My gap year

I saw Ali again. He messaged me after a week away (and forgetting to mention he was working in another province for a week). He got back and realized that he’d just missed my free weekend and was bummed. I was high off my date with Mr. Saturday Night and didn’t feel like indulging him for shit, and yet who knew how MrSN was gonna go? I want to occasionally break one off (or four) as much as the next girl, and Ali is so damn good at making me feel like a goddess. I told him I could maybe find some time and would let him know.

After I made the mistake of inviting MrSN to a late-April event too soon (I’m the consummate planner and this can hurt me as much as help), as much as I wanted to give him my rare free Sunday, he never asked so I left it. Plus, I really do love hanging out with Ali, I just don’t love the long silences in between. I want a daily little zing on my phone, or every few days at least, but Ali can put me on the shelf for far too long for my liking. There’s something about being a considerate partner, one who knows to check in every few days, or just help the cadence along with a “saw this and thought of you” or a “you crossed my mind in a meeting, so just saying hi.” I reluctantly told Ali he could have my Sunday but we needed to DO something other than just shag, because frankly I feel empty when our encounters are only X-rated. To my joy, he agreed with me.

But as the date grew closer, it was clear he had planned nothing. His mind was on the A+ sex (and who could blame him?), but I really want to be treated like more than a plaything, this much I now know. “Will everything be closed for Easter?”

“Looks like you have your homework cut out for you,” I retorted, with a winky face to take the bitchiness out of my text. God! Do some work! Why am I always with men who don’t want to make the effort for me?


My fucking ex told me over Easter brunch that he took his date dancing to new wave music and it took every ounce of energy for me not to reach across the table and poke him with a knife covered in hollandaise sauce. We’ve been chatting casually about our dating lives, which feels good and also weird. But on Sunday, we did the Easter egg hunt at his place and then went for a walk and took the kids out for brunch and all was fine! For the good of the kids, and all that. Until he quietly mentioned that he’d been on his third date in a week with a woman and took her dancing the night before.

Then I was wrecked. Would it have killed him to take me dancing on occasion? He knew how much I love to dance. It’s appalling how little effort it would have taken to make things better with us, effort that he REFUSED to do. Then the wound opens again. “He didn’t love you like that,” it whispers. “He didn’t want to love you like that. He couldn’t love you like that. He didn’t have the capacity to love you like that. He said it over and over and you didn’t want to believe it. Just accept it and let go.”

Because of the Easter parade in his neighbourhood, we came back to my house and they all piled on the couch to watch TV. I had made the aforementioned plans with Ali, because—if I’m honest—having intense sex with him numbs my brain and also makes me feel like I’m rebelling somehow. Like if I fuck Ali for four hours then I’m somehow getting back at Theo. Which the rational part of my brain knows is not true, but the teenage/alligator part of my brain wants to believe is the antidote to feeling sad about how my marriage went out.


My first sexual relationship was like this too. He was terrible for me. Everyone knew it and I knew it too but somehow I was determined to see it differently. I remember cruising downtown on a Saturday night down the city’s main street, passing a median where cute boys were standing and when our car got stopped in the bumper to bumper traffic one yelled out to me, “Hey are you Manny Rodrigo’s girlfriend?” Why yes, I exclaimed, excited that Manny was telling people about me. The boy looked at me and smirked, and just as our car started rolling again, yelled, “He cheats on you ALL THE TIME!”

It was 1992 and skinny eyebrows were all the rage. Linda Evangelista, Helena Christensen, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington… all the supermodels of the era were sporting them. I was 18 and fashioned my look on Madonna’s Erotica, sporting crop tops with men’s pants and berets and very skinny eyebrows. I came down for dinner one night and my father reprimanded me for making my brows so skinny. “It’s the style,” I argued, “You don’t know anything about FASHION!”

madgeskinnybrows

“You look like a whore.”

I was so mad. What the fuck did he know? I was 18 and newly sexual and did he know how lucky he was to have a daughter who only had one sexual partner at 18? If he thought he had a whore for a daughter, I’d show him. So I drove to see Manny and fucked him silly, putting on my best whore performance.

I know that didn’t hurt my father, because it’s not like a sent him a VHS tape of the event. I also know that having sex with “He cheats on you ALL THE TIME” with no condoms and just birth control pills was fucking stupid (I was SO DAMN lucky it’s not even funny). Just like I know that shagging Ali on Sunday for four hours wasn’t going to hurt Theo. So why do I go there? And why can’t I just own my own sexuality without the idea of a patriarch that I need to get back at, or a kinky man driving my actions so that I don’t have to be accountable for my desires?


But Ali. His apartment was beautifully sunny. He’d put up some photographs and prints with more character since the last time I’d been over. He’s been studying my place and taking notes on what makes it warm and inviting, so I was flattered that he’d made changes after our last conversation about my decor. But I know they are not for me. Ali is about power. His appetite for more is insatiable, and putting pictures in a frame that make him seem like he’s got a strong sense of where he’s from is all part of him trying to stake out his turf in the big world. He is so beautifully complex, but I also worry that the writer in me fills in his blanks in a way that he might not see himself.

Here’s a guy whom I perceive as being often distant or unavailable to me in the way that I want or need a guy to be with me. But when he wants me, Ali WANTS me. He thinks I’m amazing and says things like, “What do you have to be neurotic about! Fine as hell, brilliant, career angled sharply upwards…” He’s a fan, and having sex with him is lovely, because he adores me physically and mentally. But there is no soul connection, and he’s so much an atheist and a logical thinker that I don’t think he gets that.

