Intentionally Single

I had a conversation with a friend a little while ago in which I realized that modern dating (especially on mobile apps) has become like an unpaid Human Resources internship, during which I read reports, schedule appointments, interview prospects, evaluate experiences, drink too much coffee, and wish I had more free time to do the things I enjoy and that bring me life, or at least that pay me a salary. It’s like work, but my boss is a tiny imaginary tyrant who berates me for being single, judges me for being divorced, and is mad at me for being less available And less engaged in the process than I should be. And that was when it really hit me: Why would I want to do any of those things, when there are so many things I actually would like to do? Why work an imaginary internship that takes time away from what I really value, that drains me emotionally and keeps me from being a better person?

Lots of people take a year off from dating in early sobriety. It’s not required, but it’s often recommended. I didn’t. My sponsor didn’t care whether I did, and I think wisely saw that making it a rule for me would have resulted in me pushing back against it anyway. Instead, like many things in my life, I had to come to a point where the pain of staying the same became greater than the pain of changing. Once I realized that all of my time spent single had been entirely unintentional, and how much of that time had been spent (unhappily, I should add) trying to not be single, I knew something had to change, and I was ready and willing for that change to take place.

So, it’s official. I’m off the market for 2019, and not just because I’m not meeting anyone. I’ve had some decent dates, but my life is ready to level up. I’m looking forward to the rest of 2019 being a time of real intentional growth as an intentionally single man, not as some kind of punishment or “woe is me” experiment, but because life is so damn full and rich and short, and there’s a lot I want to do and see.

Becoming

I have a long history of taking shortcuts. The experts (if you believe experts, and sometimes you should) say you should give yourself significant time after any major life change. For example, they suggest that you hold off on involving yourself romantically with anyone for a year after a marriage ends or a spouse dies. In 12 Step communities, the guideline is to not start a new romantic relationship during one’s first year of sobriety. Unsurprisingly, I have heeded neither of those guidelines, and I’ve ignored quite a few similar ones. As is the case with other people, part of it has been that on some level, I believe that the rules don’t apply to me. Kind of arrogant, but there it is. As it turns out, you can ignore the rules, but the rules carry on whether you agree or not.


Just a guideline.

I spent the last month or so in a long distance relationship with someone I met online. Unlike some of the individuals I’ve met online and dated for any length of time, when things had to end, despite feeling sad, I still had nothing but admiration and respect for her. She is an excellent person, and I enjoyed our time together so much. Sometimes things just don’t work out logistically, and while that is unfortunate, it’s the way of the world.

After things came to a close, I started to evaluate the direction my life had taken. The past two years of sobriety have been almost all upward trajectory except for my romantic relationships, which have been a mixed bag. While I’ve had some good experiences and have learned a lot about myself, I never took the time to have a clean break of any length, but I’ve reached the point where I don’t think I can put that stage of self development off any longer.

Definitely.

So last night, a week or so after my long distance relationship ended, I threw one last Hail Mary pass and went out on a date set up by an app with a name that starts fires. I told myself that if this didn’t work out, I’m taking some intentional time to working on my life off the dating grid. So of course we had a lovely conversation and a nice afternoon, and for a couple of hours I thought maybe I wasn’t ready to take that next celibate step. But then she responded that while I was funny and sweet, she was going to pass on a second date.

Message received, universe.

It’s time for me to stop the swipe fest and really commit to this thing. So the apps are deleted, the profiles erased, and the online dating shop is closing down. For the first time in my life, I think I’m actually willing to live life intentionally single and learn from it. I look forward to seeing what I can become.

Luck of the Irish

When I woke up on Monday, March 18th, I was mostly refreshed, fairly wide awake, and overall in good spirits. I had a few things to do before I got started with my job, but had plenty of time to reflect and relax before things got underway. After a few cups of coffee, I realized for what feels like the thousandth time what a very different place I am in today than I once was.

Two years ago, I woke up very differently, although so similarly to many Saint Patrick’s Days prior. I had a skull splitting headache, a broken heart, a fear that I’d made mistakes that would be impossible to reconcile, and a growing realization that I had some consequences ahead of me. I still don’t remember everything that happened the day before, but I knew that if I hadn’t hit rock bottom yet, I was definitely getting closer, like an anchor skipping along the sea floor before it finally comes to rest.

I have no idea who this guy is, but his girlfriend wanted us to get a photo together.

