In which I ponder…choices, walking and Moet

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Despite being on holiday in beautiful Noosa, today has been a tough day.

The reality is that sorting out your financial settlement post divorce, and extricating yourself from joint international tax difficulties* is hard work – intellectually and emotionally.

I’ve had to sit through a teleconference involving both my family lawyers and my tax lawyers, and I just can’t help thinking that there must be an easier, quicker and more efficient way to do all of this.

And of course, there is. I can forgo my right to legal representation, and just sign all the documents that I’ve been sent by my ex husband.

There isn’t a day that I don’t wish that’s what I had done. This process has been way more complicated, and has taken a much greater psychological toll than I had ever anticipated. But the reality is that I spent most of my marriage with my eyes shut, or open just enough to only see the things that didn’t make my stomach twist and my heart ache, and I promised myself that I would come out of it with my eyes wide open, and having ensured that I was aware of all the facts. For the first time in my adult life I wanted to make an important life decision in possession of all the relevant facts.

Right from the moment that I made the discovery that led to asking my husband to leave, there has been a part of me that wishes I could have allowed myself to continue my life in blissful ignorance. But I know that the path to real happiness – to joy perhaps – to go through your life journey properly present, aware of all its pains and its pleasures. And I made a choice, in the moment that I said ‘you will have to leave’, to do that.

And lately I’ve also started to really understand that how I deal with these issues is also a choice, that there is not much point in choosing presence if my default position is always to allow myself to fall into distress when I experience an upset or a reminder. It’s unrealistic to expect it not to hurt, to not feel sad, angry, frustrated. But that I need to acknowledge these feelings and then work to move on from them.

The best way I’ve found of doing this is to walk determinedly, a little too fast, for as long as it takes to make it all feel a little better. It’s unrealistic not to feel these things, but I’ve discovered that walking, outdoors, preferably somewhere beautiful, does the trick about 98% of the time. And if you can do this with someone you love, and who loves you back, all the better.

And for the other 2% of the time there is Moet.

*Yep. I totally get that this is a bit of a first world sort of problem. It’s not as international as say, a Mossack Fonseca style problem, but for me, it’s still been a big headache…

In which I ponder…chemistry

Chemistry

Before I joined the single hoards, and probably before, I was a great believer in chemistry. You have to have it, I thought. Real love and real, lasting relationships have to start with that special something which hits you like a thunderbolt and tells you, amongst other things, that you need to get this person naked somewhere.

This, of course, entirely ignored the fact that I had married a man who I thought was an arrogant dickhead on our first meeting.

My ex-husband had been at the same school as my sister’s first husband and I met him at their engagement party. I had attended the event with a university friend who had – by really anyone’s standards – exceptionally large breasts. He had spent the evening talking to them and being a bit of an arse and I thought nothing much further of it until shortly before the wedding, when my sister told me he had requested to sit on the same table as me.

On reflection, this may have been in the hope that I would bring my generously endowed friend with me, but the rest, as they say, is history.

So anyway (and somewhat inexplicably), when I first started dating, I was definitely looking for that elusive frisson of excitement, but I can report – having thoroughly researched the strategy – that chemistry can lead you astray.

Or is it biology?

There is not a singleton amongst us who has not embarked on a highly unsuitable, and ultimately doomed relationship based on following what their body, rather than their brain, is telling them. And this is definitely not confined to men, who have been much maligned by the suggestion that thinking with their nether regions is a problem exclusively theirs. The only difference between men and women in terms of letting their carnal desires get the better of them is that women simultaneously also think that these feelings might end with a happy ever after (as opposed to a happy ending…), whereas men are not thinking beyond getting your knickers off, and would probably lose all feeling below the waist if they knew you were hearing the distant sound of wedding bells.

These days, I am prepared to see if those feelings develop over time, even if they are not there on the first couple of dates. My only proviso is that when I look at my date, if I’m thinking that I definitely never want to see him without his shirt on (let alone anything else) there is not much point in going on. If you’re kind of repelled, I’m not sure you can move on from there.

