Same shit, different year

I can’t believe that on this weekend last year I met my ex for the first time. I remember vividly how excited and nervous and hopeful I felt as I headed out the door knowing that it was the start of the rest of my life – a chance to start over. I didn’t know I’d fall in love.

This might be the first time in my life I’ve had such a marker to look back on – a whole year and here I am today feeling like a light has been extinguished – things actually got darker. The hope I had went away.

I know divorce is always going to be a rough place to be and time will heal these wounds and things will change. I still believe that out there somewhere is a lover, a best friend, the person I need in my life. Until the day I’m destined to meet that person I just have to keep on fighting the fight, drying my own tears, finding every single way I can to live life to the full, laugh and soak up any joy the world sees fit to offer me.

As Paolo Nutini sings in Let Me Down Easy: “we are broken by others, but we mend ourselves”…

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Sharing the misery

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about being single. I watch a lot of dating shows and occasionally chat to a 20-something friend at work about dating disasters, short lived relationships and Tinder.

It’s always on my mind. I realised the other day that I’ve only been truly single three times since I was 22 – all three times for around 8 months (must be some kind of magic number..)

There is something so reassuring about having a love interest in my life and I have plenty of moments of obsessing over the lack of a potential mate. In fact I’d go as far as to say that I have moments of feeling blind panic at the thought of being alone.
On the whole though it is this fear that time is running out.

I find myself reassessing men that I’ve already discounted as potential mates for the simple reason that they are at least present in my life.

I look at my ex (not The Husband) and pine and consider every day how to reach back to him before coming to my senses.

I look at my friend, the one I briefly dated, the one I see often, chat to easily and share loads of stuff in common with but I still can’t quite see us as a couple.

I even briefly looked at the next door’s ex (remember the dodgy one?). I was letting him become really friendly (ok not *that* friendly!) for a couple of weeks until his behaviour started weirding me out a little and I gave myself a good talking to and cut him loose.

Now I feel just about as single as I’ve felt this side of March 2005.

The thing is I know I want someone who is good, kind, warm, generous, romantic and considerate (amongst gabillion other traits) but there is no way I would ever want to inflict the shit storm that is my life right now on someone that lovely (if, in fact, that person actually exists). And there’s the rub… I neither believe there is someone that good just lurking round the corner nor do I believe that sharing my misery would be either a problem halved in this case nor a fair trade off.

I look back at the posts I was writing this time last year and – oh my goodness – it’s like nothing has changed at all with the Husband. He’s still messing me around the same as ever although this year he has upped the ante with his over-blown allegations of my supposed abuse, control and coercion. Yes, that’s right – those are things he pins on me (whilst looking in the mirror?).

I know now that I need to make changes in myself – in the way I deal with him. I need to put my foot down about him giving me pre-agreed dates and sticking to them. No more flexibility, no more Mr (Mrs) nice guy, no more bending over backwards. I have a clear view of just where that gets me and it looks an awful lot like the inside of a police interview room right now.

One thing is certain: the status of my love life ain’t going to change in 2017. We have a court date in January 2018 and that is currently the light at the end of my never-ending divorce tunnel but I can tell you right now that by this time next year I will be done with the Husband. He will no longer be the ‘Husband’ – he will be the ex-nightmare – and I might actually be taking my first tentative steps on a path to becoming some kind of eligible bachelorette (albeit on the wrong side of 40).

In the meantime I shall try my very hardest to push aside the misery, enjoy the lovelier things about single life – making choices for myself, having platonic male friends to hang out with, spending time with lovely people doing fun stuff and getting to nurture my kids alone with undivided love and affection.

Change your heart, look around you…

Change your heart, it will astound you.

I alluded to one of my favourite films, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in an earlier post by using a still shot of Jim Carrey having his memory wiped after a failed relationship.

Excuse me if I mention my ex just one more time but yesterday, after the whole “reset to neutral” thing I discovered that he had deleted our shared album – pictures that had remained accessible since March when he first broke up with me.

I really have been deleted now.

It’s tough for me to process these feelings because I have managed to go through four long term relationships over the course of 22 years of my adult life and never know what it’s like to be dumped and cut off by someone. Karma maybe but when I have broken up with people in the past it has been  after years and at a point where “unreasonable behaviour” has already caused me a great deal of pain emotionally. The break ups, whilst initially upsetting, have been a release and a relief.

