in the near future. And this summer, different from any summer, I was going to have my teenaged kids in the house with me and my fiancé for 8 straight days. I was worried about everything.

In the first day of the spiral, I could tell what was happening. It’s sort of like a metallic taste in my mouth. And a little bit of electrical current is being applied in my armpits, like torture. It’s subtle at first, but I recognized my old nemesis. And even with all of the awareness and experience I’ve had, I was semi-powerless to mitigate the slip.

I really wanted to disappear. I didn’t directly want to kill myself, but I could see the appeal of not waking up in the morning.
I went from being a productive and happy member of my family to being a stone temple frog. I didn’t speak, because saying anything carried the risk of actually telling you what bad craziness was going on in my head. Like the best/worst Hunter Thompson scene from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, I was seeing lizards everywhere. And not the good kind. The kind of lizards that were whispering to me, telling me lies, breaking my heart, and breaking the promises I made to myself. I didn’t want to go DOWN, but kicking screaming was not my way. I silently slipped beneath the surface of the dark water, hoping no one would notice my absence.

I really wanted to disappear. I didn’t directly want to kill myself, but I could see the appeal of not waking up in the morning. BUT… I had so much to stop me, from suicide, that is. There was nothing that could stop me from hitting the dark days, but my reaction and ability to just fucking show up, was my superpower in depression.

… I will continue tomorrow …

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Divorce and the Goodbye Monday Blues

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Divorce is about goodbyes. Goodbyes you never thought you’d be saying. Instead of everyday, like I imagined, I only see my kids 10 out of the 30 days in an average month. That’s a lot of time without their smiling faces. And when you’re the off parent, it’s a lot of time alone.

In the spaces between being dad I learned to reinvest in myself. I healed from my sadness and divorce by writing, exercising, and living through it.

Today I’m in a much better place with it, but it’s never easy. I miss them. And I’m amazed when days go by without even a text or Snapchat. But they’re teenagers and doing their own thing. I get it. Still, it’s a heartbreaking situation for someone who’s emotionally open and connected. I suppose there a people who are more business like about it, but I’m a card-carrying member of the attachment parenting movement, and perhaps the attachment is just as strong both ways.

I’ve been a divorced dad for almost seven years and I’m still going through empty nest syndrome. Perhaps this is one of the gifts of divorce, the real empty nest won’t be so hard for me, since I’ve been 2/3 empty already. But the gift is a painful one.

On Monday mornings, at the end of my four-day run with the kids, I drop them off at school and then return to my old house and drop off their bags. Early on in the divorce this was hugely depressing. Everything about it brought back the pain. My old house. Dropping them at school knowing I wouldn’t see them for several days. And that one day thing on the off week is pretty hard too, but drop off Mondays were really a bitch.

Just this past Monday I had a moment of sadness and overwhelm. There were a lot of other pressures that converged on this particular Monday, but something about the drop off really struck a deep chord of pain in me. There’s no explaining it. I used to get sad sometimes dropping them off at day care when I was going to see them that same night. I miss my kids. I like to hear about their day (what they’ll tell me) and their ambitions for whatever. Being around them in their daily activities is a joy.

Today, I’m glad I have the time to devote to all the messy loveliness of being in a relationship again. I’m engaged to be married and very happy about life.

The only tonic to this sad dance is picking up your own life and moving on. In the spaces between being dad I learned to reinvest in myself. I healed from my sadness and divorce by writing, exercising, and living through it. And I continue to work on myself outside of my relationships, doing the emotional excavation to understand my sadness.

I was asked by a friend the other day what was the hardest part of divorce, losing my primary relationship or losing my kids? Kids. It wasn’t even close. Maybe that’s still some of the anger of the divorce talking, but I could imagine myself without my ex-wife, I could not imagine my life without my kids. It’s not that I’m living for or through them. But your love for your kids is something unlike any other relationship. There’s no explaining this to someone without kids. It simply doesn’t compute.

Today, I’m glad I have the time to devote to all the messy loveliness of being in a relationship again. I’m engaged to be married and very happy about life.

Do I still get tripped up on drop off Mondays? Yep. It’s part of the ebb and flow of life as a divorced parent. One day things seem okay and the next day the universe is split in two: time with your kids and time without them. I’ll take what I can get and do the best I can in that time. The rest is up to me.

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Who Is The Off Parent

I am The Off Parent

He is learning to be a single dad.

He is trying to be a better man.

He is happy and mad all at once.

He is divorced and recovering himself from the wreckage that was created.

He is depressed but working on it.

He is overweight and under appreciated.

He is trying again.

He is not to be fucked with.

He is looking out for the best interest of his kids, sometimes even before himself.

He is sad about how things went down.

He is hiding out from time to time when things get hard.

He is a gift.

He is telling his story to the furthest depth he can.

He is openly admitting he is wrong and makes mistakes.

He is taking a fearless moral inventory.

He is alive and well.

He is the best dad he can be.

He is never giving up on having a cordial and sane relationship with his ex-wife, even when she frequently makes it difficult.

He is starving for more time with his kids.

He is an engaged father to an incredible son.

He is a dad who believes father-daughter relationships set the tone for his daughter’s future relationships.

He is not afraid to dance or make mistakes.

He is laughing.

He is here now, writing these words, hoping that you take away some ideas and moments of hope.

He believes in you and your struggle to be a parent, both men and women.

He loves moms.

He supports dads.

He holds his children as long as they will stand still.

He knows the children will leave the nest, and there are not enough hours between now and then to satisfy his expressions of love.

He loves a new woman.

He is hopeful for whatever comes next.

He believes his ex-wife is a loving and strong mother. She’s 50% of the reason the kids are cool.

He believes he was the better half in the divorce.

He believes child support should be mutual and 50/50.

He believes the court system is stacked against dads from the beginning. He also believes this rigid rule is changing.

He supports your healing and wellbeing.

He is doing this for you.

He is writing this because he can’t stop.

He professes deep and unending love to others all the time.

He says, “I love you” all the time.

He is the best dad on the planet.

He is becoming a better parent every day.

He is a believer in dreams and true love.

He is a poet.

He requires no permission or appreciation.

He loves himself.

He knows how to show happiness.

He can tell you what love tastes like.

He is here.

He is you.

He is all of us.

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Announcing a new blog My Dark Days

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I think it’s pretty obvious what this one is about. Launching this section on The Whole Parent I was discussing a book project with a publisher. She said, “If you had the same platform for depression as you do for divorce, we’d be interested.”

I give you my new platform. My Dark Days. Collecting my writing on depression from all three of my other blogs. Join us. Talk to us. Comment, share, and heal from what ails you.

February 2016


Passive Aggressive Mis-Communication

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“Stop trying to change me.”

In my two marriages there were plenty of power struggles. Just like any relationship, people begin to wield influence. And asking for a change is acceptable. Manipulating the other person, through anger or rewards, in order to get them to do something you want but would rather not ask them to do, well, that’s called passive aggression.

As adults in relationships we need to be aware of asking for something and asking around something.

We often want different behaviors from those around us. I’d like the person in front of me to drive more quickly. I’d like my kids to pick up the towels from their bathrooms rather than throwing them for me to pick up. My role is to ask them to pick up their towels. And on about the tenth request, since we’ve moved into the new house, they are beginning to get it. They are teenagers, they could be not doing it to piss me off, or get some autonomy.

As adults in relationships we need to be aware of asking for something and asking around something. Let me give you an example from a few nights ago.

My fiance likes to drink. Not a problem. I am rather “meh” about alcohol, but I could always say yes to an ice cream. So when we are approaching a bar and she asks, “Would you like a drink?” I hear that she is asking if I am thirsty.

The other night she asked me and I said no. As we got closer, she asked, “Are you sure?” “Yep,” I said. And she asked a third time, “What about a water?” “Nope,” I said with some frustration beginning to show in my tone, “Nothing, thank you.” I probably said something like, “Quit asking.” But I don’t recall. I do know she reacted with a pout, letting me know I my frustration had registered.

Later the next morning as we were sorting through our plans and replays I made a discovery that excited me a bit.

“When we were heading towards the bar last night you asked me if I wanted a drink.”

“Yes, and then you got all pissy.”

“Wait. I just understood what was frustrating for me.” She looked at me with suspended disbelief. “When you asked me if I wanted a drink, I wasn’t sure if you were asking me if I was thirsty, or if you were making a request for me to join you for a drink.”

“Okay.”

“To me they are completely different.”

“I was asking if you were thirsty.”

“Yes, but you don’t have to ask me three times to see if I am thirsty. It’s very possible what you were asking initially, was ‘Will you have a drink with me?’ But that’s not what I heard.”

In our relationships with others we need to strive to ask for what we want. To complain when we don’t get the results we wanted. And to make our own desires as clear as possible.

“And if I knew you were asking me to join you for a drink, as in a request for us to share a drink together, then I can still say no, but I understand more clearly what you are asking. It seems like last night, the reason you asked three times, was because you might have been asking me to join you for a drink.”

“Maybe.”

“What do you think?”

“I think I was asking if you were thirsty?”

“Three times?”

“I agree, that’s a bit much.”

“So you understand how I got frustrated?”

“No, I just thought you were being an ass.”

“But I’m never an ass on purpose. I’m an ass to register frustration, or if I’m clear, to ask you for a behavior modification.”

So the passive aggressive way to ask me to join her for a drink, would’ve been to ask if I wanted a drink. But typically I say no to that question, because a “drink” is rarely what I’m thinking of. If she EVER asks me if I wanted an ice cream, I’m guessing I’d be 100% compliant. But with alcohol, I’m more like 10%. Just not my thing.

“Do you want a drink?” is very different from “I’d like you to have a drink with me.”

In our relationships with others we need to strive to ask for what we want. To complain when we don’t get the results we wanted. And to make our own desires as clear as possible. Anything unspoken, or actions used to manipulate the person into doing what we want, well, that’s out-of-bounds.

Speak what you want. Complain when you don’t get it. And ask for a modification if it becomes a habit, or pattern of disconnection.

“Do you want a drink?” is very different from “I’d like you to have a drink with me.”

The first is about me. The second is about you. If you want me to have a drink with you, say it. It shouldn’t matter if I have bubbly water or bubbly, unless that is also what you are asking.

The clearer we become in our communications the clearer we can be with our intentions and disappointments. Only through this type of honest communication do we get tuned-in to one another.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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You Are Ahead by a Century

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Let’s talk a bit about the dumper and dumpee. If you were NOT the one who thought of the divorce first, you are the dumpee. And there’s an amazing thing that happens to dumpees. We are divorced and alone long before we get used to the idea of what’s happening. In my case, I objected with a vengeance, but quickly learning, in counseling and eventually divorce financial consulting, that it takes two people to want to stay married.

And that’s when the world was thrown up on it’s end. I was being asked to simply pack a bag and tell the kids I was going away on a business trip.

So let’s assume that my ex-y had been contemplating the divorce for six months. Taking steps to secure certain parts of her plan. She wanted to make sure she had her ducks in a row, long before I knew I was being lined up for an exit.

And, yes, it’s usually the man who leaves the house. That just makes it easier on the kids. (And if you believe that bullshit line… Well, we don’t have to go into that now.) So now, I’m learning for the first time that my wife had already been to see a lawyer about options, and she was asking me to leave the house. Just walk out in the middle of April. Two months before the kids were to be finishing up 3rd and 5th grades. Um… NO WAY.

