Tag Archives: happiness

There’s Something Missing

Moods are a swirl of chemicals in the brain set awash by events and triggers in our lives. The fall is beginning to poke up cooler mornings here in my city and earlier in the week I was energized and excited to be walking around the nearby lake. It was as if the fall signaled to my brain, happy times, burning leaves, football games, and warm blankets. But yesterday, with the same cool weather, my walk around the lake was a struggle. I don’t know exactly what happened, but my chemicals were a bit on the sad/tired side rather than the up/excited side I’ve been grooving on for several months.

I’m not depressed. I am a bit less enthusiastic. I’m wondering why.

It was as if yesterday morning I woke up with less hope. I have to say that projecting confidence and joy in the period of my life, must be tiring. I experience it as joy, but I know somewhere, underneath, in the chemical machine of my body, I am working to maintain my happy attitude in spite of all the downers in my current situation. I know this period is challenging all of my preconceived ideas of who I would be at 54, where I would be at 54, who I would be with at 54, and what I would be doing at 54. And October is the beginning of the fall and that will put me at 55, in November. I’m more than halfway through my lifespan and things haven’t gone so great for me.

I don’t look back with any regrets. (Well, that’s not true, there are several.) Let me try again. I don’t look back with much regret about how I’ve lived my life post-divorce. I have struggled with depression, yes. I have struggled with my work, yes. And I have struggled as a single dad, yes. But I have kept my attitude aimed at higher states even when I was in the lowest states. I have never given up hope of returning to my victorious self, the self I celebrate and praise. I’m not there yet, but I’m still putting up a good fight.

So, yesterday my chemistry was off. Nothing else changed. I got plenty of sleep, exercise, and good food. I’ve been getting some 2nd round interviews. My writing has been going well. So, what’s off? I’d like to think it’s the WOMAN that is missing, but that’s not it either. I do write a lot about dating and wanting a relationship, but I’m pretty clear that it’s too soon for me. I’m okay with being alone until I get a bit more of my equation figured out. What would I tell a date, “I’m living with my mom and working at a grocery store.” How’s that going to work out? Or I could lie. That’s no better. So, I’m alone. That’s not it.

I have to think it’s a combination of all of these things. Of course, it’s tiring to be unhappy with your current environment and employment status. There is no doubt that I’m struggling with my lifeway and the path is not yet clear to me. But it’s also clear to me that my current living situation is not painful. If I don’t thrash against the situation, I can see how my life is very easy right now. I get plenty of sleep. I take naps. I work part-time. I have time to play tennis, bike, and walk around the lake. I mean, my life does not suck.

Still, the moods roll in and out as if on tides. There is no controlling the bio-rhythm of our energy overall, it’s really just how we respond to the varying levels of energy. And over the past several months a low-energy day was just passing through. Yesterday, the low-energy had the feeling of maybe sticking around for a bit. That got me a bit worried.

I’m not worried today. While I’m not 100%, I’m also on the incline headed back up. Yesterday, however, even after my walk, continued to be challenging. And perhaps in response to the low-energy mode I had a hard time staying positive in the face of all that is happening or not happening in my life.

I had a job interview in the afternoon that could not have gone worse. It’s not that I did poorly. It was more that became terrified during the interview that I might actually get this job that the woman was describing and it was awful. Just the kind of work I’m hoping to not return to. And I was going along with the interview as if… “Yes, I am good at that…” But I wanted to say, “But I don’t ever want to do it again.” The interview lasted about 30 minutes. When it was done I was exhausted. I was not feeling positive. In fact, I was feeling scared. I had the sinking feeling, while interviewing, that I get when I’m headed for a fall. I was powerless in that interview, in my mind, and I was heading towards a cliff.

The rest of my day didn’t go all that great. I self-regulated by taking a nap and that helped. But I never did quite shake the feeling of fear that creeped in while I was talking to this young woman on the phone. I learned something: I will not take the kind of job that is going to eat me alive. It’s not worth it, and today, I don’t have to take it. I went to bed after reading for a bit, and woke up today in a more-normal, not-down, state.

Something is missing.

