Breaking back together.

I have a lot going on.  And when that happens, it’s hard to pinpoint a topic to blog about. I’m either too scattered, or trying to respect everyone’s privacy, including my own.  Privacy is a funny thing to a blogger, especially one who has written a memoir where she lets it all hang out anyway. Perhaps with memoir, we have the illusion of control (emphasis on ‘illusion’). We can reframe and shape our past as we see fit, and because it happened already, it feels less immediate than a blog post.

My memoir, about a Good Jewish Girl who marries a Christian, illustrates how I met my Christian husband and the obstacles along the way – including an eight month break up.

After dating for four months and falling in love, we mutually agreed to break up. Our split was amicable, and I moved on fairly easily, mistaking that ease for “we must not be meant-to-be.” Obviously, I couldn’t have been more wrong, but perhaps I needed to believe that then, in order to come back to him later. At the time, I was unaware that this ease I was experiencing was actually relief in disguise. Relief  that I had averted the scarier route of committing to him for love, and for the long haul, without the insurance of a checklist.

I found a blog post that I had written on the heels of our breakup, in April 2010, which illustrates my frame of mind (and kind of blows my mind too).

Looking back, things happened exactly as they should have. Our sweet, clean break up had a distinct purpose; the universe (okay, God) had been telling us that while we needed to meet and connect, that it wasn’t the right time to go the distance. We weren’t ready for one another; we weren’t ready for the gravity of the real thing. Not yet.

Looking back, our break up healed us. Without our breaking apart, we never would have come back together.

ANOTHER CUB BITES THE DUST – April 2010

I skipped a posting last week because I was sick, although in hindsight, that was probably a cover for the real reason. I think there was too much uncertainty roiling around in my subconscious, and I couldn’t work out what to tackle first. I also must have intuited that it was too early (and personal) to write about what was to come a few days later: a break up with my tall, young, sweet and Aidan-like goyfriend.

Most of my friends don’t know yet but the few that I’ve told reacted with the classic, “Whaattt?? What happened?!”  They were surprised. Things seemed to be going so well.

We all know that just because things look great on the outside, doesn’t always mean that they actually are.  Although to my boyfriend and I, on the inside, it was looking promising. We were going through the good relationship motions: checking in with one another, sleeping over, sharing stories, dining and wining together. When I was sick he bought me yellow tulips. The image of him standing by my bed, this huge guy clutching this tiny unbloomed bouquet makes my heart hurt.  I had given him a key to my apartment just a week before.

He even met the Fockersteins, for god (his and mine) sake!   And afterwards, my mother went out of her way to Google ‘Amazon’ and send me a book, signifying that my man and I had a future, entitled “Marrying a Jew, from a Christian perspective.” I freaked. My goyfriend was on his way over and I found myself hiding the book and its receipt like it was porn. I emailed Mom to tell her that if I needed more information on interfaith relationships, I knew how to Google too, and could do so when I was ready.

My point is, I wonder if the visible increase in such niceties indicates that there is something wrong under the surface? How many times have you heard women express great shock over a break up, specifically because the guy “texted me just the night before to say he wanted to spend his life with me!” or “but we just planned a vacation to Hawaii!” Are we actually more emphatic, more lovey-dovey to our significant other, just before we break up with them? Is it denial, or are we overcompensating, in the hopes of eradicating our doubts?

Looking back, I think some of this was going on with us. We were ignoring the elephant in the room for a while (no not the Christian one…a cute image though.)  A year ago, with my last boyfriend, I could go a long time blissfully ignoring things – ignoring my gut. But not anymore. At least there is a silver lining to this breakup. Amidst the heartache, at least I know that my gut and I have become best friends – the kind of friend I listen to, who doesn’t project her own agenda, baggage, or neurosis on me like some friends tend to do.

My dad said it best: “I see you don’t sit on the pot too long anymore.”

When I told Mom we broke up, she surprised me. Rather than reacting with her predictable “Heeeeee!! Mah karah?” (“What happened?” in Hebrew…Mom switches to Hebrew for important subjects), she listened.

And then in a soft patient voice she said, “Cougel, you will be okay. You’re strong and practical. You’ve been through a lot worse.”

How true, I realized. After the end of a fourteen-year marriage, the failure of a four-month relationship, no matter how in love I felt, doesn’t scare me.  I wonder if the loss of love hurts less with age and experience, or more, because the older we get, the greater our despair. Or perhaps the rate of our recovery correlates with the quality of the relationship itself, and how certain we are deep down that it just “wasn’t right.” Four days after my breakup, and judging by how I’m doing, I’m pretty certain that for me it was the latter.

It doesn’t mean I didn’t cry the day we broke up. After Mom and I hung up, I called her back to tell her one more thing: “By the way. I’m going to keep the book you sent me….for the next guy.”

Mom burst out laughing (I love that she can laugh at herself) and then I joined in. It felt good. Mom also knows there is some truth to my comment. The likelihood that my next boyfriend won’t be Jewish is no surprise, nor does it seem to freak my parents out anymore (Call it acceptance. Or learned helplessness. Either way, I’m glad).

