The winner takes it all

I just googled “songs about failure” and found that loads of sites have written about this very thing. Clearly I’m not the only one who has a burning need to answer this question.

I often need some kind of hook to write. On this blog, it’s songs that inspire me. Sometimes my writing begins because a song is in me and it feels relevant that day. But tonight, I was listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, and it was what she said about failure that triggered my song search.

Big-Magic-quote

Gilbert is writing here about creativity, but the same could be applied to the end of just about anything. In my case, a marriage. Is marriage a creative enterprise? I don’t know for certain, but I love the idea of approaching relationships like any creative endeavour: with curiosity, interest, reverence and a desire for wonder. I also know that a mix of creativity, talent and divorce made a helluva good ABBA song (which is a TOP failure song according to the internets—and the hook for this post).


I don’t want to talk
About the things we’ve gone through
Though it’s hurting me
Now it’s history
I’ve played all my cards
And that’s what you’ve done too
Nothing more to say
No more ace to play

The winner takes it all
The loser standing small
Beside the victory
That’s her destiny

Sometimes a relationship is like a game of solitaire (ironically). Sometimes, no matter how many times you’ve played and whatever strategies you’ve developed, you’re not going to win. You can shuffle the cards in the slush pile over and over again, you can review your moves to see where you went wrong, but you can only struggle for so long. A card here or there could possibly change the outcome of the game, but the longer you go, the more you understand that struggling against what is just ruins your fun.  And sometimes you missed the card that could have saved everything, but now it’s trapped in the middle of three cards and can’t be used to change the destiny of the game. To save your sanity and your capacity for pleasure, you must declare, “Game over.”

I’ve been struggling. With regret. With the decisions I’ve made. With feeling like I let my kids down. The terrible voice in my head tells me I’m selfish, distracted and removed. We all went away together last weekend, the four of us, and I spent 30 hours in my old life. And it was fucking hard. Because, you know what? Lots of it was idyllic.

I had to remind myself, over and over, not to fall for the illusion. We were our perfect selves for the time we were together, and while we didn’t get along the entire time, there was such an ease and fun in getting the band back together. I could feel this pull, drawing me back into the slumber, back into the bubble, where I could live out my days unconsciously. It would be so easy, familiar. But then I recalled my mantra.

A few nights earlier, when Theo was making eyes at me, as he has been at almost every encounter recently, I waited for the right moment and then got the courage to say, “I’d like to call out the elephant in the room. The reason this feels so good right now is a direct result of the decisions we’ve made.” There is peace, because we don’t live together anymore. I’m attractive, because he no longer takes up all the space in my heart and mind, tormenting me with neglect and negativity, turning me ugly from the inside. My therapist asked me to remember that: The reason this feels so good right now is a direct result of the decisions we’ve made.


I was in your arms
Thinking I belonged there
I figured it made sense
Building me a fence
Building me a home
Thinking I’d be strong there
But I was a fool
Playing by the rules

Our house doesn’t fit him anymore. The hobbit hut we live in is too small, and the space he created by leaving has been a gift. I don’t just mean the 6-foot, 200-pound space he left, but the hulking demon he dragged around. It punched holes in walls with its tail, darkened the house with nostril smoke and frequently burned shit to the ground.

Theo’s demon is quiet now, I can see that. It no longer gets triggered by my demon, their collective pain waging war on each other. He’s lost weight because he’s exercising and has no money for fancy food. He looks lighter in the face, too, in his eyes and on his brow.  His smiles are genuine and his laugh is easy and it’s clear from head to toe that he’s doing well. It’s all very attractive. The therapy is helping, but I have to admit that the therapy is infrequent. The time apart is consistent and plentiful. It’s clear what’s helping.

The gods may throw a dice
Their minds as cold as ice
And someone way down here
Loses someone dear
The winner takes it all
The loser has to fall
It’s simple and it’s plain
Why should I complain

Sometimes we reach out to each other, hold each other carefully, knowing that the other is also made of glass and that pressing too close together would smash us both into a confetti of cuts. I feel his strong, familiar arms and melt a little. Not from love so much as nostalgia. But I made the mistake of breathing him in this week during a hug and it left a chemical burn on my heart.

We went out of town for our kid’s birthday and we stayed up together after the kids were asleep. We sat outside and shared some wine and then I decided I wanted to know about what he’s been up to. He told me he’s been with four women since he left. So I embellished my number and said four for me too, even though it’s only been one. Ali. I was surprised by how easy our conversation was, but the biggest shock was realizing that it didn’t hurt. It wasn’t painful to hear that he’d slept with other women. Had we stayed married, had we tried to live an open marriage as he’d asked, it would have been.

But tell me does she kiss
Like I used to kiss you?
Does it feel the same
When she calls your name?
Somewhere deep inside
You must know I miss you
But what can I say
Rules must be obeyed

It’s also important for me to remember that him making eyes at me is not a sign that he wants to move back in. The suggestion is for sex, not rekindling the marriage. When I brought up the elephant in the room before we went away, his response was, “Doesn’t stop you from looking good.” He’s never asked, which maybe I don’t ever want to be put in that position, for me to take him back. And yet, there’s a remnant of a fantasy there. This bizarre egoic wish that he’ll beg to come back, admit he was wrong and fight to change everything to make it all work. Which is crazy. Because he’d have to change his whole self to fix the things that need fixing and isn’t that what sent him into depression in the first place?

He added quietly, “Doesn’t stop you from BEING good.”


We got into stupid arguments over the weekend, highlighting our inability talk to each other in the same language. It made a key point stand out—”This is as good as it gets,” I told him. We have to accept that by killing the marriage, we saved the friendship. We are never going to get past the bickering caused by different paces in living and word processing. We tried for years. We got stuck and it started to kill us. Sometimes the only way out isn’t through, but it’s by backing the fuck out slowly.

The judges will decide
The likes of me abide
Spectators of the show
Always staying low
The game is on again
A lover or a friend
A big thing or a small
The winner takes it all

Sitting outside and looking at the marina, I caught a glimmer of what looked like hurt in his eyes. The intensity between us was palpable, and as usual, he’d consumed 80% of the bottle of wine to my 20%. I excused myself and he stopped me, “I love you, Maria. I will always love you. I have a profound respect for you and I’m so grateful that you are the one I’m raising children with.” I smiled and put myself to bed next to our daughter.

I must consistently remind myself that our marriage is not a failure, it just ran its course. Our marriage was a decent success, it was just finite. It had a best before date on the bottom that we never took note of and one day—BOOM—it soured. And if I must rethink that statement and accept that it maybe was a failure, then so be it. The point of failures is to learn from them, right. To paraphrase Elizabeth Gilbert, it’s your ego that gives a shit about the humiliation of failure. Your soul does not give two flying fucks. Your soul just learns from the experience and then expands to fill the empty new space.

“I am who I am today precisely because of what I have made and what it has made me into,” says Elizabeth Gilbert. I have to believe that no matter how sad, we are standing here, together but apart, for a purpose. And what comes next, if we remain awake, will be pure beauty. No mud, no lotus.

lotus

I don’t want to talk
If it makes you feel sad
And I understand
You’ve come to shake my hand
I apologize
If it makes you feel bad
Seeing me so tense
No self-confidence
But you see
The winner takes it all
The winner takes it all

I was over at a friend’s for dinner tonight and our truths came tumbling out. She told me that I was never to sleep with Theo again. (I’ve had a good track record there. Not since before I took my ring off on January 1st.) She also told me that Ali could never be for me, because my love language is obviously “Words of Affirmation.” I just went down the 5 Love Languages rabbit hole and Physical Touch and Quality Time were tied for first place and Words of Affirmation was third, followed by Acts of Service and Receiving Gifts. But I know what she means. I’m a word girl. I believe words have power and should be used carefully and with intention (something I’m not often good at doing verbally). I need to be with someone who can match my desire for sharing words and stories, someone who is not afraid to be vulnerable with his truth. Someone who can handle the desires of my mouth and my mind to express through words (and also touch).

