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Please don’t ask me

Maybe it’s a generational thing, a millenial thing or maybe I’m just turning the corner and finally getting officially “old”.

I used to love Facebook. Like really, it was my lifeline, my entertainment, my communication tool and my teacher of things in the world from people I had never met. It was exciting and new, it was clunky and slow, and by today’s standards pretty boring.

But I loved it.

That was then…this is now. And not just the recent, pandemic, quarantine now. The now of this decade, this generation of new 30-40 somethings that are jumping back on the Facebook bandwagon now that they have young children to take a million photos of all day long, of every moment of their lives, to share with the world to prove how amazing (or horrible some days) their lives are. Realizing that they are no longer cool enough, or young enough, to continue posting to SnapChat we now get a front row seat into their grownup lives and every milestone or major decision they have along the way.

This is not the sharing community of the early Facebook days, no this is a different kind of sharing community. It’s more of a poll taking, opinion driven, frantic desire for attention.

What should I get for my eight year old for Easter/Christmas/the tooth fairy?

What are you guys doing for…(fill in this blank with just about any holiday/weekend/meal/haircut etc)?

Which shade of grey should I paint my walls?

Which dress should I wear to my husband’s office party – choice a, b, c, d, e or f? (with photos added in a labeled collage)

Seriously Becky, how do you get through your days??

And the worst part of this constant polling for life’s many “challenging” moments (like which door handles/counter tops/stain color should we use for our new cabinets?) is the amount of feedback they receive. So many clicks, votes, suggestions and gushing of “you look amazing in all of them!”

Yes, I’m over 50 but not quite a “boomer”. I’m that middle generation that nobody seems to think about or notice. And usually that’s just fine. My people were there at the start of Facebook, and played all of the games, making Zynga the giant that it is today. Yes, we posted stupid things like “I need a nail! Does anyone have a nail to spare?” “I’m raising my barn and need your help!” and other odd things game related. And it connected us in a way that made us feel neighborly, helpful, needed.

I miss those days in some ways.

But today it’s like an ongoing coffee klatch of remodeling/child rearing/fashion decisions/etc and all I can think is “don’t they know how to google??” Or better yet, pick up a phone and call a friend, like an IRL friend, and ask their opinion. How can you sort through 56 different opinions from people you basically only know through the internet?

Do you really think Lisa, from your sixth grade math class, has better taste than you?

Maybe it’s just me…it’s that independent attitude that my mother warned my past boyfriends about. And she wasn’t wrong. I have opinions of my own, that’s for sure.

And while I like to be asked for my opinion, I guess I like thinking that I’m being asked personally because the other person trusts my opinion, my taste, or my experience about the subject. Not because I’m part of some weird social experiment, along with 126 other people, some that I wouldn’t trust to suggest a toothpaste or a stick of deodorant to me much less what color to paint my home. Or what car to buy.

So…don’t ask me. Better yet, don’t ask anyone. Make a decision and trust yourself.

Live your life on your terms, with nobody else to blame – or give credit to. Choose the paint color that brings you joy, not just because Pinterest told you it was “in” or because everyone in your playgroup used the same shade of gray. Get the sunglasses that you love to see yourself in as your walk past a picture window on the street, or catch a glimpse of yourself in the rearview mirror, and smile. Take your kids to an off the beaten path playground or museum, one that none of your friends have even heard of, and just explore it together, sharing the new uninhibited experience with them without any preconceived expectations..

No expectations, be open to the experience, and form your own opinion.

And when you’ve done those things…take all of the credit!! Definitely. Celebrate your genius and creativity, post about it on Facebook and Instagram, and when asked how you picked that color or that tile or that amazing dress, tell people “I just had a feeling it would work”, or “it brought joy to my heart so I knew it was right for me!”.

Why should your 362 almost anonymous friends and acquaintances on Facebook get all of the credit for you living your wonderful life?

But you didn’t ask me for my opinion on that, now did you?

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Call me babe

It is quite possibly the simplest and least inventive pet name to use, one that doesn’t take much thought, or need to have a story behind it, and probably the most common nickname in existence. It’s really pretty generic, milk toast compared to the others, if we’re being completely honest.

But it makes me weak in the knees.

It spins my head, lights up my soul and makes my heart skip a beat.

“Babe”

Hearing it, or reading it in texts aimed my way, does things to my brain I cannot explain. Maybe it’s because I never really had a boyfriend, or heard my ex-husband, use a nickname for me on a regular basis.

Being called “babe” makes me feel seen, appreciated, wanted…claimed by someone.

My younger feminist self would be appalled, I’m sure. “I have a name!” But it makes my middle aged self giddy like a schoolgirl. I’d even say that it makes me swoon.

The first time someone had used this common pet name with me was during a one night stand in Iceland. Odd but true. And I loved it. I basked in the glow of it, my eyes shining like stars as he softly murmured it into my ear or whispered it to me as he kissed me. He even used it while texting me for the next few days…

Afterwards, when I had landed back on my home turf, and the afterglow had dissipated, I realized that it was most likely just easier than using (or remembering) my real name after a night of pub crawling.

Less to think about, fewer details to remember at the time – and afterwards.

But I didn’t care, it still made me light up. It still made my heart race. And that was more than enough.

I was hungry for that feeling.

