Sunday, September 25, 2011

Choose Your Own Adventure.


When I got divorced and left Los Angeles almost six years ago, going back for a visit has always been surreal. My job producing commercials took me there every three months or so, forcing me to confront a life I once led, from a different perspective.

It also forced a spotlight onto my emotional healing and the progress I was making. The first time I got into a rental car, rather than my beat up Saab which I sold upon moving, and drove up La Cienega Blvd. towards the Hollywood Hills where I used to live, the thick knot that inhabited my chest would expand, engulfing me in a surreal melancholy and sense of loss.  Checking into a hotel with my new coworkers, who weren’t privy to my past or the knowledge that I was in a way “home,” although it was no longer my home, created a disconnect that I knew I’d get over in time, but was palatable nonetheless. Every café, intersection, even the perfumed scent of bougainvillea, elicited a jarring memory of a moment I had shared with my ex-husband, and there was no way around it. 

Part of me was compelled to confront it. For the first three trips I made out there, I’d find myself steering my car up into the hills, towards my old house. When my husband and I bought it had been in shambles, and we had lovingly renovated every inch of it: we built a deck, paved the driveway, and installed a colorful orange tiled “kid’s bathroom.”

The house was still there, now inhabited by a family. I’d slouch down in the seat of my rental car, parked in front of the house across the street and stare at my old house. I was a voyeur of a stranger’s life, merged with - in a way sprouted from – my old life.  The house looked the same, yet foreign; the driveway now jammed with a Volvo station wagon, a child’s pink bicycle, and a baby carriage.

I didn’t confess to anyone (until now, publicly!) that I had done that. When I asked myself why I willingly put myself through that, I think it was because I needed the concrete evidence that that life had existed. That it wasn’t an intangible memory that existed solely in my mind – in my past.

You could say that in the way divorce is compared to a kind of death, it’s not necessarily different than pulling out pictures of a lost loved one, as a reminder, or more so, to honor a past life that once was.  I was also in the midst of writing my novel, based on that experience, and I suspect I did that to activate some kind of sorrow so that I could feel it in the present and write from that place.  That might sound masochistic – like sticking a fork into your own heart – but there was no stopping me from that trancelike endeavor.

As the trips became more frequent, the sorrowful cloud began to dissipate. And as my colleagues became my close friends who understood what I had been through, it got easier.  One of my coworkers, a confidante, surprised me one day. “Do we have some time before callbacks?" he said. "I want to see your old house.”  I was shocked, but willing. Driving by the house with a friend from my new life in the passenger seat, and watching his reaction (“Wow, I get it now. You had this whole other life before us!”) gave me a sense of validation. But it also made me realize that I was no longer sad. I felt nothing but pride. I was proud to realize that I had finally moved on. That wasn’t my last trip to LA, but it was the last time I saw my house.

I now have a new job, which hasn’t required me to travel to LA, except this weekend. It’s been nine months since I’ve been back, and this time I’m not here with my coworker pals. I’m here alone; a businesswoman staying at a hotel on a business trip.  Again, the changes I’ve made, and the life I am living in NYC is thrown into sharp contrast with the life I would have had had I stayed in LA.  My LA friends are now married, living in pretty houses. Some of them have kids. Seeing couples my age at lunch, with their toddlers in the seat beside them, makes me think of the almost life I would have had; had I stayed married to my ex-husband, and stayed in my old house.

I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was strange, and that a new kind of melancholy didn’t possess me.  The inevitable questions swirled: What happened? I was so close to having a certain kind of life, wasn’t I? Was I just a few years away, or even months, from having the kind of life where the strollers in the driveway could have been my own?

I realized that the timing, as always, is noteworthy. As I bid a final farewell to the life I didn’t lead, memorialized by the four walls of a house that is no longer my own, I am beginning to embrace my new life in NYC, and a new apartment that I will be moving into that is mine, and mine alone.

We make choices in life that are born out of the present moment. When we make them, we consider the impact it might have on our future, but that future is hypothetical.  It is a hypothetical path that we cannot travel down if we are to choose a different one. It’s like the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books that I was obsessed with as a child, where you are "the star of your own story," and there are forty possible endings. We choose our own adventure, and once we do, the other choice and its consequences fall away. And we have to live with that.

But it doesn’t mean that sometimes we can’t play the “what if” game. It is human to wonder how different our lives would look had we stayed put - had we not encountered the people or events that spun us in another direction.  But that choice is ours, and in turn, the reward comes in the form of a new experience. Life is short, but it is also long, and while we can only live out one possible ending, there are infinite choices we can make along the way.

As long as we learn to embrace those decisions - and make the most of them.


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Ten Reasons (Not) To Get Back Together With Your Ex.


How many people do you know suffer through a break up (amicable or not), only to get back together with their exes? How many people do you know who have done that more than once?

(Raises hand).

Why?

