An essay that I wrote about trust issues is available for reading at JWI.org.
An essay that I wrote about trust issues is available for reading at JWI.org.
My eclipse trip to South Carolina with a good friend turned out to be what we had hoped for (except for the cloud cover at totality): an adventure. The adventure ended up spending the day at Green Pond Landing staring at the sky with a charming English gentleman we met at a coffee shop in nearby Anderson, SC.
Both of us are single women who don’t spend much time trying to change our social status, since we’re both living the lives we have and with enough experience with disappointing dates to know not to have realistic expectations for change. Nonetheless, having the attention of a handsome, thoughtful gentleman with an accent for the day made a small opening into my comfy closed mindset.
First off, let me state that there was no flirting. We were three people who flowed with the day: each adding to the collective experience. A platonic threesome. Neither my friend nor I subverted our intention of having a lovely eclipse experience together in order to gain the attentions of a man. No one was elbowed to the side, the conversation was not hogged, and there were no coy hair tossings and eyelash batting. We are mature women who value our friendship over any dalliance.
But we were attended to, and it was refreshing. Yes, of course we could carry the blankets and the cooler (how else did they get into the car), but wasn’t it nice that he offered to take them from the car to where we decided would be the ideal spot to experience the eclipse. We shared our sandwiches and snacks with him (he was completely unprepared—he didn’t even have eclipse glasses until we gave him our spare pair), and he took us out to dinner. The day-long conversation was a hopscotch game between bits of personal history, the eclipse experience itself (yes, you can have a somewhat thoughtful conversation wearing eclipse glasses), and, of course, the fall of the American Empire with t- at the helm.
The details of the day, though perfect for conjuring in my mind’s eye when lying in bed before sleep, have more heft when I think about how the experience made me feel as a woman. There was the smooth, relaxed interaction of a confident woman who did not undermine her personality in the presence of an unattached man in an attempt to attract said man. I was not running down Possibility Lane, and still, yes, he seemed to be attracted to me. (We did exchange numbers at the end of the day; alas, he never contacted me even after I contacted him after a couple of days—but still, the exchange at his request.) Nor was I waylaid by my shadow self who always comes to life in a date situation, wondering if I would want to touch this man, if I would want to spend any more time talking to him, and even (in the best of times) if I could imagine being naked with him. Nope. I was focused on the moment. And him, he did what many men I meet seem incapable of doing: he listened, he asked questions, he seemed to care about my comfort, and he did not mansplain. None of us were eclipse experts—and he did not take it upon himself to pretend that he was one just because he’s a man. We Googled any eclipse questions we had. We three lived the day thriving on the exchange of tidbit stories, and the casual and open way that one story leads to another when you’re not censoring your every comment.
While younger daughter joked knowingly that he wasn’t found on OKCupid, and even I joked about how it just might be true about meeting someone when you’re not trying or expecting to, there was more to the day than this specific interaction. It offered a hint at what might be possible: that my future might not only hold re-creations of past relationships in which I was Hercules to their Princesses. I had decided that a balanced and supportive relationship was an impossible achievement, so why even bother attempting to meet anyone. But now, I see that I was wrong. Yup, Eclipse Man made his appearance to illuminate the point that I need not always assume the worse. It also made me realize that, while not courting courting, you never know what can happen.
But, simply, this experience reinforced my understanding that friendships are the core relationships in my life (after my daughters and my mother, of course). Not only would I not have traveled to see the eclipse, but I would not have been in the upbeat “let’s see what happens” frame of mind if I were not with my friend. I also might not have let down my guard, at least not enough to have had a daylong conversation that gives me hope that I will meet my match.
All in all, an excellent trip. (Of course, I didn’t do the driving; the traffic was horrible in both directions.)
I’m definitely planning on a 2024 eclipse adventure!
I’m trying to figure out if I’m envious of my colleagues and friends who have recently entered into serious relationships, or if I’m just a good friend who’s happy for their happiness. The of-the-moment me, before my me-me-me thoughts intrude, jumps up and down for joy, echoing their abandon and confidence. Who could deny the sensuous pull of new love?
The cynical part of me, though, feels as would a woman in a long-term relationship (I had been in one of those; 21-years) who looks on with a haughty, bemused expression, thinking back to her own romantic beginnings and where they had led her. Wondering, as the weight of her accumulated grievances bring her down, how could anyone be so naïve.
But the part of me that’s a tad uneasy about being alone in the somewhat-distant future, when I start to fall apart inside and out, wishes that envy were at my core, driving me to actively seek out someone whom I could love for making me feel protected and adored. A stroke to the ego and a helping hand can’t be the worst things in the world, especially when I can imagine regret tearing at the edges of my days and a wobble as I steady myself for standing.
My bitter divorce (10 years next month!—unbelievable how time zooms), my brief manipulative relationships, and various bland dates should have cleared me from harboring envious thoughts, but, I realize sadly, they have not. I really do wish my thoughts were untainted, but, unfortunately, they aren’t. That doesn’t mean that I’m going to act on them, though, because my envy-penetrating walls still offer more comfort than unease.
As I see picture after picture of couples enjoying summer baseball games at stadiums around the country, I wonder, as I sit at my dining/writing table, about missing the opportunities that paired life seamlessly present. Again, envy prickles, because isn’t that, still, what I’m supposed to want. It’s hard to look past the social norm that summer vacation is to accumulate shared experiences, especially with a partner.
For a while now my purpose has been unmoored from that base, though still tenuously tethered to that ill-fitting norm, hence the creep of envy. But what if my purpose has morphed to ensure that I always have solitary breathing time and space from which the thoughts that nourish me propagate, and not for the activities and chatter. Perhaps the envy surfaces to force me to continually re-assess my stability and happiness. Perhaps it is not to unnerve me and push me toward abandoning my path, but rather to check in, to see if this is still right for me.
Looking at those paired smiles I need to invite the envy, not fear it, for I want my life to remain vibrantly my own. I need to anticipate that my perceptions may change and not shut them out, beyond my walls. For now, envy quickly fades back to sympathy, signaling that, for now, I am right where I need to be.
The last of the cherry tomatoes growing on my balcony.
It’s been a while since my ex-husband ruined my life. So long ago, in fact, that sometimes I think about how his life has been ruined and feel sorry for him, and not in the pitying vindictive way people imply when they mention karma.
The years of shredding my self-confidence have faded, leaving behind the dullness of disappointment. In him. In myself. Making me, not quite regret, but wonder about what might have been if we had caught ourselves before bitterness seeped into the solitary spaces of a marriage between opposites.
The impact, though, is on far more than the lost possibilities in our joint past; it is in my resistance to wanting to have a relationship today.
I tell friends that there are no men to meet, that no men attract me, and I joke about the men online (who start each sentence of their profile with “I,” and have manly pictures on motorcycles, and refer to women as girls, and write about wanting to impale a woman’s mind into his mind to discover something worthwhile). And about the men who make it past that hurdle to a date [there were the guys with whom I barely made it through the complementary one hour of conversation; the antisemite who thought he was going to score; the guy who brought his own teabag to Starbucks (not because he was a tea snob, but so he could just pay for his cup of hot water); the guy who didn’t believe in evolution (he made it to date five and sex before this revelation); and the married guy whose wife had a brain tumor who left (after paying the bill) when I was in the bathroom, sick from attempting to drink two lemon drop martinis]. I even comment, in a completely judgmental way, to my mother that when I look at my friends’ husbands, there is not a one who, in other circumstances, would entice me. Nice men, but not the man for me. She, being a supportive mother, states the same about her friends’ husbands.
