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They are amusing fellows, said he (Epictetus), who are proud of the things which are not in our power. A man says, I am better than you, for I possess much land, and you are wasting with hunger. Another says, I am of consular rank. Another says, I am a Procurator. Another, I have curly hair. But a horse does not say to a horse, I am superior to you for I possess much fodder, and much barley, and my bits are of gold and my harness is embroidered: but he says, I am swifter than you. And every animal is better or worse from his own merit (virtue) or his own badness. Is there then no virtue in man only? and must we look to the hair, and our clothes and our ancestors?
(Epictetus, Enchiridion, XVI)
Linda and David Orams did what so many other English couples have done. They bought a second home. They chose to purchase a property in the north of Cyprus, that is, in the part of the island illegally occupied by the Turks following the invasion of the island in 1974, an occupation which has continued ever since. Whilst the invasion may arguably have been a legitimate attempt to protect the Turkish Cypriots from the threat posed by the desire for enosis, or union, with Greece*(1), the continued occupation of the territory in the north is undoubtedly unlawful.
Fearful of their lives, many Greek Cypriots fled from the north to the south of the island, beyond the reach of the Turkish invaders. They left behind everything they could not carry, including properties which had often been in their families for generations, productive land which had been carefully tended.
The Turks installed a government in the occupied northern territory of Cyprus, a government which no other country has recognised as legal. It also moved large numbers of mainland Turks to the island to swell the number of Turkish Cypriots already living there. Many of these incomers were allowed to occupy the properties abandoned by the Greek Cypriots.
As time moved on, the Turkish Cypriots wanted to create a market in property to aid their failing economy – living standards had fallen a long way below the standards in the rest of the island. No legal title to the confiscated properties could be conveyed, since the Turkish occupiers had no legal title to give. A quasi-title was invented, and the market began to move, fed to a large extent by British purchasers blind to the inequity of buying something that the seller had no right to sell. The properties were cheap by comparision with similar properties in the rest of the island.
Mr and Mrs Orams were one such couple. They purported to purchase the title to land in Lapithos, Kyrenia, that was legally owned by Meletis Apostolides, a Greek Cypriot whose family had fled from the north when he was 24. Unsurprisingly, the family wanted to recover their land, and brought an action in the Cypriot courts asking for its restitution. The Cypriot courts continue to maintain jurisdication over the whole island, despite having no effective control over the occupied north. A court in Nicosia gave judgment in favour of the Apostolides family. The Oramses had built on the land, so the judgment ordered that the building be demolished, the land returned to the rightful owners, and compensation paid to Mr Apostolides.
That was all well and good, but it was impossible to enforce the judgment against the property in northern Cyprus, and so the Apostolides family took advantage of the fact that, by now, Cyprus had joined the European Union. This meant an EU legislative instrument, Regulation 44/2001*(2) could be used to apply to the British courts to enforce the Cypriot judgment against property that the Oramses owned in England, namely their family home.
There is a certain beautiful symmetry in this – the Oramses begin to fear that they will lose their family home, though in circumstances far less traumatic than the loss of the property belongin to the Apostolides family.
The Orams couple managed to procure a high profile advocate – none other than the then Prime Minister’s wife, Cherie Booth who represented them in the Court of Appeal. Their legal costs are being met by “mystery backers” according to a recent article in the Cyprus mail. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions about the identity of the mystery backers: the Apostolides family are represented by a English lawyers and Cyprus intervened in the case with its own team of Cypriot and English lawyers. Greece also made interventions. Useless, then, to pretend that this case is not political, that it might not produce huge ramifications for the peace process that re-started following the election of the new Cypriot President, Dimitris Christofias, in February 2008.
In June 2007 the Court of Appeal was persuaded to make a reference to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) for a preliminary ruling, in a procedure that involves the British court posing a question or questions to the European court in Luxembourg on the proper interpretation to be given to the EU legislation. Once an answer to the questions is received, the British court then decides the case, taking into account the answers it has been given, applying the interpretations to the facts.
