Tag Archives: dating again

Constant Craving

I understand the feeling of longing. That ache at having something or someone in your life that is missing. A gap in the joy of your life that is just out of reach or lifetimes away, depending on the strength of your longing. I think I’ve lived a good portion of my life in longing. It is a familiar state.

Today, single again, I really have access to my craving for physical affection. I notice it in how appreciative I am of the women passing through my field of vision. It’s not that I’m lusting after them, I am simply noticing their beauty, and the lack of similar comfort in my current situation. I can feel in my bones what it’s like to be alone and wanting. It’s almost an energetic feeling, like I am motivated to be a better, more attractive, me. But there is sadness in the craving as well.

What I wonder is how to keep that craving alive when I do have what I want in terms of a relationship with a woman. How can this sharpness and presence be with me even in a long-term relationship? Do I need the longing to be motivated to pursue? Does my romantic side appreciate the ache and longing more than the contentment of having a loving relationship?

In the several times in my relationships that I’ve been truly happy and fulfilled, the expansive joy is there, but the moment seems to pass. The mundane creeps back in and chores become resentments and love taps become responsibilities rather than joys. What is it about the craving, the hunger, that makes me a better lover, a better man?

I want a fulfilling love relationship. And I want that healthy craving, ambition, to continue in my life as well. It’s a fine balance. One you get what you think you want does your heart and mind start searching for what you want next? For me, I don’t think that was the case. I was never looking for another relationship, but I certainly turned my focus away from attracting my mate towards more personal, self-focused pursuits. How do we stay romantically engaged for the long haul? What about the craving is necessary to keep the love line warm and active?

If I can see that the craving is a longing for something inside of me, rather than an external goal or relationship that I want, perhaps I will begin to unlock the answer. There are always projects left unfinished, and dreams still gathering dust inside me. When I’m not in a relationship I can devote whatever time I want to these projects. I don’t have to consider anyone else’s timeframes, needs, or schedules.

When I’m in relationship, even as good as it gets, parts of my creative self get compromised. And perhaps this is the craving I experience when I’m in relationship. It’s more about total freedom. However, I know that total freedom is also a trap that stalls me out in my creative pursuits as well. If I have too much time, a whole afternoon for example, I might not get started until after a walk, a nap, lunch, and by the time I get going it’s 4:30 on a Sunday afternoon and I’ve got to start thinking about getting ready for the week ahead.

Certainly this craving is something in me that drives me forward. If I am craving a women, for a relationship, for example, I am more likely to eat well, to keep my exercise routine constant. I am more likely to be working to make myself the best mate I could be. When I’m in relationship, sometimes, those things get put on the back burner. See, I’ve GOT the relationship, so why do I need to constantly work on myself or my physical health? I’ve won the prize of this beautiful woman and companion, now I can really settle down and get my creative dreams in gear.

It doesn’t work that way. Even in relationship I have a craving. Sure, it’s for something different. I no longer observe and appreciate all the women passing me on the street, no I’m more reflective on the time and energy I need to move my creative dreams forward. And, I guess, it seems like the thing that I most want, a relationship, is in some ways a challenge to that “time at craft” I crave. So when I have what I want I crave something different. When I don’t have a relationship, I put a lot of time into craving and pursuing women. I think the catch-22 is for me to work out with myself.

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

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image:  kiss, 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

 

Dear Single Ladies, Here’s What Single Dads Want

I’ve recently been back in and now back out of online dating. It’s a rough world out there. Lots of scammers. Lots of really young and really old women. Lots of profiles that are like “WHAT? That’s the best photo you could come up with? That’s what you’re leading with?” And if you don’t like dating, well it can be hell.

But I came upon a different perspective with my latest loss of a 2.5 year relationship. I don’t want to date at all. I want to have some women friends and see if anything develops from our friendship. Like everyone goes into the friend zone until I’m 6 months sober from my last intoxicating adventure. I’m not ready to date or be in a relationship even though it’s what I long for. I like being a couple. I like mundane joys alongside someone I love.

As a single dad I have a few additional responsibilities in my life. And so does the woman who I’m ultimately with. If you don’t respect and cherish my kids, well, you’re kind of disrespecting me. You don’t have to love them or be a mother to them. But you’ve got to put in the effort to be a friend to them.

Okay, so in line with my What a Single Dad Wants post, I’m ready to update my list based on my current experience of dating, loving, being in a committed relationship, and losing it. Here goes…

  1. I’m not looking for kind of, maybe, or a near miss. I’m looking for everything rolled up into one package. A woman who’s done the work on herself and is looking for an evolved and loving relationship.
  2. She’s got to be physically fit. And this is more about us doing our exercise together, not about body shape or ultimate tone. If we play tennis 3 times a week and 1 of those times can be with our significant other, well, that’s heaven.
  3. She probably has kids of her own. The reason I say this (and I get flack everytime for putting this in) is I want someone who’s made the commitment to another human being (0r two) and knows the sacrifice and work it takes to parent.
  4. She needs to know more about healthy food than I do.
  5. She needs to enjoy her work in the world. And yet, she needs to have ambitions and dreams that zoom out into the future. Where she it going, with or without a man/partner.
  6. She needs to be spiritual.
  7. She needs to understand Real Love and how to get there first with herself, and second with me.

