Flying Solo – a further comment

Today I was asked to provide comments for a Huffington Post article on solo female travel, in response to this scaremongering one on the Mail Online. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/travel_news/article-2960567/Most-dangerous-holiday-destinations-women.html

They didn’t print everything I said, so here’s the full thing:

The only times I’ve particularly felt unsafe while travelling were when I had let my preconceptions about a country fuel my fears. I have been holidaying alone for nearly five years and taking those first steps into a Thai town, a Turkish city or an Egyptian village are incredibly scary. I once allowed myself to believe I’d been drugged in a shop in Dahab by a shopkeeper, when in fact it was probably a panic attack brought on by fear. Similarly in Kenya, a scary group of men on motorbikes I kept seeing when out running on my own turned out to be a taxi rank. Of course, women are viewed differently in these countries, and it would be stupid to not be on your guard, but as someone who is fully aware of the potential hazards, I walk in confidently and try to see things as they really are.

I always watch men on holiday with a sense of envy. They are completely free to roam wherever they like, without much fear for their safety. There is a reason why some of the best travel books are written by men and not by women, and I long to be as free as those guys riding round Thailand on motorbikes without a care in the world. But I know my situation isn’t the same as theirs and have to adapt my experiences to fit.

My advice to any solo woman traveller would be, be aware of the potential hazards by reading up before you go. Beware of scaremongering features like this one in the Mail, and opt for sensibly written guides from Lonely Planet or Rough Guides. Yes, it’s wrong to have to restrict your behaviour or clothing options in certain settings, but it does make sense. I do agree with this article in terms of trusting your gut instinct when it comes to certain situations. If something or someone is making you feel uncomfortable, get out of there, even if you discover later that your fears were unfounded.

I think it’s a shame that many women will read an article like this, which is typical Mail scaremongering, and be put off from travelling alone and discovering the world. Many people would prefer women to stay in a domestic setting and not discover the joy of solo travel. Yes, you should know the hazards and look at other intelligent travellers’ tips on staying safe, but never let it stop you from taking those steps into the wider world.

(Edited comments appear here: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2015/02/23/women-solo-travel-saftey_n_6734512.html?1424697457)

 

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Against All Odds

This week I read the tragic news about food blogger Wilkes McDermid, who threw himself off the roof terrace of a London restaurant in a planned suicide. In his ‘goodbye’ blog post, he stated that he was simply ‘accelerating Darwinism’, as a 39-year-old Asian man, doomed to be alone forever. He’d conducted some informal research over a number of years that indicated women prefer Caucasian or black men over Asians, and if not, then they would almost certainly be tall and/or wealthy Asians. His blog is insistent in its reasoning and maintains that while McDermid couldn’t control his romantic life, he could control the length of it. He could, and he did, put an end to his suffering.

What an unbelievably tragic state of being. To take oneself out of the running, off the face of the earth because you believe you will never find love. At this time of year, as we approach Valentine’s Day, I’m sure there are so many people thinking similar thoughts, but of those who say they’ve given up on love, most don’t actually believe it in their heart of hearts. There is always a glimmer of hope, right?

What has struck me about this story is the science behind it. When I left my marriage four years ago, I had no idea that science had anything to do with partner-finding. Call me a romantic, but I’ve always laboured under the idea of being so struck by another person that any consideration of current life situation, age, job, looks – whatever –would go by the wayside. I’ve scoffed when people said, ‘maybe the time wasn’t right’ about a particular guy I’ve dated, and I’ve thought, ‘if the connection is right, who gives a fuck about the timing?!’

Isn’t that what’s glorious about love? The inconvenience of it? That it pushes every other consideration out of the way?

What I discovered was that suddenly, everything was all about the timing. Well-meaning friends told me I had to be ‘on the same page’ as someone, at the right life stage, to make a go of it. After my marriage, I’d had a ridiculously inconvenient year-long passionate love affair with someone ten years younger than me, but in the end, he’d thrown ‘timing’ back at me: a ten-year age gap is fine in your thirties and forties, he’d said, but not so good in your sixties and seventies. WTF? I thought we didn’t give a shit about that. Apparently ‘we’ did.

Since then, I have learned to accept certain unexpected facts about dating in my forties. Firstly, that men my age aren’t relieved to finally find a single, independent woman of their own age who doesn’t want children. They are frequently at the stage where they want the option of creating a Mini Me, if they haven’t already got one. They are even less relieved to find a woman who has a successful career and a brain, it seems – it is a challenge to their manhood. Woe betide me when they find out I’m a feminist – they smile and say, “I have a problem with feminists.” I say, “I have a problem with men who don’t believe a woman should have equal rights to men,” and we leave it there. Smiling.

No, men my age are still searching in the twenty-five to thirty-five age bracket, and I can’t really blame them, if they still want children. I’m always honest about my age online – forty-seven – and my profile only really attracts much older or younger men. And let me reassure you now, that in no way am I complaining about the latter.

