A Story a Propos of Nothing Much

September 15, 2011 § 27 Comments

This is a story I have wanted to tell for a while and haven’t quite got round to.  It’s along the mixed messages sort of theme, but not exactly.

It is almost a year since I went to dinner at Janey’s (who else?) and met a wonderful man, the first man since being on my own with whom I felt a real connection that sparked and fizzed and lifted us both several inches from our seats.  I have held a pointless candle ever since.  I stopped myself from falling in love with him, quite, but just meeting him that night has at least given me a glimpse of the fact that it could be possible, even if, sadly, not with him.  So it’s a story not entirely devoid of a happy ending.

I have talked to many a broken man at dinner about his recent divorce.  Divorce is a very compelling subject for those of us who have been through it because it is quite unlike anything you could imagine before the shit hits your own marital fan and the whole awful process happens to you.  I thought I got it – I have known so many people throughout my life who have gone through it and fancy myself as an empathetic type – but I knew Jack Shit till it actually happened to me and in many ways I had it relatively easy (respect and affection remained on the menu throughout and still do).  I think others feel the same about it.  In a strange sort of way, divorce is a kind of bonding experience – not with the ex-spouse, obviously – but with a whole host of other people’s ex-spouses.  I have found women to have been extraordinarily open about their own experience, but men too.  I guess, because I am naturally one for honesty and openness myself, and don’t shy away from truths, it gives men especially, the confidence to wear their hearts on their sleeves and be the same with me.  I have definitely found that the more I tell people, the more they tell me.  It is not a calculated, sinister thing, it’s just the way I am, but it has certainly meant I have been party to some eye-opening revelations, emotions and secrets.  Riveting.

This man was no exception.  His wife of thirty years had had lovers and had left him a year before.  Over the starter we discussed various common aspects of divorce but by the main course we were in full-swing on the irresistible subject of sexual jealousy which no one ever talks about, not really, not in the way it needs to be discussed; only ever euphemistically, politely, namby-pambily (euphemism, politeness and namby-pambyism with sexual jealousy do not go).  It is a topic ripe for blunt, properly coruscating discussion.  He told me that the way I expressed it was one of the most moving things he had heard in a long time.  This is not a boast.  As we know, I say it like it is, and that’s nothing special, it’s just people aren’t used to hearing things in the raw, least of all at a dinner party.  He then admitted that I had said four things in ten minutes that were so affecting, he wanted to remember them to tell his shrink.  Tears pulsed down his cheeks.  He apologised and wiped them away saying he promised he was over it, really.  Well, I thought, maybe not exactly quite yet but I then made him laugh so that he bent forward and his shoulders heaved and then I thought, a way to go yet but at least going in the right direction.  At least he can laugh.

At the end of dinner, everyone else moved next door into the sitting-room but he and I didn’t notice, so intent were we on each other.  We stayed at the table.  I felt, as the cliche goes, fireworks.  Call me arrogant, I know he did too.  I say this because as we got up to leave, he looked at me in a certain way, touched me, and came out with what I thought was a really cool line – you may beg to differ, but I am not a woman who gets given many lines and it worked on me – “Let’s not be complicated about this, Plankton [not my real name], can I have your telephone number?”

It was a pathetically thrilling moment; a major splash in a plankton’s otherwise romantically arid existence.  My stomach went flip.  He fished a torn scrap of purple paper from his pocket and a pen.  I wrote down both my numbers (I know, I know; TMI!  Heat of the moment).

The weeks passed and the call never came.  Janey did everything she could.  For months, at decent intervals, she rang or emailed him, not mentioning me at all, but just to make contact.  But he disappeared to such a degree that we could only conclude he had had a breakdown and holed up in the Priory.  Who knows.  But of course, a year on from the break-up of his marriage to his beloved wife, he was far from “over it”.  He just wasn’t ready.  Timing, alas, was against me, and there is nothing you can do about that.

