Connection

It’s easy to be anonymous in London. It’s one of the things I like about large cities. I  gravitate towards places where I can hide in plain sight. It creates the illusion of belonging without actually having to interact. The tube is an extension of this anonymity.

People cram into carriages, eyes straight ahead, glued onto the paper or their phone. The only goal is to make it to the final destination without hearing the words, incident on the tracks or signal failure. Commuters don’t really pay much attention to each other, unless it’s to deliver a withering look to someone who stole the seat they had their eye on.

So it shouldn’t have been surprising to me that no one had noticed the woman in front of me was crying. I’d had to double-take to be sure. Her mascara was running, she sniffed and shook emotionally. I felt a twinge in my chest and it grew when I realised the rest of the carriage was oblivious to her.

Most people are generally too busy with their own drama to notice anyone else’s. I don’t think it’s a London thing, just a human thing. I guess getting involved in someone’s sadness is messier than jumping onto the happy bandwagon. Sadness is awkward.

I’ve been on anti-depressants for nine months and am currently weaning myself off them. Having suffered from chronic depression as long as I can remember, I’ve always been strangely proud of the fact I’ve avoided medication for decades. But there comes a point when you can’t get out of bed, or get a job and you decide to take the help. It’s an act of kindness. Maybe that’s why I offered the woman the tissues.

I didn’t want to pry or give her a pep talk. I just wanted to be nice to her. To empathise. I’d been in tears on the tube days before and managed to pass under everyone’s radar, much to my own relief. We’re not meant to be unhappy in public. It’s something kept behind closed doors and smiling faces.

There’s a shame in being sad for some reason. I saw it when she took the tissues and tried to compose herself. I felt it every time I turned down medication. It’s like an admission of failure: I just couldn’t stay happy.

People distance themselves from sadness like it’s contagious. I’ve noticed it with my own depression. It’s feels like I have a shitty superpower that makes me invisible when I’m down. People want to laugh and get their endorphin high. I spent years hiding it and trying to fit in with the rest of the tube.

I told the woman to keep the tissues. This led to a random stranger offering me several packs of Kleenex. It felt like a thank you for my intervention, and a little like handing over a joint to the nearest person in the circle when you can see the 4 0 coming. He didn’t want to be caught holding in the face of a crying woman.

Yeah, sadness is awkward.

 

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The Trust Paradox

It’s recently dawned on me that I can’t get that trust balance right. I want to be trusting, but I think the worst. I can ask a stranger to watch my things while I go to the bathroom, but I guarantee that seconds later I’m envisioning my identity being stolen, my laptop being trashed and someone trying to insert their genitals into the USB port in some bizarre sex hate crime. It’s an emotional razor edge.

Apparently, the people closest to you set the benchmark when it comes to our ability to trust. My family were the litmus test for the rest of society. Unfortunately for me, they were also people who lied for sport and couldn’t be trusted as far as you could collectively throw them.

My dad used my trust as the set up to his jokes. Like the time he bought me a bucket and spade before taking me to a pebble beach. Or the time he made us watch Aliens promising us that a clown was about to pop out of  John Hurt’s stomach. Our tears gave him more than our trust ever could. In return we got nightmares.

My sister learnt from the best and continued my dad’s experiments. Each lie was a toe in the pool of my credulity to see how deep it went. Could she convince me to slide down a bannister to jab me in the arse with a pin? Could she hang me from a curtain rail by telling me she wanted to see how long my hair was? Yes, yes she could. I deserved to lose that hair.

Even my mum had her moments. She wasn’t mean, just out of her depth and filled with wives tales. My favourite being that I needed to cover myself in turmeric if I wanted to get rid of unwanted hair. Some fun facts about turmeric: it has no depilatory qualities and stains skin bright yellow. It was like highlighting the hair.  

Trust works paradoxically. You only figure out that you can’t trust someone by trusting them. By then you’re locked under the stairs, looking like a hairy Lego and clutching a bucket and spade.

Even so, I continue to put my faith in people. It’s easier than burying my stuff in the sand like a Samiad, or having a catheter put in. Most of the time I’m pleasantly surprised. When you were imagining someone spitting in your coffee, the only way to go is up.

 

Signs of Singledom

Being single comes with unique characteristics

“Are you single?”

In the right context, it’s a promising question. It was half term Friday. I was mid-ludicrous story and being loud and drunk, when a relative stranger inquired into my relationship status. All it took were these four words to turn that my smile into my ‘I wish I could stab you with my eyes’ look:

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What the hell does ‘single’ look like? Say it!

“I can see why.”

You’ve seen it in movies when someone says the wrong thing; the scratch of vinyl as a record comes to an abrupt halt. That pin drop silence.

What the fuck did he mean by that?

Am I single because of my behaviour? Was he implying I had no choice in being single?