A hearing took place in the ECJ in the late summer last year. The procedure in the ECJ provides for an Advocate General (AG) to be appointed to each case. The role of the AG is to give an opinion following the hearing, but prior to the judges’ deliberations. A German AG, Advocate General Kokott, was assigned to the case, and she gave her opinion just before Christmas. It is a timebomb, waiting for the judges to light the fuse.
Dr Julianne Kokott
For she found that the Cypriot courts did indeed continue to have effective jurisdiction over the whole of the island, notwithstanding the illegal occupation, and notwithstanding the fact that the Cypriot government has no effective control over the northern part of the island. As a result the Nicosia court was acting within its powers when it gave judgment in favour of the Greek Cypriots and that the judgment could then be enforced in another EU country using the provisions of the EU regulation.
The Advocate General met head on the likely consequences of a judgment of the European Court of Justice on the settlement of the more general property issues in northern Cyprus. These property issues relate to all the property abandoned by Greek Cypriots. Parallel court proceedings in the other European court, the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, have resulted in the human rights court approving a new system for compensating those who have been deprived of their properties.
Whilst acknowledging that the international community had an obligation not to do anything which might make the political situation in Cyprus worse, she states that a decision in favour of Mr Apostolides might rather have the effect of improving relations and that, moreover, the principle of legal certainty requires the matter to be decided.
“It is certainly true that the Security Council has repeatedly called for the preservation of peace in Cyprus and of the country’s territorial integrity. In that context, the international community has also made calls to refrain from any action which might exacerbate the conflict. However, it is not possible to infer from those rather general appeals any obligation to refrain from recognising judgments of Greek Cypriot courts which relate to claims to ownership of land in the Turkish Cypriot area.
Moreover, it is by no means clear that, taken overall, the application of the regulation exacerbates the Cyprus conflict. It may equally well have the opposite effect and promote the normalisation of economic relations. It is precisely because the line between the two areas of Cyprus has been opened up for the movement of goods and persons that it is possible to envisage many different legal relationships in which the recognition and enforcement in other Member States of judgments given by courts of the Republic of Cyprus and the application of the rules on jurisdiction in the regulation are also of interest to parties residing in the northern area.
It is not necessary here to determine definitively what effect the suspension of the application of the regulation to cases involving elements with a bearing on northern Cyprus has on the political process for resolving the conflict. The application of the regulation cannot be made dependent on such complex political assessments. That would be contrary to the principle of legal certainty, respect for which is one of the objectives of the regulation. Accordingly, the rules of jurisdiction in the regulation must enable, in a clearly predictable manner, the court having jurisdiction to be determined.
Furthermore, the claimant in proceedings before a court of a Member State must be able to foresee with sufficient certainty whether, on the basis of the regulation, a judgment concluding proceedings is enforceable in another Member State, in so far as none of the grounds for non‑enforcement provided for in the regulation is present.
Consequently the Advocate General concluded that the fact that the Cypriot government does not exercise “effective control” over the whole of the island is no reason why the judgment of a Cypriot court relating to property in that area of the island should not enforced in the courts of another EU Member State.
“The suspension of the application of the acquis communautaire in the areas of the Republic of Cyprus in which the Government of the Republic of Cyprus does not exercise effective control, provided for in Article 1(1) of Protocol No 10 to the Act of Accession of 2003, does not preclude a court of another Member State from recognising and enforcing, on the basis of Regulation No 44/2001, a judgment given by a court of the Republic of Cyprus involving elements with a bearing on the area not controlled by the Government of that State and the EU regulation may properly be used to enforce that judgment in the British courts.”
Both sides now wait anxiously for the judgment of the Grand Chamber of 13 judges, presided over by the Greek President of the Court, Vassilios Skouris. If they confirm the opinion of the AG then the way is open for all the other Greek Cypriots who continue to own property in the north which has changed hands to bring actions against the new purported owners. Although judgments awarded in their favour will still be impossible to enforce in the northern part of the island for the time being, the EU convention will have been shown to provide effective machinery for enforcing the judgment against property of the purported owners in other EU countries.
