I’m A Divorced Mom In The Best Relationship Of My Life — And I’m Terrified

My boyfriend runs his hands through my hair when he kisses me. He encourages me and says things like, “Good job, babe,” when I get home from a run. He pays attention to my emotions and my outfits. When I talk to him about something he’s done that hurt me, he is remorseful and wants to make it right. We are able to talk through it after he gives me room to vent, even if I’m being irrational, which I know I can be.

I’ve never had a partner who is able to handle a difficult situation like he can. Instead of being defensive, his first order of business is to work it out while still not allowing himself to be treated like a doormat. It’s sexy as hell.

Speaking of sexy, I could also tell you about the mind blowing sex and how he brings out a side of me I’ve always wanted to explore but have been afraid to. I’ll save that spice for another time, but let’s just say I feel like I’ve hit the jackpot with him.

This man I am with — this man who is respectful and kind, who is generous and caring — feels like home.

I feel like I pre-ordered him years before I met him. I started daydreaming after my divorce about the kind of relationship I wanted and the kind of man I wanted to be with when the time was right — someone who turned me on the way he does and brought out all my best sides. But also, someone I felt strongly enough about to share my kids with.

This isn’t to say things are perfect all the time or he knows what to do at every second and can do no wrong. This isn’t a Disney movie. It’s two divorced people trying to blend their lives with baggage and hurt from their past. It’s hard as fuck and isn’t always pretty.

But I wasn’t sure I’d find someone I could navigate this mess with even though I wanted it so much. Now, all signs are telling me I have found him, and I’m having trouble trusting it.

Things are going so well. I’m so in love with him, and I’m not sure what to do with all the emotions and feelings that flood my insides. I’ve tried more than once to sabotage the goodness so I can stop fearing what feels like an inevitable ending.

Every morning, I have to fight my own dangerous thoughts. My brain wants to search for things I can find wrong with him so I can leave. My anxiety about feeling this good is paralyzing because I know it can end.

The suspense kills me, and rather than sit around and wait for the other shoe to drop, there are times I want to take control and just end it myself. I know this isn’t healthy. I know if I acted on every thought and emotion it would be unfair to him and to me. I know I am dealing with some trauma from my marriage ending, and I try and manage my thoughts. But I am honestly scared shitless I’m going to lose him and this love we have simply because I don’t know how to leave it the fuck alone.

Divorce delivers underlying fear. It’s like a nasty smell you can’t get out of your kitchen. No matter how hard I look for it, I can’t find the source. No matter how hard I scrub, I can’t get rid of it. Even when things are going really well, I don’t trust good feelings. Not yet.

Oh, but I want to so much. I’m well aware I’m building my own self-induced prison, and if I can not sit back and enjoy this, I will lose it.

I am trying to trust. I’ll stop trying to ruin something good because I have no control over how long these feelings will last. And I don’t mean I have to trust it will all work out, because the reality is, it might not work out.

I only have to trust that I will always be here for me. I have to trust I will know how to move forward whether we are together forever or we break up next week. And I have to trust I will be okay if I just let things unfold as they may and not try to search for a damn answer at every turn.

I have to take the hard lessons and days from my past and remind myself that was the stuff that got me to where I am today. I am a happy woman who is in love, and I am allowed to relish in it.  I can, in fact, trust that I deserve all the good that comes to me.

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I’m Deeply In Love But I Have No Desire To Move In Together

I’m in love like I’ve never been in love before. I feel like that’s saying a lot considering I had a pretty good marriage which ended after a few decades. I know what healthy, clean love feels like. I also know what betrayal and hurt feels like — you can experience both with the same person, and I certainly did.

I’ve cleaned my heart up enough since my divorce to allow myself to fall in love again. I wasn’t sure I’d ever get to this point, but here I am. I’m willing to receive love. I’ve reached the phase when I’m ready to share a life with a man and his child, and I’m ready to share my kids with him.

But there’s something I’m not ready to do. Something I may never be ready to do again simply because I just don’t want to. That something is to live with a man. 

I recently spent the weekend with my boyfriend and his daughter while my kids were with their father. This wasn’t the first time; we’ve done this many times and I always look forward to it like a kid on Christmas Eve night. It was wonderful to wake up with him in the morning. I love feeling a big spoon behind me at night while falling asleep. And going out to dinner with him and his daughter is the next best thing to having my kids there with us.

We went to the grocery store together. We held hands while shopping for bedding. We went out with his friends and ate fried food as the snow fell. I even cried as I pulled out of his driveway after three nights and three days together. I didn’t want to leave him, and yet… I did. When I first fell in love with him months ago, I thought these feelings were confusing, but they really aren’t. My definition of sharing a life with someone has just changed since my divorce.

I was happy to return to my home. My home, where the toilet seat stays down and I can turn up the heat to the temperature I like. My home, where sports aren’t blasting and I can focus on one show instead of him changing the channel every five minutes. My home, where there aren’t random hairs in the sink because as soon as I see them I get rid of them. (Why do men leave so much hair behind?)

I love eating with him, and I love eating alone. There’s something about shoving food in your mouth over the kitchen sink without worrying whether you look like a hot mess. There’s also something about eating in silence and taking your time to chew.

I love sleeping with him, and I love sleeping alone. I loved the intimate sex and the naughty sex and everything in between. I adore the cuddling and the touching of toes in the middle of the night when you know the other person is awake too but you both want to fall back asleep. But I also enjoy throwing myself into bed as early or as late as I want and sprawling out diagonally and falling asleep to a cheesy rom-com without worrying if I’m keeping him awake.

I love his oversized furniture and comfy recliners. I mean, his whole house is one cozy man cave. He has dark curtains he pulls shut every night so you don’t see the sun until you want to. But I also love the way I decorate, my color scheme, and how the morning sunlight shines in my room and wakes me up early.

