In which I ponder…a new approach to dating

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I really love my new house.

Coming home to the peace and quiet, the amazing view and the space, is total pleasure – and massively enhanced by the reduction of time spent driving to the office.

However, I fear this new home may be having a detrimental effect on my health and even perhaps my reasoning.

The thing is that when I lived in fast paced noisy and cool Darlinghurst, when I got home from work, I would mainly pop across the road to the gym or take the dog for a decent walk, trudging around the local streets. There was always something to see.

These days though, I get home from work, put my pjs on, pour a glass of wine and sit on the deck looking at the view. Later on, when it gets chilly or the mosquitos start biting, I change venue and plonk myself down in front of the tv.

There is an outside chance that I’ll eventually become one of those people who have to be winched out of their homes if I carry on like this for much longer. The only saving grace is the huge number of steps I have to climb to get in and out of the place…

The thing is though, in the past, I’ve never been much of a TV watcher. Or not in the recent past anyway. I was brought up without a TV (and before you ask, because my parents didn’t want us to have one, not because they hadn’t been invented yet. Bloody cheek) which led to a total lack of discrimination about what I would watch for some years. If it was a moving picture I was watching it. But over the last few years, I’ve barely watched it at all.

Until now.

And my secret shame is that I’ve become a little bit obsessed with The Bachelorette, despite much of it being rather perplexing. I fell a little bit in love with Sam Frost myself – she seemed like so much fun – but towards the end I worried that her need to be loved and her fear that she might not be, were things that she probably should have sorted out before participating in such a TV show.

However, first of all…is bachelorette really a word? I thought the opposite of bachelor was spinster? Although I recognize that a series called The Spinster doesn’t have quite the same ring.

But it got me thinking about dating again*. And I think I’ve come up with an idea that will disrupt the whole dating game. Uber-style. And it might translate into a good TV show.

You see, when I talk to my single friends, everyone is looking for the same thing – someone we could just sit on the sofa with in our pjs, drinking red wine, watching a movie and chatting.

So this is what I thought.

First dates should involve the subject of your desire coming over to your house on a weeknight when you’ve had meetings all day and the dog puked on the kitchen floor in the morning so you didn’t have time to wash your hair. They should get to observe you in your pjs, not wearing your bra**, while you shout at the kids and create a gourmet meal of blackened oven chips and slightly underdone sausages. If they still think they like you after that they will progress to seeing you outside of the house, with make up and bra. Eventually they will get to see you in your full dating attire, make up, bra, fancy frock, and absolutely no shouting. The very best version of yourself.

You see, I’m a bit tired of taking the very best version of myself out. The funny, interesting, upbeat me, who wears great underwear and high heels and smiles a lot. It’s exhausting and most of the time, you put all that effort in and then never hear from them again. And it strikes me that everyone goes on about being yourself, but when it comes to dating, the rules are that you really shouldn’t. It seems like you’re expected to gradually reveal the true horror of your real self once you’ve entrapped some poor soul on the promise of a lifetime of matching underwear, mascara and a complete absence of undesirable bodily functions.

So if you know any men who really like women who wear pjs and no make up, let me know.

*you will recall that some months ago I mentioned dating someone. This was the first time in 5 years I’ve made specific reference to dating any man in a public forum. No one has ever seen a picture of me with a man on Facebook, or seen me at any event with a man. Some people might think that weird. I prefer to think of it as more of a privacy thing. But I mentioned this guy and by the next week he’d disappeared off the face of the earth. I think perhaps mentioning men on my blog may have a similar effect as having your wedding covered by OK or Hello…

** any younger readers may be wondering why I’ve included bra-lessness as a potential turn off here. Give it 20 years. You’ll understand then.

In which I ponder…validation and embarrassment

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My previous blog, which had had over 20,000 visitors by the time I stopped posting, was specifically about the experience of emigrating and full of chatty stuff about family life in a new country.

When I started this one, I didn’t have a clear idea of what it would be, except that I wanted to write. It’s simply evolved over time.

I’ve ended up banging on about my marriage and my divorce and indulging in a level of navel gazing that I thought I’d left behind. And although I enjoy writing it and I don’t find it troubling to do so, there is something I’m finding kind of challenging.

It’s a bit awkward really.

Because what I’m struggling with are the comments, particularly those on my Facebook page where I share it.

I’m absolutely fine with the lovely things people have said about the quality of the writing, and how much they enjoy reading it. It’s fabulous to know that people are connecting with it, and – in some cases – looking forward to each instalment. And it’s also great to know that it’s being quite widely read – so far in 31 countries.

