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.

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

Is this all there is?

I was watching an episode of “Dexter” with my son the other night – yes, we bond over serial killers and crime scenes, there are worse things. In this episode, Dexter is helping a woman track down her rapists – yes, plural – to kill them.

What are friends for, right?

She recounts the experience of leaving her fiancee at the altar only three months before her life took this ugly turn, and how she had arrived at the decision not to marry him. It was so real, so full of truth, and sounded so eerily familiar that I almost couldn’t breathe.

She told Dexter how she had pushed herself hard all of her life to please her parents. She was a good student, the first in her family to go onto college to get her degree. Followed by her masters. She was involved, athletic, smart. She was a good girl. Then she met the “perfect” guy, fell in love, and that eventually lead to planning a wedding. She had checked all of the boxes, and done all of the right things, her entire life.

It wasn’t until she was almost at her wedding day that it finally struck her. This is it.

For the rest of her life, she would be part of a couple that had the same friends, the same neighbors. They would have cookouts in the backyard on weekends, visit their families for holidays, attend PTA meetings and birthday parties for their kids, and have “date nights” once a week. They would do these average but good things, for the rest of their lives, and grow old together. That was it, that was the sum of her future life.

Is that all there is? she wondered. And so, she didn’t show up to her own wedding.

The reason that this struck me, made me sit still as stone as I listened to her, was the fact that I had basically the same epiphany about 18 years ago. Not at the altar, of course, already married with a child.

It was a typical day in our fairly new tri-level home. I was already a stay at home mom, taking care of our baby, who was about a year old at the time. He was in the pack ‘n play in our bedroom, watching a kids singing show, while I scrubbed the toilet in our attached bathroom. Innocent enough.

Something that I did weekly, along with all of the other household upkeep and day to day life. But for some reason, that day, it suddenly washed over me…this is it.

This is my life for the next thirty, or probably more, years.

We will have the same friends and neighbors, that we have over for barbecues on weekends and parties for our children’s birthdays. Our families lived close enough that we would see them on just about every holiday (and I’m talking every holiday – that includes Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, and any other “day” holiday you can imagine), every birthday, milestone and reason to celebrate. We would probably live in this house for awhile, until we could afford to move into something bigger, but not too far from the same area most likely.

There would be football and basketball games for the guys to watch at the bar, Tupperware and Candlelight parties for the wives to attend to order more of what we really didn’t need. Possibly a group camping trip, with all of our kids, once or twice a year. Baby showers, graduations, funerals, weddings and everything else in-between with the same people.

That was it. That was our future. My future. For the next thirty plus years.

And for some reason that day, with the toilet brush in my hand and the sound of ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ being sung in the background, I thought to myself “Is this all there is? Is this it? There has to be more.” I could see our future like a movie montage, because it was all so familiar already.

How did I get here?

This is what I had always wanted, had dreamed of, wasn’t it? I wanted to be married to a good guy, live in my own house to take care of, have kids and be a mom. But that wasn’t always the end story I had seen for myself, had always dreamed.

In the beginning, I had also seen a career in a big city, meeting new people, making big decisions and earning my way through life. Having one of those cool apartments with the hardwood floors and glass doorknobs, downtown over a convenience store or bar. Walking to museums and plays, getting opportunities to travel and see the world somehow. I had dreamed of being independent.

I wanted more.

As much as I loved what I had, and really did want it, I also wanted the other side of the dream that I didn’t really give myself much time to figure out. After graduating from college, the constant mantra of “you need to find a job” was pounding in my head, and repeated by my parents, so I basically took the first job I was offered. Not in the city, not in a cool design firm like I had always dreamed of, but instead a corporate art department job with benefits and vacation time. And a commute of about an hour, to another suburb, still outside of the city.

All of this came flooding back to me that day, while I looked around, toilet brush still in my hand.

When my ex came home that day, I asked what it would take for him to be offered a position in another country and if it was possible. I had heard of others in his line of work taking jobs in France, England, Germany. Why not him? He explained that he didn’t have the qualifications to go; he didn’t speak another language, he didn’t have any foreign clients, and he was married. They usually preferred to send single people who were more available and easier to move.

I still pushed on with the idea, telling him that if an opportunity ever came up to go somewhere else, like another country, I was willing to move. To have a new experience. If I couldn’t make it happen personally, I was willing to support him to make it happen.

Oddly enough, only a few weeks later, he was approached for a foreign assignment.

And as they say, the rest is history. That began the crazy, and challenging, journey that lasted close to ten years. And that journey brought me here, to this place. This place in time, in location, in mind and soul.

Almost back home, but not quite. Almost back to “normal”, but not really.

It wasn’t the dream I had dreamed when I was a child, or in high school or college, but it was very much like a dream in many ways. The meaning to the old adage “be careful what you wish for” became incredibly clear as time went on though.

It was amazing and exciting, the new experiences and meeting new people from different backgrounds, speaking different languages – so much to learn about the world! So much to explore. But at the same time it was also scary and confusing, and sometimes more difficult than I ever could have imagined. There were many highs and lows along the way,  over the many years and multiple moves, making me stronger in the end.

It had challenged everything I thought I knew or understood, pushed me out of my comfort zone, made me question everything about my previous life. There was more than one “right” way to do things, and more than one type of person or food or language. It changed the very core of who I was, for the better, in my opinion.

