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

mindfulness

she’s got ghosts (a poem)

she's got ghosts

she's got ghosts

more to her than meets the eye
an entire world spinning just out of view
a gyroscope of whirling moments
she hasn’t quite recovered from

5-13-22


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

when you lose everything, love comes into focus

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

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

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

Enjoy. Blessings.

 


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 took 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 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 an 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 overdone. 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 a relationship, but in dating, and early dating situations, 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 the 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 my 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 leaped 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 superpowers, 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,

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

*written Aug, 2014

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image: bliss dance, rulenumberone2, creative commons usage


Seeking, Finding, and Gifting the Spark of Love

desiring my wife

finding the spark in another personIt’s a fragile thing, this spark we are all looking for. But it’s essential for success in relationship, I think.

So this “spark” we are seeking in love, it’s hard to find. And when we do find it, it’s even harder to keep. It’s easy to mistake sex or chemistry for spark. They are not the same thing.

The key to spark, however, is more than discovery. The key to spark, and sparking with another person, is how they carry and care for your spark once you’ve revealed it to them. You see, I think we’re hoping to GIVE our spark to someone for safe keeping and nurturing. We want someone else to see, love, and protect our spark. That little thing inside of ourselves we are proud of no matter what.

When you begin to wield your spark, many things happen. The other people interested in fire begin to show up.

In the last few days an amazing thing happened that helped me illuminate, for myself, a bit more about this concept of spark and what it IS and what it IS NOT.

I’ll take them one by one.

What we want is someone who lights up when they see our spark. And then we want to be lit up by their spark as well.

1. Kissing Girl imploded. In the process of telling her, my spark had dimmed in relationship to being with her. She bargained  she negotiated, she got mad. Kinda the stages of letting go, right? Anyway, what I saw in that change was how accurate this spark and spark awareness was for me. The minute I felt the spark was not in the right place, I brought it back home to myself, and the proverbial floodgates of confused communications began. She blew up my phone with texts and calls within 15 minutes of a potential agreed upon contact time. I can’t abide that. Sorry. You and your drama must go.

2. New Girl, of the poetic and aspirational heart, did a bit of a disappearing act. Not in action, but in presence, she became unavailable. A visiting friend, and then a scheduling conflict and then, “Have a great weekend with your kids.” It was only Wednesday. Easy handling here. No worries. No fear. We are still in the very early stages of “what if.” I have not given her any of my spark. I have begun nurturing a spark for her, but that is all. I’m saving the poetry for a future time. At the moment it is a projection of my spark on to something that might not be accurate. So we breathe and relax. “Yes, have a good weekend.”

3. Girl with Potential #2, from the previous post (Tilting the Planet In My Favor) texted and called me last night. It was a nice phone call. She was asking if I was available to join her for an event on Friday. I couldn’t go. But I was happy to express how willing I would be in the future for similar invites. And I was clear that I was happy to hear from her. It was a warm fuzzy. She had reached back to me. After a moment of pause. Again, she’s got spark potential, but it’s still undeveloped.

What we want is someone who lights up when they see our spark. And then we want to be lit up by their spark as well. When we are together our sparks have the potential to become a fire. But the process of bringing them together and being vulnerable and protective at the same time is something new and different for most of us.

I learned in my marriage to ex-y that passion and beauty can blow right over the spark. In the fits of desire, my own need, and my infatuation with her, I forgot, or missed, some core fundamentals that I should not have. No regrets. I have two beautiful children, and we soldier on as co-parents rather than parents. BUT… we could’ve had it all.

When you are aware of your spark, you can bring it to bear on a given relationship in a new way. As I am learning how precious my energy is, I am also aware that people of the fire are drawn to sparks.

In fact, we did have it all. At least, I thought we did. And while she was carrying my spark I didn’t even look at other women with the same eyes. I was DONE. I was HOME. I was COMPLETE. I was also misguided. But that’s a story I’ve already told here.

So in the current moment, I am well aware of my spark and the sparks building with PG#2 and NG. How fun.

And what I hope to learn, before moving too quickly with either of them, is how well our sparks fit together. How well we resonate, even in these very early stages. How easily does change get accepted and how stressful are the resets? We are in this next journey for the big finish. (That’s an idealistic concept, I know, but it’s an intention and not a truth.)

So let’s be sparking together. Let’s see if we like the feel of the other person’s personal flame. How can we support and champion their ideas?

