I knew that my marriage was ending long before it ended. It is hard to believe that it is a little over twenty years since I separated from my ex. Once it ended I was uncertain whether or not another relationship was really what I wanted. I had a lot of amazing single mothers in my extended family and friends – some from divorce, some because of widowhood, and some out of another kind of choice. At one point I read a delightful book by Jane Juska entitled “A Round-heeled Woman: My Late-Life Adventures in Sex and Romance.” She was long divorced and feeling lonely and placed an advertisement in the personals section of the New York Times Review. This advertisement read: “Before I turn 67 — next March — I would like a lot of sex with a man I like. If you want to talk first, Trollope works for me.”
I was in my mid-thirties after my divorce and I knew that I did not want to wait for my sixties to put myself out there and find love, romance, and intellectual stimulation. Reading this book inspired me to venture out into dating once more and for the longest time I was dating explicitly without looking for a relationship. I would almost exclusively date people who lived in a different city than I did. To protect my personal information somewhat, I had a separate email address that listed my last name as “Jukas” in tribute to Jane Juska.
It has been close to twenty years since my marriage ended and for a wide variety of reasons, I have spent most of my adult life explicitly not in an intimate relationship. I often wanted to keep my distance between my dating life and the rest of my personal and professional life. I have a personality trait of being more than a little stubbornly independent and was not sure that I wanted to let someone into my life as a partner. There are times when I certainly was someone who has an “avoidant” attachment style.
Much like Jane Juska, I often said that what I was looking for was a focus on the sexual connection, and in reality, there was a part of me that I was protecting deep, deep inside of my heart that also wanted to be in a loving relationship. It took time before I could open myself to the possibility of something more of a relationship and started looking for “something more than casual”, on Tuesdays and alternate weekends when my child was with their father. To my surprise, a relationship ended up taking hold from those Tuesdays and alternate weekends. To my disappointment, that relationship ended – that was almost 12 years ago – and for years afterward, I declared that I “didn’t date”. I didn’t date and I got really good at doing things on my own and with my friends. The demands of my work and the demands of being a single parent rather took over the crevices of my life.
Six years I moved back to Ottawa and decided it was time to create some space in my life for the potential of a relationship. I dated and I met someone who sparked my interest. We kept dating until I realized that I did, in fact, want a deeper relationship with this person. After three and half years together, they clearly stated that they did not feel the same level of commitment to me. With that, I was single again, and working on healing my heart once again.
Jane Juska kept exploring and looking for love, sexual connection, intellectual engagement, and a relationship. Some connections lasted a couple of dates, and others many months long. So, I am jumping back into dating, by starting with dating myself.
Last night as I was taking out the recyling and green compost bin to the curb, I happened to look up at the night sky because the moon was looking so bright. And there it was, an almost full moon, waning in its size, illuminating the whole yard on a clear starry night. I paused a moment in the driveway and reminisced of times spent with my ex, walking down near the Ottawa River, looking up at a clear night sky just like this one.
Clear night skies, with the stars twinkling, shimmering in a shifting state of being against the dark night, are magical for me. Being with a partner who appreciates their mystery and their wonder has often been important to me and I felt a pang of longing. What a great time to lean into the concept of romancing myself right then and there! I finished putting out the recycling and headed inside to put the kettle on. While I waited for the water to boil, I filled my tea bag with my favourite David’s Tea, Cinnamon Hearts, and breathed in its brisk cinnamon scent. I feel decadent when I drink this tea and it always feels like a treat.
I poured the boiled water into my favourite cup. My daughter painted this for me and it is huge, big enough for the equivalent of two cups of tea. It has an ombré fade of colours with dark shades of vibrant purple at its base fading up to light purple at the rim of the cup. One side of the cup it reads ” throw salt over your shoulder, rosemary by your garden gate, plant lavender for luck” and on the other side “Fall in love whenever you can”. She painted it for me as a Solstice gift and so it was in the works before I broke up with my ex. When I opened it on the morning of the 25th, my heart wound was still so tender and raw and I burst into tears. My grief overwhelmed me.
