For the Men I Miss During the Holidays

Today is a turning point for me. But, not a big one. It happens every year. I am on the 30-day countdown to my birthday. In spite of my general excitement about having an excuse to have a party and engage in a couple of personal traditions it isn’t a happy time of year for me.

This is the time of year that I miss my dad the most. Even though he has been gone a very long time he is still with me on a regular basis. Many of the things that I feel are important in my life are modeled after thinking about what I liked most about him. It really shows when I am around certain people.

I think that there was some positive in not having him around over the last decade. It has been easier for me to be the parts of me that he didn’t like. And, it has been easier for me to separate myself from the parts of him that I didn’t like. I can pare away the parts of him that I don’t aspire to without ever worrying about offending him.

Robert Bly’s Iron Johnalong with the writing of Joseph Campbell, were helpful in understanding that I was literally experiencing something that I would have to do, at least metaphorically. You have to bury your mentor. Obi-wan, Gandalf, Dumbledor, and Mom&Dad all of them have to be laid to rest before you can emerge as your own whole person.

I know the conflicts that I would have had with him over the years, but as I come into this part of the year he is the person that I want to have around. To share my weird problems with.

Our family trouble from the summer has left us with less to worry about when making plans, but also brings some weight. I’m used to feeling that there is an empty place at my table, but this year I miss Joe (my brother-in-law) too.

I after having him as a central part of the family Rose and I are building I miss sharing our weird problems with him too. Particularly, I miss sharing Rockford’s weird moments. Today I want to express my sincere thanks to the men that have been important to my life: Sean, Birger, Chris, Andrew, Eric, Joe, et al. but most of all my Dad.

Survey Responses: The Best Things About Your Relationship

How about a little unadulterated positivity for your Monday? One of the questions we asked on our dating survey is “What’s the best thing about your current relationship status?” I’m sure you won’t be surprised to discover that there are lots of things making people happy.

“After almost 20 years we make each other better people, and we make each other laugh.”

 

“security and acceptance of who I am”

 

“Having a partner in life makes facing challenges less frightening. I love having someone to make plans and work towards goals with. At the end of the day, and at the beginning and all the way through, knowing that we have each other and our love.”

 

“That it’s not unrequited. That we tell each other everything, and we remind each other that we’re awesome even when we’re not feeling awesome.”

 

“Openness with each my husband about ways we can each have our needs met while taking care of our relationship.”

 

“I can enjoy different aspects of people I care deeply about. I can have my needs met, without sacrificing areas that are important to me.”

 

“We met after both having children and broken relationships. In a way it made us more aware of what we really wanted in a relationship , versus being in love with the fantasy of one. Theres excitement but also this calm . We met in our 30s and just in that makes it so much better.”

 

“I describe myself as a “solo polyamorist” because I live independently and have three partners. I love living on my own – I need a lot of alone time and to be in charge of my own space. But I get to spend plenty of time with my lovers. I am able to get exactly the balance of alone time and company that works for me.”

 

“The connection and laughter I share with my partners”

 

“Watching my (non-live-in) boyfriend care for my (live-in) boyfriend and his wife’s daughter with love and compassion.”

 

“Dependability, with freedom. No need for secrets.”

 

“I am able to be with my wonderful loving husband and still be able to fulfill my needs for additional partners. We are love each other very much but understand that we cannot be everything to each other. That we want/desire other people and that we love and trust each other enough to recognize that it doesn’t diminish our relationship in the least.”

It has been a rough summer over here in delRioLand, and this autumn is not taking it easy on anyone either. You know that I can lose perspective, and I know that others can as well. I feel like many things in our life are not going exactly the way I’d like them to, which is frustrating. All these responses about the best things in people’s relationships feel like a shot in the arm, like an antidote to some of the bumps in our road.

Making the Difficult Decisions With Friends

In my mind there is one really standout moment where I had to make a very difficult choice about how to support one of my friends. I had to decide which of two bad decisions was most supportive of what I knew my friend’s goals to be.

Back in 2006 I received an unexpected phone call from one of my friends. She wanted to talk to me about her boyfriend. Her boyfriend is one of my closest friends, both then and now.

