Category Archives: dating

The Pretty Women Passing By, Gazelles and Lions

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I love women. I love a very specific woman, who I will marry in a few months, but in general I do still love women. I think the desire response is much deeper in the animal brain than we give it credit for. I don’t have a wandering eye, but I do appreciate a healthy body. And the healthier I become, the more I am even fascinated by my own body.

We are animals. We are programmed to look. In the beginning, we were looking for our mama, for milk. Then we progressed to looking for a mate. As humans, after we’ve had our offspring, we are looking more for pleasure. Granted there are plenty of men and women who are still looking for opportunity, but that’s a different urge all together.

I call them gazelles. The beautiful woman who jog by on the running trail. People watching. That’s a fun thing, right? What are we looking at? I can tell you I’m spending an inordinate amount of time on the women. And I can also tell you I have a preference for what excites me. And all this is hard-wired into my animal system. I’m not looking for a mate, I’m not even looking for a playmate, but I’m looking nonetheless.

What is it about beauty that fascinates us all so? On the running trail, I’d guess most women are also admiring the women more than the men. So we’re voyeurs. We like to look. People watching is a thing that both sexes enjoy. And again, I’m curious, what are we watching exactly?

I’m guessing that the sexual nature of our voyeurism is quite high. I notice hips, breasts, hair and eye color, of the passing women. And some I am instantly attracted to, others I’m not. And it’s an entire range of responses. I can see something beautiful in most women that walk by, but there are particular ones that charge me up. What is it?

Joy.

I think that’s the main thing I see when I am attracted to someone along the running trail. Yes, some of the physical characteristics have to be in place, but once we have an apples-to-apples situation, the JOYFUL women are most intriguing to me. I was wondering about this the other day in the grocery store. The whole thing where women get angry when men ask them to smile. I get that. We don’t want to be on display or observed in most of our daily experience. But if a woman (or man) is truly joyful something of that happiness comes through to those around them.

I also think we see joy as love. Joy breeds more joy, so why wouldn’t we want to be with another joyful person. And as a joyful person myself, how could I be happy with someone who was innately sour? Let’s not always make this about my ex-wife, but I’d have to say that her disposition is much less optimistic and open than mine. I never asked her to smile, but I often wondered where the scowl came from. Today, I suppose the scowl comes from me. I’m the cause of much of her wounding in the world, at least that’s what I project onto her angry face. But perhaps she’s just fundamentally unhappy. There are those people.

Let’s lean into love and joy. Let’s move away from those people who are constrained by their own unhappiness. And as we move through the world we can celebrate our joy by sharing it. I don’t think of my glowing smile as a challenge so much as a “hello, how are you, I hope you are happy too,” type greeting. I know it’s often misconstrued as a come-on, but it’s really just about sharing joy.

The gazelles on the trail are fun to look at. More fun when you can see their inner joy. I am tempted to race after them. But as a wizened old lion, what would I do with them if I caught them? Devour their beauty and youth? Pray on their innocence? No, I’d rather just admire their joyful gate as they bound by, young, beautiful, and happy.

I’m no longer in the hunt. My joy is settled and content in my new relationship. But my joy is also meant to be spread. I won’t ever make the mistake of asking a woman to smile, but I might smile at them from my own place of inner joy. To some that’s a challenge and something to be angry about. To others it’s an invitation to share some of my joy.

Life is good. If you are joyful and you show it people notice. By sharing your joy you are spreading the love between you and others. Gazelles and lions can live in peace as human adults.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: old lion, creative commons usage

Divorce Lessons: If What You Want Is Love That Lasts

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If what you want is love, if you are looking for a long-term relationship, don’t settle for maybe, kinda, sorta, okay. Don’t. It won’t work out. That’s perhaps how we got in this “single dad” place anyway. We made compromises. We overlooked flaws because we were in love. Love is a drug, but wait a bit, until it wears off, before you decide to spend the next 5 – 10 years with someone. If you’re looking to spend the rest of your life with someone, why would you compromise?

What I Learned in My First Marriage

I my first marriage I was blinded by beauty and what I thought was a kindred spirit. Several things were kindred, but the overwhelming feature of that marriage was that woman’s paranoia and rage. It was obscured during our courting phase by good behavior and lots of passion. But on the honeymoon, when she got sick on the cruise, I saw a truly angry and inconsolable woman. At that very moment I saw the makings of my divorce.

Learnings: Don’t get fooled by beauty, look beyond the sexual infatuation. Make sure you go through a rough patch or two to understand the other person’s coping mechanisms. When things are bad, get the fuck out. It took me nearly six years to divorce this woman, primarily because I didn’t want to give up on the initial dream.

