Sunday, January 31, 2010

Moving Fast

Guy and I had a very lovely evening together last night, but whoa, things are moving fast. I very much enjoyed it in the moment, and I don't regret anything, but dating with a small child is a completely different beast. I am hyper-sensitive to introducing anyone into my daughter's life who may not be there long-term. Or am I projecting? There are certainly plenty of people who casually come and go in our home and routine, and I have no qualms about introducing B to them, spending time together, and possibly explaining that they're not available at a particular time if she requests their presence. But I had Guy leave before B woke up this morning, because I didn't want her to see him in the house first thing in the morning, even though she has no idea what that might mean. Somehow a love interest seems different; will she pick up on the emotional content between us? Will the appearance of a man in the times and places usually reserved for serious life partners be at all meaningful to her, or disruptive if and when he's gone?

Aside from the impact on B, I also feel hesitant to jump into a (this?) relationship too quickly for myself. While I am lonely and certainly want to be remarried some day, do I want a serious relationship, possibly leading to marriage, right now? Can I handle it right now? Even if I did and could, would Guy be the right one? I mean, we really hardly know each other. I don't THINK he's a weirdo, but I sure could use some broader evidence. For example, what are his friends like? How would he interact with my friends? Here's where my lack of experience sizing up people for romance before I know all about them as friends is a problem. I generally trust my judgment of people, and it hasn't steered me wrong yet, but I also have never had so little information to go on before.

All that said, I do really like him. He is interesting and fun, says all the right things, and likes me. As long as I stay open and honest, which I have been at pains to do, we're both adults. Barring impact to B, we can do what we want. Lighten up, and enjoy.

Monday, January 25, 2010


I was thinking more about how Guy might have reacted to the pictures of T in the house, and the larger issue of my widowhood and the understandable concern of competing with a ghost. (Does he worry about that? If he doesn't, does that say anything about his sensitivity and emotional depth, or about his confidence and self-esteem? I have never worried about past girlfriends or ex-wives, trusting that they were gone and I was here. I hope that means I'm confident and have good self-esteem. :) ) And I was thinking about it myself -- how do I feel about having a new man in the place where T used to be? How do I think T would feel about it? Having just finished Gretchen Rubin's book The Happiness Project, I recognized an opportunity to reframe my thinking. As I began to imagine T being pleased that I was happy, appreciating the rightness of the champagne, enjoying my excitement, I felt a perceptible lightening of spirit. Though I don't believe in ghosts or an afterlife, I do find it comforting to imagine T looking down and smiling.

And such is my comfort level with Guy that when he called last night, I asked him how he felt about the photos. He didn't have a problem, he said; T was obviously an important part of my life. Ah, he does so often say the right thing.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Back Up Again

I identified yet another reason for my sadness and melancholy yesterday afternoon. Spending a good part of the day with Guy, relaxed and without responsibilities, hearkened back to the days before T, before B. It was so pleasant to walk and talk and be carefree with a "boyfriend", and it felt so familiar, like slipping into an old favorite jacket. Coming home to the commitments and single-handed responsibilities of raising a child alone was hard. Back before B, I wasn't even ever sure I wanted children, and it was only after T and I were married and he was pretty pro-child that I got on that bandwagon. It was certainly never in the plan for me to do it all by myself. Being reminded of my pre-B, carefree days, and finding myself thinking of creative ways to get time away from B, in turn made me angry -- I never want to wish her, or my time with her, away.

But the good news is I felt much better this morning. After all, I had a lovely day with a very nice guy who brought champagne and roses, who I anticipate seeing again. What's not to be happy about? Lighten up! As for wishing B away, it's easy to reframe that thought into a recognition of the challenges and complexity of my life with her. Yes, it is hard. And I need some adult time away from her, for my own happiness and fulfillment. The best thing I can do for her is to take care of myself, both because she gets a happy parent, and because it models the importance of self-care. I will be sensitive to her schedule, planning the bulk of my time away for the evenings after bedtime and on the weekends to overlap with naptime. (Though she won't be napping forever. She's three and half already, and still napping 2 1/2 hours. Keep your fingers crossed for me that it lasts a while yet!) And it's not like I haven't already left her with a sitter several nights a week on occasion -- I guess it's the weekend time that would be new. And just because I feel a high degree of urgency to spend lots and lots of time with Guy, he may not be in the same place, and taking it slow is probably the best thing we can do for the budding relationship anyway. Lighten up! It will all be fine.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

