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.

Gone Girl, Found: What qualifies a woman as "crazy"?

My husband and I saw the movie GONE GIRL a few days ago. I read the book when it first came out and enjoyed it, so with David Fincher at the helm, I assumed I would like it.

“Like” is the wrong word to describe the experience. Horrifying and unnerving are more apropos (and perhaps, the point). And not because of the Hollywood plot constructs or gratuitous gore designed to do so. The movie was unnerving because through its depiction of the perfect “It” girl (“Amazing Amy”) gone berzerk, it temporarily puts a crack in the lens of what crazy looks like. It causes men to look at women, be it their girlfriends, wives, sisters or mothers, and wonder, no matter how subconsciously, “Could that brand of crazy be lurking in her?”  images

Seven years ago, on the heels of a devastating divorce, I discovered that I had some meshugah lurking in me. It crept up on me slowly. One morning, while vacationing in a big old house in Martha’s Vineyard with a few newly single girlfriends (a sequel called “Gone Girls”?), I awoke early to make coffee and as I stood at the kitchen sink looking out over the Dickensian landscape of gray rolling hills, I pictured myself standing on that hill, my long black skirt billowing savagely in the wind, and I thought to myself: That woman (me) looks mad. What if her husband came home at that moment and saw her there, and realizes, by the subtle way she dips her head or moves her arm, that she is mad, and that he is afraid of her? Would he be right, or is it only his perspective?

I thought of writing a novella about a husband and wife’s alternating points of view of the wife’s descent into madness, which explores the meaning of “crazy” and the moment it springs into being. But then… well… I had some more crazy exploits to tend to, so I forgot. And then “Gone Girl,” the book came out. And here we are.

The questions that plagued me at the time were maddening in their own right. Had my own sense of “crazy” been lurking all along, waiting for a trauma to unleash it? Or, was it just a temporary side effect of that trauma? And how do we even define “crazy”? Is it subjective, depending on circumstances and perspective? Or is it diagnosed only by visible, tangible behaviors? Can we feel crazy but not act or necessarily be crazy?

I don’t know, nor am I equipped or educated enough on the topic to attempt to answer any of those questions. But for me,  it was defined by a feeling that was strange and disorienting – of being lost and off balance; in emotional survival mode, intent on protecting my raw wounds from infection by enveloping them in a prickly shell. I would act impulsively or speak inappropriately, and it was this specific lack of control – which I only recognized after the fact  – that concerned me. (Plus a few instances of being “that” person at the bar, sobbing in public for no apparent reason, and going to a public restroom to pee without noticing the urinals until my exit.)

Filled with shame, I retreated into myself. It wasn’t that I feared going Crazy Amy on anyone. I just didn’t want to be around people who might detect this about me. I wanted to hide until it passed. I was hoping that this was a phase, and not the “real me.”

And eventually, in time, it did pass. As I healed, I emerged from that murky place and left that “me” behind. I got my shit sorted and met the man I am now married to, who is kind, patient, and as sane as they come. Those qualities bring out the stable, rational, and self aware qualities in me and my sense of self and grasp on life feel peacefully balanced. Most of the time anyway.

When GONE GIRL was over and my husband and I walked out of the dark theater, I turned to him and blurted, “Aren’t you glad you didn’t marry a crazy person?”

My question didn’t require an answer, because it wasn’t really a question. I was only seeking validation for what I already knew. That the crazy girl is gone, and the real one’s been found.

 

 

 

 

Should married people be giving divorcees advice?

