Fighting Loneliness

When Bob left the house was so empty I could hardly bear it. I didn't have kids or pets, so my modest 50's Rancher felt as silent as a tomb. A friend of mine advised me to turn on the t.v. "Keep it on in several rooms. It will give you an illusion that someone's in the house."

That was sound advice. I turned on televisions and cd players, and had them playing all at once. The external noise, however, didn't drown out the noise in my head, which represented my terror of being abandoned and of the unknown. But those loud machines made my house feel less empty and I kept them on.

One month after Bob left I began to crave affection and the touch of another being. My other good friend said, "Get a pet."

"But I have allergies," I answered.

She dismissed my concern and replied, "There are allergy free pets." Then she accompanied me to the SPCA after convincing me that a pet would provide the companionship I needed.

"I'll just take a peek," I said. "What are my chances of finding a poodle?"

In the last room, in the last cage, I found him. A tiny terrier-poodle mix. He was snow white and his long tail wagged so furiously it hit the side of his small cage. He sat in front of the cage, and with his eyes, tails, and friendly smile he shone so brightly I couldn't help but notice him. His ecstatic smile and exuberant body language begged me to choose him. I think we both fell instantly in love. Then I read the note on his cage: Cassio, 8 years old. From his entry date I realized he had lived in that small cage for over two months!

Then something - a noise or person - triggered all the dogs in all those cages to raise their voices in howls, barks, and yips. But not this little tyke. He stole my heart with his silence and calm bearing. I had to have him! As the years passed, I like to think that we chose each other.

When he was released from his cage the first thing Cassio did was to pounce playfully on a ball. His spirit had not been broken! Two hours later we arrived home. I renamed him Barney, a moniker that fit him perfectly since he resembled a tiny lamb.

We spent 6 happy and challenging years together (Barney had abandonment issues: Don't we all?)

This tiny creature healed me and I healed him. I will always be grateful to my little pooch for providing me with solace and comfort when I needed it most. Soon I began to turn those t.v.s off. With Barney by my side, my strength and confidence returned.

Moral of the story? I don't know if there is one, except that I advise you to seek something that will replace the emptiness in your heart. For me it was Barney. For others it might be a cat or a hobby, or more involvement with your family, friends, or children.

My canine friend stayed loyal and loving to the end. We adored each other and were inseparable. I put him to sleep in April after he had a stroke. He was fourteen years old at the time. Darling, darling boy. Oh how I miss you!


Losing Respect

One thing that surprised me when Bob left was how easy it is to obtain a divorce in this country. The legal system is set up to expedite matters, not slow the process down, no matter how long you've been married, in my case 26 years.

Even the lawyer I consulted about blocking Bob’s moves to dismantle our marriage step by step looked at me like I was nuts. Be realistic, he said to me, your husband doesn’t want to save the marriage. But I still wanted to put a brake on things, thinking he would soon come to his senses and return home. This is before I learned from a reliable divorce source that once a man moves out, taking all his possessions with him, the marriage is for all intent and purposes over.

I should have believed Bob’s actions, not his words. He promised he would go to counseling with me and actively work toward saving our marriage. To demonstrate his sincerity, he had even prepaid both our counselors for TWICE a week visits for a year. I only saw Bob during those sessions, not in-between. I later learned he was busy flying to his sister’s house in Buffalo every weekend to woo his new girlfriend.

Even through my grief and desperation I saw that grand prepayment for what it was: A self serving move meant to make him look good in the eyes of our counselors. Mine was fooled, but she had the good grace to apologize several months after the divorce. My eyes began to open the day of that prepayment, along with Bob's threat that if I saw a lawyer, any attempt on his part to fix the marriage would end.

I learned that you can love someone for 32 years and be married to him for 26 years and not know him at all. I also learned that when you lose respect for someone, it is easy to fall out of love. Bob’s actions and mean spirited words over the next few months caused me to lose all respect for him. The pain of separation and divorce still gripped me. But with each mean step that he took, came the realization that the man I loved was gone forever. His eyes were so cold, that the last time we went to therapy I barely recognized him. And I realized that so much of what I loved about him shone through his eyes. He once reserved the warmest, most loving looks for me, and I basked in that reflected glory. Back when we were happy, there was no better man in the world as far as I was concerned, and I was loyal to a fault.

