Christmas card

I forgot to mention my Christmas card in the previous post. In my 17th wheel post, I gave an example of being the odd man out when friends gathered to take Christmas card photos a year ago. I mentioned that I stepped back because I wasn't planning on sending out a photo card.

One of my readers challenged/encouraged me to send one out. Why couldn't a single person send out a photo Christmas card? I didn't have a good answer, but kind of forgot about it. A little over a week before Christmas after I had received a few cards from friends, I decided to do my own. I just wanted to say thanks to her for the encouragement and letting me know that it was "OK".

I also want to thank all the people who have supported me over the past year or two. It has been a difficult road, but there was always been a hand outstretched to push me along or help me up. I can not sufficiently express my gratitude for you and this life.

Happy New Year. Let's make it a better one.


I had another nice Christmas this year. I have been living two states away from my family, so it was wonderful to be able to spend a couple of weeks with them over the holidays. The two weeks actually flew by as days and nights were filled up with fun activities with friends. I spent Christmas Eve with my brother and his family, Christmas morning with my folks, and Christmas evening with my extended family. It was an especially nice treat to see my extended family as I hadn't seen them all year. I am thoroughly blessed to have such a close family, and it has been an odd experience living so far away.

It was a wonderful week, but there was still something missing. This is the second Christmas alone and the first since the divorce became final. Christmas was already special to J and I, but it took on a whole new meaning when we were married. In fact I proposed Christmas morning ten years ago, so it kind of became "our" day. I am now back to Christmas the way it was before I was married, and as great as it is (and it is great), it isn't the same anymore. The divorce weighs on my mind lesser each day, but there are still moments when I feel the sting. Shopping for Christmas cards was surprisingly hard this year.

This seems to fall into the "you can't go home" category. It is like I have returned to the wonderful town I grew up in, but everything looks a little different. Moments that should be warm and wonderful still feel slightly incomplete. And I don't know if that void can be filled with friends and family.

I can understand why so many people find the holidays depressing. There is so much joy and celebration surrounding us, and it some ways it only amplifies the things that are missing. It is nothing so simple as finding a replacement person to make me forget, but that incomplete feeling will probably remain until I develop memories with someone new.

Christmas was wonderful, but some of the shine was missing.

Quote of the day


I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost...I am helpless.
It isn't my fault.
It takes me forever to find a way out.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don't see it.
I fall in again.
I can't believe I am in the same place
but, it isn't my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall's a habit.
My eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

I walk down another street.

Hat tip to Crystal 

Who rescued who?

I saw this sticker on a car the other day, and all I could think was, Amen.

We adopted our pooch from the Humane Society in January of 2003. She and her mom had been given up as a result of a divorce. From her paperwork, she had lived at a home with acreage about three hours north of where we lived. I'm not sure how she ended up in a shelter so far south.

We had been talking about getting a dog as soon as we had moved from renting an apartment to renting a house. We had broached the subject with our landlord when we first moved in in August of 2002, and he was noncommittally open to letting us get a dog. We got more serious about a dog around Christmas of '02, but hadn't brought up again with the landlord.

I had some time between shifts and decided to walk through the Humane Society. I saw our pooch (or more likely her mother) and the thing that especially caught my eye was that she was the only one that wasn't barking. We had an upstairs neighbor at the house who worked odd hours, so barking would be a real problem. I wasn't really looking to adopt that day, and was just kind of killing time, but I mentioned the dog to my wife and she dashed down during lunch the next day. And she put our name down to adopt her.

The Humane Society called our landlord before we did, but fortunately he was cool about it. We both went down to meet the pooch in a "meet and greet" pen where you can see them up close, pet them and maybe throw a ball. She was more drawn to J than I, but seemed friendly and non-skittish. When we said we'd adopt her, we found out more about her history.

She had been raised on the large property up north, and spent her days with other animals and the stay-at-home wife. She had actually been adopted out once since then, but the person kept her for only one day. Even though the pooch had never been crated, they put her in a crate the first night. Then when they went to work the next day, they locked her in the bathroom. The pooch, not used to being penned up or away from people for any length of time, tried to chew her way out. The people returned her the next day. Turns out we were lucky these people didn't know what they were doing.

We picked the pooch over the weekend so we would be able to spend some time with her in her new home. The Humane Society thought she had some separation anxiety issues (in addition to the crating problem) so we spent time easing her into things. One of us would leave for a half hour and not make a big deal of returning. We'd trade places, and then we'd both leave for a little while. By the time the weekend was over, she seemed to have adjusted to her knew home and new people.

Although the pooch was more drawn to J initially, she was soon following us both around. We bought our house in June of 2004, so she now had a fenced backyard all to her own (the rental yard wasn't fenced so she couldn't be outside by herself). As time went by she was a little more drawn to me, most likely because I would take her for more walks and toss the Frisbee in the backyard most nights after work.

When J asked for a divorce, and it came time to decide who would get the pooch, J offered her to me. I don't know what her motivation was, but I wasn't about to question it. We had been living apart for about six months at that point, and I have to say that having the pooch there at home was a life saver. J had moved out, but the house was not empty. I wasn't really alone. There was a happy face and bouncing enthusiasm at a time when I needed it the most. I could hear the sound of my own voice without feeling completely crazy. And she was someone that I had to take care of as well. And in taking care of her, I was taking care of myself.  She was someone to accept the love I had, and kept me from a complete tailspin.

There are therapy dogs trained for all manner of illness and disability, but I think that every dog is a bit of a therapy dog. They can be a salve to the soul, troubled or not. I won't be so dramatic to say that the pooch saved my life, but I don't want to imagine what life would have been like without her.

And she is still by my side, wagging her tail, as I figure out the next stage of my life.

The 17th wheel

Sometime late in 1998, we were sitting on the bar patio at the restaurant where we all worked.. Many brilliant ideas came to life on that patio, and that night a friend thought we should do something cool together to celebrate the year clicking over from 1999 to 2000. She suggested going on a Caribbean cruise as a group. Of course we were all living on waiting-tables-wages, so it took a while to talk us into it, but eventually we had a large group signed up.

Along with several couples, there were three single guys going - Bill, Scott and myself. We were good friends and planned to share a room on the ship. In the summer of 1999, I met J and Scott met someone as well, so Bill ended up in a room by himself. He was the one single guy along with eight couples on the cruise - the 17th wheel.

We were all great friends, so the trip was a week long party where you mingle among the crowd, spending time with everyone. But of course there were still couples at the end of the day, and I know that Bill felt like the odd man out at times, no matter how much time we spent together as a group.

And it feels a bit like that for me right now. Nearly all my friends are either married or in a relationship. This is true both in Washington and here in California. Now don't get me wrong, this is not a plea to be included more often. Everyone has been very welcoming, inviting me over to dinner or to larger parties (I was invited out tonight in fact). None of my friends have made it an issue or made me feel like a second class citizen for being unattached.

But still, there are couple moments where I am the odd man out. Like last year when we were walking around town under the changing leaves of autumn. A friend said, "let's take pictures for all our Christmas cards!" Of course, I would not be sending out a photo Christmas card, so I just quietly stepped back. Another friend pulled me into a group photo, a sensitive gesture to include me, but at that point it was just awkward.

I am not looking to replace my group of friends, and I still love (love!) spending time with my married peeps, but it would be healthy to expand the circle a bit to include some new, single faces. Not people I am hoping to date necessarily, just people who might share common interests or introduce me to new things. People that might be struggling along a similar path. Other single folks in a married world.

Quote of the day

"You can learn more from failure than success. In failure you're forced to find out what part did not work. But in success you can believe everything you did was great, when in fact some parts may not have worked at all. Failure forces you to face reality.
~ Fred Brooks


Let me preface this with, I do not begin to say that my experience on 9/11/01 compares in any way to the tragedy that so many people experienced personally. But of course the day touched us all in one way or another. I have written a more detailed recounting of the day elsewhere, but as a small recap for those who don't know the story...

