The sign of a good date is always when you return home to pour yourself a glass of Cabernet and take it to bed with a handful of Pirate Booty stolen from your kids’ lunchbox stash, right? Then you open the laptop to write a few words and wonder if you will ever even post them.
I don’t write a lot about dating. There are lots of reasons for this. First of all, there are the privacy issues. This blog is public, and anyone can read it, and nothing emotionally intimate grows between two people when it is shared with the whole world. You have to draw that sacred circle around the two of you pretty tightly until you get solid roots – or that’s my opinion anyway. Dating is something I like to experience in the moment. And to listen to my own wisdom, I need to be present enough to hear my gut. For me, that sometimes means not stepping out of it to write about it. Writing makes me take a step back to get the panoramic view. It makes me leave the moment. When I am with someone else, I like to be there in the truest sense.
Then, of course, there’s the simple issue that there are more important things to write about. Sometimes I date. Sometimes it’s really fun. Sometimes it’s not. I have some funny stories and some boring ones and some sweet ones, too. But frankly there are more meaningful things in my interior life to talk about and to chronicle here.
But sometimes it feels disingenuous to leave it out entirely when I share so much more in this space. So here I am, trying to string a few words together and tell you the truest things I can say.
I read an article earlier this week about emotional labor in domestic partnerships. I posted it on my personal Facebook page and was surprised by the resounding YES I heard through likes and comments from plenty of happily married women and single ones, too. There was another essay on Huffington Post titled “The Default Parent” that ran a couple years ago with a similar concept. I can remember reading “Default Parent” when I was still married at that time, and thinking I’d never read anything else that summarized my family life so perfectly.
I am still the Default Parent, the one responsible for 100% of the mental and emotional labor in my household – because I am the only adult in my household after all. But it’s not as heavy now as it was when I had that mirror of another adult in the house who somehow got to live there without all the stress a Default Parent carries. Resentment. I had it in spades.
Fast forward three years, and here I am now. And I cannot begin to describe to you the degree of change I have undergone in reference to nearly everything in my life, gender roles especially. I will never do that again. I will never carry it all and remain in a partnership that drains every ounce of me like that. I’m not scared to walk away.
I feel powerful in a way that I never have before. I am independent in my own everyday life which is a liberating thing, but I have an unprecedented freedom in my future planning as well. I don’t ask anyone’s permission before I make plans on a Saturday night. If I feel like it, I dance in the kitchen with my kids while making dinner, and I don’t have to listen to someone else tell me to turn the music down. On the weekends my kids are here, yes, it is exhausting, and there is no one else to get up early and make them pancakes, and sometimes the string of 14 solid days with no one else to share the load makes me want to pull my hair out.
But on weekends I’m alone, there’s also no one else to tell me to take my toast downstairs before I get crumbs in the bed. Right now, as I type this. It is 10:48pm on a Friday night, and there are pillows piled in all the empty spaces on my bed. The sheets are soft, and in a little while, I will tuck them under my chin and scoot over to the very center of the bed with no worries about where my arms and legs end up by dawn. I will sleep until I want to get up, and then I will do what I want to do for hours and hours.
This is my life now. All mine.
Sometimes I am filled with this almost tangible longing to share it with someone else. Where is My Person? Where is he? I want someone to lean on.
But for every time I long for someone else, I think about how lucky I am to do whatever I want to do, and sometimes, to be completely honest, it feels like maybe I want to stay in this place for a long, long time. I cannot tell which I want. Maybe this means I have not met the right person yet, and maybe this just means that this is what it feels like forever after once you have finally arrived at that place where you enjoy your own company.
Do you know how many times I have have sat across the table from a man with all of the right credentials – attractive and successful and everything he should be – and heard every little word he’s saying with a resounding clarity telling me I’m better off alone? Is this where 36 finds you? Maybe so. I know he’s out there somewhere, but I’m willing to wait rather than settle. This is the thing I didn’t expect – that I’d feel so good here. So comfortable and real and solid in a way that I think makes it really hard to mold myself into a new shape to fulfill someone else’s desires.