As a friend later told me, "Through your eyes Bob was an interesting and perfect man. Through our eyes, he fell short." What my friends told me after the divorce about their perceptions of Bob amazed me. He had not stood on the same lofty pedestal in their world as he had in mine.

Would I take Bob back now? No. But back then I wanted him back so desperately I almost considered twisting myself into a pretzel to keep him. I’m glad I did not.


Creating Your Own Supportive Environment

This article in the blog, Creating Passionate Users, articulates what I've suspected for a long time: Angry Negative People Can Be Bad for Your Brain

The summer before my marriage fell apart, my ex and I were eating breakfast at an outdoor restaurant. At the table next to us were three people: two women and a man. One of the women spoke in a loud voice. We couldn't help but over hear her. She spoke at length about her rotten ex husband, the state of her divorce, the negative experiences with lawyers, custody battles, self esteem issues, and other matters strangers had no business hearing. She was so angry, she didn't care. Her two companions listened in silence, nodding, and eating their breakfasts. They looked sad and trapped.

After we paid for our meal, I commented to my ex, "She's been divorced for two years, but she's still living it like it happened today." Her anger was so palpable, it had put a pall over several breakfasts in that room.

In another incident, a former coworker would talk to me during breaks about her divorce and her cad husband and his remarriage. I listened sympathetically, asking a few leading questions and feeling so sorry for her. Her pain was real, and she would often burst into tears. After a few conversations, I ventured to ask, "When did you divorce?" She answered, "Twelve years ago."

I was stunned. Needless to say, I stopped enabling her. But the experience made me wonder: Why do people insist on clinging to such enormous pain, hurt, and anger for so long? Don't they realize that these dark emotions, if pursued for too long, drive others away? And that clinging to your anger affects your health and overall outlook on life?

I swore after these two incidences that I would strive hard to put my anger at anything - including my ex - aside. Has it been easy to follow my own dictum? It's been extremely hard at times, but I strive as well as I can to stay out of harm's way. I do not surround myself with perpetual victims and angry folks, and in my leisure time, I actively seek out laughter and fun.

I work hard at creating my own supportive environment of positive people, maintaining a positive outlook, and pursuing healthy outlets and activities outside of work. Am I always successful at it? Of course not. It's a process and I'm learning as I go. I do adhere to a set of standards. Let me explain.

There's a wonderful blog out in the blogosphere about divorce, but I don't have it listed in my blog roll. Despite all the good advice, humor, and interesting thoughts, the author keeps referring to her ex as an "idiot." Yet he is the father of her children! As a child of divorce, this casual use of the term doesn't sit well with me.

Suppose her children read her blog? Would they then think of themselves as the kids of an idiot? What an awful thought. Or perhaps she doesn't care that her children know. That would be even sadder. Divorce is tough enough on kids without their parents engaging in self-defeating name calling. And what is the point other than to dehumanize the other person? The problem is that after a while such tactics start to boomerang on oneself, reflecting on one's own immature outlook, not the ex partner's. Meanwhile, the children are caught in the middle.

This person, in my opinion, has crossed the line. Why not keep her opinions to herself? It would have taken almost as much energy for her to work on forgiving her ex for whatever transgressions he's guilty of and create a loving supportive environment for her kids, that would also include their father, as to maintain an active, ongoing blog. (As blog authors, we know how much time, effort, and creativity our blogs take.)

So I choose not to visit her blog or link to it. Reading it would make me too angry. I'll just keep plugging away, minding my own business, and actively working on being content and at ease with my unexpected single life.


Plan B: Always have one

Know why I rebounded rather quickly from my divorce and with my humor intact? Plan B.

I've always had one. Life's given me a few hard knocks, so I've learned to never count on certainty and to always be prepared.