However, I do find all the lovely things people say about me personally a bit mortifying. Now, you will have to bear with me on this – because I do tend to over think things a bit. But I’m a bit worried that people might believe that the purpose of the blog is to seek validation about myself and what happened. And it quite emphatically isn’t.

You may or may not know that I did post grad study in psychotherapy, eventually qualifying to practice. As part of my training, I had to take part in group therapy for two years, and through this process I learnt something interesting about myself. Well, actually I learnt a number of interesting (to me anyway!) things about myself, but I’m only going to bore you with one of them.

In group, members had the opportunity to say difficult things to one another in a controlled and safe environment.* And although I didn’t particularly enjoy hearing that sort of thing, I wasn’t massively disturbed by it either. It almost felt comfortable. Conversely, if someone said something really nice to me, I literally wanted the earth to open up and swallow me whole. I never entirely resolved what that was about, but I get the same sort of feelings when I read some of the comments. And today there were so many of them I had to remove the post from my wall.

I know enough to know that this is related to a lack of self worth.

But I’m also a realist.

And the reality is this. I’m really not inspirational or amazing or an especially good single parent, or an especially forgiving person.

In the last few years, there have been days – many of them – when I have definitely won no prizes for my parenting. I am no better at being a single parent than 99.9% of all the rest of them. I do what parents do whether they are single or not – I do the best I can for my children, and some days the best I can do is not that special.

And over this period of rebuilding my life I have been far from inspirational or amazing a great deal of the time. I have said vile things. I have railed against the world. I have been self pitying. I have bored my friends (and myself) with my tale of woe, my ‘why-me’s?’ and my obsessive picking over certain events. I have lost friends and rejected others.

As far as forgiveness is concerned – well that’s a journey I’m still on. I have forgiving moments and they are becoming more and more frequent. But there is still a way to go I think.

I’ve come out the other side of it a more cautious, more independent and more confident person. I’ve gained a level of self knowledge and ability to self reflect that I didn’t have before. And I try hard to understand human behaviour rather than judge it.

But I still don’t really like it when people are nice to me.

I’m a work in progress. I’ll let you know when I’m done…

*in the first week of group, we were invited to say if we thought we were going to have a problem with anyone. One of the members immediately said they thought they were going to have a problem with me – which is funny because I’d also sensed that I would have a problem with her, although, despite having permission to do so, I would never have said. I’m English you see. And here we are 6 years on and she’s one of my closest friends…

In which I ponder…the ties that bind

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My ex-husband found out about my blog.

Not a massive surprise really, although I had been blocking key people (our children for example, and his family members) from any posts that I thought were very controversial.

He sent me an email and he was obviously upset and angry. Which I suppose should also not be a surprise. He said I had publicly shamed him.

I felt terrible. I still don’t like upsetting him.

The ties that bind two people who spent 21 years together are very strong, even when things have got seriously messed up.

So I called him – from my new landline, so that he couldn’t ignore my call. He didn’t put the phone down when he knew it was me.

And I told him I was sorry he was upset. That I had not intended to upset or embarrass him, but that I am simply writing about my life. That I own my experiences and that it is not my job to keep his secrets. But that I was sorry I had upset him. And I meant it.

I don’t want to demonise him. He’s just a man who was monumentally bad at being married. He listened to what I said about my writing and at the end when I offered to remove the post that had most bothered him, he said no. I could tell he was upset but it was a good conversation and I think we both felt better about it afterwards.

It’s strange, but when you know someone that well, talking to them is always kind of easy, even though generally we try to avoid it. It’s almost like it all never happened – kind of. There is a weird sort of distance of course, but it’s like everything and nothing has changed at the same time.

The truth is, sometimes people do bad things. And the reasons for them are complex, but rarely evil. My ex husband did many things that hurt me. But he also was a man who cried with laughter with me at a game show called “what’s in the box?“. He was a man who organised a ’30 and 13 days birthday’ party for me – especially allowed by the ‘National Birthday Council’ because my grandmother had died shortly before my actual birthday. The first dance at our wedding was Eric Clapton – Wonderful Tonight. I wouldn’t be surprised it he doesn’t remember that – not because he’s horrible, but because that’s just not the sort of thing he would recall. He used to sit in the cot with our son and read him stories. He always said pizza was ‘a scrotty bit of bread with cheese and tomato on’ and couldn’t understand why they were so expensive. He likes 80s disco music (I hated it) and he properly dances like a dad. He’s a man who can’t stand anyone touching his adam’s apple, which always made me wonder if perhaps he had been hung or strangled in a previous life.

