Maybe you remember that dating and getting to know someone is new for me. My whole world can easily be seen in the eyes of trio, and there aren’t any men reflected there (for better or worse… and it is what it is).
So maybe you also know that there *has* been a man recently who has shaken me up and shown me that it’s okay to date and enjoy being out with a man who opens doors for me, who is interested in experiencing new things together, and can talk about everything and anything with warmth and kindness.
Recently, he and I were joking around, but the concept of something he said really stuck: that it can take a long time (like, a couple of years!) to find all the corners in another person and decide if it all can truly be embraced and loved.
Does everyone else know this but me?
*That* is what dating means?? That we’re setting out with the intention to find all the icky bits and the lovely bits and the hard bits and the soft bits, and to see how they all mesh with mine? And probably, to find some of my own bits inside that I didn’t realize were there too. This is a concept WAY more grasp-able at 39 than it would have been at 19.
As a visual person, I imagined a ropes course. A very long course with varying degrees of challenges. In dating, we go through this sort of together; checking to see how we enjoy each other, how we handle the tough spots, how we communicate and celebrate the successes, but also to learn about when we want to go it alone and when we want support, and how to be okay with all of that. We can see each other no matter where we both are – do we encourage or get frustrated? Do we wait for each other or is it a race?
This shift was quite profound in the way I consider dating. It relaxed me. It allowed me to see a larger picture. For him and I, it’s not a race. We *want* to experience the full course and learn as much as possible about each other. We want to see how we each deal and communicate and to see how we grow as individuals.
There’s a definite ending to the course, when we can go into the chalet and enjoy a hot bevvy and maybe a dip in a hot tub together – but we can also tap out at any time and feel richer because of our time together, and realize we know more about ourselves and the world around us than we did before.
The last time I dated in earnest, cell phones were brand new. And I was only just barely out of my teens. I now have a teen of my own. Weird.
The really weird thing is that I have to use a new paradigm. It is inappropriate for me to ‘act the role’ when I’m meeting someone new. I have balls now. I get shit done. I’ve lived, and loved, and lost and there’s not much someone can show me that’s new.
This dovetails back to my questions about why bother dating at all? What am I really getting out of it? I don’t need another person to take care of, nor do I need a man to take care of me. This has stymied me and prevented me from exerting any effort into the relationship world. Not to mention the fact that I don’t really understand what is so great about relationships anyhow. But that’s a story for another day.
Sliding over the details, I met a man. This man shakes up my world and asks me to set aside that which I thought I understood to try and consider a new perspective. He listens, and offers insight, and reflects concepts and understandings back to me. He inspires me to be real and genuine and authentic and is helping me understand that my own self-love is the first ingredient in a healthy relationship with others. He operates out of a dating paradigm that is unlike anything I’ve ever known or understood. He has a laundry list of characteristics and traits that I enjoy – I’m sure you know the ones I mean.
The thing that sets him apart from any other man I’ve ever known is his spark and zestiness combined with a wisdom and depth that I wasn’t expecting.
He says no games, and I actually think he means No Games. I can be pretty direct and open with my thoughts and feelings, but I have a hard time trusting over the long term. The part with No Games that I struggle is in the behaviours and weird emotional bits that drag me into the familiarity of push-me/pull-me.
Into me getting wrapped up into what-is-he-thinking-about-right-now?
Into me analyzing myself and every exchange we’ve had and wondering if it was the right thing to say.
Into thinking about who sent the last text or the first text and therefore who should be texting the next time.
Ugh. Like super-ugh! Who has time or energy for *that*???
So I found and adopted this New Way of Thinking of Relationships:
We are sharing life’s adventures
I am practicing acceptance and empathy
I am developing my communication skills
I am learning about trust
I am present in this moment as I lift my eyes up and take a look
This has shifted my relationship focus off of the generic him who stands before me, and lets me dive a little deeper into the real individual standing beside me. It takes away the slightly aggressive and possibly antagonistic face-to-face quality of comparing, and lets me look sideways at him to imagine him as my partner, walking beside me for this part of my journey. In a very real way, it puts me back in my own shoes as I walk.
