Category Archives: sex

In Search of the Ideal Woman: to Rescue, Restore, and Ravish

I might accidentally be looking for the ideal woman. Putting my power into some image of beauty, fitness, and compassion that doesn’t exist except in my mind. That’s not a problem, the imagining, it’s the seeking of the actual idea that might be more problematic.

Is it any wonder that the 35 yo women on Match.com look better to me than the ones my age? Is a 45 yo beauty going to be interested in me? And why do the women my age, well, look older than my age? Do women age differently? Do we have different standards by which we rate men and women? Should I even be rating women, rather than trying to get to know them?

Attraction is the juice, though, that keeps me going. I’m actually kind of bored with online dating. I know the women I’m trying to reach out to have hundreds of emails just like mine every week. So I’m slowing my roll way down.

  1. I don’t really enjoy browsing women;
  2. There are not many new women, so it’s the same faces over and over;
  3. I’m enjoying my alone time immensely;
  4. My life situation is not really conducive to having a girlfriend.

Still, I’m drawn by the possibility of my ideal. I see her in fleeting glimpses on the dating sites. She’s young, fit, smiling, and doesn’t have time for me. We’re not a fit, even if I think I could do wonders for her.

So, is it healthy for me to keep looking? I think so. I think building and rebuilding my idea of my next mate is a good exercise, even if she’s months, years off. I know a lot more now than I did in entering into my last relationship, and those lessons are also keeping me a bit tentative about rushing into a new dating situation. I say I’m in no hurry. I say I’m keeping my sights realistic, but it’s SO BORING.

Focusing on an ideal woman is a bit of an issue, don’t you think? I messaged a woman the other day, 47, and even her online name was an issue: something about MissTexasEx, as if she were a former beauty star. I can see it. I can imagine her winning. And I can imagine her falling in love with me and all my hot mess creative maelstrom. (Um, yeah, right.) And actually, I can’t. I didn’t expect her to respond. She didn’t. I was playing around. She was/is out of my league, or really out of my range. I’m not that interested in a 47 yo fitness guru. I don’t think we’d have much to talk about. So why did I message her?

While it’s hard to let go of an ideal, it’s also fun to play around with “what ifs.” And given the preference, wouldn’t we all really rather be with someone super attractive? Now, the answer to that question is the most troubling for me. I’m not sure I want a beauty queen for a mate. I think uber-beauty comes with its own problems. I’ve met some beautiful women who were actually a bit neurotic about their looks. One women offered, “My looks are all I have,” when I met her for the first time. Sure, she’d been drinking, but you could tell this sentiment bothered her. I tried to reassure her. There was nothing to be done. And there was no connection, no matter how gorgeous she was.

Did the great beauties have too easy a ride in the early years? Did daddy spoil them to the point of dependence? Have their looks allows them to coast about in the being-nice-and-compassionate-to-others department? I remember a woman I was infatuated with in my 20’s who I invited to go waterskiing with me in the early mornings before work. She accepted and I was overjoyed just to have her around. But after a while, I was a little disillusioned. She never once offered to help pay for gas or clean up the boat after a run. She just waved and went on to work. “Hm,” I thought. “I guess that’s who she is.”

So, I have to admit I have a bit of a hangup about beautiful women. I think I would have to do my own soul searching to be with someone approaching the “model” look. Would they be tempted by the limitless offers they received from limitless other men with limitless resources? Would they deal with growing old in a confident and rational manner? Would their workout and beauty routines eventually drive me bonkers? Or am I reading too much into this?

Again, what is beauty? I know we are being fed “beautiful” images by the media. Often thin, tanned, with some radiant happiness that is captured through lighting, or the camera, or the clothes, or the makeup. But that beauty is magic. It’s not real. When you see the celebrities without their makeup, a bit of the illusion comes falling down. But still, I strive to catch a glimpse of these women. I imagine being given the opportunity to make love to one of them. And then I think how insecure I would probably feel around them. I’m not sure I’m up for it.

Yet, MissTexasEx still got a very nice romantic invitation to chat. And I’m sure that thread will never be picked up. I’m okay with that. For a moment, while I was writing her and admiring her yoga poses, I was in relationship with her. As close as I’m going to get, anyway. And I walked away feeling complete. I had woven my micro fantasy of us getting coffee, her finding me irresistible, and on we go. And sometime, today, I’ll probably open one of the two dating sites I’m still on, just to browse. And yes, it’s fun to look at the younger women. And yes, I realise I’m looking for a needle in a haystack: attractive to me, finds me attractive, available, emotionally intelligent, and we spark together. But without venturing out there, I’m going to continue sitting here looking at pictures of what might be, could be, but won’t be.

You’ve gotta get out there to get over yourself. It’s in the relating to a real woman in a real setting that things might become interesting. I’m not sure MissTexasEx and I would have much to talk about.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: blade runner promo image, creative commons usage

Fearless Love: A Holistic Theory of Active Love

Love is an action. Yes, it might also be a feeling, but ultimately your “love” is determined by your actions. Either you are continuously moving towards that special someone, or you are not. And as relationships go, it’s the action of love that will sustain relationships. The glow, the chemistry, the sexual connectivity all fade in comparison to simple everyday actions.

I’ve been wondering a lot about why I want to be in love so much. And what is it about a woman that makes me fall in love with her. What I’m beginning to believe is that the “falling in love part” is 100% up to me. Completely created by my imagination of where I think we might go together, what little things about her that fascinate me, and how I might go on trying to discover more about her over our lifetimes together. That’s what love means to me, the kind of love I’m talking about and seeking. The love that says I will be with you always.

