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

self-care

An Early Frost: Dating Options and Casual Sex

OFF-fordrinks

As “summer” has officially ended with the kids return to school, the landscape of my dating prospects has also had a dramatic shift.

1. The casual sex bunny has gone into hibernation. Seems the early round divorce work finally found her tender spot and she’s withdrawn diplomatic relations. I’m watching for signs that my heart was involved, but so far I am merely sympathetic to her plight. The early stage divorce process is no picnic, no matter how prepared you think you are. This is the primary reason we kept such a nice casual approach. No need to get deep when the ecstasy and whim might be fleeting. And it was.

What I’m learning at this very moment, is sometimes even the casual thing, is pushing a bit to hard for a relationship.

I count this relationship as a victory in my liberation from the previous “structure and mappings” of my relationship ideas. In some ways, learning to be casual at the beginning, learning to let go of expectations and projections of what will be, is a good thing. And I’m not saying I’m a player now. I don’t think I am. But I do think that if the “r” of relationship is never capitalized it’s okay. It’s not a failure if both of you enter into the arrangement eyes-wide-open.

And thus, I am sad about losing this remarkable woman from my circle of friends. She made the “don’t call me, I’ll call you” nature of her withdrawal pretty clear the last time I was at her house. And maybe she’ll lighten up and contact me later, but pushing into this friendship would not be an advisable strategy.

2. And the second tennis-playing and un-kissed prospect gave me the “friends” proposition last night over a nice bottle of wine. At least there is no longer any ambiguity about where we were heading. No where, according to her. “I like you a lot… But…” And then she felt bad that I didn’t want to jump to a different bar for another drink. Things got kind of frosty on her side, but I think she was apologizing for spoiling the mood more than expressing any loss on her end. “It’s not like you broke my heart,” I said as we hugged in the parking lot. “It’s fine, and I wish you well.”

With this women I was perfectly comfortable with the slow start. The lack of kissing opportunities was balanced by her good flirting. She liked to flirt. She liked to give me a hard time. And all that was cool. Even teasing can be kind of bonding. But her edge was also there, and she readily admitted to being a hard ass, as she sent the first bottle of wine to another table as a gift, because it was so bad.

And she asked the bartender to change the 4 x 4 television so that all screens would be on the US Open. Um, I don’t think that’s going to happen. And it didn’t. But she was happy to ask, in a sort of demanding tone. I could see the control and capture issues pretty clearly, but she had called me for an after-work drink. “Sure.” But I’m pretty sure that’s the last one we’ll have. Oh well, we move along and learn.

I had dodged a potential bullet, getting involved with a harshly critical woman, and was once again clear of the “prospect” nature of our developing relationship.

3. Tinder – the hookup app won’t load on my iPhone. I think it must be karmic or some other reason that the dating app of the new generation won’t load on my phone. It’s funny. And while I like hearing the experiences of one of my male friends, I’m not sure the swipe right or swipe left mode of connecting is all that alluring to me.

Match.com seems to be about the right fit. OK Cupid was cool, but it seems the “free” aspect leads to a lot more people who are not at all ready or really interested in a relationship. And eHarmony… well, we don’t really need to talk about a dating system that feeds you their “matches” rather than letting you browse. I don’t care how awesome their demographic/analytic system is, I want to browse. So the app form of dating is not all that warm for me at the moment. And actually that’s fine. My creativity is blazing, and when I left the blazé woman last night, I was happy. My evening opened back up to creativity and production.

What I’m learning at this very moment, is sometimes even the casual thing, is pushing a bit to hard for a relationship. The tennis-but-no woman was a stretch. She was attractive enough and funny and friendly, but she had such a biting edge that I was glossing over, I’m not sure I was all that clear where my intention was with her. And I think that’s a pretty critical element of dating again after divorce, you need to know what your intention is in dating. If you are looking for casual, great, own that and don’t be disappointed when a few casual prospects grow cold. And if you’re looking for the next Mr. or Mrs. Lovejoy, be cool with that too. It’s mainly about being cool with yourself and what you’re looking for. AND even more importantly, being easy on yourself and your ego as things don’t work out. That too is a learning moment.

Last night as I drove away from the BJ’s I was almost elated. I had dodged a potential bullet, getting involved with a harshly critical woman, and was once again clear of the “prospect” nature of our developing relationship. I told her at the bar, “I don’t need friends to go get a drink with. I’m looking for someone I can kiss at the end of the date.” She had just mentioned moving to another bar so she could smoke a cigarette. Um, what? That would’ve been a deal killer anyway.

Onward, untethered and wide-open again.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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image: waiting for a table, tim fuller, creative commons usage


When Did Our Halos Lose Their Sparkle? A Marriage Comes Apart

OFF-couple-ocean

When you met your partner you were wearing your halo. That’s the little glow that allows us to overlook faults, blemishes, and even malfunctions. The good news is the halo is what attracted you both enough to get married. And maybe the glow lasted long enough for you to have kids. That’s awesome. That’s how it was for me and the mother of my two kids as well. But something changed over time. It’s a common story. Almost cliché, but perhaps more like a historical myth. It’s a myth because it’s such a universal truth that they wrote a bunch of stories about it.

This is the story of how my girlfriend and I went from lovers, to parents, to ex-partners.

When we met I was damaged from my previous disastrous marriage, and a business opportunity that was collapsing out from under me. But I was also displaying my superpowers: music, writing, and poetry. In fact, I re-introduced myself to my future wife with a poem. We’d known each other in high school, and the Easter morning we met I ran back up the hill to my house and scratched out a love poem. She had inspired everything. She had blown the fear and dust off my halo and allowed me to bring it back into the light.

When your lover’s ecstasies and artistic celebrations are no longer musical to your ears, it’s time to move on.

And we were living together six months later and talking about kids. We were older, we needed to decide pretty soon or be childless. So we were a bit rushed, but it didn’t feel that way. It felt like magic. AND it felt like we were being responsible adults. We measured each other against our ideals and goals. And somehow the halos kept showing up as valid, shiny, and inviting. We had hooked each other deeply, and within two years we had our first child, a smashing baby boy. All was right with the world.

Well, not exactly perfect, but the halos (and glow provided by them) were still in place.

And if I count back to the days of our courtship, and look at my actions and passions I see an artist, singing with a band, playing at local clubs a few nights a month, writing poetry and short stories, and refactoring my career due to the collapse of my employer from the UK. I was still shining, and I was in flux, working to figure out this business of money and creativity. It’s the typical artist’s life struggle.

She was also an artist. She was a painter. She was a writer and singer. And she was shining in all her mysterious ways. And I danced beside her as a cheerleader and sponsor. Before we had kids, we often parted on Saturday and Sunday after breakfast, to head to our studios. “I’ll call you when I’m winding down,” she’d say. And we went off in our respected and revered directions to create. And it was part of what made us tick. We had each other and we had the commitment to the craft. We were artists in love.

And then our son shattered all previous illusions and re-mapped our lives to a new beat. His beat. His house. His rules and wants and needs. And our dreams melded with his dreams. And we stuttered on in our creative pursuits, but we were changed. Our son had become our favorite song to sing. Or lives with him were so much more rich than our lives off in our separate studios, alone. We were never alone again.

My musical studio moved from the second bedroom to the third bedroom to give our son his space. And we were a happy unit. And my then-wife was still deeply involved in her art, and the art of mothering. She created paintings and poems in-between feedings and naps and late night insomnias. We were deeply invested in our little ship of fools.

On we rowed, with the newest adventure yet to begin, a second child was readying in the womb and we began to alter our paths for her arrival as well. And the love hurricane number two came in the November directly after 9-11. It was a time of universal unrest, confusion, depression, and economic free fall. Our happy little unit hit a mass of stormy waves. My consulting practice froze completely. And just at this time, our daughter, at her first sonogram demonstrated some signs of a rare medical condition. We began weekly trips to the neonatal surgeon in hopes of keeping her viable until she was big enough to be born.

On she came, amidst the struggle and depression in our lives, and the lives of all of our country. On she travelled, through dooms of love, and sonograms of crisis, and she was born even more healthy than an average baby. She was amazing. We were whole again. Still in the midst of a crisis, personal and economic, but whole as a family again. She had arrived. We sailed and rowed as best we could. All was not well, but all was moving forward out of the darkest storm clouds.

No one can take charge of your energy, your sleep, your emotional balance. That is 100% up to you.

I remember writing a song for her, even before she was born. Transparent Heart. It was about her immanent arrival and our frequent trips to look in at her with hope and fear and sonograms. I was also writing love songs to my wife and son. And poems to try and capture some of the moments. And their mom was still artistically activated too. She was putting up poems and short stories. And that Christmas I bought her an amazing easel that could fit in our bedroom, since the kid’s rooms were now fully utilized. And I moved my music gear into the garage.

Artist’s in love, with kids and jobs and a house. What could be better?

Somewhere along the way, in the midst of all of this struggle, we began to show our stress in unkind ways. We had some difficulties with money and we fought each other rather than the problem. We had chores and payments and kid care that wore on our artistic time. And we began to fray at the seams a bit.

I’m not sure how it shifted for good, but there was a moment, after a particularly stressful period, where my art (music, writing, time in the studio) had somehow become resented by my partner. It wasn’t that she didn’t have access to the same materials and time that I did. It was more about our DNA, and the hopefulness or hopelessness that came up during times of great stress. See, somewhere along the way, she began to see my creative ambitions as a threat. I can only imagine that her fear was that I would have some kind of success and I would abandon my career and my sweet family life to attempt rockstar status. That was never my plan. I never spoke of it. But she somehow started making my music (playing live, rehearsing, even recording in our garage) an enemy of the state. How my music became a threat to her safety I don’t know. But I hear, from other artists that this is a common issue.

What I didn’t understand, however, was how her art began to fall away from her life. Again, this is an individual journey, and if an artist is not fully committed, the “art” can become more of a hobby and not a life path. I cannot stop creating. I cannot silence the music that I hear in my head. And I make sacrifices to be able to keep working on my craft. But these sacrifices were not at the expense of the family. At least I didn’t see it that way. I took my music into the garage and into the night after the kids (and often the wife) were asleep. I worked my songs into the wee hours of the night, even when I had a day job to return to at 8:30 am. And I was the morning champion for the family as well. I was up and making breakfast before anyone else in the house was conscious. It was a chore I gained energy and joy from.

And in my artistic craft I tried to capture some of these moments as well. I was satisfied as an artist, that my ultimate life’s work was not going to be interrupted by my art, but supplemented by my loving family, in life ideas and passions. I would eventually get my appreciations. But it might be when I was in my 80’s. That was not a problem. I labored on, with love and intention.

But somewhere along the way, my art became a source of stress between us. My music was a distraction in her eyes. Maybe I would work more and make more money if I didn’t stay up all night writing songs. I can’t believe that’s what she really believed, but some how she had construed the thing she feel in love with, when we met, into an activity that threatened her livelihood.

So in our life struggle, our path from lovers to parents to ex-partners we lost sight of the things that we fell in love with.

As artists in love, both partners have to keep up their end of the bargain. I wasn’t skipping out on my chores, or my kid duties, or my financial obligations. And I was encouraging her to continue to find the time to paint. “But I’m so tired,” she said, often. Again, this might be a sign that I wasn’t doing enough. But it wasn’t. I was doing everything to the best of my ability. I worked hard. I cleaned the dishes, mowed the lawn, put the kids to bath, bed, and beyond. And still she was tired. Perhaps there was some other cause of this ennui.

As our halos began to tarnish and remain more hidden than shared, she stopped hearing my love songs. She missed the love poems I left around for her. Rather than finding the juice and thrill in my passionate expression of love for her, she would’ve preferred another kitchen pass so she could get to sleep early.