I think that’s a pretty solid list and not too much to ask for.

If you were looking for a partner, what are the must-haves on your list? Share in the comments. I’ll promise to respond.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: tennis player, creative commons usage allowed

see also:

online dating, dating apps

Single Dad, Again

I did not ever think I’d write this post. I was certain I had found my forever mate. But somethings are not meant to be, and the best is yet to come. I won’t say much about it, in respect of my partner who I still love deeply, but I think if you read the last 30 posts or so you might catch a theme of what wasn’t working, for me. Anyway…

I want to talk about online dating for a minute. Gross, I know. I’m very discouraged to even be in this place again after so much bliss, but it is what it is.

Here’s the thing. Online dating is a pure numbers game. Regardless of what site or app you are using here are the stats, in my opinion. About 80% of the women will be out right away for various reasons. Then 10% of the remaining women are so cute that you’re unlikely to ever catch their attention. So then you’re working with about 10% of the total. And the percentage that might be a match from that smaller subset is about 2%. That’s my experience. And it’s not all bad, but the numbers are stacked against you. And if your profile pics don’t tell a happy and honest story about you, well, you’ll understand what I mean when you look inside the apps.

So… If 2% of the women in all of online dating are potentially interested in exploring options with me, why would I stay on one site only. Surely there are different people on different sites, right? Right. And if it’s a numbers game, why wouldn’t I go ahead and put myself on all of the top 4? I did and you should if you’re serious about looking for your next relationship. Here are my top 4 dating sites/apps ranked in order from best to worst.

  1. OKCupid – smaller pool but the questions are a great way to understand more about the person.
  2. Match – a bigger pool, but has a lot of scammers.
  3. Bumble – a simple app that puts the woman in charge of initiating a conversation.
  4. Tender – not so much luck on this one, but still on it.

In the week that I’ve been on the sites here are my results.

OKC – I’m currently chatting with 4 women. I’ve only met one of them and we happened to know each other from high school.

Match.com – I’m chatting with 2 women here. But there’s a lot less bio information available.

Bumble – Only one woman has contacted me, but she dropped off the map as soon as I suggested coffee.

Tender – zero.

Now, I’m not in a hurry to get back into a long-term relationship, but it takes a lot of time to get anything started, and harder still to find that person that intrigues you and is intrigued by you. So I fired them up all at once, to widen my pool.

The bonus that happens right away, as soon as you get a touchback from someone is the idea of potential. When my relationship ended I was devastated and certain I would never find another person so perfect for me. But as soon as a cute woman responded to me, I had a glimmer of hope. It’s worth it just for that. And now I have several women in conversation. And I even played tennis yesterday with a woman from Match. And it was AMAZING.

So, if you’re single, go ahead and put your best foot forward and get out there. Getting to a relationship may take months, so you might as well start exploring the field. And if you see the 10% as potentials then you begin to get hopeful that there “might” be someone out there for you.

Oh, btw, there is. Good luck.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: creative commons usage – https://goo.gl/images/JAcr1K

The Joy of Divorce and the 3 Gifts of Breaking Up

WHOLE-2016-erock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She did not look convinced. “Like what?”

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

“Okay…”

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

“Yes.”

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

“I guess so.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

Back to Positive Divorce & Co-Parenting

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image: with kids at enchanted rock, creative commons usage

Transformational Divorce

WHOLE-2016-tangohands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

transformational-recovery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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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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Missing the Love Right In Front of Us

WHOLE-zentennis

Occasionally we miss the forest for the trees. We let the details and challenges of our busy lives overrun the joy. We see our own distress and desires as the most important part of our universe. This is where the prayerful pause comes in.

Stop. Breathe. Let go of all your distractions. Breathe. Be at peace for 1 minute. Smile. Enjoy.

Here’s an example of how my hyper-type-a focus can keep me lasered in on my goals while overlooking the love of my life.

Tennis has been a life-long passion of mine. Since I was a kid I’ve hustled on the tennis court not because I had to, but because I wanted to. I’ve wanted to compete at the highest levels. And more recently I’ve learned to simply enjoy the game. In fact, the height of my joy in the last ten years has been playing casually with my kids, on the court to “just hit balls.” The time on court with my daughter has been filled with what I call peak moments. Moments in life where you stop and breathe it all in.

“This is a perfect moment.”

I say it as a sort of mantra, affirming my life, my joy, and my gratefulness at being alive. It’s a prayer of thanksgiving.

In my marriage I couldn’t quite get my then-wife to join me on the courts. She tried in the early months of our courtship, before we were married. Taking a few lessons with her girlfriend, they joked about how they were really in it for the skirts. And yes, I suppose, the image of a woman in a tennis skirt causes my inner-enthusiast to jump up and down. But the skirt was to become more of a symbol of what we missed, rather than what we enjoyed and developed together as a couple.