More importantly, a judgment in favour of Mr Apostolides will kill the property market in the north of Cyprus and force a resolution of the larger property questions that have dogged peace negotiations since the invasion. Mr and Mrs Orams will most likely discover that the Court of Appeal does not show mercy, and they, or their mystery backers, will have to comply with the terms of the origianal Nicosia court order and remove their swimming pool and return the land to the lemon grove it once was. Bravo Kokott.
You see, I don’t have any sympathy at all for Linda and David Orams. It is inconceivable that they did not know the position when they purchased the property, and I fail to understand why they continue to maintain that they have any rights to the property now and nor do I understand why they have allowed themselves to be puppets of the Turkish Cypriots. They are handling stolen goods. If the British purchasers of property in the northern Cyprus, and those of their ilk, had held off, not gone ahead with the purchases, the Turkish Cypriot administration would have been forced to confront the situation far earlier and reach a settlement with the Cypriot government.
Mr and Mrs Orams, smiling
*(1) “Turkey exercised its right of intervention in accordance with Article IV of the Guarantee Treaty of 1960.” (Standing Committee of the Consultative Assembly of the Council of Europe 29th July 1974).
Athens Court of Appeal, in its decision of March 21, 1979, also held that the intervention of Turkey in Cyprus was legal: “
…. The Turkish military intervention in Cyprus which was carried out in accordance with the Zurich and London Agreements was legal. Turkey, as one of the Guarantor powers, had the right to fulfil her obligations. The real culprits… are the Greek Officers who engineered and staged a coup and prepared the conditions for this intervention.” (Decision No. 2658/79 23 March 1979)
*(2) Council Regulation (EC) No 44/2001 of 22 December 2000 on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters.
I opened the front door, and at first it looked as if nobody was there. Then I noticed the pale face peering through the bars of the iron gate where the path meets the road. She had heard my dog barking, and had run away to hide, and she cowered as my dog ran round my legs to greet her.
She said she was hungry, that she had run out of money and that she had a baby to feed. She said she had been to the parish office opposite our house and that they had been rude to her. I asked her questions. She told me she was waiting for her benefits to be sorted out, that she had left an abusive partner, her second, and that she was trying to live by herself with her baby, that she had been rehoused by the council, but that they’d given her somewhere too big for her small family, but that she was having to pay the rent still, and that her housing allowance was not covering it because it was limited by the needs of the smallness of her family. And that she’d had Crisis Loans. She said she was starving.
She was thin and grey, but clean. She had long mid-brown hair tied back. She looked like a prostitute with a drug habit. I know what prostitutes with a drug habit look like because I’ve seen quite a few. But she could have been a woman who was having a really bad time, because that’s all prostitutes are, the huge majority of them anyway.
She said my house was big, and she asked if I had managed to keep a relationship going. I said that I had, but that I hadn’t always been so lucky, and that I hadn’t always lived in a house like this, and that things hadn’t always been so good, and we connected, or I thought we did, and she seemed to relax a bit.
I gave her a big bag of food. I gave her all the Toffee Crisps we had, and milk and bread and pasta and tins and lots of fruit.
I told my daughters about her and was surprised by their reaction. Lola B could not believe that I had given her all the Toffee Crisps. And afterwards I thought about her quite a lot, and wondered if she was a prostitute with a drug habit, or just a woman trying to put an abusive relationship behind her. When I walked past the road she lived in, I wondered what had become of her, and remembered the women I used to act for who returned to their abusive partners time after time after time, addicted to the wisps of niceness they wafted in between the violence. After a while I stopped thinking about her.
The doorbell rang again. It was dark, and cold and raining. There she was again, about a month later. Shivering, thin, not enough clothes. She said she needed sanitary pads, that she was having her first period after her baby, and that she had not been prepared, and that she had no money. I gave her sanitary pads and £30.00. I told her that she needed to get some help sorting out her benefits, and that the Citizens’ Advice Bureau would help sort things out with her. My daughters hovered around in the background. Afterwards they told me I was mad, that she’d only use the money to finance her habit, that she needed to get a job, and that I should not give her money.