What I Learned in My Second Marriage with Kids

Again, I learned a lot after the relationship had gotten underway that might have queered me on the relationship had I had a clear mind. But I fell in love early, stayed in love through some very mixed times, and then learned, nine years in, that she had gone to see an attorney before even bringing the subject up. Even in couple’s therapy, she didn’t speak a peep. If you say, in therapy, “I’m thinking about going and seeing an attorney about divorce,” then you’ve got a place to start. If you’ve already been to see the attorney and have your “options” before you, then you are already in the process of leaving your marriage.

Learnings: Pay attention to falsehoods, they may signal larger issues. Once you have kids all parts of the relationship have to change. When one partner wants out there’s not a lot the other partner can do to save the marriage. It’s all about the kids. Even the divorce is mostly about the kids. Make sure you focus on their benefit ahead of your own, even if you lose in the negotiations.

What I’m Learning Before My Third Marriage

Finding a deeper connection is critical for a lasting relationship. Letting the other person see your pain and understanding how they deal with it, is also a critical part of sounding out the fitness of a relationship. And then watching to understand how much a new potential partner is moving towards you, asking you for opportunities to do stuff, finding ways to connect. If you can keep this seeking up in your courtship, perhaps you can keep it up in your long-term relationship.

As it turns out my fiancé and I come from diverse backgrounds. And while this could cause issues in some couples for us it seems to enhance our fascination with one another. She’s from Chicago, I’m from Texas. She’s never had kids, I have two. She’s a marathon running, I walk. In all this, we’ve found simple activities we love to do together. She runs, I bike along side her. She’s learning to play tennis, my favorite sport. We road bike together, and I’m beginning to keep up with her on the flats.

And we’ve been through a few lows to balance out the highs. Sticking with my own malady, she has seen me crumble under depression. And while it was frightening at first, since she didn’t know what to expect, she continued to stay close and ask me what I needed from her. All I needed was closeness. There was nothing she could do, but not leave. And we walked every day together. In depression it is very hard to keep your body moving, you’d rather sleep. But each day she’d ask me to join her for a walk and each day, against my own ennui, I would walk with her. We formed a partnership. Even in my darkest hour she would be there next to me asking me to go for a walk. If I’ve got her in my court, for the rest of my life, I’m set.

Learnings: Do things you love to do and as the other person to join you. Join the other person in the things they like to do. Watch and learn how each of you deals with hardships and see if you can find the supportive way to remain close and connected.

There Is Hope

Even after two failed marriages, I still have hope for my future with this woman. I think that the lessons from my previous relationships will allow me to form a healthier foundation for the longevity of my marriage. As we move forward towards exchanging vows in March, I get more excited and more sure of our love and connection. We’ve seen the worst, we’ve stayed close through it, and we’ve come out on the other side in love even more deeply.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

Back to Dating After Divorce

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What a Divorced Dad Wants in the Next Relationship, Year 3!

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Dating is not enough.
If you don’t know what you’re looking for, you will surely miss it.

My goal in dating, in setting out a dating plan, was to wind up in a relationship. I don’t like dating. I didn’t like dating. And now that I’m set to remarry in March of 2017, I can tell you, while the process was not unpleasant, I prefer being IN a relationship to searching for one. Let’s get caught up.

Dating a Mom
I said this was of critical importance to me in my next relationship. Both the women I dated before finding my fiancé were moms. And I assumed that being a mom was a requisite for dating me, because I assumed that the “mom” gene was required to understand the “dad” gene. I was wrong. My fiancé can accept my dad role along side my mate role. They are not mutually exclusive, but one is not more important than the other. In fact, as I began to date my fiancé it became more and more clear to me that establishing my next relationship was as important as being a good dad. And in several years, my kids will be going off to college and all I will have is my relationship. I determined that getting the relationship right, regardless of kids was more important that if the woman had kids of her own. Date the woman, if she has kids or does not have kids is just part of the equation.

Going Long Term
As I stated early on in my dating adventures, I was not “into dating.” I was looking to be in a long-term relationship. (LTR) My dating activities were focused with that in mind. If chemistry was lacking on the first date, it was also the last date. I wasn’t interested in creating the next relationship. I wanted sparks and fire and excitement right from the start. I wanted spunky, adventurous, creative, and beautiful all wrapped into one package. I was not going to setting for “all right” or “nearly.” I was either all in or all out. I learned to streamline my dating process by using this rule: If I didn’t see a future in the relationship there would be no second date. Sure, people warm up to each other over time. But chemistry and initial attraction were part of my program. And when I went out with my fiancé I got all of my wishes in spades. Even as I was telling her, I was really not looking for a relationship, she was blowing my circuits with her charm, smiles, and wit. She knocked my socks off from the first Facebook text. And things have not slowed down one bit.

