“No one will ever want you – you have three kids.”
Yes, that’s an actual quote from an actual human on the topic of me leaving my husband. I felt cursed. I felt like I was damaged goods. I felt like this person was right. Until I started dating again and I found out that they were very wrong. I could get a date! I was desirable – I was attractive – I was wanted! But then, I started to have doubts.
When I got ghosted the first time… and then the second time… and then the third time… all of them saying, “YOU’VE GOT THREE KIDS!”
Yeah, homie, I know. I was there.
The next time it came up, it was a two-fer. This person said the same for him and for his friend – yes I was romantically involved with friends – not at the same time; years apart; the first gave his blessing. But anyway… this person told me for him and his friend precisely why I was fun, but not a keeper.
Then came this one wildly attractive guy that I had a crush on – now, let it be known, I have crushes on many people, frequently. People are attractive, and for me, 98% of the time, I’d rather silently admire someone from afar than actually try to get to know them. I think it’s important to acknowledge attraction as a normal and natural thing – and a thing that can exist within itself as only that – a crush. People, especially people we are attracted to, don’t need to be owned and kept. Why are we so incapable of acknowledging beauty without trying to own it? Anyway, that’s another show. THIS show, is about the crush that jumped the entire gun to break up with me before we even talked about having a date because I already have kids and that’s something he wants to experience for the first time together with someone else.
And finally, most recently, I was just told, “You’re like the perfect woman! But you’re divorced and have three kids. I want to have kids. If we have kids together, my first kids won’t be your first kids.”
Yep, I’ll say that one again – my first kids won’t be your first kids.
Now, let it be known, I would rather be single and happy than feel guilt or shame for having three delightful children with a man I very much loved at the time. Those boys were made from love and they are the very epitome of it.
And we are a package deal. It hurts my heart to think some men would rather abandon the treasure of loving me because it means they’d also have to love my children. It makes me ache to know that they’re missing out on three of the best children in the world. That is entirely their loss – times four – and if they don’t want to find out how awesome my kids are, they don’t deserve me either.
I’d also like to point out pointedly point out – that as a pansexual – only cis-het men have expressed this concept of sperm-egotism; women and non-binary people I have dated couldn’t care less – they embrace me and my little darlings.
My personal opinion, I am pretty fucking awesome and I have no doubt that if and when these men find their life partners, they will always wonder about me – they will always wonder, what if I had given Octavia a try.
And you know why? Because kids grow up. Children are temporary fleeting treasures that are here for a few moments and then off on their own to adult in the wild. When the children are gone, what’s left but the two adults that raised them and whatever partnership they have is fully exposed. Children are neither bandaids nor baggage. They can’t save a relationship up against the ropes and they certainly shouldn’t be a barrier between two hearts that desperately desire each other.
Since I have been prematurely rejected more than five times with this – but you already have kids – response, I decided to take this strange perspective to the socials and to ask for others’ ideas on the topic.
Many of the responses were confirmation bias – trashy insult; they’re intimidated by you and this is a neg to make you feel small; it’s just an excuse for being noncommittal; this is fragile masculinity afraid to parent a child he didn’t produce; immaturity avoiding responsibility… but then there were a few I hadn’t heard before, something on the topic of purity. This is the angle I want to explore and then destroy…
Hey everyone — guess, what? This beaut [ pr. “beyoot] of a blog is turning into a podcast! Starting this month, Tavinda Media is putting these very articles on the air and I can’t wait to share my new vision of Road to Relovery with you.
Some new things coming up: another facelift for this web site and I’ll be adding new voices to the table, too. Each episode could feature me, several guest co-hosts or even a panel of other lovely people to discuss some of these very topics — and more!
My vision is to keep talking about these real life issues and keep reminding you — yes you — that you’re not alone in whatever it is you’re going through. Don’t hesitate to reach out with feedback or questions, and don’t for get to rate, review and subscribe to the Road to Relovery podcast!
So, you’re smitten with a parent…but half of those kids’ chromosomes are not from you. Yikes.
Not yikes! Shame on you! We’re awesome!
OK, no shame, really. It’s totally acceptable. In my opinion, any aversion to dating a single parent is just as superficial as being primarily attracted to a certain skin color or body type. And the stigma of single parenthood is just as archaic as Jim Crow laws. Unfortunately, the philosophies still prevail today; they simply lurk under different headings <ahem bathroom & gender ahem> [don’t get me started] or are introduced with false acceptance such as, I’m fine with it, BUT...
Save your big but.
Abstaining from single parents is simply your preference. It’s also something you can get over – if you want to. But the cool thing about dating is that you get to date who you want. So if you’re likely to avoid dating a parent, that’s OK. This article is not for you. You can also jump onto chats like these and connect with your fellow brethren.
Ok ok ok, maybe I’m a little bitter. But still. I’ve been burned. I’ll venture to average about 90% of men I’ve dated since my divorce that either went ghost or ended things because I’m a mom have come back, regretting their judgmental rush to rule me out. Well, as I’ve said before: 1. I’m awesome (along with many other single parents) and 2. I will not be back-burnered while you look for something better. Because when you come back feeling silly and want another try, this is what I’ll say: Nope.
On the other hand, if you are brave enough to think about entering into a relationship with a single parent or if you are already in a relationship with a single parent, here are some things to consider:
It’s OK to say you’re not ready. So, yes, you are head over heels for a single parent. Praise Baby J. But you’re terrified to meet the kids. What if they don’t like you? What if you don’t like them? What if they’re naughtier than you expected? What if xn?
Remember, you have a voice. If things are moving too fast for you, just speak up. Slow does not mean no. No means no. Asking to slow down isn’t rude or rejecting; it’s valid and healthy – especially for the kids. The same way kids deserve two happy and healthy parents, they deserve the happiest and healthiest version of YOU as the significant other. If you’re really with your Best Match, they’ll understand and respect your pace.
Asking to slow down isn’t rude or rejecting; it’s valid and healthy – especially for the kids.
