When the Ex Wants You Back

I stopped dating a month or two ago when I realized I was too stressed out over work and fulltime parenting to enjoy it. Since then, my ex, J, has been able to be incrementally more involved in childcare. Her healing process from surgery has been very slow. Work has become a *little* less overwhelming. In general life has been okay. But I am not ready to jump in to dating again, yet.

The hard thing lately has been navigating my shifting relationship with J. She is no longer with the person she left me for, and she has said she regrets having left in the first place. The regret narrative is …predictable. I think J has done some growing up in the last year and I miss the way things were with us when our relationship was a happy one. But I think J is still not emotionally stable, and I don’t want to be in a situation where everything that is important to me is dismissed or barely tolerated by my partner. I don’t know that J would act that way again, but I dealt with it for long enough in our relationship that I am not keen to give us a chance. I also don’t know how to feel attracted to her anymore… I am not bisexual and her transition mtf was always going to be hard… Add the cheating on top of it and her year and a half relationship with someone else… I don’t feel comfortable with the idea of a physical relationship anymore. Her touch isn’t a safe spot for me anymore. We are hanging out and talking a lot more lately, but while I know she wants to repair everything, I don’t think I want more than friendship. I honestly wish she was dating and only adding me to a mix of other friendships. It would feel okay for me to have moved on –better anyway — if I could see her happy and building her life again too. There is a part of me that does want to go back… We were so happy once… But the shared adventures of the past aren’t enough on their own.

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‘Making it all fit’ as a single mom

I was watching Bridget Jones’s Diary this morning while making seed tape for my community garden. It was nice to have that quiet time to myself. My ex MIL is in town and she is helping my ex take care of the toddler for a few days. My ex, J, is still on the very long post-surgery road to recovery and can’t do much childcare on her own. She probably won’t be up for more than a handful of hours with kiddo a couple days a week for months yet… She has said she wants to take on more, but I don’t see how it is going to happen. I imagine it will be fall before I have much time to myself again. 

On the dating front this is extra difficult. I have managed to meet a few new people this year despite my full schedule, but on the last date I went on I was exhausted, felt rushed, and was generally not my best. The guy was nice and had a lot of outdoorsy interests, but he was in a whole different world in terms of personal freedom. We didn’t really connect on an individual level anyway, but even if we had, I can’t imagine how I could have kept up with him. I am physically capable of doing all the outdoorsy things I once did, but I am very schedule-impaired and don’t have the freedom to go on big adventures… Even the small ones are tough to arrange. I feel discouraged, because I am at core an outdoorsy person, and I am attracted to people who share that love of the outdoors. But I can’t keep up with these people who are childless.

I am still playing with Tinder, but for the next month at least I think I am going to focus more on posting Meetup events with the local hiking clubs. Online dating is fine if it feels fun, but my last couple dates felt stressful. Meetups are an easier commitment while still allowing me time to stretch my social muscles.

Quiet April

This is a thoughtful kind of April evening. I am babysitting at a friend’s house and both my kid and hers are sleeping. I am sitting by a dark window and have been watching hail gather on the sill outside. There has been no thunder, only a little wind and the sounds of the house.

My ex, J, came over to hang out at my place the other afternoon for an hour or so. That we can do this now is still a little amazing to me, but even with some recovery of friendship, the divorce is inevitably part of the atmosphere when we are together. It is part of why we hang out only occasionally.

More specifically, I often feel a little sad when I see J because she is so full of regret. I don’t think she would be happier if we were together now; I think she is just a regretful kind of person these days, and any decision made is an unhappy one because it means there are options that are closed as a result. I don’t think she was always so unhappy… But she has been for several years now. I just don’t see her daily moods anymore. I think and hope she has a *little* more positivity than when she left me.

J said something recently about how devoted I was to her when we were together, and …how did she put it.. Something about how she won’t have that in her life again and how I won’t be like that again with anybody else. She basically thinks she broke something in me by the way she acted at the end of our relationship. I don’t think so, though. 

I do still sometimes feel sad for what we lost, but that is not something that can be recovered again, and I don’t tell her when I have those kinds of feelings.

