Let’s face it, we go through our fair share of ups and downs in life, but we always seem to remember the downs. From relationship break-ups, sunburns, parking tickets, rejection letters, bitchy bosses, office politics, unreliable internet access – I’m sure you’ve had it all.
But there’s always reason behind the madness.
I had the most HELLISH day at work yesterday (secret tears in the bathroom kind of thing – and I’m an ugly crier, believe me) where I felt totally unappreciated for all my hard work and my confidence was absolutely pulverised into smithereens by my bitch of a boss. I came home from work and my flatmate was waiting for me with a glass of wine and a ready to ear to listen to my raw, unadulterated anger. Later than night I went to a friend’s house who also had a glass of wine and a shoulder to lean on and she sat quietly listening to me vent, then when I finished announced that her grandmother had just died (making me feel even worse – here I was jabbering on about my trivial issues when there was a family tragedy for her to vent about). My point is, that when the world gets you down, I know that I have an army of people waiting to support me and fight for me.
About 4 years ago I went through a very tough divorce. At the end of it I was emotionally drained, had nowhere to live, was in serious debt and my close family and friends were thousands of miles away. I felt incredibly desperate, confused and alone. I internalised the situation for a long time – I didn’t even tell my mum for 2 weeks – because I wanted to believe it wasn’t real, it wasn’t happening and that it was just a blip. But it was real, and it was happening and divorces are far more than just a blip. When I was open about my issues, I suddenly realised there were people that loved me, that wanted to help me, that would make the time to listen to my problems. I actually wasn’t alone.
Life has a way of giving you lessons – and my divorce was the ultimate lesson in my life. The lesson learned? I am never alone. And for that, I want to give thanks. I give thanks to a casual acquaintance who took me in, gave me a home and helped me rebuild my confidence, emotional stability and positive attitude back, brick by brick. I thank his girlfriend for showing me how to find passion in life, become a confident woman, and for teaching me how to love myself again. I thank all the other friends who I subsequently met in the years following who injected fun and laughter and for creating amazing new memories to replace the painful ones. To my fellow travellers who I may have only spent a few hours drinking with or weeks backpacking with – I thank them for their camaraderie, understanding and sharing the life changing experiences that travel gives you. To my siblings, with whom I was never particularly close with, but gave me support nonetheless in ways that only family can. My parents, whom I owe everything and thank them for their unconditional love, support (and good food). And to a dear old friend, whom I’ve known for twenty years – who understands me better than I do – without her I would never have been able to cope with one of the most gut-wrenching, emotionally scarring and depressing moments that a woman could ever go through.
And to all the ex-boyfriends, ex-husband, ex-friends, ex-flings, bitchy bosses, nasty parking inspectors, egotistical nightclub bouncers, and Vodafone customer service – I thank you guys too. Because without you, I would never have woken up to realise that I have amazing friends and family to help me get through your incompetencies, lack of commitment, pretentiousness, bitchiness, laziness and pessimistic attitudes – through them I’ve learned that when the world gets me down, I just give thanks.
And if the world is getting YOU down, please don’t feel that you are alone. Reach out the someone, anyone. See a counsellor. Talk to God. Hell, email me if you really want (I’ve been told I’m a good listener!) Otherwise if you keep yourself caved in, locked up, and let the issues eat away at your soul – you might never have known that there are people out there who will look out for you, help you and build you back up again.
The problem … always comes down to the people. They’re the actresses who can never find work; the failed opera singers, painters, and writers; the lower-management men who will never get to the middle. People who, should they corner you in a bar, will keep you hostage with tales of their exspouses and their digestive troubles. They’re the people who can’t negotiate the system. They’re on the fringes … – Sex And The City, p.15
A month after I had signed up to an online dating site, at the encouragement of a friend, I came to realise that online dating was starting to become quite hazardous to my health and sanity. The choice of men you’re confronted with is overwhelming; its like being a kid in a candy store – its impossible to make a choice even if ‘just one piece’ sounded like a good idea as you walked in. I would troll through profile after profile and found myself closely scrutinising every photo, every word, every grammatical error…and a mostly sane quest for something ‘ideal’ spins out of control when you see some scary pictures behind names like “CumWidMe69”. Most profiles were either fraught with misspellings or were totally incoherent (I’m not kidding, I found over 50% of them impossible to make sense of), leaving me no choice but to put a bigger focus on photographs (plus they take up most of the screen). As additional filters, I quickly developed basic rules to ignore anyone who couldn’t string three sentences together, had particularly bad grammar, couldn’t spell, started off their profile descriptions with ‘I don’t know what to say’, used acronyms like LOL or ROFL, overuse of 😉 and 🙂 , who didn’t have a photo and was shorter than 5’8. Even after all that, I still got some duds.
