What It Is to Not Want

What It Is to Not Want

The other day, a friend of mine asked for my hand in marriage. The salami, smoked mozzarella, basil, and grape tomato stromboli was so good, she asked me to marry her. This is my second marriage proposal this quarter. The prior request came from my favourite dive bar via Twitter. I explained politely that if marriage had taught me anything it’s that I’m not the marrying kind, but that I was sure we could come to some kind of arrangement. I don’t miss being married, which is very different from missing being with someone. I miss being with someone. I’m so used to sleeping alone my cat sleeps in the middle of the bed. I have to wake up in order to turn over. I don’t know what I would do if I had a man over to spend the night on a regular basis. I’m smart, I’m sure I’d figure it out. I also don’t see it happening anytime soon, so I have time to create something akin to a disaster plan.

In a little less than a month it will be the second anniversary of the finalization of my divorce. The writ is still on my refrigerator, but I don’t look at it anymore. I just haven’t gotten around to putting it away. I have asked people not to tell me what he is up to, but it happens anyway. One friend said the car is still on the road-barely. My dentist saw him, his girlfriend, and the kids at the Art Museum. Then there are other things I just intuit. When you are with someone for 14 years, you just know.

I can barely remember his face. I don’t remember his voice at all. I know he’s still on Facebook but I have blocked him. I’ve blocked members of his family as well. I know he has commented on articles friends have posted. I know he made a comment on an article about how women are fed up with doing the lion’s share of the emotional labour; it may have been this article from Harper’s Bazaar. His comment had something to do with dishes. I know this because our mutual friend’s response said the article had nothing to do with how dishewashers were loaded but that women did the vast majority of the day-to-day work required to make a house run. She didn’t mention that many women, myself included, are doing this on top of a full-time job.

In the article the author tells her husband she wanted a housecleaning service for Mother’s Day; her freelance writing job and their three children keep her busy. She wanted to be relieved of the burden of one chore. She knew how time consuming it would be why is why she asked as a gift, giving her husband plenty of time. He dragged his feet, called a single service, threw up his hands, and said they were too expensive. Then he, “vowed to clean the bathroom himself.” I know this well. In ‘the vow’, he vows to take upon himself the most onerous task. My ex’s version of ‘the vow’ involved the dishwasher. In my experience, the promise made in the vow never lasts more than a month, then it’s back to business as usual.

I, too, asked for a housecleaning service. My ex didn’t even put forth the effort. He told me that if I wanted someone to come in and clean, I had to do the research and phone references.I asked because I needed help. I needed relief from one task. Like countless times before, he said no then he complained ceaselessly about the messy house. I had to step around piles of laundry because he would not do them. I would take dishes down from the family room to the kitchen because he had not bothered to move them. I took out the garbage every week and shoveled after every snowfall. He would watch as I donned my snow gear and grabbed the shovel and say, I’ll do it or all you have to do is ask. When I asked, at first he would say, in a minute. Minutes would drag to hours which would drag into never. Then when I asked it was just no. The sad thing is, I shouldn’t have had to ask. And worse, I shouldn’t have had to explain to him that I shouldn’t have to ask.

I did the cleaning, all of the laundry, all of the grocery shopping, paid all of the bills and managed the household finances, scheduled medical appointment, dentist appointments, haircuts, regular car maintenance and repairs, packed his luggage for business trips, unpacked his luggage and did laundry. I made plane reservations, hotel reservations, and dinner reservations. I chose the health insurance plan. When I lost my job and he forgot to register for insurance through the Affordable Care Act, I made the arrangements and paid for COBRA coverage. I found all of our apartments in every town in which we lived. I found the house. I picked the paint and the light fixtures.  I was even responsible for finding daycare when we were trying to have a child. I found one but it’s services were never required.

When my requests for help were rebuffed and ignored, I did it myself. I did the work. I was too tired for sex. Too tired to fight also meant too tired to fuck. He never caught on. Whatever he said on Facebook, I knew he had not changed. He had learned nothing. Maybe he is more tolerant now that he has a child of his own, but I don’t know how long it will last. He gave me two years before he started complaining about how my work was having a negative effect on our marriage. In all that I never called him a nag. Women nag when their needs aren’t being met. And being called a nag negates our needs as invalid.

Now, of course, I manage my own household. I love my apartment but I feel little pride of place. It’s my mortgage, HOA fee, electric bill, vet bill, synagogue dues. I make my own medical, dental, hair, vet appointments. I do laundry. I go grocery shopping. I do all of the same things I did when I was married but I do them for myself. I maintain my life as best I can. Some things fall by the wayside. I can’t lie, there are weeks when I come home and I take out the foul-smelling garbage and the mountain of recycling and think no wonder my marriage failed. I can’t see marriage to another man being any different. I will never marry again. I don’t believe in marriage. As a woman, I think it’s a raw deal.