It’s important though to ensure that your date is not aware that they are not doing it for you. I learnt this the hard way, by sending a text message to my date whilst he was in the loo which said that I didn’t find him at all attractive*. The message was meant for one of the Julies and it turns out that no amount of swearing, banging your phone on the table and suppressed shrieking will bring back a text message that is winging its way to the wrong – oh so very wrong – person. I’m sure the people on the next table thought I was having some sort of seizure. And I wasn’t far off to be honest. I briefly considered jumping in a cab and disappearing, but sadly I’m English and I felt that would compound my rudeness, so I stuck it out. He was really very charming about it (although he did later send me a text message asking me rather plaintively whether I liked him, which I thought was a bit awkward under the circumstances).

The example I generally use to other single friends to support my theory that chemistry can grow over time is that the best (physical) relationship I’ve been in post marriage was with someone I didn’t fancy on our first date. When he asked me for a second date, I put him off for a week or so because I thought I had a better prospect, but he turned out to be one I felt much more sure I didn’t ever need to see naked, so I met up with him again. And something happened – we made a connection we hadn’t made before and that was it. On the whole the episode goes in the ‘really not suitable, and definitely not a long term prospect’ bucket, but I let that relationship continue for some time past its sell by date mainly because I was afraid I would never have sex that good again**.

So my advice, not that I think anyone should ever take relationship advice from a nearly 50 year old spinster with a divorce behind her and 5 years of dating, is not to write your dates off too quickly. If you get on, have shared interests, and when you think about the possibility of seeing your date naked you don’t get a little bit of vomit in your mouth, carry on. You never know what might happen.

*in my own defence, I want you to know that this text message also contained a number of complimentary things about this man, but my point was that despite all these positives I still didn’t find him attractive. Which might be worse, I don’t know. Anyway, it wasn’t a horrible or bitchy message – as I’ve said, I’m English. I’m genetically pre-programmed to be nice…

**have I defeated my own message here?

In which I ponder…dating rules

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Rejected

 

In many ways my experiences with dating have been largely positive.

I’m quite selective about who I will go out on a date with in the first place – not necessarily because I’m overly picky (nearly 50 year olds can’t afford to be super choosy…), but because my time is precious and I don’t want to waste an evening with someone who is a bit of a tosser when I could have spent that time with my children or a friend.

Then generally I won’t go on a date unless said date is prepared to give up his surname so that I can google him before I go. I’m surprised by the number of men who are not prepared – for ‘security reasons’ – to do this, or who are horrified if I reveal I’ve done it (although generally I don’t tell them).* But I don’t suppose any of the men I’ve dated ever find themselves considering whether or not they are organizing to meet up with a murderer or rapist. For the same reason I won’t allow anyone to pick me up from my house until I’ve got to know them well, and I also won’t get in a car with them to go to a second venue. Dating of the type which essentially involves meeting up with strangers is potentially dangerous – even sometimes lethal – for women, and so I take my safety very seriously. If this means I check online to see if you appear to be who you say you are then so be it, and if you are offended by it we probably just shouldn’t go on a date.

So, once I’m on a date, I already usually know that the guy is genuine, as far as I can tell not married, and we’ve done enough chatting to build a bit of a rapport. I’ve been on very few dates which were terrible, and even then they’ve made for amusing anecdotes. I met one guy in a pub and when I arrived he was clearly already drunk. For reasons I can’t now explain – but probably inexperience, as this was early on in my dating adventures – I didn’t immediately leave, agreeing to accompany him to dinner during which he loudly announced to me (and most of the restaurant) that he would like to lick my breasts.

I never expect not to have to pay my share of the bill, and in fact it’s fairly important to me that I do as I don’t want to be beholden in any way. There are still some men who think that if they’ve paid for everything you owe them something – and that something is generally sexual. However, if I sense that the guy is purely being gentlemanly, and our conversation has suggested that it wouldn’t be a financial burden on them to pay for it, I’ll back down and say thank you. I hate to think how poverty stricken I would be after 5 years or so of dating if I’d had to pay for me and my date every time, so I never expect it.

