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The Healing Power Of The Center Square

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Life has a way of happening. Most people, if they’re fortunate to live long enough, have to deal with dismal happenings. Even if you are inclined to wrap yourself in an insular protective bubble; never venturing out or letting people in, your body itself might cause you anguish with illness and decay. How we deal with what life throws our way speaks volumes about who we are and who we’ll ultimately become. There are people who can put their heads down and forge on through, brushing away darkness and fear like flies on a horse’s bum. These people most likely have a fined honed coping mechanism (most likely in the form of a bottle or official diagnosis.) And while forging through pain and loss may feel like kicking furiously to the surface for a lifesaving gulp of air, it will undoubtedly at some point bite you on that bum. If you are made of flesh and blood, you probably need to feel sad when sad things happen. You needn’t wallow, wail or simper, but you do need to experience the loss.

If you are in the throes of misery right now you may be asking; “For how long?! When can I just get on with my life?” I am so sorry to be the one to tell you this; but this is your life. Bad stuff is no less relevant than good stuff or status quo. It’s all part of the same experience. But as humans, especially western ones, we love us some timeframes. Upon hearing about a fatal illness the immediate question is always “how long do I have?” When we are told of an engagement the first words out of our mouths are; “when’s the wedding?” We are not comfortable simply being. We like beginnings, middles and ends. This isn’t a 21st century phenomenon; ancient religions have proper mourning periods that dictate when we are to reenter the world. I suppose there’s nothing wrong with guidelines but they can get in the way. We tend to focus on “how long will this take?” versus “what am I feeling?” and “how have I changed?”

Eliminating a deadline is not the same as embracing stagnation. We can move forward while being present. Conscious progression is possible when we discover what practices and coping mechanisms work for us. The only way to do that is trial and error and keeping an open heart, mind and eyes. A sense of humor always helps too. Most definitely filed in the “error” folder of the coping file was a colossally bad choice I made many many moons ago. I was in an intoxicating heartbreaking tumultuous all-consuming glorious doomed romance for a year or two when I once again considered leaving him. It was going to take enormous resolve and plenty of girding to choose to walk away from the most exciting and meaningful relationship I’d ever had. So where did I go to build this resolve to throw away cinematic romance with both hands? Paris. Oh if I were only kidding. Someone had offered me a free trip to Paris and I assumed the universe was telling me to go away and get some perspective. Clearly the universe and I were playing a game of telephone; ’cause boy oh boy did I mangle that message! Can you imagine? Paris. I won’t insult you by painting the picture.

I’d like to think that with each passing year I get a little less stupid. But I might just be kidding myself. For months after my husband died I kept visualizing myself at the beach. I finally got to a point where that seemed possible and off I went. And where did I go? Of all the beaches on this entire planet, I chose the one that most resembled where we had honeymooned 18 years earlier. I had consciously avoided the exact country but had subconsciously chosen a physically identical resort, climate and ocean. The good news is that unlike the unproductive Parisian pathétique, on this beach I sobbed my way through a bottle of sunscreen and a dozen pomegranate mojitos to a new stage. I likened it to taking peyote. I’m guessing. I wailed into the water while eschewing make-up or regular hair care (hey, that’s my version of a sweat lodge.) I spoke to no one and if it weren’t for texting, would’ve befriended a soccer ball. And when I returned I drifted into a new stage that felt manageable and even hopeful. I was ready to start figuring out what moving on meant. So maybe it wasn’t all that misguided, my beach destination.

There are many stages of sadness and grief and they aren’t necessarily linear. Just because you no longer feel utterly paralyzed doesn’t mean a song or scent will not send you back to bed. Events can occur that are so eerily similar to the original loss that they can cause you to not pass Go and head directly back to the beginning. But unlike before, you know the way out. During the first few months of no longer being married, household silence was profoundly disturbing to me. I had always been an NPR-on-all-day kinda gal, but the last thing I wanted to hear was news, or worse, blithe commentary. I needed mindless comfort. I needed auditory macaroni and cheese. I found it on the Game Show Network (no seriously, there is such a thing.) There I found my childhood friends, Fannie Flagg, Richard Dawson, Brett Somers (aka Mrs. Jack Klugman), Paul Lynde and others. In a million years I never would’ve guessed that memories of childhood would ever be a comfort, but hey, that’s how bad off I was! Every morning, after drinking my tea and staring off into space, I’d gather myself up and head for the television. For one blessed hour I would have the company of old friends (and do my best to ignore the incontinence and walk-in-tub commercials.) It was about as different as it could be from discussing the New York Times with my husband every morning, and I dare say that was the point. The recently familiar was excruciating but the historically familiar was a comfort. Fast- forward a year and a half later when an intense and whirlwind relationship ended in a hauntingly similar manner as my marriage, and I headed directly to Fannie Flagg (via her author persona versus her game show persona.) I knew that her folksy approachable style was something I found to be soothing. (That is how multiple psychic sh*tstorms can be educational!)

