Walls

Today is a double post day.

Occasionally a post about personal growth or observation sneaks into the mix. Today I decided to write about one such moment. Typically I haven’t been because my ex-wife loves to stalk my blog and try to indicate where I am a danger to myself and others. Then brings it up in court.

The Best Leonardo DiCaprio Memes Shared on Social Media for His 46th  Birthday
Right there, Cliff! See it!

Jeez, does that shit get old fast. If you haven’t been paying attention, this blog is more or less about personal growth, which is the opposite of that. To be clear, I write about these things too because I know a lot of other readers out there are struggling and part of healing is knowing you aren’t alone. That is if anyone is actually interested in putting in the work to heal. That being said, let’s continue.

Lately I’ve been facing an anniversary.

We’ve all been facing an anniversary. Mine is a little bit different. A year ago, I was nervous about changes that were coming. I was being taken back to court again by my ex-wife. The hearing was set for November. I had no money to hire an attorney either. Also, just on the heels of a romantic weekend in Glenwood Springs with my (then) girlfriend, it was confirmed that there would be layoffs coming at my job. As coronavirus (as it was called back then) began to trigger lockdowns we parted ways on March 13th, with the anticipation that we would see each other again in just a few weeks when the quarantine was ended. We had plans to go to the UK on a couple’s trip where we would visit London and Edinburgh. My hopes of finding someone who would join me on my adventures had been realized!

We never saw each other again. The quarantine dragged out for weeks. We talked on the phone every night and as the panic began to creep in on me about losing my job, child support probably going up, and having to cancel our trip, she decided she needed to end our relationship.

I used to count the end of our time together as April 30th, but really, it ended that night she left my house in the rain on March 13th. I could feel her slipping away, and when I would try to talk to her about it, she just told me she wasn’t going anywhere. That I was overthinking. Of course that was until she did go somewhere. I felt that trust begin to unravel two days before we were over. I played Thomas Dolby’s “I Love You Goodbye” on repeat for most of an evening before she dropped the final bombshell.

Previous relationships and of course my tumultuous marriage have left me with a lot of pieces to pick up. This one hurt. No, it went beyond that. It left a lot of damage behind. Mostly damage to my ability to trust others in relationships. It is something I struggle with. Strange how building something together that showed me it was possible to love again damaged my ability to trust so badly.

When I met her, I had been healing from another relationship, which I have talked about often on this site. Rather than get into all that BS again, I will say that it was hard to realize it wasn’t me, but seriously them. I had value. Which I had all along but had forgotten over years of isolation and abuse from before. I was fine with being Alone. I was enjoying my own company. Then I met someone who showed me all the effed up things that other person was on about for three years. Namely how badly I was being treated–even though it was significantly better than my marriage.

She never pointed these things out. It was always revealed by things that she did. Her actions. Things like calling me when she got home or not being vague about her “friends”. She treated me as an equal. We built each other up, encouraged each other. We indulged each other’s weird hobbies or activities and accepted them. We gave each other bad habits and enjoyed them together. Damn, was that nice. Each of us had a past but we chose not to let it haunt us too much.

I allowed myself to trust and slowly those walls I built to protect myself began to come down. When she ended things, the walls went back up immediately. They were twice as thick and the tower I stuck myself in this time was much higher. Unless someone was somehow on my side of the wall when that happened, there was no getting in.

The walls stay up.

Sometimes a little light gets let in, but it is with reluctance. With the light, sometimes you get rain. It’s hard to trust for those of us who have been hurt. It’s harder to not cling to that victimhood because it gets you a pass. That is something I am really wanting to be rid of. I am bringing it up today because I want to help others. I want to show them that sometimes being brave is just getting out of your own way.

Sometimes you get into your own headspace and the story you are telling yourself…well, that’s just it. It’s a story until you ask the right questions. It’s hard to ask the right questions because sometimes you are afraid of the answer you might get back. It’s hard to not beat yourself up and say you believed answers another time too, until those changed.

Sometimes you knock out one brick and replace it with two more. You might be afraid of setting yourself up to lose everything all over again, and sometimes its safe and warm behind those walls (you tell yourself it is anyway). It is really hard to be open to trust again. It gets to the point where you don’t even trust your friends. In your 40s, relationships are hard. Especially after a life-changing event like a divorce.

If your situation involved being isolated from your friends, family, or anyone else you were close to (even co-workers) you might find yourself starting all over again. The strong bonds you had with people have been stretched thin by time and distance. You are no longer in the inner circle of those relationships. You start over. This time with a layer of cynicism. You feel jaded. At some point the fear of caring about someone new is overwhelming because you keep expecting the other shoe to drop. Attachment anxiety ensues.

When you are in your 20s, like a hangover or the days after an all-nighter studying, you bounce back pretty quickly. In your middle years, it is much less so. Like the sounds you make when you try to extract yourself from a comfy chair or struggling to walk across a cold floor to the bathroom every morning, it takes a lot more. You don’t bounce back. In friendships and relationships you are also pretty hardened off and set in your ways to some extent. In your 20s you are maleable. Adaptable. Less broken. Like little kids who approach each other on the playground and say, “Hey! Wanna be friends!” and from that moment on, they just are. Best friends even.

