Category Archives: sex

A Single Dad In Love, Again

WHOLE-no-goal

Neither of us are broken, neither of us need fixing.

Yes, it’s happened. I think I’m changing my status from single dad to something else. (Stops for a minute and checks Facebook.) Yep, it’s official, I’m engaged to be married. Married I say. Yes, I’m a dreamer and a believer and an optimist and am no longer a single dad. I’m just a dad. I like it.

Even with all fantasies of that poem, things imagined and dreamed, she, this REAL SHE, has blown away all of my expectations.

I’ve written so many roadmaps and rules, tips and hints for what I was looking for, how to know what I needed in a relationship, how to get my Love Languages stroked in the proper direction, that I’m pretty tired of my own lists. So I need to make a new one.

Here is my outline for how a Single Dad fell in love again, in spite of all the warnings and previous failures.

  1. She is fascinating.
  2. She is driven.
  3. She is self-contained and rational.
  4. She has a crazy, flirty, quirky streak, just like me.
  5. She’s bonkers about me.
  6. She sees the best in me and pushes me to be even better.
  7. She’s got the sense of humor and enthusiasms of a child.
  8. She’s never had kids.
  9. She’s fit.
  10. She’s unafraid to tell me when it sucks.
  11. She makes easy repairs.
  12. She’s got her own agenda, her own projects, and some of them don’t include me.
  13. She is grateful.
  14. She is spiritual.
  15. She wears practical shoes, but she also has flirty and bad girl shoes.
  16. She is ever rub-able. Always game. And rarin to go.
  17. She’s taking on tennis to be with me, doing what I love.
  18. She sets plans and sticks to them.
  19. She’s the most loyal person I’ve met.
  20. My friends love her.

It wasn’t that long ago, I was writing an aspirational love poem to the “SHE” who I was anticipating. And even with all fantasies of that poem, things imagined and dreamed, she, this REAL SHE, has blown away all of my expectations. I know that’s hard to imagine. But she, this woman, my woman, has let me know that I am her man. That she wants to spend the rest of her life with me. And that she thinks I too am the cutest, sexiest, funniest, and smartest person she’s ever met.

If we can keep our business focused on ourselves and our passions focused on each other, we’re on our way to a life-long relationship. How do I know?

Easy. We are both the fighters. We fought for our marriages even when they were failing. We were the one’s who asked for a re-commitment even after the deal had been broken. And if you put two fighters for love in a relationship together… Well, I think, we think, the writing is on the wall.

Today, we have all we need. And what we don’t have or don’t like, we’ve learned to ignore and tend to our own issues.

Sure there are things she does that drive me crazy. Probably they always will. I am anti-OCD, anti-schedule, and freeform. She likes her lists. She likes to ask what I’d like for dinner, days in advance. I still look at her sometimes and say, “What do you mean? Like a menu for next Wednesday? I don’t even know what I want tonight.” The real magic is to laugh at and love the differences. We both appreciate what’s odd about each other.

Quirks are the things you’ve got to learn to love as well. I love that she’s different from me. That her ways are logical and strategic and often seem diametrically opposed to my natural instincts. And then I’ve learned to let those ideas go as well. In my best flexible thinking, I’m learning to love all aspects of this amazing woman. Why? Because I believe in her. I believe that what she says is true, and that when she invites me on a trip to NYC, that it will (and did) happen.

I don’t work the same way at all. And I’m pretty sure that’s some of what she likes about me. I lead with my heart often before I know the direction we are going. I misstep out of passion and vision, when a more measured approach might have worked. But I always do it out of love. I always do it from a place of caring about her more than I care about myself.

My lists were all blown away when the right woman showed up. I like to think that my prep work, the writing and sorting of all of this “relationship” data, is what made our connection so clear to me. We have jumped fearlessly into this love thing. We’re going to get married. We’ve already started wearing our wedding bands. In the eyes of the state we are indeed already married.

But I like the anticipation of the marriage too much just to skip or belittle it. We are going to get married. And our friends want to know the plans, the schedule. And I’m sure she and I are working at odds in our natural patterns as I flippantly say things like, “When it happens.” She on the other hand, in my mind, is ready to make a plan.

But that’s the beauty in the end, of our courtship and partnership. She doesn’t need to force me into a plan. And I don’t need to buck against her plan or freak out when it hasn’t been put forth. We are indeed already married in every way but two.

  1. We need the legal papers to do things like combine health insurance or car insurance.
  2. We need the spiritual ceremony shared with other to celebrate and hold our tribe together now and in the future.

Today, we have all we need. And what we don’t have or don’t like, we’ve learned to ignore and tend to our own issues. Neither of us are broken, neither of us need fixing. In fact, as equals, neither of us has a need to be married. But I think we’re looking forward to it.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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The Dating a Divorced Dad series continues:

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How Faith and Courage Work Together in Love

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Love deeply, before you catch yourself doing it.

If you knew that your next venture, what ever you attempted, would be a success what would you do? What would your first 100% winning project be? Love life? Career? Creative fame?

Part of falling in love is giving up your control of the situation enough to allow the chaos of love to transform your life. If you hold up, clam up, reserve a protective walled-up space deep inside you, the magic might not happen at all. Faith is not the blind commitment to something, faith is expecting you will be successful and then giving everything you have to make your next adventure, next project, next relationship, next everything, a WIN. We’re all looking for the WIN.

As I was entering this relationship with my beloved, I was occasionally fearful. “We’re going too fast,” I would think sometimes. I even said it out loud a few times to her. But as we listened with our hearts instead of our minds, the answer was always, “You are okay. You are falling in love. Allow it to happen. Have faith.”

I trusted, each time, as I was saying goodbye, that something better was still in development.

It’s important that you not take this advice as some form of blind faith, or the idea that by praying about it, the perfect woman was going to show up magically in my life. Nope. I have been working, rebuilding, crafting, and singing my way back to my “most lovable self.” It took awhile. I had some stops and starts. I had a lot of times that I didn’t believe in myself, didn’t love myself, didn’t feel loveable. Divorce will do this to you. So will depression. But I kept the faith to keep on moving forward.

Sometimes I was moving forward without knowing my goal. Sometimes I was trying to force a relationship to be awesome, when it was not awesome. I wanted the relationship in my life, so bad, I was willing to suspend my disbelief and imagine that I could change the other person into being in love with me. I wanted her to want me just as much as I wanted her. I wanted someone to really be able to express love: verbally, physically, and spiritually. It’s a tall order. My first two relationships, post divorce, each had some missing ingredient.

But I learned from each of them. I learned what it felt like to be cared for by someone who spoke the same Love Language. I learned what it was like to pour creativity and joy in to a relationship that was no prepared to open up fully. I learned to move on and let go. I trusted, each time, as I was saying goodbye, that something better was still in development.

When the next woman showed up, she arrived with bells on, a tennis racket in her hand, and an attitude and faith that matched my own. I had met my match. I was no longer trying to push the river, make a relationship out of something that wasn’t working. I was met, stroke for stroke, both on the tennis court and off. And we smiled at each other and asked, “Are we going too fast?” We BOTH asked that question. We still do.

We already knew the answer. We knew it rather early in our dating.

  • This was something different.
  • This person was READY and WILLING TO WORK for a relationship.
  • Their faith was different from mine but equally passionate.
  • Their love language was undeveloped and not yet discovered, but it appeared to be “touch” like mine.
  • This person made an effort to meet me halfway on everything. She was scheduling dates. She was suggesting ideas. She was the first who suggested we might kiss.
In all my poetic longing, I had not even come close to the radiance I was about to experience.

When my beloved showed up, my game could relax. I was no longer seeking, no longer seeking to impress, no longer in pursuit. I was in mutual pursuit. The pursuit of a 100% connection. Keeping it 100% was my overarching goal. Without full disclosure and resonance, I knew I would be wasting my time. This woman showed up with her own glow, and beside mine, we caught fire. (Sounds woo woo, I know, but hear me out.)

There was nothing that prepared me for how she cracked open my heart. All the ideas, roadmaps, plans, I had been writing about, were meaningless. In all my poetic longing, I had not even come close to the radiance I was about to experience. Someone whose energy not only matched mine, but often out paced mine. Up earlier, running faster, eating leaner, laughing and praying more. I was amazed at this vision who showed up. I was not quite sure she was “for real” some of the time, but I stayed close and observed what I could about her and my reaction to her.

