AUDREY: HOW DO I EMBRACE MY ‘NOW’ AND NOT LET MY PAST GET IN THE WAY?

Audrey,

I have been dating a wonderful woman for a nearly a year and although there have been some challenges, I am really happy. She is everything that I thought I always wanted in a partner and lots of things I didn’t think that I wanted or needed. I feel challenged, desired and significantly, she puts up with my individual weirdness. She doesn’t make me feel ashamed to be me, nor does she try to hide me from view like in my previous relationship. So yes for the first time in my life, I am fucking happy!

Yet, I can’t help but experience these niggling thoughts that are beginning to gnaw away at my insides at what we have built so far. Thoughts that coincide with feelings of inadequacy and are causing me to feel anxious. So what am I doing? I am looking for faults, errors of judgement on my part; how could this woman be into me?

I am not looking for fights, but I often have to check myself when I realise that I have said something rude in response to a question she has asked, or when I feel that I have been short with her for no reason other than I am surprised by her selflessness. At times like these, I have upset her and caused arguments that I am worried will leave a lasting mark.

I don’t want to ruin this relationship with some self-inflicted torture of questioning what is an amazing thing, but it is as though I have my girlfriend of relationship past, sitting on my shoulder watching over me biding her time before she is able to say, ‘See, I told you it wouldn’t work. You’re not good enough for her.’

How do I kick the ghost to the kerb?

From,

Ghost-Hunted

 

Dear Ghost-Hunted,

Ghosts of relationship past can permeate our very being. Some, of course, have more significance over your present self; it can take people years to exorcise themselves of these ghosts, as given the opportunity they become all consuming.

Google and self-help aids (much like this you may think…) have a lot to answer for when it comes to how we deal with relationships. We may hold hope that reading some advice from someone more experienced and hopefully more worldly-wise has the ability to provide the answers and provide the medicine that will make our pain fade away even if just for a moment. But generally, nuggets of advice profess that there are concrete steps to the process, roughly: break-up, cry, do some crazy breakup stuff (like drink, partying, late-night questionable texts, for instance) and only then comes the healing. But here is where some guides are misguided themselves, as the healing comes from the process itself. And only you can decide when the healing party is over and you are ready to move on.

I make it sound so easy! Just click the back of your heels Dorothy style and you can be back in Kansas pre-crappy feelings. But feelings are meant to be experienced, the good, the bad and the occasional ugliness of them all and they are what will help you reach a point where you can look on those ghosts and remember why the feelings associated with them are fleeting.

We tend to put past relationships into one of two camps; memorable and not memorable. There are those who we meet, dance with for a short time and then we say goodbye. There may have been tears at the relationship’s demise but there is no lasting mark scored on our hearts. And then there those who somehow find themselves a place at our very core for good or ill.  

My first boyfriend fell in the latter camp. I was 17 and we were officially only together for three months before he headed off for the bright lights of university. He suggested we carry on with one of those fancy-sounding (at the time) ‘open-relationships.’ You know the type, I can do what I want and I might let you know the details, but you’ll wait for me, won’t you? In spite of my youth and naivety, I graciously declined. So life carried on as normal. It was during the university holidays however when he would return back to our home city when he would say that he really would like to hang out, where I experienced the pain of what I believed was true heartbreak. He would cause my insecure and young heart to whoop and sing when he contacted me, just like a cliched drug, he was my hit. This went on for two years. It didn’t last of course, as I heard through the grapevine that he had found himself a girlfriend at university and so the calls and texts finally came to an end. But the hope that I put into receiving another hit from him didn’t fade for some time, it took years. And like in some twisted dark fairy tale, this set me up for a further ten years of believing that in romantic terms, my feelings were secondary to that of my partner.

We begin a new relationship sensing its fragility, particularly once we recognise that we want it to work. We want to be seen as the best version of ourselves; so we dress up, arrange romantic gestures, introduce our loved one to friends and family as signs of interest and affection. It is as a relationship starts to warm up that we begin to share more of our real selves, we share and listen when discussions emerge of our urges, desires and fears. Once the first rush of love with a partner is over, this is the period when a relationship can falter because a different sort of reality sets in. One where we have to be ourselves, warts and all. It is here when the voices of relationship past can often be at their loudest. The exposure to it all can be deafening. We may hear them sniggering and passing judgement in the background just to get a rise out of us. And they will if we let them.