I thought I’d write a second post about Felipe, a man who was good at “Words of Affirmation” and all of the 5 Love Languages come to think of it, but terrible at kissing and needy (though his words never lined up with his actions in this area) in a way that I couldn’t abide right now. But I will just summarize. He was a mansplainer, who insisted on smoking up on every date and his energy was nervous until he did. And when I wasn’t baked, I realized that no, the kissing is actually offensively bad. It was a mansplaining of the mouth, like his tongue needed to teach me something. And finally, I have just spent two decades with someone who didn’t have a job and who self-medicated, and do I need to do that again? Naw. That’s not progressing.

Old Maria would have kept Felipe on, because he’s nice. Old Maria would have convinced herself that she could help see him to greatness. That she could “fix” him. New Maria ain’t got no time for that shit. As a former therapist once advised, “When we are cheerleader personalities, we see the good in everyone—which is a gift! But next time, find someone who can meet you on your level and can celebrate your successes with you.” My new therapist cautions that this is not what I want just yet, that I’m still A/B testing and having fun, so don’t rush it. When I asked her how I should end it with him after three dates, she said, “Whatever you can live with.”

So I texted Felipe that I still have feelings for my ex. I texted Ali the opposite, that it was clear to me how much it was over. Both are true and both are also a lie. I love my ex. I’m confused by the way he looks at me. But the feelings I have are plain old grief. There are love, admiration and respect elements there, but they are primarily based on seeing him with our children. I know, to quote Taylor Swift, that we are never, ever, ever getting back together. And the more that becomes an absolute, the larger the ocean of grief to cross. But I’m a tenacious mofo and I will survive this.

I’m listening to my inner voice again and feeling confident in her every step. And right now, no relationship is worth losing that power. Not spending creative and emotional energy on a man is delicious. I’m having an affair with writing at the moment, for the first time in a long time. It’s just for me.

“I was suspicious,” Felipe replied to my send-off, which bolded, underlined and italicized for me that I was right to let him go. No regrets. No looking back. Just utter relief that I am not waking up 20 years later with this realization.

So the winner takes it all
And the the loser has to fall
Throw a dice, cold as ice
Way down here, someone dear
Takes it all, has to fall
It seems plain to me

Written by Benny Goran Bror Andersson, Bjoern K. Ulvaeus • Copyright © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group

 

Bye Felipe

I shut things down with Felipe earlier this week. We’d been on three dates, but the way he spoke, he’d already married us in his mind. So I did what any rational 40-something who has had her heart broken by the love of her life would do. I freaked the fuck out.

Our second date came after that brutal mediation session two weeks ago. The one where they got the numbers wrong and I discovered I was fucked for life it would cost me more than double to pay my ex what’s fair so that I could keep the family house. I needed a distraction. I’d blown Felipe off to hang with The Momz the night before, which should have been a clue, but we were one date in and “uteruses before duderuses” as my pal Amy would say.

I texted him to meet me somewhere and he was all giddy about it. “What am I going to wear?!” Cute. He met me at a bar with a gift of some Brazilian food “for you and the kids” and said, “You’ve had a hard day, so I hope you don’t mind but I brought you something. Open your hand.” And then he gingerly placed a joint in my hand. I’d had a shit day and I’ll admit, I was impressed with the kind gesture. But as soon as I said that I really needed a toot, he was off his seat and ready to go smoke. My spidey sense went off, but I chalked his behaviour up to nerves.

I convinced him to sit down and order a drink. The bar was loud, but we talked a bit. I showed him a photo of my daughter and as soon as I opened the FB app, he said, “Felipe Luiz—you can add me!” (Too soon, buddy.) I didn’t mind his halting English, though he had a tendency to over-explain things and later contradict himself. Just something lost in translation, I thought. We were having a drink when a beer sales guy came by with samples. I chatted the beer dude up because I’m friendly and like free samples, and I soon learned we had a friend in common. We asked Felipe to take our photo to share with our friend, who was having a bit of a moment with a certain hashtag around a magazine cover she’d been photographed for. It occurred to me that I shouldn’t be chatting with this strange man so enthusiastically, but I wasn’t attracted to beer dude at all, so I ignored it. I’m a social creature and if Felipe was jealous, he didn’t let on.

Felipe clearly wanted to get out of the bar, so he paid up and we left. He has this weird habit of not saying what he likes and waiting for me to lead the way, or saying he doesn’t like something and then ordering it because I did. It frustrates me when people don’t speak up for themselves. I offered a walk to a nearby park so we could chat and smoke and a few more quirks came out. He insists on walking on street side of the sidewalk, “in case a car comes, it will hit me first,” he said. “Oh, of course,” I replied, “You probably have a thing about that. Makes sense.” (His first wife died in a terrible car accident and he was driving. A truck t-boned them and hit her side.) “No! You think so?” he seemed surprised. “That’s OK,” I reassured him, “But yeah, probably. It would make sense.”

Then he brought up his discomfort with dark open spaces, because in Brazil you would be worried about being robbed or killed. I have to acknowledge my North American privilege here. If I were a woman alone, I would also be nervous somewhat, though the older and more invisible I get, the less so. But truthfully, I am a woman in one of the safest countries in the world and when I’m in a group or with a man, I am not afraid. I’ve worked very hard to diminish my fears. I spent a lot of years too afraid to enjoy the outdoors and one of the greatest gifts from my ex was teaching me to trust that everything would be OK. So now that I’m in this period of great independence, I relish in aloneness and quiet spaces with few people. In a city the size of this one, finding an empty space is a gift!

We held hands and I didn’t like the way he held hands and that made me sad. I have a certain way of holding hands, because my hands are tiny like a child’s, and he corrected it. It made me miss my ex, who knew exactly how I liked to hold hands and despite our giant height difference, we just fit. But then Felipe kissed me on a street corner at a red light. And it was not good. His tongue is aggressive, like full snake, left-right left-right swishing in there instead of gentle swirling. He has very thin lips, but even so, one should not launch a full scale tongue attack. Then I did something I am typically not comfortable with. I decided to relax into it and let him lead. And suddenly the kissing was better! It started to drizzle so we ran under a pergola and lit up.

The conversation was lively and fun. He was just the right kind of sarcastic, not mean at all, but witty. We played a bit of a game where we taught each other how you greet someone in our different cities and cultures. One kiss on the cheek in Sao Paolo, two kisses in Rio. Super cute. He was hungry and wanted to take me to a BBQ restaurant, so we began walking in the direction of my ex’s apartment. When we passed a certain bakery he asked if I would meet him there on Sunday. I told him I had my kids so it was out of the question. “But you can bring them and then tell them you ran into your friend Felipe!” Um, no. “I’m just kidding,” he replied, but I was not having it.

It started to pour, so we hid under some trees and made out some more before deciding to run to the BBQ place. The BBQ place had shut down their kitchen early because of the rain, but offered us a seat. Felipe asked for water and napkins for me, which was sweet. I realized I was very, very stoned. I only smoke a handful of times a year at most, so I’m just not used to it. Somehow we left the BBQ joint and headed to a pub across the street and that all seemed to go ok.

