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

divorce

The Off Parent – Series: love, kids, divorce, humor, release, sex

when you lose everything, love comes into focus

when you lose everything, love comes into focusLet’s take a new approach. Let’s go after local resident and legend Adrian Grenier and see if we can give him another successful show. Let’s feature Austin, SXSW, ACL, Barton Springs, and Formula 1, all as part of what gives this show gravitas. It’s going to be a must-see on HBO (our first choice), because the heart behind the show is writer and single dad advocate, John McElhenney. (Me.)

How would a tv show bring about real change in the family law that gives dads the old 70/30 shaft and asks us to accept that moms should be given the house, the money, and the kids? That’s the way it was in the ’50s. But the states don’t want to give up the gravy train of child support collections. That’s what makes up 80% of most Attorney General’s budgets. And it’s paid for by the government. The states are incentivized to assign child support to one of the parents and then they make their money based on the “money” they have under management.

If you would like to be an early script reviewer or a pilot test group member, please reach out to me via email here: john.mcelhenney (at) gmail (dot) com.

Enjoy. Blessings.

 


Learning About “I Need You” vs. “I Want You”

image: take my hand

image: take my handWe’ve all got needs. And when we were younger, and wanting children, we had needs that involved another person. And for many of us, that meant getting married so we could procreate and live happily ever after. As the story goes in this modern age, many of us find that “ever after” is not as long as we thought. As plans changed between one of the partners in the marriage, so went the change from “need” to “want.”

I believe my ex “wanted” something different for her life. She had gotten the need for children taken care of, and tried to remain a loving and committed wife, but much of that pretense was for the children. When the desire died for her, whatever the reason, she began to think about wants rather than needs.

And as adults restarting the world as singles, we have to make some clear distinctions between wants and needs. I think I slipped into my second marriage still needing to be healed from my first marriage. I overlooked signs that today would’ve been huge red flags. But I was in need of healing, I was in need of a child-bearing and willing partner. All of those things were instrumental in creating the rose-colored view that allowed me to fall in love with someone who was much less able to express emotions than I would’ve preferred.

We can’t change what happened, but we can learn from our past and try to evolve a bit in our next choices. And that for me has become a distinction between want and need.

“What’s important is, do we want to spend time together? Do we like being together? And then, for me, is this a possible relationship.”

As I have started dating or spending time with a new woman I am more conscious of that distinction. She has some wounding to get through before she’s ready to open up to the relationship idea. That’s okay, I tell her. I’m in no hurry.

And while I mean what I say, what I really am saying is that I WANT her but I don’t NEED her. I prefer to spend time with her than pursuing many of the other goals and aspirations in my life. I want a relationship.

“And if the relationship doesn’t have the potential to be long-term, I’m not really that interested,” I said to her, yesterday.

“That sounds pretty serious. How is that casual?”

I tried to clarify while treading love landmines and old hurts. “I am looking for a relationship. I desire to be “in relationship.” If you were to tell me you were really only interested in friendship, that would be okay, but I’d probably start dialing back some of the time I’m spending with you. I don’t really need any more “do something together” friends.”

She seemed a bit unconvinced.

“I don’t think we need to be together. I want to be together. We are pretty good at being alone. And we already have children, so that’s not an issue. What’s important is, do we want to spend time together? Do we like being together? And then, for me, is this a possible relationship.”

Again I am trying, learning, to parse out need from want. And sometimes I am aware that my needs are getting in the way of my clarity of mind. Lust, of course, is a powerful driver in relationships and coupling. And both of my marriages had a good deal of lusty passion early on. BOTH of them transformed into something less connected and more business-like.

I don’t need a business partner. There may be some advantages to being a married couple, financially, but the unraveling afterward, if things veer off course, is much too painful to repeat for tax advantages. No, what I want is a passionate partner who also wants to be with me.

I want to want her. I want her to want me. And it’s important that she can express that she wants me. And express what she wants.

We don’t need each other, we crave each other. But after the lustful beginning is burned off, there is a lot of just being together that needs to be engaging, honest, and emotional. I needed a wife, today I want a partner. I will keep trying to remember that the sexual chemistry, while critical to the survival of the relationship, has to be backed up by genuine joy and the ability to express it.

I’m ever hopeful.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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*post written April 2014

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Your Contempt for Me After the Divorce is Hurting All of Us

OFF-maidamerica

There were two minor events that happened in the first weeks of my relationship to the woman who became my wife and mother of my two outstanding kids.

About two years into the divorce, and a year after the full payments are in force, I hit a rough patch in my employment.

ONE: After we had begun our committed relationship, she got in the car one afternoon and said, “I’ve just gotten a new prescription for birth control pills.” EXCITEMENT PLUS. Woot!

TWO: She got in the car a few weeks later and asked me why I was upset. I told her that I had left $150 cash in the glove box of the rental car. I had called and, duh, they didn’t have the money. Her response was immediate. “Well, at least you are rich enough that you don’t need the money.” BOOM.

It not only hurt, but it also stung me quite deeply. I recoiled and had to ask her what she meant. She didn’t do a very good job of explaining how $150 to her would’ve been a huge deal, but to me, it was little more than an inconvenience.

That’s how she saw me. MONEY. Even early on in our relationship. MONEY. I’m just now getting clear on this. As she is still grilling, hammering, and looking for “enforcement” from the Attorney General’s Office about MONEY.

We got over the early yelp I gave out at her contempt for my slightly more affluent upbringing. And we moved along down the relationship road until she moved in with me. Into the house I owned. She never mentioned the money again, but now I can see, with 20/20 eyes, that it was much more important to her than I realized.

When she got pregnant, we made plans to move into a house, rather than my condo. So the kids would have a yard. So we could begin building our nest. The money for the down payment came from my family. And we bought a nice little house in a nice middle-class neighborhood. We probably bought about 3 years too early, because a tiny baby doesn’t really need his own room. But we were young, in love, and ambitious.

Fast forward the tape 10 years into the future and we’re getting a divorce. Suddenly my money is her money, the house that was made possible by my inheritance, and my owned condo was all we really had between us. And the breakdown of the finances left us on unequal footing. She got the house, I got some relief from the $2,400 a month child support and insurance payments.

When she didn’t get her money after two months and 27 days, she filed the whole thing with the Attorney General’s office.

About two years into the divorce, and a year after the full payments are in force, I hit a rough patch in my employment. We lose a client. I lose 50% of my income. I tell her immediately that I’m going to be a little late on the child support. She throws a fit.

Now, to slow things down a bit, let’s examine the situation.

I was paying $2,400 per month in child support and insurance. She was living in a house (basically covered by my child support payments) and only had utilities, food, and clothing to provide for the kids. She had a steady job. Had we still been together, we would’ve worked together to survive the lean months and made up the slack when I got another job.

As divorced parents, she was furious at me. She wanted her money. She refused to talk to me about the coming school year and parenting stuff. Her response to every request from me was, “When can I expect my money.” Seriously, it was like a bad cartoon.

Well, when she didn’t get her money after two months and 27 days, she filed the whole thing with the Attorney General’s office. If she couldn’t make me pay her what she was entitled to, maybe the lawyers and police could.

Now, even two years after the AG’s office has driven my credit into the dirt, and really gained nothing for her, she still believes there is a benefit to keeping them in the relationship between us.

Why?

I’ll let her tell you. From an email a month ago.

A fact it would be weird for me to ignore is that involvement of the AG corresponds with XX and XY receiving more support than they did for the year /18 months before the AG was involved. It’s our job as parents to represent the interest of J and C and them having more financial support is in their interest. Until  there is an alternate method to oversee the result of XX & XY receiving a percent of your income for their support, I’d be laying down my obligation to XX and XY if I said no thanks to the strategy that has coincided with you more consistently paying support.

And when I shared with her the payments coincided exactly with my employment. I have to have an income to pay you a portion of it.

What is it you are asking me to rely on to assure you voluntarily will pay? This isn’t a sarcastic question. Help me understand what has changed to make it so you’ll contribute a part of your income no matter your financial situation.

So that’s clear, right. The AG’s office means my contribution to my children’s welfare is compulsory rather than voluntary. What I think we’re seeing is her rationalizing the entire affair that has caused me to lose my house and several employment opportunities. She won’t ever say she’s sorry. But maybe she will eventually see the damage the AG’s involvement continues to have on her children’s lives and mine.

But that’s not likely to happen, now is it?

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

*this post was written April 2015

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Losing Everything in Divorce; Learning to Carry On

OFF-home

Can a man survive without a home? Without a job? Without his family? Divorce often feels like the end of your life. And, of course, it is the end of life as you have known it up to that time. Post-divorce life is very different for everyone. And some of the life-threatening blows, may become less severe as time goes along, as water under the bridge continues to flow.

The first death-blow for me was losing my house. Of course, it was a lot more than a house. The house we created for our family was filled with our hopes and dreams. It was the physical manifestation of our plans as a couple with kids on the way. We bought the house for our future family. And everything we became in the years within the house was our family history BD. (before divorce) As a symbolic loss, a man’s house is very important. The money, the commitment, the work that went into buying and maintaining the house… it was the only home I knew for my family. Walking out, or being asked to leave, was the first life-threatening loss in a long series of future losses.

