Marriage, Divorce, and Little People

beautifulpainYesterday I posted about lies, deceit and betrayal, and as I expected, it stirred up a lot of feeling in people. So much so, I thought I’d write a little more about it. (A lot, actually.) Today’s post is focused on marriage, divorce, and children, because I got a flood of emails from people related to this topic. It seems many people are in relationships that aren’t growing anymore. We could talk about that quite a lot. How is it that our divorce rate is so high? It’s over half of all marriages that fail now and I believe a large part of it is cultural. We are taught to keep looking for bigger, better, newer, shinier. So much of what we value is external. So right off the bat, we aren’t always looking under the hood. Some of this is perfectly natural; attraction has to be there. But a lot of the time, people find someone they want to “get with”, and project all kinds of stuff onto the person. I’m hot for you, you’re “the one”!! And then the hormones wear off and you find out you’re starring in Psycho VIII.

Additionally, we’re living in a time when everyone is busybusybusy, racing from one place to another. And then it’s Monday again. And again and again and again, and wow. A whole year just went by. Three, five, wait. How old am I? This year I’ll take that vacation. Hmm, maybe next year. This weekend I’ll hang out with my family. Oh, wait, I can’t, I have a deadline. And I mean, don’t get me wrong, here. We also have a broken system where you have to work your a$$ off to be able to afford health insurance for your family. And to keep food in the fridge, and a roof over everyone’s heads. It’s not like I don’t get that. But still. A walk after dinner. A dinner without devices on the table. A story before bedtime. Something. A card for your spouse for no reason once in awhile. Date night. A touch on the arm on your way out the door, and a moment to really see each other. Remember each other. Something. Or it’s going to die.

I dated a guy who was a runner once. Every morning he’d jump out of bed and go for a run. But then he’d come back and jump in the shower and race out the door with barely a goodbye over his shoulder. And he’d race the entire day, until he collapsed in bed at night. He raced through everything. I’ll leave it at that, but I mean everything. The only time he slowed down is when he’d travel for work. Then he’d call me and want to talk, because he’d be lonely in some far-off place. You can’t race through life and prioritize your to-do list and come home and zone out in front of the television, and never give the people in your life your full attention, and expect a relationship to keep growing. You have to water it. You can’t have the attention span of a flea and think that’s going to cut it. If you don’t see and appreciate what you have, you’re probably going to lose it. Weddings are easy, marriages are not. You have to choose to marry the person every day. To see them and hear them and cherish them the way other people do. People who are not taking them for granted. Who don’t assume they know all there is to know. It’s funny, I’m lucky enough to have some friends I’ve known over twenty years. I don’t ever think I know all there is to know. Yesterday, I was supposed to talk to a girlfriend I’ve known since I was twelve years old, and we couldn’t make it happen with her kids, my kids and the time difference. But when we do talk, it’s not going to be static on the line. Because things have happened since we spoke last week. She’s not the same today as she was seven days ago when we talked about everything. And neither is anyone else. People felt confronted yesterday by what I wrote. People who may be engaging in email flirtations or more. You think I don’t understand? I fully understand, believe me. It’s painful to live in a house with someone who doesn’t see you anymore. I’ve been there more than once. More than twice.

What do you do? You go to the person you built a life with, even if the walls are starting to crumble, and you say four words: I am in pain. And with as much kindness as you can, you tell them exactly where you’re at. Even if you’re petrified, even if you have children, even if you would rather suffer yourself than bring pain to your family. Because I promise you, if you are in so much pain that you’re resorting to desperate acts with other people, your family is already feeling that. If you have children, on some level they know. They may not understand what they’re feeling, but they are feeling it. They’re on the ship with you. My parents got divorced when I was four. And I remember all of it. If the space between you and your spouse is charged, or dead, or full of anger or lies or heartbreak or utter disappointment, that’s the space your children are growing in, too. Children have no defenses, they aren’t hardened, they feel it all. Maybe your spouse will storm out. But they’ll come back. Maybe they’ll hold your hand and cry with you, and it’s possible you’ll touch on something ancient between you that hasn’t been stirred in a long time. At least you’ll be communicating honestly. If you feel like you can’t have the conversation without support, ask to go to couples’ counseling. I’d highly, highly recommend that in any case. If you have children, I think it’s a must, even if you end up talking about how you’re going to end things. But if you can save it, save it. Try with everything you’ve got. Read the book, “The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: A 25 year Landmark Study”. We want to say that children are resilient, and what matters most is that they have two happy parents. That’s true, but I think people go a little too far with this. I hear about schedules that are great for divorced parents, but so insane for the kids. Here one night, there the other, back and forth so much it would make anyone’s head spin. There’s a line. If you have to split because staying requires the crushing of your spirit, and your children’s too, then yes, you need to end it. But put the kids first.

