Tuesday, April 26, 2011


This is the last in a series of posts I started on this topic on April 15. To see them all in order, click on "April" in the right column. Enjoy! (And I'd love to hear your feedback...thanks!)

My dad (from heaven): I’ll finish with the most heart-felt and life-changing lesson of all...the one I learned from my Dad after he’d already passed away. I was Dad’s first-born child and the “apple of his eye” according to my Mom. As she tells it, he would come home from work every day excited to see me and loved to play with me when I was a baby. Soon, though, within the next 6 years, four more babies were born, and Dad had other obligations and distractions. And, because he worked the 4 pm to midnight shift, I didn’t get to see him much. He was busy with one of five things every weekday and weekend: working, sleeping, taking Mom to the grocery, doing yard work or home improvements, or pursuing hobbies with his buddies. We only went on one family vacation I can remember.

During my grammar school and high school years, Dad was supportive enough and interested in seeing my report cards, but I don’t remember him praising me about my accomplishments or telling me that he loved me. Then, when it was time for me to apply to college, he was ambivalent. He had never attended college himself, and he didn’t have the money for higher education for all five kids, so he thought it best if just the two boys went to college. “The girls are just gonna get married anyways,” he said. There was no need to send my two sisters and me.

I was very upset when Mom told me this. I pleaded with her to help Dad see that I had worked hard to qualify for college and had career aspirations that made college necessary. Finally, to her credit, she convinced him to let me go...but only if I could get a scholarship. I did get a scholarship, earned a B.A., and got a good job. But none of this ever seemed to be all that impressive to Dad (probably because, growing up, there was no emphasis on college in his family). I know he was at my high school graduation, but I don’t remember him sounding particularly proud. And he died 3 months before my college graduation. So I have no idea how he would have reacted to that...or my completion of graduate school 2 years after that and starting my own business at age 30.

So, imagine my surprise when, many years later during a meeting with a clairvoyant and medium whose book I was editing, I was told that my dad (dead for over 20 years at that point) was standing near me waiting to give me a “message.” It seems he knew this female medium could relay communications from him to me, and he wanted to pass something along. I’ll never forget what she said: “Your father wants you to know how proud he is that you’re going to write that book.” At that time, the book I eventually wrote was just an aspiration in the back of my head, a dream on the back burner. “And he says he’s sorry he wasn’t really there for you when you were going through school. He loves you and is very proud of you.”

Wow…I was in shock! These positive validations from a father who’d been only minimally involved in my life for 21 years before he died and who had never really affirmed his pride in me before…this was amazing! Plus, he “knew” I was planning to write a book...absolutely remarkable! These words of pride and encouragement were EXACTLY what I had been longing to hear from my father all my life. I immediately broke down into tears of happiness about this gift of an unexpected miracle. For the entire 30-minute car ride home, I couldn’t stop sobbing. I felt my father’s caring and affection on a very deep level, and I felt more fully alive, loved, and cherished than I had in all my 42 years.

This expression of love from the first and most important man in my life came at a low point in my post-divorce dating life and my self-esteem, when I was working very hard to connect with men in a way I never had with my Dad. I desperately wanted a deep connection with a man that helped me value and love myself just the way I was.

So, Dad’s timing was perfect...and the lesson he taught me was this: You are loved even if the other person doesn’t say it in words and even if it takes many years to be felt. Even more wonderful: love has no boundaries. It can come to you from “the other side,” and it can come when you least expect it but need it most.

From that moment on, the “father wound” that had, for years, sabotaged my relationships with men, was healed. After that day, I felt worthy of love and truly lovable. And that has profoundly changed—-for the better—-every relationship I’ve had with men to this day.

I am deeply grateful to all 12 of these men for the transformational lessons they brought me. And I invite you to think about the many teachers and mentors in your life and what their insights have meant to you.

Monday, April 25, 2011


This is the 10th in a series of posts started on April 15. Feel free to scroll down to see the other 9 parts.

My son Ross:
My oldest child, Ross, who was born in early 1986, is now a 25-year-old man… on his own, sharing a place with his girlfriend in L.A., working in the film industry as a production assistant and script reader, and even finding time to make music with his band and to make movies with some film friends from grad school. He’s doing what he loves, managing his money well, and saving for his future dreams. I couldn’t be prouder of him, and we get along great.