Before I left his place, we were making out in his car and he whispered something about wanting me to move me in. We both laughed, and then on the way home I thought, I could do that with him. I could. 

I just don’t want to.

The story of how I envisioned my life when I was younger — the partner, the living together, the sharing and splitting of the finances and household duties — isn’t my story any longer.

I now know I am so capable. I’m capable of running my house, of taking care of the finances, of being the solo parent. Right now, that’s what I want to do. And I want to do it alone. I want to do it my way, at my speed.

I like spending time with my boyfriend more than I like my freedoms, I’ll admit that. That in no way means I want to give them up.

Right now, I feel like I have the best of both worlds. I get to take care of myself — like really take care of myself — because I’ve learned through living alone if you don’t take care of you, no one else will. I’ve realized relying on another person to this (no matter how wonderful they are) in the way you needs always leads to disappointment.

I get to do what I want, when I want to do it. That includes eating dinner at 10 p.m. and pooping with the door open and leaving my delicate underwear over the extra sink in the bathroom to dry. I don’t have to consult anyone about purchases, paint colors, or wonder how much they are going to help me repaint the deck. I depend on me, that’s it.

I also have a partner who comes over, gives me luscious orgasms and feeds me warm garlic bread while driving down the road. He rubs my back when we are watching television and knows I need to stop every few hours for a fresh Diet Coke if we are going on a road trip. He tells me that I am a good mother, and loves the woman I become after a few drinks. He wants me to be happy and handles arguments and misunderstandings with so much grace, I question if I’m deserving of him.

I believe with my whole soul he is the one person (besides me) who has made me a better version of myself.

I don’t want to lose that magic by becoming roommates. I don’t want to share finances with him. I don’t want to talk about how much we should spend on cable or get his opinion on a new rug.

Maybe in the future, but not anytime soon.

It feels too good to feel this grounded. It feels too good to know I’ve done things on my own for years and I’m strong enough to keep it up. It feels too good to pay all the bills on my own. And it feels too good to know I don’t need a partner to share a roof with me in order to be happy.

I want to preserve this feeling as long as possible. It’s a feeling my 20-year-old self never would have understood. It’s a lifestyle the woman I was in my thirties, who had a bundle of young kids, feared. It’s a feeling I never thought I’d have. Now, I’m in my forties and I can’t imagine my life — my sweet, wonderful, living-without-a-partner life — any different.

What I want out of my life has changed. It may not fit into the social norm, but that doesn’t matter. I’m not going to try to change my mind despite the fact that moving in with someone still feels safer than living alone.

I like my life so much right now, and I’ll hang onto this happiness for as long as I want. And that’s empowering as hell.

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I’m Probably The Only Person Who Prefers Calls To Texts

I’m a ’90s baby, and there’s something really special about that. I grew up making mud pies in the backyard, rolling down hills despite the bumps and bruises I would definitely feel later in the day, and riding bikes in my neighborhood with kids from around the block so long as my hiney was inside before the street lights started glowing. On the other hand, and in what feels like a parallel universe, I also grew up with the sudden boom of technology — cell phones, texting, and internet being easily accessible in the palm of nearly everyone’s hands.

I guess you could say that I had the best of both worlds, but if we were to talk about the old soul that is me, I miss the simplicity of the one that came first.

Don’t get me wrong — the technological advancements of the modern world are nothing short of astounding. Technology literally saves lives. It has advanced, and continues to advance, the human race in ways we never thought possible, and it encourages a healthy connection with loved ones despite the miles that may separate us. It brings joy in the little ways, too, like finding old friends on Facebook you thought you’d lost forever, and having a portable alarm clock, calculator, radio, and GPS all rolled up into one handheld device instead of dragging along many (the good Lord knows I can’t read a map to save my life).

Still, I miss the raw connection we used to have with one another before the buzz of this digital age. My heart may not be aching to bring back the long, twisty and always-to-be-tripped-over phone cord that came with a landline, but I miss sitting at the kitchen table taking my phone calls and hearing about someone else’s day. I miss hearing that continuous ring during dinner and letting it roll over to the answering machine to pick up later. And I miss saying, “Let me call you back at nine when this phone call is free.”

Courtesy of Caila Smith

I’m a little ashamed to admit it, but as of right now, I have 121 unread text messages in my phone’s inbox. Why, you might ask? Because this millennial genuinely hates texting. I know, I know, I’m not supposed to feel this way. Unlike most others in my generation, this should sort of be my “thing.” Along with the other social platforms I should have down pat like TikTok, Snapchat, Twitter, and Instagram… but these things just aren’t for me.

My texts pop up with a preview of the message on my phone, and I’m able to see those as long as my kids haven’t robbed me of my iPhone to watch endless hours of Blippi or monster truck YouTube clips. So it’s not like I’m out here blissfully ignoring anyone and everyone who might be trying to get ahold of me. But in my opinion, a text message just doesn’t feel personal enough. Maybe I was born in the wrong era, but I’d rather talk on the phone with one of my friends or family members than guess their tone through words on a screen.

I want to hear their voice — really hear it — so that I may discern the mood that’s set the stage for their day. Then, I want to ask them about their day… the good, the bad, and the boring, all of those miniscule details nobody takes the time to share through a text message. And above all, I don’t want my loved ones bullshitting me through a rough season by covering up their wounds with a smiley face emoji.

Texting is great for some, but it feels to me like an easy way for words to get lost in translation. A simple “OK” can sound so cold, heaven forbid you receive the seemingly passive-aggressive “k” from someone who sucks at making everyday conversation. One word can lead the anxious mind to race toward ten different paranoid thoughts.

When strife does happen and it’s presented in many paragraphs worth of words, doesn’t that feel like a lot of tension and effort for something that could be discussed over the phone in ten minutes? People have hidden their emotions behind a screen for as long as there has been a screen to hide their emotions. As a busy mother of four, that is something I refuse to partake in.