She was on the fence about whether she should break-up with him. Part of her felt like the relationship was stale and had run its course. Part of her felt like they had a good thing, albeit not excellent. She felt like the fact that they didn’t live in same city was a problem, but she also liked the freedom that built in.

We spent well over an hour and a half on the phone. It is a supreme oddity for me to talk that long on the phone. We talked about her actions and his actions, her feelings, my thoughts, my shared history with both of them and so much more.

At the end of the conversation there was no clear answer to what was going to happen. While she felt much more comfortable having talked about it and being very thorough in thinking about it, she still hadn’t decided what she wanted from the impending conversation with her boyfriend when she went to visit.

This is where the situation became most difficult for me. I was faced with a decision that felt like a catch-22: should I tell him that I had this conversation?

On one hand, I have always believed that forewarned is forearmed; on the other, I felt loyalty and affinity for both parties. What if she decided that she didn’t want to break-up with him? What would happen if she decided not to even bring it up during that trip?

Not telling him seemed like it would make him mad at me. Telling him seemed like it would cause him to stew on the issue, or confront her and make things worse. I knew for a fact that this was the girl he planned to marry.

I told her that if the fight got heated (I was pretty sure it would) that it was okay to tell him that she had talked with me. To ask him if he thought there was anyone who would have done a better job advocating for him and his interests in the relationship.

In the end I chose not to tell him anything. At the end of their weekend together I heard from both of them. She thanked me for talking with her and letting her throw me under the bus. He told me that he understood why I made the decision that I did, that he couldn’t really offer any good alternative, and that he didn’t want to talk to me for a while.

So, what about you, what would you have done?

Breaking Up

Parenting is, without a doubt, one of the most important ways that we conceptualize being a lover. Carlos has shared a lot with the blog about what being a father means to him. I haven’t been sharing my thoughts on motherhood with you, because something that happened earlier this summer has put them all in disarray.

My mother broke up with me.

This is a long story, and one that is not going to be told smoothly.

In part, I can’t tell it smoothly because its wounds are still fresh, and the events and their meaning have not had time to uncurl and make sense of themselves. In part, I don’t really want to tell this story, because I cannot believe that it’s true, because the things that have happened bring vividly back all the desire to shut down and hide that I work so hard to get past. I don’t want to tell it, but holy shit, you guys. We have to talk about this.

My mom broke up with me. Both my parents did, I guess, but my mom is the one who sent me an email telling me that she can “no longer support [me], as long as I am married to Carlos.” My dad packed all of the things that we left at their house, and my mom stood in the garage doorway and watched us load it into a truck.

I have gone around and around with myself about how to talk about, how much to tell. Like I said, I don’t want to tell any of it, because I want to believe that I can keep it from being real. But the truth is this: my mom decided that she didn’t like my marriage, and gave me an ultimatum. She told me that I had to choose between her and Carlos, and she stuck to her guns when I made my choice.

So, how did we get here?

My mom has always described herself as having a very long fuse, leading to drastic consequences once she hits her limit. She is also extremely conflict-averse. So her long fuse has been burning, with anger at Carlos and at me, and she only ever hinted about her unhappiness. She has just been burning, for months, maybe years, while she has been angry at me, angry at Carlos, and not talking to us about it.

You Don’t Know About Any Relationship You’re Not In
Wedding 10
On this blog and in person, Carlos and I talk a lot about the principles that guide our decisions as parents. “Love your kid and treat them with respect.” “Make their life better than ours.” “Do better.” “Take care of your family, you’re stuck with them.” For the most part, these are lessons that my mom shared with me explicitly, in discussions about how and why they raised us kids in the way that they did. It was not an accident that Carlos and I talked about having kids so early in our dating; having children, raising them to be good people who do good for the world is important to me. I knew I wanted to find a partner who saw the world the same way that I do, whose purpose and practice in parenting would be in line with my own. On our first date, in 1999, I hadn’t worked this out, but by the time we went out again in 2009, I knew what I wanted in a coparent, and I saw it in Carlos.

