I’ve been thinking about love today. This is unsurprising because I’ve been working on my next play and of course, like most of my writing, it is about love and all that goes with it – the good, the bad and the ugly.
The question of whole-heartededly showing up for love in a partnership is coming up and I wonder if many people still believe in that concept.
I see so many relationships that are not based on whole-hearted love. Instead they rely on obligation, financial security, fear of being alone, convenience, public image and even that old deluded adage about staying together for the children’s sake. Why people are still using that last excuse is beyond me – isn’t it abundantly clear that when people stay together for the wrong reasons they sentence their children to an adulthood where they will repeat and then try to break those negative relationship habits modelled by their parents?
But I digress. Back to whole-hearted love.
Whole-hearted love to me, means showing up openly and vulnerably. It means coming together with one other person and connecting in a way that is sacred to you both.
My play explores this concept of whole-hearted love and more controversially, love in open relationships. I have to say, when it comes to whole-hearted love, I find the open and polyamorous dynamic problematic.
To be clear, have sex with whoever you want, with however many people you want and of whatever gender you desire. As long as it’s between two consenting adults – who cares. It is certainly none of my business or anyone else’s for that matter.
But it’s the whole-hearted piece that plays on my mind.
Whole-heartedly loving someone else, to me at least, means showing up for one person and proudly too. It’s not about giving a bit here then giving a bit over there and then returning back here. That isn’t whole-hearted love.
And before you say, but it’s just sex and only a physical act, I have to say no – that’s not all it is.
You can’t get any closer to someone energetically than when you have sex – there is a merging of your energetic fields and when you detach, part of that other person’s energy stays on you. Then you take it with you when you return to your other lover. Then you end up with someone else’s energy in your bed with both of you.
Is that whole-hearted love – to carry energy from one to the next and contaminate the sacred space between you?
I can’t believe that it is.
This brings me to my next question – do we not desire whole-hearted love anymore? Is it considered a mute point in society? Is it redundant and perhaps unneeded? Is it old-fashioned?
I can hear that song playing in my head by Iva Davies when he sings,
“I don’t know where to be begin Don’t want to hear it again I don’t believe anymore This is all I know I know I’ve heard it before.”
Have we simply stopped believing that whole-hearted love is possible?
Now, I’m not saying I believe whole-hearted love is easily found or easily kept. Sometimes it arrives for a limited period of time then disappears as quickly as it came. I’ve lived long enough in the world to understand that whole-hearted love doesn’t guarantee longevity.
But I do believe it demands through its very nature, exclusivity.
Part of me wonders if some people have given up on it altogether because they don’t believe they deserve it in the first place. If you don’t believe you deserve something then why would you expect it? Certainly, from my own personal observations and conversations, it’s clear that some people agree to polyamorous partnerships because their partner convinces them it is necessary for their relationship to survive. So one gives in to the other because they fear losing them altogether.
I even read an horrendous article recently that gave instructions on how to convince your “unwilling partner” to change their mind – it read like a narcissist’s handbook by encouraging the person to persistently undermine their unwilling partner’s values and beliefs until they finally gave in. I found this horrifying and deeply disturbing.
Now I’m definitely not suggesting this is how all people approach polyamory with their partners. But I have noticed people who give in or are pressured to be in these types of relationships because they fear losing their partners are devastated as a result. The impacts on their self-esteem, feelings of self-worth and being deserving of love can be emotionally catastrophic.
Sex is an amazing and wonderful thing. It can be liberating, fun, stress-relieving and great exercise. It can also be a divinely intimate and sacred act between two people who are showing up whole-heartedly for each other and that connection.
I can’t help but feel sex in a polyamorous dynamic, can’t co-exist easily or at all with whole-hearted love.
Last year I found myself discussing my sexual history with a man I really liked. Actually, a more accurate description would be I found myself talking about my sexual history completely by accident and then desperately tried to dig myself out of a bottomless pit while feeling like a completely foolish woman who should’ve known better than to get herself into that situation in the first place.
