K is for Keeping On (and Kayaking, of course)

The sun is shining and the days are getting warmer. We may be about to emerge from our cocoons, and I’m reminded of last spring at this time when the world seemed like such a scary place. I stopped going to my office. I stopped going running because the trail suddenly filled with scads of people who were no longer going to work. Two of my best friends were trapped in Vermont, one was in the hospital. I met with clients all day on Zoom and then in the evenings, bewildered and disoriented, joined friends for virtual happy hours. Gone were side conversations and incidental run-ins with acquaintances.

I renewed my relationships with my neighbors, slowly, over the weeks as we dared to leave our homes, stunned, frantic, scared.

At Baker Lake last summer

Eventually, I felt safe enough to go mountain biking, joined similarly isolated friends in outdoor meals, taking advantage of the improving weather and longer days. We gathered, carefully distanced, on decks, in yards, at the parks, still stunned, still disoriented. I spent hours plucking dandelions from my front yard and grooming my aging and cantankerous cat, Mittens, ducking back indoors to see clients on Zoom, urging them to not panic, assuring them they wouldn’t be trapped back home with mom and dad for too much longer. What did I know then? What did any of us know?

Baker Lake, Summer 2017

We knew we had to keep on. I kept on by throwing my hat in the online dating pool. I kept on by doing jigsaw puzzles and by hauling out the old Wii Fit. I went kayaking. I’ve already written here about how kayaking seemed a reasonable and safe first date in a plague. I watched ducklings from my kayak, monitored the lily pads’ blooming, spied on the great blue heron, and the parade of goslings. Kayaked at midnight to see the bioluminescence and did it again the next night and again a week later. Sat on the water in our kayaks and talked for hours with new friends and old.

I want to return to that feeling—the satisfaction of meeting someone new, of making a connection, of being in my boat, on the water, in my own skin, keeping on. In the face of a pandemic. In the face of a return to whatever normal will look like, in the face of a future that only unrolls a moment at a time.

So, I keep on. Working from home. Dating. Kayaking. Looking for The One. Making the most of the lessons I learn along the way.

What keeps you keeping on, Dear Reader?

J is for Jeep

I drive a Jeep, not a Subaru. I put that in one of my dating profiles—I think it says something about my sense of humor, my personality, my interests, my activity level. My straight friends didn’t really understand it, but I guess that’s to be expected. Lesbians drive Subarus, apparently. I do not know why. I also have a personal belief that professors drive Subarus, particularly Foresters. It’s just a belief.

Anyway, I digress. I traded my old Jeep in a week before I went on my second online date last summer. For the first date, I had my old black Jeep Wrangler, four doors, heated seats, remote start, electric door locks. Basic stuff. I could fit my kayak in the back, no problem.

But then my old Jeep died—it needed several thousand dollars’ worth of work, so I opted to trade it in. For my second date, I drove the new Jeep. Two doors, Bikini (that’s the color, a metallic teal green), no remote start, no automatic windows, no seat heaters, no automatic door locks, but I do love it. I have to take the top off to get the kayak in there, but so far, it’s totally worth it (I tell myself).  Even when the bicycle rack makes getting in the back of it impossible. I can put up with a lot.

Our modes of transport say something about us.  I’ve started getting to know one woman who drives a Prius. My first date had a Highlander, I think. That screams practical to me—conservative. A little boring. The woman I dated for six months had a slightly sexier hybrid hatchback. Sporty and practical. I met another woman who drives a Prius—I haven’t gotten to know her well enough to know how it reflects her really and talked a while with someone who has a Kia (ditto).

It’s interesting what people project onto our car choices. I have judgments about Prius drivers—practical, environmentally oriented, frugal, cautious. Usually, a car reflects something about its owner. I think the Jeep suits me—it accommodates my toys, reflects my spirit, mirrors my ambivalence about costs, and certainly says something about my impulsivity. One friend could not understand how I could have possibly bought a new car without doing a week’s worth of research. I decided in a moment. It could have been the color, the decal on the hood, the shape. Definitely the shape.

I think I have a large capacity to adapt, so practicality doesn’t always rise to the top as a priority for me. That seems to apply to both my vehicle choices and my penchant for falling for women who aren’t always a perfect fit. Consider my straight friend’s non-negotiables mentioned in a previous blog: has to live within 25 minutes, must have been married once before, must be within a certain age range. I can’t work within those parameters. Not only do those constrictions leave me with about three options to choose from, they don’t allow for spontaneity or chemistry.

My Jeep and I have chemistry. I adore my Jeep. It makes room for my messes, my things. So many things. Yes, locking the doors manually is a pain in the ass, but it’s totally worth it. We understand each other. If I manage to find a woman whom I adore, I think I can overlook distance or age or quirks that might make me crazy. I do believe previous long-term relationships are important—at least one that lasted a decade or more. But that seems reasonable enough, like expecting the Jeep to have four wheels, even if I have to crank the windows down the old-fashioned way.

