Beginning to Date Again

August 24, 2016

An attractive Hispanic man had referred to his love of Pablo Neruda’s poetry in his profile, and I found myself wondering what it would be like to date a man whose sensibilities included an appreciation for great poets. I pulled a volume of Neruda’s poetry off the shelf next to my computer and scanned it for possibilities. I was looking for a little taste of Neruda that might get his attention. I found what I was looking for and included it in a short message.

He messaged back. After a few more exchanges, we met for lunch and spent four hours talking about his life, my life, and our dating experiences. I liked him. I wasn’t at all sure that there would be chemistry there, but I liked him. Because I had been the one to suggest lunch, I snagged the bill when it came. It was gratifying to pay it. Derek had always paid for our lunches out, in large measure because I had fed him dinners and lunches at my house. And before Derek, the men I’d met had paid for brunch, appetizers, and drinks, though I had offered to pay for half. I did not want the men I saw to feel taken advantage of, and though I could do nothing about the men who had already come and gone, I could at least pay for this lunch and begin to settle the score between mankind and womankind.

We agreed to get together again, and I suggested he give me some ideas as we left the restaurant. He texted later to suggest that we get together that evening to cook, watch a movie at home, or just hang out. If I had wondered about his interest, I need not have. But I didn’t see the text until a couple of hours after he sent it, and anyway, four hours was enough for one day. I suggested we get together the following day for drinks and small plates in my gazebo.

On the massage table the next morning, I filled in my longtime massage therapist, David Kochevar, who also happened to be one of my favorite people in the world. David had seen me through jobs that had come and gone, my apprenticeship, Howard’s time abroad, Howard’s illness and death, my grieving, life as a widow, and numerous pulled and strained muscles. I had been with him as his children grew from infancy to young adulthood. We had shared a lot from the massage table, but I valued him for more than that and even for more than his considerable skills as a massage therapist. We often ended up at the same place where spiritual and metaphysical matters were concerned, though we usually got there from somewhat different starting points. I respected him as a fellow spiritual elder.

So when I mentioned that I was unsure that this latest date and I had much in the way of chemistry between us, he speculated that chemistry might be something that sparked after the initial meeting, that it might develop over time. I admitted that I had been considering that very possibility, which was exactly why I was seeing the man again that evening.

It was a lovely evening in the gazebo. We talked easily and well. And then, when it cooled and dusk was settling in, we went inside. What had been easy and comfortable in the gazebo became a bit more awkward once we settled on the couch. Either it was a matter of mismatched chemistry or it was just too soon for me to welcome any kind of physical closeness with this man. Or both. The evening ended on an awkward note.

And despite some discussion about seeing one another again, we did not. But he did give me several gifts nonetheless. One was the sure knowledge that there were, indeed, good men out there. A second gift was a sense of validation that the chemistry with Derek had been powerful and not easily found with another man. A third was an understanding of what a lack of chemistry felt like. And a fourth was the name of a dating site he proclaimed to like better than the one he’d met me on, a site that was free to use at pretty robust levels, a site with dozens of questions to help its members sort out what might be a good match.

I felt I had nothing to lose, so I logged in and set up a profile.


Note: The name Derek is fictitious and has been used out of respect for the man involved.


Copyright 2016 by Melanie Mulhall



Dating Site Drudgery

August 19, 2016

While I had been dating Derek, I had responded to messages from men on the dating site by saying that I had recently begun seeing someone and wanted to allow that relationship to unfold as it would. Now that I was no longer seeing Derek, I was again responding to messages more personally. It was often a bit difficult. Was I the only woman who got messages from a lot of men who were not remotely a match for her and too few from men who might be? Were any of these men even reading my profile? I had to admit that I was as guilty as anyone else of looking at the photos second only to looking at where the person was from, then looking at the profile. But I did read the profile.

Men from out of state sometimes sent me messages, and when I told them that the distance made them geographically impossible, I often got a second message saying that the distance did not matter. Some of them even said that they would move for love. I wondered how they were planning to discover that they were in love with distance between them and a woman. Would they rely on e-mail exchanges, texts, and phone conversations? How would they determine whether there was any chemistry between them and the woman? Were they planning on periodic trips to visit the woman of their interest?

I had experienced that myself with my late husband, Howard. He was in Colorado and I was in Illinois. We managed with trips back and forth between February and November. Then I moved to Colorado. But there was a big difference between that scenario and the one I imagined with some online guy from California or New York. Howard and I had met and gotten to know each other as friends before the fateful trip to Colorado that made lovers of the friends. Having some man I had never met visit me from out of state was a rather horrifying scenario. I could imagine discovering, within the first five minutes, that there was no chemistry between us. Then what?

I messaged the out of state men back saying that distance actually did matter to me and wishing them all the best. What else could I do? Actually, there was something else I could do, and I did it. I edited my profile to state that I was looking for a Colorado man. It did not eliminate the men from out of state, but it reduced their numbers.

