Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Just say No

I have been thinking about my compulsion to say yes to everyone and to all requests that come my way. Does this make me an especially nice person or just a needy scaredy-cat, who doesn’t think any one will like her if she isn’t always pleasing? It’s such an ingrained habit. But what if I had done things differently and said ‘No’ instead …..

First meeting ever, May 9th 1980, Mod Boy pulls up on his scooter just like an extra from Quadrophenia. I am instantly smitten.

 “Can I come to the party?” he asks politely.

What if I had said “No, go way you silly Arsenal loving loser we just won the FA Cup so there!”

 My entire romantic knowledge would have been changed for ever. The 15 year old me would never have experienced a first date which included chasing chickens from his sitting room and then being lured into  his bedroom and reassured it was ok I could keep my knickers on. To be fair I wasn’t wearing much else; it was very hot and they had a pool. We’d been swimming. I didn’t own a bikini top, not really having anything to put in one.

 October a few years later …..I could have said no when the offer to go to Morocco in a camper van with another couple came up. But I would have missed the chance of being stuck in a hovel in the mountains with no fresh water, (lots of coca-cola though), bread that had been baked in August and goats, both as companions and to eat.

 I could have said “what a mad idea you, crazy boy. Go on your own. Don’t drag me into your drug dealing fantasy.”

If I had said no when he flew to Los Angeles to ask me to return to London and marry him I may have become an American citizen with a condo in Malibu.

 Or I could have said “no I’m not coming back because I know you have been sleeping with my best friend.”

 But then I wouldn’t have lived in Camden in the late 80’s when it felt very cool to be doing so. And I wouldn’t have been in the position of meeting a man who I could have adored.

 If I had said “no it doesn’t matter that I married someone else just a few weeks before you - Mr So Right - came along,” I would have known what it was like to have an affair.

Maybe I could have said no when the husband asked to come home after realising the affair He had embarked on wasn’t working out.

 “No you can’t walk away when you fancy, leaving me with two small girls who want to know why daddy isn’t here.”

But then we wouldn’t have had a few lovely years of it being really great; a time of making it work as a family.
           If I had said no clearly, loudly and with absolute passion we may not have lost our business, or house, and a fair few friends.

 “No, we aren’t going to deal with it by disappearing off to Spain. No, running isn’t the solution. No, that isn’t in the rules, flirting with women in a foreign country does count. No, you cant have another chance. No, it’s really over this time.”

“No I can’t deal with this any more,”

  But then I wouldn’t have had to find a novel way to pay the school fees and I may not have gone to University where I meet someone who has become one of my very best friends. Perhaps my eldest would not have got a scholarship to big school and never even considered Oxford.

 If I had said no, I’m too tired to get on the tube I may have missed the daily trek across town take ‘The Baby’ to ballet class. And I may never have had to wander around parts of London that I had forgotten existed, remembering how much I loved the excitement, the buzz of certain areas.

 “No, I don’t need to stay in the East just because it suits you.”

I could have said “no, your eating is not my responsibility…. No, I am not going to stop everything to make you well. No, my career comes first. No, you will have to go into a unit because this is disrupting your father’s supper. My marriage is more important than your health.”

 I may not have a relationship with my daughter if I had said that.

 What if I had said to Him no, you aren’t moving with us?

 “This is a new start on my own. No, its just going to be about me for a change. No, your feelings are no longer my concern.”

Oh well yes I did say that. Good for me.

No, I’m not being irrational. No, hormones are not to blame. No, I really mean this. No, this is not just a reaction to my father’s death. No, there isn’t another man involved. No, I can manage on my own. No, you cant come back… well OK, I didn’t say that… not as clearly as I should have done any way.

