Sunday, April 24, 2011

Should married people be giving divorcees advice?


 I was recently asked to write a piece for The Huffington Post/Divorce section (psyched!) and my topic choice, “How do you know when you’re over your divorce?” inspired me to write this post.

I am not suggesting that us divorcees are part of some special club, but we do have a unique experience that those who have not been through it can’t really understand. Fortunately for them, they just don’t get it. They attempt to guide us, when they have never been in our shoes. I suspect it’s no different in reverse. Should someone who has never been married give marital advice? Should someone who has never had children provide child-rearing tips? I guess they can, but whether you listen to it or not is your choice (or problem).

Three of my close girlfriends are divorced – we all split with our exes around the same time.  Two of them are now in serious relationships, and like me, they have pretty much healed. They have put their divorces behind them.

The only difference is, I’m still single. To some people, single is a condition that needs fixing. People close to me want to “help” me. They want me to be happy (even though I think that most of the time, I am), and they think if I find my next husband, like my divorced girlfriends have, I will be.   

I realize that their intentions come from a good place – love. I understand the ache, or the itch, to make a loved one’s burden lighter, and sometimes we can’t resist the urge to scratch it, even though it might not help.  

With the input of some fellow divorcees, here are some examples:

Divorced: “I got a really nice email from my ex-husband…after all this time…”
Married: “Maybe you two should go on a date.”

Divorced, no kids: “I’m thinking about going to a fertility clinic to discuss my options of having a kid.”
Married with kids: “Oh, is that the place where you can get some eggs?”

Divorced: “I had a dream that I saw my ex husband and we made up. I woke up really sad.”
Married: “Wow, I can’t believe you’re not over it yet.”

Divorced: “This guy I met on Match.com told me his last girlfriend called the cops on him after they had a fight, but that she’s the one that started it.”
Married: “Give him a chance.”

Divorced, no kids: “Wow, I can’t believe I’m going to be 40 this year. When I was married, I thought I'd have at least two kids.
Married with kids: “My friends started having kids at 44. You can have three.”

Divorced: “Sometimes it still hurts that my husband cheated on me.”
Married: “Didn’t you know that was going to happen? You can’t just travel for work all the time and expect your husband to stay faithful.”

Divorced: "I really want a child and my divorce has delayed everything."
Married with Kids: "Just do it. Pick anyone. It doesn't matter who.”


Divorced: " I'm sorry I haven't seen you for a while. Our friendship is important to me but it’s been tough and I needed space to process my divorce."
Married: "It's ok. I'm just going to pretend you went on vacation."

It's true that on the surface, none of the above suggestions seem constructive, or applicable. If we wanted stock advice, we could pick up a self help book (or read "Eat Pray Love").  Maintaining a close friendship with people who have never been in your shoes can be tricky...if you let it. I try not to expect any magical pearls of wisdom. We are the sole surivivors of our own history and experiences - no one else wakes up in our own skin.  And that's okay. That's how it's supposed to be. 

So I guess the choice is ours. We can put up a wall between us and the people we care about who "just don't understand," and protect ourselves from frustration. Or- we can choose to share, in order to nurture and sustain that relationship.

And if that means that suggestions are going to be offered, so be it. 

You may even be surprised that sometimes, if you stay open, a pearl of wisdom might sneak it's way in.
 






Saturday, April 16, 2011

Can being sick after a break up heal you?


Since I unloaded a significant amount of raw emotion in my last post about my break up, I’m keeping this one simple. For one, I don’t have a whole lot to say (believe it). Not much has happened in the last week, whereas usually, in the weeks following a break up, I’m brimming with random dating stories or revelations - a typical template for me. After my two break ups with my first cub, I hit the ground running. And by running, I mean running from myself – from my feelings. I signed up for Jdate, allowed myself to be set up (by anyone except my mother or her friends – no offense), and went out every single night with my single girlfriends. I wasn’t on the hunt for a new boyfriend, hell no. But I was definitely on the hunt for a distraction from my heartache, and allowed myself to indulge in this kind of escape for a good three weeks, before either stopping the madness, or settling back into a normal routine where I’d make time for my writing, my family, and my friends (the married ones too).

This break up, it turns out, is different. I’m not moping. I’m not really depressed either. I don’t know if it’s because I knew things were going south a month before we split up, and I got a headstart, or if it has nothing to do with the relationship at all. It probably has a lot to do with me, and that finally, maybe? I’m better at knowing what I need.  My life is full right now, without a boyfriend in it.

Or maybe, simply, I just wasn’t that into him.

I think we women can convince ourselves of almost anything. If we want a boyfriend, if we’ve decided that “it’s time,” we’ll hold on tight, despite the warning signs. I don’t think I did this with my ex, as evidenced by our swift break up, but I am probably guilty of allowing my agenda to obscure my doubts at the onset. I wanted a boyfriend. Period.

And so I had one. And it was really nice. Until it wasn’t.

So a day after we broke up, I got sick. And then I got better, for about four days, and then I got really sick. Looking back, this has happened to me with every single break up I’ve ever had. I’ve been told it’s my body “purging,” (that sounds gross), or that sorrow lowers the immune system.  I think it’s probably a bit of both. And the fact that New York seems to be forever stuck in winter.

But this time I was almost as sick as I was when my ex-husband and I split (five days of high fever and no voice…metaphor?). Not only did I have a painful sinus infection which disturbed my sleep and required antibiotics (and thus seven days of no alcohol), I also got pink eye (in both eyes), like a ten year old. Which meant I couldn’t be around people, and had to wear my dorky glasses and no make up. Not the best look for a newly single cougar. After a brief tantrum (“I can’t get sick now! I have a new job! I have to write on the weekends! I want to go out, I have all these plans! I want to go to parties and bars! Waah!”) I calmed down and embraced it as forced quiet time. 

