Blocked out

Over the last couple of years, since this all began to take root and take on a life of it’s own, I’ve had to utilize certain defense mechanisms. Tighten up my world, my inner circle of friends and acquaintances, to keep  my sanity and some semblance of peace.

Circle the wagons against attack and spies, basically.

And as easy as that may sound, in this day of social media and other online opportunities, it can be a pretty daunting task. It takes a lot of thought and planning, consideration and introspection, to know just who that will include. And from where.

You don’t realize how available you are for public consumption until it makes itself glaringly obvious…for all of the wrong reasons.

Early on, my social media use became a bone of contention in my newly budding divorce proceedings. I was drawing too much attention to myself, and our personal business, by explaining exactly what was going on to those closest relations/friends to us while asking for some personal space. Trying to be honest and considerate, asking for some privacy temporarily by unfriending many of them, lead to more conflict in my divorce.

Following that ugly exchange, and a few more later on, seemed like a good time to cut some people loose. For good.

But cutting loose isn’t easy, and it’s not always the end.

“Unfriending” doesn’t build a protective wall around your personal space, shielding you from unwelcome eyes, instead it only puts up a fence. A wire fence that you can still see through anytime you wish, if only with an obstructed view. Look but don’t touch, or contact directly. It’s an invisible boundary, a suggestion to stay out of your business, that’s all. But unguarded boundaries can be ignored and crossed without much notice.

I know that all too well.

So, in the end, it lead to “blocking” the same people, which seemed extreme to me at the start. I wrestled with the idea for awhile, feeling guilty and oversensitive for even considering it. But the proof that it was the right thing for me to do became incredibly clear once I realized that my soon-to-be ex was being spoon-fed information about me from what I posted or wrote.

Information that he wouldn’t otherwise have, or even realize was out there, without help from friends and family, that were obviously trolling my social media. You see, he isn’t on any of the social media platforms, with the exception of one that has nothing to do with Farmville. But that doesn’t matter if you have enough connections that are, who will troll it for you in the name of protection and support.

To say that I felt cornered, vulnerable and exposed, is an understatement.

To know that I would have to examine, analyze and possibly edit everything that I wrote or posted, for the foreseeable future, seemed like a prison sentence for a crime that I didn’t commit. A situation that I didn’t create in the first place.

It was beyond frustrating.

Frustrating to know that there were actually people out there that believed it was their place, their duty, to stalk me and anything that I had written or posted to report back to my ex. Some of them are not even friends of mine, have no real connection to me, but are able to peek into my world through a common thread somewhere in the universe.

The ‘six degrees of Kevin Bacon’ proven once more.

I still question what benefit these people believe they are providing. How would my posting a meme with goats help him gain anything in our settlement? Or insult or threaten him?

He once accused me of plotting his death, based upon a story that I shared on a platform (that he doesn’t use) that I didn’t even write. Because, you know, if I was going to plot someone’s murder I would definitely post it on Facebook first.

Doesn’t everybody?

It didn’t stop with Facebook. It included Twitter and Instagram, Pinterest and Tumbler. Yes, even Pinterest, because I was pinning self-help articles relating to divorce and depression that would give them an invitation to look into my unstable inner psyche and report back on it.

Unfriending and blocking some people that were close to me, some that were originally my friends even before I was married, but may have a thread of connection that could possibly lead back to him, was painful but such a relief. Leaving only those that didn’t share any connection to my ex, or possibly to his soon-to-be new wife, in any way that I could imagine was the only way that I felt protected. Safe.

Paranoid? You bet.

And still, that was not enough. Our lives can intersect in ways that we don’t even think of, for reasons that we don’t even realize. I had to go to LinkedIn and cut the weeds, too.

To see someone pop up as a “suggested connection” because they know or work with your ex, or his new wife, is like opening up a fun-house door filled with clowns or reliving a nightmare that you can’t escape. I don’t post my blog on LinkedIn, but it still made me feel exposed, susceptible to more scrutiny and judgement.

Do I miss some of those people? Yes, a few. Some had a very special place in my heart, added some interest to my life. Many were in my life for more than half of my life.

Do I regret my decision of who I chose to block? Nope.

A lesson that I have been learning, repeatedly it seems, is to do what is right for me. What feels right for me, not what other people think is right or feel that I should do. If I don’t protect myself, if I don’t put my needs or feelings first, nobody else will. And that lesson works in all facets of life.

Wear your seatbelt, look both ways before you cross the street, get off the field when the lightening siren sounds. Safety practices that we all know, and most of us use. The idea behind them is to make our personal world a safer place, to protect ourselves and others.

And now we can add ‘police your online presence’. I’m building an iron wall around mine with a secret password.

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What to say?

I have been fortunate enough to have more than a few people express how I have helped them to understand what their friend/sister/relative is going through while they struggle through their divorce. Some have even said that it has helped them talk about it, or just listen, and really mean it.

I am more than touched. I am grateful and thankful for their words of encouragement, and knowing that somehow I am helping somebody out there, who is involved with a divorce in a variety of ways, is a silver lining to what is a pretty dark cloud. If nobody really talks about it, if nobody tells the story in realistic terms, how will anyone know what to do? What to say?

It all starts from that point. Just being willing to help, to listen, to support is the biggest step.

It makes me think back to the early days, when the idea of getting divorced was still new and incredibly scary for me. The things that people would say at the beginning, just upon hearing that it was happening, slowly changed as time went by and the reality of the process became more clear.

Divorce takes time. Sometimes a lot of time…

For many the story got old, almost boring, and it wasn’t very creative since you hear about this type of thing happening everywhere. Why should it be so special, or remotely interesting, just because it was happening to me? For some, it was clear to me, that it wasn’t moving along fast enough so I could “just be done” and maybe focus on something else for awhile – usually something that they found important or exciting in their own lives.

