There are two things you should know about me.
1. I spend an inordinate amount of my life on public transport;
2. I’ll literally chat to anyone.
Thus it was that, last week, I found myself on a train, deep in conversation with a middle-aged, Muslim father of three who I had previously not known from the proverbial Adam.
He was telling me about his children and how brilliant they each are, chest all puffed with pride in a really rather endearing fashion. Two of them are at college, so I told him about Gossip School and the work we do with teenagers.
"Let me tell you a story....." he replied “I used to be really good looking.......”
I laughed, not because I doubted his words, but because it was such a gloriously whimsical thing to come out with.
“No, seriously. I was a FOX” he chortled. “And my ex-wife, she was gorgeous too, but she didn’t believe it. She was everything to me, but she had no confidence in herself.”
He then explained the various ways in which his ex’s insecurity affected the dynamics of their relationship.
“If we went out and a woman looked at me, she got angry. If a friend of hers commented on me – my looks or the way I was with her as a husband – she got angry. If I went out, she got angry.
I stopped doing things, in the end. It wasn’t worth the hassle. I gave up lots of things I enjoyed like sport because every time I left the house she accused me of cheating on her.
I thought that my love could make her better. I thought the more I loved her and praised her the more she might start to love herself. But what I realised is self-respect has to come from within”.
I was nodding earnestly, spellbound by his story, as it occurred to me that emotionally abusive relationships don’t just claim women as their victims.
“But” he continued “this is what I want to say to you. Even though I still love her, we’re getting divorced now. And we have three children. So that’s five people whose lives have been ruined, all because she couldn’t accept that to me she was the most beautiful woman in the world.
So, if anyone ever tells you that the work you do in schools isn’t as important as English or Maths, you tell them my story.”
So that’s what I'm doing.