Three months after the break-up, my grief is softening. If it was a physical wound, the scab is thickening and when you brush against it, it merely stings a little. The right catch on a corner can pull the scab off and leave it bleeding freely once more, but the wound underneath is slowly getting smaller. Tonight, my grief feels more like a memory – I know that it is there, but it is not in the forefront of my thoughts.
My self-date on the back deck of my house is quiet. I am aware of the lights from the basement where my daughter and her room-mate (I guess they are my roommate too!) are chatting away over something that twenty-somethings will get engrossed in. There is a silence in the air, broken faintly by the sounds of cars and buses passing on a slightly larger street a couple of streets over. I sip on my tea, the sweet cinnamon rolling around on my tongue, savouring it before I swallow. I have my hands cupped around the heat of the cup soothing myself.
While I love to look at the stars and the moon, I only know how to identify a couple of them. The big dipper and the little dipper. I usually can find Orion the Hunter. And with those, I can locate the North Star. The beautiful thing about the North Star is that you can find it at any time of the year, and at any hour of the night in the northern hemisphere. The metaphor of “the North Star” is often used to describe finding your life’s purpose and passion and having that as a guide for you in life or at work.
Tonight I spent a lot of time gazing at the North Star, drifting off to see what other patterns I imagined seeing beyond the 3 that I knew I could identify. I imagined people that I cared about across the country looking up at the night sky with me. I felt both how big the world was and how small it was all at the same time. I lingered with my tea, sinking into “the pause” at the moment. Along with this idea of romancing myself, I have also been trying to create more “pause” in my life.
I stood there on my deck watching the stars and the moon for close to twenty minutes. Mostly I felt content and in the end a little sad. One of the points that signaled to me that my relationship had not been headed in the direction I wanted over last summer was my partner’s reluctance to meet me at the beach and watch the sunsets together, or to step outside in the evening after I arrived at their house and look at the stars together.
My micro-date came to its own close, in just the same way that a date with someone else will sometimes come to its own end. The person sitting across from you says “the thing” that shifts the energy and you know it is time to wrap it up. Memories – happy and sad – floating across my consciousness was the same kind of signal to me that my date had come to completion.
I took a final sip of my tea, said a small blessing of thanks to the night sky and headed inside to get ready for bed. I rated this date an 8/10
Any good date is more about the connection than the location, or time of day. I woke up this morning and was having a really lazy feeling and was struggling to get moving. However, I had made a date with myself for this morning at 10 am at the Ottawa Art Gallery and I needed to get going. I debated continuing to lounge in bed and skipping out on going to the gallery because it was a rainy, miserable day and my bed was super cozy. There was no one who was waiting for me like a “real” date and then I realized what I was doing in my head.
I was making myself less important than the value that I would have offered to someone else if I was meeting them for a date somewhere. Part of the journey of dating myself, of romancing myself, of making time spent doing activities more than just an opportunity to do something on my own. I wanted to shift my energy to ensure that I was making myself a priority and not an option in my own life. It is what I want from a partner at some point, and for that to happen, I also need to make myself a priority.
I got myself going and dressed for a daytime date in jeans, a nice casual flowing black top with my favourite red and black coverup over it. I took the time to pick out my mala bead necklace to wear along with it. The beads soothe me when I am not feeling my best and it was helpful when I was nursing a bit of a headache, but still wanted to head out on my date with myself.
Today’s date and connection with myself was to the Ottawa Art Gallery and I had planned for a Saturday morning date since the OAG is not open in the evenings. Originally I had planned to ride my bike, but with the grey rainy weather, and a faint headache persisting in the background, I chose to take my car downtown.
I was interested in this date with myself because of an exhibit by Don Kwan, a Chinese-Canadian artist whose work looked compelling as it grappled with the issues of identity, place, representation, and family memories. At the centre of his work was a Chinese lantern that he hung outdoors and photographed throughout the changing seasons over two years. He had removed the glass inserts that contained the images of his family members and these were on display in one part of the exhibit. What remained of the lantern after the documentation was presented, as photographed throughout the seasons.