I get it. Really, I seriously do.

Divorce can be a pain in the ass and boring as hell, especially if it’s not happening to you.

It’s more than difficult to listen to the same problem over and over again, even if new details emerge along the way, or side story lines come out of it like an episode of “As the World Turns”. There is only so much “drama” anyone wants to deal with, especially if it isn’t their own drama.

Unless they are the type of friend who feeds off of your pain and struggle, almost enjoys being in the trenches with you. They’re out there, believe me.

The friend who needs to feel needed, close up and personal to your problems, a cheerleader, your confidant. Those are actually the people you need to limit in your life during this stressful and painful time. Nobody needs a cheerleader, telling them to smile, cheer up and have fun! Trying to lift you up out of your funk, to be fun again, while sweeping it all out the door. Or worse, there’s the Church Lady from SNL friend. That’s the one that corrects you when you stumble and slip back into your old habits, for just a moment, and refer to your spouse or family as intact in the present tense.

“You mean your ex-husband, don’t you??” usually said with arched eyebrows and pursed lips. Thanks for that reminder, I almost forgot that the fabric of my life, that defined who I was, was unraveling after twenty-five years.

Good catch.

But from it all, I’ve come away with what I consider more than a few do’s and don’ts of what to say to someone going through a divorce, maybe more don’ts at this point. Because, let’s be honest, people are stupid. They mean well, most of the time, but they don’t make a habit of thinking it through before they speak sometimes.

When these phrases come out, phrases of hope or motivational quotes waiting to be made into a meme posted on your Facebook page, I sort of nod my head, like “yep, that’s one I hope to never hear again”.

Maybe my reaction to some of these may seem over-sensitive, maybe someone else would be able to let it roll off of their back, but like everything in life one person’s trash is another person’s treasure.

And one person’s devastation is another person’s shoulder shrug. It’s all relative.

In the beginning, I heard the standard “you’re still young enough, and attractive, you’ll find someone soon I’m sure” – what exactly is ‘young enough’? And attractive? And why the push to find someone soon, if at all? What would make me so excited, or so desperate, to try this again?

Or “you’ll fall in love again and probably be married in five years!” First of all, why is the bar set at five years? Is this some sort of national average of divorced middle-aged women found in a recent study? You’d better have a graph to back that up.

As if I should be chomping at the bit to get back out there and date again, after twenty-five years with the same person, I should be looking for my next husband at the grocery store, or the gym. There are people out there who won’t even consider getting another dog once their beloved friend dies after many years, but a new spouse? Easy fix.

What’s the big deal??

No need to take a step back and figure out the new direction of your life. There should be no time to think about it, catch your breath and figure out what you really want your next step to be, you don’t want to overthink it. And don’t even consider that maybe you may not even want to go down this road again, that you may be happier as a divorced single, because you’re a woman and you need a man in your life! Time is a-wasting! No girl, you get back out there and shake it!

Isn’t this the dream of every middle-aged woman??

After the divorce was final, the comments were more indignant and less sympathetic. Almost dismissive. “You got a good settlement and got out of an unhappy marriage, you should be happy!”, “you made a twenty year mistake, accept it and move on” (that one was from a medical professional, believe it or not) or something similar. How does a ‘good settlement’ replace the last half of my life and my solidly formed identity?

And what exactly is considered a good settlement? Is it just about the money, the assets you’ve negotiated to keep, just the material things? According to what most people have said, I would guess it is just about the money.

It’s not about the loss of your identity, that you’ve worked to create over the last twenty five years. The loss of family and friends that you shared for half of your lifetime.

It’s not about now having to think separately about the very things that you did together as a family, splitting your children in half with visitation, holidays and insurance coverage. It’s not about your unknown future that is now hanging on some sort of string, and yet still tethered to someone for the unforeseeable future that you can’t even stand to be in the same room with now.

But hey, the money’s good, am I right?

It’s been a year now. I have been fully divorced for a full year, and while the comments have slowed down or had less of a chance to be uttered around me, they still manage to poke into a conversation when you least expect it.

“Yeah, a lot of people are getting divorced now, it’s everywhere.” (translation: you’re not that unique) Just because it’s a common occurrence, and can happen to anyone at any time, doesn’t make it any less devastating or life changing for the person going through it.

But thanks for being so condescending, that helps.

“At least you’re not married to that jerk anymore and now you can do whatever you want with your life!” (translation: you’re free now, completely free! what’s the problem with that?) While that statement is true on some level, it also glosses over what that life of ‘freedom’ will possibly look like. The assumption is that your life will somehow magically improve exponentially now that you’ve “cut your losses”, life will be full of opportunity and fulfillment. You will become that beautiful butterfly and the world is fresh and new!

Obviously, this ignores the fact that you still have children to take care of and consider with each life choice you make, who are also dealing with a great deal of change and loss. It filters the reality that you have had to move (again) and uproot your entire life, basically going back to the starting line and trying out a new path, now in your fifties, when you thought you already had that mapped out with someone.

Chances are that you’ll have to take at least a couple, or maybe even a few, years just to get your bearings and figure out what that new shiny future should/will look like, and then time to figure out if you still have time to make that new future happen, whatever it may be.

You’re no longer twenty five and fresh out of college, living in an apartment with roommates, partying on the weekends. You’re an adult with people depending upon you to function and get stuff done, and not just your kids, people from all points of your life.

“You should try a new hobby, something to get excited about” (translation: avoidance of your feelings is the best cure and will give you something else to talk about. Finally!) I tried the “new hobby” idea in the beginning, that’s what most of the divorce advice on the internet tells you to do. I took a sewing class, inquired into ballroom dancing, joined a different gym with a personal trainer, diligently researched the possibility of going back to school to get my masters, and volunteered in new areas to get more involved in my community, all to hopefully distract me enough to have a some sense of normalcy.