Acknowledge what you’re in for. I’m reading this incredible book right now called Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them by John Ortnberg. A section in the very beginning stood out to me and will stay with me forever:
A friend of mine was ordering breakfast during a recent trip in the South. He saw grits on the menu, and being a Dutchman who spent most of his life in Michigan, he had never been very clear on the nature of this item. So he asked the waitress, “What exactly is a grit?”
Her response was a classic. “Honey,” she said (in the South, waitresses are required by law to address all customers as “honey”), “Honey, they don’t come by themselves.”
Grits don’t exist in isolation. No grit is an island, entire unto itself. Every grit is a part of the mainland, a piece of the whole. You can’t order a single grit. They’re a package deal.
“Call it a clan, call it a tribe, call it a network, call it a family,” says Jane Howard. “Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.” It is not good for man to be alone. Dallas Willard says, “The natural condition of life for human beings is reciprocal rootedness in others.” Honey, you don’t come by yourself.
None of us come by ourselves. Even if you’re an anti-single-parent dater, you still have to deal with your lover’s mother(s), father(s), sisters, brothers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, godparents, cousins, best friends, work friends, kinda-friends, dogs, cats, lizards, fish…germs. Everyone comes with an arsenal of people and connections and microorganisms that you’re going to have to navigate anyway. So kids aren’t going to be that much more added to the circus for which you’ve already bought non-refundable tickets.
Kids are a lot of work. They’re needy. They’re loud. They’re rude. They’re dirty. They’re messy. But they’re also hilarious. Compassionate. Honest. Adorable. Gentle. Affectionate. And they’ll teach you more about life than any fancy professor with a ton of letters after their name. You’ll feel drained, overwhelmed, terrified, uncertain, and you’ll probably doubt your decision at least three times a day.
But children are, unfortunately (or fortunately?), temporary; just like any season, phase, and quite frankly, all of life. So enjoy the ride. Savor the moments. Take pictures. Smell the rain. Remember how tiny their hands are in yours. Remember how soft their fingertips are as they touch your face. Remember that joyful giggle.
As I mentioned in PART 1, the kids will grow up, move out, chase their own dreams and start their own families. At the end of the day, you’ve just completed one of the grandest adventures with your Best Match and Life Partner. Isn’t it amazing what you two can accomplish together? It will be worth it.
Remember how tiny their hands are in yours. Remember how soft their fingertips are as they touch your face. Remember that joyful giggle.
Remember what we’re NOT. Single parents are not charity cases. We don’t want your pity. We don’t want favors. We are strong, resilient and dedicated. We are fierce and driven. We’re survivors. We don’t need you to be our hero because we’ve already become our own heroes –for ourselves and for our children. Please don’t date us thinking we need you or that karma is going to come rain goodies on you because you’ve taken in what others have kicked out. Remember that we’re just souls hoping for passionate unconditional human love like any other single person. If you think you’re doing some noble deed by dating a single parent, please leave us alone.
Remember that we’re just souls hoping for passionate unconditional human love like any other single person.
Know your role and know your value. You are engaging in a partnership with someone that could be – or is – your Best Match. Your role in their life and family is their Best Match. You are not a substitute parent (and PLEASE don’t even entertain the temptation to compete with or one-up the other parent). You are not a babysitter. You are not a disciplinarian. If you feel a lot of pressure to fill roles outside of significant other, speak up. Of course, joining in a lasting partnership involves sharing some responsibilities, but take a step back and consider how your presence lands in the kids’ world. It’s better to slow down and limit your time with the kids than to impose and confuse them. Remember that your presence might make them feel guilty; like they’re cheating on their other parent by enjoying your company. More on the kids point of view in Part 3…
Your role to the children varies, depending on their age and developmental stage when you enter the scene, but you are always meaningful. As your relationship with the kids grows, you can be a huge asset – especially to older children. For teens in particular, you might be their preferred adult confidant and listening ear; they might open up to you more than they would their biological parent, trusting that you will guide them without shaming them. You can be a very powerful positive influence for them when they need a consistent and reliable presence the most; something really meaningful, filling a unique space between friend and parent.
Joining in a lasting partnership involves sharing some responsibilities, but take a step back and consider how your presence lands in the kids’ world.
Communicate – comfort level and expectations. I personally hold to the One Year Rule. When you have kids and you’re dissolving a marriage in the state of Illinois, you’re required to take an online course and pass an exam on successful co-parenting. It was actually very practical! (High Five, State of IL!) When it comes to significant others, the course recommends the One Year Rule; that you and your significant other have been consistently and officially dating for at least one year before making introductions to the kids. This is to protect the children – from confusion, from having too many inconsistent people coming in and out of their home, from getting attached and then getting heartbroken when you break up, from setting their relationship norm to a standard of “shallow” and “temporary,” and so forth.
If one year is too long – or not long enough – speak up. As I mentioned in another article on starting a relationship off right, holding back your fears or reservations only plants seeds of resentment. Communication is the foundation to any relationship, no matter how intimate or minuscule. So speak up. Discuss. If you’re not comfortable sleeping over, say so. If you don’t want to watch the kids, don’t. If you’re not ready to be alone with the children, let it be known! Your successful and loving relationship with your significant other’s kids revolves around you being comfortable enough to be your Best Self. Those adorable kids deserve to receive the best version of you when you’re together.
At the end of the day, you’ve just completed one of the grandest adventures with your Best Match and Life Partner. Isn’t it amazing what you two can accomplish together?
So talk about the big things with your partner and check in to make sure you’re still on the same page. Coordinate schedules, make sure you have date nights, make sure your interactions with the kiddies are balanced – neither imposing nor scant – and if the other parent is in the picture, you’d better figure out how to cooperate with them, too! Grits, man. Amirite?
Well, we made it. I made it. Another Father’s Day in the books. It’s true. Father’s Day is tough for me. It’s my annual trip down Agony Lane. But as I think about fathers and mothers and parenting and parenting solo, I think it’s time I dissect this whole single-parent-dating thing.
