So, I had the most charming news a few weeks ago. A very good friend of mine, we’ll call her “Sarah” got married! Sarah was a widow, and her boyfried “Siegfried” (a stout man of German extraction) was a widower. We lost our spouses about the same time, and Sarah vowed she would never marry again.
“I just miss Mitch too much.” (Sarah was like me, married for decades.)
“I can’t imagine ever being a wife to anyone else but Mitch!”
Siegfried was actually a friend of Sarah and Mitch’s for years, they went to church together, and had children about the same age. Siegfried and Sarah lost their spouses within a year of each other.
Sarah grieved Mitch, and after a couple of years, I began to notice Siegfried popping up more and more in conversation. Soon, they began to enjoy each other’s company on a regular basis, and Siegfried began to appear with Sarah at various functions. I would nosily question Sarah about Siegfried, and she’d timidly laugh, and say what a sweet man Siegfried was, and how much fun they had together.
I was delighted for Sarah.
Grief is hard, but so is marriage. Baby Boomer Men, check out the stock picture I found above. Most of you are grey foxes like the model, or on your way there. The chick reminds me a little of myself, agewise.
Remember the satisfying times? Remember why you married in the first place? Remember the times you laughed so hard together your abs hurt? Remember the trips, the new experiences shared, mutual support given?
It’s possible to go to that place again. Maybe it looks different than the first time around, but it can be just as satisfying, just as uplifting, and just as much darn fun.
Just ask Siegfried and Sarah.
(Newlyweds Siegfried and Sarah, 81 and 82, respectively.)
NOTE: OOOPS! Somehow, I published an earlier, incomplete, and slightly idiotic version of this column. THIS is what I intended to print, and I hope you like it.
Much love, Victoria
Most of you know I started jumping out of planes last year. Christopher, my son, is now a tandem master, coach, and all around top-notch skydiver, so I thought I’d give it a try. It’s really more fun than should be allowed, and has introduced me to a hilarious crowd of bawdy boundary pushers. Among them are a segment of Divorced Baby Boomer Men, and I’ve gotten into some pretty interesting talks.
I have to be careful here with identity disguise, because the community of expert skydivers is so small, they’re pretty recognizable. Let’s call this one “Brian”. Brian is 47, an utterly brilliant skydiver, leader in the field, and organizer. Brian has been married once, and divorced after a handful of years.
“It was too much work, Victoria. If it’s the right one, it should be easy.”
“What does that even mean, Brian? What should be easy? What part?”
” Oh, hell, I don’t know. I just picture our eyes meeting across a room, and we just fall into it.”
Fortunately, these guys are genuinely punchable. I punched Brian on the shoulder, and told him he must be kidding.
Another is an engineer in real life, and skydives as an expert hobbyist.
“This is how relationships work, Victoria,” he told me in the middle of his divorce. “Find someone you hate, then buy her a house.” Gracious, how cynical.
It’s a funny thing, Visitors. It’s as if this generation of men has checked out of the “Nothing worth having is easy” consensus.
Divorced Baby Boomer men, of all stripes, seemed to be terrified of this one. This is just a brain-dead one to me, Visitors, because they are so accomplished. At least the ones I hang out with are. Pilots, athletes, businessmen, professors (so many professors) have at least one, perhaps two, broken marriages under their belts.
On the one hand, I get it. Women, if we’re honest, we can be a pretty emasculating bunch. Once we really get to know a man, to the point where we’re calling him ‘our’ man, ‘our’ boyfriend, ‘our’ husband, partner, any form of committed relationship, generally we’ve gotten to know our guy pretty well.
The Divorced Boomers I know have had been knifed pretty well. Remember Maynard, the firefighter in the previous column? Say what you will about bodybuilders, but bodybuilding is Maynard’s ‘thing’. It’s his hobby, what he does when he’s not fighting fires or being a divorced dad. Credit where credit is is due, the man looks like a block of granite, competes and has won prizes.
