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Dating After Divorce: I like you…but you’re not HER.

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The situation goes something like this.  I meet a guy who shows interest in me.  A few have even invested quite a bit of effort and energy to win my favor.  Just when I think I might be letting my guard down enough to actually bond with him, I find out about her.  She might be an ex-girlfriend, an ex-wife, the mother of his child or the one who got away.  She have helped destroy his marriage, or gone out with him on wild benders.  She could have, slept with his best friend, stolen his money, joined a cult, realized she was gay, or stuck around in his life just enough to emotionally manipulate and abuse him.  There are so many ways to become “her.”

I find a problem with “her” in nearly every middle-aged single man I meet.  To be fair I’m sure plenty of women also obsess about a “him” from their past.  It seems as we get older we become a patchwork of our former triumphs and traumas and can’t help but bring them to the next relationship.  Our nostalgia and idealization of former lovers keep us trapped.  Some men are more transparent about this than others.  I’ve had the following happen to me while on first dates with men I barely knew.

  • One admitted his marriage fell apart because he was still in love with his former girlfriend.  He never worked it out with the former girlfriend but his obsession destroyed his marriage.
  • Another said he was still angry at his last major girlfriend.  Not so uncommon except he had dated her over 20 years before I sat across from him nibbling on tapas.
  • One said and I quote “I still love my ex-wife.  My friendship is very close with her, even though she’s with someone else and if you or any other woman has a problem with that, I’ll always choose my ex-wife.”  This might be understandable if they had children together but they did not, and she lived halfway across the country.
  • Another guy told me that he was still in love with his ex-wife, even though she had told him she “never wanted to have sex with him”, and she had left him for another man.
  • The worst one was a man I had dinner with who went on and on about another female comedian he had corresponded with on OKCupid.  When he found out I knew her he said, “I find her fascinating and would love to have drinks with her.”  I blocked him from my phone on my way home.
  • I even had a man ask me for advice on ways he could get his ex back.  This was WHILE he was on a date with me.  I honestly felt sorry for him, but give me a break.

Even in my first major relationship right out of the gate post-divorce, my partner openly pinned away for the woman he had just dated before me.  She lived on the opposite coast and had never actually spent any significant time with him, but in his eyes she was somehow perfect.  Because she was inaccessible she was without flaws, yet an available woman who actually wanted him would never measure up.

This happens so often that now when I meet new guys I almost want to just ask him,

“So where are the bodies buried when it comes to your ex?  Do you hate her?  Do you still love her?  It doesn’t matter as hate and love are two sides of the same coin, so either way it’s bad.  How many times do you talk to her in a given month?  Are you actually divorced yet? Get it all out now, so I can leave before we might feel obligated to actually order dinner.”

 

When I see this pattern repeated it just reinforces every insecurity I have about myself.  All of the following go through my brain at the same time

  • Why is he so obsessed with her?
  • Why is no one obsessed with me?
  • Why am I OK for a backup but never the primary woman in any man’s life?
  • Why do some men obsess over women who treat them like garbage?
  • Do men only want women that they can’t have?
  • Why would he still want her if she left him for another guy?
  • I’m not good enough.  There’s something about me that makes me disgusting or unappealing.
  • Why did he chase me if he really wants her?
  • Would he take her back if she wanted to try again?
  • If I improved myself or changed my personality would that help?
  • What magic do these women posses?

I admit none of those thoughts are healthy or useful.  It’s my neurosis going on overdrive.  I find the constant struggle against “her” extremely demoralizing and a disaster for my self-esteem.  I can logically tell myself it’s not me, the guy is just hung up on his ex, and he’d treat most women like this.  I want to grab some of these men by both shoulders and scream

  • “She doesn’t want you anymore, let her go.”
  • “She’s so mean to you, you deserve better.”
  • “”If you think you guys still have a chance, then do everything you can to get her back, just leave me alone.”

The hardest are the men with children.  I don’t have kids myself, so I honestly have no idea how strange an intertwined a relationship with an ex could get.  Even if two parents absolutely hate each other they will still be deeply entrenched in each other’s lives for many years to come.  So far I’ve encountered men who bend over backwards to keep their ex happy, and men who constantly battle with their ex over every decision involving their kids.  Both are a nightmare for a new partner.  If a man is spending all of his energy towards the ex there’s nothing left for anyone else.

This rarely happened in my 20’s. Men that age just didn’t seem to get as worked up about a former partner.  It seemed like people were breaking up and hooking up with new partners all the time, without much second thought  Once we get older and put much more investment into a relationship, it just gets harder to let go. When our own personal “Happily Ever After” story gets crushed, we have a hard time imagining a new one.  In and ideal situation I would just pass out a psychological evaluation to every potential new partner with lots of questions about how they view their ex.  I know that would never really work, but it would certainly save us both time and energy.  *I’m not really serious, that’s sarcasm….but honestly it would make things easier.

