Calling Foul …in the paradise promised by on-line dating

I feel my gut clenching as I begin to write this post. It is one of the most deeply personal stories I’ll have shared with you. It reveals a side of me that not that many people know about and a part of me that feels shy and vulnerable. I feel myself judging me; I feel you judging me. And I know that is simply my story of myself in flow. I won’t allow it to stop me. For I know that the process of writing will be helpful, healing and self-nurturing. I suspect that pressing the ‘post’ button will be even more challenging than writing this story will be.

It’s about my love life. And no, I won’t be giving you all the sordid details. Just enough to, hopefully, understand what it’s like to be an older single woman in today’s world and the toll that our on-line dating world can take on even an emotionally and psychologically robust person. It’s the story of a potentially positive relationship that quickly and abruptly went terribly awry.

Why is Paradise Necessary Anyhow?

©Gwen McCauley 2015

So some basic facts to set the stage. I left a 30 year relationship 8 years ago, clear that I wasn’t interested in men because I had so much to figure out about myself. And besides, who the hell would be interested in a fat old woman?  Crumbling marriages tend to take a toll on a girl’s self esteem. I then spent nearly 5 years completely on my own, oblivious to men except as platonic friends. Until a man courted me and stunned me into realizing that I was ready; ready for a man in my life. When that relationship didn’t work, I faced a reality that so many of us must in this day and age. It is damned difficult to meet someone when you work from home, have hobbies that are largely enjoyed solo, and your social network is primarily populated by other women.

So on-line I went and it’s where I have been for the past 3 years. Yeehaw. What a ride. My name for the on-line dating world is the ‘post-industrial wild west freak show’! Like most things in my life I took to on-line dating vigorously and proactively. I wrote detailed, honest profiles. Populated them with recent photos, many showing full body images (clothed) so there’d be no doubt what was on offer. I answered questionnaires, completed tests, searched profiles and contacted men rather than sitting back, waiting to be contacted. Over 3 years I joined 12 different sites/apps, not counting Facebook (which will never be a source of dating for me).

The Promise of Paradise

I’ve met and interacted with thousands of men in that time. Some have been really interesting and pleasurable to chat with and meet. Some (like the high tech sexual sadist) have shocked the crap out of me, and yet ultimately were informative and pleasurable interactions. Some have resulted in short-term relationships that ultimately didn’t have enough substance to stay the course. Some have turned into long-term friendships. One, for me, could have turned into love but the other person was dealing with psychological issues so wasn’t really available.

Scammers and bots were and remain incredibly plentiful. Sometimes I wonder how many profiles populating many sites describe real people and how many are fake. My guess is it’s less than 25%, the rest being either social bots placed there by the site itself to keep people chatting so that their numbers look better, or the much more malicious scammers/scammer bots intent on separating you from your money or gathering personal information for identity theft. On one profile where I admit that I’ve ‘sexted’ a number of men have approached me wanting to sext, as if it were a casual, all-comers invited activity. Haha. Dream on sucker. That’s an activity reserved for very special people under very special circumstances!

I’ve had many, shockingly many, guys who’ve wanted me to have cam sex with them, which I won’t because I find it a turn off, to say nothing of the potential of them taping what I’m doing and then using it for blackmail. I’ve had young guys galore proposition me, sending me unrequested ‘cum shots’ in the belief that it’ll somehow make them seem more desirable. In truth, it is a huge turn off! When I say young I’m talking as young as 17 or 18 years old raving about about how they’d love to have sex with an older, ‘mature’ woman.

I’ve interacted with innumerable scammers and was almost scammed by one. This dude (Russian sea captain Sergey, ya right) kept up a correspondence for 5 months – 5 months – before he hit me up for moola. Over the 5 months, I was highly suspicious and so held back a lot of information. When he asked for money, I blocked him immediately and reported him as a scammer and had no further interaction. Even though part of me saw the scam unfolding, another part of me felt gullible and foolish that I didn’t call his bluff sooner and end things. It felt like a very uncomfortable and no-win situation. It left me highly suspicious of others.

And then there are the guys in their 40’s and 50’s who claim that their first sexual experience was with an older woman and they have a fetish and want to have sex with someone significantly older than themselves.

Thankfully I’ve only had one or two messages from trolls. Guys who hate women, older women, fat women or some combination thereof with their revolting verbal puke of how I should be locked away because I’m disgusting to behold or that other awful things should be done to me.

Ghosts in Paradise

I’ve been stood up for dates.  I’ve had plenty of dates where it was clear from the start that this wasn’t going to work for either of us. I’ve had guys be interested in me when I wasn’t interested in them. I’ve been interested in guys who’ve made it clear that I’m not their type. I’ve been told that I should tone my profile or my personality down because I’m ‘too intimidating’ to guys.

But most difficult of all for me to deal with is being ghosted. That’s the modern day practice of simply disappearing from someone else’s life. Most recently I connected with a guy who claimed to be a retired financial sector guy of some wealth but who had a respiratory condition that meant he had to live in a warm climate. We had coffee, chatted back and forth and planned to get together for dinner. And then he disappeared. For weeks. Only to pop up early one Saturday afternoon to invite me to go for a Dutch treat dinner with him to a fairly pricey restaurant, if I could afford it. Turns out he had developed a chest infection and that was his reason for disappearing for weeks. So off we went for our dinner date. Which was actually quite lovely; the restaurant, the meal and the companionship. When he drove me back to my car I received lots of positive comments about how much he’d enjoyed himself, where we might go next time, etc., etc.  I got a rather chaste kiss farewell – and I’ve never heard from him again. That was over 6 weeks ago. Oh dear. Fuck you, buddy. I hope you have a good life.

That’s just a recent example of being ghosted. It happens probably 50% of the time when I’m interacting with men on-line. They just disappear. Nothing to say they are bored with the conversation, found someone else, that I’m not giving them what they want. Nothing. They become ghosts who have melted into the fog of life.

I share all of this so that you have a good sense of the breadth and depth of experience I’ve had and the range of both positive and negative experiences I’ve learned to deal with. It seems relevant to what I’m about to describe to you.

Paradise Found?