I am ready to have a good job that appreciates me and doesn’t drive me into the ground. I’m ready to afford my own place again, even if that doesn’t mean buying a house. And I’m ready to be constructing a relationship again, I think. It’s this last one that’s unclear for me. I have been super happy in my natural state over the last few months, alone. I’m okay with having nothing to do on a Friday night. I’m learning again to enjoy my own company. What complications would a new relationship bring into the picture? Tons.

What I’m coming to is this: we are where we are for a reason. I am in this place to heal. I am alone to learn to be alone again. I am unemployed because I need to learn to value my work in a way that doesn’t compromise or destroy my personal life. I’m going to do all of these things better as I move forward from this place. But this place, this quiet time, is also a blessed time. A time for reconfiguring. A time for being sensitive to my moods and learning new ways to moderate or understand them.

This month leading up to my 55th birthday is a time of great power for me. I will spend this time alone and seeking my own company and counsel. When the next job, woman, or house come by I will be able to consciously make the better decision. I’m okay with that. I’m okay with being still, right where I am, in this uncomfortable ego-less state. I am rebuilding, brighter and better. And until then, I actively wait, pray, and write.

Always Love,

John McElhenney

image: joy, creative commons usage


The Fading Passion of Monogamy


There seems to be a lot of new research lately that suggests that women do grow less sexually attracted to their husbands over the long relationship. Um… This is news? There’s this little concept called the seven-year itch that has been hanging around men’s heads for quite some time. Well, it seems the ennui is a two-way street.

I suppose the previous assumption was that women grew more deeply in love as the marriage years passed by. And with this assumption, was the idea that the deeper the love, the more sexual and connected the women would feel towards their husbands. Guess what? It’s difficult for two people to maintain a marriage, and even more difficult to keep that marriage vital, sexually exciting, and emotionally connected.

Love fades. A quick Google of the topic generates enough material for two movies and several encyclopedias of information about the fleeting nature of love, passion, lust, and love. Some of us, who tried and failed to sustain the magic, are looking for clues, ways to not repeat the mistakes of our past. And some people are becoming more convinced that enduring monogamy is just not viable in our modern society.

The real miss for me, right now, as a divorced dad, has more to do with my kids than with my ex-wife. However, I have to say, she’s still attractive to me.

I’d say love ebbs and flows. There are moments of peak experience, high times of love and raw sexual joy. And these moments are easier when you’re in the early stages of a relationship. And there is no denying that a new sexual partner is an amazing opportunity to rekindle your own inner sexual demon. Perhaps in a past marriage you began to doubt if you still had it in you. And after some work recovering your mojo, post divorce, you’re back in the dating game and BOOM it happens. The Joy of Sex becomes a thing again and not just a book.

But the question of being able to maintain sexual desire and interest in your lover year after year is a bit more difficult to decipher. I’d love to say there was a strategy or a book I could point to that would give us all the answer. There is not.

I can tell you, that in my marriage, even as things went from awesome and new, to awesome with children, to less awesome with children and mortgage, to less than awesome, to non-existent, that I never lost the desire and energy for my wife. While there would have been plenty of reasons to look outside the marriage, or ask for release from the sexless bedroom, I was more committed to my kids than I was to MY sexual gratification.

Of course I can’t speak to her and her levels of desire, or how the monotony of monogamy might have had something to do with the frosty bedroom. But I knew that our love would prevail over the time and stress and aches of growing up and parenting two wonderful kids.

The real miss for me, right now, as a divorced dad, has more to do with my kids than with my ex-wife. However, I have to say, she’s still attractive to me. I would still be in love with her, if there were some way to magically turn back the less-than cool things that have happened since. And if we were still working together, financially, rather than independently, and with two houses, we could be dialing back our work loads rather than dialing them up again.

It’s okay, I don’t want a reconciliation, and I’m sure that she does not either, but it’s a shame when all this wonderful chemistry, love, passion, and mutually agreed upon goals falls into disrepair and we find ourselves having to start over, or in my case, imagining starting over, with someone new. I didn’t want someone new. I didn’t want any one else. I was not tired of her sexually.

I was hopeful that by withdrawing a bit of my overt love language with her and the kids, that she would step back into “that loving feeling” and return to her previously joyous self.

