Learning Empathy

I went to an empathy workshop.

I was at an empathy training workshop last night and the real lessons kept hitting late last night as I was finally dozing off around 3 this morning.  It was a class that found me through the MITT network of classes I started in July.  Through discussion and working on ideas and concepts with others, I get to take notice of my actions, and make changes. I get to see how I look at the world around me and really understand how narrow minded I am.  I get to break the confines of what I’ve always known to experience all that can potentially be.

My judgements kept me from empathy in my marriage.

 

I was hard on my ex.  Ending the relationship the way he did because he wanted happiness and found it in other people throughout our marriage was something I crucified him on. Over the last couple of years as I really got to look at my life, I understood the value of my happiness and I can see that I was depressed through most of my marriage. I loved him.  I just wasn’t happy with myself.  I’ve learned that happiness comes from me.  I can’t borrow it from someone else.  I can’t take from who they are.  I get to make my own and while I can offer a smile, I can’t put it in anyone else. Being apart was a gift but I was so attached to my role as a wife that I looked for my happiness in other ways just as he did.  The reality of his action in a marriage of our mutual inaction was a gift and without malice I can see the ways in which he fought for our mutual happiness.  I can no longer blame him for the many ways he gave me more than I asked for in the life I now get to live.

My self guided tour spends a lot of time in selfishness.

Through a self guided transformational exploration of who I am, I no longer find my value in what others think of me.  They have no point of reference in judging me and have no idea how to value me.  I am not my college degree.  The time I took to earn it was a challenge and it was emotionally rewarding, but it’s a piece of paper and means little in my job search.  I’m not my relationships.  There is value in my relationships, but my relationship with myself means more than my relationship with anyone else.  I’m not my looks.  I like attention as much as the next person, but being a sex object when I feel so much better about my thoughts and ideas that are often ignored is never a good feeling.  I have a large brain and feelings!!!!

As a wife I was very selfish and couldn’t see it without empathy.

I was rebellious in spending in ways that made me happy, justifying it as household necessities, knowing he wouldn’t see it that way and hiding all evidence of that debauchery.  For both of us, it was about control.  I did it in small amounts I felt could be justified.  He never saw the value I did and saw all of it as the deception it was.  I wanted my home to be a place I wanted to escape to, and he wanted to escape from it. I sucked my time and energy into side projects like making soap with fat and lye.  Or learning all about keeping bees and chickens. I would garden and do all I could to ignore the chaos and the lack of support I felt in my own home. I would read books back to back so I could check out of reality and school became a priority.  He wanted connection and found it in other people and I always held the idea that I did nothing wrong in isolating him because I did it in learning and ways that I felt were important to me and my family and I didn’t devote energies to other people and that meant I was faithful, right?

Last night in an empathetic perspective shift, I realized that he was looking for something to pull himself out of a marriage that wasn’t satisfying to both of us. For him, it meant walking away in the ways he needed to. For me through my attachments to being the wife I wanted to be, it was on my birthday this year when I decided something so terrible and irreparable had happened that I could justify the end of a marriage, because being rejected and abandoned for 11 months wasn’t enough. It was such a bad situation for both of us that something so drastic had to happen to justify walking away.

Empathy means I get to be vulnerable and release both of us.

I learned that through empowering myself, I have become the bully I felt he was being to me.  I get to take notice, and stop being aggressive when I know fighting back is a choice.  I know I can defend myself and I no longer need to. I shifted my perspective just enough with the help of someone else, I was able to forgive him on a level I didn’t realize I had not forgiven him yet. I went through months of repeating to myself, “Iforgivehim, Iforgivehim, Iforgivehim.” But I finally released the rest last night and it was just a perspective shift.  No crying.  No ritual or prayer.  Just a shift that let me release my ego, disconnect my emotions from thought, see it with new eyes, and let the fuck go.

Without empathy there is only selfishness and a commitment to being right and it is a pattern I took into my last relationship.

I had a boyfriend for a few days this week.  I don’t actually write about my relationships until they are at the point where I am ready to release them.  I hold close what I intend to keep and the moment I start writing, I know they may see it and not like what I have to say and walk away. With each of them, I’ve already seen enough to feel he’s not the one. It’s like a last ditch effort for me because the most attractive thing I could hear is “I’ve read your blog and it’s what makes me like you so much.” It was something I would have never heard in my marriage and it means probably more than it should now. I heard that in the last week and it was the most intense and short lived relationship I’ve had since my marriage.  There was one night that is a gift I will unwrap in memories for a very long time.

The workshop I signed up for was sent to me as a message on Facebook and I got the alert while next to the man I was with.  I brushed it off, but the next day signed up anyway, fully knowing that I may be with my boyfriend, but also knowing there was a chance I wouldn’t be.

How I met my last boyfriend.

Wednesday of last week I was doing my usual right and left swipe on a dating app. There was a man that was dragging out the conversation with a sentence a day for a couple of days.  I pushed and almost asked him out that night, giving him room to be dominant and actually do the asking.  He did and it was immediately attractive, even if the face in his profile picture was in shadow and hard to see. We ended up meeting at a bar, and as I learned from a friend that shared the workshop with me (as we continued our night at an epic viewing party in Beverly Hills we crashed), that was when I started rejecting him.

Rejecting and pulling him closer was selfishness.

It was that first gut check reaction when he stood next to me and said hello while I was looking in a different direction, and I flinched when I saw him.  It was in the ways he moved closer to me and I moved back.  It was in leaving and using my tone of voice and body language to flirt with another man, through innocuous conversation right in front of him.  It was as we were walking to our cars and his parting kiss was rebuffed in my excuse about public displays of affection.  It was in celebrating and laughing at going home by 10, asking my friend that works at the bar about that beautiful man I wanted to get to know better and a Facebook post that was a direct dig at the man’s character.

Stopping my dysfunctions is something I get to work on.

