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When do you know? How do you know? Is finding the love of your life a one-time thing? Does lightning ever strike twice? Do the beautiful memories fade enough to allow a new love to take root and flourish? Or do you simply learn with time to value new things, and stop missing the old ones?

I was with my husband for 22 years. We still live together. We still co-parent. And because I can’t risk anything but comprehensive insurance coverage, we are still married. Not ideal to be sure, but for us, it works. By virtue of a complete fluke/utter disaster, we are able to be friends again. It’s great. We’re all happier. Our kids are far happier. They have their parents who aren’t constantly fighting, angry, defensive, or in my case, traumatized. The downside of that is I’m remembering what I used to love about the man I used to love, and it makes dating unbearable. Every new opportunity leaves me awash in memories, acutely aware of what’s missing.

There were ways I connected with him that I have never connected with anyone else. Without that, is intimacy even worth all the work? Because after one nightmare (whatever the hell it was, I can’t really call it a relationship) and what has become a bad habit of serial dating, I’m beginning to think friends with benefits is all I’m capable of; and it’s depressing as hell. I want love. I want all the good stuff in my marriage back;  I just don’t want the trauma.

But I have yet to date a man I can imagine spending an afternoon in bed with, my head on his shoulder, drifting towards sleep as we talk the day away. That for me is not negotiable. That’s like the best part of my day/week/what have you. That’s the moment I finally let down my guard and relax.

I miss the way we circled the wagons as a family whenever adversity struck. The way we pulled together as a team and got through it all. You mean that’s over? Forever?

I miss remembering special days, our wedding, the birth of our children, without seeing them through this ugly veil of tarnish. I miss those memories being dear and beautiful and unblemished. Now I can hardly bear to remember them. Someone please tell me this phase passes.

Learning that your entire adult life was a lie, well, I’m pretty sure they haven’t invented a word for that yet.

Fearing that you’ll only love like that once is… Yeah, there’s no word for that either.

Until We Meet Again

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I will never forget the first night I met him. I fell in love, and his younger brother proposed. It was quite the night.

It was Halloween; we had moved there only two months before. I went trick or treating with a new friend. He was a long time friend of hers, and I was instantly smitten. I was sure he was way out of my league (he was) but we spent a long time talking that night.

A couple of weeks later I was at my friend’s house again and there he was. I was a giggly, flirty mess, like countless 16 year olds before me. I didn’t have the courage to say anything to him, but I was annoyingly persistent in talking to my friend about *him*. She finally said “So, do you want me to tell him?”. I practically yelled “NO!”. It took me probably 20 minutes to say “yes”.

She said “good, I just wrote him a note.”.

Shit.

A couple of minutes later he comes in holding the note, stammers a bit, and holds it up.

“Is this…?”

“I don’t know, what did she say?”

He handed me the note. I read it and nodded.

He promptly face planted and remained there for several minutes. My friend and I laughed, but my heart sunk further as each agonizing second ticked by. Eventually he got up, left the room for a few minutes, and came back and we all just talked for a bit. Later he called me, which became something of a regular occurrence. He asked me to a dance. We spent time together before and after class. He asked for a picture of me from when I was younger, and later returned it to me with a drawing from art class.

As first loves go, it was all rather ordinary. He was not.

He was extraordinary.

My Christmas Dreaming

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Christmas has always been a treasured holiday for me. It hasn’t always been a happy one. My parent’s split on Christmas, my Mom and I almost never celebrated it, but I love it all the same.

I was a choir girl; and for choir kids, Christmas starts in the fall, in preparation for winter concerts. So I love the music, but also the baking, the lights, the magic, the pageantry. It fills that part of my heart that longs for dreams, romance and beauty.

As an adult, I’ve often hopped in the car to drive while listening to music. Singing at the top of my lungs as the dark road stretches ahead does me a world of good. It’s therapeutic. Cathartic. There is little that cheers me more than a travel mug full of something steamy, a container full of homemade Christmas cookies, and a collection of my favorite holiday music. It’s something that became a family tradition (one that sadly waned when we lived on our farm).

So when my first son was due on Christmas eve, I couldn’t be more excited. I felt like he was the most precious gift I’d ever receive (turns out he was one of three of the most precious gifts ever).