I don’t watch game shows any longer. To say I’ve moved beyond that suggests a linear path, I’ve moved away from it. And that is the point. Finding what works for the moment is key. When it doesn’t serve you toss it aside. When talking about your loss is no longer a comfort or a relief, stop talking. You can’t control people’s curiosity but you can control your indulgence of it. You are the author of your own story. No one else is allowed to edit. If you want to identify as the mother of your deceased child, go right ahead, you are. If you want to present yourself to the world as someone entirely new, go right ahead; and feel free to continuously revise. And when this whole world starts getting you down, know that your own version of the center square will always be there.

 
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Posted by on August 15, 2015 in Well-Being

 

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Top 5 Dating Tips (aka How To Avoid Losers)

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Dating, like dealing with customer service, using the remote, and getting on a plane, was easier in my 20s. I’d meet a guy; in a bar, at work, in a dorm or in a cockpit (true story) and zing zang zoom, we’d be dating. There wasn’t much at stake and there was little baggage accumulated. Everyone was pretty much in the “same place” developmentally and it was all pretty much harmless fun. Yes things got real and often fraught, and sometimes ended in his and her tears. But the sheer volume of single people in their 20s meant a helluva big drawing board to which to return. As long as someone was unmarried there was very little that was suspect in a potential date. Not employed to his full potential? Well who is in their 20s? Living with roommates and/or in a hovel? Hey, these are early days. Unless one wrestled with mental stability, there really was nothing to hide from a potential date. Fast forward to your 40s and beyond and it’s quite a different tableau. Internet dating and messy lives have nudged us towards self-marketing that borders on deceit. We put our best face forward. Sometimes it’s a vaseline on the lens version of ourselves (a la Cybill Shepherd in every close-up of Moonlighting; by the way if you get that reference, this article is for you!). We leave out the less attractive aspects of our biographies, or we simply choose to forget. The dating pool gets significantly smaller as we age, unless you’re a dude over 75 & then yowza the world is your oyster once more. But for everyone else the pickings get slimmer, as so many former singles are happily (or not so happily) Noah’s Arking their way through life. And unlike in our 20s, we are not all equal now. It’s true and there’s no point in grousing over it; older men like younger women. So it is written, so it will always be. (If it helps, employ the serenity prayer from time to time.) This fact slenderizes the options even further. It is tempting then to overlook certain quirks or niggling details or even that little voice in your head screaming; “RUN!!!!” The more we’re attracted or intrigued, the more muffled that poor exhausted voice becomes, until it’s just as small & muted as Dustin Hoffman pounding on the church glass (Elaine, Elaine.) If you won’t listen to your own little voice, maybe you’ll listen to my big booming bossy one! Resolve dissolves, but commandments do not. So it is written…

1. Help From The IRS

Have you ever noticed that there is no box to check for “separated” on your tax form? That’s because it is legally meaningless. However it does mean many things to many people. Some people see business travel as being “separated”, others consider their separate vacations as a change in marital status. Suffice it to say, there are all kinds of ways to be separated and it’s key to know which version works for you. If the wife has publicly left the marriage (in a juicy embezzlement/infidelity scandal) and is gearing up to be her married boyfriend’s 4th wife, chances are she isn’t coming back (oops, have I said too much?). But separated ain’t divorced, and it’s going to get messier before it gets neater. Caveat Emptor dear reader, caveat emptor.