No one can take charge of your energy, your sleep, your emotional balance. That is 100% up to you. You might get help from a partner, or counseling to learn better ways to build your life force back up. But no one can give it to you. And no one can take it away from you either.

So in our life struggle, our path from lovers to parents to ex-partners we lost sight of the things that we fell in love with. The halos were still there. But we had averted our eyes, or complained to the point where it was safer to keep the gifts and epiphanies to ourselves rather than share them with the one person we should be able to share them with. When my best love song was no longer a welcome sound to my lover, my time was limited. There was no way back. No poem, song, or successful financial enterprise was going to bring her back. She was gone. Gone inside somewhere, where she needed (needs) to work more of her life struggle out. Perhaps her artist will re-emerge at some point. Who knows, I’m not part of her circle of friends, perhaps she’s painting and writing up a storm.

When your lover’s ecstasies and artistic celebrations are no longer musical to your ears, it’s time to move on. That’s what she did. And that’s where we are…

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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image: lovers, thomas berg, creative commons usage

 


I Was a Happily Married Man, and Now I’m Not: Tiny Hints of Doom

OFF-firestarter

I’m still happy, but I’m mostly alone. That’s the hard part. I never really thought I would be alone again once I got married. Well, the second marriage, anyway. The first one was a bust from the honeymoon on. But I’m stoic, and I tried to stay in there even when all signs pointed to “get off the fkin boat.” Oh well, we live and live on.

So I was happily married. I had two kids, a boy and then a girl, and things were moving along swimmingly in my life. Well, I’m not saying there weren’t complications, but I’m saying I was working through them as best I could. We both were, me and my then-wife. But a couple of things happened over the course of the kids first 5 and 7 years respectively, that change the course of all of our lives. I was oblivious to some of the changes, and ignorantly, stubbornly, refusing to deal with a few of the others. We were sailing along, not smoothly, but together.

I began to feel the futility of battling this anger demon that I couldn’t do much to influence or control.

There was a moment when our kids were 1 and 3 that I found my then-wife in the bedroom crying. She was listening to a song, and it was hitting her in some deep sad level. I was a little afraid to ask her what was going on. The song didn’t do anything for me at the time. I couldn’t get into the guy’s voice. But the words and meaning were obvious, even if I glossed over the shock I felt at discovering her in such a tender and broken moment. I was afraid, I’m sure, for what it meant. The song was Goodbye My Lover by James Blunt.

Something in the lyrics talked about saying goodbye to someone forever, while still loving them. I knew it meant something deeper than I was willing to explore. And so I kept my distance from the topic. I did ask a couple of times, over the next year or so, but we never really explored what was happening for her in that moment of loneliness and heartbreak. What I knew at that very moment, was that it was her heartbreak, and she was choosing to not share it with me. She was crying alone, and isolating in it, rather than reaching out for me, to call me back in. She was saying goodbye in some abstract way. Maybe she was realizing the end was coming, and she was afraid to broach the subject when our kids were so young. I couldn’t read her mind, and I didn’t try. And the few times I asked about the song, I was met with a blank stare. As if I was looking at a ghost of my then-wife. It was weird. But we sailed along.

Years later, when things were hitting another stressful period we enlisted the support of a wonderful therapist who was helping us learn to communicate with each other on a different level. He wasn’t a marriage counselor, and thus, we meandered over the crisis of the day and the issues of major importance. There was an interesting moment, when our counselor and friend asked us how we felt our work was going. He asked for one word to describe how we were feeling.

I went first. “Hopeful.”

He thanked me. And we nodded and shared a bit about that. Then she went, “Cynical.”

There is nothing you can do to get the other person to change, heal, recover, stop drinking, whatever. I couldn’t make her be happy.

She wasn’t kidding. The word carried a lot of power. There was something underneath the idea of cynicism that is already defeated. She was saying she was the opposite of hopeful. She was hopeless. I remember even the counselor being a little surprised by the venom in the word. But I would see later, that she was already well into her anger years. The final two years of our marriage when she never really got un-mad at me. I’m not sure I understand the mechanics of it. I’m not sure what she was talking about with her individual therapist, but she appeared to me as if she woke up on the mad side of the bed every morning.

Now, there are resentments and anger issues that can run in any relationship. And as a person matures they begin to take responsibility for their own anger, and their own issues. If they don’t, they may continue to blame others for the injustice in their lives. Either you do the work to resolve your issues or you hold on to them and all the righteousness they provide. But it’s a false protection. And inside the person who is shaming and blaming knows that they are off.

And during the course of the next year after the cynical comment, my then-wife had three very distinct “fuck you” snaps. Again, I can’t put my finger on what she as so mad about, but I *can* tell you that she believed that somehow I was the cause of her unhappiness. The first time we were eating dinner with another couple and we were joking about work, or politics, or something tangential, and in the course of the little banter we were flicking each other some grief, sort of tossing around the teasing comments and she just blew up at me. “FUUUUCK YOU.” She said, in a hot and frustrated tone. The conversation stopped. I was blushing. She apologized to our guests. I’m not sure if she ever said she was sorry to me, until later in therapy.

And two more times, this ripping curse came out of her in the same way. The second and third time, since we had discussed it in therapy, she caught herself afterwards and apologized for her outburst. But something wasn’t right about it. She was so angry, that she could no longer contain it in the course of everyday banter and play. There was no sarcasm in these outbursts, they were pure poison. And I kept feeling, “Wow, this is really something she needs to work on.” And perhaps she was. Perhaps this was the fuel she was using to psyche herself up to go meet with a divorce attorney and see what her options were. I can’t speculate on her timing or internal dialogue, but her actions towards me continued to vacillate between outward hostility and rage and distancing quiet.

I couldn’t do anything to help her work through her anger issues, except be the best man and husband I knew how to be.

And the counselor we were going to see was not really equipped to handle large emotional outbursts.  It just wasn’t the kind of work we were doing with him. We reoriented and reset several times, but even I began to feel the futility of battling this anger demon that I couldn’t do much to influence or control. I did my best at being a loving and caring husband and father. I did my best at playing the happily married man, but the silence between the outbursts did not provide any closeness.

So for the last year and a half of my marriage, my then-wife was mad at me. How does that work? It’s not like I cheated on her. It’s not like I wasn’t making money, providing for the house, and doing my share of chores, dishes, kid duty, and lawn care. I *was* doing all those things. But I was also getting worn down by the constant unyielding anger. I couldn’t make sense of it. The counselor couldn’t make sense of it. And perhaps even my then-wife was struggling in her individual therapy to understand what was going on, but nothing shifted. Nothing shifted until it broke. And by then she had already met with a lawyer and the deal was half-way to being done in her mind, before she even let me know she was considering a divorce.

In my world, Fuck You was a long way from divorce. But maybe I was being stupid and refusing to see how “off” things were. Maybe. And maybe I could have worked harder at making her happy, each time these little ruptures occurred. Maybe.

But what I do know, is that no one can do the work for you. So I couldn’t do anything to help her work through her anger issues, except be the best man and husband I knew how to be. So that’s what I did. But I was an no-win situation. I didn’t know it, but she was crying about losing her marriage back when our kids were 1 and 3, listening to James Blunt. There wasn’t much that I could have done differently had I understood what she was crying about.

Really, there is nothing you can do to get the other person to change, heal, recover, stop drinking, whatever. I couldn’t make her be happy. And unfortunately she couldn’t, or wasn’t willing to, either.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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reference: Goodbye My Lover – James Blunt

image: 343/365, morgan, creative commons usage

my father moved through dooms of love 
through sames of am through haves of give, 
singing each morning out of each night 
my father moved through depths of height
-- e e cummings - dooms of love

dark woundings of my own

OFF-dark-mermaid

[from a second wave – poetry]

the precision in a glass of wine
loosening the tongue just enough
to truthfully expose the inner heart
the pumping seething heart
rich red with healthy passion
or black blue with choked off pain
i cannot stand in your way
nor cushion your deep slide this time
my target is moving now
released by your trigger finger
and slippery anger-joke-anger
mad, just kidding, is still mad
and opening the door
date-night door, as well
with “i’m mad” is a sure sign
as sure as the slight slur
almost imperceptible, almost passable
but the message uncoiled and venomous
was unfiltered this time, by feints and jests
and the bile poured on the floor between us
what could’ve caused the flood
releasing pent-up frustrations and …
what
a deathly release from being loved
a striking to keep from feeling
a fear greater than being loved
a fear of loving and losing again

i can’t survive this poison
i’ve seen too clearly the trajectory of loss
disappointment and un. met. expectations.
i survived this song long ago
so long, i no longer want to do the dance
around the venomous tongue
the wounded and striking viper
i won’t go back to charming
starring with glassy eyes, praying
playing the flute
hoping for a long and happy life
i failed my snake charming class
and burned the books
branded with my F
but released from that prison
of dangerous shadows and unknown traps
i am released and recovering
from dark woundings of my own
i won’t take on more
hurt
no matter
what the
love
provided

now

or

then

8-1-2014

image: models dive 25 meters, bejamin von wong, creative commons usage


Deal Breakers, Red Flags, and Hand Grenades: Relationship Building 101

OFF-mermaid-split

There are a number of red flags (issues) when you’re dating relationship begins to move towards a Relationship. Here are 8 indicators and warning lights to keep you on your toes when you are evaluating a potential match. Once the dating has gone beyond the 4 – 6 dates and you are beginning to get really comfortable with each other, this is when the deeper relationship issues might begin to creep out of the closet, like old skeletons.

Walk away from the burning building slowly and without panic. You didn’t cause the fire, and you certainly can cure the fire starter.

Learn from your previous mistakes in dating or marriage. You probably have well-learned responses to some of these issues, that worked for you in the past. Listen to what this person is saying and what they are doing. And then make your own decisions about the viability of the relationship. If you want a relationship it will take work. With too many of these issues still in-play, you might not want to put in the effort and relentless bridgebuilding it takes to maintain a wobbly fit. “But it feels so good, sometimes.” I can hear myself say it. Damn. I’m sorry about that. Listen. Evaluate. And when things keep showing up for repair, consider mending your fishing gear.

1. You’ve got to figure out the collective goal. Where are you going? Not the timing or the plan to get there, but you need to make sure you are on the same page.

2. Dealing with disappointments and conflicts. So, let’s say you’ve got a “date” planned and all the preparations have been made, anticipation anticipated… And something happens, and you can’t make the date. Of course there are hurt feelings, and of course there are repairs to be made. Can you make them? Can you move on and reset for the next “date” or does this first miss become a harbinger of dramas yet to come?

3. Kids and Parenting and All That. Okay, so what if the kid eats like an animal when you are with your potential? Not bad manners, but exaggerated bad manners? Eating habits that embarrass you a bit when the waiter comes by? That could be an issue in the long run. How your friend parents can tell a lot about their level of maturity. The health of their relationship with the child, and the ex. All of these things factor into the bargain. If their parenting rules and regulations are out-of-bounds, well, consider what it indicates. (I’m not a psychologist and I don’t play one on my blog.)

It’s best to bless former date, wish them well, and step back into the fishing boat.

4. Flexibility. How good is this person at adapting to different situations, different levels of affection, and even the spaces in-between that are bound to happen? How is the silence between you? Do you begin to wonder what is wrong when they get quiet? Does their texting drop from 5 a day to 0? Or 10 a day to 1? If you get the sinking feeling, you might listen to that. You might be right. You know how intuition served you well in your previous marriage? Well your holy-crap-whats-wrong-now radar might still be on high alert, but that doesn’t mean you can discount the warning blips and pings.

