Road Trippin’

S asked where I wanted to go on our next date. I told him anywhere. But then I told him I wanted him to take me to Graceland.

This was a test, of course; but he passed. I spent my break driving up to visit friends in Georgia, then up to his place in Alabama, and then we traveled to Memphis.

Graceland

Oh, how I love Elvis. Although he did not quite get my request or why I would not have rather been somewhere tropical on a beach, he humored me anyway. We spent the morning touring Graceland, then headed over to Beale Street for lunch.

BB King

It was actually rainy and cold but not crowded. I enjoyed it. We took our time, and then we went to Sun Studio that afternoon. I love Sun Studio! It is worth the trip in itself, there is such much history in those walls. The tour was fantastic, and it ends with guests getting to walk around and touch some of the actual equipment. Allegedly, this is the actual microphone Elvis would have used during his sessions.

Sun Studios

Million Dollar Quartet

That evening, we headed south across the Mississippi line to Tunica. We stayed at one of the casinos, an absolute first for me. I do not gamble, and am very tight with money, but I played around with his.  Almost immediately, I won $100 on a penny slot machine. I think that is a great omen for our future.

Our luck continued the next day. We drove back east through Tennessee to S’s hunting property. We took the back roads, and I was in heaven. I absolutely love that area of the country. It was unseasonably cold, and I was day dreaming the entire way of seeing snow. When we got to his property, which is breath-taking, I stepped out shivering and said, “I really feel like it’s gonna snow, it’s so cold. I think that would be amazing.” No sooner had he laughed off what I had said than small flurries started falling. I kid you not, I could not have scripted it better! He was just as tickled as I was, and I ran around like the crazy Floridian that I am just laughing and trying to catch the flurries with my tongue.

This is one of my favorite pictures, because we snapped it in that moment. Genuine happiness shows, and it exemplifies exactly what the year of yes journey means to me.

snow 2

 

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Southern Gothic

cemetary

Confederate Soldiers at Rest, Montgomery, Alabama

I have always loved cemeteries. Even as a young girl, with a nostalgic historian’s heart, I enjoyed walking through them, admiring the artwork, the names, the family groupings. To me, there is great beauty in them, and old Southern graveyards even enchant with their ancient trees and draping moss, harboring sassy mockingbirds who keep watch over the quiet stone inhabitants in respite from the busy modern world.

Since my Mom died, I have rarely been to a cemetery. I have always been good about visiting my family plots, regularly placing flowers and cleaning up their resting places, an obligation ingrained in me from childhood. Write thank you notes, Becky Jo, and visit your people, that’s what Southern Belles do. But my Mama, against all family tradition, chose to be cremated. Three months before she died, as we were leaving our swimming hole on the St. Marys River, she told me that when she died, she wanted to be cremated and her ashes spread. I fussed and fumed at her, because she was young and healthy, and I did not want to be talking about death on a hot summer afternoon. She insisted, however, and I was forced very soon to honor her wishes against the protest of many of our kin.

I never understood why she made this choice. I tried to and I even spread her ashes in a poetic manner, playing her favorite Beatles song, “Here Comes the Sun” at dawn while doing it. Now, I get it.

Yesterday, I was in Montgomery, Alabama, making my way through the lovely Oakwood Annex Cemetery, and an overwhelming wave of emotion hit me. I realized sort of stupidly for the first time that my Mama wanted to be cremated, because she was single and did not want to be buried alone. I knew it as if she was whispering the message on my heart, and I got teary-eyed, because I, too, now have that fear.

As the day went on, I thought about my  life and my relationships and got very, very morose at the thought of dying and not having a loved one to lay beside. Granted, I have my grandparents and other family members and I have my kids who will hopefully, God willing, be with me when that fateful time comes. But not having a husband, not being a Mrs. whomever, not belonging to another human being when passing, just breaks my heart and makes me cry.

Maybe this is part of some midlife crisis I am having. A quick search actually showed that the fear of dying alone is quite common. I am not scared of dying itself and have no sense of its impending call as I think my Mama must have had. Maybe this new sensitivity is a sign of my longing for deeper companionship. Maybe it means my heart is healing, that I am ready to be fully committed, hell if I know. Whatever it is, the flood of emotions that overcame me as I snapped pictures of magnolia trees and Confederate graves haunted me like a ghostly specter throughout the day, and the fear lingers with me, even now.

I do not want to die alone.

As women glide from their twenties to thirties, Shazzer argues, the balance of power subtly shifts. Even the most outrageous minxes lose their nerve, wrestling with the first twinges of existential angst: fears of dying alone and being found three weeks later half-eaten by an Alsatian.” ~Helen Fielding, Bridget Jones’s Diary {my favorite book}

The Anxiety of Intimacy

My best friend and I have had many conversations about dating. She has walls up from past hurts, which is completely understandable. She does not want to let her guard down, does not want to be taken advantage of, does not want to seem vulnerable.

