what if i

OFF-smiling[from strange horizons poems]

a touch
stretch
creaking open
this dusty
space of
alone
me

venture
towards
joy
you
juiced
kissing
hands

embark
this time
arrives
now
for
some mystery
to
take hold

fearless
open
joy
becomes
life
worth
exclaiming

1-28-15

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“Another In a Long Series of Disappointments,” she joked.

OFF-alone

It was a joke. Right? Except the more it came up for “laugh” the more I was learning that she was actually disappointed by a lot of things. And if you listen to the wisdom about disappointment and anger being the result of expectations not met, you begin to hear how disappointed your mate might be.

I’ve talked a little bit about how I used “pseudo buddhism” to escape the disappointments I was feeling. Okay, so we were both disappointed. That is common. It’s what you do with your disappointments and how you work through them that defines the quality of your relationship. Perhaps this holds true with self-worth too.

In disappointment we learn to look away from the desire and seek it in some other way. If we don’t confront the frustration at the source we may prolong the suffering and thus intensify the disappointment. My ex-y and I learned to look for fulfillment in other ways. We had grown weary of trying to satisfy those  expectations with the other person.

I did not speak up enough. She spoke up all the time. And as we cohabited, we became more roommates than lovers.

I made light of the situation. I joked. I tried to be funny when asking for intimacy. I began feeling more defeated and less desired, but I didn’t raise the issue to the point of crisis. I was trying to meditate my way out of the conflict all together. I would seek my pleasure in the production of art, writing, expression of my spirit in ways that didn’t involve her.

And she turned to something else as well. She must have. I don’t pretend to know what that might have been. But her anger and expressed frustration became a constant in our routine. It was as if two of the three strikes was against me when we woke up in the morning. And suddenly any issue could become a crisis with the triggering of some unfortunate pain from her past. (That’s how I rationalize it, anyway.)

But I don’t have to understand or make excuses for her. She did what she did. And she certainly did a better job of expressing her disappointment. But at some point you have to move on. You have to move on to “What DO we have and what DO we like to do together.”

Before kids those answers are easier. Work, sleep, eat, make love, talk, repeat.

Once kids have been added to the equation the complexities of the routine and sequence of events that must take place to make room for unbridled love-making… Well, those complexities become ripe for disappointment, OR ripe for – and renegotiating the unspoken rules you may have settled into.

I did not speak up enough. She spoke up all the time. And as we cohabited, we became more roommates than lovers. We stretched towards each other less and less. And our relationship yoga became more focused on our solo practices rather than joined/co-created movements.

It is critical that we listen to the complaints and disappointments, both of our partners and of our inner voices. We have the power to reset and renegotiate our expectations.

In disappointment I withdrew into my buddha-like head, and perhaps developed a buddha-like belly at the same time. She withdrew into more anger and disappointment, and perhaps into an escalating spiral she could not see a way beyond.

Now when I think of the phrase, “a long series of disappointments” I have to take sole responsibility for getting out of that self-centered loop. Disappointment is because my expectations were not met. So I need to either express more clearly what it IS that I want. And I am free to make changes to get more of my needs met in different ways. Today alone. Tomorrow in the exploration of a new relationship.

It is critical that we listen to the complaints and disappointments, both of our partners and of our inner voices. We have the power to reset and renegotiate our expectations. And we do have the ability to create and ask for what we need and want. We may not get it, but not asking and being disappointed about the results is pure self-sabotage.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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single-OFF

Sexy Sex and the Other Two Kinds of Romantic Relationship

OFF-blurdance

I’ve been thinking a lot about sex lately. Maybe it’s an “absence makes the heart grow fonder” sort of thing, or a retrospective retelling. I’m not sure it matters which. But in my meanderings someone suggested I listen to this TED talk about sex and desire. She seemed to think I might find some answers to things I’d been writing about. Boy, was she right.

The secret to desire in a long-term relationship | Ester Perel

Did you go watch the video? It’s amazing. And if you didn’t, or you simply don’t have the time right now,  here are my quick notes. Paraphrases from Ester Perel’s talk on desire.

+++ notes +++

“Sex isn’t something to do, sex is place you go, together and in yourself.”

In her studies she asked what made a long-term partner attractive again. Here are the typical responses.

