Surprised, But Then Again Not

It has been  tradition for a good decade and a half now, and this year was going to be no exception.  I had to have a summertime meet up with my very best friend, Mindy, or  Mila as I like to call her.  In years past we have traveled to far away places, each one hotter than the last.  She’s a school teacher, so our travels are limited to the summer months.  So why not go to Costa Rica, Washington, D.C., Memphis and San Antonio in the sweltering, oppressive, god forsaken, hotter-than-balls heat?  Year after year, we’ve been undeterred.

In recent years, things have scaled back a bit as Mindy prepared to send her first born to college.  We have set out on a staggering trail of visits to mediocre-at-best Midwestern towns.  Places like Dubuque, Prairie du Chien, Waterloo, and Cedar Rapids.  Proving, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that every city has a little (sometimes really little) something to offer, at least one passable restaurant, and fun to be had if the two of us are there.

Early this summer I had sent a message to Mindy with all of the weekends that were possibilities.  Summers slip past us these days, the velocity and speed intensifying with each passing year.  Wisdom tells me when it comes to the non-negotiable summer musts, it is best to book early.  Summer will be over in the blink of an eye.

So Mindy got tangled up with little things like getting her son graduated from high school and taking a two week trip to Costa Rica with a group of high school Spanish students.  When she returned in early July, she sent a message and inquired, “Are you still free the weekend of July 15-17?”  It was only about ten days away, but indeed I was and I wouldn’t miss the opportunity to see her.  I scanned the map for a new mediocre city, and we landed on La Crosse, Wisconsin.  It was a three hour drive for each of us, and someplace we hadn’t been together.  On short notice, it simply would have to do.

We arrived on Friday night and didn’t miss a beat.  Our time together was comprised of all the usuals – talking for hours on end, Mexican food, booze, raucous laughter and a bit of being ridiculous.  On Saturday, went to the stunning shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, did some shopping, had some lunch, nursed a blister on my toe and took a little nap.  By the time we got showered and ready to find our way to dinner, the sun was dangerously close to setting.  We headed out quickly and made our way to the weekend’s premiere and necessary photo op – The World’s Largest Six Pack.

As is generally always the case in our kind-of-like-an-old-married-couple relationship, I researched and picked the place for dinner.  Situated on a bluff overlooking The Mighty Mississippi, the bar and grill I selected had consistent rave reviews.  It was busy – even though it was later in the evening – so we plopped ourselves down at the bar in order to patiently wait for a table outside.  There were a couple of musicians plunking away in the backdrop and we laughed at their repertoire of music – oldies, then country, then reggae – they had it all. We chatted up the locals and sipped our Spotted Cow.  We were in heaven.

The conversation took one of the more serious turns for the weekend as Mindy and I reflected on her joining “The Club” in the last year, membership indicative of having lost a parent.  Mindy’s dad had passed a little over a year prior, and she had made it through all the treacherous hurdles of The Year of Firsts.  I commented how four days prior had marked the 20 year anniversary of my own father’s passing and how implausible that seemed.  How could something feel like a nanosecond ago and an eternity at the same time, I wondered.  I told her that I always feel his presence with me and she said she felt the same about her dad.  What was strange, I said, was that every year on or right around the anniversary of his death, I hear Dad’s favorite song, Amie by Pure Prairie League.  But I hadn’t this year, and I wasn’t sure what was up with that.

Mindy and I finally got seated on the patio and proceeded to order what seemed to be the best fish I ever ate in my entire life.  No joke.  This was some amazing fish.  I don’t even know what they did to it.  Maybe the fact that I was really hungry impaired my judgment in some way.  Or maybe the fish was really just that good.  Truthfully, I may never know.

With my belly full, I looked down at my plate and had one more piece of this most delicious fish left to devour.  I almost wasn’t sure I couldn’t do it, but who was I kidding?  I could.  I reached for it, and Mindy stopped me.  “Listen,” she said.  “It’s your song.”  And yes – right then, right there, I heard it.  The two-man band inside a riverside bar and grill in La Crosse, Wisconsin was playing Amie by Pure Prairie League.

