We are on a trip back to the boyfriend’s childhood home and his stepfather, for whom I have developed a great fondness, is standing at the end of our bed.
He had knocked (cursorily) and wandered in and is now casually chatting about the activities planned for the day ahead.
The boyfriend has his head in his hands.
Then his stepdad’s phone rings and he takes the call. IN THE ROOM.
He settles himself on the comfy chair in the corner and chats to A N Other about the fencing he needs done.
The boyfriend’s eyes roll heavenwards.
I feel 18, rather than 48.
Out of the corner of my eye I can see a very small pair of my lacy pants lying on the floor, but I cannot retrieve them because under the covers I am ENTIRELY NAKED.
Restarting your romantic life in your mid-40s makes you relive your teenage years.
In fact, just last week I slunk over to my mother to ask her if I could go to my boyfriend’s for a sleepover. Seeking her permission, with a touch of nerves and a barrel-load of hope – just as I did when I was 19. Except now, instead of negotiating around my studies, I’m asking if she will oversee my children and the dog.
This trip back to the boyfriend’s hometown is exaggerating these teenage feels. His bedroom, crammed with gap-year photos, gives everything a shot of sepia-tinged nostalgia.
As does watching the dynamic he has with his best friend and his best friend’s mother (whom he calls Mrs M, because despite how grown-up you are, you would never call those people by their first name, however much they plead).
It reminds me how many of our behavioural patterns – including who you find attractive and, in a deeper way, how you behave within relationships – are laid down in those early years.
I used to think therapy that harked back to childhood was such a cliché; it seemed so navel-gazing, all about passing responsibility for character flaws on to your parents – ‘My mum didn’t let me watch Grange Hill, ergo I am a narcissistic cheater.’
But if you watch Love Island (compulsory viewing if you have teenagers) with the self-awareness of someone who has had to delve seriously into their own behaviour, then you can see how critical those years are to forming your lens on relationships.
Do your love patterns come as a result of childhood experiences? Do you think certain behaviours are OK because your parents did them? Flare to anger because that’s what your dad did? Want to be treated like a princess because your mother was? Or crave validation because you didn’t get it? Smooth things over and bury emotions because you grew up in a house full of conflict?
Abandonment issues sound like something only suffered by LA starlets, rather than we sturdy Brits, but lots of us are touched by them. If when you were a child one of your primary caregivers was absent or left, the chances are you won’t have escaped them.
My parents split up when I was three and this resulted in me developing some protection mechanisms where men were concerned.
I know that as a teenager and early 20-something I was lovely to my female friends, but I gave boyfriends hell. I didn’t let them get close.
In therapist speak this is classic ‘anxious avoidant’ behaviour.
This changed when I matured and I found love and stability, but I had to fight it resurfacing after I got divorced.
I had to do what therapists call ‘the work’. The work is another phrase that might make you feel nauseous – it did me – but it’s really just looking at yourself and your behaviour, unpicking why you get into negative patterns.
And as it has such a major impact on your relationships and your happiness, why wouldn’t you invest a bit of time and effort?
You’ll be pleased to know the trauma of Pantsgate required no costly therapy sessions to exorcise, just plentiful and stiff holiday gin and tonics.
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