I’ve also learnt interesting things from my dates, even though many of them have come to nothing – things that I probably wouldn’t have learnt if I’d still been married. One date recently showed me a number of interesting works of art that are installed in new office buildings around Sydney and another pointed out the statue of a small cat at the State Library which I’d never noticed before and told me its story.**

I’ve been given wine recommendations which I’ve acted upon, and book recommendations which I’ve subsequently read. I’ve also had the opportunity to have some spirited debates about a range of issues with people who have views diametrically opposed to mine and most of my friends.

So – as I’ve said – generally my dating experiences have been positive. But I would, however, like to start a movement to agree some ground rules to which everyone adheres.

Ghosting

So if you’re not dating, you probably don’t know what this is (lucky you), but it’s when someone you’ve been either chatting with or have been on a date (or two) with suddenly disappears into radio silence. Now, when I’m only at the chatting stage and I haven’t met them in person as yet, I’m fine with this – in fact it’s a ploy I use myself. But I do object to it after a date – or worse – a few dates. I’ll give you an example of how this works. I recently got chatting with a guy on Tinder (yes, Tinder! Gasp! You can read more about my thoughts on Tinder here), and agreed to meet him for a drink. We met in a bar in Darlinghurst and got on famously – to the extent that we moved from drinks straight to dinner. He was formerly in the Navy, so interestingly well travelled, and was now working for the Fire Service of New South Wales in charge of all their mental health programs for staff about which he was clearly very expert and well informed. He also had a Masters in Indigenous Studies, had read many of the same books as me and is a bit of a leftie. Anyone who knows me well would recognize that this sort of man is likely to be of interest to me, so I had a great night.

He walked me to the station, and then when I was on my way home on the train, he sent me a text message to see if I wanted to catch up again for a walk and lunch on Sunday. I definitely did. We met as planned and had another great date – a walk in which we chatted easily, then oysters and champagne at Circular Quay, followed by an exhibition. He walked me to the station and on separating to go our own ways I told him I’d had a great time and would like to do it again, but my parents were arriving in a couple of days for a month and I wouldn’t be as available as usual. He said that was ok, and to just let him when I would next be free.

About a week later, I sent a text message saying I was free in a couple of nights, and would he like to catch up? He never replied. About 5 days later I gave in to the urge to send another message – just in case through some technological glitch he hadn’t received it. Again he didn’t reply, so I think we can surmise that I won’t be seeing him again.

Now, under these circumstances wouldn’t it be so much nicer – not to mention polite – to just send a quick text message in response to say ‘hey, it was great meeting you, but on reflection I can’t really see it going any further so I think I’ll move on’? The reality is that I left a 21 year marriage – I think I’m going to cope if after one or two dates someone tells me they are not interested…

The end of the affair

Ending a relationship, no matter how insignificant, is tricky and awkward for everyone involved, so my suggested rule about this is simple. If you’ve shared my bed, you need to tell me you’ve decided to call it a day non-electronically. So, as the natural progression from ‘if we’ve been on a couple of (non-carnal) dates, you need to at least send me a text to say thanks – but no thanks’, if our relationship has progressed to getting jiggy, you need to either phone me, or tell me in person. If it’s clearly not been super serious let’s not waste each other’s time by meeting in person to end it, but a phone chat seems appropriate. And if it’s been going on for quite a while, in person is definitely the way. A text message just won’t do in either circumstance.

And there you have it. A kind of manifesto for dating. Or is it a rule book? It’s all just about being polite and respectful really isn’t it? After all, dating is hard enough as it is – as my granny used to say…’let’s all be nice to one another’…old fashioned but useful advice I think.

*Just FYI guys – I can pretty much google you without your surname if you give up enough information…so you might as well tell me your surname. I often know who you are within about 10 mins of chatting, and well before I actually ask for your surname…

**The cat is Trim, Matthew Flinders faithful ship cat, who circumnavigated Australia then disappeared, and to whom Flinders wrote a touching epitaph which is on the memorial plaque near the statue. The café in the State Library is also named after the cat.

In which I ponder…rising strong

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On Thursday evening I went to see Brene Brown speak at the State Theatre. If you’re not familiar with her, she’s a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, who has spent the past thirteen years studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. But for most people who’ve heard of her, it’s mainly because she did a TED talk called The Power of Vulnerability, which is one of the top five most viewed TED talks in the world, with over 25 million viewers.

