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So he makes you feel special (tick), you’re having a good time (tick) and you’ve stuck to the 90-day rule – as in no sex for the first 90 days (yeah right!). Next step, says the Dating Bible, is to have “The Talk”. This is the moment where you establish mutual exclusivity, where you seal the so-called deal, and apparently this needs to be done vocally (and soberly) and, short of actually signing a piece of paper, must result in absolute clarity of consensus.

Silly old me for thinking presuppositions hold sway; for simply assuming that, if you’re spending as much time together as you can, exchanging secrets, sharing intimacies and exposing vulnerabilities – in short, if you’re surrendering yourself to the magical, unnerving process of falling in love – you’re establishing exclusivity. That despite the fact that you watch as someone literally blossoms before your eyes and that you yourself are positively aglow with the blush of love, it’s still naïve to take for granted that neither of you will fool around.

Do you really need a conversation to drive home the point? Yes, says The Book. Without having The Talk you’re as good as cast adrift in an ocean of potential infidelity. No matter how unchartered your course, the spoken word provides an anchor (or a gangway, depending on how you look at it).

Now I’m not denying that there is comfort in establishing that you’re both on the same page and I’m all for unsmudged boundaries and tidy little boxes, but somehow the idea of a cast-in-stone relationship antenuptual seems almost juvenile. For one thing, it says nothing for the implicit agreement that, when two people commit to the process of discovering one another, they naturally consent to trying their damndest not to hurt each other. As if, until the words “going steady” are actually uttered, we’re still free to inflict grievous bodily harm without blame or liability for the consequences. Secondly, in a world where marriage vows are broken every day, what weight does a verbal contract really carry? And if one partner refuses to sign? What then? Continue as before? Do not pass Go? Do not collect $200?

Sure, it’s nice to hear “Baby, be my one and only” but words ring hollow if the unspoken agreement is not already there. And once it is – once you’re both speaking the same language – is articulation even necessary?

- Single-again Samantha

Sage advice

Had lunch under the trees with my dear Nana today. At 92, this old lady has seen it all, yet she still marvels at the first-of-spring shoots and fledgling birds as if a child, deriving immeasurable pleasure in a plate of food and savouring her glass of Sauvignon Blanc, as if all the joy of life is distilled in these simple rituals. She’s lived through a world war, raised four children and buried two husbands, my Nan, yet she listens intently as I jabber on about the minutiae of my life, never trivializing, never passing judgement.

When I first broke the news to my family of the failure of my marriage, my grandmother was the only one who didn’t have a thousand things to say. Instead, she held my hand in hers and told me, simply, that it would be okay – this from a woman for whom divorce was never an option, despite having married, first, an alcoholic depressive and, then, after my grandfather passed away, a cantankerous old ba$#@!d.

So, today, when I declared, “Nana, I’m falling in love,” she didn’t ask endless questions about his financial credentials, pre-existing responsibilities or relationship history. Instead, she enquired gently, “Samantha, is he good to you?”. And when I replied, “Yes, Nan, he makes me feel like the most special person in the world,” she simply raised her glass in a frail, trembling hand and said, “Good, dear, that’s all that matters.”

Then we sat together in silence, there in the dappled shade of those giant birches, the calm of a Sunday afternoon washing over us, and all was right with the world.

- Single-again Samantha

Trivial pursuit – Dating after divorce

“Don’t look for love. Let it come looking for you.” If I had a dime for every time some one’s told me that.

But, as hard as it is to accept sometimes, there is a good deal of truth in it. What I’m not saying is that sitting on the sidelines is going to do wonders for your dating scorecard. But that striding out, war paint on and weapons engaged, may not be the best way to bag a man.

Still, it’s difficult not to check off imaginary boxes when evaluating a candidate for Mr Right status: “What is his mother like?” “How would we look going out together?” “How many relationships has he been in?” “What kind of father would he be?” “How might he look in fifty years time?”

We get bogged down by the incidentals, when the questions we should be asking are the important ones about how we feel: “Do I feel special?” “Do I feel loved and respected?” “Do I feel that the relationship is bringing out the best in me?”

