Sunday 17 February 2013

Belated post for St Valentine's Day

(I meant to write this for St Valentine's Day but lack of time got in the way.  This is a post where I pull myself up to my full 5 feet 4 inches and dispense the wisdom I've accumulated over the years and ramble on about love....)

In the recent past, three incidents have occured which got me thinking about the subject of "Love" and what it means.  The first was a meal with a friend where she described her last-but-one and last-but-two relationships as "love-less". (Never met the most recent guy.) Both relationships lasted 3 or 4 years and, well, at the time she definitely fooled me. I tried to get to the bottom of what she meant, without asking intrusive questions that might shut her up, and was left with more unasked questions than answers.

The second was this very thoughtful post about love and relationships by my friend, Diana. (Please, go away and read her post and then come back.  OK?)

The third was a conversation with another friend, one of my fellow sopranos from choir.  She told me about bumping into an old friend recently, a man to whom she was very much attracted.  The problem was that he has a very different belief system to her own - something she found abhorrent - and she was having a difficult time getting her head around her abhorrence and why not compromising her own beliefs is important.

Anyway, it all got me thinking...

My philosophy regarding love has always been that it doesn't matter if I end up hurt so long as a) I don't hurt anyone I care about in the process, and b) I can get to 95 and say proudly to myself "Wow! I lived. I had a great time!".  If you don't risk love and the pain that comes from broken relationships then you aren't living; you are just existing.

As far as I can tell, real "love" is based on four things:-
  1. Sexual attraction. Often this is the hardest part. For the last 20 years, I've worked in male dominated environments with some really nice guys. At times I was single but I've spent most of that time with DH.  From all that time, I can count on my fingers the colleagues whose mere presence makes/made my pulse race. Pheromones play a large part in that, the rest is indefinable. And, surprisingly, you can feel the pull even if you're happily/deeply/enthrallingly in love with someone else.
  2. Genuine liking. You can like someone, even fancy them, but if there's something you don't like about their attitudes or opinions it will niggle and eat away at you. I don't mean they have to like everything you do, just have considered opinions you can respect. It's how you instinctively respond to the throw away remarks - don't belittle that. For instance, on one date, the guy made a throw away remark that made me realise that I couldn't trust him. It's the throw away remarks that give real clues to someone's character. And if you don't like someone's character, that's a real turn-off sexually.
  3. Genuine caring for the other party. It's about putting the other person's feelings before your own, say when you don't go to that party because it'd be awkward with his kids and ex-wife. We've all watched-from-the-sidelines relationships where one party is really demanding and the other is always in a spin trying to please them. And that's not a loving relationship; it's abuse. There's a song Leanne Rimes recorded with the lyrics "When it's all over, it's not over for you...When you love enough for both of you, no one else has to do...". It is a song about a one-sided relationship and when I think about my relationship with Dumbo, that song always plays in my head. I loved and cared about him, he only cared about himself/what he could get out of the relationship.

  4. Trust/honesty. In order to have trust, both parties have to be honest with themselves and each other. We all know someone who was so desperate to be in a relationship that they "settled" for someone who'd "do" and, years later, when the relationship split up a) they tell you that it was a loveless relationship and b) nobody-else is surprised.

    Also, with the trust thing: I've spent quite a lot of time working away from home, staying in hotels with my male colleagues. (Engineering is like that.) I'll spend those evenings in the bar/restaurant/on a pub crawl/watching sport with the guys, being "one of the lads". If DH didn't trust me, those evenings would leave him sitting at home in an agony of jealousy, which would eat away at our relationship like a cancer. (Incidentally, you know when you're one of the lads when, at the Christmas Party, they do a double take when they see you all glamm'ed up because they've stopped thinking of you in that way.)