Something happens for women when we near this spot in our lives. When we pass 35 on the calendar and our kids grow out of diapers and sippy cups. I felt so alone when I divorced at 33, but here we are a few short years later, and I am surrounded. I’m watching marriages drop like flies through the layers of my social circles. There goes another one. Here it comes, I guess. That time when the statistics tend to rear their heads and the one in two begin to fall away.
I hear it when I go out with girlfriends who are happily married with no real intention of leaving. They talk about changing. About seeing him differently now. About feeling his reins a little too tightly sometimes. About changing and seeing their own reflection a little differently. About how it feels like a lot to try and figure out sometimes. All these layers of a life well-planned built on the underpinnings of their own character at the age of 25, and now they feel the weight all these years later.
My inbox is full of it, too. There’s nothing I love more than hearing from readers who reach out across the wide internet to tell me that something I’ve written resonates with them. For most of 2015, the emails were from women who were in the wake of divorce or infidelity, and I still get those as well. But more so these days, I hear from people who feel that thread of self-discovery and reinvention in a more universal way. They find pieces of my own path that feel true to them, even if the details are different. Just last month, a California reader tells me, “I am in an itchy time. It’s uncomfortable and confusing and just plain not fun. Even within a good marriage, individual growth can be so hard.” We corresponded back and forth a bit with some ideas and solidarity and reading suggestions, and she explains something I know so well, “I was telling a friend recently that I feel like I’m molting, whether I want to or not, and it’s leaving me feeling so soft and tender and vulnerable and scared. I think I’m trying to find myself again, the same way you had to after your divorce.” I hear this all the time. Face to face with friends across a table. In comments and emails with people I’ve never met before who find me across the internet. The story is the same. Growth and discovery and trying to find a place for a partnership in the midst of all that.
I know these women worry about how their marriages can possibly grow and change and leave room for who they become. And judging by the wave of divorce that seems to come as we near our 40th year, I guess a lot of marriages don’t survive that. In ways maybe it is easier for me with all this space to grow and no one to judge or tamp it down or box me in. But likewise, I worry that I am growing too big, too solid. The cold hard truth of the matter is that there aren’t many men who will fit the bill now. When you reach a place where you aren’t willing to settle, you have to swallow that hard truth that this could take a while.
Sometimes it’s character that drives me away from someone. He reveals something in conversation that doesn’t settle well with me. (A gift of divorce is seeing those red flags so loud and clear.) Sometimes it’s talk about him that makes its way back to me through mutual circles we share. Sometimes it’s timing when underneath it all, I can see an incredible well of potential, but he’s not where he’d have to be for this to work. Not enough time and space between his last relationship and this one, not enough individual accountability and clear-sightedness to make solid choices and be someone I can lean on. There’s character. There’s compatibility. And there’s timing. Each of which is no small feat. All three together? A unicorn. But every person I meet is my teacher. I observe, I listen, I pause there a moment if I feel I should, and I move on when it’s time. Sometimes I am up for the challenge, and sometimes I go months and months without any desire to share as much as a coffee with anyone. It ebbs and flows.
I’ve written about Richard Rohr before. I get his daily emails, and so much of what he writes speaks straight to me and straight to these common refrains I hear from friends and strangers alike. He talks a lot about the “first stage of life” and the “second stage of life.” The first is when we are obsessed with playing the game – the education and jobs and titles, the house and the things we fill it with, the money. The second comes when we have something that shakes us enough to lead us to see how empty the first one was. That is when we reinvent and love as we are meant to, when we make it real.
I remember reading him once when he was cautioning that not everyone wakes up. Some people reach the last months of their lives still stuck in that first stage of life. He explains that usually happens from people who never encountered that much heartbreak to begin with and those who just rush through a potential awakening by “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.” I love that metaphor. You can rearrange those chairs all you want – buy a new house, get a different job, attach yourself to a different partner. But that boat is still going down.
I think what has happened to me in my mid-thirties is that I decided to sink the whole ship. No rearranging anything to mimic what was there before and do it all over again. Something brand new has to emerge in its place if it’s going to somehow float me safely through the remaining decades of my life.
It’s the same thing I hear from my single friends and my married friends, too. From readers far and wide. I don’t fit in that box anymore. And I want to be seen.