If I am getting huffy and hurt that he’s not responding to my passive-aggressive hints, I remember that I’m learning about trust and am developing my communication skills – I have the power to change the conversation. And if I don’t like his answer, I can practice empathy and acceptance. And if I look up and see that we are no longer sharing life’s adventures – then what.the.fuck. am I doing here? And then I have more decisions to make. It’s still early days so he and I haven’t had any moments where I’m hurt and huffy and trying to force him to get a clue. I very honestly and directly tell him what I’m feeling and thinking and we go from there. He hasn’t yet told me I’m ridiculous, nor has he intimated that he doesn’t want to talk about it. It feels that he sets things aside and hangs in with me while we work through stuff – all the while asking questions, telling me stories or things from his past, making poignant comments.
Obviously, I could go on and on about him.
However – it stands to show that there ARE other ways to date. And there ARE other ways to consider what dating might mean for you – maybe it’s not acceptance, maybe it’s something else. But I believe it is through dating (and all relationships, really) that affords you the ability to learn and grow.
That is a new thought for me. And maybe that’s part of the answer to “Why bother dating at all?”
Oh, but I’m tired. I can feel it creeping up through my head, and finding space behind my eyebrows. Thick like mashed potatoes being shimmied into my sinus cavities.
I also get inexplicably hungry in the middle of the night when I’m awake. Hence, perhaps, my mashed potato thoughts.
This would occasionally happen to me while I was pregnant with any one of trio. “Hun? Are you awake? I can’t sleep. Hun?” And I’d give him a little wiggle and a push. My reasoning was that: if this baby is keeping me awake, then -since we’re both parents- it should keep us both awake. (N.B. I didn’t pass my uni logic class … oh, and I also got divorced. I’m sure that logic bears out.)
To his credit, he would sleepily rub my back, or suggest I get a snack, or offer to get me the frying pan to crack over my head.
Now, 10 years later, I lay in bed on my own. I read. I feel my tummy growling. I check for anxious thoughts. I practice breathing with intent. Sometimes I journal. Other times I make lists. Some other times I go fold laundry.
We’re both still parents, but it’s now just me up. It’s always just me.
And at this middle-of-the-night loose-thought time, I can’t help but try to learn and apply faulty logic to my previous sleeplessness. IfI had recognized that it was only *ever* me who had the potential to do something about my own sleeplessness, would I still be sleeping alone? And then, of course, extrapolate that idea outward to any of the other things I expected someone else to do for me. And by “someone else” I mean husband/partner. And by “husband/partner” I mean mind-reader.
I equated love with his ability to do for me. With his ability to know what I was feeling and thinking and then to act upon it without me saying anything.
And since I can only reflect and consider my experiences with an eye for change, I can’t begin to analyze or imagine his experiences and the ways in which he made assumptions, or had unreasonable expectations. At 4:30 in the morning, it’s strictly my navel gazing.
I have made strides in not having this mind-reading = love mentality. Communication and appropriate self expression can show love (for yourself and the person you’re talking with) because it shows you care about how you can better understand them, and how they can better understand you.
As a parent, being able to communicate to trio my expectations and my needs reduces their sense of taking responsibility for my emotions (I hope!) and allows them space to feel their own emotions.
“Li’l Miss – I need you to put on your shoes, I feel worried about being late for school.”
“Mum! I’m mad because I don’t want to wear these shoes! They’re too hard to tie up at school!”
And while we probably can’t sort out that issue while we’re late, it certainly helps me understand her perspective better, so we can address the issue underlying the behaviour.
… it’s 30 minutes later. And while I still feel like mashed potato head (and I’m trying not to get anxious about how my tomorrow -um, later today- will be affected) I think sleep will find me now. Or, maybe I have found sleep on my own, without food, back rubs, or pans to the noggin.
This is an amazing post – the discussion (and metaphor! It’s a metaphor!) about what sometimes happens in a marriage and why they go south. Great piece with an opportunity to do a little self-reflection and digging.
(And my Humanist side feels that it’s not just always he who leaves the dishes… sometimes it is she. But again- metaphor.)
It sure would have been nice had I realized how easy the baby phase was. It seemed so hard at the time! (really. i’m not whining.)
We can’t do the same things with our pre-teens and tweens as with our babies and toddlers. While we can just pick up those little ones and cart them away if their behaviour is truly heinous, dragging a 13 year old away from the arcade would be unheard of. Or we can take their little toddler hand in ours and just say “Hands are not for hitting” and then we continue on. Lesson reinforced. “Mouths are not for swearing” just doesn’t seem to reinforce the lesson as well in an 11 year old.
