A More Honest Look at My Year

Someone I follow online sent out an “end of year exercise” to think about all the aspects of the year that is coming to a close. There were many questions to think about as I reflected over the past 11 months. I was kind of surprised by the negativity I expressed. In my last post I said I thought it had been a “healthier, happier” year. Now I am questioning that.

When I compare the two years, I see that while 2016 had a series of dismal times that culminated in a tragic event, I was relatively unaware of the severity of the problems. So while the year was punctuated by a handful of unsettling and hurtful experiences, I feel like I passed from one to another with relatively little distress in between. On the other hand, 2017 saw me actively dealing with pain for the greater part of the year. Emotional pain, physical pain, and financial pain all found their way to my days. When reflecting on the year in free form writing, the words that surfaced were Pain, Money, and Fear. That surprised and concerned me. I’d like better than that. So I used them to develop new words for 2018 – Comfort, Resiliency, Enrich, and Assurance. I will use these words to shape my goals for 2018. I also chose a “Word of the Year” – Recovery.

 

As for my official goals, I have done so-so. I did pretty poorly on issues of creativity and self-care. However my goals for health & physical fitness and personal relationships were completely realized. Taking care of my kids and my house came in at pretty much the expected level of completion. I have a few more weeks to see if I can hammer out a little bit of progress on some of them (I give myself partial credit, remember?) In January, I’ll make a full report.

I am a positive, optimistic person in general, but I am given to Pollyannaism at times. I’m glad I stopped and took a better look at what I thought was a “good” year. I deserve better than what I have been getting, but I also need to realize that it takes a while. I’ll work on making next year just that much better again.

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So He Put a Ring on It

Engaged, affianced, betrothed – things we are not.
Going steady, hooked, matched, pinned, pledged – also things I won’t claim.
Committed, intended, spoken for – much better.
But I’ll go with the archaic definition of plighted – “pledge or promise solemnly one’s faith or loyalty.”

You see, Jim and I have decided that we want to wear rings to symbolize our commitment to each other.

weddingme

Deciding to do this was different than being a twenty-something “surprised” with a proposal. We talked about it and what it would mean to us. We discussed what kind of rings we wanted. I definitely wanted something that would not be confused with an engagement ring or a cocktail ring. But since it would be the only “relationship-identifying” ring I got, I wanted it to be a little fancier than a plain gold band. The amethyst ring that we settled on meets this criteria and suits me perfectly. Jim’s ring is kind of special too. To begin with, it’s not metal; it’s made of silicone. This ring was originally designed for people in the military and those who work with electricity. It’s made to easily compress (essential when lifting heavy weights as he does,) break under stress, and not be conductive. Additionally, he wears it on his right hand because as a violinist, wearing a ring on his left hand impedes his playing.

I am over the moon that Jim wants to wear a ring and as of now, he has worn a ring for me longer than my ex-husband did. Sounds not quite right, doesn’t it? As it was, my ex came home from our honeymoon, took off his ring, and never put it on again. His reasoning was that as a police officer, the integrity of his finger was potentially in jeopardy with a ring on it. That is actually a valid argument (Jim’s ring breaks under tension for precisely this reason.) However, my ex was a street cop for a total of three years since joining the force in 1993. All other positions he held were desk jobs. One could argue that I should have asked that he wear his wedding band again, but there are A LOT of things I should have done…..

So why aren’t we engaged? That word and several others carry with it the implication that an actual marriage will follow. And that is not the plan. I know there are people, typically older, typically with at least one failed marriage behind them, who become “long-term engaged”. They never set a date, they never talk about a wedding, but they feel they have legitimized their relationship by “being engaged.” That doesn’t feel authentic to me. I’m not saying these people are being duplicitous, just that for me it would feel inappropriate and dishonest. Because in fact, the two of us not only have no current plans to marry, we may never marry. There are very real legal and financial reasons that bar us from joining officially now and those reasons may continue indefinitely. Then there is my overwhelming desire to avoid having anyone EVER say to me “Well, third time’s the charm!” I am SO not looking for platitudes. My current happiness is hard won and I don’t want it trivialized by the fact that I am wearing a ring for the third time. In our short (yes I consider three and a half years to be very short) relationship, we have faced some significant hurdles and difficulties. We have worked through many a concern to get where we are. We have sorted through more hard issues and discussed their implications than I thought one could have at this stage.  I think this is a good thing and it bodes well for the future of our “un-marriage”.  Add to all this the notion that joining one’s debts, finances, homes, and families when one is over 50 is no mean feat and the prospect of marriage becomes even more complicated.

