Behind Çin Büfe, Changa, House Cafe and Taj Mahal

A Chinese, an Indian and a couple of fancier Turkish fusion places (here and here) – this was the beginning of my expat life as opposed to my Turkish girlfriend life.

House Cafe was one of the first places I went just before I got a boyfriend. I went for brunch with a group of mixed nationalities,  one of whom was the American woman I ended up flat-sharing with in Cihangir, and a French guy who was really interesting to talk to. He had left by the time my boyfriend went away so that interrupted what had been a very difficult friendship to maintain.

Having male friends at all was a problem. The French guy pushed more Turkish Boyfriend buttons that anyone else for some reason and I often lied about hanging out with him or just omitted his name from the list of people that were there. More often than lying though, I just tried to avoid meeting him. It was too stressful.

One night when I had been “allowed” to meet him for dinner, I had been given a curfew which I rushed dinner to meet. And even then, I got a message as I was waiting for the last ferry that would get me to his house on time telling me I had better be on it and not to bother coming if I wasn’t.

Once, I went to incredibly elaborate lengths to meet him. I lied through my teeth with a level of deceit that’s quite breathtaking and which almost completely prevented me from enjoying the evening.

I taught on Monday nights, my boyfriend (it was his day off) played football. He always wanted me to go and watch with the other girlfriends and/or stay home and prepare dinner with them for the men when they finished. I hated the idea. The split group and the pre-determined roles (not that I wanted to play football). The having to be in a group of people whose language I barely spoke and most of whom I didn’t know. It’s not that they weren’t nice, it was just a really awful prospect to me in actuality and in what it represented. And what it represented was the way my life would be structured forever as his girlfriend.

So I was keen to keep my Monday class. That night it had been cancelled in advance but I didn’t say anything and planned to meet my French friend instead. My boyfriend actually dropped me off at the school and I went up the stairs and hid a couple of minutes before taking the bus to Taksim. I then called him and said the students hadn’t showed up so I’d spontaneously gone to meet another friend as the fear had set in then and I’d realised if someone saw me in Taksim, I’d ever be able to explain it. He was annoyed for me about the inconsideration of my students and sad that we’d missed a chance for me to hang out with the girlfriends. I had and have the decency to feel bad about that.

I went and had dinner and was paranoid and had to fix into my mind the other night I was pretending I was out on, in case I gave myself away later on. I resolved never to lie like that again, it didn’t feel good and the amount of bases I had to cover was horrible. But, the bigger question was why was I, an essentially fairly honest person, living a life that meant I chose lying instead of cutting the thing that didn’t fit, the thing that meant I couldn’t do something completely normal like meet a male friend to eat? I never had any romance with that guy. My boyfriend could have done what a European guy would have done – turned him into a joint friend.

When he’d gone to the army, I went to The House Cafe other times, once with a female Turkish friend, married, a lawyer who’d lived in Holland and was someone I liked. She was a friend of the sleazy lawyer who was laying in wait for me but she herself had nothing to do with that. My boyfriend was no happier that I was out in a restaurant with her. He felt that the only reason women went to places like that was to meet men. I’ll conjecture that the fact she was married and her husband was OK with her going out like that earmarked her as a dangerous friend.

Çin Büfe was with another male friend. An America, who my boyfriend also mistrusted but a lot less than the French guy. Once when I visited my boyfriend, I mentioned this guy’s name too often in conversation and it was picked up on. The problem was that, I suppose, my behaviour had grown more distant as I was by then seeing someone else and I know that undermines much of what I say. He was right to suspect but misdirected. But that was after over a year of not being allowed to have these wholly innocent friendships in peace. No wonder I kept lying and had got used to a certain level of dishonesty to try and keep some semblance of a normal life. The lies started to become normal which I am sure helped me to cheat.

There I go again, managing to excuse my inexcusable behaviour. I’m not trying to make excuses, I’m trying to explain; something I always found to be two separate things. He didn’t. No explanation was ever accepted in any way. So of course no understanding and no possible solution or forgiveness. Sin and burn.

Taj Mahal, I went to with both of those guys as they became friends too. I hoped that might serve to mitigate their threat but he never tried to be friends with either of them. I remember one night when he was in his hometown being out with them both and getting  a call, ruining my night as the all too familiar stomach clenching fear of being out at the wrong time with the wrong people took over.

And Changa was with the American girl I’d taken over the Time Out restaurant critic role from. She was OK, he met her once and liked her. But then she finished with one Turkish boyfriend for another – who she later married and who let her be herself unlike the first one who behaved much like mine e.g. not speaking not her if she went out with male visitors from home. He went off her a bit then.

Her new boyfriend was going to be my Turkish teacher at one point, which never ended up happening but meant I had his number in my phone. Much, much later after the cheating and during the attempts to fix the damage it had done, he found that number in my phone and demanded to call it to check it was who I said it was. I was so head turned by the constant interrogations and up and down moods, I had this irrational fear that, even though I knew exactly whose number it was, that somehow someone else would answer it.

I’m still friends with the guys but lost touch with the girls. It wasn’t always that way. In the attempted rebuilding period, I deleted both from my email, Facebook, anything. I even changed email addresses as getting an email from either of them was just too problem causing if found. And I also couldn’t bear having anyone around that would see how much I was debasing and erasing myself to earn forgiveness and the right to be a real person again. Having cheated became who and what I was not something I had done. And the male friends were both a symptom and a reminder of that for him.

And of course, he could make wild accusations about me and them. It was much easier to just cut contact and disappear. I’m lucky they forgive me for that and are willing to resume our friendships. Hell hath no fury like a cuckolded Turkish Boyfriend – your friends are OK with who you are and can separate it from things you’ve done.

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