What surprised me the most was the speed of the connection-making – I felt it cheapened the whole dating process. I like being able move at a speed similar to real life interactions; first a few emails/or instant messaging, then a few phone calls, and only then to meet first for coffee or a drink, never dinner. Yet, I was constantly asked out within the first two interactions. It was not flattering; it was creepy. I only wanted to shout, ‘But you don’t KNOW ME at all!’ When I told guys I preferred to text for a few weeks before meeting them, I was rejected. (Though clearly not a loss, it was a good indicator of the person he was). In the end, it was more exhausting trying to weed out the creepy folks, than to try to get to know the nicer guys.
Then when you get started talking to someone, it was always just a matter of time before the “Thing” dropped; and I would almost wait for it. The Thing is the reason why a person chose to go online to find a date, rather than to a party or bar. Was it because they have no free time? Was it because they were just trying to ‘broaden their horizons’? Was it because they had no luck meeting people in through other venues? Or is it something else, something worse? The Thing always did drop: Most of the guys were just looking to get some. Others were trying to stroke their own egos by piling up as many dates as possible as a ‘take that’ to every girl who had ever rejected them. Most of the time, The Thing was something closer to the first quote I posted above. Not everyone I met was on the ‘fringes’ per se, but most seemed to have trouble negotiating the real world dating system – they did not go into bars, parties, or out with friends to meet people; they went online.
My Thing (I later realised) was that I was “rebounding” (I hate that word) and was using an expanse of “dates” and “male attention” to distract myself from how awful I really felt about my current relationship situation. But even if I did meet someone with real potential, it would be lost on me as I’m probably emotionally incapable of being in a relationship at the moment.
So after spending a good few weeks on this site, I began to realise this wasn’t actually FUN. Sure, there was some novelty for the first few days when you are faced with about 15,000 guys who are all vying for your attention. And don’t get me wrong, I had some great conversations with some nice guys, but it felt weird. What was also bizarre to comprehend was that some of these guys had been on this site (and I’d say other dating sites) for a few years. YEARS! It’s like frequenting the same bar, every night, for YEARS, waiting for ‘the one’ to walk in. Rather depressing isn’t it?
No thanks. Whoever said online dating was ‘fun’ was a liar.. I’ll stick to my real world interactions please.
It all sounded perfect. The plan was to visit him every few weeks during the summer in the French and Italian riviera, where he moved to work. It would be a summer of soaking in the Mediterranean sun, eating cheese and gelato and spending the lazy weekends basking in our long-distance love. I convinced myself that it was worth it because I loved him. We didn’t really have much of a concrete plan other than that (he would always get annoyed when I wanted to partake in the cardinal sin of Planning Ahead) so we were ‘flying by the seat of our pants’ looking to see if long distance for us would work. We had already spent a large part of our relationship apart – 4 months the previous year, an agonising 6 weeks apart in March, then an additional 3 weeks in May. It felt like we were already experts at this long distance thing, convinced that our strategy of ‘winging it’ was going to work for us for a while longer. We spent 2 weeks on holiday in Australia getting reacquainted again, then just like that, he went off to start his new life in a small coastal village on the Italian riviera.
During the course of the summer, every time I travelled to see him, it felt as if I was having a holiday fling, a romantic getaway, a honeymoon: romance and travel are as hand-in-hand as a long walk on the beach. Back then, the times apart in between these ‘vacation flings’ were insignificant… the 3 or 4 days that I’d spend with him, in beautiful Nice, or Milan, or Cinque Terre was like living in a dream, as if this is how it would always be: simple, beautiful, carefree. And while we were together, it was like that. The beauty about this relationship was that I got to travel – for the days I saw him, I allowed myself to escape the self-constructed constraints of normal life, and lived more freely in the moment, because after all, that’s what travel is about.
