Thursday, 27 March 2014

Versions of Violence

A few Sunday's ago at a recent family gathering, my father told me about the new priest in his parish that quite literally practiced what he preached. Our Lady Sovereign had been blessed with their very own rock-star dominee who decided to visit the not-so peaceful community of Brooklyn Heights whilst taking a much needed sabbatical from his popular online web-show, "Hell yeah, Jesus!" My father, who was somewhat Catholic royalty, couldn't believe how powerful and poignant his sermons were and thought his elaborate performances were the hippest thing since Pope Francis' the 10th's twitter account. Of course it all sounded a bit like Hill Song on steroids to me, a former practitioner whose flesh would probably singe at a single speck of holy water, but daddy dearest firmly believed that Mr. Preacher Man's methodology had the power to convert even the unholiest of sinners. 

We often underestimate the power and long-term effects that words have on a person’s psyche. While actions are believed to be far more audible than the spoken form, words have the power to heal, change, inspire and motivate, make us the best versions of ourselves that we can possibly be. Sadly, they can also have incredibly destructive side-effects, especially when used to manipulate someone we claim to care for. Hurt, pain, suffering, severe emotional scarring. We seldom think about the consequences of calling that chubby girl at school the human blimp, or the effeminate boy who hangs out with the art crowd a raging homo. Instead, we do it to mask our own insecurities and boost our own sense of control and power within that specific social hierarchy.

But what happens when the bully-victim dynamic crosses over into our professional and personal adult lives? What happens when the torment continues to happen on a daily basis and becomes too much to tolerate? Do we fight back and move on or simply cower underneath the covers of indifference? While some people evolve, others remain exactly the same and carry out this obsessive need dominate everything and everyone around them to the grave. They prey on weaklings with low self-esteem and little to no confidence, fuelling their own masochistic desires to break people down. A romantic relationship is nothing more than an arena used to wield brutal strength on human punching bags. Sticks and stones are infamous for breaking bones, but what about words? Do they really do no harm or are they actually the most soul destroying weapons of human destruction known to man?  
Stupid whore. Slut. I don’t know why I stay with you. It’s hard to believe some of the things we say to the people who we claim to love unconditionally, especially when we are fueled with fury and disappointment. Dina and Shayne had been together for nearly five years, and even though they had there fair share of relationship troubles, it was only recently that the cracks in their relationship started showing. Shayne had always been a bit possessive and controlling over her but not so much to the point where friends and family needed to intervene. There were no physical bruises on the surface but what people didn’t know was how turbulent and emotionally unstable their relationship had become.

After years of silence, Dina finally broke down, and opened up to a small group of friends who had noticed how withdrawn and uninterested she had recently become. She’d always had a low opinion of herself which her friends simply put to her introverted personality, but lately, she was far more open about trashing Shayne publicly. She began to put her needs ahead of his own and made subtle, yet extremely awkward jabs about their relationship at every chance she'd get. “That’s just our sense of humor guys,” she’d brush off whenever her friends tried to confront her about it. What her friends and family didn’t know was that for over a year now, their relationship had become beyond volatile.

They argued all the time about issues of the past, barely communicated two words to one another and some nights, they simply slept in separate bedrooms. Dina felt like she was losing control of her life often feeling like she was going out of her mind. She could no longer confide or express her true feelings to Shayne because she was terrified that he would explode. “You want to leave me so that you can go and fuck around? Of course you want to break up because you’re constantly looking for the easy way out? You never loved me because you don’t know the meaning of the word?” It worked every time. Was Dina trapped by Shayne’s emotional guilt or was Shayne just a master manipulator? Did his words bear any truth at all or were they just clever manoeuvres around her insecurities that would prevent her from leaving?

The push and pull had sent Dina into some very dangerous territory. She found herself delving into some old habits and spending as much time away from home in order to avoid contact with her so-called life partner. “It’s like we’ve started living completely separate lives. I sometimes feel like telling him I’m having an affair just so that he can hurt the way I did and leave. This is such an unhealthy situation, one that has permanently scarred and warped my perceptions about relationships. If I ever get out of this mess, I don’t think I want the inconvenience of another person’s baggage ever again. What’s the point of falling in love when it a) eventually fades away and b) leaves you constantly disappointed?” 

Whoever said that words could never harm you has clearly never been in a dysfunctional relationship. Of course, it could be a lot worse, but when words are used to abuse and manipulate, it's time to seriously evaluate the relationship. While most of these versions of violence are subtle and go by unnoticed, they still have the potential of leaving the biggest mark of all. Do we get out? Should we stay? Are the voices inside our head a result of this abuse or am I really a narcissist undeserving of love? Once the grenade has been detonated, there's no telling if we can ever fully recover from the damage?

