A London man is transfixed by a young Ukrainian woman, marries her and is separated before he knows what happened.
You probably think this song is about you.
We met inside a Ukrainian club in London. I hadn’t meant to be there but had been talked into it. She apparently just felt she had to be there.
Sveta wore her plaited light brown hair long past her bottom. Flushed, healthy cheeks, kissable red lips and alluring blue eyes. She would have looked as spectacular walking through a cornfield or stepping off a Milan catwalk. Some have said I was besotted with her. Only from that moment on.
Her warm smile made our age difference trivial—to her credit, she never made it an issue.
The visa question did come up. It had been the white elephant in the room. She did not have the right to stay in the UK, and only two choices faced us. We were married sixteen months after the first meeting. It felt like something I genuinely wanted to do, not merely a noble gesture. We thought it would work and talked about having children. And we loved each other.
Or so it seemed.
I first noticed three months into marriage that she was not wearing her wedding ring. That was only when I noticed, so she may have even removed it earlier. It was dismissed as a trivial thing, “…I don’t really like wearing rings,” she said. A pro-feminist part of me capitulated to the associations of the ring as somehow endorsing proof of ‘ownership’ and not indicative of how we really felt about each other. Nothing to get hung up about.
Another part, the romantic, partner-entwined we are proud to show we are a team portion, was crushed. Lots of things just fell away from that moment. Beliefs, hopes and aspirations. Was it someone at college to whom she didn’t want to reveal her marital status, or worse still, was it the idea in general not to have this association made by anyone out there. Even more demoralising, and a playground for paranoia. But I found a way to bury this insecurity and fall back on faith and trust. These overused stalwarts got severely tested during a near two-year period of late night returns and no real explanations. Not even the desire or respect to tell me, her so-called partner, where she was and when she would be back.
Eventually, I lost most of my affection and respect. I allowed myself to realize she was likely having affairs and that our marriage was failed. There was no me (or we) in this non-existent faux team, as Gervais might have paraphrased. A hand-shake at the airport, offered as a goodbye to an acquaintance would be one of my abiding memories. It was the same handshake before she had abandoned me for another partner on our wedding anniversary, so hard to forget. She has since returned to Ukraine, free to roam wherever her fancy takes her. I neither know nor care where.
Butch vanity and the unbalanced kid.
Really, I had been a victim of my own stupid vanity. It doesn’t sound particularly butch describing it now, but at the time, receiving unjust, unfair treatment had fuelled simmering, incandescent rage. There must be pay-back for disloyal, unfaithful behaviour, I had said to myself. Wasted emotional energy tit-for-tatting is what it was. The grievance mechanism fuels itself, like a self-administered poison taking stronger hold the more you apply, and offers diminishing returns.
I still dream retribution scenarios in which I don’t come out on top. A reflection that I am still playing this out in my subconscious, something not reconciled, not let go of. I also find myself staring out of a window on buses rehearsing what happened, what I should have said and how I must have earned some serious resentment credits that were never cashed in. Until I short circuit this thought process, as I ultimately must, to move on.
She may be the beauty or the beast.
Marry someone much younger than yourself and you kind of deserve everything you get. Bleating about it just serves to put a neon-lit dufus underline to the folly. I can say this now, because I can. Because it’s the truth. And that’s what you hope to arrive at, no matter how many bus rides and how much castigation you put yourself through, deserved or otherwise. Live with your own humbling truth. Or spend much longer denying and avoiding it.
So easy to say, isn’t it?
I’m giving you a long look, every day I write the book.
The beauty of Facebook is its wonderfully immediate confessional capacity. In the ship of one’s own digitised imagination, one can ‘fess up to anything then let a network do the rest. Everyone you can’t face telling stuff to can discover by – shock of shocks – a new status update and simply draw their own conclusions: ‘Separated.’ And single. And all that it entails. Whatever that is.
“It”, marriage, didn’t work out for me and somehow life has gone on. On Facebook at any rate.
Coming to terms with the fact of my separation was made easier via this modern social medium. Having worked its way into my psyche, Facebook was a legitimised way of baring my soul—a contemporary benchmark on self. It is now the most public barometer of where we think we are and what we’re prepared to share right? Until you have ‘outed your status’ on Facebook, you clearly are not ready to face the new solo journey. Right? And for psychoanalysts, will probably serve as an additional diagnostic from which to take a health check reading. Right?
