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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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.

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.

Step away from the Comfort Zone

It’s been Mayday bank holiday weekend for the past three days. It’s Monday evening now and it’s been five days since the ex dropped out again all bar his brief little attempt to talk me back into a commit-free relationship on his terms (which I declined this time).

I knew that I needed to fill my weekend up with action and social interaction and activities. Crucially knowing that I had childfree time I wanted to make the most of it and where I would have been doing nothing more interesting than another hanging out with the ex “for old time’s sake”, I wanted to prove to myself that being single and making choices which open up new experiences for me is actually really valuable and it’s the part of my life that’s been missing for the longest time.

Last week I discovered a local tennis club and made some enquiries which led to me heading down there on Saturday afternoon to check it out. I very nearly ended up walking away without even speaking to anyone but fortunately two lovely guys approached me and said it was no problem for me to stay and join in. I ended up being there for over two hours and playing in three short matches. I came away feeling that it would probably be worth joining but that, whilst the people were relatively friendly, it might take a while to make any real friendships. However, as a way of burning energy, practising my game and getting the kids some lessons it really makes sense. I don’t know if they have “socials” outside of the game but if they do then that would be an added plus.

I returned home to do some cooking, listen to some music and watch an episode of my latest unmissable TV thriller before having a bite to eat and getting myself ready for an evening out with another group of strangers.

During this time I had to really fight my feelings of loneliness. Under other circumstances I would have revelled in these solitary activities but this weekend the final break up with the ex was a little too raw and feeling like I simply didn’t yet belong to the groups I aspire to be a part of made me feel like I was hovering on my own in limbo for a while.

I really felt super nervous about heading off to the Meetup.com social that I’d signed up for. Would it be awkward? How would I know who to approach when I arrived? What if everyone knew each other so well that they were cliquey and exclusive? Nevertheless I was pretty determined to see it through – I do believe that there’s no time like the present and you have to be a bit brave and get out of your comfort zone if you want to achieve anything in this life.

As it was I arrived bang on time and didn’t know who to approach. For a second I floundered but then the one other member of the group who was there caught sight of me and came to my rescue. It was all a little weird to begin with but as more and more people arrived I found myself chatting to one person after another and feeling more and more accepted. Admittedly at one point I did get stuck talking to a bit of a bore but eventually I managed to break away and join in with some of the other girls having a dance to the live music at the venue which was great fun.

By the end of the evening I felt pretty good about the whole thing and one of the more gregarious guys came over and told me that he was impressed that I’d had the courage to just come along not knowing anyone and really get stuck in. I felt proud of myself, and he was right, that first time is the killer – once you’ve conquered that you’re no longer a stranger and next time I will head out feeling excited to meet my new friends rather than nervous.

Weirdly the activity on the dating website I’m signed up to suddenly picked up after about a month of tumbleweed blowing through. A guy I messaged ages ago finally replied after re-subscribing to full membership (without which you are unable to write or open messages). He didn’t seem very chatty so I decided to cut to the chase and suggest meeting up in person for a coffee rather than entering into one of those excruciating ping pong message matches where delayed responses become a source of soul searching agony or it all fizzles out before it’s even begun.

Now I have a pencilled in date for the end of the week which is kind of awesome and terrifying in equal measure.

If I’m honest I have a few reservations about this guy. He is a single dad with kids just a little older than mine which is great but I’m having a hard time figuring out how the hell we would manage to see each other if he’s either working or solo parenting. Also, he has a kind of “come to bed” vibe going on in a few of his photos and I suspect he may be one of those guys who isn’t really looking for a relationship, just a string of dates to round out a bachelor lifestyle. That is also borne out by the fact that under “type of relationship sought” he’s picked “let’s see what happens” from the drop down box.

Either way, it’s just another stepping stone – it’s an ego boost just to have a relatively attractive man even want to meet up with me (there are probably a load of other girls on his list but we live one town over from each other so it’s a nothing to lose scenario I guess). Plus I’m slowly beginning to see the merits in meeting a variety of people and not desperately clinging on to the idea of true love with the first person I happen to run into. I’ve lived my entire romantic life like that and I can only look back and wonder whether I somehow shut the door on a potential soulmate by settling for the path of least resistance.