There was, of course, a bigger red flag than his traumatic past. His unemployment. While his words said he was waiting to start a course and improve himself, broken me has lived through that once already with someone else and doesn’t want to go there again. I’m looking for security. I’m looking for a grown-up. I’m not looking for excuses. In the most Jane Austen of ways to analyze this—he doesn’t have any prospects. But the conversation was great and I was really feeling ok about it all. This would be a nice second love affair, I thought. It was simmering and I wasn’t ready to take it off the stove or eat it yet, but there was something good stewing. I’m certainly not ready to make a meal you host friends for, but there was at least a snack here.

We had to leave so I could send my ex home (he spends his two weeknights with the kids at the family home) and I found myself not wanting him to walk me home for obvious reasons, but also I didn’t want him to know where I live. He lives five minutes from me and that’s already too close for comfort if something gets weird. We kissed in the street and I was so baked that I didn’t care that the school moms might see me. I started to put his hands up his shirt. “Don’t torture me,” he said with a smile. I felt sexy and powerful.

He texted me several times a day after that. While he kept saying that he knows my kids come first and that I’m devoted to my new job second, and that he’d wait for me no matter what, there was a daily testing of the boundaries. There was a lot of “I missed you today,” which is not really about me, but about how he needs me to make him feel. Still, I was optimistic and also curious to sleep with him. But while I initially enjoyed seeing his messages pop up on my phone, they started to feel oppressive real quick. A good morning here, a rose emoji in the middle of the day, all lovely. But the worst of it was all the schooling and encouragement, the overly complimentary—if I wanted that I’d call my mom!

And the truth is, if I was into him, like REALLY into him, I’d probably be all over it. But I’m just not in the market for that right now. But I booked a third date anyway, very stupidly, after my third sexual encounter with Ali (SO DAMN GOOD!).  A friend joked that I am the Goldilocks of dating: one guy who rarely texts or calls, the other one does it too much. “The next guy will be just right,” I joked to my therapist. “But no,” she said firmly, “You don’t want Mr. Just Right right now. You’re not ready for that!” She’s goddamn right, I’m not. To be continued…

 

Long time running

I’ve been marinating a post on my second date with Felipe the Brazilian for a few days, but often when I hesitate to write something, it’s because something else is meant to happen for the story to complete itself. I trust this process completely, because I’m the kinda girl who pays attention to signs and patterns, the clues of the universe. It’s all just one big game of Zelda (OG Nintendo version, natch) and sometimes you gotta stop and talk to a troll to know where you are going next, and other times you wander in one direction for far too long before you get a new clue and that’s just the process, kiddo.

This morning I woke up to an excited email from my friend Susan, who is someone that I love and admire deeply. She’s big into music and one of her favourite bands (and mine too) had just released a trailer for their final tour documentary. Her enthusiasm was around the fact that my ex (we’ll call him Theo from now on) and I are in the trailer. Just a blip. One second. I’m not sure if we’re in the full feature, but in that frame, we are slow dancing to a song called “Long Time Running” and crying, because the band was doing their final tour, their lead singer dying of brain cancer. Our marriage had a slow-growing tumour, too. We knew that then, we sorta knew the cancer was Stage 4, but forever the optimist I was hanging on and lying to myself to get through.


Does your mother tell you things?
Long, long when I’m gone?
Who you talking to?
Is she telling you I’m the one?
It’s a grave mistake and I’m wide awake.

(Side bar: I love the Shakespearean use of the word “grave” in poetry, signifying weight but also the impending death of something. It’s so perfect in this context right now. Any readers who dabble in writing might agree with me. All the songs of this band are poetry set to music, and yet their fans are mostly hockey-loving guys who get drunk to create a window for vulnerability. Bros.

I recently travelled with my mother, and we stayed up late into the night talking after the kids were asleep. I told her that because of old school views on women and marriage, that having a wedding had always been positioned as the be all and end all in terms of my goals. Sure, they encouraged me to get an education, but I was also always keenly aware that any guy I dated in my 20s COULD BE THE ONE!!

I don’t spend a lot of time on what ifs but I wonder the following:

What if I had moved to London with Theo in 1999 like he’d asked, rather than follow the career path I thought I should be on? Would we have bummed around Europe for a bit and would I have gotten annoyed with his poverty conscious way of living? Would I have seen his inability to make shit happen beyond what he was comfortable with?

What if I had moved in with him when he moved back to our city, like he’d asked? In hindsight, given his frugality, I wonder if that ask came more from sharing rent than just wanting to have sleepovers every night. Still, I helped to furnish the apartment. I’d go grocery shopping and help to make meals. I didn’t think anything of it back then. I just wanted to do nice things for him.

Would I have seen all the flaws? Would I have had the smarts to say, “We are using up all our energy here and we won’t have anything left to finish the race”? Would I have better established what are roles were? Would I have walked away?


I often wonder, 
Drive-in’s rained out
Weatherman wet-fingers the sky
He pokes it out, he pulls it in
He don’t know why

It’s the same mistake

I don’t regret my marriage, so the what ifs are futile. There would be no children otherwise, and those guys, I can’t imagine my life without. They are half him, half me. And the him-half makes them who they are as equally as the me-half, so trying to go back and envision erasing Theo from the choose-your-own-adventure that plays out in my mind is pointless.

I am stronger for having loved him. He filled a need, filled in my blanks and made me a better human, for a very long time. With him I experienced a love that I had only dreamed of, a poetic, romantic love, full of passion. I always said that “he steadies the boat so I can get in.” I was the anxious suburban princess who got the courage to explore the world thanks to him making me feel safe and encouraging me.

The reverse is also true. I am stronger for ending it. Stronger for finally listening to him when he said he couldn’t do it anymore. Stronger for deciding I had enough of trying to make the glass slipper fit my foot. It took a ridiculous amount of time to get there.

It’s been a long time running
It’s been a long time running
It’s well worth the wait


I fear I will dance the same dance again with someone new. We’re all doomed to make the same mistakes, aren’t we? So I’m overly cautious right now. I know I can’t really give myself to anyone in my current state. “I belong to no one, and no one belongs to me,” says my fiercely independent, Almodovar-character of a friend, Esperança in Madrid. “Everyday,” she once exclaimed to me while pounding the table and making my Rioja slosh, “Everyday, I fight for my freedom! I don’t want to live my life for a man!” I understand this statement to be true for me at this point in time. I don’t know if I’ll never get there again, but right now everything still smarts and being alone is delicious. The thought of sharing living space with a man or getting married gives me the willies.

Right now I am fiercely defending my little kingdom of three. It takes a lot of energy and resources to govern our wee country, but it’s ours and I don’t want invaders, pilgrims, refugees or settlers occupying it at the moment. Our country has been through disease and then war, and its citizens need to rebuild. There is so much love, light and laughter in our country right now and that’s our secret. We are crafting it to our liking, creating rules for our individual provinces and working together on shared domain. It’s the brightest spot in my life right now and I can’t overstate how protective I am about it all. I am constantly on guard for external threats. I don’t want to let any random person in just because sometimes I get lonely for masculine attention.

We don’t go anywhere
Just on trips
We haven’t seen a thing
We still don’t know where it is
It’s a safe mistake


Grief is that funny not-really-your-friend-friend that sometimes shows up out of nowhere and catches you off guard. Like you’re at a 1990s kitchen party, halfway through a Mike’s Hard Lemonade and Grief shows up. For a second he’s familiar, but you’re also like, “Oh fuck, him again. I know where this is going. I’m going to be weeping in a corner in 10 minutes.” You can’t recall who invited him or how he got there, but suddenly he’s raining on your parade. You think, “Dammit, I thought I was fine, and now I’m a hot mess who can’t function in the adult world! FUCK YOU GRIEF!”

That’s kind of how I felt when I saw the clip. Theo and I have been doing mostly fine, save last week’s financial disaster. We are learning to be friends, grown-ups, co-parents. We need each other, a lot more than we should. It hasn’t been a clean break but a weaning process. I’ve worked hard on letting go of anger, which is a gift to myself at the end of the day. I don’t want to undo that. I don’t want to stew in the bitterness of what could have been and measuring which one of us screwed up worse.

