Adjust your expectations

Why is it that I continue to believe that it is possible to be friends, or even more than friends, with an ex and still remain emotionally detached? Maybe it’s something that comes easily to men – hell, maybe it comes easily to other women – but I seem to find it impossible.

I keep letting myself get sucked into this cycle of doom which inevitably ends with me feeling rejected, taken for granted, de-prioritised, shelved – essentially just ‘less than’: less than I was before, when my partner was feeling intoxicated by our love affair; less than I was when he wanted to hold my hand, and share every thought and hold me in his arms, discussing the future.

I tried so hard to just keep it casual, nothing more than a diversion, but just as internet dating seems to involve a lot of people who want to have a bit of a diversion via the medium of the small screen, so my ex now seems to have joined their ranks. I ask for a meet up ‘in real life’ and he suddenly disappears for 24 hours only to come back with reasons he can’t make it – too tired, work commitments, etc.

I point out, to myself, that I am looking at my ex through rose-coloured glasses – at the end of the day (apologies to my dad for using one of his most hated clichés 😉 ) he is a 52 year old man (my ex, not my dad!) who has flaws and annoying stuff about him and we have clashing interests and we’re at different life stages and it’s not the dream, it’s not the fantasy, it’s just someone – someone who I thought cared or who had the capacity to give me what I needed. But he doesn’t.

Once again I am reminded that one of the toughest things to control in relationships whether they be old or new, casual or serious, is your own expectations. As soon as you start projecting your desires onto the situation you are on very shaky territory because there is no way of second guessing how the other person is thinking or feeling. Even if they seem to be on board, sometimes, in their own mind, they have already cast off the lifeboat under cover of darkness and prepared for a swift getaway.

“Oft expectation fails, and most oft there where most it promises”. Shakespeare’s way of saying “expectation is the root of all heartache”. Which just goes to show that no matter how mundane your failed love life might be, the way you feel is probably universal and ageless.

At least I’m not alone.

Baggage

I’ve come to a conclusion about my love life – or at any rate my love life as of 2017. Pretty obvious really but it’s still taken me this long to put it all in perspective.

I would say that there are numerous men out there who have no initial problem with dating a single mum but  everyone’s situation is different and what comes to light over the course of a few weeks or months is that background issues become apparent. In my case, right now I would have to admit that the Husband is still just a little bit too present in my life – and not in a good way.

I can imagine being a man dating me – little by little finding out that my not yet ex husband and father of my young children is what I describe as a “high conflict personality”, with a personality disorder who is full of bitterness towards me but still seems to want to reconcile at times.

The fact that he is also a police officer and gym obsessive just adds to that heady mix of negative bordering on a bit scary and just generally not a person you would want to invite into an otherwise stress free life.

I know the children themselves complicate things and the lack of a regular child contact agreement restricts my ability to be spontaneous but ultimately it’s him – this dark shadow on my shoulder.

My first ex post marriage was concerned about stress in his life despite assuring me that his feelings towards me didn’t really change – he carried on loving me and fancying me after the break up.

My recent partner is not as in tune with his own feelings and by his own admission buries his head in the sand at times rather than tackling whatever doesn’t sit right with him which kind of explains him telling me that he didn’t even know why he pulled back from intimacy and why I ended up being the one to instigate the break up. His “action” is really just omission. I genuinely don’t think it was because I did anything wrong or because he doesn’t like me or find me attractive any more.

The fact that, during a conversation yesterday he said “I know it’s rubbish now but it’ll get better [Layla}” shows that he is well aware that it is the situation I find myself in that is the problem, not me.

So I’m left wondering how the next phase of my love life is going to go. Do I just have to accept that, if I want a love life at all I’ll probably have to expect to bounce from one short term thing to the next just trying to keep the heartache to a minimum? The alternative is to remain single but I’m afraid I’m hard wired to seek out love affection and intimacy – without those things in my life I have discovered the hard way that I just end up feeling lost and lonely.

Another relationship bites the dust

Yep that’s right folks – after six weeks of dating I experienced one too many little rejections which all added up to feeling like a bit of a loser to be honest.

Let me explain. This relationship started because the guy, W, sought me out after meeting very briefly at my first social Meet Up in a pub back in April. He went under my radar but he started following me on Instagram and “friended” me on Facebook and messaged me via the Meet Up chat facility asking if I wanted to attend an event in July that he was hosting. We got chatting and one thing lead to another – i.e. he asked me out on a date to the cinema.

We hit it off fine and enjoyed the film, went for drinks after before having our first kiss at the station before he had to run for his train. It was all good.