When you think about the hurt someone has caused you, how much you still want to be a part of their life, the fact that you still find them attractive and feel powerless to change the outcome – to change their heart – when you feel that their life is on the up whilst you are tumbling into the abyss, that’s when your mood plummets. For some, that’s when obsession and bitterness kick in.

I’ve often wondered why people let themselves become obsessed with another human being. Yes, love is an immensely powerful emotion but we’re all just specks of dust in the cosmos – might as well take the time you have and seek happiness, not dwell on what’s gone wrong and what you don’t have. Someone chose to let you go from their life – that’s a pretty clear indication that he or she was not the one so make your peace with that, forgive them, wish them well and let it go.

You may feel like you have had the control and power over your own situation ripped away, snipped and discarded like an umbilical cord which was tethering you to where you thought you needed to be, but each and every one of us is ultimately responsible for ourselves, our own thought patterns and feelings and if you can (and I mean, if you are lucky enough to have the mental capacity and emotional stability to do so – and I know I do) then you have to do more than change your heart, you have to change your mind.

You have to be your own cognitive behavioural therapist and re-adjust your thought processes to focus on what makes you happy and not what makes you sad.
None of us can eliminate sad thoughts and we will all have low moods from time to time – we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t – but this ability to imagine and believe and create a better life for ourselves is the one thing we have control of and no one can take that away from us.

Is it possible to find a life partner in your 40s?

I often find myself wondering what my life might have been like if I’d got lucky and met someone perfect for me when I was young (like, the formative years – early 20s). I look at people I know who are in their 40s in a long term partnership with someone they met when they were young and see them enjoying family life, knowing each other inside out, sharing half a lifetime of memories. I wonder if, as partners, they are the best they could ever be for each other because when they met they were not set in their ways yet, they hadn’t had a chance to develop selfish attitudes about how their life should be. And chances are they were not ground down by excessive dating and, certainly back then, unaware of the myriad of other potential partners because online dating, social media and apps hadn’t been invented yet.

Certainly when I’m looking at potential partners now I am a lot more critical than I might have been 20-25 years ago. Someone’s “red flags” from the get go do matter and are noticeable – if you go into a relationship thinking you might be able to change the other person you are kidding yourself. By middle age people are pretty much set.
I wish I knew of some happy couples in their 70s who met in their 40s because I could perhaps let this negative feeling go but I don’t.

I went on a date with a guy about six months ago who told me straight out that he didn’t believe we were meant to be with just one person our whole lives, that we should embrace the idea that we can be happy going from one partner to the next over the course of time but I didn’t like that idea despite my life looking very much like it’s followed that model to this point. The way he spun it, it seemed as though he was suggesting that each of these short term partnerships would end mutually and amicably to the satisfaction of each party simply because they were both ready for a change. REALITY CHECK! Human connections and emotions don’t work like that.

Maybe I’m just a romantic but a long term partner should be exactly the same as a lifelong best friend underneath the attraction and the physical relationship, lust and initial passion. You should really genuinely like each other and enjoy each other’s company on a level a lot deeper than the sexual.

With my ex (not the husband) I really felt that we had a lot of similarities, shared values and I thought he was a great person to know and hang out with. I thought we complimented each other quite well but now I wonder what he was really thinking – that we had nothing in common except a high sex drive? I know I am a much more highly educated person than him, having completed two degrees where he left school and ended up in a blue collar profession, and that I am wordy and love to read, visit the theatre and value cultural experiences where he would rather pass his time camping, fishing and sailing. He was an intelligent man though and a deep thinker. Maybe he saw those cultural differences as a huge barrier and never really believed we were compatible deep down.

And this is it – you can have a tick list of essential requirements in a partner and be seen as inflexible and narrow minded, but opt to overlook the odd difference or two and suddenly you’re making yourself vulnerable to misunderstanding and may never truly be able to appreciate one another because however accepting you aim to be, you can’t ever second guess someone else’s motivations and intentions.

 

Reset to neutral

So, despite my earlier musings (see: Adjust your expectations) I ploughed on with a summer dominated by a “relationship” with my ex which in hindsight amounted to no more than a bunch of texts, three physical visits, only one of which felt like a real date, and a whole lot of waiting and wondering, hoping that we could form a more lasting bond in the shape of a friendship (with, inevitably a whole lot more intimacy) and that such a friendship might, in time, evolve into something more. Either that or I had just accepted and embraced the idea of retaining a physically intimate partner whilst letting go of emotional intimacy and real companionship during this difficult period of my life. I was happy to accept such a compromise – it was comforting to know that I still had the ability to turn a man on, and not just any man but someone who had previously loved and then rejected me.