To me, it’s catty and immature. Confrontation between two people isn’t something that should be read, thought on, and tossed around back and forth until someone stops responding. It is something that should be spoken, worked out, and possibly resolved in one setting. From something that was meant to bring unity, and does for so many in a multitude of ways, a brick wall has also been built around the emotions that bring one person closer to another.

Because we are human, there will always be times when a relationship experiences conflict, but I choose to deal with it in a way where I see the most beneficial outcome. I’d rather be open, honest, vulnerable, sad, and apologetic in real-time, not at an overly filtered digital level. I don’t want my words and tone to be misinterpreted.

My relationships are worth that to me.

I’m in the thick of motherhood right now, surrounded in a habitual cycle of sickness, covered in thick layers of snot and toddler tears, and there’s a top knot on my head that I’m almost certain I heard chirps coming from this morning. I can’t tend to my friends and family in the same way I always have and still desire to do so. I can’t always be hyperaware of what’s going on in my loved one’s lives, but I can cater to my friends and family in the next best way I know how to.

Sometimes a little transparency without the filter of a screen is all a relationship needs. And please, don’t @ me if you disagree. I probably won’t get the message anyway.

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Divorced Moms Need Divorced Mom Friends

I love my married friends with all my soul. But since my divorce, they cannot relate to my life the way they could when I was married. And that’s okay. More than okay.

As I was signing my divorce papers, I was surrounded by happily married women who didn’t have free nights like I did to sit over a platter of nachos or meet me at spin class.

While they were doing family life, I was trying to navigate single life. I realized one lonely Saturday evening when everyone else was enjoying family game night or a trip to the movies, I had two choices: I could either wallow in my sadness and really dig the knife in deeper by letting their lives make me feel even more lonely than I already was… or I could find myself some divorced friends to spend some time with.

I decided on the latter. Not only was it the best thing I could have done for myself, it was the best thing I could have done for my friendship with these married ladies. 

After running into an old high school friend who was a few years ahead of me in the divorce process, I felt a wave of hope after a chat and we made a plan to get together that weekend.

I hadn’t seen her for over 20 years, but our dinner lasted three hours and I literally felt a weight lift off my shoulders. She let me in on all the stages you go through (she was so right) and was able to put some of the confusing feelings I was having into words simply because she’s navigated that madness and it was starting to make sense to her. Not to mention if felt so good to talk to someone who had been through it and to be able to be there for them, too.

We have some of the same child-free nights, and meeting her for a glass of wine or gelato has been the silver lining I needed. She knows what this kind of loneliness feels like, and she understands when I send her a text telling her I feel like I’ve taken a step back because she feels it too.

Then, there’s the woman I met online who’d been in the dating world for two years before I’d dipped my toe in. She gave me the “low down” on grooming “down below.” She helped me set up my dating profile and told me some of her horror stories. We laughed so hard I peed my pants at the bar.

Going through a divorce and dating again after having kids is not for the faint of heart. You need a wing woman because your sensitivity chip is so heightened, you literally overthink every move.

Also, it helps to have someone get you out of a bad situation with an “emergency” call alerting you that you need to leave your date ASAP and tend to an imaginary problem.

My divorced friends are a treasure I handle with care. They have been able to see me through some dark days. The mere fact they have gone through it takes some of the pain away. Humans don’t like to feel alone regardless of what they’re going through. 

Their advice, our afternoons spent shopping at Target, and our text threads have been more valuable to me than therapy.

I love my married friends and sisters, but I realized after I wasn’t married anymore that my life has a separate compartment they simply cannot relate to. It’s not bad, it’s not sad, and it certainly is no reason to end the friendship. It doesn’t mean they don’t have a place in my life or offer excellent advice when I need it.

Having a few friends who have walked in my shoes and who know that divorce isn’t black and white — it’s not something you just “get over” — and can understand the lingering pain is priceless.

If you are going through a divorce, or have been divorced and don’t have any friends who have been through it, I cannot recommend getting yourself at least one divorced friend fast enough. It has been my saving grace, and I don’t know what I’d do with out these badass women in my life.

If you are worried about finding your new squad, believe me when I say you don’t have to look very far. Single moms are craving friends who can walk through this experience with them too, so don’t be afraid to ask that divorced fellow mom out for a cup of tea.  

I guarantee she’ll say yes, and it could be the start of a wonderful friendship. I know because I now have three strong, divorced women in my life who never would have entered it had I not invited them.

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Why We Need Friends Who Are Different Than We Are

It’s generally easier to make friends with people we have a lot in common with than those people who are our polar opposites. Conversations flow freely. Activities and outings are easily agreed upon when get-togethers happen. There is a lot less disagreement when we hang with people who have similar values and parenting styles. Friends who think like us can confirm our sense of right or wrong and provide voices of commiseration and solidarity.

There is nothing wrong with running in tight circles with like-minded friends; it’s a blessing to have this type of comfort and safety net. But we need friends who are not like us. We need to find people who will challenge us too.

During yoga sessions on my mat, whether at home or in the studio, I always make sure to include an inversion, which is a fancy way of saying I get my feet over my head in one of several poses. I have learned that the point of this is to change my perspective. From headstands to having my legs up on a wall, I am literally looking at the world from a new angle. And depending on the pose I choose, I experience different levels of comfort. In some cases, I am a little uncomfortable, but this forces me to focus on my body and breathing in very intentional ways. I can’t be on autopilot when I am upside down.

We need people in our lives who change our perspective. Discomfort doesn’t have to equate to conflict, but can be a good challenge to the way we think or the way we do things can provide for some interesting discussion if nothing else. Surrounding ourselves with people whose opinions are always the same as ours and whose answers are usually the ones we want to hear can close us off to growth and possibility. Continuously surrounding ourselves with same-minded people can make us closed-minded.

