I remember my first big yes. Even though it did not end in a happily ever after for a lifetime, I still remember every detail about the evening on which I got engaged. I did not hesitate when I said yes.
But recently, I’ve been starting to question the idea of me saying yes, and who says—or doesn’t say— yes back to me.
I’ve been post-divorce dating for two years now, and I’ve been grossly disappointed with the number of yesses I’ve been getting. I don’t mean Match members saying yes to my photo. I mean, real actual yesses to making plans and being open to possibilities.
I handle significantly more than 50% of the physical, logistical and emotional parenting while holding down a full-time job and managing life as we know it in 2017. But I am often ready to say yes—on my only weeknight off—to meet someone new for coffee or a drink. And, I have said yes to that a lot.
First, I learned the hard way, that men who have never been married and/or have never had children are rarely compelled to say yes. They have gotten so used to their own routine and way of doing things that they are used to saying yes only to themselves. Or a boss. And their mother.
After a tiff with the first never-married guy I dated over the idea that I needed to make plans in advance and I needed him to respect that, I explained to him about the tremendous value of my free time. “I don’t have a lot of it,” I said. “Time is the most important thing I have. So if I am choosing to spend some of that free time with you, it’s a big deal.”
While he understood that intellectually, he was too set in his ways to change. I tried a bit longer then eventually accepted it and ended the romantic involvement.
The next man I got involved with I thought would be different, although he was also never married and had no children. I had known him for many years and the connection we had was still very strong. On our second date, he told me a touching story about seeing a dad with his young child, and watching that young child go running into his father’s arms yelling with delight, “Daddy!!” I took this to mean that he was open to having a child in his life. Well, that was probably just my female brain jumping to conclusions.
My bachelor number 2 clearly had no desire to end his many nights out drinking with his buddies or his dearly beloved Sundays where he could sleep half the day and recover from his hangover. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that. I also relish time alone. But as the months went on, he was saying yes a lot less. You can’t build something with someone if there aren’t enough yesses. In the end, he used the excuse of distance to distance himself from me. This relationship never really had a chance. He never, ever truly said yes.
There were several more dating scenarios that followed, and what would start with lots of communication and planning about when and where to meet would often fizzle out quickly into a yes-less void. Maybe they met someone better. More geographically desirable. Taller. Who the hell knows. But I noticed a remarkable lack of yesses.
Since I’m tired of waiting for a man to say yes to me, I’m going to start saying it. To the outside world and opportunities. To friends and people who really warrant a yes. To myself. Yes. Yes. Yes.
It’s a cool, crisp fall-feeling Sunday and I have the next delicious 12 hours all to myself. If I could ignore the piles of laundry, cleaning, bills and never-ending to-do list, this is exactly how I would spend my day:
- Make a cup of coffee, get back into bed and call my best friend to talk about our current retail therapy.
- Take a long, hot shower and put on my most comfortable, cozy yet publicly acceptable outfit. Do not put on mascara.
- Go to The Corner http://www.thecornermontclair.com, which has the best coffee, the most yummy food and the most friendly, delightful staff. I’ll probably have the vegetable hash with scrambled eggs and a brown-sugar carmelized grapefruit. And of course, a hot cup of La Columbe coffee.
- Head to Upper Montclair and browse in Nouvelle https://www.nouvelleboutiques.com/, which has adorable clothes, fabulous accessories and super fun owner Arlene. The coolest necklace I own is from this store. The best leggings I own are from this store. I love this shop, and I love that I’m supporting a local business.
- On my way back home, stop into Amanti Vino https://www.amantivino.com/ for a tasting. Relish the 15-minute parking space in the back, which alleviates all the stress of dealing with the Crescent Parking Deck. Purchase several bottles of delicious wine.
- Take a nap.
- Go to Imperial Nails on Watchung Plaza for a mani/pedi. The hot oil treatment for your heels is everything. Read the current issue of People magazine and skip all the sad, crazy stories.
- Meet up with three of my funniest friends for dinner at Uncle Momo http://unclemomo.com/ Eat happily and laugh constantly. Consume at least one bottle of wine purchased earlier. Take a Lyft home.