You can imagine, I’m sure, that a chill went straight through me.  I got goosebumps.  I got tears in my eyes – lots of them.  I grabbed Mindy’s arm.  I accused her of requesting it, even though I knew she hadn’t left my side since we got there.  I said over and over that I was so surprised this had happened.  And Mindy, my soul mate, my best friend, the one who gets me every time, simply said, “I’m not surprised at all.”

For those of you who are grieving, who are hurt, who have lost and not yet recovered –   know this.  Even though you can’t see someone, you can’t touch them, you can’t hear their voice – I promise you this:  No matter how much you are missing someone after they are gone, they aren’t really gone at all.  They are right there with you every step of the way.

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The Pursuit of Everlasting Love

“Enough already,” I thought, and just like that I had moved on.  It was as if my mind were a high school gymnasium. The janitor had swept up the last of the paper streamers and confetti from the homecoming dance, had stacked all the chairs, and had decisively switched off all the lights before heading home.  This shit was done.

What was done were the abject relationship failures.  I was over it in the biggest possible way.  And just like that, I made a decision.  It wasn’t so much a decision to embrace my singlehood – though I did – it was a more decision to sit with it.  To understand it.  To become a better version of me.  I needed a break from a ten (or more) year streak of poor choices, attracting the wrong people, being the wrong partner, chasing the wrong things and awkward first dates followed by days and weeks of over analysis.  My poor friends. We all needed to be done with it.

I boldly headed into a new era.  It’s one thing to be single by accident. It’s quite another to be single by conviction.  I knew in my head and in my heart that I had a couple of solid truths:  1)  I sincerely wanted everlasting love, and 2) in my current state, all things being equal to what they were, I wasn’t getting it.  It’s easy to find faults in others, and a more delicate and daunting task to find them and fix them in yourself.  But this I knew for sure:  however challenging and difficult and broken things had been in any of my relationships, there was one common denominator.  That was me.

On the inside, I knew I was doing the hard work, the close examination of myself to recalibrate all my love chakras.  But to the outside world, I needed a name for it.  “I’ve taken a Vow of No Sexual Impropriety,” I declared to my best friend one sleepy Saturday afternoon in a small town Iowa bar.  Yes, it was sassy and cheeky and to someone who didn’t know me better you might think, “A vow?  You needed a vow for that?!”  And while images of a sex swing hanging from my bedroom ceiling and a suitcase with sexual accoutrement spilling out of it might conjure up in your head, I assure you that was not the case.  But I needed a declaration that stood on its own, that was decisive, that said something and meant something. The Vow of No Sexual Impropriety fit the bill.

My best friend looked at me and arched her eyebrow, signaling her wish to know more.  “It’s like this,” I pressed on.  “I know what I want.  I want everlasting love.  And the truth of the matter is, nobody is going to self-actualize if they have some random guy’s dick in their mouth.” I said it strictly for shock value effect – again not because of its relational value to my own life – and knew in an instant it had worked.  My best friend, not missing a beat and as only my best friend can do, lifted a napkin and raised it to wipe an imaginary tear away from her eye.  “It’s just so beautiful the way you say it, Jen,” she said while pretend sobbing.  And then we laughed and laughed and laughed. It’s so freeing to bring out the absurd with one who really gets you.

But truthfully and all sassy kidding aside, I knew that if I were going to find the love I wanted, the love I knew I deserved, I had to make room for it to fit in my life.  To settle for anything less than what I deserved – even for a moment – was to signal the universe that I didn’t believe in what I said I deserved.  I was going to have to be patient.

I stayed the course on this love fast for two full years, believe it or not.  Two years in which I did not go on a single date nor did I entertain the notion of a single love prospect.  Two years in which I deepened my meaningful friendships, worked hard and smart professionally, focused on my writing, traveled, read, cooked great meals, and tried a whole bunch of new things.  Two years in which I ended every day by listing all of my gratitudes for that day, including all the love I already had in my life, even on the really crappy days.  Two years in which I reminded myself over and over again what I want and what I deserve:  everlasting love.

