Normal

The sky is gentle this time of day. Her cool breeze tickles my skin, brushing loose, the strands of hair along the nape of my neck. I take my usual walk up the short flight of steps, noting my shadow; stretched out ladyfingers against the building. It’s my personal Funhouse mirror that I’ve grown accustomed to, but still smile at its lanky distortion.

When I reach the top, I find my key in the side pocket of my purse. Even though I’m on autopilot sliding the small metal grooves in the lock, I am ever-present with the sound. It greets me every afternoon, clear and uncompromised, not competing with children, or a partner on the other side. It barely lasts a second, but carries weight beyond measure – the click of the unlock, the forward movement of the door – it’s the resonance of my life. The sound of a single person, coming home.

The quiet space greets me like an old lover wanting attention, but at the same time, marinates in solitude.  After shuffling about, grabbing a bite over the kitchen sink, sifting through junk mail and stripping down from my work clothes, I pour a glass of Pinot, and settle on the couch. I curl up with alone; check my email, channel surf through recorded television programs, and downshift into the night. I take pleasure in my company.

~ ~ ~

There’s nothing in the fabric of my childhood that would’ve sewn together a security blanket of traditional normalcy. Instead, my comforter was a patchwork quilt of father abandonment, stepfather indiscretions, alcoholism, neglect, abuse, and bullying. This was my Normal.

It made perfect sense that by my 19th birthday, I was a stripper.

In addition to working my mojo on stage, I managed to parlay my childhood dysfunction into a full-fledged drug addicted life, complete with abuse, and self-sabotage. Not only did it feel right, it was precisely in line with my master plan of having no real plan.

College was short-lived, and not conducive to my world of eight balls, ecstasy and VIP rooms. Boyfriends were mere fabrications; failed attempts of transforming one-night stands into relationships. I can’t tell you how many guys I’ve broken up with, who had no idea we were dating.

Even before I moved out on my own at 17, men were never to be trusted. Liars and abusers, yes. People you could count on, hardly.  So why the longing to morph short-lived liaisons into would-be picket fences and monogrammed robes? Because like every young woman, I still wanted the fairytale.

When Pretty Woman hit the movie screens in 1990, I was obsessed with the fantasy of it all. I was 22, and living in the fast lane with no seat belt or air bag. Connecting with the story of good girl gone bad, I allowed my mind to fantasize about my own modern-day Prince Charming. I wondered if he existed, and would be anything like Richard Gere’s character Edward.

During the final scene of the movie, Edward climbs up Vivian’s fire escape to whisk her away. Queue the music; zoom in on the embrace, and…scene.  As the credits roll, the camera pans wide, and we slowly float back to reality by way of a vagrant man wandering the street, shouting, “Welcome to Hollywood! What’s your dream?”

Dreams have a way of changing with time.

Fast-forward twenty years and my fairy tale has become tied up in a kaleidoscope of hard lessons and unhealthy choices.  But hope is not lost, as each past love in my relationship rear-view mirror is fading, and I’m pressing ahead, navigating the winding road toward my true self.

Between kicking drugs, walking away from the stripping life, and other personal milestones, I’ve many reasons to be proud. But my trust issues with men remain, serving as relationship cinderblocks, pulling me under, in a vast ocean of possibility. Each therapy session is a valiant effort in chipping away at its core, and I’m realizing – I have the ability to stop the pouring of cement.

When it’s all you know, being alone is normal; even when the world tells you otherwise. There’s a certain ease to flying solo. I never have issues with restaurant or movie theater seats, my belongings are exactly where I left them, and the only chores I do are for me – if and when I choose to do them.

Single perks aside, I still want to grow old with that special someone who makes you forget your name. Call it a fairy tale, wishful thinking, or a hopeless romantic pipe dream – I just know – I’m finally ready.

As a middle-aged gal with enough baggage to fill an airplane, I realize I’m a red flag in the dating scene. In recently completing an on-line profile, I seriously contemplated fudging my stats. I thought about saying I’m divorced, because, these days, who isn’t? I’ve even toyed with the idea of going the widow route, but decided that’s way too Melrose Place manipulative. So I went with the truth: 43, never married, no children.

~ ~ ~

My body is warm, the hours whisper by, and my eyelids, they feel heavy. It’s late, but part of me still wrestles with the night. I eventually surrender to the realization – I can’t stay up the way I used to. I laugh inside, wondering why I still try. The unfocused turquoise numbers on the DVR tell me it’s time to sleep. I shut down my living room, and say goodnight to my space.

When slipping under the covers in my bedroom, I occupy the center of my bed. My legs stretch; I embrace my pillow, and release a sigh of content. My heart beats slowly, within the walls of comfort and ease. In the quiet moments just before I drift, the corners of my mouth turn slightly upward, and I satiate in solitude, feeling safe and free.

