When Does a No Mean Yes?

I have discovered a destructive habit cultivated in marriage that has affected my relationships since.
My ex wife and I disenjoyed a fractious and tense relationship. Never more so than when she wanted money. We split everything, income and bills; we had the same. Our values were different. She would burn through hers within a few days, I didn’t. 
Tired of her wanting more, I began to respond, “No,” almost instinctively. This felt like the only course of action because a softer approach was met with the sort of railroading you would rather be prepared for. This marked the beginning of the game; my ex wife would kick her persuasive efforts into overdrive and it became a case of counting the cost: losing money versus losing the modicum of peace we had.
I laid on the couch one evening. Her aunt had been discarding a couch and a couple of chairs that my ex wife wanted. It meant hiring a van, which would have been around £300 with deposit. I loved our current couch, and knew (as did she) I had about £350 in the bank until payday two weeks later, to cover food and living. 
She raised the idea days before and I had said that I didn’t want to do it, mostly due to the cost of getting it home, but also our couch was comfy. This night, she was more determined. My resistance was met with rage, after shouting, then abuse, she began to hover over me. I’d never felt threatened by her, much less frightened. Yet here I found myself pulling my legs towards my chest with my right arm and covering my head with my left. She dropped and sunk her teeth into my leg. Days later, I was in the bath, and she asked me about the large bruise on my leg. We even laughed about it. It wasn’t particularly painful, at the time or later, and still I felt no fear of her moving forward. 
But that wasn’t the point. The point was that we booked the van the next day, completed the swap and were left with a little over £10 to last a few days as it takes a while for deposits to be refunded. The boundaries were virtually non-existent by now.
And though the methods employed to turn a no into a yes were more severe here, it was a well-worn pattern of behaviour between us. She believes every no is a starting point for a yes. It’s not a bad thing, or a good. It is what it is, and it wasn’t right for me.
I have since realised I was never the right man for her, and that brings me peace of mind. We weren’t right for each other.
This quick-thinking, reactionary manner has devastating consequences with those not used to fighting over everything. With people that take a no at face value and an acceptable expression of self without feeling obligated to challenge it, it represents finality where it isn’t meant. 
This hit home last week when, with my partner, I was in Tesco, and I picked up some chocolate. She wanted some saved for a few days later, and asked. 
My immediate reaction was no:

There wasn’t much… I would have burned through it by then… I could easily buy more later… and all of these immediate, if unhelpful, emotional responses we voice internally, whilst we compose more appropriate replies.
I uttered “no;” she accepted it. I wished I could take back that word but I couldn’t. 
You see, I was expecting the battle, and this was my part: a player in the back and forth until middle ground was found. It’s like the quick no served as a scanning system, to detect threats and buy time. A gap of silence in marriage would have been taken as a fatal hesitation and make no, if tendered, a less credible position. 
Even with trivial matters, the meaning of the quick no transcends context; it stabs at the heart of generosity and consideration, especially when your partner isn’t a player in the game. 
When I think slowly, and do less, I find myself more calm than excited, and better able to express myself according to my values. A gap of silence is a good thing; it extends the courtesy of time and attention to the other. We respect people who have boundaries, and take their time. And we respect ourselves when we behave that way.

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Taking a Step Back

This week has been all about taking a step back in my relationship, cutting out the noise that creates unhappy thoughts and feelings, and looking for something that aligns more with my values. 
It’s easy to forget who we are in this world of constant stimulation. A moment’s peace is harder to come by. Even on a walk by yourself, you can find yourself bombarded with unwanted advertisements – billboards, taxis, even minimalist podcasts – all vying for your attention. 
But attention is a scarce resource. By paying attention to one thing, you cannot, by definition, be paying attention elsewhere. Choosing how to spend it governs much of our wellbeing, which is why it is imperative to monitor how you feel when you are around different people, things and situations. Ask yourself: Why am I here? If you can’t describe a net positive contribution for your soul, maybe you should be some place else. 
A difficult week with my partner follows a couple of difficult ones and we decided to be honest with each other a couple of days ago. It was a painful experience and I’m digesting what was said, and I realised I needed to take a step back. Some of the things that were said made me realise my partner doesn’t really know me at all. Maybe I’ve lost so much of myself in the relationship that I don’t either. I don’t like who I am when I’m around her sometimes, and that matters. Having a poorly face adds frustration into the mix, feeling unable to comfortably express myself so much of the time. Taking the last couple of days to reconnect with myself has left me peaceful, enjoying a slower pace of life. 
This morning I packed and brought home several everyday items that I had left with her, clothing mostly. I found it quite upsetting and put it away immediately, the sight of it heaped in the corner a reminder of what ultimately looks like failure. A healthier way to express it would be the continuation of my journey, and all steps are valuable, even the unhappy ones. When unencumbered with false urgencies and stress, I often reflect on the past this way; it enables me to enjoy happy reminiscences and neutralise events that once caused me pain.  
I don’t know what the way forward will be here. There appears one or two insurmountable obstacles, though time softens the sharpest of words, because when it’s all said and done, no one remembers what you said or did, just how you made them feel. And I don’t feel that bad. 
By taking that step back and spending more of my attentional energy in my world, my space, it’ll give me that peace of mind and freedom necessary to be able to give more to others, which is what I’m doing when I feel most purposeful, and ultimately happiest. 

