Friday, January 30, 2015

Too Cynical for a Few Good Men?

I'm starting to feel like dating is like naming one of your children.  I remember when my husband and I were trying to decide on our daughter's name and as we went through the list of suggestions we each vetoed the ones we didn't like pretty quickly.

"I knew a girl with that name in elementary school.  I couldn't stand that girl."

"No.  That one won't work.  That's the same name of the cashier of the grocery store I don't like."

"Are you kidding?  That's the same name of the woman who wrecked my car last year!  Do you want our kid to grow up to be a bad driver??"

It seemed that, the older we were, the more experiences we'd had and that resulted in a long list of people who had pissed us off in the past.  And we didn't want to be reminded of that every time we called our kid to the dinner table.

Dating has turned out the same way for me.  After being in some relationships that didn't work out for whatever reason and one that was catastrophic and left me picking up the pieces years later, my list of "vetoes" has gotten long...

...and to be honest it makes me feel like kind of a bitch.

I've realized that I have whittled down my list of requirements in a potential mate to such a point that it will probably be impossible for me to find someone who fits all of the criteria (but I'm sure as hell going to try).  Most of it has to do with my dating experience in the past and the things I figured out didn't work for me.  Some might think I'm cynical, some might think I'm jaded...I'd like to think I'm just wiser.

But dating seemed to be a lot easier when I wasn't.

The second I hear a guy say, "I'm just staying with my cousin for a while until I get back on my feet" I look for the door.  Not that that isn't a valid and probably smart thing to do, but given my past experience where I found myself in a relationship and looking at a future where I would be completely supporting someone else...that's not a road I even want to turn on, much less go down.

When I interact with someone who has no sense of humor it reminds me of painful dinners when I've struggled to make conversation with the person I'm with.  And I decide it's just cheaper to drink wine at home.

When I meet someone who has been engaged three times in the past, but never married, it reminds me of the painful breakup I had with someone who wanted to get married after six months.

Do you see where I'm going with this?

I am fully aware that there are many great guys out there, but I'm wondering if I'll be able to get out of my own way (and drop a little of the baggage from the past) to find that person.  Because as time goes on, I get more and more educated on what worked and what didn't and after seven years of the single life...that list is getting longer and more detailed.

In many ways, I miss the old me who didn't know herself at all.  Yes, that was a very painful time in many ways, but I seemed more open to just taking in the experience. 

When you don't know what the hell you're doing and you're somewhat of a mess yourself, it's a lot easier to overlook someone else's messiness.  That can be good and bad.

The last few days, I've been thinking about my husband and wondering if we met now, older and more emotionally formed...would we get along?  Would he ask me out?  Would I be able to overlook his shortcomings and would he still not mind the fact that I'm an inch taller than he is?

Maybe.  Maybe not.

I would hope that I would have been able to look past some of the imperfections because I wouldn't have wanted to miss out on the amazing guy he was.

I guess I need to remember that the next time around.



Tuesday, January 13, 2015

I'm Thinking About Leaving My Kids



I was talking to a friend of mine the other day (see previous post) about how I've gotten out of the habit of taking care of myself.  I was doing really well there for a while because I was finally forced to make some major changes: my anxiety had gotten so out of control, I had to slow down and take care of myself.

My situation went beyond the old "you have to make time for yourself" thing, which no one ever does.  My lack of attention to what was going on with me  was affecting me physically.  I didn't have a choice.

Of course, once I started feeling better, I went back to my old ways.  I never went to yoga.  I stopped taking walks.  If it didn't involve my kids or my work, I didn't do it.

So, when I was telling my friend how I'd fallen off the self-care wagon she said, "You're just like me.  If it gives you pleasure, you feel guilty about it."

Um, yeah.  Aren't I supposed to?

If I take a nap I feel terrible when I wake up.  If I leave for an hour yoga class, I feel terrible that I'm not with my kids.  If I'm with my kids, I feel terrible that I'm not working.  If I do anything that falls out of the parameters of what I think I should be doing (and even when I'm doing something I think I should be doing, there's always something else I should impossibly be doing at the same time)...I might as well just not do it.  Because it makes me feel like shit.

