Tuesday 29 April 2008

It's my party and I'll cry if I want to

I've always shied away from the subject of love and romance on this blog but I'd like to take this post to tell you what I've learned about love 'a la Turk'. I may be a little bitter from my experiences and I'm not saying that this is gospel or representative of the nation as a whole. This is just my learnings from my own personal experiences.

Today is my birthday. It was one year ago today that I sat on a secluded beach near the beautiful town of Agva on the Black Sea coast, a beer, some snacks, some candles, a sunset, a beautiful girlfriend and a marriage proposal.

Fast forward to September last year, me alone on the streets of Istanbul, a suitcase, a ripped t-shirt, a smashed mobile phone, a broken heart and the knowledge that I wasn't the only guy she was engaged to.

Turkish women, I'm told by friends and songs, are divided into two groups: the ones you have fun with and the ones you marry. Sometimes it's clear to see. There are those that play up to their roles with passion. But, for the vast majority, where they are on the scale is ambiguous and the trick is figuring out which type you've fallen for.

I chose the wrong type of girl and learned the hard way. Still somewhat dazed from the episode but, in the spirit of what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, I'm as strong as a lion though I may feel as weak as a kitten.

I was a rookie to Turkish relationships. I didn't know the game that had to be played, I didn't even have a chance to learn the rules.

Turkish women can be brutal in both their simplicity and their complexity. They want security and insecurity. You should always be telling them how amazing they are, yet always allowing them some doubt that you could be up to your wrist in a stranger.

They expect jealousy - both giving and receiving. They expect lies. They are expecting you to lie and, in order to maintain the image of the perfect girlfriend, they are also compelled to lie.

Expect to be the second person she's ever slept with. When it comes to previous sexual partners, 1 is the magic number. Any more and she'll appear a tart. Any less it'll appear she's holding onto her virginity and she'll worry you'll lose interest. Turkish girls have as much, if not more, sex than Brits though they'd never admit to it. Turks, generally, have a fiercer libido than any other nation I've met. But don't make the mistake of believing that it's just the guys.

On the plus side, if you choose correctly, expect affection. Expect to be cared for. Expect someone who'll put their head on your shoulder and expect to hear the poetic Turkish words of love: my lamb, my Turkish delight, my soul, my love, my pistachio nut, my honey, my baby. With Turks, 'I love you' can come startlingly quickly. Maybe because, as with French, there is no differentiation between the words 'I love you' and 'I like you'.

Also expect youth and beauty. Turks are an incredibly attractive race and, as I've mentioned many times, they take good care of themselves. When it comes to age, as my uncle said, "take your age, halve it and add 7. That's the perfect age of your wife". Anywhere between 2-10 years younger appears to be the norm. In the UK, this seems to be reversed.

This all works if you know the rules. A simple guy like me from the Suburbs of London, taking everything at face value, didn't stand a chance. The recovery from my last dabbling in love has left its mark. It took 6 months re-grouping in the UK and a CELTA course before I was ready to come back and face Turkey.

Relationships here can take people down. I know at least two who are still recovering after 10 years. Stories of driving the length of the country to confront cheating partners, guns and prison sentences. The penal system here goes easy on men who murder cheating girlfriends. "The prisons are full of men who've been wronged", I'm told.

A small part of me understood the pain that drives a man to such crimes. You can't be in a relationship with a Turk and play by British rules and it's easy to unintentionally misinterpret the game you're playing if it's not your culture.

So what do I do now? I learn the rules or find someone who plays my game.

If there's a next time, I hope she's the right type of girl. I'm not sure my British heart could take another Ottoman slap.

Well, as I said before, it's my birthday today. I knew the day was going to be full of mixed emotions but mum has flown in to help me celebrate so we're off to eat Turkish pizza by the ring road.