Yes, but I'm happily married, you are saying to yourself. I am only reading this blog to help a friend in need. If that is the case, you should have a plan B too. One of my friends just lost her husband to a sudden heart attack. She was caught flat-footed, without a will, without her health (she is going blind from diabetes), without knowing where all the important papers are, and, as a full-time housewife for 35 years, without the apparent skills to search for a well-paying job.

Plan B means:

Keeping yourself employable and upgrading your computer, sales, or office skills, even though you don't need to earn a salary.

Updating your resume periodically, just because.

Continuing with your education, even it it's just for fun. I don't mean college. Adult education classes, art classes, cooking instruction, writing seminars will help to keep your mind sharp. You will also meet a world of people outside of your smaller circle of friends and acquaintances.

Making sure your insurance payments are current.

Stashing emergency money aside in a separate savings account. I have saved enough money to be able to pay my living expenses for three months should I lose my job. I am not a rich person and I had to live frugally for 6 months in order to achieve this goal. But now I have peace of mind. I also never overdraw my checking account.

Acquired a home equity line of credit that you can tap into ... just in case.

Applied for a credit card in your own name.

Written down an emergency strategic plan ahead of time, outlining the steps you will take in case you lose your mate to death, or if one or both of you are disabled for any reason, or if you lose your health, or find yourself on the wrong end of a lawsuit.

Sound smart and simple to do? If so, then ask yourself question: Do I have a Plan B in place? If not, I suggest you might think about creating one today.


Dating Pitfalls: Predators

My neighbor broke down in tears when I wished her happy New Year and asked, ”How are you?” It seems she discovered her boyfriend with another woman. Like me, Joan’s divorced and over fifty. She’d been in the relationship for three years, way past the casual dating stage and just long enough to get comfortable and hopeful.

She and her partner had bought property together. Now their break up has become so messy and acrimonious that she’s had to consult a lawyer.

“This is as bad as my divorce!” she wailed.

Not only was Joan emotionally devastated, she stands to lose thousands in loans and legal fees.

Another acquaintance, Donna, has sworn off men forever. She fell in love with a handsome charmer about ten years ago. He was a ton of fun and their partying was legendary. They were inseparable for two years, and she was certain they would be married. So certain, she depleted her savings to help him purchase some land and a car. Both titles were in his name. As soon as her money was gone, he left her. This man is such a snake that he’s repeated this pattern with two other women as far as we know.

My long-term relationship with a man ended after four years, but two years later we’re still good friends. I had lent him large sums of money (around $25,000) which he’s almost paid off (about $2,000 to go).

What was the difference between Joan, Donna, and me? Legal documents that spell out the terms of the loan and conditions and dates for repayment. I had also inserted a clause saying that if payments stopped for any reason, I would retain legal and sole title to the property. Late payments were subject to penalties, and we even made provisions in case one of us died. These legal documents placed us on equal footing and preserved my trust.

Was I simply lucky to have dated a decent and honorable man? Yes and no.

The men I date are sterling. If they do not meet my strict standards, I won't even consider going out with them. I've also developed extremely sensitive self-preservation antennae. Having been married to an accountant for 26 years, I’ve learned to be smart with my money, especially around strangers, which is what a new love interest is at the start of a relationship. If I were to fall and love and remarry, I would expect my mate to sign a pre-nup. In turn, I would be willing to sign one for him as well.

Donna, who has only been on two dates in eight years, has sworn men off forever. So has Joan. In fact, Donna has become so bitter towards all men that they steer clear of her, even though she is an attractive woman. Joan, in her intense grief and hurt, wants nothing to do with men in the future. I suspect her attitude may change once she feels less raw.

As for me? I love men. I always have. And you won’t find me bashing them in this blog. In fact, as many women fleece men as vice versa, accepting all kinds of expensive gifts before dumping them, so I am not taking gender sides. Having said that, I certainly don’t need a man to complete me or make my life worthwhile, but if I happen to fall in love again, I’ll be open to the possibilities.

