Sunday, July 31, 2011

Life, Take Two


On most Sunday mornings, I look back on the week I’ve had and think about what to post – whether there are emerging themes or repeat occurrences that are worth discussion. 

This past week was packed with what seemed to be a lot of disconnected events, all noteworthy in my mind, but not necessarily related. It kicked off with the passing of a dog I loved, at the young age of nine, who my dog played with as a pup when we lived in Los Angeles. My reaction (tears and an impulsive phone call to my friend) surprised me in its intensity. The obvious reason is it made me think of my own dog’s mortality (but also forced me to make an appointment for her exam which was overdue and drag us both to the vet at 7:30 on a hung-over morning). And then two other friends’ pets suddenly passed this week as well (without Facebook I would never have known).

Divorce is often compared to a kind of death – the death of one life, and the beginning of a new one.  And when the divorce is bitter and contact is terminated, the remaining vacuum and feelings of loss are akin to death too, which unfortunately is something I can relate to.  My ex-husband and I met in college, at the ripe young age of 18, and when we split 16 years later, the seven stages of grieving per Elisabeth Kubler-Ross (who I studied in my University Psychology classes) were unavoidable (although not as long, and surely not as deep and painful as an actual death of a loved one).

But a rebirth is inevitable too, as finally, thankfully, the last few years have been for me. I can always tell when I go home to New Jersey to visit with my family, who serve as truth check or mirror to what is really going on with me (whether I welcome it or not), when my sister looks me in the eyes and says, “You’re doing good. I can see it,” as she happened to say to me today. 

In another seemingly unrelated moment, a friend of mine mentioned that his ex-wife remarried this weekend, and I'm guessing he was feeling a disconcerting internal shift too; a release of the past and a fierce desire to build a new future for himself.

A girl (I’ll call her Jill) whom I was friendly with from my college dorm (and who knew my ex-husband) reached out to me several years back and we forged an immediate connection, fueled by our common struggles as single women in our late thirties.  We didn’t see each other often, but when we did, we discovered uncanny similarities. I’ve recently been swamped at my new job and all the social outings it entails, and while I had heard she was searching for an office space for her business, I didn’t give it much thought.

Until she told me she coincidentally found a lease in my building.

On the heels of my whirlwind week, I stayed in the city this weekend with the intention of doing nothing. I bought a present for my niece’s birthday whose party I attended today, and caught up on the phone with old friends.  I’ve been struggling with finding balance – time to give to the people who really matter to me – and while I didn’t plan anything, I felt myself open up and turn towards those who had been giving to me. 

Jill happened to move into my building this weekend. Unbeknownst to me, she had bravely made the decision to take a leap, and then made the move on her own, as strong women with faith - and a kind of trust in the universe - do. It reminded me of when I moved into my first apartment post divorce, and then again post breakup, and how difficult it was. Without much fanfare, I turned off the Facebook, grabbed two glasses of wine, and went downstairs to give her a second opinion on paint colors and furnishings.  When I opened the door she had left open for me, I felt the rush of memories from our dorm life flood in. 

Later, she texted me to say that my presence in the building felt like an omen of sorts; that a woman she knew from college was there, “fighting the good fight, taking risks, and forging a new path…maybe the univ has given us both a big thumbs up,” she wrote.

By “univ,” she meant “universe.” 

But then it hit me. I thought she meant “University.” Not just because we went to University together, but because our building happens to be on a street called "University Place."

I’m not going to get into the whole “signs and omens” thing here again - I’ve written several posts about it already.  But my skin was suddenly covered with goose bumps, when it was 89 degrees out.

It made me think about rebirth again. The odds of my life intersecting with an old friend of mine at this specific time, when we are both grabbing change by the gut, was not to be overlooked.

No connection is tenuous, in my opinion. All of these seemingly disparate events could easily be hidden from view if we are not primed to see them. But this week, I was fortunate to have banished the clutter of frivolous flirtations and distractions so that I could.

And then tonight, as I sat trying to figure out what to write about and trolling Facebook as I always do when I procrastinate, a quote on a friend’s wall made it all click together:

"The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, sensitivity and an understanding of life that fills them with compassions, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen."  -- Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Can the option to get married change a relationship?