During my longterm marriage I rarely enjoyed the reward of a pet name. We tried to incorporate it during the dating period, Bubba and Chick, but only because someone else had “named” us during a very drunken, crazy night. We signed cards and gift tags with these newly designated nick names, for awhile…

But it had a shelf life, eventually it slowly faded away. We outgrew it somehow.

The story behind it not holding up to the test of time.

I realize now, that in my marriage, we rarely used each other’s names during regular conversation, let alone during intimate times. I remember trying to make a conscious effort to use his name at different points of our relationship, hoping he would do the same, trying to personalize our interactions somehow, but it always seemed clunky and odd since it wasn’t the way we spoke to each other usually.

We just spoke at each other I suppose.

When I did use his name, I felt as if I was trying too hard to connect, or forcing a sense of what I believed should be “normalcy”, when he didn’t seem to want or need it.

We also never said each other’s names during sex. Not in a whisper, or a request or in the throes of passion…no worries about shouting out the wrong name that’s for sure.

How uptight were we?? Add that to the red flag list.

Then I met a guy…

And he called me “babe”.

And I lost all sense of control, my brain short circuited every time he said it – or used it in a text. I would reread it to make sure I had read it correctly, or replay the conversation, listening to his tone when he used it, in my head, and I would smile from within.

My heart would swell.

Just asking what I got in the holiday gift exchange, comforting me in a moment of doubt, connecting with me at the end of the day, or just asking what I wanted to order for dinner he would slip it in.

“What did you get, babe?”

It created the same physical response for me, every time.

I would glow. Every endorphin in my body would open up to pull it in. To absorb it.

I am certain that if you did a CT scan of my brain at the time, it would be lit up like a Christmas tree every time he said it. I can’t explain it, I just basked in it. It wrapped around me like a weighted blanket, calming and soothing me, hugging me tightly.

He used my name too. Texting, talking…during sex. It was such a turn-on, so intimate and personal, I had forgotten what my name sounded like until I heard him say it so easily, and so often. He trained me to use his name and pet names this way, at first it was like learning a foreign language, but eventually it felt not only normal but natural.

I learned a new language that included baby, sweetheart, sexy, stud…and I used his name often. It was like glue, or maybe a salve? Hard to determine, but in any event, it created an emotional bond for me deep down in my soul.

And now that guy is gone. And nobody is calling me babe…or saying my name in bed.

And I miss it. I crave it.

Generic maybe, but the queen of the pet names in my book. I am a sucker for it.

Just call me babe.

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Silver linings

I’m stuck. In a loop of indecisiveness, not sure if I should be “productive” and make real use of this time at home to get ahead on projects, scrub down the house, tackle a few home repairs, and finally use my online BeachBody membership (daily of course) to finally lose that extra 20 pounds. Or should I “practice self care” and take naps inbetween bingeing all of the newest series on Netflix, while eating a bag of pretzels with cream cheese or another peanut butter and jelly sandwich with my favorite chips on the side.

What kind of self care are we talking about?

The healthy, eat all of your vegetables and exercise an hour each day while doing mobility stretching or yoga and drinking green tea kind of self care? Or the more common – and let’s face it, more appealing – type of self care that involves hours of bingeing Netflix/Prime/Hulu/YouTube etc while eating cake frosting from the can as a “treat” for yourself after your dinner of tortilla chips and queso dip, while lounging in your pajama pants on the couch kind of self care?

Do I still need to shower everyday? And if so, does that count as a hand-washing experience making me a hero against germs?

I have lists, so many lists, of the things that I will accomplish during this shut-in, lock-down, quarantine time but…my list lingers on my already crowded desk that is on my list to be cleaned and organized to allow me to be more productive for my work at home duties.

I have stopped looking at Facebook as often, or the news, or any real time information for that matter, to save my sanity. I took that suggestion from an online news source that said it was harmful to my mental health to check these more than twice per day.

Who am I to argue?

I am tired of reading about new recipes to make homemade hand-sanitizer, playdough, sourdough starter or any other new age craft. I don’t plan on learning how to crochet or needlepoint now, and I won’t be trying to engage my neighborhood with chalk drawings on my driveway – or theirs – or respond to calls to come out of my house at 7pm to wave at my neighbors (why is it always at 7pm? What are we all doing all freaking day that we have to wait until almost dark to wave at each other??)

I cannot read another “helpful” (read: scolding) post about how my neighbors believe everyone should behave or live right now – the Gladys Kravitzs of the world are teaming up on social media to tattletale what they are witnessing in their own front yards, parks and grocery stores, and thanks to the gift of smartphones in our lives are even able to include pictures to publicly shame each other.

These are tough times. These are stressful times. I agree.

But these are also times to cut each other a little slack, to be helpful, to be giving and caring to each other. We are, after-all, all in this together…separately by at least 6 feet.

I have recently realized there is a silver lining to this entire experience. Actually, more than a few, in my world, if I’m honest.

For starters, my first true reason to smile with relief the day after we were ordered to shelter in place, was when it dawned on me that I would be stuck at home everyday with just my two teen-aged boys.

No husband.

I’ve been divorced for just three years now, after a long-term (over 20 year) marriage that ended like a cliche made for TV movie, complete with the coworker affair and immediate remarriage as soon as the ink was dry. Our marriage wasn’t horrible, but it was stressful for the most part. For me and for our kids. He was (and still is I would imagine) a self-centered, hot tempered control freak who needed constant attention and admiration. Try living with that everyday, all day and night, for the foreseeable future without an escape hatch of more than a trip to the grocery store.