As we began to spend time together we both noted how much laughing we did. After a weekend together, we both giggled at the soreness in our ribs. FROM LAUGHING! That is a great sign. We were sore in other places from other things, but it really was the joy and sound of the other person’s laughter that I think unlocked our security systems. It was in the joy of our experience together, doing anything with laughter and connectedness, that we began to flag off the “too fast” warning signs, or questions from our friends.

She would come back from a night out with friends and say, “They just wanted to make sure I wasn’t being taken advantage of.” We both laughed at this one. We know how it looks from the outside. We know our friends (perhaps not the mutual ones, who know us both) are astounded and semi-supportive until they get to meet us together.

Then they spend a little time with us together and even strangers say, “You two guys are like a comedy act. In sync. Hilarious.”

We’re on a roll. Is it a honeymoon phase? We don’t think so. And I have to give this intelligent woman the ability to make up her own mind about this. We’re madly, passionately, in love. We’re a bit hard to take, because we finish each other’s sentences, we jump off into inside jokes like they were stand-up routines. (Like our own little Portlandia, Fred and Carrie can do anything and be funny about it. We feel the same way.)

Your expectations and dreams are actually holding you back. Your faith and love will transcend everything you imagined, when you click with the right person.

What we both appreciate in each other has been our ability to let go of the fear and allow ourselves to FALL IN LOVE. We consciously entered into this relationship. We consciously slowed down at the beginning and then accelerated with each week, as the connection deepened.

Once we were IN we were 100% in.

I have faith in two things:

  • My ability to be honest and express my truth.
  • Her ability to be honest and express her truth.

 

The rest is negotiation, navigation, and nurture. We’ve both got work ahead of us. We are always in a state of becoming. But today, I have my lifetime cheerleader beside me. And I’m always ready joyfully embrace her in all of her flaws and misdirections. We’ve all got them. I’m misdirected as hell sometimes. But together we agreed, early on, that we would embrace even the flaws in the other person, and that was the real key to letting go and falling in love.

Your expectations and dreams are actually holding you back. Allow yourself to see the person in front of you. Your faith and love will transcend everything you imagined, when you click with the right person. It’s a spiritual quest you are on, to find a lasting relationship. Keep spiritual in your focus. And as you love your own flaws you can love the flaws in another.

As she cheers on my creative endeavors, I feel the support that I lacked in all of my previous relationships. So she’s not a writer. And she’s not threatened by my writing. In fact, she wants to read it, wants to push me into being more daring. She even allows me to write about us. That too is a form of faith.

When I finish a particularly hard or lovely post I will read them aloud to her. I would never want to put in something that would hurt her. Ever. And so far, there have been a few copy edits. Together we’ve sailed through the challenges and questions I’ve been asking myself, and us, as we move forward.

Stay tuned. Stay lovely. And love deeply, before you catch yourself doing it.

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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How Love Transforms Us Completely When We Feel the YES

WHOLE-summerbeaches

It has been a long road back to love.

It was a long struggle a. to get free of my own despair and depression; b. to find a balance in my life when 65% of it no longer included my kids or my ex; c. to begin liking myself again and growing into the happy person I had been before the marriage went south; d. actually putting myself out there as available in a real way (beyond online dating). And that’s when she showed up.

My Maps and Hopes

I had been writing a lot of ideas about relationship theory, how to date better, how to relate better, how to let my own inner joy shine so that I might attract another like-minded and happy person. I came up with an idea called a JOY TRIBE. You know joyful people when you see them. And I wanted not only to be a part of a JOY TRIBE, I wanted to create my own.

“I really wanted to kiss you last night, but I didn’t want to distract you on your first day at the new job.”

I even wrote about how my “maps” and “strategies” were only projections. I knew that when the WOMAN showed up, joy and all, that my planning and ideas would be valuable, but that the maps would be burned up in a fire of passion that was this new adventure, this new adventurous woman. And I believe when you call on all your resources, put your attention where it needs to be, the universe will respond to serve you up in unexpected ways.

What Language Do You Speak?

Part of my re-education has been discovering The 5 Love Languages. Once I read that book, even when my marriage was collapsing, I knew I had stumbled on to a key to happiness. It was clear that my then-wife and I valued very different forms of love and attention. Neither of them are wrong, just different. And while couples can try to accommodate differing love languages, it’s an AMAZING connection when your partner speaks the same language as you do. Absolutely amazing.

I had not experienced a relationship with another person who was TOUCH centered. My first relationship after divorce was with a stellar woman who remains a friend and confidant, and who was 100% touchy-feely, like me. The first weeks with her, two years ago, were transformative for me. I couldn’t believe how easy it was to make me feel loved and adored and supported. A simple hug, a single word of encouragement and a smile, and more hugs…

While GF1 and I did not end up being perfectly matched, she had shown me a LOVE-STYLE, the Love Language of Touch, that I knew would be fundamental to my health and happiness. She set the bar pretty high and I used to joke that she ruined any ideas of casual sex or friends with benefits for me. For the first time in my life, when my core love language was being reflected back to me, I was happier and more balanced than I’d ever felt in my life. Even as things didn’t progress with us, we remained cheerleaders and champions for the other’s good fortunes. And we constantly reminded each other how wonderful we both were, and say “You can’t settle for almost. It’s 100% or nothing.”  She got there first, but my new relationship blasted in and transformed my life in even more unexpected ways.

I Fall Down, But I Get Up Again

Freeing myself, even temporarily, from the heat of the hunt, I was able to see myself a bit clearer, as well as the women around me.

When my new woman arrived on the scene, my scene, we’d actually known each other for five years. Our Facebook connection was always warm and casual, as Facebook usually is. And because we worked at the same agency for a period of time, though not together, we had about 20 or so, mutual friends commenting and resurfacing each others posts on our news feeds. I certainly knew who she was. I admired her travel pictures and her marathon training and the physical form that entailed. And she had a wicked sense of humor that you could almost feel in her occasional photographs. Her mischievous smile and laughing eyes seemed to be coming from most of her photos. Even when they were with other men. (frown)

So, last Winter, I was determined to take my dating offline, and even take a break from dating all together. I noticed an immediate shift. I was no long a man in pursuit. I was just a man. The women around me, young and old, were just women, not targets or objectives or honey traps. Freeing myself, even temporarily, from the heat of the hunt, I was able to see myself a bit clearer, as well as the women around me.

And it was in this exact period that a photo on her Facebook wall caught my attention. It was a picture of Laphroaig Scotch, which initially would not have been interesting to me at all, but the caption told a story.

“Silly Ex Boyfriend. Always give a gift you are happy to get back.”

I liked her post (odd move, right, liking some adverse event in someone’s life) and wrote her a Private Message about my sympathies. We had been Facebooking a little bit in December before my band played a gig. She intended to come but fell asleep and missed it. We’d been bantering back and forth in Private Message about that, so a little message to her, saying, “Sorry about your breakup. They suck.”

And The Rest is History

In her immediate response she mentioned Tennis. (A key word for me.) She later admitted to knowing a lot more about me than I knew about her. She had been reading this blog and knew that I was back into tennis in a big way. She laid the bait out and I took it for a full run and we made plans to hit some tennis balls the following weekend. Except the rains came and when she noticed the forecast she suggested a movie instead.

DATING RULE: Both partners have to put in equal amounts of time and energy finding ways to be together.

Sparks, passion, joy, jokes, banter, more sparks, more time in touchy-feely land. We moved rapidly into something beyond dating that first night we kissed.

Even through the movie and a follow-on non-date to see some music, I was being very chill with my emotions and intentions. I was, in fact, playing it cool. I was also, trying to observe her from an objective point of view before I let my heart and libido engage. And at first I wasn’t sure is she was shy, or introverted, or if my touchy-feely thing was going to be overwhelming for her. I kept my closeness but I never went in for a kiss or much beyond a nice hug.

The next day, after our music night out, she sent me a text.

“I really wanted to kiss you last night, but I didn’t want to distract you on your first day at the new job.”

I replied, “Ah, then my plans are coming together nicely. See you on Friday.”

Sparks, passion, joy, jokes, banter, more sparks, more time in touchy-feely land. We moved rapidly into something beyond dating that first night we kissed. I suppose my trial period, my austerity, ended with a bang. I was revving up inside my heart even before the movie, but after the kiss… I was in FULL JOY MODE.

The beautiful thing is, so was she.

