The Reluctant Empty Nester Menu

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LAY OFF ME I’M STARVING…

Late in the spring of 2013 I started thinking about ways to be happier. There were several areas that I could work on, but not many that were going to be, quick, easy, or by only my own doing. A big issue was how I looked and felt. I was tired and grumpy and overweight. An idea hit me. I could make different dietary choices, focusing on overall health rather than weight loss, and see what happened.

The most valuable food items to me were all the same color, white. Pasta, bread, potatoes, rice, cookies, cake and desserts in general were all big players in my every day consumption game. I woke up one Sunday in May and said, “That’s it, today is the day, no more white stuff”. It was shocking how easy it was once I made the decision, not that it was an easy decision to make. But I knew I wanted to make some changes and this one was one that would have quantifiable and obvious results. It was more effort to think about substituting fruits and vegetables for the stuff I was leaving behind and I wasn’t sure for how long I could do it, but I did know that I had nowhere to go but up, or more specifically, down.

The benefits were slow at first but every pound lost hardened my resolve to stay on track. I started exercising more too, mostly walking and then some running and light weight lifting as well. As I got lighter physically other changes followed. My success led me to consider more ways in which I could make my life better and happier, and as I’ve already written, I ultimately chose to make huge moves, like divorcing my husband and meeting someone new.

Those kinds of changes can negatively impact health and for a while that’s what happened to me. I not only didn’t eat white stuff, but due to emotional turmoil and uncertainty, I wasn’t eating much of anything. Aside from the negative things happening in my life, there were exciting parts too. For possibly the first time in my life food was not my main source of joy and entertainment. I could go for long periods of time without wanting or even thinking about food. And ok, thinking about being intimate with someone new had me worried about the shape of my body so still more weight came off.

In the excitement of my eventual new relationship, eating remained low priority, though nothing extreme, and I felt better and more energetic than I had in twenty years. Some people expressed concern, but I wasn’t worried.

A year and a half passed since deciding to improve my health and happiness levels. My weight stabilized. A few months ago I noticed that I was no longer the food Nazi I used to be. The occasional potato, piece of bread, dessert and even pizza had crossed my plate. It was nothing to freak out about, as it was not happening on a daily basis. I could pull things back on track and remind myself that that the ‘bad’ stuff wasn’t for me and how much better I felt and looked without it.

But then something happened. As I began to feel more secure and relaxed in my life the slides into unhealthy food choices were becoming less rare, and I noticed I felt hungry. A lot. In regards to the things I knew were not the best for me it started to feel less like a calm, rational choice and more like, “Get outta’ my way, hand me the spoon (shovel…) and no one will get hurt…” Not good.

I am now back to spending too much time thinking and planning what and when I am going to eat because if I don’t, bad things happen. I don’t think I need to be as draconian as I was in the beginning, life does go on and it’s not like I’m suddenly twenty pounds up. I’m currently around five pounds heavier and though I realize it’s a slippery slope from five to twenty, I’m still far from pushing the panic button. I want to give myself permission to be human and hungry, while maintaining perspective on the value of staying healthy. In the end with this, as with so many things in my life, it’s all about balance. A topic that has always been fraught for me, and one that I’m sure I will be writing more about.

But right now, I gotta get something to eat…

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The only thing constant is change…

Had a birthday recently. It’s one number away from a really big one. I’d like to go with that as the reason for the lumbering funk I felt creeping up, but I’d be lying.

In the weeks leading up to the day I felt a sense of excitement at celebrating my birthday with my new man, in a new home in our new life. A life I am very much enjoying. So imagine my surprise when the day dawned and I felt anything but celebratory. What I felt instead was a non-specific sense of dread.

Wait, did I not just say that I was happy? Yes, I did, so what could cause this malaise? It took me a couple of hours to come up with an answer, but I did, and it is not easy to talk about or admit.

The thing is, there are parts of my old life, the one that was not fulfilling, or satisfying, that I find myself missing. Though that life included things I did not enjoy, it was familiar. Like the sun rising in the east and setting in the west, everything and everyone was in its/their place. I knew my role as wife and mother and caretaker and did all of them to the best of my ability.

A year ago when I shook the snow globe of my life, nothing landed where it began. Mostly, and luckily, that was a good thing, but the part that included many of my friends and all of my (birthed and non-birthed) kids, was bad. And though I know the power of nostalgia over reality and that even if I’d never left my home or my husband, all those kids would have gone on to lead their own lives separate from me, which is as it should be of course, the realization of the sudden and obvious lack of them in my life on my birthday came as a terrible blow. I used to know who I was and what I meant, in the context of everyone I’d left behind. But when my circumstances no longer fit who I wanted to be, and I changed them, my sense of self had to be reinvented too.

This is not to say that given the chance, I would not make the same decisions I made a year ago, or that I regret where or who I am now, because I would totally pull that trigger again. Unfortunately knowing that doesn’t stop me from noticing the holes that that gunshot left.

By mid-day the malaise turned to full-blown sadness and I went to see a movie to distract myself. I had read the book “This Is Where I Leave You” and liked it a lot, so thought the movie would be good. It was, but being that it was about dysfunctional family members finding their way back to each other, it only underscored my current lack of membership in anything that resembled a family in the former/traditional sense.

As I sat in the theater parking lot afterwards I could not stop the tears. Nor could I answer the Happy Birthday phone calls coming in from my son, his wife, my nephew, or my brother and sister in law. It seemed like too much to have to explain why I was crying too hard to speak. Hell, even I didn’t fully understand my upset, or its intensity.

Again, I take full responsibility for my decisions and their consequences and probably 360 days a year will be fine to great with them, with the possible exception of major holidays. These are the details of my life altering decisions that I neglected to factor to my not so grand (or planned) plan. A damned good thing too, as if I had, I wonder if I’d have been able to leave in the first place.

Birthdays are not in and of themselves inherently good or bad but they do offer an opportunity to take stock and alter direction, when appropriate. As I said, right now in spite of missing my kids there isn’t much I’d do differently. I am grateful for things that I am and have and am learning.

