The Ex Files - Diane Lee

The ex-files: to all the men I’ve loved before (Part 1)

In my last post, I raved about Attached, and how, because of this book, I feel more in control of my love life than I ever have in my 30 odd years of dealing with boys and men. I feel that I can make better, more informed choices about potential partners. I don’t feel so buffeted about by the vicarious winds of romance that have always had a tendency to blow me into stormy waters, then off course into some strange land where I didn’t know the language or understand the customs. Having no compass or map for charting my course, I always ended up in no man’s land (or no woman’s land as it’s turned out) for all my efforts.

I mentioned in my last post that if I look back, I’ve only been with two— maybe three—men who I can identify as having a secure attachment style. These men appeared very early on in my dating career, and sadly, I was too immature and uninformed and shallow to appreciate their worth. One of them I have always wished that I’d married. And I can say with absolute certainty that from my mid-twenties onwards, my partners were all avoidants (and for me, misery makers).

I’ve always wanted to write about the men who’ve crossed my path, and now seems as good a time as any. It’s in keeping with the philosophy of Attached, because Dr Levine advocates a “go over old relationships to identify patterns and themes and make the necessary changes and appropriate adjustments so your decisions are better in the future” approach. I’m only documenting the men I went out with for a reasonable length of time, up to and including the Italian. There were men I dated briefly, and I do recall them quite well, but I don’t think it was long enough to make a serious impact on my overall dating style. I’ve covered the ones since the Italian in my Attached post.

And because they span a couple of decades, I’m going to have to break them up into a few posts. So here goes – the first three.

Peter

Peter was my first real boyfriend. I would have been about 16 or 17 (maybe in Year 12?) when I met him, because I had my driver’s licence and often drove his car. He would have been a year older than me: he went to a different high school from me, but we had friends in common, which was how we met. He left school not longer after we started dating to start work. He, unlike me, came from a family that sported both a father and a mother (my mother was in the process of divorcing her third husband by this time) and he had sibling and they all seemed to be a tight, but welcoming, unit when I visited them.

Peter was quiet, steady and dependable, his dark hair cut in that statement style of the day: the mullet. He played soccer and loved tinkering around with old cars. He was slight, but not unattractive, and he was the first boy who expressed a real interest in me, and who then followed through. Once we had started dating, I found that he kept his word, for example, picking me up from work, or for dates when he said he would. I can’t recall him being late.

I recall that dating him was easy. There were no games. We weren’t boyfriend and girlfriend and then we were and that’s how we stayed until I broke it off.

We dated for at least six months, maybe longer, and I can’t for the life of me remember why we broke up. I do remember, though, that I was the one who ended it on a Sunday evening. He thought I was seeing someone else because there was a motor-cycle parked outside my house when he tried to win me back (it was my cousin’s) and, disappointed, he almost immediately started dating one of my friends from school. They are still together—married—and have two daughters… so Facebook tells me. I would go out on a limb and say that Peter had a secure attachment style. I recall that dating him was easy. There were no games. We weren’t boyfriend and girlfriend and then we were and that’s how we stayed until I broke it off. I recall him having a conversation with my mother (I can’t remember who started it) saying that she shouldn’t worry about my welfare while we were together because he would take care of me. I have a sneaking suspicion that the lack of drama in the relationship was disconcerting (also known as ridiculously boring) for me, because I lived in such a toxic environment. I knew how to navigate abuse and violence and fear, but kindness and reliability and steadiness were foreign concepts to me. What did one do with kindness and reliability and steadiness, other than bolt?

Iain

Iain is the man I always wished I’d married. I don’t have many regrets in life, but not marrying him is one of them. I’d met him through friends at a B & S Ball. These Balls were a social mainstay of rural Australia, and involved frocking/suiting up and drinking copious amounts of alcohol in a shearing shed (or similar) and dancing until we dropped from exhaustion or inebriation or desire, or a combination of the three. The boys all drove utes (or similar) and, like the maestros of preparation that they were, invariably stocked the utes with mattresses and sleeping bags and blankets and pillows. We’d sleep in someone’s ute parked somewhere nearby, often in our finery and usually in couples, waking dazed and confused and ready for the beach “recovery” session the next day, which, of course, involved more alcohol consumption. I recall the morning after the night before, when Iain and I woke up, a tangle of limbs and blankets and kisses. He was affectionate, and as I discovered, unapologetic in his immediate affection toward me. He was tall, handsome and stocky, and I remember being beside myself with glee that someone of his calibre had chosen me.

