It’s oh so quiet

The last month has been a struggle. I have fallen into my old pattern of constantly seeking distraction and reassurance.

Spending my mornings and evenings restlessly  flipping through my phone, texting friends, reading articles and comment threads, and arguing with strangers on Facebook.

Doing anything to not think about being lonely, being bored, being hurt.

I haven’t dated, although I have talked to a couple of guys. In neither case were they candidates for serious relationships. The attention made me feel good, though — I felt happy and excited and, well, valuable, when I heard from them. And then when it fizzled, I felt rejected. Worthless. Alone.

Every time it happened, it amplified. Every time, I plunged deeper into my world of social media and disconnectedness from the real world.

So, I am trying to take baby steps to get back on track. Putting the phone out of reach. Keeping it out of my bedroom at night. Focusing on my breathing, and what I can hear and see and feel. Being okay with being alone in my head and in my house.

You can’t be everybody’s cup of tea (why would you want to be?)

It’s been about two weeks, and I’m astonished at how good I feel most of the time. I’ve really been enjoying — not just tolerating, but enjoying — the time to focus on myself and my kids. Not 100 percent of the time, but I feel like I don’t have that restless urge to go out and distract myself with someone else, to use their attention as a Band-Aid.

I still have some lingering frustrations over the lack of communication regarding, well, everything as our relationship fell apart. And I miss the security and the love that I felt with him — or thought I felt. But in the end, I know it’s better to be alone and happy than be in a relationship with a man who won’t or can’t communicate his feelings in a healthy, productive way, and who, in  hindsight, was willing to let me shoulder all the blame.

In my last session with Sara, she suggested we talk through what he might say if I did talk to him. I reached the conclusion that it probably wouldn’t be anything different from what I’d heard before. I’m not sure he’s capable of seeing his own rigidity in the situation. She also gently suggested that I had very willingly picked up every speck of blame for the events that led our previous breakup, and that there had been many ways he could have reacted in that situation that would have been kinder or more comforting.

The thing I really got out of my talk with her, though, was when I brought up the struggles I wrote about in my last post — the feeling that most men only really care about my appearance, and that it’s incredibly hurtful to feel like they’re fine with what’s on the outside but don’t stick around once they see the inside. Ouch.

Rebecca CampbellI compared it to feeling like a book that someone thinks has a fascinating-looking cover, then puts down once they page through it and realize it’s of no interest to them. In once case, a guy actually told me that he found my personality off-putting but that if we were to “lie next to each other all day and get to know each other,” he might like me better. I declined his kind offer.

Sara reminded me that I was an a outspoken, independent and intelligent woman (I don’t know that I’d always agree with the “independent,” but I’ll bow to her professional opinion!) and that that’s not what everyone is looking for. It isn’t a personal judgment; it’s just not what they want and/or are comfortable with.

Just the day before, I had read the following in Thich Nhat Hanh’s “No Mud, No Lotus”:

Cold air can be painful if you aren’t wearing enough warm clothes.  But when you’re feeling overheated or you’re walking outside with proper clothing, the bracing sensation of cold air can be a source of feeling joy and aliveness. … The rainy day that ruins your plans for a picnic is a boon for the farmer.

I felt as if someone had just smacked a 10-foot gong directly next to my head. How did it take SO long for that to hit home?

Just because I pick up a book and put it down, because I realize it’s an espionage novel and I prefer historical fiction, doesn’t mean it’s a bad novel. Someone might think it’s the best book they’ve ever read. It might be EXACTLY the book they’re looking for. It’s just not the book for ME.

Right now, I’m tired of paging through books, and I’m tired of being picked up, thumbed through (oh, that sounds gross, actually) and put back down. I like being on my shelf, and I’m content to stay here until I feel I’ve rewritten things a bit.

Square one

C. and I are through, permanently, and so I am back to where I started.  And this time, I feel it will be much easier, because it has become apparent to me that he was not the man that I had thought.

On Saturday, I was at a friend’s party when I ran into J., who used to work for my friend. J and I have a lot of common interests, and although I found her a tad nutty, she has generally been a lot of fun. In fact, I had also run into her recently at a party for C.’s running group.

On Saturday, she was so drunk that my first thought was, “My God, I hope she didn’t drive here.” She proceeded to tell me, unsolicited, that C. had a reputation for hitting on other women in their group. That didn’t particularly sound like him, and other things she said made me wonder if she was confusing him with someone else, but I still found it a little distressing at the time. After some reflection, I was less upset but felt it should still be discussed.

