State of the Nation

It doesn’t surprise me at all to hear that Dundee voted a decisive ‘yes’ in the Scottish independence referendum. Fife was where my ex-husband’s family lived, and I lived through their profound sense of nationalism.

On family visits, we could only watch Scottish TV programmes with Scottish presenters, talking about Scottish things. We were only allowed to laugh at Scottish comedians, eat Scottish food and converse about how much better Scotland is at everything. Anything in the UK outside Scotland was referred to as ‘down south’ – they couldn’t even say the word ‘England’ (I’ve just heard a Scot refer to ‘down south’ on BBC Breakfast as I write).

We often ended up holidaying in countries with a huge Scottish diaspora population – Canada, New Zealand – and even flew a Saltire off the back of our motorhome in the latter (cringe – not my choice). We’d inevitably bump into someone Scottish, who would inevitably be connected to someone back home, or went to the same school as a friend of a friend. I’d resist the temptation to roll my eyes.

I was asked on one family occasion, how I felt about most of the government being Scottish – I hadn’t noticed, I replied. To me (and to every non-Scot) they’re British. As I was being asked the question, I noticed that the newspaper one family member was reading was ‘Scotland’s’ Daily Mail. Silly me had thought that the Daily Mail was the same across the UK. Of course not. I wondered if there was a Welsh one.

However, seeing how much of Scotland voted ‘no’ yesterday, makes me think I was unwittingly in the epicentre of nationalism at the time. I had a lot of Scottish friends – university friends of my husband – who didn’t force Scottishness down my throat. I still have good Scottish friends now who don’t, although of course they remain proud of their country, just as I am proud of being from Wales.

But it always amazes me how much more strongly Scots feel about their country than Welsh people. And it amazes me how many of them have left their beloved nation to set up camp in other countries, looking back with neverending nostalgia at their Brigadoon. I can see why they do, though – one of the best holidays I’ve been on was in the Hebrides – Islay and Jura are paradises on earth, especially during the Whisky Festival in May…

I love the East Neuk of Fife, with its beautiful fishing villages (Crail is my favourite) and bleak beaches. And Findhorn – like St David’s in Wales – has a magical, otherworldly feel about it. On holiday there a few years ago, I ran each morning among the sand dunes and felt so happy looking out over the Moray Firth. Similarly, I loved running between Strathkinness and St Andrews, and walking on Kinshaldy beach with a sprightly West Highland terrier named Shuna.

And the majestic Highlands. We got stuck in the snow one year between Christmas and Hogmanay and happily snuggled in a hotel until we could get out. I particularly loved walking at Lochnagar early on Midsummers Day, from Loch Muick, encountering high winds and rain at the top, sunshine on the way down, and then having a hearty lunch at Ballater. Soup and a sandwich, obviously.

I celebrated the new millennium at Edinburgh’s Hogmanay, cheering at the fireworks bursting over the Castle. I got married in Scotland, in a small castle hotel in Letham. It was a magical day, filled with friends from all over the United Kingdom, and guys (Scot and non-Scot) made to wear kilts and dance to a ceilidh band.

So, I love you Scotland, I really do, but I’ve never quite got used to the fact that you love yourself so much. In my experience, no other nation I know talks about how great it is to such a degree.

I don’t need to be told how great you are over and over again.

I know already.

Sixth Date Syndrome

One of the things I did in the first couple of years after my marriage broke up was date men my age, looking to see if there was a potential new partner out there for me. One would assume that there might be, no?

I sallied forth and met some really great fortysomethings, either online dating, through friends or via social media.

But what I didn’t know when I started dating them was that each and every one of them would run away screaming after the sixth date.

I met ‘Simon’ through two mutual friends in a pub. Quiet, dryly funny, smart and a bit of a silver fox. I thought I’d take the initiative (I usually have to) and ask him if he’d like to go out. I gave him a business card and I think he texted me at some point and we started dating.

We did the usual fortysomething thing of nice bars, good wine, lovely restaurants. We chatted about travel, our jobs, previous relationships and I really enjoyed his company. He seemed ‘sorted’ – a good guy.

One weekend, after the sixth great date, I was in my kitchen making coffee, while he was sitting in another room. I thought I’d suggest we go for a walk ‘sometime’ on Hampstead Heath.

I heard an audible groan.

I stuck my head round the door and shouted, “Hey – don’t sound TOO excited!” expecting him to say, “Sorry, I just stubbed my toe on your coffee table”, but what I got was complete silence.

Tumbleweed.

Then later that week, when I texted him to ask what was going on, I got two huge ‘text essays’ explaining (mansplaining) that I was clearly ‘looking for something serious’ and he wasn’t.

“Unbelievable.” I texted back.

It was like an episode out of Sex and the City, but minus the Post-It Notes.

I met ‘Daniel’ through social media. A louder version of Simon and an uber ‘foodie’. We had six really great dates featuring great restaurants, cocktail bars and movies. On the sixth date, I decided to tell him I liked him. Just that. “I like you,” with a winning smile.

Not, “I’d like to marry you”, or “I’d like to have your babies” or “I’d like to share your financial gains”.

Just “I like you.”

I didn’t hear from him for two weeks, after which point I started getting ‘nighttime’ texts from him, trying to recalibrate the dating back to a more ‘casual’ setting. He’d told me before that he enjoyed dating because it meant he got to try new bars and restaurants. I think I was just the ‘caddy’ to the foodie.

Nah. Think I’ll leave it there, thanks.

So when I met ‘Paul’ I thought I’d test my theory again. Three strikes and I’m out.

