As the story unfolds

I hate writing things as they are happening, because you don’t get enough distance and then you can’t really trust if how you’re putting things down is really what’s going on.

My head is kind of spinning today. I published an article about dating after many years of not dating and felt REALLY vulnerable. Like so nervous. I think I respectfully spoke to the end of my marriage without maligning my ex and I probably deserve a medal for that.

And BOOM! The universe opened up. Public messages from friends and loved ones cheering me on. Quiet messages from women in the shadows suffering in silence. Three gay men reached out (OK one of them was Grey), because gay men are the unicorns of the male universe. Two talk shows. Like bananas. And it’s hard to experience that mindfully, because there’s a lot of ego that starts to play a part in how you respond and how you see yourself, which can be dangerous.

I’m not hot shit. I’m a regular average human like you. I’ve got cellulite and a big ol’ zit on my cheek and I should really put my clothes away after taking them off. I have anxieties and neuroses, and an overbearing mother and debt. But I’m choosing to be optimistic, choosing to believe that with effort and focus I can improve my experience here on earth. One day at a time.


After I published the story and shared it on social media, the men started messaging. Only Ali is on my social media accounts, so I doubt the others would have seen it, unless they follow the women’s magazine I wrote for.

The only one I truly care about hearing from is the elusive Mr. Saturday Night. OK and my buddy work-Drew. Le Prof messaged to cancel our date due to flu, and I was relieved because his last text to me was “Do you have high heels?” First off, have you seen me? Obviously dude, and really great ones at that. Second, I don’t want to be somebody’s fetish. I mean yes, I want to explore my sexuality, but if all we ever talk about is how much you want to see my tits, I’m out. BORING! Sigh.

Ali messaged a condescending message, because our relationship has been nothing but stupid since he first decided to come onto his friend (ME) when I was still pretty vulnerable. “Feel better, Maria. Yeah, it’s hard out there.” Turns out he’s thinking about Russian Twinkie again, even though he couldn’t get her off, because they had so much fun together. And now he can’t have her back, because he dicked her around like he dicks every woman around. I resisted the urge to tell him that he’s never attempted to have fun with me outside the bedroom, because I am just done. Instead, I told him, we are all at a buffet. If you’ve got shrimp in front of you and you like shrimp, don’t get too obsessed with the idea that there may be lobster further up the table.

27 messaged, hoping for a date this Saturday. But ever the consummate planner, once I decided that all the men in my current net were not meeting my needs, even as a collective, I made plans to go dancing with girlfriends. In fact I made a lot of plans with girlfriends, because they fill my fucking bucket.

Still, I want to have sex dammit.


Mr. SN texted. And I texting him right back, telling him I was having a conniption fit because my article was published. He waited, and then asked if he could see it. I made the wincey face emoji three times and flipped him the link. He was appropriately complimentary.

Over wine with a friend tonight, I decided I would just be bold. “So questions? I’m here for them?”

He offered similar, “vice versa.” Stalemate, I replied, who goes first? He responded with “ladies first, always.” And then, “Even as a feminist…”

Hot. Why does he get so up into my brain?! He’s fucking cool as a cucumber, or that’s how it feels, and I (as we WELL know) have ZERO CHILL!

I was probably too eager in my question responses. So stalemate again. I’m learning that men are skittish creatures and not to take it personally. I’m learning that I have to temper my intensity a bit. I can’t help it, but I think if I’m more mindful, I can keep it in check. My more experienced friends suggested that I calm down. #slowyourroll has become our new hashtag. I joke that I’m gonna tattoo it on my forehead. Maybe if I gave myself a rule, like wait an hour before responding unless it’s critical, I could CTFD. I’ve definitely learned that sleeping on it is a great way to deal wit lots of things that seem urgent or stressful at 10/11pm.

As a feminist, I just want the opportunity to be myself and ask for what I want, but perhaps, as my pal pointed out, I’m rushing things. I don’t even know what I want yet. I don’t. I’m just scratching the surface.  And it’s going to take a LOT more bad dates and dates who aren’t showing up how I’d like before I even know! I’m just gonna keep doing me, keep writing the good write, going to yoga and therapy and pushing forward. If you’re into personal growth, I’m here for it!

Ooh-la-la

So I went to “Paris” on Thursday, and I’ve been to the moon a few times since then. Mr. Saturday Night fizzled rather than sizzled alas, but once I changed my perception of my current predicament with men and focused on thinking about it as a gap year, something began to shift. It’s only been a few days, but I can feel the difference in my mind and it’s powerful. More to come on that.

