Saturday, May 29, 2010

Relationship Conditioning: Ring a Bell and I'll Salivate

I was lying in bed one night and I had forgot to turn out the lights. Knowing me it was multiple lights, actually. I have a problem with lights. So do my children. I presume it is genetic.

I looked at the person who was with me at the time and asked kindly if he would turn off the lights for me and then proceeded to go into a very long babbling explanation as to why I needed him to do it and why I couldn't get out of bed and do it for myself even though I know I was the one who likely left them on. I don't remember what my reason was but I do remember it was something good. For all I know I could have been in the midst of icing or heating some body part as I know this incident occurred in the midst of a very long year of over-training syndrome.

He turned to me and said: No worries. I'll get it. I don't need the big long explanation.


That was simple.

And as is my nature I immediately flipped into self-reflection. Why did I need to give the explanation? Not only did I need to give the explanation, but I didn't even PAUSE after making my polite request and wait to be asked to delve into said explanation. I just assumed it was a required component of making the request to get him to do me a favour.

It occurred to me that this was something I had to do in my marriage every time I needed my (ex) husband to do me a favour. No matter what I was doing  or what he was doing, the explanation was always required. I could have baby in one arm and random kitchen utensil in the other hand and be standing in front of the stove and he could be on his way to sit in front of the TV but I always had to explain why I needed his help.

[As an aside, I will now stop giving too many examples from my marriage as I sense myself edging up to that line of ex-husband-bashing which is something I've sworn to never do here. I'll forgive myself this one transgression because I also plan to tell a nice story about my ex as well. They will cancel each other out. It will be like I never talked about him at all.]

I had a conversation recently with one of my triathlon friends. We were at a "meeting" and  talking about relationships. Specifically we were talking about training for Ironman in the midst of a relationship. This topic was something near and dear to my heart and I considered him an expert as he had already trained and completed one Ironman.

I don't know how you could do it, he said. It would be very difficult to be in a relationship and train for Ironman. It just takes up so much of your time and energy.

He then proceeded to admit that he hadn't done much training this season and doubted he would be able to do any racing. If the choice is between spending four hours on a bike or spending four hours with this person who you love to spend time with, then the choice for me is to spend the time with the person.

Why can't you spend four hours on a bike with the person you love? I asked. To me that would be just as good. And you get the bike ride too.

I know, he said, and she always tells me to 'just go' but I had a really bad experience in a previous relationship with that so I try and limit my time away.

Ah, I said, you were conditioned.

Yes, he said, I guess you could say I was.

And you know how it is after that, you have one conversation on a topic and suddenly everywhere you look, instances pop up everywhere on the same subject. Next came my writing friend's blog on "Drama Queens and Kings" talking about requiring a harmonious relationship environment in order to create and changing your behaviour in order to try and avoid ANYTHING that you already know will disrupt that harmony. After that came a couple of related conversations within my own relationship and that all spurred my own need to write this post.

What causes us to become conditioned in our relationships? I wrote about this in my first novel too. "Maybe being in a relationship means altering our choices to make someone else happy." Everyone has their hang ups. One guy had a thing about me coming to bed at the same time as him because his ex wife would sit up at the computer through half the night and it made him anxious to wake up in the middle of the night and not find her in bed. So I did. At least as often as my night owl self could tolerate it. One had an issue with phone calls because he had a long distance relationship in which he started to resent having to be at home at a certain time so he didn't miss her calls. And it didn't matter that I never even once got mad at him if he missed me calling. He still assumed that I was going to flip out.

"Guy Panic" is a huge one for me. Guy panic, by my definition, is any behaviour from a guy that is obvious evidence that he can't handle your emotions -- no mater how nice they are. I have one guy from my past who I still run into on a semi regular basis that I'm quite certain I've conditioned into flipping into guy panic just on the sight of me. In his defence he had been hurt in multiple painful ways in his past and he was cowering from the possibility of getting hurt before I even had a chance to do anything really nasty to him. Poor guy. He simply wasn't ready to be loved. I react to guy panic. It sends me into an anxious and depressed tailspin of confusion (because it also usually comes on suddenly and unexpectedly without warning). And there are a lot of preliminary behaviours to guy panic that can also be innocent meaningless accidents or oversights (showing up late for a meeting, not calling when they say they will, not returning a text in a timely manner...... and you could go on). And on the wrong day these oversights or accidents can send me into that same conditioned tailspin. But I'm aware of it. So I stop myself from over reacting.

