I had originally intended to post this yesterday, since it would have been an anniversary. But I finished the night on the phone with a man who loves me and chooses to be with me. I'll never forget what once was but I realized during the conversation, that I'm happy where I am now. I don't miss 'back then' anymore. I'm excited for what the future holds. I don't need to look back and mourn the way I used to. I can remember what lies behind but press on boldly into a future full of hope.
So... here's to the past, here's to the present, and here's to me Leaving the Middle, it's been swell, for the most part I've had a blast, but life's changing again...
Two years ago yesterday (From FB memories):
“Here we go. The day is here. It's supposed to be our 14th wedding anniversary, but he walked away so instead I have been in this wilderness for 40 days. Thankfully I have been far from alone and treasure each person who is walking this road with me. I am ready to let go of what was, not quite yet of hope, but of what we used to be. My God promises that He works all things for good for those who are called according to His purpose. With that promise in my pocket, I am moving on to a new chapter of my life. But first, for today, I will finish writing this one. One last day,
here in this valley, to feel this moment in my life, to remember the good, because there is so much good, to mourn the loss of a dream and to exhale the hurt, pain and anger. May it be well with my soul!”
I took to the mountains, because my help comes from the LORD, the One True Author and Perfecter of my faith, and I am closest to Him there. Exhaling what was... letting go. Breathing in the fresh-air healing that only comes in an earthy pine tree scent no man can package and ship on the gusts of alpine breezes.
“Sounds strange to say but this solo drive alone in the mountains was one of the most liberating and spiritual things I've ever done! Soooo there I was on top of a mountain... The furthest I've ever been alone. It was supposed to be an epic letting go. I bought a huge balloon, paid $15 for it!!! I had a sparkly notebook of blank pages to fill. I had nothing but the sounds of nature and my songs playing on repeat. I was a teary mess. I was going write until the tears stopped flowing and tie the pages to the balloon and send my sorrows, my hopes, my prayers up, up and away to the heavens and say goodbye to this chapter of my life... But the wind whipped up and the balloon slammed into a rock and popped so loud it startled me out of my sobbing. It was tragic and I bawled even more because my beautiful plan to let go, like so many plans before it, was ruined. I shook my fist at God, ‘That’s not how it’s supposed to happen!’ Then a still small voice reminded me, this isn’t my story, if it was I would have written it differently. This is His story and I am a mere character. This is character development. This is where I start to become who I’m going to be. I will forever treasure this day. And I can't wait to go kick up more mud real soon! I sure do miss being the shotgun rider but driving was awesome!!!”
One year ago today:
I ran 10 miles to mark the day, it seemed like a good idea.
I hope for something I’ve never had before, in a man like none I’ve ever known before. He loves me and I know it’s true because he shows me over and over with his faithful, patient, steadfast persistence that I keep trying to find the catch in. He’s still here for no other reason other than he picks me every day and I pick him. Whether he shares it or not, he strengthens and encourages my faith. I believe in his love for me as I am, with all my "over thinking" and butterfly business and eccentricities. I know he has a magnificently strong will that can handle me and mine boldly and without fear or intimidation. He has earned all my respect and admiration and I believe him when he says he’ll never leave me. And yet I am oh so wary! Not because of him but because sometimes I still feel like a dog run over. But I believe him and the risk is worth it, because he’ll put all my fears to rest in time… I just know it! Pray it up brothers and sisters and all the rest of y'all wish us well!
This post was hard to write. Like with my debt, I’m not disclosing where my boundaries were and are now or what my compromises have been, except to say my intimacy boundary lines have moved. But before I get into that…
Did you know that 17% of women in their 20s think it’s OK to sleep with a man on the first date? 17%! When I heard the stat, I was floored! I was heart sick for the youths represented in that number. But the next statistic Mark Gungor gave repulsed me! One would assume women would gain wisdom and stop that unsafe sexual nonsense as they aged, but evidently the opposite is true; 58% of women in their 40s are having sex on first dates! How is that possible? How is that OK? How do we give our bodies away so cavalierly? It kind of seems like lower behavior than prostitutes… at least they make money off their Jons. It’s utterly undignified!
There are people who think we’re nothing more than flesh and bone and instinct and for them, I guess sex can be casual and animalistic, with anyone, anytime. That’s what it was for me for a large part of my youth. But then, I embraced my spirituality, I connected with God; I realized I am more than “just” a body. I am a body, made to move and be active and respected and loved. I am a mind made to learn and inquire and be explored and challenged. I am a soul made to feel, to empathize and sympathize and be known. I am a spirit made to connect metaphysically to the Creator of the heavens and earth.
I am not an animal! We are not slaves to our sexual desires. We are beings made in the image of God. We do not have to operate on instinct. Intimacy is more than animalistic drive; it’s a bond deeper than physical or hormonal attraction. I now believe this to the core of my being and strove, as I dated, to conduct myself in a way that honored God and my own being; body, mind, soul and spirit.
