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

sex

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

when you lose everything, love comes into focus

Log Line: Ferris Beuller gets a divorce.

A committed dad at the height of his creative life hits a snag when his wife asks for a divorce. A redemption story of loss, faith, and hope as Vincent comes to terms with what’s important in his life: his two children. He then crafts his life around supporting and loving them. Along the journey, he learns what real happiness looks and feels like.

Could a tv show bring about real change in family law? Give dads a fair shake at being full parents?

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.

 


magnetic tagging of my bloodstream (a poem)

in my bloodstream

in my bloodstream

i’d vape you like pineapple chill if you were here
breathing deep of your spice and sweetness
hold
count to five
dragon fire bursts in white
what is the vapor you have left inside me
how did your scent and smoothness find purchase
in the magnetic tagging of my bloodstream
as i was looking the other way

8/29/22


Learning About Sex from Penthouse Forum

penthouse letters

penthouse letters

My oldest cousin had left behind a large box of Playboy magazines in one of their family’s outdoor storage buildings. He was 10 years older than me and my friend, who were in 7th grade at the time of the discovery. What I was doing poking around in my uncle’s storage shed, I don’t remember. But it was not uncommon to be sent on an errand to retrieve some tool. So, I was probably an accidental treasure chest.

Now, to be fair, Playboy was not really my favorite. There were also a few Penthouse Magazines at the bottom of the moving box full of magazines that we hauled two miles back to my house, sharing the carry along the way, full erections leading us back to unlimited discovery. I don’t recall much about the specifics of that afternoon, but it was an awakening that still encourages my curiosity to this day.

Penthouse Forum Letters

Did the *words* hold more imaginative data than the photo spreads? Probably not. But after the page-turning and massage sessions, I wanted MORE. My mind was now *experienced* and hungry for additional clues to the mysteries of sex. And Penthouse Forum was the place for sexy stories that always began something like this:

“We were just friends. I never thought anything like this would ever happen to me, but… we found ourselves naked and in the swimming pool of her best friend’s parent’s house…”

Two girls, one guy, that was the ultimate quest. I can tell you my first reaction to a lesbian spread was very positive. I’ve never achieved that specific forum story, but I’ve had some wild-I-can’t-believe-we’re-actually-doing-this events. I am sure that I wrote a few whoppers to tell my friends. I may have even submitted a few fantasy “letters” of my own.

By today’s standards, with free porn and free erotica, Penthouse Forum is a bit mild. But 30+ years ago porn meant these three or four magazines and the dueling sexual revolution champions of Heffner and Guccione. The thing about Penthouse was their photographers focused much more closely on the uncovered genitals. Playboy was a BIG BOOBS + BIG BUTT fantasy that didn’t really connect with me as much. I mean, I made my way though ALL OF THE MAGAZINES, but Penthouse was more my *taste.*

How Do We Learn About Sex?

Most of us learn about sex by self-exploration. We learn early on what feels good. We learn what images and ideas get us off. It’s a lonely journey at first. As we get a bit older, we begin the long learning curve of courtship and (if we’re lucky, or talented) sex with another person. But, most of our education came in the form of pictorals and fantastic (or not so fantastic) words. Erotica became an acquired taste. Sometimes the words could evoke a more personalized response. Ali MacGraw your thing? Close your eyes…

Our initial encounters with potential partners were well-fueled by hormones and adrenaline. Most of us tried to leverage our visual and mental images into our real lives with real partners. The more you knew the better it could be. This might have been the reason I purchased Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, But Were Afraid To Ask when I was 12. For years, after the discovery, my brother would say, “He’s already more educated than I am. He read the book on it when he was 10.”

I was proud of my brother’s taunting. Well, until it became weaponized, but that wouldn’t happen for years.

But the truth is, from that box of Playboys and Penthouses I studied sex with vigor and intention. I was going to make some High School girl very happy. And if I was lucky, maybe two girls at once, during Spring Break in Miami Beach. Maybe not, but Penthouse Forum continued to tease out the fantasy. And while they didn’t do many 2-on-1 guy photoshoots, the lesbians were always of the lipstick and lingerie variety. My aspirations for a menage a Trois remain unfulfilled, but that’s okay. I’ve learned a bit more about relationships and sex in the real world, and it’s nothing like Penthouse Forum.

Learning How Sex Fits Into Any Relationship

Sex can make or break a relationship. When the sex shuts down in a previously hot relationship, the end is probably approaching. It’s not that sex is everything. It’s, at most, 2% of our time in a relationship. The other 98% is the harder part to get right. I mean, once you’ve discovered your own sexual patterns and desires.

What I’ve learned in my current relationship is that joy is about you spend the rest of the time together. You can get it together in the bedroom if the relationship is amazing. We all come from different experiences. Part of dating is finding the places that sync up, the places that are thrilling, and the red flags of “Nope, not for me.” There is a lot of learning that has to go on between the sheets for you and your partner to find a sustainable sex groove. What else do you like to do together?

A couple of times in the past 12 years since I became a single dad, I have allowed sexual heat or chemistry to establish a relationship that lacked promise outside the bedroom. The sex was hot. Maybe too hot. The partnership, not so much. The magic trick, of course, is pulling both things together with a partner: sex is great, but the time beyond sex is even better.

Today, I’d say I’m in the healthiest relationship I’ve ever been in. We’ve got so many more tools than we had 20+ years ago when I married the mother of my two children. And I’m more inspired to make it work than ever before. And when things go south, I’ve learned, it’s probably because one of the two partners wants out. I’m looking for the long haul and this relationship has green lights across the control board. The red flags have been addressed and burned away.