Christmas came and went. She came back a few days ago. She was clutching a plastic bag weighed down by four litres of milk and a multi-pack of potato crisps. The food had run out again, she said, and she was worried that the electricity would as well. This time the parish office had given her the milk and the crisps, but she needed proper food to feed herself and her baby. My dog sniffed at her boots, and she smiled at him. She said she was getting used to him now.
I asked her why she never brought the baby with her. She said she left it with a neighbour. I asked her if she had been to the Citizens’ Advice Bureau. She had, and they had helped with her benefits. She was getting these regularly now, but they were making big deductions to recover the Crisis Loans in instalments, and she was finding it difficult to manage. She said that the CAB had arranged for her to see a woman with one leg who runs a local charity. I smiled. This woman is a one-woman miracle who has provided beds and pushchairs and clothing and cookers and endless oddment to assorted people who’ve falled on hard times. But she still needed proper food, and some money for electricity. She commented on the size of my house. Huge she said it was. Must take a lot to look after it, keep it clean. I nodded. It does.
I gave her some pasta and a tin of tomatoes and an onion, and a block of Lola B’s cheese, and a tin of baked beans, and some bread and butter. I asked her if she could cook, and she said she was lousy at cooking, so I told her how I’d make a sauce for the pasta with the food I’d given her. I took her to our shed and found the box of dirty organic vegetables that had been delivered that day, and I gave her the carrots, and a bag of potatoes, and apologised for them being dirty, and I gave her £10.00 for the electricity. I thought she looked better. Her hair was clean, and tied back like the tail on a draught horse, with descending elastic bands.
And my daughters sang the same chorus, and asked if she would come back and break into the house, and their friend told them I was crazy and just making her dependent on me, and I shook my head. And the thought crossed my mind that she might come back and break into the house and I was sorry that thought crossed my mind.
The next day she came back, when I was out. She hid behind the gate while the door was opened by the person who has helped me in the house for the last twenty years. She said she wanted to see the other lady, and she left her name, a sort of old-fashioned proper name. The person who helps me had thought she was a friend of my elder daughter to begin with, but then she’d changed her mind, and she had put the chain on the door, for the first time ever.
We talked about her, and we both remembered what things were like when my husband and I first bought the house, and I first met the person who helps me and how then, when she had first started working here, her life, alone with two small boys, had been very hard, and I remembered a bad relationship I had stayed in far too long, and we would have found it very difficult to refuse to help the girl with the horse tail.
My neighbour phoned this evening. She said that the girl had called at her house yesterday evening when we were away, and the girl had said that she normally saw the lady next door, but she was desperate and her electricity had been cut off and her house was cold and dark, and my neighbour, who is very kind, gave her £10.00 and her husband said she was a fool, and she wanted to know what I would have done, and we talked about, and we decided that we couldn’t give her any more money, either of us. That it wouldn’t solve her problems.
Image: Nick Hedges, Mother and Children, 1969. “Hedges’ work continues the tradition of socially committed documentary photography in Britain established in the 1930s and 40s. His seminal photographs for charitable organisations such as Shelter and MENCAP evidence hardship and poverty in the margins of 1950s and 60s society, providing an important historical document of the everyday lives of the disadvantaged, economically or otherwise, from the period. The works embody an impassioned sense of social purpose, a desire to confront reality and lay it bare to a wider audience.”
“float”, “birds” …
I looked at an Iraqi blog that I like, and found pictures that surprised me, of newly paved pedestrian streets, like Al Mutanabbi Street pictured above, and peace and quiet, and statues in sunshine, and orderly signs.
And I found an article about the bookshops in Al Mutanabbi Street and was fascinated by the literary scene the writer described in 2005.
And another article that described the lifting of the curfew in Al Mutanabbi Street which had been imposed after a car bomb exploded there in 2007 “killing 30 book merchants, buyers, and publishers, and wounding dozens others. The blast also destroyed many buildings and bookstores, including al-Maktabah al-Asriyya [The modern bookstore], the oldest of its kind in al-Mutannabi, in addition to al-Shabandar Café, considered by many as one of Baghdad’s most famous landmarks.”