Going Too Fast
When you know it’s right, when you both know it’s right, there’s no need to hesitate. Jump into it. If you’re going to blow up, blow up big and soon. Why piddle about and “see” if things are going to work out? We jumped at the assumption that everything was going to work out, and the attraction and compatibility we felt early on was all the signal we needed. Granted we were both in the right position, we were both looking for NEXT, and we were both open to a long-term relationship. As they say, “Timing is everything.” When the timing was right with us, we were planning a trip to New York City together within the first six weeks together. BOOM. Don’t hesitate or you might miss it. Don’t doubt the magic, if you feel it lean into it, and if it goes away or fails, you will know you took your shot.

Sweating the Small Stuff
We’ve always maintained our eyes on the big relationship picture. We can disagree on several things while still maintaining our balanced love for one another. She can irritate me, and I can trigger her anger, and we know we’re bigger than any of the little misses. We have the BIG CONNECTION figured out. The little misses, the irritations, the things left undone and unsaid, can be repaired in the wake of the huge love we feel towards one another. If you’ve got big love, the little details will work themselves out.

About Those Kids
My fiancé does not have to be best friends with my kids. They don’t have to love her like a second mother. We don’t have that kind of relationship between the four of us. She is Martha, they are my kids. We all have a relationship together. Sometimes they are the priority, sometimes it’s Martha, sometimes it’s myself. But it never gets confusing because we are not jockeying for position. We all love each other. She loves my kids because she loves me. They love her because they have seen the transformative effect she’s had on my life. We are all happy. And we are all individuals in a relationship with each other. There’s give and take on the weekends they are with me. There is more flexibility and freedom on the weekends when they are with their mom. What we do have is time. And the time I get to spend with all four of them is of peak value. And when I most feel like a family is when we are driving somewhere in the car together and the kids are rolling their eyes at our overt displays of affection for one another. “I’ll get to be so lucky,” I say, to see you guys in love in the future. They get it. We all get it. We are a family of individuals who come together on alternate weekends to be a family. There’s plenty of flexibility in that and plenty of togetherness.

Looking to the Future
The kids will be moving past high school and moving out sooner than I imagine. I am going to eat up all the together time with them that I can. While I have the opportunity to be with them, I will show up 110% for them. And as they reach escape velocity I can focus even more on my primary relationship. We’ve started talking about retirement, dreams, next big plans. And we’re 100% in sync. Life after kids will not be a lot different that life today, but we’ll have even more time to explore things together. And when possible we’ll invite my kids along for the ride.

As you look to build the long term relationship with a spouse, remember your kids are important, and in some ways they are priority number one, but that will change over time. As you become less of a priority in their lives, as they move on to college and their own lives, you will be left with what’s next. Make sure you are building the NEXT that you want. As I was looking at dating a woman, I was ever conscious of the next I wanted to build together. Today I have that and it gives me great hope and joy for the future.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

Back to Dating After Divorce

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What I Wish My Ex-wife Knew

I’m not writing this blog to my ex-wife, but there are times when I wish she would read my words. I still love her, because of our connection and history with children, but she makes it difficult to remain objective sometimes. One of my outlets is to work it out, alone, right here. Again, I’m certain she’s NOT reading me, but these posts could help our relationship. Soften her up a bit, perhaps. And then again, I’ve given up imagining that my words or actions can change her in any way. We’d like to think we can make another person happy, or comfortable, or secure. Unfortunately, we cannot.

If I could give my ex-wife a quick list of posts to read, this would be the shortlist.

As it is, we’re supposed to have moved on from the charged feelings towards our significant, but no longer spousal, other. When the anger and defensiveness is quick to surface there may still be some emotional work to do. Somedays I’d really like to send her a link to my prayer for her. I don’t. Again, I’ve learned it’s not for me to change her, but really learn to love and adapt to her as she is today.

She’s remarried. She’s got money again. She seems to be enjoying her job and the job of parenting, but she still complains a bit too much for me to buy the slick surface. I’m not taking her inventory here, I’m releasing her. I just wish my loving words could reach her some days. And I hope, everyday, that my loving actions will soften her heart enough to give her peace.

“I wish you happiness in your new life, I always want to see you shine, you are the other half, the partner in this parenting journey we accepted together. Your joy is joy for our kids. Your peace is their peace, and mine. As we walk separate paths we are blameless and grateful for the gifts we’ve been given. And to you, my dear ex, I give the deepest respect and love. Thank you for where we’ve been, where we are, and where we are going, still a family, still parents, still blessed.”

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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Fierce Love – What You’re Looking For

Screen Shot 2016-09-06 at 5.56.38 AMLove is complex and relationships are a disaster, unless you find someone who can mirror back some of your favorite qualities. What you are looking for (what I was looking for and found) in your next relationship is fierce love. A love that never gives up. NO. MATTER. WHAT.