I am happy to have him in my life, in my kids’ lives. But seeing that moment of grief captured to represent the grief of so many fellow fans, it hurt so bad. It’s like the packing tape began to get unravelled, which caused an opening in the box I had stored the grief in and some seeped out. It hurt him too, maybe more in some ways because he loves that band as though they are the sacred vessel for his feelings. Maybe because they are. The thing about feminism is that it’s not just about women. It’s also about the box we put around what it means to be a man, how we shame them for feelings and how society doesn’t give them space for emotional exploration. To me, this is the disease that killed our marriage. This idea is at the root of it.

It’s been a long time running
It’s been a long time running
Well, well it’s all the same mistake
Dead to rights and wide awake
I’ll drop a caribou, I’ll tell on you
I’ll tell on you, I’ll tell on you

I know I’m not the only one. Being where I am in life, I see many women with creative aspirations who are holding it down in office life, while their creative-pursuit-spouses are struggling to find where they fit in the world. As Elizabeth Gilbert says in Big Magic, “A creative life is an amplified life. It’s a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life. Living in this manner—continually and stubbornly bringing forth the jewels that are hidden within you—is a fine art, in and of itself.” Why does only one gender in the marriage get to live like that? And why isn’t it enough?

So these men, they try to make things and some succeed and some just flounder as they struggle with the ideal of masculinity. You must be a breadwinner, a provider, a meal-catcher. And you also must keep your cards close to your chest. And how do you and your poet soul function in a world of meetings and overloaded inboxes? How does your need to live a private, manly life allow your poet soul to soar to great heights? How will anyone experience your art if you can’t share it?

The women realize these men need help. The women know the family must be fed and housed, so they go out there and they slay the boar. They also come home and roast the damn thing. If she is above-average she may even source inspiration on Pinterest! But she is fucking tired, depleted from doing it all. She asks him to help, nicely at first and then with decreasing patience. She offers suggestions, lots of them, she’s full of ideas, she can help!

But he’s a man. He’s gotta figure shit out on his own. He doesn’t need to rely on anyone. He must do this on his terms. In the meantime, she is pining for a different life, one that gives her the time and space to get back to her creativity, her life’s passion beyond her family. She grows bitter, but she swallows it down because she never expected the world to give her anything, whereas he just assumed everything would arrive as smoothly and unexpectedly as an Amazon Prime delivery.

You’ve got a boat-load of nerve
But I would say you’ve been told
You work me against my friends
And you’ll get left out in the cold
It’s the same mistake


I got a note today from someone I have admired from afar, someone who has rebuilt her life in the most beautiful of ways after the death of a spouse and is on the other side of it. No, I am not a fan of that term. She’s on another side of it now. She acknowledged how “unbelievably difficult” it would be to see the clip and then gave me a gift:

“I’ll offer one platitude, that (admittedly) takes a while to believe: you may not be living the life you thought, but that doesn’t mean you can’t live a life you love. Just as so much has changed since that concert, so much will change in another year. Time is a funny and amazing thing. Experience it, feel it. Just hang in there!”

It’s true. A year ago, at that concert, we were married. He had told me he wasn’t in love with me anymore, but I thought we were still trying. Now, a year later, it’s over. Poof! I am trying desperately to buy our family home and not overextend myself. I’m learning how to live alone for the first time ever. There is so much good in my life. SO MUCH. I love my new life. LOVE IT! I’m calling the shots and being present and kicking ass and realizing that I deserve all of it. That I am open-hearted and vulnerable and generous and kind and deserving of good things. 

I LOVE MY LIFE. For the first time in a long time. And saying that out loud doesn’t mean I am tempting the Fates to come and drop a shit sandwich on my plate. There’s no other more waiting for the other shoe to drop. It dropped already and I have a closet full of them so there will be more shoes dropping. Waiting for those awful moments means I’m in stasis and not truly living. Buy the shoes. Wear the dress. Life is occasion enough.

It’s been a long time running
It’s been a long time coming
It’s been a long, long, long time running
It’s well worth the wait
It’s well worth the wait
It’s well worth the wait
It’s well worth the wait

Songwriters: Gordon Downie / Gordon Sinclair / Johnny Fay / Paul Langlois / Robert Baker
Long Time Running lyrics © Peermusic Publishing

Gutted

I love the term gutted. When you think of something like a fish having its innards torn out, then it makes the term so perfect for when you’re feeling like a complete deflated balloon about your life.

Except the fish is already dead (one would hope). That’s a small consolation, but it matters. Whereas you are still alive, but someone has reached in and scooped out your insides, your guts still digesting the banh-mi you had for lunch and your heart fully beating.

Last week I had the floor ripped out from under me at the mediators’ office. They fucked up a spreadsheet, and as the Excel document recalculated the numbers, all the blood drained from my face. The amount I thought I needed to buy out my ex so I can keep our family home more than doubled. I hadn’t checked their math. I’d been elated at the number and found comfort in it. It wasn’t so bad. Until it WAS SO BAD.

In a simple computation, my entire financial future was gone. All the work I have done to reach the top, for nought. All that work, the work of getting over mySELF, owning my bullshit and fighting to improve myself so that I could function in the corporate grown-up world, today it feels like it was for nothing. Because I loved and enabled someone who was depressed and didn’t get proper help for years.  And that person fell so low in their crappy half-hearted quest to define himself that now I will have to sell the farm to stand him up on his feet outside my home.


Years ago, when he had decided he would go back to school, I told him we would need a line of credit to pay for his schooling expenses beyond tuition, and the income he’d no longer be bringing in. But at the time, I was hopeful. I wanted to believe we were investing in a joint future. If I ever get into a serious cohabitation situation again, I will keep my money completely separate.

He balked at the line of credit and said we just needed some lifestyle changes and to get rid of our home phone. Maybe sell the car. So I calmly opened up my spreadsheet and eliminated the cleaning lady, the home phone, our vacation budget and the car. We were still short $1000 a month. “One person can’t do this alone!” he finally realized.

“Um, yeah,” I responded dryly, “Why do you think I’m so nice to you?” Because of course I’d run the numbers. I have journals full of how it felt to be completely neglected, how what he would say to me would cause me to second guess or—worse—hate myself. I’d run the numbers when he was supposed to be making movies but couldn’t get off the couch all day. I’d run the numbers when I caught him on Ashley Madison or when I found he’d watched porn but left all the breakfast dishes in the sink. We live in an expensive city and one person can’t do this alone.


On the flipside, I HAD been doing it alone. His income was always spotty. He had good years, years where he worked while I’d breastfeed babies on government assistance. Years where we made about the same or he’d even made a bit more. But they never lasted. I remember the week I told him I was pregnant with our first, calling him on a Thursday afternoon to find him out playing flying disc golf.

“You NEED to get a job now, do you understand? We’ve got a baby coming and the government is going to tax the $400 a week I get and it will not add up to my salary!” The fight was awful. He went silent, as he always did. His attempts to work always fell a bit flat. Nothing was ever right and to be fair, I wasn’t supportive of the post office job that had the phone ringing at all hours of the night (he was on call) when there was a newborn in the apartment.

Somehow, when the baby was six months old, we bought a house. You could afford to buy a house back then. In the big city, on the transit line. My job got us the mortgage, some money from his mom got us the minimum downpayment. It seemed fair. My maternity leave top-up from my employer was about to end, JUST as the first mortgage payment was about to come out of our joint account. That’s when he finally got an offer for a full-time contract job doing what he wanted to do.