 

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900 Days

900 Days

“I’ve locked my heart
I keep my feelings there
I have stocked my heart
Like an icy Frigidaire
For I need to care for no one
That’s why I’m through with love” –I’m Through With Love. (Kahn, Malneck, & Livingston)

It’s June. Two months since I was taken off the medication. Two months since the first house I bought sold. Six months into 2017. Three months since I found out the ex’s girlfriend was pregnant. Six months since my brain tumour diagnosis. Six months since my last date. Six months since my root canal. 30 months since I last had sex. I give up. I don’t care. I’m through. I’m finishing before I start. If anyone asks:

  • No, not seeing anyone.
  • No, I’m not online. When I was I had one date in two years. Since the divorce I’ve had one date in two years.    Odds are the same.
  • Lonely? Sometimes.
  • Don’t you miss sex? Even if I do, what difference does it make? I’m late to the party. I married late and I divorced late. 
  • But you’re still young. That may be, but I was just as alone when I was young.
  • But other women your age… Probably never had trouble attracting men.
  • I have a friend who’s in her 60s and… I have those friends too and they’re seeing men who are my age. They also never had trouble attracting men.
  • You can’t just give up. I have to. Otherwise, I will beat myself up as opposed to just shuffle along, alone.

I never learned how to flirt. For some reason, I think the banter found in screwball comedies is sexy. (Except Bringing Up Baby. Bringing Up Baby is stupid.) Banter is witty, sharp, smart. I’m pretty sure I am alone in this. In the old studio system, MGM, not knowing what to do with my lack of sex appeal, would have photographed me with a men’s swim team. Oh I’ve had male friends tell me that intelligence is sexy, but when pressed they all admit that it was something physical that attracted them to their partners. One admitted that it was his wife’s legs that first attracted his attention and her brains that kept it. With another it’s that she was tall. Still another liked her curves. Friends like you for your brains. Another one told me he couldn’t understand why I’m still single-you’re smart, you’re funny, you’re attractive, guys here must be weird. No, I’m a middle aged woman without a spray tan, curves, and barrel curls. My demographic is limited. At some point I will explain to him what it is to be me. Then again, why? I’m through explaining. My friend asked me, who talks to you in the street? Well, the homeless men of colour who sit on the stoop by the gym call me cinnamon. If that’s tYounger men who can actually keep up with the conversation say things like, it was nice talking to you or I appreciate the honesty, even when it’s honest to a fault. I’m guessing this is code for you’re cool. I don’t think I need to reiterate what it means to be the cool girl.

The nausea returned this week. It hit on Monday morning when I awoke and stayed through Tuesday afternoon. It hit again this morning and ebbs and flows. This corresponds with a seven-fold increase in my prolactin level. It’s back above normal. I have been off the medication for two months. I’m sure this is not unusual but I had hoped that it would stay normal for a little longer. Now my doctor is talking watchful waiting and we’re both hoping that I plateau. Otherwise, we will try an older ergot derivative that I was on when I had the first tumour-the drug that did nothing. I’m frightened of this prospect. This also confirms something that I have suspected since the diagnosis; conventional antidepressants did not work on my depression because my depression is caused my prolonged exposure to above-normal levels of prolactin. Maybe now my mother and sister will stop trying to prescribe herbal supplements and short courses of antidepressants.

Passing Over

Passing Over

Oh, doctor please, oh, doctor please
I think you’ve made a mistake
I’m fine and I don’t need people
You don’t understand all my choices – Marianne Faithfull, “Vagabond Ways

After two months of constant nausea, dizziness, sleepiness, vivid dreams, and almost every other gastrointestinal and neurological side-effect there is, my doctor has taken me off Cabergoline. I took my last dose on April 1st. I am no longer dizzy nor am I having vivid dreams involving my ex-husband. I’m no longer continually nauseous, but I am still nauseous after eating certain foods: yeast breads, fruits that are high in sugar, red meat, most desserts, Chime’s Ginger Chews. Through it all, I still managed to drag my sorry ass to work every day, pay my bills, go to the gym, help a dear friend begin the decluttering process, and prepare the Passover meal for 13 people. My friend’s husband, also a dear friend, told me I was a gem and that my ex doesn’t know what he’s lost. I told him that what he may or may not have lost hasn’t occurred to him. He has what he wants now, or will soon enough.

My ex emailed me a little over a week ago asking what I wanted to do with my safe deposit box.  We haven’t spoken to each other in nearly a year. The email exchange was short, almost terse. I had forgotten about it as, while I still had the key, I had long ago removed the contents. I told him it was fine to close it and I would be more than happy to get the key to him in whatever way he liked. He asked me to mail the key to an address in Holland, PA. I did so, along with a stamp he bought that I found in my jewelry box, certified mail with a return receipt. I thought about including a note wishing them well but realised that I had nothing to say. Nothing. I thought about burning the return receipt but decided I will hold on to it for a little bit, in case he tries to say it never arrived. And with that, we no longer have anything to discuss. The last dandelion seed has been carried aloft. At some point, maybe my next free weekend day, I will take the divorce decree from the refrigerator and put it in my safe deposit box. Maybe I’ll replace those blinds with the balloon shades I have. Maybe I’ll finish painting the bathroom.

