The Rules #11: If it’s Plug-and-Play, it isn’t a real relationship. It’s you, avoiding yourself.

 

the-rules-11-post-divorce

This one might seem a bit harsh. Oh, well. (Sorry?) I’ve got nothing new going on in my life, so I’m back to dishing out my own perspective. (On the other hand, I’ve got a few blog posts backed up inside me. Time to get them out. 😉 ) On this Rule I gotta say, I’ve met a lot of guys in the above boat, and I just don’t understand it. How can anyone go from a long-term marriage, straight into another “big relationship” with no serious, personal-assessment period? Okay, yeah, I know – everyone jumps into the water and “dates” right after divorce. It’s kind of a rite of passage. But going right into the next long-term thing, no downtime, like it’s plug-and-play? No way. If you don’t stop and figure out what went wrong, and admit that you’ve changed, you’ll make the exact same mistakes as before. Simple math, right? (This is why I won’t even give a second thought to dating guys who are separated, and not yet divorced. Tried that once – got fooled into it – thought he was divorced, at first. Tried to be open-minded. Turned out to be a bad situation.) The point is: something was f-u-n-d-a-m-e-n-t-a-l-l-y wrong in your marriage, and you’ve got to figure out why you went down that road. And also: what road do YOU want to take in the future? (i.e. Who are you? Hard question, I know!)

Full disclosure: I’ve got a bit of a personal stake in believing that this is all correct and true. I was “replaced” before my divorce was even final. It stung. *understatement* And they’re still together. All in all, I don’t really care – we weren’t right for each other, among other things. My ego, however, would like to believe that it would’ve taken more time for someone to whom I was faithfully married for 22 years to get over no longer having me in his life. Guess I didn’t really impact him that much. Or… maybe he’s like those other guys I’ve met, who haven’t ever woken up and stopped to figure out who they are, and plug-and-play is the easy way to avoid doing the tough, uncomfortable work of taking a long, hard look at yourself. Hmmmm….?

I may never know the answer to what was in my ex’s head. But I’ve taken the long, winding path to figuring out what’s in mine. And I’d be lying if I told you I hadn’t changed as a result. I’m a different person now than I was, on the path that led to my divorce. Hugs to my fellow truth-seekers; peace to those of you still struggling to wake up – fight for it, even when you’re scared. You’re worth it! 🙂

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Rules I Want My Sons to Know About Dating (and about women, in general….)

Apparently all men in my age-range have been cuckolded. And the younger ones have been exposed to too much porn. These are my recent experiences. As a mom of five boys (and three girls), I’ve learned a few “dos” and “don’ts” that I’ve started imparting to my sons. There’s more I wish I could tell them, but… they’re my kids. I can’t share everything. But if I could, here is what I’d lay out, to help amplify their chances of success in their relationships with women:

Rule #1: If it’s apparent that a woman has put effort into her appearance, at least tell her she looks nice – acknowledge her effort. Even if your socks aren’t knocked off. I was excited to go on a recent Second Date with this one guy. We’d had an amazing first date, and I was nervous. I hadn’t been on a Second Date in over a year. I asked a few of the wives at the company picnic that day for “second date wardrobe” advice. After much deliberation we finally decided on my blue dress. (It was the first time this guy was going to see that I had legs — I’d worn jeans on the first date.) I spent 20 minutes curling my hair and another 10 picking out the perfect accessories. But my date didn’t seem to notice any of this. He never said anything. I was left to think that either he didn’t notice that I looked any different… or that maybe he thought I looked worse, and he was being polite by not saying anything. Hmmmm….?

