Friday, 2 October 2015

Love hurts

Preamble: The other day I listened to this series of podcast episiodes called Love Hurts in full. And then I decided to write to the woman who made it. My email ended up saying a lot of what I've wanted to say for a while, about being single, looking for love, not finding it, and how other people react to singleness - so here is a (heavily edited) part blog post / part email version here. A little disjointed as a result, but there you go. 

I rarely feel compelled enough to write to people whose podcasts I've listened to, but I just stumbled upon the Love Hurts series Lea Thau did on the Strangers podcast, and it sucked me in. 

It was uncomfortable and comfortable listening all at once.

She interviews past dates to find out why it didn't work out, talks to relationship experts, and exes, and discusses the question of dating and sex, and delves into her own past to try and answer to the question of why she's been single for so long, and the big one: Is It Me? 

What struck me most was the relief of hearing someone say out loud how embarrassing being single is, when so much time is spent pretending not to be ashamed about it - to couples, and other singles, to yourself.

It's something I wouldn't ever have admitted, and have never heard voiced by someone else - and yet I found myself thinking "yes, embarrassment. That's exactly how it feels."

If you've read this blog for any length of time, you might know I've been single for four years. You might have read what happened, and the ups and downs that followed; sparse as the posting has become.

Perhaps you've been supportive, perhaps you've longed for me to find The One each time I mentioned a date. Perhaps you've left a helpful comment saying I should be over my last relationship by now, that it's time to move on.

Whichever group you fall into, you'll know that I haven't really spent the last four years looking for love, exactly; more getting over the last one, being alright by myself, and trying to find what fits now. 

And you might have gathered along the way that I'd rather be single than with someone for the sake of it. That I don't think there's much point in settling, or continuing to date someone who you know wants different things, or going on indiscriminate online dates, when there's a bigger world out there to explore.

But none of that changes the fact that I'd love to be in a relationship, and that often, admitting as much is a difficult thing to do.

Aside from anything else, we can all probably admit that the grass isn't greener over there in coupledom; but at 31, it's just a different, more socially acceptable field to be in.

Because yes, it can be brilliant being single, but it's also a mess of contradictions.

It's something your equally single friends want to maintain (at least, until they find someone themselves), and your coupled friends want to change.

It means talking about how you feel, whether you're happy or not, and, of course, replying to the ever persistent questions about the men in your life and whether you're dating.

It means handling the lull in conversation, the flash of a concerned look, the reassuring noises, and the empty feeling that follows if the answer is "there's no one, and I'm not".

Being single means subjecting your life to analysis, and noting in comparison that people in relationships are rarely also asked at the dinner table "so, how are things with you two? Are you really happy?", when they're the ones, we're often told, who are not. 

We are told that no relationship is perfect, yet they don't need to refer to the hard work involved and never have to admit what they would change, or what they perhaps miss - to be point where I assume it's just something that cannot, or should not be said.

The fact remains: in January I will have been single for five years, and I will continue to feel embarrassed when saying the number out loud.

No matter how comfortable you are with being single, it gets harder and harder to reconcile yourself with it when everyone around you is so focused on finding someone, or marrying, or committing in some way. 

And this is in London: a city full of people like me. I live with two of them; we travel, we busy ourselves, we date, we have lots of friends.

But it feels increasingly like we're all treading water, waiting for someone to come along and change this status which isn't quite acceptable - long term, anyway - without that well known aside being whispered behind you.

Every situation has its ups and downs, and I was in the middle of a down period when I listened to this podcast last week. But instead of making me feel low, and more embarrassed, I felt reassured and absolutely ok.

I don't know many other people who've been single for 4+ years, so it just helped to hear someone else who has speak with so much honesty, and frankness, and bravery on the subject, in a way that I have never heard anyone else be.

So with that, I'll say it: I am single. It's been nearly five years since someone last called me their girlfriend. And if I've got to be ok with that, then everyone else should be, too. 

Podcast links: 

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Follow up
One year later

Monday, 24 August 2015

Sitting with the news

Well then, let's see.

You know it's not going to be Good News because you've received the Bad News Preparation text; a variation of "ring me when you've got a quiet few minutes" or "we have the results, let me know when you're around".