Somehow the next day I went out with him again.  I loved his dominance in telling me he would pick me up.  I was talking to two men about him.  At one point I wanted to date them but ended up sticking them in my friend zone.  They told me I should go and I was deciding against him before giving him a chance the way I did to them.  I had nothing better to do and so I met him on a second date.

But he was so good in so many superficial ways.

The physical chemistry was there.  He had a body I could cry over.  (I might have when things ended.) The third date was following a familiar pattern and when he asked me to date him exclusively, I said sure.  I mean, he was my first actual date that got a second date since that beautiful but barely understood Italian man back in May. I had coffee, and hugs in the week before, but those weren’t dates as much as meeting platonic friends I would never meet again.  It was easy to date him exclusively.  It followed the pattern of my boyfriends in Junior High.  Being his girlfriend meant no one else could steal me away.  Being my boyfriend was cool because no one else was asking me out.  I like to focus on one love interest at a time anyway.  Everyone else was just mental aerobics in bouncing from conversation to conversation.

We didn’t really talk and I never allowed him close to me emotionally. I said yes to all he asked of me, without really considering the image of the future he had in mind.  He gave me a poetic moment and it just chipped away at the ice around me.  I nearly melted at his words and given time and really given the opportunity to step away from my judgement of him, it could have been special.

I rejected him in the ways I talked about him.

I told family and a couple of friends that I had a boyfriend, but the reality was I knew it was temporary and described it as such to everyone that I talked to about him.  I only told my family because I wanted to spend New Year’s Day with him and invited him to join us. When my kids met him, my youngest had a gut check that didn’t trust him (he blamed it on the shape of my boyfriend’s nose), my oldest hid from him in the bathroom and his bedroom and my middle son gave him a classic autism dismissal.  He was a non person to my kids because they knew he was good enough for me, which he really was, but not good enough for them. I actually told them this.  The reality is he made me want to be selfish and enjoy him, going against my better judgement as a mom and not putting my foot down and saying no when he asked about meeting my kids.  At the time he said he wanted to grow a full relationship and make me his woman and start a family and all of that.  Instead I prepared them by saying they didn’t have to worry because he’d never be their step-dad because I didn’t think he was good enough for them.  I get to look at that on it’s own. This was me rejecting him again.

The day he rejected me was when the cost of my rejections of him broke over me.

There was a dynamic shift and Tuesday night after we were exclusive for maybe 5 days, he broke it off because he wasn’t comfortable with my male friendships that he saw as disrespectful.  And I didn’t take it well.  I mean, I could see the jealousy and the ways that it would have grown into an abusive relationship because there was nothing deceptive in my friendships when I was clearly choosing (and simultaneously rejecting) him. His rejection was immediately seen as a gift because he was able to walk away when I knew it was right, even if I really didn’t want him to. But he let me go before I was ready for him to.

I don’t usually cry for the men I talk to and date.  I see the lessons they leave and there might be a bit of sadness, but rarely tears.  This was different. This was rejection and abandonment.  This wasn’t me seeing him on a moment to moment basis, but actually imagining a few days ahead. I had this disconnect between what I knew wasn’t a relationship I was really invested in and the emotional pain from the loss of it.  I didn’t beg him to take me back but I let him know I didn’t want to lose him.  It was the first time since I started dating that I meant it more than I wanted to.

Last night I was getting ready to leave and sat on the floor of my shower crying for a relationship I never wanted to grow.  He was fun, and I loved the way it felt to be in his arms and the many other things he made me feel, but I was objectifying him completely.  The moment I felt it was mutual, I felt a familiar ache that had nothing to do with him. I felt in the reflection of my rejection all of the pain I must have given him and I was shattered. There was a lot of good in him but in my rejection, I never closed the distance to really appreciate him.  He was tender and affectionate.  He was tall and I really loved his body.  He was capable of taking care of himself, even if I saw the ways in which I would live his life differently. He was mine, and then he wasn’t and that wasn’t a choice I made for us.

I was still blinded by my selfishness.

I left the workshop feeling like I needed to give myself empathy to put the relationship and all it was supposed to be ahead of the things that were important to me as an individual.  After a reality check from a friend in the many ways I was rejecting him, I knew I was being an asshat and not giving him an ounce of the empathy he deserved.

Last night I went to the workshop I had a feeling I would be at anyway.  I signed up for the class knowing that even though I had a boyfriend, the relationship might not last that long.  I don’t know that I would tell him any of this.  It’s not that I’m showing you all I am an asshole.  I’m okay with being authentic.  I’m not really a nice person all the time.  Some people think I am because I can be, but it’s a choice. Part of me wants to make him feel better about the ways I rejected him.  I know that it is about relieving guilt and not for him. Part of me wonders if he saw it because until it was pointed out to me last night, I really couldn’t. Part of me wants to give him the power of his rejection.  He made an empowered choice for his life and I need to give him that.  The rest of me wants to honor the many ways he affected me and taught me to shift my perspective, even if he has no idea he did.

It’s amazing what stories make sense when you go through a situation and what a perspective shift can do.  In the class, I learned that empathy isn’t draining if you exchange it with vulnerability. Seeing things with compassion, understanding and love is a gift I get to give to myself.

Hopefully you can learn from me too.

Think of a person you have a hard time seeing eye to eye with.  Give voice to your frustrations.  Give yourself permission to feel what you feel. Then flip it.  Ask what they would say you are doing to make them feel the way they do.  Look at them with love.  There’s a reason, or maybe there was a reason that they mean enough to get under your skin. See their world the way they do and let go of the idea you are valued for being right.  That is what empathy looks like and in my case, it’s got a heavy dose of guilt.

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Dreaming Big

Dreams vs. Reality

My dream for my blog was always free therapy.  Somehow it became a point of conversation that has made people ask me for advice because I’ve found a way to live that makes it seem like I have answers.  It’s odd for me.  It feels really strange like the times when I get asked for relationship advice from people that seem to see I’m not actually in a relationship and think I’m an expert.

