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

happiness

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

OFF-lasskiss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No promises.”

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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

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

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

OFF-madwife

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

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

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

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

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

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

I kept looking for work and interviewing at other big corporate jobs. And I put my all into the process. Of course, the layoff that culled 50% of my team was caused by the major economic collapse of 2009. Nobody was eager to hire high-level marketing staff. At least none of the jobs I was hearing about and applying for. Still, we had my severance, and they were going to pay me 50% of my 2009 bonus as well. That bought us another month.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Things Broken and Unsaid: From Marriage to Divorce

OFF-santa

Sometimes, from broken things, beautiful things are made.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Happy Birthday, Can You Do Some Laundry?

OFF-whatever

Last night, in planning for the transition to my house, my ex-wife also asked if she could send the kids over with a couple loads of laundry for me to do. Um… What? Not only is it Thanksgiving, it’s my birthday and I have the kids for two days before they go back to her house.

Screen Shot 2014-11-27 at 6.44.38 AM

 

Of course it doesn’t matter that it’s my birthday, or Thanksgiving, really. It’s all about the kids, right?

One more chore I won’t be doing. Just another in a long series of disappointments, I’m sure. She can take the laundry to her boyfriend’s house or to a laundromat. I am neither.

And happy Thanksgiving back at ya.

Yes, I’m afforded a bitch and moan post every now and then. (grin)

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Dating Lessons: Gentle Catch and Release

OFF-catch-release

You don’t want to hurt the people you’re dating, and when there’s not a match you want to be gentle with the let down.

I understand not being ready for a relationship. I understand taking your time getting to know someone.

A recent “potential” emailed me an hour ago that she was canceling our date on Saturday night and putting me in the friend zone. I kept the email because I wanted to be sure I understood her message. Here’s a phrase I’m hearing more frequently, “I like you, but I don’t see it developing into more than that.” Well, at least she let me know. We were really only three “hello dates” and one “I need to give you some feedback” in, so while I’m slightly saddened I’m more curious about the jump out of my boat.

I was asking myself similar questions, about this particular woman. Things like:

  • I like her but there’s no real spark
  • I wonder what she’s like when she’s excited
  • We’ve already had one “feedback” session
  • Wouldn’t something be sparking up by now

But two other moments passed yesterday that had me in the “wtf” zone in my own thinking, so I suppose she was telegraphing her information ahead of time, but needed an email to let me know. Fine.

There was a moment, as we were parting at the end of a third encounter (the one where I’d proposed the date for the weekend) and as I hugged her I noticed there was zero energy coming back from her. Normally there’s a slight buzz, a warm fuzzy, or some joy that comes from the act of hugging another person. As I walked to my car I wondered, “Hmm, that was a bit odd.” We were getting to know each other better, we seemed to be on track towards a date…

Later in the afternoon I grew more curious. I texted her the Unadulterated Love post from a few days ago, as she had asked me to share the link to this blog. So I did. But as I sent it, I started wondering what effect this bold talk about joyous sex might have on our trajectory. Certainly I could have sent her a link to the blog and not aimed her at the sex bits right away. But since we’d been talking in-person about the Love Languages and this was the post that linked to something else we’d been discussing I let it fly.

Later in the evening I sent a “how’s it going” text just to let her know I was thinking about her. And I followed up with

Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 4.50.13 PM

Okay, so that’s officially flirting with a purpose. Especially since we’d talked repeatedly about my LL being touch. So I was asking her, so how to you plug into this wacky world of love languages. I guess the underlying question was, “and that hug this morning… Um… What’s that about?”

She responded about liking all the love languages and how they were related to situations. Um, what?

I tried to follow-up, “Most people gravitate towards one or two, but perhaps you haven’t dug into them fully. Or perhaps you are above them, kind of meta.”

She said it’d been 8 years or so since she’d looked at them.

Okay, so you’re embarking on an exploratory journey, and you’re getting to know someone. They pitch out Love Language = Touch or bust as their motto, and you… haven’t checked them out in 8 years? Okay, I’m starting to get a picture here.

I understand not being ready for a relationship. I understand taking your time getting to know someone. And I’m glad she did seek me out so we could have a few of these illuminating conversations in-person, but it’s clear to me she was NOT a touch-oriented person, and as I asked about her love language twice, that was enough to trigger the “not developing” email. I sure am glad I didn’t send her the poem. (easy surrender)

Easy release. And back into the pond for me.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Two Tips to Being A Better Man (NSFW)

Screen Shot 2014-10-27 at 1.40.22 PM

Dr. Witt’s presentation will be offensive to some. He uses a derogatory word that many people find offensive. And in most circumstances I’d have to agree. However, since he takes a fair and balanced approach to his little tirade, I choose to live with my discomfort and share it.


Unadulterated Love: What Is Joyful Sex?

OFF-joyfulsex

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ten tenants of my joyful sex hypothesis.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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

OFF-billmurray

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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

References:

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images: bill murray, publicity shots


embrace

cloud-poem[from a second wave – poetry]

a cloud or a heart or a whim
my mind and soul follows the day
either there is light and energy
or there is not
i turn towards the light
like a sunflower
soaking up
praying for
giving thanks

today i am the sky
all else falls away
there is no time for anger
the frustrations of progress
are all just strivings
let’s fall back
roll on the grass or down the hill
watch the clouds
today is ours
a sacred space
i create for me and you
embrace

10-19-2014

image: clouds, nikica beograd, creative commons usage


The Divorce Recovery Path: My Journey Back to Joy (part 1)

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.

Year 1 – Anger, Depression, Divorce

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 vassilated 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, 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.

