Stupid Mistakes and Other Horrible Decisions
At some point, the rawness in the months after the ink dries on the divorce papers, well-meaning people suggested that I start thinking about getting back out there, finding someone new, or maybe some hobbies where I’d undoubtedly meet people.
As one of the minority in the post-divorce days I think, I had zero interest in dating, relationshipping of any kind that might mess with my heart or carefully balanced life I’d been working so diligently to keep as normal as possible for my kids. I felt the need to assert my OK-ness, but not by going on a Divorce-cation to Vegas, having my boobs put back where they started before two kids, or going generally crazy. It’s just not my style.
I self-destruct much more internally and in a go-big-or-go-home kind of way.
In this case, I think taking a look at why matters. Family has always felt like this delicate, precious way of being eternally connected to people in a way that defies any undoing. Like a forcefield of the purest, strongest kind of love. I watched people who had this my whole life, wanting it for myself. When I was small, I don’t think I could articulate what I felt was missing that I could observe in moms and dads and their children, but I certainly admired it.
I never planned to get married. I always saw my life as one never-ending adventure, living somewhere like New York City or Paris, and loving my work, whatever it was, as I knew it would include something artistic or creative. Clearly that didn’t quite happen.
All this to say, being the parent who was left to protect the familyness that remained–my sweet son, my bigger than life daughter, and me–became my entire drive from morning til night and kept me awake the rest of the time. So partying like a rockstar then coming home to our home, where I was working so hard to provide solid footing for the family I had left just didn’t sound like anything other than epic stupidity.
I’d been through enough.
And worked too damn hard to keep it together to wreck my hard work and, more importantly, my kids.
For a year, my kids stayed at home every night. On the weekends their dad had custody, they came home at 9pm, slept in their own beds, and woke up in them the next morning when their dad would pick them up and have them back by 2pm on Sunday. The positive side? My kids’ lives felt stable to them. They missed their dad, but he would see them during the week, and it didn’t seem all that different to them.
Of course this couldn’t last forever.
For one, I was exhausted. I also never really had any adult things to do. I spent time with my mom almost every weekend. One or two nights when the kids were with their dad, I’d go to yoga, grab myself dinner, and eat at home while watching a movie. That lasted about a year, then everything changed.
My ex (and his girlfriend) decided our arrangement wasn’t working for him (or her), so whatever wasn’t nailed down in our decree went out the window. The results were these: we had to move, I had to pay for private school without his help, and my kids would now be staying with him overnight on his weekends. This shattered my carefully guarded little fortress of safety and isolation.
And it was the best thing that could have happened to me.
At some point, a friend introduced me to another friend who had lost his wife to cancer about five years before. By now I’d been on my own for three years give or take, so getting out of the house for more than work, volunteering at the kids’ activities, and standing Saturday night dinner with my mom seemed like something worth consideration.
So I went on practice dates with no strings attached. Dating with training wheels, one might say. This included dinner and movies and sometimes coffee. That ended when he was set up on a blind lunch date and felt like it was not the right thing to do where I was concerned. I deeply appreciated that a gentleman considered how his actions might affect my feelings. And then I lost my movie partner.
I never really did the go crazy off the deep end thing. I’ve typically made most decisions in my life around not becoming a walking cliche, so that mindset probably saved me some heartache.
Now, in the spirit of the topic, I may not have been to Vegas until this last year, but I did once go out with a old friend from high school who said this when dropping me off later than either of us originally planned. “There are some stories we will never tell, and that is one of them.”
Honestly, it wasn’t terrible but did involve one impulsive cannonball contest into a swimming pool. No harm. No foul.
In walking through this past decade of my life, most of the heartache I’ve endured resulted from my trusting people I shouldn’t have and wanting to believe the best when the evidence didn’t add up. Sometimes we want to be loved more than we want to admit that what feels like love, or the hope that it could be, really isn’t.
After all, divorce annihilated my deepest trust, left a gaping wound, and a pain so completely encompassing I never thought it would stop.
That place is dangerous because in time anyone enduring that level of pain without relief from it will go to dangerous lengths to feel anything that isn’t pain. My saving grace was a larger fear–that I absolutely could not fuck up our life. So I didn’t do things that I thought would bring anything dangerous near us. And I honestly didn’t have the desire to do anything along those lines. Hashtag Boring.
A few years ago, I met a treasure of a person who fell head over heels for me in a big hurry. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop–he had to be married or a con artist, maybe he was some kind of secret axe murderer? He was none of those things. He was a total catch of a human being, who happened to have three kids younger than mine and lived 6 hours away. After not long enough, he started talking about moving here to be closer to me, but his kids would have to stay where they were. This is more complicated than it sounds because his kids lived less than a mile away in a less than positive situation and needed to know they could hop on their bikes and be at his house in minutes. If he wasn’t there, I didn’t believe they would be safe. So that ended because kids have to come first, and I was losing sleep at night over three sweet children I’d known a few months. I just knew it was the right thing. And it really was.
All this to say, the lull away from the pain is a lethal temptress. People blow up their lives and make terrible choices because it stops the pain now. That same temptress doesn’t mention that drowning the immediate pain in something disingenuous only compounds the pain when it wears off.
