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.

 

Can men and women really be friends?

It’s the age-old question. Debated amongst many.

I caught “When Harry Met Sally” on cable the other night (it was a Monday, the only night a week I am home by myself, sans boyfriend or work events).

I guess the movie “proves” that men and women can never be 100% friends – the potential for them to be more is always there, regardless of platonic behavior. The curiosity of what it would be like to date your friend ducks in and out of the edges of possibility, whether you intend to act on it or not.

It got me thinking about all of my past significant relationships. Every single one of them, including my marriage, started with friendship. My ex-husband and I were good friends for three years in college before we started dating our senior year. Neither one of had a crush on the other previously; we both agreed our feelings had been strictly platonic. And they were. But the potential for the chemistry to shift with the wind was always there, whether we knew it or not. My ex-cub and I were friends first too – but with some benefits (perhaps therein lies the…uh…rub).

With both those relationships, my sister had said, “It’s like ‘When Harry Met Sally!’” implying that those relationships were sure to last. It gave me comfort, and the assurance that relationships that begin with friendship are the best kind. You already know one another, and since you’re not trying to woo the other person you are free to be yourself.  So naturally a relationship that starts in that manner trumps a relationship that starts where romantic options are in plain sight, where you calculatedly reveal parts of yourself over time.

But does it? Does starting a relationship with friendship actually insure its longevity and strength?
I wrote a post supporting this theory just a few months ago. My ex-cub and I had just broken up and I was braving the dating trenches. I couldn’t figure out how I could enter into a relationship with someone where our agendas distorted our perception of one another. I believed that I’d have better luck falling in love with someone I already knew, or met in a platonic fashion. I thought I would need to discover that I loved them over time, the way it happened for Harry and Sally.
My boyfriend and I had an intense talk the other day, where we discussed deeper issues and what is important to us long term. Afterwards, it dawned on me that this kind of conversation might never have occurred had we been friends first. We would have assumed we knew those things about eachother already. But are those kinds of assumptions a short cut around really digging deep into what makes the other person tick? Are they detours around the hard work that inevitably makes your foundation stronger, and your love for one another heartier?
After our talk, I felt a newfound surge of love, one that felt more expansive and sustainable than what I had felt before. I realized that in this relationship, one in which we were not friends first, our friendship gets to grow alongside, or inside, our romantic one.

This time, no one can exclaim, “It’s like ‘When Harry Met Sally!’”

And I’m a lot more comfortable with that.

A Jewish mother's advice on dating.

What a day. It started out (as all Monday’s do), sluggish, yicky, and overwhelmed by the plans I had lined up every night but this one.  And I had all sorts of heady and heavy blogs to write such as: what break ups are like (as if you don’t know), and the kinds of things we do to distract ourselves from heartache and loneliness. And from sending dumb ass texts to our exes like “I miss you,” or “Hi,” or “Twitter says you’re bored, can I help?”
But why bother when mom is back full force?
I had a date last night with a very nice man. A bear. He is about (gasp!) 19 years older than my ex-cub was. With a good job and a large…physique and lots of interesting things to say. He even had a few book suggestions for me to write down. It was positive. I came home and out of habit, I emailed my sisters and my mother a quick low down. This is to spare me from two things: 1) Having to rehash the same story three separate times, and 2) So that the next day I don’t have to talk about it again. Because as experience dictates, I really have no idea if I will ever hear from said dude again (for no particular reason except this is New York and guys are weird), and I don’t want to talk or think about it (because friends and mom get more worked up than I do) til there is a second or third date on the books.
So sisters write back the cute and expected: “Great! Sounds fun.” Two minutes pass. And then almost identical emails from both sisters come in: “Wait. He’s 46. Why isn’t he married?” My response: “I know! When I asked him that very question, he asked for the check (he paid) and said, ‘I’m bored-let’s-walk empire is starting in a few minutes.’”
This was mom’s response (Note: the following program might contain explicit language. The kind you need a Jewish mother glossary for. Brackets not included):
My Cougel. I like the date! But…5 things a lady should know (that’s assuming I am a lady…)
1. Be mysterious [hard to get…don’t divulge all your info].
2. Be flirtatious. Look straight in his eyes in a sexy way.
3. Show you are a ballbusty * [keep neat, like to cook basic things, home maker] (*Note: Mom wrote “ballbusty,” and at first I thought she meant “ball-buster” but now I realize she means “Ballabustah,” a yiddish term for “Jewish girl who’s a go-getter.”)
4. A lady in your manners [from not using words like bull, what the f… eat with your mouth closed! Use YOUR KNIFE IN THE RIGHT HAND, don’t make your little sandwiches using your fingers…]
5. Be your beautiful funny self. WATCH YOUR DRINKS. Real man hate women drinking. 
6. Don’t blog this.
Woops.