That night, I talked to C. I told him what J. had said. I was clear that she had been drunk and seemed confused, and that I would find her a dubious source of information at the best of times. And I added that even if it were true, I understood that it wasn’t a betrayal of me if he had flirted with other women in the group before we met, although I would perhaps rather he not run with someone he had a past romantic interest in.

He was LIVID. Mostly at J., but when I added the part about him not running with other women he’d been interested in, he said, “See, THIS is why I’m so mad! You’re spiraling over this bullshit!”

I pointed out that I wasn’t spiraling. And for some reason, at that point, it seemed like a great idea to point out that his declarations of, “This is bullshit!” seemed more like a non-denial denial, like something a politician would say. (I suspect that, although I hadn’t believed most of what J. said in the first place, his extremely angry reaction made me start to wonder if he “doth protest too much.”) As you might imagine, that made things exponentially worse.

He was so furious he told me he was done with the conversation and was going to bed. I begged him not to go, not to leave it like this, but he was insistent, firmly said, “Good NIGHT, A.,” and hung up.

In the morning, I got a very curt message from him telling me the conversation had really hurt and that we would talk later. I responded that I had believed him and still did, that it was stupid to get hung up on semantics and that I was sorry. I added that as hard as I was working, there would still be struggles and I needed to feel he was a safe person to talk to. I told him to enjoy  his day with his kids and that I looked forward to talking later. Later, after I ran about (which he loves to do), I told him how nice it felt to run after so long and that I wanted to share that with him, and I loved him.

He didn’t respond, and he didn’t call that night. I received a few more very terse, curt messages from him, and my friends who saw them were stunned at how cold and withdrawn he was. He didn’t call Monday night, either. He had been supposed to have dinner with us and meet my children that day, though he had informed me in the morning he no longer felt it was a good idea (which I agreed with). That was also the night J. chose to message me and tell me she’d had C. confused with someone else.

Instead, this morning, I received a text admitting that he cared about me and knew this wasn’t the best way to handle things, but that he couldn’t do this anymore.

I was not stunned that he was choosing to end it — one of his previous texts, send Monday night after I apologized yet again and told him how much I wanted to fix this, informed me, “I don’t want to hear it” and accused me of backpedaling.

But I was stunned that the man I had so cared for, who had called me the “love of his life,” who had seemed so mature and so kind in so many respects, was ending our relationship by text message over such a stupid argument.

I replied:

I’m astonished that you felt this was appropriate. However, your very cold tone and disrespectful words towards me the past few days had also begun to persuade me we were incompatible. People who love each other should be able to respectful and kind even when hurt and angry. I would kindly suggest that just as I am working on my own issues, you look at your communication skills.

You came back to me knowing this would be a work in progress. I will not beat myself up for being unable to make an overnight transformation.

I was proud of that. I felt I was kind and firm and expressed my own concerns in an appropriate way without belittling him or lashing out.

breakupmemetext-6NpwdmI did cry. Hard. The kids saw me sobbing and hugged me. I told them they wouldn’t be meeting “Mr. C,” and that just like Mommy and Daddy had decided they weren’t a good match, Mr. C. and I had as well. I said that I was sorry and I knew they’d been excited to meet him. My oldest said, “I was excited too. Now I’m just mad.”

I texted Sara, my therapist, who promised to get me in as soon as possible. I talked to several friends, who were as appalled as I was. I cried to my boss, who told me it sounded like C. had a lot of issues going on. (Yes, I wear my heart on my sleeve, why do you ask?)

And while I’m sad and hurt and angry, I also feel relieved. I had not seen this angry, hurtful side of C., and I don’t believe he has a “healthy emotional core,” as one friend put it. It’s possible to be mad at someone and still communicate. It’s possible to be very hurt by them and still be kind.

 

 

Sooooo…

This is a hard post to write, because the entire premise of this blog has been me not dating. But I saw C. on Sunday. And it was incredible.

He texted me that morning and said he just wanted to say hello and hoped I’d been doing well, that he hoped I understood why he hadn’t been able to communicate with me, and that he thought of me often.

Reader, I called him. We talked for almost two hours. I told him how much I missed him, how many times I’d wanted to reach out. He said he’d felt the same. I asked him to come over. He said he wasn’t ready. I pushed. And I pushed. Eventually he agreed. I promised him we weren’t going to make any decisions about anything.

I was in his arms almost the minute he opened the door. We had an amazing few hours together before the kids came home. He said he missed me and loved me, but he was afraid of being hurt again. He was afraid of hurting me. He was afraid of interfering with the work I was trying to do on myself.