My wife and I were married on 9/9/01. We spent the following morning at a brunch with our family and some of the wedding party. We boarded a red-eye flight on the evening of the 10th/morning of the 11th that would take us to Jamaica for our honeymoon. We made our connection in Dallas/Fort Worth and hopped on the next leg of our journey headed for Miami. We were in the air between Dallas and Miami when the destruction of 9/11 was going on. Once we landed in Miami, no planes would leave the ground for several days. Our honeymoon canceled, and a tropical storm headed toward Florida, we ended up renting a car and driving from Miami back to Seattle, from one corner of the U.S to another.

The world had changed in an instant, and it was a somber drive home. We listened to the radio and read the newspapers as we drove, trying to put together what had happened. Everyone else we loved was thousands of miles away, and the people we saw along the way had the vacant stare of the traumatized. At the time, I joked that if we could survive this drive across the country together, that our marriage would be alright. The beach would have just made us soft. But I wonder what effect that day, and that week, had on the early part of our marriage. As I wrote in the earlier post:
We returned to Jamaica six months later. When we made it to our delayed honeymoon, I was the most depressed/out of sorts I have ever been. I’m not sure what all was weighing on me. 9/11 may have made me look at my life more closely. It may have been the jarring switch from the happiest week in my life to the worst for the country. Maybe it is the clearest manifestation of hatred I have ever seen. I’m not really sure. I haven’t put those feelings entirely behind me
Certainly, no one event took us down, and it was more about internal rather than external events, but it was a rough start to the marriage just the same. There was no honeymoon period, a time of excitement and great hope as we began our new life together. My heart was heavy when it should have been light, and I have no doubt that weighed on our marriage in our first year.

9/11 cut a horrific hole in our country, ramifications of which we are still feeling. I am not so foolish as to say that it was much of a factor in our divorce, but I think it may have been one of the hundreds of bricks in the wall that was built up between us.

How are you doing?

Right after I got sober (the first time), and interviewer asked me if I was happy, and I said, “Among other things.” 
~ From Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher
So, am I happy? 'Among other things' is a great answer.

Through reading, writing, counseling, talking with friends and family, and the simple passage of time, things are easier than they were. The load I carry may be a bit lighter these days, or it may just feel that way. Like a backpack that feels heavy when you hoist it on your back, but the weight passes out of your conscious thought as you busily scramble up the hillside. Only when you stop to rest (or someone points it out to you) do you feel that weight again.

The painful thoughts are always there in the background, but they come to the forefront less often. The feelings of loss, regret, guilt and anger can still catch me off guard and even make me weep, but the feeling isn't as overwhelming, and I have been better at accepting (if not embracing) it. There was a time where I felt that my emotions were running the show, but not anymore. However, I am doing my best to let them come out and play, rather than burying them down like I did before.

And of course it isn't all bad, even if most of what I write here is about my struggles. There are many beautiful things in my life, and there always has been. I am surrounded by loving family and friends, and I don't ever take that for granted. Though I am often alone, I know I don't have to be. I have my relative good health, and I enjoy challenging my body to do things that on the surface it would seem it isn't capable of.

But I have been sitting in that neutral zone described in my post on Transitions for some time now. The months I have been down in San Diego have not seemed all that productive on the surface, but I know healing and recovery have been taking place. Even so, the feeling of limbo is starting to get to me. I feel like I need to be moving forward in certain aspects of my life. Maybe this feeling of frustration is a sign of healing, and a signal that it is time to be making the first steps in that direction.

Though I have been moving in a bit of a fog during this neutral time, I will catch myself waking up to moments of clarity. Sometimes it is the brilliance of the ocean or Grand Canyon that brings me around, but I have also caught myself goofily smiling while walking across a parking lot, just taking in the sunshine. These are not moments of epiphany, but moments of presence. Moments of living instead of merely existing.

This day nine years ago was one of the best of my life, and every time it passes by on the calendar it will make me pause. Though the meaning will continue to change with all that has happened since then, the beauty of that day remains.

The struggle continues, as does my desire to delve deeper into things. Though I will never find all the answers, there is still value in the questioning. I continue to learn new things about myself as I tell my story, and I hope you find something useful as well (if only in what not to do).

Staying in contact

Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but, far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.
~ Benjamin Franklin
It is an odd line we are walking. We haven't seen each other in person in almost a year, and the phone calls and e-mails are pretty infrequent. We really only contact each other when there is a topic that seems legitimate enough to break through that real or imagined barrier that has come between us.

But niether does it feel like we are entirely avoiding each other. We just seem to be keeping our distance as we try to put together a new life. I have no idea what is normal, or if there even is a normal. Even if you parted on friendly terms, how often do you touch base, if at all?

There is no venom when we do speak, just an awkward veil of pain and regret. For my part, I have never said those hurtful jabs that seem so clever and appropriate in the moment, but with time seem petty and hurtful. I have certainly made her aware of how I feel, even if I haven't passed along the descriptive details and metaphorical images. Making someone else hurt doesn't do much to lift you up, and for me it would only drag me down further.

But there are still the other connections that seem to bring our paths together and peel back the sheet we've hidden things beneath. Of course family and friends are the most significant crossroads. The last time I saw her mother, it was this awkward time I was staying at her house with friends for a bike ride. It was only a couple of weeks before J asked for a divorce. I am sure her mother knew what I did not (or did not want to face), and in retrospect it is even more painful than it was at the time.

Her mother accidentally dialed my number a few months ago. She hung up so quickly that the only thing missing was an exclamation of "Shit!" (but she doesn't swear). I don't begrudge her, and it didn't make me mad that she hung up so abruptly upon realizing her mistake. What would we talk about after all? It just made me sad, that this was one more level of discomfort surrounding our split. If her Mom and I committed to an hour over coffee, maybe we could have an honest discussion. But the benal small talk would have been painful for us both. At the same time, I have a feeling that she may check in to read my blogs from time to time. In some way that makes me glad, for at least there remains this tenuous connection that can bypass the awkwardness. It is one-sided and not a real conversation, but it is there, odd as it is.

Then there is the stupidity of Facebook. J and I are still "friends" in that realm, but unintentionally, updates in our own lives can make the other feel like crap. I had "hidden' her updates, because I didn't want to see posts pop up at random moments when I was unprepared to see them. But I didn't "unfriend" her, because I guess I wanted that same tenuous connection that these one-way conversations could provide. I stayed away from her page, but it was still there lurking for good or ill.

But even though her posts remained hidden, there was a recent misunderstanding online. A mutual friend posted something on her wall, and when that feed popped up, it led me to check out her page. What I read sent me into a tailspin as my mind filled in blanks the posts seemed to imply. Rather than stew on it, I reached out to her and spoke to her on the phone. It was an emotional conversation, but we cleared up any confusion the bits and bytes produced. It was one of the rare, unguarded conversations we have had in the past couple of years. Though there were tears on both ends of the line, it felt good to be speaking from the heart once more. Of course when we hung up, it left me feeling ever whistful over what we let die, and not surprisingly, we haven't figured out if we should "unfriend" each other.

We spoke a week later, and unfortunately the uncomfortable, awkward wall was back up, and it lead to a stilted conversation. A friend asked recently if I wanted to see J in person (everything in the past 10 months has been handled by phone or e-mail). I didn't have a confident answer, but with all that it would bring, I think I would still like to see her in person someday soon. I am sure that awkward wall would be there in the beginning, but I would hope that with time over cups of coffee we could let our guard down and really talk.

The money and paperwork issues that still tie us together are beginning to fall away. There will continue to be the random crossing of paths, but soon it will be only be our desire to make it happen that will keep us in contact. I don't know that we will ever have that conversation I imagined a year ago. Most of me believes I will never get the answers I seek, but another part of me wants that unguarded moment in the sun with a friend you haven't seen for years.