He is very active on the two Meet Up groups that he arranges events for and had a fair few things in the diary that first couple of weeks – things which I was interested in attending too and therefore our next couple of dates were kind of a hybrid of Meet Up mingling with others and time alone before and after events.

The subject of sex obviously came up – what is too soon? What is just right? I mentioned that old chestnut “The Third Date Rule”. To be honest I’m kind of a ‘go in for the kill early’ kind of girl – I can’t help it – I’ve got a high sex drive and I begin to feel very easily frustrated if I’m kept waiting! So any way, lo and behold we ended up spending the night together on our third date – a night in a hotel arranged by him because of the unfortunate fact that he is currently living with his mum and dad.

It was good – successful I’d say as far as first nights together go – it’s never going to be perfect when you don’t know the other person that way and nerves and expectations come into play, but I was happy that we had initiated that side of things.

I knew that we couldn’t keep spending money on hotels and the obvious next step would be for him to come to my house and as soon as I knew I had child free time I invited him and he agreed willingly. Until that is, right before the day when he came up with some excuse about taking his car to the garage for a quote on a scratched bumper.

Not great but I gave him the benefit of the doubt and invited him the following Sunday which again he agreed to… until the day itself when he told me that he was going to be going to a barbeque at his brother’s house. I told him to stop making excuses and just tell me he didn’t want to see me anymore but he eventually replied to say that he did want to keep seeing me, just wanted to slow it down a bit.

I felt like there was a bit of hypocrisy there considering how he jumped at the night we spent together in the hotel but again I gave him the benefit of the doubt acknowledging that we were still only a couple of weeks into things and knowing that I tend to jump into relationships at 100 miles an hour.

We actually ended up not seeing each other at all for the whole two weeks after that night. Then I decided to stump up for a babysitter just so we could get together and see each other at least once a week when the Husband was unavailable (i.e. all the time). I ended up driving the 20 minutes over to his town to the pub we’d first met in a couple of times whilst also paying a babysitter up to £20 on top.

We had one more night at the cinema and went for a meal too and he seemed really keen that time although we weren’t due to spend that night together and I ended up giving him a lift home because his train was a long wait. We had quite a frank conversation about everything that time and I told him that if we continued down the more or less platonic route then we would slip over into the ‘friend zone’.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, this past weekend (six weeks into our relationship) we had a night out which had been planned long in advance. It was another Meet Up event that he’d organised and we’d arranged, once again, for him to finally come to my house beforehand and then come back and spend the night afterwards.

I think you can probably guess what happened? That’s right, he made another last minute excuse on the day about wanting to meet in town instead and not planning to come back after due to tiredness after a stressy week at work.

I could no longer give the benefit of the doubt. Maybe for some people dating is all about taking it really, really slowly and not pushing for any kind of physical or emotional intimacy but I genuinely think that six weeks is a bit of a turning point.

I mean, I’d love to know what other people think, but even he knew that I was going to be upset this time and when we met up on our own for a pre-meal drink I did get a bit tearful and he told me he was unable to explain what made him keep pulling back the way he had been because he didn’t even really understand it himself.

I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to be told something that vague. I said that I didn’t think we were compatible as a couple unfortunately because I needed someone who would want to hold my hand, take the initiative, make the first move sometimes, reach out and not always leave it to me to initiate contact.

I tried to give him ways to pull it back, step it up, make up for what’s been lacking but he either deliberately or unwittingly failed to follow up on any of that, telling me that he still wanted to do the things together that we had planned – one of which was a trip up the Shard building in London on my birthday.

I told him that I was happy to stay friends and do the other event but that my birthday was a day when I want to spend time with either an old friend, a family member or a boyfriend. His response to that seemed a bit bitter – “of course you wouldn’t want to spend your birthday with me”. I told him “you’ve missed the point, I wanted to spend my birthday with you as my boyfriend”. He countered “No [Layla] I haven’t missed the point at all”.

I tried one last time to get him to give me some kind of explanation that would help me get over the sense of rejection (the whole sex thing dents me – I have a lot of my sense of identity as a woman wrapped up in who I am sexually and to have someone pull away from that whilst still wanting to remain more than friends is something I find hard to deal with or understand).

He just failed to respond at all and I decided to let it go after having a bit of a cry. I told him to forget the whole conversation because I felt like an idiot. And that’s about the end of that sad little story.

Onwards and upwards?

 

Dating update

I’ve come to the conclusion that a lot of the doubts and negative feelings you might experience in the early days of dating someone come through miscommunication or just different styles of communicating.