However calculated it may have seemed, when I realised I was ready to share my news, it had been cathartic. Whoo-hoo after boo-hoo, with no need for anything else. It was out there. No take back. Friends could now provide words of support or reflections on their own status and happiness. Or think, not going there dude.
As it turned out, no-one batted an eyelid. I received not a single frowning, bemused, tearful, hysterically laughing, hi-fiving emoticon. Like the rejoinder for people who say they are shy (why would they be so egoistic to pre-suppose anyone was bothered enough to notice or give a sh*t),
I just needed to get over myself. Yet in truth, I was actually relieved it had gone unnoticed. I post-rationalised that my public declaration to ‘self ‘ was simply a vindication that it was okay to start again. A clean cut to a new chase.
The first (marriage license paper) cut is the deepest
But just how clean was the cut? Separated and single, yet technically attached by law. Emotionally attached by bonds that have unknown depths, longevity and entanglement. Financially attached. Without children, we did not have to deal with biological attachments, fortunately.
I had been through enough other long-term relationships to know that things get better over time. But in the episodic nature that comprises a relationship history, it’s wherever you are now that’s the hardest to deal with.
A room containing ‘feelings’ I was supposed to know mysteriously appeared. Labels on stacked boxes, labels attached to things. Her things, my things, our things. No-one’s things. Things that can’t have feelings any more. I must have looked at a pair of red boots, the first striking visual memory of our courtship, for ages after she had left, subliminally recording an emotional trigger without realising I was helping to maintain an open wound. You can’t totally fool yourself, so you try a bit of futures trading with your emotions. Pack away and remove the attachment. Almost a mantra. The equivalent of la-la-la-ing above the white noise of primeval associations spewing from your emotional pendulum.
Emotions must be demoted from their purpose, temporarily deceived if necessary, until you can get time, your buddy, on your side. Exterminate! Exterminate! And then, one by one, you unpack the boxes and try and secure back the trustworthy emotions from an alter ego you hope wasn’t an obsessively compulsive hoarder. The objective is to be true to yourself and retrieve the useful feelings.
Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens.
Healing, for someone newly separated, is a catch-up place to you that can’t be bypassed and will with alarming frequency remind you so, should you try to ignore it. You simply aren’t ready. And for some, it’s a long, painful road. Received wisdom may have informed you of the basic tenets of healing and the process you should expect to go through. If done via the correspondence course method, where everything is logical, and external, it can be wholly unenlightening stuff… “…Oh no, not me. No, I’m fine. Couldn’t be better. It’s for the best. Yeah, feel great actually. Or wait…isn’t that inconsolably gutted?” And you realise it is all part of an unavoidable denial-before-acceptance thing which needs to keep playing itself out. It’s just too big for our hearts and minds to process in one go.
Who Do You Love…? Hallelujah.
Another revelation comes your way. You realise you like how it feels to give yourself little permissions, here and there. Permissions of behaviour to do whatever you feel like at that moment, without having to worry about evaluation. Bit by bit you learn to forgive yourself more and more, and love yourself a little bit more at the same time. The disconcerting feeling of not knowing who you are in this newly separated state, or your (emotional) responses to things, afraid to embarrass yourself, slowly gives way to more confidence. You don’t mind not knowing yourself half as much as you thought you might and can embrace it as a place of growth. And you realise, halle-bloody-luja, Leonard Cohen, it’s liberating.
Come sail your ships around me
I realised that just to wonder whom you love on its own is empowering, part of a bigger boy self-actualisation awareness. A sort of meta-language developing spontaneously for thoughts and feelings that you never knew you had or had used before.
Knowing something and then choosing to do something about it, in terms of our ‘relationship selves’, is perhaps quintessential to the human condition. This is true whether we recognize dysfunctional patterns of behaviour controlling our lives in or out of a relationship, or any other mode of behaviour we pursue in adulthood. All we can do is attempt to live our lives to the best of our ability, with the grace and humility to learn from our experiences. And have the bravery to face our situations and ourselves. And we may not necessarily need to inform Facebook every god-damn step of the way.
T-i-m-e is on my side. Yes it is.
Photo by Cea.