In any relationship, we can bring a lot to the table. And it’s not just our crap to contend with, there is all of theirs too. And, intentionally or not, some people wish to tip the table in their favour so instead of setting boundaries, marking out compromises, for instance, they dump a bag load of shit right there in the middle. For them, the easiest way for their fears to be realised and for their ego’s to be acknowledged is to belittle and criticise others. And for the recipient of a partner who acts in this way, we can start to believe their voice, long after the relationship is over. This, unfortunately, can manifest itself in many forms, in a milder but nevertheless serious infringement of relationship boundaries like co-dependency and at it’s worst, abuse in its differing but devastating forms.

It was only when I started to recognise that my feelings were as equally as important as someone else’s was when I met someone who wanted to meet me halfway. One of the first more serious conversations I had with my partner was where I told him in slightly cruder terms than this that I felt a little lost. I had come out of a relationship where I lost a huge sense of what I wanted or even who I really was. I had grown so incredibly used to shrinking away into the background to please my ex-boyfriend, my thoughts had become irrelevant. So I wasn’t sure how to behave in certain situations; do I simply back down at the first signs of conflict? Smile and nod when I am in fact offended? He told me that in no uncertain terms that he would prefer me to be myself, even if we didn’t match on the view or come anywhere close, something I hadn’t heard before.   

Kicking a past relationship ghost to the kerb is a liberating but and an individual process; there is no magic button, panacea or pair of ruby slippers in this world that will tell you when and only when you are ‘healed’ from a previous relationship (despite what Google thinks). It is, however, your choice about if you are going to listen to the voices. By sharing this with your partner, you may surprise yourself to find that they have ghosts of their own. Ones that creep up on them when they least expect it. And it’s only by releasing the pesky things into the world where they lose some of their potency to inflict damage. They may not go away, but the scars left on your heart will then begin to heal.

Love,

Audrey

AUDREY: I CHECKED MY BOYFRIEND’S PHONE AND FOUND HE HAS CHEATED – WHAT DO I DO?

Dear Audrey,

For some time now I have had some suspicions about my boyfriend’s behaviour and recently I discovered that he has been sending and receiving explicit messages from a woman we both used to work with.

There have been red flags in the past about the woman in question. When she still worked at the company, she would often turn up ‘just to chat’ with him, and this often involved some obvious flirting between them and non-existent concealment of the fact from her. This was despite the fact that she knew that we were an item.

At the time when I told him of my discomfort, he argued that his relationship with her was purely professional and it was nothing to worry about. The flirting always continued and there were even times he would rub in the fact that she was clearly into him by saying how attractive she was and how much they had in common. This upset me a lot.

When she eventually left the company, pleased was an understatement. I was elated. As far as I knew, with her gone she was out of his mind.

The first I realised that they were still in touch was over Facebook; she started to ‘like’ some of his posts, which soon turned into comments. Initially I didn’t say anything, I was being silly, paranoid even, well that is what I told myself. But when she made some provocative comment about a post he made, resulting in days of toing and froing between them in clear sight, (including lots of frankly suspicious emoticon useage) I told him again that I felt uncomfortable. He dismissed my concerns saying that I was being silly.

Then everything went quiet on the social media front and life carried on for almost a year, until I checked his phone. Since the radio silence between them publicly I couldn’t help but wonder if there was something else happening behind the scenes. On the day in question, I strangely felt compelled to do it without really any prior warning or justification for doing so. 

The messages had started casually enough and then after a few months they had grown explicit and conspiratory, the most recent ones talked of a desire to be together and also included exchanges of photos in their underwear and even less.

As I went through them I felt my heart being broken and then the pieces stamped on. Now I don’t know what to do. If I tell him that I’ve seen them, then he knows that I have been through his phone and he might end things with me. If I don’t say anything, I think I might go crazy but I don’t want to lose him.

What should I do?

From,

Heartbroken

 

Dear Heartbroken,

Your instinct was telling you something all along. Although instinct is not a complete science, it does help to listen to it.

That being said, you found concrete evidence for your boyfriend’s cheating. There must be a part of you that feels vindicated, even if just a little bit. You were right all along. But knowing that doesn’t make your situation any easier or absolve the upset you feel.

What is interesting is where the blame appears to lie in your eyes: towards the other woman.