A ways into the exercise, I felt a shift.  I knew I had achieved an almost laser focus on my desires and my belief in what I have to offer in a relationship.  I believed, and still believe, that I had become a better version of myself in the process.  I also felt it coming.  Kind of like when you are waiting for a friend to pick you up, and you see the headlights of their car approach your block. In that moment, they aren’t at your house yet but you just know they are almost there.  I had that kind of almost-there-knowing.  It’s out there I would tell myself.  It’s coming.

This past August, taking me quite by surprise, it did come.  I didn’t just sit back and wait for it, but rather put the new and improved, happier and more focused version of me back on the market.  Almost instantaneously, I met a fantastic person.  We talked for hours and hours and hours on the phone and within days could not stand it any longer and had to meet.  We met at a park for our first meeting where we encountered a whole bunch of human oddities and laughed our fool heads up.  From there and every day since we have forged a relationship that has had all the usual fits and starts and occasional pitfalls of a real relationship, but that is sealed by a common respect and sheer admiration of one another.  This is a man who can handle all that is Jen Wittwer, who gets a kick out of me, who is just the right amount in balanced awe of me but who can also confidently stand up to me when it needs to be done.  This is a man who makes me belly laugh and gives the best hugs in the world and I admire as having one of the kindest, gentlest, most thoughtful hearts I’ve encountered.

Is it everlasting love?  I guess I don’t really know.  I am not sure how anyone can ever say for sure.  But I do know this.  It is the love I deserve right now, and it was definitely worth the wait.

 

Be Nice to Jen

This past week marked an incredible accomplishment on behalf of the Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division.  The doors to the long-term care unit, a locked unit and one of the only of its kind in Wisconsin or anywhere, really, closed permanently.  The last of the clients were moved into their thoughtfully arranged, beautiful and custom-built homes made specific to their unique needs.  Was closing this facility and finding new homes for those who lived there a perfect process?  No, because it never is when you are dealing with human beings – let alone human beings with remarkably complex lives.  But I can say this.  It is a new day – for those clients, for the Behavioral Health Division, and for our community.  A new day that will have challenges and triumphs and a whole new round of considerations.  A new day that my incredible team helped make.

On Friday after the last client had moved out, my team and I just happened to be spending our lunch hour together for a potluck because we had never had any sort of holiday celebration.  It was fitting that we had come together on this historic day, and I took the opportunity to say a few words of sincere appreciation.  It’s not easy working for the public sector system.  There is a lot of scrutiny and criticism and back seat driver-worthy assumptions that can make even those with the purest heart occasionally fill with doubt.  But those of us on the inside know the truth, and we have to remind each other of it:  We work hard, we care deeply, and although it might take longer than we like, we overcome barriers to do the right thing for the people we serve. We are in it for the right reasons.

When I got home on Friday night, I  mindlessly ate the sandwich I picked up from Culver’s and sunk down in my favorite chair with my feet propped up on the ottoman.  I’ll be damned I thought.  We actually did it.  I wasn’t sure the day would ever come and when we first set out on the venture, I surely didn’t know how we’d get there.  But we did, and at the end of it all I felt equal parts disbelief and pride.  That team of mine, I am telling you, they are something else.

By about 7:15 that night, I felt an exhaustion so deep and so unrelenting that I had no choice but to make my way to my bed.  It was as though I had run a marathon and collapsed at the finish line.  I slept a deep, peaceful, sound sleep that had evaded me many nights over the course of the last two years.  When I awoke early Saturday morning, I knew what I needed to do.

What I needed to do was take care of me.  Without hesitation, I declared Saturday, January 16, 2016 “Be Nice to Jen Day.”  I’ve instituted such days before, and in fact I try to make sure they happen a couple times a year.  Now don’t get it twisted, this is not a community-wide event.  The only person required to be nice to Jen on Be Nice to Jen Day is Jen.  It is merely optional for everyone else.

Most of my Be Nice to Jen Days look similar.  A little sleeping in, a little getting my house in order, a little time alone, a little time with those I love the most, a little pampering, a little eating something wonderful, a little snuggling with my kitties.  Yesterday was no different from any of that, and I loved it every bit as much as I always do.  The combination and the details may vary slightly, but the restoring of my soul is always the same, beautiful, well-deserved outcome.