I was surprised in our marriage counseling by something that she revealed. Something didn’t sound right. “Have you been to see an attorney?” I asked.

And that’s when the world was thrown up on it’s end. I was being asked to simply pack a bag and tell the kids I was going away on a business trip. What? Why?

I knew we were having problems. That’s why we’d been in therapy on and off for years. But DIVORCE? I was crushed. Angry. Stunned. And most likely in a state of shock.

In the session I flatly refused to leave the house. “If you’re so unhappy, and so ready for a break, if that’s what you’re calling it, why don’t you take a trip?” Both my ex-y and the therapist looked at me with eyes of concern. Perhaps it was pity. I was thrashing against the idea of the divorce, and she was asking me to leave tonight?

When you are the dumpee it’s likely the other person is much further down the road to healing from the split. In fact, they may have reached a place of being ready for it all to be over.

As it’s often the woman who gets the house if you have kids, it’s also very common for the woman to reach the breaking point while the good-natured husband just thinks it’s a “rough patch.” And until I learned that afternoon, that she’d already been weighing her options and strategy for leaving me (or getting me to leave, to be more accurate) it was only a rough patch.

“I may not like you right now, “ I had written in an email a few weeks earlier, “But I love you very much. We will get through this period. It’s just a rough spot.”

One rough spot too many I suppose.

When you are the dumpee it’s likely the other person is much further down the road to healing from the split. In fact, they may have reached a place of being ready for it all to be over. And this is before us poor saps even know we’re heading that way.

And the mechanics of divorce can happen very quickly. From the moment she told me, to when I was actually leaving the house for the last time was about two months, but this is only because I fought with her about the idea of splitting before the kid’s school year was done.

It was a hellish two months. But today, I can say, I held the line for THEM. I kept their soon to be uprooted lives sane for two more months so they could have the Summer to fall apart with me. Their mom was already working on “what’s next.” The head start down the divorce path becomes a very strong tactical advantage. I was still willing to bargain and negotiate, because I was certain we would work something out. She was already working out how to pay rent on the house after I moved out.

No one is going to take care of you in divorce. Your ex will make selfish decisions and continue to make selfish requests couched in “the best interest of the kids.”

She was a century ahead of me in all the negotiations. I was still reeling from the loss and onset of depression from my sister’s downstairs bedroom, and she was working on the taxes and the financial split arrangements. (She takes the house. I take the house. We sell the house. I didn’t want to lose my house or my family.)

While I was her ex she was still my beloved, but troubled wife. The mother of our two kids. Oh, the kids. They were the ones who were gonna suffer. It’s all about them. This divorce stuff is for grown ups. In divorce you do everything to shield the kids from the fight and fallout. Which includes letting them stay in their primary home with the primary caregiver. (Again, I call bullshit, but I was so confused and sad at this point that I was not negotiating at all, I was recoiling. I was in duck and cover mode both emotionally and financially.

When her lawyer requested a heafty child support payment AND 100% of the health insurance premiums I was compliant. I didn’t even retain a lawyer except to look over the final decree. (Maybe that was a mistake.)

But we’d decided to do a collaborative divorce.

Yeah, the nice guy needs a lawyer. Take my advice, no matter how civil you think you’re going to be, no matter how cooperative and collaborative she is at the beginning, when the shit hits the fan, the one with the lawyer wins.

No one is going to take care of you in divorce. Your ex will make selfish decisions and continue to make selfish requests couched in “the best interest of the kids.” Bullshit. If it’s about “primary care giver” or “primary nurturing adult” I was both. She was the mom, yes, but she was emotionally unavailable to the kids – sort of still is. I was the emotional heart of the clan. She was the accounting and hard ass board member.

Go for 50/50 if that’s what you want. You might not win, but you won’t regret it if you lose. I regret it that I gave up in the name of “doing what’s best for the kids.”

Perhaps it does not have to go this way. Perhaps there are goodwill collaborative divorces. And I’m sure there are. Ours was supposed to work out that way, but things don’t always go as planned.

My first big loss was in being refused 50/50 custody and 50/50 parenting time. This will continue to be an issue that I feel frustrated about the rest of my life. I should’ve had my kids 50% of the time. That’s how we parented. Why was I suddenly a lesser parent (non-custodial) and the only one required to pay the other person. What if I lost my job? Well, we were gonna find out about that one soon enough.

Here’s my belief. If you parented cooperatively and intend to divorce cooperatively, great. Get a lawyer. And if you want 50/50 custody and parenting, ask for it. No, better than that, FIGHT FOR IT. It turns out the courts are more likely these days to give 50/50 requests

In my case I waived the right to an attorney. And when our high-paid counselor said the 50/50 parenting plan I presented was just “not what she would get if you went to court” I lost everything. I lost the house. I lost the money. And most importantly I lost the time with my kids. The time when they were in their tenderist years.

Well fuck that. Go for 50/50 if that’s what you want. You might not win, but you won’t regret it if you lose. I regret it that I gave up in the name of “doing what’s best for the kids.” It wasn’t. It isn’t. And I should’ve fought for it.

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Getting Too Close to the Sun

banan

I’m pretty tired of writing about depression. I really am. I’d like to be back to working on my parenting relationship, or my primary relationship with my fiance. But, alas, the depression requires some serious consideration and management.

Part of the creative spirit is the ability to suspend disbelief and doubt. A huge part of depression, for me, is giving in to the doubt and fear associated with creative projects.

My depression is directly related to my creative output as well. When I’m writing and playing music is when my life is in the best condition, as in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. When I’m actualized I’m creating and living on the same frequency. When the depression strikes the first thing to go is the creativity. I get quiet. And suddenly my creative expression, perhaps part of what keeps me on an even keel, is the first thing to go. I’m left mute and isolated, even from myself. It’s not a pretty picture. Let’s take a look at how the creativity and depression on interdependent.

Part of the creative spirit is the ability to suspend disbelief and doubt. A huge part of depression, for me, is giving in to the doubt and fear associated with creative projects. When I hit a moment of doubt in depression I am immediately taking back to survival mode, reptilian brain and all that stuff. The only thing that matters at that point is food, shelter, and rest. All of my extracurricular activities not only take a nose dive, but they become minor panic inducing worry about future planned events.

Case in point, I play an annual music festival here in town with my band. When the doubt struck this year, I was ready to jettison everything. There was no “point” in playing the gig, in fact, the mere idea of it caused me to hyperventilate. I was so freaked out at the next band practice, that I’m certain the guys thought I was on drugs. The problem was, I was not yet back on the drugs that might help me moderate the panic and anxiety. I was going cold turkey and failing.

So as cliché as the term bipolar is, that’s a bit what this looks like. You get so depressed that you want to head towards the bottom of the ocean, or at least the bottom of your bed, under the covers. And when I come out of it, and the creative energies are once again brought back online, I want to lean into the excitement and “muse” and let the mojo flow. Isn’t that understandable? Is this bipolar, or just mood swings? Is there a difference?

It’s the loss of hope, the hope that I with EVER be happy again, that cuts the legs out from underneath me. Even when I’m feeling strong and have had months or years between slips, the next one is just a complication away.

It’s not hard for me to see the link between my creative process and the depression that causes everything to fall away. Survival becomes my modus operandi. It’s a sad state of affairs. And I can create a lot of drama just by shutting my mouth for days at a time. I don’t want to tell you about. I don’t really want to tell my therapist about it. I’m so frustrated by having been dropped to my knees again, that I’d rather stay at home and be alone. But aloneness is not the solution, nor is it a very good place for me to be.

It seems to be that part of my strategy for dealing with the eventual low again is to really grok the idea that it ALWAYS abates. I always come back to where I am today. It’s the loss of hope, the hope that I with EVER be happy again, that cuts the legs out from underneath me. Even when I’m feeling strong and have had months or years between slips, the next one is just a complication away.

In deciding to blog/journal about this process for me, I am attempting to put the brakes on the next slip before it happens. Or when I start feeling the LOW again, that I can begin here, with the affirmation that I DO come out, and I WILL come out sooner if I allow just a bit of HOPE to creep in. It’s the hope that’s almost impossible to find, as if my hope blood cells had all been drained away.

I can drink. I can stop drinking. But I’m not sure how good I am at getting sad and not turning on the sadness fire hose at the first sign of things going off.

I commit to writing through the next LOW in the hopes that I can prevent the damage I just experienced. Sure, 90% of that damage and drama was in my own mind, but my lulls are not without effect on others. I think I have a pretty good handle on things. I think I’ve been working my recovery pretty hard these days, but as this depression showed, I am never completely free of the potential for depression. Much like an alcoholic might have a propensity towards wanting to drink 5 rather than one margarita, I tend to dip down through five layers of normal sadness into something that looks very little like the person who is writing this post today.

Let’s do this together. I’d love to hear from you if you’ve suffered from depression. Sure, my most recent bouts were triggered by my divorce, but it’s a lifelong journey for me. I can drink. I can stop drinking. But I’m not sure how good I am at getting sad and not turning on the sadness fire hose at the first sign of things going off.

[In future posts I will examine how this life of struggle may have affected my kids and what I will be watching for as they move beyond high school and jr. high school.]

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

This post continues here: Collaborative Divorce My Ass!

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The Unbearable Weight of Things

sad

When you’re down, everything seems hard. I know this sounds like whining, but it’s something deeper. My silence usually means one thing. SAD.

It’s a bit more than sadness, however, that pulls me under. It was a bit more than sadness that changed the marriage to my kid’s mom as well. And before I get the push back about depression just being a weakness of character, or laziness, let me clarify what I’m talking about.

Negative predictions. Catastrophic terminations of everything from my job, to my love life, to my life in general.

You know the sinking feeling in your body as you can tell the flu has entered your system? Depression is kind of like that feeling, except you don’t have any outward signs of illness beyond your refusal to do things that bring you pleasure and avoid everything that’s hard. But it’s not like a hiding that’s going on when your depressed. It’s more like a death that’s happening right inside you. There is simply no pleasure to be had. It’s as if the hope molecules have been completely depleted from your body. My self assessment comes in the form of ice cream and my craving or lack of interest in it. If I can’t get excited about Ben and Jerry’s Coffee Toffee Crunch, then something is seriously out of whack with my system.

The minute I feel it coming on, if I’m that self-aware, I begin taking action to delay or avoid the storm. I try to exercise regardless of the ballast that’s beginning to weigh down on my back. I do my best to get enough sleep and good food. I try to keep talking to my loved ones. But sometimes, despite my best efforts, I fail and fall in to a period of silence.

The silence is only in what I’m willing to share. My brain is not quiet at all, if fact, it’s on fire with bad ideas. Negative predictions. Catastrophic terminations of everything from my job, to my love life, to my life in general. And again, I want to stress this (especially now that I’m on the other side of this “episode”): depression is an illness like no other. The flu-like symptoms are mainly in your mind. And when I try to tough it out, it’s usually the sadness that wins.

And it’s not that I’m giving up, either. I’m fighting like hell to maintain my outward appearance of normalcy, but it rarely works. In normal times I’m fairly loud and flamboyant. When I go quiet, everybody notices.

Today I’m moderating my joy. I’m trying to take simple steps back into the routine.