Another exhibit that moved me was entitled “To play in the face of certain defeat” by Esmaa Mohamoud. The artist uses representative art to explore sports as a covert form of neo-slavery. The athletic equipment and symbols illustrate the pervasive discriminatory behaviours and attitudes based on race, class, gender, and sexuality. The art had me reflecting on the fetishizing of sports figures, and the dynamic of often white sports club owners making money from racialized athletes.
There was other art that I felt drawn to, including these two beautiful pieces.
After leaving the art gallery, I was not quite ready to end the date with myself and wandered looking for an independent coffee shop to grab a treat and a drink. Unfortunately, as I explored a couple of my favourites, they were either closed or were fuller than I felt comfortable with as we move into this stage of the pandemic where it is no longer required to be fully vaccinated in restaurants and no capacity limits. Along the way, I admired how the theme of today’s date remained present as I admired some street art along the way. I fondly remembered all the street art I have admired over the years as I traveled to other countries and places. One of my favourite things to do in a new city is to wander looking at public art. It builds a sense of connection to the culture of a community, and it is one of the most accessible ways to explore a city when I am traveling.
Disappointed that my first choice for a tea and a treat was not open, I wandered back to my car. Along the way, I saw someone weaving back and forth across the sidewalk headed towards me. He had no shirt or socks on and appeared to be wearing a grey towel wrapped around his waist and a black t-shirt wrapped around his head. He was muttering to himself and waving his hands in my direction. I had seen this gentleman earlier, as I was driving my car as they had been standing on a street corner taking off his clothes and shouting at the top of his lungs in a mumbled jumble of words that I could not decipher. I felt somewhat anxious as the person was potentially high, or in the midst of a mental health crisis and I was uncertain as to his intention. He was clearly headed directly for me even as I tried to discreetly move out of his path. As he got really close, he appeared to be handing me something in his hand and although the potentially safer response would have been to avoid him, I felt compelled to reach out to him in the spirit of connection. He opened his hand to reveal a somewhat crumpled and tired-looking orange tulip bud. I accepted it, said thank you, and paused to offer him something in return, but he waved me off, took a bow and kept on moving. I was touched – a gift of a flower on my date with myself. It felt manifested because all this week I was trying to figure out how to send myself flowers in a way that they would be delivered at a time when I was least expecting it, just like an impromptu gift from a partner. And here was a flower, presented to me by someone that I initially felt fear and concern for.
As I wrapped up my date with myself, I reflected on the fact that I had once again chosen a date that was easy to access from a solo date perspective. There were several people wandering the gallery on their own, and occasionally a group of two or three people would wander by. The date is genuinely something that interests me – a variety of artist perspectives – and stimulated my interest in visual art, as well as gave me a great deal to contemplate from an intellectual perspective. I realized I was judging myself for not being more outside of my comfort zone, for not challenging myself to someplace that was less comfortable as a singleton and I wondered why that was.
I reflected on a conversation that I had recently with a friend when I told them I was embarking on a project to date myself and had planned to tackle 50 dates in the remaining weeks of the year. She laughed at me a bit and told me that most people might have challenged themselves to maybe ten dates and wondered out loud why I needed to make it such a big goal. In my reflection, I realized that I had not only set myself this challenge, but I also felt that there was a need to push myself to do things that were always outside my comfort zone. That is indeed a part of my personality, but I also want the process of dating myself to be a process of my own self-discovery as well. What are the activities that I want to spend time on because they are of passionate interest to me? If I make myself a priority, how can I tap into my needs, wants, desires and explore who I am at my core? As I continue to reflect on who I want in my ideal partner, I want to also use this time to ensure that I explore who I want to be, now and into the future. I want to spend time investing in the person that I want to be and continue to develop myself into the kind of partner that the partner I hope to attract, will also find attractive. I am certainly enough as I am. but in making myself a priority in my own life, I know that I will have a clearer sense of who I am outside of the contributions that I make in my professional and volunteer life, or how I have defined myself as a parent.
And that is someone worth spending time with. I rated this date a 10/10.
I felt all the nervousness of a first date. Honestly, the nerves that I feel when I am doing something on my own for the first time in general. So, I am telling myself the same thing that I do when I am in that place of feeling a little anxious about stepping outside whatever comfort zone I am stretching my toes outside of the lines – feel the discomfort or fear and do it anyway.