I would have lost my mind, or become a depressed alcoholic by now, I am sure of it.

To know that we (my kids and I) did not have to share our home with him during this challenging time was almost enough to make me burst out into song, and dance, almost my own personal pandemic musical like no other every produced on Broadway!

I knew that I was free, but I didn’t realize how sweet that freedom truly was until now.

Which leads me to my second silver lining, my kids. They are old enough to be fun, to be helpful, to be caring and kind. We have cleaned the house together (without much push back on their part), we have spent countless hours watching Hell’s Kitchen and other shows that we all enjoy, as well as the hours spent playing board games and working on a thousand piece puzzle that is spread out on the dining room table as I write.

Meals have been relaxed. I am only cooking what we truly enjoy eating, and sometime we eat in front of the TV to keep watching Season 9 of Hell’s Kitchen (it’s a nail biter sometimes!) I’ve let go of the major dinner ideas, putting the pork loin in the freezer for a later time, now is not the time to try new recipes or new food groups. I decided to just cook what we love, what we really feel like eating, and sometimes that’s eggs and bacon…with pancakes.

This idea also reflects back to the joy of being divorced right now.

The thought of my ex being home all day would not only carry the expectation of the daily question “what’s for dinner?” but would also be extended to “what’s for lunch?” and possibly “what do we have for dessert?” Sprinkled in there would also be “why don’t we have (insert any one of his newly acquired dietary desires here)?” or “we’re out of milk again, when are you going to the store?”

A week or two, or more by now, of that would most likely culminate in a nervous eye tick.

PopTarts and cereal, sandwiches and bagels, maybe pizza or taco delivery. Spaghetti, butter chicken, french toast sticks and lots of bacon being cooked up. A batch of box brownies each week, maybe a banana nut cake to make use of those leftover bananas. Along with our favorite fruits and vegetables of course, I’m not a complete sloth!

Easy peasy, low stress sustenance that brings smiles to all.

Overall, yes it sucks and I miss my old life and the freedoms that came with it, but only the old life of the last couple of years. I am thankful that I can find the silver linings, that I can only worry about the real things that need to be worried about like our health (mental and physical) and well being without walking on eggshells trying to please one very demanding personality at the expense of everyone else’s comfort.

I miss my extended family and my friends and just seeing them and hugging them, but if I have to be quarantined in my home for weeks on end, I am very lucky it is with people that I love dearly and actually like to be around.

attention without intention…

the clues were always there, I just didn’t realize it

I honestly didn’t know to look for them, or that I should be looking in some covert way, written in code…

…but they were always there 

you said them, you texted them

you showed them with your hot and cold attention 

but I wasn’t wearing the right glasses to see the clues

or maybe I wasn’t listening closely enough?

so enthralled with the rest of the message, in it’s seductively wrapped package, filtering out what I didn’t want to see or hear that could cloud the love I was feeling, that was growing

it would break the spell

most likely…

you once asked if I was a “player” in high school, no that’s not who I was or who I am; you admitted that you also were not a player – you were more of an ‘attention without intention’ type

the answer still haunts me, it echoes in my mind

ruled by Venus, a Libra’s heart is vast and hungry for love, loving love, loving to be in love

always chasing love

the chase without any promise of more…

maybe you never thought you could catch the girl?

That was then, this is now

So, when was the last time you were actually dating?

Like really dating, just going out with different people to see if you click, looking for “the one” to build a life with for oh maybe the next fifty years?

I don’t know about you, but I was 25.

I’m not a “math person” but that’s about thirty years ago now…yikes!

This epiphany came to me over the weekend, a weekend when I was getting myself in a tizzy over the guy I’ve been seeing for a few months. This is the milestone time when we should be having “the talk” about our relationship, according to all of the internet dating coaches. But our relationship had been experiencing a some amazing highs and some equally devastating lows lately, a crazy emotional ride from my side of things, which left time for talking a precious commodity…too precious to “ruin” it with such a heavy topic.

Escapism at its finest. I am a pro at this one.

Instead, I was doing my usual: dissecting every word he ever said or texted, and looking at the dates of said exchanges to look for the peaks and valleys to figure out what I did or said, all while watching YouTube videos of how to “make him fall in love with you”, “how to make him commit with a twelve word text”, “the seven mistakes you are making that are driving him away”…

Followed by my all time favorite “why is he pulling away?!”

During all of this online “research”, becoming my own WebMD of relationships, I also made the misguided choice to run things by my friends (both women and men, because I needed to be thorough if my research is to be of any value) to get second, third – even fourth opinions – on what to do or what they thought was going on?

Ugh. Who am I??

I don’t remember it being this challenging or life consuming when I was dating in my twenties. I may have thought about it more than I remember now, but I didn’t obsess over it to this length…did I?

Maybe the internet is to blame?

In the midst of all of this uncertainty, I decided to write a letter to him laying it all out on the line. Telling him how his hot and cold behavior was making me crazy, that I am too old for this high school crap, detailing my expectations of what I want in a relationship at this point in my life, while stating that I am indeed “the full package baby“, etc.

A real Norma Rae of relationship demands and negotiations.