And what about all the men who don’t check all those trivial boxes? Are they instantly struck from the bar? This is was happened with Tim – I reconnected with the guy after some years and instantly found myself having a good time in his company. But he didn’t check my boxes. He was a balding, overweight salesman whose mother had walked out on him as a kid. His relationship history was checkered and he was no natural around the kid. But he was kind and considerate, funny and flattering. We drank red wine, we talked about old times and we laughed. Still, he didn’t tick my boxes so I cut him loose, albeit as gently as possible.

Sometimes I think we look so hard for what we picture Mr Right to be like that we fail to see Mr Endless Possibilities right before our eyes… And then sometimes we stumble right over him – I guess that’s why they call it falling in love.

- Single-again Samantha

Count your blessings

I have a stack of small notebooks next to my bed, each page of every one containing the date and a single sentence. The first entry in the notebook at the very bottom of the pile is dated 5 September 2005, and reads “Had tea with a good friend in the late afternoon sunshine with my darling baby girl playing under the table.” The second entry, dated the following day, reads “Delivered a great presentation”, and the third, dated the day after that, reads “watched a flock of birds doing aerodynamics over the house”.

These are my little books of gratitude, on each page a simple expression of thanks for something that has given me joy that day. Every day, for the last five years, before turning out the light, I reflect for a few minutes on my day and then I pen one line that describes the day’s “blessing”. In these notebooks is the evidence of five years of happy memories.

So often, when we are elbow deep in washing and still have homework to do and a ton of reports to write, we forget to stop and take a moment to enjoy the things we’re working so hard to protect. Our children, our family and friends, our homes, our careers and our amazing planet.
And the amazing knock-on effect of literally counting my blessings, is that I’ve become more perceptive to receiving them – more ready to surrender to the moment in which they occur. Sometimes, at the end of the day, I even find myself having a few potential entries – I enjoy weighing them up, thinking how lucky I am to have a few plum candidates to choose from. But always I write down only one.

I picture myself on my deathbed, surrounded by the people who love me and all my many notebooks… and as I make my way toward the white light, the wonderful memories on those pages will come to life before my eyes.

- Single-again Samantha

Online dating – how to spot a player

Trawling the online personals in search of Mr Right is a bit like searching for a needle in a haystack.

Cyberspace is a massive place and, with online dating a $1 billion per year industry, we’re talking a big numbers game here. So, in an effort to simplify things, I’ve devised a little personal checklist to help separate the keepers from the players…

For starters, a picture tells a thousand words: If I have to suck it up and post a photograph of myself up there, advertising my availability for all the world to see, then so, dammit does he. Refusal to do so means one of two things: A) He’s dating incognito for fear of ridicule from others – aside from raising an instant wussy red flag, this will make explaining later where the two of you met a sticky point. Or, B). He’s no oil painting – fair enough, but you’re going to discover this in the fullness of time anyway, so why beat around the bush? Reality is, if he’s not prepared to put a face to the name, he damn well better have the gift of the gab…

Which brings us to the personal profile. While spelling and grammatical mistakes make me flinch, there are certain words that instantly press my “skip” button: “Independent” is one of them and can be loosely defined as either “looking for a no-strings fling” or “too busy to invest any time”, both of which don’t bode well for a long-term commitment. “Casual” is another no-no and should immediately be suffixed by the word “sex”, because that’s exactly what the guy’s after.

Profiles that start with “I don’t know what to right here…” are lame and indicate a complete lack of effort. When, however, as is often the case, these words are then followed with a long diatribe of personal achievements and philosophical musings, again, consider yourself warned. This is the kind of guy who wears a flimsy mask over his acute self-absorption and can mean only one thing – interminably long, yawn-worthy hours of indulging his verbal masturbation.

I don’t bother either with a profile that includes a laundry list of likes and dislikes. This is someone who still believes in the notion of perfection and will have a closed mind to anyone who does not exactly meet his catalogue of precise criteria.

Finally, if he mentions his past relationship in his online dating profile, move on without further ado – as he clearly hasn’t.