Personal growth doesn’t have to be deep and meaningful; it can simply mean thinking beyond the obvious. Facebook, Netflix, and Spotify all have algorithms that allow each service to suggest people, shows, and podcasts I would like based on my searches and habits of selection. It is easy to stay and mingle in those suggestions, but every once in a while I will deviate completely. I will watch or listen to something that is a topic I am not familiar with or one that I am pretty sure I will hate. Sometimes topics are given to me by a person who doesn’t presume to know what I like because they don’t know me well enough to say, “OMG did you see XYZ?! You will love it!”

I don’t do this to torture myself. I do it because I want to learn. I want to be surprised. Sometimes I want to be proved wrong. I look for new experiences and new people because I don’t want to ever stay stuck on autopilot.

An article published by BBC News reminds us that when we expose ourselves to a more diverse group of people or circle of friends we are, “forced to process complex and unexpected information. The more people do this, the better they become at producing complex and unexpected information themselves.” This helps us embrace diversity, think more creatively, and provides an opportunity to gain perspective from someone with a different socio-economic background, race, education or religion than us. A meat lover talking to a vegan could make for very enriching dialogue—or a heated debate.

I don’t love group work, yet some of the best work I have done has come from a group or partnered project. That’s the point though. Problems are best solved when people can come together to reach a common goal while bringing unique experiences and expertise. When multiple options can be presented and argued, the best plan can be found. We have to let go of ego a bit, though. Surrounding ourselves with people who are not like us can be irritating and can cause some anxiety-producing confrontation. It takes compromise and patience.

If I am able to take a step back in these situations and analyze someone else’s ideas for just that, then I can see that in some cases my gut instinct is to run in the other direction in disagreement when I assume the other person isn’t as smart, wise, or right as I am. I don’t always have to be right. Neither do you, by the way. This doesn’t mean I have to agree with someone, but I can hear them out without feeling personally attacked.

You can volunteer in your community, attend a library lecture series, or join a local sports club to meet unlike-thinkers who will expose you to new movies or types of comedy. Hit up a museum or buy a ticket to a play that is outside of your usual genre. I know we are busy and our time is limited. We want to spend it doing what we love. Because time is limited, I also want to spend it exploring what I may love. I want to be sure my life is full of curiosity and meaningful connections. I want a life beyond the shallowness of my own knowledge.

I am so thankful for my friends who don’t always tell me what I want to hear; they may know what I need to hear and when, but the ones who don’t sugarcoat the facts or who feed into the ideas I have already turned over are the ones who usually help me the most when I need advice or a plan.

It’s okay to deviate from the playlist. You will benefit from finding friends in unexpected and diverse places.

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How 3 Cats Are Helping Me Teach My Sons About Consent

My sons begged us to get a pet for years, but my husband and I resisted. The thought of bringing a dog or a cat into our hectic family life was just too daunting—especially for me, a stay-at-home mother to five kids eight and under. I knew the bulk of pet care would fall on my shoulders, and I wasn’t up for the challenge. So, we waited.

Then we decided to move.

And then we moved again.

By the time we’d settled interstate, the boys ranged from five to 14 years old, and taking on a pet seemed a fun way to celebrate starting a new chapter in our lives, one in which all the humans in our household were finally independent enough for me to consider adding furry companions.

We promised the kids two kittens as a sort of housewarming gift. The first one was an easy choice: the only rescue animal available when we visited the RSPCA. But the second had bonded with her cage-mate, so in the end, we wound up adopting three new family members: the affectionate, all-black Twitch, a frisky tabby we named Vienna, and our dusky but distant beauty, Zelda.

Courtesy of Nicole Melanson

People always talk about how having pets teaches children responsibility. And yes, cleaning litter boxes and topping up food and water bowls does help little ones learn to care for others. What I hadn’t anticipated is how much pet ownership could also teach my sons about negotiating intimacy.

My boys are well past the age where I need to worry about them pulling cats by the tail. They are, however, still in that solipsistic head space of youth, where a persistent sense of entitlement rubs up against an emerging empathy. The boys view their cats as playthings that should be available on demand. The cats don’t share this perspective.

At any given moment, one of my sons will be looking for a kitty to bat a toy around with him, while another will be cuddling a furball to soothe himself. On a good day, kid goals and cat goals align and everybody’s content. Unfortunately, domestic cats are crepuscular and can resent being dragged away from mid-day naps to snuggle or frolic according to someone else’s whim.

Sally Anscombe/Getty

I regularly find myself saying, “Leave her alone / put her down / let her go” in varying degrees of frustration. What I have come to appreciate about these exchanges is that they offer me a golden but fleeting opportunity to discuss personal boundaries with my children. I’m not going to be present during my sons’ romantic encounters, so now is the time to get my boys thinking about the difference between invitation and coercion.

Cats have no qualms about communicating their needs. When they want attention, they’re quick to jump on your lap (or your keyboard). If it’s space they’d prefer, off they dash to a private retreat. As a mother, I’ve always been clear about telling my kids when I’m touched out and need a breather, but pets have no such luxury; they are at the mercy of their owners to not only understand their needs but meet them.

I don’t think it’s too great a leap to say that teaching my boys to treat their pets with sensitivity and respect now lays a healthy foundation for how they’ll treat future partners. And so, I encourage my children to consider not just verbal but social cues like body language and posture.

I show my kids how to recognize when a cat is curling her tail and purring with pleasure vs. when her ears are flattened and she’s arching her back, desperate to escape. On a similar note, if a cat has gone into hiding, my boys know enough to leave her alone until she decides to come out.

We talk about how just because a cat sometimes bunts your hand and sleeps on the foot of your bed doesn’t mean she wants you picking her up every time she walks past or patting her while she’s eating.