Not the least of which is that regardless of where I am in life, things are going to change, some for the good, and some for the not so good, or at least comfortable. As long as, on balance, my life makes me more happy than sad, I’m going to maintain perspective, congratulate myself and keep moving. And it’s ok to cry over the stuff that hurts and makes me sad. It means I’m human and fallible and helps me realize and remember how lucky I am.

 

 

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Who Rescued Who?

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Or is it whom? I never know.

Either way today’s blog is about the choice to expand our party of two to a party of three, or would that be two and a half?

One of the many hard things about leaving my old life behind was saying goodbye to my dogs. It just wasn’t practical to uproot two aging critters to a new and radically different environment than the one they’d always known, nor was it possible, given my ex’s equal (ok, I’ll be fair, greater…) love of and devotion to them. My new love had wanted to get a dog for a while but the realities of his work life made that goal unlikely to be fulfilled. That is till I came along.

We talked about it for a few weeks, discussing rescuing a dog versus raising a puppy, realizing that there were rewards and pitfalls to either choice. Having come from having larger dogs and dealing with the inherent challenges of boarding, feeding, grooming and picking up after them I knew I’d prefer a solo dog and that owing to future travel plans, I’d prefer said dog to be of a more portable size.

Soon I remembered the joys (not) of puppy raising and the upside of rescuing an abandoned soul and opted for a pre-owned canine companion. My partner wasn’t concerned much with the details, but he was excited at the idea in general. Since I had infinitely more free time than did he, and would be primarily be responsible for the care and upkeep of whatever dog I chose, I was entrusted with doing the research and making the ultimate decision.

Tentatively I began perusing the various rescue sites online. Page after page of nothing I wanted to bring home confronted me. Surprisingly, many of the local rescue organizations, on top of having less than optimal available dogs, also made meeting with any potential new family members something of a, you’ll excuse the expression, pain in the ass. One place had no real location you could visit, just transported dogs to various Petsmart locations on the weekends, another housed their dogs in a nearby correctional facility in a program designed to help both prisoners and discarded pets. While I applauded the efforts of these noble organizations, their availability was not matching up with mine (Yes I know, first world problems…). I told myself to be patient; that it would be worth the wait to get just the right little fur ball for us.

On a side note, I must take a moment to commend whomever it was that was writing the descriptions of many of the dogs on the websites. I checked out a couple of the adoption events, and every dog I encountered behaved NOTHING like the way they had been described, nor did they look much like their well-crafted photos.

My search continued, and was interrupted by several weekends in a row of previously scheduled travel plans. Still, I felt that I had been lucky in my choices so far and that if I kept an open mind the right baby would come to us.

IMG_6509A few weeks later as I resumed my obsessive trolling of the Internet, a certain boy caught my eye. He was of the requisite age, size, and apparent temperament. I casually mentioned that on the next Sunday I might just swing by the Petsmart and maybe check him out, you know, just for kicks. My partner in crime tried not to roll his eyes or warn me not to get my hopes up too high. An effort I truly appreciated.

Sunday arrived and as he went off to his fulfill his plans for the day, so did I. It was a little before the adoption event was due to begin and the workers were busily unloading crates of agitated, barking dogs of all sizes. I tried to stay out of the way while stealthily checking to see if the one they called ‘Teddy’ was anywhere around. Eventually someone noticed my lurking and asked who or what I might be looking for. I asked about ‘Teddy’ and she responded that there had been quite a bit of interest in him via phone and email and even though he had only come to them the day before, she felt certain he wouldn’t last the day without being adopted.

IMG_6508Great, just wave a red flag in front of a bull why don’t you? Now you tell me he is sweet, cute AND in great demand? Oh sheesh, I’m in trouble. I feigned a casual air as I calmly inquired as to whether I could meet the man of the hour. The volunteer let me sit in a hastily retrieved chair and told me she’d go and fetch him. In my head I went through all the reasons he would be unsuitable and how wrong the timing of getting him was. That was until around the corner she came with a furry, shaking little ball and laid him in my lap. He was shaggy, and a tad smelly, but not horrible, and when I lifted him up off my lap to inspect him more closely, he burrowed into my neck, planting soft kisses wherever he could reach. Well, shit. Game, set and match little one, you just found your new mama.

About that time I happened to look up at a small crowd forming around me. Apparently I was the first, but far from the last person who had come to see this guy. One couple had been the day before but couldn’t quite pull the trigger. They stared blankly at me, as did a hopeful looking elderly woman and a third family with two little kids. Two quotes came immediately to mind, one from television and one from a movie, both of which had been spoken endlessly by my two sons in the past. The first, from the Wes Anderson film, “The Life Aquatic” was, “Not this one, Klaus.” And the second, from a “Saturday Night Live” skit was, “Suck it Trebek.” I tried to look humble and pleasant as I gingerly elbowed past the crestfallen crowd toward the woman in charge.

The volunteer who had handed Teddy to me in the first place came back to retrieve him. No deal. I wasn’t taking any chances on someone accidentally giving him to someone else. “I’m good.” I replied, while angling my body to let her know I had no intention of relinquishing my prize. She laughed and shrugged and pointed me to a table in the back where a tired but determined looking woman sat with a clipboard. Back I went, while already making a mental listing of the things my new baby was going to need.

Sadly, these situations are rarely smooth or straightforward. Just as I was getting used to the idea of bundling my little guy into the car there was a stop sign placed in my path. “Uh, you know he’s not neutered yet, right?” the tired looking woman asked me. I imagined that it wasn’t a problem, that I’d be happy to take him home, clean him up and deliver him to the veterinary professional of her choosing bright and early the next morning. Yeah right. I was then treated to a fifteen minute lecture on the legal ramifications of any rescue allowing an unaltered animal to leave its confines, because you know, my goal was to take my sweet baby to the nearest doggie house of ill repute so he could knock up as many little bitches as he could manage. She raised a calloused hand to my not yet fully formed protest. It was clear that I was allowed to pay for him, buy whatever things he’d need, and go home empty armed. Over protective mother bear be damned, I was gonna lose this fight and possibly the opportunity of adopting him at all unless I willingly complied.

