Saturday, 29 January 2011

Once Bitten, Twice Shy...

It takes two to tango, but just one to suggest what tune to dance to. Picture this – I break up with you five times, you break up with me just the once. I spend half our time together making up for my mistake while you do little to fix yours. So, who’s the mug?

The question now is, ‘what were the mistakes?’ Well, for him it was five times the same mistake – in a nutshell, the absence of sensitivity and emotional engagement. My mistake was getting emotionally engaged with someone else, which instigated the second break-up. Do you see where this is going?

Some people would understand ‘cheating’ to constitute sex with someone else. For others a kiss is enough for initiating divorce proceedings. And then there are those who would consider any deviant emotional feelings as infidelity – no sex or consummation of feelings, just the feelings – that’s what I’m guilty of and what I’ve been punished for since the moment it happened. I understand why the majority of folk would see any of these examples as ‘cheating’, but I don’t understand why I should be nailed to a cross for the lesser two examples when you contrast them with the first.

Quantifying the impact of these and establishing a proportionate punishment should not be anybody’s approach to resolving the problem, no matter how hurt you may feel. You should not be getting back into a relationship with ‘the sinner’ if your motives or intentions are to punish them. You need to seek professional help if you’re the sort of person that does that.

If you want to get back together with them, do it because you feel confident enough in their repentance that you cannot foresee it happening a second time. Do it because you’re confident you’ll be able to rebuild the bridges. Do it because you genuinely believe them when they say the sin was a foolish mistake. You will always have doubts and insecurities about it, of course. But for goodness’ sake, don’t allow those to stop you from putting at least the same effort into the relationship that you did before, otherwise the sinner will be compensating for your shortcomings and eventually it’ll exhaust them, which will only lead to another break-up.

There are people who have such twisted mentalities that when they enter into a relationship, it becomes a cruel competition to see who will fuck the other over first. A long time ago I had a partner who thought this way – he was so insecure and convinced I was shagging around that he would deliberately try to make me jealous in public and even ended up shagging someone just to hurt me. It doesn’t get more screwed up than that. The really sad thing is that this behaviour was a conscious protection mechanism – break their heart before they break yours.

Back to the most recent relationship and six break-ups later, I now realise we should not have got back together after the emotional infidelity. Once the trust is gone, it’s gone. For some it’s harder to break. For others it’s far too easy. The reunion went against everything we believed in and stood for. It went against our better, albeit clouded, judgments. I couldn’t be with him, but couldn’t be without him. In the short-term, the reunions revived the excitement, the passion and the love we felt for each other, but only until the insecurities surfaced again and another break-up ensued.

Hindsight is a bitch. I’m a ‘forgive but never forget’ kind of person. I find it impossible to hold a grudge but I do live by the motto ‘once bitten, twice shy’. There are always exceptions to the rules, though, because there will always be situations where you can’t see the wood for the trees and you’re so wrapped up in the emotion and chaos that you choose to take the easy route out, instead of the right one.

This time there was plenty of shit, but no fan. Either we’ve grown resistant to the excitement of getting back together, or we’ve genuinely grown apart. I’ve given it a lot of thought and my conclusion is that if I were in his shoes, I’d feel the same. So I can’t blame him for it.

I once told him people can’t help the way they feel, but they can help the way they behave and what they do about it. I guess we weren't that different after all.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Hard at the Top...

You know what they say. “It’s harder to stay at the top than it is to get there...” It’s true. It’s just that much more annoying when you put that saying in a sexual context and you think of and all the attention that comes along when you’re not ‘available’. Why does this happen? Do we really give off the impression we’re not interested when we’re ‘committed’, or is the impression that much more alluring that the vulchers smell us from a mile away?

To be honest, I haven’t spent much of my adult life as a single man, but when I have, I’ve found it notoriously difficult to sustain somebody’s interest. It's depressing when the interest I’m showing is wholly disproportionate to the interest I’m getting back. But then, I have had times when I’m fresh out of the confines of a relationship and that interest is plentiful enough for me to savour several ‘pies’ at once – that’s one of the greatest comforts you can experience, in my opinion.

Professionally and personally, I’m the sort of person who likes to please everyone. I’m not a ‘conflict resolution’ expert but I do get my fair share of negotiating in my job and I really enjoy the challenge. However, it's not much fun when my personal reputation is at risk and I have to ‘let them down gently’ when trying to suck-up to others for personal gain.