I don't remember what we were arguing about. All I remember is that very early on in my dating life with my now ex husband I was dropping him off at home and I was calling him on some bad behaviour and he ultimately bolted out of the car and started running to the door of his apartment. I opened my door and ran out after him and I grabbed him and hugged him because I knew this didn't have anything to do with me. I don't know what it had to do with the person(s) before me but this wasn't about our relationship because whatever it was that I was upset about for the moment didn't change how I felt about him for the future. [Well, at least not for the near future]. All I wanted was for it to not happen again. So I grabbed and hugged him and all I said was, "I'm not her. I'm not her."

He told me once, much later in time, that this was the moment that he knew he was going to marry me.

What do they say about how you choose a mate? Men choose their mothers? Girls choose someone like their father? And then somewhere along the way these mates individualize themselves and you start to be the target of backlash of things they may be reactive to from past experiences. I dated one guy from my youth that repeatedly stated that the past didn't matter. He was an idiot.

Like I was reactive by always having to justify all my requests for help. Or the guy who had to deal with an irate girlfriend if he missed her calls. Or the guy who's wife eventually abandoned him and one of her initial behaviours prior to this happening was that she stopped coming to bed at the same time as him.

I find this the hardest thing to deal with at the age of 39 now that I am back on the market. Baggage. At one time baggage meant children but to me baggage means all those things we are conditioned to from the life we have lead and all the people we have lead it with prior to the person we are falling in love with now. Like the dog that cowers from the potential hurt of getting kicked, at what point do you realize that you are dealing with a new person who isn't likely to respond the same way to the same infractions that the person you were with before did? Like Pavlov's dog who started to salivate for the bell even when no food was presented, there are certain things I am likely to continue salivating for even though the person in front of me is not my ex husband. And how do you warn someone about what you are conditioned to when you might not even be conscious of all that conditioning yourself?

I don't know. It could be worse. You could be that frog in tepid water that ended up boiling to death as the temperature got turned up and you just tolerated the increasing heat rather than making the effort to jump out and escape.

But I promise to try and accept you for who you are. And I promise to make concessions if I know you are scarred from the past and are reacting to me to avoid backlash from someone who came before but is no longer in your presence.

And most of all, I promise, to try to remember to turn out the lights.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Two Sides

I'm not much of a follower of news. I've already admitted in this blog that I use facebook as my primary news source. There are a few reasons for this choice. For the most part when reading newspaper style writing, I rarely last beyond the first couple of sentences. Sometimes I don't get past the title. Why? Because newspapers rarely get it right. Mostly because writers of daily newspapers or internet news sites aren't granted the TIME to get it right. I particularly dislike when they report on health research studies and get most of the interpretation vastly wrong, or spin alternative controversial interpretations to feed an agenda or promote a trendy health choice.  

Case in point: the argument that receiving the seasonal flu vaccine in 2008-2009 increased your risk of contracting H1N1 flu in the fall of  2009.

To that I screech a resounding and incredulous, WHAT?!

I've given you a link to click on, but I don't advise you read it. It incenses me beyond belief. But it's there if you are open to being bullied into that argument. But think about this for a second. Who do they advise to receive the seasonal flu vaccine?

(The elderly, babies, immunocompromised individuals, people with chronic illness, health care providers, people working with or living with children under 6 months of age).

Thank you. Now who would be most at risk for contracting H1N1?

THE SAME PEOPLE!! ding ding ding ding ding

Isn't that kinda like saying that since most people die in bed, beds must be a death risk? You better not go to bed tonight.

But I'm not writing this blog to talk beds as a cause of death. Nor do I want to talk about immunizations which is a can of worms bigger than I am willing to wade through in this forum. Today I am going to talk about, as I have also stated elsewhere in this blog, the fact that there are two sides to every story.

