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Alone on Valentine’s Day

14 Feb
Source: Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America on Flickr Commons

Source: Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America on Flickr Commons

The post has been and gone. My message box is empty. The telephone remains silent. What else could it be but another typical Valentine’s Day, a manufactured marketing ploy by cake, card and confectionary companies to maximise profits. A day in which it seems that the entire world scrambles to find some smattering of affection and goes overboard with public displays of affection to prove just how ‘special’ their relationships are. And yet, in spite of my deep-rooted cynicism of the whole tawdry thing, I can’t help but take my outsider stance as proof of my own failure.

With the exception of a few years in the mid 2000s, my Valentine’s Days have been pretty miserable. I’m either a definite singleton, or I’ve been in an unhappy place with the person I’ve been seeing, and the whole thing becomes an overpowering chore. In the past I’ve sent cards to women that I’ve been harbouring crushes on, but the overwhelming silence and/or rejection that follows means I am no longer likely to do this. Its kind of creepy anyway, especially if one does it anonymously, and in our days of psycho stalkers one has to be mindful of respectful distances.

This year has been harder. I’ve been dreading it for months, and that hasn’t subsided. Mostly because I found myself falling for someone last year, and those feelings have refused to shift in spite of all attempts to do so. Unrequited love is a painful pleasure – the euphoria of intensity of feeling is at loggerheads with the excruciating agony of rejection and rebuttal. Its not as if I’ve had my affections spurned before, I have, but the way this has been handled and where it has ended up doesn’t make sense. It’s perfectly possible to remain friends with someone you’ve declared an unreciprocated interest in, or had a relationship with. And it isn’t like I haven’t made inroads into moving on from that relationship either, but you can’t help how you feel, and I’ve no desire to bury those feelings because they’ll just sit there stewing and eventually will erode anything else that comes along. Better to be honest, to embrace them, to see what happens.

I suppose I must have had a tiny hope that perhaps things would change. That this wonderful woman that I still have a bubbling chemistry with, might have taken a (second) chance on us, but instead its gone the other way and I’m deeply saddened by the extreme measures taken. Not because we don’t get on, not because we don’t like each other, not because we couldn’t actually be friends, but it strikes me because of all of those things. The positive attributes are exactly the reason why she isn’t talking to me. And that’s especially awkward because our circles are closing in on each other and eventually paths will cross in the flesh again. As long as she’s happy and doing what she wants, that’s all that really matters. My personal happiness isn’t dependant on her, but she definitely brought a great deal of happiness to my life. I just wish she was part of the 2017 me, a much improved take on the person she knew. Though every bit as sincere.

Damn regrets. I tried so hard to keep a safe distance only to find myself slipping deeper and deeper into a vat of affection until I was washed with love. I always seem to fall for the wrong person. People who live impractical distances away, or have unworkable schedules. Social and economic backgrounds and thinking that struggle to accept mine. People who are also damaged, kindred spirits, who are hell-bent on rejecting something with potential because it scares them – only to seek out the same sort of damaging relationships that have ruined their lives and selves in the past. I’m trying not to be that person anymore myself, trying not to repeat my mistakes.

So today I allow my mind to wander for a period through bittersweet sadness, heightened by an unnecessary silence. I distract myself with music and writing and memory. I’ve no friendly benefits to claim, no cuddle buddy to snuggle up to, no human touch. I don’t really know any better. So you can take your Valentine’s demonstrations and keep them to yourself. Unless that is, you want to share them with me…


My Valentine (imagined)

13 Feb

City Lights (1931)

Dear woman in my dreams – the one who caught my eye and my heart, and who has bewitched me. Would that circumstances allow. But they don’t. And so I must conclude that you don’t exist. At least I assume you don’t. I don’t appear to exist within your world, so logically you must be a figment of my imagination. Shared exchanges, looks and words, are all simply the product of my over-active mind, along with the still-ringing emotions, heartbreak, and confusion.

I don’t believe in using this one day of the year to focus all one’s amorous energy, it should exist on a daily basis. But there’s something about this whole farcical ritual that demands we give it attention, acknowledge feelings and sentiment that is in danger of going unremarked. Sitting here, my thoughts return again to you, as they do so often, dear Figment. An admiration from increased and needless distance, an honest heartfelt affection, an affinity denied. A love that has been battered and neglected but has not died. I cannot let the day pass by without giving voice to this pained desire

I don’t make wild promises of everlasting devotion, or make grandiose gestures I cannot possibly meet – manipulations of expectations that doom us to failure. I seek not to control or bind the recipient of my affection. I will never ask you to do something you don’t want to do. I can only tell you that I care for you more than I have any right to, I love you beyond the point it hurts, that each day without you diminishes me. It’s a mistake letting you know I care at all, that I’m still here. But if we’re honest, you’ve always known that. You’ve always known my sincerity, however much you deny it. There is no hidden agenda, no falsity, no leading you on.  At some point today you’ll think of me too, and you’ll wonder.

