Barbecue

Yesterday I was dreading a visit to my Aunt M’s house in Surrey. The family is so normal, and I don’t mean this as an insult to them in any way, they could appear in a photo next to the word in the dictionary. It’s not their fault at all – they are like millions of nuclear families out there – just when it comes to me, I don’t naturally belong there at all. M wanted to see me and I was happy to see her, and it’s nice to be in regular touch with her again. This time for a nice change she decided to invite me to the house for a barbecue. I can handle M perfectly well on her own and I was hoping it would just be her at the house in the evening, but as I got closer to Surrey on the train I suspected it wouldn’t just be her. No one does a barbecue just for two people. When we arrived there was her husband and younger son R, neither of whom I’ve seen in many years. Both of them the epitome of heterosexual masculinity, labourers by trade. If that was the only thing I had to worry about, their maleness compared to mine, it wouldn’t be so bad, but it’s not just that: it’s the whole set up. The large suburban semi-detached house, the garden with its lovely new summer house at the bottom, the dog. Everything so dreamily TV-like, so perfect.

When I was younger and visiting there much more often I used to love it, although I always felt a little out of place, and sometimes I’d be crying silently at the end of the day when it was time to leave. Yesterday my child still loved it, but having become so aware of the tragedy of that in the intervening years, I felt wholly separate and unable to enjoy myself. Normally when I meet M for coffee somewhere our conversation is so free and open, but with the rest of the family there it was stilted and superficial. I didn’t know why I was there. I always felt the same visiting dad and his family at their house; I feel the same to an extent in all social scenarios. The feeling is the most pronounced with family because I’ve known them all my life, and I have been a stranger to them all my life. I don’t want to say that it should have been a lovely evening, with great weather and food and company that was genuinely glad to have me there. It’s a cliché to say that it should have been anything when my feelings dominated it so much.

R and his dad were a little more distant from me than M at first, but eventually they were talking to me as normally as anyone, once I’d proved myself with a bit of effort. I made a huge effort to appear that I was enjoying myself, and it paid off. No one noticed anything, or if they did they probably just put it down to the shyness that they’ve always known in me. No one would have worked out that it was an ordeal from start to finish. I felt so strongly that I wasn’t meant to be there from beginning to end, I don’t know if I can ever go there again. At least until something fundamental switches in my head and I can stop doing this to myself.

A great shame, isn’t it. And here’s me, trying to become a therapist! What irony! I hate what I’m having to write today, but it’s all true. A part of my personality remains stuck in the 1980’s, when everything suggested that I didn’t belong and I wasn’t wanted in that environment. And this doesn’t just apply to visits to leafy Surrey. It applies to all intimate relationships. Whenever I’ve found myself getting close to someone romantically the same thing happens.

The thing about relationships is that nothing is ever going to change unless I take some action. I have put off for years facing this ultimate truth. The solution is with me. I can deny it sometimes, I can pretend that one day some magical person will come along and do all the work for me, it’s what I’ve been waiting for since I was thirteen. As an adult I know that magical person doesn’t exist out there in the world. I have to be that person. As a child I’m still waiting.

If I want to get involved with C, as I was making so plain on Saturday, I have to tell him. Nothing’s going to happen until I move forward, and I hate that. These feelings of not deserving it never go away! Constantly saying “here we go again” doesn’t help. It’s so easy to ‘just ignore the feelings’ but I have let them guide me all my life. If I can’t even enjoy a barbecue with my family, how would I share my life with someone?

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