The blame is firmly placed on her and you paint your boyfriend as someone with no decision-making powers of his own, as though he was flapping his arms in the wind as she made her move. And as the saying goes, it takes two to tango and certainly to type text messages.

The relative contradictions that modern technology provides; an inherent ability to distance ourselves from other human beings, yet we feel able to plot and conspire, and also send explicit images to people we may feel like we wouldn’t usually share a bus seat with. But that’s beside the point, you are hurt from your boyfriend going behind your back and continuing a version of a relationship with someone who you feel threatened by. As it’s the relationship with the other woman that is the crux of the matter and his inability to leave it alone.

So remember that your boyfriend played as much a part in this merry sexting and general bad behaviour dance as your ex-colleague, if not more so.

Perhaps she did pursue him? And actually right in front of you. But did he make it clear that he was otherwise coupled up?

He appears to have had very little respect for your feelings, fuck, he bulldozed over your continued concerns with a truck and then told you that you were crazy for questioning his commitment.

These are signs of someone desperately living in denial with a capital D. Some people have the ability to tell themselves certain information until they believe it to be true. Any information to the contrary is seen as false and the deliverer of that information as hostile. Your boyfriend is protecting himself first and foremost in how he responded to your concerns. After all, self-preservation is a natural human survival strategy.

You are unsure as to whether to say anything to him about what you have unearthed – it seems like he may have already made a decision for you. He is talking of leaving you. I can’t say how serious he is with that, but assume he is. How does that make you feel?

I imagine pretty shitty.

You end your letter pacing between two scenarios; admit that you’ve been checking his phone and discovered his infidelity, or bury the issue and try to pretend that you haven’t seen what you’ve seen.

But therein lies the problem, you cannot unsee what you have seen. It has been burned into your consciousness.

And would you want to?

If you hadn’t checked his phone, perhaps you would have found him out somewhere down the line, that is unless he had already upped and left to be with the other woman. Perhaps their messages are just a simple fun activity in his mind and he has absolutely no intention of leaving you. It just passes the time.

Perhaps you confront him, force him to admit his plans and cheating ways – as let’s not forget, there is room for interpretation from individual parties when it comes to cheating via phone/internet and so on.

FYI – I am firmly in the camp of ‘HELL YEAH IT IS!’ if plans are afoot for a coupling and graphic images being sent.

What happens then?

He may fire a number of things back at you; you broke his trust for checking his phone or you never trusted him in the first place. In effect, he may spin things around. Or he might not and in fact beg for your forgiveness and admit he made a mistake.

Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps…

Or perhaps I wonder if you are living in a world of denial yourself (with a smaller, quieter ‘d’), pretending that a relationship was right for you that was wrong on some levels, inasmuch as his inability to see some of the discomfort and pain you experienced when you expressed yourself about his relationship with the other woman. That to me, says more about the state of his feelings towards your relationship than the act of texting the other woman does. 

By not allowing yourself to face the fact that you have experienced something painful and by not telling a partner that you feel seriously hurt, you have already shut down a part of yourself emotionally. You are in effect being blinded by denial.

So do yourself a favour, allow yourself to be vulnerable and confront those demons that are holding you and your current relationship to ransom. Honesty may not bring the answers that you seek or necessarily want, but don’t allow yourself to shy away from owning your emotions either and also standing up for them.

Audrey

BIRTHDAY TRAVEL

I am on holiday – yippee!

I am also alone on holiday and it’s my birthday.

I am sat in a cafe that my boyfriend told me about when he visited this city, this was before we met. He has just text to ask how my morning has been and I have checked in with a few friends, family, my emails and I have turned to writing.

The cafe itself however is gorgeous, a small colonial style house with moulding exterior yellow walls that has been converted into a three floor eatery, with tiled floors and peeling paintwork. A mish-mash array of wooden furniture with a large bookshelf made of bamboo and Chinese lanterns provide the only internal light. Equally, with the heavy leaden clouds outside, you could be mistaken for thinking it is the nighttime.

So why have I chosen to spend my birthday on holiday and alone?

I have moments of pondering that very question. And this is certainly one of them.