Today I read a piece written by Salam Pax, whom we all know better as the Baghdad Blogger. I had no idea that he had been in London for the last two years, sponsored by the British Council to study journalism. He has recently returned to Baghdad and writes of his first impression on returning. Right at the end of the article he says he is still not sure if the city he left is the city he has arrived back in, and how he wants to feel like a Baghdadi again, and wants to visit the book market. I know all about the book market now, and I hope he finds it as it was before, not necessarily how it was when he left.
“The terrorist attacks in Mumbai seven weeks ago sent shock waves around the world. Now all eyes are fixed on the Middle East, where Israel’s response to Hamas’s rockets, a ferocious military campaign, has already left a thousand Gazans dead.
Seven years on from 9/11 it is clear that we need to take a fundamental look at our efforts to prevent extremism and its terrible offspring, terrorist violence. Since 9/11, the notion of a “war on terror” has defined the terrain. The phrase had some merit: it captured the gravity of the threats, the need for solidarity, and the need to respond urgently – where necessary, with force. But ultimately, the notion is misleading and mistaken. The issue is not whether we need to attack the use of terror at its roots, with all the tools available. We must. The question is how.
The idea of a “war on terror” gave the impression of a unified, transnational enemy, embodied in the figure of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida. The reality is that the motivations and identities of terrorist groups are disparate. Lashkar-e-Taiba has roots in Pakistan and says its cause is Kashmir. Hezbollah says it stands for resistance to occupation of the Golan Heights. The Shia and Sunni insurgent groups in Iraq have myriad demands. They are as diverse as the 1970s European movements of the IRA, Baader-Meinhof, and Eta. All used terrorism and sometimes they supported each other, but their causes were not unified and their cooperation was opportunistic. So it is today.
The more we lump terrorist groups together and draw the battle lines as a simple binary struggle between moderates and extremists, or good and evil, the more we play into the hands of those seeking to unify groups with little in common. Terrorist groups need to be tackled at root, interdicting flows of weapons and finance, exposing the shallowness of their claims, channelling their followers into democratic politics.
The “war on terror” also implied that the correct response was primarily military. But as General Petraeus said to me and others in Iraq, the coalition there could not kill its way out of the problems of insurgency and civil strife.
This is what divides supporters and opponents of the military action in Gaza. Similar issues are raised by the debate about the response to the Mumbai attacks. Those who were responsible must be brought to justice and the government of Pakistan must take urgent and effective action to break up terror networks on its soil. But on my visit to south Asia this week, I am arguing that the best antidote to the terrorist threat in the long term is cooperation. Although I understand the current difficulties, resolution of the dispute over Kashmir would help deny extremists in the region one of their main calls to arms, and allow Pakistani authorities to focus more effectively on tackling the threat on their western borders.
We must respond to terrorism by championing the rule of law, not subordinating it, for it is the cornerstone of the democratic society. We must uphold our commitments to human rights and civil liberties at home and abroad. That is surely the lesson of Guantánamo and it is why we welcome President-elect Obama’s commitment to close it.
The call for a “war on terror” was a call to arms, an attempt to build solidarity for a fight against a single shared enemy. But the foundation for solidarity between peoples and nations should be based not on who we are against, but on the idea of who we are and the values we share. Terrorists succeed when they render countries fearful and vindictive; when they sow division and animosity; when they force countries to respond with violence and repression. The best response is to refuse to be cowed.”
• David Miliband is the foreign secretary firstname.lastname@example.org
From The Guardian today, much discussed everywhere.
A reply from Simon Jenkins (Friday, 16th Jan), also in the Guardian
In an extraordinary article on these pages yesterday, David Miliband declared the title “war on terror” to be “misleading and mistaken”. It apparently “gave the impression of a unified, transnational enemy, embodied in the figure of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida”. In reality terrorism was a disparate phenomenon, often internal to state politics. Besides, wrote the foreign secretary: “Terrorists succeed when they force countries to respond with violence and repression.”