2. Professions Are Not Accidental

After a certain age, professions are just as much about personality as they are about credentials. It’s kinda like when dogs look like their owners. Do people choose dogs that look familiar or do they begin to take on the characteristics of their dogs over time? Either way, don’t be surprised when the lawyer likes to talk (a lot!), or when the professor is happiest with disciples. If you’re looking for a good conversationalist you might want to avoid dating anesthesiologists. If you’d like to be seen as something more than an audience member on a date you might want to forgo actors. Oh I’m sure there are many many actors capable of very healthy and wonderful relationships and utterly devoid of narcissism. I look forward to meeting one some day. It is more likely that you’ll find yourself listening to the actor’s monologue over dinner, a dinner at which he appeared 15 minutes late without an apology. There’s also a chance you’ll run into him a few weeks later and he’ll have no idea who you are, having never really “seen” you at all.

3. Less Filling, Taste Great

Whether in person or on-line we’ve all become pretty adept at selling ourselves. It can be quite advantageous to all parties to put one’s best foot forward. However, actual misrepresentation will bite everyone in the ass. Any advertiser worth their fee will make sure they understand their product before launching a campaign. I’m not suggesting swami level enlightenment here; just a good long look in the (full-length) mirror. There’s nothing wrong with keeping a few irrelevant details to oneself. Does any date really need to know about the skinny-dipping and wedding crashing of your (I mean, my) past? But it’s best to get the major stuff right out front. Saying you “don’t see well at night” isn’t an accurate representation of stick wielding, sunglass wearing, golden retriever assisted, blind. We’re all differently abled in one way or another. However I’d like to know that I’ll need to help my blind blind date to the door of the restaurant. (I’d have noticed his condition sooner had I not been mesmerized by the calloused grooves in his guitar playing fingertips. So what does that leave, just three senses?)

4. Linkedin = Match.com v.2

Have a first date with anyone. Seriously. As long as it’s in a public place and one friend knows where you are and what you’re doing; throw caution to the wind. But before you get serious or sleep with someone, do a bit of research. There’s simply no excuse for not Googling. If your potential bed buddy has no digital footprint be wary. As cold shower as it sounds, check out his/her Linkedin profile. Does it sound similar to what you’ve been told? Does it appear to be written by a 5-year old with one-sentence job descriptions devoid of capitalization or punctuation? You might be about to bed Peter Pan or be arrested. Are there discrepancies with dates and schools? Are there a lot of very brief stints? It’s probably not a game changer but the more you know…

5. Actions Are Deafening

People tell you an awful lot about themselves right off the bat. What they say is important, but it’s their actions that we really should be listening to. If you meet someone at a party, and not once during the hours long conversation do they offer to get you a drink, they’re probably not entirely adept at adult situations. If a date buys you a lovely dinner and then leaves you on the street to hail your own cab in the dark, he probably thinks his wallet can do all his heavy lifting. If a date lets you hail your own cab because he’s too busy figuring out whether or how to kiss you, he’s probably rather limited. If it all sounds confusing and embarrassingly retro and anti-feminist, try thinking of it in a non-sexual way. How do you and your friends treat each other? How do you expect to interact with people when there’s no sexual charge present? Now transfer that to a dating situation. Don’t you want to know a friend got home safely? Do you tell a friend they look fab and/or you had a great time? During a first encounter with a fella I find myself noticing the lack of a drink offer or other borderline boorish behavior and think of a recent incident I had. A married couple, two very tall and imposing gorgeous men, took me to the theatre days after I had broken a toe. They continuously surrounded me The Bodyguard fashion in the crowded, congested, toe crushing theatre. Out on the street, one stayed with me as the other ran two blocks, jumped in a cab and rode it to me. I will always love them.

 
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Posted by on July 30, 2015 in Cultural Critique, Dating

 

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Text And The Single Girl

Every few years someone develops a treatment and possible cure for heterosexual female singlehood. This is also known more commonly (at family gatherings) as ‘why you’re not married.’ Somebody, usually a woman, looking for fame and fabulous prizes, develops a method and/or writes a book that will help you find a man. Not necessarily a good man, but damn it, a man. The strategies (which can be yours if you act now) are in one of two camps; ‘the 5-10 step strategy’ in landing a husband OR the ‘this is what’s wrong with you and why you can’t’ land a husband. Both of these approaches are based upon the theory that husbands are to be sought and to be enticed into matrimony. ‘Hold the rotary phone!’ you say? This is the 21st century! Women own homes, and have babies alone. Husbands have never been more socially or financially unnecessary.