Notwithstanding my objective lack of success, I wonder if there is a subjective element that bars me from meeting the/a man. Perhaps the question isn’t Why haven’t I met someone, but—with a slight shrug—Why would I want to meet someone.
The last time I was in a relationship was more than four years ago, with Kenny, who lived with me and my younger daughter for a year and a half. He said he loved me with all his heart and would do anything for me. Anything, it turned out, but make me happy. In that relationship I was increasingly stifled by his need to be acknowledged and loved in the ways that suited him. Which, not surprisingly, inevitably meant his disappointment in something I did or did not do in accordance with his desires, which, of course, made his love for me “better” than my love for him. I will freely admit that I ignored his request to wear dresses when we went out. Even if I liked wearing dresses, which I don’t (and he could have seen that in our closet), that was a huge invite for me to definitely not wear a dress even if I felt like it. Why is it so difficult for men to understand one of the thickest redlines they should not cross with a woman (it can’t just be me) is to tell her what to wear. I got the petulant silent treatment for wearing pants.
My reaction to his suggestion/demand shouldn’t have been a surprise because during our long conversations, when he was living in Beirut and then Belfast, I would tell him how harmed I had been by my husband’s controlling ways. He had been so understanding and supportive. He knew that I was dealing with the residual pain of insults and put downs, of my desires deemed wrong or inappropriate, and my need to not be curated.
So his man-structing was unexpected and devastating.
When we argued, I couldn’t leave the room because of his fear of abandonment. But what of my need to be alone and think so as not to immediately lash out? Being told that I needed to argue in a way that supported him was another redline too many. The relationship became as if on a continuum with how my husband had tried to control my actions and thoughts and emotions, or maybe it was worse because I had opened up to Kenny about retreating into self and how I was trying to not shut down.
The best part of that relationship were the trips we took together. We would talk in the car, opening up our internal monologues as we drove along the Pacific Ocean from San Francisco to Los Angeles, or along highways and backroads from Virginia to Key West and back again. We wanted to stop at the same time and try the same places, and we even needed pee breaks at the same time. We were in unison, at least on the road. But at home, his need to be taken care of, which had to be done exactly as he wished to prove my love and to prove that he was lovable, underpinned his declarations of love. I was increasingly reminded of how unhappy I had become in my marriage as I tried now to make him happy. I didn’t have the energy or the desire to take on someone else’s emotions.
If you’re not one of my daughters, then I don’t want to take care of you. (Except, maybe my mother, and I’m dreading that scenario.) And he did want to be taken care of. As did my ex-husband.
And I did it.
But I don’t want to anymore.
On weekends, I don’t want to think about what someone else wants for breakfast and I don’t want to try to anticipate his desires. And to be fair, I don’t want someone trying to cater to me.
My standing weekend desire for a soft scrambled egg with feta and fresh herbs from my balcony garden, right after I wake up and take Poops for his morning walk, and as soon as the coffee in the French press is ready, the bread toasted to a warm brown, every section of the newspaper available, and no talking required, is, frankly, why I don’t want to date.
Beyond the fear of being hurt and undermined again, lies the very basic question: What do I want out of my life?
Surely my inability to formulate a substantial why I should want to be in a relationship is a reflection of past failures, but I can’t help but dread that it would be more of a diversion from how I want to live and what I want to do, than a benefit. Do I want to be in a relationship just to have someone with whom I can travel or rehash the stresses of the workday? My inability to even perceive a relationship as a source of respectful, supportive love shows my state of being.
My two friends who date the most, and are in and out of relationships like my high school students, are also the ones with the most out-going personalities. Both of their lives center around doing, and not around contemplation (there are no books in their homes) or fulfilling an inner drive to create or express themselves. Perhaps relationships are their manner of expression.
I would rather sit by myself in an internal monologue than have a conversation, day in and day out, just to fill the time and play a role.
Am I missing the chance at a great love that will imbue my world with joy?
I had that grand romantic love when I was first with my ex-husband. I needed it then. He helped pull me out of myself and into the world. I was aglow; I bubbled. Now when I think about those years it occurs to me how intensely focused we were on each other. I can’t imagine wanting to narrow down my life again. If by some outrageous dating app algorithm that intensity of love at 22 were to revisit me, that insular quality of being part of a couple is not something I want to relive. An identity as part of a couple is not something for which I yearn.
I was married for 21 years; approximately 15 of those made the marriage worthwhile. So moments of envying people in marriages and relationships are quickly overridden when I realize that I prefer to be alone or with different friends, without limiting myself, then always having a partner, even if he is not physically present at that moment.
A life of placid contentedness is not a surrender, it is lake upon which I float or into which I plunge, knowing that no one will interrupt my daydreaming in the tub.
C&O Canal, Washington, DC.
The other night I dreamed that I was in a synagogue. I put my pocketbook down on a pew and went off to do something. When I got back to the pew, my pocketbook was gone. It doesn’t take years of analyzing dreams to figure out that this dream shows that a place that had been safe is now unsafe, and I immediately knew that the synagogue represented the school where I teach. Between the initiatives from the newest principal, to the impending changes from the county which is gung-ho for uniformity, to the cliquishness and negativity that some of my colleagues have elevated lately, I’m feeling that life has become a bit nightmarish.
My sanctuary from the cacophony of the classroom used to be the twenty minutes of lunch with my colleagues. It was the only daily meal that I would eat with anyone, and it used to feel like we were a family sitting. As much as I like my dinner companions (House Hunters International and Cooking with Lidia), solo eating requires the occasional break for it not to be an emotional drain. So, those few minutes of grown-up conversation of lampooning and commiserating were important for my ability to be okay with all the other solitary meals, and hours of only talking to teens. To effectively live a lone life, there needs to be the right balance, however seemingly unbalanced, between aloneness and togetherness.
On Wednesday, with the intention of driving home to make stir-fried tofu and vegetables for dinner, I drove straight from school to a Greek restaurant. It wasn’t that I needed a gyro (though it has become a comfort food; or is it the fries?), but I needed not to be alone, and I needed to be served. Although the waitress seemed to think that I needed to be alone and barely served me, I was still comforted by not sitting in my dining room, staring at the screen, feeling alone.
The desperation for the grand dinnertime escape came from two days of hostility, closed doors, and whispered conversations. It’s not only that I don’t agree with all of the conspiracy theorists around me (regarding the new initiatives), it’s that I am confronted so starkly with the fact that I am the eternal outsider. As much as I think I am friends with this core group of women, there are times (whisperings about happy hours that I am never invited to and dinners that I never know of) when I am forced to realize that, just like when I was in high school, not only am I far from being a cool girl, I am outside of all groups, a group unto myself. There seems to be no escaping how your character is interpreted: I am always alone, an internal design feature it seems. Sometimes I wonder if having created and been part of a family was the anomaly, and the aloneness the norm.
But while I am an introvert who surely needs her alone-time, there are times when I need to be with other people, when I need to see faces and hear voices and feed on the energy of interaction. And, honestly, being a teacher surely negates the assumption that I am a “pure” introvert.
On my drive home from the restaurant I decided that maybe I’m not the problem. I vowed not to keep putting myself into an unwelcome and needy situation. If I’m not wanted, then you’re not wanted, and I did the grown-up thing: the next day I abandoned my usual seat and sat, instead, at the other end of the long lunchroom table. It felt immature, but, you know, confronting things sometimes means that retreat is the best course of action.