1.     Habit:  A big fat vacuum exists after a break up. Something (someone) is missing, and you have to readjust to being on your own, without a partner to share things with.  This creates an acute yearning for that person which is easy to label as “it must have been love!.”
2.     Romanticizing the good: Over time and distance, the “bad things” recede and the good things take center stage in your mind, and you put the guy up on a pedestal.
3.     Limited options: Any new potential mate’s appeal wanes in comparison.
4.     Laziness: The idea of starting the get-to-know-you process all over again with someone new seems exhausting and dreadful. Not only do you have to span time with that new person, but you have to tell your stories all over again (or you can cheat by having them read your blog).
5.     Comfort: You ex knows your friends, is familiar with the fights you’ve had with your siblings or boss, and knows where your dog likes to be scratched.
6.     Jealousy: You hear he is dating, and the knowledge that he is focused on (or having sex with!) someone else other than you propels you into action. (see: Ego).
7.     Ego: He doesn’t contact you at all, and his Facebook statuses show him partying in bars and on boats. The realization that he might be over you hurts and is mistaken for an “in love” feeling.
8.     Love by association: You spend time with friends who say, “He was a great guy, and I was sad when you split,” sending you into a regret spiral.
9.     He comes back: Just when you think you’re over it, and start feeling good again, he somehow picks up on it and comes back into your life with compliments and promises (however well-meaning).
10. No single friends: Most of your friends happen to be in relationships or starting new ones, and it makes you miss being in a couple.

The list could probably continue past #10, but I thought I’d stop here, and start discussing the more hopeful and optimistic reasons some people get back together:

There is something left unexplored.

With time apart, both people have grown and truly come to appreciate the other.

The circumstances that drove them apart (a new job, long distance) change. 

They broke up in haste, over a fight, and get back together because it was stupid for them to split over boxers on the bathroom floor in the first place.

Some people need (and are addicted to) the drama of a break up, and use it to wake them up to their feelings.

Sometimes we get back together with the person to remind us why we broke up in the first place. Like #2 above, we forget. It’s human. And when you’re missing someone post break up, and you know they are experiencing the same feelings at the same time, it connects you. You share a common feeling with that person that no one else can understand.

So sometimes break ups don’t last, and people end up re-committing for the long haul. So I’m not at all saying that getting back together with an ex is a lost cause, and can’t lead to a long-term healthy relationship.

If you’re wondering whether I’m talking about myself in this post, the answer is, not really (or kinda). I’m looking back on my last two or three relationships post divorce, and in all of them, we got back together, however briefly, before breaking up again for that last and final time. Sometimes we need it for closure, and I know that for me, I needed to be convinced in my mind and heart that we tried everything - that we wrung the relationship dry - before I could truly move on.

So I guess if you’re contemplating getting back together with your ex, make sure it’s for the right reasons. Whatever that means to you.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A 9/11 post.


I was hesitant to post a blog tonight because any topic related to dating, relationships, and the general woes of being single seemed grossly trivial compared to the somber commeration of 9/11’s ten-year anniversary.

The minutiae that make up our day to day lives – the little joys as well as the irritating dramas and stresses – seem inconsequential and silly when we think of the tragedy of that day and the traumatic losses that have burrowed permanent holes of grief for those who have lost loved ones. 

But maybe that is the point. The living are supposed to keep on living their lives as best they can. We are supposed to forge ahead and make our lives as full and impactful as possible in order to celebrate life.  Whether it is in the face of news that a friend is sick, a relative has passed away, or a senseless accident has taken a loved one from us -  these events shed light on what we do have, big or small, and force us to be grateful for what we have.

As I sat on my dog haired covered couch this morning watching the Reading of the Names on NY1, I didn’t notice the time pass. I was mesmerized and moved to tears. The children reading the names of their own parents, and the women who mourned the loss of their husbands hit me the hardest.  I’m guessing their stories are what I can identify with most.

On this day ten years ago I was in Los Angeles with my ex-husband. We had recently moved there from NYC, nine months after our wedding. We were asleep when the planes hit the towers, and a friend’s anxious voice on our answering machine woke us to the news.  We both had friends in Manhattan, and I had a family member who worked next door to the Towers. I remember feeling stricken and disconnected, watching the life altering events on the television happening in the city I loved – which I had felt I had abandoned – as the sun shone brightly over the Hollywood Hills and the birds chirped happily in my backyard. The stark incongruity intensified  the surreal nature of it all. 

In the weeks that followed, both my husband and I had fallen into an incapacitating depression, and looking back, despite the obvious, I think it was because we couldn’t be there to face the impact of it head on - to look at the evidence in the face. 

They say that in order to properly grieve, you have to allow yourself to be swallowed up into the depths of it and feel it, before you can begin to heal. I can’t help but invoke the comparison to divorce, or any kind of loss. Running from the pain, denying it, going through the motions of having moved on without exploring the effects of a painful loss thwarts the healing process. And it doesn’t serve to honor the life that once was either.

