When Faced with Mortality

It is another of those times where I am forced into introspection, where I need to step back and think, and in this case quite literally, about the meaning of life. Not just generally, but specifically, about a life and my life. My grandfather passed away on Friday morning after six years of a real depletion of quality of life due to a stroke. In many ways it is a relief for him and for my gran who has selflessly cared for him everyday, an act that has truly aged her too.

My grandparents had been married for 53 years and my grandfather died in peace in the home he built himself close-on 60 years ago, with my gran by his side. Considering his physical state and age, that can be the best way to go, particularly for him, a simple and traditional man. It was heart wrenching watching my gran say good-bye to him. He really has been all she has ever known. They met when she was 20, married two years later and had four children together. Her every waking hour for the last 53 years has been primarily focused on providing for him and seeing her in their home quite alone and old was a stark reality for me to take in.

One thing that really stuck with me was something quite contradictory to what we are told and that is that life is long. Our youth may be short, but when you start examining the life of someone 84 years long, you begin to comprehend time. Life also gets particularly longer in old age, and if you are ill or don’t have anything to fill your days with, time must be torturous. Seeing my grandparents’ life over the last few years has forced me, despite being in my 20s, really start preparing now for those years because I certainly don’t want to be sitting in my house waiting to die. It also got me thinking about my time now and if I am doing enough for my own selfish happiness, if I am spending my time in the best manner possible in these younger energetic years. I am sure there are things both my grandparents wish they had done, perhaps living in a different city, maybe being a little less frugal, delayed having children. I am going to assume they felt that way and do it for them anyway.

I also assume it is natural, but I felt myself slipping into the spiritual and had to force myself to come back to reason when thinking of my grandfather’s passing. I guess when you lose someone the thought of being able to see them again “on the other side” is comforting but I found it much more comforting to think about it truly being the end. Our brain deals with situations through learned responses and when our only frame of reference to death is one we have learned from religion, it gets hazy. The more you think about death, and in particular your own death, the easier it become to deal with. My experience of losing my younger sister a few years ago was a vastly different emotional experience. Yes, in her case it was a sudden and unreasonable death. At ten years old, she had hardly experienced life at all. Dealing with the loss of her knocked me but it was also incredibly formative and forced a realization of my own mortality. It is a terrible frame of reference to build but it is a crucial one.

This is the first of my four grandparents to have died so in the next few years I will be faced with losing another three all with different lessons to take away from their lives. I can only hope that they go just as peacefully and satisfied.

In Rememberance of Edgar Ronald Ross Farnham 13.10.1929 – 10.10.2014

Image Source : image taken in Alice Springs, my grandfather’s Australian home town

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The Male Female Friendship Dynamic

BestiesI have, in the last few months, been lucky enough to have made an amazing guy friend who has been a great influence during a challenging period. Being single for the first time in a while has allowed me to jump into a friendship with a guy and I have enjoyed almost every minute of it.

I have always been “one of the boys” and a bit of a tomboy, I love playing and watching sports, I’m a sucker for beautiful cars and can appreciate a good set of boobs. So it goes without say that I have always just hung about the boys even from the earliest age.

My very first friend at nursery school was a boy however, as I headed into late high school and started dating more seriously, those friendships tended to fall into the background. He and I have had such good laughs together in the last few months playing hockey, having dance-offs and just really getting to know someone of the opposite sex with no strings attached. This is the first time since my teen years that I have been able to really have great fun with the boys again.

Mixed gender friendships certainly have an interesting dynamic now as adults. It can be quite a task to discern between some complicated emotions and to resist the natural urge to just jump into a relationship. Neither he nor I want a relationship right now, which is great as the boundaries are quite clear between us; that this friendship will be nothing more than that. Our circle of friends seem to be fascinated with the fact that we have never kissed or slept together, which says a lot about our society and the general resistance towards boy-girl friendships. At every social gathering we are both questioned about our motives and if anyone had made a move yet. I don’t understand why, when a guy and girl are close friends, everyone immediately thinks it is impossible without the sexual aspect confusing the dynamic and that at some point we must just “stop denying our feelings and just date.”