Mostly I think I am a more whole person because of our past relationship. There were many good years and J was there for me during a self-doubting time when it meant everything to have somebody telling me through all their actions, ‘I choose you.’ I wish I could help her feel whole the way she helped me, but I gave her everything I had, and it wasn’t enough. 

I think there is a risk of me jumping into something with another person simply because I 1) miss sex, and 2) miss the friendly intimacy of a relationship. But new relationships are risky by nature. Getting hurt is always a possibility. As long as I keep safety in mind and protect my kid from potential negatives that might come from me dating, it is all good.

Meeting somebody on Monday at a climbing meetup. This will be the 5th person I will have met via online dating, since I started back in December.

That’s the end of that

As I type I am sitting in the ER with my toddler, who had bad tummy pains last night. It turns out he has early stage pneumonia and will be kept for observation until at least tomorrow morning.

Writing about my dating life feels very superficial of me at this moment, but we are (updated) sitting in a room in pediatrics, watching tv and there is nothing else to do right now.

Last weekend I met the Backpacker for a short hike, and it was lovely. We also kissed and made out a little, which… You know, I have no idea what is fast or slow for most people, but I’m not going to be embarrassed about it. When we went our separate ways I said to him, ‘Why don’t you plan our next meetup.’ Because frankly, me planning everything has been driving me nuts. Before our second date I was getting such mixed messages from him that I had even backed off and said I understood if he wasn’t interested in getting together, and that I didn’t want to be pushing too hard …just, as a parent, pre planning is important for me. He assured me he was interested, which was a relief. I can handle rejection but vagueness is harder.

To his credit he nailed in a day to meet up for the third time fairly quickly. His texts also turned sexual and basically nothing but sexual. I can’t say I didn’t encourage it some, and when he asked if I wanted our next meetup to be active like hiking or more intimate, I said either. But although I participated a little in the intimate texting he was initiating, I was more reluctant. When it felt like too much I found ways to deflect or put him off… For example, sending a picture of my kitchen chair’s seat and legs instead of pictures of me. I am not so willing to have photos of myself out in the world like that… And Backpacker certainly wasn’t putting himself out there. After about his fourth mention of photos of my legs I decided to ask him for a basic head shot, and he sent a photo of himself outdoors wearing a balaclava (face covered). Huh. I had long since sent him photos of my face. Little things like that just felt off. Also, sexting is not something I am used to, and while I was willing to be somewhat openminded to the idea, I was not thrilled with the constant focus on the one theme. I found myself missing our earlier conversations about things like dogs and hiking and wildlife management.

The one thing the Backpacker did not nail down for our third date was a location. And really the exact times were up in the air a little, because I had given him my window of availability for Friday evening and that was where communication stood until Thursday. On Thursday I also texted him twice asking where we should meet up and he completely ignored the question both times, deflecting back to sexual talk. Friday morning I asked the question a third time, feeling annoyed but trying not to show it. When he responded, ‘Greenbelt?’ I asked him what part (it is well over 20 miles long), and he responded, ‘Where’s your favorite walking / getting teased part?’ Which was a big ol’ WTF on several levels. When I said I wasn’t comfortable with a lot of making out in a public space like that and asked (very nicely) if we could slow down on the sexy talk a bit, he said okay, and that he understood, and we would just do a walk (which section of Greenbelt was still unspecified). But his messages seemed a little more terse and a little less friendly. And the next thing he wrote, three and a half hours later and only two hours before I was scheduled to drop my kid at the sitter, was, “Sorry to do this pretty much last minute but some stuff came up and I’m going to have to cancel tonight.”

At the advice of my sister I simply wrote back, “Okay. What came up? Everything all right?” When there was no response over 20 hours later I finally told him what I really thought:

“There is probably no point in me writing this, but I’m just going to put it out there. Setting aside the way you cancelled on me yesterday, do you know how demeaning it is to be sexted at for a week solid and then to be told, at the absolute last minute, “Let’s go make out on the Greenbelt — you choose the location”? I say this as somebody who loves the Greenbelt! Even the obvious booty call invite of ‘Why don’t you come over to my place and we can watch some Netflix’ is more respectful, and more appealing.”