When you find it you will know. My fiancé and I professed our intentions to be in a relationship, not “date,” early on in our courtship. And one of the qualities we first noticed in the other person was a tenacity, a desire to BE IN A RELATIONSHIP, and one that will last. We’d both been married before. (She without kids, me with two.) And after our first weekend together, aside from the sore muscles, we noticed how our faces and abs were tired from laughing all weekend.

Sure the initial bliss cannot last. After 6 months or so the burning desire was fulfilled and we settled into something more realistic, more like real life. And as we talked about what we wanted we were lucky to be surprised by our similarities. And one similarity stood above all others. In our previous marriages we had both been the partner who fought for the relationship.

Imagine being in a relationship with another person who was going to fight to keep the relationship healthy and moving forward. Imagine.

Nothing is easy in relationships. (After the honeymoon phase the mundane sets in and that’s where you get your real tests.) You take each other for granted. You do things that piss the other person off. You have to compromise in ways you had forgotten were necessary during your “single” period.

Fierce love says, no matter what, I’m IN. I’ve done this before, I know what I’m looking for and you’re it. But you’ve got to let me know you’re in it for the long haul as well.

Well, we’re both fighters. Imagine our optimism when we’re both fierce about fighting for our relationship to work. Sure, we go through out rough patches, a disagreement, an angry word, but we come back stronger and more committed each time. There is no growth without risk. And if you have the risk of your relationship covered up, you can grow and expand the boundaries for both of you.

That’s what we want. Ascendant love. Moving ever higher together. Fearlessly attacking the discord as it arrives unwelcome and unbidden. And we move through it with the other person, knowing they are going to stick around.

Be fierce in your love and fierce in your anger. They are two sides of the same coin. And when you are committed, the fierceness becomes the glue that keeps your relationship together.

Sure, we’ll have challenges tomorrow. And we’ll procrastinate and avoid for a little while, but we’ll come back together with a fire and rage that says, “You’re mine.”

Fierce is good. If love is what you’re looking for, look for the one with fierceness in his/her eyes. Always.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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Seven Strategies for Winning Divorce

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The real win in divorce is more of a judo move. Waring parties are prevented from hurting each other and the negotiations happen with as little bloodshed as possible. So it’s not so much a win as a neutralizing the other person’s anger, entitlement, and narcissism while protecting yourself and your kids. I know that sounds harsh, but the elements of rage and victimization are present in any relationship. Divorce just makes the relationship a lot harder. But divorce does not end the relationship if you have kids.

If you want 50/50 parenting ask for it. If it’s worth going to war for, then fight for it.

Strategy One: Never respond to anger or frustration in-kind. Ever. Just don’t do it. It might feel good to unload a good blast from the furnace, but do it to a therapist or a friend, not to your ex.  Any temporary victory you would feel in belittling, or showing your ex-partner for their trivial issues, is lost in the frustration that will then be spread around to your kids. A swipe at your ex is a swipe at your kids happiness too. Do not do it.

Strategy Two: Come to an agreement around money and then stick to it. Be open if you are having financial trouble. And if you are co-parents, take turns providing the expenses of your kids upbringing. That’s not how legal divorce happens in the US. Here, the woman gets primary custody and a fat paycheck about 80% of the time. And the man, if he chooses to fight, must be prepared to prove his worthiness. Until the laws are changed, live within them. Negotiate your deal, then get out. Lawyers will take more money than you can ever provide to your kids. Give it to your kids.

Strategy Three: If you want 50/50 parenting ask for it. If it’s worth going to war for, then fight for it. I opted for the cooperative divorce and then accepted the 65-35 split offered. It was a bad deal. It was not how we entered the agreement to have kids, but it’s what the ex wanted. So she knew she could get it if we went to court. If you are doing a collaborative divorce “What she would get in court” is NEVER the right response to a 50/50 request.

Strategy Four: Deal with your own shit on your own time. Your kids do not need to be therapists, confidants, or friends during your divorce. They need to be kids. The more you can do to take your issues outside, the better the relationship will be with them and your ex. Never talk bad about you ex. You can say “she does things I don’t agree with,” but her decisions cannot be challenged in-front of your kids. They are not a sounding board.

Now is my chance to get on with MY living as a dad, as a boyfriend, and as an ex-husband.

Strategy Five: Find engaging activities that you love to do with your kids. This is hard one as your kids get older. But your efforts will pay off with huge dividends: their conversation.  My son recently discovered playing cards, so I play with him. And he beats my ass. Cool. But the real winner is me. During the game play, I am just a friend, I am just his dad, I am just an opponent in a game of cards. He talks about all kinds of stuff while we’re playing cards. I’m still looking for the “activity” with my daughter that doesn’t involve shopping at the mall.

