I see London, I see France

You saw that headline coming, didn’t you? I mean, Gap Year!

Two weeks ago, I swore I’d swear them all off. After turning down 27 when I realized I’d never be attracted to him, and then gracefully cutting my emotional tie to Ali, I thought about Mr. Saturday Night and Le Prof and I thought, “I’m done with the bullshit.”

Well, I didn’t totally get there on my own. My BFF, Boss Lady, and I reviewed the current cast of characters in my life, and she was blunt. “I don’t think any of these guys are the one to move ahead with.” She pointed out that I left the father of my children because I ran out of tolerance for his bullshit, so why was I going to take bullshit from this lot? Do I need to put up with a sextaholic and a dude who only texts about the weather? DO BETTER, MEN!

So I mentally shifted, had good food and hangouts with my pals, went dancing, laughed until I cried. And then of course, the men sensed it, because the universe likes to fuck with me, and well, I’m weak. Le Prof asked me for coffee on the first sunny Sunday of the year and given my “everyone gets two dates” rule, I said oui. We met on a cafe patio. I was casually late and he glanced at his watch and gave me a disapproving look. I ignored it, because fuck it. He was late on our last date. I was even. If that makes me petty, so be it.

I’ll admit that I’d been put off by his nightly requests to “play,” his seemingly insatiable appetite for sexting was wearing thin, and part of my nonchalant attitude was born there. (He claims he’s insatiable only for/because of me.) But in person, he was completely charmant again, instantly intelligent and funny, completely respectful. Knee to knee, we spoke at great length about grey issues around race, religion, politics, responsibility. He spoke to me mostly in French, and I tried to summarize my understanding. “The French lessons are free if you stick with me,” he quipped. I’m a pretty intelligent woman who can see through a lot, but when it comes to men, I am a dripping wet mess over an accent and a foreign language. If he is sexually driven by the visual, for me the turn on is mental and aural.


Am I a fucking sapiosexual? I don’t like that word, mostly because the guys in apps who say they are one are full of shit. (A sapiosexual is a person who finds intelligence attractive or arousing.) But I’m realizing that for me, everything sexual happens in those early conversations: the flirting, the witty banter, the ability to volley back some sexy sarcasm. I can’t imagine a life without this spice. It’s everything for me. The question is: Is it sustainable?

“This is my favourite week,” Le Prof sighed, reminding me that the Sunday prior, our entire city was hiding indoors due to a snowstorm. “In just a week it can go from winter to spring,” he enthused en français. What a great metaphor for life that we should all remember, I said, smiling at the discovery that I liked this man. Le Prof continued to French my ears with his sentences and when it was time to go, we French kissed on the sidewalk, and I didn’t care if the whole world was driving by the busy avenue watching us. My city was Paris in that moment, the pair of us a cliché Robert Doisneau black and white photograph.

robertdoisneau

I have since been completely forthright with Le Prof as we try to navigate two equally complicated schedules. I told him I don’t want to be asked to sext all the time when we haven’t even actually had sex yet. I told him I don’t have much time to date, but if he’s willing to get to know me and be patient, that eventually our schedules might line up to make room for this. He responded, “To be clear, I’m not looking for sex. I’m looking for extraordinary sex. Let me know when you have three hours, not 30 minutes.” Um, hot. We shall see…


A few days later, I dressed pretty, let my hair go free and big and wild (my ex preferred me to straighten it) and sat at a bar in a dark woody establishment, waiting for Mr. Saturday Night. It was finally the day of days, the date I’d invited him to weeks before, because the event was a mix of museum and theatre and if you’ve been reading, you might recall that he’s a hyphen of these elements.

When he arrived, I had a glass of red, because happy hour was ending and it had been a LOOOONG news cycle full of emotions. Being hyperbolic by nature, one can only imagine where my head was at. I have two states:

THE SKY IS FALLING! < – – – – – – – >  EVERYTHING IS AMAZING AND WONDERFUL!