A couple of weeks ago Frederico showed up on one of my sites. Initially he seemed like a typical Portuguese guy, although his English was a damned sight better than most. He was low key, self-effacing, pleasant. It quickly became apparent that he was different in that he asked good questions, responded with detailed answers and seemed more worldly than many I’d interacted with. He said he worked offshore on a rig, which was a red flag to me because it is typical for scammers to have jobs offshore: rigs, mines, ships being favoured locations that offer the illusion of good money, plus access to high tech communications and enough remoteness so that they can cultivate a relationship without the pressure of being physically present.

We shifted to What’sApp fairly quickly which allowed for video as well as text connection. Frederico was, indeed, a real guy and it certainly appeared that he was working on a rig. (But you know, studios can very easily be set up to create the appearance of a specific destination, my cynical self was thinking.) We chatted effortlessly and seemed to share many interests and to be looking for the same things in life. There was an age difference but he never mentioned it and I chose to not bring it up. Frederico was due to fly home within 2 weeks so my concerns that he might be a scammer would soon be proven one way or the other. He seemed quite smitten with me and I was strongly attracted to him. As the date for his return came closer I could feel the tension rising in me. The 24 hours of his trip from the rig back to Portugal felt like torture because I was braced to receive a request for money (problems developing en route is a favourite scammer gambit). And then I’d have to admit that I’d been bamboozled again by another scammer. I was tense. Very tense.

Lo and behold, though, he was as real as real could be. We met and things were even more optimistic than our video chats indicated. I was quite smitten by Frederico and could see the potential not only of some good times but a serious, long-term relationship. He claimed he was madly in love with me. After all the creeps, lame ducks, scammers, ghostings, and misses I’d experienced I was elated. When he left to attend a family function, it was my understanding that he was planning to spend the next day with his adult daughters and that I might see him the following evening, for certain on the next day when we planned to go to an event I attend weekly.  I went to bed a very, very happy girl that night.

I awoke happy but mildly disappointed the next day because he hadn’t sent me so much as a short message. He had been very good while on the rig about saying goodnight each night and good morning each day. I heard nothing from him the entire next day and he neither showed up that night, nor was there any message from him. I could feel my stomach churning and the sense of dread that I was being ghosted, yet again, began to build. Simultaneously some friends contacted me to say that an event we’d all been looking forward to attending was happening the next afternoon and did I want to go with them. Of course I did. But I didn’t want to jerk Frederico around. So I sent him a message explaining what was up and letting him know I wouldn’t be around most of the day but reminding him at what time I typically leave to attend my Sunday evening event.

Paradise Lost?

By Sunday morning I was not only deflated but feeling gullible and naïve, once again. I had a knee jerk response and made a decision. I sent him a message letting him know that, for me, ghosting is probably the most hurtful way possible to tell someone you aren’t interested in them, wishing him a good life and telling him he wouldn’t hear from me again.

That afternoon I got a message from him that indicated he had read none of my other messages saying what a good time he was having with his family and that he’d drop by my place late that evening. Duh. So I sent another message reminding him I wouldn’t be home, giving him the address of my event and re-inviting him to join me if he wished.

That’s the last I’ve heard from him.

Was Paradise Even a Possibility?

Was I an idiot to react so quickly and forcefully to him? That, of course, was my Self judgement. Perhaps. A friend who is married to a Portuguese guy reminded me that, culturally, Portuguese guys often respond differently than I might expect. And I recognize that even in similar cultures a personal has to make allowances for different expectations.

So perhaps I’m making a mountain out of a proverbial molehill I wondered?  Perhaps I’m agitated, distressed and uncertain for no good reason? Perhaps also this may be a good thing to happen because I may not be up to dealing with someone who isn’t responsive to what I have to say or to my needs?

And what if my response has ruined a potentially spectacular relationship? Well, on that front I’m fatalistic. I’ll never know, will I? And what if my response has saved me from discovering the slow way that I’m involved with a guy who doesn’t give a toss about my needs, interests or priorities? I should pat myself on the back for my insightfulness, I’d say. Another good friend pointed out that perhaps he’s married and was just looking for a quick fling and being dishonest about it all.

Learnings on the Road to Paradise

But there are bigger questions at play here, I think. I know that Frederico, at some level, is the recipient of my built up frustrations over all the men who have lied to me, dishonoured me or otherwise treated me shabbily in this dating process. I need to face this distasteful reality and learn from it. I need to better deal with my romantic disappointments as they occur rather than letting them fester and boil over inappropriately. I know this is important because, in retrospect, it’s clear that I was angry without even realizing I was angry.

I also need to reflect seriously on the nature of the men that I choose to interact with. Am I making good choices for myself? Can I learn to be kind to myself if I don’t chose well from time to time, especially because I want to find a guy who is different than the kinds of guys I’ve traditionally chosen in my life?

I need to trust my gut instincts more, especially when they are guiding me away from something that appears to be superficially appealing. I’m great at trusting my instincts when they are affirming a positive response. I am less trusting when they are affirming a negative choice. I fret more. I second guess myself more.

I need to be extremely proud that I have a network of friends and confidantes with whom I can consult, when necessary, and who will ask me the tough questions and support me in my choices and decisions. That is worth its weight in gold. Everyone who is on-line dating needs to have such a circle of friends who help them retain balance, to shine a light into crevices and crannies that aren’t immediately obvious and who will provide support and guidance when needed. This is absolutely critical to remaining sane and healthy in the on-line world in my estimation.

So here I am, about 72 hours after making the fateful decision to challenge a potential partner on what felt to me like his dismissive and disrespectful behaviour towards me. This oh so new and vulnerable relationship that was still just blossoming suddenly stopped in its tracks. In those intervening hours I feel that I’ve gained perspective and learned to trust my gut instinct. Who knows if I’ll ever hear from Frederico. If I don’t, oh well, he wasn’t the man he portrayed himself as being and I’m better off. If he does show up, I already have my list of questions he’ll have to answer. The breaks have been put on an emotional freight train that might have been moving way, way too fast. And I’ve confirmed, yet again, that I have a network of amazing friends I can rely on through thick and thin.