In his mind, he’s thinks giving me what I’ve stated I want. I asked for a sexual relationship and he delivers. But what’s missing is the other part, the dating and doing stuff together because we actually have fun together. He thinks he’s an open book, and if I ask him questions, he does answer thoughtfully, but part of him is behind a wall somewhere. He’s always a bit cagey because he’s dating so many women and doesn’t know what he wants from his future. And I don’t think he will know until it stops him dead in his tracks.

We cuddled on the couch for a bit and the goal was to go for a walk and then come back to Shag City. We talked about how our dating experiences on the apps were going and he did mention casually—in between kisses—that while we’d started out X-rated, maybe we should consider dating each other officially. Bah! I don’t even know what to make of that? What would be different? So I just kept kissing him until eventually the couch action proved too racy and exciting, so we agreed to change the order of events around and headed to the bedroom.

What followed was epic. Hours of fun with a wee nap in the middle and FIREWORKS at the end. He has this gorgeous skylight that flooded the room with light, and when he spooned me and fell asleep, I could hardly close my eyes for the smiling. He’s definitely a generous lover and is verbal with his praise and adoration of my physical self and my sexual prowess. (Hey, I’m in my FORTIES—I’ve got some chops!) And that is truly yummy in the moment. It’s like buying jeans that make your ass look good. Except with jeans, you can put them on whenever you want. In Ali’s case, the jeans decide when I get to wear them.


Eventually we got up and walked to get a bite to eat. We talked about dating and dating apps and weird experiences. I tried to be thoughtful and ask questions, but there’s something about our conversations that just don’t… FLOW. At least, not for me. We picked a place with a vibe and food that was too pricey. He’d been drinking the night before so he chose a soda and a salad. But I was happy to be with him, happy that he and I can be really honest when we choose to be. Still something niggles at me. Something makes me feel sad when I leave him, and it’s not because I miss him. It’s because there’s something missing in me.

This sadness followed me into the next day and I ended up having what I call a “Bad Divorce Day,” where the grief at the loss, the loneliness and the feelings of being unlovable overwhelm. I know this is bananas, because I have an abundance of love in my life. But there’s this nagging feeling about how hard it will be to actually find someone to partner with who can love me the way I am. Which, as I write this, I know that’s a story I’m going to keep perpetuating if that continues as my focus. I have to work to change the script. And maybe, after running it by Dr. X, the key is going to be to cut both Theo and Ali out of my life to make room for someone who is just right.

I do have a new realization after the events of the past few weeks. I’d like to fall in love again. I’d like to bet it all in the hopes of finding someone to swoon over. What I will no longer do is put any expectations of forever on that someone. Whatever happens happens. I want to be a bit of a tourist. I can love New York and London and Paris and Madrid and Montreal all for different reasons, and I’d like to live in them all before I die. Istanbul will always have my heart, but we aren’t meant to be together for long. There’s something in this metaphor that may be worth exploring while my kids are such a big part of my life. Would it be possible to find a few great men, who would fulfil my emotional and physical needs for a few years until I’m really ready for another life partner? Could it be like visiting my favourite cities over and over again?

Maybe taking a traveller’s approach to dating is the way forward. I’ve decided this is my gap year. The year I try a bunch of experiences to see where the gaps are, what needs filling, and where I need to grow to fill those gaps, rather than filling them with someone else. But if the men I date are like the places I would visit were I 22 and backpacking through Europe, that’s OK, because each destination will be special in its own way for what it teaches me about myself. More to come as I test out this idea.

 

Mr. Saturday Night

Mr. Saturday Night is a poet soul. I am a sucker for a poet soul, even though I am one myself. If that sounds a bit off, it’s because I don’t believe that two poet souls can exist in harmony. Someone has to be able to pay the bills and wash the dishes and know it’s tax season. Someone has to look up from the foggy haze that making art creates when one is in flow and say, “Shit, if we want to be productive adults, we should probably go to bed.”

But Mr. Saturday Night has a job. OK he has jobs. He is maxing out the gig economy. He is taking all of his myriad talents and making a quilt of a career out of them. And that kind of passion is intoxicating. He’s found success in what he loves most, weaving history and acting and teaching into something tangible.

He has an affected way of speaking: calm, methodical, thoughtful. He’s honed his stories over and over and from only one date I know I got some good ones, but that I’ve not nearly scratched the surface. He’s in love with his neighbourhood and tries to learn everything about its history. I am a bit smitten.

I’m trying to enjoy the feeling of having a date where I could get a bit floaty, but it doesn’t sit well with me. Because WTF do I actually know about this person? I am hopeful this could be a nice thing that floats me into the summer, but I can’t bet the farm on it. And yet, I found myself doing that this week. Speaking about Mr. Saturday Night as though we’ve had more than just one date. Silly, romantic Maria. It’s not her heart that can’t be trusted, it’s her fucking mind.

I met him at a bar he knows well. He’s clearly brought a lot of dates there, I got the hunch, from the way the server knew to automatically split our bills at the end of it without him saying a word. But we spoke for three hours straight, maybe a bit more. And he was so engaging, as I think was I, that I did not notice one of my dearest male friends, Lars of the peaches, sitting next to me at the bar until I got a text from him Sunday morning. Mr. Saturday Night is sparkling.