As I sat there, it occurred to me as I listened and talked to my other-end-of-the-table colleagues that these women were the women I should have been sitting with all along. These are not the mean girls grown up, who always have something critical to say, but the considerate girls, who have compassion to spare. So now, I wonder, why did I not realize sooner which was the better environment for me? Do I always need to try to push myself forward, always to think that I am not quite who I am, always to assume that I shouldn’t be myself? No wonder I am still in high school. I still have lessons to learn.
Funny title: "My Social Life." It implies something, but there's nothing beyond the implication. Initially when that phrase came to mind, I was thinking about my romantic social life, but upon further reflection, I realized that sloth has settled into all of my interactions. It's winter. It's self boredom. Hence, it's my non-existent social life.
Looking past the winter, though, I wonder if the scene has already been set for more of the same non-ness into the future. Once there have been a certain number of repetitions of your most exciting stories to diverse people, the whole Gosh, I'm an interesting person mode wears off and you feel yourself becoming as charmless as a charm bracelet. There are just so many times that you can meet new people before you lose your lustre, and your assumption that you and your stories have lustre, which is why it is so critical to establish strong friendships, romantic and otherwise, when you're young and deep in the process of living those stories, and being thrilled by them, and the possibilities ahead. That is in contrast to the midlife now, when those stories have become a part of your history and the recollection of them feels as draining as if you were required to relive them as you tell them, embellishments and all.
Sometime this summer I popped my head out at the possibilities of social interactions, but after a bit of dabbling, I popped back into my tortoise existence. There's no getting around the reality that it's as hard to feign interest in yourself as in whoever happens to stride or sit beside you. Alas, my social life has given in to the pull of the cynic's couch, a darn strong pull, especially in winter. Or perhaps I need to realize that the people, like me, who are looking to expand their social horizons and fill their empty hours as I do are not the people who captivate a crowd. Perhaps I need to accept my social reality, and stop assuming that there is more to me than the people who are reflected back to me. Perhaps, too, I need to stop looking, still, to be impressed, and learn to better base my interpretations on warmth and kindness. People as soup; unfortunately, I'm not a soup person. Stew, I am a stew person, and there, too, is comfort, stability, and trust.
Where do I go from this point of unsteady acceptance of disappointment? Will it transition into a steady acceptance of self and life, and the joys that are contained within simplicity? For isn't that point the truest assertion of who I am, and not who I thought I might become. Alas, I fear that I must acknowledge that perhaps there never will be a peaceful sitting down to stew; rather, there will always that misplaced herb that conjures an alternative, unsettling and fiery, an alternative me that counts even if only because it refuses to mute away into my history.
I am as much me as my trepidations, distillations, and acceptances. Disappointment as a function of existence, of taking the next step, of meeting the next person. Is it possible to be satisfied with dissatisfaction? Will I always whine?
Or is it that I will continue to find purpose and joy in plundering my emotional landscape and I need to face up to that. Is this my truth as much as an embossed business card. Am I to be wary and wavering, not because it is a step toward something, but because this is as much me as my morning coffee (freshly ground, French press, hot milk, in the mug my daughters bought one Mother's Day). Am I to stop complaining about being a tortoise, and instead laugh at the absurdity of thinking I should be other; as if, at 53, I really think there's a better way to be doing this than how I'm doing it.
What concerns me is not that I speak to myself in a normal conversational tone when I'm home alone, but that I have begun to find it normal, even appropriate. I mean, isn't it nicer to hear your own voice spoken out loud rather than in that slightly creepy endless internal whisper? It's not that entire dinner conversations occur, and I certainly do not create acquiantances with whom I converse and to whom I serve a meal, but I do tend to discuss my wardrobe and food choices out loud. Yes, I may say, I'll wear the white shirt. Or, chop the onion. Nothing to indicate a degradation of mental ability, more like certifying that my voice works and my hearing hears. Telltale signs of living alone, but is it wrong to assert that you are your own company, in a special way? We often discount ourselves and look too importantly on those around us, so, if anything, I am doing myself a service.
After discovering that the joys of living alone have become the simple extravagance of walking around naked in the morning to make coffee before getting dressed and not worrying about someone else's dietary desires, there comes the aloneness, the solitude, the quiet. While it's easier than living in pain with an abusive spouse, it is not easy to continually face only your own company, Saturday morning after Saturday morning. I both envy myself and envy others in a very delicate balance that still enables me to accept and approve the choices I have made along the way to this moment.
Using my own voice, while a lovely symbol for actually using my own voice, seems to have also enabled me to shed some of the norms of living with others that I no longer need to adhere to. I can be selfish. I can create my own rules. Or I can wonder if I am creating norms that help me to feel strong within myself or whether I am actually weakening myself by feeling my aloneness so acutely. Perhaps I am at a transition point and that is what is causing this discomfort, for I am resisting reaching the next stage because I never expected to be living there: alone and far removed from daydreaming about someone into the minutes and hours and years ahead.
I joke about having a bed and breakfast when I retire, perhaps because I can't imagine this aloneness to be so unending, but I can, increasingly, intuit (against hope but towards reality) that the bed part of my future will not be a shared space.
Talking to myself out loud is a bold way to begin to declare acceptance and figure out how to make it suitable, how to give myself what I need. And that voice, a voice, my voice, to break the silence of one person going between the kitchen and the bathroom in an endless loop seems to serve that purpose well.
In the week that my younger daughter was here for winter break, I focused on cooking the foods she likes, buying the clothes she needed/wanted, and watching the TV programs we could snarkily comment on together. I also put myself on reserve company duty for when she was in between hanging out with friends, which means that I didn’t get together with my friends (of course, she did have my car). In that week I made myself available for as much daughter-time as possible with my eye on her end-of-the-week flight back to Colorado, which is exactly what I did when I visited her sister in California for a week at Thanksgiving.
There’s no getting around the ache of no longer having one of your children, or all of your children, living under your roof. That is, once you celebrate your way through the first glorious months when you no longer have to deal with A-ttitude and aversion to your voice, your cooking, and your breathing (although younger daughter still has issues with my chewing).
My glorification of cooking seems absurd until I realize that it is a testament to my still being needed—or wanting to be needed. The soups, the latkes, the applesauce, the jelly donuts, the scones, the cake, the quiche, the chili: all made on the stove of Mommy Love. When do I get a chance to show my love other than in awkward “I Love You” text messages? At the same time, there’s no denying the feeling of relief when she left and I stopped being an on-duty mother again. It was exhausting: that constant need to prove my love by actions. It’s like a switch is flipped when I’m around one of my daughters and I revert to being the chief provider of physical, mental, and emotional sustenance.
When my mother comes to visit me, I find that we’re at a delicate phase in our mother-daughter relationship. It’s not that we’re dealing with any infirmities; it’s that she’s in her early 80s and ever so slightly my mommy switch is turning on when she comes, rather than full-force daughter switch. At a certain point you begin to realize that as much as it’s been great to be treated as a precious child, you need to look after your mother as you would a daughter. (Though I sincerely hope I get to skip the diaper phase.) Of course, her not being able to carry a pizza up a flight of stairs was a great indicator that the time is a comin’.
A friend took care of her parents who were both in diapers, while a friend of my mother’s took care of her dying daughter. Another friend commented on his inability to care for his father with his slowly seeping dementia. A colleague joked with her son that for every one of his ballgames she attends, he owes her a diaper change.