So instead of going about my usual Sunday routine, today I sat and watched the memorial services on TV.  All day. Again, I viewed and attempted to connect with a tragedy via the filter of a TV screen. Should I have gone downtown to the site, should I have attended some kind of commemoration service in person? Maybe. But I wasn’t really sure what would be the right thing to do, or what I needed to do. So instead, I chose to continue living. Living my little life. And that includes blogging. 

Maybe it’s about finding a way to strike a balance. Live, laugh, and love, while also being somber. And never forgetting. Maybe if we can inhabit both feelings within the same moment, we can live our lives to their fullest.




Monday, September 5, 2011

A divorced Cougel goes to a wedding - on her wedding anniversary.

How does it feel to be a single divorcee at a wedding? 

I found out this weekend.

I’ve been to two weddings since my divorce. One of them was with my first ex-cub, and my parents – a cousin’s wedding. The second was a close family friend and I had my sisters and parents to sit with; they served as a security blanket.

I attended a wedding of a new friend this weekend. It was a spur of the moment decision that came about when he was kind enough to invite me, and I was honored. I had originally had plans with a romantic prospect, but in the weeks leading up to it, I sensed they were going to fall through. The guy and I didn’t have any longevity in the cards, including the week leading up to Labor Day. When he canceled due to work conflicts, I wasn’t surprised or sad. I was even relieved, and used that opportunity to seize the chance to go do something different- an adventure. A wedding in gorgeous Vermont where I could spend some time alone, celebrate a momentous day with my friend and his bride, and perhaps meet some new people.

Looking back, it was probably a bold move. I’m social, I like meeting new people, but I wasn’t prepared for the discovery that every single person there was in a relationship. Two of the four couples at my table were engaged. I was the single odd gal out.

It didn’t freak me out, or upset me, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t notice it, or that it didn’t underscore my “aloneness” - a state of being that has ceased to bother me more or less, especially living in NYC and spending time with my single friends, or married friends in the midst of divorces.

I arrived the night before the wedding and enjoyed the few hours leading up to post rehearsal dinner drinks luxuriating in my aloneness. I declined getting a ride up and instead I took the train to Albany followed by a taxi for the hour drive to Manchester, so I could read and spend time in my head. I took a bath, ordered a bottle of wine for one, and then joined a few people (some I knew and some I didn’t) for drinks.

When I walked into the bar and sat down amidst the couples at the table, something dawned on me. And without thinking, I blurted, “Today is what would have been my eleven year wedding anniversary.”

Record scratch. Followed by a few empty stares, and one look of pity. “You’re divorced?”

My response: “Yeah. But I’m okay! I’m not sad. Really.”

How’s that for some rain on a hopeful romance parade?

The following day I went into town to have lunch and to enjoy some outlet mall retail therapy. When I walked by a quaint restaurant, I experienced a strange dejavu sensation. I had been here before. Had I blocked it out? And then it occurred to me (and I had to text my mom), I had been to Manchester over a decade ago with my ex-husband and ex-mother-in-law.

The wedding was exquisite, held at the exquisite Hildene grounds of Lincoln’s historical mansion. The weather was perfect. Until it wasn’t. An hour into dinner, the sky grew black and the winds fierce, thrashing the grand tent overhang and knocking over glasses.  What followed was an hour of torrential downpour and a tornado watch on Vermont. Everyone relocated into the grand living room of the mansion. People sat along the stair case, hands empty because the bar was outside in the downpour. But they adapted. The bride and groom danced in the small space before the fireplace, and the father of the bride gave a moving speech.

I couldn’t resist the obvious metaphor.  We plan for perfection. We hope for flawlessness, but of course, there is no such thing. Instead, we learn to adapt. And adapt quickly, and revel in the mess that can show life at its most beautiful.

My wedding on that day eleven years ago was what you would call flawless, weather included. People called me for months to say it was the best wedding ever. “It was perfect!” As if it was a good sign that our marriage would be too.

When everyone moved back outside, I felt a surprising pang of sadness.  But I didn’t miss my ex-husband.  I missed my ex-boyfriend (who I had spent Hurricane weekend with).  In retrospect, weddings will do that to you. Duh. So I shouldn’t have been surprised, or mad at myself for texting him that I wished he was there.  But I was.  Perhaps I should have been more emotionally prepared. If I had to do it over again, I would still go. I was glad to be there. But next time – and a note to all yea single women – if you’re going to a wedding without a swim buddy, rain or shine, you have to know what to expect. Or leave your Blackberry in your hotel to ward off needy misplaced texting.

My two close girlfriends who are also divorced are both in serious relationships and contemplating marriage number two.  I wondered what they would be thinking had they been there with me. Would they be viewing the young engaged couples at my table, or the bride and groom, through different lenses? We’ve all heard that it’s different the second time. An older woman who I happened to sit beside on the shuttle to the wedding, offered the following to me unprompted: “It’s better the second time. Trust me.”

I have yet to find out. But I’m hopeful.