My Christmas tree is up and dressed.
It looks all sparkly and bright – and when there are no other lights in my living room my tree adds a pleasing seasonal glow between my TV and book case that wasn’t there before.
It took me about an hour of casually attaching baubles and tinsel last night to get it to the point where it looked ‘balanced’ as opposed to ‘busy’.
I kept standing back and looking at it from different angles to try and gauge whether or not it looked ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ until I finally decided that it was a pointless exercise.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder (in this case me) and I came to the conclusion that my tree looked nice.
After all – nobody but me will be looking at it for the next month so the only opinion that mattered was my own.
Liberated from deliberation I sat down in my armchair to enjoy the satisfaction of a room lit only by Christmas lights and quietly sipped my coffee.
It looked nice but…
It made me feel…
And there it was.
A dark cloud was suddenly hanging above my armchair – and in its long shadow sat myself and my Christmas tree.
I’ve had my head buried in books all week – and rather than outputting to my blog I’ve been focusing on inputting to my brain.
It’s not my usual type of behaviour.
When I withdraw and do this kind of thing I realise (mostly after the fact) that it’s generally because something seems to be ‘missing’ or ‘off’ in my life.
I’ve been really rather enjoying ‘The pursuit of Happiness’ by Ruth Whippman – which is written in a humorous and engaging style that has really sucked me in.
Sadness was far from my mind when I started reading this current tome (despite its title) because I wasn’t really expecting to be confronted with the answer that it professed to have.
The book rather bravely gave away its conclusion quite early in the first chapter – with the author deciding instead to spend the remainder of her book supporting her initial hypothesis.
Her argument is that whoever studies suggest are the happiest individuals (be they in cultural groups, religions, family units or even cults) all happen to have one thing in common.
Fundamentally they provide happiness because they all have human relationships at their core.
Families often persist through the worst abuses and difficulties and members will forgive many transgressions, forgo short term freedoms and sacrifice personal happiness for one another in the hope that life will ultimately be better for their sacrifice.
Whilst situations like this may cause stress there’s an implied payday waiting at the end of it all.
Husbands, wives, children, brothers, sisters, grandparents, aunts and uncles will have an enduring family, companionship and love.
No matter how restrictive your religion is, however difficult you find parenthood, whether your philosophical clique requires you to work for free or give up your wealth in its service they all provide happiness because of the sense of community and belonging that they offer.
Some become oddly abusive relationships – such as homosexuals continually trying to exist in restrictive Mormon churches that consider them aberrations.
Even in these extreme situations – (despite a tradeoffs where they are required to make immense personal sacrifices) they can still come to believe that the pain is worth it.
Ruth Whippman argues that if we can bear to give up certain freedoms to remain part of a tribe – we can still legitimately and truthfully profess to be happy because the sense of belonging and support that other aspects of it give us still outweighs the ‘bad’ aspects of membership.
This is what keeps us coming back for more.
The need for human connections.
The pursuit of happiness makes some interesting and thought provoking arguments – and therein lay the origin of my Christmas tree related feelings.
I looked up from it’s pages in the warm and chatty coffee shop that I was sitting in.
My legs were crossed and my booted feet were resting on a low radiator which ran along the length of a large window looking out onto a street below.
Outside the sun had broken through the clouds of the early morning and it was shining.
My coffee tasted wonderful, my feet were warm, my clothes loose and comfortable and my surroundings were pleasing.
Like most things in my life though I was suddenly aware that all of these things were being experienced alone.
It all began to hit me there.
I was reading a book that was convincingly explaining why a huge chunk of the western world is fundamentally unhappy and it was describing me.
All of the people it described that were isolating themselves in mindfulness, yoga or spiritual retreats to find happiness were me.
Frustrated by other parts of my life that didn’t seem to be ‘working’ I was looking inward, trying to understand myself and gain insight into what would make me a more contented and loveable person, when in fact just being with other people made me feel and come across that way.
For many years I’ve actually been very comfortable with my situation.
That’s not entirely true.
What I really mean is that I’ve learned to just exist on my own.
This isn’t because I dislike the company of others.
It’s quite the contrary in fact because I revel in it – but several (mostly self inflicted) factors led to me feel like it was ‘normal’ to live the way I do.
