I remember when I made the phone call.
It was a part of the evening I always looked forward to. At around 9 pm after I finished school – I’d ring Steven Caswell.
He was one of my new friends at Bishopshalt since I’d moved schools and I’d ring him at that time to basically just have a chat.
This was the pre-WhatsApp/Instagram etc days and I can’t even recall if I had a mobile phone then.
The landline phone rang out and Steven picked up.
Sometimes it’d be his mum or dad or someone else, I forget now.
I’d ask for Steven and we’d have a chat for sometimes up to 30 minutes and then that’d be the end of the conversation.
Each time I put the phone down I felt literally a sense of a rush – as we’d just bonded and had a good long chat that was a testament to the strength of our relationship.
It also felt like ‘our little secret’ – that only we were having such conversations and therefore we had something special – something no one else had.
It gave me strength as I’d walk through the school corridors in the daytime.
One evening as normal it hit the allotted time I’d subconsciously call him at.
By this time- I knew dinner by myself as well as Steven had been eaten so it was the perfect time to talk
‘Dude – you call me too much’.
There was an eerie silence on the phone that seemed to strike and pierce my very soul.
I suddenly felt adrenalin and embarrassment rush through me altogether.
I needed to get off the phone.
‘No problem’ I quickly said and put the phone down.
Those words had hit me quietly like a dagger and I was badly wounded.
I didn’t know what to say and my calls to Steven immediately ended and I felt in some small way heartbroken.
I didn’t know what it was called then – but I do now.
This attachment I’d built, the longing there was for not Steven (as I’d later discover) but rather just this sense of belonging, of being needed.
And I think – in some ways, traces of it still exist within me:
I had an anxious-preoccupied attachment style as I’d discovered when I’d become finally aware more than a decade later.
But at 14 years old – I didn’t know what I didn’t know – so carried on into future relationships blindly making the same mistakes again and again for some time.
If you want to know what “anxious preoccupied” actually means; according to the Healthline it’s this:
If you have an anxious-preoccupied attachment style, you might:
- have an increased need to feel wanted
- spend a lot of time thinking about your relationships
- have a tendency to experience jealousy or idolize romantic partners
- require frequent reassurance from those close to you that they care about you
This incident happened when I was 14 years old, and it would be something that would prove to haunt/tussle with me for the best part of the next 15 years before I started to really get the better of it.
The cause of this ‘disorder’/’attachment style’ is apparently the following:
Parent who creates an anxious attachment with their child often experienced this style of attachment themselves as a child. They had their own emotional needs that weren’t consistently met which left them feeling empty.
Being from a family of economic migrants – the ‘emotional needs’ of us as children (and when my parents were children) were an afterthought as we all grew up.
This is a picture from when I was 7 years old back in 2003. Happy times
The focus they had for us was paying the bills, putting food on the table and getting a good education.
My parents themselves had a much harsher existence as children themselves…getting married at 11 and 13.
Practically what this meant….
Was that I’d have massive bust-ups with my parents throughout my teens that were borne of some kind of underlying anger and lack of appreciation.
But we’ll return to my childhood in later emails and talk more about what this meant for my adult relationships; especially my romantic ones.
In my first relationship with Tina – when I was 19 and at university – I remember when I came up to visit her during reading week.
She was in the year above me at Warwick University and had accounting exams she was preparing for.
Whilst she was on reading week she’d take the time to visit some other friends that were also staying up at university for the very same reason.
So the idea was I’d come up to visit on a Thursday instead of a Wednesday, so she’d have time to study, hang out with friends and generally have room to breathe.
She took her exams and studying pretty seriously.
I rationalised coming up a day earlier as a ‘surprise’…and I still recall us staying in her small room and me being there whilst she still really needed/wanting to study being a real problem.
The atmosphere was really tense and my plan to come and visit her a little earlier really wasn’t met well.
In truth, it was more about me than it was about her and it was more about my desire and need for intimacy and reassurance that led me to go up a day early.
We would in time ultimately break up over a brief conversation when we were back at university during term time.
I remember us sitting in my room in Cryfield and deciding to call the whole relationship off because at that very moment I felt a little ‘bored’ by the whole thing.