Celebrity Worship: Power and Money

I don't follow celebrities or seek out stories about their personal lives. I speak nothing of when these stories permeate my ears and eyes. I cannot control the ubiquitousness of celebrity drawing power. If ever there is anything written about a celebrity's personal life you can almost be assured that 90% of what is said is sensationalized, inaccurate, exaggerated or just plain wrong. Celebrity news is written to sell and it is written to bias you. And one can argue the same about all news writing. It is written to bias you to take a side. And it works.

Lots of big cycling news today amidst the Tour of California races. Team Radio Shack has been posting item after item on their facebook fan page and most of it is about Floyd Landis attacking Lance Armstrong and several other American riders and former teammates. Landis, you may or may not recall, won the 2006 Tour de France, and scandal erupted when he tested positive for banned substances. He staunchly denied the accusations, wrote a book telling his side of the story, launched law suits claiming defamation, and when the legal fees got too high, begged money from his fans to help cover the costs. He allegedly collected over a million dollars from regular folk, like you and I, to cover his costs. Now he's saying it is ALL true. He was guilty of doping and he's selling out names to go down in flames with him.

Floyd would probably prefer that I use this creepy photo of Lance as I would be more likely to bias you to his side of the story. Incidentally, on the day of this accusation, Lance crashed in California and is out of the race -- hence the eye.

Armstrong and crew, who have never tested positive, deny everything. They claim they've been receiving crazy emails and texts for years from Landis uttering threats and making demands for money, sponsorship, team slots, race slots. You name it.

Lance, I am sure, prefers this photo to promote his side of the story, looking all debonair in his Shack kit.

Landis got caught. No one seems to be able to speculate why he's doing this now. There have been questions about Lance's cleanliness for years. Before he got cancer and came back to cycling, he was apparently a second rate racer with little promise, and now he's practically an invincible superhero. Not only did he survive stage IV testicular cancer with multiple metastases to the lungs and brain, but since recovering, he's turned into a cycling icon and cancer survivor poster child. And he's had 4 children with number 5 on the way and he only has ONE testicle. Who is this man? And how after all that did he manage to win 7 Tour de France's?

There are two sides to every story. Which is true? We may never know. But isn't truth often decided based on how well people handle controversy? The most well behaved individual wins? Or maybe the person with the most power and the most money wins?

Rewards for Good Behaviour Only

I was involved with an organization for a time which will remain unnamed. The scenario I am about to talk about played out in the press to some degree and blemished this organization. I no longer belong to the organization, in part, because I wanted to let the drama settle before joining up again. And because I'm a little wary and mistrusting now about how all this was handled.

The controversy erupted out of a conflict between the Executive Director (paid staff) and the President (a volunteer) and the outcome was that the organisation dissolved and and is in the process of being rebuilt. The ED was accused of some mismanagement and illegal doings with funds and was fired, and the President was accused of being a controlling jerk (a softer word than I would like to choose, but it's gender neutral and I'm trying to keep gender out of this). The president's behaviour was so allegedly bad that the office staff quit and the majority of the elected board resigned.

The President talked very little.There were a couple benign brush-off quotes in the newspaper. This person was, for the most part, silent. The ED, on the other hand, used access to a master list of emails to send a multi-page letter dictating that side of the story to the entire membership of the organization. The claim was that this email was sent on the advice of a lawyer. I was on that list. I got the letter. It read defensive and whiny and was full of excuses.

I didn't know what to believe. And I still don't. Both sides behaved badly. I support this organization and it has done a lot for me and served me well but the whole scenario has left a bad taste in my mouth.

But there is something to be said for keeping silent and not publicly badmouthing people. Somehow it makes you seem more noble and less desperate.

Tell the Truth Quickly

And sometimes it is smarter to come clean as quickly as possible. Second case in point: Tiger Woods vs. David Letterman. What an odd link-up you say? What could they possibly have in common? I'm counting on you not remembering what they have in common. But much they have in common indeed!

Tiger, as we all know, lived through this fall hiding from the press and ducking questions in the name of his own privacy to avoid dealing with accusations of multiple episodes of extramarital affairs. There are still email jokes floating around. Tiger eventually, months later, hosted a stilted and controlled  press conference to apologize for his indiscretions and answered no or few spontaneous questions.

Letterman, if you may now recall, was accused of having affairs with multiple interns on his late night show. The accusation was made, and mere days later he voluntarily made a speech on his show acknowledging it was all true. No one saw it coming. He apologized and everyone moved on.