Some of the men who sent me flirts and messages had no photo and no real profile. It was impossible to tell if anything was possible with them, and I usually sent a message back stating something to that effect. Other men just stopped communicating after a few message exchanges. There was no message from them that they saw no point of connection, just no further communication. I had done the same thing a few times, myself, though I avoided it because it just seemed discourteous, but sometimes you just run out of steam and realize the exchange is going nowhere.

Some of the men who contacted me had dating site monikers that were so misguided, I had to wonder what they were thinking, monikers that included the words old, hot, cool, fun, stallion, and even Glock. If the word old was in the moniker, it told me a lot about how they saw themselves. The words hot and stallion suggested a one-track mind and reminded me of the old saying, those who can do; those who can’t talk about it. If a man referred to himself as cool or fun, I muttered to myself, “I’ll be the judge of that,” and wondered how cool or fun they could be if they had to include it in their moniker. As for Glock, the image of a gun did not invoke anything remotely romantic. It wasn’t that I have a problem with guns, I just couldn’t imagine wanting to be with a man whose gun was that important to him, and it made me vaguely uneasy.

I was seeing the same faces and profiles over and over with too little interesting or new. I decided that I needed to keep an open mind. I suspected that my lingering feelings were clouding my ability to be fair to the men in the photos and profiles I was seeing, and I decided to loosen up a bit.

As soon as I did, some interesting things began to happen.


Note: The name Derek is fictitious and has been used out of respect for the man involved.


Copyright 2016 by Melanie Mulhall


Return to Blog Land

August 16, 2016

The e-mail seemed to come out of thin air, and it was like being given clean, fresh air after breathing smog for days. It was five days after the breakup e-mail from Derek. But this e-mail was from someone I didn’t know, a person who was thanking me for my blog.

I had abandoned my blog more than two years earlier on the grounds that I felt it was becoming too didactic. The blog still had a fair number of visitors, mostly because of my 2010 posts on Peru, but I hadn’t even bothered to look at the statistics for a long time.

“I have read your beautiful prose on Living the Dream. What is so astonishing is how tightly my own marriage resembles yours with Howard.

“To the point that just reading your name brings grateful tears to my eyes.

“I only want to say thank you for putting a few stepping stones in front of me when I didn’t know how I could go on.

“Whether you agree or not, I see you as an angel, or at least a kindred spirit, and wish you all the best life has to offer for sharing so unselfishly your wisdom and courage.”

It was signed “Nancy.”

She might have been astonished by what she read in my blog, but my own astonishment in reading her message probably matched it. I had to know who she was and which post or posts she was referring to, so I hit reply and told her I wanted to know more about her and her journey. There was poignancy in her message, and I wanted to know the woman behind it.

In her next message, she revealed that her husband was dying of throat cancer. Home hospice was involved. She said that my story about my experience with Howard’s long illness and death had given her strength. My heart lurched out of my chest and joined her, wherever she was.

This felt very personal to me, and I planned to keep it to myself. But I found myself thinking about something my close friend Sally McDonald had said to me, years earlier. She had told me to write without worrying about who it touched or in what way. My job was to get the words out. I might never know if or how it had affected anyone.

“Years after you are dead,” she said, “someone may refer to something you wrote and say how much it has impacted their life. And you will be gone. You won’t know. And you don’t need to know. Your job is to write. Don’t worry about the rest.”

I also thought about something Marilyn Youngbird had said. Standing very close to me and employing that soft but penetrating look of hers, she said with force, “Your words have power.”

I didn’t recall what had prompted Marilyn’s pronouncement, but these many years later, I did understand that she had not just suggested that my words had power, but that everyone’s words have power, and we should remember that before opening our mouths to speak because their impact can help or hurt other beings. She had been talking about being conscious of the words I used.

I thought about all the people I knew and especially about all the writers I knew. I needed to share the e-mails that had just come to me. So I posted something on Facebook about my e-mail exchange with Nancy and said, “Those of you who write–and there are many of you I count as friends–this post is for you. I want to support you in writing from your heart, from your true self . . . because you never know who you might touch.”

One of my writerly friends, Helena Mariposa, commented on the post saying that she was waiting for me to write on my travels with an open heart. I had used the term “travels with an open heart” in a conversation with her as a way of describing what my online dating experience was all about.

“The travels with an open heart series, if I ever write that, will be very personal and very self-revealing,” I replied on Facebook. “The latest destination is pretty fresh on my heart. New ones unfold even now. I’m not sure I’m ready for it, and it didn’t even occur to me until your comment, but it’s a thought, my friend.”

“Like your grief memoirs weren’t very personal and self-revealing? Hmm . . .” she wrote back.

She had me there. All of my blog posts had been personal and self-revealing, but none more than those on my husband’s illness and death. And I had to admit that there was at least humor in the full contact sport of my dating experiences. My heart was open, but that didn’t preclude unexpected antics and the humor endemic in human experience.

Helena and I took the discussion off Facebook. She argued that there were a lot of baby boomers who were now single and would benefit from my experience, and she didn’t think many people were writing about dating over the age of sixty. And even if they were, she argued that my writing was somewhat unique because it was an extension of my shamanic work. She thought it woke people up to the possibilities.