So far.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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

image: take my hand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She seemed a bit unconvinced.

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

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

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

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

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

I’m ever hopeful.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

< back to On Dating Again index

*post written April 2014

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image: take my hand, gisela giardino, creative commons usage


Every Other Saturday Night: Dating After Divorce

dating as a single parent

dating as a single parent

If you’ve got kids and you are divorced you’re most likely on an every-other-weekend schedule like me. While it affords plenty of opportunities for self-improvement and creative endeavors, it’s hell on dating. AND if your “date” is also divorced with children, chances are their schedule is exactly opposite from yours, if they’re on the SPO prescribed by the state and enforced on 80% of Texas men, for example.

Okay, so you’ve got approximately two weekends a month to do as you please.

TIME is what we need to figure out how compatible we are. TIME is what it takes, for me, to understand adoration and appreciation, apart from the drive to have SEX or be in a relationship.

In trying to move a  significant love interest forward (I’d place the remaining woman with potential in this category) it is hard not to press for some commitment. Some indication that we are in a relationship. We’ve snuggled. We’ve hugged goodbye and had the occasional closed-mouth kiss. And then we’re off to the static silence that is the rest of the week in a busy single-parent life. She has a 16-year-old daughter, and that entails a lot. AND… of course, we are both hyper-committed parents. For me that runs a staggered schedule, for her, with the father no longer in the picture, it’s 24/7 mothering.

So rather than asking for some sign, I’m looking at the time. There is not much time to be together. And the joining takes effort and intentionality on both of our parts to make it happen. Why do I need some profession, some major milestone (a passionate kiss, lovemaking) to confirm our relationship? Do I? It might just be my longing and desire for those things, rather than some insecurity.

In terms of my available weekend nights, this summer, I have two Saturday nights a month. (I take my kids THU/FRI during summer vacation.) And now, with a little imagination, I can establish “dates” on those two nights and make the most of what is available.

I kept thinking, “Well, she’s really busy.” But it’s ME that has the time. And for real relaxed socialization, the weekend offers the most return. So Saturdays it is. Every other Saturday.

That’s not a lot of time to get time together. And today, at this moment, I’m okay with that. I admit to getting restless and desirous and checking my OKCupid profile for any “visitors” who might look interesting. BUT, in general, I think this developing story serves me well.

  1. I am busily working on my creative craft (writing, journaling, playing music)
  2. I am reinvigorated in my fitness and slimming quest
  3. I have an engine of passion and longing in imagining “being” with her (and this serves the love poem, and love song output quite well)
  4. And with things still being OPEN, I have the flexibility and the opportunity to explore whatever whims happen to arrive

TIME is what we need to figure out how compatible we are. TIME is what it takes, for me, to understand adoration and appreciation, apart from the drive to have SEX or be in a relationship. I want those things. BUT, I’m clear that my mistakes of the past will not foreshadow my next relationship commitment.

I can use every ounce of energy to improve MYSELF and MY VISION and continue to dig into the wacky meanderings of my mind and my past/future mistakes. Most of all, I can stay present.

When I jump in, this next time, I intend to jump in feet first. Both times I fell head-first in love and married some of the fundamental parts of the relationship mismatch had not been revealed. (Of course, with hindsight I can imagine I would’ve seen them, but I was blind with passionate love.)

It’s enough right now to know someone is out there, someone I aspire to, someone I adore and appreciate for herself, AT THIS VERY MOMENT, without ever having passionately kissed. (I can say this, today, tomorrow might be a different tune.) She is showing me what ADORATION looks like when it grows and moves slowly.

Sure, I’d really like for a woman to take a shine to me and light up like a Christmas tree. And maybe that will happen, maybe this pause, and calm/steady snuggle artist is just what I need to prepare me for what’s next.

And I can use every ounce of energy to improve MYSELF and MY VISION and continue to dig into the wacky meanderings of my mind and my past/future mistakes. Most of all, I can stay present.

All of this self-examination is fine if we don’t ruminate on the past or future. I feel, today as if this writing has allowed me to shed the pain and disfunction of my divorce and explore my life as a happy single person, again. And GF #1 showed me that I know how to be open, honest, and truthful in relationships. She showed the way to what’s next. It is my job to stay present, and not rush into anything (for any reason) unhealthy. TIME is my most valuable currency. When planning my two Saturday nights, I’d be wise to choose with intention.

Sincerely,

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

*written September 2019

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

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image: I’d rather stay at home with my kids, the author


The Simple Science of Online Dating – My Perspective & Process

my method for online dating

ONLINE DATING LAW: If she/he doesn’t say, “What’s next,” then they aren’t that interested. Move along.

First dates via online dating are not my favorite activity. BUT, you can’t get where you want to be without starting out on the journey, so off we go to Match.com, eHarmony, Plenty of Fish, OKCupid, etc. And it truly is a jungle out there. Photoshopped glamour shots. Ages that can’t possibly be honest, when you meet the person in person. “You’re HOW OLD?” I wanted to ask her. And “How long ago was that photo taken?” Often it’s several lifetimes ago, when they were feeling pretty and youthful, regardless of how they are feeling or looking now. And I’ve heard these shenanigans happen on men’s profiles as well.

So that’s a problem. Cutting through the fake and beautified to see the real person. It’s a hard nut to crack. Here’s why.

