Category Archives: self-care

Laws of Attraction and the Opposite Sex

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We are programmed to admire the opposite sex. It’s part of our DNA. Maybe more for men than women, but “we all look.” I was wondering about this a few days ago as I was walking around the lake with my fiancé. Still it’s so fun to look. What is it about voyeurism that’s so enticing? Or is it something more animal?

When a Lamborghini drives by I do my best to get a look at it. Something about the curves, the exotic nature, and the power of that car. 

I like to people watch. Most of us do. But I don’t think of myself as a hound dog. I’m not cat calling or overtly staring. And I’m not trying to hide it from my soon-to-be-wife. We both admire the stream of runners and walkers as we walk together.

Am I sexually attracted to them? Am I looking to cheat on my fiancé? Or is it more of a fascination thing?

One similar situation I compare this phenomenon to is fancy cars. When a Lamborghini drives by I do my best to get a look at it. Something about the curves, the exotic nature, and the power of that car. And I could stand next to one and not grow tired of admiring the engineering.

Perhaps that’s a similar response when looking at a particularly attractive and athletic person. You want to observe the lines, the muscle, the curves. But it’s not like I want to sleep with them all. It’s just that I can appreciate god’s handiwork and the attractive power of the opposite sex. I don’t really want to drive a Lamborghini, but they sure are fun to look at.

I also noticed the other day is how we are programmed to see youth as a beauty as well. And with today’s media obsession we are even more trained than ever to admire the teen shape. The zero body fat, zero age lines, race-ready bodies that go flying by almost have a glow about them. Again, it’s not sexual at this point. At least sexual in the physical sense, the sexual power is more of an animal instinct.

As I’ve grown older and more aware of my own aging and changing shape, I have become more aware of our how media-driven tastes have been focused on the youth. Except in my world, I am no longer interested in youngsters. I have a teenage daughter of my own. I’m more interested in appreciating the lines and burnished look of people my own age, or even older.

Holding hands with my fiancé on the running trail doesn’t diminish my enthusiasm for watching. I’m affirming my joy and connection with this woman, as we go about the dance of living together.

How beautiful to see a gray-haired lady smiling and cruising along getting her 5-miles in. I’m less interested in teen-looking athletes and more interested in people who are happy in their own skins, people doing their own lives with style and grace.

Maybe the fact that we’re all on a running/walking trail is a bit of a filter. Everyone out here is active and working on staying that way. That’s what I look for in a partner (one that I have in spades) and that’s what I look for as I see these beautiful women passing by along the trail. Sure, the occasional gazelle is pretty to see leaping along, but I’m no gazelle. I’m looking for people of my tribe. And part of that tribe is mid-life and going strong.

Holding hands with my fiancé on the running trail doesn’t diminish my enthusiasm for watching. I’m not limiting my opportunities by selecting and being selected by a mate. I’m affirming my joy and connection with this woman, as we go about the dance of living together. You’ve got to stay active to maintain an active lifestyle. And if you’re both into the task you can both enjoy the journey.

Today I’m not really people watching for attractive young women. I notice the allure and draw of their energy and physical form. No. More I am looking for the energy of life in all its active forms. The thing about a Lamborghini that makes it so fascinating is the rarity of seeing one and the knowledge that it goes fast. Same thing with my fiancé: a rare beauty that goes fast. I exercise next to her so I can keep up 15 and 20 years from now.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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The Joy of Divorce and the 3 Gifts of Breaking Up

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While we held it all together for our family, it was not all that ideal. But I was convinced that life was not ideal, and that for the comfort and future joy of my kids I would stick it out, no matter what.

As it was happening the divorce was the worst experience of my life. I was the one who wanted to work on things, but was told, “It is over.” I struggled with my own sadness and the imagined sadness that I knew my kids would experience. I tried to entice my still-wife back into the idea of staying together. I tried to bully her into realizing how bad things were going to be without me. I tried to convince her that she was wrong. I did everything I could think of to save the marriage.