We also discuss how different cats have different proclivities. For example, Twitch doesn’t mind a bit of commotion and manhandling, Vienna prefers to play when everyone else is settled, and Zelda can only handle quiet one-on-one interaction. What works best for one cat doesn’t suit the others.

No one in my house has a degree in veterinary science, so I’m sure our interpretation of cat behavior and vocalization occasionally misses the mark. But by and large, my boys share a harmonious life with their feline friends, showing them kindness and compassion.

I hope that when the time comes, my sons will be able to apply what they’ve learned from pets to people, fostering relationships that feel mutually safe and fulfilling.

Until then, I’m just glad they’re big enough to haul those enormous bags of cat food and kitty litter up from the garage by themselves!

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I Don’t Hate Middle Age — And An IDGAF Attitude Isn’t The Only Reason

I turned 40 this year with a deliberate and utter lack of fanfare. I’m not sure what prevented me from attempting at least a small celebration. I changed literally nothing about my routine. I barely even remember the day except I know it was a Monday because my son had a guitar lesson that day.

I’ve been reading for a decade now that once I hit 40 I would suddenly grow a magical “I don’t give a fuck” attitude. I suppose I care a lot less about trivial things I used to care about, like fashion, makeup, and what (most) people think of me, but I can’t strictly say I give no fucks whatsoever. I actually still give quite a few fucks. I don’t always love my changing body or how I seem to require eight hours of sleep every night in order to not feel like I’m losing my mind. I don’t love how I keep walking into a room and forgetting what I’m doing there, or that I have to hold out any reading material with fine print at a distance that is not too close but not too far from my weakening eyeballs. Do I need bifocals? I have several fucks I would like to give for these things.

I don’t love that I have acne and wrinkles at the same time. This is some nonsense nobody warned me about. When I was a teenager suffering through angry red acne outbreaks, I used to dream of the day I’d finally not have to deal with acne anymore. I would have happily traded in my acne for some crow’s feet and smile lines. Haha, joke’s on me because it’s totes common to have acne and wrinkles at the same time.

The worst part of middle age, though, is that too many people I know are sick. Cancer has already taken one close friend, several others have been diagnosed and come out on the other side cancer free, and still others are in a literal battle for their lives. Mortality feels more real and present than it ever has before.

Yet, despite all of this, I’m actually kind of loving middle age. To be fair, for me personally, middle age might symbolize an even bigger milestone than it does for most people. That’s because, last year, I finally came out as gay. The year I turned 40 was the same year I started living as my true self. There was no midlife crisis for me — there was a midlife rebirth.

Though I still give lots of fucks about lots of things, in order to come out, I had to stop caring so much what everyone else thinks of me. I had to trust my own gut, heart, and mind, and stop allowing my life to be dictated to me. It was a good, beautiful life, but it wasn’t mine to live. That beautiful life was turning me into more of a liar every day I remained in it.

I have to assume there has been at least a moderate amount of gossip about me since I’ve come out. I assume it exists, and yet, despite still caring about lots of things, I honestly don’t give even one single fuck about whether or not anyone is bothered by my sexuality and what I had to do to claim it. I know what I felt like before. I was living life in greyscale while everybody else was living in color. There was a whole spectrum of colors I was supposed to see but couldn’t, no matter how hard I tried. And now I live life in color. Life isn’t easier than it was before — in fact, in a lot of ways it’s harder — but at least my outsides match my insides now.

I’m 40 years old and, though I regret nothing that has led me to this point, in a lot of ways, my life has just begun. It was no walk in a rose garden to get here — divorce is excruciating no matter the circumstances — but I made it. I can breathe with my entire lungs now, laugh with every bit of my guts, smile with my whole face. That part of middle age feels really good. Authenticity feels good.

My experience with middle age may be unique in the sense that I came out the same year I turned 40, but the commonality I share with others in middle age is the authenticity I finally embraced. The reason middle-aged people “don’t give a fuck” is that they are sinking more and more into their true selves every day, and with that comes a profound confidence. It’s not ego or pride, it’s just a comfortable settling in, a deep awareness of oneself that can’t be touched or fucked with by anyone who isn’t invited.

Some people seem to possess this self-knowing from very early on. Practically from birth, they are old souls who know exactly who they are and will fight anyone who tries to cram them into some mold that doesn’t fit. I have friends who knew themselves completely before they ever hit puberty. Their personalities were completely defined, their likes and dislikes, their life goals. They didn’t care what other people’s expectations of them were. They just went and did what they needed to do to feel whole in this world, whatever felt right to them. They trusted their guts. These people get to middle age and just keep on being more of who they already were.

I think most of us don’t have this piece. We have to grow into it. I was always the type of person who needed a list of pros and cons before I could make a decision. But that’s changing, and that’s the part of middle age I love the most. The more I accept the self I buried for so long, the more I am able to rely on my gut. I may not have always known who I was or what I wanted, but I did finally get to a point of knowing what I didn’t want and couldn’t live with. I finally got to a place where the happiness that mattered most was mine. This wasn’t a selfish thing the way I always thought it was, because tending to my own happiness means I can better tend to the happiness of the ones I love. I get it now.

And “getting it” is my favorite part of middle age.

The post I Don’t Hate Middle Age — And An IDGAF Attitude Isn’t The Only Reason appeared first on Scary Mommy.

I Need More Than ‘Mom Friends’

When my kids were babies, I had tons of mom friends. I could recite their names like a list: Becky and Christy and Stephanie and Sophia, Rebecca and Jackie and Catherine, another Jackie, Elizabeth, Katie, Darcy, Rachael. Moms I’d met in my birthing class, moms I’d met while teaching babywearing, moms I could always call for a playdate or some downtime or a park date. We always had something to talk about: babies and toddlers, milestones and sleep schedules.