Honeymoon Period

We have pinched each other and ourselves over the last 6 months. Each time something happens and we take a leap of faith into the relationship, we’ve both been surprised by the ease at which we’ve grown to love each other. Today we frequently tell each other, we’ve never been in love like this. Ever. Two marriages for me, and this is simply the best relationship (again, only six months old) I’ve ever been in. There are a lot of factors that might have given us the lightning quick connection.

  1. We have both been married and divorced.
  2. In our failed marriages we had both been the partner fighting FOR the marriage.
  3. We have a very similar sense of humor. (After watching a bit of Portlandia together, we constantly break out in similar character sketches. We’re taking a break from the show so we don’t become Fred and Carry.)
  4. We love athletics. She’s been a tennis player, but she’s becoming a Tennis player. And she’s a runner, so I’m running about 40% of the time now, rather than walking.
  5. We talk.
  6. She’s touchy-feely.
  7. She is fearless about addressing issues and complications as they come up. (See previous posts on this blog. And she’s even suggested I write on certain topics.)
  8. We absolutely adore each other. (While this sounds like honeymoony stuff, we’re also fairly experienced adults, and puppy love can only account for part of the bliss we are feeling.)
  9. We love sex together.
  10. We pray and give thanks and appreciations all the time.

Are We Moving Too Fast

In my first touch-focused relationship I learned what it felt like to be adored by someone else. In this relationship I am feeling that again, but this time I absolutely adore her back. This two-way circuit completes a loop that seems to take us higher and closer than we could imagine. And sometimes, we ask ourselves, “Are we going too fast? Are we making a mistake and letting our joy and connection get ahead of the relationship?

I know that we are not.

With this woman, I have established my new JOY TRIBE. And my two kids are basking in the renewed joy as well. By showing them what a loving and happy relationship looks like, they can begin modeling their future relationships on healthy patterns. There are moments of doubt, silences that don’t get explained, and uncomfortable advice from friends and family, but we’re sailing onward.

And the smile on her face every morning…

Is enough to keep me smiling for the rest of my life. (Or that’s the plan.)

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

[Note: This is the post I’ve wanted to write since I began this blog over two years ago.]

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The Third Glass is an Anti-Aphrodisiac for Me

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A wine rack does not an alcoholic make, a wine lover does not a problem reveal, drinking is not the devil’s work, prohibition has never solved anything.

I’ll admit, drinking from time to time is fun. Last night for example, we had a round of margaritas at a nice restaurant. And the happy hour appetizers made the accidental outing more like dinner than the spontaneous happy hour it actually was. And as I was the driver, I waved off the second round for me as I was nodding for my sweetheart to have another. It was a warm fuzzy of an evening at that point. All sparkle ponies and grinning selfies from the comfy couch.

We were both feeling fine when we left before the real dinner crowd arrived. We’d missed the major 5 o’clock traffic jam and arrived home in 20 minutes. In the kitchen we discussed what movie or show we were going to watch.

“Well, I think we’re going to need a short format show,” I said, as she poured a glass of wine. Sure there was a moment of disappointment as I acknowledged her eventual departure, but I was okay with the idea. I had things I could do after she fell asleep.

“I want to be able to remember these great moments too. I want to be present for the love we’re sharing at all times.”

And that’s really part of the deal. If the third glass becomes routine we will be spending a lot less quality time, lovey dovey time in bed, a lot less deep explorations of our thoughts, aspirations, and plans. When the third glass enters the equation I begin to clamp down on the inspired discussions about plans, hopes, and dreams. There’s some pause on my part, when the smooth and slippery tone enters her voice. It’s cute. I’m not angry about it. I just begin to plan what else I’m going to do after she falls asleep.

The night before, as she put her empty wine glass on the kitchen table, saying, “Might leave this out for a bit more.” We smiled at each other as we did the dishes and generally cleaned up the kitchen together.

As we were down to the finishing bits I picked up the empty wine glass and said, “Would you like me to wash this?” I smiled. I was not being passive aggressive, she knew exactly what I was asking. She picked up the glass, smiled at me and proceeded to fill it with ice chips. Both options were still available to her. She poured the glass full of bubbly water. A new smile crossed her face. The smile that acknowledged that she would rather stay close, connected, and beside me for the night.

“Because I’m fine either way,” I said, before she had decided. “It’s just that if your going to have another one you’ll probably be pretty sleepy. Maybe we’ll skip the show all together.”

Her decision was towards me. Later in bed we talked a bit more about it.

“I hope my hint wasn’t to over the top or irritating to you,” I said.

“No, it’s good. I want to stay close. You’re a good influence on me.”

“I just don’t want you to miss a minute of this live between us. I’m so enthralled and in love that any distraction takes me away from being 100% aware and present for you.”

“I don’t want to miss any of you either.”

“So I didn’t hurt your feelings?” I asked, reaching out to take her hand. I wanted to get this moment crystal clear between us.

“Nope,” she said. “I want to be able to remember these great moments too. I want to be present for the love we’re sharing at all times.”

“Well, not all times,” I said. “It’s okay to imbibe a bit. It’s even okay to go for glass four and five if that’s what you want to do.”

“I like that you don’t really drink that much. It makes me more conscious of my drinking. And I know less is better for me, and better for us to stay close.”

The relationship is not all about me. The balance is about how we dance through all of the issues we face.

I took her in my arms and kissed her deeply. “There isn’t enough time in the rest of our days together for me to tell you and show you how much I love you. I’m going to express it as often as I can, and the more you receive the more we both grow.”

It’s hard, sometimes, being the light drinker. I occasionally feel sorry for myself, wishing I had an easier way to eliminate the drinks for the evening. It has crossed my mind at various times to make some demands, to set a challenge in place, but that’s also my child of an alcoholic talking, rather than a compassionate and loving partner.

Let me get this straight. She’s not an alcoholic. She likes to drink. Occasionally she likes to drink more than she likes to be with me. Together, when we are drinking, there’s a warm fuzzy glow. Most of the time, I turn back to water and clarity of purpose so I can get on with some of my aspirations. I’m not against letting one rip, but I don’t ever aspire to have a hangover. And that’s enough for me. A buzz is fun. Intoxication is not. For me.

The navigation and negotiation around drinking or not drinking is an on-going discussion in many relationships. Often it’s a struggle within an individual to make the choice away from that third glass. But my dry-drunk mentality is no healthier than the alcoholic’s. I am in my own fantasy/nightmare that has very little to do with her and her third or fourth glass.

Had I allowed the knee-jerk asshole to pass judgement on her and *any* drinking, I could’ve easily passed on the love of my life. I believe we have a lasting partnership. I also know we’ll have plenty future conversations about drinking, not drinking, wine or beer, or in my case, more often than not, bubbly water.

Our worlds have collided and in some ways merged. For the better. I’m enjoying a bit more downtime. She’s enjoying a bit more ON time as we head into the evening’s entertainment with clarity of focus and intention. And then we can reverse the mode as well. Alcohol is certainly not the only inebriant. Stress, lack of sleep, lack of healthy food, all produce altered states of mental health. Even a sleeping pill I love has the potential to give me a buzz rather than kicking off a good night’s sleep when I’ve had a bit too much afternoon coffee.

We are on this journey together. She is open to my questions and suggestions  and desire for her to be more present when we make love, for example. She is okay with dancing her dance and meeting me halfway in the discussion about what WE want. The relationship is not all about me. The balance is about how we dance through all of the issues we face. She confronted and accepted my depressive episode. She laughed and applauded my recent job loss from the mean dysfunctional corporate gig.

Here we are.

I may cross over to the realm of the third glass and beyond from time to time, when we don’t have to drive anywhere. But the choice to be come less conscious is conscious. Decide consciously when are about to fill up your third glass. Talk about the evening with your significant other. If your plans have different trajectories, don’t judge or complain about. Take responsibility to say what you want and what makes you happy. Every night is a new conversation. Less and less about alcohol.

We’re just beginning our journey together. I cannot assume my ideas are correct and her’s are flawed. She is not flawed or damaged. She is strong and leaning in to all the aspects of me. I am learning to let go of my own baggage and lean into her, and all her facets as well.

The journey is marvelous and it continues.

This post is a continuation of the Third Glass idea:
The Trouble with Alcohol: She Likes To Drink, I Don’t

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

The “Third Glass” series:

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What I Learned About Sex: It’s Almost All In Your Mind

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The mind is the most powerful  sex organ of all.