In the meantime, another Pesach has come and gone. This is the first one without my ex. While we have been apart for nearly two years, he attended my friends’ first-night Seder last year. Last year, as a single man on the prowl, he took it upon himself to spank me as he skunked around me to get to the garbage can, like I was a girlfriend. This year, I dished out the Fesenjan unmolested. Not that this Pesach was uneventful. While setting up, my friend told me about how his cousin’s widow had looked up an old college friend. It turns out he had never forgotten her and they were seeing each other. How nice for her, I said. Then he asked if I had any old college flames. No, I told him, I had no college flames, no high school sweethearts, no childhood loves. He’s asked me variants on this question before and the answer is always the same, no. I think he genuinely forgets this, but sometimes I wonder if he asks because he thinks the answer will be different. Then his spouse came down the stairs and told me the same story and asked the same questions. He was more persistent and finally I went down into the kitchen and cried.

I pulled myself together just in time for my sister to arrive. Who proceeded to tell me that, once again, I was fixating on the one thing I didn’t have and to stop.  She cradled my face in her hands and told me I was a pretty girl and I would be so much prettier if I grew out my hair, even a little bit. With my sister, I am the one who needs to change. I am the one who needs to make the sacrifice. It was my mother all over again, only younger and more stable mentally. Then she made the mistake of saying that she had “been there and done that.” Yes, I said, that is true. But you were also 30. It’s very different when you’re over 45.

She assumes that because she is older, she is automatically wiser. She married at 20 and divorced at 30, yes, but being young and single (regardless of circumstances) and without children makes you a hot commodity. Add to the mix that she is Mormon, She put herself on an LDS dating site and she had to fight them off with a stick; she fought off a lot of patriarchal cretins and philistines, it’s true, but she went to visit one in Utah. She also met the man who is now her husband. Married men fell for my sister. She told me how one such man was “besotted with her”. What’s that like, I asked. No man has ever been besotted with me and I doubt any man ever will. That’s just how it is for some of us and no matter how many times we have to explain (which we do as we live in a world where coupled is the goal and the norm), typical people just don’t understand. It’s not that we’re oblivious to the attentions of other people, we are acutely aware. What bothers me more is the puritanical attitude she has towards love and sex and affection. That I am supposed to deny the flesh and move on with life. That the needs of the body are nothing to the needs of the soul. These are primal needs to be overcome. A friend of mine put it into perspective when he said, No, these are basic human needs not things to be conquered or overcome.

At the Seder I was on the end so I could get up and check on food as needed and serve when ready. My friend was to my left and his first cousin once removed was on my right. First cousin and I sat quietly for minute or two when I said, you may not remember but we’ve met before. He looked up from his plate.

-We have. When?
-Their 30th anniversary party.
-That’s right, he said. I remember.

I also told him that I was sorry to hear about his father, who had passed away unexpectedly. He said he had been trying to process it rationally but was finding it hard. I said, my marriage feel apart two years ago. Some things cannot be processed rationally. Sometimes there is no why. Much like the anniversary party, we talked the rest of the evening. Occasionally during the Seder he would say things that were just loud enough for me to hear. His nervousness at reading Hebrew. Things like when my sister jumped up to help me serve he said very softly, you are on the other side of the table. Sit down. Everything is under control. I told her to sit down. That she was a guest. Then I told him she tends to need to be the big sister. At one point I while everyone was eating he said, Eat. You’ve done enough. It’s time for you to eat. During the Seder he ran his fingers along the embossed edge of his plate. When presented with a bowl of leeks he ran his fingers over my hands before taking the bowl. It felt like comfort but it was probably nothing.

-Do you want to exchange contact information, he asked?
-Are you averse?
-No.

And with that he is in my phone and I am in his. As he left with his friend he turned to me and said, I really enjoyed talking to you. And I you, I said. And off into the wee hours of the morning they went. I do not expect to hear from him. I just don’t. I will not get my hopes up. It’s best if I don’t. You see, in three years he’s gone from being cute, geeky, and prone to occasional outbursts along the lines of, why do people say where you at? What’s wrong with where are you? to handsome, thoughtful, and intelligent. After the initial meeting he told my friends how much he enjoyed talking to me, how he liked mature women. Of course, there are mature women and there’s getting involved with a 47 year old woman. But there isn’t going to be any involvement because I don’t expect to hear from him. All this raises some interesting questions. If I have your contact information because you asked me for mine, can I contact you first? Why ask for my contact information, if you’re not going to contact me? Why am I bothering, since I’m not going to hear from him? Not getting my hopes up.

And so another year goes by. A year ago I started writing. Two years ago I filed for divorce.