However, I think I was also carrying a huge portion of the task of keeping the love alive. Not just in the bedroom, but in our daily lives as well. I learned about The 5 Love Languages a bit too late to help my marriage, but I can see now how we were wired very differently for love and affection. My language is touch. And in our lives, and our kid’s lives, I was the one who wrapped my arms around everyone and hugged. I was the one generating 90% of the touchy-feely actions in our entire family.

This lack of balance in our expressions of love was most apparent, as things were trending downward in our love life, when I took a break from being the cheerleader of the emotional family. I was hoping that by dialing my own warm fuzzies back, my wife would recognize the lack and move in to fill the vacuum a bit. I was hopeful that by withdrawing a bit of my overt love language with her and the kids, that she would step back into “that loving feeling” and return to her previously joyous self.

It didn’t work. It didn’t really backfire either, but I got my message loud and clear. If there was going to be joy and connective love in our house, I was going to have to generate all of the adult portion of it. The kids were busy little love bugs. They reflected back as much love as you could pour into them. But between my wife and I, the connection sometimes required effort.

Thus I believe the new studies showing women too suffer from long-term monogamy burnout not as a finding, but as a confirmation that love and passion take work on both sides. You can’t find true love and hope that it will carry you on into your twilight years together. You’ve got to work at remaining loving, remaining vital and active in your own life, so you can show up as vital and loving in your marriage. If either partner drops in their love energy, it is the other person’s responsibility to respond, support, nurture, and communicate.

If you can talk about what’s happening, there is a possibility that you can read books like The 5 Love Languages, or Seven Principals to Make a Marriage Work, and do what it takes to rekindle your marriage. If either of you decides not to do the work of keeping the love alive, then you’re in for some tough times. And when negotiations and discussions break down, sometimes over sex, the fractures may end up becoming breaks. The loss of the love may end up signaling the loss of your marriage.

I don’t have any knowledge of how this myth of women’s sustained love life came about, but I know I didn’t buy it. And so when the books began coming out and women started saying, “See, we’re in need of excitement and variety too, ” I was nonplussed. Um, yeah, we know this. It’s called the seven-year-grass-might-be-greener-with-a-new-sexual-parner itch.

This post continues here:  The Rest of Our Lives Loving the Same Person

John McElhenney

back to Positive Divorce 

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image: found image, creative commons usage


Peaceful Easy Feeling: Looking for a Joyful Woman


I was eating breakfast at a Panera Bread this morning and I noticed a woman who came in and got in line. She was with her two kids and husband. (My assumption at the relationship between the four of them.) And there was something about her… I couldn’t quite put my finger on what the attraction was, but it felt familiar.

And a month ago I had a first “hello” date with a woman who was cheerful, full of life and boisterously funny. Her wit and energy was infectious and almost a challenge. Like she was daring me to be boring or unentertaining.

It’s a bit like looking for your tribe. I’ve been a joy-generator for a long time. And I am looking now for my Joy Tribe.

I want that. I want some enthusiasm. It’s what I bring, I know this. But I am ready to have some of it reflected back at me. And when you see it, when you notice the happy person in the room there is something that draws you in. The woman this morning wasn’t stunningly beautiful, or amazingly fit, but her vibrancy radiated out from her, even as she stood in line with her brood. There was nothing amazing about her, or the moment, but there was “something.”

What is the quality of joy? How do you quantize someone else’s happiness?

In a simple online dating exchange today, a woman thanked me for the positive vibes. I had to check out her profile and see who she was and what she was talking about. I think I gave a thumbs up to one of her photos yesterday. (The most passive of “hellos.”)

I want a woman who is full of herself, and full of some extra little magic touch of joy. Let’s start there.

And then the banter was so easy, and so simple between us, that 4 emails later we are set for a glass of wine in two nights. It was easy. It was fun. It was different from most online dating interactions, and very different from most interactions over all.

I’ve just pulled back from a relationship I was pretty stoked about. I was becoming more and more concerned with the “work” we were needing to do to maintain even our casual relationship. And what I noticed in this release is a re-commitment to “what I’m looking for.” I’m not looking for a project, or even a work-in-progress. I’m looking for a fully alive and empowered woman, who brings a joy with her. That joyful attitude is something you can feel. Even as I was aware that the woman this morning was married, I was fascinated by her radiant joy. How her life force, or something, some glow, was capable of nailing some happiness radar in my heart, and letting me know, “HEY HERE IS ANOTHER HAPPY PERSON.”