Let me go back to the beginning. This man (let’s call him Nate) and I were talking about my book and I was sharing my mother’s reaction to reading a recent draft. You see, my Mum has been a strong supporter of my writing journey and I’d finally decided my manuscript was ready for her eyes.
You can read my full description of her response here.
Anyway, Nate was always interested in my writing so I began telling him about her reaction. Basically Mum said, ‘I thought it was very well written but I don’t think I really want to read about all the men you’ve had sex with.’
It was as these words tripped off my tongue that I realised I’d put myself into a sticky corner by even beginning the conversation with a man I liked. And then I made it worse. My following comments were along the lines of, ‘I explained to her that I haven’t slept with all the men in there and that’s why it’s called The Men I’ve Almost Dated…not that there’s been that many anyway. Not that it would matter if there was…’
I also realised that I’d begun telling a man I liked (who I hadn’t even dated yet) about my sexual history. I believe the following words travelled through my brain at this point, ‘Oh fuck. This is not good.’
My words continued to vomit from my mouth as I dug a hole further into the ground. You see I’m a feminist and firmly believe my body is mine to do with what I wish. I’m not a prude about sex and I believe you should have as much or as little as you want whether you are male or female. I don’t believe in antiquated notions of one night stands making you a slut or that I should ‘keep myself nice’ and wait for the right man. I’m too old, too independent and far too open about who I am to buy into any of that stuff.
Yet there I was, a grown-up of 42 years, suddenly stumbling over my words like an embarrassed schoolgirl as all the limiting cultural conditioning that still permeates our society about women and their sexual choices arched over me like a tidal wave and threatened to engulf me.
Before I knew it I’d said, ‘…not that there’s been that many’ again at which point he turned to me and said calmly, ‘You’ve said that three times now.’
With his eyes fixed firmly on my mine I honestly wanted to flee the building.
‘Um, look, I can’t be having this conversation,’ I said. The unspoken words ‘with you’ hung in the air after I uttered this sentence. ‘Can we please talk about something else,’ I added (I daresay there was more than a hint of desperation in my tone at this point).
Nate studied my face for a moment with what can only be described as an inscrutable expression (something he does amazingly and annoying well; I swear he’d make a killing at poker) and then obligingly changed the subject.
When I thought about it later I was seriously disappointed in myself. There I was, with all my modern beliefs about sex and women’s sovereignty over their own bodies, and I jumped immediately into justifying my sexual history. It’s not as if I would ever have expected him to do that, or anyone for that matter.
So why did I take what was simply an amusing story about my mother’s reaction to my book and expand it into this awkward, lumpy ball of discomfort?
‘Well obviously, duh! I liked the guy so I didn’t want him to get the “wrong impression” of me,’ I thought. This was followed swiftly by a, ‘Hang on a second, when did I become a 1950’s version of myself and why on earth would I feel the need to apologise or justify my sexual history to anyone?’
The truth is I don’t think I’ve had the ‘sexual history’ talk with anyone I’ve dated. I’ve only ever had it with my former husband and, as he was my first sexual partner, you can appreciate it was a fairly short conversation.
However, I know that not everyone has my liberated views about sex. I’ve had conversations in social situations where a man has told me that his girlfriend had been a ‘good girl’ (i.e. not slept around a lot) while the complete reverse was true for him!
I’ve also had men tell me that a woman who would have a one-night-stand with them wouldn’t be a woman they’d marry. Yet those same men believe they themselves are eminently marriageable…even though they’d had one-night-stands.
The double standards of these men (and some women who agree with them) still pervade many parts of our society. So I guess in that moment of nervousness, in that conversation with Nate, I reverted to reflecting some of the restrictive and outdated attitudes still expressed by some people about women and sex. However, I think it also arose from a very genuine desire on my part to not have my history misinterpreted by someone in my present (not that it should’ve mattered anyway!).
Nate and I never did get around to discussing that conversation further. It was simply superseded by other topics and was never raised again.
I would love to know what he was thinking that day. I’m sure it must have been an interesting and perhaps entertaining sight to see someone who is usually so confident start to spin herself into a rather undignified and tongue-tied mess.