At New Year there was a sighting of him on the Continent and I thought about what might have been had the stars been of the right configuration and had I remotely believed in that sort of gobshite, but they weren’t.

Neither his old friend Janey, nor I, have heard tell of him since.


§ 27 Responses to A Story a Propos of Nothing Much

  • Erin says:

    Timing is everything. dear Plankton, and it’s rarely ever on your terms. When you feel low, remember this man and that he was a few puzzle pieces shy of being ready to move on, but his puzzle will be whole in time and he, like you, will find another whose last piece has clicked in – fate, kismet controlling the situation as usual.

    I was dating a man a few years ago who I really connected with, who was so different from the others before him – I couldn’t believe there was someone out there as quirky and eccentric as I, and I could completely be myself with this person – a first for at that time, this 47 yr-old plankton. When he suddenly broke things off with me, I was devastated and inconsolable. A very dear plankton friend of mine said to me – never, never, never give up. This woman had been alone a lot longer than I and was a walking skeleton, having battled anorexia her whole adult life and been hospitalized a few times from it but just couldn’t beat that demon. She was one of the most upbeat people I have ever met, and I felt humbled by her attitude toward life. I took those words to heart and it became my mantra for everything in life. The eccentric man is now my husband.

    I know I sound like a broken record, Plankton, and it is hard when others tell their story, to relate it to yourself but yes, the love you seek will happen for you. Never, never, never give up : )

    • The Plankton says:

      Thank you, Erin, that’s really helpful. Best wishes, Plankton

      • Lydia says:

        I’m an optimist but it won’t necessarily happen and not if you try to hard and not if you don’t meet enough people. In the 1920s there was a huge generaton of women who lost their fiance in WW1. Many of them never married – there were not enough men.
        In China today there are too many men for each women (indeed in some rural areas the men share one wife and some other families out there steal girls to become first servants and then a husband for their son). Perhaps we should match the plankton with the vast number of unmarried Chinese men … mind you that might even test my own reasonable flexible compatibility tests.

    • EmGee says:

      Oh Erin, I do so relate to the first half of your story. I’m an artist who connected with a man and thought he was ‘the One’, then he too broke it off. He still stays in contact, and I am in the ‘don’t give up just yet’ stage. While I am not sitting at home pining for him, no one since has set off those sparks. As Planky said at the beginning of her post, if nothing else I have had a glimpse of what could be, even if ultimately, it isn’t with him.

      As the widow of a suicide at 47, that relationship let me know that finding a loving, caring man wasn’t only true in fairy tales.

  • guest says:

    Erin, how then did this man become your husband? I do love hearing others’ happy endings.

    • Erin says:

      Hi there! When he broke up with me, he said he just wanted to “be friends”. I told him there was no way I could just be casual friends; it would be too painful for me, and what if he met the love of his life and I had to stand there like Julia Roberts in My Best Friend’s Wedding and wish it was me he was with. He said “I’ll always be here if you need me,” which was nice but a huge jagged bitter pill to swallow. I was so disappointed – he didn’t give me a good reason for the break up (he was very vague, which made it even worse) and I couldn’t help but think there went “The One.”

      I allowed myself exactly 2 days to wallow in bed. Then I got up and went about my business, my usual life, work, kids and started the grieving and getting over process that is inevitable after heartbreak. He called a couple days after we broke up but I just had nothing to say. I could tell he was trying to carry on as if we were friends but I just couldn’t. I sat there mute during the conversation. I was hurting too badly. He called again a few times and I never answered the phone or returned the calls. The calls dwindled and finally ended and a month after we broke up, I forced myself to get back on Match.dot.com (where we met) even though I was not ready to, and went on some dates.

      Fast forward 3 months. I go on a date with a very aggressive person who invites me back to his house after dinner to see his mid-century modern glass collection (I know. I know. Whatever was I thinking?) This man practically chased me around his house and was wanting to show me the collection in the bedroom (cringe). It was midnight. I grabbed my purse, ran out the door, jumped in the car and immediately drove the 30 minutes to N’s (husband) house. I missed our friendship. I needed my friend. During that drive, I realized that yes, we could actually be friends (a breakthrough for me, because I have never been or wanted to be friends with an ex). The last puzzle piece clicked into place for me during that drive.

