Tag Archives: self-care

Relationship Timing and the Fragility of a True Connection

Two different women in the last few weeks have lit up my chemistry match. Both of them mentioned their boyfriend.

I might get bummed out, but I wasn’t. I was actually happy for both of them. Not so happy for me, but hey, I can wait. I’m in no hurry.

I said this to the last woman over breakfast tacos, “Relationships are fragile. If you’ve got one and it works out, congratulations. They are hard. I am really happy for you. If it doesn’t work out, then I’m still here. Either way I’m happy for you.”

And while I have that tongue in cheek desire to ask, “So how’s Brad?” I don’t. That would be shitty and passive aggressive. What I can do is let them go. Stay connected via chit-chat, but not make any suggestive comments. The relationship will either take care of itself or it won’t. And as far as I’m concerned, my relationship is coming.

What I’m building during this alone time is a new familiarity with my goals and desires, outside of any relationship. If I stay single forever, THESE are the things I want.

  • A stronger more committed relationship with both of my teenaged children. (This is 100% up to me.)
  • The creative drive and time to stay with my process.
  • Time to workout and time to rest.
  • Healthy meals.
  • Some inner source of self-love (must be in place before starting a new relationship)

Alone I am able to focus on these thing without distraction. I have no other pulls on my time and energy. Alone my general state is happy. But I long for a lover and companion. What I learned last time, however, was that even if you have all that you think you want, you may be missing some unknown ingredient. I think for me, that ingredient was the ability to love and forgive myself for my mistakes and ongoing flaws. I’m constantly working on them, but there they are.

We’ve all got our issues to discover and work on. The better I understand my own issues the better I can be in relationship to someone else and theirs. So as long as these other women are in relationships that are working for them, I am happy to continue down my own path of discovery. I wouldn’t want to be a backup or a rebound relationship anyway. They allowed me to catch a glimpse of what is possible for me, next time.

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

Always Love,

John McElhenney

image:  coffee date, creative commons usage

Don’t Wait and Don’t Settle

You are worth it. You should be with someone who makes you feel special every day. Sure there can be disagreements and dark periods (most relationships go through some trials) but as long as both parties play by the rules and never do anything to hurt the other person, relationships go on. Mine dragged on. And I realise after the fact that I was settling. And I’m worth more. I am loving and loveable and I deserve the same in a partner. Not sometimes, not mostly, but all the time, even when things are bad. I deserve that and so do you.

So, if you’ve been following along you know I’m single again. Not by my choice, but I think this wonderful woman did us both a favor. I’m also conflict averse and I was never going to say uncle. And after a glimpse into the online dating pool, I’ve decided I’m not ready for a relationship yet. Not with anyone but myself. I’ve got a lot to learn and a lot of work to do. If you don’t love yourself, how can you love someone else.

I had fallen out of love with myself. I was the most negative voice in my head. All the time. I hated myself. Imagined offing myself. And I knew I was pathetic and worthless. All because I lost a job. A job that was not right from me from the beginning. The problem is, this was the 3rd job in a row like this. Miserable. But this last miss crushed more of my spirit than I could handle. I mean, when you’re imagining that you’d be better off dead, you’re in a seriously fucked up place. That’s where I was.  And in this relationship we were hanging on, both wondering where the relationship and magic that we started with had gone.

Now, I’m working on finding out more about myself. I’ve been on a weight loss journey that has given me the healthiest body I’ve experienced since my 20s. And for the first time since I can remember I don’t have love handles. I’m not down to my 16 yo swim team weight, but that’s where I’m aiming. Why not? I should have that body again. Would I be more attractive and loveable? Probably not. Have I gotten a huge self esteem boost from losing all this weight? Yes. And it feels good to feel a bit hungry. That’s my body working on becoming a better machine. A leaner machine.