I had no idea who was writing what about dating because I had not checked into it. And I didn’t know if my writing ever had the potential of waking anyone up. Who was I to do that anyway? I was just a pilgrim going down the same road as everyone else. What I did know I had to offer was a willingness to be real and transparent. But there were risks. Some of the men I dated might not like the idea of going out with a woman who blogged about her dating experiences, even if I promised to leave them out of it. And some men might drop the idea of dating me before it ever had a chance to blossom into an actual date because it would take only a little online research to find my blog. In essence, I thought blogging about my dating experience might scare men off.

But then, it might just weed out the men who didn’t have the kahunas (as opposed to the kahonas) to hang with me.

Derek had opened up one kind of Pandora’s Box for me; Helena was opening another–or at least, she was serving as muse. The more I thought about the idea of blogging about my dating experience, the more I felt pulled to do it.

So thirteen days after the breakup with Derek, I went back into blog land with my first post on dating, a post titled “Travels with an Open Heart.” I was on record with my journey. I felt naked, but strangely, it was a liberating kind of nakedness.

Whatever happened, I was pretty sure that I was meant to blog on this subject, though I really didn’t have a clue why. It didn’t matter. That first post was effortless and fun to write. Maybe I was on to something.


Note: The name Derek is fictitious and has been used out of respect for the man involved. Nancy and Helena Mariposa are real names attached to real people I am blessed to know.


Copyright 2016 by Melanie Mulhall


Back on the Horse that Threw Me

August 12, 2016

I needed the support of a few important women in my life who knew I’d been dating Derek, so after sending my reply to Derek, I e-mailed them with the news. I also e-mailed my best friend, Antonio.

The needed support came quickly. A psychic friend who had picked up on how much Derek liked me believed Derek didn’t know how to deal with the energy coming in that was pushing all of his buttons about relationships and commitment. Others suggested that he was running scared. An apprentice said, among other things, that she admired that I had been clear with myself about not being with a man unless I was having a beautiful affair. As far as she was concerned, I could thank Derek for reintroducing me to the world of amour and then, game on. It was suggested, jokingly, that we could kick his butt. Whatever the truth actually was mattered less to me than having the support of my close women friends and Antonio. And just to stay as open and honest as I’d been all along, I e-mailed Derek’s breakup message and my response to it to a few of these people.

After too little sleep, a medicinal amount of Jameson’s, and a lot of tears, I just wanted to lick my wounds, but I knew myself well enough to understand that what I really needed to do, like it or not, was get back on the horse that had just thrown me. My heart wasn’t into it, but I got back on the dating site, added a photo of myself with a friend in the weight room doing bicep curls, and scrolled through the men showing up when I did a search.

I was feeling pretty centered and calm . . . right up to the moment I saw that Derek was online on the site. I muttered a WTF. This man had said in his message to me that he was simply not ready to date, that maybe at the two-year anniversary of his wife’s death, around the time of Halloween, he would be. Now, less than twenty-four hours after sending that message to me, he was back on the dating site.

I was angry . . . for about five minutes. Then I began to laugh at myself. I was okay with the man being unable to get past his grieving process enough to date, but it annoyed me for him to have moved on from his wife’s death enough to date if it meant he didn’t want to date me? It appeared that as long as I could see Derek as fragile, I could move on, but if it was clear that he had plenty of internal strength, just not directed towards me, I couldn’t handle it. I winced at how small this made me.

Then I gave myself a bit of a break because I realized that a couple of my buttons (and I don’t have many of them) had been pushed: the buttons about being lied to and about being betrayed. Had Derek lied to me in the message? If so, he was not the man I thought him to be, and I should be happy to have him out of my life. Had he been authentic in the moment, but once I was out of his energy field, he realized that he was actually ready to date, just not me? Whatever had happened, I needed to deal with the buttons that had been pushed because the spike of annoyance was more about my reaction to those buttons being pushed than it was about Derek himself.

I had been deflecting men on the dating site while I dated Derek, but now that I was again looking at profiles and had put up a new photo, views and messages began coming in. There was no one I found all that enticing, but I knew that no one was likely to give me that little internal ping so long as my model of the man I wanted was Derek and no one other than Derek.

In an ironic twist of fate, my hair appointment with my stylist, Donna Cristobal, was that evening. My last appointment with her had been the evening before my first face-to-face meeting with Derek. Now, five weeks later, the affair had run its course and I was getting back in Donna’s chair, getting my hair cut again. When I got to her studio, I immediately told Donna what had happened. As she cut my hair, she asked me to articulate what kind of man I wanted. She speculated that I would have an easier time manifesting him if I verbalized what I wanted.

This was metaphysics 101 for me, basic stuff. It was valid, but I also knew that other factors come into play that impact manifestation, including timing and agreements made before entering this life. But it did seem like a good time to rearticulate and refine the qualities and behavior I was looking for, so I verbalized them. She cut, encouraged me, and fed my bruised heart with love and praise about who I am and what I deserve. Donna and I had joked about her being my daughter from another life because there were times when I lapsed into the mother role with her and she lapsed into the daughter role with me. But that evening, the roles were reversed and she mothered me as if I were a teenager who had just had her heart broken by her first real boyfriend.