But people wouldn’t be buying these books or the media wouldn’t be covering these stories if there weren’t an interest. While it would be thrilling to think there is parallel target marketing happening for men, the truth is there isn’t. Centuries have passed and single women are still being told that “what gentlemen say and what they thinks is two different things (and I ain’t noticed Mr. Ashley asking for to marry you.”) In other words; play the game and win the prize. The latest game focuses on the ‘be available to all men at all times and hope that someone will consider you the one‘ approach. Don’t expect to ever be asked out on a date or even called (he only texts), just always be available. That text at 2:00 AM? Answer it! Won’t it make for a cute bedtime story for your children some day? Go home with the guy who seems harmless enough. You never know where it might lead (except that you do, that’s why you’re going home with him.)

There is nothing wrong with enjoying the company of men (clothed or unclothed) but the very idea that the way to a committed lifetime partnership is by having zero standards or expectations is absurd. Is there a guy that you’d like to know better? Is he not making any actual moves towards a date? ASK HIM OUT! You are not locked in a tower and and needing to lower your hair extensions. You live in the same world as he does. Ask him out: for a specific date and time. (FYI: “You wanna go out sometime” doesn’t mean anything and will not result in a date.) If you’d rather not have your communications solely via text, then don’t answer the text, instead call him back and hear his voice. You needn’t be scary or stalky about it; a simple “I’m a lousy texter” should do the trick.

Getting to know new people and (YES) dating is supposed to be fun. There is nothing fun about accepting whatever male attention scraps are dropped in your path. People want to feel special and appreciated; those are the first steps to romance. Unless that 2:00 AM text is originating from space or contains the message; “Just landed in Rome and realized I can’t live another moment without you” it’s not going to make you feel too special or appreciated. Ask for what you want, behave the way you wish others would behave, and you might just create the life you were always meant to live.

 
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Posted by on October 25, 2012 in Cultural Critique, Marriage/Wedding

 

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We Are Family

There are many ways to make a family and some of them involve legality. The broadest definition of a family is that of more than one person committed to building a life together. You can imagine the many variations that live within that parameter; parentless siblings, romantically connected adults, friends, one adult and children, generations of the biologically related. Within those examples are even more variations; adopted siblings, romantically connected adults of varying genders, religions, races, ages, abilities, one adult and adopted children, donor/surrogate children, foster children. Generations of the biologically related can include any or all of the categories just mentioned. That’s a whole lot of variation.

Yet for all of our ‘we are the world”liness we are not all that comfortable with uniqueness. It’s not necessarily a shortcoming on our part. We can only process so much information. We are wired to take in information quickly and make instantaneous decisions (‘is that a friendly lion coming toward our cave or a hostile hungry lion?’) We have room for subtlety and idiosyncrasy with our friends and family; but the world at large is just too large. So we look for categories, boxes, and classifications to avoid a mind that would thrill a hoarder. And it wouldn’t matter a smidge until something goes awry.

When a family breaks up there can be a lot of rubble. If the latter part of the 20th century taught us anything; it’s that families can dissolve. For better or worse (pun intended) and for the most part, people no longer need each other for survival. However, through the beauty of human nature; new families can be created. Complicated? Not really, or not until the 5th grade teacher assigns the archaic “family tree” assignment to her class. Family is what you make it and its level of fluidity is what you choose.

Lovely sentiment but what about those step-children left behind in the prior marriage? What of your child’s step-grandparent who is now not? Who gets invited to what? Who gets to see photos or updates? What if the ex-spouse has remarried and there are new steps? Do they get invited? The first step is to drop the label maker. I’m not going to get all Carol Brady and suggest that the only steps in this house are the ones in the living room. But I will offer that when it comes to determining what and who is important to us; labels only obscure. What matters is how you feel, how the children feel and how a new spouse/partner feels (and NOT necessarily in that order.) What we want for our children is for them to have the love of as many people as they possibly can. We want them to have consistent and reliable relationships with people who are not necessarily related to them. It’s one way they grow strong roots. If there has been heinous behavior (i.e., violence, or criminality) by any ex-family member it should be taken into consideration. But overall whatever works for everyone* most involved is just plain okely dokely. (By “everyone” I do not mean the child(ren) are allowed to insist their parents behave as if they never split up and spend all holidays and recitals as a unit.)

