At The Centre of Things

head in hands
Photo credits – David Goehring, Flickr
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All I remember from the immediate aftermath of hitting the red button which terminates the FaceTime conversation I have been having with G is a feeling of reeling and of sinking, how I imagine the driver of a car suddenly swept off a road into the icy depths of a lake might feel – disoriented, numb and perhaps too taken aback to have any real appreciation of the import of what has just happened. There is good reason to feel this way, given the act – symbolic as it were – is one that brings to an end what has been a good year of sorts, and that only for the third time ever. To reach this place, where what is a painful, hard fought decision has been taken, has required months of agony and wrestling – weighing the pros of trying to save face against the cons of loss, of time and sunken investments. That G and I work, by and large, has made the decision even more difficult; that a milestone birthday of sorts for me has just passed complicates things even more.

Three is a nice tidy number I think, a sample just big enough to allow the trends and patterns of behaviour – good, bad or indifferent – begin to surface. The trends which are beginning to surface here are ones I can not bear to countenance. When the sum total of my its-not-you-its-me conversational experience was two, it was easy to chalk them up as learning, and somehow decouple myself from the act of tearing things up. In my mind, I was not that kind of guy, the kind who blithely broke things up without considering the impact on the life of others. Now, as I navigate the aftermath of conversation number three, I can no longer hold on to that belief, at least not without lying to myself.

The sixty days since then have not been an unbroken stretch of numb, morose pain though. With the release from the expectations and commitments implicit in a relationship comes some sort of freedom – false as it may be; loads of time suddenly are freed up, and the willing mouth can gain feast at the plenteous h’ordeuvres on offer – all 3.5 billion of them as it were, in theory at least. Reality only hits, in my experience, when with a little bit of life to share – a new success, a hard fall or even the most quotidian of events – the lack of an ear one can call on without much fanfare rubs the reality of aloneness in; which is what happens when I hear the first real not bad news about work in June. That for me is what has hurt the most.

With the benfit of time to reflect, it has become obvious that I do gravitate to a certain type of woman. G was very similar to girlfriend #2 – both ISFJ, both from the same part of Nigeria, both very Christian and both were liasons I entered into with more ambivalence than I cared to admit at the time. The one outlier amongst the three was EJ, I suppose the intense physicality that was the hallmark of those 11 months meant the foundations were shaky, and we were doomed form day dot.

A lot of the main blocks fit perfectly with G; in the end it was the intangibles that proved a straw too heavy for the camel’s back – the lack of an emotional connection from me, our widely differing pressure handling/ coping strategies and subtle differences in how we lived out our largely convergent worldview. Amidst all that, work happened as the final element of a perfect storm which exhausted my capacity for dealing with change, leaving me scrambling for the the position of least turmoil – which unfortunately, selfishly I’ll admit – did not include her.

One of the big questions that has looped over and over in my mind in the month since then is if I loved her. I was sure I did, we had great conversations when they managed to happen and there certainly was a sense that our meet ups across town were looked forward to. I also put my money and time where my mouth was on several occasions. Where we fell short was in the effervescence stakes, I didn’t love her in a wild, fizzy, over powering way. My 11 month dalliance with EJ proved that loving that way was something I was capable of; what was unclear in my mind was if this stable, sensible loving without the fizz was sufficient in and of itself.  In the end I decided it wasn’t, that clarity has to count as one of the neccesary if unpalatable learnings I have had to deal with from this nearly year.

Helen Fischer, in what I think was a fantastic TED talk, postulates that there are three brain systems that govern how we bond and love – lust, romantic love and attachment. In my case, my head felt there was sufficient common ground for long term attachment to flourish eventually, I just didn’t have enough lust and/or romantic love to get there.

The Christian tradition I come from – I came of age in the generation that binged on Joshua Harris’ I Kissed Dating Goodbye and sang along gustily to Rebecca St James’ Wait for Me – is one which tends to lend itself rather easily to placing beauty and attraction in opposition to character, Proverbs 31:30 being the bumper sticker for that. In that worldview, beauty and attraction pale in significance to character and sensibleness. Granted there is a sense in which building a long term relationship on the fuzziness of fizz is somewhere between stupid and foolhardy, but I have come to believe that the opposite position, going into a long term relationship with the head but no heart is equally as dangerous. Thankfully since then the likes of Leke Alder and Matt Chandler have weighed in on the subject in a way that lies somewhere between supporting my position and proposing a third way.

