unmarried. a blog
"Tell the truth about what it's like to be human."
- Cheryl Strayed
If you’ve been following my journey, you know 2023 has been a year of transition and perseverance: the end of a marriage, the rebirth of my independence, my continued successes with writing, teaching, all the thingsss.
And I’m so thankful for the opportunities involving the good, the bad, the ugly.
I’ve experienced hardship, softship, and in betweenship.
The biggest takeaway, however, is in the knowing that roadmaps include blocks that, if one stops to reflect, are actually blueprints for more change equivalent to another exciting beginning.
I’m ecstatic for this next phase in my life. For all the adventures it will afford.
Because in the end, it’s about happiness and how it’s acquired and sustained.
Life has a way of showing that, like seasons, relationships are cyclical. And thoughts of doing things are as temporary as conversations. Whether conditional or otherwise, everything is extremely fluid. Yet determined by factors.
It takes a higher level of understanding and a typified style of grace and maturity to sustain the message that it beholds.
Why don’t things work out when the work was put in?
Is it not the “right” work?
Quite possibly the duration or focus isn’t quite right.
There’s a necessary balance and the need to abstain from the easy way out.
If anything exceptional is to come from authentic effort, then acknowledgment is needed that muscle memory is only acquired by the doing.
The dusted-off knees.
The sweat and tears dripping off your face as you fend away the white knuckled grip of fear clutching your throat.
Maybe with a different opponent, maybe not. Regardless, it’s the bullheaded precision of getting it right or as close to that as you humanly can.
As unsteady or shakeable as it may appear,
only the warrior within needs to see what matters and what it takes to get there.
“You call serving chicken-in-a-bag cooking?”
My heart sank from the verbal dagger, but I refused to let it show. After grocery shopping singlehandedly on a bustling Saturday with two uninterested children in tow, which, by the way, should be deemed an Olympic sport, I had felt a small victory.
Until he came home.
“The chicken you are referring to is called a rotisserie.”
My tone was as matter-of-fact as my newfound perspective. “And,” I continued, “this rotisserie that I’m preparing to serve is an excellent source of protein that was cooked in a far better way than what you were raised on.”
My soon-to-be-ex knew I was referring to the fast food nuggets his mother fed him. Nevertheless, I looked to the bag and questioned my parenting.
Thankfully, my mind was quick to recognize what my brain unconsciously absorbed. As my fingers worked through the succulent meat of the breast, I placed the best, most juiciest pieces on my children’s plates. I fluffed and perked the strips beside the carrot sticks and cucumber slices to create a colorful lunch.
Then I turned to his plate.
In one quick motion, I flipped the chicken and went straight for the thighs. As I plucked through the dark bits, I chuckled madly. “Chicken in a bag? I’ll give you chicken-in-a-bag!” I pulled the legs apart, yanking aggressively, and selected even the purple parts to put on his plate; pieces I know make him cringe. It was so satisfying. When I got to the wishbone, I took great pride in cracking that sucker in two and fired it in the trash.
Then, I tossed a few carrots and a whole cucumber onto the dish. Let the f*cker cut it himself.
I turned to the now-empty bag and put his food in it.
“Lunch is ready!” I announced, waving a hand over the kitchen table.
The kiddos came running in and took their usual spots, digging in happily.
“What’s this?” he asked, dropping onto the chair, eyes fixed on the bag.
I just did the exact opposite of the thing I said I wouldn’t do when newly divorced: go on a dating app.
Let me introduce you to an adult human who shares ground on planet Earth, but wishes to be referred to as Sexytime69.
Sexytime69 loves women. The love part is italicized, albeit enhancement of the desperation. He enjoys “watermelon sugar,” (if you don’t know what this is, please educate yourself for the full gamete), alcohol, and partying. Sexytime69 craves cuddles.
Sexytime69 is forty-four years young and does not disclose having children on his profile.
Sexy gives minimal information regarding himself as a person or what he enjoys doing with an actual partner, but rather shares all the things he wants to receive. He is divorced.
Sexytime69 is a pandemic of his own. He has “cleverly” cut out people in photos using sharp scissors and bad accuracy skills. Sexytime69 will declare love in minced sentences yet publicly absolve himself from coupling by leaving remnants behind including a woman’s arm and long blonde hair. Sexy is too consumed with the idea of swiping and gathering, therefore totally missing what is as clear as day to the naked eye.