Perhaps I’ll never know what was going on in his head behind that inscrutable mask. But just for the record, I haven’t had sex with all the men I talk about in my book. Not that it matters anyway!
The Men I’ve Almost Dated is now on sale through online retailers. Find out more>
‘…Let’s talk about sex, baby Let’s talk about you and me Let’s talk about all the good things And the bad things that may be Let’s talk about sex Let’s talk about sex Let’s talk about sex Let’s talk about sex
Let’s talk about sex for now to the people at home or in the crowd It keeps coming up anyhow Don’t decoy, avoid, or make void the topic Cuz that ain’t gonna stop it Now we talk about sex on the radio and video shows Many will know anything goes Let’s tell it how it is, and how it could be How it was, and of course, how it should be…’ Let’s Talk About Sex, Salt ‘n’ Pepa.
Mum has always been very supportive of my writing. She’s the one in my family who asks how it’s going, wants to read my work and encourages me to follow my writing dream (even when the going gets tough).
Last year, I showed her a chapter from the latest draft of my book and she loved it. She said it made her feel emotional and she wanted to cry a little. This was high praise coming from Mum.
Fast forward a year and that draft has morphed and changed into a far more refined version. And Mum’s been supportive the whole time. ‘When do I get to read your book?’ has been her regular refrain followed by, ‘Is it finished yet?’
About a month ago I was finally able to say, ‘Yes, it’s ready enough for you to see it. I’ll email to you.’ Would she like it or hate it, I didn’t know. But it was time.
Four long days crept past with no word from Mum. Was my book complete crap?? My fears started to bubble a little. Surely all was fine. Maybe she was busy and hadn’t read it yet.
Finally, I rang her on another pretext and as the conversation drew to a close she said, ‘By the way, I read your book.’
‘Oh?’ I said. ‘What did you think?’
‘I thought it was very well written,’ she said. ‘But I don’t really think it’s for my generation. And, as your mother, I don’t really want to read about all the men you’ve had sex with.’
Oh. My. God.
‘Mum, you do realise I haven’t slept with all the men I mention in the book. That’s why it’s called The Men I’ve Almost Dated. And besides, even if I had, it wouldn’t actually be many by most people’s standards…for my age.’
‘Well, that’s not always very clear,’ she replied. ‘But I thought it was good and very well written,’ she added hastily.
Now, my Mum knew the subject matter of my book before she read it. Lord knows she’s been privy over the years to many of my ridiculous dating and male-related stories. And trust me, there really isn’t much graphic content in my book. But I think Mum was a little shocked and, as I now look through some of my stories, I guess I can understand why. My writing is pretty open and I tend to say it like it is. If you’re single and you’re dating (or not dating), the subject of sex is going to come up. It is 2015 after all.
But my Mum is 70 years old and from another generation; a generation that definitely wasn’t as open about things as we are today.
When I next saw Mum, she made a point of saying (again) how good she thought my book was and I know she is still really supportive, regardless of the content. But, as I plan its launch for later this year, I’m starting to wonder if I need to include some sort of age-related warning label like, ‘Contains some semi-shocking content and should only be read by people aged 18-60 years.’
Hopefully my second book (planned for early next year) will be a little less shocking for Mum and she’ll feel comfortable handing it out to her friends. For obvious reasons, I’m guessing it’s unlikely she’ll proudly distribute copies of The Men I’ve Almost Dated to her friends in the mostly 60+ age group at her weekly yoga class.
I finished the first draft of my book last month. Yep, there is 62,907 words awaiting my editing hand.
And although I’m a bit concerned about its quality (particularly as the last bit was completed during an all-night writing frenzy), I still feel pretty good about it.
My Dad read the first 10 pages recently and said it made him uncomfortable (and he hasn’t even read the sex chapter yet!).
‘I felt like I was intruding on your life,’ he said.
I can understand why he felt that way.
A memoir is always personal. And an honest writer will sometimes shine light on parts of his/her life that make you shift uneasily in your chair.
Hell, some of it makes me uncomfortable…and it’s my life!
I’ve recalled things with laughter one minute and then reopened old wounds to check they are clean the next.