 

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.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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actively waiting in your absence

emily-blunt[from a second wave – poetry]

i’m just sittin here watchin the world
go round an round in search of
coffee
seeing these lovelies
before their excitable jolt
and then seeing the transformation
it’s a parade
at 7 am
in a ritzy part of town
with high heels
lulus
working non-working
moms girls women ladies yoginis
and i have the catbird’s seat
by the cooler
with an eye to the pastries
and imaginary lovers
as they stream by

wouldn’t it be amazing if she smiled
rather than looked so serious
wouldn’t it be cool to not be looking
to be curled around my someone
rather than scouting for potentials

since losing you
it’s been a bitch
things don’t feel quite right
but
it’s clear it’s not you i’m missing
sorry
it’s the skin
the soul
the kisses

for now, i have this
i have a women in a perfect tennis outfit
a bit rushed
she must have a court time
nearby
she must be a goddess
or a fitness instructor

i can’t fall in love
really
with a dream
with a passing leg or strong-arm
i’m not attracted to the convertible
she came in on
but i do fall into hair
of all lengths and colors
and the pull of desire
to bury my face the damp garden
of magic smells and warmth

i’ve been alone for too long
i can tell when my chemistry is faltering
i need a hit of something
someone

and yet
i don’t want any of these women
i don’t know anymore
what criteria to use
or what measure of the soul

a body
in motion
is a beautiful thing
but it loses its gloss
when the light inside is dim
or diminished by anger
or too much pride
too fine a dress or heel

but without her
i know i am a shell
or a snake
in deadly wait state
ready to strike
against the glass of my cage
before i know
if i am predator or prey
i lie in wait
actively
seeing
seeking
and
arriving at patience again
now

and now

10-14-14


Reversing the Flow: Putting Women in Charge of Courtship

OFF-coffeedate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boom.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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

Back to On Dating Again

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


Fall of the House of Dad

OFF-gnomehouse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

The Off Parent – still in transition
@theoffparent

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


5 Big Relationship Questions to Answer Before You Start Dating Again

OFF-girl-boy-plus

Just like everything else in life, dating requires goals. Either you are working towards those goals, or away from them. And if you don’t even know them yet, I can assure you, you are working away from them. Getting clear about why you are dating is a great first step. The further you can go down the path of clarity, in understanding what you are looking for, why you are attracted to the people you are attracted to, and what your ultimate goal is… Well, without goals, you’re going to end up starting over a lot.

Each time I go on a date I try to get clearer about what worked and what didn’t. I’m not in this for the fun of it, I’m pretty focused on not-being-too-focused on dating. And each time I come up empty-handed, from a developing relationship, or even a dating experience that teaches me something new, I pause and reflect. I am in one of those moments. Just let down from a very nice/short high of “almost” and back to nothing.

What Does “Long-term Commitment” Even Mean

Walking with a friend today, I answered the question again about long-term commitment.

“Are you looking to get married again?” my friend asked.

“I don’t know. But I’m looking for a relationship. What’s after that is a bit more about the relating and the mutual goals we set.”

Here are my BIG 5 RELATIONSHIP QUESTIONS you should answer before you start dating. Get yourself and your priorities oriented before you jump back into the dating pool. There is a lot of BS in the process of dating, both online profiles and meeting the person for the first time. And there can be a lot of reasons for wanting to date, many of which may not have anything to do with a relationship. That’s fine. I’m not interested in casual sex or building up my network of friends. I’m interested in a relationship. If that’s your perspective as well, perhaps these questions will provide some clarity out there in the ambiguous world of dating.

Top 5 Relationship Questions Before You Start Dating

  1. Are you ready for a relationship or are you dating for fun and nighttime activities?
  2. Do you have a good sense of what makes you happy?
  3. What are the traits you are looking for in a partner? Is physical beauty the number one trait?
  4. How would a good first date experience look and feel?
  5. As you progress along the dating experience with someone, how would it unfold in your mind?

When you come to a relationship there has got to be a physical attraction, that’s a basic requirement for me. After we’ve done the “hi I think you’re cute” date we can both move on to what’s next. I’m noticing a new variation on the theme for me. When I’m meeting a woman for the first time I get one of three responses.

Negative: there’s no chemistry at all. The feeling may or may not be mutual. But there’s no moving forward for me.

Neutral: there might be chemistry, there might be a spark, but the response or resonance with the other person is a bit less clear. Perhaps they are not an excitable time. Perhaps they don’t show their happiness in the same way I do. Or maybe their having a “meh” reaction and are having a hard time letting me know.

Positive: these are so rare for me, that I’m certain that they are the harbingers of a real relationship potential. These are the women who light up visually and verbally in our conversation. You don’t have to ask about the next date, because you’ve already begun planning things, or imagining things to do together.

What I’ve found about myself in these three situations is interesting. The -1 response is an easy No. The +1 response is also an easy Yes. But the ones I get confused about are the neutrals. And I think I’ve found myself pursuing neutrals even when I know the HIT is not there. Why? Because there are so few positives. So few women that light up the way I imagine I light up. So few women who are clear enough about what they want, and are able to discover that I have some of those qualities. So few YES responses. So I push on the MAYBE dates a bit too hard.

100% Postive, 100% Yes, Not Maybe

I’m learning. The YES is going to come from a Positive. When I am going after a neutral, I’m really compromising.

So let’s make a pact, in our next round of dating “work” I want to commit to pursuing only the clear YES women.

Everything else is a distraction. If I am interested in a relationship, that’s going to take time, patience, perspective, and the right YES woman. And with all those things factored in, a MAYBE is so far-fetched that I am really wasting time. I don’t want to mess around with “dating.” My goal is a relationship. And then a Relationship. And then a RELATIONSHIP. I’m not sure what those steps mean, but I am sure that it will only begin with a YES.

From here on NO and MAYBE are the same response. I want a YES and I want it whenever the right woman, who’s answered most of the questions above for herself, shows up and says, “What’s next.”