The last time I did this, that is solo travel, was around eight years ago and I took myself off to the south of France for one week, specifically Nice, Monaco and Cannes. I was in the midst of a difficult period with a boyfriend (we hadn’t actually broken up but it was evidently on the cards) and my response to the difficulties we faced was to leave the country, naturally. My soon-to-be ex-boyfriend at the time hated the idea of me off on what he believed to be a jolly holiday whilst he wallowed in frustration and angst, but there had always been something niggling away at me throughout our relationship, certainly in the last few months. It wasn’t working and I felt trapped.

There were periods whilst I was away where I almost felt trapped again, but in a very different way. Trapped with myself and with only my thoughts for company.

We as humans are naturally (and evolutionary) for the most part social creatures. A degree of solitude may be good for the soul, but for me I find myself craving some social interaction after a while, which you could argue is equally good for the soul.

If I had stayed in a youth hostel I perhaps would have made some connections which may have led to some evenings out, but my shyness and introverted nature (which at the time I had not realised or certainly appreciated) resulted in me spending my evenings alone, usually at the hotel with a glass of wine.

In amongst the trips to Monaco, Cannes and wandering the narrow streets of Nice I had moments of utter contentment; why had I not done this sooner? I fell in love with the south of France and for the freedom it gave me for those seven days. But likewise there were periods of darkness where my inner voice criticised me and made me question what the hell I was doing.

When I was waiting for my return flight to the UK, I had one of those epiphanies that can arise from periods of quiet, something so vivid and clear. Despite spending the week alone, I had never felt lonelier than when I was with my boyfriend at the time.

The irony of the situation was that my boyfriend and I actually stayed together for a little longer, another year in fact! To him, it was as though I had never been away and whenever I tried to talk about some of our issues or even the trip he would shut me down. This of course led me to shut down even further and which led inevitably to another contributing factor of our break-up. 

This time, I am a little older and hopefully a little wiser in more ways than one. Firstly, my trip is more adventurous in nature involving some time in a big city, moving onto a hiking tour and then a few days excursion on a boat. Secondly, emotionally I am in a far better place.  In the past I was made to feel guilty if I wanted some time alone – even if I wanted to visit friends. Now I feel quite the opposite. My boyfriend and I are supportive of our mutual desire for space and time alone and if that includes a holiday then it includes a holiday.

FRIEND REJECTED

Early on this year I began socialising with a relatively new colleague from work. Hayley* and I had always got on in a ‘brief encounters in and around the office kind of way’ with jokes and silly stories, regularly suggesting to one another about going out for that drink but like with most things in life, other things had gotten in the way.

After a holiday, I decided to bite the bullet and suggested dinner and drinks one night after work. The evening went so well that we decided to extend it and we ended up sharing more wine until fairly late. For the next few months, once or twice a week we would grab a drink or meet up for lunch sometimes with a group of others. Being someone who leans over on the side of being an introvert side of life and at times finds certain aspects of socializing a challenge, particularly first introductions, I was happy that I had found someone that I connected with.

So it was strange when I noticed that things had begun to change.

Whenever I made a suggestion about going out somewhere, her responses were vague, non-committal and always in the negative. She was busy, she was tired, she had work to catch up… all totally fair and legitimate reasons. But my suspicions were raised that things were definitely off between us when it turned out I had been replaced on the lunch dates by a newer colleague. 

So what did I do? I turned inward and attempted to analyse the situation as best I could. What had I done wrong? Had I offended her somehow? Made an inappropriate remark? Insulted her mother?

Perhaps I was reading too much into it, another friend said. She’s had a lot going on, I was reminded. This I knew and understood, I had offered support, an ear and no judgement to best of my knowledge, but why still the blackout?

You can do a quick Google search, or pick up a copy of a glossy magazine and find various articles about what to do or how you are meant to feel after the breakdown of a relationship between romantic partners, but what about with friends? As unlike a breakup with a partner, where at least usually you have the opportunity to put your cards on the table as to the state of how things are going, with a friend the lines are often blurred and you may never get to the bottom of the question, ‘Why did you dump me?’

To help analyse my situation a little more, I turned to some of the theory that I teach students looking specifically at relationship breakdowns. British social psychologist, Steve Duck proposed a four stage process to a romantic relationship breakdown:

At first, an individual mulls over the state of a relationship, this is known as the intrapsychic phase. This is generally an internal process where a person considers if they are satisfied or not. They may voice their dissatisfaction to other people but it is not until the second phase, dyadic phase where the partner hears their concerns. Here, a discussion may be constructive and useful in terms of enlightening one or both partners about any difficulties, compromises may be made and new boundaries drawn. 