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Dating After Divorce: Mr. My Bitch Ex-Wife

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Before I get started with this one, I want to indicate that this problem is not gender specific.  Both men and women are equally obsessed with or tormented by a former spouse or partner.  Since I’m a woman, I’ll use the term Mr. My Bitch Ex-Wife but it could just as easily but a Ms. My Asshole Ex-Husband.

One of the biggest obstacles with dating after a divorce is getting past the damage caused by your former marriage.  It’s something I struggle with, as my divorce was incredibly traumatic.   I faced betrayal, lies, fraud, infidelity and was nearly destroyed both financially and emotionally.  I’ve been the very person I’m going to describe here, and I still struggle to get past it.  I’m not as bad as others, but I’ve got much room for improvement.

I’ve found on most dates I’ve had with total strangers, they usually blow their cover in the first 10 -15 minutes of the conversation.  It’s happened so often, that I could almost take a stopwatch and time the first comment that will issue a red flag in my head.  I’ve heard lines like the following before the waiter dropped off the menus.

  • My ex-wife is such a bitch
  • I hate my ex, she’s pure evil
  • My ex-wife is crazy, insane, psycho, etc.
  • Isn’t divorce hell, my stupid ex-wife ruined my life

For the rest of the date,  literally every topic somehow goes back to their ex-wife.  A drink reminds them of the bitch ex-wife, the food, my phone, my dress, a story from my past, my hair, it just doesn’t end.  The worst cases will demonize their former partners to such a degree, that I might believe their ex could be a danger to the public.. Their former partner is a complete raving lunatic, hellbent on destroying lives and impossibly cruel..  If I believed everything a Mr. My Bitch Ex-Wife tells me, then they were somehow a hapless victim who got tricked into marrying a she-devil who flipped out the minute their nuptials were final.

Now sometimes they could be speaking the truth.  Both men and women can unwittingly marry sociopaths, narcissists, serial cheaters, partners with untreated mental illness, substance abuse problems or violent raging tempers.  Marriage and relationships are a crap shoot, and most of us enter into them with the best of intentions.  No one has a crystal ball to see into the future and people do change their personalities, or deep-seated problems surface years into a marriage. Regardless, if their conversation revolves around stories about an ex, they’re probably not ready to date someone new. It’s doesn’t matter if they are beautiful, charming, funny or otherwise perfect, if they are that fixated on an ex there’s no room for a new partner. However there is some gray area here.  If you’re past the age of 35, you’re not going to find an age-appropriate partner who does not have some complicated baggage.  It’s hard for anyone to get past a major break-up or divorce, so it’s not unusual or unexpected behavior to vent about a former partner.  It’s also next to impossible to talk about your past if you have to block out 10 years or more to avoid talking about an ex.  No one is perfect but some warning signs to look for are the following.

Speak in absolutes – When they speak of their ex, it sounds as if they are describing a fairy tale villain.  There are no redeeming qualities, the person is completely evil, mean, cruel, or vicious.

Take no responsibility for picking their partner – Regardless of the circumstances of my divorce I do take full responsibility for choosing my husband.  Yes, he lied to me and was incredibly deceptive, but I chose to ignore several warning signs that could have indicated something was up.  I wanted to live in denial.  I didn’t want to face reality.

Portray themselves as complete victims – In some cases this is true, but how did the person react to abuse?  Did they take steps to get out of the marriage?  Did they fight back?  What did they try to do to change the situation?  In some marriages, especially ones with children, people can feel trapped.  What they do to save themselves or the situation is very telling. Even just standing up and calling out the abuse can be quite courageous and proactive.

Every ex is crazy – I knew one woman who literally claimed that all four of her ex-husbands tried to kill her.  The stories she told were fantastical, and she had problems keeping the details straight.  Anyone can make the mistake of marrying or dating someone with a propensity for violence, but it’s highly suspect if every former partner is unstable and violent. Either they love being in destructive relationships, or they are exaggerating their past.

Ultimately it comes down to what you are comfortable with.  If you want to take a chance on someone who spends half the date ripping apart their ex, then go for it.  You might be happier though with someone who actually wants to get to know you, and not treat you like a free therapist.  If he says the words “bitch” and “ex-wife” in the same sentence right after meeting you, it might be a clue that you’ll end up being the next “bitch ex” in his life he’ll complain about to someone new.

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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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Grace & Frankie: Hollywood vs. Reality

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As a straight spouse myself, I’m always interested in how the media depicts our situations.  In most cases I shake my head as I see cartoonish one-sided clichés.  Lately it’s been Christian couples who have vowed to pray away the “same-sex attraction” in a miserable and strained marriage.

