Thursday, October 4, 2007

Dating in a 3-ring Circus

In the 9 years since my divorce, I can honestly say that I have only been on a handful of dates...7 to be exact. Yeah, you read that right, 7 (seven). That doesn't even average out to one a year. And 4 of them have been in 2007. A banner year if you ask me.

Even in my teens and twenties I didn't date much. It always seemed that my romantic relationships evolved from friendships. I would be really good friends with someone and we took the relationship to the next level. Oddly, I've stayed friends with each and every one of these men. Even odder, the only man that I ever actually "dated" (until now) was my ex-husband and, well, we know how that turned out. Although we too keep in contact, if the kids weren't involved, we would have gone our separate ways never looking back.

So, dating has never been my strong suit. But now, I am a month away from my 46th birthday and I realize that if I ever want to share my life with a man, I'm going to have to change my ways and learn how to date.

The sad fact is that both of my children have better social lives than their mom...and Adam isn't even allowed to date yet. Kat has always had a posse of boys flocking around the house. It's not that the boys all had crushes on her. Kat just easily gets along with boys better than girls. Kat, being the anti-girl girl, was never into pink, never understood girl drama, hated dresses and for a brief time if she wore make-up it was thick black eyeliner, black lipstick and nail polish. Thankfully, the black lipstick was short lived and the black eyeliner thinned out. But the black nail polish is still her polish of choice. What I'm trying to say is that she never paid attention to the typical female thinking. She dressed the way she wanted. Looked the way she wanted and during junior high we had, on any given day, at least 8-10 boys in our basement...Kat's boys.

Can you believe that I've actually gone to my daughter about dating advice? I haven't a clue as to what men think. How men think? And sometimes IF men actually think. Although I am completely missing that ability, Kat understands men better than anyone I know. She can't spell to save her soul, but when it comes to the opposite sex, Kat, although not quite 15, is quite sage. Besides, who needs to know how to spell when there is spell check? But understanding men will help her in the long run - whether its with her brother, father, uncles, cousins, business or romantic relationships. Understanding men is important and a skill I seriously lack.

Although having a teenage dating sensai is great, dating while having children and parent underfoot always lends itself to be a little more interesting. Three summers ago, a friend decided to set me up on a blind date. The guy, Paul, was a Chicago cop. We talked on the phone a few times, seemed to get along well, so he asked me out to dinner. He specified casual. Fine with me. We decided to go to Palmers, a local restaurant known for burgers and beer.

Kat and Adam both knew that I was going on a date. It was a perfect summer evening - not too hot, nor humid - and since we were the "it" house that summer, every tween within a mile radius was hanging out in our yard. I pulled into the driveway to find it resembling a bike shop. There were probably 8-10 bikes in the driveway which meant there were a minimum of 10 kids (not including mine), plus a few stragglers that walked everywhere. GREAT!!! Nothing like getting ready with a million children underfoot.

So, I ran downstairs to find about 16 kids in my basement. Said hi to everyone and ran upstairs to get ready. Kat and Adam knew Paul was arriving around 7, so at 6:30 they all ran into our front yard. Since we are on a cul de sac of sorts there is a large area where they can play without being in traffic. So, there were kids throwing Frisbees, some playing catch, others hoola hooping and still more jumping on our trampoline in the back yard. I was informed they were all outside to give me a thumbs up, or down, when Paul arrived. How nosy (sorry...I mean...sweet) of them. I was nervous to begin with and hadn't been on a date in over 3 years. Suddenly my front lawn looked like the local orphanage.

That summer the group Fountains of Wayne had a song called, "Stacey's Mom" about a mom that was so hot all the boys in the area would mow any lawn, paint any fence, just to get her attention. It's rare for me to ever consider myself hot. Call it low self esteem, realistic, or just not part of my thought process. Whatever you want to call it, when you haven't been on a date in years, it is hard to consider yourself hot, or sexy. Nervous, yes. Excited, probably. Wanting to throw up...definitely. Sexy, probably not. But after I got dressed - definitely casual in khaki and sandals - I went outside to see if the kids could at least be less chaotic (fat chance). The "orphans" did serenade me with their version of "Kat's mom's got it really going on". They were sweet...even cute...but secretly, I wanted them all to disappear and they weren't going anywhere. Not much happens in this little town and my date was the biggest news to these kids. We really need to upgrade their standards and my social aspirations.

