Tag Archives: Mr. Ex

Communication

The next four weeks, for me, are a countdown of sorts.  And partially due to this countdown and partially due to some inspiration taken from one of my friends at work, I’ve decided to do a series on the four “pillars” of a successful relationship.  These are not the only pillars, by any stretch of the imagination, and your own experiences may have you placing a higher value on some of these more than others – or even replacing some of these with others .  But from my own experience, this is what I know:

I’ve had a lot of relationships.  And in all of them, I can honestly say that the one factor that really made or broke the relationship was communication.  And when I say communication, I don’t mean the amount of communication.  I don’t need to be in contact with my significant other all day, every day, every hour, every minute, and every second.  I don’t need to know everything that person is doing, I don’t need a breakdown of every detail.

No, what I’m talking about here is communication in the sense that both people in the relationship realize what they need and they find a way to communicate that to each other constructively.  Constructive communication is meant to build up the other person, to strengthen the relationship.  When you’re talking, communicating, having a civil, constructive conversation, each person comes out of it realizing what the other person needs, issues can be resolved, things get fixed.  Without solid communication, unless you are some sort of mind-reader, there are misunderstandings, chaos, utter breakdown – and, ultimately, bitterness which leads to failure.  I suppose what I’m trying to say is quality exceeds quantity.

My marriage, for example, was a complete failure.  Things broke, in this case, because we were two incompatible people that were trying to make things work when they weren’t supposed to.  Things became intolerable and unnecessarily inflammatory because we chose the wrong ways to communicate.  Frustration over the things we could not agree on got the better of us.  Emotions ran high.  We lost our tempers.  Simple discussions became screaming matches very quickly and while the divorce was probably the most civil part of that entire relationship, that isn’t really something to be proud of.  By the time the divorce was done, we didn’t care enough to fight anymore.  We were both tired and we both wanted out.  At least, I guess, that was something we could both agree on.

I suppose in this sense, yes, there was communication, but it was the inflammatory kind.  Emotions got too tied up into it.  He was an overemotional bastard and anytime I pointed out something that I needed or something that I wasn’t getting, it was as if I was making a personal attack.  Was I perfect?  Probably not.  I have a bad habit sometimes of thinking before I speak and I did that a lot in those days.  I’m sure there were times when I really was being inflammatory and was really irritating the already touchy situation by saying things I shouldn’t have said.  (Calling him a dumbass when he said he didn’t want his children to be booksmart like me is a very good example.)

Buttface, who I’ve also mentioned before, came after that marriage.  And this was the exact opposite.  Ironically, the relationship began online.  Chat rooms don’t give you the luxury of reading body language or facial expressions.  You type.  You talk.  You get to know someone else.  And so, when he and I started to see each other post-divorces, I assumed that communication would come easily for us.  The funny thing is, we had no problems communicating… we could sit and talk for hours about the most asinine things.  Sharing the same sense of humor meant we found the same inappropriate things funny.  The good times were really good times… he was non-confrontational and didn’t seem to mind if I did what I wanted to do.  I was passive enough after the horrific marital experience to not want to press any issues that I may have been upset about.  I went into it saying I didn’t want to fight, and we didn’t fight.  Ever.

But looking back on some of the things I wrote during those days, especially as things started to fall apart, I’ve realized that while we were fine when things weren’t important, we were horrible at discussing the big things.  I was intimidated.  Conditioned, even.   I’d gotten so used to being screamed at when I tried to express things that I needed that I didn’t have the balls to rock the boat in this new situation.

And he, well, I don’t know his excuses (and I don’t care to know) but we can safely say that when it came to the big things, he was never open enough with me to just talk about it.  There were plenty of things wrong in that situation… I know that now.  He wanted things that, had he asked, I’d have happily given him.  But he never told me, and I am not a mind reader.  I was so conditioned not to push matters, and so confused about how to ask the questions I needed to ask, that I was willing to let things drag on so that they could “fix” themselves.  But that’s not how solutions are reached, either.

At any rate, while we never had a knock-down-drag-out fight about it like in my marriage, I knew something was wrong when we stopped talking at all.  The conversations about the non-important things stopped.  He became distant.  There was never a conversation about what we needed to do to work things out, there was never the conversation about what he needed versus what I needed, there was never any middle ground reached.  Things just kind of went on the way they went on – he’d hang out with me (though not sleep with me), I’d still hang out with him, we’d eat together, he’d spend the rest of his time playing video games (and I’d play occasionally too), and I’d sit there wondering where it had all gone wrong.  How had we gotten from him telling me he wanted to “keep” me, to practically ignoring me altogether with the exception to the awkward hug I’d get when I’d leave to drive home?

The passive-aggressive treatment continued until, finally, I made the discovery that he was seeing someone else.  Not one to be passive-aggressive if I have the evidence in hand, I communicated this to him immediately.  I broke it off, cleanly, and with probably more words than I’d said to him in six months.  It ended, but I was still burnt up about it.

Sometimes I think passive-aggressive communication is worse than even the abusive kind… when that’s the monster you’re dealing with, you don’t know what caused it, there are no conversations about it, things just kind of fall apart and you’re left holding the pieces and thinking my god, what the hell just happened here?  Avoidance may look like the easy way out, but I can assure you, there is plenty of drama after the fallout begins and it’s much, much worse than the drama of just “dropping the hammer” so to speak.

There are many ways to communicate with people.  And I’ve come to realize that there are, unfortunately, more negative ways than positive.  Positive, constructive communication is simple:  you know what you need, you find a clear, logical way to ask for what you need.  Then you actually listen with an open mind to what the other person has to say (that’s really, really, really important), and then, if you really want things to work, together you try to find some sort of solution.  Constructive communication is NOT attacking the other person.  Constructive communication is NOT ignoring the other person, either because you don’t care enough to discuss the issues (if you don’t care enough, seriously, you should just leave) or because you are too non-confrontational to discuss the issues.

