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…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

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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 dating…

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Over the last few years of singledom, I have learnt a few things about dating. And the lesson that stands out most clearly is this:

There is no group of people less qualified and more willing to give advice on dating than those who have been partnered up for 20+ years. 

There. I said it.

Dating is very different to being in a long term relationship – which is of course a skill and an art in which they have considerable expertise.

Having said that though, I am no slouch when it comes to long term relationships. I might be single now, but I was with someone for 21 years. At one point I was even winning the sibling rivalry contest in my family for who could be married the longest. I still am actually, although I very much hope I am overtaken.

It’s been surprising to me how many people – particularly women – tell me that if something happened to their marriage, they wouldn’t ever bother partnering up again. They believe that my life is full of forbidden pleasures, fun and a level of self determination that they envy. I can almost see the grimaces on the faces of my single friends from here.

Well, the grass is always greener eh? Conversely though, the majority of single people I meet – male and female – would very much like to find that special someone. Personally, I would hope that in any future partnership I would have pleasures, fun and self determination anyway.

This yearning for someone was driven home a couple of weeks ago when I attended a Marianne Williamson workshop. I was surprised by how many audience member questions related to issues around finding the right partner for life. And it was no small workshop – a full house at a large auditorium. People just really want to be with someone – after all, no (wo)man is an island.

But married and partnered people give out such conflicting information and advice – largely because they are not single, have not been single for many, many years and have no idea how dating and being single has changed in the interim*.

Sometimes they tell you that you should not do anything – that someone will come along when you are least expecting it. Ok. Perhaps. But on the other hand they also tell you that you need to get out there and meet people.

But not in bars.

And not on the internet because there are only weirdos there**

Right. So perhaps I will bump into someone at the supermarket, or at work (in an organisation which overwhelmingly employs women. Yay for that, but not a good place to find a man – even if finding a man at work was something that I would ever, EVER do). I must get out there looking for someone, but trying not to look for them. Or something.

What most married/partnered people imagine is that one of your nice friends – and for that you could substitute ‘married/partnered’ friends, as they tend to view your other single friends with a little bit of suspicion – I mean what sort of things do single people get up to together for goodness sake?! – will introduce you to someone. But married/partnered people tend to know other married and partnered people. They know you – who is single. And often that is it.

Additionally you apparently shouldn’t want to find someone – because that could be needy and desperate. At the same time though, you should be clear about what you want – even perhaps make a list (seriously?!). And you shouldn’t compromise, whilst also being careful not to overestimate your worth in the dating market. As one friend said to me – ‘stop going for the attractive men. Just find someone kind’. Hmmm.

Well – ideally I’d like to find someone I was both attracted to and who is kind. And loads of other stuff, but I’m reluctant to make a list. I’m very conscious when dating that there is really no point in continuing if you know that you are never going to want to see that man naked. A lovely single friend sent me a text recently which said ‘is it wrong to date someone I know I’m never going to sleep with?’. My reply – ‘you know the answer to this question…’.

One thing I know is that being in the wrong relationship is way more painful than not being in one at all. It’s why I’m a bit picky. By the same token, being in the right relationship would win hands down over being alone.

For myself, I appreciate all the advice – which is well meant and full of love. But at the same time, I’m just doing my own thing, and I know it’s difficult to accept but I know more about it than they do. I’m mixing it up with the odd foray into internet dating, along with not dating at all, and going out and about with my usual business and leaving it all up to fate.

If no one comes along, that’s fine. I can do this life on my own and it can be wonderful and joyful and exciting. But maybe I’ll meet the perfect man for me and it will be all those things and more. Maybe I already have. You never know…

*To give you an indication, dear Reader, of the extent to which dating changed between 1990 – which was the last time I had been single – and 2011, let me tell you a story…I ventured onto RSVP for the first time and chatted with a lovely man for several days. He was a journalist, interesting, my age and seemed very normal. I eventually felt confident enough to give him my mobile number. And by return he sent me a photograph of his erect penis. Now to be fair, this has never happened again, and I’ve given my number to plenty of people since. But I’m pretty sure this would not have happened in 1990. Partially because smart phones were still just things in sci fi movies. But you know what I’m saying…

**My dad, on discovering that I was using an internet dating site, said incredulously – ‘What sort of weirdos are looking for someone on the internet?! Erm, this sort of weirdo Dad. This sort.

In which I ponder how to let it go…

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In the last few weeks, a 21 year relationship which began with love, hope and excitement, produced two beautiful children, and at its ending had spanned half my life, was reduced to a reference number and a one line entry in the Commonwealth Courts Portal.