Either the photos are

  1. Too beautiful (if you look like that why would you possibly be online looking for a date?)
  2. Too plain (good lord, did you even try to look pretty or interested or interesting?)
  3. The near miss (she’s got a great smile, but there’s something not quite right)
  4. Edgy to the max (if your tattoo or ability to hold a mixed drink is a highlight, we probably don’t need to meet)
  5. The just plain sad (girl, your bathroom mirror pic is just sad, even your bathroom is sad, go outside, get a friend to take a picture, please)

It’s clear we all have different methods for PRESENTING ourselves. Some people need glamour shots, some people want wrong-side-off-the-tracks bad girl vibes, and some just don’t care, they’re just putting it out there to see what happens. (Well, good luck with that last approach. In marketing, the packaging does account for a lot)

Last week, a very interesting first date asked a very interesting question. She was clearly a research-oriented searcher.

“So what was it about my profile that caused you to call me?” she asked. She was new to the online dating process and wanted direct feedback on her photos and what she said about herself. I tried to give her an honest answer. Here’s what I came up with.

1. Is there an instant appeal? (Like looking for a house, when there are 1,000 listings, you skip right to the ones that have instant curb appeal. That says, “I could live there.”)

2. Does their body type fall within my range of desire? (I think mine is pretty broad, but I certainly have some limits.)

3. Am I within their desired age range? (Age is a funny thing. I suppose it’s the grand filter on dating, but it’s not really a very good indicator of compatibility. I’ll come back to this in a second.)

4. Do I send a message? (Mostly this is the ice breaker. Show interest. Write a short blurb about what in their profile you were interested in knowing more about. Make a casual offer for a meeting.)

From there, I really believe it’s a numbers game. Plant a lot of seeds and see if you get ANY that sprout. So in my process, I don’t spend a ton of time on the profile until I get a ping-back from my first email contact. For me, it’s these three things.

  1. Can I imagine her smiling across the table from me?
  2. Does her body fall within my acceptable range?
  3. Am I within her acceptable age range?
  4. Put out a lot of feelers.

Spending too much time on any given profile or potential date is like reading pornography. If she’s that fantastic she’s probably flooded with messages from guys, and guys more qualified and charming than you.

Seasoned Online Dater Tip: When you are searching, orient your searches towards “Who’s New” because their inboxes will be a little less overwhelmed and you have a better shot at cutting through the noise and getting your message to her.

That’s it. You put out a lot of first-glance-she-looks-good hello messages and wait to see if ANY come back.

Of course, this is from a Man’s perspective. Women’s experience of online dating is very different, but I thought this might be helpful to know what we’re looking at and what we’re looking for. (Me, anyway.)

In asking a number of women, what online dating is for them, they are often overwhelmed by the responses in their inbox. And of course, the bad eggs are trying to send them pictures of their junk, but mostly for them, it’s weeding through all the introductions and offers, much like it is for us MEN just looking through the potentials. But even if they have more “hello” openings, it does not mean it’s easier for women.

I would guess the games are very heavy coming from the MEN. And I’ve heard some funny horror stories from some of my “dates.”

My bottom line awareness: As a man, I am going to have to do the work to say “hello” in a fun and charming way. And I need to do that A LOT if I’m hoping to get a 1% response to my “marketing campaign.” If a woman reaches out to me, WOW, let’s check that out and see if she’s within my spectrum of desire. (90% of the “hello” messages I’ve gotten in my 1.25 years in online dating are from women who look and feel much more like my mom than my potential date. I know I’m young for my age, but goodness, the emails are almost depressing.)

A thought about age: You are as old as you seem. Too much pontification on how old you are, how old you look, or how much “energy” you have will really not serve you well. If someone is very focused on their AGE RANGE why try to penetrate their prejudice. What I believe is, age is amazingly relative. I’ve met older women who ran circles around me. I’ve met women my age (50) who seemed like they were closer to retirement than going out to see live music on a Saturday night. And I’ve met younger women who were charming, intelligent, and not afraid of my “experience.”

Unfortunately, at this point, the three main points AND chemistry have not fallen in place for me. YET. But I’m hopeful when I open up OK Cupid. (I’ve killed my Match.com account and I tried eHarmony once, but hated their selection of women they thought would be good for me. Let me browse.) I am hopeful that my next relationship is out there.

And it’s important that I don’t thrash or work too hard to make it happen. I believe, when it happens, my concepts, even my method will prove to be useless. That’s what I hope for, anyway. A connection that says, “YES.” And a first date who asks, “So what’s next?”

That energy you would spend trying to woo or convince her that you are awesome is better spent making yourself more awesome (eating better, exercising, reading, expanding your horizons).

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

< back to On Dating Again index

*written April 2013

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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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Go Big This Time, Or Go Home: Looking for a Long-Term Relationship

girl in the deep end

 

Several more creative titles came to mind when framing up this post: “She’s Come Undone,” or “Girl In the Deep End of the Pool.” But I needed to remember that this is not a philosophical post, it’s a hardship post. It’s about the harder side of dating, that I had yet to encounter.

She texted me, “Don’t stand me up. I need a drink.”

But I’d already decided a few days ago that she was NOT the one. AND in my current state of mind, anything, anyone, BUT THE ONE, is a waste of time. So why is this so much harder to do than I anticipated?

The hard thing to realize, even if I know it, is that she will not hurt any less tomorrow if I go along with the plan tonight.

She’s nice. She’s pretty. She really really really likes me. (Might be a red flag.) And she just wants to get together again. In response to my “I’m not ready for this relationship right now,” text she pleaded, “Just call me. It’s not going to be hard. It will be a good call.” She was quite convincing about how easy-going she is. And how she understands “people with kids.”

