New Year, New You

There seems to have been something in the air.

I’m actually compiling a list of every woman I’ve spoken to who’s had a romantically disappointing New Year. Like me, they’ve walked into 2017 with a resigned yet resolute air about them. The resounding cry of, “not you as well!” has made us laugh and know we’re not alone … yet we all know that we might be better off being alone. At least for a while.

For most of us, New Year has given us a snapshot into the reality of our situations and the clarity is terrifying. Christmas affords an opportunity to bedeck our lives in tinsel, fairy lights and the blurry focus of too-much prosecco, but New Year hurtles towards us, brutally throwing the decorations aside, revealing what lies beneath: the harsh truth of our situations.

I think that’s what people find so terrifying about New Year. Whether we choose to blot it out with booze, go to bed early, or plan to be in the air when it’s happening, it is because none of us find it easy to face New Year head on. If we don’t have a hand to hold or lips to kiss at midnight, it is as though life has just taken a selfie of us at our most exposed.

Nowhere to hide, nowhere to run.

For some, like me, the ‘midnight selfie’ was just what was needed to allow us to make a clear decision. On New Year’s Day I had an epiphany. I realised that what I’d thought (and hoped) was a relationship really wasn’t. He was in town with a friend on New Year’s Eve, while I was with friends at a party (and actually went to bed at 11.30pm having peaked too soon).

Suddenly the fact that he’d chosen to be apart on this one night of the year gave me the clarity I needed. It’s been so obvious. I’ve been a victim of wishful thinking, but I’m being nice to myself about it. Everyone is allowed to get away with that every now and again, right?

Other women I’ve spoken to have reported the men in their lives going AWOL on New Year’s Eve. Making plans and promises, then not turning up. Or turning up and creating an argument over nothing that then leads to them running away. Is this a thing? I’ve asked myself. Is there something about New Year that cements a commitment to someone if you share it? Do these guys run away from it because they’re scared of it, the terrifying clarity of the midnight selfie?

When I was married I had the opposite experience. New Year’s Eve (or Hogmanay, as we would be in Scotland for it) would suddenly provide me with a partner I didn’t recognise. One that would embarrass me in front of his friends by non-stop snogging. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy the attention, I just wish it could’ve been spread out across the rest of the year. I think the lawnmower got more attention than me on the other 364 days…

Anyway, now I’m entering my fiftieth year, and I’m honestly relieved not to have to factor in another person to the plans. I had been worrying how my ‘flying solo’ plans would be affected so I’m now back on track, at least.

The decorations are down and my flat looks clean and clear.

So does 2017.

 

The Good Souls

This Christmas and New Year are game-changers for me. For once I haven’t fled the country, or stayed in a place I don’t want to be with people I don’t like, or roamed moodily around my own home, feeling a bit sorry for myself.

I left the decision whether or not to fly away until pretty much the last moment. I knew the guy I’m seeing would be working most of the time and only free on Christmas Day. I knew that people were saying they’d be around (those that weren’t going away) but I also knew that when it came to it, I probably wouldn’t see any of them.

People are funny about going into hiding during the Christmas holidays. They disappear from Twitter – announcing that they’re ‘taking a break’ to be with family – then suddenly they’re back, taking a break from their families…

Anyway, this year there has been no break or flight from anything for me, except the office. I know enough about Christmas now to realise that the best bit is the run-up to it. I started enjoying the party season from December 1, knowing that come the 25th it’s going to be a bit of an anti-climax, or at least a post-party chill-out (this is precisely why I start enjoying summer on June 1 – if you wait for the ‘big day’ when the sun is at its hottest, you’ve missed out on all the fun. And the big day may never arrive…)

It was a very Christmas different for me. My guy is Muslim so it was a no-booze zone and I made a halal lamb dish for us both. It was quite liberating, heading into Sainsbury’s on Christmas Eve, hearing people shouting, “WHERE ARE THE BLOODY PARSNIPS??”, knowing I wouldn’t be buying anything remotely involved in a traditional Christmas dinner.

The world didn’t end because I didn’t observe a single tradition, apart from present-opening and a pre-dinner walk. The biggest surprises of the day were finding out that my guy likes Rick Stein documentaries, animated children’s films and Gladiator. We ended up watching The Revenant, hardly joyful Christmas viewing, but at least it was set in a wintery landscape. It wasn’t White Christmas, but I enjoyed it anyway.