It’s a bit like looking for your tribe. I’ve been a joy-generator for a long time. And I am looking now for my Joy Tribe. The happy people. The women who glow with something intangible but palpable. I could feel it, but I didn’t understand it at first. And then my whimsical exchange with the online dating woman reminded me. It’s playfulness, it’s banter, is something easy about the flow of information and a building connection.

I don’t have any real data about the woman who I’ll be meeting in two nights. And I should go back and examine her profile a bit closer, but… I’m okay on giving in to whimsy every now and then. Heaven knows my calculated strategy hasn’t worked out so well so far.

In imagining the next relationship (I’d count my post divorce relationships at exactly TWO) as something from the Joy Tribe. I want a woman who is full of herself, and full of some extra little magic touch of joy. Let’s start there.

Always Love,

John McElhenney

back to dating after divorce

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image: grins, taber andrew bain, creative commons usage

The Playboy Effect: Obsessed with Youth and Fitness


Back in the day before the internet, Playboy Magazine was a head-rush for the imagination of curious little boys. Finding a Playboy Magazine somewhere was like a high that lasted for lustful days, depending on your imagination and usage. But needless to say, it was the gateway drug for things to come in out sexual futures.

But of course Playboy Magazine offered a very top-heavy, warped version of attainable beauty and theoretical romance. Yes those beautiful women existed, you could see they were real in the pictures. (This was before Photoshop.) And some of us as young men got stuck there with the Playboy bunny as the ideal female. Um, WRONG. But it was difficult to get the images out of our heads when comparing what we saw and imagined in Playboy and reality. Rarely was there a woman in our sphere, much less interested in us, who could fulfill our reinforced and revisioned fantasy of a sexy and beautiful woman.

Jump cut to today, and there are some concerns that the free access to pornography is corrupting our minds and our expectations of sexual fulfillment. Often the pornography is sublimating the actual pursuit of a real “flesh and blood” relationship. As in the movie Don Juan, how can Scarlett Johannsen even come close to the raw punch of full-on punch of 19-year-olds ready for action. All action. And always ready.

That’s not the way the world works. And even as an adult I know my early experience with Playboy Magazine has had a lingering effect on my sexual preferences. And the current mainstream media obsession with rail thin 19-year-old goddesses is way out of hand and off the map of reality. Unfortunately even my 11 year old daughter is considering dieting because of the images she sees in her pre-teen magazines. It’s gross, what we’ve done to objectify women’s sexual bodies, and how far we have distorted those images. It is much the same way Playboy set an unrealistic body type that was accompanied by breast-waist-hip measurements.

If a woman I was interested in really wanted a six-packed 30-year-old I would have little chance of attracting her. And it is physically impossible for me to get back to the fitness and beauty of my youth. GOOD. I don’t have to worry about that.

Not even trying to contemplate the drugged death spiral that must accompany a young boys exposure to online pornography, I am aware that my vision is still clouded, my reality is still framed, and beauty is still judged by the media’s representation of beauty today.

When I see the 20, 30, or 40-something yoga goddess in LuluLemons, I get an immediate hit of dopamine. But it’s not real. It’s about as real as the foldout in Playboy.

The lie of this fiction and obsession with youth=beauty is that produces a false sense of desirability from us males. At the base of our brains we are animals, and we are looking for the best, healthiest opportunity to further our genes by procreating with the attractive female. And a freshly minted, athletic, woman is entering the peak of her child-bearing attractiveness, according to our reptilian brains. She is IT.

But she’s really not IT for me. And I’m working to understand and parse out the reality from the pornography that still runs through my mind from time to time. Stay with me for a second while I take this a step further to exemplify a point. My 11-year-old daughter is beautiful and perfect. She’s athletic. She loves brightly colored fitness clothes. In some ways she’s a mini-version of these older generations of beautiful young women. But she’s not at all sexual to me. And that’s the connection I am trying to make in my brain about these media images, and passers-by who are amazingly youthful and beautiful. Youth and beauty are great things. They keep our species going.

