C and I have been on a camping trip with my very large extended family. We went on holiday to a place where we used to go. When I was growing up, we went to the same campsite every year - we started when I was 7 or 8 and I had my last stay there the summer I was 19 when I was working in the village close to the campsite.
Then none of us went at all for about 20 years until the family children started arriving and my siblings started to remember the fun we'd had as kids and wanted their kids to experience the same thing. And so the family holiday has been resurrected - we started going back a couple of years ago.
I experienced lots of firsts on holidays there - first kiss, first trips out drinking with my friends, first time living on my own, first job. So many good, fun experiences.
And yet - it was a place I couldn't even think about for years. When I lived and worked there, I had several FWBs (although I didn't call them that back then) as well as several FwithoutBs. I spent my free time hanging out in the pub and would often be accompanied back to my home by one or other of my friends. I had no interest in having a boyfriend or going on dates - I was horrified once when I was asked out for dinner by a boy I didn't know. He was sober, sensible, didn't go to the pub, planned on going to university. His advances repelled me - I preferred to go to the pub and go home with whoever took my fancy that night. This was all light hearted and fun - the blokes all knew each other and nobody was upset or getting jealous.
My ex of 10 years was so upset by my behaviour and I loved him so much that to keep our relationship together, I suppressed all of that side of myself. I very thoroughly convinced myself that I had behaved badly. That I should have been less free with my affections. That I was dirty and slutty. Even when we split up, getting over those feelings took years and years. I had completely internalised my ex's views on sex and just took ages to get them out of myself.
Anyway - this year, the others went up before me. I had another trip away to go on first. I had several messages from my mum telling me that one of my old FWBs - the guy I shared my first kiss with - had been spending time with them and was very much looking forward to seeing me.
Seeing him again was both lovely and sad. Lovely because it's comforting to go somewhere where nothing changes. Even though over 20 years had passed since I last saw him, he spoke to me and to all of us as if he last saw us a week or two ago.
Of course, that was also the sadness in it. My old FWB has a son now who is very much like him - a bright, sociable 10 year old who is fascinated by the world and happy to meet new people. Other than that, his life seems much the same. He is still planning on doing something big that will make him lots of money and still finding it hard to actually do the thing. He spoke with such enthusiasm about his plans but spent no time on progressing them while we were there.
He has for the past couple of years given up smoking and drinking. A relief for everybody - especially the drinking. He has a major problem with it, becoming verbally aggressive and sometimes violent while drunk. There was at least one summer while I was there that I left not speaking to him after he'd been drunk and verbally aggressive - only to find him apologetic and sad the next year when I told him what had happened (events he never had any memory of). I believe that this worsened significantly in the years I wasn't visiting. His parents - who are absolutely lovely people - were struggling and spoke of their relief that this time his giving up of alcohol is lasting this time.
The thing is, I kind of wish he'd found another way to control his temper. If he lived where I live or even if he lived where he lives but was a woman, giving up drinking wouldn't be a problem. But where he lives, for men, drinking is an integral part of how they form and maintain social bonds. Giving it up means becoming socially isolated - there are not other groups in that area for men to be part of if they don't drink. In fact, they are seen as less than men if they don't drink heavily.
While there I met up with another old friend of mine who I haven't seen in over 20 years. She and I spent some time trying to convince my old FWB that he should get his son or his son's mum to show him how to set up a facebook account so that he could be in touch with people more. He really wasn't keen - computers are outside his comfort zone. But I remember how attracted he was to my old friend - she was and still is tall, slender, dark and beautiful and I remember how much he fancied her. She and her family are camping there for another week so maybe she can work her charm and convince him to reach out to the world.
I hope so or I fear for him. I worry that otherwise, he will start to drink again and either drink himself to death or end up in prison. Or he won't and he will slide slowly into a lonely, sad old age surrounded by the memories of things not done and connections lost - especially as his son grows up and needs him less.
So - happy holiday. I had lots of fun. C had an amazing time. I got to spend tons of quality time with my family and to reconnect with a couple of old friends I haven't seen in over 2 decades.
But still, I came away yesterday feeling a little sad and a bit worried for an old pal.