A Roller Coaster Day

What a day! It started with high nerves and excited anticipation in the morning, knowing I was meeting Guy for a hike at a local park. And we had a lovely time. It has been very rainy and wet the last week, but after a bit of drizzle initially, the sun came out and it turned into a glorious day. I immediately felt comfortable and at ease with him, and we talked about all sorts of things. I brought the bread and cheese, he brought the Champagne (really!). We hiked to the top of the ridge, holding hands, where there was a bench with a gorgeous view. (The photo was taken from the bench.) Sharing our hilltop was a young couple who had gotten engaged just moments before we arrived (she still had the ring box in her hand), and Guy offered them a glass of bubbly. We all agreed it was serendipitous, their engagement and our first real date coinciding over good sparkler.

We weren't ready to say goodbye when I had to head home to relieve the babysitter, so I brought Guy with me. He gave me roses then (wow!). I was pleased to show him my home, though after the fact it occurred to me that there are several pictures of T, and of T and me, and that might have been weird for him. We enjoyed some mild adult time together, and it felt like just what the doctor ordered. He left when it was time to get B up from her nap, as we decided it would be better to hold off introducing the two of them until he and I spend a little more time together. I invoked my mantra to "Lighten Up" whenever I found myself heading down the path of relationship speculation, and found it very helpful. Altogether, it was an auspicious beginning to some sort of relationship.

But now I'm so tired. Emotionally exhausted, melancholy, let down, confused, sad. Right now, I just want my old life back, with T's arms around me. B's Daddy. The comfort and certainty of love and commitment, the ease of familiarity. There are so many thoughts spinning in my head, so many reasons I can see for my mood. Having a man in the house, and then leave, reminded me of what I used to have, the man that used to be here all the time. Having him here and then gone threw into higher relief what I've lost, and the loneliness I feel. Having him leave before seeing B was a stark reminder that B's Daddy is gone, and no one can replace him. It feels exhausting to imagine the emotional work required to build a relationship to the level of intimacy and trust that T and I had, and of course there's no guarantee that Guy will be the one. And as predicted, the huge hole in my heart is still there. While I certainly don't regret meeting or spending time with Guy, and I'm looking forward to spending more time and getting to know him better, my life is still the same; he wasn't able to ride in on a white horse and rescue me from the pain of my loss.

Guy is a wonderful person, and his attention is a balm to my wounded heart, but he's not T. Right now, tonight, I wish he were.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Lighten Up

Guy #2 and I have had three more long phone conversations since I last posted. In fact, I've been trying to write this post for the last several days, and he keeps calling and interrupting my plans. :) We talk about serious things and not-so-serious; about our pasts and how we feel about each other (we like each other); about adult subjects that probably shouldn't be shared quite this early in a relationship.

Ah, the beginnings of a relationship are so fraught, with swirling emotions, the push and pull of wishes, expectations, fears and dreams. I came home from dinner with a friend one night last week, just after the Haiti earthquake, and felt the strongest urge to call Guy for connection and comfort. OK, I had split a bottle of wine with dinner, so I wasn't thinking all that clearly, and luckily I was able to restrain myself, but the depth and intensity of longing, the urgency of need, took me by surprise. I hardly know this guy, after all. Why did I think he could fill the huge hole left by T's departure?

Then I had a very enlightening conversation with my grief counselor, who I still see weekly. She said first off that I was right on schedule and very normal, starting to grapple with a whole new set of issues that arise when widows (and widowers, I imagine) reenter the dating world. It was comforting to know that so many others have tread this way, and have come out the other side safely. And she cautioned that the huge hole in my heart, that deep loneliness and longing, will not, can not be assuaged by this person, this relationship, at this time. It may never in fact completely go away; such is the legacy of loss of a spouse. Trying to make something happen in the hopes that I'll suddenly feel whole, that the pain will be gone, is both unrealistic and unwise. It won't work, and I'll just come across as needy, desperate, or just plain crazy. Hearing that was like a light bulb going on -- it gave me a new vantage point from which to see my emotions and the behaviors they were driving. And I think I actually can separate the feelings that are specific to Guy from the ones coming from my loss. In doing so, I think I can let go (somewhat) of the outcome, let the relationship unfold naturally, and enjoy the crazy emotions, teenage yearnings, and difficulty focusing on anything else.

