H is for . . . Holding Place

Hello Dear Readers. And thank you for checking in. I am struggling to get this H blog written. I’ve got a lot of drafts, but nothing ready for prime time yet. So many options: hiking, honesty, help, hope, humanity, holding space, humor . . .

Nothing says lesbian dating like Hiking. And everyone is looking for someone with a great sense of Humor. Honesty plays a critical role in online dating, or at least it should.

My default love language, the one I speak in, is Helping, which causes more problems than one might think.

Hope springs eternal or I wouldn’t even be attempting this.

Oh, and Hot Flashes add an especially lovely wrinkle to dating someone new. Hormones too, at this age, get involved.

How to choose? How to choose?

I am on the Horns of a Dilemma.

Thank you for Holding Space while I Hone my options.

G is for Grace

I am a huge proponent of grace—granting it, receiving it, asking for it . . . holding someone new with an open palm, adopting a stance of curiosity and inquiry.

I used to have a silver bracelet that had Grace engraved on it—I bought it as a reminder when I was in IT support, to remind myself that not everyone was comfortable with technology and to arrive as a helper, not as a scold or know-it-all. I attempt to take the same approach as a counselor, subscribing to Carl Rogers’ approach of “unconditional positive regard.” Making no judgments, being accepting and supportive.

The bracelet got lost somewhere in the past five years, perhaps because I no longer need the reminder, the granting of grace coming more naturally now. It’s a testament to neuroplasticity—we truly can rewire the connections in our brains when we practice, when we work on getting those neurons to fire together.

My favorite beach to be washed up on

Grace is helpful, perhaps even necessary, when getting to know a new person, especially when online dating. We all arrive here, washed up on the shores of Zoosk and Match and Bumble and Tinder, refugees from a sunken ship, tossed and thrashed by the latest relationship storm. Some of us have been here a while—we’ve made our huts and gathered our coconuts, surveyed the landscape and spelled out SOS in the sand with whatever we could find. Others of us have just arrived, storm-tossed and disoriented, wondering what happened, still reeling, shaking the water from our ears and the sand from our eyes.

Getting to know another complex human being within the parameters of online dating seems nearly impossible at times. All of the intricate details of our lives distilled down to “likes” and “interests,” a few carefully curated photos, and 500 words. We are all putting ourselves out there, but not our whole selves, only the parts we’ve deemed good enough. Good enough to attract another. Good enough that we don’t scare anyone away, good enough that we manifest another good enough person.

So, when we “meet” i.e. send a heart, initiate a conversation, we do so carefully, continuing to put that best self forward, bolstering the good, diminishing the less than optimal parts of ourselves. We can’t do that forever though. At some point, we have to get real. We have to admit that of course we do actually watch television, sometimes for hours on end. We don’t always eat “clean” (whatever that means), and yes, we were athletes, hikers, bikers, kayakers, travelers at some point in our lives, but maybe that’s all been a bit ago.

We say we’ve been in therapy, that we’ve been over our ex, that we have done our work—and all that is so great. Sometimes we forget that we continue to be works in progress. Thus, grace.

Grace for the broken parts, grace for the half-truths, grace for the “I’m still figuring this part out,” grace for the ongoing relationship with the ex . . . grace for the extra weight we carry since hitting menopause. Grace for the getting to know you process. Grace for our journeys.

And then we can decide. How does this person show up?

Most importantly, do they afford me the same grace?

F is for Fear, Fantasy, and Failure

What keeps us in something longer than we know is good for us? Friends, I know so many smart, educated, brilliant women who have stayed in relationships far longer than warranted, far longer than was safe, physically, emotionally.

The reasons we stay are as varied as our individual lives, but I would posit that we stay because we are afraid to fail, terrified to admit we haven’t lived up to the cultural fantasy of what marriage and family should be.

I know that fear ruled many of my relationships, one set of fears put me there and another set kept me in them beyond the “best by” date.