If I want to have a place to live, it requires a much higher salary base. As long as I have the BIG JOB I can have a place to live and pay my child support.

Can a man survive without a home? As a single dad with the Standard Possession Order, it is possible to survive for a while without a home. For me, I was able to find shelter at my sister’s house. I was homeless but I had shelter. I was even able to have my kids on my weekends. And we made it work. But it was not easy.

A few of the intangibles you lose when you lose your house goes beyond the material goods. Sure there are a lot of “things” that you lose, that you wouldn’t even know how to ask for, but there is so much more to the loss. For me, I lost my neighborhood, full of green belts and parks, and home to the tennis club where I played three times a week. The dream that we had created was working for me. And now it was lost.

Can a man survive without a job?

The second death blow. This one is tougher. With today’s economy, this struggle for solvency is much more difficult than I remember it ever being in the past. Of course, now I have an additional $1,500 a month in expenses, and that puts even more pressure on my employment. And, if I want to have a place to live, it requires a much higher salary base. As long as I have the BIG JOB I can have a place to live and pay my child support. But when things get even a bit tight, something will suffer.

As things went for me, I was lucky. In a few months of living with my sister, I got another BIG JOB and felt like I was off to the races of picking my life, as a man and father, back up. Of course, I want a home for my kids. And of course, I want my ex-wife to be able to afford the home I left. I want them both. And I am willing to work to support both dreams. So off I went, on my new job and I immediately set out to buy a new home for myself and my kids. It was a right of passage. I needed to establish another home. I needed a place for my things again.

And things were good for a few months. I got my home, I got my kids in my new home. We swam at the nearby lake, we jumped on the new trampoline, we became a family, a single-dad family, once again.

Today, I am without a home. I am without a job. And I am surviving on goodwill, guts, and hopefulness.

But things changed, and my employer changed their business model and eliminated my position altogether. And six months in, on my new mortgage, I was jobless again. And for a while, I was able to make ends meet by cashing in my retirement funds, and my savings. And I landed some contracts and some project work. And I made my payments and my mortgage as best as I could. And for the next year and a half, things lurched along with some sacrifices and some drama, but for the most part I was able to say on top of the money situation.

And things changed again.As my primary contract changed my billable hours, I saw that I would be late paying my ex-wife on the child support. I contacted her to let her know what was going on. And we were okay for the first month. However things did not get better with my work. And the loss of hours was not immediately replaced.

It was in the second month of my delay that my ex-wife began threatening to turn it all over to the Attorney General’s office. I asked her to reconsider. She pressed. We devolved into angry exchanges over email. We were both sure that we were right.

In the end, she did turn all of our financial details over to the AG’s office. She had some reason. She was doing the best she could for her family, I suppose, but it was very hard for me to reconcile her actions while continuing to cooperate on all the parenting tasks. We agreed that the money fight should not affect our parenting. And we did okay with that.

But when I lost my steady income, or it dropped to an amount lower than my survival rate, I did not have any backup funds, I had no safety net.

In the end, I was unable to replace the income loss from my main work contract. And I was unsuccessful at supplementing that income enough to get caught back up on my mortgage or my child support. And now with the AG’s office putting the credit screws on me, I was unable to refi or file for restructuring bankruptcy. I lost my house. Well, I got to sell my house, but it was not what I wanted.

So now, I’m homeless again. And I have this same choice to make. I can go for the BIG JOB and make enough money to have my own place and support their mom in keeping our old house. Or I can fight in the courts, for 50/50 parenting, what I wanted in the first place, and reduce my primary expenses by $1,5oo a month.

Today I am interviewing for the BIG JOB. And I am hopeful to return to full employment in the next few weeks. And I will begin making my child support payments as soon as that is possible. But today, I am without a home. I am without a job. And I am surviving on goodwill, guts, and hopefulness.

Sincerely

John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
Facebook  | Instagram | Pinterest |  @theoffparent

*written June 2014

As a certified life coach, I’ve been helping men and women find fulfilling relationships. If you’d like to chat for 30-minutes about your dating/relationship challenges, I always give the first 30-session away for free. LEARN ABOUT COACHING WITH JOHN. There are no obligations to continue. But I get excited every time I talk to someone new. I can offer new perspectives and experiences from my post-divorce dating journey. Most of all, I can offer hope.

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We Said, “Til Death Do Us Part” and You’re Not Dead Yet

OFF-heartcentered

2022 Refresh: This is not a recovery blog. I am not trying to teach you anything. I am venting about a divorce I did not want, I fought against, and I eventually resigned to accept. I’m still not happy about the divorce. I AM happy that I am divorced from the woman who had such a cynical mindset, but the method of her departure and her continual betrayals, well, those make me mad. I still love the mother of my children, I still hope for her life to be less stressful and happy. But I will never forgive her for the 1/3 dad role she awarded me as she went on to get everything she asked for while continuing to be angry, vindictive, and anti-co-parent.

To her, this blog stands as a testament to my fury. My pain. My howl into the night of the divorced parent. “Off Parent” is a term used to describe the parent who does not have the kids on a given weekend. Of course, “off” also contains a deeper nugget of meaning, that I intended to be pointed directly at my ex and also at myself, “off” from the devastation of the divorce. Here is a post that was found yesterday by an avid reader. I thought it was worthwhile to resurface it. Cheers.

+++

I’ve failed at marriage twice. I don’t want to fail at it again. So, do I get married, EVER, again?

Somedays you wish your ex was dead. Then you remember your kids and how sad they would be and the visitation schedule that does give you nights and days to your own devices and potential dating/relating/loving again. It would be a huge blow to everyone.

Of course, the divorce was a huge blow as well. And somedays you wonder, WTF? Why did we have to get divorced? If we were still joining our financial strengths and not paying for two houses… Okay, that ship has sailed, but there is research that says often the divorced couple looks back, five years later, and says, “No things are not better now that I’m divorced.” The permanent solution to the transient problems of marriage, money, parenting, sex, and compatible love languages, is not always the best choice.

On the other hand, if I had stayed in my marriage, if I had won the fight and she had agreed to work on some of “my” issues rather than just the crisis of the moment and my problems, well… Again, probably I’d still be in a sexless marriage with a woman who was unhappy most of the time.

How did she become so unhappy? Was I the cause of her depression and anger? I sure tried all the things I knew to make things better.

How did she become so unhappy? Was I the cause of her depression and anger? I sure tried all the things I knew to make things better. More money in the bank. Less complaining about sex. Fewer demands for physical closeness. Cleaner house. And nothing worked. We talked about it once (see: Are You Having Sex, Because I’m Not) and it didn’t really make things better. In fact, she was mad at me for buying the book on reawakening your marriage. It was as if I was accusing her of the problem. I wasn’t. I was trying to figure out OUR part in the loss of passion. I never did get an answer.

I mean, I got these answers:

  • I’m tired
  • There are too many chores
  • The kids are in the next room
  • Not until the dishes and laundry are done
  • You’re not asking me the right way
  • I’m tired at night after the kids go to sleep
  • I’m not a morning person
  • That’s not a very romantic proposition
  • No, I don’t want a massage
  • I don’t like naps in the afternoon on a weekend
  • I need to work
  • The lawn needs to be mowed

And after a while, I think anyone begins to get discouraged. And perhaps, to her, it felt like a war. Like an invasion of her privacy, even in my asking. But the feeling to me was of being put in some sort of glass box. I could see her. I could adore her. I could try to reach out to her, but it was often rejected soundly, and with anger. What’s there to be angry about? I mean, we’re in this together, right?

I remember reading some of David Deida’s work on the polarity between men and women. In his writing, he recommends that the man and woman really work to enhance their polarity. The man works to become more manly, more masculine, more of the romantic poet home from the war to ravage his beauty. The woman’s job is to become more vivacious, more sexy, more desirable. And the heightening of these roles brings up the heat and the chemistry for more passionate love-making, and even, spiritual sex. Ah, yes, how I wanted David to come to have a chat with us, and see if he could offer some advice.

One of the concepts that I really liked in his work was that of not settling for the tired and depressed housewife. No. I wanted and was okay in asking for my wife to be energetic and juicy-alive. She could work to return to the vixen I fell in love with. And if she did that, I would do my part to do even more chivalrous male shit, and keep the home fires burning. Again, that didn’t happen.

Dammit. I’m not happy about this. I wasn’t happy about it then, and there are still parts of it, that chap my hide. Why didn’t she listen when I said we need to work on our sex life? Why did she put up defensive shields around touch and closeness, as a rule?

So what makes a non-emotional person fall in love with an emotional one? What makes a passionate poetic man go bonkers for a woman who was more comfortable running profit/loss scenarios?

I was coming home to a battlefield rather than a home. And in the closing year of our marriage, it was worse than ever. And I began to squawk for my wife to come back. I kept asking for her to stop working on a Saturday, and go with me and the kids to the pool. I kept trying alternative ways of asking for closeness. But even the non-sexual closeness had become painful to her in some way.