So I was a bit nervous about the new Netflix comedy, Grace & Frankie.  The premise of the show involves a double divorce of two closeted men who have had a 20-year affair while married to women.  In the first episode the announce they are leaving their wives for a new life together and hilarity ensues.  Actually most of the humor comes from the unconventional friendship that develops between their two dissimilar wives – The hippie Frankie, played by Lily Tomlin and the former model turned beauty executive played by Jane Fonda.  I genuinely loved the show, the characters are three-dimensional and multi-layered, the acting is brilliant and both straight spouses are extremely funny and sympathetic.  As much as I liked it, I was somewhat frustrated by the sugar-coated Hollywood take on everything.

Since I write about being a straight spouse and have been very public about my story, I’ve encountered literally hundreds of other straight spouses.  I’ve read their stories on private Facebook groups, and listened to harrowing details in my local straight spouse support group. No two mixed orientation marriages are quite the same, and our experiences do fall in a spectrum of outcomes. However, certain patterns are quite common and we often remark that we feel like we married the same person.  There was so much good in Grace & Frankie but I feel the need to break down Hollywood fantasy vs. reality.

Hollywood – Both of the gay men find the courage to finally come out to their wives, and reveal their 20 year-long affair.

Reality – I’d say with full confidence that in probably 80-90% of mixed orientation marriages, the closeted spouse doesn’t disclose anything. Most of us find out the hard way after months or years of searching for evidence.  In some truly horrific cases, a spouse finds out the truth accidentally.

Hollywood – 20 years of infidelity are forgiven rather easily and the relationships remain close and intact

Reality – For most spouses, finding out your partner was having a secret affair with his or her best friend for the past 20 years would be devastating.  The pain and betrayal would cause so much damage, it would be quite difficult to repair any sort of relationship.  A person might question literally everything.  Which business trip was really a liaison?  Which emergency meeting at work was really a hook-up?  How many times did my spouse blatantly lie to my face?  Twenty years of lies and betrayal are hard to forgive regardless of the circumstances.

Hollywood – Both couples have quick and simple divorces and both gay husbands are greatly concerned for the emotional and financial welfare of their wives. 

Reality – How many couples have an “easy” divorce?  Most drag on for several months if not years. Some partners do everything they can to block and stall to delay the inevitable.  Just like any divorce, a straight spouse will endure multiple court cases, shady legal maneuvers, psych evaluations, hiding of assets and vicious custody battles.  Some spouses are completely abandoned when their partner come out.  As soon as they are open about their orientation they want to discard their old identity and life.  Divorces between mixed orientation couples are no different than the general population – many are brutal, long, inequitable and devastating.

Hollywood – Both gay husbands immediately openly declare their sexual orientation to anyone and everyone

Reality – If a person has lived a lie for a couple of decades, they rarely switch to immediately proclaiming the truth.  I’ve known straight spouses who have watched their exes marry a same-sex partner and STILL not label themselves gay, bisexual or even hetero-flexible. They simply insist they’re straight despite their new gay spouse.  It’s baffling but it’s incredibly common.  Some closeted partners are so self-loathing they retreat back into the closet and marry another straight partner.

Hollywood – Both couples are financially well off, and no one suffers economic ruin.

Reality – Most television shows center around wealthy people.  The trials of paying bills on time and making ends meet just isn’t compelling and set designers would rather feature beautiful sprawling homes than sad depressing ones.  Grace & Frankie is no different.  Of course most straight spouses suffer tremendous financial problems from foreclosure to bankruptcy just like any other divorced couple.

Hollywood – Even though both women are in their 70’s there is seemingly a limitless supply of available partners.  Both women have love interests almost immediately.

Reality – As much as loved Frankie & Grace – This is pure fantasy.  

Hollywood – Both husbands admit fault for cheating, lying and destroying their marriage.  

Realities – This one is probably the most egregious.  Although I do know some closeted men and women who do take full accountability for their actions, many more admit no fault whatsoever.  Excuses abound from

  • You knew I was gay the whole time
  • Everyone knew I was gay
  • My orientation had nothing to do with our divorce
  • You made me gay
  • If you were there for me I would have never turned to men/women
  • If you were just more understanding about my cheating we’d still be together
  • It was just sex, it meant nothing, I don’t know why you care so much
  • I’m not gay, I was never gay, I’m just working some things out

Very few people actually admit they have done anything wrong, in a mixed orientation marriage or otherwise.