On this side of the darkness I can look back, examine, plan, and talk about ideas that might help next time. When I’m IN it, there are almost no words that help. Here are a few that did make a difference. My significant other did her part to remind me that she was here for the long haul, that she loved me, and that she was not leaving. And even when she couldn’t quite understand what had happened to me, she stayed close, cuddly, and supportive. That’s the best you can do. Stand beside me. Don’t try to make it better, that’s my job. But do tell me you’re not leaving. And then stick around.

Depression is exhausting for everyone. If you, as my partner, can stay out of the tractor beam of my darkness, you can take time for yourself, and let me know it’s hard. And primarily, take care of your heart and your emotions. Mine are shot. I will try to get you to save me, primarily by replaying my helplessness. But don’t give in. I’m not helpless, that’s the depression. And it’s my fight against my own feelings of helplessness and hopelessness that is my path back to normal times. Happy times. Even ecstatic times. (Oh, but be careful about those, the term bipolar is bandied about too easily these days, but it must be taken into account.) Those of us with the deepest lows often spring back into hyper highs. And without meaning to, we can rebound off the happy ceiling and blast right back into the sadness. It’s a vicious cycle, this cycling. Something must be done.

Today I’m moderating my joy. I’m trying to take simple steps back into the routine. I’m introducing my “big projects” back into my activity stream, but I’ve got to be watchful that I don’t blast off. Finally released of the flu-like hopelessness, you can only imagine how much I want to soar, and zoom back into my ultra-productive hyper times. My thinking today is that it’s the small steps that I can take to come back online. It’s also the tiny victories I will log as I reject my avoidance habits and step back into full responsibility for my actions.

It’s when I try to disappear that I realize I’m avoiding. Avoiding even my own life. That’s a bad sign.

It’s not like depression is a release from those responsibilities, but it’s as if I no longer see myself as being capable. And when you begin imagining yourself absent from the future consequences, because you simply won’t be alive, you can see how this too (suicidal ideation, they call it, thinking about suicide rather than acting on the idea) is an avoidance. We learned avoidance when we were really young. And as a defense mechanism it occasionally serves it’s purpose. But as an adult coping mechanism, avoidance is the worst. I can’t say it’s the reason I fall off the wagon, but it’s one of the harbingers of my decline.

Taking the responsibility for all of my life again, requires some ramping up. From things like, making a dentist appointment, getting the car into a service appointment, and even showing up at my daughter’s basketball games, is part of my responsibility to SHOW UP. It’s when I try to disappear that I realize I’m avoiding. Avoiding even my own life. That’s a bad sign.

We all need defense mechanisms. I’m looking to build some healthier ways of coping with stress and complications of being a parent and recently engaged partner. If I can just say the things that are worrying me, write them down, share them, I can find a way to own up to getting them done. I believe for me, those are the baby steps back towards making the unbearable actually joyful again.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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With the Time I Have Left: Keep Climbing the Hill

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I’m not a young man. I’m 53 years old. And still tripping and falling flat onto my face. And each time the structures and supports around me have supported me, but not before I have done damage to my friendships, my professional reputation, my creative partnerships. Everything comes to a screeching halt. And then, miraculously, I bounce back.

I’m up, making music, writing stories, and cruising along, and then I’m off my horse unable to get back to my feet.

But the set backs have been vast. And my confidence is shaken every time, like there is a new small marker of doubt planted in my mind reminding me that my darkness is ready to pounce down and crush my plans. Even as things begin getting good, there’s a shadow of doubt now that causes me to question my hopefulness. I’m not saying that I can never go back down, but I am actively seeking a way to avert the slide as it begins happening, notice the signs before they become symptoms, and keep writing and telling my story throughout the entire experience. How does that sound? A bit grandiose, don’t you think?

I don’t want to become the poster boy for bipolar disorder, but there’s no sense calling my cycling by any other name. I’m up, making music, writing stories, and cruising along, and then I’m off my horse unable to get back to my feet. That’s a pretty wide swing.

Just as I think I’m done with it, as I proclaim that my episode is over, I begin forgetting what got me down and what types of activities helped bring me out. Not this time.

Bringing my Achilles heal out into the open may give me some insights, and I may also lessen the impact even as another swing is in progress. Here’s why I think that’s so.

  1. When I’m in the deepest pain my own thoughts become dark, circular, and very self-focused. My depression seems very real and consuming, but when I try to articulate “what” is getting me down, I have a harder time explaining it to someone else. In my head it’s perfectly clear how f-d up I am. When I try to explain it to someone else, a friend or therapist, it suddenly seems irrational and silly.
  2. By opening up my dialogue to include this audience, I’m hoping that the same illumination becomes easier.
  3. Most of my depression is a narcissistic whirlpool of self-pity and shame. As I reveal and discuss those things I think are literally killing me, I’m hoping I will see that my madness is more made-up that real.

Nothing about my depression was fake. But a lot of my fatalistic thinking was 100% false. We cannot know the future and obsessing about it, replaying scenarios where NOTHING works out, is a very quick way to sink yourself into anxiety and depression. For me the two are closely linked, like thunder and lightning, anxiety and depression. Anxiety piles on when I’m starting to lose my footing, and suddenly I’m in a semi-catatonic state, just wanting to be left alone.

I kept having to close the exit of death as a possibility and start dealing with some of the things I simply wanted to avoid.

That’s the other fallacy of my depression: being alone sucks. My past as a child, and as a depressed person has trained me that being alone was safer when I was depressed, but it’s certainly not better for me. I know this is true. As much as I want to hide and isolate, I know this is part of my illness. Wanting to be alone is a bit like wanting to disappear. If I could just be gone, just sleep on, have a heart attack, something, this pain, this self-sabotage would stop.

Of course, that’s wrong too.

My oldest sister jumped off a bridge when I was in my twenties. It was Christmas day. The joy of the holidays has been bleak ever since. For a while, my young children provided a distraction and fun activities to chase away that time, but this holiday season, as I got further down, further away from my authentic self, my sister’s death felt like a call to action, and not in a good way. I’ve never really been suicidal, but the idea of just being gone, occasionally crossed my mind over the past few months. And something about having a history of suicide in my family, seems like it would be understandable. “For whom?” For the people left behind? My daughter and son? No. Not acceptable.

I kept having to close the exit of death as a possibility and start dealing with some of the things I simply wanted to avoid. The old sticks and stones fort was not working. As part of my recovery I had a faithful partner who stood with me and encouraged me to keep exercising, even when I didn’t feel like it. And to my own credit, in the darkest times, I probably said no twice. And right as she was exiting to go on the walk/run without me, I regretted it. I got what I asked for, to be alone. I wanted to be with her, I just didn’t want to exercise. But that was part of our deal, part of our relationship, part of what bound us together. She goes and I follow. Each time she would ask, I’d remember, “Be careful what you wish for, you might just find yourself alone.” I’d put on my winter coat and hat and running shoes and off we’d go. Together.

She could’ve run on ahead up the hill and been done.

As I was catastrophising in the last few months, one of the things I was soooo sad about was losing her, losing this wonderful relationship. She gave no indication that she was leaving, she actually continued to tell me she loved me and was happy with me, even in my current state. My sadness didn’t believe her. But that’s okay, she kept saying it, kept asking me to climb the hills, and kept showing up every night to make dinner together.

And something my meds doctor said as I was asking for help, “She sounds like the real deal, and I just want to get you some relief before you blow through her. We’re on this planet for such a short time. I mean, how many more chances to you have?”

Today I can hear that as a positive challenge. At the moment, I turned it from dread into effort. Effort to get better, effort to keep saying yes and climbing the hills beside her, and effort to keep showing up as the man she fell in love with.

In both of our previous marriages we were the partner who really fought for the relationship. And as we were initially coming together, just about a year ago, today, we both appreciated and acknowledged that if we were both the fighters in our relationships then perhaps we’d fight together for this one and win. We are a win-win. And today, I am even more grateful to her for her steadfastness and courage. She didn’t have to stay beside me. She could’ve run on ahead up the hill and been done.

She didn’t. We are still climbing together. And I hope through writing and speaking about this illness I can first shed light on my own situation and strategies, and perhaps give encouragement to others to “keep climbing the hill.”

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Dating a Divorced Parent: How Can We All Stay Connected?

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We’ve got some connections to make in this world of relationships, parenting, and divorce.

Point One: Divorced parents are still parents.

If we (as a couple) can focus on our relationship and let the co-parenting relationship exist in a parallel universe, with different laws of physics and gravity, we’ll do fine.

A divorced dad is still a dad. (I’m relating this to dads, as that is the only role I know. Please substitute mom if you’re reading this from that perspective.) Even though our relationship has changed, I’m still “tha dad.”

Why it’s important to remember.

  • Schools will often communicate and support the single mother in ways that are very different than the single father.
  • Single dads may not have cheated, messed up, been an alcoholic, or done awful things to cause the divorce.
  • Dads have a very different experience of divorce. Even when hurting, disconnected, depressed, angry… A dad is still important in his kids lives.
  • Single dads are made fun of in the media and even in our daily lives about things that are hard. It’s true, we don’t know how to braid our daughter’s hair (until we’ve been taught) and we’re less competent at making school lunches from time to time.
  • Single dads often shoulder a disproportionate amount of the financial burden and are usually required to find new living quarters. The money issues alone are enough to hinder a strong person.

Point Two: Divorce is very different if you have kids.

I have been through two marriages and two divorces. The first one, which I rarely reference, I consider a mistake. A mistake I learned a lot from, but a mistake nonetheless. No kids were ever on the planning horizon and I’m grateful that I bypassed that lifetime connection with this woman. When you divorce without children, it is hard, but the process has an end. I have not spoken to my first ex wife for years, and once Apple released the option to block a contact she was vanquished from her random “Hey how are you?” communications as well. Good. I am happy to not to orbit her in any way.

With children, you’ve got an entirely different set of circumstances. Sometimes I’d love an escape option, when she’s being dramatic or unreasonable, from my perspective. But she is never going away. And in all fairness, our time together was filled with loving attempts at being married with children. I was no Al Bundy, and she was less Peg than I occasionally claim, but we didn’t make it as married parents. So we are divorced parents.

In my current relationship, with a woman who’s had no children but was married for 17 years, we have a very different experience of life. She likes my kids, she loves my fatherhood role, but she doesn’t need my kids in the same way I do. I understand that. That’s our relationship that we get to focus on, when the kids are with us and when they are gone.

You can’t walk away from your kids and thus you never get to fully walk away from the other parent. This point cannot be stressed enough. Every mean thing you say or do towards them, comes back ten fold, just when you least expect it. You may not think so at this moment, you may be angry, you may be fighting about something, but… Your kids are non-negotiable connections.

Get over your issues with your coparent.

Us divorced parents can really benefit from an unattached, unreactive, partners. A partner who sides with us under any circumstance.

We still have plenty of issues to work through. I wish we didn’t, I wish she weren’t so dramatic when she tries to get her way, but that’s the way it is. That’s the way she’s probably going to be for the rest of our lives together. Perhaps she needs to be this way when I seem so disconnected or unresponsive. I get it. We are stuck in this relationship with one another. Our kids will need both of us for the rest of their lives.