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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The Cute and Happy Woman is Nearby, I’ve Seen Her

OFF-wfm-girl

Dating and looking for romance is an odd ritual. Even as an adult, the patterns are much more like high school (maybe elementary school) than adult life. We play games. We use social networks. We put forward ideas and photos that don’t really represent our lives or our current physical fitness, all for the purpose of what?

This afternoon I am sitting at the mecca for healthy and self-conscious women, Whole Foods Market (the Austin Mothership), and I am simply observing the parade of women passing by on the up and down escalator into the building. And I can see them. The happy and attractive women are here. And many of them are attached, married, dating, or otherwise unavailable. And certainly at least some of them are not currently dating anyone, AKA: available.

Is it the predatory nature of our species that keeps our eyes to the ground of the phone, that keeps us from looking at each other?

And it’s a wonderful confirmation of all that is human about our different sizes, shapes, colors, and approaches to life. You can almost see it in the dress and attitudes of the people heading into, or just finishing up their organic, high-priced, lifestyle. I start at Whole Foods, because this seems to be the highest concentration of people in my preferred demographic. Young, upwardly mobile, attractive, and health-conscious, or getting there. I’m okay if she is a bit of a work in progress, or in transition. What I don’t want is someone who’s not even on the same planet yet.

So here they are, passing by in fitness gear, in professional work outfits, and in all stages of dress, or undress, in-between. And in the stream of women it is an interesting experiment to see who I notice, who is inherently attractive to me.

Of the “potential” types who have passed by this morning are these archetypes:

  • Fit, yoga, just about to do it, done it, or letting you know I’m doing it.
  • Just eatin lunch, stoppin by, on my way to or from work, professional.
  • The dressed-to-the-nines professional woman.
  • Casual, got out of bed, don’t have work to do, hippie.

And of these stereotypes what are the criteria that interests me:

  • Fit or fat (sorry, it’s a harsh light, and unfortunately I fall a bit more on the fat side than I’d like, but that’s life)
  • Distracted or present.
  • My phone is the center of my universe, please don’t disturb me.
  • Athletic and active.
  • Makeup or au-natural.
  • Inked or not. (no need to include the heavily inked in my opinion)
  • Spiffed up or casual.

But the amazing thing I have noticed, in this hour of observation and self-reflection… There is not a lot of joy in the place. The smiles that come up the escalator are not all that apparent. Why is everyone so serious, or distracted, or focused. Why, if they are entering Whole Foods are they not evolved like the food they are aspiring too? Is happiness such a rare trait? Do most people walk around in some form of isolation and closed self-expression? And if so, why?

Is it the predatory nature of our species that keeps our eyes to the ground of the phone, that keeps us from looking at each other? But that can’t be it. Because a lot of these women and men have put a lot of effort and thought into their wardrobe. So what’s the magic ingredient of happiness that is still so rare, even here in this rarefied air of high-end organic produce and natural body lotions?

If I were to conjure her up, at the table next to me, here’s what today’s journey into hunting or trolling has illuminated for me.

I’d like her pre-occupation to be on her kids, her creative projects, her dreams. And if she’s actually single, then I’d like to hear about her ideas about relationships.

1. Happiness above all else. The woman who did sit across from me, who was clear and comfortable with her joyousness, was like a bright light to my magnet. In this swarm of beauty at Whole Foods there is less happiness than I would’ve expected.

2. Fitness within limits. Too obsessive about exercize or abs has tended to result in slightly neurotic partners, in my limited experience. So I shy away from the uber-fit. But then, I’m not uber-fit and have a fairly low trajectory towards six-pack abs. So my fitness level is a bit out of my comfort zone, and I would guess that I’d be looking for someone in the fitness zone, within a few percentage points of my own fitness level, or the fitness level I think is within my reach.

3. External awareness. Are they seeking, open, conscious. You can almost see it.

4. A feeling of optimism, even when no one is looking. In all this coming and going, I want to see someone who shines in their own inner joy. You can tell. It’s like a halo or a force field. The “up” woman exudes her joy.

5. Eye contact and smiles. She’s looking. She’s expressing her joy. She’s so much more attractive than any uber-fit, uber-yoga’d babe in my mind.

6. Mostly makeup and ink free. I’m just not a big makeup person. There’s a time and a place for getting spiffed up and going out, but the grocery story, even a holy mecca like Whole Foods, is not the time for too much fashion work. And if they are mostly in makeup all the time, they’re probably not the right person for me. And tattoos can be interesting, but they also seem to indicate some kind of addiction when they have to branch all the way down someone’s arm or leg. And when they are trying to think of the next tattoo. If that’s a focus or preoccupation, I’m gonna pass.

I’d like her pre-occupation to be on her kids, her creative projects, her dreams. And if she’s actually single, then I’d like to hear about her ideas about relationships. If you’re not looking for a relationship, that’s fine. I am. If you’re thinking you’re looking for a relationship, but have no idea what that would look like, well… You might give it some thought.

And when you figure it out, I’m right over here, on this computer, typing a love poem to you. When I get bold, perhaps I’ll give it to you. But not right away, I’m enjoying my voyurism. This is fantasy land. And each of these women passing could be grabbing fresh vegitables for dinner, for me. Or maybe, I’m here, working and I’ll get the fresh produce for tonight. Whatever it takes to lighten us up a bit.

That’s the goal. A lighter life. A path that is about joining and enhancing rather than controlling. A relationship that is founded on mutual attraction and joy rather than any kind of necessity. I want a partner, I don’t need a partner. Let me think about that… Yes, I’d say that’s true. I’m happier with a partner, when things are going well. But the last few years of my marriage are a type of relationship I will work to avoid.

