How To Use Your Teenage Romances To Improve Your Relationship

I'm always glad to wake up to blue sky and sunshine, but this morning I was especially glad to wake up and see that we'd been blessed with another beautiful bright February day, nippy breeze, no clouds - that unavoidable smell of Spring rising from the ground. Today, my first "proper" boyfriend - a relationship which began in school when I had just turned 14, is getting married - and I couldn't be more chuffed that the weather made an effort. 

I am a firm believer that our earliest romantic relationships, along with the adult relationships of our parents and other significant role models, do a lot to set the tone for how we behave within relationships as we grow older. I've spoken about this before but I believe that one of the worst things you can do to your children is to make fun of their romantic relationships, or embarrass them in regards to, or in front of, boyfriends and girlfriends. Being confident about forming, sharing and expressing romantic feelings when they begin to arise with puberty is key, I think, to being able to confidently form, share and express love as an adult. I hate watching young people squirm uncomfortably whilst adults (almost always in good spirit) tease them for their first early relationships, thinking about how that experience, innocent as it may seem to the perpetrator, might effect the child in the long run. My son is four - everyone is his girlfriend, but I'd like to think that when he reaches an age whereby girls (or boys) become of romantic interest, that I'll be supportive, predominantly silent, and informed where I need to be. 

Anyway - that aside, if I stand by this belief that our earliest relationships shape our adult selves, then I have a lot to thank and blame this one individual for! I couldn't be happier today, on his wedding day, to know that we've both grown up to be adults who place a great importance on love and relationships, complex as our journeys have been to get us here!

There are so many ways that cherishing and celebrating our first, earliest playground romances can improve our adult relationships, and today, less than a week after Valentines Day after all, seemed like a good day to discuss. I've summarised 5 basic exercises that draw on inspiration from first loves to inject some joy in to current love, but you could even tweak these ideas to suit you if you're currently single and looking for a new relationship, or trying to heal from a relationship break down.

