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Dating After Divorce: What Do You Get Your Boyfriend’s Mom?

Thank God Christmas is over! I had no idea it could be such a dangerous holiday. 

 

It all started the morning I was shopping for a gift for my boyfriend’s mom. And let’s stop right there. That term, “boyfriend.”  We really need to come up with a word that doesn’t make me feel as if I’m in high school, because while I may be in my prime, I’m decades past my prom. Yet, I have a boyfriend. And, well, that boyfriend has a mother. She’s really sweet and very smart, but because she lives out of town, I’m still just getting to know her, even after several years of dating her son.

 

I’ve only met her half a dozen times so I don’t know much about what she likes and doesn’t like, but I do know she’s really into shoes.  Every time I see her, she comments on my shoes—no matter what pair I am wearing.  And come to think of it, she talks about her own shoes fairly frequently, too.  But you just can’t get your boyfriend’s mother a pair of shoes.  In fact, you really can’t buy anyone but yourself a pair of shoes, unless they’re flip flops. And she is not the flip-flop-wearing kind of woman. At least, I don’t think so. 

 

Anyway, last year I gave her a beautiful picture frame with a picture of her son (my boyfriend) … and me. It was taken when we were on a hot air balloon ride. I thought about it later and wondered if this was really an appropriate gift. I mean, she loves her son and I’m sure she is happy to have a recent photo of him. But a picture of her son with his girlfriend? In retrospect, I worried that it might have been perceived as some sort of jab. Could she have thought it was an, “I’ve got him now” kind of taunt?  I mean, does any mother really want to see her son madly happy with another woman? Actually, my son is 16 years old and between his hormones and my hormones, some days I’m willing to give him to just about any other woman. Whether she makes him happy or not.

I don’t know if my boyfriend’s mother actually displays the picture and frame in her home, as I have not been there since two Christmases ago. And no, I do not take this personally in any way.

 

So this year, I thought I would give her something more meaningful; something she loves (besides shoes). I went to the gardening center to find her a potted herb garden because she’s a vegetarian and I thought she could use this in her kitchen.

 

So, I am standing in the garden center, where there are hundreds of pretty little plants displayed in a variety of pots on dozens of glass shelves. I bend down to smell one marked European Basils and suddenly I am propelled forward by some invisible force.  My ankle buckles and I fall toward the glass shelf. I try to catch myself but I am afraid that if I grab the shelves I will break the glass and bring all of the plants shattering down around me. Instead I simply continue falling until I hear a crack as my rather-high cheekbone makes contact with one of the shelves.

 

The impact immediately throws my head backward, giving me some sort of garden-variety whiplash, and my cheek immediately begins to swell. I turn around to see what on earth could have thrust me forward like that, and I notice that while my back was turned, someone had placed a gray Rubbermaid trashcan directly behind me, apparently to catch some water dripping from the ceiling.

 

Now, I am not much of a gardener, but what exactly is the problem of rain water dripping among the plants in a GARDENING CENTER?

 

As I touch my throbbing cheek and roll my ankle around to ensure nothing is broken, an employee comes by to see if I’m ok.

 

“No, I don’t think I am,” I say, my voice actually trembling.

 

He was not expecting this. I’m guessing, like restaurant servers who ask if your food is okay as they walk on by, not bothering to see if you need ketchup or utensils or a third cocktail, this gardening center employee rarely encounters anyone who says anything but, “I’m fine. Can you tell me where the fertilizer is?”

 

Now I’m really about to cry because he’s walking away and I feel as if my left cheek is about three times as big as my right cheek.  And what I am going to say to my boyfriend’s mother when I see her Christmas Eve and she asks how I got that horrible bruise on my face?  I can’t say, “I got it looking for your gift” because she clearly wouldn’t believe that anyone could harm themselves looking for an herb plant. (She doesn’t know me very well, either. I’m not exactly the graceful type.)

 

So now I’m pretty upset and I am thinking of not buying the Basil plants at all. I realize I’m projecting my anger onto this basket of greenery that really had nothing to do with the injury, but I don’t care.  I turn to the Rubbermaid trashcan – the anti-Christmas in all of this—and push it out of the way. I continue to give the trashcan a series of small kicks until it is out of the aisle, safely away from any glass shelves and innocent — though clumsy — shoppers.

 

Suddenly, I start to laugh. At myself, at the trashcan, even at my bruised cheek (and matching ego.) I realize that I’m really nervous about this gift to my boyfriend’s mother, that I want it to say much more than “Happy Holidays.”  I need it convey all the things about me that she doesn’t yet know: that I’m a good person and a devoted mother. That I’m bright, responsible and kind. And most of all, that I care deeply about her son.

 

That’s a lot of pressure to put on a potted plant. But I think if I add a card, a warm hug, and a few years of showing her who I am, the Basils will be up to the task.