Hollywood – Both gay husbands seem to have healthy psychological profiles and don’t have any personality disorders

Reality – Most of us learn through therapists that our exes are narcissists. Narcissists rarely take responsibility for their actions and have a tendency to blame everyone around them for whatever damage or chaos they’ve caused.  They lack empathy and view themselves as the ultimate victim.  Narcissists are often charming and charismatic but ultimately they are extremely difficult partners in a marriage. Of course our spouses do NOT represent the larger LGTB community as most LGTB people would never marry a straight person.  Narcissism has nothing to do with sexual orientation but more to do with someone marrying another person under false pretense.  Of course not all closeted men and women who marry straight partners are narcissistic but it is such a common problem that I would be remiss not to mention it here.

There were some things the show got spot on.

Denial & Co-dependence 

One of the wives remains in a deep state of denial despite the obvious evidence.  She accepts her husband is gay but continues to use him as her main source of emotional support.  She acts out in very co-dependent ways and won’t accept that he’s treated her horribly.  This is quite common for many straight spouses as denial is the glue that keeps these marriages together for so long.  It’s difficult to suddenly turn on the light and see reality.

Resentment & Sadness

The show also captured the deep resentment and sadness that both women experience.  In reality it would most likely stretch out much longer and be more intense, but at least the producers and writers allowed both characters to get angry, meltdown, and process real emotions.  The disclosure wasn’t just a punchline, it given real gravitas.

Conflicted emotions in adult children

The adult children of both couples also expressed deeply conflicted feelings towards their fathers.   As adults they still saw that their fathers had both cheated, lied and betrayed their mothers while setting them adrift in their old age.  Despite their love for their dads, they couldn’t ignore their misdeeds.

Realistic gay couple

Another thing I liked about the show is that the gay partners act like any couple, they fight, they get frustrated with each other, they have bad communication skills but ultimately love each other very deeply.  They were a fully dimensional and believable couple.

Most mixed orientation marriages would make extremely boring and sad television shows,  Our lives don’t get nicely wrapped up in cute 30 minute episodes.  Many of us live with emotional damage and shattered trust for years.  With all of this though, I’m glad our stories are getting told at all.   Just a decade ago it would have been unheard of to have a show explore this topic. I hope one day people may wonder why anyone would marry someone to hide the fact that they were gay.  It simply won’t make any sense to do something so against one’s nature.

I laughed and cried while watching Grace and Frankie and I can’t wait for the next season.  Even though it’s largely a best case scenario fairy tale, at least both straight spouses are sympathetic and likable and their struggles and obstacles are given respect.   I’m thankful to both Fonda and Tomlin for having the courage to tackle this subject and to make an entertaining and funny show about it.

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Straight Spouse: When Your Life is Not Politically Correct

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Imagine finding out your spouse was cheating on you, not just with one partner, but with several for the duration of your marriage. He didn’t come to you on his own and confess.  You discovered the truth after suspecting for years that something wasn’t right.  After unearthing hard evidence of his infidelity he reveals he wasn’t even faithful while you were dating.  The entire time your partner was having these illicit trysts, he exposed you to sexually transmitted diseases including HIV.

You decide to leave him.  What follows is a vicious battle for custody of your children, your home, and every last possession between you.  He tires to refuse to pay for anything including child support.  Your husband even loses his job mid-divorce in an attempt to avoid his obligations to you and your children.  He uses every trick in the book to ruin you financially, and your divorce drags on for years.

Instead of taking responsibility for his actions, he blames you for the destruction of the marriage.  He cites your lack of emotional support for his infidelity.  If you had only understood and loved him better, he wouldn’t have gone looking for love and sex from others.

When your friends and family find out about his betrayal, your charismatic ex manages to spin it to his advantage.  He tells everyone that he was a loving and supportive husband.  He claims you knew of his many trysts and had some of your own.  Not only does your former husband get support from your friends, he’s given accolades.  An entire community embraces and welcomes him.  Any past transgressions are instantly forgiven.

Meanwhile you go underground. To protect your children you bury even more secrets, make excuses, and continue to live a lie. If you try to talk about what’s happened to you, your friends tell you to “have some compassion” for you ex.  Although some see the truth, few truly understand the extent of his lies, betrayal and profound selfishness.   You’re told to have empathy for the man who just ruined your life, because now he’s openly gay.

Now take out the confused sexual orientation. Let’s say a man cheated on his wife with multiple women for the entire marriage.  Would anyone tell the wife to have “compassion” for her ex-husband? Would people criticize her for not showing empathy to his lack of respect, impulse control and selfishness? I doubt it. Why are straight spouses supposed to instantly forgive a spouse given these circumstances?

What if both partners were gay. If a man was cheating on his spouse throughout the entire marriage then embroiled him in a nasty divorce would anyone ask the spouse to have compassion for his cheating ex? Could the cheater wrap himself in the flag of his orientation and say that he couldn’t help his actions because he was gay?

