Mark

As I pulled into the Starbucks parking lot, I couldn’t have been more surprised to see you. How long has it been – a year? two years? I still feel like I may have imagined it, the impossibility of the timing something I can’t seem to wrap my mind around.

I hadn’t thought of you in ages until earlier today, when Facebook suggested we might want to be friends. I thought fondly back to the brief time that we dated; to that ridiculous first date when I ended up weirdly asking you if you had to lose two limbs, which two limbs would you give up, and how amazed I was that you not only went with the conversation in good fun, but still wanted to go out again after that. Mostly I thought back to the incredible sexual chemistry we had; it had been a long time since I’d felt that charged by another person. In all honesty, it hasn’t happened with anyone since.

I tried to remember why I decided it wouldn’t – couldn’t – work with you. I remembered the way you looked at me sideways through your glasses, your eyes getting almost creepily wide, and how annoying I found that to be. I sighed at how petty that seems, now. But then I remembered how conversation so often needed to revolve around you and I thought, well, that’s not petty. That’s not petty at all.

Still, I’d clicked on your profile picture this morning and scrolled through your feed to see what you’d been up to since we’d last seen each other. (Who’s the creepy one now…?) I saw your nature photography, your running and cycling accomplishments, your kayaking adventure, your easy banter with friends, and I sighed again. You are in so many ways such a terrific guy. You were so close to being someone I could’ve loved.

I decided to go to Starbucks this afternoon to read, but the dog demanded a walk before I left. I amusingly thought to myself, ‘What if these few minutes make the difference between me meeting some great guy at Starbucks, or us just missing each other?’ The thought flitted through my mind before it rushed off, replaced by an army of other thoughts demanding my attention. I brought the dog home and decided as long as I had my shoes on, I may as well walk to get the mail. Another few minutes passed.

And then I finally made it to Starbucks and there you were, passing right outside my window, leaving the cafe just as my car was pulling in. You looked in my direction but past me, while I stared at you in disbelief. A few minutes earlier and we would have crossed paths in the store – you would have had to walk by me waiting in line to order as you made your way out. But now you just passed by, looking preoccupied.

When time unfroze I realized you were with another woman – brunette, like me. You looked uncomfortable, neither of you were smiling. Another first date, I guessed. It didn’t look like there had been much of a connection.

I wonder what you would have done or said if we had bumped into each other inside. I wonder if we would have had coffee, after your coffee date, and what would have come of it. I wonder if we would have decided to extend it beyond coffee. It felt like a fleeting Hollywood moment, full of possibility and ‘almost-was’, even as I remembered all the valid reasons why it didn’t and couldn’t work between us.

I’m not sure why today you unexpectedly came into my mind, and then into my view, but it made me smile, remembering the time we had together and knowing you’re still out there, not that far away as it turns out. You unknowingly brought a little adventure into my day, and inadvertently a little hope that maybe someday I’ll meet someone again who will rekindle that crazy excitement I’d briefly felt with you.

I guess all I’m trying to say is… it was good to see you again, Mark.

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2016: Year in Review

To be honest, I feel a bit shell shocked by this year. Nevertheless, growth and progress come in many forms and now this year too has passed so, without further ado, here are my highlights (or perhaps more aptly named, key themes) of 2016:

1) Exploring the West: In the summer I took a 2-week solo trip to the Western US and Canada, starting with a 10k race in Oregon, moving on to rainforest hikes and ocean beach walks in Washington, mountain hiking in British Columbia, and horseback riding in the Alberta Rockies. Mid-trip I took a break in Nelson BC, staying with a friend for a few days, cementing what is becoming a soulful lifelong friendship. On this trip I discovered my strength and visceral need for connection with body and nature. Coming back from this trip, I started biking to work instead of driving and making day trips to Algonquin Park on long weekends for hiking with a view. I was embarking on an important and much-needed lifestyle shift.