These were the circumstances in which Iain and I began our relationship and it lasted eight or nine months. I must have been about 19 when we met, because I was working at the Commonwealth Bank, my first real job. He was from a farming family, and lived on a property on the outskirts of Penola, about 50km from my town of Mt Gambier. I would often drive up to the farm and stay overnight, drive back to Mt Gambier to go to work the next day, and then drive back to Penola after work again. I spent many weekends with him and his family, and they accepted me with unquestioning kindness. I helped out on the farm, and would often tail after Iain while he did his farming thing. We swam in a dams when the weather was hot, the water crystal clear against the furry-green of the algae-lined concrete. I helped with harvest, and even drove the combine harvester a couple of times. I’d join Iain and his father on shoots, mainly to control the rabbits and foxes that wreaked havoc in their different but equally damaging ways. I swept up in the shearing shed, and witnessed the crutching and drenching of any number of sheep. I loved it on the farm—the earthiness of it all—and I loved being with him, and spending time with his family.

I spent many weekends with him and his family, and they accepted me with unquestioning kindness. I helped out on the farm, and would often tail after Iain while he did his farming thing. We swam in a dams when the weather was hot, the water crystal clear against the furry-green of the algae-lined concrete.

Iain, I think, was a product of his environment: an environment that was in stark contrast to the one I called home. He had a brother who had a mild intellectual disability, and a sister who was a married teacher, living in Victoria. They were all so respectful and kind and loving to each other. Where my mother was controlling and suspicious and cold, Iain’s mother was welcoming and open and warm. I was surprised and thankful that neither she nor Iain’s father didn’t seem to mind that we slept in the same bedroom. There was a quiet dignity in not having to sneak around for furtive teenage couplings. There was no need to wait for the muffled sounds of gentle snoring from his parents’ bedroom in order for us to make our move. I loved that there was no pretense about us with his family. We were boyfriend and girlfriend, and together and that was that. Simple.

I blame my mother for the death of this relationship. I had moved back into her home six months previously—to save money, which is always the reason fledglings return to the nest— and all the same old issues that had originally forced me out had reared their ugly heads, Medusa-like, poised to strike. On the odd occasion that Iain would visit with me at my mother’s house, my mother was rude and belligerent. I’m positive that she didn’t want me to be happy, and was, in fact, jealous of my happiness. My mother, for all her marriages, was also uptight about sex, particularly when it was her daughters that were having the sex and clearly, I was sexing because I was sleeping at Iain’s house. In the end, I took the path of least resistance because my mother—and her own self-loathing, petty jealousy and need for control—made my life a living hell while Iain and I were together. I didn’t have the strength or the maturity or the courage to fight her— and to be frank, I was still at an age where I craved her approval and love and acceptance—so I broke up with Iain, the man I will always regret not marrying. And I will always blame my mother for this.

(While I was writing this post, I Googled Iain, which I do every now and then, just to see what he’s up to. Nothing stalkerish, of course. Usually, nothing much at all comes up, but this time… there he was in a newsletter—and a recent one—about a road project he’s working on in Penola. There was a photo, and I zoomed in. Yep. Older, greyer, but definitely him. Ok. Now I was curious, so I totally did get my stalker on.

For a man who’s not on Facebook or LinkedIn or anything social media, I found out quite a bit about his life and what he’s been up to just by following loose threads. A name here, a council development application there, a genealogy site, a few newsletters, an annual report. Thank you, Google. While I didn’t have any luck finding a mobile number or an email address, I did uncover a landline and a PO Box address. I found his sister on Facebook. And judging by the names on his landline entry, he’s 99.9% probably married.

What was I going to do with this information? I thought about contacting him, I really did, but what would be the point? He’s 99.9% probably married, for one. He’s likely not thought much about me since, well, 1983, and if he did, and I bet he hasn’t, it was, in all likelihood, in the context of what the hell happened there? Things were going so well, and then she ended it…! I don’t understand what went wrong. If I had’ve easily uncovered an email address, then yes, I think I would have emailed him. Something non-controversial and conversational along the lines of You may not remember me, but I should have married you or similar.