Comply I did, and happily paid his fees, in cash don’t you know, while the other disappointed families looked on. I made arrangements to have him groomed while he waited to be transported to the vet and to pick him up from the animal hospital the next afternoon. Then I went on a little dog shopping spree that meant at least I’d be taking home something.

I couldn’t wait to share the good news of our impending arrival. The pressing topic became what to name him, as his original name had been Warren, which would never do, and the shelter had re-branded him Teddy, which wasn’t working for me either. We decided to wait and see what he seemed like when we got him home.

Originally I hadn’t officially cared whether we got a girl or a boy, but my experience had been that boy dogs tended to be more loving so I was happy with how things turned out. The rescue hadn’t known, or at least shared a lot about ‘Teddy’s’ history other than that he had pretty much lived in a garage without a lot of exposure or stimulation and was around two years old. That meant I was going to have to work harder at getting him up to speed on his socialization. Not a problem since I planned to pretty much take him everywhere with me. Yes, I planned to become one of ‘those women’. While a doggie baby carriage was definitely not in my future, I had already been researching the Internet for local dog friendly restaurants, coffee shops, and pubs. I’d also bought a carry bag for him so he could come with me to the dog friendly stores in the mall I’d read about, all the better to get him used to the world he’d had so little experience with.

IMG_6821Finally it was time to bring him home. He was a little sleepy looking but otherwise didn’t seem traumatized by the whole event. The vet said she thought he was closer to eighteen months than two years old, and that at thirteen pounds, he was probably a couple pounds under what he should weigh. I thanked her for her advice and off we went, my new baby and me.

First up was a walk since I figured he’d been in a cage all day. Whether or not he was potty trained was a mystery but I was keeping my fingers crossed on that. Sure enough, he peed and pooped like a champ, which relieved us both.

We were still undecided as to his name and started tossing them out trying them on for size. None of them seemed to ring a bell until he heard, “What’s up, Woodrow?” at that he sat right up and looked at us. “Is that your name?” I asked him, “Are you Woody?” Again, he perked right up. Alrighty then, Woody it was. It suited him, and us just fine.

And so we became a happy little party of three, a bit sooner than we expected but again, when the right dog (or man…) comes along, I’ve learned not to question, just to go along for the ride…

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OK, Where Was I…

When last we left our intrepid traveler, she was continuing her journey into the unknown; jumping off the proverbial cliff, not exactly sure where she might land, or if her parachute would even open.

Off to Las Vegas I flew, wondering where my decision might lead me. I’m not sure I’ve ever been more nervous, but a funny thing happened when at last I encountered the man I had only written and spoken to on the phone. As soon as I saw him or more accurately, he saw me and called my name, it felt as if I were not meeting him for the first time at all, it was more like I had been away on a long trip and had finally come home. His eyes, his smile, his laugh, and his warm embrace told me I had made a good call.

Suffice it to say the allotted three days flew quickly by. I hardly slept or ate. As happy as I was to be there, my brain could barely process the flood of “OK, now what?” questions that threatened to rain on my bliss parade. I had never felt so seen, heard or valued before, but we all know those things can’t last, right? When the blush of first meeting fades everyone’s real personality, warts and all, emerge and the challenges begin, right? Oddly, this time not so much.

Still, as I said, our time in the hotel came to an end and decisions had to be made. Was I going to Utah, as was my original plan, or to the reality of this new man’s life? I didn’t want to overstay my welcome, but it was impossible to consider leaving the bubble of our budding relationship. It was decided that I’d stay at least through the weekend and we’d revisit the options on Monday.

It should have been a lot harder than it was. As a person used to a fairly pampered existence full of space and appliances and amenities, life in a one-bedroom apartment previously inhabited by a single man, and all that that implies, should have been a challenge. It should have been problematic for him too. After all, he had been used to living on his own schedule in his own space for a while and now everything about that had to make room for another human and her stuff. If it had been tight before, it was positively overstuffed now, a situation ripe with possible conflict.

Yet none arose.

The following week was Thanksgiving. Rather than spend it by myself, he invited me to accompany him to visit some family a few hours away. What? We’ve known each other twenty minutes and you’re ready for me to meet your family??? I nervously agreed.

Here’s a thing I figured out, which was true for me and might just be true for everyone. When one is dating in their 20s, you can easily decide that a situation is a good fit and hang around, or a bad fit and move on, rightly thinking that another situation will present itself momentarily. Conversely, in one’s 50s, one may notice that the years and options are more limited and grab a brass ring that may or may not work out, thinking that it might be the last one you get. So there was that to consider. Not that staying was presenting any issues at all. It was almost weird how easy and natural it was to be together, and together we were, pretty much 24/7. We took walks, grocery shopped, cooked, ate, sat together, laptops open, and slept coiled around each other, not that I was actually sleeping, my spun up mind not slowing down enough to allow that. Both of us kept waiting for the other to do something that made us say, “Well, here we go…” but it didn’t happen.

Slowly we began broaching the prickly subject of the future. Never had I been with a man who was amenable to that conversation, but this guy was more willing (anxious?) than I to discuss it. One thing we both knew and that was, if I were going to stay we’d need to consider a larger place. Tripping over each other and my suitcase was getting old, and as much as we were enjoying our togetherness, everyone needs a little space now and then. With those things in mind, we decided to look at larger apartments in the complex.

Of course it hadn’t escaped me that everyone in my former life still thought I was visiting a ‘friend’ and would soon head to the house in Utah. When, how and what was I going to tell them about the reality of my situation?

With those thoughts circling, we went to check out the model of a two-bedroom place. It was lovely, with high ceilings, a large open living area and decent sized kitchen. While in the middle of the tour, in spite of my happiness at the idea of so much more space, I found myself going into an impressive panic attack. Linear thought and even breathing was becoming a challenge. I tried hard to maintain decorum so as not to embarrass myself or anyone else. As I stood, as if frozen to the spot, my companion turned and looked at me. He somehow immediately read and understood the situation, thanked the agent and quickly ushered me out of the apartment and back outside. We walked for a while so I could gather myself, with him drawing me out on my concerns and fears, none of which he negated or demeaned. It was a huge moment for me. We decided to table the issue of moving, till I figured out how to best proceed breaking the now most likely news that I wouldn’t be going to Utah or returning to Florida.