What was my compromise and how did it happen? It was a slow fade... I started dating (after my divorce was final and I was legally single) with a very conservative boundary. I think I was fun and flirty but also up front and honest with the men. I kept my boundaries; in fact, I guarded them fiercely! Those who thought they were ridiculous or disrespected me were dismissed. Those who honored me proceeded in getting to know me, and I them. Sex of any kind was not an option.
The jerks didn’t surprise me. I wish they weren’t real, but they are; they are men of dishonor, looking for an easy lay and when they find out that’s not what they were going to get from me (and other women of dignity) they disappear quickly.
What surprised me were the men willing to respect my boundaries. I can’t say they always understood them but I was pleasantly surprised by all of the honorable men out there. Way to go you guys! You are great and I thank you for your respect and defense of my honor! Ladies, they’re out there out there! There are good guys, honorable men who will absolutely respect you.
Over the course of dating I came to believe, like never before, that God and all the people that say to wait (something I had never done before) were right. I came to know a few different kinds of men; there were the jerks, there were those who needed to be policed – I had to mind my boundary or they would cross it, and there was one who policed himself. He didn’t share my philosophy but he did it because he was a true man of honor. He took time to listen to me and hear what I believed and why. Though he still doesn’t agree, he respects me enough to stand with me for my honor instead of trying to break me down.
Because he actually respects me, defends my honor and doesn’t push or manipulate me into more than I want to give… I want to give more to him. And so, over the course of the last several months, though there is still no sex of any kind, my boundaries have shifted. Right or wrong, I will stand before God but what I can say is that I am more convinced than ever that saving sex for marriage is a beautiful thing. It shows a level of patience and self-control that is essential for a relationship to develop healthy boundaries. I can trust him because I know he is a man capable of controlling himself and vice versa, which is so important in a world such as this where men take what they want from women and 58% of women in their 40s spread their legs so freely.
Even with the compromise I haven’t fallen for the lie that sex is causal and means nothing or ought to be tossed into the mix of a dating relationship. Sex is a precious, sacred act meant to be shared in the most intimate of settings with a lifetime spouse. I haven’t lost anything in my restraint, except for men who lacked patience and self-control. I gained the love of an amazing man and he gained all of my admiration and respect. I have the memory of a first handshake that made me swoon. I had time to hug and hold hands and talk and learn about him and not feel pressured to do more. I have a first kiss that I remember with the fondest of pure emotions that didn’t get devalued or lost because it was competing with a sexual encounter. I have a treasure trove of cherished firsts to look forward to with a man strong enough to overcome his own selfish desires because he respects me that much. I love him for that and so much more. And… yes, like with my purchase of Guinevere, there is compromise, but I’m OK with it, may God have mercy on my soul.
It’s time to come clean, to confess the compromises to my principals and beliefs over the last couple years and admit to the consequences of my choices. It’s like the song “Slow Fade” by Casting Crowns: “It’s a slow fade, when you give yourself away. It’s a slow fade when black and white have turned to gray. And thoughts invade, choices are made, a price will be paid, when you give yourself away. People never crumble in a day...” I didn’t set out to be in consumer debt again after working so hard with my ex-husband to get out of it. I didn’t set out to have an ex-husband. I didn’t plan to be dating in my late thirties proclaiming my boundaries publicly because our culture falsely dictates that hook-ups and friends-with-benefits are supposed to be normal not scandalous.
There’s a little known saying: “Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom.” It’s a warning of sorts; the “little foxes” as they’re called in this Biblical passage are the little things that, over time, ruin us. The little foxes invade our thoughts, our relationships, our sensibilities and slowly eat away at the rich, ripe fruit we’ve tended to and watched grow. With stealth and cunning they sneak in and take and weaken and reduce our harvest. Little by little, day by day, without vigilance and accountability a luscious vineyard becomes a picked over field of lackluster fruit. Today, I look over a windy and battered vineyard that is my life and wonder... who have I become? I’m nothing like she who once was.
I know that life circumstances like mine lend themselves to a change in lifestyle. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it now; I’m blessed to have gone through this in the day and place we live. Had I been abandoned in a different time or country, I wouldn’t have fared so well. I have a job and community that supports struggling single women and doesn’t prey on them. I live a happy, comfortable, independent life that keeps me safe. It’s a good life I’ve been dropped into, but it’s different. I am alone; free and unfettered to taste and see and hear and feel all that that I can... but also unaccountable. I don’t answer to anyone and, no one cares what I do with my time, talent or money... for me, this is the biggest little fox in the skulk.
