I love country music. The Dixie Chicks are my jam, and my favorite song of theirs is “Wide Open Spaces.” I remember playing it on repeat driving all over South Georgia, in the years immediately after I graduated college and moved from home. I am playing it now as I write.
Roaming has to be in my blood. I am descended from Daniel Boone and his nephew-in-law, Benjamin Cutbirth, who, in 1767, was one of the four white men who made the first trip from east across land to the Mississippi River. My dad, his brothers, and my grandfather are a line of car haulers, and my great-grandfather was a peddler who traveled from the Tennessee/Kentucky border down to Nashville to sell his goods.
Yet, I have never had the chance to travel much, other than car trips growing up. The first time I flew was in law school, after I was married. We traveled to New Hampshire and Boston to meet my ex-husband’s family. He was scared of flying, so we did not fly much. During one of my early jobs, I was able to travel quite a bit for work, but he was so anxious about it that it became miserable for me.
And, of course, traveling by plane is expensive. And we had pets and kids and we were too busy…
“Losing yourself does not happen all at once. Losing yourself happens one no at a time.”
― Shonda Rhimes,
No more of that nonsense. I need wide open spaces! YES to roaming the great American frontier!!!
This fall, I was honored to receive a wedding invite from a former student. The event was in D.C., where my best friend T lives, and it happened to be my birthday weekend. Normally, I would have made my excuses, sent a nice gift and bowed out. However, I immediately booked a cheap flight out of Jacksonville, and sent my RSVP with T as my plus one.
I was nervous flying alone, but as soon as I got on the plane, I had a peace come over me, and I was overjoyed. It helped that I was seated by the most handsome man! He was funny and kind, and we just connected. We talked and laughed non-stop the entire flight, prompting the attendant to remark on what a cute couple we were. It was all innocent, but what an ego boost! We even had the same song playing on repeat on our phones– “I Took a Pill in Ibiza” by Mark Posner. The original version, of course.
A true gentleman, he walked me out to the gates to meet T and her husband when we landed. As we came around the corner, it was like a scene out of my favorite movie, Love Actually. I saw T’s smiling face under the lights of a gigantic Christmas tree and went running to embrace her. It was a moment that I will never forget, and I turned to see my new handsome friend smile and wave and continue on his way. T looked on in amazement, with a knowing twinkle in her eye. I felt young and free again.
I just love this RSVP card! My song pick? “It Takes Two” by Rob Base and, with that, I am showing my age.
As for my birthday, well one of my favorite memories of the weekend was T’s husband taking us for a night out in D.C. We stopped in at the Willard Hotel, where the Mint Julep was famously invented. This southern belle with Kentucky roots could not turn up an opportunity to try one out, and it was amazing. And strong. M finished mine, but what a way to welcome in the new year.
It is funny how God puts people in your life. Mrs. M, a sweet lady that works at my kids’ school has become one of my prayer warriors. She keeps a close eye on my little ones for me, and has also started texting to check in on me occasionally. Over the holidays, she composed this prayer for me, and I have begun incorporating it into my time with Jesus.
In my quest for freedom, ironically, I thought it was a good idea to start dating again. The honest answer is that, when in pain, the last thing anyone wants to do is be alone. I was no exception. I also did not want to deal with the hard emotional issues that I quite frankly have needed to face.
But, more than that, I was eager to meet people, to have new experiences, and to feel young again in the little time I have away from my children. Gracious, have I been educated! Here are some of my general thoughts based on the past six months of single life.
- I am Southern Baptist. Finding a middle-aged single man in a Southern Baptist church just is not happening short of a God-sized miracle. The church does not generally condone divorce, and divorcees are not eager to be in the hot seat on Sunday mornings.
- Everyone meets online in some form or fashion. Swipe left, swipe right, you get what you pay for… Dating is electronically at your fingertips.
- Do not trust the geographic parameters. Two of the nicest gentlemen I have met live in other states. We have no idea how we connected, because we were out of range, but I am glad, as they both have become friends.
- I have no concept of age. Or of my age, more specifically. I have always been attracted to and dated older men. The oldest of these was 12 years my senior. That means that my age range would be anywhere from about 40-53. However, the vision in my mind of a man that is attractive is almost always quite certainly a young 35 year old, who happens to look like Prince Harry or Tim Tebow. I am kidding, of course, but you get the idea. It is like seeing pictures of your grade school friends and not recognizing them, because age has transformed them and you realize for the first time that it has transformed you, too.