  • when they are away (when we can gain some distance from our mate we can re-see them)
  • when they are being radiant – holding court, in their element
  • when they make us laugh, or surprise us (seeing our mate decked out for a party)

There is a big difference between needing someone and desiring them.
“There is no neediness in desire, no care taking.”

Partners who seem to have vital sex lives later in their relationship also share several traits.

  • they know how to bring back erotic desire (and they work at it)
  • committed sex is premeditated sex (you have to make time and plans)
  • willful
  • focused
  • patient
  • and present

And finally, there are three kinds of love:

  • lust
  • romantic love
  • attachment to a long-term partner

And humans have the capacity to love many people at once, in various permutations of these types of love. And somewhere in between that “attachment” and the “lust” we lose the magic.

+++ end notes +++

Okay, so to apply this new logic to my principle quests here, would be the next logical step for me. How in my marriage did my wife’s “lust” get lost in the “attachment” trap? What parts of our relationship became about survival and not about joy? And why, with a willing partner, did she choose to continue shutting down our sexual connection?

In my marriage, as she headed into a passionless place, I was trying to do everything I could think of to get her back in the mood.

These questions parallel a conversation I’ve been having with a psychologist who deals with couples and sex and divorce. And she wrote a post that caused me to ask her a direct question about my marriage and the loss of our sexual connection. Here’s what she said.

“There are only two healthy choices I see: either work on marriage, including deep look at how you perpetuate the dynamic where a wife doesn’t want sex at all (which is pretty rare- only 11% of marriages sexless which I think def is 10 times or less per year but have to look up), or move on.” Dr. Psych Mom on Facebook.

There was a choice, at some point, that my then-wife made. She chose to believe and inhabit the pattern of exhaustion, loss, overwhelm, depression, anger. And in focusing on those aspects of her own life, she failed to see what was right in front of her. A willing and lustful partner, who also happened to be a long-term attachment. We are all independently responsible for our own happiness. There was nothing I could do, though I tried, to alleviate my wife’s stress, worry, and low-libido.

Again, there’s all this talk recently about how women’s desire begins to degrade over the course of a long-term relationship. Duh! It’s the same for both parties. Sure, sex with a nubile young stranger could be just the tonic your sex life needs, but in a monogamous relationship those things are not longer available outside of fantasy and pornography. Sure does get the heart racing a bit. So women, are now able to admit, “hey our sexual attraction diminishes over time, even if the guy is awesome and loving and supportive.”

She had already exited once via an emotional affair, perhaps now she was planning how to reignite the lust with someone else. A very painful and selfish way to go about rebooting your passion, but those were her choices, and at some point, I had to go along with the decision.

In my marriage, as she headed into a passionless place, I was trying to do everything I could think of to get her back in the mood.  Even if I did all the chores on the list, even if I was making plenty of money, even if she got a good night’s sleep… It didnt’ matter. She was making a choice away from the marriage, sex was just an early warning indicator. It wasn’t about the sex. It was about her.

Long-term monogomy takes work. It takes a willingness in both partners to work on keeping things open, honest, and a bit spicy. When one partner begins to check-out or begins denying the flow between you, there is very little a solo-enthusiast can do to reconnect the lust. Perhaps it is like a faucet. At some point she was turned off by me. The stress, the financial trouble, the extra weight I put on while stressing out at the big corporate job. But that corporate job was the thing that gave her so much flexibility and freedom in her work choices. It was killing me, but it was the thing that gave her security.

I can’t put myself in her head. And today, even the words she said or wrote, seem to indicate she was indeed overwhelmed herself. The “attachment” part of our relationship had overwhelmed and overrun the lust part, for her. I say, that, because I was always willing to spark things up for her, whatever or whenever she wanted. But once we had kids, I can count those moments on one hand. She argued often that it was the chores that made her tired. And my lack of responsibility, or how I could ignore a burned out lightbulb for weeks. But something else was in-motion.

While I was one of those people who believed in continuing the pursuit of sexual connection, she was no longer willing to go along with the program. She had exited once, several years earlier, via an emotional affair, perhaps now she was planning how to reignite the lust with someone else. A very painful and selfish way to go about rebooting your passion, but those were her choices, and at some point, I had to go along with the decision.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

This post really began here:  It’s the Quiet Time, the Alone Time, the Empty Spaces

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It’s the Quiet Time, the Alone Time, the Empty Spaces

OFF-lasskiss

When you’re happily married you think life is all set. Then you have kids and the world gets even bigger and brighter. Then some tough times come along and muck up the happily ever after. And after much hand wringing, and arguments the money is settled, the housing is decided upon, and dad (that’s me) is out on his own, to fend for himself, in the world of being a single dad with normal custody, that is to say, about 30%.