Online, people are cast aside for simply not fitting a desired profile – not being the right age, height, weight, race, religion or not having the right job, location or marital status (eharmony wouldn’t let me join until I was properly divorced, not separated). This makes me think that online dating isn’t for me. Why would I want a partner who was judging me on a set of statistics? I want someone who will catch my eye on a train, a beach, in a bank or a checkout queue and want to get to know me. Just me, standing there, no statistics hanging on a board around my neck with a mugshot.

I don’t want the science of it, I want the randomness of it and I will always believe that is out there for me. And if he is shorter than I thought he would be, hasn’t got the ‘right’ job, is age- or religion-inappropriate I won’t give a shit about it. There will be a connection between both of us that no one else can see – they won’t be able to work out the science behind it because it will be beyond analysis and data. I feel so saddened by Wilkes McDermid’s death because he believed that this wasn’t out there for him.

I believe that if you are only looking for a socially approved relationship then you are working within a very narrow dating channel. You will only properly ‘see’ age-appropriate people with the right height/weight/job/hair colour ratio. If you look beyond a tick-box life, as I do, you will find that like-minded people see you. There are fewer of them, but the recognition of another soul with the same outlook is a moment to treasure. I’d rather wait for one single moment like that than tick any boxes, even if the odds are seemingly stacked against us.

 

—————-

RIP Wilkes McDermid – his final blog post and message:

https://wilkes888.wordpress.com/2015/02/08/final-message-thank-you-everyone/

https://wilkes888.wordpress.com/2013/02/08/my-final-blog-entry-love-you-all/

Home Alone

Last year I decided to do Christmas alone in London. It felt right – like I could handle it. After three years of either being away on holiday or throwing myself into charity work for Crisis, I thought ‘I can do this’. I can be in my flat, on Christmas Day, on my own, and just be.

I planned it – I knew what the day would entail and I was really looking forward to it. I’d go for an early morning run; I’d make coffee and a hearty breakfast; I’d open my presents while watching something crap on TV, sitting next to my beautifully decorated tree. How hard could it be? I’d be seeing one of my friends whom I’d met at Crisis later that day, and enjoying a Christmas dinner with her and her flatmate. All good.

But oh my god. Those hours. Those long, long hours.

It really started going wrong on Christmas Eve. I’d left work full of seasonal joy (and prosecco) at around 4pm, slightly thinking that there might be a post-work pub moment. There wasn’t. Everyone went home. I went along to HMV and bought myself a boxset of something – can’t remember what. I went home, shrouded in increasing gloom.

Again, I’d thought there’d be some spontaneous socialising to be done back at the ranch – nothing doing. Everyone had, in the words of one neighbour, ‘fucked off for Christmas’. This is what people do (even though most of my local friends and neighbours are Jewish.)

But it was ok – I still had my plan and my dinner to go to.

It started so well – it was one of those crisp, sunny mornings and I ran a few laps of my local park saying ‘Merry Christmas!’ to passers-by who were walking dogs or hurrying to a family gathering. The endorphin rush got me through the next hour or so, as I made breakfast and slowly opened my presents.

I’d made a pact with myself not to look at social media, because I knew what I’d see – pictures of cosy Christmas family mayhem and drunken antics – but let’s face it, I broke the pact within a couple of hours.

I know what the reality of a family Christmas is because I’ve been there. The seasonal cheer lasts about four hours before the rows, the tears, the sniping, the wishing-I-was-anywhere-but-there feelings kick in, especially when they involve in-laws. But still, I believed the Facebook hype – that everyone was having the BEST time. Of course they’re bloody not.

To give myself credit, I lasted about four hours before giving in to the wallowing. My first mistake was ‘seeing no harm’ in opening one of my stack of prosecco bottles, just for a ‘glass or two’ over lunch. My second was to start watching an extremely romantic film that a friend had bought me on DVD for Christmas. There’s a reason why they don’t show these movies on Christmas Day – stick with the comedies, people.

Let’s just say that for the ensuing four hours after those mistakes were made, I descended into a pit of gloom so deep it resembled the Mines of Moria. It was like slowly dying and being reborn as I emerged from the pit at around 5pm, blinking, into the Christmas lights of my friend’s flat, and having a glass of champagne thrust into my hand. Little did the people I was with know, as I joined in laughing at the Morecambe & Wise Christmas Special and munching on pigs in blankets.

The memory of those few dark hours is enough to see me heading off on holiday this Christmas and New Year, alone, but not ‘doing Christmas’. I know I’ll be surrounded by ‘entertainment’ staff in the hotel, wearing Santa hats and trying to get me to be Christmassy but I’ll be relishing the non-Christianness of the location and reading a book on the beach. Why don’t the people in these hotels realise you’re there to get away from Christmas, not recreate it in their country?