After my last post I’ve had a few more dates with W – we’ve been to the cinema and a live comedy show and meal & drinks. We’ve had a chance to really open up and talk about what we want and need and he admitted that he had found it hard to say no when I invited him out even when he wasn’t ready to be that intimately involved that quickly because he didn’t want to disappoint me so that’s why all the last minute excuses. I told him that it was more disappointing to have a date arranged and then cancelled last minute. He seems to get that so hopefully it won’t happen again.

I need to be the one to offer dates because my time is so limited and I don’t want to feel like I never know where I stand. In that vein I tentatively invited him to be my Plus One on my Big Birthday adventure in London which probably means that I might actually have to tell some family members that he exists…

In a few days time it will have been a month since our only night together so far which is weird for me although who knows – it might be completely standard for him. To be fair things have changed because I’m a single Mum now – the restrictions on my time are huge and my last relationship lulled me into the false sense that potential partners would be willing and able to be super keen and flexible.

The difference with him was that he was on the tail end of a long term work hiatus to recover from chemotherapy when I met him meaning he did not have the stresses and pressures of a regular work schedule and making an hour’s drive to see me of an evening after my kids were tucked up in bed doable as he could simply catch up on sleep the next day.

In hindsight it’s very telling that he chose to break up with me just as he was being integrated back into full time (shift) work.

With W what I tend to find is that no matter what kind of understanding we come to in person,  after a few days where our only form of communication is text I start second guessing everything – why am I being so enthusiastic when he comes across so flat and unenthused at times? Has something happened to make him lose interest or has he just had a tiring day at work? Does he like me keeping our connection going or is it annoying him? Should I back off or take heed of the fact that he told me that his previous partner sent him a clear picture of her real disinterest by leaving a three day gap between one message and the next?

Why does it all have to be this confusing and complicated?

Maybe I just need to bear in mind that right now we are on good terms, we have dates in the diary, we have both expressed enjoyment in each other’s company on all of our dates, we enjoyed our intimacy, we’ve talked about that and both looking forward to the next time. Of course I can only vouch for my own complete openness and honesty in regards to all these feelings but I’m not sure if I have any good reason to doubt him.

These really are the standard ponderings of a fledgling relationship and we’ve just started something new too – having a conversation on the actual phone! Weirdly it hadn’t even occurred to me to do that before now which just goes to show how wrapped up we all are in our social media world. There is no substitute for real voices together engaging over the course of over an hour. Maybe it’s because it’s Friday night and he’s finally unwinding – or maybe because we know we’re not seeing each other til Monday night but it felt really good just to hear his voice for the first time in four days.

All or nothing?

Sometimes I wonder if the dating game isn’t just some kind of self-inflicted school course in self discovery. With each new person and each new experience you gain knowledge of others (in my case, men, with all their gifts and faults) but in addition, you have your own expectations and needs reflected back on you and that can be disconcerting.

The latest person to enter my life is someone who I don’t have illusions about – he’s not the man of my dreams. But he’s OK and that’s good enough for me right now. Or is it?

I know I’m not in the right place to start a long-term, meaningful relationship but I still want to have an emotional and physical connection with someone. For me, that means communicating every day, sharing both the important and insignificant moments, if not real, then virtual kisses in the morning and before falling asleep at night, regular dates both in and out of my home with no date-free hiatus during which you feel like you’re in limbo.

But perhaps this is my problem? Perhaps this is rushing in headlong trying to impose intimacy on a virtual stranger in just a few short weeks. Perhaps this is where my last relationship went wrong (although I tend to think it was the introduction to the children and family life that sparked the beginning of the end there..)

I invited him (the new one) to my house three times in two weeks and each time he said yes and then backed out with some quite feeble excuses at the last minute. The last time this happened I sent him a message saying “you don’t have to keep making excuses, if you don’t want to see me any more please just tell me”. He responded (five hours later) saying “I do want to see you [Layla], just want to take it a bit slower if that’s alright”.

The thing is, I don’t know if it is alright. I said I’d just leave him to invite me out in future but I hate not knowing when/if we will see each other again and it makes me feel like the messages and chats I regularly instigate are not worth my energy. I feel out of control of the situation and it doesn’t seem to fulfil the needs I have.

Are my needs unrealistic and out of proportion and over the top? I might be deluded but I just tend to think of myself as a pretty cool, easy-going, attractive, open, honest, loyal, generous partner and it confounds me when someone holds all of that off at arm’s length. It makes me question them (are they playing the field, are they scared by the very idea of emotional intimacy, do they think that I will turn into some kind of bunny boiler and lock them in the second they cross my threshold?)