A letter written to him, or for him, but one that I never intended to send. Basically, I just wanted to get it all out of my head and put it into a coherent thought. It was almost two pages long by the time I had finished it, not Rachel writing to Ross length, but I was on a roll. Updating and redrafting throughout the day, proofreading for spelling and grammatical errors…because I’m not an animal.

I finished it and saved it. Then closed my laptop.

I slept soundly that night, had amazingly vivid dreams, and woke up happy and feeling lighter. This is a practice that my therapist has encouraged, almost since day one, as a way to unburden my feelings about my ex. Write the letter to get it out, to put it into words, to breath life into it. Then make the choice. Send it, keep it or burn it.

It doesn’t matter what you do with it, just write the letter.

So, my therapist actually does know what she’s talking about and this isn’t some new age, hippy-dippy shit? Wow, who knew?!

And after that glorious night of sound sleep and exotic dreams, I had an epiphany. It truly came into stark focus for me while I was driving to the grocery store.

I am no longer that 25 year old, so why am I still dating like one??

When we date in our twenties or thirties we have a goal. We may not fully admit it, but we do have a goal. Find “the one”, get married, buy a house, have kids and live a “grown up life” for the next 50 plus years. Maybe not necessarily in that order, but the list is pretty much the same across the board.

Everyone is doing it in some way during that early stage of adult life.

The epiphany is realizing that I have already done my list. I have met and married someone, who was “the one” at the time, had and raised my children, bought and sold many houses, and moved many times. Basically, created a life around building a family unit. It was great at the time, I loved my life and the life we were designing, but I never truly considered that maybe there were other options or other roads I could have travelled and been just as happy. Or possibly more fulfilled.

But now, in my fifties, it’s not about babies and houses and building a life. I built a life – more than once now, thanks to getting divorced – so what’s my goal this time?

What does “the one” look like for me at this stage of life? What are his values, his lifestyle expectations, his goals? Do I want to live with someone again, or would I be better suited to live alone? Maybe I will want to get married again, someday. But I know for certain it’s not right now, or anytime soon.

That’s when it hit me. I needed to take my foot off the relationship pedal and just coast, enjoy the ride. Stop trying to future plan when I’m not even sure I want a future with anyone at this point, or have any idea what I really want it to look like.

Maybe this time I can just embrace the journey? No plan or map in mind.

No promises, no commitments, no expectations. Just be with someone who makes me happy, gives me a reason to smile, makes me laugh. Someone who I can share a part of my life with, make room for, without giving up the life I already have built. Without losing myself completely.

And of course, someone to have amazing sex with would be a bonus.

Sometimes we get so busy doing what we are “supposed” to do, or what we’ve been lead to expect is the “normal” way for things to happen, that we can forget to just stop and appreciate the beauty of what we have in front of us. We get too tied up in worrying that we’re not doing it right, or that we are wasting our time somehow.

But is it really wasted time if we are continuing to learn from the experience?

This is a relatively new class in the school of life, a class filled with more mature students who have no idea what they signed up for or what to expect, and the textbook is pretty much non-existent. But unlike the love/relationship classes we took in our youth, with all of the expectations and rules of engagement pre-determined by the generations before us, this time we have the opportunity to make our own rules and write our own textbook.

To reinvent and reimagine what it can be. Now. In our fifties and beyond.

Lessons

There are a couple of words of dating and relationship advice I have given to my brothers when we were much younger, and now I impart the same insight to my sons.

Don’t say you’ll call her, if you won’t.

And don’t say you love her, if you don’t.

But now that I am back in the dating pool, I’d like to add one more…

Don’t future talk with her if you don’t plan to make it happen.

I don’t have a rhyme for that one…

The door has opened

It’s been a little more than three months now from our first date.

It seems like eons ago right now, with the changing seasons and the pandemic slowing everything to a crawl. Time moves almost imperceptibly some days, to the point that you can forget what day or month it is if you don’t pay attention, and shifting weather patterns make it more confusing. The ongoing repetition of daily life blurs the lines.

Four months ago, I started out with the goal to “just date”.

I needed to feel alive again. I’m not going to lie, I needed to feel wanted, attractive, engaging, busy, desired, etc. I needed to fill in the dead space, or maybe just to stretch my boundaries and expand my world a bit. I needed to find the girl that was lost on the way to becoming a wife and a mother. I needed to laugh and smile like I used to so long ago.

No husband now, and my babies are almost fully grown. Time to figure out my next life.

Friends are fun, I have a healthy variety from many avenues of my life, but dating is different. It’s a different skill set, utilizing another side of your brain, your heart, your soul. It opens up the light inside of you, like a refrigerator light that only turns on when the door opens, a light that I was definitely dimming the last few years (or more).

I needed to open the door.

I was never a “dating around” type of girl when I was younger, I’ve joked that I have been a serial monogamist, but that was then and this is now. Life has changed, the rules have definitely changed, and we are all older and supposedly wiser now. So it just makes sense to cast a wider net and fish around for awhile, doesn’t it? Why aim to settle down, or to look for “the one”, when I’m not even sure I’m ready for it?

Do I have room for another person in my life right now?

So I dated and chatted with more than a few men, for a few weeks. A few first dates, a couple of second and third dates, but only one that went beyond. I continued looking, swiping, texting, chatting, but I kept coming back to him for some reason, and slowly stopped connecting with new men online. It just didn’t feel right to me.

