Once upon a time, in a land that is now thankfully far, far away, I fell head over heels in like with a fat little bald man who took me for a ride. Why? — Because he could.
I say like because, as adorable and sweet as he seemed, it really wasn’t love. Something was off. But for reasons I am now both aware and ashamed of, I didn’t want it to be. So I ignored the little fairy godmother inside who was whispering “bewaaaaaaire” and instead threw caution to the hot Australian summer wind and jumped right in… to the promise, or at least the hope, of love.
Now, in the interests of privacy I think it would be wise to give my fat little bald man a sobriquet; shall we say, Paddy? And not because he’s Irish, though he is (or at least could claim heritage) because that would be offensive, but because despite his 40 something age he displayed an impressive childlike ability to throw a massive paddy when he didn’t get his way.
I’m not really one for throwing paddy’s, tanty’s, huffs, hissy fits or any other outward display of histrionics. I’m usually described as a pretty accomodating, affable, and empathetic gal. My divorce over a decade ago was an amicable one, we even went out for a celebratory divorce dinner and bought each other parting gifts.
Post-divorce, and unencumbered by any of the baggage that is so frowned upon these days, I quickly and easily, and oh so deeply, fell into the arms of another, more than willing to help him carry all of his. After the devastation of that relationship ending, and with my newly acquired baggage in tow, I found I rather enjoyed the single life and spent a good decade doing just that with a few lovely male friends here and there whose company I enjoyed but with whom I never quite felt the love.
Single life was an adventure. I completed an undergraduate degree, added honours, then tacked on some post-grad for good measure. I took a course in floristry to support my autistic daughter and then entered the world of small business opening a boutique florist while also joining together with a group of other women as a founding member of a women’s business group.
That’s when Paddy entered my life, completely by chance, serendipity you might say, at least that’s how it felt at the time. I’d hired him to do some work for my fledgeling business and, being of similar cultural backgrounds, we enjoyed instant rapport. It wasn’t long before our light-hearted banter turned flirtatious and he began to open up about his second failed marriage, his frustrations navigating the Australian immigration system, and his shame for having ever stayed in a relationship with a violent and now estranged wife.
I really should have known better, he certainly wasn’t the first “separated” man I’d met whose wife didn’t know they were separated. The man into whose arms I so hopelessly fell (statim post-divorce) was separated too, but, like Paddy, had also neglected to tell his wife as much.
In earlier efforts to let go of the man who held so tightly my heart, but who had physically abandoned me, I’d bravely entered the melee of online dating. Twenty years of marriage had left me quite naive to the world of courting and I soon learned that “separated” was often malespeak for getting laid on the sly. Separated men were always eager to meet, but in a clandestine way — usually my home, or maybe a hotel. They weren’t ready to go out in public you see — work colleagues and all that. It became such a regular occurrence that eventually when a man told me he was separated I’d quip “does your wife know?” I also updated my profile to state I wasn’t interested in separated men. Though that was a pointless exercise, they don’t read your profile anyway.
I’d been off the dating sites for several years when Paddy came along with his sad stories of separation, of being misunderstood, of being used and abused. Oh my gawd, he was literally using the same lines I had heard before, and yet for some reason I believed him. So, like a lamb to the slaughter I just skipped right in. And why would I question his honesty? We were both relative newcomers to the same small town. We walked around in that small town holding hands. We could kiss and kanoodle like teenagers in full view of everyone. Not that we did, but we could have. We hung out at the local coffee shop which was everyone’s hang-out…and rightly so, it was the best coffee shop cafe in a 100km radius, maybe two! Shout out to Brother of Mine. I miss you guys — your Tumeric chai’s; your smashed avocado’s; your weird obsession with almond milk.
I’ll never know why this middle-aged man; paunched belly, tattooed torso, bald head (and hairy back) circumvented my usual regard for separated men (and hairy backs). I had known the man I had fallen dangerously in love with 10 years earlier for a long time. Back then my trust was automatic, my blinkers huge. But that was then. I was older and wiser now. Wasn’t I?