And everyone forgot. Even when the whole late night controversy erupted between Conan O'Brien and Jay Leno, which Letterman was peripherally involved, never once was there a mention of Letterman's indiscretions.

So there is also something to be said for telling the truth. It gets it out of the press. Deal with the issue quickly and it goes away far more quietly.


So that is public news but what about in day to day life? Has someone ever sat you down and told you a big long story of wrong doing they've received at the hands of someone? Perhaps it is someone you know and like? Someone who has done no harm to you personally? Or maybe someone you barely know? Do you automatically take their side and criminalize the person they speak about?

The best example I can give you from my own life goes back to being 18. We had a friend who was a little younger than us and not 18 and we decided  one evening we were going to the bar after a social. We did not spring these plans on our young friend. We told her right from the start of the night what the scoop was and why. But our younger friend was instant on sitting in a greasy spoon restaurant.

This was back in the day where there were no photo's on driver's licences. We suggested numerous people to her that she could borrow ID from so she could come to the bar with us but she insisted that the only thing she was interested in doing was going to this restaurant and she expected us to go with her.

One of our friends who was coming to the bar had very strict parents and a ridiculously early curfew that wouldn't let her ever stay out for a whole social let alone go to the bar after the social. That night she was sleeping over at my house and she could finally stay out as long as she wanted. We and she were not going to sit at some greasy spoon restaurant this night, the ONE night she didn't have to be home early. But that isn't what our young friend wanted to do and nothing we said seemed to make her understand that we weren't going with her to this restaurant so her options were to find ID or go home. She was pissed. She told my curfew friend's new boyfriend to F-off. She'd only just met him that night. It is a memorable enough incident for him that he STILL to this day remembers her even though he only met her the once.

Which kinda tells you how the story ended. She never talked to us again. And not only did she never talk to us again but she also called up another one of our friends who wasn't present at that social and fed this person her side of the story. I called this second friend later the next day -- probably to tell her what happened -- and I could tell by the coldness in her voice that she had already talked to our young friend and not only had she talked to her, but she had picked which side to be on, and it wasn't mine. In fact, she had no interest in hearing my side of the story.

So I and my curfew friend didn't just lose one friend that night, we lost two.

I don't know exactly what our young friend said to this second friend to turn her so cold so easily. There is also something to be said when people blow up the way our young friend did. Usually a blow up like that doesn't happen from one incident. So likely this wasn't the first time we'd pissed her off. It was probably her last straw. Her icing on the cake moment. (And knowing how women are it likely had something to do with a guy.)

But everyone picks sides, the question is How do you choose? Do you pick sides because of power, loyalty, money, love, an agenda, good behaviour, popularity?  Or do you listen and weigh evidence?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

N + 1

This is the formula for the correct number of bikes that one should own with N = the number of bikes you presently own. (So the Tribalistic boys tell me.....) And I guess buying bikes is like motherhood. It is just one of those things where you KNOW when your done. Or maybe you are never done? You just perpetually covet the next.

I guess I am not done yet.

I own (not counting my children's bikes):



And This:

The next thing I would like to do is create this:

Outta something like this:

So if you come across such an animal. Cheap. Let me know. It is just one of those things that I have in my brain right now and if you  know me, when something enters my brain it doesn't leave very quickly. I may or may not act on it soon but if something crosses my path. I am sure to jump on it.


Sunday, May 9, 2010

200 Jitters: A Psychoanalysis of Why We Ride

Survivors of the May 8th, 200 -- Andre, Ben, Charles, Susan, Andrea, Moi, Chris

I couldn't have gotten a better Mother's Day gift than to have my Ex and my parents be willing to watch my children while I went out and rode my bike a ridiculous amount of kilometers starting at a ridiculous hour of the morning just a week after I did a half marathon at blistering effort from which, by all assertions, I was not yet recovered. Just the day before I climbed three flights of stairs at work at a normal pace and arrived at the top gasping like I weighed 300 lbs. 