However, it may also move the breakdown into the third stage or the social phase, this is where more people from the immediate social circle become involved regarding the relationship; family, friends and colleagues. At this point, advice is sought from these groups to help the person determine whether the relationship can be saved or not. If not, the breakdown leads to the final stage. 

Finally, the grave-dressing phase is where, individuals having looked introspectively at the part they played in the relationship reassess their own values, and importantly consider how the outside world may perceive them. This can involve the retelling of the relationship in a favourable way. In effect at this stage you are mourning the loss of the relationship and attempting to present yourself in the best light to potential future partners. For example, if the relationship ended due to infidelity, the person who had the affair may argue that they were unhappy and the relationship had run its course to ‘justify’ their actions. 

Although this model is applicable to romantic relationships, there are certainly overlaps with other types of relationship, particularly friendships. You initially connect due to shared interests, desires and dreams, much like a romantic relationship, but without the added potency of hormones and brain chemistry. Also unlike romantic relationships, with friendships our levels of investment are usually vastly different. We may not see them as regularly as our partners for instance and so we may tend to wave off or suppress certain discussions to prevent any potential fall out. 

The idea that we become introspective and may try to establish a pattern of behaviour for ourselves and others is not only natural but also what makes us human. We may discuss the friendship with mutual friends trying to establish if they know anything about how the dumper is feeling in an attempt to explain their actions. Some people probably less sensitive than me may not even reach the ‘grave-dressing stage’, and see the ebbs and flows of a relationship as a fact of life. You win some, you lose some.

It could be an option at this point to ask the dumper themselves what exactly happened, what changed so dramatically to cause the breakup? This is mostly dependent on whether you truly want to know the answer or whether it is worth admitting your own insecurities.

In my case, part of my personality and desire to form strong attachments to others makes me sometimes susceptible and sensitive to the loss of an attachment, resulting in a degree of anxiety. Perhaps the reason why Hayley moved on and made close friends with some newer colleagues is because our friendship was one more of convenience rather than any deep connection or dislike towards me. As bleak and flippant as that sounds, it does remind me that I do have some incredibly strong friendships with lasting connections and I am reminded to spend some more time fostering these.

* The name has been changed to protect their identity.

References:

BE KIND, UNWIND

Last night I met up with some girlfriends and colleagues for evening drinks and we ended up heading to a club. Nothing unusual there for a Saturday night for most people I would assume. Except this is me, and an evening out ‘out’ on the tiles is a rarity.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy socialising, in fact I am able to hold myself rather well, but there comes a point where I feel utterly drained by the experience if it is prolonged. In situations like this I tend to exhibit the following behaviours; I drink and talk more to conceal the fact that I feel like I have to talk for talking’s sake. I then become even more anxious about my behaviour and the cycle continues until I am either stinking drunk or make the smart move and leave.

On this particular evening fortunately I did the latter.

It’s taken some years for me to feel comfortable in saying no to social activities, or having my fill and leaving when I feel full so to speak. During my teens and 20s, I largely felt like I had to be someone else; someone who was gregarious and a people pleaser.

I can’t solely blame my upbringing, but many memories of my mother involve her unbridled duty to ‘help’ everyone else (and she still does) often to the detriment of herself. I feel in some way that this was instilled into me also. Likewise, I felt like I needed to be ‘loud’ to be heard at school, home and amongst friends.

Otherwise, what was I?

A nobody – well that was certainly how I felt.

This ‘loudness’ followed me throughout university and into my career as a teacher and lecturer, until I stopped caring as much.

I couldn’t safely say what specifically caused this change in perspective but leaving an emotionally restrictive relationship during my mid-20s certainly helped, resulting in a period of time single. I wasn’t out partying every night to get over the breakup, it was actually quite the opposite as I felt relieved, as though a weight had been lifting off my shoulders. At the same time, I think a multitude of factors caused me to reassess my own life but the breakup was the catalyst.

I have come to accept my need for downtime, my desire to unwind in a space of my own after a day at work or have time off after socialising, though I still find it conflicts with a basic human need for interaction at some level. So it was interesting the other night over a text that Daniel wrote that he was ‘holding the introvert inside’, whilst out with friends. I could totally relate!