The mix tape

I recently finished Love is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time by Rob Sheffield. The book is a memoir about the author's love of music, the courtship and marriage to his wife Renee, and the aftermath of her all-too-sudden death after five years of marriage. The author is a music critic, so music plays an even larger part of his life than most people. Like many of us, he has created mix tapes over the years. As he describes it:
"I have built my entire life around loving music, and I surround myself with it. I’m always racing to catch up on my next favorite song. But I never stop playing my mixes. Every fan makes them. The times you lived through, the people you shared those times with – nothing brings it all to life like an old mix tape. It does a better job of storing up memories than actual brain tissue can do. Every mix tape tells a story. Put them together, and they add up to the story of a life."
In the book, his mix tapes transport himself (and the reader) to certain times in his life. The songs on the mix tapes trigger memories and help him tell his story. The portions of the book after his wife died are particularly wrenching, as he comes to terms with his wife dying suddenly of a pulmonary embolism, and his experience as a widower when he is still in his early 30's. A song brought he and his wife together, and music was almost a third character in their relationship. The mix tapes keep him connected on an intimate level to his wife, and they are a place to store his memories.

Like the author, I made a bunch of mix tapes when I was younger. I still make the occasional mix, but of course the tape has been replaced by a an iPod playlist or burned CD. Some mixes were just a series of songs that grabbed me in the moment, while others had themes that tied the songs together. One tape was a bit of an autobiography, and I have also made mixes after each relationship breakup. I am almost ready to create one for my marriage to J.

Over the last year and a half, music has been one of those things that would sneak up on me when I wasn't looking, and could either make me feel wistful or knock me flat on the pavement. One low point was losing it in the frozen foods aisle of Safeway to a song playing on the Muzak. The song isn't even worth mentioning, but it hit me just right (or wrong) at the moment.

It sometimes amazes me how many songs there are that I have heard many times, but never really meant anything until my marriage was falling apart. I suppose it is like anything else - you don't notice details until you are looking for them. Like when you decide on a car you want to buy, and suddenly they are everywhere. And of course a love song means more when you are in love, a painful song when you are in pain. When I would either notice or be hit upside the head with a song, I would tuck it away for the future mix tape.

It seems there is a certain waiting period before I am ready to put it together, and a bit longer one until I am ready to pop it in the stereo. It seems like listening to these songs would be a recipe for misery. I can't exactly explain why it is important to make the mix tape, but it is. I guess there are times when I just want to open my arms wide and embrace the memories, and any pain that comes along with them. Maybe by choosing the moment, I feel more in control of when I am going to feel low. And maybe by listening to the songs in succession, they lose a bit of their power. Maybe I am less likely to be knocked sideways in the frozen food aisle.

Anyway, there are a couple of songs that will definitely be in the mix. Two of them seem to capture the dialogue (spoken and unspoken) between J and I as our marriage was ending. I would sing "More Time" by NeedtoBreathe, and she would respond with "Where I Stood" by Missy Higgins.

More Time
I promised you the world again
Everything within my hands
All the riches one could dream
They will come from me

I hoped that you could understand
That this is not what I had planned
Please don’t worry now
It will turn around

Cause I need more time
Just a few more months and we’ll be fine
So say what’s on your mind
Cause I can’t figure out just what’s inside

So say alright
Cause I know we can make it if we try
Cause I need more time
Just a few more months and we’ll be fine

We’re off to new lands
So hold on to my hands
It’s gonna be alright.
It’s a whole lot brighter
So stand by the fire
It’s gonna be alright.
Yeah, the road gets harder
But it’s not much farther
It’s gonna be alright.
You know that it ain’t easy
Please believe me
It’s gonna be alright.

Where I Stood
I don't know what I've done
Or if I like what I've begun
But something told me to run
And honey you know me it's all or none

There were sounds in my head
Little voices whispering
That I should go and this should end
Oh and I found myself listening

'Cos I dont know who I am, who I am without you
All I know is that I should
And I don't know if I could stand another hand upon you
All I know is that I should
'Cos she will love you more than I could
She who dares to stand where I stood

See I thought love was black and white
That it was wrong or it was right
But you ain't leaving without a fight
And I think I am just as torn inside

'Cos I dont know who I am, who I am without you
All I know is that I should
And I don't know if I could stand another hand upon you
All I know is that I should
'Cos she will love you more than I could
She who dares to stand where I stood

And I won't be far from where you are if ever you should call
You meant more to me than anyone I ever loved at all
But you taught me how to trust myself and so I say to you
This is what I have to do


"If hate were people, I'd be China!"
~ Phil, delivering the last line in an argument with his wife, from the movie City Slickers.

Some quotes resonate with you because they describe how you feel, so well, with such brevity. Others seem to grab me because they are comically absurd. The above one falls into the second category, but it still has some resonance when this mild-mannered character snaps.

The simplified, five step path through grief is often quoted. They are:
  • Denial and Isolation 
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance 
I certainly haven't followed them in any order, and a few people in my life have encouraged me to get angry with J. Our marriage counselor wanted me in that stage after only a couple of weeks of counseling. As I have mentioned, it is not really in my nature, and I wasn't convinced that anger was a necessary step in my recovery. But now I feel myself moving into that stage.

I am moving beyond just feeling ripped off and cheated, and some anger is starting to creep into my voice when I talk about the divorce. I am angry that she held back resentments and complaints for two years before bringing a few of them to light. I am frustrated that she told only part of the story, enough to feel like she was being open, but not enough to really explain anything.

I have come to the point where I still carry my share of blame and regret for the state of our marriage. But I am not willing to take the blame for the divorce anymore. I put my heart and mental health on the line to try and work things out with J. Nothing that came up seemed insurmountable. Quite frankly, nothing that came up seemed all that difficult to make right. But she seemed to think it was too late to work on our relationship or save our marriage. I did not give up, even after it was pretty clear that she had.

It is sometimes said that it is a thin line between love and hate. The truth behind the phrase is that the passion that once supported love, can now fuel the anger, leading to hate. But I am not even close to hating her, and I don't ever intend to cross that line. In all her hidden feelings, avoidance of conflict, and fumbling prolonging of the end, I believe part of it was out of love for me.

I don't feel much better having moved into the anger stage, but it does feel different. I've read anger can be a first step in gaining emotional distance from your former spouse. It is certainly just a piece of the puzzle and not the solution, but I am starting to believe that (appropriate) anger may be constructive. I suppose that in becoming angry about what has happened, rather than just being depressed or disheartened, you find a bit of strength and self-worth.

The feelings of anger are not particularly hot, and they do not linger. Still, it is a phase I don't want to spend much time in.

Quote of the day

"One last note, to anyone making changes: you will fail. I don’t say that to discourage you, but to release  you from the fear of failure … because if you already  know it will happen, then there’s no pressure to avoid it. Failure is an inevitable part of change, and in fact it should be celebrated — without failure, we’d learn  nothing. Fail, fail often, and learn. Then you’ll be better equipped for the next attempt. Find joy in every attempt, in every victory, in every failure, and the  change will be a reward in itself."  
Courtesy of Zen Habits

Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’ ~Samuel Beckett

The hearing

So, through some awkward pauses and miscommunications, I was going to attend the divorce hearing myself. To make it even more odd, it would be just me and J's lawyer.

I had only met the lawyer once before, when we went over and signed the original paperwork. Even though J and I were amicable, and I was largely just agreeing to what she had proposed, the lawyer felt it necessary to do some posturing to prove her worth. She wasn't all that bad, but it was crap I wasn't willing to listen to. We've already agreed on everything - no need to get in a pissing match to show who's side you're on.

I was going to be back in Seattle for a little over a week, and I decided to schedule the hearing as early in the week as possible. I didn't need the cloud hanging over my head. We set it up for Monday the 21st, and the lawyer and I exchanged a few e-mails about what I should expect. It all sounded basically routine. Too routine really to end a marriage. I guess we just needed the state's blessing that we had f'd things up beyond repair.

The process of the hearing was that the lawyer would ask me a series of questions that I would need to respond to in front of the judge. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the grounds listed in the divorce filing was that, "This marriage is irretrievably broken". I still (and probably always will) have a problem with this phrase. I don't believe it is accurate, but it apparently is the standard phrasing for the state of Washington. So one of the questions was going to be "Do you believe the marriage is irretrievably broken?"

