The knights who say no – part 1

Over my three week holiday, I have been able to do a lot of sleeping, swimming, and abso-blinkin-lutely nothing. Which was abso-blinkin-lutely marvelous on account of the school year being a sort of gigantic marathon.

Somehow, my mind  also used some of this unusual leisure to mull over…. well things, you know, such as the intriging fact that since 2008 I have been in failed relationships with the three men below, who in many ways can be seen as really nice. I can be seen as really nice too, so whatever happened that things went so not-nice between us?

This is the first of a two-part post, where main characters are introduced.

Name : T

T

  • Occupation: Hospital heartthrob (occasionally doubles as intensive care and anaesthesia specialist)
  • Looks: Tall, dark , sporty, handsome, hence main occupation (handsome salary to boot)
  • Likes: Extreme sports, money, partying, himself
  • Dislikes: Being late, his dad, himself
  • What made him attractive: Scary intelligence, ability to turn on the charm and be irresistible, determination that I was his future wife and mother of his children
  • What makes him unattractive: Selfish, unstable, tight-fisted
  • Baggage: Identical twin brother died aged 5 months, severely depressed mother, adulterous, absent father, parents’ very messy divorce

Name: Mr Nice, aka Mr Big Bastard From Hell

Mr Nice

  • Occupation: High school PE teacher
  • Looks: Tall, fair, sporty, handsome
  • Likes: Salsa, his job, rugby, handball, football, travelling
  • Dislikes: Any limit to his sacro-saint freedom, his dad (or worships him, depends…), responsibilities
  • What made him attractive: Sexy in a skinny way, perceptive, generous
  • What makes him unattractive: Unstable, selfish, not the sharpest tool in the box intelligence-wise
  • Baggage: Severely depressed mother, adulterous, absent father, having to be in charge of his little brothers, parents’ messy divorce

Name: Mr Xmas

Mr Xmas

  • Occupation: Physicist, turned computer modeller
  • Looks: Tall, dark, bulky, sporty
  • Likes: Science, swimming, programming, music, cinema
  • Dislikes: Lies, injustice, aggression
  • What made him attractive: Kind, even-tempered, clever, seriously loved me
  • What makes him unattractive: Unstable because of chronic depression, hasn’t cut the chord
  • Baggage: Chronic depression sufferer, family history of severe depression and anxiety, depressed mother, absent father working too much

So three nice men who all turn out to be unstable, six depressed mums and absent dads. I seem to favour tall, sporty looking guys. What else?

Next in this supermarket psychology series, what these very different relationships may have had in common, and what can I learn from it for the future.

Abandonment with a side of imperfection and dependence

Pattern painting by Claude Viallat

Pattern painting by Claude Viallat

Ah, the joy of post break-up soul-searching… Wailing why, Why, WHY at your indifferent bedroom walls  wondering what happened, where you went wrong, and what you should to do better next time. Stopping to retch a bit at the mere suggestion that there may be a next time. Vowing to remain celibate for the next 20 years…

In come friends and well-meaning people, flooding you with looks of pity, advice and self-help books. You smile weakly, and wish they’d opted for strong alcohol instead.

One lonely evening, as sleep eludes you once more, you reach out for the nearest book: Reinventing your life by Jeffrey Young and Janet Klosko. The title alone smacks of pure self-helpish bollocks sounds ominous, but after the first few pages, something unusual happens: You are forced to admit that actually, it is quite interesting, and even that you kind of want to know more.

Now, rest assured that my general attitude towards self-help literature remains one of barb-wired caution, but still, I am currently enjoying a little journey through the various patterns -also called schemas- we develop in childhood, and which tend to ruin our lives perpetuate themselves into adulthood.

There is something for everyone on the book’s menu: From exclusion, to distrust and abuse, vulnerability to high expectations. There are 11 to pick from, and if you’re particularly lucky, the battery of little tests will reveal that you are personally plagued by half a dozen of those delightful patterns.

Subsequent chapters guide you towards understanding why patterns form, how they affect your life, and what you can do to free yourself from their destructive side-effects.