I saw other things in Carlos, too. I saw a man who knew me when I was a child, who remembered me fondly despite the years I had spent running away from him. I saw someone who had purpose and direction, setting the terms by which he lived his life. And I saw a place for me in that life. I saw a person who knew me in some of my absolute shittiest times, who had always intimidated and intrigued me, and who thought I was really something, even after all that. He was, and is, a smart, strong, challenging, supportive person who understands where I am coming from and wants to go great places together. In him, and our relationship, I saw a future I wanted to live.

The time that Carlos and I have been married has not always been easy. I came to this marriage with A LOT of issues. I am afraid of many things, including my feelings, and confrontation, and other people’s feelings, and vacations, and the ocean, and doing things wrong. At times, these fears can be paralyzing for me. I chose Carlos as my partner for life because our life together is better than my life with fear. I struggle with my fears every day, and I don’t always come out triumphant. There have been times when the struggles of our life together have been miserable, but even so, my life is better with Carlos.

Take Care Of Your Family, They’re All You’ve Got
This is why we can't have nice things
When it came time for us to embark on this grand adventure, I saw an opportunity to do something to nourish myself as both a child and a parent, and to support the relationships between my parents and their only grandchild. I knew that there was tension between Carlos and my folks, and I hoped that spending some time together would alleviate that. In my youth, and during my pregnancy, my mom was always by my side, sympathetic to the challenges I was facing, ready with hugs and wisdom and patience. I loved that about her, and I wanted to share that patience and experience with the family I am building. I wanted to practice parenting with the people who had raised me, to be in a place where their guidance and experience could help me and Carlos give Rockford the same kind of loving, respectful care that they had given me.

Instead of that, they placed the blame for my exhaustion on Carlos, met him with hostility, and refused to engage with either of us as adults. I can’t help but feel like it’s my fault that they treated us like children, for coming to them in a time of turmoil and changes. Why wouldn’t they assume that I (and by extension, Carlos) would just do as they told us, without arguments or questions? I needed so much help. When we were there, it became clear that my parents dislike my choice of partner, don’t respect the commitment I’ve made to my husband, and had no intention of helping us keep our marriage strong.

All this was pretty hard, but the worst of it came when we finally did launch onto the road. Getting our van ready took a long time, and while we were working, Carlos’s grandmother died. There was no question for us of whether we would attend her memorial, and it became the hard line for getting us out of my parents’ house. My dad described this as me “doing things on [my] husband’s time line, not mine,” as if there was some timeline on which he would have been comfortable with any of this happening. During our travels to Las Vegas and Portland, lots of moms took care of us, and I tweeted about how important that felt to me. This was the last straw for him, I guess, because it was the point where he started calling me an ungrateful child on twitter, and refusing to speak to me on the phone, instead carrying on an extended argument via text message. It was during this barrage that some important details emerged, explaining in part why my mom was mad, and why she hadn’t (and still hasn’t) spoken to me. That story isn’t mine to tell.

You Don’t Get To Choose Your Family
delrios
Here’s the story that is mine, though: finding ourselves in a hard situation, my parents pressed me to make a choice between them and my husband. I guess their expectation was that I would fall into line with their demands. They didn’t like the choices I was making, and tried to call me back to the fold. But the lessons that they instilled in me as a child have stuck. “You don’t know any relationship you’re not in.” “You don’t get to choose your family, and you have to look out for one another.” “The things most worth doing are often the hardest.”

did get to choose my husband. I chose the family that I wanted to build, and there wasn’t a question for me about whether I was going to defend that family. I didn’t get to choose my parents, as awesome as they have been for me, but I did choose to stand in front of all my friends and family and make a commitment to Carlos. I renewed that commitment when I chose to have a child with him. The hard times that we have together are part of a bigger story. We have hard times on the road to great times. My life is richer, stranger, and more interesting because of my marriage to Carlos. I have lived bigger, better, more challenging experiences because of my commitment to him, and his commitment to me.

Carlos never asked me to ditch my parents. He never told me that I was being unreasonable by being hurt by their actions. He comforted me in my pain, and tried to calm my rage. He felt rage for me, and looked out for the best interests of our family. When the moment came, and my mom told me “you’re not welcome as long as Carlos is in your life,” I didn’t feel any ambiguity. I felt anger, and hurt, and disgust. And I curled up next to my husband and cried.