Red flags are there, but I’m proceeding with awareness this time, rather than trying to ignore them. Will this become something long-term? Who knows? But right now I’m just looking for a summer man friend and he is certainly a strong candidate. We’ve been flirty texting throughout the week. He makes me smile. He’s certainly a match for my wit, which is nice (I detest when guys can’t volley). But I find I’m trying to learn how to play my cards, which feels absurd. He’s the one I want to see, why do I have to wait until he suggests an outing?

As I was grappling with this, an event promo came in for something that combines theatre and a museum. I should have got the tickets and just waited to ask, but fuck, I’m tired of having to play the dumb ingenue, can’t I just fucking ask a guy when I want to do something with him? So I did, I texted an invite and then I waited for what felt like an agonizingly long time. When he accepted with a lovely “I would love to accompany you to this extravaganza,” my heart clapped. So what’s the problem?

The event isn’t until the end of the month, meaning I may have overshot it. I’m free this next weekend, but how can I put that out there? Can I ask him out again, before the big event? Or do I just subtly mention that I am available and see what transpires? Do you see what is happening here?

Readers, I need comments here. Do I just lay the cards as I fucking want to? Do I just call bullshit on patriarchal dating norms and do whatever the fuck I want, regardless of outcome and consequences? Do I say, hey, I’m free this weekend and I don’t want to wait two more weeks to see you? Is that preposterous? And if you think I should come out with it, do I do that Monday? Wednesday? Thursday night? GAAAAAHHHH!

My life was so much simpler when I’d written men off for eight months. Still don’t think I’m fit to date and yet I’m having so much fun this time that I don’t want to stop exploring. That’s a good thing, right?

 

So free

I don’t know how much longer I can keep this up in the way I have been. At some point, I’m going to meet someone really special. And then what do I do? Do I hide this from that person? Do I admit it? Do I let them read?

Maybe if I don’t give a damn what anyone thinks of me, regardless of the outcome, I just bear it all and am OK with it. The right person will accept me as is. But will they? Am I too much? Do I reveal too much?

I went on three dates this weekend. I decided to date a variety of ages and walks of life, because you don’t know what you don’t know. My type 20 years ago was a handsome, artsy boy who read stuff and knew the names of bands I liked (or should like). Funny, because apparently that’s still my type, just in man form.

#1 was a nightmare and I need to turn it into a comedy without being terribly offensive. I will just say, open marriage dude with a SIX MONTH OLD baby at home. Go home to your wife! Jeez!

#2 was young in the very best way. Do you remember what 27 was like? You were full of LIFE! Possibility! Options! And this guy knew it. He knew every ounce of privilege he occupied and he was grateful for it. Adorable. Educated. Great conversation. Sweet AF. But if I’m honest, there was sexual chemistry lacking on my part. He was def into me and that was great! I mean I’m not zen enough to not get flattered by that. I might take him to a ball game in the future.

#3… smitten. Just like that.

Gonna leave it there because it’s late and my battery is almost dead and I really want to give the story of Saturday night time to percolate, because it was kind of magic. But you know what? I didn’t freak out. I had only slight moments of “should I text?” but then left it be. (Spoiler alert: He texted today and man did I get a zing from a simple, “How was your Sunday?”)

Ali is back from a trip he forgot to mention he was going on (typical), so I had somewhere to put my flirt energy. I told him I’d only see him again if we did more than just fuck. Putting my foot down. I need to have my brain stimulated. Funny enough, he agreed.

Plus, hot off the presses!! Drew from work is humming around this orchid, building a friendship with me slowly, just behind me on the divorce timeline. I’m his dating and divorce sensei, like Ali is for me. Does he want to sleep with me? I certainly hope so, because he is gorgeous and really nice. But I also kinda want to date him. He has a good heart. Fragile, like mine. He’s kind and thoughtful and doesn’t treat people like shit. In fact, I like him so much, I’m just gonna park that as a friendship and see how that develops. Can I be my honest self with him and he still wants to pursue the next step? Would be nice, but I’m not going to go into this with that intention. I could use a friend. I’ve forgotten how to be friends with men. And it’s nice to have someone to vent to with no expectations for anything more.

All this to say, the horse is out of the barn now. When spring finally decides to show its arse to the northern hemisphere, I’m so ready.  It’s time for my rebirth and everything’s coming up tulips.

Random thoughts from earlier this week that needed an edit

**Giving this another path because stream of consciousness dictating into your phone is not quite the technology it needs to be yet.

I have a Theo reunion fantasy playing in my head as of late. It might be because I’m ready to start dating again. Well, I’m not ready, but it feels like maybe I should give it a shot. Of course this coincides with Theo and I getting along better than we have in over a decade. Suddenly he is the thoughtful, appreciative, giving human being that I fell in love with. And I know it’s a trap. I know in my heart of hearts that this can only exist because we are not together. And that is so fucking sad. Because at our best we were magic. We were the mystical wonders who made two incredible human beings out of love.

So here is how my fantasy goes. He asks me out, simple. He takes me somewhere awesome, maybe our usual spot, a dark little bourbon bar that has great food. He does something chivalrous— a romantic, sweeping gesture like he did when we were first together. He’s assertive with the kids when they ask where we’re going. “I’m taking your mother out to show her that I appreciate all that she does.”