5. Fights Fair, Stay Present, Doesn’t Generalize. I now that’s a lot. But goodness grief, we’re adults, mid-life adults, we should know how to fight fair. Disappointments and disagreements come and go, but the second the potential whips out the “I just don’t think we’re going to work out.” Or, “You’re always blowing me off. It’s always about what you want to do.” Listen for “always” that’s the word of choice for generalizations. Try and stop them when they come up. “Are you trying to say that I’m always late?” for example, if you are late for the first time and it causes a ruckus. Arguments don’t need to escalate into shouting matches. “I’m mad with you” doesn’t have to turn into “Maybe it’s just too difficult for two single parents to be in a relationship.” Wow, really. That’s pretty much an ultimatum. An ending statement. You might hear the “Get the hell out of dodge” message and move on.

The close woman, the smart and smiling woman, needs to go back to her isolation, and you, need to continue your quest for healthy and happy potential dates.

6. Stays Positive and Works Towards a Solution. Too many times we’ve been the caretaker. Listen for the needy, the wounded, the moaning. And then decide if you’re ready for another relationship where you are trying to take care of the wounded or explosive partner. “You always try to say I’m the one with the problems,” when shouted at high volume, sort of makes its own point, don’t you think?

7. The Grass on Your Side of the Fence. If you want a relationship, even in the face of signs in the first six items, you’re in fairly deep. Tread lightly. Perhaps you are one of those, “Grass is actually pretty green right here, honey–come look.” people. Be careful, you’re leaning into a dark forest if things continue to be rough. Sure you REALLY DIG this person, and sure you’re willing to go for 110% effort, but watch your overly optimistic attitude when things keep spinning into difficulties.

8. When you get really close, watch out. Often insecure people will sabotage things just when there is the time or moment for even more closeness. Say you’ve had a date planned for weeks, and you’re finally to the big evening. THEN, surprisingly (or is it?) some minor miscommunication blows the whole thing into an issue. Suddenly, and without much warning (if you’ve been ignoring the earlier steps and signs), the whole date/weekend/trip is off. And of course, you’ve screwed it all up. Just when this person is feeling the most comfortable, if they are afraid of closeness, they will toss a hand grenade into the mix just to see how you react. It’s like an acid test. “Oh you’re really digging me, well see how you handle this little love bomb.”

And sometimes you really do have to cut bait and go fishing again. The close woman, the smart and smiling woman, needs to go back to her isolation, and you, need to continue your quest for healthy and happy potential dates. All this wallowing in the issues is too hard and too soon. When the big bombs show up early, even if the chemistry and sexual heat are there, beware of the hand grenades and land mines. You can’t prepare for them or sniff them out. But sometimes, your old “husband’s in trouble” alarms will still tip you off to what’s in progress.

Walk away from the burning building slowly and without panic. You didn’t cause the fire, and you certainly can cure the fire starter. It’s best to bless former date, wish them well, and step back into the fishing boat. Sadly, sometimes, even with a ton of potential, there’s just nothing else to be done.

[Funny note: So mermaids kill men when they take them under, right? I guess some nice ones saved me as well. Interesting metaphor for relationships.]

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

see the poem of the night: dark woundings of my own

< back to On Dating Again index

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image: mermaid, +gAbY+, creative commons usage


The Infinitely Desirable Woman with the Fractured Soul

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She was walking across the parking lot this woman, my ideal physical type. (Perhaps more of a cultural archetype) Tall, model-thin, dark hair, dark skin, and slightly disheveled. And an alcoholic.

How do I know? She was heading into an AA meeting, at 9:30 am, on a Wednesday morning.

What is it about the devilishly distraught woman that calls to our hero hearts? What caregiver gene is responsible for this longing for the vacant and damaged woman? There must be something in my past that causes me to reach out, even if only in my mind, for this waife in distress.

Ah, I got it.

She is my sister. My sister who was ten-years-old when I was born. My sister to raised me like her child, or doll, or “baby buddha brother,” as she used to call me. Ah, that hurts.

My sister committed suicide when she was in her early thirties. She was so brilliant and beautiful, though. And so creative, talented, and loving. When she threw herself from the bridge on Christmas day, our whole family grieved on so many levels. We’re still uncovering them today.

I saw a fractured woman, who was also strikingly attractive, with an undertow. It was that undertow that I’ve become leery of.

Like today, I didn’t see my sister walking across the parking lot. I saw a metaphor. A cliché. I saw a fractured woman, who was also strikingly attractive, with an undertow. It was that undertow that I’ve become leery of. If the attraction is too visceral… If I want her just a tad too much, I have to go back to the drawing board and try to understand what is going on inside me that is calling out such a strong emotional reaction.

I long to fall in love. I crave the free fall. But I know that often this euphoria is more like a drug that an actual signal for the beginning of a healthy relationship. Crap. I don’t want to worry about healthy relationships. I want heat. I want magic. I want the drug.

There was nothing beyond her beauty today, that triggered this response in me. Well, that and my loneliness for companionship. Okay, maybe I miss my sister. Sure. Maybe that’s the love someone is supposed to feel for their moms. Well, my “mom” was really my sister. My singing, dancing, gypsy sister.

I’m not sad talking about her. I’m sad understanding that my soul still craves something that is missing of her love. Some closeness, and openness, that I have never experienced again. Something that I saw in my first relationship post-divorce. Some part of her that could just adore me for being me. Nothing to deliver. No expectations. Just love.

What is pure love? We understand it sometimes in terms of how we feel about our pets. They are pure love, because they love us unconditionally. They are dependant on us, and wait for us to reappear in their lives when we are gone.

Somehow, today, I realised I am still waiting for my sister to reappear. Not in physical form (holy cow, that’s either zombie talk, or ghost talk, and I’m not a fan of either) but in feeling. I’m hungry for someone to love, to love with an unhinged abandon. I’m ready to fall.

And even noticing this tendency towards the edge, towards someone who I know would be toxic, given my history, I can still feel the pull towards this woman as she meanders into the halls of recovery. I am not actually craving her, or even her body type. I’ve grown more aware, recently of how programmed we have become by the fashion and marketing industries to crave the Victoria’s Secret image. I don’t. I don’t any more. I used to. I still feel the rise and pull. But I can walk away from that trap, with the same firmness I continue to my car and drive back to my office.

Let’s leave that dishevelment alone. In our relationships lets not look for a person who needs our help, and not a person who can help us, either. Let us look for happy, healthy, and balanced.

See, I was in my own therapy this morning. I’m in my own recovery. Not from drugs or alcohol, but from something that might make those addictions much easier. This morning I was in counselling for my own health and welfare. Almost like a coach. But I don’t have a life coach. Almost like an AA meeting, but I don’t have an addition, unless you call this proclivity towards unavailable women, an addiction.

I’m getting better on all fronts. I’m healing, day by day. And, in some ways, I’m still healing from the loss of my loving sister. She comes out in my unhealthy desire for the fractured soul of the dishevelled woman.

Let’s leave that dishevelment alone. In our relationships lets not look for a person who needs our help, and not a person who can help us, either. Let us look for happy, healthy, and balanced. Everything within reason, right?

Today, I salute my sister and her beauty. And I salute Victoria’s Secret models and the woman crossing the parking lot to attend to her own healing.

I’d prefer something a little less dangerous, and perhaps a little less racy.

Always Love,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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image: screengrab of Martin Stranka portfolio, creative commons usage


No Divorce Expert: But If You Parent 50/50 You Should Divorce 50/50

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I’m kinda sick of the divorce experts and family law (meaning un-family law) solicitors who are hovering around the business of divorce. The only problem is, it is a business. And divorce is a business decision. And without some good counsel you might get screwed. Still, calling yourself a divorce expert sounds really stupid to me. I want to ask them, “Oh, so how many divorces have you been through, and which one turned you magically into an expert?”

I’ve been divorced twice. And what I can tell you is, I’m no expert, I’m no advice columnist, I’m no self-help blogger. If you’re heading towards or in the middle of a divorce I recommend you get some help on your side. And providing your are not in a high-conflict divorce situation, you might include your future-ex in the discussions about finding counsel. That’s not exactly how the sequence went down in either of my divorces, but that ultimately became the intention and result. We wanted to collaborate on our divorce not drag each other through the legal halls shedding thousands of dollars along the way.

So we decide to divorce, or one person decides, and then we divorce. Our kids world’s are split into two parallel universes.

Here’s the big ah-ha for me about divorce: If one partner wants a divorce there’s not much hope for a reconciliation. In the case of my second marriage, when the partner has consulted a divorce attorney before raising the issue with you, you’re pretty well on your way to being handed a divorce whether you want it or not. I didn’t. It didn’t matter. We’re divorced. I’m getting over it.

The second ah-ha about divorce was: how you got into the divorce process is probably how it’s going to go. In my case, if my then-wife had gone to see an attorney, even while we were actively in couple’s therapy, there is some sort of major emotional disconnect that is not going to be resolved in the divorce. But knowing this is where she was coming from, that even with a counselor involved she was not able to get her needs met, I was able to let her go more easily. I knew that nothing I had done had caused her to seek divorce. In fact, I was doing everything I could to keep the marriage together. I was working harder. I was improving my chore-tackling attitude. I was trying to be more empathetic to her complaints. But the complaints were getting longer, and it seemed like our therapy sessions stayed focused on these surface “You didn’t do” issues rather than the kind of tectonic hurts that drove her to seek divorce advice before letting me know she was leaning away from our marriage. I was shocked and hurt when she admitted the fact in therapy, but I immediately had a better understanding of this person who was asking for her exit pass.

If you’ve got kids you’ve got to make them the focus of the hopefully-peaceful divorce. In our case the kids did come first, though I might have negotiated things differently had I been less empathetic. Heading into the new kind of therapy sessions, the one where you are writing the rules of your divorce, I was disoriented and depressed. We even stopped the negotiations for a week as I made my case to my wife about why I didn’t want the divorce. We then moved along towards a parenting plan with her help. At least I got the moment of pause and reflection. But I could see in my wife’s face and hear in her responses, that she was done. Done done. Not just done.

So we quickly moved to the logistics of the divorce. I came with a plan to go for 50/50 custody. My wife had other plans. And unfortunately in my state, Texas, the laws were very much on the mother’s side in 80% of all divorces. I understand from my lawyer (who I hired last year to protect me from my ex’s unreasonable child support demands) that in 2014 things are looking up for the dad who wants 50/50 custody. It appears the judges are more likely to hear both sides of the story and make a ruling that is based on desire and fairness rather than legal precedent.

And somewhere along the way, perhaps when things looked a bit more locked up than she was used to, our “impartial counselor” suggested to me, “That’s what she’ll get if you go to court.”

Unfortunately I got divorced in 2010. The legal precedent was with the mom all the way. And our divorce counselor quickly moved our discussions to how things would look with me being the non-custodial dad, and how the “time was not really all that different.” What I did not know, and I did not have an attorney tell me, so listen up: if I had gotten 50/50 parenting, as I wanted, I would not be forced to pay child support. We would do our own thing, we would pay our own way, and we would part as 50/50 responsible co-parents, just as we had parented. But that’s not what happened.

I did my research. I brought books and selected copies from those books to our sessions. I drew up some creative 50/50 schedules. And I was politely humored, but somewhere, in the cabal of women, they both knew I would give in to reason. Or the powerfully sounding, “In the best interest of the children.”

Wait a minute.

I understood that the kids needed both a mom and a dad. And I also understood that at the moment my soon-to-be-ex was making more money than I was. And I was paying this counselor to represent my side of the case as well.

And somewhere along the way, perhaps when things looked a bit more locked up than she was used to, our “impartial counselor” suggested to me, “That’s what she’ll get if you go to court.”