And as I mentioned before, listening is really important too.  That’s the key to any kind of communication happening at all.  If there’s no listening, you may as well be having a conversation with a brick wall.  And when you listen, you do it with an open mind.  You take the other person into consideration.  You try to understand what they’re saying, even if sometimes they do not express it in the most eloquent of ways and even if you don’t agree.  You internalize it, and you try to see it from the other person’s perspective.  Even people with polarizing opinions are able to reach a compromise if they really try, and compromise can only be reached by really, truly, listening to what the other person has to say, and, further, caring enough to take their opinions into consideration.

Relationships aren’t one-way affairs, communication within a relationship cannot be a one-way affair.  You don’t simply wake up one morning, on the same page, with everything neatly in place and a big bow on top of it.  It would be nice, but it doesn’t work that way.

Relationships are a lot of work.  And in order for them to work, you have to want the same things.  From that same blueprint, you share a dream, you think together, and you communicate those ideas to make that happen.  When you don’t, you flounder around without direction, without purpose, and when things go wrong, because there was never a common goal to begin with, there’s nothing left to talk about.  Suddenly, you’re fighting without knowing what you’re fighting about and, mostly, out of frustration because you don’t know where it is you’re supposed to be going.  Alternately, you’re ignoring it and hoping it goes away.  Ultimately, if there was no track to travel on initially, you have nothing to get back onto when you’ve had a disagreement.

And I’ll pose a question… rhetorical, mostly, though I would kill to know the answer to it if there even is one:  If communication is so easy in the beginning, if we can open up to each other, and talk, and share ideas, then why does it always seem that when we become “settled” into something, things become harder?  That something about the spark of the communication is lost?  Do we stop listening?  Do we become complacent?

Sure it’s easier to be passive-aggressive.  It’s easier to be inflammatory.  It’s easier to leave what is hard and go back to the beginning with someone new, where things are easy and uncomplicated.  But what happens when that gets hard, too?  When you have to find that blueprint? Do you keep jumping from place to place or do you try to make it work?

After all, doesn’t the old saying go:  Nothing worth having is ever easy?

Family Affair

It’s February 2008.  My then husband and I are sleeping in his parents’ basement, he on one couch, I on another.  Things aren’t great between us… separation has been brought up several times, divorce a few others.  For the time being, because of where we are, a truce has been implemented.  We visited his parents a LOT.  He was very close to his mother – calling her just to chat, calling her when he needed home repairs done, calling her when he got a flat tire and needed someone to fix it (she lived two hours away and told him to call a tow truck – same as I did, but he listened to her while he never listened to me).  I had gotten tired of it… her nagging, her telling me that I was not taking care of her “baby” correctly.  Who was I to feed him food with condiments on it?  Who was I to paint the walls green?

But I put up with it.  For his sake.  And because doing otherwise would cause an argument – a screaming, fit-throwing, object flinging, wall punching argument.  I’d had enough but for the time being had no other options, nowhere else to go.  So I stayed put.  And anyway we were in counseling.  We were “working on it”.  Right?  Uh.  Yeah.  She’d gone to work that night, to the post office, she wouldn’t be home until 3 a.m.  And when that time came, I could hear the garage door above me open.  I tried to go to sleep as the floor creaked above my head, sleep didn’t come.  He wasn’t asleep either, I knew, half laying, half sitting on the other sofa, listening for her.  I made no movement.  I didn’t want him to know I was awake.  The door to the basement creaked open, the dog ran downstairs followed by his mother who was whispering loudly for her to come back upstairs.

I didn’t say anything.  I just continued to remain still, my eyes closed.  The dog jumped on me, licked my face, I didn’t budge, and I could hear his mother walking down the stairs after her.  My ex, recognizing his mother, whispered something to her… I opened my eyes a crack to see what was going on and I could barely believe what I saw.  It was sickening.  There they were, the dog jumping between the couch and her legs, chatting amiably, as if it were the middle of the day, and he’s lying there, completely uncovered, wearing nothing but his tighty-whities and with his morning wood just hanging out there, making no move to cover it, not acknowledging it.  And what’s worse, even, was that she was standing there continuing the conversation as if there was nothing out of the ordinary.

But it WAS out of the ordinary.  This was not ordinary at all!  This was… this was… beyond anything I’d seen before – this was… Norman Bates creepy.  I can’t say that this is what made me decide to leave him… many factors played into that.  But I think I realized that night that there was something more abnormal about this degree of closeness that I’d failed to see.  And I wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice.

I can laugh about it now… now that it’s all well behind me, but after the divorce was final and when I decided to start dating again, I remembered that.  I remembered the years of disapproval I’d been through, I remembered the explaining I’d had to do to tell her why I wanted to go back to college (that was a fighting point too), I remembered the mommy-boner, I remembered how she’d get upset if I told her I wanted to go to dinner with my own husband and she was not invited, and I vowed that that would never happen again.  I was extreme about it, making a list of all the things I wanted (and didn’t want) in another human being.  A good family relationship was important… but not so good that you wanted to fuck your mother.  Jeez that’s awful to even think about.

I was optimistic at first.  I mean how many men out there, in their late twenties and early thirties can honestly say they let their mothers dictate their lives?  You’d be surprised.  More of them than ever, it seemed.  The dates I went on were more than once interrupted by mothers calling their sons, even if their sons didn’t live at home anymore (and even when they did – seriously, you’re thirty-two… grow a pair), to ask when they were going to be home and if they were alright.  Because, you know.  All 115 pounds of me can be so very intimidating.  Needless to say, I didn’t answer my phone when they called for a second date.  It was all I could do to ask if they were going to get grounded if they stayed out past curfew.  It was entertaining for a second to feel like I was sixteen again… but then I remembered all the bad things about being sixteen and I decided.. yeah… I was going to pass.

Then I met 3.0.  He seemed to have it together: his place, his job, his own life.  Sure he admitted that his condo, which was immaculately decorated, had been done by his mother but I let that one go.  A lot of bachelors have no taste and his place was aesthetically pleasing.  She didn’t have her own bedroom there, at any rate, and if that’s as far as the interference went, I was okay with that.  I didn’t say much either when he would chat with her or spend time with her when she needed something.  All of those things are normal.  She wasn’t intruding on our relationship, she never said much, and she tried to be friendly, which I appreciated.  And anyway, my standards are low then… as Buttface so eloquently put it, this was a step up no matter how I looked at it.  3.0 wasn’t walking around in front of his mother with a boner.