I’m a very sensual and sexual person. In the Love Languages book, my picture represents the Touch-centered person. So when my sexual interest and prowess began to wane, in my early 50’s I got a little concerned. I mean, I had never needed any help catching an erection, and as if all at once I was having a problem even with an eager and willing partner. So I started doing some reading.

 

As it began to happen, my erectile non-cooperation, I started looking for answers. I wasn’t sure if it was my age, my mental state (I was a bit depressed), or the woman I was with. I was flat-out confused. Several factors that I was clearly aware of were at play.

  1. I was recently divorced
  2. I was depressed
  3. I had started some SSRI medication to help with the depression
  4. I was in the first relationship since my divorce, and my partner was enthusiastic and joyful

ANNNND, I couldn’t get a hard on on demand. WTF? Or should I say, WT(no)F?

The first few things I learned.

  1. A good portion of sex is in my own mind.
  2. SSRIs have a huge incidence of sexual side effects. (More on the second level of this issue, in a bit.)
  3. A sexually aware partner is equally into getting themselves off as getting you off. When you can’t perform they might begin to doubt their attractiveness to you, or even question the relationship over all.
  4. My issue was not ED and I was not in need of the little blue dick helpers.

But a longer period of exploration and education was needed in order to get me in the position I am today. (Happy, well fkd, and joyfully engaged with or without erection and orgasm)

As I moved through this first sexual-and-engaged relationship I passed through several phases.

Relationship Phase One:  I’m depressed. I have no idea what I like. I don’t even crave ice cream. So, I don’t desire her, it’s probably just the blues talking. (This was the first month.)

Relationship Phase Two: Okay, it’s not all me. I can learn to love her, to be into her, and my mind is the key. (This was the second month.) I started reading Sexual Intelligence and really giving some thought to my situation: both to myself and to this lovely woman, who really liked me.

Relationship Phase Three: Well, perhaps I’m just not that into her. Sometimes that happens. There was a chemistry mismatch. Nobody’s fault. I developed my Dog Rule of Dating from at this point. But I began to explore the idea of not being in this relationship. (The third month.)

And it was an amazing discussion we had the morning after I broke it off. We had breakfast at a Denny’s. Sitting across from her I realized how much I loved her. I loved her, but I wasn’t sexually aroused by her. It wasn’t porn, or unreal youthful ambitions, or some other disconnect. I was simply a mediocre response sexually to my reptilian brain. I wanted a greyhound and she was a fancy poodle. (My apologies to her for the analogy.)

MOVING ON

The next relationship I had was highly sexual. In fact, the sex was about all we had. She would have knee-jerk reactions every few weeks, just as we were getting close, and break up with me. All my doubts of sexual dysfunction on my part evaporated with this lovely and intelligent woman, who was not ready for a relationship, much less a relationship with me. We didn’t last very long, but long enough to show me that SEX is not everything. In fact, our sexual chemistry got in the way of me seeing early on that she was not right for me. So we screwed our way into the Summer before the 5th breakup finally broke through my sexual-fueled denial.

AND ONWARD THROUGH THE FOG OF SINGLE DADHOOD

So in the first relationship I learned about TOUCH (I had never experienced someone so touch-centric) and I knew I would never put up with anything less. In the second relationship I learned that SEX could be awesome but the relationship could be super bad. And that set up my quest for the next love of my life.

GOAL: TOUCH + GOOD SEX + EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE.

When this woman showed up I was overwhelmed with the passion and connection we experienced from the first kiss. We both stripped away our inhibitions and hesitation in the heat of our connection: intellectual, sexual, spiritual. Sure, there were/are things we need to work through, but this woman was on a different level all together. So many things were ON that I was really dismayed when my mental state collapsed under the stress of a new job, new house, ANNNND new girlfriend.

That’s when things got really interesting. Given every opportunity to run away, declare me a perfect mess, she didn’t run away at all. She stepped in, stepped up, and engaged with me on all levels. I don’t know how she did it. I don’t know if it was the chemistry and amazing connection we had in the first 45 days, or if she had already fallen in love with me, but I can tell you that I was feeling totally unworthy and unlovable. And yet SHE LOVED ME ANYWAY.

Then the issues with my sexuality returned in spades. Yes, a new round of SSRIs was inserted to cut off my looming fall into depression. And YES, the Lexapro-generic created a new set of problems, that I had not experienced before. And the depression was also interfering with my ability to focus or stay focused on sex. Even while an amazingly sexual woman was dancing naked in-front of me, I was unable to work up the erection to get into it. At this point I was really concerned, that even beyond the SSRI side-effects I was dealing with something deeper.

Turns out it was deep. This is where the Sexual Intelligence book came into play.

What started happening in this case was first, absolutely the best sex of my life, and second my inability to orgasm over the course of 5 – 10 “sessions.” WHAT? This had never happened. Talking to my psychiatrist I was happy to observe, “Well, I’ve never had such a sexualized girlfriend at the same time that ramped up the SSRIs. It makes a huge difference.”

And I began to learn more about sex than I thought possible. I was pretty sure I was the most sexual/sensual person on the planet. But I had to learn that MY ORGASM was unimportant in the larger scheme of things. What I learned in this few months of confusion was this: SEX is everything that happens before, during, and after orgasm, and orgasm is not the goal, nor required for an amazing sex life. I mean, I love orgasms, but I had to either get over that expectation or get into some funk about sex. And I’ll tell you again, I was having the best sex of my life. What? I was confused and a bit frustrated.

A few new tools I learned at this time, besides the deferred focus on my own orgasm, was that men are quite adept at masturbation.

First New Learning: Our hand is the most familiar sexual partner we will ever have. Sometimes the friction, speed, and unpredictability of sex with a partner makes it more hard to orgasm. Sounds like heresy. Jacking off might be better than making love. But the function of orgasm as a release and the hand as the vehicle is pretty mechanical.

Second New Learning: By showing my partner what it looks like when I do masturbate gives her clues about how I like to be touched. I had a bit of resistance to showing her. But as we experimented and talked about all that was going on, I read the “Men Fake It” book and learned about our practice with our hands is sort of like our sexual training. So showing her what it looked like when I was doing myself, was very good information for her. Good information indeed.

Third New Learning: Anorgasmia is a thing. And for a while it was amazing how often I was ready to go again. Without the release of orgasm I had no refractory period. She loved that. But eventually she also grew concerned with our sex, if I wasn’t coming.

Fourth New Learning: As far as sexual experience and my own sexual training is concerned, I was hyper-tuned to her pleasure. Most of my sex life was about extending my time doing her so she could have orgasms. AFTER she was DONE I’d go for my own. Her-centric sex is fine, but it’s a bit shallow. By focusing on her body, her orgasm, and her experience, I was kind of leaving my own enjoyment out for a good portion of our sex. I learned to let myself feel my own body, at this point. Just feel, don’t do.

Fifth New Learning: The connection is everything. As I had to learn to focus on my pleasure I also learned that really tuning into the WE of sex, rather than the SHE and ME, was a way of really enjoying things at a deeper level. And we both have some learning to do around pleasing the other person simply for enjoyment rather than our own release.

SUMMING UP GOOD SEX

The connection between the two of you during sex (foreplay, function, and afterplay) is more important that any goal of orgasm.

When orgasm is an issue, sex can still have all the fantastic qualities. In fact, I have been able to have more sex, and have sex longer, which was something I was missing in my normally functioning sex life. (BTW I’m off the SSRI and the effortless orgasm has returned for me.)

Know what does it for you and being able to show or tell your partner is a key ingredient for evolved sex. As we can let go of traditional SEX as the goal and open up to the full range of erotic experiences, we can expand our pleasure and our sexual vocabularies.

The mind is the most powerful  sex organ of all.

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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The Trouble with Alcohol: She Likes To Drink, I Don’t

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A couple walks into a bar. The woman says, “Saphire Martini, dry.” The man says, “Club soda with lime, please.” [What’s the punch line?] Bartender says, “Funny, when you came in here, I thought you guys were together.”

My girlfriend likes a glass of wine while cooking dinner together. Is she an alcoholic?

I will admit right now I have a problem with alcohol. At times my life was out of control and alcohol was the problem. Of course, I wasn’t the one drinking, it was my dad. My entire family was held hostage by my father’s drinking, his anger, and his resentment. My brother too, eight years older than me, did quite a stint as an alcoholic. I’ve seen the ravages of drinking, and I’ve veered away from drinking in my life. Not because I’m afraid of having a problem, but because I’ve learned to distrust that buzzy feeling.