But there were moments during his teenage years when I had to get on his case about remembering to pay back money he owed me, organize his bedroom, stick to the curfews I gave him, and be more responsible about cleaning up messes from parties he didn’t have permission to throw with friends who drank too much. More than once, Ross reacted to my rules and supervision by saying “Mom, I wish you’d just trust me.” I found it hard to do that, because I tended to focus on the times he didn’t follow through on a promise he made to me or the occasions when he was immature and forgetful.

After a while, though, as he got into his later college years, matured, and became responsible for paying rent and cleaning his own apartment, I noticed that he was getting a lot better about all the things I’d been trying to teach him all those years. And I realized that I could back off and honor Ross’s request to trust him to make the right decisions, based on the guidance his dad and I had given him. He taught me a very important lesson: trust your kids to do the right thing, and they will.

Saturday, April 23, 2011


This is the 9th in a series of posts started on April 15. Feel free to scroll down to read the other 8.

My current husband Jim:
After 8+ years of post-divorce dating, I began using a new tool to connect with potential partners—Internet dating sites. I spent about a year online and met dozens of men within an hour of my house before I wrote to a very nice person who lived just 20 minutes away. Jim had two children near my kids’ ages, a shared passion for outdoor activities, a happy and stable life, and a great sense of humor. He was also fit, active, slender, and attractive. By the time we had that first meeting for a walk at the park, I’d stopped having any expectations about each “prospect” potentially being “the one.” I just knew he had most of the qualities I sought in a partner, was funny and interesting in his e-mails to me, and sounded easygoing and nice on the phone. So I approached our meeting with a laid-back, whatever-happens-happens attitude. And, because I had no particular expectations, I didn’t set myself up for disappointment. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised at how comfortable I felt with Jim right from the start and how smoothly things flowed every time we got together. Within 7 months, we were engaged, and we married almost a year to the day we met.

Ironically, the new “It is what it is” approach I took at our very first meeting would be the #1 lesson I’d learn from Jim in our dating life…and that I continue to learn in our married life. He never judged me during the year we dated, even though I was different from him in many ways and must have taken some getting used to. He has never criticized me in the 6+ years I’ve known him, even though I’ve criticized him at times. His philosophy is: “Everybody’s unique. I have no idea how their background affected their opinions, so who am I to judge?” Luckily, that attitude is beginning to rub off on me—something I’m very happy about, because I’ve been struggling to be less judgmental for many years. Living with Jim, I’m learning to be more accepting and tolerant—of others and of myself. And that certainly is a more peaceful, stress-free way to live life.

Friday, April 22, 2011


This is the 8th in a series of posts on this topic, started on April 15. You can scroll down to see the first 7 parts. This is about the 4th of 4 men I dated after my divorce who taught me valuable lessons...

4. Matt: My next teacher in the post-divorce dating world was a man named Matt—a fellow Libra who was a couple years younger and similar to me in his health-mindedness and extroversion. He also shared several of my interests and had a great sense of humor. We got along fine for a while, but after a few weeks, I noticed that he wasn’t usually willing to drive the 40 minutes to my house—or even meet me halfway—for our dates. He often expected me to shuffle my hectic schedule with my two kids and drive to his house at his convenience. The clincher came when he got terribly drunk at a formal affair he took me to and expected me to drive him home and take care of him after he got sick in the bathtub of his apartment.

Finally, after feeling taken advantage of for 5 weeks, I said “You don’t respect me at all!” to which he replied “That’s because you don’t respect yourself.” At first, I was angry and hurt. How dare he!

But, after calming down and thinking about it, I realized he was right. I didn’t respect myself if I constantly let him take advantage of me and if I kept kowtowing to please him rather than standing up for myself and setting healthy boundaries related to my schedule and my children. Though what Matt said felt like a slap in the face at the time, in hindsight I saw it as the wake-up call I needed to help me finally, once and for all, change my behavior so I could ask for and get what I wanted and deserved in a relationship. This is a lesson that ultimately helped me fortify my self-respect and self-esteem in a big way...and made future relationships and life in general much easier and more fulfilling.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


This is the 7th post in a series I began on April 15. Feel free to scroll down to see the other 6 parts. This is about the 3rd of 4 men who taught me important lessons during my post-divorce dating years...