We’ve done a great job of keeping the money issues separate from our parenting issues. We don’t agree on some things. We’d both like things to be different than they are. But we’ve learned to put the kids first and negotiate about their lives and their needs with a holistic perspective. We can fight about other stuff, but when it comes to them, we’re a team.

Parents are parents. Make sure you treat each parent, married or unmarried, with the same respect and courtesy.

Divorces with children are more entangled. If you’re dating a divorced parent you don’t have to understand all the weirdness of their relationship with the ex-partner and children. You don’t even have to love their kids or understand why things between them, the kids, and their former partner may occasionally feel like a an inside joke that you’re not a part of. The relationship between you and the divorced parent is a common variety configuration these days. If we (as a couple) can focus on our relationship and let the co-parenting relationship exist in a parallel universe, with different laws of physics and gravity, we’ll do fine. We can focus on the we, and when we are expanded with my kids, we can focus on the we as coaches and cheerleaders of these wonderful kids.

Divorced parents are dealing with a lot of changes. And if you are lucky enough to be in a relationship with one of these kid-attached folks the blessing you can bring to the equation is to stand slightly outside of the odd divorced-family dynamic and maintain a supportive closeness with your partner. Us divorced parents can really benefit from an unattached, unreactive, partners. A partner who sides with us under any circumstance.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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You and Your Body are Amazing

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Confronting God Alone, After Divorce

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We are the rebound and rebuilding of our past loves and losses.

I’m certain that I prayed to God to save my marriage. More than once or twice. I would’ve done nearly anything to keep my little family unit together. I counseled with my minister, I shouted out loud at the heavens, I wrote prayers that sounded more like love poems. And nothing…

It was a time for miracles and togetherness. One shiny family, orbiting God, and giving thanks along with lots of giggles and screams.

Turns out, somewhere, a bigger plan was being put into motion. Praying for the repair of something broken might not have been aligned with the plan. Who’s plan? What plan? And when would I know the rules and routes of the plan? I knew very little about any plan, and I was getting pretty snarky in tone as I pleaded with my higher power to fix things. I wanted them fixed the way I wanted them. I had no idea what was in store, but I had a lot of living and self-discovery ahead before I would catch a glimpse of my bright future.

My then-wife and I got really spiritual about the time we decided to start “trying to have a baby.” That means we ended all birth control and had a brief window of joyful and bountiful sex. It was the opening up to the possibility of a child, or children, that was the big Ah ha moment. We had some woo woo things we did, like talking to the baby in the womb and going to birthing classes. And we prayed and said thanks all the time. Life ahead appeared to be full speed ahead.

In less than a year after being married, we were gifted with the first child, a son. Once again, our lives were transformed as we surrounded him and each other with a warmth that only comes from some kind of spiritual grace. We were aligned, in-tune, and in-communication with God, capital G, for sure.

Through toils and snares we tried again and were given a baby daughter this time, to fulfill our pair, one of each, our unimaginable fortune. For years and years the kids took all of our energy, all of our creativity, all of our focus, and a lot of our time. But we were happy for the transformation in our lives from self-important to parents. It was not a sacrifice to tell friends, “Sorry, I can’t come see the movie, our kids are working on an important Lego fortress and I’ve got to help.”

I was devastated and depressed and God was nowhere to be found.

It was a time for miracles and togetherness. One shiny family, orbiting God, and giving thanks along with lots of giggles and screams. As it turned out in our case, the bliss didn’t last. And after a series of events, none of them catastrophic, we agreed to get a divorce. In spite of our love for each other, and our love for our kids, the love of our relationship had wained. Perhaps we didn’t focus enough on each other as we were praising and singing to our children. Perhaps we didn’t pay enough attention to our own individual needs. But in the Spring of 2010 we were no longer a family unit, we were two houses and two kids and two single parents.

That’s the moment I came face to face with my own relationship to God. It’s not like I went looking for some spiritual revelation. Actually, it was quite the opposite. I began to crumble under the loss. The nights and days without seeing my kids was torture. All the years we had spent as one unit, to be locked out of my own house, outside the circle, and given about 30% of my parenting time back, was akin to being turned into a zombie. Lucky for me, I had family in town who took me in. I had recently lost my job, and had no money for an apartment, and no desire to find one. I was devastated and depressed and God was nowhere to be found.

Except when my kids arrived. Everything changed when they were around. My little girl snuggling and asking me to chase her around the house. My son hard at work on some project or another, rather stoic and aloof. And me, trying my best to put on a brave face. I was anything but brave. I did hold it together, somehow, but there were times when I was actively trying to give up. That’s what depression is: giving up. Of course, when you have kids, there is no such thing. I suppose you could run off and vanish from their lives, start over in Montana or something. But without that option, the future was here, in the same town with my ex-wife and my kids, trying to hold it together at school functions and holiday kid swaps.

Somewhere in that period I went through my dark night of the soul. I had joined a divorce recovery group and we were supposed to write out our “anger letter” to our ex. I started out at about 10pm, with a fairly tame rant. By 3am I was on fire and fuming. This anger was the energy and turning point that expelled the depression from my heart. And even as I was writing the words to her, I was also expressing my anger at God, at “the plan,” or “his plan,” if that’s what you want to call it. I was fuming mad and I was going to get it out in every way I could.

Depression, the saying goes, is anger directed at ourselves. Well, I had un-targeted myself and was shooting sparks at God and my ex-wife and all of her friends and the friends who had abandoned me… I was just plain mad. A bit “mad” actually. But the anger sure got me motivated and un-depressed.

In the process of this rebuilding, if we listen for spiritual guidance, what we hear is our own hearts, our inner spirits.

During this period, one of the weekly chores of the divorce group was self-care, or doing something that helps you feel better. I started an Aikido class and began learning how to get thrown down on the mat every afternoon. And I didn’t think much about God except during the quiet times, when the kids were away, and my Aikido hadn’t burned all the fire out of my day. In these moments, staggered between loneliness and the potential of growth and energy I was cultivating that I began to pray again. These prayers were much more like love poems. Like Rumi as he called out to the beloved, I was also seeking a beloved. I still had a long way to go, but I began to hope and dream about being with a woman again, and the possibility of even falling in love again. Hard to imagine, but easier to pray about.

In the quiet moments, I do think my higher power was listening. Maybe it’s just the higher power in me, but the praying, and love poem writing began to soften the anger just a bit. The driving force that got me up off my ass was not very conducive to finding a date. I was pretty far from dating material, but I was at least beginning to think about my quality of life when I was the “off” parent, when the kids were not with me.

Looking back at this time of rebuilding, strife, prayer, Aikido, and living with my sister, I can sort of imagine the roadmap that got me here, to today. I can acknowledge that my marriage to the mother of my children was not serving either one of us, for whatever reason, and in the moving on I was given a new lease on happiness and even love. All of those fractured years, after the divorce, I spent building new ideas about myself, about what was important to me, and keeping the focus on building my now time-limited relationship with my kids.

Today the love poems are arriving en masse for a woman who has arrived to wake up my sense of God once again. “How could I have known?” I ask her, playfully. “That all of that shit would crack open my creative spirit again, and that from these prayers and poems I would find you.”

She still smiles at my pontifications and says, “Those that fired us, brought us here.”

We are the rebound and rebuilding of our past loves and losses. And in the process of this rebuilding, if we listen for spiritual guidance, what we hear is our own hearts, our inner spirits. It is in the listening that I was able to hear what aspects of a relationship were important to me, and what things I would like to avoid in the future. And while there’s not guarantee, the woman of my dreams is sleeping beside me these days, as we flow through the happiest moments of our lifes. Even when my kids are not with us, the joy between us… Well, isn’t that God, in a way.

Love = God.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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You Should Go For What Makes You Happy (Divorce Me)

OFF-greenergrass

Have we made it too easy and convenient to get divorced?

I know that sounds rather absurd, after all the pissing and moaning I’ve done around my divorce. But some how, my ex-y decided it would be easier, more to her advantage, more joyful to go seeking a relationship with someone else. So she decided, well before I was aware we were in negotiations, that she would check with a lawyer to discuss options. Or more bluntly, what she could get.

And so we divorced. I was not happy about it. And though I swear I’m moving on, I don’t guess I will ever fully be OVER it. I mean, what am I doing tonight? Seeing if a date is going to materialize through the txts and emails I’m exchanging with someone from Match.com. And I’d rather be hanging with my kids: chatting about their day, their projects, their hopes and dreams. Much like the past five days of this dad-weekend.

In relationship therapy she didn’t answer the question, “When did you exit the relationship?”

The ex-y on the other hand, seemed to move on rather quickly into a couple relationships that seemed a bit more like reactions, or rebounds, or “wouldn’t this be thrilling,” rather than Relationships. (capital R added for emphasis) Okay, but I’m not here to judge.

But something a “friend” of hers said today, brought a bit of a different perspective on things. What if my ex-y’s DIVORCE gave permission for this “friend’s” divorce. Heck, I didn’t even know she was divorced as my daughter is best friends with her daughter, and seems to think they are still married. (Odd. I wonder what they’ve told their kids?)

Either way, there is something about the permissiveness of divorce these days. Perhaps greener pastures are enough of a reason today. Perhaps the THRILL of something new is reason enough to wander, to flirt, to “have lunch” with someone of the opposite sex. Or if you want to get really thrilling, how about the same sex?

So this friend mentioned how horrible I had been to my ex-y with my blog. She was telling me why or how I lost her and her (now ex) husband in the mix.

Hmm. Her point is well taken. And something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about while writing and publishing The Off Parent.

  1. I started this “process” in the heat of the divorce. It was my way of recording and vocalizing my anger.
  2. Anonymous is only so effective.
  3. When asked in the summer of 2010 to take The Off Parent offline, by my soon to be officially ex-wife, I didn’t fight back. I was depressed. I was deep in the anger and sadness of the whole mess. I took the blog down without question. And I apologized.
  4. A year later when I turned The Off Parent on again, it was from a different place. This process [of divorce and recovery from divorce] was bigger than my ex-y and bigger than my anger and advice. I learned that I was still living the experience. And that the experience of divorce never ends.
  5. The process has now devolved into all kinds of interesting topics of self-revelation: 1. depression; 2. online dating; 3. self-improvement.

And as I evolve this narrative and journal I hope it is clearer that this is not about the ex-y.

But, let’s come back to that in a minute.

When given a choice to try something  new and “exciting” my ex-y chose to exit the relationship for what might make her happy. (Or maybe at this point, for her, it was *less angry.*) It reminds me of the two times I actually feared for my relationship.

She had a working buddy who became a pen pal. I stumbled onto an email thread between her and a coworker that was all about me, my depression and how unhappy she was. Turns out she’d gone to several lunches with him. And the thread was one of several that went WAY DEEP into our relationship. Add to that, he was attractive to her, she had mentioned him in several passing conversations.

So maybe he was the first infidelity. It was only emails, phone calls and lunch. But it was all done on the down low. Just checking out things. But if it was innocent and honest, why hide it? The several times during our marriage, for example, when my first ex-wife called with some reason we needed to have coffee, I would talk to my then-wife about it.

[Um, this is how the ex-y and I got started. She was WITH someone when we ran into each other again. We went to a few lunches. It was just lunch, right?]

Fuck. That didn’t feel good. I flipped. She apologized. She agreed that she had crossed the boundaries. But in couple’s therapy she never answered the question, “When did you exit the relationship?” Perhaps it was too soon to admit it to herself.