I remember my first Christmas alone in Thailand, and a well-meaning couple who forced me to join them in a bar, because I ‘couldn’t be alone on Christmas Day’ – except I could and I wanted to be. Out there I was absolutely fine on my own – it was only other people’s perceptions that made me feel crap about it. And that was the year I had the worst New Year’s Eve EVER on my own, but the BEST New Year’s Day, on a motorbike in between two Thai women, touring round Koh Samui, followed by all-night clubbing.

That’s when I realised.

The real fun happens on the day when you least expect it.

———————————-

Secret solitude at Christmas:

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/dec/18/christmas-that-changed-me-secret-solitude

A Bar of One’s Own

One of the main topics on my ‘must blog about’ list for Because I Can has been the concept of drinking alone. Not just sitting on my sofa watching TV with a nice chilled Prosecco or Picpoul De Pinet in the fridge – actual Going Out To A Bar On My Own.

I’ve been doing it for around four years now, on and off, so it’s become part of normal life for me, but it still amazes some people when I mention it and I find myself explaining what I do, how I do it, and reliving all those moments in bars that happened on my way to normalising this activity for myself.

It all began back in the Camino bar near King’s Cross. I’d already separated from my husband and was hitting the after-work social scene quite hard. On the odd occasion, all of my friends were busy doing other things and I became frustrated that my social life depended on other people being available. Why did it have to be like that, I thought? If I want to go out, I should be able to go out, just as guys do, with a newspaper and a pint at the end of the bar. But as we all know, if a woman does that, an assumption is made that she is touting for business, and I don’t mean hoping a recruitment consultant will buy her a drink.

I became determined to try it out so one night I took a copy of the Evening Standard to Camino – a very busy after-work bar filled with ‘young professionals’. I was maybe pushing the age range up a bit just by walking in. I went to the bar, ordered a glass of wine, took a perch on a bar stool and studied my newspaper.

Nothing happened. No one stared, no one propositioned me, no one cared.

It felt amazingly liberating.

So I did it again. I found that sitting on a bar stool right next to the bar offered me the most ‘invisibility’. People assumed I was just waiting for someone, or at least just there temporarily. I took work with me, or read a book, and barely looked up at the people around me – it was just so easy to blend in. I enjoyed the look on guys’ faces as they saw me finish my drink and leave the bar. “Oh my god, she was actually on her own, not waiting for someone!” Ha.

Every now and again someone would notice me. Usually a woman. In a pub in Belsize Park one stood next to me at the bar and asked, “Are you here, alone?” Yes, I replied. She told me how much she admired me for it and promptly ordered me a glass of wine. I watched her go back to sit with her partner and they both looked at me admiringly as I grinned back. I loved it.

I haven’t always been looked at admiringly by women for doing this. I noticed that if I went to bars alone on holiday, as I did in Thailand on my first solo jaunt, I’d see a (usually British) couple in a corner, the woman glowering at me and the man looking impressed. I don’t know why these women felt annoyed by me being on my own but I have experienced it a few times.

Only this year in Turkey, an older British woman, with her more-impressed husband, told me she thought people who holidayed alone were “sad” and she “felt sorry for them.” As I left them sitting smugly on the beach to go shopping, I thought, “I’d rather be heading to a bar in Bodrum on my own than sitting next to you on a beach, love.”

Now it’s just part of my normal routine to take myself off to a pub now and again. After a hard day of meetings, I like nothing better than grabbing a copy of Grazia and ordering myself a glass of wine in my local pub. The bar staff know me and every now and again someone I know joins me. If they don’t, no biggie. I don’t need a wing person. I know lots of people who can’t go anywhere without one – going running, to a bar, shopping, on holiday – all of these things I do on my own. It’s uniquely liberating. Why wait for someone else to validate your activities when you can own them yourself?

Whilst going to a bar alone might shock some people, what about going to a club? I’ve done it, lots of times. In a busy environment like a club, no one knows you’re on your own. You may have become separated from your friends, you may have just arrived and are looking for them. No one notices. It’s easy to slip in, grab a drink, go for a dance and slip out again. Oh the joy.

I started doing it because my friends tended to end nights out earlier than I wanted to end them. We’d go out for a drink or a meal, and I’d be back in my flat at 9.30pm/10pm itching to carry the night on. I got so frustrated by it one night that I just thought, ‘fck it’ – I’m doing it. What would a guy do? He’d just go out and see who was there. So I did. About half the time I’ve done it, I’ve bumped into people I know. When I haven’t, I’ve survived it. Loved it, even. People are so caught up in their own bubbles that no one notices me: at the bar, on the dance floor, moving between rooms. I’m just a woman in a club, albeit older than the average. Do I care about that? No. And seemingly no one else does.

I haven’t done my club routine in a while because once I’d done it a few times I’d largely got it out of my system. It’s no longer a case of me feeling like I’m missing out on something when the evening ends ‘early’, it’s more that I know what’s out there should I want to take it further, and I can if I want to. The night is never over if I don’t want it to be and it’s not forbidden territory – it’s there for the taking if I want it.

Because I can.

