One of the main reasons it is so important that I try to write with some regularity is that every now and again I am afforded a little insight by the endless ramblings and musings. In an instance over the last couple of weeks I was writing a different post where I had been going through some context to matters about relationships which led me into thinking of my first relationship and contrasting it with others, there is a reason for this. My first was, not by any ones standards, conventional and it is not something I wish to go into an huge depth, I will give a little background but wish to focus more on looking closer at the areas of correlation with others, not least because to dwell on any single one I think it would be dull to read but also because in the case of the first one it is one of the things from my past which I have managed to relatively successfully put behind me. It was intensely painful at the time, I was young, naive and extremely gauche when it came to anything resembling affairs du coeur and I handled the whole thing badly, …then again so did she!

I was 17 and we met on an exchange programme set up by my school, she was German and one of the other exchanges. She was pretty but also had a sharp, dry sense of humour, I liked her straight away. We hung out in a group of people and then only when my group were due to return home at the airport and my own exchange was kissing one of my mates did she approach me and ask if we should copy them. I think I was too stunned to even be as petrified as I would have normally been by such an advance, I had really no experience at that stage, being at an all boys boarding school. We kissed and then I departed with the juxtaposition of thanking my lucky stars whilst also cursing that I had not known how she felt with enough time to have been able to do something about it. What exactly I would have thought I might have done about it I do not know, I can reasonably assume that I would have been rendered utterly incapable had any such occasion arisen.

What I remember though was that on the plane back I felt good but without expectation, just able to enjoy the warmth of the moment and bask as well in a little approval from my peers returning with me. The internet was barely a twinkle in Tim Berners-Lee’s eye in those days and we were not due to see each other for 8 months on the return leg of the exchange, the only form of communication open to us was writing. It would be fair to say that when her 1st letter arrived 48 hours or so later sent by express mail and declared her feelings for me in no uncertain terms I was very definitely off and running. I remember reading it several times to be sure I had read it correctly. We corresponded over the course of that 8 months sending an average of around 3 letters a week, packed full of naive, youthful longings and yearning. I still have all of hers, it never seemed right to jettison such precious things of genuine emotion, I do not read them, I do not need to, they just need to still exist, my own past that smacks of a bygone era, after all who bothers writing that volume of text anymore, let alone with their own hand? These days if I do have to pick up a pen and make notes for any reason it is such a strange sensation that I grip the pen too tightly and leave a mark on my finger which stays for hours after I have finished.

The reason this early event in my life is significant is not to reminisce per se but to analyse 2 points of interest, the first is how I dealt with the inevitable failure of such a relationship. She broke up with me as might have reasonably been foreseen, I was crushed, I felt I had been utterly crumpled up and spat out but the reasons were never really spelled out and I spent much of the time being confused, which gives neither satisfaction nor properly the impetus to move on elsewhere. At that age the dark reflections of the jilted teenager give rise to an almost natural predilection for angst and melancholy. My self-analysis gave me many reasons why it might be the case but what they couldn’t do was give any surety, I have never been good with such things left hanging and in fact didn’t get closure until I was nearly 40. That I had hung on in some way that long was not because I was holding a torch, anymore than one might for ones first, but because something in my head still required that last piece of the jigsaw puzzle in order to box it up. It was as if the lack of her having said anything somehow prevented my being able to complete it in some way. Not such as to be life-changing, just enough to be there until resolved. Resolution came surprisingly easily when through a mutual friend I had come across on facebook I finally got confirmation of what I had always known but never been told. There were no feelings left in that case just an unanswered question, more than 20 years old as if somehow the ribbon was missing to fully tie the box of memories up and put it away. Following a very brief wave of relief lasting possible no more than a couple of hours I felt surprisingly matter of fact, the mystery was solved and needed no further thought. Would that it could have come sooner, or that all relationship ends might have an outcome that could be garnered by a sentence.

This brings me to the second reason I am looking at these matters. That she had put me down just as quickly as she had picked me up says much for how our dynamic was at the time but also on reflection casts a light perhaps as to the nature of the me in print as opposed to the me in person. I might reasonably feel that the me she initially saw amongst friends and laughing, holding court abroad was then deepened by her being able to see my innermost thoughts in lucid form on the page. Both of those environments did not seem out of place for me and thus I was comfortable and able to be myself by and large. The second time she met again in person was different, timid, gauche and inexperienced which must have been such a departure from the person she felt she had come to know. There is no doubt in my mind that people feel an affinity towards confidence and humour, they may also feel attraction to it, underpinned by an in my case newly discovered ability to write feelings at length, this presented a picture to a fellow teenager of someone who surely had his shit together. The figure I must have then cut in the flesh after the 8 months of outpouring was completely at odds with that and yet it was the same person, just denied their milieu. I should point out that the letters from her had stopped a couple of weeks before they were due to come I think, cold feet or such like, who knows but it was enough to make me feel out of my depth which added to the trepidation and is therefore relevant.

If this were the only time that I had engaged in such relationships it might have less significance to offer to analysis in the present, indeed had my dalliances then been ones of wanton abandon, holiday romances to be picked up and put down the way one might the very suitcase with which one travels then again there would be little need to revisit it all. Prior to the internet many people have had attempts at distance relationships, the majority, I would assert have failed and blamed the inability to communicate properly or see one another, perfectly reasonable impediments standing in the way of any lasting bliss. It takes a very particular type of person to wish to persevere in such circumstances, there may be a number of reasons at play internally to oneself and externally as to how much you feel for the other person but there comes a point in time when I think most people would throw in the towel and only a few would not.