Can I be blunt? Great. Dating is hard work. It’s exhausting. It’s depleting. It’s frustrating. It’s confusing. It’s dangerous. But, assuming folks are open about our goals, desires, and expectations, it can be fun, exciting, and empowering.
But that’s just the dating adults. What happens when you’re a single parent and you have to juggle parenting as well as being open to finding your own Best Match? There are many critical players involved; for example, Parent No 1, Parent No 2, child/children, Significant Other No 1, Significant Other No 2, just to name a few. If there are multiple children with multiple parents, we’ll need an entire cast list to keep on-hand just for clarity.
How each person acts and reacts and how that lands in each person’s world is one of the most delicate and crucial dances we can play as single-and-dating-parents. I have learned that it’s easier dating other single parents. We get each other. We get scheduling, we get priorities, we get boundaries. We’re on the same page…for the most part. Dating non-parents is not impossible. It is, however, complicated because those above issues are completely foreign. They usually don’t understand schedule conflicts, the never-ending exhaustion, the waking up at 3:24am just because someone wanted a snuggle; the perpetual barrage of stuff that can’t just stay put-away, the parenting priorities, etc. Even though some might be mature enough to empathize and offer patience and space as your relationship develops, non-parents will never understand until they join the club.
[Tangent: I’m also curious about why women are more open to dating a single father than men are to dating a single mother… single fathers are seen as tender, selfless saints whereas single mothers are usually…not seen this way…something about sperm ego, I’m sure… ((eye roll)) men and their territories ((smh)) [tangent over]
So over the next few days, I’m going to deliver a three-part break-down of Dating with Children; one from The Single Parent’s point of view, one from The Childless Other Person’s point of view, and one from The Kid’s point of view.
Let’s start from The Single Parent, my present role and the role I know best.
PART 1: The Single Parent
Do Take Your Time. Translation: don’t rush into something led by infatuation and begin introductions (especially to children!) prematurely. I had to lead with that one. It is the most raw for me mostly because I lose a lot of dates this way; when non-parents get freaked out about meeting the kids or trying to picture themselves as a step parent before I’m even ready to acknowledge a second date. Stop it. Slow your roll. Pump the brakes. Calm your nipples.
Unfortunately, a lot of relationships start out hot and heavy; two people that have been desperately aching for something – anything – meaningful find each other and before you know it you’ve crammed three years of dating into three weeks, your relationship escalates to super nova status and implodes before you know each other’s middle names.
Take your time to make sure you are ready to give your Best Self to your Best Match.
You rushed it. They rushed it. Now you’re back to being lonely and looking, a little depressed, and probably picking up tiny pieces of your dignity somewhere. So take your time. I personally want to fall in love with a best friend. Someone I know can cheer me on at my best and still manage to cherish me at my worst. And that kind of closeness doesn’t blossom over a few texts. That kind of closeness is fundamental to a healthy and lasting relationship; the kind you will probably want to start thinking about introducing to your children. I’ll touch on the dangers of premature introductions in PART 3: The Kids. Stay tuned there.
You also want to give yourself the time and space to not only grieve your previous relationship, but to also be introspective; look at your own contributions to its demise. Are you bringing some negative habits or misplaced bitterness into your next relationship? Take your time to make sure you are ready to give your Best Self to your Best Match.
Don’t Parent Shop. For the love of all things holy, DON’T. PARENT. SHOP. As a parent, you should NOT be looking for a substitute or replacement parent. I cringe when I hear people say they’re looking for a father or a mother for their kids. No. You had the kids, not them. Your babes are your responsibility; not theirs…yet. Your kids already have a father or a mother or they wouldn’t be here. That original parent, whether divorced, deceased or just a delinquent, is still the child’s parent. Plus, they have you and you’re awesome.
Because one day you’ll be old and wrinkly and have little left to offer each other besides unconditional love and never-ending companionship.
When looking for your Best Match, it is imperative that you resist profiling them for step-parenthood.
Why? Because one day you’ll be old and wrinkly and have little left to offer each other besides unconditional love and never-ending companionship. Look at how many marriages fail after the kids move out. During college, I knew at least 10 friends that were confused, crushed and betrayed as their family homes were sold and their parents remedied empty nest syndrome with two separate apartments in two separate states. Where do they go for Christmas? For spring break? Is anything really “home” anymore? AARP says:
While the overall divorce rate in the United States has decreased since 1990, it has doubled for those over age 50.
So while, yes, you must screen your potential suitor for suitability with some parental duties, don’t look for a step parent. Look for your life partner. The kids will grow up. They kids will leave home. The kids will follow their own dreams, start their own careers, find their own Best Match, and begin a family of their own. When the kids move out and move on, what will be left of your relationship? Your bond must be rooted in something deeper and stronger than the kids.
Don’t Use the Kids as an Excuse. Don’t use them as an excuse to date and don’t use them as an excuse notto Your children deserve to have a healthy example of a relationship. If the model you show them isn’t going to set a positive image of a life partnership, then don’t show it to them. Don’t date to find a replacement parent (See above; No. 2), and don’t abstain from dating saying that your kids come first. Date because you want to and you’re ready.
Ok, backtrack. The kids do come first. But so does your happiness. You will offer your children your best parenting when you yourself are fulfilled. Insisting on isolating yourself from trying to find a relationship – if you want one – isn’t fair to the kids. They’ll internalize your loneliness as being their fault.
If you don’t want to date, that is perfectly fine. Just don’t do it.
If you don’t want to date, that is perfectly fine. Just don’t do it. But if your kids ask about why you chose to be single, don’t say it’s because of them.
If you’re longing for companionship, it isn’t noble to martyr your own happiness and say it’s for the kids. Because it’s not about the kids. It’s about your own pain, shame, fear, whatever, that is preventing you from getting out there. If this is the case, it’s time to start that inward reflection on why you want to be in a relationship but are too terrified to take the first step. If you want to date, date for yourself and your own relationship goals.