      I peeked in the window of the door and saw the light from the TV flickering, knocked on the door and heard the footsteps. He opened the door and said “Oh, it’s you!” That was 5 yrs ago. We were married 1 1/2 yrs ago. He told me later that that was a pivotal moment for him. His last puzzle piece clicked into place when he opened that door. So there were two whole people, two completed puzzles, the timing was right and it was meant to be : )

      Now, I don’t want you to think we rode off into the sunset kind of nonsense. We have had our ups and downs like every relationship. I have gone through the hell of menopause and come out the other side, and now he is going through his manopause. There have been many compromises and lots of personal growth. But we are pretty happy with each other and looking forward to the next and final stage of our lives.

      To the skeptics and the hopeful – please consider joining an online dating service. Yes, you will have bad dates, disappointments, all that goes with finding your right one, but there are thousands of people on there looking for the same thing as you, and you have access to every single one of them. It really is the best place to meet single people when you get to the plankton age. But you have to not get discouraged, and soldier on. There is love out there for you : )

      • EmGee says:

        Thank you Erin, for sharing your story! My ex gave me a ‘just be friends’ speech too, but I accepted just being friends. I had lost my husband (we had just separated because drugs and alcohol would always take precedence in his life) 6 months before meeting him, and he lost his mother (who he was very close to emotionally, if not geographically) just a couple months later. We were both (and still are) struggling financially; his work is primarily 3 hours away in San Diego, he ended up homeless and then his car literally went up in smoke. I live in an area of 20% unemployment and that is no exaggeration, I pick up odd jobs wherever I can, sell a painting once in awhile and thank God I at least own my home and a relatively new car free and clear. So while it isn’t because he lost interest in me, or met someone else, it’s just this damn economy makes it hard for some of us to hold our dignity intact. Now here I’ve gone on and on… 🙂

        Plankton, thank you for providing this forum for us, even if that wasn’t your intention, and in spite of the vitriolic ones.

      • The Plankton says:

        Dear EmGee, thanks for this. It was my intention to say it like it is, and to provide a forum – in spite of the vitriolic ones. Thanks for joining in. The more (non-vitriolic) comments, the merrier. Best, P

  • Great column. I’ve posted a comment defending you on your latest column at The Times. I am amused by how, at The Times website, a search for ‘plankton’ draws up loads of stories about oceans and the environment until suddenly, at the top, they are all about sex and relationships. ha ha it is very funny. Just hope it does not confuse some unfortunate kids trying to do environmental science homework with the help of The Times website.

    • The Plankton says:

      Dear Ruth, Thanks so much for your support and defence. Every supporter is precious to me even if that sounds bleargh. Much appreciate it and I laughed at the thought of kids trying to do their homework but instead finding me. I hope they recover from the shock! Very best wishes, Plankton

  • All I want to say is what a beautiful writer you are. Such a clear, well-defined voice. And very, very funny. I so enjoy your daily posts.

    • The Plankton says:

      What a sweetheart you are, and thank you. (Are you the Aggie MacKenzie I think you are?) Really lovely compliments and cherished all the more in the face of a certain amount of vitriol from elsewhere. Thank you again, Very best wishes Px

  • Omega_Dork says:

    What is this “Times” you keep referring to? Also, would you really be interested in a man who cried in front of you like that? He sounds a bit of a mess to me, not to mention not very manly.

    There are lots things worse than living alone with your cats, despite what the MRAs would have you believe.

    • DAN says:

      Sorry nomega_dork and i will seriously emphasise the DORK part of your name !

      If a man has the vulernability to cry in front of another person, while relating the trauma that he has been through, there is nothing more manly than that !

