Coffee With An Ex

31581048030_dc0a4e0f4e***Check me out over at The Washington Post. I wrote an essay about a day when I was a super grown-up.***

I was once told that I was the reason that stepmothers get such a bad rap in Disney movies. My crime? I’d written an essay about my complicated relationship with a divorced father of three, and in it I’d admitted to the occasional bout of jealousy in the beginning of our relationship. I wrote that sometimes, I couldn’t help but feel a little left out of the things I wasn’t allowed to participate in yet: vacations, the kids’ sports games, birthday dinners.

In the comments section, one reader said that if jealousy was a problem for me, then I was responsible for all the bad PR stepmothers get. Then she used some very colorful language to tell me to grow up.

I was just trying to be honest: As someone in her mid-30s who never planned on having kids, being the girlfriend of an older man with three teenagers is a challenging place to be. And in the beginning, it could be a lonely place.

Then last month — three years into our relationship — my boyfriend Kevin received a text from his ex-wife: I’d like to have coffee with Dani.

Oh what I wouldn’t give for the days when I felt left out.

Click here to find out what happens at coffee.

photo credit: CJS*64 7am via photopin (license)

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10 Things to Know About Dating a Divorced Dad

A photo by Danielle MacInnes. unsplash.com/photos/1DkWWN1dr-s

*This was originally published on Scary Mommy.

My relationship with a divorced father of three has been one of the most grueling, maddening, fulfilling, self-revealing things I’ve ever done, and it has taken me a ton of wrong moves and bad fights to find my way. Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way:

  • It’s not personal. Despite wanting to smack someone whenever this is said to me, the fact is that it’s true. His kids dislike you only as a concept, not as a person — they’re just looking for that same safety and stability we all are, and you just happen to be the embodiment of all that threatens that.
  • It’s not personal except when it is. While it’s true that his kids wouldn’t like anyone with their father, it isn’t anyone — it’s you. You’re the one who’s there, feeling resented, in the way, and often pushed to the margins of his life. You’re entitled to your feelings about that, and you get some space to make it about you too. Because some of it is.

Continue reading

If I Knew Then.

{A rerun:}

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God, let me think clearly and brightly; let me live, love, and say it well in good sentences.  -Sylvia Plath

I’ve recently found myself pining for my misspent youth—dreaming about those carefree days that were wide open, when everything was still possible. When my skin was smooth and not puckered. When i was just an innocent little flower about to bloom.

And then I remembered what a total moron I was, and it made me feel a lot better about being old. It also made me think of all the things I wish I’d known back then, the things that can really only be learned the hard way.

So here are the things I’d say to all of my younger selves—the things that I will probably be learning and re-learning for the rest of my life:

  • There is very little that can’t be made better by a freshly made bed with sheets just out of the dryer.
  • You have so much time. Don’t rush to choose a job or a man or any final destination. You don’t have to have it all figured out yet.
  • There’s so little time. Stop wasting it trying to be perfect and just try to be better. Perfectionism is just a search for reasons to hate yourself. Being better is so much more possible—and interesting.

Continue reading

Jump In, The Water’s Warm: My Relationship with Social Media

photo-1425116100155-1ac0797442e1When social media first came around, I did not jump to join the masses. I preferred to be invisible. My life, as the cliche goes, had taken some bad turns and there was nothing about it that I wanted memorialized in photographs, much less posted for the world to see. I didn’t believe I had anything worth showing and so, I stayed as far off the grid as I possibly could.

When I was 23 I left my hometown, and in 12 years went back once, for half a day. I kept in touch with one person, who would occasionally tell me that someone had messaged her on Facebook to find me. Another friend reached out to my sister to ask her where I was. I would get the messages and let them go unanswered.

Truman Capote wrote of grief in In Cold Blood—he said that it draws a circle around you which separates you from anything outside of it. That’s what fear did to me in my 20s, and I disappeared into that circle. I didn’t want to be seen and so, I made sure I wasn’t. Continue reading

Marking Time With Mumford

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“And indeed there would be time.” -Mumford & Sons

Monday was the summer solstice—the longest day of the year. When all of summer is right there opening up in front of you.

Time has been on my mind.

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My boyfriend and I went to a Mumford & Sons concert last week and it was a great night. I took the day off from work, we went out to Queens early and had dinner at Shake Shack (my world will never again be the same).

