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

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Burn the Maps! Forget What You Think You Know About Dating Today

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

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

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

Here’s what I can do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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

image: screen grab from Republica video below.

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

What Are the Big Relationship Questions After Divorce?

dating a single dad

What’s sex about?

How do I make a living in this world?

Are intimate relationships worth it?

Lena Dunham is the 25 yo powerhouse who’s show, GIRLS is a hit on HBO. Are she and her cast voicing millennial ennui of our time? The show tries to be shocking. Its stars are quirky, damaged, and beautiful in many different facets. At least we’ve graduated beyond the vapid (shoes, sex, power, self-obsession) view of Sex and the City. And we’ve come a long way from Carrie Bradshaw to the lead in GIRLS played by Ms. Dunham.

So sex is a loaded gun.  We’re all carrying it around in our pocket.

And the questions, I now realize are the same ones I am asking myself. The questions that divorce and recovery have pressed firmly in my face as said, “Get your shit together, or don’t.”

And we know what not getting our shit together looks like. It looks nothing like writing and staring in your own TV series.

So the voice of this younger generation… The same questions. No wonder it’s doing great. Well done, Ms. Dunham and Co. Now let’s see these three biggie questions are pretty important.

What’s sex about?

Is it possible we (I am) are still trying to answer this question? In fact, as Thomas Moore would lead us to believe, the sex in our lives is one of the last un-illuminated mysteries of our lives. It’s still the primary place that can generate elation, ecstasy, horror, passion, obsession. Not all good, not all bad, but mysterious, yes. And taken one step further, Mr. Moore suggests that there is a spiritual component to sex, even if we don’t want to look at it. God is there, in the mystery. God is there in beauty and unexplained fantasies. Not all good. And not all bad.

So sex is a loaded gun. (pun sort of intended) We’re all carrying it around in our pocket. Sometimes we have concealed permits and we keep our deadly weapons hidden. Other times, sometimes with shocking results, we wear our weapons on our sleeve. I think of the 50+ woman in the local grocery store in her yoga pants and perfect hair and perfect teeth. I’m guessing her car is quite new and clean as well. It takes money to be dressed like that, to look like that, mid-day on a work day. For most of us, yoga, midday on a Tuesday is not an option.

If I’m clear and in-tune with my inner dialogue and self-directed goals, it’s easier to enter a relationship and stay true to what’s important to you and YOUR goals.

There she is. A loaded weapon. Sharing every good piece of herself that she can. She may or may not have been to yoga, just now, but she’s looking like she just stepped out of the Yoga Journal, or some “special issue” of Playboy, “The Yogini Babes of the West Coast.”

I don’t think she’s putting out “come hither” vibes. But she is putting out the best that she’s got in a very sexual way. And all the other loaded weapons in the store, men and women, are taking notice. And that gives her some additional lift. Her brightly colored tennis shoes springing just a tad more as she heads for gluten-free.

So *what* is SEX all about?

Hell if I know.

Today I have a few touch points. But of course, tomorrow they will be different.

  1. Sex is essential. In fact is on the base level of Mazlow’s hierarchy of needs. It’s connected with survival. Instincts. Primal, animal, procreative sex. When you don’t have it, you either NOTICE or you don’t. We’re all animals with different wiring.
  2. Sex is fun.
  3. Sex can be messy. (Complications, miscommunications, obsessions, loss, lack of…)
  4. Sex… well it’s somewhere between Miranda in Sex in the City and XXX in Girls. Where you fall on the spectrum, has more to do with your family of origin and how you feel about the loaded weapon you are packing.

How do I make a living in this world?

I guess until you hit the ball out of the stadium, or inherit the unlimited wealth, making a living is going to form a large part of your existence. And your relationship to this task is critical to your self-worth, self-expression, and even your ability to thrive. And the rules and conditions change all the time. You think you have it figured out, and you get laid off. You imagine a big project is coming, and someone dies leaving the signed contract in limbo. There is always change in the world of work.  Learning to take the “change” with balance and integrity, forms a good portion of how you walk in your life. There is nothing abstract about paying bills. And there is nothing casual about missing mortgage payments.

Are intimate relationships worth it?

We deserve to burn brightly. We crave that other flame that will bring additional heat and passion and beauty to our lives.

I think so. But I also know the “relationship” to myself comes before my ability to relate to another person.

“To find someone to love, you’ve got to be someone you love.” — nada surf, concrete bed

When I don’t have my own shit together, so to speak, it gets messy pretty quick. However, if I’m clear and in-tune with my inner dialogue and self-directed goals, it’s easier to enter a relationship (whatever the form: lover, inspiration, ex-wife) and stay true to what’s important to you and YOUR goals.