Doing that was the only dark spot in my unrelenting happiness. It wasn’t long before I knew that dragon must be faced. I made calls and wrote emails to the people who needed to know. It was probably the hardest thing I have ever done. I hurt people with my happiness and that is not a pleasant thing to experience. Never in my life had I chosen my happiness over that of others and I wasn’t even sure I knew how to do that. But I kept coming back to the thought that I wasn’t getting any younger and didn’t know how many more shots like this I might get. Sadness, hurt, confusion and anger came at me from all sides. I was selfish and had lied. Of course people had every right to level those accusations at me, they were all true, and of course they all had every right to the feelings they were having surrounding my decisions, none of them had ever known me to be this person. Nor had I, but this is who I was now, for better or worse. Some people accepted what I was doing and why I was doing it. Others came around more slowly, some probably never would. All of this I had to accept as I moved forward into my new life. As hard as that was, I simply could not turn my back on the thing that made me as happy as I’d ever been, the feeling of being in a real, equal partnership in which no one’s needs were more valuable than the other’s and no one felt invisible or alone. I was hugely sorry for hurting those I loved and would miss having them in my daily life, but was not willing to walk away from the possibilities offered me by this man, this place and this life.

Onward, toward the pursuit of happiness…

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Stranger Than Fiction…

I recently read a Mark Twain quote that said something to the effect of, “It’s no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense.” It would appear that I am living proof of that adage.

It has been a long few months since I last posted anything to this space. It has taken me a while to decide if and what to write. I want to be honest in reporting my experiences, while still being sensitive to the feelings of others in the process. Hopefully I have accomplished both in what you are about to read.

The path I’ve traveled since leaving my home and deciding to end my marriage has been circuitous and interesting. Going from living with calm security and absolute certainty that every new day would be like the one before, to not having a clue as to where, how, or with whom I might be living has taught me a lot. My level of patience for the process rather than rushing to the end result has increased (though not as much as I’d like), as has my gratitude for things I might have previously assumed would always exist and no longer do, like my house, my lifestyle, most of my stuff and of course my marriage.

Still, in spite of hearing from many people that the grass was not greener and that there were a lot more toads than princes out there, I maintained the thought that my life was going to head in a relatively smooth direction, and ultimately be a happy one. After all, it wasn’t necessarily the wish to be with a different man that brought my marriage to an end; it was that I wanted the opportunity to be fully myself, something I had not previously been able to accomplish, a state for which I took and continue to retain full responsibility.

My fate may have been to remain a single woman and I was willing to be in that space, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t interested in exploring the eventuality of life with a new partner. In the interest of that possibility I tentatively signed up for a thirty-day trial on a dating site for people over fifty. My reasoning was that it might be prudent to experiment with dipping a non-committal toe into the dating pool. Before doing so I made a list of characteristics I wanted in my new partner, as well as those I most definitely did not want. I tried to get as specific as possible to try and ward off Fate’s fickle sense of humor. I filled out my profile and listed my interests, talents and what I hoped to find in a relationship. Almost immediately I was inundated with messages and requests for meetings, or at least more information. What I quickly realized was that most of my potential suitors hadn’t made it much past my photos because if they had, they’d certainly have noticed that men who were five foot five inches or shorter, smokers, deeply religious, politically ultra conservative, over seventy or lived in Montana, Kansas, Ohio or South Dakota were not exactly on my list of must haves.

On a side note guys, and let me just preface this by saying I do not, by any stretch of the imagination consider myself God’s own gift, but if you’re considering joining one of these sites, do yourself a favor and get a buddy or maybe even your sister to possibly proofread or edit your writing, dress you in something other than that wife beater and boxers, comb your hair, take a decent photo of you, and talk you out of positing that bathroom selfie. The lighting in there isn’t doing you any favors and you’ll end up looking more like a serial killer than anybody’s idea of a dream date. Also, photos of you with other women, or those taken twenty or more years previous aren’t your best bet either, just saying.

But I digress…

After about a week of this terrifying experiment I was ready to hit the convent, so overwhelming was the lack of dating opportunity. I did have one gentleman ask to meet me for a drink, which I reluctantly agreed to. He seemed ok, but I just got a weird vibe from him. Three days before our appointed meeting I got cold feet, apologized profusely and politely canceled the meeting. He kinda freaked out and said some not so pleasant things, only serving to confirm my hunch that he was not going to be a good choice. After that and a few other overwhelmingly not so fabulous people insisting that I meet them, or chastising me for daring to post what I actually desired in a partner, because you know, who the hell am I to ask for what I want, I decided to pull the plug on the site.  Again, I’m not claiming to be the answer to everyone’s prayers either, but I knew who I was and what I wanted and these guys were not ticking any of my boxes.

Interestingly enough it turned out to be a whole lot easier to join than quit. As in, every time I went to the site to see if they had complied with my request to be dropped, it automatically signed me back up again. About the sixth time I’d gone through this insane and massively frustrating ritual, I happened to notice a message from a new man. It was pleasant and not creepy, so, out of curiosity I clicked over to his profile. There I found a funny, well written and maybe just a tad snarky diatribe on the travails of Internet dating. Further investigation uncovered photos of a very nice looking man my exact age who was of requisite height, intelligence, fitness and apparent fiscal responsibility. Sadly, a reality check quickly ensued in the form of his location, Las Vegas, Nevada. Well, crap. If you listed a thousand places I might NEVER consider moving to, much less visiting for more than a long weekend, Las Vegas would be at or near the top.

On a whim I wrote back mentioning that I found him intriguing but considered the geographical challenge greater than I was willing to undertake. He responded (almost immediately) that one of my listed interests was travel and what the hell, for all I knew he might just be the man of my dreams, or something equally cocky and amusing. His retort made me laugh and began a flurry of back and forth exchanges all of which further piqued my interest.

Eventually the written communication led to phone conversations that were most entertaining. In spite of some small political, philosophical and spiritual differences (and those were mostly semantic in nature), there was an undeniable and burgeoning mutual interest. Now what?

