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

Brenda Breaks it Down: Wanting to forget a relationship

Hi Brenda,

I’m a gay woman and I spent the last 5 years in a relationship with someone with borderline personality disorder and PTSD. It was on again off again many times over and I’ve finally walked away for good. She is in therapy though it’s not seemed to help, in fact, over the years her condition has worsened. I know she’s not been honest with the therapist. She drinks heavily with the meds she’s on for her disorder. I’ve seen so much, the out of control days and nights. The lies and the threats of suicide and the one attempt that landed her in the hospital. That one was supposedly to keep me from leaving.

I did walk away. I’ve finally realized I can’t fix her and I can’t be happy and healthy with her. I’ve pretty much gone through the four steps of battered woman’s syndrome, though I was never physically abused, it was all mental.

I have no idea how this will affect my future relationships and trying to explain this to someone that’s never “been there” is frustrating. I went through the depression and I’ve coped with the ideology of “fake it till you make it.” It’s working, though I still think about what I went through often. I feel like I’ve talked about this to death and I just want to forget and move on. My job is definitely an escape and I am cultivating my social life more and more. Do I just keep telling myself to give it time? I could go to therapy but I’m really not wanting to re-live it all again.

Dear I-Just-Want-To-Forget,

Wouldn’t it be great if I could tell the future? What I can tell you is that if you’re starting a new relationship with the same story you just shared with us about your last girlfriend, I guarantee you, you’re heading toward the friend zone faster than you can say “Dinah Shore Weekend” or “Meet Me in Michigan.” It’s frustrating because you’re leading with the frustrated you, the you that carries the shame or embarrassment or remorse or regret for getting into this relationship in the first place or for having it fail.

Here the deal darlin’, it’s okay to be human, to fail at something, to outgrow a lover. It’s okay to say yes to your own health and happiness. Yes, give yourself some time and while you’re at it give yourself some compassion and forgiveness, too.

Mental illnesses aren’t like other conditions, often they are hidden unless our potential partners share that information or are even healthy enough to do so. It’s up to us to know what feels right and to know that we deserve health and happiness, too. You walked away; you knew you deserved more, so there’s no need to “forget” what happened. You need to only remember what you’ve learned. I think you’ve got that covered.

– Brenda

Brenda Breaks It Down – Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Doesn’t Apply To Herpes or HPV

Dear Brenda,

I started dating this guy in August of 2009. He was living with his daughter’s mother at the time but told me that they were not together. He spent his birthday with me in August and my birthday was in September so we spent my birthday together too. He gave me a $1000 and told me to by myself something nice and the week after he gave me $500.

We had sex in October and he didn’t want to use a condom. I asked him to, but he insisted that he didn’t like them. I have herpes and couldn’t tell him and I didn’t have an outbreak. After we had sex I talked to him the next day and the day after but then he stopped answering my calls. I automatically assumed I’d given him herpes and that he didn’t want to see or talk to me anymore because he wouldn’t answer or return my calls.

I got an abnormal pap smear in November that was caused by HPV, but they told me to wait six months to see if it will come back normal. I was so hurt that I was worried about giving him herpes and now I’m thinking he gave me HPV.

At the time we had sex, I noticed a bump on his private part and he said it was nothing and I told him that I think it’s HPV and that’s why my pap smear is abnormal and he argued that it was nothing.

So now he comes over and has sex with me and then he doesn’t call or answer his phone for days. When I ask him why he does this to me he says he is busy working.

And now my friends trying to hook me up with other guys because they think I’m being stupid for him.

I am feeling so depressed. What should I do? Please tell me what you think is going on.

Dear Too Hot for Herpes,

I’m just going to give it to as I see it. This might be hard to hear darlin’ with that bruised heart you’re carrying around, but the truth is, he doesn’t love or care about you. And while your friends mean well by trying to “hook” you up with other guys because they think you’re being “stupid” for him, the real deal is that you don’t need to be with anyone right now. Stevie Wonder and the Five Blind Boys of Alabama can see that, and so can I.

What I also see here is that you can’t handle the truth, and I’m talking about the truth about your health. The truth is that you have herpes and HPV darlin’ and that puts you at a greater risk for more serious infections, such as HIV, which in turn means that you must take better care of yourself and you must insist that whomever you have sex with wears a condom. Because all of that feel good that comes with sex is not worth dying over.

Now I’m not going to pretend that I’ve never had unprotected sex, I have. I’ve sat in clinics waiting for test results with my nerves about to jump out of my skin. I have friends with herpes who don’t tell because they’re embarrassed. The truth is that over 60 million Americans have herpes 1 out of every 6 women and 1 out of every 8 men. There’s still a lot of embarrassment about it, though there needn’t be. It’s not a death sentence; it’s a ‘be more careful’ sentence.

