But there was one person, one relationship, in my past that, in retrospect, has come to provide the template from which I modify my approach to dating someone new. I attended a talk with Julian Barnes recently in London; it was a conversation with Hermione Lee about his new book, The Only Story. During this conversation, he said that our first love has lifelong consequences: either we try to emulate it with subsequent loves, or we try to erase it with subsequent loves, almost as if we were capable of a do-over; as if all subsequent attempts at love are, in a way, attempts to reverse the disastrous first love.
I think the latter scenario applies to me, and my relationship with NEB more than 10 years ago, and the way it had made me approach dating and men with a pre-emptive self-defensive toughness, hardness, a defiant affirmation of my self-worth in order to temper, to blunt the edges, of how thoroughly my love for him had reduced me to a lesser being. My love for him had robbed me of my self-respect. It had diminished my self-valuation. He was the only one who could affirm my worth as a girlfriend, as a person, as someone worthy of being loved. He had all the power in his hands, and that was because I had allowed it to happen; I didn't guard my heart jealously enough; I had fallen in love with someone who was unable to comprehend it, let alone love me back. In the end, he had crushed me, torn me open, left me bloodied, in tears, and later, encaged in heavy armoury in the form of defensive verbal barbs against any hint of a man who is like NEB - a man who would denigrate me and undermine my value, my self-esteem. And so I tell myself that I'm great and amazing and a great catch and all this florid self-praise as a pre-emptive strike against men like NEB, men who would cause me the same anguish and heartbreak that he did, who would then hold all the power to validate my worth as a person.
So my caustic self-defensive mechanism has been in place long before Gareth/Matt/whatever. I'd just been fortunate enough to not need to resort to it too much before last year. But it is because of NEB that I will never put myself in a position of loving someone who can't love me back because I hate - absolutely hate - the person that I had become when I couldn't let go of my love for NEB. Never again do I want to be the snivelling, weak, pathetic idiot who was blind, or blindly accepted, the assaults on her self-esteem and self-respect constantly carried out by the person whom she'd loved. Never again do I want to fundamentally misconceive someone's importance to me; namely, no one is ever worth the self-degradation that loving NEB had put me through. This experience, so traumatic, took me five years to completely get over - strikingly disproportionate, considering that we'd properly been together for less than six months.
When we spoke again recently - that is, when we met last year when I was in Hong Kong for the HKU conference - he'd thought that he was the cause of my brief period of sleeping around in London. The truth is, he'd had nothing to do with that; my self-destruction was a result of something else. But NEB was, and remains, the root cause of my fierce, almost categorical, self-defensiveness; he is the reason I do not tolerate a disparity in feelings, and he is the reason my instinct is to bolt, cut loose and run, when I feel as if I am more emotionally invested in a relationship than the person with whom I am in the relationship.
It thus follows that NEB is the root cause for the way I have behaved so far, dating Thomas. NEB is the root cause of my inability to trust in the person that Thomas had revealed himself to be, my inability to let go of my insecurities, turn off my over-analysing brain, and take him at his word. Of course, Gareth/Matt exacerbated a lot of the lingering effects of the disaster with NEB; but it is fundamentally because of NEB that I guard myself as jealously as I do.
I have let go of whatever lingering anger that I'd felt towards Matt. I'd decided to do this after this incident, and I'm happy to say that I have put intention into action. I'd seen him a couple of times at Fitzbillies and I was not only civil, but normal and friendly. It helps, of course, that I honestly don't give a shit about what happened with him; all I feel is some regret and embarrassment at my poor taste when I think back to it, but that's about it. It felt good to let go of the anger; there's very little that is constructive about it, and as my first 'I'm done with this' text that I sent to Thomas had shown, there is a lot that is destructive about anger.
So what else should I do to put myself in the appropriate emotional state to really and sincerely try to make this thing with Thomas work? Understanding where my insecurities and semi-false sense of entitlement come from is a good step. Giving him space is another good step. Perhaps most importantly: letting go, as much as I can, of my control freak self, my desire to want things to go my way, and my tendency to start doubting him and/freaking out when they don't. But like I told him, though, I am only really insecure when it's manifestly unclear what his feelings are, when I'm not sure whether he even likes me - and this is the legacy that NEB has left me. I freak out at the slightest hint that I may be in a situation where I like someone who doesn't like me back, or someone who doesn't like me as much.
And now? It was crucial that Thomas had said those things in his text message. His stating unequivocally and emphatically that he does like me has been enough for me to reach a comfortable place of security where I'm no longer wondering why he's not texting, why he doesn't ask me out, etc. Or rather: I am still wondering why he doesn't make plans, but I'm not attaching the same negative implications to it as I'd done before. I'm just treating it as a matter to be talked about when we finally talk about the events of last week, whenever this is going to be. So it continues to be true, what I told him in my long message: I'm only really insecure at the start of dating someone when it's unclear what his feelings are. When I know what they are, there is no need to freak out anymore.
There is something to be said about a man who doesn't hold a drunken break-up text against me, isn't there? I saw Thomas last night. He was supposed to come over to mine but he'd been battling a virus for the past few days and just as he was about to get into his (sexy) Mustang to come over to mine, he'd started feeling 'bleh' (his word) and asked me to go over instead. I was actually really tired and even thought of cancelling on him in the afternoon, but I generally try not to cancel on people so I decided against it. Besides, I'd really wanted to see him so mere fatigue was not enough to change that, even if, for a minute after reading his message, I'd thought of saying 'let's meet tomorrow'.