Do Consider Your Kids. Ok, with all this self-reflective thinking, don’t forget about your babies! They absolutely do count and do matter in your quest for love. Be mindful of red flags, especially with other parents. Non-parents are clean slates and can adapt to being around the children. They can assimilate into your “normal” and learn about how their role can blend into your existing family situation. They will most likely struggle with issues like sharing space, time, prioritizing, delegating, a huge increase in acquiring stuff and how to respectfully discipline or correct your children. But if you choose wisely and everyone is ready to try, a non-parent could beautifully blend into your family as you being to make it your own, together.
On the other hand, red flags from another dating parent can be really frightening. How does the person talk about their own kids? Do they enjoy doing similar activities with their kiddies as you do with yours? Have you seen this person angry? Frustrated? Tired? How do you think your children will receive him or her? How do you think your children will receive their children? While your partner is your partner, your primary job as a parent is to protect and provide for your children. If this person interferes with your rhythm or your parental spidey sense tingles, listen to your inner voice. Don’t risk it.
Don’t limit yourself. Don’t limit yourself with a timeline or a profile. If you do, you’ll just get in your own way. You’ll miss subtle cues, impulsively rule out a winner, flock to the lowest hanging fruit, start something before you’re ready, start something before they’re ready, or doom yourself to complete solitude for the rest of your natural mortal life because you’re looking for someone that doesn’t exist. Remember, no one is perfect (read more about starting a new relationship here).
So if you’re ready to start dating as a single parent, be open and be receptive. Your Best Match might not seem like your Best Match at first. But to truly connect with someone on the most intimate of levels requires some measure of vulnerability and allowing someone to see you and love you.
Check back soon for Dating with Children PART 2: The Childless Other Person
In short, there’s really only one necessary step in training your significant other.
Step One: NOPE
As a woman, single and sorta-looking, I cringe every time I hear the phrase, “I’m still training my husband [wife] [boyfriend] [girlfriend].”
CRINGE. SHUDDER. HISS.
Because the following are things that can and should be trained: pets, skills, muscles, hair, plants. An adult human is not one of those things. Now don’t get me wrong, if you have the trainer/trainee relationship and that works for you, then more power to you and that role-playing synergy. Thank God you two found each other.
But the mentality that someone should pick the closest prototype to their perfect partner with expectations to shape and groom them into that perfect partner is an idea I hope can be quickly eradicated from our social-majority thought. Not only is it unfair to the “trainer” because they are obviously settling and compromising their standards, but it is abusive for the “trainee” to live under constant scrutiny and judgement from the person that should love them the most, unconditionally. The “trainee” has the right to be themselves, relax and be comfortable in the intimacy of home.
Therefore, I offer this alternative title:
Learning Love Together: Five Tips to Starting a New Relationship off Right
Get Real. No One is Perfect.
There’s a thing I like to call the Prince Charming Syndrome. It involves being exposed to stories and movies that illustrate some perfect romance, budding with a delicious tension, finally blooming into a flawless, uncomplicated union, and they lived happily ever after.
Coming from a single-parent home, I didn’t have a daily relationship to set the bar for me. Really, my only examples of marriage or any long-term relationship included my married-and-divorced-three-times mother; my godparents, who remained married but lived separately for several years and argued – both earnestly and jokingly – incessantly; and…The Huxtables. So, if it isn’t obvious, my perception of life partnerships was a bit skewed. With Hollywood as my standard, I suffered from that Prince Charming Syndrome. And swiftly abandoned every relationship that required any effort or working through issues. By the time I had developed a relationship work ethic, my marriage of almost ten years was beyond my own repair. All affection was a distant memory and my vision of the future was 180 degrees away from his. So I valiantly galloped off into an opposing sunset.
The more I put myself out there, post-divorce, embarking on a spree of great and not-so-great dates, I realized, everyone is different and no one is flawless – no one is a particular upgrade or downgrade from my once-spouse.
Everyone comes from issues, passed down from their parents, passed down from their parents, and everyone internalizes, suffers from, responds to, and exhibits those characteristics differently. Some people are aware of those traits, others are not. Some issues lay dormant for years, awakening with a specific trigger, while others rear their ugly heads early and often and speak louder than words. And depending on how those negative qualities land in the significant others’ world (don’t forget the significant other comes along with their own cocktail of problems), the possibilities for volatile mixtures are endless.
So then what?
Be introspective. Take the time and energy to know yourself.
And be thoughtful. Take the time and energy to know your significant other.
Learning Each Other Takes Time and Communication.
Team projects in the workplace involve a handful of key factors that make or break the outcome: intentional leadership, setting expectations, proactive communication. This directly translates into relationships.
The success of every relationship hinges upon this openness. I know, this is a typical date-killer, the DTR (Define the Relationship) Talk. But really, I don’t want my time wasted and I don’t want to waste someone else’s time either. It’s OK to set boundaries, timelines, communication norms and preferences, and be clear about what you hope this developing relationship looks like. Letting your new partner know ahead of time, “I don’t text every day,” or “I’m more of a caller than a texter,” or “I’m not ready to fall in love, but I want to get to know you better,” are all very reasonable things to say on a first date – better yet, before the first date. If your relationship is lacking these basics, as time moves on, resentment will infect your partnership and slowly eat away every fiber of your connection.
Proactive communication and setting expectations are not things that happen naturally or automatically, either. Someone has to take the lead. Ideally, both partners would happily co-pilot their Ship of Love as it pulls out of Infatuation Harbor. However, this might not be both partners’ forte. If the responsibility falls more on one side than the other, make sure this too is communicated and accepted. If not, it could easily be another foothold for resentment; where one partner feels they are doing all the work to maintain the health of the relationship and the other is absent at the helm.
Set the tone early so that unrealistic expectations are not assumed, feelings are not hurt, and your new relationship doesn’t implode in the first month.
Honoring Each Other Takes Selflessness.
In order to truly honor your partner, you have to bend sometimes. Yes, compromise. When I was a kid and my godmother would resolve spats between my brother and me, she would say, “You guys have to compromise.” It felt like slander. An expletive. Profanity. I want what I want when I want it even if it’s not my toy. Gimme! But she was right. Compromise is the only way to resolve partnership issues. However, unlike childhood squabbles, the compromise cannot take place out of guilt or because Auntie said so. In a relationship, it must be done with love, compassion and selflessness. If not, enter that sepsis of bitterness once again. Honoring your significant other means selflessly compromising, and doing it with joy, not obligation.
