Thursday, November 16, 2017

Sex and the Single Girl at 44

Dating in 2017.  What words are conjured up in your head when you read that statement?  For me, I think the following: frustration, terror, abject fear, comedic, deficient, critical, weird, unwanted.  I know, I know.  Don't be so negative, just put yourself out there, dating should be fun etc.  Not for me, never for me.  You see, I don't date.  I never, ever have.  I truly don't know how.  My high school boyfriend and I dated for 2-3 years, went into a dry spell for 5 or so years after that with a date or two thrown in and then I went on my first date with the man I ended up marrying.  We were together 16 years until we separated and then divorced.  I found myself single again at 41 years old with absolutely no idea of how dating works now.  Fast forward to 44 years old and I still have no clue.  I have been single for three years and had exactly 2 dates.  Yes, I needed to heal, work through my baggage (which I am still working on, by the way) and take care of myself and my daughter.  But the real reasons I haven't put myself fully back out there are a lot more personal than that.

One of the reasons I haven't thrown myself headlong into the dating scene is that I feel really self conscious about my lack of experience.  Not only do I have very little dating experience, but you can extrapolate that that applies to the bedroom as well.  I am not embarrassed of it.  I am who I am.  But I feel like others will see me lacking in some way, damaged goods somehow.  When you reach the age I have, where your body is MUCH different than it was the last time you were single, this adds another wrinkle into an already fear inducing situation.  There are classes for everything else under the sun.  Where is the Dating and Sex 101 class for those of us out of the game for so long?  I can't imagine I am the only one in the world.

Another reason is that I honestly have no idea what I want out of dating.  Not at all.  I don't know if I can do the strictly casual thing, but I really don't know if I want a full fledged relationship either.  Relationships are a ton of work and I just don't know if I have the bandwidth for that right now.  I know I worry too much about things, but it is just the way I work. Relaxing and letting things flow is a foreign concept to me.  

I also have realized during this whole process of rapid evolution that who I am looking for has changed in a pretty fundamental way.  I am just looking for a person that gets me, with all my many quirks and foibles.  I am not sure how to label that or if I even can, given that I have only dated the male species up to now.  It is just something I am coming to know about myself.  It is damn hard to find people that get me and who I feel comfortable sharing myself with.  Why would I limit myself to one gender at this point in my life?

So there it is.  My messy thought process related to dating.  I tend to figure things out best by writing them out.  Not sure that I did that with this one, but boy, does it feel good to get some of that off my chest.  Anyone else out there like me?  Reach out and we can be confused and weird together.  Anyone know a sex ed/dating teacher for adults?  Send them my way.  I could really use one.  :)  Happy dating to all of us singletons!

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Try a Little Tenderness

I had a panic attack tonight.  I was at a birthday party with lots of people, people I care about, and I just locked up.  I couldn't breathe, my heart started racing and I had to run for my car before I dissolved into tears and collapsed on the floor.  It took me over 30 minutes to pull myself back together, sitting in my freezing car, sobbing and hyperventilating.  It took every ounce of strength I had to go back to the party, to face my embarassment and shame.

Why am I talking about this monumentally painful episode?  Because this is par for the course when you live with anxiety, especially social anxiety.  I don't remember a time in my life that I didn't have a soundtrack running in my head, telling me that no one likes me, no one will love me, you are an idiot, ugly, horrible, etc.  That has been my day to day life since I was a child.  It has gotten worse lately and gets progressively worse the more tired, burnt out and drained I get. Living with anxiety is exhausting and gutwrenching.  The more people tell you just to get over it, the worse you feel.  If there was a way for me to stop the constant negative self talk and worry I have immediately, I would do it in a heartbeat. I am trying not to believe I am weak, but that usually turns into another chance for the voice in my head to go to town on me.

It is hard to maintain friendships and relationships when you live like this. You believe that if anyone truly knew the real you, they would run away in horror.  Your anxiety builds walls around you to keep you "safe".  You have no idea how to talk to people, always seeing yourself as less than, not good enough.  When you speak to someone and say something you perceive as awkward or dumb, you replay it over and over in your brain for days afterwards.