Yes, but…

Today I can look back and see I was railroaded. Perhaps in the name of efficiency and lowering the conflict I was given the verdict. Settle for non-custodial, or go to court and pay to be given non-custodial. This sucked. But again, I was depressed, I was living in my sister’s house, away from the kids, and I was desperate to get on with whatever life we would have after the business of the divorce was settled. So, I succumed. I agreed to the SPO and the non-custodial role that was offered to me. And the negotiations went pretty quickly from there. To be honest, I just wanted out of the meetings with my still-wife. I was still in love with her. I was holding back all efforts to plead with her. And her steely eyes showed me she had other plans. She was more prepared for the divorce negotiations because she had been thinking about it and maybe even planning her actions, long before I was aware there was a divorceable-rift in our marriage.

“This often happens to the dads,” our counselor told us. “They are not aware there is a broken marriage until the divorce is in progress. And they are often slower to accept the breakup.”

Um… Yeah. I was fighting from within the strength of my marriage one minute and then being told she’d already consulted an attorney, those are two different universes in my life. And I was struggling to let go of the first one and begin to accept the second one. The universe where she would go on to be with other men, where I wouldn’t see my kids every night, where I was going to be alone again.

Divorce is the most painful and life transforming thing that I’ve ever been through. Perhaps as each of your kids comes into the world your life is transformed, and you grow into a parent. But as a divorcing parent, you are looking at losing a good portion of your kid’s lives. No way around it. The pictures my ex-wife takes of the kids are always painful. The vacations they now take without me, with mom’s boyfriend, are always a bit tender. I don’t really want to see them. I’m glad they had fun. I’m very happy when they return. But it’s like a two different lives they lead.

If the other person is unwilling to give up 50% of their parenting time, perhaps they need to reconsider the decision to divorce.

So we decide to divorce, or one person decides, and then we divorce. Our kids world’s are split into two parallel universes. One that they experience with dad and one that they experience with mom. Suddenly they have two homes. Maybe a new person in their parent’s lives that they have to adjust to. And the stories they tell around the dinner table are no longer shared in both universes. There’s mom’s universe and dad’s universe.

As parents, divorced parents, we have to do our best to fill in the gaps alone. As our kids are away, doing other great things, we have to keep our chins up and our spirits positive as we look towards building our own lives, now separate from them and their mom. It’s okay, I’m not whining. We all make it. But there were are few things I didn’t know going into the early part of the divorce process. And this most significant thing, that our “divorce expert” failed to tell me was also the part that has caused me the most pain and drama.

The Two Laws of Divorce:

  1. Kids first
  2. If you parent 50/50 you should divorce 50/50

Without exception, especially if that is what one of you wants, you should push for 50/50 parenting. If the other person is unwilling to give up 50% of their parenting time, perhaps they need to reconsider the decision to divorce. That would not have made a difference in my then-wife’s decision to divorce me, but it would have had a significant impact on my ability to thrive financially post-divorce. I was asking for the half parenting for purely emotional reasons. I cannot say what my then-wife had in mind, but she’d gotten some legal advice by this time, and I had not. Perhaps that was my own fault.

Do not go into divorce naively. Get informed. I came to my divorce counselling meetings with books, information, scholarly articles, and I still lost the negotiations. Today I would not make the same mistake. And if I am telling you this story so you don’t make this same mistake, then good for both of us.

If you want 50/50 parenting, and are ready in your heart and mind to step up to the large task of co-parenting, then you should go for it. And for the health and well-being of your kids (if you are a mom or a dad) I hope you get it.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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image: in the dog house, alan ellis,creative commons usage


Good Sex: Getting It Together About Getting In On

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There’s a great concept in Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer that involves sexual satiation, that feeling of being fully satisfied. And I paraphrase here, “I wanted to f* her so good that she stayed f*ed.”

In my marriage we used to joke with this line of thinking. And while we were joking we were also communicating a valuable message. We were checking in with each other about our satisfaction and satiation. Of course there are different levels of sexual satisfaction, just as there are different types of sexual encounters. The permutations are infinite. And if you’re getting enough sex, you’re entire life has a positive quality, almost a glow, if you forgive the metaphor.

Sex should be a happy act. If sex is a chore for either partner there is a problem.

At the height of our sexual maturity (def: the ability to communicate easily about your wants, needs, and passions.) my then-wife and I were playful and open about our healthy sex life. There was very little strife or conflict about when, how much, or how, when it came to sex. We were in the groove.

A few signs of sexual intelligence:

  • Both partners are satisfied with the frequency and quality of their sex lives
  • The “ask” is easy and often spontaneous
  • Even the “not right now” is not a “no”
  • Rather than “no” the less aroused partner might say, “show me” rather than merely turning down the offer of sex
  • Sex is occasionally a goal of both partners
  • Communication during sex is easy, even when the request is difficult, “Can we trying something else?” Or even harder, “I just don’t think it’s gonna happen for me tonight, dear.”
  • There is very little conflict about sex
  • The kids are not an excuse, they are a challenge

The prevailing response from my then-wife was, “Where there’s a will there’s a way.” When she would say this to me after I propositioned her I would get very creative about getting the kids interested in a movie (when they were younger) or off to a friend’s house as they got older. We often joked and teased about how we could create our next “opportunity.” Sex and even the talk about sex was playful and positive.

What happened? What happens to make sex in a monogamous relationship go south?

If you believe the recent studies you’d get some conflicting information. Here are some of the things you’ll hear about the differences between men and women when it comes to sex.

  • Men are always ready for sex.
  • Men think about sex every 45 seconds.
  • Women are the gatekeepers of sex.
  • Women take a lot longer to warm up to the idea of sex.
  • Sex is about feelings and well-being for women.
  • Sex is about animal urges for men.
  • Women don’t crave sex in the same way men do.

I’d say we are much more informed about sex these days. But some of the conflicting messages can mess with our heads and our libido. Yes men have more testosterone than women. Often this causes men to seek out sex more frequently. However, recent studies suggest in previous cultures women might have been the primary initiators of sex. And the studies further suggest that woman desire sex just as much as men, but the modern woman has been more culturally conditioned to not ask for sex or otherwise demonstrate her sexual readiness.

Libidinal mismatches can cause problems, but if the sex is healthy and happy there are a lot of ways a couple can stay in touch physically and sexually.

The joke that illustrates this concept is: When a woman is feeling sexually aroused they will go across the street for batteries much more often than they will go across the street to a singles bar. And sure there are some nice simplicities about masturbation, but the point is well taken.

So if we assume, for the sake of discussion, that in general women and men crave sexual connection and release with the same intensity, but we have been culturally conditioned to behave in different acceptable ways, then we can begin the discussion about what happens in a marriage, or any long-term relationship, when sex begins to become more of a chore than a pleasure.

What causes sexual imbalance in a previously healthy and positive relationship?

1. Sexual arousal.

Sure, I would state as fact that men can get aroused quicker than women. But the girl hard on is no less relevant than a man’s, it just might take different things to get a woman aroused. And it might take a bit more time for a woman to go from doing the dishes to doing her partner. Typically a man could do the dishes while doing his partner, if it meant getting to “do it.”

When we are in the courtship phase our sexual drives are often heightened above our normal libidinal levels. We’re turned on, we’ve got a new partners, we’re hot for them, we want sex more frequently. As the relationship matures and we get to know the other partner and we become a bit more routine, often both partner’s libidinal drives will return to their original, pre-relationship, set point. (This is a theory, not a fact.) And if there is a huge mismatch of desire, that might have been masked or during courtship, there will often be issues to deal with as the relationship and commitment deepen. But it’s nothing you can’t talk about and deal with. I suppose the levels could be so far off that one partner is never satisfied, but I think these are edge cases and don’t represent the typical sexual relationship.

2. Chores and the responsible parent.

In my marriage we did eventually evolve into stereotypical roles. I was the creative, spontaneous, bread-winner. She was the responsible parent and part-time stay-at-home-mom. I was the playmate who got energy from returning home to my kids, and they were often ready to hop on pop the minute I hit the front door. And since my day had been sans kid duties or dishes, I was more than happy to oblige. On the other side of the bed, my then wife might have resented my freedom and playfulness and wanted more help in the kitchen getting the dinner ready. But we managed. And I did help in the kitchen, with the dishes and housework, and with bathing, reading to, and generally getting the kids to sleep.

But there was a bit of calcification of the roles that over time might have caused problems and resentment. I was the fun one, she was the responsible one. And perhaps she was simply tired. But we always invited her to join our rough housing. We tried to lighten her load and get her to jump on the bed with us. Sure, that was irresponsible, jumping on the bed with young kids, but … What’s the harm? Riding bikes in the house? Why not?

3. Exhaustion.

Physical exhaustion is a personal issue. And exhaustion is a killer of all things fun and sexual. When someone is physically and mentally exhausted they are in no condition to cope with stress, sex, or even play. And unfortunately for adults, our exhaustion is our individual responsibility. As much as I tried, I could not remedy my then-wife’s exhaustion. I could do more chores, always do the dishes and laundry, and always try to pick up after myself and the kids. And even when I was doing 110% my then-wife, in the later stages of parenthood, was often too exhausted for anything but dropping into bed for sleep. Bummer. I understood, and I offered help and suggestions. But, as adults, the responsibility for one’s own health and well-being is solely up to the exhausted person.

4. Depression.

As our marriage was drawing to a close, I think she consciously stopped sharing her body with me.

Exhaustion can cause depression. Over work or overwhelm can also cause depression. And depression is the one absolute sex killer. When I was overly sad, my hopelessness around sex was insurmountable. Part of what I would get even more sad about was seeing my sexy wife and not being able to reach across the bed for closeness. I was so down, that even cuddling felt like I was asking for too much. And when she was sad, she tended to withdraw even more. So we needed to get those little blue periods under control before sex could return to its naturally happy state.

5. Mismatched libidinal drive.

In theory, we have sexual set points. We have frequency and quality levels that make us feel satisfied. And, I do believe that our sexual drives fluctuate over time. Sometimes a fall cold snap would bring my desires up a level as I imagined snuggling down under the covers and making love all afternoon in front of the fire. (Nice fantasy.) And, in the case of my marriage, we definitely went through long periods of sexual imbalance: where one partner (me) desired sex more frequently. (“Hey how about once a week? Or once a month? Or ever…?”)

And while drive mismatches can cause problems, if the sex is healthy and happy there are a lot of ways a couple can stay in touch physically and sexually.

In my marriage the drop off of sexual activity was an indication that emotional tension was building up somewhere for my then-wife. When she got mad, tired, frustrated, conflicted, sex was off the table. And unfortunately, that could go on for weeks at a time. I sat in my dog house of loneliness, even if it was not about me or anything I had done that was causing her to feel overwhelmed and thus non-sexual. And as our marriage was drawing to a close, I think she consciously stopped sharing her body with me.

Conclusion.

Sex should be a happy act. If sex is a chore for either partner there is a problem. If you can’t talk to each other about it, you might need some outside help.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@offparent

Note: I’ve left out sex as a reward or punishment as I think this aspect is beyond my comprehension.

reference: Sexual Intelligence: What We Really Want from Sex – Marty Klein

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image: men and women, kevin bowman, creative commons usage


My Divorce: A Searching and Fearless Moral Inventory

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

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

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

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

Writing is therapy.

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

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

I am not writing for you.