In a politically correct world these situations would be clear-cut.  The oppressed homosexual wouldn’t do anything cruel or self-serving and the straight spouse would be understanding and empathetic towards his or her closeted spouse.  Real life is not so neat and tidy.  Is it politically correct when a man loses access to his children because his cheating spouse relocates with her new partner to another state?   Is it politically correct when a woman kills herself after she finds out her cheating husband is gay?   Is it politically correct when a cheating spouses gives his wife HIV?

No one is advocating for closeted spouses to stay in the misery and torment that is the closet. It is much better for everyone involved when people live authentic and honest lives. No one who is currently living a secret life should remain deceiving his or her spouse in order to try to spare them the pain and heartache of a divorce. Chances are the straight spouse will discover the truth and the damage will only be compounded.

I know how difficult these situations are because I’m a straight spouse.  Many straight spouses have been told by well-meaning friends to have compassion for their exes who treated them so callously and without much consideration.    There is pressure to instantly forgive every lie and transgression, no matter how egregious.  To many straight spouses, this forced forgiveness feels like a second betrayal.  The concept is even harder to grasp while in the middle of a nasty custody battle or vicious divorce.

A few of my critics believe that when I write about these doomed marriages that I am attacking all LGBT people.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  I love and support the LGBT community but I have a lot of conflicted emotions towards my ex-husband.  He is responsible for his own actions, and he does not represent every LGBT person or even every closeted gay man.  For some, saying anything bad about an individual LGBT person is somehow homophobic or politically incorrect.  Well no group is homogenous, and sociopaths, narcissists and selfish people can be of any sexual orientation.  LGBT men and women who openly deceive others to hide their true orientation do a huge disservice to the larger LGBT community. By hiding out they aren’t exactly helping the cause of acceptance and equality. They are in fact perpetuating the myth that the only way a person can live a happy and fulfilled life is to pose as straight.

Many straight spouses discover in therapy that their exes struggle with profound narcissism.  A narcissist tends to not see other people as fully formed individuals but rather pawns or objects.  Narcissists lack empathy and usually take no responsibility for their actions.  In a narcissist’s mind, they are the ultimate victims.  Therefore they see nothing wrong with deceiving another person, to protect themselves or gain social acceptance. Narcissism has nothing to do with sexual orientation.  There are narcissists of every socioeconomic background, sexual orientation and ethnicity.  I would bet that psychological profiles of many of these men and women, would be nearly identical to those who marry others for a green card, financial gain or career advancement.

Of course not all mixed orientation marriages are the same, and some closeted homosexuals who marry straight partners are not narcissists.  Some met their spouses when they were quite young, before they truly understood their sexual orientation.  A few closeted homosexuals are strongly pressured by their families and communities to marry a straight partner.   In some rare cases, medical conditions can suppress a person’s sex drive enough to cloud their orientation.  Some mixed orientation marriages are open and honest from day one.  Just as there are many shades of the sexual orientation rainbow, the reasons behind mixed orientation marriages run a spectrum.

But given all that, no one has a right to assume all straight spouses have the same story.  When I and other straight spouses share our stories, we don’t do it to trash the LGBT community or our exes.  We do it to help other people who typically blame themselves for their shattered lives.  We do it to help dissuade the notion that sexual orientation is something that’s a lifestyle or personal choice.  We do it to show that encouraging LGBT men and women to retreat into “the closet” causes far more misery and suffering than to just the closeted person.

Hopefully one day soon we will move forward and marriages like mine and many others will become increasingly rare, but we aren’t going to get to that truth by creating a new closet.  Straight spouses shouldn’t have to create a false reality in order to protect their exes.  We will only arrive a new authentic way of living through truth, and many times our truth is not politically correct.

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Dating in New York City – The Death of Dating & Emotional Zombies

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I sometimes think being single in New York City turns a person into an emotional zombie.  I don’t say that to insult single New Yorkers as I am single myself.  I have noticed though in the past few years that my personality has drastically changed when it comes to dating.  I used to get really worked about it, and now I’m a step away from comatose.  All emotion has basically been beaten out of me.  No one has physically attacked me of course, but any rough edges are now weathered down by a sea of apathy.  It’s as if the harshness of the dating scene washes over us like a thousand pieces of sand paper an smooths us down to smooth dullness.

After the first few dates, I blamed myself for being overly emotional or too screwed up from my recent divorce.  I was a complete emotional wreck and probably should have taken time off before dating, but it wasn’t just my emotional turmoil that was causing the problem.  It was an entire city devoid of authentic emotion. Not everyone, but most men  acted like the walking dead, ruled by their genitalia and nothing else. I was far more judgmental of this quality when I started out, then I realized it wasn’t so much a choice as a method of survival.  Like a nasty pandemic it spread throughout the whole city, neither gender spared.  I heard story after story from my male friends of women who acted the same way.  We were all reduced to little more than our zip code, our sexual preferences and lifestyles.  I was no longer a woman in my late thirties/early forties but Flatbush, straight, non-smoker with cats.  Everything else about me didn’t seem to matter anymore.