After dinner he walks me home and he tells me he can’t live without me. He takes me up to the top step, right by the door that opens into the house we bought together so many years ago. And then with me on the top step, with him down a step to even out our height difference, he tilts my chin towards his face and suddenly he kisses me in the way that only he knows how.

Suddenly I’m engulfed by the mouth I know intimately and by heart. This goes on for sometime. Weeks go by. We go to our social worker to get her blessing and surprisingly she gives it to us. He moves back in. We make plans to get a bigger place because suddenly he doesn’t fit here anymore. And this house is full of sad memories that the happy ones don’t quite erase. He makes me coffee every morning, like he does now, except he brings it down to my bed each day with a kiss and the look of tenderness.

Edited to add: Looking at this description again, I realize that none of it is about sex. If I read it back to myself, it’s about being noticed and appreciated just as I am. It’s about connection and value. And frankly, now that I will be exposed to more sexual adventures, I’m realizing that it’s not a priority for me. That, for me, good sex is a byproduct of connection and intimacy. It’s important but it’s not the tentpole. It’s just indicative of the health of a relationship.


We do nice things for each other now, and these days we actually notice them. So getting back together feels so natural in that way. But I have to remember that the reason there is no resentment is because we don’t live together. And yet when I look at him some days, and overwhelming desire to hold him in my arms and kiss his face takes over. And I’m so scared to say it out loud. Because we tried that for so many years and it only ended in heartbreak. And I can’t possibly imagine myself doing that again.

Today I realized I’m not crying as much as I was a year ago, and that was profound. I posted an Instagram story to commemorate that moment with that realization. I’m happy here, now. I feel it, and Theo’s happier too. Neither of us seems to be enjoying dating. Above all else he really misses his time with the kids. And I struggle when events happen with three of us that the fourth person can’t participate in because of the separation. In some ways it would be so easy to go back to how we were. Except, it wouldn’t. I know this and yet the fantasy lingers. I wonder if it’s the same for the kids.


My daughter is at that age where she’s getting pre-pubescent hormonal nightmares (she’ll be 11 this summer). She came down to my basement bedroom in a tizzy last night around 10:30. I told her to crawl into my bed, as there’s space to do that now that her dad is living in an apartment a 10-minute drive away.

“I’m feeling really scared right now,” she said in a small voice. I told her that I knew the feeling, that she is so much braver than I was at her age, that I had been afraid of a lot of things, growing up with post-genocidal anxiety that was handed from my grandmother to my mother and down to me. “I used to be scared of bees, animals, of my own shadow!”

“What are you afraid of now?”

“Well I’m always the most worried that something terrible could happen to you or your brother. The second thing I was always most worried about was that your dad and I wouldn’t be together. (Pause.) But that happened… and I survived.”

“You know what? You’re stronger since dad left.”

“How so?”

“Well you used to rely on dad to do lots of things for you. Because he was your man. He was THE man in house. But now, YOU’RE the man. You’re the man-woman.”

Whoa-man. Heart-swell. Kids say the darndest things.

Everything’s coming up Winehouse

Every time I go to hang at my friend Lars’s house, he puts on Back to Black on vinyl for me. It was the tail end of summer and he’d just enthusiastically procured flats of peaches and called me over for our annual canning session. His wife Zofia and I poach, pit and peel, but Lars is the sterilization and syrup master. He runs a tight ship. And that’s part of the joke, really. He’s so stern with us, that we invoke sulky teenagers who are forced to spend time doing chores when we’d rather be riding bikes.

Every January when I open a jar of summer, I say a prayer of thanks to my friend for insisting we do this crazy thing that takes a whole day and wrinkles our fingers and stickies up the floor, with an adorable terrier trying to trip us the whole time.

He plays the epic Winehouse LP on every visit, because one time, before Zofia was in the picture, we went to karaoke together and I sang “Rehab.” And whether he has a clear memory of this or not (I’ve never asked), Lars has somehow connected me to Amy Winehouse in his mind. A fellow big schnoz babe with a furry face, I love Winehouse, but to be honest, I never REALLY listened to Winehouse, at least not with intent until this past holiday season.


I am a big lover of Christmas. It’s my jam. I’ve always made a big production of it, for my entire life. I’m the girl who starts playing Christmas music in November. IDGAF, I love the ridiculousness of the whole thing. It’s the same reason I love Celine Dion, or period films. I love pomp and circumstance. I love overt gestures. I love when anything is done big and loud and proud.

But this Christmas I was a mess. I spent Christmas Eve with my parents (watching a period piece). I woke up early Christmas morning and drove out to my ex-in-laws in a snowstorm, to watch my kids open their gifts. It was the first of maybe 19 Christmas Eves that I did not spend with all of them, at my ex-MIL’s house. And it was ROUGH. My ex-MIL, who is not evil (not since she stopped being shitfaced daily anyway) gave me a passive aggressive greeting card. It said, “Merry Christmas to the both of you.”  Which was kind of hilarious, but also she didn’t do it for any sense of irony, just “why waste a perfectly good card?”

