Thursday, 27 June 2013

Second time around

Once upon a time when the sitcom and soap opera were still alive, a local TV network created a tiny window period known as "Open Time". Between the hours of 5 and 7pm, M-Net would open its airwaves to the general public (a.k.a the plebs and working class families too sensible to afford the luxury of South African cable), allowing them limited access to complimentary viewing pleasure. Although its main target was to convert the masses into larger sales statistics, it managed to bring us classics such as Loving, Perfect Strangers, Full House and my own personal favorite, Step-by-Step, a comedy series about a divorcee (Patrick Duffy) and a widow (the statuesque Suzanne Somers) who decide to give love a second chance.

Everything about the opening sequence was conceptually brilliant, from the rock-a-billy theme song to the massive beach side roller coaster. Not only did it set the tone for this hilarious, well-written show, but it also served as the perfect metaphor for love and marriage. The excitement, the fear, the free fall, the ups and the downs, the round-round. It's a joyride that feels just as exhilarating as it does nauseating, one that could end just as quickly as it begins. It got me thinking about second marriages and their subsequent success rate. Do second marriages succeed because of the all the lessons learned from the first or do they simply have a greater, more realistic understanding of what it takes to make commitment work?

Anyone who has ever gone through the big "D" will tell you what an emotional rollercoaster it is. Not only are the mixed emotions of blame, loss, anger, liberation and devastation overwhelming, but the exhausting exercise and heavy cost of red tape and admin is enough to swear one off love and commitment forever. It has the potential to breed bitterness and discontent, to lure low self-esteem and create jaded man whores. To make matters worse, the dissolution of a marriage is legally formalised by terms such as"irreconcilable differences", "adultery" and "constructive abandonment", buzz words printed in black and white that serve no other purpose than to remind us of how badly we sucked at making someone else happy, and even though most of us make it out alright, I couldn't help but wonder where there really was life A.D (After Divorce)?

The greatest success story of all comes from an older couple whom I admire, love and adore. Pippa and Liam were once both victims of a terrible first marriage. Pippa was an aspiring artist whose husband abandoned her whilst pregnant with their second child while Liam was a highly successful entrepreneur who came home one evening to find his best friend boning his first wife in their bedroom. A few years later, after the scorn and anger had subsided, they were introduced at a jazz concert through a mutual friend. What started out as a simple friendship had somehow blossomed into a twenty-three year marriage with five beautiful children to show for it.

What was the key to their success? Were they simply a better fit for one another or did they share a much stronger desire and determination to make things work in their second marriage? Did their starter marriage give them the upper hand and expertise required to overcome the challenges of modern-day unions or was there some greater sense of gratitude in a second marriage, a mutual sense of appreciation that can only come from experiencing a certain kind of failure? Was it their shared sense of self-awareness and soul-searching that came after a long trial of pain and heartbreak that did the trick or were they just lucky?

They say that practice makes perfect which is probably why second marriages work out so well. Third, fourth, fifth. It doesn't matter how many bands of gold you pick up along the way as long as you remain courageous enough to open your heart to the possibility of loving someone else again. The trauma of divorce can leave a serious dent on the heart (as well as the wallet) which is why one should always take it slow when it comes to take two. There aren't many sequels that surpass their debut but when it comes to love, perhaps round two is all it takes to find what you were looking for all along.

 When it comes to the dissolution of one marriage, can we maybe make it better the second time around?   

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

The Dirty Thirties

"Bom! Bom! Bom! Ladies and gentlemen, this is the final boarding call for flight OMGIMTURNING30 now departing Gate 29 for destination unknown. We're expecting clear skies over the next ten years with the occasional patch of grey in the upper and lower regions. Please feel free to make use of the overhead compartment to store any excess baggage you might be carrying with you. We hope you enjoy your flight. Sit back, relax and enjoy a far less turbulent ride..."

The day I had been dreading for over a decade was finally upon me and with only four days left of my twenty-something existence, I could feel the pre-30's crisis slowly creeping in. Goodbye one-day hangovers and hello three-day recovery periods. Gravity, grey and saying things like "they just don't make music like they used to" welcome themselves without an invitation. The slow, crippling stumble towards bed pans, dentures and zimmer-frame walkers begins with that tiny groan you develop when you turn 30 and ends with a comfortable casket that your 20-something year old self was not wise enough to save up for.

Some people say that your thirties is just your twenties reloaded, only this time with more financial freedom and better judgement. It's also the year that we apparently hit our sexual prime and I for one could not see any harm in that. Better sex, better credit, wisdom. Tell me again why these "dirty thirties" have such a negative stigma attached them? Was the dramatic thought of physical decay enough to overshadow the glory of the next decade or was it still this feeling of not having achieved anything yet? A rich husband, a family, two kids, a killer career and a fast car? Were we any closer to the white picket fence and fantasy life we dreamed of when we were nine or was it maybe time to let go and change our perception of success?  