But as soon as I saw him, you can guess which camp I switched into. In fact, just thinking about laying eyes on him makes my stomach flip-flop. I get that he’s an actor and they are supposed to be beautiful, but wow, he just does it for me, and it’s not just the sparkle in his eye and his adorable mannerisms. He was wearing a black button down shirt with a black tie and a black blazer and dark jeans and I nearly fell off my barstool, but managed to keep it cool. I think.

NOTEWORTHY: Guys! I made it to Date 3!

“What’d I miss?” the Fantastic Mr. Foxy Saturday Night asked with a sly smile.

“Well, you have 10 minutes to decide if you are into buck-a-shuck oysters,” I informed him, secretly hoping he was, because oysters! To my delight he was totally game. We talked about our work weeks, his big project, his health and his daughter, and I will leave out the details but just say that he’s so damn easy to talk to.

We headed to our event across the street and immediately he recognized a beautiful woman in a smart suit standing out front. They embraced and caught up while I stood back a bit, observing the scene. I had a feeling this would happen, and I wanted to pay attention to how I reacted. She was a big deal in the theatre world and as we walked away he casually mentioned that they had been lovers. To my surprise, only the slightest pang of jealousy. The overwhelming feeling was a thrill and also the relief at having met someone who could just come out and tell me the truth. This is who he is, George Clooney, minus the Lake Como house, a 50-something eternal bachelor, a lover of women. If we make it to date 4 or 17, I’m sure there would be a lot of former lovers we’d run into. (I’m pretty certain we’d run into some current ones too.) The old me would have hated this, but since I am adopting a “Holly Golightly meets Rey the Jedi” mentality about dating (I belong to no one, no one belongs to me, I belong to no one, no one belongs to me), I allowed myself to just be a bit removed and enjoy the scene.

hollygolightly

He worked at the event space at one time and knew some of the staff, who were all happy to see him. I’ll bet he was lovely to every person he worked with, from the lowest rung to the highest, I can see this already, even in just a month or so of knowing him. He introduced me to his friend the bartender, and we got free drinks. As he walked through the atrium saying hello to people he recognized, I noticed the way I was being seen. Everyone who saw me with him looked at me like I was the flavour of the month, which again, is my perception, I have no actual proof of it. But I found it thrilling. I’ve never been anyone’s younger arm candy before, not that I can recall, and now in my 40s, it’s exciting to be seen this way. To be with Mr. Saturday Night is to be “one of many” and I wonder if my girl Amal felt this way when initally out with the Cloon-dogger.


We enjoyed the presentation, whispering in each other’s ears throughout. Man I wanted him to take my hand, but alas, no. I’m chalking it up to “he wants to pace it.” But compared to 27, who was adorably handsy in the movie theatre, and Le Prof, who texts throughout the day in an attempt to connect, Mr. SN is distant. But while frustrating, that’s more about me and my need for attention than anything. Watching/observing it, because it was an issue in my marriage too. It’s how I ended up with Theo; I found his distance was catnip for me, because it made him less attainable. The new Maria wants EQUAL ENTHUSIASM. Something to explore, for sure.

Mr. Saturday Night and I toured the galleries of ancient European empires afterwards and I was tempted to pull him into a dark corner and snog him with a coy, “When in Rome…” but I resisted. I need a better mantra going forward than, “Don’t let him sense how much you want him to kiss you!” We talked about a big exhibit he was curating and he mentioned a reception for it, then, after a beat, “You should come.” I told him I was going out of town and would miss it, but would love to see it at another opportunity. To be honest, it’s too soon to meet “his people,” especially in my “flavour of the month” capacity, and I was relieved to have an out.

We talked about our big breakups over wine and cheese, he mentioned that he’s got no sexual bucket list but that he’s into it, he just knows what he likes at his age. Interesting in contrast with Le Prof, who is in a mode of sexual exploration… I wonder which man has had more lovers? Then Mr. SN asked if I’d slept with anyone since my husband left and I told him that I’d had a “friends with benefits” situation, but that had ended recently. I told him I have no expectations right now, that it’s like I have a Eurail pass and I’m moving from town to town. I’m not ready to settle yet. He laughed and nodded in approval. “So in 20 years, you’ve slept with two men?”