Paul had recently split from his wife, which was bound to be tricky, but we got on incredibly well, especially intellectually. Funny, smart, worked in media – lots to talk and laugh about. Until I told him I liked him on the sixth date.

I’ve never seen anyone row away so fast. And again, the ensuing text essay ‘mansplaining’ how he couldn’t commit to anything.

I wasn’t asking him to.

Sigh.

I would lay money on that scenario happening again, but I haven’t dated any fortysomethings for a while so haven’t had a chance to test my theory again recently.

They’re not a demographic that are particularly interested in me and I’ve blogged before about them wanting younger women so that they can a) fuel their midlife ego and b) possibly have children.

Well, having encounted Sixth Date Syndrome I’m not particularly keen on them either, and really, I’m too busy fuelling my own midlife ego crisis.

What really irks me is the assumption that I want something out of them, that I’m trying to lay a commitment trap of some kind. That just by saying I like them, they translate it as “…and I want to marry you and have your babies.”

Way to think too much of yourselves, guys.

I’ve done the commitment thing and come out the other side. I’m very clear about not wanting children, and really, way past that childbearing age.

What if I actually do like hanging out with you and want to do it on a regular basis without raiding your bank account? Ooh, SCARY.

Am I really that intimidating, with my good job, own flat, ability to hold a conversation, tell a joke and initiate sex?

Apparently so.

Anyway, fortysomething men, see you when we’re all in our sixties and still out there.

At least we will be able to share our stories of how much fun it was to date younger men and women, eh? Looking forward to it.

Phoners vs Emailers

My name is Lisa and I’m an Emailer. A Texter. A DM-er. A PM-er. A Messenger-er. A Whatsapp-er. I’ll use anything to communicate with you but I won’t pick up the phone. Unless I really have to.

By and large my friends are the same. We exist in the same zone of communication. There is a tacit understanding that we don’t want to be lurched into a live conversation that will catch us off guard, unsure of how to respond, suddenly finding ourselves agreeing to things we don’t want to agree to, with no time to think and decide what to do.

It goes with the territory that we’re all into social media – posting messages on our newsfeeds for friends to respond to in their own time, or not, without the horror of the out-of-the-blue ‘I NEED THE ANSWER NOW’ voice call.

However, it has to be said right now that some of these friends do call me just for a catch-up chat now and then, and there is an undeniable sense of warmth and happiness that results from those calls. I always think, “I must do that more often,” but then don’t. Part of me thinks the other person is busy doing other stuff and it’s just rude to interrupt; part of me just can’t bring myself to do it. When someone says, “Just give me a call about that,” my brain turns that statement into “Just send me a text.” I can’t help it.

In a work setting it’s different. These days, my phone barely rings but if it does, it’s always one of about three or four people. I always know exactly who it will be, either from the time of day or whatever’s going on. I linger, guessing who it’s going to be, and I’m always right. My first thought is always, “Phoner. Why can’t they just email like normal people?” I’ve even set up my voicemail so it asks them to do just that. Nope – they carry on phoning, leaving message after message, while I’m sitting in meetings – they appear to do everything to avoid the written word.

I sometimes wonder if this is because they have a problem with the written word. Some Phoners find it hard to articulate things in writing (I’ve found), and I would say I’m better in writing than I am with the off-the-cuff spoken word. I wonder if this is about a clash in communication skills, more than anything.

Whilst to me, the Phoner appears to be a dying breed, day after day in London I’m astounded by the number of people walking along seemingly talking to themselves, talking and laughing into phone mics. They seem so happy to be sharing the intimate details of their life with everyone around them (I know, I can talk…) and it almost seems like an expression of arrogance to be able to talk about their cupcake fetish, or whatever, with all and sundry. They seem to enjoy catching my eye as they shout the lurid details into their phones.

I think I may well have been scarred for life by phones by a Toxic Person (see previous blog) who used to call me for a friendly chat, but then after a while, would start laying into me. Once she’d had a child, she always used to end up saying, “it’s alright for you, you don’t have to care for a kid,” or somesuch. I’d think, “it’s a choice, love, don’t take it out on me.” But she did. And it didn’t stop at that, suddenly everything I had and did was wrong – my husband, where I lived, my job, my looks. Nothing escaped.

I used to dread those calls and started having ready-made excuses to cut them short. When I picked up the phone, I’d announce straightaway that I could chat, but I was going out in 20 minutes. She started to say, “it’s alright for you, you’re always going out!” Yeah, love, to get away from you. Needless to say, she was my first proper bit of life laundry. I knew that my real friends would never make me feel bad about myself, but she went out of her way to. I just stopped answering altogether.

She did have one very weird habit, that is nothing to do with the subject of this blog post, but it’s always been a mystery to me. Whenever I visited her up north, she’d give me a lift to the train station. Every single time, she deliberately delayed the homeward lift so that I was panicking about getting the train. I realised she quite enjoyed making this happen so I stopped showing outward panic. I’d just sit there calmly as the clocked ticked by, as she ‘just’ did this and that to delay things further. Finally I resorted to giving her false train times. I’m seriously at a loss to know why she did that, and I do know other people that do it, but now I know how to handle it. It’s extremely weird and controlling.

Anyway – back to phones. I know other people are phone-avoiders because they’ve screened when I’ve called (even on Christmas Day) and then fabricated a really obvious excuse as to why they didn’t pick up. It’s ok! I get it! I don’t like phone calls either! When I was married, my husband used to light up a cigarette every time his mother was due to call (the same time every week). For a while I was duped into answering for him, then I realised what he was doing and just let it go to voicemail. He even used to ask me to phone in sick for him.

