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

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and she was (a poem)

and she was (a poem)

and she was in front of me
today
like every other day
and today
i stopped
to praise her beauty
i forget sometimes
and her smile
transformed my being
into something more light
her warm embrace
even as I could not see her eyes
summer’s warming zepher
as the sweat drips
she is with me
lifting me
from the inside
a mood of unusual size
blowing through my body
as we dance
on the beach
in the snowy woods above Taos
in the warm waters
of Oho Caliente
and she is always here
somedays
i forget to see

5/12/22

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She seemed a bit unconvinced.

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

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

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

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

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

I’m ever hopeful.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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*post written April 2014

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

Every Other Saturday Night: Dating After Divorce

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

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*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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