So it’s taken me a while but I think I got there in the end. However I have to learn to say to other things now…
No, I shouldn’t have an extra glass of wine.
No, I cant squeeze any more guests into my flat, even just for the Olympics.
No, you cant have a party, even a small one.
No, other people must take turns at emptying the dishwasher.
No, I will not drive you to work in the traffic when the football season commences as it is quicker to walk
No, you cant bring your small children to my wedding, its not a suitable venue.
No, I really don’t want wedding presents.
No, there is no chance I will change my mind at the last minute.
No, your father can not come, even only to the evening. Please help me stick to this one, especially if I said yes to the extra glass of wine – I know my own weaknesses.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

The Right Site at the Right Time    

           I find it very odd how quickly I forget the past; it’s not just misplacing someones name or not remembering where I left my keys. I seem to lose track of reality and personal history. This weekend I was at a gathering and a woman I hadn’t meet before started asking about how my boyfriend and I got together. I told her about our meeting in a coffee shop; how impressed he was with my ability to drink endless strong, black Americanos and what a wimp he was because he had to revert to milky tea after the first coffee. I explained that we talked non stop for 2 hours and how I left with the feeling that my world had subtly shifted. She was curious to find out if I had experienced ‘love at first sight’ .We talked about being able to get to an age where you can control who you fall in love with. And I told her how nervous he had been when he ventured to ask if I would be up for meeting again; a proper date.

As I was telling her all this there was a slight niggle in the back of mind. I couldn’t work out what I had been doing buying coffee on a normal Thursday afternoon when I hate spending money on hot drinks I can easily make in my own kitchen. Slowly I remembered. This had been no chance encounter. We had arranged to meet via email after having messaged the pre-requisite number of times on an internet dating site.  Hot, Flustered and looking remarkably guilty I dashed to the loo. I was concerned that I may have been deliberately covering up the true beginnings of our relationship because I was (am) embarrassed to admit that I found the man I am going to marry online.

Why should I feel ashamed that I am in love with this amazing, gorgeous, talented man, whom I probably wouldn’t have bumped into in my normal day to day life (see above re: not liking to pay for anything I can get free at home….) ?  It is obviously sensible for a woman of a certain age who has gone through a tiring divorce, has 2 stroppy teenage-ish daughters and has been off the market for, let’s say, over 20 years, to look before she leaps. It is also quite fun to go online and pop a man into your basket in the same way that you shop on Amazon; knowing that you can change your mind at the till before you commit.  And yet I still want to hide the fact that I resorted to a dating agency because it feels a bit sleazy and what was wrong with me that I couldn’t get a date in the real world?

Of course the truth is that divorce had rocked my confidence. For the first few years after we separated I avoided confronting any man who so much as smiled at me, looking over my shoulder to see if there was a pretty girl two paces behind. I was drowning in doubts, crying at sad songs and generally acknowledging that I had been a failure as a wife. However spending Saturday nights on i-tunes becomes boring and costly. Eventually  the repetition of drinking too much after downloading  that ’Album’ again – because you deleted when you decided it was bad to remind yourself how much you miss him – has to stop.

My first tenuous venture into the internet dating arena was a free trail offer. You only get a set amount of messages and limited views, so there was no harm in setting up a profile. Although there is the agonising over a photo. And the dilemma as to whether any one else, especially males, are actually telling the truth. It took me a few weeks to get up the courage to enter bank details and commit to the real experience but I thought that I may as well give it my best shot.  I realised very soon that men of a certain age are absolutely delusional, they all want - and seemingly think they are going to get- woman 20 years their juniors with no children, no baggage and their own extensive share portfolio. If you are a woman in her forties with children and an honest description of your real life then be prepared for a limited number of matches. Many of whom will be on every dating site you go on and who may well come across as more than a bit desperate.

So with only 3 matches to choose from I send out some artfully witty messages and wait. All replied and after a few return communications I arrange to meet one for tea. The first meeting was never going to progress; he turned up in a fleece. To say I hate fleeces is a bit of an understatement, they repulse me to the point of sickness .I would recommend to any one if you have such a strong disgust for a particular article of clothing you email a list of sartorial dos and don’ts in advance.

The next guy was a no show. A bit of an ego dent, but one more to go and always the optimist…..this one suggested a real drink, which was more realistic, and was actually fun. We had good time for a few months. He made me believe I was attractive again. It lasted until the ex-husband got wind of it. Entirely my own fault as I had neglected to change my email passwords, not thinking in a million years the Ex would invade my privacy and snoop. Na├»ve is my middle name. The chap was sweet and suggested I got myself a divorce lawyer before I went out with anyone else. But that was the end of that.