It was going to be difficult for me to say "yes" and feel like I was being honest. I initially e-mailed the lawyer to ask if there was any way we could avoid, or rephrase the question. I wasn't contesting the divorce, but I wondered what the ramifications of me saying "no" would be. I wrote her again the next day (before she had responded) to say that I wasn't trying to make things more difficult, and that I would do what was necessary to make the divorce final. The wording probably only mattered to me at this point. We agreed to meet early on the 21st to go over things.

The hearing was set for 1:30pm, and we were going to meet 15 minutes early. There was a huge line at the metal detectors downstairs, probably jammed up with people coming back from lunch as well as folks going to court. I made it upstairs about on time, and looked around for "Gina". Of course I had only met her once before, and my focus was hardly on her that day, so I looked at everyone gathered in the hallway hoping for a spark of recognition.

She wasn't there as far as I could tell, but the place was packed. And the weird thing was the majority of the people waiting were very happy. They were chatting and taking pictures, and there were small children and balloons floating around the hallway. It took a little time to realize that there were a couple of adoptions taking place, and there was a large contingent of friends gathered. It was ironically like a wedding reception. There were a few of us who were subdued, but happiness was the predominant emotion. It just felt weird.

The doors opened to the ex parte courtroom at 1:30pm, and there was still no sign of the lawyer. We all shuffled in to the pew-like benches, and someone in charge was handing out paperwork for those not represented by council. I walked up thinking I might have to do this on my own, but she sent me back and told me to wait for J's lawyer. After ten minutes, I sent a text to J asking for the lawyer's cell number. She responded relatively quickly, and I stepped out to call the lawyer. As I did, Gina came walking down the hall.

We sat down in the hall to go over the notarized paperwork I had brought, and to discuss the proceedings. It turned out we were missing the actual divorce decree, and the lawyer did not have a copy herself. I had brought up everything that was sent to me to sign, so I don't know if J or the lawyer forgot to include the decree. (I still haven't bothered to check who's oversight it was). The lawyer dashed upstairs to get a blank copy, and she ended up writing the divorce decree there in the hall. One more bumbling step down this awkwardly handled process.

Once it was filled out, we started to go over the questions she would ask. We were interrupted when the clerk came out to tell Gina she needed a special stamp on the decree. One more trip upstairs. In the meantime, texts were going back and forth between J and I. It was an even more odd moment than I had imagined. Everything continued to stretch out and I was sending play by play updates to my soon to be ex-wife. How did this all happen...

We finally went in around 2:00. There were probably ten other people there to see the commissioner (not a judge I guess) for various reasons. For the first ten minutes, the commissioner sat at the front of the room, working on his computer in silence. Though it wasn't, it felt like some weird power play to make us all sit there waiting for him. There was a giant digital clock on his desk, the glowing red numbers counting off the time as we sat fidgeting. Among the many thoughts flying through my mind was "I didn't pay for long enough parking. I am going to get a ticket to cap off this day."

He finally called up the first case, and it appeared he had been researching it during his ten minutes of silence. It was a custody case, and the man there to propose a visitation plan had not been very truthful. The next few cases went by quickly, several of them restraining orders. The happy adoption families were in a different room, and all the cases here seemed to be the depressing stuff.

When my number was called, Gina and I went up to the bench. She asked the preliminary questions about when we were married, were there kids, etc. My responses were quiet "yes" an "no" where appropriate as I stared at a small point on the commissioners desk. When it came time for the dreaded question, Gina showed her kinder side and did some rewording. The question she ended up asking me was "J has stated that the marriage is irretrievably broken, and as Washington is a no-fault state, do accept her statement?", or something close to that. A small bit of humanity from apposing council.

There were a couple more questions and it was time for the commissioner to speak. I looked up as he said, "I am convinced that the marriage is irretrievably broken, and I am granting this divorce." As Gina had promised, it all took about a minute to be over, but it was a long road to get there. It was further drawn out when we had to go upstairs for copies of the various documents, but by 2:45 it was all over.

Before the hearing started, while I was waiting for Gina to come back downstairs with the decree, I saw other couples who were making their divorce final. One couple was still hashing out details in the hall while a friend tried to play referee. Another couple came out who had already seen the commissioner. I had noticed them individually in the hall when I first got there, and they had not been standing anywhere near each other. They hugged for a long time in the hall when it was all over, and though I could not hear anything, my feeling was that this divorce was also not the guy's idea.

I'm sure it was for the best that J and I were not there together that day. Initially it seemed like we both should be there, but I'm sure it would have been that much more difficult to have her sitting next to me. I barely held it together as it is.

Going in, I felt like I should say something once it was all over, but I had no idea what to say. What do you say after all this time, especially when you did not want it to end. As we had been already been sending brief, emotionless text updates on missing lawyers and paperwork, I simply sent a final text that said, "It is official".

As I mentioned elsewhere, rather than heading to the nearest bar and drowning my sorrows, I went for a run once the hearing was over. I'd like to say I left all my troubles and feelings there by the roadside, to be washed away by the next high tide, but of course that isn't true. I still carry a lot with me each day, but I do feel a bit of closure now that the divorce is final. For my part, I will still pick things apart, trying to figure out what all went wrong. But the focus will be more toward what I will do better in the future, rather than lamenting all our mistakes.

Well, mostly.

Why I went to the hearing

As painful as the decision to divorce was to me, J and I had worked together amicably to work out the details. J had contacted a lawyer at some point to see what the ramifications would be. When she told me she wanted a divorce, she suggested that we use this woman (or another) as a mediator. Our understanding was that a mediator would work as a neutral third party that would be there simply to make sure everything was done legally, dotting all the i's and crossing all the t's. 

It turned out that since J went to see her previously seeking advice, that this lawyer (I'll call her Gina) could no longer act as a neutral party. J decided to retain her as her lawyer, but tried to keep her as neutral as possible. Gina drafted all the necessary paperwork based on what J and I discussed. I chose not to retain a lawyer, mostly because I trusted J, but also because I didn't want to spend money on a divorce I had no interest in taking place. I did have someone "in the know" look over the paperwork at some point to make sure I didn't miss some hidden phrase. 

All the financial details had been worked out long ago, sometime back in October of 2009. One of the big pieces of the puzzle was the sale of our home, but we had agreed how things would be divided up before it even hit the market. We were fortunate to have it sell amazingly quickly, and much of the "what if" details in the paperwork were resolved before they were ever filed. 

Gina redrafted the agreement to update it now that the house had been sold. And then it seemed nothing happened for 2 - 3 months. In February, I called to see what was going on, and the answer was apparently "nothing". After my call, things moved forward again and the papers were filed February 10th. There was a 90 day waiting period before the divorce could be made final. 

Honestly, I expected to hear something about a scheduled court date before then, but nothing was said even two weeks after the 90 days was up. I was planning a trip to Seattle later in June, so I called J and mentioned that we could schedule the court date then. 

Part of the reason I offered to attend the hearing was my reflex to be practical, and since I already had a trip planned... But I think my original intention was for both of us to be there. For some reason it seemed important for us both to be there when the marriage ended, just like we were together when it started. I also wanted to be there for a bit of closure. I wasn't really there when the decision to divorce happened, and I didn't want to be absent once again when it became final. 

Of course the discussion about the divorce hearing was loaded with emotion, and when I spoke with J on the phone, I did not clearly explain my reasons for wanting to attend. J did not have a burning need to attend, and I did not force the issue. By the end of the conversation, I ended up agreeing to go on my own.

I almost immediately regretted my offer to go to the hearing on my own. Not that anything should be expected to be "fair" in all this, but it didn't seem fair that she didn't need to be there to "face the music", as it were. But at that point, I had no idea what she was feeling, so I may have been attaching feelings that weren't there.  

I still had no interest in the divorce, but the sense of limbo while waiting for it to become final was almost as bad. The process seemed to have dragged on for years and it was as if a Band Aid was being removed hair by hair. So another big reason I was the one to get things moving forward again was to rip off the Band Aid and end the period of limbo. I suppose it felt good on some level to be taking some initiative, but it still seemed odd that I should be the one to push things forward. 