My guy had had his birthday a week earlier, and made it feel like my birthday by bringing around an enormous cake for me. For me! I was struck by the generosity of it. The generosity of spirit which escaped me for years, when I was with someone incredibly mean-spirited. No completely unselfish acts, no celebration of anything good (unless initiated by me), no joy in sharing a life with another person. Just being frogmarched around a shopping mall to select my own gift, which was inevitably a high-ticket consumer good because it was easy and required little thought.

Two of my best friends are Jewish and do a sort of ‘Chrismukkah’ which I rather love. We joke that they have become my ‘Jewish mothers’ but I’ve realised that they have actually become my family here in north-west London. They phone me to catch up, even though I hate phones, and I love it. They sought me out this year, separately, to arrange to meet for gift-giving and pre-Christmas cheer. I love them dearly for that. Please keep phoning me, ladies. I love it, honestly.

The week before Christmas, one of my oldest friends arrived in the country from Qatar and arranged to meet me in Kensal Rise, where I live. It had been a difficult day, because what is left of my actual family were meeting in Wales for a Christmas dinner and for reasons I won’t go into here, I couldn’t attend.

Kensal put on a show as though I’d been rehearsing it for months. The chatty barman, the friends popping past to say ‘hi’, the local pub quiz we entered into with gusto, the knowledge that these smiling friends were here to see me and that they are a big part of my life and history. The universe spoke to me loud and clear: this is my home and these people are my family.

In between Christmas and New Year I arranged to see another old friend (we date back to university), who is the mother of my godson. Thanks to the generosity of yet another one of my London Jewish framily we got free tickets to a Christmas show in Manchester and a backstage tour afterwards. I introduced my old friend to my London friend and felt grateful to have both of them in my life.

I started to think about all the good souls – the people who really matter. They are marked by their kindness and generosity. They are consistent and don’t have any agenda. They like to see me and I like to see them. It’s so beautifully simple.

My northern odyssey continued with a night out with my brother, ending up in a bar on the infamous Canal Street. Much fun was had. Over dinner I told him that the thing that most impressed me at his 60th birthday party was a) that he’d served the guests dinner himself, and b) friends of his that I’d never met came up to me and told me how kind he is to them and their families. We’re not the closest of siblings, but I am proud of who he is. And now I wonder why we’ve waited so long to have a night out in Manchester…

Finally I met up with my mum’s sister for a hug, a cup of tea and a chat. Like my mum and nan before her, she is wiser than wise. “Take each day one at a time,” were her parting words to me, and I shall. I shall.

The person who drove me to my aunt’s and came back and took me to the station at the end of the day was someone I know professionally: an illustrator. He’d also picked me up earlier, and cooked lunch for me and his family. Again, I was blown away by the generosity. The universe is literally throwing good souls at me right now.

So much crap has happened this year, I can’t wait to leave it behind and start a fresh new one. I’m not naive enough to think 2017 is going to be a bed of roses, but I’m going to be fifty, and I’m going to celebrate that with people that matter.

And in the words of Starsailor:

As I turn to you and I say
Thank goodness for the good souls
That make life better
As I turn to you and I say
If it wasn’t for the good souls
Life would not matter

Happy New Year!

Dedicated to: Justine, Chelsea, Neal, Helen(s), Jess, Phil, Sam, Jonny, Kay, Woody, James, Lucinda, Sidali, Ben, Coreen, and the people of Kensal Rise and Canal Street.

Venice, Vidi, Vici

Last weekend I did something I’ve been wanting to do for years – go back to Venice. It was twenty-five years ago that I was first bewitched by the place, swearing I’d only go back for a romantic break with someone ‘special’. That person didn’t rock up, so goddammit, I went there by myself. I booked a cool, boutique hotel, planned my four days out using Lonely Planet, and re-entered the fantasy world of the city.

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The gold sofa in the reception at AD Place Hotel

What I’d forgotten is that it’s like entering a restaurant on a perma-Valentine’s Night. The place is festooned with love and lovers, now taking ‘kelfies’ – my made-up word for kissing selfies. In front of every building, work of art or bario serving spritz … there they were. I didn’t really notice it last time I was there – I was too entranced with the place. Also, I was young enough to think I’d have my time there to do that. Lol.

So really, what I was doing was the Iron Woman Challenge of all solo holidays. Going to the most romantic place in the world as a middle-aged woman on her own. “I can totally do this!” I thought. And I did. Kind of.

