PULL UP A CHAIR

The challenge posed by the fourth day of WordPress Blogging University 101 regarding ‘Identifying Your Reader’ initially stumped me. I imagine that the people who read my blog are varied and full of wonderful contradictions, much like the wide variety of blogs that I follow. So, taking inspiration from a careers course I took last year, I have decided to address this a little differently…

About Me

I am…

  • Creative. Yeah, I can do things the way they are ‘supposed’ to be. But, I like creating new things, new ideas – I want to see things in a different way as sometimes they are better that way.
  • Supportive. I am able to see the need for a supportive ear, whether it’s for advice or constructive feedback.
  • Sometimes pessimistic. So not every day is sunny and rosy. Perhaps I woke up on the wrong side of the bed, I’ll try my best to keep things friendly, but sometimes allow me some space to grumble. Although in some circumstances this may result in some space away from blogging.
  • A warm person. Ok, so sometimes I can be pessimistic, shit happens! But generally, certainly at least 75% of the time I am warm and a good person to be around.

I am not…

  • Stupid. I implore you to treat me like someone who has a few brain cells in her head.
  • Always ‘sensitive’ or ‘emotional’ because I am female. Though sometimes I may well be. I am human and full of contradictions but don’t use my gender to predetermine what I can and cannot do.

About You

I hope you…

  • Enjoy my writing. I write about a number of different things so drop me a line if there is something that you enjoy!
  • Have some compassion. It takes courage for anyone to put content ‘out there’ in whatever format so if you are going to comment on my work, please be constructive with any criticism. I am sensitive at heart.
  • Share and share alike. I write about a number of things including education, politics, psychology and mental health, but I don’t want to stick necessarily within these parameters, so if there is something that you think I would like please feel free to share it with me. And I will do the same.

Want to see the original inspiration for this post?

Check out: Reverse Job Application by Andrew Horner

NEXT STEPS…

There is a funny kind of irony in that my last post was about accepting rejection and I have experienced a big fat dollop of it this week.

Shortly after Christmas, I applied for a teaching position in another international school. On paper (or the website) the school looked ideal; amazing location both in terms of its place in the world (Hong Kong – where my partner is also based) and literally in terms of bricks and mortar, built into the hills of Hong Kong island overlooking the sea. The school achieves fantastic results and the building facilities looked incredible. I felt as though my application was strong and having spoken to management at my current school, who would ultimately be writing my references, they felt that I stood a good chance.

However, I did experience some serious doubts. Putting yourself through any application and interview process is scary as hell, you are pretty much laying a part of yourself bare for others to stare at and scrutinise. What has compounded matters also is that part of me has reached ‘panic stage’ in terms of my next career steps. Three years ago I was secure in the knowledge that I already had a (teaching) job lined up for the next academic year, which is where I am currently working. Three years later and another three months on… I have nothing.

So following a few tense weeks from submitting my application I was invited for a final interview with three members of the management team including the headteacher. After a shaky start where I was asked some questions related to my reasons for considering Hong Kong and the school itself (I was incredibly but understandably nervous, so I rambled), I got into my stride and felt a little more comfortable with the process. Questions ranged from how I would encourage independent and critical thinking from students, what additional activities and support could I offer to the school and also how I deal with stress. There is another funny kind of irony here when as part of the psychology course that I deliver involves teaching students about the physiological function of stress and how to combat it, yet I struggle with handling stress myself…

The interview lasted around 40 minutes and I breathed a huge sigh of relief when it was over. So much so that with the adrenaline that was coursing through my body I had to go out for a walk to help myself calm down.

Two days passed before I heard back. Two. Long. Days.

The email was complimentary but to the point: There was a strong list of candidates… the choice wasn’t easy… but there were others who provided a closer fit…

I did become a little upset at reading it and I was disheartened at the rather generic response, but really who am I to complain? There could have been a number of candidates interviewed for a variety of positions and I am sure that the administrative team simply weren’t able to send out personalised responses to all of those who were unsuccessful.

So I guess it’s onwards and upwards… and back to the drawing board in terms of next the next steps in my career.

AUDREY: HOW DO I REJECT, REJECTION?

My one and only New Year’s resolution this year was to be less hard on myself. For the most part, I have done okay. In what would have been in the past a potentially intense or anxiety riddled situation, I have either been able to consider it from a different angle and maintain a level of distance that at times has surprised me. I have definitely had lapses, where I have given myself a telling off for ruminating about something inconsequential, but overall I haven’t allowed the hostility to reach a crescendo against myself.

