Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving: Where receiving can be as important as giving.


The abundance of Thanksgiving posts out there pre-Thursday turned off my writing switch. All the pertinent topics had been covered, ranging from the obvious gratitude articles to the difficult travel day posts. I posted a link to one I particularly liked called, “Can you be thankful for what you don’t have?” to my Facebook page because it inverted the way we normally think on Thanksgiving. On a regular day, when we see another person’s misfortune, it’s easy to tell ourselves, “I should be grateful. Thank goodness that didn’t happen to me, or someone I love.”  But does that really work? Perhaps such thinking is superficial. It rushes out of our heads as quickly as it rushes in. It sometimes makes us push aside legitimate grievances, out of guilt, and allows us to avoid dealing with our reoccurring issues. But only for a moment.

In the weeks preceding this holiday, I’ve been a mopey brat, and I haven't liked it one bit. I’ve been feeling sorry for myself, despite all the tangible good things I could check off on a list. It bothered me. Because in the years since my divorce - where I was close to rock bottom - I’ve taken warm pride in discovering the joys of gratitude. Gratitude has come in the smallest and most random forms: a surprise phone call from a relative, connecting with a stranger, a perfectly formed sentence, the fact that my parents answer the phone because they can, and the ability to be present for a friend in need. But in the past few weeks, none of these things were working. Why?

Oh, break-up blues is an easy one, right? But how long is that card good for? My ex-cub and I broke up over two months ago. So what if I’m going to be “alone” for the holidays, when last year he and I spend Thanksgiving and Christmas together. So what if going home to NJ, where everyone is married with children underscores my “differentness.” So what if (per my last post) the dating scene looks bleak and I’m not getting any younger.  So what if I’m not feeling impassioned by my day job or my writing on the side job. At least I have a job where I work with people I adore. At least I wrote a novel. What more could I ask for?

All of the above is 100% true, yes. But does this kind of talking to yourself really work? Does it automatically lift your spirits, like a “snap the F out of it” switch was flipped?

For some people, it totally works, like for my father, and some men I know. When my sisters and I were little girls and we’d cry over a boy or missing our camp friends, my father used to say to us (and he still does), “Who died?”

That used to frustrate the hell out of me. “Why does someone have to die, Dad, for me to be sad? Don’t I have a right to be sad when things aren’t going my way?”

On Thanksgiving morning, I woke up to the sun shining (ok- well at least it wasn’t raining) and my dog licking my face. My older sister and her family were in the city for a Bat Mitzvah (on Thanksgiving?) and were picking me up to drive to my parents.  I had something to look forward to. Two hours of traffic, yes, but in a car filled with my nieces and nephew fighting over my Blackberry (I didn’t even know there were games on it) and iPad (the smudgy fingerprints after wards are worth it), playing with apps that my ex-cub had had the foresight to download (“for the kids”). I felt my gloom start to lift, although there was still a nagging ache. Then a friend of mine, who went through a divorce when I did, messaged me that she was feeling down. Her sincere email, on any other day, would be something I would hungrily indulge, where I'd give advice and talk about how I feel the same way. What are we doing with our lives? What is going to happen? We are in our late thirties and still processing these damn divorces? But after I got her email, it hit me. “No. No,” I replied. “Sorry, but I’m not going to feel sorry for you.” Or myself, I thought. “We have so much to be thankful for.” (I had to wrestle my Blackberry out of my niece’s hands to write this, but still). “You have to let the good stuff in,” I wrote. “But first you need to see it, in order to receive it. So get that dark shit out of the way and make room!” (Huh. Good stuff, Cougel, I thought to myself, before hitting ‘send.’) My girlfriend, rather than taking offense, thanked me. The light bulb went on, for both of us, and I was grateful for her message – a necessary mirror to my own unfounded self pity - and grateful to have her in my life.

My mother made a beautiful meal and decorated the table with brown leaves (it’s the thought that counts). She was pleased to see me eat seconds. And pleased to see that I’d put on some weight, “You don’t look sick anymore,” she said.  After dinner, we watched “The Godfather,” although watching my father laugh and gesticulate while reciting the lines is better than the movie. And then, since we were sitting around with newspapers and laptops, I decided to reinstate my J-date account. Maybe there’s something to be said for a dating site that attracts people from the same culture, whom can actually pay for the service. What a revelation!  I even let my mother sit next to me so we could look through all the profiles together. I expected her to say, “What’s wrong with him?” every time I dismissed someone, but this time, to my surprise, she nodded and said, “You know best, mamaleh.”  I even let her chime in on what photos I should include (she nixed the one where I was holding a martini glass in my hand).