But our kids aged. Some of the friends moved. Others drifted. Most drifted. I never saw my mom friends anymore. These were women whom I shared Thanksgivings with, women who laughed and laughed when my son dug up their dead cat. But now, we live in the same city, but we never see each other. We don’t call. We don’t text.

Anne Helena talks about this in Motherwell Magazine. Her baby mom BFFs have turned into once-every-six-month friends, even the one who lives two miles away. She says she’s been replaced, not by another friend, but by a “to-do list,” and she’s not okay with it. She needs friends who know what matters. She needs, in other words, people who aren’t mom friends. She needs people whose friendship isn’t predicated on the shared experience of small people.

When I look back on those friendships, they were so necessary at the time. I needed a village. I still need a village, of course — but the needs of that village have shifted now that I have a better handle on parenting. I don’t need so much help with the other little people aspect of my life. I need more help with the me part of me. I don’t need mom friends to talk about my kids. I need friends who help me cultivate myself and my interests, who care about me as a person, not me as a mother.

There’s an important difference there. All my mom friends, for example, were hippie attachment parents. So was I. Shocking. We reinforced each others’ choices and helped each other through some tough times. Now that stuff doesn’t matter anymore, and we’re adrift. I couldn’t tell you which of them listens to what music. I don’t know their favorite TV shows. I don’t know where and if some of them went to college, and what they majored in.

We need different things from different people at different times. When I was a new mom, I needed mom friends. But the drift was probably inevitable as our kids got older.

I cultivate different friendships now. They’re much fewer in number. Many are male. They are emphatically not mom friends — we hardly talk about my kids, though they like them and say hello them, and one or two of them have close friendships with them (one in fact has a daughter of his own, though he’s not a “mom friend”). These friendships build me up, not my parenting. They feed my needs, not the my reassurance that I’m doing okay at this mom thing.

We talk about different things, these friends and me. First, I sought them out. Some I knew before kids, and I made a conscious effort to rekindle those friendships and remember what made them important before I got so busy with my mom friends. Luckily, we remembered pretty fast, and I found myself hanging out in my friend’s garage, taking him with me to get a tattoo, drinking beer and watching mutually loved TV while we talked about … stuff. Important stuff. Stuff that isn’t my kids.

I have friends who care about politics. None of my mom friends ever cared about politics, and it sort of made me bonkers, but I needed them to care about my baby’s sleep schedule, so I overlooked it. When you’re desperate for breastfeeding advice, you’ll overlook a multitude of sins. That’s not to devalue those friendships at that time in my life. But now that I don’t need breastfeeding advice … I need something else.

I have friends I met on the internet, friends I can talk to about the things that matter in my life: TV shows I like, writing, things I’m passionate about. My BFFs who I talk to on a regular basis? A buddy from high school who lives 700 miles away, and a hilarious, reclusive dude from Indiana who I can’t go a day without spending at least half an hour talking to on the phone (never about my kids).

These people, unlike my mom friends, know who am, not who my kids are. And when I went missing from the world for a few days, they noticed. They checked up on me. They messaged one of my BFFs (“Hey, haven’t seen her around the past few days. Is she okay?”). My other BFF knew what was up, and was desperate to call but understood I didn’t want to talk. She noticed and she understood. 

My old mom friends see me too infrequently to understand so many things. They don’t know who I am anymore.

Seasons in our lives change. We need different things from different people at different times. When I was a new mom, I needed mom friends. But the drift was probably inevitable as our kids got older. We can make a conscious decision: we can try to limp along, find out what we have in common other than our kids — and maybe we do have plenty in common, and we can maintain those friendships. Or we can seek out new friends, friends who feed our souls, who prioritize us, not our kids.

I’m grateful for my non-“mom friends”. Sure, I say hi to the other moms at the playground. We chat and we talk about our kids. But they aren’t my life anymore. I need friends who see me, not them.

Thank god I’ve found them.

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I Left My Marriage Because I Wasn’t Emotionally Safe

When my first marriage ended, friends and family were shocked. Most people gasped and said how sad and terrible it was that we were splitting. Worrying about the happiness of my kids and the actual pulling apart of a family and years of financial co-dependence was no walk in the park, but I wasn’t sad that I was no longer going to be married to this specific person. The split was not terrible; for me, and I think for her too, it was a relief. And though I knew that leaving her was no guarantee I would find the right person, I also knew that being alone was better than being lonely with someone.

But I understood people’s responses. There hadn’t been any signs that we were unhappy. No marks of abuse or toxicity. No visible or even suspected hints that our marriage was failing or needed to end. This wasn’t because I or my ex purposefully hid these things; it’s because what most would consider obvious indications of trouble or reasons for divorce were not there. Together we were financially secure. We were each physically safe. But I felt unsafe in other ways. Many people who have been through divorce know that so many reasons a marriage doesn’t work out are quiet and unseen but still painful.

What our friends and family couldn’t see — and to be honest it took me some time to see it too — was that I was not emotionally safe. My ex was not my safety net. She was not my soft and understanding place to fall when I was hurting, scared, processing past traumas, or worried about decisions that needed to be made. I wasn’t being emotionally abused, but it was as if my feelings didn’t exist or weren’t allowed to take up space. I was the strong supportive one who never got upset. I would always provide empathy when she needed it but didn’t receive any when I went to her for support. I felt neglected and lonely.

I know all relationships are work. I have been told ad nauseam that they go through “seasons,” that couples fall in and out of love with each other. And because we convince ourselves that we can “train” someone how to respond in certain ways that will get the results we want in a marriage, I believed I just needed to find the right teaching tools. I kept working on myself too and hoped it would improve my marriage. I hid my unhappiness and thought I was being ungrateful for wanting more. I was the reason I wasn’t feeling supported. I had to get better. I had to do the work to get to a place where I could feel vulnerable. The lack of intimacy was my fault.