Suffice to say, I am happy with the current arrangement. Without the use of a judge’s chambers or a house of worship, we have placed upon our relationship a greater permanence that I welcome. And we avoided the cost of a wedding – that’s a win in anyone’s book!

Help From Friends – Observed

My last blog was about how hard it is to ask for help. Just days after I put it up, a Facebook friend actually needed help. The replies to her post were interesting and seemed to support the notion that while it is very hard to ask for help, sometimes it’s hard to get help too.

First, she started out apologetically and called what she was doing “a rant”. But what was immediately clear to me was that she was drowning. She acknowledged that she had a good life, a wonderful husband, and three fantastic children. But I know that doesn’t mean that her life wasn’t very, very hard for her. With two of her children still very young, life was at its most difficult point and she didn’t know how to get herself out of it. She felt alone and isolated. There were a lot of people who responded to her immediately with comments like “don’t worry we love you so much”, “I’m here whenever you need me”, and “let me know anytime you want to chat”. These were all people who I speculate were local to her and could have done something immediate and tangible. But that’s not what happened. They seemed to be putting the onus on her to orchestrate a get together to relieve her own suffering. When you are drowning you simply are not in a place where you can exert anymore effort. This Facebook plea was probably all she could do.

My reply, from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, made it clear I thought her friends who were but a stone’s throw away could do much more for her. I pointed out that she didn’t need someone to say, “hey give me a call”, she should not be required to make another effort. What she needed was for someone to say, “I’m coming by Saturday at 2 o’clock for coffee and cake, and I’m bringing the cake.” I’ve been there, I know what it feels like and how you can’t see your way through or around it; keeping your head above water is pretty much all you can handle.

I don’t know why it’s so hard to ask for help. And more curiously, I don’t know why it’s so hard for people to proactively provide help. Why weren’t those local friends showing up at her doorstep to take her baby out for a stroll while she washed her hair, why weren’t her friends arranging playdates so they could talk intimately about how hard it was to have young children? It shouldn’t be this hard.

I also found it very interesting that not one but four people that know her online only and from different countries than her own were the ones who gave the concrete explicit advice. One especially sage woman replied to a well wisher “Can I be really naughty and say [she] has now asked? You sound lovely, can you check up on [her] a bit and not wait for her to contact you right now? … I know it’s very hard to do the instigating of contact right now for [her].” Maybe the distance of a couple of times zones made it easier for me and the Aussie to be blunt, but I think it was important for the people who were in a position to do something to be told that THEY were the ones who needed to be DOING.

So I wasn’t the one who was going to be able to show up with “tea and sympathy”, but I hope I was able to prompt those who could.

I’ll Get By with a Little Help From My Friends

I have a hard time asking for help. I am very good at accepting help, specific help, but I won’t ask for it. Simple example: It costs $120 in gas and tolls to get to my sister’s house and for a family gathering my dad handed me some money “for gas”. I happily took it even though I would never in a million years have let anyone know how badly that expense decimated my monthly gas budget. Another friend, knowing I was having a hard time, called me to get together to make sure I was doing OK. I gratefully accepted the “tea and sympathy.” And someone has graciously assisted me with the tangled mess that is my yard, it’s hard work that I don’t especially like and it overwhelms me. But again, these were all things offered to me, I didn’t go to anyone to request it.

About a decade ago, my closest friend at the time was diagnosed with ovarian and uterine cancer. I stepped up as the primary coordinator of all her “friend care” – you know the person who organizes and directs all the people who say “what can I do to help?” I had a website that listed all the things she needed help with, who was available to do it, when people were assigned to do what, etc. It worked well and I was astonished by how many friends she had who were available to help, it was over one hundred! Actually, I was a little shaken because I was pretty sure I didn’t have that many people around to pick up the slack for me should I fall hard. As I watched so many people pull together to provide the enormous amount of care that is needed when you have young children and two kinds of cancer, I became so scared that I would never be able to garner such support, I started to volunteer. I picked two different areas of my kids’ lives to volunteer my time so there would be more people who knew me that might be willing to help if I got sick. But I hated it. Think what you will of me, but I hated volunteering. It may have been that it wasn’t a good match for me, and it may have been because deep down I was doing it because I was pre-“asking for help” and that made me uncomfortable. I lasted two years and I am in contact with just one person from that time, but only loosely. And the cancer survivor friend I worked so hard for? She developed deep relationships with other cancer survivors and drifted away. I don’t blame her at all. Our lives went in completely different directions and I am happy knowing that I was there for her when she needed me. I ended up doing all that volunteer work and did not get out of it what I thought I would. I am sure there was something I got that was intangible, but what I really feel like I got was the understanding that I don’t have an altruistic bone in my body. I figure maybe my contribution to society is that I raised the children of a completely service oriented man (my ex-husband – former volunteer firefighter, Marine, and federal law enforcement officer.) Yup, that was my duty.