Already hatching was my plan to head west to our house in Utah in order to have a place to call my own for a while. I wasn’t relishing the idea of starting over in a rented place, buying a house was definitely not on my radar, and as much as I appreciated the offers from various friends to host me till I figured out my next move, I really wanted to unpack for a while and spread out. As the plan grew to fruition I started to consider the relative proximity of Las Vegas to Salt Lake City.

I made a plane reservation for Salt Lake City to leave after Thanksgiving. In the mean time it became clear to me that in spite of being somewhat hopeful that my marriage might be able to continue, that was no longer a viable option for me. Plan A had been to decamp to Utah till February and by then I certainly would have decided one way or the other about my future. As it happened, a combination of factors told me that my decision had arrived much sooner than February. After a few visits with my therapist it was decided not to put off communicating that I had come to a conclusion. I asked to meet with my soon to be ex for the purpose of telling him goodbye. We shared a very cordial conversation and yes, a few tears. After that it seemed silly and awkward to wait till after Thanksgiving to head west.

In the mean time, Mr. Las Vegas and I continued to write each other. He had been divorced for a while and could certainly relate to the alternatively exhilarating and dark mindsets I was now finding myself alternating between. Letters eventually led to phone calls that were equally enlightening and entertaining. Everything in my head was screaming at me to stop, that it was too soon, that I wasn’t out of one situation, how could I possibly even consider hopping into a new one? But then there was this: I’m not eighteen, or twenty-eight, or any other the other eights, I’m fifty-eight, and realistically, how many more opportunities were out there waiting for me? What if this guy were the real deal? Or as just likely, what if he weren’t? What was I going to lose either way? If it went well, I’d be happy and in a positive and uplifting relationship. If it went badly, I might be embarrassed or lose some dignity points, but really, no harm, no foul.

It was with these thoughts that I altered my destination; no more Salt Lake City, I was now heading to Las Vegas. I committed to going there for three days; then it was on to Utah. I would stay in a hotel, this man and I would meet, and if there was mutual interest, great. If not, fine, we’d part as friends. Besides, either way, how bad could three days in Las Vegas be? I had only visited once before, for a mere 36 hours, and had barely scratched the surface of the place.

OK, here’s where the hard stuff starts. No, I could not exactly gather my friends and family members and share my new plans. I had no idea how things would turn out, and it had not occurred to me that there was even a possibility that I might stay longer than the agreed upon three days, but knew that either way, my marriage was over and I wasn’t going to be in Florida for a while. I told myself that the rest of the details didn’t matter. Also, I justified my position to myself, thinking that I was practically, if not legally single and it was no one’s business where I went or with whom.  Yes, I didn’t actually know this man, nor had I ever physically met him, but I did some Internet research and determined he was who he claimed to be, and yes, I did confide in a friend so just in case things got weird, someone would know where and with whom I was.

Off I flew with some trepidation and much excitement. I would never claim that this was the best possible plan for me or for anyone else, for any number of obvious reasons, but I did it. Ultimately this decision confused and hurt some people and for that I am truly sorry. Was it selfish? Absolutely. Was it rash? Of course it was. Did it turn out to be worth it? Well, I guess you’ll have to stay tuned to find out, that is if you don’t already know the answer…

 

 

 

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The beginning of the end

Today the decision appeared, unbidden. I wondered if it would ever arrive, what it might look and feel like when it did, and now I know. For whatever reason, or reasons, it came to me in a blinding flash that my marriage was over. Also surprising was the certainty with which it arrived. However, as the saying goes, it ended more with a whimper than a bang.

Now begins the process of unraveling a thirty eight year old relationship. As long as it might take for strangers to be come acquaintances, then friends, then lovers, then husband and wife, how long does it take for the process to reverse itself? How does one begin to compartmentalize and shed years of shared thoughts, laughs, language shortcuts, intimacies, and experiences? Who gets the photos, dishes, artwork and various other collected items, and how does one ever separate the items from the memories they engender? Can two people who once vowed to love each other forever manage to find their way to friendship, or at least peaceful detente in the face of the damage they did to each other on the way to breaking that vow? Who were these people, who did they become and why?

I used to hear about couples in long-term relationships who after thirty years or longer up and divorced. How ridiculous, I smugly thought, if you’ve made it that far, why not just suck it up and hang on till the end? I suppose now I am no longer smug and know the sad answer to that question.

As I have previously mentioned, support for me and my journey has been broad and so very comforting. Of course not everyone jumped on that bandwagon and I suspect that now that I’ve come to the end of my decision making process, there will be more who cast me in a less than flattering light. As a person who is used to caring a lot about what others think, as well as wanting to please more than anger, this will be hard. Not long ago my impulse might have been to rethink my decision based on the fear of upsetting them.  Now I know that denying and suppressing my needs and desires for others, ultimately people serves no one.

Still, if these last few months have brought me anything, it is a previously un-experienced sense of self, strength and resolve. I have grown up and become the ‘me’ I had lost, forgotten or maybe had never experienced.

Yes, there will be many uncomfortable days ahead, but if finally becoming the me I always wanted to be is the reward for the pain and suffering, well, I am convinced it will not have been in vain.

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Best Laid Plans…

When one is faced with a birthday that commemorates an unpleasant number, one could react in a couple of ways. First, one could retreat to the cave of a darkened room, wallowing in misery over the road not taken, lost opportunities, and the waning days of one’s existence, or second, one could don a slinky black dress, bright red shoes, grab a good pal, and venture out into the unknown, defying reality to intercede. Guess which one I chose last weekend?

In the past I would most likely have chosen option (A), eschewing any talk of excessive or showy celebration. But this year, in spite of the fact that I’m barreling headlong toward sixty, I am pretty darn happy with myself, and the hard work I have done to feel and look my best. Besides, if you’re gonna get old anyway, and who among us isn’t, might as well have fun getting there.