I knew ahead that I would likely write something about this ride but the whole 200 km I kept waiting for something eventful to happen to spur my creativity because I knew I didn't want to write a straight-up ride report. Unlike the last time, Ben kept his ass in his shorts and on his bike seat. No one got dropped. And other than the precarious 6.6 km right before Beausejour where after doing a pull and I worked at race pace and beyond to hang on the back desperately waiting for recovery to happen, and THANK GOD we were stopping because I was ready, I felt pretty damn good through the whole ride. There was some minor calf cramping in the last 8km after we stopped to wait for Andre to fix a flat, a bit of a stiff neck and back, all to be expected. but my quads are in perfect shape, even today, a day later. Check out the Garmin Data.

Our stunning scenic view for approximately 192km of 208

By about 170km I was pretty bored to be honest.  Pedal pedal pedal, farmers field on the right, farmers field on the left. Wind everywhere coming from every direction except behind us.

So I started thinking, because over 200 km you have lots of time to think, about why I do these things, because frankly, everyone (except for the other equally crazy individuals who do these things with me) thinks I'm nuts. I think I said it out loud at various points along the ride that only people with a certain degree of psychosis actually think this kind of thing is fun. I couldn't seem to stimulate any deep introspective discussion on that topic from anyone on this ride, because we are all likely in denial about that. So I'll do it here, where I may or may not have an audience.


A U-tube video crossed my path the other day via another blog I follow. It was the trailer for the movie Bicycle Dreams which chronicles the adventures of participants in The Race Across America -- the race where the true psychotic endurance crazies come out and play. The best endurance cyclists ride 3000km across America in the shortest time possible sacrificing sleep, a regular meal, and a comfortable place to sit. Half drop out before finishing, the trailer states. And a few other quotes caught my ear:

"We have more people in society now that describe a feeling of missing something. 'There is just something missing in my life'."

"Lance Armstrong said that endurance athletes are running away from something inside of themselves and that is one of the reasons they do what they do."

So could it be that crazy rides like yesterday's is a replacement for something? Masking a dissatisfaction with ones self? It might be a replacement for lack of sex (Not for the people on THIS ride, OF COURSE). Or an escape from an unsatisfying relationship or marriage. A lot of the separated, divorced, or single people I know have told me they started into their athletic pursuits because they were dissatisfied with their home life. I would say for the majority, it was running that came first and then it branched from there as the addiction took hold. Their spouses or S.O.'s stayed home and vegged out on the couch in front of the TV with a bag of chips. I would say that I fell into this category too. And then the whole thing just escalates out of control until it becomes this huge uncontrolled monster, equally as real as addiction to cocaine or heroine. But hopefully less harmful. Maybe.


There is nothing better than outdoing yourself and if you can outdo others in the process this is a bonus. The 200 km ride I did last year was purely a spur of the moment thing. Ah what the hell, I'm free, I'll show up. This year it was planned and manipulated. Last year I was shocked I could do 100 km in May. This year it was 200.  And it was frankly at bit anticlimactic -- been there done that... NEXT. The Randonneurs group, who I did this ride with, also have 300, 400, 600, 1000 options. There are time limits on all the rides. They are generous times, but they are done continuously over a weekend, which I've heard means on the longer options you ride overnight and catch cat naps in ditches and on park benches. If you ride the 200, 300, 400, and 600 in one season you become a Super Randonneur and if you do it two years in a row it will give you a good chance of getting into the Paris-Brest-Paris 1200 km in 2011 which is limited to 5000 riders and, I believe only happens every 2 years.

Has it crossed my mind to do this? Yes. Do I think it is realistic? Well I can't do everything. And I have a half ironman to do in August so I have to keep running. And I have children to consider. And a relationship I'd like to keep and, while he rides too, he is training for Ironman so he can't do this with me. Not this year. And given that Ironman training is time consuming enough, I would like to spend SOME time with him over the next few months.

Are the people who do these things Crazy? Absolutely. But the adrenaline rush is addictive and to get the same rush you often have to up the anti a little bit. There are pathological comparisons that can be made: Maintaining two (or more) relationships simultaneously might be one (think Tiger Woods). Embezzling money from your company  might be another. You dip your toe over the line into naughtiness and it is exciting and you're getting away with it so it takes a little bit higher risk to get the same rush (you are more and more affectionate in public; you steal bigger and bigger sums of money per transaction going beyond those small unnoticeable sums). How far can you go before you get caught?

Or maybe getting caught is the point? Maybe this is a cry for help?