I’m a serial flirt. Man, woman, dog, cat; it doesn’t stop me. Until I get the impression it’s being taken seriously! When that happens I’m faced with the huge dilemma of whether to cut it dead or let it take its course – there’s no in-between in my mind.

What I find is that the more ‘sucking-up’ you do, the less results you’ll reap. Getting interest is easy, but there’s a fine art to flirting without crossing the line. It’s a tricky balancing act between dismissing interest altogether and acknowledging it. Weak is the man who acts on it!

There’s a beautiful guy at work and anybody would be forgiven for thinking he bats for my team, but he’s only interested in ‘cats’ – I’ve investigated this. In that security, I find it impossible to stop flirting with him. But there’s another guy whom at first you’d think has never heard of Dorothy, let alone be a friend of hers, and he has the opposite problem to me – innuendo should be his middle name and he stops at nothing. The sexual connotations just fall out of his mouth and I’m not the only person they’re targeted at.

This is particularly difficult to handle on Friday afternoons when the cases of wine piled in the kitchen are opened and the contents flow freely. One glass and my inhibitions are forgotten. This poor guy must be prematurely celebrating the fruit of his hard labour, while I’m panicking on reflection, questioning if I may have gone too far with my responses this time. I digress. Getting back to the point, it’s wonderful being at this plateau of interest, but should I even try to maintain it in this case, or am I playing with fire?

I once worked on a PR campaign that warned small businesses of the pros and cons (more cons than pros) of sexual relationships at work. I.e. an employee that develops a sexual relationship with their boss could be given preferential treatment in relation to promotion, time off, etc. But that’s not where it ends – what happens when the relationship turns sour and a law suit ensues? You could both easily end up being sacked and the compensation pay-outs could cripple the business in the process.

It doesn’t have to be a boss-employee affair to end in drastic circumstances. A similar turn of events can occur with two employees of the same pay grade and I’ve known larger businesses to demand their employees sign ‘love contracts’ – legally-binding agreements that effectively waive your right to sue the employer in a discrimination case if it’s in any way related to emotional or sexual relations with a fellow employee.

Banter is one thing, but crossing that sexual line with a colleague can have far-reaching implications for your career. I’ve also known people to have been dismissed when a personal relationship started at work turned sour and the fools were unable maintain their professional integrity by keeping it under wraps – that’s difficult to do, especially when one half ends it for the right reasons and the other becomes incensed with rage. You can't expect your boss to take sides, they can't afford to.

This must happen in most work places. Even my old boss, a highly successful, career-driven PR Guru in her early forties and single without kids has this problem, but with the clients. I have friends who have fallen head over heals with a colleague and it's broken their hearts. Lucky for them, they still have their jobs. This is where some real negotiation skills get an airing and can test you to your limits.

The ‘top’ is a different place for everyone, but regardless of your success, the higher you are, the harder you’ll fall. I don’t think many people plan to fail; they just fail to plan and set themselves up for a fall. On that note, I think I’m right not to have a middle ground between dismissing sexual advances at work and acknowledging them – it has to be viewed as black and white if you value your career more than getting your rocks off.

I love my job and the company and I'd be devastated if my happiness there was compromised in this way, because it would be totally my fault and stupidest mistake I ever made. So the balancing act goes on and makes work evermore interesting. I just pray I don't become colour-blind or start seeing everything as a 'grey area'.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

The Not-So-Perfect Fit

I once overheard someone liken a relationship to a shoe. “If it doesn’t fit perfectly, it’s a disaster”, she said. I don’t know where this woman had been shopping and maybe she’d been living way beyond her means, but at the time I thought ‘disaster’ was quite a strong word. I thought this was a very interesting, albeit flawed analogy – like with relationships, doesn’t everyone try on a pair of shoes before committing to them?

I recently heard the same phrase again and it’s been playing on my mind. I don’t think there are many people that would enter into a relationship if they immediately foresee a disaster. You could only say a thing like that in hindsight after kicking yourself for having seen the ‘signs’ and chosen to ignore them with the faint hope you’d adjust to the differences.

Unlike shoes, the ‘perfect fit’ for a relationship is not easy to find. The last pair of shoes I bought appeared to fit perfectly in the store, but by the time I got to work in them the next day it was a different story – I was in agony and ‘disaster’ was very much an appropriate description of the situation. But still I persevered, with sore blisters on my heels and toes, in the hope that the shoes would eventually mould around me.