There are three kinds of adults I meet. Those whose parents got divorced, those who wish their parents had gotten divorced, and those lucky people who grew up with two parents who were able to pull it off. And you know what? Everything you go through will open you and teach you something if you let it. And as much as we may think we do, or we may want to, we never know what someone else’s path is supposed to look like, even our own children’s. Yes, your job is to put them first. Always. And to protect them as much as possible, and to nurture them and hold them and share with them anything and everything you’ve got. Your job is also to teach them what it looks like to be a happy, kind person. Isn’t that what we all really want for our children? We want them to be happy, right? To live life with their hearts open. To be able to recognize what’s true for them, and to live guided by their own inner yes. How will they be able to do that if you don’t show them what it looks like? It’s not impossible, but they’ll have to work a lot harder to figure it out without an example.

And while I’m at it, let me talk briefly about co-parenting. No matter what happens or how you feel, your ex will always be your child’s other parent. The other most important person in their world. Do you know people who don’t have good relationships with their moms or their dads? It’s a heartache that never goes away, and it wreaks havoc on all their interpersonal relationships unless they work on it a lot. You don’t want that for your children. Once in a parking lot I saw this little girl, probably about three years old, crying in her stroller, and saying that she missed her daddy. Her mom looked really stressed out, and yelled at her, “It’s a mommy day, you’ll see your dad tomorrow!!!” And I couldn’t help it. I went over to her and said, “She just misses her dad, it’s totally normal. She loves you. Why don’t you take a time out, I’ll hang with her for a few minutes.” And her mom started crying, and went and sat in her car, and I had an amazing conversation with that little person. And when her mom came out of her car she handed her cellphone to her daughter so she could talk to her dad. The best thing you can do for your children is support a healthy, nurturing relationship with their other parent. If you can work out a way to be friends with your ex, that is so ideal, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. I know that’s not always possible. But what is possible is that you never ever say a negative word about your ex to your child. Ever. And that you work it out so that your children have as much stability as humanly possible. This thread ought to be interesting. Sending you love, as I always am. Ally

Soul-Purging Truth

soulpurgingtruthLast time I was in New York, I had lunch with a couple of girlfriends I’ve known for years. They spend a lot of time together. I only see them when I’m in town, but we talk on the phone, over email, and on Facebook. One of them, I’ll call her Sue, had recently started seeing a guy she met on a dating site. It seemed like they had a lot in common, and we were happy for her. The last guy she dated stole money from her for months, and took off one day without a word. She (admittedly) has a history of dating men who end up hurting her one way or another, so we were hopeful this was going to be different. After we’d been catching up for awhile, she confessed that there was this “one thing” that was troubling her. “Oh boy, here we go”, said our other friend, whom I’ll call Bertie. I pinched Bertie’s arm because she needs behavioral therapy sometimes. “No, it’s no big deal,” said Sue, “he’s just really close to his mom.” When we asked what she meant by “really close”, she explained that his mom called him every night at 10pm. At which point he’d go in his room and close the door and not come out for at least an hour, usually two. Sue was not supposed to interrupt or come into the room, or make any loud noises. Bertie’s mouth fell open and she hit my arm and threw her hands in the air before putting her head in her hands. Sue’s eyes got wide. “Hmmm,” I said, “that’s kind of unfortunate timing. What’s with all the privacy/secrecy? Does he not want his mom to know he’s dating someone for some reason? And you’re just supposed to wait until he comes back out of the bedroom? Maybe this has just been their pattern all the years he’s been single, talking at night. Have you talked to him about it?” I was trying to get a fuller picture. But before Sue could answer, Bertie said, “I KNEW something was off about this guy!! That’s disgusting, okay, Sue?! He should talk to his mother during the day, not at night when the two of you should have some intimate time together. That’s just not normal. Something’s really off about this. And how many times do you have to get this lesson?? You have horrendous judgment when it comes to men!!!” Sue started crying. Bertie got angrier, said she was not, “up for another round of this”, and left in a huff.