Obviously, ideas of self worth and masculinity are tied up in the mind of the male bodybuilder. To be knifed by TWO extramarital affairs must have been quite a blow. Completely human to be gunshy.
But on the other hand, is this the first serious setback you’ve ever had, gentleman? Somehow I doubt it. I’d venture to guess you’ve had failed businesses, don’t get along with someone you should, or have had one of many setbacks along the way. No one is invincible, and you’re over 50, after all.
So lean in, boys, this is the good stuff. We’re just as fragile as you are. We’ll meet you in that place, and we’ll give you your chance. Yes, most of us are pretty high maintenance, but you know what? So are you! And it’s OK! We’re all old enough, and smart enough, to figure out what a treasure we can be to each other.
What is 50+ anyway? High noon, as far as I’m concerned.
When I was still a wife and the kids were young, Chris and I were very frank with our children about sex. We never used words like ‘little man’, ‘coochie’, or even ‘banana hammock’ for underwear (which privately I found to be hilarious.) If anything, we were guilty of overexplaining things to our kids, which is kind of hopelessly predictable for a household with two teachers.
Divorced baby boomer men seem to be stuck in some sexuality netherworld. I just can’t figure it out. There is prudishness, where we simply can’t talk to a date about sexuality issues. Of any sort. Or we are hypersexualized, and want me to come over the second date. (Honestly, I once had a delightful date with a retired doctor on the other side of the baby boomer demographic, born in 1946. We had a lovely dinner out. The next night, he called and asked me over to his house to cook me dinner. What. Me and my pistol? What were you thinking? No! You may not ask me to the man-cave on the second date! No!)
Or we are hyposexualized. One of my dear male friends, not a romantic interest, said he could gladly live without sex, but not his reading glasses. I’m still not entirely sure he was joking.
Or we are oversexualized. Pornography, the ‘victimless crime’, is endemic to Divorced Baby Boomer men, and I could slap them silly. (Check out fightthenewdrug.org for some thoughtful, reasonable, intellect-based commentary, and XXXchurch.org for hipster, rational anti-porn Christian thought.) I’m especially incited to violence by CHRISTIAN men who use this exploitive medium. Honestly! I like my body, it’s popped out four kids, and still lets me skydive, swim, kayak, ski, run around, do all kinds of stuff, and will never, ever measure up to the silicone stick figures you’re watching.
AAAAND by the way? Should I decide to make you my next partner, (namely, my next husband) pornography will AUTOMATICALLY make you boring to me. Keep that in mind.
It seems too, as though divorced baby boomer men haven’t had the reality of a functional sexual relationship. This is actually heartbreaking, when you think about it. A dear divorced baby boomer friend of mine, not a romantic interest, once related to me the affairs of his first two wives. Maynard was ex Army, a firefighter with an actual degree in fire science. He’s a Crossfitter, and a competitive weightlifter, and has built himself up to look like a block of granite at 54. Personally, I like that look, and have zero problem telling my male friends they look stunning.
Maynard looks stunning. Being betrayed twice in a sexual manner was obviously devastating to a man like that, and Maynard has come to a halt in his sexual development.
“Victoria, you will not believe the kind of people I meet on Match.com.”
(Inward eye roll)
“Victoria, meet my new girlfriend, she’s an interior designer I met on line. Victoria, meet my new girlfriend, she’s a bank executive I met on Match.com. Victoria, meet my new girlfriend…….” and on and on and on. Maynard sleeps with each of them, breaks up with some complicated quasi-Christian rationale, and moves on to the next one who will affirm his damaged sexual identity.
Another divorced baby boomer gentleman, once a possible romantic interest, related to me how he and his ex wife had a tumultuous sexual relationship, They were in love, or so they thought, but the only time they had satisfying sex was after a knock-down, drag out fight.
No, thank you very much.