Some days I roll along like a happy man, a single dad working the program, doing his best. Other days, I fall below the “joy” quotient and I would really rather chill in my bed, watch movies, surf the net, and withdraw from all the activity. The holidays are some of the hardest times, for some reason.  And today, when I delivered my kids to my old house, my wife’s house, I was a bit bereft. Lonely. Aimless. Sad.

As the emotional aspects of our relationship got more complicated, the sex simply dried up completely.

It’s not that there was anything that happened. In fact, just the opposite. My life is feeling pretty sweet, considering. But today, as I was getting back in my car, backing out of my old driveway, with no particular place to go, I felt the punch. A light poke in the solar plexus. A minor ache, that continued to echo though my body the rest of the afternoon. It’s the little things that get you.

Like little places you pass that remind you of a good moment. And we had a lot of good moments, before we had all the bad moments. And today, eating lunch, I pulled into a place, not on purpose, that was one of the last good times I remember with my ex. She was working nearby, over six years ago, and we made plans to meet for lunch. It was in this golden moment, right after I’d had my vasectomy, when we were trying to score the 40 ejaculates before we could have the well-earned unprotected sex. And for a month, my wife rediscovered her libido, or something. She joked that it was more about hitting the goal. I was thrilled for the renewal and imagined the sex ahead would be even better.

After divorce, you count back in your head, sometimes, the moments when you knew things were great, and the moments when you first sensed that things were spiraling out of control, in the wrong direction. And the little moments of magic can pop up, like today, and re-trigger the old hurt. And who, knows, maybe there was part of me that wanted to lean into the ache that was already taking root in my chest.

This last moment flashed before me today, as I was eating at this funky little Mexican restaurant, and there was pang of sadness, a worry, will I ever have another moment, another love so good? The moment strikes at the heart of what ultimately blew us apart, and so this little scene of playful joy is not important, except for the feeling I still get when I remember it. We were happy, joyful in our quest for liberated sex again…

In good old days, this one time, we met at this restaurant, and in the parking lot around to the side, my wife gave me a quickie blow job, in the most silly and playful way. We were like kids, getting away with something terribly forbidden. Today, the flicker of that moment, showed two people playing at sex, enjoying the raucous play, and getting away with a little secret in the middle of the work day.

I guess the deeper part of the ache is the lack of spontaneous or playful sex I’ve had in the years since that peak. When the condoms came off the sex continued at ever slowing pace. It seems the “goal” really was part of the fun for my then-wife. I tried to rekindle whatever I could from my end, but things continued to fade. She became less willing to even be close, much less have sex.

We all have to work on our sexual communication. If it gets off, we need to chat about it. If it REALLY get’s off, we need to bring it front-and-center in therapy.

Sex is not everything, but it’s important. As our sex life continued to fade, I continued to be the interested party who was given the challenge to “ask differently” and “keep the house clean” and “pay all the bills.” It was as if there were a string of conditions for intimacy that became more of an alchemical mixture rather than anything I could predict or influence. Why is it, that this stereotype is so common? Men continue to want sex. Women, as we now know, get bored within monogamous relationships. Um, no shit. Men do to, it’s just we’re more willing to work on the monotony with more intention.

In the last year of my marriage, I am certain we could easily go for a month at a stretch without having sex. And it’s not that I wasn’t asking, cajoling, seeing if she wanted a massage. Her switch flipped off and stayed off. There was not much I could do about it. As I was making lists of things I could do to entice her, she was becoming more distant.

In a recent post by a friend, on what to get your husband for Christmas, I was saddened that the tone, even from this psychologist, was so one-sided. Here’s the list.

  1. Oral Sex
  2. Regular Sex
  3. Some Other Sexual Thing…
  4. Appreciation
  5. Love
  6. Wear a Santa Hat and Nothing Else

This is a common theme. The “how sex used to be” theme. In a Facebook post Dr. Psych Mom poses a theoretical question from a reader.