People are really phunny around phones and it’s not just me. When I’ve tweeted on this topic I’ve had a barrage of ‘me too!’ replies that have convinced me that it’s a dying art. Of course, there are situations where a phone call can do the work of a thousand emails but I’m fine with that. There’s a purpose to it. But what really makes me laugh in these scenarios is that it can take ten emails to arrange the phone call, in which time you could have solved the problem by email.

So… which one are you? A Phoner or a Emailer?

Written answers only, please.

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Interesting piece on phone-loathing:

http://www.theguardian.com/science/brain-flapping/2014/oct/16/social-anxiety-mundane-terrifying-psychology-stress

Secret Squirrels

I’ve recently been on a group hike organised by a company that boasts nearly 9,000 members. About 40 people came along, which appears to be the maximum group size for a hike, and as you might expect, the group split off into subsets of two, three or more people, most of whom didn’t know each other before the walk.

I became fascinated by the group dynamics. I had started talking to a lovely French Caribbean woman on the train and we became hiking buddies throughout the day, observing those around us as well as the lovely Sussex scenery. What became very apparent to both of us was the rise of the largest ‘popular’ group.

There is always one in these situations. It’s usually made up of those people who are desperate to befriend the ‘leader’, this time a very affable, funny, charming guy called Graham. He was moving among all the groups, cleverly making sure he spoke to everyone, making them feel included. There was an ebb and flow of people joining him at the front of the ‘peloton’, including me and my new buddy, but at the start there were people making a beeline for him, clearly intent on become part of the ‘leading pack’. Thankfully, that wasn’t Graham’s schtick, but the ‘popular group’ formed behind him anyway.

The group had a self-appointed ‘leader’, a guy who was a regular hiker with the company, who delighted in telling everyone over and over again, in a loud nasal London accent, about his travelling exploits. Of course, the pretty girls with tanned legs in shorts were in the group (they always are) as were other men and women with a penchant for talking about themselves. Often this sort of person can’t bear NOT to be in a group. The thought of being alone or with just one other person while the action is going on ‘over there’ is just too much for them.

Happily, that’s not me.

Me and my friend admitted to each other that we’re never part of the Popular Group. There is always that moment when a huge group of people goes to the pub – maybe it’s a work do – and there is an inevitable jostling for space as the ‘popular table’ is identified. If you don’t get in it in the first five seconds, game over. The worst is at sit-down office Christmas meals – there is always that moment when the popular-table kids grin at you smugly as they take their place comfortably away from the ‘unwashed’.

This sort of thing, a throwback to my lack-of-confidence days, used to drive me mad. I always really wanted to be on the Popular Table but could never quite get there. I’d sit on the end of a table which invariably had a few no shows and grunt at the people next to me. Shocking behaviour.

Then I realised something. If I stayed put, put some effort into the situation I was in and created some fun, I could create my own Popular Table to which people would eventually migrate if I just gave it some time. It has become a point of principle to hold back from this sort of situation and stand my ground. I don’t need to go over there to the bigger group, because when you get there, you often find it’s a fake kind of fun, filled with smiles and jokes and tanned legs, but not much else. I’ve always felt that people in these situations somehow cede their identity to that of the group – definitely not my style.

My least favourite thing is when there is an organised group event to which I have committed, and someone comes up to me at the party and whispers that there is a splinter group meeting up at a secret venue down the road. Shh, don’t tell anyone, they say. Sometimes this notification comes by text when I’m in the group event, happily socialising with everyone. Why do Popular Table people feel they have to create another, secret event near to the one that is actually going on? I’ve witnessed it time and time again, and it actually makes me angry. I want to be at the event I’m at – I don’t want to sneer back at it from a pub down the road because I’m part of the new Even-More Popular Group.

So I was quite surprised the morning after the hike to receive an email from the organisers asking if I wanted to sign up to a ‘special’ mailing list that would give me secret previews of hikes coming up and details of ‘secret socials’ that might be held, presumably at secret locations. Oh give me strength. Just invite everyone, tell everyone the details and deal with it. How will the other 8,950 people feel if they find out something has been arranged secretly behind their backs? (Although I don’t doubt for a minute that the organisers send this to everyone – it’s just a ploy to make you feel you’re getting something more than someone else. Ugh).

It’s just happened again. I’ve joined another meet-up group and last week about 100 people turned up at the latest event. Yet again, the Popular People wanted to cluster around the charismatic leader but I strode off on my own. Later on, I found a great ‘splinter’ group who were all friends and walked round with them for the rest of the morning. About halfway through, I was told about two secret groups that meet without involving the bigger group, and would I like to join? Well yes, I said, and I was flattered, but I do wonder what exactly we will gain? The whole point for me is meeting new people and you can’t do that if you continually. and secretly, go out with the same people. I get the fact that it can be cumbersome to manage big groups of people but this stuff makes me feel really uncomfortable because I naturally want to communicate the new event to the whole group.

Those that work/have worked with me will know that I’m not a fan of ‘secret squirrel’ behaviour. ‘Nowhere to hide’ is my mantra and I enjoy ferreting out those little pockets of secrecy that every group situation gives rise to. It’s maybe part of why I write this blog – I feel like I’m saying those things out loud that other people prefer to keep hidden away.

Well, sorry.

But actually I’m not sorry.

Just stop being so secretive and we’ll get on fine.

 

 

Soundtracks

The recent ‘Top 10 books that have impacted your life’ meme has been making me think about songs that have played a similar role in mine. There might have been books along the way that encapsulated a moment, but in a way, nothing does it like a song. And those songs often reappear unexpectedly in our aural landscapes, transporting us back to those moments, in a way that books don’t. We have to consciously re-read those, and we rarely do.