Let’s find the lighter path together. And if we find ourselves walking along it together, and continually renewing our intentions to get together again, maybe that’s enough. I’m really ready for the “ready and centered” woman to show up. She’s nearby, I can feel it. I’m just not sure how to catch her eye. I’m smiling, though.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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She Came On Like a Freight Train – The Woman Who Says “Yes”

OFF-yes-girl

The light at the end of the tunnel may be an oncoming train, or a love crush barreling down on you.

My first Tinder crush went swimmingly and ended without a whimper. The poem (i could fall in love with a dress if it shone in the sun) was written about the final moments of this most amazing firework pop and fizzle of a relationship to-date. She was here, she came on like a freight train, and now she has passed by in the night without so much as a whimper. And I let her go. We let each other go. “Maybe for later, when your life sorts itself out a bit,” I said to her.

“I’ve always done this. I’ve always gotten into a romantic relationship right at the beginning of some huge change. I did it with my divorce, I did it when I graduated from college, and I was doing it again with you. But I’ve got to stop, this time. I’ve got to make a change. Something has got to give.”

In fact, for me, the poem was a part of the letting go process. What started out as three amazingly intense days of courtship, felt a bit too good to be true. And maybe it was. Or maybe the universe shifted, for both of us, and we needed to regroup, alone. That is certainly the case for her. And me? Well, I’m not sure if the relationship part of it needed regrouping, but I was aware of my tendency to stretch out towards someone, even after the connection was severed.

I love the wake up text. The little ritual of saying “Good Morning, Sunshine.” Just letting the other person know you are thinking of them.

It’s about being 50/50. It’s about being contributing members of the growing relationship. And when one or another partner drops out of the 50/50 partnership, it’s about stopping and listening to hear what is going on. In our case, her life had taken a wild and unexpected turn, like a rocket blasting off from the back of our collective freight train, once I had gotten on the same track with her.

Enough metaphor. She was amazing. She looked and spoke as deliciously as she texted and showed up in her best profile pictures. I could see through the styling, and honored the core brilliance that came out from the moment we met. And we met with great joy, in the middle of a huge bookstore, playing hide and seek. And she found me in the blank book section. “My favorite section,” I had texted her earlier.

“Is it appropriate for persons’s under 18 years of age?” she asked.

“Yes.”

“Is it the kid’s section?”

“No.”

“Literature?”

“Great guess, but no.”

I picked the meeting spot, she picked the game. We hugged and laughed in the sweet smelling area of leather bindings and blank pages. And we talked and talked and walked around the store for a couple hours.

“I really would like to kiss you,” I said, somewhere in the middle of the second hour. “I’m just letting you know that.”

She smiled. “I would like that too,” she said, with a sly smile on her face. I was blinded a bit by the direct sunlight, but I was already feeling a bit smitten. “In a bit,” she continued.

We moved our coffees and chat into a more shady part of the outdoor park, and continued leaping from books, to blogs, to writing, to food. She was a #foodie. I am not a #foodie, but I worked with #foodies for two years. We had a lot to talk about and a lot of mutual energy to fuel us along.

She reached out her hands at some point and pulled my face in for the kiss. She planted the kiss. She initiated. She took charge. And I went back in for a second kiss a few minutes later. Reciprocating. But alas, the mosquitos and sunlight were pushing us back inside, and when there was no place to sit, we decided to rendezvous, perhaps tomorrow.

“Yes, definitely,” she said. ” I’d like to give you a kiss after your first day at your new job.”

And we texted a few more times over the night. The next morning we picked up with the chatter. This is the fun of new dating. I love the wake up text. The little ritual of saying “Good Morning, Sunshine.” Just letting the other person know you are thinking of them. And it goes both ways. It’s a simple tap. A connection that requires little more than a willingness to imagine a relationship.

We texted a few times and spoke once over the weekend. This is from full-tilt boogie, three days in a row, amazing morning selfie of a kiss, and on to ZIP.

It’s like a virtual “good morning” kiss. Except, of course, you’ve just met. But still, there is a lot of potential in those little hellos. And she was a master of the flirt. She called me on my way to work, and we had a spirited conversation about sex, and kids, and relationships, and work. And we made plans to meet for a glass of wine after work. DONE. She was efficient, hilarious, and full of love and life. I was liking this development.

In all but one of my post-divorce dating experiences I have been the over-sharing partner. I have courted when perhaps I should’ve played coy. I have sent a poem when I might have been better served to just be quiet. The whole absence makes the heart grow fonder, thing seems more like game playing as adults. If you like someone, tell them. If they like you back, jump in. She was certainly jumping in. And I was excited to see how things played out.

The wine bar date was no less exhilarating. Except this time I was anticipating the future kisses with mad fantasies. And she arrived looking like the smiling picture she had sent me earlier in the day. She was radiant. And we jostled along in our second date, wine bar, “what was your day like” conversation. It was a moment between anything actually happening. We had exchanged some very intimate information via text and phone calls, but we still didn’t really know each other. Not at all. But there was a lot of energy and intention, and that was enough to set us both on a fast track.

In the parking lot, saying goodbye she kissed me, or we kissed, again. This time there was no casual innuendo, it was all kissing. And while it didn’t last more than a minute, I was electrified. Not by the kiss, but by the potential behind the kiss. Here was a beautiful woman, saying she was ready for a relationship, saying that she thought I was cute and funny and smart, and kissing me madly in the parking lot. And we made plans to see each other the next day as well. And we parted. I walked to my car with the lift of someone who’s been well-kissed.

That was the first real moment between us, and the last good moment between us at the same time.

As things would progress, I was fired the next day, due mostly to this blog. And that collapse of my plan, nearly cratered the relationship all in one fail swoop. But she wanted to give me a hug, and to support me in this massive bummer. We met. We exchanged some more information about our current state of unknowingness. She started talking about how she had no business getting involved with anyone at this moment… And then she had to go get her daughter. We kissed awkwardly in the parking lot, in broad daylight, in a hurry. And she’d let me know her schedule over the next three days was going to be mad. So we parted in this semi-unresolved, semi-unstable place.