I first saw that talk soon after leaving my husband, and as the wife of an addict, it hit a nerve. It was the first time I had heard someone articulate what I instinctively had known about my husband and I’ve worked hard since to try to ensure that my life is authentic and brave, and that I surround myself with authentic and brave people – because I’ve learnt that is where the joy is.

So on Thursday night, Brene talked about the ‘Shit First Draft’ – or the way our instinctive emotional responses to triggers lead us to make up stories to try to explain our feelings. To illustrate this, she told a highly amusing and rather familiar story about her reaction to her husband once coming home, looking in the fridge and saying ‘we don’t even have lunch meat in this house’.

Now, I know how that would have played out in my house.

But the point she was making was that the stories we make up are all about us and our frailties, and really nothing at all about the person who has triggered us. So she had made up that her husband was shaming her for being a bad wife and mother and for failing at wife-ing and mothering. And further that he wanted to make sure she knew she was being shit at both – when there was really no need to do that because she already knew. When all he was actually doing was saying there was no lunch meat in the fridge, which was disappointing because he was really hungry and he’d been thinking that eating some lunch meat* would be good.

The reason she reacted in the way she did was that, in common with many of us, she has an internal narrative running that says she is not being a good wife or mother and that essentially she is not enough. And now I say – find me a working mother and/or wife who does not have this story running a loop in their head on an almost permanent basis. Or is that just me and Brene?

Anyway, she told us that the way to try to mitigate this type of reaction was to own it, to recognize it, to name it. So in this situation you would say

‘So the story I’m making up here is that you think I’m a terrible wife and mother, and you think that my failure to purchase lunch meat is evidence of this, and you want me to know this so that I can feel terrible and know that I am terrible’

And the idea is that when you say it out loud, the subject of your ire at least has an idea of what is going on for you, and can reassure you that you’ve got that wrong (assuming you’re not married to an asshole). In addition, saying it out loud will sometimes give you access to the absurdity of what you’re thinking, and you can start to recognize patterns.

I thought this was excellent advice. I’d been to the talk with one of the Julie’s and we talked about it over a couple of glasses of nice sav blanc in the bar afterwards, and I thought I was definitely going to implement this in my own life, because I reckoned that sometimes I did this sort of thing. Not often obviously. Just sometimes.

It was therefore rather regrettable that when I got in the following took place…

I walked in the door at 11pm to be greeted by a slightly grumpy teenager who wanted to know if I had printed her textiles project. I had, but it was still in the car – which in my house is 56 steps up a cliff away. Realising you’ve left something in the car is annoying at the best of times here, but if you’re tired I’m not exaggerating if I say it can be traumatizing.

So neither of us wanted to go up to the car, and it turned out that she had been waiting for me to come home because the textiles project wasn’t finished and she needed the printing to complete it. She hadn’t told me this before, but she did now, and she wasn’t that happy about it.

I was immediately pissed off. Properly pissed off. Angry is probably a fairer description of how I felt. And I said a number of things that I won’t repeat here, but did not exactly cover myself in glory. I may have slammed a couple of doors.

Then I realized what I was doing.

The story I was making up was that Anna thinks I’m a terrible parent, and that I’m letting her down, particularly by staying out late with a friend doing something I enjoy when I should be at home being a good parent, and that she wants me know that. She wants me to know that I am not enough. She wants me to feel bad.

I actually have quite a large body of documentary evidence that would suggest that this is not what my daughter thinks. I have cards, little notes, gifts. She actually thinks I’m the best mum anyone could ever have. I think she’s even used the word inspirational**

Of course the reason I think my daughter is thinking that is because that’s what I think. And I acted angry when actually what I was experiencing was shame.

So I went and had a chat with her. I told her that I feel a constant tension between pursuing the things that help me to have a happy life, and being the sort of 100%, 24/7 available parent that deep down I think I ought to be. And I’ve felt like this ever since I had the children, but even more so since I left their father. Because although I’ve never regretted leaving him, I know that the children have not benefitted from the loss of that nuclear family unit, and I very much wish that I had been able to provide it. If I was to have chosen a life for them, it would have been with a mother and a father who loved each other and a family life where I was mainly at home, not working long hours as I do now, and that there was all the stability that life means. It’s what I would want for them now as my children, and later when they might have children.

