Saturday, October 16, 2010

Everything's Temporary!

Whether we like it or not, every once in a while a pop song comes along that appears to be speaking directly to us. When I was in high school, Don Henley’s End of the Innocence seemed like a somewhat cruel but appropriate joke. In college, Sarah McLachlan rocked my world with Possession and then turned it entirely upside down with Hold On after a good friend passed away unexpectedly from a rare heart virus. So imagine my surprise when my most recent epiphany occurred while driving to work and Eminen’s I’m Not Afraid got me so choked up that I immediately downloaded it to my phone, in the middle of rush hour traffic on I-95.

Pop music is, as the term indicates, popular precisely because it does affect us and luckily, sometimes makes us see things we might not otherwise recognize. For me, this song turned on the light switch and illuminated the answer I’ve been looking for for months now. As I’ve written, I can’t understand why out of all the people in the world, I am so lucky. I have trouble comprehending how to express my gratitude and still live a normal life. Somewhere down deep I know that everyone deserves the best, including me, and I’ve been given an amazing opportunity to enjoy my life and my future. But I still find it hard to accept because I could never understand how this came to be.

Then Eminem reminded me. In all likelihood, the best way to truly find the ability to accept, appreciate and absorb contentment, you have to have dug yourself out of a big, dirty hole. And keep reminding yourself how you dug yourself out. In his words, “I guess I had to go to that place to get to this one.” Ouch! You mean all that junk I went through, feeling lower than low and struggling to find the energy to do something about it was actually preparation to get to this place where I’m happy to get out of bed in the morning for no particular reason?

There was a time, not long ago, when I was pissed. Honestly I was a cluster of emotions, none of them positive—anger, fear, frustration, depression, despair, sadness—the list goes on. And the worst part was that I thought everyone else in the world was having such an easy time with this life thing. Facebook didn’t help. I would log on and see all those pictures of happy people, families, birthday parties, the first day of kindergarten. And I would be mad. Plain ole’ pissed. When I stopped for a moment, I would tell myself that the grass always looks greener, right? And you never know what path others are on, even when it appears light and easy on the surface.

I would think back to my studies of Buddhism – the teaching that the root of all suffering is our misconception that we are separate. If we believed in the interconnectedness of all living beings, we would not burden ourselves with craving and desire, or spend all our energy trying to make temporary things permanent and then rely on them to make us happy, forever. But as all good lessons go, this one is hard to swallow, and it took me a while to get it down.

Fortunately, my eyes are open now. And so is my heart. Open enough to appreciate the happiness I have found, but also appreciate the struggle it took to get me here. And know that I would not be this content, confident person who can put fear to the side and move forward despite it. Don’t get me wrong: going through a divorce, having to relearn your life, begin over – all while explaining to everyone you meet why you’re doing this, sucks. Beyond any rational explanation. But once you get through it, there are amazing things waiting for you and when you find them, they will mean so much more. Because of what you know. Because of where you’ve been. Because of the lessons you learned and the new decisions you make. Because of the new (and old) people you’ll fill your life with. Simply, because you know better.

Bad things happen to everyone. But so do good things. The cycle is infinite. And if it’s helpful to turn to pop culture to remind us, so be it. Even Cher, the pop princess of her time, took her turn at teaching the Buddhist myth of impermanence when she slapped Nick Cage in Moonstruck and yelled, “Everything’s Temporary!” As long as we believe that our suffering is temporary, which it is, we can raise the bar. Shoot the moon. Gaze at the stars and feel amazing. Thanks, Eminem.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Years that Answer

One of my favorite quotes of all time is from one of my favorite books of all time, Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. I first read this classic American novel as a junior in high school, again as a senior in college and once since. This novel that ends with “So much of life is in its meshes! She called in her soul to come and see,” had a profound impact on me each time I read it, with every new reading seeming to awaken a different part of me that hadn’t quite developed yet. But the line I will remember and carry with me always is “there are years that ask questions and years that answer.”

As a young(er) adult, I often reread this line and thought, WHEN? WHERE are those years that answer? I got pretty tired of the ones that asked the questions. Always new questions. Different questions. Additional parts to old questions. But no answers. Alright … to be fair there were some answers. But I didn’t like them. They required me to put my pride aside and be a better person. They wanted me to learn lessons and apply them to my life. And they definitely weren’t quick or convenient (Note: these are two extremely important qualities in life lessons before you hit age 30, or even 35 or …).