My counselor encouraged me to think of an affirmation, mantra, or other aid to remind myself, in the heat of emotion, of this perspective. "Lighten up" was what came to mind. Lighten up, it's all good, we have all the time in the world, and if not this person at this time, then someone else at another time. And by the way, I'm having lunch with Guy #1 tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A New Beau

Last night, guy #2 called. We had a long, meandering, pleasant conversation. I felt like a teenager, hanging on the phone with a boy because I didn't want the conversation to end, even though I didn't have much important to say. He confessed that something I said on our walk on Saturday made him weak in the knees -- I mentioned I liked Star Trek. (Well, I do!) In and around more casual topics, he said he liked me, and asked me if I liked beards (I said I most definitely did). We referred back to a point I had made on Saturday, about being more nervous the more you like someone. We both confessed to being nervous. After we finally hung up, having tentatively planned our next get-together on Saturday the 23rd, I had to do some work, then went to bed late. Reminiscent of the night T first kissed me in Vail in February 2000, I had a hard time getting to sleep. OK, it wasn't nearly that dramatic, when my whole body buzzed for hours, but I did struggle to fall asleep and stay asleep. I like this man, he seems to like me, and I am having a hard time not imagining all sorts of rosy outcomes for our relationship.

It occurs to me that right now, I feel like I'm recovering from a divorce more than a death. I'm afraid I had come to believe that T didn't really like or appreciate the core of me: my enthusiasm and puppy-dog energy, my inclination to organize and plan things, my sometimes changeable passions. Coming home from an appointment with my grief counselor today, I burst into tears when I realized that perhaps subconsciously I suspect that T left me because he didn't love me. Oh, and my mother, too, having died when I was 24 -- everyone important in my life leaves me. If there is any chance that #2 can soothe that pain, then no wonder I'm struggling to keep from spinning romantic endings to this first baby-step beginning.

And then fear of rejection reared its not unexpected head. T left me by dying; what if #2 hurts me too, or treats me badly? And yet I really want to be extra-authentic, absolutely myself, crystal clear in who I am and what I'm like, so that I don't end up in a relationship again where I feel like I have to be different somehow, that expressing my core self isn't encouraged and supported. Being open-hearted and vulnerable, while also taking things slowly and really getting to know this guy for who he is, independent of what he can (or can not) do for me, is I suspect a challenging balancing act.

But boy, it's good to be back in the thick of life! I feel so much wiser about the ways of the heart, yet still so vulnerable to them. I was so glad he called last night. After we hung up I sent him my real email address, and checked all day today to see if he responded. He hasn't. It's exhilarating, amusing, distracting, exasperating, and fun!

Sunday, January 10, 2010


Let me preface this by saying that as an adult, I've never been a church-goer. Raised Unitarian, I'm appalled at the things done in the name of organized religion. If pressed to name something I believe in, I say "evolution". (The elegance and simplicity of the mechanisms of evolution amaze and delight me every time I contemplate them.)

However, for the last year or so, I've been attending a church. It's a Unity church, which is to say, it's liberal and progressive, supports individuals of all spiritual persuasions, and is just an open, friendly, welcoming place to regularly contemplate the meaning of life. You (read I) don't even have to believe in God; believing in the inherent goodness of humanity and the value in coming together as a community to share ideas and practices that can bring peace and understanding is all it takes.

Anyway, at the Sunday service after New Year's, we did a "white stone ceremony". After a brief meditation, on a small rectangular stone we each wrote a word or two that we felt could be our touchstone for the year. What did I want to focus on, to come back to, in my daily life? The minister related how she used "centered" as her touchstone last year. I closed my eyes, and thought about all I have, and all I want for myself in the new year. I am really so fortunate in all aspects of my life, barring the rather significantly unfortunate event of losing a spouse. "Abundance" came to me as I sat; abundance in all I have, and abundance in the love that I hope to find waiting for me at some point in the future. This year I will remind myself often of how abundance shows up in my life, in ways large and small, and be on the look-out for experiences that can be interpreted as expressions of abundance.

