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mr darcy

Fitzwilliam Darcy is 200 years old and still the epitome of desirable man. When I close my eyes and think of him, do I see Colin Firth striding from the lake, his clothes plastered to his perfect form? Yes, I admit it, yes; though a scene of tacky cinematic invention and not at all of Jane Austen’s wonderfully understated novel, the moment is almost as timeless.

The difficult, temperamental and sometimes dour Mr Darcy inexplicably appeals to many modern women who really should know better just as strongly as he did to the naïve Elizabeth Bennett. Those of us who have reached a certain stage of life’s journey and had our hearts unreasonably trampled by men of the Mr Darcy mould now openly warn our younger sisters that such strong stuff is for fun, not for marriage – something which the older ladies in Jane Austen’s novels seem unable or perhaps unwilling to do – and yet the attraction remains.

As I attempt to step through the minefield of my own Fitzwilliam’s moods as skillfully as Jane Austen whilst maintaining the innocent pertness of Keira Knightley’s Elizabeth, I have to ask, why? What does a deeply conservative, socially blinkered, emotionally hamstrung 200 year old man-child offer so enduringly to independent 21st century women? And what are 21st century men to make of this strange attraction?

Perhaps we are better at discerning the difference between life and fiction than sometimes credited and recognise Mr Darcy as love’s aspirin for our egos. However life may crush us, this apparently unattainable, disdainful and antagonistic heart-throb is the one man who nevertheless can be won so entirely by our irresistible charms as to declare unfailingly ‘you have bewitched me body and soul…’; who will meet us no matter what with eyes filled with unshakeable ardour and admiration.

I can’t begin to answer this question, although I feel I should say ‘Girls, be careful what you wish for’. Now I need a break from my own realities, so I’m just going to close my eyes for a while….

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black hole

Yesterday my husband told me that he does not recall one happy memory from our marriage. Could there be any words in any language from any time to follow that? I had thought that the day I woke up had to be the lowest of my life, but it turned out to be the first step down the long winding staircase from my tower into a dark netherworld I had no idea existed.

How did I feel: There are no words for that either, just a picture; the CGI swirling black hole which always features at the low point of the disaster movie, only inside him, inside me, inside our relationship, pulling in the light, the warmth, the joy, sucking in everything. I didn’t feel. A black hole is a region of space-time from which nothing can escape, even light: I was gone.

Imagine throwing something into the air. The harder you throw, the faster the object is travelling when it leaves your hand and the higher it will go before turning back. If you throw it hard enough it will never return, the gravitational attraction of earth (or me) will not be able to pull it back down. The velocity the object must gain to escape is known as the escape velocity. I think he is throwing his cruelty at me, harder and harder, to try to reach his escape velocity – eventually he’ll throw something so cruel so hard that he’ll break free and never come back.

But in space,as the object travels it is crushed into a smaller and smaller volume, the gravitational attraction increases, and so the escape velocity gets bigger. Things have to be thrown harder and harder to escape. Eventually a point is reached when even light (which travels at 186 thousand miles a second) is not travelling fast enough to escape. At this point, nothing can get out as nothing can travel faster than light. This is a black hole; this is where we are.

Of course, you can’t see a black hole in space (because it absorbs light); science can only tell us that there are good reasons to believe they exist – which, if you are not a scientist, puts black holes high up on the ‘don’t discuss at dinner’ shelf along with deities, ghosts and conspiracy theories. I’m more a believer than a sceptic by nature (otherwise I wouldn’t be going through this!) but in the depths of my darkness, a thought whispered in my ear like a naughty fairy:
What if I just didn’t believe him?

Not believing people isn’t nice. Relationships are built on trust and respect and that involves a commitment to accept what people say at face value, more or less. But there are times when we accept, for good reasons, what someone tells us without actually believing it – when Grandma says she still sees Grandpa sitting by the fire, when your child tells you they have stomach ache and can’t go to school. It doesn’t mean it’s true, it means it’s true for them and it lets you know where they are at that time. Grandma misses Grandpa, Charlie is feeling anxious or afraid;

my husband is a very depressed and angry man.

I need help.

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I’m horrified but not surprised to read that research by Japanese doctors in the 90s found that the hearts of people who had suffered an emotional crisis had changed shape, restricting blood flow; some people recover, some die. A Swedish team has even discovered the exact pathology of how you really can die of a broken heart. Older women are at most risk due to loss of oestrogen and testosterone.