To make matters worse (or at least more dramatic for the purpose of this blog entry), during the rough times with my ex-husband it seemed as if answers were even more fleeting. I told myself repeatedly there had to be a reason why out of all the billions of men in the world I chose to marry this one. I chose to say “I do” right before “til death do us part” in front our closest friends and family. There had to be a reason why both of us Floridians ended up in the Evergreen state, more than 3,000 miles away, right? He was the only man who would ever look at me that way, right? Would there ever be anyone who would love me as much as he did? There couldn’t be. Right?

Oh how the facade of logic can do us wrong. And oh how wrong I was. But as clich√© as it sounds, I do believe it helps to be wrong every once in a while, or maybe more often than that. When you hear the dreaded “I told you so,” sometimes it’s best to smile and say “yes, but I needed to find out on my own. I needed to ask the questions and discover the answers on my terms.” The important thing is that we do discover those answers. When we’re ready.

Did I mention that it happens when we’re ready? This may be when our friends and loved ones would like us to discover them, a convenient time and place for everyone. Or it may be 20 years later. It may be before we hurt people, or procreate, or lose all the money we saved for our kids’ educations. Or it may be after a really terrible sequence of events that finally snaps us back into reality. It may be before we take the plunge and say “I do.” Or maybe not. Eventually, however, no matter the crooked path they travel, these answers do, sometimes very gradually, find their way into our heads.

Now that I’ve begun to find answers, I see them everywhere. And this, not surprisingly, generates even more questions. I keep confiding in friends that I’m scared. I have stumbled upon such genuine happiness that I’m petrified it’s going to slip through my hands. I’m terrified that it’s too good to be true. So many wonderful and fulfilling things have been thrown at me that I can only think it’s in preparation for a giant bucket of heartache. Now I’ve never really been the glass-half-full type, but this is extreme.

Yesterday, as I waited while the amazing man in my life cooked pancakes for breakfast, I was filled with gratitude. I was honestly overflowing with contentment as I sat drinking my coffee and I glanced over at the kids watching Sunday morning cartoons. Now let’s keep in mind that these kids are TEENAGERS! And these teenagers, this new insta-family package of father, son, daughter, dog AND cat – seems to be one big giant answer to a plethora of earlier-posed questions.

In the words of David Byrne and his Talking Heads, how did I get here? Did I ever picture myself here? No. Did I ever ponder a situation resembling anything like this? Can’t say I did. Did I search for a ready-made package of happiness that I could easily install without assistance? Nope. Because I didn’t think it existed. And if it did, I certainly wouldn’t be lucky enough to locate it. And make it mine. Does it make me happier than I truly thought possible? Without a doubt.

When I question my friends about how on earth this all came to be, the general consensus is that I deserve it. I earned it. I took all those years of questions, questions and more questions and carved out answers I can actually use. I opened myself up to a situation that quite simply -- revolves around happiness. When faced with the same old dilemmas, I updated my responses. I made new, different decisions. And that made all the difference.

Albert Einstein once said, "the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." Indeed. Trying the same thing over and over again IS crazy. Banging our heads against the wall to find answers just doesn’t work. I think we’ll all be better off when we acknowledge that questions will never cease. And it’s healthy to keep asking them, as long as we have faith that the answers will never cease either … when we are good and ready. I must say that Einstein was on to something.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Thankfully, 1+1=7.

Early on in my quest for answers about divorce, I often wondered why there were so many smart, funny, talented, beautiful women who were facing a life – at least temporarily – of minus one. I was grateful, however, that they we were in the same boat at the same time so we always had someone to lean on, cry to and most importantly, complain to about our attorneys. It was and is so puzzling to me how these wonderful women ended up with the short end of the straw in the relationship department. But recently, I’ve been confronted with yet another unanswerable question: How did I get to be so lucky?

There is a joke in my family that when it came to luck, we got on the wrong line. I have been blessed with a large, loving, fantastic family, but each and every one of us seem to have suffered more than our share of heartache and trouble. It took me a while to get over the bitterness of my own heartache and trouble and realize that having such a negative, victimized attitude wasn’t going to do anyone any good, especially me. Still, I never imagined I would – at any time in my life – feel like the luckiest person in the world. So the fact that I do is astonishing, incredible, unbelievable.