It was shift work, but it had a cadence, a flow. We could plan weekends away based on the schedule, for example. We spent many nights and weekends apart, but it was OK. My memory is fuzzy, but if I compare it to what came after, I’d say it was manageable. But eventually, he felt stifled as an artist and started to hate working there.

The second child came two years later. The goal was for me to freelance write, so I could stay home with her and keep the older one in daycare part-time for socialization and preschool education. “We can make it work,” he’d said, “We just need some lifestyle adjustments.” But then I ran the numbers and it didn’t look like it. Not if I ever wanted to be able to take a vacation or fix the thousand broken things in this century home. So I took a job at a startup, working from home, thinking that the steady income and flexibility the job offered would work for me.

But it didn’t. You can’t get work done with a baby at home unless you are disciplined as hell. And I’m just not. I always felt behind. I was up in the wee hours and would fall behind on my deadlines. When I would ask family to babysit, I’d often get, “But you’re not going to an office” type responses. So I started going to the office of the startup, and sending my beautiful baby to my mother’s for three days each week, in order to be able to work.

I would have nightmares that the baby was lost in the ether, that I’d left her somewhere when I was supposed to pick her up, but I didn’t know where. In the dreams no one knew where she was and I was a horrible mother, trying to make a living instead of taking care of my baby. I was still half nursing her during this time, which had its own issues. I was also going crazy.


When I went to the startup, my ex came home one day and said he was taking a contract job at a big national broadcaster. The hours were unclear, but the content was great. And we dealt. For years he would work from 2-10pm or 3-11pm and every single weekend, while I was working 9-5 and coming home to take care of two very small kids, alone. I’d have two evenings a week to decide what to do with my time: Hang out with him or maybe do something social with others. On weekends I would do the kids’ swim, ballet and soccer on my own. My family was a great help to me during this time.

While home during the day all alone, he would do the grocery shopping once a week and he’d do the laundry while he watched TV. I’d have to go back through old journals or emails to be sure, but I’m pretty sure that not much else was going on. I know I would ask for things to be done and they wouldn’t be done, or I’d email or text him throughout the day and get no response.

When you email or text someone during the day, this is called “turning towards” in relationship counselling circles. Other “turning towards” things are like saying, “Hey guess what happened at work today!” Or, “Did you hear about what Trump did now?” “Do you want to watch Game of Thrones together?” “Do you want to see the new Cohen Brothers movie next weekend?”

Partners that know how to maintain a loving relationship turn towards the other, even if they are in the middle of a juicy article in the New Yorker. They acknowledge the other partner has made an effort to engage them, even if it’s just, “Yeah, that sounds lovely. Let me finish what I’m reading and then let’s talk about it while you have my full attention.”

He was home during the day, alone, and would watch the series we were supposedly watching together and get so far ahead that I couldn’t catch up. I’d just give up. He was home during the day and if he’d respond to my questions, it was clear he hadn’t read through the email thoroughly and wouldn’t actually answer me. He would never initiate a date, never ask me to go anywhere unless his friends invited us someplace.


Then at some point, the grind of the contract work and the crazy hours caught up to him. I urged him to try something else, urged him to align his work with our lifestyle so we could all be home together more often. So he did. He tried a Monday-Friday, 9-5 situation, but the work wasn’t creatively fulfilling. And he started to sink that summer, slowly but steadily, like a boat with a leak.

At that point, I’d been working for about a year in a fancy job that would set me on the career trajectory I’m on today. I’d just won a big industry award, my first, and also started singing in a band for a magazine article. Here’s something I wrote during that time:

“A dozen years ago, I sat in my parents’ kitchen with all my girlfriends around the vinyl floral table cloth. No one was saying it, but we kept eyeing the stovetop clock. “Well it’s five hours ahead there,” someone suggested. “Maybe he’s waiting to be the last person to wish you a happy birthday.”

The evening grew to nighttime and then to midnight. And it was no longer my birthday. He never called.

I ignored his calls for a few days after that. Oh wait, no, he actually never called. A card never arrived. I finally gave in called him, upset, in tears. I told him our long distance affair wasn’t working for me. I told him it was over.

For weeks after, my phone was littered with messages. “I heard a Spice Girls song and it made me think of you.” “I saw a pair of blue shoes, and I couldn’t stop thinking about you.”

Finally, I returned his many calls. He told me he was coming home. Coming back to be with me.

We were engaged months later, and married shortly after that. It was mostly blissful. Then kids came along and things became difficult. But we worked on it, believing that there must be something worth saving under the wreckage.

Today I’m 38. It’s almost noon. Technically I wasn’t born until 4:30pm, so technically I’m still 37 for a few hours. He still hasn’t called. Only he’s not all the way in England this time. He’s at work.

In the last year, I got a promotion, won a prestigious award, battled my demons and got on a stage as the lead singer of a band. I should feel satisfied. But it’s like he barely noticed.

I have a cozy house, a good job and two amazing kids. I have a “community” of friends, as was mentioned to me yesterday. But I still don’t have the one thing that has eluded me for years now.

Him.

Sure, he lives with me. He’s an amazing dad, and the kind of partner who will pick up the pieces on weeks where I’m busy, someone who has made great sacrifices recently to try to make our homelife a bit more stable… but I keep looking for Him, the real him, and I can’t find him. I keep waiting for the day where he emerges and sees me again, for the incredible person I have become. There are glimpses. A day here, a week there, but mostly, I live with this new person who broods in his head and criticizes everything I say or do in the presence of the kids.

He lives with a new person too. One who is more confident and doesn’t need to hold his hand anymore to try new things. One who has a new awareness and acceptance of her shortcomings. One who doesn’t need to have a feisty argument, and has grown up a bit, or so she’d like to think.

But I miss my old friend. I miss sharing our dreams. I miss laughing effortlessly and just enjoying being in one another’s presence. I miss my lover, my soulmate. I miss holding hands and looking longingly in his eyes.

I guess I can get over the fact that he’s not here. That I’m cleaning and cooking on my birthday because I asked for a BBQ that no one’s around to help coordinate. I can get over the fact that he hasn’t called or even texted a birthday greeting yet (after all, that precedent was set years ago). I’ll get over the fact that I made him a weekday breakfast in bed with the kids on his own day and he’s working on mine.

But I don’t know that I’m going to get over the fact that I no longer have a lover and a best friend. I’m seriously unsure about what the next year will bring.”


Everything went downhill after that. In the fall of that year he told me he was smitten with someone at work. By new year, I’d caught him on a dating site for adulterers. He was home a lot, depressed and watching YouTube and Netflix all day, leaving breakfast dishes in the sink and not picking up the kids until the final minutes of daycare, not starting dinner until way too late.

I’d written it off as a midlife crisis at first, and when he turned 40 and got into a university program to retrain himself, it briefly seemed like the cloud had lifted. And I worked. It was all I knew how to do. I worked and got promoted and each promotion was a punch in the face to a man who felt unmanly because his wife was more successful than him. We were a total fucking cliche.

I tried to hold myself back so that he could catch up, but he was headed in the opposite direction. When the depression was at its worst, when I felt like I was living with a ghost, I urged him to get help. He refused his doctor’s prescription for happy pills and wouldn’t take the fancy mood-boosting vitamins I’d bring home. The answering machine was full of missed appointment calls for much-needed counselling.

I held on. I told him that he could push as hard as he wanted, but I wasn’t leaving. I was there for him. I was his wife and I would do as promised. I would stay no matter what. In angry moments, when it was so clear he wanted this burden of marriage to be over, I would tell him that what he envisioned would not happen, that he would not get to stay in this house with the kids, while I fucked off somewhere and just enjoyed my success alone. Hell to the no.

