Sparking Joy

It wasn’t a clean break. The space I was trying to build with someone else is still a work in progress because we weren’t ready to let go yet. It’s currently relationship limbo. That nebulous space where you know something is there, but nobody knows what it is, exactly. It seems I’m the kind of person who needs the security of a label. ‘Single, but dating’? ‘It’s Complicated’? I don’t know how any of this relationship stuff works, which is no small irony considering the career and life path I’ve chosen.

I’m taking until the end of this lunar cycle on the 31st to feel my way through to the next steps with this one. Do I keep trying? Do I start to let go and begin to date other people? Do I end it completely and take a break? It’s been challenging, and a few certainties have emerged. I’m certain I need to put the vast majority of my energy towards mom life and school. I’m certain that there are specific personality types/behaviours that trigger incredible anxiety for me in relationship. I’m certain that I’ve lost my sense of joy.

Losing my joy is frankly scary. I blame nobody but myself for this. My ability to find joy, or at the very least, beauty in every day is what gets me by. I’ve been so consumed in this relationship puzzle, and in fact, the relationship puzzle at large, that I’m losing the wonder of each moment. Why have I made finding romantic love so important? Is it because I feel that it ultimately eludes me? Is it because I’m afraid of being alone? Am I trying to prove my worth through someone else? Am I trying to justify the terrible heartbreak I weathered with a shiny prize in the bottom of the box?

My wise friend Paje recently said ‘don’t look for a relationship, but let a relationship emerge if there’s going to be one’. This was like a small explosion in my brain. I should not compromise or commit exclusively until I am completely sure that there is something real emerging. Something real and mutual.

So, it’s back to the foundation again. My foundation. The qualities and choices that lead me to my higher purpose; to the kind of woman I want to be. She is strong, loving, independent, wise, generous, sensual, inspiring. She wants someone who will celebrate this with her the way that her dear friends do. The way that she celebrates the wonder of the people she loves. Someone who has the space in their life to actually see her, and know her worth. Is that really possible here?

Maybe I was too hungry for this idea of a relationship. Maybe the Universe knows that I’m not ready for a relationship right now, even if I believe otherwise. Maybe it’s a bad time to eat when you’re starving because that’s when you make choices that aren’t so healthy.

It’s a gray day here, but the heat has broken. I’m moving through this Monday sifting for joy in the mundane. I feel lucky that I can work from home and spend the morning sipping amazing coffee without worrying about what I look like. I feel, for a brief moment, the sweet buzz of an excellent energy exchange the night before. I take note of the fact that the sight of my belly in this clingy dress doesn’t bother me as much as it usually does. I give thanks for the low cost of repairing my punctured tire (thanks Peninsula Tire). I’m happy for good food for lunch. There’s a coffee date with my lovely friend Kate to look forward to. Maybe I’ll buy myself a birthday dress at the outlet mall. I’ll get to see my kids later, even if it’s just for a little visit. I’ll think of my free evening as an opportunity to catch up on my studies. Don’t dwell. Keep on moving forward.

Each day I need to wake up and promise myself that my priority will be searching for the good and the beautiful. Even if the day has only tiny morsels to offer up. Can you believe, after everything I went through last year, that I would allow myself to lose sight of my worth? To lose sight of the sparkle I’ve fought so hard to recapture? It happens to the best of us, doesn’t it? We take for granted our own priorities until suddenly we don’t even feel like ourselves anymore.

Here’s a little exercise. My therapist, James McQueen taught me this one, and I revisit it again and again. James introduced me to Acceptance and Commitment therapy (or ACT) and I really love the hands-on approach to mindfulness that ACT offers:

Divide a page into four quadrants.

In the bottom right quadrant, make a list of the core values that are most important to you. Also list the people who are most important in your life. 

In the bottom left quadrant, list all of your behaviours and feelings (including self-talk phrases) that take you away from your values. 

In the top left list all of the ways that you manage any emotion or behaviour that takes you further away from these values. 