The upside to all of this is that now I can start blogging more freely again, without worrying about respecting a boyfriend’s privacy (my own privacy, as evidenced by this blog, is fair game).  Although I doubt I will start online dating anytime soon, no matter how good the fodder is for my blog.

But when I do, you’ll know.

Intimacy 101: How friendship can shed light on love.

A close friend of mine recently taught me something unexpected about love. We flew to Los Angeles for a sales trip and shared a hotel room. I haven’t shared a hotel room with anyone but my husband in years and it turns out that my friend Kelly, who is divorced and single, hasn’t either.

We were both a little apprehensive; worried that we would get on each others nerves and somehow taint the friendship we cherished. Growing up, I shared a room and lots of heart to hearts with my younger sister, but I’m a light sleeper and a poor space sharer. And by space, I mean mental space. My brain and its happenings are always buzzing about, and they don’t like to be interrupted until they’ve completed a thought (or spewed it into my journal or this blog). It’s why I don’t like when the phone rings unexpectedly, or courteous small talk about traffic and the weather. It’s probably why, in all the years that I was single after my divorce, I chose to travel alone rather than with girlfriends. And when I stay in a hotel, I’m messy (yes, Mom, still). My suitcase and its environs become a cabinet and the hotel’s cleaning service passive aggressively tells me so by hiding it in the closet. And Kelly, a single mom who is used to having her own bedroom and bathroom to ruminate and groominate in, not to mention workshop aloud the songs she’s written, was unsure whether she’d feel stifled – or stifle me.

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We also shared a rental car, several Uber drivers, a toothbrush (once), and drinks each night with clients (which was quite fun as well as productive, like in this post,”Enough Fun!“). And then at the end of those long nights, we retired to our room for some laughs and pillow talk, which surrounded conversations about relationships (what else?). I spoke about my husband, his sense of humor, and little quirks that I love – some of which may have been construed as flaws or red flags when we first met, when our bond was still forming. She spoke about dating and the loneliness and frustrations that come with it; the magnification of flaws, the elaborate game of texting, the fear that it won’t amount to something real, and the fear that it might.

Then she pulled her phone out to show me a picture of a guy she met online and was considering meeting in person. “Ok, what’s he like?” she asked me, providing no details beyond the photograph. He had olive skin, a receding hairline, and hazel eyes with crow’s feet. “He seems…normal,” I said. “I don’t see anything wrong with him.”

I’ve recently discovered that I have this strange knack for intuiting a person’s essence from a photograph. When another friend of mine had first shown me a picture of a guy she met online (and is now engaged to), I took one look at him and immediately blurted: “He’s intense and reclusive…an artist who probably lives in the country, a smoker.” It turned out to be true.

And a few weeks before our trip to LA, Kelly had texted me a photo of a handsome guy with silver hair, wearing a scarf and leather jacket. “Mean streak,” I quickly wrote back. “No,” she replied. “We’ve had this beautiful back and forth and he’s coming to visit me this weekend.”

But that night, when I asked her what ever happened with silver hair guy she replied, “I didn’t like him. He kept putting me down in small, subtle ways. He was…he was…mean,” she said, looking up at me with the realization that I had been right about him from the get go.

None of this is about my being right, of course (or promoting a fortune telling business for singles). It’s about the realization that before I met my husband — before I had gotten out of the way of my own projections and badly wanting something to work — I never could have so clearly seen behind the scenes. Back when I was single and the memory of what true intimacy really felt like had faded, perhaps I would have been unequipped to recognize the qualities about him that were most important. Perhaps I would have discounted him from a photograph too.

When Kelly and I settled into our seats for the flight back to New York, the exhaustion from the week hit home and I pulled out my kindle to dive into the quietness of a book. But then, I had a question for Kelly – a detail about her divorce that I didn’t know. As she began telling me the long, captivating story, my kindle slid off to the side. “You’re a better storyteller and more interesting than my book,” I told her, and we laughed. After so many days together, I didn’t expect that, and neither did she. (I might have even added, “I can’t believe I’m not sick of you yet!”)

She also didn’t expect that a few days later, when she went out on a first date with hazel eyes guy, she found herself forgetting the checklist in his profile and completely letting go. He had indeed turned out to be “normal,” as I had sensed from his photo. And one of his quirks, which before would have been a knee-jerk cause to dismiss him, she now found endearing.

She said that before our trip, it would have never happened. Somehow, having spent that companionable stretch of time with a friend had helped her reconnect to herself and re-discover what intimacy feels and looks like – and what she was looking for. And today, she called me up to say that their third date was even better, and she’s not sure she could have experienced it authentically without the quick tour of terrain she had forgotten existed.

And it reminded me that love can beget love, in whatever form it comes in, and that back when I was divorced and single, I was fortunate to have a few women in my life who reminded me of that too. And who maybe even helped renew my prescription so that I could see my husband for who he is and recognize what intimacy really looked like – when it was time to.