Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Pondering life on a quiet afternoon

I do a lot of thinking, and on holiday there is ample opportunity to sort a few things out in one's mind. Such as: do I pass well enough? Or: what do I really feel about going away on my own?

The answer to the first question is of course clearly yes, even if the precise reasons for not getting frowns, sneers, disdain, wounding comments and amused condescension everywhere I go are harder to see. I believe it's simply a straightforward combination of appearance, behaviour and voice, with the last two counting most. And most certainly a determination never to be satisfied with just 'getting by'. Being 'good enough' is not sufficient. I have to be completely natural. I have a disability to overcome. I do not want to be different from other women. Nor am I the sort to claim special treatment, or in any way use a crutch. I want to be out there, a contender, someone who confidently engages with every kind of person, and every kind of situation. In new places, not just the places I'm used to, where I have safety. And to do this perfectly - meaning naturally, unconsciously, and with absolute conviction.

It's a goal as worthy as any other within an ordinary person's reach. And it takes work. You can't avoid it, and I think that ladies who assume great experience and dismiss the required ongoing effort with a phrase like 'I can't be arsed' (now that is a male attitude) have it wrong. One never reaches a plateau. I can see in fact that unremitting endeavour will be needed for the rest of my life. But I do get to enjoy thrilling validatory rewards on a daily basis. And I think anybody can, who does the same.

The more interesting question was however what I thought about holidaying alone. Which is really the same question as what do I think about living life alone.

Pondering this, I do wonder why so many people pair off, in marriage or out of it. All right, if you feel driven to build a nest and produce chicks, there is no argument. If you are irredeemably material and aspire to a lifestyle that only pooled effort and resources can achieve, then there is again no argument. And there may be local or cultural conventions that require a marriage, without the option. But if one is a free spirit, and has a completely free choice, because motherhood and economics and material ambition and social conventions are not in the picture...why would you then throw your lot in with someone else?

Am I unusual? I think I may be. I meet a lot of people on my travels, and some of them are presently without a partner. But it seems almost universal for the unattached to harbour a longing for reattachment. They may deny it; but despite the denials, I sense regret at having to put up with their solitary life, a wish to address a failure, and fear of a future spent utterly alone and forgotten. Who isn't haunted by thoughts of a lonely later life, dying unnoticed and uncared-for? I have lost count of hearing phrases such as 'Oh, if the right person ever came along...' and 'You must never say never, must you?' and 'I'm so glad I got Shep [indicates character dog] for company, we love each other, don't we, Shep?'

I've regularly had to fend off well-intended exhortations to secure a dog for myself. Couples with dogs instead of children gaze at me with desperate concern. Couples with dogs and demanding grown-up children, plus onerous grandchild commitments, gaze on me with troubled expressions. They feel that I am missing one of life's sweet consolations by not having a dog (subtext: husband) to love, look after, and build my life around. I counter with talk of dogs (subtext: husbands) being a tie. I mean it, but my words sound unconvincing compared to their earnest recommendations. It's actually quite hard to get the subject dropped.

I think I've revealed my true feelings well enough. I'm a fully-functioning individualist, ready to defend my present freedom against invaders and constraints. I lack any urges to nurture and look after someone. I'm old enough to realistically imagine and embrace a senior existence on my own. In short, let me be. I tried to do what most others do - the marriage thing, the long-term partner thing - and devoted thirty years of my life to them, but neither lasted. I now believe that kind of life was never suitable for my temperament, and that wisdom lies in staying away from close encounters, no matter how enticing.

It's fun to be just me. I get to do exactly as I like. I can speak to anyone I fancy. Nobody can tell me what to do, nor what to say. I can make my own mistakes without apologising for them, and relish my successes without the dishonesty of sharing the credit. And I am free to explore and learn.

Which is why it is, I suppose, that despite being a work in progress, I can do better than just 'pass'. If I had a constant companion I'd have to make compromises, and that would retard my 'training'. Rather as one has to be single-minded about becoming an athlete: there is no room for distractions in the pursuit of even moderate excellence. Hmmm, this devotion to lifelong self-improvement seems a jolly good line to trot out when next offered a canine friend to cherish!

There are of course further truths: that I am disillusioned with relationships, appalled at my inability to handle them, and loath to be a party ever again to the hurt they can cause. Disillusioned, even though I know of some wonderful shared lives.

I mostly keep black thoughts like these well hidden. You can't really mention them when chatting merrily outside the caravan, can you? Anyway, it's probably against Caravan Club Rules, the unwritten ones.

5 comments:

  1. May I ask a personal question Lucy? (This thought was the first that entered my mind as I read your post so forgive me asking). Do you consider yourself to be a selfish or unselfish person? I ask in relevance to all areas of life rather than looking after one's own requirements and desires. I am keen to know what kind of answer you might give
    Shirley Anne x

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  2. That's not easy to answer, because like most people I'm a mixture of selfish and unselfish impulses. I admit to being highly self-indulgent without guilt, if that's what you mean.

    Lucy

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    Replies
    1. Partly but I think I might shelve any further comments on the subject for now

      Shirley Anne x

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  3. I suspect that I married 40+ years ago because that's what people did. However, in different ways, Sue and I had good reason to escape the families in which we grew up, so from the outset ours was a marriage based on support and much-needed affirmation, more than on sex. Perhaps that's a reason why we've survived when many who marry young (I was 22, she was 19) have not.

    I've never lived alone (I swapped a mum for a wife) so cannot speculate on how I might have coped without a partner, though I would undoubtedly have made more rapid progress on the road to femininity. But the reality of my situation is that the intervening years have not shaped me for the solitary life.

    If you are self-indulgent and selfish, then by the same measure I am over-reliant on love and affirmation. There are things about your lifestyle that I envy greatly, and I like to think that there may be things of mine that you wish you had. That's just the way it is.

    Angie x

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  4. You are right, Angie. Nobody has it all; and I do look wistfully on couples who have succeeded. I'm intrigued to know what could possibly be enviable about my lifestyle, which is only an improvisation hedged in by many restrictions: being single, being female, being past my sell-by date, and not having quite enough daring or cheek to do anything really exciting.

    Lucy

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Lucy Melford