I used to tell him he was the best person I knew. He’s an actual, real person and more than the sum of his actions. I don’t want to spend the rest of our lives hurting one another or picking over past hurts.

It didn’t work out.

C’est la vie…

*he didn’t make me write this

** but I did out of courtesy send it to him before I published

In which I ponder…over sharing

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I’ve been feeling a bit uncomfortable about my last post.

I knew I would.

I had been thinking about writing that post ever since I started blogging but just hadn’t had the courage to do it. It’s not just that it’s obviously very personal, but that I actually have no wish to embarrass my ex-husband and for that reason there are things I’ll never write about.

And despite the things he did, he is not a wholly dreadful person, and we were not unhappy for every moment of the 21 years we spent together. I’ve always known that he did not do the things he did to deliberately wound me – even though they did. And like most things the situation was complex at times and I certainly was not perfect.

The reality is however, that this is/was my life.

After publishing that post though, I received a lovely email from my equally lovely father. He said;

‘Wendy

I love reading these writings; but as literature, not as missives from my daughter! They are beautifully written and if they (hopefully) become more varied in content, they will become maybe a collection, like Norah Esson, or Dorothy Parker, or even Virginia Woolf, which people all round the world will read and admire and eulogise about.

But they tear me apart as a Dad’

I love my Dad. He genuinely thinks I am capable of doing anything (even being Dorothy Parker. He’s a big fan of hyperbole). I remember when I was graduating from University, he would tear job adverts out of the paper and post them to me (yes, I am literally that old…). Some of them were way beyond my capabilities at the time, and some of them probably still are, but when I would say this to him, he’d say

‘If you apply you’re only risking the cost of a stamp’

which I suppose was true. It’s a wonderful thing to have a father who is so unrelentingly positive about the possibilities for you and your life. Even at the times when you’re kind of fucking things up and you both know it.

Anyway, my Dad is concerned that my writing about my marriage and divorce might be evidence that I am not moving on.

The thing is though, five years ago, I couldn’t have written that post without it becoming incoherent in a sort of crazy lady way, and I wouldn’t have written about it because I felt kind of ashamed.

Really, when I write about this stuff it’s a way of owning my experience and integrating it into all my other experiences. I enjoy the process of writing from an intellectual point of view regardless of what the content is. So the fact that I’m writing about what happened, and how I felt about it then and now doesn’t mean I’m not moving on. It just means I’m writing about my life – some of which has been imperfect but kind of fascinating.

And I particularly wanted to write about how I feel about his new partner because I know that lots of women have problems with the ‘other woman’ especially where children are involved. It’s a common struggle these days, and until I was in this position I could never understand this tension. And perhaps writing about how I feel about it might be useful for people who have found themselves being the ‘other woman’.

So anyway – what I’m saying is – no one needs to worry. I didn’t feel sad or upset or anything negative really whilst writing that post. I don’t sit sobbing over my laptop, swigging from a bottle of Chardonnay* whilst blogging. I enjoyed writing it – because I enjoy writing. And if I write about my own personal experiences I can’t possibly miss out what happened in my marriage, as I’ve no doubt it is the most transformative experience I’ll ever have.

You’ve got to love my dad though, eh?

*I’d never do that. I don’t drink Chardonnay**

**my dad’s email also said he doesn’t like the footnotes

In which I ponder…single parenting

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I consider myself fortunate to have found myself a single parent when my children were 14 and 12 years old and not when they were younger. The sheer volume of work, every minute of the day, that very young children generate must be overwhelming on your own, and I take my hat off to the amazing mums and dads who do it.

Occasionally, over the years I have had friends tell me that they have been a ‘single parent’ this week.

‘John’s been away on business for 4 days, so I’ve been a single parent too’, they say.

Anyone who is actually a single parent will recognise this sort of attempt at joining your (not particularly desirable) club, and it’s well meaning, of course. Any time spent caring for children alone can be exhausting.

But of course, this isn’t really what single parenting is.

Single parenting is parenting with no prospect of anyone taking equal responsibility for those tasks. Ever. There is no one coming in 3 or 4 days to give you a break. There is no one at the end of a phone to tell you you’re doing a good job and they’ll be home soon. And of course, it’s not just the parenting. You will be doing all that mumming or dadding alone, and then absolutely all of the other responsibilities of adult life and of householders will be exclusively yours too. Going to work (that bit is pretty easy really), paying the bills, sorting out the tax, doing the housework, maintaining the car, maintaining the garden, maintaining the house, doing all that household admin. All yours and yours alone. Lucky you! No one is going to run that errand for you while you cook the dinner, or run quickly round with the hoover. No one is going to sit on the phone for an hour trying to sort out a problem with your phone bill while you make a start on the laundry. No wonder single parents are so knackered.