I spent NYE completely alone. By choice. I made a bubble bath and bought myself a baby bottle of Veuve, moved the TV to the bathroom and rang in the New Year watching Call the Midwife. Hashtag: #doublebubbles. But leading up to all that was so fucking painful. I don’t even know if I fully understood that pain. It was like when I went to go get my tattoos. I was in a trance, completely out of body—no, the opposite, so completely in my body, but also in that quiet room in my brain. The holidays were like that, too. I was getting through, but going into the panic room in my mind, hiding the bodies there.

And so my love affair with Winehouse began. Because listening to someone else spilling their entire soul into a work of art was preferable to tuning into my own.


For you I was a flame
Love is a losing game
Five story fire as you came
Love is a losing game
One I wish I never played
Oh what a mess we made
And now the final frame
Love is a losing game

Theo and I have been talking. He has been making eyes at me again, but I have not indulged, even if it would feel really goddamn good. One Friday night, he asked if he could buy me a drink while waiting for our daughter to come out of music lessons. I should not have had a second bourbon cocktail in under 30 minutes. But I did, and I started to reveal things and to ask things. I told him that I was kind of seeing someone, if you could call it that. When he asked if I could take our daughter the next day (it was my weekend off), I told him about Ali and our impending date the next night. Then I told him how Ali is in his thirties and can go three rounds in three hours and how he’s just for me right now, just for fun. I shouldn’t have. And yet… was there a part of me that wanted Theo to hurt?

Then, boomerang to the face.

“I was seeing someone too,” he said quietly. When pressed, it turned out she was a young woman he used to work with. A 20-something ballerina, because OF COURSE. And I should know better. Boundaries, blah, blah, blah. But I went there. WE went there. I saw her tall, perfect-postured, size-ZERO photo. “What was it like, being with her,” I found myself asking. “Do you really want to know?”

“Yeah.”

“Well she was young, so she really wanted… to learn.”

“Aww, your teaching degree finally came in handy!” Laughter from both of us. He told me she was ultimately boring and not funny, so it pilfered out. Yeah mofo, because this kind of humour comes from crazy and crazy is work! “Are we friends now?” he asked. Sure, I replied, why not. It was one of those “fuck it” moments where suddenly you are going there, like when you have a Big Mac combo (and maybe a McNugget appetizer) and it seemed so fine and cool when you decided to do it, but the next day you feel like total shit.

But somehow the thing that has survived this fucked up scorched earth of a year is our friendship. It’s like the cockroach in Wall-E, it refuses to be incinerated. It’s here to stay, in this ugly, unforgiving landscape. Because there’s still life on this planet.


Played out by the band
Love is a losing hand
More than I could stand
Love is a losing hand
Self professed, profound
‘Til the chips were down
Know you’re a gambling man
Love is a losing hand

We had another boundary issue when Theo walked in on my “session” with Ali on the weekend. And that is a really funny story that I want to tell in full humour mode, not in this sulky, “who the fuck am I and where did this all go wrong” mindset. But let’s just say we now have a code in place and it’s called “going offline for a few hours,” which I thought was really apparent while being subtle when I texted that, but apparently not, because SURPRISE! Anyway, lesson learned.

The day after THAT incident, we all went to the movies as a family and it was nice. I like that we can hang out. It’s awesome for the kids. But it’s also confusing because fuck, don’t we all just want to be a family in the real way again? Like if you eat vegan cheese all the time, don’t you sometimes just want to go down on a double cream Brie? Don’t you wish you could stay there forever without enslaving cows?

Let’s just say that it’s been a month of openness and transparency and that’s lead to some comfortableness in what we are sharing and how we are talking to each other. So we went to what I will forever refer to as “the Big Mac” place again today. I texted him to ask if I could have a second weeknight off during the weeks, now that the job he’s working on is wrapping up. He was weird about it, like why would I be asking for more equal distribution of time with the kids? Or maybe he was miffed that I said it was 75/25 right now (pretty damn close when you add it up). He doesn’t count the hours they sleep in my house, he only counts awake time, so you can see where this gets complicated.

I was honest and said, “Look I’m going to start dating with intention soon, not just fucking around, and I need time to be able to explore that.” And that turned into a looooong text exchange and he was left feeling like the one who just ate a Big Mac I think. There’s always that moment where I think, he could just come out and say it! Just ask! I would consider it. Because I still love him, though not in the same way I suppose. Deep down I am still that girl who wanted her father to love her, who became the woman who wanted her husband to love her. I got my father’s love in adulthood, when I let go of needing him to be like other fathers. But would I, could I, ever get the same with Theo?


 

I finished my fave breakup podcasts: Alone, A Love Story, A Single Thing and the ex-husband/ex-wife combo that did the fantastic Our Ex-Life podcast decided to call it quits on the cast, because the dude started dating someone seriously and I think it bugged her. So today I started Esther Perel’s Where Should We Begin? Coincidentally, the day that Theo told me that he no longer wanted to be romantically involved with me, I began listening to Perel’s book, Mating in Captivity.

The premise is that Perel gets one counselling session with couples in crisis, and each episode reveals the massive fault lines under the bedrock of every kind of marriage. The second episode, with two moms struggling to make each other feel special and loved under the weight of little kids destroyed me. Because I found myself back in the place I lived in for so long, where I wanted to desperately for Theo to feel loved, and I wanted to feel loved and appreciated myself.

There was talk of defining roles. One person has to be the planner of the date, the other person has to be the planner of the logistics of the children so the date can happen. And these women, they so clearly loved each other, you could hear it. They were just missing the path to connection over and over again. And that’s when I started sobbing uncontrollably in the car.