And the biggest part I’ve got to work on is loving myself. I know I’m repeating myself but I’m saying it for me. I need to hear it. My friend texted me one day while I was feeling particularly down, “You are loveable and you are loved.” It hit me with some force. I didn’t feel lovable at that moment. Far from it. But this phrase has become somewhat of a mantra. imagining myself lovable is a task. It’s a practice. It’s my journey towards loving myself. Not losing more weight. But just accepting and believing that I am loveable just as I am. I still don’t believe it, but I’m working on that issue right now. A am. And you are loveable too.

And you deserve to be loved fully and unconditionally. I know that sounds like a stretch. Like who really believes that woowoo shit? But it’s true. Even 2% out of sync is not what you need. You need 100% loving or you’ve got to pass. Miss almost, no matter how appealing she might appear, is not the one for you. Sometimes we call them red flags. And at this time in your life, you should not settle. Not one iota. I know this means it will take longer to find that match, but it’s going to be worth it. And you are worth it. I believe in you. And I believe in this Real Love.

So I’m staying out of the dating pool for a while as I reset my own self worth. My esteem was at an all-time low because of my job loss, which turned into one of the most protracted depressions I can remember. And while I’m no longer depressed (thank god) I’m also not about to start thinking about another woman. I’m not ready. I feel it. Sure, I feel the desire and longing to be with someone. And sure, I desire sexual connection with someone other than myself. But I’m not ready, and I’m worth the wait.

But I also said don’t wait. And what I mean by that is GET ON WITH YOUR PROGRAM. What do you need to improve about yourself. What kinds of non material things, what types of activities would make you feel happier? Seek those out. Learn again what YOU want to do, not attached to anyone but yourself. Only when you show up 100% for yourself can you really be ready for the next relationship of your life.

That’s what we’re talking about here. THE ONE. And if you see the signs at any point along the relationship journey, any red flags, the deal is off, the person is not the ONE. The person does not deserve you. And I’m sorry to say, they don’t get a second chance. Once you’ve seen someone’s true colors and you know in your heart that their behavior was hurtful or at best unthoughtful, it’s time to move on. “Let them walk,” as T. D. Jakes would say.

I’m walking my path alone right now. And I can say I’ve missed me. All that time in a chemical depression showed me, once again how bad it can be, and I’m grateful to be vibrant again. I’m developing a relationship with myself and I will eventually believe that I am loveable. And so will you. And anyone that takes that glow away from you is not worthy of your gifts.

So get on with it. Get on with yourself and your program to find the ONE. Anything less would be unfair to the awesome you that you are continuing to become.

Always Love,

John McElhenney

image: couple, creative commons usage allowed

The Joy of Divorce and the 3 Gifts of Breaking Up


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.”


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


“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

Back to Positive Divorce & Co-Parenting

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image: with kids at enchanted rock, creative commons usage

Rebuilding Myself Into the Person I Was Before We Married


It’s been a long road back from the divorce. And I’m not done, I know, but I think I’m out of the woods.

“You have no possible idea what life is going to be like the moment you walk out the front door of your house and declare it is no longer your house but “their mom’s house.”

Everything changes when you get married. And again when you have kids. As you adapt your life to the life of being a parent a number of hobbies and habits fall away. For me those things were playing music in a band and getting enough exercise. Now, I’m not blaming my ex-wife for those things, a lot of changes come with the territory and the new responsibilities of being a grown up. A grown up with kids, even.

THEN you lose everything. Divorce.

Dad’s sort of take divorce on the chin and we’re expected to roll with the death-blow and come back up swinging, or not swinging as it were. Once the decision is made between you and your spouse, and the divorce is in progress, a number of dramatic changes happen immediately.

  • You stop being compassionate towards your soon-to-be ex.
  • You start looking for signs of life beyond the world as you’ve know it.
  • You have to start thinking about where you might like to live as a single man.
  • You really have to start thinking about where you can afford to live, that’s not too far from your old neighborhood and your kid’s school. (Because 80% of dads will wind up with a hefty child support payment and no house.)
  • You have to address the rapidly approaching chasm of alone time and what you’re going to do with yourself.