She sent me her email in the middle of July. Some days I miss her so hard it hurts. Some days all I see is the myriad ways that her story makes up my story, and all the ways that I am her. She thinks that I hate her, and sometimes I do. Sometimes I reach for the phone to tell her about something funny I’ve seen, and the hurt catches my breath in my chest. I hurt, but she raised me to be an adult. So here I am. I am nursing my broken heart and taking care of the relationships that nourish me.

 

Doing It Wrong

I spend a lot of time here thinking and talking about how to do better in relationships, but the truth is that I am having a hard time living my words. I have a lot of fear, and a great deal of internal inertia. I have old shit that I am still carrying around that gets in the way of my ability to do the best for my family. Ultimately, the problems that I have are just part of me, and despite having all the access in the world, I don’t know how to overcome them.

I don’t like the way that my life is. I love my husband and my child, I love the opportunities and experiences that our life together. I don’t like that I am ashamed to tell Carlos about my failings, even though he knows about all the worst things I have done. I don’t like that I still hide from him, and that the things I hide are stupider and more petty every day. I don’t like that I feel stuck and keep falling into old, bad habit.

I have things that I need to take care of, and I just keep not doing them. I need to write an editorial calendar, like, six months ago. I have so many interviews to write up, and a whole book to outline, and laundry and thank you notes, and they all just sit on me and make me overwhelmed. I see other people sharing their struggles with their partners, taking care of their own motivation issues, and I know that I should be able to do it, and I just don’t understand why I don’t.

I realize that this sounds a little like self-pity, or fishing for reassurance, but it’s not that. I just need to be honest about the fact that I don’t have it all figured out, and there are things that I do really, really wrong.

I have some practices that i know make me more likely to stay on track, but they can be hard to maintain with the way our life is lately. I need routine, especially since reality means that I need to be creating structure for our household. I need external stimulus, and exercise, and accountability. But I hate leaving the house (I’m starting to think that there is a specific issue there), and I don’t feel like I want to interact with other people, and I don’t do a good job of holding myself accountable.

I have had a couple of really hard things on my plate recently, and I have reached a point of exhaustion that I can’t really describe. We have really good, exciting stuff going on, but I don’t feel like I am happy enough about it, or sufficiently engaged. I want to feel better than I do, to be doing better than I am, and it’s deeply frustrating. It’s frustrating to me, and hurtful and damaging to the people around me.

I am sorry to vent all this here. Like all of life’s journeys, this one has some ups and downs. The downs matter as much as the ups do.

Asking For What You Want in a Relationship

As promised in the comments of Who Gets to Choose: the story of the time I said no to a break-up.

Long ago when I was a different person–not entirely, but quite a bit–I was dating an enchanting, vivacious woman who told me, “I don’t think we should date anymore.” This was not a huge surprise to me, there had been other hints dropped. During this moment I realized that I had no desire to stop seeing her, and since she used the word think I asked her to walk me through the reasons why.

At core it came down to the fact that I wasn’t the kind of person she saw herself marrying. Since her goal timeframe for marriage was still the better part of a decade away, I made the argument that there was no necessity for us to break-up. In fact I said, “No, I don’t agree to break-up with you. I am going to treat you the same in the future that I treat you now.”

So, how do you think that worked out? I followed through on my promise by inviting her to see a move the next Friday. That dinner and movie ended the way most of our Friday night dates ended. I continued to stop by to see her during the day when I was in the neighborhood (this was during the time that I didn’t have a phone), and continued to send her e-mails when I thought about her, and invite her to do things. For many weeks very little changed. We spent less pre-planned time together, but we still had a very intimate connection.

I don’t think that she liked this period of our relationship as much as I did. In the end she took the step necessary shutdown my behavior. She got a new boyfriend. Honestly, that didn’t stop me, but it did give her a much stronger reasoning for saying no to invitations (only dating one person at a time) and soaked up a lot of the free time that offered me opportunities to interact with her.