Among the things I spoke of (and I had a very long list) was my fantasy about cooking with a man. As fantasies went, it was a pretty tame one, but there is such a connection between food preparation and primal sensuality for me that as a fantasy, it evoked a lot of juice. I was stunned when I got home from my haircut to find the potential for that fantasy being fulfilled up a few rungs on the manifestation scale.

It was the first “like” to the weight room photo I’d added to my profile. The message was succinct: “Like a babe with guns!”

I laughed and went to his profile. Among the things he said was that he found cooking a meal and sharing a bottle of wine to be romantic. “Don’t worry, I’ll do the cooking,” he said.

I sent him a message saying that I had liked his babe with guns comment and referred to the profile statement that he would do the cooking for that romantic dinner in. I told him that I was into cooking myself and asked if he would consider cooking with a woman.

“Of course. Cooking with someone would be awesome!” was his quick reply.

It appeared that getting back up on the horse quickly had been a good idea, and it also appeared that my manifestation juices were kicking in.


Note: The name Derek is fictitious and has been used out of respect for the man involved.


Copyright 2016 by Melanie Mulhall


My Reply

August 9, 2016

Whether it was inspired or as insipid as Derek’s message, I did not know as I hit the send key. I probably would never be a good judge of that. But the message was out there.



I read energy and I have discovered in relating to you that I have been able to feel when your thoughts/feelings have been moving towards me and, conversely, when they have been moving away from me. So this missive is not exactly a surprise. I’ve felt some of your struggle over the past few weeks and I have felt the uncomfortable pulling away since Saturday.

There are many things I might say, but I doubt most would be useful. The past five weeks have been a very interesting–sometimes glorious and sometimes disconcerting–experience of transparency for me. That has been facilitated by the fact that you yourself have been pretty transparent. I wouldn’t trade it for the world and don’t plan on being any less transparent moving forward. I thank you for that. I thank you too for that stick of dynamite (journey image) that has ignited something that I’m not closing down. You opened Pandora’s Box, and what do you know, it’s all good inside.

I have seen the confusion masquerading as other things (like fear, guilt, doubt) in you. You have your own process to make your way through and I have been careful to avoid mucking with it. I have found you thoroughly delightful. You are very different from me in a number of ways and similar in others. It has never appealed to me to have a man in my life who is a clone of me, so the differences have been a part of the delight. What works or doesn’t work is part of the great mystery, so please don’t diminish either of us by speculating that “it probably would not work out anyways.” You’re a smarter, more insightful man than that with more integrity (and by that I mean wholeness as well as scruples) than that statement suggests. The mystery always has to work its way out on its own. And what is left after “the infatuation period” (as you put it) is always a part of that marvelous mystery. The crystal ball ability in me could see potential for some very vibrant, lovely things. But potential is just that: potential. Manifested reality is something else again. In any event, the present moment ride itself was pleasing to me. And that adventure was one that resonated for me–but apparently not you.

I’m glad that you had moments with me that were blissful (or at least sound that way from your description). I’m sorry you’ve had moments of angst. I’m sorry for your discomfort in relationship with me, but then, it is not news that not just any man can hang with me. To set the record straight, I wasn’t just starting to fall for you, I started falling (and let myself) from the beginning. But you need not worry about tearing my heart apart (your words). As I have said face-to-face and in writing to you, the alternative to having a broken heart is to have a closed one. And having a closed heart is not a way to be fully, flagrantly, robustly alive. If there is one kind of courage I have developed as a shaman, it is the courage to keep my heart open.

You’re sorry for hurting me–which is an assumption you are making: that I am hurt. Actually, you have read me well enough to know that there are some tears streaming down my face. And thank God for that. I am alive. I’m among the living. Hail and glory to that.

One thing I learned long ago, thanks to loving a man who has been on the other side since 1995 (so no, not Howard and definitely not my first husband) is that even one moment of love is never lost. It reverberates on and on in this universe and a few others (and a few other dimensions too). It is the best of us as humans. So I’m taking nothing back I’ve said to you or felt for you or continue to feel for you. It cannot be taken back anyway. It is already reverberating on and on in the universe.




Note: The name Derek is fictitious and has been used out of respect for the man involved.


Copyright 2016 by Melanie Mulhall



The Breakup

August 5, 2016

There was nothing I would have changed about the way I had been relating to Derek over the almost five weeks since we first connected on the dating site. I had never been so open and transparent with a man, and I not only liked it, I knew there was no retreat from it. When I dated in my thirties, I was a different woman. Since completing my shamanic apprenticeship, I could no longer be anything but myself, and that person was open, transparent, and guileless. And I had completed that apprenticeship many years ago. I would make a very bad poker player.