Anniversary

Today would’ve been my twelfth wedding anniversary – I got married in 2002 in a small Scottish castle hotel on a crisp, beautiful November day. There were kilts, a ceilidh, fireworks, friends and family. It still ranks as one of the best days of my life, even though the purpose of it has gone away. In many ways, it was a brilliant party that just happened to have a wedding attached to it – I thought so then, and even more so now.

I’ve often wondered why I felt such a strong urge to get married – I pride myself on not following the usual rules of behaviour –but there I was pursuing this goal because it was just ‘what you did’. All my friends had done it or were doing it, and I just had to tick that box. I decided that it had to happen before I was ‘too old’ to go down the aisle, and that thirty-five was my cut-off point. 2002 was my thirty-fifth year.

I knew it wasn’t quite right from the start and yet I pursued it relentlessly. I was the one who asked him to marry me, I was the one who made it all happen, even though he was extremely stressed with work in the year of our marriage and wanted to delay things. I just thought it was procrastination, but in retrospect, maybe he knew it wasn’t right either.

We did it anyway, and it was a huge and wonderful party for about seventy of our friends and family. Neither of us had big families, especially as my parents had died and he’d lost his dad, so there were ‘missing places’ at the wedding that we filled with friends and other loved ones. I made a speech (because of the missing persons), I took myself down the aisle, I arranged the whole thing. I even made myself stay on my own in the hotel the night before, not surrounded by friends and family, and actually a bit scared in the allegedly haunted room. This was all while he enjoyed his last night of freedom with his family and best man back in the village. What was I trying to prove? How alone I could be? I stayed awake pretty much all night.

I knew it was the wrong decision back then, I knew it was wrong on the honeymoon, and I knew for the next eight years. And yet I did it anyway. I know many people – men and women – who’ve admitted to me that they’ve done the same thing and are just going through with it, especially if they have children. It’s really scary, even considering leaving a marriage, and it took me time to gain the courage, and crucially the financial independence, to be able to do it.

When I finally did it, it was so sad. By doing what I’d done over the years, and his going along with it, we’d both lived inauthentic lives and it was time to face reality, in our forties. Essentially, we had been great friends who’d lived a great life, filled with adventure holidays, starter homes, dinner parties and burgeoning careers. There was much to be thankful for and the more distance I get on it all, the more I appreciate it for what it was, and him for what he added to my life. Thank you, if by chance you ever read this. (And by the way, I still can’t watch Out of Africa…)

What I’ve learned from it all is that your gut instinct is entirely correct, every time, in every circumstance. If your heart isn’t in something, your brain and gut know it and they tell you. You must listen to them, because they will steer you correctly through life. I’ve ignored mine in both professional and private life and it’s cost me. I suppose this mistake-making is all part of life experience and everyone does this. If only we’d listen to ourselves earlier in our lives and trust in what we hear. That so rarely happens.

I’ve applied the rule of Gut Instinct to quite a few things now – I only buy clothes if I absolutely LOVE them. Anything less, I know I’ll end up going off them and they’ll be given to charity. I only accept invitations to things I REALLY want to go to, rather than do things because I think I should, or because ‘everyone else’ is going. I only maintain friendships with people who truly add something good to my life and at the first sign of toxicity, back away fast, rather than labour away on something worthless.

The downside is that I often trust an initial feeling about something or someone and back away too quickly, making an ‘insta-decision’ that is so typically too-fast of me. I now catch myself doing it and make myself slow down to really look at the thing or the person, just to see if I’m missing something, if I’m being too hasty. This is the sort of thing I do when I visit new countries (see my Kaleidoscope Effect post) – I go there with all my preconceptions and first impressions and then wait for the reality to reveal itself.

It’s fun, waiting to be disproved about something, because you know, your gut instinct is usually telling you there’s something in there worth waiting for.

Because I Can: the story so far

Having been the lucky recipient of a ‘Freshly Pressed’ feature with my post ‘Bare-Faced Cheek’, I thought I’d round up the top ten posts from my archive for all my new WordPress followers. So far, most of my viewers have been outside the blogosphere, coming to this site from Twitter or Facebook, but now I feel part of a community of bloggers with similar interests and views.

I started the blog because I found that I had quite a lot to say about my situation, leaving a marriage at the age of 43 and spending the last four years being constantly surprised by the twists and turns of life outside conventional coupledom. Some of them have made me laugh or whoop with joy, some have made me cry and floored me with unexpected cruelty.