Post separation/divorce parenting for me has turned out to be quite different to how I had imagined. There has been no 50:50 split, not even every other weekend relief. Six evenings a month are spent with their father and his new partner – if they are not away on holiday or on business, which is often. No half the holidays each. No attendance at parent’s evenings and one long weekend in Melbourne for my son and 5 days on the Gold Coast for my daughter being the sum total of holidays spent with their father in nearly 5 years. And when he is not well, he cancels. Oh how I’ve wished this worked the other way…All this is his loss, of course. But it has meant that the burden of working out arrangements which balance my work and half decent parenting have been…challenging.

As they’ve gotten older, of course, the need to be there in a supervisory capacity has reduced, but the need to have a presence, to exhibit my commitment to parenting them and my availability to them has to some extent gotten greater. Through these teenage years they need to know you are there, that you love them and that they are your priority at all times, even when they are being – quite frankly – a bit dreadful.

So it’s not really been the tasks that are so exhausting. No amount of food preparation, taxi driving, laundry, homework nagging, concert and sport watching and cleaning up compares to the sheer overwhelming responsibility of it all. The agony of decisions, for example, about where they can drive, with whom, at what sort of time of night, is left entirely up to me. Which parties they can attend. What time they should be home. Who they can hang out with. I could go on. Obviously the children always think I am being over cautious and I probably am – I have no-one to run these decisions past. There is no one to say – don’t worry, they’ll be fine…and then to sit up with you allaying your fears when they are late and not answering their phones.

I’ve never felt the loneliness of being the single mother of a teenager quite so keenly as on the occasion of my daughter’s 16th birthday party. If I had any advice to other parents about 16th birthday parties, it would be to strongly advise against them based on my experience, but suffice to say that by 9.45pm I had closed said party and contacted parents to collect their children. As if I didn’t already feel terrible enough about it all (and with the distance of time, it was not soooo bad – some smuggled-in alcohol and a couple of drunkards), in a conversation with a father after the event, he said to me – in a tone that could only be described as judgemental and patronising –

‘I understand you are a single mother’

and then went on to suggest that in view of this I should have known not to hold this party. Because obviously there was only one way this could possibly go, given that I am a single mum…

Over time I’ve developed my own system to check out my decisions in the parenting realm. I ask myself – if the thing I am afraid of happening, actually happened – if they crashed the car, went missing, got hideously drunk and did something silly – would I feel comfortable explaining to other people (including their father) what safeguards I had put in place to prevent this from happening? It’s not foolproof but it helps. I’ve explained it to the children, and they seem to accept it. I’ve never been the parent of young adults before, so I’m just feeling my way…

I’ve been so very, very lucky to have great children, who actually have given me very little to worry about. But all parents know that this doesn’t stop us from worrying. Sometimes I think I’ve done a good job, they are nearly done – it looks like I am going to be able to send them out into the world safely and as great human beings. But I know there is still time for it to go wrong and that, in fact, parenting is never over.

What is sure though, is that I wouldn’t change a minute of any of it. Being a mum and raising my two children will, without a doubt, be my greatest achievement, my greatest joy, and the absolute best use of my time, my energy and the space in my brain.

And God knows, as I get closer and closer to the moment when they both fly the nest, I know I’m going to miss this part of my life terribly.

In which I ponder…ageism, sexism and the single middle aged woman

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When I left my husband my self esteem was pretty much in tatters, but after many months of bewilderment, crying and hiding in my bed, I dusted myself off and created an online dating profile.

Much to my surprise, I seemed to be attracting the attention of men in their late twenties. I was suspicious – it must be some sort of trick surely, that would end with them relieving me of my life savings and leaving me with a broken heart. Except that  I had no savings and my heart was already broken – so really – why not?

So I went out on a date with Tom. I met him in a bar after attending a charity function, at which I mentioned to a girlfriend that I was going on a date with a 25 year old.

‘Be careful’, she said. ‘You’ll get a reputation.’

‘A reputation for what?’

‘You know…a reputation…’

And so it began – my introduction to what I could now be judged on.

