Friday, 12 March 2010

Do you gift wrap your relationship?...

The more I spend time with married men, the more I hear how perfect their relationship looks on the surface to all of those around them. They all hide behind the facade that everything is fine. To look at the smiling beautiful couple you wouldn't imagine that they haven't been intimate for six months, argue constantly, sleep in separate beds, she goes to bed an hour earlier than him every night to avoid any intimacy, while he happily surfs the net for Internet porn to wank over and to catch up on his emails from the dating site he recently joined.

I suppose we only have to look at the recent celebrity affairs and how the public have followed their relationships through the rag mags, seeing them smiling for the cameras, tactile, affectionate and appearing to have the perfect marriage, inseparable until it comes tumbling down around their ears, when their infidelities hit the headlines. Even as recently as today, Mark Owen, of Take That fame, has admitted to a string of affairs while he has been with his lovely wife Emma. They were only married in November, and although he claims they have all been drunken mistakes and one night stands, he has also owned up to a five year relationship with a girl he met at a train station. No one is drunk for five years! But to all those around him, and Tiger Woods, and John Terry, and Ashley Cole and now even Gareth Gates, their relationships were 'perfect'.
With all the parties and get-togethers over the spring and summer on the horizon, with weddings and barbeque's lined up, its the time for us to start gift wrapping the relationships we have. Whether its a new man, or a long term love, or if you're in my shoes and happily single, our relationships are under the spotlight and it can be hard to stick to the truth. I tell friends and family about my spectacular dates, the intelligent, charming, incredible men I meet, the stunning restaurants, hotels and presents I receive, and the nights or weekends away somewhere exotic or breathtaking. I don't tell them about the selfish guys who can't communicate to save their lives, or the men with no manners, who are practically dragging their knuckles behind them. They only hear the amazing side of being single, not about my cursing, having to change a light bulb I can't reach properly, or falling off my ladder while I'm decorating! :)

That's where gift wrapping comes in - dressing up the realities of our relationship for family and friends. Whether its insisting 'Everything's amazing, we're sooooo in love' or exaggerating 'You won't believe what he said to me last night...'. It's a way of controlling the way the outside world views us, and we're all probably guilty of it to some extent.

Relationships are an extension of who we are, so we gift wrap them to keep in control of our self image, so if you catch yourself gushing, or being hyper-critical, of your partner, you could be guilty of gift wrapping. Some light gift wrapping is harmless. Who hasn't exaggerated the pluses and minuses of a new partner just to get some laughs from your friends? Garnishing the truth is a useful way of buying some time while we decide if our date's dodgy kissing technique or string of psycho exes really is going to be a problem. After all we usually blind ourselves to small faults when we first meet someone to give ourselves a chance to go further.

Beyond minor faults, relationship wrapping becomes more complex, and low self esteem can drive the urge to fib. We all know relationships have faults but it can be easier to pretend they are not there - that way friends can't remind us that they exist, and no one can accuse us of being unable to choose a good partner. Extreme relationship wrappers can go into complete denial about the state of their partnership, a move that will slowly damage self-esteem and the relationship.

Women are constantly told that they need to be in a relationship to fit in, so whether they are happy can be less important than simply being hooked up, and not being honest can be a way of silencing doubts, including their own. I have a very judgemental friend who is constantly encouraging me to date single men. She doesn't want to know about anyone unless he is single. She asks where I have been and what I have done, but starts every conversation with 'Is this one single?' When I was recently dating one she was thrilled, she invited me round more, made more effort and wanted to know how things were progressing. She was asking questions she would never ask about my married 'friends'. To be honest it was driving me mad, and I thought it was incredibly shallow and rude of her, but rather than explain when we had split up, I continued the facade, saying that he was working away etc. I don't like lying - or gift wrapping - but I didn't want that smug look spreading across her face again, saying 'She clearly can't keep a man'. She would never understand that I simply went off him, the distance was a pain in the butt and he was dating someone else during the week and I was his weekend entertainment. She would automatically blame me because she thinks every relationship should be perfect like hers. But I know she is more than capable of gift wrapping her own, and I realised this last time I saw them both at her house. Not only did he order her around while he slobbed on the sofa, but he kicked her, hard, in the leg, when she didn't bring him a beer quick enough. It made it perfectly clear that she was hiding as much as everyone else seems to be doing.

Another side of this wrapping is emphasising your partners bad points, as most of the married men I meet do. Initially they sing her praises to some extent, to prove they are 'nice guys'. But before long, in a way almost justifying their infidelity, the wife becomes a screaming banshee with the personality of Attila the Hun. It's almost acceptable that a man can have an affair if his wife is forcing him into it by behaving badly. Even if she isn't, he will insinuate that she is, so the mistress will believe she is 'doing him a favour'.

From a female perspective, emphasising the bad points generates sympathy between women and their friends. Females often bond by complaining. When a woman steps outside this by saying her relationship is going well when everyone around her is complaining, it can throw her friendships out of balance. No one likes a smug married and I'm the first to complain about them, not because my life is bad, but because I wish these women would be more honest about their relationship instead of wrapping it to make a point. On the plus side for a woman, venting about our mans inability to find the dishwasher tablets or our clitoris is a good way to let off steam, have our annoyances vindicated or have a laugh. The only danger is in letting it go too far. Its not good to get so down on him that you cant see the good in him,. And if your friends start agreeing or voicing their own negative opinions of him you may well lose friendships if they say too much.

Gift wrapping a partner for your family is common. Families expectations can be so high we smooth over our partners flaws to give the relationship breathing space. It's better to make sure that's all it is though and you're not ignoring any problems that you don't want to. If you're gift wrapping for friends ask yourself why. Often there's underlying competition or fear of judgement.

One thing we are all prone to do is gift wrapping what goes on between the sheets. An ex of mine was no looker but he was the most incredible lover. With my friends I talked up my exploits in order to justify I was dating someone my shallow friends thought was so lacking in the looks department. On the other hand, the last time I was in love I didn't discuss what we did between the sheets at all. I didn't feel I needed to. I only ever discuss or gift wrap relationships that aren't serious or long lasting. I think when you truly have the right partner you respect yourself and their privacy - and wont feel the need to score points by revealing the amazing things they do with a tin of fruit salad.

While the urge to wrap is about our own insecurities, it has ripple effects on those around us. If you have a huge fight with a lover but you let your friends believe he is perfect, you could find yourself with no one to talk to.

Never let your partner know you're gift wrapping too, it will slowly erode your happiness. Trusting, truthful relationships are healthy. Gift wrapped relationships aren't and the men I meet are a perfect example of that.