On a final note - happy wedding day Shane & Grace x

  1. How did you behave when you first fell in love? If you think to the first time you ever fell in love, there are probably things you did, which seemed perfectly reasonable at the time, that you've not done an awful lot of since. Despite looking back and cringing somewhat, chances are, you were actually more at ease with old fashioned romance as a teenager than you are now. For me, it was the exchanging of letters, and there were a lot of letters. The first letter I ever wrote to my first boyfriend was written on pink leopard print paper (hell yes) and sprayed with Tommy Girl (hell yes yes). For others, it's the fact that you always had to meet outdoors, it's sharing chips, it's making bizarre venues oddly romantic (Sainsbury's carpark?) - I'm not suggesting you take your husband to Sainsbury's car park - without a car, and hang out until the trolley tidy-upper moves you on, but think outside the box and use whatever being in love meant at 12, 13, 14, or 15 and incorporate it in to today. I've only ever written my boyfriend one proper letter and it was a good eight pager at least, which took most of a day to write by hand, but it's something I should definitely do more often.
  2. Recognise how your first heart break screwed you up. Taking a moment to think in detail about the first time you experienced a break up might actually help you in a little self-psycho-analysis. These experiences are hugely definitive in adult behaviour, and it's probably an episode in life you try not to think about too often. However, thinking about how your first relationship ended, why, and how it made you behave, may cause you to recognise a pattern of behaviour in how you respond to partners now (regardless of whether you were dumper or dumpee). My first relationship ended pretty dishonestly; he finished it on vague terms only for me to find out later that he had met and been spending time with someone else whilst I was at work of a weekend. You'd think that perhaps this would have left me with trust issues surrounding fidelity , but actually, it's not that straight forward. I've always found it incredibly annoying if a boyfriend is enjoying themselves without me, and I don't mean, "urgh, I feel really left out, this is boring", I mean, full-on green eyed monster, hating the fact that he could be having a good time whilst I'm not. This response meant that in the past I have actively sought to sabotage nights out, boys weekends away and similar, not because I didn't trust my partner and thought that perhaps they were cheating, but because I have an irrational idea that this represents the end of a relationship. Recognising this through meditation though, meant that I reined it in, realised why I was behaving this way, and just how counter productive it was, and it's something I've not felt at all in my current relationship.
  3. Reconnect with old flames. If there's no obvious reason why being in contact with an old teenage love would be dangerous, it can be a positive step if you're not already on good terms. Healing a rift, even if it's decades old, can fill you with lots of feel-good chemicals, and help you to move on and let old hurts go. Social media now makes it even easier to get in touch with  people you've perhaps not been in contact with in a long time. It took a few years before I could be "friends" with my first boyfriend, basically until we were both independent adults and our teenage relationship was entirely removed from our current reality. But now I can recognise how good it makes me feel to know that he is marrying a woman that he loves today, and know that my head is pretty screwed on. I'm not talking about going out to dinner with your ex husband, especially if you're in a committed relationship now, but those real back-in-the-day boyfriends from school can provide some hilarity as well as some closure. Feeling secure and at peace with past relationships is one of the easiest ways to eliminate negativity from your current relationship.
  4. Learn from kids. As well as your own teenage relationships, being around and being supportive of young people at this stage of life can give you a lot of food for thought in terms of your own relationships. It's not easy to go out and adopt someone in their early teens for chats, but if there are young people in your family, or perhaps a friend's younger sibling etc. that you maybe don't make enough effort to talk to at the moment, connecting with them can open up the opportunity to be reminded of those early relationships. Just remembering how simple first romances are, and how complex they seem at the time, can take you back to your own experiences in an instant, and make you appreciate the love you know today.
  5. Define your "type". Many of us will declare that we don't necessarily have a "type" when it comes to who we're attracted to. Others may find they go for men or women who look similar (or are perhaps tall, have a certain skin colour etc.) but that their past loves have had very different characters, or on the flip side, that they are drawn to certain characters and physical appearance doesn't play much of a part. Chances are though, if you reflect on the stand out characteristics of your first romantic interests, there'll be key characteristics that you either seek out or avoid now as an adult, depending on how these effect your memory. Recognising what characteristics your current partner shares with your first early romances, will probably identify some of the things that you enjoy about them on the most basic level. It could be their love of dogs, or the fact that they enjoy the outdoors, it could be their style of humour, or the fact that they're especially laid back about life - whatever it is, these are things worth making a special effort to bask in, as they'll instantly make you feel more positive about your relationship.

Is Fifty Shades Of Grey A Bad Thing?

Warning: I am unqualified to write this blog post. I have to admit before I go ANY further, to not having finished reading the first book of the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy - let alone the second two. I have absolutely no idea how the story ends, let alone what happens in the middle. I love books, I celebrate books, and often when I don't enjoy a book, for whatever reason, I can think of someone that I know who will enjoy it, so I pass it on. I do the same when I love a book. Fifty Shades of Grey was the first and only book that I have ever, ever, ever put in the bin (the bin on Platform 2 of Broadstairs train station). 

So, first things first, let me explain why I binned it. As someone who believes that BDSM (bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism) roleplay can play a great part in any sexual relationship between consenting adults, I don't reject the notion that it should be featured in erotic fiction. Hell, I even think that where appropriate, it has a place in mainstream fiction, it is, after all, a perfectly healthy, normal, common way to play out one's sexual fantasies and personal turn-ons with a partner (or a few partners, whatever your bag). If you're in to whips and chains, good for you, if your partner is happy to indulge your quirks - then the party is all yours. 

I also recognise that sometimes, what looks like BDSM, is actual real life - i.e while some people might like to be tied up and smacked by their boyfriend in a sexual roleplay scenario, some people are being beaten by their boyfriends despite not feeling happy about it. This scenario doesn't represent a BDSM roleplay, it represents abuse. 

The section of the first Fifty Shades of Grey book that I read did not introduce BDSM in a roleplay format, it introduced a real life discipline, dominance/submission, sadism/masochism scenario - nobody was "playing", nobody was "pretending", the characters were put forward as adopting these roles within their own lives. That doesn't represent the BDSM that I consider appealing - but was put forward in such a way that I was expected to find it so.