Actually, when I think about it, the night was kind of perfect.

Critics have been pretty brutal to Mumford, claiming that their music is filled with too much earnestness, too much yearning. And I can appreciate that point. But even still, I say screw the critics—I love them, yearning and all–and I love their collaboration with Senegalese star Baaba Maal “There Will Be Time.” I heard it for the first time at the concert, and I’ve played it over and over again since then (an unfortunate habit that I have).

But I started noticing something–a sadness I felt every time I heard the song, which was understandably confusing given what a great night it was. (The question of why I’d continue to play a song that was making me sad is for another day. More issues than Newsweek—that’s me.) It took me all weekend and through Monday to figure it out. I was driving home from work listening to the song and as I approached my street, I found myself not yet ready to make the turn home, so I just kept driving.

Longest day of the year. Soft yellow light and warm air. An early summer evening that might have felt vast and limitless years ago, but didn’t on Monday. It felt small and already gone.

And then I remembered this feeling from the night of the concert—this almost not-even-there feeling, like water splashed on my face: I could feel it all slipping away even as it was happening. I was aware of how long I’d been looking forward to the concert and how short each song was and how soon the night would be over, and I wanted to be there—really be there and nowhere else. I wanted to crawl inside the music and never come out.

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Or maybe this. Maybe it wasn’t an attempt at being present but a wish that it would last forever. Maybe I was just getting greedy. Maybe it all felt like it was slipping away because I was trying to hold onto something in flight, because I wanted more than my fair share of pleasure. Maybe I was just so scared of the night ending that that’s all it did from the start.

Or maybe the concert served as a marker for me–a measurement of time. It was at a Mumford concert in Coney Island almost exactly a year ago that I realized that for the first time in my life, I’d actually fallen for someone. He was meeting us there, and I kept turning back to look for him, and when I finally saw him pushing his way through the crowd to get to me–as soon as I saw him, I knew: I was totally screwed. “Oh for god’s sake,” I thought to myself. I’d worked so hard for so long not to let anyone in. “Well, I guess I’m in it now.” At the end of the night we immediately started talking about going to see them again when they came back to town.

And then, between the two concerts, we struggled.  We have just been through a really rough time, and it nearly broke us, and the concert last weekend was one of the first fun things we’ve done since coming out of it. So I guess it makes sense that there’d be a residual sadness, even from a really great night. It was hard not to think about everything that had happened in the past year–everything we didn’t yet know as we made those plans–about the things that would happen that would mark us as different people. About the narrow margin by which we actually made it to the concert together. We made plans as if they were guarantees. 

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About halfway through the concert, Marcus Mumford jumped off the stage and started making his way through the fans (obviously looking for me). He walked through the crowd on the floor and went so far back into the stands that for a time he disappeared from view. And before we actually saw him again, a cloud of particularly fervent screams began approaching–he was coming back toward the stage. I still couldn’t see him so my boyfriend picked me up to get a better look–and, of course to get a picture. And I did. I got my picture.mumford2Oh I couldn’t actually see him–it was all a dark blur through the screen of my phone, so I just kept taking pictures in the general direction of the moving mass of particularly loud noise. I examined the pictures later and realized that in fact, there he’d been. But I was so busy trying to secure proof of the moment, that I had missed it. I didn’t want the experience as much as the memory of the thing–a copy of a copy rather than the original. And I felt that right away. It was a sadness that took 3 days for me to understand.

I’m not worried too much though–I’ve already decided to see them again next year. And what could possibly get in the way of those plans?

photo credit: Highlands’ Evenings via photopin (license)

12 Life Lessons I’ve Learned from Social Media

22648728215_8e8056a225Here’s an old post for my new friends. I wrote this in December, when I had only been on social media for a few months. I was overwhelmed and confused and scared for humanity. I’m still all those things, but not quite as much. Progress, right?

So here it is–the list of wisdoms I’ve gleaned from social media:

1. I had no idea how much I missed a couple of people from my past until I re-connected with them.

2. The most delicious of all the features across all platforms: you can be friends with someone without following them. Just because you’re my friend doesn’t mean I want to see or hear a single thing you do or say. Which, let’s face it, would be a pretty cool feature in real life too.