Beggars, Choosers, Winners, Losers

Beggars, Choosers, Winners, Losers

Actual conversation:

Acquaintance: Hey, I don’t know how you feel about set ups, but I know a (feminist) guy you might like.
Me: Hmmm… First question. How old?
Acquaintance: I’m actually not sure. maybe my age, maybe year older, so 36/37.
Me: How does he feel about dating a woman who is 10 years older?
Acquaintance: Are you really?
Me: Yes, I’m 47.
Acquaintance: I’m a terrible judge of ages. Definitely thought you were few years older. He’s pretty open. I’ll ask.

Uh, huh. I don’t expect to hear any more on the subject.

I don’t mean to disparage the person who offered, she meant well, but when I brought up my age I thought I heard the distinct sound of backpedaling. It sounds like Oh or Um of Hmmm. Sometimes it sounds like Ah. In my experience, if you hear ‘Ah’ it’s over. I heard it when guys would inquire after my sister and I would inform them she was married. This is something of a relief, to be honest. It saves me from having to hear Oh or Um or Ah during a face-to-face conversation. It saves me from having to sit across from another man who is having second thoughts and withdrawing. The last time I watched in happen in real time. I admit to being totally confused by what I saw. Now I know. Next time I’m walking out. It also means I have nothing to hide. In this day and age, women are duplicitous for wearing makeup and push-up bras. I could say that I’m 40 and when the truth comes out he could decide that he didn’t want to base a relationship on a lie.

In the end, my acquaintance will either go back to her friend or she won’t. If she does, he will decide to meet or he won’t. I have no control over any of those variables. I think I can safely say that his decision to meet or not will be based on his preconceived notions of a 47-year old woman. His mind may go to his mother and her friends, coworkers, women he sees who he assumes are over 40. The Internet is no friend. It’s menopause, invisibility, “this is what over 40 looks like” (read with a grain of salt), how to be sexy after 40, makeup rules, hair rules, fashion rules. You wind up throwing your hands in the air because either you care that you’ve broken a rule or you throw your hands in the air and you break the rules. There are few consequences for breaking the rules because, as you are not a celebrity, no one is looking at you. Occasionally there are satirical articles like women over 40 should never wear long hair, complete with pictures of celebrities with resplendent locks (because celebrities are just like us). The media often uses celebrities as examples of what women can and cannot do at certain stages of our lives. There were also a lot of articles about how we had been found dead; in our homes, at the grand canyon, falling off snowmobiles. Like I said, the Internet is not our friend.

There are a thousand variables at play but I can control only one-me. Today, sitting here right now, I’m not sure I care. A lunch or dinner date would entail me spending more time looking at the menu for something that might not make me sick than engaged in conversation. I can’t drink, so no social lubricant. My body can’t tolerate sugar right now, so no dessert. Small talk is a nightmare. So what do you do? Yes, I’m a librarian. No, not a second career. It is cool. I like books but I don’t have time to read at work. What’s your dog’s name? I have a cat. How old is your daughter? I don’t have any children. No, My cat is not my child. Who’s your favourite Doctor? She told me he has brown hair, brown eyes, and a goatee, is around 5’10”-6′, and is a “out of shape but not overweight”. Brown hair, brown eyes, goatee, a little out of shape, and around 5’10” is how I would have described my ex-husband when we first met. The more she went on the worse it got. He likes sci-fi and fantasy. He loves Doctor Who. He works in IT. I knit my eyebrows together and thought, oh no.

I am a nerd. I like books and movies, and science and technology and science fiction and body horror. Yes, I like Doctor Who but I don’t want it to be a criteria for dating and mating. Cards Against Humanity is fun but I don’t do games. I hate game night. I’d rather spend the even home with popcorn and Cronenberg than go out for fucking game night. Game night with couples is like finding the end of the Internet. You sit there wondering has it came to this? I like art and theatre and comics and wine and all kinds of music but I hate musical theatre. Musical theatre is asinine. I also like cars and motorcycles and whiskey and sports. I played hockey, baseball, softball, and volleyball. I watched boxing with my father and would really like to see a boxing match live. I would love to drive a rally car on an actual rally track. I deserve a Pagani Zonda. Apparently these qualities, instead of making me a well-rounded person, make me difficult to type. We all must fit a type. We must fit neatly into the forms that online dating profiles require. I hate being pigeonholes, yet here I am.

I find myself drawn to bigger men. I’m finding myself drawn more to men around my age with a little something to show for it; signs of a life lived, not so clean, not so perfect. I like a man who isn’t easily intimidated. I want a man to be forthright with me. I’ve heard men complain how women are not direct with them, but they do the same things. It’s ok if you don’t like something I like, we’ll work around it. Fortunately, my ex hasn’t killed my enthusiasm for dark hair or dark eyes nor has he ruined facial hair. I prefer facial hair be kept under control. The big beard, like musical theatre, is ridiculous, except for The Persian God. The Persian God is a young man who lives in my community and he looks like something out of a Persian bas relief-right down to the perfectly angled beard. He’s amazing. He’s also nice, gregarious, and gay. Forearm tattoos… I may be one of the few women who finds a man’s hands and forearms to be sexy to the point of distracting. One day I missed my subway because I was transfixed by a man with beautiful hands and forearms seated across from me reading El Diario. There’s a bartender at one of the local dive bars who has black hair, black eyes, and sleeve of tattoos. He’s also fairly shy around me. I want him to mix me drinks and serve me macaroni and cheese wearing an apron and nothing else. I want him to call me Domina. I want him to kneel before me like I am a queen. I want him to lock the bar doors and go down on me like he means it. I want to run my fingers through those curls and hold those shoulders for dear life. I don’t get what I want. I don’t ask.