Obviously, I can see now, she was already gone. She had been leaving the marriage long before she asked for the divorce. My attempts and requests for more more more, were no longer falling on a receptive heart. She had put up the defenses and was working to cover her options. When I did confront her about going to see an attorney, and she said she had. I didn’t ask how long she had been consulting about her divorce plans. And of course, it doesn’t really matter, because the intentional exit of her passionate feminine energy had been going on for a while. Maybe even longer than I can imagine.

So what makes a non-emotional person fall in love with an emotional one? What makes a passionate poetic man go bonkers for a woman who was more comfortable running profit/loss scenarios? Beauty, yes, but something else as well. There were certain strengths she had that I found attractive. There were business-like decisions and plans that she was an expert at. And in our parenting roles, she excelled in proposing the “plan.”

And she was beautiful. She still is beautiful. She is still my physical type. But she was not from my same planet. And her love language profile was almost opposite from mine. Where I craved touch as my single most powerful indicator of love, her priorities and passions were more piqued by “acts of service.” The “do something for me” love language. And I can see that now. How even a burnt out lightbulb to her was a failure on my part. Why did I not see it and change it without her having to ask me?

Her joke, a line from a book, I think, was, “Another in a long series of disappointments.”

I guess in the end that’s what broke her spirit. She had been disappointed too many times in my fulfillment of her love language preference. And she was ready to pack up and look for her fulfillment somewhere else.

Of course, I don’t ever REALLY wish she were dead. But in some ways, our disconnect was like a death for both of us. I just took a lot longer to catch up to how much pain I was in.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

*this post written June 2014

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Sex is Fun: Should You Settle for Apathetic Sex?

sex is fun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheating Sites

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

*this post was written in June 2014

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image: egypt sex, creative commons usage


DATING METAPHOR: Two Tails Are Wagging or Neither Tail Is Wagging

the dating metaphor

OFF-bostons

From across a 100-foot divide I can tell if a woman is attractive to me. What? What am I looking at, at that distance? Like a dog, from behind, I can only be keying off her overall ratio (hip-waist), the cut and color of her hair, and what she’s wearing. How can those simple details be enough to get a rise out of me?

And when given more time, and more angles, but with about the same amount of information, how can I work myself up into a lather about a woman who I know nothing about?

And when the cutest woman in the world is sitting across from me, and has already asked it I wanted to kiss her (Here and Now) what is it that begins the turning away? A wag is just an initial blush of arousal. But without it, the arousal may never come. I do believe my metaphor about two dogs meeting in a park is quite accurate in assessing the “wag.”

The Dog Dating Metaphor

Two dogs meet in the park
a. either both tails are wagging
b. only one tail is wagging
c. neither tail is wagging

That’s it. It’s that simple. The quicker we can admit the wag or non-wag the quicker we can get to the next step. Relating. But without the WAG there’s no need to take the next step unless you are looking for a running buddy rather than a mate.

Taking the dog metaphor one step further, I believe we are born a certain type of dog. (I think I’m a Boston Terrier.) That’s how we look, how we behave, and it defines a lot about how attractive we are to other dogs. If you’re a poodle and you’re into Boston’s, we’re in business. If you think Boston’s are ugly, or simply don’t get your tail wagging, there’s not much else either of us can do about it. I’m a Boston: tenacious a bit on the muscular side, and very positive and boisterous.

So, seeing the woman with dark hair from 50 paces is very much like spotting one of my preferred breeds across an open field.

And when I get her to the table, even if she’s my type, and she’s interested, there’s got to be the next part: relating. Does she make my brain sizzle? Is our conversation equally balanced? Does she have more going on in her life than work and the gym? Is there a place to slot me in for some activities?

With the smiling woman, cute as a button, and run-obsessed, is there anything else? Is she working on anything extra? Does she have ambitions beyond having fun when she’s not running or working?

I wonder if I’m only going to be interested in artistic women. As a writer, I need someone else who shares a passion for creative expression. Another person who can appreciate the whim of the creative process can hear, “I’m really hitting stride on this project, can we skip tonight?” and not freak out. If the person doesn’t have that burning desire, what does this mean to them? Does it mean I’m not that interested in her? Does it mean that she is not a priority in my life?

But more than that, what is SHE bringing into the relationship? What passions and creative ideas can she bring into the relationship?

If there’s nothing there. The wag simply becomes a wag. “Wow, a very attractive woman.” Just like the woman at the top of the page. (Happily married, I’m sure < I project.) She is a woman with potential. She’s a breed and fit I like.

We are a lot more like animals than we think. By being closer to my animal instincts and listening to my internal Boston Terrier’s heart and compass, I am steering myself towards a partner with both WAG and SWAG.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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Note: this post was written May 2013

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The Sensual and the Sexual: Dating After Divorce

OFF-desktopsexy

You’ve got time. You might have kids. Find the places in your schedules to spend time together.

Sex for men has been documented to be more about hormones and animal instincts than about love. And the mass media industry would have you believing that as well. We are driven by testosterone and orgasm, and we seem to have a much higher need for sexual release. Of course, recent studies have shown that women are just as sexual, but their chemistry is different, and our modern social inhibitions keep most women less predatory about sex. The example given is that a man in heat would head out to the bars to try to find a willing partner. A woman would like to do that, but usually ends up heading across the street for more batteries.

I am well aware of my naturally derived drive towards sex. Sometimes I’m too aware of it. And I’m kind of irritated when the “low-t” ads come on the radio talking about “men over 30.” But that’s where we are as a species. The man must remain aroused and predatory and most of all be able to perform the ritual at a moments notice, or at least within 30-minutes of taking a Viagra.

And I am part of that tribe.

Find the places in your schedules to spend time together. Some of it having animal sex. Most of it teasing out the mutual affection that will last long after the glow of the orgasm or the thrill of the chase.

But there’s another system of heat that is less organically derived and more about fantasy and projection, more mental. The sensual brain is, in my opinion, the biggest drive for me. The animal brain can provide the inspiration and energy for hunting a mate. But the brain not only provides the wooing ideas but also the means and methods for actually pursuing and attracting a willing mate. (This is a different process than the nightclub one-night feast. For me, beyond a few years in college, that concept has lost ALL of its allure.)

While I have had limited sexual experience since getting divorced 4 years ago, I know that while the animal hormones might get me into the hunt, the erotic and sensual can take me to the finish line. If there is physical beauty but no mental acuity, I’m less electrified. But if the chemistry starts with the animal–“Hey, whoooo is that?”–it gets multiplied exponentially by the witty banter and confident responses of a smart mate.

Beyond the immediate arousal of attraction, for me, a lot of romantic foreplay has to be involved. I’m not saying I couldn’t get aroused and pounce without thinking. I’m just not wired that way these days. The testosterone is there, but the sensual brain craves a more nuanced and erotic chase.

Even when I make sexual statements, “I want you.” I am exploring the more erotic possibilities in my mind and hoping the potential partner rises to the occasion. If it were all about grunts and erections, as our bodies and hormones alone reach towards procreation, things might be different. But the brain as a sexual organ, especially in women, cannot be overlooked.

A pursuit happens in several stages. 1. Physical attraction; 2. Banter; 3. Interest; 4. Sexy banter; 5. Sensual arousal; 6. Mutual affection; 7. Lights-on sex.

As long as you’re enjoying the hunt, why speed up, and potentially blow past, the intoxicating high of sexual and sensual arousal?

When the sequence gets too far out of whack, for me, the process can get short-circuited. And with online dating stage #1 can be tricky at best. Photos lie. Even written profiles and “interests” lie. And too much time on 2 through 5 before a physical sniff test, can be delusional and painfully misleading.

If you are lucky to get the sequence right from sexual energy to sensual arousal then you have lift-off. There are still a lot of miles to cover if the coupling becomes Coupling, but that’s fine. As older, divorced, adults, a lot of the pressure to hurry into a relationship in order to procreate is gone. And after divorce, especially, there will most likely be a healthy caution about moving into a relationship. What’s the hurry? As long as you’re enjoying the hunt, why speed up, and potentially blow past, the intoxicating high of sexual and sensual arousal?

You’ve got time. You might have kids. Find the places in your schedules to spend time together. Some of it having animal sex. Most of it teasing out the mutual affection that will last long after the glow of the orgasm or the thrill of the chase.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

*this post was written in May 2014

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simple love (a poem)

stripped back
to
touch
breath
smiles
i fall
each minute
you are nearby
fulfilling my dream
simple
giving
in easy moments
spent
alongside

2-21-22


Searching Online for the Last Date: Seeking THE ONE

OFF-waterlove

How is it that I am in such a rush to find the next and last girlfriend/lover? I say to them, “I’m in no hurry,” but I’m kind of lying. I’m not clear what the pressure is. Lust? Passion? Loneliness? But I am sure that rushing never helps.

So I’m driving headlong towards the finish line of this story, The Off Parent. While I won’t end being the *off* parent, something about this blog/book/story line has divorce and dating written all over it. If I really wasn’t dating, and rather I was building my next marriage, and thus not divorced… Well, let’s just say I’m both eager for the story to end, and a little saddened by the closing chapters, because it means there will be no more story.

What’s the story here?

Divorce. Kids.

Depression. Dad. Men.

Dating. Relationships. Over40, er 50.

If I KNOW my love language is physical touch, how could I ever be fulfilled with someone who had some other priority? Would I always be longing for touch?