      He has obviously poured out his true feelings, is in touch with his feminine side, and is totally honest and sincere about how he feels !

      what would you prefer , some guy that would kick the living shit out of some female, that cant protect herself, or harm her children, which happens incidently to somebody every 3 minutes somewhere in the world ?

      GET A LIFE !

      I would prefer to see a person male or female to react this way anyday than killing his partner, or smothering or drowning his children !

      You have a lot to learn !


      • Lydia says:

        No men cry at dinner parties. It’s weird. I don’t think women do either. Obviously there’s no reason men can’t cry at appropriate times but this is a huge red flag – it puts him into the male category of plankton – not yet over divorce (NYOD). NYODs take you to dinner and instead of telling you how beautiful you are and all the rest then spend 2 hours criticising their ex wife. I’ve had the one who told me about how he’d come to hit her (not very hard but obviously it affected the tenor of the divorce); another actually at least 3 about how cleverly they have hidden their money abroad from her; etc etc These men need to go on a course on how to make women want you.

        Avoid like the plague.

      • AJ says:

        Are you kidding Lydia? Have you never been at a lively party, people all about you, you hear laughter, people joking and inside you are dying, on the outside you are doing your best to be “in the moment”, but your emotions are so on the surface that if anyone should so much as praise you, give you a hug (whatever), you crumble…I think it’s wonderful this man felt so comfortable with our friend P, that he could, for a split moment, be himself.. I wish more men were like him. It is not a sign of weakness just a sign someone is hurting…

    • Erin says:

      You’re kidding, right? The man was heartbroken. Maybe Plankton was the first person he felt he could relate to and spill his guts. I met a man on the dating service whose wife of 20 years up and left him for the construction guy working on the house across the street. She ran off and left him with 4 teenagers. We had coffee and talked for 3 hours. He did most of the talking about how anguished he felt and trying to get the kids through all this. I did not mind at all. He obviously needed to talk to someone and even though there was no chemistry between us, he was a very nice man who had been hurt very badly.

      • Lydia says:

        In that case you sympathetic ones will triumph. I want someone who is over the hurt of their divorce and in a good place and looking forward to a happy future.

        I accept we all have problems but you don’t seduce a pretty woman on a date by going on about your divorce etc.

        of course in life most of us aer sympathetic to others. I sometimes think I’m “resolver central” because everyone thinks I’m some kind of wonderful Mrs Fixit and am pretty sorted myself but I am sick of men going on about their problems all the time. The last person I had started to see… that ended up being most calls about his problems and I th ought well yes I can be supportive of course but shouldn’t this be about fun, enjoying each other, happy things not all this angst. I might as well be being paid as a life coach (which sometimes I have although not by boyfiends) if I’m going to be soing all this sympathy stuff.

        On the other hand for planktons this could be rich pickings – there are huge numbers of single men hurting out there. Most divorces are initiated by women and most men wouldn’t haev chosen to divorec. Plenty in their 40s and 50s cannot really look after themselves and are missing their children so if you present them with a new home and they can move seamlessly from one wife to their new partner, you, and you are totally on their side (I tend to play devil’s advocate and assume most of wh at they say about the ex wife is probably very biased and not true) you can get them, hook them in, marry them.

  • DAN says:

    Plankton, believe it or not there are good guys out there , just like there are good women.

    We’ve all been hurt and are very slow to go to that bad place again !

    For christ sake after 15 months we still havent got over our marriage breakup !

    WE ask ourselves, what could i have done ( if i’d only realised to begin with that there was a problem ?)

    We as men have worrys just like women, but ours are of a serious nature .

    If i lose my job (and like a fighter there is always some new upstart to replace you) what am i going to do ?

    I am the provider for the family !

    Will i get it up t’nite when we make love and dissapoint her if i don’t?

    Is the pool guy fucking my wife when im not there ?

    Can i afford the college that my son or daughter wants to go to and if not how will it effect them ?

    Does my wife still love me ?

    Did i remember valentines, mothers day, her birthday, the day we met ?