In the top right quadrant, create a list of things you can do to manage the behaviours and bring yourself closer to your core values.       
    
You can apply this exercise to life in general, to your career, to any specific relationship, or to relationship as a concept. This entire blog is a testimony to the power of writing things down when you’re trying to manifest change, and there’s real power in revisiting the words you’ve committed to the page.     

For more information about ACT, you can visit this site There’s lots of excellent free resources here too.

And so, as I launch into birthday week (I’m a Leo, we don’t just have one day) I’m on the hunt for that which I can delight in. What are some tiny things that you do to spark your own joy?                                                                                                                                                  

On Love and Boundaries

My baby mama and I were commiserating about romantic relationships under the blazing noon heat of our son’s baseball game. “You need to get better at protecting your heart,” she said “You fall in love too big and too fast.”

This isn’t always the case, but when I love someone, I don’t hold back. Is this foolish? Maybe. Does it open up the potential for hurt? Sure. But let’s be honest for a moment, shall we? If you have those deep feelings for someone, even if it’s the easy-to-confuse infatuation and chemical response that sometimes feels like love, does hiding that emotion make the hurt any less if things don’t work out? Does hiding the hurt really make it disappear? We all know the answer is a negative. We all know that emotions are powerful, whether or not we think we have them in check.

I will not stop falling in love the way that I do. I’ve even started expressing that love, when I feel it, with zero expectation of reciprocation. My motivation here is the fact that we all seem to need love, now more than ever, and everyone seems terrified of vulnerability. My other motivator, which frankly is the strongest motivator in my life short of my awesome children, is having seen death up close so many damn times. 

I love you. You have a beautiful soul. I’d love to share my life with you, because it’s going to be much shorter than I think. I need you to know that I love you because you deserve that love, and we never really know what might happen.

Giving this love away costs me absolutely nothing. It feels beautiful to put it into the world. Into someone else’s heart. The well of love is bottomless and the pain of trying to love doesn’t come from sharing love without fear. It comes from sticking around when safety isn’t created.

Let’s not confuse safety and danger, friends. I’m not talking about abuse or neglect, though those things are obviously going to make loving space unsafe. I’m talking about those challenges to your personal boundaries that don’t feel okay. Are you familiar with your personal boundaries? If not, it’s time to get real intimate with them. 

Personal boundaries are formed when you have a clear sense of what you need to feel safe in romantic space. I’ll give you my list, so it can inspire you to contemplate one of your own:

Transparency
Emotional awareness
Honesty
A desire for clear communication
Responsibility
Self-care/ a health-conscious mindset
Strong family values
Respect
A deep appreciation for sexuality
Kindess
The ability to express how they feel about me
Affection (in private and in public)
Personal passions/goals and space for the other person’s
Presence
Humour

This list forms the touchstone that I will now use anytime I try to build space with someone. These are the boxes that have to be ticked. It’s pretty basic stuff, but it’s the stuff that makes me feel like my heart will be treasured in the way it deserves. When any one of things is missing, I know to pause and tap into my intuition and my logic to see what’s happening in the space I have created. This is when difficult conversations happen, and when difficult decisions have to be made.

Sometimes boundaries get tested by good people who are in complicated places in their lives. Or good people who have created walls around themselves because it is devastating and often traumatizing to have your heart broken. My mistake in the past was to excuse the breach of those boundaries out of sympathy for the other person. It’s a confusing situation when you can feel someone’s inherent goodness, yet see them behaving in ways that are hurtful. However, a truth in my life is that it does not serve loving space to stay when my boundaries are challenged. I grow brittle and hard, and behave in ways that are not authentic.

This week I did something I have never done before. I asked someone to step away and take some space to listen to their heart and know what they truly need. This was a scary risk to take, but my intuition was as clear as a girlfriend admonishing me over coffee. ‘You are going to get hurt if things continue like this.’

I approached this conversation with all the love I have. Whatever happens next, I regret nothing. The gift of my heart is one I will never apologize for, or feel badly about giving again because now I can give that gift, and take care of myself. 