Life can be messy, chaotic and at times horrific. Having people who love you and feel obligated to take you in is what makes it all manageable. Yes, the broader we define something the more complex it gets. And no, there isn’t a greeting card to send on Mother’s Day to the woman who is now partnered with your ex-step-parent. But that’s a good thing isn’t it? Do any of us (in our heart of hearts) want to think of ourselves as able to be reduced to a mass market sentiment?

 
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Posted by on October 4, 2012 in Childhood, Marriage/Wedding, Well-Being

 

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Going To The Chapel

It’s wedding season!  If you’re lucky you will have received an invitation by now.  Yes, I said lucky.  How can attending a wedding not be enjoyable?  Even the worst weddings are fun, perhaps not in the moment, but certainly in the tales you’ll tell later.  That wedding that took place outside, with no awning, in the blazing sun, in August?  You know, the one where they served cream of mushroom soup?  It makes for a good story, no?  How about the rural taxidermy spectacular at which you played “count the back tats” with your date?  Good times.  Without them would you have ever truly appreciated the Windows on the World pageantry, or the backyard exchange of vows under a weeping willow?

Weddings are a good time not just because you might get to dance and mingle with people you know or like, but also because they are a peek into people’s character.  An invited peek at that!  Posh, homemade, sentimental, calculated, they are all “beautiful reflections of his/her love’s affection.”  A wedding tells us scads about the couple’s heart’s desires.  It used to be that weddings mostly told us about the desires of the bride’s mother.  But times have changed.  People remarry, marry later, marry within the same gender, marry outside of their faith, and marry with children.  More and more, couples are redefining the steadfast guidelines of weddings.

Does a father need to walk a 45-year-old daughter down the aisle to “give her away?”  What if there is no daughter?  What if she’s been given away before?  What if she has two daddies?  Or more.  Does a bride need to cover her face with a veil?  Is a veil even relevant?  Luckily, before we needed to reexamine the tastefulness of throwing rice (symbolizing fertility) to couples in their sixties, the avian lovers made us find something else to throw.  Tossing your wedding remains (i.e., garters, bouquets) to your less fortunate friends is (mercifully) rare these days.  We can assume this is the case because a) no one can remember what a sad little piece of lace wrapped elastic is doing on a woman’s leg and/or b) lining up single friends to receive your cast-offs is not nice.  (Wouldn’t it be much more in the spirit of love and community, to have both partners invite all their exes and hope for love connections amongst the guests?)

Weddings are archaic and traditions are always slow to change.  There was a brief mini-bubble in the late 1960s/early 1970s when younger people married on mountaintops with an officiant sporting some beads and a ponytail.  But by the mid-1970s the Tricia Nixon wedding was back in style.  The shift in wedding style we are seeing today seems far more lasting.  By virtue of who is marrying, weddings are becoming more personal in design.  There will always be couples that prefer to follow a playbook (cue Wagner, Corinthians reading, candle lighting, receiving line, and we’re out.)  We will give these couples the benefit of the doubt and not suggest they haven’t thought a whit about their wedding, marriage or each other, we will instead call them traditionalists.  But they now seem to be in the minority.  Older couples (in this context “older” means 30+) have hopefully formed many friendships and important relationships throughout their lives.  Their wedding might reflect those in some way.  When different faiths and backgrounds merge, the results can be a beautiful integration of customs.

No one is forced to editorialize wedding traditions more than a couple of the same gender.  Who walks down the aisle?  Who sits where?  Who dances with whom?  The beauty of this process is that it often results in a “why in the world would we do THAT?” conversation.  A conversation that every couple should be having about every assumption at every juncture.  This all bodes quite well for the future.  More thoughtfulness is always a good thing.  Going through life attuned and conscious has a wonderful effect on the world.

As I sip my champagne, careful not to spill on my silk, I will toast to this ritual that by its definition is steeped in hope.  I will feel grateful for the opportunity to learn more about what makes the couple happy and how they feel about each other.  And I will dance, if not to actual music, than in my mind.  I will celebrate presence, consciousness, and of course, love.

 
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Posted by on May 25, 2012 in Marriage/Wedding

 

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