Wherever you go, there you are

For the last week, I’ve been travelling through what I hope will be my future home province someday. I arrived with great hope and expectation about what I might discover, and nervousness that I wouldn’t discover anything at all. I was so thrilled to have an epiphany early on about what to do with my career that I started to think I could just relax on this trip, assuming everything was going to go well and life would all start to sort itself out into a state of clarity.

I spent 3 nights in a small town, renting a room in the home of a man the same age as me. We ended up spending a lot of time together as he showed me around town, took me on hikes and we stayed up late into the night sharing life stories. He talked about wanting to take me on his motorcycle someday, wanting to show me so many more things in the future, and about how his mother would be surprised to learn he’s dating again. By the time I was leaving, we were holding hands in the car and kissing goodbye. I didn’t think I was personally investing too much, it just felt nice to be connecting with someone in that way after what has felt like a long time of being single.

Of course now, two nights later, I just feel profound loss. In the light of day, I see how he is too much like every emotionally unavailable, narcissistic guy I’ve been involved with in the past. I see how I let myself get caught up in a ‘relationship’ for no reason other than it felt nice not to be alone. I see that everything he said and did was self-serving and insincere.

I thought I had left these old patterns behind and yet here they are, following me halfway across the country reminding me that wherever I go, there I’ll be. There I’ll be with all my history, all my old wounds that are still healing, all my vulnerability and weakness and fear. Just when I think I’ve left them all behind, there they are.

Man, what a crappy discovery to have on vacation.

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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.

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

Why We (I) Stay(ed)

I started this post a week ago. What a difference a week makes.

My friends struggle to understand why I am in a relationship with a man I constantly fight with, continuously think about breaking up with, and regularly feel unhappy with. Some of my friends have quit the struggle and prefer to stay out of it altogether. A precious few accept it – whether they understand it or not – and just keep waiting for something to give. 

I’ve known him for almost 4 years but we’ve only been dating officially for maybe 6 months. We have a tumultuous past that began very quickly after my ex-fiance broke up with me unexpectedly. I fell in love quickly, even though serious problems were evident from the start. I remember saying to him then: “You are the most selfish person I’ve ever known.” We only dated for 2 weeks back then. We broke up, tried to stay friends, and when that didn’t work we went through cycles of not speaking for months and then reconnecting into a highly charged “friendship” with loose boundaries. Very loose boundaries. I kept going back. He was persistent, I was attached, and we had incredible chemistry.  

When he approached me 6 months ago asking me to reconsider a relationship with him, I turned him down. I had a vision of the kind of relationship I wanted, and I knew he couldn’t provide it. I wanted to feel comfortable, and loved. I wanted easy conversation and mutual respect, stability and support. I wanted a partnership. Eventually he provided a compelling enough case and I agreed to give it a try. Two months later I ended it, then again 2 months after that. My friends were shaking their heads.

Three weeks ago we had a fight and I thought, “That’s it, this has to be the end. It’s just not working.” Fights were starting to become a regular weekend occurrence for us. I try to avoid making permanent decisions in anger so, as usual, I told myself to sleep on it. Of course I got no sleep that night. The next day I told myself not to make permanent decisions when I’m tired and, well, you can see how this goes. Eventually, I finally got a better night’s sleep and told myself the next day, “See? Things aren’t so bad.” He was being sweet, and I was relieved to be feeling a little better. 

But the problems were still there, and they were still keeping me up at night. They were on my mind all the time. Half the time I was thinking about how insurmountable they were and how I needed to end the relationship. The other half of the time I was trying to figure out why those problems existed – what were we both contributing and what could we both do differently to avoid those problems.

The following weekend I thought for sure the relationship was going to end. I had spent a week thinking things over and couldn’t see a way out. It just wasn’t working. I was unhappy, I didn’t feel valued, I didn’t feel like I had a partner. In fact, of all the things I had envisioned for my next relationship, I could find very few of them in this one.

And then, in the middle of that weekend’s fight, he said, “You know it’s because of you that I say felt that you were attacking me (for example). In the past I would have said You attacked me.” And I suddenly saw that we were making progress, that he actually was trying to do better even if he’s not really one to openly acknowledge it. He had quietly noted the need for change, and was trying to work on it. I value that. It brought tears to my eyes, my heart grew three sizes and I instantly recommitted. If he was willing to try, so was I. 

I’d never known anybody like him before, and he said he’d never known anybody like me before. Of course it would take time for us to learn how to be with each other – we just needed to try harder. It was becoming a common refrain for us – we just have to try, we just have to try harder.

Since that day just over a week ago, we fought again, twice. In fact, one night we fought (“discussed”) until 5:30am. It’s amazing how much truth comes out in exhaustion. And truth is kind of like a brand new comforter – once you pull it out of the packaging, there’s just no way you’re going to be able to fold it all tightly enough to get it back in. Once it’s out, it’s out for good.

So, today we broke up. The few friends I have left are being kind and sympathetic. They’ve run the marathon with me. They passed the ‘I told you so’ marker long ago and have just been waiting to see the finish line. They also know that often the finish line is a mirage, so they will cautiously stand by to make sure this is permanent before they say too much. 

I loved him. I do love him. I knew we had the odds stacked against us but I thought I was onto a special secret – that this guy who was troubled and emotionally distant was really a sweetheart just waiting to be loved into happiness. He was incredibly smart, funny, driven, and relentless in trying to get a foothold in life. In so many ways I admired him.

I love discovering people who have unexpected layers of amazingness the rest of the world can’t see. I guess on some level I think that makes me special. Now I think it just makes me like every other person who stays in an unhealthy relationship. We try too hard. We stay too long. We’re hopeful to a fault. We’re a dime a dozen. 

But I’ll tell you this: we’re not weak and we’re not stupid. We know what’s happening. We see the bad, we just whole heartedly want to believe it will get better. And we have the strength of armies because we will go to great lengths and endure great sorrows in the hopes that it will get better.

So the next time you’re frustrated with a friend for not leaving a ‘bad’ relationship, or you find yourself saying “why doesn’t s/he just leave?”, please try to remember that person is just trying their best to be happy. They are hopeful and they are strong. They need your patience and support, not your judgement and ultimatums. 

Ironically, in the end, it was a Facebook post from one of his female friends (who had been the subject of previous fights between us) that tipped me over. It didn’t say anything particularly amazing, and it wasn’t anything I hadn’t heard before. It just said the right thing at the right time:

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