If you don’t have a clear link with your plans, if you don’t have a PLAN, you are likely to be misdirected by relationships.

There are three kinds of relationships that are most important in my life.

  1. Relationship to self and god. (*my* spiritual program and self-care regimen)
  2. Relationship to my children. (a life-long lesson in humility and blessings)
  3. Relationship to another person.

In my failing marriage, my therapist said to me,”It seems like she’s cut her flame off from you. She is protecting her flame for some reason.”

The metaphor worked for me.

“You should probably let her go. You deserve someone who can stand unshielded with you. Next to your flame. Someone who can burn brightly WITH and BESIDE you.”

Yes. We deserve to burn brightly. We crave that other flame that will bring additional heat and passion and beauty to our lives.

However, without our own flame, we are more likely to be looking for a light. That’s the wrong way to enter into a relationship.

So there you have it. Are relationships where it’s at? YES. And there are THREE of them. We have 100% responsibility for the first one. Relationship to self and god. (Please put whatever *concept* for god in there that fits with your belief.)

We have a lot of control over the initial trust and love of the second one: Relationship to my children. At some point, they will fly under their own power, but at this critical juncture, they need all the guidance and inspiration they can handle.

And on the final one: Relationship to another person. The loaded gun is in our hands. Either we have a clear understanding of our goals and purpose in holding it or we don’t. Either way, the gun is still in our hands. And the gun is always loaded.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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image: man and woman on a date, creative commons usage

Asking Her, “Are You Having Sex? Because I’m Not.”

woman through the window - geddes

i am mad at you… i’m trying to get through it… forgive my slowness…
i say we’re doing well, you say we’re bouncing checks
i say, i’m making 100k, you say you’re making 2k per month
i say I recognize my accelerated mode, yellow flagging myself
you say, yes but… there’s more…

yes there is more… always more…

Bottom line: my love is never-ending for you, you are more beautiful to me today than at any time in the past, I can see you with a vibrancy as I am buzzing over here at P o L. but, I am tired of always being the one to hold the overview perspective, always the one to suggest parties, beach trips, cars, whatever… and have you… say, and I know you will agree that you are tired of this role as well, so this is what we are working on… no, we’re not safe, the house is not clean enough, we don’t have the money for that, we have other priorities. I am tired of holding the line when I am angry or in disagreement, when you seemingly let them fly when and where you see them, without regard for where I’m at or what impact it might have.

What I realized standing next to you in the closet this morning, i don’t like you very much. I am holding some shit, and for that I am sorry. So rather than speaking my mind, I mozy on to the office and work. Rather than complaining when you say you are going to come out of the kids’ room and watch a movie, I blow it off, throw it in the canyon for a later day.

I guess the later day has come. I am negative. I am not happy. I am not giving you the wrapper that I would like to. You suggest the beach via email a few days ago and my first thought is, “yeah right.” Glad it was your suggestion and not mine.

Well, that signals to me that I am off. What I am off about is something that feels like an imbalance. I am enthusiastic about Rich’s and what we began to hit on this week. (Sorry the date didn’t hit my work calendar.)

I don’t feel like I’m better than you or that I am doing it right and you are wrong. I don’t.

But I feel like you have some critical eye that is telling me what I am doing wrong, how I am not meeting YOUR expectations on several levels, and even when I come up and self-proclaim my own warning, card, rather than join, you say, but wait… there’s more. Well, that’s what we’re doing, I guess. The more part.

I am sorry for my negativity. I am focusing in on the kids. I am irritable when you talk out loud because I think you are telling me something to do. I am short with you. And I’m happy in {Daughter’s} room. (I guess you know that one, eh?)

I hope you can see that this is a love letter and not a bitch session. AS I WRITE THIS I AM FEELING VERY SAD.

I do not want to be on the receiving end of so many “you shoulds.”

Here’s the most telling example I can come up with. The other night as I was reading in bed, hoping that you would be returning from the snake room, you patted my head. The hard part was how good it felt. I don’t think our outward expression of genuine amazement and love of the other is very balanced. I am certain you are expressing that with Jason and Claire in spades. Me… well, it’s complicated.

And wrapping up, so I can come home. SEX. (I can see your expression changing in my mind…)

I add sex to your list of chores for the weekend. You feel like I am taking a pot shot at you. So you add, Looking for the when, where, how… Okay, so do ever have the thought… “horny”

You have expressed in the past that you do in fact have these thoughts.