In the initial stages of courtship the things that matter most to us are attractiveness and what we refer to as chemistry. I think it’s the little extra thing we see in someone that sets our relationship antenae buzzing with the word, “YES.” This could be the one. I could fall in love with this person. I can see the potential here. When the chemistry is not there, it’s an easy “no” that comes to my mind. It’s quick, it’s painless, and in many ways it is not personal. It’s just a preference. Or some intangible connection with our historical memory of relationships and love. We see something in that someone who lights us up. Chemistry. It’s either there or it’s not. It cannot be manufactured or developed over time. Love, on the other hand, takes a long time to develop.

As we begin getting to know someone we move beyond the their attractiveness and chemistry to something more akin to compatibility. Do they like to do some of the things we like to do? Do they snore? Are they friendly to everyone we come in contact with? Do they show compassion to the less fortunate? And of course there are the more relationship-related things like, do they kiss well? Do they brush their teeth enough? Can I sleep beside them and actually sleep or do they make me restless? Any misses in these areas can spell a quick end to a relationship. But as these things come into sync, as people make active adjustments to join with each other, the move towards a deeper trust, a bond that moves closer to love, becomes apparent as a goal.

If you want to be with someone and they feel the same way, then you can begin to actively seek time and activities to do together. This is the active part of early courtship. In long-term relationships some of this desire gets forgotten or left out. But this is precisely when love becomes an action. You have to work at wanting to be with your partner. You have to continually strive to understand ever more about them and their dreams. And from these images and ideas you can begin to piece together a map for how your two lives could come together for the long haul.

Trust is the deepest level of the relationship circle and it cannot be underestimated. As you build your relationship everything goes towards gaining trust. Even the small misses can begin to build distrust or resentment. This is bad news for the relationship and these kind of issues need to be actively addressed as a form of loving the other person. It is in the active participation of the relationship that you show your commitment. And it is in the depth and quality of the trust that you being to see this other person as THE ONE.

Trust is also a fragile thing. Once broken it may be hard to rebuild or reestablish trust in a relationship.

Moving towards the center of trust we come towards the ultimate goal. Fearless love. A relationship that continues to cherish the process and build rapport is a relationship that can stand the test of time.

Of course, things change. The trust can be fractured. One partner can fall into a deep depression, or be jobless for a long period of time, challenging all that the love relationship holds sacred. And these are the times of challenge. These are the times when the actions of the other person are either perceived as being towards or away from the love relationship. A committed partner can find their way through most challenges. But when one partner opts out, there is no future action that can save a dying relationship. When one partner says, “I’m out,” what prevents them from reaching that breaking point again? Once the cat’s out of the bag, how can you stop thinking about the cat?

Love is a tricky business. And love is built upon actions more than feelings or words.

Take care. If you want to talk to someone about love and single parenting, let me know.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

As Goes the Sex So Goes the Marriage

Sex isn’t everything. It’s not even the most important thing. But when sex goes off the rails, there is probably a lot more wrong in the relationship than right. Examining some of the myths of sexual ennui and suggesting paths to reconnect.

First off, I have to admit, these ideas didn’t work in my marriage. And there were plenty of other factors in why we split. But sex, and the lack thereof, was the first real indicator to me that something had gotten disconnected. Some aspect of our relationship outside the bedroom had gotten so painful that the activity in the bedroom had frozen over. Frost in the marital bed is a quick wakeup call or a slow death knell.

In my case, we did start going to therapy, but I didn’t make our intimacy an issue. I was letting her lead in therapy, because it seemed she was so unhappy. So in trying to be accommodating I was also sweeping my empty sex life under the bed. It didn’t seem to be an issue for her. Weeks could go by without more than a casual touch, and she was fine. I was reaching out for any touch and coming up rubbing myself most of the time.

How did it get so far out of balance? Had our level of desire always been so different and the early romance was enough to hide the mismatch? Let’s look at some of the reasons given for not being in the mood and see if we can come up with a strategy for rejoining in the bedroom and in our relationships.

Busy, Distracted, No Time

What makes a couple too busy to be intimate? What priorities get so far embedded in our minds that we forget our hearts? Work stress can be a libido killer. If I am threatened at my job, I’m not going to be ultraconfident in the bedroom. And if I don’t ask it won’t happen… So what can I do to reenergize myself in the evening, when I am about to arrive home and I’d like to feel some of our old chemistry again?

Remember what makes her happy. Does the kitchen need a quick once-over before dinner to get her feeling more comfortable with leaving the dishes in the sink to make room for some hanky panky? Maybe she just likes to know she’s joined and supported in taking care of some of the chores around the house. Make time to clear the distractions (housework, bills to pay, getting the kids to bed) and then make the time to be close and quiet. It doesn’t have to mean sex, but it does necessarily mean closeness and cuddling. Start there and see if anything develops.

Getting At The Heart of the Matter

Is there something else that’s out of whack in the relationship? If a woman feels the relationship is not a priority they are likely to put their energy and attention somewhere else as well. If it’s always your work, or your “projects” that are calling your heart, perhaps you need to look at what about your relationship lights up your passionate emotions as well. If you’re not sure what passion looks like, you might be in need of a refresher course in your love life.

Sometimes bigger issues can make their way into the bedroom, cutting off all hope of joy and passion. Make sure you get together with someone who can help you both work through the bigger issues. If sex is off, there might be something larger at play. Don’t let it go too long before addressing it, or you could lose the sexual passion from neglect. It’s not hard to see a young starlet and think, “Oh boy, I’d love to…” but it’s more challenging to keep seeing that arousal in your day-after-day mate. But the core of the passion will come from clearing the decks of unfinished business.