The only part of the process of evolution that I can tell you for sure about is this: “You have no possible idea what life is going to be like the moment you walk out the front door of your house and declare it is no longer your house but “their mom’s house.” For me the shock and disorientation was extreme. My neighborhood with running trails and nearby friends, my tennis club with summer swimming pool, my music studio in the garage… All vaporized as I left the house behind.

It’s not all bad, this divorce thing, take heart. There are a number of things you get back as well.

  • Time to do whatever the hell you want.
  • An extremely reduced “getting the kids ready for school” mornings.
  • Dropping the little favors and chores you use to do for your then-wife.
  • Doing laundry whenever you feel like it. (Like when you’re out of clean shirts, for example.)
  • A limitless supply of new eligible women and willing women. (Well, at least that’s one of the things that might pass through you mind, what with all this talk of hot cougars these days.)
  • You can eat whatever you want. (No need to consider the kids diets all the time.)
  • You can drink whatever and whenever you want. (Though this could be a problem.)
  • You get to sleep all the way across the bed diagonally if you want. (This is much less fun when you are “borrowing” a twin bed at a friend’s house while you catch your bearings.
  • The entertainment agenda is up to you every single night when you’re solo. (Want to go to a movie at 10pm on a weekend, go for it.)

That’s a fairly good list of how things balance out, somewhat. Emotionally, for me, however, things didn’t go as imagined. First off, my recent employment loss took a lot longer to replace. Needless to say, I wasn’t in top form on interviews for a several months. Second, my fantasy about online dating was about as far from the reality as porn is from real life. Um, sure, there are a ton of women on Match.com right now, but they’ve ALL got issues. That’s why they’re on an online dating site in the first place.

Then comes the bigger problem: 6-nights of alone time in a row is a killer if you’re not happy or busy. When it’s “not a kids weekend” things can get pretty rough quickly, if you’re not careful. I wasn’t careful nor was I prepared for the emotional fallout of being alone.

I believe this aspect of divorce, the loneliness and longing to be with my kids, has been the hardest part of the transition for me.

Immediately upon leaving the house and starting the customary SPO (standard possession order) the dads of the world are going to get a lot less than 50% of the time with their kids. Accounting for the laughable “month in the summer” clause that tries to make up for the time imbalance, dads in general see their kids about 30% as much as the moms. It’s not fair, but that’s how the old laws were written. The phrase, “In the best interests of the children” will become very familiar, over time.

Okay, so that’s the first big hurdle. What are you going to do with yourself? And for me, I have struggled for years trying to answer that requirement with a positive attitude. And when you are recently divorced you might be missing your kids a lot more than you can imagine. Their entire lives you’ve had little playmates, companions, dependents. Suddenly, as a divorced dad, you’ve got nothing and no one to talk to. I believe this aspect of divorce, the loneliness and longing to be with my kids, has been the hardest part of the transition for me.

I’m pretty close now, however, to being the happy person I was before we got together. I’m playing music and tennis regularly. I’m waking up singing and going to be early. Alone… But early.

The main thing to remember as the divorce s-storm is heading your way is to take care of yourself. Like on the airplane when they say to put your mask on first and then your kid’s masks. That’s so you are conscious to be able to help them. Divorce is the same way. Take the time you need before jumping back into a relationship. Enjoy your freedom. Explore your alone time. Take up new hobbies if you didn’t have any before. It’s kind of like dating yourself. Get to know your happy-and-alone self before you start looking for another happily-single mate.

Before I got married and had kids and then got divorced I was a happy and highly creative person. I’m getting that back little by little these days. I’m still a ways off from my goal of getting down the same pants size, but that’s in-progress as well.

Always Love,

John McElhenney

back to Positive Divorce

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image: dinner for one, pascal, creative commons usage

My 50-year-old Body: A Love Hate Relationship

There are parts of my body I have hated ever since I knew to notice. And even at 51, I still have a problem with parts of my physique that do not bend to my will nor respond in the first two weeks of a renewed exercise program. Let me count the ways.