But by the time I got home from Derek’s house that Saturday morning, I was restless and discontented. I could feel him pulling away. The weather gods gave me a little symbolic confirmation that a wrecking ball was about to hit the nascent relationship by bombarding my yard, flower garden, and potted plants with tiny hail that afternoon. The hail pinged off my skylights as if to taunt me.

I was concerned about Derek being out in the hail on his motorcycle and texted him. He texted back that he was at the fourth bar in the poker run and that he had only gotten a little damp. That was it.

Sunday and Monday were no better. I was busy, but there was an undercurrent of gloom to things. On Tuesday, I was scheduled to do work with one of my apprentices, and as I drummed, journeying her, I felt some of my own power come back into my body. I noted it and set it aside. Then, shortly after my apprentice left, the e-mail came.

Some part of me was incredulous as I read the message because I suspected he might have done little more than change the name on the breakup message he’d sent the woman before me. He had disclosed the fact of that message the night I read the shamanic journey to him, and I had muttered that sending a message instead of talking to the woman had been lame. Apparently, he had not thought it lame enough to avoid doing it a second time.

His message spoke of how good things were when we were together, but that when he was alone, he had no peace. He wondered what he was doing. He could not get comfortable with the idea of being with a woman. He pointed out that he could tell that I was more comfortable in the relationship than him, that I was falling for him, and that it seemed better to end it now instead of later, when we were more invested in one another.

He had been trying to make it work, he assured me, but when he was alone, rattling around in his own head, what he felt was angst instead of exuberance, happiness, and hopefulness. No woman likes to contemplate the fact that the man she cares about feels stressed instead of joyful when he thinks of her. It was a painful read, but it also invoked something in me that rose up. I deserved a man who thought of me with joy in his heart, who adored me, as I adored him, not one who struggled with the very idea of being in relationship with me, or any other woman, for that matter.

We were two very different people, he pointed out. Once the infatuation wore off, he was unsure what would be left.

Ultimately, he said he just thought it was too soon after his wife’s death for him to have a new relationship. He was sorry for hurting me. Perhaps we could talk on the phone once his feelings were better sorted out.

He signed it, “Your friend, Derek.”

I read the message over and over, as if I could cipher something between the lines if I read it enough times. Then I got out a bottle of Jameson’s I’d bought on my way home Saturday. I had a hankering for scotch no more than once a year or so, but when I bought it that Saturday, I had apparently intuited that I might need it soon. Sometimes you just need to be drinking something stronger than herbal tea. Tears running down my cheeks, Jameson’s over ice in my hand, I read the message a few more times.

Then I hit the reply button and, in one of those timeless moments when a person is completely lucid and looking at their situation from a vantage point a bit outside their body, I typed a reply.


Note: The name Derek is fictitious and has been used out of respect for the man involved.


Copyright 2016 by Melanie Mulhall

Slow Spiral Downwards

August 2, 2016

It was a long hike. We took our time on the way down with Derek pointing things out along the way and me stopping to note power spots. We almost stopped our downward trek short of the end. The last bit was just a little trickier than the rest, and I suspected that Derek thought it might be more than I could handle. Actually, nothing on the hike was more than I could handle, though it had been a while since I’d been on a hike, and we were hiking at an elevation that was fifteen hundred feet higher than my home turf. I’d climbed fourteeners and hiked at higher and more difficult elevation than this. It was not a big challenge. So I expressed my desire to press on to the end, and we did. The view down to the creek and along a small ravine was breathtaking. It was easy to understand why Derek built that trail, but I was still in awe that he had managed it with his own two hands.

On the way back up, we took a different path, past some powerful grandfather trees and alongside a shooting range he had set up. Harley romped along with us, behind us, and sometimes ahead of us. Rubicund went off on his own little adventures but managed to stay relatively close to us.

Once back at the house, we cleaned up a bit and Derek set about preparing dinner, which was to consist of prepared salads he’d purchased somewhere and beer brats he would cook on the grill. He actually gave me a choice between frozen pizza (his standby party/company food) and the brats. Fresh brats trumped frozen pizza in my mind. I knew that Derek had few cooking skills, and while cooking was important to me and I had long fantasized cooking with a man, the lack of culinary expertise just did not matter in that moment. I was with him, at his house, and he was preparing dinner, for me, to the extent of his skills.

But the dinner was a somewhat sullen affair. We sat at the kitchen table across from one another with little of the usual conversation between us. Derek, whose habit was to talk about everything, all at once, all of the time, was strangely quiet. I was so taken aback by this that while I have seldom been accused of having noting to say, I found myself struggling to keep a conversation going.

After dinner, Derek showed me his RVs, both the one he had yet to sell and the new one he had purchased. A week or two earlier, he had asked if I would be willing to accompany him on a kayaking outing, a yearly trip he made to assist in teaching new kayakers. He planned to take his new RV and park it at a campground instead of roughing it with a sleeping bag and a tent. There would be others at the campground for me to interact with while he was working, and the evenings would be fun gatherings. I had never stayed in an RV anywhere, but I had no hesitation in saying I would love to go. His asking the question had been a gesture suggesting he was willing to at least consider inviting me into his life a little. And I wanted to be invited into his life as much as I wanted to invite him into mine. Now I was getting a look at the RV.