From New York City to Niagara Falls, hundreds of gay and lesbian couples across the state began marrying today – the culmination of a long battle in the Legislature and a new milestone for gay rights advocates seeking to legalize same-sex marriage across the nation (abbreviated; NYT). In New York City, 823 couples had signed up in advance to get marriage licenses today.

Saying that this is huge is an understatement. On multiple levels.

My blog is just one of many “dating blogs” which discusses the challenges of finding a satisfying and healthy relationship -- post marriage. I also write about the difficulty of finding it in the whirlwind that is New York City.  So the sudden uptick in individuals rushing to the “altar” in the city in which I live inspired thought.

To be clear, I’m not one of those bitter divorcees who no longer believes that marriage is possible. Both my sisters are happily married, as are my parents, and witnessing their relationships thrive through inevitable ups and downs has been a hopeful – and critical - reference for me that matrimonial harmony can exist. But besides this evidence, I’m simply a romantic at heart. I married my ex-husband when I was 27 with all the rosy-eyed optimism and white wedding aspirations one could expect. And despite our divorce, I maintain a hopeful view for myself (even though some posts reflect otherwise. I blame it on Sunday blues). This doesn’t mean I expect that I will necessarily marry again, and that’s okay too. But anything is possible.

The entire NYT vows section today was dedicated to gay marriage announcements. It was incredible to see, and a stark contrast to the typical heterosexual marriage announcements we’ve been reading for as long as we (or I, I’ll admit) can remember.  A milestone indeed.

But it raises this question: For all the people that are now permitted to get married, are there some who don’t want to? Now that they can, does it mean they actually should?

One of the stories I read mentioned a gay couple that disagreed over tying the knot. One of the men didn’t want to. He didn’t believe in it.  He thought their relationship was sacred just the way it was, without a wedding contract. The opportunity to get married surfaced a new conflict between them, and potentially a split.

I wonder, does having the option create strife within the relationship that otherwise would not exist?  I might be getting a little sci-fi movie concept here, but what if we all lived in a place where marriage was not permitted? Would the elimination of that option as a goal, change the nature of a relationship? Does the absence of that expectation free two people up to embrace one another for who they are, by eliminating pressure and projections?

I realize I’m not saying anything new here. The pros and cons of the institution of marriage is an age-old debate.  It is one I discuss with women my age often. If I had to take a poll, half of the divorced women I know or who comment on my blog have given up on it, or decided that it is something they no longer want. The other half are still hopeful, or in relationships that promise longevity. It is different for everyone, and only we know what is best for us and our situation.

I think that this groundbreaking legislation is a great thing, and not just because many of my gay friends can now get married (if they want to, of course). It means that perhaps, as unconventional as it might seem, the pendulum is swinging back to the traditional, where marriage and commitment are valued again.

Hopefully it doesn’t mean that while the marriage rate is going to go up, the divorce rate will too. 

We’ll just have to wait and see. 

And hope.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Ten Reasons Why You’re Still Single.


The following question was asked of me four separate times this week, from four different men.

“How in the world are you still single?”

Compliment?

Sure. It was meant to flatter me. Even though my inability to come up with a clear answer made me feel the opposite of flattered.  

I considered the following reasons. True or False? (another pop quiz!)

1. I’m divorced and it took me time to be ready for a relationship.
2. I’m single by choice.  
3. I haven’t met “the guy” yet.
4. I’m drawn to men who are unavailable (cubs included).
5. I work too much.
6. I’m picky (and gosh darn it I should be!).
7. I need to retool my Jdate and Ok Stupid profiles, and join Match.com.
8. The majority of my friends are married. I need to find more single friends and go to bars with them.
9. Men feel threatened by me and my “strength” or “success.”
10.  I’m a blogger who exposes herself online and it’s sabotaging my efforts.

At first, I felt all of the above were False. But now that I’ve written them down, I wonder whether they all might have a shred of truth.

A friend told me not to feel discomfited by this question. “It means these men find you datable!” she reassured me.  “They’re just shocked you haven’t been snatched up yet.”

But I wonder if the unspoken implication is, "Is there something wrong with you?"

There is one commonality between the four men who said this: they are all in a relationship (engaged or married).