She doesn’t understand at all.

So I paused the train. I attempted to get off without hurting any feelings. But it’s not going to be that easy. And today, Monday, it’s not going that well. She’s had a hard day. She began buzzing my phone about two hours ago. When her “contract” workday ended. I talked to her. And again she confessed to having a really shitty day. Looks like her work might not continue after another two weeks. And in the place where I would feel compassion and outreach for someone, I was wanting to be in a relationship with, I simply felt tired by the exchange. I didn’t want to meet her for a drink. And at this moment… I won’t. But she doesn’t know that yet.

Why is it easier for us to see disaster in another person’s life so much easier than in our own? I was having dinner with a friend last night and it was easy to coach her a bit in the “get the assholes stuff out of your house NOW” vein. And today she’s texting me, “How did it go?” I’m embarrassed to say, I was still embroiled.

I don’t want to be the bad guy. I don’t want to be the hurter. UG. BUT… here’s the point I’m clear on, I’m not going to be in a “relationship” with this woman. We kissed, it was good. We kissed a lot. And I realized I was not interested in her. END OF STORY.

The hard thing to realize, even if I know it, is that she will not hurt any less tomorrow if I go along with the plan tonight. In fact, I know, she will feel worse. Much less me. I don’t want to spend this evening nursing this dying quail of a relationship. I want to move on. I want to go for a walk. I want to think about NEXT. And her kisses don’t sound like a good idea under any circumstances.

While she’s not a drug addict or a mean person, she’s not the right relationship for me. Anything less is compromising.

So how do we extricate ourselves from a person who simply does not want to be extricated? How do we grow the balls to say NO with a firm and loving hand? EVEN when they’ve had a bad day, a hard life, any number of hardships. We still need to say NO. But it hurts.

So I’m going to call her now. I’m going to say no. I’m going to be firm.

Oh fuck, maybe I’ll go for a walk first. Sort my head a bit. Then call her. Tonight and her waiting is nothing compared to the drop of the other shoe. And I need to get myself in a place where I will not compromise. I told my friend, last night, “You need to get clear of this shit.” While she’s not a drug addict or a mean person, she’s not the right relationship for me. Anything less is compromising. And that’s the deal I have with myself today. NO COMPROMISE.

Easy to say, harder to do.

I’ll post an update, but first a walk. A good, long, walk. Alone. (Instead, I bought tickets for a movie and called her from the park near the theater. The story continues here: Obeying the Speed Limits, and The Daily Journey)

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

*post originally written April 2013

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Entering the Church of Kisses

[I really don’t want to write this post. I don’t want to go where I know it’s going. I’m sad. I’m conflicted. I’ve met someone, who’s SO CLOSE. I’ve also discovered that I have got a bias.]

A new awareness: Kissing maybe as addicting as sex. And though we have not taken any clothes off, GF 2.0 and I have moved quickly into something resembling intimacy via extended kissing time. I’m not sure I’m any more clear-headed than I was with GF 1.0 when we entered the bedroom with abandon on date number two. But when she’s misty-eyed and smiling at me and the oxytocin is flowing I’m not so sure that I’m making wise decisions.

She’s the one who “slowed down the runaway train” when she let me know, the first time at her house, that we would not be ripping out clothes off. I was relieved. I had been having similar thoughts just an hour before when we were in a massive kissing session in a park by the river. I’m not sure my process was the same, but my internal question was, “Do I want to do this?” I was tired. I had been up since 4 am on some creative jag, and I really wanted to go home and take a nap.

She suggested we go to her place, and take a nap, and then see where we might want to go from there. It was an exhilarating moment. And one I was not sure I was going to be able to control, once we got to a cool, dark, and private place. And as the kissing heated up in her wonderfully fluffy and inviting bed, she gave me the brakeman’s warning. I was happy to agree. I didn’t really want the momentum to propel us into sex to quickly, but my Pavlovian brain was revving up, and I knew the discipline would be difficult without her compliance. She took the lead. And the kissing got out of control for 30 minutes or so, safe in the knowledge that we had agree on not sexing it up.

It was wonderful. And the pause gave me some time to reflect, even filled with desire, on the goals I had for my next relationship. We had been talking around a lot of this information, thus far, during the afternoon.

I restated my relationship must haves: 1. able to express deep emotions; 2. comfortable with physical closeness; 3. sexual chemistry; and my new addition 4. adoration. We covered some, “What happened in your past relationships?” And “What went wrong in your marriage?” She had never been married.

And kissing her deeply on her bed, fully clothed, I was closer and closer to infatuation and lust that comes from newness, and the exhilaration of experiencing something new. Maybe, just maybe, coming closer to finding a next relationship.

BUT… something happened. Two things happened. And the pause, the delay at rushing into the sexual tunnel of love, might have saved us both a lot of heartache. (It’s not done, yet, I haven’t talked to her, but she’s on her way over here in an hour.)

The first awareness is the most uncomfortable. I am ashamed to admit it. In all that IS right with this woman, all the excitement, energy and good communication, I cannot get over her weight problem. My friend said, “Does she know she’s overweight?” Of course. She’s talked about control and just last night, in a kissing fest, she mentioned getting new jeans and being very happy with her new style.

But laying back on the bed, I was holding her feet, I couldn’t suppress my need to be elsewhere. I’m sorry. I’m guessing this will generate some ill will. And I’m sure she’s not going to be happy when I talk to her about not being ready to move on in our relationship. She will be gone. And again, I’ll be alone. And my church of kisses will collapse back into silences. But I know that’s where I need to be.

