Tag Archives: dating

When love feels like carbon monoxide

I studied literature at university, but poetry was a genre I never managed to get into. Not that I disliked it, but my enjoyment was hindered by the fact that, most of the time, I didn’t understand the imagery nor the symbolism in poems. In the past year or two, however, I’ve been trying to enjoy poetry as a way of learning new ways to express emotions. This week I checked out a Sylvia Plath book from the library, Ariel, which she wrote in October 1962, only months before taking her own life.

I choked when I read A Birthday Present. I read it aloud two, three, four times, taking in each word like a deep in-breath, finding resonance in every turn of phrase. I was left in a flood of tears, wishing to embrace the spirit of Sylvia, in solidarity as a fellow female. It’s generally believed, at the point of writing the poem, Plath had already decided to die, and it certainly makes for grim reading, but her words resonated with me like nothing else I’d read before. (For the complete version click here).

“[…]If you only knew how the veils were killing my days,
To you they are only transparencies, clean air,

But my god, the clouds are like cotton.
Armies of them. They are carbon monoxide.

[…]Is it impossible for you to let something go and have it go whole? 
Must you stamp each piece in purple,
Must you kill what you can?
There is this one thing I want today, and only you can give it to me.

[…] Only let down the veil, the veil, the veil.
If it were death

I would admire the deep gravity of it, its timeless eyes.
I would know you were serious. 

There would be a nobility then, there would be a birthday.
And the knife not carve, but enter

Pure and clean as the cry of a baby,
And the universe slide from my side.”

I was a total novice to Plath’s work. All I knew was that she’d committed suicide by gassing herself in the kitchen, that her husband, poet Ted Hughes, had left her for another woman, that she had mental health issues from a young age. I’m also aware many blame Hughes for her death. Knowing that his lover Assia Wevill, with whom he had a daughter, also killed herself and the child in a similar manner to Sylvia, and knowing that Hughes had numerous lovers in the meantime, I can’t help but feel sheer rage against a man, whose autocentric behaviour led to the destruction of so many women’s lives. Did he think he had special privileges for being a well-known poet? Or just for being male? Did he see all women as mere objects of his lust? If a poet cannot hold love sacred, what hope is there for the rest of us?

Of course no one really knows what happened within the Plath-Hughes marriage. But as a woman who understands what Plath means when she refers to ‘carbon dioxide’, a silent, lethal grief that kills you slowly yet savagely, I chose to side with her.

In Sylvia’s name, I swore loudly at Hughes: “Bastard!”

Sociopathic relationships

While raging at Hughes and his treatment of women, I was reminded we live at a time when sociopathic behaviour abounds in the area of relationships. This is the era of swiping right or left to indicate whether you like someone or not, when it’s permissible to end a relationship by simply unfriending or blocking someone on social media. One day the relationship is there, the next day it’s gone. There’s even a word for it: ghosting.

No one believes in commitment any more because commitment, they say, spells trouble.

I can almost understand 20-old-somethings behaving this way on the excuse that they haven’t yet learned what a mature relationship is about, but people in their 40s and 50s with half a century’s life experience?!

Dating sites are full of middle-aged men looking for “new friends”, code for no-strings-attached sex friends. There’s nothing wrong in men or women wanting to get laid, if that’s all both parties wish. But I’m sick of feeling like an aberration for insisting on believing in old-fashioned romance and devotion, where partners inspire each other to be better people in order to, together, be greater than the sum of the parts. What happened to, “No matter what happens, we’ll overcome it together.”

Commitment has become such an uncool, taboo word many women refrain from using it in front of a man for fear of rejection. We fear if we honestly ascertain what we want, the man we esteem will leave us and there’ll be no one else for us. The truth is, by not being honest at the outset about what you want, you’ll lose the man anyway but suffer months of degrading humiliation in between.

Misdirected compassion

I’m guilty of it myself. For the longest time I pretended to be okay with outrageously disrespectful behaviours within a toxic relationship with a man I thought was ‘it’. It led me to spiral down and culminate in a nervous breakdown and the worst bout of depression I’ve ever experienced.

What drives me insane is realising I constantly made excuses for his fear of commitment and misogynistic attitudes, looking for traumatic events in his past that would justify his abhorrent treatment of women. I ‘enabled’ him, as you would with an alcoholic. I encouraged the behaviours to continue by tolerating them, and, in the process, I grossly disrespected myself.