Several months, about eight actually, passed before I cheerfully decided to give it another go. I noticed that the i-tunes receipts had started to mount up again. Another site this time, one recommended by a friend who was having a good time with it and one where you don’t put yourself up, so not so cringe-worthy. Same old issue of age related difference of opinion in the sexes. Not a lot of choice. One bloke caught my eye, I found myself checking out his profile again and again, before composing a careful message about my withdrawal symptoms from radio 4 and a self imposed exile from the Today Programme.  Jump forward a few emails and the meeting for coffee.

After that meeting he had to choose where to take me on a date; a prospect I know now that was totally daunting for him as he didn’t want to get it wrong. Being so-not-a-feminist I wanted him to take control. He did. It was very romantic. We have hardly been apart since.And the rest is history.
          I chose to allow myself to fall in love with him. He loves me back. We are so different in lots of ways; we could have meet in the real world at anytime in the last 30 years and would have been very drawn to each other.  I would have fallen in love with him when he was an idealistic, cool art student. Or when he came to London to see if Fleet Street was paved in gold. I think he would have found the mad girl with blue hair that I was at seventeen a challenge. We may have crossed paths in my twenties when he wore the menswear brand I worked for. We have one mutual acquaintance at whose dinner parties we may have been introduced if she had worked out that we were both single at the same time.

So online dating worked for me. We are to be married in September. I must make sure that I never forget how we met, it would be disingenuous to put it down to pure chance; luck played a big part in being on the right site at the right time. And if you catch me waffling on after a few glasses of wine about our good fortune in liking the same type of coffee please give me a sharp look and mention that without broadband none of this would have happened.  


Monday, 28 May 2012

I Never Expected a Pork Pie……..

As a committed glass slipper wearer I have no idea how to break through glass ceilings. Although chucking my heels at them would be the option I would consider first. The current spate of stone throwers, who reside in glass houses, clearly think they are more evolved than I am, so good luck.

And so we come back yet again to be or not be a feminist.  And whether I am merely too weak and wishy washy to stand up for myself. Is not being a feminist at this point in my life just a cover up for being needy? I am very flexible, I was bought up to be a people pleasing good girl. I want to be loved and will go out of my way to say yes. It doesn’t make me feel that much of a pushover because I have learnt who trades on that and weaned them from my life.

Update on living arrangements; the Ex is gone. He huffed out when I mentioned contributing to the household expenses or maybe buying a bottle of wine by way of recompense. Apparently this wasn’t extending the hand of friendship. No it was allowing him to behave as he had done previously whilst I behaved like the wife I had always been. That was part of the original problem. Once the health-scare was resolved it was only a matter of time before my patience with him dosing in my spareroom became an issue. Towards the end of our marriage he actually said he liked me being assertive with everyone else but preferred it if I could remain a doormat for him.

But the calm was not to last as it is Exam time and stress levels are high. Teenage Daughter is having (quote) an existential crisis. I blame Philosophy. It is not a subject to teach teenagers; they have brains that are tuned to negative dramas without being encouraged to legitimise their angst. One minute they are upset because they don’t have the right brand of hair straighteners, then they are questioning their very existence and quoting Nietzsche. I oscillate between calm, controlled, advice on how to timetable revision to screaming at her to get off facebook and do some work. Mostly I just feel guilty that family catastrophes, namely the way her father and I have behaved, has taken its toll on her emotional resilience. I fear lower than predicted grades will require re-sits than none of us have the energy for.

The Older One is about to sit her finals. Three years gone by in a flash. She left for Uni the week after her father gathered his belongings into black bin bags. Needless to say her first term was not as much fun as it could have been. Thank God for student therapy services as I wasn’t much use to her at the time. I am looking forward to having her back so I can reacquaint myself with the new girl she has become.