It hasn’t always been an enjoyable process.
A friend told me she doesn’t write about her life because she thinks it is better to leave the past where it is, behind her.
But I’m not like that.
I started scribbling notes about my single life to help me make sense of it all; to help me understand all the ridiculousness and the joy and the utter heartbreak I was experiencing.
‘Has it worked?’ I hear you ask.
‘Do you understand now?’
Well. I may not understand everything. But it has definitely helped me make sense of some of it.
I’ve written my way through a history of exes, tears, adventure, sex, misunderstandings, joy and disappointment and I’ve discovered things I couldn’t see at the time.
It’s also helped me let go of things too.
For example, today the unbidden memory of an ex popped into my mind.
I hadn’t thought of him for ages and I’m not sure why I did now.
Once just the thought of him would’ve caused pain.
But my book has helped me let go of that and I decided to check out his Facebook page to see what he’s been up to.
From his status updates it looks like he’s doing the same things he was doing when I knew him.
He’s still out there being the life of the party, making sure the people around him are taken care of, and he’s still drinking too much. And he’s probably still fleeing intimacy and not being as kind to himself as he should be.
I had to laugh when I reread that last sentence.
If he saw it he’d probably fix me with a piercing gaze and say, ‘Are you trying to psychoanalyse me Lu?’
But isn’t that we all do?
Time passes and you’ll be reminded of someone from your past. Months or years may have passed when, for some reason, you will look back and see something different.
And it will all make sense.
And so my book has helped me do that.
I guess I’ll have to write another 62,907 words to help me understand the next decade.
I didn’t look forward to the birthday. I even considered hiding under my bed with chocolate and wine until it was all over.
But, that didn’t happen. Instead I celebrated by eating chocolate with my Mum, teaching my students and then finally enjoying some cocktails and dinner with a good friend.
So it felt like turning the big four-oh was actually not so bad after all.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t feeling so great the next day. But it wasn’t a hangover that was dragging me down. I guess you could say it was the post-birthday blues.
But just as my ‘pity-party for one’ threatened to consume me, I decided to reflect on all the things I’ve learned, achieved and enjoyed in my thirties.
Here are the top 10.
1. It’s always better to be alone than with the wrong person.
2. Buying and renovating a house on your own is a liberating experience. And watching a bulldozer tear up concrete can generate a bubble of excitement that lasts all day.
3. Being single should never, ever stop you getting on a plane and seeing the world. If I’d waited for a partner I would never have looked into the eyes of an old elephant in Thailand and felt its quiet but overwhelming wisdom. Sometimes magic can only happen when you are making a solo journey.
4. Being single can be really great…or really suck. It’s all about perspective.
5. New and beautiful friends will sweep unexpectedly into your life when you need them while older friends will sometimes drift away quietly or depart in a huff. Real friends will also love all your quirks and flaws…even when you’re acting like a crazy person.
6. It’s easier to put on weight than lose it in your thirties. But feeling guilty about what you put in your mouth is pointless. And remember, most men prefer women with curves not jutting ribcages and pointy elbows.
7. It’s impossible to feel bad when you’re wearing fabulous shoes. And when you add great hair, you’re unstoppable.
8. A pussycat gently placing its paw on your knee will always make you feel better when you’re sobbing over a broken heart. Pets don’t judge and always understand you.
9. Every man who has loved me, left me or made me horny has taught me a lesson about life. Sometimes I haven’t enjoyed learning those lessons…sometimes I’ve enjoyed them too much.
10. Don’t ever regret your past decisions or wish you had lived a different life. Your past has made you who you are. And your future is the next frontier.
Break-ups are never easy. And for the most part, they are never truly mutual. One person always wants to move on before the other one is ready. You might smile and say, ‘Of course, it’s your decision and I understand,’ but you’ll be lying.
And most of us also really do see the break-up asteroid before it slams into our chest and splits us apart.
I’ve survived a few-breakups and there are always signs. Sometimes they’re obvious, sometimes they’re subtle, but they are always there.
The object of your affection starts to pull away ever so slightly. You’ll be half way through a sentence and suddenly he’ll be talking about a completely different subject, as if he wasn’t listening to you at all.