Which brings me to, he’s pretty open. Pretty open might go on a date with an older woman, just to see, but there won’t be a second. He has his pick of women his own age and younger. Pretty open is not going to be receptive to being tied up and smacked with a riding crop on occasion. Pretty open is not going to be receptive to wearing a dog collar while being ordered around. Pretty open is not going to like the idea of wearing a pair of women’s side-tie underwear under a pair of jeans or a suit. He won’t like the feeling of being off-kilter. He is allowed to have preconceived notions and so am I. I’ve yet to meet a man who was willing to submit. As a woman, that’s supposed to be my nature. I comply. I submit willingly. And you know what, sometimes I do but it isn’t the essence of my being. It’s hard for me to not say, if pretty open is anything like my ex but I can’t help myself. I need a fresher start.

It’s Drug Therapy, Not Chemo.

It’s Drug Therapy, Not Chemo.

There is a moment in Fight Club, my favourite romantic comedy. You know the one. Chloe, a woman with terminal cancer, steps up to the podium. She is thin. Her hair gone, she wears a scarf on her head. Her cheekbones stand in sharp relief, likely from Cancer Anorexia Cachexia (I work in cancer so I know this stuff). She is a little sheepish at first but she composes herself and announces that she wants to get laid one last time. She has everything a prospective sexual partner would need to participate. She is considerate, she does not expect him to enjoy the experience, per se, so she provides the necessary inducements-her willingess, porn, lube, and drugs. After all, who would want to have sex with a dying woman. She is in this for her own pleasure, her own need, her own desire. She fights so hard to be seen for the woman she is as opposed to the neutered invalid. When you are sick, you are supposed to dedicate yourself to recovery, survival. You are supposed to be noble and unselfish in your suffering. Pleasure, sexual pleasure in particular, is frivolous.

I do not have cancer. I have a brain tumour. As someone who works in cancer the two are different but, in this instance, there are similarities. In this country we have started to treat cancer like a chronic disease, something that needs long-term monitoring and management. Most benign brain tumours do not recur, but pituitary adenomas recur in anywhere from 24-36% of patients. Mine came back in seven. They are more likely to recur if an adenoma remnant is seen on MRI post cessation of treatment. The larger the tumour the more likely there is to be a remnant, making recurrence more likely. I had one follow-up appointment with the surgeon and one follow-up appointment with the endocrinologist after my surgery. Neither scheduled an MRI. Had I known then what I know now, I would have asked. The surgeon was so confident he removed it all that he told me to go and never come back. Subsequent MRIs were done without contrast, rendering them useless.

Now that I am being treated for a recurring tumour it’s hit me that I have a chronic illness that will require constant monitoring and management. I can never be without health insurance and I can only hope that I don’t get dumped into a high-risk pool. I will continue to need blood tests and will likely go on medication again until menopause. Pituitary adenomas are known to cause infertility in women (part of that whole HPG axis). Drug therapy can be discontinued after menopause and prolactin levels can be allowed to continue to rise until such time as imaging is required to determine whether the adenoma has reached a clinically important size (1). That elevated prolactin levels have been associated with impaired sexual function (PMID:26902871), major depressive disorder (PMID:24182617), worsening of cognitive processes (PMID:26701376), reduced quality of sleep (PMID:25792374) and depression, all of which may persist after biochemical cure (PMID:25605584) is of little consequence. In short, if you are of an age where fertility is not part of the equation then you are supposed to live with it; coming from those who know precious little about what living with it means.

Five weeks in, nausea is still my constant companion. It doesn’t wake me in the middle of the night anymore. Now it hits the next day about two hours after I’ve eaten breakfast. Sometimes it lingers throughout the day, immune to the Chimes Ginger Chews my sister sent me. Sometimes it subsides just long enough that I can eat something and then it returns. I see my doctor in four weeks. She will see that I am not tolerating the medication as well as we had hoped. I have lost weight that I did not need or have to lose. As I write this I have been going back and forth about whether I should get something for lunch. Most days this is a difficult decision. Should I eat and feel sick or not eat and feel sick? There is no difference between the two. By the time I decide the cafeteria at work is often closed or whatever I brought with me has lost its appeal. We will discuss the side effects, how long before the next round of labwork, how I’m doing, whether I’m seeing anyone, when we’re going for ice cream or lunch. I will tell her that I haven’t spoken to my ex in nine months but I can still fill her in on the major details. I can tell her that I had five dates with a man who walked away because he feared intimacy. I can tell her that I celebrated my negative STD panel with sushi at a Chinese restaurant. I can also tell her that while I am no longer grieving the loss of my marriage, I am going back and forth between the anger and depression stages of grief in the loss of intimacy. Yep, I miss sex more than I miss the man. He was my first and only and I foolishly thought there would be others. Now, with my face sunken from constant nausea and sleepiness, I’m not so sure. I’m not sure there’s a point. I don’t see a point to dating when everything I eat makes me sick. It makes lunches and dinners difficult. And that saddens me now in a way that grieving the end of my marriage does not. I will not be able to stuff that emotion down sitting in the exam room getting my yearly.