Online dating, sure. We can have a laugh at my expense.  I can tell you about inappropriate texts and cat fishing.  No water, hook tying or smelly bait necessary.

Mothering boys, yes. More laughter.  Amazing rewards.  Heavy costs.

Moving on from a marriage.  I’m getting pretty badass at this.

Surrogate pregnancy, yeah. 3 surrogacies, 7 IVF cycles, egg donation, natural birth, c-section, twins.  Couples that made me feel things I couldn’t imagine being gifted with.

Autism advocacy, hell the fuck yes.  Sensory integration dysfunction messes exploded last night.  I’ll tell you all about it if I can hand you a scrub brush and get free labor.

Meaningful and lasting relationships . . . Can I get back to you on that? Although it might be closer than that pot of gold I’m after. I can show you my fear of commitment.  I can point out the ways in which I keep things superficial and how these relationships have been set up to fail.  Or the ways in which I made myself codependent to someone’s narcissistic needs.  We can talk gas lighting and how easy it is to follow familiar and destructive patterns. I can show you how I push men away by being clingy because they prefer it when you really don’t want them. And the best relationship advice I keep hearing is to pretend you don’t, even if you do.

A couple of nights ago I dreamt I was on an adventure. I was finding my way through a place that looked like a park and led to hell. It was an ascent up stairs into hell.  I was on a rescue mission. I had a piece of wood, lit like incense and keeping it lit and smoking was my ticket back to the living. There were people on their adventures alongside us and somehow I knew enough about where we were going to advise them.  I remember the large concrete steps that were designed for something that wasn’t human.  We had to climb each rise and trek across each run.  There were scattered pine trees around me and I was leading someone even though I was just as lost.  It was a strong contrast to what I actually felt when I woke and felt warmth and safety in my bed.  I was held and felt so much peace when waking that the dream itself was so foreign. I don’t remember the last time waking at 4 am made me so happy.

Last night my dream included a man I wanted to be with a few months back. He was with his kids, and I was only visiting him as his date was leaving. His date was clearing plates, and threw away the rest of their Chinese take out, past the pleading of his daughter for the rice she wanted. As she left in her fancy clack of heels, I taught his little girl to make a pot of rice in her dollhouse kitchen the way my grandmother taught me to on the stove in my childhood home. We rinsed the rice, and I could smell the memories of basmati rice in the feel of water and grains slipping through fingers.  I showed her how to gauge the water by using her finger tip.  We set the water to boil on her tiny electric stove top and at some point her big brother flipped the house over, but we were able to save that pot.  My dream started with a man I was okay with letting go of and ended with the loss of his children and my grandmother.  This morning I woke up and it doesn’t matter that I never met his kids or that my own were in the very next room, there was a feeling of loss that held me and forced silent tears to fall. It’s a loss that feels like a dream that steps on scars of a past, only it’s a present feeling that suddenly carries depth and layers.  Waking from this dream, I lost his kids, my grandmother and the current man that set my soul aflame and left me in burning embers. It layered and fell on me in emotions that screamed for release before my eyes opened.

What amazes me is the way I wake up from dreams and reality is shadowed by fiction so powerfully that I don’t always know the difference. The peace in last night’s dream was shadowed by a real moment of loss that I felt before I was fully awake this morning.

Dreaming and Real Life Goals

I was writing out my goals for the year.  They included personal growth, financial stability, travel and love. I kept looking at that list this morning and wondering why it all looks doable.  Nothing looks extraordinary.  It’s all attainable.  And this sadness hit me because I knew I wasn’t allowing myself to dream big.

Self Limitations

It was a set of goals that are based on limitations I was offered and accepted in the past.  I’m serving myself oatmeal for dinner and convincing myself it’s the best possible goal and plausible outcome. Where is the food joy in that?  Where is the life satisfaction in knowing you accept less because you know it can be delivered?

The way I do anything is the way I do everything, right? I was talking to a man and I could see the ways he could make me happy.  What he offered me was like so much of what I had in the past that I could see his trailer and imagine a happy movie for me to get lost in, cry over, and see what the ending would be.  The ending is always happy or sad, because movies rarely just make you think, right? Lately all of my romances and crushes make me think and rarely (but sometimes) they might make me cry. I’ve never shopped around for a step-dad, so it was easy to see that he couldn’t be a step-dad to my kids.  Good enough for me, but not my kids.  It took a few days for that idea to really sink in.

In love, I haven’t started dreaming big.

In shopping for a step dad, there hasn’t been an experience to raise or lower that bar for me.  It’s still held comfortably at myself.  If I’m the badass warrior dragon slayer I am, I need the other part of my power team to be just as badass if he wants to be a step dad to my boys.  I’ve just never had a potential step dad for my kids that could lower my expectations.  He would fight for his sense of duty.  He would embody maturity to be modeled. He would be a man I would want to give more children to, in all of the lunacy I would have to embrace for that.

My love life is different.  I’ve dated men that stole, and did drugs, and loved getting drunk.  I’ve dated jealous men and men with tempers.  I know what an online affair feels like and I now know not to ignore that feeling when faced with it in real life. If you feel it in your gut, it’s probably more true than you want to believe.  I’ve dated men that could convince me I was being a bad mom and partner by being who I am.  I can usually tell I’m being lied to when I’m doing something wrong by breathing.  As a single woman, I’m fairly confident. And I know right from wrong, often choosing the right thing, over the easy thing. My love life has taught me about breaking into cars, slanging crack, rolling Primos (crack needs to be cut on glass or a mirror so it doesn’t fly off a wooden coffee table and you want to sprinkle it on the weed before you roll it like a pregnant lady – small on the ends and fat in the middle), gang life, hiding guns before they’re sold, jealousy, insecurity (I can dance on eggshells, but I prefer a dance floor).  I can roll you into a recovery position to make sure you don’t asphyxiate on your own vomit.  I know what it is to be the object of lust for a fuck boy and I know how to treat him just as callously.  It’s not a gift.