But here’s the thing, I can’t fully commit to learning anything new, or giving of my time, when my normal life is no longer working. It is no longer “normal”.

I couldn’t concentrate, I couldn’t get excited, I just couldn’t make it work the way that everyone promised me it would. I couldn’t do any of it with the same dedication and drive that I would usually bring to a new venture. I was only able to half-ass most attempts, that lead to me eventually quit, and that made me feel even worse. “I can’t even do (insert new hobby/interest here) right.”

“So when are you going back to work?” (translation: why are still sitting around, and not contributing to the world?) I heard this one almost from the beginning. I’m sure the idea was keeping busy will help you feel better. You’re divorced now so you need to fill in those hours that you used to be a stay at home wife and mother, be productive!

Here’s a newsflash, this is my job.

My job didn’t change because I got divorced. I didn’t divorce my kids, I didn’t divorce my responsibilities to my children, or to the home that they should grow up in. Yes, I can and will eventually go back to work, but I’ve been working for twenty years in the same job and I’m damn good at it. The challenge now is to find a way to dovetail those skills into a meaningful (financially lucrative) career or job. And this is definitely not the right time to force my kids into another new adjustment, having me gone all day everyday, to satisfy some status quo of what a divorced mother should be doing with her time.

Yes, I am very fortunate that I was able to negotiate a way to maintain this standard of living for my children, to keep something in their life normal and familiar, I completely admit that. But I am not going to give that up just to satisfy some insensitive idea that I need to prove my worth to the world by working outside of our home. Or that I need to pull my financial weight in this divorced relationship. If being unavailable to them everyday for 8 to 10 hours a day somehow proves my worth, makes me appear more productive and valuable in society, I’d like someone to show me the flowchart on how that makes my children grow up to be happier, more productive and secure adults in the end.

They may be old enough to not really need me, but they do need me. Especially now.

There are probably more than a few that I am forgetting, or have chosen to conveniently erase from my memory for good reason. But the idea is the same, isn’t it? We just need to think before we speak sometimes. Maybe put yourself in that situation – and I know, that will ‘never happen to you’. That’s the comforting mantra that we all repeat in our own head, isn’t it? You know how I know that?

Because that was my mantra for twenty years.

But just for kicks, put yourself in that person’s shoes, at this time in their life. Of course, you don’t know exactly what they’re feeling, or how they’re dealing with it, but you also don’t know what it’s like to die and yet you go to funerals and give heartfelt condolences to the grieving families. You don’t have to know exactly how it feels to be empathetic, you don’t have to have the same experience to understand how devastating this is in any family.

A simple hug, a warm smile, a basic “I’m so sorry to hear that” goes a long way. Sometimes just listening while they are ranting, crying, losing their mind is the best you can do, and that’s enough.

You don’t have to know what to say, sometimes you don’t have to say anything at all.

 

 

 

It’s just dinner

“It’s just dinner”, I told my mom this past Thanksgiving.

I wanted to believe it, I wanted to truly convince myself that it wasn’t that big of a deal, and that every divorced family does this. And it’s fine. Really.

But deep down, in my heart,  I couldn’t. I know that it was what we had agreed upon, during all of the negotiations while writing up our parenting agreement, but putting it into practice makes it much more real. Brings it all into clear focus, almost magnified sometimes.

And so begins the division of holidays for my children. The bonus round of divorce.

It seems like a simple thing, something that most people take for granted, that you just divide up the holidays and assign weekends once you’re divorced. The kids will adapt, living out of two homes with two lives to balance, to make the divorcing couple “happy”. It’s for the best for everyone! But it’s not really that simple when you’re kids are older, no longer toddlers or young children.

They have lives, they have expectations, they make plans…and they have opinions.

The terms agreed upon for children in a divorce are archaic at best. They are no longer individual human beings, instead they become property that needs to be divided or shared, much like the house, the bank accounts and other personal belongings.

No rights, no opinions asked, no consent.

And we go along with that outline, because that’s just the way the system works. Over the course of time, the many years of judicial experience with this type of dissolution, this has become the blueprint for co-parenting/child custody. It’s supposedly fair and just, and addresses everyone’s needs and expectations. But does it really?

It makes me wonder, why hasn’t anyone else looked at it this way?  Or have they?

Why aren’t we asking different questions, looking at the existing family dynamic and what developmental stages and ages they are in? Why aren’t we addressing each divorce as an individual experience?

Divorces are like snowflakes, no two are alike. The same goes for children.

Usually when you are going through a divorce, you’ve never done it before (with a few exceptions, of course) and your knowledge of what to expect is somewhat limited. It’s new territory, that is most likely out of your comfort zone and skill set, so we hire professionals who do this for a living, and have most likely experienced so many divorce situations that they have just about seen and heard it all.

They are the professionals that we rely upon throughout this entire process, to not only have our best financial interest in mind, but also the mental well-being and stability of the children involved. Whether they know it or not. The lawyers, mediators, financial advisors, judges, etc. all have a voice or opinion that will directly affect you – and your family.

And for their services they get paid very well, for the most part, and they should because they are the ones with the knowledge and experience in this scenario. They are the people that help you design the new outline of your life after divorce. Based upon what is presented to them by either side, of course.

But sometimes, what needs to be considered isn’t necessarily presented during those discussions. Sometimes, there are surprises that nobody could account for, or expect. People change their mind, or agree to the arrangements being laid out just to get through it as quickly as possible without any real intent of following through. People sometimes put themselves and their needs/desires first, with no regard for their children or of the possible fallout, and not just while divorcing but in general.

And people lie. Even if only by omission, but they still lie.