On-line dating is definitely an approach to meeting potential people that is hard to ignore in today’s world. But each of us has to be awake and aware of the decisions we make, the vulnerabilities we face and the process of using this tool that works best for us. In addition to the supportive and nurturing friends I have, I also have friends who think that their approach to dating and relationships is the best (only?) way and who actually add to my stress by chastising me for my choices while trying to counsel me to just ‘do it their way’. As one said to me as if it were a problem “I’ve learned that you believe you are the best one to judge what you need to do next.  Damn right I do. It’s why my life is so great in so many ways. This experience with Frederico shows me that I need to let certain people know much less about what’s happening in my love life.

Musings

I’m glad I’ve written this article and am going to share it with the world. Too many of us think we’re the only one struggling to find someone. Too many of us think that we’re the only one who is uncertain. Too many of us think we’re alone in getting taken advantage of in both big and small ways, who get stood up, ghosted or put down. Too many of us question our judgement. Too many of us think we’re being too picky or not picky enough.

I say here’s to self-discovery. Here’s to the strength of character to know what works and doesn’t work for us. Here’s to our willingness to call bullshit when it is happening to us. Here’s to the courage to live full, rich lives whether solo or with another. And here’s to all the people who, despite the bruised and battered hearts and egos we acquire, know that having a significant other in our life is important enough that we continue our search despite the difficulties involved.  Here’s to you, fellow journeyers, who pick up the pieces and continue forward. May you find what you seek. May you grow from the process. May life be full, rich and rewarding. And may you remember, always, that that which doesn’t destroy you makes you stronger

The Dog Ate My Nun’s Farts . . .Honest

The ups and downs of daily life

The Cabeça is the backdrop to my winter home

The Cabeça is the backdrop to my winter home

I love it when I can use travel as my palette for life’s adventures. Sometimes though, being in the midst of those adventures feels like nothing more than a giant pain in the ass where I question my abilities, my sanity, my health and my judgement.

This is one of those times. I’m house/pet sitting for a friend in deeply rural Algarve so that he can go off on his own life’s adventures for the winter . . .and possibly the rest of his life. But that’s his story, not mine.

My adventure is not just about pet sitting when I’m unaccustomed to having pets. It includes managing a rustic, ramshackle rural property, keeping my writing business afloat and creating an active social life.

My Crew

Blackie-Luna-across-the-fieldsMy charges are two dogs, Blackie and Luna and a male tabby cat named Monty. The dogs are very friendly and rambunctious, each with its own distinct personality. Blackie, the male, is territorial and defensive but with a sweet disposition, playful and quietly protective. He’s definitely an introvert, hanging back until he’s invited in for food, a cuddle or a walk. He has a disorder whereby he’s always digging in the dirt (although I never see him doing it) and he has a perpetual fungal condition on his nose. It looks a lot like really bad psoriasis. I have to be honest and say that I find the psoriasis-like eruption repugnant and so am reluctant to touch or cuddle him. For sure the thought of him licking me makes my skin crawl. I wish I were a more compassionate human being, but there it is. His icky skin creeps me out. Sigh. Yet he doesn’t seem to hold it against me and where he’s usually very aloof with people, he actually comes in for a back rub or cuddle from me from time to time.

Luna is a short-haired beauty, a Canadian or White Shepherd I’ve recently discovered. She has a roller-derby chick personality and body shape: a sleek but hearty build and a ‘don’t fuck with me’ attitude that simply exudes from her, even when she’s lying in a languid heap in the sunshine. She’s a character, of that there’s no doubt. A take no prisoners way of moving through space, a bark that makes other dogs sit up and take notice, an infinitely curious nature, an impetuous manner and a cheeky, devilish way of getting in your face.

She’s the leader of this small pack and when the aggressive dogs from next door come on an attack raid, she’s right in there giving as good as she gets. Blackie seems to be the focus of their attacks, which are terrifying, by the way. But Luna is very effective at keeping 3 large aggressive dogsat bay. One is so nasty he wears a muzzle full time but it doesn’t slow him down a whole lot.

My Challenges

And that’s part of the adventure I hadn’t realized I was signing on for. Portugal has very poor animal control laws, at least down here in the Algarve. Laws controlling aggressive breeds are almost non-existent. I had planned to go in and lodge a complaint with the local police but I’ve been advised to use that as a last resort. Apparently, if I get one of the less pleasant members of the local constabulary, I may find myself on the short end of the stick, required to come up with all sorts of paperwork proving that my own dogs are registered, vaccinated, spayed, and otherwise legitimate. I know that both of them are rescue dogs and that Gerry would have the paperwork somewhere. But where?  Phhhtttt??? So I sit here and stew. The woman next door is building a huge stone wall and, apparently, a fence. It seems to be working in that her dog pack hasn’t been over for a raid in nearly 3 weeks. But the barking that goes on back and forth is enough to drive me bonkers. Next door seems to let their dogs out to run the property in the night because I’m often awakened in the wee hours with Blackie, in particular, emitting this deep, piercing howl/whine that sounds like he is actively dying. Very, very unnerving. And a great lesson for me in detached caring as well as patience.

Patience is something I don’t believe I have a whole lot of so these are probably darned good life lessons for me.

But what about these Nun’s Farts you ask? Well yes. Before we talk Farts, however, I’d like to point out that one of my friends has concluded that I’m in the process of ‘being trained into submission’ by these dogs. I suspect she may be more than slightly right on the money. Thanks Denise..

In the past 6 weeks or so I’ve become aware of just how unaware I am on many fronts. A bit of background. This rustic, ramshackle place in which I live is a converted holiday trailer or caravan. My landlord/friend has built a large room on one end. It has a patio stone on gravel floor, walls, a corrugated plastic roof, windows, bathroom and an on-its-last-legs kitchen with 2 fridges, 2 washers, a gas stove and clothes dryer (a rarity in Portugal where everyone, rich or poor hangs their laundry to dry). The kitchen is open along the side made up of the end of the trailer, both at the top and the bottom. So I can’t lock the cat out and Blackie from time-to-time makes an entrance from under the trailer, although he seems bored with that little trick these days.