Well, if I’m imagining this next relationship is the LAST ONE, well, that too has its own kind of pressure, that perhaps is just as debilitating as the rushing of the process.

What I know, is this pause, getting off the online dating sites, has given me a bit more time to be quiet and listen to what’s going on in me. Too much activity and interest outside my own process, keeps me from listening very well to what’s going on.

I’m excited by both the potential women in my life. I’m eager, but trying to remain calm, collected, reflective. I’m doing my best to LISTEN when I would like to rush on and tell my side, my truth, my siren song. But I think I’m working too hard to call in the next lover.

And even in the potential relationships, landing one would mean letting go of the other.

I was sharing the ideas of both women to a friend today. I showed their Facebook pages and pictures of each woman. My friend asked a few questions. And I answered as honestly as I could. But I found myself more drawn to one of the two women, because she is soooooo classically beautiful. And, of course, she’s the one who’s the least responsive to moving things along. No worries.

My friend was asking me about each of them and their previous relationships and current approach to dating. “Neither of them have been in a long-term close relationship for quite some time.” UM. Didn’t that set off my ALARM? It sure did when I said it today.

Okay, so both of them are writers. Both of them have children from marriages that didn’t work out at all. Both of them are beautiful and intelligent. And both of them admit to not making relationships a priority in their recent past.

Okay.

So, another concept I really should start to understand about each of these women, individually, is their love language.

And the ADORE factor, the final ingredient, has not had time to grow with either of them. I think that is about time. Time together. Time managing complex lifestyles and complex work/family lives.

If I KNOW my love language is physical touch, how could I ever be fulfilled with someone who had some other priority? Would I always be longing for touch and this woman would be more interested in acts of kindness, or just quality time together?

And so, beautiful girl, she’s been fine with not seeing each other for almost two weeks, if we get together tomorrow, as we’ve tentatively planned. How’s that going to work out for my “touch” needs?

I know we’re not dating yet. In both cases, we’re chatting about dating, what we would want, and what we don’t want. But in the holding on loosely, I need to make sure I’m not loosening my own desires and my own knowledge that “touchy feely” is one of my base needs.

So I’m slowing down. And maybe I need to relax the idea of THE LAST ONE a little. If it works out like GF #1, where we are open and honest, perhaps the NEXT ONE lasts a year, or more. But trying to hold that out as the goal, and then allowing the pressures of my own desires to drive me towards a relationship that may not be right for me… It’s a lot of pressure.

And the courting phase does have its magic. Simple things like, the first time we kiss, are still on the horizon. If this is the LAST ONE, then this is IT. This is the LAST moment for that thrilling anticipation of something, or some one, new.

Like the color of her panties each time I am privileged enough to catch a glimpse of them, maybe, at some point, take them off. When this act has lost its mystery, is that what makes men and women go back out of the hunt?

I am here with two different women. The pressure I feel is something internal that is not really serving me or this process of listening and learning about myself and what feels right.

I long. I hunger. But those are not new feelings. When I jumped rabid at the Kissing Girl, perhaps I was showing some of the hollowness I’m feeling in my love life. It’s been a long time since I shared my bed with someone. GF #1 was a master at filling those needs. We cuddled and slept together quite well. And as Kissing Girl introduced me to her bedroom we talked about how cold and dark she liked the room. NICE! I was ready.

And yet, if I had rushed that one, I would still be pulling myself out of the wreckage.

So yesterday, when one of the women said she’d probably like to take Friday to just chill rather than get together, I was a tiny bit disappointed, but more about my own “awww” desire. And when the other woman didn’t call me back after saying she wanted to chat on the phone, I was hurt but responded today with another ping that got a nice response and potential plans this weekend.

I am out there. I am poised to listen more than talk, if I can remember to do it. And I am seeking knowledge of their love language, so I can understand how that part of the puzzle might fit together. It might sound cliché, but we didn’t have such a simple system of compatibility back when I was meeting the ex-y for the second time around.

Today I know I am in desire of a touch-centered lover, who is fearless in talking about emotions or tough subjects, and who I find enduringly attractive. I have two of those qualities with two different women who are operating at their own pace. I do not know if they are touch-centered. If they have not been in close relationships for a while, perhaps they are not. And their low need for touch would prove painful and terminal to me in the long run.

And the ADORE factor, the final ingredient, has not had time to grow with either of them. I think that is about time. Time together. Time managing complex lifestyles and complex work/family lives.

What I know is this time, tonight for example, gives me pause to reflect and learn. A moment not in the throes of wooing or courting or impressing, but hearing what is painful inside of me at this moment. What I am missing. And today, in telling the story of both these women to my friend, knowing that I don’t know their love language at all.

Pause.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

*written May 2013

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Seven Signs of a Healthy Post-Divorce Relationship

dating as a single parent

OFF-healthycoupling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

*this post was originally written in July 2014

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The Painful Business of Divorce

OFF-sadgirl

Divorce is big business. And fk that.

I’m not in the divorce business. I’m not a divorce counselor or coach. I’m kinda anti-divorce if you want to know the truth. But we all go through a divorce or two in our lives. If not you and your partner, than a friend or family member. It’s just how the modern world is.

If we could truly get our heads around “in the best interest of the children” we might be able to divorce in a friendly manner.

The other night, when picking my daughter and three of her friends up from a birthday party, I asked, “How many of you girls have divorced parents?” 100%. In our time, divorce is no longer the stigma it was when I was a kid. Today we plan things, we think about the kids first (at least I did) and we try our best not to damage them on the way out of our married life and into our divorced life. The exy and I did okay. I think I took the brunt of the swift kick to the ego, pocket-book, and time with my kids, but hey… I’m not trying to write a bitching post. I’ve done plenty of those.

No this post goes out to all the people involved in the business of divorce. The trolling for divorce attorneys. The coaches who are reposting and retweeting my articles to help their clients.

I’m just sick of the Divorce Business. Sick of it. It’s a necessary evil, I understand this, but does it have to be so sleazy? And sure, cooperative divorce ain’t for everyone, I get that. And I know there are high-conflict (usually coupled with high-wealth) divorces that require special handling. But if we were honest about divorce we’d all have a cooperative divorce. The problem is, things get messy. Divorce is emotional. And emotions can run hot and get you in a lot of trouble.

So we blabber, yell, and hurt to our attorneys, at $250 an hour (therapists are a lot cheaper) so that we can make the best deal. Again, I have a bitter taste in my mouth, and I apologize for my disdain, but my beef is with my ex-wife and not with the woman who advised her. My beef is with the woman who was paid to be our impartial divorce counselor and then told me to get with the program.

If we could truly get our heads around “in the best interest of the children” we might be able to divorce in a friendly manner. But it is often not about the children. How can a family that is democratic and fully shared be divided in a way as lopsided as the custodial/non-custodial parent?

Even when we attempted to do everything in a cooperative manner, we did not. Even when we agreed to a cooperative and fair divorce, she had other things on her mind.

Yes, my then-wife began to go after my parenting skills in the therapist’s office. She was convinced that she needed more time with the kids. She was certain that she could feed, shelter, and nurture them in a more consistent and “mothering” way. There was a fine line between the “interest of the children” and the interest of what she wanted. And according to the law in my state, she was entitled to get.

So even when we paid to be civil we were not. Even when we attempted to do everything in a cooperative manner, we did not. Even when we agreed to a cooperative and fair divorce, she had other things on her mind.

I don’t think she set out to screw me. But she had the jump on me by at least two months when she finally told me she wanted a divorce. She’d met with an attorney, and was no longer interested in our couple’s therapy. Her word was cynical. She no longer believed that any good would come from sticking it out with me. For the kids, or for herself, she saw the light at the end of our marriage as a way to happiness for herself.

She was wrong. Well, of course, I can’t say she was wrong about the marriage. On that front, she did me a favor. But she was wrong about the happiness. And she was only thinking of her happiness and not the happiness of our children, when she got a lawyer to consider her options. She was only thinking of herself at that point. She’d had enough of what I wasn’t giving her. She was done waiting for me to take care of something she could no longer ignore.

Unfortunately for me and the kids, I believe that thing was a sadness inside her that may not have an easy solution. That sadness that we both suffered from occasionally.

The dam burst in my dark heart and ice water began rushing up through my veins and I could hardly think after she spoke the betrayal.

Well, I chose to turn into the sadness and confront it. And from time to time, it got the better of me. I’ll admit that. And some of the times WE worked through together were unfathomable. We survived. We never quite made it back to thriving, but we supported and loved each other through some really tough blows on both sides.

But somewhere in the recoil and release of the hard years, she jumped out of the train and began looking for an escape path. For a while she didn’t tell me she wasn’t in the train any more. She was running along side the train, and I thought we were “good.” Or at least I thought we were okay. “Working on it.” Was how I would’ve framed it at the time. But she was way ahead of me on her exit trajectory. And the little lies, like why she no longer wanted to have sex. Or where she had been all afternoon when she wasn’t responding to my texts.

This is my howl into the dark night. Her change of heart derailed the train for all of us. And while we’ve done the best we can, and while I have to admit I am *much* happier in a new relationship, I still have sadness about how the trust between us was crushed with that single admission in couple’s therapy.