I spent many weeks before his birth driving around while listening to music and looking at lights, dreaming of the day I’d finally hold him in my arms, feeling a certain kindred spirit with Mary. I battled fear and confusion and insecurity my whole pregnancy, knowing that learning to be a good parent would be an uphill battle for me. Those drives brought me peace, and gave me a measure of courage to face what lay ahead.

And they provided enough inspiration to help me dive into the whole parenting experience.

Whenever I go on these holiday drives now, there’s always a part of me that remembers the joy, the intense love, the overwhelming protectiveness…I look back fondly, and  smile with immense pride at the young man that wee babe has become.

He exceeded my wildest dreams so effortlessly.

Miss Independent

There’s a woman in our singles group that I can’t quite figure out.

I don’t get why she’s single.

It’s as if a winning Powerball ticket were alive and walking around in the world and nobody stopped to claim it.

It baffles me. It’s confusing as hell. And it’s the surest proof that everything we are told about relationships, desirability, and being loved is bullshit.

I think we’ve all known that woman, right? Unspeakably beautiful, successful, intelligent, fun, caring, truly the total package. And sometimes women will talk about men being intimidated by them and I know a lot of people think that’s just ego talking, but I don’t know how else to explain it.

Are men truly that threatened by a woman who knows her own worth? Who insists on being treated like the Queen she is? And if that’s the case, where have we gone so horribly wrong? Because she’s exactly the perfect embodiment of what every man claims to want. And there she is. Still single, (and not upset about it at all, BTW. Because she is a Queen).

Some part of me wants to shake every man within a certain radius and tell them to wake the hell up, your dreams are waiting; right.over.there! so why aren’t you talking to her? Part of me instinctively knows the futility of this.

I don’t know what else to do so I pray. I hope. I wish. I want to believe. And I wish her to have all the happiness she spreads to others so effortlessly.

But on a fundamental level, this whole phenomenon just challenges my concepts of life and love in some really difficult ways.

I don’t know where to go with that, or how to make peace with it.

Why You Look So Sad?

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My cousin held me tighter as we hugged and whispered “you look so sad”.

She’s right, I do, I thought later. The decades of a dysfunctional marriage had taken a toll, but the three and a half years trying to salvage it were a whole new level of destructive. By the time I saw her during a Denver vacation last summer I barely looked alive. There was no light left in my eyes, I looked as burdened as I felt. It’s a phenomenon that gets endlessly discussed on various support groups I participate in. Before and after pictures are often shared, hope for those still finding their way out, proof of progress for those who have a more distant perspective.

I couldn’t deny the reality of what she said but it still came as somewhat of a shock. I hadn’t seen her in years. I thought I did a better job of hiding it. I was grateful she said something, knowing that I have three pairs of eyes watching all the time, learning both how to be a partner and what to expect from one. If I didn’t find the courage to face the truth and value myself and my contributions, I was running the risk of them meeting the same fate. Knowing I was still building the path that would in some ways shape their future gave me the courage to advocate for myself, to ask for what I needed, and to not compromise my own welfare.

Over the last few months I’ve made it a point to try and look my best, to find the joy in nurturing myself again. I love playing with colors, even if I’m not always comfortable with it. So coloring my hair, indulging in the occasional mani/pedi, and a budding makeup addiction have been a way to invest in myself. Those investments had a measurable impact on my earnings (for the better), and garnered endless comments from my loved ones about how much happier I look.

I spent so many years convincing myself that spending anything on me was frivolous and essentially stealing from my kids. Of course, I was also unaware what the true root of our financial problems were. I believed what I was told, that it was all my fault and if I just sacrificed more and more everything would be fine. It became a way of life, and I have to admit, it’s uncomfortable still to spend money on myself. My first instinct is always to sacrifice what I want and need for the welfare of my family.

It’s another one of those unhealthy patterns I’d like to break. I’m hoping to learn to model better and more consistent self-respect for my boys. I need to remember the risk of feeling the need to ask them why they’re so broken someday is very real.

How A Young Heart Really Feels

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We used to hang out at lunch, a whole huge group of us. I was introduced by my best friend.

It took him a while to talk to me, but pretty soon we spent most of every lunch sitting together.

It never occurred to me he might be interested. My best friend had kind of a thing for him, and she was everything I wasn’t, beautiful, smart, a good student, Catholic. They went to the same church, they had known each other for years. In my mind, they were perfect for each other and he in no way deserved the mess that was me.

Whether he deserved it or not, he wanted me to be his.