Yes, I said naked.
Sexytime69 has an entire portfolio of himself in front of a mirror with a dangling towel and a grossly unmade bed in the background. These photos are nestled between the butchered ones. I know all this because I actually made the mistake of clicking on his *wink* after laughing profusely at his *name.*
Sexytime69 is, Dear America, a sad dating reality. As much as I want to embrace my new beginning, I’m quite afraid this just ain’t it.
I would, however, like to personally thank Sexytime69. Not actually in person, but I truly owe him a sincere nod for singlehandedly affording me the opportunity to see, right out the gate, what I do not want.
Sexytime has shed a floodlight of sorts on what I have been reluctantly perceiving as a dim path. My dear friend ’69 has shown me exactly what I do want by illuminating everything I don’t: to participate in online dating.
So, thank you, my bare chested compadre.
After twelve years of a lackluster marriage with a dismal sex life, I came to the conclusion that affection and intimacy were no longer negotiable. Usually, at least in my experience, it’s the man who complains when the relationship lands in the sexual desert.
Nope, not here.
It was actually me, the woman, who was parched with no quenching in sight. Therapy couldn’t fix us nor did the attempts at dating. And, I’d come to a point where I was okay with moving on.
Once the courage was mustered to make such a bold decision, my nerves went into high-gear. At the time, I didn’t know it, but said nerves were setting off all sorts of stress signals to various body parts.
Instead of fantasizing about a new life on the horizon, I was googling pressure on my lady parts wondering if it were stress-induced. All that came up were diagnoses with reasons that included intercourse being the number one culprit.
Sitting across from another specialist, I listed the symptoms. “Doc, it literally feels like someone punched me in the vagina. Please tell me you’ve heard about this before and it’s not some sick penance for finally admitting what I really want--need—in life.”
She blinked at me; the space between us growing increasingly uncomfortable as my brain confirmed what the medic wasn’t saying.
“But I haven’t had the relations mentioned in any of the information listed online!”
When the urologist continued to remain silent, I secretly arrested myself and decided to shut the hell up.
“The results indicate,” she began, flipping through several pages of scans and tests.
Indicate what? That I’m Madame Bovary? I held my breath.
“You have something called OAB,” she said.
This time I did the blinking.
“Overactive Bladder. You have an overactive bladder.”
“That’s it? My bladder is spasming? So, my vagina’s not broken?”
The urologist closed the file and stood, clearly done with me. She handed over a print-out outlining the foods and beverages I should stay away from to calm the affected organ.
“Wine? Chocolate? Coffee?”
The medic rolled her eyes. “They’re stimulants. You need to limit them not eliminate them.”
Suddenly, there was a tingle in my nether regions as if to remind me why I was there in the first place. Yes, that’s right, we’re still intact! Clutching the paper, I followed the doctor out of the room, pumping a quiet celebratory fist at the libidinous news.
Post-divorce dating is not for the faint of heart. At least for me anyway.
During one of the most craziest times in my life, I found the love of my life.
And it scares the shit out of me.
While I'm enjoying all of these feelings and experiences, there's this little nagging voice in the back of my head that repeats the same three lines:
Do you really think you deserve this?
Who, exactly, do you think you are?
What if he goes back to what he had?
Because with divorce, you always hear that people go back to what they know or are familiar with.
And so, I scare myself into believing this is going to happen. Even when I know very well that I, for one, will NEVER go back. And yes, I'm putting this on record as a permanent stamp of that belief.
It's the familiar and what I know that keeps me AWAY from the return.
But somehow, and in some twisted way, I think I'm not deserving of all the efforts I'm putting in to make the forward-facing leap.
Do you really think you deserve this?
It's like a record stuck in the same rotation.
The irony here is that if a friend came to me with these same fears, I'd yell, "Nonsense!" I'd wax poetic about the person's amazing qualities. I'd fill their cup to the point of overflow. And then I realized something.
That's what Erik
After I wrote yesterday's post, Here are the Reasons I will (Probably) Never Marry Again he immediately sent me a text countering every point with words of encouragement. And, to quote a portion of those words:
I am your probably.
It was such a rush to be on the receiving end of this message. To read what I feel deep in my soul actually being reciprocated is something I'm still pinching myself over.