I remember it had all started with a dance-floor kiss one humid May evening. I knew he was younger but it was the case of the fuck-it’s. No strings, No attachments; there was no expectation of anything further. But somehow it did go further. And the further we dove in, the less simpler it got and the more the strings started to appear and get tangled. In my insecurity I asked too many questions that he didn’t have answers for, which resulted more often that not in roundabout conversations about the complications of our relationship that just confused the crap out us. Then the ‘long distance’ started. The vast periods of time we spent apart were torture. Those in-between bits started to become frustrating. He wasn’t much of a communicator which made it especially hard – there was an always excuse for not talking too long on the phone (expensive), or Skyping more regularly (drinks at the bar was higher on the fun-meter than talking to your girlfriend), or sending an email (he didn’t like writing). But I still persisted, I loved him the best I could, but somehow it wasn’t satisfying because I felt I wasn’t getting anything back.
It’s a funny thing to spend a large part of your life starved for love — hungry for it, searching for it, desperately looking for someone to give it, an elusive feeling you’re sure would fill that big empty hole inside. Especially when the only love you’d ever known had suddenly up and left you just months before. So I was hungry for it. And they say hungry people make bad shoppers. You pick the hurt, the broken, the non-committal, the emotionally unavailable, and it becomes a project: “I’m going to love them like no one else has; I’m going to make them love me, Goddammit.” You tend to pick the people least able to give you the very thing you crave.
With him, I hoped, I dreamed. I started to weave elaborate fantasies and scenarios in my head of how our relationship was, is and should be. I was far more concerned with these fantasies than the actual reality of what was happening around me. You rationalize and justify. You cling to little scraps they give you like life jackets on a sinking ship. He doesn’t like talking on the phone. He must be busy if he hasn’t returned my call. It’s okay for him to make plans with everyone else except me, that’s just the way he is and he’ll come around eventually.
In reality I was giving my entire loaf to him and only received scraps back. Because hungry people, they say, will settle for scraps. No wonder I was still starving.
In the throes of that Mediterranean Summer towards the end of September, in one of the “insignificant” in-between parts, and after the 65th excuse of why he couldn’t Skype that night, I began to hear a voice — a quiet but insistent voice — that kept repeating, “You deserve better.”
I told him I needed space. So we communicated at a minimum. But like a mantra, the voice didn’t stop: “You deserve better”. Over the course of the repetition, the weeks of chanting in my own head, “you deserve better” became about something other than him, not about what he did or didn’t do. It became about me. It became about what I had settled for, what I’ve let be okay with me. It became about how I had set myself up to be hurt, and refused to acknowledge or be accountable to that hurt. It became about how I’d constructed fantasies and lived inside them, used them as a way to not be present for myself and my own issues. It became about how I have so recklessly given away my self-worth and looked to other people to validate me — begging and begging for them to fix something in me that wasn’t theirs to fix.
It became about how I wouldn’t dare ask for something better, because I didn’t really think there was anything better for me.
And somewhere, inside all that, it became about believing, if even in only some small broken chamber of my little broken heart, that maybe there was something better. We had proven to each other that we were both incapable of handling our reality – the relationship wasn’t just about the travel romance, but the in-between bits as well. He wasn’t in the position to give me the love and attention I craved when we weren’t physically together. At the same time, there were no plans to be physically together. It was long distance or bust.
So I chose bust and we broke up.
My Mediterranean Summer ended, just like that. We spoke on the phone about it and that was that. I’m still not sure whether he was upset or relieved, my guess is the latter, as a newer, younger girl appeared on the scene within weeks. Yes, I still love him. And the hurt still resurfaces. But I’ve learnt to love myself more. I have no regrets other than we didn’t have a conversation about the closure face to face. I offered, he refused. But I’m at peace with it now. I’d like to think I’m a better person for it. And whilst it will always be the Mediterranean Summer that never was, it was the summer I learned to love myself again.
All photos in this post were taken by the author and subject to copyright.
Like the rest of the 250 million people in the world, I have a Facebook. I use it fairly often, wiling away the hours spent checking statuses, friend’s photos, writing messages and other such mindless activities. Whilst the purpose of this post isn’t to debate about the downfalls of social networking, I reflected recently on how communications have really changed just in the last two decades of my life.