Back inside, we retired to the living room. He put on some rowdy music and we got into snuggling mode. But there was something a little discomfited about it, as if he was going through the motions but not quite fully into it. He eventually jumped up from the couch and began dancing by himself. I’d heard stories about him dancing in his living room, by himself and with his daughter, but this was my first experience of it. I was known to dance to Diana Krall in my office and dance to Coldplay while getting myself together in the morning, so the idea of dancing in the living room seemed perfectly natural to me.

Except that it didn’t quite look that way. The look on Derek’s face was intense. He didn’t seem to be dancing freely, without inhibition. He seemed to be dancing for his life, or more accurately, dancing to avoid his life.

Derek had represented himself as a man of action in the action-packed part of his life. After several years of being with a woman who had cancer, a remission, and then a recurrence of cancer that led to her death, getting fully back into action made perfect sense to me. It was getting back into life, demonstrating relief at being among the living . . . wasn’t it? Now what I was seeing made me wonder if at least some of that activity was a means to avoid his life, not live it.

Compassion for him welled up in me. And I wanted to be a part of his reclamation.

I had been up since 3:30 a.m. When I asked for some music that was a bit less rowdy, Derek assumed I wanted something slow enough to dance to with him. We had done that in my kitchen the first night he came to dinner, so it was a viable guess on his part. But I admitted that after a long day, the rowdy music was wearing me out, just a little.

He led the way to the bedroom, but something was lacking. There was none of the absorption with one another that had marked our previous trysts. He seemed uncomfortable, and because of that, I felt awkward. I stepped out of the bedroom and onto the adjacent deck for a few gulps of fresh air and a look at the stars. He followed me and put his arms around me. I was struggling with something I wanted to say. I knew that I was at risk of blurting out my budding love for him when we were in a clinch, and I didn’t want it expressed in that way at that time. Yet I knew that vocalizing my feelings in this moment carried its own risks. Things felt a little out of resonance between us.

Ultimately, I reaffirmed my commitment to myself to be open-hearted and transparent in this relationship. And hadn’t that been the case thus far? Mostly? I turned towards him, looked up into his eyes, and told him I was falling in love with him. I had no expectation that he would follow suit, I just needed to express my own feelings.

“Aren’t you just feeling infatuation,” he asked. ” We’ve only had . . . what . . . six dates? Aren’t we still in the infatuation phase?”

Actually, it had been more than six dates when we included his lunchtime visits to my house, which I considered to be dates.

“Call it anything you want. I call it love,” I replied, smiling like the woman in love I was.

We went back inside and into his bed. The lovemaking was a bit less romantic and a bit more results oriented than before. And he fell asleep before me, though he routinely stayed up late.

The next morning, he had a charity ride, so our time together was limited. He made coffee and was attentive, but I felt more like a houseguest than a lover.

When I got into my car to leave, he set off on a walk with Harley. As I passed them, he grinned and waved, but what settled into my bones was the suspicion that he was glad to have me gone.


Note: The name Derek is fictitious and has been used out of respect for the man involved. Likewise, the names Harley and Rubicund are fictitious, and once again, I sincerely hope that the dog and cat given those pseudonyms will forgive me for taking that liberty.

Copyright 2016 by Melanie Mulhall




At Derek’s House

July 30, 2016

While Derek had been to my house a number of times, I had yet to spend time at his. That fact was commented on during the dinner party with friends, but whether that inspired an invitation or he was just ready to have me over, I was not sure. The plan was for me to come the following Friday afternoon, around 3:00 p.m. He would work from home that day and break off when I arrived.

I didn’t really know what he had in mind. I had told him I wanted to hike the trail he’d cut. Would we do that? Did he mean for me to stay for dinner? The evening? The night? Because I had no real idea, I planned for any eventuality but kept what I brought with me to a minimum.

I was looking forward to seeing his home. When he had arrived at my house for that first dinner together, he’d said, “I don’t believe you live here.” I was a bit taken aback and asked why. He said that my house was covered with south-facing windows like his. He later sent a photo, and I could see that there was a certain similarity between our two houses. Natural light was as important to him as it was to me.

But the visit was more important than the house itself. I wanted to see how he lived. I wanted to meet his dog, Harley, and his three cats, especially Rubicund, the cat who had assumed my position on Derek’s lap in the photo he’d texted me. I wanted to hike Derek’s trail with him. I wanted to experience him on his home turf.

It was not a short drive to Derek’s house, but it was a beautiful one. He lived in the foothills, a ways up a canyon followed by a steep ascent to his perch at the top of a hill. The stream adjacent to the road was high and running fast. It looked like good kayaking for him.

When I arrived at the agreed upon hour, I rang the doorbell and got no response. I rang it again. Still no response. Based on the vehicles in the driveway, it appeared that he was home. I had a fleeting thought that he might have changed his mind about my coming to his house, might not have wanted me there. I knew him well enough to know that he would not simply avoid answering the door if that was the case, so the thought seemed just a little paranoid and irrational. Still, I knew that I was able to pick up on Derek’s feelings empathically, so I put my feelings aside without dismissing them.