I managed to dodge the rose-thrusting touts around St Mark’s square, and chuckled when I heard an American woman behind me cry, “Do I LOOK like I’m with anyone??” That’s the thing when you’re a female solo traveller. You suddenly realise that you’re surrounded by them. We’re quite well-camouflaged, actually. No one suspects the woman blending into the surroundings looking like she’s just waiting for someone, but we see each other very clearly, emerging from the scene. And there are more and more of us every year, it seems.

Even at the airport I’d gone to the champagne bar and made eye-contact with at least three other women doing the same thing as me: treating ourselves to a lovely glass before jetting off, because we could. I spoke to one of them and she was going to Berlin, but not before sneezing all over me and giving me a cold three days later. Thanks, love.

Anyway, on my first night I was full of the joy of being alone and free in the most beautiful city in the world. I’d planned a walk around San Marco, which would culminate in a spritz at a bar I’d been recommended. Of course, Venice being Venice, I couldn’t find it so I found an accommodating restaurant – the Rosa Rossa – who found me a table tucked away outside. I smiled at my good fortune and ordered a spritz.

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The view from Ponte Dell’Accademia. Staggeringly beautiful.

Fifteen minutes passed and couples were starting to surround me. They appeared to be being served promptly so I reminded the waiter (he seemed to be the manager) that I’d been waiting for fifteen minutes. He broke out in what can only be described as operatic ritual humiliation of me in front of the other customers. Waving his arms around, he remonstrated with me, shouting that I’d only been waiting for five minutes and couldn’t I see that they were busy and now, you see? Here is the drink you’ve been waiting for. Prego, PREGO!

I died a little in my seat. I also sat there for about five minutes choking back tears. He came back out to take my food order and instead of doing what I should have done – stormed off – I told him I’d order if he promised not to shout at me. It was the worst meal I’ve ever had in Italy, for so many reasons. The couple next to me looked shocked.

Thinking about it, what annoyed him about me was probably that I was the least important of his customers, but the one that ventured to complain. Had I been in a couple, I’m sure I’d have been served immediately. Had I been a girl of twenty-four, as I had been the last time I visited, I think he’d have been all over me. But me, just sitting there, at forty-nine, with no man or baby to make ‘sense’ of me, just got his goat.

I placed a review on TripAdvisor as soon as I left the restaurant. His reply says it all:

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So there it is, for all to see. It was definitely fifteen minutes because I’d checked in on Swarm as I arrived and looked back at the time. Maybe those minutes fly by when you’re in a couple, but I’m betting a manly cough towards the waiter would’ve got him running.

If you’d like to see the restaurant in question, and the review, now read by over 200 people, then here’s the link. Note that all the subsequent rave reviews are from couples and groups. Sadly my review didn’t link to my usual profile, where I’ve posted many rave reviews of hotels and restaurants. I’m pretty sure this is the only bad one.

It happened again on my return boat trip to the airport. The boat driver shouted at me for trying to pay at the wrong moment. I teared up again. So this is what happened in twenty-five years – I’ve gone from being  catcalled to shouted at. I’m in the way.

Don’t get me wrong, in between those moments, the weekend was a dream of renaissance art and architecture, of La Traviata in a palazzo on the Grand Canal and Vivaldi in a frescoed church. It was cicheti and wine in a tucked-away street ‘bario’ and a pistachio gelato next to a fantasy-scene of sparkling waterways and winking gondoliers. It was everything I remembered the first time, but much more. And I’m going to go back.

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A Dorsoduro canal-way.

And when I go back I’m going to remember the conversation I had with a woman who was visiting the city with her husband. He’d gone off to do something else and she’d taken a seat next to me in a bar, and was taking a breather with a beer and a cigarette. I told her about my solo-travelling thing and why I’d got into that and she suddenly blurted out that she too was wishing she was on her own, and that she was thinking about leaving her husband. She probably only told me because I was a complete stranger, but I did start to wonder about all the kelfie-taking love-puppies I’d seen in gondolas. How many of them were wishing they were with someone, or no one, else?

I remembered feeling like that on numerous holidays, even my honeymoon, and felt glad that at least I was free of that. Free of scanning every place I went for the guy I was ‘supposed’ to be with. It’s exhausting, and at the very least, unfair on the person you are actually with.

So Venice. I came, I saw, I conquered. I am so in love with you that I don’t think I can leave it at that. You can make me feel elated and transcendent, but you can also make me feel like dirt on your shoe.