The Checklist: insurance or illusion?

We’re all familiar with the checklist. The “on paper” qualities that qualify a person as marriage material. It becomes ingrained in us early, when we first start dating; in high school, college, and in our twenties too. It’s made up of things we are programmed to want, whether we actually want to or not.

The checklist is seductive. It serves to give us comfort, a sense of security that it’s going to be okay. It helps to give definition to an otherwise murky future. It’s like buying relationship insurance that safeguards us against angst, marital discord, and divorce, and provides us with its opposite.

But does it really work? And when it does – at what price? Does subscribing to the list actually generate confusion; impair our judgment of the other person, and our ability to ascertain how we truly feel about them?  

When I got married, I wasn’t asking these questions. I unwittingly bought into the checklist. It was part of what brought my husband and I together.  It was concrete – something tangible that helped strengthen my faltering conviction. When in doubt, I could grab the checklist and feel better. Perhaps it’s what kept us together for close to fourteen years. But when we divorced, I wondered if it was the reason for that too. In the end, was my dependence on the checklist antidote my failure?

Since then, like most people do after a break up, I reacted by going in the opposite direction. I took the anti-checklist approach.  I turned away from the tangible. Instead, I put feeling before function. I chose men that gave me that swoony feeling of butterflies. It inspired the emergence of my inner Cougar, primed to defy the norm and what was expected of me. It didn’t matter whether the men were age compatible, financially solvent, or culturally and religiously different. All that mattered was that I felt in love. I was thinking, for a change, of only the present, because as I learned all too well, you never know what will be tomorrow. Worrying about my future and trying to control it by grasping onto a flimsy piece of paper didn’t work.

This approach was logical. And earned. Because although I was in my thirties, I had missed out on dating in my twenties, so it was okay for me to choose a mate as if I still was.

But here’s the catch. A female in her twenties (pre-Cougar age), looks at the world through a different lens than an older women in her thirties, whose priorities – the checklist criteria – demand adjustment.  The importance of feelings, of butterflies, trumping all, starts to diminish. And function forces its way back onto the page.  Now that you’re a bit more experienced, now that you have more realistic expectations about what you can actually attain in this life, you can’t ignore the checklist’s legitimacy, like it or not. It matters less whether or not you actually want the things on the list, and more that you might need them. Because now you have acquired the undeniable knowledge that certain things can and do make this difficult life just a little bit easier. It sucks, but it’s true.  So what do you do?

I don’t have answers. If I did, I would have nothing to write about.  I know there are some of you who are fortunate enough, or built in a way, to have both the butterflies and the boxes checked. Some of you happen to be my friends, and relatives too. But for those who might not, I am eager to know whether you have experienced this kind of recalibration of wants and needs. Are the qualities that made you fall for your boyfriend or girlfriend at 25, and they for you, still holding up? And if they’re not, is that a deal breaker? Is the checklist tempting you, and if it is, is that a bad thing?

Ultimately I think it comes down to what’s important to you, and accepting that perhaps what once mattered, doesn’t have to matter now. It’s okay to change. It’s okay not to know. I guess it’s that thing called growing up, that we resist, that’s been nipping at our heels and has suddenly tackled us. The time has come to readjust. Perhaps it doesn’t necessitate some earth shattering life change at all. Maybe it’s just a perspective shift, a necessary one that forces us to accept that some things are unattainable, while we continue to reach, and to dream.








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?