And then her life changed dramatically as well. (I can’t tell you about it, or I’d have to shoot you.) And I saw her smile and her texts almost drain right off my phone. The communication went from 80 mph back to a full-stop in a hurry.

I went with my “hold on loosely” strategy. Pinging, but not over pinging. A couple messages without any requests or commitment. Essentially I was supporting her in this new opportunity. And she was going with it, and full of her life. We texted a few times and spoke once over the weekend. This is from full-tilt boogie, three days in a row, amazing morning selfie of a kiss, and on to ZIP. Nothing? It was painful. It was also understandable.

The poem I was writing over the weekend to try and give a love poem to frame the joy I was getting into. Of course, the story played out, the poem went unfinished and then like magic the story completed to resolve the poem without the need for another letter.

I am ready for the dress in the sun. I am hoping there will be an intelligent and attractive woman inside who is also ready for me.

She had come and we had sparked. When we talked on the phone this morning, it was to say, “You were awesome, the timing is not awesome.” And I told her the poem was a capture of that amazing moment in the parking lot. Full of promise and potential and all imaginary. And now the poem was the answer, the complete story of us.

i could fall in love with a dress if it shone in the sunlight

I did start falling. And she let me. She responded with a “yes.” And now we’ve moved back into our individual stories, to see if at some time down the road our romance would make more sense. But we were both happy, when we spoke today. I was so glad to have rubbed up against her at such an amazing time for both of us. And we may or may not ever see each other again, and that’s okay too. But the poem captures the full experience for me.

I am ready for the dress in the sun. I am hoping there will be an intelligent and attractive woman inside who is also ready for me. This time, I got the dress and the girl, but the timing was amiss. But she gave me a taste of what things might look like when someone DOES show up, and that someone IS ready for a relationship.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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First Date Lessons: If You’re Not Falling, You’re Not Learning

OFF-cigars

First dates. Oh boy. They always teach you something. And even if the wine flows, if you stay sharp, you can pick up on signals… or think you can. And as a learning individual I am getting closer to the present moment of dating, or dating ‘in the moment,’ then ever before. Last night, for example, a Match date finally agreed to meet up after weeks of back and forth emails. And the date was set, and we began some playful banter a few hours before our rendezvous.

“Do you like cigars?” she texted. “You’re date tonight…”

“What? Cigars?”

“I guess that’s a no then.”

“Do YOU like cigars?” I asked.

“Very much. A bit of a hobby. Not an addiction.”

And we were off to the races for our first “hello” date later that evening.

When we finally met over a glass or two of red wine I was curious to watch my own reaction and responses to her. I was sort of in observer-mode, but also very much open to whatever the present moment would bring.

The same phrase kept coming through loud and clear, “while I was dating a couple people…” I’m not sure if I was turned on by that idea, repulsed by it, or intrigued about the opportunities of the evening.

I noticed right away that she was charming and beautiful. Her eyes sparkled much more than they could’ve possibly shown in her profile photos. And there was a joy to our conversation, an openness, and freeness to how our different stories and lives spun together over the next few hours together.

I was curious about how I was sizing her up for a relationship. At first I was just fascinated by her wit, intelligence, and routine flip of her long dark hair from one side of her neck to another. I think that was a sign. Maybe it was just a tick. We leapt through conversations about exes and kids, about dating and current status.

“I’m dating this guy right now,” she said, “And I think I need to break it off.”

“Oh?”

“He’s super nice, and is really into me, but I’m not sure he’s long-term material for me.”

“Is that what you are looking for?”

“Yes, I’m a long-term girl. But it’s hard. Making someone unhappy.”

“And,” I added, “Maybe it’s hard to be alone.”

“Yes, that’s what I thought when I first got out of my marriage. And I went through a period of not wanting any sort of commitment, and I sort of played the field.”

“Wow, really. What was that like.”

“It was fun at first, but it got kind of old. There were some people I really liked and others who were just available.”

“And were there any that you really liked, who maybe wanted to move on?”

“Yes. That was hard.”

“So maybe you would rather keep this current relationship rather than risk being alone again?”

“Yes, it’s easier to have someone to do stuff with. And boys are a lot more fun to hang out with than girls.”

We smiled at one another and decided to order dinner to go with our second glass of wine.

As the evening progressed we moved through a lot of topics. Her eyes continued to sparkle. Her smiling conversational wit continued to entice me. I wasn’t sure if I was really attracted to her or fascinated by her. I was aware that her perfume was similar to a scent I had used when I was young, something from Aramis. I liked how the smell of her made me lean in a bit. I was clear that I was indulging in my own little fantasy. At the same time I was enjoying our conversation and the topics we covered. She seemed fearless in exposing and expressing herself.

As the evening progressed we moved through a lot of topics. Her eyes continued to sparkle. Her smiling conversational wit continued to entice me.

The same phrase kept coming through loud and clear, “while I was dating a couple people…” I’m not sure if I was turned on by that idea, repulsed by it, or intrigued about the opportunities of the evening. Well, except for the fact that she had a kid at home and we both had work in the morning. As we were considering paying and breaking off the conversation we ordered one more glass that we would split. I took this as a good sign. We were both prolonging the “date” a bit longer.

I walked her to the car wondering if she was a kisser or not. We hugged twice and she got in her Fiat 500 convertible and left.

When I got home I texted her a thank you and requested her email address so I could send her a book. It was about 11:15 and no reply came. So this morning I continued my communication and asked if she was interested in getting together again on Saturday night. Her message was clear.

plansforsat

Now, that was pretty clear. No rejoinder. Either she’s being coy and wants me to pursue or she’s not that interested in continuing our conversation. And in my clear way I asked if there were some point in the future when she’d like to get together again. I probably should’ve just kept quiet after that text, but I’m always one to ask for the rest of the information rather than guess.

