Friday, 26 October 2012

The LTR and Break-Up I've Never Talked About

I was dull and unhappy in a long-term relationship too.

I have never written about that, or about the break-up. I'm not a female journalist looking for a novel, so I am not going to write about it in detail. I'm not going to say "long-term relationships are like this and that" because that will only set off the Denial Chorus in your head, and who knows, yours may actually work. Just don't think it's anything you're actually doing that makes it work, or you will be that chump when she drops the D-Bomb.

This wasn't your miserable marriage. We never lived together and we didn't have children. We did stay together for ten years, and through a fair amount of thick and thin, until it got to the point where we weren't having fun together, and we weren't doing each other any good.

If I have to explain why "we broke up", I say that we had been through too many bad times and not enough good times, that we were dragging each other down and were had better times on our own than we did together. This has the advantage of being true, and missing out the part where we hadn't had sex for years before the break-up.

If I am absolutely blunt, I got into the relationship because there it was and I was tired of being on my own. I was pushing mid-forties, had just finished an affair with a woman in recovery who was a couple of symptoms short of DSM-IV Narcissism. A career change to teaching had fallen flat (thank God in retrospect), and I was trying to get back up the job ladder from a period of unemploy... I mean, consultancy. I was a few years sober and had shaken off the worst of my resentments and bad habits. She was divorced, no children, and similarly working her way up the ladder, taking her ACCA exams. We both had our own places and a proven ability to live on our own without leaving empty pizza boxes around the living room for a week. There was an attraction and a certain amount of compatibility. We're not talking mad teenage love here, but then neither of us were mad teenagers. She charmed everybody, had a dazzling smile, and only those close to her knew the tougher and non-empathetic side.

In the early years we had some good times. Our careers went well: we wound up doubling our salaries in five years. Having someone to "do things with" meant that I was much more inclined to take holidays. Over the years we went to Nice, Florence, Amsterdam, New York, Rome, Paris, Madrid, Seville, Barcelona and Sicily together. This was a woman who actually liked Jean-Luc Godard's Two or Three Things I Know About Her and took to Steve Reich's music instantly. Other times we could simply cuddle on the couch and watch three straight episodes of Homicide: Life On The Street. 

On the other hand, we could also slump together rather badly: whole grey winters went by and we would barely leave my place at the weekends. We could get locked into "grumpy old men" discussions and complain about all we saw. She got odd things wrong with her girl parts, which meant the Rome holiday wasn't as romantic as it might have been. She had high blood pressure, and sex was off the menu for a long-ish while for medical reasons. We put on weight and I started snoring - badly. So some Sundays she would be sleep-deprived and snappy. Both of us had periods out of work, or living with a lot of uncertainty about employment. We would compromise on what we would do together, so it wasn't what either of us really wanted to do. We were better and more effective even on a shopping trip when we were apart. The last holiday in Taormina was a disaster from the location of the hotel, to the weather (yeah, sure Sicily is super sunny in September), to each other's company. 

It takes some time to realise that the sex has stopped. I kept thinking it was my fault, her fault, our fault, or that maybe every other couple our age I saw had the same lack of sex, and that this was what it was like to be mid-Fifites and in a relationship. So I thought that the relationship could or should go on without sex, or that we could get the sex back. I thought this was how it was supposed to be and I should live with it. Right up to the point where I couldn't any more.

In the end she started to get picky and critical, which she knew I don't tolerate, I blew my stack over something trivial (it's always "something trivial"), she walked out leaving her copy of my door key behind, and that was that. We had a "we must talk" meeting which was for her to establish that it was All My Fault, and I didn't care, because I was getting out. 

After a break-up a guy can do many, many things. I had a new manager who had been told the best thing he could was set me up to fail, followed by six months waiting for re-organisation after the biggest banking merger in the UK to reach my humble level of peon, while I lost a whole bunch of weight because my GP scared me with tales of diabetes, followed by what amounted to a demotion and a new manager, followed by adapting a whole new role and, and, and... I didn't have the time or energy to get bitter. I got my old job grade back in 2010 and started at the gym. I started reading philosophy again, then took on some serious mathematical studies, all of which is in this blog. Hell, I started the blog about six months after the break-up. It took much longer to get her out of my conversation - over supper with sister I said "I talk about X like she's my ex-wife, don't I?" and Sis replied "You were going out for ten years".

Why did I stay in for so long? Did I stay in because I was a hopeless Beta? You can claim that she trained me to stay as a partner and do so without sex, which is pretty damn Omega. I will reply that she never got into my house or bank account, which isn't. I stayed in because... I have no idea why I stayed in. Every time I write an explanation, it doesn't feel right. 

I stayed in because I was beat. Not by her, but by the entire freaking world. I was going through a second period of unemploy... consultancy and a really bad job, and was low on confidence. I was overweight and unhappy with it. I felt stuck and un-creative. I was short of money and low on energy. I was, in short, a man in late middle-age who was damn nearly broke. All I had to show for my life was that I was in a grown-up relationship. We gave good couple and treated each other well in public. It was in private it wasn't working. 

But I really did get out pretty sharply once the marginal benefit dropped below zero for a length of time, once the snarky and lack of sex got more irritating than the company and cuddles were comforting. Somewhere in her girl-hindbrain I think she was manoeuvring me to break up as well. Getting a single bed to replace your old double bed is a pretty clear signal. We'd had a spat a couple of years before that, where she had clearly been in the wrong, and after a week or so - when I didn't call her - she called and made an apology. This time, I had the feeling she wanted out as well. I did.

To someone on the receiving end of a divorce-rape, this must seem like a story of civilised behaviour the like of which they could only dream of. What on earth am I complaining about? If you look carefully, I'm not complaining. I could bitch and moan about three lost years of my life, but I haven't and I'm not inclined to. I'm not angry any more - but nor am I dropping any charges. I think I have some idea of what it's like to be caught in a marriage that has died, but there's no way I could understand what it's like to have nowhere you are safe and can relax.

It taught me a number of things, but the big one is that when the sex stops, the relationship stops. Absent sex, you're just flatmates, child-minders and possibly friends with a lot of history. The obligations that make a "relationship" are made by the sex: if you're not fucking, you have no more obligations to your "partner" than you do to any same-sex buddy with whom you have the same length and quality of history.

It also taught me this: everyone flinches. Everyone has a weak moment, and sometimes the consequences of those weak moments can take years to undo. Everyone gets sick and weak, in soul, mind or body. (Those people who say "Fifty years of working, never had a day off sick"? Psychopaths.) Everyone thinks they don't want to die alone, or get old alone, or miss the social invitations because they are the single person, or think it really is time they tried for a Proper Grown-Up Relationship. I acted on that, and took the consequences, perhaps longer than I needed to, then I undid it, and now I don't give a damn about getting old and dying alone, or about social invitations and Proper Grown-Up Relationships. Been there, done that, wasn't my thing.

No comments:

Post a Comment