in Prose, weeknotes

Weeknotes S04E16: and how do you feel about that?

dipping a toe

I tried out dating briefly recently and it didn’t work very well. This is no doubt in part because – as a colleague says – that my choices leave me with a significantly diminished dating pool.1“You’re undateable” was the actual quote, but I understand that this is the context But the other part only became clear to me when I was speaking to friends about their own, equally troubling love lives. For example, I asked someone recently why anyone would want to date them, and they gave me a list of things that they could do for a prospective partner.

Everything they said was about services they could perform and, subtly, invisibly, made this imagined future relationship a series of transactions. I pointed this out and then listed things I liked about them; their sense of humour; their rock-solid sense of self; their willingness to try things; their sense of ambition. And this is all a wonderful teaching moment of course, and I think being able to bring my friends up is an attractive quality in me –

– but then that’s the point, of course. I’m trying to encourage my friends to find their internal qualities, the things that they are rather than the things they can do, that are attractive. And at the same time I’m struggling to list anything that I could point to and say: this, this is an attractive quality that I have, not because someone else can profit from it, but because it is innately a nice thing.

And that’s not to take away from performing acts of service as demonstrations of love. But when that’s everything that you’re offering – when that’s all that I can find in myself that might be attractive – then I think it’s a clear sign that I’m not really sure of who I am other than in relation to the needs and desires of other people.

That was two months ago. I am making progress, slowly. Asking friends is a good way of finding out what’s nice attractive2oof, I am struggling more than I thought to find myself attractive; aint that a thing about oneself (and also of finding out who’s brave enough to admit they have a crush on you, which is an experience like no other). I’m getting closer to being at peace with who I am and, more than that, what I hope to have in a relationship – any relationship. What my red lines are. Where my ‘self’ ends, where I demark the space and say that these things are things that make me me.

It’s amazing how it changes dating. It’s genuinely wonderful.

Flirting is still a strange and mysterious game, though. It’s brinkmanship, a dance where our shoes are tipped with razor blades. We go backwards and forwards in an attempt to tip the other into outright honesty; we suggest and hint and propose but always with disavowal in our back pocket.

It’s tiring, of course, but it’s also terribly pleasant. And I’m glad I can finally enjoy it again.

goodbye for now

People are leaving our team. The only constant is change of course, but all the same it feels emotionally difficult. It means we’ll have a new team when someone joins because teams are immutable sets where changing one element changes the thing itself.3The Ship of Theseus is a well known philosophical conundrum that asks ‘When is a thing no longer a thing’ and has invited challenge and discussion for many years. The same debate can’t be had with the crew of the Ship of Theseus, because the answer is ‘human dynamics are constantly in flux and the introduction or replacement of one person will impact every relationship’ With only three weeks left of the quarter I’m feeling more and more frustrated with each person we lose, because all of it impacts massively on our ability to actually deliver the things we committed to delivering.

The way we communicate these changes is also a really interesting problem. Too late and the team’s left in the lurch with emotional whiplash; too early and you enter the strange limbo of people not being sure of how much to tell you or involve you in decisions. I don’t have the answer to this one, and I suspect to a certain extent there’s the decision of the leaver as well: how much energy do they have to manage that transition and the complex discussions that follow? How do you explain to your colleagues, who thought you were committed to a project, that on this occasion you’re putting your own career first?

How often can you do it before you accept that you’ll always put yourself first, and acknowledge the cost that’ll have on your professional relationships?

How often can I keep jumping from role to role seeking something more before I find it?

emotional response

I am seeing a counsellor.

I’m talking about something I’m struggling with at our daily team meeting and someone else pipes up and asks another team member to help me and I’m suddenly blindingly furious because it’s so rude.

I’m listening to Eliza furious; full of white-hot rage tempered with the sure and desperate certainty that her voice is meaningless and I’m in tears, holding a bottle of perfume outside a department store, because I’m so angry with the way she’s been treated.

I go down the stairs and feel my knee tweak and I’m livid because I can’t forget what my ex told me about going down stairs.

I am seeing a counsellor and she says “And how do you feel about that?” and I’m incredibly fucking angry because –

because –

– because I don’t know how to say that it hurts.

Turns out, this is the bit that hurts. And the only emotion I’ve had access to until recently is anger. And listen, I’ve developed that anger. It’s got flavours. It’s got layers. It’s got a profile.

And I’ve gone through my life thinking that was all I was allowed: anger or detachment. So when someone comes along and listens to me and suggests that maybe I could help myself, somewhere along the line gratitude transmutes into anger. Or maybe I feel something, and my poor frazzled brain matches that pattern to the only emotion it knows about. I don’t know. I’m not a doctor.

So –

I’m talking about something I’m struggling with at our daily team meeting and someone else pipes up and asks another team member to help me and I’m suddenly blindingly furious because it’s so rude terrified that needing help will be a sign that I’m weak, and weakness is bad, because it’s not masculine.

I’m listening to Eliza furious; full of white-hot rage tempered with the sure and desperate certainty that her voice is meaningless and I’m in tears, holding a bottle of perfume outside a department store, because I’m so angry with the way she’s been treated I’m moved by the emotion in the story and the way it’s sung and it’s broken my heart because knowing you are powerless is awful.

I go down the stairs and feel my knee tweak and I’m livid because I can’t forget what my ex told me about going down stairs full of grief for a relationship that now exists at least partly in an imaginary place and maybe isn’t – or wasn’t – precisely as I remember it.

I am seeing a counsellor and I am starting to form a vocabulary for emotions that aren’t rage or fury or anger.

I talked about some of this with my mum. I talked about how one of the things that we keep coming back to is external validation, how the people I know talk about the things they can do for other people as attractive qualities, because they learned from an early age that doing things for their parents (and doing them well) was the best and surest way to secure affection. I talked about how instead I was trying to find the things in myself that were good and focus on them, bring them out, work out how I had value and worth in ways that weren’t tied up with whether someone approved of the work I did.

And she said, “I’m really pleased with the person you’re becoming.”

And I thought about the way that some patterns become ingrained in us and that external validation is also a way to show affection. I thought about how love is weird.

I thought about how my mother had reacted to my frustration at my need for external validation and my attempts to break that cycle by offering external validation and I laughed.

And I said, “Thank you.”

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