So tell me, how do these professionals not realize that telling almost grown teenagers that they must spend time/holidays somewhere else – even with their own parent –  instead of their normally expected traditional practices, is not going to be an easy sell? After everything that they trusted to be their intact family has now been blown to bits.

They are still shell-shocked, reeling from the intense changes most likely, but we’re going to tell them to keep quiet and go along with the program that the adults decided upon.

How can anyone be so confident that what you are all agreeing to in that room, at that time, is exactly what it looks like on the surface and how it will truly work? How can they be so confident that there aren’t any hidden surprises, that we’re all being up front and honest and doing what is truly best for our family and not just our own personal agenda?

Why are we not giving our ‘old enough to know what they want’ kids a voice? Or even a chance to be a part of the conversation?

I know, it’s an adult decision, right? This idea is too big to burden our children with that type of discussion, or to expect them to make those types of decisions, you may think. And I would agree, if your children are under the age of ten maybe. But after you’ve been married for over twenty years, and you have children that are close enough in age to that number, it’s no longer too big for them to handle.

Not including them in the conversation is more disturbing, and disruptive, at that point. Completely disregarding them as individual people is insulting.

During the divorce process, we’re sold this fantasy of cooperation on all fronts, presented with the ideas of shared parenting with butterflies and rainbows. You can now make an agreement regarding the future for yourselves and your children and stick to it. Now you will be thinking of each other’s best interest, be totally honest about your future intentions, and work together as a team to make this transition as easy and painless as possible, right?

Sure, your marriage didn’t work out, actually it kind of imploded, but now you’ll be the best of friends going forward while raising your children under two roofs. Because that’s the best thing for everyone, and who doesn’t want that?

You want to be amicable, to get along for the sake of the children, they keep telling you.

Nobody ever mentions the “what if” scenarios, because it’s too messy and abstract, and you just don’t know until you get there. But you should have some idea that it could, and most likely will, happen and have a backup plan of some sort.

Or at least lower your expectations and be realistic.

During all of those mediation meetings, we put things on the flipchart of how we wanted it all to work, much like a project or a new job. We listed our “goals” and our “challenges” and when they didn’t align we “discussed” it – amongst the group in the room, of course – to get us all on the same page and in agreement.

Very professional, formal and detailed. Everyone saying the right things the right way – because isn’t that the most amicable and grown up way to do it? Presenting our opinions and desires for discussion, not raising our voices or getting emotional, eventually agreeing to what sounds like a collaboration for the blueprint of our future relationship.

All for our kids “best interest”, right?

But is it? Did we really take into account what their best interest was, or what would make them feel the most comfortable and able to adapt to this new lifestyle? Not really.

Instead, we ignored the possibility that they may have had another idea of how this will all work in the end. Or if they would need time to digest it all first, to be able to get on board with this new world order. We didn’t even ask them. They’re our children, technically still minors for the most part, so only the adults in the room – behind a closed door – are able to make those decisions for them.

Not only have we thrust them into a newly designed family unit, without any say so, but now we are telling them that they really don’t have a choice but to go along with what everyone else agreed upon in their absence. Because that’s just how it works.

Let the grown ups handle it, because they’ve done such a bang up job of it so far.

Maybe their best interest was to be given the consideration of choosing how and when to spend their time with the parents involved. Maybe, instead of us looking at a calendar and splitting weekends and holidays with a swift decision based upon “fairness”, we should have asked them what they wanted to do? What would make them most comfortable and feel in control?

Try telling a teenager that they are now shuttling between homes, every other weekend and on major holidays, because that’s what was agreed upon without them.

This is one of the most difficult situations for any child to be in, traumatic and upsetting for the most part, and yet we leave them out of the discussion.

You would think in this age of ‘safe space’ and ‘using your words’ at least one professional in the room would have some idea of how this may play out, and what corners to look around. Especially someone with a degree in family psychology, who is supposedly guiding us in our mediation to best serve our family. Flipcharts and all.

As the divorcing parents, we don’t think of any of this during the stressful time of just trying to get through it all, trying to survive the process without losing our minds. We are so focused on what is fair, what is equitable, that we slot our children into the balance sheets instead of having them sit at the table, even just once, and giving them a choice. Asking them, “What do you want to do? What makes you more comfortable?”

Because nothing about this is comfortable. We don’t even want to think of it, or we ignore the possibility that they may have another idea, for fear that it will only make it more messy. And this is already messy enough.

It’s time that we look at the whole picture in a divorce, not just the assets to be divided, but the people that it affects. Especially now with the supposed increase in “gray divorce”, couples divorcing after twenty or more years of marriage, which equates to almost grown – but still dependent – children in the picture. No longer babies or toddlers that are still adaptable and easily accepting of a new arrangement, but children with a clear idea of what they think is fair and reasonable. Children with an opinion.

It’s not just dinner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One and done.

From the beginning, I knew that my heart was broken.

I could feel it, piece by piece, falling apart. Pieces missing, getting lost along the way. Some of them were ripped out almost violently, or crushed with a hammer, others dropped off without much notice like small feathers floating to the ground, some shattered into a million little pieces.

But broken no matter how you looked at it.

And that was okay. That’s what we should feel when something this life changing happens, and happens swiftly and without warning. It’s expected. And as the saying goes, it has to get worse before it gets better.

I believed that, in the beginning.

From the beginning, I was told that I would find love again, and most likely even marry again. So many reassurances and promises, thrown at me to make me believe that this too would pass and there would be a rainbow at the end with all of my heart’s desires. People mean the best when they tell you that you will meet someone wonderful and love again, that it will be better than you had before, and hopefully even better than you could ever imagine.

At least most of them do.