It’s not that I have no good memories from my drinking days. There were times that I had a lot of fun. And in many respects, some of those experiences probably served some purpose. But eventually, the consequences caught up with me, and they outweighed the benefits pretty quickly.

Today, the consequences of deciding to quit drinking, to turn my will and life over to the care of God, to make amends for the wrong things I did before, and to do my best to serve others have also caught up with me. Every day gives me new opportunities to be grateful. My bills are paid – not just on time, but often early, and my credit rating has skyrocketed from what it once was. I don’t wake up with a splitting headache unless it’s due to actual illness. I have clarity about how to handle relationships, particularly ones that are difficult. I’m not as afraid as I used to be. I wake up with a sense of anticipation and excitement for the day, and at the end of the day I have a greater capacity for review and reflection as I fall asleep with peace and serenity, with more hope for tomorrow than I ever had before.

Closing Time

Two and a half years ago, in this bar, I told my good friend Jack about how I was struggling to continue in a marriage that was emotionally abusive and psychologically destructive. He wasn’t the first person to tell me I needed to end it (not by a long shot), and in fact, he (and everyone else) had been telling me that for years, but this time he helped me to see what I needed to do in order to escape with as much of my dignity and integrity intact as possible, even though I couldn’t figure out exactly how to pull the trigger. Then I drank too much and went to sleep.

The next day, my wife told me she and her kids were moving and that we were going to file for divorce. Sometimes problems handle themselves.

While I still ended up having to do a lot of work to extricate myself from that relationship successfully, the more removed from it I become, the easier it is to look back on it with clarity and self compassion. And, like this empty, closed bar, my life has moved on to be something better than it once was.

Mom

My mom passed away peacefully on Saturday, January 27th, 2018, after nearly a decade of slowly fading from some form of progressive dementia.

When people have asked how I or members of my family are handling it, there’s a part of all of us, I think, that say something about how it is a blessing in some form, given how difficult simple activities of life had become for her.  But even blessings are hard sometimes.  Mom was only 68 years old, and started showing at least beginning signs of this in her 50’s, although we didn’t notice it at the time.

One of the cruelest parts of the decline process (and there are many) was the loss of verbal skill and understanding. Mom taught me many things.  I often find myself repeating pieces of simple wisdom she imparted to me, such as “it’s only worth what someone is willing to pay for it,” or “your problem, Pete, is that you think you have to understand everything.” Mom was a reference librarian, but even before that had been a voracious reader and thinker. Mom loved words.  She enjoyed laughing at clever phrasing in books, smiling at Dad’s frequent puns, and nodding in quiet agreement as sermons were preached or scripture was read.  And her love of the Word was something she passed on easily to those she interacted with, whether it was through praying with students or friends, or teaching her children to memorize the Scriptures for themselves. The verse I still remember her teaching me most vividly – one that has repeatedly served me well throughout life – is Proverbs 15:1, which reminds us (in the King James version) that “a soft answer turneth away wrath; but grievous words stir up anger.” I remember this most vividly, I suppose, because it wasn’t just words for mom.  Many teachers and professors have made me memorize facts, figures, history, and even Scripture throughout my life, but mom taught me to memorize Scripture because it was life – and she lived this passage, and so many others like it – in a way that was impossible to ignore, and impossible to not respect, regardless of one’s faith persuasion. And as I think back on her life, and on the many things she taught me from an early age, particularly about words, and the Word, my Christian faith tradition also reminds me that death, even death through slow decline, does not have the final word.

Thanks be to God.

not forgetting

July 18, 2017

I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 A.M. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends.
Joan Didion

I’ve been asked a few times about whether I miss drinking, and it prompted me to look back on the older pics on my Instagram feed. In a few instances, I can look back and see memories of times spent with friends, of moments of quiet reverie, of enjoyment and fun, but I also see a lot of that “unattractive company” that Didion describes, and maybe that is part of what keeps me from wanting to drink again.

But I haven’t deleted those pics, because I don’t want to forget where I’ve come from. Instead, I want to continue to come to terms with that person and make right what can be made right. The idea of “forgiving myself” has always perplexed me a bit, which was hammered home during my fourth step, when my sponsor pointed out that “there’s one person notably absent from your list, and that’s Pete.” Part of making things right with Pete is clearly acknowledging everything Pete went through, without justification, rationalization, or overdramatization. Glad to be where I am today, but I got here because I was once there.