The second time I felt a tectonic shift, very different, was at a titty bar. We were there joking about bringing home the young girl with us. We’d always joked that it was fine to have another woman, as long as she (the ex-y) was there. It was a running joke, as if she had lesbian fantasies and of course I did. I mean, you know…

So was it too easy for her to set her sights on that new goal, male or female, and then make her calculated and spreadsheeted plans to get there?

Funny thing… However, when the young thing, a bit rough around the edges and smelling of cigarette smoke, was assigned to give the ex-y a lap dance… Well, all kinds of things broke loose. I guess I recalled how easily she revealed private issues with her pen pal, I felt a flash of fear, watching her really enjoying the affections of this pretty little siren, that she could just as easily leave me for a girl as leave me for another man. The point was, things were unstable, and I didn’t want to consider her leaving me for any reason. We never tried that little experiment again.

Chances are she was already in the process of leaving, separating.

And all it would take was that last offer, opportunity, greener pasture, to launch her into a new trajectory. A path away from me and the family we’d created.

So was it too easy for her to set her sights on that new goal, male or female, and then make her calculated and spreadsheeted plans to get there? That’s kind of how her mind works. Still. Spreadsheet first, emotions later, if at all. It’s okay, it’s just very different from what I needed. And, as I understand from writing here, very different from what I truly think I need. I need warmth and emotion. I need a partner who takes an equal part in generating the joy and warm emotions in the relationship. I need someone who adores me, and who I adore back.

I know it’s coming. And more clearly now, than when I started this rant. I think through this process I am growing, redefining, and exploring what went wrong and what I want to get right next time.

And for now, I’m alone tonight because of a choice she made. I’d rather be with my kids. But ultimately I’d rather be with someone who loves me back with honesty and love language I understand. For her too, I hope her multi-year boyfriend materializes for her into something that makes her happier. The kids will benefit from joy all around.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Things Broken and Unsaid

OFF-santa

Sometimes, from broken things, beautiful things are made.

It’s hard this time of year (December) to not have a home. I’m not whining. I’m in restructuring mode. And I’d have to say I’m a bit more settled this year than I was last year when this reality dawned on me: I could not afford my house and my child support payments.

So it’s also especially hard to drop the kids off at my old house, a mere 5 years ago, and still see things I wanted to fix. Seeing my son’s room in total disarray. I hunger for a way to support him, but it’s not my place. It’s not my house. Even if I installed the light fixtures in his room, and the heavy black out curtains.

As a dad, when you get divorced, 90% of the time you are going to be the one asked to leave the house. That’s just the way it is. And as reality begins to set in, after you’ve gained your emotional balance again, you realize that affording a house and a large child support payment is going to be a stretch. Perhaps you’re luck enough to have plenty of money, so that the issues are more *how* to split the money rather than “where’s the money going to come from.” But that wasn’t the case in my marriage nor my divorce.

So while I’m whistling Blue Christmas by Elvis, I’m actually more clear-headed and positive than I’ve been in a long time.

When you are comfortably housed you take a lot of things for granted. Even as I complained about my little starter cottage it was still mine. I set my own rules, made or didn’t make my own bed, and … as things would have it, do the dishes when I felt like it and leave them in the sink when I didn’t feel like it. There’s a lot of freedom in establishing your new identity through a home. Even as mine was not a perfect fit, there were some wonderful aspects of it that I miss. I could walk the neighborhood and end up at the edge of a lake. In the summer I would jump in as a finish to my exercise.

But that’s not the way it is, now. And it’s still going to be several months before I get into a financial position, including child support payments, where I can begin looking for my own place again. I’m a bit ashamed of my misfortune and poor planning. Oh, and the economy and all that stuff. But really, I just miss having a place where I can spread out, claim, celebrate, and cry that’s all my own. This year’s Christmas lights carry a slightly different nostalgia for me, now that I don’t have any place to put them if I had them.

I’m not wallowing in the sadness. In fact, I’m about as happy as I’ve ever been. (I seem to say that a lot. Is it a mantra? A prayer? An affirmation I *need* to believe?) In spite of the circumstances, most of the aspects of my life are going quite well.

  • I’m healthy in mind and body and getting fitter by the month.
  • My creative juice has remained strong all year.
  • I am enjoying all the time with my kids I am giving.
  • My stress level is extremely low.
  • I’m basking in my aloneness rather than seeking a mate.
  • My super-flexible schedule has allowed me to catch up with some old friends.
  • I’m playing tennis or exercising 5 or more times a week.
  • My work is steady and rewarding and building momentum.

So while I’m whistling Elvis’ Blue Christmas, I’m actually more clear-headed and positive than I’ve been in a long time. I’ve got a ton of things to be grateful for, and tonight, getting to decide on tonight’s schedule and entertainment is actually a pleasure, without even a tinge of sadness.

Again, I’m sure I say these things, in some form of self-regulation, where I’m soothing my sad self (I know it’s there) by accentuating my happy self. But as I look back on the last few months on this blog, I’m a bit pleased with ratio of bitching posts vs. love poems.

Yes my siren song is going out. I’m approaching my 10,000 hours of love poetry, at some point, and I realize this too as a form of self-regulation. I am writing love poems, poems of desire, as a form of hope. By affirming my own longing and desire I am also learning more things about the structure and shape of my heart.

I am deciding to be alone, at this time. I have shut down all dating activity and profiles for a moment to reflect on me and my last year. Two books of poetry and a CD of music in 2014! Not bad. Sometimes, from broken things, beautiful things are made.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Redefining Dating, As a Man, As a Dad, As a Lover

OFF-observer

I’m learning so much these days, having revoked my own dating pass. I’m done with dating for a bit. I’m resetting and recovering my center. It’s not like anything major happened. But after one recent near miss I’m taking back all of the energy I used to put into “dates” and bringing the focus back on building myself. I think I’m rebuilt, but I’m still refining my roll, as they say.

As I’m sitting in a nearby coffee shop I’m observing the flow of people and noting my own wandering eye. WHAT IS IT? Really. Which women resonate with a “yes” in the flowing line of candidates (in fantasy only) versus a “meh.”

  • Body type
  • Attitude (You can see it in their eyes and smile, or opposite of smile)
  • Hair (over done, colored, natural, dark, blonde or graying)
  • Clothes (what mode are they in: work, yoga, casual Friday, dressed to the nines)
  • A pretty face (some magical equation combined with historical context)
  • Vibe

Sure it’s impossible to get an accurate picture of the whole woman from 15 – 20 feet way. But the elusive “chemistry” is not as random as you might think. Rare, but not random. So what is it? What’s my combination?

For the moment, even in the presence of a willing and available woman I have taken a step back from my own inner “spark” so I can see more clearly.

The “spark” as I tend to call it is obvious in the first 10 seconds. Beyond that I’m taking my own projections and using my desires as a magnifying glass from which to evaluate each woman.

[NOTE: Let me be clear, this is a design and branding exercise, not a predatory process. I am not actually looking to “relate” to these women. I’m merely observing my thoughts as they pass by. The availability or reality of the actual woman is not part of my evaluation. Sky’s the limit.]

In life, women stream by all the time. Married, young, athletic, damaged, bright, angry, euphoric, women, all are part of the flow of life. It’s our observations and actions in this flood that are going to determine if we remain alone and hungry, or if we are willing and able to take the plunge into a relationship.

As I’ve released the “dating” concept for the moment, I’m learning some new things about myself in this detached state.

  • I am much more easy-going around all women when I’m not actively sizing them up
  • As I am not “interested” I’m more able to see them clearly as multifaceted humans and not just “women of potential”
  • I’ve got a lot of energy to use in other aspects of my life
  • I can see my craving for a woman more clearly for what it is, a craving, an addiction
  • I can savor the anticipation and desire and all the wanderings of my mind without any of the logistics or planning that’s required in actually taking action
  • By not taking any action, I’m allowing these women I come in contact with to be more natural and relaxed.

I’m not saying, “Hey, I’m not interested in you,” but the idea is circulating in my mind. For the moment, even in the presence of a willing and available woman I have taken a step back from my own inner “spark” so I can see more clearly.

This week I had a clear hit. A date potential that sort of came out of the blue. And all of the components were in place. She was cute, articulate, enthusiastic, and she had a very direct approach to life. She was also training in an exotic sport, that was clearly a passion. I’m attracted to women of passion. Always passion.

After a week or so we found the night we could meet in-person. Again, this time, while I was enthusiastic, I was somewhat reflective of the opportunity rather than “looking for a relationship.” At one point, an hour before we met, I was a little concerned that I was going to underwhelm her, that I was too subdued. I was just tired from a busy day that had started at 5 am.

When we met and sat eating a late dinner, I was able to keep my “observer” at the table with us. I was watching her and even watching myself, as we chatted and flirted. And while I noticed her fine figure, her sparkling eyes, and her contagious enthusiasm, I was also aware that something else was feeling odd.

I didn’t get turned off, because I had never been turned on. So I listened.

That was enough. I didn’t need to judge her. I didn’t get turned off, because I had never been turned on. So I listened. I noticed how she often didn’t hear what I’d just said. She was on some kind of monologue performance. There wasn’t much room in her active and imaginative genius for me or my ideas.

As we parted she mentioned wanting to write an article for my blog. She was all over the map. “Um, okay,” I said, surprised by the new concept. “No, really. I’m a great writer,” she said. She didn’t notice that this is a first-person narrative, about me and my experience. I’m not sure where she thought her “post” might go. I’m not all that interested to find out.

It would be great to think we have evolved beyond Hot or Not, but really it’s hard-wired. The immediate reaction that we label “chemistry” is really a swipe to the left “nope” or a swipe to the right “yes.” It’s what happens next that is more important. In my paused state, I think I am able to evaluate more objectively what turns me on and what registers as a “pass.” Because I’ve taken myself off the playing field it is easier for me to recognize the players, even my own playbook becomes more obvious.

The swipe happens in our mind regardless of our evolution.  Our own game plans kick into gear almost automatically. By interrupting the pursuit I’ve been able to sit back and watch in a new way. My idea is that when I’m ready to re-engage with the process of pursuit I’ll be clearer in my actions and intentions.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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image: random coffee shop, the author, cc 2014


Dating Time Out: Swiping Left or Right is Wearing Me Out

OFF-glider

I’m done with the online forum for a minute. I’m back to rebuild, remodel, retool mode. I think I’ll even take my profiles down for a bit. I had a non-online date become a non-date via email yesterday and I sort of bummed me out. Not that she was an amazing fit, or that sparks were flying all around between us, no, it’s more the idea of dating that’s wearing me out.

I’ve got a new fitness program, that I’m committing to. I’ve got my next musical performance in early Dec. And plenty of kid duties and work duties between now and then. I think I’ll take them down and focus back on the project of building, becoming, and enjoying a better me. The “she” will have to follow.

I’m done with pursuing women who are nonplussed at the start. And until I find the partner who can share her bright flame with me, I’m going to reserve mine for myself.

Would I date me, at the moment? I’m not sure. If I take the example from this week as a sample, I’d say yes, I would. The woman was within range on certain qualities, she was vibrant, engaging, intelligent. And on others (touchy-feely, love language understanding, physical closeness) she hadn’t shown any indications how these things might come into play. And that’s where I knew we had a sticking point.

