Fallout

I broke up with Jack, as I wrote before, on a busy Saturday in May with a bustling food market all around us.  I vanished from my shop shift and spent the day in our offices, upstairs in a fairly molten state.

After crying all day in the office on my own, I finally made the call to my mum and told her the wedding was off.

‘You’ve been having an affair?’ My mum was angry and disappointed, ‘I did not bring you up to behave like that.’

My dad sounded concerned, gentle, worried.  I explained that although I hadn’t said anything, things weren’t right with Jack.

‘I’ve always thought that he didn’t quite have enough of a spark for you,’ he admitted.

I didn’t feel I deserved kindness.  It made me start crying all over again.

‘Eadmund feels like home.’ I managed to choke before I couldn’t speak any more.

My friends dropped everything.  Nia and Helena, my friends since school, drew lots over who should look after me and who should look after Jack.  Helena drew Jack, grabbed her purse and a bottle of wine and headed for the flat I would no longer live in.  Nia came with her, grabbed a change of clothes and some things she thought would be important to me and returned home.  She arranged for Maelle to meet me at London Bridge Station and stay with me until she could get there.  Before I could even ask, they had decided they would take me in.

Eadmund had been spending the day out of London.  I had rung him earlier to tell him what I’d done.  As soon as he could, he had driven back to see me.  Before I went to meet Maelle, he hugged me, took me to the pub and bought me a pint.  With masterfully inappropriate timing, as I waited for him to be served at the bar, a CAMRA Real Ale bore complete with dandruff beard, shorts, socks and sandals decided to chat me up.  I was way to shell shocked to manage to politely decline his attentions but luckily Eadmund showed up and he got the message.  We sat on bar stools and I contemplated my glass, concentrating on it as if my life depended on it.

pint-of-beer

‘I know you feel terrible right now,’ Eadmund said, touching my arm.  I looked up at him.  His eyes were shining and soft.  In a world full of anger, shock, sadness, disappointment and guilt, he was an oasis of happiness.  ‘It will pass.  And I may be the only one, but I’m really happy you’re not getting married.’

I learned over the next few days, that most people I worked with, thought I was right to call off the wedding.  The cracks in our relationship that I had been blind to were obvious to them.  Even more surprising was that my friends outside work agreed too.

‘The thing is, Anne,’ Nia told me, ‘You and Jack are both nice people but you’d started to bring out the worst in each other.’

Even Isla, though she couldn’t be empathetic or sympathetic, said.

‘You did the right thing.  If you can be in a relationship with someone else at the same time, you definitely shouldn’t be getting married.’

I was relieved to hear her say it but the contained tone in which she did so was a dagger to my heart.  Belated guilt for everything was washing over me in waves; guilt about Jack who was hurt, angry and heart broken; guilt about Isla whose friendship I had brushed aside because I was too preoccupied with Eadmund choosing me over her; guilt about my mother toying with her emotions by giving her the news of our impending wedding with all its celebrations and joys then snatching it away from her again – her happy and proud face in the wedding dress shop haunted me for over ten years afterwards; guilt about my sister who I had abandoned when she needed family.

I really needed a friend who understood why I had fallen for Eadmund, why he had affected me so much and why I loved him so much.  Only one person I knew understood that, but I’d hurt her too badly for her to be my friend anymore.  I missed her so much it hurt.

The Secret Relationship

Now that we were in a relationship, we needed to regularly set time aside to be together.  Eadmund was clear that for the relationship to work out, we couldn’t just seize the moment the way we had been doing.  We would have specific nights to spend together.  Conscious that he had much more experience at managing relationships (secret ones too) than me, I was happy to go along with whatever he suggested.

‘I don’t just want to be in a pub or restaurant with you either,’ he carried on, ‘We need to be alone together.’

But where?  He didn’t want to be at his house with his children.  He felt they had enough to deal with that their mum had a boyfriend.  He didn’t want to spring on them that Dad also had a girlfriend.  They were scared that their parents would divorce as it was.  Obviously we couldn’t be together at my house either.  Jack would be there.

Eadmund had an idea.  The building he rented for the shop in South London came with 2 floors upstairs that Jacob had used as a flat when he separated from his wife.  Things had now moved on, however.   He had a new girlfriend and as the flat above the shop had been warehouse cool and atmospheric but a bit basic, they were living in her flat at the moment while they got some cash together to make the shop flat more easily inhabitable.  It was empty.  I wouldn’t have dared ask Jacob something like that but Eadmund reassured me that he and Jacob knew each other well enough that he could ask the favour.  Jacob agreed.

