Sarah Britten
Sarah Britten

Why I’ve retired from men

So it’s that time of the year again: the anniversary of my divorce (or divorsary as a friend has termed it). It’s coming up for three years now – if this were a wedding anniversary, the appropriate gift would, apparently, be something to do with leather.

I’ve been told on several occasions that it takes two years to recover from divorce, which means that everything should have been hunky dory for the past 12 months. So, has it? I still haven’t become mature enough not to indulge in a bit of stalking lite and checking out my ex’s new wife’s blog – just to see what they’re up to. As it turns out, they’ve started a business together and they seem very happy (yes, the tiniest of knives twisted in my heart).

But I can say with confidence that I’m better off than I was a year ago. I’m no longer that sodden pile of desolation who weeps whenever I hear sad songs by Coldplay. I have closed myself off from all possibility of ever getting into another relationship: that part of my life is over.

I have, in short, retired permanently from men. (Note to some of my male friends who have asked me this exact question: no, this does not mean I have become a lesbian. My argument for putting an end to relationships could apply just as easily to women.)

Why take this approach? Why not just shrug and step back from the world of dating instead of being actively hostile to it?

Yes, it’s emotional, a grubby tide mark of past hurt that no amount of scrubbing with emotional Handy Andy can remove. But it’s also pragmatic. I’m a person who wandered absent-mindedly into marriage, who once slept with someone I was not remotely attracted to out of politeness. (Yes, really.) I am vulnerable, and because of that, I need to be extra vigilant.

Here’s my list of reasons for retiring from men.

I’m too much of a people-pleaser. My terror of offending people and my pathetic inability to say what I want have got me into trouble too many times. The only way to deal with this kind of pathology is to put steps in place to short-circuit it, which means taking an active decision to shut others out.

The pain is too much of a risk. Three years after my divorce, I’m still in survival mode. Every day is a battle in the ongoing war with the black dog. Relationships are not interesting if there is nothing at stake, but the price of caring is pain, and I don’t want to feel that kind of pain ever again.

I’m too focused on work. By work, I mean everything, from paying client work to my own projects, such as art and writing. (Writing this blog is work, in a sense.) Work is like gas molecules gradually filling any given space: no matter how much time you have, there will always be more work to fill it. Work, or the idea that I should be working — being productive — has annexed my every waking moment.

I don’t have the time. There are times when I wish I still filled in time sheets so I could enjoy the special glow you get when you’ve just filled in 13 hours on a Sunday. Significant others expect you to spend time with them and they get pissy when you don’t. There’s a possessiveness about relationships that I just can’t stand.

Or the energy. It’s been a long year and I am incredibly tired. I just don’t have anything left for somebody else.

I don’t like myself enough. You can’t be in a healthy relationship with another person if you don’t love yourself first. So many of us make the mistake of thinking that the love of another will make us whole, but it won’t. If you are broken, nobody else can fix you.

I’m too difficult. I have enough shit of my own to deal with without having to take on somebody else’s too. (Other determinedly single people I know have said this too.)

I see the end before anything starts. I still don’t have a single good memory of my marriage. Just the thought of being in a relationship has me in a panic because all I can picture is the trapped despair of being caught in a bad one. So the moment I experience one of those rare stirrings – the distant memory of what it’s like to be in love – it’s quickly replaced by the much stronger memory of post-breakup anguish.

When I comfort friends who’ve either just come out of a break up or dealing with the misery of an ex who’s just got engaged, I say to myself: thank God that’s not you, Sarah. The best feeling in the world is that moment when you realise that the person who once took your heart and dropped it like an empty chip packet is now a crashing bore. The trick is not to let somebody else do that to you again.

So tonight, as with every night, I will climb into bed every night filled with relief and gratitude that I don’t share it with anyone.

I am free. That’s what matters.

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