I thought back on the post I had read a few days prior, “Can we be thankful for what we don’t have?” and to my pleasant surprise, I didn’t need to conjure up all the bad things that thankfully hadn't happened to me - or list the tangible "good things" -  in order to be thankful for what was right in front of me.   



Thursday, November 18, 2010

Dating in NYC: WTF?


I’ve had this conversation a lot lately, so I thought I’d commit it to paper (er, the web). 

What is wrong with the dating scene in New York? Is it me, or is true that (I quote friends),“Men in NY are retarded, or at best, weird?”  I know men complain about the same thing in regards to women, and I’m convinced there is truth to that too. Is it the climate of this city, or is it the kinds of people it attracts? Do we all share a common restlessness or fantasy that something “better” is just around the corner, preventing us from committing to one person? Or does it have nothing to do with us. Is there just something in the tap water? (Maybe I should be ordering sparkling.)

The upside is that because it’s so difficult to meet available, age appropriate men that aren’t d-bags (and women that aren’t bat shit) a lot of New Yorkers go online to find a mate. So I thought I’d try that too. There’s a fairly new dating site that I heard was cool, free, with more “creative types” (which sometimes translates into narcissistic and poor). Here are some examples of profiles I’ve come across on said site:

1.  “I am a very together kind of guy. I am very passionate yet controlled. I have a good head on my shoulders and in my pants.”

2.  “In the course of doing psych testing with a 10 year old boy I was told I had ‘gay hands.’”

3. “I’m really funny. I’m a comedy writer. It might not show in what I’m writing here but trust me.”

4. “I’m living paycheck to paycheck...except without the paycheck. I care for my elderly cat, who has many health issues. He is my soul mate.”

5. “If you’ve read this far, I think it’s okay to say I’m on this site for sex.  I'm very fit. I’m not interested in a relationship. I don’t want kids. I don’t like dogs.”

6. “I'm educated and cultured, fun and funny, and have my fecal matter together for the most part.”

So many options! How is a girl to choose?

My friend met a guy on Match. His profile specified “straight” but we all suspected otherwise.  After more than five dates, where he expressed serious interest in her and had another date on the books, he disappeared.  My friend was worried about him. When he finally surfaced six days later, he apologized: “I had family visiting from abroad. We went to see Billy Elliot! I loved it so much!” Another friend of mine’s date brought his two Chihuahuas with him to dinner. And then to bed. I just had a first (and last) date with a dude who brought me to a restaurant he "semi-owned" (shoulda been my first clue), where he proceeded to put his hands all over the female manager whenever she came by our table, and called her when we left. There’s also a longer story I won’t mention here, where a guy eyed my smooth arms, asked if I shave them, then told me he shaves his legs. And not because he’s a swimmer.

I realize this might come off as mean-spirited, but who can ignore the humor in all of this? Yes, these men are being honest I guess, but if you’re trying to woo a woman, there are some basic things you should know, such as, if you’re a strange bird and you kinda know it, “Be yourself!” is not the best course to take. 

When people ask me how it's going, and I explain what I am up against, they recommend the following:

Mom: Why don’t you join AIPAC or the JCC so you can meet Jewish men? Go to lectures about the holocaust!
Sister: You should become a tri-athlete!
Sister 2:  Take a cooking class.
Friend: Why don’t you move to S. Africa?

New York, I love you. But at this rate, maybe I should try the latter.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Have you already met your match, but screwed it up?


The word “bashert” is a word I’ve heard for as long as I can remember. It’s Yiddish for “pre-destined” (i.e. the person we are intended to marry).  My first thought, based on where I am today, is to say that having this idea, this goal or fantasy implanted in a person at such a young age can only lead to disappointment; to the bubble bursting, where we marry someone we “think” is right when we are too young to know – or know ourselves – only to come crashing down later. Or, it leads us to the waiting game, where we hold down the single fort, searching for the right person and potentially missing the boat – or blinding us from seeing who is right (even when that “Mr. Right for me” is actually standing right in front of us).

It took me fourteen years of commitment to my ex-husband, and almost four years of healing and growing afterwards, which includes being in other relationships, to go from believing that he was wrong for me - that he was in no way my bashert - to wonder if perhaps he was.

Record scratch.