 I was recently asked to write a piece for The Huffington Post/Divorce section (psyched!) and my topic choice, “How do you know when you’re over your divorce?” inspired me to write this post.
I am not suggesting that us divorcees are part of some special club, but we do have a unique experience that those who have not been through it can’t really understand. Fortunately for them, they just don’t get it. They attempt to guide us, when they have never been in our shoes. I suspect it’s no different in reverse. Should someone who has never been married give marital advice? Should someone who has never had children provide child-rearing tips? I guess they can, but whether you listen to it or not is your choice (or problem).
Three of my close girlfriends are divorced – we all split with our exes around the same time.  Two of them are now in serious relationships, and like me, they have pretty much healed. They have put their divorces behind them.
The only difference is, I’m still single. To some people, single is a condition that needs fixing. People close to me want to “help” me. They want me to be happy (even though I think that most of the time, I am), and they think if I find my next husband, like my divorced girlfriends have, I will be.   
I realize that their intentions come from a good place – love. I understand the ache, or the itch, to make a loved one’s burden lighter, and sometimes we can’t resist the urge to scratch it, even though it might not help.  
With the input of some fellow divorcees, here are some examples:
Divorced: “I got a really nice email from my ex-husband…after all this time…”
Married: “Maybe you two should go on a date.”
Divorced, no kids: “I’m thinking about going to a fertility clinic to discuss my options of having a kid.”
Married with kids: “Oh, is that the place where you can get some eggs?”
Divorced: “I had a dream that I saw my ex husband and we made up. I woke up really sad.”
Married: “Wow, I can’t believe you’re not over it yet.”
Divorced: “This guy I met on Match.com told me his last girlfriend called the cops on him after they had a fight, but that she’s the one that started it.”
Married: “Give him a chance.”
Divorced, no kids: “Wow, I can’t believe I’m going to be 40 this year. When I was married, I thought I’d have at least two kids.
Married with kids: “My friends started having kids at 44. You can have three.”
Divorced: “Sometimes it still hurts that my husband cheated on me.”
Married: “Didn’t you know that was going to happen? You can’t just travel for work all the time and expect your husband to stay faithful.”
Divorced: “I really want a child and my divorce has delayed everything.”
Married with Kids: “Just do it. Pick anyone. It doesn’t matter who.”

Divorced: ” I’m sorry I haven’t seen you for a while. Our friendship is important to me but it’s been tough and I needed space to process my divorce.”
Married: “It’s ok. I’m just going to pretend you went on vacation.”
It’s true that on the surface, none of the above suggestions seem constructive, or applicable. If we wanted stock advice, we could pick up a self help book (or read “Eat Pray Love”).  Maintaining a close friendship with people who have never been in your shoes can be tricky…if you let it. I try not to expect any magical pearls of wisdom. We are the sole surivivors of our own history and experiences – no one else wakes up in our own skin.  And that’s okay. That’s how it’s supposed to be. 
So I guess the choice is ours. We can put up a wall between us and the people we care about who “just don’t understand,” and protect ourselves from frustration. Or- we can choose to share, in order to nurture and sustain that relationship.
And if that means that suggestions are going to be offered, so be it. 
You may even be surprised that sometimes, if you stay open, a pearl of wisdom might sneak it’s way in.

 

Why do we care about the marriages of strangers?

In the early years of my marriage, and even before that, when my ex husband and I were dating (ie. when things were good) I would open the New York Times style section to read the Modern Love column.  The “vows” section, a two page spread of wedding announcements, didn’t interest me, although for some reason I’d quickly glance at the couples’ last names to locate inter-faith marriages (foreshadowing?).  Sometimes I’d read the feature story to learn how the couple met, or what they did for a living. The feature story seemed to be reserved for power players or socialites, and I must have been intrigued by how they were able to “have it all” – a successful career, good looks, and of course, true love. 

During the period when my marriage was on the rocks, I found myself perusing the vows section more closely. I did this when my husband wasn’t around, to avoid detection (some people sneak porn; I’d sneak wedding announcements).  I’d study the photographs of the happy glowing couples and would experience a brief pang of yearning.
After my divorce, I didn’t even think to read this section, and when I did happen to come across it I’d roll my eyes. Sounds bitter I know, but at that point I saw things differently. Or rather, I felt I saw through things – I saw past the shiny idyllic surface and guessed there was more going on than meets the eye.  It strengthened my view that the media – books, movies, magazines – glorified marriage, and presented is as some fairytale illusion.
I considered blogging on this subject last week,  and then something in today’s vow’s section sealed the deal. The feature story was about the marriage of a guy named Matt Kay to a woman named Sascha Rothchild. Ms. Rothchild is the author of the book ‘How to Get Divorced by 30.’  
Yep. She got divorced, published a memoir about it, and then married again – announcing it in the vows section.  How’s that for irony?
It made me question who actually reads this section. Women who have never been married and hope to someday? Or is it women in unhappy marriages who read it? Do men? If you don’t know the people in it, how is it any more interesting than reading the classifieds when you’re not job hunting? Or stock listings when you’re broke?
You might be wondering why I found myself reading it today. It was the feature story that drew my attention. If a woman who has experienced divorce (a kind of shattering of the wedding fantasy) is able to re-embrace the joys of marriage, come full circle, and announce it to the world,  then maybe the vows section has a purpose. Perhaps its staying power is as strong, and as hopeful, as a long lasting marriage.
Do you ever read this section and stop to wonder what it says about you?