One similarity between the age groups is that we want their struggles to be, well, not-a-struggle. From the time they are little, we want to mitigate the tough spots, make it less of a challenge… We want math to come easy to them. We want them to just tie their shoes. Sleeping, it would be a true gift for them to self-soothe at any time. Fine motor skills (scissors! knife-and-fork rhythms! pulling apart lego!) are cause for frustration as it hinders the real goal.
In a two-parent family, there is often a code – when one parent just can’t do *any* more soothing, or cutting, or explaining number lines, the other parent is tagged in. As you can imagine (or maybe because you live it) a different approach is needed when there is no one on the ropes ready to jump in while you catch your breath (or swipe a kleenex over your frustrated tears) and help the kiddo in their struggle with renewed patience and gentle guidance.
So what’s a solo-parent to do?
Really? Well, sometimes we do it for them. Okay, maybe most of the time.*
In the middle of the struggle, this works wonderfully. Kids are able to glue their picture together now that the pesky business of snipping the image is done. French toast can be gleefully dipped in maple syrup, in perfect mum-cut squares. And I’d wager that it seems wonderful for years.
Until it’s not.
For any number of reasons, the kiddo needs to learn how to self soothe. How to use their cutlery. How to deal with frustrations. How to be sad.
By inadvertently doing for our kiddos, they’ve missed some important [albeit small-scale] lessons on handling big emotions. And until those small scale lessons become larger, we don’t even notice that there’s a problem.
My oldest, angry and frustrated that he couldn’t do something he felt he should be able to do, told me to back-off when I swooped in to try and make it right for him. “Don’t help me unless I’ve asked for it! I want to try and do it for myself. I’m not a little kid!”
Oh. Right. Well.
It was a big parenting moment for me.
And I wondered whether other parents were experiencing similar moments in their relationships with their 8-14 year olds. And guess what – they were.
So, in no particular order, some points from my experiences on how not to just swoop in and do for your older kids (and foster their capacity to do for themselves):
In the moment of struggle:
Take a breath (a breath to send clean green patience to your heart and brain and centre your love for your kiddo)
Ask before helping.
Wiggle your toes if you’re feeling triggered (sometimes it helps to climb out down out of your brain’s chatter into your grounded feet)
Describe what you see that makes you think they need help and then ask what’s up
Be a “feeling detective” with your kiddo and ask what’s next (sometimes it’s a hug, or a break, or an ice cream – but that switch can be the clean green patience they need to re-engage with the struggle)
During more calm moments:
Listen for dismissive words you use and your tone of voice
Talk about your big emotions, and talk through what you’re going to do to come back into yourself – even if it seems they aren’t listening. And even if it feels clunky and weird. It’s important.
Let kiddo screw up (safely!) and be present with them while they sort it out – but make sure you have the time and the heart space to make it happen in a non-judgmental way
Listen to their viewpoints. Respect what’s happened to bring them to this idea. Even when you disagree. They’ll figure things out.
You make mistakes (I mean, you must, right?). Be gentle with yourself, and model what you can do next.
Comment on what you see, especially related to feelings detective stuff – they can connect when they are calm and progressing vs upset and stuck
As parents, we put out the fires that are blazing in and around our kids – timelines are tight! We can’t have a kid losing his cool over a button when we’re already 6 minutes off schedule! So we just do it for him.
And as a single mum, I know that sometimes I just need peace and harmony in the house because I am too tired/sick/stressed so I ‘fix’ their issues because I can’t afford the issue to get any bigger because I’m. already. at. my. edge!
In either case, we haven’t taught our kids how to recognize the sparks of the fire and be confident they can tackle them- on their own but within the reach of support from their parent(s).
I say it’s not too late. So, to wit: It feels wiggly in my belly, and my ears are kind of getting hot. I’m worried I’ll run out of time or create a kid-who-talks-to-himself. But the more I force encourage trio to do it, means that they are doing it, and they’ll continue to do it into teenager-hood and maybe, just maybe, they’ll come to me with their big teenage emotions and mistakes and we’ll talk it out together.
And they will feel they can tackle it, on their own but within reach of support from me.
*Unless we don’t do it for them because we’re not able to – for any number of reasons we may not be present (emotionally or physically) to do for them. I still believe that doing very little and letting kiddo figure it all out is the other side to the same coin as doing very much and not letting kiddo figure out much of anything.