Divorce, particularly when a marriage has produced children, is never anything to celebrate – even when the end of that marriage was both necessary and desirable. I felt sad, a few tears were shed, and a check in with a friend was required.

It sometimes feels as though some wounds are so big and so wide and so deep that they will never heal. I feel frustrated that when so much in my life is good, and positive and amazing, there is a corner of me that seems to have so successfully imprinted the pain of the experience of my marriage that I am easily plunged back into the moment of it.

I’ve recently felt as if I have unintentionally created a circuit where if any, even minor incident, raises uncomfortable feelings for me, my thought processes are immediately diverted and I am back in the pain, humiliation and devastation that marred my marriage. It’s as if opening the door to sadness and anger for any reason lets these feelings also tumble out, like Pandora’s Box.

However, I realise that those feelings can flood out only if I allow them. My life is not happening to me – I’m creating it every minute of every day. Alfred Adler said that all behaviour is purposeful. So what am I getting out of allowing myself to feel like this?

I was listening to a workshop by Carolyn Myss in the car recently and I think I might have found a clue. She talks about people living through their wounds (she calls this ‘woundology’) in order to protect themselves. And this rang a bell with me. I often feel that I am impervious to further hurt, because I am so hurt already. I’ve told myself that nothing is going to hurt me as much again, so I’ll be ok. But maybe this is only working because I’m holding onto the hurt. Have you ever had a terrible headache, for example, and directed yourself away from it by pinching yourself elsewhere? We find it hard to experience pain in more than one place at once. And if your head already really hurts, then banging it doesn’t really make it much worse – in fact it can serve to distract you a little.

So whilst I still hurt, nothing else can hurt me. If I let go of that hurt, I open myself up to the possibility of being hurt again.

But it occurs to me that pain, upset, wounds and challenges are part of the rich fabric of life. They are a mechanism through which we learn and develop. No one escapes. Everyone has a wound or two. And it might be possible that by holding onto mine I am preventing myself from further personal development. Even more importantly, it’s probably true that by creating mechanisms to prevent the bad stuff coming in, I am also denying myself the opportunity for joy – as they are one side and the other of each other.

So now all I have to do is work out how to let it go…

Postscript – to any previous readers, I seem to have inadvertently deleted my last post on the courage required to be authentic. Sorry about that! Entirely accidental (and a bit annoying to be honest!)

Additional postscript – I worked out how to reinstate posts I’d deleted, so it’s back. Yay!

In which I wonder about ‘being friends’

My friends, I am single again. For those of you who never knew I had temporarily eschewed my single state, worry not – because I am again an ‘I’ rather than a ‘we’.

This relationship ended with what I like to call the classic ‘constructive dismissal’. This is where your boyfriend behaves in a way that indicates, quite clearly, that he is no longer that into you (doesn’t return your calls, takes a day to reply to polite text enquiries about his health or his weekend, when asked when he’s available to catch up for dinner/drinks/a quiet night in tells you only about all the busy busy stuff he has got on, and nothing about when he might be able to squeeze you in – you get the picture…) but because he lacks the balls to actually end it himself, waits until you can no longer take it and you end it for him.

I’ve been in this situation before – the most extreme version of which was my marriage, in which my husband’s persistent affairs demonstrated a pretty obvious ‘not that into you’ scenario which he was not brave enough to confront himself, and it was left to me to tell him to leave. In some senses, I suppose, this did give me a certain sense of empowerment (although it didn’t feel like it at the time), and I’m sure he was surprised that I let it all go on for so long before I gave him his marching orders (I know I am, looking back with the benefit of hindsight).

After the end of our marriage, it was my ex-husband’s fervent wish that we would be friends. At first I tried very hard at this, until I realised a couple of things. The first was that he had not been a very good friend to me over the years. A friend would not have treated me the way he had done, and there was really no evidence to suggest that he had anything to offer me in terms of friendship. Friendship with him seemed to be very one-sided, and mainly about me overlooking how badly he had hurt me, and continuing to care about his wellbeing and happiness.

The second thing I realised was that my being friends with my ex meant that I continued to provide him with the bit of our marriage that he had most valued – possibly the only bit that he had valued – someone in the background who provided stability, and made him look functional. So he would come to my house and hang out, get a meal cooked for him, have me check he was all ok, spend an hour or so with his children, and then bugger off to his latest girlfriend’s house – which was pretty much what he had done throughout our marriage.