I think I got a bit defensive at that. He wasn’t accusatory, he didn’t mean anything by it, just an observation, but my response was something to do with the fact that I had a lot of practice in those years and I’d learned a few things. But have I? Am I as good as I think I am? Suddenly I felt nervous.

Somehow we recovered from that moment and noticed that we were the last two non-employees still sitting there. He and his bike walked me to the subway in the rain. At the doors to the subway, there was a “So I’ll see you when I see you?” kind of awkwardness in him, and I was sure he liked me too. And then there was a kiss, a soft wet kiss in the rain that intensified and I so tried to keep my hands at my side but I couldn’t help but lift a hand to his beautiful face and stroke his bearded chin. So if this were a London kiss, it might be like Mr. Darcy kissing Bridget Jones. There are disappointingly few famous London kisses, which is something to consider. Is Mr. SN a Mr. Darcy? Can there be parallels to their cool as a cucumber ways being misconstrued as disinterest? Is he just an introvert? I don’t know, but two epic kisses in a week was nice.

bridgetjoneskiss
What’s next? I don’t know, but I’m rolling with it. I’m learning that I overbook myself all the time and for the first time ever, my pace is exhausting even ME! Why do I need to fill all the spaces with activities? I’m booked until June! So I made a point of going through my calendar and marked off a few dates that I should keep open just for dates. I marked off some quiet time too. I’m trying to get to a space of quitting, I think, of saying no to the pull of DOING ALL THE THINGS. I read this great piece in the NYT on this concept and I’m going to let it marinate. I need to learn when to step back and observe, as I did that night with Mr. Saturday Night, but in my own life. If I don’t make space, if I fill all the gaps, I will never make time to mindfully clear out the warehouse of my mind and soon it will be filled with debris and old lawn chairs again. Off for a really long walk in silence in the sunshine. À bientôt.

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.

 

Show me, show me, show me

I’m watching Lovesick on Netflix and feeling this final season intensely. Like the show just got good halfway through the last season. Mostly because the lothario, Luke, finally gets a soul. Do you watch the show? It’s British show about some roommates/friends and the messy relationships they get in and out of. No one on the show is particularly accomplished career-wise, and the main love interest, Dylan, is a bit one-dimensional. He’s needy and pouty and I don’t get why Evie loves him. But the Luke storyline really gets me.

None of this has anything to do with the fact that I went on another three dates this weekend. Except it does. I think the main theme of Lovesick is trying to understand why the heck we are so obsessed with the idea of love. Why is it elusive? Why do we AGONIZE over it? Why can’t we get this right?

I am in overthinking zone again. As I have ZERO CHILL, I wasn’t very patient about Mr. Saturday Night at all. After some weird texts about the weather during the week, (and one text where I was hoping he was on my side of town so I could steal him for a drink), there were still no date invites or inquiries into my time. I caved and sent a “Friday!” Because, hello, it’s been two weeks, and I truly DID want to see him again. I wanted to know if the magic I felt on the previous date still held.

Also, since we’re being truthful and all-revealing here, because I really need to sleep with someone who is not Ali already, so I can gracefully exit that which does not feed me.

Anyway, I’m kind of mad at myself, because if “Fuck yes, or no” applies, then I should have just chilled out. Because he’s not in the “Fuck yes!” camp. I’m getting vibes, but they are not clear.


Compare that to 27. 27 is adorable and charming and eager to hang out. He messaged me mid-week wondering what I was up to, and I decided to invite him to see some French cinema with me. I had wrongly assumed that he was a cinema guy—he was not. But he was eager to hang and joined me anyway.

The short films were bizarre but endearing, early feminist New Wave cinema. Right up my fucking alley. I was curious about the director, and so thrilled I went. When you’re a mom, going to see a film that is not a Hollywood blockbuster feels really frivolous. I mention this to 27, how I love the deliciousness of anyone who gives their life to art, and how experiencing it is akin to what eating caviar must feel like for some. He shrugs in his young man of privilege way and acknowledges that he may not have money or career stability, but he’s wealthy in time. Sigh. 27.

