Without naming names, someone read my post about controlling my temper, and said, “Okay so what else did you get from your tadpole years?” Which is a pretty good question, so I’ll see if I can elaborate a little.
First, as I said, my tadpole years were triggered by a realization that I had almost no idea what I wanted in a partner, and to be blunt with myself, no real clue what I was doing when it came to dating, etc. I was just “drifting”. Which is fine if you’re relatively mentally healthy, not so good if you aren’t, yet still care about your impact on others.
Which means I started to figure out the kind of woman I wanted to be with. Up until that point, I did have an occasional “damsel in distress syndrome” going on. Some call it “DIDS”, others call it the “wounded bird” approach. Which means that sometimes I was attracted to wounded birds who needed help mending their wings. This often shows up more often in women, according to the literature at least, that a woman is going to “fix that broken man”, but often that goes further to looking at more extreme forms that include abuse. This wasn’t about being so wanting to help that I would put up with abuse, but I did feel protective sometimes to a point that looked and felt like romantic interest. A bit messed up, even though lots of people have it and think it’s a strength, not a weakness. For me it was a weakness — I had to be with a woman for the right reasons, not the wrong ones, and being with someone so I could “help” them was not a reason to date them. Friends, yes, dating, no.
Overall, and in no particular order, I wanted a woman who was relatively independent. Both smart and bright (i.e. intelligent and quick). Highly functional. Stable, no love for drama for drama’s sake. Worldly, or at least, not simply limiting herself to a provincial / small town view of the world, or simply curious about the world. Patient. Funny in her own right, not just simply laughing at other’s jokes. Not someone who loves cocktail parties and galas, but more board games, reading, a few friends, barbeques. Was I looking for all those things in one person? Not really, but in some ways they were flags for me that would likely lead to an unsustainable relationship due to the way my mind/world works on my side.
For me, aggressively warm, fuzzy, over-the-top social, clingy, etc. — all of these would suck energy out of me way too fast. It would be like a vampire feeding on a corpse. I just don`t have the energy reserves to do that for longer than a day. And I`d quickly resent having to do it, even if they were to “tone it down” as part of the compromise. Similarly, I have no interest in cocktail parties and galas. I remember a conversation with an old boss whose view was that every man should own a tuxedo, because if you have one, you find occasions to wear it. For me, that would be the exact reason NOT to own one, because I wouldn’t want to go to the events where I would wear it. I’m glad others enjoy it, I do. And I see their photos and things, and I’m even a bit envious. But I consider it a good month if I can get away with not wearing a suit or tie at any point during the month. I like getting dressed up occasionally, but I’d rather be at home than somewhere that requires the monkey suit.
In terms of interests or knowledge, I wanted someone with an outward perspective because it would challenge me, it would bring more to the relationship. I don’t mean a globetrotter who’s never around, or doing a long-distance thing, but I also have a tendency to overexplain things, to put my stamp on things, to express my views unsolicited (i.e. I talk a lot), and I didn’t want someone who would just listen and not push back. I’ve dated people who said they liked listening because I explained things sometimes so well, it was great. But not something I want to do every day.
Yet at the same time, I don’t want someone who pushes back just for the sake of drama…some people like it, it adds spice to life, and I admire passion, but it is a bad combination for me as per my previous article about my temper. My temper is vicious when unleashed, and not only do people not deserve it, I don’t want to be the person who says or does things because my temper gets the best of me or because someone is pushing buttons just to watch me blow. Instead, I committed to not being with people who trigger it regularly (certain family members, some girlfriend types), and when I do feel it potentially being triggered or at risk, I remove myself from the situation. Those are the two most effective anger management techniques I can employ. Which doesn’t mean I don’t get angry or irritated, or more accurately, highly frustrated at times, but rather that when I do, I remain in control. Which isn’t always apparent to others who may still find me explosive, particularly when it’s a home-repair project that isn’t going well.
And much of the rest was simple compatibility — I like to joke, laugh, be entertained by stories told in funny styles, do informal things, play board games, read, share books, have barbeques.
As I said, that was one of the main triggers — couplehood.
But it also expanded in other directions. For example, a better knowledge of my interests, personality, strengths, weaknesses. I’m good at explaining things, as I said above, but that isn’t exactly right — my real skill is in explaining things in ways that others grasp the fundamentals, and to see a different way of looking at things. Which some friends have used from time to time to help them understand why person X did something they didn’t understand. When I was at university out west, I got a nickname from the one guy who thought I was partially psychic. Except, like The Mentalist, I was just good at extrapolating from people’s behaviour back to the likely cause and motivation. I’ve lost a lot of that ability over the years, I don’t practice as much as I did then, but it’s still a skill I use from time to time.
