THE COSTS OF AVOIDANCE

I like avoiding stuff.

Difficult stuff, like about what things hurt and upset me. For instance I love to avoid those conversations that you know are going to be tough, but sometimes need to be had, whether it is with yourself or someone else.

I tend to put a smile on things in public, feign happiness and acceptance. But then who doesn’t?

Over a year ago I felt deeply let down by one of my closest friends. Instead of addressing my upset with her about how I had felt treated, what did I do?

I bitched and moaned about her to mostly mutual friends and even some people I didn’t even know that well. I was left (and still am) feeling incredibly guilty, as I had opened up a fragile part of our friendship into the public sphere and permitted others to comment and pass judgement.

But my reason for not speaking to her directly was simple. I didn’t want the confrontation because of the potential explosion that it could cause. So I tried my hardest to avoid it all costs, despite deepening the scars associated with the issue for me. It seemed easier to brush things under the carpet than face them.

Another common avoidance strategy I have is related to my family. Growing up I often felt quite removed from my parents. We clashed over values and how we related to one another, and in turn how love was expressed. Mostly we were a unit of familiarity, which consisted of us getting on with our daily lives, only coming together for dinner and sometimes at weekends for rare trips out. Love was not something easily given and expressed. I knew I was loved, but there were many times when it felt like the love was held at arm’s length or it came with conditions. 

I know that I am being unduly hard on my parents. At times I was challenging, spiteful, I questioned their authority on many unnecessary occasions causing upset not just for me but also between them. Many times I was frankly irritating. So no wonder they wanted to avoid dealing with me. But I found it so difficult to express myself that I turned inward and to writing.

SAFETY NET

I can rationalise my preference for avoidance; it’s a self-preservation thing. If you avoid doing something in the first place, then you won’t be disappointed or you won’t disappoint others. It keeps things safe. It keeps you safe.

But always trying to stay ‘safe’ isn’t always the best way to live.

When I made the decision to move abroad for work, my mother’s first reaction was, ‘Why would you want to do that?’

It has taken her nearly four years and finally a visit to the country that I now call home for her to realise that by staying in the UK, (working and living where I did) was probably the biggest avoidance strategy I could ever make – I was avoiding living my life.

I was living in the shadow of what I thought I was expected to be. The same shadow prevented me from questioning the status quo. I avoided taking my degree choice seriously as it was easier not to, so I opted for something that I thought would bring me success, whatever I believed that was at the time, but it only made me poorer for it (financially but also creatively). I avoided asking myself what I wanted out of a relationship before finding myself a few years into two separate romantic relationships during my twenties and early thirties, before it dawned on me how unhappy I was. And throughout it all I avoided finding out what I am and what I can potentially be.

So I am about to challenge some of the status quo a little more and for the first time in ten years I am going on holiday, alone. I will be travelling without the aid of a friend or partner and only have my mobile phone as a support network.

Saying that I am nervous would be underestimating it.

Why am I doing this? That’s exactly what my mother commented when I told her. In fact anticipating her response, nearly led me to lie and tell her that I was going with Daniel or a friend. But then I would be heading down a well-trodden path right into another circle of avoidance.

I don’t want to keep hiding in the shadows forever, I said to her. And I meant it. 

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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.