But I have noticed a pattern (which perhaps has become apparent since taking my vow of being less hard on myself) that many of the incidents that cause me the most anxiety are related to experiencing rejection in some way or another. The pattern usually goes something like this; I experience some form of rejection (a friend fails to respond to an email/text, a colleague fails to acknowledge me, a disapproving look from a stranger… the list goes on), my anxiety builds (heart rate increases, stomach sinks, I am unable to focus on anything, that sort of thing), I ruminate (this has no pattern or structure, in reality, it could be for a matter of hours, an entire weekend or even years!) until the next event occurs. Rejection, ruminate, repeat.

I guess my position of being able to look at what could be one of my main reasons for such wild and vivid reactions to experiencing rejection comes back to when I was growing up (such a cliche, I know). I recall times when my parents rejected me in ways that still give me chills, like the time when I was still at school and I was being bullied by some classmates and when I asked for my mum’s advice (her help!) and she replied, “You’ll get over it.” Or when friendships have turned sour. I still dwell on a sleepover at a so-called friend’s house along with so-called friends who largely ignored me for the entire evening that left me crying into my pillow wishing I was at home.

I thought that I was ‘doing better’ but I find that this realisation has, rather than helped me, it has broken me and I am now reliving my chequered history of rejection. How can I move on?

From,

Rejection, Ruminate, Repeat

Dear Rejection, Ruminate, Repeat,

It is said that experiencing rejection is akin to physical pain. We all know the horrendous pain felt when we stub our toe but we may not be able to recall a specific incident in our past when we actually did this. However, we can very quickly flick through the ‘SIGNIFICANT MOMENTS IN OUR PAST’ file in our minds and find examples of when we have been rejected (the ‘Childhood’ years probably contains the most examples): your mum rejecting your plea for help or when those so-called friends ignored you for example. But what rejection boils down to is when you feel sidelined, you and your feelings are being ignored or marginalised, and for many (myself included) it causes panic. We wonder where we have gone wrong; what did I say? Did I cause offence? Did I not laugh/show concern at the appropriate places? Was it my hair?

Evolutionary science provides an insight into how rejection has been adaptive for humans, in that it helped people to survive. Living in tribes when we were hunter-gathers, to experience rejection was much like providing you with a warning signal to get your ass back into the tribe’s fold. If you were living on the edge away from the tribe’s protection you were likely to die, so it was imperative to be part of the group. Of course in modern society, we may not have to be in the ‘cool group’ to survive, but the basic premise is the same – we experience rejection as it provides a warning signal of some sort. The social and cultural norms are a fuckton more complex now and so this warning signal system and crucially our response to it can become maladaptive.

Another important human trait to consider here is that generally, humans look for patterns in behaviour. Often running behind the scenes in our minds, by analysing situations for repeated behaviour of some sort or a pattern it helps make our life chug along that little bit easier. Except when it doesn’t. And this is where the maladaptive response to rejection and this pattern seeking can get twisted. We can begin to seek rejection out. This can take the form of examining cues from our surroundings, particularly with those we are interacting with. And after some time of doing this, rejection becomes kinda comfortable. We know it for what it is and how it makes us feel inside, even if that is sick to the stomach.

The re-living of those memories could in some way be your mind purging some of the feelings associated with the events, through a personal and private exorcism. Alternatively, your mind could still be dealing with the emotions attached, neither are necessarily bad. Your early experiences of being rejected may in some way have contributed to your sense of self, cliche or not, but now things are different. The fact that you have been able since taking your vow of being less hard on yourself to take some steps back highlights two things; a keen self-awareness that many people would truly envy and that you are far stronger than you recognise. You are seeing the world and yourself through different lenses than before and this is perhaps the scariest thing right now, so your mind is going into over-drive to try and compensate. You have formed patterns that have felt comfortable and weirdly safe. You are evolving (growing just sounds too much self-help like) and it consciously started with making that New Year’s resolution. So please try and stick with it. That’s not to say that you won’t slip up again, but you are seeing changes and they are positive I can assure you.

Rejecting all rejection from your life is an impossible ask, as you may never ‘be over’ some of the pain you associate with people and past events. But if you are able, and it appears that you have already started down this road, to take steps in rejecting something far more significant – feeling bad about yourself.

You are not broken RRR, you are anything and everything but. You are remarkable, wondrous and totally awesome.

Love, 

Audrey

READY FOR INSPECTION?