The first time it was brought it up was during my divorce. Odd, isn’t it? There I was, sitting at a table with a divorce attorney, dissecting the life I had created with someone for the last twenty five years, to divide it up and let it go. Burying what I thought was the love of my lifetime, the definition of my existence, and already the reassurances began.

This was in the first meeting.

I was told about previous clients that swore that they would never marry again, and here they were, five years later, remarried and amazingly happy according to my attorney. The true fairytale realized.

I shook my head, that’s not me. My attorney smiled and said “you’ll see”.

A few weeks later, I sat at a table with attorneys, a mediator, a financial consultant and my soon to be ex and the “what if” question came up – what if I marry again in five years? How will that affect the settlement, the alimony? This was a question from my soon to be ex-husband. Looking for the loophole already, in the hopes of cutting me loose as quickly as possible.

I shook my head, that’s not me. I think I even chuckled audibly, the thought of it so bizarre to me.

As time went on and I began seeing a therapist, she too told me of the wonders that would await me in the near future. I would definitely meet someone that would love me dearly, who would love everything about me, and most likely I would be remarried within five years (what is it about five years??) It happens all of the time, she assured me.

I shook my head, that’s not me.

I tried the dating thing, just to see if I could actually try this whole song and dance again. Maybe everyone was right, maybe I just needed to meet the right guy. Maybe this door could be a window after all. Some very nice men, divorced with kids, looking for a new beginning. But I found myself blurting out that I had no intentions of ever remarrying…on a first date. And I wondered why I wasn’t having many second dates?

People may think that I’m only saying this because I’m hurt, still raw, and once the wounds scab over, I will get past it and give in to this idea.

But that’s not me.

It goes back to my childhood, weirdly enough. I’ve known this from the beginning. I remember spending the weekend at my grandma’s house one summer, I was about thirteen. We were sitting on the floor in the living room, to be close to the air conditioning vent, to stay cool. It was a hot, sunny day cooking the house even with the central air going – maybe because the thermostat was set at 80? Possibly, if I know my grandma as well as I think I do.

Somehow the subject of relationships and marriage came up. It was the 70’s, girls were still being trained to look for a man to marry (even if you planned on going to college) so you could have kids and perpetuate the pattern of your mothers before you, remember?

While we were talking about the whole idea of marriage and what I had in mind for my future, the thought that my grandpa would most likely die before my grandma came up. It’s statitistics, plain and simple. I asked my grandma if she’d ever remarry, thinking about how lonely she would be without him. Her answer surprised me.

She shook her head, and said no. Never.

Confused, I questioned her somewhat quick answer. Maybe she didn’t really understand the meaning behind my question, maybe she wasn’t looking at the reality of being alone, maybe she wouldn’t remarry right away but wouldn’t she want to?

Wouldn’t she be lonely?

My grandma chuckled and smiled, shaking her head once more. No, she wouldn’t want to  marry someone else, even if my grandpa dropped dead tomorrow – she was in her late fifties at this point, so not too old to consider it. But she went on to explain her answer.

She’d have to learn about a whole new person! How he takes his coffee, what his favorite foods are, find out if he snores or not, the list was endless. Why, she asked, would she want to go through that trouble again. She’d already done it once, and once was enough.

I gotta admit, it has stuck with me ever since. She made sense.

They had been married for over thirty years by then, that’s a lot of invested time and effort to consider. There was a lot of experience, history and struggle in those thirty plus years. I guess that’s where the phrase “marriage is hard” comes from because it really is hard. It is work, everyday. Almost like a job, but one that you work at twenty-four hours a day.

As I got older and went from one long term relationship to another, I started to get a taste of what she was talking about. Obviously it was much more exciting to start over with someone new in my twenties, finding out all of the things you have in common and the things that you don’t but you’re willing to adopt, and “long term” was only a couple of years, three at most, back then.

But once I was married for a few years I completely understood.

There is a lot of effort that goes into a marriage, it makes the dating part look like a walk in the park. You’re learning more about each other everyday, every year. Some of these things you love immediately, you find endearing and sweet; some are annoying, foreign and downright confusing – those are considered “the price of admission” (listen to Dan Savage eloquently describe this idea at https://youtu.be/r1tCAXVsClw).

It’s a balance of  the not so endearing parts with their wonderfully special gifts that make this a ride of a lifetime. To ride the ride, this gloriously delirious ride of love, you have to be willing to pay up with your patience, understanding, and sometimes just downright ignore the ugly, stupid stuff.

I realized only a few years into my marriage that I had no intention of trying to ride this ride, in any other amusement park of a new partner, anytime again in my lifetime.

Once was enough.

So when my ride came to a screeching halt, the music stopped, the air shifted and I was pushed out of the seat of the ride, I decided I was done. No need to get back on that one again.

One and done.

I know, many people go through divorce and come out of the other side eventually ready to try it again, some barely wait while others take a timeout to regroup, everyone has their own timeline.

Some of those people that remarry are truly successful at it, some even happier than they were the first time around, so glad to have this second chance to find their true love. And to them I say that is awesome and I am happy for you, but please don’t ask me to get in that long, slow moving line once more just to experience this ride again.

I’ve been riding this ride too long, there have been too many twists and turns, and sudden almost endless drops, that have left me dizzy and stunned, my stomach queasy. I’ve tried it, it was good and it was horrible, and I don’t regret the experience overall. I just don’t think it’s the sort of thing I need to repeat.

Like my father used to say, “you have to try everything once to know if you like it, and if you don’t like it, don’t do it again.”

I can feel the hole that my heart has left behind, deep within me, almost everyday. It’s not just a numbness or ache, but an emptiness that has no real shape, it’s just there. It’s vacant, and will remain so. No need to learn someone else’s habits, meet their kids and possibly grandkids, to adapt my life to fit into theirs.

There’s less upkeep this way.  Just like my grandma said, one and done. I get it.

What’s so funny?