I know the woman I want to be with will light up when were together. In the same way I light up and cheer at the sight of a new potential lover, the same way I still light up ever so slightly when I see one of my two previous girlfriends. I’m a “happy to see you” kind of person. I don’t need subtle, or introverted, or quiet. I can be quiet. I can enjoy quiet. But a lack of joy comes across to me like a dull color. I need shine and dancing.

I generate a lot of energy and joy in the world. And I’m clear that I tend to blow people off their center, especially if there center is not very well established. I will require a strong partner. Both previous marriages broke down in some ways as a response to my over-abundance of energy and creative drive. It became a competition thing. I didn’t think I was competing, but some how the woman, both of my previous wives, did.

So I get that. I temper a bit when I’m meeting new people. I keep most of my peacock feathers tucked beneath my non-logo t-shirt. And still, I’m often the person who interrupts, jumps from subject to subject, and if I’m zoned or in a highly productive day, I might miss the person completely. Or I might miss a moment, when I should’ve been quiet rather than engaged. When I should’ve had a non-response, rather than a delighted one. This last woman didn’t seem to be able to keep pace. More likely, she didn’t want to.

Again, that’s OH KAY. Really. I hear myself explaining my own type-a, driven, goal setting, personality. But I’m not apologizing for it. I’m merely saying, this is the way I am. I hope you can keep up, and I’d really like it if you came on the ride.

Live the path of joy and energy. When I am in that space I don’t require a partner, I merely want one.

Heading into November, my birthday month, I’ve got no one to cuddle up with. No problem. Not the way I’d want things, but there is a LOT of stuff that’s not the way I’d choose it to be, at the moment. Still, I’m not unhappy about my withdrawal from online dating. It’s more of a refocus, again, back on myself and my empire building.

I have many rooms in my house. I am remodeling some. Others I have down, but I prefer to spend less and less time in them. While over here, in the writing and relationship wing, I am constructing an entirely new atrium. I’m done with settling for almost in an online profile. I’m done with pursuing women who are nonplussed at the start. And until I find the partner who can share her bright flame with me, I’m going to reserve mine for myself. Each of the projects I am working on requires a certain amount of energy. The date this week was an opening of possibility. As she closed that door, I’m taking the message from the universe (too woo woo, again?) and getting back to my own basics.

Become who I would like to be with. Show my highest form of passion and creativity. Live the path of joy and energy. When I am in that space I don’t require a partner, I merely want one.

Switching to glide for a bit.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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They’re begging me not to cancel my Match.com account.

Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 5.32.11 PM

But when I do, I get a nice message. Almost like an answer. 11/27/2014 will be my 52nd birthday. Gracias Match.com!

Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 5.32.37 PM

And finally, the Tinder…

tinderdone


Unadulterated Love: What Is Joyful Sex?

OFF-joyfulsex

When you’ve felt the raw power of sexual joy there is never any going back to ‘blah.’

Sex is often a mixed up dance between two people. But sex begins with yourself. And ultimately, your sexual joy begins with your own relationship to something inside you. Sex, and sexual dysfunction, is 90% in your head. So when sex is off, either between you and yourself, or you and others, there is some examination that might need to take place. (I’m no doctor, and I have no understanding of E.D. or other medically related sexual issues.)

I can count on one hand the joyful sex partners I’ve had in my life. Some were even joyful with a side of obsession, and that’s not really good, but the sex was amazing.

You want joyful sex, you explore and ask for a joyful partner. And when the chemistry is ON you can imagine seeking ever deeper levels of connection with this partner.

If you agree with the idea that sex between committed partners is a critical part of a healthy relationship, you can begin your quest: first, to find the joyful sexual partner within yourself; second, to find another joyfully aware sexual partner to explore core sexual satisfaction.

I don’t mean to sound like a tantric sex practitioner, I’m not. (And when someone does claim to be, as Sting did a while back, I want to run the other way.) And I don’t really profess to understanding all the nuance of what goes into sexual chemistry (one of the great mysteries of life). But, what I do claim is my commitment to understanding my own sexual partnership goals and using those guidelines to frame part of my “nothing but 100%” commitment to finding my next relationship.

Ten tenants of my joyful sex hypothesis.

  • Much of what happens during sex is very personal (inside an individual’s mind)
  • There is a physical joy that comes from finding a connected and aware partner
  • Even the prospect of sex can awaken all kinds of wonderful chemical changes in the human body
  • Casual sex can contain elements of joy and bliss, but true joyful sex, in my definition, requires two committed partners
  • The discovery and unlocking of your partner’s sexual potential is a lifelong quest (otherwise monogamy would become boring and lead to infidelity)
  • Is is possible to get too interested and rapt in your partner’s sexual pleasure
  • When you are in the “flow” of sex you are experiencing a micro-nirvana
  • When sex deteriorates in a relationship it is an indication of deeper communication and commitment issues
  • The free play of joyful sex is as necessary as a good sleep, once you’ve experienced it, you crave it, and are somewhat restless and unsatisfied in life, without it
  • Sex is not everything, but it’s a lot

And I have a few ideas about how to discover your partner’s inner joy while having sex.

  • Always approach sex more as play than work or a goal-oriented task (the orgasm is cool, and fundamental, but it’s not always necessary for joyful sex).
  • Sex can be fast and furious (a quickie) or long an luxurious (afternoon delight: bath, massage, sex, nap).
  • One-sided sex is fine, and nice if you can get it. (This is one I’m still working on, how to just lay back and enjoy an event just for me.)
  • Sexual energy can be shut down or limited by stress, alcohol, drugs, hunger, exhaustion, worry about work, hyper-focus on the orgasm of either partner.
  • Every sexual encounter with another person is an opportunity to unlock some new pathways of sexual joy, both your partners’ and your own.
  • The more playful and unscripted sex can become, the more flexible and adaptable your relationship becomes.
  • Core sexual satisfaction soothes over all kinds of frustrations and disappointments in life and in your relationship. You still need to talk about any problems in your relationship, but when the sex is “worth it” you will be a better listener and be more committed to the necessary negotiations to keep the other aspects of your relationship healthy.

I don’t know that it is much more complicated than that. You want joyful sex, you explore and ask for a joyful partner. And when the chemistry is ON you can imagine seeking ever deeper levels of connection with this partner.

If you can find your way to playful sex you can find your way to the inner joy of sex that just might give you a longer life.

Even after 11 years of marriage and the duties of becoming parents to two lovely kids, I never lost my joyful appetite for my wife. Somewhere, she began to pull away and shut down her joyful sexual being. It was hard for both of us. But, as bad as it got, I still remembered and sought out the joyful sex I had imprinted between us. I was not willing to compromise, even if I was willing to delay and sublimate my desire while she “worked through some stuff.” When she didn’t return to our sexual bed for weeks, sometimes months at a time, I know there was more going on than sex.

What I understood even in the end of our relationship is my connection to her had been 100% strong and pure. And it did not diminish over time, until some other aspect of the relationship was failing.

As I move forward in my quest for another joyfully connected partner, I know the sexual chemistry is also a non-negotiable. And it’s really more of an attitude than a technique or prowess. If you can find your way to playful sex you can find your way to the inner joy of sex that just might give you a longer life. And a longer life with more joyful sex… well… that may be an enlightened path right there.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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My Funny Man Divorce: A Little Bill Murray a Touch of Robin Williams Mixed w/ Ferris Bueller

OFF-billmurray

If anyone can explain why he hasn’t been able to find the love of his life it’s Bill Murray. And I’ve often been likened to a younger Bill, so I read this Vanity Fair article with a bit of self-interest.

“Not to diminish a relationship with a woman but I can’t take care of another relationship if I can’t take care of the things I really need to take care of the most. It’s not a selfish thing . . . it’s just sort of an obligation.” – Bill Murray

What Mr. Murray latches onto as his reason for not being in a relationship is his own lack of attention and self-examination. He mentions his children from his previous two marriages, but it’s clear Bill hasn’t found what he’s seeking in a woman.

Murray did admit that he wonders why, at 64-years-old, he still hasn’t found the great love of his life.

“I do think about that. I’m not sure what I am getting done here. I do have kids. I have children that I am responsible for and I enjoy that very much. And that wouldn’t have happened without women.” – ibid

>He knows he need to so the self-examination work, but he doesn’t really want to do it. He’d rather show up as a comedian extraordinaire and find his love in the public embrace. One of my favorite movies with Bill is Lost in Translation. It seems to capture the loss and ennui of Mr. Murray’s self-reveal in this article. Fascinated and crushing on the young Scarlett Johansen, Mr. Murray tells much of his life story. I’m guessing that this film captured a bit of what it must be like to be Bill Murray. Detached and disoriented by the “jobs” that send him all over the world. Drawn to youth and beauty. But in this touching film, the father-figure chooses not to take advantage of the young woman. It’s an amazing moment. And it’s a huge win for both characters and the film.

Only from a place of inner-wisdom and self-knowledge can you hope to regain your balance in life and open your heart back up to the possibility of love again.

And Mr. Murray plays his role in a number of Wes Anderson movies as well. Perhaps it is easier for him to act out the scripts that others put in his mouth rather that examine or work through his own troubles.

Robin Williams is another character and body type I’ve been associated with. I share the bear-ish shape with these two rock stars as well as some of their demons. Whatever depression Robin was dealing with, he killed himself while his adoring wife slept in the next room. How terrifying. How dark his night must’ve been to extinguish even his bright star of hope.

AS a bit of a frenetic funny man, myself (I’m not putting myself in the same league with these greats, please.) I am also prone to flights of fantasy and falls of desperation. And it’s wonderful to hear that someone as buoyant as Bill Murray can come out and share his own difficulties, much like he does in Translation. I can take a different path from either of these body doubles. (I wrote myself in as Ferris Bueller in divorce, as well.

I am committed to self-examination and taking care of as much of my sh*t as possible. In the same spirit I can do what it takes to keep my dark thoughts at bay. Often it is the self-examination and self-revelations that come from doing deep work, that keeps me above water. Bill speaks of the difficulties of stripping off the mask and looking at the ugly truth.

Asked what has stopped him from committing to himself, Murray continued, “What stops [any of] us is we’re kinda really ugly if we look really hard. We’re not who we think we are. We’re not as wonderful as we think we are. It’s a little bit of a shock . . . it’s hard.” – ibid

As men, we are often not encouraged to dig deep and feel what’s going one. The man’s role in the world is to be strong, to be stoic, and to be a good provider. I don’t see either of these men being described as feeling fathers. Perhaps Mr. Murray has had to distance himself a little from his role as a father. (Of course, I have no idea.)

What it takes, as a man, to deal with divorce is the courage to strip away the facade and let the feelings and frustrations out. You can do this in therapy, on a blog, or with friends. You cannot do this with your kids or your ex-wife. But most of all, you have to do it. You have to strip back down underneath Bill’s Caddyshack character and understand what’s hurting inside. Only from that place of inner-wisdom and self-knowledge can you hope to regain your balance in life and open your heart back up to the possibility of love again. Because with the risk of love comes the risk of failure, again.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

Note: My brush with greatness involves Bill Murray. I was on the set of Ghostbusters, my sister worked for Warner Bros. at the time. During a break Bill came around the corner and saw a teenage boy standing there in red painter pants. “Whoooooo’s the madman!” he shouted, as he reached out and shoot my hand.