That was last Sunday. And what do you think happened in the days immediately following? I put out a few match dot com and e harmony dot com feelers, and by Thursday I was starting a 3-day, 4-coffee-date string of meeting new men. Abundance! It's not like I didn't spend time on those sites last year, but for all the effort I put in then (which was admittedly not that much, but still), the only result was a single meeting and an attempted (but not completed) phone conversation. Obviously, I wasn't ready then, and I am now, and the vibe I sent out says as much. Fascinating!

So how did it go? The two men who contacted me were nice, but I didn't feel any real connection. The two where I initiated were more interesting to me, and I'll be seeing each of them again. How fun! Even if nothing comes of it, it's a reminder that there are plenty of fish in the sea, a few of whom might even be interested in a closing-in-on-50 mom of a young child, with the emotional baggage of the loss of a spouse and an inferiority complex when it comes to her desirability as date material. (It's funny -- I don't doubt my ability to be a great wife. It's just in the more superficial world of dating, online or otherwise, I have never felt like I can successfully compete with cuter, more flirty, more effective-at-playing-the-game women. And I'm afraid that my young daughter makes me less desirable to men of my age, while my age makes me less desirable to younger men who might want to raise a young child.)

I can't help but compare each of the two interesting men to T, but rather than judging them on the results, I'm trying to use the information to gain an understanding of what's going on with me. For example, one guy seems quite gentle and sensitive. T, not so much. Finding someone who is better at communicating, more comfortable sharing his feelings and listening to me talk about mine, is very important to me. The other guy seems to be wittier, and have a dry and maybe even slightly sarcastic sense of humor. Sort of like T. And though I like them both, I admit to feeling more comfortable with, more of a romantic spark with, the second guy. Plus, he is tall, slim, and bearded, just like T was. I don't think I'm trying to replace T, and T himself was attractive to me initially because he was tall, slim and bearded. (What can I say? I like beards. As a taller woman, I like how they make me feel more feminine.) But I will be keeping an eye on my expectations and assumptions about who these guys really are, always trying to see them as themselves, and not who I imagine them to be, or who I wish T could have been. And above all, I plan to have fun getting to know some new people!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The New Normal

I'm really feeling quite normal these days. I don't think of myself first as a widow anymore, as someone coping with a loss. Instead, I label myself a sole parent, and someone who is coming out of the coping phase, moving out of active grieving. When meeting new people, I no longer have that uncontrollable urge to share my story. It's now a controllable urge! Perhaps I like to tell for the shock value or its ability to make me feel unique and special, but not as an excuse, not to let me off the hook for whatever awkwardness or transgression I feel I may have committed. I don't feel the desire to play the widow card much anymore.

And it used to be when friends asked how I was, I would answer something like "fine, given the circumstances." Obviously not good on an absolute scale, but relative to my situation, good enough. Now, at least today and this week, I don't feel the need to qualify it so much. On an absolute scale, right now, I'm actually doing OK, I think.

I remind myself of the ebbs and flows of grieving. I recall this time last year, through the late winter and spring, when I was feeling pretty good. The calm before the storm, it turned out, when from mid-summer through late fall I was in a pretty sad place. And so it may go this year, too, and that's OK. Two steps forward, one step back, and the lows don't go as deep or last as long, in general. 2010 will definitely be better than 2009, which was infinitely better than 2008.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Reading is easy. It's living that's sometimes hard.

T used to tease me about reading when I could be experiencing. We'd be driving through beautiful countryside on vacation, and I'd have my nose buried in the guidebook. Or I'd be nursing B and reading a book on breast-feeding. I understood what he was trying to convey, but it never really sunk in. I mean, you gotta know where the best restaurants are, right? And how to do side-lying nursing.

Somehow today I was thinking about the reading I've been doing on meditation, and how little I actually do it, and it struck me that while I completely buy into the immense benefits of meditation, I haven't make it a priority to have a daily practice. And it reminds me of the gardening reading I did for quite a while. I know a lot about plants and gardening in theory, but I don't go out and actually get dirt under my fingernails very often. I'm an armchair gardener. And while I understood the theory, I never did get the hang of side-lying nursing.

