First date fatigue

How did I get here?

Obviously I drove. He walked from wherever he lived but the place we agreed to meet was on the opposite side of the city from my house so walking was out of the question.

But more importantly, how did I get here? To this little cafe on a Saturday afternoon ready to meet a man with whom I’d been texting for the better part of a week?

And why?

Is it out of a sense of obligation? Is it to check a box? One of those “must-accomplish-all-of-these-tasks-to-be-considered-a-complete-person” lists that I subscribe to unconsciously? Do I believe that I am only whole if a man finds me worthy of taking up his free time?

Is it out of loneliness? Curiosity, maybe? 

However I ended up here, here I sit waiting for the stranger to walk in as anxiety makes waves in my stomach. My expectations are moderate to low; I hope he looks enough like his photos that I recognize him when he arrives.

I do. I smile and stand up. We share a brief hug. He speaks and his voice is nothing like how I imagined or hoped it might be. It lifts slightly as he says my name like he’s also nervous which should be endearing but for whatever reason just makes me more uncomfortable. We go up to the counter to order coffee and as I place my order he pulls a money clip out of his coat pocket. In his hand is at least $1,000 and I’m confused and amused by this bizarre flex. I giggle to myself out of surprise, which I assume he hears, and then I offer to pay, but he lifts his eyebrows and insists. The total came to $8. 

It’s taken seven minutes for me to know there will be no second date but I’m here now for at least an hour. I have a coffee in front of me and it’s in a ceramic cup rather than a portable paper one. Forever an optimist, I’m determined to at least get a story from this experience. The money clip was a great start. I wonder what else he’s got up his sleeve?

He’s relaxing into his seat and has taken off his wool toque, his vest, and has unwound a scarf. The third chair at our table is piled high with his extra layers. Under the vest is a thick grey cardigan with big brown buttons–the kind you’d imagine an emotionally detached grandfather wearing while sitting alone in his study smoking a pipe, sipping whiskey and imploring you with his steely eyes to get to the damn point, which I never seem to.

He’s tall, this man across from me. But I watch his hands as he settles into his chair and holds the tiny cappuccino cup between his fingers. I always watch hands. I didn’t know hands were important to me, or when they became important to me, but they are. His nails are clean and trimmed, but I know I don’t want those hands in my hair, on my face, or anywhere else.

As I watch his perfectly fine fingers that he’ll be keeping to himself move his cup up to his bearded face and back down to the bright red saucer on which it’s nested, he gifts me with his story. 

I may never find out why I’m here but I do learn how he arrived in this place, what his childhood was like, and how much he hates the city I call home. I find out how he spends his days, which are mostly devoid of obligation thanks to a sudden mid-life, pandemic-fuelled decision to quit his successful career, sell his business and embark on the second half of his life by pursuing his passions, which include a return to school and a focus on his writing. I learn of his bouts with depression and marvel inwardly at how much this man appears to have, and yet how empty and alone he still feels on the inside. 

In listening to his story I swell with gratitude for my own general sense of lightheartedness; depression is such a heavy load to carry and those who carry it without being crushed have a strength I admire. 

I both love and hate this part of dating, how it both fascinates and exhausts me. It reminds me of what I enjoyed the most about being a journalist, about how I could show up with a notebook and a pen and ask people what I really want to know:

“Why?”

“But how?”

“What then?”

“And what happens next?”

As he talks his shoulders relax and he gains a lightness. Meanwhile, as I absorb his story I become heavier. Perhaps I’ve gifted him a little bit of optimism. I hope so.   

By the time he pauses and asks for my story my coffee is gone and I am depleted. I’ve got a headache. I need a nap. I want to go home and sink into a hot bath with a good book. I look down at my watch and tell him how glad I am to have met him, which is true, and how grateful I am for his story, which I am. 

And so we stand and walk toward the door. This time there’s no hug, only a wave and a “thanks again” before a cold gust of wind pushes me toward my car, toward its heated seats and its silence and away from what is not meant to be. 

Don’t pity the single people

I want to apologize for all the things I said when I didn’t know any better.

