A Disappointing Valentines Day

It’s been two weeks since I went back to my old house, which caught fire in 2012.

I’ve felt absolutely shattered. It’s given me a new appreciation for how tiring it must be for my patients, confronting trauma.

I’m still feeling quite on edge and unsettled. I keep thinking for a split second that things in my peripheral vision are on fire. I had that all the time, the first year after the fire.

One day I was at work, sitting at my desk, typing. There is a little blue light in my keyboard, which I had barely noticed before. I think it’s just to show the keyboard is connected. I saw it out of the corner of my eye, and thought for a split second it was the bluey-purple flame of a gas hob.

Oh my god, is that… on fire? Oh, of course it’s not. 

Another time, I was lying in bed, shifting around, and I thought I could see smoke filling the room, but it was just the white polka dots of my duvet, reflected in a glass picture frame as I moved.

As well being on the lookout for fire, I’ve felt more generally jumpy. Whenever I’ve heard my neighbours coming and going from their flat, I’ve thought for a moment someone is breaking in.

I know it’s just because everything in my head has been reshuffled, so the horrible stuff is nearer the surface.

I feel so tired it’s hard to be productive at work, outside of my therapy sessions. In the evenings, it feels hard to move. I’ve had 6 or 7 really painful mouth ulcers and a bloodshot eye.

When I was talking to my supervisor about it, I said, “I should have taken more time off work. Which I say so often, it will probably be on my gravestone.”

I need to stop feeling guilty for needing time off, and just assume things like this will take time, and book holiday. I feel like I shouldn’t be affected by things so I don’t plan for looking after myself.

Last week it was Valentine’s Day. Because it’s so close to the anniversary of Balthazar’s death, I’ve had mixed feelings about it, the last few years.

In 2012, I was pissed off that Valentine’s Day came along when my boyfriend had just died. Lots of condolences cards came on the 14th, and I thought it was funny that my new neighbours, who I shared a letterbox with, might think they were Valentine’s cards and think Wow, she is popular with the gents!

I remember getting drunk on my own that evening and feeling sad. I chatted on Facebook to an old work colleague, who was concerned and asked if I was somewhere safe. I think he thought I was collapsed in a bus station or something.

“Oh no, I’m just in my living room watching Desperate Housewives!” I said.

The following year, I was seeing Alex, who was an autistic graphic designer who’d never had a girlfriend. I told him I’d like him to ‘just draw me a jolly picture on a post-it note or something’. A few hours later, he asked for my email address because he’s finished my picture. It was of me and was wonderful. Although our relationship wasn’t great, that was nice.

Then, I was with Matthew on three Valentine’s Days. I told him I wasn’t sure how I felt about that day, but we halfheartedly acknowledged it. He brought me a hip flask the first year, which was thoughtful as I’d been saying I wanted one, so it would feel more classy when I drink on the Tube. I bought him some new towels, which were really more of a present for me. He lived in a horrible bedsit and it was freezing and damp so the towels never dried properly, and I was sick of drying myself with The Towel That Smelled the Least Bad.

Then I was single and miserable for a couple of Valentine’s Days. In 2017, I was supposed to have a second date with Whippersnapper II, but he cancelled it with just a few hours notice.

This year, I was excited to have a boyfriend on Valentine’s Day. It wasn’t until I just wrote that, that I realised this is the first year I’ve just felt positive and excited, rather than conflicted. I still thought it was mostly cynical, commercial silliness, but after getting so close to each other, the weekend before, it seemed like a nice opportunity to celebrate our feelings.

We didn’t get to spend the actual day together, because he was on nights for the week, and it was my late shift as well, so we had agreed to celebrate it a day later.

I had told Andrew in advance, what my Valentine’s Day expectations were, as I think it’s good to be clear, instead of just hoping the other person guesses correctly.

“I’ll say that it’s just commercial nonsense, but actually, I secretly do want something thoughtful that shows how you feel about me, but also kind of takes the piss out of the whole thing.”

I told him that I don’t really want anything obvious or expensive, but I just wanted something that was him. Something homemade and minimum effort that was thoughtful, like for him to draw some stickmen of us on the back of an envelope or something. Like when he leaves me a note, and I love it because it’s his handwriting and his thoughts, but something that’s slightly more effort than that.

