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.

Me Time

Does anybody look into the future and picture a time when 45 minutes spent sitting in the Albertson’s parking lot before daycare pickup would become a semi-regular highlight of the day? In this space between work and daycare pickup I can breath in a way that I struggle to during the rest of my days and nights. Most of the time I walk around feeling half-drowned in a sea of shoulds. In that most of the time landscape I can work and work and wonder what I have accomplished. I can make time to meet a new person and go on a hike knowing that I will be working half the night later, and still be told, “There is no such thing as someday,” by a nice man who has no children, when I admit to him that I have not made it out with the running meetup group in a long time. But I invite this attitude from others when I shrug first and say, “I really have no excuse for not doing better.” It isn’t that there are no excuses; it’s just that the shoulds are so much bigger.

In my office there is a sheet of paper my predecessor left that says, “I am a nonprofit unicorn. Every day I try to make the world a better place. I am good at some things and I suck at some things. I can’t make everybody happy. Every day I do what I can.” I like that paper. It looks like the parking lot at Albertson’s – there are no shoulds in it. 

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.

The Toddler Test – Day 1

I stayed up until 12:30 or so last night putting together application materials for a new job. (And skimming my dating apps, all while thinking, “I so don’t have time for this,” and wondering if the Backpacker is going to fade out on me without ever asking me out. Yes, I am a little sad about this.)

Toddler woke up at midnight for water, and then wanted to get up again at 4:30am. I got him to sleep in until about 5:10. Yaaay sleep…. I did tidy up the apartment and managed to do my yoga video in the morning even with the toddler running around, so there was that.

Subbing job today for a teacher I have previously subbed for. I took the job because she put me on her preferred sub list, though to be honest, I had a really difficult day last time I subbed for her, and the school is kind of a long drive out for me. I took the position again because of the combined effects of flattery and guilt (the subbing system kept autocalling me to ask if I would take it). Mistake? Perhaps. But here I am.

My ex flies to Thailand this evening for sexual reassignment surgery. I don’t feel sad about us anymore, but it feels unreal. This is the person I had sex with for nearly a decade.

Evening update (hiding under the blankets and waiting for the toddler to sleep):

I suppose my ex is on a plane now. 

I am really struggling to stay awake this evening. Have to though. I am calling another ABCTE student after the toddler goes to sleep (we are.working toward teacher certification and have to pass some big tests). She is going to study with me over the phone.

Subbing job today went just fine, by the way. The normal teacher was on campus and she was very helpful. She also said I have a calm personality and that is good for teaching. Makes me feel happy. Though it is funny to hear students say they liked me after some of them had a mini-revolt when they didn’t want to do their work (which is what happened the first time I subbed here). Like the teacher said today, though, the important thing in a situation like that is to not react emotionally and exascerbate the situation. Guess I have a decent poker face.

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? 

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.