I’ve found myself explaining my past a lot lately—funny how potential partners want to know what happened, really, that a gem such as myself should suddenly be single and available now (LOL, I really crack myself up).

What drove me to settle down at 23 and become a parent before I turned 30? Fear. Fantasy.

How did it come to be that I put my need to be loved above my children’s needs in my next relationship? Fear. Fantasy.

How, pray tell, does a 58-year-old still grocery shop and eat like a five-year-old with a credit card? Fear. Fantasy. Seriously.

Dates, even phone dates, have so many questions. And rightly so. We all have arrived in this same space, these boxes on the internet where we are all putting our very best hiking-boot-clad feet forward, vying for the last Fine woman out there. Trying to remember what landed us here and worrying that the others all have the exact same traumas and baggage, fearful we will miss the obvious warning signs.

We are afraid, or at least I know I am. Of one another. Of scammers. Of being alone into our dotages. Of more disappointment. Of being hurt yet again.

We believe the fantasy is possible (and we should, we have to). I desperately want to believe. We want someone to wrap ourselves around on a lazy Sunday morning. Someone to smooth our hair from our foreheads when we struggle, someone to tell us it is okay, that we are okay. That it’s going to be okay.

Humans are wired for connection. We do better in relationships than we do alone. Studies show, that just like children can best self-regulate when a parent functions as a secure base, so do adults in solid relationships. But it takes more than fantasy to create relationships that allow us to flourish. It takes a belief in ourselves as deserving.

Just another suburban soccer mom

I settled down at 23 because I was afraid my parents would never accept me if I wasn’t as “normal” (i.e. as close to heteronormative, though in 1986 that was not a thing) as possible. How better to convince them with than a wife, a nice house, a good job (well, speaking of fantasies), and a couple of kids? It worked, too, btw.

I believed the fantasy that I could live as less than authentically myself in order to fit in. And boy, I gave it a good run.

Fear drove me into my next relationship as well. Fear of so many things, but mostly fear of never finding happiness again after losing custody of my children. I was so afraid I’d miss out on their lives that I failed to notice entire bouquets of red flags. And fantasy kept me there—the fantasy that I could sublimate my needs indefinitely in order to create an illusion of success and happiness. I did that well, too.

And it wasn’t all bad. I have my girls—the reasons I kept on keeping on through it all. I had some fun. We threw some epic parties. I made terrific friends along the way—I found my people, and my people helped me find my way.

I learned I am okay exactly how I am. I was okay before the pandemic. I am emerging from it intact. If I come out of it with a partner, so be it. If I don’t, that’s okay too, because I am Fine. Better than fine. Fabulous.

E is for Expectations, Enthusiasm, and Exuberance

If there is a perfect metaphor for how I have been showing up in my online dating life, it would be Tigger. I am Tigger. Tigger is me in a new relationship: bouncy, trouncy, flouncy, pouncy. Fun, fun, fun, fun, fun!  Check out this clip of Tigger meeting the other creatures from the 100 Acre Wood for the first time.

It’s me! I show up with high expectations, unbounded enthusiasm, and what is possibly an excess of exuberance.

This approach did not work well for me in my first serious online dating relationship (hereby referred to as MFSODR) last summer. Partly because she didn’t have a good background in all things Pooh-related and could not fully appreciate my metaphor, but primarily because we had extremely opposite attachment styles. My anxiety showed up in an orange and black striped outfit, cute ears and a penchant for being noticed. The more I bounced, the more she backed away, like Rabbit into her hole.

In fact, this afternoon I had a conversation with another online dater, and our talk has me rethinking an earlier and ongoing conflict MFSODR and I had about boundaries:  She thought I had none. I couldn’t understand why she was so defended. I wore my heart on my sleeve, but I’m not sure I ever caught more than a flash of hers.

So, maybe it is too much to expect someone I hardly know to meet the Tigger in me so soon. Further conversations with women I’ve met online indicate as much.

“I think you’ll find that most women on here (the dating site), have extreme boundaries,” my new friend said after I’d explained my tendencies toward Tiggerness. “I think you’re going to find it rough going.”

