Sometimes the most effective lessons are the ones you didn't realise you needed to learn. I had just one such lesson recently.
Some of you, particularly those of you who follow me on Twitter, have probably noticed that I can come across as somewhat jaded and cynical when it comes to men and relationships. Those of you who haven't noticed obviously haven't quite grasped the nuances of sarcasm. Its ok folks, its never too late to learn. My cynicism and often vitriolic abhorrence of 'conventional' relationships and the male kind in general is not just reserved for the internet either, in fact my mother often asks how I got to be such a cynic at such a young age. Just for clarification, this is the woman who frequently urges me not to have children, but to just 'get a dog instead' as they are much less hassle, and has also been known to encourage me into lesbianism because men are all a pain in the arse. And my cynicism shocks her.
There is a reason for my negative outlook on relationships. My first (and, truth be told, only) serious boyfriend spent almost three years making my life exceptionally difficult and unpleasant. Every mind game in the book, he played it. I won't pretend that I was all sweet and innocent and butter wouldn't melt - a lot of the time I gave as good as I got. But he was older and so painfully out of my league that I would have done anything to hold on to him. It wasn't really until I went away to university that I broke the holding pattern and started to realise that I wasn't defined by our relationship anymore. (He is now desperately unhappy and is stuck in a dead-end job and an even deader-end relationship. Not that I'm keeping score.)
As well as my introduction into the wonderful world of relationships (<
sarcasm) being sorely lacking, the fact that I have divorced parents has also played no small part in my opinion of the matter. I don't remember my parents ever being together as a couple, and even though they are both now with new partners - my dad remarried in 2004, my mum has been with her partner for 13 years - their subsequent relationships have also been somewhat rocky. They will probably be pissed at me for putting that on the internet. Whatever, its true. Its coloured my opinion of the matter. A lot of people aspire to a relationship like their parents or grandparents, which is fine if they had that sort of relationship to start with. Mine...not so much.
So thats where my cynicism comes from. And as a result I've had a series of unhealthy, unhappy 'relationships' since I was 18, with a variety of guys who have been so eye-wateringly bad for me that it often beggars belief. My best friend fancies herself as something of a psychologist (she did a module at college once or something) and seems to think that I deliberately go after unattainable men because I know it can never go anywhere and therefore cuts out the middle man. Her argument does carry some weight - as a brief example I will draw your attention to the teaching assistant at my school (yes, I was still a student), the guy who lives 3500 miles away, and the good friend who also happened to be hopelessly in love with someone else. That last one is a personal highlight.
This has been the pattern over the last few years - I have brief, meaningless flings that quickly disintegrate. I wallow for a few days, eat too much chocolate, curse the world, and then I get over it. And to me, that was ok. I wasn't interested in anything more than that. I looked at all the couples around me and I couldn't see a single relationship that I would want to be in. I watched friends' boyfriends come and go and took part in the ritualistic break-up process of girls in their late teens and early twenties - that being, cry, spend a lot of money, get drunk, repeat. Every time I got a text from a friend lamenting the most recent relationship fuck-up, I thought to myself 'thank God I'm single.' Many out there will say I didn't mean it and that I was in denial and trying to convince myself that I was happy the way I was. Maybe you're right, but to be honest I have no idea. All I know is that I was perfectly content with my string of meaningless flings and encounters. This continued all the way through university and most of this summer, and I saw no reason to change my habits or address my behaviour. I was having fun, I was young free and single and I finally had a body that I could be proud of and that could turn heads for all the right reasons (not that it particularly mattered anyway because I still seemed to meet people even at my biggest - obviously not all men are as shallow as we give them credit for!). I had every intention of continuing as I was.
And then there he was.
Why is that they always sneak up on you? Jude Law might have made a terrible Alfie, but there is one thing he got right -
'It seems to me, the problems you worry yourself sick about never seem to materialize. Its the ones that catch you unexpectedly on a Wednesday afternoon that knock you sideways.'
Ok so it was a Saturday evening, but the same principle applies. I did not go out that night with the intention of meeting someone. In fact I very nearly didn't go out at all. And at first when there was a flirtation and a frisson of attraction I put it down to the unattainable man syndrome - because he also happens to be a friend of aforementioned ex. (This is all getting rather angsty now, isn't it? Sorry!) For the first few days I wasn't sure whether or not I was interested, but I decided to give it a shot - fully expecting it to become just another episode in the aforementioned series of 'relationships'. Imagine my dismay when I realised I actually liked him! And worse - that he actually seemed to like me! As a general rule the guys I see have a polite disinterest in anything I say and do - a sentiment I share for the most part. But this was different. He took an interest in everything I said and even went so far as to ask my opinion on things, thus acknowledging that I am a human being capable of rational thought. I gave him ample opportunity to get in my pants and he didn't take it because he 'didn't want to rush things'. I know what you're all thinking, and no, he wasn't gay. So there we have it - an attractive, intelligent guy who seemed to genuinely enjoy my company and want to spend time with me. Was this me finally breaking the unattainable man habit?
No. Of course it wasn't.
Because while he was all of the wonderful things above, he also worked/works (I keep using the past tense which is incorrect because he's not dead) every hour God gives and wants to focus on his job. His suggestion...a 'friends with benefits' arrangement.
Once upon a time I would have jumped at the chance, and I very nearly got sucked back into the whole habit again. This time though, something was different. This time I was very aware of the voice in the back of my head that was telling me 'you deserve more than that.' Normally when I hear voices in my head saying shit like that its my mother or my friend Emma, and they're very easy to talk over. This one, however, sounded a lot like me, and no matter how much I tried to convince myself that a Friends With Benefits situation was exactly what I needed, I couldn't quite drown out that voice. There's a saying that 'you don't know what you've got til its gone, but you also don't know what you've been missing until it arrives.' I'm not sure whether the new-found sense of self-respect came from an increased confidence just from looking and feeling better about myself, or whether it came from actually having someone take an interest in the way this guy did. I think it was probably a bit of both - meaning in a way, he did himself out of a fuck buddy just by being a good guy. Which I think is kind of nice...or is that me still being really cynical and mean-spirited? I can't really tell anymore.
The gist of what I'm trying to say here (in a classically long-winded and roundabout way) is don't sell yourself short - whether it be in relationships, work, or any other aspect of life. It takes a lot of strength to be able to acknowledge your own self-worth, and it takes even more to go out there and get what you deserve. For years I shaped my behaviour around a preconceived notion of relationships and men in general. I have not suddenly turned into a hopeless romantic who dots her i's with little love hearts and daydreams about Mr Right. I still don't believe that there is such a thing as a perfect guy or a perfect relationship for me. What I am willing to acknowledge though, is that just because a relationship will never be perfect, thats no reason for it never to happen in the first place. And what I am absolutely willing to acknowledge is that I have more to offer of myself than I have ever been willing to give away before. It took a chance encounter, a few dates, several hundred texts, a good few hours on the phone and a whole lot of thought and examination for me to realise that.
Don't let the demons of your past dictate your present and destroy your future. You deserve to be happy, healthy, slim, successful, appreciated, loved. Acknowledge that you are deserving of all those things. It might not happen overnight. It might take days, weeks, months, years for you to fully realise that you have as much right to those things as anyone else. Acknowledge that you are worthy of health, happiness and love.
Then go out there and get it.
With love, as always,