Bad Habits I Didn’t Know I Had

Monty-napping-on-the-tableI’m pretty much a from-scratch cook and I love to cook for myself as well as for guests. My ‘unawareness’ comes in very deeply entrenched habits of leaving food out to soften, warm up, marinate, steep or otherwise be part of the culinary process. I was totally unaware of the range of foods that animals like to eat. Like the bag of flour that Monty (the cat) chewed his way into and proceeded to lap up. Or the buns and bread that he regularly rips open if I forget to put them away and nibbles upon? I had no idea cats like carbs so much. I was also unaware of just how cats want to be the boss of a place, even if they don’t really want to eat the food involved. They’ll do what they need to do to gain access to it and then walk away once they’ve proved that they can do that.

So far Monty has not only ruined a roasted chicken I left out, covered, to cool. But I couldn’t get over why Luna was dancing up a storm to get into the kitchen one morning. When I opened the door, I discovered Monty had managed to get the fridge door open and haul out half a roasted chicken I’d stored in the fridge overnight. She’d eaten almost none of it but it was lying in the middle of the floor and the fridge door had been ajar all night long. Luna, of course, had a wonderful pre-breakfast treat that morning.

Leek Mushroom PieThen I had friends over for lunch. I’d cooked a wonderful roast of pork and made a fresh mango chutney to accompany it. I’d sliced the pork, arrayed it on a tray with a bowl of chutney in the middle then covered it with plastic, then an overturned pot and finally a heavy jug of water on top of the pot and went to the loo to tidy up for my guests imminent arrival. I heard a great crash and came out to discover that Monty had gotten his body behind the tray and leveraged it off the counter onto the floor. Oh my, both Luna and Blackie certainly enjoyed that roast of pork …and the spicy mango chutney to accompany it! Amazing. We dined on an Omelette!!

Monty hasn’t done any more fridge damage because I’ve taken to duct-taping the damned door shut when I have any meat in it.  Although yesterday he did manage to pick a chicken neck out of the stock pot, in full boil, and chow down on his succulent treat while I was busy entertaining guests.

Finally – the Nun’s Farts

Yesterday’s damage was of Luna’s making. I had a generous chunk of pastry left from Christmas. So I’d made an Apple Pie for my guests and a batch of a very special French Canadian treat called Nun’s Farts (Pet des Soeurs) and was planning to use the balance as crust for a Leek and Mushroom Pie. I left the chilled pastry out to soften a bit before rolling out and had to run into the trailer to get my laptop and plug it in out in the kitchen. I was gone perhaps 90 seconds. On my way back from trailer to kitchen I noticed that Luna was out on the lawn with something plastic. When I went to investigate it was the bag of pastry that she was very happily chomping into. Oh crap. At least I had the pie and pastries safe in the fridge. So I quickly made a new batch of pastry that I put in the fridge to chill while I made the savoury filling.

Once my guests arrived and the Leek and Mushroom Pie went in the oven, I took the Apple Pie and Nun’s Farts out of the fridge and put them in safe places until dessert. Or so I thought. Turns out the the pie was fine but no so the Farts.

Nun's-FartsI had made these cultural treats especially for my friend Marc who, like me, has a Franco Ontarien heritage. Nun’s Farts are ends of pastry that you roll out, butter and then sprinkle heavily with sugar and cinnamon, roll up, slice and bake until crisp. They may not appeal to everyone but for those of us who grew up with them, they are a combination of delicacy and sweet memories.

So imagine my dismay when I went into the kitchen to pick up the wicker tray of these treats only to find Luna inhaling them. She had managed to get her nose high enough up to flip the tray down onto the ground and was hoovering these treats, tail wagging, tongue slobbering with joy. I caught her in the act so there was no denying that she was the culprit. My heart sank and this fountain of dismay arose inside of me. I had to admit that I have a huge need to control my kitchen and all that goes on in it . . .and these critters are here to teach me to just let it all go.

God that’s proving difficult. To tell an honoured guest that he can’t have his treat because the dog ate it . . .good grief, where have we heard that before? At least I did tease him with a look and a smell of them earlier so he knows they actually existed, weren’t just a figment on my imagination. I also have the photo evidence, of course.

Where to Next?

Gwen Marc HikingThere are so many other stories I have to tell. Not just of the animals and food. But of electricity going off. And now today my water pump packing it in. Oh dear. Should I laugh, cry or have a hearty drink of something?

I know that I am a resourceful, talented gal. But honestly, this seems to be pressing my limits. So stay tuned as I work my way through the growth experiences this winter’s adventures are providing me. I have the feeling that we’ve only just begun.

Eddies and Currents

Eddies

A quiet bay on the Ottawa River

A quiet bay on the Ottawa River

I’ve been in one of life’s ‘strange places’ for some time now. You know. One of life’s backwaters, the place where you’re sort of off to the side, out of the main stream, where there’s enough flow to give the illusion of movement …and yet …and yet mostly you just seem to float in wide, languid circles; slow eddies carrying you along with no real direction, no arrival time or location apparent. Moving yet not going anywhere.

Who knows when these strange place experiences start. Mine seems to have been precipitated by the news, just about a year ago, that my ex was dying of a very grim form of cancer. Seems odd, doesn’t it, that the imminent death of a long divorced spouse could start such a process? We’d been separated for years. He’d found another life partner. I’d begun dating again after many years of contented solo living. But it seems that when you’ve spent 30 years together, many of them in a relationship that was fulfilling and characterized by excitement and joy, there are all sorts of ties and tendrils that remain in place while ‘the other’ is still alive, even if you’ve chosen separate paths.

Concurrent with Greg’s illness and subsequent death was a growing awareness that how I’d been handling my professional life was no longer working for me. So the slow dislocation began, deepening after he died. I was surprised at how hard his death impacted me. I was somewhat shocked to discover that in my heart and head I was still having all sorts of on-going conversations with him though we lived a thousand miles apart and talked in ‘real time’ only intermittently. It’s also been destabilizing to realize that the person who knew me better than anyone else on this earth is no longer out there. Some essential, primal connection with a meaningful other has been severed and I am still emotionally flapping about feeling somewhat out of sorts with this new reality of my life.

Backwaters

Out of the flow, Canning, NS

Out of the flow, Canning, NS

In the grand scheme of things this time spent paddling in life’s backwaters hasn’t lasted all that long. It’s only been 4 months since he died. My first husband died in an accident so I know what grief is about and how long it can last. Or I thought I did. This is a very different type of grieving, it seems than that experienced by sudden catastrophic loss.