I yelled that I wished he would grow the fuck up. “That’s harsh,” he said. He was so fragile. One night I yelled that he wasn’t the one that was oppressed, that I had creative dreams too that were unfulfilled, and I was shoving them down deep so that I could keep a roof over our heads.


It continued to get worse. I’ve written about it a bit here before. And now, just in this last week, just when I thought my latest promotion meant I could keep all the balls in the air and keep that roof over our heads, BOOM. Like a toddler kicking an epic LEGO build, it all came apart.

The amount I have to pay him to keep the house doubled and I doubled over. I have a medium-sized line of credit, which I could use to pay him half the total amount now. And then I will have to hand over my bonus to him each year until my debt is paid. The carrot that keeps the fight in me, that pays for a grand vacation each year, or fixes the roof over our heads, that carrot will be eaten by him each year. Getting my head around this has left me gutted, and him, not even realizing that he’s holding my insides in his hand.

I am bereft, not only at losing a husband and a partner, not only at losing all the dreams I had for our future, but also all the dreams I had for my new future. I will be in debt until I’m 90, just to make this work. I will have to give my all, even more than I do now, just to make this work. Again he had the gall to say, “You just need to make lifestyle adjustments,” as though getting rid of the cleaning lady and my taxi budget are just things I’ll adjust to as a single mom who works as a director of a department by day.

His poverty consciousness has kept us in this limbo for far too long. I am fucking done with his inability to understand how this world works. I need to cut the fishing line I’m caught on. Toss me back into the sea with my insides and bank accounts emptied out. I will fill up with fresh energy, cleanse myself, heal and swim again.

Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming.

 

Mais feliz

Until yesterday, a Brazilian was a painful bikini wax that leaves you bare as a 2-year-old. (Thanks p0rn!) While I certainly need to tackle my hairiness in a more permanent way now that anyone can see me naked at any time, I’ve got Brasil on my brain and it only sorta has to do with my nether regions.

I met him in an app and I had a good feeling right away. I asked if we could leave texting until I got back from vacation and he agreed, but then messaged me Saturday to see if we could meet. I had a kid-free weekend so I obliged. But on the morning of, I found myself depressed about my life and didn’t feel like going. I barely made an effort getting dressed, which if you know me IRL, is not like me AT ALL. But I walked over anyway, because it was an exercise in getting back on the bike, so to speak.

We met at a cafe nearby, and I almost instantly liked him. He’s older. 10 years older. He’s been through some things. But we had a bit of a soul connection yesterday over espresso and toast. We seem to see the world and life in the same way. We own our trauma and suffering, but refuse to let it define our lives. He’s bald, but fit and has this face you could fall into for hours. I’m calling him Felipe, AKA “The Brazilian.”

Conversation flowed easily. There’s a language barrier, but not an intellect barrier, and an oh-so-sexy accent.  In the middle of our convo, he suddenly exclaimed, “You’re beautiful!” Which was so refreshing after a few weeks of being flattered only in sexually suggestive lingo, like “You’re such a hottie.” (Though I suppose this works for Ali, as he’s just an occasional itch-scratcher.)

At the end of our lovely afternoon, I realized that I really, really wanted to kiss Felipe on the mouth. So as we said goodbye, I did. Or we both did. Hard to say. Just a peck, but with a spark that made me want more.

Tonight we sent lovely, friendly, non-sexy but flirty texts. I’m definitely on his mind as much as he is on mine.  I have no idea where this will go but I have no expectations about it. He lives nearby and likes to bike and for now that’s good enough. He’s a single dad and gets all that comes with raising kids. And he’s not a chauvinist in the least. At least not so far.

We shall see, but I found myself playing Bebel Gilberto tonight…

Unpausing

It’s been a busy few weeks with a vacation in the middle. Oh and a promotion! I got that job!

So I’m happy to report that in the middle of all this, I sorted out my head—however temporarily—when it comes to men and fuckboys.

After the last message I received, requesting a pause, I fucking gave up. I did not respond. But dammit, I’m so hot and bothered lately with the summer and the cycling and the drinking and my tan. Plus I’ve been doing this thing where I look at my naked self in the mirror every day so that I can practice loving myself as I am. I know that sounds like some kooky Oprah shit, but bear with me.

So I’m finally feeling good about this middle-aged bod and I’m ready for some sex therapy. I have a lot of hangups about sex and relationships that come from sexual assault by men in my teens and 20s, and also from emotional and physical abuse from my father that really impacted my self-esteem and my need to feel safe. I’m working on a post about that, but it’s quite personal so I’m taking my time. It will be LONG.

I’ve decided I’d really like to explore my sexuality. I’ve never had a slutty phase. I moved from my parents’ house into my husband’s apartment and the rest is history. My current sexual objectives are two-fold:

1) To be able to separate my emotions from sex, knowing full-well that sex with someone you care about tends to feel the best in your head, but also knowing that I need to get out of my head when it comes to sex.

2) To learn more about myself and this experience of life on earth through sex. I’m a big believer in the fact that being alive in these vessels called bodies is a gift. It seems wrong, as I go through this life trying to connect mind, body, heart and soul, to not use the body as a method of getting to a more ongoing Zen state. (Go ahead. Laugh. I’m good with it.) I hold back on my orgasms, for example. Why is this? Can I let that go? Who is going to help me get there? This is why I’m calling it sex therapy.

OK and maybe the third is this—I’ve only ever slept with a handful of guys and one was kind of a date rape situation after drinking way too much. I am passionate and caring, so I think I’m pretty good in bed (confirmed by current lover, several times, without me asking), but there’s so much I don’t know about. I have the standard vanilla moves, but there’s for sure stuff I haven’t tried, or if I’ve tried them, maybe I haven’t done them properly. Anyway, there’s room for improvement. I’ve basically got to have a lot of sex to be able to formulate what I like.


Maybe a week and a half after being asked to be put on pause and thinking, HELL TO THE NO, lo and behold—PING! I was packing for a week away with my kids when he showed up in my Messenger feed, sheepishly asking if I was free over the weekend. He needs a name here, so let’s call him Ali.

I texted my dating guru pal, Ann St. Vincent, to ask what I should do. She set my mind straight immediately with something along the lines of, “Does he want to take you out or just fuck you?” Ann has this idea that men either take you out once and fuck you and put you in fuck buddy mode or they want to get serious and that there’s really no in between. There are not a lot of Friends with Benefits situations where you get to go out and hang and THEN fuck, without there being a more serious title or label.

So after hyperventillating, I typed back, “Packing for a week away, but that could have been fun. What did you have in mind?”

He responded that he’d had a tough week and was hoping for some “stress relief,” which made me feel like those squishy smiley face balls you can squeeze in your hand. (That may well be an apt depiction of me.) Anyway, clear lines drawn, probably a bit as a result of me saying that I don’t want a relationship right now. But this is going to be a friendship built on fucking from now on. Sigh.

“I dunno, dude…” and then something in me, the thing that had given up on the whole idea and was back at NothingToLoseville, politely named all the things which made hooking up again a bad idea. Namely that I was hoping for a note or something courteous afterwards, that it was a big deal for me even though it is casual and flirty and I’d asked for it specifically. I mean guys, I’ve been eating the same sandwich for 20 years! You suddenly present me with sushi and I’m gonna think, “Well that looks interesting, but I’m kinda used to my sandwich and trying new things is scary!” If you got my hangups, or even if you’re anything a bit old-fashioned and/or culturally/religiously-brainwashed, I think you’ll get why casual sex isn’t easy for me. So it was KIND OF A BIG DEAL! I wanted that acknowledged. Sue me.