So do you ever wonder when, where, how… or is that my department, like taking out the trash or switching lightbulbs? (that came across more harsh than I wanted) Nonetheless, I am harsh right now. I could care less about architecting the clean house, no kids, right mood, structure that it often requires to have sex together. So you know what, I’m having sex alone. Bummer.

Are you having sex?

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

Note: This was the turning point for me… I was writing this as an email to my wife, trying to understand what was happening between us. My thought was I was working to expose myself, and illuminate the gap so that we could work on it. What ended up happening, I began to express my dissatisfaction in the marriage. And while she was the one who asked for the divorce, I was demanding a change in the status quo. Somehow I had NOT made my satisfaction a priority. But with the release of this email, I was declaring that I would NOT. SHUT. UP. About what was hurting me.

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image: a perfect vacuum, jeremy geddis, creative commons usage

The Nap Was a Source of Great Conflict In My Marriage. Why?

Yes, Virginia, there are always going to be more chores to do.
More things that need fixin.
More honey-dos than any man could ever do.

There needs to be a release point in any relationship or marriage, a moment when you can relax and let go of the shoulds coulds and wouldn’t it be nices. However, that ability became rarer and rarer in my ex-wife. I’m not sure if she’s ever satisfied that enough clothes are washed, that enough money is in the back, or that there isn’t some other pile of stuff that needed going through and decluttering.

Perhaps it was a defense mechanism that she used as she began to pull away from me. But she generally seemed unhappy, most of the time. It wasn’t me. I was pretty sure of that. In any relationship, you can have complaints, mistakes, anger, and frustration, but her CONSTANT GRUMPINESS probably had more to do with her internal workings than whether I cleaned the litter box before I went to bed.

I can recall a number of conversations that sounded like this.

“If you’ll do the dishes, I’ll put the kids in bed and we can meet in our room in fifteen minutes.”

Trying to make things even easier, I’d suggest, “How about I put the kids to bed, you go get ready for bed and I will do the dishes in the morning before you guys get up?

And it always struck a nerve. And in the last couple of years (amazing how long misery and complaint can go on) she woke up with an inflamed sense of “what are you doing now to disappoint me?” It seemed she was ALWAYS MAD about something.

She generally seemed unhappy, most of the time. It wasn’t me. I was pretty sure of that. Her constant grumpiness must have had more to do with her internal workings than whether I cleaned the litter box before I laid down on the bed in the middle of a Sunday afternoon.

I saw the world as pretty positive. And it was as if she was expressing the opposite viewpoint, just to counter my happiness. Of course, this is an oversimplification. But in the last weeks of my attempts to show her she was making a mistake, as I was still living in the house with her, I said, “Do you really think that I’m going to walk out that door and you are suddenly going to become a happy person?” It was a rhetorical question.

So how did our holidays and weekends become such divergent opportunities?

We would be coming up on Spring Break and she would ask, “So what are your goals for the weekend?” Fair question, if that’s really what she was asking.

“Um, I don’t know. Play some tennis, relax, maybe catch a nap or two.”

“Hmmm,” she’d say. Not in response, but in a sort of disapproval. So I would inevitably ask, “And you, sweet wife, what do you have in mind for this coming holiday?”

And out would come the projects, the plans, the ideas for WORK. Homework, yes, but not R&R. And somehow, my GOAL of a nap seemed to infuriate her.

Of course, at this point, she was still working part-time and managing the home front. [Nice job if you can afford to have someone do it.] And while I was commuting back and forth to a large technology company, she had very little sympathy for my weekend decompression requests.

Today, I think the shoe is on the other foot for the first time since before we were married.

She changed jobs recently to a “butts in seats, you earn 1.5 vacation days a month” kinda job. And while I’m sorry for my kids, I’m a bit self-satisfied that she’s dealing with the rigid authority and ownership of the corporate job that I’d been navigating our entire relationship.

Oh, what goes around… I’d be her napping requests have gone up a bit. And since any time she doesn’t have the kids she’s camped out at her boyfriend’s house, well, I’d bet she’s not all that focused on HIS chores. Meanwhile, the porch, her boyfriend and her started to replace in November, is still less than half-finished four months later. I guess her honey-do on that one is either expired or so inflamed she can’t stand being at her own house. Probably something altogether different, but I chuckle when I see the whole front half of the old house torn off and looking like crap.

Ultimately, it’s her choice, her honey-do, and her boyfriend that she’s signed up for a long series of weekend working sessions. I just want a nap when I look at it. I would have paid the $3k and had it done in a week. But we do things differently. Always have.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

Resources:

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

OFF-lovehandles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

breath in - the off parent

click for larger version

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

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

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

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

And what I can do about it:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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