So you duly find a spare meeting room at work, soundproof, bare; a sheet of frosted glass between you and 70-odd people beginning their day.

You scroll to D, press call, say hello. Alright?

And then the News comes.

It is gentle Bad News. Expected in some ways, not that it makes the reality any easier to hear.

It is contemplative News; it elicits silent inevitable tears, but no immediate action: there's nowhere to rush to, no hospital to attend, no funeral to plan, no shouting to be done.

Nothing tangible from last night to this morning has changed.

It is the sort of News where you are required to be calm, and kind, and patient, even though you feel anything but. You are worried about them, and a little bit (selfishly) worried about you.

It is News where you need very close friends to appear, and so they do, without question.

They let you lie on their floor when you've extracted yourself from the meeting room, past the curious eyes, and into their flat where their baby grips your little finger, and you wonder what to do next.

(Nothing for now, they say, no research. No Googling. Just let it sink in)

Friends appear and sit next to you on the sofa and watch mindless TV. They squeeze your hand. Hug you tightly. Invite you to eat lunch, take you out in the evening, get you extremely drunk and then safely home, checking in the next day.

They walk with you, and listen while you babble thoughts, or laugh, or talk about other stuff as if there's been no News - bad or otherwise - at all. 

In the week that follows you learn that this sort of News makes you angry, and frustrated, and sad, and upset, and raises questions, and skepticism, and an anxiousness that spreads into every corner, but on top of all that, there's something else.

Because aside from all this, News has always brought knowledge, understanding and awareness, and although you don't quite understand yet, you are now aware, softened by it.

And so you just sit with it. Because for now, that is all the News requires.

(As an after thought: I'm not purposely being suspenseful here, I'm just not ready to get opinions and information yet on the specific thing. Hence for now it will just be referred to as the "News")

Monday, 15 June 2015


The strange thing is, I always wanted it to happen.

In the same way that you might wonder why you always get a ferocious hangover while your mates wake up feeling bright, I wondered why this particular nuance of other peoples' relationships never extended to me.

Why did they always get noise, when all I got was silence?

And then as I blinked awake on Saturday morning, too early, there it was.

The familiar double buzz beside me, the name on the screen, the clock stating 06:54am, the sinking thump in my chest, and the first post-break-up-statement-of-regret of my relationship career. 

Long time no speak, how are you? I hope you're good. I miss hanging out with you x

My brain picked up the words I'd been waiting for, and ran with them.

It ran into the future and back into the past, and woke up all the possibilities that had been slowly melting away over the last couple of months.

My thoughts flipped around, got lifted up and carried away which meant it was a good few minutes before something obvious dawned on me: the time.

It was now 7am, which meant that these weren't the realisations of a man who had come to his senses in the bold light of a new day.

No,  no. They were the emotional, needy, drug-fuelled, drink addled words that came at the end of a long night.

And they were words that I shouldn't have replied to, but I did. 

Of course I did.

(You can't wait four relationships for something to happen, and then not act on it when it does.)

So in a gesture that was half clinging onto a thread of hope, and half curiosity: what would happen if I introduced a very un-modern, sober dose of honesty into proceedings? I sent a response.

I can't tell you what the messages that followed said, partly because they happened over a course of weeks, partly because it's done now, finished, and looking back seems something worse than futile. 

But I can tell you about the Saturday night when I went out, hours after receiving what would be his final message, and sat at a bar next to The Lawyer.

Around three or four Surprise Tears had begun their descent, so I pulled my hair in front of me to shield my face from the barman and she said "Will it make it better if I put my arm around you and give you a hug, or worse?" and I said "Worse", and so we sat there, separated, and she said "Well, just so you know, I really want to hug you. And also, it won't feel like you're better off, I know it doesn't, but you are." and I said "I know, I just feel so sad. Again." because sometimes, that's just all it is.

It took two days for the perfect reply to shape itself, and then there it was: everything I wanted to say in a box on the screen.

I am having a lot of fun. And it's a shame you're not going to be a part of it as I'd hoped you might. I wish you all the best anyway.x

And with the realisation that noise is good if it's final and purposeful, but silence is better if it's not, I pressed send. 

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.

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