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2) Exploring Love: After two years of purposeful singledom, I started dating again in the Spring, learning a little bit more about myself from each brief relationship. From a nice guy with no sexual chemistry, to an annoying guy with abundant sexual chemistry, to a wealthy guy with no self-reflection, to an unconventional guy with little empathy, I am gradually learning more about what I need, and refining and solidifying my dealbreakers. Whether or not I’ll ever meet a guy who will someday become my best friend is anyone’s guess, but I think there’s value and personal growth in the search.

img_20140419_1421443) Exploring Loss: On December 1, a dear friend of mine died suddenly and unexpectedly from a heart attack at age 63. I’ve never lost anyone close to me before, I had no idea how to even begin to process that she’s no longer in this world. I don’t think I’ve quite wrapped my head around it yet. And then on December 25, my childhood idol whose music I’d hung on to through my worst years of loneliness growing up, passed away suddenly at age 53. I’m surprised at how complicated my grief over George Michael’s passing has been. These two sudden losses at vastly different levels and degrees of proximity to my life have left me feeling very melancholic, and focused on the importance of living fully and immediately rather than perfectly.

img_20160810_1131544) Exploring Change: On my Western adventure, I came to realize that I experience myself and the world differently when I’m around mountains. In the mountains I feel like there is room for me in the world, and I feel like I can breathe in a way that eludes me in this flat congested landscape that I currently call home. I realized that I have unconsciously been travelling to mountains every chance I’ve gotten over the last few years since I started travelling alone, and I think I’m starting to understand why. I’ve now begun to lay the groundwork to make a big move in my life within the next couple of years which feels a bit scary but also exciting and very life-living.

So, those are the biggest themes/highlights of 2016. The only thing left to do now is choose the song of the year!

Song of the Year: 2016

It’s hard to choose this year’s song since 2016 has been so emotionally dichotomous for me. At various points I would have thought my selection would be one of my most-played Awolnation songs of the year – either “MF” or “Windows” – but I’ve decided it’s going to be an old Cage the Elephant song from 2013 that I just discovered a few months ago. As much as I love their newer release “Trouble”, this older song “Telescope” really represents my state of mind this year, ending with the important reminder: Time is like a leaf in the wind / Either it’s time worth spent or time I’ve wasted / Don’t waste it.

With that, I thank you for reading and wish you a happy, healthy 2017 full of love, peace and joy.

Trump and Crickets: The end of a relationship

“Bummer about Trump, eh!”

Those words marked the beginning of the end of my latest relationship.

I was still in shock, reeling from the news I’d woken up to at 4:45am – the news that overnight, the world had changed in a way that I naively never saw coming. I was still grasping to understand how this could have happened and what it meant to me, to vulnerable people in America, and to the world. I didn’t know how to make sense of it, I couldn’t find the words, but I knew “bummer” was not one of them.

Prior to that day, I had already been starting to struggle with my partner’s lack of awareness of his privilege, his lack of deep engagement in meaningful discussions, and his seemingly superficial, self-interested approach to life.

Just a few days earlier, in response to me sharing that I’m feeling a strong and urgent pull to figure out bigger ways that I can make positive change in the world, his response was: “Not everyone can be Nelson Mandela or Ghandi.” I countered that, in fact, there are lots of people – seemingly ordinary people – who make big and small important change in the world all the time, and gave him the example of the two college change-makers in the documentary The Hunting Ground, who found a way to force colleges to deal with sexual assaults on campus. But I knew it was a bad sign that instead of lifting me up, his immediate response was to try to pull me down ‘to reality.’

I knew it was a bad sign a few weeks earlier that, when he was telling me about his first volunteering shift playing squash with underprivileged youth, his story about what made it so great was all about what a great guy he was and how much the youth talked about how great he was, but I didn’t recall him talking about how great any of the youth were.

That conversation came in the middle of a volunteering shift we did together, sorting shoes that were being sent to Haiti as part of a microloan initiative to help families build self-sustaining businesses. When I’d asked him at the end of the shift what he’d thought of it, he replied he’d been hoping we’d only have had to be there for an hour or two so we could have just gone for coffee and hung out, but it was “fine”. I couldn’t help picking up on the tone of annoyance that he was trying to hide.

And it was definitely a bad sign when he chose to dress up as Trump for Halloween, telling me “it was fun to be politically incorrect for a bit. I told some gals that I’d spank them but they were only a ‘4’ so not worth it.”

And so the day came when I learned that Trump was president-elect, and I received an email from this guy talking about how much he had killed it in his squash game the night before, how he was going to a fancy restaurant with corporate finance brokers that night, and then ended with that throwaway line, “Oh, and bummer about Trump eh!”

I replied that bummer was an understatement and explained how and why I was struggling, and that I was just trying to surround myself with like-minded people to process and work through it. I distanced myself from him for the day.

The next night when he came over, I had decided that I wouldn’t try to gloss over my feelings or pretend everything was fine just to make things more comfortable for him. Instead, I told him I was still not ok. I explained how that election decision made me feel disillusioned with society, and how I instantly felt less safe in the world as a woman. I told him about how heartbroken and hopeless I felt that the bad guy won, people made the bad guy win.