Miliband is right. But those who have been saying this since 9/11 wonder what has caused this sudden conversion. Did Miliband protest when Tony Blair reportedly pleaded with George Bush to be the first to bomb Kabul in 2001? Is this the same Miliband who sat silent as a member of the government that supported “shock and awe”? Is he now pleading with the Americans to stop using weapons against the Pashtun – such as aerial assassination – that exacerbate both war and terror?
The truth is that the war Miliband is still waging against militant Islam has been conducted largely by weapons of terror, namely bombs and long-distance artillery shells. They have killed untold thousands of non-combatants since the “war” began in 2001 – a violence far more devastating than the Israelis have inflicted on Gaza – destroying unimaginable numbers of homes.
Read the whole article here.
Every week the Guardian has a “Problem Page” spread in the G2 section. There’s a problem, of course, which was set out in the previous week’s edition. It’s followed by half a dozen replies that readers, often anonymously, have offered by email, and then the resident psychologist makes her contribution. A consensus usually emerges from the reader’s comments and I often prefer their views to those of the psychologist whom I find strangely unempathetic.
Aunt Sally answers problems for the Sunday Times. Her approach is different. Sally Brampton presides over the bottom of each page, smiling in her chair, legs crossed, hands sitting in her lap, smile reaching her eyes, and she speaks such sense. She does not shrink from telling it as it is, but she sweetens the pill with genuine affirmation. I think I could take any bad news, any injury to my ego, from her. I’ve included a previous question and answer from her here. Here’s an example that I tore out today and wish that every person was given at birth.
The man who poses the question is gay. His sexual orientation, however, is irrelevant to his predicament.
I met a guy was a year out of an unhappy long-term relationship and seemed ready to move on. We live in different cities, but would spend hours on the phone. When he finally came to stay, he was very shy and nervous which was endearing. We got on amazingly well … Now he keeps standing me up, usually by text, then ignores my calls, but when we do speak, he always says he loves me and wants to be with me. I’ve read about avoidance and guys who are so scared of being hurt that they play power games and can’t get intimate. He admits he’s scared, and I’ve tried to reassure him, but it’s left me feeling really low about myself. I believe in honesty, trust and kindness in a relationship, and it’s just not there. I’ve walked away, but I’ve left an amazing connection. Am I holding on to something that isn’t there? It’s so easy to say that people have baggage, but surely it’s better to help and be understanding? I’m exhausted by all the anxiety.
You sound like such a nice man. Of course it’s good to help others and to be understanding about emotional baggage, but just because it’s good to be that way, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better. Who is it better for? Not you, it seems. After only a few months, you feel low about yourself and exhausted by anxiety. Surely that should tell you something? Look, for whatever reason, some people are emotional black holes. No matter how much love and kindness we hand out, it’s all absorbed into the vortex. Our actions come to seem both meaningless and pointless, because no amount of love and reassurance has any effect except to make them crave more – and more. That leaves us bewildered, anxious, and, frankly, feeling as if we don’t matter.
I think of people like that as emotional vampires. Unable to sustain themselves or fill the hole of need they carry inside, they leech the life out of others. I suspect you feel low about yourself because it is extraordinarily disappointing to encounter somebody who seems able to speak the language of love, but is unable, emotionally, to absorb its lessons. All the promises are simply dust. When he says he loves you, I’m sure he believes it to be the truth. It’s just that, emotionally, he can’t follow it through. We can understand something intellectually but fail to feel it emotionally. It’s a head-to-heart disconnect.
He may want to love you (or, rather, the idea of you), but as soon as you respond, he shuts down, and when you get too close, he runs away. That doesn’t mean he’s an avoidant. Avoidant patterns of behaviour are far more manipulative, involving a deliberate campaign of charm to pull somebody in and, once they are hooked, a push-me, pull-me game of bullying control.
It seems much more likely that he’s badly wounded emotionally, but – and here’s a big but – just because he’s wounded, it doesn’t mean that you can heal him, or that you should try. You don’t say what happened in his previous relationship. It could be that he was bullied or neglected, and that has caused him to feel scared of being hurt again. Or it could be that he was acting out similar dysfunctional or destructive behaviour; it at least has the merit of being familiar and, therefore, safe. Change is frightening because it’s a leap into the unknown, but I suspect your frustration lies in wanting to believe that, with sufficient love and kindness, he could and would change. Your anxiety stems from the effects that the unpredictability of his behaviour have on you, but also from your concern that you are abandoning something that could bring great happiness.