After-school specials about drugs and kidnapping effectively impressed upon me that drugs would definitely kill me and probably so would creepy men offering puppies in ice cream vans. I stay away from those things, but I am just as guilty when it comes to avoiding my own pain. I isolate myself because I erroneously believe that there isn’t anyone who will sit in my pain with me and shine the flashlight on other things. The people who could provide that are just missing. I had those people and then we moved away from them. Relationships like that take time to build and grow. They last but they are different when those people are far away, and all of my people were far away living their lives and managing from one day to the next. It’s just hard to keep up with people in the same way when we don’t see each other as often. And, let’s face it, when we talk, it’s catch up and talk about what’s been going on in everyone’s lives. I don’t think it’s necessarily cool to call someone up and grieve at them.
So I don’t.
After we moved, we started working on making couple friends. Couple friends, especially younger ones, don’t know how to respond to people with marriages that are broken. They responded more like we had something they could catch, like the flu but more deadly. So I lost the few people who were here. Over time, I found new people, and at times I honestly think I found people who might not have been the most positive influences, but they were people who generally showed up for me, and I could show up for them.
These days, I have different people whom I love. I love them because they have lived life with me. We have been through some tough times and been present for each other, spent time together just because, and just lived life. That’s how relationships are grown. They just grow when I invest myself in them.
The Stupid Mistakes
Every stupid mistake I’ve made started with the best intentions.
Two deep desires drive the way I pursue things: the desire to matter to people and situations I care about and a relentless commitment to this odd sense of rightness for every human being, the etiology of which I can’t identify. It’s like a superpower but way less cool. I can’t shake it–instead I take up for the little guy, help people who need it, and fight for the underdog. Believe it or not, it’s not always the popular thing to do. Once I understood this about myself, I realized how I fell into a few situations that weren’t good for me, and unfortunately there wasn’t a Me around to say, “Um, you’re stupid and hurting yourself to help someone else who really doesn’t care about your best interest.”
I reconnected with an old friend who invited me to meet for lunch as we had just lost touch over the years. So lunch ended up being drinks after work when this old friend came to town. While it was fun to catch up, in hindsight, I should’ve just left it with, “It was great to see you, and I’m so glad you’re doing well,” and put him on my Christmas card list. Instead drinks turned into dinner and easy conversation about what we were up to these days. Then, out of the blue, he said, “Why didn’t we end up together?”
I answered, “Because we probably weren’t supposed to.”
It just ended up not feeling right. When divorce shattered my heart, it also did a number on how I saw myself as a partner in a relationship. For lots of reasons, I believed I was not lovable. I hated it, but I still believed it. Here was a person I’d known since I was a teenager, telling me I hadn’t changed a bit, and that basically I was lovable.
Here’s the lesson.
I felt like a person who was permanently flawed. Here was a person telling me otherwise, speaking specifically in opposition of the most painful injury I’d ever sustained, the one that wouldn’t seem to heal. This wasn’t the solution.
When someone told me exactly what I wanted to hear, I desperately wanted to believe it.
When that person wasn’t entirely honest about their availability or willingness to step into my life, the potential for disaster and even more personal devastation was imminent. Putting myself in that situation was a stupid mistake. An innocent, well-intentioned one, but still not in my best interest. A quick and graceful exit was in order.
Recovering from divorce involves diligent, hard work on oneself. It wore me out, and that’s a given. The temptation to engage in the temporary provides a reprieve from facing scary things that hurt. Considering the fallout doesn’t usually enter the equation when offered (fill in the blank), but whatever is filling in the blank will most likely just increase the size of the blank. Going crazy and making impulsive decisions provides a short-term distraction and compounds long-term heartbreak and inner conflict. I was hurt enough, so hurting more didn’t sound appealing.
Other Horrible Decisions
Fireball. Fireball is always a horrible decision. Unless it’s in cider, then it’s only a potentially horrible decision.
I know I’m in the minority here, but I think online dating isn’t the greatest idea. Apparently not all dating sites are created equally, but hooking up with random people just will not land anyone in a better spot. It’s highly more likely to result in a plethora of problems.
In my experience, my horrible decisions included trusting people who weren’t trustworthy, so I decided trusting people in general was not on my list of things to do. It got me nowhere but hurt there for a little while, so I took my little ball of trust and hid that thing at home.
For a while there, I think I put off a vibe that said something along the lines of “If you touch me inappropriately or pull some other piece of meat action at me, you’d better be out of reach because you may not survive with all original appendages.”
A group of friends attended a concert one Spring evening. The rare occasion I went out with them had occurred, and we found a spot in the back where we could see the stage. This idiot decided an appropriate way to flirt with me included sticking his boot up the back of my skirt. And not a little bit. I turned slowly and glared right at him. Then I turned back around and took a dramatically large step away from him. Most folks would get the message. Not Einstein. He did it again, and I turned around and let him have it. Then I left. I didn’t feel safe in a place where a man could act this way in front of a large number of people, and no one person said a thing. It completely ruined my night. Honestly, I was terrified. I got to my car as quickly as possible an drove home. Pulse racing, I got home, locked myself in and got to bed with my heart thumping. I was scared.
In the end, I’d not been harmed, but the fear of being in a place surrounded by people I knew and enduring a threatening situation probably served me well. When my Spidey-sense kicks in, I remove myself from potentially dangerous situations. Was I in danger? Probably not. Did I really want to stick around and find out? Not a chance.
In my ten years of figuring out how to be a single gal again, I’ve probably missed out on some fun and played it more than safe. My approach may sound unappealing and may contribute to my current situational frustrations, but I am comfortable and proud of my example and priorities. Everyone has to define those boundaries of comfort, risk, and safety for themselves.
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