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?

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.

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?

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.

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.