Category Archives: learning

Love and friendship

Last night I had to tell someone who was clearly falling in love with me that I was interested in being his friend, but didn’t think it was going to develop into anything more. And he, obviously hurt, replied that he was fed up of being just a friend to women…

He didn’t ask me, but it made me think, what is it that makes that difference for me?

In my quest to find myself the sort of relationship I am looking for, I’m doing my best trying to look beyond the intoxication of romantic love and/or purely sexual attraction. I’m trying to find a person that I could feel happy, on a long term basis, spending lots of time with, relying on, growing with.

So, setting aside hormones as far as possible, what is it that separates a perfectly nice, kind person that I want to be a friend with, from someone that I feel I might fall in love with?

It’s difficult to comment on someone’s personal characteristics and why they somehow “weren’t good enough” without sounding mean and judgemental. Which would be unfair, because he’s a great guy in so many ways, and he certainly gave me cause to seriously consider whether it might develop into something more. I really valued his ability to be honest and was touched by his willingness to expose his vulnerable sides. I enjoyed spending time with him – and particularly liked the poems he sent me!

And yet it was sadly clear to me that it was only nearly right, and that this wasn’t enough. I want to understand, as far as it’s possible to understand such things, why this was.

So although it may sound negative, I want to be honest about what I actually was thinking and feeling – in order to understand the implications of what I’m looking for. To understand which of the things I’m looking for are helpful, which are hindering me from finding a person that I love, and which are completely irrational. And of course, which of all of these is in my power to change and which isn’t!

I don’t think the stereotypical things matter much to me – like conspicuous wealth, cars and other possessions, macho traits such as arrogance or pushiness, or indeed overprotectiveness. I don’t think I fall into the “women like bastards and walk past the nice men” trap. And I’m pretty flexible about what I find attractive… I don’t demand immediate chemistry as I believe it can develop gradually and be the stronger for that.

I think there’s a pheromonal component – I’m certainly not saying he had BO, but the smell of him just wasn’t attractive to me. It seems a trivial thing… and yet bodies are very powerful in these areas!

There’s something about being met as an equal. Which is partly about being neither protected nor put on a pedestal. And partly about feeling an intellectual rapport. Someone who challenges me, makes me think in new ways. Which is odd because he was very clever, and well read, and interesting… and yet somehow I didn’t feel we connected – or rather, not consistently. There wasn’t a feeling of banter, of someone responding to my humour and moods as I responded to theirs. I can’t explain it any more precisely than that. (I think also he probably let himself down by talking about the things he didn’t do well more often than the things he did do well.)

And even harder to define is something that I find core to attractiveness… on a simple level it’s about confidence. It’s also about a seriousness of intent, of desire. A charisma. Which I didn’t feel from him – which seems utterly unfair because there were definitely ways in which he was pursuing his dreams. And yet if I am honest, that is what I felt. Was it that I didn’t give him a chance to shine? I tried to leave space… but I didn’t feel he came to fill it.

Perhaps above all, while it was clear he wanted a relationship, I had a strange feeling that it wasn’t about me. As if what was looking for was his ideal of a person, and somehow this got in the way of his seeing the person I was. And in a way this was confirmed last night – when I told him that I didn’t think we were likely to go beyond friendship, he fell silent, and I don’t expect he’ll contact me again (of course I could be completely wronging him here – time will tell!). Of course that needs no other explanation than hurt, and disappointment… but I can’t help feeling that he wanted to have a romantic relationship with someone much more than he wanted to get to know me, to get closer to me, as a person.

(Do I do this? So easy a trap to fall into when you’re meeting people with the intention of finding out whether they are potential partners. And yet, when I came to the conclusion that things weren’t going to work out for us romantically, I was saddened, but didn’t lose interest in him as a person that I wanted to get to know.)

I’ve come up with a number of answers but I don’t know which is the correct one… I think perhaps it’s a combination of them all. If more things had been right, I like to think I would have easily been able to overcome the other things. But nothing was quite right enough… leaving him, as well as me, in that sad space of “nearly”.

It’s easy to analyse these things to death… when maybe it’s just as simple and unarguable as pheromones.

And yet it’s fascinating to try and unravel the complexities of attraction…. and in the process, learn more about myself, and about humankind.

My approach to looking for a relationship is simply this – to try to increase the number of new people that I meet and get to know. Like buying as many lucky dip tickets as I can! And welcoming new people into my life is giving me new perspectives on myself and others, and introducing me to activities I’d never have tried otherwise.

And so, even if I never find the relationship I’m looking for, the search in itself is a fascinating journey.


Survivor instinct

I’ve come across some people who have what I call the survivor instinct. People who, when things start looking bad, will throw everyone around them to the wolves to protect themselves.

I’m not saying I could never do that. I’ve never been to the last pitch of desperation and it would be arrogant to predict how I’d behave when I was there. But I’ve certainly seen people respond to a threat with what seems to me a disproportionate selfishness. And I know that, in similar circumstances, I would have had continued to stay open, to value the needs of others as much as my own. I’ve never had to develop this survivor instinct. And I like that about myself, but it’s also a vulnerability.