I'm not entirely sure why I feel this way, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it's because I'm part of a culture that perpetuates it.  When I log on to my social media accounts, they're filled with details of everyone's work, fitness routines, and quality time they're spending with their kids.  Sure, there's a vacation thrown in there somewhere, but the bulk of the posts seem designed to make me feel inadequate and like a big, fat loser for taking a day to just be lazy.

But I will say that nothing makes me feel more guilty than when I take time for myself  when I could have been spending that time with my kids.

This is what made me stop going out to dinner with friends, stop going to yoga, stop taking a solitary walk around the block to clear my head, and generally stop doing anything for myself.

Damn you, guilt.

~

I recently read a post on another widow board where someone was just mortified at how their children were turning out.  In an effort to help them with their grief over losing a parent, this woman had been doing everything she could to make life easier for her kids.  And in the process, she realized that she was raising some of the most self-indulgent, bratty, entitled people she was embarrassed to call her children.

I really got that.  I don't think I spoil my children, but being the only parent means that I don't have someone I can turn to on a regular basis and say, "Can you play a board game with them while I take a walk around the block?"  I am outnumbered, one to three, and leaving my kids to do something I enjoy means leaving them alone and without the quality interaction that I think I should be giving them.

Or should I?

I've recently been questioning this parenting technique.  It is often said of married couples that they should make a point of having regular date nights, not only for the sake of their marriage but so that their kids can also see that they are taking care of their relationship.  And that will influence how they treat their own marriages in the future.

Well, I'm not married but I think the same rules apply:  My kids need to see that I'm taking care of myself.  They need to recognize that I'm a person.  They need to see that self-care is a requirement, not a choice.

I need to do them the favor setting that example.

I don't want my daughters tethered to a house and their future kids because I showed them that that's all that a woman does.  I don't want my son to think that his future wife shouldn't have a life of her own.  I don't want my children to become adults who run themselves into the ground, working constantly, trying to be everything to everyone (which is impossible) and have no idea how to find joy and peace in life.

It's important for my kids to know that they are loved and important.  But it's just as important for me to be the example that time off, joy, and making yourself a priority is nothing to feel guilty about.  They should know this for themselves and in order to help them in future relationships. 

And in teaching them this lesson, I've alleviated almost 100% of the guilt that comes with taking time for myself.  In fact, I've almost taken more than I require...just to make a point.

I started this year with a new calendar.  It has all of their names on it and they can write what they have going on each day of the week.  And guess what?  MY name is on it, too.  And they immediately caught on to the fact that on Wednesday night, when I write "yoga" next to my name, that's Mom's time.  And when I write the name of a friend and "dinner" they can see that I actually have a life outside of them.   I even made a point of writing down my first name - not the word "Mom" - so they might get the hint that I'm a person. 

And maybe I'll get the hint, too.

I'm a Closed Book



So, it's just occurring to me that in the last few years I've gotten myself into a little bit of a pickle.

This came to light the other day when I was attending one of my (many) therapy sessions (I gave myself the gift of mental health this year for Christmas.  And for my birthday.  And Easter.  And Flag Day.  Mental health is pricey).

"Who do you talk to about your day?" my therapist asked me several weeks ago.

I thought about that for a while.

"If it's going to take you that long to answer...that's not a good thing," she said.

It's been a gradual thing, this slow move into isolation.  I believe that it began a few months after Brad died when I was positive that no one wanted to hear me say the same damn thing - "I'm sad because he's gone.  My life has completely fallen apart." - yet again.  So I began practicing the fine art of the nod and the smile, saving my dark thoughts for someone I paid to listen to me.

But that quiet has stuck with me - not that I'm a quiet person.  I'm betting if you ask most of my friends they'll tell you I'm a talker.  But not about the stuff that matters.

A while back, I wrote a blog about the importance of someone asking about your day every day; someone who really cares to hear all of the ins and outs.  Many people related to it and I do think that it is actually so much more important than we realize, this daily download of everything that happens.  It's immediate and probably releases the pressure valve we all have, thereby avoiding the big explosion (ummmm...anxiety anyone?).  It was a good blog and you know what?  It meant so much to me that I didn't do a damn thing about it.

"Why don't you talk to your friends?" my therapist asked during that session.

And that answer was simple.

"Because I don't want to be a burden to anyone."

"But don't you see that if you opened yourself up...you might actually be doing someone else a favor?  You might be giving them permission to talk about themselves when they were also afraid of asking for help."

