What follows is a true story, or at least as truthful as I was aware of at the time of writing. It was started on an A2 sketch pad that I sat down in front of one mid-summer day. I was in the grip of such a depression that I decided to try and sketch or write down something of what I was thinking and feeling in the hope that it would reveal some sort of coherent picture. It marked a key point in a journey. A path of recovery that actually started many years previously and that I’m still travelling along at this moment in time (1991).
Writing became an important part of the whole process. I carried a notebook with me almost all of the time, and if by chance I didn’t have it with me I would write on any scrap of paper to hand. So strong was the compulsion to make some sort of sense of the painful feelings and horrific thoughts that plagued me.
Since the early 70’s I had been involved, along with many other people, with the counselling and personal growth movement. At that time there were a number of different systems or models of personal growth available to people, most of which sprang up and developed initially in the United States. I wasn’t a dabbler though, so I chose one particular model and have stuck to it for nearly twenty years. The System I chose suited me down to the ground. The skills were basic and simple and at that time seemed to have a sense of client centred-ness about them. There was also the advantage that, once I had a firm grasp of the basic principles, there was a network of individuals to work with on a regular basis if I wanted.
I plugged steadily away at things for many years, working slowly and painfully through many difficult periods, being supported in that work by many different people and in turn assisting them along their own particular path of self-discovery. After nearly twenty years of this however, even though I had made many gains, I began to question the whole process. At some intuitive level I felt that somehow I wasn’t getting anywhere. Major elements of my life didn’t, to me at least, seem to be going the way I wanted them to. Although I had a steady job which to many friends and relatives seemed ideal, I was far from happy in it. Establishing a relationship with a woman was as difficult for me at forty as it was in my teens. Although I found it relatively easy to make friends with women, it was always a struggle for me if I wanted to take it any further. I seemed to suffer from such feelings of desperation that women picked up on them intuitively and backed away from me. Which in turn simply compounded my desperation. I suffered from bouts of depression that occasionally were so deep that they interfered with my view of reality to the point that I doubted that there was anything positive in life at all.
I can’t remember when I took the decision, but at some point in my thirty ninth year I decided to commit myself to working intensively on my relationships with women.
Within the network of counsellors that I was part of there were a number of women that I worked with on a regular basis, most of whom were committed feminists. In working with them I began to discover and take on board the broad picture of my life as a working class male up to that point.
Like many men of the time I suffered from a considerable amount of confusion and guilt around feminist issues, and in particular around the area of sexuality. During the so-called sexual revolution of the sixties, I remained painfully shy and inhibited around women of my own age. In fact it was the mid seventies, at the age of twenty six, that I eventually lost my virginity. If I had held out that long because of a relaxed attitude about the whole thing that would have been fine. However, mostly I carried a sense of inadequacy and failure. It was something I felt I couldn’t admit to anyone let alone my own peer group of working class males. I felt ridicule and rejection would have been the order of the day.
I did eventually get into a long standing relationship of sorts. I say of sorts because throughout its ten year period it remained unstable, with my partner almost constantly expressing dissatisfaction with me or some aspect of the relationship. She had a succession of affairs throughout the time we lived together and couldn’t understand why I didn’t seem to have jealous tantrums. This was something I couldn’t figure out myself at the time.
For a while I had dropped out of the counselling network that I had been involved with. Partly because of pressure from my partner who didn’t recognise it as professional. She eventually found someone through an ex lover of hers, a Unitarian Church Minister who also did a certain amount of counselling on the side. She was a bit taken aback though when he insisted on seeing us as a couple, since she didn’t see herself as part of the problem. Nevertheless we went along together once a week for about a year until I eventually decided to opt out and go back to the form of counselling I had been involved in previously. I couldn’t get use to, or even see the validity of, the method of counselling he practiced, which was based, as I understood it, on dream interpretation. I had difficulty remembering dreams let alone recording them in the middle of the night or first thing in the morning while they were still fresh in my mind. So I hardly ever had anything for him to work on, whereas my partner had reams.
Not long after I had opted out, my partner announced that she and the minister had become lovers. She decided to move out of the house we were buying together and moved into a flat while the legal details were being sorted out. A few weeks after this at around midnight one evening, my doorbell rang and there she was in tears. I took her in and the story came out that he had started hitting her. Though she did go back a few more times, she wasn’t the type to stay in a situation like that and luckily he wasn’t the type to pursue her. So it ended very quickly.
Over a period of about a year we drifted back together and she eventually broached the subject of living together again. This time however, I wanted to be sure of her feelings as well as my own so I decided to hold back for six months. The decision taken I placed my house on the market: by this time she had her own place which was better situated so she was reluctant to give it up. Two months after this she changed her mind again. A month later she telephoned me to say that she was involved with someone that she had only been seeing platonically for the previous four months. She rang me to tell me that it hadn’t been an affair.
If there was one thing that constantly nagged me about her behaviour it was the fact that she was able to get involved with other men so readily and appeared able to handle something that was casual. I couldn’t condemn her for it. In fact I often felt pleased for her. What bothered me was that I couldn’t do the same myself. Although I was attracted to other women, I never felt that it was OK to get involved with them. How was it that I could morally condone her behaviour and yet condemn myself and other men for doing the same?
I began to work fairly intensively on my confusion in this area with my counsellors in the network. In particular I began to talk to women counsellors whose thinking I felt I could trust. What began to emerge was that the way I was interpreting feminist thinking and ideology was being coloured and distorted by a considerable amount of conditioning and painful experience from my working class male upbringing.