Much of what I read about my patterns was new and rang true. I realised why I do find being single so uncomfortable, feel attracted to men who offer a mixture of hope and doubt, but never the certainty of stability. Why I harbour a ridiculous, but firmly-rooted belief that no-one could love me if they truly knew me.

The strength of the book is to acknowledge the patterns’ variety of origins (it is possible to suffer from an abandonment pattern, even if you were brought up by two well-meaning parents who never really abandoned you), and the difficulty of breaking them, but at the same time offering an encouraging, baby-step kind of approach to succeeding.

Its down-side is what I probably unfairly see as being over-simplistic: The examples presented tend to focus on individuals who are only -and quite extremely- affected by one pattern at a time, when in reality most of us drag not just one mammoth-sized piece of luggage, but a variety of assorted carry ons that manifest themselves in specific circumstances.

So mine’s a large Abandonment, with a side of Imperfection and Dependence, what’s yours ?

I’m going through a bit of a Lilly Wood phase at the moment:

Lilly Wood and the Prick – Where I want to be (California)

Chocolate mousse and other anti-heartbeak recipes

Ok, so remember how if all the advice you’ve been given to cope with heartbreak fails, there’s always chocolate?

Here’s something to get you started:

Traditional French chocolate mousse (makes enough for 6)

Ingredients:

  • 6 eggs
  • 200 g of dark chocolate
  • 1 pinch of salt

The secret to this mousse is to use the best chocolate you can find, and by best, I don’t mean most expensive, or with a sky-high cocoa content, but one which contains only cocoa, cocoa butter, sugar and lecithin. I generally use Nestlé dessert or Meunier cooking choc, which you can find in most UK supermarkets.

You might also want to use really fresh eggs to avoid making Mousse à la Campylobacter/Salmonella. Unless of course, you are cooking for people you deeply dislike, your ex for example… Just saying.

Preparation time: 10 minutes + a couple of hours in the fridge

How to make it:

  1. Break the chocolate into chunks, add a bit of water and melt. I normally just blast it in the microwave on a medium heat for a couple of minutes, but you can also use a saucepan on the hob. Just make sure it’s well melted, and looks smooth.
  2. Separate the egg yolks from the whites. Add a pinch of salt to the whites and whip them into stiff peaks.
  3. When the chocolate is cool enough to not burn your finger (of course, you will be fastidiously checking that approximately every 17 seconds because you are such a methodical cook… Just remember to leave enough chocolate to not just have egg mousse), add the yolks and stir well.
  4. Fold the whites into the chocolate mix, which basically means: Add a bit of white, cover it with chocolate and gently mix, then repeat until you have an entirely brown mixture.
  5. Refrigerate for a couple of hours at least.
  6. Invite people around and stuff your faces.

Note that because the eggs are raw, the mousse doesn’t keep for more than 24h, unless you are serving it to people you deeply dislike (see above). In my experience though, the mousse rarely survives its first serving.

There. Really easy, and when you feel comfortable with the basic recipe, you can start experimenting, adding candied citrus peels, Bailey’s, or nuts. Let me know how it turns out!

Right, once you’ve downed the whole bowl of mousse, you may also want to reflect on life, and the universe. Seriously, all the people who got over heartbreak fast have one thing in common: They took a long, honest look at themselves

Long, honest look at oneself (makes enough for one)

Ingredients:

  • courage, about 300 kg of it, because let me tell you, taking a long, hard and honest look at oneself isn’t terribly pleasant at times. Guess why most of us had been avoiding it up until now?…
  • friends and /or family for support, tissues, sharing breakthroughs and frustrations
  • some external catalyst such as a counsellor, therapist, group, self-help books, coach whatever works for you. For some people, this ingredient is optional, hats off to them because they manage to challenge themselves enough to really make some progress, and I couldn’t do that for toffee. If anything is an unpleasant truth, I usually manage to studiously ignore it, and pretend it’s eventually going to blow away.
  • A journal, or record of your moods of some description

Preparation time: Anything from weeks to years. Yes, I know, how remarkably unhelpful isn’t it? Don’t thank me.