That is not to say that there is no attraction there. I am attracted to him, he is a fantastic person, we talk about every aspect of our lives with each other, including our romantic lives, and we have spoken about the dynamics of our friendship at-length. We have been open about our attraction to each other, I find him to be a very good-looking guy and he has passed some comments too but that is as far as it goes. It is ironic though, he is probably one of the very few people I could have a successful and happy relationship with but in my mind the reason it works so well is that we aren’t in a relationship.

There is no pressure or obligation to see each other, but we see each other almost every day and we see each other because we both really want to. I don’t get offended or feel rejected if he tells me he doesn’t want to see me, and he the same. He can go off and have wild nights and appear at my door at 01:30 in the morning and I’m not angry, but rather sit and listen to his stories about his escapades until the early hours of the morning.

This man holds such a special place in my heart, and I know he will hate me for saying it, but I really do love him. Not romantic love, that is fickle and jealous and complicated. I have a real love for him that is simple and inexplicable really. On days I don’t see him it feels as though something is missing. I love him so much and love what we have, it is so much better than any relationship could provide.

PS.

This piece from SoulPancake’s The Science of Love channel has some great points: Can Men and Women Be Just Friends?

There is also this interesting blog called Forty Days of Dating where a set of GB best friends decide to date for forty days to see if being together would really work. 

The Reality of a Shallow Dating Pool

Now that I feel as though I am in a slightly better state of recovery, I have for the first time in my life, begun dating and it is a dismal reality that the dating pool, particularly in Johannesburg, is more a children’s splash pool than an Olympic diving arena.

Over a period of four months I have been on roughly eight dates with five potentials and within those eight dates there has been a zero percent conversion rate into anything more than an awkward good-bye, or in some cases a horrified sprint in the opposite direction. Evenings filled with forced and shallow conversation, borderline midgets, perverts, and brain donors have proven for great comedic material and not much else. There was a brief experience with the horrific Tinder application where I quickly learnt that it is a freak magnet, and promptly deleted it with fervor.

Perhaps I am at an age where “all the good men are taken or gay” but the prospects of anyone remotely decent are not promising. I think part of the problem is that the last relationship raised my standards to a possibly unachievable level for any bastard but it also changed my view on relationships dramatically. I now find myself not believing in anything long-term, those fleeting weaknesses don’t last and I find myself disconnecting from my true self. I am looking for someone who can challenge me intellectually, provide fulfilling physical interactions, and to go on adventures with a few times a month, until we both find no further joy from each other and part ways amicably as friends.

These requirements, although simple I think, are proving difficult to find in a city like Johannesburg. I find the men to be rather dense, immature and stuck in the “get hammered every weekend” mentality. The people I have found most intriguing lately have returned from long stints in Europe or are well into their 40s, but for various reasons (like recent divorces or still in relationships) have fallen off my radar of potential. This has forced me to come to the conclusion that I need to move to Europe at some point to have any hope of an affair.

The Formidable Bachelor once told me that there were many men like him in Johannesburg, I am convinced that was a complete (and comforting) lie on his behalf, or maybe I am just hunting in the wrong forests. Perhaps, it is also that the kind of man I like spends the majority of his time (much like me), working.

Assistance dear reader; where have all the good men gone?

splish_splash

The Constant Pursuit of Happy

Damn the media for skewing my idea of happiness, it takes a lot of work to undo that which has taken so long to entrench. It also takes a whole lot of unhappiness to realise that life isn’t rosy and has little to no purpose. Perhaps I am just incredibly cynical and will become my own self-fulfilling prophecy.

I get the sense that this constant pursuit for happiness is unique to my generation. I think it is the combination of media telling us that everything is attainable through hard work and having too much choice for our own good. It is a plague of Generation Y that we have been fed lines like “if you believe it, you can be it” or “success is just around the corner” and this has resulted in a “never settle” mindset. There always seems to be bigger and better on the horizon and this applies to relationships, work, friendships, travel, nothing is ever present, it is always about next. So much happiness for our generation is placed on an idea of success that revolves around status and finance, where enough will never be enough.

Questionably the worst pictures painted are those of romantic success. Love is made to seem quite attainable but as has been proven to me more often than not, it does not exist in its idealised romantic form. We are fed this image of a breath-taking experience, of one day walking into a dusty bookstore and while paging through a book of Coleridge’s work you are taken aback by a gorgeous stranger who is fingering an edition of Ender’s Game to look up and to have his breath taken away in turn. Then you ride off into the Turneresque sunset living happily in some kind of beautifully intellectual forever. Well, that is pretty specific, but everyone has their list of perfection. You might find someone who takes your breath away initially but then once the romance is over and you both begin letting yourselves go and blaming your unhappiness on the other, it is slightly less breath taking. I think that I might find a lot more happiness in my own oneness. There is something satisfying in the deafening alone to me.