It was just that, as things got more serious and as our talks turned to the future, I began to realize just how much 3.0 really did idolize his mother.  And if that wasn’t enough, I began to understand too how much he really looked up to his twin brother.  If you’ve never dated a twin it’s an eye-opening experience.  You expect them to be close.  But I don’t think you can really understand HOW close.  I never could.  I managed to mitigate it for the most part.  His brother lived somewhere else, and we never saw him.  But when his brother decided that he didn’t like me, fuck, that put the whole relationship in jeopardy.  When his brother decided he wanted to go on a trip with 3.0, and it happened to be a holiday, I was left in the cold.  That was hard… it was annoying… it was frustrating… and it was worse to have none of it acknowledged when I voiced it, but I dealt with it.  I don’t argue anymore.  Not since the divorce, it’s not worth it.  I just take as much as I can take and when I can’t take anymore, I leave.  I hadn’t reached my breaking point yet.  I soon would, but hadn’t yet.

I reached it, though, on the balcony one evening, as we sat, talking.  Our talks turned to marriage and I remember hearing 3.0 tell me that no matter who he married, she would always come third in his life.  His mother came first, then his twin.  I was shocked.  I didn’t know what to do with that.  A normal person would have left.  I SHOULD have left.  That’s not how a marriage works, and if marriage was what I wanted and if this was going to be all wrong, I was wasting my time.  My marriage had failed, but I knew enough to know that for a marriage to work, you have to have your priorities straight… when you marry, your spouse comes first.  That’s the rule.  That’s how it works.  And it cannot be one-sided.

I tried hard to ignore what he said… I couldn’t.  I mitigated the thought of living in a loveless marriage with the fact that I wouldn’t have to work anymore, I could have the kids I wanted, I could live in this posh condo, and I could be free to work on my projects as I liked.  It was a business contract, I reasoned.  I’d give him what he wanted, he’d give me what I wanted, I didn’t need love in the middle of all that.  It was just a paper we’d sign, everything would be fine, I’d live happily ever after with my white picket fence and my cookie business.  What did I need with some silly emotion, anyway?  And yet that nagging voice in the back of my head knew that this is NOT how that is supposed to work.  And even if he ever did manage to bring himself to love me, did I want to be loved by someone that would always place me third in the hierarchy?  Waiting for his mother to die so I could be Number Two?  Always bested by his brother?  Having to compete for his affection?  The answer, despite all the perks, was and is still absolutely not.

As I’ve said before, I am jaded.  I have been through a lot, I have seen a lot, and it seems like it’s never been easy on me.  I don’t expect it to be.  That said, I don’t know what’s wrong with this generation of men.  I’ve either met all of the wrong ones that have all of the mommy issues, or it’s a widespread problem with this generation.  And if it’s not a mommy issue, or at least not directly a mommy issue, it’s an inappropriate closeness with one or more siblings – if your girlfriend, fiancé, wife, etc. has to wonder if she is always going to have to compete with one or more of your family members for your affection, it’s not a good sign.  Period.

Family is important.  No matter where you are, you’re always going to feel some loyalty to them.  As a teacher once said many years ago, home is where they always have to take you in, no matter what you’ve done.  I believe that.    And while I don’t always agree with everything my family says and everything they do, I love them dearly.  And in the beginning of my relationships, the priorities don’t change.  But when the degree of seriousness shifts, the priorities shift as well.  As they should.  Because, I’m beginning to realize, if they don’t, then that person isn’t ready.  Maybe he has his own place, maybe he has a job, maybe he has his shit together, but for all that’s worth, he may as well still be living in his parents’ basement, waiting for the impending family dinner bell to ring, comforted by the familiar and afraid to branch out into something new.

And I don’t have time for that.

Venom

My friends call it venom.  It’s what makes the men I date come back to me after we’ve decided it wasn’t going to work.  Sometimes the return is immediate, sometimes many years later.  Even the men themselves claim that whatever it is about me is like a poison – they can’t stand to be around it but once away from it, or given the prospect of not having it anymore, they have to have it.  “I’m addicted to you,” is a common phrase.  I don’t believe it’s really a poison.  I don’t even really think it’s me, necessarily, as much as it is insecurity about what lies ahead.

 

I’ve dated a lot.  I’ve kissed a lot of people (I have not slept with nearly as many as I have kissed by comparison – and in fact, there are very few notches in my figurative bedpost).  I’ve been in my fair share of relationships.  As you’ve probably gathered if you’ve read any of the earlier posts, some of them worked better than others.  The smorgasbord of men that have entered and left my life have had very little in common – all different ages, sizes, shapes, jobs, preferences, lifestyles, everything.  Except for one thing: once it’s over, they come back.  They always, always come back.

 

Once upon a time, in my younger days, I liked this.  Watching them squirm, watching them beg, watching them ask to come back after they had so resolutely walked out the door was gratifying.  But things are different now.  It’s not that I’m not still a bitch.  I certainly can be.  But at thirty, my perspectives have changed a bit.  I look back on things, I understand why they work and why they don’t, I know what I need out of another person, I understand that people fundamentally do not change (because how many times have people tried to change me only to fail?), and that this game of cutting me loose and then coming back at a later date is a waste of time.  You don’t suddenly wake up one morning and find yourself compatible with someone you weren’t compatible with the day before.

 

However, I’ve also realized that, at least in my case, no matter how clean a breakup, there’s always some residual.  They want to talk.  They want to sleep with me.  They want to be with me.  They want to reminisce (and for what purpose I cannot even begin to imagine).  This “residual” has become a way of life, and I’ve learned to accept it.  I’ve learned to be cordial.  I’ve learned to keep them at arm’s length.  And when I’m single, it works out well.  It doesn’t affect anyone but me, there is nothing really to contaminate by tolerating it.  Sometimes there’s the occasional, “Huh” moment when I realize that I hadn’t thought of this person in years.  But for the most part, it’s just entertainment.  Amusement.  A break from the norm.