- Gentlemen my age and older typically have much older children than mine or, if they are similar to my two, almost always, we are on different parenting schedules. Different parenting schedules mean that they may as well live in Alaska or Hawaii, because it just is not going to work.
- All women are competing in the dating market place with 20-somethings. I cannot compare on many levels, but I can carry a mean, witty, philosophical conversation.
My main goal has been to meet new friends. I have always been a girl who favors the company of men, and I have missed that in my life. I have been blessed to have connected with some great ones, including another, S, who sat me down and gave me dating pointers.
- Always meet in public for safety reasons. Let your friends know where you are going and with whom you are meeting.
- Always start with a quick coffee or tea meet-up to ensure that you like the person. Longer encounters, like dinner, come later.
- Never assume that he is going to pay. Be prepared, just in case.
- Never involve kids with your significant other for at least six months.
- Everything is done through texting and messaging. This allows for more aggressive behavior because it is less personal and it is fast-paced. Strict boundaries must be set and followed.
The latter has been most disconcerting and disappointing to me. S was right. Everything is done through texting, which allows people to create their own persona and speed up the dating process exponentially. The problem is that it is often more aggressive and, frankly, impersonal, because people can hide behind their keyboards and carry on numerous texting “relationships” at once. But these so-called relationships are a façade. Real interaction is somehow skewed by this flawed communication and then the relationship can be manipulated or ended abruptly, because there is no personal accountability. Leaving the person “on read” or not texting at all is easy to do, because there is no real investment.
My friends have literally threatened to take my phone and lock it away, because I get bombarded with texts at all hours of the day and night. My surrogate Mother did just that over Thanksgiving weekend when she was here for a visit. On the other hand, I have had my ego crushed on several occasions when these passionate texters drop off the face of the planet for days at a time. I have seen girlfriends sob for the same reason. If this bizarre concept is foreign to you, I challenge you to google “why has he stopped texting” to see the angst that women of all ages face in the modern dating world.
I think what has made me most sad and concerned, because I teach social psychology, is the lack of interpersonal interactions that actually occur. Courtship as I knew it before my marriage seems like a dying art. No one picks up the phone and calls anymore or takes their time slowly getting to know you. I have never been a phone person, but I miss looking forward to and receiving calls from suitors. There is just something about hearing someone’s voice on the end of the line that is so soothing, and some of my favorite memories are of talking for hours to old boyfriends until one or both of us were on the verge of falling asleep while connected.
And, finally, there is the double-edged sword of social media. I get that it is safe to meet in public; however, I also miss the idea of being picked up for dates from my house. My best friend and I have had serious debates about this, because she is pragmatic and I’m a romantic. She is right, of course, as S taught me above. But I also have pointed out to her that one quick search and your personal information is readily available for all to see. It’s terrifying!
On the other hand, most of my friends do intensive online “stalking” before dates even take place. While also good for safety purposes, it kills the romance, in my opinion, because it allows for a preconceived notion of who the person is. Reality can be skewed, assumptions made, and opinions formed, and that is not only unfair but sad because, again, something is lost in the courtship.
My answer to all of this is to take a break and disconnect. I am going to be married to God for now, stop looking for that special person, and have faith that, when the time is right, he will be provided. Hopefully, when that happens, he will actually pick up the phone and date me the way I was raised.
The last time I dated was in 2002, when I met my future husband during Contracts 101. My daddy had given me two pieces of key advice in my life. First, never marry a Yankee. Second, never marry a lawyer. I did not listen. I’m hard-headed.
Immediately after my divorce, I met the most wonderful man in the world. He truly is just that. However, after a year of dating, we became engaged, and I realized that it was not the right time, situation, circumstance, something. As phenomenal as he is, God has other plans. I am trying to listen to my Father this time. It hurt, and I am still stubborn as a mule.
So, here I am, post-40, mother of two young children, and in the dating game again for the first time in almost 15 years. It is surreal. When I dated before, I owned a cell phone, but it was not “smart.” Facebook had just been invented and was only for college kids; and the major way people communicated was over the phone. My answering machine was my best friend. I would rush home and check my Caller ID and would gleefully listen to voicemails over and over again. Star 69 and *67 were things and, occasionally, if I happened to be bored with Torts or Gratuitous Transfers, chatting on America Online instant messaging was getting real fancy on my dial-up modem.