That same night, when the bill came, the waitress put it down right in front of him, on his side of the table. I was ready to leave, but he still sat there, completely ignoring the bill. We were having a really great conversation, but after 5 or 10 minutes (that’s how long it felt like), I was in disbelief. What is he doing? Is he waiting for me to pay? So I did. And I wasn’t entirely happy about it. Rule #2: The man picks up the tab. Always. (With the exception of it being his birthday, and his female friend insists.) In a dating scenario, the man always pays. This is an expensive rule, but it goes toward demonstrating: (a) that the man wants to take care of the woman he’s with, (b) that he has worked hard and has the means to do so, and (c) it is a way of showing deference toward the entire gender – a nod, if you will, toward the “weaker” sex, who, btw, still make less, on average, than men for doing the exact, same job. Yup, even in 2016 America, this is still true. This is what I’m teaching my boys, screw women’s lib. You’re the man, you pay. I have male friends who refuse to let me pay, even though we’re just friends. (“You’re the woman, I’m the man, I’m paying,” they say. I love that one. It ennobles me. Also: “You’re a single mom! With 8 kids! I’ve got this one.” A humbling reminder of my realities, and makes me grateful that they see a more-complete version of who I am.) When I took out my wallet, Second Date Guy made a rather weak attempt to stop me, but, being miffed and proud, I of course said no, and plunked down a few twenties. He let me. We’re just friends now. (*But let’s face it: you can’t wish people would magically be who they’re not. If a guy doesn’t believe or adhere-to this “rule,” that’s okay. The rules of Planet Mouse don’t apply to everyone on Earth. It doesn’t stop me, however, from searching for new Planet Mouse inhabitants. A girl can dream! 😉 )

Rule #3: If you say you’re going to do something, do it. Otherwise your words become meaningless. This one shouldn’t even need explanation. Ladies, raise your hands: how many of us have stayed too long with guys who said they were “gonna do” something, but it was all just empty words…? My last boyfriend — guy I dated in Summer 2015 — was “going to” take me out “somewhere nice.” I helped him organize his apartment, clean out ancient storage units, haul heavy-ass display shelves to show off his hobby stuff up to his apartment, feed his pet spiders…! He kept saying he was so happy with how everything was going, how he really wanted to take me out to a nice restaurant, etc. Weeks turned into months. We worked on his life in-between my life with my kids. And somehow we never went out anywhere — okay, lunch on the fly, on the way to the home improvement store, in shorts and t-shirts, but not “anywhere nice” — unless I was paying. (Yeah.) Finally, I had an epiphany. It took a really awful thing/event for this epiphany to happen, but it happened during a moment of clarity in which I realized that this guy was never going to take me anywhere nice. He’d demonstrated that his words meant nothing on enough of a repetitive basis that his words were moot. And I knew I was done.

Actions mean a lot more than words. Just sayin’.

Rule #4: Always take care of her first, before you take care of yourself! Okay, not only should this one should go without saying, it’s basically in the Guy Handbook. If you don’t believe me, try reading GQ or Cosmo. Or Men’s Health. Or 50 Shades of Grey. Or the Internet! Why are there any men out there who don’t understand this??? There are even books about it! That’s just bad form to leave your partner flapping in the breeze to have to take care of herself, after the fact. Seriously bad manners, this one. (If you have to ask if this is you, then yes, this is you. Shape up, and fix it, dude!) After conversations I’ve had with my female friends, I really, really, really want my sons to understand this basic thing, that, though simple, pays so much respect to a female-partner.

Rule #5: Women are people, not objects. On a recent sans-kid weekend I went to see a play with a girlfriend. Beforehand, we went to a restaurant across the street for drinks, appetizers, and to catch up. Halfway through, though, the waiter stopped by our table… and asked for my phone number, and if I were single. Huh?!? “I’m single — I’m on Match — but you’re too young…!!!” I sputtered like someone for whom English wasn’t my first language.

“How old do you think I am?” the waiter asked.

“Uh, like 27?” I replied.

“Yeah,” he said, “I’m 27.” That tidbit helped me recover a bit. It put him in perspective – with my kids.

“Well, I’m 47,” I said. “I have a daughter only a year younger than you. Thank you, I’m flattered…, but no.”