Why?

Why do we have 1 in 20 unemployed in the UK, vast swathes reliant on meagre benefits to survive and unprecedented inequality, with all the problems that entails?
When you posit the question that way, a considered answer requires an examination of our education system, of why minimum wage is below subsistence level for many, and of why we have a system of governance designed to protect the rich rather than enhance living standards for all.

A Memory of My Father

I haven’t seen my parents in eighteen months, though we exchange weekly messages. Both are well and happy. 

In March 2000, Dad and I attended a radio rally at Drayton Manor Park, and I had a horrible cold. I was out of tissue, and my dad went to the toilets to get some for me. 
I watched as he pulled off sheet after sheet after sheet – it must have been nearly half a roll – to get to the middle where it would definitely be clean and free of germs. 
That episode left a footprint on me as an unconscious signal of love and care, one that’s brought me much comfort down the years.

What I’ve Learned the Past Month

When pain becomes more constant, fear of anticipation goes, and everything starts to get better. For the first time in months, I’ve spoke with clarity and eaten sitting up/standing, at times. 

Helping others makes me feel better about myself, and the motivation can last longer than a few moments. It doesn’t have to be tied to a reward. I’ve contributed beyond myself in a way I never have before and my relationships have improved as a result. 
By the same token, if you completely ignore what you want, and spend no time focusing on it, you’ll feel deprived and can’t be the best version of yourself, in the best place to think about others. As is often said, there’s a reason why airlines tell passengers to fit their oxygen mask first before helping others. 
I’ve seen how much my oldest daughter is like me in her developing personality. I see my strengths in her, I see my weaknesses; I’m in the best position to help her to shape those, hopefully to avoid some of the mistakes I was unable to. 

Unrequited

I really wanted you to sit on me or me on you or you next to me and me next to you like we used to and look into your eyes and ask when could I see you again because it’s important to me. But it wasn’t to you. Lost in the urgent glow of your smartphone screen, we each defined our priorities; where once they met, today they don’t. With each passing day they become strangers, perhaps the perfect metaphor for our hearts and minds. 

When do you minimise people?

Is it when we have nothing left to give? I don’t think I’d ever honestly be able to say that. 
Is it when we have nothing left to take? That’s ugly on one hand, open to using people, yet an honest pursuit of happiness on the other, dependent upon intention perhaps.
Or is it when those to whom we wish to give no longer value our gifts of love, time, attention, caring – leaving us no option really?

What If I’d Discovered Minimalism at 16?

What if I’d discovered minimalism at 16? I’d have practised it for 16 years by now, many more than the one and a bit in reality. It has provided the strength and inspiration to make real changes to things in my life that matter since I first read about it last year, when I realised it may help me to solve problems that had plagued me for years. 