I hope no woman ever has to learn what I know romance to be.  You should be learning what flowers make you feel special and deep conversations that make you feel things and think differently.  You should learn what will make him happy just as completely as he’s learning about you and your desires.

It’s the blending of real and fantasy that I want to learn.  I want to learn to expect nice surprises and hand holding.  I want to expect to be treasured and loved.  I want to expect that I’m not the only one that knows the right choice looks harder than the easy choice, but the right choice will help us sleep better at night. I want to expect more songs sent to me that hammer what we’re both feeling into melodies and lyrics that call to the deepest parts of my soul.  I want to wake up in my lover’s arms and feel him breathing under my hand as his heart paces happily against my cheek. I want to wake up to his smile and laughter and I want another morning of stolen kisses before duty calls and a feeling of happiness at those random texts throughout the day that drags on way too slowly until I can see him again.  I want his scent to linger on my skin and feel him with me when the memories are too sweet to entertain reality. I want this love to be a reality my kids see and learn from.  I want them to feel they have someone patient with them and understanding.  I want them to know I’m not the only one that sees them as normal human beings.  I have friends that tell me to raise my expectations as well as friends that tell me to lower them.  I’m just shooting blankly and hoping he’ll be targeting me at the same time. And if he finds me, he will do all he can to hold onto me.

There’s also a balance.  All things in life have a good and bad to their cost. I remember what it was like when my mom first brought my step dad around.  I hated the change he represented.  My boys also surprise me daily and they handle these changes better than I did. I’m learning to not give them my fearful limitations and to just see where we can go, stepping back where we need to.  I’m taking notice of the ways that I’m limiting my dreams and coaching myself to go get my life.

If you haven’t heard it, I’m telling you now: Go get your life!  You are your only motivation and limitation.

It’s about a career that I love and pays me enough to be happy doing it.

It’s about going places to see and do and be that are not limited by constraints I’ve adapted from the expectations of others on my life. I don’t have to stay local or a standard week or weekend.  I can go when it fits my needs and how it works best for me.

It’s about a love that isn’t set to a template of my past or a fantasy that is too unattainable to be mine because when I decide I can’t have it, I will start sabotaging myself so I can’t get it.

Meditate on your goals.  Focus your energies toward your success.  Plot and plan.

Dream big.  Reality will try to kick you down, and that just means you need to redirect your plans and goals. There’s a life you get to live.  It’s yours and no one else’s.  You should handle it, so you don’t become a slave to it.

Self Care Looks Like Being Present in the Moment

It’s been a hectic holiday season filled with transitions and surprises.  It’s been moments of laughter and shenanigans with my kids.  There have been moments of cooking that felt like comfort in textures and smells through the stress of life . . . I may have perfected my tamale and champurrado recipes.  And no, gluten free pate a choux isn’t going to happen this season because wheat is what makes baked things so amazing and airy.  And yes, spiced rum makes everything better.  There have been moments where I felt like a treasured gift and someone has been begging Santa for me for years. It’s been a little crazy in my mixed bag.

Planning

Sometimes planning is necessary.  In making tamales, you want to plan a day or two. On the first day, you want to prepare the meat by slow cooking tenderness and layering in flavors.  The meat and cooking liquid cool over night and the next day the masa is prepared and the tamales rolled.

Sometimes you want to plan a project. For example: re-upholstering dining chairs.  You want to make sure you have enough layers of batting and foam and fabric.  You want to make sure you have the nails and screws you’ll need.  You’ll want to plan it before you start because running out of something in the middle of the project can mean missing parts that you had ready but they just walked away … at least with my boys.

Unplanned moments

If you’re me, planning isn’t as impulsive as I am. I often start projects that take turns and detours mid way through.  Every single blog post starts out one way and often makes a u-turn that surprises me.

Painting my living room will be one of those projects too. I did the other rooms in my house alone.  It was an exorcism of sorts.  I was purging memory demons of some sort.  I’ve re-painted every room in my home but the living room and it still has family pictures on the walls with my ex.  I told the kids they would come down when I painted and it’s time to paint.  Everything will come down this week as I prepare with primer.  I still have it from the kitchen job and next week we’ll finalize a color. New pictures will go up and the boys will see the old pictures are put away for them when they want them or if they want them in their room.

Dates that are willing to meet me on the spur of the moment get and keep my attention the longest.  I think so much of my life as a mother has to be planned and scripted that I find spontaneity so attractive.

Living in the Past

There has been sadness dressed in nostalgia for stolen moments that are no longer mine.  Those memories prompted New Year’s text messages and I stole those moments to unburden a past so I can step into my future.  It’s longing for what was and wondering what could have been in a way that feels stagnant and stunted, and yet, I’m still doing it. Still, my fear made me feel like I needed an excuse for a hello.  I get to take notice and step boldly into who I am and what I feel and next time just say hello because it’s okay to miss the past as long as I don’t decide to live there. And that’s who I am.

In relationships, this often looks like fear to experience something new because of what I already know happened the last time.

Living in the Future

It’s a gift for me to overthink every possible outcome.  It’s also a curse.  I used to love lit candles all over my home.  I remember going out on a date once and in the prep stage of my full face spackle, I had lit every single candle I had. It was warm and cozy and it made me happy. It also very likely made me look psychotic.  Kids happened, and now I can see them playing in the wax, blowing out candles to light them again, and very nearly starting fires because it’s the same shenanigans I got into as a kid. (Except I had an aerosol can of hairspray and they don’t.) It’s easy to get caught up in bills and deadlines and times to act and times to freak out.

In relationships, this looks like planning out a future and seeing where it will go before I offer the opportunity to see what might happen.  It means I can see how a person interacts with me and decide they are not step-dad material and move on before I get too attached.