“Okay, point taken,” he said. However, later, when I asked for the check, he’d tucked his phone number inside. Still giggling about having been hit-on by this cute kid, I texted him:

“Thank you for making me feel pretty tonight! You’re way too young to me, but thank you! Hugs!”

Two hours later, when my friend and I were at the play’s intermission, I saw that he’d responded: “Ha, you were gorgeous tonight. And you realize I’m not trying to wife you up, right? Or be a publicly acknowledged ‘interest?’ Just curious if you’re that charming all the time. Embrace your cougar capabilities, [Mouse.]”

Reading that, everything inside me went cold. While I realized that this kid probably thought he was being complimentary, the actual picture he’d painted was that he was interested in me for free-sex-in-a-back-closet. And, wow, as much as I’m all for hot-sex, this cold, relationshipless concept he was offering is absolutely the farthest thing from what I’m looking for. Kinda made me feel icky/dirty, after reading it.

Problem is, he’s not the first 20-something to approach me with a similar ideal. I’ve had others, who, when I’ve told them flat-out that I’m not a cougar, have responded: “Awwww, darn! Well, do you have any friends who are?” (This is a verbatim quote.) Fortunately for young adults everywhere, I’m the last person who’d ever take them up on it. They’re all so young, they just remind me too much of my own kids. Eew! Maybe they sense this, and that’s why they’re drawn to me: I’m “safe” that way. 😉

My love languages are action and touch. Those mean so much more to me than anything else – even words (yeah, weird for a writer, huh?). Women are different from men. We need to be held, cherished, protected, taken care of. We need to know we matter in a special, unique way to the person we choose to be with. We want someone who wants to spend time with us after we’ve had an intimate night together. Not someone who only wants the fun, date-night stuff, and then takes off out the door when the real world kicks in. Someone who also wants to be there, shopping for a house-project. Or going to the grocery store, so we can make dinner together later. I want someone who can, ultimately, integrate with all the parts of my life. And who cares about me as a whole person.

Really, this is about self-respect, on the deepest level. I hope I’ve taught/am teaching this to all my kids–not just my boys: to respect themselves that much. To try different things, but to hold out for someone who treats them better than they treat themselves. Otherwise, what’s the point?

The Rules #10: Sparkle-Sandals

The Rules #9 - sparkle sandals

It is Friday on an extended weekend. Monday is Memorial Day, and they let us off early today. I knew they would; they’re pretty nice about doing that before holidays. And I don’t have my kids this weekend. Despite my “freedom,” I am home alone, with no plans. (I’m okay with that — sort of. I’ll blog about those mixed feelings another time.) But today I wore my gold sparkle-sandals to work (yes, that’s mine in the photo), even though I had no plans for after-work. I wore them because they are beautiful, and I love them, and I wanted to. And they made me feel fabulous. I highly recommend it. Cheers! 🙂

The Rules #9: Shots with the Girls

The Rules #9 - shots with the girls

A few Fridays ago: I’m at a Meetup at a dive bar, after a long, stressful week at work. I’m alternately chatting with Meetup members and dancing with a girl who was the only other person in our group who wanted to dance. She was like me, though — just wanted to cut loose and get her groove on. Cool.

The band was decent. I bought myself a few whiskey/7s. There was a cute guy there, whom I remembered from speed dating, a few months ago. (More on him, in another post.) But there was this “other” situation…

[There was another storyline playing out over the weekend, one in which I increasingly felt I was being inadvertently sucked into someone else’s negative place. Only, at that point, I didn’t recognize it yet; I just instinctively shied away from it. Later, when I told my 17 y.o. daughter about this whole weekend, she rolled her eyes and commented, “Mom, guys get like that sometimes.” Yeah, bingo. It’s familiar to you, darling daughter, because you’re in high school. And this felt like high-school-drama-gone-bad. Ugh.]