Strategy Six: Move on with your life. Too many divorced parents stay in “divorced parent” mode for too long. Get to the business of healing yourself. Certainly stay alone until you’ve worked through some the issues that landed you in the divorce court. (Yes, they were on both sides of the aisle.) And then move along back into the mystery that is modern dating. Try it all. What do you have to lose?

Strategy Seven: Get good at doing what you love. I love tennis and playing music. So I started taking weekend workout sessions. And I reconnected with some friends and started playing music again. Then when you begin to meet interesting people you’ve got a few things to start with. First dates are a lot more interesting if they involve walking around the lake, or hitting a few tennis balls. Bars and coffee shops are not our natural habitat.

You can win at divorce, but only by staying to the high road in all interactions. Sure, things didn’t go the way I wanted, but that is life. Now is my chance to get on with MY living as a dad, as a boyfriend, and as an ex-husband. Let me do the best at all three.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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Love is the Goal, Discover Your Own Path

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 6.45.22 AM“In love lies the seed of our growth. The more we love, the closer we are to the spiritual experience.”–Paulo Coehlo

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A simple quote and image on Facebook today triggered a thought I’ve been nurturing for quite some time. Love is the goal, yes, but LOVE as a state of being can happen at anytime and over some fairly trivial things. The point is to notice when LOVE enters your life and do more of what makes you feel those warm fuzzy feelings.

Crave them when they are not with you. Enjoy and savor them when they are with you. And feel the complete fullness of life when you have been satiated by them.

I wrote a post yesterday about my perfect breakfast. What was interesting, was how much I love my breakfast. I crave it in the mornings. That’s a good indication that my body is getting some benefit from the combination of yogurt and low-sugar granola. But the experience of longing and fulfillment that happens each morning, is a teacher. I enjoy the craving. I enjoy the act of eating and savoring the meal. And I enjoy the warmth I get from being satisfied with my meal. It’s a perfect relationship.

That’s sort of how we want our relationships with people as well. Crave them when they are not with you. Enjoy and savor them when they are with you. And feel the complete fullness of life when you have been satiated by them. And I’m not just talking about sex here. Satiation comes from the ritual of the morning as you wake up together. Make sure you appreciate your partner just for being there. Celebrate what you have, getting ready, making coffee, eating breakfast. Celebrate the time you are together.

It’s the longing that can get us in trouble. We long for our connection and we turn to other things. I really like ice cream. But my craving for ice cream is different from my craving for my fiancé. They are also similar. I can sublimate my desire for love in many ways. By eating ice cream I get that fuzzy feeling during and after, but I don’t get any of the other warm fuzzies that true caring and nurturing can bring. Ice cream is a hollow craving. And ice cream bears no love for me.

Make sure you celebrate each other. Find the things you love to do together and do them. Make time for those things. Discover new things you might both like to do.

My mate, on the other hand, lights up with my attention and affection. What I give in love I receive back in laughter and kisses. This is the space we’d love to live in. And then… there’s all that other living we have to do. Parenting, if you have kids. Earning a living, to make the ship go. Exercise, so you have a long and healthy life. And chores, the struggle to stay one step ahead of entropy.

As we can remember our beloved during the day, we can remind ourselves of our deep love and craving of that other person. And this is not obsession, this is healthy desire. I don’t want to control or manipulate her, I just want to be beside her, touching the small of her back, whispering my joys into her ear. And you can do this with little connective texts throughout the day, “You crossed my mind and stayed there.” Little competitions between you, “How far have you walked today?” And little messages of caring, “I’m stopping by the store, is there anything you need or desire?”

Just letting the other person know you are thinking about them is a great first step in connecting for the long haul. Make sure you celebrate each other. Find the things you love to do together and do them. Make time for those things. Discover new things you might both like to do. And get out there and do them. An active love is much better than a sedentary love. If you love doing activities together, you get a double boost, love and endorphins. Go for it. Stay connected and celebratory as much as you can. There is plenty of time for the mundane, but it’s tapping into the extraordinary that’s the key to a long-lasting love affair.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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Two People In Love Spread a Message

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I know it when I’m radiating love. I know it when I’m with my lover and we’re both in the glow. I know that I was seeking a new partner for six years after my divorce, and THIS TIME, I knew I had met my match.

She read my blogs which laid out the simple roadmap to my heart. And then she joined. She laughed. She slid up beside me and never left.

This relationship is different from any I’ve ever experienced. (Do we say that about every new love?) It’s based on a very different set of rules than my previous marriages. This one has nothing but desire holding us together. I’ve got kids, she doesn’t. I’ve got debt, she’s got some money. I’ve got a creative fire that warms us both. She’s got an athletic passion that pulls us both along to healthier lifestyles.