There is Give-and-Take
OK, let’s face it: adulating is hard. There are things are just a big fat huge annoying pain to do. Like sorting dirty laundry. Washing it. Drying it. Folding it. And putting it away. Ironing. Dishes. Putting away dishes. Sweeping. Mopping. Vacuuming. Unfortunately, they all have to be done. Even worse, they all have to be done over and over and over again. The absolute worst thing is when you’re in a relationship and you’re still doing everything despite this partner that can’t seem to help. Or this partner that not only doesn’t help but makes things worse, i.e. putting dirty dishes near the sink rather than in the sink or dumping dirty laundry on the floor rather than in the hamper. These little annoying things can set your soul ablaze with rage, or give you one more opportunity to remember that no one is perfect, you can proactively communicate, set realistic expectations, and lovingly compromise.
Let’s take the latter. Perhaps you hate doing laundry but don’t mind the dishes? Trade. Instead of expecting your partner to perform perfectly the thing they avoid the most, set your expectation to, “This is my job,” and release them from the responsibility. Allow them to take over something that you equally abhor. Better yet, if your hate is mutual and one of the things that draws you together, alternate days and make it a game. Reward yourselves with a romantic game or some QT alone when all the chores are done.
It’s OK to Say, “This Isn’t Right.”
A lot of us are raised to avoid rejection conversations (why many people go ghost when something in the relationship has turned them off; it’s just easier – inconsiderate, but easier) or to do it as politely and delicately as possible (which is just annoying if you’re the one getting dumped). But guess what? It’s OK – no, more than OK – it’s healthy to speak up and say, “This isn’t working for me.”
It’s OK to voice a situation where your partner has made you feel uncomfortable, and it’s up to you to decide if it’s worth it to work through that breakdown or if the situation is unforgivable and you’re just done. The point here is that you have the power and the right to stand up for what you want to get out of your relationship. And if it’s not working, it. Is. O. K. You don’t get Brownie points for putting up with a relationship that isn’t meeting your needs. Stand up for yourself. An unhealthy relationship is not better than being alone.
I recently decided to make a list of must-haves and a list of deal breakers. If we make the same lists for homes, vehicles, other big parts of our life that require both a significant investment and a considerable commitment, then why not do it for the person we expect to share our beds, meals, hearts, and life with for eternity? To be clear, this is not a check list with boxes and dating is not a job interview. But it is valid to outline characteristics you hope your partner will possess, as well as a list of things for which you absolutely will not settle. Don’t make exceptions that ultimately force you to smile through your misery or slowly waste away until nothing of your soul remains. Don’t sell yourself short. You owe it to yourself to be fully loved and fully happy; and your partner deserves it too. If you make too many exceptions and excuses, you’re condemning both of you to an unfair compromise that will crumble your life force and extinguish your zest.
At the top of my list: ability to show unconditional love. Unconditional because I want to be able to relax with my partner, be vulnerable and open with zero fear of judgement or abandonment.
And I don’t want to be improved. I’m not a puppy. I’m not a professor. I do not want to train or be trained. I just want to walk alongside someone and be cherished. Don’t we all?
I’ve been stunted by an acute influx of inspiration. Overwhelmed to say the least.
But today’s #loveyourlines movement was something I couldn’t bench. I just shared this on fb:
I didn’t know the #loveyourlines movement was a thing until it almost passed. But I’m so glad it’s a thing. Why? Because no, I’m not cold. No, I don’t think I should cover up. And no, I don’t think I need a bigger size or a one-piece or a sweater. Women are biologically designed to procreate. Girls are told with baby dolls to desire and strive for motherhood. But then we are shamed for the natural sideeffects of bearing our children: Weight gain. Stretchmarks. Engorged breasts. Nursing. Public nursing. Pumping. Stitches. Incontinence. Hemmerhoids. Deflated breasts. Exhaustion. Periods.
Well eff off.
I’m proud of every ounce of pain, strain and gain I’ve endured to bring my boys into this world. And if you tell me anything that has resulted from that is ugly, unattractive or undesirable, prepare to get shanked…
So I took a few days off. Actually, several weeks. I had a huge weight on my heart. No, maybe weight is the wrong word. Weight sounds too negative. More like a burden. Wait, that sounds negative too, but burden is more appropriate than weight. So burden as in duty; a job you know you need to do but you kind of put it off. Kinda like laundry. But more earth-shattering and time-bending.
(Disclaimer: all this rambling is a glimpse into my churning thoughts. I obviously haven’t weeded through all the overgrowth yet, but believe it or not, this is clearer than the weight had been back in January.)
Ok, so back to this non-negative burden: it was like a balloon that was filled too full. It is like a balloon. A growing storm inside. Yeah that’s right. And it materialized.
The wind is howling like this swirling storm inside. Couldn’t keep it in, heaven knows I tried.
I’m just finally facing it. Embracing it. Going into it, fearful, but yes, willing to face it.
What is it?
It is a story. Yes, another one. But not a fantasy novel where I am the superhero I always wanted to be. It is a real story. The story of a girl that was – dare I say it—emotionally warped. A girl that never felt her own value or worth and continued to cling to people that fed the self-depreciation. My own truth is incredibly terrifying for me to own.
While I received very clear instructions from God-Universe-Energy-of-the-World that this story needs to be told, I retreated. I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to expose myself.
Conceal, don’t feel. Don’t let them know.
I didn’t want to feel the wrath of people that will undoubtedly be offended. I needed silence. I continued to pray, meditate and ask for clarity.
A kingdom of isolation, and it looks like I’m the queen.
Why? Because I was certain the story wasn’t the answer. I knew I was just hearing it wrong. I ignored the calling. I asked for even more clarity.
“Dear Universe, please clarify…because I know you don’t really want me to do what I know you just told me to do, so I must have misunderstood you. Try again.”
