‘You don’t say anything about guilt.’ commented a friend of mine on reading my last post.
It’s true, I didn’t. In that moment, I didn’t feel any.
It felt so right, joyous and life affirming to love him and to express that physically just felt natural. It never crossed my mind that something that felt so natural could possibly be something I would be ashamed of or guilty about.
I don’t mean to say I felt no guilt about the relationship. Oh boy did I ever feel guilt. But I never felt guilty about love and a natural expression of love. I felt guilty about dishonesty, about not telling Jack. I felt guilty about hurting him – that I wasn’t brave enough to tell him I wanted to leave him and that I used the relationship I had just started with Eadmund as a catalyst to force me to leave him.
I have come to realise that, unlike a lot of even my dearest friends, I have scant regard for social constraints. If they don’t make sense to me, then I don’t hold with them. I value kindness, honesty and being caring to other people. Where I’ve failed to do that, even in difficult circumstances, I feel ashamed.
‘You don’t need to worry, Anne,’ Nia once told me, as she, Jack and I shared copious bottles of wine and she insisted on him giving her a hug, as she did with many of her male friends once she’d had a few, ‘I wouldn’t ever do anything with someone else’s boyfriend.’
On the other hand, as I was finding out, I would. I was engaged to a nice man, I was in what Hollywood would undoubtedly call a ‘love triangle’ with Eadmund and Isla and in addition to that, my boyfriend (as opposed to my fiance you understand) was married and I never for a minute doubted that loving Eadmund and sleeping with him was the right thing to do.
In part, of course, I was in exceptional amounts of denial about my actions and their repercussions still and the realisation of what I’d done was yet to hit me. But even when the realisation and the guilt did come, it was hurting people that made me feel terrible. It wasn’t loving someone.
Love is a joyous feeling. It’s a positive feeling. It is a huge power for change and change, of course can bring disruption and upset. We all have to deal with the consequences of that disruption. But love is never something to regret. It’s the single most life affirming emotion we are capable of. It’s entirely natural. We are biologically programmed to feel it. Nature would not give us an emotion like that and intend for us to feel bad about it.
Guilt on the other hand is almost exclusively negative. Allowed to develop, grow and take over, it festers and destroys people. Its function as far as I can see is to prompt us to realise that another time perhaps we should do things differently, in a more honest or kind manner. Beyond that it has ceased to serve its useful purpose and we should step back from it and all it entails.
It’s easy to say that now of course. It’s only taken me 14 years to get this rational about it.
One of the reasons I didn’t feel guilt at the time, denial aside, is that I’m not and never have been, religious. I went to church at Christmas and Easter to sing nice hymns, smell the incense and because the vicar handed out satsumas or Cadbury’s Creme Eggs. In some families it’s the done thing to be seen to go to church every week which is as much social conditioning and a way of social climbing as it is moral or religious impulse. My mother used to worry sometimes that we didn’t attend church often enough, my atheist father didn’t give a damn.
I don’t want the trappings of what society deems a successful life. I never wanted the career in the city, the Oxbridge degree, the flash house in the country with its media room and gym in the basement. I want the things that will make me happy. I want to hang out with people not because they will advance my career but because I enjoy their company, they make me think about things in a different light and above all they make me laugh!
I also don’t look at social convention and accept it. If someone tells me I ought to do something, I immediately want to know why and usually want to do the exact opposite. I thought, I would never have sex with ‘someone else’s’ man until I did. Then I realised we are all sentient beings with the possibility of choice. We act, we take responsibility for our actions and we cope with the repercussions. If we are brave and realise what we want to do might hurt someone else if we do it secretly then we confront them, explain and ask permission. If we’re lucky they will realise they don’t have a right to own our actions any more than we have a right to own theirs. I’ve been ‘cheated on’ as much as I’ve cheated and what hurt was being made the victim, being lied to, being disrespected because of someone else’s cowardice. I’ve been that coward and it was the dishonesty and hurt and making someone else the victim that made me feel guilty.
So no, as I lay in Eadmund’s arms, I didn’t feel guilty. I knew we were both in so much trouble, but I didn’t feel guilt.
I hadn’t hurt anyone.