Girl #3 met me for coffee yesterday as well, and it was clear that I could make a case for her, she wasn’t that engaged or connected. She was a bit flighty. I think I recall this trait from when we knew each other 15 years ago. She was attractive to me. She fit many of my desires about intellect, fitness, and a full life of her own. But I couldn’t really penetrate her ditzy fog. It wasn’t that she was ditzy, but it seemed that she liked to play ditzy, as an excuse for forgetting something, or not wanting to explore some topic of conversation.

Back to my priestess of kisses. I cannot lead her any further down the road of excitement. She’s been sharing me with friends. And I would ALMOST rather give her some more time, but really I’m giving myself more time to NOT deal with it. The further we walk into the church of kissing the harder it is going to be to leave without a sacrifice.

So… PAIN PAIN PAIN, I’d rather do almost anything other than hurt someone.

OH, the other awareness that came from this journey down kissy-face lane.

WHAT IF, she had fallen physically within my range of comfort? What if the girl who was so delightful turned out to be a real possible “match?” Without kids of her own, she had very little to do other than want to be with me.

Am I ready for a devoted girlfriend who wants to spend endless time with me? Isn’t some of that what we are looking for?

But what about the nights I just wanted to read or get in bed early? What about the times I really just need to work… Even with GF 1.0 there was a bit of a struggle when I said, “I’m really busy, can we get together tomorrow instead?”

So how is that going to work? What if I got exactly what I was hoping for? The FOUR TRUE requirements, and she wanted to be with me. And then she REALLY wanted to be with me. What then?

My friend said, “She needs to have a rich life all her own. So she is not so dependent on your schedule and your activities.”

I floated the idea, “What if what I want is really just a lover?” But I know that is not the solution.

What I learned, yesterday as I was contemplating this woman who REALLY wants to be with me… was I actually have to define some of my desired time constraints as well. So you mean, even after all this, all this work to FIND SOMEONE, you also have to negotiate time and schedules?

And of course, the concept flashed across my mind, “It would be the end of The Off Parent.”

I laugh now. Hardly. But the focus and dance of this story would change dramatically.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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*written April 2013

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Losing Everything in Divorce; Learning to Carry On

OFF-home

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

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

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

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

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

Can a man survive without a job?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely

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

*written June 2014

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

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image: welcome, glassess eyes, 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.

< back to On Dating Again index

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

OFF-heartcentered

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

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

+++

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

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

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

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

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

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

I mean, I got these answers:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

*this post written June 2014

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How Do We Gain So Much Energy from Love? Agua y besos

aqua y besos

aqua y besosI can see how people become addicted to the rush of new relationships. There is a heady mix of lust, hunger, newness, and surprise that perks up your energy and hopefulness. And if we can stay on the positive side of it, we can use it to smash through some of the chains that might be binding us to our old relationships. Love heals all wounds, is a saying that you don’t fully understand until you are back in that gravitational pull of the heart.

The newness and novelty is not love, is it? The fresh new body, never discovered or explored is not where love lies, is it? What is in the air when we have begun to lose our despair and look out towards another person with that glow? What causes the glow? And if we could sustain it, like long-distance lovers, could we stay there in the honeymoon phase forever?

And the flip side, when did it start seeping out of our failed marriages? Do the mundane tasks of work, child-rearing, bill paying, maintenance, and chores, wear away the golden glow of our lovers? Is there something we could do now to avoid that letdown?

Sex seems so new when you’re with a new partner. There are different bodies, different styles, different smells, and frictions. Sex is wonderful. And sex can be… oops… just sex.

Probably the easiest thing to do would be to protect ourselves from it. Avoid it. Stay in the surface, the sex, the passion, and the fleeting thrill of the new relationship. Once divorced, we are released from the tether and toil of our past, it feels like it’s time to sow our wild oats. And I have a few friends that are truly at peace with sleeping with several partners a week. Until they hit upon one who actually begins to make them think about a future together. “She was great,” my friend said. “But she really started to need me, and I’m not ready for that.”

So, here we are, adults. We often have children and responsibilities from our previous relationships. And we are ready for a little adventure. Why not? We’ve certainly earned it.

Sex seems so new when you’re with a new partner. There are different bodies, different styles, different smells, and frictions. Sex is wonderful. And sex can be… oops… just sex. And after a few of those, I was not interested in “just sex” anymore.

When the mist of desire begins working its magic again, you learn how much you have missed really having that connection with someone. The thought of them makes you smile. The txt while they are away can make you feel connected. And suddenly, uh oh, you’re into it. You want more. You’re not ready for what’s next, you don’t care what’s next, you just want to keep the rush of warmth going.

Allow time with this other person to be part of what you look forward to, but don’t put all your hopes and dreams on them. Right now you have agua y besos, and there is no better place for you to be.

How can you open up to the risk of love if opening up to it means the possibility of losing it again? And it is the loss of this magical feeling that is the most painful. The contrast of what your heart is feeling now vs. what you were dealing with the last few years of your marriage. It’s almost enough to make you not want to go there.

But some of us are addicted. The romantic notion of love is real and alive. The hopefulness of a relationship that is durable and sustaining, is something we are prepared to strive for. Certainly, I am overthinking this, as I lean back into the casual joy of being with someone who is wild about me. And feeling those feelings again, of putting a life together that is open and vulnerable to another person.

Water and kisses are enough in the early stages of bliss. But in the long haul, you’ll need to find sustenance and shelter from the storms that are always on the horizon. Better to weather the hurricanes with a partner, you think, as long as that partner doesn’t betray me the way my previous partner did. And there’s the rub. You’ve got the old feelings of loss and anger. You’ve got these new feelings of heat and passion. And somewhere in the middle is the reality of life.

