Tuesday, 28 February 2012
“What is?” I replied, not quite getting where he was coming from “What’s the biggest lie?”
“Well, it’s like this” he continued with a smile on his face “We tick boxes saying that we’ve read and understood any number of terms and conditions, when in actual fact we’ve probably not even read a single word – let alone the countless pages of legal jargon that we’re expected to confirm that we’ve absorbed and understood!”
Hmmm… OK, I’d never thought about it that way. And it got me thinking further. I couldn’t help but make the link between my son’s observation and my own experiences in dealing with people where I ticked the mental “I agree” box without going through the terms and conditions. How often I’ve said OK because I’ve believed that what is being offered to me is…. well, exactly what is being offered! How often also, that at some point or other I have been disappointed to discover that actually, what appeared to be one thing was in fact something entirely different.
Imagine, then, that we could actually be offered a full set of legal agreement papers right at the beginning of any new connection. I’m not talking about a pre-nuptial agreements here, because that deals with how things are to be sorted out in the unexpected event of a split. No, I’m talking here about the possibility of having a legal description, associated risks, and possible side effects when entering in to a relationship with the person in front of you. I wonder what might be detailed? Would it be like a CV (another of the worlds’ biggest lies according to one of my favourite quotes “the closest to perfection a person ever comes is when he fills out a job application form”) where there would be a list of experiences together with references – both good and bad? Would the document include personal feedback or a scoring system from people who have already been involved with that person – and if they’re no longer a part of their life, provide the details of what happened? Might it be a list of beliefs, values and priorities? A set of requirements expected of the other person, or perhaps a vivid account of their hopes and dreams?
Of course, this is all just creative musings on my part. But then again, I wonder though… if there really was an imaginary set of terms and conditions that was offered to us each time we struck up a new relationship (friendship, business, romantic or anything else) – would we really take the time to go through the small print? Would we…? Or would we just skip through to the end and tick the “I agree” box so that we could just get on with it? Well, I know that just a few years ago I wouldn’t even have taken a second glance. These days, though, knowing what I now know through my own experience, I am tempted to believe that I would go through every last detail with a toothpick!
Personal Terms And Conditions
It made me giggle, imagining how my own personal terms and conditions might have developed over the years. How, before I learned about predatory people I might happily have signed on any agreement without question“Yes, I’d like to get to know you, I believe what you’ve shown me, and I’ll commit to this relationship wholeheartedly – in fact I’m looking forward to it!” And, being the kind of person I was – well, actually, the kind of person I still am in many ways – having made the commitment I would never even have thought about reneging on my promise!
These days, while I may well be willing to sign, I would certainly include a caveat that might read something like this: “Yes, ok, I like what I am seeing and hearing and, assuming things continue along these lines then I’ll be very happy to share my time and experiences with you. And… be assured…. should at any point any of this change, or I discover that what you’ve said is untrue, or you have misrepresented yourself in any way, then all previous agreements between us are absolutely null and void with immediate effect”
So these days, yes, absolutely I will keep my side of the bargain. One hundred percent. The difference is, though, now my answer is never just “yes”…. It’s always “yes… and…” because I will never again allow myself to be trapped in a situation that is damaging to my health and well-being. Never again will I remain so focused on my commitment “for better or worse” that I allow the worse to take over while better becomes a distant memory! Never again will I allow myself to be swayed by silver-tongued reasoning that excuses a behavior or situation that I know deep within is a bad thing.
I know for a fact that I went in to the relationship with my ex as an open and trusting spirit, fully prepared to give myself to what I believed was the promise of a fulfilling, loving, and life-long relationship between two people who loved each other and chose to spend their lives together. I hadn’t recognized that within his terms and conditions, any mention of the word ‘spend’ literally meant spending on himself…. Love, trust and material goods were going out (from me) and coming back in (to him). He’d ‘pay’ me with his usual smiles, cuddles, displays of devotion, and constant assurances that our life together was perfect. But in reality he was stripping bare every asset he could find and systematically destroying any spiritual, emotional or financial security. It was me who was left spent. Dried up, worn out, and on my knees.
I remember right at the beginning that there were enough subtle warning signs – the ‘small print’ if you like. His hand-wringing guilt when he admitted that he’d wracked up ‘a few debts’ before we met. His tears when explaining his unusually long string of failed past relationships – and the numerous troubled and unbalanced partners he’d encountered along the way. His sadness at having been denied access to his two small children. Perhaps the most telling, though, was when a couple of close friends advised me to check out his version of events – one even went so far as to tell me she thought he was either an angel or a devil, she wasn’t sure which. But I was hooked by then and I brushed all of these “red-flags” aside, dismissing their concerns as unnecessary over-protection.