Let’s see where this goes, no expectations, just curious…

I will admit that I also went into this with my guard up. My online profile said that I was looking for “chatting, dating, casual dating and don’t really know”. Kind of a broad selection, I know. But I didn’t really know what I wanted or was looking for at the time I wrote my first bio. The only thing I did know is that I didn’t want to commit to the idea of a “LTR” – longterm relationship – up front, that sounded much too scary and too deep for me.

I don’t need someone looking for a new wife.

So now that I am closing in on seeing someone for three months, and we’ve been out or together almost weekly in the last two months, I have started to notice the old expectations creeping back in. Old as in the last time I was dating, over 25 years ago.

It was different then, obviously.

I’m trying to stay “casual”, but I really don’t know how to define that once you’ve become intimate with someone. Is it casual because you don’t call it exclusive? Is it casual until you’re willing to introduce each other to your friends and family? Does casual imply that we can expect to still be dating other people while we are sleeping with each other? Can or do we sleep with other people??

Once again, we are in the middle of a pandemic, so safety becomes a factor to consider.

It’s a tough conversation to have, one that I am definitely out of practice of doing if I ever was in practice, which brings up another question: when do we have that conversation – three months, six months or further down the road?

In the last month or so he has sprinkled conversations with little bits of future talk, making possible plans for vacations and holidays, mentioning that my name came up while he was talking to his mom about Christmas…

But then, he will flake on me and cancel for a weekend date a day or two before.

And not text or be in contact for days…

Is there some sort of secret language that I needed to learn before beginning this odyssey? I have watched more relationship and dating coach YouTube videos by now, and read more books and blogs about relationships than I ever dreamed I would, trying to decipher the messages and read between the lines. I am an avid student when I am motivated to learn or feel I am missing out on key information.

For the most part I feel good when I am with him, secure, connected and happy…until he backs out or puts me on the sidelines.

Two steps forward, one step back.

Or maybe this is part of the “casual” dance, and there are other partners dancing along with us. Partners I am unaware of at this point. Not my partners. His partners that fill in the other days/nights, fulfilling other needs, or maybe just his need to be wanted and fill up his dance card to make up for lost time in his youth, or during his marriage? We both have families and friends, along with work and other commitments, so being busy is a given.

But too busy to be with someone you’re investing in emotionally?

Then again, was he really ever investing in me “emotionally” or did I just want to believe he was, we were?

A few long talks about his family, his job, his hobbies…is that investing emotionally or is that just filling in space and time while you’re together? Or is it part of the ‘girlfriend experience’, all of the fun and connection without the commitment? I honestly don’t know, I have no way to measure or compare at this point in my life.

I’ve been trying to ignore the real message: he’s just not that into you. Ouch.

Sadly I tried not to be that into him at first, I stayed reserved and cautious, and kept my family life separate until I felt ready. Baby steps in my view, but maybe I sent a different message that I didn’t see him as worthy of being let into my private world or to get too close to me? And now that I am ready, now that my door has cracked open and the light is glowing in that thin sliver, I may have missed the window of opportunity to go to the next level. To be considered girlfriend material.

Is it my fault? Maybe.

I created the environment to keep things at a distance, to play it cool and casual, in the name of protecting myself. Trying not to get too caught up in someone too soon, not really knowing what I wanted in this arena. After a twenty year marriage that blew up in my face, it shouldn’t be too surprising, but everyone has baggage at this age and fears of the unknown when it comes to new relationships. I’ve always been a late bloomer, a little slower to catch on in relationships, waiting for the right signal without really knowing what it will or should look like.

Tough lessons to be learning in your fifties.

But lessons that need to be learned to be ready for the next time, the next romance, the next connection. After a period of beating myself up for missing the clues, not reading the signals or jumping in too quickly, I will dust myself off and try again. But I will go into it this time with newly discovered expectations, newly decided boundaries.

A little smarter, a little more experienced. It will get easier, right?

Still, sad that this is how it ends. Not with a bang, not really ghosting, just a slowly fading interest. The rubber band stretching farther and farther each time. This time not springing back as easily, possibly snapped?

But the door has been opened, and I have seen and felt the low warm glimmer of light from inside, and it gives me hope.

Can I change my answer?

Beginning the online dating journey, only a few months ago, one of the first of many questions I had to answer was “what are you looking for?”

Hmmm…

That’s tough to put into words at this point. Not sure if this is in the drop down menu:

I want to date. Just that. Go out with new people (okay men) and have a reason to get dressed in more than sweats or jeans and t-shirt. A little motivation to put on makeup, maybe a little perfume, and definitely wear earrings.

I’m “looking for” a purpose in my day, or night, every so often. Not everyday, just something to look forward to in the week besides the next episode of Rick and Morty, or reruns of Shameless on Netfilx.

My tastes in entertainment are diverse to say the least.

I’m looking for someone to talk to, other than my two teenaged sons and two cats – neither of which are decent conversationalists…unless they’re hungry. I would love to have a conversation about something other than what’s for dinner, what we’re watching on TV tonight or discussing when was the last time they took a shower, did their laundry or brushed their teeth.