Inevitably he eventually got cold feet and wanted to change the nature of one of our pre planned meetings. We drove to a canal side pub on a sunny afternoon to discuss where we stood and I told him the friends with benefits relationship suited me as my life is tied right now but I don’t want to miss out on physical affection while I wait for the storm to pass. Before we had even finished our drinks he was back on board so to speak and we were back in my bedroom.

Subsequently we chatted about getting together for platonic activities and he told me that, as I don’t work Fridays we should get together for a bike ride some time in September when the kids were back at school.

Then came a period of holiday busy-ness for us both during which I sensed a change in him. After a couple of unanswered texts I finally re-piqued his interest and we arranged an afternoon get together (although he avoided my initial question about meeting up for that promised bike ride). I let him know I would need to take a couple of hours off work and he seemed very pleased when I confirmed the date.

Then, the day before, I got a very familiar message telling me he wouldn’t be coming after all, that he’d changed his mind about the whole arrangement, that he was in “a strange place” and wanted to figure out where he needed to be.

I received the message whilst sat at my desk at work and tears immediately sprang to my eyes. I hadn’t realised how invested I had become in a “relationship” which in reality was nothing more than the satisfying of a physical urge for him.

He had become seriously involved in one of his local meet up groups, planning and organising social pub walks and cycle rides. I admit to snooping the open source web pages which show event details, times, dates, messages from group members and photos. I could see that this was becoming a bit of a passion for him although I assumed it was limited by the full on nature of the job he does – something which is beginning to kick back in after a period of long term illness, cancer and chemotherapy.

I wrote a long and heartfelt reply, telling him that I felt his moral dilemma ironically made him the best person I could have chosen for a no strings sexual partner because it showed me that he cared and felt responsible and didn’t take it lightly or for granted.
I told him that I completely understood that being single was the right thing for him at this point and that it was not my intention to deprive him of that choice. I also said it would be understandable if he’d met another woman and wanted to pursue a relationship with someone who had a completely uncomplicated life and lived much closer to him than I do. I asked him to respond just to let me know whether my thoughts were fair and accurate.

Seven hours later, despite having read my message, he still hadn’t replied. I checked his meet up group only to see that he’d disappeared, along with all his future events and old messages and replies he’d written were attributed only to “a former member”. I began to worry about him thinking that something drastic in his life must have happened – a return of the cancer? A family member ill or in trouble? Then, as I lay in bed turning it all over in my mind I began to think like a detective – to unravel any mystery you have to first list all potential reasons for any given outcome.

I checked back into meet up and tried a key word search on a name place local to my ex where he had previously arranged an event. Sure enough up popped a whole new group entirely organised by him with the same kind of events but also meals out, camping and beach trips. Looking at the time line it would appear that during the period in the day where he had texted my rejection message and I had quietly broken down at my desk and begun to agonise over the heartache of what felt like yet another dumping (that’s three so far) he was happily fiddling about online, devising fun trips and writing the blurb for his new events.

I then began to feel angry, used, kept in the dark. Bear in mind that I was also suffering raging PMT. I immediately fired off a message taking back my previous platitudes and told him I had begun to believe that this “strange place” he was in was nothing more than an excuse – that he seemed to be in a very happy place and had obviously decided that keeping a connection with me, even for free sex, wasn’t worth the hassle of feeling obligated in any way. I told him that for all his talk of friendship I didn’t believe he saw me that way after all and maybe every moment we ever spent together he was just killing time from one sexual encounter to the next. I told him I felt like a fucking idiot.
He replied very briefly asking me not to expect an immediate response as he was off to bed but assured me that I wasn’t actually a fucking idiot. I cried. A lot. It was midnight and I could hardly breathe. Needless to say it wasn’t a good night’s sleep.

The next day he finally responded telling me that he had found me to be “an attractive, fun and friendly girl (also extremely sexy)”. He told me that he had always found me attractive and that he had loved me. He said that he needed to figure out what he wanted from life and part of that process was to reset parts of his life to neutral and that included his relationship with me and that I shouldn’t take it personally.
He said “all I ask is that you give me space to  figure out my life and who knows, one day we may still be able to be friends.”