I told Jack that I had agreed to work late on certain days and wouldn’t be home to eat.  Eadmund and I met up after work, went up to Jacob’s flat, ate a picnic meal, made love and lay for hours in bed together talking, touching, kissing and inevitably making love again.  At the end of the evening, he drove me home, parked a couple of blocks away from my house so it would look like I was walking home from the bus stop and with one last kiss, we’d say good night.  I would go home and get into bed with my fiancé.  Often, in the interests of fairness, I felt I ought to make love to him too.  The contrast between the two broke my heart.

Jack loved snowboarding.  He had discovered a passion for it a few years ago and every year he went to the Alps for a couple of weeks break to snowboard to his heart’s content.  I had tried it.  He won a week’s snowboarding holiday in a magazine competition.  I got to learn to snowboard a little in a lovely Swiss village called Scuol which also had an amazing spa.  I loved the village, I loved the mountains but I hated snowboarding.  So Jack’s snowboarding holidays were alone time for him.  He liked that too.  Most years could only afford to holiday in France or Switzerland.  This year he had saved up and was going to Lake Tahoe.  He was also going to be away for an extra week as it was a special trip.

Eadmund had recently got in touch with a branch of his family in Uruguay where his father had been born.  His father had been sent to school in Edinburgh but then war broke out and his aunt stayed in Uruguay.  As a result, she had married a local farmer and stayed in South America whereas Eadmund’s father became a surgeon, met his mother and moved to Hong Kong.  Eadmund’s big sister had arranged a three week trip to Uruguay to visit their cousins.

From being very busy balancing two men in my life, all of a sudden I had three weeks alone.  I didn’t know what to do with myself, it was so long since I’d had time by myself.  I thought I would miss both of them, but I didn’t.  I just missed Eadmund.

We emailed and I got in to work early so that with the time difference, we could speak on the phone privately.  His holiday had a big emotional impact, reconnecting with family he had never seen.  With each new discovery of his family and each crazy coincidence that resonated with his life (his Uruguay family were dairy farmers and he had never realised this before), he wanted to talk to me about how it made him feel.

Jack didn’t ring me from his holiday.  This was pretty normal behaviour for us.

When both men were back in the UK, I felt that something had changed.  I had realised that I didn’t care enough about Jack.  Especially not for someone who was planning to get married to him.

‘You can always separate to get some space and perspective,’  Eadmund said when I had admitted my misgivings, ‘It doesn’t have to mean you’re splitting up permanently.  Relationships are what you make of them.  There aren’t rules.’

That idea comforted me.  We could separate without it being the end.  But by now we’d started planning the wedding.  The momentary sense of freedom I felt disappeared.  The walls started closing in again.  I couldn’t leave Jack now.  My parents had spent money on marquees.  We’d ordered material to make a dress.  I had never understood how people could get so caught up in wedding planning that they went ahead with a loveless marriage.  All of a sudden, I did.  The event gains a momentum of its own.  My mother and I went shopping for dresses.  I tried on a whole range of styles in white and ivory.  I opened the curtains to my changing cubicle for her to look and give an opinion.

‘Oh Anne.’

Her eyes filled up with tears.  She looked so happy and proud.

I couldn’t let her down.  I couldn’t let everyone down.  I would just have to marry him.  Even if I didn’t love him.  I couldn’t disappoint them all.

One night as Eadmund and I lay in bed together, breathing in each other’s scent and luxuriating in tingle of electricity we experienced when our bodies touched skin to skin, my newly acquired mobile phone rang.  I had turned it off earlier that evening so we could have time to ourselves and only just switched it back on again.

With a shock I realised that I had multiple missed calls from my mother and from Jack.  I answered the phone,

‘Where have you been?  We’ve been calling all evening.’  My mother’s voice was worried.

‘In the pub,’ I lied, ‘Sorry, it was noisy and I didn’t hear the phone.  I’ve just gone outside.’

‘It’s very quiet,’ she sounded utterly unconvinced by my story, ‘Are you really outside a pub?  Your voice sounds strained.  Are you lying?’

‘No, no!  It is surprisingly quiet but I am outside the pub.  What’s happened?’