So yes, I reckon it could be a good idea to have a set of legal terms and conditions that should be read though, understood and accepted before engaging in any new kind of connection – on whatever level. That way, even if things turned sour, at least the original agreement would be there in black and white. And if any of the points had been violated by the other person well, we could walk away with our head held high knowing that we’d done our best. That we’d kept to our agreement, and that the ‘bad stuff’ was not our fault. Instead of which (as so many of us have experienced) we have been left feeling high and dry; consumed with overwhelming emotions of shame and guilt, together with endless “what if” questions stabbing and pecking away at our very soul.
I don’t know whether having a terms and conditions ‘blueprint’ attached to everyone would actually make a difference. I do know I’ve found it quite interesting to consider the possibility! I also know that next time I’m invited to tick the box, sign on the dotted line, or agree to a load of complicated legalese, I will most certainly remember my son’s words and have a wry smile on my face while I at least take a good look at the headlines…. Well, it’s a start isn’t it?
Tuesday, 21 February 2012
And this is what brings me on to the theme I’d like to explore today. That is the one of finding hidden gifts when they’re not expected. The subject of expecting one thing and receiving something else. The topic of judging a book by its’ cover – and often picking up the wrong novel as a result!
What am I talking about? Well, I’m talking about what happens when we re-examine our own judgment and open up to the idea of possibilities that perhaps didn’t exist before. I’m talking about those exquisite moments when we think everything’s going wrong, but then all of a sudden it turns out that it was all for the best. The times when, despite careful planning or judgments, things just don’t go our way and we fear that we are doomed. Those same times when contrary to what we thought was good for us, there was an even better solution just sitting there waiting in the wings.
I’ve been discussing this subject with friends this week. Friends who, by the way, I would never have had the opportunity to meet or make a connection with while I was married. Friends who are quirky and colourful. Friends who could possibly be described as a bit odd-ball. Friends who are genuine, open, honest and – most importantly – are comfortable in their own skin, and comfortable with me as well.
This week one of those precious friends took time out to drive me for three hours so that I could visit an old friend I hadn’t seen for many years. Sometimes it just happens that way. You have a close bond with someone and then somehow, for no apparent reason, you drift out of each other’s lives. Sometimes you never see that person again. Other times you may be lucky enough to pick up with them again further down the road. And if you’re really lucky, you find that bond is still there as if you only saw each other yesterday. Well, that’s what happened with this particular friend of mine last week. This was a friend I used to work with years ago. Early on, she and I became firm friends and loved sharing each other’s company both in and outside of work. It must be said that neither of us have had what could be called a straightforward life. We both understand what it means to overcome a number of life’s challenges and how it feels to be seen as someone ‘different’… as a result there was rarely a subject of conversation that was taboo. We could be equally happy exploring life philosophies as creasing up in fits of giggles over something utterly ridiculous – much to the amusement of those around us!
This friend of mine, I’ll call her Jane, has recently been diagnosed with a particularly nasty strain of cancer. I knew I just had to go and see her, even though nearly a decade had passed since we last saw each other. Arriving at her house – at the end of a particularly amusing and erratic car journey – it was wonderful to see her again after so many years. Smiling and giggling like teenagers, the friendly banter started almost immediately and the years melted away.
She’s feisty, strong, direct, and also incredibly brave. She always has been. But to see her last week, in the grip of a terrible disease that is slowly claiming her life, in my eyes she became the most beautiful I’ve ever seen her before. I honestly don’t know what I was expecting. I suppose that, since the death of my own mother from cancer, I was bracing myself for the worst. I suppose I was expecting to find someone who was either carrying on as if nothing was happening, or who was so sick that we wouldn’t be able to talk. I don’t know. But I do know that what I found was something that has touched me deeply and made me even more grateful that my life has been filled with so many wonderful people.
Facing The Truth
“I’m dying you know, Melanie” she said, fixing me straight in the eyes without a hint of distress “this cancer, it’s killing me. I’m going to die. But it’s ok. I’ve made peace, and I’m ok with it” Jane is one of the only people who call me by my full name, and as she addressed me I felt an incredible wave of love and compassion flowing between us. There was no hiding to be done. No judgments to be made. No good, no bad – just the truth. And, harsh though the truth may be, at the same time it was liberating. There was no pretense. Nothing to explain. And no room for embarrassment. Nothing but love, understanding and acceptance. Beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time.
