Dating After Divorce

Last year, when my ex-husband told me he was done with our marriage, a tiny voice in my head whispered, “Might as well join a convent until the girls are in college.”

In the months leading up to the end of my marriage, I thought a lot about old relationships. I dissected what is was about them which made me feel alive and loved – first loves, one night stands, old lovers, flirtations, and even the blossoming of my relationship with my ex-husband. I dreamed of what it would be like to be a woman in love and lust again. Despite repeated attempts, I wasn’t getting there with my husband. Bound by my values to vows of loyalty, the only thing left to do was stick it out.

I  was married, emotionally exhausted, and profoundly lonely.

Here he was, breaking it off and setting us both free. You’d imagine some small part of me would have been excited at the prospect of finding romance again. A convent, however, is neither exciting nor romantic.

It does provide tremendous comedic relief, though. I told friends about my holy thoughts and we had ourselves some good laughs imagining my life as a dating single mother. Humor was good medicine during those first days of raw emotions and trying to keep it together. Once the laughter died down, my separation and divorce became a fact of life not this grand tragic moment, and the reality set in – I’m single.

The last time I was single was over a decade ago when I was living on a college campus in the middle of Boston. I didn’t know tragedy or pain, just possibility. My heart was ripe for the taking, my breasts were perky, and my options for love or a lover were limitless. Whatever my desire, all I had to do was look in any direction and strike up a conversation. People, familiar and new, swarmed all around me, every minute of every day.

Now I’m a mother of two daughters living in the suburbs of Rhode Island. I know pain intimately; and I’m mending a wounded spirit and heart. New people rarely enter my life and I spend more than 50% of my time at places and events geared at the under 10 crowd. Options for love and lust are few and far between.

I tell friends this and they all point me to online dating.

“Everyone’s doing it.”
“People get married after meeting through online dating sites.”
“It’s just how it’s done now. I mean, what else are you going to do? Go clubbing?”
“At the very least you could get laid.”

I gave in. I set up a blank account on Match to lurk around and see if there was hope out there. I made two major discoveries. First, men take horrible pictures of themselves (my advice: step away from the mirror, lose the wife beater, make absolutely no face which you imagine looks sexy or handsome – you will look like Zoolander, hand the camera to someone else). Second, every man within a 50 mile radius of my zip code is incredibly creepy. I searched maybe a dozen times over the course of a few months, and while I saw a handful who seemed not creepy and interesting, I walked away from Match.com with my assumptions confirmed – there’s no way in hell I want anyone on that site knowing who I am or how to contact me. The convent looks more attractive everyday. Even a blind date looks more appealing.

I report back to my friends, those hopeful fools I love so much, they say I can’t give up. I can’t be single for the rest of my life, they tell me. Only until they’re eighteen, I correct them. That’s not so long, right? Aren’t humans living much longer lives these days?

“Use it or lose it” and “You have to get under someone to get over someone”, my newly divorced friends who are dating remind me. Did I mention my divorced friends? Like attracts like and once I got separated, I found myself in this wonderful community of other newly single mothers. These women are supportive, encouraging, and inspiring. They are also very clearly divided down the middle – the dating and the not dating.

The dating crowd tells me you’ve just got to jump back in and have fun (wink-wink-Tinder-Tinder). The not dating ladies remind me to take my time, wait until I’m good and ready, what’s the rush (wink-wink-failed-marriage)? I believe them both.

Have I gone on any dates since my separation? Nope. Do I want to? Yesnomaybe. Do I want to be in a relationship? Yikes, slow down. Do I want to get married again? I don’t know.

I do know -

I want to love again. I want to kiss and hold hands and be caressed. I want to sit and talk about everything and nothing until forever. I want tenderness and a hand on the small of my back. I want to put my head on someone’s lap when I need to cry, when I need to close my eyes, when my favorite show is on. I want someone to hold, to stand by. I want someone willing to put in the work. I want someone to go through the best and worst of it with me and be willing to come out on the other side. I want to trust again, myself included.

So I haven’t dated since my separation. Instead of meeting new guys, I’ve spent the last year making new friends and nurturing old friendships. They’re reminding me of the kind of friend I want to be and the kind of friend I’m looking for in whoever comes next. Slow and steady, this is the road I’m taking towards love.

If you’ve dated after divorce, found love after divorce, and maybe even, yikes, gotten married after divorce, I’d love to hear your story. Every story encourages the romantic in me.

