The Cougel's back (with a whole new flavor)

What better time is there to restart my blog – and share the changes in my life – than the Jewish New Year? Aka the high holy days, the days of awe?


A lot’s happened in the years since I blogged regularly as a single, Jewish Cougar. Serendipitous timing and a confluence of events that have built upon one another and brought me here, to this moment on the day after Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement and Reflection. And so, I reflect back (with some awe).

I used to attribute the notable events in my life to random chance or coincidence, but not anymore. Based on how things have unfolded in the last year, I believe that a force way bigger than me is pulling the strings – or at the very least, giving me a nudge, a slap, and sometimes even a smile. But you tell me.

Let’s start with the month of September as a retrospective marker. My husband and I celebrated our one-year anniversary, twice: on a weekend trip to the Mexican Riviera at the same resort we went to on our honeymoon, and the following weekend, on our “real” anniversary, we watched the footage from our wedding which we had not yet seen, cuddled adorably on the couch while sipping champagne. As my new husband rested his cheek on my shoulder, I was overcome with a wave of emotion and gratitude, one of an endless series that you’d think I’d get used to by now.

When I say “new” husband, to those of you who are just catching up on Cougel, my husband is not only new because we’ve only been married a year, and only known each other for three, but also because I have been married before – for fourteen years – my ex-husband sometimes referred to as my “old” husband. So even though I’m 42, everything feels new and fresh, the gratitude wave that overtakes me sharply cold and reinvigorating, and surprising each time.

The month of September also marks a turning point in my writing life. Several months ago, I finished the first draft of a memoir. I haven’t been that public about it yet, because well, it’s a divorce memoir, which I started writing exactly one year ago – on my honeymoon. The timing might seem absurd in its irony, but that only serves to reinforce my point; events that seem incongruent in their timing are almost always – at least to me – the opposite. And then I learned that I couldn’t submit my completed memoir to agents and publishers because they don’t read it like they would fiction. I needed to write a proposal, a business plan that sells me and my book in less than fifty pages, and to build my “platform” (which includes tweeting and yes, lots of blogging).

So I begrudgingly and agonizingly wrote the damn thing. I loathe outlines. It zaps the creative juice out of writing by removing the thrill of discovery. When I finished my clunky first draft – on the Friday before my anniversary – I sent it to an editor I had hired who could help make it submission ready. She told me she would get back to me in 2-3 weeks. But she didn’t. She got back to me in two days – on the morning of my anniversary. She told me that she meant to only take a peek at it, but ended up “devouring the whole thing in one sitting, laughing throughout.” She told me I had something saleable and funny and full of heart (and other compliments but my shameless self-promotion stops there).

In this same week, my husband had gotten a call for a final interview at a job that he had been striving towards for months, and things were looking promising.

In this same week, we also put the final brick on top of the family planning foundation we have been building in the last year. Each individual brick had been daunting and frightening in it’s size and heft, but looking back, had been put into place at just the right time – as if God knew what we needed better than we did – bringing us to this moment where one year into our marriage, we are finally ready to turn our make-a-family plan into a reality.

Which leads me to Rosh Hashana morning. For years, I’ve always gone to New Jersey to be with my parents on the holidays and attend their synagogue, but this year, I wanted to start planting seeds here in New York City and find a Jewish community for my husband and myself. Not to mention that since I’ve been frequently going to Church with him, I needed to balance out the faith-scale (and report back to Mom that her daughter had a found a place to be with her people).

A friend recommended a conservative synagogue on the upper west side, and I took my husband there, not knowing what to expect. When we arrived, my husband went to the bathroom and I peered into the massive stain-glassed sanctuary, where the Rabbi had just begun to speak. “Today’s Torah portion,” he said. “Is about childbirth and fertility.” [Cue emo-wave number 5,850).

The message was immediately clear. It was as if God was giving me a little squeeze, reassuring me that I am on the right path, and to keep going, and keep building.

So as I keep building, I’m going to keep blogging, as… (fade up on the theme music)…the Cougel Returns, or: “What happens after a divorced Jewish Cougar marries a Christian?”

Stay tuned til’ next Sunday evening. (And don’t worry, Mom’s back too, with a new and improved addition of Momlish.)

A divorced Cougel goes to a wedding - on her wedding anniversary.