And if you tend to agree that my ‘all-in’ attitude is too much, then how does emotional intimacy even begin? Is there this one day where everyone agrees it’s OK to expect a bit more than a sporadic get together? When it’s OK to start holding hands? When you can finally begin to think of yourselves as an actual couple?

 

Post date analysis

Today I had my first ever day time/ coffee shop date. It was as much to do with convenience as anything based on two hectic parenting and work schedules but in reality it worked really well – no chance of letting alcohol do any talking (Latte doesn’t have quite the same voice in my head 🙂 ), and a chance to see the other person in broad daylight which is never a bad thing.

I went in expecting – hmm, not sure really. As I said in my previous post I had my reservations based on pre-conceived ideas I got from looking at his dating profile – pictures in particular – which give off the impression of being perhaps a bit of a player?

We’d had so little communication between us as well – I basically just took his lead and his texts were perfunctory so we agreed to meet, we imparted our availability, agreed on a date last Monday, then didn’t communicate at all until last night (Thursday) when I texted to ask if he still wanted to meet (half expecting him to say ‘thanks but no thanks’). He said he did, we agreed on a time and a place and that was it.

We met at 12pm in a little coffee shop about ten minutes drive from both of us and when I arrived a couple of minutes late he was already there and immediately got up, kissed me ‘continental style’ (he used to live in Spain & Italy) and went off to buy me a drink.

I was so relieved that he actually looked like his pictures after the last guy! We got talking, there were no awkward silences, he didn’t dominate the conversation although he probably did do more of the talking than me but that’s OK because I was super nervous.

He is interesting, we are completely on the same page politically, he also has an acrimonious relationship with his ex which, whilst not a good thing per se, was kind of re-assuring – I hate talking to people who have super-amicable relationships with their ex-partners – it makes me feel like even more of a failure!

He works nights, four on, four off as an aircraft engineer and he has his kids (7 and 11) living with him for the whole of his four off. He seems to genuinely enjoy the time he spends with his kids and described how happy he feels when he sees them again after four days apart.

He has a creative side and it sounds like he enjoys cooking as much as I do and to about the same level!

I found him attractive although there was no real flirting as such but maybe that was because we were in a coffee shop and actually, if he does like me as much as I like him then that is a really refreshing and respectful way of behaving on a first date.

I could also tell that he is a gentleman because he jumped up to open the door for a lady coming in with a toddler and a baby in a pram at one point and I got the feeling that that was his style, not that he was just doing it to create a good impression.

So now we’re in that weird ‘after-date’ place where presumably he probably has about as much idea of whether I like him as I have in reverse. All I have to go on is that he suggested we meet up again and I agreed and said next time we should have an evening date. We haven’t made an actual date as such.

If he does like me then we are going to have our work cut out for us trying to find mutually suitable times but I’m guessing that we would figure it out somehow. He would have the same problem with anyone and so would I and at least we understand exactly what challenges the other is going through.

I’m still kind of buzzing from the experience – whilst it’s not the same kind of buzzing you get from being with someone for the first time who you know feels the same way, or having properly kissed, held hands or anything, it’s a tempered kind of cautious little happy feeling.

I’ve got a lot going on at the moment socially (weirdly!), having enjoyed the Meetup social I attended last weekend and put my name down for two more events in May – an Ed Sheeran tribute in a pub and a stand up comedy and pizza night, plus I have a curry & practice run night hike next Friday with my team for the Light the Lakes experience in June.

My parents have agreed to have the kids for all three of those nights in anticipation of the husband actually playing a role in the kids’ lives at some point (obviously not with any kind of pre warning).

Is there enough time left over to start some kind of relationship with this guy (let’s call him The Scot for now – he’s Scottish)?

I’m dying to know whether he likes me or not. I’ll probably text him later on tonight and see what I get back. In the meantime, I’ve got a Teddy Bear’s Picnic to attend…

Closure and new beginnings

It feels kind of right that this should all be happening in springtime – just as the blossoms fall like confetti to the ground.

I mentioned that the (ex) boyfriend and I were back in touch. It was a bit more than that. He responded to an innocuous message I sent via text a couple of weeks ago. He suggested we meet up again in person. We did. It was good but weird in that I felt we were just shadow puppets of our former selves, playing out a familiar scene from the past rather than two people re-connecting on a meaningful level.