What happens once you graduate divorce?

Have any of you gotten to that place, when you wake up one morning, and you realize, “I’m over it?”

I’m not talking about no longer texting an ex-boyfriend, or realizing that your heart has finally mended. I mean finally moving past the heavy mourning phase of your divorce. It takes time – a lot longer than you can possibly predict. There’s some myth which states that it takes a month of healing for every year you’ve been together. I was with my ex-husband for 14 years, but it took more than three to feel “normal,” to get to know myself, and to reach the end of the ‘what is my life going to look like now’ journey.  And then it took another year to quit smoking the nostalgia cigarette in order to feel creative and mine my grief for material (this blog not included).
It didn’t seem possible three years ago. I didn’t think I’d ever get to a place where I could talk about my past without saying “we” – where I had accumulated enough experiences that happened to me, rather than we.
It happens slowly, and yet you notice it suddenly, like:
1-    When you run into your ex, and instead of feeling nauseous and shaky, you feel okay.
2-    A mutual friend tells you that he’s reading your blog. Not just reading it, but “studying it.” You’re curious, but you don’t mind.
3-    You stop going to his Facebook page to see if he’s changed his profile picture (since you’re not friends you’re not privy to anything else). It’s like reopening the fridge to see if something new has appeared until you realize you’re not even hungry.
4-    You don’t feel the uncontrollable urge to talk about your marriage or “what happened to you” anymore.
5-    You enter into a new relationship where you don’t cry the first time you have sex.
6-    You enter into a new relationship where you’re not comparing the new guy to your ex, checking off the positive qualities he has that your ex didn’t. Or perhaps you’ve come so far that you realize they have some good things in common, too.
7-    You find out that your ex has a new house, a new wife, and a new baby. Six months ago it might have driven you to the brink of email bombing – but now suddenly, you are too busy making your own life worthwhile, and enjoying it, that you don’t care what is going on in his. Maybe you’re even happy for him.
8-    Your sister calls you on what would have been your tenth wedding anniversary, to see if you’re okay, when you don’t even know what day it is.
9-    He sends you an email out of the blue- when you haven’t spoken in almost two years, and while you experience a disconcerting jolt of anxiety, it doesn’t send you into a tizzy the way those emails used to. And even if you might consider writing back, you get too busy in your own life that the email gets buried in your inbox.
Life gets in the way. Your life.  A life that you’ve built all by yourself, from the ground up, and when it whisks you away – even rescues you from the lurking tidal wave of your past – I think it’s a good sign.
I went through a period where I actually felt a yearning for that dark place, and sometimes, I admit, I still do.  It’s disconcerting. In some strange way – looking back through the gauzy lens of nostalgia – I believe that I felt more raw and real and creative inside of that space than I feel in the bright light outside of it. But it’s probably a good thing.
Can you detect the moment when you realized you were over your ex and the life you left behind, and when you did, did it make you happy, sad, or both?

Is divorce contagious?

Recent studies show that “more and more celebrities, politicians and couples next door are getting divorced…divorce is becoming more pervasive, even contagious.” According to the research, if an immediate friend or colleague gets a divorce, the chance that you will get a divorce jumps by 75 percent.

In other words, avoid divorced people like the plague! If your colleague never ever mentions his spouse and neglects to bring her to a company party, this intimates marital woes. Quit your job immediately (two weeks notice is too risky). If your friend confides in you that she’s having an affair and is probably going to leave her husband, defriend her asap (on Facebook too). If you see a woman in clogs and sweat pants in the frozen food aisle, eyes swollen from crying and loading up her cart with pints of Ben and Jerry’s, drop your cute little fruit-filled basket and run for the hills!

It’s everywhere, people. It’s the next summer tentpole disaster movie, although instead of the working title “Untitled Divorce movie” it’s now called “Eat Pray Love.”