“Have you already been to see a lawyer,” I asked.

She was teary-eyed when she looked at the therapist and then me. “Yes.”

The dam burst in my dark heart and ice water began rushing up through my veins and I could hardly think after she spoke the betrayal.

Why hadn’t she brought the issues into therapy? How had she gone to an attorney before unpacking her grievances with me and our helper? Maybe the helper wasn’t helping enough. Maybe her father was passing her his sage advice. The man who married and divorced her mom twice. Maybe she was already in love with someone else.

Or maybe she just gave up on me.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

*this post was written August 2015

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The Whimsical Blowjob & Other Unexplainable Marital Ecstasies

I use the term blowjob interchangeably to apply to both sexes. And for me, the phrase, better to give than receive, actually fits. But it is also a sensuous desire that needs to flow both ways, for the full appreciation to be understood. Again, I’m out on an untested limb here, but I’m assuming a person is either “into” oral sex or they are not. Ideas like learning, or inexperienced, by the time one has passed out of their twenties… Well, I’m willing to bet, if the fascination isn’t there, the desire isn’t there either.

In my divorce recovery class (I participated in one session, and facilitated at a second session) the most amazing meeting was the night we get to ask the sex questions. And without breaking any confidentiality here, this was the big “ah ha” moment for me and many of the others in the group.

BIG REVEAL: Oral sex is not for everyone. Many people (both men and women) can “take it or leave it.”

I was stunned by this revelation  Having had an insatiable desire to see, explore, play with, and taste, the female vagina, I have not known a time since my late teens that I wasn’t willing, ready, and able to dive into a woman’s nether region with abandon and enthusiasm.

I did not have an example of her withdrawal into logic and reason. I was not aware of how her stress response was to go into “spreadsheet” mode and try to map out the “plan.”

I do understand that people express love in many different ways. And if we take the 5 Love Languages as a model, there are 4 of them that are not physical touch. But still, if the sexual act and sexual organs are not objects of mesmerizing awe and curiosity, I suppose, in my definition that person is not all that sensual. I mean, sex is a yes, in most people, but oral sex, I am understanding is an acquired taste. Or perhaps a learned and cultivated behavior.

In one of my two classes, the question of oral sex made the rounds as a polling question. “Oral sex, yes or no?” And the answers ranged from “not so much” to “essential” to what became known as my answer, “deal killer.”

I am a sensuous human. I find my way, my security, my thrill, and my comfort in physical intimacy. And the actual act of having sex is less important to me than being in-process in some form of physical connection with my significant other when we are in close proximity. If I pass you in the kitchen as I’m heading to another room in the house, I am the one who is likely to pass close by so I can put my hand on your back or shoulder as I move close by you.

And when things get difficult in life or even in the relationship, I am the kind of person who would rather snuggle and support than almost anything else. It’s not avoidance. The tasks and trials will all be met, but let’s pause for a minute and gather our collective resources, be together with the event, and then move from that place of closeness to solving whatever is going on. My ex-y, I learned, was from a different planet. And while the signs were clearly marked when we were courting, had I known what to look for, we didn’t really hit any major stressful relating issues until well into our third or fourth year of marriage.

So, I did not have an example of her withdrawal into logic and reason. I was not aware of how her stress response was to go into “spreadsheet” mode and try to map out the “plan.” And as these two very different response and manage systems became engaged over and over again, perhaps that’s when and how we began to drift apart. We drifted towards our own individual comfort systems, and were saddened and hurt by the other partner’s inability to bridge the gap for us. And as things escalated we became even more locked into our patterns. I wanted a hug, she wanted the numbers.

I can now see how my need for closeness during stressful moments would trigger her need for logic.

In terms of sexual compatibility, however, the ex-y and I did share a great love of the sensual. She did love oral sex. And as our patterns of lovemaking evolved, it was clear that she was primarily orgasmic via manual or oral stimulation. So we got into it. I had found a partner who was willing to indulge my curiosity and passion for giving her a “blowjob.” So much so that the concept of “she comes first” was a badge of honor with me. Or at least a known competency.

So now, in my evolved patterns and tastes, when I think of having sex, the idea always starts with me diving in head first and not surfacing until “timeout” was requested. THEN, we’d get to me. (grin)

And I guess, I now understand, that my oral orientation is not universal. In fact, many of the women in the classes fell in the take it or leave it category. It was interesting how you could understand a bit more about the person’s makeup by knowing if they were “in to” or not “in to” oral sex.

One of the ways I learned to ask for sex from the ex-y was to suggest that I give her a blowjob. And I was perfectly happy giving her a big “O” and walking away. That rarely happened, but it was fine. I had sensuousness to last me days even without orgasming myself. Usually, it worked better if I offered to give her a massage. But I tried and refined my “ask” many times over, in an attempt to solve the question of why she was beginning to close me out. And the blowjob was one of our codes. But it often referred to me going down on her.

Looking back on everything, I can now see how my need for closeness during stressful moments would trigger her need for logic. My desire to solve things by hugging and kissing and napping was contraindicated in her brain. Her ask for money planning meetings, and mapping out summer schedules was a huge buzz kill for me. I would do it. And perhaps now I am understanding that she would “do it” for me in the same way. Hmmm.

I am not suggesting that my ex-y in some way didn’t enjoy sex, or that she wasn’t sensual. But her availability factor was about 10% of mine. And her passion level, when things got difficult, went into negative numbers pretty quickly. And that’s a shame because things are going to get difficult. Situations and life events are going to happen. Disagreements are going to be a part of living and evolving with someone. That’s exactly how we evolve.

If that person doesn’t do well with accepting or joining in closeness, even when things are difficult, then I am going to be feeling left out in the cold. It’s not abandonment as much as longing to JOIN around an activity or event.

GF 1 had a great phrase that embodied the idea. It was about experiencing something so great or fun that you wanted to go home and “have sex” about it. As if you could lock-in the great experience by joining together in love making.

So maybe the nap is also a form of sensual ecstasy. Or maybe to my ex-y it was a sign of laziness. Often she would need to get sick, before letting herself drop back into relax and take it easy mode. And she often resented my self-care needs of taking a nap on Saturday AND Sunday if I could arrange it. And it wasn’t like I was trying to nap in spite of her. I would try and arrange things so that we could nap together. Who knows, maybe we’d make love, maybe I’d give her a blowjob. Who knows?

She didn’t get more available for play or ecstasy. There was always something else. There was always the next thing.

But she was often too wrapped up in getting everything into a certain order that would make her feel safe. It was often money, or house cleaning, or catching up on her work, that would prevent her from allowing me to give her a blowjob or a massage. And how many times we missed those opportunities are uncountable. Maybe I would have been better served, or she would have been better encountered if I had demanded more naps with her. At some point, after ask number 75, you begin to get fatigued. And I suppose she might have had the same feeling about filling in the projections or modeling our financial future. If I had only participated more.

But my question is this. If I had only participated more in getting the chores done, or making sure there was enough money in the bank accounts, then what? Would she have opened up and become more receptive to sensual advances? Would she have accepted more offers to nap together and receive a blowjob or two?

I tried that. I worked hard to jump into action and pickup the house, get the kids off to friend’s houses, get the dishes clean, be a good earner so we wouldn’t have to worry about money. I did the dutiful husband role and I went through a two-year period where I stepped it up a notch. But it didn’t work. She didn’t get more available for play or ecstasy. There was always something else. There was always the next thing.

And I found myself giving myself blowjobs more often than giving them to her. (frown) And MAYBE I could have been more demanding there too. Maybe I should’ve made the sexual connection more of an issue in couples therapy, rather than letting most of our discussions and negotiations focus on some crisis that always seemed to be at the top of her list.

I don’t think I could’ve changed her, with any of my activities or requests, into being a more happy and whimsical human being. I don’t think that my asking for naps, or blowjobs, or sensuous connection could have gotten more creative and flexible. And no matter how hard I tried, and how many spreadsheets I participated in filling out. No matter how much money was in the back to make US feel secure. She did not willingly relax and let herself go, without a huge effort on both our parts.

I won’t be traveling that path again: trying to change a non-touch love language person, into a touch-oriented person. It does not work. It cannot work. The behaviors can change, but the wiring remains the same.

And there were things in the early stages of dating my ex-y, that I might have seen, had we even had the “love languages” model at that time. But I was head over heels in love with the body and beauty that brought me so much pleasure in those early days, before the stress of being a family, with kids and bills and insurance requirements. Before we experienced stress together things were rather dreamy.

Under stress, however, she became a different person. Maybe I did too. But our two corners of comfort were on different sides of the planet. I wanted holding, she wanted numbers.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

*post was written on April 2013.

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spitting fire (a poem)

girl in a black dress

girl in a black dress

there she was in her little black dress
just crossing the bridge towards me
spitting fire
asking me to engage
or be enflamed to bursting


The Crushing Impact of Emotional Infidelity on My Marriage

OFF-lunching

True Confessions Of A Cheating Suburban Mom says, ” I am a 40-something woman near the end of my divorce, and I am the one who was unfaithful.” < thus started a popular post on DivorcedMoms.com and Huffington Post’s Divorce section. And just the title irritated me. Sensationalizing cheating seems like a bad idea, sure you might get massive hits and comments, but confessional divorce material needs to have a redeeming quality, if it’s just a tell-all, it’s more of a Hollywood Housewives, rather than material for growth and self-understanding.