The New Man produced a ring this weekend – I had to eat a pork pie to retrieve it from the box so it was doubly exciting. I never expected a pork pie tied in tiffany ribbon.  And his sartorial elegance took a surprising turn when he discovered that H&M is not just for skinny young boys. The excitement in the changing room was at squealing level compounded at the till when he realised his bright new things all cost the price of one pair of trousers at M&S. I also introduced him to the delights of a tumbler of iced Rose rather than a Pint to quench thirst; we even discussed the possibility of a diet to deal with the tummy. So all in all a very nice weekend as viewed through pink champagne glasses and wearing my best glass slippers.   

Monday, 7 May 2012

I am not a feminist, but I don’t judge you if you are.

 Another gathering around my table and the talk turns to where we go from here. ‘We’ are just a loose group of friends who over the years have gone through births, marriages and deaths together. We have shared the most warming and the most heartbreaking moments of our lives.  We are separated by background, education, political views, wealth and status. Some of us have husbands, ex-husbands, new partners. We don’t all have children. Those of us who do may or may not have careers. Some of us have combined working with motherhood. Some of us choose to pursue goals that have lead to obvious success and decided not to have children.  For others it just hasn’t happened. What unites us is gender. This is my sisterhood. I love being a woman and am proud of whom I am. We ponder on how we are negotiating the relationships with the men in our lives. And of course the fact that under my roof new and old have been co-existing.  

I have recently made new female friends via the New Man.  I am prone to making statements that cause a smattering of controversy. I like to stir the conversation up a little .However I was rather surprised at the shock I caused when announcing that ‘I am not a Feminist’ and find it difficult to see where Feminism fits in to the lives of young women today. I no longer believe that the term feminist is helpful. I am lucky that I have never felt being female has stopped me doing anything I have wanted to do. I am equal in all ways to any man. But I am also very different and am happy to be so. I believe that the values of kindness, creativity, nurturing and generally making the lives of those around me more pleasant, are perfectly acceptable goals. I don’t want to be chairman or drive a Porsche. I want to live in a society that allows us all to be the best version of ourselves, a true democracy with human rights for all.

I don’t want the fact that in order to prove myself equal under the terms of modern capitalism I have to work long hours, not spend time with my children and all so I can buy more stuff. Equality for me is about an egalitarian society where my rights are as respected as everyone else’s.

My Daughters see boys using one ‘F’ word in order to get another ‘F’ without any sense of attachment. If you are a feminist you will therefore pay for your own dinner, instigate sex and take responsibility for contraception. And heaven help you if you expect a phone call or text the next day. Or an acknowledgment next time you bump in to them in at the sexual health clinic.

My friends discuss this whole issue of payment and reward as a few of us have just re-entered the dating game after a long absence. T is with an older man who loves to take care of everything and her appreciation of this clearly makes him feel very good about himself. P hates any man paying for her as she doesn’t like the sense of obligation this instils in her. N goes for younger men who are not as successful as she is, likes to treat them to restaurants they could only read about and expects exceptional attention in the bedroom by way of thanks.

New Man and I discuss my old fashioned liking that he picks up the bill when we are out. It is not something he is used to. Former girlfriends kept their equality badges next to their credit cards. However did they bring him tea in bed (surely the best way ever to start the day feeling loved?) or bake semolina cake with homemade syrup or drive across London to be with him at 6 am on a Sunday morning?

My Ex was often confused by my desire to be a full time mummy when he thought he was marrying a driven career woman. I can see how he felt mislead, he presumed I would carry on with high earnings and a power profile after the girls were born when all I wanted was reading Lucy and Tom books and messy play.

It seems that what so often happens is that feminism becomes a debate on lifestyle choice. And I would like to be able to discuss it in a more global manner, but I don’t really have the intellectual capacity. My new girlfriends probably do, I am totally in awe of their cleverness and, because I want them to like me, I may well change my position.       

So I am not a feminist, but I don’t judge you if you are one. Actually I don’t feel the need to judge anyone. Let us all be individuals and enjoy the diversity. Ill bring the seedcake.      