The honest truth is, I wouldn’t have minded a Netflix booty call invite, and given the tone and content of the Backpacker’s recent conversations, that is what I would have expected. To get an invite to the Greenbelt felt a lot like him saying, “I want to make out with you but I really don’t want you to know where I live.” Overthinking? Dunno. But shortly after starting my new job I had asked him if his work office was the one a few blocks away from mine, and as with so many of my direct questions, he never answered. Suspicion builds over time with crappy communication like that.

I did get one final message back from the guy: “This goes without saying but since I had a death in the family which I am now out of town for that definitely takes priority over you and since apparently according to you my actions had made it to where we both have lost a lot of respect for each other then I see no point in continuing talking. Best of luck to you.”

My ex and my sis have been following my progress with this guy a little more than anybody else in my life, and they had slightly different takes on the situation. My ex, who has a more jaded mindset, insists that the Backpacker was lying in his last message and says I was right to call him out on acting like a jerk. I too have my doubts about the family death story, but in the end I went with my sister’s more level-headed advice. I messaged the Backpacker one last time to say I was sorry to have sent an angry message when he was dealing with a loss. I explained how the combo of his sexting and lack of planning effort had made me uneasy, and that his cancelling our date felt like a direct reaction to when I said all the sexting was too much too fast. I apologized for misjudging him and said that it seemed anyway like our communication styles were incompatible. I also wished him the best, and in a nicer tone than he had written to me. And that was that.

I was sad for a while, but the combination of talking to other people, particularly my ex, and then writing this blog post has left me feeling a lot better. The Backpacker may potentially have been a decent guy with lazy communication and planning habits, but those habits made interacting with him a constant struggle. At worst, he was a secretive guy who was unwilling to be honest about who he was and what he was looking for. I am better off without him, even though he is a great kisser who shares my love of long distance hiking.

As one final thought, interactions like this make me less a fan of texting than before. Assuming Backpacker was the least offensive version of the person I have been trying to understand, talking on the phone would have minimized a lot of the frustrating aspects of our communications. And it would have eliminated a lot of misunderstandings when he cancelled on me. Which brings me to my final question – at a time when a lot of people dislike receiving and making phone calls and texting is the normal way to be in touch, how can I go against the trend without coming across as weird? Maybe it is just a matter of self confidence and discretionary use of calling on my part.

Oh. Also…. Another time, I am going to make a better effort, not to hide my frustration with another person, but to spell out my frustration in a less emotional way. My one regret about my conduct with the Backpacker is that I didn’t say to him, “You know, when you do / don’t do ____ I feel hurt because ____.” Had I sent that instead of my angry message, communication might have had a shot at improving. It would have been an invite to more open conversation. My actual message was a pretty solid communication shut-down.

Adventures

First day at the new job today. I am really excited about the position and think it will be fun and challenging work, surrounded by a good group of people. As a person who has turned away from a natural resources career and toward education, I am thrilled to have the opportunity to be able to teach kids about nature. 


The downside to this job, if I have not mentioned it before, is the very limited time off. I suppose it is comparable to a lot of other jobs in the US in that way, and I will have a somewhat more flexible weekly schedule than most people could hope to have. But as somebody who used to take jobs with 8 days on / 6 days off schedules (or 4 on / 3 off), I know the value of a real weekend. 2 days off is enough to do some things, and I will embrace the schedule I have for the next couple years. But I daydream about an education job that will give me summers off. I wish there was some in-between… Environmental Education and a 4 on / 3 off schedule? I don’t know…


The part of me that wishes for free time also is looking at this thing with the Backpacker… And not even just the Backpacker himself, but the kind of guy the Backpacker represents: Well-traveled, regularly challenging himself with new outdoor adventures. He’s ambitious about the outdoors in a way not unlike I used to be, and we hit it off largely because we both have the same enthusiasms about hiking, and we both have an internal voice that says, “Adventure is not the result of avoiding inconvenience and discomfort; it is the result of embracing those things.” But… I have to plan for myself and a kid, and I do not have a job that will let me roam around the west for weeks at a time the way I used to. Even with compatible mindsets, there is a world of difference between what the two of us can logistically accomplish. Today at work I learned about a potential new nature teacher who could be working under me. I haven’t met her, but she apparently teaches skiing in the winter and is looking to do environmental education in the summertime. She could be the definition of the kind of girl the Backpacker and other outdoorsy guys look for: adventurous, unlimited in her ability to do … basically anything. It makes me feel a little sad, and old. (And yes, I know… I have value too.)


