Sometimes happiness comes under the most unexpected of circumstances.

Where Are All the Good Men?

Posted: March 25th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: dating stories | Tags: , , | 9 Comments »

found out

My Facebook friends, most of whom are married, love to read my posts about my online dating experiences: guys with twenty-year-old photos of themselves, guys with chest hair shots, guys with pictures of their motorcycles.  And of course, the often very odd messages that they write (check out the Annals of online dating and you will be laughing for hours).  To me, online dating is a fascinating sociological phenomenon, and it is undoubtedly entertaining.  However, it can also be very tedious.  Just the e-mails back and forth can become a full time job.  Sometimes, I want to meet men the old-fashioned way.  But do any of us know how to do that anymore?

My dating coach Sheila Paxton dedicated one of our recent sessions to this very topic, and she asked me about three potential ways to meet a partner: places (you know, like real live places instead of internet sites), organizations, and personal contacts.  The funny thing was that I was already one step ahead of her on two of those ideas.  A friend of mine had suggested that I meet a friend of hers, and I had announced on Facebook that I was tired of online dating and that I would be donning my new red lipstick (which does seem to be garnering me a lot of attention) and heading out to bars to meet men.

So the following week, I put two of the three strategies in motion (I still haven’t explored the Meetup groups that she suggested).  Instead of a bar, I first headed to a café in Cambridge, where there seem to be a lot of single men (maybe they are affiliated with the universities, high-tech companies or whatnot).  When I walked in, I noticed a handsome man right away, and he just happened to be occupying two tables when all the other tables were full.  So I had the perfect excuse to approach him and ask him if I could use his other table.  We got chatting, about his eyeglasses and whether or not he would change his prescription.  Hmm…middle age can be sexy, but a conversation about the need for reading glasses?  Not so scintillating.

He left, and another attractive grey-haired man walked in and sat right behind me and started reading.  I wanted to make eye contact with him, but it was impossible to do so without eyes in the back of my head.  I considered blowing it off, but then I remembered the action plan that Sheila had me make, and I reminded myself that I had nothing to lose.  So I asked him if he knew if there was a wine store nearby.  It turned out that he wasn’t from the area and couldn’t speak very good English, so that conversation never took off.

As I left, I asked the baristas if they knew of a wine store and a really nice woman smiled brightly at me and told me that the market next door sold beer and wine.  It reminded me of the article that I wrote a couple of weeks ago about how I have met many of my best friends in public places.  If I hadn’t been obviously on my way out, I would have stopped and chatted with her because she seemed great.  While the whole exchange didn’t get me a date, I was proud of myself for putting my plan into action, and I reminded myself not to get discouraged right out of the gate.  In fact, I felt empowered for just having done it.

A friend of mine recently told me that she once saw a guy who looked really interesting in a café, and that she wrote him a note saying that she thought he was cute and gave him her name and number.  Sure enough, the guy called her and they went out on a date.  Unfortunately, they were of very different political persuasions, but I certainly admired her pluck.  This week a friend of mine shared with me a photo of a business card that read “Hello.  I would just like to inform you that I find you to be very attractive.  Thank you and have a nice day.”  I loved this idea and just might print some up and try them out.  At the very least, it would make a good story.

This week, I also had a date with a man that my friend set me up with.  Now, I must admit that I have long been a fan of match-making.  In fact, I set my sister up with her now husband back in 1991.  My friend showed me the man’s profile on Facebook (I guess that would be de rigeur these days), and I noticed that we had a friend in common.  Both of my friends said the same thing about him, that he is very smart and very funny, and that at the very least, we would enjoy each other’s company.  So he and I met one night for drinks (while my adorable friend babysat!) and had a really great time.  All I will say is that we are going to see each other again.

So, I like the idea of getting away from the online dating pool, which can wear on you after a while, and trying some new approaches.  When you meet someone in person, it is so much easier to know if you like them.  It is also just fun to try new things.  I had to push myself out of my comfort zone to try to make these connections.  I went to the café when I really just wanted to go back to the comfort of my home.  I had to stay up late to talk to this guy on the phone, as he suggested (you’d be surprised how hard it is for my to find phone times when I have the kids).  I accepted my friend’s offer to babysit on a weeknight.  I had to do things a little differently, and as far as I am concerned, they have paid off greatly.  As I told my sister today, a change of routine always gives me energy and excitement.  And of course, I am planting seeds that just may bloom in the not too distant future.  As Sheila says, it is all practice.

* * * * * * * * *

So, friends, do any of you have any good stories about how you met your partners or any ideas about where to meet good men?  I’d love to hear them.