He had seemed worried about this, saying he isn’t good art. I kept reminding him that a lot of the pictures I’ve drawn him were very bad, but that wasn’t the point. And it didn’t have to be a picture, that was just an example.

It came up in conversation a few times, so I hoped he had got the impression I really did want him to try and do something.

I decided not to buy him a present, as I didn’t want it to be like Christmas, when it was awkward that I got him more than he got me. I just decided to give him some flowers, to thank him for the previous weekend and to subvert gender stereotypes (and I ended up getting him a cheap vase from Sainsburys as I knew he didn’t have one).

I also got a Brazilian wax. For a few weeks, my legs and other things have been hairier than his, as I hadn’t got around to sorting them out. I appreciate how Andrew seems not to care. Sometimes, when we have sex, he has trouble with inadvertently coming more quickly than he wants. A few times recently, he’s suddenly frozen, during sex, and looked away from me.

“Are you OK?” I’ve asked.

“Yeah, I’m just trying not to come yet,” he’s replied.

“Oh, have a look at my hairy shins, that should you push you back a bit,” I’ve replied helpfully.

I also dug out some very sexy underwear from the back of the wardrobe, ready for our Valentine’s weekend, and put some body lotion in my bag, so I could give him a back massage.

I chose an outfit that was both casual, as we were just staying in, but also sexy. I settled on a denim skirt with a breasty top.

I got the train to his, and then went to the supermarket near his flat, to get the flowers, so they’d be fresh and not bedraggled from the Tube.

There were lots of half-price red Valentine’s day roses, by the entrance, as it was the 15th. I looked at them for a moment, but they looked a bit tired, and I decided against it.

After some deliberation in the normal flowers section, I chose the bouquet that seemed the least emasculating.

I also got some Prosecco, the vase, and ingredients for dinner, as planned.

When I got to the checkout, the lady was quite chatty.

“Did you get half-price ones?” she asked, when she saw the flowers.

“I thought about it, but decided it seemed a bit bleak,” I replied.

“Are they for yourself?” She asked, making a sympathetic face.

“No! They’re for my boyfriend! Who’s a policeman!” I replied.

Then there was lots of faffing around, because the flowers turned out not to have a bar code, and we had to wait for a supervisor to eventually saunter over, and then saunter over to the flowers to get the barcode, and then saunter back with the wrong barcode.

Eventually, I made it to Andrew’s and presented him with the flowers in his doorway. He was pleased with them and said he’d never received flowers before.

He kissed me and hugged me very tightly, and said he was really pleased to see me.

He was still only halfway through cleaning his flat, and I was a bit annoyed there wasn’t anywhere to sit, as the sofa was covered with clean laundry. His flat is always awful, and I’ve told him before, I can take it, as long there is

a) somewhere for me to sit
b) a clear pathway from the bedroom door to my side of the bed.

There was nowhere for me to sit. There was a clear pathway to my side of the bed, but the bed had no bedding on it and the things that are usually on the floor were on the bed.

I guess I was also a bit disappointed that while I’d spent ages choosing my outfit and trying to look nice for him, he was just wearing his boxer shorts and a T-shirt that was inside out, but I suppose he had been on nights.

I decided to sort out the flowers, while he carried on tidying.

He didn’t have proper scissors, so I used nail scissors to open up the bouquet and trim the stems of the flowers, before putting them in the vase.

Apparently he had been cleaning for ages, but the flat was still absolute chaos. I was a bit annoyed he had focused on less important tasks like washing his sheets (“I had already washed them not long ago, but I thought, it doesn’t hurt to do them again,” he said) instead of clearing a pathway across the living room and creating spaces for us to sit down. He also has a very laborious system with his bedding which don’t even get me started on (three sheets on the bed at any one time. No fitted sheets).

While he fannied around with his sheets, I cooked us dinner. I was a bit annoyed it wasn’t more romantic and Valentinesy.

While I cooked and he cleaned, every so often we’d pass each other and he’d kiss me. He really did seem pleased to me, which was nice. He kept looking at me meaningfully and then hugging me, almost too tightly. He said he’d missed me during the week.

