Jagged Little Pill was my soundtrack in the months after the break-up…
And I’m here to remind you
Of the mess you left when you went away
It’s not fair to deny me
Of the cross I bear that you gave to me
You, you, you oughta know
It was the worst, most destructive and abusive relationship of my life and it was finally over. So why didn’t I feel happier?
Well, there were certainly a few positive benefits to breaking up with Charlie*. I’d stopped crying every day for the first time in two years. That was a win. And the relief at being away from him was palpable.
But my overwhelming emotion, the one that refused to dissipate, was anger – at him for being an asshole and at myself for letting him treat me like shit. There was also bitterness. Bitterness that I’d allowed such a destructive situation to continue for two years and so casually dessimate my self-esteem along the way. I didn’t yet have the term ’emotional abuse’ to describe it. That realisation – that what had happened to me had a name – wouldn’t come for years.
In the immediate aftermath of kicking Charlie out of my life, all I had was blind fury.
Thank God for Alanis. She understood. One of the best parts of this break-up was my timing. It was 1995 and Jagged Little Pill had just been released. Alanis Morisette’s rage-fuelled album of vengeful anthems were empowering before that word was even part of the zeitgeist. It was almost a type of angry feminism and it felt great.
Jagged Little Pill was my soundtrack in the months after the break-up and Alanis was my solace. She was the only one who truly understood. I played it so much – especially in the car – it virtually embedded itself in my DNA. The shouty angst propelled me through the impossibly complicated tangle of my emotions and out the other side to fury, plain and simple.
You seem very well, things look peaceful
I’m not quite as well, I thought you should know
Did you forget about me Mr. Duplicity
I hate to bug you in the middle of dinner
It was a slap in the face how quickly I was replaced
Are you thinking of me when you fuck her
Like, Alanis, I too had been replaced, mere weeks after Charlie and I broke up. This amplified my fury but not because I was jealous. Part of the reason it had taken me so long to end this relationship was because, peversly, I’d been worried about him. Protective of him. How will he cope? What will he do? He had no job. Nowhere to live.
Rather well it turned out. He was already sleeping with someone else, a 19 year old English model.
Like so many of the dud relationships that characterised my late teens and early twenties, this one with Charlie should have been a one-night stand. Or better still, a drunken pash. Or – wait! I know! – nothing!
But something in my chemistry or my morality always reacted to sex with a new guy in a peculiar way. I would wake up the next morning, convinced I was in love. Or at least that there was the potential there for love.
This was unfortunate. So very unfortunate. Because funnily enough, most of the guys I met in my late teens and very early twenties, the ones who attracted me with their signature brand of loud confidence and humour, were invariably hopeless. Not as people necessarily but certainly as boyfriends.
And not in the way you’d expect. It wasn’t that they didn’t want to commit. If only. In most cases, they were so eager to commit, that with just the teeniest bit of encouragement, they’d move their bong into my apartment within days. Before I could say “would you mind opening a window”, they were sleeping over most nights.
Need to jog your memory? Listen to Alanis Morissette’s song ‘Jagged Little Pill’ below.
For a spell there, I had a knack of going from first date to defacto in 24hrs and then flaming out within a month. This was entirely my fault. I brought it on by having sex with them too soon after we met. Far. Too. Soon. And this was a major problem because sex interfered with my brain chemistry .
This is called the “you’ve-seen-me-naked-therefore-this-must-be-love” response. It’s like after sex, my brain imprinted “boyfriend” on the guy I just slept with the same way a duckling imprints “mother” on the first thing it sees after hatching out of the egg. Even if it’s a log. Or the human equivalent of a bong.
I discovered the hard way while dating that it’s a slippery slope to too-soon-sex. Nerves, alcohol, being 21, the excitement of the unknown and two-people-trying-very-hard-to-be-scintillating can easily be confused with chemistry which can quickly lead to sex.
If you’re the kind of person who can separate sex from love and quarantine physical intimacy from the emotional kind, then more power to you. Sadly, I never could. Via a series of dead-end flings, I later realised that for me, it’s not about morality, it’s about self-preservation. It’s about minimising the number of people on your sex list who really don’t deserve a place there.
Even if the person is perfectly nice, a relationship with them may not be viable. Or desirable. But if I’d already done the deed, this wouldn’t dawn on me until waaaay down the track.
For me, it’s only after spending time with someone in different situations, at different times of day and in different degrees of sobriety that truth surfaces and I can work out whether someone floats my boat beyond just sexually. Getting to know someone takes more than a date. More than a week. More than sex.
Unfortunately, back then I was always in a rush. I always had to keep moving forward, preferably at breakneck speed. I was rarely without a love interest for more than a week or two. Being single, without something and someone on the boil, just wasn’t a comfortable state for me.
The result was a series of hopeless, very short-term relationships with guys who usually got far too attached, just when I was ready to move on. Maybe because they were so often stoned, it took them a while to catch up. Also maybe because the fickle nature of my feelings towards them could induce whiplash. I am not proud of this.
I had a real type during my late teens and very early twenties. Not a physical type or even an emotional one. The guys I dated ranged wildly from extroverted to introverted, tall to short, black to white. But here’s what they all had in common: no job. Or car. Or wallet. Or ambition. They made up for this lack of life direction with an impressive dedication to marijuana. And almost all of them had bongs or dope habits.
Was it me? Was I sending out some subliminal message to dope-smokers: come pack your cones on my coffee table? Did I omit some sexual frequency that only stoned people could hear? Or was I just a statistical freak, dating every man aged 19-25 who happened to think a hit from his bong was a most excellent way to greet the day?
It was ironic really, because I’ve always loathed marijuana myself. With my first dope-loving boyfriend when I was 18, I tried getting on his wavelength by having the odd drag of his joint. One cough-inducing drag for me, eight joints for him was about the ratio.
I never loved it. But it did achieve the desired effect of blowing us onto the same page because after I’d had my pathetic puff, I didn’t want to talk either. I just wanted to sit around and eat Wagon Wheels.
After I broke up with that guy, I also broke up with dope. Even the tiniest bit made me anti-social, paranoid and worse, out-of-control. For a control-freak, this was not a fun way to pass time. I’ve never been a big drinker for the same reason. Control and my love of it.
So maybe it was yin and yang. Maybe my control and distaste for dope was a magnetic attraction for the exact opposite kind of person.
It can be very romantic, that whole idea of Opposites Attract. But generally I’ve found that beyond the basic ‘ooh-we’re-so-different!’ attraction, it’s a bloody nightmare.
And ‘bloody nightmare’ was an excellent description of the two years I spent with Charlie. Two years that left me in such a state, only Alanis could understand the depth of my fury and despair.
*not his real name. His real name was far more douchy.
This is an edited excerpt from Mia Freedman’s book ‘Mamamia, A Memoir of Mistakes, Magazines & Motherhood’.
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