    Alll are very important thinking latitudes, of which all are equally iimportant .

    But at the end of the day, with all those complications and millions of others, did i stay true to the cause ?

    To this i can say, yes, i did what was humanly possible !

    Prioritised after conversing with my partner on each and every issue, but still failed !

    I think it begs the question how some men are sent to jail for 15 years and there wives remain faithful throughout and cant wait for the day that they meet again, and more partnerships cant be away from each other for a day and they (either one ) are already looking for that next experience.

    I just dont understand it !
    Maybe somebody can explain that one to me ?


    • Lydia says:

      Women have as serious concerns as men do. Plenty of us keep our families and an ex husband. In the UK perhaps it is not as sexist as the USA but let us not assume women are never financially responsibel for 100% of their families (I am)

      Most divorces in the UK are initiated by women so it is indeed men who are agonising after thining what might I have done differently. Of course for many the answer ought to be clear, not hit her or the children, not drunk too much, not slept around – sometimes it’s very obvious but they don’t want to face it.

      Why do some women leave a marriage where others will stay? Some women have no career and are totally dependent on a man so won’t leave a bad marriage. Others are being abused but cannot leave an abuser. Others have religious and cultural reasons. I spoke to someone yesterday who is putting up with much but her community will not really let her divorce. Some have religious reasons not to divorce. Others do their families a favour by divorcing because the marriage was so awful. Divorce is not a simple issue.

      Hwever if you want a new partner you need to cast aside divorce hurt and think about how tob e attractive to a man/woman, not wallow in divorec hurt.

      • MissBates says:

        You have to be careful with those divorce statistics. It is true that women are the plaintiff in the vast majority of divorces in the U.S. and the U.K. — that is NOT, however, because they are the ones who called “time” on the marriage and instigated the divorce process. I’ve been a divorce lawyer for 25 years, practicing in both New York and London, and the majority (by a very wide margin) of marriages are brought to an end by the husband leaving — usually as a result of an affair, or sometimes simply wanting “out” after a midlife crisis, etc. The reason the wives end up initiating proceedings is that they are, overwhelmingly, the ones in need of relief from the judicial system, either with respect to needing support for themselves and children during the pendency of the case, or because of child custody/access issues, or, even worse, because they need an order of protection. So, they’re initiating because they need help, NOT necessarily because they would have opted out of the marriage if given the choice.

        My dismaying observation is that the wives — even those who discovered their husband’s affairs, put up with unreasonable behavior, etc. — would have stayed in the marriage and NOT initiated if their husbands hadn’t said, “right, I’m outta here.” I find this maddening, depressing, you name it — but there it is.

    • AJ says:

      Dan, I don’t know what planet you live on but take it from me, I receive nothing from my ex-husband, because the simple maths of our salaries being similar and we share equal custody of our child so please do not use such patronising terms relating a “man’s” situation with a womans. I have all those financial worries as you, I have a full time job which I juggle with raising my children, it’s not all roses in my life either.

  • Rose says:

    Many years ago, way long before I reached plankton status, I read a story by Alice Munro, called “Simon’s Luck.”

    [spoilers] It’s about two planktons (Rose and Simon) who embark a a very romantic affair, until one day the male plankton doesn’t show up for the romantic rendevous. After the long silence after being stood up (he didn’t call her, she didn’t call him), the Rose packs her car and heads far far away to a new community, new job and a successful life. Years later, she finds out that Simon died from pancreatic cancer and was probably in the hospital the weekend he didn’t show up. Alice Munro is a very lovely writer. Some academics think that in this story, Munro is illustrates Rose’s narcissism but sometimes I like to think that Munro wrote a revenge fantasy.

    Your milage may vary.

    Rose (yes, that’s my real name)

  • Dawn says:

    “We as men have worrys just like women, but ours are of a serious nature .”

    That attitude right there will send a woman running for the nearest construction worker.

  • DAN says:

    Point taken AJ


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