My daughters are independent. My mother is independent. I am independent. Within all of that independence is the pendulum of care.
Will I rise to the occasion if need be? It’s natural to mother children. What is it to mother a parent? My mother nursed both my grandmother and my father when they were dying from cancer. Will I be such a good daughter? It seems supremely selfish to demand that of a child. It also seems supremely selfish not to answer the call, as subtle as it may be.
Up to a couple of months ago I would instinctively cut short my thoughts about my mother’s aging with the magic words: senior living facility. But my father’s mother aged frighteningly fast in one. And the stories you hear. And my mother’s response when she hears those words is reminiscent of what hearing the word “Ebola” does nowadays.
Perhaps because I have a good relationship with my mother I have begun contemplating a future when she would live with me: a concept I would have mocked months ago. Is the change because now that I have no one to care for all of the time, I can discern that I derive more meaning than I was aware of from this little grouping, this family. Or is it that I’m not as selfish as I always thought I am.
When I first became a mother 23 years ago, I was shocked to discover that I have patience. It was a quality I had never associated with myself. But there it was when I nursed for hours on end, intermittently cleaning up vomited mother's milk, staring at the wonder of a perfect creation for whom I was ultimately responsible. And while at times I have lost my patience, that deep-seated patience whose source is love and connection has become an integral part of my understanding of myself. How can I direct it one way, to a way that is comfortable, suitable to me? While I hope not to be confronted with this as an actuality, the possibility must be confronted. A baby step.
At the hint of criticism directed toward anyone I care about, I turn into a mommy lion with hot pink aviator glasses. It’s not that I ignore faults; it’s that everything has an explainable flip side. It all depends on seeing things from my perspective. Perhaps people think I’m delusional, but that’s okay, I have to live with the games my mind plays.
Surprisingly, this defensive stance has, to some degree, extended to my ex-husband. Even at his most heinous, when I needed to talk about what he had done so that I could hear people tell me how horrible he was, and how strong and right I am, there was always a soupçon of the wife supporting her husband, or, more accurately, a woman supporting the woman who fell in love with the wrong man, or, more accurately, the man who turned out not to be the man with whom she had fallen in love.
I am ashamed that I am divorced, not because of a stigma attached to divorce, since I see the divorce itself as positive: I got out of a bad situation as opposed to staying in it because I had a ring on it. No, I’m ashamed because it is a cudgel to my self-esteem. I made a monstrous mistake in judging my ex-husband, and in judging my ability to judge a person. Though I am positive that the man I met in 1982 was not the man I divorced in 2007 (and the man he has become since then), it is still a burden to bear. But the man behind the bear, the original man, that is who I defend. (Or is it the woman who fell in love with that man?)
Perhaps my defense of him comes from a sorrow as deep as love, one whose origin is emotional rather than logical. Logic: I am sorry that he did not remain the man I thought he was. Emotional: I am sorry that he did not become the man he thought he was. If he had gone on with his life, to a new job and a new wife, rather than an unknown mental state and an impoverished state at that, there would have been no psychic need for me to transfer hate and fear to pity and blame. Is this survivor’s guilt? Does it show that I am healthy or unhealthy?
It would be nice to relegate the past to the past, but it is not a set place or time, it infiltrates. There is no pure present. Is this what it means to be middle-aged? This is when you realize that you are unable to cut yourself off from the past because it is your fiber, but you can critique it so that, ultimately, you transform it. Analysis as transformation. Failed relationships are leavened by the air of time and thought.
Perceptions and emotions come back in ways that enable us to accept who we were within past relationships, not to define us, but to refine ourselves. The past is not set, it is discovery. And that defensiveness is not a wall but a permeable barrier between selves, enabling me to live with who I was and who I am, and to accept both—all.
You know how sometimes the difference between anticipating something and the reality of that thing can be so wide that it’s hard to reconcile yourself to the fact that they refer to the same thing. Well, that’s what happened to me when I listened to the interview tapes two of my cousins made with our grandparents (my paternal, their maternal). It’s possible that my reaction to the statement that turned the experience tearful in a bitter way instead of a poignant way (though there was that too) proves that what my grandmother said about me is true, but it’s possible that it proves it is not always wise to say what you think, especially to a tape recorder, and that wisdom and insight do not always reside in our elders who can be as petty as the rest of us non-octogenarians.
So there I was, listening to my grandmother’s tales of living in and then leaving Zitomir (Jitomar), Ukraine, Russia, and her arrival in the States in 1922 when she was ten-years old after a three-year journey. The story that stands out from the tape is that she, her siblings, and her mother (her father and one sister had already come to the States) had to hide for a couple of weeks to escape a pogrom (in about 1918). When they returned, what hadn’t been taken from their home had been destroyed. When she went to a friend’s house, she saw some of their furniture, and naively thanked her friend for saving them. Only to have her friend say that they’re keeping everything and that she will not be friends with a Jew anymore and to get out of her house.
My grandfather, who left Grodno, (Belarus), Russia , at around four-years old told stories of growing up mostly on a farm in upstate New York (who knew I have dairy maid in my genes) and that my grandparents owned a candy store (that I can imagine) in Brooklyn, when they were first married.
Then there was plenty of time to reminisce about spouses and grandchildren. There was the requisite statement by my grandmother that she was committed to caring about the spouses her three children picked, and then, oy, onto the grandchildren. There was the grandson with sensitive skin, the hellion grandson, the two quiet granddaughters, the granddaughter who was interviewing them was upset that she was not remembered (couldn’t the woman make something up), there was the nice granddaughter, and then there was Laura. With nary a moment’s hesitation she stated, “She was selfish and spoiled, her mother thought she was the best.” Now I am aware that this statement refers to a visit that a quiet granddaughter and I made when we were twelve to visit them in Miami Beach. I also became aware, many years hence, that there were grownup issues before and after this visit. But for me there was just the vaguely aware reality of my grandparents clandestinely buying things for my cousin and not for me. I don’t remember doing or saying anything that indicated that I was aware of being treated differently, except I do vaguely remember my cousin getting a jeans jacket like mine. So kill me for not liking that. Then my grandmother went on to say how difficult that trip was. Was that really my selfish, spoiled fault?
That trip was about forty years ago, the interview took place almost twenty years after that, and my grandmother has been dead for nine years. I’m going to assume, just because I like to torture myself, that her impression of me never changed. Since I always thought of myself as an obedient, quiet girl (even my teen rebellion was a retreat into books, bedroom, and lone walks), I find her long-held assessment disturbing.
When I told two colleagues what my grandmother said, one of them proclaimed that I must be like her sister who is very un-self-aware. As a person who considers herself very self-aware (as, I hope, is evident in this blog), I found her comment unsettling and slightly offensive. When I told this story to a good friend, her immediate reaction was that I am neither selfish nor spoiled; the horrified look on her face will forever endear her to me.
Those comments pushed me to wonder about the possibility, not of knowing ourselves, but of knowing other people. We live parallel to most of the people in our lives, rarely intersecting enough to acknowledge them as more than accessories to our own lives. How often are we able to separate our filter-of-self enough to recognize the person standing opposite us? Both my grandmother’s and my colleague’s comments reflect more on the blinders within than my actions. How often are we able to see others for who they are rather than not being us?
If I think of my marriage (which would have reached its 29th anniversary this past week if things hadn’t fallen apart) I realize that initially we were opposites attracting, but at some point, how I saw him and how he saw me was not out of respect for thoughts and personality, but a recoiling from them because they were from the other side of a gap that could no longer be bridged by attraction. Hence, no anniversary.
