Great Expectations

Recently, a guy I dated once remonstrated with me for not following up our one date with a text requesting another date. Why had I not texted him? Was I waiting for the guy to text first? He suggested that that wasn’t very feminist of me.

Sigh.

I manage my expectations, I told him. I dial them down so low I expect nothing. I expect you to not text, to not call, to not follow up. I expect you to enjoy one of the best dates you and I will probably ever experience and yet not want to follow that up. In fact, when one of those happens, that’s my go-to place. If the date is extra-good, I know there’ll be silence after. Sometimes things can go too well and it freaks them out.

But his response – a few months later, it has to be said – intrigued me. This guy was actually annoyed at me for not expecting anything. I think he wanted me to be longing for him, so the delight in keeping me at arms length would be sweeter. I realised what power there is in zero expectation. Of anything. Of anybody. And now I’ve started to apply it to everything in life.

I think I’ve already been applying it, actually, when I think about my attitude to weather. If there’s an important outdoor event at the weekend, I seem to be the only person checking the actual forecast to see what it’s really going to do. Everyone around me seems to prefer choosing hope over reason. They tell me, until the last minute, that they hope the forecast will be wrong, and suddenly all will be sunshine and frolicking. When I say, ‘the BBC says it’s going to rain at 3pm but it should be done by 4’, I get horrified looks. But why not just face the truth and deal with it? Why be constantly disappointed in life?

I think losing parents early in life can remove any misty-eyed optimism about the future. It’s left me with a tendency to look reality in the face and name problems. I was once put in a work situation where friends told me I would find a ‘dysfunctional family’ but I only discovered what was tantamount to domestic abuse. They didn’t want to hear it. Similarly, when told I would experience ‘rough and tumble’, I witnessed bullying.

I don’t like euphemisms, I like clarity.

I think this may sound as though I’ve lost all hope in life. I haven’t. I still have hope and expectation for myself and I’m the only person I’ll ever expect anything of. I expect me to make something of my life without expecting anyone else to help. If they do, then that’s a bonus, but I will not allow myself to expect it. I expect me to bring joy into my life, and I do, by striking out on my own in the world and not leaning on anyone else. People might bring joy into my life, but I’m not waiting for it any more. I’ve spent far too much time waiting.

I’m going to Venice on my own in a couple of weeks after waiting for years to return there, with an as-yet undiscovered man. I realised what I was doing and immediately booked my own trip. What the hell was I waiting for? Some ridiculous rose-tinted moment that was never going to happen, that’s what.You can waste a lifetime waiting for the right moment, I’ve found. And even then you can find yourself there with the wrong person.

It’s actually incredibly liberating to be solely reliant on yourself for everything. I’ve thought a lot over the years about how not having a safety net – no parents, no wealthy relatives, no ‘loved ones’ to catch you immediately if you fall – can be a very scary situation to find yourself in. When I have to write down the name of an ‘in case of emergency’ person on a medical form it sends me into a tailspin. Who is that person? Sometimes I feel like writing, ‘It’s me, actually’.

It’s me.

 

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Home Land

Having never been a huge fan of crime or murder-mystery series’ on TV, I’ve recently found myself addicted to a certain number of them, to the point where I’ve binge-watched them over a number of weeks, leaving my LoveFilm movies to one side as I complete each season. It started with Danish crime series The Bridge, and my girl-crush on lead character Saga Norén, then Sarah Lund in another Scandi-drama, The Killing, and now Carrie Mathison in Homeland. (I’m probably soon to start obsessing over Stella Gibson in The Fall or Gro Grønnegaard in The Legacy.)

I’ve always preferred human stories over complicated whodunnit plotlines so I’ve followed the stories of these women as they’ve led missions to solve crimes and track down villains, not really caring about the superficial plotline, but definitely caring about what happens to them and why they’re doing what they do.

A number of identifying characteristics binds them all and I’m finding it fascinating as to why this is a trend in crime dramas – the rise of the brilliant, yet unstable, often mentally challenged, highly independent professional woman who doesn’t give a toss about family or having children. To all intents and purposes, this is the new version of the maverick, swaggering, ‘fuck you’ trope of the ’70s and ’80s crime dramas, epitomised in male-led cop shows like Cracker or The Sweeney and parodied by Gene Hunt in Life on Mars.

These women walk into bars and pick up guys, they drink too much and they neglect their progeny. They’re brilliant at their jobs but they have trouble interacting socially and are prone to say what they think, even if it’s inappropriate. They’re sometimes highly autistic or bipolar, needing medication to manage their mental state, along with wine. They can’t be bothered wearing makeup or man-pleasing clothes – they simply get clean t-shirts out of their desks or pull on frumpy jumpers and badly fitting trouser suits instead. Who gives a f*ck about appearance when there’s a job to be done?!

I’ve been thinking a lot about this development, and wondering if it’s a bad thing that these brilliant women are being portrayed as child-resistant ‘unnaturals’. Are we meant to celebrate their inhabiting of the lone-wolf space, previously taken up by family-avoiding male detectives, or are we criticising their refuting of domestic bliss for the joy of job satisfaction? The trend has its roots in earlier cop dramas like Prime Suspect and Cagney and Lacey – Jane Tennison and Chris Cagney were allowed to exist outside the domestic space but it was one they at least tried to access. These new women are not even considering it – if anything, human relationships are secondary to their professional ones in a way that has stereotypically been associated with men for decades.

If we’re meant to be critical of these women, then I’m not feeling it. I’m watching these shows precisely because they outline the concept of female independence so clearly. The recent crop of them shows that there is a huge audience fascination with these ladies, and it can’t just be women watching them. I have to admit that my first thought on watching The Bridge was, “typical – to be a successful, non-familial woman in a male-dominated space on TV, you have to be somewhere high up on the autistic spectrum, and your lack of maternal instinct viewed as nothing short of freakish.” Then, as the number of these high-functioning women appearing on my TV screen grew, I started to think that this trend is nothing short of a revolution in female roles both on- and off-screen. Yes, the characters are flawed in ways that fascinate us, but we don’t judge them for non-conformity.

What’s most interesting is that when Skyler White first graced our screens in Breaking Bad, pregnant and desperately trying to hold together a picture of domestic bliss and familial normality, social media exploded in direct criticism of her actions, as though she was somehow spoiling her husband’s maverick crystal-meth-making fun. Even the actress that played her was vilified for the part she played in trying to keep her family together, trying to make her husband conform.

So bring on Stella and Gro because I can’t get enough of these indie women. The plotlines of these series are just a sideshow to the real story – women are dominating our screens in ways we’ve never seen before and I love it. This winter I’ll be swishing around in a military greatcoat (which I’ve had for years, actually) and DM boots, pretending I’m Saga, solving crimes in Denmark, eschewing makeup and letting my hair dry naturally as I stride into the office.

I might stop short of changing my t-shirt in the office in front of everyone, though.

I don’t think we’re ready for that just yet.