Philipa Perry writes the ‘problem page’ for the Observer now, and I think she’s a really good agony aunt.
A few weeks ago she advised a man who was struggling with his life — boredom and ennui, as I remember it — to pay attention to his dreams. Perhaps new avenues for exploration would be revealed. Her advice has stayed with me, and I have been suffering in a similar way to her interlocutor, I have been meaning to pay a bit of attention to my dream life.
Yesterday, I wrote about a dream I had had about D. — a man I had a long experience of not being loved by (probably the best way to describe it). Of rejection. After finishing my blog, going about my daily business, I really thought about D. (I’m happy to report I refrained from Googling him again, although the impulse was there) and what a big deal that whole episode in my life had been. So much so, I thought I could probably write a whole series of posts about it, practically a book, and I resolved to do just that for the foreseeable future. But last night I had another dream which got my attention.
Actually last night’s dream stayed with me after waking with a strong emotional resonance; probably even more so than the dream the night before about D.
I thought about sitting down and writing today’s blog post about it while it was still fresh in my mind, but there were things I needed from Aldi, and I prefer to get difficult, less enjoyable tasks out of the way as soon as possible. So I went to Coffee1, had a latte, and then walked up to the supermarket. This was all well and good because it gave me a bit longer to reflect on my dream and the feelings which emanated from it.
So in the dream I was having a relationship with another male who’s name begins with D. This man I also knew from AA in London, and I similarly quite liked the idea of developing a relationship with him, although it was nowhere near as important to me as my relationship with the other D.
D. was a middle class Jewish man who owned his own flat and had a good job as an editor of one of the main newspapers in the UK. He was interesting and pretty friendly. One time he gave me a grammar lesson to help me in my writing pursuits, I visited his flat in south London a few times, and I regularly saw him in meetings and so got to know him in a highly person way. A personal way, but not highly personal to me way. This is one of the quirks of AA. You have these immensely intimate experiences with people that, at the same time, are not necessarily personal. Not particular to you and them, if you know what I mean. So with D., we were friends, but I also knew a lot of stuff about his life that only a thing like AA will provide. So, in the dream, unlike in life, we were ‘seeing’ one another.
The dream was located in one of those odd dream spaces that is hard to define. I don’t know what it was, but there was another couple there. The guy was a local who is a writer and runs a trendy cafe in my local town. He’s very handsome, probably in his thirties, and has a partner (who I have never met) and a young child. That is all I know about him. A successful local man.
The woman — the cafe owner/writer’s partner — was someone my brain made up. Both were milling about around D. and I. At some point D. confessed that he had had a relationship with the woman, or a fling, since we had being seeing each other. I was very upset about this, and it became clear that the cafe owner/writer didn’t know about it. I was upset about it, but at the same time, it provided some sort of weird satisfaction because the cafe owner/writer was a man that I had had a bit of a crush on (in the dream as well as real life). Cafe owner is called J.
J. and I start discussing his cafe, which has been closed after the pandemic, and had been similarly afflicted in the dream. I was asking him if the cafe would re-open and he said he didn’t know. I expressed dismay about this saying, “Oh, but I love your cafe”.
Various bit of said cafe furnished the dream: vegetables from the farm shop; salad; a bit of cake. I was somehow going through these items full of regret for what was going on with the cafe. Also with no small amount of amazement about the affair that D. had undertaken with J’s partner. I started to place small pieces of paper in a portentous fashion to hint about the secret life I had found out about.
Now in real life I did actually apply to J’s cafe for a job. I went into the cafe and met him and he told me to send in my CV even though the job that had been advertised had gone. I did as he asked and he didn’t even reply to my email. I felt really hurt by this denouement because I had put a lot of effort and feeling into writing that CV, and I absolutely hate writing CV’s (who doesn’t?). This turn-up actually caused me shame and feelings of depression. The reason being that I actually quite fancied J. and I really wanted a job in his cafe.