So what are my songs?

1. The Surrey With a Fringe on Top by Rodgers and Hammerstein (Oklahoma). My dad played the piano and used to play this to me as a child. Years later I went to see Hugh Jackman singing it in Oklahoma on stage. It never fails to have me sobbing by the end. It’s such a loving song. (See also: Little Brown Jug. My dad used to play the organ at a Welsh chapel and every now and again I’d accompany him down there when it was empty and he’d play this for me).

2. Ave Maria by Bach/Gounod. My mum had a beautiful voice and sang in our Catholic church on Sundays. She taught me the Latin words to this and we’d often sing it together. We played Pavarotti’s version at her funeral. (See also: Climb Every Mountain by Rodgers and Hammerstein (Sound of Music). I heard her sing it one night, at a dinner party, with my dad on the piano. She always denied it had happened, but it did. She stopped singing after my dad died so it was a rare thing to hear her beautiful voice.)

3. I Only Have Eyes for You by Art Garfunkel (orig. Warren/Dubin). Mesmerisingly beautiful love song that I played and sang along to over and over as a tweenager. I wanted someone to sing those words to me, but maybe not Art (sorry, Art).

4. Wuthering Heights by Kate Bush. See my ‘Why I’ll Never Stop Trying to be Kate Bush’ post. Says it all.

5. Head Over Heels by Tears for Fears. This is how I felt when I first had a massive crush on someone – bells ringing, heart a-flutter. Still gets me today, and they’re still a band I reckon to be one of the best pop bands ever. Their songs stand out a mile. (See also: Save a Prayer by Duran Duran. Said crush was on Simon le Bon and this is the song where I knew something naughty was going on in the song, but not quite sure what. Apparently, it’s all about a one-night-stand. My mother would not have approved.)

6. Out of Africa soundtrack by John Barry. My family had lived in Kenya during the 1950s but I wasn’t born then. I longed to go and follow in their footsteps and finally got the chance with my ex-husband – we visited Kenya and Namibia. The soaring soundtrack reminds me of our safaris to Tsavo and the Namib desert. We constantly referenced Meryl Streep’s accent and quoted the movie all the way round. Happy times.

7. Hysteria by Muse. The soundtrack to my marriage break-up. It encapsulated the yearning for freedom that I felt at the time. I became obsessed with Muse. (See also: Sing for Absolution by Muse and The Reckoner by Radiohead. This was clearly my Catholic guilt kicking in for wanting the things I wanted at the time.)

8. The Tempest by Pendulum. The angry “fuck you” break-up song after splitting up from a kingsized love rat. Along with Hysteria, you can tell these were my tempestuous years. (See also Hypocritical Kiss by Jack White – the soundtrack of last summer).

9. She Wolf by David Guetta (ft. Sia). The soundtrack to a passionate relationship with a younger man. He couldn’t stop playing it and neither could I. Maybe he saw me as a predator, but in reality, he asked me out. Always the way…

10. Up All Night by John B. This drum and bass track encapsulates my new-found freedom and lust for life. I love playing it really loud on headphones. It also references my insomnia, which has only recently gone away (see ‘Epiphany’ post). (See also: Waiting all Night by Rudimental (ft. Ella Eyre). This track is the sound of my new life in north-west London. I love drum and bass, love Rudimental, and I love Ella Eyre’s soulful voice. It’s my go-to late-night track.)

Plenty that didn’t make the list: Selecter by The Selecter, Dandelion/Cochise by Audioslave, Born Slippy by Underworld, Karma Police by Radiohead, Animal Nitrate by Suede, Vienna by Ultravox, I Feel For You by Chaka Khan, Atomic by Blondie, Prince Charming by Adam Ant, Geno by Dexy’s Midnight Runners.

What are yours?

10 Books That Rocked My World

Today, someone nominated me to do something that doesn’t involve ritual humiliation: to list the ten books that have had the most impact on my life. Here’s my selection (so hard!):

1. My First Dictionary. I’ll never forget the lovely little illustrations against each entry: A is for Apple. I pored over it for hours, learning the words. 
2. The Rupert Bear Annual. The rhyming, the beautiful illustrations, the fantastic stories. I still think of the wonderful Jack Frost tale when winter comes around.
3. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. The love story to end all love stories. One of the most original novels ever written, imho. 
4. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Magical realism at its best in an epic love story. The only author’s death I’ve actually sobbed over. He changed the way my brain works.
5. Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels. The most beautifully written novel I’ve ever come across and a WW2 classic.
6. The Drowned and the Saved by Primo Levi. Essays on his experience as a concentration camp prisoner. Read following a visit to Auschwitz.
7. Four Letters of Love by Niall Williams. Irish magical realism at its very best. An epic ode to love set in my favourite country.
8. Ghostwritten by David Mitchell. A surrealist work of utter brilliance, with stories interwoven and interlinked in mind-blowing ways.
9. Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. Semi-autobiographical story of a guy who flees to India after escaping prison in Australia. His voice mesmerised me. Incredible storytelling. 
10. The Old Patagonian Express by Paul Theroux. Gets on a train and doesn’t get off one until the land runs out. I felt like I travelled with him.

Am I allowed one more?
11. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami. The moment when I discovered this surreal Japanese genius and fell in love.

So many left out: Mallory Towers, Flowers in the Attic, Jane Eyre, Beloved, The Woman Who Walked Into Doors, Any Human Heart…I could go on and on… 

 
But I won’t.
 