J and I ended up exchanging some e-mails a couple of days before the hearing. I told her all that I have written here. 

* That the reason I volunteered to go to the hearing was not because I had come to see things as she did.
* That I still didn't think divorce was the answer, but that waiting for the ax to fall was tortuous and unhealthy.
* That I didn't understand what all the delays had been about, when she never seemed to question her decision. 

Again, I will paraphrase...She let me know that she was surprised and confused about my offer to attend the hearing. It was always her intention to be the one to finish the process, but that she did not press the issue after my offer. She had not been looking forward to this day, and that this is what was behind much of the delay. She does not expect me to see things as she does, but she hopes I will find peace with it someday. 

My belief is that although she didn't seem to be questioning her decision, that she kicked each step and confrontation down the road both to avoid hurting me, and because she did not want to face them herself. Of course it didn't avoid any hurt, and I doubt the delay did her much good either. I sort of understand her motivations - avoiding pain is a natural instinct. But I still don't understand it. But without spending a day inside her head, I won't ever understand why she did the things they way she did. 

We certainly did a poor job of communicating while we were married, and I wrote to her in part to change that pattern. I am glad we cleared the air a little bit before the hearing took place. The e-mails did give me a slight bit of insight into what she was feeling, and I told her they might make the hearing the tiniest fraction bit easier. I'll discuss the hearing in my next post. 

9/9/01 - 6/21/10

A love neglected,
stealing away while you sleep.
Left with a thousand
if only's and
what if's,
such a tragic waste
of love's chance.
Don't wait until
Wake up!
Say it today.

J and I exchanged some e-mails over the weekend. They were painful, but also loving. The hole in my heart will heal over, but never entirely close.

I awoke early today, sometime around 5:30am. The sun was already up, and I couldn't turn off all the thoughts crowding my brain. One more odd coincidence that my divorce became final on the first day of summer, the longest day of the year.

Speaking the right language

The first book I read once counseling began was The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate by Gary Chapman. Any book that tries to break down a subject as large as love into five neat boxes is bound to be an oversimplification, but I found the book to be enlightening.

I will start with a couple of quotes I highlighted from the book:
"Love is not our only emotional need. Psychologists have observed that among our basic  needs are the need for security, self-worth, and significance. Love, however, interfaces with all of those."
"Meeting my wife’s need for love is a choice I make each day. If I know her primary love  language and choose to speak it, her deepest emotional need will be met and she will feel  secure in my love. If she does the same for me, my emotional needs are met and both of us live with a full tank. In a state of emotional contentment, both of us will give our creative energies to many wholesome projects outside the marriage while we continue to keep our marriage exciting and growing."
He uses this image of each of us having a "love tank" that we need to try to keep filled if we are to lead full, enriched lives. While it is important for you to find many things in your life that "fill your tank", it is also an important part of marriage to do what you can to keep your partner's tank topped off.

His basic premise is that we both give and receive love in five basic catagories. They are:
  • Words of Affirmation
  • Quality Time
  • Receiving Gifts
  • Acts of service
  • Physical Touch
The author's point is that though we express and receive love in many ways, we tend to gravitate toward one or two of these methods in our daily interactions. One of the main difficulties couples experience is when you are not speaking the same language (no surprise there). You may work many hours in order to buy gifts, when all your wife wants is quality time. You may think that flowery words are the language of love, when all your wife wants is for you to take out the garbage. You think you are showing your love in an obvious way, but it may go by unnoticed by your partner because that is not how they most easily feel love.

It was an interesting exercise to try and deduce not only what J's preferred language was, but my own as well. The book points out that it is typical for you to show love in the same way you wish to receive it. This makes sense, but I don't seem to fit into that neat box. Without necessarily realizing it, I seem to express love through acts of service quite a bit. This is especially true with my friends. I take pleasure in doing things for other people, and it is probably an expression of my love. But on the flip side, I don't wish that people would do things for me.

The more I tried to pigeon-hole myself into one of the catagories, the harder it became. I of course appreciate kind words, but they often make me uncomfortable at the same time. Part of that I am sure is the heavy-handed self criticism I have handed out in the past. "Don't tell me I'm great. I know better." I have been working to improve this, and I think I have made progress. I suppose if I had to pick, I guess I fall into the quality time and physical touch camp.

But the more important exercise (certainly as it related to our marriage counseling) was to see if I had been speaking J's language. The author mentions that your spouse is likely giving you lots of clues in the things he/she expresses, says, comments on, or complains about. I won't pass along my guesses as to what her language might be, but it is safe to say that I wasn't speaking it very clearly.

But poor choices in the past don’t mean that we must make them in the future. The author even gives you a little script to use if you need a launching point:
“You know, I have been reading a book on how to express love, and I realize that I have not been expressing my love to you in the best way through the years. I have tried to show you my love by _______, but I’m  now realizing that that probably has not communicated love to you, that your love language is probably something different. I am  beginning to think that your love language is probably _______. You know, I really do love you, and I hope that in the future I can express it to  you in better ways.”
What really hit home was that I wasn't doing enough to keep her "love tank" full, in any language. In my last relationship, I spent a lot of time trying to make my partner happy, at the expense of my well being. It not only left me feeling weak and ineffective, but it was ultimately futile. I came to realize that true happiness can only come from within, and I think I went to far in the other direction with J.

Don't get me wrong, I don't think I was a cold-hearted jerk or anything. I think I was actually quite encouraging, but after reading this book I realized I was not doing enough to help J find happiness. With the failures of my past relationship, and in coming to believe that happiness comes from within, I stepped back more in my relationship with J. I believed that she knew how much I loved her, and wanted her to be happy, but now I know I wasn't communicating it correctly, or often enough.

Despite your best efforts, you can not "make" another person happy, but by showing them love and keeping their tank topped off, it gives them the strength to find true happiness on their own. You are not propping them up, but standing behind them always with your love and support. Though I sought to encourage her when ever I could, I wasn't helping her find the strength by making her feel loved.

After finishing the book, I went to J and told her all this. That I loved her deeply and wanted her to be happy. That my expressions of love were not frequent enough, or communicated very clearly in the past. That I had not done enough to make her feel cherished, significant and special. I wished to change all of that and pledged to do so.

Unfortunately, it was "too much, too late" as the phrase was coined by someone close to me. But if isn't too late for you, and it probably isn't, then I think this book is worth the read.
"Love doesn’t erase the past, but it makes the future different. When we choose active expressions of love in the primary love language of our spouse, we create an emotional climate where we can deal with our past conflicts and  failures."

The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate

There is no script

I think its probably just people when they cheat on other people, tell themselves that they're doing it because they have to, because there is fate involved, and whatever happened, you're better off and probably the person that you broke up with is better off, and this is the way it was meant to be. This is fate...The ex-partner is just collateral damage
~ from This American Life's "Infidelity" episode.

I believe in fate and destination, but so much of that lies in our own hands.
~ from "Give to Live" by Sammy Hagar

In the movies, there would be dramatic music, or the sound of a needle being dragged across a record. The camera would zoom in on the moment when she decided she did not want to remain married to me, that she no longer loved me.

I spent months trying to find out what that moment, or series of thoughts were that made it clear in her mind that divorce was the right decision. Through months of counseling sessions, I imagined that even if we didn't save the marriage, at least I would come to understand (if not believe) where she was coming from. That like the play Betrayal, we would walk back in time to that point where she turned away from me and our marriage. That by going through our history together, the pieces would start to fall into place. They did not.

J believed in fate, that things happen for a reason. I did not, and I think that bothered her on some level. When she said we were destined to find each other, to fall in love, to be together - I believed we were just very, very lucky. As I have stated elsewhere, I don't think there is a grand plan that guides or controls the thousand events and decisions in our lives. I don't think things "happen for a reason". Things happen, and people try to find reason.