The problem with being the recipient of a valentine, particularly when there’s an anonymity involved, is that one never quite knows how to respond. What if you’re wrong about the identity, and you say the wrong thing to the wrong person? What if you missed a clue, messed up? What if they’re exactly the person they claim to be, and all your fears are unfounded? What if being sensible means that you miss out on something special for the sake of something safe?

I could pretend I felt some other way, but what good would that do? I could lie to myself and to you, tell you that I feel nothing, but eventually that will come back to haunt us both. I have nothing to be afraid of, I have already laid myself bare before you, so humiliate away with your silent rejection of the whole of me. Deny the truth that we both know exists – my futile affection isn’t without foundation…

But dear Valentine, you exist only in my mind, so there is no point in me singing your praises, declaring adoration, or vowing passion, platitudes and pleasure. It is redundant for me to appeal to your emotions, and call upon you to open your shuttered heart. The clock ticks ever closer to the day when it will all be too late, when I am finally lost completely. Until then you live on in my dreams – beautiful, wonderful, unreachable – and I remain (unreciprocatedly) yours.

The thing about the movies… 

19 Dec
The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920)

The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920)

The thing about the movies is they perpetuate an impossible promise about people. They suggest that hope doesn’t die,  that redemption is always possible and reconciliation is only a meaningful glance away.

They tell us it’s OK to bombard and harass our exes to get their attention. They teach us that we should never take no for an answer. They delude us into a belief that there is one magical moment in which our futures are clinched.

Loneliness is a temporary state and secret admirers are waiting for us to see they exist. Friends are waiting to bed us if we’d only look up. Mistakes happen and are admitted. Lessons are learned. Changes are made. And everyone gets a happy ever after.

They don’t teach us the real pain of rejection. The crippling agony of feeling for someone until it hurts and them feeling nothing back. The way a photograph,  a sound,  a scent sends us into a spiral of pain.

All those happy endings tell us pain is an illusion, worth it,  that we’ll find release and understanding. But that’s not always life.

Films may give us a warm sensation of acceptance, and optimism,  but they don’t warm our beds or our bodies. They don’t satisfy the craving for mental and physical stimulation. When they end, we can hit replay and experience it all over again. When our relationships end we can’t do that – we can spot the things we did wrong,  what should change,  but we don’t get a second shot,  no matter how strongly we feel about it.

So much of actual life involves the absence of hope. We’re programmed to think we’ll get what we want,  a perfect partner, one who accepts us and who we can feel for completely. Life is about compromise and imperfect people and chance. Chances are you won’t find a happy ever after,  you’ll be let down by those you focus on.

I’ve stopped hoping. I’m still feeling. I ache. But it doesn’t matter. No words from well-meaning friends and observers can mend me. Time doesn’t heal – it just lets you remember differently: perhaps you’ll forget, maybe you’ll remember. For a while I was alive – more intensely, more fully than ever before. Now I am as Cesare, sleeping through my existence. I want to feel again. I try to feel. But no conversation, no interaction, no thought hits me in the same way. I have loved before, but it was not this.

I heard a voice in the darkness and my brain fired up, every spot on my skull spluttering into life, a cacophony of sound and sensation. A Vertov stimulus. A euphoric beginning that builds but gets no release. A nitrate fire fills my head, and nobody can prevent the combustion.

Being gaslit was easier than this pain. This pain that will not end. That I cannot control. That leaves me spent.

Cinema teaches us to be voyeurs, to watch complicit other people’s relationships, to engage vicariously with their worlds. But that is not this one, a world in which we have ceased communications, in which my name is no longer on your lips, in which our time isn’t even a memory. I am the spectator, unable to view, forced to replay the memory of a past, seeking a conclusion denied, a sequel impossible. These remakes and reboots are pale imitations, the casting feels wrong. There’s no chemistry on the screen. The characters lack conviction.