I realized I was tripping because of MY reaction to her drinking rather than her drinking.

It’s not that my girlfriend has a drinking problem. She likes to drink. She will admit that she’d like to drink less. And she will also tell me that her drinking is more of a habit than an addiction, and that she used to drink out of boredom or loneliness. All of this I believe to be true.

Today, however, she’s not lonely or bored. She’s saying to me that she’s happier and more confident in our relationship than she can remember being at any time in her past. And still she drinks. So… There’s something else at play here. It is my problem with drinkers? Is it her wanting to drink less and still having a couple of glasses of wine a night?

For a while I was worried about this disconnect between us. She drinks, she knows tons of wines she likes, she has some sort of romance with martinis and talks knowledgeably and sometimes longingly about drinking. This was beginning to trip me out.

Then I realized I was tripping because of MY reaction to her drinking rather than her drinking. It was my drinking problem that was causing my own fear and doubt to enter the relationship. So I talked about it. She listened. She didn’t get defensive. I didn’t try to fix or change her. I didn’t ask her to stop drinking.

I did want to understand more about what made her drink even when she was with me. Habit? Maybe, but that’s not a good reason. Loneliness or fear? Maybe when she was living in a different house half the time. But when we are together she couldn’t be lonely. So I started understanding something about her and about me. She liked to drink. And I was afraid of drinking, hers or my own. So, I was the one with the problem. Kinda.

A week ago I started re-reading some of my posts about the relationship I was looking for. And sure enough my girlfriend hits all of the WINNING traits out of the park. But there was this, in something I wrote titled Seven Signs of a Healthy Post-Split Relationship.

Alcohol or tv are not constant sources of entertainment or escape.

Okay, so that triggered my worried mind again. I was reading some of my dating after divorce material, comparing how amazing and awesome this woman was and along came this zinger. Um, oh, yeah, the drinking thing.

But I have learned not to jump to conclusions and especially not to pay too close attention to what I wrote before I met her. I also said I’d never date a woman who was not a mother. I have since taken “never” out of my vocabulary. I had to. She is amazing, and the fact that she had not given birth to children had nothing to do with our love for one another, nor her ability to adore and love my children.

It was MY fear of alcohol that was causing me trouble. And it was my hyper-vigilance against drinking that was creating the issue.

So I didn’t stew on the topic, I simply told her about the post. (She is well aware of all of my writing, so that wasn’t a surprise.)

“So I was reading back over some of my writing from a year or two ago, where I was trying to outline exactly the kind of relationship I wanted, and I came over this funny thing…”

I told her about my fear of drinking, more specifically, her drinking. “And I was amazed how perfect you are, but this objection keeps popping up in my mind. I wanted to talk about it.”

“Sure,” she said, without a hint of frustration.

“Over margaritas, of course!”

“Of course,” she joked. “Let me change clothes and we can go.”

That was a few months ago, and she’s still drinking. I’m even drinking a bit. Partially to join her, partially to allow myself to learn from her about all of her travels, wine parings, and knowledge of alcohol. She really is sort of an amateur-expert.

At the same time I had to confront my own fears, and own them. It was MY fear of alcohol that was causing me trouble. And it was my hyper-vigilance against drinking that was creating the issue. So we kept dating, she kept drinking, and I kept talking and writing about it.

This was a big reveal to me: Everyone who drinks is not an alcoholic.

Okay, so I was letting go of that idea as I was observing our relationship and interactions around alcohol. She and I exchanged some jovial banter about her drinking and I sipped the Pinot and smiled. And over time I began to see what was bothering ME about her drinking. So I told her about my theory. Here it is.

The Third Glass (Making the choice consciously.)

It’s the third glass of wine that determines if we are going to have an evening together or if you are going to head off into some other place where I can’t really reach you or relate to you. One glass to cook, one glass with dinner… and then a choice.

Towards Me (No more wine means let’s be together tonight.”

If she is happy and content, I can’t see why she would need that next glass of wine to feel happy or secure. If she knows and experiences my love as true and present, she wouldn’t want to turn away from those feelings by dipping further into the wine. And here is my own wounded boy’s idea: if she loved me she wouldn’t drink until she was intoxicated.

Away From Me (Yes please, pour me another, means I’ve had a rough day, I’m feeling tired, I’d rather go to bed early.)

It’s that third glass, metaphorically that signals an intention to move away from our closeness and conversation into some altered state. Perhaps there is a numbness or release in the intoxication for her. But unwinding with a glass of wine is different when the third glass is poured and consumed and the words begin to blend together just a bit, and her jovial attitude shifts ever so slightly towards aloof and distant.

Again, this is my reaction and my emotional response to her drinking that next glass of wine. If she chooses to drink more, I tell her, it feels like you are leaving me in some ways. I can’t share at the same level. I don’t want to get lovey dovey. And the real communication between us has to be put on hold until the morning. That’s how it feels to me, the sober one. I can’t say how it feels for you. Perhaps I am too focused, too obsessive about not drinking, and the third glass let’s you unplug not only from your stressful day, but also from my intensity and earnestness.

What I really wanted to make sure I told her, as I was discovering all this stuff about me and my reaction to drinking in general, was that I didn’t need her to stop drinking. I didn’t even need her to limit her drinking to two glasses. What I wanted from her was to observe when she made that decision *away* from our closeness and into a less approachable state.

Several things I believe to be true about dealing with someone who is buzzed. (I define this as tipsy, slurring a bit, but mostly lucid. Not drunk, but intoxicated, or impaired. In this case, by choice.)

  1. Don’t take on any serious subjects with them.
  2. Don’t talk about their drinking until the next day when they are sober. Trying to talk to someone who is drunk about drinking is a no-win situation.
  3. Make sure they are safe and comfortable. And in my case, put her to bed, lovingly, and go about my evening routine without her.
  4. Sex can be okay with a buzzed person, but if you’re not both a bit hazy it can make for some awkward moments. And for the most part, when she’s had the third glass and I have not, my desire for sex with her diminishes a bit.

So now we’ve had this talk. I’ve made up this concept of the Third Glass and she says, “I think a lot of people will really understand what you are talking about.”

When she has the third glass of wine, in my mind she is turning away from the relationship and into some self-imposed isolation or altered state.

As we move forward, I am clear with her about my limits for me. I might have a beer or a glass of wine with dinner, but that’s about it, unless we go out for margaritas. And for her the choices are a bit more complex. I’m sure I’ve caused her some stress around this, but it has to be out in the open and discussed.

When she has the third glass of wine, in my mind she is turning away from the relationship and into some self-imposed isolation or altered state. I have to let go of the outcome, and let go of my expectations, or speak up if I have a problem. [Again, please note, this is *my* frame around her drinking, not hers.] When she asks for a glass of water after dinner she is signaling that she wants to remain close for the rest of the evening. Both choices are fine. If I don’t attach my own stigma to the choice, I can allow her to take either path without guilt or shame. I can let go of my baggage and allow her to be exactly who she wants to be.

If she drinks the third glass I begin looking for what I’m going to do that evening when she’s fallen asleep. If she asks for water, my mind enters into a different set of fantasies that involve her participation. The real joy is that we’ve had this discussion. I even said I would run this post by her before I published it, so she could edit or give feedback. The last thing I want is to damage our relationship by exposing too much or causing her pain.

Last night, as I was cleaning up the dishes I looked at her with a sly grin as I held the cork above the bottle in an unspoken question. “Yes,” she said, “Put the cork in the bottle and get me a glass of water.” What that said to me was, “I’m here, I’m happy, and what are we going to do together tonight?”

Afterword: And the amazing thing is after I read this to her we were closer and even more ready to have the discussion in the moment about drinking, hers AND mine. (grin)

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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Are You Receiving Me? When Not Listening Turns Towards Divorce

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What causes couples to stop listening to each other?

In the beginning of your relationship (remember the courtship phase) there was nothing sweeter than the sound of your new sweetheart’s voice. It didn’t matter if you were both talking about work, or a movie, or what you were looking for in a long-term relationship. The sound of their voice and the way they looked at you was enough to send you to the moon, to make you believe, to give your heart the final push to let yourself fall in love.

It was from this confidence in my relationship that I was still writing love songs and poems to my beautiful wife.