So, I think I can safely say that it’s been a full on couple of days (including two days over at my parents with the boys and a roast with my sister, brother in law and niece).
Whatever the future holds i think I’ve proved to myself that life can be full and whatever you make if it if you just have the determination to put yourself out there.

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.

Why is it so difficult to take my own advice?

It’s Saturday evening. I’ve been solo parenting for two days now (yesterday was the last day of school holidays). I’ve taken them to a posh “play barn” and today an expensive “leisure pool” with lots of water slides which was actually better fun than I’d anticipated.

We had all been getting on great but then I had another difficult afternoon with my eldest who became really stroppy when I told him that we were going to the park so his little brother could play with his new ball (I got them both £3 plastic balls at the supermarket this morning).

He was out playing with the neighbourhood boys and actually getting into a bit of aggro along with his trouble-making friend. He threw a complete wobbly at the suggestion of going to the park until I stretched the truth and told him it would only be for five minutes.

All the time we were at the park he was moody and whingey and kept threatening to throw his brothers ball in the fishing pond. When we got home I let him go back out on the proviso that he would come in with no fuss when I said it was time. Of course that didn’t happen and another immense wobbler took place which involved all sorts of bad behaviour including planting grass cuttings in my bed and chucking one of my boots across the bedroom, narrowly avoiding smashing a mirror (not his intention but still). At that point I lost my cool completely and raged at him which at least got him to back down.

Anyway to cut a long story short he calmed and mellowed over the following couple of hours and has accepted that he is grounded after school on Monday.

I have been struggling with my feelings around the (ex) boyfriend again. We’re back on friendly terms and I know he was off today for a weekend of camping, fishing and general merriment with all three of his 20-something children, his best mate and his adult kids too.

Even though I never met his kids, don’t like the idea of fishing (ok, can’t think of anything more dull!) and am more of a fair weather camper (it’s April in the U.K. and 3 degrees Celsius later on tonight) the thought of him out there surrounded by friends and family, able to do all the things he loves with the people he loves best makes me feel a huge sense of sadness and loneliness.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t begrudge him that happiness but I feel excluded from this happy picture and I wonder if he was thinking about times like this when he chose to break up with me. Did he struggle to see me fitting in? Think I’d cramp his style or just fail to imagine it being my cup of tea or something that could be planned around my parenting schedule?

I’ve sneaky peaked his Facebook updates and pics of the event. That didn’t help. I texted him to ask if they were having fun. He asked me how my evening was going and I very nearly mentioned the struggle with my son but checked myself. I didn’t want to give him a reason to pat himself on the back for having the correct instinct to dump me and leave me to my parenting woes! He was probably right, who would actively invite that kind of a headache into their life?

I decided to just give a one word answer to his question “Great. X”. Obviously I’m not a very good liar because he then asked “is that a sarcastic ‘great’?” To which after some thought I responded “I’ve got strawberry lime cider and Line of Duty on the iPlayer later. Bit lonely but life could be worse – I’m not facing down a Japanese death squad #everycloud 😂”. He agreed, life could be a lot worse. I thanked him and wrapped it up telling him to enjoy his evening with his family.

I continued feeling weepy, lonely and royally shafted by my current situation – I love my kids and I love having a balance between time with them and time at work and time to myself but sometimes everything falls out of balance, everyone else in the world seems busy and unavailable and feelings of being hurt, rejected and excluded come surging forth.

I’m very much one for positive thinking, ( I love the wisdom in the quote “when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change”) and I want to be happy, I crave happiness. I also know that happiness is integrally linked to our expectations. There’s no actual “secret formula” to it, it’s a matter of adjusting your reality. I’m still an optimist but there’s something in the expression “expect the worst but hope for the best”. Also, if you write yourself into a story where only one possible outcome can make you feel happy or successful or fulfilled then you’ve just chucked all your eggs into one basket in a rather heavy handed way…

So maybe it’s time I start taking my own advice.