For the first half of next week, it is inspection time at the school where I work. It has been six months in the making; lessons and accompanying resources are planned (for the most part), data has been analysed to death, middle management (like myself) have been ‘coached’ to understand how example questions could be asked, assemblies have been given to the entire student body to remind them of their role and responsibilities as school ambassadors, and there have been overnight appearances of new health and safety symbols, including new fire hydrants.

With the way that this week has gone, I thought that I would need to spend some or at least a portion of today doing some more bits. However, it has worked out that I am for the most part organised and there really isn’t much more I could do (without re-planning everything and that isn’t going to happen).

During the hustle of the past few months, and in particular the few short weeks since returning to work following the Christmas break, I haven’t paused for long to take a breath. But something happened yesterday afternoon that has stuck with me.

I was sat in my classroom checking through some of the finer details for some lesson materials when my immediate boss walked in, to check how I was feeling and if I was ready for the following week. I was, just about. He laughed and said that he was confident in my work and had no concerns. A relatively quick conversation ensued where he shared some of the details for the following week and I asked him how he was. Similar to me it transpired, a little anxious but he had also reached a point where he couldn’t do much more without going crazy. He left and I got back to my work, but something was different. A bubble of something, a feeling that I hadn’t experienced in some time had formed inside of me, I felt appreciated. And I took that away with me when I left for the day.

During the late 1940s, B. F. Skinner developed the work of behavioural psychologists arguing that existing models were too simplistic in explaining human behaviour. He developed what became known as operant conditioning and he believed that observable consequences can have an impact on behaviour. Simply put, some sort of positive reinforcement such as the example with my boss complimenting my work, provided me with a reward, an intrinsic one, but a reward nonetheless. The sense of appreciation that I felt motivated me and I left work with a smile on my face and I genuinely feel a little more positive about the upcoming inspection.

Skinner also believed negative reinforcement can also impact on behaviour and this works by the removal of a negative reinforcer. For example, I have a phobia of spiders, not so much the tiny money spiders, but anything remotely bigger than this. Even thinking about them now is causing me some mild anxiety… so rather than focus on this, I will get to my point! If I find myself in the presence of a spider then I do my darndest to either remove myself or more likely remove the offending spider… yep, I kill them if I have to. Now, diminishing spider populations aside as a result of my violent behaviour, the removal of the negative reinforcer (the spider) removes the unpleasant experience for me and therefore I feel better.

Finally, Skinner argued that human behaviour can be influenced by punishment. I imagine that we are all familiar with this, certainly in the context of education. If we do something bad, we may receive an admonishment from a teacher and perhaps in more ‘serious’ cases some other form of punishment, so that we are less likely to repeat the behaviour. Skinner concluded that it is possible to gradually change behaviour through a delicate balance of reward and punishment, as this amusing clip from The Big Bang Theory shows.

However, Skinner also conducted his research on non-human animals (rats and pigeons), including delivering electric shocks to encourage certain types of behaviour. Suffice to say, humans might respond a little differently under similar circumstances.

But I guess where I am going with this post is that that simple and relatively quick conversation with my superior made me feel valued. That the hard graft that I have been putting in along with my colleagues was worth it. I just wish that it didn’t take an inspection for the management to finally recognise some of this.

WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU LEMONS…

So this isn’t a post about Beyonce and her recent album, Lemonade (although my favourite track is Hold Up). And this is probably the only time that I will ever be able to make a link (and a tenuous one at that) to the lady herself, in that I have received a few lemons recently and I am a bit unsure about what to do with them next.

Following the ongoing mission with the careers course that has required me to reach out to people of interest; I was really pleased with the initial response. Some people replied within a few hours and some individuals higher up in the connecting tier asked for some questions to be emailed to them, or said that they would get back to me. It was a promising start.

So back to the lemons; what are they and what am I unsure about?

A couple of months ago (before the mission was originally set), I replied to an advertisement that was reaching out for writers to contribute to a new online lifestyle magazine. I was asked to provide some links to some of my work and say a little about myself. When I heard nothing back within a week or so, I assumed that perhaps I wasn’t what they were looking for.

Whilst I was still visiting family in Europe, I received an email from John* who ran the website asking to set up a meeting. I pretty much got up and danced around the room; I was ecstatic! I mean, why wouldn’t I be? This was I was hoping for, to be offered a chance of some sort, any sort of having my work published. A meeting was swiftly arranged for the following week.

