It wasn’t only Rupert that found it difficult to cope with time limitations. In the early days of our relationship when Eadmund and I were still keeping it secret, it had been one of the many things that had brought me to rock bottom.
Looking back at the situation with the benefit of hindsight, I am not sure I would chose to structure the relationship differently. I still like the idea of being limitless and of freedom. I like that it removes guilt and insecurity from your interactions with other people and promotes openness. Or it does if you handle it right.
What I know now is how much communication and work this sort of relationship needs. I also know that it was a big ask of myself, inexperienced and naïve as I was then, to take this on at the same time as processing enormous amounts of guilt and then to keep the relationship a secret from kids, friends and co-workers into the bargain.
While we were extremely well matched to each other in many ways, Eadmund and I did process emotion differently. He would react immediately, talk it through and be back on track quickly. I would need more time. My initial reaction would be shock, then once that was over, I would need to take my time as new thoughts and opinions became liberated and could be brought up for discussion. If we argued, I always needed twenty four hours longer than him before I was back on an even keel emotionally. It meant that I wasn’t able to bounce back from the cancelled wedding, the disapproval, hurting Isla. It took time.
Time was one of the things we only had in short supply. Not only did we need to take time to be together, but he also had to allocate time for Cloe, his children, his friends and for the business. It needed him too. The difference of maturity and experience showed. Going into the relationship, he realised how much he would have to partition his time. He had practical experience of juggling different people who all needed to spend time with him. He understood that as owner of the business, he was responsible for it, cared about it and that it absorbed his time and emotional energy. I was hardly a clocking in-clocking out employee but, at the end of the day, I could leave the job at home. My perspective and attachment to work, extreme though it was by most people’s standards was barely a tenth of the intensity of his. I thought I understood all of this before going into the relationship but I only understood in theory. When it came to the practical implications of it, I didn’t have a clue.
I needed time to do a lot of talking. He did his best to make enough time for me but it could never have been enough. I was using him as an unofficial counsellor. It was too much pressure to put on a partner. If I were to go through it again, I’d be right off to see a shrink, quick smart. I now know that the benefit of seeing a counsellor is that they can listen without being affected emotionally by what you have to say. They can advise, empathise and help you negotiate the minefield that is your own emotions and you never need feel a burden, not least because you are usually paying handsomely for the service.
It would also have meant that Eadmund wasn’t expected to be responsible for my mental health and emotional happiness. I wasn’t in a place where I could take that responsibility for myself. I had never considered emotion in that sort of way before either; that I was in control of my own happiness. I didn’t know how to do it. Eadmund tried his best to talk to me and teach me. That he managed to help me learn as much as he did is impressive. With each new day, I learned more about my own capabilities and strengths. Sometimes these discoveries were hard won at the end of gut-wrenching weeping or catatonic depression. At other times they came more easily.
Our early days after I left Jack, moved out of Nia and Helena’s and into a flat closer to Eadmund were a period of heightened emotion. The highs were ecstatic. The sun shone brighter. The world seemed more new, exciting and beautiful than ever before. Love had never felt more intense and all consuming. Sex had never been so much an expression of love with every atom of my body and consequently was instinctively tantric and absolutely mind blowing. I felt electric, alive and amazing.
But when the lows came, I had many demons to face. When he couldn’t make time for me, the wretchedness was bottomless. I was experiencing debilitating guilt and reassessing myself. I thought I had been a simple, uncomplicated good girl and was now… what… a bad person? I had hurt people. For the first time in my life, I had really hurt people. Sometimes I felt that life was stretching me, teaching me and that every day I was growing stronger, better, more of the sort of person I wanted to be. Other times I wasn’t sure I liked myself anymore. Certainly I was having trouble forgiving myself for the hurt I’d caused.
On top of that, I felt too immature to prove a good partner. Maybe Eadmund should have chosen Isla after all. I didn’t always notice when he needed to be alone with his kids. I didn’t spot the signs. With tension over this already heightened because of the way Rupert behaved, I felt under intense scrutiny and intense pressure to be the perfect and understanding supportive role to Eadmund and to the children. Some of this pressure came from Eadmund driven sometimes to distraction by frustration at the way Cloe couldn’t reign Rupert in and the way it was hurting his daughter. Most of it came from myself. I loved this man. I thought he was amazing. I wanted to be perfect. I wanted to lighten his load not add to it. I wanted to make his children happy that I had come to stay for the weekend, not want me out of the way so they could spend time with Dad. But I didn’t know his children as well as he did. Sometimes, because they were polite and well brought up and kindly, it seemed to me that they were happy I was there. I desperately wanted them to like me. They didn’t know I was their dad’s girlfriend yet but I had already fallen in love with them too.
‘But don’t you think,’ he asked, ‘That maybe even though they like you, they would prefer to be on their own with me sometimes? Of course they aren’t going to come out with it. They’re only eight and twelve. You need to be one step ahead of them. You’re the adult.’
I was confused. I thought things had been going well. I hadn’t thought one step ahead. He was already thinking about the week ahead, preparing them for school and the need for them to have a quiet Sunday afternoon relaxing before the week started. I was just thinking that I had enjoyed spending Saturday night and Sunday morning with them so far and wondering what we might all do next. His youngest son had just asked me to make lunch with him. We liked cooking together. Last time, we’d come up with a particularly tasty take on potato salad involving yoghurt and Indian green coriander relish. The time before we’d re-invented spaghetti carbonara by adding ricotta in place of cream and letting the sauce sit in the pan picking up all the tasty caramelised bits on the bottom of the pan after frying the bacon slowly to perfect cripsness. The sauce ended up being a funny brown colour but it tasted great.
