Boxes on the Hillside. Lines in the Sand

Boxes on the Hillside. Lines in the Sand

Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky tacky.
Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes all the same. -Malvina Reynolds, Little Boxes

“Pretty open” has apparently expressed an interest in meeting me but there is a snag. The person who approached me wanted to introduce us at “game night”.  Game night, as I understand it, is when you get a bunch of friends together to play board or card games. I can think of nothing more trying than playing board games. Except, perhaps, playing board games with people I barely know under the pretense that we are all geeks here so we must love board games. What’s more, I am being set up with one of the attendees. I’ve been going back and forth on which level of hell this is. When I told her I hated game night, she countered with Cards Against Humanity. Her husband is obsessed; her words not mine. I play Cards Against Humanity on occasion-with friends. I don’t play that game with strangers. I went back to my acquaintance and told her that I would rather meet him for lunch or coffee. Boring though this may be, meeting in public is infinitely safer for me on a number of levels. And while I am not one of those women who obsesses over her safety, I’m not an idiot.

I’m losing interest. When she introduced him she thought we’d hit it off because he’s in IT, he likes sci-fi, he likes Dr. Who, he likes good food and wine, and he’s generous and kind. Well, I like science fiction but it isn’t the only thing I read. I like Doctor Who but I haven’t watched the new incarnation much because, frankly, I don’t care for it very much. I’m very competitive and don’t like to lose. Most board games are dull. My preferred card games are poker and bridge, although I have to learn to play bridge over again. He likes good food and wine, to which I say who doesn’t. Of course he’s generous and kind. You wouldn’t be friends if he weren’t. I have people in my life whom I have known for years who wouldn’t dream of setting me up and yet a person I met eight months ago wants to set me up with someone? I should be flattered but it makes me very uncomfortable. It feels presumptuous. It feels weird.

I can only guess that in her mind I fulfilled the requirements for nerd and I must like nerds. I understand the need to find your own tribe. I mentioned once before how feminism and punk saved my life. When you’re young finding your people is essential to survival. Now that I am older I have family, not people. At my age, my tribe should be middle-aged women with grown children who might be out of the house. It’s like when a friend of mine told me we needed to mend fences and attend activities sponsored by my synagogue’s womens’ group.

-What do women talk about when they get together, I asked?
-Their kids, their grandkids, and their husbands, she said. She was very matter-of-fact.
-How can I participate in that conversation, I asked? I have none of those things.

She went on to say that if we all went, there would be women of all ages and backgrounds. No, I told her. We go where we will fit in, where we feel welcome. I have sat in silence many times as women around me discussed their children, grandchildren, schools, married life, toilet training, finding childcare. I learned early on to take a book to outings so I have something to read as I will have little or nothing to say. I can’t even discuss what’s on TV as I don’t have a television. I read, I watch movies, I draw, I exercise, I go to museums and galleries, I’m a street photographer, I visit friends, I listen to the radio, I cook and bake for fun. I know there are things on this list that I share with most other women but when women get together they talk about their children, their grandchildren, and their husbands. Some would argue that the impetus to find common conversation is on me to which I ask if you’ve ever killed a conversation? I have. Once conversation strays from what most people find familiar, it dies.

In order to be desirable we must comparmentalise ourselves, fit ourselves into ever-smaller, increasingly tidy packages fit for categorisation and consumption. To be a well-rounded person with varied interests, conflicting emotions, and viewpoints is messy. We value simplicity over complexity, purity over sulliedness, the explicit over the implicit or the subtle. Mystery has no place. We spend so much time and effort isolating ourselves we don’t want to do the hard work of actually connecting. If I declare myself to be femandrogynous, heterosexual, Sephardi Jewish, punk, over-educated, artist, elite athlete, then who is like me? I have drawn my lines in the sand but who is willing to cross? Who is willing to stay?

I am not saying we should not be who we are, that we should not declare who we are. But we should be the ones to define ourselves and declare our findings as we see fit, and we should be prepared to face the consequences of our declarations, or non-declarations. I know a bisexual woman who lives as a married, heterosexual woman because she does not want to be defined by her sexual preference, she says. She has told no one but me. That is her choice, but her reasons are more complex than her statement belies.  She belongs to a very conservative, heteronormative faith.  She does not want to be defined by her sexual preferences because to do so would make her a social outcast. I know many for whom the struggle to be who they truly are has been arduous and ongoing. Many times it is either because the language finally exists to describe who I am or the language has always existed but now has been codified.