I said no. For months. Partly some girl code kind of thing. Partly feeling unworthy. Partly fear.

I finally told him he had to let her know he wasn’t interested, and then yes, I’d go out with him.

He wrote me letters literally every day. The three of us went to dances, we all went to summer school and spent a lot of time together. When he didn’t have to work he’d walk me home, hang out after, until he had to leave (or bolted out the back door the times my Stepdad came home early).

One night someone crashed their car into my house. He walked over after a long day at work to comfort me. I often couldn’t sleep because of the whole crazy Night Stalker thing going on at the time. He wrote more notes, lent me tapes of our favorite music to listen to while I fell asleep.

I never, ever, deserved anyone who treated me as well as he did. I’ve joked a time or two that he dodged a bullet, and he snarks back that he was a naive idiot. And yet in some ways he’s the model of what I hope to find someday. That’s really the only thing that would make a relationship worth it again for me. I give too much. I don’t hold back. I don’t know how. And I have a full life that I love, so compromising isn’t remotely interesting. On some level, I’m not sure I believe in love like that anymore. Or maybe I just don’t believe I can have it again.

Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves

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I remember the day my sister was born like it was yesterday.

I had just moved in with my Dad and Stepmom. Theoretically she was supposed to have been born before I moved in, but school was in progress, and she was making her entrance when she darn well felt like it (if you know my sister, you know that getting her to do what she doesn’t want to do is nigh on impossible).

So a day after I moved in, I sat on the floor at Mama’s feet, trying not to cry. I failed. Miserably. I wasn’t always the best at showing it, but I loved Mama dearly and seeing her in pain (no matter how skillfully or gracefully she bore it) was too much to bear.

For a kid who once asked Santa for a younger brother, having a baby sister wasn’t exactly all I’d wished for. She cried. A lot. Life got louder, the house got more chaotic. There was a lot less playing with cute baby than I thought, and when I did get to, it was less playing and more, yuck.

I was an utter ingrate as older sisters go.

Still I was utterly enamored.

Mama and our Dad divorced and we were not in contact again until my sister was 16. I was the married mother of a toddler, and even then, I was awestruck by her. In many ways, she was more mature than I was, and certainly had herself more together than I had yet managed.

As I’ve navigated my way through the complexities in life, particularly in the last 5 years, she has been my role model. Always reminding me what it means to be fierce, something she got in spades from her Mother. I don’t know that I’ll ever have the strength or resilience either of them have. I know I don’t have the drive, although it’s a skill I’m trying to learn, and they are my most dependable examples. I completely lack her confidence, or self-esteem. I often joke she’s the belle of the ball, and I’d swear on a stack of bibles she knows everyone in her town.

I’m still a work in progress, and she’s one of my main sources of inspiration.

As I look back over the last year, I’m amazed at how far I’ve come. I owe more of that to her than I’ll ever have words for.

Falling In Love Is So Hard On The Knees

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If you’ve ever fallen in love with a narcissist, you are intimately familiar with that rush, the relentless yet skilled release of love bombs finding their target. It’s an emotional blitzkrieg; boom, boom, boom, as you fall back under the force of an unyielding assault. When the action pauses just enough for you to gather your senses and survey the new landscape, you realize you’ve fallen hard. And you really can’t see much beyond that. It’s a heady feeling, but like any mind-altering drug, there is always a hangover waiting in the wings.

One would think that the hangover would be enough to create a narc-proof barrier. But like alcohol, love bombing is designed to prey on our weaknesses while simultaneously soothing our wounds. It’s that double-edged sword of injury by association and nurturing that makes love bombing so nightmarishly effective. Just as there are few people who can look back on their life and claim only one hangover, one emotional eating binge, few can claim only one relationship with a narcissist.

The sad truth is, if you’ve had multiple romantic entanglements with their kind, you’re probably an empath. And as an empath, your reward for being exceptionally loving, giving, nurturing and compassionate is to be surrounded by more narcissists than your average Joe.

Most people who have worked in the child welfare arena have heard the term “broken picker” casually thrown around. I once used to nod knowingly, but now I hear the term and it makes me cringe. I don’t know why people tend to want to blame the victim, but we see this in so many areas of life. We laud bullies while blaming the bullied. We don’t hold the narcissist accountable, we blame the loving and kind person who fell for their onslaught of lies and manipulations. Empaths aren’t any less able to detect malevolence than the average person. In fact, a skilled narcissist will fool nearly everyone in their orbit, at least initially. Empaths aren’t targeted because of their ignorance, they are targeted because they don’t give up on people, and thus will endure behavior that other people who are more self-focused will not tolerate.