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Toxic People

We’ve all come across them – those people in our lives that behave in a way we can’t work out. “But who DOES that?” we exclaim, when they’ve said something dreadful to us, taken credit for something we’ve done, or dumped us in some epic fashion. We sit in pubs with friends who don’t do that sort of thing, endlessly going over and over the whys and wherefores of why we might have caused them to do those things. What did we say? What did we do? What was the trigger? What could I have done to stop it?

The answer is: nothing.

The answer is: they’re toxic. And they’re everywhere.

I first started realising that this was a group of people with distinct behavioural traits when I hired someone (years ago) that I came to regret. The alarm bells had sounded at interview stage, but I couldn’t quite hear what the bells were telling me. I took it to a third interview because of the clanging, and on the way to introduce them to my boss, they overtook me in the corridor. Who DOES that? I knew it was strange, but I went on to hire them because they said everything I needed to hear, ticked all the boxes.

Boy, was that a mistake.

It was like inviting a cuckoo into the nest. This person decided to befriend other members of my team and try and turn them against me. If I was your boss, they’d say to them, I’d promote you. They were downright nasty to my face, but wreathed in smiles whenever there was anybody else there. I noticed that they looked slightly to one side of my head when they spoke to me. Who DOES that?

I almost left that great job because of that one person. When I reported the behaviour to my boss, his reaction was “Oh, you two…” like we were squabbling siblings. No. I was being systematically mentally bullied by a toxic person, mate.

Thankfully, this person left the business before I did, and I’ve noticed that since then, they’ve only been able to hold down short-term posts. Funny that. Toxic people hardly ever last long anywhere, unless they’re running things.

Anyway, before they left the company, this person smugly told me that they’d lied in their first interview with me. That what they really wanted to do was the exact opposite of what they’d been doing for me, and proudly stated ‘that they were good at that’.

“I’m good at lying in interviews.”

Who SAYS that?

I swore to always listen to alarm bells whenever they even dinged during an interview from that point on, but I still got taken in by another person a few years later. A lot of us were. We all said they appeared ‘warm’ and ‘kind’. I went on a business trip for a few days with them and still didn’t spot the signs. But the people on their team did. And boy did they suffer. Why are they DOING this to us, they asked? Because they could get away with it, unfortunately. For a while, at least.

That ability to present one face to one set of people and another to another set; that ability to learn ‘nice’ behaviour so fluently that they fool everyone around them.

Who HAS that?

Sociopaths.

In the aftermath of that bit of disastrous recruitment I started to become aware of sociopathy and narcissism. I’d read a bit about it, searched around online and found those lists of classic traits: deceitful, cunning and manipulative, often very intelligent, and unable to feel guilt, remorse, shame or responsibility for their actions. These people are hugely egocentric, charming and often brilliant with words. They have to win at everything. At all costs.

I started to think about all the people I’d encountered in my life that displayed some or all of those traits, to varying degrees. How I’d never been able to work out their motives, and found myself down the pub with others, saying, “Why would someone DO that?” Well now I know. They’re wired like that. And thankfully, I’m so not.

My theory crystallised after a hugely disastrous relationship ended. I’d fallen for someone with an astonishing ego – charming, brilliant and funny with words – on the face of it, my perfect guy. But I had started to see glimpses of a hidden monster a few months in. A twisted smile as I looked back at him unexpectedly, the fact that his biggest sexual fantasy was stealing another man’s woman. Who SAYS that? (Thankfully, he hadn’t stolen me.)

He’d even started to adopt behaviours, hobbies and interests of mine and passed them off as his own. I tried to think of this as flattering, but actually it was just plain weird. Friends took me to one side and said they didn’t like him – he’d said cruel things to them under the guise of humour or messaged them while he was in bed with me (without me knowing) as if to show off his ‘winnings’. Who DOES that?

A few months before it ended, he started to show his true self, as he started to disconnect from me, picking fights that would end with me wondering what the hell was going on. It was horrible, but I now know that it was a lucky escape for me. I’d seen the beast and got away from it. Typically, in his epic wordy ‘explanation’ of how things ended he gave me a list of reasons why it was my fault, and clearly felt no remorse or guilt.

One of the characteristics of these Toxic People is that you can never make them feel guilty. We Who Have Consciences want to tell them what they’ve done, how they’ve hurt us – make them feel as bad as we do. We fantasise about telling them everything and watching them slope off into the darkness, hunch-shouldered and crying. But they don’t. That’s what we’d do if we’d done something really awful to a person, but they don’t even recognise that behaviour. It is useless to try and reason with them because they simply can’t see it. Does not compute.

I’ve talked to a couple of friends recently who’ve encountered Toxics while dating. One said, “Why did she make me feel like I was the love of her life, that we were going to be together, then disappear completely? Why did she then get back in touch and do the same thing over again? Why? Who DOES that?!” It turned out this person had a gang of women hanging on her every word, charming them, making them feel they were the only one. making them vie for her attention. The technique she is using is ‘give them it all’ then ‘give them nothing’. Classic narcissism. Treat ’em mean, keep ’em keen (see link below for a great blog post on this).

My new coping mechanism is not to reason with these people, it’s to get away fast when I spot the signs. You must excise them from your life, if it’s humanly possible. You’ll never change them, they just learn new behaviours that allow them to appear ‘normal’, to make you think you’ve made an impact on them and keep you coming back for more. But all you’ve done is just give them more material to use against you. The beast still lurks within.