“Why his wife last 69ed before they had kids, 12 years ago. Then i can answer, with solemnity:

My friend, there is probably no amount of doing the chores that is going to get you that again. It’s one of those things that women only do when they are young and uninhibited, like dyeing their hair purple, or dancing on top of the bar.

Now if you took care of the kids for an entire weekend while she visited the friend with whom she used to dye her hair purple and dance on top of the bar….. then maybe.

No promises.”

But that’s the point. I was doing the extra things. I was offering her “girl’s night out.” I was taking care of putting the kids to bed so she could get in the mood. Except, more often than not, she was falling asleep or working on a project when I came out of the kid’s room.

We all have to work on our sexual communication. If it gets off, we need to chat about it. If it REALLY get’s off, we need to bring it front-and-center in therapy. Somehow I was letting our sexual disconnect be “okay.” We went to therapy, but we were usually dealing with some “crisis” that I didn’t really see as a crisis. And I’m sure, that was the problem. I wanted closeness, and maybe even sex. She wanted all the worries and struggles of the day to be gone.

Sure men have an easier time getting turned on, and women take some warming up. But women also have to be open to suggestion, or it’s a non-starter no matter how you phrase it, or what technique you use to rub her feet. Needless to say, it wasn’t the sex that caused us to get a divorce, but the loss of sexual connection sure indicated that something had gotten out of balance. Unfortunately I was never able to regain that balance with my then-wife. And as the emotional aspects of our relationship got more complicated, the sex simply dried up completely.

So dear, Dr. Psych, what is a man in a committed relationship, who *IS* doing all the extra things and still getting the cold shoulder supposed to do? Move on?

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

This posts continues here: Sexy Sex and the Other Two Kinds of Romantic Relationship

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reference: What To Get Your Husband For Christmas. And None of The Suggestions Are From Brookstone – Dr. Psych Mom

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Is Marriage a Cliché? How Mine Fell Apart Along Party Lines.

OFF-madwife

My marriage was fine as long as I was prepared to sacrifice my health and time with the kids to work. If I brought home the big paycheck all was somewhat jolly. Maybe not always for me, but the mom and kids seemed to enjoy it. And then I got laid off and asked for a moment to contemplate the future. I mean, the nice fat corporate job, that had stressed me out to the max and gotten me a lot fatter in the process, had also given me a silver parachute. 6 months, full pay and benefits. Seemed like a great plan.

And I remember the lunch date I had with my then-wife during the first weeks of my sabbatical when she came unglued at my idea. She calmly pointed out that is simply wasn’t that much money. My severance wasn’t going to last us very long. She obviously didn’t like the direction my thinking was going. And to be fair, with two kids, a nice house, nice cars… She had a point.

I wasn’t taking things seriously enough and she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do with her career. We floundered as a couple.

But the point that she failed to fess up to at the time, she really didn’t want to re-enter the workforce full-time. Ever. I don’t know this to be true. And the poetic justice of the divorce has mitigated those ideas, but she really got mad at me over lunch for not taking her concerns as seriously as she took them. Somehow, I was being immature, reckless, and self-centered in wanted to recalculate the work/life balance. And yes, my discussion would need to involve her plans for returning to work full-time as well.

It seemed, back then, that we were actually pretty close to achieving a more balanced and fair split of the financial obligations of the lifestyle we had chosen. Our kids were in 3rd and 5th grade, so they were less dependent on our extreme focus 24/7. It felt, to me, like things were in a position to lighten up for us. And this was a good time, while we (I say we, but she’d been maxing out at about 20 hours a week at that point) weren’t quite so strapped for cash, to look at what we wanted to create for our family over the next 5 – 10 years while they finished up school.

But I don’t think that’s the discussion she wanted to have. She wanted to know what my plans were for providing for the family. I was saying “we” she was saying “you.” Hmm. I guess we were at an impasse of some sort. I didn’t know it then, but we were crossing over a threshold. We took the issue into our couples counselor. We worked on things. We struggled. We tried to listen to each other. We tried to see eye to eye. Meanwhile, the severance, while paying the bills was being burned twice as fast, because she had lost her job at the first of the year too.

Yes, things were intense. But they were manageable. And in my optimistic way I was certain we were in a position to plan and strategize about “our” work plan rather than just “my” work plan. We tried.