I turned to one of my bff's from "The Tin" (a.k.a Milnerton) for some perspective. Velma had successfully managed to boycott her own 30th birthday three years ago after she had thrown herself a massive party and then subsequently locked herself away in the bathroom with a giant bottle of tequila. "Age. Ugh! It's fucking bad knowing that you are not in your twenties anymore. You look at the tits and asses of youngsters with their perky cleavage and a dress so short that it's got a name...Koekkie Hol. Because that's all you see. Koekie and hol. It makes me so depressed thinking that I would probably never look like that again without the help of cosmetic surgery."

She lit another one of her slim, Vogue cigarettes and continued, "Skin. Saggy in the face, visual pores, flabby arms and dare I say it, flabby ass. You have to go for a pedi at least once a month to avoid per-historic reptile-looking heels and bok, this befalls you after you turn 30. The most awful thing I swear is the facial hair which happens after 30. I don't go anywhere without my tweezer. It's the single most precious thing I own. And the grey. OMG! Nothing says old like grey hair. I just hope that I don't get grey down there anytime soon because I would spend the rest of my life waxing my poor old wrinkled vagina. That would be horror movie shit. A grey va-jay-jay!"

While Velma dramatically painted an image of nearly every single woman-turning thirty's fear, she also managed to shed some major light on the subject. "Once you get over the "getting older saga", everything starts making sense. You start being more you and stop giving a shit about what people think of you. When you're 20, you have all the confidence in the world and nothing to back it up. When you're 30, you have even more confidence and then some. Life really does kick in after 30. You get a new lease on life, a kick in the head. You start appreciating all that is beautiful in your life. Friends. Family. A simple decadent dessert at your favorite restaurant (which you pay for with your own credit card). The "koekie holle" out there can go and f*** themselves because you are actually still attractive to 20-something year old's only this time with the added bonus of money and sexual expertise."    

We all secretly wish we could stay young forever but the truth is we can't, not unless you have a full time plastic surgeon and the strength and determination to avoid carbs for the rest of your life. Your body might be gaining momentum and gravity might be taking its toll but does that really mean your personality should? You're still the same person you were a few hours ago only this time (hopefully) blessed with a little more courage and wisdom. You finally have the means and the confidence to achieve the dreams you thought were lost for good. And who really wants to be twenty again? It was a great trial run but something tells me that the greatest years of all are yet to come.

When it comes to turning thirty, I couldn't help but wonder, why the freak out? 


Thursday, 13 June 2013

Somebody that I used to blow

When you reach the golden gates of relationship heaven, life starts becoming less about words and more about numbers. 36. The number of years it took to finally meet someone who wasn't completely insane. 942. The number of days it took before he popped the question. 9500. The average amount of money a young couple has to spend on bond repayments in order to afford the luxury of a 3-bedroomed house. It all adds up, and while some numbers can represent a lifetime of happiness and dedication, there is one number that most of us would rather take to the grave than share with anyone else, especially when that someone is our current significant other.   

Just like Britney Spears' 2007 MTV VMA performance, the number of sexual partners one accumulates before meeting "the one" is something we'd rather black out than blurt out in public. No matter how low or how high, we fear the potential embarrassment. Most of us would rather talk about salaries and overdrafts before discussing our number of sexual conquests. Is it really something to be ashamed of or do some people prefer to keep the matter private out of respect for their partner's feelings? One night stands, casual hook-ups, de-ja-who's and somebody that I used to blow. It's hard to keep up in this promiscuous day and age, and while nobody likes to be judged, some of us are quick to develop a convenient (and sometimes genuine) case of sexual amnesia when it comes to spilling the beans. Are we afraid that our sexual past might affect our romantic future or do we fear that our partner might look down on us for having more than what's socially acceptable? 

Who decides what's socially acceptable or not anyway? A friend of mine had recently come across a survey called "The Perfect 10", a well-known study suggesting that the perfect number of sexual partners in a lifetime for both men and women should be no more than 10 (cue laughter). More than 10 brands you as a she-slut ho bag whereas less than 10 makes you a pearl-clutching granny-panty prude. If that's the case, then I might as well be shipped off to the red light district. While Aiden may have been aroused by the number of notches I had on my bedpost BC (before commitment), the same could not be said about my Hungarian friend, Anja, who was petrified that her magic number would somehow be revealed to her new boyfriend.

While most good girls eventually turn bad, Anja's life seemed to work in reverse. She had been known as the village bicycle back in her home town and had gone through a very promiscuous stage of her life between the ages of 16 and 24. Safety had always come first with Anja, well at least 80% of the time and while she can't really remember the actual number of men she had slept with, she remembers certain glimpses of her sordid past. Walks of shame through hotel lobbies at 3am, public displays of erotic affection and all the glory hole goodness you could possibly think of. Anja was definitely no angel.