+++

Did I really need to read this post? Is this “suburban mom” going to give me some advice that will be helpful in my recovery from infidelity and divorce? Is there something educational or illuminating about this confessional, or is it more of a slowing-down-to-gawk-at-the-car-crash-moment? I’m not interested in the later, and I spend a lot of time trying to pull apart my own dysfunctional mistakes as I move forward as a single dad. But again, this headline and first sentence have me forming my response before I’ve heard her “True Confession.” Even that title starts us off on the wrong foot, with a sensational tabloid headline like that, how can this be an introspective or evolutionary post. I will pause here and read her post… Back in a minute… Please stand by…

+++

“I didn’t consider divorce. What I hadn’t realized is that over time I grieved the end of my marriage while I was still in it. I lay awake in bed at night crying, wondering how it was ever going to get better. He was next to me in bed, never a word to me, never wrapped his arms around me, never asked what was wrong.” – ibid

“I threw myself into my children and work and ignored my own needs. I did this for a very long time and continued to put myself last on my own priority list.” – ibid

“A friendship with another man grew into something that was not tawdry sex, but a renewed sense of happiness and hope. It evolved over time and wasn’t based in lust, but conversation, appreciation and understanding.” – ibid

“If I had known what would happen, and was aware of myself enough to understand what it all meant, I would go back and end my marriage before any infidelity took place.” – ibid

+++

She got it. Okay, I’m relieved the popularity was not based on some drive-by sensationalism. In fact, the author, keeps things very clean and honest. And if this were my ex-wife I would have to applaud her for digging in an figuring out how disconnected she had become from her marriage, herself, and finally waking up when another man showed her the respect and care she was starving for.

The emotional infidelity is probably what signaled the demise of my marriage, but the behavior was evident at the beginning of the relationship.

It’s true, when we marry we have not real idea what’s ahead. When we add children to the mix, all things are changed forever. We’ve got a completely different responsibility at that point. For me, my needs and dreams, took a back seat to supporting and loving my family (both wife and two kids). I was a committed and engaged father. And we experienced some of the moments of joy in our lives that were unimaginable before kids. That will never be lost.

The magic and mystery of your first child is like nothing you can imagine. I can’t begin to tell you what’s going to happen. You have to let it happen, you have to be open to the transformation to take place in your life. But if you dig in deep with your wife and new baby you will find… spirituality unlike anything church can provide. (I’ll leave the religious epiphanies out of this post.) And that awe changes everything you do, and for me, everything I then dreamed of and worked towards. I was transformed even as our son was in the womb being prepared for his journey into my hands at his birth.

The doctor let me catch him as he sprung forth into the light of our lives. AMAZING. I didn’t need to cut the cord, I was already blissed out. And the days and weeks after his arrival passed in a haze of love and bliss and reconstitution. I was blown apart by the arrival of my son. I was father, son, and holy ghost all in one second. And then I had a new mission in life. Be the dad I wanted. And be the father that would nurture and protect this little fella throughout his life.

And that’s not exactly the way it worked out. But that was the plan and the dream and motivation going into the efforts of having a second child. We, as a family, sailed on into the chaos of post 9-11 emotional and economic free fall. And we nested as a new family unit seeking protection and joy. It was a hard and dark time for everyone. And our blissful moments, while still sparkling and plentiful, were also punctuated with depression, stress, financial woes, and eventually relationship strain.

Somewhere in that morass of bliss and brokenness, my then-wife began having lunches with a young work colleague. She wasn’t telling me about these liaisons. And if I look back at how we began our courtship, they too started with lunches. And though I didn’t know it at the time, she was living with a man at the time we began lunching.

So lunching was a gateway thing. And something that she needed to not tell me about. Hmm.

When I was checking the shared computer one afternoon, there was an odd message in the open gmail account. As I was the IT-manager of the family, and this subject line looked like SPAM I clicked on it to delete it with the “filter this type of email” button. But the first sentence was not an offer for New Internet Cable, as I suspected from the subject line. It was a thinly veiled love letter from this young colleague.

She never quite copped to the fact that it was an emotional infidelity. Or that her actions were an obvious exit from the relationship.

To be fair, I don’t think my ex-wife ever slept with this young single male. But she was lunching and exchanging emails with him. As I sat, horrified, I read about the struggles of my marriage, my depression, and my difficulties finding work. These were issues that he was responding to in this email back to my wife. And at the end of the letter, the kicker. “Thanks for showing me the library. It was a great place to talk and get a free cup of coffee. I’m sure I’ll go there often. It was great to see you.”

Boom. I was shot dead at that very moment. The lunches, the sharing of our local library (books and coffee – a huge connection between my wife and myself) and the deep sharing about her husband’s issues. And here was this sympathetic young man, offering his support and future correspondence, as she needed it. And future lunches or coffees in the library down the street in our neighborhood.

I didn’t know how deep this cut me, at the moment. I was suffering through some depressive issues of my own, it’s true, but those hurts and issues should’ve been something my then-wife expressed to me. Or at least in therapy. But not to another man. Not over lunches. And NOT in our local library.

I still visit the library. It’s a wonderful place with coffee by donation, nice books, and comfy chairs. And still, somehow, the ache of that found email that caused our family great heartache and drama. We eventually worked through most of the issues in therapy. She apologized immediately and said she recognized how it could’ve been hurtful to me.

She never quite copped to the fact that it was an emotional infidelity. Or that her actions were an obvious exit from the relationship. And years later she chose to ask for the actual exit. I’m grateful we didn’t split back then, when our kids were 1 and 3. And while we had some wonderful times between then and when we finally split up, the patterns (hidden lunches with another man) were part of her DNA from before we met.

It always surprised me when the secret lunches would come up on random conversations. A comment on her Facebook page from her ex-husband for example. Maybe I should’ve been more diligent. Or more laid back. But the lunches when we started getting reacquainted were quite special and less-than-innocent. If I had known she was living with a man, I probably would’ve cut them off all together. But I didn’t and we continued until she asked me to a Dear John lunch. She said she needed to complete or commit to her relationship with another man before we went any further in our dates.

I might have made a different decision at that point had I been given the truth.

I always thanked her for that. It seemed honest and clean at the time. But what I didn’t know, was that she was living with him while she was lunching with me. I’m sorry, but that’s an infidelity any way you look at it. Unless she was willing to tell both of us, she was not being honest or giving us the ability to make our own decisions about the nature of our relationship.

The emotional infidelity is probably what signaled the demise of my marriage, but the behavior was evident at the beginning of the relationship. I just didn’t have the sense to ask more questions or probe into the depth of this “other man” relationship she mentioned as she was cutting things off with me. We’d had some lunches and one evening date where we kissed quite a bit.

I might have made a different decision at that point had I been given the truth.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

*this post was written in 2014

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The Evolving Single Dad: Failure to Hopefulness Again

OFF-dadfeet-gmp

After divorce, struggling with identity and depression is common. This single dad has found strength by focusing on hopefulness and cultivating a joyfulness within himself.

It’s been over five years since I walked out of my family home and changed everyone’s life forever. Sounds dramatic now, but when I was going through it, I was not sure what the rest of my life held. There were moments I could not tell you one good thing that was ahead for me. And I cratered for a bit, taking refuge at my sister’s house while I decided what I was going to do.

When you’re flat on your back in depression and failure, what you learn is how to get back up.

Now, looking back on it, the worst event I can recall in my personal history, I have somehow grown more resilient after having survived it. And I suppose my kids have also gained a bit of survival-in-the-face-of-the-storm strength. And today, even though I’m in a similar start over place, I am not afraid or unhappy. I have taken a tumble as the result of my own actions, my own over-optimism, and the hostile ex. I have landed here. Starting over again. And there is hope here. The horizon is bright.

And the evolution of The Off Parent has followed a similar trajectory. I have come from angry and vindictive to forgiveness and now letting go. And reaching this point offers some new opportunities. Rather than dealing with divorce, I am thinking more about Dating and what another relationship might look like. Rather than writing vitriolic screed, I’m leaning into love poems.

And I have learned a lot on this path. And even today, with a chest cold a fever, I can say I am happy. I have learned to take, even the catastrophic failure and flip it around into opportunity. And then somehow continue to see the hope in that opportunity. There really is a wide range of paths out of this moment of pause. And there is no reason to thrash. I will reemerge when the next job provides the means to support both myself and my kids. And until then I’m going to enjoy this moment to the fullest. I’m recommitting to tennis and fitness. I’m starting to sing songs again.

I have been able to not only show them, but instill in them this tendency towards optimism and hope.

When you’re flat on your back in depression and failure what you learn is how to get back up. And inside that how is the hope that is self-generated and self-sustaining. Hope is the key. Without it the daily grind is brutal and even the smiling pictures of your children don’t lift you. But if you can imagine a single hopeful idea, cling to it, set it on fire and tend the hopefulness. You can find the energy again to reach out for what you need by building and nurturing hopefulness in yourself.

