An Impossible Puzzle

thinkingThis summer has been an exercise in thought and discovery. Hour and hours (and hours and hours) alone in my head, riding on 2-lane highways, listening to Barry White croon “I’m not braggin’ on myself baby”.

Thinking about my past and my future; my goals and my accomplishments; my joys and my sorrows. Thinking about why I chose to leave a perfectly acceptable marriage and what it is that I was looking for in its place. Obviously something.

I am unable to open my heart and say words like “failed” or “hopeless”. My goal, at some point, became “tuning” and “adjustments”, some small and some large. But the vows I made nearly 40 years ago did not include unilateral “tuning”. That agreement, unless reopened by both parties, was a “take it or leave it”,  “keep the same” or “walk away”. Both parties couldn’t agree, so my push ended here, me riding my scooter and thinking about my future.

This summer I have had several exercises in self-evaluation. With this four month trip wrapping up in just 2 weeks, its really time to write them down on paper. First and foremost, is this thought exercise: If I am seeking some idealized woman, what makes her so?

Several months ago I emailed a man (an American ex-pat living in Japan) about world travel, and he brought up this subject when he learned about my then pending separation and divorce. We wanted to warn me against either wandering the world lost and alone, or starting to jump from partner to partner trying to figure out my own heart. He schooled me (maybe closer to “scolded” me) to figure out the exact reason I chose to leave, and where I was wanting to go. He then spelled out what I think is a silly exercise of identifying “your ideal mate”.

You probably know this one. You sit down every morning, for 20 min, with a piece of paper and write out “10 features” of an idealized mate. Every morning. And you watch the list change. By thinking about it with your clear morning head, you are giving it attention, then letting it slip away the rest of the day. The “magic” to the formula is that your list changes every day and “when it stays the same for 3 days in a row, that woman will appear”.

As an engineer and social scientist I could figure out why. Every man starts with a silly and shallow list: Hot body, rich, good in bed and the like. Slowly he morphs it into good mom, rich, shared interests and the like. But in the end, his own common sense takes over and his list looks like one his mom would have made for him. Best friend, shared interests, loving heart, caring, etc. Gone are all the nonsense.

And the “magic”? Well, by the time the list stays the same for 3 days, he himself is ready to open his previously confused heart to his true love. In the beginning he was looking in singles bars (and internet hook-ups). Later maybe he was coming on too strong, chasing rainbows. But in the end, that woman on the bus, or serving coffee at the diner, or that dropped her packages on the elevator clicks in his head. She meets his “real” requirements. His priorities have changed, just like on his list. No ethereal Magic. Women are everywhere. Good decent honest women. A guy just needs to get his head on right, and earn one.

So I have done that exercise. Of course, really fast, because I think really fast and spent my entire career cutting to chases for a living. I use words like “independent”, “self-reliant” and “Sassy”. It means she will listen to me, take me seriously, but blow me off if my words are nonsense. She can tell a funny story, and capture its point. She can see a worry, and work to resolve it. She can nag me to be my best, without losing faith that I’m trying to be that very thing. Its my job to earn her attention, win her love, and keep her faith. But my first job, dammit, is to find her. And she’s probably sitting in the next pew.

But here’s the rub: What do you give to an “independent” and “self-reliant” late in life single woman? She is either divorced or widowed, and she understands how men work. She probably has grown kids, even grand kids so your own are just more bookkeeping and holiday confusion. Until today I was finding that each of them achieved independence by adversity, were tempered by the flame of some jerk ex-husband.

These strong willed self-reliant women started out as wives that bonded, depended, and relied upon a husband; usually bearing this man’s offsping. Then he did something dumb; infidelity, abuse, neglect, or substance abuse. Or there was a tragedy. This otherwise normal woman rose up, said “my children need me” and took on the role of parent, guardian, bread winner, protector. Sure, there were slip-ups here and there, but they all have stories that made my eyes pop and jaw drop. Stories of strength and determination and rising to personal challenges that always made my eyes misty.

Today’s experience was even more shocking. I met my first woman born and raised truly independent. Yes, divorced (twice), grown children, etc. But laughing about how her mom and grandmom raised her to stand on her own two feet. And she does! She joked that her ex coined the joke that the women in her family “grind up their men and spit them out”. Not so funny, since I coined the phrase that my ex came from “a long line of imperial females” (stopping with me). This woman doesn’t sweat incompetence, nor does she dance the woman’s side of ballroom.

So, what on earth to do you offer this type of self-reliant, self-confident woman to win her attention? And in the unlikely event you do, how on earth do you keep it?

Not flattery, she knows that she smart, or strong, or impressive. And she knows shes hot; since she set the goal to watch her diet and attend the gym or walk or run; and she has stuck to it. Not wealth, she’s not shallow, although I’m sure any woman would swoon for excessive wealth (“jet her off to the islands”) but not if it comes with infidelity. Attention? She sees right through that thanks to her first (and often second) exes doing “bait and switch” after the wedding or the kids. By this stage in her life she often just wants to be left alone to enjoy her career or retirement, her interests, her grown children and her grandchildren that are sprinkled around the country like fairy dust. She often heaps her love on her lumbering dog or doted upon cat.

As the saying goes: She needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.

A self-reliant woman that needs a man is a contradiction. Its Bernie Madoff’s safe, high yield investment or delicious, low calorie cake frosting. Simply put, if its one its not the other. But I am new at this quest, and I still have a lot of work to do. I certainly will see.

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