I think there are two parts to my bias for reading instead of living. One, I like being prepared, in control. Reading about something, for example a travel destination or a how-to manual, provides context and a framework in which to operate, so I'm not flying blind. I know what to expect, what's normal, and how to handle surprises and problems. And two, it's a whole lot safer and/or easier to get vicarious thrills from a book than going out and doing the real thing. I can talk about how important it is to be careful of the root ball when planting bougainvillea, but I'll ask the yard crew to plant it for me. But reading can distance you from living, pulling you away from direct experience and into your head. I used to read for escape as a kid, when my parents would fight with each other and my older brother. I still read a lot, substituting a book for the TV as my method of being a couch potato. It's a pretty harmless coping mechanism, far better than alcohol or drugs or bad behavior.

But in 2010 I would like to tip the balance a little more toward living. Not that I won't still read a whole lot, especially for the illusion of control. But I'll also make sure to stop, take my head out of the book occasionally, and be in the moment. Enjoy the sun coming in the family room window in the morning and the fire murmuring in the grate in the evening. Be mindful of the moment I'm living in, because there is no other.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Life Lessons from the Big Big Loader

Life Lessons from The Big Big Loader
If T had a favorite kid's toy, it was the Big Big Loader. He first saw it at a close friend's house, where three boys and their parents resided cheek-by-jowl in a tiny two-bedroom house in Southern California. It takes up a bit of floor space, is not terribly robust (it can't be easily moved once set up and shouldn't be jostled), and provides no interaction, but everyone was fascinated by it. When D was old enough, T got a Big Big Loader for our house, and we got quite good at setting it up, just to watch it do its thing.

It's endlessly repetitious -- scoop, dump, load, dump, roll, scoop, dump. Over and over, the same exact thing without variation. But it does it so well, so neatly, with such focus and dedication. It's mesmerizing to watch; you can't believe how well it all works together, time after time, never slowing down or getting tired.

I set it up at Thanksgiving, and B and our Thanksgiving guests all loved it. Such a clever design! Each piece works so well with the others, doing just its one little action in the elaborate choreography of the whole.

It's a bit like life. Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Sleep, wake, bathe, talk. Work, care for others, love. The same exact thing over and over, day in and day out. Yet a life lived with focus, dedication, and attention to doing what needs to be done at any moment can be a life of peace and joy.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Date Report

Remember the older gentleman (OG) I met at the singles event a few weeks back? We had a glass of wine together last week, and then a Real Date on Wednesday night (my first in ten years!): dinner at a nice restaurant. He's a nice guy, and easy to talk to, but I'm not (at least yet) feeling the spark. Our conversations so far have been pretty surface; no discussion of my loss or his divorce, nothing at any real level of intimacy or disclosure. On the other hand, he's funny, especially in his emails, a bit self-deprecating, which I find endearing, and sweet. How much more time do I give it? I've never dated anyone that I didn't first know pretty well as a friend, so attempting to become acquainted while also deciding if there's a romantic attraction is weird. What about kissing and such? OG gave me a nice kiss on Wednesday night, and I didn't know how to respond. My gut reaction wasn't favorable, I'm afraid, but I don't know if it's my intuition saying it's not a good fit, or just lack of knowledge of him. I don't think it's unconscious guilt surfacing, because I sure don't feel like I'm still married. I can imagine being attracted and responsive to someone other than T, certainly.

Since OG paid for our first two dates, I feel almost compelled to invite him to dinner on my dime, as I have an almost visceral distaste for being thought of as acting entitled to men's financial favors. So I'll likely give it some more time, and it may simply evolve into a comfortable friendship rather than a romance. Having a pleasant companion who cleans up nicely isn't a bad thing, after all.

In the meantime, I'm considering whether to make "finding a partner" a New Year's Resolution, or at least a focused project for 2010. A friend of mine recently described the very determined steps a friend of hers took to find a mate: he decided to go out with at least 20 (or maybe it was 50 -- some large number) of women in a short period of time. Intelligence was important to him, so he narrowed the field to women who had graduated from a local high-caliber university. My friend claimed he wasn't a player; he was serious about getting married and he knew that it's a numbers game. Treating it as a project worked for him, too, as he's now engaged to one of the women he met. Am I ready to dive into the challenges and commitments of a serious relationship? Heck, am I ready to invest the time and emotional energy into serious dating?