 

Until I start seriously seeing someone.  Then that same venom often instigates drama to the max.  Past situations have played out like this: The new boyfriend gets jealous.  The ex-boyfriend asks me to leave my current situation.  I am caught in the middle of an impossible love triangle that I never wanted.  No matter how much I assure the new boyfriend that I do not want to be with the ex-boyfriend, sparks fly, there is suspicion, it is not ideal.  Some of the exes back off easily.  They fade back into the shadows where they belong, and I get to move forward with whomever I am with.  Others are more persistent.  And again, to what purpose I cannot imagine – some of these men are even married now.

 

With the housecleaning last fall, I cleaned that slate.  I blocked email addresses.  I blocked chat partners.  I removed people from Facebook pages.  I deleted phone numbers.  I was determined that, when I did find someone I wanted to date again, this was not going to be an issue anymore.  I am tired of the surprises, I am tired of the drama, I am tired of the suspicion– because I have never cheated and will never cheat (but try convincing someone else of that when you’re still getting emails and calls from your exes).  A year before, I’d given my ex husband the boot entirely, ignoring him until he stopped calling.  I was no longer babysitting his house, we have no shared debt, there are no children – there was no reason to get in contact with me.  I could have a clean slate.

 

I am seeing someone else now.  I like this one a lot.  The compatibility is, so far, there and I am happy.  I do not want to fuck it up.  And so I was very glad when this all began that I’d had the foresight over the housecleaning days to rid my current life of the past relics.  There would be nothing, this time, to come back to haunt this relationship.  Things have been going splendidly.  Peacefully, even.  There has been no interference, and we’ve been free to get to know each other, to talk.  I’ve gotten to go to bed still smiling over some of the stuff we’d laughed about.

 

And then it came – the dreaded email.  This time from the one email address I HADN’T blocked.  Because I hadn’t thought it was prudent to do so.  It was my ex-husband.  The email had been friendly enough.  I’d answered it in a sentence, sure to mention that I was, in fact, seeing someone else.   Not to gloat.  I wasn’t gloating.  But as a precaution I wanted to take, especially in this situation.  The emails continued – they were reminiscent of the past – the “good times”.  The stuff we’d done together.  The emails asked if I was happy.  Did I think my current situation could go somewhere?  Did I think it would work?

 

I gave him no details.  I didn’t take the bait and I laughed at first.  The things he reminisced over, these so called “good times” and the “feelings” I had about him… what I really wanted to tell him was that the “feelings” I had were just the echoes of an inexperienced nineteen year old looking for a way out of her current situation and in making the attempt to do that, unwittingly bit off more than she could chew.  Had I known how bad it was going to be, I doubt seriously that I would have pursued it any further.  And those good days?  I wanted to laugh even harder – there were no good days.  Not full ones.  There were good minutes, afternoons, evenings.  But almost always those ended in an argument, more dodging of flying objects, furniture being broken… yes, of course, absolutely I want to remember the “good times”… when I am delusional!

 

Furthermore, to use those things to compare that relationship to the one I have now?  Because essentially that was what he was trying to do – in a pathetic, one-sided way.  There is no comparison.  Not in the slightest.  Besides the fact that I am older, besides the fact that I am more experienced, and besides the fact that I do, in fact, know what I want, not once has my current boyfriend verbally or emotionally abused me the way that I was abused in that marriage.  I shouldn’t have tolerated it then.  I certainly wouldn’t tolerate it now.  And to try to place a comparison of where I am now to where I was then… it’s insulting.  It’s insulting to me, to my progress, and to my relationship.  My friends say my ex is doing this to manipulate me into coming back.  He may well be, I am not sold on that theory, but I don’t have any that are better or more valid.

 

Whatever the motive, needless to say, I was livid.  I AM livid.  I’m livid because my housecleaning process wasn’t as complete as I thought it was.  There are still skeletons in the closet that rear their ugly heads.  Bringing up the past brought up the bad memories, the bad feelings, the insecurities, the ghost of the person I was then even though there is but a shadow of her left now.  But it also made it evident that there are still exorcisms I have to do, and they must be done, or else they will continue to haunt me.  I do not, in this case, feel that it’s going to threaten anything.  Not for the time being, leastways, and I am not letting it get any further than where it went.  That email address has been blocked as well.

 

Now my job is to walk on.  Walking on is the easy part.  I have two feet.  They work.  And they are very good at moving forward when they need to be.  But the other part of that job is to let go of that anger – it’s counterproductive.  What’s done is done – I did the best that I could with what I had.  I lived in darkness for such a long time that now, when the darkness comes for me, it is easy for me to get caught up in it again.  I don’t want to live in the darkness right now.  I am happy.  There are challenges here, sure, but as I’ve said before, I believe that the overall end will justify the means.  And let me restate it – I am happy.  I am not being asked to change.  I am not doubting my self-worth.  I laugh, I REALLY laugh with and at this person in ways I’d forgotten were possible.

 

And so, at thirty, I closed the door on my past.  I cut all of the unconstructive, damaging ties that kept me there.  I am still bandaging the wounds that broke open, but they will heal.  If any of the so-called venom I poisoned people with in the past is still having an effect, it’s no longer my problem.  It is inconsequential.  Those people are where they now belong.  I am busy, I’m preoccupied.  I am moving ever forward.  What will come, will come, but at least this time I’m not waiting for it in the darkness.  There is laughter coming out of my apartment these days.  My neighbors likely think I’ve gone mad.  And I’m surprised that the world hasn’t ended yet.

Comparison

Life is made up of comparisons.  Whether we like it or not, sometimes the larger part of our likes and dislikes come with experience – we like the steak at this restaurant better than that restaurant.  We like red better than purple.  We like the heel on that shoe better than the heel on that other shoe over there.  If life is a game of experience-gaining, then we take our likes and dislikes, apply them to the here and now, and move forward based on the collective sum of our experiences.  Whether we want to freely admit it or not, it is human nature to take the yardstick of past experience and us it to measure our current situation– gauging whether what we have now is better or equal to what we had before.  Because if it isn’t better, then what we have derived from what we have learned helps us to determine that it isn’t going to work.  If we go to the other restaurant, we won’t like the steak as much.  We’ll end up with a purple shirt even though we HATE purple.  Our feet will be uncomfortable because that heel we didn’t particularly love is pushing our foot up at an odd angle and causing our toes to pinch.  Comparisons are how we function.