On my first day of school in windy Wellington, New Zealand I made my very first best friend, Angela. We developed a great friendship throughout primary school; the kind of young, innocent, happy-go-lucky, world-is-your-oyster kind of frienship. I have fond memories of sleepovers and midnight snacks, playing dress ups, listening to U2, and running away from magpies. Needless to say I was devasted when, at 11, my parents announced we were moving to Australia. I remember thinking the world was coming to an end because my best friend and I would be separated forever.
We kept in contact by writing letters. We shared, via pen, paper and stamp, all our high school ups and downs; new friends, failed subjects, first kisses, broken hearts and sibling rivalry. We swapped photos, movie tickets, concert tickets, dried flowers and birthday presents. We even wrote on recycled paper to be environmentally conscious. Sometimes after having already sent my letter and while waiting for her reply, I would begin writing a new letter straight away because there was news to be told that could not wait. The trans Tasman letter writing continued for a solid five years, at least once a week.
The advent of email then meant we could write faster, so we ceased writing letters and instead communicated behind cold, emotionless Arial font type. As we grew up, we got busy, got married, she started a family. Then Facebook appeared and there was no need to communicate at all, all I had to do was check her profile.
That’s when I realised the nostalgia of our communication had gone.
And I believe its now gone for an entire generation. Its frightening to think that my children won’t get to experience what I had with writing letters. Actually its frightening to think that they probably won’t know how to write a letter using paper and pen at all.
Today the majority of us receive digital communication. Why handwrite when you can type. Why develop film when you can view on a screen. Why send a postcard when you can send a picture MMS. This is not to say digital communications is ruining our lives. Far from it, and I can wax lyrical also about the advantages and advancements in communucations that modern technology has provided us (the irony being that my entire career is based on digital communications!). I am merely just mourning the loss of the art of letter writing.
Think about the last time you received a love letter. How great was it to think that someone took the time and thought to write their heartfelt sentiments for your eyes only. How did it make you feel to think that person also touched that piece paper, to see their handwriting on the page, knowing that every word was written with consideration and purpose. I bet you kept that letter. I bet you’ve kept more than a few love letters in the past. Compare this to an email or text message of similar sentiment. It is all too easy to delete these emails and texts and much harder to discard a handwritten letter.
I’ve kept every single one of Angela’s letters- movie tickets, dried flowers and all. Every now and then I like to go through and pick one or two to read, and it always make me smile. Emails may be great at getting news out quickly, but for me, could never be a substitute for a simple, thought-out handwritten letter.
As I was reading up on the news this morning, I came across this interesting story, in Dubai of all places. A young, unemployed Pakistani man called Ahmed has taken it upon himself to place a newspaper ad about his needs to find a rich woman to marry and financially support him. He’s made it quite clear that he won’t get a job and wants to enjoy the life of a Jumeirah Jim. What the?!?
And the scariest thing is, women are actually calling him! Primarily from filipino ladies apparently, although I can imagine there would’ve been prank calls aplenty. What surprises me the most is this guy’s honesty. Sure we all want a partner that can provide, but most of us wouldn’t have the guts to declare to the world they would marry only for money.
Which brings me to my topic today, would you ever consider a man’s materialistic wealth (or lack thereof) to be a deciding factor in your relationship? For love or for money?
A lot of women (including me) would dream to have a Mr. Big buy you a New York penthouse complete with a closet the size of a small town packed to the rafters with Jimmy Choos. However, we don’t exist in a rom com movie (unfortunately) and the modern reality is that if we really want a closet full of designer shoes, we’re going to have to work to get it for ourselves. We shouldn’t have to rely on the Mr Big’s to support us and carry us through, because, as I’ve learnt, money aint gonna make you happy.
I don’t think I could ever develop a relationship with a man solely for the reason that he could buy me presents galore. I’m not for sale, and neither is my love. On the other hand, I am in awe of women who can purposely manipulate a man to buy them gifts, without the need for their love in return. These are clever, clever women and whilst I don’t praise their materialistic values, I do admire their tenacity. In the same way I admire this Ahmed guy. It seems a bit strange that a man wants to be provided for, but at least he has the balls to know what he wants, regardless of what we all might think. Although I’m not sure if there will be a woman out there who would want a man who can’t provide for himself? Hmmm, well… unless he is utterly, inexplainably, unbelievably, out-of this-universe, gorgeously handsome (and similarly well endowed)… but I suppose I’ll have to save that argument for another topic altogether. For now, I’ll go back to daydreaming about a closet full of shoes…