In this instance, I am not sure if the feelings stem from the uncertain feelings of heading into a large group of people after keeping my bubble relatively small throughout this pandemic. Or it might be venturing out into a social situation on my own after planning my social excursions to spend time with my former partner. Those first moments stepping into something new always feel a little wobbly, and then it often passes. It doesn’t always pass, but usually, it does.
I took the time to straighten my hair. My hair is long and tends towards curly. Taking the time to straighten it feels like I am taking extra effort and because I don’t do it all that often, it feels special and a little bit fancy. I took the time to put on some make-up even though I don’t usually wear it, but I almost always will make the effort for a first, second, or third date.
I turned down an invitation with a friend for the Friday night and brazenly declared that I was taking myself out for a date, so wasn’t free. There was a pause on the other end of the phone and the question, “so you aren’t free?” and I simply said that I wasn’t. And off I went to explore Fire and Ice downtown Ottawa on my first self date.
This was such a lovely first date event whether on my self-date or if I had been with another person. There was lots of relaxed movement on the street and a wide range of people milled around exploring. There were families with kids of all ages running between light displays and rolling in the snow in the small park. There were older couples who walked holding hands with the familiarity of love holding over decades. There were couples with the look of early dates, of flirtatious laughter, playful touch, and longing glances. There were groups of friends and what I assumed to be a few singletons wandering around at their own speed. And me.
As a first self-date, it was an ideal setting because any nervousness that I had about being on a date with myself melted away as it was clear that no one was paying the slightest bit of attention to me. I was able to wander in my own little world, lingering through the tunnel of lights and snapping pictures of the virtual flowers, bursting snowflakes, and playful sparks of fire playing on the street through my virtual app. I toggled between trying to capture the moments with my camera and enjoying just being. Soaking up the winter night air and the snowflakes falling gently around us all. In the small park at the end of closed-off Bank Street, there were four large screens that played a rotating light show of images with matching music that entertained on a two to three-minute loop. It was here that children gleefully danced around in movement mirroring the images and music that played and repeated.
It took me a little over an hour to wander along the street and then I returned to my car. I felt a little let down, and a bit sad. I took a couple of deep breaths and just sat with a curiosity as to what those feelings were all about. Here is what I learned…
I’ve dated on and off for close to forty years and at certain times of the dating process, I have put too much emphasis on what a date means or could mean, or what was possible. No one date, and more importantly, no one person can fulfill all your needs in any given moment. I felt all the pressure to make dating myself something magical and special and for it to feel like the very best dates that I have had with another person. What a lot of pressure on myself!!
What did I want next then, as the next question? I headed walked down the street to my car, I stopped and bought myself a London Fog latte and drove to Andrew Hayden Park and wandered around in the snowy evening, sipping my latte and enjoying the stillness along the multi-use trails. I loved the stillness. I kept my phone in my pocket so as to be full present in the moment rather than trying to capture that feeling in a picture. When I felt my energy start to shift, I hopped back in my car and headed for home.
A great date often ends with a kiss, or at least it does for me. How could I end my evening in a way that brought that playfulness and anticipation and a feeling of being complete? Fresh snow in my front yard called to me, so I set down my purse on the deck and climbed through the snow to a wide-open space and fell onto my back and made a big, beautiful snow angel, under the softly falling snow.
I’d rate the date a solid 8/10 and a good start to adventures in dating myself. Forty-nine more dates to go.
I’m a planner. I always have been. When I feel stressed, or overwhelmed, I sit down and map out what is in front of me, set some goals, objectives, parameters, tasks and timelines. Things that help me create a sense of structure to move through. It should come as no surprise that I have same feeling as I approach dating myself 50 times over the next 43 weeks.