- Single-again Samantha

Confessions of a people pleaser: being nice when you don’t want to

Sometimes I think that I was born without a spine. I mean, I simply cannot stand up for myself. Take today: I agreed to sit in on a meeting for a project I quit 2 months ago. Why? Because I didn’t have the guts to say no. Then my sister swings by – can she borrow some cash just until her paycheck comes through?”. “Now, you know I lie awake in the early hours of the morning worrying about how I’m going to make payment on the mortgage and eat for the rest of the month, but sure, sis, how much do you need?” Finally, I get a call from Stephen, my blind date from the weekend – do I want to see him again? Instead of a simple “no”, I mumble something about being very busy but yes, that would be fine. This to a guy with whom there was so little spark you could almost hear the engine’s last gasps.

I’m your classic yes-woman, a passive-aggressive tapdancer, skirting round and round the point for fear of causing vibrations. I’m an ostrich with my head in the sand, an under-the-carpet-sweeper whose broom is wearing thin. What makes me, like so many women, I suspect, dependent on the approval of others? Why are we so afraid of hurting peoples’ feelings? What stops us from drawing a line in the sand and declaring, “Enough already! No more”?

No energy for confrontation or no self-respect, whatever the reason we’re not doing ourselves any favours. Everyone needs boundaries and that’s something we don’t have to justify. So, as of tomorrow, I’m resubmitting that resignation letter, I’m informing my sister that I’m not her personal piggybank and I’m telling Stephen, as relationship guru Laura Doyle suggests, that I’m simply “no longer available”. I’ll do it the coward’s way, of course. By SMS. Some habits die hard.

- Single-again Samantha

Matron of honor

My sister Nicci is ten years my junior and still very much single (though not through lack of trying, as my mother would say). In her late twenties, Nicci is adamant she’s fast running out of time… and, well, men, and this, coupled with the fact that her biological clock’s ringing off the wall, makes her pretty upset about the whole business of being single.

So you can imagine Nicci’s reluctance to attend yet another family wedding, this time for our “baby” cousin. As Nicci enters the room, grannies and grandpas, aunties and uncles descend on her, pity and hankies to hand. “Poor Nicci, don’t worry lovey,” they say, “Next time it’ll be your turn.”

It gets so bad that there’s an unspoken agreement that no one jump to ensure Nicci catches the bouquet, which the bride will have been briefed to throw with remarkable accuracy in her direction.

Thank god this is one of the indignities of being single that the single-again woman can escape. The unspoken agreement is that you’ve had your chance and, well, you blew it. Step aside sista, your ride’s up.

And I’ll happily take my place on the shelf if it means avoiding those probing questions, sympathetic looks and clucking false teeth. I had enough of those when I broke the news of the divorce.

As for poor my attractive, confident younger sister… like carrion left to hyenas, she’ll shatter into a million pieces, weep uncontrollably throughout the speeches and catch a cab home as soon as she can legitimately get out of there. Although, it has to be said, not without a backward glance at the best man…

PS: By way of aside, does a divorced woman get to go back from matron of honor to maid of honor? Kind of like going back to being a virgin?

- Single-again Samanth

Single-again Samantha: Finding a Husband

The little one has been nagging me for a baby sister again. Tonight I told her the truth… that mommy needs to find a husband first. “Well find a husband, mommy,” she says. “I’m trying darling, I’m trying.”

A lot of things seem to need explaining these days. Like who made the world, what will happen if we look at the sun and why is mommy waxing down there. Surely one of the most cringe-worthy things to explain, though, is where did Dave go and why don’t we see Nick any more? These are men who have drifted into our lives and drifted out again. Some leaving a lesson, some a bad taste. I could brush them off, put it down to experience, but what am I teaching my child here? I don’t need a shrink to tell me that she’s learning that men just don’t stick around.

So, when she turned five (I know, I know, but better late than never), I made a pact with myself that no one would be granted entry into the inner sanctum of “our” space until I was one hundred percent sure of him. No, we haven’t found him yet and yes, it does make dating that much harder – for one thing, it always involves giving the sum of a down payment on a small car to the sitter and getting little more than a bit of opportunistic tongue action at the front door. No you can’t come in for coffee and, big no, you definitely can’t stay for breakfast. Sure, it signalled the end of all “play” dates, but it also sounded the death knell on the “whatever happened to John” conversations. And sure, it’s extremely inconvenient at times, but I do it for the sake of teaching my daughter that men are not driftwood… yet always in the hope that one day, one lucky man will get to stay.

- Single-again Samantha

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