I am not interested in procreating any more, nor having a relationship with a 20, 30, or “early” 40-year-old. I’m sure there could be exceptions in the last category that could show up and make a convincing case, but in general, I am more interested in women within a 5-year range of my own age. And when you take the yoga babe standard to the early 50’s you are really talking about a rare breed. I’d love to meet her, but I’ve sort of moved on. In fact I’m a bit suspicious about the ultra-fit, ultra-hot women at my age.

So my attempt to reconnect with myself and my more age-desired vision of beauty has changed dramatically from my Playboy-hazed youth. And as I try to decouple my image of beauty from the mass media obsession I look to find beauty in women all shapes and more within the realistic construct of my own fitness. If a woman I was interested in really wanted a six-packed 30-year-old I would have little chance of attracting her. And it is physically impossible for me to get back to the fitness and beauty of my youth. GOOD. I don’t have to worry about that.

Happiness is fleeting. Hang on to it. Youth and fitness are fleeting too. First you’ve got to get comfortable with yourself.

Today, for myself, I am much more interested in fitness in terms of health, blood pressure, and what it feels like to be in my skin. When I’m over weight I feel it. When I’m in a more trimmed state I feel better, and I know my health is better. So I’m not doing crunches to try and attract the younger babe. I am exercising and eating better to be a more self-satisfied version of myself. And I suspect as I further decouple from the stacked deck of the Playboy bunny I will get even more interested in a woman of my own age who is a bit more realistic in her fitness and happiness ambitions as well.

Happiness is fleeting. Hang on to it. Youth and fitness are fleeting too. First you’ve got to get comfortable with yourself. Then you can start examining and reconstructing what YOU see as beautiful. Real-world beauty untouched by Photoshop.

Always Love,

John McElhenney

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Finding the Happy Side of Difficult Divorce Street – FLIP IT

Enjoy your life after divorce - The Off ParentThere are few funny moments in divorce but they do happen. And your ability to laugh at them, the circumstances, the difficulties themselves, can go a long way towards healing your heart.

The kid’s mom and I had a phrase we used, “If we can laugh about it later, we can laugh about it now.”

This got us through some rough times. Not all of them. But a lot of your recovery and happiness is up to you.

There are some good things that come from divorce, eventually.

  • You have to rediscover what is important to you.
  • You can begin developing your “whole” relationships with your kids.
  • You have a lot of time to get your priorities and goals in order. (Take the time, don’t rush right into another relationship. Give yourself time.)
  • You have to let go of the idea that the other person, the ex, is the cause for your unhappiness.

In my case this Happy Side approach took about two years discover. I passed through some of the hardest times in my life. But I still kept waking up with hope. Somewhere, even in the sadness, loneliness, and despair I kept a glimmer of hope.

I don’t know exactly what I latched on to. I don’t think it was the beautiful pictures of my kids that had around my house, though they helped. I don’t think it was the anger at my ex, though that too proved to be a motivating factor to getting my act together. I don’t think it was prayer and meditation, or doctors and medication, though those things certainly helped.

What served me in this entire process of divorce and recovery was my ability to see the light side of things. Even as things were falling apart in my personal life, I could generate some chuckles with my inner voice about how absurd things had become.

And this FLIP, this ability to see the other side, or to FLIP-IT, is available at any time in any situation. Pulled over by the police for speeding, AGAIN. How funny. If he knew how fast I was really going before my radar detector went off, man, then he’d really be mad. Hee hee hee. What, client can’t pay me this week. Oh, boy, if they had any idea how this was going to throw a wrench into my crazy financial system of duct tape, debit cards, and promises! Ho ho ho.

Okay, it’s not that easy. But it’s a perspective that you must, absolutely must, cultivate. Absurd and awful things happen. The absurdity is our reaction to them. If we wake up with a chip on our shoulder, it’s up to us to find the guacamole and make a tasty meal out of the madness of life.

There is no time like the present to flip your anger into absurd, cackling, fake laughter. It’s a known fact that your physical body doesn’t really know the difference between real laughter and fake laughter. So if you give a big ol’ Pee Wee Herman laugh, your body really thinks you are laughing. The endorphins and physical joy comes back into your system, fires up the happy side of your brain, and can bring you part of the way back to center.


Always Love,

John McElhenney

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