Is that why most of our friends are like us (at least in my experience)? Not because like seeks like, but because like is only able to drop the filter-of-self to peer into another when it trusts that it will be honored in the interaction. Is this internal distance why people are always coming up against each other?
What would have happened if my grandmother had spoken to me, at that time or even years later, about the visit and her impression of me, and if she gave me a chance to express and defend myself? Would my memory of her now be overlaid with this hurt?
One of the key concepts in conflict resolution and mediation is that each side must tell her story and that the other side must repeat it back, indicating that it has been understood and not just heard. Is that why stories are so powerful, because they give us a chance to leave our gated community and peer into someone else’s compound? Stories are how we practice not being me long enough to realize that other possibilities are not wrong, they simply are variations.
For rich and ever enriching lives, it seems to me that we owe it to ourselves, and those whose lives intersect with ours, as well as those whose lives run parallel to ours, to try to be as naïve and trusting as a twelve-year old. We need to try to remember what it was like before judgments were made on who we are and how we are. We need to peer around the corner, trusting that we stand on solid ground even if the wind is doing strange things over here.
There was a moment earlier in the summer when I thought, Oh, how lovely, romance is here. A kind, interesting, intelligent, stable man who wants to hold my hand—and I want to hold his hand. Time to delete my OK Cupid profile. That was until The Conversation.
No, it wasn’t about guns or abortion (although now I realize that those might also have led to The Conversation). It wasn’t even that I was investigating where he stood on the subject, because it didn’t occur to me that he didn’t think the way I thought on the topic. As a sign to how blindsided I was, I wasn’t aware that it was even an issue. Ah, the illusions we have that other people are as sane as we are.
As we sat on a bench opposite a pond, the sky transitioning from late afternoon’s solemn blue to dusk’s soft gray, and after our meandering walk along a stream, the word “evolution” popped up. Leaning back, he said, “You mean Neanderthal man and Cro-Magnon man”—followed by a laugh—a laugh! “No, I don’t believe in them.”
Without any conscious thought, I leaned to the right, away from him, and forward. “You don’t believe in them?” I asked, looking back at him.
“No. I do believe in micro-evolution.” (Apparently you get to create your own phrases that seemingly make you seem less ignorant if your ideas are preposterous.)
“So what, you believe that we popped up on the sixth day?”
“I have to.”
He then went on to continue digging his very own hole in my mind—and, probably, build a glorious mountain to his scholarship in his mind—by explaining the difference between Judaism and Christianity; this from the man who said he had never dated a Jewish woman before, and, I assume, doesn’t know any other Jews. But hey, he was on a roll.
A few months ago I had another date that ended with a thought bomb. At least with that guy I didn’t build up the illusion that this was going well in five dates before the big reveal. No. Date One needed no follow-up.
This gentleman, in response to my saying something about having lived in Israel, stated that he has no interest in visiting there. Okay. That’s fine, don’t go. But there was no stopping the honesty of his thoughts. He then said, “They need to repent.”
Not thinking that I was hearing him correctly, I asked, “You mean the world?” I’m channeling the Holocaust; he was going further back.
“For killing God.”
Whoa. That was quite the statement. I tried to explain some history to him, but he was having none of it. He doubled down and said, “You believe what you believe and I believe what I believe.”
Shockingly, he was surprised that I didn’t want to go out dancing with him after that.
Both of these men made me realize that I have been living under the illusion that I should have blinders on regarding the type of men I can date: I thought that if I was open and accepting, my great big net would enable me to find the right guy. Now I know that I have left myself open to bigots of assorted backgrounds. I’m still trying to figure out why one South American guy assumed that I had converted to Judaism. Does he assume all people start out Catholic?
So I’ve backed off my “all created equal” policy in connection to dating, which means that I now stereotype (with a bit of shame but no regrets, I think). More accurately, I have narrowed my possibilities down to those men who are the boy version of me.
Can I return the anticipatory red-lace undies to Victoria’s Secret?
Look! No snow.
Last night, on the first second date I’ve had in a long time, I experienced time travel. How my 13-year-old self entered my body the moment his tongue sought its way into my mouth is a wonder. But there I was, mother of two, uncertain how to react. It was odd to have someone searching his way into my mouth, making me understand that French kissing is a skill that one does forget. As I broke off kiss one and just as we were going into kiss two, it occurred to me that I don’t have to do this if I don’t want to. And so I stopped kiss two before it really began (right as that tongue came back in and I realized that I need to send mine out on a return foraging trip), said an awkward good night with an awkward hug, and got into my car.
All of which made me realize that the fumbler I had been in my younger years was not because I needed experience to kiss and make love like a mature woman, rather I needed passion beyond the lust, and that still holds true. It was a relief to realize that before I had the chance to ridicule myself for ineptitude, rather than listening to my tongue’s blunt signal.
When people ask the hypothetical: If you could, would you live your life all over again? I generally respond with a resounding Yes. Who wouldn’t want a chance for a great big REDO? (Except for my daughters, of course!) But now I wonder. That kiss made me comprehend, in a way that I hadn’t before, that I have neither the desire nor the energy to relive those endlessly demoralizing battles of self vs. norms vs. expectations vs. boys ever again.
I can remember a sixth-grade kiss in the playground in front of the apartment building where I grew up that pummeled me with doubt. Why did he kiss me? What else would he expect from me? What should I do? Was this okay? Did I want this? And, embarrassingly, what was his name? This set into motion a steady stream of uncertainties that ran in the back of my head far too often in the years to come. (Sadly, that was not the last time I entertained the name question.) The fact that those questions didn’t run in the back of my head when I met my ex-husband has made me even warier. What’s a woman to do who eventually thought that her intuition was trustworthy only to be confronted with its extreme fallibility?
With gratitude, in the minutes after I drove away from my potential paramour, I channeled back my 53-year-old self, the woman who has lived through her life and recognizes that the voice in her head is not the voice of frustrated hopes nor is it the whispered desires of men, but her own voice: a voice that knows that the only question to entertain is Do I want this—with this man? Because in those brief moments, I knew that I wanted it, as in romance and passion, but I wanted to feel my way into it, not think about it.
When I told a recently-divorced friend who is not dating that there would be no date three, she responded, “But you are trying and that is good.” I’m not sure if I agree with that; if anything, I have come to see that the more I date, the more skeptical I become. It’s so much harder to open up to someone once you don’t need anything and it is only a question of desires. Because once it’s about a desire, it’s also about being satisfied without.
And so I will go to bed alone, unable to even imagine what it would look or feel like to have someone beside me, but at least I’m not trampled by the implications of that knowledge, because there aren’t any.
Or maybe the implication is that I live in a state of contentment and possibility; kind of like opening the door on Passover for Elijah the Prophet to come in and have a sip of wine at your Seder. If he doesn’t come, you knew it wasn’t real any way; but just in case, there’s always next year.
The other day I had my first date in a very long time. The date proved that Einstein knows his stuff and that time, indeed, is relative: an hour is not the same in every Starbucks. It also proved that wood is not all that pliable; otherwise, I would have fallen back and out of my booth because I was pushing so hard against the back of the wooden booth, trying to get as far away as possible from the utterly kind, intelligent gentleman who tested my ability to force interest and a smile while knowing that everything he talked about could be of interest to me. So, basically, he proved to me that as much as I might want to like someone, give someone a chance, there’s no fiddling with the chemistry dials. He also enabled my older daughter to consider me shallow because that is what she called me when I used his pilling blue turtleneck as my iconic image of the date. She let it slide when she conceded that perhaps a hardcore academic is not the man for her mother.