But that’s not the way things have turned out and I feel bad – guilty – about it.

The thing is that I could have stayed with their dad. I could have carried on living with him – I’d got used to the way our life was. I was unhappy. Very unhappy. There was a big empty hole where the love should have been. There were the women. And the rest. I was on anti depressants to treat the anxiety that is eventually unavoidable when you never feel confident that you are cared for, or enough for 13 years. But I’d lived with this for 21 years. I probably could have carried on living with his behavior.

The problem was that I couldn’t live with myself if I stayed.

I stayed way longer than I should have done, because I wanted to know I’d done all I could – that I would be able to look my children in the eye knowing they were hurting, and say ‘I honestly did my best. I gave it my best shot’.

I think the time has come to let go of that guilt. I may have been the one who ended the marriage, but it wasn’t my fault, and really my ex had left emotionally many years before I watched him walk up the road with a suitcase. If I could have given the children the family they wanted – that indeed I wanted – I would have done…if I could have done that without sacrificing my sanity, my potential for joy and my self esteem.

In the end I decided that I couldn’t, and I’m going to live with that.***

 

 

*what even is ‘lunch meat’?? Wasn’t it Winston Churchill who said that Americans and English people were ‘two nations divided by a common language’?

**this led me to reflect on what an utterly uninspiring life I actually lead. All I’m really hoping is that I might eventually inspire one of my children to remove the collection of damp towels and rotting food from their bedrooms. Then my work will be done.

***which leads me to Brene Brown’s latest book in the title ‘Rising Strong’ and what it means to be brave and brokenhearted.

In which I ponder…being normal

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I was recently having a conversation with my ex-husband in which he suggested that the ‘normal’ thing to do in my situation would have been to partner up with someone again by now.

This took place in the context of a discussion about our (as yet undecided) financial settlement, and as a contribution to that discourse especially I think it has little merit. The answer to my concerns about my financial security going forwards is never going to lie in becoming dependent, or even partially dependent, on the income of someone else. I’ve done that once, and to be honest it hasn’t worked out terribly well. If I had one piece of advice for any women embarking on a new romantic partnership, it would be to behave from a financial point of view always as though your loved one might be gone at any time, in the blink of an eye – along with his income, his pension and his superior economic power. No matter how confident you are that it will last, or that even if it didn’t, he would look after your interests financially. I hope that the generation my daughter is growing up in will learn this lesson from their mothers, who are nearly always left financially disadvantaged by having prioritized parenthood over earning and career.

However, I digress…

This talk of ‘normal’ got me thinking. And anyone who knows me, knows that thinking is something I do rather a lot of.

What is ‘normal’ anyway? Being single is becoming more and more common. Does that make it normal? The Australian Bureau of Statistics predicts that the number of single person households in Australia will increase by 4.3m in the next 25 years – an increase of 65% – and that 54% of those households will be single women. Not that abnormal then am I, statistically speaking?

But more than that, I don’t subscribe to the idea that my normality is based upon my relationships with other people, particularly since that can create a veneer of said ‘normality’ which, when you scratch just beneath the surface, reveals something not quite so normal at all. My own marriage was a good example of that.

The thing is that I suspect my ex husband – along with many other people – takes some of his personal validation from the fact that he looks so normal, with an apparently healthy relationship, good job, nice home. Other-esteeming, they call that. Some people are unbalanced by people who refuse to conform to these social norms, or won’t let them define them. To be fair, men haven’t exactly been beating down my door offering to relieve me of my financial burdens, but I’ve not been in any rush to settle down, and these days I wonder if I will. I have a level of freedom that I’ve previously never experienced, and I am defined by no one except myself. I like that. Anyone who joins my life is going to have to deal with that.

My sister once said to me

“The thing about you is that you’ve never needed anyone”

I think I’ve mentioned this before here – but I was quite offended at the time. Now I think I understand better what she meant and I realize that to a certain extent it’s true, and not necessarily a bad thing (although I’m pretty certain her intention was not to flatter).