I don’t want to be a script doctor, helping other people’s stories flow. I want my own story, my own happy ending. I’d take the grief if I thought that was next. From childhood the screen says: boy meets girl, boy looses girl, boy gets girl back again. This act 2 has fallen flat, I thought you needed space to make your own film, but we should have stopped sizing each other up and just collaborated. I know there will be no act 3 for me, and I sit in the theatre, watching a darkened screen with tears cascading down my cheeks. I accept everything about you, I love it all, I see your potential and I’m proud. I wish you could see and accept mine; I’m worth the investment – the hard work has been done already. No cinematic edits to colour the narrative needed – I relish every frame of the rushes, the raw material from which something magical is constructed.

No blue pages to take account of my changes, no pink to rework the ending, no yellow to line up the next installment. Oh for a romantic comedy to accompany our heartfelt drama. But its all dreams, fantasy and wishful thinking and no amount of rewriting can change your mind…



5 Nov
Stairway. © 2016 Robert JE Simpson

Stairway. © 2016 Robert JE Simpson

How we view ourselves very much affects the relationships we form. Our potential for eternal happiness is shaped by how we feel about ourselves more probably more than how we feel about our partners. Somebody suggested to me that as a nation we get the politicians we deserve. The same could be argued for out objects d’amour.

My self esteem isn’t great. For all the performance-based work that I do, I have a low sense of my own worth. I find it hard to sing my own praises, and tend to shy away in the corner. I find it difficult to take compliments. I love receiving them, but am overcome with a sense of embarrassment when someone tells me how gifted or pleasant I am.

It is I think ruining my chances of a relationship.

I find that I am overly cautious about setting into something with another person. Part of that is the hard-learned lessons of life experience, but most of the time I simply can’t believe that anybody would actually find me interesting enough to want to be with, attractive enough to want. And so I inadvertently make the whole damn thing more difficult than it needs to be. I struggle with PDAs, because I don’t think I deserve them. I put myself down. I find excuses for things not to work out. I place hypothetical obstacles in the way – not helped by being an over-thinker anyway. I give them all the space in the world to leave, to not have to commit to this fuck up of an individual. That becomes very difficult to take after a while.

Essentially I don’t think I’m good enough to warrant happiness. I don’t deserve to find the solace of a loving situation. I must feel pain and rejection and disappointment. For the bleakness confirms my darker thoughts about myself. It sustains my senseless solitude.

Constantly there is a battle within me to find a balance. Because while I do myself no favours, I do have a heart – I know deep down that I am a good person, capable of loving and deserving of someone else’s love. In the right nurturing environment I could be an excellent partner, lover, friend, father. But to get there, I need to feel comfortable. And to feel comfortable, I will probably test your patience, your views, your sincerity. I will test me, my interest, my trust, my willingness to compromise. I can live alone. I spent years in isolation. But I don’t want to live to my life end alone. I want to have someone to share it with, a companion, an intimate. That’s a normal human desire. I just don’t think anyone has quite enough patience to see us through the more testing days.

Dating as I’ve so often said, is a nightmare. I don’t make first moves as a rule. A lot of that is down to issues of consent and not wanting to be misunderstood, but it is also because I don’t believe people will think I’m worth it. I’m too much like hard work. I have little self-worth.

I suppose this is what manifested itself a fortnight ago when I had my breakdown. An overloading of self-doubt that had been building for several months. I loathe the ineffectual nature of my self-hatred, my insecurity. I talk about it to counter-act the affect it has on me, but still it wins. I drive the people I care about away. I worry that one day I’ll end up ageing and desperate and cling to a poisonous abusive partner because they will once again remind me of how useless I am, how worthless my existence has been and how nobody else would want me. Someone I am with because there is no choice left. Because the people I would have chosen rejected me because I am me.

Adventures in dating: Chapter’s end

18 Oct

I’ve been feeling down again the last week or so. “No change there,” I hear you mutter.

Guess it must be more than usual as its been commented on by various family and friends. Which doesn’t happen too often. And as usual it is the cumulative effect of various unhappy occurrences which are to blame. Part of it is the come-down following a period of personal happiness.

Recently I’ve let someone in again in a way I haven’t in years. I let down nearly all my defences and let them witness the complete extent of my fucked up head. I’ve healed so much this last 12 months, from the psychological and emotional damage of the past, that to do this is no small thing. I have learned to trust again, to give myself over to someone else completely, to think about possible futures. I have learned what a normal healthy relationship feels like.

And yet it has all come to an abrupt end. And I’m saddened. I cared far more than I let on, far more than I realised. Timing is everything. And I messed that up.

That I’m not worried about my secrets becoming public knowledge as a result of the given trust is a huge step up for me. But I’m already feeling a loss, because I think I’ve mis-handled everything badly. I’ve said too much, too late. I played my cards close to my chest for too long. I’ve been so caught up in the intense emotion and connection that I didn’t give it the time to breathe it needed. I misinterpreted and was misunderstood.