The truth is that part of the human experience is craving love and validation from those around us.  I can agree that it’s wonderful when it happens, but I would also say it’s too big a gamble to wait on it.  Instead of always focusing externally, why not start with you?  You are the one person – the only person, arguably – you can directly order to be nice to you.  If you do it enough, others just might take notice and decide they’d like to join in, too.  But that’s their deal and for them to decide.

Your deal, for you to decide, is not if you are going to lovingly tend to yourself, but rather how.

 

Pockets of Emptiness

I’m not sure how or why or when it happened, but somewhere along the way our society decided that busy-ness is the new black.  When people can squeeze each other in for a quick cup of coffee or a hurried dinner, the conversation often turns to the laundry list of tasks that have been done, need to be done, want to be done.  Although all this busy-ness is presented as a complaint, it really comes across more like bragging rights.  The busier one is the better they must be, surely crowned as the more important one, the one who is winning.

But not me, I’ve decided.  Maybe I am getting old.  Well not maybe – I guess I actually am.  At the end of a day where I was decidedly homebound and happily so, I wondered if I would someday do a life review and feel like I had squandered my time on these lazy Sundays.  Days like today that are made of decadence like fresh linens, the smell of banana bread wafting through the air, hours sorting through future travel options, naps and thoughtfully planned dinners.  This is not about busy-ness or what needs to be done, other than needing to tend to my soul.  I just can’t imagine I could ever regret it.  Has it furthered my progress, made me a better person?  Got me closer to any of my goals?  Not really.  Do I care?  Not really.

My friend described it perfectly recently and I’ve clung to her words, taken them on as my own.  She said, “I have a really full life, a life that I love.  But part of that fullness includes pockets of emptiness that I must fiercely protect.”  Yes, yes, yes.  That is beautiful.  The space and time created by pockets of emptiness matter a whole lot, too.  There is no need to overthink it. I’m keeping them.

Top Ten of Jen – 2015

Man oh man.  Another year has come and gone. Another year with laughter, challenges, love, lessons, grit.  Another year with life.  This life of mine, it is charmed I tell you.  Must be all those angels I have watching over me.  So that being said, in no particular order, here are my top ten most remarkable experiences of 2015:

1)  Did some adulting.  There’s no denying it, kids.  I’m officially a grown up.  I do turn 47 in a few months, so I guess it was inevitable that I face up to this truth.  So in 2015, I decided to take this adult thing by the horns.  I met with an attorney, and together we drafted my will, my living will, and my power of attorney for healthcare and finance documents.  I grappled with the hard questions, and I gave some careful consideration to my mortality.  Which I know is coming, but hopefully not soon.  But when it does, I’ve made life for my family a little bit easier.  Yaay, me! It feels good to be a grown up….most of the time.

2)  Did some experting.  It’s been said that to be an expert in one’s field, you must first acquire some knowledge, and then you must travel more than 300 miles to share said knowledge.  In February, I did just that.  I traveled a whole lotta miles, made my way through customs, drove a couple hours and eventually found my way to Guelph, Ontario.  While there, I conducted a series of workshops and a video recording of continuous quality improvement practices in behavioral health settings.  It was fun.  It was exhausting.  It was scary.  And I can’t wait to do it again and again.

3)  Did some laughing.  Anybody who knows anything about me knows that I love my girl Mindy.  This past summer, she and I met up in Waterloo, Iowa for a weekend of fun.  Is there fun to be had in Waterloo, Iowa, you ask?  Why yes, yes there is.  That is, if you have Mindy, Jen and the booster powerpack of our friend Mike.  Fun, it turns out, can include tractor museums and eating giant tenderloins the size of your head and doing a little late night shopping at the local Kum n’ Go for some swag.  I love it when I get sore cheekbones from laughing.  Even in Waterloo, Iowa.