I weirdly found that when were kissing, part of me wanted to pull away. I’m not sure if it was because he hadn’t shaved and had sandpapery stubble, or whether it was because I felt generally on edge and unsettled, or a bit annoyed.

We’ve talked about it since, and agreed that, after we felt so close to each other, visiting the house together and crying on the bridge, it’s been a bit hard to settle back into everyday life together.

He was on nights for the week, after the fire anniversary, so we didn’t see each other. We spoke on the phone when he was on his way into work at the start of the week, and it was the first time we’d spoken since the weekend, and I was surprised I felt a bit awkward with him. I guess I wanted to feel as close to him as I had when we were crying on the bridge, but it just felt like a normal Tuesday evening, because it was. We can’t spend the rest of our lives crying on the bridge, we’d never get anything done.

It feels like that weekend away and him being wonderful, and me thinking Balthazar would approve, would be the end of the story, if it was a book or a film or TV series. Now it feels like we’re at the start of season Two or the sequel, finding our rhythm, and it’s like a difficult second album.

Eventually we were just waiting for the sweet potato in the curry to cook, so we sat on the sofa. I was straddling him and he was looking at my body, and my revealing top, and saying he couldn’t wait for us to have sex.

I went back to tend to the curry and put the rice on, and he went back into the bedroom, to tidy more.

Then I went into the bedroom, and found him lying on the bed, which still had no sheets on, doubled over.

“Are you OK?” I asked.

“Yeah, it’s just that my balls are hurting,” he said.

When we first started dating, this was a problem all the time. He also had problems with them before he met me, and has been in so much pain in the past, that he’s been to hospital. It annoys me that he hasn’t been back to the doctor about them. Although, they have got better since we started actually having full sex. I think when we first got together, it was probably a bit of ‘blue balls’, as well as some other, undiagnosed, underlying problem.

“Do you think it’s because you’ve basically had an erection since I arrived?” I asked.

He said he thought it might be.

“We’ve got 9 minutes until the rice is done. Shall we try and do it now, if it’ll help your balls?” I suggested.

We agreed we’d give it a try.

“Can we do it in 9 minutes?” I asked. Then we both laughed, because we have an ongoing joke about how the sex doesn’t last that long, and I said, “I guess we just need to decide what to do with the other 8.”

We did have sex and it was nice, and it did help his tender balls.

We eventually had our dinner, and as we ate, Andrew told me that he might be getting promoted. He had a job interview back in the Summer, for a promotion to a more specialised part of the police force, and since then, he’s been on a kind of waiting list; he needs to wait for a job to become available in that team, and his current team need to agree to him leaving. So, he’s kind of been in limbo, since then, not knowing if he’ll end up moving or not.

He’d found out this week, that the move is looking more likely.

He was telling me what the hours would be like, and asking my opinion about it. Previously, he had said that in the new team, he might work less long hours. This time, he was telling me that the hours might actually be more, including sometimes having to sleep at the police station, but other times he might be able to work more flexibly, even working from home at my place. Also, on the plus side, in this new team, he would be working near where I live, instead of the other side of London.

I said that a few months into our relationship, I really worried that how much he worked meant it wouldn’t work between us, but I hadn’t worried about that for ages. Maybe it was because we talk on video chat every night, or because he always makes me feel like a priority now.

“I just feel like, I’ll never get bored of seeing you, because you work so much, but I just feel a lot more relaxed about it now. I just feel like we’ll make it work.”

We talked more about how it was exciting that he might be changing jobs, and went over and sat on the sofa.

“So, do you think it’s OK, if I go to the new team, and sometimes have to work more?” He asked again.

“Yeah, it sounds like some things might be worse, but some things might be better. Like I said, I think we’d just make it work. I mean, if we had kids, it would be a different story. I wouldn’t be happy to do 100% of the childcare and you to just swan in whenever you feel like it,” I said.

“No, I agree. I wouldn’t expect that either,” he said.

We talked about Flatmate Joe, whose Dad was high up in the police, and the pressure that had put on Joe’s Mum.

I went to get a drink and when I came back, Andrew was deep in thought.

“What are you thinking about?” I asked.

“People at work with kids, and how they do it,” he replied.

“We can cross that bridge when we come to it,” I said.

We talked more about my week, and then got onto last weekend and the fire.

Suddenly, I had an epiphany.