 

As I reach for the prettiest of the plants, I notice that the leaves seem to be reaching toward the drops of water falling from the ceiling.

 

And in true Christmas spirit, I hum all the way to the cash register, “Let it rain, let it rain, let it rain.”

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One Family’s “Crazy” Is Another One’s “Normal”

Thanksgiving is an interesting time for my family and me. (“Interesting” as in “different,” “unusual,” “unorthodox.”) You see, I typically make the 10-hour car trek to South Florida from Atlanta with my family; and when I say family, I mean my son, my boyfriend and my ex-husband.

And yes, we all arrive unscathed and generally in a pretty good mood.

Most people think we’re nuts. Even my dad thinks we’re a little crazy. But the rest of my family takes it in stride, understanding that when my husband and I became exes, we also committed to keeping the friendship part of our relationship.

And while that may be “weird” to many, it’s our normal.

This year marks the 7-year anniversary of my divorce—the event that turned my ex-husband into one of my truest friends.  I tell my ex all the time, “Honey, I’m glad I married you, because you are great to be divorced from.”

He knows exactly what I mean.

Our friendship is an unusual story, I know — and the truth is, it didn’t just happen. From the moment my ex-husband and I decided to separate (which was a culmination of years on the fence), we asked ourselves: can we create a divorce that isn’t bitter and hurtful? Can we preserve the platonic love we have for each other – for both ourselves and our son? Can we keep all the good parts and toss all the bad stuff?

We decided we could.

So with small, mostly-even steps throughout a nearly two-year separation leading up to our divorce, we created what is for some of my family and friends, a mind-boggling relationship.

We understand it takes some getting used to.

The person most confused by our friendship is my father.  My dad – as any father who thinks his little girl has somehow been wronged – wanted to be furious at my ex. I told him that I wasn’t angry, so he didn’t need to be mad on my behalf. I think that leaves him a little unsure of how to feel about this ex-son-in-law-good-friend thing.

I’ve told him, “Dad, maybe if you had raised Jon (that’s my ex) he would have turned out differently. But he didn’t have the benefit of having you for a father … maybe you could sort of be one now?”

Still, my old-school dad doesn’t understand how we can all hang out together — yes, at any given time you can find my ex, my boyfriend, my son and me, bowling or going to dinner or even having a New Year’s Eve party.  We all get along that well. (As an example, my boyfriend was the first one to buy my ex a gift last year for the holidays. My ex is a huge fan of my boyfriend’s technological wizardry. My son adores his dad and really likes my boyfriend. My boyfriend likes my son, which, as an often-surly, frequently moody teenager, is the biggest surprise of all to me.)

When we arrived at my parents’ home the night before Thanksgiving, there were hugs for everyone (including my ex). My ex sincerely loves my father; his own dad died when he was 13, so my dad is the only father he’s had in his adult life. Later, as we were leaving for the nearby hotel, my dad announced he was picking up the tab for all of our rooms. We all protested, but both of my parents insisted.

Then my dad whispered to me, “When you got divorced, I didn’t think I’d be paying for MORE rooms than when you were married.”

I think he was only half-kidding.

On Thanksgiving morning, we arrived at my parents early to help.  My boyfriend lifted the 22-pound turkey into the oven; my ex set the table; my son took out the never-ending trash.  As soon as the rest of my 20-member family showed up, the conversation and laughter level rose to concert-level decibels. Occasionally, someone came up to me and told me how wonderful it is to see Jon here; how great that we can have this kind of relationship. A couple of my nieces, now of dating and marrying age, told me they think it’s great for my son, and asked me if it’s ever weird.

“Not really,” I said honestly. “It’s just the way we’ve done it from the beginning.”  I think it would be weird to do it any other way.

At the dinner table, it was my turn to say what I am most grateful for. I look at “my boys,” – my boyfriend, my ex, my son … I look at my dad … trying so hard to be new-age with us … I look at my mom, who has never stopped loving Jon and who gives that same love to my boyfriend of five years… I see my siblings and nieces and nephews, and I realize what I am most grateful for this year is their open arms, open hearts, and most of all, their open minds. I thank them for truly supporting this and deciding that for us, this is what normal is.

Will our son be better adjusted because of his divorced parents’ friendship? I honestly don’t know. He seems pretty well adjusted already. I know he loves being able to be with his dad along with the rest of his family. I know it’s gotta be good for him that there’s no fighting, no feuding, no taking sides between his mother and father. I hope that he learns – as we have – that divorce is not always a tragedy. But just in case this has somehow damaged him for life, along with our son’s College Fund, we might just create his Therapy Fund. Because one day he might be lying on a therapist’s couch somewhere, whining: “Why couldn’t my parents have had a normal divorce?”

Now, maybe I’ve miscalculated; maybe there are dozens of us – thousands, even – out there shaking up the traditional holiday scene and putting new meaning into “goodwill toward man” – starting with our ex-men.