- Get into pajamas and into bed with Netflix.
- Happily, oh so happily, go to sleep.
When it comes to the gym and working out, I’m very all or nothing. And for the past year, it’s been a whole lot of nothing. Then a broken arm in September led to a few extra pounds. As a full-time working parent who’s a little lazy to begin with, the gym routine has gone to the wayside.
So here it is, July, and I have a soft, untoned belly. I’m not really swimsuit ready. But, I need to be in a swimsuit, in front of a very fit crowd. I’m headed to the country club of a relative who is in fantastic shape. I’m not feeling so great.
Then I look at the rest of me. Healthy, clear skin. Naturally wavy hair. Pretty, hazel eyes. And I look at that soft, untoned belly. At other times in my life, I felt disgusted by it. It’s been rounder, it’s been flatter, but I’ve never been totally happy with it.
Today, I decided to change the voice in my head. I decided that my belly doesn’t say lazy or unmotivated or uncaring about my physical appearance. Right now, my belly is the product of being a full-time working parent, making sure there is healthy food in the house, making sure my daughter is doing well academically, and keeping up with our friendships. Right now, this belly needs to be just fine the way it is.
I’ve worked very hard this year to be where I am. Valued at my job. Complimented by my daughter’s child development team at school for all the extra effort we put in at home. I was a class parent this year, too. And, perhaps most of all, I am so proud of myself for taking the high road over and over again with challenging personal situations. I am more than fine.
I put on my bikini. I put on minimal makeup and my face looks pretty. I have a fresh pedicure and fun new flip-flops. And you know what? The person who is the most connected to me–my daughter–has nothing to say about my belly. Because that isn’t what she sees. All she sees is her mother. She sees ME.
There is a moment in the women’s restroom where the relative who is hosting us sees me in my bikini and I can see her giving me the once-over.
For a second, I internalize everything negative about what I think the gaze means. It makes me a little unsteady.
Then I shake it off. I remember my proud body moment back home. I decide to own it. I march into the pool area and don’t give my belly another thought. I swim with my daughter. I catch up with my other relatives. The sun is shining and it’s a lovely summer day. I am not ashamed of my body. I am proud of my body—and perhaps more importantly, my brain.
I’m perusing eight years of photographs for my daughter’s father’s day present to her dad. It’s a bit torturous for me, as I scroll through those infant days, baby moments, toddler outings that show us as a family of three. Apple picking for the first time. Our first beach trip. Our first Hanukkah. We look…happy. I look happy. How could I have looked so happy in photos when inside I was falling apart? When I was an anxious mess about new motherhood? When he and I started to fight weekly and then sometimes daily? I feel like my mind is playing tricks on me and I start to wonder if maybe things weren’t as bad as I thought they were.
But no one was there to take a picture of the difficult times. No, those times aren’t documented in photos. But as I move past each year, the images start to show the divide that began to happen when our daughter was three. There were more weekend days spent separately, which I can see in the increasing number of photos with just my daughter and I, my daughter with her friends and my mom friends and their families.
I keep scrolling through the years, and I am struck by something pretty damn amazing. There are so many photos of my daughter with her father. Photos that I took. Somehow, despite being in a clinical depression and knowing that my marriage wasn’t going to last, I found the mental strength to document these moments in time.
What’s equally interesting to me is that at the beginning of our life together, I made a conscious decision to acquiesce the photo-taking to my ex-husband, a self-proclaimed lover of photography. He was obviously a much better photographer than me, I said to myself. I’ll let him take the pictures. But when I start with our honeymoon, there aren’t that many of us. There are some, of course. But there are seemingly more of weird bugs and mountains and the cocoa plantation we visited. It’s striking to me that he would opt for scenery over me or us. During these moments of looking back, I am still grappling with trying to understand this and come to peace with it.
When R. was born, I was home with her full time. One of my new mom friends was always so quick to take out her camera to capture a funny or sweet moment and she inspired me. It didn’t matter that I didn’t consider myself a “good” photographer. I was present and I had a camera. I realized that I’m the one here to document my daughter’s life. And so I did. I made sure to take moments with R. and her father and capture them, too. I accumulated a little treasure trove that is probably one of my greatest gifts to her.