Hugs

Seven has been full of eye rolls and huffing and puffing and “are you even listening to me?” Shitty diapers, midnight fevers, and not sharing seem like a walk in the park right now.

Seven, on my part, has been full of deep breaths and giving space and a voice inside whispering, “Don’t forget the fucking year we’ve all had.” It is teaching and stretching me more than any tearful, toy throwing tantrum ever has. Or maybe those moments prepared me for these moments.

Seven, thankfully, has also been full of rushing me with hugs and unexpected snuggles. Tenderness that catches me off guard. These embraces speak to me.

They tell a tale of a little girl whose world is changing – new home, new school, new routine, new family dynamic. They tell a tale of a little girl between, who can sense the changes around her and those taking place in the world she holds within – heart and mind expanding, growing richer, more complex. It’s the story of a girl who remembers being 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and knows she’s left those days behind but still carries them with her as she figures 7 out. She’s juggling a young heart and big emotions. She’s looking for her place like we all once did (and still do).

So. There are hugs, so many more than before. I relish every one. Eye rolls and raised voices, huffs, puffs and lost patience, today those are the sounds and signals of change and growth and becoming. Hugs are the space the between, the stillness.

This is her love language and I’m no linguistic specialist but I’m her mom so I learn as the moments pass. Hugs, embraces, touch, tenderness, cuddles – this her heart speaks, this her heart calls for. This I give her.

So much has been going on the last few months there’s been little time for writing. Make that no time for writing. And yesterday, in a frenzied pizza joint with 20 kids running around, inspiration called and I listened. We finally moved and are slowly making ourselves at home. This hopefully means I’ll be writing more. Come back and visit, k?

The Grass Ain’t Greener

I’ve been told I’m an amazing mother. My daughters are lucky to have me. The girls are wonderful children because I’m doing such a tremendous job. I usually smile and say thanks while admitting to being nothing more than human, imperfect and human. Anything after “thanks”, though, usually gets brushed aside. I’m left feeling like a fraud. Like somehow, through my writing or something I shared on social media or the tiny moment of my day they witnessed, I gave the impression I’m June Fucking Cleaver. I am far, far from it.

I share a lot about my life and my interests on social media but it doesn’t capture it all.  No one really ever gets to see the whole picture besides us. I share those things because my mind is easily distracted and prone to forgetfulness; so sharing is my way of reliving, repeating and burning it into my memory.

I don’t share when I lose my temper and raise my voice. I don’t share every time one of my daughters has a tantrum. I don’t share all the times I’ve taken toys from my daughters and put them on top of our fridge. I don’t share when I make my daughters cry because I’ve said no yet again or I rush them away from something important they’re doing to go run errands. I don’t share when I’m impatient and take my young children’s words personally. There are plenty of don’t share moments. Those poor decisions I’d rather soon forget, aren’t shared but they certainly aren’t swept under the carpet.

apologize to your children

For some reason, the joyful memories are fleeting while the hard moments are always waiting in the wings. This is why I share the good moments, to hold onto them. This is why I share so much about the kind of parent and woman I want to be; it takes practice and constant learning.

So whether it’s me or someone else, the grass is never greener. We are all human, perfectly flawed and growing. Every mother is amazing. Every child is lucky to have the mother they cosmically chose when they were just a star in the sky. And we’re all doing a tremendous job at this motherhood business. Some days tremendously awesome, others tremendously crappy, and others still tremendously mediocre.

Less Is More, More Is More

We bounded from the car with a skip in our step, coats left behind, giddy to bask in the sunshine of a 40 degree day in a winter full of single digit cold. My hand fell out to my side, waiting for her to reciprocate, and it hung there grasping at the air.

It’s a reflex I’ve grown accustomed to like tucking a strand of hair behind my ear when it’s already pulled back or wiggling my nose to adjust glasses I’m no longer wearing. More and more often my hand reaches out and there’s no hand there to meet it, a reminder of the changing needs of my daughters.

While their hands are too busy holding books or toys or finding comfort in pockets or slicing the air as they confidently stride through childhood, I’m still recovering from other reflexes not soon forgotten. Days when I not only reached out for their hands but slouched over just enough to meet them where they needed me, walking beside them like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Or the one that had me bending at the knees a hundred times a day to hoist them into my arms onto my hip. Where did those days go? These when-was-the-last-time-?, will-they-ever-again-? moments always sneak up on me. This long, winding, changing road of motherhood makes me and breaks me every day.