And falling was easy, they said the right things, they wanted to be with you as much as they could, they reassured you of your attractiveness to them and their fidelity to your burgeoning relationship. All was bliss and planning and discovery.

How and why does your lover’s, partner’s, coparent’s voice become less intriguing? And when did they stop listening to you all together? Was there some event? Was it a gradual falling apart?

In my marriage we listened and laughed our way through the courting and falling in love phases rather quickly. Right place, right time, I guess. And then somewhere along the way, our words no longer conveyed the caring and love it once did. Sure we had a lot of conversations about chores and bills and delegation of tasks and errands. But along the way I was still constantly reaching back towards the love expression we once shared. I was writing love poems and love songs. I was doing the best I could in the marriage, but I was still reaching to bridge the widening gap between us with words of love. Sure, doing the dishes or vacuuming was more concrete than a love poem, but it was the whole experience we were grooving on.

I have tried many times to unravel the past and see just where the inflection happened and we veered off into ignoring and isolating rather than enjoying and celebrating. There was a very specific moment and series of events that began the fracture that eventually became our divorce.

I had been working at a big corp job for two years and suddenly the 2009 economic reset downsized the entire company, taking most of the creative people and over half of my group out. It was a hard blow, but they also gave me six months pay with insurance to soften the landing.

When they told us about the offer in November I immediately began planning for my next career move. One of the things I started right then was a blog about the social media marketing that I’d been doing for this international tech company. I had always been a writer and the blog became my megaphone for my career ideas, my business marketing ideas, and my real-world experience lessons in trying to use social media to generate revenue.

The blog took off. I had a few early hit posts that began building a readership. And I worked Twitter like a fiend, imagining it as the next real force in marketing. But something happened at the same time to the communication and trust in my marriage. I remember the lunch we shared when our divergent perspectives and ambitions clashed in the bright clear February day.

“Well,” I said, “It seems like I have six months to figure out what’s next.”

“No,” she said, “It’s only about thirty thousand dollars and that really doesn’t get us very far.”

I was stunned. “Wait. What?” I was happy about the opportunity to retool and find a job with a bit more work/life balance. I was recovered from the job loss and on to my trademark optimism about the future. She was building her spreadsheets and being very pragmatic about the dollars and expenses and what she felt was a very risky period for us.

The reason I came to understand later was she really wanted me to just get another big corp job and be back on the path we had been on for two years. I was 20 pounds heavier and completely burned out and was looking forward to reframing our lives in a different way. I could not just go back to the corp job grind stone. I had to find a better job, a better way to earn a living. And we had to work together to make a sufficient income to live the life we had established.

Over the next few weeks we worked on this disagreement in therapy. We built our own spreadsheets in excel and exchanged ideas about what we envisioned for our future. But we couldn’t quite reconcile the two opposite ideas: her: just get another great job, me: I want to find a more healthy way to earn a living.

At one point she told me point-blank that she wasn’t in love with me any more. She was giving me a warning, “You’d better listen to me. You’d better pay attention to what I’m saying. I am not happy.”

She also started taking aim at my blog, saying I was being mean, or saying things that might come back to haunt me when I was looking for the next job. I didn’t agree at all. I was building a new potential for employment. I was blogging with the intention of selling my expertise as a consultant. I was also picking up momentum with the posts and began building an audience. I picked up a few consulting gigs at this time, even as I was looking for work in the traditional way. The next job eluded me. I had interviews. I was getting the response on my resume that I wanted, but something wasn’t putting me in the HIRED column.

A few months after our initial meltdown it began to happen. She had always been good at expressing her anger and frustration, but she was really beginning to let me have it. Complaints were an acceptable form of behavior modification, but her complaints became rages. She occasionally blurted out, “F*** You” in a moment of frustration. And it was as if her anger was spilling over beyond her ability to contain it. Why she wasn’t getting at this with her individual therapist  I don’t know, but she was certainly trying to work it out with me.

At one point she told me point-blank that she wasn’t in love with me any more. She was giving me a warning, “You’d better listen to me. You’d better pay attention to what I’m saying. I am not happy.”

I tried to be zen about it and cooperate and respond while continuing to go about my merry way, in terms of job hunting, consulting, and blogging. But my positive attitude seemed to signal to her that I was not taking her threats and warnings seriously. I was, and I wasn’t. We were in couples therapy. We were in a committed marriage. And we were having some problems. No problem. We’d work it out.

Somewhere deep inside me I was solid in my belief in the marriage. This was just a difficult period that we would get through, as we had done so many times before. I remember saying a couple times, “I don’t really like you right now, and I know you don’t like me, but I love you and am committed to this marriage. We’ll get through this tough time.” That is what I believed. That is also what I based my confidence and positive attitude in the midst of all this obvious angst on her part. I KNEW my marriage was solid, the details would unfold and we could repair the relationship as we went along.

It was from this confidence in my relationship that I was still writing love songs and poems to my beautiful wife. Sure, my beautiful wife was frustrated with me 24/7 and wasn’t interested sex at all, but we’d get through this. I was sure of it. And I was calm in the face of her escalations and demands. I think that might have made her even more angry.

I wasn’t all that calm inside. I was hurt by her words. I was sad that she was not responding or even smiling at my songs and poems. Sure, words are not enough, but I was doing everything I could around the house to be the best husband and father that I could be. I had been stepping up my partner-in-chores role for over a year. I also felt like I was putting in 110% percent to the marriage. And part of that contribution was not responding in kind to her outbursts. I was hurting and feeling abandoned and isolated, but the inner commitment to my marriage and parenting with her, was unsullied.

It was from that confidence that I began to express my own dissatisfaction with the relationship. It had been several months since the money/severance conversation and I had landed a new big corp job. All the requests from her had finally been fulfilled. We had enough money, I had the big job with benefits and retirement contributions. I was still over-performing as a responsible parent and home owner.

It wasn’t enough for her. Nothing shifted. Even when there was money in the bank, and money coming in, and a maid to help with laundry and general cleaning, she was still madder than hell at me. As I began to realize that all the things she used to be mad at me no longer applied, I was expecting some of *her* joy and intimacy to return. With all the conditions of satisfaction met she was still as frustrated as ever.

Guess what? It wasn’t me that was making her mad.

So I began to express my own frustration and disappointments. I wanted to revisit our sex life in therapy and understand where she had gone. I wanted her to get her own anger issues under control so we could rebuild our friendship and trust.

It was under these stresses and disconnections that I lost the big corp job after 4 months. Sure it was a serious blow, and I had a case against them for discrimination, but I knew we would recover.

On top of everything she was going through personally and the festering anger at me the job loss without reasonable explanation was too much for her. She snapped. All the threats and complaints she had been lofting at me suddenly made 100% sense to her. I was an unreliable breadwinner. I was killing my opportunities through my edgy blog. And I was not changing into the person she wanted me to be, so… She was done.

Of course there were a ton of emotional and practical issues that we had between us, but in the end I was demanding a change and she was claiming that I hadn’t changed enough.

Within a few weeks we were negotiating a divorce rather than strategizing a rebirth of our love. I was unprepared for the revelation that she had been to an attorney to consider her options for divorce. I was blind sided. Not because I was happy. No, I had been expressing my own dissatisfaction for the first time in our marriage. I was blindsided because I had no concept that our MARRIAGE was in trouble. I was still 100% committed to our marriage. And it was from that belief and joint agreement that I felt confident to stand up and state what I wanted in the relationship.

When the other partner decides, however, there is very little the committed partner can do. The fracture has happened. The other person has declaired they are considering divorce. Then that option is forever on the table and could be used as leverage. I’m considering divorce if you don’t… If you won’t change, I’m going to divorce you.

I was not what was making her mad. I was also not capable of making her happy, nor making her want to stay in the marriage. Once the “talked a lawyer to consider my options” card had been laid on the table, all bets were off. I had no more confidence that the solidity of our relationship was capable of withstanding some readjustments.

It seems crass now to say it, but in the end I believe she just wanted me to go back and get the corporate job. It allowed her to freelance and spend time at the kid’s school being a volunteer. And when I declared that in the long run that was not going to be my path, that I would get the job but I was planning a move to something else, she was faced with the reality that I wanted her to contribute fully to our financial needs so that we could *both* live a more balanced life. That was enough to break up our family and seek greener pastures.