Here’s the rub. The marriage was hard. Outside of the first few years of parenting (including the global crisis of 9-11) things in the relationship were not ever easy. We had very different styles of housekeeping, very different ideas about what made up a perfect weekend. And while we held it all together for our family, it was not all that ideal. But I was convinced that life was not ideal, and that for the comfort and future joy of my kids I would stick it out, no matter what.

My then-wife, on the other hand, decided for us both that “no matter what” was over. And though we said, “’til death do us part” we really didn’t mean it. She decided for us that it was over. And all the second person can do at that point is go through some of the Kubler-Ross grief stages.

But the gift of the divorce was bigger than I could imagine. Looking back, now seven years, I can say it was the most transformative event in my life. What cracked with the fracturing of my marriage was my own protective shell. The heart that was suddenly in so much pain burst forth from my chest and I started writing about it. Writing like I’d never written before. Writing, in some ways, to survive the crisis I was in. And I’m still writing.

Even alone, I was happier than I had been for the last few years of my marriage. As I began to discover the activities that gave me joy, I was able to include my kids more regularly in those activities.

The first gift divorce gives you is time and solitude. It’s painful. It was lonely. But in the hours and days of my loneliness I had to search again for the things that gave me joy. I no longer had the family group to mingle and play with, I had to find my own happiness. My alone happiness.

I wrote. I started playing my guitar more regularly. I walked the neighborhood endlessly to get into shape. I rejoined a tennis team. And I allowed the sadness and aloneness to transform me. I began to find happiness outside of being a parent. I got to discover my life’s joy in the times when I could not be with my kids. It was a moment of crisis that turned into a moment of self-discovery.

The second gift divorce gives you is the perspective on love and life. During the throes of divorce I was not able to see how this was ultimately going to be a good transformation. But as time wound on, I was able to reflect, first to myself and then to my kids, about how things were actually better now. I had a conversation with my daughter one morning before school that went like this.

“I know this divorce thing has been hard on all of us, but you do see how somethings have gotten better, right?”

She did not look convinced. “Like what?”

“Like how you and I are playing tennis together now. When I was married to your mom it was harder to find time to do stuff like that.”

“Okay…”

“And you can see how happy I am, right?”

“Yes.”

“Well, maybe it wasn’t going to get any happier with your mom. Maybe she was looking for something different. And even if I didn’t know it, maybe I was too. But now, as we’ve all gotten a little time away, can’t you see that we’re all a bit happier?”

“I guess so.”

The biggest gift of my divorce was the release to become a happier, healthier, and more loving partner to a new woman. I bring my joy and my affection, and this time, the rules of engagement are very different.

Granted, she was eight years old then, and not really processing all that I was saying. But the message was this. Even alone, I was happier than I had been for the last few years of my marriage. As I began to discover the activities that gave me joy, I was able to include my kids more regularly in those activities. About six months after that conversation I had standing tennis games with my daughter on the weekends they were with me. It was a peak moment to be on the tennis court hitting balls with someone I loved so much. I had tried to get her mom interested in tennis, but it wasn’t meant to be.

The third gift divorce gives you is the freedom to go forward in your life and find someone to love again. And, if we’re lucky, and if we’ve done our homework on what broke down in the marriage, maybe we will find someone who we can truly love and who can love us back.

The biggest gift of my divorce was the release to become a happier, healthier, and more loving partner to a new woman. I bring my joy and my affection, and this time, the rules of engagement are very different. There’s something about a post-divorce-with-kids relationship that sort of puts things in perspective. The divorce taught me how to be alone and happy. The divorce gave me two great kids that are dependent on me for love, support, and encouragement.

And then the divorce gave me the time back. The time to be myself and discover my core talents again. And this is the me that my new fiancé fell in love with. Independent. Joyous. A dedicated father. And a creative madman. And this creative whirlwind came from the trauma and transformation of my divorce. As I was losing everything I discovered a larger me, a meta man who could rise above the distortion and anger and love in spite of everything else.