That was stupid.
Because I got the reality check of a lifetime. I made a bad decision. One giant awful life-smacking decision. I once again let another person into my circle that would not treat me the way I should have been treated.
Sigh. Sometimes I feel like I need logical, commonsensical outside-me to tell me-me when we-we are being stupid. But hindsight is 20/20 and this is the last time I accept the role of The Fool.
So my life got temporarily wrecked. Again.
As I was stubbornly ignoring the nagging on my heart, (which I’ve been ignoring for several years… I’ll get to that part later. Don’t let me forget about The Ladies Sent By God) I decided to reconnect with friend from my past.
This guy – we’ll call him The Wreck (he’s a professional musician and while I’d like to call him The Singer, I don’t want to confuse him with the other singers I’ve gone on dates with that might appear on this Road, –what I have a thing for musicians! ((swoon)) — so for disambiguation, this musician shall be known as The Wreck) – is NEVER free on weekends. But the one weekend he was free happened to be the weekend of a very big party that I badly wanted a date for.
Sidebar – I LOVE parties. I LOVE having dates to parties. I’m sure this is another lingering symptom of being a wallflower all my life, so when I have a chance to bring a date and not go stag to anything, I jump on it. I thought marriage would have solved that, but I went stag to as many events during my marriage as I did single – again, another nother story.
So I say, great! – I’ll bring my long-lost friend to this party, and we shall reconnect and it shall be grand. Well there were numerous red flags along the way that I chose to ignore. Why? DENIAL. With a hint of naivety.
While I’m expecting a fun weekend with an old friend, The Wreck had other plans. I will spare the details for both his dignity and my own. Nothing criminal happened, but long story short, it was the closest I’ve ever felt to being violated in many ways. One violation is more than enough. But this was jarring on many planes of energy.
Yes, I kicked him out. No, I haven’t spoken to him since. And no I haven’t slept in my bedroom since I sang “To the Left, to the Left.” There is an aftertaste in my room that I will deal with…later… until then, I’m blessed to have a very comfortable couch.
I can name my illness now. Denial.
I have been in denial about myself for…ever… Denial about my intelligence. Denial about my strength. Denial about my dancing ability. Denial about my musical talent. Denial about my worth. Denial about my beauty. Denial about my purpose. Denial that a guy from my past really wants to visit to “catch up.”
Denial about my everything. I never felt worthy. I always settled. Not only have I never felt successful, I never felt success was for me. I felt goosepimply fairytale love was not for me. So made exceptions. I felt like I should just take whatever I can get because why should I want or expect better. I’m black. I’m ugly. I have a fat ass. I’m short. I’m not the smartest. Or the prettiest. Or the funniest. Or the most artistic. Or the most disciplined. And I have weird name. A name that is now, so fittingly, a storm.
I really threw myself for a loop last week when I reflected on how much had changed since last Christmas. My life doesn’t really know how to do “slow” so looking back on last New Year’s Eve was equally jarring. Let’s do it:
NYE 2013: I had been talking frequently to the same guy that took me to see DJ Cajmere on Christmas, which I wrote about last time here. Let’s call him…The Hobbit…which has nothing to do with his height, accent, life view, nor the amount of hair on his feet. He does indeed wear shoes – as a matter of fact, his taste in shoes is quite refined and his collection of them rivals any woman’s, including an impressive selection of watches—and he does not live in a hole (ok, great, now I’m reciting Tolkein’sdescription of a hobbit hole in my head. Cue theme song from the Rankin-Bass animated movie from the 70s, while we’re at it THE GREEATEST ADVENTUUUUUURE IS WHAAAAT LIES AHEEEEEEAD).
But I ramble. Let’s bring it home…
Yes, last NYE I was convinced The Hobbit wanted to celebrate with me. He told me several times he wasn’t sure what he was doing, but he would let me know and we would have a great time. Well, he vanished, as the fickle ones seem to do, just in time for me to panic about what the heck I was going to do for NYE. And I had to do something. HAD. TO. I love NYE. I was raised to party on this holiday. Not that it had to be big and drunken, but it had to be big and loud. Growing up, pretty much every holiday was go big or go home—then again, home had it going on too. It was a time to break out the spinney tin noisemakers, the paper toot-toot things, the bobbley headband antennae, the top hats, the oversized sparkly year-number sunglasses, and of course the champagne (or sparkling grape juice) in stemware (even if it were the plastic disposable kind) and a New Year’s kiss, even if it was for your mother on her cheek. It all had to be done. Go. Big.
For the duration of my marriage, I tried to recreate this tradition in our family. I tried to be somewhere or at least turn the party up at home. But the celebration usually ended up being a party of one. Or just in my head. And I ended up sighing heavily at midnight wondering when the magic was ever going to kick in.
Well in 2013-14, I sure as heck wasn’t going to be caught dead under the same roof as my almost-ex-husband, doing the same lame game that had become our routine. I was going out dammit. And I wanted to have a good time.
But The Hobbit stood me up. I wasn’t hurt. I was annoyed. Mostly with myself. I had forgotten what it was like to date and forgotten that when people aren’t married or in an “official” relationship, there is no obligation to be together on a holiday. I’m not one that is easily defeated (heh, AMIRIGHT), so I says to meself,
even if I go to some bar completely alone, I’m goin out. HEAR ME, WORLD? I’M! GOING! OUT!
Luckily, I wasn’t quite THAT desperate. I still knew people that weren’t connected to my ex. I mean, it might have only been like…two… but I knew people! I got a text earlier that day from an actor friend of mine that was hosting the NYE show at a comedy club. By the time I was certain I’d never hear from The Hobbit for several days, if ever, I responded.
Hey, still have tickets for tonight? I’m coming!
You bet – how many?
Who goes to NYE parties alone? This girl. The same girl that will go see Pan’s Labyrinth alone in a deserted $1 cinema – ok, that decision, might have been a mistake because I had nightmares of the thing with the eyes in its hands for WEEKS and barely made it through the whole movie without running away from the empty theater—but this NYE was not a mistake. In fact, in hindsight, it was all part of the plan. You know, that Divine Plan. So I threw up my deuces, took a bathroom selfie, and hit the street.