I told him that I’m not some app chick. We’ve known each other for six years! Not that he should treat ANY woman the way he did, but we have an established relationship. We have something like 50 friends in common on FB. I also told him that he just needs to be upfront with me. I’m a big girl and can handle it. Don’t manage my emotions or feelings for me, dude.

He apologized, and I do think he was receptive to the message, but I had to decide in that moment if I was going to put up with his bullshit in exchange for pretty great sex. What would you do?

It’s not like I had anything else lined up, so we got to flirting again and I told him I’d message him here and there while away. Don’t judge. I sent bikini shots (nothing too salacious, because I’m no dummy), which is something I could not have done 20 years ago!

Anyway, flirting over text is fun! You have no idea how I lived in a world where flirting over text got you insulted or ridiculed. I am flirty. I love it. I love sharing my dirty thoughts with someone who reciprocates, and Ali is great at it. Bonus that he’s always so complimentary. He makes me feel good about myself. I don’t need him for that job, but it’s nice and I’m enjoying it.

Here’s the other thing, he’s actually a great guy. Someone I care about. Someone whose mind I enjoy, but who would not be a great boyfriend for me. I crave a daily check-in, and he’s never going to be that dude. And honestly, outside of work, it’s hard to know if we’re actually compatible beyond the bedroom. I’m skeptical that this could move to dating so that we could find out, but I adore Ali and I hope that never changes. He came into my life just as I needed what he has to offer. I look at him like a gift from the universe.

3/4 of the way through my trip, after some back and forth about a pretty bike ride I’d taken that he might enjoy, I got a “When are you gonna pedal back home?” Somehow I ended up with a booty call appointment for the day I got back. He wrote the next day that he was looking forward to Friday. So Friday night, I went over there. Late.

His place is nice, and there were hints of personality, but overall it was too austere and pristine for my taste. I can’t really relax when a dude’s place is THAT CLEAN. Like my general perception of him, it reflected a guarded, cultivated enigma. The journalist in me is piecing together clues on what makes him tick, so I totally get why he’s that way, but I also need to pay attention so that empathy and a desire to understand a person does not overrule what is best for me right now.

His bed was huge and comfy, and he lifted me onto it with proficiency, a bit forcefully. So hot. Searing flashes of lightning came through the bedroom skylight while we shagged through a thunderstorm. His body is smooth and I might be a bit obsessed with his skin. He is an attentive lover and when he says, “Get on your hands and knees for me, please,” I grin like a fool and oblige. I’m a kid in a candy store, after years of being deprived of sex and attention. And because I now live in NothingToLoseville, I am uninhibited in a way I have not been in a loooong time.

After two rounds of fun, we lay in each other’s arms quietly and, since I’m new at this, it dawned on me that I should initiate my departure, unless otherwise mentioned. So I said, “I should go soon” and when there was no, “You could always sleepover,” I understood that my perception was right. I don’t know that I would have said yes. Sleeping next to someone is an intimate trust exercise. I’m not ready yet.

He asked if he could call me an Uber, which was a nice move and then he texted me after with a flirty, thankful note. Lesson learned: Ask for what you need. Sometimes that’s tough, especially if the opportunity doesn’t come up.

Which leads me to my date today with the handsome older South American gentleman. I’ll call him Felipe, after the fake name Elizabeth Gilbert gave to her older Brazilian lover (who later became her husband). But I have to sleep, so you’ll have to wait. I can’t get Felipe out of my mind.

 

 

Initiated

I started this blog thinking it would be about finding beauty in the physical, but it’s becoming something quite different altogether. And rediscovering music is becoming a huge theme. In my marriage, I had little say over the music that was played. At one point, we listened to mostly the same stuff. We loved going to concerts together, or walking down to the CD store in Little Italy to get a disc. We’d smoke a j and then listen to the entire album, while the most exciting part of our city wafted in through the windows. Music was something we bonded over, absorbing culture and curating our identities. We were shapeshifters, trying on new sounds, new feels.

I have an unapologetic love of pop music, which is not really what we listened to when we were together. But I recall a road trip where one of us made a CD called Pop Conversion (it must have been me), to convert him into a pop music lover. He was one as a child, but he became more cynical the older he got. In hindsight, it was the first hint of what was to come.

He listened to an alt-country band that I decided to hate and then actually came to hate. He played music that spoke to him, but it was increasingly isolating. Music was just one of the things we weren’t sharing with each other anymore, for whatever reason, and music became an emblem of the increasingly large crevasse that was splitting us apart.

But now, I have all this autonomy in my life. And while it comes at the price of a new loneliness, the songs are becoming my friends and lovers again, much like when I was a teen girl.


Currently, I have a few obsessions. One is listening to Broken Social Scene’s album “Hug of Thunder” daily. OBSESSED! It’s just filling this breezy gap in my soul right now and I want to fall into it, wrap it around me, like a duvet that’s just come out of the dryer. Check out the song “Gonna Get Better” right now. Their new vocalist, Ariel Engle, just kills me dead. I’ll wait.

Future’s not what it used to be
We still got to go there

So basically, I’m not sure if I’m ready for this dating stuff. The game has changed in 20 years. Or maybe it hasn’t but the technology that facilitates it has and now dating has become commoditized. It’s so easy to “shop” for humans. I don’t know who said it, but the person who likened it to a buffet where you don’t want to fill up on something you liked a lot, just in case there’s something better further down the table, was bang on. Most humans haven’t been taught an etiquette around dating in the new way, though one would assume common courtesy and sense would prevail. (You’d be wrong.) I think the old Christian rule works here, “Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.” Or, in plainer, more atheist terms: imagine what it would feel like to hear, see or experience what you’re about to dish out and be nice.

Future’s not what it used to be
You are all whispers, all whispers
Just a whisper
If you can
Got to go there
Future’s not what it used to be
But we still gotta

So when a real life human reached out to me recently, when he held my hand and kissed me and made me feel desirable again—unsolicited, but welcome—I got rather smitten, rather fast. I knew him, he knew me. He would make the perfect Friend with Benefits. So I let myself imagine it, let myself get carried away. Became obsessed with the idea of him kissing me, of him being the one to pop my second cherry (I’ve been celibate for all of 2017). Became obsessed with idea of going to “cute places and artsy things”, going on bike rides, sending flirty texts. Somehow, in my mind, this person was not going to be my boyfriend. He was going to be my friend like he always was, but now we would kiss and go places together.

Except he never really texted, never made an attempt at a second meeting. Oh sure, he’d be enthusiastic after I would message him, but there were subtle tells. “How’s the hottest thing on the east side of the city doing tonight?” (DUDE—there are no boundaries to my hotness.) And also, the intention was to be charming, but something made me suspect that there was a hottest thing on the west side of the city too.

I was under no assumption that he wasn’t dating other people. But I wondered how that could be true considering the intensity that drove him to come onto me. He’d been thinking about being with me for a long time, and I naively assumed that the reason for that was about more than just sex. I felt I had nothing to lose, so I would wait a few days and then message to see if he wanted to see me. But suddenly, the tone of the texts changed. The pursuit seemed to be cooling off. What did I do wrong?

Things’ll get better
‘Cause they can’t get worse, oh
Things’ll get better
‘Cause they can’t get worse
No they can’t get worse
Things are gonna get better

The thing is, it’s rarely about you, girl. It’s often about timing and says more about the other person. When we let anyone into the warehouse, we have to know that there’s a chance that this person may corrupt the ideas we are storing in there, may hurt us. And we have to be OK with it. But since I’m still recovering from a major blow to the heart, I don’t know if I’m ready to be THAT vulnerable again.


Anyway, I went camping and got back and hadn’t heard from him. Messaged days later with a “Friyay!” and asked for good luck with a bunch of job interviews and got an immediate response. But still. no. invite. Still using busy-ness at work as an excuse for not being in touch. I had given him my kid-free dates the week before and in a flirty text exchange he had said, “Oh, I’ll make time.” A shit-ton of emojis were sent. I was confused.

