The Fifth Stage of Divorce

Happy Valentine's Day! Hope yours wasn't too hellish. I did something different tonight: Went to a Moth "Story Slam" and told a "Love Hurts" story. (Yes, I have hellish tales in multiple categories.)

I had to go first and I came in second - not bad for a storytelling virgin. It was exhilarating, except that even now, almost three hours after I spoke, I still feel like throwing up. Public speaking doesn't scare me, but it does sort of make me sick.

Without further ado, here is my story.

In 2007 my marriage of 19 years ended and I had to confront the five stages of divorce. I’ve made it through the first four:

Bargaining and

I think of this as a sort of Rip Van Winklevoss period – that’s where you wake up to find that someone shockingly young has stolen something valuable from you. You do get compensated, but somehow, no matter how much you get, it never feels like enough.

And now I’m in the fifth stage, dating. I’ve adjusted to the differences between dating in the ‘80s – the last time I was single – and dating now. They seem mostly related to hair removal and dating technology. I’ve learned how to write a compelling online dating profile. What I haven’t quite figured out yet is how to read between the lines of others’ profiles. I specialize in the unemployed masquerading as the high achiever, the obese masquerading as the “height-weight proportional,” the alcoholic masquerading as the social drinker, the married masquerading as the single.

I’ve done a lot of dating since my separation, the vast majority what I call one and dones, because once is definitely enough. But even given the low bar, only one gets the distinction of being the worst of the worst.

It happened in Laguna Beach in the summer of 2009 where a friend and I were spending the weekend. I was pretty discouraged by dating in LA at that point, so I figured I’d give the OC a try. I went on OK Cupid and hit it off with Mark, whose picture showed him with a golden retriever – and a baseball cap, to indicate he was bald. He threw me a little when he said we looked like we might be cousins and asked about my ethnic background. I told him my ancestry was English, German, Irish and Italian; he was full-blooded Scottish. And so, potential incest off the table, we scheduled coffee, at a little bakery across PCH from my hotel.

We met at about noon. His golden retriever looked just like her picture, but I can’t say the same for Mark. Yes, he was wearing a baseball cap. But his face had three or four little bandages; he said he’d just had some “things” removed. But I didn’t care - it’s not so much about looks for me. It’s the conversation I was interested in.

After some small talk about the dog and Laguna and Michael Jackson’s recent demise, he started telling me about himself. He was a retired foot surgeon. He lived on a golf course in a gated community just south of Laguna and had sold his practice just before the recession hit. He was quite smug about it: his timing had been great and now he didn’t have to deal with anyone unless they could make it past his gates.

It was clear that Mark and I, a devoted Democrat, were not soulmates. Hell, I liked his dog more than I liked him. Even asleep under the table she had more personality. I was listening politely and plotting my escape when this came out of his mouth: “To quote Hitler, we used to have a Jewish problem, now we have a Muslim problem.”

I’d like to tell you that I leapt to my feet, threw coffee at his bandaged face and yelled, “You’re a facist asshole!” before fleeing down PCH. But I didn’t. I just sat there, stunned, then angry – yet still polite. It took at least five minutes before I could stammer out something about how I had to get back to the hotel, and left, his original question about my ethnicity replaying in my head.

I called my friend as I walked back to the hotel. I told her I was starving and needed food and especially a drink, and that she wouldn’t believe what had just happened. She promised we would start drinking as soon as I got there, and we hung up.

I got to the crosswalk leading directly to the hotel, checked for cars and stepped out. I almost made it to the double-yellow line when suddenly an impatient driver whipped around a waiting car and hit me. I don’t remember the impact, but I vividly remember the lifeguards swarming around me once I came to. Someone told me there were nine of them. They asked me if I knew what day it was, and I did; if I knew my name, and I did. Then they asked me if I knew who the president was. I actually yelled, “Yes! Barack Obama! I have his sticker on my phone!” I wanted those OC-ers to know I wasn’t one of them. They were obviously trying to kill me, all those lifeguards aside.

After a trip to the ER and the kind of tests that might have saved Natasha Richardson, I spent some time limping and in pain, but I never complained. As bad as I felt, at least I got out of Laguna, and I never had to see Mark again.

After almost five years of dating, I’ve reached the real final Kubler-Ross grieving stage, acceptance. At my age, being picky – in other words, holding out for someone honest and self-supporting and not racist – means I might die alone, and I accept that. Just please don’t let it be in Orange County.

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