I also know that men will throw money at a woman, or things like purses or jewelry in order to get them in bed. They will tell you they love you, they’ll tell you whatever you want to hear. Don’t fall for the okey doke. You don’t have to accept gifts (Uh oh, I hear a pack of women howling that I’m wrong about this one) especially when the gifts are over the top. A $1000 (if that’s true) after just meeting someone is a bit over the top. Honestly. Men who do that have usually have nothing else to offer and they just want to get in your pants. Don’t fall for the okey doke.

What I think is going on is that you want a relationship with someone. Not just sex. You keep working it backwards by jumping into the most intimate part first without getting to know them or letting them get to know you. Relate to them out of the bedroom. Give them time to show you who they are, and pay attention. Put on the big girl panties and have an honest talk with them about herpes and HPV. Know your worth, you’re worth more $1500, your life is worth more than that.

– Brenda

Brenda on Jackholes and Boundaries – Lying men and broken promises.

Dear Brenda,

I’m writing to you because I want to get another opinion on the situation going on with my daughter.

She met a guy and was dating him for 3 months, he told her that he would give her a truck and that he sold his house and the money he got from the sale of his house was going to be put down on another house. He has taken money out of her purse, and because he said he was buying a house for them to live in she didn’t pay the rent on her apartment. She also sold her van, believing that he was going to give her his vehicle. He disappears for a day or two with no communication with her.

Now she has no vehicle, cause she sold it and has an eviction notice on her apartment, she has two young children that are now without a vehicle or a home, he also didn’t pay the cell phone bill like he said he did and it got shut off, so my daughter was left without any communication, transportation and is now homeless.

She said she was done with him, but now I find out that she is talking to him and letting him come over her house, I tried to tell her that she can’t believe anything he says and she should just cut her losses and not have anything to do with him. I told her I would not be helping her with rides unless she totally ends it with him. now she is angry with me, she just never seems to learn by her mistakes. I just wanted to know what you thought of the situation.

Thanks for listening.

Dear Mama Lion,

What amazes me about women is that some of us still believe in the knight in shining armor, who will give us a “trusty steed,” pay our phone bills and provide shelter for us and our children. We love so fiercely, and can become so blinded by happily ever after that we ignore the red flags, we don’t question, we forgive too quickly when boundaries are ignored or crossed.

For the record, this man is a jackhole, who is undeserving of the love and devotion that your daughter has shown him. Yes, she should cut her losses, lose his phone number, move and leave no forwarding address.

Still, I wonder if your daughter loves herself to see that she deserves more than someone who takes money from her purse, or promises to take care of a bill and then doesn’t keep that promise, and lies. Doesn’t she believe that she deserves more?

While Mamas will have the sex talk with their daughters, equally important is the discussion about boundaries. Boundaries will help our daughters make better decisions about acceptable behavior in regards to their body, how they are treated and their space. I hope you will talk with your daughter about boundaries, and how important it is to set them in the beginning of a friendship or relationship.

Your daughter needs to know her worth, and that she deserves better than a lying jackhole, she deserves someone who respects her as a woman and a mother and she must learn to demand no less than that.

Best of luck,

Brenda

Brenda Breaks Down The May-September Romance: When he’s just a bit younger than you.

Hi Brenda,

I’m 30 and dating a 23-year-old. No one believes I’m 30. I practically look like I’m 22. He doesn’t have a problem dating me. He likes it to be known that we date.

I’ve never dated someone that much younger than me. But the problem is that I’m catching major feelings for him, and scared if I tell him it will shoo him away. I know he likes me a lot. We spend a great deal of time together. I met his mother, father, brother and just about all his friends and they all like and accept me.

But am I stupid for trying to make the relationship more, or should I just take it for what it is? Thank you.

Sincerely,

Confused!

Dear Confused,

Well let’s get some clarity here darlin’. The phrase, “I’m catching major feelings” sounds like a confession of love (Yes I said it!) And maybe it isn’t the age that bothers you as much as these deeper feelings for him and having expectations of the relationship moving toward something more serious or permanent.

So what will happen if you tell him and why are you scared? Is this a relationship or is this just a hyped up booty call? If this is just about sex and you have feelings you need to say it. If it’s not just sex, your confession of “love” or “feelings” shouldn’t come as a surprise to him if you are spending so much time together.

Let me just put this out there Confused, in a relationship you get to say what your needs are and be listened to. You get to say what your feelings are. If that doesn’t happen or can’t happen, then perhaps you need to move on.

And no, Brenda doesn’t think you’re stupid for “trying to make it more.” I do think you should take the risk, say what you feel and listen to what he says. At that point you will be at a place of clarity and you will know what to do next.

What do you think readers? Any cougar pups in the house? Is the age difference a big deal? I don’t think so. What do you think?

– Brenda

Should You Stay Or Should You Go?