So you've done 200 km, how about 3, 4, 600? How far can one  push ones body before it gives out? Like these nutty dudes attempting to complete 5 ironman distance triathlons over 5 days on 5 different islands of Hawaii. Heroic or Stupid?


I'm still learning a lot of new things. Like this:

I love the fact that there are girl riders in this diagram. Look closely for the pony tails.

These are riding formations. The first is the single pace line where when the lead rider, who is taking the brunt of the wind, drops to the back of the pace line and into the draft of the other riders and takes a rest while the the rider behind takes over. The second is the same principle but in a double pace line formation for larger groups or lower traffic zones. Great in headwinds and tail winds, but what if there are cross winds or worse yet, diagonal winds, like the NW winds we faced yesterday?

For those we use formations 3 or 4 or a mixture of the two. The third is the rotating eschelon which we did for 25 km yesterday and it was my favorite part of the whole ride. And if you check out the Garmin data, you will notice a section where my heart rate stayed pretty stable and that was during the eschelon, as opposed to jumping high when I pulled and dropping down when I was in draft.  A rotating eschelon is a combo of the single and double pace lines but each lead rider only pulls for about 30 seconds, just long enough to get in front of the previous lead rider and into the "slow lane" where they drop back until they reach the last rider of the fast lane whereby they move back into the fast lane and then rider by rider get back into pull position. The slow lane is on the windward side. More riders is better because there is more wind blocking. The fourth is for cross wind and is a combo of the double pace line and the eschelon. It is hard to do when you only have one lane of traffic to contend with but works on the same principle as the V formation of birds flying south.

Criterium: short tactical bike races with crazy-ass cornering sure to get me killed.
Or cause me to kill others.

Learning new things is fun. I have last year's Randonneurs 200 medal sitting on the frame that houses my University Gold Medal. I dare say, at this stage of my life,  I am more proud of that first 200 medal than of my Gold Medal. But the connection with learning is obvious. I like to learn. Maybe I'll learn how to bike race next but I dare say that my need to do endurance rides might kill my skills in a short race like a criterium. I might need to go out and ride 50 km before my body is prepped to show up at the starting line of a fast short race such as that. I might also have to gain some bike handling skills.


I actually like when people say to me: "You actually rode your bike for 200 km? In one day?! Your nuts!" 

Thank you very much. Yes, I did, and yes, I am.

I complain out loud about how big my quads have gotten and how I have difficulty finding pants to fit my legs. But I actually like my legs. They are solid muscle. I can out leg press half the guys at the gym. And I'm the only woman in the world... oh yes, I don't believe this is an exaggeration.... who actually likes her own butt.

My Ass on a bike seat. A view I will never see in person. 

I like being solely responsible for several cases of bike envy. I like when people walk into my office and fondle the bike. I like when I ride up the universal access ramp to my building and hear several people mutter...Nice bike. I like when people talk to me about bikes. I like when non riding people want to know what crazy thing I did this past weekend. Like, like, like. I like it even more when someone tells me I've inspired them to make a life change to exercise.


I like riding with other people. I like the talk that happens. I admit that yesterday after about 150 km I didn't feel  particularly chatty. But I've had some of the most interesting conversations in the middle of a cycling pack with the wind gusting around my ears. You can talk about just about anything and it is like a private secret conversation that no one else can hear. And I'll tell you a secret.... get my exercise addrenaline flowing and it is practically a truth serum. You never know what I might say. Just don't talk with your hands, as that could be deadly.

I like meeting up with other cyclists in non cycling environments and you look at each other with a nod and with complete unspoken understanding that you would rather be riding.

And the last thing I'll say about my riding peeps is that I stole a few of these photos from Andrea who was also on the ride. I must give credit where credit is due. She is more talented than I when it comes to taking riding photos because I have this difficulty with taking my hands off the handle bars and it is incompatible with taking photos, especially given it seems that only my left hand comes off comfortably and I can only operate a camera with my right. We won't question, however, why Andrea was taking a picture of my ass on a bike when there were clearly options more to her taste.... (wink).