The cafe is a really popular destination in this town. They make amazing cakes and sourdough breads. The venue of the old place, before the pandemic, was really gorgeous. A bit like a huge artists studio, or large loft. There was art hanging on the walls, ladders with books on, old record covers and gorgeous bits of pottery. I loved the place, and it sold great coffee. The fact that J. didn’t even bother to answer my email, made me feel a bit ashamed, as I said. I felt like he’d intuited that I liked him and thought — I don’t want her in here. I should really have emailed again and asked why he hadn’t even answered my message, but I didn’t have the guts. After that I stopped going to the cafe, and wasn’t exactly delighted when I saw that they had a new post pandemic venue (not as nice) and would be opening up again in due course.
Sitting drinking my morning tea, thinking over the dream and real life stories associated with it made me feel depressed. It reminded me of my failures — D. number 2, J. and the job at the cafe. I felt: I am a total failure. Curiously the dream the night before that had not aroused such strong feelings in me, even though I consider the failure with other D. to be far larger and more defining, in my waking mind. But this new dream itself was not really about failure. The affair had in fact brought me closer to J. It made him more human and relatable to me, even though I was pissed off that D. had had an affair with J’s partner.
These feeling of shame and failure stayed with me, earlier this morning. I got ready to go to the shops and reflected on just how many romantic rejections I’ve sustained, like injuries. There have been simply loads. If I counted the list would be endless. It filled me with despair and self loathing.
The other night I watched the Channel Four (or maybe BBC) documentary about the INCEL movement. I found it quite shocking, and obviously topical for us brits, with the recent shooting incident here in the UK.
The anger of these men who have been sexually rejected too many times for them to cope with. Their despair about their inability to find a woman that wants to be with them; that I could really relate to. Not the rage, but the despair and depression. It isn’t often that you hear people being so open about this topic, which surely affects most people to a greater or lesser extent. And to place so much importance on this failure. To be, in essence, defined by it. This, in many ways, is how I too have felt in my life, but I have repressed these feelings in the knowledge that it isn’t really socially acceptable to own such overwhelming feelings of longing and grief about romance. It is thought to be shallow and childish, I think. And I must admit, as I watched these dudes going on about their lack of success, quite apart from their revenge tactics, which are obviously really appalling, my overwhelming feeling was — this has been blown out of all proportion. They have blown their failures into something much more self-defining than they should. I just wanted to say — get a life! Why define your life’s achievement by romance? It appeared stupid and childish. I wanted to say to them — go to college or something. Focus on something else; maybe you’ll meet someone eventually. But you know I really identify with their upset and I find it hard to right size these feelings, just as these young men do.
But on my way up to Aldi I thought things through a bit more. I thought: Is it true that I am really a total failure? (this is what the dream had made me feel again). True, I am not with someone I would like to be with. I don’t have a job I love. I have no money and few possessions like a house or car; that many people my own age do have. Because it isn’t as though I never tried to get my life together. I went to university, I’ve worked. I’ve met many people I would have settled for, and tried to relate to them. Is there anything I could really have done about failing? If I honestly gave things a go, which I really did, I think the answer to that question is no.
Then I thought: I have had some success.
This blog. I enjoy writing it and to find something I enjoy doing was all I ever really wanted. I’m interested in books and ideas — and after loosing my interest in things I formerly enjoyed, having interest in books again is not something I can readily take for granted. I have one really good friend who I can be myself with. I live in the country, which I really wanted and could see no way of achieving for my final years as a city-dweller. These are all successes. I have a volunteer job I like. And, and I think this is important one: I did have a relationship with someone who I really wanted a relationship with. I liked him as much as any of the ones who didn’t want me to be their girlfriend.
I realised that the inability to count success is just depression, which stops one from seeing reality. It makes you see everything as doom and gloom. It’s a form of insanity, a mental illness. It doesn’t reflect reality. In reality, I never had any control over how things would turn out in my life. Or not much control. The only bit that I had control over was that I tried. That’s the end of it.
I tried to be an artist for a really long time; that didn’t work out. I did all sorts of writing courses; that didn’t work out. I tried to stay sober but kept relapsing. And like I said, the men I liked didn’t like me. I could never save money, and lived on the brink of destitution for most of my life. I suffered from Bipolar disorder. These are my failures, or the circumstances of my life.
By the time I got home with my shopping I was feeling pretty cheerful. So I’ll count through that as another small success. I think small successes are what I should be aiming for from now on.