The only way I can combat these blues is to start coming up with some challenges for myself this year. Not just challenges — Bucket list activities. They don’t have to be things I have never done before; they merely have to represent my best use of the time I have to find adventure. More on this to come.

Life According to Bridget

Bridget Jones is very important to me. Not the movie Bridget so much, though really, what better moment is there than the one where Colin Firth, as Mr. Darcy, says, “I like you just as you are“?

It’s the books I love most (well, ignoring book 3). There is a quote that says something to the effect that finding stories about people like you gives you the vocabulary to explain your life. Bridget Jones is very different from me in a lot of ways: She drinks a lot, smokes, dislikes exercise, is obsessive about her weight and diet… and she is more uninhibited and fun than me. But, there is also so much about her and her world I can identify with: from her friend Magda, who is a parent and cannot have a conversation on the phone without pausing every few moments to say things like, “In the potty! Do it in the potty!”; to her dread of work social events; to feeling old and a little “past it” in her 30s; to her procrastination; and to her sense of humor and self-knowledge as she navigates the world of dating and relationships. She describes so many things accurately, like how she gets obsessed about improving her life after a breakup…. Only to realize a few days after making unrealistic commitments to self improvement schemes that, really, the schemes are just appealing because she wants to feel like her new and improved self would never have been dumped or cheated on the way her old self was.

…Yeah, that. So much that. At least Bridget makes me want to laugh at myself rather than cry.

After I realized Coffee Guy had dropped contact with me I felt a mixture of sadness, embarrassment, frustration, and pragmatism. He was a good guy, and honest. Really, I don’t regret anything… Except possibly (probably) making the dude uncomfortable. It is easy to start dwelling on the whys of the situation, and it isn’t fun when somebody you like stamps you as ‘reject.’ But a couple weeks of messaging regularly followed by a roadtrip and sex don’t exactly add up to heartbreak. What makes me sad is the lost possibility of trying activities outside my normal sphere of existence with a new friend. As Coffee Guy told me about his hobbies I imagined doing yoga, road biking, bouldering, and dancing together at concerts. Going on a roadtrip with a stranger was exciting… It was an escape from the monotony of my regular life, and it felt like I was breaking away from my personal hangups of not being good enough or interesting enough.  I was living, doing something new- and that felt really good. 

In the aftermath of that adventure, and with the new year upon me, I have been thinking a lot about personal growth and goals. Bridget is in the background, smiling a little, or maybe she is ready to leap into change just like I am. I have had a lot of adventures in the past; with the right company (i.e. somebody who is also really into hiking and exploring on foot) I can roll out story after story, discuss places, discuss gear and logistics… With somebody who has a broader range of interests, my life feels just a little one-dimensional. Some of that may simply be a compatibility issue, but I realize that I have been in a rut for a while with my adventuring. I want to do more than lead the occasional hiking club hike with my meager spare time. I want to hang out with more people than just parents and hikers. I want to be a different version of myself than I was in 2016 – more adventurous, more fearless.

I have some thoughts about goals for the new year, though I am going to wait to voice any of them. A lot depends on whether I can find schedule flexibility with my toddler. My ex is going to undergo a major surgery this January, and in between her recovery (which will be slow) and her reduced spring/summer visitation time with our child due to her work travel schedule, I am not likely to have a lot of personal freedom. Also, I need to focus my energy on getting certified to teach so I can *hopefully* get a career off the ground and be able to adequately support myself and my kid. Finances right now are tight, and I don’t want to be dependent on my family for help any longer than I need to.

Thoughts, thoughts, thoughts. More substantial updates to come. It is, after all, a new year.