I doubt there are any coherent arguments that entirely support my decision – the cold harsh reality of two months certainly have not brought those to the fore yet. But it is back to real life now. The enduring image, one that may well haunt me for some time yet, is one where we are face to face, separated by the portal that is FaceTime, with the linger of an awkward silence between us, neither one of us wanting to be the one that ends the call. Something broke that day in May, and at the centre of everything is me, vacillator-in-chief. I can only hope somewhere down the road, there is redemption, and if not, that the lessons learned may yet save the future.

#27, 28, 29 – Better Man in 30 Days

Day 27 – Start a Book: Currently ten books into my thirty book plan for the year. Have two on the go at the moment – Jostein Gaarder’s Sophie’s World and Zadie Smith’s On Beauty. Hopefully I manage to complete them by the end of next month.

Day 28 – Write a Love Letter: Very much work in progress. I suspect this is one I will have come back to again and again. What is clear is that it wasn’t love at first sight by any account – I am far too rational for that – but over time I find a bond building, and increasing joy in the simple things.

Day 29 – Conquer a fear: The fear I had to conquer was picking up the phone and calling my father, made especially difficult because we had a big fall out last weekend, and certain things I’m not entirely proud of were said. There and done then with minimal fuss. Hopefully we can make this work better going forward…

5 Tests of Compatibility

From my current read, Ben Young and Dr Sam Adams’ book – The One: A Realistic Guide to Choosing Your Soul Mate.

  1. Is there chemistry? Are you sexually/ physically attracted to your partner?
  2. Is your relationship natural? Do things flow naturally or are you spending a lot more time resolving issues than demonstrating a natural fit?
  3. Would this be a good friend? If the chemistry was removed, is it someone you’d want to be with, whose company you enjoy?
  4. Can you accept his or her personality as is? Could you spend the rest of your life with the person as they are?
  5. Would you want your kids to be like him or her? Could you envision a future in which your children turn out like him or her?

Oh and to pass the test, it must be ‘Yes’, 100%…

Pimping Mrs P

The woman clutched my arm. The first wave of feeling that hit me – when my mind frozen for an instant by the brazen grab – was fear, and then confusion, as she peered intently into my face with not even the faintest hint of recollection bouncing about in my head.  She wasn’t wearing the flowing robes of an aladura prophetess, thus ruling out a smash-and-grab prophesy as the reason for her intrusion. Something about the deeply lined face, the light grey hair peeking out from underneath her tight head wrap and her uber thick lenses left me positively unsettled.

You don’t remember me, she asked; her iron clad grip loosening as her face retracted to a safe distance, a hint of disappointment at the lack of a flicker of recognition in mine showing on her face.

Vaguely familiar, was all I could mutter as she finally let go of my hand as one who had suddenly discovered she had been hanging on to an eel.

Bala, Mrs Bala, she mouthed her name several times as though by dint of repetition her words could penetrate my thick skull. It might have done just that because from the name, a whole avalanche of memories came rushing in, connecting the older, more lined face thrust out of the blue into mine on the corner of a very business market street with five years of history.  She had taught sunday school at the church I attended intermittently back in my undergraduate days – when my parents had succeeded in dragging me along – before I discovered the ploy of escaping to University on Sunday morning pleading the need to close out piled up assignments. Now convinced this was no precursor to a kidnap attempt I must have loosened perceptibly because the next thing she did was to offer me a hug, which I accepted, and then to quiz me rapid fire about life, work and the inevitable wife and children banana skin.

We heard you got a job at XCorp. You be big man now O, so tey you come forget us! Me, Mrs Bala? Na sooooo?  Tricky recollections navigated, she had lapsed into a less formal,  pidgin english based lingua.

I tell her I left XCorp in 2008, grabbed a masters degree, am weighing up the next move to yet another far flung corner of the world and am yet still unmarried.

Where be this place sef, ehn OJ? Shey dem no still dey comot people head for there? I don’t know if it is concern or just plain ignorance. I explain the little I know. It’s not the bastion of liberal, self-indulgent, cosmopolitan life that’s New York’s Queens or London’s West End but its no battle scared, devil’s romping place either.

Wetin you dey go find for there sef?  She sighs in resignation.  Your mummy is happy with you going there? This time it IS concern, her forehead had developed its now familiar crease of worry.

I nod in the jaded, beaten manner of one who has had this conversation one too many times for the past few days. She shakes her head and then suddenly as though awoken by a synapse firing she dips into her bag and begins to rummage within it, eventually coming up with her cell phone.

Ehennn! Back to pidgin English, I sigh inwardly thinking I may have finally escaped here. She has her eyes fixed on me intently now.

P* sef never marry. She was around three months ago. She has a masters too, from abroad. She throws that in, perhaps hoping that some shared experience might help circumvent my perceived ‘pickiness’. She goes on to extoll P’s values – head screwed on right, solid job at some Lagos auditing firm, and most importantly someone whose familial antecedents we both know very well. She scribbles some digits on a sheet of paper somehow exhumed from her purse and thrusts it in my face.