I find it easier to remember that keeping yourself grounded (and comfortable) is like a balancing act. Sometimes the balancing part is more challenging and at other times everything seems to make perfect sense, things seem easy! But I refuse to let the anxieties run my life like they used to.

ALL EARS

About five months ago I started dating someone new. He is unlike anyone I’ve dated before for a whole variety of reasons, but one of the main things that I have found incredibly attractive about him is that he actually listens to me.

It’s crazy! Someone who wants to hear what I have to say, and significantly, cares about it too (from my hopes and fears for the future to even some of the random crap I ramble on about).

Ok, so this all might seem a bit odd at the moment so allow me backtrack a little…

I am now in my early 30’s and have had two serious boyfriends. Although both were different in their personality, certainly appearance and mannerisms, there was one thing that joined them so to speak (apart from both dating me) and that was arrogance. They had it in bucketloads. In my previous post I highlighted this as something I (once) perceived as an attractive quality in the opposite sex. Why? Well I think it comes down to a couple of reasons:

  • Firstly, there are some less than unconscious father-daughter links (a future post will discuss this in greater detail).
  • Secondly and for this post, it was sexy! Well I thought it was…

I thought that someone who displayed arrogant qualities was ‘better’ somehow, whether that was in bed, as a provider (jeez! I can’t believe I am writing that…) and just generally as a potential partner. They were a cut above the rest.

However, this subconscious search for arrogance meant that more than often than not I was looking for love in the wrong place and was often left feeling hurt. I could be entirely wrong of course, and perhaps this arrogance was simply a higher-level of self-esteem on their part, or confidence reincarnated, whilst I craved a boost of my own.

And that’s the crux; I was attracted to these guys because of my own low self-esteem. I was prepared to put up with feeling like shit for significant parts of the relationship (and in some cases telling myself that everything was ok), simply because I thought I couldn’t do better elsewhere. 

I had many happy times with both my ex partners that is not under dispute, but I believe where confidence and arrogance diverge is when one person in a relationship continually puts the other down or tries to maintain a balance tipped in their favour. This could take the form of subtle (or not) digs at your expense; your appearance, friends, family, your work, even the way you walk.

Yes! Thanks to my ex. He thought that all women should walk like catwalk models down the street, because that’s comfortable and downright practical…

So what made me open my eyes?

Space. Literally.

My ex-boyfriend and I took jobs in not just different cities but also countries. Clearly this is not something that’s easy or even possible for most people, but the physical distance between us made me realise that I wasn’t happy. When we did see one another I became less accepting of the negative behaviour he displayed towards me because I wasn’t constantly around it. I had fresh eyes on the situation.

So why does a guy who does take the time listen and want to converse scare the shit out of me? It’s simple – I am not used to it!

Following a recent phone call with the guy I am dating I went into what can be described as: anxiety driven paranoia. I quickly began to obsess about the fact that I had spent time talking (rather moaning) about some things that had happened at work. I ended up texting him later to apologise.

His response?

Huh?

He reminded me that he had in fact asked about my day at work and was interested in hearing more, hence the follow up questions. I had to laugh to myself. I had twisted his interest in my life into something outrageous and crucially, totally wrong.

I am not trying to generalise here that all men or indeed women who may be perceived as arrogant are incapable of listening and don’t allow themselves to be vulnerable. But I do believe that some may find the latter harder therefore ensuring that truly listening to a partner becomes difficult too. The ability to listen to a partner’s fears, dreams and desires are as important as the day-to-day stuff like if they want to have a moan about work.

Of course there are appropriate periods of time/space for these kinds of conversation to happen. And if a partner hasn’t got the energy or right headspace to listen at that point in time then that’s certainly not the end by any means. However, if you are made to feel insignificant for being you, if your words are ignored or dismissed, then warning bells may sound – although these may be quiet at first.

Relationships ultimately are a balancing act and both parties need to be able to compromise, that is nothing new. Often the best we can do is be honest with our partners and importantly listen to ourselves.

FRIENDSHIP 101

Ten years ago I started a new job and subsequently met a new circle of friends. Out of what was potentially a large group of people there was a small handful that I became close to and one of whom I clicked with immediately.