Let me not though make you cynical like myself, I wish that upon no one. It is important that you make your own definition of happiness. Ask yourself what your days and weeks need to be filled with to be joyful to you. Mine seems to be a simple life filled with writing, art, travel, financial comfort, quiet contemplation and stimulating conversation. Yours might be one filled with excess, a large family with the person you love, and a job filled with status, do not dampen those dreams if they will make you joyful. Each experience is unique and fulfilling subjectively, just ensure that it is true to you.

My most recent existential crisis that of course inspired this piece; was brought on by my realisation that I had placed a large portion of my happiness in what I thought was to be a dream job. However, like many romances, it lost its sparkle rather quickly and I am left feeling disappointed and have questioned what will bring me happiness in my work. How do I need to fill my 9-5 to be joyful and productive? I had begun blaming the people around me; my direct report, my clients, and previous employers but concluded that the job could make many people happy. If you had to place someone else into my position, they could find happiness easily and enjoy coming to work everyday. I could just leave and go to something else, but what I have also learnt is that I would probably be just as unhappy or unhappier somewhere else. The grass is not always greener, sometimes you just need to put in some effort on your side of the fence. Water your grass a little, plant a tree, maybe some install some sad attempt at a swing set and appreciate the sunshine until the garden gate opens itself to the next garden that will require some effort too. Never settle for a situation of unhappiness, settle for a path towards an idea of happiness and find joy in the walk, don’t pressurise yourself so much to achieve happiness, that goes against the idea.

TimMinchin

 

This speech by Tim Minchin has brought me great satisfaction in the past.

If this is the only interaction you have with this post, I will be glad.

Take it to heart dear reader.

The Art of Being Alone [Part 2]

I got an overwhelming response from readers of The Art of Being Alone and felt that I had to do part two because I feel there is more to the story. In part one I discussed my feelings on being single for the first time in eight years, I described it as an awesome place to be and I agree that it is. However, I need to address the other side of the story after some responses I received.

It is unfortunate that many of my close friends are too, recovering from heartbreak and are in different stages of recovery and their responses affected me a great deal. One friend in particular who is going through an especially tough break-up had said to me that she wishes she felt the same as I did about being single. I then thought that she saw me motoring through this difficult experience easily and that I gave that impression in the blog post. Being single is fantastic, I feel closer to and happier with myself but I really am struggling to find closure on the relationship that had such a profound impact on me.

I feel like my recovery is much slower than I would like. I have spent almost half the time of the relationship trying to get over him and some days it feels as though the pain is worse than the day before. The worst of it though has been this new and  immovable sense of regret. Initially I had felt as though I had no regrets, that I did all I could in that relationship and nothing I could have said or done would have changed the outcome but of late, I feel the opposite. I feel as though I was cowardly in my expression of feelings, that I never took control of the relationship and that I certainly didn’t give of my best. It is terrible to look back in hindsight, but is perhaps natural to do when trying to find answers through your biased frame of reference.

I have had two long-term relationships previous to this, one of which I lived with for almost two years, but I never experienced this level of pain and regret. When he made the decision to end the relationship it came from left-field and I didn’t get the opportunity to have a conversation once reality sunk in. He ended it, we spoke for about an hour and then I drove away knowing I would never be able to talk to him again. I just wanted to recover from the initial shock and then tell him how I feel and move on. But instead I am left with a “what if…” in my mind that will never be answered. In some ways I am grateful for the way in which he has cut himself off from me but I also feel as though I haven’t been able to close that chapter of my life.

Weeks can go by where I feel fantastic about being single but then difficult days can come unexpectedly. I can become overwhelmed with disbelief that he is no longer around and it can take me days more to pull myself out of that funk. It has been a great help to write about my experience, I can go back to see how far I’ve come, how feelings have evolved and realise that the bad patches will also pass. It has been somewhat paradoxical, I am thoroughly enjoying the single life but still miss him and what we had.