Oh amor, amor, amor. The heat, the passion, the adoration and sheer wonder of it all. Except when it’s unreciprocated.
I’ve been dating someone for a little while, someone who initially I wasn’t quite sure about, as well as feeling generally reticent about whether I wanted anything beyond a fling anyway. But we hung out around once a week nonetheless – there were dinners out, drinks thrown back, interesting conversations and romps between the sheets. Then a couple of weeks ago after he cooked me dinner and we spent the night cuddling in front of a film, something terrible happened. I caught feelings. Suddenly this man that I’d felt reasonably blase about, despite really enjoying his company, was all I could think about. I wanted more.
However, it turns out, he doesn’t. The point at which my uncertainty blossomed into a quiet kind of admiration was the juncture at which his initial attraction dwindled, fizzled and died. There’s not enough chemistry here for a relationship, he said. I really enjoy spending time with you, find you fascinating and would love to stay friends, he said.
I’ve come a really, really long way since the dark valleys of depression, but this. This was hard to stomach. Having worked so hard to strip bare the negative thinking my illness hardwired into my brain, it was astonishing how quickly I slipped back into telling myself the same story again – you’re not good enough.
So what does anyone who’s walked the black dog and knows it’s sneaky, nefarious ways do? They re-write the narrative. The tale I’m telling myself isn’t the only version of this romance. There has to be an incredibly delicate conflation of timing, life circumstances, desires and alchemy for a relationship to work and this obviously just wasn’t right. So each time my misfiring neurons try to convince me my failed amor is my fault – that my own inadequacies couldn’t somehow forge the emotional connection we needed – I’ll gently guide them back to a more rational path.
I’m in pain and I feel foolish. But it won’t last forever and I’ll stay open to meeting someone else, make myself vulnerable and risk getting hurt again if I have to. Because I’m human and it’s what we do.
‘Keep that wine flowing – when you’re drunk, I’m funny,’ crowed the compère at a recent comedy night, and the crowd roared with laughter. That wasn’t the only point in the evening that his self belittling quips drew snorts and guffaws – in fact each reference to his beer gut, hair loss and general inadequacy with women seemed to elicit even louder applause. Our shiny-headed host was using the time-old art of self deprecation to bring the funny and connect with us through something we can all identify with – putting ourselves down.
Everyone has an inner critic – and if you suffer from depression and/or anxiety I’ll bet you’re particularly vulnerable to self flagellation. I’m definitely no stranger to inverting the finger of blame back at myself should the occasion allow it. Didn’t get that job I applied for? Must be because I’m a horribly inadequate person. Even if there were 600 other competitiors.
In an economy where creative opportunities are slimming down at terrifying speed, the spectre of self doubt is never far. It’s easy to take job rejections, ignored pitches and a general dearth of prospects as a personal hit – assuming it’s a lack of talent holding you back, rather than a lack of luck. And it’s not just us mere mortals that have self deprecation demons to wrestle with.
King of neurosis Woody Allen was once quoted saying: ‘I never make a film I’m not disappointed in’. Perhaps it’s this level of self criticism that’s kept him producing at unfathomable pace for nearly 60 years, but I have to wonder just how much inward whip cracking is constructive. Twenty minutes into writing this piece I’m already starting to despise my inarticulate scrawlings; but I know that won’t help me reach a Camus-esque conclusion. Watch this space.
Is it really so difficult to practice self compassion? Random acts of benevolence towards others are everywhere – as shown by artist Michael Landy’s project Acts of Kindness. Aiming to eventually display and celebrate examples of everyday generosity and compassion on the tube, the site ended up being flooded with touching tales of rush hour thoughtfulness. Then there’s the Coca-Cola’s campaign ‘Let’s Go Crazy’, which spotlighted a rabble of people caught on camera doing lovely things for total strangers – from a woman who high-fives everyone she sees, to a secret gardener.
We’re a fairly caring, sharing and squishy bunch, I’d say. So how about redirecting a morsel of that kindness back inwards? It may even help with your career, apparently.
As for me, I’m not sure this article is Pulitzer-prize worthy but it must be at least deserving of a cuppa and a Hobnob. Biscuity nutrition over crippling self doubt? Perhaps there is something to this kindness thing after all.