5. Men, Mice, Rats & I
At the outset, a clarification: I am not a man-hater. Au contraire, some of my best friends are male; heterosexual and gay, they are men of integrity and charm. I am also not a man-eater, although I will grudgingly admit that the cougar in me has surfaced on an occasion or two. However, be it with bosses, lovers, friends, or even domestic staff, I have, again and again, chosen to stay on in toxic relationships with men, significant and insignificant, for the longest time.
Post my divorce, in my mid-30s, life offered me a second doorway to the world. My work took me to fabulous places and I met the cream of society everywhere. I could really have had it all at that point.
Unfortunately, I slipped back into the classic predator/victim/angry/self-destructive mode again. Call it bad karma, the effects of Saturn or continued naïveté, but the ensuing cycle – it spanned twelve whole years – was harsh.
In the first half of that era, I worked with a monster. I dated predators and played victim to all sorts of rats, including men of God. A male friend once asked me, ‘But how on earth do you get into these situations?!’ Flippantly, I’d shot back, ‘Oh I pick them out.’
The truth is some of us are really slow learners. We almost enjoy tripping over our own neon shoelaces. One day, however, I met the second significant love of my life, quite accidentally. It was love at first strike – he appeared like a thunderbolt. We both stood transfixed. As if we were seeing the ghosts of ourselves after centuries. I like to call it serendipity, as the relationship was unexpectedly beautiful in many ways. From then on, the biggest source of joy and unhappiness – it was a gigantic seesaw of equal proportions – was the abiding and progressively toxic love that we shared. In truth, it was a game of cops and robbers: we were both each other’s prisoners and captors. I was a love addict and he had his own issues.
In that relationship, I played a role akin to that of a demure geisha without realising that I was actually in a demeaning relationship and never flourished. I was also forced to accept, finally, that the pathetic third arm in a triangle – three, dear hearts, is a crowd – is always the most weighed down.
I marinated in the sugar syrup of that thing called ‘love’ or at least the misguided delirium of it. Forever in waiting! He loved me from afar, he loved me in his head and he loved me at his convenience. At this crucial juncture, you might question what I was thinking. The truth is I wasn’t!
As if this wholly romantic, mostly virtual and entirely unfulfilling love affair wasn’t enough, I got a job in a similarly passive-aggressive environment. I was hired by a high-profile society maven, a saccharine-sweet looker whose dirty work was done for her by minions and a henchman – the chief monster — who was a master in the art of destroying people. It was an acceptable norm within the company, which worked on a carrot and stick model, with the owners intimidating employees by undermining their confidence and then confusing them by offering goodies after subjecting them to bouts of acute humiliation.
I stayed on in that abusive and psychotic office for almost a year. During that time my boss once sent me a pair of diamond and pearl earrings as a birthday gift. A long strand of bleached hair was caught in the clasp. I knew I should have returned the earrings, but was too polite to, and gave them away to someone who admired them.
The breaking point came when the chief monster ripped me apart viciously in a team meeting. I’d stood my ground, matching him word for word. Afterward, I was summoned to the boss’s chamber where the monster – a slight, little guy who wore glasses and went on to write a book about being bullied in school – proceeded to tick me off.
He pointed a finger and said, “I admit you write well and have a way with words. That does not grant you the license to challenge me.”
My boss twisted the emerald rock on her finger, flicked her shining tresses, quaffed some tobacco out of a silver tin and looked away studiously. I hadn’t understood the rules of the game. I had stepped on the fox’s toe in the lioness’ den, dangerously spurred on by idealistic conviction. The end was a fait accompli. I was meat for the management.
In those days, it appeared the Universe was showing me what I had refused to see for so many years. One day, at breakfast with a friend, I suddenly saw my paramour sitting nearby. A woman’s handbag rested on the table. Quickly I fixed lipstick, brushed hair, straightened my shirt, sprayed perfume, popped a mint and steadied myself for a possible confrontation. The owner of the handbag was still nowhere in sight, while HE – looking hunched and haggard despite his newly-dyed receding hairline – sat there forking some food desultorily into his mouth.
By now, the waiters had lined up in a row to watch what promised to be a show, if not a showdown. I nodded at them, strode across to him and nonchalantly said, “Oh hello, what a surprise.” Needless to add, my old man, hereby referred to as Chicken Little, paled and mumbled: “Oh my God. What are you doing here? Please go away. My wife is in the toilet.”
Perverse, as I am prone to be, I shot back, “Oh, does she have an upset tummy? And why on earth shouldn’t I be here? It’s a public place. I was having breakfast, just like you lovebirds. And now that the ménage à trois is complete, let’s make introductions.” Just then I saw the two forks – his and hers – resting on the plate he was eating off. The forks sat next to two ugly red sausages and what looked like a vomit of scrambled eggs.
Aghast, I gasped, “You are sharing breakfast with her? Just a few weeks ago you told me that I am the love of your life, that your married life is entirely unromantic.”
Our tense exchange was cut short by the appearance of his bigger half. To the mise en scène born, I smiled warmly at her approaching battleship form. She smiled back. He had frozen into an icicle caught between big mama and the She-Devil who wears Zara.
It was a priceless picture – the ultimate Kodak moment that will remain forever etched in all our memories. I left them to their curdled breakfast and walked out into the sunshine cradling my stomach – my insides felt as if impaled by fine shards of glass.
That evening, my friend commiserated saying – “Honey, it was just two sausages. Married people do these appalling things. They share breakfast. They share beds. Sometimes they even pretend. Like hell. And, at the cost of being hurtful, I have to say that he looks like an ordinary Joe, someone who I wouldn’t look askance at. Not that I am interested in men. You can do better. But clearly, he doesn’t love either of you.”
Robert Burney in Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls states: ‘As long as we believe that someone else has the power to make us happy then we are setting ourselves up to be victims.’ It took me several years to shed the insidious lure of victimhood.
Read Volume 4, here.
Read Volume 6, here.
About the author: Born with a silver spoon, golden girl Venus is a bright and witty fifty-something, whose persona matches that of her archetype. A wordsmith by profession, she believes in saying it as it is. Cougar mommy, woman of the world, she is part diva, part agony aunt, who believes that her vulnerability is her strength. Her life’s mantra: Find beauty, purpose shall follow.
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