And whether we like it or not, we do tend to compare everything – not just the mundane stuff like food, shoes, and colors.  We compare our satisfaction in our workplaces, we compare our weekends to that of our friends.  We compare years – “this year is better than last year but it isn’t as awesome as five years ago.”  We compare weeks, days, everything.  Yes, comparison is a way of life.  It’s how we evaluate our experiences – where we’re at, where we’re going, where we want to be.  And perhaps most of all, no matter how hard we try not to, no matter how adamantly we say we are not going to, because this is what we know how to do, we compare our relationships as well.

And I’m as guilty of it as anyone else.  Take 1.0 for example.  That relationship was a long distance relationship.  My first in college, and while not my first long distance relationship, certainly the one with the most distance.  He was a good guy, but so very far away.  New York City seemed like the end of the world and the limited time that we got to spend together, while fantastic, was simply not enough.  Compile that with the fact that he was shorter than I was, he could not keep it up, and his Jewish family would never see me as anything more than a Shiksa and I knew, after a couple of months, that we were doomed.  It ended – I was determined that no, no matter what I did, I was not going to make comparisons between this one and the next one.  Whenever the next one came along.

Then I met the Professor.  I’ll tell you, I tried.  I tried REALLY hard not to draw comparisons.   I’d love to say I didn’t.  I really would.  Maybe consciously I didn’t.  But subconsciously?  The Professor was everything 1.0 hadn’t been – tall (VERY tall), blond, closer in distance (though still not local – I’d had local at this point, local hadn’t worked out very well, I couldn’t deal with the clinginess (more comparions?)) and definitely had no problems in the bedroom.  Granted we never did much outside of the bedroom.  But it was, truthfully, the extension of the proverbial honeymoon phase.  He was close enough so that we could see each other a few times a week and far enough away so that we didn’t see each other all the time and the newness factor didn’t wear off.  And the sex was good.  I didn’t go to bed frustrated.  And yet, at the time, the emotion didn’t seem to be there.  I found out years later, actually a decade later, that it had been – he’d just had trouble expressing it.  But while all of the physicality was good, I wasn’t getting (or at least I thought I wasn’t getting) the emotion that I needed – that I’d gotten from 1.0.

WASN’T THERE MIDDLE GROUND SOMEWHERE?!

Then I met Mr. Ex.  He was local, he wasn’t clingy.  He had a job.  He was, after awhile, financially stable.  There were some bedroom issues – actually “some” would be an understatement.  But, I was in it for the long haul.  And you know, you’re supposed to deal with those things – it was my job to be sympathetic, right?  We worked on the bedroom issues.  We never fixed the bedroom issues.  And by saying never fixed, I mean it got to the point that I was giving hour long hand jobs because he could not get off any other way.  Even after those valiant efforts, even then he couldn’t get off, and would end up crying about it and blaming me which did not do a bloody THING for my self-confidence, let alone my libido.  Then there was his temper.  Which I won’t detail here.  There’s an earlier blog about that if you’re reading this and you’re curious.

And I gotta say – by about year four, it was becoming very, very difficult NOT to make a comparison to someone.  ANYONE.  I’d visit my friends, they seemed to have a better relationship than I did.  They actually LIKED each other.  The ones that talked about it were definitely having sex more frequently than I was – BETTER sex, sex where their partners weren’t placing blame, shattering self-confidence, crying late at night.  They weren’t dodging flying soda cans or trying to patch holes in the walls or attempting to put doors back on hinges from where they’d been torn off.  God I tried everything not to compare – I cut ties with these happy people, I stopped talking to other people I saw myself dangerously beginning to want to BE with, I threw myself into school and put a façade up that said I was satisfied while on the inside I was seething that my first wedding anniversary present had been a vibrator.  I’d like to say the efforts toward fixing things, not comparing, not giving myself the opportunity to compare, worked – but as we all know, since I am now divorced, it didn’t.  I compared.  When I compared I realized that what I had, in comparison to the way things really probably should be, wasn’t working.  I got out.  Comparison saved my sanity – and the last half of my twenties.

I spent the next year and a half recuperating.  I was in Ohio, as I’ve written.  I was regaining myself, I was rebuilding self-confidence, I was using someone else to help me do that.  I’m not saying it was perfect, I got emotionally involved and I shouldn’t have.  But I did what I needed to do.  By the time I was really ready to get my ass back out there, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that the impotence of my ex -husband was absolutely NOT my fault.    I got out there, I dated, I had my mental checklist.  Where did I get that, you ask?  Comparisons, of course.  Yes, it’s ridiculous.  But after what I’d been through, I wasn’t settling for less.

I found someone else.  On paper, he looked good.  He had a good job, made very excellent money.  He was ready to settle down, he had no bedroom issues.  He had a condo in the nicest area of town – in a gated community, with a security guard.  That checklist?  Yeah…he’d have fit every last one of them.  The kicker?  He didn’t have a threshold for emotion.  He could not love.  He could not get sold.  And looking back now at the stuff I’d write occasionally then, I was blind.  I was unhappy, and I knew I was unhappy, but I was so blinded by all the pretty stuff he had that I forgot to look at the stuff that he didn’t.  I tried to tell myself that I could live without the emotion.  I tried to tell myself that the fact that I wouldn’t have to work anymore, that I could live in that pretty little condo in that nice area of town, would be enough.  I lied to myself.  But it was a good reminder.  It kicked my ass back into gear – it reconfirmed what I knew a decade ago – I need emotion.  I don’t need someone to tell me they adore me every second of every day – but I need to know there is SOMETHING there.  He measured up in every way but that one – and it was a big shortcoming.  And, after it had all ended and the dust had settled, I told my friend Mary that I’d decided that I’d rather be with a man who had nothing and yet actually loved me than with a man who had everything but was incapable of loving.  That conclusion came from a comparison, too.

I know this sounds like a big rant.  It’s not intended to be.  The point here is that if I had not been through all of these relationships – some of them worse than others – then I’d still have absolutely no idea of where I want to end up.  Knowing where I want to end up requires comparison.