I felt upset. I refused to let him have the final word – wrapping things up to suit his own narrative – and sent off one last message. I told him that, whilst there is nothing wrong with the description “attractive, fun and friendly” there is so much more to me than that. I told him that I wish I could “reset to neutral” – like waving a magic wand and deleting certain people and events from your life – but that at my age, it was a bit too late in the day.

I told him that I didn’t believe he really wanted to have me as a friend now or ever. He just doesn’t seem to value me in that way. I wrapped it up by saying that as deeply hurt as I am right now, I hope he finds the happiness he’s looking for and if that happens to be with another partner he should be patient, accepting and willing to compromise and to give the next person a chance (the chance he never gave me).
I do not intend to contact him again. I have discovered all I need to know about him and “us” and it’s a hiding to nothing.

Now I wonder whether there is something about me (other than my offensive ex husband and hard work children!) that makes me an unsuitable partner for anyone – or at least anyone who I would find desirable. Am I too intelligent? Not intelligent enough? Too low brow? (I do watch a hell of a lot of dating shows). Or maybe I’m not interesting enough? Not driven enough? Not intriguing enough? Not fiery enough? Too independent? Not independent enough? What the hell do men want from a long term partner anyway?

 

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.

Overcoming loneliness

I’ve really been doing some self examination lately (well, I am reading Eat Pray Love which has got to be the bible of self examination, albeit personal to the situation of the author herself at that moment in time).

I’ve admitted before that I have a tendency to bounce between relationships – 2 years consecutive is the longest I have been single for over the course of the past 23 years. Once again I find myself seeking out a partner, however it’s not quite so easy this time around. I am older, I have young children, I’m in the middle of a divorce, I have less money to throw at dating sites, I have a lot less time, the stakes are so much higher – it’s not really happening.

I guess it’s time to figure out why I feel the need to continue with this relentless pursuit.

Some things about me:

  • I have lived on my own with my children now for over 8 months (after a 5 month stint with my parents).
  • I pay all the bills including privately rented accommodation;
  • I do 90 per cent of the parenting and the kids are pretty happy, well fed, clean, on top of their homework and want for nothing;
  • besides the wobble with my eldest a couple of months ago, their behaviour is pretty good – standard for their ages at any rate;
  • my family have been super supportive and we have a summer holiday abroad to look forward to with my mum (and possibly some good friends), plus I am lucky enough to be able to fall back on my parents for babysitting and consequently have a fair few social events lined up this summer;
  • I have proved to myself that I can tackle practical tasks that in the past I might have assumed were ‘men’s work’ – I put together a double bed which came completely flat packed without so much as someone to pass me the screwdriver, I can fit a bike rack on my car and I now mow the lawn and unblock the drains and put the bins out;
  • I’m an introvert and I enjoy my own company whether I be cooking, writing, reading a good book, watching an unmissable box-set or movie, shopping or treating myself to a Costa latte;
  • I have never been able to sleep well sharing a bed – I am super conscious of another person in my space and I love having a room of my own, decorated to my taste – somewhere I see as my sanctuary;
  • I have a can-do attitude when it comes to meeting new people and joining groups so even if I am child-free and have a whole day to myself I know I have options even if my old friends and family are busy.
  • I have lots of friends, near far and online.

All of these things add up to me being self-sufficient – i.e. I don’t need a partner and in some ways a partner would complicate my life – I might get less sleep and have to learn to compromise again when it comes to all the little decisions that I have found I am quite capable of making on my own.

I find for the most part that I am happy, I’m certainly busy with the children a lot of my time and I don’t often find myself at a loss for something to do.

The times when I feel down tend to be days alone with the children or evenings at home alone after the children have gone to bed. A great sense of loneliness settles upon me and I feel hopeless then and depressed. I’m a practical person though and I know from experience that all it takes to overcome these negative feelings is what they call a ‘meaningful connection’ with another person. That person might be a good friend or family member – someone who I know has got my back emotionally, rather than someone who doesn’t really know me who is only available for small talk.

I’ve got a list of about ten people who know me inside out and hopefully at least one of them will always be there at the end of the phone or online for a chat.

Its also a matter of being super-organised when it comes to planning play dates and get-togethers in advance in order to reduce the amount of time I have to be alone with the kids. It sounds awful but some Saturdays I just dread.