Relationships demand trust and compromise if they are to succeed long term. And it must be reciprocal.

There are stages in dating when you make decisions – shit or get off the pot moments when the next few months or years are decided. I think I was still deciding, because there was potential the last time I saw her. Or so I thought. Heck, I still do if I’m honest, even though I know now that it will never come to be. I have to move on. I will move on. But I remain deeply affected. I can’t switch my emotions on and off like a switch.

A good relationship should be mutually beneficial, should be supportive, should be exciting and tender. I also think it should challenge us, our hopes and dreams and beliefs. It was all that for me and more, and continues to challenge my thoughts in its aftermath. Already I miss its safety, companionship, intimacy, and possibilities. I was excited as I let my mind adjust, accepting that I was in a relationship and actually felt connected to another human being.

And this in part explain my morose state of mind. The grieving process begun. I’m so tempted to just curl into a ball and shut out the rest of the world and lick my wounds. But I am so thankful, because I know I picked the right person this time. I just wouldn’t have picked this moment to stop.

Today I’m uncertain, but its probably not the end of our story. I think we could be friends. If the timing had been better maybe we’d have remained lovers. But for now the chapter has reached its end.

Don’t Dream It, Be It

29 Feb
Tim Curry as Dr Frank-N-Furter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show

Tim Curry as Dr Frank-N-Furter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show

After spending years in an oppressive environment, of late I’ve rather come out of my shell. I’m sure that’s not entirely the fault of the multiple Rocky Horror experiences I’ve had this year (more about that in another post in due course), but somewhere along the lines the two are mixed. As a teenager viewing The Rocky Horror Picture Show for the first time I felt a nerve being touched – a glimpse of the slightly ambiguous, non-judgemental environment which came closest to my own sense of self. Not tied to ideas of gender, sexuality and orientation. A world in which its okay to be yourself.

A few years ago I met Patricia Quinn for the first time: an actress who I’d had a crush on as an adolescent, but importantly, someone from my home town who had done much to break down barriers in the perception of sexuality thanks to her iconic portrayal of Magenta in the Rocky Horror stage show and film. We’ve kept in touch, but I don’t think I’ve told Pat exactly how grateful I am for that film, and her part in it. Being a nerdy sort of kid who loved creaky British horror films during the 1990s – a time when such things didn’t seem cool, at least not here in Northern Ireland – I needed to find an escape, or at least something I could connect with.

I’ve talked before about the difficulties in perception with regards sexual orientation. It shouldn’t matter, but I think for me that need to label myself, that need to be understood, stems from my religious upbringing. We were an ostensibly Christian household. With that come certain expectations and pressures. And I know that those teachings, learnings, and enforced morality is part of the reason I entered my 30s a bit of a mess.

Over the last year I’ve slowly started drifting towards things that I’d put to one side as I once again reclaim myself and find a new sort of comfort in things I used to do.

You know how it is. We all change constantly as we go through life. We enter relationships and either because of comfort, or because our partners aren’t into the same things, we make compromises and things go to the wayside. In my mid-20s, happy in a relationship I parted the ways with my piercings and just about completely stopped wearing what little make-up I did dabble in. It wasn’t a big deal, and I don’t recall any specific moment at which those things were halted. I was utterly complicit in the ‘normalising’ of my self, and it is something I long ago accepted. But I am aware that I wasn’t utterly happy – I did feel in some way that there were aspects to my means of self-expression that I had denied myself.

I don’t make any secret of my little foibles, but they’re seldom seen these days. Traditional workplaces had a huge part to play in me toning down – somehow you felt it would be inappropriate to colour your nails and serve books to the masses – which is ridiculous of course, because a woman doing the same thing wouldn’t so much as encourage a batted eyelid. Frankly if I chose to wear a dress to work every day it wouldn’t alter my ability to do the job at hand, and I’m annoyed at myself for allowing myself to fall into such binary thinking in this modern era.

Over the last year I found myself increasingly thinking about my own sense of ‘otherness’ – that sense that one doesn’t quite fit in within local circles. Rocky Horror crept back into my life at a time I was already deep into consideration and over and over again that line “Don’t dream it, be it” has helped drive me forward within professional and personal development. I’m reminded that one has to be true to oneself, and to embrace aspirations, to stop living in a fantasy and make the fantasy a reality. No bad advice for anyone going through life.