Of course there were a ton of emotional and practical issues that we had between us, but in the end I was demanding a change and she was claiming that I hadn’t changed enough. I actually think she wanted me to continue pulling in the big bucks regardless of the health impact it had on me. It was definitely an easier lifestyle for her.

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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May I Fall In Love With You?

WHOLE-beach-couple

I mean, do I light you up? Wait… What I want to say is, I don’t want to reveal my hand too quickly, but I really like you. I can tell we’d be great together… What do you say?

Do you long for the intoxication of love again, like me? I can feel it in my bones, growing stronger daily, as I grow stronger and more confident. And the more clear I get about 100% or nothing, the easier it is to make decisions about my time and efforts. Dating and a relationship will be a core part of my life again. Today, not so much.

And I can still recall twice in my life, the thrill of that moment when I realized my heart was spinning out of control and there was nothing I’d rather do than be with this other beautiful person. Whew! Only twice? Dang, that’s inspiration enough.

Perhaps my then-wife had different ideas, different fears, different strengths and weaknesses she brought to the marriage.

But some people, I’m sure, get addicted to that new rush. As the ennui of a long-term relationship sets in they begin looking for something, some spark, outside that relationship. It doesn’t always have to be sexual. Maybe it’s an outside hobby, like running or tennis. Perhaps it’s a work relationship focused on a difficult project. When your heart is complacent or bored, you might begin to look outside your relationship for that jazz, that new energy, that excitement.

That’s a miss.

In my marriage, even as things were trending poorly, I was committed 100% to my wife and my two children. I had the confidence that we would weather the storm and the financial difficulties together, as a team of adults, cheering each other on. And I believe I held up my end of the agreement. I stayed firmly, confidently, even joyously in spite of the hardship, in my marriage. I was, even when struggling, a happily married man.

Perhaps my then-wife had different ideas, different fears, different strengths and weaknesses she brought to the marriage. Even her family of origin had a lot to do with her relationship DNA, and the hopefulness or lack-of-hopefulness she brought into the later years of our marriage. As things were frosty between us, I cheerfully puttered along with daily details of life. I had an innate confidence that we would rejoin, reconnect, and rekindle the flame at a less chaotic time. Some how, she didn’t share that same optimism.

So maybe in this new landscape, of dating as a single parent, having been through two marriages and thus two divorces, it is conceivable that I would be more cautious about the idea of deep love, passionate love. Perhaps logical love was more what I should be looking for. Except I’m not wired that way.

I tend to lead with my heart. Sometimes this is a liability. In business, for example, I have been shredded for caring too much about a project, or worrying about the overall health of a team, rather than simply focusing on the delivery of the product. In relationships, I’m the same way. I want to strip down to the bare essentials and determine if we’re a jolting fit right away.

I have to admit I long for that moment. And I’ve not experienced it for over 15 years, when I ran into an old high school friend sparked up a conversation and fell flat ass head over heals in love. We married, we had kids, we broke up. Ah, the modern family.

I hope to combine the best of those two relationships into some sort of partnership that is established on genuine joy at being together, and mutual goals for what’s next in our lives.

So you’d think I might be afraid to go so deeply into a relationship again. Maybe just “dating” is the thing. Yes, that may be the case. Initially. But I am sensing and seeking the potential for that rush, right at the start. Believe me, I’m going to try to go slow. I’m going to hide the love poems that you bring to mind, so as not to scare the bejesus out of you. I’m going to attempt a slow reveal. But what I really want is for you to come along for the ride with me.

I’ve had two “relationships” since my divorce. Both of them were amazingly instructional.

In the first relationship, the woman adored me. In fact, she adored me so much I got a bit freaked out in the beginning. “It’s just a crush,” she would say, reassuringly. And I went with that idea. I mean, how in the hell was I to understand what I was feeling, in the first few weeks. But I knew. Something deeper than our courtship and quality time, something deeper than having someone say how much they liked you, was missing. The element was my adoration back. I struggled to kickstart myself into loving this woman. I talked to my therapist. I wrote about it. I talked to her about it. But there was something, something intangible, that was not present for me. She was beautiful, stable, adoring… “What more could I want?” I kept asking myself, mentally and out loud to a few of my friends.

In the second relationship, I adored what I knew of the woman, and we had a great time together. She, on the other hand, continued to tell me she was not ready for a relationship, she was not interested in long-term. And to demonstrate her resolve, she would break up with me about every two weeks. After the first one I learned to roll with the emotional, knee-jerk punches, but I was not taking in the message. She really wasn’t in any condition to be in a relationship. And the closer we got, the more stressed out she became at her own indecision, and her own emotional struggles with her ex and their strained engagements over their 11 year-old son. Okay, so she wasn’t ready, and just as she was trying to tell me she was ready, she blew up at me in person, and I saw, “Wow, she’s really not ready for a relationship.” Okay, so I learned. I move forward.

And in the next relationship, I hope to combine the best of those two relationships into some sort of partnership that is established on genuine joy at being together, and mutual goals for what’s next in our lives. I’ve charted out maps and written strategies. I’ve sent off hundreds of love poems in hopes that she could be called in, tracked, or designed. But I stopped looking in November. I didn’t give up, I simply returned the focus to my work, my joy, and my livelihood. When she appears it will be a result of how I am walking and dancing in the world, not because I’m a poet or an articulate romantic.

And guess what… The universe is responding.

Will I go slow? Yes. At least, that’s the plan. Will I be listening for that rush? Always. And will I know it when I feel it? I will at least know that I am spiraling into an altered state, from which my judgement as well as the laws of space and time will be significantly altered.

Sure, I’m willing. Let’s jump to light speed.

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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Adding a NY Times article I read this morning.

I know the eyes are the windows to the soul or whatever, but the real crux of the moment was not just that I was really seeing someone, but that I was seeing someone really seeing me. Once I embraced the terror of this realization and gave it time to subside, I arrived somewhere unexpected. – – To Fall In Love with Anyone, Do This

No. 37, Big Wedding or Small? –  The 36 Questions used in the study – NY Times

Offline Dating: Setting Intentions and Actions in Real Life

WHOLE-yogagirl

Let’s start with an assumption: you are looking for the next real relationship of your life.

Now let’s look at what’s wrong with online dating.

  • Primarily based on photos.
  • Photos can be retouched, enhanced, and from much earlier times.
  • Most profiles begin to sound the same (long walks on foreign beaches, red wine, and having fun).
  • Most of what you see in someone’s profile is what you want to see.
  • Many people are just playing on dating sites, just like Facebook, they’re killing time.
  • The “matches” are usually so far off, sites like eHarmony are actually depressing.
  • Age is just a number.
  • A lot of men and women lie about their age.
  • There’s no way to sense chemistry via an online profile, email, phone call or text. (Phone calls do get close, but it’s 2-dimensional rather than 3-dimensional.)

And there are some myths about online dating that might be more marketing than reality.

  • It ups your odds of finding the right person by making a lot more people available for dating.
  • Many people have found the love of their lives using online dating sites.
  • It’s better than the bar scene.
  • There are 1,202 women who match your search criteria.

Um, yeah, if there were that many women, that were attractive, charming, smart, and had a creative passion in their lives, I’d already be married again. As it is, I’m not even dating. And the one person I dated from an online dating site, WAS super, but she’s one out of at least 45 dates and perhaps 1,000+ out reach requests I’ve put into the system.

So what are the alternatives to online dating? If I’m not going to browse and click my way into a new relationship, what’s it going to take?

Here’s what I think.

For me, chemistry is part sexual attraction and part magic. There is no way to get a hit of either of these things online. But when you experience them in real-time you know it immediately. With that understanding, I think there are a several real world criteria that might help me find a relationship in 2015.

Spiritual But Not Religious. What this means to me is the person may or may not go to church, but their spiritual belief system is strong and vibrant in their lives. With that essential element to my perfect mate, I can assume that she probably attends some of the following places. Alternative churches in my city. Yoga studios all over town.

Health Conscious. I’m more likely to meet my next mate in a Whole Foods than in a McDonald’s. I’m not sure how you go about meeting someone while shopping, but I guess if people are putting out the “hello” vibe you can sense it. I need to be more observant, more conversational, more open to nuance and fresh produce.

Active Lifestyle. (Tennis and trail walking are my two favorite pass times.) She’s got a fitness program of her own, for sure, but wouldn’t it be amazing if she also played tennis? What if I started there? What if I actually worked at networking through some of my tennis friends to find a mixed doubles partner? The one woman who I dated since divorce, who played tennis, was a total turn-on when she smacked a top-spin forehand. Why wouldn’t I want to do my favorite sport *with* someone? Okay, note to self: tennis networking – priority number 1.