Some people are loners and can effectively live and manage their vineyard on their own. While I am fiercely ambitious and motivated, I know that I am a companionable soul and work my vineyard best in fellowship. It’s not that I need someone to tell me what to do… no, no... I appreciate knowledgeable guidance but I’ll learn how to grow, water and nourish my fruit myself; that part I’ve got covered. It’s near the borders, where the creeping vermin sneak in, and in the bounty I have to share, where a companion, accountability partner, or teammate works best for me.
Let me explain…
If I am left to myself, yes, I want a vineyard capable of sustaining me, but so what if some of the fruit is consumed by pests? There’s still enough for me to live off of. Sure it’s not the best, it’s not the most, it’s not the smartest way to tend a vineyard but… who cares? As long as it’s enough for me, it’s good enough. But, add a partner to the mix, someone I know will also enjoy my fruit, suddenly I’m motivated to shoo those foxes away and build fences and borders to keep them out. Why? So I have more bounty to share with them of course! I have external motivation, someone else to give to, to share with. I have a greater reason to care.
It’s not the same as being desperate for a companion. I don’t need someone for my vineyard to grow. God has blessed me with a wonderful body, mind, soul and spirit. He has given me opportunity to grow good fruit. I do that, but there’s something about me that manages myself better when I know there’s someone else directly affected.
I lost my someone… my someones actually…
In the same amount of time that my ex-husband left, my kids transitioned from childhood into young adults, capable of making their own choices, quite independently of me. He didn’t want me. They didn’t need me. I, alone, was left to tend my vineyard, and the little foxes started creeping.
The biggest compromises came in the areas of finance and romance and it is in these two areas I must make my confession, but this is enough for now, confession is inevitable but it will wait a bit longer, just a bit...
It's been so long that I don’t even have your number anymore… I don’t even know you anymore. It’s weird isn’t it? After years of knowing and loving and living together, there’s nothing. It would be a lie to say you’re not still here in every single day of my life.
I didn’t marry you to ever be here without you. But you left. You didn’t want me. Discarded me like the trash you rolled to the street week after week, year after year, house after house. I told you I’d wait as long as I could, and I did. I waited, faithfully waited. Then I dated, silly, fun, data gathering dates to numb the pain of being alone and remind myself I was pretty and desirable, at least by others, if not by you. I had my rules and boundaries and time limits but in the back of my head I think I was still waiting for you to figure out what you needed to figure out. I waited. For a word, a call, a text… anything to give me hope that there was hope. There’s been nothing.
And the truth is I’ve known from the beginning of The Leaving you never wanted me. I knew you were done. Strange as it sounds, and though some will question it when I write it, I feel like God’s been in the leaving as much as you. I can’t wrap my head around why He would allow a good marriage to end.
And it was good, wasn’t it? No one cheated, no one abused anyone or anything. We were the not-quite-white-picket fence family and couple. Bumps in the road, issues that we had to work through, but good.
We were good together. We had a good life, a good family. It was good.
I just don’t understand. I want clarification. Why did you leave? What did I do? How could I make it better? Nothing… Nothing… I’ve come to accept that maybe I’ll never have the answers I want. I have to accept the things I cannot change. Maybe I’ll never know.
But before I go, I owe you some words. I must write them, who knows if you’ll ever read them...
I am sorry. You were a good man. I sure I didn’t say it enough. You were an honest man and I didn’t realize what a gift that is. You were a protector and provider. You stood by me when I was such a mess of a person. You helped me become the woman I am today and I love who I am so much and you’ll ever have all my respect for sticking through the mess that I was. I didn’t give you enough credit. I didn’t thank you enough for all you did… all the good things day after day. For the longest time I wished I could go back and re-do what I didn’t do right and say what I should have said.
I spent a lot of time agonizing about how I failed you and wishing I had a chance to do it right. I read the Love and Respect book the pastor recommended a little too late. I read other books. I made a point to study the needs of men and realized how far from the mark I was when it came to honoring you. I am sorry. I wish I would have known… but I didn’t know then.
I guess I accept now that I’m not responsible for what I didn’t know but I still feel bad that I didn’t have a chance to “get it right” with you. But… you didn’t tell me and I didn’t have the information until I had it and then it was too late… But still I hoped… And I practiced what I learned. If the research and books are right, and I think they are, I missed the mark. I didn’t give you enough respect, I didn’t treat you the way men treat each other. I messed up. I got it wrong. And I’m sorry. You deserved better. I hope that in time, you can forgive me for my short-comings. And like you’ve told me, I hope you find love.
But as for me… now that I know better, I’ll do better. And as for me, it might be a sin, or another failure notch in my belt, but I waited as long as I could. I’m done hoping, wondering, waiting. I’m moving on. I wish you the best in life. For however they were for you, they were the best fourteen years of my life so far. Thank you for all of them. Thank you for taking my kids as your own and for letting me get to know your daughter and for adopting our daughter together with me. Thank you for bringing us here to Chelan County. Thank you for being a steady stable force in my life. I’m sorry it didn’t work out but I will honor the last thing you told me to do, I will go and find love. It will happen for me, may it also happen for you. May the God of grace and mercy bless you and where ever life may take you.