Chris was a lot of things, most of you know his history. When he became a Christian, the sexuality issues were suddenly righted into perspective. Not that he wasn’t human, no one is perfect. But sexuality was never, ever an issue in our marriage. It was candy to children.
I wonder if it has to do with this conversation I just had with my son, here in Puerto Rico. I’m here on my ‘vacation’ doing some necessary work. Christopher had to run back to the parking garage to get something out of the car.
Facetime rings on my computer.
“Mom? I’m at Starbucks. You want your peppermint tea? ”
Heart melts. “Yes, dear boy. Peppermint tea with two honeys.”
“Got it, see you soon.” Click.
Gentlemen, listen to me here. (Divorced Baby Boomer men have to have stuff spelled out) My son saw my husband be thoughtful with me for eighteen years. It stuck. When my son marries, his wife will have the joy of a man who (mostly) thinks before he speaks. Who wonders what she’d like. Who uses his words and asks her. Who, most of the time, puts her desires in front of his. Who treats her well.
This, gentlemen, is not learning brain surgery. It’s learning what makes great sex.
So I’m in Puerto Rico now, Visitors, because my son asked me to come see him accept an award from AGC, the Association of General Contractors. Frankly, I find that to be manly as can be. This kid did a project that landed him a week-long, all expenses paid trip to Puerto Rico, a cash gift and a nice plaque, and he asks his mother to accompany him? How secure is that?
This got me to thinking about some recent escapades I’ve had with some remarkably insecure baby-boomer men. See, I’ve discovered that single men my age (just turned 50) can be categorized. Category 1- about 1%. Never married. What’s up with that? Heartbroken? Ok, but for decades? Mommy issues? Rather just be single? Ok, fair enough, but can we quit pretending we’re interested in a solid relationship with a woman?
Category 2- Widowed. Another 1%. Of that tiny fraction, about half have no business dating, they need to grieve their wives, and not kid themselves they are OK. Get busy boys, it’s a lot of work, trust me on this. The other part of that fraction? I’m not sure they actually exist, except once on a blood moon I see a happy, settled, widowed man announce his engagement. Generally to a widow.
Category 3-and buckle up- 98%. Divorced And Fragile As Hell. There’s a gentleman in my life, we’ll call him “Mitch”, who’s company I really enjoy. He’s divorced, bright, educated, hilarious and capable of great kindness to me. We recently had a discussion where he admitted to me that he was ‘as intimidated as hell’ by me.
“Really? By me? What on earth is that about?” Mitch and I had great talks.
“Well, I guess I’m old fashioned, but I think the guy should be the provider. You know, make more, give his lady things. You don’t really need anything from me. ”
“I drive around in my beater cars, and live in a little house in Broomfield.” Mitch pauses.
“Mitch. What. Seriously? You own those things. You have 20 percent left to pay on your house. I’d much rather be driven around in a beater you own than some fancy car you have out on payments. You know this. I also admire your discipline about your house. You know this too. ” Mitch and I talked a lot about economics.
“Well, I don’t know, Victoria. You’re beautiful and driven, and financially better off than me. That’s just kind of intimidating.”
Visitors, maybe because I’m more firmly established in my widowhood. Maybe it’s because I’m fifty. Maybe it’s my manly son, who had a secure man as a dad for 18 years, but I just couldn’t stand it. Mitch’s paycheck isn’t that much smaller than mine, and are we really so fragile?
“Mitch. You’re just going to have to deal. I’m done apologizing for who I am. If we’re going to be friends, than accept me for who I am and what I do. ”
THAT was six weeks ago. Yep, not a word.
Another, this one a divorced business associate. You folks know I dabble in real estate. I’m negotiating a little bitty condo deal right now in Denver. The owner has his mother, yep, his 70 plus year old mother, respond to all of my negotiations.
Recently, I laid out a fairly short list of inspection objections, totaling about three grand. His MOTHER nearly ripped my head off . I was bossy, I was demanding, I was uninformed, and the answer was no.