As it happened, I met Tom at the bar, and wasn’t massively impressed. But he wanted to meet me again for dinner, so I went, and this time I realised I had misjudged him, probably because I was a bit drunk. He was an exceptionally unusual person. He only drank water – ever – and he had an inner calm at his core that I’ve never seen in anyone before or since*. We saw each other exclusively for about 5 months, at which point it became clear that he was too busy with his two businesses and his job for any sort of relationship, even the very casual one he had with me. But what was important about this relationship was that very quickly both our ages became very irrelevant. We shared interests in film and books, and he was significantly more mature in many respects than I was. He actually knew who he was, what he wanted and where he was going – and he was going there. I literally had no idea. Where I was all at sea, he was the mainland – reliable, constant and sure.

Then I met Jake. I was very suspicious about him initially. He was 28, a model and a tv presenter and was – by anyone’s standards – exceptionally attractive. But it turned out that he liked me and found me attractive – to the extent that we saw each other until I dropped him at the airport six months later to return to his native Ireland.

A friend told me ‘these young guys are just using you’.

‘What for?!’ I asked incredulously

‘For sex’, she said.

If it wasn’t so hilariously ridiculous I’d have been angry. He was a half Italian, half Nigerian model who had won Mr. World. He could get sex anywhere. Each morning that I woke up with this man in my bed I thanked God and anyone else I could think of that he had come into my life, even for a fleeting moment. In my 44 years, I never thought I would ever see a body like that up close and personal – and I was very grateful I had. If anyone was using anyone for sex, it was probably me. I knew we weren’t waltzing off into the sunset together – we were enjoying the moment. And despite assumptions made about the basis of our relationship, the truth was that much of the time we spent together was passed busking on the piano and writing treatments for tv shows.

People would say to me – what on earth have you got in common (the subtext being – apart from the obvious…)? But the reality is that these days the differences between the generations are not so much a gulf as a small crack that is easily stepped over. We often listen to the same music, frequent many of the same watering holes, watch the same movies and have similar outlooks on life. Many younger people are better travelled, more stocked up on life experience than my generation, who had fewer opportunities and were burdened with more expectations than today’s young people. And in many respects, at this point Tom, Jake and I were at similar moments in our lives – looking forwards in a changing world, with everything still to play for.

However, this sort of attitude to these relationships led to some friends – mainly women sadly – starting to take a view of me and my behaviour that can only be described as judgmental. Along with the boyfriends, my clothes started to come under scrutiny (‘you’re not twenty you know’ a friend told me once when we were shopping together). Then my weight, and my renewed interest in keeping fit – all obviously designed to ensnare young men apparently. You exercise too much, they said. Why are you bothering with all that? Erm – well, because health and all that…

The reality was, though, that I had never pursued younger men, and in fact the vast majority of the men I’ve dated have been mid to late 40s – probably just as you’d expect.

The hypocrisy of all this is, of course, that if the tables had been turned and I had been an older guy dating younger women, people wouldn’t have been so appalled. And even if they had reservations they would have been very different to the ones expressed to me. Sadly, I still think much of the judgement would be about the woman – gold digger, seeking a father figure etc etc.

Of course, the other level of hypocrisy here is that here I was being judged on my behaviour as a completely single woman, dating completely single men, ironically by people who didn’t feel it was their place to judge my ex husband on his behaviour as a married man with married women. Some of them remained friends with my ex husband, whilst their relationship with me waned, largely because they were disapproving of some of my choices post-divorce and, I think, because he quickly settled down with a new partner, and therefore looked superficially more socially acceptable than me in my dangerous singledom.

Very few people met either Tom or Jake. In fact I have very rarely introduced anyone to any of the men I’ve been in relationships with over the years – probably because of this early experience. I don’t want to be judged and I don’t want them to be judged. I’d rather leave any relationship to develop away from the interest of others, so that both of us can find out whether hearing the views of friends and family is going to be relevant or not in the long run.

Tom’s now 28 and lives on the Gold Coast, having opened up a second office for his private equity company. We still talk regularly and spend the odd weekend together. We like each other. It’s as simple as that and nothing more. I really hope that some day in the future he realises that working might deliver ‘things’ but it won’t ever make his heart sing. As I said to him the last time we spent some time together – ‘you should really get a girlfriend. It’s such a waste…you’d make someone a great boyfriend’…

Jake returned to Ireland, where he now presents the national lottery on TV, met a beautiful Zumba instructor and had a baby boy.