That’s her number. Call her o!! God might have orchestrated this meeting for this purpose.  She is back in her stern sunday school teacher/ up and coming Mother-In-Israel mode. I nod respectfully, push the folded sheet into my shirt pocket and return to my humble boy pose – head slightly bowed, eyes averted and hands clasped together at my back. She smiles one last full toothed smile, waves and continues on her journey, leaving me wondering what just hit me.

A few paces after I’ve escaped her clutches, the piece of paper with the phone number has morphed into a crushed ball of wet mush and nestles in the gaping mouth of a broken sewer pipe. Unless God now specialises in the business of breaking up marriages for single blokes, there will be no dice with Mrs  P

Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless handheld from Glo Mobile.



Image Source


I catch myself sighing –
Laboured breath held,
And then expelled
Like the unsteady,
Weary chug of a steam
Locomotive as it drags
Its weighty backsides
Up a steep incline.

My dreams, a hurried,
Harried concoction
Of fevered, whispered
Half phrases and fearsome
Visions of a searing inner fire
Haunt me, my mind
Slowly numbed
by the intense,
Unforgettable clarity
of a growing insanity
And the delirium of delusion.

The first time I saw you
You were a distant-
blob of light, bright pink,
shimmering red, blazing sun-
shine, driving dirty,
grey snow into the
corner of Kings and Guilds.

Between there and here
Is something irretrievably broken
a gangrenous, festering sore
That refuses to heal, its ochre
Colour, the colour of dried blood.

I catch myself sighing,
Laboured breath held
And then expelled slowly
Like a puff of cigar smoke.
But in the distance,
Like a storm cloud bringing rain after a drought
Is the redemption of the forget-ting

2012 – The Year of the Detox


Although a  year and some ago I thought I had truly gotten over the pain of the EJ debacle, I still managed to spend Christmas stateside attending a wedding, hanging with mutual friends and kind of hoping I would run into her. Neither happened, and when push came to shove I couldn’t bring myself to take the short hop across town to the city where she now lived. Coming into 2012 then, the target was to resolve a number of the other friendzoneships  I had somehow gotten sucked in over the years.

Clarity would end up being delivered spectacularly through the year – hanging with R when she passed through my city in March confirmed what we both knew since our undergraduate days, that we were great as wingmen/women for each other, but lousy at everything else besides, my hankering for my Dalglish conjecture came and went  – appropriately chided of course, P and I managed to let crazy work schedules and a significant time difference wreck what had seemed like a pretty good start, and then there was L.

L was the kick up the backside I needed: smarts, attractiveness, a big heart for God and children and an appreciation of the arts ensured she ticked all my critical boxes. It helped that she was also in the same city (for a change!) and we had similar work interests. Being around her put the last eighteen months in perspective and showed me quite starkly what I had missed by failing to move on. We didn’t quite work out – my penchant for complicated women rearing it’s head one more time – but the one thing meeting her did was finally hammer home what my wing-women extraordinaire Izz  & Dee had harped on all year round – that I needed to get off my backside and explore.

Once again, there have been lessons learned this year – that there is a shed load of stuff I need to learn about me, about women, about my long term direction and the type of woman I am attracted to.  That, and a paradigm shift of sorts, perhaps best articulated by Clay Christensen in his book How Will You Measure Your Life:

The path to happiness (in a relationship) is about finding someone who you want to make happy, someone whose happiness is worth devoting yourself to.

I suspect that when/if the annals of my life are written in the future, 2012 will feature prominently as the year of the big reset, the year wherein the penny dropped. All told, it’s been a year of pruning, spring cleaning, gaining clarity and working out the toxins and nascent hurts from the past. I suspect 2013 will be the year of learning and re-learning… And hopefully finding and building… :)

Girl Crush-ing… Hypothetically….

I think I have a crush.

…… And what is perhaps most disconcerting about the waxing and waning of this particular attraction is just how atypical its advent has been.  For one she is well and truly outside the +/- 2.5 year band that I once swore to live and die by… And perhaps most importantly, the sum of our interaction over the last one month, one week and six days has been fifteen emails, five phone calls and one handshake; hardly a compelling oeuvre for a bloke whose standard MO – bar the not exactly happily-ever-after spring misadventure from 2009 – has primarily been based on weighing pros and cons, extensive googling due diligence  and incremental engagement rather than a full on pursuit.