For this break up, I had to do things differently. I couldn’t run from myself. I had to stay in, with my dog, my solitude, my books and my daydreaming, and once I settled into that, I realized how much I missed it.

It did occur to me that the magnitude of my illness post break up actually has no correlation to the magnitude of the loss. I wasn’t this ill because I was mourning some long lost love. I was ill because the universe (yes, the universe again) was sending me a message. This time, I needed to change my pattern. I needed to not default to my old ways. I needed to take a time out, and when we are in a rut, or merged with old habits, sometimes it takes an external force to get us to change.

So in a way, this forced detox helped me hetox too. And I needed both.

I guess we all cope with break ups in different ways. But I’m grateful to have discovered a better way. Obviously it helps that the guy and I didn’t share our lives yet. He had very few things in my apartment, and I can’t help but remember catching him on the morning we decided to break up, scanning the closets and counters to check if he had left anything behind, signaling that it was really over. He did forget his toothbrush though, and I haven’t thrown it away. Old toothbrushes are really good for cleaning tough stains on shoes. And toilets.  

I have two more days of hermitage to go, and I’m making the most of it. I managed to finish yet another revision on my book, and watch some really bad TV, a rare feat for me.

And so with my book off my plate once again, my health and my contact lenses back, I’ll be ready to get back out there. 

Hopefully the sun will too.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Another cub bites the dust.

I skipped a posting last week because I was sick, although in hindsight, that was probably a cover for the real reason. I think there was too much uncertainty roiling around in my subconscious, and I couldn’t work out what to tackle first. I also must have intuited that it was too early (and personal) to write about what was to come a few days later: a break up with my tall, young, sweet and Aidan-like goyfriend.

Most of my friends don’t know yet but the few that I've told reacted with the classic, “Whaattt?? What happened?!”  They were surprised. Things seemed to be going so well.

We all know that just because things look great on the outside, doesn’t always mean that they actually are.  Although to my boyfriend and I, on the inside, it was looking promising. We were going through the good relationship motions: checking in with one another, sleeping over, sharing stories, dining and wining together. When I was sick he bought me yellow tulips. The image of him standing by my bed, this huge guy clutching this tiny unbloomed bouquet makes my heart hurt.  I had given him a key to my apartment just a week before. 

He even met the Fockersteins, for god (his and mine) sake!   And afterwards, my mother went out of her way to Google 'Amazon' and send me a book, signifying that my man and I had a future, entitled “Marrying a Jew, from a Christian perspective.” I freaked. My goyfriend was on his way over and I found myself hiding the book and its receipt like it was porn. I emailed Mom to tell her that if I needed more information on interfaith relationships, I knew how to Google too, and could do so when I was ready.

My point is, I wonder if the visible increase in such niceties indicates that there is something wrong under the surface? How many times have you heard women express great shock over a break up, specifically because the guy “texted me just the night before to say he wanted to spend his life with me!” or “but we just planned a vacation to Hawaii!” Are we actually more emphatic, more lovey-dovey to our significant other, just before we break up with them? Is it denial, or are we overcompensating, in the hopes of eradicating our doubts?

Looking back, I think some of this was going on with us. We were ignoring the elephant in the room for a while (no not the Christian one…a cute image though. And by the way, if you think I’m avoiding the real reason we broke up, you are correct. I’m not going to go anywhere near that in a public post, out of respect for him, and because even for a blogger, there are some things that are really no body’s business.)  A year ago, with my last boyfriend, I could go a long time blissfully ignoring things – ignoring my gut. But not anymore. At least there is a silver lining to this breakup. Amidst the heartache, at least I know that my gut and I have become best friends – the kind of friend I listen to, who doesn’t project her own agenda, baggage, or neurosis on me like some friends tend to do.

My dad said it best: “I see you don’t sit on the pot too long anymore.”

When I told Mom we broke up, she surprised me. Rather than reacting with her predictable “Heeeeee!! Mah karah?” (“What happened?” in Hebrew…Mom switches to Hebrew for important subjects), she listened. 

And then in a soft patient voice she said, “Cougel, you will be okay. You’re strong and practical. You’ve been through a lot worse.” 

How true, I realized. After the end of a fourteen-year marriage, followed by a three-year relationship with a guy I was envisioning marriage number two with, the failure of a four-month relationship, no matter how in love I felt, doesn’t scare me.  I wonder if the loss of love hurts less with age and experience, or more, because the older we get, the greater our despair. Or perhaps the rate of our recovery correlates with the quality of the relationship itself, and how certain we are deep down that it just “wasn’t right.” Four days after my breakup, and judging by how I’m doing, I’m pretty certain that for me it was the latter.

It doesn’t mean I didn’t cry the day we broke up. After Mom and I hung up, I called her back to tell her one more thing: “By the way. I’m going to keep the book you sent me….for the next guy.”

Mom burst out laughing (I love that she can laugh at herself) and then I joined in. It felt good. Mom also knows there is some truth to my comment. The likelihood that my next boyfriend won’t be Jewish is no surprise, nor does it seem to freak my parents out anymore (Call it acceptance. Or learned helplessness. Either way, I’m glad).

The upside to all of this is that now I can start blogging more freely again, without worrying about respecting a boyfriend’s privacy (my own privacy, as evidenced by this blog, is fair game).  Although I doubt I will start online dating anytime soon, no matter how good the fodder is for my blog.

But when I do, you’ll know.