I had told myself that it was fine – a “friends with benefits” arrangement; a stop gap; an occasional companion who I felt I knew and could trust. He told me he would do a few little jobs around my house when he got the chance. I began to feel like I could send him a few idle chit-chat type messages during the week to stay in touch without the fear of invoking a ‘subtext’.

We met up twice in two weeks – trying to fit these meet ups in at my child-free times but also taking into account his busy work schedule. I could tell that it was all on his terms.

Last Sunday night he came over – we talked about the next time. I suggested the following weekend and he agreed. I made arrangements for my parents to have the children as I was still in the dark with the husband about child contact going forwards.

Come Wednesday, I received a message from him at midday telling me he’d “fucked up” by double booking himself. He was going to be at a mate’s barbeque so he wouldn’t be coming to see me.

I’ll be honest, rightly or wrongly I was a little upset. I had carved out some free time specifically for him which is not always easy in my situation. Understandably people double book themselves for stuff all the time and under those circumstances someone always loses out and it’s most likely to be a case of last in first out.

Under other circumstances I would have been irritated but philosophical. Under these circumstances I couldn’t help feel like it was a really clear sign that he had placed me and ‘us’ in a category of friendship which could be labelled – ‘potential fun when convenient’. That didn’t make me feel too good. I guess naively, I’d hoped for more. I’d hoped that seeing me again would trigger those feelings of love and affection and happiness which we lived out for four months and put me higher up his list of priorities.

I mulled over any number of responses – all of which would have been bridge burning. I held back from responding at all until 7 hours later when I decided to go with “we all make mistakes x”.

I thought that was vaguely poetic. I didn’t realise at the time that it would trigger him into another, ultimately much more final, ‘goodbye and good luck’ response. He used my poetry against me. He told me all the nice stuff – I’m a ‘very special lady’ who deserves more commitment than he can offer etc. etc.

I cried. I felt like I’d been dumped all over again. I felt bitter. I felt lonely. I felt like I was ‘not good enough’. I’m a walking cliché.

That was two days ago and in that time I seem to have recovered. I did the passive/aggressive Facebook ‘unfriending’; I archived our WhatsApp thread – the one place I could go to find out whether he was still thinking about me due to the scrolling time-stamp; I found a Meetup.com social event which I could join up with on Saturday night and RSVP’d; I briefly discussed the situation with two friends at work and they both told me the same thing – it’s been a learning experience; it’s closure.

I had a nightmare or bad dream last night – another dream where I was watching a character in a movie being chased by a someone or something who meant them harm but seeing the situation through my own eyes at the same time. I woke up with a headache – no doubt I’d had my jaws clenched tight all night long.

However, today I have felt happier than I have in a long time. It’s a bit like a weight has been lifted off my mind – I no longer feel the need to look backwards in mourning. I can finally accept that my brief relationship with the ex was just a stepping stone on my journey and not the destination.

I spent a couple of hours with one of my good friends and her mum this morning having coffee and a good chat. I am in the process of joining a local tennis club where the kids can also get lessons. I am beginning to get my blog mojo back.

I finally heard from the husband who is going to have the children Saturday afternoon and evening which is great because it means my parents are let off the hook and I don’t have to do a 1.5 hour round trip to drop them off.

I am feeling more organised and using some of my child-free down time to get ahead with meal plans and shopping. It actually feels like a lot of headspace has been opened up by the demise of my relationship.

I’ve realised that I could look at my situation one of two ways: 1) I am screwed by my lack of routine, my lack of control and inability to attend regular events or commit to anything or anyone. It will be impossible to find love because no one is that flexible; 2) I am single and free to become a part of many groups and get involved (albeit sporadically) in any number of activities. I am embarking upon a spontaneous journey in the pursuit of happiness – one which doesn’t include a map or any road signs. Romantic love may not be a part of my story for a while but that doesn’t mean I am lost, lonely, unhappy or done with all the opportunities that might become available to me at any given time.

On the school pick up this afternoon I was walking along behind a couple who were having a minor domestic dispute and for the first time I felt lucky. Relationships are fraught with power struggles, little resentments and compromise. I am willing to accept the work that is involved at the right time with the right person but for now, it’s good to have a breather. There is a power in being a strong, single, independent woman who can fend for herself, tap into her ingenuity and recruit others for everything else.

I intend to expand my networks, keep up with my interests and keep working on my relationship with my children because they can only benefit from my undivided attention.

I don’t promise that this super positive mood is unbreakable. I know I will still have low moments when I pine for love and affection and miss my ex but I also know that those feelings will pass – quicker than they did before because I know now that there is no going back.