Let me back up.  I don’t say that lightly, nor do I say that with sadness or regret. I just find myself wondering, after having finally been around the dating block (which I missed out on in my twenties), if I met my ex-husband today – if we were set up or met on Jdate - if we’d actually be a really good match. Come to think of it, out of all the lame set ups and disappointing dates I’ve had, he’d be a great call. I’d put money down that we’d probably get past the elusive date three, and maybe even be in a relationship.

Is that crazy? Maybe. I probably sound crazy saying this, but I’ll bet I’m not the only divorced woman whose mind this has crossed. Important note: this feeling does not stem from nostalgia or romanticizing the past. This is called, I think, an outcome of living, experiencing and learning what we actually want. If you marry young, like I did, how are you supposed to know what's right for you? And trust and faith, with no reference to compare what you have against, is a reach. The other and equally important point to make is that of course, if my ex-husband and I had met for the first time today, we would be different people. Different than who we were when we were 20, but also different than we would have been as a result of our marriage and divorce to one another.

According to orthodox Jewish belief (I heard this from my brilliant sister and bro-in law via conversations we have about marriage and love; I’m in no way an expert on this), Adam and Eve were bashert too. They were pre-ordained by God to be together; God had a master plan. 

Until the apple screwed it all up.

Is there a metaphorical apple in all relationships that fail? And does divorce represent a fail, or can intact marriages still be failing, without it being obvious? (Probably a different blog topic). Can two people actually be bashert, but they either don’t have the tools to recognize it, or the apple seduces their intentions away?

If I had to pick one thing (okay, two) apples in my marriage, it would be 1) marrying too young to know what we wanted, without a chance to evolve as individuals, and 2) Hollywood. My ex-husband and I wrote screenplays together. We shared the determination to make it in the movie business, and when we split, we both recognized that the moment we agreed to pursue that dream, we had made a deal with the devil. Or the snake. You get the analogy.

For those of you who read this blog, you already know that I don’t attempt to provide answers. Especially not on a topic as loaded as fate and destiny. But what l I can do is call to mind two quotes that might apply: “Wisdom is wasted on the old,” and “Be ready for your luck.” In other words, in order to acquire the tools - the intuition and the vision - to see when what is right for you is within your grasp, you have to experience life. You have to taste it. 

Even if it means taking a bite of the damn apple.    

Monday, November 8, 2010

Defriending your ex, and why anti-social media can be healthy.

I’m sure there have been a gazillion blog posts and articles written about breaking up in today’s world of social media.  The medium which allows us instant contact with friends, potential partners, and the ones we are in relationships with, can become our worst enemy when we break up.   

My cub and I broke up two months ago today (I’ve been rounding up to four because that’s what it feels like, although not in a positive way). But because of Facebook, Twitter, and Ichat, it was more like a sprain or a fracture at best, rather than a clean break.  Those apps give us the illusion of contact and connection. They allow us to delude ourselves into believing that although we are no longer together in the real world, in the virtual one – and that includes are minds – we still are. Any new status update or tweet, no matter how lame, can make your heart flutter with its promise of a new clue into what your ex is up to. Or at least you know he is alive; going to work, the gym, drinking coffee...and lots of beer.

You want to believe that he’s drinking all that beer because he’s still trying to get over you; because the slightest inkling of him having recovered so quickly cuts deep. You hold your breath when you check his page, praying you’re not going to see something else, like a post from a female name you don’t recognize with lots of xoxoxo. (Or worse, as with a previous ex of mine, a picture of him with a baby...His!) So you scour newly posted photos of bar revelry for signs of the guy brooding in the background as his friends are having a blast. But then you see reoccurring photos of him with the same brunette. So you check out this girl’s profile page. If she’s young, without the sense (or baggage) that warrants the need for privacy, you’re lucky. You can see all her photos, and then decide for yourself if she’s even worthy of your sexy exy.  Hopefully, she’s not as attractive as you, which makes you feel better. For like a minute. Because you know full well that pictures, particularly the Facebook series, can’t convey personality, how flirty she might be, and how vulnerable your ex is to such attention.

I could be ashamed to admit that I’ve been guilty of the above, but shame is not the point. The point is, that engaging in such fruitless behavior, when you know in your gut that you need to move on, is completely counter productive to healing. It allows us to leave the wound open, because closing it signals harsh finality.

For weeks I considered defriending my ex-cub, knowing it was distracting me, misdirecting my energy, and at low points, really upsetting me. But I couldn’t do it. I knew that it would shock him, not just because it would seem abrupt in the face of our amicable split, but because it would signal to him that I had taken the final necessary step and that our relationship, at least in the form it had been in for over three years, was over.  I also knew that it would signal to him that I not only needed to move on, which he had always been aware of, but that I was finally ready to.  