You’ll witness many variants of the Toxic – there’s the whispering poison-spreader in the office, who gathers a few allies around them and feeds them toxic titbits to ostracise them from the rest of the team and make them sneer at everyone else. I’ve seen a few budding careers take an early setback after being drawn into one of these little coteries. (Don’t be sucked in. You’re just feeding a horribly insecure beast.)

I think that’s my ultimate technique with these people: just don’t feed the beast. The beast wants you clinging on for titbits and morsels of charm and praise until you think you can’t live without them. And just at the very moment you think that, they know it and they withhold everything.

There is great power in giving nothing, watching them rootling around to see what you might have for them.

Don’t give them anything to feed on.

Get away quickly and don’t look back.

 

——————————

On narcissists in relationships: http://selfcarehaven.wordpress.com/2014/07/21/five-powerful-ways-abusive-narcissists-get-inside-your-head/

How to Spot the Office Psychopath: http://yourlifeworks.ninemsn.com.au/article.aspx?id=373544

On narcissism:
http://www.salon.com/2014/09/20/this_is_your_brain_about_narcissism_the_truth_about_a_disorder_that_nobody_really_understands/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=socialflow

Smart ways to deal with Toxic People:
http://www.marcandangel.com/2013/12/08/7-smart-ways-to-deal-with-toxic-people/

Insta Me

Yesterday I went on my very first ‘Instameet’ – a group of photo-app Instagram enthusiasts met up to socialise and photograph the Tall Ships Festival in Greenwich. There were about 100 of us ‘IGers’, as we are known, and there are ‘meets’ like this all over the world, in most major cities. I loved it – I met some really great people who are as curious as me about the world, with the same ‘that could be a great Instagram’ view on life in London.

I’ve always been a bit of an Instagram purist – I take the ‘insta’ part of it very seriously and HAVE to post photos then and there, in the moment. It slightly irks me when other IGers post things a day or even a week later. The ‘insta’ element has gone as far as I’m concerned and these photos become ‘latergrams’. 

So it took me by surprise that the majority of IGers are using state-of-the-art digital cameras, a range of editing apps, and taking and storing up pictures to be edited and posted later. I posted my Tall Ships pictures as we walked round, all of them taken on my lil’ ol’ iPhone, within the Instagram app, with only a filter added here and there. When I ‘checked in’ to a particular location, I was actually standing there. 

There’s nothing inherently wrong with either way of working but it made me think about how I always want instant gratification and how difficult I find it to wait for things to happen. I like to live life in the moment, because very quickly the moment is gone.

This affects every facet of my life.

Some time ago, a work colleague coined the term, ‘Lisa Time.’ I’d go to the pub with her after work and complain about how long it took for people to do or respond to things. Whether it was a response to a work proposal or a text from a guy I liked, I’d moan to her about how long it all took. One night, she said, “Lisa – those people you think are slow are actually just running at normal speed. It is you who is going fast.” 

This was an epiphany for me. I started to think about all those times when I have found slowness so tiresome.

Commuting to work: quite apart from obvious delays on public transport, I often think that I could complete a day’s work by the time some people have moved out of the tube station. They seem to be rambling happily along, as though they’re on a relaxing holiday. In fact:

Holidays: when people take pictures of themselves ‘relaxing’ on holiday with a cocktail, I wince. Just the word ‘relaxing’ makes me cringe slightly. In these pictures, people are often staring soporifically at the camera, and you know they’re just going to be sitting there like that, without moving, for hours. I find it difficult to be so inactive, so anaesthetised from life – if I’m going to drink, then it comes with very lively conversation and possibly dancing. If people ask me what I do to ‘relax’, I say ‘I go for a run or walk to work.’ Yep, that’s my form of anaesthetic. I’ve actually had to train myself to do ‘sun-lounging’ on holiday, with regular breaks to do something relaxing. Like walking.

At the supermarket: my nemesis is the painfully slow self-checkout, with people moving items over the scanner at a glacial pace. I’m often tempted to just grab the stuff and do it for them. There you go, love. You just gained five minutes of extra time in your life. You’re welcome.

Buying stuff: instant gratification means I buy stuff now – clothes, holidays, drinks, books, food. When I want them (within reason). I don’t save for a rainy day. I know that freaks some people out, but I think I’ve seen too many lives fall apart in later life to wait for some mythical halcyon day to arrive when I can spend all my money. I want to enjoy it now.

Dating: the deliberately slow response to a message so that the receiver doesn’t think you’re too keen. I’ve given up on that. I just answer. I’m usually near or holding my phone when a message comes through so I just answer it. “That was quick!!” they always say. Yep, it is. Deal with it. 

Work emails: I operate a fast-response policy. Sometimes too hastily done, but I can’t bear the other person labouring under a false impression of something, if I have the correct answer to the query, or a correction to the content of the email. Over the years, I’ve caught sight of a few colleagues’ inboxes with hundreds of unread, unresponded-to emails. I can’t bear to look…

Facebook and Twitter: again, I operate my fast-response policy, if only to get rid of the annoying notification symbol from my wall. I want to answer or accept the invitation and move on. As with work emails, I sometimes see friends’ notifications numbering over 20 and shudder. If I get one – I see it, answer it if required, move on. 

Group activities: if I’m going out with a group of people to the pub or something, I always walk on ahead by myself. I can’t bear that moment of faffing around waiting for slowies, and then having to curb my pace as we walk to the venue, filling the time with small talk. I time my activities so I get there ‘just in time’, not before or after (well, maybe a little bit after, as slowies sometimes slow me down en route). It happened at yesterday’s Instameet – the moment after the initial group ‘meet’ in Greenwich saw me striding off on my own to find a space to take pictures. I caught up with a splinter group later, just as they were deciding to move on to the next location. Perfect.