Back to Business

When things are flowing in the relationship both partners can instigate sex. Usually it is one partner more often than another, but there is little resistance. When the relationship is in balance, usually the sex is balanced as well.

Connected sex means seeing your partner as you are making love to them. It’s easy to disconnect and fantasize, but staying connected to your partner, seeking out her eyes, is the best way to remain close. And when the sex is close and connected the relationship is usually trending along similar lines. You can’t have connected sex when the relationship is in troubled water. And while make up sex is a thing, it’s not the best way to go about having a relationship, getting in fights because the sex afterwards is amazing.

Staying connected to your partner means being aware of their sexual desire and giving nudges and suggestions in that direction. Both your needs can be met if you’re both thinking of each other. Listen to what your sexual relationship is saying about the state of your relationship to your partner. If things are out of whack in the bedroom, chances are you need to look at what’s going on elsewhere.

Take care. If you want to talk to someone about love and single parenting, let me know.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: sex, creative commons usage

Your Sex Is On Fire: The Intoxicating Burn of Love

Everything in your body changes when you have sex with someone. For me, when dating, having sex becomes the moment that I go exclusive with that one person and say, “This is the relationship I’m going to give a try.” But these days, I am more clear than ever that sex is an intoxicant, and should be treated with respect. I’ve certainly gotten into a few relationships due to great sex, that I might have avoided had I taken a bit more time to get physical.

I believe sex is a spiritual event. A connection on a level that begins to transcend the normal walking and talking interactions of daily life. I’ve never been able to have casual sex. (Okay, maybe in college a couple of times.) To me sex is the beginning of a commitment. I know that my brain chemistry changes when I have sex. I get all electrified and positive. And this is just the sex part. If you multiply that effect with a touch of “love” man you are in for a serious impairment. You cannot think clearly when the sexual chemistry starts. If you go physical too early in a relationship it may cause you to overlook signs that this might not be the best relationship. You’re brain and body are so focused on the sex, and getting more sex, it will blow right past the red flags warning you to take a harder look at what’s going on.

There is no hard and fast rule in dating these days, about how long you “date” before you have sex. In fact, I’m sure that the swipe apps of Tender and Bumble are more setup for casual encounters, for the younger set, but I think they are heading for disaster. However, if you were to make a decision to indulge in casual safe sex for a while, I suppose you can try to keep your emotions out of the sex. I’ve never been able to do it. But perhaps I’m old-fashioned.

As sex leads the way to love, the pathways in your brain really begin to get hyperactive. You start thinking about long-range plans together. You start imagining yourself with this person, living together, getting married, having kids. Love is the drug that has launched a million relationships. It’s also the drug that has gotten a lot of people in serious relationships with people they otherwise might pass on. If you hit the love drug too early in a relationship you might not have the opportunity to see your new partner responding to enough of the varied life experiences that happen. What is this person like under pressure? How do they respond to daily frustrations with work, money, life? Love paints over your observational senses with a rose-colored watercolor.

I’m only just back in the dating pool, but I’m setting my sights on 3 – 6 months with no sex. I want to have time to meet and play with several new partners before settling in on the one I want to have sex with. The one I want to take to the next level. That’s the plan. We’ll see how my resolve sticks when I meet someone who really clicks with me.

That’s the thing, click, get excited, but slow down. Don’t blow past all the early experiences of getting to know this person. Don’t skip any steps. And don’t let yourself get intoxicated before you have a chance to evaluate the potential relationship in honest, sober, terms.

Take care. If you want to talk to someone about love and dating again, let me know.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: sex is on fire, creative commons usage

Back In Pursuit of Love: Slow Dating

Giving up on a loving relationship is one of the hardest things you might do in life. Calling it quits hurts and goes on hurting for weeks or months. And somehow, when you come out of it, the desire to be back in relationship comes back as well. It’s sort of a magic process, this human recovery story. Find love, explore life together, breakup, and we’re back to looking for love again. The human spirit is very optimistic when it comes to relationships.

And then there’s online dating. For most of us, a bit to busy to be sitting at a bar trying to attract someone, the online scene is the next best chance we have of finding companionship and potentially love. But it’s a long haul. You don’t want just anyone. You want the ONE. The NEXT. The lover who will join you for the twilight years. And that adventure begins with a single spark. And that spark is oh so hard to find.

Viewing hundreds of profiles can get pretty depressing. There are so many NOPES out there you might begin to wonder if there’s ANYBODY out there for you. Even with huge dating sites like Match.com and OKCupid you can exhaust the dating pool, browsing for maybes pretty quickly. And if you’re a guy, the next step is waiting patiently, hoping that someone responds to one of your outreach emails. And you wait. And you hope. And you wait some more.

Then someone cute and seemingly intelligent pings you back. “OH BOY,” your brain and heart say in unison. And we’re off to the races. And if you’re anything like me your imagination takes over and you begin to fantasize all kinds of date ideas, and conversations, and long walks on the beach. And the real trick is hinting at these flights of fantasy without overwhelming the other person or seeming too desperate. Just last week I overplayed my hand with the first woman who gave me hope. And in a heartbeat she texted back, “I think I’ll pass.” And this was after a very cool and promising first coffee date. But just like in real life, you have to drop the fantasy and move on. And we’re back to the waiting.