Creative Living. I went out on a couple dates with a woman who kept repeating, “You’re so creative.” At first I thought it was a complement, and I’m sure she meant it as a complement. But what I started realizing, is she was saying, “Wow, you are *so* creative. I am not very creative. I’m amazed by creative people.” Oh. So, I think I need to be with another creative person. Because this writing and songwriting isn’t going to happen unless I preserve some alone time. My perfect mate has to desire alone time as well, and when we come back together, has to be able to bring some of her creative energy.

Mind Over Body. I’m probably not going to get my six-pack abs back. I’m probably always going to have love handles. So I’m not looking for a body-builder girlfriend to admire and worship. What I know is my mate has to be happy in her own skin. If everything is about fitness and diet and beauty, then I’m going to be left behind. And probably a bit bored. We all need to work on our health and fitness, for life. We all need to live with as much vitality as possible. If fitness and working out gives you that jolt, go for it. (I know tennis does it for me.) But let’s hook up in our mental space as well. We’ve got to spend a lot more time talking than lovemaking.

In Joy. Happiness is not something you can buy or learn. (Though you can work on it.) Happiness is the feeling you get when you are around someone positive and hopeful. If I learned anything from my last marriage, it’s that I am very hopeful and very positive, sometimes to a fault. But that’s also who I’m looking for. Someone who smiles more than frowns. Someone who wakes up each morning with wonderment and a stretch towards what’s possible.

Intense and Low-Key As Needed. I am most jazzed when I’m performing. I do have type-a driven characteristics and when I’m ON I push hard for what I want. But I also have a quiet repose, where I recharge and relax. I do want someone who can jolt up with me and climb the mountain. And then the next day uncoil on a beach for a day without any objectives or requirements. In contrast comes my power and pleasure. Let’s spark one another and massage one another as needed, in the moment.

I cannot catch a glimpse of the above characteristics from an online dating profile. And sure, over time, over the course of a few dates, I could get there, but what if we just started in reality? What if we knew what we wanted and showed up at those places in those ways to be seen and to seek? That’s the real world method of communicating and that’s what I’m planning for 2015. This year, every time I get the inclination to open Match.com I’m going to make a concrete plan to do something in the real world that will put me in contact with real women.

I’ll let you know how it goes. (grin)

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

This post really began here:  Why Online Dating is a Distraction and Not a Solution and continues here: Action Not Intention Will Determine How Long I’m Single

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Thriving After Divorce: 6 Lifehacks Along the Recovery Process

WHOLE-phones-2

I’m going to say something you’ve probably heard a lot. “I’m happier after the divorce.” It sounds trite, but I am sincerely convinced that my divorce transition made me a better dad, a better man, and more conscious and centered man. It’s been a long process for me, these last 4+ years, but with some hints, perhaps I can spare you some of the mistakes I made and help you along your individual path towards divorce recovery.

Here are my six hacks for recovering your full and loving life after divorce.

1. Get Positive.

Holding on to resentment and anger is the biggest mistake I made after the divorce. I laughed when I would get in a particularly sly jab in a text response. I reveled in her long silences after I “gave her a piece of my mind.” I set my own healing back at least a year by holding on to my high-road illusion. It was her that wanted the divorce. I was the wronged party. Um, let’s rewind that a bit, and re-examine.

Once the divorce is final and the deal has been struck, it’s time to move on and recapture *your* positive approach to life. All attention you give to your ex-partner, even in jest or mock-playfulness, is attention you are focusing on negative energy. I struggled for a few years with my own reaction to my ex’s decisions after divorce. Get this: if it doesn’t affect your kids, it is none of your business. And if it’s about your ex and you, you need to take 100% of that venting elsewhere.

Don’t get me wrong here. You will get mad and you will feel anger. But the hack here is to fundamentally understand that there is nothing else for you to work out with your ex. There are no stupid requests from your co-parent that require a stupid and angry response. Zero. I’m still actively working on this one. But I know, that my vitriolic texts or emails since the divorce have had no positive impact on our functional parenting relationship. When I smirked inside as I fired off an in-kind response I was actually shooting myself in the foot.

2. Co-parenting is all about parenting, money, and scheduling.

Outside of those three topics you should not have much to talk about. Sure, I know my wife has a boyfriend, and I hear from my daughter that he’s nice and has a huge grove of lemon tress in his back yard. That’s all I need to know.

In a divorce recovery class I heard this idea about dealing with your ex. Treat the transactions like you would in a convenience store. You are there to get a pack of gum. You don’t need to know about the clerk’s day or aspirations for life. Get in, get your business done, and leave. That’s the model for logistics and negotiations with your ex.

3. Flexibility is key.

Taking the flexible approach with your ex-partner will come in handy. I do everything I can to be flexible with my ex-wife’s scheduling requests. Even if they don’t make sense to me. Even if I don’t like them. One example, after my wife had been in a serious dating relationship for several months she requested that we switch up the parenting schedule to allow them to have the same weekends off. The arrangement actually meant that I gave up my 1-3-5 weekend plan and with it, I lost 4 – 5 double weekends a year. But it was a simple change that didn’t mean too much for my schedule. My first reaction was, “Why would I want to do anything to help her and her boyfriend.” But my next reaction and eventual response to the request was, “Sure. Let’s start next month.”

I didn’t get anything in return, but I lost very little. I could’ve been all concerned about my double weekends, or her boyfriend and their relationship. But what I focused on was my kids. If it would be easier on her it would be easier on them. You know the old phrase, “When mama’s happy, everybody’s happy.”

4. Find What You Love.

Jumping right back into the dating game is a mistake. I tried it, failed at it, and wasted at least a year haunting Meetup.com groups and “working” the online dating sites. It’s a common mistake. You WANT some reward some validation for being released and newly single. You want to sew your oats. You want to party. Everything is new and everyone is a potential date. Um… Stop.

Loving your alone time is the first step to getting to know what you love to do, with or without a partner. For me those two main activities were playing music and playing tennis. Two things my wife didn’t really join with me on. She put in a few weeks in the early days of our courtship, since it was something I loved to do, but it never caught her fancy.

Since being single again my tennis game has picked up. And one woman I dated for a few months actually played tennis. WOW. That was a thrill. I’m willing to admit I’m powerless over tennis skirts on a cute woman. I’m learning to control my urges, but tennis is a love activity for me, so why not do it with someone you love?

5. Reclaim Your Joyous Life.

“To find someone to love, you’ve got to be someone you love.” — a lyric from Nada Surf’s Concrete Bed. If you are still hurting from your divorce, or still learning to manage your alone time, or time without your kids, get some help. Give yourself time to re-center in your own life, your new alone life, before trying to add someone to the equation. You can’t find another lover, a well-matched lover, if you’ve got a love sucking wound in your chest. Take the time to heal. Get the help you need. Seek professional help if you want to accelerate the process. And then rest. If we get too focused on finding a new relationship we’re going to miss a lot of the baby steps of discovering the new relationship with ourselves, alone.

6. Be Where You Like to Be.

I’ve been working on this one a bit recently. If I were with a woman today, where would we be? Where does she shop? What kinds of activities is she into? If she’s spiritual, where does she go for her community? If she does yoga, she’s probably part of a class. If she’s a tennis player, where do single women play tennis, or can I ask one of my tennis playing women friends who they know? Your next partner is already doing the things you want to be doing. Perhaps they are in a process of rediscovery too. And you can rejoin, rekindle a spiritual practice together.

Imagine where she might be, or where you might be together, and go there. Look around. Listen. Try something else.

Overall the process of divorce recovery has taken me at least 4 years. I’ve been in my happy place for about 6 months. If you can focus on the ideas above perhaps you can find your inner buddha quicker and move along into the next chapter of your life.

I’ve had two serious relationships in that time, and I’m hopeful that the coming year will bring a more successful coupling. But I’m no longer in a hurry. I no longer consider myself “dating” or “looking for a date.” Those activities might’ve been helpful when I was determined to be in a relationship again. Today I’m not. I’m happy in my own relationship. I’m longing for a relationship with another woman, but I’m not hurting from the lack of it.

Get right with yourself before moving on to partner with another person. You’ll be much more attractive to other healthy people, and better equipped to see and avoid negative relationships.

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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