As far as I can tell, the primary difference between me and Donna and Joan in lending money to our boyfriends was the protection of that legal document! It really is worth taking the time and effort to draw one up.

If your new love (or unmarried partner) balks at signing a legal agreement, claiming you don’t love them or trust them, take that as a big WARNING sign. Every honorable person I know would not hesitate to sign a legitimate contract when large sums are involved. That little bit of legal insurance not only helped to preserve my small savings, it enabled me to retain my friendship with my former lover and keep my heart whole.

Cartoon from http://www.fishlikefish.com/cartoons/bad.php


Middle Aged Enjoying Sex

The article from BBC News Health is about seven months old, but, hey, the message is good for those of us who are not ready to give up the nookie ghost.

Click here to read the full article.


Pay it forward

This weekend marks the 7-year anniversary of when my husband left. It took him one short afternoon to remove the furniture from our spare bedroom, move into to a one-bedroom apartment across town, and dismantle our marriage of 26 years. Seven years later the pain has receded to the point where I can write my memories on this blog without being haunted.

I recently read that this is the time of year when a large number of spouses decide to leave: Just after Christmas and New Year's. My husband had rented his apartment in early December, but he didn't want to spoil my holidays so he waited to leave until early January. Since he had barely talked or looked at me for several months, I don't think that the timing really made any difference. My holidays were spoiled already.

When talking to a neighbor who had just recently split up with her cheating partner, I not only saw the pain and grief etched on her face, I knew exactly what she was going through. Still in shock at catching him with his new girlfriend, she could barely face taking the Christmas decorations down alone. I am going over tomorrow to help her.

My, how things have changed. Seven years ago I hated to be alone. Now I relish having time to myself, and I slightly resent having to give up my precious Sunday afternoon. But I know how horrendous my neighbor is feeling. More than anything she needs someone to talk to about the situation and to help her stave off the loneliness, if even for a few hours.

During my divorce I benefited from the kind gestures of so many good friends, some of whom I'll never be able to pay back for their kindness. So I decided that when the opportunity presented itself, I would pay it forward.

Tomorrow is such a day.


The Healing Power of Laughter

Despite my overwhelming grief, rage, and sadness during the early stages of my divorce, I experienced unexpected moments of happiness. My short bursts of laughter surprised me at first, as if I didn't deserve such a wonderful emotion.

I'd be with friends and family doing something I liked or was good at, like tubing down the river, and be totally in the moment. For a short period I would feel like my old self again: Happy, bright, funny, looking forward to a the future, and liking my friends and myself.

These infrequent respites gave me much needed relief from the emotional rollercoaster I was riding and from the constant worry, fear, and emotional pain I was feeling. I could never predict when these happy interludes would occur. Sometimes being with friends worked and sometimes this didn't, so I had to learn to roll with the punches. I would savor the few times when a puppy or laughing baby would transport me.

It's a well known fact that laughter boosts the immune system, and that depression and grief supress it. A friend of mine attended laughter therapy classes to counteract the pressures she felt before she defended her dissertation. I found that a funny movie, like A Night At the Opera with the Marx Brothers worked just as well for me.

The night that I discovered that my husband was engaged to someone else (while we were still seeing a therapist to "fix our marriage") I called a friend and asked him to tell me jokes. Listening to his silly stories calmed me down. My pain receded a little and I began to laugh. The more I laughed, the more my head cleared. As my tears dried, my mind became sharp again. Within half an hour of learning about Bob's engagement, I could focus on what I needed to do, which was to call him and confront him with what I'd learned.

When he told me that his getting engaged to another woman was all my fault, all I could do was laugh. The situation was so absurd! At that moment I felt a powerful surge of energy course through me. For the first time since Bob moved out of the house, I had the courage and clarity of insight to talk to him as an equal and someone who was in control of her life. This clarity of thought and reason stayed with me during the next few days, guiding me as Bob and I finalized our divorce. Within two weeks he had what he wanted - his freedom.