Monsieur Le Professeur and I had been texting in a dating app a little while ago. He’s extremely handsome, 50 and French AF. Separated, two kids and, most notably, has a public and a private persona. When we realized we were on opposite kid-free weekends, he suggested we meet for lunch. I ran out of a meeting and walked at lightening speed in the rain to get to the French restaurant, forgetting to look at my phone, where he’d messaged to say he was going to be late. So I ordered a Prosecco and texted with my handsome, adorable British GBF, let’s call him Grey (because he’s a greyhound of a man without an ounce of body fat on him), and also with Drew (my divorce buddy from work, who is fast becoming one of my closest friends). Grey was in a mood so we started imagining my wedding to Drew (“you guys can come in on horses”) and had a good giggle. Drew was nervous about a date he had the next night and so I talked him through that and he wished me well with the Frenchman.

(Truth be told, I’m fixing Drew up with a friend of mine, because I’ve tried to take our friendship outside of work a few times and nothing has materialized, so probably best to stay friends.)

When Monsieur Le Professeur, finally appeared, he was extremely apologetic for getting stuck at work. I meant to get up and give him a double cheek kiss greeting, to show that I know my way around a Frenchy, but he hurriedly sat down and started talking. Our conversation was flirty, we have the same dry sense of humour, and it was immediately apparent that we were well-matched intellectually. And fuck, what woman does not get totally turned on by a French accent? I may be trying to get to Zen Master status, but I go weak in the knees when he stumbles on his English and reverts to French. Serendipitously my 1:30pm meeting was cancelled and I had a bit of time to linger and get the full benefit of our time together.

Unlike most of the other guys I’ve dated (save for Felipe the Brazilian), he texted later that night to say he was thinking of me and how much he enjoyed our time together. “Equal Enthusiasm” has shot up to the top of my list of requirements for moving on to the next round and Le Prof definitely passed.


I went to therapy the next day to level-set. “I need to talk about my fear of sex and my Madonna/Whore complex,” I said frankly. I desperately need to explore what it means to own my desires—fuck, we all do! Most women have been taught to bottle it in for fear of being a “slut.” Many men have been taught that they are not responsible for theirs and that they can do whatever they want when their desire arises. This is maybe why I love gay men so much. Many realize early on that they can’t fight their desires, which society has always frowned upon, so their culture celebrates the entire freaky spectrum of sexuality.

My therapist worked through it with me. Religious uprbringing? Check! Sexual assaults? Yeppers! I’ve got a whole post sitting in drafts about my hangups with sex. But basically, I have a lot of shame around sex. And some of that comes from my marriage, where my endless desire was positioned as a negative. I have the sexual appetite of a “man.” I know what I want. I want to speak it out loud. But I’ve been afraid to for so long.

My therapist also wants me to add other notches on my belt. She said that by the sounds of it, Mr. Saturday Night was not going to show up for me the way I needed him to and that Le Prof is the one I should go forward with in terms of sexual exploration. So, alons-y!

“What are you going to do about Ali,” she asked. The answer is fucked. I’m not ready to let him go, even though he’s consistently inconsiderate, even though that relationship does not feed me. He’s my training wheels, and I’m not quite steady on this sexual bike ride without them just yet. I mean, he’s a sure thing… WHEN he shows up.


Le Prof swiped through my profile, pointing out why he decided we could meet. “La première chose que j’ai remarquée est que vous souriez. Ce n’est pas garanti!”  He noticed my smile, which apparently not all women do when trying to look sexy in an app. “You look like a happy person!”

Then he proceeded to assess the percentage match that the algorithm had given us in terms of match potential. “94% Dating, good! 86% Lifestyle, très bien… Sex, 74%. You have to do better,” he said with a smirk and a dirty Frenchman’s twinkle in the eye.

“I’m going to guess I haven’t answered enough questions,” I countered. “Also, do you want to let an algorithm cheat you out of what could be a really hot experience?” I texted later when he asked if I was doing my homework. Answering the sex survey in the app made it very clear: He’s way more kinky and sexual than I am. I still have this fear that holds me back. After therapy on Friday, I decide I’m going to let him do the driving and see what happens.


The first night after meeting, he texted, as I mentioned. And it got a little flirty. And I put him in his place in a way that would keep him wanting more. He kept asking for photos. At first, a selfie, I thought I would suffice. He sent me one too, first in a jacket, and then without the jacket. “Your turn,” he quipped.

“Pace yourself, cowboy,” I replied. He didn’t understand, because French! “Sorta like ‘Soyez patient!'” I told him. He said patience is his worst quality or something lost in translation that should have alerted me to the fact that he was gonna be asking for more than selfies in a hurry. I manage to hold him off with, “Oh but if I behave you will get bored so quickly,” which he loves.