I finally tried the doorknob, found the door unlocked, and stepped in to the sound of barking dog, quickly followed by the man himself. “Harley lets me know when someone is at the door,” he explained when I told him I had only walked right in after getting no response to the doorbell.

He was not quite finished with work, so I entertained myself by checking out the books in his bookcases. As a writer, what people read is always of interest to me. Books that had clearly been his late wife’s choices were among the titles. I called out author names and asked who had been a fan of that particular author, and I was mildly surprised by some of his choices. I knew he was a fan of one particular mystery writer, but he also read some pretty potent literary fiction. I reminded myself that the man interested me for reasons beyond chemistry.

When he put the work aside and we went upstairs, I presented him with a small gift I’d brought: soap I had made and infused with love, packed in a tin of French origin. He said he had a gift for me too, left for a moment to get it, and hid it behind his back, making me reach around him–a wholly appealing requirement–to feel the package and guess at what it was. Long and thin, I had no idea and made a joking guess. What he pulled out from behind his back and handed me was a surprise: trekking poles. I didn’t tell him I already had an expensive pair of Leki trekking poles. I hadn’t brought them because it hadn’t occurred to me that I would need them to hike his trail. But even switchbacked, the trail was steep and rugged in places. Trekking poles were a good idea. I found it the most thoughtful gift I’d been given in a long time and told him so.

Fortunately, I had brought my hiking boots. I like being surefooted when hiking, and they were definitely an advantage. After a quick tour of the house, I changed into them, adjusted the poles to my height with his help, and took off with him, Harley, and Rubicund on the trail. People take their dogs on hikes all the time, but a cat? This was the first trail-hiking cat in my experience. The cat lover in me liked the idea of it, and I liked the cat. As for Harley, he was irresistible. It was pretty much love at first sight with Harley, just as it had been with his master.

The trail was more extensive and more impressive than I could have imagined. I was stunned by the raw work and love that had gone into it, stopped on the trail at one point, and put my arms around him when he turned to me. “You’re my hero,” I said, and meant it. He lit up with the praise.

He had seemed a bit nervous and edgy up to that point, as if he didn’t quite know what to do with a woman on the turf that had been occupied solely by men–human, canine, and feline–since his wife’s death. Perhaps this little shift in response to my heartfelt praise would settle into a sense of relaxation and comfort in my being at his home with him.

Unfortunately, that was not to be the case.


Note: The name Derek is fictitious and has been used out of request for the man involved. Likewise, the names Harley and Rubicund are fictitious, and I sincerely hope that the dog and cat given these pseudonyms will forgive me for taking that liberty.


Copyright 2016 by Melanie Mulhall




The Roller-Coaster Ride

July 26, 2016

I found myself on the kind of emotional roller coaster I hadn’t experienced in over thirty years. Most of the time, I had a smile on my face and felt like I had been given a therapeutic dose of oxygen. I was smitten; Derek was smitten. Together we could probably light up the Denver metropolitan area just from the raw energy of it. During what at first appeared to be random moments, my heart would well up with affection for Derek, and it was as if I could feel his affection for me too. Not infrequently, he texted or called soon after one of those moments. But at other times, my confidence about his feelings for me plummeted, for no apparent reason. At those times, I almost felt panicked. Surely I was deluding myself. This couldn’t last.

It took a while before it began to dawn on me that I was empathically picking up on what Derek was feeling. When I felt that surge of heart energy, he was having loving thoughts about me. When I felt panicked, he was questioning whether he should be in relationship with me or anyone else, for that matter.

My empathic abilities were well known to me, and I had developed an empath’s survival skill of being able to limit them. At times, though, they slipped through the internal screening mechanism, usually when something tragic was about to happen or in the process of happening somewhere in the world. Fortunately, I did not pick up on every tragedy empathically, but it had taken years to develop the facility to sort out my own feelings from my empathic ones.

What was new was that I was having such unfiltered empathic sensations in relation to a love interest. It wasn’t unprecedented, but I had good boundaries, so it did not happen all that often. Considering how otherwise unfiltered I was with him, I might have realized it sooner, but once I did realize what was going on, it helped to explain the roller-coaster ride I was on.

I did not want to inadvertently trigger unnecessary concern in Derek about being with me, so I was careful to show interest in his kids and step-kids without pushing to meet any of them or become known by them. It seemed to me that it might be too soon for any of them to embrace the idea of Derek moving forward and being in relationship with a woman other than his late wife, Jacqueline. I cared about him and I cared about his children’s and step-children’s feelings. I would eventually meet them if the relationship continued. I could be patient, and I did not want to give him reason to be concerned that I would push for any kind of interaction with them before he and they were ready for it.