How to make it:

  1. Find whichever catalyst is going to work for you. I recommend just giving every option a go, and going with your instinct.
  2. Stick to it because you will feel like you are beyond help, going round in circles, or going backwards at times, but it’ll be worth it in the end.
  3. Stir, cook, and stir some more until your head is a big messy ball of confusion.
  4. Chart your progress by keeping track of how often you feel rubbish (let me guess, approximately 26 million times a day now?), and anything that makes you smile.
  5. Gradually picture what you need to be happy, and want from life in general
  6. Move on to relationships and what you may want to do differently next time. I know, I know, you’re probably telling anyone who’ll listen, and probably anyone who won’t too, that you will remain celibate for the rest of your life. Allow me to just have a little snigger here (huhuhuhu)…
  7. When feeling dreadful, stuck, like you’re not getting anywhere, and what’s the point anyway because we’re all gonna diiiie…, check your record to measure how far you have come. You can also whinge about it at length on the internet, which is what I did.
  8. While taking your long, honest look at your navel, remember that you are allowed to keep on living (I know, phew). In fact, I would highly recommend that you keep doing things that bring a smile to your face.

Things that bring a smile to your face (makes enough for a bus-full of people, a double-decker, if you’re feeling generous)

Preparation time: Five minutes each day to plan + a few seconds, minutes, hours to enjoy the results

Ingredients:

  • One table-spoon a day of forcing yourself to do it when you feel like nothing
  • A jumbo-sized pack of pats (a pack of pats, oooh, I like that)
  • A calendar
  • Something to make lists on (if you’re as organised like me, you can also go for sticky notes, notebook, i-phone reminders, and never find anything)

How to do it:

  1. Make a list of things which may bring a smile to your face (to try). Ask people for suggestions, follow all the useless advice you are given…
  2. Keep a list of things that work (which may be non-existent when you first start)
  3. Plan one little thing each day to look forward to and chart on your calendar. It may be something very small. I used to buy myself flowers, plan to call someone whom I knew made me feel better, have a bath, borrow comedy DVDs from the library…
  4. Apply pat to your back for actually doing it.
  5. Something which really worked was to give to others. So I would for example help someone, give a bit of change to a beggar, cook my children’s favourite meal, get little presents for my friends, pick up some litter at the park, tiny things, which probably make me sound like a slightly demented wannabe Mother Teresa, but really, totally selfishly helped me feel better.
  6. Enjoy, and give me your own tricks, tips and feedback!

PS. If you are scaring yourself, or feeling like topping yourself off a lot, then firstly don’t do it, it’s totally last season. Secondly, seek professional help. Not kidding. A lot of us know just how despite being invisible, the pain of heartbreak can be absolutely unbearable. Don’t try to bear it alone. Pretty please.

Right, I don’t know what you are doing tonight, but I’ve got both my smurfs back under one roof (mine), a fridge full of left-overs, and a big week of work ahead after a fairly up and down weekend. I am listening to Rover.

Rover – Tonight:

The Lady E guide to advice on heartbreak

This is my favourite time of year. Snow caps are dwindling, the air takes on a new softness, flowers are everywhere, and days stretch into infinite evenings, punctuated by the cries of  swallows.

I have been on a more even keel for the last week or so, and as the worst of recent heartbreak fades, I have looked back over the tear-stricken path I have climbed in the last year and nearly a half (golly, has it been that long already?).

Ok, so which advice did I follow to get over heartbreak? How did I get over it anyway, and what have I learnt from the experience? Firstly, I’d like to clarify that none of it was truly enjoyable, and if I were you, I would not try it at home.

But if you really, really have no choice and heartbreak is about to kick your door in, here is my first piece of advice: Take a deep breath, and adopt the brace position. Oxygen masks may fall from the ceiling if you are lucky.