People that love and care about those of us that suffer from this were not given an easy task. Some may not be able to handle it.  It requires patience, compassion, empathy, understanding and love.  I don't need anyone to coddle me or treat me like a child. But I do need more reassurance than most, that I am good enough, that it is ok to be me.  I need sleep and time for self care and a friendly shoulder to cry on sometimes.

The only way I know to take the poison out of my body - the hurt, the sadness, the anger - is to write it down.  So that is what I did with this blog post.  I am doing the best I can and I am trying to be a good human.  I know I am a really tough person to get to know and even people that know me well are not able to deal with me.  It is too much work, not worth the effort.  But I know I am not alone, that this disease eats away at others as well.  We have each other tonight.

How to care for people with anxiety:

Friday, December 30, 2016

Requiem for 2016

In so many ways, 2016 was a dumpster fire of a year.  I feel like half of my childhood died this year and don't get me started on the election and the ramifications of electing a dangerous and ignorant man who may or may not sell us to the Russians.  It seems like so many people are hurting, struggling, in pain for so many different reasons.  My personality is such that I absorb all the negative emotions and add them to my own plentiful supply.  It has been a hard year for that, particularly the last 6 weeks.

But there have been so many happy moments as well.  Moments when I surprised myself with what I was able to do.  I took a burlesque class and performed in front of people.  I took Madeline on several trips, just the two of us. We did a pinup shoot and a tintype one as well.   I saw a bunch of Broadway shows and concerts that made my heart happy.  We have new people in our life that care about us.  Madeline loves her new school.  I got to tour Paisley Park and walk where Prince walked.  I went on my first date in 17 years.  I did a solo trip around Colorado.  I dyed my hair red.  I went into therapy again to work on becoming the me I'm meant to be.

I look at that list and know I should give myself credit for doing all that.  But I know I could have done more, been more.  But I am paralyzed by fear.  Fear of what people think, being laughed at, feeling the fool.  So instead of doing something I want to do, I do nothing.  Frozen by fear.  Sometimes the sheer number of choices possible to me is overwhelming.  When you are used to being defined by your connection to other people, trying to redefine and know who you are is a skill one has to relearn.

I have not achieved all of what I was hoping I would in 2016.  I feel like I stalled on personal growth and am disappointed.  I know beating up on myself serves no purpose, but there has been a fair amount of that this year.  Feeling I should be more, over more, healed more.  I can objectively see progress, but I feel it isn't enough.  I'm impatient, wanting my new life now.  I am working with my therapist on a bunch of garbage that is painful, sad and hurtful.  And it has been so hard and made my emotions boomerang all over the place.  But Aurora, my therapist, tells me this all means I'm on the right track.  That the sludge has to be gotten through in order for the dam to burst.  There is no time table and it will happen in good time.  I am ready for my life to burst open.

I have no idea what to expect from 2017.  It is all so up in the air right now. Madeline and I are headed to NYC over spring break and I would really like to do another big trip in the summer or fall.  Travelling as much as I can is one of my goals for 2017.  I have goals for 2017, but no resolutions.  I do have a word for 2017, one that I am concentrating on.  It is "brave".  So many things in my life that I am not doing comes down to me finding the bravery within.  I have to defeat the fear.  It has run the show for far too long.

To 2017 - my year of living bravely.

Monday, September 26, 2016

We are Family

Family is a word that encompasses so much, yet doesn’t begin to capture the complexities of the relationships within.  When you go through a divorce, you can’t help thinking about family, what it used to look like, what it looks like now, what it will look like in the future.  The communicating, the navigating of feelings, the new people brought in or not brought in, new names, new definitions.  It can be overwhelming and seem completely impossible.  And yet, if no one gives up, if you continue fighting, a breakthrough starts, so slowly at first it seems like one is imagining it.  And then you arrive at a new normal, still working through issues as they appear, but more settled.

I am lucky in a sense that this is even an option for me.  I realize that for many divorced couples, the best that can be accomplished is a polite and cordial relationship.  And even that may be beyond what can be achieved.  I am not saying that this was easy to come by, far from it.  I had to get over a mountain of pain, hurt and anger to get here.  And Brian had his own demons to wrestle with. 