My friend Des seems to think there’s at least something to explore, but I suspect it might just be a case of cake cravings on her part (she’s called dibs already on providing the little bride)… Me the cynic thinks it’s more molehill than mountain and that lurking just beyond the edge of what little I know are revelations bound to kick this delirium into touch… Me the pragmatist agrees with Des, and thinks it would at least be useful practice, bringing me closer to the magic 12 number which supposedly is the ideal number of partners required to define our dating baseline.

Me the analytical, in the few quiet moments the cacophony in my head allows me, wonders if there’s some low risk, non-intrusive way of closing the knowledge gap and progressing the opportunity (which may or may not be there)… Or if a wild plunge isn’t the way to go here…… After all someone once said doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result was insanity….

Or not….

The Friday Read: Mixed Matches

A few days late but an interesting read nonetheless. Denise Morris explores inter-racial dating and marriage from a biblical worldview over at Parts One, Two and Three explore her experiences in growing up as a child from a mixed marriage, the pseudo-biblical objections people may have and offers a useful summation:

Will choosing to date someone outside of your race make your life more difficult? Hopefully not, but it could. If it does, remember that the father of lies still has a grip on humanity. He will until the day Christ returns to put him in his place. Are the potential difficulties of an interracial relationship worth it? Of course they are if it’s the person God has prepared for you. Most importantly, all of us are precious in his sight — red, yellow, black and white — and every shade in between.

Even though in many ways my various reservations are being pared down to the bare essentials, I still suspect that going inter racial is (yet) a bridge too far – the rationale being the significant cultural differences (which are not insurmountable) and the perception that they are often marriages of convenience rather than for love. It’s only 2012 though, 2015 might see me singing from a different song sheet..

The line about red, yellow, black and white reminded me of a song [YouTube] from children’s church back in the day.

Deconstructing the Dalglish Conjecture

The following was instigated by a discussion on Twitter with @Sir Fariku on the case for football as a compelling metaphor for a bloke’s dating life and the Brothers With No Game series on Which Footballer Are You?

In the 1997 movie ‘My Best Friend’s Wedding‘ directed by P.J. Hogan, Julianne Potter (played by Julia Roberts) finds herself facing a conundrum of sorts. Her long term friend, Michael O’Neil (played by Dermot Mulroney) informs her a few days short of her own 28th birthday of his impending marriage to Kimberly (played by Cameron Diaz). This should be great news, except for the small matter of a pact between Julianne and Michael where they had agreed that if they remained single till they turned 28, they would get married to each other. She also believes (rightly or wrongly) that Kimberly is the wrong person for him to get married to.

This conundrum is eerily similar to the situation which faced a certain Mr Kenneth Dalglish in the summer of 2010. Rafa Benitez, had just led Liverpool football club to an utterly deflating 7th place finish in the Premiership against a sordid back story of boardroom unrest, player dissatisfaction and an overall feeling of malaise. Messers Hicks and Gillet, our very own American shysters, seemed intent on running the club aground, not helped by the millstone of money owed to a certain nationalised bank. When Rafa Benitez was moved on, what was a bad situation became life threatening when a shortlist of replacements was revealed – a certain Mr Roy Hodgson was being promoted by the English paper as a safe pair of hands to guide the club through what were truly dark times. Legend has it, that Kenny was so dissapointed by the shortlist that he immediately offered his services as manager as he felt he could do a much better job than those being considered.

Any football fan of some pedigree would recognise the parallels here. Just like Julianne and Michael, ‘King’ Kenny and Liverpool had a long and distinguished connection, one that made him feel compelled to throw his hat into the ring to ‘save’ the club. Both the King and Julianne Potter, fell prey to what I describe as the Dalglish Conjecture – the (right or wrong) belief that there is a duty owed to a close friend to intervene in their affairs to prevent the occurence of a fatal mistake. At its core is a commendable, if not entirely altruistic, sense of loyalty that somehow concludes that the greater good is served by the sacrifice of ones independence on the altar of loyalty to a friend.

In the more general case, I find that this conjecture occurs fairly regularly between guys and girls who are long term friends and have developed an understanding that seems to be lacking in the various potential mates they fall in with. One party often concludes that given the inefficiences in the various hook ups they get into, it would make a lot more sense to step into the breach and offer their ‘services’ as a potential dating partner.

Given the foregoing, I therefore present to you the Dalglish conjecture:

Given any interaction universe U, populated with elements ei, each having a unique time-dependent intrinsic spin function Si(t); for any two elements with identical but opposite spin frequencies in a state of mutually non-intrusive interaction, if the near field intrusive interaction coefficient ku is less than 1, the optimum interaction state of both elements is a mutually intrusive one.

Unfortunately, this is only a conjecture and is unproven. Any implementation of this in a real life dating situation is entirely at the users’ risk.