I’m looking for someone who makes me smile. Makes me laugh, and not just that polite type of laughing you do at cocktail parties or with your boss at the after hours events, like real from the heart belly kind of laughter. Shared laughter though, not just me laughing while they are doing a “bit” trying to be funny (we’ve talked about this…)

I’m looking for someone to share my world, and who will also share their world with me, but slowly. I don’t want a whirlwind romance (been there, done that) but a slow warming up to eventually a full cozy fire that we keep feeding. I guess we’d call that intimacy, but from our hearts and souls, not just our bodies.

And that brings us to the big ask, once you’ve made it to the intimacy level of dating, there should be great sex.

Yes, “great” not luke warm this will work kind of sex. To be with someone who will ignite my passion and make my heart flutter just thinking of being with them – to feel their touch, their kiss, their breath on the back of my neck. To enjoy each other enough to allow for laughter, deep talks, and playful exploration while still feeling every nerve ending opening up to receive their touch, their kiss. An experience that gives me a reason to smile, in the middle of the day, as I replay it in my mind while I fold laundry, go grocery shopping or cook dinner.

Connection, not just the mechanics of sex, that’s what I am truly searching for.

But that comes after the dating part has progressed, obviously. I’m not a sex on the first date kind of woman, but I’m realizing now that maybe I should hold off until after date four, or five or ten…? Still figuring that one out, sadly.

It’s a case by case decision I realize now.

But at the end of filling out the dating profile, I end up putting “casual, chatting, dating” avoiding the terms “relationship, long term relationship” because I don’t know who I will meet this way, so it was hard to say in the beginning. I don’t want to attract someone desperate to be in a relationship, someone I may disappoint by not being as ready as they are for next level relationship goals, or worse someone who will try to overtake my life in the name of love.

It’s a delicate balance, I know.

Now that I’ve dated for a short while, and recently experienced much of what I was looking for with someone, without realizing I was actually looking for it, I want to change my online answer.

I will change my answer. Casual is not enough.

It’s fun in the beginning, but only works if you don’t meet anyone who truly lights up your world or ignites a spark, and it gets old fast. Around the three month mark statistically, from what I’ve been researching through books and online dating coaches, because I don’t trust that I will figure things out on my own. I’m in new territory, in the dating wild, and I need the right tools for my survival so I ask friends, google, read, watch videos…basically, research the hell out of things.

It’s a personality flaw I suppose, but one I can’t stop myself from doing.

There are too many unspoken conversations in the name of keeping things light and casual. To keep it comfortable and easy. But those unspoken words hang there between you, waiting to be asked and answered, and eventually cannot be ignored. Or they are ignored, until it’s too uncomfortable, so you move on to the next “casual” relationship.

Wash, rinse, repeat. No discussion, no explanation. Just move on.

I need more. I want more. But I didn’t know what I wanted until I didn’t get it.

I get it now.

What are the rules again?

What’s the best way to tell someone you’ve gone out on a date with that you’re not interested in seeing them again? And when is it acceptable to deliver this message, after the first date or the second? What about after the third date?

What if you’ve slept with them by the third date, can you decide then, or is that considered rude and bad form and now you should wait…?

But for how long?

Are there general rules that we should all be adhering to, one size fits all style, or is it a case by case thing?

Dating is hard. For all of us. Not just for you, not just for me, for all of us. But still, why do the somewhat simple things have to be so freaking hard?

I’ve been “dating” the last few months, and have tried to be kind and considerate, and careful with my words and my delivery when I don’t feel the “spark”. I am not a ghoster, and I promise that I never will be, because that’s a whole new level of wrongness. I’ve been the recipient of that practice more than once, and it’s horrible and inconsiderate.

The sting of it stays with you much longer than you would like, too.

I will not be mean or cruel, saying something rude or ignorant to deliver the message either, I have never been that way. I was not a “mean girl” in high school and I am not going to be one now as an adult.

I also refuse to use the old, steady, tried and true “it’s not you, it’s me” line.

It is definitely me.

I know it’s me making the choice, making this decision and speaking or texting these words. I am making it with full awareness of the end result, and I am good with that.

Really.

I have delivered this type of message only a few times over the last few months, basically deciding not to waste someone else’s time just to go out for another lunch/dinner/drinks. I don’t need to be entertained at some else’s expense, and honestly my time is valuable too, so I don’t want to waste days/nights that I am away from my family with someone that I don’t see a possible future relationship happening, even a short term one.

You’re welcome.

This isn’t a job search. I won’t be conducting follow up interviews or checking references. I don’t “need” to fill a vacancy, actually we’ve done away with that “position” and our company is much happier and more productive now! Thank you for your inquiry.

You would think that most men would be relieved to receive this news early on, in the beginning dating stages, before any real emotional attachment could happen, or is expected to begin.

You would be wrong.

I truly thought I was being a good, caring, considerate person by letting the other person know this, setting them free to pursue others and continue on with their dating life – online or otherwise. In other words, don’t delete your dating profile yet!!

It’s not even technically a break-up at this point, is it? So why is this so hard??

I have been met with not necessarily disagreement, more like disbelief and questioning of my sanity or my decision making ability. Really.

I have been told that I am making a mistake, and didn’t give it enough time to really know. We had gone on one lunch date, but prior to that had talked and texted for a couple of weeks before meeting in person. I knew his whole life story by then, the good the bad and the ugly, and thought that maybe this was a good thing. Less surprises down the line possibly? He seems open and honest, and that’s always a good thing, right?

Sadly, the in person interaction made the decision for me.