    And,  finally, on the subject of trust. You have to trust yourself that nothing will happen if, when thrown together on an away trip, you or the guy-who-gets-your-pulse-racing are already in relationships with people you love and care about. It's being honest about what is more important to you - a quick fling or your existing relationship. (Also, affairs never work out well.  Might as well just enjoy spending the next few years with an added zing in your work relationship.)
Gross generalisation time:-
  • From personal observation, women often confuse lust and sex with "love", while men appear to have the capacity to compartmentalise them into different emotional boxes. 
  • Women get so hung up on finding Mr Right that they scare guys off and ruin potentially great relationships. Mr Right-for-now is enough. If he's going to turn into Mr Right-forever then it will happen without worrying about it/brooding over it/choosing your engagement ring on some arbitrary timetable.
  • On the flip side to that, you get women who spend years with a bloke they like but with whom the lust has worn off very quickly because they perceive it to be better to have someone than no-one. Once upon a time, I worked with an office junior who confided that her new boyfriend had just been arrested for beating up his previous girlfriend.  She was so happy to finally have someone in her life that she couldn't understand why we were all so horrified.  In order to make her understand, I actually asked her, "do you think so little of yourself that you're happy to settle for someone who beats up his girlfriends?"
  • You cannot predict the future. Nobody can. Whatever armchair psychologists say, people do not conform to sets of rules - everyone is different and every relationship must be approached on its own terms. You cannot predict one person's behaviour from how another behaves in similar circumstances. However, if you watch someone's behaviour over a period of time, you may discern a pattern that is applicable to them. (Anyone know a serial committment-phobe?)
  • If you actually like someone and fancy them, tell them!  Women drop lots of hints but they never actually say what they want or mean.  How can the poor bloke decipher whether you like him or not, if you don't actually say it?
  • Nothing is scarier to a man than a woman out on the pull, or vice-versa.  Seriously, nothing will put a man off faster than being dressed up like a WAG, combing the bar looking for a date, while giving off the aura of "desperate".  Want to know how that appears to a man?  Think of all the sleazy blokes who try to chat you up doing their best Howard Walowitz.  Got it?
The critical thing is, make friends with members of the opposite sex and love will follow when you least expect it.  Trust me on this.  I'm married to a wonderful guy and I have a lot of male friends.  And it was through one of those friends that I met DH.  I do not have men falling over me every time I walk in a room, a la Marilyn Monroe.  I am not a stunning beauty. (I think I look "OK", but that's all.)  But I spend a lot of time with men - frequently, I'm the only woman in the group - and I know men like me.  (To quote one colleague:  "You're pretty. You like beer and football.  And you cook. You are an engineer's wet dream!".)

Whilst I know anecdotally that some people have had success with internet dating, virtually everyone I know who is in a stable relationship met their partner through work or friends or shared interests.  It sounds trite, but if you're looking for a man go where the men are:  learn about football and rugby and cricket; play role-playing-games; take up martial arts; join the gym and lift weights.  These are places where single men are found.  Make friends with men and, sooner or later, you'll meet one who has that certain something and thinks you do too.

(If you're a bloke and you are looking for love and you can read music and pitch a note, for God's sake join a choir.  Not only is every amateur choir in the country desperate for male singers, choirs and drama groups are where you'll find the single women. Also dance classes and salsa nights. Trust me on this.)

If you are looking for love, good luck.  I hope the above is helpful to you.

- Pam

Saturday 9 February 2013

Interior Lives, Exterior People

*** Spoiler Alert ***

If you are a fan of NCIS and haven't seen episode 2, season 9 (a.k.a. "Restless"), read on at your peril.  This blog post contains spoilers and a link to a full plot synopsis.

***End of Spoiler Alert ***

Last night, after DH and I watched episode 2, season 9 of NCIS, I fell asleep thinking about how everyone has interior and exterior lives.  The episode includes a storyline about a delusional 27 year old woman, who has been living as a teenage girl, running away from her foster families just before her "18th" birthday and then establishing herself as a 16-year-old in a new foster family somewhere else.  She truly believed she was that teenager; it wasn't an impersonation or an act.