As for myself, I have always been and always considered myself to be highly androgynous. When asked in a college class if I had ever thought about what I would be like were we the opposite sex (be nice, this was over 20 years ago and gender was binary, there was no intersectionality, and privilege applied to the affluent), I said that I couldn’t imagine myself being a different person because I am that person. It’s not that I couldn’t see myself outside of my female self, it’s that I still saw myself as being a rational, intelligent, passionate, compassionate man just like I saw myself as a rational, intelligent, passionate, compassionate woman. The only differences I saw were purely physical. I’d probably be taller. I’d have a penis and testicles instead of a vagina, uterus, and ovaries. The trappings would be different but the person would be the same. It is only now that androgyny is spoken of, but legally recognised, as a non-binary gender identity. There are femandrogynes-androgynes who feel more feminine than masculine. There are mascandrogynes-androgynes who feel more masculine than feminine. Versandrogynes/Neutrandrogynes who feel a mixture of both or none at all. That there is language beyond an aesthetic is all new to me.

If I have the outward trappings associated with androgyny and believe that I would be the same person regardless of whether I was born with one x chromosome or two, does that make me androgynous?  If I declare it, is it true? Is that enough? Does being cisgendered mean that you necessarily buy into everything that comes with what is ascribed to femininity and masculinity? Including gender roles? Are we still basing notions of gender on outdated norms? Are they outdated if they still exist and persist? When women are labeled as androgynous it is usually for aesthetic reasons. We tend to be thin, white, some would call us butch or soft butch. The default aesthetic is masculine. Dominant culture makes all sorts of assumptions about our sexual preferences, because what heterosexual man wants anything other than what is typically feminine. That it could be anything other than aesthetic is absurd. Unless, of course, these are all women who secretly wish to be men. I don’t.

Once in bed, the man I was seeing pulled me on top so I could “feel what it was like to be a man.” I stopped and said I don’t need to know. It was as though power was gendered, that a man’s place was on top, and perhaps it was to him. I am powerful whether I am on top or whether I am enveloping the man I want. I feel gorgeous in a dress or a skirt and heels and I feel sexy in a shirt and tie; they are different but not unrelated feelings. The dovetail nicely with my introverted/domme-huntress nature. (I use feminine pronouns.) Not that the introvert wears dresses and the huntress wears ties. It speaks more to the duality of my nature. It’s a duality that I find hard to reconcile sometimes. The introvert is not terribly interested in meeting IT professor. The domme-huntress is very interested in pursuing the neurobiologist whose late father was a rabbi. The introvert keeps the domme-huntress from texting the neurobiologist and asking him out to a movie. The domme-huntress gets the introvert out of her shell. To me there is nothing inherently masculine or feminine about any of this. I just is.

 

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.

The Saddest Music in the World is in Your Head

The Saddest Music in the World is in Your Head

My divorce became final a year ago yesterday. On December 3rd of 2015 the divorce decree arrived in the mail. Sometime in early November of last year my ex-husband phoned me and he sounded pissed. They lost our filing, he said, that’s why it’s taken so long. They have to reconstruct our July filing from the April initial filing. You mean to tell me, I asked, that we have been married for the past three months due to a clerical error? Tell me you can’t see that humour in this? The Clerk of the Court was most apologetic and a week later she phoned my ex to tell him that our filing had been reconstructed and the papers were on the judge’s desk. The week after that she phoned to say the judge was taking time off before the Thanksgiving holiday and that our filing would be signed before the month was out. It’s still on my refrigerator a year later.

My therapist asked me, since I had been thinking so much about my part in my divorce, what WAS my part in the breakup of my marriage. (In no particular order)

  • I did not love being married. I’m not sure I even liked being married.

    All of a sudden I went from making my own arrangements and looking after myself to making all of the arrangements and looking after two people and I hated it. I couldn’t understand why all of a sudden it was my job to do, well, everything. I thought we were going to be a team, and we were at first, but then I became part of a unit.

  • I mourned the loss of my independence and freedom.

    I really liked being single. It’s like Tom Waits said, “Goin’ out when I want to, comin’ home when I please./ I don’t have to ask permission/If I want to go out fishin’./And I never have to ask for the keys.” Granted, I was in one of the greatest places in the US to be single-New York. Don’t get me wrong, New York can be tough. Most of my fellow grad school recruits left after the first  year. I loved it. I became a New Yorker. I found my neighbourhood. I found my family. I went to the opera and the theatre and sat in the cheap seats (Family Circle). I stood outside of Irving Plaza and listened to Sleater-Kinney. I went to the Fringe Festival and Richard Foreman’s Ontological-Hysteric theatre. I volunteered at a film festival just so I could hear Andre Gregory. I went to baseball games with my fellow librarians. I had a great life and I gave it up when I got married.

    Being a virgin, I didn’t crave sex like I do now; I didn’t know what I was missing. Even mediocre is better than none.

  • I stopped talking to him.

    This is what I do when I do not see a point. There was no point in telling my parents I was sexually assaulted because, what were they going to do? There was no point in telling them about the daily humiliations and indignities I suffered in school because there was no point. We argued about the same things time and time again. Finally I gave up, which brings me to my next point.

