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Emotional epiphanies can come at unusual moments – as I found out on a recent trip to a pet store…

puffer-fishThe other day I was wandering round a pet shop. TJ and I had gone in for some cat food and were having a wander about, looking at the tropical fish.

In one tank, set slightly higher than the rest was a solitary homophobic puffer fish, aimlessly drifting about in it’s tank. I suggest that this particular puffer fish was a homophobe because as soon as TJ and I got close enough to leer into its tank it… well… puffed. TJ moved on, smiling to himself, leaving me, momentarily transfixed by this puffer fish as a sudden realisation expanded almost as rapidly as the puffer fish in my mind.

To explain, I suppose we should go back a step and begin with the fact that I find relationships hard work sometimes, I’m fairly sure I’m not alone in this. I find trusting a guy hard, but then how am I supposed to trust anything they say or do? My previous experiences of men have done nothing to fill me with confidence as to their trustworthiness.

How can I rely on a guy when all my major relationships have ended in heartache?

Let’s briefly consider the evidence:

Exhibit S

This was the first guy I ever fell for, I was 17, he was 18. It’s funny how even now, 12 years after meeting him for the first time, I can remember every detail of him. A little taller than me, with messy brown hair and blue eyes. I remember the way he held me as we kissed.

He was killed a little over a year after we started dating when the car he was driving aquaplaned and wrapped itself around a tree.

Exhibit G

Who, after four months started being physically abusive in small ways which built up over two months and ended with me being pushed down the stairs.

Exhibit M

The man who played biological pass the parcel, wilfully and maliciously setting mine and several other lives down a very different course.

Exhibit D

Who told me, to my face that I was damaged goods and bedded several other young men to prove it.

Exhibit J

Whom I married. Who, over 5 years together, slowly reduced my sense of self-worth and value, slowly degrading me while playing away with a teenager from the Co-op round the corner.

All these experiences had a profound effect on me that I never properly acknowledged until a few weeks earlier when I realised I was giving TJ a hard time over something very trivial which, for me, was shaking my foundations. It was at that moment I realised that my previous relationships had left me with an enormously heightened ‘flight’ instinct.

I should clarify, I have never been a fighter in the physical sense, – admittedly when required I can hold my own in a fight and I throw a damn good punch with a substantial force behind it, but I am a peace loving man. I like a quiet life and given the choice between fight and flight, I will usually choose flight unless I am given very little option.

The effect of this exaggerated flight instinct was that as soon as there was an issue in any subsequent relationship, even if it were trivial and inconsequential, my sole purpose and aim from that moment on was to extricate myself from the relationship as quickly and efficiently as possible and with a minimum of fuss.

Unfortunately, I got so used to this flight instinct that I was always on high alert, always looking for issues that might become a problem which would mean I would need to make a hasty exit stage left.

But there was another, more unpleasant side effect of my past experiences.

After the break down of the marriage, during the divorce, my need to protect myself emotionally resulted in my becoming quite hard headed. I became convinced that I had to do it my way and that any deviation was a mistake. My need to protect myself meant that I was not compromising at all, on anything.

I became a puffer fish. Always on alert. Always puffed, with spines out and sabres rattling and it meant that I was pushing away those best placed to help me through it.

All this was based on my fears, harvested over 12 years of relationships, heartache, doubt and with no real bearing on my current relationship with TJ, a man who treats me as an equal and who, I think, adores me. All this was realised while watching a puffer fish, gliding about like some enormous beach ball with pins sticking out of it.

The strange thing was, that as soon as I realised this uncomfortable truth, it passed. Punctured on one of the puffer fishes’ spines my defences… deflated. I relaxed and started to laugh at myself.

So, heres to TJ and a puffer fish, who, following this emotional revelation helped me to relax, deflate, draw in the spines and begin to compromise.

Suddenly, relationships don’t seem that hard at all.

Steve (@SteveoftheMarch on twitter)

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