While I talked, he ‘listened’, periodically sticking his nose deep into his wine glass and breathing in deeply to once again admire just how fantastic the red wine he’d brought was.

He dismissively made comments like, “well we just have to be glad we live in Canada” and “I just don’t stress about it because there’s nothing I can do about it”. I felt deflated. His commitment to complacency was fierce.

He commented about how I’m always thinking and grinned in a self-pleased way as he said, “In my head, there’s nothing, it’s just crickets.”

Crickets.

My son said to me yesterday that I have a “big mind”. He said it with a tone of admiration and respect, which was a contrast to that almost condescending remark my so-called partner had made a couple of days earlier.

It all became crystal clear. I ended the relationship.

Because in the world I want to live in, people will choose to actively work toward creating a society that is safe for all, whether it impacts them directly or not. People actively engage in critical thinking to challenge dominant beliefs and systems that are not only holding us back as a society but, in many cases, damaging us and the world we live in. Because for me, ultimately, complacency and ignorance are not sexy and frankly are no longer acceptable. And neither are crickets.

ghandi

And suddenly, she was dating…

Healing from abuse is a crazy ride. Just over two years ago, I walked away from an abusive guy, cut off all contact and decided it was time to ‘deal with my shit.’ No more distractions, no dating, just me and my mountain of baggage.

I cried, I drank, I got depressed, I ate Nutella by the truckload, I got confused, I ran, I got angry, I did yoga, I felt like giving up on life, I isolated. I blogged about it, a lot, and will forever be thankful for the online community of caring strangers who caught me every time I was falling, strangers who knew exactly what I was going through because they had been through it too.

Over time I slowly started to find my footing, but still didn’t know if I’d ever be able to take the plunge into dating again. It’s a scary prospect, once you know for sure that there is evil in the world, that there are people out there perpetually hunting for someone to hurt. It feels safer to stay behind the wall.

I told myself as long as I felt any internal drive or pressure to date, it was a sign that I wasn’t ready to be dating. I told myself that for two years and eventually settled comfortably into imagining the rest of my life as a single woman. (With cats, of course.)

I learned to travel alone, and to set goals that were mine and mine alone. I learned to hold my own in a room of married people, I learned how to cheer myself up on bad days and how to stop binging on that damn Nutella.

And now suddenly, unexpectedly, here I am… dating.

As it turns out, all this time I’ve been figuring myself out and making sense of my life, I’ve also somehow figured out where to draw my lines – boundaries, if you will – and how to enforce them.

It turns out I can tell the difference now between good and evil, between caring and controlling, between genuine and manipulative. I know there are evil people out there but now I can recognize them, and that gives me tremendous power and protection.

I can also recognize the good people and appreciate them. I can take it slow, proceeding on my own terms, because good people understand and respect that. Good people treat me with consideration without me having to ask for it, they just do it because that’s who they are. As “he” says: it’s nice to be nice.

To my utter amazement, on my first swim back in the dating pool, I managed to avoid all the sharks in all their different forms, and find a good guy – one who is open and honest and thoughtful and smart and funny and all the things I want and deserve in my life; one who recognizes and appreciates all those things in me, too. One who I can hang out with easily for hours with endless conversation meandering between utter hilariousness and sincere seriousness. One who is as amazed to have found me, as I am to have found him.

Two years ago I couldn’t have imagined this would ever be possible again, but here it is – proof that there is light if you fight your way through the dark, and that there is good in a world that is also evil. Through all the inner wars and doubts and fears I have somehow emerged victorious – stronger, smarter, and surer.

Who knows what will come of this new relationship, it really doesn’t even matter. I am just taking every day as it comes, still marvelling to be suddenly in this new world, in the light again, very unexpectedly but quite happily… dating.

Dating

 

The Other Side of the Story

Recently a friend of mine had to meet with my ex for work reasons. She wasn’t sure if he remembered her from four years ago, but throughout the meeting she felt very uncomfortable. In a moment of anxiety when he left the room, she shared with a woman in the room that it felt weird for her and that she used to work for his ex-girlfriend. The woman tartly replied, “Well I know the other side of the story.”

Over the four years since the breakup, I’ve heard from various people snippets of what the Other Side of the Story sounds like, and it’s pretty amazing to me how he has managed to reframe himself from perpetrator to victim.

