Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Fatter but wiser

Being unmarried does NOT make you inferior.
In April 2007 I left my spinster pad and moved in with my boyfriend, who would later become my husband. I was 40 years old and wasn't sure how living with a boy would go, but I knew that I was sick of being single-never-married. Once I was permanently partnered, I knew my real life would begin.

Six years went by.

After one year of shacking up and five years of marriage, I've now moved back to my old block in Rogers Park (Chicago, Illinois USA), once again on my own. I'm just four buildings away from my former spinster pad and have even reunited with my old landlord. I'm six years older, four clothing sizes bigger, a quarter of a head grayer, forty pounds heavier and a hundred times wiser than I was when I left. This is what I've learned.

Being single is just as good as being married.
Speaking only for myself, I believe marriage has as much potential for yielding me happiness/sorrow as singlehood does. It's been pretty much a push on that one. I can name ten things I love about being married and ten things I love about being single right now. I can also name an equal amount of things that suck about being married as that suck about being single.

Uncoupled people are not inferior to coupled people.
Oh my god, f#%&-ing christ on a stick, I HATE that I ever doubted that, but I did. I spent years convinced that people in long-term relationships were superior to us floundering around alone. This belief was warped and twisted, and it was fueled by self-hatred and chronic depression. My low self-esteem would not allow me to consider that other singles might prefer to be that way, or that being free of a relationship didn't mean I was any more defective than the partnered. Now I know couples simply do their own dance of insecurity, pain and joy; they just do it while trying to never step on their partner's toes, which is impossible.

Depression is harder when I'm married.
Again: I'm talking only about me. I've spent over a decade learning how to manage and live with the symptoms of chronic depression. Being all alone in life while dragging through bleak, empty days was hell, but being married to someone who didn't understand my depression was worse. I'd heard that being with someone can be lonelier than being on your own and now I get it.

When living by myself, depression means pulling myself together for the work day and then falling apart when I get home. When I'm married to someone with limited understanding of mental illness, depression means pulling it together to go to work and then having to keep it pulled together even at home. I felt guilty because I knew my depressive episodes affected my husband and strained our marriage, so I would try to act -- twenty-four hours a day -- as if I weren't depressed. Of course, I couldn't. At times I longed for the single life when I could feel my emotions without dragging anyone else down with me. And my husband's resistance to understanding mental illness made me feel more alone than dealing with it on my own. As he realized the depth of my disease and I felt the inertia of his indifference, a crevice opened between us.

Marriage can really slow down one's sex life.
Enough said. 

Don't worry about weight.
I used to spend huge amounts of time, money and energy maintaining a clothing size 8. I relentlessly exercised and criticized my every bite. I felt terrified of looking unattractive, unsuccessful and not in control of my body. I believed that becoming fat would be proof of my loserdom.

After years of intense work on my self-esteem, with professionals and on my own, I have finally broken through the illusion that thinness equals happiness. It doesn't. That's bullshit, which I know because I was a skinny self-loathing person for most of my adult life. As my self esteem has improved, I've stopped worrying about my body. I feel so much better about who I am and where I am in life that my bulk is way less important to me. Size 16? Fine.

I also thought staying thin was the way to keep a man interested in me. That turned out to not be true.

Screw looking beautiful!
Since I stopped believing my self-worth was reflected in the eyes of men sizing up parts of my body, I've felt much freer to be who I am without worrying about my cleavage or waistline. Now that I've thrown off the pressure to be attractive all the time, I feel so much more relaxed. I actually like that my body is pudgier, saggier and more stuccoed with cellulite. I love my salt-and-pepper hair and deflating cheekbones. These signs of middle age protect me from stupid male attention that I can't be bothered with anymore. I used to be gorgeous with guys always trying to talk to me and it was damn annoying. Now they leave me alone and it's wonderful!

At the age of 47, when I walk down the street I move slowly, sway my hips, let my gut hang, plant each step solidly with my 170 pounds and don't look into anyone's eyes for approval. I keep in mind that I'm old enough to be the mother of many of the young men I pass and this gives me even more confidence. Indeed, they look right past me to any young women that might be around. Free of the male gaze, I feel so much lighter! I'm finally at home in my body. As much as I might envy a young woman's smooth arms or slim waist, I don't envy her for the struggles she has ahead. I'm glad and relieved to have the life I've lived behind me.

