One of the things I like about Adam Phillips’s writing is that it’s designed to return us to our own thoughts. So it was with not a small degree of interest that, on returning from my internet-less Upington trip, I picked up my latest London Review of Books (LRB) and read his piece, “In Praise of Difficult Children” (12 Feb 2009).
Here’s a taste:
… the adolescent is the person who needs to experiment with self-betrayal, to find out what it might be to betray oneself. Not what it means to break the rules; but what it means to break the rules that are of special, of essential value to oneself. …. So called delinquent behaviour is the unconscious attempt to find the rules that really matter to the delinquent individual. And this is a frightening quest. Betraying other people matters only if in doing so one has betrayed oneself.
Now I won’t claim to have been a very rebellioous child or a wild teenager but my brother did call me a “bolshy biscuit” and also “Bolshy the Bolshevik” as a result of my temper. I learned the hard way that losing my temper with my mother is generally not a good idea, and I turned that anger inwards and became a slightly depressed young man instead. But that’s not what this blog is about. It’s about breaking the rules, and following them, and how it’s good to do both. Isn’t that liberating, to be told that we need to have a truant mind in order to work out what’s really important?
I suppose I could apply that to my Upington trip in the following way. I’ll just come out and say it, to spare P and myself any further agony. I didn’t flirt with anyone in case that’s what you’re thinking but I did find myself wondering what it would be like to do so, for example with the young woman that runs the kitchen at the picturesque B&B we stayed at. She was quiet with a shy smile and a tentative flaunting of her prettiness. (Note to self: are you sure you want to write this? This has trouble written all over it.)
Now we didn’t exchange more than a handful of words: hello, good morning, how are you, are there any more eggs etc. but there was something about her that was intriguing. I put it down to loneliness on my part and being away from my girlfriend and tried not to think more about it.
But reading Phillips’s short article on playing truant, I’m remembering an earlier piece he wrote on flirting. That it can be helpful, important even (at least in imagination), to ‘flirt’ with other people to realise what is important about your relationship. This can also be applied at other levels as well – flirting with ideas, or with another job, in order to explore what’s frustrating you about your current situation.
Now the counter arguments to flirting are legion, and I’m well aware with quite a few of them. I know, for example, that it’s hurtful and rude to look for too long at another woman in my girlfriend’s presence. Experience tells me that a quick look, followed by a reassuring comment (if one is required) that the women in question is pretty “but not as pretty as you are” is the way to avoid trouble. I think the issue is not whether one notices an attractive person of the opposite sex (or even the same sex for that matter) but whether or not one makes your partner feel secure in the relationship. Of course it’s also not entirely up to you whether or not your partner feels secure – but the watchword here is probably sensitivity.
I’d be interested to hear any thoughts on this one.