An Old School Blog Entry of Random Dating Thoughts. You’re Welcome.

When I was younger, in my teens and early 20’s, I used to have this picture in my mind of what my perfect person would be like. It wasn’t a visual image, just a feeling for who they would be and how it would feel to be with them. I made a list once or twice of what mattered to me in a partner. 

Later I would use this list to create a narrative around my dating life. This person was missing this trait and that’s why it didn’t work. This person had too much of that, which is why we broke up. It was all about lessons learned, refining my requirements, getting closer to that person as if I was hewing them out of stone.

Now I think that was ridiculous and pointless. An attempt to create order from chaos. These days the way I think about dating and love and romance is vastly different. I still believe you can learn things from relationships, but you can also have a relationship where you don’t learn anything and that’s just fine. It can be a thing you experience, a part of your life, a chapter in your story, and it doesn’t necessarily need to be more.

What I want from a relationship now is so much less than before it’s almost hard to believe. And yet, while my demands are down and my list of requirements is gone, I find myself completely unsatisfied.

I was in a book slump for a while this winter and I think maybe I still am. It’s not that I’m never happy with books, many of them make me very happy. But I quit so many. My patience for them is at an all time low. For every 10 that I start, I finish 1. Often my experience with a book lasts less than 5 pages. My pet peeves are more sensitive. No, I don’t want to read another book about rich people or the holocaust or a man’s midlife crisis or a prep school novel or a college novel or a story about friends who move to New York. (The list is much longer, but that’s a start.) I’m still reading just as much, it just takes me longer to find books I care about. And even when I look at the list of books I loved recently and feel that it is a truly stellar list, a little bit of me feels like there should be more there.

Where I am with books and where I am with dating are similar in many ways. Which is why I’m now wondering if this is part of some larger internal crisis of dissatisfaction. (Also the other day I had a playlist on Spotify and kept hitting skip track over and over and over again. So that’s three strikes.)

Now I try to picture the kind of person I could start a serious relationship with and I get nothing. I can no longer think of what they would be like. I admit that part of me feels that there is no one who actually fits the bill. 

I go out with people and it’s not like I have dating disasters. I just stay in this same place of unexcited, uncommitted, meh-ness. 

It’s also not that I don’t want it. I do. And my wanting of it has varied, so I can’t say it’s because I want too much or too little. The wanting goes in waves, up and down and up and down, a pendulum of my own emotions moving around in my head and reacting to each other. Whether I want it desperately or not at all or somewhere in between, there still isn’t anything that happens. My dates don’t get better or worse. 

When I start thinking about this, my brain just goes to the same lyric over and over again: I will never be satisfied, satisfied, satisfied. And I know this may in fact be true. (I wept all the way through “Satisfied” when I saw Hamilton and maybe that was for a reason?)

This is why I have also spent a lot of time thinking about being alone. This is the default setting now, I’ve settled into it. I may stay here, I may not. I try to enjoy the parts of it I like and avoid the things I don’t. It’s hard, though.

I read All the Single Ladies, Rebecca Traister’s excellent book about the rise of single women and how society is (and isn’t) changing around them. When I see things like this I feel powerful and strong and want to just stay on my own forever. There are so many things about being on my own that make me feel like I’m more fully myself than I’ve ever been. But I can’t seem to make this last. Inevitably I reach a point where I do not want to be alone. Regardless of how I feel most of the time, there is a thus-far undeniable piece of me who feels that partnered should be my default. I don’t know if that portion of me is right, but it’s definitely a squeaky wheel.

I’m working on finding the new normal. I want it to be well established. If I don’t find another relationship, then I need to be good where I’m at. I’m trying to get a better support system. I’m trying to bring more people into my life that I enjoy and that I can count on and that I want to support in return. 

I also remember clearly just how much love messes with your head. I want my normal to actually feel normal. I want my priorities firmly in place. I want my sense of self to stay exactly the same next time I’m with someone. I know that I don’t want a new relationship to replace other things in my life. I don’t want to lose a lot of sleep or reading time or writing time, and those things always go by the wayside in the past. 