Seriously, if you are about to get heartbroken, you are also about to get inundated with (mostly useless) advice.  In my case, I could categorise the advice I received according to rough socio-ethnological groups (bear with me, you are also about to understand why I am not an anthropologist):

American friends said things like:

  • Think positively (No1 useless advice)- Oh yes, of course, now why did I not think of that myself? I’ll just flick the switch and positive thoughts will magically have me skipping around the room.
  • Take pills (antidepressants, anti-anxiety, sleeping pills)- This may actually be good advice if you feel it could help you. Getting enough sleep is especially important because, yes, sleep deprivation will make everything worse (no really, it can get worse). In my view, taking chemicals, is a bit like getting pain relief when giving birth: Good stuff, takes nothing pleasant away from the experience, and what is the point of suffering if you don’t need to? No-one will give you a medal for it, and repeat after me “I am not Jesus Christ…”. Right, now that this point is clear, I will add that pills are not mandatory. In other words, if you don’t feel like taking medications, don’t get bullied into it. In my case, for some reasons I cannot entirely work out, the idea of taking pills made me totally panicky, which kind of defeated the purpose, and so I did without.
  • Pray– Now that’s an interesting one, given that I am a complete heathen who doesn’t believe in anything bar the power of chocolate mousse*. But by all means, do if it works for you.

British friends said things like:

  • Get plastered– Mmm, well yes, sure, but I’d have to spend the next six months on a vodka & orange drip, and I hate needles.
  •  Keep calm and carry on– Are you having a laugh? My world just crumbled, and I am not English.
  • Still, there is a nugget of good advice in there, it will seem positively impossible, when even brushing your teeth feels like a ridiculously hard thing to do, and what’s the point, because we’re all gonna die anyway…. But a minimum of normality (getting dressed before you go out, paying bills, letting the dog out) needs to carry on in your life, because trust me, you will survive, and you want to still have your children, your home and you job when you emerge.
  • This is when you need to ask for help. Unless you live in Farnborough, or somewhere equally weird, lots of people will normally tell you “If you need anything, ask me”, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do for you”. Well, take them up on it. I know, I know, you’re not used to it, you don’t want to trouble them etc… Well, here’s some news: Most people (that includes you) like to help others, because it makes them feel good about themselves. I’m not saying move in with your friends, empty their freezer and hog the remote controls, but ask for meals, nights out, a shoulder to cry on, baby-sitting… Whatever makes you feel better, ask for it. You will be doing everyone a favour.
  • Stop talking about it, it’ll only make you feel worse (useless advice No 348)- Avoid anyone who tells you something along those lines. Either they are psychopaths, or for some reason, your distress makes them feel uncomfortable. It is totally normal to need to talk/write about things endlessly, to repeat the same things over and over like you are a sandwich short of a picnic, it is a way to digest traumatic events. Wanting to understand what happened, when, why, and how at the subatomic scale will also happen, especially if you’re not the one who walked away from the relationship. This is a normal reaction to the feeling that you have lost control over your own life. Keep talking.

French friends said things like:

  • Eat – When T left, I stopped eating and sleeping. It was my reaction to the shock. Other people start eating like it is going out of fashion, and sleeping all the time, we are all different. Anyway, as you may know, the French worship food, and someone who is not eating is a source of unbearable social anxiety. So I got plied by friends and family, who went out of their way to find things I could tolerate to ingest. I am immensely grateful for all these marks of affection.
  • Seriously, not eating for a couple of weeks is all fair enough, and if you want to shed a few pounds and taunt your ex by looking fabulous in your trikini this Summer, fine. But not eating is a bit like not sleeping, it will make things worse. So try to keep consuming food. And if you’re worried, see a doctor. I sort of held out by buying anything I fancied at the supermarket, which made for some very weird shopping baskets at times (like when I went through a spring roll and sushi phase), and having snacks any time I could face eating.
  • You need to go out and see people– Now I don’t know about you, but the idea of having to plaster a smile on in a crowd of happy, well-meaning people, and to go through the motions of pretending I am ok when I feel dead inside appeals almost as much as say… poking my own eyes out with a blunt spoon. If you feel good enough to go out, by all means do, but if not, don’t force yourself, it would only make things worse. I did need a lot of human contact when I felt down, and so favoured seeing friends on their own or in very small groups, so that I could bore them senseless with my broken record of indignation and sadness…

Male friends said:

  • He’s a bastard, forget him (useless advice No1326)- To which my standard response would usually be something like”Yes, what a pig, let’s hide prawns in impossible-to-reach places inside his car, mwahahaha…I cannot believe I actually loved such a horrible person. Wait, he’s not horrible really, or I wouldn’t have loved him. In fact, I still love him, boohoohooohoo”.
  • Along the same lines, you will hear “You need to stop thinking about him/her, you are only hurting yourself, you are better off without him/her, you need to move on, you need to focus on the future, etc…”. Haha, very funny stuff, I’ll just accidentally drop a very heavy object on your foot and ask you to forget about it and move on, shall I?
  • There’s nothing you can do about it– Aah, ok, if you excuse me for a second, I’ll just go and throw myself in the nearest river, then.
  • Shag anything with a pulse within a 50 km radius (10 if you live in a densely populated area)- The idea of being intimate with someone made me want to puke for several months. And when it no longer did, I still felt way too fragile to risk getting close to someone.

Retail therapy friends said:

  • Get new clothes – If you’ve got the funds, and it does make you feel better, why not, hey.
  • Get a new haircut– Same as above, why not. I went for a short cut, which involved running a hand through my hair as the sum and total of my styling routine, and left me with more time to do important stuff such as crying and demanding why oh why oh why. Just be mindful of the fact that now may not be the best time to go for dreadlocks, size 1 clippers, or green dye. It may feel liberating as you do it, but will also feel awful if you regret it five minutes later.
  • Redecorate your bedroom/kitchen/toilet – Again, fine, especially if you cannot wait to wipe out his black and chrome bookshelves (what is it with men and black/chrome furniture?), or her floral patterned wallpaper. In my book, any kind of project which enthuses you is good (but don’t quote me if it involves breaking the law and you get caught), and anything which helps you reclaim your home and feel better is good. Combine the two, ask friends for help, and hey presto, one remarkably good piece of advice. Let’s have a round of applause.

My sister said:

  • Hike at least 1500m height difference everyday and you will sleep at night– Sure. And that sounds highly practical with two children in the middle of winter. Still, it’s worth a try if you have some hills or mountains handy, and no children in tow.
  • What about climbing ice cascades then?– She is my sister, and doesn’t give up easily. I love her really.
  • Variations on the theme include “join a gym, go running, take up tennis again”– All worth having a go at if you feel like it, exercise does tend to make people feel better, but again do not let yourself be guilt-tripped into committing to anything which does not work for you.

Self-helpy friends said:

  • Try Bach floral remedies– I did try, and remembered to take a few drops of the ill-tasting mixture for about three days. I’m skeptical about whether it did anything for me, but apparently a lot of people rave about these, they are relatively inexpensive and cannot do you any harm, so why not try?
  • Read self-help books– Again, call me old fashioned, but I am a huge skeptic when anything claims to revolutionise your life easily and in a time frame which does not involve years. I tried a couple of books, including the popular The power of now, and new Attached. I know that these books help a lot of people, so again they are worth a try if you are into that kind of stuff.
  • Try meditation– I haven’t actually tried meditation, but whatever helps you feel more centered is good. I practice yoga once a week, and think it has really helped me. I am not good at it by any stretch of the imagination, but any activity which helps you forget about your problems, feel less tense, or weepy is good.

Right, I think I’ve covered most of the advice I was dished out. I remember avidly trying everything and anything in an attempt to feel less rough if only for a few milliseconds.

Just remember that people will advise you about what works for them, and sadly, there is no universal recipe to getting over heartbreak… As a rule of thumb, I would say that anything or anyone who claims otherwise is a fraud.

But don’t go running for the nearest river just yet, it does not mean that you have to be miserable for ever and ever. Go with your instinct and try whatever sounds good to you, find out what works, and practice it religiously.

I know, I know, it sucks and you just want a magic wand to make it all go away. Well, that I cannot provide, but just know that it WILL get better. Honest.

Granted, you are probably thinking “But, but that Lady E just doesn’t understand, I feel awful, and will not ever ever recover from this heartbreak”. Trust me, trust pretty much everyone on my blogroll, we’ve all been there, felt like shite, lived to tell the tale, and I dare say that we’d all be cheering you on over the internet.

* If all else fails, there’s always chocolate. My one and only, real choc mousse recipe to come next.

The road ahead

Both children are asleep, I am driving home after a weekend away staying with relatives. The sun comes out from behind the clouds, illuminating the Cévennes countryside, the rocks, the delicate green of new leaves in the vineyards, and tiny pink flowers bobbing in the wind.