4) Did some staycationing.  I had a day off this summer where my original plans had fallen through.  I could have gone to work, I guess, but – wait, catching my breath from laughing there – no.  No I could not go to work.  That’s just crazy talk.  I decided I had one day and not a care in the world and I was going to turn this town upside down.  So one by one, I ticked things off the Milwaukee to-do list and one by one, I realized how much I love this little town of ours.  I went to the domes – because they were free that day – and while there I ran into a friend.  I had an impromptu lunch with a friend I hadn’t seen in forever.  I went to the art museum with yet another friend and saw the wonderful Modern Rebels exhibit.  I sat by the lakefront and drank local beer. And at the end of the night, I decided I needed custard, because – well, custard.  At the custard stand, I ran into yet another friend.  This is a city, right?  It is – I promise you – it has all the amenities a city should have.  But it is a town, too.  And that is why it is just right for me.  Love you, Milwaukee!  Mean it.

5)  Did some celebrating.  Here is what I believe is a well known fact about me, but lest there be any confusion let me be explicitly clear:  I love my birthday!  It’s true.  I love being the center of attention for one day.  Actually, it’s not one day.  It is, at minimum, one fortnight.  One of those celebratory activities during said fortnight is Birthday Eve.  Birthday Eve is, as the name would imply, the night before my birthday.  And it is always spent with my work homies, of which I have many.  I am lucky in that way – I have really, really great work friends.  In fact, I could never survive my job without them.  So this year, like every year, we went out for Birthday Eve.  But this year, I didn’t feel like talking about work, so I brought a tin with little slips of paper for possible conversation topics.  Topics like Burt Reynolds and black jelly beans and people named Larry and traumatic childhood memories.  That little tin of random topics made for one energized, hilarious, very different evening.  I think it will be a staple at every Birthday Eve. Because Birthday Eve is totally happening every year.

6)  Did some dating.  Yes, that’s right.  You heard it here first.  I got myself back in the game.  The dating game, that is. Which is not always an easy game to be in, I might add.  Don’t get me wrong, there has been much to love about my single life.  But, I am finding, there is much to love about not being so single either.  So yes, I have been spending time with a thoughtful, funny, affectionate, handsome gentleman suitor for the last few months.  And, I would say, it has been good for me.  Good because I am reminded that even a 40-something, strong-willed, set-in-her-ways woman like myself has plenty to offer someone who gets to be with me.  Truthfully, it’s been a little scary, a little exhilarating, a little challenging, a lot of fun.  And, for the record, I’m still all in.

7)  Did some friending.  There are many things that make my life great.  My house, my family, my job, my opportunities.  But few things contribute to my life the way that my friendships do.  I cherish them and protect them, love them and honor them.  This year, I’ve had some friends go through some things.  Some things that haven’t been so easy.  And the things is, those same friends have turned to me to be there for them.  This is not a burden, it is not a chore.  Rather, this is a privilege.  This is the kind of thing that gives friendships staying power.  I love that the foundation we built over time has made me a safe harbor for the difficult times.  And I trust that when I need them, they will be there in the same ways for me.  That is a good feeling. A feeling so good words can’t do it justice.

8)  Did some roadtripping.  My friend Danielle and I had been talking about taking a road trip for years.  This year, we finally did it.  What started off as contemplation of a four day weekend in Kansas City ended up instead as a 7 Cities in 7 Days epic tour all the way to Myrtle Beach and back.  Our mantra from the start was “it’s just one day.”  So if it’s terrible (like Myrtle Beach) you can laugh it off because it was just one day.  (And laugh we did, that place is dreadfully, hilariously awful.)  But if it’s amazing (like Charleston) you can only do one or two incredible things because all you had was just one day.  (And we did those one or two incredible things as well.)  We loved traveling by car, having a cooler at our disposal, being in charge of our own schedule and stopping at any given time to do precisely what we wanted to do.  I can promise you this, another epic road trip will be happening and the plans are already underway.