That stuck with me.  I absolutely hate asking for help of any kind if I can avoid it (my neighbor's husband might tell you a different story after being at my house for an hour one night trying to figure out an electrical problem.  Yeah...forgot to pay my bill).  But if it's more of a give and take and I can be of help to someone else in some way...I'm all for it.

In the last few weeks, I've been really trying.  I've made a point of making plans with friends and really opening up.  And every single time they have done the same...and looked relieved in the process.  My discussions these days, over seven years into widowhood, are not usually centered around loss (although it does come up), but more where I am as a woman.  And although all of our circumstances are never the same, many of us are feeling lost, confused, worried, and usually guilty about something.

The common theme throughout all of these conversations is that we're all lonely.  Whether my friend is married or not, nothing replaces the need for a good girlfriend you can really talk to.  And when I've confessed how I feel like I've lost a true connection with people, I have heard the same thing from every friend I've talked to.

"Me too."

It's amazing how powerful that phrase is.  For so long, I have kept the deepest part of me to myself, positive that I was crazy, incompetent (that electric bill didn't help), and generally high maintenance because of all of the things I feel on a daily basis.  I was positive that no one wanted to hear it.  But when I confess these things to a friend, I almost always hear that they feel the same way.  That for whatever reason, things aren't as they pictured they would be at this stage in their lives.  That they're questioning decisions they've made.  That they're scared.  And they feel lost.

Again, no matter what circumstance brought us all to where we are...it really doesn't matter.  If we can connect and understand - that's what makes the difference.  Even though I've never been divorced, I can sympathize with you.  I've never struggled with illness, but I can cry with you.  In fact, sometimes it's almost better when our situations are so different - I won't jump in with my own take on it because I've been there.  What I can do is listen. 

Just like you're listening to me.

So, be warned.  If you see my phone number pop up on your caller ID, know that I'm ready to talk and dig deep.  You might not need it and that's okay.  But if you do, clear a day on your calendar for a nice, long lunch (and possibly a cab ride home if lunch turns into happy hour).

We've got a lot of territory to cover.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

What to Expect When You're Expecting

Bet that title gave my mom a little jolt.

Don't worry, Mom.  I'm not about to spring a surprise on you.  You know, like I did before.

As far as expectations go...I've spent most of my life expecting something.  And I've come to realize that that's not always a good thing.

I expected 2007 to be pretty good...only to have the most God-awful year possible when Brad died that summer.  2008 rolled in and I expected things to improve, but when I look back on it...I really don't think they did.  At the beginning of every year, I had a clear picture - and some pretty big expectations - of how the next 365 days were going to go.

I expected 2014 to be a life-changing year and it was, but certainly not in the way I was anticipating.  I am a completely different person and not because of all of the things I was expecting to accomplish...but because of all of the obstacles I had to overcome.  Which I guess in a way is its own accomplishment.

I'm still here, after all.

My therapist has been encouraging me to start keeping a journal, something that I used to always do, but I've been a little lax on in the last few years.  Brad used to to tell me the only time I really journaled was when I was mad at him and since my anger with him abated around 2009 (two years after he died), I haven't really written much since then.

But I'm working on it.  I've really tried to make it a habit these last couple of weeks every night before I go to bed.  But here's the problem.

I haven't really had anything to write.

I'm not saying that because I don't have a life or I don't have news about the kids that I could document.  But I think that most of what I used to write about in years past were mostly things I was anticipating (and worrying about).  And, to be honest, right now I'm really not expecting anything.

That may sound depressing, but it's really not.  I feel like this is the first year that I'm truly not expecting anything and I'm just waiting for things to come my way.  That doesn't mean I won't work on goals that I have set...it just means I really have no expectations as to the outcome.  And that's actually pretty liberating.

I feel like the year before me is a blank canvas.  And I like it.

So, my answer to what to expect when you're expecting is...expect things to not turn out how you expected them to at all.  When you're worried about something in the future, it could turn out to completely defy your expectations.  When you're anticipating that your life will change, it just might...but maybe not the way you think it will (but maybe in ways that it's supposed to). 

The bottom line is that expecting things from the future is kind of a waste of time.  And having fewer expectations has actually given me less to worry about and more time to just be.  I feel like sometimes expectations can mask what's right in front of you in the moment.

And I'm tired of missing the unexpected.