January 25, 2016

Amber June's Guide to Post-Divorce Dating for the Burned and Skeptical Single Mom of Faith

Hey Blogland Beauties. 'Sup? You want to be the next tick on my page counter? I know, I know, I haven't been around. But I'm here now, and I know you want to read ALL my words.

In the two years since my divorce, I've gone from being terrified of dating again, to having a lot of fun dating again, to being annoyed with dating and all single men, to coming to peace with the possibility of spending the rest of my life alone and actually being okay with that prospect. I mean, the closet space alone is a compelling factor. But we'll come to that.

I've spent a lot of time wondering if my random dating-after-divorce / online-dating-related thoughts and experiences could be of help to anyone and I've concluded that they will probably not. Because, whatever stage of the above cycle you, or the person you know who just got divorced whom you're going to tell to read this, or their cousin Sheila who's been divorced for a year and needs to get "back in the saddle" is in, I feel that it's a cycle every divorcee/ widow/ widower has to go through on their own, in some form, in order to be truly ready to be in a relationship again. That's right, she said it: you must be happy and at peace with the prospect of being alone for the rest of your life before you're ready to make a relationship work again. But, regardless of the potential unhelpful-ness of my messy experiences and jumbled thoughts, I'm writing this anyhow. For my own sanity's sake.

Why online dating? Why thank you for asking, blogland.

There are a lot of factors at play here. For me. online dating has had the following advantages:

-I work. I go to school. I raise three kids. I do all the requisite errand-running and selective adventure-seeking consistent with that life. And if I haven't yet met someone in real-life along my real-life paths, I doubt it will happen that way.  I also live in a relatively small community with a shallow dating pool. Apply my moral/ spiritual/ social/ intellectual standards to the prospects and the field is narrowed considerably. With internet dating sites, the dating field has no geographical bounds.

-My ideals are high and specific. I am a person of spiritual conviction and would like to meet someone who shares, or, at the very least, is willing to consider sharing my faith. He must respect my standards. He must be a gentleman. He must be ready to step in to the role of very involved stepdad to three children with strong standards and personalities of their own.  He must be driven, passionate, honest, kind, creative, strong and gentle, with a sense of humor and confidence. He must be looking for me.  With online dating, I can peruse profiles like they're job applications and send subtle reconnoitering messages to potentials who meet certain criteria (has job, can spell, profile pic does not include dead deer/ elk/ bear/ fish/ excessive sports team paraphernalia, etc.). I can eliminate men based on their poor grammar usage, height, political affiliation, inability to communicate about themselves intelligently, or whatever else I choose without ever hurting anyone's feelings in real life.

-Online dating just plain saves time. And I don't have time to waste. By reading someone's profile, I can get all the information I might otherwise have to extract in awkward first-date conversation and decide if the subject is worth my energy. Where are you from. What do you do. Where did you go to school. Divorced/ widowed/ never married. Politics. Religion. Poor habits. Weaknesses/ strengths. It's all there on page one if you know how to read it. I have also developed into the type of online-dater who has the chutzpah to ask very direct questions or make very direct assessments after the first two or three message exchanges when, in person, social conventions would dictate those conversations be reserved for date three or later.

-My geographically-expanded dating experiences of the last two years have twice led me to travel to places I wouldn't have otherwise in order to give a man a chance. I will never complain about a chance to travel, even if, in the end, the men didn't make the cut.

However, online dating has had this one big disadvantage:

-People lie. And while they lie in person too (Heaven knows I've been on the receiving end of real-world dishonesty), it's a little easier to get away with it, against an all-too-trusting person like me, on the Internets.

My fragile heart has been stomped by liars. But before we go there, please enjoy these entertaining conversational gems my online dating presence has gleaned. And before you ask: Yes. For real.

"It makes my head hurt."

