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.