Its amazing how simple gestures can start to take over one’s thoughts. I regularly carry the urge to paint my nails, and simply haven’t for practical reasons lately. Work mostly. I’ve also been thinking a lot about getting pierced again. I got a couple done in my early 20s but stopped because it was all far too simple, too easy. I didn’t feel any sort of traumatic pain, discomfort or anything that would remind one of process rather than the adornment of the body with simple jewellry. A while ago I started wearing pieces again – something which for the most part isn’t noticed by those on the outside world. I think its one of the things I like about my own piercing experience – you may know its there, you may even have glimpsed it once, but for the most part they go unnoticed.

After much prevarication and procrastination I finally popped along and got myself a new piercing this week – around 14 years after my last one. I’ve been thinking about it since I was a teenager (along with several others if I’m honest). Having reached a number of milestones over the last year, and still being a single fellow, the timing felt right. I’ve nobody to answer to except for myself, and if this makes me happy, in whatever small way, then shouldn’t I?

I realise getting one’s body pierced (especially those that deviate from the face) can have a detrimental affect on one’s potential love connections. There’s a lot of folk who are very turned off by piercings. Similarly there are those who are only into piercing. But does one want either? Surely its better to be involved with somebody who doesn’t care one way or another – who is into you for you? I don’t do these things for anyone else. It shouldn’t matter one jot how many people you have or haven’t slept with, it shouldn’t matter how modified your body is or isn’t, and it shouldn’t matter really what you do to earn a crust. Those things can, of course, impact the course of a relationship, but they simply don’t make you somebody else, and lying about it, or oppressing it doesn’t work.

Being true to myself and not repressing my own individual kinks and eccentricities has made me a happier person in myself. Why wouldn’t you want that?

Video: Getting the new piercing!

Adventures in Dating: Don’t shit where you eat

25 Feb
The Office's Pam and Jim - fictional proof that you can shit where you eat sometimes.

The Office’s Pam and Jim – fictional proof that you can shit where you eat sometimes.

I’ve often heard it said you shouldn’t shit where you eat. That same logic applies to professional and personal lives. It’s why we’re advised not to get involved with those we work with, and why dating friends is frowned upon. It’s also partly why I’ve been looking beyond home turf with dating.

Over the years the best prospects of a relationship have been when I’ve been travelling. There I meet people with shared interests, passions and tolerance. But they’re also impractical distances from home, and I don’t get to travel that often.

But embracing the world of online dating once more I’m reminded that many likely matches live across the Irish Sea or deep in mystical Ireland. Ladies I’ve had deeply satisfying conversations with. Women that tickle my aesthetical longing. When I’m out and about and my geotag settings change I get more people looking at my profile. And no wonder – there’s vast numbers out there in a way humble Belfast cannot compete. Reset my boundaries and I may find someone suitable.

I’m sitting in a bar many miles from home, nursing a pint of ale. In the semi-darkness on a too-small chair at the corner of a large table, a candelabra shielding me from the couple at the far corner. She’s late. Naturally. But we’ve been texting so I’m forewarned as she strides up to the table. A tall raven-haired beauty with piercing eyes and a wicked smile.

I stand, she sits. I get drinks. We find a better seat at the far end of the room, with slightly better lighting, and we talk. A lot.

The conversation comes in fits and starts at times. We’ve been flirting online and there’s definitely a chemistry in person, but I’m a bucket of nerves and so paranoid I’m going to say the wrong thing I nearly throw it. I try not to sound like Rik Mayall in Bottom – “What a smashing blouse you have on.”

She’s been apologising for brushing my leg but I’m not bothered. I’ve tacitly touched her and the journey begins. Gradually at ease. We talk more.

Clumsily we’ve exchanged the prearranged code that means ‘yes, a kiss is acceptable’. Just when it looks like I’ve missed the moment and the night end abruptly I reach over and we lock lips. I’m not entirely sure what’s come over me, I honestly can’t recall the last time I did this sort of thing in public, but damn it feels good.

In the street some workmen are digging up the road while traffic whizzes past. I’ve allowed myself to ignore my usual hang-ups and we get close and kiss in a doorway…

I feel free. I’m not worrying about exes or friends or family stumbling on me. There’s a security in distance that if it hadn’t or doesn’t work out I shan’t live in fear of running into her awkwardly. My Hang-ups flew away on the breeze and I’m simply relishing the physicality, the animal lust. This is unlike my expectations of me, and yet I feel utterly sincere.

For now I’m not even going to think about tomorrow because this is a perfect awareness. Whether there’s one more date or 100, I’m over the top…

And yeah, there’s another date on the cards. I think 🙂

* I wasn’t going to post this blog, but she said I should. So I have. So that’s okay then.