Why Am I so Cynical about Love ?

I am not one to dwell too much on the past. At times I am grateful that I committed so much of my story to the blog. At other times I shy away of the visceral pain I experience when I read one vignette of the past. The pain I feel is not about lamenting lost love, it is about the amount of hurt and injustice I suffered at the hands of the disturbed person who used to be my husband. It is no wonder at all that I have sworn off men completely, apart from a brief relationship I had in New York.

When I met M. in New York, I was attracted to everything that contrasted him sharply with my ex. I fell hard for his dark, thin, and scruffy look. I was impressed by his poetic use of language,  more imagined in my head than real. He told me about his rural upbringing and his large family, his immigration to Canada, and his life as a perpetual student before starting work at the organization with me. Even given my few accomplishments in life, I was far more mature than he was. However, I wasn’t yet completely cured from my chronic low self-esteem. I still felt that this man was more accomplished and would never look at someone like me just because I was divorced and a couple of years older than he is.  For a time I oscillated between hope and despair, then finally convinced myself that this could work. A friend of mine even invited him along with me to dinner once, accepting us as a courting couple. For cultural reason we had to keep our involvement a secret at the workplace. But fortunately I did not have to keep this charade for a long time. It was exhausting for someone not used to telling stories, and lies.

Things quickly changed, when my beau became increasingly controlling. Once I arranged to meet with him but my former sister-in-law was in New York for a short visit and spent time with me, Robert and my mom. I could not get out of this meeting soon enough for us to have time together in the afternoon, and he did not accept my apology for this delay. At another time I spent an hour or so chatting with friends in the cubicle next to his and did not come to see him at my usual time, and he was offended that I preferred others. The final straw however was when one evening he called me inquiring what I did with my afternoon. I was puzzled because I am usually very pressed for time between work, errands and caring for my son. I recalled going to the bank in the building next to our office, then picking up my son from daycare and going home. He insisted that I tell him again and again my exact movements. At the end it turned out that he saw me leaving the office to the bank that afternoon and later saw my only male friend, and the husband of my New York sister and colleague, heading in the same direction a few minutes later and he came up with his own sick version of how my afternoon proceeded having a tryst with my best friend’s husband.  This accusation was so shocking to me that I completely lost all respect and love for him, it was the equivalent of throwing an ice-bucket over my lovelorn self. I was completely cured out of this crush. Shortly after this I flew home to South Africa and on my return I was able to break off with him completely. It took some time of course, but I no longer went out to him or spent time at his home, and in the end he understood. I wanted us to stay colleagues and maybe friends but his passive aggressive reaction was to stop talking with me completely and surprisingly this did not hurt much. I have been single since.

I still experience the occasional crush, but if the person I fancied was involved or uninterested I quickly forget. I am not young anymore but I get hit on by younger African guys, and I let them down easy. An affair, a fling, or a purely physical relationship will not work for me, I know. I have learned to look at the people I fancy with a critical eye, and as my male friend from New York advised once that I should, I have become better at reading danger signs. I now try to trust my instinct more.

It is not an easy task, when the intuition is miles ahead of the intellect. I now accept that my reasoned assessment of people is flawed. Out of all the people I fell in love with, there is perhaps only one, my childhood sweetheart, that I consider still worthy of romantic love.  Thirty years after our brief romance, he is still a person I would like to talk to, and above all he is a good human being and a wonderful father. When I fell in love with him, my instinct recognized these qualities from the start. But instead of believing my intution I went with an analysis of all the artificial differences that separated us. Thirty years later, the imagined barriers are ironically all gone and we now have similar lives, albeit on different continents. He also has a partner who appreciates him, having gone through a divorce herself.  He became the person I envisioned by intuition, and a true father to her children before they had their own together, I have never lost respect and appreciation for him as a person. Even after my broken marriage led to adventure, brought me places and gave me true independence. Sometimes I wish I chose intuition over intellect.

My track record since that first innocent love has been dismal. I am hopelessly attracted to interesting types, with problems. Men who charm me with their adventure, intelligence, or mysterious pain. Then, they turn out to be show-offs, sociopaths, or irresponsible womanizers. I learned to be cynical about my feelings. I simply see the signs, tick them off, and wait until the penny drops. It usually happens within a few months. Now I only have lighthearted crushes that never go very far beyond flirting. I enjoy the sense of power this gives me, sometimes I even enjoy the lightness of step, butterflies in the stomach, along with the curiosity of getting to know someone, and the sleepless nights of thinking about them. Those feelings make me remember again the flush of first love. In the end, however, they all fizzle to nothingness when reality sets in. My hard-won cynicism about love is vindicated, when the man in question turns out to be a player or a cad. I am safely again agnostic in matters of love, as I am agnostic in faith.

The upside is that I do not do heartbreak anymore. I haven’t experienced this desolation since my first relationship some 20 years ago. The downside is that I became doubtful of my capability of romantic love.  That said, I am still human, and despite everything I said here, a small part of me hopes that my reason will fail one day, and that I will know love by intuition, and lose the cynicism.

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