Friday, January 1, 2010

Good Enough Holidays

Trying to remember back to last year's Christmas preparations and actual event, I find I can't really recall what we did, how I felt, what it was really like. So while this year is fresh, I thought I would try to capture the traditions we kept and abandoned, the spirit of the holidays, and my emotional state.

The run up to the holidays, the anticipation of the event, wasn't bad. I decorated, albeit somewhat half-heartedly. I got down the "tier 1" Christmas boxes and pulled out most items. I hung the front door wreath, put up red velveteen bows on the courtyard pillars, placed the carolers and stockings on the hearth. I put up Christmas lights on the courtyard arbor, got a small tree and put it on a low table, baked a few batches of Christmas cookies, and hopefully started a new tradition of taking B to see The Nutcracker.

I didn't decorate the back patio the way we (T) always did in the past, with velveteen bows on the pillars, small Christmas lights on the pool fence, and a big poinsettia on the table. Nor did I get poinsettias to line the front walkway, or hang Christmas lights along the roof edge. These were things that T always did, a bit more elaborate than I would do if left to my own devices. And now that I am, I didn't. I missed the feeling of having someone else put thought and care into the atmosphere and ambiance of our home.

I have all the tree decorations from my family and T's family, along with a goodly number of ornaments T and I (mostly T) picked up in the years we were together. The tree I got this year was small enough that our ornaments were sufficient, along with a few of my childhood favorites: the colored icicles, the decorated eggs. There may have been some favorites I didn't pull out, but I just didn't feel strongly enough to search for them. The tree was slightly crooked, and I didn't care enough to reset it straight. "Good enough" was my mantra.

Some time in December we always threw a Christmas dinner and "How the Grinch Stole Christmas"-watching event for our good friends, three families we called "the usual suspects". (We served Roast Beast, of course.) Last year, the first year without T, one of the families volunteered to manage the food if I was willing to host. It was an ideal arrangement, and last year's party would have been fine except B had an infected toe that landed us in Urgent Care for a couple of hours that evening.

This year I never got around to organizing the event. No one mentioned it, or volunteered to co-host with me, and I felt sort of hurt by that. It was a big deal for T, and having no one say anything about it made me fear that they didn't get as much out of the event as T (and I) did. But it's equally possible (probably more so) that they didn't want to make me feel bad for not throwing the party, or make me feel obligated to. In any case, B and I watched The Grinch one time, Rudolph a couple times, and we never did see Charlie Brown's Christmas. Nor did we get together with two of the three families during the holidays. I miss them, and the community we had, but it's just different without T. He was the magnet that pulled us all together. I can't do it without him, and no one else seems to care the same way T did about this particular constellation of friendships.

On New Year's Eve, one family of the usual suspects invited me to a dinner party. (The other usual suspects weren't included -- it was a different circle of friends.) New Year's Eve was never a big deal for T and me, so I would have been content (though sad) to spend it alone. But it was nice to have somewhere to go, to get a little dressed up and drink champagne. One of the other guests was someone I hadn't met before, so it was pleasant to get to know someone new.

Today, New Year's Day, was spent attempting to get the house back in some sort of order, and hanging out with B. I had a thought of going to the beach, or to T's niche at the cemetery, or even to scatter the last portion of T's ashes somewhere meaningful, but it all seemed like just a little too much trouble. The house is still in a pretty chaotic state, so I'm not sure if the symbolism of leaving the house for some beautiful natural destination wouldn't have been more fulfilling, but oh well.

So I would characterize my state of mind for this holiday season as half-hearted. I wanted to make it fun for B, but otherwise I preferred to fly a bit under the radar and get by with a minimum amount of effort and fuss. I liberally applied the 80/20 rule: you get 80% of the benefit from 20% of the effort. I missed T, but not piercingly so. I didn't like being alone, but it wasn't terrible. I think B had a good experience, with plenty of "tradition", so I feel good about the balance I struck.

I am working on a few New Year's resolutions, and I'm looking forward to what 2010 will bring. More on both these topics in a future post. Happy New Year!