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.

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.

Identity

I just put together a small photo album of places I have explored over the past decade. I didn’t come close to including all the places I have been, and yet, I was so proud of it when I was done. I have been to some pretty amazing localities, and when I look back on those memories I have to smile. Despite my personal struggles with social anxiety and self worth (which loomed large in my vision for a long time) I have lived a happy life. And that was due to having a best friend and a hobby we were both very invested in (hiking).

My photo collection tapers off around three years ago, when I was about to become a parent. It is weird to lose the records there, because soooo much has happened in those past three years. My ex and I became parents, my dog was diagnosed with cancer and struggled with it for eight months before it was time to say goodbye. I was a stay-home parent dealing with sleepless nights, baby food sensitivities and bloody diapers, as well as physical therapy for my kiddo. There was the hazy period of endless failed job applications and there were the road trips to visit my ex during her summer field work. There was the Americorps job I finally took and the long stretch of time before my ex left us that was shadowed by her depression and resentment. There was the first year I spent as a single parent, working through grief and finding peace in my new home. I joined a community garden, took my kid to the pool and parks and trails. I started leading hikes occasionally with local hiking groups, and I made an effort to build connections with the people around me. And I did hike. All through these past three years I continued to hike, because that is what I do. It is what I always have done and likely always will do. But I no longer have the photos and the grand adventures feel far away. Some of the voices around me seem to be telling me that things will be different now. My inner voice says that adventure is still possible. But when I describe myself to people, especially in the context of online dating, I sometimes wonder what person I am describing. Is it the new me or the old me? Do I have the right to claim my hiker title anymore? Who am I going to be going forward? I know I want more adventure. But how much of that want is daydreams? How much of my personal image is based on my past with a partner who was an obsessive and excellent trip planner? Who am I now? 

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.