It’s very similar to the feeling I have when I hear other people sharing their experiences with sociopaths or any other kind of abusive relationship. When they finally say “yes, it happened to me as well” or “I am broken inside, but I know I’ll get better” or “I have to break free, I just haven’t yet found the right way to do it”. Just like my friend Jane, these are all statements of the truth – and many of them are statements that most people wouldn’t imagine could apply to the people saying or writing the words. People who are expected to be strong. People who are judged to be clever and successful. People who, as many thoughtless critics are quick to say“should have known better” when the truth comes out. People like you and me, who look perfectly normal on the outside, but who share a common bond of suffering that I believe ultimately allows us to become more understanding, complete and whole as human beings. It’s a bond that allows us to say “yes, I’ve been there seen it and got the T-shirt – and you know what? I made it. So come on, let me help you to make it as well”
And I don’t know about you, but for me I regard that as an astonishingly valuable gift. If I can reach out and give something to another human being… If I can give even a glimmer of hope to someone who is suffering… If I can make contact with just one other person and help them in some way… well, then all the rubbish times have been worth it. OK, at the time it all may have hurt like hell, and there is absolutely no way I could have said that what was happening to me was a gift. No way at all… In fact I’d probably have punched anyone who might have dared to put that idea forward! But now, now that I look back at where I was and who I was, and compare it with my life today… well, I can honestly hold my hand to my heart and be grateful for the gifts that have been given to me. This is what I mean by judging a book by its cover. My experiences with my ex, and also my difficult childhood have all brought me a barrow-load of pain and suffering. But at the same time, they’ve made me who I am, and brought me in contact with a wealth of wonderful people – friends and colleagues as well as audiences who seem to identify with what I have to say.
Could I have done that if I hadn’t been given the opportunity to grow and develop through difficult times? Well, I don’t know. It would be great to think that I could have become the ‘me’ of today without all that rubbish… but I have a sneaky suspicion that I was born one of those stubborn students who need to have lessons spelled out loud and clear… so perhaps not eh?
And as for Jane, well, last week she gave me the greatest gift of all. She showed me that it’s ok. That it is indeed possible to face death squarely and bravely, with peace and courage. And I am deeply grateful that she’s my friend and that she’s back in my life – however long that might be. As I said to her when I left, “I’ll be back you know, because I know where you live!” And as she said to me in return “I’ll always be with you, wherever you are”
I’ve discovered that really, at the end of it all, love and friendship are the only things that matter. These are the things that hold true. Everything else is just a passing phase.
Thank you and with love and blessings to all my friends here on Lovefraud.
Tuesday, 14 February 2012
This morning I received a lovely email from a friend who has been a massive positive influence in my life over the past couple of years. She wrote to wish me a Happy Valentine’s Day, saying that she thought the occasion should be “all about telling everybody that you love, that you do!” And it made me smile. Because, once again, here was proof that love exists in so many ways – and that for me in any case, the love I have found outside of the romantic love I had valued so highly, has proven to be stronger, deeper, mightier and more fulfilling than I could possibly have imagined while I was still trapped in the façade I so desperately wanted to believe was ‘true love’.
And I believe that my friend is right. I think that Valentines is about so much more than just the traditional celebration of couples. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t celebrate romantic love – I’m just saying that there is so much more to love that everyone can celebrate, regardless of who they are or what their relationship status.
Last night I was chatting with a French friend of mine who introduced me to a saying I had never heard before. We were talking about the perfectly normal difficulties associated with families, friends and work colleagues. We shared past experiences of letting people know when we had been upset, and what steps we took to protect the feelings of the other person in the process. The conversation continued, both of us describing more embarrassing moments, until we both ended up laughing and he said “On ne pas savoir sur quel pied danser!”which literally means “you don’t know which foot to dance on!” I thought it was a delightful expression that more or less says the same thing as our own saying “walking on eggshells” – which he found equally amusing.
And I began to think about dancing and dancers, and how delightful and varied they can be. The ballet dancer. The break dancer. Line dancing. Ballroom dancing. Latin. Spanish. Rhythm. Contemporary. Modern. Hiphop. Swing…. The possibilities are endless. As are the people who can choose to take part. Old and young, rich and poor, happy and sad, fast and slow…. It doesn’t matter. We all have our rhythm and we’re all part of this dance of life.