But I’m an experienced human growth professional. I know how these things go and how pointless it is to fight against them, to try to brighten the pixels of this thing I call my life, to force myself to simply get on with it. So I spent my summer paddling along. Getting a few things accomplished but not all the many important priorities that I’d planned to move forward. I’ve also been pretty much absent from my friend’s lives; it just hasn’t felt like I’ve had anything very much to contribute.

About a week ago I started to feel myself edging back towards the main current of the river of my life. The malaise I’ve experienced for weeks began to dissipate; I began to feel more motivated; I started making tentative plans again.

And then a very dear friend called to tell me that she’d been diagnosed with cancer. The resolve that I’d begun to re-experience dissipated like fog as we talked. My heart ached for her. My heart began to ache for me as I thought about facing the loss of someone else dear to me. I quickly slipped into that quiet backwater once more, partly stunned, partly dismayed, partly questioning whether it was worth all the effort required to live an active, productive, conscious life.

This morning my friend and I talked again. Her surgeon tells her that he’s not convinced she has cancer. They need to do a biopsy and only when he sees the actual tissue will he make the call. Seems like her symptoms aren’t typical and there are several key markers that are missing. Whew. Great news for her. Excellent news for me. We hope. We can only hope.

Currents

Searching for the Invisible

Searching for the Invisible

And yet, at some level, aging’s cat is now out of the bag.  I’m faced with the harsh reality that there’ll be lots of this kind of news coming my way in the future. I’m at an age where more people will leave my life than are likely to enter it, despite my practice of proactively creating friendships with people significantly younger than myself.

Upon reflection, I’ve noticed there’s something about the death or immanent departure of age contemporaries that is profoundly unsettling. Not only is there the awareness of the ‘there but for the grace of god go I’ dynamic of life, but the shared experiences and shared understanding of the broader world that is common to an age cohort begins to disappear. The world my friends who are 20, 30, 40 years younger than me inhabit and grew up in is not the same world as the one I grew up with. Only my age contemporaries know and share that world with unquestioning intimacy. I find it destabilizing to have that common ground begin to disappear, as if the river of life is undercutting the banks of my existence.

So I wish for my dear friend that whatever is happening isn’t cancer or any other condition that might hasten her journey towards inevitable death. And I wish for me that my age-mates last as long as is possible, selfish gal that I am. As much as I love and appreciate my younger friends, I don’t want any more of the ground upon which I walk to disappear from under my feet.

And yet, I know it must. That’s the nature of life.

Futures

Who knows where life will take me in the upcoming weeks and months. For certain decision points await, actions must be taken and I must create, yet again, a new future for myself. I’m glad that I’ve had this time paddling around in the backwater channel of the river of my life. Out of it will surface the clarity and intention I need to move into a vital and vibrant new future. I am honoured that my ex and my friend have gifted me with invitations to think about my life, my future and my choices in new and innovative ways.

 

I look forward to my currently unknown future.

St. Lawrence River Sunset

St. Lawrence River Sunset

Aging Disgracefully

Laughing way too hard to be acceptable with my friend Randy

Laughing way too hard to be acceptable with my friend Randy

My friend Evelyn Hannon (of www.Journeywoman.com fame) and I have both pledged that we will grow old as we have lived life: on our own terms, in our own way, and with great joie de vivre. No growing old gracefully for us.

In my case, that has involved a return to the world of dating and an active, if somewhat sporadic, sex life just as I began to collect my Old Age Pension. And as so often happens to me, my life’s experiences end up becoming the next unfolding of my work.

My sexual reawakening and the many, many conversations I’ve had with men in all corners of the world as I’ve explored the post-modern freak show that is on-line dating have drawn me to explore the topic of sexuality and aging. I am now well into the process of writing a book on that topic.  I’ve been involved in exploring conscious aging for some time now, and through developing a TV series with a colleague, became aware that the topic of sexuality and aging was one that many shied away from.

Seeing yourself as a sexy woman again can be a great challenge!

Seeing yourself as a sexy woman again can be a great challenge!

I’ve always been attracted to topics that skirt the edges of acceptability in society: whether that be about being fat, off-the-beaten-track travel, alternatives to ‘retirement’, social business, death and dying, late life divorce or other topics that make many people squirm, I quickly realized that few were discussing sexuality. Sure there is some discussion about sex and the elderly, but most of it is medically based. For me, sexuality is such a broader, more compelling topic. Sexuality is about how one feels about being a sexual entity in an aging body, whether actively having sex or not.

It has been such a delight to read books and articles on the topic, to talk with all types of people of varying ages, to see the look of delight, shock (and occasionally horror) that passes across peoples’ faces when I announce that my book will not only talk about sexuality and aging but will show photos of ordinary people nude or semi-nude in sexualized poses. I’ve discovered that it is one thing to talk about sexuality and aging, it is quite another matter to show pictures of the beauty of wrinkled, naked flesh in a sexual context. I can’t wait.

I’m still looking for stories, by the way, of people between 55 and 75 about their experiences of sexuality. I’ve got a standard questionnaire that I administer by phone or Skype, offer people complete anonymity and will provide a free copy of the e-book version of my book once it is published. Let me know if you’d like to participate. Also, if you are interested in posing for photos, let me know. We continue to search for willing life models.

My own experiences have been very heartening and life affirming. I’ve met some utterly delightful men. I’ve had some fantastic lovers and have learned so very much about myself as a woman, a sexual being, and a person continuing to deal with the fall-out of some early life traumas. I’ve also discovered that as difficult as I always thought it was for us women to deal with our sagging bodies and flagging libidos, most men are in much, much worse shape emotionally and spiritually. The big factor for most men, I’ve discovered, is that as their bodies start to fail them, they don’t have the sisterhood of friends that most of us women have. They are alone in their self-doubt and misery. Guys just don’t talk in the kind of supportive way that women do. Their sexual challenges tend to get highlighted rather than normalized through the social isolation they experience around this topic.

Being playful on a Portuguese beach . . .

Being playful on a Portuguese beach . . .

