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.

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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?

 

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?