Coincidentally, there was an interesting article in the NYT today, “Is Marriage Good for your Health?”
Seems like I’m not the only one exhausting the topic of marriage and divorce! Between all of these ongoing studies, to the phenomonon of “Eat Pray Love” (can’t wait to blog about that when the movie comes out), it’s rampant. Not that this is a newsflash, yet for some reason it still surprises me. Has it always been like that? I wonder whether the way in which celebrity divorces have always been portrayed in the media has given divorce a kind of sanitized “doesnt seem like such a big deal” patina.
Anyway, check out this interesting article. It gives a whole other rationale for not jumping. As in, not jumping into a bad marriage in the first place.
“But while it’s clear that marriage is profoundly connected to health and well-being, new research is increasingly presenting a more nuanced view of the so-called marriage advantage. Several new studies, for instance, show that the marriage advantage doesn’t extend to those in troubled relationships, which can leave a person far less healthy than if he or she had never married at all. One recent study suggests that a stressful marriage can be as bad for the heart as a regular smoking habit. And despite years of research suggesting that single people have poorer health than those who marry, a major study released last year concluded that single people who have never married have better health than those who married and then divorced.”
I got an email from a woman last week who I don’t know; she’s been reading my blog and connected with the fact that I’m divorced. And surviving. I might even dare to use the word “thriving.”
She wrote anonymously (so let’s call her “Ann”), and it was weird, because it was the first time someone was asking me for advice because of the blog. Ann is married ten years now… and for the past three she’s felt alone, trapped, etc. In a word, miserable. She wanted to know what had happened to me and my marriage. Mostly, she wanted to know how I got up the guts to leave. I’m guessing that she was looking for strength more than advice.
I wrote back to her privately, but then I thought, why not make it a topic for my next post – in the off chance some of you might be interested too. But first, a disclaimer: I’m not writing this to embolden anyone or promote divorce. Hell no. I am the last person to encourage anyone who might have a shred of a chance making their relationships work to break from them.
I’m talking about when you’ve come to the very last stop on the marriage train. Maybe you waited until this point, you got on the train early and then shut your eyes tight the whole way, when all along, there were stops where you could have taken pause, opened your eyes and looked around, reframed your outlook, so that you could stay on the train for the long haul. I think it’s different for each and every one of us. I have friends who need things to be black and white, who can’t deal with the subtlety of problems, with the gray, so they wait for things to become undeniably irreparable – they wait for a catalyst – before making a decision. I get it. Some would say I did the same thing. But once you’ve gotten to that last stop, and you start freaking out, what’s the point of beating yourself up for missing the stops that came before it?
So now that I’ve exploited the train metaphor ad nauseum, what I’d like to say is, well, then what?
Well, first comes denial. Then comes recognizing your crumbling marriage. And then figuring out, what the hell do I do with the baby carriage?
Part of me believes in some denial, in ignorance. I think in a way it gives us courage (a close cousin to stupidity). If we knew how painful the consequences of a decision were going to be, we wouldn’t act. If you’re standing on a cliff one hundred feet up from an abyss, and you need to jump, wouldn’t it be better not to know how far up you actually were, or how cold the water was? Or whether it even was water, or jagged rock? Maybe it’s better to take the plunge first, and deal with the consequences afterwards. Besides, we can’t really deal with the consequences of our actions until they’ve happened anyway, when we have real facts to work with. There’s no point in fearing the hypothetical. So I’d rather just not hypothesize.
Okay, so then you’ve jumped. And the water is colder than you could have ever imagined, and the waves as rough as a tsunami. Most people freak out. Drowning, desperate, they scan the area for a lifeboat, a buoy…something. Usually this comes in the form of drugs to numb the pain, crazy girlfriends who encourage you to drink heavily each night, or another man who extends his oar in your direction. At this point, I believe you should grasp for whichever is closer. Hell, hop on all three. Or whatever works for you.
The truth is, we get so hung up on the how, that we are unable to act on the why. When, in my opinion, making any kind of major life change, where the fall out is so crystal clearly painful, is so daunting, that how is the least of your worries. And that question that burns in the forefront of your mind, what will everyone else think of me? Think about this: nobody really cares as much as you think they do. They will get over it, a lot faster than you will.