But what if they weren’t? What if they were single and in a position to actually go out with me? Would they? It’s easy to throw out statements and compliments when you are protected from having to act on them.

When I told Mom about this tonight, she took the question literally. I could see her trying to come up with the real reason why. It was she who offered up .9 above: “You’re successful and strong and men are scared of it.” 

I love my mother, and I love that she believes in me, but I got defensive. “So what am I supposed to do, Mom? Not be me? Should I downplay my attributes and be meeker?”

She replied, “No, No. Of course not. You’re wonderful. You’re something else!”  (What might that be, I wondered. But I didn’t say anything.) Then she paused, considering what to say next.  “Just maybe don’t’ talk about what you do or that you are a writer on the first date.”

Her comment gave me pause. Does she have a point?  Do any of you relate to reasons 1-10 above?





Sunday, July 10, 2011

Do you know what you need?

The theme of this post might be a continuation of - or perhaps a contradiction to - my last post: “Why do we need love?”

I've found that with age and experience comes the importance of knowing what we need. It extends beyond just relationships or our search for a partner.  We try to seek out experiences that fill us, connect us with this world, and bring us closer to the life we want to lead.

But most of the time, we don’t consciously know what we need. It’s difficult to articulate a wish list that doesn’t sound silly or material, i.e. “I need a bigger apartment,” or “I need a boyfriend,” or “I want to quit my job and travel the world."

We make the mistake of thinking we need “things,” or stop-gap measures like a break from our jobs, or the perfect relationship, to make us feel whole.

Before I was married, when my ex-husband and I met, there were three things I thought I wanted: A husband. A house. And to make it in the movie business.

Eventually, I got (and then lost) all three. And since then I’ve asked myself, did I really want these things? Well, maybe I wanted them, but did I truly need them? And is that why they felt off to me, as if I was wearing the wrong clothes?

I came out to East Hampton this weekend to stay with some people I know, and some people I don’t. I wanted a break from the chaos and claustrophobia of the city.  When I was told I would have my own room due to last minute cancellations, I had a momentary self-pity bang of “I wish I had a boyfriend to share it with.” Or even a close girlfriend to bring (most of my oldest friends live in LA.) I realize this might seem frivolous and ungrateful, but I felt anxious. Probably because romantic getaway cues were abundant and underscored my singleness.

But I forced myself to remember that being on my own is a good thing. It allows for spontaneity, new experiences and friendships, and if I’m lucky, creative growth too (blog material included).

And then I got a Facebook message from a woman I’ve never met. A mutual friend told her that I would be out here, and so we made plans to meet. It so happens that she is divorced and currently single too. Even more serendipitously (although the advertising world is small), one of the women at the house happened to know her too, so we all decided to go out together.

I must have forgotten that there is no better cure for the "I'm alone" blues than having meaningful conversations (and cocktails of course) with strong, free spirited women. Especially the kind that have endured (and learned from) similar experiences as you have. And a gorgeous summer night helps too.

On our drive back to the house around midnight, my friend made a sudden turn down a different street. When I looked up, I realized we were at the beach. I can’t remember whether I took my shoes off before I got out of the car, but with my long sun dress tucked into my underwear (it was dark), I found myself running to the shore line. I put my feet in the water and looked up at the starlit sky. And then a strange thing happened. 

I'm not a big Yoga fan (I pull muscles I didn't know exist), but I've heard of women (the men probably don't admit it) who after connecting with a core part of themselves, are overcome by tears.

I didn't have to go into child's pose in the sand to experience that kind of profound release. I just stood in the water with my hand on my chest and my head tilted to the sky, my ears filled with the rush of the crashing waves coming at me, and discovered that thing I had been needing.

Serenity? The force of nature? Awe of the expansive universe? The paradox of life like the rage then calm of the ocean? Whatever it was - because it felt too great to articulate - was all around me.  Or, maybe, I was a part of it.

I awoke the next morning feeling lighter. And more centered. The anxiety and misdirected energy that had filled me at the start of the weekend banished.

It dawned on me that what I believed I had needed - a romantic weekend or the comfort of an old friend - wasn't what I needed at all.  And since I was unable to see it (although in hindsight subconsciously I must have been seeking it), the universe revealed it for me.