Nothing.

Oh well, it was a nice conversation, she was a nice woman who liked to date several people at once, perhaps. And we will see if the weeks of waiting for a first date and the several hours of nice courtship has any “next steps.” But at the moment I am feeling fine with the date as it was. A nice woman, a nice Pinot, and eyes that sparkled in the romantic light of the wine bar.

I’m okay with her not being a first date kisser. (I’ve only had one of those.) I’m okay with her not being interested in “what’s next.” I’m even okay with the attraction I felt about her disclosures. It’s all new territory for me and most of us out there dating again after divorce. And I’m okay with that. We’re all just trying to figure it out. It’s a process. Onward we go with good illumination and perhaps a glass of wine.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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An Early Frost: Dating Options and Casual Sex

OFF-fordrinks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Onward, untethered and wide-open again.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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joy or i’m gone

OFF-bubbly

[from a second wave – poetry]

twenty women walk into the upscale coffee shop
i am noticing what is attractive to me
fitness, beauty, swagger
or is it what’s radiating or not radiating
from within
you can see joy a mile away
a feeling that’s coming off the happy ones
is dramatically missing from those
less joyful
and that’s more important than the fitness
underneat the lululemons
or the Porsche she parked just outside
shining and waxed in the sunlight
almost painful to look at
in brilliance, power, and lust
i am free here
to look
comment
imagine
and drink my Italian sparkling water

8-23-14


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

OFF-couple-ocean

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

back to The Hard Stuff

related posts:

image: lovers, thomas berg, creative commons usage

 


essential rumi

[from a second wave – poetry]

curl up around me
lover, brother, friend
my beloved
let us stay like this
in prayer
in communion
for what is love
but an expression of prayer
what is your beauty
but a gift
and affirmation
of human desire
and reverence
of all things
and breaths
and kisses
and breasts
beating
and aching
towards
one another
and
god

8-17-14

prana-back

image: back, lucas cobb, creative commons usage


5 Early Warning Signs When Dating: Looking for Mr. or Ms. Lovejoy

OFF-e-lady

 

Conducting a rigorous self-examination to help determine my own readiness for dating.

___

Let’s talk about joy for a second. How do you recognize it? When you see a joyful person do you gravitate towards them? Certainly we can spot the absence of joy a mile away. Steer clear of the hottie in the black dress with the angry eyes and enhanced frown. She’s packing heat of a variety we’re much too familiar with from our 11 years of marriage, six of them happy.

As a divorced adult, we have been freed of all (most) of those constraints. Now, instead of suffering through the bad times, we can just move on. When a few too many red flags come up early in a relationship, it’s OK, at this stage in our lives to just say, “Later. And good luck.”

When you are still reeling from the collapse of your marriage, you might be ready for some free love, but the completion of the work needed to actually enjoy it is still a few months or years down the road.

The closer we get to our own innate joy (even when alone) the more we are able to recognize the same joy in others. And it’s a process—we don’t emerge from divorce happy and hopeful. We might think we are, we might hit the ground (dating sites) running, for example, but most likely the divorce process, the recovery from divorce, will take a number of years. I’m sorry to break that news to you if you’re just emerging from an unhappy marriage, but relationships, even starting out, take work. And when you are still reeling from the collapse of your marriage, you might be ready for some free love, but the completion of the work needed to actually enjoy it is still a few months or years down the road.

♦◊♦

For me, it was indeed, several years before I was ready (am ready) to enter into a joyful relationship. Before that time, I was interested in a relationship, but I was not bringing a full and healthy person to the table, so to speak. I was showing up, smiling as much as possible, and telling my happy tales, but I wasn’t able to fake it ’til I made it. I just wasn’t very good at covering up the real emotions that were still wrestling within me. It’s OK. It was actually better for me NOT to get what I wanted. It was necessary for me to spend some time alone, to sort through my regrets and triumphs and decide from a balanced perspective, what I was looking for in “next.”

So, maybe by examining and sharing some of the joyful things I look for in a woman, I can better understand my motivations, and you can better understand the male sex impulse that is often troublesome and misguided. But first, let’s get one thing straight: I am not an apologist for men and their bad habits. I am a thinking and feeling man in search of my next relationship. I’m not clear on what exactly that means, and I am clear that I don’t know. But I do know what I will and will not tolerate in my search for Ms. Lovejoy.

Here are five signs I’ve identified that the man you are looking at is more of a fractured soul than he is letting on.

ONE: He’s too positive.

Everything is great! My kids are great! My ex is great! And my, you are great too! I’m so happy I could sing the Pharrell song all day long. I’m the most positive person most of my friends have ever met. I just radiate positive energy. “You can feel it, right?” Stand back from Mr. Yes. I’ve been this dude. And while I do profess to have a very positive and happy outlook on life, I know that I can overdo it. I once floundered in a lopsided dating experience, because I was so damn positive I was going to be able to shift it from the friend-zone to something more intimate. I was wrong. But even the woman mentioned, “You’re one of the most positive people I’ve ever met.” Yeah sure, I thought, just kiss me then. We never really kissed. And after a few months, I woke up and smelled the coffee. She was not ready for any relationship beyond just holding hands and a sweet peck on the lips at the end of a snuggly evening. Fine, but that’s not what I was looking for. It too me a while to get beyond being so UP. But when I sense it in someone else now, I put up some more awareness filters and look to see if it’s covering up something that’s deeper and unresolved. For me, it wasn’t really about unresolved issues, but I did let a distant dating relationship go on for a long time, thinking my yes-mind was going to convince her to sleep with me. Nope. When the person is too happy, move along.

We are learning. We have no idea what life is supposed to be like after divorce. And dating and relationship building are things we last thought about in our twenties.

TWO: He’s too accommodating.

