Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Waking up

One day you just wake up and feel a bit better.

Not totally alright, but less like the world's already gone to pot before you've even opened your eyes.

Realising you don't feel as resolutely awful as you have been for the past few weeks - or even months - is like that morning when the sun rises before you do at the end of winter.

That little bit of light making lines on your bedroom wall means you've made it through the bleakest bit of the year.

Instead of shifting awake and having to lie there, trying to guess what time it is, and how long it'll be until your alarm goes off - is it 4am or 7am? - now you know it's daylight outside, and that means it's time to get up.

As the mornings get lighter (in every sense), so does your perspective on the situation.

It begins to feel less like a failure and more like another thing you'll look back on and see more and more holes in, either when the next one comes along, or before.

And more importantly, you know there probably will be a next one - that's something to look forward to now, too.

Either way, after months of your brain working overtime, you've made a decision to stop questioning yourself so much.

Just let stuff happen. Say yes, and see where it takes you.

Stop analysing, comparing, wondering what if this, or what if that - instead, just wake up each day, feel a bit better.

You'll work it out.

Monday, 16 February 2015

"I can't see a way this can work", he said

I cried the next morning when I woke up before my alarm, and then I cried in the shower.

I cried on the bus, looking out of the window.

I cried at my desk, really discreetly, and in the toilets at work.

I cried because I was frustrated, I cried because I felt sad.

I cried with a bit more volume and vigour when I got home that evening and no one was in, then I cried in the shower, put my make up on, did my hair, painted my nails and went out for dinner.

I almost cried in the restaurant, but we changed the subject just in time - and then I ordered another drink.

The next morning, I cried because of the radio silence; because I didn't have someone saying "hey, good morning, how are you?" and that was always quite nice to have until it wasn't there any more.

I cried when I looked in my kitchen cupboard and saw the honey I'd dared myself to buy, because I wanted to believe he'd be back, and he likes it.

I cried when someone was mean to me, and I cried because they didn't know. And I cried because I'd been mean first, and I hadn't meant to be, but when you're upset and tired things come out the wrong way.

Later that afternoon, someone approached my closed bedroom door with a tentative knock.

I cried, shaking my head, when she asked "Have you heard from him?", then I cried on her shoulder when she hopped up onto the bed with me and gave me a hug.

I cried when she said "no, it's not like starting again, because now you know what you want, for next time."

(I cried at the prospect of "next time")

I didn't cry when they made me leave the house and go for a walk, through east London Fields, down to Columbia Road and back, and the sun was shining and the dogs were out.

I realised I hadn't cried yesterday - and then I cried because I still felt exhausted, because I know it will get better and the tears will probably dry up soon.

But until then, I'm going to cry because this is how it goes, and this, in every sense of it, is normal.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Flight mode

I don't know what's going on. 

This is a hard thing for me to admit, and write down, and say out loud.

The last time I said it out loud was in a pub last week, and then I cried while my mate looked concerned and her boyfriend hugged me as their baby wiggled on his lap.

For some reason, it's embarrassing to admit when you think something has shifted, when you think something's amiss; not quite right.

It's embarrassing when you're surrounded by sure-footed single people, or friends in committed, straight forward relationships, it's embarrassing to admit you're in one that is uncertain.

It's embarrassing when you don't know, then you do, and actually forget what I said last time - it's all ok.

Or isn't.

Fuck it, you don't know.

Another thing that's hard for me to admit and write down, and say out loud, is that I sent a text the other day and watched my mood drift downwards as I imagined worse case scenarios until the only logical solution was to switch off my phone completely.

It's embarrassing because I used to pride myself on knowing what's going on, what I want - and now my sense of self-worth and the course of my day regularly hangs on someone else.

On this occasion, my mind whirled until precisely 4:35pm.

Take that, I thought, putting the phone into flight mode. You cannot get me here. 

And when I think about it flight mode is an apt term: for it is in these moments - when everything I've known for the last four years is up in the air - that I want to flee.

When everything's uncertain, and I want to say "sod it" and shut it down, and go back to it being just me.

When the phone is off and I'm running in the opposite direction and doing my own thing again, it's almost a relief.

Imagine if I just knew I was single, I'd know what to do.

Flight mode is the safe one; it stays until I've managed to put myself into a better mood on my own.

And then I switch the phone back on, and the message arrives immediately, and then although I still don't know much - at least I do know I'll be ok.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Middle of the bed

I've spent a lot of time over the last few years getting used to being ok by myself.