There is power in middle age.
I am so much stronger and happier with myself than I have ever been. If I have traded youth and beauty for the wisdom to truly appreciate and take care of myself, then I've gotten a bargain.

Maybe remarrying makes some feel like they have a second shot at marriage, but I feel like I'm being given a second chance at singlehood, a second chance to live my life exactly the way I want without those crippling fears of unworthiness. I relish my divorcee pad, at peace with myself and how it all turned out. This is a happy ending.

What is it to you if I'm married?

In the early days of realizing my marriage was over, I'd say to friends, "This is it. I'm not getting married again." I'd get responses like, "Don't say that," and "Don't give up on marriage." People would genuinely try to convince me that I should keep an open mind about getting married again. These people were usually married.

Why would they react that way? What is it to them how I feel about marriage? Is there some critical mass of people that have to believe in marriage for it to exist? Do my doubts about the institution threaten their marriages?

From my never-married and divorced friends I didn't tend to get such responses. They were more taciturn. Maybe they figured I was just blowing off steam. Maybe they also had doubts about marriage and saw my statement as reasonable.

But what is it that makes someone react with such concern when a divorcing person says she doesn't want to get married again? Is it purely ideological? Or do they hear my statement as a sign of discouragement and they want to stop me from sliding into depression? Or is it just a knee-jerk pep talk?


Sunday, July 28, 2013

Happy Birthday/Housewarming/Divorce!

2 p.m. on Saturday
From Central Continental Bakery in Mt. Prospect, Illinois USA: white cake with lemon filling. This half sheet cake was worth every penny of $70 because it's my favorite cake from my favorite bakery of all time. With this cake, I [and many others] celebrated my new life on Saturday. It's my second chance at living single!
1:00 a.m. on Sunday

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Happy birthday to me

Today is my big pink 47th birthday! And the Chicago weather is cooperating as well as it can. It's summer, so I can't expect cold, but at least it's not in the 80s or 90s Fahrenheit.

(Still don't understand why women don't like to give their age on their birthday. Can anyone explain this?)

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

When you fall for no reason

I was walking down from the elevated train platform yesterday after work, on perfectly normal stairs, wearing perfectly flat sandals. I was taking my time and not rushing. Close to the bottom, my left ankle rolled - I don't know why. As I fell, I dropped my book and my bag, managed to catch myself so I didn't tumble and ended up sitting down on my bottom kind of hard. My hands broke my fall by splaying out on the (disgusting, dirty) tile of the stairs. Gross.

It scared me: what was happening to my aging body if I couldn't even walk slowly down some stairs in flat shoes without hurting myself? I'd had my eyes on the ground with no smartphone or other distractions. How the HELL did this happen?

I didn't move. Since my purse was still on my shoulder and my book bag had landed upright at the foot of the stairs, I left my paperback splayed face down next to it and sat there and tapped. I tapped on my fear more than the pain, but from tapping on the fear, my left ankle began to feel better. Commuters streamed around me, looking but dismissing me since I seemed all right.

I didn't care. I tapped until I calmed down and then walked home. Since then I've tapped on it more. Today my left foot feels bruised and sore and I'm walking more carefully than ever. Do I already have the stability of an old woman?

Tomorrow I will turn 47 years old. My new goal is to do whatever it takes to stop this falling business before it becomes a habit. I don't know if it will take tapping, orthopedic care, my chiropractor, a medical doctor, head shrinking or what, but this can't continue. In flat shoes, walking leisurely and calmly, with my eyes on the stairs, my ankle rolled and I fell. What the f---?

Taking risks

In the fall of 2007 I decided I'd had it with my job. I didn't feel like waiting tables anymore and wanted to return to sitting at a desk all day. People (including my husband) tried to dissuade me from trying to make a change just then. They said, "The job market's not good right now. I think you should wait until the economy improves."

As usual I prioritized what I needed over what the rest of the world looked like. I've rarely taken my cues from outside conditions, especially when it comes to employment. I left that job in January 2008 and got extremely lucky to land another job in June 2008. I loved my new job. I still do.