As the night wore on, and the “other situation” turned sour, I backed away and sauntered over to Cool Girl. “Hey, let’s do shots!” Cool Girl was down with that: “Yeah! Shots!” She headed toward the bar. Before following her, I, being in a pro-girl/anti-male state of mind, grabbed the two other women I’d met in the group that night: “Shots!” One woman said she didn’t drink, the other woman was all up for it and followed me and Cool Girl to the bar. We ordered our drinks.

“That’ll be $6.50 each,” the bartender said. (It was expensive, for a dive-bar.) I pulled out my money, Cool Girl pulled out hers. That’s when Other Girl held up her hand and said, “Oh, no. I don’t pay for drinks.” Huh? 

I stared at her, Cool Girl stared at her, and the bartender stared at all of us, waiting for his money. Other Girl was crushing my girl-power moment. Okay, I guess I’ll pay for your drink…. I sheepishly pulled out the rest of the cash in my jeans pocket, feeling somehow responsible for the bartender getting paid, since, after all, I was the one who’d said, “Come on, do shots with us,” to this woman. The bartender took his money. We downed our shots.

Then I realized I was pissed.

“So,” I said, following her away from the bar, “must be nice to not have to pay for drinks.”

“Oh, I never pay for drinks,” she bragged, apparently having no clue of my pissed-ness, and not having perceived my sarcastic tone.

*Cocked eyebrow.* Reeeeeally. 

“No!” she answered triumphantly, as though she thought she were some sort of sage, about to become my mentor. She pointed. “You see [him, him, and him (all guys I knew in the Meetup group)]? They’ve all been buying me drinks tonight, even though they all know I’m dating him!” She pointed to a fourth guy. “He’s my boyfriend. And they all know that. But they’re all buying me drinks. I don’t pay for drinks.”

O…. M…. G!!!

What. A. Bitch!

She then proceeded to give me dating advice. Which I hadn’t asked for. She seemed to assume that I was interested in HS Drama/”other situation” Guy. (Oh, no. He’s a nice guy, good looking and all, but… oh, no!) I tried to stop her.

“Hey, listen, I’m in a place where I’m not exactly dating right now. I’ve been through some stuff, and –.”

“Oh!” she interrupted. “Whatever you’ve been through, it’s nothing compared to what I’ve been through.”

 I blinked. Whoa! Really?!? You don’t know jack-shit about me and what I’ve been through, but you know that your story is worse than mine? Just wow.

Before I could get a word in edgewise, she proceeded to tell me about how awful high school was for her, because she’d been bullied and had felt ugly, because she’d had horrible acne. I felt bad for her, on that count. Yeah, I can see how that’s pretty devastating and would leave emotional scars. Of course, the rub is that the reason I can empathize is because of what I’ve been through, myself. (Not acne and high school bullying, but other, personal hells — which I can’t mention here, since it’s only a semi-anonymous blog. 😉 )

Apparently, her scars were enough for her to justify allowing everyone else to have to pay for her drinks forever, even though she was long past high school. (At least, age-wise.) All I wanted was to get away from this woman and her one-sided “Dear Abby” session.

She kept talking and basically made it clear that she “owned” these guys, her friends in the Meetup group. I felt as though I was the outsider in some weird, Alpha-female-staking-her-territory scenario. At one point she admonished me “not to hurt” HS Drama Guy. This was both hilarious and sad, since I wasn’t interested in him, nor in “threatening” her Alpha-female status in any way.

It also made me pissed: all of these guys were buying her drinks — even HS Drama Guy, who was allegedly into me — and I was buying my own drinks. (Sooo not impressed, Dude!) And now I’d also inadvertently bought her a drink. I felt myself channeling my inner-Rihanna (bitch still owes me money!), and I became sarcastic. She, however, didn’t seem to pick up on my sarcasm.

Me: Wow. You’re very knowledgeable about dating. You should write a book.

Her: No. [Smiles, seeming tickled at the idea that she’s soooo knowledgeable.] I just wanted to tell you.