For myself, I think my period of dating significantly younger men is over – but when I look back on Tom and Jake, I feel like they were a gift. My heart was broken and I’d lost all faith in myself as a woman. Those two relationships restored my sense of womanhood, my self esteem and helped destroy my fear that there might be something wrong with me that had led to my ex husband’s extreme infidelity. And they both treated me with enormous respect at all times, behaving as though they felt they were lucky to be with me – which has contrasted enormously with men from my own generation, who have behaved generally much more as though they thought they were entitled to me in some way, and that I should be grateful for their attention. These were transformative relationships for me and I’m so grateful for them.

No regrets.

*actually this isn’t entirely true. I had seen it in someone once before – a 52 year old commercial lawyer I went on a couple of dates with who had, quite uniquely, also been a hari krishna monk for 8 years. He had an extraordinary presence and stillness, and when I mentioned to Tom that he reminded me of this man, it turned out he was his uncle…

Names have been changed to protect the innocent

In which I ponder…inconvenient truths

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So I moved again. Anyone who has known me for a while knows I move often. I am starting to think I may be some sort of weird nomadic vagrant, since this is the 10th house since 2007, and the 25th home overall. I doubt I’m done just yet either, although I love where we are right now. That’s it there – in the picture. What’s not to love?

The more you do something, the less stressful it is – and this is certainly true of my moving habit. It’s hard to relate to the idea that moving is the 3rd most stressful thing you’ll ever do, when you’ve done it so many times. I find the constant presence of wet towels on the floor in the bathroom significantly more stressful to be honest.

But something I’ve learnt from moving is that it sorts the men out from the boys – figuratively speaking – when it comes to friendships. They say that some friends are for a reason and others for a season, and if you equate season in this context with the period during which I might inhabit a particular house, then you will understand when I say that some friends disappear when you are no longer conveniently around the corner.

I’ve had friends for whom a 20 minute drive has proven too far for them, and others who can identify certain geographical points as being the limit to their friendship – the cattle grids, the Spit Bridge, the ‘other side’ (of the harbour). And I have now done the unthinkable, and not just gone to the Dark Side (so not the same side of the harbour as the Northern Beaches) but actually moved away from the Eastern Suburbs, into an area and a suburb that generally none of my friends have heard of.

Personally, I’ve never minded travelling to see people. Even as a child, moving from place to place with my parents (it’s genetic thing you see), I maintained friendships into adulthood with people I’d moved away from geographically – but not emotionally – decades beforehand. My mum would put me on a train at weekends and school holidays to travel back to wherever we had lived before so I could stay with my friends, before returning in the same manner in time for school on Monday. And this was many years before mobile phones and social media kept us connected. The thing is that if someone is important enough to you, the distance won’t matter. And most of the time, you are not talking about enormous distances, but more about convenience.

So when you move, you get to discover which of your friendships were those of convenience. It can be disappointing to discover that for some people you’ve fallen into the ‘too hard’ basket, but it does mean that you get your real, quality friendships reaffirmed.

My closest friends in the UK stood by me when my marriage ended, and continue to provide me with love and support across the water. Some of them visit, and I’m a welcome guest in their homes whenever I’m home. My closest childhood friend and I maintained our friendship from opposite ends of the country until her death when we were both in our mid thirties – with children the ages we had been when we first met. And her husband and I have remained very close friends ever since, speaking at least weekly – latterly from different hemispheres – and this year we will celebrate Christmas together in the sun, overlooking my rather lovely jetty.

And with this move, I’ve been really touched by the enthusiasm with which my closest friends have greeted my latest venture into the unknown, some of them even inspired to purchase boats to make good use of my waterfront from time to time.

I know that for me, the people I love and care about are always within reach, no matter where I go. And seriously – it’s 26 mins from Central on the train, and I’m happy to pick you up from the station.

In which I ponder…dating again

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I hadn’t been doing any dating really lately, since the demise of the last boyfriend.

He’s been making valiant efforts (largely ignored) to be friends, despite having been deleted from Facebook – which these days is the relationship equivalent of being sent to a Siberian gulag.

There was a chap I went for a drink with, and rather liked – but subsequently we happened upon one another in the street, me showerless after the gym and in the process of depositing a dog shit into one of those little poo-bags. I suspected that I would probably not be seeing him again after this, and I saw him early this morning actually, walking down the road holding hands with an attractive brunette, both of them with that particular spring in their step that is only really seen in people who have recently had sex with someone with whom they haven’t been having sex for the previous 20 years. Predictably, I was in gym clothes and I hadn’t had a shower. Didn’t have a steaming poo bag though. Yay for me.