What do I want from my dates? Someone once sent me this very funny, and very true wikiHow page on “wooing an Aquarius woman.” It tickled every sense that I have of myself and so, I am challenging myself in the same way to create dates that “woo me”. Dates that stimulate my senses and that are fun, relaxing and interesting. I want dates that sometimes challenge me outside of my comfort zone. I want dates that are cozy and intimate and I want dates that are romantic and take a little more effort. I want a get-away weekend. Dates that stimulate my intellectual curiosity. These dates are not about taking myself to the gym on a Friday night, but it might be packing myself a special picnic and biking a little bit further up the hill in Gatineau Parc for an afternoon. It’s not just about doing something by myself – I regularly do that – but about having the intention of putting that extra effort into a date, into myself, in the same what that I approach dating someone new.
Along the way, I hope to learn more about myself and bring more intentional play and romance into my life.
Here is my first list of some of the dates that appeal to me, many things I’ve done before, a few that I haven’t, and in no particular order…
Picnic in the park with all my favourite nibbly bits
An afternoon wandering around the Ottawa Art Centre/National Art Gallery/Museum of History followed by a lingering tea and treats at the café
Exploring a new place to hike
Time at Nordik Spa on my own
A night out at the National Arts Centre, could be theatre, music, dance
A comfy date at home with candles and cuddles on the couch
Going out to listen to live music
A weekend getaway to Montreal
Listening to a provocative speaker challenging me to think about things differently
Dinner out at the fanciest restaurant in town
Checking out a music festival in the park
An afternoon of bowling
Something that sneaks me away from work… in the middle of the week… in the middle of the afternoon
A bike ride to any of the little towns around Ottawa for lunch on a patio
I forgot that I had this blog, and stumbled across it once again in the fog of my brain, as reminder that I had once started this blog as an exploration of stilling the busyness and building my Buddha brain. As I turned to a space to reflect on my journey towards creating space again in my life, I found my way here again, a few years later. Once again, needing something that settled me outside of the pace of my job.
An intimate relationship that I deeply cared about ended not that long ago. Before I found myself in that recently ended relationship, it took me a long time to find myself in a place where I wanted to explore and date again. I entered into it hesitantly and found myself in a place where I was in the uncomfortable place of wanting more than what he wanted the relationship to be. I ended the relationship towards the end of December and I found myself floundering a bit on how to move forward, how to get to the place of wanting to date again. One of the things that I became aware of during an executive coaching session was that in the absence of that relationship, the demands of my job and the demands of being a single parent to a young adult with lots of complexity in their health was seeping into all the crevices of my life. I needed to find a way to carve out my life from my life.
As often happens in a powerful coaching session, it was a winding path to an emotional observation, followed by a flash of insight. At 54 years of age, once again single – as I have been for most of my adult life – I needed to find a way to date myself. In French – je me fréquente. I set myself the task to take myself on 50 first dates with myself before December 31, 2022. I recently heard a wonderful podcast with Carolyn Arnold who talked about 50 first dates after 50 and wrote a book about it. I was inspired and while I am still not ready to put myself out there to date, I am ready to carve out my life, find some joy and romance and playfulness with myself.
Writing about things helps me process and I’ve decided to begin once again with writing on this blog as I date myself over the next 43 weeks – see, I’ve already decided that I am awesome enough to date myself twice in a few of the weeks!!
Our brain has a built in negativity bias and that was probably a good think when we had to fight to survive. Identifying threats quickly helped us survive. But we don’t really live in that world any longer despite historical and biological programming to respond more to negative stimuli.
Starting my gratitude list was a huge tilt for me toward taking in the good. Despite my general disposition to be positive and optimistic, I found myself focusing too much on what went wrong, what was difficult, what didn’t get done, and what I was missing in my life. I was feeling pretty crappy about the state of my life even though “objectively” it was pretty good.
When I started practicing a daily gratitude list, I challenged myself to focus on just 5 things I was grateful for. Sometimes they were simple and seemingly small – the sound of my daughter’s laughter. Sometimes they were more complex and layered – gratitude for a difficult conversation with a colleague that aired tough issues. Some days all I could find to be grateful for were the basics on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – I had food in the fridge, a place to sleep that was warm and dry, running potable water, a healthy family. Those days were often the days that I felt the least grateful for my life, but reducing it to the basics made me appreciate that (a) I live somewhere where I am not struggling for the basics and (b) I am not struggling to pay the rent and feed the kid. Put into perspective, life can’t help but feel better.