What I do best in life is love. And that I have been given a gift for sharing that experience via writing and music, is one of the major wins in my life. This new lease on love is another. May you find what you were looking for. May you find the happiness that comes from within so you can share it with others. The divorce gave me back my joy and freedom and allowed me a second chance to find life-long love.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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image: with kids at enchanted rock, creative commons usage

Focusing On the Other Person is a Trap

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We are only responsible for our own happiness. Taking another person’s inventory is not beneficial for either party.

She’s still certain that I have done her some major injustice during the year or so that I was unemployed. And she’s got the big, state enforced debt to prove my fault. But it wasn’t supposed to go that way.

In recovery we learn that focusing on another person’s problems is really none of our business. We can only be responsible for our own recovery (from alcohol, sex, drugs, pornography, whatever). It’s called taking someone else’s inventory. In a marriage it begins to happen if you don’t guard against it. I think I was pretty good at looking at and working on my own shit. I think my then-wife often looked for reasons that I was the cause of her unhappiness.

Now, seven years later she’s still unhappy with me. She’s still certain that I have done her some major injustice during the year or so that I was unemployed. And she’s got the big, state enforced debt to prove my fault. But it wasn’t supposed to go that way. It’s the way the law is written, and it’s the way she chose to “enforce” it that became the issue. But had we been cooperative, or 50/50 as I asked, we would’ve cooperated and negotiated my economic hardship just as we do things like medical bills. No one expects them, but they come up. And together you deal with the issues.

When I told my ex-wife that I was going to be a bit late on one of my child support checks she got furious. I explained the situation, and the prospects for new clients. She was unfazed and threatened taking action with the attorney general’s office. The second month I still did not have an exact answer for when I could “catch up.” And after a few more threatening emails she stopped talking to me. She wouldn’t even meet with me over the Summer when school was starting up again. “When and how much?” became her standard response to any request for parenting discussion time.

We withdrew into our fighting corners. She threatened. I pleaded. I looked for new business for the company I was working for. I struggled to make my mortgage and keep the lights on. I was burning through my retirement to make child support payments and when that ran out I ran out of options. She was mad. She was mad like she had been mad when we were married. It was my fault that she was mad. I was the reason for her pain and anguish. All of it. Except we know that’s not the way anger and anguish work.

I am not responsible for my ex-wife’s happiness. The debt I owe her, money I did not make and therefore did not have to give her a portion of, is not going to make her happy.

Even at this time I could only focus on myself and my issues. I was working contract jobs for a small handful of clients but was not making money to make my mortgage and/or child support payments. My employer had lost a primary client that had kept me on the payroll. Nothing I said or did, short of delivering a check to her, was enough for her to relent or even discuss options with me. She was done and she let me know she would deliver our decree to the AG’s office by the end of the Summer. And that’s just what she did.

Now, about three years later, she is still owed this debt. The money I should’ve been making during our divorce, and the payments I should’ve been paying her, and now the debt I owe her has become a lien on my credit account. Yes, she has transformed me, a good-natured, honest, and transparent dad, into a deadbeat dad, in the eyes of the state and the credit bureaus. This new black mark on my record killed more than one job opportunity in the last few years.

This past week, when we reported to the AG’s office to reset the child support payments based on what I am actually making, she was still pissed about the money I “owe” her. I’m still her biggest problem. If I’d just pay her all the money I should’ve paid her, from money I should’ve been earning, then things would be just fine.

I tried this same kind of logic while we were married. If I could just get enough money in the bank she would relax. If I could get more of the chores done, hire a made once a week, and do the dishes every night, she would be happy. If I could get everything done and get an activity for the kids to do maybe then she’d entertain the idea of sex. Except there was usually a reason or two, an issue or two, that I had not anticipated or taken care of.

See, she was waiting for me to change. She was depending on me for some happiness that simply was not inside of her. Another person cannot make you happy. Sure, their actions can make you madder than hell, and sometimes their actions can be pleasing to you, but happiness is more of an internal thing. Happiness is a personal responsibility. That my ex-wife is still focused on me as part of her unhappiness just shows how much she still has to learn about compassion and self-improvement.

I am not responsible for my ex-wife’s happiness. The debt I owe her, money I did not make and therefore did not have to give her a portion of, is not going to make her happy. She’s not happy. She’s still unhappy about the way I’m treating her.