As dirty as it is, as horrible as it sounds, without comparison, there is no direction.  Without comparison, we’d enter every situation as virgins, our eyes wide open, running into the same brick walls, tripping over the same hurdles, getting caught up in the same impossible situations.  Without comparison we’d never learn.  We’d never know that an 8.5 boot fits us better than an 8 or a 9.  We’d never understand that we like pork bacon better than we like turkey bacon – and even more importantly, why we prefer one to the other.  And as far as relationships are concerned, we’d never quite figure out what we need – we’d be either lucky enough to stumble into something perfect without any effort or we’d end up flailing about, never learning from past mistakes.  Learning takes comparison.

Some of us are lucky enough to figure it out the first time – some of us figure it out after two or three tries.  Others, I’d say the majority of us, really, are not so lucky.  We’re not flailing about – we’re experimenting.  We’re trying things on.  We’re seeing what works.  We’re figuring out from all of these failed, horrible experiences what we can live with in a relationship, and more importantly, what we really need from a relationship to be ridiculously happy.  And if that means we have to take a well-earmarked yardstick and hold it carefully, though discreetly, up to the object of our affections to make absolutely sure that person measures up, then so be it.  Once we find what we are looking for, and as a result of the trial and effort, perhaps the comparison can result in appreciation.

Statistical Happiness?

While on Facebook a week ago, I came across a post that one of my friends had commented on about happiness and relationships.  His post, cited from some statistical blog (I don’t even have the source, so I can’t cite it – not that I would, I don’t put much faith in the relevance of statistics when predicting human emotion), declared that when it comes to general life happiness, married people are the happiest, followed by single people, and then trailed, last, by those who are divorced.  Now, being a divorced woman who prefers to call herself single, I took issue with that.  I didn’t comment, but it did make me start to think about those happiness levels; how true were they?  Can statistics really say for certain that married people are happiest of all?  Can statistics really suggest that we divorced folk are really THAT unhappy with our lives?

Now, truthfully, all I have to go on here are my own experiences.  I can’t suppose that mine are anywhere near normal – nothing with me is anywhere near normal – but since the blog is about being thirty (and on some level, a divorced thirty year old), my experiences here are the only ones that matter at this point, no?

I can admittedly say that there wasn’t a lot of time that I spent single, before my marriage, as a legal adult.  But I can tell you that those were good days.  I was at college, living on campus.  I had friends that lived in the dorm across campus.  We spent our days in class, we spent our evenings creating a ruckus around Louisville, Kentucky.  Sometimes we’d take evening trips to grocery stores, pushing each other around in carts.  Other times we’d tie ourselves to each other with shoelaces and go into Waffle House like this, one of us speaking in nothing but German until the check was delivered.  Some nights we’d sit in a dorm room watching goofy things on television or on the internet.

I dated some.  My relationships were serious, for their time, but they didn’t last long.  The breakups were just as superficial.  I lived a soap opera, and I didn’t care.  I was experiencing things and as soon as that one ended, I’d just go find another one to play with.  It was nothing to drive two hours in the middle of the night to visit my boyfriend who was a graduate student at Western, even if I had a class at eight the next morning.  Life was fun.  It was crazy.  I enjoyed it.

And then I met the man I later married.  Things got serious.  Things weren’t so much fun anymore.  We moved in together.  He had a temper.  He didn’t hit me, but he threw things.  The furniture would get broken.  The walls would get holes in them.  He’d tell me he wanted to marry me, then he’d back out.  My parents couldn’t look at the situation I’d gotten myself into, so they stayed away.  If I wanted to see them, I could drive.  It wasn’t so much fun to be single anymore – not if single meant this bad relationship.  So I did what any normal, sane person would do.  I married the guy.

I can look at my own marriage, if I want to.  I rarely want to.  It was a horrid, disfigured thing that still disgusts me when I look back at it.  Entered into in a large amount due to pressure, and in a larger amount due to the absence of other viable options (for living situations, not marrying partners), it started off badly.  I sat in that hotel room across from the wedding wishing I had a way to leave, not wanting to embarrass my parents who had put together a large, large wedding for me.  Repeating the nuptials, a voice in the back of my head echoed, “Well, I can always get a divorce.”  A stronger, braver Vic would have gotten out of there pronto.  I went through with it anyway.

I cried all the way home.  I cried in the shower during my honeymoon – my unconsummated honeymoon, if anyone cares.  Coming back home, I consulted with a friend who was also a lawyer about filing for annulment.  I didn’t go through with it.  I stayed because it seemed to be the right thing to do – might as well give it a chance.   Might as well try to make it work.

A year later, we had argued more times than I wanted to admit.  Every day, waking up, it seemed that it was simply a countdown to a shouting match, a screaming match that left me running up the stairs, trailed closely behind by my husband who wanted to “talk about it” but whose idea of talking about it was screaming about it some more until I simply gave in so that he would shut up.  If I locked the door to my office, he simply broke it down, to shout at me some more.  If I had to pee during these often six hour long shouting sessions, he’d stand outside the door and scream at me while I did.  Come to think of it, this probably explains why I now have a shy bladder.

I couldn’t please him.  The food was never to his liking – the gravy was called “orange stuff” and to appease his six year old palate, he’d scrape it off and take the chicken plain.  My $25 a week allowance was barely enough to make my own ends meet – yes, all my needs were provided for.  But there were no extra shoes, no new clothes.  My things were dreadfully out of fashion.  I was too smart, I read too much, I wanted to go to school, to get a graduate degree, and that was unacceptable.  I wasn’t going to get a job doing what I wanted to do anyway – there were likely no casinos nearby.  And kids?  Whatever kids I was crazy enough to want to bring into that house, I wasn’t going to get to have them.  His kids would not be “booksmart” like me, he said.  “Yeah, you want them to be a dumbass like you,” I’d retorted.  That turned into another shouting match.  I probably deserved that one.

Anyway, bottom line, by the time the marriage was over, I was exhausted with it.  I’d grown exhausted with it long before the end, relegating my ex to the basement for sleeping while I kept the bed upstairs, shared with the three cats who were preferable companions to the monster I’d married.  I was tired of feeling badly about myself, tired of feeling like a substandard human being, tired of being with someone who seemed only to want to be with  me because of the deduction he could take on his taxes.  When the opportunity presented itself to leave, I took it.  We divorced six months later.