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

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

Next Steps

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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references: The 12-Steps of AA – wikipedia

image: practice, fabio bruna, creative commons usage


Perils of Dating a Relationship Blogger, Especially If You Know

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

related posts:

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


The Honey Trap: How Beauty Can Lead Us Astray

OFF-stars-back

My first two marriages were initiated and founded on beauty. In two very different ways, I was drawn in by the stunning good looks of both women, to the point of overlooking a number of warning signs that things might not go as planned. And it’s probably not their good looks that drive their lives, they weren’t like model-types, but they were, and still are, quite good-looking. I was captivated by that beauty in a way that was unhealthy. I am trying to educate my way out of this trap, but it’s not easy.

It is very easy to get way ahead of the relationship when the chemistry is hot. It is easy to overlook incompatibilities and misses when the lust factor is overriding your brain.

Walking along the lake-side trail this morning I was fascinated by the tremendous variety of women walking by, running by, laughing by, and just going on about their business, with little or no notice of me. But I noticed them. I always notice. It’s sort of the animal part of my brain, I think. I’m not lusting after then, just observing.

And some of the things I’m attracted to are sort of amazing to me. Take the new trend in athletic tops for women. I love all the fancy crisscrossing straps, the bright colors, the mixes and matches of sports bra, top, and skin. I love it. I am fascinated by it. And you can see the designers are into it as well. The variety in color, shape, and sparkle is amazing. And it has very little to do with the beauty, but it has a lot to do with the attraction.

Scent is another indicator that is often overlooked. But when a beautiful (from what I can see) woman passes by running past me and she leaves a slight scent of eucalyptus or mint I’m intrigued in an even deeper way. It’s an odd thing, the lingering scent of a woman as she runs away from you. The metaphor is too close to reality.

When I ran into the high school friend who would later become my wife, she came in and hugged me rather easily. It was a happy greeting for both of us. “So you’re married?” “No,” she said, “Divorced.” “Me too!” I rejoined with a bit too much enthusiasm. And we were connected and fascinated into the next rounds of courtship. But her hug left a touch of her perfume on my neck. And the rest of the day I could not get away from it. I didn’t want to. But I was also sort of mesmerized by the way she stayed with me for the rest of the day. Like a smile. Just another signal of something, desire perhaps.

I am full of desire. And when I don’t have an object for my affection (a relationship) I project that romance on to everyone who passes by. It’s a hunger that is slightly unhealthy, but when observed and checked, pretty harmless. But I notice my own hunger, and observe my silly misconnections. For example, the amazing runner who passes by, with all the signs of “YES” when caught up to at the water stop, I see she is very different from the front. It’s the face and eyes that hold so much of the soul, the chemistry information. And even that, the chemistry, the spark, is a trap.

I know I am an excitable boy. I know my projections, my love poems, my illusions, are my own. This woman cannot fulfill my hopes and dreams.

And what I mean by trap is this: it is very easy to get way ahead of the relationship when the chemistry is hot. It is easy to overlook incompatibilities and misses when the lust factor is overriding your brain. And the further you go down the sexual connection before establishing the friendship connection, the deeper you get into the trap of beauty. The heat and lust and beauty drive our animal instincts, and we find satisfaction of many of our needs in that simple animal connection. Yes, this is true. BUT… There is so much more necessary for a relationship to work. The compatibility and friendship can be overwhelmed by the rush to bed.

So when I find myself projecting too heavily at the backs a pretty runners in LuLuLemon matching tops, glistening with energy and effort, I laugh at myself and my mystical imaginings. Beauty is a big part of the equation, for me. But the beauty aspect must be tempered with all the other aspects of the relationship. I’m lucky, I am getting to experience some of that craving with a woman, today, who is really wanting to go slow.

It’s a good thing, this slowness. I know I am an excitable boy. I know my projections, my love poems, my illusions, are my own. This woman cannot fulfill my hopes and dreams. I have to fill those for myself. She can, however, become a treasured companion, all in good time. I don’t know the pace of things. I don’t know what dating should look like.

I really don’t know what the word LOVE means. But I know what it feels like. That’s not good enough. Pacing the relationship, regardless of the attraction and chemistry, even sexual heat, is the only way I can think of to temper the beauty trap. Because as we age the beauty changes, and our love and affection should only grow deeper. That’s the hope, anyway. The process of learning the other person’s rhythm and habits is a process. Jumping into “RELATIONSHIP” too fast is also a dangerous trap. I want it. But I know it’s not what makes for clarity and understanding.

I want to know. I feel it, but I need to know what our time together is like. And what’s the only way for this understanding? Time.

I like to say, time is on our side. We should not be in a hurry. It’s like a mantra for me. But it’s a mantra that I’m using to try to slow myself and my big romantic heart down. I could lose myself again, and miss the disconnects that ultimately derailed both my marriages. And whether I get married again or not, is not even relevant. All I have is this time, this moment, and today I am happily plodding along, in spite of the beauty trap, and learning at a slower pace, how our lives MIGHT fit together. And man, is it too early to start thinking about that. Really.

Sincerely

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

< back to On Dating Again

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image: stars on her back, the author, july 3, 2014, creative commons usage allowed


Waiting for the Other Person to Change – The Path Towards Divorce

OFF-dead

[This post was written as a response to this post from Divorced Moms : The Moment I Knew It Was Time to Divorce.]

Here’s what I wrote in the comments section:

Sorry to say it, but you’re story says to me, you are already gone. You say it yourself. And whatever has happened between you and your husband, with and without of your therapist, is water under the bridge. Here’s the rough part: He’s not going to change.

But here’s the win for you: You can and must change yourself. You are the only person you can influence. And you owe it to yourself and your daughters to get yourself healthy. Get the support you need. And do what YOU need to do. This state of dysfunction and living with your corpse-like husband is not likely to evolve into a healthy relationship. And a lot of it IS your perspective and YOUR unspoken agreements or wishes.

Here’s the full post:

A lot of your story resonated with me, so I thought I would comment and share some perspective from the other side of the bed. Yep, you are waiting for your husband to change. And that’s a trap, for both of you.

As the kid of an alcoholic dad I got an early experience in Alanon groups and Adult Children of Alcoholics groups as well. And one of the guiding principles is this: You cannot change the other person, you can only change yourself.

I hear that you are trying to act with compassion (in some aspects) and looking out for your girls. But I also hear your resentment and anger at your husband. I get it. You’re pissed that he’s not doing enough, that he continues his pattern of irresponsibility, and you are doing everything you can to revive a dead marriage. Um, well, I’ve got some good news and some bad news for you. He is never going to change. You on the other hand, can and have to change. It’s all you can do. Everything else is wishful thinking, fantasy, and victimization.

When she was healthy again, and we resumed our coupling, she would go through periods of coldness. And even that’s normal, I get it.

More good news, you are not a victim of this marriage. You also have all the tools and resources at your disposal to help you through this, regardless of which path you take next.

Here’s the part that’s like me, the part I resonated with that’s part of your husband’s failure. You mention him taking the “just enough” approach to a lot of his responsibilities. And on a few of your examples, my mind was saying, “Oops, that’s me too.” Let me try to pull some of those issues apart, in hopes of illuminating some of my own dysfunctional thinking, but also to share some of my perspective, that it’s not really a problem, it’s the disagreement between the two of you that’s the problem.

I am a “just in time” kind of person as well. I don’t like to pay bills. But a few late payments doesn’t really worry me either. When these issues came to light in my marriage, a lot of the friction was because we assumed we knew the other person’s reasons for their behavior. I figured my then-wife was really uptight about money because she had come from a family of origin that struggled for money. I came from a background where money was not the issue, love and time was the issue in my early memories of my parents marriage.

Okay, so I didn’t mind paying a few bills late and possibly even letting a few go longer. This drove my partner crazy. Was I being irresponsible as she claimed? Was I refusing to grow up? Of course, those are perspectives about why I would think and act differently around bill paying, but they were not the answer. However, the resentment around this issue was much worse that the issue itself. There was a lot of energy coming from my partner about bill paying. And the intensity of that emotional panic gave a lot of insight into how differently we saw the money issue, but mainly, it revealed a few of our “unspoken agreements.”

She believed that if I loved her I would pay the bills with precision and promptness. I didn’t connect the two items at all. For me bill paying was a pain in the ass, even if I had the money. She was very disciplined (maybe obsessed) about chores and I was not. We could walk down the same hall day after day and I would never notice the burnt out lightbulb, yet every day she would get madder and madder that I was not a responsible or caring husband. Why? Because I was not changing the lightbulb. What?

We saw the world and the house in very different ways. And it took a while to uncover a lot of these assumed agreements, that weren’t agreements at all. In her mind, if I cared for her, I would change the lightbulb when it was burned out. Anything else demonstrated my irresponsibility and disdain for her priorities. That wasn’t really it at all, I just didn’t notice the damn lightbulb. And for her part, she was waiting for me to change, to notice things like lightbulbs and scruffy lawns, and just do the work. Just take care of it. Just fix it. “Just pay the damn bills on time.”

Now I can see this had something to do with me: she was mad about something, she was withholding intimacy because she was trying to get me to change, she was using intimacy as a tool.

Uncovering the assumed yet unspoken agreements is hard work. And while, I am not saying this will change your husband into the caring and loving person you want, it might get to the core of what is bothering you.

Your initial reaction that things were over, that it was a dead relationship, however is harder for me to fathom. And this is just the point that hit me the hardest. I read your title, and kept the email in my inbox until I was ready to read it. See, I think my ex, also, decided at some point that things were over, she just failed to mention it to me.

And when you mention his addiction to porn, um, are you sure that’s what’s going on? Again, I can’t possibly see into your relationship, but sometimes the “addiction” has more to do with sexual issues in the marriage, rather than his insatiable desire for 19 year-old porn stars. I’m guessing that as you decided he was a corpse in your house that your interest in sex with the dead man has been almost zero.

In my marriage we had periods of peak sexual connection and then nothing. The connecting activity of intimacy, even that didn’t involve sex, came and went with the emotional tides of my partner. And when the tide was out, she rejected all offers, all invitations, all teases, all strokes, that MIGHT lead to intimacy. She exited the relationship emotionally and one of the ways that showed up was in her lack of desire to connect with me on ANY PHYSICAL LEVEL. Nothing. Nada. She could go a month and never think of closeness.

Meanwhile, I was frustratedly pining away. And sure, I turned to porn. It was even a spoken agreement between us. When she was recovering from giving birth to each of our two kids we went through the normal periods of asexual intimacy, and I would take care of myself in other ways. So I did, but it was no substitute for her, or the real thing. It was cold, emotionless, release. And sure, people can get deep into it, and addicted to all the varieties of fantasy that they might never act out in real life, but that wasn’t my case.

But when she was healthy again, and we resumed our coupling, she would go through periods of coldness. And even that’s normal, I get it. I understand that women are very different from men in their need for sexual release. It’s something about testosterone levels. But when the woman shuts the passion down completely, something else is happening.

I can guess at what my wife’s dysfunction was, but that would also be silly. So much of sex and sexual intimacy is in our heads. To try to pull apart her lack of sexual desire, for me, would be a serious case of projection and bullshit. So I didn’t do that. I asked nicely. I asked jokingly. I set aside special kid-free times. I did the dishes and bills more often. I looked for the lightbulbs that might be out. And guess what? Nothing worked. She was still closed for any form of closeness.

Okay, so now I can see this had something to do with me: she was mad about something, she was withholding intimacy because she was trying to get me to change, she was using intimacy as a tool. Bad idea. And she was having issues of her own: antidepressants maybe, overworked and overwhelmed maybe, unresolved anger issues with her family of origin. And of course, unresolved issues with me. But when the distance and anger goes on for days and weeks, the issue is much deeper than her and me. And it was. Or, I assume it was, I still don’t know.

But in my experience of the fracture and fallout at being placed in this emotional prison was horrible. And I thrashed a little, while trying to get things to change. I tried new things. I tried different ways of asking, connecting, nurturing. But again, that wasn’t the issue. I could not make her change. I could not make her be someone else.