References:

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images: bill murray, publicity shots


Reversing the Flow: Putting Women in Charge of Courtship

OFF-coffeedate

What if we didn’t behave like male animals? What if we truly gave the woman the lead. Sure, we’d smile, flirt, and cajole. But what if we left it at that? Didn’t make the proposition. Didn’t pursue. And what if, then, the activated woman actually came in our direction. Don’t you think, if SHE was interested, I mean, really interested, she’d let you know?

[Note: I’m not saying the idea is to make the woman do all the work in exploring or setting up a relationship. I am saying, as a man it is difficult for me to let the woman make the first move in expressing an interest. If I relax a bit, and quit hitting on women, maybe we will treat each other differently from the start. Establish our chemistry on a mutual level, rather than something concocted by my revved up hunter.]

Okay, since coming up with this idea a few days ago I’m amazed at what it has changed in my approach towards women. Here’s what I noticed.

  1. By giving every woman the free pass from my amorous attention I have noticed that my interactions are easier and less focused.
  2. There are a lot fewer distractions in my day when I’m not scanning for “women with potential.”
  3. The flow of a conversation is much cleaner when I’m not suggesting or flirting in any way.
  4. I really want a woman who wants me. I have to let her get there. And I have to become the “someone” she would want. (that’s my job)

We can get too intense. Perhaps, men are *often* too intense, as in all the time. If we dial back the focus a bit, and put the attention on the woman, separate from her sexual being, we can begin to lighten up. It’s easy for me with women in their twenties and younger, but women of my own age or in their 30’s or 40’s it takes a change in my mindset. Playing with this idea recently I was talking to a woman on the tennis court yesterday.

I’m alone. Fine. I’m retooling. I’m in a progression of rebuilding a number of things in my life that are (at this moment) more important than a relationship.

She was in her late thirties and quite fit. She was a happy and aggressive tennis player, and I enjoyed watching her hit the ball. As we were on a break from the cardio workout, I noticed she was wearing a Marshall Amplifiers gimme cap. I asked her, “So are you a rock girl?” And what I noticed was my attention was on her answer and not on the idea that this might form an opening for a proposition. She talked about her “previous time in bands” and the asked, “What kind of guitar do you play?” And we were IN. Except I wasn’t interested, or I was clearly deflecting any suggestive feelings, and we talked guitars for a bit. And we played some tennis.

Later I asked her if she had heard a friend of mine, “another local rock girl who played a mean Les Paul.” She hadn’t. And that was it. That was the cool part, there was nothing I wanted from her. It was if I had just flipped a switch and put my dick back in my pants and just had a conversation with a pretty, strong, and young woman who was playing tennis at the same time I was.

I think often we (as men) are driven a bit to hard to find the relationship. I know I am. And I know at this moment, several months out from having any kind of intimate relationship, that I’m a bit more hungry than usual. I would normally have a tendency towards hunting and tracking. But in this case, I was able to *just let her be.* It sounds like a simple thing. But it’s really the change of mind that has allowed me to just CHILL THE F OUT.

I’m alone. Fine. I’m retooling. I’m in a progression of rebuilding a number of things in my life that are (at this moment) more important than a relationship. When I’m in hunter mode I don’t see things as clearly. I can see how, a week ago my conversation with this same woman had a bit of the hunt in it. (POEM LINK) And this week, I felt happier around her, and happy to admire her without any intentions towards dating her.

I was happy with my neutral approach. And a few hours later I had another wakeup moment in this same realm. I was doing some work with a company and needed to get together with one of their staff, who happened to be a recent graduate. We made plans to meet at a coffee shop in the afternoon. And as I was examining my own “chill” mode she sent me a message that put a whole different chill on my hunter imagination.

“I’ve got epilepsy and I don’t drive.”

Boom.

What a powerful moment. What I got from my inner compass was something like this…

  • setting up business date with a cute young woman
  • obviously not a date-type coffee, she was very young
  • resetting my own “hungry hunter” mode back to “chill”
  • she put my heart in my hands with her comment, so matter-of-fact: I’m cute, young, and damaged, and still SO CHEERFUL.

What I got was my own natural tendency to assess the situation on many levels. And in this moment of self-regulation she delivered the coupe de grace, with a smile. She was a beautifully damaged woman. Something else came to mind, from my experience with friends who have a chronic illness. I said it out loud, “She is not her disease.”

I’m hungry, but I’m interested in a woman who stays YES first. THEN I will show her my Tiger.

And to take my own vulnerability to the next level, “She is not a target.” She is not a “potential.” And not because she was disabled, but just for the reason that I’m pulling back my hunter focus. I’m giving the controls back to the woman. And thinking I was enlightened, or at least in a mode of evolving, she showed me how much further I had to go. Would she be attractive to me if she had not had an illness? No. But her beauty and vibrancy was palpable and poignant.

When we met she was an amazingly positive and bright young woman. I related a few stories to her about my daughter. And I could see how that’s more the relationship I could see between us. She wanted to learn some of the digital marketing craft from me. I had nothing but a desire to help and encourage her.

Conclusion: I don’t know where I’m going with this, exactly. I know that I’m dialing back the hunter-focus and paying more attention to women as people and not as “potentials.” Of course do this normally, but consciously setting the OFF switch I’m thinking that I will hear and related to women better. And the full reveal is this: I want a woman who WANTS me. I’m often too busy wanting her. Or wanting to make myself someone she’d fall in love with. I’m just me. I’m working on me. And I’m a pretty conscious male. But I can be even more intentional in all of my relationships with women. Let’s start there. If SHE wants to let me know about her desire, cool, other wise I will assume it’s a NO, and we’re not in a “potential” situation.

And maybe this is what women feel all the time. The men are sizing them up as they might size up a meal. I’m hungry, but I’m interested in a woman who stays YES first. THEN I will show her my Tiger.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

I had a momentary thought: Boy I’m sure gonna regret this idea a year from now when I’m still waiting for a woman to make the first move. (grin)

Back to On Dating Again

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image: coffee date, waiting, rachel sarai, creative commons usage


Fall of the House of Dad

OFF-gnomehouse

I’ve written about this before. I’d like to recap and bring some structure and organization to the story of my house struggles and my depression surrounding the crushing effects of the divorce on my personal and financial stability.

In divorce the man often is the parent who is asked to leave the house, and leave the rest of the family as undisturbed as possible. I get it. We are trying to lessen the impact of the divorce on the kids. But… What about the dad? As they continued on in some sort of “daddy’s on a business trip” mode, I was immediately homeless and alone. Um, it is quite different.

And one of the first challenges, if money is an issue, is establishing a new home, a place where you can begin being a dad again. How long it takes to reestablish this residence depends a lot on your mental state of mind and your employment situation. In my case both were significantly damaged. I moved into my sister’s spare bedroom. And this might have been a saving grace. I was not ready to be alone alone. When I was “off” I had my sister and her two kids to keep me company. My story became, “And I didn’t need to be alone. I was so lucky.”

But I tried to keep my joy and wits about me as well.

My divorce was finalized in August of 2010 and my next full-time job came along in December of that year. I appeared to land on my feet at a fairly high-profile and well-paying gig. Immediately I started looking for a place to live. I knew with the way credit works that I needed to establish myself as a home owner as quickly as possible. And in February I found a smallish house in a neighborhood a lot less expensive that our family home, but within my kid’s school district. And in March we launched the “gnome house” chapter of our lives. My kids were in 4th and 6th grade at this time, and my house was actually closer to my son’s middle school than their mom’s home. It was a short-lived victory.

In July of that first year, my employer changed their entire business model and eliminated my position after six months. Now, I could give into my mom and sister’s evaluation that I jumped to early, but I knew that my options for buying were going to be much harder without the big job. I was glad I had a home, but I collapsed into a summer of hardship as I struggled to find work again. At the same time, my kids and I had a great summer. We swam in the nearby lake, we played basketball and soccer in the twilight of the summer evenings, when the Texas heat gave way. We had an adventure together. And for all intents and purposes we were happy in our little house. On the days (most of them) when they were not with me I thrashed and struggled with my life and the impending loss of my newly established home.

When school started up again, things began to fall apart for me.

And the strains of money began to show up in discussions with my ex-wife.

We struggled on, I continued to profess my intention of getting caught back up with the child support that was set during the divorce at my “big corporate job” rate. She started feeling the pressure of the cash call as well, and there is no blame here. She was a very responsible money manager. In her mind she was doing what she felt was necessary. I was doing what I thought was necessary as well. I remember an email exchange between us where she said, “You seem to think that your mortgage and expenses are more important that your responsibility to your children. I don’t understand that.”

Um… My response was this, “I think we knew this was going to be hard. And I think dad deserves a place to live and a food and electricity to provide a place for himself and his kids, when he has them. I will get caught up on the child support, and I assure you I am not spending any discretionary money. I have no discretionary money. I am working to find a job so I can keep my house and resume full payments to you.”

At this point I was just irregular. When things got really bad is when I actually missed a full payment. Her emails became more hostile. And our “conversations” devolved into sometime resembling this exchange. ME: “I think we should talk about the kids summer plans.” HER: “When will you have the next payment?” ME: “Um… I don’t know. I have some prospects, but nothing has come through.” HER: Silence. And that’s how the communications between us, that had been positive and kid-focused, got off track. And things went down hill fast after she started refusing to discuss anything with me that didn’t involve a payment date and plan from me.

And then things were forever changed. She filed her cause with the Attorney General’s office. And we were suddenly in a legal battle again and I went from struggling and working and not making enough money to a “deadbeat dad.”  But that wasn’t enough. I was also now nearing default on my mortgage. I again pleaded with her to give me some options. She began her new response, “I signed an agreement with the AG’s office not to negotiate about money with you.” END OF DISCUSSION.

As the last year began to close it became clear that she was blocking my attempts to file restructuring bankruptcy to try and keep the Gnome House. I looked to my mom for some financial support, but she really hadn’t like the house from the beginning. Fuck. I was out of options and in newly threatening weekly letters from the AG’s office. It was time to sell. And without a full-time big corporate job I didn’t have the income to even look for a place to “move to.” And so at 51 years old I was heading back under the roof of my mom. The shame was palpable, but what were my options?

So in March of this year, 2014, I sold my home and moved in to my mom’s house. OUCH. My mom and I laughed through the situation with a phrase, “Well, it beats living under a bridge.” Yes, it does. But it didn’t have to go this way.

Some where in the divorce she had lost all compassion for me. When my house was being threatened by foreclosure she pressed the entire issue, her issue, to the AG’s office, thus obstructing any potential remedy I might seek. And in the loss, my kids and my mom and I have gotten very close. And it’s funny, they have better rooms and better meals than they ever had at my house. In my haste to reestablish a homestead and a place for me to be dad, I had chosen a house that has some fundamental issues. (No dishwasher, a septic system, and only one kid bedroom.)

At this moment I’m in a converted single-car garage in the middle of a rich neighborhood. It’s not bad. I’m not thrashing. But it’s hard. I have no privacy, no place to even think of establishing a relationship. And what’s the first warning sign anyway? Someone with money troubles, or god-forbid, no home.