If you are in a relationship with a man who makes you feel that you would not be in a relationship with him unless you performed in a certain way, sexually, you're in an abusive relationship. If you're having casual sex with a man who you believe would not want to have casual sex with you unless it is the sort of sex that pleases him, but that makes you sad, you are being abused. If a man demands that you do anything with or to your own body that you wouldn't otherwise do (I'm talking about the removal of body hair but you can apply this to absolutely anything) then you are being abused. The same goes for a man telling you to grow body hair that you would otherwise want to remove, incidentally. Your partner may express a preference, it may turn him on if you shave this or pluck that - but the choice is ultimately yours, unless of course, you're in an abusive relationship and you feel that choice has been taken away from you. 

So, the female character in the Fifty Shades books does ask to be introduced to the male character's weird and wonderful world. Some might suggest that this represents consent within the confines of the book. Just to be clear, if someone says to me "I do some really strange things sometimes" and I say "oh? Show me one of them" and that person proceeds to punch me in the throat - I didn't at any point ask to be punched in the throat.

The female character in the book also continues to "go back for more" throughout an entire three book series, when arguably, she could leave, and some might suggest that this represents consent within the confines of the book. Whilst I don't believe that the book's author, E.L James, actually set out wanting to write the story of a woman being sexually, physically and psychologically abused, the fact that the female character chooses not to leave, despite being mistreated, is not uncommon to abusive relationships. The idea that the fact that the female character allows herself to be abused in fact wipes any theme of abuse from the books is insulting to domestic violence victims across the world. 

I do not object to erotic fiction. I do not object to BDSM. I do object to people being dominated/violated/controlled within their actual lives, which happens to the female character in these books (her phone is tracked, for example, and she is told that she can not escape her abuser). I do object to people being made to carry out sexual acts that make them unhappy, which happens to the female character in these books. I do object to anyone using wealth and power as a means to control vulnerable people, such as, I don't know, young virgins - which the male character in this book does. What I really, really object to, is any of these things that I object to being portrayed as desirable, sexy, or taking place in the name of "kinky stuff".

So now, the film is coming out, on Valentine's Day of all days, which does suggest that the film is to be considered in a romantic or at least sexy manner. That it is in some way related to love or passionate affairs of the heart. What's true of course is that there does exist love within abusive relationships. It isn't necessarily true to say that abusive partners do not love their victims, on the contrary they quite often do; it's what happens when that love comes head to head with their insecurities and/or mental illness that things get ugly - as appears to be the general gist of Fifty Shade's underlying story.

I got involved in a conversation with another blogger on Twitter today which raised some interesting points on both sides of the argument. 

It's always interesting to get well and truly in to the perspective of someone who's attitudes and outlook towards a subject differ vastly from your own - I try never to completely shut anyone down for their opinion, even if I find it impossible to grasp. This lady has received some horrible abuse for stating that she enjoyed reading all three books in the Grey series and is looking forward to seeing the movie with friends on February 14th. The purpose of this blog post is not, by any means, to call her, or anyone else, a rapist sympathiser. 

As this lady rightly raised, Christian Grey, the main male character with whom I take such issue, is stated in the book to be suffering from a mental illness for which he seeks treatment from a therapist. In short, the character's past experiences, particularly in childhood, have left him entirely unable to form what most people would recognise as a proper loving relationship. This isn't an inaccurate portrayal of a trauma victim, in fact, suffering childhood trauma significantly increases one's likelihood of going on to commit abusive acts, and is possibly the most logical explanation for why the character acts in the way that he does. So does this remedy the problem? For me, no. The author had a superb opportunity to tackle this - to shed a little light on the possible effects of abuse, and explore the story behind an abusive individual - but that wasn't what she set out to do, and I suspect that this was thrown in simply to avoid creating a complete and utter monster in Christian Grey - because female readers needed something endearing, some form of vulnerability, in order to truly believe that he would be attractive. This isn't an interesting and insightful book in to how abuse victims can turn in to abusive adults. Christian Grey is still portrayed as a sex symbol - his mental illness, if anything, serves to make him sexier, which to me, is a little unreasonable.