This isn’t that surprising, is it? Similar things happen to similar people at specific stages in their lives. Part of it also has to with the “she’s doing it so maybe I should too” mentality. I felt the pressure, as I’m sure many of you did, when most of my friends got married, or started a family. Researchers call this pack mentality “clustering.” Although when it comes to divorce, it’s more like cluster fucking. Which I realize kinda sounds like fun, but that’s not what I meant. But I digress.

In all seriousness (because divorce is serious, even though it could be hilarious as a comedy starring Paul Rudd. Oh wait, it’s called “Knocked Up.” Or was that “Role Models”?), I do believe that when one person in a social group dares to question their marriage and abandon it, others look over in awe, and start to sniff around themselves. Perhaps it emboldens them. If not to leave, then to take a hard look at the realities of their own situation. But hopefully it doesn’t over-encourage them. Some issues are probably better left unexcavated. I think if you’re a certain kind of person with the need to dig, you’ll always uncover something. And if your friend is leaving their spouse for seemingly the same reason, you might dare to do it too. Ever since my husband and I separated and began moving towards divorce, it seemed to set off a chain reaction. Of course, this was just my own perception, magnified exponentially once my bliss blinders came off. Granted, I was living in Hollywood at the time, where marital woes and break ups were as prevalent as the tabloids that announced them, but it seemed to me that there was a sudden uptick in relationships failing.

And then in the past few weeks, just when these studies came out, other couples I’ve known for a while shocked me with announcements that they were splitting up too. I shouldn’t have been shocked; I saw it coming. As it happens, because of my unfortunate experience with divorce, people tend to tell me things. Maybe it makes them feel better to know that I’ve gone through it; that I won’t judge them, but moreover, that I’m doing okay. That I seem happy, and free. (This is an illusion of course, but who really wants to be around a miserable cynic?). People say to me, “You did it, Cougel, and look at you now!” There is usually a long awkward silence that follows this observation.

So I’d like to reframe this study. It’s not that divorce is contagious, change is. Change is tempting. The promise of the new, of adventure, of the grass is greener, is what causes people to migrate towards this topic and towards people that have gone through it. Divorce isn’t a disease, it only feels like one because of its flu like symptoms: exhaustion, nausea, headaches, and weight loss (not worth it ladies! You gain it all back once you’re healed and in love again). Divorce is just a more prevalent option than it used to be. It’s become unstigmatized, demystified, even romanticized in the tabloids.

But behind closed doors, in our private lives, nurturing a relationship and committing to making it work, is just as difficult as it was ten or twenty years ago, before divorce became the “fad” it appears to be today. And no matter who you might come into contact with who’s contracted this so called “disease,” I don’t believe that it could actually infect your relationship. Whatever illness has befallen your marriage has nothing to do with anyone else. And finding the tools you need to help you avoid divorce is for you and your partner to do together. While I realize that it’s much easier to blame it on your friends, or the media, in the end, your friends and acquaintances – like fads – will come and go.

Scent of a (divorced) woman: "Eat Pray Love" - now selling perfume?

When Elizabeth Gilbert’s, “Eat Pray Love” first came out, I felt as if it had been written for me. I had just entered into my own Gilbertian phase post marriage, and I believed that I had found this book, and that it had found me. Reading about the author’s grief and depression in the aftermath of a brutal separation from her husband made me feel like I wasn’t the alien I thought I was. There was another woman out there who felt hopelessly out of her mind too. I was not alone.

One of my best friends was also divorced, and we quoted that book as if it were our bible. Soon after, the book caught on like wildfire, and everyone was talking about it. I had already begun to embark on my own little healing journey, and, like Gilbert, I had started writing my own kind of marriage in crisis novel, “The Virgin Wife” (except mine is fiction…insert air quotes here). But unlike Gilbert, my healing travels stretched from my apartment to the local bar, then back to my apartment to iChat my girlfriend, then back out to meet up with friends who tolerated my woe is me prattling (thanks again guys!). I had begun to become disenchanted with Gilbert’s tale, and the fact that because she was already a published author, she had been able to pre-sell her soul searching to Penguin Books, and use those earnings to travel and write some more. I wondered, how would she have coped if she had not been able to escape abroad? If she was forced to stay put, hold down a job, and risk running into her exes at the grocery, as I suspect the majority of women post divorce must do. I, for one, had no appetite for food or money for travel, and scowled at women with yoga mats. I was more in the “Can’t Eat, Won’t Pray, and Who the Fuck Needs Love” camp. I started to feel like an alien all over again.