Tina (to her credit) was someone who once a decision had been made – well that was that. So she asked if I was sure (and I said ‘yes’ I’m sure) and then she walked out of my dorm room and never looked back
This all happened during/close to the very end of the academic year and what ensued was a summer of me occasionally reaching out to her in my desire to win her back.
Perhaps it was ultimately a ploy for attention – because I wanted to be embroiled in the great emotional drama of it all.
It seemed there needed to be some kind of ongoing drama in our relationship for it to be really meaningful.
The only time I’d see my parents express their feelings for each other was during arguments. My dad would often say something horrible to my mum. ‘I should leave you in India’ and my mum would shout back
And then the next day; or within 30 minutes they’d be fine again – and the pattern would repeat itself every few days.
This was the norm I became used to – that a sign of a healthy relationship was arguments like this one. I didn’t explicitly think about these things because I didn’t think about them much anyway – but this was the primary relationship I saw growing up.
So it would be this that I modelled.
And so, this need for chaos and conflict alongside this habit of somewhat ‘suffocating’ my partners only continued in my later relationships and became more acute.
I think; much like a drug – once I get the initial stimulus of oxytocin from this relationship – my desire for it would only develop and cause more chaos as time went on.
It was a deadly combination.
And there also seemed to be challenged in the family structure as well with these relationship partners
Tina’s parents were separated and then Charlene was the 2nd relationship partner in the firing line after Tina – and her parents were rigid Ghanaian migrants who’d raised Charlene in France.
Charlene and I definitely had a better run out than with Tina (that was maybe 6-9 months) – around 2 years or so. But it was during my relationship with Tina (at 20) that I began to become consciously aware – that I had a problem.
Beyond the initial ‘in-love’ elements that were present (limerence they call it – Google it). Our relationship was fundamentally destructive – and I only remember fragments of it.
I remember us having blazing arguments involving lots of shouting and swearing. This would happen in my uni accommodation as well as the holiday hotels we booked in London and in France (her home country)
As she met my parents and I met hers – I definitely discovered another pattern – that I’d be drawn to relationship partners who had turbulent upbringings themselves.
Charlene’s relationship with her parents was also problematic. They were of Ghanaian descent and weren’t that impressed by the idea of her having a non-Ghanian partner.
I remember visiting her on her 21st birthday and the blazing argument she had with her parents because we were due to go out – and although she hadn’t told them we were in a relationship…they were pretty confident we were.
That was an awful birthday.
So her struggles and my desire to seek constant reassurance (to be told how she felt about me) alongside arguing – caused magnitudes of chaos for our young relationship.
Things ultimately came to a head as I graduated from university and the accommodation I had as I lived in student halls disappeared and I went back to live with my parents.
Coupled with my decision to later quit Deloitte (something I’ll discuss in a later email), we didn’t have a solid foundation anyway.
And I’m ashamed to say I’d tell her to “f*ck off” and call her a “b*tch” and say all kinds of horrible things during the course of our relationship.
And this was, unfortunately, a pattern that would reoccur for several more years until I fully cracked it.
The one good thing that came as a consequence of our breakdown and then breakup was that it quietly got me onto the journey of trying to understand how to resolve my own problems.
Not a soul in the world other than myself at aged 22 was aware I had such problems – I was much too embarrassed to admit them and so turned to what had been my saviour through my post-graduate career to date.
This is a shot taken from my amazon account that probably underlines the fundamental problems I was trying to overcome.
Anytime I got close to anyone I ultimately would become a nervous wreck as my affection for them grew which had a net negative effect on everybody.
Remembering these times makes my stomach lurch a little bit. These are memories of fundamentally unhappy days in my life.
And separate from the problems that Charlene bought into our relationship I could sense my own problems acutely.
I’m not proud of any of these behaviours and as my great university friend Zurab would remind me during those years – there is no excuse for calling a woman names – no matter what happens.
But it seems my years of growing up at the dinner table and seeing my parents shout and scream at each other, of seeing violence in our own home and seeing everything return back to ‘normal’ the day after – all forgotten…would leave a mark upon me
This would establish a negative pattern that would follow me into my subsequent relationships and cause me much graver problems such as the destruction of a growing business, physical harm and real breakdowns.
But these weren’t my only problems – I also found myself making some questionable business decisions which I’ll go on to talk about in the next email.