The other thing I must say about Andrea is that she has recently started up her own blog that you really should check out. The link that I've directed you to is her version of the same ride. She posted first but any overlap in discussion points is purely coincidental as mine was written already and I was waiting on some of those pictures I stole. We were in the same place at the same time and given that we have the same obsession we likely think alike too. Well, I'm pretty sure I know so, actually.

I must thank her for this photo most of all:

I'm still eating, by the way.

And this one of course:

And I'm still smiling too.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The BIG Capital D

Once upon a time, long long ago, in a land not so far away, I knew nothing of Divorce. No one in my family was Divorced. OK, not true. EVERYONE in my father's family was Divorced but it all conveniently happened before I was given life so I knew all my aunts and uncles with their second husbands and wives, and we didn't see anyone very often anyway so how did this affect me? And I believed right there on the top of the list of people least likely to get divorced, was my name. 

In my family, my brother fell first. It lasted less than 2 years. He married his high school sweetheart and after 8 years of dating, what was left to do in that relationship except get married? Once when I was about 19 and taking a summer course at the University, I had a conversation with one of my older classmates, who was about 23 and working already as a teacher and married. I remember asking her, as we awkwardly strolled to our cars and attempted to make conversation, "What made you get married so young?"  I thought I was asking a benign question.

I interject here to say that I remember it as a question but knowing me I didn't ask it as a question. I probably made a statement of observation, You're pretty young to be married. I would have been too afraid to ASK.

Our relationship got to the stage where only one of two things could happen, she said, we either got married or we broke up. Breaking up wasn't an option, so we got married.

I didn't understand this at the time but it struck me enough that I know I wrote it down in my  journal. I don't even know what it was about her answer that left me cold. What about love? What about shared plans and passions? I doubt I knew much about either of these things beyond fantasy at the age of 19 while asking such a loaded question, given I don't think I'd had a relationship up to that point that lasted beyond 5 weeks.

This is not an enviable state

Several years later, married with one kid,  I was sitting at one of our "couple" friend's houses having a heart to heart with the sister of the female half the couple. She was Divorced and had been for what I think at this point was nearly 10 years. She poured out her heart to me about her relationship struggles, as people tend to do. I have this knack for having people, completely out of the blue, tell me profoundly personal things without my even asking. Over the course of this conversation, or perhaps over the course of many conversations with this person, she also told me about another friend of hers who had recently left her husband. Her friend cornered her just prior to making the big leap into singledom and asked the big unanswerable question:  What's it like being divorced?

Well I don't know. I wouldn't recommend it, was her response. Don't get me wrong, I don't have any regrets. But if it could have been different I would have wanted it to work out.

The version of me who believed herself happily married for life, took these words and tucked them away inside me for a time in my future when I might need them. I did not understand at the time. And who knows if the words I quote here are exact. They could have become MY words now, because what I remember most vividly is not the words, but rather the sense of bewilderment I felt in my friend's sister. How could someone actually be envious of her state?

I have felt other people's envy. I very nearly wrote, I have felt other women's envy, but there is at least one man I have experienced signs of envy from too. I haven't done anything worthy of admiration. I've heard that word used often to describe the steps I took to change my life and make it what it is.

All I can say to that is: Please. Please. Don't.   Being Divorced is not romantic.

Don't Assume, Please Ask, I'll Tell

Who is a Divorced women?

You want to know what I picture: overly skinny, perfumed, too much lipstick, excessive hairspray, leopard print skirt so short that butt crack is nearly revealed, stiletto heels, shallow and stupid in mind. I wasn't any of these things. At least I'm not those things now. I may have gone through a bit of a phase before I realized I was about to jump ship where I was a little bit of some of those things. 

But you have people in your life before the change who carry through till after the change and, trust me, there will be moments when some of those people will look and speak to you as if you are all of those things. I've felt judged, I've walked away from interactions with people and felt stripped naked and scarred from unspoken thrashings, and I've watched with my very own eyes and ears how people who know nothing about me or who I am, take sides as if one party is to be blamed more than the other. And none but the bravest ever dare ask. In certain cases, where I could feel certain individuals wanting to turn me into the evil party, I've gone so far as to offer to tell ... but the people doing the most judging are generally the people least interested in hearing.

Things I Didn't Know

When it comes to Divorce I must admit I've spent the last three years flying a bit by the seat of my pants. But I can identify several things about my state that never popped into my mind either before or during that initial separation period. I will tell you those things now.