But at least I feel alive in your presence.

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Puncinello by Tiepolo in Ca’Rezzonico palazzo on the Grand Canal

 

A Woman Scorned

Last month, Beyoncé broke the internet after she released her visual album, Lemonade. It has been deemed the ‘most elaborate diss in hip-hop history‘, given that much of the content is given to Jay Z’s alleged cheating with ‘Becky with the good hair’.

I personally love a good ‘woman scorned’ outburst – I don’t subscribe to the dignified silence, I prefer a huge wodge of revenge served with a side salad of cold blood. Even better if you can deliver the requisite revenge like a deadly artistic assassin, making you look so glaringly bright that the guy in question can’t bear to set eyes on you again.

Well done, Bey.

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What always strikes me about these situations is that the women scorned are always burning so much brighter than these guys in the first instance. They’re often more talented (Bey), intelligent (Hillary) and better-looking (everyone) than the guys who’ve cheated on them. I’ve seen women I consider to be magnificent left for someone with nothing more than a homely smile, and I’ve wondered if that’s the motivation. They can’t handle the magnificence, let alone control it, so they find someone infinitely more ‘manageable’.

Time and time again I’ve seen women going through this, and there are always friends exclaiming, ‘But she’s not a patch on you!’ And now I know that this is the whole point of it. The cheating is a way of re-establishing a form of control, and they will always opt for a ‘not-a-patch’ option. It happened to me a few years ago and I understood straight away. Steps had been taken to try and control me and they hadn’t worked. Cue an easier target.

I remember that scene in Sex and the City where Samantha posts leaflets all over the city, telling everyone that her ‘Richard’ is, in fact, a dick. When I enacted a digital version of that, I felt the same bewitching sense of control and freedom, as the ‘leaflets’ were similarly carried away on the wind.

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I’m never going to be someone who sits back and silently suffers – I’m on Team Trierweiler. Valérie Trierweiler wrote a bestselling memoir of her betrayal by François Hollande (Thank You For This Moment), and it is described as:

300-odd pages of deliciously backhanded barbs, sentimental hand-wringing and vicious putdowns, seasoned with large dollops of self-justification.

The same article describes her as ‘magnificently unrepentant.‘ Amen to that, sister.

I don’t know why, but a strange silence descends when a woman pours out her scorn. Men call her a ‘vindictive harpy’, and in hushed tones, women tell her she should be more dignified. What if we don’t? What if we call them out on it like Bey? The world doesn’t end,  does it? It just realises we know what’s going on and we’re not prepared to live with it.

The greatest service to womanhood Bey has done thus far is to make ‘calling a guy out on his shit’ into an art form.

There has never been a greater woman scorned…

 

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Fifteen

“That girl knew exactly what she was doing.”

I can’t tell you how sick I am of hearing those words. This week they came from so-called journalist Katie Hopkins who has decided to feel all sorry for footballer Adam Johnson, as he is imprisoned for sexual activity with a 15-year-old. Ever the victim-blamer, she describes the girl as “a hormonal teen stalking someone famous for attention, desperate for a chance to have something her friends do not.”

I think back to when I was fifteen and developing major crushes on older, unattainable men wherever I went. I never acted on them, but I think the targets of my devotion must have been only too aware that there was a young girl mooning around after them, hanging on their every word.

I remember being in a pantomime with ‘Brian’, who played Buttons in Snow White. (I know… Buttons appears in Cinderella but this was a low-budget thing in the north-west). Brian must have been in his twenties when he had me waiting to catch his eye at every turn. Even while I was dressed as a dwarf and saying, “Oh you ARE lovely, Snow White!” – my only line in the whole thing (I got paid £10 – my first pay check, spent on tukka boots in Top Shop).

But Brian was kind. He dropped his girlfriend into the conversation now and then, just to make sure I was aware, and continued to be nice and brotherly to me. He didn’t take advantage of me and made me feel comfortable around him. I loved Brian.

This happened a few times during those years. I, like many teenage girls, was testing out my new-found sexuality and powers of attraction. I didn’t quite know what would happen, and I was a little bit scared. And although I didn’t know it at the time, I relied on the adult men I was testing it out on to be responsible and to not take advantage. I remember a guy called Paul taking a kind and brotherly stance with me and how I found it intensely annoying that he didn’t ‘see’ me. But oh boy, he definitely saw me. And he acted like every responsible adult should.