But I can’t wallow in that for too long, as I also learned that middle aged men between 35 and 54 are now so much more prone to sinking into depression and despair that they are the highest risk group for suicide. The research by The Samaritans suggested that this is due to men finding it hard to live up to expectations, and lacking the emotional skills to deal with relationship problems which support women and younger people.

So older men account for 50% of the 6,000 deaths by suicide each year. That’s such a lot of death and unhappiness that I can feel my heart changing shape as I think about it; that, and my lonely, loveless husband in his faraway hotel room.

Although at the moment he’s at a Christmas party at Planet Hollywood …

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Here’s an opportunity to remember those bittersweet teenage Saturday mornings waiting for the phone to ring. Will he call, won’t he …? With the weary insight of later life, it’s hard to keep even a fragile fingerhold on my self-esteem as I check my emails, texts, facebook page, voicemail, and wait, and wait, and …

Of course he promised to keep in touch, of course I believed it. However busy the business trip, however drunken the drinks party, there’s always a moment to send just a tiny text, isn’t there? Wrong again.

So a new shadow slides onto the stage. Here, behind the weeping wife, next to the lonely old woman, appears the jealous lover, suspicion darkening her view. If he is not with me, who is he with? Can he really be happily settled in a hotel room all alone every night? And why is there no time to call in the morning? Images of attractive, confident, determined 30-somethings elbow their way into my mind. This is a completely different sort of despair, a challenge I do not feel equipped to win.

If he is not alone, then I most definitely am.

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One thing he really likes about our lives and I really struggle with is the three day business trips. It keeps our relationship on a limited play with unavoidable intervals when he gets to ‘have some space’ and I get to wonder what that means. Of course, I get to have some space too, which can be a good thing but at the moment I’m all spaced out.

There’s something empowering in purposefully setting off on a journey, with people to meet and goals in mind, which bolsters up the ego, makes you new and relevant and exciting; I enjoy it, and I can understand why he does it.

Perhaps I’m feeling the difference between ‘he who goes’ and ‘she who stays’, or between being the rejecter and the rejected, but I find it less enabling to be purposefully left behind. That’s at odds with being a modern independent woman, so I should say that I’m quite capable of working late, seeing friends, going to the cinema, of functioning as an individual.

What I realising is that there is a cold, empty gulf between being one independent half of a couple and being essentially – forcibly – single, and I am not enjoying it.

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When you don’t know what you’re doing, don’t ask Google. One field of desolation the Google search led me to was ‘men’s mid-life crisis’ which is apparently a reason why husbands become confused, depressed and unloving.

Is my husband suffering a mid-life crisis? Only he could say, and he isn’t saying, but no-one could blame any modern man for feeling down these days. In a demanding and insecure world where dreams all too often don’t come true and we pay the price with our egos, many men do, it seems, question themselves and their achievements.

My husband said he felt guilty and seemed surprised when I told him that to me he was heroic in his efforts to support our family. Perhaps I haven’t told him before, or enough.

And so to the ‘what now’. Don’t change your hair, don’t try to lose weight, don’t buy a new dress, counsels Dr Google – no, change your attitude. I must become kinder, less critical, more praising, offer my love unconditionally. Definitely a man, that Dr Google.

And I will, I promise I will; only just now I really need someone to be kind to me….

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Of course, in the excruciating light of morning I am calm enough to recognise that while ‘I don’t know’ may hurt as much as ‘No’, it isn’t the same. It’s a different sort of blade, less stiletto, more serrated, catching on your flesh and leaving nasty sensitive tatters of hope, rather than a clean, kind death blow to the heart.

Or perhaps more like being bitten by a snake; although I’m aware of how injured I am, I lack the clarity to either walk away or lie down and die, just a muddled desire to do both and an awareness of the bitter poison spreading through me.

And talking of desire, being turned down for sex is still relatively new and painful, too; the awkward silence and pretending to go to sleep, the trying not to touch in the night, the emptiness of the day without closeness or comfort. This is an equal rights taste of a man’s world I cannot recommend.

But not being a man, today I am more like a dog, my eyes always loyally following the source of my torment, searching for clues to the painful puzzle of how to please; and, not being a dog, the poison spreads and I despise myself for being nothing at all.

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