No, he meant it in the good way. There’s a good way. The “No man could handle you!” way.

It was fast becoming clear to me that this guy a) had archaic notions about the liveliness of a woman being directly proportional to how likely she is to be available and b) wanted to be kicked in the crotch.

I didn’t get it. He was recently divorced. (You can see why. I mean that in the good way.) He didn’t fall into his own labelling system. Perhaps marriage had made him docile and lacking in personality, thus more likely to take a bride.

Maybe he was onto something though. What if I do have distinguishing features that set me apart from women more likely to take a groom/partner?

I used to think I was a fun loving, alcohol abusing, wiseass. Little did I know I was manifesting the symptoms of being single and incapable of being domesticated.

Perhaps single people everywhere are subtly evolving. Currently we have the ability to be shown a genital shot at any time without flinching. Eventually, I’ll have evolved physically to have extra long arms, so I can zip up my own dresses.

Lord knows I can already eat a meal for two by myself.

One day in the future, we’ll all develop a Tinder shaped birthmark about our person that will fade along with our personalities when we meet our match. You know, the one who is out there, somewhere, waiting (knowing my luck, in the bushes).

Maybe then people won’t ask me stupid questions and waste my hard earned drinking time.

Photography credit: http://www.gratisphotography.com

Situationships

Just keep on walking buddy, you’re not getting another run at this.

Every now and then a guy I’d completely forgotten about will resurface on my whatsapp or chat.

You know the type. The ones who send a mandatory maintenance text that outwardly says ‘sup’ but means ‘I haven’t forgot you, we could still hook up. These never ending situationships that went nowhere have started boomeranging back in the form of monosyllabic text reminders of the fuck ton of bad choices I once made, which now baffle me.

I appear to have dated an array of sexual opportunists and emotional parasites who have hoped the relationship door will be left ajar on the off chance they get locked out of a opportunity with a girl they actually like. Luckily, I can now identify a waste of time in under 10 characters, a tragic but necessary life skill, like being able to find your way home drunk.

It took me years to realise I had to stop responding. Screw being polite. I wasn’t bitter, or in my feelings, I just didn’t want to massage the ego of some guy who was clearly getting some relationship karma coming back his way.

These men had gotten all the time out of me that they were going to. If I was going to spend anymore of my time frivolously, I’d rather waste 20 pokeballs trying to catch an angry Seadra, than maintain intermittent contact with someone who lacks both common courtesy and the ability to send a witty text.

Despite this move in the right direction, I did not live happily ever after.

Much like the elusive bus that only appears when you light a cigarette, the minute you stop bothering with some guys they rematerialise with added emojis.sex-love-life-2014-10-text-from-ex-main

Really? You were thinking of me? If you want to get all nostalgic, try having a wank over your mum’s Mary Kay catalogue, or watch The Goonies. Don’t assume some type of emotional vigil is being held for you by an old flame. You’re getting in touch with a practical stranger who (if they’re me) will ask you to lose their number.

I refuse to assist any more guys in any delusion that I may be the one that got away, or that I’d spent years at a window, Jane Eyre style before wandering the moors to find them. I am not that girl. The only time I patiently wait by the window is when I have an ASOS delivery coming. This tends to be the standard response when you don’t talk to someone for 3 years after messing them around for months.

Case in point: The Colombian. He didn’t want to date me then disappeared online before he ghosted my texts. Yet years later, in his mind all it took was a simple ‘Hey’ to get us back on track. Here’s some free advice: if you plan to resurrect a relationship via text get a thesaurus. Only Jesus can get away with a casual ‘Hey’. and even that was only after three days. I hadn’t seen this guy in 2 years.

What followed was more monosyllabic inane small talk and thinly veiled enquiries about my relationship status which culminated in him asking me to fly out to see him in Colombia. The only response I could think of that fit was LOL. He did not take this well.He ranted on about how I obviously didn’t care and to forget he’d said anything.

Guess what? I didn’t care. He had texted me while I was happily eating Jaffa cakes in a dick free zone. His irritating wounded act ruined a perfectly lovely afternoon.

A month later I got another ‘Hey’ and a life update. Now he’d moved to Mexico and wanted to know whether there was a chance I’d be moving there, or was I still mad at him (because clearly it was my irrational female anger stopping me from uprooting my life to Mexico for a guy who was a dick). I’ve never found block and delete quicker in my life.

To the horrified male friends who have messaged to ask what the ‘poor guy’ had done wrong, allow me to clarify my position: I’ve got nothing against exes getting in touch. Just don’t do it if you were a douche who is now feeling sorry for himself. Definitely don’t interrupt a woman during biscuit time.

It’s a mobile phone, not a time machine. Move on.

Biological Duty

Having a womb isn’t a good enough reason to have kids

I once dated a guy who informed me it was my biological duty to have children.