3. Rich: A few weeks after the breakup with John, I was exploring various ways to become more centered, self-aware, and at peace with myself. So I was thinking seriously about learning to meditate. And, at a singles event I had organized, I ran into a man named Rich who I knew was a facilitator for men’s personal growth groups and a meditator himself. We chatted a bit about his meditation practice, and I emailed him a couple days later to ask if we could get together for coffee so I could pick his brain about it. Part of me was also attracted to him and thinking that perhaps he’d be someone I’d like to date, but I wasn’t sure I was healed from the breakup with John.

Nonetheless, after that first meeting went well, one thing led to another, and I found myself dating Rich. He was a few years older than me, intelligent and well read, interesting to talk to, high energy like me, and into some of the same hobbies, including travel, hiking, and eating healthy. So we had enough in common to make the first few months of dating fun. But soon it became obvious to me that we were very different in terms of sense of humor, personality, temperament, outlook on life, and desire to socialize outside the house. And not long after that, I noticed the fatal flaw in our relationship: we were both controlling individuals who didn’t like being told what to do, and we both had some unrevealed, deep-seated anger and shame that needed to be released before either of us was ready for a healthy partnership.

Because Rich was an experienced facilitator who’d helped many men uncover and release pent-up anger, I believe my psyche attracted me to him so I could do the inner work I still needed to do to get over the pain of breaking up with John and to come to terms with negative feelings toward men from my past. With his help, both intentionally and then as a result of the many arguments we had, he made it possible for me to detoxify my heart and soul by exposing and eliminating years of self-hate, shame, guilt, and rage. It was cleansing and life-changing, but it was also the death knell for the relationship. Again, I’d set up a teacher-student dynamic that killed the joy and passion. However, I learned an invaluable lesson: Buried anger and shame will sabotage any relationship and must be released.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


This is the 6th post in a series I began on April 15. Feel free to scroll down to see the other 5 parts. This is about the 2nd of 4 men who taught me important lessons during my post-divorce dating years...

2. John: For nearly a year between 2001 and 2002, I dated another older man—his name was John. He lived an hour away and had a very demanding job that made it nearly impossible for him to schedule dates with me during the week or more than once on the weekend. And, since I was in a “needy” place emotionally and wanted more togetherness, I volunteered to drive to his place on the weekends when my kids were at their dad’s house…and soon wound up staying most of the weekend.
This worked out fine at first since he was willing to carve out time for me in the first 6 months of the relationship. But soon he was working more and/or tied up with other people or obligations, and I found myself bending over backwards to grab time with him, often at the expense of my own life (meaning I put my own friends and my two businesses, caretaking for my house, and my own personal interests on the back burner). However, because we were both committed to mutual personal and spiritual growth and had many helpful in-depth phone conversations on such topics, I learned a lot about how to co-create a “healing partnership” that benefits both people and so felt OK about the dynamic in the relationship during most of the time we were together. In fact, because of the richness of that experience with John, I now highly recommend that my clients sometimes seek such a healing partnership to help them prepare for healthier dating down the road.

Unfortunately, John didn’t feel as OK about the dynamic in our relationship as I did. When he saw me sacrificing my own life and sense of identity for him, he said “You don’t need to earn love…you ARE love.” From a spiritual perspective, he was telling me that we’re all born with the “divine light” of love as our essence. But, from a practical perspective, he was telling me that it’s not a healthy relationship if one of the people is doing more giving than the other and trying to “earn” his love by catering to him rather than growing to be his equal. And he didn’t enjoy and felt very uncomfortable being in a relationship like that.

So, at the end of our 11 months together, here’s what became clear to me: a partnership where one person feels inferior to the other or looks up to the other as a teacher is an unequal partnership. And inequality kills joy and passion. John, in the teacher role, looked at me more like a student or a child than a self-actualized woman who could be his true partner emotionally and psychologically. He told me he loved me but wasn’t “in love” with me. He loved my spirit and could make love to me physically, but he couldn’t connect with me on a deeper level or envision committing to me long term. That really hurt, and the pain I felt after he broke up with me was deep. But the truth I learned was invaluable: I can’t gain someone else’s love and respect until I love and respect myself…a lesson that helped me avoid such heartache in my future dating experiences.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


This is the 5th part of a series I started on April 15. Please feel free to scroll down to see the first 4 posts.