The strange and vivid dreams continue. Last night, a woman I did not know tried to have sex with me. I wasn’t interested. She got bored, wished me well, and left. The night before I walked into a barnwood red house that had steep and narrow staircase that wound down in front of an enormous picture window. As I descended, I realised that the opening between the stairs and the ceiling was too small for me so I ascended the stairs, found another way out, and left. As I continued the tour of the neighbourhood I entered a large, clean, well-appointed house; well-appointed and silent. I was alone among the marble countertops, stainless appliances, fireplaces, dark hardwood floors, and stone walls. It was exciting and lonely. A few nights ago, I dreamed that I ran into my ex-husband and his girlfriend. He insisted of showing me his new houses. I say houses because they were two enormous Victorian manses connected by a third floor bridge. The houses were dark, as many of the period were, with large rooms, dark wood paneling, and dark wood floors. He was most impressed that he bought two houses and that the two were connected by a bridge, but the bridge was crumbling. I watched as bits of wood fell away and beams rotted. I bid them both good day walked up a hill to a large brick apartment complex buzzing with neighbours, walked in, and found myself an apartment. The houses struck me because I remember seeing something similar from the New York State Thruway as a little girl and being fascinated. Who lives there? Why a bridge connecting the two houses?

All this while I am trying to figure out how to get unstuck. I feel stuck in my dealings with my ex and even more stuck in my dealings with my mother. Dealing with my ex will be infinitely easier. We are no longer on speaking terms and last night I told two of my friends who are still on speaking terms with him that I no longer wanted to know what was going on in his life. They were most understanding and thought it was a good idea. They also expect him to fade from their lives once he moves away and the baby comes. Two weeks ago I found a stamp my ex bought while on vacation. I put it in my jewelry box to keep it safe while we moved and found it there while looking for a pair of earrings. I have decided to give it back. We have one more set of mutual friends. I will give the stamp to them and ask them to return it to him and tell him I wish him well. I will also tell them that I no longer wish to be informed of my ex’s comings and goings. Then I will delete some of the pictures I have of him, not all as some are good.

As for managing my mother in the short term, that has become managing my family in the short term. I found out that my sister is not my ally. When I tried to discuss managing our mother with her she countered with how our mother is dealing with depression, anxiety, and OCD. How I insist our mother change her behaviour without doing anything in return. As someone who is trying to manage her own mental illness I am aware of these things and take them seriously, but our mother is not managing her mental illness. While she is taking medication she is letting her mental illness manage her. She either cannot or will not seek therapy. She takes her frustrations out on our father and me. When I told my sister that I needed to rebuild my self-esteem she told me I should not base my self-esteem on the opinions of others. While this is true, we are talking about our parents and from whom do a person’s first impressions of himself or herself come from but parents. This is what my sister does. She plays the big sister who knows so much more than her little sister. She says things that are true but not helpful. She is Mary Bennet dispensing the obvious. And I have lost another confidante. I still don’t know what to do about our mother except shore myself up a little more in time for her return in the summer.

So much for my summer of love.

1 Snyder, PL. Management of Hyperprolactinemia. UpToDate, Post TW, UpToDate, Waltham, MA, 2016.

This Bird Has Flown

This Bird Has Flown

So why you wanna fly, Blackbird?
You ain’t ever gonna fly
Why you wanna fly, Blackbird?
You ain’t ever gonna fly

You ain’t got no one to hold you
You ain’t got no one to care
If you’d only understand, dear
Nobody wants you anywhere -“Blackbird” Nina Simone.