The next day, I asked him how he felt about things. He said it felt very, very good to see me again and he’d missed me and all the ways we connected so well. He reiterated his concerns. I agreed that it hadn’t been what I had been expecting either, but that I didn’t regret any of it. Well, I did regret one thing. I told him I was very sorry for having pushed him to come over when he’d said he wasn’t ready. I had been so happy to hear from him and excited to see him, but it wasn’t OK for me to do that, and it wasn’t respectful of his boundaries, and it wouldn’t happen again. He thanked me and said he appreciated that.

He added, “We both still have things to consider and work on and yesterday shouldn’t change that, but it really was wonderful to see you yesterday.” I admit, I don’t know what that means. “I’m thinking about it but I need to ruminate a while”? “Nothing has changed and don’t get your hopes up”? Guy friends have advised me that they do not put secret hidden meanings into their text messages, though, and to stop driving myself crazy trying to decode them.

I do hate how I’m back on the roller coaster. I am trying to stay in the present moment and be comfortable with uncertainty. (This is NOT my strong suit, nor is delayed gratification. On numerous occasions in my life, I’ve been compared to Veruca Salt from “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”) However, I know C. well enough to know that he doesn’t leap into things. The last time we got back together, it took several days for him to make the decision to try things again. And maybe that’s good, because I’m more the type who jumps in head-first, yelling, “COOOOOWWWWWAAABUUUUNGAAAAAAA!!” And as Dr. Phil says, “How’s that working out for you?”

I am trying very hard not to push. That’s tough, because it’s kind of my forte. A friend suggested I keep this “Big Bang Theory” scenario in mind.

I am also trying to figure out 1) how I would work on myself if we were together, and what that would look like (I have no freaking clue), and 2) if I would be able to have him as a presence in my life if he/we decide not to pursue a relationship (probably not at the moment).

Part of me thinks, and most of my friends advise, that I’m not ready, and that I need to walk away. But I am also hesitant to give up this amazing man again. Maybe hesitant isn’t the right word. “Terrified.” That might do it. I do know that whatever I do, I need to stay the course with learning to love myself, learning to accept uncertainty and vulnerability, and finding validation within myself and not from other people.

I’m learning to fly, but I ain’t got wings

One thing I’ve discovered since starting my dating hiatus is that nothing brings guys out of the woodwork like someone who’s not dating.

The other thing I’ve discovered is that I have a very tough time turning down male attention, as I wrote about earlier.

When I first broke up with C., my friend Ryan (who I dated briefly last year but didn’t feel much of a spark with) instructed me to call or text him every time I wanted to call or text C. That felt wrong, but he insisted he wanted me to. And then I realized something else was happening — Ryan had become a de facto provider of the validation I so desperately needed.

I cut the cord on that (it helped when he met someone), but I found that guys kept popping up. Someone I’d dated a couple times this spring who texted out of the blue. A dude I’d gone out with a couple years ago. Online “friends.”

dc9bd9bd402befdfb84ff533dd9334f8I asked my friend Scott, who’d done a similar dating hiatus years ago, what I should do. I was doing great with not actually dating, I told him, but I was struggling to resist the attention from guys and I knew that succumbing to it was undermining what I was trying to do.

He suggested that I do what he did when he was newly sober and someone offered him a drink: Run like hell.

This is an issue that hits two of my weakest areas — my need for validation and my terror of hurting/rejecting people. Scott suggested that I have probably used that attention as a crutch for a very long time. And the metaphor hit me square between the eyes — I feel exactly like I’m learning to walk again.

What does it feel like to feel content with my life and realized I am cared for by many people without a guy (or multiple guys) fawning over me? What does it feel like to feel confident and secure with the way I look without a man telling me I look hot? What does it look like to be happy to be at home, alone, with an evening to myself to do whatever I want? I don’t know yet — but I’m planning on finding out.

The other tough part is, “I don’t want to make him feeeeel bad.” I am a terminal people pleaser, and doing or saying anything that makes anyone unhappy makes me massively anxious. Although I suspect that the feeling isn’t reciprocal and most of these guys aren’t terribly worried about my feelings. I’m not telling them to fuck off, after all — I’ve explained what I’m trying to do, what I need to do, to be in a healthier and happier place. And the guys who’ve pushed that boundary aren’t doing it because they care about me; they’re doing it because they have their own agenda.

Month one

It’s been a little more than a month now since I began my official dating hiatus.

Some days, it feels great to be off that roller coaster of “OMG, did he text?!” and then joy or despair if he (whoever the current “he” may have been) did or didn’t text/call/seem happy enough to see me. Other days, I can feel intensely lonely.