And to what do I owe this? I believe it is my new, instant family: the amazing man who recently came into my life and brought with him his two kids, dog and cat, and with whom my dog and I now share a home. I have always been quite the independent one and I’m proud of that. I know that relationships are not the path to happiness or the way we should judge ourselves, but over the past couple of years I have also learned how being in an unhealthy relationship can affect so many parts of our lives in ways I could never imagine. Now I’m seeing how the opposite can permeate every segment of our lives as well.

Seeing the good in everything and everyone is new to me and I’m not quite sure how to handle it. When I realized how truly unhappy I was in my marriage, I decided to end it, no matter what. Now that I see how insanely happy I can be, I don’t know what to do. I smile a lot. Sing a lot. Give lots of hugs and kisses to those I love. I have more energy. I’m more empathetic. And I’m even giving better advice. But I still find myself doing quite a bit of double-takes because I’m not exactly used to good things happening to me. So why are they?

I can’t find a very articulate answer to that question but I do know that I deserve to be happy. After all, it’s the reason I decided to end my marriage. I finally swallowed the fact that being in a relationship should be a positive thing; it should make us feel good, good about ourselves and our place in the world. It should be a place of comfort and solace, where fear and anxiety cannot comfortably live. A relationship is only good for us if it makes us better people, gives us strength and confidence and makes us smile. Otherwise, wouldn’t we be happier, more productive people on our own?

This is one of the important lessons I have learned over the past five years and it all seems worth it. Every second of anguish and aggravation have brought me to this place of total comfort and solace where there are not enough hours in the day to spend time with the one I love – the one who snuggles all night long, which could be the most amazing thing I’ve ever experienced. But I still wonder sometimes why this wonderful series of events has happened to ME. I still get frightened that I’m going to wake up from this beautiful dream.

So eventually I have to let these thoughts go and just be thankful, forever; sincerely thankful for the wonderful people and wonderful things that come my way. I’ve had this quote taped to my computer for years and I think it finally sunk in: “The world opens up to us when we live in a space of gratitude.” Yes, gratitude is a strong emotion and one I will turn to from now on for those unanswerable questions.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Playing House

About six weeks ago, my boyfriend and I decided to move in together. In two weeks, we'll be official cohabitants. Since we made this decision, I haven’t looked back or had any second thoughts, but yesterday I had a minor panic attack when I realized that although I haven’t let myself believe it, I am a bit anxious about making such a bold step. I really didn’t think I had any anxiety about it. I sat with my man and our realtor and didn’t feel one ounce of apprehension when we signed the lease, forked over the cash and started making arrangements. Honestly. I even have a countdown calendar on my refrigerator.

So why have I begun to scream bloody murder in my sleep? Because I’m a human being. One who’s made a few ‘I’m only human’ relationship decisions in the past and this is a life-altering leap. When I’m honest with myself I see that it’s not the cohabitation that has put the butterflies in my tummy. It’s the future – the part I always stress about. I’m not scared of the here and now, the dirty dishes in the sink, how we’ll decide who will make dinner and who will walk the dogs. It’s the big stuff, the real stuff, the meat of the future.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m still blissful and confident that this is the man who can make me happy for the rest of my life, but this meat I refer to -- this building of a family -- is seriously hard work. And out of ALL the people in the entire world … HE and I … have to be on the same page if we stand a chance. What are the odds? We met practically on a whim, fell in love against all odds (well, almost) but have been ecstatically happy ever since. I’ve even had the ache in my chest when I’m lying in bed alone, knowing that he’s doing the same thing across town. When he looks at me I almost melt because I know he feels the same way about me that I do about him.

But I have learned over the years that a perfect man does not make a perfect partner and even a perfect partner does not make a perfect relationship. When you throw children into the mix (among many other things), the challenges only multiply. I think my anxiety was delayed until now because one of the things I fell in love with was that he is already a fabulous dad. He’s practically raised two kids on his own and he’s ready to be a dad for the second time. And he’s ready to be a dad to MY future children. Amazing.

What’s the solution? I wonder. First, remind myself that I’m pms-ing. Check. Second, get my thoughts down on paper so I don’t explode. Check. Third, look honestly into my heart and ask myself what I truly believe. Check. Last, have a chat with the wonderful man who has agreed to take me for who I am and enjoy me being happier than ever before.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Bug

The biggest Hallmark holiday of the year is just around the corner. Traditionally I’ve lamented Valentine’s Day, like every other self-respecting woman in America, and gagged at each and every Jared and Kay Jewelers commercial. I'd roll my eyes as bouquets of red roses were carried down the office hallway and steer clear of restaurants, movie theaters and parks. Even when I was married or in the beginning stages of relationship bliss, I still didn’t get the hype. No matter what you’re partner/husband/boyfriend gets you, it’s never the right thing. So why bother? It’s just another opportunity for you to compare yourself to everyone else.