On her birthday, when the three of us are together, I make sure to ask a guest take a photo of us. Because in that moment, I know in my heart that she is happy. And that’s all that matters.
When I was little, I was forever out of my league in the sibling fighting department. My sister was three years older, three years stronger and overpowered me on every level. She was not only more naturally muscular, she was also more emotionally aggressive. She was forceful and loud. In my family, I could barely get a word in edgewise.
She knew my weaknesses and would rarely pass up an opportunity to get me. She would do things like hide in the dark in the nook next to to our upright Steinway piano and jump out. And I would SCREAM my head off.
Lots of things scared me. I was deathly afraid of scary movies, haunted houses and basically anything that involved the dark and unpredictability. I was also pretty risk-adverse. One time her taunts were so unbearable about me being afraid of riding on our red plastic motorcycle down what I perceived to be the steepest hill ever (I was 5 or 6), that against my better judgment, I threw caution to the wind and jumped on the two-wheeled vehicle. After I was flying down the hill at a considerable speed, the front wheel hit a crack or a rock, and I went flying over, landing face first. She went yelling for a neighbor who peeled me off of the pavement, all skinned knees and elbows and a chipped front tooth. And yeah, she was punished.
We went along fighting—and playing—throughout elementary and junior high school.
One day after school, I was around 12 and she was around 15, we were doing our homework at our respective white desks with candy-cane-like moldings on the drawers listening to rock music on WPLJ, and a rather aggressive, irrational thought took hold of me. I wanted to hit her. I wanted to deliver the first blow. I wanted to know what it would feel like to be physically aggressive in the only way I thought I could. I knew she would proceed to beat the shit out of me. But I didn’t care. I just wanted to Hit. Her. First.
I couldn’t think of anything else. I just kept fantasizing about getting in one girl punch. One slap. One burst of real, raw anger.
I felt the wimpy me leave my body. I calmly got up from my white swivel chair with its plastic red cushion, I quietly took a few steps over, and I walloped her.
What happened next was a blur, but she was quite mad and I think she wrestled me to the floor. It didn’t even matter. I was satisfied from knowing that for once, she could feel my physical anger.
I realized much later in life that there was quite a bit of physical—and emotional—anger directed at me when I was a child. And so when I met my ex-husband and he seemed to have only kind bones in his body, I knew that his temperament was the perfect fit for me. He didn’t have a temper. He didn’t get angry. I wouldn’t have to worry about feeling afraid.
I was wrong. The various stressors in our marriage triggered anger in him that I had never seen before.
And just like that scared child, I cowered inside. I wanted it to stop.
Getting divorced from him has made most of it stop, but there are still plenty of moments when his misguided rage comes my way.
Sometimes, that younger girl in me goes down the rabbit hole of wanting to deliver the first punch. Sometimes I do. Because for a change, I want him to feel my anger. And then what happens next is predictable. I spent years seeing it happen. He tries to emotionally beat the shit out of me.
I will never, ever win. That sense of failure used to grip me and torture me like nothing else.
But today, on the second anniversary of my divorce, I know that winning actually involves not fighting. I work damn hard to take the high road as much as possible. But it’s exhausting. And sometimes I’m just too tired to fight the good fight. But I know, if I’m not the one to strike first, he won’t have anyone to hit back.
The winks, likes and favorites have been surging on my Match.com account since the New Year and while the optimist in me wants to believe that there are some good dates with interesting, smart, considerate men on my horizon, the realist in me knows the truth.
The truth is, dating sucks.
And I am a very reliable source.
Not only do I have a full year of post-divorce dating under my belt, but dating was my second job in my 30s. I said yes to every set up and every blind date; I did speed dating; I was in a matchmaking service; and when online dating started to become a thing, I jumped on that, too. I have spent more years dating than being married. So you see, I’m a bit of an expert.
And now, being a full-time, working mother in my 40s, I have less free time, less energy, and less free time and energy for bullshit. We’re all struggling with a ridiculous amount of stress from work and our kids and our exes, but you know what? It’s really nice to get dressed and go out for an adult beverage and put away your phones and engage with a human being in a real conversation that isn’t about how awful your divorce was.