A colleague said I should ask him for a casual date on Saturday night. But when I did, I got a fuzzy response. Not quite a no and not quite a yes, a “maybe if I don’t do this other thing.” Looking back, I quickly fell into my old pattern from my marriage and convinced myself that this was par for the course, that I just have to be patient. His original message from that first night was loud and clear in my mind—he wanted me. And he wouldn’t mislead a friend, would he?

And don’t let them speak for you
And don’t let them speak for you
I can’t hear you
Tell me what you got to say
I can’t hear you

I had a glorious Saturday, but in the background was the humming of the desire to hear from him, to know whether I would see him. I’d shaved and changed my sheets and gotten myself into a horny tizzy. I went to yoga and felt better, but I was done mid-afternoon and realized I would not be getting a confirmation. So I decided to spend the rest of the day not speaking. I read for two hours in the bath and then read for two hours in the yard. I did not post on social media, but I checked my phone compulsively, only to be repeatedly let down by no message.

I finally finished Eat, Pray, Love and was better for it. In the final chapters, during the Love phase in Indonesia, Elizabeth Gilbert realizes that while she’s been celibate for over a year (and in that time gotten right with herself and learned to commune with God), she needed a drought buster. It was time for a rainmaker. Sex is an important part of the human experience. Pleasure is not something to feel shameful about. I heard it, loud and clear.

But what to do? I needed to get out of my head, so I messaged a friend and we went to a nearby bar to bitch. I have no problem filling my time and I know the most incredible women, but hanging out with all these beautiful ladies was not going to get me laid. It’s time! I need to explore myself through my body for a bit. I’m tired of talking.

Things’ll get better
‘Cause they can’t get worse, oh
Things’ll get better
‘Cause they can’t get worse
No they can’t get worse
Things are gonna get better

I came home, tipsy and bitter. I could see he’d liked some things I’d posted on social media. I could see that little green motherfucking dot in FB Messenger that denotes when someone is online. He was there and saying nothing. So I called him on it.

I said I was new to this so apologies for the confusion. That I was going to back away slowly, because clearly I’d gotten the signal wrong. Reply? “No worries. Sorry that I’ve been so busy lately… yadda yadda…” But me drunky, so I replied too, with a playful scolding. “All good. Don’t expect much, just a considerate note so that I’m not waiting around wondering. We’re cool.” I got a “huge apologies” series of sentences. I turned off my phone and went to sleep.

Things are gonna get worse
Things will get better


What in actual fuck? We’re cool? Why did I say that? Because I didn’t want to come off as clingy or desperate? Because I didn’t want to mess up our friendship? Here’s the thing: It wasn’t cool. Any of it. It wasn’t the least bit considerate or polite. I just spent two decades dealing with poor communication. Why the fuck would I want to get dicked around like that again?

Except I woke up in the middle of the night, horny AF. And in the quiet of a house with no children, lying there on cool clean sheets, I asked myself what I needed and what I wanted. I just wanted to get the having sex with someone over with, at least as the consolation prize. And he was the one who put the thought in my head. And he seemed like the closest path to ticking that item off my divorce to-do list.

So I thought, “Why not just ask for what you want?” Well that was new.

I woke up the next morning and did exactly that, using Liz Gilbert words to ask for my drought to be over. And he came over right away and made it rain. Three times for me, twice for him.

It was hot. I had not had that kind of experience in the bedroom for a LOOOOONG time. But it was immediately apparent to me how inexperienced I am. For starters, you quickly realize you need some things around your bed, namely music, lighting, condoms, a trash can for the condom, etc. I lit a candle and chose a random playlist. I was as ready as I was going to be. But also, nervous, awkward. Holy fuck, I invited a man over for sex!

Well I can’t be the most of you
The temperature, once arose
I don’t know what you like
It’s gotta be
A photograph
You cannot believe a mouth
Who knows what they wanted
You cannot believe
Who knows what they want

The playlist was too romantic, too earnest for a booty call. The candle wasn’t the right smell. The trash can was in the bathroom. But I was good, this I know. Not my best, not even close, but good. There was a distance. A weirdness. A lack of honesty somewhere. I just wanted to know where I stood, but I dared not ask. Weeks before, when I’d asked if this was “a thing,” he had replied that it was totally a thing! And then he’d defined what kind of “thing” it would be. Clear. But everything since then was unclear. It was like it wasn’t the same person in my bed.

He was attentive and had clearly read the map to the secret treasure a few times. But something was way different than that first night of just making out. The romance was gone. This was emptier. Not completely, but enough that knowing what I know now, I can confirm my initial uncertainty. I asked for honesty, asked him to tell me what he wanted, but he held back, that was clear. I asked, “Why is it so hard for people to just be honest and upfront with each other?”

“I dunno. Fear?” he responded.

When the playlist got unbearable (I mean, I LOVE “Marry Me John” by St. Vincent, but it’s not a sex song), I asked him what music he’d like to hear and he deferred to me. I asked him about dating and he said there was no one really. He spoke of one relationship that fizzled due to fundamental differences in communication styles. Mm-hmm.

Then, when it was all over, while he was getting dressed, he said, “If you’re going to have more men down here, you may want to rethink your playlist. That was too intense.” Uh… thanks for the tip?
Things’ll get better
‘Cause they can’t get worse, oh
Things’ll get better
‘Cause they can’t get worse
No they can’t get worse
Things are gonna get better


I got weird too. I reflexively answered the phone when my ex called, because I panicked that they were headed to the house. Bad idea. Sometimes I am so comfortable being me that I miss social cues or common sense. I over communicate, over share. I’m not sure which style is worse.

Mid-week, me drunky again. So I message him on FB, “So, Sunday was fun… Can we do that again or just a one-off?” He immediately logs off. I woke up the next morning and could see he’d read it (stupid social media). Still no response. So I meditated. I danced to Bahamas while doing my hair. I rode my bike in the rain. This is what Taylor Swift might refer to as shaking it off.

Later that afternoon, a shite response.

“Good question! I had a really whirlwind couple of dates with a new lady the last few weeks and I’m not quite sure where it’s going, but it may be going serious. Can we hit pause for now and let me see how that plays out?

Your head in my heart
Your head in my heart
Head in my heart
Head in my heart
Head, heart
Head, heart

I am a bud. Just one of the guys. Who happens to be a hot woman with a fine ass. When I was younger, boys would lay with me, and want to hang out so I could make them laugh, but the girls who were OK to make themselves smaller were preferable to my loud, brash, open self. My ex treats me the same way. He flirts, makes it clear he’d like to sleep with me, but he doesn’t want to do the rest of the work to be with me. Here I am, in the same boat I was in my early 20s. Good enough to lie with, but not a lady enough to pursue romantically. Fuck it.

When I reflect upon it, I don’t actually believe that statement to be true. In fact, I deeply believe that the right person for me IS out there. And before I find him, I think that a pretty good person—a mensch who wants to be an occasional +1 and my lover—is out there for me, too.

I thought I’d be angrier about the note. I thought I’d feel more hurt and embarrassed. What I’m most surprised by is the incredible gratitude I feel for the lesson I learned. Mama waits for no man. Mama’s destiny is not defined by any one person. I am not a pair of ankle boots that are not quite a fit for your summer wardrobe and need storing until the fall.

This is the game now, and I’m not ready to spend my time playing it just yet. There are words to be written, and a warehouse space that I’m enjoying sprucing up. And small people who love me so much and that I worry I’m not doing a good enough job of being a mother for. I can fill my days easily. And this week, shark week, that’s enough to fill my bucket.