Many times I've reflected on how much worse a position I would have been in if, in 2007, I'd decided to wait for the economy to improve. When others tell you to wait before taking a risk, don't always listen to them.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Back to the dog ebook

Last spring I created a first draft of my memoir with the working title "I Never Wanted a Dog." I found some readers to give me feedback on it, thinking I'd start revising at the end of June. Then I found myself facing divorce, my mother reached the final weeks of her life and I realized I needed to find a new place to live.


Now that I'm past the emotions of late spring and am almost settled into my new apartment, I'm turning my attention back to my manuscript. Yes, the story is going to have a different ending now that Bob and I are splitsville, but I think that gives it a more interesting arc. I didn't like ending the book with now I like the dog and we're all happy. Divorce is drag, but I think it'll be good for my ebook (ha!). Divorce is a more interesting subject than another tepid marriage in which the wife hasn't lost hope and it'll certainly be more original than another animal book with a heartwarming ending. Funny how that all works out. Well, actually I guess we'll SEE how it all works out.

Even though my life went crazy for a while there, it's time to get back to this goal.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Divorce feels pretty good right now

My brand new love seat and ottoman! I love ottomans.
 I am totally enjoying furnishing my new apartment! I'm getting as much stuff as possible in my favorite color: pink (rugs, cups, kitchen towels, etc). If an item doesn't come in pink, then red is my second favorite color and green is the backup. I’m not big on blue or neutral shades. I'm having a great time getting whatever I want without having to run it by anyone. Married to a guy who hates pink, I could never have gotten away with this in my former home.

Here’s a picture of the brand new loveseat and ottoman I had delivered yesterday. It’s like a dream: my sparkling single woman’s apartment is free of dog hairs, alcohol smell and coffee stains and it's going to stay that way.

The big move was Saturday, so on Sunday and Monday mornings I lay in my new bedroom and remembered how our wonderful pit bull, Ozzie, would come in to prompt me to get up, softly woofing and wagging his tail. I imagined him standing by my bed with that urgent, attentive look on his doggie face and....I felt so happy to be away from him.

No, I don't miss Ozzie (yet). I'll see that dog on Sundays and Fridays when I take care of him (for cash) and that's plenty for me. On those two days I'll walk and feed Ozzie, pet him, visit with him and then return to my dog-free home. My new place is only one mile away and my husband likes to cook, so I’m even heading back there for dinner tonight. My therapist says this is one of the most peaceful divorces she’s witnessed.

The great slamming pain of losing my marriage hasn’t hit yet although I expect it will eventually, maybe when Bob falls in love with someone else. I’m not looking forward to that, but I won’t think about it now. For now I'm focusing on making the transitions to my new home and to our new dynamic, and it's going smoothly so far. In fact, Bob and I are having about as much contact now as we did when we were living in the same place (we work almost completely opposite hours).

What do I call him if he’s not technically, legally an ex-husband yet? A would-be husband? An erstwhile husband? A semi-husband? Maybe I’ll go with post-husband. Anyone have a suggestion?

Sunday, July 07, 2013

New Home, July 2013

One-bedroom apartment in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago, IL, USA
My new apartment has the light I've been craving ever since I moved out of my spinster pad in 2007. The apartment I shared as a wife was perfect in many ways, but it didn't have a lot of natural light. This is what I want in a living space. My new home is spacious and sparkling with a startling amount of closet space for just US$895 a month. At least that's a bargain in the part of Chicago where I live; I guess it's all relative. Maybe part of the (relatively) low rent is that the general street parking in the area is kind of horrendous, there's no automatic dishwasher or automatic garbage disposal function in the kitchen sink, and the bathroom clearly hasn't been re-done in several decades.

But that's all fine because it's bright, airy, beautiful and every room has windows that face open space and there's plenty of cross breeze action. Apartments with true cross breezes are rare in Chicago because even if the architecture allows for windows in every room, they don't always line up so the breezes can go right through. These windows do. I don't have a car so I don't care about parking, and not having automatic everything is a total rich person's problem (speaking in global terms) and I'm not complaining.