What’s different for me this time around is I have a much better idea of my ideal mate. I just had a 2.5 year relationship with a very near miss. “So close!” I just had a woman give me a taste of the potential. I caught a glimpse of that “down the road” feeling. I was looking forward to growing old with this woman. And I come back to the game with even more energy for presenting myself with a renewed vigor.

I learned these things about myself in relationship.

  1. I need someone who is athletic like me. (so we can do it together)
  2. I’m not much of a drinker, and that same ideal is of critical importance for me.
  3. The attraction both physically, spiritually, and emotionally has to be very strong.
  4. We need to be great at doing the mundane tasks of living life together.
  5. We have to both be working on ourselves, both in the relationship, and in building a relationship with ourselves.
  6. They need to be self-aware and emotionally intelligent.

I had all these things just months ago, and still the relationship went south.

It’s hard. Relationships are not all flowers and walks on the beach. A lot of the living that needs to be done can be repetitive and stressful. What you’re looking for is someone who can tackle those ups and downs of the human experience with a positive and joyous attitude. Yeah, I’m still working on that for myself. But I AM working on it, and constantly.

I’m not in the pursuit of perfection. But I am in pursuit of 100% authenticity. And I am listening and feeling into what I want in every venture back to the sites filled with hundreds of pictures and profiles of women.

I am hopeful again. I have one new contact that has potential. And I’m slowing my roll a bit. In fact, I woke up this morning composing a letter to her in my head. What I wanted to say next, to reel her in a bit, while remaining cool and collected. You don’t want to overheat, over-promise, or over-pursue. It’s a fine balance. Honesty, clarity, and some demonstrated amount of joy. But heck, I’m a writer, so I should be able to do this.

And I’m actually not looking to date at this point. I’m looking to find some friends who happen to be women that I can spend some time with. If things move on to dating, I want that phase to transition quickly into a relationship. And I suppose the difference for me is monogamy and getting back out of the online dating scene. I look forward to looking at only one profile, the one I experience in real life. So much of what people write about themselves is fantasy, or even delusion. And some of what people put in dating profiles are out right lies.

Finding that genuine needle in a haystack is going to be a long haul, I imagine. And this new “hello” contact is responding to my letters in a 24 – 48 hour window. So there’s that challenge as well. Keep looking while really hoping to be able to stop looking.

And that’s really what we are all looking for. Someone that causes us to stop looking. I am much better in relationship than I am in pursuit. I am much more interested in building a life rather than building an online profile.

Slowly but surely, with patience and grace, I will be in relationship again. Months from now, a year from now, I hope to be writing you again about “the love of my life.” Heck if you don’t believe it, how will you ever get there.

Yes, God, I’m ready this time. Ready as I’ll ever be. So BRING IT.

Keep the faith, and if you need someone to talk to, check out my coaching page.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image:  dating, creative commons usage allowed

 

The Big Three Marriage Issues and the Hope of Counseling

WHOLE-couch-2016

Was it marriage counseling or divorce counseling?

Chores are the root of many arguments and most of the resentment. She always felt she did most of the chores. Even though our agreement tended to validate that premise, it still made her mad.

It’s all in your approach to therapy. In our case we started hitting the couch before we thought there was a deal-breaking problem. We agreed that things were stressful between us and we could use some communication skills to help us work through the hard stuff. Maybe even a moderator while we dug into topics like money, chores, and sex.

Those are the big three. MONEY. CHORES. SEX. And couples therapy can help you unravel the details, but probably won’t fix any of them. Let’s look at them one-by-one.

Money

Either there is enough and you are both negotiating the balance of power, or there’s not enough and you are negotiating who’s going to work more. It’s a hard discussion to have without outside help. Loosely our relationship to money was I would work more she would work less so we could raise the kids with an active parent. For that trade, I would do contribute to the chores, but the lion’s share, during the day, while I was at work, would fall on her to-do list. That was our “spoken” agreement. The reality was a bit more obscure. Often I was being hammered for wanting to nap on the weekend when there were still chores to be done.

MARRIAGE MAXIM: There will always be more chores to be done. Your happiness will be a direct ratio to how okay you are with undone chores. I was okay with them, she was hardly ever okay with them. Money can help, you can hire a maid once a week. But money will not fix the issue. We had a weekly made and money in the bank and still, I was not doing enough to “help.”

CHORES

Sex with two people who are open and feeling is a magical thing. Sex with only one partner in the “open” mode is a different experience all together.

Ah, the root of many arguments and most of the resentment. She always felt she did most of the chores. Even though the spoken agreement tended to validate that premise, it still made her mad. And this imbalance made her mad most of the time. The problem is, she was prone to be mad anyway. She had some-kind of built-in “mad chip” on her shoulder. And chores were one of those things. I could be in trouble even before I knew what was wrong. I’d look around the house on a Saturday morning and think, “Things look great.” She would wake up and give me hell. Oh yes, men and women deal with chores very differently. Perhaps that’s part of the Mar and Venus thing.

SEX

Sex is the unspoken killer of a marriage. Men typically want more. Women typically want to be bothered about it less. Unless they are in pursuit of a baby however, then libido takes a back seat to purpose and intention. When my wife wanted a baby we had sex all the time. Once we had the baby, sex became a negotiation. That’s okay, until the negotiation becomes so lopsided that you’d rather have sex with yourself then approach your partner. And sex was one of the topics we rarely reached in “couple’s therapy.” Because there were always one hundred other issues, from topics 1 and 2, that I was not doing correctly. It was almost like she chose to inflame the first two issues so we didn’t have to look at the underlying distress: intimacy.

MARRIAGE MAXIM: When sex goes the relationship is not far behind.