1. There will be days when you do not see or speak to your children. Are you shocked that I never thought about this? Maybe it was purely out of survival that I never considered this reality in the process of ending my marriage. It just might be if I had thought about this too much I could not have gone through with it. And I had to go through with it.

2. Be prepared to redefine "family." I grew up in a traditionally married household. This is always what I envisioned my life would be like too. My parents are still married. I went to Toronto on a run-away vacation about three months before my now ex husband moved out. While wandering up in the CN Tower, I watched a young family, mother, father, two kids similar in ages to my own, and it hit me that I would never ever have that again.

3. You will lose friends. People want to hang out with people like themselves. They don't want to hang out with people who set up awkward situations like, "Which of the two do we invite?"  But no worries. You will make plenty of new ones. And the true ones stick around.

4. I didn't leave because I was unhappy. This is hard to explain. I wasn't unhappy being married. I did however know that there were certain aspects of my marriage that would forever prevent me from being my true self and in order to stay with him I would have to continue to be something I wasn't. But divorce is NOT the magical key to happiness. Figuring out who you are is.

5. Being a single parent is hard. And it is exponentially harder than the one weekend or week, you spend every few months without your spouse while they go to a conference or on a girls weekend or a fishing trip. Contrary to item #1, there will be times when you can't WAIT to not see your children.

6. He will always be my (ex) husband. I still slip and forget the new prefix.  This isn't like the transition from boyfriend to fiancee to husband where you eventually get used to the new terminology. In a small way, I will always be married to him even when I am actually truly Divorced. So when I speak of him, I tend to just use his first name or call him "the father of my children."

7. I dreamed about it endlessly but relationship perfection does not exist. There are flaws in all of them.

8. You will develop a split personality and you won't always get to be the person you want to be when you want to be. There will be days when you are supposed to be Mom and you would rather be the wild single girl you are inside. There will be days when you are supposed to be the wild single girl and you'll wish you were being Mom. 

9. There is no question harder to answer than: "Why can't you and Daddy just live together, ALREADY?"

10. There is no perfect age to split when there are children involved. When they are young they are resilient and adaptable and accepting of new people as long as they feel loved by you, but scheduling of kid activities is difficult and switching households is a bungling logistical nightmare and you don't have a built in babysitter. Try that 9PM phone call, when you've already switched persona's, and someone with half your genetic makeup is in bed crying because some toy is still at Mom's house. When they are older they have an opinion but at least they can get themselves around and they are responsible for their own stuff. I know Divorced people who's older kids said, "It's about time!" and I know Divorced people who's older kids won't speak to them. It all rests in how honest you are. And in terms of honesty, age is irrelevant.

11. You will wonder if your parents feel responsible for the fact that both their children got Divorced.

12. You will be poorer than you were before. I didn't care. I still don't. Money was never one of my reasons to stay but then again, I am financially self-sufficient. 

13. You will have astonishing lapses in judgement to rival anything you did between the ages of 13 and 22.

14. For a long while and maybe for forever (because I am not past this stage yet) you will wonder why anyone would be enamoured with marriage and weddings. Why did I fret and stress or even consider walking down some church isle with a white gown on as something that I wanted? I see brides and I want to scream:  DON'T DO IT!! There are better things to spend money on. Like bikes.

15. You will feel weak and cowardly while saying words and taking action on things that require more guts than you knew you had.

16. It is just as stressful and difficult to be the leaver as it is to get left. You still mourn.

17. Be prepared to know instantaneously with simply a glance or a vague sense of intuition when you've crossed paths with someone who is experiencing the same despair that you have now survived. Be careful about pointing this out. They may not know it yet.

18. Odds are that your first (few) relationship(s) will be disastrous. You are one fucked up cookie even if you think you aren't.

Are there legitimate reasons to get Divorced? Absolutely. There are the three A's: Abuse, Addiction, Adultery. I would add one other: Crazy. Let me be more specific... uncontrolled crazy. But then again, not everyone experiencing these things sees them as reasons for Divorce. My Divorce involved none of these things and that is much harder to explain. Even to myself.

All I know is this. I have no regrets and it was the right choice for me, but if I could have made choices that would have made things turn out differently, I would go back and make them.