So, Paul pulls up in his Jeep; avoiding bikes and softball players. Kat's friend Ashley flew in the front door to give me a thumbs up and then ran back outside. After saying hi, I inform him that only two are mine. The rest are "visiting". We get in his jeep where he expertly dodges 4 different kids while backing out of the driveway. Yes, I was mortified.

We go out for burgers and beer. Perfectly casual, although he informs me that I am way overdressed. He's in khaki shorts, a polo and flip flops. I wasn't dressed much better, but that comment was a hint of the evening to come. Dinner was a disaster. As liberal as I am, he is conservative. Paul hates "everyone equally". I believe in giving everyone a chance. To him people are guilty until proven innocent. So that's how our justice system works? I always wondered. He hates gays. I have many friends who are gay. There is not one area on which we agreed. After many years in public relations I have the ability to chat with the best of them and have superficial down to perfection, but this evening it took all I had not to dump my beer on his cynical little head and walk the 3 miles home. When dinner was over, there was no pretense of lets go for a walk or let's have another beer. He paid the check, walked me to his Jeep and drove me home.

This is where the evening continues to slide the slippery slope towards devastation. It is now dark as we pull into my driveway where the majority of bikes have cleared out. There are just a few stragglers scattered on the lawn. Every light in the house is out, but there are candles lit in the living room. Our front window has 20 small panes of glass making 20 little shelves. Yes...there was a candle lit on every little shelf and additional candles scattered throughout the living room. Damn my candle addiction! With the right guy it would have looked amazing. With this guy, I wanted to die. Kat, Adam and the left over "orphans" decided to add a little ambiance to our "romantic" date. This man was in no mood for romance. He couldn't get rid of me fast enough. Finally! It was the one subject on which we both agreed. As he walked me to the door, I looked at him and said, "Welcome to my world." He said good night, turned around and left. Never to be seen again.

Little did I know that there were 8 heads peering out the windows. Kat and her friend Cory were fighting over who could look out the peephole of the front door. When I walked in the house the one question they all demanded was how come he didn't kiss me goodnight. Which lead me to the lecture of kissing and dating etiquette. (Like I really knew dating etiquette - it was my first flippin' date in 3 years!)

The friend that set us up called a few days later. It appears that Paul didn't have a problem with my kids or the craziness of my household. His one complaint was that she didn't tell him I was a %$#$ liberal!

That evening cured me of dating for about another year. The following June I went out on my next date with someone who went to my high school and graduated a year before me. We had mutual friends who thought we met somewhere during our high school years. If we did, neither of us made a decent impression as we didn't remember each other. We re-met(?) at Jane's birthday/Cinco de Mayo party. I'm a sucker for a guy who can make me laugh. I asked him out.

The weekend of the date, the kids went with their father to Northern Wisconsin for a week and my mom left for Kentucky to visit friends. The house was all mine for 5 whole days. I had plans set up for every night - my date, dinner with a friend from college, the opportunity to be in a friends music video which was being filmed in a biker bar, and just relaxing without having to account to anyone about anything. I could run through the house naked if I so desired. The possibilities were endless.