So, me and Paddy, we became a thing. And my head over heels in like had real potential for head over heels in love… until Valentines Eve when his wife showed up.
Now, in the interests of privacy I think it would be wise to give Paddy’s wife a sobriquet; shall we say, Fiona? And not because she’s Irish, she isn’t, but because she had that slightly blue-green tinge white people are known for, and a hair cut that was, well, something like a troll might have, you know, a sort of pudding thing stuck to her head, with a weird spiky bit to one side. Do you think we should call her Karen? No, I started with the Irish theme so may as well run with it; t’ be sure, t' be sure.
So where was I? Oh yes, “Fiona” arrived very, very late on Valentine’s Eve, and was every bit as vicious and bitey as you’d expect a troll to be… and rightly so (t' be fair, t' be fair) given her husband had moved into my castle ten days prior.
I am of course making light of what was in fact a very distressing experience. I knew very little about Paddy when he moved in. It all happened so fast and he took full advantage of a financial predicament I was in after a disastrous business decision had left me wondering how I was going to pay the rent. So I agreed to his proposal that he move in rather than advertising for a complete stranger to take the spare room as I tried to recover and get my little business back on its feet. Did I say he took advantage of me because he could?
Paddy then began emptying his “storage unit” (malespeak for house) into my home. He arrived with a TV that was half the width of my lounge room. But that was nowhere near as confronting as his kitchen appliances. Seriously, for a girl who likes to keep things simple with the holy trinity of kitchen appliances — toaster, whizzer, and kettle — the sudden arrival of every kitchen appliance known to modern man was surprisingly difficult. Stepping into my little kitchen was like navigating a cramped Harvey Norman store, and my garage that doubled as a photographic studio was suddenly filled to the brim with every kind of ugly blokey furniture you could imagine, including a massive manly corner-theatre-room-lounge-thingy with cup holding armrests and aisle lighting. And don’t even get me started on gaming consoles. WTF? I calmly tapped my lips (did I mention I’m accommodating?), acknowledged the churning of my stomach, then pushed it aside. I was growing as a person.
You need to be more open, Sarah, I told myself. More accommodating. More of everything I had been told over the years I wasn’t enough of and less of the things I had been told were too much. My sister's advice as my marriage had slowly died echoed in my ears… “Your problem is your expectations are always too high, Sarah. Stop expecting soul connections. You need to be more practical.” And for a brief while I forgot that this advice was given to me when she herself was married to an extremely abusive and controlling man who had planted these same self-sacrificing doubts in her own mind. “Oh my god you are so Monica,” she’d also often said, referring to my neurotic need for order and control. We all have an inner Friends character, don’t we?
So, for the first time in my life, I consciously resolved to not be Monica. To be less neurotic, less in control, and much more practical. I reminded myself he was sweet, funny, hard-working, physically strong, and he adored my autistic daughter — big plus there. The things that others struggled to understand in her were things he claimed were adorable. He showed genuine interest in her art, and when we went out he always wanted her to tag along. So I ignored the stomach churn when he referred to some Indian people as Paki’s. Brushed aside his comment that it must be nice for me to be with my own (white) kind for a change. Laughed off his right-leaning political views (hey, I was trying to grow remember?), and when he told me he had a daughter and granddaughter in the UK who had cut him off I chose to believe his reasons why and felt genuine empathy for him. Poor guy.
It was a week after he moved in that Paddy threw his first paddy and I realised all this determination to lower my expectations and approach a relationship in a “mature” and “practical” way wasn’t going to work. My offence — because women are to blame when men mistreat them right? — was deciding to sleep on the sofa. Now, I could probably write a whole separate piece on the joys of sleeping alone, and maybe I will, but for now I’ll just say I’d slept with no-one but my beloved cat for well over a decade, so when Paddy’s unbelievable freight train snoring kept me awake for the sixth night in a row I decided to go sleep on the sofa. There you go; solution-oriented, mature, practical. You got this, Sarah!