The girls are 4 and 6 now. They need me less in some ways and more in other ways I couldn’t have predicted. Their bodies are strong and capable; their will as stubborn and determined as ever. They need more of my silent presence, more of my restraint to comment or help or solve, more of the intangibles of life we all seek to feel embraced, guided, and supported by.

Early motherhood is a tremendously physical journey. Feeding, cradling, nursing, lifting, swaying, swinging, bouncing, forehead feeling, buckling, unbuckling. wiping, bathing, brushing, shushing, chasing.

Then suddenly, without much warning, the balance of motherly duties shifts from your body to your heart. Less work on the outside, more on the inside. The needing less and needing more, it’s all more to me. It demands more of me to dig deeper within, to give more, to stand back more, to be present more, to trust more, to witness more.

The funny thing is while their needs for me have changed, my need for them is as fierce and primal as the day they were born. From the very beginning until forever, I need them, want them and for them in the simplest, purest way one human can love another. 

up out away.jpg

Eat, Pray, Sleep

EatPrayLove JuliaMy inspiration, equal parts Julia and Eat, Pray, Love

This past weekend I took the stage for the second time as not just the producer and director of Listen To Your Mother Providence but also as a cast member. Below you’ll find the piece I read. I debated for a long time whether or not to be in the show. I knew I wanted to talk about my life right now, separated and getting divorced and single. I just wasn’t sure if I was ready to be so publicly honest. I began writing and felt so uncomfortable as the words spilled out – there was an unpleasant tingle just under my skin, I felt restless and wanted to step away from the computer and when I read parts back to myself, my voice cracked. That’s how I knew I had to keep writing. Listen To Your Mother is a reminder that however unique your story is, there is someone out there who needs it as much as you do because they’re going through something incredibly similar. It’s about an audience of strangers bearing witness to my story but also about my story being a beacon for someone else to recognize their story is important and that they’re not alone. For you and for me - 

Eat, Pray, Sleep

“I can’t do this anymore.”

Those are the words that launched me into single motherhood.

Standing in our kitchen, no more unhappy than we’d been the last couple of years, doing the mundane tasks of marriage and parenthood,

“I can’t do this anymore.”

5 words is all it took to start the hardest year of my life.

Moments like these, the ones that drastically altar your life from one second to the next, they never happen like in the movies. There’s no change in music to foreshadow impending heartbreak or gut wrenching sobbing begging someone to go or stay or change their minds. Nope. It just kind of happens.

As it happened to me, 3 distinct thoughts ran through my mind.

First, I thought about how much relief I felt. I was relieved I wasn’t the one making the decision to separate, and eventually divorce. An immature part of me wanted to be free of blame for the emotional hurricane waiting for us around the bend. My relief made me realize I was willing to endure many more years of misery in the name of family. My relief put me face to face with how lonely , sad, and unhappy I truly was and how little I was willing to stand up for myself. My lack of action, though, was in itself a decision that holds as much weight as any of the other factors that contributed to the end of my marriage. With all my talk about authenticity and living out loud, my relief put a spotlight on the one area of my life where I couldn’t dare greatly, that I couldn’t pursue with vulnerability.

As quickly as thoughts of relief came to mind, my thoughts went in the opposite direction of deep and introspective to the frivolous and silly thought of Disney World. I thought, “I’ve got to be the first one to take them to Disney.” Mature and logical, right? Despite my separation being as amicable as amicable can be when lives are torn apart and hearts are broken, fear still rears its ugly head. All the promises and dreams of “family” get shaky. What dreams seemed once owned by “us” feel left in limbo. And I know no one truly “owns” these dreams. We both harbor them with the same affection as before but shaky ground is ideal terrain for fear. And Disney, well, it’s a big, silly dream and that quick passing thought is a reminder that separation and divorce make rational human beings think of the most foolish things.

Case in point, my next thought was of Julia Roberts. I thought, “This is my Eat, Pray, Love moment. I get to start over, find myself a James Franco to distract myself, travel to Italy and India and Bali and, best of all, I get to find my own Javier Bardem. I envision Julia, with her iconic toothy grin, globetrotting, learning languages, meditating, finding herself. Quickly, I come back to reality – I’m a mom with two kids. This is not Eat, Pray, Love.