Of course I have learnt to protect myself from people who are always selfish. But the people I’m vulnerable to are the survivors who seem perfectly compassionate and generous on the outside. For whom it’s only when the chips are down that this harsh streak suddenly takes over. I’ve seen this in two people– my ex, and my singing teacher – both people who seemed extremely compassionate, caring and altruistic, on the surface. (I wonder to what extent this particularly active altruism is in some way a compensation for what lies below.)

By a coincidence I’ve only just recognised, they both showed me this side in the space of a fortnight. Unsurprisingly, it was probably the most painful and difficult fortnight of my life – and even now, a year later, I find myself still learning lessons from dealing with the after-effects.

I’ve never had to defend myself by attacking – so I was completely unprepared when these people I trusted and admired turned on me. I couldn’t understand why they suddenly behaved that way, and took it far too personally. It didn’t occur to me, at the time, that this was part of a defence mechanism, something driven by their feeling of being threatened rather than anything I’d done.

I’m proud that I coped with that without hardening my own heart. I learnt to give myself a less damaging sort of protection – one that recognised just how little the way people relate to me can have to how I have behaved. One founded on knowing myself better. Quietly, but firmly – in a way that doesn’t need to impose that knowledge on others.

And now that I am aware of this survivor pattern, I think I’d find it far easier to recognise when people get into this mode – and protect myself straight away rather than having to come back and patch up the damage caused by taking these harsh words to heart.

From talking to my singing teacher, and from what I know of my ex, it seems to me that some people, during childhood, find themselves under such soul-destroying pressure that they have to protect themselves, at all costs. And once they’ve done this once, it becomes so much easier to do it again, even when the threat isn’t as great. Or maybe once you’ve been so deeply threatened, anything that threatens you even slightly feels just as dangerous as that childhood trauma – so you react the same way, even if the threat isn’t actually that great.

I was lucky. I never needed to defend myself that way. And I hope I never will. But my heart is full of compassion for those who have.

I knew instantly…

I’ve been having a lot of first dates lately, and I’ve been reflecting on something I read a while ago. I can’t remember the source or details, but the idea is that on a first date with someone we pick up on the thing – a character trait, a belief – that is likely to end the relationship.

But in the haze of excitement and hormones we willingly or blindly choose to ignore this. And if people get past the first date, this thing becomes less and less obvious as they fall in love , until it resurfaces and finally becomes too significant to be ignored any longer.

I don’t know how true this is in general, but remembering my first date with my ex I can pick up on two things at least that, with hindsight, could have alerted me to the subsequent problems. He mentioned his firm belief in birth horoscopes as predictors of personality – which I absolutely don’t believe in. And he exhibited a rather hyper-intense manner which he attributed to an “energy healing” he’d just had. At the time these things (particularly the hyperness) did make me wonder if I wanted to go on to a second date with him. But in the end I decided that these weren’t significant enough problems, and that they were outweighed by our quite striking compatibility in other areas.

And yet in the end, if I had to pick out the things that brought our relationship to its messy and painful end, I can see how there were signs of them in that first meeting. The instability. The overly confident belief in things for which he had no evidence. And the disruption to his personality brought about by his work with the energy healer and the organisation she belonged to.

Would it have been better if I had picked up on the warning signs and ended the relationship after the first date?

In the end, I think it was right to go ahead with the relationship. Because in doing so I learnt so much more about myself and where my boundaries lay. I went into that relationship with a lot of unresolved issues about what I believed – with both an attraction to and a repulsion from beliefs in things beyond the natural and evidence-based. And came out with a much clearer idea of what I am willing to accept as evidence, and the dangers of believing things without solid evidence.

It can seems strange that we tend to find relationships that teach us what we need to learn. But I don’t think it’s anything supernatural. Simply that, once we’ve thoroughly absorbed the lesson, we avoid getting into similar situations again. I think the uncertainty I felt about these things was the reason I didn’t see the danger signs. Now that I know more about myself, I think they would stand out as red flags.

I think one of the reasons why I’ve spent so much time single is that I’m quite good at picking up what will not work. And because I’m quite happy single I’d generally rather be in no relationship than in one I suspect won’t work. Perhaps I close things off too quickly, ending things that might work if given a chance. But I think I’d rather have a seemingly endless series of first dates with my eyes open than rush blindly into relationships.

Because once that dazzling cloud of hormones that we call romantic love descends on a relationship, it’s virtually impossible to see the partner with clear eyes. So much as I yearn to ride that rose-spectacled rollercoaster again and allow it to bind me closely to another person, I want to take a really good look at them first. To spot problems before I am blinded to them.

I know in the short term that will bring me lots of frustration. There’s always a sadness in realising that your search for a compatible partner has found another blind alley. But I hope it will, in the long run, save me heartbreak.

