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)

Man-Cold 2.0

mancold
I rest my case.

Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like ‘struggle’. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now. -Mr. Rogers

When my boyfriend texted me last week to tell me that he felt a “vicious” man-cold coming on, I thought, oh good god—here we go again. The sad grey sweat getups, the lethargic responses to any and all questions asked, the air of quiet desperation as he sniffles his way through boxes of tissues. A fairly tough, athletic guy who takes decent care of himself, he kind of melts into a puddle when faced with some congestion and a scratchy throat. “I’m shutting it down,” he’ll say to me when he feels a cold approaching—and that he does. He puts his hat on or his hood up, drinks a lot of fluid, and sinks into the couch for the remainder of the battle. No grocery shopping, no errands, no favors, no dinners. Sometimes no return-texts or family functions.

And it’s all a little much for me.

I’m not exactly what you’d call “maternal.” While I love working with kids and I feel fiercely protective of those I love, I’m much more likely to show that love with a little elbow or a punch in the arm rather than a warm, gooey hug. Think Elaine from Seinfeld (unfortunately, complete with her rockin’ dance moves). Which is not to say that I’m not a good girlfriend—I believe I am. I can be thoughtful and patient and compassionate. I try to listen and put myself in his shoes, and consider what Mr. Rogers would tell me to do.

But not when he’s sick. When he’s sick, I lose all capacity for that “beautiful-day-in-the-neighborhood” kind of mentality. When it comes to illness, I’m just not a coddler. I’m more of a “grin-and-bear-it”er. And so, when my boyfriend first got sick, I gave him my usual level of support: I tossed him a bottle of Vitamin C and asked him to pass the remote. Continue reading

Can You Ever Really Tell a True Story?

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Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can’t remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story.

-Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried

“I think you really really need to surrender to the fact that an essay requires a conclusion that is neat in a way that life is not,” my writing teacher said to me last year. I’ve been working with her for a while and she knows—I really really hate neat conclusions. To me, they seem like copouts. It’s taken me a long time to accept the true complexity of life and I desperately want my writing to reflect that. And when it doesn’t, I feel like I’ve failed as a writer.

A few months ago I submitted a piece about an old friendship of mine that seemed to have run its course. The editor accepted my first draft but wanted me to tighten up the ending. It was too vague, she said—which made perfect sense considering the fact that I was still ambivalent about the friendship and unsure of where we stood. I knew the general story arc: that we were best friends when we were young, that we had drifted as we grew up, and that time and thousands of miles between us had shifted things for us in a way that might not be reconcilable. I ended the rough draft on a vague note about how sometimes being an adult means not taking action, but rather letting relationships turn into whatever they’re supposed to be, and then bearing the uncertainty that comes with that. I believe that with all my heart.

Except that uncertainty is not usually what people want from their reading. Admittedly some people (and publications) are more comfortable than others with ambiguity, but generally speaking, readers (and thus editors) want some degree of resolution at the end of a piece of writing. If they wanted haziness they could just return to their own lives.

The fact is, storytelling is about making choices—it’s about choosing what to include and what to leave out. It’s about arranging the included events and facts in a particular sequence so that their meaning is accessible to the reader. Which means sometimes, telling a story is about providing a conclusion that might over-simplify a complicated issue fraught with doubt and confusion and conflict. Continue reading

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

Babies, Birthdays, & Bravery

*Ray Carver once said that a big part of being a writer is just “being at your station,” regardless of whether or not the muse is upon you. He’s right. And since I have not been at my station lately, I’ve refurbished and updated an old post of mine. Happens to be one of my favorites. Please to enjoy. 24204550771_7c213183b4

The true mystery of life was not that we are all going to die, but that we were all born, that we were all once little babies like this, unknowing and slowly reeling in the world, gathering it loop by loop like a ball of string. The true terror was that we once didn’t exist, and then, through no fault of our own, we had to.

-Dan Chaon, You Remind Me of Me

A few things have recently conspired to get me thinking about beginnings:

  1. Yesterday marked 35 years on the planet for me. Happy birthday me.
  2. Two people who are very special to me had a baby a few months ago, and the new little nugget has been melting my badass right off me. That newborn-head smell. Those tiny frogger legs. Eyes that speak of equal parts confusion, intrigue, and suspicion. meandlily
  3. I’ve also been struggling with a piece I’m writing about my relationship with my mother, specifically how decisions that were made long before I was born came to shape the person I became. How my parents’ expectations about who I’d be—about what they needed me to be—affected the person I actually became.

At a certain point we all try to re-write our past by re-writing our future. We change jobs, we move, we end relationships—and sometimes the new narrative comes in the form of a baby. I was not able to do X, parents sometimes say, so I want my child to. My parents didn’t do Y for me, so I will do Y in outrageous measures for my child. If only they’d done it the way I will do it, things would have been better for me. 

I will watch my child be what I might have been. 
Continue reading

Never Enough

berryman2Need need need: it’s a siren that directs my movement, pushing me this way and that, sending me running after horizons and mirages. But it sends me after real things too.

My needs map out my days: I need the fulfillment I get from writing, and so I take workshops and read books about craft and make time to write. I need love and intimacy and longing, so I work (hard) on my relationships. I need a place to live, so I have a job and pay my bills. Need need need. 

The problem isn’t about my needs, and it isn’t even always about the places and lengths I’ll go to in order to fill them. Sometimes the problem is just about my expectations of what their fulfillment will mean for me. 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.