And so I put a stop to it. I told him that we were not friends and we would not be – because he had no idea how to be someone’s friend.

But now I find myself having ended a relationship again and the man in question wanting us to be friends. It’s given rise to a lot of old feelings that are not his fault, but have left me pondering why this makes me so sad.

I think the thing is that what I want from a man – first and foremost – is someone who will treat me at the very least as well as they would treat a friend. When I’m in a relationship, they are getting something deeper, more valuable, more precious than just my friendship. Why then treat me with more respect and care when I am not a girlfriend than when I am?

I think often these friendships serve mainly to help people feel better about the way they have behaved in a relationship, and I’m not sure what is in that for me. In addition to that, I’ve been (unsuccessfully) dating for nearly 5 years. I’m not sure I want to repopulate my friendship group with men with whom I’ve had a relationship. Although – to be fair – I have made a few friends out of men I dated. But those men were good friends to me during the relationship, and the transition into that new status was painless for both of us.

Then, of course, the ‘friend’ thing tends to get complicated when new people appear on the scene. A friendship is not meaningful if you are dropped when they find a new woman, and many women don’t react well to ex girlfriends pursuing even platonic relationships with their new beau. In my age group, we are all, after all, often already dealing with the ex wife. I have a dear friend, who used to be a boyfriend, whose girlfriend ended her relationship with him when I appeared (invited, obviously…) at his birthday party. When I spoke to him about it, he said that any girlfriends would need to accept his friends, whoever they are.

That is, of course, how real friendship plays out over time, no matter how it started. So if your boyfriend has failed to be a good friend to you whilst you were his girlfriend, what evidence is there to suggest that he would be any better at it when you are not?

Only time will tell, I suppose…

In which I learn to live without ego…

ego

If there is something I’ve learnt in the last 4 or 5 years or so, it is that everything is changing, all the time. Things I thought were concrete changed over night, sometimes in minutes, and it was adapt or (figuratively speaking) die. Initially I felt that some of these changes were forced upon me, but I’ve come to realise that in virtually every situation I made choices, and that overall those choices have been positive, even when they’ve been painful. And when I look back across my life, I’ve quite consistently chosen change – because often change means progression and progression has been important to me.

But recently I’ve found myself weighing up certain things where the burden of having to decide for myself without being able to blame anyone else has been almost overwhelming. And it’s led me to consider two rather uncomfortable things about the way I live my life.

The first thing is that I have a tendency to blame. When something goes wrong, I quickly look for whose fault it is – generally because I’m afraid it is mine. I’m much worse at this in my personal life than in my professional life – I suppose because it’s more personal. At work I know that when things go wrong it’s rarely the fault of one person, and usually the fault of a whole system. But when I’m at home, I’m looking for the culprit and to be honest it’s pretty annoying when it’s me. One of the problems with being single is that if your preference is to live in something of a blame culture, there’s no one left to blame*.

So these days, being on my own, when big life decisions need to be made there is only me to make them, and therefore only me to blame if it turns out that the decision I’ve made sucks big time. And this is making it very hard to decide stuff. And then recently I was ruminating over something that had been hanging over me for some months and my friend Julie** said this to me;

‘Why do you think you want to do that? That sounds like your ego talking’

I’ve given this a great deal of thought. And I think she is right – I think I’ve been operating too much from my ego, and this is part of what has been making decisions so difficult. Combine that with my blaming thing, and you’ve got a big problem – because if there’s no one to blame but myself, then my ego is going to suffer. And there is no one I punish more than I punish myself. It’s no wonder I seem to be paralysed around some major life issues.

Being concerned with my ego, even subconsciously, and therefore with status must mean that when I’m making decisions I am letting myself be preoccupied with issues of external validation. And this is no way to decide things. I need to be able to get in touch with what I really want by removing all thoughts of what other people might think, of how it might affect my status, and of where the validation for those decisions might lie. Even seeking to apportion blame is really a form of validation, isn’t it?

So I tried this out on a big decision I had been struggling over for some months. I thought carefully about what is really important to me when I’m not worrying about how I’ve got to get ahead, prove myself, be the best – or at least try. What does the authentic me want? What does my heart, rather than my head say?

Suddenly it’s made things a whole lot easier. And it means that for once, although it’s a little uncomfortable, I am not choosing change.

*to be honest, it’s quite often the children. Just saying.

**if you become a regular reader of this blog, you will come to realise that I have a confusing number of friends who are called Julie or Julia. I like to call them ‘My Julies’. Ali G style.