A few weeks ago I battled my couch’s magnetic field and went out contra dancing, which is a kind of Irish square dancing that makes you very very very dizzy. This was after a friend said that she was going ballroom dancing in New York, and I just could not take another night home alone. The good thing about contra dancing is that you don’t stay with a dance partner: you have a partner and you have neighbors, and you just swing and swirl along, smiling as you go. And people ask you to dance, to dance, because that’s what we’re there for; although, some people saw me as a fatal woman.
The second man who asked me to dance was much older than I am, much shorter than I am, much rounder than I am, and more facially-haired than I am, but smile I did because that is what you do when you dance and I looked right at him because I was told to concentrate on a person’s nose or eyes so that I won’t get too dizzy. As I walked away after the dance, gasping for air and water, someone said to me in a hush that he is married. I was offended that I was judged for such non-discriminating taste, and, honestly, I hadn’t realized that it wasn’t just a dance for singles. It was also the first time since I was implicated in someone’s divorce that I was perceived as a vixen. Just goes to show there is nothing carefree.
Another man asked me to dance twice and we sat out two dances chatting. In Virginia, having New York Jewish stuff in common is not all that common, so it was a very nice chat. I am a mature woman, which, in my case, is synonymous with being naïve. Yes, I had a nice conversation with a man; yes, I told him that he could contact me; but I did that because I thought we could be friends, I had no desire to sign my dance card over to him. Call me delusional. He emailed me the next day (my email was on the list of people who had signed up for the dance and he was the organizer) to say that he is dating someone and wants to see how it goes with her. Now, besides the fact that I prefer to say no and not be said no to, I was in no way attracted to this man and his assumption, which makes sense, I admit, bothers me. Can’t I make new friends? This might reflect more on him and his attraction to me than on me, but still, I was left feeling disregarded.
It might be that since I have excluded myself from the dating scene, I have forgotten what it feels like to be thought of as anything other than a friend, teacher, mother, daughter. My contacts with people have been restricted to roles that I do well in (don’t ask my daughters or my mother, for that matter) and in which I find comfort. Comfort zone indeed.
So when I go contra dancing again tonight at different venue, am I to smile or not?
I went, I danced one, two, three dances, and I got too too too dizzy to ever contra again. Now I know for sure that I could never have been an astronaut if being twirled around a dance floor is more than my equilibrium can take.
There was no drama, except my fear of spiraling down in a faint onto the prized dance floor. Oh, a man much younger than me, much cuter than me, and more facially haired than me, did ask me to dance, and I said yes, smiling the whole way (dizziness be dam*ed). It is an odd feeling, being smiled at while dancing, because it really does mean nothing, it is one of the moves. But he was so attractive and friendly that I let my mind play its “Oh, he likes me” soundtrack for the moments of the dance. And I did see, briefly, the allure of being a cougar. (It is not about the man, but about how glorious it feels to feel young again because for those moments together you can keep to your no-mirror-nearby illusion that you are still young and vibrant, and the world holds more possibilities than disappointments.)
My two evenings and one afternoon of possibilities came to naught. Well, not exactly nothing because I feel that I am truly okay if I dance (this is metaphorical now) and okay if I don’t. I could be in someone’s arms as we sway from side to side barely dipping, or I could turn off the lights when I am home alone and dance to my sense of abandon. Or I could do both, at different times or not.
Maybe I also understand the attraction of a cougar. It’s not about a mommy figure or how beautiful mature women are; no, it is about a woman who is in control of herself, even when she's in a tizzy (literal and figurative), and knows that that’s pretty darn impressive—alluring even.
For the past year, a good friend has toyed with the idea of joining an online dating site. The last time that she visited me we went on match.com and looked at other women’s profiles and men’s profiles, and then we composed her profile. Once she got home, though, she looked over the site again and decided that the men all looked old. She figured she’d go dancing instead.
This past week she contacted me about finally doing it. But when she found out that match.com costs $40 a month, she decided against it. A little later she said she’d join a free site. The next day she forwarded to me an article about friends who wrote each other’s profiles and asked if I would do that with her. Why not, I thought in a moment of positivity, feeling protected by the fact that I’m doing this more as a friend than as a woman who feels sidelined from the life of the world by sitting at home alone.
I must say, our profiles show that we are both women of wit, intelligence, and compassion. They are also, I hope, STOP signs to those 50-year-old men who have not learned that they need to wear their shirts in their profile pictures (even if they still have muscles), or who don’t understand that women don’t want to be revered for being the vessel of their longing, and certainly DEAD END signs to those men who, in the more than 30 years they should have been interacting with women as equals, still don’t get that we are not their mothers and that we don’t want to coddle their egos, we would much rather play snarky-comment ping pong.
Regardless of what happens on the dating end, her describing me in my profile as being “good at friendship” made this exercise absolutely worthwhile. We know our friends and we know that we remain friends because we have things in common, and we have what to talk about, and we care about each other, but how often do we come out and say it? When I told a friend at work about what my other friend said in my profile, she commented that she’s glad that she doesn’t have to be on dating sites and, “Yes, you are good at friendship.” So I thank her, too. Which leads me to what this exercise has made so clear: the more mature we get, the more content we get, the more we realize that this is because of our friendships. They are not the side-car to our main-car: we are all riding in a van that somehow keeps expanding to add more seats.
All day I watch my students develop their friendships in between my lessons. There is nothing that most of these teens would rather do than talk (or text friends) or do the teen version of snarky-comment ping pong. And while their ability to go to “outside voices” talking within a nanosecond of my turning around to get a handout, I have come to understand that we all desperately need someone to hear us. Love. It can be grand, but it is not the staff of life. No, that is in the pleasure in presence that is captured in getting together for Sunday morning brunch or Shabbat dinner or in calls to California. Friendships are the yard, the garden, the field from which all else can develop be it love or creations or strength.
When I was their age, I overlooked how important friendships were; they were merely there as a backdrop until true love would come galloping in. So silly. So much wasted time misconstruing life.
But back to love. I don’t know if I want love. Or maybe what I don’t want is the version of love that I have lived through. I wonder if my fathoming the importance of friendships will enable me to create a more balanced love when/if it develops in my planter?
Today I was back on my back with my legs up in stirrups, and I didn’t even have to wait a year to get into that enchanting position.
Two weeks ago I had my annual gynecological exam and pap smear. And then, as is generally acceptable, I forgot about it. But at the beginning of last week, while I was at the Sears Auto Center waiting far longer than an hour-hour-and-a-half that I was told it would take to change my front tires before what was supposed to be the first winter storm of the year, I received a call from my gynecologist. When she asked me if I wanted the good news or the bad news first, I decided to be brazen and go from bad to good. I mean, no use going for hope just for it to be immediately dashed. She said that I might have a virus, but heck, the pap smear was fine, and then she invited me back for a follow-up test, as soon as possible.
For the next half hour, I was sort of thankful that I finally got a smart phone and researched all that I could about said virus while sitting in a very bare waiting alcove. When I got to the point where there was nothing else to read except about treating cervical cancer (worst-worst-worst-worst case scenario) or opting for the wait-and-see option, I decided that I really don’t like scare tactics, so I put the phone away and thought about my tires.
At least I got to leave work early today for my exam. A silver lining!