It’s Not Just You. Americans are Having Less Sex. When a Partner Dies. Grieving the Loss of Sex. The Complexity and Simplicity of Female Erotic Desire. Maybe Monogamy Isn’t the Only Way to Love. There’s a Word for the Assumption That Everybody Should Be in a Relationship. Then there are the articles like When Factory Jobs Vanish, Men Become Less Desirable Partners and All the Single Ladies. What have I learned, apart from the fact that I shouldn’t read this garbage? That being an educated, single, woman of a certain age and income, women like me outnumber men with similar qualifications as much as three-to-one. With those kinds of numbers men can play the field, so to speak, with whomever they choose for as long as they like. As someone who is not marriage-minded, the idea of men playing the field is nothing to me, and it is nothing new to me either. Women were just starting to outnumber men in college, public colleges especially, so I sat back and watched as guy after guy had the steady girlfriend and played the field to his heart’s content.  Then there are men in without college degrees.  According to a study from MIT, cited extensively in When Factory Jobs Vanish, as the labour market declines so do the marriage prospects of young men. A man’s ‘marriagability’ is tied, for better or worse, to his ability to provide (not being an alcoholic or a drug addict also factor into the mix). As women have made gains in the labour market and the stigma of unwed motherhood has decreased, young women see no reason to marry. Many women still feel the need to marry up for security and when there is no up to marry to they go it alone.

Marriageable, available, ‘high-status’ men can be as choosy as they like; they are the top 20% of men who are having 80% of the sex with 20% of the women. The remaining 80% of us sit it out; the men deprived of sex and the women deprived of “male attention that leads to commitment.” Granted, Susan Walsh applied the Pareto principle to college-age subjects. I would argue that dating at any age is like dating in college. A small sliver of men are having most of the sex with the 20% of women who are sexually willing. Not looking to marry, you would think I have an advantage but I don’t. I am in the 80% who sit it out. And I dread the thought of putting myself out there because I don’t need to be reminded that I am in the 80% who sit this one out. It’s not like I think I’m entitled to sex, it’s that I know I’m not. There are articles out there about how young men are not having sex nearly as often as you think. I don’t know who this hypothetical ‘you’ is. I had a really good idea of how much sex the young men in my acquaintance were having because they had no trouble telling me. But the fact remains that men are not entitled to sex, no matter how much they think they are. And I would venture a guess that many are not having sex because they can’t see beyond some ideal that they think will make them happy and they know will make their friends jealous.

This is more me and I think is a glimpse of my future when I venture into online dating.

Being a 43-year-old, single ambivert who desires a long-term relationship but telecommutes and lives alone is far from easy. I’ve downloaded a handful of online dating apps to my iPhone, all with the intent of swiping until I find a match that sticks. Each time I think: Maybe this time. Three days later, I delete my profile thinking: Never again.

On the rare occasions that I’ve swiped right, nothing has happened. I know online dating works for people, other people. It’s a social act for “capital E” extroverts who have no problem with get-to-know-you banter. I haven’t been on a single online date, unless you count the time I made a long-distance friend playing Yahoo Hearts in 1999 and dated him nine years later. -“I’m not an extr0vert-and that makes it harder to find love. Washington Post. 1/18/2017

The author goes on to say that when she finds love it will be because “she meets a man in person under natural, pressure-free circumstances.” It’s a nice sentiment but she knows as well as I that being introverted and middle-aged finding a romantic partner will be difficult. Like the author, I have filled my life with wonderful supportive people, they are overwhelmingly couples and single women because that’s how it goes. I have filled my life with work and exercise (training for the marathon again because I’m a glutton for punishment) and music and art. My life is full and busy and it should be enough, but it isn’t. I too eat alone, sleep alone, ask where’s my partner, what happened? What the author does not mention is that there is a common conception that as single, middle-aged women this is the best for which we can hope. Particularly as one who is divorced there is a sense that I brought this upon myself;  you’re 47 years old what did you expect? You had a partner and you left him. This is what you get. You don’t get to miss sex and intimacy the way that someone whose long-term partner has passed away. You can’t talk about how much you miss sex mostly because you either don’t miss or can’t stand the person with whom you had sex. It’s maddening and it’s perjorative. I’m not going to say it’s unfair because I’m one of those adults who learned at a very early age that life is unfair. I don’t need to be reminded over and over. I’m a woman, I’ve swallowed worse.

 

I Keep Telling Myself, Nie Mój Cyrk, Nie Moje Małpy

I Keep Telling Myself, Nie Mój Cyrk, Nie Moje Małpy

Not my circus, not my monkeys.

 I stopped reading the Love & Sex section of The Guardian, for obvious reasons. Today, however, a piece caught my eye. Women and Desire: The Six Ages of Sex. I scrolled down to the woman in her 40s, started reading, and rolled my eyes. She’s 41. The only thing that kept me from laughing out loud is that I am at work, on a national holiday, when most people I know are off. This is a metaphor for my sex life right now. While most people I know are married or hooking up or consciously abstaining from sex I am removed from it. Anyway, like most stories, she was divorced in her 30s remarried and now that she is in her “forties” she is a mother having spectacular sex with her second husband. I wondered if she would be so cheery were she in my situation; divorced at 46 surrounded by married couples and younger single women and nearly invisible because, “The last thing most divorced men want is women of the same age, education and outlook. You protest: this is unfair. I can only tell you of my own experience, which is that mid-life men have high expectations, a situation exacerbated by being outnumbered three to one by women.”

