Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Dating Over 40 (aka The Misadventures of Mating)

I am way too old for this. Just like they should have another word for "boyfriend" once you reach the age of 30, they should have another word for "dating" when you hit 40+. I suggest something like "midlife catastrophic event" or "self-inflicted, self-esteem buster." Ya know, something catchy like that.

Let me preface this blog by saying that I am aware that there are bigger problems out there. The thing is, that's not what my blog is about. I'm not intelligent enough to smartly debate the real world issues, like gay marriage or global warming or the political repercussions of Ashley Judd running for U.S. Senate (spoiler alert! She isn't.) If you want that, I can steer you to some of my super-smart friends - just message me.

No, this blog post is to air my mid-life dating woes. It's peeking over the fence and wondering how green the grass would be if I would have been in my 18th year of marriage, raising kids and trying to find time to go out together and fighting over the bedcovers or the TV remote or something dealbreaking like that. It's constantly lamenting what could have been, and wondering what's wrong with me that I am seemingly in the minority of my mid-40 year old friends who have settled into their lives that I outwardly crave but am inwardly terrified of.

Marriage, by definition, is work. Dating, by definition, is drudgery. How people find their soulmates in their 20's, when they are still evolving into adults, is beyond me. Fast forward 20 some years and the odds of finding that better half decrease significantly, with obstacles like exes, kids, betrayal, miscommunications and other negative baggage. The hope has dwindled. The sparkle is gone. Yes, Debbie Downer is reporting for duty.

I'm not even sure how to date anymore. I'm not sure how to meet anyone who could possibly have the basic criteria I'm looking for. Cute guy in the grocery store? Could be married. Could be gay. Could be in a relationship. Could be in his 20s. Could be a psychopath. And let's not forget that I usually go to the grocery store in sweats and no makeup. Same scenario for the gym, only both of us most likely smell. Bad. I'm not one to strike up a conversation, and honestly I'd be ridiculously defensive of any guy who struck up a conversation with me. What does he want? Why is he talking to me? Do I have something in my teeth?  I become The Elephant Man. Go away!!!! Don't look at me!!!

Blind dates, whether truly blind or through some dating site that gives you this twisted impression of what they're really like, are akin to diving off a bridge and hoping to God there's not a log that you're going to hit on impact and be paralyzed for the rest of your life. Those gems of relationships usually start up with some witty banter via email or text, followed by some plan to meet somewhere (in public, preferably during the day.) I can tell within 10 seconds whether I want to leave or stay. Unfortunately, so can he, probably. And if the verdict is the former, we're usually both stuck in some uncomfortable, fake-smile scenario that lasts until one of us cracks and says they have to be somewhere.

I've learned a few things about myself since I've been dating. Well, some of them I knew but I guess I was hoping no one would notice. Other characteristics have been blatantly conveyed to me as a reason why they don't want to see me again. Others just stop calling. Funny part is, I'm not interested in ANY of them. Funny part is, it makes me feel even worse when I can't even get someone to like me whom I don't even particularly like in the first place.

So, here's apparently what's wrong with me:
1) I'm intimidating
2) I'm snobby
3) I'm too serious
4) I'm too mature
5) I'm unreadable

The thing is, none of those are necessarily untrue, except for the second one. I don't think I'm snobby. I abhor snobby. I don't try to be intimidating, but I know I come off that way.  My seriousness is sometimes misinterpreted because I have a dry sense of humor (which must lead into #5.) And if I'm too mature, I'm not apologizing, unless they mean "senior citizen" mature. But at age 46, I'm thinking "mature" kind of comes with the territory.

So I'm going to work on lightening up a bit. Trying to be a little more approachable, down to earth, less serious, a little immature and a little easier to read. But in return, here's what I want my potential suitors to do:

1) Don't yawn on a date. (If you're trying to give me a clue, I'll take it. If you're not, I'll think you're just being rude. Either way, I'm out.)

2) Don't belch loudly on a date. (Same rationale as #1.)

3) Keep the cursing to a minimum until I know you better. (I can rip the bad words like a sailor, but I don't do it in a job interview. Think about it.)

4) Keep the dirty jokes to a minimum until I know you better. (I can be raunchy when I get to know you, I'm not going to lie. But you don't know that yet, so try to be a freakin' gentleman.)

5) Keep the sexual innuendos to a minimum (think NONE) until I know you better. (Just because I text you "so I'll meet you in the bar?" does not mean you respond with "Sure! Wanna role play?" Because I don't. And that creeps me out, even if you're kidding. So just don't. You're trying to make an impression here, too.)

These are the basics. There are more, which is probably why I'm still single. Don't be emotionally void. Don't be too emotional. Don't be a macho man. Don't be a sissy.  Don't be overbearing. Don't be too absent. Don't be controlling. Don't be a pushover. Don't be a comedian. Don't be too serious. Don't be stupid. Don't be pretentious.

Sigh. Someone once told me I'd meet the man of my dreams when I hit him with my car. That would be my luck. I'm convinced it will be movie-worthy - a tale to tell our friends at parties years later - the incredible story of how we met. Right now, I'll have to be content with regaling friends with my dating horror stories and hoping there's someone right around the corner waiting for someone Just. Like. Me.

Friday, March 15, 2013

What kids want from their moms (you'd be surprised)

A lengthy yet interesting blog was placed in my path this past week that of course begat this one. Lately I've felt less than inspired to write, and I told myself long ago that I would only blog when I had the urge, lest it become a drudgery not unlike folding socks or doing my weekly work time sheets.