It took 44 years to get here, to find my probably, and I'll be damned if imposter syndrome or any form of self-sabotage will destroy it.
1. I give my all and expect my all in return.
*I know this is not fair as not all love is perceived and delivered in the same manner.
2. I trust no one. Because I’ve watched people self-destruct (myself included) without the precursor of one or the other.
3. I am suddenly too needy when in love.
4. I’m automatically too independent to believe someone else “has me.”
5. I’m a walking contradiction.
6. I believe there is another shoe that’ll drop. After all, most everyone has two feet.
7. I’m scared.
8. I haven’t reached that personal nirvana of I’m good enough.
9. I will unconsciously over compensate for the both of us.
10. I will believe at some point (or after several) that you can do better.
On the morning of an April day in 2023, I was struggling. Mentally, physically, and overall I was not in the right head to accept anything in celebration of me or my productivity. Because it was a low point. Nevertheless, I believe this story deserves the recognition it rightfully acquired and so I'm posting it now in honor of one of my favorite people. I will always love and miss my Aunt Lydia.
Danish Pancakes (in) Brooklyn
"There's an L around you—Laura, Linda, Lydia…"
I gasped. "Lydia, yes, she was my Godmother."
The cadence of my heart shifted to a gallop. I'd never been to a medium before, but the ache to talk with my favorite aunt, the only person with whom I felt truly understood, was coming through from the beyond.
"Lydia says to eat Danish pancakes."
"Danish pancakes?" I stared at the everyday-looking Brooklynite sitting beside me in her Bay Ridge walk-up, her tank top and jeans befuddled. “Why Danish?”
Aunt Lydia, my mom’s sister, was born and raised crosstown in Canarsie. A preschool teacher with pizazz, she was considered eccentric, “woo-woo” as my dad had put it, and reminded me of the character in my favorite storybook series, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle.
Her home was the prettiest on the otherwise rugged East 98th Street and she welcomed everyone despite age, race or gender during the ‘80s, a time when too many people just wouldn’t.
Most of the visits with Aunt Lydia were only when Mom (the complete opposite of woo-woo) threw us in the car on a random Sunday morning for the hour-long trek across the stretch of the Belt Parkway, which was an obligatory trip for her, but exciting for me. My nerves would dance as we sailed the highway, kites flying gallantly in the air along the water, to Aunt Lydia's part of town; adventure awaiting reminiscent of the bricked yellow road for Dorothy.
“Do you know why the pancakes have to be Danish?” I repeated to the psychic.
She blinked at me equally puzzled (probably because everything in Brooklyn is understood to be Italian, or at least stereotypically so), then changed the subject. But, I knew my aunt was trying to tell me something.
After the reading, I raced to the car and called Mom for some clarification or, at the very least, a clue.
“Well, Aunt Lydia loved French food,” Ma said.
“What does that have to do with Danish cuisine?”
Even over the phone, I felt her shrug.
I ended the call and resorted to a little search engine tomfoolery.
“Danish pancakes are also known as crepes,” the internet said.
As I was about to leave Google, an email notification sounded.
You have been selected to chaperone our students’ upcoming excursion to Europe to study the path of World War II.
“Holy shit, that’s it!” I squealed and fist bumped the steering wheel, then quickly dialed back Mom. “Hey, guess what?” I didn’t let her respond, but instead continued, “It was Aunt Lydia! She knew that I was going to be accepted for the international trip with school. She knew that I was going to France and she wanted me to try crepes!”
My mother was quiet for a moment, partly because I talked in an anxious ramble or possibly because she was feeling what I felt was happening: my Godmother, an absolute treasure in our family lineage, had communicated a message to me, to us.
I now felt honored and on a mission: I was going to eat a handmade crepe in the heart of Paris, paying homage to a woman whose life was cut short by a battle that was not yet rendered an epidemic in women when she was ill-stricken, but who deserved all the joy.
Aunt Lydia, who died at 42, an age I was getting eerily closer to, had never visited France. Through Julia Child and various other experiences, she found French cooking to be exquisite; a tasty home-felt meal.
On February, 19, 2018, on the street adjacent to the grand entrance of Notre Dame Cathedral, I fulfilled her request. Oozing out of a warm buttery shell was the liquidity goodness of Nutella and slivers of a ripe banana; the mother of all snacks. I had purchased the crepe on the street parallel to the church and it was delicious; my students were quietly munching on theirs beside me.