Fine, I walked away from the deal. The son, FINALLY, sent me a meek little email asking if I would still be interested if the conditions were met. I got what I knew was reasonable, and the son made a jaggy little comment about ‘how I drove a hard bargain’. Really? What makes you such a wuss? It’s just business, and didn’t you learn not to take that personally your first job? Honestly.
Still another, someone I thought was a dear friend. Divorced, ex- military, we had been friends for a couple of years. We cycled in and out of each other’s lives, a delightful ebb and flow. Recently, we had a lovely dinner together. I thought about it afterwords, and decided I was done with the incidentalness of things, and wanted to see my friend more.
I sent him an email, and made some suggestions. A picnic at the lake? A bike ride? A hike in the park?
Poof! Like magic, my friend disappeared. That was three months ago. Thinking the best, I sent him a couple of texts. “Are you OK? Kids all right? Everything OK in your world? ”
Not a word. Then “Friend, did I offend you? What’s up? ” The silence was deafening. Sigh. What else to think but I some how broke something fragile in this man. Again.
Well, for heaven’s sake. How frustrating. Nary a male soul my age to be found who isn’t a quaking flower, unable to deal with a strong, self-directed woman like me.
So I’m stumped, Visitors. Suggestions? I like men, I’d like one in my life. But I utterly refuse to be something I’m not, to cater to a frightened, oversensitive, fragile man. What do you think? Am I being to hard on them? Suggestions and thoughts are welcome.
So, my daughter and I just spent an hour bonding over an investigative show devoted to teenage female killers. I’m a graduate student now, pursuing a criminology degree in investigative psychology.
It’s fascinating stuff, Visitors, and I often get asked, why, at age 50, this is a course of study I want to pursue. I haven’t come up with a decent answer yet. Those of you who have been with me for a while, know that a lot of ‘watershed moments’ happened to me all at once, starting with being widowed in 2010. Friends died horribly, wrenching betrayal happened, my mom died dramatically and suddenly. I wrote a column exploring a personal application of PTSD (Jeff Mackleby And the Art of Advanced Forgiveness) which detailed my own furtive journey into some pretty dark territory.
It in, I described what I now can recognize as a situation of predation. That is to say, “Jeff” and “Christina” were authentic predators, people who look for the vulnerable, the trusting, and who exploit them for personal gain. In short, authentic psychopaths, and I was easy prey.
I just finished a segment in my studies about psychopathy. There is a lot to write about there. The general public usually considers a ‘psychopath’ to be a knife wielding, blood soaked movie figure bent on pointless violence. The truth is a lot more chilling, and I’d like to bring some of those things to your attention later.
I am still a director of a local Christian preschool, and this course of study has sharpened my perception of my role immensely. Scholars have spent years studying how innocent babies grow up to be wreakers of havoc, and many of them have their roots in simply awful childhoods. When I go into the infant nursery in particular, I am filled with an immense sense of gratitude that our Lord has placed loving, caring people in my employ to show consistent care to these, the most vulnerable of our population.
Safety, is another enormous consideration. Dawn Hochsprung, the slain principal of Sandy Hook, has become a hero to me. She and I followed a comparable career path, and she was about my age when she confronted Adam Lanza and took a bullet for her trouble.
So many interesting aspects of this apply to all of us, Visitors, many of which I would like to bring to your attention in future days. Dawn, for example, were she allowed to have been armed, and had arms training as part of her leadership studies, might have effected a very different outcome at Sandy Hook. But for Dawn, and any other person besides the on duty School Resource Officer to bear a weapon within 1000 feet of a school would have been a violation of law. Hmmm.
Rachael, esteemed #4 child, shares an interest in extreme human behavior. She is enrolled in a dual studies course of forensic science at a local college, in addition to being a junior in high school. The video tonight provoked a lively discussion about ‘normal’ teenage girls setting aside what they know to be good and true, and taking another human life with ease.