Caroline was beautiful, vivacious and generous. She exuded a confidence that I equally adored and envied. We would often find ourselves eating lunch at the same time and would regularly bump into one another in the office corridors. After a few weeks of these stop start meetings, she suggested a drink one day after work, to which I quickly accepted.  

It turned out Caroline and I had much in common; similar-ish backgrounds and upbringing, we were both passionate about the work we did whilst trying to maintain a healthy work-life balance. This initial drink in a pub quickly became a regular event usually after a pre-drink game of tennis or badminton at the local gym.

As we got to know one another I learnt that Caroline wasn’t happy in her relationship. She had been with Pete for years and she felt that the relationship had run its course. Pete had been out of work for some time and despite doing some odd jobs, in her opinion he hadn’t been active enough to get something more permanent. Aside from the financial aspects of supporting a partner out of work, she felt as though she was doing all of the giving emotionally also.

This last aspect resonated with me. At this time I was also in a relationship with someone whom was emotionally distant and maintained a hard exterior even when we were alone. Of course when we met and in the early stages of dating, this aloofness I believed was the sign of a confident character. Perhaps it was an unconscious desire on my part for someone who emulated my father… but that’s a whole other story and for a different post.

This mutual unhappiness in our relationships meant that Caroline and I bonded even more and whilst she jumped straight into dating following her breakup, I stepped back to give myself some time to reflect. Whilst I licked my wounds, I watched as Caroline went from date to date. In her words, she was making up for lost time. She would regale to me tales of her dating exploits and in a strange voyeuristic way I relished hearing about them all despite a certain degree of jealousy on my part. How could I be as comfortable as her with getting ‘back out there’ I wanted to know.

One of her longest relationships during this time was with an engaged man. She fell head over heels in love with him, jumping when he text/called, cherishing any time that they had together. Their affair continued well into when he married, she believed that somehow and with time he would realise the error of his ways and leave his wife to be with her.

However as time went by and it looked increasingly certain that the possibility of him leaving his wife was looking slimmer; his interest having waned, Caroline’s behaviour became erratic. He was all she spoke about and she admitted to texting him throughout the day and night, it was when it transpired that she had been turning up at his work that a mutual friend called an intervention. However despite this, Caroline couldn’t ‘see’ her behaviour for what it was. She was wrapped up in the drama of the relationship and the situation, something she admitted to.

And I am sorry to say at this point but I stepped back. When Caroline needed support and friendship, I found that I couldn’t give it to her. The simple and somewhat selfish fact was that I was worn down by her. The friendship and whirlwind that she embodied had become so twisted that I had begun to resent her. The final straw was when on a night out she seduced one of my oldest and dearest friends and after a few months together unceremoniously dumped him when the married man came back on the scene. She obviously wasn’t ready to move on.

Caroline and I are still in contact, albeit sporadically. We have never spoken about why our friendship fractured, perhaps things would have been different if we had – would we still be friends? Or is it easier this way? To have a type of friendship where we hold back part of ourselves to protect the other. Nevertheless, ultimately our lives have taken us in different directions and to different countries. She was one of the best friends I have ever had, but one of the hardest lessons I learnt is that although great friends are hard to come by, some people join us for the ride for longer than others.

They may be ‘just right’ for a period of time in your life.

  • Names have been changed

CALLING TIME ON CO-DEPENDENCY

This summer I ended a long-term relationship with whom I thought at various points in our time together I was going to spend the rest of my life with and potentially marry.

My ex obviously didn’t quite feel the same way and any hint of a conversation about the future (usually instigated by me) was met with a swift change of subject, uncomfortable silence or worse, the topic was shot down with a defensive attitude about ‘feeling pressured.’

Throughout our relationship I often felt insecure and ultimately became riddled with anxiety about where I saw myself within the relationship.

Clearly we were on wrong pages when it came to some of the fundamental things between us. Yet, I ignored or rather didn’t see the warning signs of someone who wasn’t able to emotionally commit to me. Instead, I told myself to hang on in there, given a bit of time and space emotionally, he would come round. Surely?

Towards the end of our relationship and since our breakup given the time to reflect (including plenty of chats to girlfriends, Google searches related to relationship breakdown and from my own professional experience), I realised that one thing had been staring right at me in the face and I had totally failed to see it – I had been in a co-dependent relationship. In other words, I put more of myself into the relationship than he did to the detriment of my own self-worth.