Technology: my iPhone is actually too slow for me. If I accidentally open the wrong app, that split second where it opens and closes makes me want to yell with frustration. The same can be said for supermarket checkout scanners – I’ve put the item on the bagging area before it’s even recognised what it is. Keep up, Tesco, keep up.

I’m not sure if I’m cumulatively gaining extra time in my life by all this high-speed activity, but to me, it’s not high speed, it’s Lisa Time. It’s just the way I choose to live and I do find it difficult to witness people going at half pace. To me, they seem half alive, but maybe I am missing something.

I have tried to slow down in recent years and be kinder to myself, but still, my best moments are the spontaneous, fast-moving, ‘alive’ ones. Like the moment last night where I met one of the IGers from that morning and went drinking and dancing on the terrace outside the Royal Festival Hall. I was exhausted from the day but why would I go home and sleep when I could embrace the moment? It felt like the official Last Night of Summer, as we danced outside.

So today, I’m relaxing, after my Big Night. I’m writing this in bed at noon, with Sunday Brunch on my iPad next to me and espresso on tap. 

Ok.

Might go for a run in a bit…

 

The Lost Art of Apologising

This week, singer Cee-Lo Green tweeted that a rape is only a rape when the victim is conscious: “People who have really been raped REMEMBER!!!” and then deleted his ill-advised tweets on the subject. He then came back again to say sorry: “I sincerely apologize for my comments being taken so far out of context.” It stirred up such a shitstorm he has since deleted his account.

Let’s have a look at what went wrong with that apology. He didn’t say sorry for saying such a dreadful thing, instead he was sorry WE took his comments ‘out of context.’ This is the classic Non Apology. He might as well just have said, “My bad” – the ultimate Non Apology.

A few years ago, I came across a classic Non Apologist who kept saying, “I’m sorry you feel like that,” whenever he did something to upset me. He was sorry I felt like that, not that he’d MADE me feel like that. I then discovered that this is a Thing. A deliberate tactic to avoid the allegedly huge climbdown of ego that is required for a proper apology. I hear it all the time now, so seeing Cee-Lo say it when he was so blatantly in the wrong *almost* made me laugh.

I dated a guy a couple of years ago whose mantra was, “never explain, never apologise.” It was one of those alarm-bell moments that made me think, “I’ll always explain, and I’ll always apologise.” (It also made me think, “Bye…”) It’s an apparent bastardisation of the Disraeli quote, “Never complain, never explain,” which Kate Moss subsequently nicked. I think I prefer Disraeli’s version.

I once had a relationship with someone who behaved dreadfully towards me, who knew he had, and kept trying to get me to meet him so he could force his Non Apology on me, with a full ‘mansplanation’ of why the relationship had broken down and he’d immediately found someone else. Because I refused to meet him I eventually got it by email: “I don’t think I did anything to you that I should feel ashamed of.” You go on telling yourself that, sunshine.

Anyway, the Cee-Lo story has really made me think about the Lost Art of Apologising and why we find it so difficult. Even a shove from a stranger on a busy pavement elicits a strange hissing sound as they start to say the word but it dies on their tongue. ‘My bad’ became the replacement ‘sorry’ for a while a few years ago but even that feels like it’s disappeared. The classic ‘I’m sorry you feel like that’ response is so ubiquitous now that even I’ve said it once or twice. I think it stinks.

I’m convinced that British people are more likely to say sorry when someone else has bumped into them at the supermarket checkout than if they themselves have really upset another person. In many cases, we’re offering up apologies all the time where they’re not required, and have become the butt of many an American joke because of it. Often, the worst offenders are women. We apologise for asking questions in the workplace: “Sorry, this is probably a stupid question, but…” and that drives me mad. I’ve trained myself not to do it after receiving some really good training some years ago where this tendency was pointed out. Never apologise for asking smart questions, ladies.

Now, I make a huge effort to say sorry when it matters. If I accidentally whack someone with my bag on the Tube I make a massive deal about looking them in the eye and apologising. There’s nearly always a scowl there when I do it, that immediately breaks as the words come out. They look genuinely shocked that I’ve managed to get beyond the ‘ssss’ to the full word.

I always find it easy to apologise for mistakes in the workplace (I have a ‘Hands Up It Was Me, Guv’ policy) but find it way more difficult to say I’m sorry in personal settings. I genuinely think it’s one of the bravest acts a person can carry out and the effect of it in most cases is to completely nullify the anger or hurt one has caused in the other person. Plus a serious weight is lifted off your chest once it’s done. People really respect you for it, and that’s because saying sorry takes guts.

Cee-Lo could have avoided all the shit if he’d just said sorry; that his comments were untrue, inappropriate and wrong. Simples. What he actually said is unfortunately what so many people would say these days, as they slip and slide away from taking full responsibility for their words and deeds.

Some refuse to apologise for their words under the banner of ‘freedom of speech’: earlier this week, the Twitter troll who victimised Caroline Criado-Perez and Stella Creasy with rape threats last year, who is now facing jail, said: “It is a sad day for free speech. I think my tweets have been misinterpreted.” 

Well I think the saddest day for free speech is when people fail to freely say sorry to each other for causing very obvious distress and hurt.

Cee-Lo – just say the words and let’s all move on.

http://jezebel.com/cee-lo-green-tweets-people-who-have-been-really-raped-r-1629482868

http://www.forbes.com/sites/erikaandersen/2012/06/05/courageous-leaders-dont-make-excuses-they-apologize/

http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/sep/02/stella-creasy-rape-threats-a-joke

In Support of J-Law

On Sunday I wrote a blog post about sharing on social media, in which I talked about how people will always use that bit of information that you’re fiercely guarding to try to bring you down.