When the nurse was walking me to the special procedures room, she ran through the what-to-expects while she simultaneously ran a one-woman pity part for me. Thankfully (at least for a bad news first person), the doctor went for the breezing right along positive approach to talk about the highly unlikely results but it will be fine and we will just need to have more frequent pap smears probably worst case scenario, and did you have sex with someone who might have had sex with other people and it’s such a shame that so many people have the virus but don’t know it so they keep spreading it around. Okay, I get it: it was obvious that at some point I would be punished for having been lascivious. But that is the past, and I do mean past.
I have been going to this gynecologist since I moved to Virginia thirteen years ago. She is approximately my age and so, over the years, we have developed a wonderful doctor-patient relationship. She used to get the annual lowlights and, thankfully, now she gets the annual highlights. She even met monstrous ex-husband when she got to remove my left ovary. That, of course, is a story. When ex-husband was still husband, he told me that I couldn’t get my ovary removed by her because she didn’t have enough experience with the procedure. I can unequivocally state that I chose my gynecologist over my husband, and I have no regrets. I mean when I’m in a “whose husband was more controlling” contest, I think I can win a lot of points by claiming that my husband thought he had dibs on decisions about my ovaries.
And then there is her nurse who has worked for her for years, and she, too, is around my age and also has children around the ages of my daughters. She proclaimed that she will hunt me down if I don’t come back for my follow-up pap smear, which, as a woman with no family nearby, feels rather comforting.
So there I lay on my back with my pink shirt all buttoned up and a white paper covering my lady parts, which didn’t feel so lady-like what with different instruments been inserted and swapped about, when the nurse gave me a gentle hold-and-release on my left knee. That tap touched me in the deep place within that needs to be touched and acknowledged in such a basic “here I am and there you are” way for an emotional person. Then we all talked about a drunk driving accident a few days ago in which a college student was killed, and how we were all devastated just thinking about what that girl’s parents must be going through.
There are times when you feel cared for in a physical way, like when I ran into my second cousin the other day after not seeing him for almost a year and he gave me two all-encompassing hugs of happiness; and there are times when you feel cared for in an emotional way, like when I received a thoughtful Hanukkah gift last night from my daughters and my older daughter’s boyfriend. Odd to say it, but at that moment on the examination bed/table, I felt a bit of both. The tap on my knee and the confidence that the ultimate would be done to care for me no matter the result transcended my fault-finding and trepidations. Taken together, those three moments within four days have brought me to a joyous serenity which must translate, simply, into feeling loved. Yes, I am loved.
Now I need to hold onto that as I wait another week for the results.
Monterey, California, November 14
One of the joys of living alone is surely that now I can be naked when I make my morning coffee. No longer do I have to fear my daughter, somehow, being awake at 5:35 to see too much of me. I also don’t have to deal with her picky vegan diet. Oh, and since there is no significant other, I don’t have to make breakfast for anyone, so I can be selfish selfish selfish on weekend mornings and get right to the business of preparing eggs just the way I like them or a blueberry pancake and pot of coffee all for me without needing to consider anyone else’s desires or reflections on the day to come, the night that was—or wasn’t. I know, those are significant things, worthy things to find solace in, but in the grand scheme of things (the big picture) I do realize that I am missing out on the beauty of the humdrumness of daily interactions. Now, a conversation on the weekend takes on epic proportions, rather than life as people live it.
I have been told that it takes time to get used to being a single-mother empty-nester, and it has only been three months since my younger daughter went off to college. I guess this is the mother’s version of homesickness, call it childsickness. Never did I think that I would prefer her pervasive negative presence over my ability to put my laundry on her bed. Live and learn.
It is still hard, eight years after the disintegration of my marriage, to come to terms with the terms of my life: the borders that have come to define me are still not me. It is not that I always pictured myself a wife and mother, the matriarch of my clan, but neither did I imagine that the contours of my life would only depend on me. It is an awesome thing, in both senses of the word, positive and negative.
But that’s not true, is it? My daughters still seek me out and I seek them out. My mother calls, and I listen (or I try to in a distracted way) to the minutiae of her life. There is a pattern of interweaving of lives that never seems to cease once there is dependency, for it becomes, inevitably, interdependency. But still, we each have a core that has space for different kinds of love and relationships which give our lives an amorphous dimension that adds depth and perspective. As the physical heart has its various parts, so does the emotional heart need to beat to different tunes.
I wonder if this time of non-significant attachment is easing me into discovering that a fragmented heart burgeons more than does a whole, directed heart.
On Friday, after I finished reading essays that were submitted by students applying for a prestigious award, a colleague noted that I do so much. I looked at him with a quizzical expression. “This and the elections. Is there anything that you don’t do?” he asked.
At first I downplayed what I do by saying that I am not responsible for this project and I was only an elections officer, it’s not that I ran for office. Then I just said, “I try to do what I can.” And it’s true. Now that no one needs me in the way a young child needs a mother’s physical presence more than her advice, or the way a husband needs to see his wife at the end of the day, I can take on myself and other things that I care about.
As the eternal optimist that I am, I wonder if this reshaping of my heart is more prep work than simply constricting to conform with current reality. Is this a time of internal molting? A woman’s autumn that will bring her back to spring?
Garden in Monterey
I am well aware that romance is an illusion with no permanence other than in the mind of the person who desires its lasting truth, yet that hasn’t prevented me from trying to daydream the illusion into my life. It would be lovely, I muse, for the man sitting next to me at this café, where I have come to write alone but to take a break from being by myself, to become overwhelmed by my intelligence that cannot help but emanate from me as I sit here contemplating this essay, although, in actuality, beginning a slow boil as the children playing “Don’t Wake Up Daddy” a couple of tables away keep waking up Daddy who wakes up making a lot of noise, and to be simultaneously overtaken by my Sunday morning peacefulness. Ah, the world could be such a lovely place, but then again, not so much because I have been occupied by this daydream on and off for years with barely a look over except to see if a chair could be taken.
I’m assuming that we are all obsessed, to some degree, with something and my obsession seems to be relationships. It occurred to me, finally (this morning), to stop apologizing to and for myself and just go with it. Is it really worse than a writer obsessed with murder or zombies or the trauma of war? I have decided to let myself luxuriate in my sense of wonder, for at 52 that is what it has morphed into. And, really, what does it say about me that I daydream about someone taking me to the airport and picking me up, with a desperate embrace on each end. Is it really a sign of my weakness as a woman that, although I have a good job and have raised two wonderful daughters and have survived an emotionally abusive marriage, that I have an itsy bitsy bit of emptiness that no class or hobby or volunteer activity will fill. And no one can take away my feminist stripes because I have no desire to hand over my life to anyone, I just want my heart to race when I think of him and I want his heart to race when he thinks of me. Is that a crime?
For a couple of moments there seemed that romance was in the air, but, as these things seem to happen with us people (as in anyone after college), the layers of our lives tend to tie us to the past more than to the future. And so it has dissipated with the residual impact being a re-clarification that I, indeed, am alone and that I, indeed, wish it weren’t so.
I'm back from being in writer's no-words mode.
It is Saturday night and I am home alone in my emptied nest. The window is open, letting in the slight chill of an early fall evening in Virginia, and the crickets are the second soundtrack to the show tunes station to which I am listening.
In the morning I had a breakfast with a friend who is having relationship troubles. Ursula and I have known each other since I moved here from Israel thirteen years ago. We have breakfasted through my divorce, her dating escapades, my dating escapades, her relationship’s beginning, my relationship’s beginning—and end, and the draining interweaving-of-selves part of her relationship that shows just how hard it is to have a successful relationship once you’ve been divorced, and/or have passed 40 and the naiveté that accompanies us in our younger days.