Because to my mind, you can say all you like about Adam Johnson’s victim but when all is said and done, he is the adult and she is the child. She may have looked and acted like a sexually experienced young woman, but she was probably in wild ‘testing’ mode and couldn’t believe that the object of her crush was reciprocating. It was up to him to stop the 834 WhatsApp messages or not even start them in the first place. It was up to him not to pick her up in his car. Up to him to stop the sexting. Up. To. Him.

There are some men who can’t believe it when a younger woman or teenager appears to find them attractive. They think they are singled out for their unique animal magnetism, seemingly unaware that young women test out their sexuality like this all the time. We look to see who’s looking, and find these guys staring back. I remember going on weekend day trips with my family as a teenager and without fail, the guys staring back at me in the places we visited were the dads, not the sons I was scanning the room for. It was like that for a very long time until the roles switched, and I found the sons of the guys I was checking out staring back at me. Weird, that.

At fifteen, I mostly had crushes on guys in bands, and I now realise how safe that kind of crushing was, with only a Patches magazine poster to moon over in my bedroom. Coming into contact with real-life men was something that presented more challenges. I shudder to think what trouble I might have got into now, with the convenience of social media and smartphones.

I thank my lucky stars that the guys I encountered at fifteen were so kind to me. Brian, lovely Brian, with your mullet hairdo. I salute you for being a responsible adult with a clear-eyed perception of the situation I put you into.

Thank you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So Lonely

I’ve just finished watching the BBC’s The Age of Loneliness on iPlayer – it’s a really poignant documentary featuring interviews with a range of people of all ages from 19 to 90, who are prepared to admit that they are lonely.

I sat there listening to the stories of 70 and 90-year-olds still yearning for the company of their spouses – one keeps his wife’s ashes in a bag on the chair next to him – and thinking about my own mother’s story. Her husband died when she was my age, and her life pretty much folded. By choice.

Her friends reached out to her, tried to involve her in social events, but she removed herself from them. She went so far as to move us all to a little bungalow on a hill above the town, and kept herself to herself for another twenty years. This is not, as you may have guessed, going to be a template for my next twenty years…

What struck me about the programme was how many people were conditioned to only consider a life alongside a wing-person. The thought of living without a ‘significant other’ was leading some of them to suicidal thoughts. They admitted to not liking their own company and not being able to even think of a future without a ‘pal’ (but by ‘pal’ they meant a relationship partner).

I’ve gone there. I’ve thought about that. I’ve been thinking it for a while and the words ‘my romantic life is over’ have been going around in my head for a few years. At first, in a horrifying way, and more recently in a much more accepting way.

And it’s ok. I don’t need a wingman (or a wingwoman for that matter). It’s quite a liberating moment in your life.

Last year I listened to the incredible Kim Cattrall talking in a positive way about her romantic life being ‘retired’ and almost cheered as she went on to tell BBC Woman’s Hour how this wasn’t a negative thing, and about all the people and things she had going on in her life. I’d already been working my way towards that position myself, but here was a woman, admittedly a decade older than me, but describing my current views on how to live life.

Contrasting with that, BBC Woman’s Hour broadcast a new-year programme, in which a lovely woman called Edwina phoned in and talked about the loneliness she felt after losing her husband. She burst into tears during the call and cried out the words, “I lost my husband!” and all of us listeners’ hearts broke for her. I was on the Overground with tears in my eyes.

But my next thought was less sympathetic. I found myself thinking it was a shame that Edwina had only lived life as her husband’s Siamese twin and had expected that to go on ad infinitum. There appears to be a generation of women that can’t cope when their husbands leave them or die before them (and statistically women outlive men). My mother was one of them.

Last night I went to see The Danish Girl alone. I’d been shopping all day, had my hair done, then took myself for a quick prosecco in a central London bar before realising I was due at the cinema within the hour. I posted on Facebook about the movie and immediately women of my age were responding saying they’d love to go, but they couldn’t find anyone to go with them. Going solo is now so normalised for me, I still find it surprising when people are so worried about doing it.

Consider this. It’s never a case that people are staring at you when you’re doing things on your own, thinking you’re weird – it’s you, staring at yourself thinking you’re weird. Once you stop looking at yourself in that way, the demons will take flight and you’ll be standing there laughing, wondering how you could’ve been so daft about it. People will talk to you, smile at you, admire you, even buy you a drink.

If you can get you to smile at yourself, admire yourself and buy yourself a drink, even better. I’m a Kim, not an Edwina. And I’m not moving to a remote hilltop to live like a hermit any time soon.