“Oh my god!” I said. We’d been talking about how people have said to me that if I hadn’t left Balthazar, I would’ve been in the house during the fire and could’ve died too.

I had never believed it.

I always said, “No, if I’d been there, I would’ve stopped the fire from happening. I would’ve got the boiler fixed so he wouldn’t have been using electric heaters. And he wouldn’t have been sleeping in the living room. (He didn’t want to sleep the bedroom without me.)”

I thought this because Balthazar wasn’t very organised, and I often ended up sorting things out for him. One time I was away, and the lights stopped working in the house because of an electrical problem. For a while, he just had lamps or fairy lights in every room. The kitchen and living room were lit by fairy lights, but they had 8 different settings, and you had to click through all 8 to reach the one that was just constant light. For some reason, every time we lit the oven, it clicked the fairy lights onto the next setting, which made them flash like it was a disco. It was very annoying when you were trying to cook. There was one setting where it looked like it was on constant, but just as you walked away from the controls, the lights very slowly and gradually dimmed, and then came back on.

He and the lodger we had just put up with this, but as soon as I got back, I got it fixed.

This time, when discussing it with Andrew, I said the same thing I always said. But then, I suddenly remembered something else.

There were other times when I didn’t or couldn’t get things fixed.

One time, I heard a hissing sound in the kitchen. I got Balthazar to call the gasman to check there wasn’t a leak.

He came, and there wasn’t. We forgot about it. Until months later, we realised the kitchen floor wasn’t just cold, it was wet.

It turn out that a water pipe in the street had been leaking and water had gradually been coming into our house and ruining the floor. Balthazar was trying to sort this out but it was a huge project.

Another time, I tried to sort out a damp problem and didn’t get anywhere.

There were some problems in the house that I didn’t fix, and some problems I couldn’t fix.

Maybe I couldn’t have stopped the fire if I’d been there. Maybe I would’ve called the boiler man but it wouldn’t have been fixable. Maybe we would have had an electric heater on in the bedroom anyway. It was a freezing house, even with the heating on.

Maybe if I had been there, I would have died too. I had logically considered that before, but this was the first time I felt it. It actually felt true.

“Oh my god, I’ve just had an epiphany!” I said to Andrew. “I’ve always thought that me leaving him set off this awful chain of events. But maybe it could have happened anyway! Maybe me leaving didn’t cause the fire after all! Maybe the fire would’ve happened anyway, but me leaving saved my life. People have told me that before but I just never believed it, but now I think it could be true!”

“I think it’s true!” Andrew said.

“I’m glad I didn’t die in the fire!” I said.

“I’m glad you didn’t die too! And so would Balthazar be,” Andrew said.

It really felt groundbreaking. From a therapist’s point of view, I found it interesting that going back to the site of the trauma had caused me to have a huge shift in my beliefs about what happened.

We went to bed, as it was really late by then.

In the morning, we woke up and had good sex.

We were meeting a friend of mine and her boyfriend for lunch. This was the friend I met on my EMDR training. I’m really sad because she’s moving away from London, when I was just getting to know her. It turned out she is a kindred spirit. Her boyfriend lives in another part of England. When it turned out she was bringing her boyfriend to lunch, I had asked Andrew if he wanted to come along as well. He said yes straight away, and I was really pleased. In the past, I’ve had antisocial boyfriends and I’ve spent a lot of time hanging out with couples on my own.

We started getting ready to go out, and I felt irrationally annoyed with Andrew when I walked into the bathroom to put my makeup on, and found him lying in the bath, revising for his exam, when we had to leave in 10 minutes.

I think I felt annoyed because the Valentine’s thing had been such a letdown. I asked about the picture he was supposed to have drawn me, but he hadn’t done it. He hadn’t got me anything at all or done anything.

I felt conflicted because I was grateful that he was coming with me to meet my friend. What he’d done for me last weekend, and even the night before, was so massive, I felt like I should never be annoyed with him again. Supporting me through tough times is so much more important than crap like Valentine’s day.

But after it had been so intense and we’d felt so close last weekend, the fact he hadn’t done anything felt like an anticlimax. And after L-word-gate, and then the anniversary feelings, I just wanted to feel unambiguously loved and taken care of. It was a shame I’d had to project manage his romance and even then it had been nonexistent.