Rereading that, I can see how many might consider this course of study to be somewhat awry. But for me? I find this immensely hopeful. Many people have terrible childhoods. Many are exposed to drugs in the womb. Many are disengaged, addicted, disenfranchised in their adulthoods. Many, my own husband included, lived with the fear of unpredictable days precipitated by an abusive parent.
Most, my dear Chris chief among them, do not turn out like this. Most go on to be decent human beings, by some measure. Most find a job, pay their bills, stagger along, even have successful relationships, and put one foot in front of the other regardless of some pretty incredible baggage.
What happened? How did ‘most’ turn out for the better? How did ‘most’ manage to discard these predictors of later trouble and turn out to be reasonably decent human beings? That’s what I want to find out.
So, my kids continue to startle. Ever hear it said that when you give birth, it’s not just a horse of a different color, it’s another species? My daughter is a lot like me-driven, multitalented, purposeful, anxious and depressed.
When she gets going, she is FAR more articulate than I will ever be. Here’s a super column for those of us struggling with depression, or any mental illness, for that matter. Much love, -V
WARNING: I discuss some of the sad realities of depression, which may be triggering to read if you’re in the middle of dealing with it yourself. Also mild language.
Got into a conversation today where one of the people made a joke about someone he knew being inauthentic, so inauthentic that they probably “took antidepressents behind closed doors.” I won’t bother with any more specifics than that, because it’s no use reaming the person who made the joke.
I want to address the attitude behind making a joke like that, because it’s not the first time I’ve heard the use of antidepressants mentioned in reference to “fake” people, people perceived as drug addicts, and in general weak people. The rest of the post is addressed to the generalized “person” who doesn’t get depression.
First of all, that joke is stupid. Why on earth do you think it’s okay to…
This is a picture of Christopher a couple of years ago when he was improving his accuracy skills. “Accuracy” in skydiving, means jumping out of a plane two miles in the air, piloting your canopy to a landing spot, and placing your feet within a three foot circle. In competition, it means stomping your foot on an eight inch circle that sounds an alarm, while the judges mark you for points.
He called me up after this jump, and with his heart in his mouth, breathlessly told me “First off, Mom, I’m still alive.” (Great opener, son. ) Turns out, he had misjudged his landing and collided with an unexpected gust of wind, and had gotten dragged along by his face for several yards. (Later on that year he won a bronze medal in a National Collegiate accuracy event.)
It’s funny, Visitors, how grief can sometimes feel that unexpected. Those of you who are grieving, ever notice that? Things in Lierheimer Land are actually pretty good right now. Christopher’s interning in LA on a massive subsidized building project, Faith landed a competitive yearlong spot in England at the University of York, Abi is buzzing along in Savannah, and Rachael comes home from Warren Tech with the most interesting tales from her forensic studies. (It’s hilarious to watch crime shows with her now. She’ll stop CSI and yell “Wait! No! They’re doing it WRONG! Mom……)
I’ve started Class Two in my graduate sequence in Criminology, with the emphasis in Psychopathology at Regis. It’s utterly fascinating. It’s fast, engaging, a ton of work and very much where I want to be.
I think too, that I’m getting a handle on this single thing. Except when I’m not, like today. Lazy Sunday mornings were a favorite around our house. I’d make banana pancakes, Chris would make coffee, and the kids would laze around until it was time for church.
Now, today, I feel like my son in that picture. Sort of raw. I miss Chris’ warm feet, I miss him stumbling around until coffee, I miss (acutely) telling him what all these kids are doing, and man, didn’t we do the right thing by them (so far, anyway).
Well, anyway. I try and draw something out of this, if not something good, at least something useful. It was a beautiful day when Christopher marked up his face, and it’s a beautiful day today. I get to go to church with Rachael and Dad, and that’s always a treat.
I suppose I’ll always miss Chris to some degree or another. Were he here, I think he’d encourage me to go out, get the gym, go to church, and not sit gazing out the window and wondering what he’s up to.