All I had to do was give us both permission.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Love, Etc. Why do we need it?


There’s nothing better than seeing a film about love to snap you out of a “who needs love” frame of mind, especially when it is an unscripted documentary.

After an insulated week spent in the illusion that is the bubble of Cannes, I was anticipating the reality of spending the long holiday weekend in NYC, alone, with a touch of dread.  I was worried I’d feel like I did over Memorial Day weekend, when everyone was coupled off or in the Hamptons, and it didn’t help that it was my birthday.

But it taught me how to preempt any gloom – to cut it off at the pass. I wonder if sometimes we subconsciously drive ourselves to rock bottom as a catalyst for action. I was determined to independently make my weekend meaningful and optimistic – without relying on anyone else.

It’s been awhile since I’ve been in that space. When I was in the throes of completing my novel, my free time was dedicated to solitude - to reading and writing. That was my priority, rather than relationships. And when I finished my book, I had a boyfriend, so it didn’t hit me until recently that I was floundering, adrift without my own hobby or passion to immerse myself in – something that is within my control.

No, I haven’t started another book. That is, if you consider typed pages a qualification. But I did purchase a brand new mole-skin journal, and on a sunny Saturday when everyone was off picnicking or swimming, I sat in my dark café (it’s mine because I wrote most of my first book sitting in the same chair drinking the same shitty coffee) and started brainstorming ideas. And a vague sense of what my next novel might be began to form. It starts with a warm feeling, like an expanding balloon forming inside, that has yet to be articulated.

I can only guess that for people who have been single for most of their 20s and 30s, revelations like these - learning how to gain satisfaction from our own self-initiated projects - are a no brainer.

But for someone like me, having been married throughout my 20s and part of my 30s, these shifts are conscious.  I went into the weekend with a dismissal of love, asking myself, why do we need love? If you are a self-sufficient, generally happy person with the confidence that you can take care of yourself, then why do you need a partner?

Do we put too much emphasis on it? And is it due to the way romance is portrayed in our culture, or how marriage is held up as some ideal that every young woman should aspire to?

Or, is it simply a basic human need that because it is so challenging to satisfy, we’ve defensively “decided” we are fine without it? Have we become too fearful that it makes us look vulnerable, or that it signifies that we are not independent self-autonomous individuals for wanting it? I can count on both hands how many friends I’ve heard say, “Us single women talk about men, about relationships, way too much. We are successful and strong. Come on. What’s our problem?” Granted, this thinking would put dating blogs (mine included?) out of commission.

Without consciously looking for an answer or the awareness that this was my frame of mind, I spontaneously went to see the opening of a friend’s documentary, “Love, Etc.” The film charts the evolution of five romantic relationships in New York over the course of a year. The relationships are diverse, ranging from a single gay man searching for love, who decides to become a single father, to the innocent young love of high-school seniors, to an elderly couple that has been married 48 years.

I was blown away. And not just because the film was heartfelt and humorous. All the stories were real. And bittersweet. A blend of hopeful resolutions and disappointments, that in retrospect, were inevitable. The way love is.

A side note: It did occur to me whether seeing this film at this time in my life was a signifier of the place that I am at. When my ex-husband and I were struggling through what was to become the final year of our marriage, we had made a horror film, about a serial killer. At the risk of an overt and dramatic analogy, it has crossed my mind on more than one occasion whether our film was a signifier of the moribund nature of our dying marriage.

In the middle of “Love, Etc.” one of the characters (a successful theater director), was home-bound in the back of his limo after the opening night of his play. He was alone, looking out the window and he said something that resonated: “That was a success. But it doesn’t matter because I don’t have a partner to share it with.”

A man in his late 40s, who had achieved more than most could dream of professionally, was unabashedly admitting what was missing for him most: love. I briefly wondered whether he would have reached that level of success had he been in a relationship, or whether one had to do with the other at all.

In the end, he doesn’t give up on love. He simply decides not to make it everything. He doesn’t make it his goal. Rather, he decides to go after what he wants most: to be a father.
And in the process, when he isn’t looking, love shows up.
 
(In case you want to check out the movie: http://loveetcthemovie.com/   )