Bertie loves Sue like a sister. I totally understood that’s what was motivating her outburst. Total frustration that someone she loves was probably heading for another brick wall (Sue is no longer dating the guy; she got out quickly and is relatively unscathed, and she and Bertie have made up). We’ve all been there. A person we care about deeply seems likely to get hurt, and we are powerless to stop it. It happens with family members, too. A couple of years after I graduated from college, a friend of the family said to me, “What are you doing with your life? You’ve graduated from Columbia University. When are you going to get it together?” And even though I knew she loved me, it stung, and it sunk me a little further into that darkness. When a person is struggling, cutting them down is not going to help.

It’s a tough pill to swallow sometimes, but we never know what another person’s journey is supposed to look like. Each of us has our lessons to learn, and sometimes we need the lesson over and over again to really get it. To be done with a certain way of being, or thinking, or treating ourselves. It’s hard to love someone who’s struggling without stepping in and trying to manage their path. Pick them up and say, “Go THAT way, COME ON!!! It’s so obvious!!!” But it’s inside work. You can ask for help if you’re in pain, and get yourself some support. But ultimately, we each have to do our own work to heal. If you love someone who’s struggling, patience is the lesson. Compassion. Understanding. We all struggle, we all have pain. If you love someone who’s bent on self-destruction, that’s a heartbreak. Sometimes it means you have to love the person from afar. But you can’t control anyone else’s journey, any more than you can control your own. You can work on the way you respond to the people in your life, and the circumstances that present themselves. You won’t always show up the way you want to, you won’t always make the healthy choice. And neither will anyone else. You may knowingly head for a brick wall, because maybe you need one last ride to be done with that chapter. If you have something to communicate to someone in pain, do your very best to be kind and clear. It’s not easy, this business of being human. Honest communication is always good, but screaming your viewpoint in frustration, not so much. Words are very powerful, and they can go right to the center of a person’s heart. And a person’s heart is precious. Just like yours. Sending you love, Ally

Don’t Drive the Scorpion Ferry

notastatementaboutuThere’s an old tale I love about the Scorpion and the Frog. If you don’t know it, it goes something like this (although I’m taking some liberties): Once there was a scorpion on the bank of a stream. He called out to a frog, “Excuse me! Could you give me a ride across? I can’t swim!” And the frog said, “Dude, you’re a scorpion. I’m not giving you a ride. If you sting me, I’ll die.” And the scorpion said, “If I sting you, you’ll drown, and I’ll die, too.” This made sense to the frog, so he said, “All right, climb on.” Halfway across the stream, the scorpion stings the frog. With his dying breath, the frog says, “Why have you done this to us?”, and the scorpion says, “Dude, I’m a f&cking scorpion!”

The way people treat you is a statement about where they are on their journey as an evolving human being. It’s also subject to change; a scorpion may not always be a scorpion. The main thing to grasp is that it’s not a reflection of anything lacking in you. If you read this blog regularly, you’ll remember the much-older man I dated when I was seventeen. He was seeing other women for the three years we were together, and although I could never prove it, I always felt it. (I confirmed my fears once). And at the time, I took it as a sign that I wasn’t enough. Not pretty enough or “something” enough to keep him interested solely in me. And I spent so much time over the course of those three years feeling awful about myself. I was hooked on this interaction, and convinced if I could just be enough for him, then I’d be happy. I didn’t realize that his inability to be faithful had nothing to do with me, or that a person who’s lying and sneaking around is ultimately having a painful relationship with him or herself. When you respect yourself and are making choices that are aligned with what’s true for you in a conscious and kind way, you’re not going to lie. And I think if you’re like most people, the tendency is to take those times we’ve been hurt, disappointed, neglected, betrayed, or even abused, personally. Hurt people hurt people, as the saying goes. A person can only be where they are, working with whatever tools they’ve got. What IS about you, is what you do about it if someone isn’t treating you well. Sometimes we get caught up in relationships with lovers, family members, friends, or colleagues. Maybe things start out well, but over time the quality of the interaction deteriorates. Or circumstances change and you observe responses you wouldn’t have predicted. If you have a pattern of participating in relationships with people who treat you badly, then it is time to take a long, hard look at why. It’s about something. Identifying that something is the key to your freedom. Your deepest pain is your greatest teacher.