Maybe my problem is that I’ve never had a relationship that looks like what I want the next big one to look like. I can’t sketch out in my mind exactly how it will work. It will be something I (or we) have to build from scratch and create through trial and error. And maybe with all that uncertainty it’s just silly for my brain to spend time imagining what kind of person could fit that mold.

I know I’m guilty of trying to create a version of what I thought a relationship should be when I was younger. I tried to create the moments and meaning that were supposed to be there. But that doesn’t work. I know that quite well. 

There’s no resolution here. No tidy wrap up. Just more of this same inbetween. More of the waiting and seeing. More work to make myself comfortable with where I am. And more reminding myself that I like who I am right now, I like it more than I ever have before, and it’s worth doing everything I can to keep growing and not let anyone pull me back.

Holiday Spirit

It is Saturday, the 19th of December, aka Christmas Eve at Mom’s House. The calendar has the kids at their dad’s for Christmas, which is fine. I’ve never been a you-have-to-celebrate-on-the-actual-day kind of person. 

It is a lot like a normal day, with the occasional festivity thrown in. 

Graham asks to watch television, we run errands instead. We stop at the dollar store where we will continue my family’s tradition of all the kids buying each other presents. (When I go to my parents’ house for Christmas, this continues, with my dad to this day passing each of us a stack of one-dollar bills to cover it.) This mission involves secrecy and surprise, which is part of the fun, since you’re all shopping in the same store at the same time. Graham is nervous about this endeavor, which I anticipated. He knows that when they split up, I’ll stay with Tessa. He has lost it in the middle of a public place on more occasion when he cannot immediately see me. But we talk it through, the store is small, and Tessa chooses an Iron Man puzzle for Graham quickly, just in time for him to call out for me. I peek in his bag and see a Frozen puzzle for her. We walk to the register, I hold both the secret packages, Tessa says to Graham, “I got you puzzle,” and I immediately shush her and remind her it’s supposed to be a secret. “But it is a secret,” Graham insists, since he doesn’t know what kind of puzzle. By the time we get to the car he tells her he got her a puzzle, too. So much for surprises.

After this delightful trip, it is all downhill as we try to get through a grocery trip. I make threats. They don’t listen. The car cart is certainly the heaviest it’s ever been, have they doubled in size? We ride home with the kids in penitent silence hoping to atone.

At home it is whining for snacks and whining about who doesn’t want hugs right now and finally I cut through it all by letting them at the gingerbread house kit I brought home from work. It buys us about 20 minutes of holiday harmony before they eat all the candy that wasn’t used for decorating and demand more snacks.

As we hit late afternoon we get peak How-long-until-dinner? “One minute less than when you asked me last time.” But finally the time passes. We eat dips (veggies with dip, chips with dip, apples with dip) for dinner and watch How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Frozen and wait for the time to open Christmas Eve pajamas.

You always think holidays will be different but with kids they can never get too far below 80% normal. 

 

A photo posted by Jessica Woodbury (@jessicaesquire) on

But somehow on Sunday, our Christmas, we manage to get about as close to holiday magic as I think is possible. They are excited and tickled in the 10 minutes or so it takes to open presents. I let them eat all the candy from their stockings. We open Graham’s legos and start to build. Tessa puts on her new necklace. We watch a movie. Everyone plays a game together. Graham helps Tessa with her duplo set. I bake. Twice. 

There are still two time outs (one for each kid) and they’re sent upstairs before bedtime when I’ve about had it and the requests for snacks all day long are nearly relentless and Tessa doesn’t eat the sandwich she asked for and so on. But we have more cooperation, more cuddles, more general happy than usually happens on a day when we don’t actually leave the house. It’s not exactly a Christmas miracle, but it is a pleasant surprise.

The evenings are easier this year. Last year I was really depressed when I stayed up on Christmas Eve to wrap. This year is my second go at single-parent-holiday-prep and because I already know I will have Danny and Bing and Sam Adams there with me, it isn’t so daunting. I also don’t have anything to assemble this year, a plus. (You know, assuming you don’t count the 6 hours I spend helping the 6-year-old put together his lego set. And honestly, I’ll take that because peace and harmony and quiet.) Last year I was much more hung up on everything that I’d always expected the secret holiday wrapping to be, a special little party of your very own. It’s not that I still don’t get disappointed or sad or lonely because I definitely do. But it’s been 2 and a half years and I have not had a serious relationship that entire time and single has become the default. Which isn’t bad, honestly. This is still the rough part, I’m still right in the weeds of the holidays, but it is better. Everything seems at least a little better this year. That is nothing to sneeze at.

