Sunday, 27 June 2010

The Art of Misery.

Recent research has found that, on average, 70% of suicidal callers phoning The Samaritans will change their mind and decide to carry on living. Apparently, this information was provided by the callers themselves after being contacted by The Samaritans. What I want to know is: how did they contact the other 30 percent? Or did they just think, “Oh, well, seventy percent have confirmed they’re still with us, so that means the others must have died.” Say they asked the said people to fill in questionnaires and the enquiries went along the lines of ‘Did you call feeling suicidal?’, then surely the next question that inevitably must have followed (i.e. ‘Did you change your mind?’) is a moot point. I would have been tempted to write, ‘No, I killed myself, I’m writing this through Derek Acorah.’ Obviously, there are some people who may have unsuccessfully attempted suicide but you cannot really get accurate statistics through such dubious research methods.

Anyway, all this got me thinking about life and death and other equally cheery subjects. After some reflection, I came to the conclusion that I am, if truth be told, quite ambivalent about life versus death because, quite frankly, I find the whole ‘life’ thing rather painful most of the time. Apart from hedonistic pleasures and fleeting moments of happiness, my life has thus far, not turned out quite as I had hoped. However, thinking laterally, I philosophised that actually I can use this to my advantage (please note: sometimes my attempts to make myself feel better with unconventional theories don’t always work out – see last blog). The way this works is that happy, fulfilled people face their mortality with such an ensuing dread that it has been scientifically proven that they will do anything to counteract that fear, leading to all manner of neuroses (I knew three years studying psychology would eventually come in handy). Us miserables, on the other hand, don’t have that problem. We can stare the grim reaper in the face and shrug: “What’s that you say, Mr Reaper, no more celibacy, anxiety and being ignored by employers? I’m gutted.” That’s not to say we actively embrace or encourage a premature demise, we don’t deliberately fall over into railway tracks or stick our wet fingers into electric sockets, but we can however, travel on a plane for example or inadvertently come across the din that is ‘dance’ music without worrying that it may kill us. Notice I didn’t mention things like smoking or drinking to excess. This is because both these things ruin your looks, cost too much and rather than kill you off completely, might just make you really bloody ill, wrinkly and skint. Yeah, I know a plane crash might not kill you either but I think the survival rate is pretty low, stop being pedantic, you know what I mean. But I suppose if you are over 80 and you’re also a miserable, then you can basically do what you want because being really ill will probably kill you off regardless. My friend Jane said she is going to try heroin and get fat when she’s 80. When I queried as to why, her reply was ‘because I can’. I have to admit I can see the logic. After being constantly on ‘fat watch’ since I was 14, the thought of having a takeaway without it being ruined by a mental running commentary of each calorific mouthful and it’s consequences (‘prawn cracker 20 calories = walk round the block, curry 500 calories = cancel leaving house for three weeks, special fried rice, 2000 calories = consider leaving country’), it actually sounds like a decent plan. In fact being an obese, alcoholic, druggy eighty year sounds like pretty darn good fun if you don’t mind the fact that nobody will want to have sex with you (but let’s face it, at eighty they probably won’t anyway).

So while all those annoying happies become more and more neurotic through repressing the truth about their mortal souls and avoiding contemplating the inevitable, us miserables can quietly smile to ourselves in the knowledge that apart from not causing anyone any psychological or physical pain, in the end, very little, really matters.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

I've been had.

“You’ve been had, I’m afraid,” my best and longest-standing friend Jane told me, “I’m sorry to tell you, and I know you’re a relentless smart arse, but there are some things a psychology degree doesn’t teach you.”

At first I couldn’t quite take on what she was saying; I’m a discerning woman, I have been known at times to detect the most plausible-sounding of deceptions, I always correctly identify the liar on ‘Golden balls’. But somehow I had been, as Jane said, quite simply duped by a textbook philanderer. I hated being shafted by a stereotype almost as much as I hated having to let him go – cliché stitch-ups were only supposed to happen when I was a naïve 18 year old, not now I’m a cynical thirty-something. What's more, in retrospect it’s pretty clear that the writing was on the wall virtually from day one, but blinded by lust and flattered by a combination of bullshit and a much needed massage to the ego, I chose to ignore the huge warning sign he should be made, by law, to have tattooed on his forehead.