Research shows by programming your brain to focus on good experiences – not ignoring though parts, just changing the focus – you become more resilient, confident and happy. And feeling that, more capable in coping with the tough stuff.
Practicing being for myself today was about the simplicity of hauling my butt out the door for a walk with a friend. It was light, it was caring, it was healthy for the mind and the body. It was outdoors. It was simply putting my needs first and walking.
I’ve been reading through the book and working on the first chapter. But, I’ve read ahead and one of the chapters is entitled “slow down.” It was a message I think I needed to hear today.
I was rushing from one thing to another today. I was frustrated about all that I had to get done. Tomorrow is both garbage day and the day my cleaning ladies come. Lots of tidying to be done after the teenager had been home alone all day. Garbage to get out. Work to do. Busy. Busy. Busy.
That chronic feeling of always being on the go, of not being able to slow down, or feeling that way generates a stress response. That stress response fuels a fight or flight response and puts the alarm system of the brain on full alarm. There is not a feeling of being able to slow down and make good and thoughtful decisions.
In the book it suggests to practice a few things more slowly and to find out what’s good in THIS moment. All of this came rushing back to me as I was putting on the garbage, feeling rushed and busy and frantic. And then I looked up at the sky and saw the half moon and the clouds floating by. In that moment, I stopped and paused and decided to practice that moment more slowly and focus on the food in that moment.
I had been mindless in the garbage. I paused and watched the clouds floating by. I took the time to appreciate the elegance of the clouds floating. All of a sudden I heard birds in the background, and chattering noises of squirrels. I became aware of the smells in the evening air, some musky, some sour, some sweet. I heard the cars on the side streets and children in the distance. I paused and listened to the sound of breath moving in and out of my body. I felt the frenetic energy slip away.
I slowed down and finished my tidying feeling less busy and less stressed. Going slow and focusing on the beauty of the night shifted my whole energy of what remained of the night.
I’ve started reading Just One Thing: developing a Buddha brain one simple practice at a time. The first chapter is entitled “Be for Yourself.” The idea of the book overall is that by taking on the practice of simple things every day, you can support and increase your sense of security and worth, and inner peace. I really want that inner peace thing. How you go about practicing these simple things are up to the person themselves, but the truth is that you need to practice in order for things to change.
I’ve decided that I need to focus on one thing a week. There are 52 practices in the book, so theoretically, I could practice one new thing a week. Seems far too linear for me. I’m going to practice one new thing, for at least a week. I may stay longer on some practices than others. I may need to return to a practice a few times over and over as I can be slow learner on things that are particular to self-care. The first practice is “be for yourself.”
Be for yourself sounds so simple – as do most of the practices in the book. If you aren’t prepared to be on your own side, really, why should anyone else. But what does being on your own side really mean?
One of the questions was to explore the qualities of a good friend and to ask yourself whether I was that kind of friend to myself. The truth of the matter was that I was often not as good of a friend to myself as I am to other people. When I am having a bad day and I am ashamed of something I’ve done, I’ve yelled at myself and I’ve called myself some nasty names inside my head. Even when trying to shift that negative voice in my head, I’ve not been gentle with myself.
Since starting to be more mindful, I’ve been trying to be much kinder to myself, even before starting to read this book. Trying gentleness in re-directing the negative script in my head. Reminding myself that how I was talking to myself was NEVER how I would have talked to anybody else. Letting go of not only the negative self talk, but practicing gentleness to myself in shifting that negative talk into more encouraging words was a process that has taken some time. I had to learn how to be in my own corner.
Practicing “being for myself” has meant that I’ve started to ask myself at various points of the day which course of action would be in my best interests. By best interests that did not mean just what I wanted to do in a particular situation, but really taking the time to stop and think about what action would serve me best. It meant being conscious in my choices that I was making and being intentional in what I was choosing to do.
Taking care of yourself is about putting your own oxygen mask on just like they tell you to do on the airplane. You can’t save anyone else, or yourself, if you don’t put your oxygen mask on. As it states as the last point in this chapter:
“When you take good care of yourself, then you have more to offer others, from the people close to you in the whole wide world.”