9)  Did some lanterning.  OK, lanterning isn’t a real word.  But it should be!  My girl Alex turned 40 this year. She’s a baby, I tell you!  She happened to be in town for the big day, so she assembled a group of her best gals for a night out on the town.  After a fantastic dinner, one of her friends arranged for us to have dessert and champagne at the lakefront.  Now mind you, it was cool, and it was damp.  But not just a little damp, the fog was so thick we could barely see.  So we walked for what felt like a mile, and there was our little picnic set up.  As an extra special part of the plan, there were paper lanterns for each of us to light and send off into the sky as we made a wish.  Sounds beautiful, right?  Well it was, but part of the beauty was the knock down, drag out, nearly pants-peeing hilarity that ensued as several of us had great difficulty lighting our lanterns and had to chase them as they tumbled across a plot of tall prairie grasses.  In the end, the deed was done.  The lanterns went adrift in the sky, the wishes were made, and our girl Alex had a most memorable birthday. All without starting the entire lakefront on fire.

10)  Did some family bonding.  My beautiful little family and I made a big decision this year:  No Christmas presents.  Maybe it sounds a little harsh, but I assure you it is not.  It’s not, because we all have everything we could ever need.  How lucky are we?  So this year, in lieu of gifts we agreed to make a charitable donation and focus on spending time together.  We saw a comedy show.  We went out for a lovely dinner.  We went to the movies.  We played board games.  And at the end of it all, I think we all knew in our hearts that we are rich in many ways – but we are especially rich in love.

So that’s a wrap, 2015.  Thanks for another great year!  Onward and upward for more adventures in the year to come.  As usual, I can’t wait.

Direct Deposit

Once upon a time when I was young, ambitious and determined to make the world a better place (unlike now when I am old, mildly less ambitious, yet still determined to make the world a better place) I set about an exercise of enlightenment with my team at work.  Embracing the tenets of continuous quality improvement with every fiber of my being, I asked each of the 30-plus team members to schedule 30 minutes to meet with me over the course of 3 weeks.  In those 30 minute individual sessions, I wanted each team member to answer three questions for me:

1) What do you think is going well in our work place?

2) What do you think the opportunities for improvement are in our workplace?

3) What can I do to help you achieve a professional goal of yours in the next year?

One by one, team members came in to tell me what they thought.  Some were bashful and didn’t have much to say at all.  Some had put tremendous thought into the questions, and gave me new directions to consider.  Still others amazed me with the most trivial concerns that they’d been holding in for the longest time – things like a malfunctioning key on their keyboard or static in their phone.  You know, things I could actually fix.

As I was nearing the end of this project – laborious, time-consuming, but fruitful and worthy nonetheless, along came an employee who had been there long before I started.  I didn’t know a whole lot about her, but I knew she always had a pained expression on her face.  Like it actually hurt to be occupying her chair each and every day.  So in my usual way, I pretended I didn’t notice her pained expression and welcomed her into my office.  I gleefully started in with my “spiel” about my sincere desire to hear what was one everyone’s minds and make our work space the best it could possibly be. No surprise to me, my spiel fell flat and was met with any icy stare.

With no choice but to trudge bravely forward, that is exactly what I did.  “All right,” I said.  “Let’s dig right in.  First things first, let’s start with the positives.  That’s where I like to start.  Tell me what you think is going well in our workplace.”

The employee didn’t hesitate, didn’t pause for even a nanosecond.  She looked me squarely in the eye, and answered me as coldly and crisply as she possibly could.  “Direct deposit,”  she said, and it was as if she said it in slow motion. I swear as I replayed the story in my head I could see the mist of spittle spring from her lips as she enunciated the hard “p” in “deposit.”  She didn’t smirk, she didn’t shrug.  Her answer was so precise, so searing, that I pictured her getting ready for work that morning, leaning against the basin in her bathroom and practicing her intonation and expression in the mirror until she got it just right.  “Direct deposit.  Direct deposit.  No, no, no, that’s all wrong.  One more time.  Direct deposit.”

Flustered but determined to press on, I noted that while yes, we could all agree that direct deposit is a very handy tool for all of us, it is something that is surely available in virtually every workplace the days.  “Anything you want to add that you think is going well?” I bravely asked.  “Nope.  That’s it.”  She punctuated her point, and although she didn’t pound her first on the desk as she said it, she might as well have.