Boundaries are important, but they aren’t the same as walls, even if they sometimes serve the same purpose. But those walls you build just get thicker and stronger. Because you can’t be hurt that way again. Sometimes you just wish you could step outside of them and be like you were when you were young and beautiful.

Difficult? Yes. Impossible. No. That’s what I hope for anyway. Some days are difficult. Do we chisle our way out of Shawshank with a tiny rock hammer or do we ask for more mortar and bricks to make our own prisons? Or do we build a beacon for others?

What would you say?

A buddy of mine struggled for nearly five years with a breakup. In that time, he didn’t date, he just minded his own business, he endured many hardships alone, from the loss of his job (twice) to the loss of his dad in the last month to COVID. I remember one day calling him out to go to dinner with another friend and myself, after his first layoff. He was buzzing from day drinking beers for the last few days. He was still dazed, angry about losing his girlfriend of five years. She left without any explanation, putting the blame on him, the typical bullshit of “If you knew me well enough to keep me, you would have…” I wasn’t sure he was going to survive that day, but he did. He kept going.

The year before he went over and over in his head what had happened, driving himself crazy with how he could have done things differently. How he could fix it (as men tend to do–we fix stuff). There was nothing he could do. She was hostile, threatening him with legal action if he continued to contact her. He really hadn’t done anything wrong. It took a couple years but eventually he stopped venting to me about her. He started talking to other women online, though he didn’t really date anyone. Sometimes her name would come up in conversation, but it often shifted from missing her to what he would tell her if he got the chance, and it was never good. He was hurt, angry, but damn if he didn’t stop loving her.

A couple nights ago, he called me to tell me that his ex girlfriend, after being gone for over four years, contacted him. She apologized for how things ended. They have been talking again. He didn’t unleash a vile tirade upon her that would have killed her lawn for at least a few years. He listened. He sat for a few nights in his own head, turning over what she had said again and again until he was exhausted. I don’t know what will become of them. I wish them both luck, however it turns out. You see, they aren’t the same people they were four years ago. I have my guesses as to why she decided to break her silence after all these years. And I also know that he never got close to getting over her.

Again, I wish them luck.

If I had to call it, I would say that she ran across a slough of losers and realized that the man she left she had taken for granted. The grass is always greener, but that’s usually because of all the bullshit fertilizing it.

I couldn’t help but wonder what I would say to an ex-girlfriend if they ever reached out to me. I’ve thought about it again and again, and really I don’t know. I can’t even slip into that writer’s space where I can create an entirely different life and timeline to suss it out. Maybe that’s because I truly believe the likelihood of it happening (or wanting it to happen) is zero, so why even entertain the notion? I’m not the same person I was a year ago.

It just really hasn’t occurred to me until now.

I’m more cautious, more guarded. Content for the most part. Patient. Termially optimistic. Still romantic, but hopeful, not hopeless. I also think that there comes a time when doors close for good and a guy ought to be fucking aware of it. I’ve been through the gaslighting, the mental abuse, the Michelin star rated codependent relationships where I accept abuse so I can get sympathy and achieve martyrdom. I’ve gotten to grow past that. I get to look at red flags now and see them for what they are.

I’m not sure I could welcome someone back with open arms who had left me to go on a four year World Tour of Dicks like it was sampling beer on Friday nights at Old Chicago. Like nothing happened. Maybe I’m not as mature as I hope to be.

What would you say to an ex? Especially a long-lost love, the one who got away, if they contacted you?

It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day…

This morning I woke up to something that I haven’t felt in a long time. I wasn’t sure what time it was and was surprised to find that it was just after 8am. I had gotten to bed at around 1:30 or 2am, after a lot of writing. I was very productive. I woke up to a sense of peace, which is something I haven’t had in a very long time. It was the exact opposite to how I felt on Monday. Mondays are hard, as I have established in the past more than a few times.

This sense of peace was more a matter of the heart. The last four months has been especially difficult, what with the end of a great relationship and the end of an abusive one. The strange thing is that both have occupied similar real estate in my brain. I have been grieving the sudden departure of someone I was romantically involved with, and grieving the loss of a job that I had held for the last 18+ years. Today, I will have been broken up with someone I was quite serious about nearly half as long as we were together. Two nights ago, I was taking it hard. Today, I woke up and felt at peace with it. I don’t know if I am finally letting go or what, but I have learned some things that I wanted to share in the hopes that my experience resonates with anyone reading this.

A couple days ago, I was taking it hard. The grief of the end of a great romance ebbs and flows like any grief. I was missing someone intensely. I visited with a few friends and talked about it. One friend wanted to fix things and the other just listened. The one who wanted to fix things gave me the usual “You’ve got to get back out there! You aren’t pushing yourself to find anyone!” speech. Which didn’t make things any better.