So, while getting ready for my date, I received a phone call from our friends in Kentucky. Donna informed me that my mom passed out upon arriving and an ambulance took her to the local hospital. Donna promised to keep me posted. I gave her my cell number and told her to call when she knew more. As I was walking to the bar, Tracey, the nurse at this itty-bitty hospital in London, KY, which I later realized wasn't qualified to give out band aids, called to ask me a variety of questions about my mom. Tracey questions scared me. I knew this was all very serious. Here I was hundreds of miles away; unable to do anything. So, I plunked myself down in the middle of the side walk and gave Tracey doctors' phone numbers, health information and any other information I could pull from my brain; mentally telling myself that I need to be a bit more aware of the medication my mom took. The doctor's weren't sure if my mom had a stroke, or needed a pace maker...yeah...not only was the hospital not qualified to give out band aids, I'm not sure if they were qualified to take a temperature. Anyway, Tracey said they could not tell if my mom had a stroke until they looked at her "skin". After a while, I finally asked Tracey what my mom's skin had to do with knowing whether she had a stroke. I don't have a medical degree, but checking her skin seemed very odd. That's when I realized we were experiencing a bit of a language barrier. Because of Tracey's southern drawl, I realized she had been saying "scan" as in CT scan. Oops. Sorry! OK, well once the doctor reads her "skin" please call me.

I then proceeded to call both of my brothers. Reached one, left a message for the other. I then walked in the bar...very late...for a date. I explained what happened and told him that my cell phone needed to hang out with us all evening. Anytime it rang with a Kentucky area code, or my brothers' phone numbers, I left the noisy bar to get, or give, information; each time hoping Tracey could tell me what Mom's skin said.

What a sweet guy! In between phone calls he'd ask for updates and then we proceeded to chat about anything else to keep my mind off of my mom...until the next phone call. He understood that there wasn't much I could do. I even suggested I could go home and wait for the calls, but honestly, it was nice to have some company while waiting for Tracey's next call. He even offered to help me find flights to Kentucky. Unfortunately, that was the last I've seen of him except for bumping into him at Jane's. Can you blame him?! In fairness, when we met, he was already in the process of moving to Michigan, but it's easy to blame the events of that night on no follow up calls. As of now, I believe he splits his life between Michigan and here. Rumor has it that he prefers women 20 years younger. Although I have been told I look younger than my 45 years and have been carded twice this year - a nice ego boost - even if the people who carded me had to have been legally blind - I don't look that young. And so I moved on.

As for Mom, I flew down for a rescue mission and one brother followed a day later. The skin(scan) showed she had a stroke and the events of our rescue mission will be saved for another writing.

But on to the perils of dating. The first date, although doomed before it began, the kids made me feel as if I was living in a TV sitcom. The second date, Mom unknowingly sabotaged, but he was moving and I wasn't in his preferred age range. And for the next guy (victim?), I didn't need any help messing things up. I did that completely on my own and quite successfully, I might add. Needing to be fair to myself, it was a mutual messing up as we both had "stuff" to deal with, but this one is still a bit too raw to write about. Not because of any one thing that happened, but due to the fact that after meeting Mark I realized there are some issues that were never dealt with after my divorce. I never let myself heal 9 years ago. And because of that, life blew up in my face in 2007.

There is a phrase I used after my divorce called the Cleopatra Syndrome - Queen of Denial. Yeah...I's a really bad pun, but it fits. It was easier to ignore all that happened, immerse myself into being a single parent with 2 extremely young children than deal with the negative in my life. I ignored as much as I could because if I paid attention to what really happened in my marriage the pain would be too great. How do you care for two small children while grieving and hurting? Denial was easier. Maybe at the time it was self preservation. I'm not sure. I just know I focused on loving and raising Kat and Adam to the best of my abilities. It was more important to me that they knew they were loved and protected at all costs. Now that they are older its time to work on me - a definite work in progress. But, aren't we all?

It wasn't until I met Mark that I realized I was pretty much an emotional train wreck. It must have taken to actually have feelings for someone to figure out how scarred and scared I am. He accounts for the majority of my dates this year. As fleeting as the relationship was, I miss him and think of him often. He touched a part of my heart that hadn't been touched in a very long time. I actually thought that part of my heart was dead and buried. He made me realize it wasn't. It's a nice fact to know. I have yet to watch a Bears game, or see a picnic basket, without thinking of him. They are all good thoughts. I need to heal (ugh!). In hindsight, I wish I would have taken the time to heal a few years ago, but don't think I was ready then. I would love to share my life with a man and look forward to that actually happening one day, but before I do, there is more healing to do and probably another act or two in my 3-ring circus.

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