3. Social media messes with the natural evolution that’s supposed to happen in your life. Sometimes people are taken out of your life for a reason–it can be a beautiful gift, but it’s very hard to receive it now. No more survival of the fittest. Now every last slobbering, sweaty, unfit remnant of your entire life survives—and posts pictures of its survival for you to enjoy. Continue reading

It’s Not Only Women-Men Do It Too

Here are 2 comments on a recent Huffington Post article of mine, Don’t Pity Me Because I Don’t Have Kidsin which I wrote about how people have a hard time understanding my “childfree” life:

woman comment
-a woman

and

man comment abt not having kids
-a man

And while I can proudly report that I told both those people (very nicely) that I thought they were wrong–that it wasn’t just women who judged people without kids–I also have a confession. The piece in question was originally a blog post of mine called Why You Should Stop Feeling Sorry For Meand that blog post of mine was originally called Why WOMEN Should Stop Feeling Sorry For Me. 

So yeah, until recently, I also bought into the idea that it’s really just women who have problems with childless people. I wrote the piece in October, and before I published it I read it to my best friend for feedback (read: for her to tell me that I’m a literary genius and the piece was perfect). But she couldn’t get past the sentence: “And women have a hard time understanding that.” We talked for a while and she made some good points, namely that women are probably only more likely to voice their opinion on the matter, not necessarily more likely to have it in the first place.268149208_d51dec08deI changed the title of my post but wasn’t entirely convinced until a few months later, when something else happened.

I posted a hilarious meme that said “The best part of kids is that I am not responsible for any of them.” I know, right? Told you it was hilarious. Also happens to be true–despite the fact that I love (some) kids, I don’t have any myself because I’m not ready to give up the freedom that one loses upon procreation. And someone said this:

Such a sad, sad commentary by someone who has never experienced the pure joy and love a child brings to the heart and soul of one who IS responsible for them.

I’d only been on Facebook for a short while at the time, and wasn’t able to let trolls’ comments slide off my back with the same ease that I am now. (Ha.) It made me so angry that I took to Facebook to write the one and only rant that I’ve ever posted. And let me tell you, it was a pretty good one. I said that it most certainly was not a sad commentary, that a woman doesn’t need kids to be fulfilled, that blah blah blah, insert feminist rant here. And I could totally feel both men and women near and far giving me a feminist salute as they liked and commented and shared my post. I was basically saving civilization in general, and feminism in particular.

But here’s what was interesting. Everyone assumed that the comment was made by a woman. It wasn’t.

I wasn’t trying to trick anyone, it just never occurred to me to mention that it was actually a closed-minded man who said what he did about my “sad” commentary. (Unsurprisingly, he had a lot of hunting pictures up on his page–a lot of standing triumphantly over enormous dead animals, his eyes glistening with pride that he was able to outsmart an animal and then turn a weapon on it.)

So my question is–why? Why are we (myself included) so quick to assume that it’s only women who care about the status of women’s wombs? The idea of a happy marriage with 2.5 happy children is the great American Dream, is it not? Isn’t it a societal standard that both men and women designate as the arbiter of what’s important and what isn’t?

I don’t have any definitive answers, but I do know that these questions merit some serious thought. As women, I think we’re especially hard on other women. Both of those comments portray women as catty and competitive, but there’s something much more aggressive–almost vitriolic–about the woman’s comment. There was a resentment there–that I was part of a group of people who were consciously trying to perpetuate a notion that I knew to be false. That I was afraid to tell the ugly truth about who women really are.

A friend told me that he did think women care more than men about who has kids, and when I asked him why, he couldn’t cite any specific examples. Just a general feeling. We have been trained to think certain things about each gender, and then to attribute those differences to “nature.” And if we really want things to change, we need to start examining those ideas and questioning where they have actually come from.

What Happens When a Friendship Fades Away?

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It’s not uncommon for a fight between 5 year-olds to end with someone shouting: “You’re not my friend anymore!” There’s an honesty there that I can respect, a directness that’s refreshing: Let there be no confusion — this is where we stand.

Adulthood, however, is something a lot less clear.

I have a friend who I’ve known for almost 20 years. We’ve seen each other through a lot: cheating boyfriends, health problems, depression, divorce. We once went five years without contact because I was lost and selfish and couldn’t bear to have anyone in my life who believed in me. In that time she got married and I wasn’t there, and for that she has forgiven me. Which is all to say, our friendship is the durable kind.