In the afternoon I canvassed for a Democratic candidate for State Senate and against the entire Republican ticket in Virginia. Most people were not home on this beautiful, summer-like Saturday. One woman, whose husband I was there to talk to, tried to tell me that invasive ultrasounds were good because it gives women a chance to really consider killing a baby. Once we got past that, we had a real conversation, in spite of her obvious listening to Fox and my reading of DailyKos. I also saw a couple I know; he said that he was probably going to use his furlough time to do some canvassing.
When I came home, I read a little, I napped, then I walked Poops, and had dinner. For a few hours I have been reading at the computer and trying to write.
Nothing about my day was similar to the hectic pace and child-centric days when my daughters were home, nor was it similar to when I was focused on providing comfort to a husband or a boyfriend, or not getting the comfort I needed. Nothing about my day was less than an expression of myself. It is bittersweet, this open time of not being needed, but there is, too, the sense of satisfaction that the need I now fulfill for my daughters is fully me—and not a role. It is bittersweet, though, to have no one to ask me when I will be home from meeting with Ursula, and then to greet me with a kiss when I return as if I am some long-travelling love. But it was lovely not to think about when I need to be home so that a child or a man won’t feel alone.
There is much to life that is not intertwined with demands; it is astounding to have reached this point and this realization. Living without demands imposed upon me has also meant that I impose fewer upon myself. It also means that the focus I used to have on how I wasn’t as good as everyone but me is loosening its grip, as is my need to do just to show/say/feel that I am doing. There have been weekdays spent working and then coming home and not being productive. There have been weekends when the only thing I have done is to walk Poops. I am resisting saying that I did nothing because I am letting myself, finally, discover that life is life: it really is the moments and not only the actions or experiences or products.
Apparently I needed to be alone to proceed according to my internal clock (except for waking up at five am on weekdays) to become content. Spending a day with a friend, and a cause, and a dog, and then eating leftovers in pajamas is a darn fulfilling way to spend a day.
I’ve always considered myself a loner, so I was surprised to realize that I’ve never lived alone. In two months, though, it will be just me, and I’m not as happy about it as I thought I would be. When I first imagined the empty nest, I envisioned sipping champagne while soaking in a lavender bubble bath with a cucumber masque restoring my skin—with the door wide open and “my” music resounding throughout the apartment. Just me doing what I want. No critical, dismissive teen around. No man whose needs I cater to more than my own. I thought that I would have my own little resort spa, Casa Laura. But before I even had a chance to run my bath, I discovered that I’m not elated.
The empty nest marker signals the end of too much for it to be only about celebration. For almost thirty years I have cared for my loved ones. It’s not that I defined myself by the stuffing I made and the carpools I drove, but I did. How could I not? Sure, I’ve always been something else besides partner and mother, and I’ve always identified myself by my writing and my work, but whoa, this is like having an integral part of my identity being torn from me. A mental hysterectomy.
Am I ready to be just me? It seems so bare. So alone. How will I perceive myself? Obviously, I’m still a mother, but if no child is living in my house on a permanent basis, I need to create a new perception of who I am in relation to my daughters.
I can remember the day when the switch from active to supportive-back-burner mom occurred: the day my younger daughter got her own car. Up to then, the process of not being needed was so gradual as not to disturb my hormones, especially because there were always the driving duties to keep me in the need-loop. But, wow, when she could drive herself and not have to coordinate the car usage with me, I was released from an essential part of what being a mother has meant to me. It would be a lie to say that I didn’t revel in her independence, but it’s an empty independence. Gone were the talks in the car; gone, too, were the sullen silences, but, still, we were together.
Which means that I’ll have more in common with my widowed, retired mother than with my daughters. They are striding into their lives, while I am heading to a spot on a bench, next to my mother.
Oddly, the more I think about it, the more I feel ready to be just me. Over the last year and a half of her driving herself, and the year since Kenny left, I have been able to do what I want, no excuses or blame. I have gotten together with friends, and have spent or wasted my time as me and my pocketbook have allowed. I have been becoming the woman I am meant to be. Active motherhood is a thick layer in the lasagna of life, not the whole pan.
This summer, while my daughter is still here, I have plans of my own: I took a class for work last week, and I’ll teach a writing class for a couple of weeks. I’m also going away for a weekend with two friends and taking a woodworking class (which I’ve wanted to do since I had to take Home Ec and sewing in junior high school and not shop like the boys). It occurs to me that I have already started the transition from “mommy and me” to “girls’ night out.” I’ve been making decisions based on my needs and wants, not strictly theirs, but what is essential for my understanding of myself and my relationship with my daughters is that I still want to give and give and give, but they, rightfully, no longer want to live on the receiving line.
I can’t know what stages the relationship with my daughters will go through as they live their lives. What I now realize is that I won’t be an onlooker to their lives, because I will be on a parallel track: watching them and participating in my own race. Who knows? Maybe they’ll want to glance over every once in a while and see what I’m doing.
Thank you for allowing me to do a guest post on your blog! I am very excited to have this opportunity!
I have recently published a book titled “Never Marry a Momma’s Boy and 62 other men to avoid like the plague!” This book deals with types of men and the problems they automatically bring to a relationship.
Now don’t get me wrong-I really like men-I have been married 4 times (yes, four-I am the eternal optimist!). Men can be interesting creatures-they see the world differently than women, have different interests, and can be fun to be around (not to mention the sex thing!).
But “Being around” a man and marrying him are two different things! Marriage changes everything-you are stuck with the whole person, not just the fun parts!
Men and women are very different (in case you haven’t noticed!) Men tend to be shallower and more rooted in the moment. Women tend to be more introspective, caring, and nurturing. We plan more for the future, and just generally have a much deeper nature in all ways. It makes me laugh that most of the famous philosophers were men-the women were probably at home caring for the family and guiding him in his deep, deep thoughts (that he got credit for!) Anyway, back to our topic…
Some men are genuinely wonderful people (in some ways). Sometimes you would swear this same man had the brains of a nit- and just about as much compassion and understanding!
With all this said, many categories of men come with predictable problems, not just because of the man. Certain problems are just inherent with different habits, families, personalities, or occupations.
This book has been the result of years of observations made as a Public Health Nurse, also working in the ER, Labor and Delivery and teaching Psychology. As the years passed, I noticed, as many of you probably have also, that many men tend to fall into categories, with each category having its own set of problems.
This book was triggered by an event at work-the Momma’s Boy of a co-worker was engaged. Looking at the invitation sent to our office(with a lovely picture of the couple) was a horrifying experience-I saw myself years earlier, and knew exactly what kind of hell that poor girl was going to marry into! That started a cascade of thoughts about types of men to avoid.
At around the same time I emailed an author about a book of hers that I loved, mentioning that I liked to write. She said “Only you can write your book.”
Well, this book took over my life-I would dream of types of men-and wake up to write them down. In the bathtub, types would pop into my mind, and I would scribble them down as soon as I stepped out. I wanted to be done, but kept thinking of different types.
I felt that if I could save ONE woman from a bad marriage, then I would be happy!
So here I am, sharing this on your blog-I hope it helps someone, or at least makes you laugh! If you read this book, please email me your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org-I would love to hear from you!
Here is the link to my book: “Never Marry a Momma’s Boy, and 62 other men to avoid like the plague!”