There is no easy way to stand up for what you want, because it almost always means hurting other people, people you love. I think that above all, that is the hardest lesson about growing up. We want things to be easy and harmonious, our actions and their effects invisible, but maybe once we accept that this is not possible, and understand that there is a price for every choice we make (unlike when we were 24 and could switch jobs and boyfriends without consequence), perhaps that is when we can start putting one foot in front of the other, down a path that we choose. I don’t mean to sound preachy, I only know what I’ve come to learn going down the path I’ve chosen. And I can’t go back. I learned that the hard way too. At first, I tricked myself into thinking that I could turn back to the fork in the road and try again. That I could climb all the way back up to the precipice I jumped from. Maybe I needed to believe that to jump in the first place. But I do not believe that any path we choose is ever wrong. It’s just different, and sometimes in stark contrast from what we had pictured in our heads – and so it is wildly disorienting when we first set foot on it.
A wise woman I used to work for happened to call me when I was in the crumbling marriage phase (sorry, I can’t offer insight on the “what to do with the baby carriage phase.” That’s still pending). She called me about a job, but then we started talking, and she said something that I find myself latching onto in moments of despair. And it’s found its way into my novel. She said, “Just think of the moth before its transition out of the cocoon. It must have thought its world was coming to end, right before it turned into a butterfly.”
I have no idea if what I’ve just rambled about (stealing from my novel no less) illuminates a thing for Ann. Or if it’s what she wants to hear. But hearing what we want doesn’t really help us. It disables us. So all I can say is, I can’t tell anyone if jumping is the right thing for them. All I can say is that if you do decide to jump, make sure you’ve thought long and hard about why (therapy does help…as does alcohol…and apparently all of my mother’s praying for me in temple), and that you’ve tried everything possible to make the place you’re at more palatable before doing so. And that you do it with your eyes wide open. Because no matter what – it’s going to suck. But you’ll survive. And maybe, you’ll even thrive.
I’d like to quote JK Rowling from her commencement speech at Harvard, she said: “And rock bottom is the foundation on which I built my life.”
You’ve heard of JK Rowling, right?
What is this new phrase? I’ve been hearing it a lot lately. I have no clue where it came from… probably some reality show or pop culture reference that I’ve missed while focusing my attention on blogs, Facebook, and general day dreaming.
I’m guessing that it’s a sexy way of covering up the truth of the matter, as in “f*cked up,” “bonkers,” and “kookoo bananas.” I think it’s mostly being used by men, who are themselves going through some “crazy” phase but can’t acknowledge it. Because this is a term relegated to women only. Especially women over thirty, as in cougars… cougars on the verge..women on the verge of a nervous breakdown (great movie by the way). Men aren’t crazy! Hell no. They are guilty of other things: working late, infuriatingly rational behavior, snoring, and not looking at maps. But messy behavior? The all over the place kind that scatters sense in a hundred directions? That’s our bag.
So I think men coined this term “hot mess” to soften the blow. A man can be messy, but when he is, it’s hot. It’s okay. It’s intriguing and attractive because he is showing vulnerability, and that’s unexpected. And women swoon when a man shows his soft messy side. Especially drunk at a bar (but not in the delivery room or after he’s lost his job).
The last thing I can think of, is that men came up with it because while they might criticize or reject “crazy” chicks, in reality, they freakin love it. They love that we are high on life one minute, and crying in broad daylight the next. They like when we speak openly about our mess, and then deny it an hour later. They want to reach out and save us when we are cloaked in it, and don’t necessarily know what to do with us when we have it all together. Because apparently, crazy is hot. It’s the new mess.
We hear it all the time. It’s a sign! The universe is talking to me! But how? By singing to us at bedtime, or as a little voice in our heads? I don’t believe that the universe speaks to us all in one “universal” language that can be easily studied or decoded. It speaks to each of us personally, in different ways, and not with sounds or words.
But only if we choose to pay attention. When we are abruptly woken from our stubborn slumber and our ears and heart are suddenly trained to listen. I know it sounds hokey to some (I can hear you men snickering). “Universe” is a term my dad uses only when referring to an article he read in the NYT science section.