Making Progress

Posted: March 18th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: dating stories | Tags: , , | 11 Comments »

365: Day 263, I am angst and pain, curious, a dreamer.

Sometimes dating feels like that saying “Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink.”  A few weeks ago, I shared with you that my relationship coach Sheila Paxton wants me to approach dating as if I were collecting data, in an objective and dispassionate way, in order to make an informed decision about the men that I am seeing.  This week I told her that the data that I have collected has disappointed me, as I discovered that the men that I have had a date or two with do not have all of the qualities that I need to make a relationship work.  In other words, I felt like I went from a few exciting possibilities to seemingly nothing.  A bummer, no?

No.  Sheila reframed it really well for me.  She said that I was making progress because I was screening men out really quickly instead of spending a few months dating them and then having to end the relationship.  Instead of being discouraged, she said that I should be excited because I am doing things differently and would therefore get different results.  She used the analogy of a housefly that obsessively smashes itself into a window screen (until it dies) trying to get out because it doesn’t know any better.   By learning to become more discerning (not pickier because that has a negative connotation), she says that I will make better choices and eventually won’t be drawing men to me that fit my past patterns.

However, I’ll admit to you what I confessed to her.  I do have doubts sometimes that I will find a man that has all the qualities that I am looking for, and that I fear that if I follow her advice I will just end up a spinster, missing out on opportunities to date fun guys who don’t have it all, but whom I do enjoy.  Her response was to remind me to look back at what happened when I compromised my values.  Didn’t I get eventually get hurt or hurt someone else?

I thought that was a great answer.  However, when I did go back and take inventory of my past relationships, I found that I mainly remembered the positive aspects of each one, even with my marriage.  My sister and I have always said that we have inherited from our father the ability to forget past wounds and that it has served us really well in life.  However, right now, I need to learn from my past mistakes.  I need to remember how it felt to be in a relationship that isn’t working.

So I had to force myself to take a cold, hard look, as it were, at the times in which those relationships hurt me, disappointed me, or made me feel sad.  When I was finally able to do that, I was better able to see what she meant about the downside of being with someone who just doesn’t share your same values.  And I was finally able to admit that she was right when she said that I am better off alone that being with someone who is wrong for me.

Sheila asked me trust the process that she is teaching me.  That reminded me of what my yoga teacher had said to us about staying coachable and keep practicing.  I realize that at times it takes a leap of faith to try something new.  However, I can already feel that my thought processes and my desires are changing.  What is it that my yoga teacher says?  When you stretch a wet towel it will never return to its original dimensions (isn’t that why the instructions say don’t wring?).  Well, I guess I’d rather be a stretched towel than a dead housefly.


The Right Choice

Posted: March 10th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: dating stories | Tags: , , | 6 Comments »

Last summer a sweet man came to my door peddling magazines to finance his college education, and I couldn’t resist, even though nothing really appealed to me.  I rebuffed my son’s requests to get Car and Driver or Men’s Health and opted instead for Psychology Today.  When the first issue arrived, the cover story was “Are You With the Right Mate?,” and I knew that I had made the right choice, in magazines at least.

Based on the knowledge and experience that I had in my twenties, I also made the right choice when I married my husband.  Now, however, I have new experiences and knowledge of myself that have taught me that I need to make a different decision when opting for a romantic partner.  Making such a decision was the topic of this week’s relationship coaching session with Sheila Paxton, as she had me complete a Values Inventory to assess what are the ten qualities that I feel that I need in a future partner.

Unlike other dating coaches, such as Evan Marc Katz who emphasize how a woman needs to modify herself and her expectations in order to find a mate, Sheila seems to give women (and men!) more agency by taking the approach that each of us is a chooser that needs to be more intentional about the partners that we opt to get involved with.  By focusing on the personal characteristics that I find to be essential in a mate, I should be able to see more quickly when I am becoming interested in someone who just has different values than I do.

I love how this takes away the element of judgment, and simply emphasizes the fact that two people need to have compatible values.  It also moves the process away from the somewhat cliché notion that partners must have common interests, like skiing or yoga.  My ex and I couldn’t have had more interests in common, yet we broke up.

For example, I have made no secret of the fact that I would love to find a man who practices yoga like I do, but is that really a deal breaker?  What is behind that desire?  Sure, it would be fun to take class together, but really what I want is a man who prioritizes stress management and personal growth, a man that finds a way to be upbeat and optimistic regardless of external factors.  Clearly, however, yoga is not the only way to achieve those goals.  That could come from a variety of sources, such as meditation, martial arts, outdoor activities, spiritual pursuits, or music, to name a few.

