03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Saying Yes to Love Again, or Just Getting Your Flirt On

I hadn't been grabbed around the waist and kissed like that in so long I could hardly remember what warm sensual lips felt like on mine. I loved every second of it but still something inside of me rang as loud and clear as the three-o-clock whistle on a Friday when school let out and my feet... They wanted to run that fast too. I had no idea how to handle the situation and the only thing I could say is "I gotta go." The old familiar runner was back and she was winning... Again.

Connecting with men on an intimate level since being attacked by three men 9 years ago has been nearly impossible. I told my best friend the other night that I have felt crippled in that department. But lately, as my daughter turned 16, I have begun to understand that it is my time to finally face my fear of intimacy and sort through my issues with men that began when I was a little girl growing up in a home where abuse and fear governed everything. The attack by three thugs that ripped me and my daughter's world apart broke open my past; one that I had been hiding from and running from my entire life.

Since the attack and kidnapping, I chose to take time to get to know me; the Michelle I never really knew at all, and for the first time in my life, really begin to understand what makes me tick. I forced myself to spend time with just me, get underneath the surface and dig into all that had been the driving force behind my past behavior, relationship choices, self-sabotage, and total workaholic madness. I told myself that it was time to stop judging myself and start loving who I am and started by listing every major life altering experience I have ever had and next to it, wrote down one gift it has brought into my life. I began to focus on that gift, on all that is in front of me and not what is behind me and choose to be empowered and powerful-the gift I wanted my daughter to receive from me the most. The other gift to her, and to myself, to enjoy my life...every part of it.

I started getting out again, going dancing and feeling like it was time to begin my new 40 something and single life a few months ago. This time going out meant something different than it ever has before. I am healthier in many ways then I have ever been, emotionally and spiritually, after taking years to focus on healing and embracing my life. Looking for Mr. Right has taken a back seat to being true to myself, honoring who I am and knowing that eventually this kind of light will attract the man that is right for me. But in the meantime, as my best friend challenged me to do, I need to have some fun and start dating again. In her words, "Michelle, you need to stop working and helping everyone else so much, have some fun and have some sex while you're at it." What are best friends for, right?

I hadn't really thought about it too much until that kiss. It made me realize that if I was going to open my heart up enough to ever let anyone back in, or even just go out and have some fun and get my 40 something flirt on or as my daughter calls it, see if I still have "game", I had to let go of one more thing that was holding me back. I sat in my car in my garage when I got home that night and looked down at my hand and stared at the simple gold band on my pinky finger and asked myself, "How can I ever begin a new love story if I am still wearing my old love story on my sleeve, actually on my pinky."

The next day I sat my daughter down and began to tell her about the day her dad and I were married. We had no money. We didn't even have rings for the ceremony. But we were in love and that is all that mattered. When we could finally afford a simple gold wedding band that is what I wore with as much pride and joy as if it were bejeweled with the world's most exquisite diamonds. It symbolized our love and it is that love that created her. When we divorced 16 years ago, just after my daughter was born, I didn't even know how shut off and shut down I became. I shifted into the survival mode I knew so well; the mode that kept me alive on the streets as a teen runaway; the mode that clicked in every time I had to hussle up a way to pay the bills or get through trade school to become something other then a tragic homeless teen story. I went over in my mind just how my choices in men had been shaped by, not only the deep wounds of my childhood, but the pain and betrayal I felt as my marriage crumbled. I never realized it until the other night when I looked down at the simple gold wedding band that was on my pinky finger now-the ring I had not taken off in 23 years.

I slipped the gold band off my finger and, with tears of release streaming down my face, held it out to my daughter. "This is your ring now. It's value is unseen and symbolizes the love that created you; a love that I will always cherish." I was finally ready to let go of him and all that we could have been and every dream we had that was never realized. I was ready to stop seeing myself as divorced damaged goods. I was ready to start a new story of love and awakening to myself and all that is possible.

She slipped the simple gold band on her finger and hugged me for the longest time then said, "It's okay. I think it is time for you to have fun after all these years just raising me, mom. And besides, it's cool now to be a cougar!" We laughed as she wiped tears from my cheeks.

The simple truth is...I may never see the guy who grabbed me and kissed me that night and who cares if I do or don't. That kiss woke me up to the realization that I am a woman in my 40's who is smart, fun, sexy, and, as one of my favorite movies says, a woman to love. Cougar? Maybe. I just know I am now giving myself permission to be open to receive love and all that the universe has in store for me.