I suspect that’s just wishful thinking. People can change, but challenging established patters of destructive behaviour takes enormous personal effort. Unless somebody is really willing to put in the work, it’s impossible to help them, no matter how much kindness, love and good emotional sense we send their way. We have to fulfil our own needs before we can be in a relationship with others. We have to be able to love ourselves before we can give love away. It’s like the oxygen mask in the aeroplane. You must put the mask to your own face before helping anybody else. Why? Because if you don’t have your own supply of oxygen, you’ll soon start grabbing at others and pulling them down in your desperation to get at their supply. He’s not deceitful or unkind; he just an oxygen grabber. You, on the other hand, are a giver and a man who believes in honesty, trust and kindness. Good. Those are excellent, healthy instincts that make for real happiness in a relationship. If I were you, I’d keep walking until you find them.
Here’s another one:
I wonder if you could help me get over my fear of revealing my true feelings to an ex-boyfriend. We broke up 18 months ago, having dated for about 18 months, because his work commitments meant we never got the chance to spend any time together. He felt he was being unfair to me and I felt lonely and let down. My self-esteem and confidence were at their lowest. The decision to break up was mutual, and painful for both of us. Despite that, we remained close friends and, about a year ago, I asked him if he would be my boyfriend again. He said he loved me, but couldn’t bear hurting me again, because his circumstances had not changed. I said I couldn’t stay friends, because I still had such strong feelings for him. We parted, but recently he e-mailed to say he missed me and wished he could make me happy. We saw each other, but didn’t discuss it — we were too busy having a laugh and the matter never arose. I still love him, but I’m scared of being turned down again and feeling like a fool. How do I find the courage to tell him how I feel?
It seems to me that you love him more than he loves you. That’s the bottom line. He obviously likes you. He probably loves you, but what he is actually saying is: “I love you, but . . .” Pay attention to the “but”. As a wise woman once said: “In any sentence that starts, ‘Yes, but . . .’, everything after the but is bullshit.”
The work commitments might be real enough, but the excuses are bull. If he wanted to be with you, he’d be with you.
If he wanted to call, he’d call, no matter how busy he was. We always find time for the people who are foremost in our heart. And you, I’m afraid, are not. That does not mean that you are not in his heart. It simply means that you don’t come first, and that, I suspect, is where you need to be. As you said in your letter, it’s what drove you to leave him in the first place. He simply fell into line. Yes, he was upset. He was also aware of your loneliness and feelings of neglect, but was not prepared to do anything to change his behaviour.
He felt the same way a year ago, when you asked him if he wanted to be with you. You were clear you could not be friends, but he broke the agreement and contacted you via e-mail. Does that mean he has changed his mind? I have never thought e-mails are to be trusted. They are too easy. A sudden moment of loneliness. A quick tap on the computer and a message is sent. An e-mail is a false intimacy. If you really want to know how somebody feels, stand in front of them, look directly into their eyes and ask them. Eyes don’t lie. Words do.
It might have meant more if he had said something when you met. Were you really having such a laugh that the matter never arose? Or were you burning to ask while he was burning not to tell you, and so avoided intimacy with laughter? I wish I could give you courage. I know how frightening it is to hear somebody you love say no. I wish I could take your hand and say to him: “Look, what exactly are your intentions towards this woman?”
Instead, you have to ask him. Let’s put it another way. You are in agony now. You have already said you cannot be his friend and see his smile and know it is not intended particularly for you. If you ask if he’d like to get back together and he says no, you will be in agony too. Which agony is preferable? The first is relentless. The second is sharp, but will fade with time.