He holds my hand in the movie and has his hand on my knee. His palms get sweaty. And as soon as I know the final short is over and we have maybe 30 seconds of darkness, I lean in and kiss him. But it’s meh. No spark.

We walk for a good half hour. It’s too cold to hold hands. He tells me he likes heavy metal and I tell him that one of the things about being in your 40s is that you realize, “I’m probably never going to like heavy metal.” His first Radiohead show would have been my fourth or fifth. In the 16 years between us my entire adult life happened. We part ways at the subway and kiss again. My takeaways are that I like boys who hold my hand and make their desires clear through body language, but who go slow and respect my need for pacing. I decide he is voted off the island and delete him from my spreadsheet when I get home.


I have a spreadsheet and a document. Both are called Project Equal. In them I document what I learned from each date. I am gathering my requirements for the ultimate project: finding my equal. I am listening to my gut and learning what I want and need. What are must-haves, nice-to-haves and deal breakers.

I have watched Amy Webb’s TED talk on winning at online dating via creating your algorithm. It makes sense to me, though I don’t agree with her scoring system. I decide I will give each human two dates, unless the first one goes HORRIBLY wrong (don’t worry, that story is coming), because the first date can sometimes be misread. People can be off their game. Also the second date allows you to confirm if your gut was right.

 

Anyway, Project Equal deserves its own post, because it should have holes poked in it by you, fair reader. So let’s just leave it for now and come back to it later in the week, k?


So, “Friday!”

A bit of vague and flirty exchanges happen. I’m not being direct because I’m hoping he will make the move, but that’s not his style. He wants me to be clear. He pulls it from me slowly. When I finally say, “I’m busy tonight, but free Saturday and Sunday,” he finally asks, “What would you like to do tomorrow night?” If he wasn’t into me he’d say he’s busy, right?

Oh god, he finishes his points with, “Right?” a lot of the time and it makes my stomach dizzy just thinking about it. 

So I answer, “Cosy bar and continued conversation for starters? Preferably with an actor/historian/museum curator…”

“Sounds great, I hope you mean me.”

I DO mean him. I adore that he’s a slash. Actor-slash-historian-slash-museum curator. In fact his deep passion for his work is one of the sexiest things about him. Did I mention actor? He also happens to be gorgeous.

We make plans to meet on my side of town. It’s like tourism for him.


I am in the bar and awkwardly trying to decide if I should just sit at the window bar or wait to be seated, when I see him. My heart does a little flip flop but way under the waistband of my jeans.

I was hoping to have my sheets out of the dryer and my bed made, the house tidied before this date, just in case. But when it became clear that my bed would be covered in laundry, I changed out of my best dress into jeans and one of my favourite tops.

I’m aware that nothing may come of this. But I also don’t want to blow it. I throw out all my own advice about always being yourself and being confident. I’m not confident about this AT ALL. “Don’t be a dork Maria,” I tell myself, but tonight teenage Maria decides she’s driving. He crosses the street like James Dean, wearing a black leather jacket. He walks in and we kiss on the mouth, a sultry peck, as though this is how we always greet each other.

Again, we talk for three hours straight. My head is swimming when I’m with him, because he’s a walking encyclopedia. I learn a few things beyond our city’s history too, about exes and family and health. He asks thoughtful questions and at some point I’m acutely aware that I’m looking at him the way I looked at Jude Law one evening in London.

(Allow me this sidebar: I was sitting out back on St. Martin’s Lane in 1999, after just seeing Cate Blanchett in Plenty, writing in my journal about the experience, when good ol’ Mr. Gattaca walked past and I was gobsmacked. I’d spotted him in the audience that evening and paid 45p for binoculars to get a better look, but now here he was, three feet from me! Jaw on the ground, he noticed my face, waved and said hello.)