In the divorce I am certain we were both doing the best we could. In the blindingly sad negotiations I agreed to giving up my request for 50/50 parenting, and I accepted the financial responsibility that would lock me into the big corporate track for the duration of the agreement. (Until my last child reached 18.) But what I didn’t know is that in all this “good will” negotiations that my soon-to-be-ex-wife would press the entire thing onto the state’s attorneys.

She did it with little more than a reference to “looking after the children’s interests.” Um, sure, maybe, if I was doing something that demonstrated I was trying to skip out on my child support payments. That’s when you go to the AG’s office! Not as a normal course of business. And when my home was threatened is the moment, I think, that you get real about the situation, you show some compassion for your co-parent, and you pause.

In divorce, you are still in a financial coupling. When I lost my job we all suffered. But that’s not the moment to file against your former partner. I do think she’s still mad at me, the same anger that infected our marriage. I’m not sure how that happens, or how someone dissipates it on their own. It takes work. And in a recent kid-focused therapy session her rage surfaced again, and I was again seeing the woman who I gladly release. I don’t need to be in any kind of relationship with someone who harbors such vitriol. And so we drop down into a logistics-and-money relationship. Sad. But maybe that’s more accurate. That’s kind of how the marriage had become as well.

We carry on. We do better. We keep going.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent – still in transition
@theoffparent

image: the gnome house, march 2011, the author, cc


If You Were a Car, What Car Would You Be? And Why?

OFF-car

I’m a marketing man, by trade, so often we use little tricks to get clients to think about their businesses. “What kind of car would your business be? Describe the features and outstanding qualities that distinguish your make and model.”

I have found that this metaphor, cars, works for people as well. And in my efforts to dial in myself and my type, I think it might be fun to play a bit with the “what kind of car are you” and “what kind of car are you looking for” metaphor for a minute and see if we gain any insights.

You might still be carrying some scars from previous races, but overall, you are still a fine example of beauty and grace.

First me. I am a 2004 BMW 3-series. Great look and body style. Performance oriented. Flashier 10 years ago, but still classic. I’m sporting a bit of extra weight due to some prior body damage, but you can still recognize the lines and strength of the design.

Okay, so I’m not the perfectly maintained version of myself. I’ve got some things I can still work on. And probably the main feature, that I’m less that enthusiastic about is my belly. (There I admitted it.) My love handles have been with me my entire life, and they expand and shrink with the seasons and how much attention I’m paying to diet and exercise. Okay, I’m fine with that. And I think… I think I’m pretty comfortable with myself. But I’m sucking in my gut a lot more than I’d like. It’s like a tightness, almost an anxiety feeling, when I’m trying to compress myself to look a bit fitter than I am. But I’ve done this almost my entire life. So I am familiar with the feeling. I’m pretty sure I’d be more confident and joyous about myself if I spent a tiny bit more time walking or playing tennis, and a few less nights snacking and staying up late. Okay, that’s me.

Her. This one is harder. So I’ll take it in stages.

German engineering. I want a performance car. I want design and form to follow the function of speed and agility. I have a high standard. American cars are almost abhorrent to me. Again, this is MY bias. I  understand that. But I’m looking for a well-designed and classy form.

Within 5 years of my own vintage. The newer models are cool, and offer more features, more performance, but I’m less obsessed with perfection and flash. I’d prefer a car with a few miles on it, broken in, all the kinks worked out, well-maintained, but less needy.

Minimal body damage. When something is broken you fix it. When a tire is worn or low you replace it. You might still be carrying some scars from previous races, but overall, you are still a fine example of beauty and grace. You don’t have to be flawless. I’m not sure my body damage falls within my own range of desirability or not. I think I do, but I’d rather get a bit more of my racing shape back, rather that compromise.

No compromise. The big thing is having a car you love to drive. Spending time inside, even in traffic, or carpooling kids back and forth, is a pleasure. I want to be well matched. Confident and casual about our relationship. I want you to drive sometimes, but I’ll do the lion’s share.

No maintenance lights. A few “check engine” warnings and we’re probably going to part ways. If you haven’t kept a descent maintenance schedule, we might have some problems ahead. I’m flexible, but I won’t be stuck in the repair shop and very happy about it. Do your work, fix your major mechanical flaws, and let’s meet up for a Sunday morning drive together. We should fit. We should purr together and not feel the need to race ahead or prove anything.

Once we’ve travelled together for a few trips, perhaps she will join me in my car, or I will gladly hop in her car for a spin up the mountain pass.

Confidence and stability. Performance driving cars share a love for the road. Curves, dips, and hills are all part of the landscape. And with a well-built car, the twists are a joy to navigate. Cars with less attention to handling become more unstable as the journey continues. I’d like a partner in the confidence and stability class.

However she shows up, the next woman will be a performance car. She will have a few miles on her, like me, and have some wisdom and aging scars. Once we’ve travelled together for a few trips, perhaps she will join me in my car, or I will gladly hop in her car for a spin up the mountain pass. I’m into speed and beauty, but I’m also realistic about myself and my vintage. All the new models, primed and polished, are fun to look at, but I don’t aspire to be in a new model. The payments are too high, and the insurance is killer.

If you’re looking for a classic German sports car, with low miles and good mechanical structure… I am too.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

Note: This post really got me thinking about my shape. The body damage is unnecessary. I am carrying extra weight from stress, depression, anger, sadness, and plain old laziness. Too lazy to eat right. Too lazy to pick up a few more healthy snacks. But mainly, just unwilling to make a commitment to change my diet in the same way I have changed my attitudes about divorce and my single life. That all changes today. A new blog is born. Seek me out and I’ll give you the address. And you can hold me accountable for the next major life transition. Back to my classic beauty and form. I might be nearing 52, but I’m primed for the second half of my life. I’d rather do it from a comfortable place in my skin, and not just an accepting place.

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image: sporty front end of my new beemer, ian mcwilliams, creative commons usage


My Casual Sex Experience – First Lesson

OFF-hotdate

Following on my Casual Sex post, there is a little more unpacking required to understand what casual sex is and isn’t, to me. Here are a few of MY assumptions about casual sex:

IS:

  • Spontaneous
  • Present moment – not imagining the future plans
  • Fresh, new, dangerous (in your mind)
  • Two willing and lust-filled partners
  • All about enjoyment of both partners

IS NOT:

  • Relationship material (not necessarily)
  • Full of conditions or restrictions
  • Building a connection with the partner
  • Assuming you are sleeping over even if it’s late
  • Making Mexican breakfasts in the morning
  • Waking up together
  • Love making

Again, I am not trying to write the rules of casual sex, I am merely trying to orient myself to the ingredients in my experience (very limited) that make up sex without strings. (NSA – no strings attached)

In my most recent fling I was amazed at my ability to remain surface with this woman in distress. She was in the very early stages of divorce, still in a bit of euphoria at being released. And I knew the emotional reality was inescapable. You can’t walk away from the plane crash while the plane is still in the air. And nobody gets out unscathed. Still she was electric with her passion and rocket body, as she teased and touched my arm in response to my flirtatious banter.

And I really enjoyed her. Her condo, her dog, snuggling on her couch and watching OITNB. We had a wonderful thing going on. But one romantic dinner and few more encounters later and the OITNB season 2 finale, we were done. She simply asked if I would be mad if she wanted to go upstairs and sleep alone.

Done.

I suspect the dating site is more of an escape, as I had been, from the crushing work of separating from someone you’ve been married to most of your adult life.

I waved goodbye to all of her cool condo newness, to her sweet dog who was beginning to get attached to the sound of my non-threatening male voice. I grabbed the Ben and Jerry’s I’d brought over and headed for the door. She didn’t even walk me out, as she had done every time before. She was hurting. Something in her exit strategy was not going to plan. And she would rather not have someone else around while she felt things. I understood. And in some ways I appreciated the casual nature of our moment together. I was not responsible to fix or assist her in getting through her emotional collapse.

In some ways I was prepared to be there for her, but I knew my connection was more about the fantastic breasts with the perfect tan lines. I was not signing on for processing old relationships, dealing with the money of divorce, or being her emotional punching, snuggling, pushing, pulling, partner. Nope, I walked out of the door, slightly sad, and slightly relieved.

I have thought about her over the last week. And I have sent her a few uplifting texts that did not suggest getting together, even if that was my intent. And since we’re still connected on Match.com I see that she is still active. (Online in the last 3 hours.) So perhaps it was just me. Maybe this was her way of exiting the fling that no longer met her needs. Or if there was closeness developing between me and her dog, perhaps she didn’t like how that was feeling.

Here, alone again, I can reset and rebalance before moving back onto the playing field.

I suspect the dating site is more of an escape, as I had been, from the crushing work of separating from someone you’ve been married to most of your adult life. She didn’t know how to date, or what dating meant. I think she was pretty clear that we weren’t dating.

She made a joke about something her husband said. “You’d better hookup with someone who can afford you,” he told her. “Because I don’t what them touching my money.”

It was sad. “Of course,” I said, “It’s not his money any more, once you’re divorced.” But the sadness was the fact that they weren’t divorced yet. And her still-husband was just starting to lawyer up. He was asking her, according to her, if this is really what she wanted.

It’s kind of like me, asking her, “Is there anything I can do for you?”

Her ex was trying to prevent a costly divorce. And I was hoping to see her costly breasts again.

Is that callous? I’m sorry. I found it sort of funny. Not at her expense, I could not anticipate what she was about to go through. Nor could I take responsibility for any of the pain and chaos that was about to hit her secure little world of working-by-choice two days a week, as a way to establish something more interesting in her life than her crossfit workouts, and children who were off and living on their own.

I am not apologizing for our relationship. It was fast, furious, and full of fun. And in the end she gave me the exit sign and said thank you. And I suppose that’s the beauty of keeping the attachment as surface as possible. My desire is about her body and the pleasure I derived from being with her. But even cuddling in bed after sex was a struggle for her. I think it was such a foreign activity that she wanted to turn the TV on immediately. And being a bit of a non-TV person that was my clue to leave.

But she needed cuddling when I last saw her. And she wasn’t willing to let me even close to whatever was hurting her inside. We watched the grand climax of season 2 and she asked me to leave and take my goodies with me. I patted the wonderful little dog beside me and kissed her gently on the top of her head.

“Let me know if there is anything I can do for you. I am your friend.”

I’m not looking for “almost” in a relationship. Maybe in some FWB or casual sex way I am, but that is only marginally interesting to me.

And I meant it. Perhaps more than casual sex I am defining FWB (friends with benefits) for myself. I’m pretty sure I’ll never see her crossfit body or her cuddly dog again. And while that carries a hint of sadness for me, since I have no other prospects in my field of vision, it also provides a moment of relief and pause.

Here, alone again, I can reset and rebalance before moving back onto the playing field.

And I’ve had two “hello dates” since then that both seemed to lean towards potential. And one of them, I’m certain by her responses over the following two days, would’ve loved a relationship of some sort. But I’m not looking for “almost” in a relationship. Maybe in some FWB or casual sex way I am, but that is only marginally interesting to me.

If there’s no long-term potential, I’m not all that interested. There I said it again.

I guess this time I’m believing it even more. But there might be room for that tangential fling when the moment arises again. And I might go for it. But, at the moment, I’m not so into that idea. Perhaps my touch-needs were well met with my crossfit maven.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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image: hot dates calendar FHM 2008, brett jordan, creative commons usage