Sex with two people who are open and feeling is a magical thing. Sex with only one partner in the “open” mode is a different experience all together. I always hoped for open sex, but occasionally settled for “whatever” sex. The sex you could take or leave, even after it’s done. “Meh Sex.”

Towards the end of my marriage I believe my wife was navigating us towards divorce rather than reconciliation.

But boring sex is a symptom of some deeper intimacy issues. When a woman is feeling resentful or unheard she will shut down sexual options. It’s her nature. When a man feels unloved and stressed he might turn to sex for affirmation and affection. When the two competing needs don’t match up, the woman becomes used to not having sex and the man becomes more adept at pleasing himself than his wife. Bummer.

Sex is hard to talk about. So talk about it before and after you’re having sex, but don’t try to cover emotional topics or “new ideas” during sex, unless you are prepared for a quick change, reset, or no. The best discussions about sex happen within the post-coital glow, the few hours after sex where you are both still feeling warm and fuzzy.

“I loved it when you rubbed yourself during sex, and I could feel it too.” Pretty racy statement, but great information for better and more mutually pleasurable sex. Still hard to say. But easier to say when you are both feeling optimistic about the relationship and the sex you just had.

DIVORCE COUNSELING

Towards the end of my marriage I believe my wife was navigating us towards divorce rather than reconciliation. She had completely shut down the sex channel of communication. She was angry 95% of the time. And her single word to describe couple’s therapy was CYNICAL. Yep, she was already dooming the relationship while still agreeing to engage in the negotiations.

As it turns out, we were not in “couple’s” or “marriage therapy.” We were working with a counselor who worked with a system that attempted to get you and your partner communicating on a very clear and simple level. What you attempted to strip away in the therapy was the projections, and regrets and simply deal with the present. It worked so well, that over the course of a few weeks my then-wife went to see an attorney to understand her “options.” Now it would’ve been more helpful had she brought that up IN therapy BEFORE going and meeting with the attorney, but she didn’t.

MARRIAGE MAXIM: Couple’s therapy only works if both partners are honest and genuinely want the relationship to continue. If one partner is opting-out there is little hope that a therapist can repair the damage.

Something in our communication was telling her, “It’s over.” So she planned accordingly. Had she wanted to work on the relationship the only honest thing do to would’ve been to bring in the idea, “I’m thinking of seeing an attorney about a divorce,” BEFORE she actually did it.

Once she met with the lawyer, the divorce strategy was planted in her mind. The encouragement from the attorney who wanted the new business, might be too hard to resist. The fact that she did it before talking about it in therapy… Well, that says, I’m done, and I’m doing this therapy to help you feel better about what’s going to happen.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

Back to Positive Divorce & Co-Parenting

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image: 14 months ago at my mom’s house, john mcelhenney, creative commons usage

About My Kids: Sex and Drugs and Rock’n’Roll – Version 2.0

WHOLE-2016-lustI’m certain now, that everything my mom told me about sex and drugs and rock’n’roll was wrong. Like, 100% wrong. My dad? Yeah, he didn’t tell me jack about jack. He checked out of the marriage when I was like 6, and checked out of my life soon after. It wasn’t 100% his fault… Oh, wait… Yes it was.

Sex

I tried to have a backup birds-and-bees conversation with him, but he assured me that they covered all that in middle school.

What I learned about sex I learned from Penthouse Forum, VHS porn, and a few adventurous young women. I knew I liked it when I saw my first Playboy. But the Playboy woman was never the girl I was looking for. I wanted something less voluptuous. I wanted thin, small-breasted, and adventurous. Of course if she had bi-sexual tendencies, well, that would be a bonus.

Kissing was the first adventure. Then cupping and holding each other. Then… Well, you know. I think I bloomed early in that department, at least, as my son describes it, now that he’s the age I lost my virginity, “We’re not even close to that, dad,” he says. “Maybe in a year or so.” I tried to have a backup birds-and-bees conversation with him, but he assured me that they covered all that in middle school.

I’m not so sure, but I’m sure that he’s seen more of a woman’s body than is humanly possible without the internet. Sure, porn is everywhere. And while Penthouse was racier than Playboy, they were still just photos. Today’s videos, and niche porn, leave little to the imagination. If you can imagine it, there’s been porn about it.

What I’d like to tell my son about sex today. When you do it, you need to know about condoms and how to use them. “Yeah, dad, I got that.” And you need to know how to get them. “Um, sure dad.” No, I mean, really. I have some in this drawer in my office, no questions asked. “Okay, dad, whatever you say.” And that’s the extent of it.

Drugs

1. My dad was a full-blown alcoholic. 2. My mom rebelled against that alcoholism. 3. They divorced when I was 6 and my dad drank himself to death.

Drugs are bad. Until you are out of high school recreational drugs are not only illegal, they are probably really bad for the development of your brain. I suppose if you live in Colorado (we don’t) you might get away with smoking some pot. But here in Texas it’s illegal and won’t be tolerated. Alcohol is probably even worse. More people die as a result of drinking and driving than any other accidental death combined. And death from liver poisoning or any of the other myriad of diseases associated with alcohol abuse… Well, when you’re 21, here in Texas, you get to make that decision.

What I learned from my mom and dad about alcohol. 1. My dad was a full-blown alcoholic. 2. My mom rebelled against that alcoholism. 3. They divorced when I was 6 and my dad drank himself to death. Do I need to go on? To say I don’t drink, is to say, occasionally, socially, I’ll have a drink. But going a month without any alcohol is not uncommon for me. I simply don’t crave it, nor the fuzzy feeling of being drunk.