It occurs to me that I moved to Chicago exactly 20 years ago this month. On my 27th birthday -- 24 July 1993 -- I drove into Chicago from Ithaca, NY (where I'd gone to grad school) with my friend, Robert Cowie (it was his car actually). He helped me start my new adventure in the heartland, generously driving me out, helping unload my stuff and then heading back to the east coast (Christ, why did you do that, Robert? Thanks again!). I remember the thrill of waking up that first morning in my new city, excited to have all unknown experiences ahead of me. I kind of felt that way this morning, too, waking up in my gleaming, lofty divorcee pad.

I've never lived on the third floor of any building in my life, so when I gaze out at the clouds and rooftops, I feel like I'm in a tree house. Even my bathroom window gets a lovely, leafy view. The only other time I had a bathroom with a view was when I vacationed on Monhegan Island, Maine USA. As inconvenient as walking up to the third floor felt in today's 88 F heat (31 C), I look forward to the increased level of exercise I'll get just coming home.

It feels kind of dream-like. Is this really my own space that I can decorate and arrange however I like? Do I really never have to put up with dog hair again? Can I really loll in bed all Sunday morning without an insistent, leathery snout urging me to get up? (The dog's, not the man's.)

My husband is divorcing me and I feel fine. I lived alone until I was 40, so stepping back into the single life at 46 feels very natural. But I admit I'm still spending time back at the other apartment (now my husband's apartment) taking care of the dog, so I haven't really felt the full impact of separation yet. As I blog this, I'm sitting at the old place with Ozzie the pit bull curled up beside me. Two days a week I'll come back to dog-sit and Sunday will be one of them. No, it's not because I can't bring myself to leave the dog behind. I'm charging the same rate as our professional dog walker ($15 a walk), plus I think it's good for me and Ozzie to stay in each other's lives. I don't want to just disappear on him, plus I understand that petting him is good for my health.

Uh oh. As I write this it's hitting me that I like being here with the dog, with my husband on the way home from work. As beautiful as my new apartment is, I suddenly feel sad that we aren't a family anymore. My bedroom here is empty, my cookies and tea and honey are no longer in the pantry, and if I fell asleep and woke up here in the morning, I wouldn't have a change of clothes or a toothbrush.

When Bob gets home tonight, it'll be time for me to leave.

One thing my husband taught me during our marriage was this: there's good and bad in everything. I used to think he was wrong because there are so many things in life that just irredeemably suck, but I've come to see the truth in his statement. There is good and bad in everything, it's just not always balanced 50/50. At the moment, this divorce feels more bad than good, but it'll eventually shift the other way. There's good and bad in everything, and the proportions of goodness and badness rarely stay the same.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Snapshot of divorce

Today is my last day as a live-in wife. I'm wandering among my labeled boxes, gazing at the last things that need to be packed. Twenty-four hours from now I'll be taping and sealing the boxes and getting ready for the movers to arrive.

Once I'm in my new apartment, I can take my time unpacking, plus friends have offered to help. I greatly look forward to having my people in my new space. Friends are critical to me. I have anxiety, sadness and a persistent feeling of is-this-REALLY-happening, but I'm mostly okay. I'm doing a lot of tapping and Rescue Remedy and I know it will all be okay.

With no kids, property, shared businesses, dependents or other legal/financial ties, this divorce is going quite smoothly in terms of red tape. With my incredible maturity and perspective (kind of joking, kind of not), I'm not feeling angry or betrayed, so look: no lawyers! We were only married five years, so we're each just taking with whatever stuff we moved in with. It's a remarkably stress-free divorce, considering. Still, there's stress.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

How to talk to little girls

THIS is an excellent post that appeared on in 2011, but it will be advanced thinking for decades yet.

What's wrong with greeting a little girl by telling her how cute or pretty she is? I quote from the article, "Teaching girls that their appearance is the first thing you notice tells them that looks are more important than anything. It sets them up for dieting at age 5 and foundation at age 11 and boob jobs at 17 and Botox at 23."