Would I have been just as happy without this experience? Would I have gotten over my feeling that there had to be more to life, blamed it on hormones or sleepless nights with a teething baby? Shut my mouth and just went along with the program, like everyone else was happily doing? I mean, what you don’t know you don’t know, right?

No need to second guess it or go through the list of possible “what if” scenarios now, it was the life I was meant to live. It was more than the life I had ever expected, or even thought I wanted. It was life changing.

I had asked myself so long ago “is this all there is?” never realizing where it would lead, how it would end, or how it would shape me in the future.

But now I know, no this isn’t all there is, there is so much more.

 

 

 

 

A different filter

About a year and a half ago my oldest son broke his phone. Not a new occurrence when you have teenagers with phones. They forget they have them in their pocket as they jump into the pool, or try to tape it to their handlebars to take an action video and inevitably it goes flying off during one of their “tricks”, or any other simple to avoid circumstance that they just didn’t think through. It also gets lost, or stolen.

It happens.

When it happened this time, I was not as willing to get him a new phone. This was the second (or third?) time within his contract period, he was able to repair it the last time, and it was beyond frustrating. So, I “punished” him with my old phone, an iPhone 4s. Yes, I know, the horror! I could have dyed his hair pink and it would have been less offensive to his teenage ego.

But he took it.

This made the most sense at the time, it was definitely cost effective, who doesn’t agree with “free”? Plus, we were still paying off the previous (broken) phone. We agreed that he would use my old phone until the contract was paid in full, about six months. A painfully long time for him, I’m sure.

He assured me that he would wipe the entire phone of my personal data; texts, contacts, email, etc.

Word to the wise: take it somewhere that does this as part of their business. Never, and I mean NEVER, trust your teenage son to do this type of thing for you. It’s bound to disappoint. And possibly instill incredible fear into your heart and soul.

He got his new phone about a year ago and has been happily using – and protecting – his new updated connection to the outside world. But just today, I happened to come across my old phone sitting on the family room table. It looked so small, so out of place, that I didn’t even recognize it as being mine. It had 6% battery life.

Not really realizing that it was indeed my old phone, I opened the screen to check the contacts to get an idea of which one of their friends it belonged to. Imagine my surprise when I found my list of contacts, and then looking at texts saw my old texts from two years ago.

At first I panicked, wondering if he had read through my texts or my email. Not that I was plotting or planning anything illegal or immoral, but some of my text exchanges with friends can be a little “colorful”. Not really meant for my kids to read, you know?

As I scanned the list of texts, I came across a set of old texts between my ex-husband and myself. I winced. What would I read there? Would it make me feel hurt, upset and raw like I felt during that long year of our divorce process, or happily vindicated in our decision, glad to have moved on, relieved?

They were texts from only two years ago. It was a crap shoot in my mind, the sequence of events and timing not nearly as clear at that moment.

I scrolled through, holding my breath.

There were texts from the early days of him commuting to his new job, plans for wine and pizza when he arrived home, asking what he wanted me to get from the grocery store for an upcoming fishing trip. Communications about plane delays, weather reports, car repairs and family gatherings being planned. Updates about our kids.

Jokes, intimate only-we-can-understand type of jokes. I could feel the smile that I must have had back then reading his messages, the eye roll I must have done in response to some of his sarcastic comments. And there were “xoxo”s mixed in among the few emojis, usually at the end of his texts.

I could feel the love.

At that moment, my heart ached. And I realized that it was real at some point, or at least we did have some pretty good stretches of “good” in our marriage. Maybe it was better through text and over the phone? Possibly.

Another mark on our permanent record for poor verbal communication skills.

What happened to us? Where did that go? I realize now, that those were the things that kept us together for so long. Those small things. The little stuff that makes you smile, makes you feel connected, and forget that that other person can really annoy or upset you on any given day.

But the small things couldn’t fight off the big things in the end, could they?

It made me sad. It made me miss that part of us, the part that bound us together and made us a family with our boys. At that moment I looked past the sad, the bad and the ugly from our marriage. I changed the filter and saw only the soft edges and warm light. I saw the film reel of the highlights playing in my head. I heard the music of our laughter and the language we shared.

And I missed it.

If only for a moment, for a few minutes, I forgot all about the ugly words we had exchanged over the last year or so. In person, by email.

In texts.

I pushed aside all of the resentment, the hurt, the bitterness and only felt what I thought we had all along. A solid foundation to build on, to hold onto in the hard times, the challenges we took on together and came out on the other side even stronger. A partnership beyond the basic necessities.

Love. Somewhere, deep inside of it all, there was love at one time.

And it made me mourn for both of us. We both went into our marriage with such hope and promise, dreams and plans. So many years invested. All for it to implode almost instantly in the end. How did that happen?

I don’t have the answer, still. I play the reel of our marriage over and over in my mind, I look for clues and hints, but nothing really stands out as “the moment” that it went off the tracks, unable to be corrected. The little things pop up like spikes on a Richter scale, most of them small, barely registering, with a few larger ones over the entire marriage, but nothing of such magnitude that it should have crushed our foundation. At least I didn’t think so at the time.

It doesn’t really matter now, it’s done. It can’t be rebuilt. It won’t be rebuilt.

Finding my old phone, and old texts, made me aware of how the filter that I choose to look through can change everything. It can make me feel a completely different way if I let it. I do like the feeling of this soft focus filter, the warm fuzziness of it all, at least for the moment, for a day.

It gives me a welcome rest from the sharp clarity of my memories, and my everyday real life.