Now, I should mention that early in our relationship I had told him my views on sleeping alone. I was really open about it. However, his shocked response fed my resolve to grow as a person; to address my possibly detached personality. So I added, “must be willing to sleep in same bed” to my list of changes I needed to make to my attitude; sacrifices I needed to make of myself and my lifestyle if I was ever going to have a successful relationship. When that resolve was tested though, I folded. I was already burning the candle at both ends in my life, and I really, really needed some sleep.
On the morning of day seven I was awoken by an angry man loudly letting me know he was going to work… if I cared … don’t get up… I’ll let myself out!… Slam! His petulance barely registered and I went back to sleep. Then my phone started beeping, and the barrage of outraged texts began; I had failed in my expression of love and commitment; he was undervalued; hurt. questioning why he had ever thought he wanted to marry me (huh?). And just like that, I fell out of like.
Day eight; the dust settled and I broached the topic. We’d only been dating for a few months, and though I knew living together was a practical solution for both of us — him being between homes and couch surfing at a friend’s (malespeak for in the middle of a row with his wife) and me needing the financial input of a housemate — I thought we’d moved a little too quick and perhaps, being so fresh from the breakdown of his marriage, it would be better if he kept looking for a place of his own and we just took more time to enjoy each other dating. He hadn’t unpacked anything but his clothes, his stuff was mostly still in the garage, and I was happy for him to leave it there until he found a place rather than him move it back into storage. He told me he was gutted. He’d never felt the way he felt about me about anyone, ever. He adored me. I had changed his life. He wanted us to get married when his divorce came through (malespeak for, I need to get married quick to keep my visa), and, it would be foolish of me to turn down his financial support given he was very financially secure, and I wasn’t. Yeah, thanks for playing that card, bud. Prey on my anxieties why don’t you… and keep banging nails into this coffin in the process.
I suppose I am thankful in many ways that Fiona entered my brief little pantomime and expedited what would probably have devolved into a difficult and drawn-out parting of the ways, rather than the return to the casual ease of dating I had hoped for. When she showed up on day 10, fists and foul language flying, she triggered a series of rapid events, and by day 14, after he told me this was all happening too fast and he needed space, he was gone. But not without throwing his second paddy over me interpreting his “I need space” text message as him choosing to move out and me responding helpfully, practically, by popping his clothes on the bed ready to go. I take things too literally you see. I’m too emotional. Too analytical. Too this, too that, and I need to be more of something else. More someone else.
Three years on, and after police intervention, a restraining order, and an interstate move, I’m doing ok. In the weeks following his decision to go back to his friends (malespeak for his wife), I began to learn more about this man I had so foolishly allowed into my home and close to my daughter. A series of emails and Facebook messages from Fiona made sure I knew the darker side of Paddy; a serious mental illness, a six-month stint in a UK jail for a vicious assault with a baseball bat, an assault on her own son, and the abuse of his daughter. I also learned that he had stolen his business name and logo, which I had praised for its originality and he had claimed to have designed himself, from another man in the UK. What a small world we live in when a cousin of mine turns out to live in the same UK town where the original business owner operated.
Was I the homewrecker she said I was? Of course not. And is he the monster that she described him as? I’ll never really know. What I do know is, I am unapologetically me, and that is how I will remain. My list of changes I need to make to myself in order to have a successful relationship — be it friend, family or lover — has been discarded in favour of authenticity.
I also know I myself transgressed, and I own that transgression. Brutal honesty is after all one of my many faults, or so I am told. My transgression was to attempt to be like other people, who seem to be able to move in and out of relationships the way water trickles its way through a dry riverbed. I choose to lower my expectation of human connectedness and accept being deeply in like as equivalent to slightly in love. In other words, I lied. Not to me, but to Paddy. And, because I know he is reading, I want to say this: It’s over. Let it go.
© Sarah J. Baker 2021. All Rights Reserved.
*from the poem Marmion; A Tale of Flodden Field, by Sir Walter Scott.