Let’s get to the statistics and date-a shall we?
Here’s how it went. After The Leaving, but before the divorce, I didn’t date. Something about my face made it easy to fly under the radar, I made no advances and no one, except maybe that one time… (I saw you, I just wasn’t ready), made a move. No one asked me out, no one but maybe that guy flirted with me. I fought for my marriage. I tried. I analyzed my wrongs and accepted responsibility, but I was only half the equation. I didn’t own what wasn’t mine. I couldn’t ignore his parts. I begged to work on it, fight for it, try for it. But he did not want it… or rather, me. So we began “friendly” divorce proceedings. We retained the same lawyer. It was cheap (or as cheap as ripping apart a family and union that’s supposed to last forever can be), quick (90 days to make “ ‘til death do us part’ the biggest lie I ever told), and easy (or as easy as knowing life would never be the same). We didn’t fight, no alimony, little parenting planning, minimal division of assets.
I grieved. I didn’t want it, but as a recovering addict I knew a prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change
The courage to change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference...
If even God won’t change the heart of a man against his will, who was I to think I could? It was over. The baby was dead. So, I washed my face and… I started to swim!
Some people are OK being alone. Not me. I’m made for communion, community, companionship. I’m a companionable soul. I want to be in a relationship as soon as possible… as long as it makes sense. Rebound relationships do not make sense, but in listening to my single friends, I learned they kind of seem to be the norm, especially after long-term relationships. I speculate that we’re used to being paired up; we feel “off” being alone and seek to fill the void quickly. I didn’t hear too many rebound relationship success stories so it was important to me to avoid one. I spotted my cairn, one year away, and hiked to it.
I had goals for dating:
1) Have fun! Sew some (pure) wild oats! (If I’m single I might as well have fun, right?!)
2) Avoid rebounding
3) Be open to a relationship if it makes sense
4) Meet good guys
5) Do fun stuff
6) Abstain from sex
7) Did I say have fun?!
I opened my online profile two weeks before I was divorced. I wish I waited but I knew it was going to hurt so, I started talking to guys. It felt good, after months of feeling rejected, abandoned and unwanted, to be interesting and maybe even chosen. I was new, the guys were all over me and most were quite kind, respectful and fun.
Over the year I met several men online, and there they stayed. I’ll include their comments and online behaviors in the analysis, but they were never “real-life.” My best guess is that there were about two dozen online conversations. I can’t be more specific than that.
I can tell you more about the real-lifers…
In one year’s time I went out with thirteen men. There was no sex, no petting, not much of anything... and when this information was fully realized two real-lifers bailed, so props to the good guys who really are willing to meet and hang out with a respectable woman!
Three of the thirteen were disqualified from further dates when they confessed they were separated and not actually divorced.
Nine were met online. Four were from real-life interactions.
Ages ranged from mid-twenties to mid-fifties with a mean age of ~42 years old.
Four were only seen once for either a walk or a cuppa coffee.
Five were privileged with more than a hug but far less than getting lucky … one was a surprise kiss I didn’t see coming that still makes me smile, and I can’t believe you snuck that in yo! ;)
One pushed the boundaries too far and was disqualified... and I still wish we could have an adult conversation about what happened.
One was an addict that ought not have lied to another addict.
All left an impression and I am grateful and flattered for their time, attention and attraction to me.
My favorite dates, not surprisingly, included the outdoors:
Cuddling by a bonfire for a ridiculous number of hours,
Wine, cheese and praise songs under the stars, on a full-moon night, in the snowy mountains of Leavenworth,
Hiking various mountains and trails in Wenatchee, Peshastin and Leavenworth,
Geocaching for the ever illusive Mr. Gadget cache “Oh let me shine upon you 2”
Walking and running on the Loop
Enjoyable inside dates happened too. There were movies, bowling, hockey, live bands, book and Bible readings, food… sooooo much food, and drinks, lots of drinks... coffee and alcohol were the usual but there was that one kombucha time, which scored points for its uniquity! Hands down, my favorite inside date was fooling my friends by picking up a “stranger” at a bar in my red dress… maybe someday they’ll forgive me, and to you sir, that was the best idea EVER!!! I'm so down to do that again, if ever the chance presents itself!
For the most part men were happy to accommodate my tastes and desires but I sure did like it when they took the lead and I just had to figure out how to follow their footwork!
There were so many moments of joy, fun and happiness that I’ll treasure. They were wonderful, fun, smart, kind, gentlemen. It was fun but it was exhausting and usually I was too much… or not enough but nonetheless, I learned a lot and I hope I share what they taught me with utmost respect for these good men that took time with me.