Me [straight faced]: No, really. Maybe a blog, then. You should write this all down somewhere. You should blog this. [In fact, you should save this all for a blog, and stop talking. Because I really don’t want to have to stand here and listen. Even though I will, because I’m “polite” like that. But I may blog about this, later, myself…. Did I mention that I’m a blogger? No? Well, guess I’ll just omit that little tidbit, then, since you’re not letting me get a word in edgewise….]

Her [considers]: Well… no. It’s just something I wanted to tell you.

Wow. I’m so privileged. 

I finally managed to extricate myself and left shortly thereafter. HS Drama Guy offered to walk me to my car, but I got out of it with a, “That’s okay, I’m just across the street,” and he didn’t push the issue. Thank goodness some guys don’t know The Rules! It was a relief to get away, alone, into the cool, dark rain. (No, I didn’t make that up, Bulwer-Lytton watch-guards — it really was cold, dark, and raining. 😉 )

Then, that Sunday night, cute Speed Dating Guy messaged me….

The Rules: #8 – How to Date Yourself

The Rules #8 - better than you treat yourself

So about a year and a half ago I was on a “guys suck” kick (after having had it up to here with a guy who didn’t understand why I didn’t want to see him anymore, after he stopped showing up for our dates (literally)), and at that point, 6-months post-divorce, all guys sucked. On the entire planet. I was whining about this to one of my girlfriends.

“Why don’t you just date yourself?” she asked.

Huh? I must have made a Mouse-has-left-the building face, because she went on.

“Why don’t you just take yourself on dates and treat yourself the way you think you want to be treated? That way you’ll know better what you like, and what you want out of a relationship, eventually.”

For about two seconds, I thought about the stupidness of dating myself. And then a light bulb went on. Date myself? My girlfriend was flipping brilliant.

For the next several months I proceeded to treat my free Saturdays (the ones where I didn’t have my kids) as “date night” — with myself. It turned out I was a pretty excellent date. Usually, we’d start the evening with a glass of wine, jamming in the kitchen to our favorite music as we made dinner — usually steak or salmon. Date nights have great food. (Which was always gluten-free and dairy-free, too, because my date had the same food allergies as me.) Then, we’d pop some popcorn, mix up an awesome mojito, curl up on the sofa, and watch a movie. (Which we would always agree on!) We’d allow ourselves to get totally sucked up into the movie’s storyline — laughing, crying, or cheering along with the heroes — and we’d snuggle under a big, plush blanket if we got cold. Sometimes we’d get tipsy, but it all ended well. I would never take advantage of myself without my own permission.

At times I would reflect on the fact that, yes, I was lonely. I would rather be sharing a night like this with someone I felt truly connected-to. But learning to enjoy a quality experience on my own forced me to confront the fact that I didn’t have that connection with anyone else, and I couldn’t wish it up out of thin air. I knew now that I couldn’t settle for dating someone just for the sake of dating, which, I think, is how I’d been operating, previously. Insert available Guy A into Slot B isn’t how life works.

And something else happened, too: I began to develop self-respect.

Now that I knew how well I could be treated by my own self on a date, I began to realize that I didn’t want to put up with being treated less-than-well by other dates. I realized I had standards — and they were pretty decent ones. They made me feel good about myself. In fact, I decided that if a guy didn’t treat me better than I was already able to treat myself, there really wasn’t any reason for me to date him. I’d be better-off by myself! Relationships should build you up, make you a better person. Not bring you down to a lower level. That’s how friendships work, right? I think dating-relationships should work the same way, too.

Unfortunately, finding this in real life is proving to be tricky. (My PTSD and trust issues do NOT help!) Hence, attraction, lifestyle compatibility, and best-friend potential criteria from my RFQ. But I think the overall goal holds merit: to find someone who elevates me, who treats me better than I treat myself. It could happen, right?

And hopefully I do the same for him….