The blog was entitled "What a 'Hands Free' Summer Looks Like" by Rachel Macy Stafford. I'm giving it credit because it was the source of my inspiration so go read it when you have time. But it was something else within that blog that moved me - a link to a list of "The Top 10 Things Kids Want From Parents" by Erin Kurt, a sixteen-year teaching veteran who has been asking her class of students each year the same question: "What did your mother or guardian do for or with you that made you feel happy or loved?"

The answers blew me away. Not that I didn't wish for these answers; but in these mid to latter stages of my jaded motherhood experience, I guess I've just lost that hope that it would be anything, well, REAL. And it was just what I needed to read in some of the darkest days of parenting I've experienced to date.

The suspense is killing you, right? OK. Here's the list. Read it through, wipe away your tears, then we'll discuss:

Top ten things students around the world said they remembered and loved most about their mothers:
1. Come into my bedroom at night, tuck me in and sing me a song. Also tell me stories about when you were little.
2. Give me hugs and kisses and sit and talk with me privately.
3. Spend quality time just with me, not with my brothers and sisters around.
4. Give me nutritious food so I can grow up healthy.
5. At dinner talk about what we could do together on the weekend.
6. At night talk to me about about anything; love, school, family etc.
7. Let me play outside a lot.
8. Cuddle under a blanket and watch our favorite TV show together.
9. Discipline me. It makes me feel like you care.
10. Leave special messages in my desk or lunch bag.

Awesome, right? Almost unbelievable? Of course, me being the Nellie Negative that I am I'm thinking, "What are the ages of these kids? Are they toddlers? Elementary school age? They couldn't possibly be high schoolers." I've researched it and can't seem to find the answer. Regardless, this list makes me happy. Why? Because I DO ALL THESE THINGS. Well, except singing a song. I don't do that. And the notes. I used to. But neither of my boys wants special messages in their lunch bags anymore. They told me this specifically. I'm cramping their style with their peeps. I get it.

But overall, if this is truly what they remember, I got it covered. BAM. I'm solid. But I kind of wish I would have figured this out sooner, so I could have done it more. Instead of making sure the house was so picked up. Instead of spending so much time trying to figure out what to have for dinner because we've already rotated the three things they WILL eat, only to prepare it and have them ask for mac and cheese. Again. Instead feeling as if I had to always be taking them places like out to dinner or  ice skating or a hockey game or a children's museum. I made all of these "special" outings so commonplace that I've backed myself into a corner now as to what "special" is.

So here's what I did. I took my kids out to dinner (special occasion = Friday night and Mom is tired) and, in carefully measured words, asked them to do me a solid and write down five things they remember about me that makes them happy. OK, I lie. I felt self-serving asking them to write down five things about ME - like I was jonesing for compliments - so I said "your childhood", secretly hoping at least one of them would involve me. I know it's not exactly the same question but at ages 11 and 15, I figured I'd be lucky to get anything out of them.

So, on a ripped up Chinese takeout menu, here's what I got. Best memories from my 11 year old:

1. Playing football (My note: when we first moved here and he didn't know anyone, we threw the football up at the park or in the backyard almost every night. I perfected my spiral.)

2.  Going to Disneyworld (My note: An expected response. His dad and I took both of the boys after we were divorced because neither of us wanted to miss out on the experience with them. Weirdest thing I've ever done, but tons of fun for them.)

3. Playing Go Fish (My note: This is our new thing. We usually play three games a night and he totally owns me every time.)

4. When we got a trampoline. (My note: This WAS cool. They were stoked and insisted I get on it with them.)

5. Having a mother who loves me. (My note: Is this a set-up? Did he run out of answers and put this? Or is this for real? I think his hamburger arrived shortly after he wrote this, so maybe he was in a rush to finish up. But it makes me happy.)

And from the 15 year old:

1. When mom was pregnant, I was at grandma's and wanted to go home and I called Dad and he took me home and my bed was directly to the left of the door with the plaid sheets. (My note: The kid has an amazing memory. And no, I won't mention that he fails to mention meeting his new brother that same day.)

2. Max and Irma's (My note: This was from when we lived in Chicago when he was two to three years old. They had an ice cream station in an old bathtub and a grape drink with gummy worms sticking out of it.)

3. My 11th birthday when I ate a whole pizza and mom was surprised I knew who the Dead Kennedys were. (My note: I am sad to say that I do vaguely remember being impressed he knew who the Dead Kennedys were.)

4. When I saw Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones with my dad. (My note: Sigh.)

5. Rivermen games with my dad. (My note: Double sigh.)

OK. So the oldest has always been Daddy's boy, and I wasn't Mom-specific, so I guess I got what I asked for. At least they're good memories, right? Not exactly the "you rubbed my back and read me stories when I couldn't sleep" or "gave me a Tupperware container of green beans instead of a Twinkie because you didn't want me to be hyper in 4th hour," but I'll take it.

The best thing about this little exercises is that it was the appetizer for one of the most pleasant dinners we've had in a long time. These memories instigated more, from talking about the time my younger son tried to make bubble art at a class at Lakeview Museum and inhaled the bubbles and we had to leave, to the times when my oldest and our entire cul-de-sac would have nightly baseball games led by one of the parents while I sat on our porch rocking my newborn son. I got to ask some questions about some transitions they had had to make in their lives and what they truly thought about them, and was once again amazed at the resilience and "look on the bright side" attitude of my kids.

I don't know if the stars were aligned or God was on my side or if I just plain lucked out, but I felt truly blessed and happy to have had this moment in time with my boys, when togetherness like this is very few and far between. I'm glad I read and was inspired by that blog. And I encourage parents out there - especially parents of older kids who are in those stages where Mom is kind of "forgotten" - to ask them some of these questions. You may be pleasantly surprised at their answers.