I tried. I tried really hard. I faked it and lied and white-knuckled my way through what looked from the outside like a perfect marriage. I didn’t think I had any reason to leave because I know no one is perfect and neither is any relationship.

But should we stay in something or do something just because it’s not awful?

My ex had always relied on me to support and uplift her, and I did. But she was not able to do the same in return. When I went to her with my most vulnerable feelings and intimate thoughts, they either didn’t make sense to her or frightened her. I was the one hurting but ended up making her feel better. After too many years of this and after years of trying, I stopped expecting empathy and emotional support. I stopped opening up and put up walls instead. My ex encouraged me to work it out with my therapist or to better explain to her what I needed.

We tried couples therapy. Therapy together showed us that she was indifferent to us, to our relationship, to me, but was reluctant to do anything to change. We talked about her needs and my needs, and when confronted with my needs, she froze.

“I just want to go back to the way things were before,” she’d say, and I’d cringe because I had grown far from the person I was before and had no desire to go back. We both knew it was over. I was ready to keep moving on, but no longer within our marriage.

What I needed was someone who could give empathy freely and equally without judgment. I wanted someone who, in my rawest moments, wouldn’t need a playbook for how to take care of me. I needed someone different.

And I found her.

I knew she was the one when, after 15 years of never feeling comfortable to cry in front of my ex and after many years of struggling to cry at all, tears streamed down my face during one of our conversations. I had revealed a quiet but important piece of myself. I had let my guard down, and her reaction and words broke me in the best possible way, and I cried. I bawled. She wiped my tears and picked up my pieces. Finally I understood the unnamable thing I’d been lacking. I just wanted to be seen and heard.

It has been unsettling to allow someone to really see me, but it has been the most amazing experience too. Not only does my fiance read me, but she anticipates my feelings in a way that allows me to let them be. This is a gift I have never known. Childhood trauma created the need to hide emotions. In previous relationships, my emotions had never been honored or understood. I am unlearning the instinct to mask feelings that are messy or less than joyful. If I try to hide emotions or beat myself up for feeling them, my fiance tells me all the reasons why they are valid.

I knew my marriage wasn’t working and that I needed it to end, but I didn’t realize how much I was missing and how much I had been hurting until I found emotional safety in my fiance.

We can’t connect on the most intimate levels with another person without vulnerability. And if we can’t be our most authentic selves in a relationship, then what’s the point? Having someone who sees me allows me to see myself, and that’s pretty fucking amazing.

Since separating from my ex, I have learned that I was never as broken as we had both made me out to be. I was giving emotional security but not getting it. I didn’t think I deserved more. But I do. It took me time to see that because I thought I was supposed to put everyone else’s needs before my own. I believed a divorce would hurt my kids, but the divorce has given them a better and happier parent. I have added love to their lives, not taken it away.

And I finally have a soft and safe place to land. Feeling emotionally safe means I am becoming emotionally stronger. My fiance listens to me, validates my feelings, and doesn’t make me feel like a burden. She loves me the right way. And in that love are so many intangible aspects that I can’t describe, but that’s the beauty and importance of safety nets; their presence alone is enough to protect you.

The post I Left My Marriage Because I Wasn’t Emotionally Safe appeared first on Scary Mommy.

Am I The Only One Who Sucks At Female Friendships?

I have a confession to make. These days, 99.9% of my female friendships exist­­ on my phone. Whether it’s video and voice messaging through WhatsApp or good old-fashioned texting, I stay in touch with the women I love without ever getting to hug them, hang out with them, or do stupid shit together in person.

Earlier this year, I temporarily moved across the country to get my family’s support while raising my young kids. But let’s face it, even when I was in the same city as my closest friends, we barely saw each other. Those who didn’t have kids were busy as hell with their jobs, relationships, and traveling. And those who did have children navigated the unpredictable life of being a mom. I was stuck somewhere in the middle of both groups, as I tried desperately to maintain some sort of creative life outside of my babies from the moment they were born. But like most SAHM’s, I found myself constantly coming up short in both areas, as I struggled to secure fulfilling work and found myself constantly orbiting around my hubby’s full-time job.

Courtesy of Lindsay Wolf

As isolating and challenging as motherhood has been at times, I’ll admit that it has offered me temporary freedom from needing to feel vulnerable in person with my lady friends. While there have definitely been moments when I could have used a good face-to-face pep talk, or some evening laughter over a glass of wine, I’ve felt oddly at peace doing away with the internal pressure of being consistent with the women around me. Because no matter how rewarding the relationship, when you aren’t actively in someone’s life, you’re able to avoid the potential discomfort or conflict that comes with showing up for them. Since I’ve struggled with allowing females into my heart for much of adulthood, that freedom has felt quite comforting — and comfort is something I’ve been in short supply of these days.

If you were to ask my therapist, I’m sure she’d tell you that there’s a very clear psychological reason for why I don’t always let myself feel all the feels with my female friends. She’d be totally right too, which kinda pisses me off (just kidding). It’s taken me a long ass time to own up to some facts because, to be honest, I’m still coming to terms just how different my childhood experience was from others. And it has made the journey of learning how to be a real friend feel like cold running the NYC marathon without an ounce of training.

Courtesy of Lindsay Wolf

Since I was a young kid, my all-time greatest BFF was my mom. Now, before you queue up some Meghan Trainor and start happy dancing with me, let me explain. It’s one thing to feel like your mother unconditionally loves you, cheers you on, and always has your back. It’s quite another to feel like you can never disappoint her, that you must tell her everything floating around inside of your head, and that you two just might be the same person. The truth is, I spent my entire youth deeply enmeshed with a caring mom who loved me tremendously, but who has also been struggling with her mental health for as long as I can remember. And it has royally fucked up my female friendship skills.

If you had asked younger me why we were impossibly close at the time, I would have said it was because my mom was my favorite person in the whole wide world. Looking back on it now, though, I can easily say it was because I didn’t know any other way of existing.

