I Hide My Chocolate

Midlife observations

Month: April, 2015

All The Single Ladies

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Hey Romeo, Don’t Post Naked Pictures!

The other day, a young woman in my life posted a photo from an online dating site of a mostly naked man opening his door to potential girlfriends. I mean potential sexmates. The young woman’s caption was a sarcastic salute to the pitfalls of online dating. She got me wondering. It does seem difficult for young people to forge deep and committed relationships. Of course, if all the guys are immature and unattractive and think posting a naked picture of themselves will entice a mate, then, well, whatever, I have no words.

I feel for the beautiful, smart, funny, ambitious, adventurous, deeply caring young women in my life who would like to be in a relationship.  There really is no one good enough for them. Wait, what? How can that be? Surely my son will be a good, honest, sensitive, loyal, loving young man. Someday. There must be some good men out there! Have they buried their goodness under pressure to showcase their sexual prowess? Online? It’s difficult to let your personality shine when you have to sell yourself with a fabulous photo or catchy caption or impressive profile.

I met my husband on a group skiing trip. The group was a bicycling club in my area that skied in the winter. Although I spent 10,000 hours in grueling ballet classes as a teen, I was not a sports-oriented athlete. Discovering outdoor activities as an adult was a bit of a revelation and a fun way to be social. I met a variety of congenial people. And I met my husband. There was the shock wave of eye contact and the frisson when we shook hands and more body language and subtle contact when I maneuvered a seat next to him at dinner. We were able to get a sense of each other in the company of mutual cohorts doing an activity we both enjoyed. It was very conducive to romance.

Of course, in my day, I suppose the common way to meet people was at a party or at a bar. This too can inspire that eye-lock across the room and lead to romance, or a one-night-stand with an immature Romeo looking for just a sexmate. Maybe things haven’t changed very much. I certainly had better luck meeting people through friends and activities. Luck in the sense that it was safer, and the other person was generally a potentially good fit.

I caught a tip in a men’s magazine counseling guys on how to meet a woman at the gym. The advice was to go slow. Identify a woman who was open and smiling and not just intent on her workout. Then make one comment about the gym and go away. Then, next time, bring up a movie and see if she responds in a way that invites dialog. Then, next time, invite her out on a date. Slow, gradual, over several encounters. The magazine explained that men tend to come on too strong which turns off the woman and shuts her down. Yes! Hey Romeo, don’t post naked pictures of yourself!

Out of curiosity, I started asking people I know how they met their significant other. A few had stories of friends who had met online, but most of the people I spoke to had met their mate through a friend or on a trip or through an activity. We all expressed relief that we did not have to figure out online dating and deal with the anxiety around what to post and how to meet someone compatible. Some of the young women say that online dating has been a fun way of bonding with other young women, laughing at the ridiculous options. The men have buried their goodness under pressure to showcase their sexual prowess or financial success or intellectual achievement or whatever is trending at the time. Honestly, the women have too. Buried their real selves. Under a protective layer that they think is worth presenting to the dating world.

I hope the young people I love form deep connections with lovers and friends. Most of the young people in my life were brought up with parents in traditional and committed relationships and strive for that themselves, or think they should strive for that. They are all quite capable and independent and, I hope, happy. It is possible a traditional marriage with children is not going to happen for them. Certainly not with Romeo and his ilk.

Let’s face it, marriage is hard and not for everyone.  But there are so many ways to create a loving life with deep connections. There is more and more support for single people embracing their autonomy. 44% of adults over 18 are single and many prefer it that way. More and more co-housing communities are being created. But it can be difficult to go against traditional social norms, especially if that’s how you were brought up. And if you want to have children, it really is smoother to embark on that adventure with a partner.

How to find that mate? Well, not only do you need to be yourself, but you need to be open to another person’s self. And maybe, just maybe, it’s time to get off social media and take up some social activities.

Cartoon Credit:  Rob Cottingham

Sisters and Brothers

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An Only Child and Her Siblings

I didn’t know April 10th was National Sibling Day until my Facebook feed was peppered with sweet photos of brothers and sisters. Awwww. There were my friends posting past childhood photos with their brother or sister. There were my friends posting current family reunion photos of their middle-aged brothers and sisters. And there were my younger friends posting some wonderful old childhood photos of their parents with their sibling(s). It was lovely and fun and I wanted IN on it! But I don’t have a brother or a sister. And of course there were my friends who do have siblings but didn’t post a photo. Hmmm. Not all sibling relationships are Facebook friendly.

I started combing through photos, looking for my own twist on National Sibling Day. Apparently 21% of us are only children. We can be lonely only’s. (Cue sad story to go here.) Or, we can create our surrogate siblings and find the best of what that relationship can be through nurturing our other relationships.