We can’t stay in the “agua y besos” phase forever. And would we really want to? I suppose the serial daters have an addiction to the new high. But I’ve never been able to sustain my passion when there was no more than just sexual attraction.

Feeling the hopefulness coursing through my veins again, I know that my reality is skewed and that taking it slowly is the best course of action. Too frequently we can get swept into decisions based on this wonderful glow. Perhaps that’s how our last relationship ended up in divorce. But not to strive, not to believe that it is possible…

Slow down. Take it easy. Stay in the present moment and enjoy this feeling. You don’t have to figure out the plans. Allow time with this other person to be part of what you look forward to, but don’t put all your hopes and dreams on them. That’s too big to hold. Right now you have aqua y besos, and there is no better place for you to be.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

*written May 2014

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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

*this post was written Oct. 2014

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What Boomer Women Want In A Man – Huffington Post (My Response)

she is nearby - poetry

this is me creating, believing, soloAnn Brenoff  (a Senior Writer for the Huffington Post) wrote a very cool piece called Love Over 50: 20 Traits Boomer Women Want In Their Next Lover. And I was excited and intrigued by the introduction to the section (Post50) on the Huffington Post and the courageous woman who was going to *finally* give me some tips on what I was trying to figure out.

And while many of the traits are no-brainers, she has a casual and carefree list that feels inspired and somewhat guiding. My top favorites include:

  1. Knows “Do these jeans make my butt look big?” is a trick question.
  2. Baby talks to the dog when no one is home (the dog confirms it).
  3. Understands plumbing, both mine and the sink’s.
  4. Assumes he is meeting my plane at the airport.
  5. Always drives, always pays and never brings up doing either.

The list is well worth reading. But the fun really starts in the comments where the fireworks begin. (Quite a few of them regarding my personal lightning rod, #5 on my list above.) And then HuffPo published a well-respected man’s response. Ken Solin wrote this piece, Love Over 50: 20 Traits Boomer Men Want In Their Next Lover and the response came off as pretty lame. It was a response, rather than a real attempt at rejoining or answering Ann’s initial post. And according to his Redux post, it garnered over 1,000 comments.

But my problem with Mr. Solin’s list is the tone of the entire thing. I’m sure he was trying to be cute, and smart, and funny, like his female counter-puncher, but his language turned me off immediately. And while I went back to his list several times to try and understand how much was joking and how much was “good-old boy” lingo that really comes out of Mr. Solin’s mouth.

Here are the phrases that really soured my opinion of Mr. Solin’s expertise at voicing us “men’s” traits and qualities.

“A “juicy” honey…” “A sweetheart…” “An in-shape heartthrob…” “A sweetie…”

I couldn’t make it past his language. The part of  Ann Brenoff’s piece that was missing was the poetry. She left the traits raw and unsullied with these colloquialisms. The peak example is this masterfully ripe “trait” from Mr. Solin.

“A “juicy” honey, with a sexual edge, who knows that Boomer sex is less about piston-pounding and more about passion.”

Okay, so… While his point is good, a passionate lover rather than a wham-bam type, his twist is all wrong. Try calling a woman, at any age, a “‘juicy’ honey, with a sexual edge” and you’re about to get a slap or a drink tossed in your face as she waltz’s out the door. It’s so… So… It’s even too infuriating to describe how wrong this statement of male desire is.

Mr. Solin gives us a blanket disclaimer at the end of his list with, “I’m not suggesting that this is every guy’s wish list, just mine.”

And yes, Mr. Solin, in this article and list you come off as a dick.

The other juicy tidbit of wisdom from Mr. Solin is early on where he share’s this, “An in-shape heartthrob with exercise discipline. I have it, but still need an occasional push out the door.”

Well, Mr. Solin, glad to know your a fit and virile boomer man, but take the swagger out of your “honeys” and “sweeties” and come back to Earth where women would prefer to be called by their names. I mean, at least until the third or fourth date.

Mr. Solin has a nice redux where he opens up about his new relationship with a woman who fits his list: 20 Traits A Boomer Man Wants In A Boomer Woman: Redux and I’m happy for him.

To be fair, Mr. Solin is an excellent writer. A few of his posts have been seminal touch points for me along my journey. I even shared them occasionally with women who I had, or hoped, to date. These two in particular seem to catch Mr. Solin on his game.

Why Boomer Women Are Perfect For Boomer Men < about how our craving for younger, fitter mates might really be sabotaging our chances of happiness.

Dating Over 50: Going Slow Instead Of With The Flow < about how getting sexual too quickly can foul up our healthy relationship intuition.

I’m on this journey too. Perhaps my generational gap, I’m just barely a boomer, might be to blame for why I felt such a revulsion at Mr. Solin’s language in his list piece. I’ve done a few runs at making my own list. And I have been keeping my dick in my pants now for six months. I want the last ONE, not the next juicy honey.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

*this post was written in Sept. 2013

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Tired of Kissin Frogs

girls of summer

girl of the summer

And just like that: I’ve hit the opening of summer, alone.

All that potential stored up, and a little head cold that took me out of a potential date with the last remaining “woman with potential.” Oh well. Let’s re-assess.

1. OKCupid is dead. Once you go through and HIDE all the “no fkin way” matches there are about 8 women that are interesting. The one responder was fun, (SEE First Date Closure) but pursuit would’ve been an act of interest not inspiration. I don’t want interest. I don’t want kinda. I want fireworks.

