Dear Rosie & Sherry,
I appreciated your response to "Discouraged and Overwhelmed" (Dating Maze #4). My problem is slightly different. I'm also a single mother, now in my 40s, and I fairly often feel overwhelmed by my schedule. I spent most of my 30s buried in a difficult marriage, caring for a small child, working, and finishing college. My daughter is now 10, and she is busy with school, music, ballet, etc. while I am trying to supplement my "day job" by building a second career as a musician. I also need to increase my income, as I get no support from my ex, who doesn't work. I still want a social life, but I don't have the time or focus to work on "serious" dating, so I date casually.
I think there is another factor that prevents me from wanting to have a serious relationship. I'm afraid to enter another bad marriage. My marriage didn't start out bad, but at the end it felt like a prison -- lacking affection, support, cooperation, touch, cheerful energy. My husband suffered from depression among other things. He seemed to become worse over time, and I responded by becoming edgier and more difficult to live with. We tried treatment and counseling (both individual and couples), and sadly it did not work well enough for our marriage to survive.
But not to dwell on the past. I need to work out the logistical issues of finding time to work on my music career, handle finances, raise my daughter, and date.
However, I think the deeper question for me really is, "How do I conquer fear and pessimism." Intellectually, I believe good relationships are possible. But in my gut, where my Pavlovian condition resides, I don't "know" this for a fact.
How does one find a positive attitude for the present? A willingness to take risks? I'm smart, intellectual, warm and strong in some ways, and I don't want to avoid a relationship forever. But there's a vulnerable person inside who doesn't want to risk another heartache. When faced with a big obstacle, prayer comes to mind. Do you also have some practical advice I can follow?
Debra in the USA
Jewish tradition says we should combine prayer with personal effort. It seems to us that you have already begun that effort, and we applaud you for that. Despite your fear of entering into another bad relationship, your tone is one of hope and optimism. If you can channel those positive emotions, you'll be able to get past this difficult period and move on in your personal life.
In order to do this, you need closure of your difficult marriage. You spent several years and a good deal of your energy trying to repair a relationship that was fractured by your husband's worsening mental illness. Now that your marriage is over, you've got to properly mourn its death and the expectations that were never fulfilled. No matter how long ago your marriage ended, unless you pass through this grieving process, you will not be able to move forward emotionally.
Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross described the stages a person goes through in dealing with the death of a loved one: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance.
This grieving process also occurs whenever a person experiences a divorce, catastrophic illness or life-altering event. It appears that you have not yet passed through all of the stages of grieving and are "stuck" at the level of depression. To move out of that level, spend some of your precious spare time remembering the history of your marriage. It often helps to write your thoughts down in a notebook. Recall how your marriage started to break up, and how you experienced the Denial, Anger and Bargaining stages. Write about the depression and other emotions you now feel -- and why. This exercise should bring clarity and help you come to terms with the past -- and lead you to the final stage of grieving, Acceptance.
When you are able to accept your former husband's illness and the fact that his inability to overcome it was his own failure and not yours, then you can begin to focus on your strengths. You emerged from a divorce in a much stronger position than many other newly-single women -- you have a college degree and a job, you use your creative outlet for enjoyment as well as additional income, you are able to provide your daughter with love and nurturing, and you are optimistic and forward-looking rather than embittered.
In terms of time and energy, you've got a pretty full plate. Fortunately, all of the energy you are expending is directed at positive goals -- rearing your daughter, expressing yourself creatively, bettering yourself economically. Why not dedicate this stage of your life to enjoying these labors and their fruits? Try to center your social life around family and friends, rather than crowding precious time with serious dating. This stage of your life will not last long. As finances ease a little and your daughter becomes somewhat independent, there will be time to pursue a serious relationship. And, when you do start dating seriously, you won't be plagued by the fears that haunt you now.
Rosie & Sherry
Hi Rosie and Sherry!
I like the emphatic yet "no nonsense" approach to your e-mails. It seems, the values you portray are what society believes are "old-fashioned"... yet for me, they are universals. You are protective of women, as well. I like it! Keep it up!
Carole Matlen Ph.D.
Los Angeles, California