For me, I have moved on. I am dealing with the stress of the AG’s lien. I’m in a new relationship and feeling as happy and centered as I’ve ever been in my life. See, I know my happiness begins and ends with me and my thoughts. Even my ex-wife’s rage and antics don’t bring me down. She lost that power over me years ago when she decided to divorce me. And of course, I was learning that she never had that power to begin with. By focusing on my own issues and my own faults I am responsible for my actions. I am responsible for how I wake up each day and attack the hill with joy or anger.

I’m a happy climber. And I’m in a relationship now with another happy climber. There’s always going to be hills in life, and it is your attitude about your own work ahead that makes the difference.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

Back to Positive Divorce & Co-Parenting

image: dancing, creative common usage

Going for Eleven! My Third Glass Story

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This morning is a typical. I’ve had my two cups of coffee and a small bowl of yogurt. I got plenty of sleep last night. And generally, things are fine. But I want Uber-Fine! I want Rocket-Fuel-Fine! I want my third cup of coffee. [brief pause while I brew up a cup of decaf.]

But I’m not going to have my third cup and here’s why.

  • My enthusiasm will become overpowering.
  • I will miss nuance in most conversations, since I’m planning rather than listening.
  • I will shoot for the moon and be exhausted by noon.
  • The warm fuzzies may become the cold jitters.

That does not prevent me from WANTING the third cup, but I see the benefit of staying feet-on-the-ground real and having decaf instead. [BTW: this decaf with a little organic coconut oil is delicious, and my body doesn’t know it’s 98% caff free.] I’m going to have to deal with the normal problems of a normal day with non-heroic energy and strength. The third glass (coffee or wine) is a reach for something other than what is real.

The wine tends to release some inhibitions and stress while giving me a somewhat blunted view of reality.

For me, coffee is more of a draw than wine because I often am hoping to fire up the creative juices rather than shut them down. But wine is also a draw as the day winds down and I’m contemplating more coffee, so I can create more during the evening, or wine, so I can unplug and get to sleep, unaided, at a reasonable hour. Of course, some of my greatest creations were born of insomnia, so… Every now and then I go for the full-caff past 2pm and I hope for inspiration.

The thing about wine, for me, is it loosens up some parts of my inhibition. Now, in reality I need to learn to loosen those worries, anxieties, stresses without alcohol, but a single glass of wine does the trick nicely. And if I’m going for escape, for me, the second glass is all I need to trend towards bed rather than the writing desk. Usually, I’m in the mood for the writing desk. It’s what I do for fun as well as for money. [Well, more on that later.] It’s what I do for entertainment, at this point.

The third glass for me ALWAYS sounds like a great idea. My brain and my heart want that extra boost. My spirit and mind knows that it’s not such a great idea for me.

The wine tends to release some inhibitions and stress while giving me a somewhat blunted view of reality. That’s okay. And on Saturday night, it’s a perfect time to unplug the laptop and kick back for some SNL or House of Cards. No problem. But during the course of my normal weekly routine, there are very few evenings where I choose to disconnect rather than remain lucid. I don’t want to miss a minute of this wonderful life, and alcohol takes some of my observational acuity away.

Back to the racy side of the third glass. This morning, the third cup lacks the rocket fuel I was hoping for, while giving me the comfort of another warm and tasty beverage. Still, I want something more. I want some creative burst of energy to unhinge my morning, set me alight, get me going. Alas, I think I am stuck with my normal routine and my normal, earthbound self, to tap through this post and get on to my day-job at the factory.

The third glass for me ALWAYS sounds like a great idea. My brain and my heart want that extra boost. My spirit and mind knows that it’s not such a great idea for me. Sometimes, sure, but often, no. I need my powers of observation and wit to be sharp and pointed. Anything that blunts or amps-up those powers is not serving me in the long run. So, I’ll sip my decaf this morning, and dream of the stratosphere, but I’ll remain here in my seat with typical human powers.

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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Other posts in The Third Glass series:

image: my decaf takes the fun out of life, john mcelhenney, creative commons usage