And by this, I don't mean tolerating singledom until the next bloke comes along - I mean actually, genuinely thinking "if it ended up being just me, that would be ok".

Some people get a bit weird hearing that; you can tell because nearly all of them see it as a cue to reassure me that this won't be the case, as if the single alternative to life would be a bad thing, or breakups never happen.

But if becoming ok on my own was difficult and took time, then blimey, learning to be with someone else again is another task entirely.

Over the last almost-four-years, I've honed the art of being self-sufficient, relying on myself and a brilliant group of friends for most things.

And now, little by little, I'm having to adjust to trusting someone else.

When will this end? I think to myself on a near weekly basis, when the text reply is a little late in coming and my mind jumps to the worst case scenario: he's lost interest, he's found someone else, he would rather not see me, he's going to cancel, he's going to let me down.

At times like that, there's no reassurance you can give me, because this is how it goes.

Or rather: it's how it's gone before. It's happened. And it's happened after one month, two, six, 18, it's happened after years with someone, it's happened after five dates or eight.

That's my experience, and as much as you always have to take people at face value, not let the past make you paranoid about what's coming up, and definitely not trot out that tired "I've been hurt before" line (everyone has by now, we're not 20 any more) - experience is what you tend to go on.

I expect to be let down by him in the same way that I expect phone calls or texts saying "Call me when you can" from my mother to bring bad, sometimes devestating news: because at one point, it seemed like they always did.

(The fact that she usually just wants someone to look after the dogs at the weekend is neither here nor there. I'm still like. "So, just the dogs? No one's died?" while relief settles across my chest.)

And I reassure myself with "whatever happens, you'll be alright anyway, you idiot", then he's at my door, or there at the station, or the reply comes and it's asking when he can see me again - and then all the panic goes away and I tell myself not to be a dick next time - and besides, I sort of knew all along that he would be there; there's a little hope I can't let myself assume to be fact quite yet, but I just need to see it for myself.

I'm having to get used to the fact that even something as simple as a bad night's sleep at my house doesn't mean he won't want to come back.

"I didn't sleep too well last time I was at yours" he said, "you like to get in the middle of the bed."

"That's because I'm not used to sharing it," I reply, "I'm sure I'll adapt..."

Like everything else, it'll probably just take a bit of time.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

A small little shift

The covers move beside me.

My eyes are shut - I'm only half awake but I'm listening. Unused to sharing my sleeping space, I wake up at every slight turn (although I pretend not to).

I'm facing the other way, identifying the sounds as they happen: he gets up, t-shirt goes on, picks something up. The door clicks. He walks out.

He pads to the kitchen, there's the faint sound of water running, then he's back.

There's a couple of gulps, then a gentle tap; glass on wood. He settles back, and I go to sleep.

It's a couple of hours later when I wake up, thirsty, squinting at my bedside table.

Then I'm so surprised that I sit up, and stare at the glass for what seems like a minute, but is probably less. I look at the sleeping form next to me, the half full glass on his side, then back to the previously empty glass on mine.


It's a few hours later when we're both awake, and I'm wondering if, perhaps, I'd imagined it.

"Did you fill up my glass of water?" I say.
"Yep." he replies.
"Oh." I marvel, like he's just written a book and dedicated it to me, "Thank you."

And he won't know it, but in doing this small, unremarkable thing, there's just been a tiny shift in my brain.

I look at him differently now; this person who woke up thirsty, got himself a drink, and thought I might want one, too.

Some people might remember the day they got given flowers, or a piece of jewellery, received some grand gesture, or a kiss - but as that small, tiny, considerate act sticks with me even weeks later, I think, I will remember this.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Learning to date

For a while, it seemed like everyone in the world was going on dates except me.

My mates always seemed to have a bloke on the go. When one dropped off the radar, another would take their place, and all the while I'd sit there listening, watching their phones light up with interest and wondering: how the hell do they do that?

The truth is, I've never been as comfortable with dating as I have with being single.

I tried to be a few times; for the stories, because I thought I should, because people kept asking if there was anyone on the scene, because more embarrassing than saying "no" were the cocked heads and reassurances that well, you'll find someone soon, and because sometimes nice boys asked me out and it felt more awkward to turn them down.

But in doing so, I realised that if you try and date when you're not entirely comfortable with the idea, you don't really enjoy it. You just spend an inordinate amount of time dreading the details, worrying about the consequences.