Thanksgiving Non-Planning

I haven’t made my Thanksgiving meal plan yet. I may still have some black beans left over. I may make the Roasted Chickpea and Broccoli Burrito I want to try from Thug Kitchen. I will probably pick up a store-made pumpkin pie and some whipped cream as a special treat to myself. But the only turkey I’ll eat will be the deli meat I got for sandwiches this week.

As you can tell, I am not celebrating Thanksgiving. Also won’t be celebrating Christmas. It’s very likely I’ll give New Year’s Eve a pass. 

I just don’t really do holidays anymore. And I don’t miss them.

I know for most people this is a kind of sacrilege. I’m not saying it’ll be this way forever. But right now, what I want more than anything isn’t to have a bunch of people cook a lot of food and come together to eat it. What I want more than anything is a little break, a little quiet, a little time to catch up. Money is tight, time is tighter, and the opportunity to spend a little time alone with my thoughts, the projects I need to catch up on, and my Netflix queue is pretty great. 

It’s not that I don’t miss my family. But I can’t obsess about it. I’ve missed so many holidays over the years because they’re far away and the time and money just aren’t there to make the trip. The last time I was at my parents’ house for Thanksgiving was 2006. That came during a brief stretch from 2004-2006 when I actually went home for Thanksgiving. During my 7 years away at school I only went home for Thanksgiving once. My best estimate is that I’ve had 4 Thanksgivings with my family in the past 18 years. Saying I’m used to it is an understatement.

The first year I had Thanksgiving all by myself, the anticipation of knowing I’d be alone wasn’t great. But the actual day was okay. It was just a day. It only has the power you give it.

This week I will clean my house and catch up on my writing and sleep in and go out on a date and catch a matinee. I will slow down my life. I will let things be quiet and let myself appreciate the stillness. 

Honestly, I’ve been to other people’s Thanksgivings before and it’s just not where I want to be. It’s just not the same and I’d much rather enjoy my own day my own way than try to get a knockoff version of the holiday with someone else’s family and someone else’s traditions. 

I haven’t missed any of the holidays, actually. I just kind of stopped celebrating them bit by bit. Didn’t go to fireworks for the 4th. Didn’t get Easter baskets for the kids. Didn’t go on a date for Valentine’s Day. Didn’t do a barbecue on Memorial Day. This may all sound sad, but it really doesn’t feel that way. It feels like a well earned break. Some time off from these traditions that tend to get so bound up in to-do lists and forced togetherness. 

I do a little Christmas for the kids, and we’ll do it again this year. (Although as someone who lives an entirely secular life, I do it mostly because they’re too little to really understand why we wouldn’t celebrate it, especially when their extended family does.) It’ll probably be a few days before with explanations about Santa’s tweaked schedule, but otherwise a repeat of last year’s stripped down version

I won’t say I never get a little sad. After all, this week is the beginning of “the dark times.” That period from Thanksgiving through Valentine’s Day when it’s hardest to be single and far from family. And lucky me, that period also includes my birthday, so that makes 5 holidays in short succession. But this year when I realized the dark times were upon us, I didn’t feel that sense of dread that I had last year. 

A lot has changed in my head in the last year, even though my circumstances are pretty similar. Last year I felt restless and anxious. There was a lot of pondering and yearning. This year… I don’t know, I guess I’ve settled in. I’m not starting the dark times feeling all woe is me because I don’t have a serious relationship. I have no expectation of getting one any time soon, whereas last year I was still stuck in that “why not me” feeling. 

And maybe I’m actually getting myself pulled out of the real dark times. That new phase really is here, it really did show up, and I really have gotten my brain straight. It feels good. So yeah, I’ll take my week and I’ll spend much of it in my pajamas and I’m pretty happy about that.

The Reasons I Changed My Name. And Changed It Back.