Her life did a complete 180 the day she arrived in South Africa where she got a job working in tourism and met the most wonderful man, a chartered accountant by the name of Andrew. Andrew had come from a very conservative English family and had always been a by-the-book kind of guy. Once night over a bottle of delicious Grenache and a roaring fire, he openly admitted to Anja that he had only been with 5 girls his entire life and not once had the sex ever been meaningless. She wasn't sure whether it was the wine or the heat, but when Andrew asked Anja the same question, she lied and told him that he was her 4th lover - more like the 74th.

"I couldn't bear the thought of him looking at me in any other way than the way he looked at me right there and then. His eyes were so full of love for me and I did not want him to think of me as some kind of cheap whore from a third world country." Was Anja doing the right thing by keeping certain parts of her sexual history private or should she have just told him truth? Fortunately no one from Hungary was going to rock up any time soon, but why did she feel the need to lie? Was it nobody else's business but her own? Surely if he loved her as much as she said he did, he would have understood and accepted her for who she is now and not what she was then. Would he think of Anja any differently or would he have been able to laugh it off?

We're all entitled to a bit of mystery in life and perhaps some numbers are better left unaccounted for. Whether it's by choice or early signs of sexual dementia, no one has the right to judge who you based on some silly number. As long as that number remains one and the same during the time spent in a committed relationship, it really ain't nobody's business. Our sexual past shouldn't really matter if the number of people we're currently sleeping with has whittled down to one.

When it comes to a person's sexual past, why should one number affect our relationship's present?

Thursday, 6 June 2013


Team building...a form of mandatory corporate punishment designed to create harmony within the work place; an obligatory way of bonding with colleagues who probably don’t even like you to begin with, yet every year, our faithful marketing team devises a plan to improve communication and systems based on the woes and worries of fellow employees. For three whole days, we are snatched out of our comfort zones and thrown into a retreat of wooden mud-huts and luxury ablutions, forced to make river rafts and sit through five hour Powerpoint presentations about how and what we should be doing to boost sales, and while the end result has us all singing Kumbayah around a raging campfire, I couldn't help but wonder just how effective a Bosberaad really was? 

Somewhere between the tightrope challenge and walking the plank, I started thinking about the word "team" and its relevance to relationships. Just like many business arrangements, a partnership involves trust between two or more people working together to achieve the same long-term goals. Marriage, a house in the valley, a modern family. Whatever the objective, the success of any relationship is based entirely on the way we function together as a single unit. We are after all only as strong as our weakest link, so when communication and unity seem to be out of sync, is it necessary for couples to engage in certain activities in order to get back on track?

"Date night. You need to find a way of reconnecting with each other. Whether it's once a week or once a month, you need to set aside some time for each other outside the social arena." For the sake of my sanity and our relationship, Aiden and I had employed a love guru to facilitate certain "team building" exercises of our own. Once a week, we met at with Dr. Ruth's office to discuss the gradual decline of our relationship status. We needed to become one again and work as a unit, and even though Aiden was just a couch away, the distance between us of late felt wider than the Kimberly Mines. 

"Try and remember why the two of you fell in love with each in the first place. When was that moment?" To be honest, I could not remember which is one of the reasons Aiden and I were there in the first place. The wall that I had built around my heart was the highest it had ever been but one by one, Dr. Ruth had devised a strategy to improve trust, unity and consistency. Just like our recent work event, I decided to pack light and give it a try, even though the baggage was on overload. The cynic inside me kept wondering just how long it would be before we found ourselves back at square one. Would these simple exercises really help us reconnect or were they just a temporary fix to delay the inevitable?

"And then there's the issue of communication which links back to your issues of trust." Her beady little eyes moved away from Aiden and found a way back to me. "You both have a lot of work to do but you have to start with honesty and being able to open up with one another. You need to talk and listen no matter how uncomfortable the topic. Tolerate each other in a non-destructive manner, and if you feel as though things are too heated, use a safe word like "amber." Either Dr. Ruth had dabbled in some S&M back in her younger days or she had just paraphrased a line from Jassy MacKenzie's latest masterpiece. For R850 an hour, "amber" and date night had better work.

Relationships are teamwork at its best and just like the old saying goes, there is no "I" in "team". Without collaboration and equal amounts of team spirit and support, a well oiled machine can easily break down. The internal issues of a partnership need to be confronted sooner rather than later which is why we need to explore new and innovative ways of reconnecting, even if it means paying a facilitator to help you work through the pink elephant in the room. Over-packing for the wild outdoors is sensible but permanent excess baggage will only bring you and your team down. 

When it comes to bonding, do relationships need a Bosberaad for love?