“Oh sure, we can reschedule,” I texted her for the third time in a month. We’d not been able to work out the first “hello” date. Each time there was some event that came up. And all of them about an hour before we were scheduled to meet. I was accommodating even after the third, “I can’t meet this morning. Sorry.” But I was too accommodating perhaps, and denying that she was giving me all the signs she was not ready at all for a date. When it’s too easy to move the date, you might be looking at someone who’s desperate. Even though she was resetting and I was being accommodating, I was ignoring my own over-accommodating tendencies. And I realize, just as I’m writing this, that she’s a disaster waiting to happen. If she’s reset three times, and within an hour of our meeting … Why do I think she’s going to be a different person in actual relationship. Um … Oops. I’m too accommodating sometimes. I need to move on from this one.

THREE: He’s too eager to listen.

“Women really want you to listen.” It’s advice you’re going to get from both men and women when you start dating again. And the premise is correct. Listening is something we’ve become less and less adept at over the years, and with the increasing pace of life and technological interruptions. So slowing down and paying attention to what the other person is saying, IS important. But it can be over done. When the listening is too animated, too connected, you need to gauge whether someone is being attentive for their own needs or as a strategy. I listened like a therapist. I listened to women complain about their marriages. I listened to them talk about how great their kids were. I even listened to their funny online dating stories. And I listened too much, and too long, when I should’ve ended the “going nowhere” date. But I didn’t. I was trained to listen to women. Almost as a technique to satisfy my marriage, a counseling recommendation, “Just listen. Quit trying to respond before you’ve heard what she’s saying.” Yes, that’s true in relationship, but in a dating, and early dating situation, you need to listen, but do it lightly. When I catch myself listening for overtones and hints, I try to stop. I try to just listen lightly, respond naturally, and just have a conversation. I am not a therapist. And when I listen hard, like I am a therapist, I am really just trying to get you to love me, or to trust me, or to sleep with me.

FOUR: He’s touchy-feely.

I’m a hugger and a toucher. It’s my love language. I express myself through touch. And I feel most loved when I’m being touched. So if I go in for the arm brush too early, be aware that I’m feeling you out for your touchy-feely level. And if I’m too touchy I might be showing my own emptiness or hunger. You might not be ready to be devoured. Are you responsive? Do you recoil when I touch you? (We’re talking first dates here, so either way it’s OK, but it’s giving me a lot of information.) Do you touch me back? Do you lean into the touch? I can tell a lot from a first intentional touch on your shoulder. Sure, I am illustrating a point, but I’m trying to sense out your touchy-feely scale. Are you a 10 like me? Or does touch/hugging/kissing/sex come with deeper reservations? I admit this is a learned technique. And when I touch you, it IS casual, but I am looking for clues to how you will react later on. I’m not doing it in a creepy or manipulative way, but you need to know I’m doing it. And if you are a touchy-feely person as well, we’re going to hit it off wonderfully. If you’re touch-adverse, I’m guessing you’ll give off these clues fairly quickly.

FIVE:  He makes smoldering eye contact.

When I was in my early, and very passionate, months of trying to date, I tried to convey my seriousness and earnestness with my dark and smoldering eyes. I wasn’t trying to affect them. I was just peering out of very emotional eyes and I wanted you to see and notice how sensitive I was. How deeply I felt things that you were saying. And how deeply I wanted to drink you in. That hunger is evident in the eyes. My pools of reflection were deep, and I thought I was showing my deep feeling. What I was doing was using my “honest feelings” as a way to hook you. I’m not sure how well it worked, but it didn’t ever really result in the date I was looking for. But I was deep, deep, I’m telling you. When you see an infinite and sensitive soul in your date, you might sit back a bit and see how desperate that searching feeling gets. Being a pussycat, I never pounced with this dark killer instinct, but I knew I was not 100% ready for what I might get had I leapt into the frenzy from this wounded place.

♦◊♦

What’s the Solution?

Now, most of these things are not tactics. They are simply how I am in real life, only exaggerated about 10X. I do have deep and sensitive eyes, but I shouldn’t really be lasering you with them on the first date. When I’m doing that I’m too hungry, I’m too aggressive, I am too enthusiastically in pursuit of you. And asking me to back off is going to give me the signal and information I’m looking for anyway. When the chemistry is right between us, it’s possible that these clues, or tells, are going to resonate between us. That’s happened a couple of times. And while none of them turned into the long-term relationship I am ultimately seeking, I learned a lot from every experience.

And really, that’s the message I want to get across. We are learning. We have no idea what life is supposed to be like after divorce. And dating and relationship building are things we last thought about in our twenties. The world has changed quite a bit. And our expectations and what we will and will not tolerate have changed quite a bit as well. I am aware of my tendencies towards obsession or over-thinking. When I am free of these habits I am more confident that I am actually ready to try for a relationship again.

Be aware of your seeking patterns and when they are out of balance, or overblown, you might dial back your intensity a bit and examine what’s going on for you. In my case, when I find I’m hyper-extending any of my dating super powers, I try and spend some time not dating, so I can recenter on my goals and needs. With a date in sight, and the potential for sexual intimacy, I’m less able to make rational and self-centered decisions.

When I am clear, I can make rational and appropriate decisions. When the chemistry is ON but the warning signs are also shining bright, I can walk away from the temptation. I don’t want surface relationships. I want whole relationships. Or a single whole relationship, that’s my ultimate goal, one relationship. But I’ve got a long way to go before settling down. And I promise I won’t settle for less than awesome.