So off I go to ring in the New Year. It was a great show. I laughed. I laughed hard. I laughed fake sometimes and snuffed some tears. And sometimes I just smiled to keep the baddies at bay. And through my obnoxious grin, I was really saying
<<God, help me. How did this become my life – that I have no cash, no credit, no savings, no nearby relatives, no nearby close friends, no relevant work history, no completed graduate degrees, no job, no friends outside The Good Pastor’s network, no one but my own children that care whether I’m in my bed (and by in my bed, I actually meant on my couch) in the morning or have completely fallen off the face of the earth, no one to kiss at midnight, barely anything to call my own – SWEET JESUS, YOU BETTER BE ABOUT TO GIVE MY HEART’S DESIRES BECAUSE THIS HAND YOU’VE GIVEN ME CURRENTLY BLOWS BIG FAT CHUNKS.
That’s the most upset I’ve ever felt towards God, btw. And it wasn’t even anger. I rarely get angry. It was more like confusion. Like, really? This is what you have planned for me? Aight. I’ll just roll with it and know you will provide.
And provide God did. After the show, and after I toasted myself to 2014, I met my friend out front and awkwardly lingered as I told him I’m getting a divorce and moving out as soon as I can find a job to support me and the boys. He was like,
Oh. Well, hey, cheers to 2014 and cheers to divorce!
I laughed. And I meant it. Cheers to that, indeed. It was only upward from there, anyway, right? (I’m still telling myself this, don’t burst my bubble).
The incapable-of-standing-still-when-there’s-music-playing dancer that I am, I started grooving. There were only two other moving bodies near me, so I worked it over to them. Luckily, the two ladies were also guests of my comedian friend.
We introduced ourselves while dancing. One of the ladies’ birthdays is Jan 1, so we toasted to that, too. I was honestly enjoying myself. This going out alone on a whim thing, was actually turning out pretty daggone fantastic. Towards the end of the evening, we talked about dancing and how much I love it and miss it and never have enough of it in my life.
The birthday girl told me about her dance company – a dance fitness club that actually has a choreography-based component, for dancers like ourselves that have no outlet as adults outside of (not) going professional or translating our skills over to something like ballroom. I was sold. There was an open house coming up, but I was already in. I needed it. I was there. I was already committed. Thanks, God, I said. This is why I’m here. This is why The Hobbit ditched me. This is why I have a comedian friend that texted me earlier. This is why I knew I couldn’t stay back in the burbs that night. I needed to meet this woman to reintroduce me to dance.
NYE2014: I’m on the arm of a fantastic man. The kind of man that pretty much has it all goin on: great job, several letters after his name, solid values, positive disposition, a gorgeous face…and (tattooed) body <<insert my anime googley heart eyes face>>…and beautiful hair… let’s call him The Professor. The Professor and I met several months ago while I was traveling for work. It was one of those I-can’t-believe-this-is-how-we-met stories, but it was a good one.
…It was a Thursday night. The draft was on. I overhear him say “I love Dix” and I’m all, “I love dicks too” (I know. I know. WHAT. WHAT. WHAT ON GODS GOOD EARTH was I thinking?! I often have the sense of humor of a twelve year old boy and sometimes, I embarrass myself before I know what’s happening.) but the rest is history. We hit it off. We were all about it. All about each other. All about our future. We tried to date long distance but eventually that fizzled after about two months. I mean, honestly, we’re several states and a day’s drive apart, so we amicably simmered down to penpals and left it at that.
Well, The Professor surprised me with a spontaneous decision to get on a plane and come ring in the New Year with me. I was ecstatic. Although I knew our time together was temporary, I was flattered and thrilled that somehow, I meant enough to this amazing man to be worth it.
So, here we are, a year later; I’ve danced continuously with my new company, in various venues and festivals around Chicago, and made new and enriching friendships. I’ve found so many pieces of my soul on the stage, and danced myself in to wholeness – or at least closer to it – with every rehearsal and performance.
I finally had one of those NYE experiences that people rave about – the party, the company, the swank and glam of it all. And even though at 32 and 37-years old, The Professor and I sometimes felt more like prom chaperones than party guests at The Drake that night, and we came back home and ate Giordano’s deep dish leftovers and crashed to The Walking Dead marathon, the night – and the year-long journey to it – was more magical than I could have imagined.
…and talk about magic; I didn’t even tell you what the NYE psychic said to me yet! Oh lawd!!
So this is Christmas. And what have you done? Another year over. And one just begun…
> John Lennon
Last year I cried as I wrapped gifts on Christmas Eve. I knew it would be my last Christmas with all five of us under one roof. I knew it would be my last Christmas in the only home I’d had in Illinois. I knew in a year things would be drastically different. And they are.
The Good Pastor was at church while the boys and I unboxed gifts, fighting with theft-(and parent- and child-)proof packaging and wrestling with neverending twist-ties. I spent a solid 45 minutes building the TMNT secret sewer lair and shoved tears down into the pit of my stomach. If you don’t know me, I hate crying. I’m not a crier. I’m seldom negative-emotional. But at the time, it was hard to keep those feelings at bay. The Good Pastor came back, changed clothes and said,”Ready boys?”
“Yeah!” They cheered. “Mommy?” All three pairs of eyes of varying shades of brown, green and blue gaped at me.
Mommy wasn’t going to Christmas dinner. I told them with a smile I was too tired from building toys. They didn’t need to know I would never be joining them again at their grandparent’s house.
The tree was beautiful. The gift-mess that hid the floor from sight was glorious. But without my children, my house was horrendously silent.
My phone chirped. I had a new text from someone I met online. It had been three weeks since my husband made it clear trying to save our marriage was pointless and we officially labeled ourselves as separated. He gave his blessing to me jumping in the dating pool. I waded in. With waterwings. And a life preserver. I didn’t know how to date but I sure as hell needed the distraction. Anything to keep me from dwelling on being forced to drop out of the graduate program I spent four years getting into. Anyone to take my gaze from my reflection, which disgusted me. Anyone to say anything kind to me.