When you’re around us, you know, you feel, that you are with lovers. We have an easy and playful way of being together. Even when we’re in disagreement we find ways to laugh about the differences. And that’s how our relationship started. I was living in my mom’s house. (Embarassing moment.) And she says, “You must be writing some hilarious stories about that.” She was right. But she was also letting me know she saw through my present situation and was still bright-eyed and bushy-tailed about getting us together.

She had a plan. She lured me in with tennis. She read my blogs which laid out the simple roadmap to my heart. And then she joined. She laughed. She slid up beside me and never left. It was an easy join and an even easier period of getting to know one another. Now, a year later, we’ve both become even more comfortable together. We let the disagreements roll off our backs. We move onward with our own agendas and plans. And then we return to our side-by-side connection. And we cherish that connectivity.

This past weekend we were vacationing in Canada and it was apparent the joy we were spreading as we walked around the freezing city. People recognize two genuine lovers. People feel warmed in the glow of our friendship and joy. Perhaps we are giving a gift of our love to others. Or perhaps it’s the gift of hope. That someone is out there.

We’d both been through divorces. We’d seen the things we didn’t want to do in relationships. And we set out on a mission to secure someone with more like-minded sensibilities. And when we connected the YES YES YES came through us loud and clear, like and electric current, or a magnet. And we bonded within  weeks and were living together within a few months. And the rest… they say…

We are choosing, every day, to be together. We are respecting each other’s space and energy, every morning when we wake up and make coffee for each other.

Well, we both know the rest is ahead of us. We are not looking too far forward from the present moment. We are fully committed and fully alive. And at the same time, our love allows us to be flexible and ambitious within the relationship. We are choosing, every day, to be together. We are respecting each other’s space and energy, every morning when we wake up and make coffee for each other. We look into each other’s eyes and say a blessing.

Can we stay in puppy love forever? I don’t know, but we’re doing pretty good.

Love is a gift. By sharing your joy with others they too are reminded of love in their lives. You must go for 100% love. Settling in this department will not serve you. Perhaps those little warning signs we had in our marriages should’ve waved us off. So far, for me, there have been no warning signs in this relationship. Some things I don’t like, sure, but we’re wide open about those too.

Love is letting the other person be whole and complete without your influence or supervision. And then in love returning to hold the other person in the highest regard because you want to, because you can’t help it, because love fuels every muscle in your body. That’s love. This is love. May you feel it in your life, as I have found it in mine.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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Transformational Divorce

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Everything that happened from the moment my then-wife said she’d been to see a lawyer, has delivered me up to be healed in a way that would not have been possible had we stayed together.

I wouldn’t have wished for it, but I now see, looking back, that my divorce was the best thing that ever happened to me.

My entire world (kids, wife, house, work, neighborhood, sports, money, creative life, play) exploded into tiny pieces. When the business of divorce had been done I got what 90% of divorcing dads in America get: 35% of the time with their kids, the non-custodial parent role and a big child support obligation, and no house. It’s as if I went from Pleasantville to homeless in a matter of weeks. And the homelessness is no joke. The financial and psychological drains on a father in the midst of divorce are immense. I was barely able to stay afloat. And more than once I wondered if I was going to be able to stay alive. Perhaps my large life insurance policy would be better for my kids than me. WOW.

I’ve been working on selling my “Whole Parent” story as The Positive Divorce, but maybe that’s too tame. What happened after my divorce was life altering for me, my ex-wife, and my kids. And the Phoenix from the Flames has been my creative power caught fire, my writing found a deeper voice, and my audience, here and on several other blogs began to grow. I wouldn’t have wished for it, but I now see, looking back, that my divorce was the best thing that ever happened to me.

Sure we were making the best of it, but we weren’t happy. We had very different ideas about what the other person “should” be doing. Well, I’d say she liked to “should” on me all the time. I liked to “should” on myself, but was primarily a pretty happy-go-lucky man. I liked my kids, I liked my job (except when I hated it) and I did my best to support my loving and beautiful wife through every aspect of our relationship. But something was always wrong. Something never met her expectations. I couldn’t figure it out, but I learned that I couldn’t fix it either.

Lesson #1 before the transformation: I could not make her happy. I could not fix her. I could only keep myself focused on myself. (An old AA concept: never take another person’s inventory. You can only manage your own.)

Lesson #2 before the transformation: I am responsible for my happiness and the support and caring of those around me. But no one else can make me happy. If I struggled with depression, it was only me who was going to be able to bootstrap my way back to joy.

