Saturday, May 30, 2015

A filled closet

When Bryan and I were married, we shared a closet.  My home, which was ours back then, was built in 1923 when people didn't have as much stuff as we do now, and the closet is only about 7-8 feet long, with a shelf up top and a bar for hangers.  He had his half, and I had my half.

Which seems fair, except that I had more clothes than he did (he preferred to cycle through about 10 polo shirts and a couple pairs of jeans and a couple pairs of slacks, whereas I had blouses and skirts and dresses and slacks and jeans and long coats and short coats and so on).  My side of the closet was completely crammed, and his had room to spare.  Let it be noted that he didn't want more clothes, he was perfectly content with his small wardrobe, because fashion isn't his thing.

One day I noticed that he had lots of space, and that I was crammed, and I put a couple things on his side, past the bracket holding the bar in the middle that marked his vs. mine.

He was livid.  He told me that it wasn't fair and that I took more than my share.  (Ironic, given spending habits and household work and childcare etc.)  He put my things back on my side, pouted, fumed, and stomped his feet.  (How sexy, right?)

When he moved out of the bedroom (first to the basement, and then to his own apartment), I took over his side of the closet.  My clothes now hung, wrinkle free, with room to breathe.  I could feel myself feeling relaxed, even as the clothes relaxed.  We were both less confined.

Over time, I've transitioned the plastic hangers to wooden ones, and what's more, I've added to my wardrobe.  Now that I'm in charge of my own finances, I've picked up some nicer clothes for myself (again, ironic: our married income was much greater than my single income, but I am so much better off financially without him spending so much on himself) and the closet is once again filled....with my things.

The closet feels symbolic of my own growth, of my own taking care of myself, of my expansion into the world.  It's prettier now.  It's feminine.  It's mine.

And this, perhaps, is a problem.

I'd love to have a partner.  I'd love a man who lights up when he sees me.  I'd love to fall asleep in someone's arms.  I'd love sex (lots and lots and lots of sex).  I'd love to share vacations, meals, planning for the future.  I'd love to share chores, errands, crises, and joys.

Except that maybe I wouldn't.

I don't want to give up any space in my closet.

I want to share my life with someone, in all of its messy glory, but I don't.  I don't want to give up half the closet.  I don't want to eat the way someone else wants to eat.  I don't want to compromise the way I parent.  I don't want to share finances.  I don't want to deal with someone else's schedule.

I don't want to be consumed, eaten alive by someone else's desires.

I am terrified of giving my heart to someone ever again, because last time I tried that, I was eaten alive.  I lost so much of who I was in my marriage, and I allowed someone to bully me, to blame me, to put his wants and desires in front of mine.  I allowed myself to be treated unkindly.  I took on too much, I asked for too little, and I turned the other cheek until I felt black and blue (thankfully metaphorically).  I lost many of my dreams in the process, and I'm still breathing life back into them, still working on healing them.

I am well aware that in true partnership, there is so much more to be gained than there is to be lost.  I am well aware that my marriage was truly and deeply dysfunctional, and that I will never agree to that behavior again.  I am well aware that I am operating from a place of fear, and that without opening my heart up, I will not be able to invite another person into my heart.

But I do not trust myself to choose a partner wisely.  I do not trust myself to give my heart without giving up my spunk and sass and sass.  I have thrown out the baby with the bathwater: I won't let anybody in, because it might not work out, and because I might not  know how to manage it.

Well, shit.

I am not a fearful person.  I am courageous and strong and brave and I've proved it a hundred times.  (Next up: speaking publicly about my breast cancer experience.  And after that: topless photos and my story, to be published in a book geared at women newly diagnosed with breast cancer; the first photos - not of me - were recently published in The Huffington Post.  These are not for the faint of heart.)  I manage my life relatively fearlessly.  Last weekend I went backpacking - with a far-too-heavy pack filled with 20 year old equipment - with my daughter, in the wilderness, for two nights.  I am not a fearful person.

So I'm going to have to work through these fears, too.  I believe that romantic love and companionship is one of the greatest blessings in a life, and I will not exclude myself from that possibility by operating out of fear.

I don't want to give up space in my closet, because I don't want to be small and powerless.  I don't want to share, for fear that when I offer the first bite, I will be gobbled up until I'm not even there any more.

I want to find ways to expand my closet so that there's room for two, and expand my soul, so that there is room for two.

I'm not there yet.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Do overs

I am a huge fan of the do over.

Some are small: a haircut, a new eating routine, painting a room, taking a break.  Some are bigger: a new job, a new relationship, starting therapy, a big vacation.  Some are enormous: a divorce or a marriage, a new career, a move.

