Playing with fire
It's almost Valentines Day 1999. Jay isn't returning my calls, but his friends say he's into me. Something's nagging at me, but why can't I pull at that thread?
Today on Ann’s newsletter
We’re talking Valentines Day, only 6 weeks after Jay and I got together.
This is a longer newsletter. I’ve done my best to make sure your time with me will be well spent.
We go through time, a little, to Valentines 1999; I’ve added some thoughts that struck me from a new book, and a chunky writing tip at the end.
Read what you like, skip what you don’t!
Also, I’m writing more as an un-masked ADHD person. This, too, might help neurotypical people understand a little more about what it’s like to live with these brains.
Dad rolls the bottle of whiskey to me. Over the pink rug that I think of as new but they’ve had for 20 years, deep into the fug of armchairs and the dim light of the lamps, it’s quiet.
My dad tells me that he was scared of Jay - the dangerous energy in the stretch of his arms and tap of his long legs, the glint in his eye.
I’d never known.
(Not read for a while? Have a busy life? I’ve gotcha. Skip down for an ICYMI section 😄)
Valentines Day, 1999 💌
It’s nearly Valentines and finally - finally -
Well I. I think.
I’m not sure.
Jay is around. and then he’s not.
I’ve left messages, voicemails.
Liam is saying I should chuck Jay; cadet friends claim Jay’s been saying loads of lovely things,
he’s well into me.
“I am going to leave work, finish clarinet this term, work harder and make sure that this Jay situation does not get out of hand, i.e., he is a womanizer [sp]. I am with him for a laugh, because I am loving the feeling of being wanted and in three weeks it will probably all be over ….”
Finally it was my time.
My first Valentines with - well, with a sort of boyfriend. I knew he was - well, a womaniser. So.
For reasons I can’t remember, I bought Jay a Winnie-the-Pooh Rabbit from the Disney Store in the shopping centre, a mini chocolate fudge cake. I was hopeful, I was excited. I was shopping for someone who’d care.
I’d show all of them - the teachers who thought I was a good girl, the kids in my year who thought I was a frump, my family who needed me to be good and not make waves.
I’d show them all.
I’ve got this under control.
1. Wanting to be wanted
Years of watching the beautiful, gregarious, charming, nice, pleasing and cheekboned girls get their Valentines, write their Valentines.
I pretended I was above all that.
But I did. I wanted it so much. To be wanted.
I was so tired of listening to adolescent yearning for the Kates, the Emmas and Naomis. When I wanted for it to be me that, for once, was wanted.
Sitting there and listening to heartbreak woes. One Of The Lads, sitting on the table, striding down the main road, dancing to disco.
2. The danger of prettiness
Being One Of The Lads. I’d done it on purpose.
Being One Of The Lads kept me safe, kept me from making myself attractive and being being attractive was bad because then you’d get a boyfriend and then you’d have sex and then you’d go to hell and so really it was much fucking safer to be one of the lads, be a Cool Girl wrapped in thick jumpers, wrists deep under woven bracelets and razor thin eyebrows behind reflective blue sunglasses. Too cool to care.
I wanted to be pretty.
I wasn’t pretty.
I couldn’t reconcile myself to wanting to be one of the pretty girls.
But. I wanted. So much. To have someone want to give me presents like I saw my friends get. To be yearned after. I wanted it. Endlessly I crushed on boys who didn’t see me. Longed for The Romance To Come and Sweep Me Off My Feet.
I couldn’t believe anyone would be interested in me.
3. Taming the Star Runner
I missed Jay yearned for him those arms those eyes.
He was my Travis from ‘Taming The Star Runner’, a novel I’d inhaled at 14. Like the girl who falls for him, I wanted to see hidden nuance in a troubled bad boy; Jay was my Rusty-James, not book-smart but talented. Mercurial. And I was the one who could see through cut through.
I was used to taming male rage, male moods and sadness.
Apparently life was easier for me than one of my brothers.
So, I was taught to watch what I said, excuse and appease where he was.
This is a way of life many women learn. I’m no exception.
I understood my role: keep the men sweet.
“He switches, crashes, from mood to mood. [He has] 2 weeks to show whether he is worth my time and energy.”
I yearned for any of the good moments, when his face would crease into a smile, his eyes shine and he’d pull me - fat, spikey tempered, boy-ish me - into the mass of his torso, tall and strong.
I couldn’t square the circle. I knew he wasn’t good news.
Every other brief relationship had fizzled out, one of us not calling back or and then agreeing ‘yeah, bye’ over the cream pushbutton phone in my parent’s bay window, curled up behind the curtain in the evening sunshine.
Jay was just a little older, a little pushier, a little louder.
But I was smart, this was just like the others.
I was fine.
4. Sex & sin
Thrumming under this were the lessons I’d inhaled 6 days a week.