Being Present is a Gift

When life becomes overwhelming, it’s easy to freak out and think of the many ways something might happen, or change or create change in my life.  It’s these moments I remind myself to slow down.  I remind myself to be present in my moment.  I do everything intentionally slowly and embrace the moment for what I’m presented with.

For a while this morning (no clocks exist in this moment) I was watching a couple of squirrels chase each other in a tree.

For a while, I sipped my coffee, tasting the brew, feeling the warmth, smelling the creamy sweet.  I didn’t think about my list of things to do.  I didn’t think of how I maybe should have made different choices this past year and I didn’t even celebrate the great choices I did make.  I just smelled, and tasted, and felt my favorite mug holding my coffee.

I took a mid day shower and just let the hot water wash over my body while the smell and feel of floral bubbles washed off my skin and down the drain.  I had an old playlist playing and sang my heart out.  I laughed when I could hear my son outside the bathroom singing just as loudly with me, and without the emotional weight I was releasing.

I spent just a moment thinking of the last time I was in a man’s arms and released it as I started anticipating the next time.  I won’t script what I want to happen because that will only rob me from what I will actually get to experience. I’m learning how to be present in relationships.  I’m learning to enjoy each moment for what it is, without assigning a destiny I can’t even control, and giving power to fears I refuse to voice.  I’m learning to plan my moments, and see where we can fit together, rather than assigning each of my free moments to his disposal.  And I’m learning that not every moment has to be perfect and that I can enjoy the present without even looking for finishing nails to finish off upholstery I may change my mind on.

The Pros of Online Dating

Online dating would look like it’s a horrible idea if you rely solely on my blog, and yet,  I still do it.  Well, I’m off again, but that’s another post one day. Truthfully, there has been a decent amount of personal growth for me through online dating.

Found my funny bone. 

Yes, I finally found the funny.  It can be entertaining to see what some men think is acceptable behavior.  I mean, just a suggestion, treat women like you would treat a co-worker until you meet in person and actually catch her vibe.  I mean, maybe she wants to be your fantasy, but it won’t happen if you offend her first.  And it’s a common request to get a selfie or two, but I’m going to assume you know your way around Instagram or Facebook enough to make me think you’re looking for free porn in a picture.  After my last request, that duck lip pose I always thought was silly is never going to be as innocent and stupid as I thought it was.  Just don’t ask for selfies.  Find them.  Stalk me in the way I want the world to.

There is value in meaningful communication.

Communication is best in person because there are nuanced microexpressions and body language you pick up on but don’t give voice to.  This is why psychotherapy only works in person with an exception made for occasional phone calls.  Human interaction requires humans to interact.  The point of meeting online is to get offline.

Something that I struggled with is my old fashioned sensibilities that never translate.  I mean, if you know someone’s sleeping patterns well enough to have no doubts when they’ll be up, it’s fine.  You are past that “getting to know you” phase.  I grew up knowing you don’t call too early or too late.  I typically wouldn’t call before 9 or 10 on weekends or after 10 at night, but that rule goes right out the window when you’re grown folks on cell phones.  This is not a bonus for you when I’m a light sleeper with my phone on in case my kids need me (they sometimes call when they can’t sleep at Dad’s) and you’re waking me up really late.  Those early morning texts, or late night (horny) texts annoy me more than endear me to you.

In the early days, I responded to every single solicitation for my attention.  It became exhausting, and taught me that I really am shallow and if I’m not attracted to a picture, the conversation really won’t matter.  I started to ignore people.

Yes, I’ve ghosted a person.  I won’t do it again.

At the end of one of my earliest relationships, I ghosted him.  We had a conversation that ended in a friendly way.  He was getting ready to fly out on a trip and we were making plans for when he returned home and I blocked him.  It was easier to be a chicken and not face my own feelings and just walk away. I didn’t explain that I liked him more than I was comfortable with because I couldn’t see a future with him in it.  I decided for us that we were done, repeating what was done to me in my marriage and ignoring the devastation I was inflicting, and knew too well.  I walked away, letting him figure out that I wasn’t interested because I couldn’t act like a grown ass woman and tell him.  A few months later, he called me from a number I didn’t recognize and I answered his call.  That felt worse.  As much as I wanted to cover my cowardice in the audacity of his actions, I was wrong.  He’s beautiful and tenacious, but he’s not the one for me.  Owning up to that and talking to him was hard, but the better choice.  He’s a really great guy.  Just not mine.

New friendships formed.

I have had a few meetings online that stayed online.  One man shared some of his secrets with me.  It wasn’t in his secrets but the way they made him who he is today that helped me decide we weren’t the right fit.   I’ve met a few of these.  Great pictures.  Interesting bios, but things weren’t going to work out.  They make good friends and I even help out with their dating profiles and offer advice until they keep talking about wanting sex and I stop encouraging a conversation.  I was talking to him as a friend Wednesday night when I had accepted a date from someone else.  We’re friends, and I’m not lying to anyone, so I told him about the date.  He told me not to overthink it and have fun.  I told him to get out of that self inflicted texting purgatory most dates eliminate themselves with.

I got home from the date feeling like it wasn’t a right fit.  I was almost laughing at how badly the conversation went, taking ownership of the fact that I wasn’t encouraging it at all and ignoring the fact that I was probably PMSing and he was suffering for it.

The next day, this same date was asking me out again, and another young man that had become a friend gave me a nudge.  He said I was too young and beautiful to not embrace having fun, and he pointed out that I made up my mind just like I had about his age (27 is too young).  He was right.  I went out with a determination to just have fun.  And I did.  He was right.

Too many choices and it was time to make one.

Online dating offers way too many options.  When I started my OKCupid profile last time, I received about a hundred likes a day.  That rate drops off after a while, and once it did, I received about 3 to 5 new emails a day.  Finding someone spontaneous enough to meet on my first kid free day was rare.  Especially if his first response wasn’t “sex tonight.” (No.  Just no.) This week alone, I was carrying on about 1o different conversations.  At one point it was 5 conversations at once.  I thought I couldn’t multitask, but I’m learning.  I think I liked the challenge of that more than the men.