I'm ready for a do over in my life, and I am thinking large scale.  I feel so dissatisfied with so many things right now, too many things that make me feel small, and I'm reaching the point of being so dissatisfied that I'm actually going to do something about it.

Some things are easy to define: I am going to look for a new job.  Now.  I am going to put my heart and soul into the painful work of growing my career.  I am going to risk rejection, I am going to balance continuing to work with interviews and mothering, and I'm going to get a better job that will maybe let me get ahead, not just spin my wheels, and that will be in a healthier environment.

Some things are harder to define: right now, I long for the connection of romantic love, and I am completely closed off to it, which means that I'm doomed to dissatisfaction unless I change one of those things.  I have seriously considered saying "SCREW IT!" and abandoning my notions of partnership.....and I won't.  I am going to embrace the idea of finding love.  Somehow.  Someday.  Doing so makes me feel incredibly vulnerable and it's a painful admission, knowing as I do that there are no guarantees, but I'm going to find a way to stay open.

I'm reading Brene' Brown's latest book, "Daring Greatly," and it's uncomfortable reading.  She says that in her search to understand vulnerability, she found that people fell into two categories.  The first category of people are perfectionists who measure themselves via their productivity, who subscribe to the temple of busyness, who believe that they are not enough and so they try to be "good" so that people will see their goodness.  The second category of people are those who embrace their vulnerability and live wholeheartedly; this second group is often described as being creative.

I long to be a writer.  I have written since childhood, I have journals filled with notes, and I have stories that bubble inside me.  Lately, the stories are more and more insistent, entering my dreams, popping into my head while I stare at spreadsheets and databases, haunting me when I'm doing other things.  I read other people's words, and my stories whisper to me to put them on a page.  I keep those stories inside of me, longing for them so much that I can't let them leave me because outside of me, they are not safe.  If I let the stories leave me, then they might come under attack and find that people loathe them, pick them apart, can't see their beauty, call them names.  Worst, if I let my stories leave me, then they might be met with silence, with nobody who cares about them.  They might be ignored.

My stories might be the best part of me; I feel certain that they are.  They are me, they are something of my essence.  And so having them insulted or ignored feels like an attack on my soul.

So I lock them in a dark room, not daring to put them on paper, because I am the worst offender, and it is I who insult them and ignore them, and I am ashamed of that behavior.  I put them in a bubble, safe behind doors, instead.  But they wither without sunlight and trees; their muscles shrink without exercise; they long for companionship just as I do.

I want a do over of all of this.  It sounds ridiculous to me, even as I type it.  If I know what the problem is - and I've known for decades! - then I need to address it.  A fat person does not become thin by wishing for thinness; she needs to start by taking walks around the block and skipping the grilled cheese sandwiches in favor of vegetable soup.  A person does not become a writer by wishing it: she needs to put it on paper.


The timing for this might be perfect.

I am lonely.  And feeling disconnected.  And my friends are too busy for real connection, leaving us instead with a glass of wine here, a party there, and I want more.

What a perfect time to spend more time writing, to take that solitude and turn it into something.

Maybe my loneliness is a gift.  Maybe it's time, and that only with time alone can I create the things that I need to create; maybe the loneliness is a shadow cast by the brighter sun around what I need to do.


There's a new TV show starring Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda called Grace & Frankie.  See more here:

The show is surprisingly clever and with a lot more depth than I expected, and you should check it out if you're looking for some entertainment.  But that's not why I'm mentioning it.  I'm mentioning it here because the two main characters, who have been thrown together in improbable circumstances, are opposites of one another, and I see myself in both of them, even in their opposition.  One of the characters is polished, professional, and driven.  I long to be like her, and have spent years of my life trying to create a life like that.  The other character is wholehearted, unconventional, even strange.  I have longed to avoid being weird like that.

But I think I am meant to be weird like that.  That being polished and professional and exactly what society wants me to be is exactly what I do not long for.  That the split between these two is the source of too much tension in my life.

It's time for me to work on my weird.  45 year old divorced cancer survivor single moms do not become writers in between paying the bills and going to gymnastics competitions.

But I think it's time for me to decide to do just that.

Monday, May 11, 2015


Dear readers, I'm struggling.

I am so good at being a PollyAnna that sometimes I don't see my feelings following me like a shadow; I'm so good at finding light that when I stumble into darkness it somewhat startles me.

I'm feeling startled.

This has been a particularly rough month: a death in the family that brought up old feelings about a different death in the family (someone that I still deeply miss); Bryan's stroke; my father's eye surgery; Katherine's flu (not a big deal except that she felt horrid and I had to juggle childcare versus work, and it's hard to see her sick like that); and the never ending saga of my dysfunctional work environment and some pressures I feel there and my confusion about what to do next.  I've had late nights working, and I feel worn through to the bone.

