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Dating in New York City: The Rat Race Redefined.

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Months before I moved to New York City I made the mistake of watching a documentary about rats in the city.  I learned rats could chew right through cement and squeeze their entire bodies through holes no bigger than the size of their skulls. Rats must constantly gnaw on anything in order to keep their always-growing teeth a manageable size.  Their jaw muscles exert a shocking 12 tons of pressure per square inch.  Rats spread disease, fleas and cause fires from chewing through electrical wiring.  In moments of extreme stress they attack each other and will even resort to cannibalism.   After that film, the mere sight of a battle-scarred super-sized rodent with a flesh tail would cause my heartbeat to quicken and stomach to churn.  I found myself in fits of panic if they got more than a few feet from me.

When my ex and I moved from Brooklyn to Washington Heights we discovered a fairly developed rat nest in the roots of a tree in the sidewalk.   In the rats would scurry from their nest across the sidewalk and into the alley of a building two doors down from our own.  We’d hear screams of people who had made the mistake of walking on our side of the street night after night.  My ex-husband counted as many as 20 rats at a time in the courtyard of our neighboring building.  We’d watch in despair as they would chew perfect tunnels through solid concrete the city poured over their nest..  Animal control repeatedly set poison traps, and laid wife mesh over the concrete and nothing seemed to stop them.

Then one night, out of nowhere my reaction towards the monstrous creatures changed.  I was coming home late at night after a comedy gig and saw one, all by himself sniffing around the subway platform searching for food.  He had half of a tail and large patches of baldness along with matted fur.  This rat wasn’t doing so well, and for the first time I saw desperation in his movements.  He just didn’t run around like every other rat I’d ever seen before, he seemed panicked and fearful.

I couldn’t help but see a part of myself in this poor dying creature.  When I first moved here, I was one half of a couple.  I had dreams and ambitions that always included the man I thought was the love of my life.  Fourteen years later after the terrorist attack on 9-11, a city-wide blackout, Hurricane Sandy, a devastating divorce, the premature death of too many friends, suicidal thoughts and crippling depression I found myself alone.  I’m not as young as I once was, my reproductive capacity shrinks by the minute and I’m deeply damaged.   In order to pay my bills I work constantly.  Some weeks I might get one day off, or work nonstop without a break for days on end.

There are those who criticize me for choices I’ve made, things I’ve written or said, and my “bad” attitude.  Of course they have no idea what goes on in my head, or how difficult it might be to come back after such a devastating loss.  Things haven’t completely healed and in the past six years I’ve rarely felt strong emotion towards a man for any extended period of time.  I don’t know if I’ll live the rest of my days alone.  In many ways surviving after the breakup has been harder than the split itself.  One day turns into another and nothing changes.

I get harassed on a daily basis with men leering at me, shouting out filth, blocking my path or even grabbing me on the street.   Most of the guys who express interest in me only want sex, and will literally not even touch me after the fact.  It’s as if I’ve left the room and might as well leave, which is usually what I do anyway.  I’ve numbed myself enough to stand it, and swallowed pride and emotions with the increasing dexterity.  If that’s what I need to do to survive then so be it., I survive, but only barely.

So when I looked at that rat, desperately hunting for food, doing nothing more but trying to make it to the next day I felt empathy for his plight.  I didn’t want to go near the poor animal, and I’m not kidding myself about wild urban rats. They’re a dangerous scourge, the city is right to try to eradicate them and control their numbers.  Regardless he was still a little life who never did anything but try to make it to the next day.  For reasons beyond his control he was born into a crowded metropolis and will probably die of starvation, poison, or at the teeth of another rat soon enough.  For the first time in my life, I had compassion for something I had once reviled.  Chances are he never ate another rat, or attacked a human, he was probably just an average rat living off a garbage and dodging subway cars.   I sat down on a bench a safe distance away from him and watched his darting and scheming until the next train came.

As much as I’ve been through, and as hard as things get, my struggles and pain have been a gift.  Had I stayed married and enjoyed the success of my ex-husband’s thriving career I might have never found empathy and compassion for that sad little animal.  I would take what I had for granted, and failed to see that every new day is truly a blessing.  I had to lose everything to become more human.  My life might not get easier for many years to come, or it could change in an instant. I’m just happy I’m still here and I don’t fear the rats anymore.

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Life After Divorce: Please don’t Blame me for being Single

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The number one article on this blog is simply titled “Dating After Divorce: Why it’s so Difficult in your late Thirties” It’s been read nearly 30,000 times.  Nothing else I’ve written comes close to the amount of hits that article gets.  It’s certainly not my best or most entertaining piece. It gets a lot of hits because there are so many frustrated people searching for answers.

My younger friends try to empathize, but they have no idea what I go through.   When a person is in his or her early twenties, they’re constantly meeting other single people.   When they get together their friends a few strangers might end up making out on a couch in the corner.  When I go to a social event with folks my age, it’s mostly married couples.  While the pairs huddle together to discuss co-op boards, school districts and home renovations, I’m in the corner with the other single gals and gay men swapping sex stories and dick pics.  I’m not sure why, but straight single men are rare at such soirees.  At the last barbeque a unattached heterosexual man showed up alone, then bragged about his multiple girlfriends.

My married friends really don’t get it.  I love them dearly, but they just have no idea what I go through.  They wake up next to the same person every day of their lives.  They pay bills, worry about the future and plan vacations.  They might fight often, they might be at the brink of divorce, they might even romanticize their single years, but they’re still one half of a couple.  They know nothing of going to every social gathering alone, buying solo movie tickets, or being set up on horrible dates by well-meaning friends.