And oh boy, was last night’s celebrity ‘nude’ picture hacking a brilliant example of that. A whole host of female celebrities had their private, cloud-based, naked images published on some crappy online image forum, 4chan.

Jennifer Lawrence seems to have suffered the most from the privacy violation, with her pictures trending on Twitter, until Twitter eventually did the right thing and blocked accounts who were sharing them.

But 4chan didn’t stop there, they tried to get other women to join J-Law in ‘solidarity’ and post naked pictures of ourselves under the hashtag #leakforJLaw.

We didn’t.

You’re fuckwits, 4chan.

There have been some brilliant articles written today about the wrongness of all of this, the best in my view coming from Scott Mendelson, in which he says that the emphasis should always be placed on the criminality of these privacy invaders, and not place the responsibility of self-protection and crime-prevention on women. I recommend you read it right now:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/scottmendelson/2014/09/01/jennifer-lawrence-nude-photo-leak-isnt-a-scandal-its-a-sex-crime/

What I’m talking about in this post is the absence of any leaked male imagery. All the celebrities are female. Where are the celebrity cockshots, huh? We know guys love sending them, even if we don’t ask for them, and some even use them as their profile picture on online dating sites (makes a change from standing next to a tiger). So why haven’t they appeared here?

Someone made the point to me today that there is hardly ever a face in a cockshot, which wouldn’t help a hacker know his victim. But even more probably, they know all too well that we’d just laugh at the pictures and declare the guy ‘a bit of a knob’ and move on.

Take US politician Anthony Weiner (wow, did he live up to his name). Not only did he ‘accidentally’ send a picture via his public Twitter account to a woman who wasn’t his wife, but continued to send them to her and other women under the pseudonym of Carlos Danger, even after he was publicly humiliated. You couldn’t make this stuff up. Ok, his career was stuffed when he resigned last year but it is very clear that he had ‘self-harmed’ by going public by his own hand, so to speak. No third-party leakage there (sorry).

Take James Franco – he frequently posts late-night semi-naked selfies on Instagram – they’re self-leaked, and he has publicly stated that, “…it’s what newspapers want — hell, it’s what everyone wants: attention. Attention is power.”

You might think it is Jamesie, but the sort of attention Jennifer Lawrence is getting is not what everyone wants. It is designed to disempower her and all the women it is violating. They are not in control of it. (And by the way, you may have chosen to post your naked self online, but the attention you’re getting is laughter, mate.)

Chris Brown. In 2011 he ‘leaks’ a naked selfie he took in a bathroom ‘for a woman’. It just happened to coincide with his new album release. Funny that. Totally in control of his own image. And yet again, this is naked-selfie control that is not afforded to women.

Mendelson’s article talks about the Disney reaction to Vanessa Hudgens’ leaked nudes ‘scandal’ in 2007, in which they treated her like a “sinful child” and released this statement: “Vanessa has apologized for what was obviously a lapse in judgment. We hope she’s learned a valuable lesson.”

Well I think the lesson we’ve all learned is that women have to apologise for letting themselves be publicly sexually humiliated by men. Oops we left our sexuality right there where you can see it – sorry, we’ll find a better place to hide it. Why should we feel ashamed that we took pictures of ourselves for our lovers? Is female sexuality such a powerful thing that it has to be stamped on whenever it surfaces?

As Mendelson says, it is not the taking of the nude pictures that is in any way scandalous, it is the stealing of them. That is the crime. There have been a number of occasions in the last few years where I have had ‘creepshot’ pictures taken of me: stealthy images taken by smartphone on public transport or out on the street.

Sometimes it is brazen, with a phone thrust in front of me, other times it is quietly done, a quick click on the tube as I realise a phone is facing my legs. Each time it happened I felt angry about the stealing of my image for some kind of perverse enjoyment later. Maybe I’d end up on a website where they’d rate my legs or face out of ten, and follow it up with a torrent of horrible comments. I daren’t think about it.

That’s why I hated that ‘Women Who Eat on Tubes’ Facebook group that surfaced last year – the thought that our images were being stolen, posted and laughed at by braying frat boys with one hand on their tiny dicks. (I might set up a retaliation group: Braying Frat Boys on the Tube with Tiny Dicks.)

And don’t get me started on the relentless pursuit of nudes from guys on online dating sites. Are you on Whatsapp or Snapchat? they say, as a prelude to the inevitable request for pictures. Tiresome, guys, tiresome. Why do you have to own so many images of us? (Well obviously I know why, but why not just use porn like everyone else?).

Tonight, I hope that Jennifer Lawrence is surrounded by her friends, family and a shit-hot group of lawyers. I hope she’s remembering that she hasn’t behaved like a Weiner or a Franco and that a crime has been committed against her.

But most of all, I hope she’s looking at her BAFTA, her Oscar and Golden Globe awards and thinking, “fuck you, 4chan, I’m not going anywhere.”

——————-

http://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/oct/07/jennifer-lawrence-nude-photo-hack-sex-crime?CMP=fb_gu

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/womens-blog/2014/sep/04/10-comment-comments-feminist-blogposts-responses-sexism-?CMP=twt_gu

http://jezebel.com/behind-every-bullied-woman-is-a-man-yelling-about-free-1629502544

http://jezebel.com/a-100-foolproof-guide-to-not-having-your-nudes-leaked-1630679679

http://www.salon.com/2014/09/07/ill_doctrine_the_rules_for_women_are_contradictory_and_insane_partner/