A pang of sadness stabs and desorientates me. A week ago, Mr Nice drove across the Provence countryside, and together we watched cypresses point towards flimsy clouds shifting across a luminous sky.

What happened? And where do I go now?

Nearly three years ago, I moved to the French Alps to be with T. Our daughter was born, I struggled to adjust to my new life and help my family through the upheaval, before T left and everything crumbled. I found a different job, and carried on living, emaciated and hollow, but working hard to make sense of my life.

I have come a long way in every sense, especially in understanding what makes me think, react, see things the way I do. This journey through change and immeasurable pain has also become one of totally clichéd self-discovery. Now, like any self-respecting chick-lit reader, I feel this journey needs a happy end.

It feels as though I have been drifting through most of my life, taking things, people, and opportunities as they came along, never truly knowing what I wanted. And the time has come to find directions, decide where I want to live, what career I want to follow, and what I want my life to look like (well, apart from glamorous and accessorised with a devoted, tall, and handsome hunk).

I grip the steering wheel harder, and concentrate on the road ahead.

To Pierre, Cathou, and Philou who have a way of listening.

Franz Schubert – Serenata D957

The five stages of break-up grief

Picture courtesy of my son who keeps hugging me and saying how much he loves me. No, really, he does. And no, he's not for sale, he would be too expensive to ship anyway.

Denial

I have in fact undeniably felt Mr Nice’s withdrawal from the relationship over the last couple of weeks, as documented in some of my latest posts.

Abandonment is my biggest fear (well, apart from running out of chocolate, let’s be real), so I was unable to truly face the possibility.

Besides, it was a mixture, and Mr Nice was genuinely having hard times unrelated to us.  Things are messy, and complicated in our human minds, so there must have been a bit of everything going on, before the balance finally tipped the wrong way.

Anger

The plumber hasn’t come, we have ran out of milk, I have to fill in my last joint tax declaration with T (oh the special joy of having to mourn for two relationships at once- do you think they could cancel each other out?), arrange the children’s Summer holiday schedule, get the winter tyres swapped (preferably before next Winter), fix the broken kitchen skirting board, dig a trench in the garden, deal with a tense situation at work, and find a speech therapy appointment for my son (they seem to be rarer than polite French taxi drivers, a species itself on the brink of extinction).

What I really need, is to hide in Mr Nice’s arms… And the bastard takes away my number one make-the-world-better remedy? How dare he not have the decency to at least leave his arms behind?!

Bargaining

I like Mr Nice as a person, and among all other things to grieve for, I would find it tragic to see him vanish entirely from my life. I cannot remember who suggested first that we try for friendship, but we are supposed to give it a go after an unspecified cooling off period (ghosh, it almost sounds as though we brainstormed and Gantt charted it all, doesn’t it?).

It is a worn old cliché, and I have no idea how this may function in practice, but there is no denying that part of me hopes he will miss us enough to pine for his boyfriend status. On a less soul-destroying level, I genuinely would rather feel the inevitable pain of being relegated to friends’ zone, than not be able to count him as my friend. Let’s see how this plays out… I reserve the right to reconsider this statement (and poke his eyes out) when he introduces me to his 6ft blond girlfriend in a couple of weeks.

Sadness

This morning, seeing a cheery article about love on the juice carton made me cry. In barely four months, I have not had the time to properly fall in love, but still, I am sooooo disappointed… That despite all the good things he had to say about our relationship, despite the fact that he knows he will miss me, our closeness, our intimacy, things had to end. And I know that as well as his arms, I am going to frightfully miss our daily catch-ups, the way my heart skips a few beats when he smiles, and the million little perks of having someone in your life.

Acceptance

Well, in spite of everything great about him, he obviously wasn’t the man for me. And of course, someone better will eventually come along.

Right, scratch that: For once that I had met a single, lovely, grown-up man I get on with and fancy rotten, how dare he be scared of responsibilities, and thus fall short of my standard for being Mr Perfect? Does he know how hard men like him are to come by, and how long I had been tapping my foot, waiting for him to turn up?

Mneh…, bollocks to acceptance is what I say.