In the five years, I’ve shown my children a lot of emotional sides of myself. I’ve remained true to my promise of keeping all money issues and anger out of my relationship with them. The adult stuff needs to be handled outside their sphere. And I’ve shown them how to rebound with hope and energy time and again. In recent years, as my life has stabilized quite a bit, I have been able to not only show them but instill in them this tendency towards optimism and hope. That’s my gift. Seeing them dealing with setbacks in their young lives with similar resilience has been a fine reward for both their mom and me.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

*post was written in 2014

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What Are the Big Relationship Questions After Divorce?

dating a single dad

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,

John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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*this post was written in 2019

As a certified life coach, I’ve been helping men and women find fulfilling relationships. If you’d like to chat for 30-minutes about your dating/relationship challenges, I always give the first 30-session away for free. LEARN ABOUT COACHING WITH JOHN. There are no obligations to continue. But I get excited every time I talk to someone new. I can offer new perspectives and experiences from my post-divorce dating journey. Most of all, I can offer hope.

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


always arriving (a poem)

father daughter in nyc, nov 2021

father daughter in nyc, nov 2021

leaving and arriving
nyc
at the prettiest time of year
alone
remembering other moments
other lovers
adventures that led me here
as if
this city is a gateway
to next adventures
“oh shit, i’m in ny, what’s about to happen?”
yet, here i am again
technically not alone
but …
wait, i am here to learn a new lesson this time

love is love is love is love
the love you make
that’s all there is
and this love
this companionship
contains everything necessary
for a lifetime of joy and connection
of course
parenting forms an unbreakable bond
where distance and time
bring a deeper affection
easy appreciations
are somehow affirming
our own good hearts
an lessons in learning to love
another person without limits
there is no risk in loving your kids too much
only in missing moments when your attention
could’ve been more supportive
more joyful
in our lives we need that one person
i want to be that one person
who always loves
who invites more love
and gives freely
without expectations
or rewards
this is the reward
this live
love
moment
this then
is
heaven
on
earth

11-27-21 (beginning my 60th year on the planet)


grey moon (a poem)

grey moon

grey moon

there was this moment
when i felt the end
of my love
it wasn’t a big thing
more like a quiet pop
as i imagined your leaving
and my relief

the weather had turned colder
the beds were unmade
and warm from snuggling
something in the coffee
tasted bitter
sent a shiver to my deepest heart

i will pause here
reconsider
be quiet
observe
listen to the words
and less to my cooling mood

knowing i don’t always
make the right decision
when it comes to the heart
or leaving
or staying
or letting go

11-22-21


like lemonade (a poem)

like lemonade - a poem by john mcelhenney

like lemonade - a poem by john mcelhenney

i could not hold on to her
sharp edges
my hand strength
was no longer
sufficient
my heart
no longer
capable
of holding the space
for her
and
me

at some point
you have to let go
of the weight
and the gift
to continue
up the side of the waterfall
alone
enlightened
and
lightened
by sadness
and loss
returning to the peak
alone
but triumphant
or defiant
definitions and words
do little
to explain
this moment

11-12-21


Maybe I Needed An Angry Ex-wife to Push Me: To Feel Anger

my angry ex-wife

my angry ex-wife

She’s got a way of making me mad. Just knowing how she slit the throat of both my marriage and my entire financial life in one selfish move… Fk. Yeah, today, it is easy for me to get in touch with anger and resentment.

How My Ex-wife Did Us Wrong

Divorce is a two-way street. The decision to get a divorce, however, can be made unilaterally by one partner. If you have kids, that decision is going to affect all of you for the rest of your lives. Please take care with your decisions. Don’t just GO FOR IT, because you think you might WIN. (SEE: 7 Strategies for Winning Divorce)  Don’t listen to the lawyer who is selling the “package” divorce to you. It’s not what’s best for the kids. Even if you think you can’t go on, PLEASE, talk to your co-parent BEFORE talking to a lawyer. And if you’re in couples’ therapy, please use that time to bring up your issues BEFORE divorce becomes your escape hatch.

She was just so tired all the time. And mad.

For the last year of my marriage, my then-wife was angry. And it wasn’t passive-aggressive anger. It was a “fuck you” anger that she was unable to control. She couldn’t really be honest in therapy about what was causing her to be so furious. But she obviously got the message to the attorney who advised her to take the deal.

Here’s what the typical divorce package looks like:

  • Mom gets the majority of the kids’ time
  • Dad gets the majority of the kids’ bills
  • Mom gets the house and car
  • If you don’t have kids, the divorce should be easy

The Imbalanced Divorce Laws Are Bad for Everyone

Yes, I lament my single dad getting the shaft deal, but it wasn’t all bad. There was an aspect of the freedom, once the divorce went through, that was refreshing. I recall buying a $100 pair of Oakley sunglasses without having to beg anyone. I didn’t have to negotiate every single purchase I wanted to make. I was free.

I was also burdened with a mortgage-sized child support obligation. (1,600+ per month, plus medical coverage for both kids.) Yes, but… I was free.

What I lost was 70% of my time with my son and daughter. And what my mad ex-wife gained was a weapon she would use against me time and again over the course of the next eleven years. (My daughter turned 18 a year ago, but I paid child support up until June of this year, the end of the school year.) There was a significant imbalance of time and power when she was decreed the Custodial Parent.

She suddenly had an entitlement to the money each month. She kept saying it was “for the kids” as she bought expensive shoes for herself, took trips without the kids, and hired babysitters so she could date during the week. She pawned my kids off on babysitters, rather than give me equal time. If she wanted time off, she should’ve followed through on the 50/50 parenting discussion we began at the onset of the divorce process.

What I Lost in the Divorce

I lost my kids. That was the biggest setback I’ve had in my life. Losing so much time with them, losing even more touch with them as they became driving teenagers. But, primarily, my kids lived with their mom and they visited me. My house was never able to be a home. It was more like a hotel on the weekends my ex-wife had off.

That was really what it felt like to my kids. Their lives continued in the same house, the same school, the same routines, except I was just on an extended (forever) business trip. While their lives went somewhat unmolested, everything about my life was turned to ashes.

I lost my house, my best friend, my neighborhood and friends, my tennis leagues that were a block from the house, my kids. Mainly my kids. But, the reality is, the parent who leaves the kids and house behind has to ACTUALLY START OVER. I still don’t have a proper toolbox. I left that at the house. And it’s taken me 11 full years to have the financial balance sheet to afford even a modest home.

I’m Mad About the Way I Was Treated

Yes, I’m mad. I’m furious. And I’ve been furious since my wife changed the game a month before we filed all of our papers with the family courts. When we had negotiated 50/50 shared parenting, I was unhappy but cooperative. At the end, after the finances had been negotiated, and the holidays, and “joint custody” was the plan, after all that, she decided to go for the divorce package. Fk the dad. Let’s go for the best deal we can get. His problems are no longer mine.

And that would’ve been enough, I suppose. She could’ve celebrated her victory and left me at peace, but that was not what happened. Several years after we were divorced, my employer lost a key client and let me know they would need to catch up on my paychecks over the coming months, as we moved to replace the business. I let my ex-wife know as soon as I got this news. I asked her to be patient as I worked to get caught up. I was not yet behind on my child support, but I imagined the $1,600 payments were going to be a problem very soon after my employer couldnt’ make payroll.

When I was ONE WEEK LATE, my ex-wife filed her case to the Enforcement Division of the Attorney General’s Office with the state of Texas. And boom, my credit was crushed. I was unable to refinance my meager house. I was shit out of luck.

I’m Mad She Would Hurt Her Co-Parent

You can’t swing a heavy bat at your ex-partner without hitting the kids. While my ex-wife must’ve imagined she was hurting me alone, she was also hurting our two children. This is a pattern that would be repeated over the next several years as she also decided to stop including me in any family decisions, even though this was agreed to in our divorce decree. She simply stopped co-parenting. What were my options? Sue her? For what?

My ex-wife crippled my earning power, my buying power, and my livelihood for the last 9 years. In this action she was hurting my ability to buy Christmas presents for my kids, to afford a place big enough to have them over on my weekends. She didn’t care. She was pressing the matter at every opportunity. She, sort of, still does. But, I’ve learned to never ask her for anything. That’s the way she must’ve wanted it. And that’s what she got. But she will understand at some point, the damage she did to her children when she was hoping to crush me.

The dreams of my parenting (during marriage and after divorce) were cast aside by a series of decisions and actions my then-wife and ultimately ex-wife chose. She did this. I’ve got my freedom, yes, and the love of my children. Someday, I hope she gets the recoil of the weapon she fired at her former partner and father of her children.

Namasté,

John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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The Divorce Recovery Path: My Journey Back to Joy (part 1)

the divorce recovery path (tm) 2014

divorce-recovery-path-mcel

My divorce has been finalized for four years now. This is how my journey back from depression, loss, and hopelessness looked. And this blog has taken me through all of these steps in a way that I can now look back and see how the building blocks were necessary. Here is my divorce recovery path in posts from this blog.

Divorce Year 1 – Anger, Depression

Like Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ I believe someone going through a divorce goes through stages of grief. And for me the emotions that I struggled with directly after leaving my house for the last time were anger and depression. Often I vacillated from one to the other. And my talky therapist used to tell me, “It’s better to feel homicidal than suicidal.” (It’s a metaphor.)