Man: I see you dont like huntin fishing or four wheeling. We gots all three but seeing as how you keep
looking at my picture I think you could get over that.
Me: *face palm*


Me: How long have you been divorced?
Man: Oh my divorce isn't final yet. (Whiny backstory placing all the blame on his wife.)
Me: I'm sorry that you've been through so much. However, if your divorce isn't final, that means you're still
married and our conversation is through.
Man: (Several annoying messages with self-righteous and inapplicable scripture quotations, followed by
assertion that God doesn't mind married men and single women being friends.)
Me: You're right. I don't think God has a problem with men and women maintaining appropriate friendships
regardless of marital status. HOWEVER: While some people may consider being bombarded with unsolicited scriptural condescension to be charming, I am among those who find it to be harassing, demeaning, and to smack of arrogance. Telling someone who hasn't asked, when the subject hasn't been raised, how the demise of your marriage is all your wife's fault also betrays nothing so much as a weak attempt to cover your tracks, and again: arrogance.  Lastly, are you here for friends? Because I'm not. I have friends. I have so many friends, in fact, that I really don't have time for more. What I don't have and would like to have is a husband and  that is why I am here. However, even if I were looking for friends, I would not look in the pool of bitter, still-married men who attempt to justify their unjustifiable presence on dating websites by saying they're "getting divorced anyway" and "just looking for friends."


Man: I see you're a poet. I don't know about that. With the exception of Edna St. Vincent- Millay, I don't
think women have the courage to experiment with language the way a poet should.
Me: I see why you're single.
Man: Oh come on. I was just joking. Seriously, who says that?
Me: The man who has paid no attention to his audience- a woman who has a clear command of language
as well as the ability and courage to do anything she damn well pleases- says that. The man who thinks
that a "women can't" statement in any form, whether in seriousness or jest, is EVER acceptable says
that. And also, the man who obviously has extremely limited experience with poetry and literature to
begin with says that.

Okay, okay. That last Me throw-down happened in my head. I ignored his bully's defense. But I wish I hadn't. Your ONE female poet reference is Edna St. Vincent-Millay? Honestly.

Moving on. Beyond the slog of chauvinists, big-heads, and dullards, I have met some kind and good men. A teacher in California, who, ultimately didn't want to leave CA anymore than I want to leave MT. An intelligent and respectful contractor from Idaho...who really needed a mother for his eight children. #sorrynotme. You're a nice guy, but not me. A Denver consultant. An Oklahoma professor. For several months, at the beginning of last -year, I enjoyed a truly old-fashioned exchange of thoughtfully written, beautifully crafted letters with a dad of three boys in Spokane. We met, once, when I was in Spokane for other reasons, and ultimately, mutually decided that we were only meant to be friends. The letters tapered off after that, on both our parts, but I have kept every one of them and think often of how nice it was, for those few months, to sit in a quiet house, late at night, arranging my thoughts on the page for his in return.

In the very beginning of my post-divorce dating, there was California Man. Truly a rebound relationship, but I won't deny how much I learned. About myself. About what I want. About my tendency to accept what is unacceptable because it's not as bad as it could be or as bad as I've had it in the past. He was worth the trial run, California Man. Though not worth any more time than I gave him, and certainly not worth the rest of my life.

And most recently (aside from a couple of in-person, half-hearted one-or-two date wonder flops), there was McCall man.

Raw honesty time. Remember the aforementioned liars? McCall man was the best. For all I knew he was kind and fun, handsome and tall, intelligent and talented, driven, confident, stable, and gentle. I loved our conversations (an enormously important factor for me), and I loved his presence when we were together. He created a lie of who he was, of his devotion to me, his understanding of me, and of our future life together, which was so effective and so deeply fulfilling that I felt I had finally found the man with whom I could happily spend the rest of my days. Worse, he drew my children and his children into this happy-blended-family lie, to which I committed my heart and mind. I fell for it. And when truth ran us down in the golden road I experienced a different kind of fall: into a depression deeper and longer than any I've ever felt. I mourned the loss of McCall Man as much as, if not more than, the loss of my marriage. Because, while it was brief, while it was not real, I have never felt more loved. My resilient children, thankfully, were not as exposed as I was to the dream, and not hit nearly as hard. And his children...I don't know. I think of them often and wonder if they're used to repeated hope and loss.