Good, bad, sad, mixed — I’d love to hear about your non-traditional holiday life, too.

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Disable Enabling Relationships

I’m talking to my friend Brad the other day, and he’s telling me how he just broke up with his partner of eight years. I asked him why. He said his partner hadn’t had a real job in about five years; that he didn’t look for work anymore and he didn’t pay rent or even half of the bills. He did take care of the lawn, but that left at least 39 working hours left in the week. The boyfriend (well, ex-boyfriend) was also good at hanging artwork, which, as my friend looked around the newly bared walls, will be sorely missed. I asked my friend how long he had wanted to break up with his partner before he actually did. He told me six years. That’s right. They were together eight years – two of them happy ones. 

Now, many of you might be saying, “Wow! What took you so long?” Me, I totally understand. Like Neil Sedaka sang in the 70s, “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do.”

I was married for 13 years. My husband and I were in therapy for 14 years. I thought about breaking up for 10 years. I had Brad beat by a longshot.

Still, Brad seemed relieved and hopeful about the future; glad to be moving on with his life. In fact, he was heading to Mexico for a four-day work/pleasure retreat. Just one small thing. His ex had called a few hours before, crying hysterically. The house that he was renting had just been sold! (In this market, no less.) The ex-boyfriend thought he’d have this place to live in for at least six months – until he could get on his feet and get a job and a place of his own. (Why he thought he could do this in six months when he had not been able to do this in six years when he was Brad’s partner is beyond me, but I don’t make up the facts, ladies and gentlemen, I just make mocking comments about them.)

So naturally (please note sarcasm) Brad told his ex that since he would be away for the weekend, he could stay at “the old house.”  The old house being the one that took Brad a solid month to extricate his boyfriend from in the first place. In fact, the ex has only been gone just over a week. Brad finally got him to take his clothes and personal items JUST TWO DAYS AGO, and while the artwork was down, it was still leaning against the walls. So now Brad has invited his ex back to “the old house” for a weekend? Call me crazy, but I could see the writing on the wall, and it spelled E-N-A-B-L-E-R.  

The only way I so readily recognized this ailment is that, along with the title of being Queen of Denial, I am also a world-class enabler. Shit, my friend taking just six years to break up has me beat by half.  (Check out Skirt Blogger “Suzq” http://skirt.com/user/8530for more real life from enablers)!

So I gently (well, maybe passionately would be a better word) suggest to Brad that maybe inviting his ex back to “the old house” is not such a good idea. Maybe he will never leave again, I say. Maybe it would be better to take a tough-love stance. Brad is horrified. “I can’t just let him live on the streets!” he says. “I have to do the right thing!”

This is classic co-dependent language. I should know; I’m fluent in it. I tell Brad, “Well, actually, yes, you can let him live on the street or figure out a way not to. Did you ever think that not helping him this time would be the very best way to help him?” 

What I didn’t say is that not helping doesn’t feel as good; as all saviors know, savoring a good deed is what keeps us enablers enabling. Unfortunately, it’s unhealthy for both the savee and the saver.

The addicting thing about our (the enabler) side of the co-dependent equation is that we get to feel HELPFUL. GOOD. POWERFUL.  Our dependents’ inabilities feed our abilities. That’s why when a person who needs saving hooks up with a person who likes to save, it feels like magic. Really. It feels like love and soul-mates and forever. But it’s not. The magic fades. Because inevitably someone grows up – let’s say it’s the savior. If the savee continues needing to be saved, it gets old. You eventually want the person to get a job or pay the rent or stand up for themselves or stop drinking or whatever. And they don’t. And they get mad. Because you are changing the deal. You are refusing to enable. How dare you. 

And one more thing: it is hard to have an intimate relationship with Mother Teresa. Or Jesus. Or any savior or mother (or father) figure, for that matter. So, super-saver, all that power we feel? It adds to the fizzling of the relationship, too. 

I tell all this to my friend Brad, but I have to do it fast, because his ex is literally on his way to the house as Brad is heading to the airport for his trip. Brad nods. He thinks. He really gets it and he’s suddenly hyper-bummed that I didn’t have this conversation with him a few hours ago, before he agreed to the return of the roommate.

But he promises me he’ll do better next time. He says he’ll call from Mexico and make sure his ex is out of the house (again) before his return on Sunday. He’s strong. He’s invincible.  He has a plan:

“I’ll get him an apartment somewhere … I’ll co-sign the lease … I’ll give him a few months’ rent… then he won’t be on the streets AND he won’t be here! He’ll have to start paying his own rent and for that he’ll need a job and this will be great!”

 Ah, my friend Brad is brilliant. He’s hopeful. He’s delusional.