I don’t need anyone. It’s true. But not needing people means that those I have in my life have been chosen – for themselves and not just because they are able to meet a need in me. In doing so, I give them the freedom to choose me, or not. I think that’s healthy. My people are there because I have an authentic, real connection with them, they know who I am without the veneer of ‘normality’ and we chose one another. And we continue to choose one another every day.

If that’s being abnormal, then so be it. Seriously – who cares?

 

 

In which I ponder…adaptation

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I haven’t much felt like blogging lately.

I’ve felt that the sort of things I usually blog about have been too trite and too unimportant, and I don’t know how to write about what has actually been going on. Or whether I’ve wanted to.

But as always I’ve been out there learning stuff. Whether I’ve wanted to or not – which is the way of the world. Someone once said to me that you win or you learn. I’ve never forgotten it. The same person told me that if you fail to prepare, prepare to fail, which I’ve also found useful but less easy to live by. Although it’s been proven to be true on a number of occasions.

What I’ve learnt – not for the first time in recent years – is that I am stronger and more resilient than I think. But what I’m also gradually learning is that this has drawbacks.

Imagine this. What if the thing you had been looking for all these years turned out to be right under your nose all the time?

But then imagine that you then start questioning whether the thing you thought you were looking for was actually the thing you want. Or perhaps you got so caught up in the search that you didn’t notice that you didn’t really need that thing anymore.

The thing about being alone, and being good at adapting to new situations, is that you can adapt too well. Much to my surprise I find myself wondering whether my life is really missing the elements I thought it was.

When you draw an object through water, the line you create immediately fills up behind you. Over the last few weeks I’ve wondered whether in fact life is like that – and whether without even realizing it, the gaps I thought were there have been quietly filling up in my wake.

And then I had a bit of an epiphany.

I am beyond the point of need.

Which means I am at the point of choice. Needs versus wants.

That’s got to be healthier right?

*someone was concerned that they might become blog fodder. Looks like they have…

 

In which I ponder…#singleproblems

Onion Glasses

I’ve been surprised by how rarely over the last few years I’ve wished I had a partner.

Well – that’s not entirely true – as I often wish I had someone with whom to share life.

What I mean is, I’ve been surprised by how rarely I’ve felt that there were things I had to do that I needed someone else to do for me.

I should distinguish between ‘needing’ and ‘wanting’ here. I’d have to admit to frequently ruminating on the fact that I would (might?) have less to do if there was another adult around. This weekend I’ve done the supermarket shopping, a bit of gardening, walked the dog, bought garden tools in Bunnings, paid a load of bills online, done the laundry, cleaned the house and cooked meals for a house full of teenagers. If there had been someone to relieve me of just one of those tasks it would have been nice, but not actually entirely necessary. Because I’m wonder woman.

However, the things I have needed another person for have taken me completely by surprise.

Picture the scene one day this week for example.

I am alone in the house, having had a long day in the office. I am desperate to get out of my work dress. I get the zip down so far and then…nothing. It’s not stuck, but I just can’t reach it properly to move it down. I try reaching down from my shoulder, and then up my back – but to no avail. I’m getting kind of hot and sweaty. I try pulling the dress vigorously downwards with one hand whilst trying to get a firm grip on the zip. This doesn’t work. I add jumping up and down to the mix – you know, just in case. Also doesn’t work.

I start to wonder if I am going to end up having to sleep in the dress and wear it until the children come home. I consider popping next door and asking for help, but then also consider that this might seem a little…well…forward – given that we’ve barely spoken.

Eventually, through an exhausting combination of wriggling, jumping up and down and expletives, I get the damn dress off.

So – we’ve established that I do, on occasion, need a person around to remove items of clothing for entirely non-sexual reasons.

Add to this issues with the clasps on jewelry – particularly bracelets – changing the doona* cover, turning the mattress (completely impossible alone, unless you are prepared to risk a hernia – believe me, I’ve tried), retrieving items from the back of high cupboards and folding king size sheets.