There is some pain, and some fear in the waiting. I hurt for the amount of complexity this person is dealing with. I’m afraid if they decide to move on, it will bring up some feelings of inadequacy in me. I feel some loss over the potential I felt that hasn’t been realized. But this is nothing like the kind of heartbreak I have endured. I know I have done what is right for both of us. I know I’m honouring myself in this.

Do yourselves a favour dear ones, and make a list of what you need to feel good and safe when you share your heart. Get real clear on which lines cannot be crossed, and pin your loyalty and commitment to those boundaries first and foremost. Your heart deserves to be treasured and cherished, and I think that only happens when you learn how to do that for yourself.

Polyamory and Monogamous Conditioning

polyamory

I’m on a quest to do more for myself than I’ve ever done before. More healing, more growth, more knowledge and power. I’m tackling each day with as much mindfulness as I can muster, now that the crushing sadness of last year’s heartbreak has shifted.

Today, I’m struck by how deeply ingrained certain patterns are when it comes to romantic relationships. I’ve committed to trying out this polyamory business. This idea of finding meaningful physical and emotional connection outside the parameters of monogamy.
Polyamory (n.) — The practice of participating simultaneously in more than one serious romantic or sexual relationship with the knowledge and consent of all partners 

But there are certain parts of me that seem deeply conditioned for monogamy, and I wonder if there can be space for both. If any of you poly types are reading this, I’d love your thoughts in the comments section below.

Here are a few things that I’m noticing:

I fall for the idea/fantasy I’ve created of someone before really knowing them. I’ve got such an active imagination, and I live for characters. So many times in my life, I’ve fallen into that ‘head over heels’ narrative, only to be devastated when the person I’ve placed on a pedestal reveals their less desirable human frailties. How about I take some time to see if all that surface attraction can be supported by some excellent values and qualities?

I’ve believed that I need a partner in order to be fulfilled romantically. I’ve moved on from thinking that I need a partner to complete me in any way, or to have a richer life. I don’t think that there is one great soulmate that I am destined to be with in this lifetime. However, I seem to be holding on to this notion that if I’m going to share heart and bed space, there needs to be one lover who rises above the rest. I’ve created this idea that I’d like a primary partner.

What if my life could be just as rich without a primary? For those of you who don’t know, a primary partner is the romantic relationship that takes top billing in a polyamorous lifestyle. Not all poly people have a primary, but those who do tend to treat that relationship more like a traditional partnership. Primaries set their own ground rules and boundaries that are mutually adhered to. I’m not anti-primary, but I think I need to shift from feeling that this is an end goal.

I want to fill up all of my brain space and physical space with a new lover who I happen to be excited about. I realize this is largely a chemical response that is driving me to procreate, but still, I’d like to think I’ve evolved past this. Sure, I can feel like I need a cold shower anytime a certain someone blips on my radar (every hour, by my last count), but I don’t have to act on that. Instead of texting incessantly, I can pour that frenzy into my art. Or into self-pleasure. Or a good work out. I love that feeling of delicious passion and attraction, but I’m growing to love my solitude and self-reflection just as much. Sometimes more because I can ugly cry to Netflix shows and fart in bed.

I confuse incredible chemistry with anything other than the chemical reaction that it is. I believe sex is sacred and holy. When I’m in that space with someone, I feel like I’m deep in prayer. I feel the essence of life, and my connection to the universe in that space. This is one of my superpowers. So, I suppose it’s easy to see why, in the very rare moments when I match with someone in a balanced, sober level of attraction, I can get confused.

There’s always the possibility that this delicious chemistry can produce something lasting and precious, but that only happens with time, and careful tending. And seeing people clearly when the fuck fog has dissipated. Amazing sex goggles can be real bastards. What’s more, it is my right to appreciate and enjoy this kind of sizzling sexuality without having to define it or label it to make it more palatable to anyone. Sometimes, people are going to enter my life only to rattle my headboard. That’s totally okay.