I can't imagine that even those that believe in the "things happen for a reason" way of thinking, ascribe a grand plan to every bit of minutiae in their daily lives. You almost necessarily have to draw the line somewhere or you might go mad. I don't think anyone subscribes to the belief that every traffic signal has meaning. But if you get in an accident, or narrowly avoid one, maybe you will subscribe significance to the timing of the red light. But then it just seems a matter of convenience picking and choosing what things are significant. 20/20 hindsight and rewriting history.

J and I met when I was working at The Keg Restaurant. What were the fated things that happened to bring J and I together? My losing my job after college? That one restaurant called a couple days earlier than another? That she dated a brother of a friend of mine who worked at the restaurant? That she chose that camping trip, and I was still awake and helped her with her tent when she arrived? Do we go so far back as to say that her Mom's car accident several years earlier was part of the plan, since J may not have moved back to Washington state otherwise? Is it all those things?

I am not here to berate those that do think things happen for a reason, or to try to change your opinion. I think our personalities, talents and upbringing may predispose us to certain behaviors and influence our life decisions. There may be something nudging us along this river of life, after all. That when we stray away from our character, there are events or decisions that may guide us back. Who knows? But when people say the that "everything happens for a reason", I reflexively find it to be a lazy attempt to comfort another, or justify their own actions. It is one thing to try to find meaning in the seemingly random, but to chalk up something within your control as destiny - well it doesn't feel all that great to be on the other side of fate.

I am paraphrasing, because my point is not to publish our private communication, but J said in a letter something to the effect that she feels there is a great plan for us in the future, and that this was all just a necessary step. What she said was probably supposed to both comfort me, as well as justify her decision to divorce, but I found it insulting. It makes me feel that our marriage, and the decade we were together, was just a tough lesson we had to learn to find our true happiness. That there was nothing either of us could have done to avoid this.

And it seems a little too convenient - that what she called destiny has changed from us being together forever, to now us being destined for something/someone else. Some may argue that we are just not privy to the plan, and that every little thing, positive or negative, is part of the process. If that is the case, then saying x,y,z is our destiny also seems presumptuous, since we really have no clue what part this event/love/wrong turn will play in the grand scheme of things. Who are we to read tea leaves and interpret destiny on the fly?

What I do believe is, that though things don't happen for a reason, if you are wise you can find reason even in the blows to the gut life hands out. Lemonade from lemons, new insight from pain and failure, the chance of a new path when a door slams shut, etc. People who have lost a loved one have been inspired to do great things in their name. And so many have found new passion for life after (or while) battling an illness. But I can't imagine someone walking up and saying, "well, your son died for a reason" or "good thing you got cancer."

In my own life, I have found new insight into myself that I probably wouldn't have gleaned without help from counseling. But I don't think our marriage had to end to make this understanding possible. Because of the divorce, and the sale of our house, I have been in a position to help out some friends. I probably wouldn't have had this ability otherwise. But to think "well, I guess I got divorced for a reason" seems ludicrous. We are all just doing what we can, with what we have, and what has brought us here.

Right now, I am feeling ripped off, betrayed, and sure, a little bitter (though probably not as much as it sounds on paper). I don't believe that J cheated, but it still feels like she was unfaithful in a way. That she did not have enough faith in me or our marriage to speak openly and honestly, and that she left mentally long before she left physically. There are still times when I wonder how we could have had such different views of our relationship, and what being married meant.

My friend mentioned that he has seen divorced men become embittered against women and marriage, but this is not how I feel. I have faith in love, belief in marriage, even if I never find those things again.

The 90 day waiting period is up, and the divorce will likely be final a week from today. I have no idea what the future holds. I don't expect any answers to my lingering questions anymore, at least not from J. There won't be a movie-like close up to zoom in on those key turning points, or a tidy happy ending by the time the movie ends. The script won't be released sometime in the future so I can pour over the hidden plot twists that I missed the first time through, or look ahead at the chapters that haven't happened yet. And I don't think there is someone out there that I have now been released to find true happiness with.

But it could happen, and I have hope that it will. But I don't think it is destined. I think it will take love, effort, and more than a little luck. In the meantime, I will continue to try to create my own meaning with everything this life has brought.

Quote of the day

There's a part of me in the chaos that's quiet
And there's a part of you that wants me to riot.

~ "I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight" by U2

Seeing the other side

A woman sent me an e-mail in response to my last post. It was supportive, but she wanted to give me a different perspective on the lack of open conflict in my marriage. She is also married to a man that does not fight or seem to get angry, and she finds it frustrating at times. I almost put the line "maybe the fact that I don't get angry pisses off my wife" in my last post, but it seemed a little flip. But I don't doubt that it is true.

Though we never really fought, J did come to me occasionally (maybe every year or so) in tears because she was upset about something in our relationship.While she cried, I shouldered the perceived blame and turned inward, letting the shame wash over me. I was torn up inside both by her tears and my failings, but on the outside there were no tears. This is something the e-mailer mentioned frustrates her. When her husband does not show emotion, she interprets it as lack of caring about the subject.

Of course in my case at least, nothing could be farther from the truth. Just because I seemed calm on the surface does not mean I wasn't emotionally connected to the conversation. Part of it is also a male, or maybe human, reflex to be strong while someone else is breaking down. It is a pattern of behavior to be strong in the moment to support the ones you love, only to break down later when the pressure subsides. And in truth, I doubt I was all that good at hiding the shame I was feeling in the moment.

It is no secret shame has distanced me from not only my wife but from my friends as well. I would beat myself up over failures great and small, eventually walling parts of myself off from the view of others. Overcoming this was one of the first things that had to happen to have any hope for personal growth, or the possibility of saving our relationship. I am still my own worst critic, and occasionally slip into the bad habit of berating myself, but I think I have done a better job at keeping the walls down and showing my emotions.

Actually, that is an understatement. I cry like I never had before. In the past, the only thing that would set the tears to falling was emotional triumphs in movies and finish lines. I wouldn't break down and cry for things in my own life, at least until I experienced the death of a friend. My emotions were kept safely behind a wall, but once I started removing the bricks, the stored up torrent was hard to control. I still have moments where the tears well up when I think back on everything, but there is less water pressure of stored emotion.

An interesting observation from my personal therapist early on in our time together - often couples in marriage counseling will switch places. Usually one spouse is more concerned and emotional about the marital problems, and is the one to push for counseling. Once the couple begins counseling, it is not uncommon to have the one who resisted counseling to embrace it, while the one who pushed for it retreats. This is what happened to us. J was the one who suggested/demanded that we go into counseling, but once on the couch, she began distancing herself from both the process and me.

And we also traded places on the amount of emotion we would show. I was now the person to wear his heart on his sleeve, and she seemed to take on the stoic role. I got a taste of what she was going through when she came to me in tears before. And it was not pleasant. On the outside, she now seemed to be completely distant from me and the moment. I know from my own experience that this may not have been true, but it is hard to fight that perception.

I have some indication that she went through her pain long before I did, but I have no honest idea of what she was feeling in the moments we were talking things through in and out of counseling.  I did ask her, but I never got a straight/satisfactory answer. But it was important to keep asking. I now know that silence can easily be misinterpreted, and lack of emotion can be construed as not caring. And when you fill in the gaps for other people's thoughts, instead of asking them straight out, your guess can be far from the truth. And moving forward with bad information can lead to some pretty disastrous results.

We never fought

"That's why God created marriage - so that people don't have to fight with strangers."
~Garrison Keillor from Prairie Home Companion

We never fought - never even argued really. The only time I remember raising my voice to J was when we were dating. It was very brief, and I was just venting my frustration for the fact that she had made us late for the fourth day in a row. Pet peeve of mine.

As I've mentioned previously, neither of us have a combative personality. I have been around several couples that argue regularly. It is not just difference of opinion being expressed, but fighting with some venom. And fighting unfairly - bringing up unrelated grievances, exaggerating wildly, and attacking personally. I can't imagine having a relationship like that. I'm glad that J and I did not act that way.

When J called one of our friends to tell her that we were getting a divorce, the friend didn't pick up the phone the first time because she was in the middle of an argument with her husband. When they connected a day later and the friend explained why she didn't pick up, I guess J said "at least you were arguing!" I guess she felt like she/we weren't able to do that.