‘It’s not that they don’t enjoy you being here,’ he carried on, ‘but the dynamic is different when you are around. It isn’t their normal family dynamic and they need that. I wish you would see that more. I wish I didn’t always have to bring it up. It makes me into the aggressor and it makes me always having to force a confrontation, they you are upset. I hate feeling like this.’
I packed my overnight bag wordlessly and got ready to leave. I couldn’t manage a cheery goodbye to the kids so I was hoping to slope off quietly and he could explain to them I’d had to get home. But my fellow lunch-maker, Kester, caught me in the hall just as I was leaving,
‘But we’re going to make lunch! You can’t go! We always make great lunches!’
My heart practically broke on the spot. I was going, although I didn’t want to, because his father thought it was better for the kids that I did, yet here was the youngest, asking me to stay and disappointed in me because I was leaving. I just about managed to raise a jolly tone and promise we’d cook again next weekend. I think I made some excuse about having to get home and do some shopping to get ready for a busy week at work, when what I wanted was to howl,
‘It’s not my fault! Your dad wants me to go! I want me to stay and make lunch too!’
I gave him the best smile I could muster and promised we’d see each other again soon. Then, with him happy again, I left the house and wept openly and without stopping the entire way home. It was London, a sunny Sunday and a moneyed residential area. There were people and families all around who could see me and I didn’t care one iota. It being London, of course, they all looked the other way and pretended they hadn’t noticed.
It was wretchedly painful for me, when this happened, but it also made Eadmund feel like a murderer each time he had to point out that perhaps I should leave them alone. He was in a quandary. The naturalness and ease with which I connected to him emotionally was one of the fundamental reasons he loved me and yet I hadn’t learned to control it. It overspilled into family time, work time, time that he needed to spend with Cloe. Not even remotely to the extent that Rupert did, but we were all supersensitive to the dynamic because he was so extreme. Eadmund was overly paranoid about upsetting the kids (who after all still had not been told we were a couple). I was overly paranoid about being compared to Rupert the effect of whose behaviour, I had witnessed first hand.
I became self-conscious, unsure of how to behave or who I was anymore. It felt as though, if I wanted to be with him, I had to become something else. We connected to each other so instinctively, so effortlessly and so joyously when we were alone together with no pressures on our behaviour, no one else to worry about and no secrets to keep. If felt fundamentally wrong and unbelievably unnatural to try and behave in any other way. And I didn’t monopolise his attention. I didn’t take over the conversatons so no one else could get a word in. I wasn’t nervously intense. I was quiet. I listened. I let him and his children talk and offered my opinions at what I felt were appropriate intervals. I was calm and happy because I was with him and by being so, I helped him create a relaxing and homely environment for everyone. Or at least my instincts told me I did.
Alone together, on our mid week ‘date nights’ when he stayed at my flat, we related as happily and uncomplicatedly as ever. Left on my own, when he went back to the family and I wasn’t invited, I was at the mercy of the tornado that was my own whirling thoughts, guilt, grief and self doubts. The skies darkened.
In the final months of our relationship, Jack and I had both started drinking more. Drinking to forget, to find it easier to talk to each other, for courage to face up to the things we were avoiding. Now, when I was alone, I carried on. Having had insomniac episodes before, I was afraid that the fear, guilt and insecurity would mean endless, tortured, sleepless nights. Drinking to pass out was one way to make sure this didn’t happen.
Alcohol, of course, is a depressant. Self-medicating with it would only ever be effective in the short term. In the long run, it made the dark emotions worse. At moments of heightened distress, I began to cut myself; somewhere that people wouldn’t see of course and never all that deep but with long red scratched wheals down my upper arms or stomach inflicted with the end of a pair of scissors or a kitchen knife. The shock of sudden physical pain cleared the emotional pain and restored a moment of calm. I knew it was fucked up, but it helped.
Commuting in and out of work, I began to experience panic attacks on a crowded tube. Claustrophobia, the walls caving in, needing to shrink away from people, I could feel myself receding down a dark tunnel into the back of my head, the sounds of the outside world dimming as all I could hear were the blood rushing in my ears and my own shuddering breaths, as my field of vision narrowed to two small circles in front of me and spots swam before my eyes.
I had wanted a challenge and an adventure, but so much had changed in so short a space of time, I was falling, falling like Alice down the rabbit hole and I didn’t know when I would land.
As it turned out, my landing was Eadmund’s affair. For all that was wrong about the way he went about it, it was the catalyst that made us finally admit to the children that we were together. All of a sudden, the whole situation was less pressured.
In the family home, of course Anne would be round at weekends. The children didn’t need to wonder why Dad’s new friend got to sleep over (in a different room) and what this might mean – they knew. With the clarity of knowing we were in a relationship, they didn’t need to wonder if Dad was ok now that Mum had a boyfriend. Ironically, considering the fears on their behalf that had lead to us keeping it secret, it also took away some of the fear that the parents might divorce. Mum had a boyfriend and Dad had a girlfriend and yet neither of them had left home. Perhaps it would all be ok after all.
For me, while I had to deal with hurt,betrayal and with rebuilding trust and this was no small matter at the same time I was also acknowledged and validated. I wasn’t a dirty secret any more, I was officially part of the extended family and accepted. Keeping it secret had added stress, judgement, erosion of self esteem and self image, feelings of abandonment and inadequacy to what was already a complicated situation: integrating myself into a family group without alienating or trying to compete with the children’s mother.
There were still seven of us whose feelings and emotions needed to be managed and catered for as we steered our way through the somewhat choppy waters of life in our extended family and seemingly without a map to guide us but, at least, now, we all knew we were an extended family.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Secrecy corrodes.