A cringeworthy moment
This morning I attended the new spiritual meeting in Soho, confirming that it will become one of my regulars and I will have a new Sunday routine to go forward with. I expected to see C there and I was fairly committed to thanking him for his help at dinner last night; but once I got to the meeting place he was busy being friends with other people, as he so often is, and the moment didn’t immediately present itself. It wasn’t until after the meeting had finished that I managed to work myself up to send him a whatsapp message containing the sentiments I’d hoped to convey in person. Inwardly I cringed as I sent it. Well, he was bound to think it was a bit sad and creepy, wasn’t he? A cool, attractive person like him wasn’t going to take it for what it was, a genuine communication of friendship, was he?
Despite those reservations I managed to chuck in an invitation to coffee next week, something I want to do more and more of with people like that because it’s good for me, and it directly challenges my sense of inadequacy. C instantly accepted my invitation and told me he was only too glad to help me out last night. I know he is a nice person and all of his behaviour suggests that he wants to be one of those recovery friends that I’ve so desperately needed for so long. But from a certain perspective I still can’t help seeing this in terms of my inadequacy versus their ‘better’-ness. If I think about all the coffee dates that someone like C must be invited to on a weekly basis, I can create all kinds of differences between me and him, and I can sink back into the firm belief that I am not like other people in AA, I am not as good as them.
The battle for authenticity
The challenge to work out what is happening with T continues! I spent half the day again with him yesterday, three weeks on from our last meeting, and I came away feeling I had got no closer to that mind of his. I should just come out and ask him what he wants, it would make life a darn sight easier – but there are boundaries I dare not cross, boundaries that probably exist solely in my mind (and are no less real for it).
I’m discovering that there are certain things we cannot avoid doing when we see each other. These include going on some trip somewhere, walking a lot, and then returning to his place to have sex. On Friday he was surprisingly keen to get in the car and drive far out to the countryside, where we spent an hour exploring a chocolate box village in the Cotswolds. I appreciated the opportunity to see the quintessential English village that people abroad probably dream of when they think of England. In theory I also appreciated the opportunity to do something that on paper would seem romantic with him. When I’ve told friends about the sorts of things I’m doing with T, they naturally smile and sigh, “how romantic!” It is exactly the sort of thing I wanted to do with boyfriends when I was a younger man, the sort of thing I never got to do. I don’t know why it still feels like there is some missing piece, when I’m actually there doing these things. I don’t know whether there is a missing piece, or if it’s just down to the fact that reality is never quite the same as fantasy.
As ever, we concluded the day in his bed, and as ever, it was nice until the point where he expected me to climax. We approach this point earlier every time we see each other. Soon he’ll be expecting it the minute we’ve climbed into bed. After fifteen minutes of trying it was clear I wasn’t going to manage it. So I was quite surprised when T sighed and suggested getting some porn up on his computer to help. It’s almost laughable how quickly the trick worked. T seemed quite blase about the fact that I needed a porn fantasy. I think it probably says something about his character: pragmatic.
Using porn could be a solution, then, whenever we find ourselves in bed and T wants to get on with things. Or it could spell disaster for the relationship. It’s a bit depressing to think that I still don’t know what this all means for us. I still don’t know if it’s really what I want.
I should stop observing other couples on trains and in the street, because they clearly appear to have something that I don’t think I’ll ever have with T. I’m not sure if chemistry is the right word. A bond? Yes, that’s probably it. Even if I have just met T a handful of times, I would’ve thought that it would be easier to talk to him by now. We do talk, but most of the time only haltingly, and I know that I bear as much responsibility for this as he does, but as I said at the beginning of this vignette, something keeps stopping me from crossing his boundaries, so we are not getting past that stilted small talk that can be enough to drive me mad if I think about it too much.