I can honestly say that the divorce itself, while it made me sad – I hate failure, and I couldn’t help but feel, just a little bit, like I had failed – was a moment of celebration.  I was free.  And I was living a new life, a life full of parties and friends, and music, and dancing, and fun.  I was exploring Columbus, getting to know people there, making a new life.  I was in graduate school, exactly where I wanted to be, and was doing well.  I was playing World of Warcraft and having fun learning the world I was spending a large majority of my time in.

I was ME again.  I had grown up – I was eight years older than I had been the last time that I’d been single.  And I was happy.  I was alone.  And it was hard, being alone, having to pay all my bills, having to budget my own money, having to make ends meet.  But I was happier doing this in peace.  I was starting to see myself the way I had seen myself prior to the marriage.  I was independent.  And it was a good thing.

I suppose, compared to being married, I am happier divorced – even though, most of the time, I don’t even think of myself as divorced.  The marriage was so awful, and lasted for so short a period, that I don’t even like to count it as a part of my life.  I have to claim it, yes, when dating.  But to get out of something like that, with no joint debt, no drama, no children… I realize how lucky I really was.  I guess if I owe him anything, it’s that I didn’t have those non-booksmart children, after all.

Life now is, well, blissful.  I moved.  I relocated to Florida about two years after the divorce was final.  I got a job – a really good job – that spun into an even better job.  I have my own apartment, I am comfortable, and I am happy.  I can go where I like, do what I like.  I can play video games as much and as often as I’d like without being yelled at.  I can write my dark and demented literature and no one can tell me they don’t “get” me.  I can cook my food and no one asks me what this “orange stuff” is on the chicken.  I get up, I go to work, I come home, and I live my little life – the things, and even moreso, the people that I have chosen to let into it make me happy.  And if they don’t, I can choose to make them go away.

I realize that my experience probably isn’t something that is common.  I’m sure there are very happy married couples out there – my parents being one of them.  And yet, all the while, I can’t help but still get angry about those statistics.  Who are they to say that divorced people are unhappy?  How can they assume that divorced people are unhappier than single people?  And in fact, how can they really say that any one of us, divorced, single, married, are really happy at all?  To assume that assumes that you know at the onset how people feel – and numbers and statistics don’t have the capability to get into your head.  How can they be sure that the married people, or the divorced people, or the single people who are filling out these surveys are really speaking their true minds?  How do they know they are not catching these people on a bad day?  They don’t.  I’m not saying all statistics are bullshit, but for crying out loud, we should stop using numbers to justify where we are or where we’re not or where we are going in our lives, and especially in our relationships.  We should stop using numbers to tell ourselves that we have to be in “this place” to be happy.

Because the key, I think, to all of this – at least it was with me – is to learn to be happy with ourselves.  I had it when I was single.  I lost it when I was married.  I found it again after the divorce.  If we can be happy with ourselves, then we bring that into whatever situation we’re in, whether it’s the satisfaction of being single, the strength of the marriage, or the recovery after it just doesn’t work out.  Being happy with yourself is half the battle.  Once you have that, then everything else will follow.  And if it doesn’t, well, then you have the strength to take out the trash.

The Friend Factor

I’ve been out with Broderick twice now.  Once to the coffee shop, once to dinner.  He’s a nice guy, and when we have a lot to talk about, there’s a lot to talk about.  The silences, though, are awkward and although I can chalk that up to just not knowing each other very well, there is something else that nags at me as I considered the prospect of seeing him again.  When I asked him, last Thursday, what he was doing last weekend, his answer was, “I don’t know.  Probably nothing.  I really need to make new friends, mine have all moved away.”  Sirens, red flags, bells, whatever you want to call them, went off.  For a couple of reasons.  As I’ve said before, I’m an independent woman.  I like to do my own thing sometimes, I like my alone time.  No, I NEED my alone time.  To write, to watch TV, to play World of Warcraft, to do… well… whatever I feel like doing.  I don’t need a lot of it, but I do need some of it.  And, particularly lately, especially when I’m writing, I need that alone time to be uninterrupted with text messages.  And it hasn’t been.

My worry was that if this went further, that things would begin to get out of hand rather quickly.  I’ve seen it before.  I was married to it before.  I married a man (Mr. Ex) who had difficulties connecting with other people he wasn’t one hundred percent comfortable with.  He had a couple of friends – people he’d known since high school – that lived far from him then and who he never saw.  He was reluctant to reach out and meet anyone else, and spent his evenings at home, watching television, playing solitary online poker, or otherwise doing things with me.  In my younger days, I didn’t have the experience to realize that this was a problem.  I let myself become immersed in his world, and drowned myself in the relationship.

Now, I’m not the most sociable person in the world.  I don’t have a million people in my phone book and my Facebook friends list is not ginormous.  But I have people in my life that I’d call close friends now.  And back in those days, I was a much more sociable individual than he seemed to ever have been.  I’d spent my first year in college making all kinds of friends, doing all kinds of things with them.  But when I met Mr. Ex, all of that ended – some of that was due to the fact that I had moved off campus and wasn’t nearby anymore – more of it was because I felt bad (whether he made me feel bad or not) for leaving him alone when I was out having a good time, because when I came back, more often than not, I’d find that he’d gotten lonely or hadn’t found anything good on television or had played too much online poker and had no money left (and was now frantically trying to make it all back – which never succeeded).  And so, one by one, the friends I’d made in college fell off the grid.  They moved away, had their own lives, did their own things.  Of course I was doing my thing too, but as the relationship and later the marriage grew sour, I felt more and more isolated.  When it finally ended, nine years later, I found myself utterly alone in Louisville.

I promised myself, as I sat in my apartment in that solitary city, that I would not let this happen again.  If I dated, one of the requirements for finding someone else would be that he had his own network of friends that he did things with, that he hung out with, or that he could at least talk to when he needed them.  After all, this shouldn’t be that difficult to find.  Most people have at least a handful of friends and I wasn’t looking for a large social network complete with three-hundred plus Facebook friends.  And I dated.  I found people who met those requirements, and while things didn’t work with those people for other reasons, I figured that at least on that front I was doing something right.