For the longest time I never really felt that there was an option to be otherwise.
My weight and health provided an excellent excuse for my lack of impetus to address this part of my life and was a really convenient cover.
After all – who would want a man that was so physically colossal and such a huge failure in life?
Compounding this internal thought process was part of the reason things had gone so wrong with my life in the last two decades in the first place. My last relationship (which ideally I wanted to continue forever) ended rather abruptly, and frankly when it did I felt cheated out of happiness.
I was angry and in pain – and I smoked, ate and drank to avoid dealing with it.
For many many years I treated this point in time the same way that others treat a bereavement. I felt like the part of me that could love and trust a partner ‘died’ the day that she left my life.
If I’d have been Queen Victoria this would have been the beginning of my humourless and stoic ‘black period’.
I isolated myself in self flagellating grief.
Honestly it wasn’t that hard to do.
I’d had a largely solitary childhood with a mother who was abusive and a father that was distant.
My nearest sibling was over a decade younger than me and school represented nothing more than a war of attrition. Looking back it feels like I only ever seemed to learn how to not show fear, pain or loneliness during the relentless bullying I suffered on an almost daily basis.
It wasn’t until the age of 16 that things started to change – and at this point I embarked upon a previously undreamt of period of popularity with friends and the opposite sex.
I remember at the time (by then having lost a lot of weight) that I was ‘fixed’.
The past was behind me and I was now free to bend the world into whatever I wanted it to be.
Furthermore I’d enjoy it in full technicolour and get as loaded as I possibly could.
Unpopular Dave became ‘party Dave’ and he did EVERYTHING to excess.
Ultimately though we all realise the folly of our personal delusions – and I now know that I smoked, drank and did many other mind altering things to paper over painful personality cracks.
I never once tried to repair one of them – mostly because I lacked the self awareness to see them for what they were in the first place.
I couldn’t see that every action was the result of childhood damage and the vast majority were either physically or emotionally self destructive.
Relationships were an extension of this – and were all designed to prove to the world that I was ‘normal’ and ‘deserving of love’ when deep down I felt I was neither.
If I’m truthful I didn’t love the majority of my partners.
I liked them a lot – but back then I was far more concerned with whether or not they loved me. If they did then they functioned as outward proof to the world that I wasn’t wicked or evil (my mom’s preferred way of describing me) or the odd little fat kid alone in the playground.
When the poor lifestyle choices related to the weight of my emotional burdens eventually translated into physical bulk it actually made things easier.
Now I didn’t have to prove anything to anyone.
No one expected me to have a relationship – and instead all I had to do was learn to manage my time and construct a framework to my life that would make loneliness instead appear to be ‘freedom’.
Now though things are different and physically I have a new lease of life.
I possess freedoms that I’ve fought hard to regain. It’s real rather than imagined – but all of a sudden I feel desperately alone in it.
Over the last couple of months I’ve quietly tried to fill it with personal entreaties and dating sites – but so far I’m not making much headway.
Up to this point I’ve just made choices that ultimately served to exacerbate my feelings of isolation and instead of feeling closer to anyone or anything have been left feeling generally alone and more disconnected.
I’m not really into writing ‘poor me’ blog posts – but I can’t deny that currently this is pretty much how I feel.
The Christmas tree with it’s glittering tinsel and baubles in front of me is a reminder of my problem – not the cause.
Life isn’t meant to be lived alone.
A Christmas tree is meant to be shared.
In some ways making ‘steps forward’ and trying to fix this has made the problem even more acute than it was before.
Whereas previously I felt like there was a gap that I probably needed to fill at some vague point in the future – now I’m just beginning to feel rejected and needy.
Every chat that I have on dating apps seems to put me in contact with people that are either not interested in me or that have omitted huge things from their profiles.
This is presumably in the hope that somehow people will never ask whether they’re actually divorced, if they have loads of children or a job that means they have around 1 hour a week spare if they’re lucky.
So far I’m at a loss.
I have also become painfully aware that whilst I’ve succeeded in transforming myself into a ‘normal’ man I still feel that underneath all my success lies an uncomfortable truth that even if I find someone I like that I’m never going to be accepted for who I am.
In the dark of my living room, in the half light of my tree I feel lost.
On the plus side though internet my Christmas tree looks nice, so that’s something at least.