It's not like we didn't talk about things and have differences of opinion, it just never got heated. But of course I am finding out that she wasn't being entirely open about her feelings. I kind of knew that she held on to resentments, like when she'd bring up a slight from a friend or co-worker that had happened (to me) a long time ago. I just didn't know she was holding them against me. I guess I assumed that if something was really bothering her, that she felt close enough to me to tell me about it. Or at the very least it would be blurted out in a moment of frustration.

An incident that came up in counseling - J and I were discussing getting a flat-screen tv for our anniversary. It was her suggestion and she asked what I thought. My opinion was that we already had two working tv's, so it wasn't something I wanted to spend money on. I also mentioned something about the only place to mount it was over the fireplace, and that it didn't really help the already awkward layout of the room. It turns out she was, in her words, so spitting mad that she thought she might say something she'd regret, so she said nothing. So I guess we were having arguments, but I just wasn't invited to them. Or too clueless to notice.

Later on, I asked J why she said "at least you were arguing" to our friend. I haven't argued with women I've dated in the past either, so I asked J if it was something that I was putting out that made her feel like she couldn't voice her opinions/frustrations/resentments. The only thing she said was that I was almost always right and that she found that very frustrating.

What do I do with that? No one likes to be wrong, and I am no different/better. Stupid mistakes bother me much more than getting facts or answers wrong. And I don't feel a compulsion to tell the world when I get something right, and I never try to make anyone feel bad when they're wrong. And anyway, in matters of opinion no one is really wrong - its just an opinion.

I think I am a rather rational person and my thought processes tend to run along that line. I don't really have arguments with anyone, least of all my significant other.  I am interested in how other people think and what their opinions are. When I talk about things, I'm more interested in learning than proving a point. I prefer to discuss rather than debate, and I don't feel that it is important that people think that I am 'right'. I don't think I hang on to resentments either. If something bothers me enough, I will say something, but I generally just let the little things slide. I wrote something about this last year. I'm no Zen master, and things still get to me, but the failings I carry around with me are mostly my own. 

I asked J what she thought I would say if after listening to my opinion on the flat screen tv she said, "this is important to me and I really think we should get it." I can say with lots of confidence that I would have agreed. She was bringing in a majority of the money to our household at the time anyway, and really, who wouldn't want to be talked into a fancy tv?

But clearly there was something between us that prevented open communication. So I need to look at myself and how I behave when I discuss things. It is of course possible that I am deluding myself in thinking I am so fair and balanced. Another friend said that in discussions and matters of opinion with his wife, he defers to the person who has the stronger feelings about the subject. That sounds like a pretty good place to start.

One more story. A man goes to a pastor about difficulties in his marriage. The pastor asks the man, "how long have you been lying to your wife?" The man gets indignant, proclaiming that he has always been honest and would not lie to his wife. The pastor just sits back, letting the man play out the rope. When the man finishes his rant, the pastor says, "when your wife asks what is bothering you and you say 'nothing', you are lying to her". Oh.

Arguing and fighting are certainly not the goal, but of course communication is so critical to any relationship. So be honest and open, learn from each other, stand up for what is important to you, trust in their understanding, don't let resentments grow, and if you must fight, fight fair. Give yourselves, each other and your marriage a chance.

More on running and spouses

As a follow up to my Finding Balance post, the current Runner's World (April 2010) has some interesting articles about running and non-running spouses (as well as being a running mom). The articles are excerpts from a book titled, Run Like a Mother: How to Get Moving - and Not Lose Your Family, Job or Sanity by Dimity McDowell and Sarah Bowen Shea.

From "The Two-Jock House":
"My husband likes to sweat. Exercise is like a toy both are kids are yanking at; somebody can play with it now, somebody has to wait to play with it later."

From "The Spouse: Married to a Nonrunner":
Husbands fall into two camps: those who run, or do similar sweaty endeavors, and those who don't...How do I know? Because I've had one of each. (her second husband is the non-runner).

When our marriage broke up unexpectedly (to me, anyway), I was bereft of a running partner as well as a life partner. Both were tough losses. so I daydreamed about replacing both by meeting a supersporty guy, someone with even more get-up-and-go than I have...

And then I met Jack. A guy who had last sprinted while trying to catch the El on his way to work...

...Like so many mommies, I run on weekdays while the rest of the clan is still deep in sleep. But on weekends, I head out after the sun has risen, and that leads to resentment. 

Interesting articles, worth grabbing a copy of the magazine or picking up the book.


I recently finished the book, Transitions: Making Sense of Life's Changes by William Bridges. It had been recommended by my counselor, and it was quite good.

A friend asked recently for my thoughts on some of the books I have been reading. Her comment was something to the effect that most self-help books sound great when you read the brief synopsis, but turn out to be mostly common sense. I can't really argue with that, but often it is in the way someone tells you something, even something you already know, that helps bring understanding. Whether it is a person or a piece of reading, we sometimes just need something outside ourselves to dust off our lens of vision.

In the book the author explains that we go through many transitions in our lives, great and small. He says they largely follow the pattern of - an ending, followed by a neutral zone, and then ultimately a new beginning. Common sense right? But the book does a great job of helping you understand the path through transition.

Endings are difficult. Most of us avoid them and their discomfort whenever possible. Some also ease the pain by beginning something new before the ending takes place, like beginning a new relationship before ending the current one. And the pain of the ending is not always related to the apparent importance of the change. "One person may be brought to a complete standstill by a divorce or a job loss, but another person may take it in stride. Someone else may come to terms with a debilitating illness and then be demolished by the loss of a beloved pet".

But it is important to experience the ending, to take the time to mourn. We shouldn't fight the experience or let others talk us out of it. "You are not the first person who ever lost a job (or moved or had heart surgery), but telling you that is of no help." Of course we need to try to keep things in perspective, and not imagine that there is no sequel, but we should not gloss over it like it is nothing. Your pain is your pain, and it is legitimate.

The second stage is the neutral zone, and it is probably the most important. Most people rush through this stage because it is a time of vagueness and uncertainty. It is a time when it feels like nothing important is happening, where we feel lost. It is a common reaction to change external things rather than work on the internal changes that need to happen. Many people distract themselves with shiny things and filling their lives with busyness.

But it is in this neutral time where most of the work is done (even if it doesn't feel like it). It is in the fallow time that the soil is renewed, and during sleep when our body repairs itself. The neutral time is like a "fertile time-out" where we can turn down the noise to listen for those quiet voices of healing to appear.

But it is difficult to be patient. We want to feel like we are "going somewhere". And it is also difficult to explain this time to friends and family. "'I want to think things over, I guess,' we say a little lamely. But then it turns out that once we are out there, we don't really think in a way that produces definite results. Instead, we walk the beaches or the back streets. We sit in the park or movie theater. We watch the people or the clouds. 'I didn't do much of anything,' we report upon on our return. And we feel a little defensive, as though we failed to deliver on our promise".

But the author assures us we shouldn't feel defensive. It is in the neutral zone that we get a angle of looking at things we don't get anywhere else. It is in this time of "attentive inactivity" that we see beyond the "reflected light of the familiar surface of things and see what is really there in the depths." It is a time of reorientation and realignment as you move from one phase of life to another.

Reading this book has helped reaffirm that what I am doing right now is important, and that I am making progress even if I can't point to something tangible yet. I am fortunate to be able to take this time away from things through the support of family, friends and even J. I don't know what I will find, or even if I will be able to explain it, but I believe that this time in the neutral zone will prepare me for what comes next.

I have only stepped away for a while, and I will still be "me" when I return. I have more reading and discovery ahead, and there will be plenty of work as I move toward a new beginnig. As the author says, the neutral zone is a "great place to visit, but you wouldn't want to live there.," And as he quotes in the book "As a wonderful Zen saying expresses it, 'After enlightenment, the laundry'."