Late last year, I took my youngest to a comedy show over the holiday break. The comedian was considered ‘clean’, so safe enough for myself and my twelve year old. He was someone that I usually didn’t go out of my way to see, or even listen to on the radio when I had XMradio, but I’d heard good things about his act and how funny he was supposed to be. My son was excited to see him, so how bad could it be?

Usually, the main act has an opening act, someone to warm up the audience. I love this part because you usually get to see someone that is up and coming, or possibly local that you may be able to see again if you pay attention to the venue ads and local radio spots. But this time, the main act did his own opener. He did about thirty minutes of stand up, without his usual props.

Just him, the stage and the microphone.

That’s fine, I thought. Interesting way to start the show, and a lot more effort on his part to be the opener and the main act. Kudos to him.

Then he started speaking.

His main bit, that was pretty much the only bit, was about the fact that he was now divorced after over twenty years of marriage and two children, and had fairly recently remarried a much younger woman. A yoga instructor. She’s vegan.

And she’s 18 years younger than him.

He blushed like a school girl when he admitted this, the camera zooming in on the twinkle in his eye was shown on the big screen for those of us not fortunate enough to sit closer.

This garnered an overwhelming response from the audience, mostly the men sitting there…with their wives and girlfriends. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink. Lucky bastard. You could almost feel the back-slapping, high-fiving, attaboys snickered in the room.

Then he went on to tell us all about his new wife, and her pregnancy with their twins. Yes, twins. But of course, he didn’t see the big deal about it all because he knew all about this pregnancy stuff, and having babies, from his previous experience. He’d already done this a couple of times over twenty years ago. How much could have changed?

He’s a seasoned pro, after all.

He was the calm, easy going one in the house as they prepped for their new additions, while his yoga instructor vegan wife was frantically preparing and reading every book in existence to be ready. She was baby-proofing the house like crazy and gathering recipes for organic baby food, while he stood by and shook his head in an adoring fashion.

The more he talked, the more agitated I became. He stood there smugly telling the world how freaking awesome his life was now that he basically dumped his first wife of over twenty years (and two grown children) to have this new, updated 2.0 version of his life. He stood there in his black denim jeans and button down shirt, trim and fit but still 54 years old, bragging about his thirty-something wife and their two year old twins.

And the audience laughed. They cheered him on. Even the women were laughing. And all I could think was…

What’s so funny??

Seriously. What is so funny and amusing about this entire schtick? Why should we be expected to indulge his oversized ego telling stories about ditching his first family and creating a new version of his reality, in the name of entertainment?

Why are we laughing??

During all of those years he was out making a name for himself, traveling all over the world at times, she was at home raising two kids, building a life for their family and keeping the home fires burning for his return. That was part of the plan, wasn’t it? For him to be successful and “have it all” someone had to stay behind and keep the stakes planted and tend to this seed of a life plan, for this tree of success to grow.

That was the point of both of their sacrifices being made, to build a life. A life with a shared history and a shared goal. Making them stronger, bonded for life, in the end.

It would all be worth it.

Maybe it was too soon for me. Too soon after signing the official papers on our divorce to hear this, too soon to hear people laughing at someone else’s expense.

Especially someone just like me.

Too soon to watch someone bragging about being an asshole. And too soon to watch people laugh with encouragement while he did it.

And while I was disgusted with him, I was just as disgusted with the women in the audience around me who were laughing right along with him, and all of their jeering husbands and boyfriends. I thought to myself, they honestly don’t think it can happen to them, do they? They think it’s a “them” problem.

That’s the real joke. The real punchline.

Every woman in a marriage wants to believe that she’s in a fully committed relationship, that she’s figured out the secret to long-lasting love and happiness with “the one”. She’s safe. He loves her and they have a great life, with great kids and friends and family. Sure, it’s hard work and sacrifice at times, but that’s what it takes to get to the rewards.

The good stuff.

Maybe they even feel that they’ve made it over the “hurdle” of what? The seven year itch? Or maybe ten is when you feel that you’ve come to the smooth road making it easier to navigate life’s twists and turns. Or is it fifteen, or even twenty years?

By twenty they’re solid, right?

They’re a team working towards a common goal. They are committed to the end game, together. This is the good part now, the kids are almost grown and the struggles are fewer, it’s time to enjoy the fruits of their labors and their golden years together. There is light at the end of the tunnel. They feel sorry for all of those other women who aren’t as lucky as they are.

You know how I know that?

Because that’s exactly what I thought at one time, not so long ago. I also thought we had made it through some of the toughest life challenges and struggles we could imagine, we had put in the time and the hard work, and we were looking at the reward years now. Finally a time for us, as a couple, to really live and enjoy our lives together.

It almost embarrasses me now to think of how naive and trusting I had been for so long.

The saddest part, to me, is that this is a growing trend. It once was thought to be an odd circumstance for couples to divorce later in life, but now it’s so common that it even has a name: gray divorce. And the statistics are showing that it is now the fastest growing demographic of divorce, couples divorcing after twenty or more years of marriage.

Let that sink in.

Googling it recently, the example given was of Al and Tipper Gore divorcing after FORTY YEARS. What the hell?? When do you know that you’re truly in it for better or for worse?

And I get it, people have been poking fun at this cliche of older men leaving their wives for much younger versions (to hang onto their youth, let’s be honest) for years now, but that doesn’t make it right. It shouldn’t be something worth bragging about in a crowded room, or congratulated on as some sort of accomplishment.

And maybe it wouldn’t be so funny if more women spoke up about the upheaval and the destruction of their lives that comes out of it, how it steals their entire life, their very existence and identity, in one crushing blow. Everything that they’ve worked for – and believe me, it is work. They’ve sacrificed of themselves for years to help build this life, working behind the scenes managing it all, to get to this place.