I bet the Other Side of the Story doesn’t include how he was making plans with me one morning to get a shared financial advisor to plan for our future, and then on the same day after I left for work how he packed every single item of his from my house and moved out. He even thought to grab the kayak – on a cold February morning – and drive it home 45 minutes away. He then even stopped to get a new haircut before he finally showed up at our shared workplace, came to my office at the end of the day, closed the door and announced, “I’m not going home with you, I’m breaking up with you.” No conversation, no dialogue, the decision had been made and that was the end of that.

Maybe the Other Side of the Story talks about how he repeatedly asked me to take him back just a few months later, but I bet it doesn’t include the part about how I had told him on the day he broke up with me that he’d better be completely sure that’s what he wants because there would be no going back from this decision, the way he was carrying it out.

Probably the Other Side of the Story includes how “controlling” or “selfish” I was because ‘we always did what I wanted to do’, despite my constant requests that he tell me what he wants and needs, something he was ultimately unable or unwilling to do. I suppose it’s much easier to blame someone else for your unhappiness than to take responsibility for it yourself.

But definitely the Other Side of the Story doesn’t include the night he raped me about a year after we had broken up. I was extremely vulnerable, having quickly entered a complicated relationship with an emotionally abusive man who had effectively crushed whatever self worth I’d had left after the breakup. And despite the fact I told this ex he could stay over but I absolutely didn’t want to have sex with him, and despite the fact that I said no several times as he kept climbing all over me, he didn’t care and ultimately got what he wanted when I gave up and laid still to hurry up and get it over with. The next day he had the audacity to tell me how special the night was, I replied that I was angry and reminded him that I didn’t want that to happen and that I had told him so repeatedly. I didn’t call it rape that morning, but he recognized that’s what it was and eventually I was able to name it that, too.

I can’t help but remember stories he’d told me about how his ex-wife (before me) was disengaged during sex, and how after several unhappy years and a period of time without sex, he decided maybe if they had sex again it would help the relationship. She ended up getting pregnant, the relationship didn’t get better and he left her while she was still pregnant. I wonder if that’s part of the Other Side of the Story he tells other women about his ex-wife? Probably not, though I remember when he told me, he still managed to somehow come out sounding like the victim. If I knew then what I know now…

I don’t tell people the bad things he’s done because I don’t want my experiences with him to cloud other people’s friendships/working relationships with him, I don’t want to put people into difficult positions of feeling they have to take sides, and I believe whatever happened between us should stay between us. But I’m getting pretty tired of hearing from third parties that so many women are sitting around saying “that poor guy, he deserves to have a nice girl.” I bet girls say the same thing about the emotionally abusive asshole who came after him, too. People have no idea.

So please, if ever you feel compelled to take sides after an acquaintance’s relationship ends, try to remember that no matter how nice this person seems, there’s an OTHER Other Side of the Story and you have no idea what it is. But maybe if you knew it, it might change the way you see the person, maybe in pretty significant ways. At the end of the day, all you know is nothing more than just that… a story.

Dating Efficiency

I love the movie “P.S. I Love You.” It can make me cry within 2 minutes – any scene, anytime. There is one aspect of it I used to not be too fond of, though, and that is the way the main character’s older sister Denise (played by Lisa Kudrow) screened out men for dating.

For those of you who haven’t seen the movie, you can watch the clip here. Basically, when Denise first met a man she would say the exact same things:

  • I like your [tie, chain, whatever].
  • Are you single?
  • Are you gay?
  • Are you working?

If they passed those three questions, the next test was a kiss to see if there was chemistry. If they failed any of the tests, she would literally just turn and walk away without another word.

I’ve always thought this was a callous way to try to determine if someone was dateable. I mean, shouldn’t there be more time to get to know him? Shouldn’t there at least be an attempt to gain context if he says he’s not working or if the kiss didn’t launch fireworks?

I’m not so sure anymore.

I don’t know if it’s because I’m 40, or if it’s because I’ve spent so much time getting to know myself that I no longer feel the need to win other people’s affection, but today I found myself behaving not that differently than Denise.

I was at a party that was also being attended by a guy my friends have been wanting to set me up with for over a year. For the first half of the party, I avoided him – I hate situations with that much pressure on them – until suddenly I found myself unexpectedly standing next to him. I looked over, smiled, and paid him a compliment. Within 4 minutes, I learned that he wants to have children (which I do not), after which I quickly wrapped up the conversation and went back to my friends.