Yes, some of us may have two left feet – my ex always took great delight in telling me that I had no rhythm. For years, whenever we were at a party I would be the one glued to my seat while everyone was dancing and having fun. But you know what? I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter. We’re not here to dance for anyone else, or to anyone else’s tune. I believe that we’re here to dance for ourselves – for the love of our own life. Then, and only then can we share and spread that love with others. Rhythm or no rhythm, I have slowly learned to let myself dance for myself. I’ve learned to listen to my song. To find my beat. To let myself just “be” – without any criticism or blame, either from myself or others. There have been many evenings over the past couple of years when, alone and at home, I have cranked up the music and danced like nobody was watching – because of course they weren’t.
Freedom… And Gratitude
Let me tell you, it certainly didn’t come naturally to me! I was acutely embarrassed at first, but I didn’t understand why. In the early days I couldn’t move at all. I remember just standing there, twitching my fingers, hanging my head, and keeping my feet firmly placed on the floor. And when at last I finally did start to sway with the music, I couldn’t open my eyes. Then slowly slowly I started loosening up and as I did, I would find myself singing along with the music. As I sang louder, my movements became bigger. And as I lost my inhibitions, I stopped judging myself – and just let myself go. It was an extraordinarily liberating experience for me!
On one such occasion, I suddenly caught my reflection in the window. At first, though, I didn’t recognise myself. Because there, in front of my eyes, was… a dancer. OK, maybe not a professional or even an amateur performer, but there was no mistaking that the reflection in the window was moving smoothly and in time to the music. And, more to the point, that person was smiling and happy. That moment, although it may seem a minor thing, was a major revelation for me. I stood there, blinking. Shocked at the recognition of the free-flowing joyful person weaving her dance and so clearly lost in the moment. And all of a sudden the scales fell from my eyes. All of a sudden I realised that I had been judging myself as worthless and clumsy. That even though my ex had vanished from my life a good while earlier, I had still been carrying the memories of his judgments. I remember shouting at my reflection as fury, tears, relief, gratitude and a whole heap of other emotions exploded out of me
“It’s not true!” I shouted, fists clenched as alternately I hugged myself and punched at the air “It’s NOT true! I’m NOT useless… I CAN dance… I CAN, I CAN, I CAN!” And yes, in case you’re wondering, there are many times when I’m deeply grateful that I live in such a rural location – I’m not sure that neighbours would have been quite so understanding of my enthusiastically noisy revelations!
Back to the French saying about not knowing which foot to dance on. I think it’s a crying shame that so many of us here have had to experience such sadness and pain. My heart continues to go out to everyone who has been or is still in any kind of unhealthy relationship – yes, including an unhealthy relationship with themselves. I know I was one of those people. But you know what? I also understand that at the time, I did the very best I could with the comprehension and information that was available to me.
I may not have known which foot to dance on, and I may have been afraid of making a mistake or seeming foolish. But when I pushed things away, kept quiet and carried on regardless, I was doing those things to keep safe – or so I thought at the time. Does that make me wrong? No, I don’t think so. We don’t know what we don’t know, so I cannot sit in judgement about the errors of my ways.
What I can do now, though, is to be grateful for what I now realise. I can be grateful for what I’ve learned and who I’ve become. I can be grateful that I now know the difference between supportive and destructive behaviour. I can be grateful, also, that I now have the courage to make healthy choices. To top it all, as I’ve said before, I can also be grateful for my time with my ex. It may have been a façade to him – but for me it was real, and I’ve grown beyond recognition as a result.
So, Happy Valentines Day to you, ex-mate…. My dance with you was poisoned and awkward. Now I’m dancing with myself and with love – and with so many more beautiful people than I could ever have possibly imagined before.
Love and blessings to all here on Lovefraud – let’s keep dancing together.
Tuesday, 7 February 2012
My friend is Mary Turner Thomson – she is a huge supporter of this site, and you’ll find her story in the blog section. Her book “The Bigamist” is a best-seller and at the end of last year it outsold every other Random House e-book in the USA. It’s a huge achievement and I believe it goes to show how relevant her story is today.
So what prompted her to send me an email on Saturday night? She had been made aware of a comment that had been placed on Amazon.com regarding her story, and it had cut her to the quick. This is what it says:
“Although i found it a little repetitive and long-winded in parts, the story was still compelling and should be compulsory reading for anyone in an abusive/manipulating relationship or in the dating scene. Having said that, I’m still finding it hard to believe that this story is true! Yes, you can be blinded by love, conned etc but to have a man who works for the government and has no money for food?? Who year after year comes up with dire, life-threatening reasons for urgent large amounts of cash?? To never actually meet any of his family in 6 years?? 6 YEARS OF THIS?? I found it eye-opening and informative but at the same time I found it almost impossible to feel any kind of empathy for this daft, gullible woman. I’m sorry but anyone that stupid for that long is just asking to be taken for a ride….it’s just plain sad. And to liken it to the abuse suffered by rape and molestation victims in terms of not being ashamed to speak up…pfft…there is no choice in rape or molestation, whereas the author did have a choice and more or less allowed herself to be a victim…and that IS shameworthy.”
