When I was young, PSHE lessons on “how to navigate intimate relationships” always confused me. They confused me because my parents didn’t follow any of the social “rules” we were taught in class. If anything, my parents, family members and even my friends parents seemed to be defiantly doing the exact opposite of what we were taught in PSHE class!
We were taught in PSHE that love was based on partner’s mutual respect for each other.
At home, I soon quickly discovered that my parents did not respect each other at all and that this state of affairs was normal in our house. My Dad would shout:
“Oh shut up you old cow, all mothers are interfering, miserable old biddies. I want a divorce so I can talk to younger women who aren’t ugly, aren’t boring and don’t moan.”
My mother would yell:
“You are so useless and a very stupid man. You’d lose your own head if it wasn’t screwed onto your own body. You lose everything. You lose your glasses and keys. You couldn’t find your way out of a wet paper bag.”
I once rang up some relatives of mine on the telephone. All I could hear was arguing in the background and the words “Oh shut up!”. I wondered if other families were like this.
Some of them were. Some of them were even worse. I went round a friend’s house once for tea. When my friend and I were chatting in the other room, I could hear the exasperated tones of her father and mother. The father was trying to calm the mother down, but the mother kept saying that things “weren’t working” and she’d “have to leave”. The altercation went on for several minutes. She accused him of various things like not tidying up, then he became sad and quiet. Several months later, I learned that my friend was now living with her father and that her mother had moved out and was having children with another man. This is how I learned about what step parents, step brothers and step sisters were. This pattern repeated itself with other friends of mine. My friends were upset that their parents had split up. About half of my friends eventually had parents that split up so this was very common indeed.
I often wondered why my own parents were still together given how frequently my Dad talked about wanting a divorce.
So instead of mutual respect, relationships seemed to be based on mutual sexism in repeated misery inducing Punch and Judy style altercations, each sex claiming that the other one was no good.
This is why the Babar stories and cartoons baffled me as a child. Not only did the male and female elephant love each other, but they respected each other. So much so in fact that the male elephant named a city after the female elephant. My Dad never dedicated anything to my Mum. When I suggested that he did, he looked at me like I was insane because he said: “Oh get lost. Your mother is lazy, ugly and ungrateful. She doesn’t deserve anything.”
Now that I’m older, I appreciate that relationships between cartoon elephants are somewhat idealised because they don’t constantly scream at each other and they actually practice amicable conflict resolution techniques. The myth being that a male animal and a female animal had to love each other before they could start a family. Or maybe it was a French thing because stereotypically the French are meant to be more polite and such, but then I realised that this wasn’t quite true also given all of the stories of domestic violence and sexual harassment coming from France. Oh well, sigh.
However, all of this animosity between the sexes doesn’t explain why I’d often hear love songs on the radio that such and such a couple requested were “happily married” for however many years. They would gush about how “wonderful” the other partner was.
When I asked my Dad about this he laughed hollowly and said:
“They’re just lying to get attention. All men and women secretly hate each other and argue at home.”
This is pretty much the same response I got from other family members too. It was so depressing. All I ever heard at home was sarcasm, bickering and swearing between men and women.
When I asked my Dad why there were couples smiling and holding hands on the beach, he said:
“They aren’t really happy at all. They are just posing to look as though they are happy, when deep down, they hate and can’t stand each other. They aren’t honest, they put on an act for the tourists so they can brag then get divorced later. That man really thinks that his wife is a miserable old bag and he is pretending that he likes her by holding her hand for the crowds. She is holding his hand so that she can steal all of his money. Yuk. It’s utterly stupid.”
I have cried after this because maybe all feelings and relationships are just lies? Maybe every is just acting as though they like each other so that society won’t reject them?
I have never had a long term relationship with anyone of the opposite sex growing up, in fact my parents forbade this, so I’d have to see a person in secret until my parents found out, then all hell would break lose.
Anyone who claimed that they “loved” me, would accuse me of “pushing them away”, which was even more baffling given that I was trying to be as polite to them as possible and trying to listen to them by paying full attention. I was also very honest with my feelings and clearly voiced my worries. Since nobody would ever calmly explain what I was supposedly doing “wrong” in a sensible and coherent manner, I couldn’t “correct” this, then that person would complain, then desert me. It leaves me baffled to this day. Given how aloofly and sometimes angrily my parents act towards each other, it is a miracle that I was even born. That I was even born at all is a perplexing puzzle in and of itself.
This is why PSHE and Psychological counselling have been utterly useless to me. One counselling session, I even said that my parents hate each other and I was accused of lying by the therapist then! How could they hate each other if they’re both married? How dare I say such horrible things about my parents!
This is why I truly give up. If anyone claims that “a problem shared is a problem halved” or “talking issues through with a counsellor helps”, then I have to conclude that these people occupy a completely different parallel dimension to the one that my family and myself occupy. Sadly, in the dimension I inhabit, a problem shared is a problem doubled and talking about problems only escalates the situation.
In all honesty, I have found brick walls to be more responsive than teachers in PSHE and counsellors. They don’t understand me or my family. At least the brick walls echoes reflect my situation accurately and aren’t idealised fantasy. One can have a productive discussion with a brick wall that is far more enlightening than any PSHE lesson. In fact my mother often said that talking to my father was about as much use as talking to a brick wall, that’s why she reads and does solitary activities a lot.
When I hear statements such as “PSHE empowers students to have quality relationships”, it makes about as much logical and ideological sense to me as the fairytale statement: “That prince will turn into a frog if you kiss him.”
It does also seem rather disingenuous that teachers would try and preach the values of “mutual respect” and “trust” in relationships, only to yell, scream and use sarcasm on us later. The main things I learned from school teachers were: hypocrisy, sarcastic guilt tripping, how to scream loudly, how to lose control and how to be stressed. Sorry, but this is what I learned from most teachers at school. I can count using the fingers on one hand the number of teachers I had who were calm, respectful and kind.
Given how high divorce statistics are, one thing is painfully clear, how we relate to each other and the institutions that encourage prohibitively expensive ceremonies to unite people aren’t working.
One thing I have learned is that loneliness is a constant companion and that the sexes despise each other. This is why I wonder if I could perhaps imagine someone kind and supportive talking to me might ease the pain? A sort of imaginary confidante. It would be a lot less messy and having an imaginary family would not interfere with my career prospects or put me at a disadvantage. It is sad that I have to do this, but I don’t see another alternative. I sadly certainly won’t be allowed to see anyone who is alive and real while my parents are still on earth.
In conclusion, life does seem to be a miserable, futile battle between men and women. Anti depressants, PSHE and talk therapy can never ever ease the loneliness and stress of the modern world. Sorry.