When I explain the twists and turns of my relationship with Eadmund, most people reach this point with:
‘What the hell?’
It is very hard to read the scenario in a different way from ‘innocent abroad, used and abused by self-indulgent older man’. But it wasn’t like that. In order to see it that way, you’d have to assume that I was a victim. I am nobody’s victim.
I am quiet. I am still relatively shy in large groups of people. At the time I most certainly was pretty inexperienced and naïve. I am also strong willed, although not unreasonable. I know my own mind. I am stubborn as an ox and because when I make my mind up on something, I will have thought about it thoroughly, I am often sure I’m right. As Isla once told me (in a work context on this occasion),
‘A loud personality isn’t necessarily a strong personality. You are a strong personality.’
And without apologising for Eadmund, I was far from easy to be with during the secretive, guilt ridden early days. I don’t feel guilty about that anymore. I did a bit at the time. What I wish I had known then was that my happiness is my own responsibility and it’s in my own power to create it.
One of the things Eadmund and I did talk about was happiness. He is lucky enough to be able to bounce back quickly, even in extreme circumstances. In his early twenties, he had a serious girlfriend who he thought he was going to marry but who slept with his best friend. They sat him down to explain and to tell him they wanted to be together. He didn’t see a problem with it. He loved her, he loved his best friend, they all loved each other why shouldn’t they be together? Then she had to break it to him. They wanted to be together without him. He was heartbroken. And yet, the following morning, whilst doing the washing up, he found himself singing. It still took time to process the rejection and hurt but a mere twenty four hours later he had a sign that he was going to be ok. Over the years, he developed this ability and took the decision to cultivate happiness and take responsibility for his own enjoyment of life.
I don’t bounce back that easily but even in the blackest times of my life, I’ve been able to smile at little things like spring blossom, a sunny day, or laugh if someone cracks a joke. My problem back then was that I didn’t appreciate or value those little things enough. I was a hopeless romantic and escapist, forever living out dreams in my head. My favourite film, ‘Desperately Seeking Susan’ in which Rosanna Arquette, trapped in a going nowhere marriage escapes to New York and ultimately ends up living a bohemian life with Aidan Quinn, was a classic story of a romantic escape. In leaving a conventional life with Jack, I felt my horizons opening up and in my romantic mind, I was the heroine in my own movie. Set against what felt like an epic love story, the little things that briefly lift your soul didn’t seem so important. I know now it’s the accumulation of those things and being open to seeing them and prioritising them that tips the balance from sadness into being happy.
The soaring highs of being in love, while amazing and exhilarating were really just an adrenaline rush. Happiness is something else. It’s in the little things, it’s how you see the world and most important of all, it’s a choice.
Addictive, ecstatic highs of love are amazing. I don’t regret a single one of them. But like a roller coaster, it’s just a ride. I had the beginnings of an idea of how to choose to be happy, but as with many emotions going on in my life at this point I didn’t know how to balance them.
Part of the issue is that, women are educated, without realising it, to cater to other people. The traditional role of wife and mother is selfless, nurturing and caring. I was brought up with a father who wanted me to know my own mind and argue my case. I went to a school founded on the principles that women should not be educated in the traditional feminine subjects but allowed to learn maths, sciences and physical education. This was pretty radical in the 1890s when it was founded and they maintained their attitude to educating women to believe there were no gender-defined career boundaries. I have in many ways had quite progressive influences in my life and was hardly the downtrodden female, but I still had not learned that putting myself first isn’t a selfish act. In fact, it’s the reverse because if you aren’t in control of your own happiness, you can’t support, love and nurture someone else properly.
While I was displaying classic implosion behaviour, drinking, self-harming, spiralling into depression, I was needy. I didn’t mean to be, but by not taking control of my own life, I exerted emotional blackmail on the very person I wanted to nurture.
Within that relationship he hurt me, of course, and in turn, I hurt him. People do. Beyond that, life, circumstances and the repercussions of my own actions hurt me. There was too much for me to cope with and it was an extreme situation but my happiness was too heavy a burden to place on someone who loved me. It was not his responsibility. He could contribute, help and love me but the choice to be happy was mine. At the time, I couldn’t understand that I had a choice and that while I might feel guilt, I could still permit myself to be happy. I wasn’t a bad person. I wasn’t unlovable. I got some things wrong and it hurt people but I was still worthy of love.
If I couldn’t do understand how to get to that realisation, alone, I could also choose to talk to someone professional to help me clear through my confusion in a space without judgement. I could choose, with the benefit of clarity, to let my friends and family into my emotional life and not care if they found it unconventional and down-right weird; not even care if they disapproved as the more I could talk, the more they would get used to the idea. I did none of those things. I was confused and didn’t understand that I had the right to choose happiness and the ability to create it.
The best lesson learned from this time, even better than our relationship finally being publically acknowledged, is that I have the right, power and choice to be happy.
It isn’t a mystical state that is visited upon me. It’s something I can create for myself.
And I do.
And I will.