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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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.

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.

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.

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…

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.

Somewhere over the rainbow, childcare works…

Another day, another stressful phone call with the husband. I’ve been asking him for a list of dates for child contact for the last 2 weeks since the old list ran out. In that time he’s seen them once – for one afternoon before depositing them with his parents for the night and not returning til the following morning.

The only date we had talked about and agreed upon a couple of weeks in advance was this coming Thursday – a school holiday day when I’m at work and out 9-5.

His attitude to me (which is never exactly good) appears to be on the down swing. He has no respect for me or understanding of what it’s like to be responsible for keeping the children fed, clothed, entertained, healthy, morally sound and well behaved, supported in their education, looked after when I’m not around, and just generally alive and safe and content.

I asked to confirm that he was still having them on Thursday and he just casually mentioned that he can’t any more because he’s got to work now. There was no apology, no sense of dismay for having forgotten to tell me as soon as he’d found out himself. Then to add insult to injury he implied that the there was something unfair about me asking him for a list of dates and told me that I am trying to use him for childcare. I tried to point out that as their parent, the childcare analogy is moot but he talked over me repeating the phrase “because you’re a little bit of a bitch” a few times before hanging up on me.

He had spoken of getting his mum and dad to have the kids on Thursday (his dad is 80) but I would be happy if I never had to see his father ever again after his rude and aggressive behaviour towards me each time (even after over a year of separation). I sent him a message telling him not to bother asking his parents, that I would make other arrangements.

I have sent a message to his ex wife asking if she would be able to have them for a half day as she lives in the town where I work, doesn’t work herself and has mentioned in the past that she could cover for me if I ever needed someone and she has willingly agreed which is a big relief as it is too late to book a holiday club now and I really couldn’t have afforded it anyway.

I’m trying to let it wash over me and take it in my stride. Having coped alone with this same kind of “help” (or lack of) and bad attitude from him for the past year at least I know I can juggle through, just about have enough leave from work and can just about afford to pay for childcare.

One thing is certain – I need more help from him financially, particularly if he is unable or just unwilling to care for the children himself when I can’t. If I can’t rely on him to make firm dates to have the children and stick to them then I need to make childcare decisions which leave him out of the loop for my own peace of mind and sanity.

I know from experience that he will get angry and belligerent if, closer to the time, he finds himself free and asks to have the kids last minute when I’ve already made prior arrangements, then of course I’m the bad mum who refuses to play the co-parenting game in the “best interests” of the children. Essentially I can’t win.

Also, I’m not sure if it’s simply a case that he hasn’t heard the children speaking about the (ex) boyfriend recently but he appears to have been pumping them for information.

He knew that the boyfriend was a smoker (although he’s given up now) and he’s been asking our eldest if the boyfriend has died. Today as my son was shutting the door of my car when I picked them up (they spent four hours with husband’s family) he actually shouted “find out about [boyfriend’s] funeral “. My son tells me “Daddy doesn’t like [boyfriend]” to which I reply “how does he know, he’s never even met him”. There’s bitter and resentful and then there’s selfish and hateful.

The people he calls friends don’t know this about him. They think of me as “Cruella” – as though I’ve not only wronged him by daring to walk away whatever the personal cost to me, but continue to wrong him by trying to control his relationship with his own children. I see myself more as Dorothy, caught up in the raging whirlwind, doing the best I can and trying to hold onto the belief that there’s a mystical portal of peace and tranquillity from all this insanity, somewhere over the rainbow.

One way flexibility

When I made the decision to leave my marriage I always knew that child contact was not going to be straightforward. My husband is a shift worker and his rota follows a ten week rolling pattern. I also had first hand experience of how he manages child contact due to the fact that he has a daughter from his previous relationship and his ex wife had gained a court order (I think) which required him to give her a list of dates for child contact a month at a time.

Despite this requirement I found him to be highly flaky when it came to getting organised and in the first couple of years of our relationship I acted as his personal secretary and compiled a list in triplicate – one for the ex, one for him and one for his mum who always wanted to know and be involved.