When I was trying to get pregnant, and failing, a part of me died inside every time someone asked when we were planning to have kids. I wanted to shout from the rooftops that I was trying really, really hard, or tell people that I cried in my car sometimes when I watched moms wobbling under the weight of their growing bellies toddle into the grocery store.

And in those moments I learned never to ask a woman that question. 

Years later I’d meet folks who never felt compelled to have kids. They didn’t feel the same urge that I felt, and they cringed inwardly (sometimes outwardly) when asked: “So, when are you going to make me a grandma,” as though none of their other achievements had meaning if they didn’t also procreate.

Thanks to those people I learned never to approach that question by assuming parenthood was everyone’s end game. 

Parking our biases

We all thrust our biases on those around us —  if I naturally gravitate to the idea of motherhood, then I assume you must also. If I love being a wife, love coming home to my spouse every day, and am unable to imagine a life without him, then I assume you want that, too, and so I might ask you: “Are you seeing anyone interesting? Do you have a boyfriend yet?”

What we fail to recognize is that when we’re shoving our own limited world views down the throats of others they experience that interaction very differently than we intend — as pity.

ingredients for a ‘happy’ life

For the longest time I was on the ‘right’ cultural trajectory. I had the career, the house, the spouse, the kids. If our Western culture compiled a recipe for happiness, I had all the main ingredients.  

And I was happy, for a bit. But even with all the necessary ingredients, everything started to sour.

Single is actually a beautiful thing to be

I’ve learned that there are worse things than being single. What’s worse? Being in a relationship in which there’s no trust and no security. Being in a relationship that requires walking on eggshells, or sneaking glances at text messages. Single is better than feeling like you have to hide or change part of yourself to make it work, and that no matter how successful or beautiful you make yourself, you’ll never be quite enough. Single is better than knowing that no number of delicious meals prepared, family vacations planned, or Instagram-worthy photos taken will work to fix all the broken things. 

Being single is easy, and believe it or not, some of us choose to be single, sometimes forever, or sometimes for just a little while.

So when someone says: “It’s going to be OK! You’re beautiful and young! You’ll find someone special, and you’ll be so happy,” I cringe and suddenly feel as though I have to defend myself and my situation. Suddenly, I feel pitiable.

When we assume people can’t be happy without a partner we’re doing them a disservice. I’ve never been happier, and I don’t know how to convince you otherwise, or even if I should bother trying. I know blogging about it won’t work, because there are those who will read this and still shake their heads and whisper: “Aww, that’s sad. Pretty girl. I hope she finds someone soon.” Adding insult to injury, they’ll respond with a “caring” reaction or throw a hug emoji in the comment section.

But it was worth a shot at least, because honestly I’m fine.

Show me your toolbox

I hate gender stereotypes.

But this week all I really wanted was a dude with a big shiny toolbox to take up space in my life. 

The mental fog that took over during my separation has lifted. I don’t miss my marriage, and I sure as heck don’t want it back. But then I needed new snow tires, my car started leaking oil, and my washing machine broke. 

Using a friend’s connections I got a great deal on snow tires and felt like I was winning. I booked my car in for maintenance, and it doesn’t appear the problem is a difficult one to fix, but the washing machine? 

The washing machine brought me to my knees.

One sunny Sunday afternoon it filled with water and then just quit, and to be honest I wanted to do the same thing, except, of course, subbing out water for wine. 

I checked the breaker, unplugged the machine, plugged it back in. I moved things around, and bailed out some of the water. Next, I called my dad who lives 300 kilometres away.

“Jeez, Danna, I’m not sure,” he said, before asking me to try all of the things I had already tried.

And then I called my friend’s boyfriend–the handiest guy I know apart from my dad. He showed up. Tried all of the things that I tried and a few more, then turned to me and said, “sorry, looks like you’re going to need a real repair guy.”

And he left, and I had the biggest, longest sob I’ve had in months.

I wasn’t crying about my washer. I wasn’t crying about the money it would cost to fix. I wasn’t even crying about my half clean sheets.

I was crying because it was just me. There was nobody with whom to commiserate. There was no one to take this one crummy thing off my plate and deal with it so I wouldn’t have to.

I am solely responsible for making all of the decisions, and it’s amazing, but it also SUCKS!