Honorable mention goes to the very nice man who took me out for lobster and with whom I had drinks on one other occasion, but then disappeared off the face of the earth.

It’s hard not to wonder if you are utterly dreadful. Especially when your husband preferred virtually everyone – your friends, the wives of his friends, colleagues, on one occasion (or more accurately, on one occasion I know about) the sister of a colleague, plus various randoms – to you. But then when I consider this, I always end up in the same place – I am probably not utterly dreadful, and the level of dreadful I probably am, will eventually be beloved of someone, and if it’s not, then that’s ok too.

And then I met a man.

He got in touch with me through an online dating site, and he seemed nice. He’d done the Camino de Santiago, which is on my wish list. He was a teacher, and had used that to be able to teach history around the world – Argentina, Mexico, the Bahamas, Monaco, Sydney. Now he was doing his Masters in Archaeology and teaching part time. We were both going to be in Paddington around the same time, so we agreed to catch up for a glass of wine in a local pub.

It was a roaring success – we get on extremely well. And we’ve seen rather a lot of each other (and I don’t mean that in the biblical sense) in the weeks since.

He seems to be a proper man. Even a proper grown up man. Which is rare, in my experience. He does what he says he is going to do. He calls me darling and sweetheart in a way that doesn’t make me want to slap him. And most importantly,  he is not afraid that if he phones, makes plans more than 2 or 3 minutes in advance, or introduces me to people I will misinterpret his current enthusiasm for a proposal of marriage which will inevitably end in me stealing his house and his money. (I kid you not – anyone who is dating in my age group will be familiar with this scenario).

Which is all really, really good. Obviously.

But what is this small voice, quiet but persistent in the background, that is telling me that it’s too good to be true? That prevents me from responding to his endearments with my own?

I’ve tried very hard not to see men through the lens of my previous experiences. At the same time though, I’ve also tried very hard to reconnect with my gut instincts – which were largely destroyed by my marriage. When you’ve been in a relationship where, too often, something was telling you that something wasn’t right or didn’t add up, but your concerns were always attributed to you being mentally unstable, eventually you will both believe that you are indeed mentally unstable and that you cannot trust your instincts.

And now I don’t know if that small voice is my gut instinct, or fear.

I suspect it is fear. But then, on top of everything else, I’m afraid that it’s not. The reality is, though, that this really is a fear that I’m going to have to be prepared to face. What’s the alternative?

So here I am, dating again…

In which I ponder….loneliness

beach-cute-loneliness-love-teddy

It was a beautiful day in Sydney on Sunday. Middle of winter and 26 degrees. I ran around in the morning sorting out washing and going to the supermarket so that I would be able to spend some time walking the dog from Bondi to Bronte in the afternoon. The weather was so lovely my shorts were reclaimed from summer clothing storage, and the hordes were out on the coastal path.

Sounds like a pretty nice day,eh?

But sometime after lunch, a little dark cloud settled above my head, and I couldn’t help thinking, not for the first time, how nice it would be to share the wonderful things in life with someone.

I’ve mentioned before that people who are married or in de facto relationships often express envy about my single life. They imagine the freedom of not having to consider others, of having the remote control for the tv for themselves, and of not having to share their bar of chocolate with anyone. They imagine that my life is more exciting than theirs, that I am out and about at restaurants and bars and events. And indeed I am, some of the time. But for a great deal of the time I am on my own.

There is not much time for the imagined glamorous life of the singleton in between the full time job and the every day domesticities of being a parent and a householder. The weekend is often a race against time trying to get all of the household necessities completed and enjoy some time with the children whilst still managing to do at least something that vaguely looks like having an independent social life. Sometimes I don’t manage it.

And I hesitate to talk about how isolating I can find my life, on the other side of the world from home and family, and how lonely I sometimes feel. There is a weird stigma related to loneliness in the 21st century – as if my loneliness must stem from being socially inept, or unlikeable, or both. I feel I shouldn’t be lonely and I should be out there enjoying every moment of my life, because in so many ways I am very lucky. Feeling lonely feels and sounds a lot like a failure.

In addition to this, it’s my experience that admissions of loneliness are often interpreted as neediness by other people, as if having needs – like spending time with other adults and making social connections – meant that there was something wrong with you. Recent research though has suggested that loneliness may well be our next big public health issue, on a par with obesity and drug abuse. It can also increase your risk of death by a sobering 26%. To be fair, I think I’d rather die fat and high than lonely…

A month or so ago I was made redundant. A couple of hours afterwards, I had to make a much valued colleague and friend also redundant. I can report that being made redundant is actually vastly preferable to making other people redundant, but the reason I mention this is that as you can imagine, in the scale of things, this was a pretty crappy day. It would have been nice to know that there was someone to tell about this, who would be there to give me the hug I needed when I got home and perhaps to make a cup of tea or pour me a glass of wine and tell me everything was going to be ok.