So, based on my extensive experience, I present the Top Eight Things to Never Do or Say On A Date After Your Divorce:
1. Do not talk about the extravagant holiday gifts you just gave to your soon-to-be ex-wife.
2. Do not say, “Maybe I should just go out and get laid” when talking about your post-divorce socializing strategy.
3. Do not ask your date if her boobs “looked different” after nursing; in fact, do not mention nursing or boobs or any private parts or weight AT ALL.
4. Do not share the anecdote of how you recently punched your ex-wife’s new husband in the face when he came on your property and that you are now charged with assault.
5. At the table, do not take phone calls from your divorce lawyer or your best friend who wants to say hi.
6. In the first five minutes of the date, do not talk about key parties that happen in the upstairs lounge of the bar that you are currently in.
7. When your date realizes how late it is and says she needs to get home quickly to her sitter, do not shove your tongue down her throat while she is trying to get into her car.
8. Do not ask her to text a photo of herself because you “forgot what she looks like.”
Please, gentlemen, learn from these others’ mistakes. Women, if you have trouble recognizing a crappy date, you now have eight warning signs. Heed them. I’ve taken more than my share of bullets for the worst dates ever, so maybe you don’t have to.
For all of the optimists who are going out on a first date tonight or any time in 2017, I really and truly hope it does not suck.
On the cusp of the new year, I find myself reflecting about relationships. Real relationships. True connections. Eye contact and hugs and feeling safe enough to be your authentic self, whether that’s letting go and crying or just saying what’s in your heart and knowing that you won’t be judged. Dear friends who take the time to listen and really, truly hear.
Real relationships make me grateful this December 31st.
There is B., who has known me since college, who not only went wedding dress shopping with me, but also was the one who helped to get me dressed on the big day. Who talked to me every day after I gave birth, while I wept uncontrollably from exhaustion and hormones, whose emotional support got me through the awful first weeks of nursing, and years of a difficult marriage and divorce. She is my true touchstone.
I will always remember the conversation with a work colleague and friend C., who shared her love of yoga with me, who told me I should try it—at the studio she went to—because I would love it. I listened, and she was right. So very right. And it opened up a whole new world for me.
There is A., whom I met in childbirth class, who then was the first face I saw in at the new mother’s support group that would become my second family for months and now, years. She sees me and hears me.
Despite the fact that I hadn’t spoken to one of my oldest friends and nursery school classmates, C., for more than 30 years, did not change the bond we shared and reestablished as adults and mothers. We never have to censor ourselves or hold back. There is no small talk or bullshit. It’s real, 100% of the time.
The marketing director G. at my local Y who was willing to have coffee with me, hear about my career goals and tell me about a job opening, which got me back into the workforce after a six-year absence. That job was a game changer, as it lead to my next job and then my own apartment. G. may not realize how instrumental she was in helping me to get my life back.
There are so many more, S.W. and S.F. and D.C., so many women who have given me some of the most incredible gifts through their friendship, compassion and hearts.
What I also realize is that my most difficult, painful relationships have taught me the most about myself. I have actually been grateful to learn what I dislike, what I will no longer tolerate, how I do not wish to act or be. They are critical pieces that have been shaping me and showing me truth. Now that I can start to see these relationships through a mirror of learning, I feel a healthy distance from what no longer serves me. It’s a process, for sure.
For me, 2016 was about making great strides emotionally. I am stronger. So much stronger. My true friends have bolstered me throughout this journey. And I hope, with all my heart, that I have done the same for them.
Happy New Year to all my friends.
I’m in one of my happy places, leisurely drinking coffee on a child-free Saturday and thinking about how I will spend the next delicious 48 hours, and I’m listening to Christina Aguilera belt out “Fighter” from her “Stripped” album. All of a sudden, I get it. She’s thanking someone from her past who used to have a very negative influence on her, but all those experiences made her stronger. Wiser. Smarter. Made her skin a little thicker.
And so it is with me, too.