I know for a fact that her story is true. I also know that her ex, Will Jordan, is still at large in the USA and is still spinning the same tales and entrapping more women in similar situations – it seems that “the powers that be” have no power to stop him. I know as well that Mary has offered support, guidance and friendship to his subsequent victims, who have tracked her down as a result of reading her book. She also helped me in the early days – openly, honestly and with love, although at the time I was a stranger and she had no reason to trust me or welcome me in to her life. I am now proud to call her my friend.
So far as I’m concerned, that kind of behaviour demonstrates that Mary is far from being a person who could be described as ‘a willing victim’. Far from it. She is feisty, sassy, accomplished, independent and (as I’m sure you can guess) one of those lovely people who just likes sharing and giving to others. Is that such a crime…?
Armchair experts and a baying crowd of critics can swap allegiance and have their opinions swayed by the smallest of changes. And yet these easily influenced people can sometimes hold the power between life and death. Remember the gladiators in the Roman Colosseum? The crowd’s chants could pressure the emperor’s thumbs up or down – the life of a man quite literally hanging in the balance.
Ignorance Is Bliss…?
Now, I’m all for people having an opinion – of course! What saddens me, though, is when a damning criticism is forthcoming from the basis of ignorance. It tells me how much further we have to go in order to educate people against the dangers of psychopaths and sociopaths among us. Yes, of course I understand that for those people who have never been entrapped, the story we have to tell can seem unbelievable. But that’s because, as we know, they’ve never been there. As I’ve said many times before, it’s because as a human race we tend to judge others by ourselves – we see things not as they are but as we are.
That’s how a charming, manipulative, ruthless sociopath can keep ‘normal’ trusting people in their clutches. As we know from personal experience, it is not the ‘stupid’ or ‘gullible’ people who are targeted. Yes, OK, once it’s all out in the open we might beat ourselves up and think we must have been naive (“how could I have been so blind? How could I have been such a dunce?”) but that is a natural reaction from anyone who’s been a victim. I was told by a physiotherapist that this is the common response from people who’ve been in an accident. Guilt, shame and self-beat up – as if they could have done anything about it in the first place!
I know how hard it is to speak out. I understand how painful the process is to step back, reassess and make sense of what happened – whilst also maintaining a level of personal dignity, and eventually finding self-esteem and confidence. I also know how much those of us who do choose to put our head above the parapet after such an experience can indeed help others to pull through. I also understand that by doing so, we are opening ourselves up for criticism and blame.
In some cases it feels a little to me like the Ducking Stool favoured in britain during the middle-ages – have you heard of this? In the days where women were hunted down for being witches, a crowd would tie the accused in a chair that they’d then hold over water – the village pond or similar. The poor creature would then be ducked under the water to find out whether or not she was indeed a witch. If she didn’t drown it was perfectly clear that she was a witch. So she’d be taken off and burned at the stake on the grounds that they had proof of her satanic powers. If on the other hand she did drown, well then she obviously wasn’t a witch so they’d made a mistake. Oops! Damned if you do, damned if you don’t eh?
I Salute You
Well, in a way, you could say the same about all of us here who are choosing to speak out – in whatever format we may choose. We’re once again holding ourselves up for public judgement – often by those armchair critics I mentioned earlier, who judge from a place of ignorance. Harsh words may sting, and pointing fingers may hurt… But you know what? I reckon it’s worth it. Because for every badly informed comment or response, there are many more who I know benefit from shared experiences.
The Ducking Stool may be an ancient relic, but the ignorant and fearful critics remain. That’s ok. Because little by little we can help to educate them about these dangers – and hopefully save them from having to experience it for themselves before, like us, they can fully understand what it means to be trapped by a sociopath. It’s easy to point the finger at those who stand up and speak out – and Mary, my friend, remember just how many thousands of people you are helping, just by being who you are. There is nothing’ shameworthy’ in what you did then, nor in what you continue to do now. I for one salute you.
There has been a picture quote doing the rounds among my Facebook friends this week, and I thought it would be relevant to share it here: “Don’t change so people will like you. Be yourself and the right people will love the real you”
With love and blessings to all here at Lovefraud – I salute you too. Because without you, there would be many more people (myself included) who might never have discovered the truth. Thank you.