Couples on trains and in the street always seem happy together – they can laugh, smile at each other, hold hands, give each other a little hug or peck on the cheek. They always seem natural together in a way that I haven’t been with T yet. I may be able to entertain the idea that I have some control in this matter, and that I can force some intimacy into any situation by being who I really am (my therapist self always tells me to be more like that). But in the reality of the moment I never manage to go that far, it’s only ever afterwards that I realise how much more I could have done.
And perhaps in reality, the couples I see in public are experiencing the same issues – in their heads. The surface might appear polished and shiny, but with my therapist head on I can imagine what might be going on underneath. When I see a pair of lovers smiling at each other in the most intimate way I am only seeing one brief moment in their day. I am not seeing the other 1,439 moments.
It’s very hard for me to hang on to such a realistic appraisal of things when I am in a mood such as the one I’m in tonight, when I want to let go entirely of reason and embrace the wild emotionality of the child.
The mother’s paradox
Instead of using another fifty minutes to talk about T, I spent this week’s therapy session talking about mum. By the end of the week she was in a normal mood again, as I had predicted, but it was still bothering me, and I knew the time had come to finally offload about it. I have never talked to anyone much about my relationship with my mother. I have never told anyone what I know about her past, what I think troubles her, and how it has affected my entire life. I probably could spend weeks talking to the therapist about it, because what has become clear to me is that everything is important, every small detail.
I’m aware that sometimes my long, rambling entries here can seem long and rambling, but I think that they need to be, because I can’t pick out anything that isn’t significant these days. In Love’s Executioner, Dr Yalom calls it ‘grist in the mill’. My life can seem like a succession of confusing, complicated and challenging stories. When I focus on one of them it can look a bit episodic, but I see how they are interlinked. This week I started to think that my relationship with mum is a significant underlying factor. I live in this dysfunctional relationship from day to day, and it has been dysfunctional for decades, and I get such a sense of powerlessness in it, because my mother never changes, no matter how much I change. In the past I saw my relationship with my dad as the defining factor in my life, and of course it was always defining, but it wasn’t the defining factor. It was one of many. My anxiety disorder, my uncontrollable emotions, my mistrust of the world, my feeling of powerlessness, perhaps these things started with mum. I had a tremendous sense of guilt weighing on me as I opened up to the therapist about all this, since I felt like I was betraying her, but I couldn’t stop opening up. With self disclosure there is always a point of no return.
It was good to talk about it, to express the sheer frustration of living with someone who doesn’t change. For the first time ever, I could put into words what I would want, if my mother and I lived in an ideal world: to know whether she is really happy, and to have her see me as an adult. If those two things were to ever come to happen, it would transform both of us completely. The great paradox here is that I will never be able to ask if she is happy, and I will never get her to see me as an adult, because there is a barrier in this home that can never be crossed. I can press my nose up against it and I can privately question it, but that’s about it. After thirty-four years of being up against it, I see that it can’t be broken.
Right. I’m in therapy because I want to change my life. I want to overcome the obstacles to intimacy that I face with friends and lovers. I want to become more authentic as a person. I want to be happy. Somewhere in me there must be a belief that I can achieve those things, otherwise I wouldn’t be paying so much a week for therapy. At the start of therapy I wasn’t planning to bring my mother into it at all. I have never seen this relationship as something that can change. I was willing to work on everything else, but this? It’s too much to think about. I wouldn’t know where to start.
Now that I have brought it up in therapy, it may be safe to say that the idea of change is lurking in this area too. I can vaguely imagine what I would like to happen with mum in a distant utopian future where we are both congruent and self actualised: something to aim for. But I’ve just remembered that it will be too much work, and she has no self awareness, she has spent her life living one way, keeping all her thoughts private, believing that her son will always be a child because she couldn’t cope with him growing up. It would be so unfair for the rest of her life to play out this way, so unfair for me to change so much while she never changes, never experiences reality as it is, never knows real happiness out in the world, away from her TV. But all the signs say that that is what she is destined for. I don’t know how to help her. I don’t have the words.