That’s not the universe I am referring to here. I’m talking about the one that intercepts us, that throws a lens onto our skewed perspective, that tests our resolve. The one that shows itself in countless tangible ways, and yet it is inside the intangible where its transformative meaning can be derived.
Like when you’re thinking about someone from your past with whom you have unresolved issues – an ex most likely – and then as you’re walking home alone, that person appears on the street, walking towards you. Does your heart race and pulse quicken? Or do you feel calm, knowing that you could handle whatever that encounter may bring? Whether you interact with this person or what is said at this point is irrelevant. Because the universe has already spoken. It happened in that moment where you stopped to consider how you feel.
For me, these signs have been abundant over the past several years. I’ve run into my ex-husband at what I call critical intervals, when I needed to pay attention to something that I was ignoring. Once, it was in a restaurant window in greenwhich village, when I was feeling lonely and nostalgic. I didn’t choose to keep walking; I chose to stop, and tap on the window. He turned, and then to my surprise, a girlfriend of mine – who I didn’t realize even knew him – ran out to confront me before he could, to explain why she was having dinner with him. This was a friend with whom I had been sensing a dull strain, where I would leave our outings feeling depleted, and yet I ignored it. This friend anxiously explained what she was doing there, but what she said didn’t stick. It couldn’t stick, because this moment, to me, wasn’t about explanation, or jealousy, or anger. It was about the universe kicking my sleeping subconscious awake, telling it – telling me- that this friendship was an unhealthy one, and that I needed to acknowledge it. It wasn’t actually about my ex at all; he was just the vehicle, one that I would definitely stop and take notice of. Sometimes, when the words on our signs are too tiny to read, the universe rewrites them. In big bold letters.
Some signs have come through Facebook (Yes, I’m invoking Facebook…take a moment to recover). But isn’t it inevitable that tangential contact with random people from our past, may suddenly crop its head up in defining moments? Like the time I had fearfully set a shaky foot on the path of reinvention, searching for my creative voice, and got a random message from a guy who had been in my Freshman dorm. He wrote that he saw a painting in Art Forum magazine that reminded him of a piece I had painted way back then, that inspired him. I didn’t remember it, but he did. And he, or the universe, in the moment I must have needed it most, made sure to remind me.
There are bigger ones of course – of divine intervention. A friend of mine’s father died recently. On the day of the funeral, her husband found out that his mother, who had been waiting for a new liver, after years of pain and despair, had miraculously found a donor.
A few years ago, shortly after moving back to NY, I was sitting on a bench in Madison Square Park on a sunday afternoon. It was not yet spring, and I was writing in my journal, feeling despondent, and brainstorming ideas for my book which had not yet been written. A butterfly suddenly appeared and flew back and forth along the long bench, as if it was searching for a place to sit. And then, out of all the other people or places, it chose me. It hovered over my open journal, and then settled onto it. It stayed there for several minutes, comfortable in my lap. People were in awe, as was I. Although I still haven’t figured out the hidden meaning behind this. Did the butterfly know I needed a pick me up? Or that I am obsessed with its species? Maybe it was flirting with me. Or, maybe it was just attracted to the bright white of my journal pages.
I was prompted to recall these auspicious encounters today because I’m in LA, where I used to live, and so I inevitably revisit my past. And sometimes it visits me. I ran into two former colleagues yesterday, whom I hadn’t seen since exactly three years ago to the day; the day the bottom of my life had dropped out. Since then, our lives have taken different paths. They are now married with children. And I am not. Again, it wasn’t as much about seeing them as it was about how I felt inside while speaking with them. This time, I didn’t listen to them wistfully, wishing for what they had. Instead, I listened to them with a fondness, an openness, and suddenly recognized that I’m okay… more than okay…to be in the exact place I am today.
So, are the signs real? Or are we trying to turn nothing, into something?
Does it matter?
In just three days, I’ve accrued three more clueless crimes. I could say it is because I’m away from home and working long hours, which makes me more spacey than usual, but… really?