It's been nine months, and the world moves on, hearts slowly trailing behind. The pain of McCall Man and my foolishness have faded far into the background of my joyous, beautiful life, yet not entirely disappeared. A wise friend of mine and I have set a three-month deadline for me to finish the process of grief, to chalk up my lessons-learned, and to let it go. And I will. He will never again dim my light, my commitment to shine.

So that closet space. :) It's good. Leaving the over-involved-with-dating-websites phase of my life behind is good. Independent decision-making (parenting, financial, career, education, travel...). It's very good. And most of all, in the last two-ish years, I have come to see that stepping away from the need to date entirely, from the need to be romantically loved, peacefully and happily owning my dual-parent role and my (not) alone-ness, is beyond good. It is what my family really needs, and what I need, in the end.  
That's my guide, I suppose. Learn from my mistakes. Make your own. Protect your children. Pray. But know that you are enough, alone. You are capable of happiness, of adventure, of changing the world, with or without a partner at your side. Love is nice, and I won't say I wouldn't still like to find it, but it's not a need anymore. I won't say no to the right love if it comes and at the same time, I won't seek it quite so intently any longer. I will seek family and faith and adventures and humanity and service and words and beauty and me.


January 10, 2016

Soul Song Sunday: These Waters

Part of my goal for 2016: Shine, Soul Song Sunday posts will feature some expression of my spiritual thoughts or feelings of late. Poetry, prose, image, quote, or song, these posts will be my imperfect hallelujah, and open prayer.

Tonight I am sharing a poem which was inspired by a few words spoken in church last week, words which caught my ear and grew to something within me. Here is that something.

These Waters

These waters are washing our
homes into the fields and the
fields, the red rocks, the heathered hills
into our homes.

These waters are rising above our
fault-lines and sight-lines and
love-blinds. Our eyes are
turning starward, Godward,
holy silent cries.

Give me stilts to stand on.
Give me cupped hands to bail.
Light the striatious places with un-fleeting light.
Let my child and my neighbor be among the
survivors when

These waters are receding, riven clans and
fractured nations deep in mending pull. And

aired, dried we lie down in the Sun.


January 4, 2016

Experience Before Possession or More Adventures, Less Stuff

Not long ago, a friend and I had a conversation that shed a new light on a long-held conviction of mine: that living life is better than owning it, that the value of experience is higher than the value of possession. Or, as one of my sisters often puts it in motto form: More Adventures, Less Stuff. This friend pointed out a scientific study that indicated people who choose to invest in experiences rather than objects identify as being happier than their stuff-hoarding counterparts. Of course, at the time of this conversation I already knew that adventure was my preference. It is not in me to be satisfied with living a mundane, average, or tedious life. And I knew that the adventures (however small-scale or large) I have often plotted and planned and carried out for my children and I are our most valuable educational resource. I knew experiences of exposure to new people, new ideas, new places, arts, culture, nature, science, service, empathy...these are the makings of knowledge that shapes this life for us and leaves this life with us, unlike anything that can be bought. But I had never before really applied the thought that now seems so obvious: we are happier for the things we do. And, perhaps more importantly, can be made unhappy by the things we have, if they are too much, or not the right things, or more important to us than living life.

Four months ago, my children and I moved from a 3000 square foot house to a 900 square foot apartment. We reduced our possessions-- our stuff--by at least 60%. It was, at first, difficult to decide what would stay and what should go, but when we really thought about the ways we use our time, and the ways we would like to use our time, rather than the ways we were trying to make ourselves want to use our time, the task sorted itself out. Which toys did the children actually care about? Which books did they actually read? Which arts/ crafts projects was I actually going to do and which was I just hauling around from place to place, telling myself that the me who doesn't use her time that way is an unacceptable version of me? Even in the matter of my wardrobe (and you know I love me some clothes and accessories and shoes), I said goodbye to the things that were not bringing me joy. Small space living is intentional. It is systematic. It requires careful choice and thought. We have found our new home to not only be much more manageable and to bring us together more, but we have also found more freedom in the purposeful ways we choose what stays in our home and what goes.