[Update: please check out my new site FitbyTech where I will explore this body/fitness/health issue in more detail.]

selfie this morningLove handles – had’em since I was born (slimmed them down tremendously while I was a competitive swimmer in high school, I even had a 6-pack for a brief period of time)

That fold of extra skin between my neck and my chin. It’s not actually a double chin unless I take a selfie looking down. So I always take them looking up. Duh.

I had some professional photos taken last summer and the photographer asked me, “So what are you worried about in your photos? What’s your thing that you want to be conscious of, so we can get it right?

“Double chin,” I said, without hesitation. He nodded his head in agreement. “Me too.”

I love where my body has arrived at this age. I’m not uber-fit, but I don’t consider myself fat either. And that is a HUGE accomplishment.

The love handles have been with me since I was a kid. And at various times in my life, even as an adult they grow or shrink depending on my overall fitness. And sometimes I can be fit and fat, amazing. Since I started noticing girls, and sucking in my belly (about 6th or 7th grade) I have been aware that I was a big-boned boy. There are plenty of things I can do to stay more fit, but I will probably not make it back to my swimmer body again. Ever. Fine, let’s move on.

The neck/chin area is a bit more difficult. I think it’s more about aging than anything else. Some people have surgery to tuck that extra stuff back in, but that won’t ever be my path. I got what I got, and I can work with that.

That self-acceptance has been hard won. I am still battling overweight demons at 51. Amazing. I’m better, but I still HATE my love handles. HATE HATE HATE them. And how healthy is that?

Not very.

There are two other things I need to get off my chest, while we’re on the subject of self-hatred. My physical stamina and recovery time has changed dramatically. When I play a competitive tennis match, for example, I’m going to feel it the next day. And if I play a tournament and last more than one round, I’m going to feel it for a week.

My self-acceptance is not quite what I would call self-love, but I really appreciate the term self-care.

And my eyes are going a bit wonky too. I first noticed my right eye was not as sharp as my left when I was in my mid-forties. I was amazed and disappointed. I was so proud to be the only member of my family not needing glasses. Like it was some accomplishment, or award I could take credit for. When I realised, in the middle of Whole Foods Market, that the Juice Bar sign was very blurry in my right eye, but sharp as a tack on my left; I thought maybe I was having a stroke. I just needed glasses.

Overall that’s not too bad. My list could be much longer. And I’m pretty happy with me. And there are things I absolutely love about being an “older” man.

I don’t buy into the drama most of the time. (I can choose to ignore, avoid, and delegate things that are gross or hard.)

I love where my body has arrived at this age. I’m not uber-fit, but I don’t consider myself fat either. And that is a HUGE accomplishment. I’ve always felt fat. Today I feel pretty fit. And I would love to see my abs, and I’m counting on it, but I’m not going to start marathoning or starving just to get there.

I am pleased with my mind and the wisdom the years has brought me, both about the world and about myself.

I’m quick to love. I have a lot of trust that I can manage.

I’m also quick to leave any abusive relationships.

Sex is something I crave but don’t need. [Aside: Amazing how important the Viagra market is these days. I think sex has a lot more to do with our brains and less to do with our dicks. But I’ve never imagined the need for a pill to help me get an erection. I’m sorry for those guys, and I suppose it could be in my future, but I’m working my exercise routine to help keep it from becoming part of my requirements.]

I am very happy with my kids. I love being dad. I would rather spend time with them than do any other thing on the planet. Hawaii would be nice, but Port Aransas with my kids is paradise to me.

I’ve got a lot of stories to tell. And I love to tell stories. It’s part of what I do for a living by writing social media strategies and a blog. But I love talking to people too. I love hearing their stories and comparing notes.

My self-acceptance is not quite what I would call self-love, but I really appreciate the term self-care. And by caring for myself I am showing love for parts of myself I have always tried to hide. I’m not ready to show you my love handles, but I’m ready to take off my shirt and go for a swim any day of the week. And I can imaging a scenario, at midnight, somewhere near a river, taking off all my clothes and going skinny dipping with someone special.

John McElhenney

Please check out my new site FitbyTech where I will explore this body/fitness/health issue in more detail.

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image: selfie looking up, the author today 4-29-14