The other friend just listened and because they had been through a similar situation, they told it to me straight. I didn’t need to go out there and find someone else. It felt good to be seen like that. The first friend really just proved what a problem I have had my entire life has been: nobody fucking knows me. I dislike my birthday and Christmas for a big reason: it just proves how nobody gets me or even attempts to make the effort. Ever since I was a kid, this was the case. I have spent nearly 45 years smiling and thanking people for stuff that I don’t even like. It’s not that I’m all that hard to shop for either, but if you talk enough about something you would think that those people closest to you in your life might eventually catch on to what your interests are. The first friend was telling me what they wanted, seen through a lens of how they would have reacted to my situation.

The other friend was sympathetic, knowing me pretty well, and knowing that filling that crack in my heart with someone else wasn’t going to fix anything. So, I guess I should say that I have an elite crew of people who do know me pretty well in some regards. I think that was the hardest thing about this breakup. I had found someone who saw me, someone who accepted me, and really got me. I thought I got her too. I don’t think anyone can possibly understand how rare that has been in my life.

I tend to hold on to people like that, or try to at least. Maybe I need deeper connections, instead of attachments. I thought I had both in this case, and that has been very hard to come to terms with. Combine that with the usual cursory band-aid answer of “There’s plenty of fish in the sea!” and you’ll have a full on riot on your hands.

First of all, there aren’t plenty of fish in the sea. Whoever believes that is an idiot. It’s hard out there. And it gets harder the older you get. It might be the case when you are in your 20s and impressionable and willing to tolerate a bunch of horseshit, but when you are an adult and have actually experienced life, you are less willing to deal with it. This means that your options become significantly limited. Also, the older you get, the less governed by your hormones you become, which further removes a layer of rosey tint from those glasses. In fact, you start looking at some people and wonder how they function in life due to their trainwrecky nature.

Here are my options for dating in my 40s. (These are the normal options too).

  1. Join a club. Full of other people my age, who have joined a club because they have run out of options, either because of themselves or the shit they have experienced. Either way, this club is the Island of Misfit Toys.
  2. Go to a bar. Yes, because all good decisions orbit around the dispersal of alcohol and dim lighting. No thanks.
  3. Join a church. No. I’ve been to church and nowhere will you find a more wretched hive of scum and villany. Church is for people who NEED Jesus. I’m good.
    3a. Plus I don’t need to sit by myself being reminded at the pathetic nature of my own singleness by young people in their 30s who haven’t been divorced yet
    3b. or broken down people who have been utterly destroyed by it.
  4. Get set up by friends. Most of my friends couldn’t pick out a birthday present for me (as I have mentioned above). How do you think they are going to do when it comes to finding someone I would be compatible with…especially given that many of them have even more limited social circles than I do?
  5. Settle. NO.
  6. Online dating. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAA!!!!! That is the most genuine hysterical laughter of my life! IT’S REAL!
  7. In COVIDworld? Your odds of meeting anyone, much less seeing their face, are exponentially more difficult. Impossible. Plus, I’m just not interested.
  8. I’m not pushing myself, because I miss the person, not the role they played in my life. There’s no replacing that.

But there is another option.

I woke up this morning and this is what I chose: I can’t replace what I have lost. So I’m just going to be fine with it.

I got up. I drove to Ft. Collins. I took a 12 mile bike ride. Then I came home and read. Tonight, I will work on my book. I’m going to live out the rest of my days being grateful for the opportunity I had (even so brief as it was) of being seen for who I am. I’m going to thank God for those moments. I’m going to let those carry me forward.

Honestly, I’m done. I know who I am, and I’m not in the mood to compromise that anymore. I don’t need someone to complete me. I did the chasing thing already and realize how much I hate it. I’m too old to deal with drama, at a point in my life where I’m not going to raise any more kids other than the one who is with me, and I really don’t want to be with someone who does TikTok or talks about summervibes or any of that bullshit. I’m not interested in psychoanalizing a potential partner, worrying if I make enough money to be good enough for them (I don’t), and frankly my odds are entirely shot if I do meet someone and they turn out to be vegan, celiac, a drug addict, into Magic the Gathering, swinging, or have cats.

I rolled the dice. I met someone who was compatible, someone who was as crazy about me as I was them, and it still didn’t work out. I’m thinking the odds of finding “the One” are pretty much Zero.

So, I’m just going to get on with my life. I’m going to write my stories, see places, and yes, I will feel lonely sometimes, but I will do my best to just get over it and enjoy the life I’ve got left.

As for mourning my job, that is a whole other kettle of fish. Mostly because of how toxic it was, and how relieved I am to be done with that place. Fuck those assholes. I hope the earth opens up and swallows the entire place whole.

To the one I loved, and lost, I wish her nothing but happiness and a long life. Thank you for sharing some time with me.

I’m going to spend some time now with the person I’m stuck with for the rest of my life: me. Might as well get to know him while I still can.