Lesson to my son: drink when you’re of age. See if you like it. Don’t drink and drive. Don’t get in a car, EVER, when the driver has been drinking.

Rock ‘n Roll

My mom has always felt my music (I play rock’n’roll) contributed to my being kicked out of prep school. And while the events were connected… My music has been a source of joy in my life since my early teens. I am still a musician.

Parents of our parent’s generation were worried about the changes the 60’s and the Beatles caused in America.

What I have to say to my son, the violin player, about rock ‘n’ roll. Music is an amazing outlet for creative expression. I have written songs that really capture what I was feeling. No poem or short story can quite get at the depth of the overall feeling of a great song. Since my son is pretty sure he’s going to leave the orchestra next year (doesn’t dig the teacher) we’ve been talking about what instrument he’d like to learn next. I think he’s going to start with bass and maybe jump to guitar at some point.

That’s how I started in the 7th grade, bass. My mom got me the gear and the lessons. She must’ve regretted that years later, and from then on. It was a great beginning. And my musical expression has really helped me connect with myself and with others.

Message to my son: You don’t have to write music to participate in it. But you might like to have some of the tools to create music if you feel like it. Rock ‘n’ Roll, funk, electronica, all acceptable.

Parents of our parent’s generation were worried about the changes the 60’s and the Beatles caused in America. I would have never been able to explain to my dad why I played music. He thought the Beatles were sent directly from hell to corrupt the youth.

SEX: YES with protection
DRUGS: IF YOU WANT, when you’re old enough
ROCKNROLL: MUSIC is good, you decide the form.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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Do You Know What You Want? Dating Strategies After Divorce

WHOLE-2016-tangoFiguring out what went wrong in your marriage is a big puzzle. I hope you’ve done some work on your issues before you start looking for your next relationship. We’re going to start with the premise that you’ve solved some of  your own issues and identified some of the things that split you apart.

Online Dating

While I do think there is value in online dating, I also believe there are problems inherent in the social click-me culture. But let’s look at what’s great about online dating.

  1. Browse the available field from the comfort of your home.
  2. Put your personal value proposition together. (What you have to offer.)
  3. Put your wants, desires, and dreams out there. (What you are looking for.)
  4. Put what you like to do out there. (On Friday nights I’d like to be on the couch, or in a night club are two very different trajectories.)
  5. It helps you get your image together. (You didn’t post that one you took in the bathroom, right?)
  6. You can learn what parts of your profile people are picking up on. Because you’ll ask them on the date.
  7. Try some dates. Learn what you like and don’t like about “dating.”
  8. Low commitment of time to get a date lined up.
  9. Flirting online is fun.
  10. Seeing all the potentials is inspiring.

Offline Dating

The goal of online dating is to get to an offline date. Meeting is person is the only way to really see if there is chemistry going both ways. Photos are interesting, but they lie. Profiles are interesting, but they are about 50% made up. You’ve got to go toe-to-toe, face-to-face, to understand if you want to date this person.

Being with someone should be an energetic experience. Both of you should feel energized after being together. And you can’t find that through text messages or emails.

I found that my efforts online were fun and semi-fruitful (my first relationship after divorce was from Match.com) but they were lacking in the more fundamental aspects of relationships. 1. Do they like to do the things you like to do? (Not just say they do.) 2. Does your heart race when you are near them? 3. Can you pick up the returning vibe when you are with them?

Being with someone should be an energetic experience. Both of you should feel energized after being together. And you can’t find that through text messages or emails. And you can’t really see what a person looks like from photos. You get their BEST SIDE, but you want ALL SIDES.

Priorities

This is the biggest decision for you to make. What are your must-haves and what are your deal-breakers. And know this, these things will change. Things you thought were must-haves might fall off the list when you meet the right person.

A few of my priorities looked like this.

  • Must love being active.
  • Has a positive personality.
  • Whip-smart.
  • Athletic body shape.
  • Funny.
  • A single mom.

Then know that your priority list is changeable and resort-able. And you may change it frequently.

A Road Map

All of your ideas for who you are looking for are more like ancient treasure maps than today’s GPS-accurate maps. You do need a map, however. Here’s MINE. (The 6-Step Relationship Strategy)

Get your plan. Try online if you want. Get to offline. And then see what fits and what doesn’t.

And then you have to know this. Your map will be burned and charred from adventures. This is not a bad thing, it’s part of the process. You’re map is an idea of where you want to go.

When the right person shows up all of your priorities and maps will be blown away. At least that’s what you hope for. You need the maps and plans and strategies. But when the right person shows up, you will be amazed how little those things mean.

Get your plan. Try online if you want. Get to offline. And then see what fits and what doesn’t. It took me three relationships to find the ONE. And this ONE I hope to be the last relationship I’ll ever have. And we are both committed to that idea more than ever before. You need someone who’s willing to fight for their relationship. When you both played that role in your last relationship, you might have found a like-spirited person who will fight for your love, just like you will fight for theirs.

That’s my dream, and I’m sticking to it.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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The Care and Feeding of Your Lover

WHOLE-runner

Pray for your lover’s health and happiness, then let go and let them pursue it how ever it best suits them in the moment.

In the course of a relationship with someone you begin to have a lot of influence on their lifestyle and habits. If you stay in sync with each other there is nearly limitless opportunity for support and encouragement. When things aren’t going so well, there is also the opportunity for resentment and discouragement.