“He couldn’t do it, remember! You were doing it ALL. All the roles were you. And he kept saying that he didn’t have the capacity to love you how you needed to be loved. He refused to meet you halfway. He refused to date you. He kept saying the children came first and you kept telling him that making time as a couple was ultimately good for the children and he refused because he didn’t want to be with you and you just have to fucking accept that!” my inner voice screamed. Heck, I may have said some of that out loud.

Every, single time I think about getting back together, my wound reveals itself, reminds me that our marriage was cast aside like an orange rind. Like something that was once so whole and perfect, it contained all of our life, but now there was no putting it back together or seeing it the same way. It was refuse, and we were left exposed, vulnerable, thin-skinned, in pieces.

Though I betted blind
Love is a fate resigned
Memories mar my mind
Love, it is a fate resigned
Over futile odds
And laughed at by the gods
And now the final frame
Love is a losing game


I went down the Winehouse rabbit hole in the dark months of winter. I listened to Back to Black on repeat. “I died a hundred times,” she sings on the title track, and didn’t I feel exactly that? I wanted to know every lyric, every inflection. I wanted to crawl inside her hurt and wear it like a blanket. The album became the holding place for my own pain, like a machine I could put my broken heart in to have it come out as polished as beach glass. Garbage, but pretty garbage. Smooth garbage that could become something worth looking at.

Then I watched the movie.

I’d been putting off watching Amy, which won an Academy Award for Best Documentary, because kind of like watching Titanic, you know how it’s going to end and it’s not pretty. And man did I ache, watching a talent so rare be destroyed by the media machine and by her own hand. To be consumed by heartache. To live in the place of longing and worthlessness. It’s so terrible to watch a bright spark be unable to see the shiny diamond she is. I think my friends felt this about me, too. My relationship consumed me and anger ate me from the inside out. I was mentally bulimic. I would put good things inside me in the form of experiences or art or meditation, only to barf it out to make room for the demons. I just wanted him to see his fault in it all, as if somehow that was the way out. As if somehow that would make it all better. Instead it took us both down, like the heroin did Amy and Ray-Ray.


The day Lars, Zofia and I canned the peaches, it became clear that we needed help if we were to get it done with an evening to spare. So I texted Theo to ask if he and the kids would mind helping us. So they joined us, pitched in, laughed and in the end we all went up to the roof deck for shawarma as the sun set, pink and orange on our famous city skyline.

So we are history
The shadow covers me
The sky above
A blaze that only lovers see

This family, it’s not quite a masterpiece, but it’s a work in progress.

The peaches? Perfection.

On self-confidence

I’m supposed to be working on my book. But, reasons.

I’ve had A WEEK, but I’m on the other side of it and wrapped up a huge presentation by going to therapy over lunch. In therapy I talked through some of the things I’ve been going through and some of the breakthroughs I have had. I’d like to get them down here, because maybe those insights could help you on whatever journey you’re on too.

I haven’t been to therapy since before Christmas, which is part of the reason I know I’m getting better. I’m not not-anxious, I’m not perfect, but I’ve got coping skills now. When I have a panic attack or a crazy-session, I have this inherent knowledge that it’s going to be OK. I have this little place inside myself where I can go to find calm. I have a feeling that that tiny spot will grow into a huge palace if I spend enough time there.

I went to therapy to debrief. A check-in of sorts. Because talking to someone who will call you on your shit is glorious. I told her about a three-day leadership program I did that was earth-shattering. Work sent me and I was surrounded by supportive colleagues I had never met before, who brought to my attention that I have a self-confidence issue. My therapist suggested that I work through it in my writing. (However my table at Just Write the Damn Book Club is chatting about Tessa and Scott—my favourite pasttime—so not sure how this is going to go.)

I am a woman who second guesses herself. A lot. In her parenting, in her outfit choices, but most prominently at work. I still act like the kid at the grown-ups’ table and somehow can’t grasp that I am now the grown-up! I don’t need to check with mommy every time I have a decision to make. And yet my instinct is to use a sounding board, or run it past someone before I commit.

And I think a lot of that has to do with being gaslit for so fucking long. For having to check everything against whether or not it was my crazy talking. It probably goes further back than that, to my childhood, where I had no autonomy or agency, because my mother dictated everything. And so I’ve forgotten how to trust myself. That part is clear to me now. In fact I can’t recall if I’ve ever truly trusted myself. How I get out of that cycle is what I’m going to spend some time on over the coming weeks.


Speaking of second-guessing things, things with Ali are… spicy… and confusing. And that’s actually the thing I want to explore today. Two weeks ago, Ali and I went on a real date, one that felt more like a boy and a girl getting to know each other. And that confused the fuck out of me, because, like most women, I’m an over-thinker. So when he asked me questions about what I might be looking for in a relationship, I skipped over the obvious, which is, “Here we are, two friends who fuck, and he’s asking me this question because he cares about me, NOT because he wants you to be his girlfriend.” I went straight to, “OMG! Maybe he’s falling for me.”

Humans are so terrible at actually HEARING each other. I read a quote from Elizabeth Gilbert (and I’m paraphrasing, so I’m gonna fuck it up further), where she received letters after writing Eat, Pray, Love and the letters would be all, “Girl! I relate to your story so much. It’s almost like I could have written it! That part where you talk about how your ex abused you really resonated with me.” Except Gilbert never wrote such a thing about her ex. We write or say one thing, and the person on the other end absorbs and digests it another way. We hear what we want to hear, believe what reinforces our beliefs. And I detest that I do this with men the most.