What caused this?  What turned an entire metropolis into the land of the emotionally dead?  Technology hasn’t helped.  Even though now we can connect in so many ways,  I can honestly say without irony that I’ve had more solicitations for cyber sex than actual physical contact.  When once a man might call me on the phone to chat, they now text. Communication reduced to broken phrases and emoticons.  Even typing in a complete sentence is too much effort for some.  Misunderstandings are common as tone is next to impossible to convey and sarcasm deadly.   Dating websites have evolved into  hook-up apps that promise little more than one awkward or thrilling evening to cut the boredom.

Eventually I’ve succumbed and became numb myself.  It must have been all the bad dates, the dick pics, the requests for immediate sex, the constant same day cancellations, and the judgmental pricks who think taking a train to Brooklyn is just too much to ask.  I officially gave up a while ago.  I’ve shut down all of my online dating profiles, I can’t even fathom joining tinder.  When I do date, which isn’t often, I find myself trying to smother any spark of emotions that are left.  I tell myself, don’t react, don’t care, show no weakness and maybe you’ll get through it.  Maybe if I’m dead enough, I’ll finally win at this game.

But in some ways my zombie infection is a good thing.  I used to put up with so much bad treatment.  When I would once make excuses for a man who didn’t text back, I now delete them from my phone.  I cut them off and don’t look back.  When a man is rude or snobbish about my type of employment he becomes invisible to me.  When a guy shrugs his shoulders at taking the Q train out to central Brooklyn, I erase him from my brain.  I have in many ways become the person I feared.  It’s not that I don’t have empathy for others, it’s just survival.  In a city where anyone can walk away and return to instant anonymity negative behavior thrives.

I’m less judgmental of people just snapping and hooking up with the next person who offers.  I understand the need for human touch that lies within us all no matter how hard we try to bury it.  We try to control it completely but all the pornography and our sexually heightened culture can’t control the need to just be next to someone if for a moment.  I’ll shuffle back to my own corner of Gotham and try to smother the beast inside who cries out for more.  I let the sea of apathy wash over me again and the numbness is comforting.

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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: The Fetishization of Marriage

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If I were to write a fairy tale for young children, especially young girls it would go something like this.  Once upon a time there was a young girl who lived in tiny beaten down shack.  She didn’t have a lot of money and her parents were poor.  She decided she was going to get out of her situation no matter what, so she worked hard and went to school.  Despite the obstacles she started her own company and employed a bunch of other poor kids to come and work for her.  It wasn’t always easy and she nearly lost everything several times but she kept working hard and survived.  At some point she got married, and the guy was alright.  She also had children and loved them with all of her might.  She taught he kids to dream big, work hard and try to do right by their fellow-man.  Her marriage didn’t work out and she got a divorce.  She continued to live as happily as with her children and company.  When she died she looked back at her greatest achievements – creating jobs for so many other poor kids, and her beautiful children.  The end.

It could be easily rewritten where she’s an employee but takes great pride and satisfaction in her work.  I could also re-write it where she doesn’t have kids, and gets fulfillment through helping others or by using her creativity. The example of fairy tales is a powerful one for me since I work with kids in my day job.  I can’t help but see how much influence our myths, legends and pop culture have on young impressionable minds.

Why are we only told one story our entire lives?  With a few exceptions there are few fairy tales or fables that do not include weddings as part of a happy ending.  Why are weddings mostly absent in fairy tales geared towards boys?  Why do so many of our fables END with a marriage followed by the phrase “Happily Ever After.”  Every married or divorced person knows that a wedding is not the ending, it’s the start of a new chapter.  A fairy Godmother does not descend from heaven and make everything magical on the day we say “I do.”  In many ways everything gets harder, as the stakes get higher.

If our marriages end in divorce we are not lesser than our married counterparts. We all know dysfunctional and damaging marriages.   Just because two people remain married doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a happy or healthy union.

The wedding industry is big business the US.  With some estimates being as high as $51 billion dollars spent annually.  Yet despite all the extravagance and hoopla fewer people are getting married.  The media decries this trend as some sort of crumbling of our social fabric.  Personally I think it’s a good thing.  Marriage is not necessarily the end all, be all of happiness. Not everyone thrives in marriage and it’s much easier to walk away from a relationship that’s not legally binding.

When I was 27 I gave up my job, relocated to New York City and left my friends and career behind for a man I thought I would be with forever.  From a young age, we’re encouraged that to sacrifice for love is not only acceptable but a nobel thing to do.  Now it’s one thing to stay with a partner in a time of crisis, staying with them during a prolonged illness, or supporting them in a time of crisis.  That is a beautiful thing and a testament to the human experience.  Our bonds with each other can reach such depths that we do want to sacrifice for the ones we love.  At the same time, the emotions I have for my family and friends are just as strong as what I could have for a romantic partner.