However, what actually happened was that just when I was about to leave work I got a text message from my daughter asking when I would be home. I asked her why and got the following message

‘I need to talk to you about my life. I feel like I need guidance or something – I just feel really unmotivated and crap and like a kind of failure and I don’t know I need help’

So although I could almost have written this message myself at that moment, I went home and gave her a cuddle while she cried a bit and we sorted out her life. I didn’t mention I’d been made redundant and then the evening continued much as usual – I made dinner, made sure everyone was ok, and then once they withdrew to their rooms and their laptops, I considered the white terror of being an unemployed single mother of two in silence, alone in my room.

It’s ironic because I used to like spending time on my own, I suppose because it was an occasional relief from being constantly accompanied by either children or husband. I still do like it though. I hate clothes shopping with other people. A night alone on the sofa with a bag of chips watching a movie is still a favourite pasttime. But it turns out you can get too much of a good thing.

Thankfully I have not yet reached the point where my loneliness outweighs my selectiveness in finding someone to share my bag of chips with and I don’t think I will. I’m just getting better and better at finding other things with which to fill my life – and if it all gets too much in the end, there is always overeating and drugs…

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PS – in the restructure that had precipitated the redundancies I was appointed to a new, more interesting role. All’s well that ends well.

In which I ponder…love, family and distance

love-around-the-world

When we are young, we imagine we are invincible and, unless forced by circumstance, we rarely consider our mortality. In middle adulthood (I think this is where I’m at now, although some – including myself – might want to discuss whether I’m actually an adult, but I’m certainly in the middle of something), those of us who are lucky enough to have them around, kid ourselves that our parents are immortal.

I’ve not always had the greatest of relationships with my parents, in particular my mother. But the passing of time, and in particular the experience of parenthood has taught me to be more tolerant and more grateful for what I have. All parents are just doing the best they can at the time, with the tools they’ve got.

I love my own children with a passion and a depth I did not know was possible until I had them. And I can remember then having an epiphany about my parents – realising that they must feel like this about me too.

Moving to the other side of the world means that visits are infrequent, although I have been fortunate to have seen my family at least once a year during the 8 years I have been in Australia. The time passing between visits, though, means that those incremental signs of change and ageing that can go unnoticed when you see someone regularly are visited upon you starkly every time you meet.

For my dad, this has meant his hair has gotten whiter, and he’s become a little grumpier. His wit is still as sharp as ever and he is still in demand for his professional knowledge on boards and the like, and for his local activism and advocacy. Adventurous too – he just got back from Machu Picchu. We will gloss over the unfortunate incident involving alcohol related but apparently elegant (according to him anyway) pirouetting on the local station platform. Suffice to say, dad is not much different to how he’s ever been but during the time passing between two visits 18 months apart, my Mum seemed to get smaller, a bit frail and rather muddled.

However, it is one thing facing the mortality of one’s parents, which is in the natural order of things. It is quite another watching your brother and the rest of your family deal with a terminal diagnosis for his beautiful 11 year old son when you feel you are too far away.

I’ve learnt through the experience of emigrating that love, family and friendships recognise no borders, particularly in these days of technology and easy (ish!) travel. In many ways I feel as connected as I was when I was only round the corner or a few hours drive away. Social media allows us to continue to have a window into the lives of people thousands of miles away on a minute to minute basis, and Skype and texting and other applications mean that chatting is frequent. But there are some ways of expressing love that do not translate well across hemispheres. The loving touch, the hug, a much needed cuddle. Picking up a prescription and dropping it round, helping out with the shopping, turning up with an unexpected bottle of wine…how do I love thee? Let me count the ways…

I can’t help wondering if I am on the right side of the world. I love Australia and I have made a life here, but when the inevitable happens, will I feel I loved Australia so much it was worth sacrificing time with the people I love – and who love me? Will my annual visits provide enough memories to sustain me when they are gone? Am I doing enough to support my family?

I’m not sure that I know the answer to these questions but I do know that I am not the first, and will not be the last, to consider them. They are the dilemma, the pain and sorrow of immigrants all over the world. I suppose I just have to hope that I have enough time to decide.

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My nephew has been diagnosed with Battens Disease and you can read about his brave struggle here.