A friend, when encouraging me to remove him, said, “Just say no!” and I laughed because it made me think of the drug slogan. But social media, at its most harmful, is when we use it to numb the pain of heartbreak and the pain of confronting reality.  We hang on, perpetuating the habit by impulsively checking in (in the form of stalking), and it seems benign, but its cumulative effects - like a drug - are toxic. It pollutes our clarity, heightens our yearning, and weakens our resolve. 

I had to cut myself off. Knowing that by doing so, I would be cutting him off too.  Breaking up is hard enough, but enabling one another to remain stuck by keeping the break up wound open is in my opinion even worse.

So I did it. I defriended him. Big step for Cougel. As I write this, I realize how silly it is that I've allowed a social media application to expand to such monstrous proportions in my romantic life, but I'd be dishonest if I were to diminish its role. I'm sure I'm not the only one either. Let's call it like it is, right?

When I automatically got on Facebook the next morning, like I always do, and realized that I could no longer take a virtual stroll over to my ex, or scour the chat box to see if he was chattable, I laughed at the absurdity of it. What am I even doing here? Suddenly, Facebook felt pointless. But it also affirmed that by taking the step of removing him - a psychological obstacle to my growth - I had taken the step towards bettering myself.  So I moved my cursor up to that little "x" in the upper corner, clicked it, and closed the application.

How’s that for some closure?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Dreams: indicators of unresolved issues, or are we over thinking?


When I was in my early teens, I had a recurring dream of being chased by Nazis and dogs in the snow.  The first few times I assumed that the dream was due to extensive exposure to the Holocaust in my Jewish history classes, as well as at home. But eventually I wondered if I was dreaming about my great grandmother who had been exterminated in Auschwitz. I was interested in Psychology and when I learned about Jung’s theory of the “collective unconscious,” which states that a collective and universal psychic system exists (besides our personal reservoir of experience) that is inherited, I wondered if perhaps my great grandmother was reaching out to me through my dream - through time - to remind me of my heritage at a time when I must have needed it.

A dream with a similar theme has emerged in the last year. While I was dating my non-Jewish ex-cub (after a long marriage to a Jewish dude), I dreamed that I was running through the airport (I know, sounds like I’m always running…hmm...) to catch a flight to Israel, as the gate was closing.  I missed the flight each and every time.  I assumed this dream meant that I missed my relatives in Israel, or that I was trying to get to the place that for me feels the most like “home.”  But then when I dreamed that I had lost my passport and was therefore forbidden to board the plane, I realized there was more to it. I shared this dream with my wise brother-in-law, who said that my passport represents my Jewish identity, and that I’ve misplaced it. “Do you know who has your passport, Cougel?” he asked me. “No! Can’t you just tell me?” I begged. But he shook his head and smiled knowingly. The mystery was for me to unravel, and me alone.

Since my cub and I broke up and I’ve started opening myself up to dating men with a similar background (and religion) as me, the dream has ceased.  So does that mean that I’ve located my passport? Well, when I decided to rummage through my things to make sure, I found my actual passport in a box labeled “random shit” that happened to contain a picture of me on my 31st birthday, with my ex-husband on the day we got our puppy. Oooh!! How telling! Or, not. It actually confused me more.  I hoped that perhaps my next series of dreams would provide me with more clues.

No such luck. Instead, the new dreams are about reuniting with my ex-husband, whom I am not in contact with. His ghost is visiting me almost every night, and I’d love to find an ex-corsist whom can banish him from my psyche and grant me rest. The dreams are a mix of sadness and joy over our reconnecting; we are crying and laughing and happy to see each other. But in last night’s dream there was broken glass on the floor. What’s that mean? Does that symbolize the breaking of the glass under the chuppah? Could it be that obvious? These dreams are pissing me off in their relentlessness. I have a hunch that they’re related to the culmination and end of my novel writing process, which I began back when we separated.  There is no obvious metaphor there, but my gut knows the two are linked.  I’m sure some readers (dudes) out there are rolling their eyes reading this and thinking, “Dreams (or is it psychics?) are for women and fools.”  To which I reply, well, duh. I’m a woman…who feels foolish for being unable to hush up my dreams or unlock their meaning.  But I’d be more of a fool to ignore their persistent recurrences, wouldn’t I?  There’s obviously something in my waking life that I’m supposed to do, change, or at the very least, acknowledge. 

When I figure out what that is, I'll let you know. Or maybe I'll know more in the morning, after I dream some more. Night night.