I needed Jay to be worth it. Because if I was going to hell for having sex, it couldn’t be … a fling? I’d given away everything for a fling? With a womaniser?
Done something so big, with someone so small?
“I believe I will go to hell, which isn’t fair because I do good things, I believe, but I think that is true. It is one of the things that feels the most certain as I scrawl in self pity. This is not a drama queen. It is what I believe. It makes me cry.”
I don’t know if I told this to my friends. I don’t think any of us would have had the language or framework to understand I was entering a spiral of bad mental health that I wouldn’t be able to see objectively for twenty years.
But it was Valentines and maybe - maybe - maybe if I could just hang on and Jay would just stay Nice Jay, then - well, surely that was the real Jay. I saw that side that other people didn’t.
I was special. Clever.
Valentines: Rabbit & chocolate 🐰
What do you think he did?
You’ve guessed it.
Nothing. He gave me nothing. My first Valentines. Again, I was empty handed. Humiliated.
Losing the game, not winning. Not winning at school, not getting university offers or even now with this fucking guy.
“I’m sick of being treated like this. He has not phoned me. I’ve left messages on his answerphone … fuck him …”
I knew I needed to make a choice.
🤔 Sex & danger - and freedom to be safe 🤔
Recently, I’ve been reading ‘On Freedom’ by Maggie Nelson. She writes a chapter on sex and freedom. It’s nuanced, academia-lite, challenging.
I’ve wondered how to square the circle of the beginnings of my relationship with Jay, and my sense of guilt that I didn’t get away sooner.
That I knew I was playing with fire.
And I thought, in my naivety, that I could control it.
Yes, ADHD can put some of us ADHDers at risk, because some of us seek out higher stakes situations; autism can, too, because some of us autistic people aren’t always great at understanding who has our best interests at heart.
But. I knew I was playing with fire. Wasn’t this all my fault?
“Ambivalence about responsibility for our own freedom does not mean we are stupid, self-destructive, incapable, or desirous of harm. It means we are human. And part of being human is not always wanting every moment of our lives to be a step on the long march toward emancipation and enlightenment. It also means contending with desires to circle or enter dark rooms.”
I wanted to enter a dark room. I was 17. I wanted to learn. But I had no guides, no maps and no knowledge about any emergency exits.
Dad told me he was worried. I don’t remember this, but again, it’s in my diary. He tried, my mum tried. My bestie tried. I thought I had it covered.
Sex was forbidden. I couldn’t confide in adults. I’d learned to keep these behaviours, wants and fears deep down. There was no-where to go for help and advice.
My entire social world was steeped in the church, in shame and hellfire. And that, ‘least said was soonest mended’. Better to keep it under wraps, look the other way. Pretend it’s not really happening.
I thought I could play in this dark room. I was bored of being good, I wanted to taste some abandon. To be 17 and not be caring for my mother’s mental health, changing my way of being to make life easier for my family, for the burden of being the good child, to worry about everyone else. To not be striving for good grades, music practise, and universities that didn’t want me.
I just wanted to be wanted, to be held, to be adored.
I just wanted some fucking fun.
My mistake was moving my god-fearing trust to another domineering, patriarchal, controlling, force. From one church, to one man.
ICYMI, an update 🗞️
I’m telling this story to illustrate the variables that came into play for my situation - why I was vulnerable to being in a coercive relationship.
To date, Jay and I had sex on NYE 1998, whilst I was drunk and 17, and he sober and 21. Since then, I’ve been worrying about my period, I’ve been trying to understand who I am to him. Failing and hoping that he’ll be my boyfriend. Everyone in my year knows what happened.
“Jay”, “Liam” and all names are pseudonyms.
Chunks of text in quotation marks are words taken directly from my diaries. Thanks, 1999 Ann.
My self-employed work is in brand consultancy, and I help businesses to think strategically about how they talk and write. 📍
If you’re writing for work (or trying to build an audience), and you’re feeling aimless or overwhelmed, maybe consider using a common strategic tip for reminding you what matters with this project, right now: Audience, Objective, Strategy, Tactics.
Take a step back from the creative work you’re doing, and think:
Who is my audience?
People who are going to write about why pink is the best colour.
What is my objective?
Communicate that the guide should help them to feel confident to talk about why pink is great
Show them clearly how we don’t talk
Make sure everyone knows how we’ll be talking from now on
What should my strategy be?
Well, I know that the Tone of Voice is great, and based on evidence
A year-long plan of checking in and monitoring comms to check we’re talking about pink across the business
Assessing how well we’re talking about pink, what difference it’s making, and are any changes needed?
What tactics should I use?
Workshop to introduce the greatness of pink and why we love it so much
1, 3 and 6 month check-ins to make sure they’re not talking about green and help them stick to pink
Simple yet thorough style guide that is tailored to the team’s needs
Might an ‘Audience/Objective/Strategy/Tactics’ guide help you? Try it and let me know how you get on 🙏