He won’t really ask you questions about your day or what you think. The conversation doesn’t bubble merrily…it kind of gurgles near a drain. You may wonder why he’s gone quiet but, generously, you’ll assume he’s just gone into the ‘man cave’ to think for a while, so you give him space.
Seeing you naked appears to be a little less interesting than it was previously. Hugging and just hanging out becomes the preferred option.
I used to know a break-up was approaching when they turned away from me to sleep. Everything would be fine, the sex would be great and then I would be presented with their back and they’d doze off. Such a subtle thing but it always resulted in the same outcome.
Sometimes he’ll start using the ‘too’ word. You’re too melodramatic, you’re too sexual, you’re too over the top, you’re too emotional, you’re too affectionate, you’re too…you. Don’t kid yourself ladies; when they use the ‘too’ they’re creating distance and usually identifying the nearest exits.
I remember one man knocking on the door and kissing me hello like everything was fine. But when I stood back to let him walk down the hallway I looked up at his face and, for a moment, he looked like a stranger. It was weird and perhaps just a trick of the light. But he broke up with me a couple of hours later and I think he’d already decided before he came through the door.
The reasons men give for a break-up can be extremely painful to hear and sometimes, just plain laughable (these require a whole blog post of their own).
But then you start your recovery.
I’ve used some or all of the following to help me through break-ups. Some of them are incredibly unoriginal but you may still find them useful.
Have a good cry while sitting on the floor. Inevitably, in times of great anguish, it seems natural to be as close to ground as possible. When ready, you can progress to sobbing in the foetal position on your bed and later, sobbing while sitting on the couch watching girlie DVDs.
Spoon a large amount of chocolate ice-cream plus chocolate sauce and cream (if you have it) into an extremely large bowl (feel free to use the ice-cream container as your bowl); put Bridget Jones’ Diaryinto the DVD player and ensure tissues are nearby.Follow this with DVDs such as Bridget Jones: Age of Reason, any romantic comedy featuring Meg Ryan, Dirty Dancing and the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice.
Repeat Step 2 as required.
Try to leave the house occasionally and exercise. It is harder to feel depressed when you’re in the sunlight. However, seeing couples holding hands and stepping in unison can push your recovery back a little. Fill your pockets with tissues, just in case.
Listen to empowering songs. My current favourites are Wide Awake (Katy Perry) and Undefeated (Jake Dorulla). If you’re feeling really dark (and perhaps a little angry) basically anything from Jagged Little Pill (Alanis Morissette) works well.
Make a list of the all the things that annoyed you about X (insert his name here). You’ll be surprised how many you can come up with.This is a great exercise because it forces you to acknowledge there were things you didn’t like. No one is perfect. He definitely isn’t perfect. DO NOT send him the list.
Write X a letter telling him how you feel but DO NOT SEND IT TO HIM. Shred the letter, burn it or flush it down the toilet.You may need to write this letter several times.
Try to ignore that little spark of hope in your heart. You know what I mean. It’s the naïve hope that he will realise what a stupid, stupid decision he’s made and will rush back through your door any moment, sweep you into his arms and it will all work out.
Don’t be the ‘nice’ girl and say, ‘Sure I can stay in touch and be just friends,’ because YOU CAN’T! You’re not impartial, even if he is.He has basically stabbed you in the heart and you need recovery time. Think of it as if you’ve just had heart surgery…no one would expect you to run a marathon two days later.You may be ‘just friends’ later but you can’t do it right now. Besides he’ll find it hard to be friends with someone who wants to alternately kiss him, rip his clothes off and/or punch him in the nose. You will want to do all those things.
Hang out with your wonderful girlfriends. They will give you hugs, listen to your break up story (repeatedly), tell you how fabulous you are and say that he is not worth your tears because he walked away.
You may have thought X was wonderful, but he left.Maybe it was a timing thing or maybe there is someone far more fabulous around the corner. Trust that fate has better plans for you.Look forward, not behind you. You will be okay. Eventually.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going back to my couch to repeat Step 2.