There is my very best friend in the whole world, truly best friends forever, dear Emily. We met at that fragile age of 11, awkwardly and painfully transitioning from girls to teens to young women to married women to moms to middle-aged women. While she did have a brother, she did not have a sister. And so. Sisters we were and are. I’m quite sure we cut our hands and merged our blood in some profound ceremony of our invention. Blood sisters we were and are. Our paths have long gone in different directions. Our personalities are quite distinct. And yet, like “real” sisters, there is a shared history and a shared bond. We know each other’s family secrets. We remember each other’s past. (Yes, that DID happen. No, you’re NOT crazy.) We love each other and support each other, cheering successes and mourning losses.

There is my amazing cousin, dear Elizabeth. The one who was killed at the age of 48 by a drunk driver in 2002. The one I still miss. The only female of my generation in my small family. Older than me, she knew my mother’s family history better than me. Older than me, she offered a window on what being a 20-something woman might be like while I was a sheltered teen in suburbia. I love her and miss her and hold sacred the ties to the others in my small family. She was and is my sister.

When I met my husband, I was fascinated with his siblings and his relationship with them. Like all of ours, his was a dysfunctional family. When his parents divorced, the three siblings relied on each other in a way I have rarely seen. Somewhat poor, somewhat neglected, they had each other. They regale us with their stories of shared adventures, a robbery, a fire (save the bike!), a wayward dog, going to bars for all-you-can-eat, living on one baked potato for a week because they were out of money. (Surely, that is an exaggeration!) The first time I met his brother, I was nervous and wondering if I would recognize him. Of course the second I got off the airplane I realized that the man at the end of the gangway who was the DNA twin of my husband was him. What must it be like to have someone out there who looks like you? They and their dear spouses welcomed me as a sister, which my reserved and lonely only child persona craved. When their parents died, we all gathered to sift through the memories and the artifacts, sharing laughter and tears. It didn’t really matter who got what because there was such closeness between the families. His brother and sister have become my brother and sister. His extended family, my extended family. A tribe with shared memories who would do anything for each other. Who would do anything for each other’s children. Because it is the next generation that consumes us now.

When we married, I knew deep in my soul that I would not have only one child. Two. I had to have two. I imagined that I would have two girls. Two sisters. That seemed the ideal relationship. Two girls to support each other, grow up together, share secrets together. It was the relationship I felt was lacking in my life. So, when the ultrasound indicated that our second child was a boy, I gasped. An alien! I had an alien growing in me! What was I going to do with a boy? What was my daughter going to do with a brother?   From the day he was born, he adored her. “Bia! Bia! Bia!” he cried out for her with excitement. We have picture after picture of him looking up at her with love and awe. She, on the other hand, like a normal big sister, tolerates him and his little brother-ness with a mixture of loving watchfulness, nurturance, and a touch of condescending superiority. There was a time, like around a few years ago until about now, where they barely acknowledged each other. I wonder if and when this will change. I pray it does. My niece and nephew are close, but that closeness seems born out of the shared, sad loss of their father. I guess that is what it takes. Shared history. Shared memories. Shared triumphs, but also shared losses. And that takes time and maturity. It will come. When I determined to have more than one child, it was so that neither would be alone. After we are gone. Perhaps that is naïve and impossible, a mother’s desperate hope that her children will be happier than she. After all, we are all alone and on our own path. We all suffer. But surely, having a sibling, either through “real” family or by creating one, helps. I love the brothers and sisters in my life.

I Want Stained Glass Windows!

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Awe

Around about now, I wish I belonged to a church. It seems like such a meaningful way to spend the holidays. You know, Christmas and Easter. Holidays that I celebrate. Secularly. But the sweet baskets of chocolate and the spring tulips and the nice family dinner don’t seem like enough. I want Ceremony. Ritual. Music. Candles. Incense. Stained Glass Windows. The Word of God.

Every decade or so, I wonder about joining a church. The obstacles are many. I was brought up by cerebral scientists who were not necessarily atheists (neither would commit to believing nor not believing), but who were damn sure they did not want to go to church. And, probably not surprising, I married a man with a similar attitude: not quite sure about God but convinced that church is not for him and angry, angry, that religion is the root of so much persecution and conflict in the world.

I am not sure about God, but I don’t believe that Jesus is any more divine than you or me. I am not Christian, but that is the religion to which I’ve been most exposed. I definitely don’t believe that you need to follow a religion and its rules and its mythology to be a good person.  In fact, I am suspicious of those who follow a religion’s rules without questioning.  How can you be so sure? And why is one religion more worthy than another?

But in stillness, the stillness of savasana or meditation or a Reiki session, sometimes – just sometimes – warmth spreads throughout my body. My body tingles with energy. I see colors and images. I am both hyper alert and deeply relaxed. Usually, in my daily life, I am too busy busy busy and too determined to achieve something to be still. To feel. To listen. But in stillness, it happens. Sometimes.