Now that I have articulated this list of top priorities in a relationship, I feel better equipped to make dating decisions, whether it be to write a guy back on OkCupid, have another date, or pursue an exclusive relationship.  Some of the qualities obviously may take months to assess, such as how skilled a man is at open communication when conflict arises, yet others, such as optimism, sense of fun, or attentiveness can be determined relatively quickly.

Online dating can be very time-consuming and fatiguing.  Knowing what I truly want and need in a partnership saves me time and anguish, as it streamlines the decision-making process and will hopefully keep me from going down fruitless paths.  And it also eliminates the doubts that I often plague me when I ask myself whether I have been too picky.  There is one man that I dated that I often look back at wistfully, wondering what could have been.  While discussing my list of core values with my dear friend Jane, I asked her if she thought that man was optimistic (at the very top of my list!).  She was quick to respond negatively (I knew that!).  No more Monday-morning quarterbacking for me.

Each week, when I get off the phone with Sheila, I realize that I feel a sense of optimism and empowerment that gives me the enthusiasm to continue dating.  That is certainly important to me because I hate doing anything that isn’t fun.  And I am excited that I am developing the skills to know how to choose the right mate, for me.


Start a Conversation, Start a Connection

Posted: March 4th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: happiness | Tags: , , | 7 Comments »

Talking

When you read something good, you just have to share it, no?  Yesterday I read my friend Amy Gutman’s essay called “In praise of erring.”  Amy has a terrific new blog called “Plan B Nation” which bravely examines her life of relative unemployment despite her stellar education and impressive resume.  I realized that I had not added “Plan B Nation” to my blogroll, an oversight that has now been remedied because it hit me that what is more Plan B than a life after divorce?

Her post, that I literally cannot stop thinking about, addresses the issue of how we make decisions, and if we are to err in some way, doesn’t it make sense to err on the side of human connection?  She tells the story of approaching two women in a local café who seemed really interesting.  Although she was feeling a bit hesitant about whether to go talk to them, she summoned up the courage to do so and discovered that they were lovely people.  Her conclusion was that erring on the side of human connection will more often than not bring a richness to your life.

After I read her article, I started thinking about my closest friends and how I met them.  I met one woman in a chiropractor’s office where we casually discussed our kids and traveling to Puerto Rico.  We saw each other a few times at the Northampton Parents Center, then went several years without contact, only to run into each other one day in Whole Foods.  We struck up a conversation, I asked her for her email, and she is now one of my closest friends.  In fact, our connection was rekindled and deepened right before my ex and I split up, and she was instrumental in supporting me through that difficult time.

Years later, I started a conversation with a woman that I had seen a few times in yoga when I saw her with her kids at a pool in Northampton.  It turned out that she was going through a divorce, and I basically asked her out.  I can’t remember how, but I think I got her email and said let’s have drinks after yoga some night.  Again, she is now one of my dearest friends and, as a fellow divorcee, she and I have helped each other time and time again navigate the sometimes rocky terrain of co-parenting, dating, and having a friendship with your ex.

As many of you know, I recently moved to the Boston area after spending eight years in the friendliest town on Earth, where it is not so uncommon for people to reach out to each other.  It’s a little trickier in a big, busy urban area.  However, just this week, I had social engagements with three different people that I made an effort to get to know.

One was a mom from my kids’ school who had reached out to me on Curriculum Night.  I saw her again at parent dinner party, that I was attending solo and feeling somewhat uncomfortable about being in a roomful of couples.  I made a beeline for her (as she was the only familiar face in the room), and it turned out that not only did we have many interests in common, but we also both attended Yale at the same time (she was in med school and I was in grad school).

Another was a friend of Jon’s that I wanted to get to know better, yet I wasn’t sure how she would react after Jon and I broke up.  I brought that up to her, and she was fine with it.  But I could have easily assumed that she was just Jon’s friend, even though our breakup was amicable.  We have become fast friends and this week she brought me chicken soup when I was sick.

My third social date this week came about through circumstances that pushed me even farther out of my comfort zone.  At the New Year, I had set myself the intention of making more friends in Boston because I felt that I had gotten a little lazy about that while dating Jon.  So I contacted a guy that I had met only once and then become Facebook friends with.  He seemed funny and witty, so I told him about my intention and asked if he’d help me accomplish it.  He said yes, eventually we hung out together, and within minutes, we were laughing like a couple of schoolgirls.

My point with all these examples is to jump on Amy’s bandwagon and let people know that the simple act of taking a risk and starting a conversation with someone can lead to a connection that enriches your life immeasurably.  The connections that I have made with the aforementioned people have been instrumental in navigating my life as a divorced mom.