2. Women with Potential. The overthinker has been removed. And the remaining woman, while AMAZING, is a slow mover. I’m taking the persistent but distant approach. She’s not been in a close relationship for many years. So moving anything along down that path with me will require time and patience. I’m fine with that. BUT… I’m back in farming mode. (Meaning, trolling OKCupid and generally opening up the universal box of wishes again.)

3. Self-Improvement. Probably the most important part of finding my next match is continuing to grow and build my own momentum. Over the last few weeks, stress and general business have led to less than stellar health routines. Less frequent walks, eating out a bit more than I would choose to, a Spring cold has all left me with a tad bit less energy and zip than I would like. On the creative side, however, I’m moving forward with some of my aspirational music plans and starting a collaboration with a drummer to consider putting my live band back out in the clubs, locally.

4. Refining my roll. Cultivating my creative energy is critical to calling in the goddess of my dreams. If I’m not in full-bloom how will I attract a blooming beauty myself?

In this pause, I am returning to the center. I don’t think I will pursue miss maybe from OKC. I’m going to stay home tonight rather than push so hard with “woman with potential.” There’s a relief at having a stay-at-home night. I’d prefer it to be WITH someone, but that’s still not in the plan.

I am tired. I’m going to leave the frogs in the swamp and not work so hard on finding her. I’m going to work harder on being the frog prince she might be looking for and taking care of my spiritual and creative needs so that I radiate with my passion.

It’s gonna be a hot Summer. And this is a marathon not a sprint. There’s no real hurry. And wouldn’t I really rather be with the NEXT ONE, rather than just SOMEONE?

At this moment, I feel the joy of being in a centered and emotionally content place.

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*this post was written June 2013

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+++

Concrete Bed – Nada Surf
“to find someone to love, you gotta be someone you love”


Sex is Fun: Should You Settle for Apathetic Sex?

sex is fun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheating Sites

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

*this post was written in June 2014

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image: egypt sex, creative commons usage


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

the dating metaphor

OFF-bostons

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

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

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

The Dog Dating Metaphor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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Note: this post was written May 2013

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The Sensual and the Sexual: Dating After Divorce

OFF-desktopsexy

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

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

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

And I am part of that tribe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

*this post was written in May 2014

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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

*written in October 2014

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Online Dating Undercover Revelations: OK Cupid (Pt. 1)

Online Dating: OK Cupid

I did something odd the other day. I paid to be an A-Lister on the free dating site OKCupid. And boy did I learn a few things that I’m now going to share with you. The first thing the A-list does for you on OKC is allow you to narrow your searches by a few more criteria.

a-list search criteria on ok cupid

and if we use the Attractiveness criteria we get this:

ok cupid attractiveness

Now I’m guessing this has to do with the star ratings that people have given the women over time. And my list dwindled dramatically when I uplifted my search to include 5-star women only. I wonder am I a four or five? Or three? Ack.  And the difference between 4+ and 5 was very little. And actually after you’ve done the work of eliminating the “no-ways” from your searches by hiding them, I came up with about 20 potential matches. And of those I had to eliminate half of them for being out-of-my-league or too-pretty to be “realistic.” (See All Types post)

And what about body-type criteria. Here’s my selection, if I used it.

ok cupid body-types

You’d have to wonder about a woman who ranked herself as “used up.” And “jacked” is even a bit cocky for me, and I’m cocky. And what’s the difference in self-awareness in a woman who claims to be Skinny vs. Thin vs. Fit. (Oh, I’d add Fit to my criteria.)

And one of the other criteria offers an interesting twist on the selection process. Let’s say you’re looking for someone who is okay with casual sex, well, you can search for women who’ve answered the casual sex question of your choice. How’s that for dialing it in?

searching for casual sex

And then there’s the stealth browsing mode that offers this screen when you visit someone’s profile.

Screen Shot 2014-05-29 at 11.49.16 AM

that changes when you okay the visit

Screen Shot 2014-05-29 at 11.49.26 AM

I was wondering how I sent out so many hellos that got not only no response but not even a visit to my profile. It seems that women are much more selective about letting us know they visited. I know that’s where I start when I open OKC. And there has been very little action, even though I sent “hellos” to all 20 – 10 = 10 women who came up in my advanced search. And one woman actually responded at all. We’re meeting for a glass of wine tomorrow.

And that’s really it, that’s the point. Once you’ve secured the “date” let it go. Don’t spend too much energy or time scoping her out, or flirting via messages or texts. It’s often so much fantasy, that it’s waisted until you’ve met. Soooo many times I’ve generated a lot of enthusiasm and interest via message only to find there was ZERO chemistry. So leave your romantic aspirations until you’ve actually met. And when you get a “maybe” you should know it’s really a polite no. When it’s a yes, there shouldn’t be any hesitation at asking “What’s next?” If there’s resistance or apprehension, it’s a no. Move on.

The one thing I’ve come to understand about online dating is this. At least the women on the sites are claiming to be ready for a relationship. And if they’ve expressed some things that feel mutually exciting, cool. But meeting is an entirely different adventure. I exchanged a message with a woman who claimed it only took 4 minutes to know if there was chemistry. She was responding to something I wrote on my profile. And sure enough we’re going to grab our 4 minutes at the end of this weekend. “2 minutes for you and 2 minutes for me,” she said. I like her spunk.

So when you get the okay, let’s meet on X day at X time, give it a rest. Any thing else is too desperate. I’m not sure how it feels from the woman’s side, but anytime I’ve laid any more groundwork after the date was accepted, was wasted energy. Since I’ve had exactly THREE matches total in FOUR years since my divorce.