I am sure there is a scientific reason for my very physical, very dramatic, very strange, very powerful, very real experiences. I am equally sure that people who are more comfortable than me with the mysterious and the mystical will claim this as an excellent example of the unknowable. And that I should get myself to church or synagogue or temple without another moment’s hesitation.

When my mother died, I was determined that we would honor her in a church. Unlike our disappointing and unsatisfying nods to Christmas (presents!) and Easter (chocolate!), this life passage needed more meaning. We found a Unitarian minister and church who guided us to create a lovely memorial service. It helped. It made a difference.

I like the Unitarians. They tend to be liberal and intellectual without a lot of strictures. Good God, they hardly even mention God in their beliefs and principles! That’s my kind of religion! I must say however, that their churches hardly seem like churches to me. The church where we had my mother’s memorial service was an ugly building from the uninspired 1960’s. I Want Stained Glass Windows. A Breath-Taking Sanctuary. Ceremony. Ritual. Music. Candles. Incense. The Word of God. A church should define the notion of Awe-Some.  Like the cathedrals that inspired me while I was traipsing all over Europe when I was 20.

I suppose the physical space should not matter. Any space can become beautiful, and sacred, as you spend time there, in stillness. It’s not the stained glass windows that are sacred, but the people who make the stained glass windows and sing in the choir.  Or chant in the yoga studio.  Or pray for peace.  Or act to build peace.  What matters is the community of people and the holiness of love and support between the people and a sense of sacred purpose. Faith that life and love matter.

I will spend some of Easter in stillness, being grateful for the hope and optimism that is Spring, and reflecting on love. I believe that what is holy is love. Love is what is Awe-Some.

Photo is the Rose Window of Chartres Cathedral.

The Dance of Marriage

Eventide

Eventide

Marriage is hard. It is easy to understand why couples decide to call it quits. It is perhaps easier to be alone or to try to find someone else who has the characteristics your spouse doesn’t have but that you wish he did have. Of course if you find that someone else, that other person will be missing some other desirable characteristic. And while your own problems/issues/neuroses may be masked in the euphoria of a new and different relationship they will reemerge sooner or later, leading to serial monogamy without the joy of a deeply committed and evolving marriage that weathers the challenges.

For my young readers who believe in the romantic notion that there is only one soulmate to hold out for, bah! Disabuse yourself of that ridiculousness. No one person is your perfect mate. But do choose wisely. Choose someone who is responsible and loyal, loving and funny, a partner in parenthood (should you decide to have children), a friend, and someone who gives you that frisson of passion, even after 21 years of seeing you at your worst. And at your best.

I saw the Paul Taylor Dancers perform Eventide. I went with my 20-something niece who is at the age where some of your illusions have been burst but you don’t quite know who you’re going to be yet. An exciting and hopeful and confusing age. (Aren’t they all?) I didn’t go with my husband, because enjoying dance performances is one of the characteristics I wish he had but he does not.

It is a very beautiful dance that a 20-something can enjoy, but may require being 50-something to appreciate. Paul Taylor choreographed Eventide when he was my age. Interesting.

It opens with 5 couples. (All male-female, which is notable because Taylor has made so many wonderful dances for all sorts of combinations of people!) In the beginning, the couples look the same and move in unison to the same choreography. And then. Each couple dances their dance. The story of their relationship. Or perhaps it is five phases of one relationship. There is the woman reaching for another lover while her partner movingly invites/pleads/demands that she stay with him. Compliant, she tries to stay, but her body language is distant and resistant. Their dance ends with her tragically alone, with neither lover. There is the woman returning to her lover apologetically. Can he forgive her? Can he trust her? Can they love again? Cautious. There is the couple ecstatic in new love. Each movement thrillingly joyful, in unison, inseparable.

Haven’t we all been there? The excitement of new love where you can’t bear to be apart. The temptation of another love or another path that promises to be different, better, more right. The unequal balance after one partner hurts the other, betrays the other. The deep comfort and bond and friendship and simmering passion of a long marriage.

If the beginning of a relationship is an ecstatic dance in unison, the eventide of a relationship has more complex choreography. Frequently, after the kids arrive, you divide and conquer, creating parallel lives that forget to intersect. When the kids leave, you’ve forgotten how to intersect. The dance moves from unison to parallel solos to, if you choose, a wiser mature love with special moments of intersection and connection. You may need to revisit some of those earlier dance steps in order to remember.

My husband and I are looking to weave back together. We have each changed after 21 years of marriage and our relationship has changed. Sometimes we marvel at our longevity given our many differences. It seems to work best when we treat each other like we love each other. To talk, to listen, to hold hands, to look each other in the eye, to laugh, to be proud, to compliment each other, to be polite, to be kind. We’re revisiting things we liked to do when we were dating, like finding new recipes and cooking together. Then we go our separate ways. And come back together again. It’s a dance.

Photo:  Paul Taylor’s Eventide

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