The hapless wretch 30 odd years ago has not been the sum of my experiences, spanning both pre- and post internet era makes it worth a bit of a look. It was a long time between the first and the second, the internet was more in play then but not the proliferation of video call functionality, more just the ability to correspond in a readily more available format but also the corresponding expectation that there would be just as immediate a response. The third and fourth occasions are separate from these two because then video calling made things sustainable that otherwise I think could not have been and therefore I would like to explore if this makes them different to how I had originally planned to analyse them, due to the lesser nature of detached communication and it not being so much about my written words.

The second occasion over distance does not require much explaining other than to note that I was fully bought in to it but never met the person concerned and there remain to this day some questions as to her intent and whether it was malign or not. The messages I wrote to her however contained, what I thought at the time, to be some of the most fluid writing I had done, prose, poetry, songs and lots of what was potentially nothing more than soppy crap, although it was certainly in copious quantity. I say potentially because I had seen no need to keep hold of any of it, I kept her messages but not mine, which is perhaps a shame or maybe spares me blushes. I know that there were darker times during that period, I was not on medication and struggled sometimes when there was inexplicably no contact for days on end, there was always an explanation but I became aware that I was trying to stretch reality in order to cover a multitude of ambiguity that just didn’t make sense. Whether it was early cat fishing I cannot say, the person I spoke to on the phone and via email seemed real enough as therefore did the pain when I finally could not tailor make the narrative work anymore.

The third occasion began more organically, perhaps a little more like the first, boy meets girl, they fall in love, they live the other side of the world to each other and when she returns they attempt to somehow keep things going, which we did, for 2 years, seeing each other in person very occasionally but with the help of Skype factoring each other into one another’s day for almost the entire time. There was some written communication, I did write a few letters, great long missives I imagine. I don’t know whether or not she kept them, I would hope so, for the same reason I have kept mine from others over the years. Again I won’t go into detail about the relationship itself, it would take too long and is not what I wish to look at here but suffice it to say it was the most intensely I had felt towards anyone at that point and when it worked I was as happy as I had ever been or felt I could be. I was during the entirety of it on stable medication. I know that the nature of my language was of significant importance to her, she told me it was the principle nature of the attraction to me. We initially met abroad as well and at a time when I was in an unsustainable bubble of positivity so I would have been projecting an extremely favourable version of myself at the time. I was a little more gauche when we met the second time but for honourable reasons. The end came when the narrative muddied and it no longer seemed clear when we would next see each other, I had stopped believing she would come to me and I was not able to go to her and I think it changed both of our behaviour. We had not seen each other in person for a year when we split up.

The fourth came as a surprise from a situation that ‘couldn’t happen’ and therefore inevitably did so! I had sworn off distance, I thought forever, which meant conversations with someone delightful who lived far away could hold no danger. This meant I was relaxed, there was no agenda when we were speaking it was a genuinely nice and organic communication, I underestimated just how delightful she was though, the attraction whilst physically present was able to grow much more deeply due to uncovering her in the phraseology she used and the character she revealed from that, the depth of the affection that built surprises me still. There was an added dimension here which was an initial significant language barrier but that was overcome by both of us learning each others language, something which I will always be grateful for – what greater long term gift is there to leave someone with than the opening of the door to another culture entirely? As an aside almost what would be interesting to look at here is whether or not my expression in another language came across as similar in personality to how I would have spoken in my native tongue. My suspicion is that there would be differences, the nuances you learn when picking up a language in this way mean that certain idiomatic expression is the norm, such that you garner from the person you have most exposure to and therefore you mirror perhaps more their personality than you might in your mother tongue. For example if that person has a specific accent or dialect and you are good at sound replication then your own language will take on the identity of theirs because what you learn from them is what you assimilate as ‘correct’. 

[The same premise is true in the written form across the ages, English spelling now owes much to Caxton’s personal version of the language when writing the bible such as his use of ‘qu’ rather than ‘cw’ for example just as the Brothers Grimm took snapshots of the nuanced moral oral tradition and created a standardised version for all time in fairy tales the depictions of which we are still aware of now.]

Whilst this might have seemed a slightly self-indulgent trip down memory lane at times the purpose is to look at things such as whether there is a formula as to why I have ended up in situations with the frequency I have, also to determine whether there is a significant disconnect between the me I am able to commit to paper and the me that stalks the corridors of my house. Analysis whilst interesting in itself is not something I enter into for its echo chambers, it should be a tool to better understand and move on so as to develop and hopefully one day to find peace, I don’t feel I have managed to make sense of that just yet but asking the questions themselves is a first step and may yield greater discussion in time.

Distance relationships take a particular path and it is one that certainly in the past has drawn me, there is a lot of hope, you have often a goal to look forward to ie the next meeting and you put a great deal more effort into making those times together something special. Perhaps herein lies the problem, life cannot be ‘special’ all of the time, at some stage reality is going to come around and there will be bills to pay and less enjoyable things to have to do, distance relationships will seldom prepare you for how someone is in a crisis or in a period of the mundane and banal but real life in general doesn’t always do that either and couples who meet in conventional circumstances are frequently finding that when they throw their lot in together they learn the less amenable traits in their partner. Distance relationships allow you to filter the nature of yourself to someone else, whether you give all or part the control is in your hands and this can be helpful and I don’t think it is always a bad thing. That may explain why I have been more comfortable in that scenario because of the ability to regulate much of what I see as the negative in myself and drip feed it so to speak so as not to give too much too soon.  The other advantage to distance relationships is the large amount of time of domestic autonomy, by and large the disruption on your daily life is less outwardly visible if you don’t wish it to be.  You can structure your day, your house, your meals often very much how you would like to and this again isn’t always that simple in real life if you are in a relationship.  Learning to compromise is an important lesson but so is learning not to capitulate and this is certainly something I have not properly mastered satisfactorily so as not to be on a binary switch between dogmatism and abject surrender.  

Song Of The Day ~ The Mysterines – Love’s Not Enough