I start to set aside my desire to explore other people when I find someone I really click with. I’ve dated people who have basically said ‘if you give your partner permission to be with other people, sometimes that’s all they need in order to be able to walk away from that temptation.’ Testing the boundaries of monogamy to continue to exist in monogamy isn’t really the point. I see how polyamory might be a form of self-protection for me. I haven’t had this much therapy to be blind to that, but I’ve earned the right to protect myself and see how this particular shield serves me.

I believed that I was polyamorous before, and therefore know what I’m doing. Though my last relationship started as a valiant attempt at polyamory, it ended up a lot more like polygamy. The reality is that I did not feel like I had the freedom to explore my own desires in an authentic way, and the lines of communication were not the clear and open channels people need to succeed in the polyamory experience.

I am more interested in a scenario where I get to articulate my own needs and wants, and then realize them. If I end up with a primary, we would both ideally be self-aware and articulate about our needs and desires, and hopefully those would line up well. Meanwhile, I have so much to learn about how to be careful with other people’s pride, their hearts, their fragile egos, their valued needs, while still making sure mama gets the love she wants. 

Lovers who feel they can’t be enough for me. If I have chosen to share space with you, it is because I want to share my own space with you. I don’t need you to fulfill me, or to fill in any of my cracks. Oh wow, I walked into so many crude jokes there, didn’t I?

I want to walk with you, but I don’t need you to hold me up. I’m not comparing you. I’m enjoying your unique skills, insights, dreams, desires. I like the way your energy swirls with mine. The space we share is ours and ours alone. I enjoy what is unique about you.

Polyamory allows people to show up exactly as they are, and offer only what they have. This is only possible when you let go of the notion of one person being everything you need in one partner for the rest of your life. Maybe we’ll keep choosing to walk with each other until we’re done with walking, but I’m not out to find that. I’m out to find me and that’s the lifelong union I’m committed to.

Is this a selfish quest I’m on? Possibly. Could I get a few months into this and decide it isn’t for me? Sure. I’m giving myself that space for authenticity. I will say though, the more I resist my old monogamous patterns – the old ideas that there is another ‘half’ to me in someone else, the more of my own power I see.

I’m not out to break hearts. I think any of my lovers, or potential lovers, will vouch for how clear I’ve been about my journey through polyamory. Our needs and desires aren’t always lining up, but that’s life. I value each of them and the space they have shared with me. I feel a thrill when I think of the new companions I will meet and experience. This feels like an adventure instead of a minefield, and I absolutely love that dating is fascinating, and strange, and fun.

It’s a whole new ballgame when you become your own special someone.

I’m going live on Facebook on January 30th at 9 pm EST to discuss polyamory and to answer your dating, relationship and sex questions. Send me your questions, or suggestions for topics you’d like to discuss below. I promise to protect your anonymity.

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Introducing The Nightcap

At the beginning of September, I invited those of you who are following my Facebook Page to join me live, from my new apartment, for a nightcap to toast my new life.

Your response kind of blew my mind. I feel encouraged to keep going with these live hangouts with you. At the end of the first live session, I invited your questions on life, love, sex, parenting, polyamory, and relationships, and I have some juicy ones to tackle when I return on September 24th at 9:00 pm EST.

To comment during the live cast make sure you’re watching via my Facebook Page between 9pm and 10pm EST. If you’re new to Facebook Live, this link is an awesome primer to help you figure it all out.

I’m off to Frontenac. That sounds like an adventure, doesn’t it? I’ve got a four day writing retreat with my awesome writing group, and I’m going to post a little something here each day. I can’t wait to be near a lake, with my heart wide open.

It’s not too late for more questions for the next Nightcap! You can email me right here with yours. I promise never to use your name, and to respect your privacy.