Transitions: Making Sense of Life's Changes

Transitions: Making Sense of Life's Changes, Revised 25th Anniversary Edition

From unexpected places

I have recently moved from Washington to California to try to "learn the points of compass again" as I begin a new life. I felt that a new place would open me to experiences I might not attempt in the relative comfort of home. I am staying with some wonderful friends and the first month has gone well.

Instead of tv, they watch a fair number of movies. As they pull DVDs from their shelves or from Netflix pouches and ask me, "have you seen this one", it has become clear that I woefully behind on the cinema. We have seen some good films together including some smaller hits like: Spellbound, August Rush, and The Sandlot (now I get the reference of "you're killing me Smalls!").

Last night's flick was the 2009 remake of Fame. It's not exactly going to stand as a classic, but it was decent. There was a scene toward the end that I thought was good/poignant. The student Malik carries a lot of anger from his past, and throughout the film, his teacher Mr. Dowd reaches out to try to help. In their final scene together, he says:

"All that your ashamed of, 
all the parts of yourself that you keep secret, 
everything you want to change about yourself -
it's who you are. 
That's your power. 
Deny it, and you're nothing. 
And you'll never be much of an actor. 
Now you're good Malik, 
but you've got to start breaking down those walls 
and accept your circumstances. 
Just tell the truth."

Finding balance

There was an episode on the podcast "Running with the Pack" where they talked about what they called "mixed marriages" - those with one spouse who runs and one that doesn't. The woman on the podcast is recently divorced, and her husband was not a runner. They were discussing if it was more difficult than if both partners run, logistics, and the pressures to fit everything in.

When J and I met in 1999, I wasn't doing anything active beyond working in construction. She said she used to run regularly, but wasn't by the time we met. I started biking in 2002 and running in 2005. I kept it up as a way to challenge myself and stay in shape. It became an important part of my life and a great way to spend time with friends. Running has also been a great thing for my state of mind, a time to quiet the inner chatter and leave problems at the side of the road.

But both the events and all of the training took up a fair amount of time. Our time. J toyed with running and biking, which would have been great to do together, but neither of them stuck. So it ended up being mostly a solo pursuit.

But J was definitely involved. She bought me my first books about running, supported me at many of my events, and helped make my bike trip down the Pacific Coast possible. When she flew down to meet meet me in San Francisco, I said "we need to find a two week adventure for you, something I can support and help make happen." Unfortunately, she never decided on anything.

I participated in more and more things, and by 2007 I entered 16 different events. J was there for many of them to support and cheer me on, and I was very appreciative to find her in my corner. I thought things settled down a bit in 2008, but as I look back it turns out it was just as busy.

It is funny how your perceptions are so different from reality. I thought that J had been schlepping out to nearly all of the events, and that I had cut way back in 2008. It turns out that I had 17 events in 2008, an increase not a decrease, and that for the events she wasn't participating in, J was actually there for a bit over half of them in 2007 and 2008. In my head, I was giving both of us a bit too much credit.

I found out in counseling that she grew to resent being the "running wife". At the peak, there was at least one event every month. Too many weekends spent doing something that was almost entirely about me. I know I said a few times that she didn't need to be there, but of course she felt an obligation. The running and biking may have been doing me a lot of good, but it put a strain on our relationship and marriage. Both of us valued our "alone" time, and weren't one of those couples that felt we had to do everything together, but the training and events definitely cut into our "couple" time.

In 2009 I only participated in seven events, and planned to do my weekend training in the wee hours before she got out of bed so we could have the day to spend together. But these changes came too late. Like so many things, I wished she had spoke up long before it grew into resentment, instead of waiting until counseling to make her feelings known. Of course I should have been more considerate, and I suppose not accepted her answer of "I don't mind".

As counseling went on, it appeared that this was not one of our major problems, but it clearly was a source of frustration for her. And it was something tangible to point to that represented our lack of communication and understanding of each other's needs.

I certainly don't regret that running, biking and exercise have become a part of my life. I feel better both mentally and physically for having gone out on the roads, and I think that carries over to my relationships and the rest of my life. But I definitely could have done a better job of managing the negative impacts. In the end it becomes a balance between taking care of yourself, and taking care of your family. A balance I didn't strike very well.


Whenever I tell someone I am going through a divorce, one of the first ways they try to console me is, "well, at least you didn't have kids." I 99% agree with this, but not entirely.

When I was young, I just assumed I'd be married by 25, and have a couple of kids when I was around 30. I bought into (what used to be) the typical American story. Then when I was in my mid-twenties, I dated someone who did not want kids. It made me question why I assumed I'd have kids, and whether or not I actually wanted to. I've never had the driving need to have kids, and for a time, that was my answer. Why bring a kid into the world unless you can't imagine life without them.

When that relationship ended, I went back and forth about how I felt. In the end, I figured I would wait to see who I married and we'd figure it out together.

J and I delayed the decision to have kids for a long time. Most all of our friends and family already had kids, so there was the thin cloud of pressure to "join the club". When talking with friends about kids, we always talked about our "hypothetical kid" and the decisions we would make. It became a running joke, and our hypothetical kid was "practically perfect in every way" due to our incredible parenting skills. But beyond the joke, it seemed we were on the same page in our beliefs about raising children, at least on paper.

But we weren't getting any younger, so we had to decide whether or not we wanted a child. During our "hypothetical" stage, we had agreed that we wanted only one child. It just seemed right to both of us. Though I had not previously had the driving urge to have a child, once J and I started talking more seriously about it, my views began to change. I had never been drawn to children (nor they to me), but once we started moving past hypothetical, I started seeing children everywhere and in a new light.

Financially, it made the most sense for me to stay home with the child, at least initially. My job in real estate and lending offered me some flexibility, and J had the larger, more dependable salary. I had not envisioned myself as a Mr. Mom, but the more I thought about it, I was starting to look forward to it.

We started talking about it seriously in early 2008 and made the decision to have a child that summer. Not long after that, whatever thread was holding the marriage together for J unraveled.

Over the past couple of years, as thoughts of children started to take shape, I grew really close to the two kids of some close friends. They were so excited to see their "uncle", and it was a whole new world for me to spend time with them. We all went on a camping trip over the Labor Day weekend with a couple other friends. It was there that I finally opened up to the friends there, sharing all that had gone on while we stood around the fire. It was one of the first times I was able to talk about the divorce and all the feelings surrounding it without feeling overwhelmed emotionally. It was a nice moment and made me feel like I was starting to get my feet underneath me again.

When we were packing up to leave, I was sitting on a picnic table talking to my friend. Then her daughter came up to me with a flower and said, "Give this to J for me." It was so sweet, but it cut right through me, and I had to stop talking for a bit to try to keep it together. Later, when the cars were packed and it was time to leave, I was talking with these friends in front of their car. At some point, their daughter leaned out her car window and shouted, "say hello to J for me." Then her brother leaned out the other window and shouted the same thing. It soon became a chorus, and it broke through whatever facade of strength I had that weekend. Before it all spilled over, I mumbled a quick goodbye and jumped in my truck.

And now I am facing the reality that I will likely never have a child. I will be 43 this year, and though the clock doesn't tick as loudly biologically for a man, time is still running short. And I am coming to terms with what that means. And what I have been struggling with isn't that "I" won't have a child, it is that J and I won't have one. That unique person that would be more than a sum of our parts will never exist.

As I was intentionally on the fence until I met the woman I would marry, I am back to feeling unsure of what I want. I cannot think in the hypothetical anymore, and imagining a child without first knowing the mother makes no sense for me. Now that J is gone, I no longer have a clear picture of that life in my head.

So yeah, it is (mostly) for the best that we didn't have children. I can't imagine how difficult the divorce would be with children involved. But there is still that sense of loss, of what/who could have been, and I don't know if that will ever go away entirely. I don't know if our child would have brought us back from the brink to see love in an entirely new way, or the added stress would have accelerated the unraveling.

And as a strange twist on things, both J and I are living with other people's children right now. There are still wistful thoughts occasionally, but those are mostly taken over by the joy of the moment. For the time being, I will try to be the best "uncle" I can be.