I still wonder why it is I have such a hard time asking for help. When I was growing up, I could not even ask a salesperson in a store for help. In situations like that, I think it is because I don’t want to ask someone something that I think they’ll think I should already know. Even when it’s their job to tell me. Messed up right? Asking for more personal help? That hints at not wanting to impose, or bother someone, even if not only would I offer the same to them, they might have even suggested they were available to help. And of course the big one – why would anyone want to help me? I guess that goes back to “anxiety”.

In the decade since my friend got sick, I have had a cancer scare. It involved surgery that was thankfully minor and I did not require much help. Neither did I ask for it though. In general my health is actually better than it was back then, so maybe I will escape major health crises. I just hope that if I’m wrong about that, someone will be there if I need it. Without me having to ask.

My Life Online

Do you believe online relationships are real, honest to goodness friends? I do. I think a lot of people my age think that they have their limits, but I will stand up and say that I can and do embrace them fully.

My first experience with relating to people online began over seven years ago when I joined an online forum for a band I loved. For quite a while I wanted to stay anonymous and protected all aspects of my personal identity – real name, where I lived, family status, etc. But then I really started to get to know these people. We were talking about way more than just the band and their music. I even had two sisters who were also on the forum and it became quite apparent that we were a sister group. So, anonymity started to lessen. A different, more tightly knit online group was formed and we all got to know each other much better. People started meeting each other. In Real Life. This group had people from all over the world – US, England, Ireland, Scotland, Germany, Australia, Finland, Sweden, South Africa, Croatia, Belgium, and I am sure others that I can’t remember. People were traveling to meet each other, to go to shows together, to make lasting friendships. I also started meeting up with people from around the US for concerts of all sorts of bands and people came to me as well. I went to *London* to see a show and stayed with a group of these people! All the while, we were still growing our online friendships. I’ve had subset online groups going where 4 or 5 of us end up talking about particular issues for months (or years in some cases) and some of this migrated to Facebook. Some of these people I will never meet. Some of them I went to Ireland to see when I took my first solo trip in 2014. But either way, they are real and true friends.online

There are other kinds of online relationships too. Twice I have been involved with men online as well. Now don’t be aghast, I met both of them in person first but neither lived local to me. They were short, intense things and although I didn’t see them very often, it was what I needed at the time. I don’t regret being involved with someone where our primary interactions were online, but I can’t say I would do it again.

Which brings me to the newest kind of online relationship I have started. I am currently at a place in my life where professional counseling would do me good. I have been less than impressed with the therapists I have used in the past, but I know some great ones exist (my son’s is a gem!) Knowing that I am comfortable expressing myself in writing (and I really like the idea of being able to think through what I am saying several times before committing to it…) I embarked on an experiment with online counseling. My therapist is someone I email. Any time I want, as often as I want. She emails me back, usually the next day. We’ve even had a live chat session.  I have been surprised by how well it works for me. The ability to “access” someone anytime I want (rather than once a week) is surprisingly valuable. One of the biggest upsides is that I have someone to “talk” to who’s business it is to listen to me. I don’t feel like I am burdening a friend with my sorrows, my troubles, my whining. Sometimes I have to talk about something over and over and over before I get off my butt and do something about it and friends get tired of that. Therapists, not so much. Sure she asks me the tough questions, but if I ask her to back off, she does – for a bit and then circles back later when it is more appropriate. I know there are many people out there who would say that too much is lost when a therapist isn’t face to face with their client. And I agree there are many, many instances where that would be a valid concern. But for me, this seems to be the right level of support and I know that I was willing to try it because I believe in online relationships and know that they are real.

That’s my experience. Fairly varied, all successful in my eyes. What a world this is when my best gig partners live in New York, Austin, and Arizona, I’ve “dated” a man from a far away city, and my therapist is from the mid-west.