The plan first began taking shape with me considering certain practicalities. I knew my compatriot and I would be consuming adult beverages and possibly finding ourselves a fair distance from home base, so a safe ride was going to be called for. After some Internet research, I found a reasonably priced car service. They would send a nice car with a professional driver to ferry us wherever we wanted to go in the span of a specific number of hours. I called the company to book, and we discussed the time frame I was considering, from 7:00 pm to 1:00 am, with an option to go longer should the need arise. That problem resolved, I moved on to where to eat and drink.

There are many restaurants in the greater Tampa Bay area from which to choose, a fair number of which I have been to at least once. I wasn’t opposed to revisiting one of these establishments, but if it was going to be a repeat visit, I wanted to make sure it was a place I’d really liked for both their food and their atmosphere. Weighing the options and consulting my companion brought us to settling on a place I’d been to several times, but not in a few years. Reservations made, we moved on to the after dinner activity. This took more research. We wanted music, and possibly dancing, but not a meat market, or place full of twenty-somethings or electronic music. On a local venue website I came across a club that purported to cater to an over forty crowd offering both jazz and top-40s music. Bingo, we had a winner. Now all that was left was for the scheduled day to arrive.

I decided to treat myself to a salon do. The young girl made my hair a little curlier than necessary, but some light brushing and hairspray at home calmed both the hair and myself down. Dressed, made-up and coiffed, we enjoyed a quick cocktail waiting for the car to arrive.

Hmm, while I had not specified, I was the tiniest bit disappointed when our driver turned out to be female. It seemed a touch more exciting and more in line with my Cinderella fantasy to be squired by a gentleman driver, but no biggie, we carried on. Until we got into the lovely white Cadillac, only to be greeted by a not so faint odor of stale cigarette smoke. Eww…and hmm…

We got to the restaurant a few minutes before our reservation time and were told the table was not quite ready, so we headed to the bar. Now, it was 7:45 on a Friday evening so imagine our surprise to find the bar totally empty, as in devoid of any human occupants, in downtown Tampa, and did I mention it was a Friday night? That seemed odd, but we didn’t think too much about it as we settled in. The bartender was gracious and friendly, patiently waiting for us to decide. Well, it wasn’t like he had anyone else to attend to, but still. We each ordered a glass of red wine and looked around. Also odd was the fact that the restaurant, like the bar, had few of its tables filled. It wasn’t that long ago that getting a table in the place at all was a challenge, now here we were on a weekend night and it was over half empty? Very odd indeed. The bartender asked if we wanted to order dinner at the bar but we told him we’d reserved a table. Right about then the host came to show us to our table. And that is when we began to understand why the place was less than bustling.

We looked over the menu for a minute or two when our server approached. I started to ask a question about something but he cut me off. We were going to do things his way, and his way was to get the serious issue of water settled. I could go on to list his many transgressions, but suffice it to say he appeared highly un-amused at getting stuck with us. When I asked for a substitution or at least for something I don’t eat to be left off of the plate (Ok, it was potatoes. So kill me…), he rolled his eyes. Seriously? Did you REALLY just do that??? Let us also mention that the food we ordered was definitely not as good as I’d remembered the restaurant serving in the past. So yeah, so far the car thing and the dinner thing was not what I’d hoped for. But hey, we still had the club thing to look forward to, didn’t we? Hell, yes we did!

Yeah, about that…

Off we went in our smelly ride to our next phase. The parking lot was fairly full, so we figured at least there were people inside having fun. That part was true enough. What we hadn’t counted on was that those people would appear to have been inside having fun, for YEARS. As in, had been there drinking and being very drunk for days on end. We grabbed the last two seats at the bar while deciding whether we were going to stay or not. I’m all for people having a good time, after all, that is exactly what we were there to accomplish, but this was a way beyond fun and onto countdown to bar fight situation. Trying to laugh off our string of misadventures, I didn’t notice anyone behind me till I felt hot alcohol being breathed on my neck. I turned around to see a Tom Arnold looking guy wobbling in front of me, asking me to dance. About that same time another guy asked my friend to dance as well so we thought, why not, and headed to the floor. The music was good, though later we recalled that the band didn’t exactly know the right words to the songs. The dancing was fun, until I felt an unwelcome hand on my ass. I moved in another direction and Tom Arnold quickly apologized, but by then I was over it, as was my partner in crime, so we took our leave.

At this point it was around 11:30. Should we try another club or admit defeat and head home? I wasn’t quite ready to let go of the fantasy so suggested we hit one more place. But wait. The driver interrupted our conversation, saying we had only contracted for the car till midnight, which was about how much time it would take to return us to our original location. I politely countered with the news that I’d been told we had the car till 1:00 am with the option to extend for more money. Well, it seemed nobody had informed the driver of that possibility and see, her kid had a basketball game early in the morning so she really had to get home.

By now we were almost hysterical with laughter at what a weird nightmare our dream evening had become. Out of options, we headed home congratulating ourselves at rolling with the punches and making the best of a less than ideal set of circumstances.

Yes, I was disappointed in how things turned out, but in the grand scheme of things it was one night that went south, out of a million of them I’ve had in my life that have gone amazingly well. And I still went out with a good friend, had some laughs, confirmed my growing suspicion that planning every detail solves everything, and got to rock my sweet little black dress and killer red shoes. And sometimes, in spite of all your best -laid plans, that’s as good as you’re going to get.

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Floating…

It’s been a little over six weeks since I moved out and I’m still…floating. I am taking each day as it comes expecting little, deciding nothing, wanting nothing in particular, while remaining open to new experiences, feelings, and adventures. Some of these things are turning out to feel great, affirming and/or rewarding and some of them have made me want to MapQuest the nearest and highest bridges.

Being this way is very new technology for me. My normal bent is to plan every second of every day till forever, for both myself and others. No grey area, no questions unanswered, not much left to chance, is more or less how I’ve conducted my life. Suddenly I no longer have the ability nor the will to live that way, which is curious to me, and concerning to some around me. People know me as, to quote a former president, “a decider.” If friends or family are in a quandary about something they will often ask my opinion, knowing that I abhor a vacuum in thought or action, and that I will throw my brain into gear to help them toward a quick and appropriate solution, a behavior that feels laughable to me now. As if one could make decisions such that life would remain smooth and uncomplicated. Though if I’m being honest, and why be otherwise, I not only had straightforward plans for most situations, but contingency plans too.