If I put the first six months of my current relationship in the context of trying on that pair of shoes, the story is strangely similar. After months of cyber talk and exchanging photos taken in the mirror, we arranged to meet on a day when the cosmos was viciously against me. Cutting a long story short, I turned up several hours late, which he was furious about, but I couldn't smiling – he lived up to the idea I’d built in my head and by all accounts he appeared to be the ‘perfect fit’.

I wasn’t looking for a relationship but very soon after this we met each other’s friends, I took him to Portugal to meet my family, and in a short space of time we got such an overwhelming feeling about our potential together that we bought each other commitment rings and even talked about marriage.

Back in London and with the ‘honeymoon period’ behind us things started to go downhill. The ‘blisters’ started forming and the relationship became uncomfortable to be in. It was far too late to get a ‘refund’, if that were possible with relationships, but even if we could, I didn’t want to – not after sharing that sort of happiness together.

My faith in ‘breaking in’ to my new shoes paid off and although I’m due another pair, they are now my most comfortable footwear. Sadly, I’m not as confident the same thing will happen with my relationship. How long should one give oneself and how much suffering should one endure before giving up hope that things will just fall into place?

I’m living in the hope that we can be that happy again but maybe we’ve outlived this ‘shoe’ of a relationship and it’s time for a new one. Maybe we’re past the point of no return. This is definitely the ‘glass slipper’ of a relationship I want but as hard as I try it just doesn’t fit. So now I understand what that woman meant, but she should have put it better – relationships can be like a pair of shoes you really want – if they don’t fit perfectly, it is a total disaster.

When it comes to shoes a perfect fit is essential, but relationships are far more complicated. Personally, I know that if I had the options of the 'perfect fit' and a 'challenge', the latter would win hands down. My idea of the perfect fit is actually a slightly flawed one because it's the flaws I find intriguing and I'd get bored very quickly without them.

Metaphorically-speaking, I’m not going to start cutting any toes off or getting stupid cosmetic procedures to make the shoe fit, but as a final attempt at reviving the relationship, I’m going to try to put myself in HIS shoes and hope I can see what it is I’m doing wrong...

Sunday, 9 January 2011

It’s Not Who’s Right, It’s What’s Right

I don’t get it. I just don’t understand how two people who share such an electrifying attraction can be so different in so many ways. A lot of people tell me that relationships need to be ‘worked at’, but I say, 'if it feels like work, you shouldn’t be in a relationship’. Others say ‘great minds think alike’, but there’s also the old adage that ‘opposites attract’. So am I making work for myself by choosing the latter?

I probably should, but I don’t feel pressured to make the 6th try at my relationship work; I just really want it to. I’m doing my best to view it as a new relationship, rather than a patched-up one, and trying to avoid the mistakes of the previous rounds. It’s incredibly frustrating when, at times, the other person doesn’t appear to have learned very much at all, though.

The difficulty arises when the pettiest of reasons causes an almighty argument. Try as I might, I cannot back down every single time, and I don’t think I should, either. ‘They’re just dishes’, ‘it’s just a tiny spill’, ‘I was listening to you and I responded with a groan’ – it’s never ending! When things are good, they’re great, but when they’re not, it’s a total nightmare. He would say the same thing – one of the rare things we agree on.

My friends are not my friends because I agree with everything they say; quite the opposite. I value an educated opinion different to my own and I love a good debate, but I hate arguing because it brings out the worst in me. I have a few rock-solid friendships with people of different age groups, different upbringings, varied backgrounds and different religious beliefs, although they may not practice them. Still I’m wondering why it is that I don’t argue like this with anybody else but him.

No, relationships aren’t easy, but I don’t think they should be hard work after just one year. Like in a weird first date where you pick up all the signs of ‘things to come’ if it goes further, I’m trying to figure out if this is just a hurdle we’ve got to get over or if it’ll only get worse. The trouble is, looking to the future I can’t see anything, and I’ve never felt this way before.

The sense I get is that this is just another ‘practice’ round; that I’m in a waiting room for the ‘real’ thing; the unconditional, inspirational, safe and easy relationship. That’s what I’m used to, and I wouldn’t waste my time if I didn’t feel this was achievable.