The next night, he asked if I was interested in sexting. I was apprehensive (because ME: scared of men’s desires!), but as I’d just discussed exploring my sexual self with him via the therapist, I thought, OK, why not? Let’s give it a try. I knew I was going out and would be tipsy when I got home.

I got home from a fundraiser, HAMMERED. I hit on Theo while we were trading off for the night and he was wise enough to just leave. We had a good laugh though. Then I had my first sext. That’s right. I have never sexted before. I mean, if I was ever going to do it, it was when Theo was living in another city for work, but we were so broken then.

So I sexted, while drunk, and it escalated quickly. He begged for photos, so I got creative, making sure I had some clothing on and that my face was never in the shot. And it was fun, and HOT! I could get the hang of this!


The next day, I was so horny that I messaged Ali, after he went through my entire social feed liking everything. I figured, he’s online and thinking about me, maybe I’ll tell him about my escapades! I’ll admit, I was feeling cocky, like perhaps I could juggle a few men at the same time for a bit. As it turned out, Ali was watching movies with a “chick friend.” Because of course. He’s got a woman on his couch and he’s looking at photos of me. For what? Inspiration? Am I like some kind of virtual fluffer?

I felt like a fool, because I’ve mostly been avoiding Ali since he never messages me unless he wants sex. But something about the high I felt after Le Prof made me try to attempt vulnerability with him again. I can’t help thinking that I’m getting Ali all wrong. Yet whenever I attempt to get close to him or to get to the next plane, he disappears. Ugh.

Meanwhile, Le Prof is now insatiable. He wants to “play” nightly. I participate two nights in a row, but this ain’t Victoria’s Secret, and by the third night, the pressure to look a certain way to keep up the game exhausts me and I cancel our nightly text chat so that I could watch Beychella and fold laundry (which was INFINITELY more rewarding, frankly). He is the cliche of a 50-something Frenchman. He wants to take me shopping for lingerie. He asks if I have high heels. He begs for one final photo each night. It’s all a bit much.

Here’s what’s not sitting well with me:

a) Don’t I just want to date a normal guy in the traditional way for a while? Or have I tried that already? Or is that just a unicorn at this point?

b) Will I ever even meet a “normal guy”? (Drew at work is the closest to normal straight male.)

c) If I do decide to play with my sexuality in a more risqué way, how do I reconcile being a feminist with also being a man’s fetish in garters and heels?

d) Do I really want to start a relationship with someone who has the energy to sext every single night?

And still, I’m committed to seeing if Le Prof can CTFD enough to get what might be good out of this. I’m seeing him tomorrow night, in a public place, just for a drink. If I’m going to pursue this for a few weeks, I need to beef up the vocabulary of an impudent North American lover who sets boundaries in a flirty way with her Frenchman. I mean, I gotta go there at least once, right? Maybe this is the perfect experience to play with expressing what I want, understanding my desires? Still, so scared. And honestly, bored. But that’s a whole ‘nother post.

 

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.

 

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.

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.

Sexual self-care

I was at the chiropractor over the weekend, and boy do I love my chiropractor. Like if you could be besties with someone you see for only 20 minutes every 4-5 weeks, this would is me and Dr. B. Anyway, I was telling her how Theo and I are in a good place now, for the most part, and how we still do little Acts of Service for each other. Things that would have seemed ordinary in married life, but are amplified as super good deeds now that we are apart. And in the banter about how he makes me coffee when he comes over to look after the kids, I mentioned that I had recently encouraged him to go talk to someone about investing the money I gave him for the house.

“Wow, you really were doing it all, weren’t you?”

I paused to reflect. Yeah, I honestly think I was. Because if I think about the things he did, he still does them now, just without living in the house. He still makes my coffee and the kids’ breakfasts and lunches, he still shovels the walk (when he’s here during a snowfall), he takes out the trash for me, takes the car to the garage… and he’s a good dad to the kids. Done!

Wait, I skipped too far ahead, because as Dr. B and I were catching up, I mentioned that I haven’t had sex or dated since August-ish. And then I told her that Ali (yes THAT Ali) had been messaging me, flirting and asking to see me. He’d asked me to a concert (I couldn’t go), he’d asked me to make time for him and I was wishy-washy about it, and finally he came right out with, “I need a date and time to see you please, gorgeous.” Well, hello there! Apparently that’s how you get my attention, by being direct and insistent.


The thing is that Ali has been seeing Svetlana (did I call her that? I usually refer to her as the Russian Twinkie). So after I agreed to meet him, I had a bit of panic. I don’t want to be the other woman and break some young woman’s heart. I don’t have any Mrs. Robinson fantasies, last time I checked. I don’t want bad dating karma (which I know is not science, but whatever). In discussing this with Dr. B, the tangent eventually got to all the things I did for Theo.