Anyway – here are the posts that tell my story so far – I hope you enjoy them:

1. Where it all began:

https://becauseicanblog.com/2014/07/20/consciously-uncoupling/

2. On being childfree-by-choice:

https://becauseicanblog.com/2014/07/25/ping-pong/

3. On body image and the ridiculousness of dieting:

https://becauseicanblog.com/2014/07/24/epiphany/

4. On suicide:

https://becauseicanblog.com/2014/08/12/the-silence/

5. On not being a yummy mummy:

https://becauseicanblog.com/2014/08/17/the-one-where-im-absolutely-not-a-yummy-mummy/

6. On dating younger men:

https://becauseicanblog.com/2014/08/23/in-praise-of-younger-men/

7. On Toxic People:

https://becauseicanblog.com/2014/09/10/toxic-people/

8. On dating men my own age:

https://becauseicanblog.com/2014/09/19/sixth-date-syndrome/

9. On not being a Cool Girl:

https://becauseicanblog.com/2014/10/09/my-former-life-as-a-cool-girl/

10. On keeping my name:

https://becauseicanblog.com/2014/10/16/my-name-is/

Thank you for reading.

Lisa.

Angry Young Men

In a recent post I mentioned an angry Parisian man I’d dated in the past year, but didn’t tell the story, saving it for a future post. It came back to me this week, because I read this piece about a woman called Alexandra Tweten who is ‘outing’ abusive online-dating matches for their sense of entitlement to her attention:

http://m.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/10/rise-of-the-feminist-creep-busting-web-vigilante/381809/

Fortunately, it hasn’t happened much to me, mainly because I use Tinder, where the matching is reciprocal and you don’t have to deal with the tidal wave of unwanted attention as soon as you appear on there. (Here’s my piece on Tinder: https://becauseicanblog.com/2014/10/12/tinder-is-the-night/).

Tweten is using OKCupid which is pretty much a free for all for wanted and unwanted attention. But actually, abusive moments HAVE happened to me, even with all my careful filtering and my supposed radar for nice guys, and when it does happen it is a very scary experience.

(A quick note to all the nice guys out there whom I date or don’t date: this post isn’t representative of you, it’s a group of a*holes of which you are not part. Please don’t get all defensive about men in general because I’m not talking about all men. You just need to know that this stuff happens to women. All the time. Thanks for reading and supporting me – I’m very glad to know you.)

So, the Parisian. Let’s call him ‘Maxime’. He described himself as 31 and 6ft 7. Yes, Maxime was tall, dark and handsome, played basketball in France semi-professionally and could string a sentence together in a text. Against my usual rules of not letting anyone have my number before I’ve met them in real life, we Whatsapped before our date, and he seemed ok with my ‘no sexting or pics’ rule. So far, so normal.

To the date. We met at the Ape and Bird – a fab pub in London on Cambridge Circus owned by the same people who run Polpo. It’s perfect for dating – lively enough to fill in awkward silences, three different bars to choose from if you need a change of scenery, and the option of eating in the bar or restaurant later if the date goes well.

The warning bell started to sound when I met him outside the bar. He was lounging louchely against one of the windows, smoking of course. What Parisian doesn’t? He seemed to not want to make eye contact, which I put down to being at a different altitude to me, or maybe just nervousness. Ok, let’s get to the bar. The choosing of the drinks took a while – I know exactly what I want in there (the Garganega house white is great) but he huffed and puffed over the choice of beers. I laughed to myself and thought, ‘how Parisian’ as he took time to choose just the right drink. How very French.

The second alarm bell rang softly as he talked at length about his life, his likes and dislikes, his travels, his favourite food, his his his his his… I just settled into the usual ego-pleasing nodding routine, wondering how I was going to extract myself from the scenario. But then the wine kicked in, and I thought, ‘well, things could be worse’ and somehow we ended up staying and getting a table for dinner in the bar.

Ok, so the choosing of the food took a while – Ape and Bird have a ‘distinctive’ menu with uniquely British things on there that threw Maxime a bit. I think he ended up with steak and chips – so far, so French. I can’t remember what I had, because the whole moment was blighted by his fussing and faffing over the food. “This is not steak!” he cried, forking the meat with a sneer on his face. I’m afraid I just started to laugh, and to tease him about being so French about his food.

Oh dear.

One does not tease a French man about his food.

He got very, very angry with me. And all British people, really. For not having the balls to complain about food. I don’t complain, as a rule, unless it’s really terrible and I can’t eat it. I’ll have an opinion on it, but if it’s not ‘wrong’, then I won’t send it back. Not Maxime’s style it seems.

So he made a huge fuss and I ended up apologising to the startled waitress when he’d flounced off to the loo (in a 6ft 7 gangly way). I did contemplate paying and leaving while he was down there, but I thought, ‘no – I’ll see this through like an adult’. What he obviously thought in the loo was, “I’ve paid for drinks for this woman and am about to pay for half a meal I didn’t like – I’ll damn well have sex from her in payment.”

When he returned to the table I’d already ordered the bill and made noises about leaving. “You’re going home?!” he asked incredulously, as if his table manners had undeniably wooed me into sexual submission. “Yes – I’ll be going to Piccadilly Circus – where do you need to be?” He was determined to come with me.

So there I was, striding down Shaftesbury Avenue with a massive Frenchman, angrily snarking at me about how it was ok to complain about food. I kept a fixed smile on my face so as not to anger him further – it felt as though he was about to blow (I certainly wasn’t).

