THE FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE SYNDROME

Ever received one of those chain e-mails, sent by a well-meaning girlfriend, that reminds us how able, compassionate, selfless, caring and overall marvellous women are (in a not so veiled effort to differentiate them from hopeless and obtuse men)? The e-mails generally request they be sent off to another list of girlfriends so they don’t lose perspective of the bounty of wonderful attributes women are made up of.

I don’t know about you but I rarely forget the generation of women I came of age with and how capable, stubborn, independent, smart and, occasionally, wonderful we are. What still plagues us women, despite our intelligence and overall ability to ably run our lives is the sometimes poor judgement we display when it comes to our belief that we can change people  just by being smart, caring and, occasionally, wonderful. Especially people of the male variety. Over the decades, our perspectives, circumstances and our necks change but not this particular trait.

At 19 I was the proud holder of season tickets to my city’s basketball team and I had been for years. Every other Sunday, and the occasional Wednesday night, I was to be found on the bleachers and, that particular season, my neighbours changed and two extremely good-looking brothers of about my age took residence next to me. After a few weeks, between a shout of encouragement and an expletive, I found myself snogging with one of them, Alessandro. A few sessions later, in the delusional fog of my 19 years, I was under the impression the two of us might be an item, a perception that was quickly shattered over pizza when he told me “You shouldn’t mess with me – I am a drug addict you know”. Nothing could have been more appealing at the time – I was dazzled by his black curls and his green eyes and now I had a mission. My love and my wonderful personality would operate the change that had so far eluded his family.

And thus an odyssey of irregular phone calls that I waited for with bated breath and sporadic visits at odd hours commenced. No matter. I found myself waiting for him in his car in the middle of the night while he ducked into dodgy night clubs, looking for a fix; laughing madly while driving downhill with no engine and no brakes at 2 in the morning; finding assorted pills in the jackets he would place on my shoulders when I was shivering. Our encounters were always nocturnal although no carnal intercourse ever took place and not due to my modesty – his heroin addiction impeded the requisite excitement. But I persevered, on and off, for a year until he interrupted a week-end at the seaside apartment I was sharing with a friend, preparing for final exams. He asked for shelter for the night, for himself and a much older woman (or so she seemed at the time, probably she was only 30) and the morning after we woke up to find  them gone, together with my money. He called to apologize a few months later but I wasn’t mad – it was his addiction acting. Even then, I found ways to justify him. Many years, and many infatuations later, a friend told me of his death, of AIDS related causes. It wasn’t an overdose who got him but the ignorance of the time about blissful needle sharing.

Many of the women my life is filled with have similar stories. We meet a man, passions are stirred and we overlook whatever signs are there that point to incompatibility but we choose to overlook them. Our love will take care of it. Well, for the most part, we should remember that it does not. When it comes to relationships, we revert to a Jane Austen naiveté that things will take care of themselves in the end, while we should display more of the same judgment and clear thinking we bring to the table in every other daily interactions.

A friend recently pointed out that it was all over when, in the last century, humanity decided to introduce passion to the conjugal relations. Maybe. I believe we would all do each other a favour by putting aside the notion that we can change the other and either be more accepting of the partner’s perceived flaws or just keep our eyes open to begin with and run in the opposite direction when needed. Before succumbing to the green-eyed, dark curls spell.

 

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