More on this blog about humor: Humor Will Get You Everywhere


Loss: Divorce vs. Death

A high school friend recently lost her husband to a heart attack. His death was sudden and unexpected. It has only been two months and she is still in the throes of grieving. The initial shock has worn off and now reality is hitting her square on: He won’t be coming back. My words have been a comfort to her, as I know exactly what she’s going through, but then, after our last conversation, she said something that all widows and widowers eventually say to me - "You don’t understand."

Don’t understand? Of course I do! Divorce is a death. It also ranks right up there with the most stressful periods in your life. You go through the same grieving phases and you make similar adjustments. There are differences, of course.

In divorce:
1) Your spouse, though dead to you in all the ways that count, is still a living, breathing person. Just somewhere else.
2) There is dignity in death, but no dignity in divorce. Rituals and ceremonies are designed to help a grieving family go through the horrendous stages of the death of a loved one. Divorces are looked upon as messes and failures. In the media divorces are often the butt of jokes. And what I discovered, with some shock and bewilderment, is that you are expected to get over your grief rather quickly. Even before my divorce was final, my friends wanted - no, needed - me to be happy and normal.
3) In most instances, the widow or widower inherits everything, including house, custody of the children, and a substantial life insurance policy. There are no certainties in divorce settlements (even though in theory the laws are set up to be equitable), and lawyers seem to receive a substantial amount of your assets if there is a disagreement.

The first point I made, that your spouse is still living, seems to be the one that widows and widowers concentrate on. For all intent and purposes, mine was dead to me. He looked at me as if I was a specimen to be examined under a microscope. Since the divorce, I’ve had no contact with him and seldom see him. The two times I did, he looked at me with indifferent eyes. There was no warmth, no sense of recognition that we’d spent 32 years together (most of them happy), and no desire to share cherished memories. He'd moved on, and I realize that he rarely wastes his energy thinking about our shared past. The last time I fleetingly saw him, a small pang of separation and loss hit me all over again. In addition, when my husband left, so did his family. This felt like a double loss.

My attitude about death vs. divorce is this: Loss is loss. Yes, death is final. But the death of a marriage also has a finality to it. It is death without dignity. It means the death of your friendship with the most special person in your life. It is the death of your love and future together. In many cases it means the loss of one’s financial security. In my case it meant having to deal with a sense of failure, and having to face middle-age and menopause square on without a supportive partner. I could go on and on, but you get my meaning.

Some day my friend and I will have a discussion about these distinctions about losing one's life partner, and how much more we have in common than not. For now, I’ll let her grieve and I’ll just keep on supporting her.

Addendum: It has been almost five years since my friend lost her husband. She now recognizes that we both experienced significant life-changing losses, just as I predicted. It took her five years to land on her feet, and almost that long to realize that we have so much in common as widow and divorcee.


Facing your fears

Divorce is one of the highest stress-related events a person can go through. Only the death of a spouse or child rank higher. Having experienced extreme loss only a few times in my life, I didn’t know what to think of the physical pain that gripped my chest, my shortness of breath when I walked my dog, my inability to think clearly when someone talked too fast or too loud, and the metallic taste in my mouth.

I also suffered from what I can only describe as a noise in my head, which were my fears crowding in on me. Fear of being alone. Fear of not finding a job. Fear of the unknown. Fear of growing old without my husband. Fear of divorce. Fear of lawyers. Fear of being considered a failure.

There were so many worries crowding out all good and rational thinking, that simply fighting off my negative thoughts took all my energy. People were so full of advice, some good and some awful. The noise in my head (my fears) drowned out their words. I literally lived one minute at a time, waiting for the day to end so that I could find relief in sleep.

So, was my reaction normal? Having spoken to others in my situation, yes. That acute physical pain is real. The fears are normal. You just have to ride through this intense grieving period and concentrate only on the things you can control. Every time I took a positive step forward (like finding a job), the noise in my head lessened. We each react to stress differently. In my case, it took eight months before my head cleared again. It had taken that long to sort out my fears and confront them.