Gym for the win

It’s relatively easy to deal with being guy-free when I have the kids. They’ve met very few of the men I’ve dated, so the nights I have them (about 60 percent of the time), there’s not much change, apart from a lack of texts — although C. would occasionally come over for a cuddle and to watch TV with me, after they were asleep. Plus, I’m busy with feeding them, helping them with homework, and carting them about to various events, so I seldom have much time to dwell on my feelings.

But when they’re gone, that’s when the loneliness sometimes hits. So I discovered the place that I could always escape to: The gym.

fitness-motivation-quote-one-workout1It’s bright, it’s busy, it’s colorful, and if you can manage to drag yourself there and then MOVE, it makes you feel better and look better, too.

I go to a big, cheap chain place, and while it’s not fancy, it has everything I need and it’s always open.

If you’re new to working out, I love They have great workouts you can do at home (most of them require dumbbells, but there are bodyweight workouts too), and they provide great instruction on proper form. (Plus, I just find Kelli and Daniel fun to watch.) I’ve learned a lot of exercises that work well at the gym. Their videos on other matters — such as supplements, nutrition, thigh gaps, etc — are also quite good.

Because there’s a lot of woo in the fitness world, I like to get a lot of my fitness info from Coach Taylor Simon and James Fell, two of my favorite fitness writers, who I think provide scientifically sound advice.

I don’t have a particular routine. I go when I can (which is about three times a week when I don’t have the kids that weekend, and usually once when I do). I do a good active warmup beforehand and stretch afterward. I try to do two sets of two different exercises for each body part, more for abs and glutes. Sometimes I use the treadmill, too, although I’m not a runner, so I generally prefer to walk at a high incline. (Walking backward at a very slow, safe pace can be a good workout too!) In the summer, I also prefer to get my cardio outdoors by hiking or kayaking or something similar.

If you’ve never been to a gym before, check out A Beginner’s Guide to the Gym from NerdFitness, which is a great community for those who are new to fitness (and/or are nerds like yours truly). There’s also an article on gym etiquette.

And don’t be nervous — I know a lot of people are, especially if they’re new to working out or feel out of shape. Even at my college-town gym, I see people of all shapes, sizes, and ages. If you want to check out the gym before you join, see if you can check out the gym with a friend first (a lot of places let you bring a guest), or get a day pass. If you don’t feel comfortable there, check out a couple of other places. But almost everyone is there just to work out and do their thing.

Self-care on a budget

Am I the only one who gets tired of self-care lists that include pricey crap? “Take yourself out for a mani-pedi!” Well, sorry, I don’t always have an extra $80 burning a hole in my pocket.

Here’s my list of affordable ways to care for yourself:

  • Take a long, hot bath.
  • Do your hair and/or makeup.
  • Go for a walk.
  • Enjoy a cup of coffee or tea in a “happy place” — on your front porch (which is where I escape from my kids), the back deck or a favorite cafe.
  • Journal.
  • Write a gratitude list.
  • Color. (You can find many beautiful coloring pages for free online.)
  • Go to bed 30 minutes earlier than normal.
  • Paint your own nails — or, if you’re as bad at it as I am, have a friend do it, then return the favor.
  • Meditate. (If you don’t know how, try the Headspace app — the first 10 sessions are free — or choose a guided meditation from Youtube.)
  • Make yourself a favorite meal or dessert.
  • Do some yoga. (Check out FitnessBlender’s “Stress-Busting Yoga Pilates Workout.”)
  • Call up someone you haven’t talked to in a long time.
  • Unfollow someone on social media whose posts always annoy or upset you.
  • Take a nap.
  • Buy a new book, or hit the library.
  • Prep some healthy snacks and keep in the fridge so you’re not tempted to grab junk. (I like to buy some favorite fruits and veggies and prep them as soon as I get home, then put into Tupperware.)
  • Do a “tech detox” for a few hours (or even a whole day, if possible).
  • Spend time in nature.

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.


  • 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.

My action plan

Because I’m the kind of person who feels she needs to be doing something, I told Sara I wanted a game plan. I wanted to KNOW that I was doing something to work toward healing, not sitting around waiting for the clock to run down on my dating moratorium.

luggage-2708846_1920Besides the six-month hiatus, she asked me to write a letter to C., not to send, but just to express my feelings and thoughts about the night we broke up. I found that so cathartic that I’ve written several since — every time I badly wish I could talk to him, I sit down instead and write out what I wish I could say. I also came across this suggested in the first episode of the excellent “Baggage Reclaim” podcast. (I’m proud that I’ve only contacted him once since my email, when I was in his area and dealing with a broken crossbar and two kayaks I couldn’t load back up. He wasn’t able to help me, as he was a couple hours away, but he was very kind and concerned. I’ve been tempted many, many more times, but remind myself that the most loving thing I can do for him is give him space.)

Sara also suggested I read “Healing the Child Within.” (I also bought the companion workbook.)  I’ve been working through a chapter or week a two (mostly because of the workbook and accompanying journaling — the book itself is a pretty fast read.)

I added a couple other steps of my own:

  • First, meditating every morning. I’m not much of a new agey-type, but meditation was suggested to me years ago as a way to help me deal with anxiety. I find that taking some time very morning has helped me become more aware when I start to feel that knot in my stomach as I get more tense and anxious. When I recognize it, I can take some deep breaths and re-compose myself. I use the Headspace app.
  • Second, I try to write down every night five things I am grateful for. Sometimes it’s a dear friend, a wonderful night with my kids, or a fantastic meal. Sometimes I can’t come up with more more than “we have enough to eat and clean water to drink.” And that’s OK.