And I should know. Delusional is step two in the co-dependent-anonymous program (I think I’ll call it CoAnon). After four years, I myself am only on step six or so.  I’d be further along, but I’ve had to stop a few times so I could help some other folks climb up the 12 steps.  

I might have to go back to step one…

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Finding True.com Love

I thought this was pretty funny. This is the advertisement I found in my inbox for True.com, an online dating website:

 Over 19 million singles. (Okay, that’s not too bad – I should be able to find one or two that still have some of their hair and most of their teeth.)

Connect with women near you. (Well, okay, staying open-minded; but if you have 19 million singles, I’m hoping that 5 or 6 million are men. If I go through all of them and still have no luck, well then, “connecting with women near me” might be something I should consider.)

Chat with women live. (Alright, now I’m getting a complex that you think I just won’t find a man that I can connect with, much less with whom I could carry on a conversation. And just for the record, is there a “chat with women/men on a time-delayed basis so you can check your spelling, ask your friends what to say, consult books for clever phrases, etc.?”)

 And the final selling point to this site:

 We screen for marrieds and felons. (Well, the factg that they put these two categories together is interesting to me, and the more I think about it, marrieds on a dating site is tantamount to felonious behavior, so I get it. But when they say they screen for marrieds and felons, do they mean they pick the best of the marrieds and felons to put on their site? Is that how they get to 19 million in the first place?)

 I’ve actually done quite a bit of online dating – well, you actually only meet online, you do the dating part offline, in the real world. I’ve had some, um, interesting experiences and some wonderful ones. A few of the people I dated have remained good friends. A few caused me to change my cell phone number. There was the personal trainer who met me at a local pub for a drink. I ordered a chocolate espresso martini. I can’t remember what he was drinking – wheatgrass and grapefruit or something — but he was salivating when mine came.

He leans over the bar, points to my drink and asks the bartender, “How many calories you figure are in that thing? Like, 3,000?”  I had just taken a sip, and estimating that there were about 20 sips in that drink, I figured I had 600 calories in my mouth. I was basically drinking a Big Mac meal. What kind of guy asks about the calories in a drink? Obviously, not the kind of guy with whom I go out on a second date.

 Then there was the guy I invited to a black-tie dinner dance. In addition to being an expert dancer (he said), he also told me he was a black belt in karate, scuba certified, gourmet cook, mountain-climber, water-skier – well, you get the idea. I should have been tipped off when he showed up in a tux but without a tuxedo shirt or a bow-tie. He was wearing an open-necked white shirt and told me that this was his choral uniform. Choral uniform? Yes, he sang in a choir. Okay, I said to myself, chill out. It’s just one evening, you can hang in there. We get to the event where my friends were already seated at our table, and within minutes he was arguing with my best friend about the manners of her children, whom he had met for all of 22 seconds when we picked her up at her home. I poked him with my elbow as a gentle reminder to stop talking, but he just said, “Excuse you” and kept ranting.

 It got worse. He led me to the dance floor and it was all I could do to hang on for dear life. He was spinning me – multiple times in a row – then twirling me away from him where I had to catch my balance on the other side of the dance floor. I tried dancing separately from him but he would grab my hands and give me another whirl. We were bumping into people left and right, and I was wondering if I could break off the heel of my shoe or something and sit the night out. That’s when it happened. He grabbed me behind my neck – hard — and dipped me – very low, without any warning. We ended up in a small pile on the wooden dance floor, and I finally limped back to our table. I told him I could no longer dance that night, which in hindsight, might actually have been better than having to endure his conversation for the next two hours.

 I did learn something extremely valuable in my early dating experiences. I learned the art of saying “no” – kindly but firmly, at the end of the first date. There are 19 million men online after all, so it’s best to be quick.

 I typically started off by saying, “Thank you so much for tonight. But I really don’t think we click. I wish you the best in your search.”  There, nicely done.

Incredulously, most of my dates want to argue with me. They don’t fully appreciate the thoughtfulness I had put into this art of saying no. Most of them asked me to give it another chance. Several asked me how I could posibly tell with just one date?

 “I just can tell, really, thank you. I have an idea of the type of person I’d like to be with, and this just isn’t it. But thank you, really.” 

 “I think you’re making a mistake,” some would say. Others were more direct: “You need to go out with me one more time.”

 And then I would pull out the ringer, the one-liner that I developed because it felt honest and true to me.  “No, thank you. Really. But just because we don’t click, please don’t let my preferences define you.”

This is my version of “it’s me, not you” and I really mean it. I have my own wants/needs/preferences that, ironically, don’t have much to do with another person but have everything to do with me. And just because I feel someone’s not right for me, doesn’t mean he’s not “right” at all — he’s perfect the way he is if that’s what makes him happy. He’s perfect for the person looking for all the qualities he possesses. I want him to know that.

And I remind myself of it everytime a guy doesn’t want to go out with me a second time.

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