It is also very true that one can not condemn a book that touches upon or features graphic scenes of rape, simply because it contains upsetting content. I totally agree. I can list some fantastic books, books which I would recommend to friends, books which I would give to friends, which contain horrific scenes of rape, murder, paedophilia, incest, domestic violence, and a whole heap of nastiness in between. The difference here is that in all of these books, the rapist, the murderer, the paedophile, the incestuous father, the violent partner - is the "bad guy". I'm talking predominantly about graphic crime thrillers, but rape and murder spill out in to many genres and I've included both in my own writing in the past. What the books that I champion do not do is suggest to a reader that any of these things are sexually arousing. they are entertaining in the same way that a horror film is "entertaining", there's a strange part of the human mind that wants to be disgusted and horrified - but 50 Shades is not written to disgust or horrify it's readers - if it were, there would not be an associated lingerie line. 

I do agree that the claim that Fifty Shades of Grey could lay rise to an increased rate of copycat behaviour is silly, as the lady I discussed this with suggested. If someone is going to become a violent rapist, they'll become a violence rapist, no book is going to force their hand. However, I have to point out that there was one slight contradiction in this argument. The lady made one statement which I completely, 100% get behind - "Men need to be thoroughly educated on rape to protect women" - and that this is the best way to prevent any man from reading a book and then thinking that rape is OK. I totally agree, the best way for us to prevent men from reading about rape and then becoming rapists, is to make sure that all men understand that rape is wrong. However - this book is available to male children. There is nothing preventing a boy of 12 years old, buying and reading Fifty Shades of Grey, and nowhere in this book does it make it absolutely clear that rape is a hideous, illegal act which ruins lives... so.... the film is obviously less readily available to young people and I don't know how violent scenes will be handled on the screen, but simply from the books point of view, either young people need to be protected from damaging content, or author's need to be aware that their work is available to young people. By all means write about sex, rape, murder etc. but keep it in context guys; at the moment laws do not exist to protect children from explicit literature, so responsibility does lay with the writer I'm afraid.

I'm going with yes  FiftyShades of Grey is a bad thing. Very few people who've been supportive of the books and are planning to see the movie will have been victims of an abusive relationship. I can say this confidently (although there will be exceptions) because you only have to get a few chapters in to the first book to hit heaps of "triggers" that will negatively impact upon those with direct experience of the themes of the story. Please remember that you don't have to have experienced abuse to be compassionate towards abuse victims. Very few of the women going to see the film would wish sexual, physical, or psychological abuse on anyone, and I'd urge these women to say "you know what - whilst it doesn't necessarily upset me, this film is horribly insensitive to women who've suffered experiences I couldn't even imagine, because it takes those horrific and life altering experiences and makes them a desirable, sexy thing. It mocks them by coming out on Valentine's Day, a day synonymous with love and affection and passion, and suggests that these are the most prevalent themes of their experience. That's wrong - and I don't want to be a part of that."

Reasons That January Rocked

Now don't get me wrong, there have been moments already in 2015 that I've clutched the sides of my head and screamed inaudibly through gritted teeth in utter frustration, or fallen asleep exhausted by stress. I've already slumped to the floor/sofa/mattress in heavy tears with overwhelming sadness and have called a few people unkind names in anger. January wasn't entirely fluffy, nor without it's challenges - but with the promise and high expectations of a brand spanking new year - comes a fresh attitude towards tackling the hard times head on, and overall - January was a great month. I feel like by the end of January I was already stronger, more self assured, and a lot lot more positive about what I'm capable of building with a pile of life-rubble - and I can definitely look back at it as a month of personal growth. 