Oh, and I almost forgot. I’ve killed my online dating profiles. Not in response to any of the above changes, but more in an attempt to simplify and be quiet. AND in that process, one final spark, OK-girl and I exchanged contact info. We’d been chatting on OKC for over a month. She was busy. I was easy. We were just being casual friends on OKC. But she was the only remaining spark. So I gave her a final ping with my email and cell number. And guess what? She texted me last night. And we had a funny exchange. And we’ll probably go have a drink in the next week or so.

That’s another learning. Hold on loosely. I learned this in spades with Kissing Girl. When they are TOO ready to engage or schedule, that might be a sign that something is missing in their lives.

And final thought. When you are aware of your spark, you can bring it to bear on a given relationship in a new way. As I am learning how precious my energy is, I am also aware that people of the fire are drawn to sparks. And, unfortunately so are the vampires. So as you bring your energy online and put the spark on your sleeve a bit more, beware of the baddies as well as the potential mates.

We’re all learning this together. Today I spark. And viola I have three potential sparkmates again. Like moths to a flame. Let’s see who circles without imploding, getting burned, or lighting up too quickly. And I will be listening for their sparks. What songs are they singing about themselves and their lives? And how does their flame make me feel?

Sincerely,

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

*written April 2013

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

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leaving us (a poem)

my best friend's dead father

my best friend's dead father

i believe in spirits of the dead
they don’t haunt me
but around me they swirl
if I take a moment to say hello
i might get an answer
a warm or cold feeling
as if…
and it’s not just my family
my mother and brother
who took their walk
across the rainbow bridge
are around and nodding their heads
it is more about the others
dads of high school buddies
or high school friends
from other high schools
there is something about them
that strikes me differently
their entire untold story
and collapse of my opportunity
to ask them about their memories
of all the wildness we put them through
when we were bent on driving
ourselves down the highway to hell
as fast as our first cars would take us
today is one of those days
lazy summer heat beginning to bloom
into the ides of march
putting a punch in the gut
about the return to offices
and cubicles
and managers with trust issues
i am not all here today
i am chatting with José
seeing his flamboyant and boyish smile
and how i wished for a dad that was involved
today i ask for a blessing
this is it
this moment is the beginning and the end
today is just another turn of el sol
and i am here to celebrate
cry
and remember
promises and hugs
that cannot go with them
where they have gone
and yet
i feel them
the minute i frame a question
“do you talk to her”
this psychic asked about my dead sister
“what do you mean?”
“just, ask her, she will answer.”

and that’s my spirituality
in a poem
prayer
words on a computer screen
as pink floyd croons on about
“where were you”
and here I am
here i be
all by myself
and surrounded by love

3-28-22


just for a second (a poem)

breathe

breathe

walk outside right now
stop stop stop the rush
of this day and moment
and go breathe a cloud in
take a pause to collect
the pieces of your soul
scattered out along the rush
of this work
this adventure
this life

you know
there is no other chance
this is the big show
you should not be waiting
for some sign
if you are
this poem is the sign you were waiting for
don’t wait
go outside
stop driving so hard and fast
open yourself to the softness of an afternoon’s heat
to the smell of the cedar
even as it makes your eyes water
give space for god
or your higher power
to catch up with you
don’t hurry on
don’t interrupt
just listen to a few good deep breaths
IN
and
slowwwwly
OUT
pause
repeat

this break brought to you by war
nearby deaths
tornadoes touching down next door
and all that is sacred in our lives
but ignored
escaped through entertainment
missed with resentments and anger
this break
is the beginning
the opening
for your change to happen
now
right now

in this second
with each word of a poem
you are opening to the pause
the great pause
the slow inhale and exhale
the modern recovery act
i am only here as a friend
a lover
a colleague
in every interaction i hope to encourage
champion
and cheer
for your success
as we both learn to slow it all down
this work/life balance destination
and do it now
do it even if we don’t feel it
do it because it will take effect
more powerfully than any antidepressant
more than sex, or chocolate, or money
the pause
the connection with another person
may be the most two vital practices on the earth

with these words, these strokes of keys on a laptop
i am joining with you
calling for your moment of connection
with your inner voice
your breathing
and your tuning in and dropping out
of the furious pace of your world
please pause
please take the breaks you need
please celebrate those around you
at every moment
and know that i am with you
in this journey to aim our hearts
closer to the beloved
i am here
you are there
we
are
in this most sacred
now

3-23-2022