But why must I dampen my newly rediscovered enthusiasm? Why should I hide my exuberance or lower my expectations? Maybe I shouldn’t.

Human beings are wired for connection. We are meant to be in relationship. Perhaps, we have taken our fear of dependence too far and have idealized those who don’t get too attached, those who seem to source internal validation effortlessly. In short, we need one another. We need intimacy, to truly show up for one another as wholly ourselves.

I spend my days counseling folks to show up as their authentic selves, to be vulnerable, to reach toward rather than turn from.

There are enough scary things out there—we shouldn’t fear showing up exuberantly for those with whom we desire closeness.

The wonderful thing about Tiggers
Is Tiggers are wonderful things
Their tops are made out of rubber
Their bottoms are made out of springs
They’re bouncy, trouncy, flouncy, pouncy
Fun, fun, fun, fun, fun
But the most wonderful thing about Tiggers
Is I’m the only one

Tiggers are cuddly fellas
Tiggers are awfully sweet
Everyone el-us is jealous
That’s why I repeat and repeat

The wonderful thing about Tiggers
Is Tiggers are marvelous chaps
They’re loaded with vim and with vigor
They love to leap in your laps
They’re jumpy, bumpy, clumpy, thumpy
Fun, fun, fun, fun, fun
But the most wonderful thing about Tiggers
Is I’m the only one
I’m the only—

Ouch…

D is for Do Overs and Deal Breakers (and perhaps a peek at Dumped)

Like any good writer, I want to rewrite everything as soon as I put it up. And so it has been with the previous three blog posts. Were I to do them again, they might look something like this:

B is for Body (we go into dating with the bod we have, not the bod we wish we had, and certainly not the 35-year-old body I had last time I dated, 22 years ago. This time it’s different!)

A is for Age (or I’m old enough to date a 70-year-old? When did that happen? Maybe 70 really is the new 50.)

C is for Compassion and Curiosity (both necessary tools for this adventure, both as lenses through which to see ourselves and those we encounter. What drives us? How difficult have our journeys been to this point?)

So, that’s part of the Do Over part of Do Overs, Deal Breakers, and Dumped. Maybe I’ll start over again with A on May 1 and see how far I get.

Onto Deal Breakers. Turns out dogs and kids weren’t deal breakers. Who knew? Last year was chock full of surprises that way. But what might a deal breaker be? Where do I draw my boundaries?

One of my aforementioned BFFs (see A is for Alcohol) has been at this far longer than I and had a few words for me at the outset: “Write down your non-negotiables up front. Know what they are and screen for them right away.” Her non-negotiables? They had to have been married before, and any potential dates have to live within 25 minutes of her house. She doesn’t want to waste time traveling, which seemed reasonable. She also suggested I screen for age.

Those parameters, applied to lesbians in this county, left me with exactly no matches. And besides, how does Has to Have Been Married work with lesbians, anyway? We couldn’t get married until 2015. And many of us were together with our partners for so long we were essentially married. So, that couldn’t be one of my deal breakers. To my BFF, never being married signaled a certain type of inflexibility. I don’t think it is the same in the lesbian world.

And granted, Second Date, she of the sexy hybrid, had lived in town for many years and weirdly, our paths had not crossed until we met on Match.com. We had maybe two people we knew in common. But otherwise, slim pickings here. So, distance could not be a factor. I dialed that option wide open: Portland, Seattle, Eastern Washington maybe.

As for age . . . well. My preferences skew north. Anyone who knows me knows that. I am technically a Baby Boomer (I should probably say that quietly these days), albeit a boomer with no pension who may not ever see a social security check or Medicare coverage, so sit down millennials. I just was born about ten years too late. I spent my early relationship with a woman 12 years my senior and became very comfortable with her friends who were even older. It’s my comfort zone, and I find myself attracted to older women. I’ve decided to lean into it.

Life is just too damn short for arbitrary lines in the sand. We can’t protect ourselves from heartbreak and search for love at the same time. We can’t. The two are mutually exclusive.