On the positive side though, becoming single also involves quite a lot of upskilling. I now know, for example – from bitter experience – that the way to make maintaining your pool easier is not to just leave the filter pump on all summer. The outrage I communicated to the electricity company about the enormous mistake on the bill was soon replaced with embarrassment once we established this was the cause. Lesson learnt.

And I’ve also discovered and developed workarounds for some of the day to day problems of singledom. I am extremely sensitive to onions, to the extent that my eyes stream at the mere whiff of one – making chopping them very challenging and uncomfortable indeed. I used to rely on my ex husband for this, but guess what? You can buy ‘onion glasses’ and they really work (see extremely glamorous photo above).

Some of the things I’ve needed a +1 for have been more sinister though.

Want to buy one of the lux seats at the cinema? Bad luck if you want to go on your own – unless you can recruit a similarly lonesome stranger – as the seats are in cosy pairs. Because obviously if you are Billy No Mates, you wouldn’t want to sit in a super comfortable seat that reclines and has a lovely button which summons an assistant who will bring you food. Oh no – you’d probably prefer to remain at home, weeping and wishing that you had someone to go to the cinema with.

See a great package holiday – perhaps trekking the Great Wall of China, or cruising the South Pacific? Well, expect to be punished financially for the audacity of wanting to travel the world despite being a singleton.

Have a heart world – it’s already hard enough never having anyone available to take your kit off…

*doona = oddly Australian word for duvet cover, for those of you who are not familiar with our language.

In which I ponder…being me

 

new-day

I am in a counselling room with a new therapist. We’re doing that getting to know you thing – the part before you start telling them about your fucked up life.

‘So…tell me a bit about yourself’, he says.

I tell him all about me. I tell him about my job with the NHS, my children, my involvement with the local parent/teacher association. I tell him I am a wife, a mother, a daughter. I feel a little bit proud. I’m not bad really.

When I’m done, he sits in silence for a moment or two, his hands folded in his lap. Then he looks at me and says:

“Ok. You’ve told me quite a lot about what you do. Now tell me about who you are.”

And I realised I did not know. I had become the things I did, the roles I played in relation to everyone else. I didn’t know where I had gone.

*********************************************************************************************

A couple of days ago, a private message from a friend in the UK popped up on Facebook. She told me she had been thinking about the title of my blog and how it resonated with her.

My friend met her husband when she was 16. Like so many women, particularly of my generation, she was a daughter, segued seamlessly into being a wife then a mother and soon will be a grandmother.

‘It’s got me thinking’, she typed. ‘What would I be like if I ever got to be me?’

Good question.

And one I could well have been asking myself, if I hadn’t found myself compelled to be me in all its questionable glory.

The thing is though, that being on your own doesn’t necessarily mean you get to find out. You don’t just suddenly start being you – you have to learn how. And it turns out it’s hard. Much to my dismay, the real me wasn’t just hiding beneath the person I had become – the person who was too much of a reflection of other people, and not enough of a reflection of me.

The real me was properly lost, and in order to get to her, I first needed to circumnavigate the temporary version of me that developed post separation.

Unfortunately, this person wasn’t much fun.

This person fluctuated between being angry and determined and being helpless and hopeless. She was difficult to be around some of the time, but for all anyone who had to endure her wished I would just snap out of it, they could not have wished it more than me. I felt out of control and I wanted it to be over. Not life. Just the bit where I was sad and angry and hurt and….well – a bit boring.

When you start boring yourself, you know you are in trouble.

These days, I would say I’m closer to being me than I’ve ever been. And I am grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to find out who that is on my own, even if it hasn’t always been a comfortable journey for me – or the people around me.

So who am I?

Well – I’ve realised that who I am is mainly an issue for me. I need to know who I am, at my core, but I don’t need to describe it for others – so I’m not going to do that here. Other people decide for themselves who you are, because they see you and interpret you through the lens of their own experiences. People take you as they find you. What’s important is that I know who I am and am steadfast in that.

Besides I’m in my writing – you can find me there. And some people will judge me and others won’t.

As a wise man once said:

What other people think of you is none of your business…

 

 

 

In which I ponder…validation and embarrassment

embarrassment

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

cut

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