I knew that I was not the first woman Derek had dated since his wife’s death. In fact, that I was not the first woman he had dated gave me a bit of false confidence about his readiness to move forward with his life. I honored his feelings about Jacqueline, did not discourage talking about her, and even asked a fair number of questions about her. He felt that the woman he’d dated six months after Jacqueline’s death was somehow jealous of Jacqueline, in part because she had not been happy about his working on a book about his and Jacqueline’s experience with cancer. But I had lost a spouse too. I had a perspective that would not have been possible if I had not also traveled with a partner on the road to death. I felt no jealousy, just curiosity.

I also knew about his push-pull experience with another woman he had dated, the woman he had felt good about when he was with her and bad about seeing when he was alone. Derek was so present with me when we were together that it took some time for me to suspect he was equivocal. I wondered if he was having feelings about me similar to those he’d had with that woman and was just not expressing them.

To make the roller-coaster ride even wilder, I had been in communication with his dead wife. It had begun sometime after I had called him on his cell phone and heard his late wife’s voice in the recording that asked the caller to leave a message. She had a lovely voice, and somehow, just hearing it made me feel a connection with her. I checked in to see if she was able and willing to talk to me from the other side, and she was. Jacqueline was supportive of my connection with Derek, and when I finally began to tap in to his equivocality, she gave him some subtle nudges in my direction.

It didn’t occur to me that the very fact she was still engaging with him might be a problem, but it eventually would. For the time being, there was something comforting about having her with me on the roller-coaster ride.


Note: The names Derek and Jacqueline are fictitious and have been used out of respect for the people involved.


Copyright 2016 by Melanie Mulhall

Sex and the Shaman, Part 3

July 22, 2016

There is a scene in the movie Under the Tuscan Sun that every lover of that movie remembers well. It has been a very long dry spell for Frances since her divorce. Now living in Italy, Frances has just returned from a tryst with Marcello, an Italian man she has just met. She is in her bedroom, on her knees on her bed, kissing the picture of the Virgin Mary on her headboard, doing a little hip-gyrating dance on the bed and exclaiming, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” With confidence, she later tells herself that she knew she still had it in her.

That was precisely how I felt after my assignation with Derek. Frances could not have imagined just how long a dry spell can be. It had been years for me.

While it is rarely spoken of even in hushed tones, I knew that a postmenopausal woman’s vaginal tissues could atrophy thanks to the loss of estrogen and lack of use. To say that the result is unpleasant is like saying that losing a leg to leprosy is merely unfortunate. Because of vaginal dryness, thinning and shortening of the vaginal walls, bleeding caused by tiny tears to the vaginal walls, inflammation and burning, and the sex act becoming a painful experience (any or all of these), some women just abandon sex instead of managing the problem or seeking treatment. Regular sexual activity is said to be helpful because it improves blood circulation to the area and helps keep the tissues healthier. But my only sexual partner had been me for a very long time. I had been concerned about atrophy.

And that didn’t even address the issue of the condom: insist on it or forego it. I knew that the occurrence of sexually transmitted diseases had increased sharply among those over the age of fifty, probably in part due to the rise of online dating among those over fifty and the availability of drugs to treat erectile dysfunction. But was anyone talking about the choice a woman has to make about them if she has or fears she has vaginal atrophy? I certainly hadn’t heard it addressed. Could even a lubricated condom be a problem?

Until the post-fifty woman who has been in the Sahara Desert of sexual activity has actually found an oasis, she really has no way to know if she might have her own Under the Tuscan Sun experience or, instead, an experience right out of a horror movie.

I was happy to report to anyone interested that my equipment still worked. Thank all the gods in all the heavens esteemed by all the religions on Earth! It needed a bit of gentle treatment and a little ramp up time, like a vintage engine that hasn’t been started in a long while, but once engaged, my body’s cellular memory took over.

My guess is that a young, nervous virgin rarely has the ecstatic first time experience that a reclaimed virgin has once the long dry spell has been broken. I enjoyed coupling as a young woman. I loved it even. But I was now reminded that it is a miracle of orchestration between mind, body, spirit, and emotions that has the ability to catapult the participant into an experience of the sacred and numinous unifying with the earthy and earthly creature in us. I was in awe of it.

The next opportunity for awe came the following Tuesday when Derek came to the house for lunch. It was unplanned, spontaneous, and somewhat time-limited, making it all the more salacious but no less transcendent. Fortunately, I even managed to feed him a little food other than me in the encounter.

I did not want our lunch meetings to spiral down into nothing more than the kind of lascivious liaisons lacking in real heart connection that are commonly known as hookups. But I could not deny that the occasional noontime tryst might be a welcome injection of heat to fuel all of our other activities, both as a couple and individually.

I wondered if we would metamorphose into a couple comprised of two independent, fully self-sufficient people who were even more potent together than as individuals. Would we develop into a couple at all, or would the period of mutual fixation and developing affection languish and eventually disintegrate? It was too soon to tell. My vote was for the former. And the next time I had the opportunity to make love with the man, I wanted it to be a long, leisurely, sensual session during which I had plenty of time to revel in his body and maybe even merge with his soul.

And the opportunity was likely to present itself in just a few days.


Note: The name Derek is fictitious and has been used out of respect for the man involved.


Copyright 2016 by Melanie Mulhall



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