So what IS a non-negotiable for me? Addiction. Sedentary lifestyle. Lack of self-awareness. Inflexibility. An inability to turn toward the other with kindness. The Gottmans have a great article on the need to turn toward our intimate partners, to move to rather than away from. The ability to make connection with our partners/spouses helps love last.

I got dumped rather unexpectedly and unceremoniously in January. It hurt. I recovered. Life goes on. Love will return. If we let it.

C is for Certainty. And Choice

Things of which I was certain prior to embarking on this dating adventure: 

Absolutely no pets. I swiped left (or whatever direction meant No Thank You) on so many lesbians with dogs. Do you have any idea how limiting is was to be dog unfriendly? Lesbians and dogs are like macaroni and cheese or peanut butter and jelly. And then I fell for a woman with a dog.

I was also certain that children under 25 were a definite No. If they’re launched by 25, chances are they won’t boomerang back to the basement. But like with the dogs, I wasn’t really up for the maintenance–the walking, the feeding, the cleaning up after. The responsibility. Been there. Done that. But then I fell for someone who had a kid (sort of).

How can you not love that face?

And then there was the whole coffee thing. I declared to anyone who inquired that I had two very good reasons for not wanting to be in a relationship: “I am 100% not interested in learning how to make someone else’s coffee.“ At this time. (Sorry, can’t tell you the other reason on a public blog).

The only certainty is change, Dear Ones.

It’s something of a mantra for me. Change and choice. If we can’t or are unwilling to change or if we forget that it is okay to make a change, we risk missing out on so much.

If we constantly brace for change, fear it, work to avoid it, all of our energy goes into staying the same. We can’t learn or grow. Our windows of tolerance for new experiences shrink rather than expand.

How do we learn that we have to stick with a choice? Who taught us that we can’t try a new direction if our current course isn’t working for us?

Like many of our ineffective adult behaviors, this one also likely began in childhood. Can you hear it Dear Reader? Can you hear your parents telling you “you signed up to play the tuba, sweetie. You have to give it a chance”? “You can’t stay home sick today, the team is depending on you. Suck it up and show up.” “You said you’d go to the dance with Johnny. You can’t back out now.”

We learn in childhood to distrust our own guts and go along to get along. Sometimes disagreeing can be dangerous. So we learn to put our own feelings aside to make others more comfortable. And, once we recognize that we do it, we can in fact make a choice to change.

We have such power in choice, when we slow down to recognize that we can choose our responses or our paths. I could have bailed upon learning about the dog or the kid or the kid’s sister. Turns out I chose to check it out, to turn toward those things instead of away. I loved the dog (and I know he loved me), and the kids were pretty great too.

I learned to make her coffee. In fact, I still have a bag of medium roast in the freezer.

Me? I like it dark. Of that, I am certain.

B is for Broken Toes,Busted Fingers, and Bad Signs

Two weeks before I got onto the online dating site, I broke my big toe on my left foot in an unfortunate accident with a freakishly heavy vase. Long story short, the vase is still intact while my toe was smashed like a cherry tomato hit by a falling brick.

As I contemplated dipping my toes into online dating, I wasn’t even sure I should be getting my broken big toe wet at all, let alone taking it kayaking (see A is for Alcohol), and so I swaddled it carefully in gauze and waterproof bandages. I am sure I mentioned it to my prospective date, but she didn’t seem terribly concerned. Possibly a bad sign.

Poor toe

My second date and I bonded a little over broken toes before we met in person, and that felt better. A little empathy goes a long way toward drawing people in. And by the time we put our paddles in the water together, my toe had recovered a bit more, and the salt water felt good on my flattened digit.

And that date went well. We set out on a Sunday afternoon in rough waters, and I wasn’t sure my little tub of a kayak was up for it, but the winds died down as the afternoon wore on.  We had a slight breeze at our backs as we rowed in unison, marveling at the seals dotting the shoreline and oohing over the enormous schools of tiny silver fish. The Indigo Girls should have been singing Power of Two in the background. It was that perfect.

