Relationships exciting and painful, euphoric and challenging. You get to know someone much more deeply than most, you share with them, you imagine futures for yourselves, discuss how ugly your kids would be or realise you want different things and the dream gets squashed, along with the relationship more often than not.
Regardless of whether it survives, or even whether it is a positive or negative relationship for the most part, it will teach you something. You will learn new things about yourself both on an emotional level and a more physical or practical level. It will also change you.
In my most recent foray into relationships, I learnt that I really enjoy playing air hockey, and my arm is still aching a bit from where I pulled a muscle playing it over-enthusiastically. I learnt that for me Reggae does not make a good background track to sex. My geography marginally improved. I learnt to play scrabble (really badly). But I also discovered that the scars left by a previous relationship are less healed than I had thought. I have thought a lot about the emotions and fears this attempted non-pre/relationship stirred for me.
It has been several days since the quasi-breakup of the non-relationship and I have had some time to reflect. I am relieved it ended. But I have also considered some of the reasons it had me digging in my heels so deep. I realised it raised a lot of shadows from a previous relationship. A lot of ugly similarities. So many years on it is painful and frustrating to see just how much of an impact that relationship still has on me. My responses were more forceful because of what had happened before.
I am ultra sensitive to certain things and I don’t behave well when confronted with them, innocently meant or not. We had lovely times together but I think it brought out less than brilliant traits in both of us. I am glad I stood my ground. I am proud that I have that fight in me now. But that fight came out too strongly for the context perhaps. I didn’t really give us a chance. Instead of finding myself able to relax I found myself feeling increasingly caged and like most wild creatures in confined spaces, the behaviour that situation evokes is possibly not the best…
Rather than finding myself able to concede to suggestions that while I considered arbitrary, I could perhaps just about see his point of view on, I fought and railed against them. Rather than allay his concerns, I fired them. I would not happily concede any further ground than I already had, too terrified that one concession would lead to another, that once he -or anyone- got a taste for control and prescription it would be a slippery slope into a relationship I don’t ever want to be in again.
And yes, it should be a two way thing, that we both give and take, but I honestly do feel that he was asking considerable things of me and not really making any similar concessions himself, because what we were supposedly conforming to was the basic bone structure of a traditional relationship. Natural for him, maybe easy for him, but not so much for me. I don’t know that this really occurred to him because he probably considered it so normal, so natural that of course it should be for me too. I suppose by making him compromise on this idea to any degree he was making some sort of accommodation at least.
Perhaps unsurprisingly even within this basic bone structure we found our opinions differed. We are just different and there were things each of us did or said that hurt and/or pissed off the other, where the other seemed extreme or perverse or inflexible.
A close friend who had been away for some months finally returned and we had coffee and a catch up the day after it ended. At the words ‘traditional’ and ‘relationship’ he was caught somewhere between hilarity and horror, with a heavy dousing of incredulity. He asked if I had been desperate for a boyfriend that I had tried being with someone so clearly unsuitable? He pointed out that many of the reasons that had in some way encouraged me to entertain the relationship were in fact negative in the extreme – the ultimatum to get rid of my ex (and others) if I wanted to see him, the pangs of jealousy when I saw him with other girls (which I think had a very potent effect because I very rarely feel jealous so it came as something of a shock). I felt stupid. But so be it. At least we ended it before it got messy.
But I hadn’t been desperate for a boyfriend. Maybe if I had been I would have been more reasonable but who’s to know, and who’s to know that wouldn’t have landed me exactly where I didn’t want to be. I am happy single and dating. I don’t need or feel ready for a serious relationship at the present time, and after the last month or two maybe not even for a more casual one. I liked him, I liked his company, I liked that we had different ideas and interesting debates, that we had totally different cultural and academic backgrounds so we always had different perspectives or experiences to bring to the table, that despite all our differences, we shared a pretty major passion. When we were together we were comfortable, happy, teasing each other, watching films, going out for walks, baking, talking, dancing, and the sex was pretty incredible too.
At the end of the day, I took a risk, and a huge step in even conceding what I did and considering any kind of a relationship. We both did. Maybe it didn’t work out, but I’m glad we tried. I hope he is too.
Whenever I next attempt any quasi-relationship I will be more cautious but also more aware of what I’m doing and ask myself why. Whether I feel threatened by this person or the pace? Whether I am comfortable? Whether I want this? And if I conclude that I am not threatened, that I do want to give this a chance, then perhaps I will be able to manage my reactions slightly better. But I also think that person will have to be more liberal and flexible, if not to the level I am, then at least so we can meet half way.