“You know what? I think you should go out with Ali and just have fun,” Dr. B said thoughtfully, “I mean, you’ve been dealing in a lot of masculine energy by carrying it all, and now you need to balance your female energy. It’s time to let someone take care of you.”

I thought, heck, I shouldn’t assume here. Maybe he just wants to meet up for a drink and see how I’m doing. Maybe he wants to talk through his relationship, decide if he’s having kids and then make dating decisions accordingly. But I washed my sheets anyway. I coloured my roots, and shaved all the things anyway. I put on a body con dress. Because even if it was a maybe, I have not had sex since the summer. Didn’t I deserve a little body worship?


He was sitting at the bar, a sure sign that he wanted to get touchy (as I now know), and greeted me with a long tight hug. We chatted easily, with no expectations and no holds barred. There was a moment when I realized that if we respected each other’s boundaries, this could be one of the best friendships either of us might have. I mean how many people can go out with someone, say whatever they want, ask completely honest questions and have them answered equally honestly and then have that same person want to rip your clothes off? It dawned on me that I’d been selling this possibility short.

To be fair, I think over time and with my distance, he’s learned he can be candid with me and it doesn’t hurt my feelings. Not the kind of candour that’s mean-spirited, but talking through his sexual frustrations with the Russian Twinkie, or discussing whether he could be monogamous ever again. I don’t judge, because he’s not my future husband. He’s my friend who likes fancy cocktails and a solid fuck. Which is pretty much all I have time for once or twice a month.

I’d also been completely denying myself of any corporal pleasure. When I decided to hunker down until I got through the toughest parts of the separation (the agreement, Christmas/New Year’s and the Year One milestone), I became someone who binge-watched a lot of TV and hid under the covers. I barely had a sex drive, because what was the point? I could take the Dolphin out for 5 minutes or I could sleep. Sleep typically won out (though I’ve had to replace the batteries a few times over the past year).


So there we were at the bar, handsome, delicious Ali and flirty me, and it only took one drink for us to get handsy. I found his mouth irresistible and distracting. I asked upfront what kind of agreement he had with the Russian Twinkie and the lines seemed fluid enough that after two drinks I planted a kiss on him. WHO AM I?

He made it clear that coming home with me without telling her first was a little bit of breaking their rules, but at that point I was ready to take him to the fancy single bathrooms in the basement. He paid the check and we walked a good 20 minutes back to my place, chatting and giggling the whole way. He offered dating advice, admitted it would be challenging for me as a smart woman who is “a lot.” (Parking this thought for later.) When I asked him his opinion on #MeToo, I thought, “Damn, that was stupid,” but he answered thoughtfully and respectfully and his opinions aligned with my own, while giving me something new to ponder. Man we make each other laugh, it’s… nice.

The next several hours (yes, HOURS, thank you Mr. 36!) were gold-medal-worthy. He is a generous and considerate lover. Any woman would be lucky to sleep with him. He is just so happy to be fulfilling a seven-year fantasy that it’s easy for me to be my wild self. To play with sexual me, explore what she likes and how she may want to be perceived, but also it’s a huge practice in letting go and getting to the root of my true sexual self in the absence of an ego who is performing for applause. Because there are no expectations to make a life out of what we share, we can just be our animalistic selves. It is dirty and hot, but also playful and fun. No, it’s FUN! Bolded, underlined and italicized. So much flirty banter and talk of fantasies, and LOUD!

Of course today, I’m a giddy schoolgirl. I can barely answer, “How was your weekend?” I should have brought extra panties to work. I found a hickey on my thigh this morning and now I want to answer every question with, “I HAVE A HICKEY ON MY THIGH!” I am writing this on my lunch break to get the goddamn thoughts out of my head.

“I need to do this more than every six months or so, so that it’s not such a novelty,” I texted my best friend. My best gay said, “Oh just fuck him. Be a gay man for a while!” So perhaps that’s it. Ali will continue to see other people and explore what he wants for the rest of his adult life, and I will ask him to come over for afternoon delights every few weeks when I have some time. Neither of us has to get off the path we are on right now.

I’ve never had a lover—at least, not one that I didn’t try to make my “boyfriend.” It seems indulgent, but also feels like the right thing for right now. I’m not ready to date just yet. Not ready to really put myself out there. Not ready to navigate how to be a mom who dates and worries about when to introduce someone to the most important humans in her life. This is safe, and a sure thing, and brings me SO MUCH JOY! I’m not doing it because I have to. It’s not a “should.” I’m filing it under self-care and patting myself on the back for now. Go get yours, girls.

 

 

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