In trying to be compassionate towards a broken man, I spurned compassion for myself.

Mind games

It was, using Plath’s words, like carbon monoxide I breathed in slowly, gulp by gulp, slowly annihilating my self-esteem until there was nothing left of my former self. Toxic men have the uncanny ability to continuously behave badly, then turn the blame around on you so it looks like you were at fault, not them. Such insidious mind games can make even a normally sane person feel suicidal over time.

The knife that enters, not carves… Yes, kill me. KILL ME! For killing me would be more merciful than torturing me in this manner.

And yet it was I who abused myself by not laying down boundaries, by not saying “this is not acceptable”. Having survived one abusive marriage, I’m struggling to come to terms with this truth and forgive myself for having allowed such abuse to happen…once again. Was one lesson not enough?

Commitment

In my parents’ generation, people sat down to talk things over, couples believed in fixing what was broken, not giving up at the first crisis. People weren’t deletable; they were more than icons on a computer screen. If you erred, you apologised. You owned up to your behaviours. Couple got married in churches because their promise to honour and respect each other – not an easy one to keep for life – would stand a better chance if placed in a scared context.

Commitment isn’t another word for marriage, which is altogether another story. But it does imply looking after someone you love in good and bad times, caring for their feelings beyond your need for self-gratification. It means thinking twice before doing anything that could hurt another, no matter if you consider it right.

Because loving someone means you do care how your actions will affect them.

The other day a male friend I greatly respect bought me a drink and asked me about my love life. I told him about my broken heart and bemoaned men’s unwillingness to commit. His response was unexpected:

“Commitment is not a dirty word, you know?” he said. “Commitment is good. Don’t be afraid of wanting it. It’s okay. It’s after you commit that the fun starts.”

So it wasn’t my fault. It’s okay, he said, it’s okay. I went home and cried, hugging myself in bed.

“Let down the veil, the veil, the veil.”

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“Would you date a guy with kids?” – box-ticking in love

Photo credit: Aspire

Photo credit: Aspire

“Hey, I have a dilemma,” my colleague texted me during her morning commute. She’s an attractive, tall, Eastern European blonde in her early 30s. As of late, she has taken to consulting me for all matters related to men.

“Would you date a guy who’s got two kids?”

Her question amused me. She hadn’t even gone out with the guy once and was already inventing excuses to make him unsuitable. The texting went on like this:

“Why not? You’d be dating him, not the kids.”
“Prefer someone w/o kids. Sounds like a lot of hassle.”
“You don’t know that. You haven’t even given it a try!”
“He isn’t divorced, just separated.”
“SO WHAT?! So am I. Separated is fine. Divorce takes time & energy, not as easy as you think. Is he nice?”
“Very interesting. Reads Murakami.”
“Hmmm, intellectual type? Liking this.”
“But he may not want to have any more kids.”
“Oh FFS!! One thing at a time!”

No baggage please, we’re single
I arrived at the office ready to give her a good bollocking for auto-sabotaging a potential relationship with a nice man before giving it a go. But I was surprised to find out most other female colleagues in the same age bracket would also turn down a date with a man with children from a previous relationship.

In evolutionary terms this makes sense: if you’re a woman at the peak of your fertility, you are consciously or subconsciously thinking about procreation; therefore you want a man for whom the protection of your offspring, not another female’s, will be top priority. Other women’s kids are unwanted baggage.

Unfortunately, for men looking for a date with a young single woman who does not yet have her own children, being a dad can be like wearing some kind of blazing scarlet letter of shame on their chests, no matter how wonderful they may be. They become instantly less eligible, whereas women in their 40s, 50s and above may generally accept it as inevitable for their age group.

Advice is easy to give when it does not concern your personal interests, but my colleague’s question made me realise that, If I do meet someone new of a similar age, it is highly likely they will have an ex or two, and a couple of kids in their “baggage”. In other words, her dilemma and choice could be my own.

I’ve gone out with divorced fathers before. The relationship didn’t last long enough for me to meet any of his daughters, but it did cross my mind that the day it happened it would be terrifying. You may never be able to love someone else’s child as if it was your own, but how do you build a relationship of trust where you’re comfortable sharing his time and demand for attention with his offspring, who may only see him on certain weekends.