New Year, new me, right? Only, transformation is an intentional moment to moment process.  I get to notice what I’m doing and decide how I want to show up differently. I decided to let go of the men I knew I didn’t want to keep around.  These were men that were texting and talking and keeping me company through my phone.  I realized it didn’t matter who was my first good morning text, my last good night text, or the sexy random moments of thoughtfulness texts throughout my day.  If you are the person on my mind, even without your attention, then you are the person that matters and it was time to let go of the chaff and let the wheat fall and do terrible things to my belly.  I started responding to their greetings with letting them go.   Here, I lied.  Some men needed to hear it was me.  Some needed to hear it was someone else.  In this, I did my best to offer what they needed to hear, and only one was told it was because I didn’t trust that he wasn’t catfishing me.

Owning up to my choices because the right choice is rarely the easy one.

Letting a man know you’re letting him go can be a mixed bag.  There are the ones that move on easily.  Those made me wonder if I should have held on because of his strength or if I ever mattered because of his nonchalance.  Curiosity is not a change of heart. There are those willing to fight for me.  They beg and plead and make me feel bad that I didn’t want to share a relationship with the same intensity that they were after.  Then there are some I’m happy to keep in friendship because that was the natural progression we were heading toward anyway. When you have 8 or 9 men offering you their attention but not their physical presence, you take it for granted that these are people, but I never really considered that these superficial interactions meant something to them.

I’ve told you, I’m not always nice, right?

Online Dating and Younger Men: Cougar Madness

I’m comfortable with dating older men.  I love the softer look of salt and pepper hair, with gentle laugh lines around their eyes.  I don’t mind hairlines that step back or heads that are bald.  It’s a look I love.  I love natural hair.  Younger men are all about manscaping and I just don’t get it.

Unfortunately, most of the men my age that I meet online think I’m much younger, because in reality, for a lot of men my age, I’m just too old for them.

I’m often approached by younger men.  Men that are about 20 or 22 accept that I don’t date younger men.  They accept my answer and move on.  There are plenty of other women that would love the attention.

Christmas night I was hit with the realization that I wasn’t fully embracing the celebration.  I was sober all of Thanksgiving.  I’m not much of a drinker.  I was sober with my sister while making tamales in Torrance on Friday.  I was sober Saturday with family while I was driving my kids around.  Sunday I was primarily sober.  I went to a friend’s house and had a Smirnoff Ice with dinner, because I was driving home and I love my car.  Sunday night, I decided to have that Hot Buttered Rum I kept putting off.  I was sipping, crocheting a blanket and swiping on dating apps.  It sounds pathetic, but I was in a really happy place.  I had forgotten how much I loved making blankets and scarves until I watched my sister knitting beautiful blankets on Friday.  (I’m telling her she should sell them.  Wait for that shameless plug if she ever decides to.)

Sunday night there was a man 10 years my junior that wouldn’t accept my no.  After 25, they get a little ballsy.  They know what they want and understand persistence.  We talked a bit.

The next morning I was waiting for my ex to call to tell me to come get the boys.  I told him I’d come when the kids were up.  This 28 year old said good morning and asked me to join him for coffee.  I agreed.  Just like that. We met in Pasadena and ended up talking up until I got a call saying it was time to get my kids.  His cappuccino was gone and my blonde roast coffee was cold.

On Friday when I met someone else for coffee, we talked about life, work, careers, and divorce.  It’s something we both knew too much about.  We talked about Landmark and MITT.  We laughed and I really enjoyed his company.  We parted with a hug and I knew I would probably never see him again. There wasn’t a spark or even a longing for more than a hug.

Monday morning I arrived first and was surprised to see us driving the same car when he pulled in.  He paid for my coffee and our conversation kept drifting in all sorts of ways through life, careers, and world travel.  He comes from the middle east and he’s making the American Dream his, while caring for his parents.  For just long enough, I was able to ignore the math when thinking about how old he was when I gave birth to my firstborn 15 years ago.  I was able to ignore how creepy that felt.  We parted ways and I felt like I might be open to another date.

As the day became night and into today, the conversation is still flowing and I keep getting this instinctual gut punch that says no.  I’m still swiping and there is another man that is coming out to LA from the east coast at the end of the month.  I can already tell I’ll never meet him, but I can enjoy this for what it is.  He’s 27.  He has the emotional depth that I outgrew many years ago.

Both of them stand out from older men already.  It’s not the looks.  They’re handsome, but so are older men.  They’re sexual, and interested, but so are older men.  What sets them apart is how much I can’t connect with them.  I’m a straight shooter.  They reciprocate that.  They are looking to race into something and define it quickly.  They are trying to nail down my commitment to their superficial needs.  They want it physical and don’t know how to slow down from the need that drives them.  They want to see if we’ll be friends, and do I expect more of a relationship.  No matter how much I try to explain it, I can’t quite get them to understand that no woman wants to be treated like a discount hooker.

You get older and it’s more than physical needs. Both men and women need someone that understands and connects intellectually and emotionally.  One night of fun is one thing, but the person they want to share their mornings with needs to understand and support them and the younger men don’t seem to know how to be comfortable in exploring their passions outside of bed with me. The road map I follow means we linger for a long while in an intellectual bliss before I’m ready to move on from there.  I know what I’m capable of and it’s not a theory I need to test out at every opportunity.

Unfortunately, this same need in older men means they want to hold me down and claim me as a wife before we’ve ever met in person. That feels just as crazy and bad.  The older men are looking for a partner.  They understand when I need to step away to be a mother.  That might also just be the men.  I spent Christmas night with three grown men that were very hands on with their children and other’s children in a way that I needed to see.  It was so healing and hopeful to see these men feed and put those babies to sleep.  They parented their children and were willing to be chased and tickle, and horseplay.  It was far from the childhood my boys had and I went home so moved.  Maybe slightly tearful.  I get to find that one day.