When it comes to a war of words, when do we begin to surrender?  

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Demolition Women

If you ever find yourself working in the hotel business for more than five years, you will come across a very expensive but altogether necessary exercise known as "refurbishment". In an attempt to justify the annual increase in preferential, rack and corporate rates, many leading hotels close shop from time to time in order to refresh their tired brand and essentially improve the product and overall client experience. Carpet samples and room extensions, fresh linens and tapestry. Basic amenities such as Charlotte Rhys hand soaps, rain showers and iPod docking stations. The extent of this transformation may vary depending on budget and desired outcome, and while the sole purpose of change is to lure and attract new clientele, it can also be used to retain the attention of more frequent, permanent guests.

Being in your first long-term relationship can be like your first visit to a five star hotel. Once you check in, you never want to check out, especially when the service provided is top class and caters to your every physical and emotional need. Twenty-four hour room service, in-house dining, complementary turn downs. It's no wonder they call the first six months the honeymoon phase, but just like all things new, the novelty of such luxury can sometimes wear off too soon. When you're constantly living the same routine day in and day out, the little things that were once regarded as attractive and appealing can suddenly lose their charm. Sometimes, a slight modification can solve the problem without alienating the guest completely while others feel the compulsive need to totally revamp. It's perfectly understandable that a change is as good as a trip to Puerto Rico, but is it really necessary to whip out the sledgehammer and reconstruct an entire person from scratch?   

"There's a right way of doing it and there's a wrong way of doing it." Taryn, a 42 year-old sales executive had mastered the art of relationship refurbs without compromising too much of herself and without emasculating her partner in the process. "Every relationship eventually goes through a lull and when it does, we find ourselves looking to change particular habits and personality traits within our partners to make us fall in love with them all over again. We want them to be more proactive with the domestics and responsibilities. We want them to push themselves harder in their career. We want to tell them this but because we are human beings we are sensitive creatures so we can't just blurt it out. It requires tact and delicate plan of action."

So how does one begin to refurbish a relationship without riding in on a wrecking ball? When open and honest communication have the potential to backfire, how does one make alterations to their partner without coming across as a Nazi or fishwife?

"James put on quite a few kilo's after Kyle was born and I didn't quite realise how comfortable we were becoming in that skin. He was quite active when we met which was one of the things that attracted me to him in the first place. Suddenly we weren't having sex even though I was horny as fuck so I knew that something had to be done. Instead of making him feel self-conscious or having any kind of awkward conversation where James might implode, I simply took action and hired a personal trainer. Twice a week for two months. Suddenly, we began communicating and laughing again. Not only did it save our sex life but because we were doing something together, it revitalised that connection and intimacy in our relationship."

But how do we distinguish good change from pushy and possessive ones?

"You get some real bitches out there who get some kind of a kick from publicly humiliating and bringing their partners down. I call them Demolition Women. They're the ones who believe in total overhaul. Once they get their hooks into a man and they're comfortable, the hard hats come out. They start telling him what to wear, what to say, how they should and shouldn't wear their hair, what and where he should spend his money. The Blue Balls as I call them. Demolition Women don't want boyfriends. They want a project, someone that they can mould and fit into their warped idea of perfection. Here's a newsflash sweetheart: no man is perfect! The best you can do is encourage him to be the best he can be. The rest is up to him. When you have someone's best interests at heart like that and they're willing to make the necessary changes that will inevitably bring out their full potential, that's when you have vacancy for life."  

Whether the improvement is external or internal, the general consensus around changing one's partner in a relationship is generally not advised. Whether it's his offbeat sense of humour that you used to find funny but now detest or even a physical attribute such as the ten kilo's he's gained since you guys got together, being honest with the person you love without hurting their feelings is nearly impossible. No matter how delicately you approach the subject, there's no good way of telling them that certain qualities repulse and annoy you. You have to be subtle, sensitive and rational. While some partners see light renovations as something constructive and positive, some would rather have the relationship crumble to ruins before making any kind of adjustment. While minor D.I.Y's and home improvements have the potential to save a relationship, at the end of the day we simply have to love our partners just the way they are.

When it comes to changing one's partner in a long-term relationship, I couldn't help but wonder, is it better if we do not disturb?