So I waited.

Then eventually, I met someone I liked - and after feeling nothing for anyone for so long, even when it fizzled out, it still brought back a little spark.

Things seemed to happen the old fashioned way after that; eye contact, flirting, a drunken kiss leading to a few lovely dates.

When things didn't go to plan (what plan?), there was the enjoyment of being single - and for nights when you just want to know that someone, anyone fancies you - there was Tinder.

The latter was used sporadically, more out of curiosity than anything else, and on one occasion resulted in a perfectly pleasant (read: boring) evening in a London cocktail bar.

Tinder dates, I concluded on the way home, merely meant three hours of wondering where on earth to begin with a complete stranger you didn't really fancy, and were best limited to an occasional confidence boost from the comfort of my sofa.

Which is why even when I walked down the steps of Waterloo Bridge early in October, taking a deep breath before scanning the crowds for a vaguely recognisable face - the one I'd been texting for the past two weeks - I wasn't quite sure how I'd ended up there.

My expectations were low even after we'd spent the evening together; when the time of his last train approached and we tried to find a way around it, but couldn't, and so I walked him to the station instead.

"Well, we'll have a less sensible night out next time then," I said of our early finish. And he replied, "Next time eh?" and I said "Only if you want to."
"Are you kidding? Definitely. That'd be amazing." and with that, an arm curled around my waist.

I walked away from the tube station that night grinning, because the kiss had lingered a little longer than it normally would between two strangers.

And I realised that this is how dating, like being single, was meant to be: comfortable, unpredictable, and always with a bit of excitement still to come.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

The internet is playing a trick on us

Lots of us, my generation, are guilty of falling for it. 

We're constantly, unknowingly seduced by numbers (over a thousand followers? Must be a big deal) and faces (the featureless, flattering photos of Instagram) and other people's life events (the party where everyone's having the time of their lives).

And no matter how well we think we're negotiating this life stuff, these little tricks - and deep down we know they're tricks - end up making us feel bad about ourselves anyway.

So a while back I decided to cut down my online life a bit, and make sure I was doing alright without it.

A few weeks before my 30th birthday, I decided that Facebook could be where I got event invitations, or involved in group inbox conversations, or tagged in photos - but I would no longer browse what I had begun to term The Timeline of Doom.

Despite never being a particularly active user, not having it on my phone, and never big on sharing my innermost thoughts, I hadn't realised how much I subconsciously flicked onto the website in between tasks at work throughout the day, and the effect that was having on how I felt about myself.

At first, it felt a bit alien not to be entertained by the constant slew of missives from friends and acquaintances. I felt a bit of a pull towards it, and that surprised me too.

But after a few days, then a week, then a month and more, the habit dropped completely.

Now I manage quite nicely without the constant drip-feed of other people's lives - which almost never made me feel good, but did give me a lot of oh my god, why aren't I doing that - and instead, if you'll excuse my French, began to give a shit about the stuff that actually, you know, matters.

And low and behold - when you're not comparing yourself to others, or locked down to life on a laptop, or updating the world on your every move for a Retweet - it's like...bloody hell, I'm doing alright.

In fact, I'm doing good: I'm working hard, earning enough money to live the way I want to in one of the world's best cities. I can travel and see friends abroad, live in a good houseshare, occasionally date people, occasionally not, have busy weekends and quiet week nights. And all of that is ok. 

Being online a lot can warp your priorities, and change what you think you want. 

It's fine if other people aim for marriage, babies or a house, writing a book, or getting fame and popularity in a corner of the internet - but at the moment, I'm working on a different kind of future: where I work hard and earn money, not "likes", having fun and, well, a pension; because when I'm old and rickety after all the adventures, I'm going to need some cash.

A timely reminder of the digital microcosm we live in now came the other night, when I sat opposite a man I'd just met for the first time - through an app, ironically - laughing, flirting, getting along fine, and seeing a blank look on his face when I mentioned the word "Buzzfeed".

That someone my age had never heard of this huge website that dominated so much of my online feeds seemed odd - but it was also hugely reassuring.

Because most of the websites, numbers, influential people, followers, likes and carefully posed profile pictures are all part of the internet's big trick.

What matters is when you're sat in front of someone, just getting on, having a laugh. Mates, dates, your face, their face, chatting in the real world: knowing that if they like you, that's cool, and if they don't, you'll still be alright. 

And no amount of Instagram filters can help you with that.

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