I do not belittle the experiences of everyday when a life is well-lived. The human connections. The selfless service. The beauty to be found in the simplicity of home. But I also esteem travel, and have always, always loved to explore the world. In the last two years, with the financial decisions and priorities finally being my own, we've been able to make regular trips to see family, to meet friends, to explore new places like never before. Even when money is tight, you just decide what matters. Personally, I am willing to take risks and cut corners elsewhere for an unforgettable, adventure-filled life. Last year, with my theme of House in Order , part of my focus was to arrange our finances and time in a way that would make it possible for us to travel more in the future. And we got a good start. For Christmas our big family gifts were ASTC passes, and tickets to see Newsies in Spokane in May (experience +  experience). This year, staying on that trajectory, the kiddos and I spent New Year's Eve planning what is to be our most epic summer road trip yet. We talked about the sacrifices we'd have to make to make it happen. The lack of stuff. And I think we can do it, blogland. We'll go from our home in Missoula to my sister and bro-in-law's home in L.A., stopping all along the way to visit family, friends, historic sites, holy temples, national parks, ASTC museums, and whatever strikes our fancy. Then, after a few days in La-La-Land, (with maybe a little Wizarding World of Harry Potter thrown in there, if we can swing it), we'll come back home by way of the 101, driving all the way up the Pacific coastline. Again, stopping to see friends and have more beautiful adventures on the way.

It's a tall order, I know. It's a big dream. But it's the dreams, big or small, not the fancy things, that make life a happy adventure worth living.  

January 1, 2016

2016: Shine

I am not a resolution maker. Or, rather, I suppose I once was, but when I discovered, after years of trial and error, that I am not a resolution keeper, I resolved to restructure my efforts. (Did she just make a resolution?) I have learned that my life is a work of art, and I don't do well defining it rigidly. I function much more happily within the flexible structure of over-arching themes and "knowns" about myself and others around me, which are always open to discovery and growth. So last year, in lieu of a resolution, I chose a New Year's Theme. It was "House in Order," based not so much on the R.E.M. song Wolves, Lower  as the scripture D&C 88:119

Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing; and establish a bhouse, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God;

although the song gets stuck in my head every time I think about it.

Putting my house in order over the last year has been an imperfect process, and has led me on paths I did not expect. I knew when I chose the theme that it was necessary in my life in so many ways. The kids and I had been on our own for a year and the dust was beginning to settle. The rubble needed to be cleared away and that had implications spiritual, financial, educational, emotional... in every way. I did not expect, on January 1 2015, that this commitment would lead me to a new position at work (I see it as connected, though others may not), a new car, some eliminated debt, the reduction of our material possessions by well over 50%, and, in the fall, moving from a house we adored to a smaller, more affordable and more manageable apartment closer to work, church, and (for me) school. But I trusted in the process. I trusted in the refining pain and the celebratory freedom that came, and this year, through ups and downs, I have felt so very much ALIVE.  The children continued to heal and grow and find order in their own self-awareness, the house of their souls. And though it is not definitively laid out before us, I can see the order of a future-- a beautiful future for my little family ahead.

This year, the theme I have chosen is, simply, "Shine." The thought bowled me over as I was preparing a Christmas lesson for my Sunbeams class at church (three and four year olds) and contemplating the star of Bethlehem. Phrases such as "goodness and light" and words such as "holy" and "glorious" rang in my mind. I knew that this year, 2016, would be about shining my light.

What that means to me: It means bringing, in any way I can, light into the lives of others, my children first of all. It means being unafraid of giving, loving, sharing, seeking, growing, risking, failing, and repeating in a way that adds up to a life which might inspire someone. Even one someone. It means shaking off anything that holds me back, hides my light, or makes me afraid. It means accepting both pain and happiness, hard work and vital play as necessary to illuminate the soul. To shine. It means flying like a fragile burning ember against the dark, on the hope of being someone's wising star.

And I *might* just try again to write about it all here, like I used to...but with more SHINE.