The details aren’t important, but I knew by the time I left that lunch date that I would not go out with him again. And it made me sad. Sad that I felt we had connected so well texting and talking on the phone, he seemed sensitive and caring and had a really good heart, but it wasn’t enough to support his in person version.

I was disappointed in the entire online dating process at this point.

Lesson learned? Don’t spend days/weeks (or months…that’s a whole different story) texting and talking to someone before meeting them. It creates a lot of build up, that will most likely fall flat when you do finally meet in person. Save yourself the trouble, and the invested time, and just meet for coffee for a quick assessment of chemistry. One hour at most. So much time (and feelings) saved that way.

I have learned…but that hasn’t stopped me from making other mistakes, obviously.

This one was pretty easy overall, a few texts later to politely explain and decline another date, and he backed off. We’re still in touch, on a friend level, which worked out better than I expected in the beginning. I was still pretty stumped by his reaction, but as they say, it could’ve been worse.

Which takes me to the latest one…

I did the initial quick drink date to get a feel for chemistry this time, and that seemed to go well, lasting longer than I expected in a good way, which lead to a second date. That also seemed to go well, a day spent walking the city and having lunch, we spent four or five relaxed hours together.

We had great banter, he called and texted equally which was refreshing and fun.

He was a little too “hands on” for my comfort level from the start, touching and kissing me as if we’d known each other much longer, but as usual I explained that feeling away by telling myself that it wasn’t necessarily wrong it was just different, and maybe I needed “different” this time around. Expressive affection shouldn’t be a deal breaker.

Another learning moment: communicate your boundaries. (Still working on this one.)

I found his acerbic sense of humor interesting and funny…until it wasn’t. It started to feel like an ongoing stand-up comedy routine that I was continuously being roped into playing along. Anything to keep us laughing, to highlight his sarcastic sense of humor, which can be just plain exhausting. Some of his comments about my life and where I lived started to have an edge to them, too. I tried to override the feeling, thinking I was over-generalizing his personality, so I agreed to a third date.

I have to say, I should’ve called it after the second date, I know that now.

He was obviously not over his last relationship, having just gotten out of a long term live-in arrangement only weeks before meeting me. His texts were getting more and more personal and uncomfortably intimate within a couple of weeks, which should have tipped me off, but I still carry a few old habits of going along with the program to be nice, and trying not to be too quick to make a character judgement. I also get caught up in the idea that maybe I am over-thinking things, thanks to many friends and family telling me so over the years, and I convince myself to just relax and let things play out.

Ignoring my gut, basically.

But a third date was on the books, at his apartment for dinner. I knew what that meant, I’ve googled enough dating coaches and websites to get the gist, but I went anyway figuring I would cross that bridge when I got there.

I crossed it alright…

Another learning moment, I am no longer the young twenty-something who “owes” anyone anything. Time to stop this guilt train that leads to regrettable sex. Ugh.

So, I had to find a way to tell him that I no longer wanted to pursue this relationship. Only three dates in, but now I’ve complicated things with sex.

But, wait a minute…don’t guys do this kind of stuff all of the time?? This shouldn’t be a big deal to him, should it?

ummmm…yeah, I guess it can be.

After a half hour phone conversation I couldn’t bring myself to say what I was thinking because again, banter and laughter, that lead to a long polite text explaining why I no longer wanted to see him, which lead to another phone conversation that ended with him telling me he wouldn’t “try to change your mind”.

That’s a relief…or so I thought.

He proceeded to text me every couple of days afterward, with snarky comments about setting him up with single friends in my neighborhood (I don’t have any single, unattached friends in this state, by the way) or to tell me that I “owe” him a drink at the brewery we went to on our first date.

Owe him for what?? For not wanting to see him or sleep with him again?

I answered politely to the first couple of texts, because I am not a total bitch, but then it was beginning to feel aggressive and pushy. He wanted to set up a date for a drink – I thought we had covered this idea, that I no longer wanted to date him?

After the first few texts, and some coaching from my single friends (in other states), I stopped responding. Essentially, ghosting him. Ugh.

This is so not who I am, or who I want to be, but left without many other feasible options it seemed to be the best idea. It worked, thankfully. (knock on wood…)

Dating is hard enough, and stressful enough, at any age but I will add that in our later years it carries a lot more baggage with noticeably different expectations than we had in our twenties. Not to mention that some of us are starting from square one, usually after a very long hiatus in a longterm marriage, leaving us feeling very naked, unprepared and incredibly vulnerable in this arena.

The main rule in dating should just be basic social etiquette.

Be kind, be considerate, be honest. Accept when things don’t work out and move on to the next opportunity, without malice or guilt inducing conversations.

We shouldn’t need a slideshow presentation to get that point across.

Random texter

I was home alone, with mixed feelings about being home alone, trying to stay busy while also trying to enjoy the quiet of an empty house. A delicate balance.

It was too quiet though…

It was my ex’s birthday, and my kids were with him to celebrate as expected, most likely in some elaborate way as he now made a habit of doing since our divorce.

Still too quiet…

Then a text came through, from an unknown number. I get quite a few telemarketing calls and unknown numbers, since my phone number is from our previous move, and I never changed it after moving to another state. I know when I know someone from that area code, and I didn’t know this one.

But it was a text. And it simply said “Hey”.

I thought about it for a minute or two, trying to decide if it was a scam or telemarketing ploy, before responding “Hey”. Safe enough to see what happens.