The younger men don’t understand and their impatience stands out.  They ask if I like games like truth or dare, or if I would play video games with them. They don’t understand when I explain I don’t watch a lot of television or movies because I grew up with far less screen time than they did.  I don’t get bored without a television or movie on.  I can be content with a pen and paper or yarn and a crochet hook.  Or a book.  Those things build, rock and destroy worlds inside of them.

I’m reminding myself to not think of the age difference because it creeps me out, and I’m trying to be patient through the parts that aren’t right to enjoy how it feels to be so irresistible to these younger men.  They don’t mind the softer look of a mother’s body and I keep hearing that my mothering is what makes me hot. I’m trying to let that land. Trying.  I don’t think it’s about age, but I often come across men that feel all they have to offer is sexual or financial in nature when all I want is a deep and meaningful conversation.  That’s a gift of humanity so many feel they can’t take ownership of. And yet, we’re all just humans.

New Traditions After Divorce

It is a great Christmas to be me.  I’m really giving myself to the holidays as a single mom on my terms. When we hashed out custody, I was intentional with wanting Christmas Eve with my boys.  My family always celebrates Christmas Eve and I was able to start my celebrations with a first date at Catalina Coffee Company yesterday morning (beautiful blue eyes, amazing conversation, couldn’t look away from his dimples, didn’t feel an ounce of chemistry, great venue). I then enjoyed most of yesterday with one sister over several hours of making tamales yesterday. This morning  was alone with my boys at breakfast.  We had our private gift opening at home and then I enjoyed a day with my kids and ginormous family.  Right now I get to have a really appreciated quiet night alone.  (Although that hot buttered rum is calling me.) Tomorrow my adventures will continue with more family and friends.

I started my day with my boys at a Denny’s Christmas breakfast.  I hated making breakfast first thing in the morning.  I was never hungry and the kids were always picky.  I got to eat later in the morning, and I wasn’t the short order cook.  I don’t remember last year, but this year has been great. I explained to my boys the thoughts my last post inspired for me.  I explained that in asking what they want for Christmas and focusing only on that, I was teaching them to be takers without bothering to show them the joys of giving.  It was a stretch for me but I asked them if they wanted to go get a present for their Dad for Christmas.  The little one immediately said no.  The oldest said he was planning to draw him a picture, and my middle son hesitated the longest before saying no.  Maybe it was strange to imagine me footing the bill for him.  I then asked if they wanted to pick out a gift for their Grandparents and they were excited about that.

We walked around the CVS after expressing gratitude that we weren’t at Target when we drove by the Target parking lot on Christmas Eve. (We’re working on finding gratitude in everything.) The boys picked out house shoes for their Grandpa, and a blanket for their Grandma.  They wanted something to keep them warm and comfortable.  We wrapped it and when we arrived at Grandma’s house, for the first time they gave their grandparents a gift they picked out themselves.  It wasn’t something I picked.  It was something they chose and they got to experience the gratitude of their grandparents.  The look on my children’s face was all I needed in that moment.

I see where my children are growing and where I need to continue to guide them in so many ways and today was a humbling and encouraging lesson for me.  But it was a day of shifting traditions and seeing how it’s about learning and growing as a family.

Not only have I been teaching my boys to be takers, I was teaching them to live in scarcity, and keeping them from dreaming big.  My older two had modest wish lists.  My little one wanted a trampoline, but that was the most out of the box gift they came up with. Later in the day, Kid3 expressed wanting a Nintendo 3DS.  In the past that meant waiting for the next holiday or birthday.  I explained that I always want to give my kids what they want and we don’t have to wait for a holiday or for him to deserve it.  We just had to wait for when I could do it, but it would go on the whiteboard at home as a goal.  What I didn’t expect was that in my daily examples, I was teaching my oldest to be a martyr.

After breakfast and picking up their grandparent’s gifts, they came in the house and I told them they could open their presents.  In the past, it was always structured.  One present at a time, with all of us watching.  It always bothered me because it was a show of “look what I got you and show me you like it.” It shifted.  It wasn’t about the individual gifts but the overall feeling of getting them what they wanted and letting them know I listened to what they wanted and noticed the things they didn’t say. Today I told them to have at it.  They had the freedom to open their presents with their names on them and I stood back and enjoyed their excitement.  They were happy.  I exceeded their expectations.  Then they asked if I could get a duplicate for their Dad’s house.  I said we could wait until they’re back with me and see if they still need what they want.

At one point, Kid2 was fully hit with FOMO (fear of missing out) and wanted a game his brother asked for.  He raged.  He searched for a different game he lost a while back and he was in complete break down.  I had him come to me and I held him as he cried.  He sobbed.  He screamed.  Kid1 had started looking for the game on behalf of his brother and he decided to do all he could to support his brother . . . Including giving his brother the game I had just given him for Christmas in exchange for $10.  He later threw in his gummy bears as well (his absolute favorite candy). He sacrificed his joy for his brother.

Wow. I mean, this kid!  He’s mine.  He gets my good and my bad, and surprises me with things I didn’t know were possible.  I gave him a Christmas hug in parting and had him look me in the eye. I told him he doesn’t have to sacrifice himself because he matters.  I told him he can’t be a world changer if there’s nothing of him left to change the world.  Now I get to live that to give him that example.

Toward the end of the night, I got feedback that makes me want to address a couple of things.  I should clarify that the dates that look too good to be true are catfish, but there are really great men that are real.  Good morning, good night, and surprise sexy texts are a reality.  It’s super rare that I want to meet in person.  He has to be really special to get my time. If you don’t like what I write, you don’t have to follow or read it.  It’s a choice.  Stand by it or find a hobby.