So while I hold my sex life as in no way disgraceful, I do know that the fact that I talk pretty openly about on-line dating, about sexuality and about the emotional and physical issues many experience as they age is considered disgraceful to many. All the more so because I am not a licensed psychologist or medical practitioner. I am just a fat old woman who loves life and is committed to living it as vibrantly as I possibly can for as long as I possibly can.  Disgraceful, isn’t it?

The future is ALWAYS in today . . .

AmyGigiAlexanderwwwI follow this amazing woman on Facebook. Amy Gigi Alexander is an extraordinary writer and human being. So often her posts stop me in my tracks, inviting me to notice things about myself and my life that have been, to date, transparent to me. I say that as a woman who holds herself to be living a very conscious, aware and attuned life. I find these days that it takes someone with a very special perspective on life to get into the unexplored nooks and crannies of my psyche. I’ve come to welcome Amy’s posts for their ability to infiltrate unexplored corners of me and invite more Self exploration.

Today, Amy had a post about Glen Canyon, a place on the Colorado River that was dammed way back in the ’50’s. Bells immediately started ringing within me because Glen Canyon is a place of deep emotional significance to me. Not that I’ve ever been there, but I’ve had a small but lovely photo book on my shelf since the early 70’s that captured the beauty and mystery of this place that was flooded in order to assure ‘progress’ for industry. “The Place No One Knew” by Eliot Porter is filled with hauntingly beautiful photos of this magical corner of the world, allowing us access to beauty and mystery that no longer exists.

LoranBut beyond the stunning images and powerful quotations by many noted authors and poets, for me, the real power of “The Place No One Knew” is that it was one of the most beloved books of my late, first husband Loran Goulden. I remember us poring over its lush images and talking about Glen Canyon as an avatar for the destruction of nature’s beauty that was rampant in the late 60’s and early 70’s (as if it isn’t still happening today). We were young; we were idealistic; we were passionate that people like us could make a difference in saving our planet. Glen Canyon was one of the books that spurred Loran to change his path from photography to environmental science. He was living his passion and vision, working for one of the early environmental consulting companies, out counting Mountain Caribou in southern BC for input to a proposed oil pipeline impact assessment when he died in a plane crash on August 1, 1974.

ImageI read a passage from Glen Canyon at his memorial service a few weeks later. Amy Gigi Alexander’s post stimulated me to pull that small book from the shelf and then go on a up-lifting yet tear-filled trip down memory lane. As I searched out the passage I had dedicated to Loran nearly 41 years ago, I reveled again in the images and the array of powerful writings that accompanied them. Then I recognized the piece that I was looking for. And I was shocked. Shocked and amazed about the degree to which it still spoke to me after all these years. Amazed and inspired at the insight I had had all those decades ago . . .insight I didn’t know at the time that I possessed. More and more these days I am accepting and acknowledging that I was a much more intuitive and insightful young woman than I was willing to allow myself to claim back then.

Here’s that passage:

“I know that the word ‘miraculous’ is regarded dubiously in scientific circles because of past quarrels with theologians. The world has been defined, however, as an event transcending the known laws of nature. Since, as we have seen, the laws of nature have a way of being altered from one generation of scientists to the next, a little taste for the miraculous in this broad sense will do us no harm.  We forget that nature itself is one vast miracle transcending the reality of night and nothingness. We forget that each of us in his personal life repeats that miracle.” Loren Eiseley

I remember how powerfully these words spoke to me at the time. I didn’t realize, however, how they represented the essence of my worldview then and still all these years later. I didn’t notice that even at that tender age I believed that each of us is a miracle and that our very presence matters in this world. I didn’t recognize the power in understanding that the ‘laws of nature’ do, indeed, change from one generation to another. Not so much the laws themselves, but our understanding of them. I know that I did and always have been aware of how important it is for us to sustain ‘a little taste for the miraculous’. What’s different these days is that I claim its importance overtly. Back then I just sort of ‘knew’ it. I am extremely proud of the degree to which I have grown into that belief and how it has sustained me during the difficult times of my life.

IMG_0949That ‘little taste for the miraculous’ is the seed that has been Me always and that will take me into whatever future I want for myself. That seed has caused me challenges in the past because it has made me somehow quirkily different than most people. And yet, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I now revel in my taste for the miraculous and know that it is what sets me apart in the most positive ways and allows me to live this gloriously special life I continue to create for myself. It keeps me wondering what tomorrow’s miraculous discoveries will be . . .

What about you? What’s your ‘seed’ that makes you different and will carry you into your future if you claim it and allow it? Have you owned the way in which you are a miracle? Can you even stand to know that you are a miracle?

Beautiful or Average . . .really?

A friend just posted a powerful video by Dove where women of many cultures were given the ‘choice’ of walking through a door marked Beautiful or a door marked Average. Only 4% of women chose to walk through the Beautiful door, apparently.

I am quite churned up about this experience for a number of reasons.

The first is a very old, very personal, response to the word ‘beautiful’. I grew up with a philandering father who habitually told all women they were beautiful, only to slag them off when they were out of his sight. So I have a deep, deep distrust of that word. My bias has been claimed!

My 6 year old self in Grade 1

My 6 year old self in Grade 1

More importantly, however, is my response to an option or alternative presented as a choice. Notice how often in life we think things are either/or, when in fact there are so many additional alternatives. Nobody asked any of these women whether being seen as beautiful mattered to them. Nobody asked any of these women how they defined ‘beauty’ or ‘beautiful’. Is their heart/soul/spirit beautiful or just their face and body? What constitutes beauty for them? Nobody asked these women if there was some other dimension of them that they held profoundly more important than being beautiful.

Similarly, nobody engaged what the alternative might be for any of them. Is it average, or something else? And what’s wrong with looking or being average? When did we get to place where only exceptional, all the time, is acceptable?

The folks at Dove are committed to helping women, young and old, through their long-term Real Beauty Campaign. The aim of the campaign is to celebrate the natural physical variation embodied by all women and inspire them to have the confidence to be comfortable with themselves But let us not forget that Dove’s primary reason for being is the beauty business and being profitable within that sector. They have a vested interest in keeping our focus on beauty, regardless of how it is defined. There is a lot of money to be made by having as many women as possible believe that using their products will make a difference in her life. So, yes, it is nice that SOMEBODY in that industry is addressing girls and women who aren’t traditionally included. But never forget there is a pragmatic business benefit driving it all.