  • I gave up.

    Winston Churchill is credited as saying, “Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, give up. Never give up. Never give up. Never give up.” Well, you know what? I did.  I gave up. I pulled up stakes and followed him around the country. I let his quest for a career overshadow my established career because I thought I could get a job anywhere. For the most part, I was right. But I was tired of the uphill battles. I was tired of asking him for a more equitable distribution of household labour only to be met with I know we fight about this a lot. I was tired of telling him he hurt my feelings only to be met with it wasn’t what I said it was how you took it. I was tired of the incessant negativity. I was tired of being told that what I felt was wrong.

  • I turned him down for sex a lot.

    I am not the type of woman who punishes a man by withholding sex, unless that is part of the consensual dynamic of your BDSM relationship-then oh! Otherwise, it’s mean and childish. Besides, why deprive myself of the pleasure. That being said, foreplay was fast and sloppy and the sex got boring. It also hurt like hell. It is hard to get excited about something that causes tearing, burning pain every time you’re engage. He knew it hurt and he tried to accommodate me, but it didn’t work. Oral sex felt great but I couldn’t move the way I needed; he’d pin down my legs. The more I fought the more he resisted. And he was always in a hurry.

    Sex became another source of mutual frustration. He wanted sex all the time. I found the sex to be wanting and I’m sure he did too. While he had no trouble initiating, it was very difficult to get him to respond. He wasn’t very vocal and he wasn’t verbal. He never told me something felt good unless I asked. If he didn’t like something he didn’t tell me what would make it better even when I asked. If I was having fun that was fine with him, except I would have had more fun if he enjoyed it too. Consequently, after 10 years of this I think I am lousy in bed and why would any man get involved with a woman who’s a lousy lover? I wanted to enjoy sex. I still want to enjoy sex, but it’s been two years and two months. It feels like I am watching a ship sail away.

  • There were times during my marriage where I was frustrated and resentful.

    One fine Saturday afternoon I found myself standing in the kitchen. Laundry was going in the washing machine. I had just finished putting groceries away. I had emptied and filled the dishwasher and set the timer to go off in four hours when the laundry would be done in the washer. The house was a mess, particularly the kitchen. My ex was nowhere insight. I am living the feminist dream, I thought. I’m doing it all. This was a typical late Saturday morning for me.

    Fed up with being in the car with him and him asking me, do you know what your problem is, I decided to minimise my alone time with him by grocery shopping alone. I would get up at 6:30, take a quick shower, and leave by 7:00 grocery list in hand. I was usually home by 9:30 or 10. Sometimes he was just getting up, at the very least he was still in his bathrobe getting himself a cup of coffee. This was typical for us. I would have been up for hours when he was just starting his day. Then he would ask why I was so tired all the time. One day he asked me to write down my schedule for the week. He was floored when he learned that between work, other commitments, and housework I was booked solid from 7am-10pm Monday-Friday, 7am-9pm on Saturdays, and from 8am-7pm on Sundays. Seeing it on paper in front of him he saw what I had been trying to tell him for years-that I never catch a break. He helped around the house for a week. Then it was back to the same routine; me doing the work alone and him asking why I was so tired all the time.

  • While we did discuss many things before we were married, we didn’t discuss everything.

    I didn’t realise that before one gets married one needs to discuss absolutely everything with one’s future life partner. We discussed children, my career, his career, my keeping my name, the things I thought were important. He wanted two children. I didn’t want children until I met him. I thought he was someone with whom I could have a child, one child. We compromised on a child and a cat. At first I proposed that I keep my job and he travel wherever his postdocs took him. I made more money and thought I would act as the anchor. His disagreed and said he thought it would be bad for us to be apart so early in our marriage. His mother followed his father around Europe with his studies and I think my ex felt I should do, or want to do, the same. I didn’t but I acquiesced. My logic was simple; with my degree and skill set I should be able to get a job anywhere and for the most part I was right. I hated it and was miserable. We both were. All in all my career didn’t take much of a hit and I have yet to encounter an interviewer who didn’t understand that I picked up stakes for my husband’s fledgling career. They don’t call it the two-body problem for nothing. We didn’t discuss housework because I didn’t think it needed to be discussed. I assumed he would help. After all, my father packed his lunches and did his own laundry. When my mother worked afternoons, he tried to make dinner. I remember one night he even tried to make cookies for us. My father is not a feminist. He was just a normal guy looking after his two little girls as best he could, afraid he would lose us like he did his son.

    Before the wedding, we had three counseling session with the Rabbi who married us. In these sessions we discussed the usual things: our attitudes about children, money, the future, building a life together. The most glaring difference was in our attitudes about money, which came as no surprise. he came from it and I did not; it was that simple. He could, and often did, go to his parents for financial assistance, especially when we were trying to have a child. His parents were willing, even though his father was reluctant. I couldn’t ask my parents as they simply didn’t have it. I look back at the cost of our wedding with guilt. Our wedding wasn’t extravagant, but now that the marriage is over that money could have gone to better things. Like many things.