1) We are shooting on a stage on the Sony lot. I went to the bathroom several times yesterday. Before we left, I told my ride to wait so I could use the bathroom one last time before we hit the road. Only after I lined the toilet seat, flushed, and went to wash my hands, did I notice that the bathroom looked a lot messier than I remembered. And then I noticed the urinals.
2) Since I used to live in LA and therefore should know my way around, I offered to sit up front to help navigate to set. On all 3 days of driving to the same place, we still got turned around. PS. Los Angeles follows a grid system.
3) I decided to wash my hair before bed since I wouldn’t have time to do so in the morning. I was smart enough to bring my own shampoo and hair gel in those cute little travel bottles, but too stupid to label which was which. I’m blaming my stiff hair today on the LA water.
At this rate, by the time I leave on Saturday, I should have at least three more. Stay tuned.
What does a Jewish woman in her 30s, who lives in NYC and has parents like mine, do after the breakup haze has cleared? You guessed it. She joins J-date.
Yeah, I’m going there. I’m going to write the post that I think some of you expect, and probably want. Even though I believe I’ve been subconsciously avoiding it because 1) It seems to have jumped the shark in every relationship magazine, blog, column, etc. And I’m trying to do something different, damn it. And, 2) I’m cognizant that some ex’s and others (hi mom!) are reading this blog and I don’t want to ruffle any feathers. But then I thought, if I’m worried about that, what am I doing being a writer?
Okay, so what does a Cougel do now that she’s finally succumbed to online dating, and starts perusing the crowded market of profiles in search of a nice Jewish boy (I mean, man)?
She finds the non-Jewish ones.
Apparently I have a talent for this. I’m like a dog that’s been set loose in the yard and immediately sniffs out the one piece of bacon that’s buried six feet under. I didn’t do this on purpose; it was some unconscious instinct. The first five men whose photos I actually stopped at and thought, “Hmm, he seems manly, interesting,” not only had emphatically written, “Not Jewish” on their profile, but more specifically: “Will not convert.”
That’s presumptuous, I thought. I haven’t asked you to. I don’t ever use the word “chillax,” but kinda felt like it then.
That begs another question: What the hell are these goys (I mean guys—that was a typo), doing on J-date? That’s just plain sneaky. It’s no different than them showing up at my temple (if I actually went), when I’m having a good hair day. Or like my Jewy looking self showing up to lunch at a yacht club. Besides, how was I supposed to explain to my parents that I got on J-date to find a Jewish boyfriend, and they should be pleased, only to break the news that instead I found a goyfriend?
The thing is, while they might not be overjoyed, I know they would accept it. They just want me to be happy. And I don’t believe in closing any doors, in narrowing a pool that’s already small and shallow. Come to think of it, my last two boyfriends since my divorce – ironically, my only boyfriends – were not Jewish, and my parents liked them well enough. Although in retrospect, this was deviously well planned on my part. Both guys were young cubs, providing my parents with something more displeasing to focus on instead. My dad referred to one of them as my “oy-friend”(I am not making this up). So yes, the time has come for me to skew Jew.
Not that it stopped me from emailing the three non-Jews who intrigued me. I am a curious person, and when something puzzles me, I must get to the bottom of it. I asked them point blank:“So what are you doing on here?” One totally ignored me (I don’t blame him). The other two had interesting responses, and we’ve since begun a dialogue. One confessed that his boss is Jewish, and said that the caliber of women on J-date was better (no I cannot qualify “better” in this context). The other said he is a wedding photographer for mostly Jewish weddings, for couples who met on J-date. So he thought he’d give it a try. Why should he be on the outside looking in, when it was as simple as signing up?
Which made me wonder, is it really that simple? Can someone just log on, sign up to J?
Although I don’t know what I expected. It’s not like J-date has Jewish Border control, asking for proof of your J-dentity before being permitted entry. Besides, how would that be enforced exactly? That’s a topic for a whole other blog. Passing the Jewish test. Perhaps it could be questions like:“Do you know what shmutz means?” “Do you say “oy” more than once a day, and sigh heavily when doing so?” “Is your mother overbearing? “Do you know what guilt is?”
Or, because this always seals the deal for me: “Do you know what kugel is?”