‘Go for it, stop often and re-evaluate’ – that’s the best advice I was given before we got back together. I don’t want to end it again, not by just getting up and walking out in the heat of the moment – that’s one of the mistakes from the earlier rounds, but it’s bloody difficult to bite your tongue and let it wash over you when you’re forced to think, ‘Why did we get back together?’

It seems that two people wanting the same thing, just like great sex, is not enough to hold a relationship together (earlier blog, December 4th 2010). I’m genuinely happy we are back together but I just can’t figure out why. What I do know is that I’m worried this ‘practice run’ could be for a relationship with somebody else – I’ve seen it happen to others, it wouldn't be right, and it would really break my heart.

People also say ‘be careful what you wish for’, and that ‘when you finally get something you crave, suddenly you don’t want it anynore’. I don’t think what I'm after is unreasonable, I just don’t know if it’s realistic these days.

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Monday, 3 January 2011

Someone For Everyone...

There’s nothing quite like a week of Christmas festivities, family gatherings and overindulgence on alcohol surrounded by couples and their kids to drum in how sad and lonely you really are as a single person, or in your relationship! How much richer and fulfilled would you feel if you hadn’t broken up with yet another partner, probably over petty and meaningless reasons, or if you were free from your shackles and single again?

It’s no wonder dating websites report a 50 percent increase in traffic in the first week of January alone (PARSHIP research Dec 2010). That said, the first full week of January is also the busiest time of the year for filing divorce proceedings. And perhaps not surprisingly, January is also one of the busiest months for recruitment agencies, as people up and down the country reflect on their career, dread going back to the same job and start looking for a new one.

There are an estimated 15 million singles in Britain (according to ONS) and I’ve never seen so many adverts for dating websites as I have since Christmas – they’re springing up everywhere, each promising a more effective approach to match-making than the last, tempting you to browse other profiles for free, then urging you to part with your money for a monthly subscription if you want to contact that hottie you’ve come across.

Dating websites have taken over and become quite sophisticated since the first ones sprung up at the turn of the millennium. Gone are the days of placing personal ads in your local newspaper or community magazine, which seems to me like an almost desperate measure to find love. There is no stigma or shame in putting yourself ‘out there’ for others to browse anymore, and the best dating sites now have relationship experts and marital counsellors tailoring innovative match-making processes based on intellect, values and psyche, rather than leaving you to judge photos and self-descriptions for yourself.

There will always be an element of ‘trial and error’ in dating because in my opinion, physical chemistry cannot be measured by a third party. Only you will know this from interaction with another, which is why speed-dating organisers have done so well, but unsurprisingly, not as well as dating sites – why would you attend a second or third speed-dating event when you can be ‘matched’ to other singles of your chosen preferences and browse profiles from the comfort of your own home?

Like with most businesses, the key driving factor in the success of these companies is convenience. I bought into the idea of the dating site Gaydar over ten years ago, like most other gay men, and I have it a lot to thank for. I didn’t see it as a dating site at all, but I have met two long-term partners as well as a few great one-offs on there and I’d be the first to recommend it to any friend of Dorothy who is 'new in town'.

That’s probably part of the reason for my dating success on the site – not viewing it as a legitimate dating website, because it meant I had few expectations of what it could deliver, but then I wasn’t paying for it as a basic member. I had my naive, rose-tinted moments (okay, months) when I felt desperate for someone to love me and I did spend entire days in the chatrooms talking nonsense with the other regulars, but it taught me an awful lot about people and I met some life-long friends, too.

Gaydar is in a different league to other dating sites in the sense that it’s more of a social networking platform rather than dating-focused, but it’s been great at the latter for me and I have happily paid for a full member subscription in order to get more out of it. It’s not expensive, you get unlimited use and it also shows the other members you can afford it and that you’re therefore probably more financially stable than the basic members, so it really does ‘pay off’.

The choice is endless and so are the subscription packages. Some sites even promise you six months’ free use if you don’t find ‘love’, never mind a match, in your first six months, so we have almost nothing to lose and a lot more to gain if we manage our expectations well.

PARSHIP’s research suggests 46 percent of their users are optimistic about finding ‘the one’ in 2011 – with no shortage of ‘convenient help’ available on subscription, this translates to 7 million helpless romantics looking for love. If you’re single this New Year or no longer happy in your relationship, there's few reasons to remain that way and a good chance one of those could be your match.