When I completed the first draft of my novel, it dawned on me that each of us requires a different balm to heal our individual wounds. For me, the salve was writing a novel about a woman’s marriage before divorce, and for Gilbert, it was telling of its aftermath. For some women, maybe it’s poetry, or therapy, or road tripping, or.. tripping, or quickly remarrying, or meditation, or moving to another city and starting over. Or all of the above. I guess we all have to find “our thing.”

The movie is coming out on August 13, and I was waiting until then to blog on this subject and my thoughts on the book. But then today, after a visit to the farmer’s market, I walked by the perfume store “Fresh,” and stopped in my tracks when I learned that they’re doing a merchandising tie in with the book. What a strange partnership, I thought. Scents that smell like what, linguine? Unshowered ashram dwellers? Or, a depressed divorced woman? Ew! Hasn’t this whole Eat Pray phenomenon gone too far?

I was holding a gorgeous bouquet of flowers I had just bought (I’m not sure what they’re called, I just liked that they were purple), and paused for some reason to look at them again. It struck me that this flower and vase-buying pastime was new for me. I had started doing it recently; it brightened up my apartment and my day. Back when I was in a difficult place emotionally, I believed it wasteful to spend money on something that I knew was going to die in a just a few days. But now, I can enjoy their beauty and scent for as long as they last, until they fade. Because that works for me. Maybe that’s the purpose of the “Eat Pray Love” scents. Isn’t it true that perfume, when mixed with an individual’s skin, takes on a distinctly unique smell? Every scent smells different on everyone.

So I guess when it comes to scents – as with healing – the moral of this story is, to each his own.

Jumping the Cougar (not in that way).

There’s been talk. About Cougars. Specifically, in reference to this blog. Many of you who meet me exclaim, “You’re too young to be a Cougar!” Your faces twist in confusion, but I detect a hint of anger in there too. What is that about exactly? Is the question really, “If you’re not over forty, like all Cougars are supposed to be, why in the world would you brand yourself as one?”
Good question. I’ll follow up with another: Why should the term Cougar be so rigid, defined as a woman over 40, with a derogatory connotation?
In response, I’d like to revisit one of my first posts (see link below), “Cougar versus Cougel.” I’m not a Cougar as pop culture defines it: “desperate over 40 with bad botox trolling bars for young men” kinda thing. I’m a Cougel; a Cougar redefined. It’s not really about age. It’s about “coming of age.” After you’ve figured a few things out, know yourself, and go after what you want. For some of us this happens at 25 and some at 45. It all depends on what you’ve been through up until that point and how it defines who you are. So what if you’re dating someone who is older than you, or younger? What’s the difference? Besides, shouldn’t it be up to you to define yourself, rather than leaving it up to society and the media?
We are all, whether we admit or not, obsessed with age. The older we get the more we become aware of and feel the passage of time and its implications. Minutes are measured in dog years. We realize we need to be more conscious and deliberate with our decisions. But is that such a bad thing?
Courtney Cox was a “Friend.” We all loved her. Then she got older, and she starred in “Cougartown.” Does that mean that she was selling out, settling? Some people felt she was casting herself in that role – her real life, evolved, older woman self. And once that happened, the whole “Cougar thing” became cemented in our culture.
But that show’s old news. It jumped the shark. For those of you who don’t know what that means, you’re showing your age (insert wink here… or go watch Happy Days reruns). In short, it means something hot has passed its prime, lost its luster, etc. So with that I decree (like I have any power, but it sounds good) the definition of Cougars hereby obsolete! Cougars, the way we once knew them – while not necessarily old in age – are old news. It’s time for an update. Or a remake!
Enter the Cougel. In her thirties, post divorce, with a solid network of family and friends. And Jewish parents who want what’s best for her. And all the good (love) and bad (guilt) that comes with it.
In summary, I believe (and I hope you do too), that this Cougel has jumped the Cougar.
I brace myself for some harsh comments, but I’m used to it. Cougels have thick skin…under all that fur.
PS. More on this subject in one of my first posts with some silly urban dictionary definitions:
http://cougel.blogspot.com/2010/02/some-of-my-friends-are-taking-issue.html

To jump or not to jump? Divorcing the past and embracing the future.

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?

Signs. Are they real? Or do we just want them to be?

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?