Lesson #3 before the transformation: Kids are the center of the universe, but kids will not save your marriage or make your life worth living. Kids are a lot of work. The most amazing and rewarding work of all, but still… The stress of having kids really toppled some balance my then-wife had kept together for our entire courtship. She went from happy and self-satisfied to exhausted and angry. That wasn’t really the kids, it was a tendency in her, that only she could deal with.

If you minimize the war with your ex-partner, you can give the kids a hopeful and optimistic outlook on life, even when things don’t work out as planned.

Lesson #4 before the transformation: therapists can be good or bad. A bad therapist can enable and encourage poor behavior. A bad therapist can coddle a depression. A bad therapist may do more damage to your relationship than no therapist. My then-wife has a personal therapist who allowed her to bury her feelings and not deal with issues until they became HUGE. My therapist allowed me to let her go even when I knew it was the hardest thing I would ever do.

Lesson #5 before the transformation: before the divorce you have no idea how you are going to survive. The time without your kids. The depression and loneliness. All the darkness of the divorce, brought me to my knees. And that’s when I learned to pick myself and my needs back up off the floor, dust them off by myself, and put a plan together to get what I wanted next.

Lesson #6 before the transformation: love seems like a long shot when you are losing the love of your life and your kids. But the transformation will burn away the sorrow at some point. The love you are letting go of will transform into power, direction, and clarity as you reach out for what you really want, now that you know.

Lesson #7 before the transformation: the kids seem to suffer, but they will be okay as well. My two children were 5 and 7 when the transformation happened. Today they are 13 and 15 and they are two of the happiest, most well-adjusted kids I know. While they know the price we all paid in away time, they seem happy and well-directed in their own lives. While I didn’t know if I could survive divorce, I was more worried about my kids.

If you minimize the war with your ex-partner, you can give the kids a hopeful and optimistic outlook on life, even when things don’t work out as planned. None of us would’ve wanted the divorce to happen. But as I talk with my kids today, we all agree that things are better now. I’m happier. I’m with a woman who makes me happier. Their mom seems to be happier. That’s the goal, happier and more centered in life, for all of us.

The transformation took about 4+ years for me. I have mapped it out.

transformational-recovery

YEAR ONE: It’s time to let your guard down and grieve. You’ve just gotten a divorce. Let that sink in. Miss your kids and allow that longing to penetrate your ego. Get angry. Find new things to do with your energy. Find new hobbies and activities.

YEAR TWO: As your life stabilizes a little you begin to refocus your priorities around the kids. Without the marriage as a focus you can pour your energy into your children. You will also need to begin your own healing process. Start a martial arts class, join a divorce recovery group, begin journaling. It’s time to work on YOUR recovery.

YEAR THREE: You begin grasping terms like co-parenting. You are now working more as a team. You may not agree with your former spouse, but you can agree on what’s best for the kids. As you begin feeling stronger and more yourself, you might begin to date again. Don’t start dating too soon, you’re liable to end up in another failed relationship.

YEAR FOUR: As your life begins coming together you can leave relationships that don’t serve your future goals. It’s easy to make your kids a priority, but you’d like to have a companion along for the journey too. You realize the job is a means to an end, not the meaning of your life. The “off parent” hours are spent doing things you love and perhaps finding another person to love.

In four short years my life went from shambles to aspirational. I learned that I was not going to settle for half-ass again. I had overlooked some early warning signs at the beginning of our relationship and marriage. I won’t make those same mistakes again. After the transformation you can reset your priorities.  You are being giving another chance to do it better, to get it right.

My divorce was the transformation I needed in my life to get back on track. I learned what made me happy. I learned I really needed to be with someone who shared the same sense of joy and wonder at the world, that I could wake up with every morning and say thanks to the universe for. I was looking for a WE that made my life bigger and better. My marriage provided a lot of growth, two wonderful kids, and the transformational experience that reoriented my life completely.

I give thanks to my ex-wife for releasing me back into the universe. I needed to grow and re-find myself and what made me happy. Then I was able to seek out a more like-minded partner and setup our long-term relationship on mutual goals and mutual adoration.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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image: tango, creative commons usage

Dating a Single Dad – Version 2.0 Updated

Let’s reexamine my requests for what I wanted in my *next* relationship and see if anything has changed.

My Initial rules for dating a single dad.

  1. Let’s not rush into things.
  2. I’m Looking for 100% Pure Connection
  3. I’m Into Moms
  4. Brutally Honest
  5. The Spark Is Only a Start
  6. Fearless Commitment To Monogamy
  7. Feeling the Feelings
  8. Dating younger women.
  9. Straight to sex.
  10. Who pays, who is the predator, and who’s demanding sex?