It’s more like Eat, Pray, Sleep. Or Eat, Pray, Torture Myself With Every Romantic Movie Under The Sun, then Sleep. Despite a desire to shed my old life and start a new, the mother in me could never drag her daughters along a soul searching journey around the world.  Someday we’ll travel the world together but certainly not to run away from our lives.

Since that fateful afternoon, I’ve learned a lot about single motherhood. It’s everything and nothing how I imagined.

Single motherhood is cradling my first born in my arms as her body heaves while she’s weeping over the news of the separation. She’s 6 and barely fits in my lap.

Single motherhood is getting flooded with messages from friends offering their support and love and their own stories of love and loss. They are friends I see everyday and friends I haven’t seen in over a decade.

Single motherhood is crying at a stop light when Pink comes on the radio crooning, “we’re not broken just bent, and we can learn to love again.” I held onto those lyrics for a long time before things “officially” fell apart.

Single motherhood is crying when John Legend comes on the radio serenading me with, “Cause all of me, loves all of you, love your curves and all your edges, all your perfect imperfections.” And I cry because I realize despite all the heartbreak, I’m still a woman who believes in and hopes for love.

Single motherhood is talking on my cell phone…again, that’s talking not texting…more than I have in the last 3 years. Laughing and crying on the phone with friends in some of the hardest and best conversations of my life.

Single motherhood is almost peeing my pants listening to my best friend trying to make me feel better about my chances for finding a man with heavy warnings about the perils of online dating. She insists I stay far, far away from the wackos online unless I’m looking for a serial killer.

Single motherhood is coming face to face with how I drown my sorrow. For some it might be a glass or two or a bottle of wine, for me it’s daily stops at the drive thru for an apple pie and a coke followed by an evening on the couch watching Sex and the City.

Single motherhood is kicking myself in the pants to get off the couch and get shit done. Because even though I want to disappear sometimes, I’ve got two pairs of wonder filled eyes watching my every move. So I put on a smile and go through the motions and one day they are no longer just motions but living.

Single motherhood is awkwardly talking to moms on the playground not knowing what to call my ex. Technically he’s still my husband but just calling him my ex sounds like I’m talking about a boyfriend. I’m trying to be honest, for everyone’s sake but mainly my own. So the easy answer is “their father.”

Single motherhood is learning to recognize tantrums that are tantrums and tantrums that are pieces of their broken hearts. Maybe she’s pissed about sharing, maybe she’s working through the weight of her whole world changing in less than a month.

Single motherhood is falling in love with my friends again – for listening when I need to let it all out and for telling me the hard truth when I need it.

Single motherhood is knowing sometimes I won’t be able to talk to my family and certain friends. They love me deeply but my natural inclination to gently chart this new path is too much a stranger to the anger they’re feeling.

Single motherhood is seeing that single motherhood is just as much about my own womanhood as it about being a mother.

Single motherhood is nothing like what I imagined. As a naïve kid I welcomed single motherhood, even sent it an invitation. I said if I wasn’t married by 30 ( my definition of old at the time ), I’d simply have a baby with a friend and be the single mom version of Carrie Bradshaw. Yeah, like Eat, Pray, Love, I was way off.

These are different lessons than I anticipated. Some harder than others, some way funnier than others, all of them exactly what I need to close one chapter and begin another. I won’t be following in Elizabeth Gilbert’s footsteps but I’ll take a word of wisdom from her, “This is a good sign, having a broken heart. It means we have tried for something.”

eat pray love quote

Life is a grand story and every moment, good and bad, is a page that’s moving things along. This page is Eat, Pray, Sleep tomorrow, perhaps, Eat, Pray, Love. All that matters is that I keep on trying, broken heart after broken heart. It’s about always trying for something or else we’re not really living.

—–

A word on the topic of separation, divorce and single parenthood. This is my experience as someone who feels deeply. I’ve met many people since becoming a single parent who have gone through their own separation and divorce or are going through it right now. I’ve learned we have a whole lot in common but we also differ in many ways. Maybe you’re the one who left or the one who got left, maybe there’s an unpleasant reason or perhaps there’s nothing major that broke the camel’s back (from first hand experience, this in many ways is harder than having a Reason), maybe you’ve moved on quickly, maybe (like me) you’re ready to enter a convent until the kids are in college, maybe you’re going through the emotions now, maybe you’re going through the motions now, maybe, maybe, maybe. What I’m getting at is be gentle if you know someone, an adult or child, heck even yourself, going through a separation or divorce. It blows big time and all we need is friends willing to bear witness not ignore the elephant in the room. 

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