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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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You CAN help who you fall in love with.

Train Wreck

Recently a friend found out her boyfriend of less than three months, has a serious drug problem.  He doesn’t think he’s an addict and has refused to get treatment. Despite her misgivings about his substance abuse problem she quipped.

“You can’t help who you fall in love with”

So does love trump all common sense?  Does a strong romantic bond throw all logic out the window?  Do people fall in love after only three months?

Similarly a certain film director who had what most would consider a highly inappropriate affair defended his actions by saying, The heart wants what it wants. There’s no logic to those things. You meet someone and you fall in love and that’s that.  I’m sure he might feel differently if his now wife fell in love with his best friend, but I digress.

Does love trump all?  Is it ethical to use love as an excuse for causing such havoc in the lives of others?  When does common sense, logic and self-control come into the picture?  Is a person allowed to do anything they want in the name of love and not be accountable for their actions?

Love doesn’t always come when we want it, and there are many situations that get morally ambiguous.  Two people may fall in love while both are married to other partners.  Some couples might repeatedly reconcile despite epic fights and constant battles.  And we all know relationships that make absolutely no logical sense, yet endure despite glaring incompatibilities.  Love is this mystical force that can make people do all sorts of irrational things.  Our myths and fairy tales center around characters who literally slay dragons and wake the dead in the name of true love.

But will love conquer all?   Let’s go back to my friend’s example.  She is in her thirties, has never been married but has had long-term relationships.  She doesn’t live with her new boyfriend. They don’t have children together and they have only been dating for three months. His drug of choice is a highly dangerous one that could easily kill him in an overdose.  As a divorced person, I can’t help but scream “Dear God Woman run with all the force that you have in you, don’t look back, get out, RUN!” at the top of my lungs with full force.  Instead of “love” I see the most tragic a love triangles a co-dependent, a drug addict and drugs. Although she won’t admit it openly, she probably thinks she can “save” or at least change him. I would give her much more leeway if she was a younger woman with less life experience, but she really should know better. Three months is hardly a lifetime and she should get out before she gets into too deep.

Then there is the case of the film director.  He was 56 years old when he started an affair with the daughter of his then partner.  Could he not have done the more responsible thing and resisted temptation?  Were there not adoring 19-year-old sycophants eager to jump his bones, who were not related to his children?   People use love to excuse all sorts of selfish behavior – a man cheats on his wife while she is sick with cancer, a teacher seduces her student, a woman sleeps with the husband of a pregnant friend, and on and on. When does free will step in?  Are we powerless to emotions of the heart?  Also when we are on the wrong side of these affairs it’s next to impossible to empathize with our partner’s betrayal.

Then there are the serial disaster daters.  People who will literally destroy their lives for one lover after another.  They don’t just have one abusive, addicted, or cruel ex, they have several who all seem to have the same horrible personality.  Is it love every time or co-dependency?  Is it narcissism. masochism or insanity?

All of us have been in situations were we are strongly attracted to people who were not available.  Do we throw caution to the wind every time to the whim of love? I’ve found myself strongly desiring men I knew were a bad idea and I had enough self-control to not avoid temptation.  I’ve also made mistakes and become enraptured with someone despite the warning signs and suffered major consequences.  And who hasn’t been hung up on a former lover we know is bad for us.   Love has caused me to do things against my own self-interest, well-being or mental health.  I’m obviously not the most rational person – I married a clown.

Is love is a type of magic fairy dust that falls from the heavens, covers us in sparkles and makes us lose sound judgment and our basic sense of self-preservation?  Should we really use the most powerful human emotion as an excuse to absolve ourselves of any pain we cause others? Romantic love is a powerful and wonderful force, but we are not slaves to it.

My divorce has made me a realist.  I’ve seen the empty void on the other side of a romantic relationship gone wrong.   Of course we would all love to have a love so strong that our partners would risk everything for us but sustained love rarely works that way.  A good foundation is built on trust, communication and real life experience.  Love doesn’t always happen in nice and tidy ways, we can avoid major heartache and pain if we let the rational side of our brains take over. My friend could give herself space from her drug addicted boyfriend, the movie director could have at least broken up with his partner before sleeping with her daughter, or he could have slept with someone else. We can’t always save ourselves when we are deep in the throes of love, but we can at least try to avoid a moving train when we see it coming. 

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