Because what if I’m wrong? What if I’m way wrong? Like what if I got all of Ali’s behaviour and intentions wrong last summer. What if he was trying to play it slow, pace it and I was just so eager to get into a sexual affair that I pushed us into the sandbox we are in now?

Except I’m not all wrong. I have always been right about Ali fulfilling his sexual fantasy of being with me. And I have played right into that role. I have enjoyed exploring my sexual self as someone’s plaything. But after spending two hours with him yesterday (I’ve been writing this over the course of this week so things are being revealed to me with each passing day), I feel empty. Our conversations are fun, but I think he might agree that there’s something missing in them. We talk fucking and work, there’s little else. We are honest, to a point. Like he’ll tell me he went on a date Wednesday night and how that went, but he won’t reveal whether he wants to stay after sex and watch Netflix with me in bed.

Also I cannot imagine introducing him to my kids. Ali walked me to the streetcar after our dinner. It was maybe 10pm and he was exhausted (he’s training for a boxing match and we’d just gone for three rounds of our own in his apartment). We talked again about whether or not he wants to have kids. Now, I’ll be supportive of anyone who wants children of their own, but feck, you have to really want them. And you have to be willing to do all the work that comes with having them. I think there’s an entire segment of 30-something men who are reading all this “I regret having kids” stuff in the media and deciding it might not be for them. I think Ali would ideally (and this is what I take away from our conversations) love if someone had his kids, raised them and he could just enjoy them. Except a woman like that wouldn’t satisfy his fetish for accomplished career women. So he’d need two, and they’d have to be OK with that. Not impossible, but it really narrows the field.

Anyway, that’s his deal. He’s not… paternal, except sometimes in the bedroom when he’s a bit of a commanding daddy. Hehe. So what I am loving about seeing Ali is that each date gives me insight in what I DO want. It’s practice. I’ve noted now that I want someone who will enjoy and appreciate my kids. And ideally he doesn’t want kids of his own (though if he has kids of his own already, that’s not a dealbreaker). But Ali is just for me. He doesn’t fit in my world outside the bedroom and some romance (though he probably could, but would take some effort).


I’ve been listening to a podcast called A Single Thing, by the adorable Natalie Karneef. And this great nugget I took away from the series towards the end is the idea that if you are using negative self-talk all the time around dating, you’re going to invite shitty experiences into your life. So if you’ve been saying, “I’m not lucky at love” since your teens, you won’t be lucky at love. So in that moment, I made a conscious decision to stop slagging men all the time (which is tough during this era of #metoo and the general awakening to toxic masculinity at every turn). Instead, I’m going to focus on extracting the positive, celebrating the good men in my life, amplifying the parts of dating that empower me and move me forward on my journey.

Ali reminds me to enjoy the journey and not focus solely on the destination. Being single is fucking fun! I’m sleeping with someone who thinks I’m a goddess and is actually encouraging and coaching me to date more. I’m being treasured. Which brings me back to my eternal question, “What is enough?” What will be enough for me? Is this enough for now?


I was supposed to reflect on self-confidence, and I don’t know that I’ve done that here. But I think a large part of self-confidence comes from listening to and trusting your inner voice. And journalling here really helps me to synthesize my thoughts and feelings, reminding myself that I’ve got this! Am I going to make mistakes? Sure! But if I take the time to reflect on what I might learn from them, then it’s all good. I need to push myself into uncomfortable situations, bravely, and then reflect on what didn’t go the way I’d hoped. I’m growing. I’m on a quest, a journey, and if I take the time to breathe and distill, I can truly appreciate the person I’m becoming. Is the shitty voice in my head there? Of course, but I’m learning that I have the remote and can turn down the volume or change the channel when that station comes on. You do too! And that’s a really fucking empowering thought.

My saviours

“How long has it been?” Our firecracker of a tween-age girl looked at us over Family Day dinner. “Since what?” I asked coyly, hoping she wasn’t asking what she was asking.

“You know, since the breakup?”

Their dad and I looked at each other. God she’s astute. Neither of us had acknowledged this fucked up anniversary. We broke up at the end of November, but it was February before he moved out. We both mumbled something like, “A year and a bit.”

“What month? What day?”

February 4th.

I quickly pivoted to talk of Family Day weekend the previous year, when we were painting their rooms, building IKEA furniture, getting ready for THEIR separation from each other after nearly a decade of sleeping in the same room.

But on February 4th, 2017, we were doing something entirely different.


On the morning of Feb 3rd, 2017, my daughter said, “I don’t want today to be over,” and started weeping. She had realized it was our last night as a family of four. I’d dealt with my own pain the previous night by going out dancing with a super fun colleague and her merry band of Polish friends and gotten stupid drunk, slam dancing to Lida Pimiento in a gallery. It was all so awful (the husband leaving, not the dancing) that I only have hazy details sketched out in my memory bank.

Dealing with my child’s emotional pain while nursing a massive hangover was not my finest moment. But that morning I was focused on letting them know we just had to get through it. The social worker had advised against letting them stay home, because that could create an ongoing issue, so I gently coached us out the door.