But we are still a family, a family of three.  We may add other people to this mix as time goes on, it may change shape or it may disappear altogether.  I’ve stopped assuming what the future holds.  A major life event can do that to you.  But I love Brian and always will.  He has been my best friend for the better part of two decades and I cannot bring myself to throw that huge a part of my life away.  Our relationship will never be what it was before and that is how it should be, though I still get sad about that from time to time.  But we are creating together what this new iteration of Melissa and Brian’s story is.  I know that I am seen as a fool or idiot by some and that we are confusing or too much to deal with for others.  But my daughter is the beneficiary of her parents not just being cordial or being solely co-parents, though we are that, but true friends and family.  And I am a beneficiary as well.  I keep my best friend, my family for so long, as part of my present.  I may lose potential romantic partners because of this and that is fine.  When your life gets blown up, you get to choose what the rebuilt version looks like.  Our family unit, different, but still intact, is too important for me to sacrifice.

When you divorce, the extended families are affected as well, thrown into confusion and forced to pick sides, especially when one or both of the former spouses get into a new relationship.  There is no side to pick, there never was.  The only side is Madeline’s.  Was there bad stuff that went down?  Yes, there was.  Was it forgiven by the parties involved?  Yes, it was.  My personal hope is that anyone that enters Brian’s life will become a friend, to me and to Madeline and vice versa.  But that is each person’s decision.  I hope that someday the whole family will be healed.  But I can’t force that as much as I would want to. 

We are an unconventional family, a unique one to say the least.  But one of the things that I am most proud of in my 43 years is what we have rebuilt from the ashes.  It will stand as one of the biggest accomplishments of my life.  It will continue to be hard from time to time, contentious, frustrating and painful.  But it will also continue to be imperfectly beautiful, loving and as weird as we all are.  The Ball family has been battered and bruised, but we’re still standing.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

One is not the Loneliest Number

I am approaching my one year anniversary of being divorced.  It is not something to celebrate in the truest sense and yet, it is.  I think about where I was one year ago and I can see how I have evolved and grown.  The work is not done by far and the roller coaster ride continues, but it is better than it was.  I tend to get wrapped up in the day to day and I don’t realize the tiniest of baby steps taken on a daily basis have started to accumulate.  It’s hard to look back a year, even two years ago and believe I made it through.  But I did.  And I continue to.

A big priority for me personally these days is being ok with being alone.  For a lot of people, when you end a marriage or relationship, the overwhelming urge is to replace the person you lost with someone else right away.  I’ve seen it happen time and again.  I felt the urge myself - to immediately run out and find someone who would make me feel worthwhile, beautiful, interesting and important again.  I got on all the dating sites, tried to find someone, got depressed with what was out there and despaired that I would never feel worthwhile again.  I tried Meetup groups, trying to find friends, men, anything that would help the loneliness, the loss.  But ever so slowly, in such small ways that it was barely noticeable, I started to back off, to not feel the panic, the urgency, to fill the space in my life.  I was content to sit with myself, to spend time alone, to enjoy my own company.  I go to movies alone, I read alone, I watch TV alone, I sit in coffeehouses alone, I even travel alone.  I just did my first solo trip and have planned another one, longer this time, for September.  I am not a hermit and spend lots of time with my daughter, my book club ladies and some people at work.  I even had my first date in over 17 years a few weeks ago.  The man was very nice and wanted to see me again.  But I wasn’t feeling it.  Instead of grabbing on to a man to make me feel good about myself, even if I wasn’t interested, I let him down politely and easily.  I’ve realized that I want people in my life that add something to it, not people that fill holes I have in myself.  I am ever so slowly coming to accept that I am ok, just as I am.  I don’t need other people to tell me that or make me feel it.  I have to love and accept myself in order to have healthy relationships going forward.  The longer I am alone, the more at peace I am with being that way.  Someone is going to have to be pretty amazing to have me add them to my life and I am ok if that never happens for me again.  I have a life to lead that is more than just a romantic relationship.  There is so much more for me to do, to see, to be. 

I am far from perfect at this and it is all very much a work in progress.  I am still terrified of doing certain things and try to talk myself out of doing them.  I am a coward just as many days as I am brave.  But I am fighting, every day, to make a new life, a better one.  There is a quote from Carl Jung that explains this journey perfectly: “The most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely.”  I am perpetually terrified, but still in the arena, fighting this fight, to be me and to be proud of who that woman is.