My 19 year old self getting hitched! - Yikes.

My 19 year old self getting hitched! – Yikes.

So – so what if beauty weren’t even an issue? What if smart, brilliant, energetic, potent, dynamic, creative, innovative, generous, skilled were human dynamics that any and all of us women valued so much that beauty no longer mattered? That we simply didn’t need to judge ourselves, let alone have others judge us on whether we are beautiful or whether we feel beautiful or not.

I think we’d be doing ourselves, and especially our young women, a huge favour if we no longer kept our focus on the topic of beauty. As a woman who has had (and continues to have) her own issues with body image, I certainly don’t deny that it is a huge challenge around the world. But if we keep the focus on beauty . . .or not . . .we give ourselves no other alternatives upon which to assess ourselves.

My 67 year old self happy that beauty is no longer a concern to me or for me

My 67 year old self happy that beauty is no longer a concern to me or for me

So I refuse to dance the beauty dance. I choose instead to value myself for my irrepressibility, my irreverence, my curiosity, my generosity of spirit, my sense of humour, my creativity, my brilliance, my insightfulness, my tenacity and my ability to love, amongst other things.

What about you? What do you value yourself for? What makes you special and unique? What do you bring to the world that only you can? What about yourself do you celebrate that feels much important than beauty?

Aging is mandatory; getting old is optional

Even though I so desperately want to believe that I can think my way to remaining young, there definitely seems to be a biological ‘reality’ called aging. Our bodies change: tissue loses its elasticity; cell growth & replacement slows; atrophy seems to be inevitable.

And yet I am absolutely clear that my attitude towards the aging of my body is another matter entirely. I do not have to get old mentally, no matter what is happening to me biologically. It is my choice whether I remain alive and vital or become decrepit and doddery.  My friend Cathy and I have been practitioners in the field of human growth and development for a long time. We are, perhaps, more keenly aware than many others of what’s possible when one chooses to age biologically yet live in an awake and conscious state mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

As we have tracked our own life processes and worked with many, many clients, we’ve become aware that radically new thinking is required around this topic of aging, especially conscious aging. I started to realize a while back that what could be extremely helpful to us all was to recognize that emotional, psychological and social growth is not just restricted to the early years of life. We continue to grow as adults. What’s been missing is a way to acknowledge the need for on-going growth, to honour its presence in our lives and to invite people to consider that wanting to continue to growth and evolve as human beings is as natural as being born, growing up and creating future generations.

So I got to work and have identified Novescence as this necessary new growth stage in life. Along with Cathy, I’ve written an article identifying the research that shows the need for a new human growth stage, documenting my choice of Novescence as the name for that growth stage and highlighting some of the advantages to be gained by us acknowledging the legitimacy of such a way of looking at the needs of our aging worldwide population.  Click the link below to read all about Novescence

Novescence by Gwen McCauley and Cathy Carmody

I definitely have no plans to get old, perhaps to the dismay of younger generations. I have very definite plans to age disgracefully, being too bold, too loud, too naughty and far too irreverent for my own good. Wanna join me?

 

Standing Desk Irritation

When I moved to Halifax 2 years ago one of my commitments to myself was that I would create a standing desk for myself. That is a computer work station where I stand instead of sit while I do my work. I’ve been aware for some time of the wellness price we pay when we sit for hours and hours each day.

My inexpensive laptop stand also includes a shelf for glasses, TV remote and a cuppa joe

I recently started investigating how I would make that happen and have plans drawn up for building a base to insert under the armoire where my iMac currently resides. Because it involves hauling all sorts of crap out of said armoire, I haven’t quite gotten around to it, but I’m getting there.

I must say that I’ve developed a rather dirty little habit since setting up my apartment. I got myself one of those lap desks and spend far too much time happily stretched out on my sofa, working away on my laptop while simultaneously watching TV. I know that habit has upped the ante on how sedentary I am and that it encourages me to both watch way too much TV and spend too much time on-line.

Getting e-mail done while watching TV. Yay!

So recently I decided to get myself a laptop stand on wheels to allow me to at least stand up while I’m multi-tasking. Do a little research on the benefits of standing or stand up desks if you’re wondering what those benefits are. This morning I put my stand together and began working in the stand up position.

And I’m shocked already by the results! I can’t believe how deep and powerful the links have become between sitting & working. My body is filled with the jitters from standing and working; I can quite literally feel the pull to sit down. I also recognize that my creativity feels compromised because my head is filled with jibber-jabber related to my discomfort with standing and working. Surprisingly, my body feels pretty good in terms of stress on my legs, back and feet. I thought that might be a challenge but it is the psychic and emotional landscape that feels like a minefield!

Still I am committed to persisting with my stand-up laptop use. I consider it training for the day when my iMac is only available in this mode too. I know that my health will improve as a result and I believe that once my body calms down and adjusts, my creativity will actually improve.

Funny how we create growth in areas of our lives where we least expected it. I’m intrigued to see what insights come out of all of this to say nothing of how much better my body will feel from having that additional exercise each day.

Musings on life & math

I am very gruntled after listening to Michael Enright’s

Reflections in a Bay of Fundy tidepool

interview with Andrew Hacker, Professor of Political Science at Queens College in New York City about teaching advanced algebra in high school and college. In part I am delighted to have learned a new word – gruntle, opposite of disgruntle. How cool is that.

But let me focus on the conversation about algebra and why it might be a good idea to drop our insistence on advanced algebra in high school and college because it is the single biggest cause of students dropping out and not finishing their education.

I couldn’t agree more with the premise that we are wasting far too large a proportion of the intellectual capital of our young people by insisting on dragging forward old ideas about what constitutes a good education. Wake up people; start thinking differently instead of simply plodding forward with historical beliefs that are never re-examined.

When life is more than the sum of its parts!

I spent the first 30 years of my life being a math-phobe. I didn’t finish high school because I was terrified of having to do algebra and trigonometry in Grade 13. I had several math teachers who were horrific in terms of their inability to teach and their concomitant ability to humiliate those of us who were slow on the up-take. Except for Mr. Dube, my grade 9 Math teacher. I simply couldn’t cotton on to the notion of x and y. This poor man worked with me for 6 weeks before the light bulb finally went on. I am eternally grateful for his persistence because I may not have made it to Grade 12 otherwise.