Over the past two years, I have evolved from feeling overwhelmed about my divorce and managing this new life on my own—to being a confident employee, mother and friend, who, on many days, has got this. Granted, there are plenty of days where I still feel overwhelmed—I mean, who doesn’t as we try to “balance” work, children, social lives, and family? Being overwhelmed as a mother, I often think, is the new normal. But, what I know for sure, to lovingly borrow one of my favorite lines from Oprah, is that I am showing up for my child. Truly and mindfully, showing up for her.
Every night, I pack her a healthy lunch with a special treat and a note. Every night, I listen (or watch) her read and I feel joy about her love for words and books. Every night, we choose clothes for the next day that will make her feel good and happy. Every night, I cuddle with her, kiss her face and hair, and I tell her to have sweet dreams and that I love her.
Since being on my own, I am struck by just how much stronger I’ve become. Not only for my daughter–because it’s often easier to be stronger for your child–but also for myself.
With this beautiful distance from the situation that buried me into one of the darkest places of my life has come incredible light. Self-possessiveness. Power. And yes, it has made me a fighter.
It reminds me of a powerful passage from Tillie Olsen’s Yonnondio (for all of you American women literature fans), one that I used for a class presentation during my junior year in college. This novel follows the Holbrook family during the late 1920s as they move from the coal mines of Wyoming to a tenant farm in western Nebraska. One of the themes is about motherhood and sacrifice, a theme that very much resonates with me. Towards the end of the book, the baby, Bess, grabs a “fruit-jar lid” and begins slamming it down, over and over again. She is at once feeling her power in her ability to make something happen. To make this powerful noise. To be heard.
I stood up in front of my literature class, with a glass jar, and as I read the passage about Bess slamming her jar, I banged mine. I can do. Bang. My classmates were rapt. I felt completely in command and in my element. I can do. Bang.
It was one of my most memorable academic moments. I loved how I felt, and these days, during my best moments, I feel just as confident and powerful as I did back then. I can do.
So now I can elevate the most negative experience of my life to a new place. It has made me who I am today.
I am a fighter.
I started hating Valentine’s Day in the fourth grade.
That was the year I was madly in love with Steven Goldberg*. He was super cute,with silky brown hair and big brown eyes that looked out from behind his square ’70s glasses. He was also very smart. The smart always sealed the deal for me. Steven’s desk was perpendicular to mine, in our little group of desks. Not only did I get to see him at school, but he was also in my Hebrew school class so I got to see him after school and Saturdays in temple. Steven was extremely shy. Painfully shy. I had no idea if he liked one particular girl, so I figured I had as good of a chance as anyone to capture his heart.
In my 4th grade brain, I loved him.
Valentine’s Day was coming up, and I decided to finally let Steven know how I felt about him. I went to the store and got an oversized Valentine’s Day card. I was going to make this grand gesture and I couldn’t wait. I brazenly marched into class with the giant card. While he was away from his desk, I carefully placed it on top. Then I nervously waited.
I watched Steven open the card. I saw his eyes scan the card and my declaration of love and he immediately started turning bright red, almost purple. At that very moment, I realized I had made a huge mistake. He clearly didn’t feel the same way and now my “I love you” was out to him and I couldn’t take it back. I was mortified. He basically acted like nothing ever happened. It was a rough lesson in love. I officially hated Valentine’s Day.
I hated watching other girls with boyfriends get flowers and chocolate. I hated that Valentine’s Day never lived up to its ridiculous Hallmark expectations. I hated the color red and not being able to get a restaurant reservation for a regular-priced meal. For years, it was a day that I dreaded and was thrilled when it was over.
But many, many years later, I came to a very simple conclusion. Valentine’s Day does not have to be about romantic love. You can celebrate it with and however you damn well please. I decided I was going to celebrate it with my daughter and her friends. And just like that, my whole attitude changed.
Each year on Valentine’s Day, we host a kid-themed party in our house. We decorate and do crafts and play games and dance and eat fun foods. It’s one of my favorite times with my daughter and I love creating these memories with her. I now embrace this holiday, not because Hallmark is telling me to, but because my daughter loves it and she has made me love it. Seeing this holiday through her eyes has changed the way I see Valentine’s Day—and a little piece of myself.
*Name has been changed