I is for Intimacy in Isolation

Some days online dating feels impossible. It’s strange enough, perusing potential partners like so many shiny toys in the Sears catalog. These days, I feel estranged from even myself after 14 months in relative isolation. How can I possibly bring my full person to a relationship if I feel like I’m losing my grasp on who I am?

As humans we rely on others to mirror ourselves back to us. Those smiles from the barista, the attention from the grocery clerk, the smiles and nods from casual acquaintances that we used to get throughout the course of our days all serve to remind us that we are okay, that we are seen, valued, known, important.

We are not getting much mirroring these days. Even now, as we are out and about more, we still have masks. We can’t see smiles or subtle shifts in expression. For those who live alone (like me), we have limited reflections. Those who live with their partners or families probably feel trapped in the same recurring roles—parent, spouse, cook, caretaker, a Zoom square in a field of Zoom squares.

Granted, I have not been as isolated as some—I spent the first five months of the pandemic alone at home with only a couple of others “in my pod.” And, two of my best friends were trapped on the east coast until June, while several friends of a certain age understandably pulled far inside their shells, shutting out most of the world, and many still remain there, unsure what the vaccines mean in the long run.

Once I started dating in July, I kept it appropriately socially distanced—kayaking, getting together outdoors—for a while. But when I started seeing someone seriously, we didn’t stay isolated from one another for long. We both worked at home, alone and felt safe enough to be close. By August I had reached the limits of my tolerance for isolation. I needed hugs and touch, kisses and hand holding. Someone to embrace in the morning. That intimacy certainly made a difference. For a bit.

Don’t rely on a broken mirror for an accurate reflection

But the isolation had taken a toll, and it definitely made dating weird. I’d not dated in 20 years, and here I found myself meeting virtual strangers and relying on them for mirroring. After years of circulating comfortably amongst a wide circle of people, suddenly, I was primarily with one person who didn’t really know me or my world fully. 

No longer could I get the reliable feedback I’d come to rely on from my people—my primary mirror became someone who I’d known only a few weeks. In The Before Times, I would have had both the familiar old as well the new reflections. In The Before Times, my people would have gotten to know the woman I was dating as well and could have given me informed feedback. I may not have lost myself as I did. I may not have relied so heavily on a broken mirror.

A good friend often reminds me that we can’t know what we don’t know. Once we know better, we can do better. As I continue to forge new relationships out of the thin ether that is the internet, I must remember that I am known and loved by many, even if we’ve not seen much of each other this past year. I must remember that the reflections I get back may not be completely accurate. I must not lose myself in my quest for intimacy during isolation.

H is for Hard Lessons

Wow. I had a very challenging few days trying to figure out what I wanted H to be about. There are so many great and fitting H words: Honesty seems like the obvious choice, but there were so many more. I couldn’t quite bring myself to a place of full vulnerability for what I wanted to say about Helping. I learned a very difficult lesson this year about my penchant for wanting to help. And yet, I am a helper. I have always been. Anxious attachment. Need to be needed. All that is true. So, honesty. I always tell my clients that vulnerability is attractive. Perhaps I’m right?

Here are a few of my H lessons.

H is for Help. Helping is my love language. Not everyone enjoys being helped. I did not know this.

H is for Hiking. Apparently, all lesbians on dating sites love to hike. This feels daunting. One woman I met online and had a few lengthy phone conversations with admitted to being a Bad Lesbian because she did not enjoy hiking. I liked her.

H is for Humor. Apparently, all lesbians on dating sites would prefer a mate with a good sense of humor. Not everyone appreciates my sense of humor. When someone is struggling with a jar lid or anything really, I generally say “Need a butch?” My ex-wife laughed and laughed at this. Most people do. Not everyone though, I’ve learned. Huh.

H is for Dueling Hot Flashes. Two post-menopausal women. One bed. Lotsa heat. Just sayin’. And not always the good kind.

H is for Hunger. I have a hunger. Everyone else on the dating sites does too. We disguise our need with carefully curated photos. We thumb through our digital collection, stopping only on the pics where we have no wrinkles, we’re doing that activity we said we loved, we’re at the beach or on the mountain. No one is just on the sofa with Netflix on the tv and a can of Bud by their recliner. But a lot of us are there or somewhere equivalent. Especially this year. We hunger for connection. We are ravenous. Insatiable.

H is also for Hope and Heart and Home. I try to remember that it’s not good to be hungry at the grocery store. Not to be crude, but it’s a good metaphor. Right? Hear me out (that’s another fantastic H word: Heard. Being heard is so important, as is Hearing). I have to remind myself that I need to go in already satisfied with what I have. I must be clear on who I am, what’s in my heart. I am already home . I am enough. My heart is full.

And yet . . . I remain hopeful.

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.

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…