My partner left last week for an eight-month stay in Thailand. After 6 years in the UK, he wants to reconnect with his culture, visit his family and study Thai massage. The trip has been planned for at least a year, so I have had plenty of time to get used to the idea that we will be apart for this extended period. However, as the reality of being home alone sets in, I’m feeling vulnerable. I have Peppar my dog to keep me company, but she doesn’t quite compensate for his absence.
As the days unfold, I can feel the presence of my Primary selves as they circle around me to protect the Little Boy in me who is missing him. Their job is to keep me from feeling sad and upset and they are an awesome bunch. There’s my Rational Mind, my Pusher, my Pleaser and my Perfectionist, but chief amongst them is my Organiser who came into existence very early in my life.
My mother was an extremely neat and tidy person and one of her major rules was that all my toys had to be put back in their boxes after I had finished playing with them. I might have rebelled against this, but instead chose the path of least resistance and followed her injunction. As a result, I developed my own top-notch Organiser who took his place in the pantheon of my Primary selves.
In addition to having me follow the household rules, my Organiser became a useful ally in protecting me against the overly protective, possessive and needy feelings that came at me from my mother. I could rely on him to create structures that would defend me against her. Each night for example I can recall lining all my soft toys up in exactly the same order along the wall by my bed. They formed a symbolic shield and with them in place I could safely fall asleep.
Later, my Organiser used my electric train set to fashion similar boundaries. On sheets of chipboard that stretched in a large L-shape along two walls of my bedroom I created a detailed landscape of undulating hills and valleys with miniature trees, a river, fences and fields with sheep and cows. Cornflakes packets became high-rise apartments and my matchbox cars travelled along black painted roads. Through this highly organised terrain the railway track weaved its way in a large and irregular loop, passing through tunnels and over bridges.
I would spend hours arranging and modifying this landscape, lost in my self-constructed world. No one was allowed to re-organise, alter or even touch it. This applied to friends and family alike - but especially to my mother who was forbidden to dust it! Organising objects around me like this became a way for me to create a boundary within which I felt secure when events, situations or people triggered my vulnerability. I felt I was in control and therefore safe.
By the time I was a teenager my Organiser had infiltrated every aspect of my life influencing how I arranged my books on the shelves, my clothes and all the objects in my cupboards. I loved the preparation for a cycling holiday or camping trip as much as the event itself. My Organiser had me write detailed lists of what to take, check and recheck everything was in order and pack my bags with great care and attention. As a consequence I became an expert at planning and time management. I even fantasised that some day I would be a great logistics officer in the army or an operations manager in an international company.
Being so identified with my Organiser has been a wonderful asset to me in my work, but inevitably it has meant that I have attracted into my life people who are less-organisationally skilled and who don’t value order so highly! Friends who come to stay in my neat and tidy home invariably have the uncanny knack of creating instant “mess” with bags, clothes and belongings strewn all over. Many of my lovers have had as one of their Primary selves a spontaneous or more laissez faire self. At the outset this has seemed a rather cute and endearing characteristic. But as soon as stress-levels have risen and we have gotten into arguments, my Organiser has rounded on them, judging them as “untidy”, “shambolic” and “out of control”.
Which brings me to my current partner who of course feels no need to wash and dry the dishes immediately after eating, or put them away in the appropriate cupboard. Nor does he mind leaving shoes, bags, coats, letters, socks, towels, newspapers, hats, gloves, bottles, jars, tubs and tubes lying wherever they happen to land! In contrast to me, he feels comfortable and secure when his environment is haphazard and chaotic. Too much organisation can make him feel constrained and boxed in. It reminds him of his Aunt’s house where he was raised after his parents died. She was a meticulous person and was always criticising him for being messy and muddled-headed. No matter how hard he tried it was never good enough so he finally gave up trying.
We realised early in our relationship that we could learn a lot from each other - him how to be more organised and me how to let go and be more impulsive. We knew that if we didn’t do this, we would end up just gritting our teeth and bearing each other’ behaviour or endlessly judging our opposing selves. Either way the relationship would be in jeopardy. For my part, I have practiced separating from my Organiser and choosing occasionally to leave the bed unmade, the cushions on the sofa unplumped, the washing up in the bowl overnight or the garden path unswept. I have also embraced the part of me that is comfortable acting without a plan, and found a joy and excitement in this.
But now, with my partner gone and my Little Boy feeling abandoned, I sense my Organiser trying to muscle in to protect me as he always has. He has already hijacked the pad by my bed that I use to note down dreams. It has now become a list of things I have to do the next day - things like sorting kitchen cupboards, rearranging bookshelves, cleaning out the shed, tidying up the garden and clearing away my partner’s perfumes and toiletries in the bathroom. None of these things are bad, but if I do them unconsciously and allow my Organiser to take over and drive me relentlessly until they are all done, I will not be able to stay in touch with my Little Boy. Instead, he will get buried beneath a flurry of activity.
My task now is to keep my wonderful Organiser in check and take some time and space to just be with the Little Boy inside me. Sitting quietly with him and feeling his vulnerability, sadness and upset at the separation, I hope that I will be able to consciously take care of him and his needs. Doing this will allow me to maintain an authentic connection with my partner when we communicate by phone or via the internet. And it will also pave the way for a sweet reunion later in the year!