This is kind of how I imagine I’m looking at Mr. SN when he talks about Stalin or the mother of his child. He is magic for me, a curious mind who loves to be a sponge. Part of me wants him to be bossy, to teach me. He’s only 6-7 years older than me, but there’s something statesmanly about him. Every hair on my body is standing on end as I think about him.

My brain is at war. “Stop looking at him like you want him to kiss you,” is battling against, “Send strong kissing vibes so he knows to move in.” The music is awesome tonight, 80s New Wave, ska and alternative predominantly, and the Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” comes on and I’ve never wished for a kiss so hard. But it’s too obvious. He’s the master of moments, or so I suspect because of his theatre background. So regardless of what I do with my body language, he is not moving in, and I am forced to behave and heave with anticipation. He’s storytelling about storytelling and I’m enthralled. He makes the sign of the “come hither” with his hands, but it’s in context to what he’s saying (“You won’t believe what happened next…”) and I make a note to work on including that move in my seduction if I ever get the chance.

“I’d bet his hands would feel nice on your boobs right now,” says my teenage alligator brain.

Show me, show me, show me how you do that trick
The one that makes me scream she said
The one that makes me laugh she said
Threw her arms around my neck
Show me how you do it and I’ll promise you
I’ll promise that I’ll run away with you, I’ll run away with you

Finally, he says, should we go? Or something to that effect. We split the bill, he offers to drive me home. He wears these hot glasses to drive and I am LOSING it, people! He drives a station wagon, which is so my jam, and I don’t even realize what a massive dork I’m being. Because, I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M DOING!


We banter about the neighbourhood. He’s so lost, but I guide him to my curb. Do I invite him in? Well no. The house is a mess and I have my period, and I am striving for “start as you mean to continue,” except I’ve started as a horny teenager.

I don’t say any of this out loud and we comfortably chat in the car until horny teenager wins and I lean way over to him and say, “Well you are cute and charming, thanks for a great evening,” and I kiss him. We bonk noses first (because, of course), and then French a bit, but I’m not being mindful at all. I’m a nervous bunny and my heart and brain think that Morrissey is still playing and they are at the Dance Cave. I clumsily break away, say, “Ah, I’ve been wanting to do that ALL NIGHT!”

“All night, hmm,” he replies with a devlish grin. I say an awkward goodnight and run up the stairs, because I’m teenage Maria who has NO GAME.

I woke up this morning thinking, “God! You were terribly presumptuous! Nothing about his body language said you should kiss him. You should have asked first. You should text him and acknowledge that maybe you crossed a line.”

Other side of the brain, “What?! He kissed you back! Isn’t that sign enough? STOP overthinking it!!”

I last until 10:30 am before texting him. No. Response. All day. Which means nothing. I know he had a super busy day. But gah! Did I fuck this up? Do I want to be doing this to myself? Is any man worth this? Am I never going to be able to date because I can’t get my brain to shut the fuck up?

My ex, whom I keep swearing I’m never going to have a dating conversation with ever again, chastises me when I try to get his take. “Play it cool! We’re not 25. Dudes like to chase! Let him chase you!” But that’s a fucking game and I don’t want to play. I just want to be authentic, I just want to be me with my guard down and lay it all on the table, but I have so much more practicing to do. I decided today that whatever happens, happens. One moment at a time. Slow down. You don’t have to rush it. Patience. Patience.

Patience.

“Fuck yes, or no.” I’m firmly in camp “Fuck yes” here. But is he? And if he isn’t, well, shrug, I have to let it go. I will forever be grateful to him for giving me two enchanting evenings of story sharing. I do sincerely hope it’s not over yet, I have so many more questions to ask him. If it’s a go to the next round, I’m going to take a break from dating others for a bit to explore this one, slowly. I want to do this mindfully. I want to savour this feeling.

You
Soft and only
You
Lost and lonely
You
Strange as angels
Dancing in the deepest oceans
Twisting in the water
You’re just like a dream
You’re just like a dream

 

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.

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.