I spent two Christmases in Istanbul, 2007 while my boyfriend was still there and 2008 while he was in the army. Both fairly depressing occasions. The third year we went back to the UK together but by then the shit had hit the fan so that wasn’t exactly a happy time either. The fourth year, everything was on and off and I was in the UK but went to Istanbul last minute on Christmas Day and that was its own kind of torture. Now I have no idea why I kept chaining myself to the rack for one more turn of the punishment crank but it’s safe to say I hated every Christmas under the influence of Istanbul. Not that they were all Turkey’s fault, the third one I have myself to blame for.
Celebrating a holiday when it’s not celebrated in your adopted home is an act of bravado at best. No-one cares like you do and you can’t care as much when you’re not surrounded by it. Joining in their festivals isn’t a replacement as they will never resonate for you if they didn’t form part of your childhood. Turkish celebrations hinge around Ramadan (pretend to fast for a month but actually stuff your face every night after sundown) and Kurban Bayramı (pay lip service to offering meat to the poor after having an animal sacrificed but mostly just stuff your face at home) and there was nothing intrinsically appealing about either even if they do involve excess eating.
My first Christmas I was invited to a Turkish America friend’s parents for their annual expat Christmas get together. It was nice but a mix of Turkish and American foods and not that similar to the family experience. My boyfriend didn’t even come, he wasn’t interested enough for it to even occur to him. Maybe I didn’t make enough effort to transmit its importance but he certainly didn’t bother to guess.The most Christmassy feeling I found really was at Starbucks. At least they had Christmas music on.
He had stayed at my house Christmas Eve, by coincidence, not to ring it in with me. If the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come had put in an appearance maybe I would have saved us both 3 years of unhappiness. I’d bought him a Christmas present although Turks give presents at New Year. I think I offered him the choice of when to open it. It was a really nice top from Marks & Spencer – how very English. He didn’t get me anything, nor even at New Year if I recall. However, in fairness he often bought me presents for no reason so was not ungenerous. But the fact he didn’t acknowledge Christmas is indicative of his lack of interest in the cross cultural aspect out relationship needed to overcome if it was to have any depth.
The next year, he’d been away since August and I was in Istanbul and I think I didn’t even take the day off my private classes. I rang home and wished I was there. There was an expat bar doing a meal but that wasn’t the same to me. I didn’t feel like I particularly had anyone to go with and also a party, even with a sit down dinner, in a bar wasn’t in any way what Christmas feels like. I was disappointed my boyfriend didn’t even think to call me on a day like that when I was away from home and with nothing to make it feel like Christmas. It shows how, even a year later, he hadn’t made much of a move towards being part of my culture. I think maybe even I called him and made the point, lightly, that he had forgotten. In order to be fair, the following Valentines he sent me a huge bouquet. Not that Valentines was a big deal for me but it was a lovely thing to do.
Someone remembered Christmas though. Someone who was well aware when a good time to exploit a vulnerability would be and insinuate himself into the massive gaps in my relationship. The Croc who Love Christmas. He took me out for dinner and had bought me perfume and some miniatures of cosmetics. He’d bought his wife perfume at the same time and had explained me to the sales assistant well enough that she chose one I really liked.
My boyfriend had bought me perfume once, one he liked and I found nice but overpowering and only wore when I was with him. If I didn’t wear it, it became another thing to pick me up on, like not “wearing good” not smelling of brands and money was also a fault. The perfume last ages since he went away for 18 months. Afterwards I had to stop wearing it as he insisted, as he did with so many of my clothes and shoes, that I had worn it for other men when I was cheating. I never had seeing as I didn’t like it that much but the truth is never more important than what someone chooses to believe.
In the end I had a nice evening and it took away some of the lonely, far away feeling but of course, the snare was closing around me. I did go home after that, for New Year. I felt a million miles away from both of them. Crocodile texted me and I didn’t even reply as I recall. I rang my boyfriend either at midnight his time or mine and there was such a disconnection, I felt even less like I belonged in Turkey with him. In three months of him being away the distance was widening further and further.
We didn’t have enough to say to each other for phonecalls to make me feel closer and he wasn’t getting enough emotion from me. I couldn’t and still can’t feel when I’m not getting enough mentally. I can cover that with physical closeness and had been for the year we were together but it wasn’t enough to maintain the relationship once he was away. I wrote letters to try and keep something going and he did reply but not as often as he needed to for it to work for me. Being a burgeoning writer then, I expressed myself far better in that form but he said later I wrote about nothing. He was looking for feelings. I needed him to show an interest in my news, but he didn’t know that was important. We were completely unable to meet each others’ needs – we didn’t even understand them.