Anger turned inward and unexpressed was clearly for me one of the ways I would sink myself into sadness and depression. While I was mad at my ex-wife, and mad a the decision she made and I had to go along with it, I kept pointing the sharp stick back at myself. Somehow I had failed. Something about me was unlovable, or the reason she decided to opt out of our marriage, and effectively opt me out of 60% of my kids’ lives.

I left the house at the beginning of June after the kids had finished 3rd and 5th grade. Here are a few of my early posts. I was acting out a bit. And I even maintained a tiny bit of hopefulness that my ex would realize how much she really wanted me back. That was imaginary thinking. She was done. And I tried to imagine the wonderful opportunities of dating new women, but of course, I was in no condition to date. Fortunately, my initial run at online dating was unsuccessful.

August 2010

The first year and the shock of the loss was definitely the hardest period of my recovery. I was scrambling to find a place to live, a way to make a living that would support myself and my child support payments. And the loss of my kids was an emotional hardship that still hits me from time to time.

By January of that first year, I was hitting the first skids of depression.

And the first poem appeared as an expression of my loss.

And while I had started a few dating tries I was more focused on transforming my anger and energy into something positive. Or in the face of Ferris Bueller, something funny and light. That’s how I tried to imagine myself, as Ferris dealing with the impossible situations with joy and grace. I was only partially successful.

A number of other issues hammered me as I crossed into the second year of divorce.  The pressure of the financial obligation I had agreed to began to force me out of my idea of comfort and “doing enough.” Of course I had agreed to pay child support on a much higher income than I’d been able to achieve again. I was basing my future on the hopeful high-level gainful employment, and when my next big corporate job folded my position after six months I fell into a very tough spot. (A spot I’m still trying to pull myself out of today.)

But something else began to show up in my life. I began to remember how happy I was, even alone. Just happy. And this was the beginning of the second year, where I joined a divorce recovery class and began to take charge of my own happiness and recovery from the pits of divorce.

I started to come to terms with the divorce. And take ownership of my depression.

 

Divorce Year 2 – Healing, Recovery, Kids First

And then in June of the second year, I lost all of my progress in one massive loss. The job I had found that allowed me to buy a house and start setting up my life again, decided they didn’t want to continue trying to sell their product to the consumer, and after six months my position was eliminated. And the earlier struggles with money and depression came rushing back. Just as I felt I was getting ahead of it, I suffered a setback.

And it was four months before I was able to confess to my readers what was going on. And amazing as it was, I did already have readers. A lot of people reached out to me after the loneliness post and gave me their support.

And I started to take an inventory of what I was feeling rather than run away from it or wallow in it. I started studying the 12-steps concept of self-pity as a way to get a little perspective on what I was going through. I could up and out of this.

And then in October of year two I met the woman who would become my first girlfriend. And she single-handedly changed my life.

More than anything, what I learned from my first girlfriend was how it felt to be adored. She had also been through the same divorce recovery class I had, and we had the same Love Language: touch. I was blown away by how affectionate someone could be. I always thought it was only me who had such outpourings.  But she was beside me 100%. In the end our relationship evolved into a friendship, but out love for each other has continued to grow. And I learned what a post-divorce relationship might look like. And how dating after divorce *can* be drama free. We never screwed each other over, we simply decided that we needed to pull our romantic relationship back from our friendship.

END OF YEARS ONE AND TWO – stay tuned for Divorce Year 3 and Divorce Year 4.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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i am a room full of chairs (a poem)

in this place

in this place

and in this place
there are many comfy spots
for reading
kissing
writing

but no place for
cats
bad attitudes
enemies

i have graduated
to independence
from negativity
shame
anger
longing
unrest

out here we is stoned
immaculate
breathing with ease
holding nothing
embracing everything
even the hard stuff
loss
weight
as a gift

letting go of her
was the easiest thing

11-09-21


Sexual Frequency and Happiness: How Much Sex Can I Expect?

OFF-oldsex

I used to worry about the frequency of sex in my marriage.

Then I got divorced.

And now I worry about sex at all, with someone other than myself. Well, to be honest, I don’t worry, but I do go without for long periods of time. I hear that I could go out seeking sex and probably be fairly successful. I hear that women are into casual sex at our age and now-divorced status. That’s what I hear.

I’m not that way. I’m cut from a monogamous cloth. It’s how I’m wired. It’s what I want. And every opportunity, since my divorce, for casual sex, I’ve dabbled, but ultimately turned it down. I don’t want FWB. I don’t want a one-night stand. (I did that a couple of times in college. No thanks.) I don’t want to cruise online dating sites for hookups. Or Ashley Madison for married folks who want to cheat. Gross. That’s not me. And that’s not my idea of love and sex and what I want from a relationship.

So How Often Are Most People Having Sex?

I tell most women, early on in the dating process, if the relationship does not have long-term potential then I’m not that interested.

You might be surprised to know the average sex counts for dating couples and married couples differ substantially. Or you might not be surprised by that, you might assume that sex will cool after you get married. But what about divorced adults, often with kids, how often are those cute women on OK Cupid getting laid? What’s their frequency if they were unbridled by societally imposed limits? I need to ask my friend and OK Cupid serial dater what her experience has been. But she’s not looking for sex, exactly. She wants a relationship. She wants long-term. She wants “what’s next” to be something that lasts.

I don’t know if that’s the normal single divorced attitude either. I’ve met a friend of hers who seems to be more bent towards screwing while it’s good and looking for what’s next when it gets tiresome. Maybe she’s experiencing a pent-up unmet needs hangover from her previous marriage.

I remember meeting a recently divorced woman at a singles party arranged by a mutual friend who was happy to tell me within minutes of our introduction that she had never been fully satisfied sexual by a man. And certainly, since her divorce, she had not be able to find an adequate lover who was capable of keeping up with her in bed. She was insatiable, she said. Obsessive and a bit gross, was my read, but anyway, she formed at least a portion of the single and divorced female demographic. So the answer is all kinds of women, all kinds of needs, all different amounts of sex.

But often for women, sex is not the objective. And for some men (breaking the stereotype here) are also looking for something beyond the frequent and satisfactory orgasm.

But when you first get divorced you’re sure the time is ripe for ripping up the sheets with as many women as possible. And it didn’t’ happen for me. Not that I didn’t go out on some Match.com and OKCupid dates while I was still tragically hurt from my divorce. And not that there weren’t any potentially willing partners if I wanted to play-act the dance to get them into bed. But I didn’t. I still don’t.

I tell most women, early on in the dating process, if the relationship does not have long-term potential then I’m not that interested. Sex with someone, anyone, is not very much more fulfilling than porn and my own left hand. So I don’t look for this type of sexual gratification as an initial part of my dating process. And I’m pretty clear on my dating profiles that I’m not looking to hook up or jump in the sack. (And research on OK Cupid also shows that men putting those vibes out AT ALL, get very low response rates. Very low. So keep your libido in your pants, at least in your profile and opening communications with a woman.)

Among men, both poorer physical health at older ages and a decrease in its association with frequency are significant factors in the decline. A change in the association between happiness and frequency is also a significant factor for men.

And there have been a few women who contacted me first, with some sort of “hey your cute” proposition. And the two that I did go meet were really a bit more into it than I was. I simply did not care to proceed, even with a hot woman in a bikini who was downing gold margaritas, to the play that could’ve led to sex. Nope. That wasn’t attractive to me in the least.

So how much sex is everyone having out there? Is there some research we can turn to for answers?  If you look at the scholarly approach to data you get this report: Sexual Frequency Decline from Midlife to Later Life – Journals of Gerontology. And that’s really the demographic I’m interested in. (Millennials, who are probably not reading a divorce and single-parenting blog will have to go elsewhere for their data.)

Here’s the summary: “For women, change in the proportion widowed is a significant factor in sexual frequency decline, as are changes in the association between happiness and sexual frequency. Among men, both poorer physical health at older ages and a decrease in its association with frequency are significant factors in the decline. A change in the association between happiness and frequency is also a significant factor for men. Reverse causality may explain the happiness–frequency findings for both men and women.”

Okay, but that doesn’t really help us parse our men and women and married vs divorced. For that, I went to The Kinsey Institute: sex frequency by age and marital status chart.

Sex Frequency by Age and Marital Status (chart)

Sexual frequency for men by age and marital status:

Screen Shot 2014-09-29 at 8.59.03 AM

click to view full-size chart

Sexual frequency for women by age and marital status:

Screen Shot 2014-09-29 at 8.59.18 AM

Click to view full-size chart

Okay, so to take my age and desired trajectory (I’m being a bit silly here) let’s see what this data can tell us about the best relationship configuration for having frequent sex on into the sunset years.

The Sweet Spot of Sexual Frequency for Men and Women

frequency-sunset-years-650

Results of the Sexual Frequency Study

  1. Partnered seems to be the winner.
  2. Married comes in a close second
  3. Single 70+ dude, no matter how fit and virile he is, looks like he’s alone a lot

Seems pretty simple, but hey, good to know.

reference: The Kinsey Institute: sex frequency by age and marital status

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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image: Italy – 1948: what would you like to do, dennis jarvis, creative commons usage