I would never have learned to drive. Public transport has the potential to be brilliant; I love the idea of it. It affords us the opportunity to share an experience with others – even if it’s bad sometimes, contribute beyond ourselves and minimise environmental damage. There is no need to suffer the burden of possession in the way drivers do. The sacrifice of a few minutes’ travelling from your point of setting down to your destination provided an enjoyable opportunity for reflection, or time to reconnect and say an intimate goodbye in a way contorting your bodies to face one another renders impossible to replicate in car seats. The difference can be shown between the rising anger of the late driver as he feels he can direct his energy into making up lost time on one hand and the learned tranquility of the passenger who realises he has surrendered to Fate, and can perhaps catch an earlier bus tomorrow, on the other. 
Budgetarily, cars are astronomical – the initial cost compounded by the several taxes applied to their running and the additional resources in providing for their maintenance. Certainly, cars are more convenient for the most part than buses and trains, but when you add up the amount of time you have to work to pay for them, do they still offer the best time versus money solution?
The experience of driving offers a transparent bubble of irritation whereby we can see others as we sit impatiently in traffic with them, unable to meaningfully interact. It becomes about accomplishing our goal of arriving at our destination on time at all cost, a selfish attitude which breeds expectation and entitlement and leads to oft-seen road rage. (I write this as a city boy; I appreciate cars may feel more necessary elsewhere.)
I’d have stayed a bachelor. For over ten years, my ex-wife and I struggled to push water uphill in a dysfunctional relationship, despite both feeling we weren’t entirely happy from long before we married. This was settling. Settling into a marriage that wasn’t right, into a career that was sensible but not my mission in life, not my passion, because it’s what my parents did at that age, and provided, “a good start in life.” Our two children are miracles and I would never be without them now. However, these reflections disallow hindsight and their single tragedy would be the probable non-existence of my angels. 
I’d have saved, saved, saved. I realise now that I enjoy having money more than the things it can buy. In ten years, on my CeX account, I spent more than £20,000 on novelty gadgets, 99% of which added no value to my life, and the featured post on my blog, about my Diffusion retail regrets, illustrates a similar example. I enjoy higher quality experiences now: the foods I eat, the events I attend and the places I visit. I accept that it’s worth paying more sometimes to avoid stressors and have peace of mind, to quench a thirst in the summer sun. As a child, it was drilled into me to never spend on food and drink – rather material possessions, as, “at least you’ll have something to show for it.” Keeping company with this attitude has perhaps inflicted more disharmony upon my mind than any other. It set up a recipe for wasteful consumption which has taken many years to deconstruct and replace with something more meaningful, that makes me happy because it’s more in touch with who I am.
Would I turn the clock back? Probably not. I have many blessings in my life and I’d be unwilling to risk losing them to make improvements in some areas. My children are the deciding factor here. Were I not a father, I’d probably manipulate the hands of time back to the first months of the new millennium. As I write, I feel there’s something rather sad about that, if not too uncommon perhaps.
Having illuminated here a few examples, in reality just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the ways my life could have had more meaning down the years, I feel confident that continuing my journey as a minimalist will bring many years of intentional joy and purpose. I believe that as I get older I’ll look back on it as the seminal discovery in my life, and I’m so happy I discovered it when I did. What would life be like now if I hadn’t? That’s a piece I may write ahead, but as I run the reels of imagination on it they’re greyed in misery like a film noir of cliche. It creates a slightly uncomfortable feeling which is perhaps the biggest advocate for minimalism, the fear of being without it. 

Being Intentional in a Relationship

Five years back, a scene in The Americans left its mark on me. General Zhukov explained his feelings for his dog in a way that changed how I saw parental relationships. Denouncing his dog for her lack of beauty and intelligence, he surprises us by saying that he cares for her everyday, and, in that act, he falls in love with her and realises his life would have no meaning without her. As a father now, I understand those sentiments. Only lately, through the prism of minimalism, have I seen that they apply to romantic relationships as well. 
I’ve never made relationships easy. Ex-partners would characterise me as moody, hard work and often cold. In both my marriage and a long term relationship (LTR) prior, I frequently lived up to the billing. I didn’t want to, and I convinced myself that I’d been with the wrong people – that the bad ways began with external stimuli. Then came a recent LTR in which my partner was different. 
Genuinely, she is kind, affectionate, loving, interesting, caring and supportive. Despite this, I was not able to change, and not understanding why has been a source of great frustration. I wonder if an LTR is something I think I want until I get it and then realise maybe I don’t want it at all. 
Through the practice of minimalism, I have seen that people are infinitely more important than things, and that doing meaningful things with them makes me happier than buying possessions ever did. However, I think I’ve been stuck in an endless cycle of thinking about what I want to take from a relationship rather than give. I know what I want but the trouble is when I get it I’m not really happy as I’ve usually played to get it and it makes me feel selfish, lowering my self-esteem, and from there stems moodiness and coldness. Add to this that we quickly pick up on someone who gives only to receive, and often resent them for it. After all, it’s ugly. 
This week has been an eye-opener for me. Quoted in a podcast by The Minimalists, Martin Luther King Jr stated that life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?
My first thought was to ask the lady with whom I’ve spent the last eighteen months. My second was to not do that. It has the potential to be adversarial, especially in a period of unhappiness and change. Perhaps I could put myself in her shoes and answer. I produced very little and, from there, began to answer my question about why I become unhappy in LTRs, and what I could do to change this moving forward. I’m not ready to contemplate being alone for the future and I am unwilling to accept unhappiness as the default state in my relationships. 
I am happiest when I give to others. My time, my attention, my mind, my support. I feel good about myself and in my own small way help to improve the lives of others in the process, contributing beyond looking after my needs in the world. Since that moment, I’ve set King’s quote as my phone wallpaper to help me form a habit of asking myself: what am I doing for others? More, I’ve taken action and, I dare say, helped as many people this week as in the whole of last month. This increased intentionality elevates my consciousness about what happens in happy relationships. 
As I focus more on giving than taking, I am less disappointed when my hopes aren’t met. After all, I’ve spent less time focusing on them and building expectations around them. And I build up credit, perhaps in the banks of others, but especially in my own bank. This credit isn’t to be spent sinfully in a rather calculated balance, rather to be saved as a reminder of a way to make everyone a little bit happier.