Which is not to say I have completely thrown caution to the wind, I still make restaurant, hotel and airline reservations, I mean I’m not stupid. I just don’t seem to be motivated to quickly tie everything up in a neat little package the way I used to.

As I previously mentioned, this is turning out to be a problem for some of those close to me. When people are used to you being or acting a certain way it can make them uncomfortable. Say for instance you have always been a tad on the heavy side. If you suddenly, or even not so suddenly lose a bunch of weight, some of your friends and family members are going to struggle with that, as now they maybe are forced to look at their own relationship with eating and exercise and that is not so much fun. That and more importantly they have lost you as an eating/drinking buddy so they must face that unhappy reality as well.

While I’d like to be able to reassure all my loved ones that I am fine, that no doubt soon I will eat more, or at least less healthily, and begin to work toward making some concrete decisions about my life, it also occurs to me that those things may not actually be true, and also that it may well no longer be my job (if it ever WAS my job…) to reassure anyone of anything. What I might like to tell them instead is that I AM fine, and will continue to be fine, as well as to be essentially myself, whatever I choose to eat, or not eat, drink or not drink, decide, or not decide, and that I still love and care about them, even if I can no longer be the person they had gotten used to me being, and that hopefully they can continue to love the new me as they did the old one. There are probably some people who will not be able to accept who I am becoming and though that makes me sad, and I will miss them if they go, I am not willing or able to make myself be something that is not me, just to make them happy. Sorry if that sounds mean or selfish, but really what good does it do either of us for me to mold myself to someone else’s needs rather than my own? Eventually that would surely make both of us unhappy.

Fortunately, most people I am in contact with are at least outwardly supportive of me even if inwardly they are scratching their heads at what a hopeless nut job I have become.

For the foreseeable future the floating will continue. I anticipate at some point being on the receiving end of some sort of “AHA” moment, or at least I’m hoping I will. In the name of that hope, I am giving myself permission to do something I have never thought about or even wanted to do, to travel and stay by myself somewhere for an extended period of time. My current plan is to leave Florida in early December for around two month’s time in Utah. And yes, this time period will include Christmas and New Year’s. And yes, thinking about holidays without my kids or as an unattached woman is very uncomfortable. And yes, it may not work out as well as I’m hoping. But then again it might turn out to be a very good thing for us all and that is the direction this currently directionless human is looking.

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Ups and Downs…

Ok, it’s out there. I wrote and posted a piece about leaving my marriage. In the days since writing it I have had occasion to say out loud the words, “My husband and I are separated.” several times. Each time I hear it, it shocks me, and I half expect to laugh quickly after and then say, “nah, just kidding.” But I don’t, because I’m not.

In spite of telling myself that I will live in the moment, not obsess over all the possibilities and decisions that lie ahead, I am finding that I can think or speak of little else beyond the looming fate of my marriage. Reading, movies, television, all my customary go to distractions are failing to work their magic. Sleep eludes me and eating no longer holds great appeal. I foresee, in the very near future, friends and loved ones seeing me walking toward them and beating a retreat in the opposite direction. Well, maybe I’m not being quite that bad and mostly the person I am obsessing with is me, so capable am I in having two part conversations with myself these days. They’re pretty good ones too and not nearly as abusive as they once were. I am being uncharacteristically gentle and generous with myself, and that is a good feeling.

Leaving my husband has engendered all sorts of reactions from various members of my friends and family. Some I would have expected, others I would not. A common response has been surprise, at the timing if not the concept. A few have expressed this in the face of seeing my husband and I at our son’s recent wedding. “But you looked so happy and loving toward each other!” was one report. There were others in a similar vein. Funny but I don’t remember feeling or behaving in any particular way towards him that weekend, but if I appeared that way to others then I may well have done just that. And why wouldn’t I have? It was a most happy occasion during which it felt right to celebrate the work both of us had done in raising our wonderful boy.

Quite possibly no one is more shocked than I that the separation occurred at all, much less when and how it came about. Yes, I hadn’t been happy in my marriage for a while, but I’d almost gotten used feeling that way, and anyway who is happy in their relationship all the time? The thing that sent me over the edge, that got me up and out the door was, as I explained to a friend who asked, an almost physical sensation that overtook me. In that surreal moment it was as if someone had come up behind me and propelled me toward the nearest exit. There was no plan, no goal, no end game, just: Get. Out. Now. It wasn’t until I walked through the door of my friend’s house that I even stopped long enough to think, “oh crap, now what?” A question I am still considering.

There have been very good days, during which I see sunshine and daisies and a bright exciting future full of friends, travel, personal fulfillment and happiness. There are other, horrible days full of terror and tears at what I’ve done, and the people I have and will continue to hurt with my decision. People who have meant important things to me all of my adult life are probably not going to be part of my world anymore. There are lots of great things I would give up by leaving, should I ultimately choose to make my exit permanent. These are not things that I can brush off without thought, lots of sad and scary thought.

Still, another friend asked me what I hoped to achieve, long term, from leaving. Without hesitation I responded that I hoped for autonomy, as well as a feeling of success and contentment in my own right, not as a function of another person. Sounds simple enough, but upon reflection, it felt pretty huge to express those desires as well as to consider the possibility that they could ever come to fruition. Now it feels like my job is to push forward and make these lofty goals actually occur, a very exciting proposition.

There are many decisions ahead of me and no they won’t be easy, and though I need be respectful of others, I don’t have to make them in any particular time frame. It occurred to me today that there are no inherently good or bad decisions, and many of them once made can still be revised or at least revisited. Also true is what I used to tell my kids when they were in their formative years. And that is, go out into the world and make any decisions you want, just be sure you are prepared to live with the consequences of them. And so I will.

 

 

 

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Oh god, now what…

Relationships are a complicated dance requiring commitment, vigilance and massive amounts of energy. Time, events and acts committed or omitted by both parties can do damage to the strongest of bonds, to say nothing of those that are more tenuous. Who among us are the same dewy eyed innocents we might have been at the beginning of our now decades old relationship?