“We both expressed our ideas about the future and while I wanted to discuss changes, she wanted action and me to stabilize our future, immediately.”

I kept looking for work and interviewing at other big corporate jobs. And I put my all into the process. Of course, the layoff that culled 50% of my team was caused by the major economic collapse of 2009. No body was eager to hire high-level marketing staff. At least none of the jobs I was hearing about and applying for. Still we had my severance, and they were going to pay me 50% of my 2009 bonus as well. That bought us another month.

But I wasn’t saying the things she wanted to hear. And she wasn’t hearing me either. I wasn’t taking things seriously enough and she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do with her career. We floundered as a couple. We began to experience breakdowns in communication and trust.

She recounted the pivotal lunch in therapy as me completely disregarding her concerns about money. Somehow I could not hear her.

I recounted the same exact lunch as “we both expressed our ideas about the future and while I wanted to discuss changes, she wanted action and me to stabilize our future, immediately.” It wasn’t that easy. And the threadbare trust in our relationship began to break down. Even as I was feeling hopeful and collaborative, she was feeling scared and angry. We limped along, but the sparks between us were more angry than inspirational.

And that’s when our sex life fell off a cliff as well. So as a man, I was in a real double bind. I not only had my self-esteem all mixed up after being laid off and having a ton of unproductive interviews. I was also getting shut out of the bedroom and the emotional closeness that comes from being intimate. So both of my anchors were gone. I was floundering, but I was doing it mostly alone, with an angry partner who kept saying I wasn’t listening to her. She began to express how mad she was at me. And during this time she even blurted out how she didn’t really love me any more.

Had we collaborated instead of separated, today we’d be looking at much better economic times.

I suppose I had two choices. 1. Completely withdraw my demand of a recalibration of our future and just hit the “whatever works” job search and get the job and shut the hell up to see if that made things better; or 2. stand strong in my conviction that I was not willing to simply go back to the factory in support of my white picket fence and semi-supportive wife. I was not willing to go back into the cube farm without a fight.

And so we fought. Meanwhile the money ran out and things went up another step on the urgency and alarm scale.

Looking back as clearly as I can, I suppose at this time, after she had gotten laid off from her job as well she really was soul-searching in the same way I was. What were we going to be as a family? Who was going to provide the money and who was going to provide the nurturing? How would we split the obligations and parenting and chores? But the kicker for me, the thing I still struggle with as I try and reconcile this period in my marriage: for that entire year, from January to December 2010, my wife actually spent more money on her consulting “business” than she made.

When I try and imagine what was going through her mind the only thing I can come up with is

  1. She was determined for me to return to the high-paying job that would allow her the same flexibility she had enjoyed while the kids were younger.
  2. She was searching for her bliss. She didn’t want to continue the string of unsuccessful jobs that had not taken her further up the job satisfaction ladder.
  3. In all her fears and worry about money it was easier to focus on me and my work search than to pay attention to her own financial contribution.
  4. Since she was the “accounting” partner it, even as it was clear we were heading into crisis mode, she doubled down on me and my job search, rather than doing what she wanted me to do, and “take whatever” so that we could catch up on the bills.
  5. Maybe she was using the leverage of the economic collapse to force me back into the big corporate job so she wouldn’t have to figure out how she was going to contribute financially.

No matter which of my assumptions are true, the actions she took are now fact and not projection or mind-reading. In March of the following year, she decided she’d had enough and she made some decisions to leave the marriage and break up our family. No more “for better or worse,” she was going to greener pastures must exist somewhere else. I was devastated. Even as I was angry and frustrated at the current state of affairs, I was also beginning to express my anger at being emotionally isolated. And I try to let her off the hook most of the time, by owning my part of the anger and frustration in our marriage. But I was in the marriage to WIN and STAY. She decided to LEAVE.

I can’t take any of it back. And I can’t even gloat at how much she is having to work now, because it’s not how I wanted it to go. This moment, today, is not how it should’ve gone, in my mind. We should’ve come to a balanced plan where we BOTH hunted and landed good paying jobs, WE stabilized our financial situation, and WE made commitments to re-energize and re-invest energy in our marriage.

Had we collaborated instead of separated, today we’d be looking at much better economic times. All the money that has gone into two homes could have gone into the bank. She would be working a lot less today had we stayed together. But somewhere along the way, she lost the trust that I was a worthy collaborator.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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