You can and must change yourself. You are the only person you can influence. And you owe it to yourself and your daughters to get yourself healthy.

As I realise, now, four years later, that I was just like the partner of an alcoholic, waiting for them to change, I am glad I was ultimate released from that unwinnable spiral of loss and frustration. And for my kid’s sake, I hope she’s happy. I hope she figures it out with her new boyfriend. I really do. Because I don’t want to see her in pain, even now. Even divorced, I want her to be happy. Her happiness is directly tied to my kid’s experience of happiness and hope.

I learned my dependency in my family of origin. I was the little kid trying to be a hero, magician, football star, to get my dad to notice me and my value. I was trying to get him to stop drinking by being valuable enough as a son to be worthy of his attention. Of course, that’s not how it works. Nor, does that path ever work. Ever.

Sorry to say it, but you’re story says to me, you are already gone. You say it yourself. And whatever has happened between you and your husband, with and without of your therapist, is water under the bridge. Here’s the rough part: He’s not going to change.

But here’s the win for you: You can and must change yourself. You are the only person you can influence. And you owe it to yourself and your daughters to get yourself healthy. Get the support you need. And do what YOU need to do. This state of dysfunction and living with your corpse-like husband is not likely to evolve into a healthy relationship. And a lot of it IS your perspective and YOUR unspoken agreements or wishes.

Speak now or forever hold your peace as you move along for the good of yourself and your daughters. Your husband will eventually have to take care of himself.

I wish you the best.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@offparent

< back to The Hard Stuff posts

reference: The Moment I Knew It Was Time to Divorce – Divorced Moms

related posts:

image: hurt, nicu buculei, creative commons usage

A big part of my recovery program is the serenity prayer:

God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change
The courage to change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference.


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

Burn the Maps - the off parent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what I can do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

back to On Dating section

Related posts:

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

image: screen grab from Republica video below.

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


Negativity and Isolation: Branching Out To Avoid Breaking Up

the time bombs in your marriageDr. Jed Diamond wrote an interesting post on The Good Men Project today that triggered this post. 5 Time Bombs Set To Go Off in Your Relationship Unless You Act Now

Here are the 5 Time Bombs according to Dr. Diamond:

  1. Our social networks are getting narrower.
  2. We’ve increasingly put all our “emotional-support eggs” in a single basket.
  3. We are expecting more and more from our spouses in meeting more of our needs.
  4. Our brain’s negativity bias causes us to over-emphasize the negatives in our partner.
  5. Our brains are Velcro for the negative, but Teflon for the positive.

Can you recognize some of these behaviors in your relationships? Let’s take them apart for a second.

Our social networks
In our personal lives and our work lives we are becoming more isolated. Sitting in front of a computer screen or texting is not really social. You can communicate that way, but going social, getting personal with someone requires face-to-face communication. Eye contact and physical touch go a long way to unlocking our deep feelings and giving us deeper connections. Who do you share your issues with? Do you have one or several friends you can go deep with? In most cases that number is very small. And there can be problems if the only person you can reveal yourself to is your spouse. It’s hard to complain and get advice from your spouse, especially if the issues are between the two of you. Recommendation: Broaden your network of face-to-face friends who can hear your problems without reacting to them.

It’s easy to see the things your spouse is not doing right. You can point the finger at her for not wanting sex as much as you do, and she can point it back at you for not paying attention to the chores and repairs that need doing.

All of our “emotional eggs” in our spouses basket
Closely related to the first one. Your spouse can be your best friend and most trusted confidant, but you need others. And there are some things that are better worked out with someone other than your spouse. Recommendation: If you don’t have other deep friends you might consider a counselor or minister of your church. You need someone other than your spouse to get things off your chest.

Expecting our spouses to meet all of our needs
And we of course expect more than just the ability to talk about deep subjects and disagreements. We need to talk about things like kids, bills, chores, sex, planning, money. Sometimes the blur of hard subjects can mute the positive things. If you spend 80% of your time working things out, you’re not got going to have much energy or compassion for getting close. Even closeness requires energy. And if the hard stuff hasn’t caused you both to request a break, then you might be able to spend some time making love. But that’s a long “if.” Recommendation: Get help where you can. Put your bills on autopay. Hire a housekeeper if you can afford it. Getting some of your needs (non-sexual of course) met outside of your marriage may go along way towards bringing the good energy back in to your marriage.

We have a negativity bias
It’s easy to see the things your spouse is not doing right. You can point the finger at her for not wanting sex as much as you do, and she can point it back at you for not paying attention to the chores and repairs that need doing. Recommendation: Affirmations of your spouse can go along way towards reminding you what you love about them. Giving appreciations when you first get back together is easy and a great way to restart the connection on a positive note.

It’s all about biasing towards the positive and finding ways to discharge the negative. You can release a lot of the resentment and anger away from your primary relationship.

Velcro for the negative, teflon for the positive
Often it’s the feelings of anger and resentment that get stored up and kept deep in our secret heart. It is harder to release these kinds of feelings. (Again, this is a place where a counselor or confidant can help grately.) So we tend to stick those hurtful feelings deep inside, trying to bury them. But this never works and they fester until they come out in some indirect way. And positive feelings often feel fleeting, especially if they are small moments within the storm of life. We can hold on to the positive with some practice, but it’s harder to store. Recommendation: Find ways to release the anger and resentment, either dealing with the issues directly or talking to a counselor. And learn to bias your responses to life in a positive light. Find the things you are happy about and bring them up more often. Give thanks and affirmations freely and to everyone you meet. (Not in a trite way. Example: “Sweetheart, I love the way you made breakfast for the kids and let me sleep an extra hour. Thank you.”)

It’s all about biasing towards the positive and finding ways to discharge the negative. You can release a lot of the resentment and anger away from your primary relationship. While your spouse may be the trigger for the anger, the depth of the feeling is probably related to events and hurts that are much older. Often our deep rage is related to our family of origin and what behaviors we learned or were hurt by as kids. And here’s a key: Our spouses cannot heal us. The healing is up to us. And often it is best to get that support and growth strategies outside our marriage.

It doesn’t always work. We fail, we get angry, we let the shit fly. And if we can’t redirect enough of the struggle away from the heart of our love, we might end up in divorce. The best we can do in this circumstance is to continue to try and forgive and move on. And even more important now, the affirmation of your ex-partner as a good parent, and accentuating the positive goes a long way towards showing your kids how relationships work. Even when you are no longer married, the issues are the same. Stay on the positive side. And if you need help, get it, from someone other than your spouse or ex.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

back to On Dating section

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Reference: 5 Time Bombs Set To Go Off in Your Relationship Unless You Act Now – Dr. Jed Diamond

image: love bomb, karl norling, creative commons usage


Fractured Women: Learning About Boundaries in Dating After Divorce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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slight

slight women

[from a second wave – poetry]

slight women breed slight kids
slight minds are not boyed by ample bossoms or taught waists

we know the physical is what ages and dies
the spiritual is what aspires and prays
the mental overthinks and dreams
while the creative gives
and releases
all available light

how did we learn to crave the gaunt as beautiful
what advertiser spun us towards the promise of some ideal
to make us younger and more desireable
some imagined empowerment masking the sleep
the lie
the dream of something other than what we are
some car that brings you speed but cannot make light-speed
a goal that empties your soul to fill your coffers is no future

there is no vacation from this life
it is all vacation, it is always now
how is your future driving your present
are you navigating or giving in to the pull
the downward spiral of entropy and ambition
eventually we all get the same closure
it will not happen in hawaii with your new wife
it may happen in your sleep tonight
and what you have left is what you leave behind
the bills, the chores, the toil adds up to zero
the toys, the hours, the anger and escape plans
all equal in this final empowerment

now
time to go
time to wake up

5-18-14

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image: slim fit, md saad andalib, creative commons usage


Three Loves: Eros, Filial, Agape

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trying is not fair to either of us.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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Sunday Means Get Together: Or Get Alone – And Breathe

happy sunday - the off parent

Here’s one I’ve never written before.

This morning I woke up with enthusiasm and a headache. I was longing for connection. Of some sort. Here’s the path I am taking today.

  1. Chatted via Facebook with an old flame. Literally my first high school sweetheart. Who lives at the farthest reaches of the US where Winter is still happening. We imagined making love, and chatted with hot thoughts, more virtual than real. From high school flames.
  2. Tried to arouse myself with random pics and streams. Oh physical connections are so much more rewarding. Got bored with that.
  3. Started to write a song, a poem, and a story at the same time. Got confused.
  4. Reached out on Facebook to the wife of the pastor of the only church I would consider myself a member of, I’m spiritual but not religious. Got the time for the current service, confirmed that her husband was there this morning.
  5. Made a pathetic plea on FB for someone to join me for breakfast. Oh, I hate that, don’t you?
  6. Read some poetry.
  7. Made a decision to go get breakfast tacos and go visit my family at the liberal church next to the big white conservative church, that I call mine.

Imagined telling my friends about this random trajectory and my willingness to launch into the unknown having unsuccessfully connected with anyone within a 1,000 mile radius except the wife of my favorite minister.

Life is exactly where it should be. I am happy. I am hungry. I am starved for connection. And I have all the connection I need.

Sometimes breathing is the best exercise. We (I) get too focused on the doing, going, producing… And forget to stop and pause and appreciate. That’s where I’m headed. But I wanted to give you a little chat and wave before I head out the door, just me and Jack Kerouac’s poetry.

Happy Sunday. Go breathe, together or alone. But go!

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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image: sunday means get together, yasin hassan, creative commons usage

+++ bonus

swimming

Oh, so now I’m understanding why I joined the swim team in high school. Three of the front row, in sequence, blew my little high school mind. We were 2nd year boarding students. Wow.


Easier To Be Quiet

the off parent - being quiet

I know it would be easier for everyone if I would just shut up about my divorce. We’ve rehashed all the problems, all my perceived injustices, all the ways I’ve been wronged. I know I keep telling the same story, over and over. I know, I hear you.

And I won’t shut up. Sorry.

The beautiful thing about anger, that I did not know until I had unleashed some of it… Anger is healing and powerful.

In my marriage I learned to cope. I learned to nurture myself in the absence of love. I self-regulated and made due with less and less affection. But the education, the pattern that I learned about what love looked like didn’t begin with my ex-y. Nope, I learned how to be disinterested and disconnected from my parents, just as you probably did. I mean, they were the only examples we had. And boy did I learn how not to do a marriage. But of course, my images and imaginings were done by the time I was 8. It was all over by then, for my mom and dad. And everything else I thought I knew, I made up.

We are not ready for the changes of marriage. And we are certainly in no way prepared for parenting. It changes everything.

In my marriage, the changes were too much. We lost touch with one another and learned to be quiet even when we should be shouting at the top of our lungs, “This is hurting me.”

Anger was a form of control in my family of origin. My father would rule his house with rage and yelling. And we would hide, tremble, and obey. But this is no way to behave. But what it did to our range of acceptable emotions, was to limit our own access to anger. What it did for me was teach me to be agreeable, at all cost. To even lie if it meant I could avoid a fight.

But in a healthy relationship we need to fight. We need to have access to our full-range of emotion. And when I started getting angry about what wasn’t working, I learned that it was okay. Of course, my ex-y would’ve loved me to stay in the submissive mode, I started to draw boundaries for the first time in my marriage. I started expressing what wasn’t working. I started to express my anger at being ignored emotionally and physically. And I demanded a change.

Of course the change I was hoping for would’ve come in the form of realigning our marriage, and what I got was an exit request. But I was no longer willing to just be quiet.