One of the first things that I said to him was, 'I'm sorry I'm fucking crazy.'
He said, with a chuckle, 'You're not crazy.'
He wasn't in the right headspace to talk serious things though, so we chilled on his couch, watched some shitty English programme, watched this travel/food show where the cook went to Singapore...it was lovely. I asked him if I sound like the Singaporean baker who was featured on the show and who had a neutral accent. He said that I sound American. We also briefly watched some documentary about the Magna Carta that featured some scenes shot somewhere in the US. I asked him where it was. He said, 'Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, USA.' I lauged at him for being so specific, for stating the obvious (that Pennsylvania is the US). He said, 'You're just jealous that you can't do that when someone asks you where you're from. You can't say, "Singapore, Singapore, Singapore."'
I laughed a lot. It was really nice. I even heard a hint of his Southern accent; he said that he sounds more Southern when he's back home, in the same way that I sound completely Singaporean when I'm back in Singapore. It was a bit strange, though, when he let slip his Southern accent, as I have formed a bad, and obviously unfair, impression of people with that sort of Southern American accent. I wonder if I would've still liked him if he hadn't developed a more neutral American accent over the years; I hope so, for it would be shame to be so superficial, right? Also, because I was feeling cold, he gave me one of his hoodies to wear. We both found it hilarious how massive it was; it was almost as long as the dress that I was wearing. 'You look ridiculous,' he laughed. Thanks a lot, Thomas!
I don't know what it is; perhaps it was the intense honesty that my drunken text had precipitated, but I felt really comfortable with him for the first time since meeting him. Towards the end of the night, we finally moved forward a little - physically, that is. I must confess that I have thought about what it would be like to make out with him because I have felt a physical attraction since our first date. And...well, it was quite legitimately beyond anything that I'd imagined. I cannot emphasise enough how sexy it is when a man knows exactly what he's doing, who is self-assured and confident. Needless to say, I found my memories of last night rather distracting when I was trying to write my PhD today. I think it would've gone on for a longer time if he hadn't needed to wake up at 5.30am for work (he had a 7am meeting today. What the hell?!) and if he hadn't been slightly ill. I also thought that it was sweet that he didn't want to kiss me at first because he didn't want to pass his virus to me.
We still need to talk about things, though. This may come as a surprise to him, but I really don't care about the texting. For me, it's a means to an end, not an end itself, and while I like hearing from him, even if it's a two-word message (e.g. today he texted me, 'Mountain Blue'), the only reason it'd bothered me so much was because I'd read it as a sign of his lack of interest. But there is one thing that I would like him to do slightly differently: bloody make plans with me, dammit. I want to give him the right of first refusal to my time but that's not going to work if he doesn't make plans with me. I make it a point not to avoid making plans with my friends just in case he (or whoever I am dating) wants to see me on that day, because 1) that's just lame and 2) my life goes on even if I am seeing someone, right? But since I do want to see him, the problem of not having enough time for him can be avoided if we made plans in advance.
This makes perfect sense to me. But he doesn't seem to be the planning sort. We agreed to talk about things last night without specifying when; and while this would have bugged me before, now, I'm quite chill about it and am making an effort to take things as they come, stop trying to control things so much. But of course, if he doesn't indicate when he'd like to have this talk by, say, Friday, I'm going to bring it up. There's only so much patience an impatient person can have, right?
In any event, I really want this to work. I hope he does, too.
On a completely different note: I rejoined the mini league at the tennis club and played my first match yesterday. I went into it expecting to lose; I'd played a friendly set with my opponent once and lost 6-2, and I hadn't played a competitive match in months, so I didn't have a lot of confidence that I would win and was prepared to accept a loss.
I ended up winning 10-1.
I don't even know what happened. I'd felt really bad actually, when I was up 6-0 and thus secured the win. I didn't even want to win the tiebreak but won it anyway. I'd stopped trying after 6-0 but I just...didn't make as many mistakes, played aggressively, and won 10-1. She'd had a few double faults, but honestly, my backhand was the star of the match. I'd resigned myself to yet another loss because of my unstable and unpredictable backhand when I'd made two mistakes off the backhand in the first game (her opening service game) but it turned out that it was more solid than not; that I hit more aggressively off it than not; and that my ability to stay in the rally when the ball went to my backhand made a huge differencee to my level of confidence and the outcome of the match.
I'm really happy that my efforts over the past few months to concentrate on getting my feet moving to my backhand and setting up properly have paid off. I'd lost so many matches just because I couldn't get to my backhand in time, thus forgetting just how powerful it is when I hit it properly. After all, I picked up my backhand way before I even had a forehand, so I really have no business losing matches because my backhand broke down. I suppose it was also partly because of the aggressive shots off the backhand that I received a lot of floaty balls that gave me enough time to set up the forehand and put it away. I actually hit a lot of winners. It was fun.
Like I said, though, I felt really bad (paiseh) winning by such a large margin. I didn't know what to say to her after the match had ended, so I said, lamely, 'Well played.' Um wow. I wonder how Roger feels when he obliterates an opponent...is there any room for feeling bad with him?
Finally, two things: French speaking test on Friday. Oh my god why did I inflict this on myself?
My chapter one needed to be finished last week but I'm still slowly dawdling along. I'd wanted to finish the gay men part today but I was too tired, and stupidly thought I would come back and work on it in the evening. When will I learn that PhD and evening in my room simply do not mix?