by Jean Roberta
I sometimes think the title of this post would be a good title for my life-story, or at least for a history of my relationships, previous to the current one. When I was a child, my parents made some unrealistic promises to me on behalf of the world in general, but I don’t blame them. I suspect that most loving parents promise the same things.
If you want people to like you, treat them with respect and consideration. If you want to be trusted, you have to trust. If you do your best in school, and then at work, you’ll succeed. You might even get special rewards, such as scholarships, bonuses, and promotions. If you always tell the truth, other people will respect you for it.
As I grew older, I learned that the only promises guaranteed to work are negative:
If you DON’T treat other people well, brace yourself for their reactions. If you DON’T make enough of an effort in school, you are guaranteed to fail, and then you won’t have access to a job that pays a decent wage and that offers any security. If you DON’T take your job seriously, you won’t get to keep it. Telling the truth will sometimes drive other people away, but in the long run, it’s always better than lying. Lies aren’t usually sustainable, and some can get you arrested. If you aren’t trustworthy yourself, you won’t have trustworthy people around you.
In many cases, doing things for others, doing your best, and being honest have to be their own rewards because no one else will notice or care.
The burst of responses to the "Me Too" revelations in social media remind me, once again, that men and women generally live in different cultures.
Even though LGBTQ and polyamorous communities are more visible than ever before, one-to-one heterosexual Romance still has a gravitational pull on all sexual relationships. And it still requires promises: promise me you won’t date anyone else while you’re dating me. Promise me you’ll let me know whenever you’ll be more than two hours late. In traditional Christian marriages, the man promises to love, honour, and protect “his” woman. The woman promises to love, honour, and obey her man, who is her “head” and ruler as Christ is head of the Church. O Promise Me.
While I was still a teenager, I learned about dangerous rapids in the river-journeys of some relationships. I began to ask for a promise of safety from the boys I dated: please don’t ever hit me, or force me to do anything against my will. Please don’t lie to me. Please treat me like an equal.
Most of them were shocked that I could even suggest they could be less than gentlemen. Of course they wouldn’t hit me! What did I think they were, Neanderthals? Of course they thought of me as their equal. Of course they would never lie. All that was simply common courtesy, and common sense.
Then they would casually grope me, even in public, after I had awkwardly pushed them away and asked them to stop. They would grab me in bear-hugs and kiss me in front of witnesses, laughing as though we were both playing a fun game. Whatever I did after that, my image as a “nice girl” was tarnished. In private, they would explain to me that most girls who “think” they’ve been raped have really been asking for it, so they have no right to complain. Or the “rape” was really consensual, even though the girl wouldn’t admit it, because girls are dishonest by nature.
Boys warned me not to become a “bad girl.”
On the subject of “domestic violence” (can it be domesticated?), most guys I’ve known have told me they are absolutely opposed to “real abuse.” Then they’ve told me that some women are really annoying, and that I have to understand that. A man can only take so much before he lashes out. Reckless women should stop poking the bear if they don’t want to get mauled.
While Mirtha and I were in London for four days for Eroticon, I had the strange feeling of being transported back in time. I lived in London for about nine months in 1974 with Pepple Ikiriko, the Nigerian student I met via a computer-dating site, and whom I later sponsored into Canada and married in 1975.
Pepple passed away from a heart attack on December 30, 2006, in Saskatoon (the other big town in Saskatchewan), and I only learned of this because the hospital didn’t know what to do with the body. He hadn’t named a next-of-kin, and apparently the only friend he had left at the end was Tony, a very decent Nigerian whom we had found through the local telephone directory in 1975. Luckily, Pepple hadn’t been able to drive Tony away, although he tried. It was Tony who contacted me by phone to say that funeral arrangements needed to be made.
Seeing the streets of London again gave me a strange feeling that I could see Pepple at any time, walking jauntily around a corner, looking the way he did when I first met him.
I was reminded of being young and full of hope. The first time Pepple and I had sex, I told him I was not a virgin, and he seemed amused that I felt the need to give him a warning. He wasn’t a virgin either! And besides, why would it matter? I was so glad he didn’t believe in a double standard.
We had the occasional argument over housework. He was a student who spent less time at school than I did at work, so I didn’t see why I should do most of the cooking and cleaning in our tiny sub-let apartment. He usually tried to resolve our “quarrels” (his word) by giving me extra compliments and affection, and by taking me out to visit his friends. Besides, as he pointed out, he sometimes “helped” me with the housework, and what more could I expect?
His self-pity kicked in almost as soon as he arrived in Canada. He expected a lavish wedding, to be paid for by my parents, and that didn’t happen. He was alarmed to find that I was already taking the birth-control pill because I didn’t think we could afford to start a baby right away. I had told him this in a letter, to which he hadn’t responded.
Since then, I’ve wondered whether any men who aren’t medical doctors understand how the pill works, even after many explanations, and/or having a printed explanation (with diagrams) waved in their faces. At the time, I explained over and over again to Pepple that I had to start taking the pill two weeks (or half a menstrual cycle) before he arrived in order to make sure I was protected from an unplanned pregnancy. He claimed to understand the science behind the pill, then told me I had no good reason to start taking it before he was with me. Whom else was I fooling around with?
After that, he saw a string of clues that I was a nympho slut from hell who was entertaining hordes of men whenever he wasn’t in the same room with me. We had both promised to be faithful to each other, so he felt completely betrayed.
Soon after our wedding, I made a schedule of all the domestic chores, dividing them equally between us. I asked if my schedule looked fair to him. He said it did, and he seemed amused.
I started expecting him to cook supper on his appointed day, and he complied a few times. At other times, he absolutely refused on grounds that he wasn’t prepared, and he didn’t see why I couldn’t just do it myself. I got the impression that he was waiting for me to “settle down” and accept my responsibilities as a wife.
I reminded him that he had promised to treat me like an equal. He always responded that he was actually the doormat in the marriage.
If Pepple could materialize out of thin air in London, would I want to speak to him again? Sure. I would probably introduce him to my current spouse and invite him somewhere for tea. What would we discuss? OMG.
I can easily imagine a barrage of complaints. He would remind me that in my twenties, I was a hysterical girl because I had been brainwashed by “women’s lib.” He had been my victim. He had trusted me! But I broke all my promises! After all these years, he would tell me, he just wanted some acknowledgment, and an apology from me for breaking his heart and then running off with our baby daughter. He would warn me that my current marriage is a huge mistake because Mirtha is not a man and therefore not a suitable husband.
I can still hear him in my head, and I know that nothing would be resolved if we were to meet again. All I can do is to remind myself that the past is past. No relationship is permanent because they all end one way or another, and this means that all promises end too.