Courtesy of Lindsay Wolf

My friends growing up would see how tight we were and envy a relationship they honestly knew nothing about. On the outside, I was the picture of youthful achievement as I obsessively maintained straight-A’s, a thin body, an accommodating personality, and a passionate drive to be the best. But deep down inside, there was a teeny tiny, people-pleasing perfectionist who constantly hustled to be the kind of child – and friend – her mom wanted and needed. If my mom broke down in tears while dealing with my dad, I’d confront him for her. If it felt like she was feeling lonely over the weekend, I’d stay home with her and avoid hanging out with kids my own age. I also used my mom as the only real moral compass in my life, asking for her frequent permission to take risks and try new things instead of learning to trust myself.

Whenever I accidentally messed up and it resulted in random acts of physical or verbal violence (which was quite often), I immediately forgave my mom for losing her way.

Courtesy of Lindsay Wolf

The kicker was, for every traumatic moment, there were dozens of positive ones that kept me inextricably linked to my mother. She was, on her best of days, the most awesome mom a kid could ask for. She helped me with my homework, signed me up for a variety of afterschool activities, pushed me to dream big, and was available to chat to if I ever needed her advice. But the heartwarming aspects of life with my mom just made the volatile moments so fucking hard to deal with. Oftentimes, the deeply personal stories I’d share with her about my struggles would be thrown back in my face during arguments between us, leaving me paralyzed with fear to open up to her again. Eventually I just became too damn afraid to be vulnerable with anyone, to fail at anything, or to even express myself in the way I honestly wanted.

Courtesy of Lindsay Wolf

As an impressionable kid, the message I took from every angry tirade was loud and clear – it wasn’t my mom who was the problem. It had to be me – and me alone – who was inherently fucked up for not being the type of kid who could always make her parents happy. This led me to inevitably conform into a version of myself that would grant me lasting parental love, and I went to the most extreme lengths to be as pleasing as I possibly could. In my personal life, I kept every single friendship in middle school and high school at a distance, never allowing myself to get too close.  I held tightly to the fear of my true colors ever leaking out to someone, which I thought would prevent me from having the chance to be truly loved.

Courtesy of Lindsay Wolf

The chronic bouts of low self-worth I felt as a youth have ultimately colored every single relationship I’ve had with women up until now. I’ve either avoided getting too close or have made the mistake of getting too close too quickly, only to ghost someone shortly after connecting out of discomfort and embarrassment. I’ve dropped the ball on communication with friends more times than I care to admit, I’ve taken so many things personally that I now realize were not deal-breakers, and I’ve even been scared to befriend women in the first place because I was hardwired to believe that I’d ultimately disappoint them. Or worse, I’ve spent years worried that I’d become so attached to whoever I chose to align with that we’d eventually become as enmeshed as my mother was with me.

Courtesy of Lindsay Wolf

The pain that has accompanied my total lack of skills in the friendship department has also kept me from owning the hardest truth of all about myself. To try and protect the young girl who constantly got hurt, I worked hard to become a grownup who chose ways of living that didn’t reflect what I really wanted. When I entered parenthood, I was surprised to find that all my walls forcibly fell down as I began to face so much transformation in my new role as a mom. Suddenly, that lifelong pain caught up to me and begged me to face it for the very first time.

Thanks to the help of my amazing husband and family, trusted therapists, and the healing power of antidepressants, I am now coming to terms with the trauma that has handcuffed me to shame and fear for far too long and am learning how to heal the deepest parts of myself. Thanks to some immense support from the best group of women a person could ask for, I can easily say that I’m finally leaning into my female friendships with the courage and willingness that can only come from learning to truly embrace yourself.

Courtesy of Lindsay Wolf

I want to make something abundantly clear. I love my mom, and I always will. She did the best she could with what she was given, and there is no doubt in my mind that she tried to be a good role model to me. While I’m currently doing the hard work of finding a way to forgive her for the overwhelming mental health battles that directly impacted my childhood and adult years, I am so appreciative of my mother for helping me realize all that female friendship has the potential to be – and what it absolutely shouldn’t include in it.

I was diagnosed with complex PTSD this past year, and I felt empowered enough to reach out and share the news with my friends. I hit rock bottom back in May and was struggling with thoughts of suicide, and so many of these women generously stepped in, showering me with gifts to help take care of me and standing by me through the darkest of days with so much love. I’ve felt courageous enough to be the rock they’ve needed when they stumble and the cheerleader in their life when they’re questioning everything. And when I haven’t been okay – an often occurrence lately – I’ve felt fully able to open up to them and receive their words of support and encouragement.

Courtesy of Lindsay Wolf

For the first time ever in my adult life, I’m mad as hell that there is any amount of physical distance between me and the women I love. Because I’ve finally found the lasting rewards of tangibly showing up for the females in my life and giving them the space to show up for me too. I want to thank each and every one of them for endlessly sticking by me when I couldn’t stick by myself.

It’s about to get mushy AS FUCK in here, so why don’t you go ahead and queue up those Meghan Trainor beats after all.

Courtesy of Lindsay Wolf

To the women in my life right now – to Ashley, Becky, Julie, Courtney, Jerin, Melanie, Kennette, and Foster, thank you for unconditionally loving me. Thank you for cheering me on. Thank you for always having my back. I know I’m a bit of a late bloomer at this whole friendship thing, but I also happen to be a quick learner. I’m taking a huge ass risk when I say that I undeniably trust you’ll continue on this bumpy and beautiful journey with me. And even more so, that I’m so worthy of being joined on the journey in the first place.

I may not have been able to choose my past, but I sure as hell am choosing my now. And it most definitely includes a bunch of badass babes by my side – and I will always be one of them.

The post Am I The Only One Who Sucks At Female Friendships? appeared first on Scary Mommy.