Rushing, Connection, and Honest

When my real lover, and now fiancé showed up there was very little I could do to slow things down. The honest connection was so pure, so revolutionary, that my “slow” rule was tossed after the first kiss. I did wait a few dates to go in for the kiss, and then even after she suggested wanting to kiss me. Why rush the moment? You’re only going to be in the first moments of your relationship once. Chill. Enjoy the thrill, the chase, the capture. For me, kissing is a big deal. I don’t kiss on the first date unless there’s something remarkable happening. And even then, it might be more of a hug and a peck and not a full-blown French kiss. When the honesty and openness of the connection appeared in my sweetie’s eyes I had no hesitation at all. The release into the LOVE was immediate. It was as if every circuit in my body had suddenly gone from resistance to acceleration.

Go slow initially. Make sure your emotional and mental state is solid. Then, when the right partner arrives, be prepared to have all your rules, lists, and ideas torn to shreds with the passion of your connection. If it’s not a map burning connection, you should even give that time, as connections do grow hotter over time.

Moms and Younger Women

Initially I figured only another single parent would understand the occasional “dad’s checked out, attending to his kids” moment. But that’s not how it happened. My lover has never had kids. And while I don’t think she will ever love my kids the same way she loves me, she is 100% supportive of my relationships with them. Their mom, not so much, but that’s water under the bridge.  So scratch that requirement off my list. And the “younger” was more in response to a comment, but I’m not all that concerned with age. And yes, my fiancé is a year older, so nix that idea.

The Spark and Monogamy

You gotta have the spark. That’s the key ingredient for pulling my heart-strings. Yes, I’m sure chemistry of some sort develops over time, but I’m pretty convinced that the YES-VIBE is what kept me connected to my previous wife even when things were going South. I was so “into” her, that she could do a lot of crappy stuff before I got mad. If the spark is not there, I think monogamy might be a bit more of a challenge. I’ve never cheated, but I have only committed to relationships that had the spark first.

Feelings

You’ve got to be able to express them to each other. She’s GOT to be able to get mad at me. So that we can work through what’s upsetting her. I’ve got to be able to show her my vulnerability so that she can respond and reply in ways that support me. In my current relationship, we were lucky to have so many YES connections right off the bat. THEN when my depression kicked in, full-bore, as bad as anything I experienced while married to the mother of my kids, even then, she was prepared to stick it out with me. And she did. And now the connection runs even deeper.

Sex and Dating

Sex is amazing. Sex is meant to be amazing. Don’t give your amazing to too many people, it can result in a lot of confusion for both you and your partners. I tried casual sex once. It was fun for two times, and then it sucked. When I commit to having sex with someone, I’m opening myself up to a relationship with that person. Sex without that connection is more like masturbation. It’s fine, and yes, it’s better with someone else, but not all that much better.

When I have sex with a woman I am saying, “You’re the one. I don’t want to, and won’t, have sex with anyone else.” It’s that commitment on my part that keeps it real and that keeps me from getting into uncomfortable situations when the dating shows up some real issues. Keep it in your pants until you KNOW this is a long-term thing. Short-term sex is unappealing to me. That’s what porn is for. With a real, live, human being I want to be 100% present and honest and I can’t do that if I’m only thinking about sex.

Dating and Money

I once dated a woman who made 3X the money I made. We still split the checks. Here are my simple ideas about “who pays.”

  • Both people should offer to pay. (“We can split this.)
  • It’s okay for the man to pay as part of the dating plan as long as that’s okay with the woman. If the woman wants to pay, to make it equal, then that’s what you should do.
  • If money is an issue and your date wants to go to a really expensive place or drink expensive wines (as in the case of 3X woman) then you have to say something. Getting overdrawn on your debt card is not pretty and not fun. Most of all it’s not honest or necessary. If she’s got a lot more money, let her know she’s going to have to float some of her expenses.

Summary

Go for 100%. Don’t settle for an almost relationship because you are lonely. That’s the time you need to take more interest in yourself and what you are doing to become a more attractive and delicious partner. If it’s not working out, don’t go further, or go on more dates to “make sure.” If you’re not feeling the spark, it’s probably not going to arrive on date #2 or #3.

If you are feeling the lack of any chemistry, it’s okay to bail on the date. Don’t extend the conversation to a second cup of coffee or glass of wine if these are merely pleasant. The other person might be picking your vibe, but if you are NOT, then don’t prolong the miss. At the end of a “meh” date don’t pretend you’re going to call each other. Just say, “Thanks, I enjoyed it.”

You deserve a kick ass relationship. You deserve honesty, monogamy, and awesome sex. Make sure you’re not settling for Mr./Mrs. Meh. In the long run, only the magic will preserve your relationship, so you’d better get on with the task of finding THE ONE.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

The Dating a Divorced Dad series continues:

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