A New Leaf 🍂 

Sometime at the end of December in 2015, my spouse and I went to see the third Hunger Games movie at our local theater. I love the book series, and I was excited because we usually waited to see things until we could get them from Redbox. That outing was anything but carefree, though. As J and I sat in the coffee shop by the mall fountain, the D word came up again. We had been working to save our relationship for some time (at least, I had – J had superficially been trying, but she had been slipping further away no matter what I did). I don’t remember our words in the coffee shop anymore. I remember holding a hot cider and not drinking it, crying and not really caring who saw. In the theater I laid my head on her shoulder and cried some more. The loss of what we had built over a decade together felt huge and terrible.

J moved out of our townhome and in with her new girlfriend just after the new year. She continued to help financially support me and our son, and she was commited to being part of his life. I know worse stories. She was also distant and occasionally unpleasant, and I wondered what had happened to my best friend of so many years.

Moving in to a new apartment was a relief. I was not able to shut out the grief by closing my new front door, but I liked my new space, and incrementally I began to feel a degree of peace there. The windows were large and screened by trees. I could listen to anything I wanted – audio books, podcasts, music – without having to consider another person’s tastes. My son and I danced in the living room. I decorated my walls with pictures and maps. Even while I grieved, I was able to appreciate not being stuck with a moody partner who blamed other people for her troubles, who didn’t enjoy doing things with me, and who didn’t seem to value the same things as me anymore.

I made an effort to get out socially. Between work and parenting it was hard, but I joined a community garden for the summer. I hosted the occasional hike with Hikeit Baby. I took my son to the park and we went swimming. J and I had spent so much time in the past with only one another, and though we’d been on innumerable adventures and I had many beautiful memories of our time together, I wanted to build more connections for myself. This was the time to do it. Some weeks I felt like I was making progress; some weeks I felt very alone. Over time I was able to scrape together company a little more easily. There were people I could do things with! Little by little I felt more connected with the world. My ties still feel tenuous, even now, but I am thankful for each new experience and interaction. There are a lot of really interesting, cool, caring people out there, and my life is more interesting because of them.

My divorce was finalized near the end of summer 2016. J was easier to interact with by that time and had apologized for many of the things that were not working in our relationship. I was still sad about the broken ties, but less so.

Around the same time I began working as a substitute teacher, mainly at the elementary school level. I had been a volunteer coordinator before that and at times I missed the work. Teaching was hard and could be tedious. The worksheets I was given to work on with the kids were painfully boring. I missed the connection I used to have with my volunteers. And yet, teaching was active. I was no longer sitting in a chair for 8 to 10 hours a day. And sometimes it could be fun – leading a class discussion or reading to the kids. The work was challenging in a way that was new to me. I was stretching my people skills again. I didn’t know if I would ever be GOOD at the job… But I wanted to see if I could improve. And I really wanted to find a career that would allow me to have summers off to spend with my son. I signed up for the alternate route to a teaching certificate. It was a risk… And a new leaf.

In December I took another new risk and met up with a guy from an online dating site. It was the first really active step I had taken away from my marriage. Everything before that, from the separation to the actual divorce, had been a simple response to circumstances. This was different, because it was something I chose based on what I wanted in my life. That first date was simply an hour’s conversation over coffee, and I was both alarmed and excited when I felt a little spark with the person sitting by me. It made me feel sad all over again for the past, because I knew that I would, at some point, not be able to retrace that emotional connection I’d had with my ex. 
And it true: A couple weeks later I met up with Coffee Guy for a short and wildly ridiculous roadtrip to Utah. It was beautiful, it was awkward, and it was something new – and I have not felt the same way about my ex since then. It is a freeing feeling, even though I am also currently feeling a little sad and disappointed that Coffee Guy is apparently uninterested in continuing the acquaintance. I don’t think I will move so fast with future people I date, but I am in a generally happy place right now. I never dated anybody before my ex. This is – all of it – very new to me. I am ready to meet new people, to get hurt – and to LIVE.

(Above) Even an illogical and impractical roadtrip adventure makes sense when this is what you see out your car window.