‘I was single and celibate for an embarrassing number of years’

Coping: Virginia Woolf wrote about the ‘dailiness’ that can strip a relationship of excitement

 

I was single and purposely celibate for an embarrassing number of years before I met my current partner. I had had an unrewarding history with men. That isn’t at all the fault of men. No. It was the classic scenario, whereby you tend to attract the people and the treatment that you think you deserve. Individuals with a romantic history roughly equivalent to the smoking landscape after an aggressive forest fire tend to grow bitter about the opposite sex. Or the same sex. Whatever you’re into.

We generally fail to see that the common denominator in every relationship we’ve had is actually us. It seems easier to think “All my relationships with women/men have never worked out, therefore all men/women are dishonest/selfish/untrustworthy,” and so on. That’s not actually the case. Really, the only certainty is that you have allowed unpleasant men or unkind women into your life to mistreat or fail to value you. You should probably fix that.

That’s what I did, only I took it too far. I thought a period of sober reflection on my tendency to choose poorly would be good. It allowed me to rewire myself to feel entitled to respect from men, and to admire kindness, and strength and reliability above whatever it is young girls tend to swoon over. Leather jacket-clad tools with out-of-tune guitars and penchants for onanistic monologues about the environment.

I stayed in this reflective period for so long that I forgot how to seek out what I now thought it would be nice to have. The companionship and mutual admiration of a reliable, decent, sentient (and if at all possible, attractive – needs must) man. When I met such a man, I sort of forgot how to interact with him in a way that suggested I liked him, or that I didn’t have some sort of unsettling medical condition. The first few times we met, I mostly sat and quietly stared at him. He put his hand innocently on my knee once, and instead of leaving it there or requesting he remove it, I said “Your hand is on my leg!” in a strangled, high-pitched voice which suggested neither consent or lack thereof. I really have no idea what compelled him to persevere.

We have now been together almost three years, and find ourselves in a new stage of our relationship. I like to think of it as “the bickering phase”. We have passed that rather compelling infatuation stage, where you are mostly acquainted with the “ideal” version of your partner, and moved into a deeper, less polite form of love. This love is confident and settled enough to allow one of us to turn to the other, and say things like “WHY would you just walk through the front door and not close it behind you? What sort of person does that?” This love articulates tender feelings such as – Me: “I just looked in the mirror and there is chocolate on my face. I ate that crepe two hours ago. Why didn’t you tell me?” Him: “I thought it was mildly funny.”

We moved into a new place together recently, and romance has taken a back seat. There’s no time to think about wooing when you have to arrange bin collection and vacuum spiders out of ceiling corners. I’m home alone today, bringing judgment day to said spiders, and I think about what the next stage will be. I’ve read that this snappy stage is common a couple of years in, and that couples will either come out the other end kinder and more considerate of one another, or they’ll snap the relationship in half.

I’m reminded of Virginia Woolf, and her intense love for her husband Leonard. She wrote of the “dailiness” that can strip a relationship of excitement and tenderness, but was hopeful about it. Most of the week, she says, we run almost on automatic, but there will be moments when we remember the connection we share, and the thrill and admiration will hum in the air between you. As I think this, himself stomps loudly in the front door, and looks so happy to see me as he comes forward, arms open, that I barely notice he doesn’t close it. 

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