THE RESEARCH

Although it wasn’t a formal interview, I wanted to treat it as though it was to an extent, so beforehand I conducted some research on the website to establish more of a feel of what, and importantly who I might be working with:

  • Was there a sense of a brand of some sort? What made the site stand out?
  • Was there a message that the site wished to convey?
  • Finally, what was the sites position? Who was it aimed at?

Although the questions posed above perhaps seem rigorous for this early stage; I still wanted to know, how could I add value to the site with my work? And will the site work for me?

My initial impressions were mixed. Before I continue, I need to hold my hands up and admit that I am not a website designer and nor am I qualified in marketing. But, I do know what I like in terms of design and like any other human, we often make snap decisions based on our first impressions. However this is not to say that these judgements necessarily stick or are warranted.

To summarise, the site covered a large range of topics from fashion, lifestyle, food, relationships, improving skills in the workplace and so on, and employed a minimalist theme incorporating a simple colour palette of black, white and red for the header and various menus.

So far, so good. Yet the main issue I found was that the site was incredibly ‘busy.’

The sheer number of menus and articles on the homepage meant that it was difficult to cut through it all and find something that you might want to read, and it prevented me from wanting to delve further. To add to that, I felt bombarded with pop-ups asking me to register to the weekly newsletter and to the various forms of social media.

This could be more about personal taste than anything more objective or more sophisticated in terms of design and marketing. But isn’t that partly what they are both about? Although many organisations may wish to appeal to the vast majority of the population to encourage sales (or hits in this case), not everyone is going to be wowed by particular campaigns.

By the time the meeting came around, I decided to put those ideas to the back of my mind. Who was I to be commenting and effectively criticising (albeit internally), an opportunity before it had truly presented itself?

THE MEETING

To say that John was enthusiastic would be underestimating it, he was a ball of energy. He raced through the website’s origins, his background and his list of other projects, of which there were many. I just about managed to interject with some of my questions about what he wanted from contributors in terms of content, style, approximate word count and so on. However, his energy was infectious, the gremlins of doubt and pessimism were quietened and I began to feel that buzz of adrenaline that you experience around those who are truly passionate about their work.

Then he threw me a curveball or a lemon if you will… he offered a position on the team. It transpired that, aside from some of the contributors that he had sourced through Facebook and other free creative source sites, he was doing everything else himself – from the website creation to its development.

The offer appeared so straightforward; I would join the team as a website editor and contributor. I would ensure that the existing contributors submit their work on time (chasing these up where appropriate), search for new writers, contribute my own pieces, and I would also get a commission based on the revenue earned from advertisements. It’s got to be a yes… right?

But this is where the gremlins have slowly latched back onto my thinking, and I don’t think that their concerns are entirely unjustified.

John estimated that I would need to spend at least eight hours a week on the role. That doesn’t sound like a huge amount, I could set aside time on my weekends and some evenings to do this. If I was really organised, I could even use some of my breaks at work in my day job.

Also, one of the bigger concerns I had was that despite hearing that he was working 15 hour days on the project as it currently stood, he was also trying to set up two other websites aimed at entirely different markets. Two! Where did he find the time? And what did this mean for the site he was asking me to come on board with?

Thankfully, John accepted my request and need for a period of reflection. I have therefore spent the time subsequently making more lists that compare and contrast the option of accepting and of not accepting, of reminding myself that there is something to be gained here in editorial experience, and to have my work published on a new platform. But there is another voice, albeit a quieter and more reflective one, that has also spoken up during this time and has asked me: am I just side-stepping or even avoiding what I truly desire – to use my imagination to write stories, specifically fiction. Since the thought came to my mind, I haven’t been able to shake it.

So this is where I find myself, do I accept the role and make something that resembles lemonade for the type of experience that it can offer, or do I make the kind of lemonade I want?

*The name has been changed.

BURNOUT OR DEPRESSION?

Melancholy, the darkness, the blue funk… just a small selection of the ways to describe depression but for me, the most appropriate is how Winston Churchill related depression to that of a black dog. Although he wasn’t the first person to describe the mental illness in this way, it is certainly something which I can relate to. Much like a dog, depression can be brought to heel and controlled. Other times you feel like it’s running rings around you.

I know when the dog has one up on me when I feel completely and utterly drained, almost devoid of energy. I feel like I am walking around in mud, and the harder I try to move the faster it holds. The most challenging aspect to grasp is that I genuinely don’t know how to feel, or how I should feel during these times – as I struggle to feel much.