She gets frustrated with me, because I am so open to meeting people. I easily connect, enjoy hearing people’s stories, even like the cat and mouse chase. The writer in me enjoys the fodder it gives me for good laughs with my girls.

She worries that I risk getting my heart broken too much, but she is wrong. I never let anyone near my heart. There is so much scar tissue built up that it is going to take a skilled surgeon or hunter gatherer with a sharp knife to get anywhere near the actual organ.

I learned at a very young age that a man does not show up when he says he is going to, that he will pick and choose what is important in your life and you are completely at his whim. I remember sitting for hours staring out of my grandma’s window waiting for him to show up for whatever grand adventure had been promised, only to be disappointed while others made excuses for him. I stared out in crowds at pageants, awards ceremonies, graduation, hoping for some sign of support and approval. But all the crowns and trophies and scholarships and accolades could not make him appear. So I started making excuses for him, and I started blaming myself. I am not enough. I am never enough.

When he did show up, he made me feel like a million dollars, so I would try harder. And, hence, the roller coaster ride of emotions I have been on since I was born. I have got to be better. I have got to work harder. I have got to obtain some level of perfectionism, because maybe then he will say I am enough.

This very basic lesson in my formative years set the pattern for my adult partners, as I strove for fulfillment and acceptance in dysfunctional relationships, slowly chipping away at myself and building scar tissue around my heart until I married. As my dear friend Iris pointed out this week, that decision to marry was the only real mistake I have made as an adult, because it was the one in which I gave up and settled; but it made me a mommy and something about that woke me up to the vitality of life and the need for healthy, intimate relationships.

Only now, I am like a wounded animal. Friendships and casual dating I can do and I can do them well. I can give my all to my children. I can love my students whole-heartedly. Hell, I can love strangers and have a soul full of empathy and compassion.

But a truly intimate relationship with a man? It is completely foreign to me, because as soon as someone tries to pierce my scar tissue, I shrink away in anxious fear. I literally torture myself with the negative messages I learned as a shy five year old suppressing tears of rejection and disappointment. I beg my friends for reassurance, and then I close off and push away.  I try to stay so busy that I forget that I ever needed that affection in the first place. I shuffle quickly like my rescue puppy does when anyone tries to pet him, because he, too, has learned that love hurts.

I wish that I could wrap this post up with a pretty ending, but I cannot. All I can do is admit that I at least recognize my patterns and want to fix them. Iris insists it is as easy as replacing the bad thoughts with positive ones, like breaking my Coca-Cola habit last year. So, I am committed to praying and filling my thoughts with scripture, of acknowledging how much my children and students adore me and why, and counting the blessings that are my friends, every single time my inner dialogue says that I am less than. After all, the whole goal of this “Year of Yes” is a better, more full life, one filled with intimacy and passion and love. Finally, I realize that I am worth the effort of healing. I want more and maybe, just maybe, I have met someone worth the trying.

If you want crappy things to stop happening to you, then stop accepting crap and demand something more. —CRISTINA YANG, GREY’S ANATOMY
Shonda Rhimes, Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person   

I should say that this post is absolutely meant with no disrespect. I still adore him and crave his attention and approval. But I have learned to set boundaries now, another step in the healing process, and I hope one day to understand the why behind his behavior. If that does not happen, then I will have peace knowing that I at least tried. I have always tried. I just will not make or accept excuses anymore.

My Dating Checklist

After my divorce, my college friend Steve insisted that I sit down and write out what I am looking for in a mate before taking on the dating world again. He told me to keep the list somewhere sacred and to revisit it constantly, amending it if I need to, but to never lower my standards.

I was so lost that I found this exercise extremely difficult to do then, and it is still painful, because I realize now how prone I am to compromising my own values for the sake of love or, worse, approval. The fact that it is difficult makes it essential to my growth and worth constant review.

dating-after-divorce

Inspired by a sermon, I recorded my thoughts on the back of the church bulletin one Sunday during our service. I prayed over it, and I will continue to do so, because I realize now that this season in my life is so very important and planned. I only want to end my singleness according to God’s will and, frankly, I will miss it. I am starting to savor my freedom!

 

 

 

 

A Prayer

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.

marriage-prayer

So About Being Single {Part Two}

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.

me

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.

So About Being Single {Part One}

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.

 

2002

Florida-Georgia Weekend, 2002, Single and Sporting Reese Witherspoon’s Signature Cut from SWEET HOME ALABAMA

 

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.

 

2016

2016, Trump Hotel, Washington, D.C, Single Again