Here are a few of my January highlights:

  1. Returning to yoga - I've always dabbled in, enjoyed, and found myself to be relatively suited to yoga. Other than a persistent tightness in the backs of my legs, I'm pretty flexible, and as I meditate regularly anyway, gentle yoga is always a quick and effective route to relaxation for me. At the beginning of January I started to attend yoga classes again (after an almost 2 year absence), bought myself a new mat, and even started to teach Seb some basic asanas at home. He loves it so much that he now often drags the mat out in to the living room after school and demands some yoga time, either with me or a DVD. 
  2. Trying something new - Having joined a local health club in order to access the best value yoga tuition, I decided to really get my money's worth and try out some other classes too. Sticking with something of a theme, in January I tried pilates for the first time (and fainted), tai-chi and body balance (a combination of yoga, pilates and tai-chi). 
  3. Upping my blogging game - Whilst the end of January was quiet in terms of new content on the blog, I was beavering away in the background. At the beginning of January I signed up to the "Boost You Blog" bootcamp style e-course provided by my blogging friend and guru, Elizabeth, via her blog, Rosalilium. Elizabeth really knows her stuff, and through a serious of daily focus tasks, projects and prompts, she encourages bloggers to spend a month working their way through their blogging practices, fine tuning everything and bringing all areas up to scratch. Now that I've completed the course you'll notice a few subtle changes here and there on this site. It's definitely given me a lot of blogging oomph for 2015. If you're a blogger and want to know more about Elizabeth's e-courses (suitable for those just starting a new blog, wanting to improve an existing blog, or take their blog to a new, money making kind of level) then you can find everything you need here.
  4. The most unusual of massages - After Christmas I had quite a substantial voucher to use at our local Bannatyne's spa (re-gifted from a friend). I did agonise over how to spend the thing, but in the end, decided that as it represented an opportunity to buy something I'd never usually spend money on, I should go for something different. So, I opted for the Bannatynes Signature Full Body Bamboo Massage (£51.00 for 55 minutes). Basically, you strip down to your knickers, are covered in a special oil, and every muscle in your body (including toes) are rolled back and forth under bamboo canes of varying thickness. There are big didgeridoo-like canes for your back and thighs, and teeny tiny ones for your hands. It is weird. It is very weird. It isn't particularly relaxing... but boy did it sort out those tight calves of mine - I could suddenly touch my toes!
  5. Good Cinema - I went to the cinema twice in January - and both times, I came out happy - which is always a good 'un. Our local cinema only charges £2.50 per ticket for any film, or £3.50 per ticket on a Saturday - so it's never a purse buster (why do people pay the prices at the big multiplexes?) but I still like to feel as though I got a good movie for my monies. At the beginning of the month I saw Night At The Museum 3 - without children (don't judge me) and heartily laughed throughout, and after the previously mentioned weird massage, saw Into The Woods which, although some have hated it, I found captivating. 
  6. The Walking Bug - Chances are, you're aware of my upcoming challenge, a walk from my home town of Margate, on the East Kent coast, to central London (72.9 miles), with fuel stops but no sleep. During training I've realised that I may well get close to the 48 hour mark to complete this. However - training - has been awesome. Nothing beats using any free time that I find to walk around the island, although in February the time comes to extend the walks and venture further. From being a relative non-walker to happily completing walks between 10-15 miles in January felt like a great achievement and did wonders not just for my physical fitness but for clearing my head too. I've definitely caught the walking bug, and have invested in some brilliant gear that I'll be reviewing in later posts. Towards the end of January I also agreed to attempt the Lyke Wake Walk (a 40 mile walk across North Yorkshire to be completed in 24 hours) with Jenny from The Thrifty Magpie's Nest , Zoe from Splodz Blogz and possibly Ally from Digital Diva later this year - watch this space!
  7. Seb's thirst for knowledge - Bringing up a four year old child always provides fascinating insights in to the human desire to learn. In his reception year at school Seb is incredibly enthusiastic about learning, as are most children his age, and it's just so rewarding and enjoyable to experience with him. At the moment he's suddenly developed a greater interest in maths, and we've spent a lot of time working on simple addition and subtraction sums which can keep him busy (and engaged) for ages. I'm now scouring Pinterest for fun ways to practice his new skills. 
We're now over a week in to February and it's shaping up to be a hectic one, but also a fabulous one for honing, nurturing and expanding upon relationships - and that's awesome. I can feel the slight shift towards Spring sitting just around the corner, and am prematurely imagining camping trips, Spring flowers and longer days.