I may be making you laugh with this story, but reader, it was so not funny. I genuinely felt really scared. When he suddenly swerved off into a Chinatown street, I felt relieved, but then panicked as to where he was going to pop out and accost me. I scanned the tube, the bus stop on my way home, the outside of my building – everything. Thankfully a friend was in the pub down the road and I went and told her the story, still shaking slightly from the encounter.

In the last month I’ve had another miniature version of this, in which again, I gave my number out when I should not have. I made it clear that I had no intention of picture-swapping or sexting, but this ‘nice guy’ Toby just wanted to hear my voice. Ahh how sweet. Until he got on the phone, telling me he’d lost his voice and asking, “could he just whisper to me?” “Stalker voice!” I teased, but I’d actually started to wonder…

“Could he also talk about lots of other things he’d like to do?”

No.

He put the phone down in a fit of rage, quickly followed by Tinder messages telling me I’d “spoiled the mood.” I managed to unmatch him on Tinder pretty quickly, but then came the stroppy “that was mean” texts on Whatsapp, which I subsequently blocked. I then got a barrage of ‘no caller ID’ calls for the next two days – with no voicemail, thankfully. But I was truly scared at what this person might do. Could he track me down and wait for me outside work or my home? When would he stop calling? After two days, thankfully.

I’ve wondered over and over about what I did that made these guys feel entitled to be so angry with me, and then I realised. I was just a woman who refused to give them what they felt they deserved and they got angry, even though I was very clear about what was and wasn’t going to happen. It’s like my voice merged into white noise under the loud gushing sound of their monstrous egos in motion.

I’ve only just remembered about a guy I dated about three years ago who made me cry on a date. Yes, cry. He’d been dumped by his last girlfriend and his ‘little revenge’ was to make women feel crap about themselves. The way he did it with me was to flirt outrageously with the waitress and ignore me. He was happy with me over the pre-dinner drinks, then grumpy over the menu, refusing to look me in the eye, then all over the waitress every time she appeared. I let him do it over and over and just sat there in disbelief. Then he smiled cruelly as he asked me if I was crying, which I was a little bit. I’ve never been made to feel so rubbish in all my life.

And it will never happen again.

—————–

Jessica Valenti on why some men are so angry:

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/oct/27/why-are-some-men-so-angry

Katie McDonough on male entitlement to women:

http://www.salon.com/2014/10/30/americas_catcalling_madness_what_michael_che_co_keep_on_missing/

 

My Name Is…

Much has been made of international human-rights lawyer, Amal Alamuddin’s decision to take the name of Clooney, following her marriage to the actor, George. The world is still divided into those who do and those who don’t take their husbands’  surname, with a venn-diagram central portion who put both names together. Cute.

It made me remember that moment when I got married and took my (now ex-) husband’s name, and how wonderful it was to state it proudly on every bit of paper, and in every situation. Hello, I’m Mrs Mudie.

I know what you’re thinking. How do you say that? It’s east-coast Scottish: pronounced Mew-dee. Every time I went anywhere or made a phone call involving stating my name I inevitably had to do two things: a) correct their pronunciation from ‘Muddy’ or ‘Moody’, and b) spell it out: M. U. D. I. E.

At first, I rather liked the novelty of it, but it soon became tiresome. Especially when I received a letter to ‘Mrs Nudie’. But we laughed about it, and all the variations on pronunciation and spelling just became a fact of life for me.

During the final year of my marriage and my push for independence and freedom I began to realise that I’d lost something of myself. Part of that self was to do with my name. The only situation I’d not changed my name in was work, and at the time, my career was burgeoning. I was working on movie tie-in publishing, getting a name for myself on the conference circuit and making my mark in the world. The person doing this wasn’t Mrs Mudie – she was very much Lisa Edwards, and still is. She was who I wanted to be.

When I became single I wanted to change my name back so badly, but there was a period where I was waiting for the divorce to come through, where I had to remain with my married name while the paperwork was completed. I went on holidays, alone, as Mrs Mudie, bought a flat as Mrs Mudie and paid my bills as Mrs Mudie. How weird to still be her and yet doing all of these independent things.

I finally changed my name back last year and it felt so good. One of my favourite bits in Sex and the City is when Carrie loses her precious ‘identity’ necklace with her name on it – the one she wears throughout the series. She is with a man whose ego – his life, his work, his needs – threaten to subsume hers and the moment is poignant. And then comes the joy of rediscovering the necklace in a hole in her vintage purse – marking the moment when she comes out of this unsatisfactory relationship to find herself again. Fairly obvious stuff, but it always makes me very happy when I watch this scene – I know how delicious that feels.

There are still a few moments when the odd bit of mail comes through from a company that still has my old name and they hit me like a tiny electric shock. Oh yes! That used to be me! I have loved getting my real name back again. Edwards. It’s such a Welsh name and I am proud of it. My grandmother’s name was Dilys Myfanwy Edwards, and I always say you can’t get much more Welsh than that (although I don’t know her maiden name – but I’m betting it was Jones, Roberts, Thomas or Davies).