We need a new narrative.  We need to stop telling the same story.  Marriage isn’t the only recipe for happily ever after, and honestly happily after doesn’t exist.  We live, we love and go through a lot in our lives and for most of us it’s nothing like a fairy tale.  I’d rather have a life with ups and downs than some Disney fantasy anyway.

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Dear Susan Patton: Take Your Advice and Shove It!

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Susan, I know you really think you’re helping out young women by encouraging them to nab an eligible bachelor while they’re still in college.  Interestingly though the divorce rate is much higher for women who marry for the first time under the age 25.  If women actually take your advice they might pick what you think is a brilliant mate, but if they marry him before age 25, they’ll battle the same genius in divorce court later.

Here are your eight reasons why women in New York City can’t get a husband.  I know this article was published back in March, but a friend just sent me the link and I felt compelled to respond.  I left my husband nearly five years ago, and haven’t had a serious long-term relationship since.  You claim to know WHY women like myself are still single, so I’m going to answer each one of your reasons with my own personal experience.

1. We drink too much – I actually don’t drink alcohol often, and do absolutely no drugs.  I’m a vegetarian and you would probably encourage me to seem less complicated and start eating meat.  Well that’s not going to happen.

2. We spend too much time on iphones and other electronic devices – My ipod has been broken for the past several months.  I miss it.  The earbuds drowned out the constant cat calls.  I live in a less gentrified area of Brooklyn, and it never stops.  Am I supposed to stop and engage an intoxicated gentlemen the next time he makes a comment about my ass?  Maybe that’s why I’m not meeting Mr. Right!

3. We wear too much black – Of course that’s it.  Black makes us look like witches and men hate witches.  I know Angelina Jolie gets no attention and she wears black all the time.  She even plays a witch in Maleficent and everyone knows, men can’t stand the sight of Angelina Jolie.

4. We are dating too many guys at work – I’m self-employed and have no co-workers so I’m not sure how I’m doing that.  I guess I’m dating myself too often.

5. We spend too much time with our gay friends – This is New York City, are you out of your mind?  I don’t just have gay friends.  I’ve got transgender, gay, bisexual, pansexual, polyamorous and several who identify as gender-flexible.  I’m not giving up my non-heterosexual friends.

6. We are ignoring our biological clocks – I know I’m 41 and am well aware of it.  Am I supposed to get pregnant by any random man?  That would seem a bit reckless.  How about I just accept it’s not going to happen and focus on something else.  Adopted kids need homes too.  I don’t have to grow one in my womb.

7. We hook up too much – OH HOW I WISH THIS WAS TRUE!  Honestly I’m fairly picky, I’ve got trust issues, and I just don’t feel safe hooking up with most of the guys who offer it.  It’s not their looks so much as its how they treat me.  If a guy is rude, I have very little interest in sleeping with him. I also don’t like bad sex, and hookups are like rolling the dice.  I don’t know the last time you hooked up with anyone but it can be absolutely dreadful.

8. We overly rely on NYC conveniences – Actually I don’t. Take out is pricy. You also implied this lifestyle is making us fat, but New York City women are some of the fittest in the country.  And Susan you are a full-figured gal, I would just celebrate it and stop blaming General Tso’s chicken.

So that’s your eight reasons, and I answered every one of them.  Now I have a few questions for you.  Susan you’re divorced.  How did that go? My divorce pushed me to the brink of madness and into a literal death spiral.  I had massive depression, anxiety attacks and suicidal tendencies.  I eventually went on antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication.  I’m fine now, and drug free but, It was a regular horror show.  I’m sure your divorce wasn’t easy.  Since marriage is about a 50/50 chance nowadays why would you promote anyone to enter into a legally binding relationship that could end in a catastrophic divorce?

Here are my five reasons, why I doubt I’ll ever say “I do” again.  

1. I never want to combine my money with another person – This is the MAIN reason I never want to get married again.  I used to work with my husband, and when my marriage fell apart my income evaporated.  Now I make my own money and decide how I spend it.  It’s amazingly liberating and I never want to go back to even a joint checking account.

2. I don’t want to move – I like living in Brooklyn.  If I choose to move, it should be my choice.

3. I’ve accepted I’m never having my own children. – If I do decide to have a child, I’ll probably adopt.  The adoption process is long and expensive but having a baby at my age is not without problems.  I’ve also accepted that I might never be a parent.  A lot of women never want to have kids.  I did, but my life didn’t work out as planned.  I don’t feel like a failure because I won’t be a parent.