A friend asked me, “If you like relationships so much, why only three in four years?”

“I was getting my shit together first. I knew I wasn’t healthy and ready for a relationship. I wanted a rescue. And that’s not what I really need. I need a partner.”

Carry on, jump in and get your feet wet. And when she/he says yes, then go meet them. That’s when the sparks can fly. Everything before that is logistics and poetry.

Next, for Part 2, I’m going to dig into OK Cupid’s evaluation of my pictures and share their deep metrics on which pictures appeal to which age groups and types of women. All fun stuff. All fantasy.

New: Online Dating Undercover Revelations: OK Cupid (Pt. 2)

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

*this post was written May 2014

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Dating and Romance: It’s Always About Time

OFF-happycouple

Last night I began to get the picture.

I spent a casual evening with one of the women with potential. And the contrast could not have been more pronounced. There was no kissing, no driven agenda, but just spending time together.

When the desire is there, and the feelings necessary to connect, the next ingredient is time.

If both participants don’t put forth the effort to make time for the relationship to grow… That’s the answer right there.

I felt a bit of a loss. I was looking forward to accepting that kissing offer she put out after our first “date.”

Just this week, the smiling girl backed out of an opportunity. And even when I offered additional options, and texted her the next day. There were no plans to be made. I’m fine with being the initiator, but I won’t be the only one putting out the offers. It’s very telling when the other person stops offering ideas.

So she’s gone quiet.

And often I would be the one, like a puppy dog, doing somersaults to try and interest them in the “next thing.” But not today. If the mutual effort is not there, that may be the biggest tell of all. Once the effort is not mutually beneficial, the energy for making it happen gets lopsided. And it DOES feel like a game. A bit. This idea of not calling them because you put the last offer in and it got no response. BUT, it’s also a very subtle system of energy and intention.

  1. Smiling girl is quite a runner. She makes time, every day, for running. She is distressed if she misses a day in her routine.
  2. Our first meeting was facilitated because she was too tired to run, so why don’t we get together.
  3. We had some fun at our first date and second date, where we had lunch on Mother’s Day.
  4. She backed out of our next opportunity, because she was late getting back into town, and was feeling tired…
  5. The next night, I texted her around the end of the day, “Just saying hi, seeing what’s next…”
  6. We exchanged pleasantries. She loves to complement my humor. “Ha ha ha ha.”
  7. Nothing.

In my equation, she interrupted the flow. It’s okay, I was stretching to see if I could actually be with a beautiful but non-creative person. (The jury is still out on that concept.) But, I felt a bit of a loss. I was looking forward to accepting that kissing offer she put out after our first “date.”

But I am also aware, that I was ready to engage in less-than-100%. For some reason, loneliness, thrill, change of pace, I was willing to move things forward, even when I had my doubts about the real value of the relationship potential. I think I was infatuated with her neck. (grin)

Contrast this with the wonderful developments of the second woman with potential, who’s presented herself again, as interested.

  1. We had made casual plans to go out on Saturday night.
  2. Mid-afternoon, yesterday, Friday, she said, “I had something else come up on Sat. Sorry. But I’m available tonight.”
  3. She would contact me after a professional networking party she needed to attend.
  4. When she did contact me, we checked in. She had stated earlier that she was not too full of energy at the moment. We made plans, even at 9:30.
  5. I came to her house without pomp or circumstance. She had gotten a dvd of a movie she wanted to see. We sat on the couch. We held hands. We chatted, laughed, and enjoyed each other’s company.
  6. She walked me to my car at midnight, when I was heading home. We held hands as we walked.
  7. I mentioned my joy at the evening, “Massively casual.”
  8. “Yes.”

There was no need in my book to try and confirm or set up a future time together. The time with her was easy, close, and yes… casual.

“Because if it did develop into a relationship, there’s then going to be more demand for time. More desire for time together.”

I’ve said to her in several calls and emails, that while I’m intentional, I am not ambitious or driven to move things along with her. I’m more interested in being with her. Spending time with someone I like. I’m fascinated by her. That is enough.

She is responsive. She is private and protective of her space and time. And she has some magical combination of massive sensuality and creative writerly fantasy woman. DANGER! (I kid myself!)

It’s easy for me to imagine how I would/could fall in love with her. But the first step is just time. Time before the adoration sets in. Time doing simple and mundane things. Mutually arranged and beneficial time together. It’s easy to feel confident when the effort to find another time flows from both sides. If it’s only one partner, the balance shifts in some fundamental way.

It’s important to me that the reaching out is mutual. Last night while we were side by side on the couch, she also reached out and held or stroked my arm from time to time. It was non-sexual, it was awesome, it was just pure affection. I cannot generate that myself. I can draw it in, ask for it, and attempt to stir it up in her, but the reaching out (or reaching back) is up to the other person.

The other woman with potential said something in one our over-thinking sessions, “Because if it did develop into a relationship, there’s then going to be more demand for time. More desire for time together.”

Yes.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

*written May 2013

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Searching Online for the Last Date: Seeking THE ONE

OFF-waterlove

LISTEN to this article on the podcast Love on the Air.

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

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

What’s the story here?

Divorce. Kids.

Depression. Dad. Men.

Dating. Relationships. Over40, er 50.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Okay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pause.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

*written May 2013

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Seven Signs of a Healthy Post-Divorce Relationship

dating as a single parent

OFF-healthycoupling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

*this post was originally written in July 2014

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