If what you’ve found is genuinely a blind alley, keeping trying to walk down it is only going to hurt you. And waste time and energy that could be spent looking for a better path.

(this post was set in motion by a prompt on “Sunday Scribblings” entitled “I knew instantly….”)

I want a shell…

Once I thought it was strong and good
to drift naked through the world
making a virtue of vulnerability
a naturist beach of honesty
And I thought it was weak and timid
to crave a shell to hide my softness

Yet the wind is cold and the salt sea bites
and seagulls hungrily circle
And everyone needs a shell at times.

I want a shell that is light as a bubble
that does not weigh down my dancing

I want a shell that is strong as diamond
that protects me when beaks attack

I want a shell as transparent as crystal
with curtains I can close and open

I want a shell that fits me perfectly
that neither cramps nor outpaces my growth

I want a shell that allows my light to shine out
and still protects it from being drowned

And I want a shell where I can sit and sift
all the wonders of the worldwide ocean.


This poem is a response for the call from shoretags- the hermit crab poetry housing project, which Dana (from mygorgeoussomewhere) has been working on. It kicked off a poem which develops some themes from earlier in this blog (e.g. my posts on masks and fears) about getting the right balance between protection and openness.  The poem started with just the last 6 stanzas… which do rather stand alone, but I felt it needed some sort of prelude to put all that in context.

The lovely photo is blue shell, originally uploaded by peteypatriot.

What I have learned

To spin across a floor, without falling
To know how hard loss can be.
To hear my heart saying yes or no
and then act on what it tells me

To trust that my words know how to sing
To act on what must be done now.
To face cruel silences with tearless eyes
and a quizzically raised eyebrow

To tell my story with my own words
To be more content with my lot.
To act on what I believe is true
and challenge what I believe is not

To smile and catch a stranger’s gaze
To remember that hurts can heal.
To adjust my bike’s brakes to ride safely
and dance tall in high heels.

This is a list poem for the Miss Rumphius’ Effect Poetry Stretch, based on some of my recent reflections about what I have learned in the last year. Which also fits rather nicely with ReadWritePoem’s first anniversary.


I wrote some weeks ago about the pleasure of learning, of those moments when you realise you’re doing something you couldn’t do before.

It’s often obvious with physical attainments, like dancing.

Normally less so, with mental attainments, particularly artistic ones like writing poetry.

Abd even less obvious with psychological changes, like the maturing of your personality.

But sometimes it is possible to notice yourself reacting differently and more positively.

In my recent exchanges with my ex, I noticed I was able to set clearer boundaries for what I will accept. To defend those boundaries with a calm backed up by the readiness to be firm or even angry if needed. To trust myself to read other people, not perfectly, but with enough confidence to be willing to explore and voice and act on my perceptions. To be able to be firm, even angry, without losing compassion and a sense of fairness. To voice what I feel with appropriate force but without drama or oversentimentality.

I have come a long way, in a year. It’s a good place to be, particularly now when I find myself able to start dating again.

I wonder what the next year will bring.

Joy of learning

Sometimes I think it´s not the tango itself I´m enjoying, but the experience of learning something new.

Learning can be frustrating, and confusing. And I´m often bad at giving myself credit for the progress I make – once I can do something, I have a tendency to dismiss it as easy. But there´s a very special pleasure in being able to do something that you know couldn´t do before. Particularly if you couldn´t do it so recently that you remember vividly how impossible it once seemed!

Last week if I tried to do a 360 degree spin on one foot my balance was dreadful and I could only stay upright by sticking out a foot in an out of control direction. But I got some good advice, practiced it, experimented, tried to be systematic about what was going wrong (OK, I keep falling forwards… wonder why… what if I… OK: now I keep falling backwards… too much… now that´s a bit better, let´s try that again… OK, why did I just go sideways?), had a few little breakthrough moments….

And today, I found that I was now capable of spinning through 360degrees under control and in balance, and finishing neatly. Not all the time – but more often than not.

It´s not earth shattering in itself. Indeed because tango´s based on the embrace you very rarely do full spins in tango, and even partial turns are led by the partner (who´s there for a quick correction if needed too!). But maintaining your own balance is definitely a fundamental part of tango, and being able to do full spins is a tangible sign that my balance and my awareness of my body has improved…

It´s hard to capture just how good that feels. There´s a sense of amazement each time I manage to complete a sucessful spin, like throwing a six again and again and again. But there´s the additional satisfaction of knowing that it´s not luck… that all that practice has loaded the dice!

Soon I will start to take this, too, for granted. Hopefully by then I´ll be focussing on learning something new! I love tango, but passions and opportunities come and go, so I can´t be sure how long I will continue to dance tango. But I know I want to be learning every day of my life, because it brings a unique pleasure.

Edit – Just to add, this morning I was in a class where we were asked to do 720degree spins… the other good thing about learning is that there´s always something new to be learnt!