The 8-year post-divorce dating period was, for me, a time rich with life lessons—things to which my eyes were opened, things that made every future relationship with men (and the relationship with myself) better and easier. There were four men who were particularly influential.
1. Kyle: Kyle was a man 3 years older than me whom I dated for about 6 months. He was very athletic, funny, and smart. But, because he’d never been married or in a long-term relationship, he was very self-focused, inconsiderate, and uncaring. He was also highly opinionated, arrogant, and competitive (both in sports and relationships). Every time we’d have a disagreement, he’d say “You want to win, don’t you? You want me to give in.” He wasn’t able to have a debate of any kind without seeing it as a competition. Because he was naturally competitive, he easily saw that trait in me. When he told me I too was competitive, I balked at first. I’d never been into competitive sports. What he meant, however, was that I wanted to win every argument and always thought I was right.

Again, a man noticed a shortcoming of mine that I hadn’t been able to see. And the lesson that came from that interaction was invaluable. Kyle taught me the deeper meaning of the age-old question: “Would you rather be right or happy?” After breaking it off with him, I realized I attracted competitive men because I too was competitive. And I needed to tone that down if I ever expected to have a smooth-flowing, healthy partnership. That insight helped me in every dating relationship I had after that and is still helping me today in my second marriage.

Monday, April 18, 2011


This is the 4th in a series I began on April 15. Feel free to scroll down to find those other 3 posts (as background for this one).

IN MARRIAGE #1 (1979-1995)
My first husband Pete:
In the 15 years I was married to my grad school sweetheart, I learned a lot about men, myself, and relationships. Being married, of course, I learned a lot about what love and commitment really mean. But, the most-valuable lesson Pete taught me was this: I have what it takes to be my own boss and run my own company. As with the grad school experience, being self-employed was something I’d never considered. I’d worked in two corporate jobs after school and saw myself as a “team player”—not an entrepreneur.

But, when Pete left his corporate job a year into our marriage to open his own audio-visual production company, I got a firsthand look at how to start and run a business, do the marketing needed to attract clients, and handle the accounting, tax, and financial aspects involved with being an independent contractor. And he had enough faith in my abilities to ask me to be his business partner—a huge self-esteem boost, I must say, at age 30. I assisted him with many of the above-mentioned tasks as part of the company we ran together and learned the ins and outs of operating a small company. Even more valuable, though, was what I learned about surviving the inevitable ups and downs and ebbs and flows of being an entrepreneur in fluctuating economic times.

Since I’m still an entrepreneur (now running two businesses), what I learned from Pete serves me very well today too. But it was truly life-saving back in 1995 when I left our marriage and became a single income earner again. When you’re self-employed and don’t know when your next paycheck will come, you learn to be not just flexible but also innovative, patient, and resilient. The most important things I learned were to NOT worry about cash flow and to always have a backup plan. Everything would eventually work out if I just kept networking, working hard for my current clients, contacting potential clients, and maintaining a positive outlook. And, if things didn’t work out, I’d find a full-time job.
P.S. I never had to look for a full-time job. For 16 years, things have worked out just fine.

Sunday, April 17, 2011


Two college professors: Speaking of self-esteem, two self-esteem-building lessons came from different male professors in my senior year of college. Within a week of each other, a professor who’d had me in several English lit classes and a prof who’d taught my film history and criticism classes told me they thought I should go to graduate school. This was something I’d never considered. Perhaps I thought I didn’t have what it took to get through grad school. After all, I was the first person in my family to even go to college. In any event, with the vote of confidence from two men I really admired, I felt confident and empowered enough to explore grad programs and ultimately earned an M.S. in Radio-TV-Film. From them, I learned that others notice your potential and your natural talents when sometimes you don’t. And it pays to take what they say to heart.
P.S. Graduate school led me to meeting my first husband AND landing my first job as a promotional writer. So I’ll be ever-indebted to those two wonderful, caring instructors who took the time to mentor me, so I could stretch myself in new directions and, ultimately, create more success than I ever envisioned personally and professionally.

Saturday, April 16, 2011


My first boyfriend John: When I was a sophomore in college at age 19, I met my first love—a man named John. We had a ton of fun together (again, with a lot of affectionate yet sarcastic banter), and I learned about sexual love from him (and will always be grateful for what a gentle, patient teacher he was at that milestone moment in a young woman’s life!) I also learned how to cope and get stronger emotionally in a long-distance relationship (during summers away from college when the one-hour distance between our family homes limited our dates to once a week). Expressing our thoughts and feelings on the phone and in letters made this easier…and helped prepare me for another long-distance relationship I’d have 5 years later when I met my first husband.