The colleague in question eventually took my advice, went on a date with the father-of-two, but came to the conclusion he was not boyfriend material. He had mentioned the ex-wife and kids one too many times, breaking the golden rule of first dates: do NOT talk about your ex!

Tinder man
A few weeks later, over lunch, my colleague tells me she had signed up for the dating app Tinder and had already arranged two consecutive dates over the weekend. Her first date, a bombastic, wealthy, Porsche-driving Greek banker pushed his luck too far by inviting her to “watch movies” in his home. The second, however, a tall (taller than her), handsome software developer, who was into sport and travel, kept her absorbed in interesting conversation for hours on end, didn’t sound like he was after a shagmate, as many Tinderers seem to be. He had even sent her the obligatory post-date text message in good time as proof that he was keen.

Finally a chap that meets her standards, I thought, when she suddenly blurted out:

“But he has ugly teeth! It’s not like he doesn’t have money to fix them, so I don’t understand why he hasn’t done it yet..”

I nearly hit her with my empty orange juice bottle. Objecting about kids was one thing but TEETH?!

Standards
Chatting on Facebook to an old classmate from uni about online dating, I mentioned my colleague’s tendency to always find fault with the men she was seeing. She said:

“Every woman has her own set of standards, but my therapist tells me times have changed and women have become increasingly demanding about what they expect from a relationship. They are no longer financially dependent on men, nor is being single something to be ashamed of any more, therefore they not have to put up with any moron just to say they’ve got a man.”

I can see a lot of truth in that statement – I have my standards too – but if a small physical imperfection can really stop you from falling in love with someone, the world may end up with many frustrated single men and women, who can’t find their Adonises and Aphrodites.

Measurements
When it comes to meeting your match, there is no fool-proof yardstick with which to measure your potential partner’s suitability, since everyone’s ideals are so subjective and so changeable.

I used to think being with someone whose taste for music was entirely different from mine made no difference at all, until the day my husband erased all my Schuberts from our joint Spotify account because he detested classical music.

In my current world, I would happily turn a blind eye to slightly misaligned teeth, but I may not take too kindly to a lack of appreciation for classical music. My colleague might say that is as superficial as her reservations about her date’s dental appearance, but, for me, beautiful teeth don’t stir deep emotions within, whilst Schubert and Bach do.

Brazilian author Martha Medeiros says in one of her essays that listening to music is a physical and sensory experience that transcends rationality.  It taps into a part of us that is not corrupted by thinking and logic and is therefore pure. When a man and a woman share those sensations together, a wordless dialogue, a communion of sorts is established. It occurred to me that this may be akin to engaging in sexual intercourse, but in a disembodied manner.

Yes, I’d like that.

Ticking boxes
With the authority of an “older sister”, I told my colleague to stop fretting over irrelevant details, as the essence of a happy relationship is not about teeth or hair, even whether a man had kids and an ex or none. But in my heart of hearts, I know that, in practice, our list of tickable minimum requirement boxes for a new relationship to be “right” for us varies widely with time, and from person to person.

They can be grossly misleading too, and our standards can go very high or very low, depending on our emotional needs at any given time. That is why you see so many mismatched couples that make you think, “what on earth is he/she doing with him/her?” That is how I ended up marrying a man I knew from day one I could not be happy with.

Unfortunately, there is no other path to emotional maturity that does not involve suffering and lots of trial and error; really stupid errors too. Often, toxic relationship patterns will be repeated over and over with different partners because you haven’t learned your lesson the first time round, because you keep ticking the wrong boxes, seeking happiness in the wrong places.

Relationships work just like a video game – you can’t play the next level up until you have passed the test of the current one.

Achievement unlocked
The hacker with the crooked teeth asked my colleague out on a second date barely an hour after we had been discussing him, and I had told her, “I have a feeling he’ll want to see you again within the next two days.”

“You’re a clairvoyant!” she squealed, delighted.

I am no such thing of course. But I have not aged in vain; my intuition is sharp.

Hopefully she will discover so many more qualities in her Tinder-man that the appearance of his teeth will become a non-issue.

In the meantime, I am setting up my own Spotify account so I can enjoy my classical music and my jazzy numbers in peace. Because my biggest box right now, I realise, is to have a loving relationship with myself.