I hadn’t realised how much at the time and throughout our time together I relied on him for support and reassurance. The emphasis being on the amount of support and reassurance I needed from him. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t seek support and reassurance from a partner; but in my case, I couldn’t see anything outside of being with him.

This was the problem. I had somehow built my entire existence around prioritising his happiness.

So how did this co-dependency manifest itself?

In reality it was simple, I mothered him. I cooked, I cleaned, I organised social events, holidays. I arranged his life so that he didn’t have to. When he was angry or upset, I took his irritations as my own. Lines had become blurred.

The effects of this was a slow-burner resulting in subtle changes in the dynamics between us over a period of years. The more I did, naturally he did less. In a practical sense this was fairly obvious when we lived together, but significantly this was reflected in his attitude towards me. In some unconscious way I believe that he grew to resent me for taking on this ‘mothering role’ and at the same time I began to resent him for not helping out more and failing to listen. But for me, every physical thing I did was my way of expressing affection and love. A classic sign of co-dependency and signs of a toxic relationship.

I was clearly living in a world of denial about where we were at. In reality however, I was afraid of being alone and had conjured a fantasy of us eventually committing to one another when he was good and ready.

It’s strange to look back now and see what finally ended us. A holiday. One that gave us both some amazing memories. But upon our return to the real-world, I realised how much we had both changed and at the same time hadn’t.

Prior to calling on time on the relationship, I had begun to unconsciously move the boundaries of what I found acceptable and the holiday together reaffirmed this. One significant moment was when he was making jokes at my expense (I cannot even recall precisely what had led to this) and it resulted in an anxiety attack. Initially, I put this down to feeling tired from the amount of travelling we had been doing but each time I sat back and thought properly about the event, I knew that it was the physiological result of something deeper.

It was incredibly upsetting to end the relationship and for him, my true feelings came as a shock. He hadn’t realised how unhappy I had been. In one of our last conversations, he asked me why I hadn’t spoken up before. But I had tried many times, but perhaps not hard enough or rather I had not approached the conversation in the right way. I had grown used to hiding my own feelings so I stopped expressing myself.

I have learnt since ending the relationship that the behaviour my ex and I displayed towards one another was not healthy and having recently entered into a new relationship, I now have the responsibility to speak up for me and for him.

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If you are unsure of whether you are in a co-dependent relationship, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you apologise often for your behaviour/actions unnecessarily, and in some cases apologise for your partner’s (possibly to others)?
  • Do you avoid confronting a partner about decisions/certain discussions due to fearing rejection? Are you also blamed for being over-sensitive if your decide to voice your thoughts and they are rejected and this subsequently causes upset?
  • Do you feel unable to say no to your partner? This could be to do with day-to-day decision making, or deeper issues such as with money and sex.
  • Do you protect your partner’s behaviour through denial of your own feelings?

If it’s a yes some of these, you could be in a co-dependent relationship. It doesn’t mean that a relationship will ultimately fail but it may be necessary to establish clear boundaries and ensure that a life exists outside of the relationship itself, for instance by focusing on and fostering other relationships with family members and friends.

MOVING ON

A little over three months ago I ended a relationship.

There were a number of reasons why the relationship broke down; his infidelity leading to a lack of trust on my part, my obsessive tendencies/insecurities that resulted in criticism and judgement towards him and the relationship (and for him, one of the reasons why he strayed), and ultimately me realising that I saw different things in our futures. Breaking up was, as the saying goes, hard to do.

I had been with Harry* for just shy of four and a half years but I guess the hardest thing to overcome following the breakup was that throughout our relationship he was my best friend. I felt, in a cliche way that I had lost a part of myself.

Do I regret the decision of ending things?

I would be lying if there hadn’t been moments, jolts where I felt like I had made the wrong decision. But regret? No.

Sure, I’ve felt (and have moments where I feel) sad certainly if something reminds me of him or times together.

One of my close friends asked me recently how I might feel if I discovered that he was dating someone new, would I feel jealous? My response – yes to an extent. Perhaps because I have dipped my feet into dating again and see that there is life after a breakup, or the fact that I was the one who instigated the breakup, I feel as though I could accept the news and it not strike my core. I can now look back at our relationship with a fresh and healthier perspective and look positively towards the future.
* The name has been changed.

** Originally posted on ‘The Sum of Our Parts’ blog by the same author.