And suddenly, it’s all taken away, usually without warning.

They have been fired, let go, pushed out of their own life without any apology or remorse. Some women never recover, emotionally or financially. It’s too late in the game now.

Maybe if we heard more statistics about how women are affected by this growing trend, heard more voices from the women who have been a victim of this new movement, maybe people wouldn’t be so cavalier about it and so willing to laugh about it.

Maybe, it wouldn’t be so funny.

 

 

 

Being the better person is bullshit

Yeah, you read that right.

Being the “better person” is complete bullshit. It’s for losers. It’s propaganda that only serves those that need you to be the better person, but it doesn’t do a damn thing for you in the end. Oh sure, they’ll tell you that it will bring you joy or peace in the end, good karma and all that crap, just knowing that you were the better person.

But…they were wrong.

Why? Because all the while that you are doing the “right” things, being the “better person”, you are assisting them in their goals to get to the next better place in their life, to attain the next great thing, to enjoy the fruits of someones else’s labor (namely yours), all without the guilt of worrying about how you feel, who it hurts or what you may need or want along the way.

It’s a win-win for someone, but not you “better person”.

Being expected to be the better person is a way to keep you doing everyone else’s dirty work and bidding, taking care of everyone else’s problems and feelings, showing up to support and/or protect them through the tough times, all the while forgetting about yourself. Putting yourself last, because they need it or want it more than you.

And don’t you want to know that you helped? Doesn’t that make you feel better?

You are a walking advertisement for empathy. And the lights shine so brightly that they come from all areas of your life to take advantage of it. Your empathy is like a siren, or a warm bath, or a soothing hug. It’s your gift!

Thinking of how they feel, how it will affect them, worrying that you’re being selfish or thoughtless because you may consider yourself first once in awhile, is all part of the game that keeps you locked into this arrangement. If you try to stop, or draw a line in the sand to save your sanity and soul, you’re just being selfish. Cruel, thoughtless, mean.

It’s saying to the world, I’m not important enough for your attention or consideration, so please, please dump on me and let me make the road smooth for the rest of you. You place everyone else’s feelings before yours, while you quietly wait your turn because eventually it has to be your turn for at least once, right? They want to be there for you, don’t they?

But your turn never comes because nobody can hear you if you don’t ask.

There is no reward in the end, contrary to what people may tell you. A reward for being the better person, turning the other cheek, is supposedly feeling good about yourself. Just knowing that you did the “right thing” even if nobody else did, or was even willing to try. Even if they don’t recognize it or appreciate it. But, if you’re honest, do you always feel better about yourself in the end?

Not always.

There is no heavenly place reserved for you and the other ‘better people’, filled with all of your hopes and dreams fulfilled, that you discover when you die, and definitely not before you die either. Nope. It’s just that continuous empty feeling, that keeps eating away at your heart and soul, while you stuff down your own needs and desires to serve others. But you keep smiling, because that’s what better people do.

And once you start, it never ends.

Why doesn’t it end? Because it’s like a siren in the night, calling out and attracting more people who need you to be a better person, because they are incapable of it themselves. Or maybe not even incapable, but more likely they just don’t want to waste their time and effort trying. They have other things to do and their own feelings to consider, they don’t have time to think about others, you understand don’t you?

It’s so much easier if you just do it. They will continue to go about their merry lives, still doing ignorant, thoughtless things and saying insensitive, careless, hurtful comments while ignoring how it affects you or anyone else either way. But the fact that you are willing to rise to the challenge, and take one (or two, or three or more) for the team saves everyone the disturbing task of really looking at who they are, what they say or do and how it actually affects anyone –  remaining unaccountable for their actions and words. It allows them to ignore how they’re actions and words hurt you, or how unfairly they treat you.

If being the better person was such a great thing why aren’t more people doing it? And if they have to expect you to be that person what does that say about them? Shouldn’t everyone want that accolade? Obviously it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be, or there’d be a line of people helping each other each and every day. Just because.

You deserve more than that. You really do. Even if those people don’t think you do.

Go ahead and be a better person. But be the better person for yourself for once. Be that person in your corner, that cheerleader in your moment of doubt, the light at the end of your dark tunnel. Give to yourself the way you would give to others – no, it’s not one of the commandments I know, but it should be because if you can’t be good to yourself or love yourself, how are you supposed to be good to and love someone else in a fulfilling way?

Where will that love come from if you never fill your own vessel?

The next time you choose yourself over someone else, the next time you say ‘no’ to one more request for your time and energy, the day that you finally draw the line in the sand and mark your boundaries, know that you are the better person.

You are the better person for yourself. And you are worth it.

*this post was written before “Clusters”, basically a more gritty version of the feelings attached to clusters.

 

 

 

Clusters

You always hear that things happen in three’s. It’s usually referencing the deaths of movie stars or famous people, but other things also do I’m sure. It sounds so religious, the trinity symbolism being carried through the ages, but in many ways and often times it’s true. It just works out that way.

I think I’ve personally dispelled the myth of the threes for myself. Mine are more like fives or sixes. Clusters.

And maybe they aren’t really happening to me in clusters, maybe I only notice them after there are a few things in a row strung together, usually only able to connect the dots in the aftermath.

During my last pregnancy I was 39 years old. We already had two boys that were around 18 months apart, but now we had waited almost five years to decide to add to our family. One last baby to have our desired three. Before I turned forty.

My ex is from a family of three, I am from a family of three, it only seemed right to follow the pattern. The trinity and all, God’s plan right? That wasn’t the reason, but it made sense in some way. Three is a solid number.

During that pregnancy I had a cluster of bad luck events that I can only blame on hormones sucking out my braincells. Seriously. I cannot remember being this big of a moron during the other two pregnancies.