My situation is closer to that of Stella Grey, the author of The Guardian’s Midlife Ex-Wife Column. She confirmed what I already suspected about love, sex, and online dating. In 2014, when she started the column, she was 50. She tried online dating for 693 days before her last first date. I’m about ready to give up before I even try. I have a knack for attracting deeply sexist men who are drawn to my strength then try and hold me down. Single men here are outnumbered 12:10. Take a room and let in one hundred men. Now let in one hundred and twenty women. You get the idea. Some of us go home alone.  I scrolled down tempted to make a comment, but found someone had made it for me.

“Yes, that was my thought too. I read ’41’ and may have audibly snorted.”

This was a response to a post by someone who argued that 49 is very different from 41. Like any woman in her 40s I would say that is true to a point. But, in my case, not in the way the commentator may have intended. At 41, I would never have dreamed of completing a marathon, running, keeping up with women and men over half my age in yoga and Pilates classes. Physically, I’m in the best shape since college. I own my home. I’m managing my finances. I have great friends-near and far. My sense of humour has returned. My life if infinitely better than it was six years ago, better than it was two years ago. That doesn’t mean my life is perfect nor does it mean that my life isn’t hard. No matter how many friends I have, in the end I am still alone. I have to fend for myself. I have to catch me when I fall.

In 2011, I was 41. We were living in a 600 square foot apartment about as far out in Philadelphia as one could be and still be within city limits. I was paying all of the bills, doing all of the chores, taking high-powered injectable fertility drugs trying to get pregnant, working full time, and dealing with my increasingly unstable husband. My ex would encourage me to go get more exercise but would saddle me with all of the household duties. I was working full-time and doing everything else and he would sit and play video games and wonder why I was so tired all the time. We did everything together. My friends were his friends. His interests were my interests. I stopped having things that were mine. When my camera broke it didn’t get replaced. When he needed things, he got them. He put his needs before mine and I let him. There was no escaping. As I sit here now, I almost typed not that I ever thought of escaping. This is when I started to think about, not just dream of escaping.

Deep down, I knew the injectable drugs were not going to work. I knew the numbers we were being told at the fertility clinic were inflated. We were given numbers like 50% success when the reality was significantly lower, closer to 23%. What I did not count on were his roller coaster moods. I had to be the steady one. He took my steadiness for callous indifference. Since he was falling apart, I had to keep it together and he resented me for it. I don’t know if it was a calculated maneuver on his part but I had no time for me. I couldn’t even think of me. We did everything together. My being alone was dangerous. He hated being alone more than being with me. So long as I was around his basic needs were being met. In the scheme of things, it is better to be wanted than needed. Wants change, but we resent those we need.

And now he needs someone else. I’ve already mentioned that his girlfriend is around seven months pregnant. What I have learned in the interim is that the house, I bought it and sold it to him when we split, is on the market. There were three bids on the first day, something I attribute to my superior taste and judgment. Last I heard it is down to two. I found this out when one of my friends saw me at dinner and said, I think I have a small sense of what it was like to be married to your ex. He went on to tell me how my ex-husband asked them to witness and sign some real estate documents in front of a notary. True to form, he had not bothered to find a notary and proceeded to have a “meltdown”, a “temper tantrum” when finding one proved difficult. My friend said, it was like dealing with a five-year old. To make matters worse, and also true to form, when he got what he wanted he abandoned them at the bank. I was mortified. My friend was right, he was describing the last three-to-five years of our marriage. The differences were that when we were together I did the legwork to keep the tantrums to a minimum and when he had meltdowns I was the one left to clean up the mess and mend the fences. It was never enough. He hasn’t changed. He hasn’t grown. It hasn’t been necessary.

But there’s something else and this is what surprises our friends the most. They’re still not married. Personally, it is nothing but a curiosity to me. Perhaps, both being divorced, neither has any interest in marrying. I can certainly understand. I have no interest in marrying again. Here is a man who had a definite trajectory for our relationship-courtship, marriage, children, career (his career), retirement, death. Yet, this time he has skipped a step or two.  He is still working as a scientific consultant but who knows if he and his collaborators will continue to get grant funding. Perhaps, like many things, he planned but did not think they would be so successful so soon. That, I think, was part of the episode with my friends. He knew the house would sell, just not so soon and he has no contingency plan. He knew she would get pregnant, maybe just not so soon. She got pregnant right after she moved in, if my math is correct. All of this is converging now and, as usual, he has no back-up plan. He has been working his entire life without a net. Someone, be it his parents or me, has been there to catch him when he fell and make him look good. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if his parents or her parents are there to catch them. Maybe they will live with her parents until they find a place to live? Who knows. Not my circus, not my monkeys. I have my own monkeys-like the recurrence of a benign brain tumour.

I watch all of this with a certain wonder. Sometimes I wonder why I spend so much time and mental energy on someone I no longer love and have no desire to be with. I don’t wish him ill but that doesn’t mean I wish him well. I want him to learn something, to have learned something, but it looks like he hasn’t. Someone else will be there to pick up the pieces for him.