Relationships are hard. And weird.
There is always some kind of weirdness, no matter the nature of the association. Parent/child, sibling, parent/parent, friend/friend... the list goes on and on. Then add each particular person's age and experience and it just gets that much more complicated.
Romantic relationships, though, are where I'm focusing today.
When you meet someone who might be worth exploring, there's an odd dance that happens—a careful exchange of the politest parts of yourselves, spinning and twirling slowly-but-ever-faster toward personal history and carefully-chosen anecdotes of joy and pain and love. There's a running list of pre-approved stories of yourself that you'll tell to almost anyone, just in case you happen to meet someone along your way. Even though I am very open, the Tales of Stephanie are generally pre-determined; it usually takes me a while to fully wing it. It's scary as hell, to think about sharing yourself even superficially with someone new, especially if you've been through hurt before.
But sometimes you meet someone who just might be worth that effort. Maybe it's something in their smile, or the way their hand looks against yours. Maybe it's the way their eyes follow you as you flit nervously and excitedly from topic to topic, simultaneously wanting to tell them everything at once but carefully trying to hide your flaws. Maybe it's how they kiss you in a way that no one else has ever kissed you before.
If you've been through divorce, it's that much harder. As Irish Coffee said to me recently, it's amazing that we can be walking down the aisle one day, promising our lives and our souls to our heart's desire, and then find ourselves later at war with the same person, who has now become a virtual stranger. It changes you. It scars you.
Trying to work a new relationship now—both after divorce and at the age of 40—is very different than when I was young. At 19, I could just skip class and stay in bed all day with a guy, if I felt like doing that. I could stay up all night with him, in person or on the phone, and still be able to go about my next day like normal. The mingling of our barely-experienced lives wasn't that hard to accomplish.
Now, though, it's a very different beast. There are kids and jobs and responsibilities I didn't have when I was 20—the age I was when I moved in with DH. Just the act of scheduling a date can be tiring, working around two adults' schedules, within the bounds of parental visitation or between the morning and afternoon school buses. I won't even get into the issue of familial interference, whether from actual friends and family, or from those who used to be my friends and family but now just seem hell-bent on somehow sticking their unwelcomed noses into what I'm doing. (Seriously? You have nothing better to do than cyber stalk me and gossip and lunge passive-aggressively? I'd like to say the world would be a better place if you diverted that energy elsewhere, but it would probably just develop a new nervous tic from the sound of your voice. You know who you are; I'll save you the embarrassment of calling you out by name.)
I'm also much more jaded than I was twenty years ago. I say I'm more pragmatic about love and relationships now; I'm much quicker to cut through the pretense than I was before—those games just don't hold my attention now like they used to. But now I also have the expectation that I will get hurt, at least a little. I don't go into any date or moment expecting that I am meeting my newest long-term life partner. I've heard so much bullshit, though, that I am utterly disillusioned with men, especially when they're trying to get my attention. It's often so much posturing and carefully-crafted illusion of self-awareness that they're out of material twenty minutes into their monologue.
So when I find someone who can hold my fluttering attention for more than a few minutes, there's usually a reason for me to look deeper and listen. But I'm talking to grown men, most of whom have been married before, as well. Sometimes they have kids and sometimes not. We've each lived some kind of substantial life before we met.
My therapist reminded me recently that new relationships bump into old wounds. No matter how well you've healed from the past experience, it can still be uncomfortable when someone touches your scars. Sometimes it's painful, and you don't want anyone near it. Sometimes it's just numb. But sometimes there's a strange sensation, a tingle that happens when that scar is touched ever so gently.
New relationships after divorce (or other long-term, substantial couplings) require a kind of negotiation of terms. I will try to do A, if you try not to do B. This will happen eventually if the relationship lasts, but it comes quickly when you're dating after divorce, especially if there are children (literal not figurative) involved. It can be overwhelming to take all of this stuff that might've been worked out over months and years, and then shove it right toward the beginning of a potential new life. You have to drop your pretense very quickly if you really think this person is worth the effort.
Talking to Growler yesterday morning, we discussed how sometimes relationships are like pools in a quarry. They're formed from destruction, from calculated chaos. They are beautiful, sometimes colored into striated blues and greens by the run-off of minerals, and they are often incredibly deep. It can take years before people find the bottom. It's daunting to think about plunging into those depths. You might damn well break your neck, or both legs, but there's no other way to experience the singular beauty beneath the surface.
You get where I'm going with this.
It's scary to put your heart out there again, especially when there's an expectation that it will get hurt. But just because it hurts, that doesn't mean it's bad. Sometimes that hurt is necessary for growth. Sometimes we can only get to the clearing where we can peacefully sparkle in the sunlight by going through the briar patch.
I've talked a lot about not wanting to live with regret. Sometimes that's unavoidable. But I'd rather take the calculated risk of getting hurt by what I did try than regretting what I didn't. For all of my bravado, I am scared by my life all the time; rarely a day goes by when I'm not genuinely frightened by something. What I refuse to do, though, is to let that fear stop me. Opportunity presents itself when least expected. If I wait for a safer time to seize these moments, I will spend more years on the sidelines of my own life. While I might be able to pull off the illusion of cheerleader with purple-on-blond pigtails and some glittery pompoms, I'd much rather have my hands full of substance, rushing ever forward toward my own goal.