We meandered our way back to the boat launch, sharing stories, stopping at a beach for a cider and some snacks. Once we landed, she left her rental kayak on the beach to be picked up, and I schlepped my boat up the ramp to my Jeep.

(I should mention here that exactly a week before, I had purchased a new Jeep, similar to my old Jeep but different enough that I was still figuring a few things out)

As she tended to her rental paperwork, I contemplated how to best get my kayak into the back of the Jeep: open the back door or just lift the boat over it? I opted for the latter but lost my grip, sending the kayak skidding to the gravel, and taking my right index finger with it, trapped as it was in the lip of the cockpit. I can’t remember ever feeling a twang like that. It reverberated all the way up my arm.

I mean, my finger didn’t fall off, but dammit, that hurt. I ignored the pain in my finger long enough to recover the kayak and wrestle it back into the Jeep. I wanted to cry, but instead I jammed my fist under my left armpit and said goodbye to my date. We agreed we’d like to see one another again.

Poor finger

As I watched her drive away in her sexy little hybrid, I opened my fist to examine the damage.

Well, I thought, that can’t be a good sign.

A is for Alcohol (cider, actually)

Like all good adventures, this one begins with alcohol.

Last March, I hunkered down with everyone else, eschewing human contact, living hand to mouth surviving on the contents of my pantry (decades old rice cakes, expired cream of mushroom soup, rancid-ish rice, freezer burned chicken, ancient frozen fish). That was all fine, but when I ran out of cider, that was a bridge too far.

What to do? Naturally, I started ordering elderberry cider by the case from Lost Giants Cider Co. At first I told myself it was to keep them from going out of business. They had to survive the pandemic, I reasoned. One day we’d again sit inside and mingle with other cider lovers. And for a couple of months, that too, was good enough company for me. A can of cider, a jigsaw puzzle. Eventually I dragged out the old Wii. I spent those first weeks  Zooming with friends, watching a lot of Netflix, writing. I could do this, I thought, sipping my cider and ordering another puzzle from Amazon. It’s not so bad. A few weeks of staying home and it’ll all be fine.

But by the time July rolled around and we were STILL stuck at home, I had grown tired of sitting on my front porch and waving at the neighbors for fun. I needed more. So, though I initially felt jilted and abandoned when my two (straight female) BFFs started online dating, after a couple of ciders and some peeking at a couple of dating sites, I joined them. Why not? I hadn’t dated in 20 years, but I had met my ex-wife in one of the very first online dating sites back in 1999 or 2000. That wasn’t all bad. Said the fifth case of elderberry cider.

By mid-July, I’d started corresponding with a likely candidate. She seemed intelligent and intriguing in all the right ways. We agreed on an appropriately socially-distanced kayaking first date. Always the prepared boy scout, I packed a mini-lunch to share: 2 ciders, some almonds, some string cheese, dried mango.

I knew my first date was doomed when she refused my offer of a cider after our paddle. We did not paddle again. My second (different) date, however, welcomed my cider offer midway through our paddle a couple of weeks later. After that auspicious beginning, we dated long enough to enjoy many ciders together, discovering an affinity for peppered ciders, jalapeno pineapple, habanero pineapple. We kicked it up to spicy town. For six months.

That’s more than my two BFFs can say. They’re still wading through sites full of pictures of half-naked men wielding fish as if that’s what attracts women . . .

The A-to-Z Challenge, a brief introduction. And a theme: My Adventures in Online Dating During a Global Pandemic, from Alcohol to Zoom.

Welcome Back! We’re just in time for the A-to-Z Challenge. It’s been a few years since I’ve participated in this adventure, but I’m up for it, I think.

This year, as odd as it has been, deserves some special treatment, so I’ve decided to go with a theme: Adventures in Online Dating During a Global Pandemic, from Alcohol to Zoom.

Buckle up buttercups. Let’s see what I’ve learned.