Many factors go into our choice of mates including current circumstances, how and by whom we were raised, and are complicated by our making this life altering decision in our not fully formed youth. The dynamics of new relationships are often set in place early, whether consciously or not, and once done, one or both of the partners may be reluctant or unable to change them, regardless of whether or not they continue to serve either party. Not to over generalize, but that has certainly been the case in my marriage.

A wise person once said that the tragedy of marriage is that a woman thinks a man will change and he doesn’t, while a man thinks a woman will never change and she does. Amen to that.

I have been in my current relationship for thirty-eight years, thirty-three of them married. There have been wild highs, devastating lows and lots of everything in between. We have friends, families and two grown sons we are both devoted to.

From almost our first meeting, at the ripe old age of nineteen, I focused everything I had on capturing the heart of this handsome, interesting, quirky, funny, intelligent, driven, irreverent, ill-behaved rogue of a man. It took some time, but I accomplished that lofty goal, in spite of his resistance to being domesticated. I admitted defeat and tried to leave a few times along the way, but he, while claiming a disdain for commitment, never quite let me go. I knew of his reservations but pressed on in my quest for marriage and family.

My personal insecurities overrode my ability to admit the problems I knew existed. Marry me and give me babies and I’ll behave any way and be or do anything you want, was my unspoken commitment to him. And so he did. And so I did. For a while… Any time I chafed at my ill-conceived promise I was quickly reminded that it was I who had designed the program. And on it went as my love for him faltered but remained.

Suffice it to say that over the years we each lobbed our share of poison tipped arrows, but somehow managed to keep our marriage together. He was successful in his work, which afforded us a very comfortable life. We often met other men in the same line of work and their wives pretty much reported the same complaints as had I. We all admitted that it was not easy, but ultimately a fair tradeoff for the perks.

As my children grew my restlessness grew along with them. I had curiosities, passions and interests, and even some talents that I did little to pursue, in the name of being the supportive parent and spouse. For this I take full responsibility. My needs never seemed as pressing as those of others. Instead of respecting them I denied them, replacing satisfaction with frustration and anger. I forgot my need and love for my husband and began to see him primarily as my oppressor. We did years of counseling and some if it helped, or at least gave me an opportunity to vent, but ultimately the dynamic remained intact. He was who he was, and the factors that ran him, as well as the ones that ran me, did not change. Nor did my level of dissatisfaction.

Ten years ago we separated. I defiantly announced that I had rented a condo near by and would be living there till further notice. Every aspect of my once coveted life, the house, the trips, the stuff, felt more like anchors than wings. I loved my simple, monastic existence. Sort of… Still unsure of myself, or my direction, I succumbed to his full court press of attention, gifts and promises. Three short months later I surrendered and moved back home and our usual dynamic soon reappeared. I convinced myself that it was as good as anyone got in life and squashed the voices insisting otherwise.

Life went on, as life will do. The boys went to college, then on into their lives. We bought a vacation second home, a concept I’d resisted for years as I believed once you did that you’d never go anywhere else, which turned out to be true but not a problem because I ended up loving the place as much as he did. My freeform restlessness and discontent continued and I did nothing to quench it.

A couple of years ago, my older son tired of seeing me unhappy. He began to suggest solutions, all of which I summarily dismissed. Eventually his suggestions grew more insistent and he committed to setting up a blog site for me that I could post random thoughts and writings to at will. I was sure it wouldn’t work or solve anything but tentatively wrote the first one. My son posted it, along with some photos and it was well received by the family members and friends who read it. This spurred me on to more of them and I noticed how happy it made me to write and get feedback on them. It didn’t seem so scary anymore and filled in some of the tiny holes of my discontent. I talked to people I met about writing, went to author events, and corresponded with published writers whenever possible, always noticing that I lit from within when doing so, a feeling that remained for days afterward.

More and more I turned outward to my burgeoning passion and away from my marriage. He had always had passionate interests that consumed him and left me feeling alone. There seemed to be little overlap in our lives and we came together less and less, or that was my experience anyway.

In late spring, my younger son’s wedding looming, I made some decisions, which I have addressed in earlier blog posts. I wanted to feel lighter, freer, and more fun. In the name of all that I did something I had been unable to accomplish for years. I completely revamped my diet and exercise programs and began to lose weight, quickly. One, five, ten and eventually thirty pounds, each milestone urging me onward. I stopped blaming my husband for my unhappiness and dissatisfaction and rarely admonished or complained to him. He was shocked and reported this new behavior to our son who only half in jest suggested I be checked for signs of a stroke.

The happier I got, the happier I got. Except…

Those nagging voices that unbidden kept insisting that life might be sweeter with a real equal partner who shared my interests and respected me and my talents the way I might respect him and his continued. I pushed them away again, deciding to concentrate on the upcoming happy event.

And now that event has come and gone and with its completion, a return to that which will no longer be denied. I am not happy in nor fulfilled by my marriage. There, I said it. I place no blame for this feeling. As I said, I am as much or more responsible for the dynamic and my dissatisfaction in it and with it as anyone. Either way, something needed be done about the situation.

A few days after the wedding, my husband’s fledgling business venture necessitated him being out of town for four days. This afforded me lots of time to reflect. Once more I thought I had it all worked out in my head to remain in my marriage and just keep dancing. Until the night he returned. From the moment he walked in the door I felt as though I couldn’t breathe. He began to talk about his experience of the previous four days, but I couldn’t concentrate on anything he was saying. Eventually he noticed my discomfort and commented on it. I couldn’t hold it back any longer and blurted out my need for some time and space to contemplate my future and his place in it.

Sleep that night eluded both of us and we talked around all the same old issues. Ultimately, I called a friend and asked if I could stay with her for a while, length of time unknown, and she agreed.

It was with no great mirth or satisfaction that I packed a small bag. My husband walked me to my car and I broke down. The last time I had left I was so angry, this time it was great sadness that overtook me. He is sad too, and I’m sure also hurt, and confused and anxious.

So this is where I currently find myself, floating in a river of uncertainty, waiting to see where it takes me, yet for the first time in a long time, or maybe ever, confident in my ability to move forward, whether married or alone.

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