Roughly five years ago, I went to see a doctor during one of my darker times. I had felt down before, sad even but I assumed that like all of our emotions they ebb and flow depending on our current situation, our experiences with those around us and our hormones. However, at this point in my life something felt different. The mud was thicker, the rings being run around me were created faster, and I simply kept falling over.

So I made the call and booked myself in.

My experience however wasn’t wholly positive; upon describing the reason for my visit the doctor asked me some standard questions about my recent medical history and emotional state and then recommended… doing more exercise.

Yes, exercise certainly can help. I know.

I enjoy exercising and it was something that I did quite a fair bit of at the time. Working in the field of psychology, I was already familiar with the symptoms of depression, which include prolonged periods (at least more than two weeks) of low mood, tearful, lacking motivation, change in appetite, lack of energy and sleeplessness (or conversely, sleeping a lot more). And I was also aware of the things that could help alleviate these symptoms such as exercise, spending time with loved ones, getting outside, taking up a hobby and so on.

I left the doctor’s practice feeling misunderstood and a little angry. Had I not explained myself sufficiently? Perhaps my symptoms weren’t ‘severe’ enough to be anything significant? Simply, I doubted that there was a problem in the first place and so I tried to put it to the back of my mind and tried to get on with my life.

At the time I was coming out of an emotionally challenging relationship and with few other choices I had moved back into my parent’s house (in my late-20’s, not fun). Initially, it provided familiar comforts but at this point, I had turned inward and aside from going to work and seeing friends, I shut myself away and therefore I shut my parents out. My mother had always been fond of my ex (I truly believe that she thought we’d get married, live ‘happily ever after’ that sort of thing) and she couldn’t understand what had happened. She wanted to know more, demanded even at various stages. I knew her questions were only out of concern, but I couldn’t even muster the energy to retrace the steps in my mind to address my unhappiness.

At its worst, I broke down at work. Initially behind the closed door of a toilet cubicle and then it became larger and I was holding back tears whilst in the office. I knew at this point I needed to do something more. Doing more exercise wasn’t going to cut it.

I revisited the doctor (the same one in fact due to no-one else being available) and this time, he recommended speaking to a therapist. He provided me with a few numbers, but it transpired that all but one no longer practised in the area. The remaining one had a full client list for the foreseeable future. It could have been easy to retreat further at this point. However, something pushed me on and a Google search provided me with some contact details for another private practice in the city and I managed to get an introductory appointment for the following week.

In all, I attended only a handful of sessions with the therapist. Unfortunately, they ended due to the therapist moving to another area of the city. At the time I couldn’t afford the additional transport costs on a regular basis. Looking back, I wish I had made more of an effort to continue to see her. She did more for me in those few months than she probably ever realised.

So why is now familiar to my experiences five years ago?

With the benefit of hindsight, I have been able to pinpoint one of the main reasons for my current state and that it relates to a degree of burnout regarding work. I feel utterly uninspired by my job for a variety of reasons and have done for some time, although it was in a recent training session with colleagues (which coincidently focused on motivation and importantly understanding how to stay motivated) that was my wake-up call. So although the time and situations were very different, I was experiencing similar symptoms as to before.

However, unlike five years ago where I kept a large part of myself hidden away, this time I reached out and spoke to a couple of close friends to let them know what was going on. Their support was invaluable as has help from a local therapist whom I connected with through Facebook.

Like depression, burnout has some similar characteristics such as loss of appetite, anxiety, lacking energy, forgetfulness and so on. Researchers from the US and Switzerland led a piece of research to address the link between symptoms of depression and traits of burnout through a study on teachers. In short, the researchers found a pattern between the two, with women more likely than men to experience both*.

This doesn’t come as much as a surprise. Whether you are burnt out by your job, family commitments or money worries, for instance, the result is the same – you are not able to ‘function’ at a level you were at an earlier period. Therefore, some things have to give.

One of my first steps to regaining a better sense of myself was to get back into writing (i.e., spend more time doing it!) Writing is perhaps one thing that provides the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, where I am able to express and explore aspects of myself and my environment. Furthermore, the support that I have received since speaking out to close friends and a therapist have reminded me that I am not alone. Although both not panaceas in themselves, I am becoming more aware of what I ‘experience’ and so I can address the symptoms in a healthier way.

I am not in no way out of the woods yet, but I am now in the position of considering how to address my burnout and other symptoms. And I have also slowly accepted that the black dog may follow me around for the rest of my life. It’s how I deal with it that makes the difference.

* A greater proportion of women were surveyed 75%.

References

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