There are lots of frogs in the world, but there’s no other frog just like you. If you’ve been swimming in shark-infested waters too long, hiding in shadows and making yourself as small as possible out of fear, or some idea that you’re not lovable, or enough, or worthwhile, I hate to say it, but you’re going to have to turn around and swim directly for the mouth of that shark. Otherwise you’ll never rest. You’ll keep running the Scorpion Ferry, becoming harder and less hopeful with each ride. Being a hopeless frog sucks. I know, because I was one. Letting yourself get swallowed whole by the shark of your fear is not a fun ride, but it won’t kill you, either. If you’re still hanging with my Moby Dick-Aesop’s Fables-Life of Pi metaphor, then you probably already understand the Willa Cather quote, “There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm.” The Dark Night of the Soul is a storm. But it’s also an invitation to know yourself, truly and deeply. To heal and liberate yourself from your pain, so that the next time a scorpion calls to you from the bank of a stream, you’ll be like, “What up, Scorpion? You need to get your ride from a shark, my friend!” Sending you love, and the strength to swim toward your pain if you need to! You are enough. Amazingly enough. Ally

Watch out for Selfish Cider

whenyouwelcomeA number of years ago, a close friend of mine was dating a man in the “spiritual community.” I have to admit, the first time I met him I got a bad vibe. He seemed arrogant and pretentious, and I was worried for my friend. But as you do in those cases, I kept my mouth shut and hoped for the best. Telling your friend you don’t dig the guy she’s mooning over is a recipe for trouble, and a great way to alienate someone who’s probably going to need to lean on you in the not too distant future. Plus, it was only a dinner, and I was hoping I was wrong. Maybe he’d been nervous, or didn’t do well in social situations. Maybe there was a whole side of him she was seeing that I couldn’t have glimpsed in such a short meeting.

About six months later, he went to an ashram. She called me a few times from Chicago, saying she had an intuition that something was off. He happened to be passing through L.A. on his way back home, and she asked me to have lunch with him, which I agreed to do. At lunch, he told me he had “connected” with a woman at the ashram, and had a deep, spiritual experience. When I asked him if he meant he’d had sex with her, he laughed and said, “Yes, if you need to be so crass about it.” When I asked him how he thought my friend was going to feel, given that they were in a monogamous relationship, he said he was a “mysterious and enigmatic creature”, and that he’d had to “honor the truth of what he was feeling.”

This was not, and is not, the only time I’ve encountered this kind of thinking amongst those who talk about being on “the path”, and it’s one of the things that gets me fired up. “Honoring your truth” doesn’t mean you’re justified in doing anything you want, it means you acknowledge what you’re feeling and communicate it when necessary. You sit with the feelings without acting on them, especially if doing so will hurt other people. If it turns out your feelings are an expression of a deeper truth, then you make changes so that you’re free to act on what’s pulling you, whether it’s another person, a new job, or a different way of being, but you act with compassion and consciousness. Sometimes it means you understand it’s just not something worth doing, that the cost will be too great.

Sitting with your feelings without acting on them is a sign of emotional and spiritual maturity. It’s a recognition that you are not your feelings, that feelings are not facts, or as the beautiful Pema Chodron puts it, “You are the sky; everything else is just the weather.” Lots of emotions feel overpowering, especially rage, jealousy, lust and despair. But you don’t have to be ruled by those feelings, and you really can’t be if you’re trying to live your life in a conscious way. I get sad about this, because I think many people who are seeking some healing run into this kind of thinking and either follow it, or are turned off by it (as am I). It’s twisting a beautiful practice into something ugly, and it’s a good reminder to be discerning about where you look for healing and guidance if you need some, and not to think one stinky apple ruins all the cider! Sending you a ton of love, as always, Ally Hamilton