Here’s my first edition of The Nightcap, in case you missed it:

Five Quick Ways to Feel Better

I’ve had two coffees this morning, but I still can’t think of a strong opening sentence for this post. I’ve got an abundance of cliches rattling around in my head, so why don’t you just pick one on the theme of ‘life’s peaks and valleys’ and insert it here? I’ve been in a valley since mid-October. It’s a new record for me, and it’s not the weather. I’ve run the gamut of feelings about what’s happening for me from scared to resigned, but I’m starting to notice a trend. When I put a bit of effort into lifting myself up, it works. Sometimes it’s temporary, but even temporary is awesome right now. So, for those of you who are enjoying a long walk through the shadowlands, here are five quick ways to feel better.

  1. Move Your Body

    I won’t presume to tell you how to do this. You know what you like, and if you don’t, you’re probably smart enough to figure something out. I’m on a tight budget at the moment, and I’m feeling anti-social most days. Walking has been working well for me. I know it’s February in Canada. If the temperature dips below -10, I wait until the afternoon when the sun has warmed things up to a more palatable -7 and time my 30-40 minute trek to land at the bus stop to meet the kids. I bundle up, and I’ve been listening to audio books because I’d been lamenting my lack of pleasure reading time. The fresh air, the crisp cold, the occasional flash of a cardinal or blue jay at a neighbour’s feeder, these are all helping me have more energy. I feel more connected to the fabric of the universe. Plus it’s breaking up all the time I sit at a desk to work. YouTube has gazillions of exercise videos including yoga and pilates. There’s bound to be something for everyone.

  2. Make a List of Things You Love

    I’m a list junkie. When I die, someone will find lists that cover everything from all the bills I need to remember to pay to reasons why I continue to indulge my love of writing. Instead of resolutions this year, I made a list of ‘Things I Want More Of in 2018’. I didn’t tie this to money or success. I focused on simple pleasures, and things that I know make me happy. Like quality scented candles and journaling. Make your list. Keep it handy. When you’re feeling low, try at least one of the items on the list. Don’t include things that may land you in jail.

  3. Call a Friend

    Do you do hide away from the world when you feel bad? I do. I feel like I’d rather not bore anyone with my tedious problems. I’d rather just deal with things on my own than have to launch into yet another conversation about the things that aren’t going well. It turns out, (and I think there’s probably some science behind this) that bottling up and hiding away is the exact opposite of what we should do when we’re feeling crappola. I’ve been better at this recently, and the trick is not to take up the entire visit with your own pile of messy life stuff. Share a little, and then be an ear to your friend too. Your vulnerability may help them open up, and before you know it, it will be clear that we’re all flawed and we’re all struggling. Then you can both cry or laugh and move on to talking about how much you hate Donald Trump. Before long, you’ll feel like a valued member of the human race again.

  4. Do Something for Someone Else

    One of my favorite ways to get out of my own head is to do something meaningful for someone else. You can start small with this, like helping your kid finish their chores, or shoveling the neighbour’s driveway. Or, you could make a larger commitment, which can sometimes mean you have to leave the house and be around people. You’ll gain some perspective, and get a nice little slice of that connection to a greater purpose business.

  5. Feed Your Body

    Take your vitamins. Set a reminder if you have to. Be aware of the food you choose to consume. If you need a few potato chips to add a bit of joy to your day, have a small bowl instead of a whole bag. Keep a stash of chocolate in your desk, but enjoy a row with tea or coffee, and make a bar last the week. Eat foods that make you feel strong and healthy. Avoid foods that cause bloating and gas. Be aware of what you put into your body, and make clear decisions about how you want to feel. When you have a day where you ‘eat your feelings’ (I have these, believe me), be gentle with yourself and have a re-set the next day. I just realized I forgot my morning vitamins, so I’m going to take those now.

Do you have more to add to these five quick ways to feel better? Share them in the comments below.We’ve all got tried and true methods to lift ourselves up a little.

If you think you might need professional help, don’t be afraid to speak with your doctor. Any mood-altering prescription should always come hand-in-hand with ongoing therapy. The tips above can help, but you may require deeper treatment, and some help with regulating your brain chemistry. I’m not a doctor, but I care about you, and I hope this post was able to bring a bit of light into your day. You can also check out this post on natural ways to boost your energy.