Darling you got to let me know
Should I stay or should I go?
The Clash

One of the questions I get asked the most is whether or not someone should stay in a marriage or a relationship. While listening to The Clash, I came up with this list.

You should stay knowing that:
You can only change you. Challenging as that might be. If you’re trying to change your partner, stop it.

You should go if:
There is any physical, verbal or emotional abuse. (Channeling the scary voice from the Amityville Horror) Get Out!

You should stay if:
You understand that there are trade offs in a relationship. Bottom line, you’re gonna love some things about your sweetie and there will be some things that will drive you crazier than an itchy man up a wool tree. Sometimes frustration and love walk hand in hand.

You should go if:
He or she is overly controlling, checking your email, obtaining your passwords, going through your phone. Checking the odometer and having you report your gas mileage (oh yes! It has happened!) is completely over the top. It’s time to go. Jealously and possessiveness means there’s no trust. It’s not cute. It doesn’t mean they love you. Pack your bags.

You should stay if:
You understand that that there will some issues that the pair of you will totally disagree on. And you won’t even agree on what that issue is. What you can do is identify it and accept it and move on.

You should go when:
You’re afraid to say what you need or your needs don’t get met without herculean effort. It shouldn’t be that hard. Relationships are a mutual thing. Everyone should get their needs met and it shouldn’t take an argument for that to happen.

You should stay if:
You are able to take responsibility for your own happiness (not to be confused with getting your needs met). You should be able to discuss your dreams and goals, while remembering these are YOUR dreams and it is not up to your partner to make it happen. You should be supportive of their dreams and goals as well.

You should also stay if:
The sex is still sexy. Not the sole reason to stay however.

You should stay if:
You can remember the moment you connected. The moment you knew that this person was someone special. When it gets hard or frustrating that’s the moment you come back to.

You should think about it when
Infidelity occurs. (I heard you, you just called me crazy!) Seriously, I’ve seen relationships survive this and come out stronger. I don’t believe it’s always a deal breaker. Need help with this one? I’ll take those questions on a case by case basis. Write me!

Love strong!

– Brenda

Brenda answers: Am I in a healthy relationship?

Dear Brenda,

How do I know if I’m in a healthy relationship?

Dear Relationship Curious,

Do you like you? Because that’s where it all begins, if you don’t love you, no one else can.

A couple of marriages ago (Yes I mean more than two) I married a man I had no business marrying. But I was young and thought I knew everything. I wasn’t ready for a relationship with anyone else, because I hadn’t had a relationship with myself. I thought it was about sex. But soon learned that there were others who gave better “room service” than me. I thought it was all about showing him how much I loved him. Buzz. Wrong answer.

“How do you expect me to love you, when you don’t love yourself?” He said once during one of our chats. The light went on, but I still didn’t get it.

With husband number two I actually took the advice of a radio talk show host Dr.Toni Grant (don’t judge me!), who advised women to “return to their traditional roles” so I cooked, cleaned and had scheduled sex (to make sure HIS needs were met) until I burned out and I was bored out of my skull with the mundane life I’d chosen. And finally, we stood in front of judge and called it quits. I’d stopped being me. And it made me damn unhappy.

So when I say, it starts with you, I mean it. It does.

A healthy relationship means that you don’t mind hanging out with yourself. You think you’re pretty cool. And while it’s great to hear others say that, deep down you already own it.

A healthy relationship means you and your partner listen to each other, are patient with each other. You feel special, appreciated and loved.

In a healthy relationship you get to be you. There is no pretending, no folding you up to make yourself fit into the other person’s life. You get to be honest about your boundaries, diseases, likes and dislikes, political affiliation, favorite sports team, spiritual practice. You get the picture. You get to be you without judgment. And while you don’t have to do a full accounting of your life, the decisions you’ve made and the consequences you’ve endured, honesty rules.

A healthy relationship is a partnership. Let me say for the record that no one likes housework. Don’t be a slob, pick up after yourself. Share in the drudgery that is housework. When you don’t, resentment builds and that is slippery slope towards nowhere good. Also, financial decisions should be mutual and both partners should benefit in some way.

People laugh together in healthy relationships and have things in common that they enjoy together and some things they do by themselves. For the love of all things good let your partner have some “me” time or it will get boring and someone will become resentful. Have a hobby, friends, and time separate from your partner and with your partner as well.

People fight fairly in healthy relationships. They listen, they set boundaries, they respect boundaries, they communicate their needs, and they feel heard. They are honest, they forgive, they negotiate, they let go of things and move forward.

A healthy relationship is exclusive and inclusive. You both are exclusive to one another. No one else is in the relationship. The flip side of that is that you are both inclusive of family and friends. It’s not about just the two of you all of the time. That’s called an addictive relationship. And you don’t want that. Can someone say potential stalker?

So Curious, I hope that answers your question. Did I leave something out? Or is your view of a healthy relationship different? Alright readers, chime in.

Best,

Brenda

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