My aunt, who’d always praised my miniscule accomplishments as big deals, was guiding me through a top-rated life experience via food. With every bite was an explosion of sweetness; her continued cheerleading of my efforts regardless of the absence of her presence. I felt consumed with every morsel; I felt her warm hugs. Aunt Lydia’s zest for adventure resonated in me, her message clear: engage fully in life’s magical moments while you can and partake in the indulgence of Danish pancakes.
There is something that will never change for me despite any best effort and that's the shower of "vulnerability panic" after being brave.
I have this habit of acting in the name of bravery, enjoying the process and the high that being brave affords, only to then wallow in the vulnerability that ensues.
For me, bravery looks like publishing a piece of writing. Or stepping onto a stage or into a bookstore and doing a public reading. Or getting up in front of high school students (in all of their judging glory) and deliver content they know nothing about.
Bravery could also be announcing life events on social media.
I love doing all of these things and will never stop.
But I need a better handle on the vulnerability beast.
Once the piece goes live (as they say in publishing), once the reading is over, once the lesson is delivered, the act of bravery morphs into vulnerability.
Vulnerability has many faces.
It's so easy and cool and incredibly convincing to say that I don't care what other people think. But that's not my reality.
I do care.
Just recently the news of my current relationship "went live."
Many people gushed/are still gushing along with me; so many supportive and loving. And there were a select few who reached out to express "a bit quick?" or "are you sure?"
At first vulnerability began rearing its ugly head: racing thoughts, galloping heart, sweaty palms.
My initial (and very instinctual) reaction was to ponder their inquiries. Until the maturity of being 44 kicked in.
A beautiful friend of mine named Denise died a few years back after a rapid cancer diagnosis; would she'd have thought my happiness were too quick?
And to recollect the conversation I had with Alanis back in 2014 about criticism and bare-naked exposure, she replied:
Dawn, many people will love you, many people will hate you, and many people will be indifferent. It's what you're willing to give and receive that's your business.
Yes. That's my business.
And so, after stepping off the stage of announcing the next new phase in my life, I've come to take the approach that I'm going to enjoy what is happening right now. In this moment. And I'm going to share it. And, if it doesn't work out for whatever reason, I'll share that too. Because failures are also part of being brave and vulnerable...
If we don't start living life now, then when?
On 6-4, I'll be 44.
Birthdays have become a reflective practice. It wasn't always this way. I used to party upon their arrival. I'd later dodge them. Now I reflect.
There's been so much change. So much shift.
But more importantly, I'd like to point out something that has been a continuous thread.
My writing has been the only constant throughout this life-ride however exhilarating and tumultuous. It's been a pathway to enlightenment, controversy, connection, celebration, and love.
It's because of my ability to better articulate myself through written text that I have been able to turn an art form into something that actually works. Not only for me, but for others.
Not many people know I started writing before I knew how to actually write.
At age four, I would tell my mother stories that she'd transcribe onto index cards that were later illustrated with crayons.
In second grade, Mrs. Koenig loved my "ugly witch" story and later Mrs. Magnotti captured my talent with publishing parties and a full range of open-mic opportunities at the measly age of ten.
She championed me from fifth grade all the way up to her death in my late 30s.
But, it took the death of one of my own students to process life. It was published in the New York Times.
And it took the birth of my own child to understand postpartum depression that was later published in Salon.
It also took many foolish dating fails to celebrate ignorance then featured in New York Magazine, YourTango, and countless other media outlets to understand how the coupling game went.
I wrote about being a wife.
That experience birthed a book and television exposure.
When writing about my marriage struggles openly at the onset of the 2023 year, I received more feedback than any published piece in any famous outlet.
But all correspondence aside, I spotted a note from a childhood friend.
At first I chalked it up to another pity email. Certainly polite, but certainly not wanting to dive deeper into what I was going through.
Or so I thought.
But his check-ins became constant.
His check-ins became everything.
He genuinely cared about what was happening to me.
And this gave me further permission to understand that what I was going through wasn't residing only in my head.
When he later revealed he was going through something similar I was surprised. But only because his razor sharp focus was on me; he was selfless.
His persistence to be an amazing friend.
His persistence stemming from being an amazing father.
His persistence of making sure those he cared for were cared for.
His persistence became something I wanted to be a part of.