But over the past few years, there’s been a subtle shift that’s been hard for me to admit, still harder to explain. We still love each other. We still want only good things for each other. But separated by thousands of miles and very different lifestyles, there’s a distance between us that is beginning to feel insurmountable. And I’m left wondering: What do you do when you can feel a friendship fading?

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*To read my brilliant answer to that question, head over to The Washington Post.

The Final Frontier: Lessons in Love

I’m not sure that I’ve been doing this long enough to start repeating posts, but an old piece of mine is up on The Huffington Post right now, and people seemed to dig it the first time. I’m trying to be more consistent about my posting schedule (because I know everyone is waited with baited breath), so Wednesday nights people. Wednesday nights.

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love

Until a few years ago, I never let anyone get close enough to hurt me. Vulnerability was not a color I was willing to wear, and for years I thought that that made me pretty badass. I didn’t need a man to take care of me — I could do it just fine by myself, thank you very much.

Turns out, what’s actually badass is having the guts to be in a relationship — to show up on a daily basis for someone else and allow them to show up for you. There’s nothing harder or more revealing of self. My friend rightly calls being in a relationship the final frontier: raw and primal and often desolate. So, based on my extensive experience, I figured I’d compile a list of things that I’ve learned since moving to the final frontier:

  • Love is a choice you have to make over and over again. There will be times when you’ll want to punch this person that you love in the face — hard — and then leave. Times when the only thing you’ll be able to see is all the work that lies ahead, unfurling in front of you like a roll of garbage bags, and you just won’t be sure that you’re up for it. Intimacy is hard and it’s sloppy, and inevitably it will make you decide whether or not you’re up for the job of earning it.
  • Humility: Part 1 — The wood never fits. Admitting I’m wrong doesn’t come very naturally to me — especially, ironically, once I realize that I’m wrong. That’s when I decide that if I just whack this huge rectangular piece of plywood enough, I’ll get it to fit in a teapot. Spoiler alert: the wood never fits. That’s what she said. (Oh c’mon, you were thinking it too.)

To check out the rest of my sage advise, head over to the Huffington Post.

 

Guys Like Us

I’ve been working on this one for 25 years, and finally I was able to find the words for it. Here’s the first part of it, make sure to click the link at the bottom to read the whole thing. photo-1437943085269-6da5dd4295bf

My father has never made it easy to love him, mostly because it was never easy for him to love the life he fell into. Marriage, children, a medical career—all things he was told to want, and so he tried to believe that he did. And you could almost see the weight of all that responsibility bearing down on him, pressing him into shapes that were so unnatural to him that even when he wasn’t fighting against them, you could see how much effort it took for him to stay in them.

Whether the soft spot that he had for me was a cause or an effect of the love we shared for the New York Knicks, I can’t really say. What I can say is that my relationship with my Dad was never more right than when we were watching or discussing Pat Riley’s rugged Knicks of the mid-90s. Those were the teams I grew up on. Ewing, Starks, Oakley, Mason—those were my heroes, the first great sports loves of mine. And those assholes were constantly toying with me.

They were always dangling a championship in front of my face like meat in front of a cub, dragging it closer and closer until it was inches from my face and I was in a trance, watching its juices drip to the ground, absolutely certain that the next drop was mine. And then Reggie Miller would happen, or John Starks, or a missed finger roll, or a playoff brawl, or a head-butt, or Michael Jordan or any of the thousand other things that snatched that meat right back. I grew accustomed to starving.

This, some people say, was deserved. The wider world saw those Knicks as a pack of thugs muddying up a beautiful sport, either of their own volition or Riley’s. Maybe they were.     Truth is, my father and I wouldn’t have loved them as much as we did if everyone else hadn’t hated them so much–how else would they have shown us what not giving a shit looked like? He rooted for them because they did what he never could; they became something other than what they were told to be. Rooting for Starks and Oakley and Mason was, for my father, a chance to fight back against the inevitability of the life he was living. It was a strange search for redemption by proxy, but because it was also his way of reaching for me, it brought him even closer to the life he was trying to escape.

Sometimes, the only way out is back in.

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To read the rest and find out how the Knicks taught me to love my father, check out the full piece at The Classical.