I also considered that I had just gotten a new phone and all of my contacts may have not made the move over, because I’m kind of a tech idiot sometimes, maybe I did know this person? Maybe it was a previous contact from my first dating attempt so long ago?

“What’s up?”

I replied that I have a new phone and the name isn’t coming up…”Lol I’m a random person. I was just bored so I texted a random #. Care to chat? Lol”

That’s a new twist, funny too, didn’t see that coming.

Why not chat with an unknown texter? What else was I doing besides feeling sorry for myself, while debating about how many beers or glasses of wine was acceptable to drink before 5pm, while laying on the couch?

Our conversation went from that funny moment to something much deeper very quickly.

“Did you know being bored is a form of depression?”

“actually yes I did”

“Wow you’re smart. Lol most people don’t know that when I tell them”

“I’ve learned a lot about depression over the last few years”

True that. I have learned more than I ever expected or desired, to be honest. Hell, I was sitting there bored and slightly depressed when this text came through. Is the universe trying to tell me something?

Our texting continued, becoming more of an online therapy session pretty quickly. My random texter divulged that they suffer from depression, along with panic attacks, that was all too familiar to me.

We shared small details about ourselves, but enough to realize that neither of us was truly alone in what we felt, or what we went through. Sadly, it’s not that unusual to be sad, depressed, anxious and stuck in a bad relationship.

I offered the idea of therapy, explaining that it changed my life and my mental health, admitting that maybe had I done it sooner I possibly would have left my emotionally/mentally abusive marriage years earlier.

Even if you don’t get the right therapist the first time, which I didn’t, you needed to keep trying until you find someone that fits. Which I eventually did and it made all the difference in the world.

They even have apps for it now, I quickly found and shared by text.

Over the course of our texting conversation they revealed that they were in an abusive relationship, the last few years of a seven year relationship, and could not see a way to get out of it. That’s when my texter also revealed that “they” were in fact a woman, she had talked to friends and family about her situation over the last couple of years, only to hear the same suggestion, “just leave him”.

But it’s not that easy.

Statistically, it takes seven times for a victim to leave their abuser for good.

SEVEN times.

Early on, after my divorce, I had taken a 40 hour domestic violence training course with the idea (and hope) that I could eventually help other women break the cycle. It was hard to do, some of it triggering me, a reaction that I never expected, to the point that I would sometimes leave and cry in my car before driving home.

It unearthed so many buried memories, some that dated back to my childhood and the violence that I witnessed between my parents and my aunts and their partners, and some non-violent memories from my own marriage. I could feel my skin prickle, my brain begin to spin, and my stomach churn as I sat quietly at my six foot table surrounded by other women probably feeling the same things.

Quietly. Too quietly sometimes.

I had no idea how it had truly affected me until the bandaid was unknowingly ripped off with this course. I never took the next step to volunteer at the shelter, as much as I had planned to and wanted to, I was too unsure that I could handle it or be helpful at that point. I was too raw, too affected.

But that was then, and this is now. I’m a stronger, more healed version of myself now.

We texted for awhile longer, she asked if I was a doctor because I knew so much, but I assured her that I was just another woman with a lifetime of experiences to back me up. No PhD here.

She asked me if it ever gets better, and I am here to say that yes, it does.

She asked me how I will make sure that the next time I am in a relationship I will see the signs before it becomes toxic or abusive. I told her I didn’t really know. We just have to try our best, to learn from our previous experiences, and to give ourselves permission to walk away – or to push them away.

Creating boundaries of what is acceptable, for ourselves, even if it makes you feel like you’re being “difficult” is the key to your mental health and safety.

I told her that I’ve gone over the red flags from my marriage, and the dating that took place before, and I am using them as a starting point. I no longer make excuses for poor behavior or mistreatment that makes me feel bad about myself any longer.

“I need to get like you lol”

Yes, she does. And with the right help, she will. Hopefully.

A few months went by, the pandemic and quarantine had just begun, but she was always in the back of my mind, wondering if she had made the move to get out of it. Hoping that she was safe and healthy, and not stuck somewhere with her abuser.

During the pandemic and quarantine there has been a documented uptick in the number of calls to the domestic violence hotlines, as well as increased numbers of injuries being documented in the hospitals.

This is a dangerous time for current victims of domestic abuse, they have nowhere to go and their abusers are more likely to be home with them all day and night, leaving them little opportunity to seek help.

The possibilities are endlessly disturbing and frightening.

I texted her to let her know that I was just thinking about her and hoping that she was well. She responded and said she was well, which gave me a small bit of relief. Then again, what was I going to do if she wasn’t?

I didn’t even know her name. Or where she lived.

A few more months went by and she texted me out of the blue, “…thanks for the time you spoke with me that really made my day & I still think about it occasionally…”

She signed her name.

She now has a real name in my contacts, with the title “random texter” for reference. She sounded happier, upbeat, and that made me glad. Still not sure of her relationship status, but it wasn’t my place to question just to be there if she needed support.

Then last weekend, I woke up to a new text, “Hey! Good news. Yesterday was my birthday I turned 24 and also ended my abusive relationship…I had to basically teach myself self love while in an abusive relationship and you were one step of the way in the journey.”

I cried.

Tears of joy, and relief. Disbelief too.

It all started with a random text.