I’ve recently been typing up my father’s attempt at writing a memoir – he didn’t get very far, but I loved all the names in the first part of the story – Welsh names aren’t hugely varied so the Joneses and the Roberts’s feature heavily. There’s even a Mrs Roberts the Shop, like something out of Under Milk Wood. I like that my name comes from a small pool of names that are an immediate regional identifier – of course I’m Welsh.

People ask me where I got my Twitter name from @Redwoods1 – this comes from the fact that my full name is inevitably pronounced Lisa Redwards, because there are two vowels together in Lisa Edwards so it’s easier to put an R in there when you say it out loud. Redwoods then became a bit of a nickname for me on a holiday during my final months as a married lady. I’d gone away on the spur of the moment with two work girlfriends to San Francisco. It remains one of the best things I’ve ever done – we’d decided to go during a wine-drinking session after work, and put our plan into action (I still can’t believe the company let all three of us managers go). For part of the trip we stayed in a gorgeous cabin in the forest in Sonoma. After visiting various wineries by day, we lounged outside in the hot tub, drinking Corbel sparkling wine, surrounded by Redwood trees. ‘Redwoods!’ one of my friends exclaimed. ‘Lisa Redwoods!’ The name stuck, not least because of my reddish hair.

That holiday was a turning point for me. Redwoods beckoned – the woman who wanted to experience the world as an independent person, who wanted to get on a flight to SF without thinking about it and end up in a hot tub in Sonoma with two girlfriends, a gay couple and a load of sparkling wine, smiling up at the trees.

So here I am.

Because I can.

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Why do we care so much when women change their maiden names?:

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/poorna-bell/amal-alamuddin-clooney_b_5981286.html

My Former Life as a Cool Girl

The release of Gone Girl in cinemas recently has reminded me all over again about why Gillian Flynn’s book resonated so loudly with me and other women when it was published.

This key paragraph, from the main character Amy Dunne, establishes the central concept of womanhood in the book:

“Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.”

And in the brilliant article on the subject by Jezebel’s Tracy Moore (link to the full article below), she encapsulates the concept:

“…when a woman for whatever reason embraces traditionally straight male interests while retaining aspects of straight female interests, and is hot (she always must be hot)—when she manages, for all intents and purposes, to somehow combine the best of both genders into one bangin’ superpackage of awesomeness—you have what is called a Cool Girl.”

I was trying to be Cool Girl, at least for a while. My phase timed with the emergence of the ’90s ladette, which to all intents and purposes was the defining era of the Cool Girl. Women like Sara Cox and Zoe Ball were bouncing around on our TV screens and in lads’ mags, drinking pints, partying ’til dawn and still managing to look oiled and hot in a tiny vest and denim shorts as they leered lairily at the Loaded cover-shot camera.

When I met my husband I tried desperately to be the Cool Girl – he seemed very keen on the Loaded ladettes and I scoured the pages of his magazines to pick up tips on how to be one. I was determined, unlike his friends’ wives and girlfriends, to give him as free a rein as possible, to never complain (indeed, actively encourage him) when he announced a boys’ golf weekend or a skiing holiday, or when he got wasted with the boys. I even actively embraced any trips they made to a lapdancing bar, which I was told to keep secret from the other wives – I was the ‘Cool Wife’ who would laugh at their stories of who got a dance, and then ask questions about how they controlled their erections in a public place (I’m still not quite clear on that, or on why they would want to risk it happening).

I remember feeling really aggrieved when I once overheard him talking to the lads, referring to me as some kind of social sign-off person on their latest boys’  weekend plan – they were all discussing how they’d get it past their wives. I burst in on their conversation and pointed out that he was free to do what he liked (subtext – I was not like the other, more controlling, wives). They all looked at me, rather shocked, and he was embarrassed – I’d spoiled his ‘lads-only’ camaraderie over their shared experience of the stereotypical controlling woman.

Over the years, I continued to be a version of Cool Girl and kept any grievances inside. And they festered. And in the end, these internalised resentments built up and up until they spoiled everything. I wasn’t really me during those years and I wasn’t honest with myself or my husband. I don’t know why I pretended to be someone else who was cool about everything, when I seriously wasn’t. This is why my ‘honesty policy’ is so important to me now. During those thirteen years of the relationship, I hardly ever raised any grievances, for fear of a horrible confrontation –  I just saved them up into one massive one that ultimately couldn’t be resolved. It had all gone too far.

It really surprised me that my ex and his friends pretty much all ended up with women who clearly ‘set the rules’ in their households, and seemed to enjoy being told what to do. I tried and tried not to be that woman, but ultimately it backfired. But I always maintained that I was a director at work and didn’t want to direct the marriage at home as well – I’d still maintain that mantra, if I ever went there again.