The part that bothered me was it was suggested I was doing Christmas wrong because I was stepping away from a tradition I adopted but never called my own.  It made me doubt our celebrations long enough to ask my kids if they were happy.  They let me know they had a great day.  They had fun with our family.  The younger two even suggested wanting to go home with me and I melted at the hugs from Kid1. My sisters were a bit surprised at how much my Kid1 has grown.  Our day showed me my next goal and tonight I am having the evening I used to enjoy.  There might be a bit of booze. There will be some yarn work and maybe some reading.  I won’t be up all night setting the tree to look a certain way.  I didn’t have to bake cookies for Santa.  I love the life I get to live!

I didn’t have a traditional Christmas before I got married. We always gathered for Christmas and I think Christmas Eve became our tradition shifting in favor of our growing family.  We gather Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day we get to have our children and in-laws.  This year we had tri-tip, tamales, coleslaw, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, fresh fruit and veggies, and desserts.  Thai noodle soup was the highlight of my night.  It is a throwing together of our huge family and our smaller families.  At some point my brother started throwing dollar bills out for the kids in a “make it rain” dance they love.  It’s chaos, but it’s family. It’s my family.  Our traditions shift and grow, as do we, and I get to make this celebration my own in all of the best ways.

There was a terrific balance of my wants and my kids wants.  There is a give and take where we do what we like, and no one is forced into more than we want.  We went to Grandma’s house for me, and my introvert got to decide when we were done and leaving. My inner ambivert was happy with his timing. There was time with my family and time alone.  There will be space for friends and I’m shooting for solo explorations as well.  I don’t have to cook foods I won’t eat or feel like I have to do things I really don’t want to. This new life feels like freedom and it tastes like I want more.

Teaching My Child To Give

In my flustered push and pull through getting Christmas together for my kids, I was trying to see if I missed anything from my kid’s wish lists.  We were in the car and I asked my boys if there was anything else they wanted that they didn’t tell me about.  They’re getting better at telling me what they want.  For a while they were afraid to want anything.  At some point I made them feel like wanting things was a negative feeling.  At some point I taught them to function and live in scarcity, and I get to teach them to live abundantly as I learn it myself.

My oldest son looked timidly at me, then tried to tuck himself away shyly into his hands and shirt.  My 15 year old reminded me of a turtle.  I could see his fear and uncertainty, so I encouraged him to talk to me.  He told me about a friend of his that wasn’t expecting much for Christmas.  My son understood that his friend was living on very little income and he understood that because it has been our reality.  He asked if he could buy his friend a $40 game and pulled a little wad of cash out of his wallet to show me he needed my support.  I’ve been trying to teach them that they don’t need help.  They don’t need me to rescue them.  They could use my support though and I’m happy to offer it.  They can be supported through their journeys, and here he was, putting that lesson to work.  I asked what he was willing to do if I had said no.  He said he was prepared to ask his friends if they would work together.  I mean seriously? I get to raise this kid.  I get to be this young man’s mother.  That night we went to two Walmart’s and a Target.  We also survived Kid3’s meltdown.

We got home and with my support, he wrapped it himself.  Then I had a moment of fear and it became a lesson for my son, and a lesson to me.  My lesson was how my past so strongly influences my future.  For me to worry about a reaction I had received and given . . . my hang ups on gifts . . . I get to look at that.  I get to examine and change things.

In talking to my son, I realized my fear was about the many times I had given or received a gift and the emotions that go with that. It was about the times I received a gift that wasn’t what I would have wanted, but something the giver would have wanted, without any thought to who I am.  It’s more honest than polite people would ever admit.

I wasn’t always great at gift receiving.  Especially when it came to my Dad.  I was never satisfied with what he offered. He’s given me jewelry, and it was always large and not something I would ever choose to wear.  I would accept it and complain later.  I once asked for a keyboard so I could learn to play the piano.  It came several years later, and in my teenage selfishness, I couldn’t appreciate it until my ex gave it to one of his friends. Now I remember that not every Dad is around or generous, or half the man my Dad is.  His gifts are treasured.

When my boys were young, I would try to find gifts for them, and they would be more interested in the box, or smearing peanut butter and yogurt on walls, because sensory integration dysfunction is an adventure that way.

I remember one Mother’s Day I was so upset that I didn’t receive what I wanted.  It was a few years in a row of receiving less or other than I hoped for.  Honestly, I would have loved a solo hotel stay with a full Kindle and room service. I was very vocal about it too. But I was in my mood and pretty angry at my ex.  This was about seven or eight years into my marriage.  I remember being able to count off the ways I was disappointed until the day my son handed me a gift he made for me.  That was when I realized receiving a gift was about how much I could show the giver their thoughtfulness was appreciated and I really didn’t have to be so selfish.

So back to my really considerate son . . . Here he was, about to gift a present to a friend and I worried about his friend’s pride in terms of the gift.  I worried about it being something that wasn’t wanted, and I worried that my son’s generosity would become a source of pain for him. I will always want to protect him.

I told him to think of giving as the gift he was offering.  He told me about a game he had given to his brother that was lost and how angry he was.  I pointed out that once you give a gift, you stop worrying about what they’ll do with it.  You give a gift as an act of love.  You don’t worry about how it would be used or if it would be immediately discarded.

It’s too much to expect a gift to live the way you want it to and the greatest example is the life of a child.  I gave the world my kids and it’s hard to accept the world might abuse my children and it’s hard to accept that my kids won’t always behave the way I want them to. I get to send them out after caring for them the best way I know how, and I get to hope there is enough love to cover them.

As I explained to my son, giving is about giving and not how it’s received.  Once we give a gift, we don’t worry about how it’s received or what is done with it.  We find our joy in thinking of someone else. We think of how much they’ll like the gift because we’re not giving what we would want, but what they would appreciate and find useful.  However it’s received doesn’t matter as much as the love we put into giving it.

Then I told him to consider how much joy he found in thinking of his friend.  I told him to think of that and consider how much others enjoy giving to him.  I told him to accept gifts with that same feeling because of how great it feels to give.  We would want others to experience our joy in receiving.