When I called home after school, it was clear that my kids were not in a good way. My son, who is not generally overly emotional, was a teary mess. I realized that I would circumvent the pressure of the last night all together by overriding it. I rushed home to get them and called my sister on the way. Sushi and sleepover, STAT! My sister is a successful adult human, but also an incredibly childish plaything for my kids, and going to her posh condo would be just the thing to distract us all.

She had a big glass of wine waiting for me and video games for the kids. Somehow it was fun, even though their dad was back home, packing for his move the next day. After dinner, I got the kids ready for bed and then I gently made my way out of Neverland and back to the house we all shared together. Why? Why did I go back to the marital home? I’ll never really know.


The boxes I’d procured for him to pack were sitting empty in the front room. He had done nothing and was sitting in the dining room, watching YouTube on his laptop. My memory tells me that I avoided making a snide remark to cover my anxiety over his lack of packing, but I can’t confidently say that this is true. I know I eventually went upstairs to our bedroom to pack up my own things from the dresser that he would be taking with him to his new apartment.

We must have slept in the same bed that night, but again, I have no memory of it. Did I weep on his bare chest, like I had so many nights leading up to that one? Who knows? That glass Inside Out memory ball is buried in that land where Bing Bong goes to die.

The next morning, we said our goodbyes, Theo and I. I don’t remember that final goodbye either. I could only begin to imagine what it’s like to leave the home your children grew up in and would continue to grow up in, just without you. But he wanted this, I kept reminding myself. He didn’t have the courage to just leave, of course. For years he just made himself absent by whatever means necessary. Now we were just making it official.


I had a fun day planned. I wanted anything but for my kids to have a memory of their dad leaving. I headed back to my sister’s and she took us for a super fancy brunch in a super fancy hotel. My mom called us at some point, to discuss how she’d been a mega bitch to Theo when he came by to get our old furniture out of the basement. She spoke in our native language so the kids wouldn’t understand. My sis and I giggled, knowing mom had my back.

Then the boy child went to a birthday party, while the girl one and I went to the nail salon with a bunch of her friends and their moms. The village I had carefully built over the years rallied together to support us. After manis and pedis, we retrieved the boy one and went to see Hidden Figures with a single mom friend and her daughter, who was my son’s classmate. We were completely distracted and when we exited the theatre, it was suddenly dark out. It had been a bright, crisp February day and to be hit with the dark was a reminder that we had gotten through the worst of it.

“Let’s call your dad,” I said quietly, “He probably hasn’t eaten all day. Let’s see if he wants us to take him to dinner.”


When we got to his new neighbourhood, the girl one didn’t want to get out of the car. “It’s so WEIRD!” she kept saying. And yeah, she was right. Theo was hurt, I know it, but he eventually coaxed her out. We had Thai, and as we sat around the table we raised our glasses. “To us!” we toasted. The 20-something girls at the table next to us made gagging sounds and rolled their eyes.

I was surprised by how angry this made me. I wanted to go over to them, in all their young, hopeful glory, and say, “THIS IS NOT WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE! This family has been through the wars! We have survived the near death of that sweet girl over there, but our marriage didn’t survive the post-traumatic stress after her disease and surgery, and maybe it was long broken before that, but GODDAMMIT we are here today of all days and eating Pad Thai and Cashew Chicken and it’s a FUCKING MIRACLE!”

Instead I swallowed a spring roll and turned to the girl one. “How about after dinner we go see Dad’s place?” And that’s what we did. Except when we got to the corner, I made an excuse about having to buy cat food and took the boy one to the store with me while the girl one skipped down towards the beach where Dad now lived.

“We’re going to buy him some groceries. Just enough so that he has breakfast tomorrow.” Was it generosity? Was it needing to be the smug person on the high road/horse? Old habits die hard, and I always took care of Theo. It’s what my mom raised me to do. So we showed up, the boy one and me, with a bag full of a lesson. It was the kindest way I could imagine beginning this new life.

“This is so WEIRD!” the girl one exclaimed again. It was SUPER WEIRD. Seeing our stuff in a new home, breaking up a life woven together. If you want to destroy my sweater, pull this thread as I walk away.


He came back to the house, I forget why. The shock of bare spots on walls where his concert posters had been removed. The absolute gut-wrenching blow as I walked into our bedroom to nothing but dust bunnies. I’d told him to take the bed, the mattress, the sheets. I didn’t want his energy on anything. I dragged the old futon mattress up from the main floor and plopped it down. When the kids saw this, they asked for their mattresses to be pulled in too. They flanked me, in a makeshift camp, little refugees ready to make a new life, but needing the safety of the maternal womb for the transition.

They saved me. For two weeks I destroyed my back on that floor, but they saved me. I was forced to go to bed early, forced to not cry myself to sleep, forced to accept that I was surrounded by a great love that had been born of the very person who broke my heart.

Exhale.

They are the bright spot in my day. They are the reason Theo and I are still friends. They are my reason for everything (except maybe this writing here, which I’m not sure is sustainable). They are the reason I only moderately fell apart in this last year. They are why I keep going. They saved me then and they continue to save me, one day at a time. I hope I am able to give them even a fraction of what they give me.

I’m not ready to date with my heart just yet, but spending time with Ali, I realize that how my future partner will gel with my kids is critical in my decision-making. For now, Ali is just for me and I don’t know that this will change ever. Ali… sigh… that’s a tale for another post.