Friday, May 1, 2015


I have thought a lot about how we as humans have a tendency to sleepwalk through our lives.  Given the events of the past several months, I have been jarred from life as it was into a brand new reality.  I think for most people, life is like the movie, Groundhog Day.  We get up, go to work, deal with our kids, dinner on the table, speak a few words at our spouse, usually about the house, errands or the kids and then fall into bed, exhausted.  The next day, we get up and do it all over again.  Our lives settle into dull routine, punctuated once in a while by some one off event or vacation or catastrophe.

After having my life upended the way it has, I have realized that perhaps it was a blessing in disguise.  It has taken me a while to get to this point, but here I am.  I am 41 years old, soon to be 42, and I am not living a life even remotely close to the one I want to lead.  I have felt dissatisfied with my profession for a long time and long to put some business ideas into something tangible.  I want to travel more, experience more.  I want to write more, create a blog that allows me an outlet for my writings.  In other words, I have dreams, large and small.  And life has sped by, until I find myself here, at this moment.  I am at a crossroads, for lack of a better analogy.  I have felt stuck for so long, complaining about how unhappy I am, but doing nothing.  Fear, frustration and potential failure has kept me inert, terrified to do what needs to be done to move forward.  One benefit of having the rug of your life pulled out from underneath you is realizing that nothing is guaranteed.  What you once feared has happened and you are still standing.  If that is the case, why fear failure?

I now control the narrative of my story.  There is no necessity any more of worrying about making someone else happy, compromising my dreams away.  My daughter's health and happiness always comes first, but as my therapist tells me, our kids do as we do, not what we say.  If I want her to be her own woman, to forge her own path, I have to show her a woman doing just that.  Having the future wide open to you is a scary thing.  But terribly exciting at the same time.  I wish the separation didn't have to happen for me to realize all this, but it is what it is.  I have to stop being afraid of failure and embrace the possibilities.  Life is too damn short and I have too much to do, see and be.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

From the Ashes

I have been itching to spill the words running around and around in my brain for several months.  But it has been hard to actually do the writing.  I am not normally a person that talks about their personal life, especially online.  But I feel compelled to write something about my life the past several months, just in case it might resonate with someone.  I have used blogs and articles to get through the multitude of feelings and crap I have experienced lo these many months.  This won’t be as eloquent or beautifully written as most of those, but this is my truth.  And maybe, just maybe, I can help someone else feel less alone.

I am now mostly a single mother and I am getting a divorce.  Those words are ones that I never imagined in a thousand years I would ever type.  My husband and I went on our first date a little over 16 years ago and were together from then on.  It was an epic first date and the start of many happy years and adventures together.  But something changed for him as our daughter grew, as he worked opposite hours from me with people 10 years his junior.  He told me he isn’t meant for this life any more, this life we have spent 16 years building together.  He wants out.  At first, I was floored, shocked, devastated.  I never saw it coming.  What happened, I asked, over and over again.  No answers were forthcoming and they really haven’t arrived to this day.  I have my suspicions, but that isn’t for me to elaborate on.  That is his story, not mine. 
I went into panic mode, trying to fix it.  Marriage therapy, trips, date nights, long, painful talks.  But he had checked out a long time ago, wanting a brand new life.  There was a final straw for me after desperately trying everything I could think of to fix what was broken.  And he moved out of our home. 

The time leading up to the move out was the most wrenching, painful, humiliating and soul crushing time of my life.  I kept giving him chance after chance, begging him to care, to fight.  I literally fell to my knees some nights, racked with sobs, unable to stand from the weight of it.  I got to sit down and tell my daughter that her father was leaving and wouldn’t live with us anymore.  Talk about a parent failure moment.  I was so consumed with pain and grief that I know I didn’t give my daughter everything she needed.  And that made me feel even worse.
After the move out, honestly, there was a sense of relief, a decision made.  No tension in the house, no arguments.  But adjusting to being alone, at first, was painful and lonely.  I have had my husband with me for 16 years.  Once my daughter was in bed, the nights stretched out before me.  But I sadly realized that that has been how I have lived the last three years.  Alone and lonely.  It almost felt like nothing had changed from how it had been before.  But in other ways it had.  The ripping apart of a life built together is not easy.  There are good days and there are wretched days.  Days when the loss and pain overwhelms me still.  Other days when I see my daughter and I’s shining futures beckoning us ahead. 