 

 

Things I’d Tell My Daughter

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m childfree-by-choice, but as my life fills with young female friends, I find myself thinking about what I want to pass on to them – in a wise-woman way. I so enjoy their company and I love talking to them about how they navigate the world of work, relationships and, well, just being a young woman.

If I’d had a daughter when I was thirty, she would be eighteen now. So these are the things I’d like to say to her, and weirdly, lots of them are things my mother said to me, but I didn’t quite understand them at the time.

Be yourself

It sounds like a hackneyed phrase that all (good) mothers say to daughters as they walk into the world, but I mean just that. Be your own self. Your life doesn’t have to be defined by being a partner, a mother, or even having a stellar career. Just know that you have a choice in all of this. Define yourself by the life you choose to live, and by the people you choose to experience it with.

If in doubt, don’t

My mum used to say this all the time. But oh how true. If you have any doubts about a relationship you’re in, any at all, leave it. Don’t wait for ‘the day’ to come. It won’t and you’ll have lost valuable time. Never settle for something that doesn’t feel right or compromise your own sense of what is right to please a partner. Your gut will tell you that something is wrong – listen to it and take action.

Love your body

People started commenting on your body from a young age and it will be monitored by those around you (male and female) as you grow older. Look in the mirror and look into your own, makeup-free eyes before you monitor your own body. Make an agreement with yourself to see someone beautiful, strong and taking up space in the world. Never starve your body – eating properly makes you all of these things.

Look out for toxic people

Some of the people you choose to surround yourself with will make you feel good about yourself, others will do their damnedest to try and bring you down. These people are usually insecure and jealous of beautiful, strong, young women who are confident in the world. Surround yourself with the good ones, ditch the toxics. Don’t try and hold on to foul friendships – they will just bring you down. It’s ok to let friends – and family – go.

Be in the space

Take up space in the world. If you’re out walking, running or doing yoga in the park – take up the space. If you’re in the office in a meeting, let your voice take up the space. If you’re online and you feel strongly about something, let your words take up the space. Never flinch if people question why you are there, and they will – make your presence felt and your voice heard.

Be confident in your sexuality

Whatever your sexuality is, people will try and make you feel as though you have to hide it, that it is shameful, that you should not seek sexual pleasure just for its own sake. Do everything you want to do, safely and confidently. Do it and never wake up with regrets. The only regret you’ll have is that you never did it.

Compliment other women

Tell other women that they’re good at things. Things that don’t involve hair, makeup, losing weight or wearing a fab outfit. It will change their lives.

Don’t dread getting older

Don’t. Good things happen and they are unexpected. Your body and brain will have a way of coping with the transition that means you will discover each milestone isn’t as bad as you thought it would be. Older women are smart, beautiful and supportive of younger women. Don’t believe the myth that they’re not any of those things – it’s a lie constructed by society because older women are immensely powerful people.

Don’t lead a tick box life

Question everything. Never do anything just because everyone else is doing it. Feel the peer pressure and question it anyway. You can construct your own set of tick boxes that are different to other people’s. Don’t believe what others tell you about people, places or other cultures – find out for yourself.

Do things on your own

Even when you’re young, it’s important to commune with yourself, not just your friends. Do things on your own, such as going to the cinema, walking, going for coffee, even on holiday. You’ll never regret it.

Look out for controlling partners

Beware of signs that your partner is trying to control you. It can be oh so subtle, and before you know it, your life is completely in the control of another. If they make negative comments about your weight, what you’re wearing, or stop you seeing certain friends, the red flag is waving. Get out.

There are wonderful people out there

You’ll know the signs. They will be kind to you, your friends, their friends and their family. They will celebrate your successes and be there when things go wrong, without a sly smile on their faces. They will offer to connect you to people they know to help you in your career, and notably, women will help other women.

Say sorry

There will be times when you regret your behaviour, or saying something that has hurt someone else. Tell them you’re sorry and they will forgive you. If you don’t, the guilty feelings will just build inside of you and make you more likely to hurt someone again. We’re all flawed – think of apologising as a flaw release valve.

Have fun when you’re young

Don’t hide away from fun times. Work hard, play hard – get into all the corners that life is offering you. Make mistakes. If not, you will spend the rest of your life trying to make up for missed opportunities.

Ignore all of this and find out for yourself

Because I did when my mum told me.

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/

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/