Narcissists need an endless supply of fuel to simply exist. Without it they will collapse; a most pathetic sight to behold. So they will put on whatever mask their empath du jour most wishes to see.

Is it any wonder the empath falls so quickly and so hard?

You’ve Got To Get Up And Try

About a week after my marriage ended, a new singles group sprouted in our community. The timing was in many ways a lifesaver for me, I was barely among the living, and I’ve met so many truly amazing people and had so many wonderful experiences. Some I almost wish I could skip, and yet, I needed them to remember what living even is. What can I say, every cherry has a pit. You just need to pay attention to the reality, not avoid the experience entirely.

Being a romantic at heart/incurable empath, I love watching new couples happen. It fills my heart to see love blossoming, and gives me hope that good things are still real, still possible.

But it’s not an uncomplicated road, not even during the best of circumstances. I remember meeting some friends at a happy hour, being my typically oblivious self, and I happened to notice two friends, who share a passion that completely informs their very clear vision for their future. I noticed him squaring up to her, his arm protectively around the back of her chair, and the unmistakeable look of admiration on his face, and I thought, wow, how often do two people who want so many of the same things in life even meet? Clearly he’s interested.

So I in my one-drink (Denver strong) addled state tried in my never subtle way to throw them together. And she, being badass and perceptive and as blunt as I am ripped me a new one the next morning. I told her what my thinking was. Unbeknownst to me, she had already expressed an interest in him, but she had every reason in the world not to trust love. We talked a bit and a few weeks later I learned they were a couple. My heart soared. Falling in love with someone who is that kind of kindred spirit doesn’t happen every day. Few people get to experience it.

Sometimes I worry that the realities of life and the world around them with destroy something so incredibly precious and beautiful. I hope not. Because love is nothing but growth opportunities interspersed with reality and occasional moments of unspeakable bliss.

This weekend I’ve been helping a new friend of mine navigate the heartache of missed opportunities with an old friend of mine. This new friend knows mistakes were made, and they are sincerely regretted. But sometimes you’ve gone too far and you can’t rebuild what’s lost.

So today I’ve been sobbing my way through one hell of an emotional hangover, because he fills a need for her that ordinary never will, and she inspires him to new heights. But we live in a world where if it doesn’t work we throw it away and move on. And I’m surrounded now by so many people who want love, but chase everything else.

My heart is breaking.

Sometimes I just want to grab people by the shoulders and make them face  what they keep choosing to turn away from.

It’s A Sad Sad Situation

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Whether or not you’re a fan of Dennis Prager, I once heard him compare relationships to bank accounts. Something along the lines of some people are savers, and they will make deposit after deposit but rarely make a withdrawal. Some people will put just enough in to open an account and establish some credit and then will bleed you dry until you finally drop the hammer on them. He made the comment that those people were the definition of being “morally bankrupt”.

As helpful as that was, I’ve used the concept of triage in relationships, particularly friendships, especially those where there is an element of mentoring going on.

It’s not just about pouring resources into someone or something. The person or situation has to actually be ready, willing and able to benefit from those resources. By my way of thinking, if I continue to use resources for someone who isn’t ultimately benefitting from them, I’m actively stealing from others who may well be able to use what I have to offer.

As an empath, knowing when to call it quits has never been my strong suit. Having some kind of metric to help me make these decisions about gifts and help and relationships has been incredibly helpful. My instinct is never to say no to a wounded soul, knowing that sometimes it’s the person who says yes that makes the difference. I can’t say this metric has stopped me from making that first attempt, rarely is someone so far gone that I know they are beyond my help. It has taught me to be more measured in my approach, and more watchful for the ensuing response.

I’ll admit, I still struggle with this conceptually. On some level it feels heartless to be that… calculating about the welfare of others. But I have extremely limited resources, and as far as I can tell, the people who are pulled back from the brink usually turn into healthy givers when they get their own house in order. So the most efficient and effective plan is to give to those you know can be returned to solid ground. Thinking about the long term chain reaction helps soothe my empath soul a little bit, and keeps me focused on the long game.

But walking away is never going to be easy or natural for me. It’s at best a well-practiced skill.

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