So sure, I could shut up about the divorce, the depression, and the anger. And it would be a whole lot easier on all of us. But the beautiful thing about anger, that I did not know until I had unleashed some of it… Anger is healing and powerful.

Anger does not have to be abusive or rageful. Anger can be a consistent request for love and affection. Anger can be a demand for the other partner in a relationship to wake up and relearn how to express joy. Anger gave me back my balls, so I could express what I really needed in my marriage.

I am still embracing my ability to ask for what I need, to seek truth and connectedness, and to find another person who expresses themselves easily through physical affection.

Try as I might, I was not able to call my ex-y back into love with me. Perhaps things had gone to far by the time I started fighting for my rights as a lover and husband. Perhaps my attempts to ravage my beautiful wife were no longer welcome. But I did not give up. I did not back down. I was no longer willing to masterbate alone all the time and wonder why she never had a sexual impulse. There I said it. I wanted to have sex and for some reason she didn’t.

And it wasn’t the typical dude grabbing at his woman daily for gratification. It was not a rutting sex I was after. I genuinely needed to feel skin-on-skin contact. I needed to affirm my warmth and closeness with my lover. I needed to be a lover and to reignite the lover in her.

I lost that negotiation. And ultimately I lost my marriage and the full-access to my kids. Bummer. But I was not willing to just be quiet and bear the coldness and aloneness that my marriage had become. And while she ultimately was the person who asked for a divorce, I was the one who had finally begun speaking up. And even in the face of her divorce request, I was certain I was fighting for my marriage. I wasn’t. I was fighting for what I wanted my marriage to return to, or what I’d hoped my marriage would become.

It’s not easier to be quiet, actually. It’s devastating not to speak your truth and be embraced. It’s debilitating to ask again and again for affection and be given all number of reasons that it’s not the right moment, or that I didn’t ask in the right way. I was starving to death while lying next to the one person who could nourish me.

Well, fortunately I learned my lesson. And I am still embracing my ability to ask for what I need, to seek truth and connectedness, and to find another person who expresses themselves easily through physical affection. It’s simple when you both crave the same Love Language. It’s a stretch and a negotiation if you don’t. But it’s never easier, in the long run, to be quiet.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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+++ for a moment of comic relief


Beyond the Rush of Love, Is the Test of Time

We seek a connection, a rush, a hit of passion. We search for our next relationship, sometimes in a wounded state, sometimes strong and confident. The process is the same. In starts and fits we meet people, we check out the chemistry, the attraction, and then we evaluate their potential as a partner. And as we spend time together we lean into the connections we find, the affinities we try to cultivate and highlight. And the red flags we try to evaluate and either dispel or bring up for discussion. A few too many red flags and they are out.

And if we’re lucky we continue down the courting road towards whatever is next. And depending on our desire and openness we progress on to the big R, relationship. And sometimes we find ourselves afraid to explore that road for long without fear kicking in. What’s that fear about?

It can’t all be euphoria and bright stars. If there is zero conflict and only bliss, there is something amis.

Part of the fear for me, is the knowledge that my desire and romantic goggles will cloud my clear thinking and I will be blind-sided by some fatal flaw in the relationship or the other person, or even our fractured match.

A flip-side to that fear is the one that says, Oh my, what if it continues to grow and build and feel great? What if it’s mutual? And that too has a fear base. Going too far and too fast into a relationship that ultimately has the power to destroy your hard-won recovery.

So we balance our feelings between the two extremes, walking together down the old road of becoming familiar with each other’s habits, quirks, and even their fears. And if we’re lucky, if we’ve done our self-care homework and are coming from a healthy and stable place within ourselves, we can parse the various emotions that come flooding up from the highs and lows of this journey.

It can’t all be euphoria and bright stars. If there is zero conflict and only bliss, there is something amis. And you can be assured that the opium of your bliss will give way to the hangover at some point and the real “other” person will show up. And it’s hard to remember that the courting phase also puts each of us on our best behavior, whereas when we become more and more close we start to let a few of our skeletons out. On accident, for example, if we snore or something. And unconsciously as we project past hurts and memories onto this new relationship. Either way, if you have zero conflict you’d better dig into that, because a healthy fight, or healthy disagreement is essential to success for the long haul. You’ve got to be able to disagree and not freak out when you find things that don’t gel.

Okay, so let’s say all of this is working. And let’s imagine you’re several months down the treacherous road, you’ve weathered an argument or two, maybe even seen and worked through a few red flags. And it’s still feeling good. What then?

Then comes the biggest fear, in my opinion. What if you do everything right and explore all skeletons and mismatches and something still starts to go off. Maybe in a year, maybe in 5 years. How do you keep a relationship healthy? How do you still develop passion for a person you’ve been exploring with for years? What’s the key to sustained and loving relationships?

The breakdown of my marriage and thus family was the hardest moment I have yet to experience in my life.

Because, after all this work to get where you are, to even come close to finding a compatible partner, the worst thing imaginable is the death of that passion or compassion for the other person. How did it happen in your previous relationships? What was the fracture that started the breakdown in the relationship? Was it a specific event?

In my experience so far, part of the hesitation and “go slow” impulses comes from a healthy respect for this potential let down. I don’t want to get deep with someone if I’m likely to get hurt. And in the early months of the relationship, I can assure you there is still enough novelty and newness, the excitement for discovery, that fuels a distorted view of reality. It’s okay to go slow. The main goal being communication and understanding how you and your partner cope under pressure. It can’t all be paradise and nectar.

In my real marriage (my first marriage was a  trial run) I was still madly in love with my partner who had begun to look elsewhere for that connection. There was no physical infidelity, but a few big slips of the emotional variety. And through it all we both struggled to recapture, reframe, and reform our relationship. And ultimately, even as I was optimistic and willing for repair, the other person decided divorce would be the better course of action for us.

That was the real death of my relationship, learning that my then-wife had been to see an attorney to see what divorce looked like, to explore options.

I hope never to experience that free fall drop again in my life. I’d rather stay alone, or at least casual and superficial. The breakdown of my marriage and thus family was the hardest moment I have yet to experience in my life. As I rebuild my life, and rebuild my trust for another person, the fall is one of those skeletons that I have to keep expressing and being honest about. And if we stay in the present moment, and keep our connection, we’re on the way towards building a bridge over past hurts and fears and towards what each of us is ultimately looking for: a lifelong cheerleader and partner. Someone who can see the hurts, and quirks and still love you through them.

It’s a long road just to find a person who’s willing to even venture down the relationship journey at all. So how do we build a new connection without allowing the fear or euphoria blind us to the real relationship? Again, it’s about staying in the present moment. You don’t have to plan or fear commitment when you are just getting to know someone. You don’t have to protect yourself if you stay in the “now” and just enjoy the process and the high of a new relationship.

Look for ways to see through the haze of lust, or the fog of fear, to recognize when things are working, or things are really not working. It takes time. There is no hurry.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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image: Anastasia Fursova, creative commons usage


Our Sexual Brain and the Lies It Tells Us

OFF-torsoAt the base of the relationships between men and women, is the animal nature. The physiology and biology that propelled us out of the caves and into the stars is still really about hormones, chemicals in the brain, and our unquenchable desire to further our genetic lines. Even as evolved as we think we are, chemicals like testosterone and dopamine really more of our energy and motivation than we’d like to think.

I’ve been exploring my own fixation on youth and fitness and how that is largely driven by these same procreative, base needs. And how as a somewhat evolved male homosapien, I have some control over the more ape-like ancestral rushes that occasionally course through me. And today I hit on an example that might clarify a bit more of my own self-examination around these urges vs. what I really want.

Today I was playing tennis with my 11 yo daughter. I have been teaching her how to play. And today on the court I was sitting back and watching her practice serves. On the court next to us was an older woman who, though sightly more robust than my partnering preference, was doing a fine job of beating the pants off her male partner. At this same time, just outside the fence behind my daughter, a young coed, walking her dog, strolled by looking quite fit, but perhaps a bit young to be of interest other than an observation of her beauty.

Every flash of cleavage, every picture on the web, all the titillation around me would give stir to my ape-chemistry and I would derive a little motivational boost.

Seeing these three women at the same time, I got it in a flash. My animal brain and body was attracted to the coed. My love and parenting body was happily enjoying my daughter’s physical practice. And my mind, unencumbered by sexual fantasy, was also fascinated and interest in the woman playing tennis.

The sirens of sex.

I don’t have to give in to the sexual chemistry. And one thing I know about myself, when I’m getting some of my sexual needs met, my sublimated sexual energy is much less powerful. And I’ve been trying to understand some of this dynamic in myself as I’m trying to imagine and conjure up my next relationship.

Before I was paired up, as a boyfriend or a married man, I was a bit more like a wild animal. Every flash of cleavage, every picture on the web, all the titillation around me would give stir to my ape-chemistry and I would derive a little motivational boost. It wasn’t that I wanted to mate with each of the objects of desire, but there was some shortage in my life, some lack. Perhaps my ape-brain was looking for a mate. My evolved-brain was a bit more capable of parsing out the desire part from the sex part, and I was usually able to leave the potential mate unmolested.

But something cool happened when I got matted up. (And I am certain this is different for each man and woman — as we all have different histories and hoped-for futures.) When I was IN relationship, I no longer scanned the savannah for sex. While I could see an attractive young athlete and say, “Wow.” I no longer had any desire to pursue sex or children or even gawking at her.

That’s how I knew, in my evolved self, the GF#1 was not the IT girl for me. Even as I was in relationship with her, and committed to her, my ape-related drive was not satisfied. Even though I had a relationship with an attractive woman, my chemistry was not settled. I did not feel completed.

I knew when I was married that I was SET. I did not desire another woman, ever. I did not roam or roar for anyone else. But when the sexual connection was severed I roared like a wounded animal and fell into a long period of rebuilding.

I know that’s a bad metaphor. But something in my DNA likes to be mated. And when it is complete, or solid, I no longer cruise the herd looking for something fresh, new, and young. When I was married, even as things were going south, there was never a moment when I considered pursuing sex with another woman. I simply did not want anything, sexually, other than what I had. So, like an animal, when the sex when south too, I began to express my rage and sadness and loss.

It’s interesting to note, as a creature of chemistry and instinct, we are also driven by motivation, safely, and happiness. But, I am certain that part of my happiness was related to the sex and the chemicals it produced, the safety and trust it expressed, that when lost, I began to wonder for the first time about the viability of my relationship.

I never looked outside the marriage for that connection. And even after divorced I maintained a fairly celibate life as I knew my sexual-brain could get me into a lot of trouble when it was flooded with so much sadness, anger, and appetite.

I had never been adored like I was adored by GF#1. She was fearless, close, and spoke “touch” as her love language as well. I tried to get a clue about my sexual ennui over the three months of our relationship, and in the end agreed to release her back to the wild so she could find the roar for her that was as strong as her roar for me.

Today I connected a tiny bit more of my history and chemistry. And I identified the Sexual Sirens that are all around me, and saw for the first time how different they were to me, depending on my relationship status. If I was mated and getting regular sex. I could care less for their siren song. If I was alone, like a lone lion, I was eager to catch thrill and quick to give chase.

I knew when I was married that I was SET. I did not desire another woman, ever. I did not roam or roar for anyone else. But when the sexual connection was severed I roared like a wounded animal and fell into a long period of rebuilding.

Along those lines, then, my thinking is, when I’m sorting out and evaluating my next relationship, I will listen to the clues in my body and my brain that are either satisfied or hungry to guide a part of my understanding of the animal fit. There’s a lot more to a RELATIONSHIP than fit or chemistry, but boy, when those things go off there’s a lot of roaring to do.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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image: thigh high, lucy naughton, creative commons usage


Single Dad: Losing Touch in the Off Times

last-rays-sky-smAnd as the long holiday without the kids continues into this week, I am trying to remain relevant in their lives. Last night, when we video conferenced on a mobile phone, I was amazed by by how different they appeared to me. I don’t want to be a footnote in their lives, I want to be a main cast member.