In many ways, the last four years have been about gradually shedding the need to be Cool Girl. I’ve found myself more and more exposed to the realisation that I don’t need male approval to be in the world, and that some men aren’t expecting to approve me according to the Gone Girl rules (some are, though, it has to be said.) I now see female friends masking grievances in their own relationships with gritted-teeth smiles and feel glad that I’ve left those scenarios behind. If I ever got there again, I would make sure I never let these scenarios pass without comment – that a reasoned discussion would happen about every single one, if I felt something unjust was happening to me. I’m pretty sure any reasonable guy would expect me to do that – it’s how they would deal with those things. Mostly.

When I first read Gone Girl I couldn’t believe that someone had written about Cool Girls so brilliantly – lots of female friends were clearly experiencing the same self-resonance as I was when they read it. Our online book club was alive with comment. I think we all recognised something of ourselves in Amy, although of course, she takes the concept to an extreme level.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that many women of my age find the concept so familiar – I do think the ’90s emergence of ladette culture really didn’t do us any favours. Men were being marketed with a feminine ideal that has no basis in reality – a complete fantasy of sexual availability, hotness, and, well, blokiness. I know I struggled to meet its impossible criteria, but it didn’t stop me trying.

Thank goodness that’s over.

http://jezebel.com/the-cool-girl-is-not-fiction-but-a-phase-1642985632

A Comment on Women and Food

Last year, I gave up any form of weird food restriction after a Dieting Decade which saw me trying every single fad going to keep my weight under control. Atkins, Dukan, 5:2, GI – I’d done the lot. And I was heartily sick of it.

I had my ‘epiphany’ on a Turkish beach, when I suddenly realised that it was all utter bollocks – I didn’t have to adhere to some magazine advertising executive’s view of female body shape and I could simply be me, as I am, eating normal foods and being my normal shape. The world didn’t end and I didn’t suddenly die socially – if anything, I became happier, more confident, sexier and sharper-minded. I simply realised that restricting food restricts a woman’s ability to perform well in the world and I describe my Road to Damascus moment here: https://becauseicanblog.com/2014/07/24/epiphany/

Since then, I’ve really noticed how other women seem amazed that I order normal food in restaurants, and don’t sit there picking at a protein-based salad (as I used to do). When I offer up the excuse that I walked to work that morning (it takes an hour and twenty minutes) they seem happy that I’ve ‘earned’ the right to have a proper meal (ie with carbohydrates). What I’m eating is always commented upon, and I notice more and more that the other women feel the need to ‘be good’ at the dinner table. And to tell everyone about it.

I went for a dinner last year with a group of friends and sat next to a Serial Restricter. She talked about the calorific value of her food throughout, then told me all the various ways she was going to ‘work it off’ the next day. When women go out for meals together the topic often turns to weight control, and the more they eat and drink at that meal, the more they tell everyone about all the ways they’ll keep the weight off afterwards. I used to do it too. Yawnsville. You can guarantee the guys aren’t talking about this shit.

Recently, a friend I hadn’t seen for a while turned up for lunch and another female friend immediately ‘complimented’ her on how ‘skinny’ she looked. A little piece of me died inside, knowing that this is the first thing we value, or monitor, about each other. Now, I make a point of never commenting on appearance, until I’ve at least asked about how a friend’s life is. And that applies to women and men. If I tell them they look ‘well’, it’s because they truly do look healthy – I’m never going to use it as a codeword for ‘slimmer’, which is what most women do.

I’ll never forget seeing a work colleague take a brownie from someone who’d baked for the office and watching her scrape her teeth down it before discreetly throwing it in the bin. That moment has stuck in my mind as a truly tragic one. This woman was, and is, an amazing person. She is better than brownie-scraping.

But women in groups police each other’s weight. Codewords are used to comment on shape and you get used to your body being surreptitiously scanned by other women when you walk into a room. I’ve worked in female-heavy offices where eating disorders break out because one woman goes on a crash diet. When I taught ballet, a promising young girl of twelve became anorexic because another girl told her she had a ‘funny’ body.

I think that women owe it to themselves to be strong and healthy-bodied, able to stand, walk and run in the world without fear of a small gust of wind knocking them over. I think we owe it our brains to keep them well-fed, so that we are able to speak confidently, debate loudly and deliver a killer pitch at work. Not to mention show younger women a good example. You can’t do any of this well if you’re surviving on 500 calories a day.

Ladies, let rip. We don’t need to do this. No one is asking us to be control-freak skinny and unhappy except us. And we are agreeing to it because we think that’s what the world wants from us. Ask yourself who is going to love you more for being ‘skinny’ – possibly the magazine advertising executive because he/she is selling you products based on your biggest fear. It won’t be anyone else, not even you. Because you’ll never be skinny enough.

Don’t be scared. Have the brownie, then walk out of the door and take up your space in the world.

You’ve earned it.

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On policing women’s appetites: http://www.dailylife.com.au/life-and-love/parenting-and-families/stop-policing-my-daughters-appetite-20140423-373ur.html