I get it. In the grand scheme of things these are not big problems. They’re actually super small problems with super simple solutions. A repair guy showed up within 24 hours and within 10 minutes of his arrival my washing machine was cranking away. 

(And yeah, the repair man is happily married. I asked.) 

Truth is, I tackle MUCH bigger problems every single day, and do so without even thinking about it. 

But dammit that washing machine spun me, and I feel like a crummy feminist for saying so out loud.

Giving thanks

Thanksgiving is my favourite holiday. Like most things, though, this year I’ll be celebrating slightly differently. 

Instead of piling into my childhood home with my brother and sister and their spouses and children, I’ll be spending the holiday with friends, hiking, laughing, and eating great food, while my kiddos spend the weekend with their dad and his girlfriend.

Funny, then, that change, growth, and the clarity that comes on the other side of it is what I’m most thankful for this year. 

A long list

I’m grateful for soul-filling moments that become frozen in time. Just a few nights ago I convinced my son to come for a run with me. It was a short run — hardly worth the effort from an exercise point of view — but at the end of our run he spotted a patch of dry leaves, grabbed a handful and let them crumble between his fingers. 

“You’ve got to try this, mom! It feels SO GOOD!” 

And so I did. And we stood there, four steps away from the car and for five solid minutes, crumbling leaves in our fingers and covering our shoes in leaf dust. Our cheeks were pink, our hands smelled like fall, and I’ll never drive by that spot without smiling. 

I am thankful for my body, for the way it moves without pain (most days), and for how strong and reliable it is. I’m thankful for the scars that remind me that yes, in fact, I heal.

I’m thankful for clean sheets, floral wallpaper, scented candles (like these amazing ones that my friend’s niece makes), and pink, faux rabbit-fur throw pillows.

I’m thankful for all of the things I didn’t say, the secrets I didn’t spill, and the gossip I didn’t repeat. I’m thankful for the texts I scripted in anger and deleted, and for the ones I received, read, and left ‘seen’ and unresponded to. 

I’m thankful for remote work and videoconferencing, and for the side conversations that go on behind the meetings.

I’m thankful for all of the times over the past year that I’ve screwed up. I know there will be so many more screw ups in future, but at least those ones are behind me.

I’m thankful for the relationships that haven’t worked out, for the roads not taken, and for the lessons that saying goodbye have taught me about myself and the kind of person I want to be. 

More than anything, though, I’m thankful for the relationships that have worked out. For the friendships that are richer now than they’ve ever been. I’m thankful for the life-long bonds, and also for the brand new folks that show up unexpectedly. I’m thankful for the relationships that start off as a few shared gifs in a work chat and an eye roll here or there, and then before you know it, you can’t imagine a day without that bit of connection.

Tell me, what are you thankful for?

Good morning, beautiful

When grieving the end of a marriage people tell you that the evenings will be the hardest part, but that’s not true. Not for me, anyway.

When you’re a parent, mornings rage in like thunderstorms, startling you from sleep and smashing you over the head with needs, wants, demands and expectations. Mornings are noisy and frantic. Despite how prepared you feel the night before, each morning brings with it its own new catastrophe. Someone lost something. Someone forgot a spirit day. Someone finished the last of the favourite cereal. All of the favorite lunchbox treats are gone. There are seeds in the bread.

At the end of my marriage I expected to feel at lose ends in the evenings. But, as is often the case in life, reality serves up unexpected hurt, and for me (even a year later) that hurt comes in the morning.

Let’s just make it to bedtime without killing each other

Since becoming a parent, the evenings have always been my goal posts. Children are fed and bathed. Whatever happened that day, good or bad, is behind you and the next day brings a fresh new blank page. The little arguments we had have been resolved – or they haven’t – but either way those children are safe and softly snoring, and even if you didn’t earn a gold star for the day, you at least get a checkmark. You may not have exceeded expectations, but dammit, you met them.

Evenings have a charm and a lightness. The quiet of evenings has a peaceful quality to it. The sofa is softer because you know that you can sit for more than a moment. The tea tastes better because you know you’ll be able to drink it while it’s still hot. TV is funnier and more entertaining, complete with sex and swearwords.

I expected that the evenings would be the hardest because of the dark, but it’s the bright light of morning that takes my breath away.