I wonder, too, if the real reason you can’t find the courage is because, in your heart, you know he’s going to say: “I love you, but . . .” A bigger concern might be that he says yes without meaning it wholeheartedly. I suspect it’s his concern, too, which is why he turned you down six months ago. He genuinely does not want to hurt you, and senses his power — that subtle imbalance of love. He might feel happy about being with you, at least for a time. But then work will take over, or whatever other concern happens to be uppermost in his mind, and he’ll be distracted from the thing you really want — his full attention. And you know what? It’s not good enough. A half-hearted love affair is never good enough. It is a gilded cage, half pleasure and half prison. It holds us back from the world and the full-hearted lover around the next corner.
So, screw up your courage and tell him how you feel and what you need. Tell him your truth and ask him to tell you his — in full. Ask him to spell it out, if necessary. It may be that you need to hear every little detail, however painful. It is far better to live with the whole truth than to live with part of it, because our minds hang onto the stuff that is left unspoken and play havoc. Whether he says yes to you or no, if you share true intimacy and proper respect with each other, there will be real comfort in that.
And another, except this time you have to guess the question from the answer:
No, of course you don’t have to make yourself hate him. That would be childish, as in: “If you don’t love me (do what I want/ be what I want you to be/behave in the way I think you should behave), I have to hate you.” What is there to hate? It sounds as if he’s trying to let you down gently and take things back to where you started, as friends. He hasn’t called much because he is trying to put a distance between you. That may not be brave of him, but his intentions are good, even if his methods are lousy.
He is frightened of hurting you. He would like to keep you as a friend, but doesn’t know how. His nonchalance and jokes are a way to avoid telling you something he knows you don’t want to hear. You don’t want to hear it because, at heart, you know what it is. The reality is, you don’t want to face the truth.
But you both know the truth. He doesn’t want to express it. You don’t want to hear it, so you get drunk and jump into bed with him. Really, it’s not the best way. It is meaningless, avoidant sex, which leaves us feeling shabby and empty, because we know we are not sharing real intimacy, but using sex to avoid real intimacy — which is telling each other the truth about the way we feel. And he is going to say yes to sex. He’s a bloke, and I bet you’ re gorgeous. That doesn’t mean he wants to be with you, it just means he wants to shag you. If he wanted to be with you, he’d have made a lot more effort than he has been doing recently.
So you need to accept that. But there’s a lot more invested in this, because you started out as friends and, perhaps, eventually that’s the way you would like to be again. If that’s the case, then you do need to talk to him, in an adult way. That means asking him to tell you truthfully how he feels, and accepting his reply without bursting into tears, blaming him, getting angry or running away.
It will hurt less once you hear the truth. The thing that has been stressful for you is not knowing. The philosopher Nietzsche said: “It is not fear that drives people mad, but uncertainty.” Being clear is always the best way. So sit him down and ask him to be straight with you. Don’t avoid the truth or difficulty. Avoidance simply sets us up for more problems. All those unspoken truths have a habit of hanging around and poisoning relationships. He can’t say what he feels, you can’t bear to hear him say what he feels, so you both end up avoiding each other, and what could have been a good friendship ends up wasted.
I know how much it hurts to admit that somebody does not want to be with you. But that is a part of accepting that we can’t always have what we want. And that, I’m afraid, is life. You need to step back a little and see that this is not personal. I know that sounds mad (what is rejection, if not personal?), but he’s not saying that he doesn’t value you, he’s saying that he can’t connect to you in the same way that you would like to connect to him. It does not make you less lovable. It just makes you feel less lovable. There is a world of difference in those two statements. I know it’s tough. Every single person reading this knows how tough it is. We’ve all been there. So how do you stop the feelings? By accepting them and behaving with grace and dignity, which restores self-worth and self-love in a way that hating somebody never can. Hatred is toxic. It poisons and corrodes you much more than the people at whom it is directed.
Here’s another quote for you, because that’s the kind of mood I’m in this week. It’s from the Buddha, who said: “Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the eternal rule.” He does not mean that you have to love your boyfriend when that’s the very last thing you’re feeling. That would be false. It means that you have to behave with love, and by behaving in this way, you will not only experience compassion for others and how they might be feeling, but, perhaps just as importantly, you will feel compassion for yourself. And if there is any single antidote to stress and depression, it is compassion.