The text said how’d the kids like their gifts?
No they’re gone. At Christmas dinner to which I’m no longer invited. I’m sitting here watching my tree. Drinking wine.
Well we should drink together! I have an idea. I’ll call you around 9.
Cool, I thought, with no particular enthusiasm. I’m a mom of three and I’m going to go out on a date on Christmas with someone who is not my husband. Whoopdiefreakindoo.
Anything was better than sitting at home alone examining my worth as a human.
And I couldn’t wait til 9. It was too far away. I’d drink myself to sleep. I texted my friend. The only friend I knew that would also be alone on Christmas and might be as depressed as I was.
Come over, she said. I’ll buy you some Knob Creek.
Somehow this was more exciting than the date proposal.
I met her at her boyfriend’s house and we drank and laughed and whined. And then I broke it to her. That my divorce was inevitable and really happening. Her eyes looked down as her eyebrows rose and she gave me that he dun messed up expression. I laughed.
My phone chirped. Date time. My friend wished me luck, told me to have fun, and also said that if I text her PINEAPPLE she will find me and be ready to shank a N*. Noted. Thank you.
I hadn’t been to a club in…at least five years. I hadn’t been out and not worried about how much it was going to cost in…probably fifteen years. I hadn’t done either on the arm of a man…ever. And there we were. In a dark warehouse basement place with green lasers and beats thumping so vigorously, it could realign stalled cardiac impulses. Cajmere was there — you know, the It’s time for the percolator guy. Santa hats were abundant. I couldn’t wait to dance my heartache away.
And dance I did. I hadn’t danced like that in perhaps a decade. People stood back and watched. Whether it was because I was a mass of carefree limbs flailing in sync with the bass or because I was the best damn dancer they had ever seen, I did not know. And I didn’t care. I’d catch a stare. Someone mouthed beautiful. What?! Not me. If he only knew I’d birthed three children, he wouldn’t say that. I’d been told just a few months beforehand by someone very close to me that I’m damaged goods. All those kids — no one will want you. Accept it. I did.
I felt a hand on my back. I looked up without missing a beat. Some stranger. Wow he said. I think he said that. I couldn’t hear. Maybe I imagined it. I didn’t care. He left when he realized he couldn’t keep up if he tried. I was having the deepest therapy session of my life right there on the dance floor.
My date interrupted with a drink. “You look like you needed that,” he yelled into my ear.
I laughed. I did need that.
We started moving to the music together. I forgot what it felt like. I forgot what to do. I put my arms around his neck and our bodies flowed. He leaned into my ear and said, “I want to kiss you so bad right now.”
Yes, it was a good thing Cajmere could restart a myocardial infarction. Because my heart indeed stopped. I was terrified. I held onto his shoulders and ignored his comment. But he went for it. He kissed me.
I hadn’t been kissed like that in ages. I couldn’t even remember the last time The Good Pastor and I kissed, let alone like that. It felt amazing and sickening all at once. For the first time in years – YEARS – I was desired. I was sexy. I was wanted. But I was also torn. Conflicted. Why was this ok? Why was I dancing at a club and letting a man I’d known for three weeks kiss me on Christmas? Why didn’t my husband care that another man wanted me more than he did?
And then I kissed him back.
Maybe I liked it. Maybe I wanted it. Maybe I was just hurting. It was just a kiss, I reasoned. I certainly wasn’t going to do anything else with him. Besides, I knew I had to go back home to the suburbs. Back home to my children. Back home to the couch that had become my bed, in the basement that had become my apartment. Back to the one empty Christmas stocking in a row of five; the other four overflowing with toys and treats. Back home to the daily inquisition of how many jobs I’d applied to and how long until I moved out. Back to feeling homeless. Back to feeling rejected. I angry kissed that man to the tune of DJ Cajmere on Christmas. And somehow I felt victorious.
And I never had to say PINEAPPLE.
I’m not quite where I thought I’d be, but I am glad I’m not in a club this time. I did get a job, although I’ve already left that one and started another. I did get an apartment — a beautiful one that I can barely afford anymore since changing jobs. I still have very sad days, knowing I’d be more than 3/4 of the way done with my MMS in medical research. The same couch is still my bed this year, since mommy dearest financed Christmas — her generosity has many strings, including my bedroom, but I’m grateful. And even though my stocking is empty again, my heart is full. I hate to say it, because I avoid being excessively sappy, but the best gift I could ever receive is being with my children.
And I have it. I’m with my children. I’m with my mini-me’s. I’m with the most precious little souls I could ever have imagined. It quite literally sucks the air out of me when I think too long about how I do not see them all the time. But I see them half the time, and feverishly try to make those moments last forever. And they are here now. We are here together. And we are full.
They don’t understand everything that has happened since last Christmas — and frankly, neither do I. I’m still piecing together my own emotions, thoughts, sanity…life. But today, we are basking in the spoils of Christmas. We made Puppy Chow (AKA Muddy Buddies) and we smashed that delicious pile of sugary-peanut-buttery-chocolatey-coated corn cereal in record time. We sang Christmas songs and we laughed til we cried. This kind of crying I long for. We tuned a guitar and learned a new chord. We danced. We cha-cha-cha-ed through the kitchen. We started a band. We played Super Mario and were in awe with In-the-middle’s skills as Luigi (until we realized Luigi plays automatically and our In-the-middle isn’t actually a video game savant like The Wizard — and then laughed some more until we crumbled to the floor). And it was so incredibly grand.
I thought I’d be fully relovered by now — one year seems like a lot of time — but that type of recovery, I’m learning, could be a neverending road. I’m learning to enjoy the journey. Be patient. I’m taking the scenic route, rediscovering myself and redefining my priorities. I’m learning to appreciate the landscape and never mind the potholes.
The present is the home of my being…today I will release the past and its burden of wounded dreams
> Deepak Chopra
Merry Christmas. I hope you all find the joy that is already surrounding you.