One married friend suggested that I change my attitude about dating.  He then listed three people who had all gotten remarried after a divorce.  I had to point out to him that all three examples were men who had married much younger women. Being single past 35 is difficult for both genders, but the challenges men and women face are different.  In two of the examples he gave, the men went on to have more children.  My age definitely makes me less attractive to a man who wants kids.  When I asked my friend for some examples of women who had remarried in my age range, he had none.  He just couldn’t see that my problems with dating are real and not imagined.  A simple attitude change was not going to produce age appropriate single men from the sky.

When I go out of my social network most of the interest I get is from men half my age.  I try to tell the young ones they won’t understand my sarcasm, my world-weary outlook and my complete lack of shame or social filter.  Usually they realize they’d rather be with someone with more of a spark of hope in her eyes rather than the jaded cougar. I don’t blame them.

I want my counterpart.  A man who’s had a few of his dreams and aspirations crushed.  At least he’ll understand my point of view and understand that life is mostly improvisation.  The young ones don’t always get that, and how could they?  The roller coasters of romance have knocked people my age around so much they’ve gotten skittish and scared.  They’ll pine away for a love they can’t have, complain bitterly about the one who broke their heart and avoid making any type of commitment with a new partner.  I do empathize as I’m not much different, but with so much hesitation and apathy it’s hard to get excited about anyone.

So I’ve tried, and I have other things to do with my life than spend all of my free time looking for “the one.”.  I’ve accepted that this could be my reality for some years to come.  It gets lonely, and there are days when I just want to scream at the top of my lungs and make it stop.  Then there are times when I’m so thankful that I’m not responsible for anyone else, I’m in charge of all of my finances and I can paint my bedroom whatever color I want.  When I walk by a couple fighting, or listen to a friend rant about their marital problems, I think – I’m free.

When did being in a relationship become the only path to contentment and happiness?  Don’t we all know couples who are miserable?  Don’t we all have friends and family members who remain in a marriage that is a toxic hell?  Don’t we all know men and women who will be with nearly any partner rather than be alone?  It’s not the years you’ve put in, but the quality of the partnership.  Right now after everything I’ve been through, I can honestly say I know more about myself then I ever did when I was someone’s girlfriend or wife.  I’ve discovered more about my strengths and weaknesses in the past 5 years than I did in the first 36.  I might not have someone to hold my hand when things get rough, but I also don’t have anyone to pull me down or hold me back.  I am responsible for my demise or my success.

I’m single and I might remain so for the rest of my life.  I probably won’t have kids.  I’ll have no first day of school photos, handmade cards with the word “Mom” scribbled in crayon, or pools of vomit to clean up after an underage drinking binge.  I won’t go through the highs and lows of parenthood, and none of this means I am less of a person.  A partner and a child do not validate my existence on this planet.

I’m not broken because I’ve been alone for an extended period of time.  I am single.  This is my life, and there is nothing wrong with me because I choose to live alone, rather than stay in a bad partnership. If two people are happy in a long-term committed relationship it’s a beautiful, wonderful, magical thing, but so is building a future by myself, on my terms and without a toxic partner.

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Life After Divorce – Kiddie Table Banishment

English: Saying grace before carving the turke...

No one likes to talk about it.  But I have heard from a few friends that post-divorce this problem is quite common.  There is some real estate that is downright coveted come holiday time.  And sometimes post-divorce you lose your stake at it.  And that real estate would be getting a seat at the adult table during holiday meals.  This doesn’t apply to everyone, as not everyone has a huge extended family.  Or if they do they at least have a big enough table so that everyone can sit together.   But for many families, it is simply not possible to put all the adults together and there comes a point when you just don’t want to sit at the kiddie table anymore.

It usually goes like this, when you are married and you come home for the holidays no one would dream of putting you at the kids table.  Just as it is assumed that you will also be expected to send out Christmas or Chanukah cards now that you are a married adult, it is also assumed that your spouse will not be forced to sit and eat with your nine-year old niece.  So things are done, seating arrangements adjusted so that your new addition to the family will not suffer the fate of being treated like a child.  When you get divorced however, everything can change.  Especially when a new member of your generation gets married that year.  Suddenly you find your status lowered.  Much like a single person with no date at a wedding, you are not going to get prime seating.  You instead end up at the table with misfits, and in this case the misfits have bibs, braces or acne.   Or worse yet, it is all of your fellow divorced adult cousins or siblings.  The table of rejects, the table of shame.

Well I say instead of coveting a seat with the adults, look at it this way.  Sure it is the table where wine is openly served but the conversation can drift to octogenarians complaining about their medications and health problems, or a crazy uncle trying to convert everyone to his conspiracy theory political beliefs so look on the bright side.  You now get to sit with the fun crew.  They might even break out into song or start a food fight.

The holidays are horrible anyway when you are newly divorced because even if you wanted desperately out of the marriage it seems every single thing around you is sending a message that you are somehow broken and sad because you are no longer one half of a couple.  Instead of being defeated by your new status of adult child, just think about the perks.

  • No one will expect a holiday card from you this year or one of those annoying family photo cards
  • You get to hang with children where you can openly mock everything without judgment
  • You can bring your own bottle of wine and drink it all by yourself
  • No one will judge you for what you eat or how fast you eat it
  • You can learn about video games, cartoons and comic books
  • Everyone at the kiddie table will eat pie, so just bask in the joy of eating pie with children!

I never understood why people always dreaded the holidays until I got divorced, and now I understand the holiday dread all too well.  But instead of being defeated by it, I am just going to party with my nine-year old niece and bask in the joys of being a misfit at the table of freaks!