When I had my own children, I pretty much stepped down from that role and in subsequent years he has all but lost contact with his daughter – only seeing her on a very sporadic basis.

His ex wife has since told me that she wouldn’t have minded if he was out of her daughter’s life completely so she never really cared whether or not he wanted to see her – it doesn’t seem to have affected her – she took her daughter with her to the stables (where she spends half her life), but she also had a lot of family support on her doorstep.

If I want to take a weekly exercise class, join a book group, sign up for a local walk, cycle ride, talk or social event – well, I can’t because there is no family member who can drop in for an hour or so to do a bit of casual (cost-effective!) babysitting.

The other thing is that, much as I love my children, sometimes parenting them solo for a couple of weeks takes its toll. When I know that there is respite for a day or a night just around the corner, psychologically it takes the pressure off.

I appreciate that army wives have to live their lives like this but the difference is that I didn’t marry into the army – I think you have to be a certain kind of person or have a certain support network in place to thrive under those circumstances. Knowing your partner is out there, supporting you, a sounding board for parenting decisions or whatever, makes a difference.

Now, I’m not saying that I don’t get to make plans in advance with or without the husband’s cooperation. My parents have been great – taking the kids for a couple of days or the odd night when I’ve had a girl’s night out, a blog conference to attend or, this year, my big night hike in June and the pre-event curry and ‘practice run’ in May. They also take on childcare duties for a couple of days a week during school holidays which helps me out enormously.

But here’s the thing, the husband treats the child contact arrangement as a casual, last minute thing which he bases on his own convenience. Yes, he is often working – that’s not the issue – the issue is that he picks and chooses dates from his own spare time that are the best for him and he doesn’t want to commit in advance just in case a last minute social invite comes up that he doesn’t want to miss out on.

For example, at the beginning of this week he suddenly popped up asking to have the boys on Thursday. It had been 8 days since he last saw them and he had yet to give me a list of dates going forwards – he still hasn’t). I told him that I’d booked paid child care with my neighbour who needs the money (it’s school holidays). Later after talking to CiG, I decided I should be more flexible and I offered to cancel the arrangement so he could have them. He then suggested a compromise and now he is having them in the afternoon and overnight.

That’s all fine although I’m not thrilled that he left it to the last minute as it is a headache arranging child care and needs to be planned and booked and often paid in advance and I think when he already knows he has days off work during that time it would be so much more helpful, responsible and just plain courteous to let me know well in advance – particularly when I always make sure he knows school holiday dates in advance.

The arrangement was made on Monday, I asked him to let me know by the following day what time I would get the children back on Friday. It’s now Wednesday and today I asked again for a time (bear in mind that it’s Easter weekend and if I want to plan anything, either a child friendly day out or, if they’re not going to be around, an adult get together, I need to know what’s going on). He responded “I don’t know yet. Sorry. I may be invited out somewhere’.

Not only does he expect complete flexibility for himself, but he also deliberately holds back information from me knowing that it will prevent me from arranging anything myself – he continues to feel angry and aggrieved at the thought of me having a social life – he wants to punish me for leaving him.

I know this is not uncommon. In fact, I think this is probably more common than anyone would like to admit going by some of the single parent forums that I follow.

I read a lot of commentary that implies that wanting some kind of set pattern for yourself and your children (even if it is a changing pattern from week to week and only available a few weeks in advance) is just unrealistic and selfish and that trying to stand your ground and in some way ‘force’ your ex-partner’s hand in order to obtain a pre-agreed arrangement in a timely fashion would just be damaging to the children and their relationship with their dad. So essentially, put up and shut up.

I also appreciate that there are plenty of single mums out there who would point out that their children’s father is not on the scene at all, or that they have no family to baby-sit or help out or offer respite at all. In a way though, that situation at least comes with certainty – you know exactly where you stand, as hard as that life may be.

So what I’m left with is this constant questioning of my own decisions – am I being selfish wanting to have more certainty day to day? Or am I being a doormat when I let the husband get away with last minute requests or when he fails to tell me what time the kids will be returned? It’s not fair, but life is not fair so maybe I should suck it up? Worse things happen at sea? What do you think?