Here’s the part where you tell me: Did you feel “Normal” when you were single? Has society treated you differently as a single, or a spouse? Or, are you single now – and do you believe this is “ok”?

Christine Macdonald

Saying no, to say yes

There’s no easy way to break up with someone. Regardless of who comes to the point of realizing the relationship isn’t working – even if you both agree – someone always gets hurt.

While going through my first, [significant relationship] break up at the age of 28, I cried so hard my eyes were nearly swollen shut. I whaled in agony on the shoulder of one of my closest friends.

“I can literally feel my heart being ripped apart.”

Kimmy was all too familiar at the time, as she recently weathered a divorce, which often left her curled up in her walk-in closet, while her toddler was at day care. If anyone knew heartbreak, it was Kimmy.

“I know, honey. I know. What do you think all those songs are about? All those sappy movies? Everybody goes through this – and it sucks.”

I appreciated her trying to talk me off the ledge, and taking me in when I couldn’t bear sleeping alone.

The months following my newly found single status were a mixture of tears, alcohol, and sleeping way too much. Too depressed to eat, I dropped a few dress sizes, and lost an insane amount of energy. I don’t recommend the Heartbreak Diet to anyone.

Fast forward fifteen years, and it isn’t any easier. Sure, we’re wiser in our older age, but when it comes to matters of the heart – aren’t we all just as fragile?

I don’t have much experience playing offense in a relationship. I’ve always been the one on the receiving end of the news that I wasn’t the one. As I work on myself in therapy, I’m learning that my love patterns make perfect sense. I chose unavailable men to avoid getting hurt. It’s an emotional oxymoron, I know, but if you’re dealing with trust issues or come from a long line of unhealthy relationships, you’re probably nodding in agreement.

Self-esteem is something that happens when we take care of ourselves. We stand up for what we believe, protect our hearts from abuse, and surround ourselves with people who live their lives with dignity and respect.

As I write the chapters in my story, the low self-esteem is so apparent, it sometimes jumps off the page. I’m often frozen in my typing tracks, hovering between tears and head shakes, realizing, with every story, just how obvious my choices were.

Sometimes it takes looking back, to realize just how much you want to move forward.

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My relationship rear view mirror has never been clearer these days. I am learning that for me to say “yes” to myself – for my own personal growth and self-esteem, I sometimes need to say “no”. We don’t have to allow ourselves to be in unhealthy situations. We have the choice to walk away.

It’s far from easy, and the tears still fall, but the reward for knowing we are worth saying “yes” to, far outweighs the reasoning of why we’re in unhealthy relationships in the first place.

“Sometimes the hardest part of the journey is believing you’re worthy of the trip.”

_______

Here’s the part where you tell me – have you ever said “no” to someone, to say “yes” to yourself?

Christine Macdonald

Soul Mates?

Most of us have been there. We meet the perfect person who we feel completes us. We like the same movies, laugh at the same jokes. We find ourselves saying things like “you totally get me”, “where have you been my whole life?” and “we are soul mates!”

Fast forward a few months (or years) later and the glitter is washed away with the reality of life. And after wiping our tears, we come to the realization our perfect partner was anything but.

After dusting off my heart from yet another failed relationship, I am left to wonder: is there such a thing as soul mates?

It’s been said that there are many love life expectations and myths that repeatedly trip up even the most intelligent and otherwise successful people. That the “Love of my life” feeling can get us in to trouble. The quote “you don’t know who the love of your life is until the last day of your life” gives us pause to reflect on the many people who’ve come in and out of our lives after thinking they fit the bill.

I remember Charlotte from Sex and the City sharing her views on the subject. “Everyone knows you only get two great loves in your life”. A statement she revised from her previous thought of only having one, but since her divorce, she upped the number. So which is it, I wondered. If anyone knew about soul mates, clearly it’d be Charlotte.

Then I came back to reality. Not a place I’m used to living, when it comes to matters of the heart. I much prefer flying on the heels of denial and illusion – relying on the bells and whistles of romance to carry me through. But even bells and whistles need maintenance.

 

 

Love takes work. It’s not glamorous, but it’s real.

So when do you throw in the towel? When do you realize it’s time to make a change, making yourself available for your real soul mate? Or.. .was your ex your soul mate at the time? Is there even such a thing?

At (gasp) 43, I find myself starting over, but I am in a good place. I’m taking the lessons learned in my past and building a foundation for myself – and the next man in my life. He may not know me yet, but I  know what he’s getting in to, and that is something worth believing in.

So tell me: do you believe in soul mates? Are you with yours – or have you had more than one? I would love to hear your story.

Christine Macdonald