My sister was in her final year of university.  She had been doing final exams.  A paper she should have found easy and expected to get good marks on had gone extremely badly.  Her watch had stopped.  She thought she had plenty of time left for her final essay when in fact she only had twenty minutes.   All the stress and exhaustion of revision and exams combined and, though she had made it to the end of the paper, she left the building in tears.

She’d rung my home and I wasn’t there.  She rang my mum and wept on the phone to her.  My mum had been trying to get hold of me so I could meet her and look after her.  Jack had been ringing me for the same reason.  My sister almost never got upset.  She was resourceful, sensible, practical and nearly always sunny.  The one time she really needed me to make her feel better, I had been in bed, with a married man, cheating on my fiancé.  I felt like the lowest of the low.

I had to repeat the same lie to Jack who had by then become worried that I was in trouble and that was why I didn’t answer the phone.  I managed to convince him but I felt like a murderer.  Coupled with the growing realisation that I no longer loved him, the guilt spurred me on to make a decision.  I couldn’t do this anymore.

Two days later, in spite of the wedding, the money, the disappointment to friends and family, I split up with him.

shattered-glass

Emotional Endoskeleton

 

cricket-insect-drawing

 

 

Yesterday evening, Gwyneth Paltrow announced the end of her marriage to Chris Martin.  She described their separation as a conscious uncoupling and emailed subscribers to her website with an explanation of what that phrase means, written by Dr Habib Sadeghi and Dr Sherry Sami.

Within that explanation, one particular passage resonated with me.  They described the break down of a relationship and its attendant guilt, shame and regret.  They explained that in order not to have to face these emotions, we put on a body shield to protect ourselves, like an insects exoskeleton.  It is firm, rigid, keeps us safe but it can calcify and entrap us.  A better process is to develop an emotional endoskeleton which means supporting ourselves from within, laying our exterior open to harm.  It essentially means being vulnerable, but it gives us flexibility.  We can move, grow and develop.

Until very recently as I began to write about my last relationship and the experiences I had during it, my exoskeleton has been firmly in place.  It has protected me and it has limited me in equal measure.  The good doctors are right.  If you don’t let yourself become vulnerable, you can’t grow.

At the end of a relationship, as the sadness, grief and anger rage through you, it’s time to recognise how much those emotions really direct inwards, what they can teach you about your insecurities and how conquering your inner demons can make you stronger.  Most importantly, it’s time to recognise the person you are uncoupling from as someone from whom you have learned.  Your experiences together have helped you develop.  The negative feelings as the relationship ends are still teaching you and guiding you towards a more powerful, strong and more amazing version of yourself.

Conscious uncoupling recognises the shared journey you’ve both undertaken that is now at an end and welcomes the new journey you will take as a separate entity.  It recognises that your partner was a fellow learner and also a teacher. It respects what they have allowed you to learn and in doing so it respects them and their experience.  It’s the only way to be truly free.

Thanks Gwynnie, for bringing that concept into my frame of reference.  Thanks and Good Luck.

The Break Up

Borough Market

It was the third weekend of May 2000 and I was in our newly acquired offices, sitting at what was going to be my desk and crying my eyes out.

As the person responsible for managing development of the burgeoning Borough Market, under the auspices of my cheese shop employers, I was supposed to be working a busy Saturday as the monthly market rolled around.  I’d got in bright and early for a 6 o’clock start.  We had set up an immense display of cheese, the shelves of the shop were brimming over with chutneys, pickles and condiments, outside on the cobbles a veritable harvest festival display of bread beckoned people in off the streets.   The shop looked fantastic, it was buzzing with happy shoppers and I had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach that wouldn’t go away.  So  I had rung my fiancé and told him that that not only could I not marry him, but I’d actually been in a relationship with my boss, for the past eight months.

‘You are not breaking up with me over the phone!’ he told me, ‘I’ll come in.’

To be honest it was a bit of a waste of his time.  He was never going to change my mind.  He came.  We talked.  I agreed that I wouldn’t go back to our flat that evening and he left.

It wasn’t that long before I became aware that I wasn’t alone anymore.  Jacob, one of my managers who was also a friend, had come in.   He was a bit surprised.  I have no idea what I looked like – vaguely molten I expect.  I just about sobbed out that I’d called off the wedding and he left as well.

I didn’t get any more work done that day.