Oh, and the dates themselves? Even up until I met my ex-husband, dates occurred after frequent communication. The kind that involved dialing a number and talking on the phone and actually hearing each other’s voices. If there was a connection, after several such exchanges in which you asked questions and listened in order to get to know the person a little better, the man would ask you out. For me, because I am old-fashioned, that meant coming to my house, picking me up and taking me out some place nice. I loved long, romantic dinners, a great bottle of wine, laughter, holding hands across the table, staring into the other’s eyes and still do. Back then, the man paid and took you home, walked you to the door and left, like a gentleman. Rinse and repeat.
It is worth mentioning that the one and only time I have ever paid on a date was with my ex-husband. On our first night out, we ended up at a popular college bar, and he offered to split pitchers with me. I laughed and whispered ever so softly in his ear that a lady never, ever buys her own drinks. The next day, he asked me to brunch. We went to Waffle House, he went to pay, and he had conveniently left his wallet elsewhere. Or so he claimed. Sigh. The joke was on me.
Around the time that our marriage ended, a show premiered on Bravo called, “Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce.” I do not watch much television, and this is really juicy stuff, but it became my guilty pleasure. It is about a group of women my age and older who are dealing with divorce and relationships. It is raunchy but so funny, and it is still one of my favorite shows. However, even as graphic as it gets, nothing, including this show and frequent gab sessions with my young and single friends, has prepared me for the modern dating world.
I feel like a dinosaur or one of the “Golden Girls.” So much has changed.
My friend of almost 20 years, Cheryl, told me to read The Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes, and I am so grateful.
I absolutely love to read, but I find it difficult these days to relax enough to actually focus on a book. So I am trying to force myself back into the habit. This book not only made that easy, but it changed my life, literally, by giving me a voice and giving me hope. Rhimes, the rock star of ABC’s Thursday night television, describes how, while on the outside she was successful, she grappled with fear, anxiety and an inferiority complex so great that it was destroying her life. That is, until her sister challenged her to say “yes” to every opportunity that came up within a year that she would normally shrink away from and say “no” to.
This idea intrigued me. In my own season of restoration, I realize that a lot of my own dissatisfaction with life is caused by a sense of being trapped in the role of single mom, one that I never in a million years dreamed I would become. It is like I do not recognize myself anymore. Ironically, I was stunned that Rhimes had almost identical issues. She is funny and brutally honest and has had a completely different, way more glamorous path than I, but, most of the time, I felt like I could be reading my own diary, her stories fit so closely in with mine.
Turns out, saying “yes” transformed her from the inside out, made her a stronger person, and I have decided to challenge myself to my own year of “yes.” From here on out, I will not shy away from or decline any opportunity that comes my way. If my first inclination is “no” for any reason, I am going to say “yes” and see where it goes. In that risk, I already feel more free.
Starting with saying “yes” to realizing that I matter.
My entire life, I have been in a relationship. I am the classic serial monogamist, and I have dated some amazing men, most of whom I am still in contact with in one form or another. But I have realized over the past six months that I was never completely myself in any of those partnerships. I just conformed to make them happy, often ignoring or minimizing my own needs. No more.
My grandma instilled in me the creed, “You don’t need a man.” If she said that to me a million times, I would not be surprised. It always seemed so humorous to me, because she was so conservative and old-fashioned. But it has stuck, and she was right.
I don’t need a man. I need God.
While it would have been financially more sound and, frankly, easier to have stayed in my recent engagement, the reality hit me that it was not working for either of us or any of us, for that matter. And, while I have struggled to adjust to being on a single income budget with no help, for the first time in almost 15 years, it has made me realize how strong and capable I am. Growing up poor has its advantages– I can stretch a bag of pinto beans and a cheap box of corn bread mix like nobody’s business. There is a reason that sweet tea is the table wine of the South. It’s cheap, y’all!
I do not need rescuing. I do not need to settle. I simply need to trust God to provide for our needs and to provide a mate when He deems the time right. If that happens to be Tim Tebow, then my garnet and gold blood will have to bleed blue and orange, and vice versa, because he is pretty dang amazing and at the top of my prayer requests.
The truth is, I actually do want a man. I want to be married again, I want a home bursting with love, laughter and masculine smells, and I want to experience a healthy, whole love that can only come from a heart that is now healed. I realize now that I am my own sun.
Cheers to my very own Year of Yes!