When I met 3.0, I was aware that he was more sociable than myself.  I knew that his network of friends was going to be larger than mine, and I was okay with it.  After all, it meant meeting new people, and I’d done all that before.  The seemingly constant house full of people made it difficult after we’d just gotten exclusive, to feel as if I really had gotten to know him at all, but I argued that it couldn’t be something that lasted forever – after all, his brother was in town and was staying there.  People were there to see his brother, and once the holidays were over and his brother had gone back to Tennessee, things would settle down.  And at first, once the new year had rolled around and he’d gotten back from his vacation, that’s the way it seemed.  We spent our weekends together, watching movies, going out, doing things.  We did some things with his friends, even still, but there was never anything so pressing that we felt like we HAD to go to and there was still plenty of alone time, plenty of time for me to get to know him the way I felt I needed to, to really gauge whether the premature decision to become exclusive was really the wisest one.  At the end of the first month, I felt like it had been.

After a month or two, though, the social conflicts began to pop up.  3.0 wanted to hang out with his friends.  And in and of itself, that was not a problem.  As I’ve said, I like my alone time.  I NEED my alone time.  But the amount of time that I have during the week to be with someone is limited and so weekends are important to the overall health of the relationship.  The overall growth of it.  Even if it had been for a couple of hours, this would not have been a problem.  What became a problem was that it was for the entire day on Sundays, and every Sunday, non-cancelable, uncompromisable.  When told that we could “talk” about it, talking about it involved me asking him to do every other weekend and him telling me that was not a fair compromise and that it would be every week or not at all.  And it made him angry that I’d even asked.  I wasn’t happy, but I liked him, and I didn’t want him to be angry at me, and so I dealt with it.  I backed down.

I learned to fill my Sundays with chores – laundry, cooking.  And what time wasn’t spent doing that was spent playing World of Warcraft or otherwise mindlessly watching television.  And that was fine.  I got used to it.  I stopped caring, and even started enjoying the extra time off to do errands or visit people, or just be lazy.  It still bothered me that 3.0 would wake up, have breakfast with me, but any time we may have been able to spend lazing around together would always be cut short by this commitment to a Youtube show that never got off the ground – a second job, essentially.  But I tried to be supportive.  And, at least at first, I still got my Saturdays – those were still days that were spent doing something that we both, at least, enjoyed.

Even now, looking back, though, I can see the downward spiral.  Saturdays began to get compromised – lunches with his mother, friends staying at his house, making plans to hang out with people seemed never-ending sometimes.  We were together, and that was fine, but as the year wore on and he expressed first that he was not sold and later that he could not love me, I grew more and more frustrated with this.  I felt intimidated.  I felt like he was hiding behind these social situations so that he didn’t have to even try or, because I didn’t have much in common with most of his friends, so that he could have things to bring up to me later to tell me that I needed to improve on, to reiterate how inadequate I really was.

And the weddings were the worst.  Not being a fan of those to begin with, it seemed that invitations came in one right after the other.  It was my duty to go, and it was hard to watch couple after couple declare their love for each other when 3.0 hadn’t even so much as indicated that he felt that way – and was indeed expressing that he wasn’t sure he’d ever get there.  But for the people he was closest to and had the most interaction with, I didn’t have a problem accompanying him anyway.  And yet, 3.0 seemed, to be unable to draw the line.  When it came to things like weddings, he went to all of them, indiscriminately, whether he’d talked to the person just last week or if it had been a year ago, whether he knew the person well or not.  My explanation that wedding invitations are sent out as announcements – not necessarily as “real” invitations fell on deaf ears – he’d consult with his friends, his social thermometer, to see what would be acceptable.  And whatever they said, that’s what went.  If I didn’t like it, I didn’t have to go.  Except that if I didn’t go, it was an issue.  And if I did go, my silence (because I didn’t know those people, because I was uncomfortable, or because he had failed to make the proper arrangements ahead of time to ensure that I didn’t have to compromise, at least, my desire for a clean place to sleep) became an issue too.  I could not win.

I began to realize, then, that perhaps there is such a thing as having too many friends.  A social network so large that it becomes unnavigable.   Intimidating, even, to someone who is on the outskirts of it and who, at many times, had been disapproved of by the same group of friends.  There’s getting to know people, but then there’s also having a circle intimate enough so that you at least begin to get to know them on a more personal level.  And yet maybe it wasn’t the circle to begin with.  Maybe the “incompatibility” didn’t rest in the fact that his social circle was larger than mine, but maybe it lay in the way we handled it.  Rather than supporting me, encouraging me, and standing behind me when I didn’t feel the most comfortable or the most confident, perhaps there should have been more reassuring pats on the back, more time spent holding my hand and less time spent circling the room, leaving me to my own devices at the awkward wedding tables.  After all, aren’t couples a team?  Aren’t they supposed to be there for each other?  Isn’t that what they do?

Even after all of this, I still think friends are important, vitally important, to the success of a relationship.  So important that Broderick’s lack thereof sent up some serious red flags – enough to make me back away and rethink seeing him again.  I never want to be put in a situation where I have to feel as if I’m the “only one” someone else has.  That’s a lot of pressure to put on a person who is so independent.  On the flip side, though, the last thing I need is to be made to feel inadequate because I can’t fit in with a certain crowd or because I’m quieter or because maybe I simply would rather be doing something else.  Because, as I’ve said on numerous occasions since this split, I am not inadequate, I am not doing anything wrong, I am who I am and that’s all I can ever hope to be.

And I believe that I’ll find what I’m looking for – eventually: a middle ground.  A situation where there is a social network to compliment the relationship I’m in, but a social network that doesn’t strain the relationship to the point of breaking.  Isn’t that what the friend factor is all about, anyway?  Having people who build you up, rather than tear you down?  Who don’t ask from you more than you should ever need to give?  And isn’t, in essence, a relationship simply a deeper level of friendship in the first place?  Who says you should give up the friends you have for it, but on the other hand, who says you should allow your social network to stampede over the relationship in the first place?  It’s about priorities and compromise.  But even more, it’s about one supplementing the other, making it better, making the whole person more complete.