The Reasons I Changed My Name When I Got Married

  1. It was a symbol that we were a single family.
  2. A sign of love and devotion.
  3. Almost every woman I’d ever known had done it.
  4. I’d planned to change my name my entire life.
  5. I wasn’t far enough along in my career for my last name to be widely recognized.
  6. To make it clear I was the mother of my children once they came.

The Reasons I Changed My Name Back When I Got Divorced

  1. It was mine.
  2. I missed it.
  3. Turns out, no one cares if I have a different last name from my kids. Forms aren’t any harder to fill out, conversations aren’t more confusing, life isn’t tougher.
  4. I’d never taken the time to really think about changing it when I did it the first time, and now that I had time to think about it I realized it was the wrong choice.
  5. F—- the Patriarchy. 
  6. If I get married again to a feminist who wants to take MY name, it’d be nice if it was actually mine.
  7. During all those years when I was waiting to replace my name with another one that I imagined would be a better one, I didn’t realize what I had and how much it meant to me.
  8. People call me “Mrs. Severson” or “Graham’s Mom” or whatever, but that’s okay. People call you things and it doesn’t change you. What matters about my name is what I write down and how I identify myself.
  9. I like being at the end of the alphabet. And having the nickname J-dub or J-Wo or whatever someone comes up with tomorrow. And telling people it’s “bury as in bury the hatchet.”
  10. Changing your name, even when your name is recognized and you’ve started to build a career with it, is okay. It’s called “rebranding” and these days it’s pretty common, so I wasn’t afraid people would forget who I was.
  11. It was a symbol of reclaiming myself.
  12. I realized that I wanted to be just one person and stay that person. This is who I am. And I’m going to stay that way.

 

Your Exception. My Rule.

I keep waiting for that time when I’ll be sitting down at a table with a bunch of my friends and be able to nod along and say, “Yes. Me, too.”

I don’t know how this has never quite happened, but it hasn’t. It has often felt like I’m just on the verge of achieving it. Or there are times when I think everything has aligned only to find myself at that table not able to nod along after all because everything has shifted. 

It can be a low key catch-up conversation with friends. Or it can be a parent support group at work. Talk of spouses, date night, sharing household management, children’s activities, birthday parties, and having no time at all for a book. I sit there, I listen, and I try not to get all in my own head about it but it’s a struggle. I can get stuck in my head, stuck in feeling different. It can remind me of everything that’s wrong with my life and everything I don’t have.

When I actually do have things in common with my friends, it tends to be something unusual for them. Extraordinary circumstances. I am guessing I am not the only single parent who feels a little bit rage-y when people talk about the difficulties of solo parenting for a few days when a spouse is out of town. Even when we are the same, it’s not the same. For me solo parenting is all about getting into a rhythm and following a schedule. For regular people it’s being thrown out of whack, being spread too thin, and feeling unmoored.

It’s a definite flaw, how much I dwell on that feeling of exclusion. I wish I had the ability to sit down at that table and say, “Yeah, none of that applies to me because I’m just so unique and badass.”

I think I’m inching closer to it little by little.

I don’t really want to be normal anyway, do I? My philosophy these last couple years has been to stop feeling like I have to follow a set of rules and simply do things as they come, to figure them out fresh, to stop trying to fit things neatly into a predetermined package, to not worry about meaningless little dramas.

Even in this big city full of modern and progressive people, I realize I am something of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I look like I fit in, but actually I am something else entirely. 

I kind of like being the wolf most of the time. When people discover these things about me they either find it fascinating or withdraw a little because they don’t know how to react. I’m cool with either one. I like surprising people. 

Someone asked me the other day about majoring in Biochem when I was in college and I admitted that part of the allure was the response when I told someone my major. I liked seeing the surprise in their eyes. I liked seeing them intimidated. I liked being worthy of awe.

I’ve learned before that when I catch myself in this kind of mental trap, one that only causes me grief and isn’t useful that it’s best for me to actively push past it. I have to start to stop, recognize it, and remind myself of the decision I’ve already made. 

Next time I’m going to stop and remember. “None of that applies to me because I’m so unique and badass.” After a few times it’ll start becoming second nature. And that terrible doubting part of me that so desperately wants to be just like everybody else will once again be set right.