Sunday, 9 March 2014

The Lonely Heart

They say that no man is an island, but when you’re the only single woman in her early thirties in a social group full of boyfriends, fiancĂ©es and husbands, it’s pretty hard not to feel like a fucking loner. You've officially become the ninth wheel, the drifter floating amongst a sea full of loved-up couples, and even though you know your time will come - eventually? hopefully? did he die? - the pressure and expectation to settle and become one of “them” can hit you like a tidal wave. Suddenly, the dynamic in friendships changes and you realise that if you don't follow suit soon, it's only a matter of time before you start becoming a liability. I mean, what self-respecting woman in a serious relationship wants to party until 2am at a Sports bar while her single friend flirts up a hurricane with some random Stormer's fan? What’s worse is that your recently paired friend who was once fun to be around and in the same predicament as you has suddenly developed an opinion about your lifestyle and relationship status. The message is coming in loud and clear: find a boyfriend or die alone!

While the intention of wanting your token single friend to find the same joyful bliss love has brought into your life may seem honourable and humbling, it can also come across as selfish, underhanded and patronising. As if witnessing your best mate's new-found happiness, incessant texts to the point of not having a conversation at all and coo's of premarital bliss wasn't scarring enough, being the odd one out evokes a whole bunch of shitty feelings; feelings of doubt, fear and self-loathing, feelings you thought you had already come to terms with. Suddenly the possibility of being a grumpy old spinster with several cats becomes a very possible reality. The internal pressure is already bad enough to make you feel like a leper without all the tragic looks of "don't worry, he's out there" and powerful pearls of wisdom that a 6-month relationship has suddenly bestowed upon them. Yes. Congratulations. You found love and are happily on your way towards marriage and baby-making days...not to mention the possibility of divorce!! #justsaying 

Jealousy is just one of the many other colourful emotions that comes with being the last one standing. Throw in a bit of confusion, sensitivity and resentment and you'll have the perfect recipe for alienating the friendships you once cherished. Of course we want nothing more than to feel genuine happiness for our friends and their good fortune but at the same time, we are petrified of losing them to kitchen teas, baby showers and play dates. Change is a natural part of evolution to a woman becoming a wife and mother, a change that a singleton might not completely understand right now. Are these just temporary feelings of insecurity and uncertainty until they catch the boat themselves or do certain friendships have expiration dates? Are great friendships doomed the minute an amorous knight appears on a white horse? Neigh, say it ain't so?

"Friendships are very much like romantic relationships. It doesn't matter how long you've been together, friends, like lovers, can sometimes grow apart." Charlotte was my favorite single white female about to hit 33 with no potential partner in sight. She had been dating since the age of 16, saw the love of her life marry a Frida Kahlo look-a-like and was now the last one in her friendship circle to be married off. She'd never once felt miserable or deflated about her non-platonic endeavours and strongly believed that the sweet Lord above had an awesome plan in store for her. It was only until recently when she missed an invitation to some couple's retreat that she began questioning the severity of her singleness and the impact it had on herself and her relevant friendships. 

"When your gay friends start talking about adoption, it's a sign that it's time to start moving on and finding some like-minded friends. You'll always be friends because of the history and love you share with one another but the minute you fall out of sync with your bestie, then you might as well put out a wanted ad in the lost and found section." Charlotte's feelings of abandonment had forced her to go out and meet a recently divorced mother of two to fill her own social void. She was everything her friends weren't at the moment; available, mutually responsive and relatable.

"What couples don't seem to realise is how self-involved they become. It really does become all about "them" and "their" happiness, almost as if there's nothing in your life that they could possibly relate to anymore. All of sudden you're treated differently, sympathetically, like not having someone to share your life with right now is the worst thing that could ever happen to a person. It's extremely off-putting."

Did couples feel the same way about their single friends? Selfish shells of self-importance that have nothing more to contribute to the relationship? Reckless and pitiful reminders of the things they no longer regard as important? Marriage, children, life partners. Of course we all want the same things but why should singletons be cast away the minute their timing is off? Should they find a way of trying harder to keep up with the Joneses or should they wade through these temporary waves of loneliness and just keep swimming?

"The most lonely aspect is how one day you're that person's person through all their hardships and agony and the next, it's like you barely exist. It seems like it was only yesterday that you were trying on training bra's together and getting your first visit from Aunty Flow. Your first boyfriend and heartbreak. The first time you had sex. Now, she's too busy reading mommy blogs and recipe books to spend a little q-time with the friend that used to be her emotional crutch."

Romantic relationships can make it difficult to retain one's independence and individuality especially when you're thinking of taking the next big step. While some people are able to remain themselves within a unit, others are quite happy morphing into Stepford versions of themselves abandoning the past and looking only towards the future. While some friendships are able to survive the ultimate test of time, there are others that, just like relationships, were simply doomed from the moment she said, "I do."  

When it comes to friendships versus relationships, what came first? The boyfriend or the BFF?