Sunday, 6 May 2012

A perfectly normal Sunday afternoon

It is a perfectly normal Sunday afternoon. I am busy preparing a late roast dinner.  The Sunday papers are spread out on the kitchen table, wine glasses are filled, gossip is being exchanged. The noise level gets more intense as the Teenage Daughter makes her opinions known. I pour myself another glass and turn to take in the scene. I feel I have achieved something today and want to imprint it in my memory.
There are two men at my table. One I have known for 32 years and loved for many of those years. The other I have known and loved for a mere 6 months. One will very shortly be my Ex-husband. The other will marry me (fingers crossed) the paper work is finalised.  
The Teenage Daughter poses a follow up question to a conversation she had a few days previously, her father looks perplexed (quite a usual expression for him and to be fair can anyone follow the train of thoughts in this girls head?) Then she realises her mistake - oh it wasn’t you Daddy was it? She turns to New Man, it must have been you. In her head the 2 male figures in her life have already begun to merge. I presume into one joint Favour Bank.  She has worked this out to her advantage much swifter than her mother. 
They laugh; I breathe a sigh of relief that neither man has taken offence at the confusion. I need reassurance that I have done the right thing. That three years on from the trauma and pain of separation we have all evolved to find a positive way of relating.
We were so young when we meet, just 15 and 16 years old. Younger than our daughters are now. The Teenage Daughter was 15 when her father and I finally separated. The marriage survived until I was 44. 29 years was a good run. The choice to bring it to an end was entirely mine. I asked him to leave. Therefore In many people’s eyes I had no right to be sad or fall apart. But the depth of my grief left me almost unable to function. We both suffered as the joint fabric of our daily existence was torn to shreds and we had no idea how to function as adults on our own. Looking back I can see how many pains blended together at that time; my father had recently died, the eldest Daughter was going off to University. I had gone back into therapy after a break of 20 years. I didn’t take the decision to end my marriage lightly. My sanity was at stake.
He had long been a Boomerang Boy coming back to me when loved failed elsewhere. Actually this wasn’t the first time he had returned to my home since we had parted; when times were tough, money short for rent, friends not as loyal as one would hope for or just life getting him down in general, he would return to prove I was still available in emergencies. And it worked in both directions. My brother’s death in the middle of all this transported me into a very deep hole. Ex was there to pick up the pieces, moving me into my new flat on the very morning of the news. Then driving out to suburbia to be with us. Holding me together as the shock took over.
I don’t think I had fully understood the different ways that we had dealt with our marriage ending. Ex went through a really tough time. I had done much of the emotional preparation to us parting before making my choice. In many ways it was landed to him as a fait accompli. He was walking around in shock and wanted to lash out. He wanted to retaliate by damaging my relationship with our daughters. Telling them tales of our past life that were quite inappropriate and not his to share. And I wasn’t immune form behaving badly. I certainly drank too much wine. Spent too much money on i-tunes. Wasn’t always the perfect mummy I like to see myself as.  I made some real errors of judgement that mean I am still paying school fees for the Teenage  Daughter as her  friends prepare to leave London for a year before she does.
However back to the current kitchen sink drama. The last time I had let the Ex back was the Teenage Daughter’s birthday last year. He needed some where to stay. I was taking the girls to New York so I said fine, it’s better to have the flat occupied whilst we are away. And the windows needed cleaning. What I didn’t expect was that he would stoop so low that the subsequent back lash when I returned would lead to me to promise myself never again to trust him. Or even speak to him. Ever again. At that moment I hated him. I couldn’t even begin to understand how he had come to the conclusion that this was a fair way to behave. This man had seen my insides, literally his head almost in my stomach when I had 2 C-Sections with epidurals.  How could he betray me? I would never believe a word he uttered again. 
He would never darken my doorway with his bloody French sticks again. We had joked that our marriage ended because of my loathing of crumbs. He has a really irritating habit of breaking the bread and wandering around with it, dispensing crumbs in his wake. I developed a strong aversion to French sticks and have banned them from my home. Just the mention of a mere baguette can bring out the hairs on the back of my neck.