As a divorcee, you often lose the cocoon of having a built-in social life.  One of the things that I liked best about being married was that I always had a companion to play with on the weekends.  Now I have to seek out those companions.  And now that I am in a new city, I have to build a whole new support network (although Northampton is, thankfully, only 90 minutes away).

So, if any of you divorcees (or singletons or marrieds) are feeling a little lonely, just remember that a deep and meaningful connection may only be a conversation away.  Many of us put in time and effort online seeking dates.  If we would only take the risk to say hi to someone in public, to comment on the book they are reading on the bus, or remark upon their adorable child or pet, we might find that we can make connections in person.  So I encourage you to put down your iPhones and take out your ear buds and see if there is anyone around you who looks or sounds interesting.  It just might be the best move you ever make.

Thanks, Amy, for this reminder.  You’ve made me realize how the casual conversation at the pool, doctor’s office or jury duty has left an indelible impression on my life.


A Woman’s Role in Dating

Posted: March 3rd, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: dating stories | Tags: , , | 8 Comments »

My shoulder was made to hold your head, my hand to hold yours

This week I had my fourth session with my relationship coach Sheila Paxton.  On the agenda was a strengths inventory that was designed to get me to understand the ways in which I am a “catch” and would make someone a great romantic partner.  Since confidence is one of my strengths, it wasn’t difficult for me to do this exercise.  In fact, I had already written a blog post about what I liked most about myself, so I based it on that.  When re-reading the post, however, I realized that I should add much of that information to my online dating profile.  As soon as I did, some new men showed interest in me, so I suppose I can say that Sheila’s exercise has already paid off.

However, what I found most provocative about our session was our discussion about how my understanding of my strengths shapes my relationships with others.  I know that I am strong, smart, grounded, and emotionally aware.  I am a very competent and self-sufficient woman.  I confessed to Sheila that I often struggle in my relationships with men because it is really easy for me to take the initiative and be the assertive one.  There are many dating experts (and my friends included) who believe that men are the ones who should play that role, not women.  That has always felt uncomfortable to me, both personally and ideologically.  Sheila encouraged me to reach out to men online (or in real life) and ask them out.  She thought that was a great idea, but she did think that once we did have a first date, I should be patient and wait for them to reciprocate.  I immediately pounced on her word “patient” because it made much more sense to me than the other word that I was associating with this action, which is “passive.”  I have always had a rebellious feminist streak in me that disdains the social norms of female passivity in the face of male initiative.  In fact, I have basically resisted the concept of gender roles in general.  In my mind, each gender should be free to adopt or pursue any role that he or she sees fit.

However, Sheila placed this into a new context for me.  Instead of seeing it as a gender imperative, she pointed out that it is important that I teach others how I want to be treated.  If I always take the initiative, as I have done in a few of my past relationships, I send the subtle message that I like that role, when what I really want is a partner who will also take the lead.  As she was saying this, I realized that this dynamic is not only present in my romantic interactions, but also in parenting and friendship as well.  For example, I haven’t really taught my kids basic household chores like setting or clearing the table, cleaning up, or making snacks for themselves.  It is so easy for me to just do those things for them, and I know that they will be done quickly and well, if I do them.  So my strength and competence are both wonderful attributes and liabilities because they sometimes don’t allow others a way to give to me.

So my new goal is to think about what message my actions are sending, how I am teaching others to treat me.  My first step starts with my kids.  I have been encouraging them to pitch in more, and they have been responding well (with the occasional grumbling of course).  Sheila also gave me the homework of allowing my dates to do “more” in some way, shape, or form.  The first thing that came to mind was the way that I lead the conversation on most of my dates by asking them lots of questions about themselves.  I often leave dates disappointed that the men have not asked more about me, but I have to admit that I often don’t offer them much time and space to do so.  So I have to let them ask more questions.

In addition, I am trying to be mindful or intentional about how my actions subtly reinforce behaviors that I don’t want to support, like my children sitting on their butts and asking me to wait on them.  Or a friend of mine who often overreacts in anger towards me, while I plead for forgiveness even when I know I have done nothing wrong just because I want to keep the peace.  On the flip side, my discussion with Sheila also has me examining the relationships that are going well, and how my actions have positively contributed to that.  In other words, Sheila is certainly living up to her title as relationship coach because the insights I have made are not just applicable to romance.

So, my friends, I now invite your input.  Do you properly acknowledge your positive attributes?  Are there places in which your strengths can also be weaknesses?  Are there any relationships in your life in which your actions are subtly teaching others to treat you in a way you might not want to be treated?  Do tell…