Anyway, it got me thinking. We all have a fantasy life and a reality life, but most of us can distinguish between the two. Out fantasy life includes our internal dialogue - the things we can't say or act out.  Here's a typical example from my life:  Tuesday 6-ish pm, my New Boss phones me.  Outwardly, I'm my usual cheerful, chatty, polite self. We talk for 10 minutes. Inside my head, I'm thinking "Will you please just get to the point man and go away!  I'm busy. Got at least an hour's more work to do before I can go home.  I'm already well into overtime and you're wasting my time."  Of course, I say none of those things.  But that's what I'm trying to describe when I talk about internal and external lives:  internally the quiet guy in Corporate may daydream about how he'd seduce the new secretary in Legal; externally, he's still trying to find out her name and if she's single. 

Young children act out their fantasy lives all the time.  As they play a box becomes a castle, a house, a king's throne and then a boat.  They live the experience, peopling the world around them with characters from whichever plot they're imagining.  How many young boys have jumped off the shed roof, believing they're Superman and can fly?

I think a sign of growing up is the disassociation between fantasy and reality; it's knowing the difference between what's in my head and what's actually happening.  It's also knowing that actions have consequences.  For many, knowing the difference between reality and fantasy is the definition of sanity.  

We all - all of us - have a real life and a fantasy life that just exists in our heads.  For most people, the borders between the two are distinct and the fantasy life is kept well hidden, confined to daydreams or the inner dialogue where you're reliving that conversation with your boss/husband/colleague and wishing you'd said x, y or z.  It's what we feed when we read novels or watch films.  I don't know about you, but if I can't identify with the main character(s) and lose myself in their story, I lose interest and stop reading/watching.

Humans have been telling each other stories for thousands of years. Novelists are people who can take their interior, fantasy world, put it down on paper and tell convincing stories with it.  It's a gift.   A good story passes the reality test, i.e. it gives a "yes" answer to the following question: if confronted with those circumstances would I or someone I know act in that way?  Doesn't matter if it's a modern murder mystery or set in a feudalistic fantasy world where an elite troop ride dragons out to fight the enemy.  The characters have to act credibly.  (As an aside, years ago, I tried to read The Da Vinci Code.  Whilst I could get beyond the annoying chapter structure - seriously, one paragraph = one chapter?? - I couldn't get beyond the point where the hero walks into a bank in the middle of France within a day or so of the story beginning and the conspirators know who he is and are expecting him.  Just not credible.)

Where am I going with all this?  Last week, I attended the role-playing games convention, Conception.  Four days of battling demons and enemy legions, from the safety of a comfy chair around a table in the New Forest, using multi-sided dice as your weapons of fate.  Trying to explain RPGs to a muggle is difficult, although the Wikipedia definition is a good starting point:
A role-playing game (RPG and sometimes roleplaying game[1][2]) is a game in which players assume the roles of characters in a fictional setting. Players take responsibility for acting out these roles within a narrative, either through literal acting, or through a process of structured decision-making or character development.[3] Actions taken within many games succeed or fail according to a formal system of rules and guidelines.
At Conception, as at most games conventions, we were using pregenerated characters.   The interesting thing happens in a campaign game when people generate their own.   Often you get clues as to the person they are in their own inner fantasies.  I know one man who always plays a female character and she always the same: a cross between Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Wonder Woman.  It didn't take long to realise that she is his fantasy woman, the one he'd like to seduce.  Another man I know always plays the military hero type: his characters will always do something rash like a HALO jump at night when they have a 5% skill in parachute.  (On that particular campaign, we invented the phrase "going out for an alibi".  While he was off doing something risky, our characters would go out for a meal in a public place, thus establishing their alibis and proving they couldn't possibly be involved in his stupid plan.)

Me?  Often the clue is in the name of my characters:  Dana Scully, Ziva.  I like to play strong, smart females.  Frequently science types.   What does that say about me?

- Pam