University came late in life to me. I was 29 when I began my studies in the social sciences (39 when I got my BA) and I put off the required stats course as long as humanly possible. But having begun a degree on a part-time basis my work fortunes improved dramatically. I got myself a job as a manager in a major telecommunications organization. The horror was that I was hired into a department filled with statisticians, economists and systems analysts. One of my bosses thought it was pathetically funny that when I was presented with a graph with several lines on it my first response was to panic, followed very quickly by tears. Talk about embarrassment and feeling intimidated.

After several years of this nonsense I forced myself to take an introductory economics course. It was perhaps one of my most uncomfortable educational experiences but I persisted. I was fascinated by the assumptions made by this social science that pretends it is a hard science. And some of the math even started to make sense. At one point we had a take home exam which I did fairly well on except for one question that was worth a large number of marks. As the professor was reviewing the assumptions to the question I realized that I had read the assumptions quite differently. I found the courage to put up my hand and let him know that to me the question meant x, not y as he had stated it. He worked the numbers through based on my assumption and it turns out I had the right answer based on that different starting assumption. When he checked with the class, about 20% of us had read the question differently than he had intended. He was a big enough man to give us full marks if we had either an x or y response. Yay!

From that moment forward a huge portion of my math phobia fell away. Because I realized that what I had been calling ‘math phobia’ wasn’t that at all. I wasn’t afraid of numbers: I was afraid of looking like a total loser because I clearly didn’t understand and couldn’t play with them the way I could with words. My moment in Economics class showed me that I did understand; I just often started from a different point than more mechanically oriented brains seem to.

A couple of years later I could no longer avoid that dreaded stats course so I very reluctantly signed up. Lo and behold I got a young lecturer who didn’t believe that traditional statistical analysis were the only way to gain results. Sure we did a bit of stuff around chi squared, etc. but mostly we looked at qualitative rather than quantitative survey methods. What a brilliant course that turned out to be.

By then my job had migrated into the marketing domain and doing customer surveys was a big and important topic. This qualitative approach to stats was a massive benefit to me because it taught me how important language is to creating great, useful and bias free questions. I also discovered that it was okay for me to focus on that stuff and leave the actual manipulating of data to the statisticians who could do it with elegance and accuracy. In this course I also learned a saying that has stayed with me to this day. I think of it always when I hear ‘experts’ flogging their data to prove a point. It is:  If you torture numbers long enough, eventually they will confess.

By this time I was married to a man with an advanced degree in statistics and an undergraduate minor in English. Interesting combination. And he helped me to recognize that mathematics is a language where number combinations rather than letter combinations carry meaning. I am clear that it is a language that I have only the most rudimentary knowledge of, kind of like my knowledge of German. And yet, despite having only a basic understanding of the manipulation of numbers, I get many of the messages that math has to offer us. Before I ended my corporate career I had actually become quite formidable in the boardroom for asking tough questions about the math behind positions, policies and propositions people were putting forth.

I love Professor Hacker’s idea of liberal art courses on, say, the history of mathematics or what’s so important about certain mathematical concepts or even how qualitative and quantitative approach support one another. I’ve kept a small book by John Allen Paulos on my bookshelf for decades now. Whenever I begin to doubt my mathematical abilities I have a read of one of its chapters and it reminds me that I am far from a mathematical dummy. Get hold of Beyond Numeracy is you want to read about math in a way that makes sense to the non-mathematical mind.

I’d also like to thank my ex husband for helping me to understand this domain which used to terrify me so much. Greg is a part-time math tutor whose specialty is working with adolescent boys who aren’t doing well with their math studies. A big part of his success comes from the fact that he treats them as adults, but a bigger part comes from the fact that he finds out what their world is about and then finds ways to make math relevant to their lives or potential futures. I’ve watched as he’s helped steer many young men and women onto a productive and meaningful path after they’ve teetered on the edge of educational failure for some time. We need more math teachers like him.

So in closing I’d like to say that I agree that it is time that we take a long, hard look at the whole domain of algebra in our high school and college system. We’ve stopped demanding that kids know how to spell and write a proper sentence (and even to handwrite, it seems) and they still manage to find work and be productive citizens. Why can’t we lighten up around algebra? If it means that a greater proportion of our children make their way through the school system and actually graduate with some self esteem still intact, who knows how our society will benefit.

And that thought gruntles me very much.

Fear and Aging

Here I am on my balcony last summer. I let my gardening go this year so that I could spend more time solo camping.

I live my life relatively free from fear. I learned a long time ago that fearing the future means that my today is lived with less aliveness than is possible because some part of me is bracing against a negative future. As I often tell my coaching clients who don’t believe that they can envision a future for themselves: if you can worry, you are already adept at creating a vision for yourself. It just happens to be a negative view of what’s possible.

That isn’t to say that I don’t have certain concerns about my future, but I don’t fear it. For example, I’ve chosen to live alone in later life; what biological family I have all live over 1,000 miles away. I’m very mindful that this means that should I ever get sick or otherwise need the support one typically looks to family for, it won’t be there.

I was just chatting with a friend who has just come through a rather prolonged medical situation. She was surprised at just how much self advocacy it took to receive the best attention from the medical system. Those kinds of conversations give me pause to consider the future. Not in a fearful way, but in a way that invites creativity and an awareness that I need to develop alternative strategies for myself.

Making new friends with people younger than me is a key ‘self preservation’ strategy of mine! Sadly, Trish is from Ottawa so we really only spend time together volunteering at Stanfest each July

I don’t know what my answers for dealing with life’s inevitable crises will be, but I do have every confidence that they won’t be fear driven. Rather they’ll be considered and mindful, anticipating alternatives, just like I live my day-to-day life. One thing I’m very clear about, though, is that I have no plans to become one of those fearful little old ladies who sit quietly in their homes and apartments afraid of every knock at the door. I know that the best way to live the future without fear is to live today without it. I also know that the best way to live the future mindfully is to begin to develop plans and strategies today.

Hmmmm . . . .