When you’re dating again after divorce you’ve got to remember to remain a bit more self-centered. You’re not in this next relationship to compromise. You’re in it for the win. Sure, we’re going to fail, we’re going to make mistakes. But knowing where we play games, or where we accentuate our own desires, the better we can adjust and get more real about what and who we want to be with next.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

back to On Dating Again

related posts:

image: bliss dance, rulenumberone2, creative commons usage


Urban Fit Uber Cute Couple Bias – UFUCC

OFF-lulu

A number of interesting ideas came up during my walk around the local lake this morning. I was blessed with the presence of my 11-yo daughter, who is just about full-on irritated with me at this point. “Right on schedule,” I said to her, as she rolled her eyes at me for the 15th time this morning.

The good thing about reaching the “dad is such a dork” phase with my kids is this, I don’t have to behave in perfect and rigid parenting patterns, I’m more of a crackup. And they have grabbed a wicked sense of humor from me. So I am unabashedly dorky, and I’m happy to crack myself up full-on and catch my daughter busting a smile over in her eye-rolling seat.

At one point I made a joke this morning, as she switched the radio for the 10th time to another rap/pop non-musical “tune.” I said, “Listen I’m starting to have a few problems with our relationship. I think we’re going to need to see other people.” She rolled her eyes. I went on. “I mean, I’m paying for everything, I don’t like your music that much, and we never agree on where to go eat these days, so… I think we might need to take a break.” We both cracked up

We’d had so many pseudo blowups, that the real one wasn’t even very interesting or dramatic. It was disappointing, because I had prepared a lot of goodies for the date night.

The resonance, however, with the conversation I had last night as my “friend” was blowing up at me at the “hi-how-ya-doin” moment of our date night. She started spewing a ton of “always” and “nevers” at me. And I registered that she was off her rocker, blaming with wild generalizations about the “entire relationship” and not just her disappointment. And let’s see, that morning she had been 20 minutes late for our walk meetup. And I was fifteen minutes late, due to a father-daughter issue I needed to work out, and BOOM, I’m uncaring, unsuited for a relationship, and obviously only interested in doing what I want to do. (Oh, and I actually don’t dig her choice in music, but that was never brought up.)

If I could’ve rolled my eyes at her last night I might have been better off then trying to negotiation or talk rationally about her outburst. There was no “hi” at the door, there was “I’m mad at you.” And as I tried to blow it off and make light of it, as she often reverts to, “just kidding” this time she wasn’t kidding. And there was just enough resentment and disappointment underneath the wine she’d been drinking to set her off on an unreachable tear. I left. And I’m done done. We’d had so many pseudo blowups, that the real one wasn’t even very interesting or dramatic. It was disappointing, because I had prepared a lot of goodies for the night. But it was more drama and crisis that screamed RED FLAG and GET THE HELL OUT.

I walked.

And this morning as my daughter and I continued our playful banter about all things boy-girl, all things father-daughter, all things “dad is a dork” we laughed off most of the jokes. Sure, she was irritated with me. But it wasn’t really about if I did something great or if I did something dorky. It was just her being 11 year-old and reaching that separation journey. It’s okay. She needs to find her detachment. And now I’m free to play the “dorky dad” she likes to complain about. And I’m free to crack us both up and to illicite eyerolls at any moment. This is where we are.

She was still acting out some routine with her ex-husband or something. And I’m in no mind to be a stand in for her target practice.

Just as we were finishing our hour walk an uber fit couple came down from their lakefront condo in sporty LuLuLemons (my daughter’s crush brand at the moment) and started stretching on the trail as we walked by. I have to admit the woman looked spectacular. And I’m guessing my daughter noticed the tall dark and handsome guy in the fancy workout clothes as well.

We got off on this riff about LuLuLemon clothing for guys. “It’s only for gay guys,” I said. Eyeroll.

“No dad, it’s not.”

“Any guy, inside the LuLuLemon store, and not there with his daughter or girlfriend or wife, is GAY. G. A. Y.”

“Dad that’s so wrong… You’re being, what’s the word for racist except about…”

“Sexist.”

“Yeah, you’re being so sexist.”

“Actually you’re right. I’m being sexist.”

“See.”

“But tell me this…” I was ready to set the punchline of the weekend.

“What…” She was pre-rolling her eyes as we were getting ready to get back in my car.

“What is the LuLuLemon logo in the shape of?”

“Hair.”

“Yes, so what non-gay guy is going to wear shorts with girls hair as a logo? Gay I tell you, gay.”

“They are not gay, dad, you’re just being your dorky self.”

“Fine. We can agree to disagree.”

“And I’m going to get you a pair of LuLuLemon shorts for your birthday.”

“Oh really… You’re going to pay $75 for a pair of shorts for me? Nice.

“Yep. And you’ll be hooked after you wear them one time.”

“I’ll be looking forward to it.”

As far as the woman who misbehaved last night. She was not 11 years-old. She was demonstrating time after time how unready she was to have any kind of adult relationship. She was still acting out some routine with her ex-husband or something. And I’m in no mind to be a stand in for her target practice.

So I walk on, right past the UFUCC. And I anticipate my new LuLuLemon shorts in November when I will officially become gay. Unless I don’t, and then I suppose I will become a LuLuLemon spokesperson.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

related posts:

image: run, yoga, fusion class, carolyn coles, creative commons usage

[Note: I don’t think I am sexist, or anti-gay, or homophobic for writing or joking about this. And I don’t really have any beef with LuLuLemon, except for the CEO’s comments, and the price of their fancy yoga gear.]


temper the joy

OFF-final-cut-300[from a second wave – poetry]

with potentially dangerous epiphanies
i learned to temper the joy
hide the enthusiasms
mistrust the high
i could not contain
i tried many strategies
tell no one
tell selected few
tell my therapist
none worked very well
epiphanies may be between you and god
see… that right there is the problem
saying stuff like that
gets you in time out
and adult time out is much worse
then kid time out
so for now…
this time…
this joy
moment
bliss

i’ll keep between me
and
my

you fill in that blank for yourself
no, it’s okay, i’m good

8-2-14

image: the final cut, robb north, creative commons usage