I also thought a long time about my career. I “came into my own” at DFAIT, and yet I also never wanted to be like the stereotypical DFAITer. I did a MPA degree but didn’t care what was going on in Parliament, didn’t need to be “seen”, didn’t want to compete with colleagues, network with power players, etc. I like my work, I like my job, I like corporate work. But it is not who I am. And I won’t “play the game” to be a more powerful player in the playground. I didn’t have the words to describe it at the time, but the short version is that regardless of the ocean I’m swimming in, I would rather be a dolphin than a shark. I also realized I’m pretty good at the corporate files, although I only partly realized it during my tadpole years. It was later that I fully embraced it, but the starting point was realizing that I didn’t have to be the shark or top dog or leader of the pack, whatever metaphor floats your boat, I just want to be useful. Maybe that’s just in a supporting capacity.
I also developed a strong dislike for kowtowing to people because of their level. It is too much like schmoozing to me, it seems fake and artificial. So I will talk to an ADM the same way I’ll talk to a colleague on the floor. Informal, open, honest, and probably a bit more irreverent than most.
On finances, I am doing okay now, and that is partly out of the tadpole years. I realized that my income was going to go up, I was going to move up. But just because I did, my lifestyle didn’t have to keep up. Sure, it helps to have a working spouse that has a decent income too, and while we don’t live super extravagantly, we also don’t live frugally either. We spend what we want to spend, and we’re a little more money conscious these days with lots of significant pressures all hitting with a three-year timeframe, but ultimately, we’re in a happy medium-space. We could get by with less, we could spend more, we’re fine where we are. And that’s a pretty good place to be. If I was still single, it would be about the same.
On the extended family front, I also set limits on my role in the family. When my father died, I tried to do everything for my mother. Helped with all the finances, did the eulogy, etc. I remember six months into the year, it was time to do the taxes, I was stressed about the process, and I remember getting frustrated that I couldn’t get my mother to just go to the local store and fax me copies of the receipts or photocopy them and mail them to me. Never mind the fact that I had two brothers and a sister living in the city who could have helped just as easily, I was doing it to help but also because I liked feeling needed. While others were often in conflict, I was the peacemaker in the family. The one who got along with all five of my siblings, and didn’t have any of the five of them actively hating me. But it was killing me. I wasn’t being myself, I was playing a game, following a script. And I said, “Game over.” I stopped being the facilitator. I stopped being the peacemaker. If people pushed, I pushed back. When my mother wanted to stir the pot to create some conflict, I’d let her stir and then just ignore it completely. I wasn’t going to play that game. And I didn’t. When my mom died, she wanted me to play that game again, to find a way to make all the siblings get along. I refused. I did the co-executor thing when I wanted nothing to do with any of it, but when it was done, so was I. I am friends with my siblings who act like they want to be friends. But if they want to create drama or play games? Totally not interested. I have five direct siblings, and if either of two of them died tomorrow, I likely wouldn’t go to the funeral (well, to be completely candid, I wouldn’t be welcome at one of them anyway). Family was family until they made me make a choice, and I chose me. The real me, not the peacemaker role. To them it probably looks like I became a bit of a jerk; for me, it means I found my spine.
The second-to-final piece I got out of it was a more defined interest in other parts of my life. The most visible form of that is writing. An extended friend once referred me to the “guy who blogged before there were blogs” because in the mid-90s, I had an email newsletter that I did for friends that often combined humour with some of my own commentary, and the odd trivia question. I liked doing it. I liked interacting with people. I used to run an email trivia game, pre-website, where I had 75 people from around the world playing my game. Two of those people are on my FaceBook friends list still, 15-20 years later. And I was starting to think about becoming a writer, maybe even a mystery novelist. I’ve gone in different directions since then, but the interest in writing is still very much there.
Finally, I thought a lot about the nature of friendship, relationships, love itself. Emotions. The expression of that emotion. The nature of love in a relationship. And I realized something simple yet profound. In its simplest form, we often go through life feeling things we don’t mention, sometimes for fear of embarrassment or lack of reciprocity. But I hated that idea. So, just as I had started expressing my love for my father, I made the commitment to myself that if I felt love, I would express it. Not in a creepy way, just that if I was in a relationship with someone, and I felt it, I would say it. I wouldn’t wait for the right time, I wouldn’t hold back for fear of embarrassment. I would say it because I felt it, not because I wanted to hear it back.
All of these things came out of my tadpole years. There are others, but those are the main ones. Any one of them could be a separate post probably, but this is the gist of my distilled PolyWogg version. So when people ask me what else came of my tadpole years, my answer is simple.