How does it feel to be a single divorcee at a wedding? 
I found out this weekend.
I’ve been to two weddings since my divorce. One of them was with my first ex-cub, and my parents – a cousin’s wedding. The second was a close family friend and I had my sisters and parents to sit with; they served as a security blanket.
I attended a wedding of a new friend this weekend. It was a spur of the moment decision that came about when he was kind enough to invite me, and I was honored. I had originally had plans with a romantic prospect, but in the weeks leading up to it, I sensed they were going to fall through. The guy and I didn’t have any longevity in the cards, including the week leading up to Labor Day. When he canceled due to work conflicts, I wasn’t surprised or sad. I was even relieved, and used that opportunity to seize the chance to go do something different- an adventure. A wedding in gorgeous Vermont where I could spend some time alone, celebrate a momentous day with my friend and his bride, and perhaps meet some new people.
Looking back, it was probably a bold move. I’m social, I like meeting new people, but I wasn’t prepared for the discovery that every single person there was in a relationship. Two of the four couples at my table were engaged. I was the single odd gal out.
It didn’t freak me out, or upset me, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t notice it, or that it didn’t underscore my “aloneness” – a state of being that has ceased to bother me more or less, especially living in NYC and spending time with my single friends, or married friends in the midst of divorces.
I arrived the night before the wedding and enjoyed the few hours leading up to post rehearsal dinner drinks luxuriating in my aloneness. I declined getting a ride up and instead I took the train to Albany followed by a taxi for the hour drive to Manchester, so I could read and spend time in my head. I took a bath, ordered a bottle of wine for one, and then joined a few people (some I knew and some I didn’t) for drinks.
When I walked into the bar and sat down amidst the couples at the table, something dawned on me. And without thinking, I blurted, “Today is what would have been my eleven year wedding anniversary.”
Record scratch. Followed by a few empty stares, and one look of pity. “You’re divorced?”
My response: “Yeah. But I’m okay! I’m not sad. Really.”
How’s that for some rain on a hopeful romance parade?
The following day I went into town to have lunch and to enjoy some outlet mall retail therapy. When I walked by a quaint restaurant, I experienced a strange dejavu sensation. I had been here before. Had I blocked it out? And then it occurred to me (and I had to text my mom), I had been to Manchester over a decade ago with my ex-husband and ex-mother-in-law.
The wedding was exquisite, held at the exquisite Hildene grounds of Lincoln’s historical mansion. The weather was perfect. Until it wasn’t. An hour into dinner, the sky grew black and the winds fierce, thrashing the grand tent overhang and knocking over glasses.  What followed was an hour of torrential downpour and a tornado watch on Vermont. Everyone relocated into the grand living room of the mansion. People sat along the stair case, hands empty because the bar was outside in the downpour. But they adapted. The bride and groom danced in the small space before the fireplace, and the father of the bride gave a moving speech.
I couldn’t resist the obvious metaphor.  We plan for perfection. We hope for flawlessness, but of course, there is no such thing. Instead, we learn to adapt. And adapt quickly, and revel in the mess that can show life at its most beautiful.
My wedding on that day eleven years ago was what you would call flawless, weather included. People called me for months to say it was the best wedding ever. “It was perfect!” As if it was a good sign that our marriage would be too.
When everyone moved back outside, I felt a surprising pang of sadness.  But I didn’t miss my ex-husband.  I missed my ex-boyfriend (who I had spent Hurricane weekend with).  In retrospect, weddings will do that to you. Duh. So I shouldn’t have been surprised, or mad at myself for texting him that I wished he was there.  But I was.  Perhaps I should have been more emotionally prepared. If I had to do it over again, I would still go. I was glad to be there. But next time – and a note to all yea single women – if you’re going to a wedding without a swim buddy, rain or shine, you have to know what to expect. Or leave your Blackberry in your hotel to ward off needy misplaced texting.
My two close girlfriends who are also divorced are both in serious relationships and contemplating marriage number two.  I wondered what they would be thinking had they been there with me. Would they be viewing the young engaged couples at my table, or the bride and groom, through different lenses? We’ve all heard that it’s different the second time. An older woman who I happened to sit beside on the shuttle to the wedding, offered the following to me unprompted: “It’s better the second time. Trust me.”
I have yet to find out. But I’m hopeful.