“At Least He Never Hit You.”

The relationship that I am in now illuminates a stark contrast from the one I walked away from 4 years ago. The in’s and out’s (excuse the pun) of his behaviour which led to the separation back then no longer make me sad. As I heal, what I experience now is this realisation concerning the huge absence of things while we were together. Many many small things. And only now, in a relationship where those things are present, do I see it. 

11 years ago, I was in an anti-natal yoga class. 8 months pregnant with our second child. I had swollen feet. They throbbed and ached. I was feeling heavy, tired, and grotty as hell. I had been asking for over a month by then if he could rub them, because I had something the size of a space hopper in my stomach, and reaching them myself was a pain. He just didn’t want to massage them. “Yeah yeah, later.” He never once did it. I get it. Not sexy. Water retention. Probably not a regular search on Porn Hub, but it was about this absence which I am trying to describe –  of any desire to just give. I lay there on the yoga mat in this class, near the end of the session as we did some breathing exercises. I felt cold. I wasn’t shivering, but the floor was hard and the October air, with the open windows prickled my bare arms and feet. The lady running the class walked silently across the room, and placed a warm blanket over me. She tucked it gently around me and walked away again. I realised in a moment, that I had never experienced this in my relationship. Not ever. She just did that. She saw me. She noticed. She knew I was cold, she paid close attention. Then she got me a blanket. I didn’t ask. She just wanted to make me feel better. She had demonstrated something which he had never ever demonstrated, and yet it seems so hard to put into words. And I wept. The class ended and I stayed there. I couldn’t stop crying because I felt like I’d had a terrible epiphany. The room emptied and the lady put a hand on my shuddering shoulder and asked if I was ok. I asked if I could just have 10 minutes to gather myself alone. So she left me there, and I got myself together and went back home. That was that. I buried it and carried on.

We don’t teach our kids this. It’s nuanced. To teach them to run away from the absence of something. The absence of giving. Of taking pleasure from giving. From caring, nurturing, building, fixing, and planning. The quieter stuff, that in small instances is not a good enough reason to leave someone. This absence is harder to explain. It is intangible. So we teach the obvious stuff instead. The presence of things. Like affairs, dominance, and control, abuse, violence. Because this is clear and black and white. 

“At least he never hit you.” I was told when I had left him. “He was never violent.”

I wonder to myself how many other relationships are riddled with this deep, non-violent uncaring. A partner who can see you fall down a flight of stairs, crack a rib,  and not want to drive you to the doctors because they had plans. That didn’t bring you food or water when you were ill in bed, or do the laundry when you were busy cooking and cleaning. Who happily played some game on their phone while you fed the kids, pegged out the washing, and dealt with someone calling at the front door. Who didn’t organise days out, or breaks away, or Christmas or Birthday presents for the kids, or organise their parties, or take out the bins. Who went out alone and stayed out all night, who never said “you take a moment. I’ll do this”… The list is endless. I had to ask for anything and everything, else it did not happen. When I did ask, it would often be done with a large sigh, or a stomp, or a slam.

Only now. Now I am in a relationship with somebody who really really does the good things, do I see it clear as day. The old absences are present at last. Tangible. These small moments. When he opens a door because I have my hands full, locks up at night, makes us both tea in the mornings, and closes the windows when we leave the house. Brings me antihistamines in the night when my allergies flare up. Comes with us in the pissing rain to Sunday league matches. Or drives to the shop to get me some chocolate. Who massages my shoulders when I’m tired. Writes me small notes, or makes me cards, makes the bed every morning, and Irons my shirts because I hate ironing. Books nights away or a gig here and there. Orders a cab because he can see I’m tired and don’t fancy the bus. Takes the kids to clubs after school. Picks them up. Buys board games, teaches us to play cards. Sits with us. Plays football on the park, helps with homework. And on top of it all, it seems that he derives happiness from it. 

He has the most loving and wonderful relationship with his own daughter. They adore each other. She calls him to show him her new nails. To ask him advice on a meal, or something at work. Just to natter. To talk about a guy she dated.  When she is sad, worried, or confused. It’s the result of a whole childhood of thought, time, effort, nurturing, and caring. Every time it hits me.  And I wonder if my kids see it sometimes as well. I wonder if it hurts them at all, but do not dare ask. I am grateful for what I have, and I think it is wondrous. And he thinks that I’m nuts when I hug him for remembering bin day. Because these are all just the basics. But they were not. Not for 13 years and through 2 births. Not for me. Or the kids. It was all entirely absent. 

I realise now that I had experienced parenting as a solo and deeply lonely experience. And that I never really knew how it felt to be deeply loved. Sometimes I felt needed, so I would give more. But never the recipient. I know now that I never really knew family life as a duo, working together to make something. Deep and thoughtful. And it still makes me feel sad sometimes. And I cannot believe that I didn’t see it at the time. That sticks in my throat. I think I feel a bit cheated. But I think this must be very common indeed. “At least he never hit you.” No. He didn’t ever hit me. Not once. But I think it’s time we set the bar higher. How can we teach this to our kids so they don’t go through this too?

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