I carried on with the interview and listened to her very long and comprehensive list of opportunities for improvement in our workplace (no surprise there).  When asked what professional goals of hers I might support in the next year, she quipped she didn’t have any, and that all she hoped to accomplish was to not get so pissed off that he just up and quit one day without notice.

And lo and behold, about six months later that is exactly what she did.

I’ve thought about this person over the years and I’ve gotten a good many laughs from telling the story.  How on earth could someone stay in a job that has only one redeeming quality, and that one quality is direct deposit?  Or perhaps the more telling question is, how could anyone be so miserable that they can only find one thing to like about any situation, least of all a situation that pays their bills?

I’ll never be that person, I’ve told myself over and over again.  And to date, I’ve never been.  I’ve learned – by watching others, by watching me – that my professional success doesn’t bring me happiness.  Quite the contrary, my friends.  My personal happiness brings me success.  And that time that I save every other week by not having to go to the bank because I have direct deposit?  I use it to list my gratitudes.

No Mountains

I find that people can be offensively curious, and we live in society that has become unapologetic about asking the tough questions that would have once been saved for quiet contemplation outside of one’s presence.  “Why are you single?” is one of my favorites, and over the years I’ve crafted a whole bunch of responses I’d like to give to that particularly obtuse question.  “Because I hog all the covers.”  “Because I killed my last husband and everyone I’ve dated since that time has found that to be pretty intimidating.” “Because I have huge, malodorous lesions all over my private parts and no one can seem to get past it.”  The responses I concoct in my head get more and more crass as the years pass by.  I keep them to myself.

My second most favorite obtuse question, which is actually in the same family as the first obtuse question is, “Why did you get divorced?”  Which is really just a slightly more polite way of asking, “What did you do to screw everything up in your marriage?”  Or at least that’s what I hear.  And to that, I do have an answer that doesn’t involve any snark or defensive deflection.  Of course, it’s taken me the better part of 11 years to perfect my snark-free answer, but that is beside the point.

When asked this question (which I must add, you might be surprised as to how often it is asked) I say that I married a man who was a lovely man but who was also a people pleaser. And day after day, year after year, he made a habit of letting people (namely, me) make all his decisions for him. So much so, that we would go to a restaurant for dinner and when asked by the waitress what kind of dressing he wanted on his salad, he would reply to her, “I don’t know.  You decide.” I mean really!  Who does that?  There are many things in life I don’t care about or even have the required knowledge to have formulated an opinion.  But salad dressing?  Please.  We all have a favorite salad dressing.

So anyway, as the story goes, this very lovely man spent 13 years letting others (namely, me and the occasional waitress) make decisions on his behalf and stuffing his opinions (if he had any) deep inside.  And conflict?  Forget about it.  If there was conflict or even the foreshadowing of conflict, he did what any good, stoic man of Scandanavian descent would do:  He swept it under the rug.  And after 13 years of sweeping his garbage under the rug, lo and behold he came home one day and there was a ginormous, insurmountable, irritating-as-all-get-out mountain under the rug. Right there in the living room.

And that’s when the proverbial shit hit the fan.

Yes, as I say, after thirteen years of seemingly not caring about much of anything, he suddenly cared a whole lot. Because he had had enough of others (namely, me) bulldozing him and making his decisions for him and he couldn’t take it for another second.  Once he achieved this realization, it didn’t take long for things to unravel.  Not only did they unravel,  they unraveled in such an unpleasant way.  As  I have looked back and have tried to take the lesson from it all, I know this for sure:  That mountain is a dangerous thing.

It’s a dangerous thing, but it’s an easy thing to contribute to.  As you start a new relationship – when everything is bright and shiny and you are determined to put forth your best self – it can be hard to assert yourself.  But to deny your voice, in the beginning, the middle or the end really, is a dangerous thing.  Because to deny your voice is to contribute to the mountain.   I can’t tell anyone else what to do, but I for one have made a commitment in all of my relationships – especially those that matter the most – that there simply won’t be any mountains. I’ve been there, and in spite of what people might say, the view just isn’t that great.