4. I feel complete and fulfilled as a single person – I know this might shock you.  I don’t know how you manage as a single person yourself.  The daily torment must be getting to you.  You must be so miserable that you write books encouraging young women to desperately get what you don’t have.  I would love to date someone special but the longer I’ve been single the more I’ve grown to love it.

5. I never want to get divorced again – If someone wants to get married four or five times good for them.  The prospect of going through another divorce though is so terrifying to me, I think I’ll avoid doing it again.

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Life After Divorce: Why I Hate Over the Top Marriage Proposal Videos

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I’ve sometimes wondered if social media has made us more self-centered, or is it simply revealing our true narcissistic tendencies?  We live in a time of people taking self-portraits ad nauseam. Social media feeds fill up with images with the same basic message:  Look at me, Look at me, Look at me I’m doing absolutely nothing interesting, but for reasons unknown to anyone I really want everyone to see it.  Some feel compelled to declare absolutely every action or thought.  Our world is on overflow of useless, mundane and tedious self-aggrandizing affirmations.

In the days of proclaiming completely irrelevant information, some go to extremes when it comes to major life events.  Pregnancies are publicly documented from nearly the point of conception, wedding announcements go on for pages and pages and a few have even shared their marriage proposals with a global audience.  People spend small fortunes, recruit dozens of volunteers, hire professional musicians, and then toil away for hours editing, all in the hopes that their declaration of love will go viral.  I don’t mind over sharing on pregnancies, and weddings have always been a big deal, but I cringe when I see the proposal videos.

I’m not just here to rain on their parade, I’m the tropical storm that shows up when the beauty pageant winners are riding in the backseat of a convertible.  I can’t help myself.  I’ve been to the dark side of a marriage gone wrong, and I’ll never view marriage in the same way again.  As a divorced person in midlife, I just don’t see the world through such a dewy-eyed prism.  Not only did my own “perfect” marriage disintegrate, I’ve witnessed countless friends get dragged through brutal divorce hellscapes.  When I watch an elaborate public engagements I don’t see a deep never-ending love.  Instead I see person with narcissistic tendencies and a completely delusional view of marriage.  The main focus in almost all of the videos is the guy proposing, not his bride.  So it makes me wonder, is this about his never-ending love for his love, or is it about his ego?

Of course there are exceptions.  If the circumstances of a couple were truly outstanding then I might understand why they might want broadcast such a personal highly emotionally charged moment.  If a partner had narrowly escaped death, returned from war, or a same-sex couple that has been together for decades and can now finally get married.  I understand why they might want to go all out.  In some instances I get it.

Marriage is not about the theatrics.  It’s about weathering the harshest storms life throws at you.  Marriage is sticking with someone when they get sick, go broke, or make huge sometimes extremely hurtful mistakes.  Marriages aren’t a Disney movie come to life.  They’re the every day grind.  Sticking it out for the long haul is about just trying to get along during those boring, tedious and stressful days.  It’s putting up with bad habits, compromising and trying to see the bigger picture.

A person has every right to have a blow out or elaborate engagement or wedding.  We all have different styles and tastes, but it certainly isn’t an indicator of the depth of someone’s love or commitment.  Because again, love in the long-term, multi-year extended version doesn’t survive at that intensity.  It changes, and the adaptations it goes through aren’t necessarily bad.  When I see these public extravaganzas I can help but think, when they are fighting about where to live, what to buy, or how to raise their kids, it won’t matter how many flash mob dancers appeared in their youtube video.

Marriage is also extremely fragile.  Our divorce rate is so high in part, because people grow and change as we get older.  Sometimes two people who made the perfect pair in their twenties, are completely incompatible in their forties.  Some spouses flip out midlife decide to start over, and there is very little the other spouse can do about it.  People get married for all the wrong reasons.  They get caught up in the excitement of wedding planning, picking the perfect dress, creating the most elaborate engagement and lose sight of why they’re doing this in the first place.

The latest viral engagement video stars a man who created it over a four-year period.  Apparently he knew after their first date, that his girlfriend was his partner for life.  The pair just graduated from college, which would make them about 18 years old when they met.  So this is probably the first major relationship for either of them.  Are they soul mates who just got lucky and found each other early?  Or are they two kids who have no idea what lies ahead of them?  Statistically people who marry for the first time under the age of 25 have a higher rate of divorce, but they could beat the odds.

Will we ever view marriage in a realistic light, or will we continue to promote an unattainable fairy tale?  Will some women start to resent a simple proposal over dinner?  Are obnoxious public declarations the new normal?   If videos like these warm your heart that’s great, and some are actually sweet. I just can’t help but see what will probably happen in at about half of these marriages.   Maybe the next trend will be dramatic divorce videos complete with flying dishes, lawyer co-stars and tear filled monologues.  I hope no one thinks that’s a good idea.

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