In my marriage, we went through various stages of a connected relationship, but over time we began to fall out of step with each other. And what starts happening, is a form of the higher/lower game. Where one partner feels like they are doing all the work while their partner is slacking off, or even being destructive or worse, self-destructive. When communication breaks down, one of the parts that goes first is our empathy and compassion for the other person’s personal struggles.

Today, my relationship has been built on a foundation of communication, self-discipline, and mutual admiration.

We are all on a solo journey in the end. We come together, we live love and eat together, and then… Well, in the case of divorce, we come apart. But the fractures that create the final breakup have been caused by the smaller injustices that we perceive to have happened over time. We have several ways to get out of the death spiral: 1. we can talk to each other and work through the imbalances; 2. we can talk to a therapist individually about our issues; 3. we can talk to a couple’s therapist; 4. we can opt out of the relationship.

OPTING OUT

Opting out of the relationship can happen suddenly as in, “Honey, I want a divorce.” or more gradually as we begin to turn away from our partners and towards something/someone else. In my case the transition happened over a number of years and through a slew of hardships. We tried options 1, 2, and 3. And at some point she picked option 4: divorce.

The more challenging approach is to continuously opt back in to your relationship. This does require several fundamental transformations. You have to let go.

LETTING GO

  • Your partner’s decisions are about them not you
  • A partner’s issues are also theirs, advice is always a bad idea, unless requested
  • Attacking someone else’s fitness is a form of self-abuse and sabotage
  • Not expressing your own disappointments and complaints is a form of passive aggressive behavior that will bite you in the ass
  • Controlling behaviors never work
  • Unmet expectations are the source of a large percentage of our unhappiness

Give your partner freewill but stay close and in contact — attachment is not the same as codependence.  When you let go of expectations about controlling or influencing your partner’s behavior, when you stop seeing yourself as superior in any way (that’s a hard one), when you can keep your focus on yourself and your issues, you can begin to get the relationship you truly want.

WHAT YOU WANT

  • A connection based on mutual adoration and support
  • A lifestyle that supports healthy habits and behaviors in both of you
  • A process for releasing and working through issues as they come up between you
  • Some activities that you both find ecstatic.

If you lean in to the relationship and own your issues you can begin to see the other person in a more realistic light. They are human. Their flaws are their own. Their demons are solo projects and a rescue attempt (symbolic or physical) will most likely backfire. They do not need to be rescued. They need to be connected with you.

In my darkest period, right after 911 and after my daughter was born to my own unemployment and fears of survival, my then-wife and I struggled quite a bit. We both struggled with demons as a result of the circumstances. I gained weight and fell ill with a deep depression. She became withdrawn and resentful. As it turns out, I kept working on my own issues and struggling to find answers, solutions, in the hope that I would eventually return to my happy old self. I cannot imagine what she was dealing with or the struggles she faced as she saw me incapacitated at this moment of great need.

I took my joy where I could find it: with my kids and alone in my own creative space.

We survived that bleak period and went on to raise two healthy children together. But the fracture, the mistrust that was planted during those crushing months, was probably enough to damage our marriage beyond repair. We tried. We were better at (2) talking to our individual therapists and (3) talking to our couple’s therapist than we were at (1) talking to each other. But that weakness, our lack of skills at disagreeing while letting go of the outcome, is also what doomed our repair efforts.

I’ll never forget the flash point several years later. We had just finished doing morning yoga together. And something was deeply troubling her. When I asked she unloaded with a brief burst of passion. “There is no rescue coming, if that’s what you’re waiting on. It’s just us.”

Her statement hit me on two levels. 1. She was terrified that I wasn’t going to snap out of my malaise and get back to work, back to supporting our family; and 2. She was certain that my actions, that my recovery, that my salary, is what she needed to be happy. But the real kicker was that I had not seen any passion out of her for months and this outburst came at a tender time between us when I was feeling loving and safe to reach out and support her. But her issue wasn’t her, her issue in her mind, was me.

HOW LOVE WORKS

I was eventually able to rebound from the loss of my consulting practice after 9-11 and the freak-out depression that followed. I gradually built my “working for the company” resume back up with a series of jobs. And we soldiered on as two responsible adults. But there was a missing element that had bound us together when we started dating. Her joy and playfulness never returned. At some level, the out bursts that began to crop up years later, were similar to this first one. Something I was doing or not doing was causing her to be miserable in her life.

I didn’t buy into that line of thinking, but that seemed to make her more furious and more distant. Sure, she was seeing her therapist and we were seeing our therapist but there was very little emotional connection between us outside of those efforts. As I tried to find my joy elsewhere, I began to write and spend time in my music studio after we put the kids to bed. I’d come to bed in the 1 – 2 range long after she had fallen asleep. I was also working a 9 – 5 job so our time together began to get stretched. My passion and creative thrust needed some outlet. And since our intimate relationship had also grown frosty, I took my joy where I could find it: with my kids and alone in my own creative space.

At some point, we all have to realise that we can be *with* another person, we can be close and connected and loving, and yet, that person still has to deal with their own issues by themselves.

HOPE IN LETTING GO

Today, my relationship has been built on a foundation of communication, self-discipline, and mutual admiration. I adore my fiancé. But it’s different than when I met my future wife. At our age, we come to any relationship with a more mature attitude and more complex conditions of satisfaction. We have been through the fire with several relationships and seen what didn’t work. So we attempt any new relationship with a more mature perspective, but also a new set of rules.