As we walked to the bus stop, he asked if he’d done anything wrong, because I was being quiet. I said he hadn’t and held his hand. By the time we got to the pub where we were meeting them, I was back to my normal self.

We had a nice time with my friend and her boyfriend. I was grateful to Andrew because the men spent ages talking about Brexit, which meant my friend and I were able to have a hushed conversation about our feelings, and we were able to talk about EMDR as well. I felt proud of Andrew as everyone likes him and it’s so impressive when he talks about his job.

It was late afternoon when my friend had to leave, and Andrew and I went for a walk in Hampstead Park. I wasn’t feeling very well towards the end – I felt a bit weak and shaky. I think I’d had some gluten by mistake. We had a cup of a tea in a pub and Andrew went and got me a chocolate bar from a newsagent next door. We went home and I had a sleep, and then felt OK.

I told him he’d better draw me my long-awaited picture, while I was asleep.

He finally did. He drew us with a speech bubble, saying ‘Happy Valentine’s Day’. I was a badly drawn stickman, and my face looked a bit like a Jack O’Lantern, which made me laugh. I was sad to see he’d drawn himself with a fat stomach, misshapen jaw and receding hairline, because these are the things he hates about his appearance and comments on every day.

I was glad he’d finally done what I wanted but sad he’d just made fun of himself. I told him for the 1000th time that that isn’t what he looks like.

I got him to dress up in his old police uniform and I put my racy underwear on under my clothes, and we pretended I was in the cell after being arrested at a protest in favour of increasing police salaries, and he was going to let me go without charge if I did what he said. That was really good.

After a while, we went to the living room and watched the new series of Catastrophe together, lying on his sofa. It felt great.

I said to him, “You know all these years I’ve been in relationships with the wrong people or been single? You were worth the wait.”

He looked really pleased.

We went to bed.

On Sunday morning, we gradually woke up and he didn’t speak to me for about three hours and just lay in bed revising for his exam. I wouldn’t have minded, if he’d just said a full sentence to me, but I think he’d forgotten I was there and seemed a bit offhand if I distracted him.

After a while, I had read literally everything on the internet, and I worked myself up, feeling aggrieved again about the Valentine’s Day shitshow.

Eventually, I had a shower and got dressed, and then told him I was going home.

He asked why I was upset, and I burst into tears.

“You can’t be arsed to do anything to make me feel special!” I said. “You refuse to tell me you love me, so I try and focus the things you do, instead. This could’ve been a chance to make me feel loved when you won’t say it. My expectations couldn’t have been lower and they couldn’t have been clearer, but you still didn’t do anything. You did draw that picture in the end, but it was basically at gunpoint!”

He pulled me close to him and hugged me really tightly.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

“I just hate feeling unloved,” I said, crying. “Why can’t you just say you love me!”

He held me tightly, but didn’t say anything.

In the end, I wriggled free and went and put my coat on.

“Don’t go home! We could go out for lunch!” He said, following me into the hallway.

“I just wish you’d tell me you love me,” I reiterated, putting my boots on.

“I nearly said it when we were away last weekend! But I thought it would be the wrong time.”

“You nearly said it last weekend?!” I stopped putting my boots on.

“Yeah, when we got home, in the evening. But I thought it would be wrong, because of Balthazar,” he said, sheepishly.

I hugged him. “It wouldn’t have been wrong, it would have been wonderful!”

“I thought about saying it this week, as well,” he added.

“Well, why didn’t you!”

“I don’t know! But I will! I will make you feel loved.”

I hugged him again. “OK. Let’s go out for lunch. I’m sorry, I feel like, after everything you did last weekend, I should never be cross with you again.”

“No, you should, if I’ve done something wrong.”

We went and had a roast dinner and played Trivial Pursuit in his local pub. He won, but it was nicely close.

8 thoughts on “A Disappointing Valentines Day

  1. I so get all those feelings and at times conflicting and confusing thoughts. When you feel really close to someone it seems so hurtful that they can’t give you what you need. It’s all about perspective and we all have our own. Even at my age I still feel all this stuff. I love the way you write about these things.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Pingback: I’m fucking you up the arse – do you like it? | Dater Analysis

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