But I never forgot about the skirt. And in my rebuilding process over the last five years I have rediscovered how important tennis, and joyful exercise, is to my health and recovery. One of my happy places is being on the court. Even alone, hitting against a backboard, I can find an inner smile. And it’s not all that goal-driven, these days. Mostly, I really enjoy the feel of the ball “pinging” off my strings and the zip of the well-stroked topspin forehand. I have been focused in the last 18 months on using tennis as a way to improve my fitness and remain social even in times when I would rather stay at home and sulk.

Enter my new relationship. She was reading my posts about tennis and joy and relationships. And when she began chatting with me on Facebook about 8 months ago, one of the first keywords she dropped was “tennis.” We’ve had several discussions about her intention and her prior research into my blogs, but the main thing is… She laid down the offer to play tennis as a first volley in our relationship.

And it wasn’t long before we were actually hitting tennis balls together. And she WAS wearing a pristine white tennis skirt. (As our relationship developed over the next months, this same skirt became a talisman for me when she was traveling.) We made tennis part of our thing. It was an easy request for either of us, “Wanna go hit some tennis balls?” The answer was usually, “Let’s go.”

As my energy and enthusiasm for life continued to build in the presence of such an energetic and positive person, I also began ramping up my tennis game. A month ago I entered a tennis ladder to play competitive singles again. And while my tennis was ON my fitness was not up for the 1 – 2 hours in the Texas Summer heat. I played well, but I was beaten in my first two matches, more because my body could not keep up with the extended match play.

After one of these matches, she said, “We can go hit more balls.”

And here’s where my intention and passion missed the bigger picture.

I responded in a different way. “That’s not really what I need.”

I could see her expression change.

“I mean, I love hitting with you and everything, but it’s not really going to improve my competitive fitness.”

In the moment, I was confused about what to say next. I had caused a fracture between us, but I didn’t yet know how to repair the damage.

Stop. Breathe. Let go of all your distractions. Breathe. Be at peace for 1 minute. Smile. Enjoy.

I did my best over the course of the next few weeks, as I was beaten two more times on the court, to chat about how playing with her was not “competitive” but “fun” and that was always good. But I wasn’t showing her. I was not asking her to play tennis. I was thinking about how to WIN at my singles matches. Oops. I really needed to stop, breathe, and join with her. But I stayed in my pseudo-buddhist revery knowing something was amiss, but unable to see through my own fog to identify it clearly. And if you don’t know what’s wrong, it is very hard join together again with a repair.

Yesterday, I said, “Let’s go hit some balls.” We’ve just moved into a new house with a court down the street.

“When?” she asked.

“Right now.”

“I could go running first,” she replied. “If you have other things to want to do.”

“No. I want to do this now.”

“Awesome. Let’s go.”

And walking over to the court I was struck by a simple fact. THIS WAS MY HEAVEN. My dream in all those years of aloneness, in all the workout-cardio tennis classes, was to get myself in good enough shape to attract a woman and get her on the tennis court. BOOM. In that moment, even before we’d struck a single ball, I GOT IT. This is what I was missing. This act, this moment, just being in connection with this woman, AND getting to hit tennis balls! Wow. I’m pretty sure that’s what nirvana is: becoming aware that this very moment is heaven.

Within 5 minutes of starting two guys came up to the court. Being new to the area, I didn’t know if there was some system for using the court. “No, it’s just first come first serve,” the guy said, envying not only our possession of the court but my sharp fiancé in her white skirt.

Had we waited even five more minutes, the court would’ve been taken.

Breathe and say yes, right now. Do it.

And then it was time for my awareness to be made mutual. I was ready for the repair.

“Honey, I want to tell you something.” She stopped and we sat down. I’m known for these kind of hold-on-a-minute moments.

“I want you to know that playing tennis with you was a 100% high. That is my definition of heaven. And it’s about you and tennis and nothing more.”

“Okay.” She smiled, but she was aware that something else was coming.

“I wanted to let you know that I missed your offers a few weeks ago. I know you were asking to go hit tennis balls as a way of supporting my fitness and my competitive nature.”

She nodded.

“But I was missing the point. I got all wrapped up in getting fit and ready for the competition that I lost sight of the real goal… Fun with you. Tennis with you. Anything with you, but really, tennis with you. That’s my dream come true. And here you are, saying ‘Let’s go.’ and I’m forgetting to ask. I’m focused on some other goal, winning, maybe. But that’s not my goal.

“My goal is to be right here with you. To experience life and love with you in as many moments as I have left on the Earth.”

The smile broke across her face. This was a lovey dovey talk.

“And tennis with you IS THE MOMENT I have been praying for and working for all my life.”

I know that sounds corny or woowoo, but it’s essential for me to explain this. I play tennis. It is my passion. Given options, there are few things I would choose over tennis. Getting to play tennis with my partner, that was a dream I was beginning to give up on. Fighting to remember and get myself back into shape so it *could* happen, but at our age… Now, I see, tennis is the dream. Playing tennis is living the dream. Playing tennis with my sweetheart is heaven on Earth. Nirvana is now.

Never give up on the dream. I dreamed of white skirts and a smiling woman on the opposite site of a tennis net.

I have arrived.

Breathe. Let it all go.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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Oh, and we have a pool in our neighborhood.

off-swimmingfeet

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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