Pray for your lover’s health and happiness, then let go and let them pursue it however it best suits them in the moment.
  • There is no time for passive aggressive behavior – if you’re doing it let’s call it what it is and either cut it out or cut and run
  • I won’t try to control you or work your program for you, whatever that is.
  • Let’s see how many things we align on and how many we differ on and be realistic about our compatibility. If there are things you are polar opposites on, how does that play out? Can you manage those differences without feeling attacked or attacking the other person?
  • What do we love to do together? Can we make the time to do those things?
  • How we hear each other’s requests says a lot about where we are in our lives. Are we feeling self-conscious about our weight? Then even a “hey, let’s go for a walk” can feel like a controlling question. But it’s not. It’s our own issue to reveal and deal with.
  • How do we want to support and cheerlead for our partners every day? If we don’t, if we’re feeling resentment, the spontaneous appreciations begin to drop off.

APPRECIATIONS AND GRATITUDE

Make sure you’re living in the appreciation mode. That shows a lot about where you are with your life and how you are with your partner’s life, where ever they may be along their personal path to power/freedom/self-actualization/whatever.

And know that your relationship to each other is also fueled by your own spiritual beliefs. Joining in gratitude, even if you’re praying to different concepts of god, is a fundamental bond that strengthens you both with every joined or individual prayer.

Pray for your lover’s health and happiness, then let go and let them pursue it however it best suits them in the moment. If you are supportive and standing by, you will also be included in their journey. Perhaps this is the key to a lifetime of love and acceptance. Acceptance for yourself. Acceptance of your partner. And finally, acceptance of our individual relationship with God.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

Back to Positive Divorce & Co-Parenting

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Divorce Recovery Journaling: The Life You Write Is the Life You Live

whole-journal

The best revenge is living happy and seeing your family happy.

Journaling your way through your divorce is a great way to gather your thoughts, get your sh*t together, and just reset and re-gather your thoughts. Everything begins coming at you rather quickly the moment your partner says, “I’ve been to see a lawyer…”

It’s not important that you blog (as I did) but writing down your experience can really help you gain some clarity in your mind and confidence in yourself as you move forward. Some questions that are going to haunt you are:

  • Could I have done more to keep my partner interested?
  • Did I stick it out too long? Should I have spoken up sooner?
  • Have I done the right thing?
  • Will my kids hate me?
  • Am I going to be alone for the rest of my life?
  • Will I ever be happy again?
  • Am I lovable?
  • After this, how am I ever going to trust again?
  • With everything I have to do now, as a single parent, will I have time to date?
  • Do I want to date?
  • Where have all my friends gone?

Writing about these things, in the moment, as they come up, can help you gain some perspective on what happened and why. But can also give you ideas about what needs fixing in your life, and what you want to leave behind.

I would not have made the full and swift recovery had I not been processing the feelings through my writing.

In my case, I started an anonymous blog almost immediately, after my then-wife said she wanted a divorce. I knew that I would be processing a lot of anger and confusion. So I kept that blog under wraps. Even today, I’d rather my two kids (12 and 14) not stumble upon my anger letters and love poems to new and potential women in my life. But the writing was the thing. I chose to write it out loud, since I already had experience blogging for social media. And that early feedback and support came in handy for me.

You don’t have to do your divorce alone. But most of the experience of it *will* be very alone. All of the processing of the emotions will be alone. But if you journal out the feelings you can become better and quicker at identifying things like negative self-talk, toxic anger, revenge, depression, loneliness. When you can identify and label what’s going on in your heart, you can begin to heal the parts that are broken.

In my process of divorce recovery, I spent the first year confused, sad, and angry. I spent the second year hopeful, depressed, and lonely. In the third year I felt excited, sexy, and optimistic. By the fourth year of my divorce, I had launched this 100% positive single parenting blog, and come a full 360 about my divorce. I would not have made the full and swift recovery had I not been processing the feelings through my writing.

In the emotional recovery from your divorce there are a lot of aspects that you need to identify and actively manage. Here’s my short list of priorities.

Parenting – how can I show up 100% positive and real for my kids?

Self-care – how can I keep away the depression and keep moving forward on my goals and aspirations?

Cash Flow – you’re going to have a lot more bills, and you won’t have a partner to split the bill paying duties.

Health and Fitness – even when depressed you have to move and get out of the house.

Friendships – old friends need to be rekindled, and new friends need to be sought out.

Whatever you do in your emotional recovery process, however you plan to manage the rebuilding of your life, please give yourself some time alone to re-find *your* center.

Dating – how can I possibly be attractive to any one, and when would I ever be interested in letting someone into my life again.

Sex – yep, sorry to say it, sex is a fundamental need, at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy. We need it, we want it, but it’s not all that easy to get it and stay clear of potential emotional vampires.

Entertainment – You’re alone a lot. What are you going to do with yourself to stay balanced? (Read, watch movies, go out dancing, have coffee in various breakfast places around town during the week.)

Ex-partner Drama – it’s bound to happen. It happened when you were married, and now there’s less incentive to keep things cordial between the two of you. Take the time to get the care you need around this. Your ex is hurting too, but that won’t prevent them from taking a shot at you to make their pain or their guilt seem less painful.

When I began my other blog I was confused and bitter. But through the years, you can see the transformation in my writing. I wasn’t really writing for anyone but myself, but I did take heart when a reader would say, “me too” or “great job.”

Whatever you do in your emotional recovery process, however you plan to manage the rebuilding of your life, please give yourself some time alone to re-find *your* center. And you need to find your center ALONE before adding someone else into the mix.

Stick with it, your growth and recovery is the most important thing you can do for your kids, yourself, and even your ex-partner. They old saying is the best revenge is living well. Well, I’d re-frame that a bit.

The best revenge is living happy and seeing your family happy.

The life you write is the life you live.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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