What I remember more than anything else, though, is the two-fold lesson John taught me about selflessness and self-righteousness during our first Christmas together. I had taken quite a bit of time to carefully choose a few little gifts that I was anxious for him to open. I gave them to him that cozy winter evening with childlike glee, figuring he too would be excited about giving me whatever he’d picked out. But, when he saw my gifts, he simply said “I’m sorry; I didn’t get you anything.” I immediately teared up and felt crest-fallen. I said something about how I couldn’t believe he forgot to get me a Christmas gift, and that’s when he said “Oh, Gayle, I was only joking; of course, I got you something.” Though we’d always had a playful relationship, for some reason it didn’t cross my mind that he was kidding around, and I didn’t find this particular joke funny. In addition, I was embarrassed because he made me feel guilty for sounding selfish.

So, the lesson was this: Christmas is a time for giving; it’s not about receiving. And, from that moment on, I made a conscious effort to remember that. Ever since then, I’ve taken FAR more joy from buying or making things for others and hardly ever think about what I might receive.

The second lesson came after I saw one of the two gifts John had selected for me. It was a beautiful little necklace with an owl on it, and he said with a sly grin “That’s because you think you know everything.” Again, I was crest-fallen. I knew his sarcastic comment was intended in a spirit of fun, but, underneath, I thought: “Maybe he’s trying to tell me I’m too opinionated and outspoken.” I did my best to look happy with the gift, but inside I was hurt (partly because, in those days, my self-esteem wasn’t very strong). I learned that night that sometimes people use off-handed ways to tell you things they can’t tell you directly (but really want you to know). And it was a turning point for me because it made me aware that I could sound like a “know-it-all”—and that didn’t endear me to other people. From then on, I tried to tone down my self-righteousness, something that continues to be a work in progress today.

Friday, April 15, 2011


This is the first of a series of pieces I'll post on this topic over the next week or so. I hope you enjoy them. I look forward to hearing your feedback...

Have you ever thought about the people from whom you learned the most in your life? And, if so, were most of your greatest teachers women or men? As I look back on my 57 years on the planet, the list of males who taught me life-transforming lessons is definitely longer than the list of females.

Maybe this is because we don’t think of our fellow women as teachers (even though the majority of grade-school instructors for Baby Boomers like me were females). In my case, I think I tend to take for granted the words of wisdom imparted by my mom, girlfriends, sisters, and female coworkers, colleagues, professors, and bosses because women tend to share these types of conversations amongst themselves all the time. We’re always learning valuable little tidbits from each other, but, as I’m writing this, not many things I’ve learned from women stand out as earth-shatteringly profound.

When it comes to men, however, I’ve noticed that many of the lessons I learned from them DO stand out and have made a deep impression. Interestingly, most of what they taught me was not from their words but, rather, from their actions, role-modeling, the experiences I shared with them, the support they gave me, or the outcomes of the interactions I had with them.

My brother Tony: In the early years, I think I learned the most from my brother Tony. He was 6½ years younger than me, so I was asked to play the role of “Mommy’s helper” for many years. From that experience, I learned not just the logistics of caretaking but the purity of love. I felt for him like most mothers feel about their children: protective, deeply connected, and very caring. But, because he looked up to me as his oldest sibling, I also learned what it felt like to be admired and respected.

Tony and I had a really special relationship based on laughing at the same goofy TV shows, a love of the outdoors, a sarcastic way of bantering back and forth and teasing each other, and an ability to call each other on the carpet for our idiosyncracies. We even wrote funny letters to each other when he was in college in the mid-70s. And he walked me down the aisle when I married the first time in 1979 (since my dad had died in 1975)—a bittersweet memory, since Tony himself died in a head-on car collision just 6 months later when he was barely 20.

Shortly after that, I learned another valuable lesson from Tony, when a teddy bear he had given me seemed to speak my name in his voice one rainy night while I sat reading in bed. The lesson: love is eternal; the soul lives on. Those who loved you will always be with you, even after passing away from the earth. Later, with the help of a medium, I got other messages from Tony—that he was alright, at peace, and wanted to help me any way he could. His enduring love—and just knowing he was there for me whenever I needed him—sustained me through many rough times in life after that (especially as I struggled during and after my separation). And I truly believe my prayers to Tony and my Dad (my angels on “the other side”) helped bring my second husband Jim into my life at age 50, after many frustrating years of post-divorce dating.