I was also a bit younger with the first two.

The cluster included a fender bender in my brand new minivan while trying to park at the school, only weeks later filling up the tank with the wrong gas in the same newly minted minivan (my first experience with a diesel tank…and my last), missing a school ‘thank you’ award ceremony for room parents (which I was that year) that left my oldest son standing on a stage in front of the entire school, with flowers in hand, waiting for me to appear (yeah, I still wince and feel sick to my stomach every time I remember that one) and walking right into a glass door not realizing it was even there, my very pregnant belly bouncing off of the glass to the horror of one of my friends.

Where is a camera when you need one? That would have definitely been YouTube worthy.

You can’t always blame hormones on mishaps or uncomfortable circumstances in your life, sometimes it’s just life happening to you – or karma, or bad juju, or the universe speaking to you, whatever you want to name it. The fact that it happens in a string, or cluster, may only be because you can now look at it as a whole and connect the dots.

Maybe you made one off decision that lead to a multitude of more challenges or surprises than you expected. Too many to deal with properly, in constant succession.

It’s like a wound that is left uncared for, not properly cleaned and bandaged, without first aid. At first it seems that it can heal on it’s own, it’s not that big of a deal, it’s only a scratch and you’re healthy and strong. But then dirt gets into it or you scrape it again. The skin around it can’t heal properly, it weakens and your body’s resistance gets lower the longer you leave it unattended. It gets infected and the infection spreads.

After a couple of these life challenges, your resistance and resilience gets lower and you just can’t fight as hard any longer. You can no longer make sound, rational decisions, or deal with life’s surprises as well as you could before. And that causes you more stress, adding to your already overloaded heart and brain, leaving you desperate to catch your breath and grab onto something or someone, for help or support.

You just need to take a break from it all. You need time to heal and get stronger.

Along this “life happening” journey of divorce, I’ve learned a lot, and dealt with many “clusters”. More than I ever expected, in a multitude of ways, and sometimes more lessons than I ever wanted to learn about the world and the people I thought I knew.

I’ve grown in ways that were born out of making tough decisions, decisions to protect myself and my kids mental health. Sometimes it included distancing myself from the very people that were close to me, that I trusted deeply, to save my own sanity. Family and friends, clubs and social circles, have now been trimmed of excess to reduce the possibility of new energy-draining events that will only weaken my resistance. I’ve gradually begun to create new boundaries, to insist that people respect them, finally drawing a line in the sand and sticking to it.

Standing up for myself more often than usual is only an added bonus.

And I know I was brutal at times, sometimes even hysterical I’m sure, no longer employing my usual habit of censorship to save someone’s feelings it was most likely shocking to some. But to make them listen, to really hear me and finally ‘get it’, I had to use extreme tactics. I had to be blunt and brutally honest, for fear that I wouldn’t be heard or taken seriously once again. I needed to tell them everything that I had been thinking for the last week, month, year…or decade.

Because in the end, in the thick of the cluster, what more did I have to lose?

I needed to purge. To unburden myself and strip away the heaviness I had been carrying for so long, trying to protect their feelings at my own expense. I needed to vent, unload, scream and let it all out.

I needed to breathe. I needed the surprises and challenges to just stop, for awhile. I needed someone else to take some of the weight off of my shoulders, for just a little bit. If only for a day, or an hour, I needed a free pass to not be the normal version of me that they were so used to seeing, to believing, who they wanted me to be to fit into their world view.

My life was messy and hard and relentlessly pushing down on me. I had to build the walls, put in the moat, and protect myself and my kids to weather this storm of clusters, with or without them. I no longer had spare energy or extra brain space to worry about pleasing other people, or saying or doing the “right things” to keep the peace. I was in survival mode and it was my turn to need support, understanding, love.

And for some, it was too much to ask. They weren’t prepared to understand or support. Or love.

Over my lifetime I have been an enabler, an empath as it’s commonly called these days. It started early on in childhood, and with each passing year and each new relationship added to my emotional history, it grew in strength. I slowly buried who I really was, denying myself what I truly wanted out of my life, my relationships and my dreams. I put myself at the end of the line to wait patiently for it to be my turn, because there were always more important issues and bigger problems for the people in my life. More urgent matters, that needed more attention, than anything that could be going on with me.

I was the therapist, the organizer, the sympathizer, the cheerleader, for everyone…but myself.

I’ve lost a couple of family members, and a couple of what I considered close friends, in the last year or so during this storm of challenge and change. I don’t regret it, as horrible as that sounds. I think everyone needs to purge once or twice in a lifetime, possibly more often than that, to really clear your mind and your soul, to reset your moral compass and your personal boundaries.

Change is part of growing, and growing isn’t always easy.

These days I feel lighter, able to breathe and relax a bit more. My days of pleasing others at my own expense, or at the expense of my children, are over. Am I sorry that I’ve lost people along the way? A little, but it’s really more about disappointment than sorrow.

Disappointed that those same people that I’ve tried to give my best self to, tried to be supportive of, couldn’t rise to the smallest challenge of just being there for me in my darkest hour, my darkest year. Unable to show understanding when I needed it the most. Unwilling to protect me in even the simplest ways. But instead of filling my heart with regret and sorrow over that loss, I’ve filled in those gaps with people that truly bring joy, happiness and support into my life.

People who can give of themselves as well as receive, reciprocated support and love.

The next cluster may be just around the corner, because that’s how life works, but it doesn’t scare me as much now that I’ve tightened up my inner circle and feel more secure in who I am and the boundaries I’ve set. I’ve come through the longest cluster of my life, a better and stronger version of myself, surrounded by the people who only want the best for me and will help me fight for it. I’ve rebuilt my support system, revamped my walls and boundaries, with the hope that I am better prepared for the next cluster when it comes my way.