It should come as no surprise that a list like that would make me feel sad, and it did.  I plowed on through.  I kept going, keeping all the balls in the air.  I keep doing that, actually: spending half the weekend doing fun kid things and half the weekend doing chores.

I reached out to friends a couple of times this month, deeply.  I told one friend that I just felt like crying, and she said, "You need down time, a four day weekend...." and then she proceeded to ask for my help with some of her chores (long story involving a mouse that got into a cupboard and her freak out over it that involved throwing away half of her kitchen pantry and cleaning like a madwoman...with my help).  I called another friend and said, "I think I'm having a panic attack!" and she said, "Oh no!  What can I do to help?" and then we got cut off and she had a meeting and she forgot to call back.

I don't have shitty friends, but this was shitty behavior.

I believe in confronting my issues head on, and whether I want to or not, all of this has me looking hard at my life, trying to figure out what's going on in my head behind the positive attitude.

I'm realizing that, though surrounded by lovely, loving people, I feel isolated and lonely.

Oh, crapcrapcrap.  I don't want to feel like that.  Surely it's me?  Surely there is some attitude adjustment that I can make, some revision of my attitude, some way to shine light on the shadow to MAKE IT GO AWAY?  I have many friends: I feel liked, and I get invited to parties and whatnot....

But no, this is real, and ignoring it or pretending it away won't work.

The life of a 45 year old divorced woman who isn't into the party scene and doesn't want to go on dozens of first dates or settle for a "nice" relationship is lonely.  I'm lonely.

My friends, while well intentioned, really just don't get it.  Their lives are centered around their families, most of which include husbands.  At the end of the day, they crawl under the covers and say "Hey could you call the mechanic about the weird sound the car started making?" and "What do you want to do about choosing high schools?" and "Where do you want to go on vacation?"  They have double the financial resources, or more, because they weren't stay at home moms who took a decade "off" before going into nonprofit.  They have someone to help mow the grass, or they can afford to pay someone else to do it.  They have a built in support system, inside their homes.  I know that their support system is often imperfect, and that spouses can be selfish or thoughtless or forgetful....but at the end of the day, my friends choose to slide under the sheets next to the warm body of the person that they've chosen to share their lives with.

While I get invited to a lot of parties (usually kid-focused affairs with potlucks), I've noticed that my dinner invitations have dropped off.  My married friends invite married friends over; the guys want to talk about the Seahawks or man-stuff (clearly I'm clueless in this regard) and I don't bring a plus-one for them to play with.  Same is true of weekends away.  Some of this is financial: my friends are, for the great part, far better off than I am at this point, and I simply can't join the girls' weekend in Palm Springs or the ski trip to Sun Valley or rent a cabin in the Methow because I don't have the means.

I know how much I have to be grateful for.  I haven't forgotten.

But I'm lonely, and for good reasons.

I told one friend about my feelings about being single in a world designed for couples, and she got super-defensive about it, as if I were accusing her of being a bad person and a bad friend.  Dear reader, her reaction made me feel like their were some truth to her wasn't the response of a friend looking out for me, it was the response of someone who wanted to be told that despite her absence in my life, a fifteen minute phone call filled with "You know I love you!" and "I miss you!" and "Don't worry, I trust that you'll get what you need!" would somehow make it okay.  It's friendship-light.  I don't want shallow, I want deep.  I don't want nice words, I want the actions that support those words.  Have my friendships become friendship-light?  Airy declarations of friendship without substance?  A horrid thought, not one I've had before, and it's troubling, and it makes me feel lonelier than ever.

What I want is my plus-one.  I'm realizing that friends can't fill that role, and that I am spending far too much time alone.  How can I not?  I must weed the strawberry beds, go to the grocery store, drive to gymnastics.  Every weekend I gather with friends for three or four hours or so out of my long week....and it isn't enough.  But I don't want parties with breezy talk and I don't need grand vacations....I want the companionship of a partner with shared goals.  I want an adult across the dinner table; I want an arm around my shoulders; I want someone to chat with about the NPR article; I want a hiking companion.  I don't want to be surrounded by people, I want the depth of relationship.

I know how to find companionship: it's easy to find activities.  I want more than that.

I have more questions than answers, and I'm going to try to unravel these thoughts and figure out how to find peace with them.  I know that a work environment with colleagues would be a massive improvement; I know that lifting my financial purgatory (hey, it's better than hell!) will probably lift my mood.

I am not hopeful about finding a life partner, and perhaps it is this realization that has brought this loneliness about.

Life is messy and complicated.  I will figure it out, and I will find my joie de vivre again.  Somehow.