To start with this decision was a quite deliberate attempt to avoid pain, cunningly disguised to myself and others as ‘being sensible’. This mastermind-level theory basically meant I had carefully made sure I hadn’t done anything that may have made me confront the truth. Later on however, the denial became subconscious as his philandering took on comical proportions. According to Jane, this is quite commonplace. “Zoe, I know a bloke who was caught in the act at a house party, actually caught in the act I tell you! And do you know what he told the girlfriend?” Jane said. “He said he had come out of the toilet, trousers still undone, slipped over and fell, penis first, into her!” Jane guffawed, “And yes, she chose to believe him! Alien abductions, a case of mistaken identity via a particularly horny doppelganger, it doesn’t matter what bullshit they peddle, they know you’ll go for the less painful option of accepting the lie!”
“But surely,” I said, a bit confused, “she must have been really, really stupid?”
“No, not at all, very clever actually, she was just romantically retarded. Like you.”

Looking back, I have to agree. He had a wife he claimed he was separated from but strangely, by his own admission, she wasn’t aware of this small but rather crucial nugget of information. Very convenient really; he knows they are separated but she doesn’t. Okaaay. He noticed me raise an eyebrow on telling me this.
“She thinks we’re just, you know, kind of…er…on a break.” This roughly translated meant she didn’t have a clue because, obviously, they were very much not on a break at all. “Like Ross and Rachel on Friends!” I said. “Yeah, brilliant programme, loved that show – genius,” he replied, relieved by this lucky chance to side step his dubious cover story.

I know what you’re thinking: “If you are intelligent and he basically told you without telling you, then why did you stick around? What did you expect?” Well, the truth is (and I’m a little embarrassed to admit it) to begin with I chose to bury that information somewhere deep down in the depths of my subconscious, along with the knowledge that my parents have had sex at least twice and the fact that if I don’t die young, I’ll die knowing what it’s like to be invisible to men and have grey pubic hair (is it wrong to find the former more palatable?).
“The thing is, you had little alternative but to choose to believe him,” Jane said, “because otherwise you wouldn’t get to have sex with this hunky, funny, clever, talented, charming man you were presented with. Either that or move your own personal goal posts of acceptability.” Unsurprisingly, given a particularly long spell of celibacy, I chose to opt for the latter. Okay, I thought, so he’s married – that could be an advantage! Yes, I will use it to my advantage: no wondering where he is at night, no worrying about him having an affair (I am the affair!) and I get to spend ninety percent of my leisure time sitting around in my pyjamas looking like crap. The other ten per cent of the time I would look amazing, be amazing and have an amazing time. It was perfect. I started to wonder why I had never considered this brilliant alternative relationship type before. After all, there are internet dating sites especially for those wishing to embark upon an affair, so this was hardly revolutionary stuff. And so the bar was moved from ‘potential boyfriend’ to ‘steamy affair without all the crap.’ I could live with that. Sex with gorgeous hunk – good. Freedom – good. What’s not to like?

As it happens, what I didn’t like was the fact that, far from being his special, sexy, femme fatale, I was actually a small part of a pattern of pathologically opportunistic behaviour. I found out that, contrary to my delusions of being his exclusive mistress, I was in fact part of a long line of girl ‘friends’ with whom he regularly tried his luck. To add insult to injury, he even propositioned someone while we were on a romantic weekend, mistakenly thinking I was safely ensconced at the bar! And the more I found out, the worse it got. The man was an incorrigible serial adulterer and so any woman, from the stunningly beautiful and witty, to the vaguely shaggable dullard, was a challenge that he fundamentally just could not let pass by. I tried to make myself feel better about it by reflecting that millions of women had to be preferable to him having an obsession with just the one. That is, if he was flirting indiscriminately, then he was clearly not serious about them and therefore no threat was posed. Surely, I reasoned, if womanizing was just his stock-in-trade, then he was unlikely to have any feelings for any of the girls; they weren’t in the least bit special to him.

And then I realised that by definition, sadly, that included me.