The sound of silence

Every other week I languish in the mornings. I lay in bed and listen to the silence for a moment and I find no pleasure in it. I yearn for the chaos that I always thought I hated and now crave.

I’ve never not had a human to wake up to – whether it was a partner rolling toward me with a stretch and a groan, or a child with his knees shooting daggers into my back. I’ve also always had a morning soundtrack: A television, an argument, cupboards and drawers opening and closing, and of course the sound of that epic morning pee and subsequent (if I’m lucky) flush.

So often these days, I wake up to silence, and now (thanks to the pandemic), I shuffle into work in silence. I don’t greet the neighbour as I get into my car because working from home I have nowhere to go.

Hey. How you doin’?

But not so long ago I rolled over in bed, grabbed my phone and spotted a text that had been sent five minutes earlier, which read simply: “Good morning!”

That was all. That was it.

The “good morning!” asked for nothing. What it gave, however, was a reminder that just because it sounds as if I’m alone, I’m not.

It reminded me that I’m not the only one living so quietly these days, and that this pandemic solitude can be breached through intentional and thoughtful connection.

In other words, good mornings are now on the menu. When you receive a “good morning” from me, here’s what it means:

I care about you. I’m thinking about you. I am happy because I know you. I am grateful that you are in my life. It is a privilege to be your friend, your mom, your lover, your daughter, or your colleague.

And what I realized also is that good mornings don’t have to be quite so explicit. Maybe they’re just a funny meme, or a news story that you read that relates to a conversation you just had. Maybe a “good morning” is just a gif, a joke you heard, or maybe it’s an in depth retelling of a super weird dream.

That’s all. And that’s so much.  

I can’t always hear the folks who love me, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there. 

So, good morning, beautiful.

Learning to take a compliment

Compliments are hard to manage for a well-adjusted woman, and even at my most confident I’ve never known what to do with them. However, right now, right in the midst of heartbreak and transition, if you give me a compliment I will poke a million holes in it. I will deflect like a boss. Make no mistake — I want the compliment, I just don’t know how to handle it when it arrives.

Example 1:

Them: “You look so beautiful in your photos!”
Me: “The photographer was amazing, and the lighting would have made a block of cheese look like a supermodel. We sure timed that right!”

Example 2: 
Them: “You have a real gift for writing, Danna.”
Me (via text to a friend): “How do I tell the difference between a pity, we-feel-sorry-for-you like, and a real like?”

When I’m wallowing there is not a compliment that I’ll believe, and there is not a nice thing you can say that I will trust entirely. 

(“Let’s face it,” sad me will say to myself, “if I were actually beautiful enough, then this probably wouldn’t be happening. If I were actually talented and funny and smart enough then I probably could have prevented my world from turning upside down.)  

But there is, thank Christ, a time limit on being pathetic. I can enjoy the food and music (sour jujubes and Adelle mostly), but I can’t move in and unpack. 

The antidote to being down in the dumps awash in self-pity, is, unsurprisingly, administered by women.

the gift of company

During my 42 years on this planet I’ve come to realize a universal truth  — the longer you live, the busier you become. I’ve heard life doesn’t even slow in retirement. Life, like skipping rope, just gets harder as you get older. And time for leisure becomes more scarce.

My own calendar is filled with work commitments, family commitments and other obligations, both in-person and virtual. There is never enough food in the fridge, the laundry is never done, and no matter how many times I walk the damn dog those big sad eyes will always be staring at me, begging for just one more trip around the ‘hood. I know I should go to bed earlier, but instead of sleeping I use the ever-shrinking time after the kids go to bed to tidy up, or to answer a couple of emails to get a head start on the next day.

There are always extra things to do. There is never extra time.

This is what life is like for all the women I know, but that hasn’t stopped them from showing up.

Despite the pressure put on these remarkable women to do everything and to be everything to everyone around them, they show up. These women are running businesses and raising families, but they pick up the phone and actually call. They give an hour, sometimes more, and fill up the silence that would otherwise eat me alive. 

They arrive, and they give, and holy shit, what a compliment. 

If I am enough for these women, then I am plenty. And even though you might not be able to hear it, or accept it, you, my friend, are pretty spectacular, too.