I am aware just how far the distance can be. So much of their daily lives, their school routines, their haircuts and clothing choices seem so mundane, and yet I regret missing out on every single one. And for a second, looking at them on this video call, I became aware of how different I might also appear to them. How alien and distant after 4 or 5 days have passed. This dad in a box, snuggled with a kitty, reaching out for my 5 or 10 minutes of connection through a video conference.

I felt the first pangs of Divorcemas heading in. Just what I was working to avoid. And sometimes it rushes up to greet you. A loop. A moment that catches you off guard and you’re bummed. WHAT?

Just noticing this is enough for now. I’ve got my kids this weekend for a refresh and reconnect. But I’m aware of a tenderness that I experienced. And of course the energy and rise I’ve been on couldn’t be sustained forever. So a bit of coasting, slowing down, and paying attention to the basics again.

As the cold fronts are hitting all around, today. Food. Exercise. Sleep. And enjoying my kids while they are here.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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The Taste of Tail Feathers Again

cowgirlOh online dating, I (heart) you. Oh wait, this was Facebook.

I’m not sure if I have an accurate picture of myself or my desired match. I mean, most times I think I have a pretty good handle on it. And then someone comes along and resets the markers and my own understanding has to be reevaluated. But I am learning, I think. Let’s recount a recent “Oh yeah” for me that seemingly has become a near miss.

First me. Let’s see. I think I’ve set out my parameters pretty well. And the fact that she connected with me through my other 100% positive parenting blog, and through my post on what a single dad wants in his next relationship, well, let’s just say my best foot was forward on the mechanics of dating. (But I still have really had only one post-divorce experience, so far, so I realise I don’t have all that much actual information.)

And after she requested a “friend” on Facebook, citing mutual friends (25) and at least something that she must’ve seen in my public profile, we jumped into a fun banter. So she wrote a nice, “Hey we should be friends, since we’re…” And it was a wonderful jolt to wake up on Dia de los Muertos with a very attractive princess (Halloween costume) saying she’d read my single-dad post and wanted to be friends.

Of course I accepted the friend request. And then the romantic madness ensued. (Mostly driven by me, but that’s okay, writing is what I do.)

So, in this current situation… I simply wait it out, right? Any signal from me would be over-reaching? Seems to weird not to say “hello” today, but I think she needs to feel like she’s in control.

Letting the banter run wild we chatted on FB over the course of the entire day. And things, on my end, could not have gone better. The more we chatted the more we seemed to have things in common. A quick wit and quick qwerty-fingers. It was a thrill. Like a first date. Almost. From her side she said very encouraging things. And at one point asked, “Even if we hate each other once we meet, can we still be friends on Facebook, I would hate to lose this banter.”

She got it. But… She was also getting it. Somewhere along this path I was letting my heart get involved. Even knowing the romance was pure fantasy, what a thrill to find a mutual attraction of the minds that seemed to expand and continue over the course of an entire day. And even after negotiating a Saturday afternoon meetup, I was hungry for her. Uh oh.

But I have learned a bit about this before. So I did my thing. I read. Wrote. And social media-ed. And since I had my kids that night, I didn’t have too much time to dig into her profile before taking my kids to breakfast in the morning and delivering them to their mom’s house and it was off to the “coffee date,” meet up, first face-to-face encounter. I kept my calm about me. Sat by the front of the cool coffee shop and waited.

Now, here’s where I’m going to reveal some of my vulnerabilities. She came in and said “Hi.” We did the simple hug. And she was going to order something to drink. In that first few moments, watching her at the counter ordering coffee, I observed myself taking her all in. Jeans and comfy shoes, very nice lines, well within my happy  zone. I was struck by how easily I qualified her by her appearance. I liked the look of her right away.

And when she came to the table, and we chatted for two hours, I was no less intrigued and fascinated. Again I was trying to observe my reactions in a more objective way. She had amazing eyes of blue, something I noticed immediately in her photographs. And a wicked smile, that I kept sort of staring at, imagining, going there. (Oops.) And her shirt and the shape of her neck as it entered the simple thermal shirt. Yep, my brain said, she’s in.

And while I was trying to show my most charming side, I’m not sure I was getting the pickup or resonance I was hoping for. I am still not sure, but I could almost feel her first scan when I stood up to greet her. Again, I’m making this up, but I felt like she took me in from running shoes, to shorts, to black t-shirt and then to my smile, all in the course of 30 seconds. And maybe that was all it took, maybe she was/is playing demure. But here’s what happened next…

We headed out to the cars, saying goodbye and such. And rather than the “what’s next” vibe, I got, “Well, I’d like to hear your song, sometime.”

I think the message was clear. At some very early moment in our meeting, I did not meet some parameter of hers.

It wasn’t the BINGO I was hoping for. And I am certain I was aglow. In reviewing my own behavior and expectations, I was at the top of my form. Maybe my form didn’t meet her expectations or projections from our Facebook romance. Maybe it’s as simple as that.

All systems go, all hearts and minds engaged, and you meet and nothing. (groan)

But, playing it cool, I wanted to make sure I was not over-thinking. I didn’t really have a roadmap for what it would look like if she were 100% aflame as well. But that’s what I was hoping for. I don’t think that’s what happened.

A couple of hours later I pinged her on Facebook just checking in.

“Just let me know, and do you want to get together tomorrow sometime?”

Her response took 3 hours and it was kind of obtuse. As if she didn’t understand what I was saying. A very different voice from the engaging romantic she had cooked up in my mind during our first 24-hours as FB friends. Okay, no worries, perhaps she’s being conservative. Perhaps she doesn’t know what to expect either.

I switched gears in my response the next day. “So do you get your son today or tomorrow?”

And this response was even more off. “Tomorrow, but I’m going to rest today.”

And this time, for the sake of clarity and brevity I went direct. “So… That’s kinda “meh”. Am I getting that right?”

She seemed to misunderstand. “Meh?”

“I was trying to get a read on if you were interested in getting together again. Perhaps I’m being dense. I enjoyed your company yesterday and would like to see you again, if desire and time allows. No hurry.”

And here’s where the mystery begins and ends. “I would definitely really love to be friends and then see what goes from there.”

And I dropped the thread with an affirmation of this sentiment. But that’s not what I was looking for. The responses had become hours in return. When we were flirting the responses were fast and flighty. So…

I think the message was clear. At some very early moment in our meeting, I did not meet some parameter of hers. All that built up energy and romantic charge didn’t offset or live up to whatever she had hoped I would look like.

I went to the well on this one and asked GF #1 about it.

“So, in this current situation… I simply wait it out, right? Any signal from me would be over-reaching? Seems to weird not to say “hello” today, but I think she needs to feel like she’s in control. She initially reached out to me. If she was “meh” then she won’t. If she was “maybe” then she will. But I think I have responded to her favorable statement, and now I drop the line and let her run until she realizes she’s missing me in the same way she was missing someone before I ever showed up. Is that right? Would you feel pressured if your spark followed up too quickly?”

GF #1 said that her gut-read was cautious rather than “friend zone” but she liked the idea of letting her line run.

So that’s where I am. I’ll invite her to coffee today.

What I learned.

  1. I am a powerful romantic and do enjoy the flight of romance that can happen via online connections.
  2. I have pretty distinct evaluation criteria that can only be decided in-person.
  3. Too much pre-roll romance wastes a lot of energy if there’s not a match.
  4. My disappointment at feeling the match and not having it reciprocated, is still hard.
  5. Less fantasy, less striving, more walking and playing music.
  6. Move along.

Update: After finishing a nice long walk I had a few additional observations on my most recent fishing expedition. I got some jazz from the connection, generated two poems from it, and got to feel my heart get all big again. Nice. I also got a bit of a hangover when the resonance did not match what I was hoping for. And now… I’m waiting for her FB response? Um, no. That’s the miss. While I did offer coffee today, my guess is her response will be lukewarm. And unless I press the date, it probably won’t happen. Sad, but true. A waste of energy? Not really. A new learning? In theory, but we’ll see the next time a princess shows up at my door. Moving forward, onward, and upward. You’ve got to turn over a lot of rocks to find the diamond, I guess. And of the three YES-vibes I got upon meeting a first date, this was the furthest I’d gone down the projection path, with all the mutual banter between us. Perhaps I should’ve focused more on my work that day, or the song that was trying to be born. Either way, I’m not unhappy with the results, just disappointed at yet one more grab and miss. But at least the promise of a YES is still out there.

Poem upon getting her hello on FB: arriving at any time (I shared this one with her,” a poem is a poem, you know.”)
Poem upon sensing the miss or possible caution: let’s pretend nothing sparked (I did not share this one, directly)

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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What Is A Love Poem?

Screen Shot 2013-10-20 at 10.10.14 AM

Why does love elude accurate descriptions? Why is love perhaps the most sought after ghost and the song most sung by those of us who feel?

And the love letter too. So sad that such delicate work is not more widely shared. Often the masterpiece of passion and longing is shared by only two. Is it the privacy that makes it special. Is it the voyeurism that makes them so tasty to read?

Putting love, or our fleeting attempts to capture love, is a grand tradition. I am doing nothing unique or especially different. Of course, my word stream for it will be different from yours. Do you let yours out? If you gave expression to a love poem, right now, what would that sound that ringing of letters tell about your feelings.

Each love poem is a measure of the heart. Often those measurements and mappings are colored by the day’s events. Occasionally they are triggered by a smell, a memory, a glimpse of a photograph that held a tiny sliver of magic.

If we open up our own hearts, opening the veins a little, and let the expressions tumble out, even just for ourselves, we become more familiar with the soundings of our hearts. And as we get more comfortable with the process an amazing thing begins to happen. There is more love.

As we pay attention to certain things they become more important in our lives. And what is more important than love?

Word by word I try to get down something of my longing, quickly, unedited, and with the full force of my feelings. As best I can. But there are many things in the way of a love poem. Chores. Money requirements and thus work. Sadness. (Though finding a voice for the sadness is a way to release what might be underneath, longing for love.)

And poetry is not for everyone. Perhaps a clearly written love letter would be more to the point.

However for me, there is great freedom in allowing my heart and linguistic brain to try to hook up for a moment. Bypassing the editorial board for a minute, I occasionally achieve a satisfying result. But even the bad poems have a purpose. Even writing a poor love letter is better than not expressing that love at all.

Something about letting the expression out of your heart, through your words and sounds and letters on a page, that gives room for more. Each love poem inspires the next. And if you can nurture that “lover’s voice” wouldn’t you rather be speaking in tongues, than writing up another to-do list?

Each. Poem. Has. Value.

And if you write love poems or love letters, focusing on LOVE is a powerful medicine. And the transformation takes place without any effort once you let the flow start. Your heart and language begin to connect more frequently. You see things as LOVE again. You observe love or lack of love in the world, but rather than squelch it off you give voice to your feelings on the subject. It’s a process of opening yourself again to love and loving.

And of course, love is dangerous. If I let myself fall into a poetic trance and forget to pick up my child from school, there are consequences. If I muse for the entire afternoon without getting my work for money done, I’m not serving my life very well.

So love poems have to be tucked into our lives where ever and when ever we can find the impulse. There are so many distractions and requirements that would rather us not pay attention to our hearts, our impulses towards beauty. But with each turning back towards the heart, with each sounding out of a poem of desire, we strengthen that voice in our lives.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

image via creative commons use – beauty in death

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