Not being wild about kids, I rarely talk to children at all, but if I ever talk to a little girl, I'll make damn sure not to comment first on her appearance.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

This feminist is keeping her married name

Back when Bob and I were first married, I told him (and he remembers this), "No matter what happens -- if we end up divorced or you die -- I'm keeping the Martin. Okay? Just so you know. I'm not going back to Regina Rodríguez." He said that was fine.

Reason: the name "Regina Rodríguez" is quite common, but the name "Regina Rodríguez-Martin" is so unique that I might be the only one in the USA. Being unique is unreasonably important to me. And the way things are going, some "Regina Rodríguez" will soon become a famous pop star or national politician or other household name. When I become a published author, I don't want to be confused with her.

Sure, I might change my mind as we go through the legal process of no longer being married, but that's how I feel today.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Regina Divorcing

Tuesday, 2 July 2013
So my husband and I are divorcing. It happens. I realized my marriage was over right around the time I found out my mother was getting hospice care. This spring/summer has been quite a ride.

I'm packing this week because I move into my new apartment on Saturday. I've been sailing along on adrenaline and good wishes ever since the end of April when these changes began falling on my head happening, but I'm feeling tired today. Since Sunday I've packed up my entire bedroom and closet, my bathroom stuff and my items that were in the hall closet. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday I will tackle the kitchen and the living/dining areas. I'll also close out the electric, gas, cable and Internet accounts (although gas and electric will move with me).

Moving because of divorce is exhausting. I hadn't foreseen how draining this week would be. I've moved many times in my life, but it's a very different experience when it's so sad. Usually I like moving. Purging my belongings and setting up in a new space brings me the excitement of starting a new phase of my life. I'm feeling some of that positive anticipation here, but I also feel disappointed and bewildered. Tonight I was folding clothes into boxes thinking, This isn't how it was supposed to go. I wasn't supposed to be moving out of this apartment so soon. And alone.

But I'm also looking forward to returning to the single life. During this five-year marriage, I sometimes missed being solely in charge of my own finances, vacations, grocery list and social life. I missed being able to carefully balance my earrings on the arm of the sofa and know they would be there until I moved them. I missed being able to throw dinner parties on any night of the week without having anyone else to clear that with. I missed having a life free of dogs and dog hair. I missed many things about having a private, uncoupled life.

Do women whose husbands are divorcing them usually feel as relieved as they are sad? I'm feeling both. Maybe it means I'm not really marriage material. I understand that it would be more typical of a 46-year-old woman who's put on 40 pounds in the previous seven months, to feel afraid of being alone and anxious about finding another partner. A typical response would be to feel betrayed and abandoned by one's spouse, and maybe angry and frightened of being alone for the rest of my life. To hell with that: I'm not angry with my husband, and being alone for the rest of my life sounds pretty good. In fact, I think single might be my natural state.

But at the end of every break up you didn't initiate, the questions can be haunting: what happened to all the love and passion? How could it all disappear like that? What did I do wrong? Why doesn't he like me anymore?

This week I'm doing a lot of Emotional Freedom Technique tapping to keep from drowning in those questions, and so far I'm doing pretty well. While those first two questions keep running through my mind, the last two do NOT. I'm very grateful for that because just a few years ago this situation would have convinced me that I was a big loser and failure and that no one would ever want to be with me. Incredibly, I do not believe that right now! It seems too good to be true, but I'm able to see that part of the responsibility for this divorce is mine, part is his and what it comes down to is that we just weren't a good match. No one is to blame. It feels so good to know deep down that this was not my fault. Not mine alone, anyway.

So I mainly feel sad, disappointed and bewildered. A little stunned. I'm worried that I'll collapse into a depression after I've moved and the end of my marriage really hits me. To head off a bad depression I'm tapping, trying to keep everything in perspective and staying in close contact with my friends and support groups (and of course I've got the therapist and the anti-depressants). I'm being extra kind and nurturing with myself because some of my worst depressions have hit in the summertime and here we are at the beginning of July. Summer is just not my season. My mood can go bleakest when the light outside is brightest.

I'm calling it a night. I'm on schedule with the packing and too tired to do more than walk the dog and crawl into bed. Have I mentioned how much I'm looking forward to not having to take care of a dog anymore? Ozzie's staying with Bob and for that I say, "YAY!"