But he is back at my table, only this time it is different. He is not just going through the normal doubts and anxieties of middle age but is scared. He is a waiting ‘Test Results’. This is real fear and not something I can let anyone go through alone. So we wait together. And of course this time I also have a New Man.
When Ex had phoned to ask to stay for a while or he would find himself homeless there was no other response but yes. I didn’t need to think about it. I would never abandon a friend in need. He new about the New Man and I made it clear that nothing was going to change with Ex in the spare room. New Man would stay over. I would spend nights away at his. We would all have to be grown ups, no tantrums or tears. This was going to take a lot of adult tact and humour if we were to make it work. And it was only short term emergency accommodation. Until we knew the results. In which case if they are negative he can move swiftly on!!!
So now I had to speak to the New Man. Those who have known me for years may well have sighed at my situation and raised an eyebrow, but would not have been at all surprised. I am not like other people. That is why they love me. I keep them amused with my different ways of approaching life. But this man had only seen the witty side of my eccentricities to date. He found my oddities charming. My outlook refreshing. I had changed his life. But how much difference was he truly prepared to accept.
That evening as he walked through he door I handed him a large glass of red and launched straight in. He didn’t say anything. He looked sad and deflated. No, no it wasn’t like that I said. Trying to make it clear that this wasn’t a soft way off telling him that I was going to get back with the Ex. Nothing would be any different. I loved him. Ex would have to fit in with our new arrangements. We (I) wasn’t going to change . It was all going to go along as usual. New Man is the real deal. He is sexy, kind, intelligent, curious. And he loves me. So even in his confused state he acknowledged that under the circumstances there was little else I could do. And proceeded to get drunk than I had ever seen him.
So Ex moves back in. Just to be clear everyone I have discussed this with thinks I am mad. Many male friends accuse me of being ridiculously naive, Ex clearly wants space back in my bedroom. Girlfriends worry about the affect this will have on my daughters who have been through hell already. I reassure them. I spoke to my girls as soon as their father had called , if they had said they didn’t want me to have him as a lodger I would have gone back to him and said sorry cant do. They have a strong sense of right and wrong.  They have hated us both at times but are happier that he has somewhere safe to lay low.
We give it a few days then New Man arrives to take me out for dinner and they meet. It is awkward. For all of us. It is a whole new game. The next morning is even trickier. Encounters in dressing gowns in the hallway on the way to the bathroom. It can’t have been easy for either of them.
Cut to this next meeting, a family lunch. They are talking. They have lots in common. Not least loving me. It is logical to me that the two men who are most important to me would like each other. We all like the same films, books, music. Shared cultural values. Pretty soon they all decamp to the dining table and I am happy to hear them discussing Get Carter and the new Sweeny film (neither that interesting to me). I relax; this is going to be ok.
I have a past with my Ex that I will not deny. We grew up together. Everything we have been through in the last 32 years of knowing each other has made us the way we are now. I like me right now. That hasn’t always been the case. I love New Man. He has enriched my life in ways I have only been able to imagine up to now. This is an adult relationship based on both of us being grown up enough to accept each others histories. I love the tales of his past existence.  We weren’t looking for this. Neither of us was waiting for love. It come into our lives unexpectedly. But it is wonderful. I don’t think it would have worked had I not been through all the other shit. I wouldn’t have reached this point without the trials and tests of a marriage that was making me unhappy. However the good years of my marriage also taught me how to love. I am grateful for all of it. But I wouldn’t go back. 
Later we flop onto the sofas to watch TV. The others know I will be asleep within minutes. I am not a fan and the TV warming up is my signal to drift off. The Teenage Daughter is draped over her father. My head drifts to New Mans shoulder; He shakes me to stop me snoring. Then they send me to bed and tidy up. My final thought for the day is how lucky I am. I am in love with a wonderful man. My Ex is safe in the spare room. My daughters have 2 men to adore them.

Dinner is a success. Just an ordinary Sunday roast. I am living in a Woody Allen film for once rather than a Mike Leigh play. It is really rather nice.