I know you may be wondering what this has to do with asking for what you want. Both of us put our cards on the table: “I don’t want to marry you,” and, “I don’t mind, I am going to preserver until this is over.” In the end I think we both got what we wanted: she did eventually marry someone who isn’t me and I got to not change my behavior.

As far as who chose our future I would say that I think she did. She was in a position to decide how much contact and opportunity I was given to win her over to my side. You could point out that I had an opportunity to up my game and win her heart, but I don’t think that was a real possibility, even if I had become a different person it would have fizzed and I would be in same place, and maybe resentful of what happened. You could point out that I could have actively pursued her later on, and maybe I could have, but I don’t think she would have liked it.

Ultimately, I made one really big bet. I bet that if I was open to whatever the future held, things would eventually come around. In many ways I think that they did. I would still consider her a good person, I suspect she would do the same. That reminds me…I need to write some songs for our epic supporters!

It’s A Dog’s Life

Our beloved, silly dog is having a hard time.

She is happiest when there are multiple people who love her, and when she has a somewhat predictable lifestyle. She’s a creature of habit, with high social needs. Even on her best behavior, she’s still kind of a hyperactive weirdo. Her needs are pretty straightforward – food, water, exercise, companionship.

More than any of us, she dislikes the “van on the road” lifestyle. When riding in vehicles, she prefers to have a seat where she can watch the road through the windshield. She wants more stops, and to be able to go with us everywhere we go. She seems to like it when we have the kind of sleep schedule that lets her to go bed early with me and stay in bed later with Carlos, which isn’t really how things work out in the van.

As a consequence of our life lately, her behavior has slipped somewhat. I catch her nibbling on Rock’s snacks when he’s not looking. Her levels of excitement at new people are through the roof, which means lots of headbutting people in the crotch and jumping on them. At least it’s not biting, right?

This morning my best lady friend sent me a video of her tiny dog wresting with another dog, in complete silence. I had forgotten that dogs could play without barking their heads off! I knew that Dita Lily has been needing some more focused care than she’s been getting, but until I watched Anchovy flipping around, I hadn’t realized quite how much. We exchanged 45 text messages about the best, dog-trainer approved ways to address her barking, and oh, my. So much work to be done.

When we launched in the van, I knew that there were going to be things that would be rough, and that there would be areas that we would have to work on. I feel bad for Dita, and her limited ability to communicate with us about her struggles. Perhaps more than any of us, she’s going to be happy when our chaos settles into a more permanent location.

Van full of chaos

I thought that living in a van would force me to live in a more organized fashion. I thought that having only 72 square feet would make me place a higher priority on “a place for everything, everything in its place.” Are you surprised to learn that I was totally wrong?

There are some things that always go in their proper place. The kiddo’s safety seat, for example. There’s one appropriate place for it, and that’s where it stays. Almost anything else, though… well, it’s kind of a crap shoot.

This experience has been really education for me, about the way that we live. I am, on my own, a fairly untidy person. Carlos tells me that there was a time when he kept his home neat, but that’s not really something that I’ve ever seen. So, we started with two messy adults, added a baby and a dog, and took everything we own out on the road.

Our life is messy.

We have some organization, boxes and bungees and bags with single purposes, but all of that is no match for the total level of chaos that we seem to generate. It gives me a little angst when people want to see where we live, because I want to have something better, tidier, to show them. I want to have the kind of home that welcomes people in at a moment’s notice, and this is not that. But ultimately, I think that there’s something good about that, too.

Carlos and I set out on this journey to do something very specific together. We are working on our project, and also on our selves. We found our way to this adventure because of the time that we have invested in the relationship we share. This sounds a little narcissistic, but the van, and this journey, have forced us to build some space that really is del Rios-only, and I am happy for that. I do wish that the inside of our little bubble were tidier, but I also have confidence that we’ll get to that place, eventually. Until then, I am thankful for the reminder that we can share our life and still have some places that belong to us alone. And I’m glad for the goal of making our next (permanent) place the kind of open and welcoming space that we love to build.

Who Gets To Choose?

It takes two people to have a relationship. In what seems like an ideal situation, those people work together to create the terms on which they interact, and to define how their relationship works.

