Otantik was a place I took visiting friends. Therefore it had to have always been a place I had a great time because, I quickly realised and just as quickly smothered from my upper conscious, friends visits were about the only time I truly felt myself and genuinely laughed – deep, uncontrollable laughter as opposed to minor, half- hearted, polite or humouring laughter.
It was a lifeline that unfortunately might have kept me in Istanbul through the time I really would have done well to leave – winter 2007. The time of the stalking predator of my student, the time I was really wondering what the hell I was doing there, what my relationship meant and the time I didn’t have that much work on to distract myself with. Two lots of people were booked to come, one from England in April and one all the way from New Zealand in June who I’d planned to travel in East Turkey with. I remember thinking, I couldn’t then let them down. And anyway, it’s not like I had anywhere else I was dying to go, just the vague yearning for Elsewhere that plagued me wherever I lived and which I was determined to overcome.
When my boyfriend was still in the city, before the army, I always took friends on his guided tour of Aya Sofya. He was easily the best guide, that’s even how we met, oh, cliche of cliches. And I was proud of him being all entertaining and in his element. I got irritated when people didn’t necessarily listen as closely as I felt they should have, if they preferred to take photos or just drift off. I supposed that was the thing with getting a free, automatic guide versus having decided for yourself to get one and be paying for it.
I did feel he kind of did his duty with them more than was dying to meet them or hang out with them. He built up more relationship with his real tourists but then they were more rapt in him as their guide so more of a connection was formed. I thought he should want to get to know them as an extension of me, especially since I was so totally out of my own environment there.
But that was idealistic, no one makes friends because they should. And so, in a the limiting constraints of short visits he did do his part and did it nicely. I brought it up later once, when things were very bad and I still to this day feel guilty at the hurt and indignation in his voice at how he had shown all my friends around**. Like I saw all these faults in his behaviour that were unfair and upon which I built up the dissatisfaction that later led me to cheating. Actually, the unfairness is that I’d tried to build something on such blamelessly non existent foundations and then punished the relationship for it instead of just gently moving on.
He once complained why were my friends so unattractive. It was typical of him to judge that way although he would never admit to being judgemental. For my part, I saw his friends more regularly, but I can’t honestly say there were genuine connections there either. They were nice people who were very kind to me, especially later on, but we had very little in common, much as he had very little in common with mine. Now I see that is quite a good indicator a relationship isn’t right, precisely because your friends are such a representation of you and the life you live.
Two incidents related to visits spring instantly to mind. One was my university friends plus a girl we had met on holiday a couple of years earlier. They came in spring and we did the usual stuff. Then after being somewhere with him we went back to my house in the evening via Starbucks, leaving him to whatever it was he was doing – watching TV at home probably. I didn’t think to call him, I had just seen him, I was busy with them, people I’d not seen for months. He called me later and wanted to know why I hadn’t called him. I stumbled through the answer, he’d been completely out of my mind. I sensed I had messed up and that he was displeased and instead of questioning that anxious feeling and whether there wasn’t something fundamentally wrong with the fact I felt like that – even if the wrongness was more to do with me and the way I handled our relationship, or the relationship being wrong for me than him behaving badly – I mean, maybe I just overreacted and was too eager to gain approval all the time – instead of doing any of that, I went nervously to my class in the morning and then went to his house afterwards with breakfast instead of going straight to collect my friends.
In fact we all met up with him as he was already at work and it was fine but what on earth must they have thought that I was worried about whether or not he was annoyed with me for not calling him? It was a feeling I often had. Awareness of having done something wrong and needing to make up for it. And that has to have come partly from me and my own need for approval but from the atmosphere he set up with disapproving of me if I had behaved or spoken in a way he didn’t like.
Fast forward a year to my April visitors and my boyfriend being gone. Two guys were coming over, a friend I had met while travelling in Australia and a friend of his who’d I’d met before when we, plus a couple of my friends, went walking in the Lake District together, and all shared a hostel dorm, as is completely normal in England. I had mentioned their pending visit but not in any great detail but when he filly paid attention to my talk of it he twigged, he didn’t want them to stay in my house. His reasoning that they might try something on.There was of course no way that would have happened.
I couldn’t just turn round and tell them they had to find accommodation as visiting friends with free place to stay is so much part of the traveller’s way of planning holidays and I would have, and have, done exactly the same thing. It’s one of the benefits of living abroad. I did try to see if they could stay in my flatmates empty holiday rental but in the end I just did it. And I had a wonderful time. I laughed and laughed and Istanbul felt like more of a home with people from home than it ever did at any other times.
If I’d been living in his house while he was away, which I had wanted to be but he wouldn’t let me because it would cause problems with his family, I couldn’t have done it. The fact he wouldn’t put me first and let me live there was another thing that undermined my security in his feelings for me too. The irony being that if he had let me live in his place I would not have been living around the corner from the workplace of the guy I ended up with. I was never looking to be with someone else but someone came along and I was unhappy enough to let it sweep me away.
**Guilt over this point, the meanness of writing this down made me take a break from writing this for two months. It even spurred me to text him apologising and saying I felt sorry, not so much for cheating, I forgave myself for that a year and a half ago, but for the smaller disloyal feelings and unappreciativeness that it had not occurred to me since as needing forgiveness. I wonder how many more of those there will be.