So why, in February of 2010, do I feel differently? I think I can explain it in one concise, meaningful, yet incredibly overused word: love. I have fallen in love with such a worthy man who, astoundingly, is convinced that I am just as worthy of him. In fact, I’ve fallen so deeply that I am actually (dare I say it???) looking forward to Valentine’s Day for the first time since high school. I’m looking forward to it and planning - thinking about baking for my sweetie, a heart-shaped cake with fun red decorations to sprinkle on top, following the fondue course, of course.

But allowing yourself to fall in love is tricky, especially following a divorce. In my case, I don’t think it was avoidable. I was confused at first but signs were everywhere. Soon enough I found that my old self was occupying my body again, the self I had temporarily misplaced during the rough years of my marriage and the following years of divorce. Without paying attention, I realized I was goofy again, laughing a lot, mostly at myself. The true flashing neon sign, however, was that I was back to singing show tunes in the office. This may sound odd to most but when I start singing show tunes at 3:30pm (for some it’s considered nap time, for me it’s the time of delirium), I’m back. I do not credit falling in love with bringing my old self back, but I do believe it had something to do with the fact that I was able to recognize me again, and appreciate me.

Last week, the Today show interviewed Lori Gottlieb on her new book, Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough. When I first heard the title, I wasn’t pleased, but after listening to her theories, I smiled. I smiled inside and out because I realized, without knowing it, that I had already taken her advice. She advises single women to revisit their “standards,” focus on the things that really matter and forget about the silly stuff. She warns that women are being too critical and in the process are missing out on the men that could be the perfect partner, even if they’re not the perfect man.

I refer, once again, to my July post about my own “standards” and how I refused to adjust them. By this I was referring to a guy’s appearance, his style, and whether or not he spends his Sundays on the couch watching football. At the time, I was very rigid in my vision of who I saw myself with and gosh darn it – I wasn’t going to settle! So I guess it’s entirely possible that during the next three months, someone gave me a shot of reality and in turn, gave me a shot at happiness. I found myself on a date with a man who, on the surface, didn’t live up to these standards. But I went on a second date which turned into a third and eventually turned into me singing show tunes again.

I still ask myself why I kept dating a man who loves football, wears flip-flops AND baseball caps. Because … eh-hem … those things don’t matter. How did I look past the superficial nonsense to get to the stuff that really does matter? I don’t know. I probably never will. But the important thing is that I did. I looked past the flip-flops and saw into the heart of an amazing man who has ignited something in me that has given me the capacity feel on a different level. A man who has given me hope that good things do happen to good people. So as this pseudo holiday approaches, I’ve had to face the facts – I’ve got the bug. And I’m loving every minute of it.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

And he vacuums

Apparently I’m a cynic. I never considered myself one, but as things continue to delight in the relationship department, I’m beginning to wonder if there can be there too much of a good thing. My inner skeptic is acting aggressively lately and I’m just not sure whom to believe. My heart is asking me to sit back, relax and enjoy, but the skeptic is warning me to take out the common sense and apply with care. I mean, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is, right?

It was only a few weeks ago I wrote about finding comfort in being able to enjoy a good, healthy relationship without worrying where it’s headed. No sooner did I get those words on the screen that I started worrying about trusting myself too much, if that’s possible. And just as those nagging thoughts started to appear, it seemed as if conversations about relationships were everywhere. And conversations about relationships make me think of my own relationship, even when I had decided against that very thing.

Even he wanted to talk about our relationship. Yes, ladies, the man brought up the future. Surprise, surprise. He wasn’t nervous, awkward or needy. No pressure, no demands, just a mature, adult male (yes I did say mature adult male) who knows how he feels, what he wants and is confident enough to discuss it without the slightest bit of discomfort.

When the guy you’re in a good, healthy relationship with continues to act like a mature adult male, can you help but wonder if it’s just too darn good to be true? Recently, my mature adult male-friend and I marveled at each other and our relationship – how seamlessly things are working out, how naturally everything fits together. We asked each other, Is this it? Is this what it’s supposed to feel like when its right? Is this what people in happy relationships experience? Is this what we’ve been striving to find all these years? Can this last? How do you know?