It’s easiest when the kids are home, of course. They need to be fed and helped with their homework and carted around to their various activities and appointments. I get all the snuggles I could want, even if “Wild Kratts” isn’t necessarily what I’d prefer to watch while cuddling on the couch.

But when I head home from work, or wake up, and the house is empty, that’s when the relentless need to distract myself can set in. Texting, scrolling restlessly through Facebook, flipping through Netflix, looking for something to keep me from being alone with my thoughts.

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© Designs by Romi

Knitting frequently helps. I love the rhythm of it, the click of my metal needles, the connection with generations before me, and the blossoming of something beautiful from what was just a ball of pretty, woolly string.

Currently, I’m working on a lacy shawl made with baby-alpaca yarn. I ordered the kit on a whim , and I didn’t expect the yarn to be so fine that a fellow knitter would inquire if it was “cobweb weight.” (It’s a real thing. I checked. Fortunately, it also wasn’t what I was knitting with.) I had started the shawl when I was dating C., and he was always impressed as it unfurled from my needles.

Shortly after we broke up, I woke up one morning and my first thought was, “I’ve been going from store to store looking for something I have to make myself.” My thoughts are rarely rational first thing on any given morning, so I paid attention to this one. And the first analogy that came to mind was my shawl. It doesn’t matter which big-box store you go to; you won’t find a lacy, handmade, baby-alpaca shawl at any of them. The only way to get one is to learn how it’s done and then put your knowledge into action and persist until you’re done.

With a pattern this complex, I sometimes discover I somehow have too few or too many stitches. Maybe I’ve forgotten a decrease, dropped a stitch, or missed a yarnover. Usually it’s fixable, but sometimes it isn’t, and I have to rip back a few rows. That led to another insight … if your pattern is off, you can’t just keep knitting and hope it will be okay. It’s never going to look right unless you look at where you went off track and fix it. Sometimes it’s a quick fix, and sometimes you have to backtrack quite a ways — but either way, if you don’t make the correction, you aren’t going to end up with what you’re expecting to.

What to do when you’re not dating

For me, dating wasn’t just a pursuit of a romantic relationship — it was almost a hobby. I dislike being alone, and many of my friends are also busy moms with full-time jobs who may not be free precisely when I am.

So, I came up with a list of things to do besides distracting myself with dates or strong-arming my friends into keeping me company:

  • Do something outdoorsy. Go for a hike. Go kayaking. Go camping. Just go for a walk, if that’s what’s available.
  • Read a really involving book. Right after my divorce, I read “Gone With the Wind,” then the entire Jane Austen oeuvre (don’t bother with “Mansfield Park,” although it’s a shame “Lady Susan” doesn’t get more attention!), then “A Prayer for Owen Meany.” Other suggestions include the Harry Potter books and Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander” series, if you haven’t read them already; the “Song of Ice and Fire” books that “Game of Thrones” is based on; and Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series, if you like paranormal fiction. Goodreads also has a huge list of “gripping books” if none of those suit your fancy.

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  • Plan a solo adventure. This summer, I went to a sea-kayaking symposium that was not only incredibly fun but increased my self-confidence tremendously. I had initially really wanted to go, but after signing up, I was terrified — what if I didn’t fit in? What if my skills were way below everyone else’s? What if I didn’t have fun? What if it was cold and miserable? It was AMAZING. I learned a ton, I met some great people, and I left feeling strong and confident and excited to learn more.
  • Work out. Look better + be healthier + feel better = triple win. I’ll have another post coming up soon on how much good this has done me.
  • Learn a new skill or take up a new hobby. I learned to knit and have come to love it. Not only is it massively soothing, but it provides a wonderful sense of accomplishment, and I’ve met some wonderful people through my knitting group. I know that every Thursday, no matter what else is going on in my life, I have a place I can go where I can sit, relax, talk and vent if need be. Other suggestions: Cooking, baking, painting, martial arts, photography, playing an instrument.
  • Nurture your female friendships, or male ones if you have a lot of guy friends. (Just make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons, not to fill in a “male attention” void.) If you’ve let your girlfriends slip down the list when you’ve been in relationships, make up for that now. Make new friends, too. One of my dearest new friends is a recently widowed neighbor about my mom’s age. She has been not only a shoulder to cry on when I’ve needed it, but a voice of wisdom and a new friend to my children.
  • Take a class. Is there a community college class that would help you at your job? A continuing ed class in something you’ve always wanted to learn?
  • Volunteer someplace that strikes a chord with you. Teach English as a second language. Tutor kids. Join Big Brothers/Big Sisters. Help out at the animal shelter. Support a candidate you like.