In reality, though, that’s almost never the case. We happen into friendships through circumstance, we follow a cultural patterns for dating interactions, we have coworkers and metamours and family members that we don’t get to choose, but have to make the best of.

There are plenty of situations where one person wants something different from the relationship than their partner does. Sometimes, the resolution is easy: Let’s break up! Or, stop drunk dialing me! Or, I’d like to ask you on a date. The other partner can say,”I’m sad about breaking up!” Or “No, thanks, I don’t want to go on a date with you.” That’s an easy situation (relatively – breakups and date rejection are not actually easy, just straightforward).

On the other hand, what do you do when one person wants something different from the existing structure of the relationship, and their partner isn’t on board? Whose desires should take precedence? To be clear, I mean this in a situation where no one is in danger, where people just want conflicting things: if two family members want to run their shared relationship differently, who gets to decide?

Where do we change gears from “siblings because of the circumstances of our family” to “friends because of our choice?” When does the need a child communicates take precedence over the way a parent wants to take care of them?

How do you start a conversation with a partner about this? What do you do when they won’t hear it?

I started this post out with the idea that I had some kind of answer, but I don’t think I do. In so many of the relationships that I have with people, I can have these conversations, we can talk honestly, but it’s not always the case. Have you been here, wanting something from a relationship that you just can’t get? How to do you handle it?

 

image courtesy daftgirly

 

Shine A Little Light On The Road

Despite the impression that one might have, based on the fact that I write a blog about my depression, open relationship, parenting, and travels, I am deeply inclined toward hiding. I don’t like for people to know that I feel inadequate in so many parts of my life. I don’t look forward to people asking questions about the nature of my relationship. I really don’t want to be told how to raise my kid. I have a secret fear that sharing my travel plans will lead to stalkers finding me (the fact that I don’t have stalkers is irrelevant to my worry).

But here’s the thing: all of these are realities of my existence. The fact that I live with depression doesn’t make me in any way a lesser person. It doesn’t mean that I have failed. It doesn’t mean that my parents, or my partner, or my doctor, or my peers have failed. One thing that I have learned over and over is that I am not alone in experiencing depression. Depression is a liar; it whispers in our ears, telling us that we’re not like other people, that we should just stay in bed, no one wants us around. It robs us of perspective. As I’ve said before, I think it’s important to talk about it, because being open creates an environment that enables others to open up.

The same idea rings just as true for me when I think about my relationships. I entered the dating world having literally no idea how to proceed. I saw my parents’ marriage; I saw the dating relationships of my peers in high school; I knew that I wasn’t headed for marriage with any of the boys around me. I started out with poor social skills (oh, hey, severe introvert growing up in an unsupportive social environment!), and no one taught me any skills for interacting with intimate partners. This statement isn’t meant as an indictment of anyone; it’s just a fact. Every person has to learn how to have relationships as they go. That being said, I do believe it’s possible to help create a travel guide, if not actually a roadmap, for getting to a place you want to be your relationships. But I don’t think that any one (or two) of us can do it alone.

Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself. – Eleanor Roosevelt

Remember that survey about dating we wrote? And the one about family? The purpose behind them, and really, the purpose behind this whole endeavor, is to find the pieces of knowledge that people have that we ourselves don’t. When I started on the road of relationships, I didn’t have a map, and I didn’t know what all the signs meant. I didn’t even really know where I was trying to go. At this point, I know that there are lots of signs out there, and plenty of people who have deciphered them, at least in part. I have no interest in telling anyone how to run their relationships, or saying that one way is better than any other. I’m just trying to get my bearings, and understand the landscape around me. I know that, like my depression, I’m not the only one in this position. The way that I am approaching this problem might be unique, but the fact that I want to do better in my relationships is not.

I don’t think there’s any reason for us to be stumbling around in the dark when there are people around us with lights. I don’t think that there should be shame in talking about the things that do and do not work within the world around us. Romantic and familial relationships make up a huge portion of many people’s lives, and I believe that we as people can do better for ourselves and each other if we acknowledge that they take work, and that we all have things to learn about them. I want to be open about my process for the same reasons that I want to be open in my relationship: There is more, and it is better, when we say yes, instead of no.