As they all giddily raised their eyebrows and leaned in to find out if this handsome man had sparked my interest, I simply said, “He wants babies.” End of story. Nice guy, but I’m not interested in negotiating.

I suddenly felt like Denise. (Well, to be perfectly honest, I thought ‘Oh my god, I’m just like Phoebe’ because I still struggle to see Lisa Kudrow as any character other than Phoebe Buffay.) But this time I saw Denise from a different perspective. She’s a woman who knows what her dealbreakers are, who doesn’t care what people think of her, and who doesn’t want to waste her time on small talk because she has way more interesting things to do with her life.

I don’t think it needs to be done as directly or coldly as Denise does it, but at the end of the day isn’t this what all single people are trying to do when they’re in the dating pool – figure out who passes those minimum requirements for consideration?

As we get older and feel less of a need for validation and approval for others, I really don’t see too much of a point in extending a conversation far beyond its purpose just to try to be polite, especially when it’s unlikely we’ll ever see that person again. In fact, thinking back to earlier years of dating, I’m sure that politely extending the conversation is what got me into a lot of awkward situations and misunderstandings, which then required more long polite unwanted conversations to straighten out.

I think I’m at the age, or maybe just at the point in my life, where I know what I want and what I don’t want. I’ve learned my dealbreakers. I know how the dating game works, both with the good guys and with the bad guys. The good guys might find this approach a little cold but ultimately I believe they’ll appreciate not feeling misled and not having their time wasted. The bad guys don’t deserve one second longer of my time than they manage to steal, so no harm done by cutting those conversations short.

So, I guess I’m turning into that girl. Maybe that will make me seem a bit bitchy but I say it just makes me a much more efficient dater, and I’ve always been a fan of efficiency. 🙂

yes i'm single

Awesome, Not Awful

I had been dreading this past weekend because it was going to be my first weekend alone since my breakup. Now, on the other side of it, I’m feeling pretty giddy and frankly proud of myself for getting through it like a champ! So, what turned things around to make this weekend awesome instead of awful? I can think of three things:

Goals Saved the Day! – Last week I gave some thought to what I could do at home over the weekend that I would actually be interested in, and decided it would be fun and useful to try to expand my culinary horizons. Since I’ve been thinking increasingly about reducing meat in my life, on Friday I printed off a stack of vegetarian recipes I wanted to try out. On Saturday, I started off by making pesto quinoa – yummy! I  then inventoried all my spices at home, went out and stocked up on all the new spices I would need for my recipe adventures – turmeric, cayenne pepper, garam masala, coriander, red curry paste, etc. On Sunday morning I woke with a sudden craving for scones and thought hey, if I’m trying to expand my horizons, maybe I can make my own scones – so I did! And while my tasty cinnamon scones were baking I made aloo gobi for the first time, which was surprisingly easy to make and quite tasty. Tonight, I’m going to try making malai kofta – mmm, can’t wait!

Forced Sociability – A couple of weeks ago I had committed to going to a party on Saturday night. It was being thrown by a friend of a friend to celebrate her birthday, and the party’s theme was “Parti de l’amour” (groan). I was dreading it. I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to know anyone there, but because it was this girl’s actual birthday and it didn’t look like she was going to have a great turnout, I didn’t feel like I could cancel. I reluctantly hauled myself there full of dread and misgivings. Well, it turns out one of my best friends was a last minute RSVP and, even though there was just a small group of us, we all had a great time chatting and laughing until 1:30am! Once again I learned how important it is to go out and do things, even if I don’t necessarily feel like it in the moment.

Fabulous Friends, Old and New – Throughout the weekend, various invitations popped up for future events. Notably, my best friend asked me to be her Valentine’s Day date this Friday since her boyfriend will be working (just like last year), and an old friend proposed a dirty girls’ day doing a Mud Run this Spring – in just a few hours, we had a team of 5 confirmed and are now planning our costumes. So fun! As for new friends, I joined a few new meet-up groups last week and enjoyed the steady stream of social options pouring in. I’m really looking forward to having new adventures with new people in the coming weeks. Ok yes, the introvert in me is a bit nervous about it, but knowing there are so many people like me out there just looking for people to do things with is actually super comforting!

So, I consider this weekend a win. Of course there were tears now and again, but overall I really enjoyed it. Today I’m in a great mood and frankly wish I had more time at home to keep enjoying all the things I started over the weekend! Life is truly amazing.