I know that there is obviously more to this desire for a partner than just overcoming loneliness though. Sex of course. Lately though I wonder whether it’s that big a deal. It can be fun, it can be really enjoyable. On a chemical level it’s amazing – Oxytocin highs – what’s not to like? But does my life suffer without it? Not so sure.

One of the biggest things that you can only really get through a romantic relationship though is that feeling of being really special. When you are someone else’s ‘significant other and they only have eyes for you and they treat you to romantic gestures – that kind of love makes you feel so secure and confident in yourself and having experienced that and then having had it taken away again leaves you feeling, well, the opposite of special I guess.

I’m not sure if there is any way of substituting something else for the feeling of self-worth you get from being loved in that particular way but finding that love is starting to feel like one of the labours of Hercules.

I read this morning that Liz Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love got divorced from her husband of 12 years last summer (2016). This was the Brazilian guy she met in Indonesia at the end of the memoir, the love affair with whom kind of signifies something like a happy ever after for all us emotional gap-pluggers out here in the real world.

She’s now a lesbian and who could have predicted that? Which just goes to show, we cannot steam-roller a path for ourselves – what will be will be.

It’s a no from me

So, yet more navel gazing from the frontlines of the confusing, frustrating, disappointing world of internet dating.

If you read my last post then you know that I was vaguely excited by what I’d considered a ‘good’ date yesterday. I was in the dark about how The Scot felt about me or what would happen next given hectic schedules on both sides. I needn’t have worried.

After about 8 hours I sent a brief message saying I’d enjoyed meeting him and suggesting that if he could get a night off soon then I would attempt to do the same, I got nothing back. At least not until 15 hours later when I receive the fairly lame “It was nice to meet you too, Layla. I’ll try and get a night off soon Xx”.

The first thing that irritated me about this was that, well, Layla isn’t my real name but I’ve got the kind of name that is shortened to the first three letters – always. I don’t feel comfortable if someone uses my full name – it’s not Elizabeth but if it was, and I was used to being called Liz then you can see how formal and arms length it would seem to use the long version. That’s the first thing he did.

I had said “I really enjoyed meeting you today [Scot]” and he responded “It was nice to meet you”. Not the same I’m afraid, in fact generically polite and dispassionate.

Despite these little niggles though the one thing that spoke volumes was the time scale. It quickly became clear to me that this was more than just someone who doesn’t really ‘do’ messaging. And once I had come to that realisation, I began to unpick everything – total deconstruction of the dating process, my expectations, what I want, what I need, everything.

Before I had even decided what the time lag was all about I already knew that whatever, it meant something to me – it meant that, to coin a phrase, he just wasn’t that into me. And that’s OK – disappointing initially, but OK. And actually, on reflection, I begin to see that there was something fundamentally lacking in our interaction, something which is really quite important to me: humour. There was no banter, no flirting, no naughty twinkle in anyone’s eye.

To be fair I’ve got myself in trouble before by my attraction to men who have a bit of the joker about them, and I realised that when I was scrolling through one dating website the first time I was even narrowing my search down to men who described themselves as ‘a big kid’. Then I happened to stumble across the profile of the Husband and noticed that he describes himself as ‘a big kid’. Oh dear.

Heaven knows I don’t want another child in my life but a sense of humour, the signs that the other person doesn’t take themselves too seriously, the impression that they enjoy the fun stuff whilst still being able to man up to the challenges we all face in our day to day lives and switch on a bit of depth for a real emotional connection – that’s a pretty big deal to me. Unless someone is naturally that way inclined then I find it difficult to feel truly at ease in their company.

I am a self-deprecating kind of person, I LOVE to laugh – live comedy is one of my absolute favourite things to watch. It’s part of my history, growing up as a regular audience member on the London Comedy Circuit. I would rather discuss my favourite funny films and shows than discuss politics.*

I would rather go to bed with someone who makes me laugh (not like that!) because it puts you at your ease and it’s the beginning of ‘playful’ and I like playful. All that intense Fifty Shades bullshit just makes me cringe.

So, yeah, all that to say, this whole experience has started with me feeling rejected and ended with me feeling grateful – grateful to be given the opportunity to re-assess what it is I need. Grateful that I have the ability to keep it all in perspective and not to take it personally, because I know that I would have dated this guy and I know now that it wouldn’t have taken.

  • I do talk about politics and political issues do matter to me but if I just put this out there: Ben Elton, circa 1986 and ‘a little bit of politics’… that’s the way I like it…