A friend of mine is staying. She has just come out of the vilest relationship the world has ever known with a horribly abusive creep who has dominated her life for years in the most negative imaginable way. Yesterday she and I made steak and kidney pie and cheesecake and my daughter beat the egg whites into soft peaks. The fire crackled. It’s easy to think people should just leave bad situations immediately, but we all know you get trapped in things and lose all sense of perspective and all access to your moral compass.
Anyway, the plan she is hatching now is to find a nice man and have some children before it’s too late. I think the mistake she made (unconsciously, of course), and the mistake a lot of us make at some point, is to lack confidence in our own feelings. We go out for dinner with someone and feel a bit insecure, a bit unattractive, possibly boring, and, when the date is obviously uninterested, we wonder what we did wrong and, if we’re really nuts, we plough on with continuing to see them in order to correct the impression.
I remember this from finding a childminder for my son in New York. We had a couple of people in and my son just cried and wouldn’t go out with them. I apologised for him and felt cross with him and told him they were nice and told then he was a pain. He wasn’t though. They weren’t right and both he and I knew this immediately. When lovely Israela walked through the door we both pretty much fell into their arms. I just didn’t have the confidence to trust my son’s and my own feelings.
For things are simpler than we like to believe. I find myself singing Bob Dylan; ‘I’ve been shooting in the dark too long, When something ain’t right it’s wrong…’
If you are not having a nice time with someone, if being with them does not make you feel good that is not something that will ever change. You won’t change. They won’t change. It won’t change. Either you enjoy being with them or you don’t.
Of course, being with someone who makes you feel rubbish might well be a familiar childhood feeling, something that is homely to you and that you’ve always felt. That is the problem and the reason people get stuck in bad situations – they’ve never been in a good one and mild abuse is what they recognise as normal. But on some level I think we do know, even then, that it’s not doing us any good. We just don’t trust ourselves or have the confidence to believe that anything better might ever be on offer. But that doesn’t mean we should stay and it certainly doesn’t mean it’s going to change. Ever.
It reminds me of a time when one of my little sisters came home from school and said her friends were being mean to her. People who are mean to you are not your friends. Dates who make you feel a bit crap do not have any potential to be fulfilling partners, let alone for life.
The other big mistake everyone always makes, especially when they’re feeling insecure and time’s short, is to assume that nobody else is quite as sensitive as they are. So, while we’re worrying about whether they liked us and what every tiny element of a short text or email might mean….SO ARE THEY. If you have brushed someone off, they cared as much as you would if you’d put yourself on the line enough to dare to say you liked them. People who are acutely sensitive to everyone’s tiniest word and gesture often behave quite rudely or dismissively to dates and wonder why they then failed to persist.
I once whined and whined at my five year old sister about why someone didn’t call, even though I’d made it clear that everything was on offer, not to say in the bag. She thought about it and said; ‘Maybe he’s shy.’ I was so shy about it all that this had just not begun to occur to me. It was true, in fact. Though he was also a total nightmare but that’s another story.
Anyway, it’s odd to sit talking to someone about how to find a nice man, what constitutes a good relationship. Somebody nice is kind to you and makes you feel safe, loved and wonderful. Thin on the ground? Absolutely. But it’s good to have some clue what we’re aiming for. In fact, in this case, I may have found the ideal candidate for her but it’s hard to persuade this friend that someone who is actually single and actually gentle is a good catch. Why is that?