I asked the opinion of a friend of mine who said, “you just know.” And I know she’s right. As much as I want a checklist of rights and wrongs, dos and don’ts and a higher power to wake me during the night to give me a definitive answer, preferably in writing, we all know that’s not going to happen. You have to figure it out on your own. You can solicit advice from every person you’ve met since kindergarten. You can do a free survey on and you can have your tarot cards read, but it’s your decision and yours alone.

The thing about this decision that keeps me up at night is the question of trust. How do you know when you can and should trust yourself, when the decision you made the first time around was less than stellar? How do you know the difference between a real, lasting connection and getting lost in the giddiness of a new, comfortable relationship? How do you know if the little things you love about him now will drive you crazy in the future? I think my friend was right – you just know. When you dig down really deep and tell yourself the complete and honest truth, only then can you trust yourself and make the right decisions.

I’m not an expert on relationships, just a 35 year-old woman navigating this very complicated and sometimes exhausting world of dating. So for now my answer is to trust. Trust and enjoy every second with the man who says everything has changed for the better since we met: he feels better, sees things more clearly, wants more from life. He’s astonished that I have no idea how wonderful I am. I’m astonished that that this warm, wonderful, kind and considerate man was basically delivered to my doorstep – a man who took down my Christmas tree and immediately started vacuuming the house without me even showing him where the vacuum was kept. Stop the press, ladies … can there by anything sexier than a man vacuuming? I think not. So let’s pray together that there’s no such thing as too good to be true.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Dos Due Deux

Sometimes it surprises me how often I’m reminded that no matter how good things are, getting back out there -- dating the second time around -- isn’t as easy as one would hope. Let me clarify: I didn’t think it would be easy, but I certainly thought I’d be better at it, at least a bit. I mean I’m pretty darn proud of myself for recognizing an unhealthy marriage and managing to get out of it before the ties couldn’t be broken. And I’m proud that I’ve grown immensely from the experience (mentally and emotionally, of course). I’m much stronger than I was just a few years ago. I’m more confident and independent, and a ton more comfortable with me.

But none of these developments seem to have too much of an impact on my dating life. And the truly disappointing part is that I am to blame. Yes, me. The clich√© does apply. I am my own worst enemy. And my worst critic. But at least I’m not alone. We all do it. We are all our own worst enemy and our own worst critic. But why? Why are we so hard on ourselves? We would never let anyone else be so hard on us. Why don’t we show ourselves the kindness we show our friends and loved ones? I would never be so unforgiving to a friend and I would never continue a friendship with someone who judged me so harshly.

Dating the second time around just might mean that we’re more sensitive than ever. We’re scared, unsure and we know that fairy tales don’t actually exist. Doesn’t this mean we should go even easier ourselves? Be more forgiving? I refer, once again, to Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestselling memoir “Eat, Pray, Love.” In it, she describes how one day for a split second, as an elevator was closing, she saw her reflection in a security mirror and thought she spotted a friend. When life gets rough, she reminds herself of this moment saying, “never forget that in an unguarded moment, you recognized yourself as a friend.”

I, too, try to remind myself of this but it’s difficult, and I’m not sure why. Do I feel guilty about being happy so I sabotage a relationship in my head when things are going well? Quite possibly. Do I conjure up silly scenarios and create unnecessary drama where there is none? Perhaps. But it has to be the guy’s fault, right?

I’m starting to think men aren’t as dumb as they look. Or pretend to be. Dare I say they may even have the right idea? They don’t (for the most part) overanalyze. They’re not (with rare exceptions) oversensitive. They don’t FEEL every little thought, detail, glance and hiccup and wonder what it means. OK, I’m an over-analyzer and I’ve come to terms with it. It’s not going to change anytime soon. It comes with being a super-sensitive artsy type and it’s helped me see the beauty that many others can’t see in what life throws at us. As with many things, it’s a blessing and a curse.

But now I am choosing to make it only a blessing from this point forward, and will not allow it to get in the way of my happiness. If I learned one thing from living in a marriage that doesn’t work it’s that you have to love yourself in order for anyone else to have even a chance to truly love you.

Divorce has provided me with a number of lessons and I’m determined to learn every single one of them. I’ve learned that there’s nothing I can’t handle. I’ve learned how to make better decisions in the future than I have in the past. And I’ve learned that the future holds great things for me. Now I promise to create adequate space for those great things by being a good friend to the most important person in my life – me. I read in a magazine today and hope to carry this thought with me, “true love begins with both curiosity about and acceptance of yourself.”