Once upon a time, not so long ago, I used to boast that I'd rather suffer the loneliness and isolation of being permanently single than have to compromise. Being in a long term relationship was, an investment with soooo many cons and not enough pros to outweigh them.
I read somewhere that man will suffer pain if there is the prospect of at least double the reward at the end of it. So putting up with being lonely and on my own was a small price to pay for not having to put up with someone nagging me all the time, having to divide my income and above all not being able to do exactly as I pleased.
On a superficial level these things were true. There are so many facets of my life that I take for granted that it's only while typing this at that I realise just how vast the list is.
For example. I can use the bathroom whenever I want to (unless a guest is staying). I can fuck anyone I want to without loyalty issues snagging the process. I can eat, drink and throw away as much as I want without feeling guilty. My money is mine to do what I want with. I can wake up in my bed in a starfish shape with one leg dangling over the side of the bed without getting an elbow in the face (unless whoever I fucked stayed over). I can get drunk watching movies and play The Last of Us on my PS3 until if I wish to.
But...there's those nagging feelings of being on my own. After all, I come home to just a cat and amuse myself as I see fit. I am my own boss and answer to no one with regard to my social or sex lives. Seven years ago I dated a beautiful Romanian woman. She was the opposite end of the spectrum to me with regard to maturity and social etiquette. My first memory of meeting her is "She was working in the cash 'n' carry in
that I had a card for but I'd forgotten it when I went in. She let me in just
to browse but it turned out we lived in the same apartment block. Things
happened from there." Rome
Her memory of this event is "He came in dressed like a pirate wearing a woman's ring on his finger and looked like he had a hangover. He was really rude to me when I tried to explain why he couldn't come in the shop. I thought he was cute though".
Despite this Jack Sparrow moment in her life she was overheard saying that she wanted to turn me into "a better man" and we had many a blazing row over me not using napkins at dinner, me having sexy lady calendars on my bedroom wall, and that I couldn't go and visit my dad in Plakias, Crete (where he lives) because she knew full well what I got up to when I was there.
As cute and fit and good in bed and lovely and well meaning as this woman was...she was someone trying to be a wife, two months into a relationship. When we finally split up after THIS INCIDENT but were still sleeping together I asked her one day "Your first memory of me is seeing a hungover pirate. Did you honestly think you could turn that into Mr Darcy?"
The times that I fell in love (she wasn't one of them) have been tempered either with choosing totally inappropriate partners and then giving them my soul such as two who were much younger than me (and therefore evolved emotionally and changed while I stayed static) or one who I never even had the courage to tell her how I felt (you know who you are).
I always believed that my Rock,
thing was the best thing I could get for myself as it meant no compromises, no
arguments over meaningless shit and no queues for the bathroom. Not to mention
not having to entertain relatives at Christmas who I normally wouldn't piss on
if they were on fire.
Recently I've become a little less anti social and a little more able to talk to people and above all a little less of an isolated, bored misanthrope. I finally got a clear perspective of exactly what I was afraid of and it wasn't intimacy, it wasn't heartbreak and it wasn't fear of loss. What it always was...was a terrifying phobia of suffering at the hands of someone who I loved but who didn't love me.
I didn't want to come home spend two hours making dinner and have my wife tell me that she thought we were having something different and that I'd disappointed her by feeding her a different meal to the one she'd be looking forward to all day.
I didn't want to have my wife tell my children that I was a crap lover and that they needed to know how to turn a woman on (assuming they were boys or lesbians that is) as "your father didn't know".
I didn't want, in years to come, to see my wonderful father, be abused and mistreated by any wife I took into my life, simply for the crime of being old and too frail to look after himself any more.
I didn't want to be pushed far beyond normal parameters of acceptable behaviour by a wife who would goad and torment me verbally, even throwing furniture and ornaments...and who would then play the victim if I did as little as shout at her in retaliation.
I didn't want to bring children into this world and see them abused and mistreated and made unhappy and told everything was their fault. I didn't want to see myself become a coward, too in love with the memories of the woman I thought I'd married, and stand back and let her abuse my kids...because on the rare occasions that I did stand up to her she screamed and cried and threatened to leave home.
I didn't want to see those children forced to accept second hand gifts on their birthdays in order to save money and at their birthday parties watch them drink orange squash because my wife had hidden the cola and lemonade under the stairs in order to make a point about our financial status, even though we had enough and could have spoiled them just for that one day...or any day.
Above all I didn't want to swallow my pride and dignity and give decades of my life to a woman who didn't love me and would claim that I mistreated her in elaborate conspiracy theories about how my "nice" demeanour was merely an act to get everyone to feel sorry for me.
That was a nightmare that I stayed away from and it scared me more than anything else. In my life I've had many jobs and done a few things. I've been in a vicious bar brawl (we lost, badly), been skydiving, cliff jumping and stood in central London in the immediate aftermath of a terrorist attack in a police uniform trying to reassure the public that everything was OK. I've faced down guys bigger than me, survived car crashes and seen dead bodies. I've done all this with adrenaline, fear and utter terror coursing through my veins. But the one thing I have always been unable to do is to set up a family or even move into a relationship that could lead to that.
The thing that frightened me more than death or serious injury, or blindness or paralysis was being contained in a cell of habitual suffering. Being blamed for everything, being unable to change anything but hoping above hope that the person I had given up my life to be with would somehow change and be nice to me again if only I was even nicer to her.
I've been told for many years that I walk with a strut. This is true (albeit less so now) and I know exactly why I unconsciously do this. It's a defensive gesture along the same lines as a cat arching its back and hissing. It defends me from the horrors of life.
Life is scary. Life is hurtful. Life and intimacy and family and children are recipes for unending misery. Get too close to someone and you will burn. They will lose you, damn you and betray you.
Today I felt for the first time in a long time, completely at ease with the people I spent my day with. No strut, no facade. Just a conversation where I even laughed a few times.
I have a part time job working with kids. A job I utterly adore and a job I would love to go into full time. I've written two books for children that have proved popular with the kids that have read them. My ability to express myself and to be close to people has always been focussed in things that never got too close to me. Lose a job, find another one. Lose a wife or family. Game over.
Now I feel I can face this and be a part of something greater than myself. It feels like the first time I attended Cub Scouts at age 8 though. I'm scared and elated and nervous and don't know what to say or do.
I guess that's a good thing.