We have sold the house we bought together, my daughter and I moving into a new place, a new start.  My husband has found a new beginning as well.  Life is settling down, little by little.  But there are still those days, the days that I can barely function.  I have a great therapist that helps tremendously and I have had the support of friends and family near and far.  But when the life you had planned is blown up in front of you, the rebuilding is a long and painful process.
I know now that I should have seen this coming, that when you don’t see your spouse except for little snatches of time, there will be problems.  When you don’t nurture your relationship, do the work necessary, it will die.  That isn’t all of the problems, but it is certainly some of them.  I was tired from being a mom to a very active child, working full time at a job that isn’t my passion, maintaining a house and had no time or energy left over.  I always thought that we would have time to fix it, that we were strong enough to withstand anything.  I was wrong.

My husband, even after all of this, is my best friend.  I think I am still his.  Ours is not a normal, by the book separation and impending divorce.  I guess I am lucky in that sense, especially after hearing about devastating and painful divorces.  We talk every day and see each other most days.  We even go out on family outings all three of us sometimes.  We get mad at each other, say painful and hurtful things, but we have so far managed to make up with each other.  My daughter is struggling, extremely clingy and having issues at school.  This has shaken her and we are trying to support her and get her through.  She needs both her parents and we can’t be at each other’s throats all the time. 

I have noticed that some people in the world, ones that are comfy in their “happy” marriages, seem to blame me, blame the wife in the relationship, that it must be my fault.  I drove him away, I was hard to live with, I drove him to it.  Living with anyone is hard and living with him wasn’t the easiest thing.  But it is easy to think that, to treat me as less than because I don’t have a husband any more.  To them I say, fuck you. I fought for my marriage, I fought for my family, but it takes two.  I failed at keeping my family together and it hurts every day.  But you don’t get to judge my effort or what I did or didn’t do to keep it together.

Others seem to think that divorce is a communicable disease, that you can catch it somehow and they stay away, fearful.  If you are that scared, then listen to yourself and fix what is broken.  But it isn’t anything you can catch.  Use my story as an impetus to strengthen it, to work damn hard at keeping it strong.  I wish I had, but I can’t go back and do anything over.  All I can do is just move forward.  I hope to someday take what I have learned and find love again, to have a partner again.  The thought of being with someone else, to date, makes me violently ill and I know I am not ready.  I may never be ready.  And that is okay.  My life will not be defined by whether I have a man in my life any more.  I have my daughter and I have me.  That is enough.

And I am moving forward, slowly, but surely.  Every day gets better, easier to deal with everything on my plate.  There are set backs and the day I sign my divorce papers, you will find me in a fetal position, sobbing my eyes out.  To those of you going through this or to those that are farther down the road than me, I see you.  I care about you.  The up and down rollercoaster feelings, practically from minute to minute, I have been there.  I felt schizophrenic some days, rapidly cycling through emotions.  The pain that feels like a rock in your gut, weighing you down?  I have been there and still am some days.  It does get better, even just a few months down the road.  Feel what you feel and do what you have to do to get through.  There is no wrong way to grieve, to hurt, to move on.  My therapist taught me that.  I am in control of my grieving process and how I live my life going forward.  If I can give any advice, it is to never apologize or shy away from what you feel because it makes other people upset or uncomfortable.  YOU are the one going through it and no matter how helpful people want to be, until they live it, they can’t know what it is like.  And my experience will be different from anyone else’s.  I can’t pretend to know your life and you can’t know mine.  But we share something unspoken that people who haven’t gone through this can’t know.

The last seven months have been the worst, most painful and gut wrenching of my life.  But I am determined that this will not define me, that this won’t break me.  I have a daughter to demonstrate strength and resilience to.  I get to plan out what our life looks like, our family of two.  I wish that I could have saved my family.  I still do and probably always will in some sense.  I see it as the biggest failure of my life.  But I have failed before and will again.  From the ashes of my former life, I am waiting to be reborn.