What I realised about this whole exercise is that what I really wanted to do was recreate the feeling of what it was like to be with him. That beautiful memory of being good enough and desirable enough and woman enough when I was with him. But it’s just a memory, and it was a long time ago. I’m a firm believer that the essence of a person stays the same, even as they age, unless awful, tragic things happen to them and they can’t get past these awful tragic things. I believe that we become more ourselves as we age, as we know ourselves better and accept our short-comings and embrace our strengths. I know in my heart of hearts that the young Iain would have grown more into the wonderful man he was destined to be. He absolutely deserves to have his own family who loves and cherishes him, and I am positive he would have chosen wisely. My wanting to reconnect with him is a deep, primal desire to recreate what we had, but what was robbed from us (me) by forces at work and circumstances over which neither of us (meaning me) had any knowledge or control of, let alone the life experience to deal with them. Of course, there is no going back, not really, and once I realised what the drivers were, my desire to contact Iain has dissipated significantly. I will always treasure my time with him as one of the happiest and most satisfying relationships I have ever been in, and I send him love and light. Knowing that it happened once—that this is how it feels to be in a relationship with a man who has a secure attachment style—means that it can happen again. It’s taken more than 30 years, but now I know what to look for.

But hey, if by some crazy-kooky twist of fate Iain magically reads this post, and he hasn’t forgotten me and isn’t married and does remember me with fondness and would like to have a cup of coffee or a glass of wine with me if he is ever in town, I’d be over the moon about it. Just saying.)

Craig

I moved in with Craig when I was 21, a few months after I had shifted towns because of my job. (In the 80s, everyone who worked in a bank had opportunities for transfers. I was transferred twice… once to Naracoorte, and the other to Adelaide 18 months later.) He was the first man I ever lived with, and true to (what would be my) form, it happened quickly. I can’t quite recall how we met… it  was most likely through friends, and it was probably at one of the local pubs, or the football club, or at one of the many parties I attended. Say what you will about country towns, the social life was excellent. Craig was a popular man about town. He worked at the local petrol station, and was a gifted sportsman; he played cricket, tennis and football, and I’d often go along to his games and proudly watch him flex his sporting prowess.

Craig had two brothers and his mother was a widow. His father had died a few years previous to my meeting Craig, of cancer, I think. His mother was a lovely woman, warm and friendly, and she doted on her family. She always welcomed me in her home, and I never felt out-of-place. In fact, I think she enjoyed my company… I’m assuming I was a welcome respite to all the testosterone that permeated the place. Craig’s older brother was also popular and a bit of a lad about town; his younger brother was still in school, but was a nice boy, popular too from memory, and also sporty.

However, it was only a few months into the relationship that the cracks appeared, and I started to find Craig controlling and exacting and difficult to live with. In the end, I was quite scared of him, and while he didn’t hit me, I believe that if I stayed any longer, he would have.

Craig was tall, around 6 feet, and fit. He had thick dark hair, and piercing green eyes (or were they blue?), fringed with long, dark lashes. I was attracted to his popularity and intelligence, and the convenient and quick  progression of our relationship: I needed a place to live and someone to share expenses. We moved into a small, one bedroom flat, and he immediately expected me to be a wifey… you know… cooking, cleaning, being an accessory. In the beginning, I didn’t mind. I quite enjoyed the fact that he seemed to need me, and that I could successfully play a role that my own mother had great difficulty with. However, it was only a few months into the relationship that the cracks appeared, and I started to find Craig controlling and exacting and difficult to live with. In the end, I was quite scared of him, and while he didn’t hit me, I believe that if I stayed any longer, he would have. He would probably deny this, of course, and he has every right to. But this is my story, not his. In order to avoid his wrath, I moved out surreptitiously and very quickly, just packing up my stuff and getting the hell out of there after one particularly frightening altercation.

Where Peter and Iain had been loving and gentle and open and warm, Craig was the opposite, at least towards the end of relationship, which lasted about nine months. I breathed a huge sigh of relief that I had escaped, relatively intact, albeit with some emotional bruising. I would say that Craig was my first brush with someone who had an avoidant attachment style, and unfortunately, he more or less set the precedent for the next thirty years. There was only one other man who I felt physically threatened by, and that was five years later and coincidentally, that too was at the end of the relationship.

Don’t worry… we’ll get to him.

You can read Part 2 of the Ex-files here.

9 comments

    1. And I was saying to Vee today, I have wasted 30 years of my life on the wrong men. Of course, I didn’t know it, but I feel a bit sad about the missed opportunities early on in my life. I could’ve been a contender!!

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