    As time passed it was as though those conversations we’d had about marriage, family, the advice we received from the Rabbi about money and working together, and career never happened. He couldn’t understand why working was so important to me. In his mind, I seemed suddenly indifferent to children with each failed injection or implantation. Instead of the seven-year itch it was like seven-year amnesia, except it happened around year five. The man I met and fell in love with became the man with a boot on my neck. I don’t know how it happened but I know I let it happen.

     

One Little Year

One Little Year

Augustus: What were you thinking tonight, my dear? Ah, of poor Drusus. Yes, yes, yes. I , I was thinking of him tonight too. Rome cannot afford such a loss. Ah, I pray to the gods that these boys will be as noble and as virtuous as he was. You mustn´t dwell on it. I mean, a year has gone by and that´s quite long enough for grief, now. More is not the Roman way, you know. Musicians, play us out! Let us have music to take us to our sleep.
Antonia: A year. Is that all it is? One little year? -I, Claudius.

On November 30th my divorce will have been final a year. Over the course of the past year I have been slowly and awkwardly settling into the rhythms of life as a middle-aged, single woman. I go to work. I go to the gym. Once in a while I go to a class at the Wine School of Philadelphia. I go to the Mutter Museum and the Art Museum on occasion. I go to choir practice, although I must admit I’m having a hard time of it this semester. I’m thinking of taking next semester off. Most of the time, however, I am alone; reading, knitting, cooking, cleaning, talking to my cat. Early in my divorce friends took me to the opera, the orchestra, and the theatre, but that doesn’t happen so much now. I go to services and sit with my friends where before I sat in the back. One particularly lonely Friday night I confided to a friend that I felt out of place. He said come sit with us in Row J, who cares if your late. I was raised that if you are late you sit in the back. My parents were acutely aware of appearances. But he was right who cares if I’m late. They say that in your 40s you stop caring about what other people think and in your 60s you realise no one’s watching you anyway. In my teens the pressure to please my parents was immense. An impossible task as their happiness was a moving target. In my 20s I didn’t care much about what other people thought because I didn’t have anyone to please. That changed when I married. I had a husband whose happiness was also a moving target.

We barely speak anymore, my ex-husband and me. When we first separated he tried to treat me like a live-in girlfriend. He offered himself for sex once. No, I said, Just no. I’m sure that was more for his pleasure than mine.He pinched my nipples once. I smacked him. He swatted me on the ass once. I yelled at him. He called me his babe once. I told him off. I told him he needed to stop phoning. Before that he would text me or phone me at least once a week. One week he phoned me every day. My ex-husband has become like a dandelion that has gone to seed. When I speak of him, and I still do sometimes, I’m sending the seeds aloft never to return.

Although I will say I miss sex like crazy-like crazy. I don’t miss sex with my ex-husband at all. I miss an idea of it: smooth skin, soft hair, light caresses, laughter, the vulnerability, the excitement, the familiarity, the curiosity, begging my permission, granting permission, licking, biting, sucking, losing myself, letting go, the weight, the gravity. Thinking about it now…I’m in my office.  My sister told me it’s a form of self-pity, that I am dwelling on what I don’t have. It’s not. I don’t feel sorry for myself because it’s the one thing that I don’t have. I don’t have bookshelves either but I don’t think about them all the time. It’s a longing and a need and a desire for a connection with a man.  She has always been one who prides herself on her superiority and self-denial. She’s very Victorian that way.

Single middle-aged women who actually talk about life post-divorce seem to be in two camps-the ones who date and the ones who don’t. I haven’t, as I have been going through the hard work of rebuilding my life and my self. But I haven’t experienced many of the rituals I read and hear that many single middle-aged women experience. I don’t have a group of single, middle-aged women friends with whom I commiserate. I don’t have teenage children telling me it’s time to get out there. No one has tried to set me up with a friend or a relative. I’m being warned off online dating even though it seems to be the only way people meet. I’m thinking it might be time to dip a toe in, just a toe, fully prepared for the likelihood that I may not get a single response, much less one from a man who is under 60. I don’t really care if he’s white collar or blue collar or clerical collar. He doesn’t have to be Jewish (because that worked so well the last time). I have my own place and my own income. I don’t need a man to support me financially. I just don’t want a man who thinks he’s going to sponge off me. I don’t care if he’s tall or short, I like eyes at a level. I like big men and am a sucker for dark eyes, the darker the eyes the closer to stupid I get. Thin would be an interesting change of pace as would blue eyes, otherwise I don’t care. Adherence to basic hygiene would be an improvement as would basic social graces and table manners. I don’t need overprotective or jealous and I certainly don’t want to get married again.