Yes. He said that.

Think of my uterus, if you would, as a bread maker that came with my ‘kitchen’.

The kitchen is great, but wouldn’t it be more of a kitchen if there was a rising heap of dough in that breadmaker? Wouldn’t that bread make me happier in the long run?

I mean you can’t have a breadmaker and not use it.

How am I still meeting people in this century who have this take on females and procreation?

I was never someone whose womb wrenched when she held a child, nor have I longed to feel life grow inside me. I’ve always been happy to hand a baby back, and get a burrito.

I’ve had the occasional flash panic, and stood in front of the freezer section in Sainsbury’s, frantically texting friends about embryo storage, whilst cooling my ovaries. But it was no bigger a panic than the undercut/no undercut dilemma of 2014.

I love the little humans.

Not because I have a uterus, but because I find them amazing. The incessant questioning, stubbornness, creativity and boundless energy is something I’m on board with.

We get on well.

As a result, I’m often told to have some of my own. Funny, because I’m also told I’m great with pets, but that ‘A puppy is for life, not just for Christmas’ campaign really did a job on folks. That’s something I should consider carefully.

I’m at that age where all my friends have had, or are having children. Some as I type. I am often told there is nothing like the joy of motherhood. That it’s the best thing I’ll ever do.

I think a more realistic description is that motherhood is a completely different kind of experience from those I have had to date. No one is making it look like ‘the best thing’ when they are wrestling a pound of ‘pick n mix’ out of a screaming child’s hand, handling a flooded bathroom, or being bitten.

My trip to Vegas measures up better.

That being said, the love my friends have for their children is contagious. Their relationships are rewarding. The way their children love them is moving. Good people are being raised in the world and it’s a beautiful thing to see.

But from a distance.

For me.

For now.

 

D-sensitised

I think I am 95% desensitised to penis.

When I was younger and I used to worry that my enjoyment of uber violent films meant that I could find myself in a Die Hard style scenario, and would simply sellotape a pen knife to my back and throw myself into the mix without batting an eyelid.

It was a theory that was somewhat proven when I got held up at gunpoint a few years back.

I refused to give the gunman my bag without some kind of negotiation. My companions had either cleverly shoved their mobile phones into their knickers, or peremptorily handed over their bags, while I rued the day I decided to wear a dress and no underwear, whilst clutching onto my shopping.

The gunman told me not to be an idiot. But why change the habit of a lifetime?

“Because he could have shot you.” The police officer sternly informed me, surprisingly unimpressed by the fact I managed to save my purchases.

I was pretty sure the gun was fake. I’d seen plenty of guns. On screen. The officer kindly unholstered his gun and asked me if it had looked like that. Hmm, his looked fake too.

Whoops.

Penis has become guns for me.

And it’s all thanks to online flashers.

The threat of the 80s flasher, accessorised in a  filthy mac, bumbling his way towards you, then whipping open his coat and waggling his willy at you, has now been brought into the digital age.

The sexual ambush that I have been subjected to on dating apps though amusing, is also quite disturbing. When did it become acceptable to send someone an unsolicited picture of your genitals? Or even worse, a video of you vigorously abusing said genitals?

The idea that you have ‘earned’ viewing rights to the horniness you unwittingly inspired is not as flattering as the sender thinks it is.

If someone tried to flash you in public it would be considered indecent to most.  But social media functions like a blanket of anonymity  for flashers to disappear into once someone hits report, block and delete.

There are no real consequences, other than the reduced chances of offenders ever getting to communicate with that person beyond a screen.

I, for one, don’t want to be sent another surreptitious picture of a penis in an “Oh my gosh you’ll never guess what my dick did….’ fashion again.

If I ever see one in real life again, I’m only going to think it’s fake.

 

 

The choice is yours

Making a decision doesn’t come easily to every one.

The other day I was watching Master of None when Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar came up. It has been years since I read the book. It sticks in my mind because I started it on comedy improv night. Unsurprisingly, all the suggestions I yelled out were pretty bleak as a result. They had to work for the laughs.

The fig tree has been playing on my mind a lot. Esther’s life is compared to a fig tree, and each fig is a choice she could make. She envisions herself sitting below it, unable to make a choice and watching each fig drop. Black and dead. No longer an option. Hardly the stuff of which improv is made of. A good metaphor nevertheless.

I was 21 or 22 when I first read the Bell Jar. My attitude to life was to just let it carry me where it may. I made my choices on a whim. I would take a bite of the closest fig. There was no painstaking decision. My life was a series of happy coincidences. Until things started to go wrong.

As I got older and the decisions carried more consequences, and it just became increasingly harder. Poor decisions can age you. I repeatedly made the same poor decision with an abusive ex. When I finally made the right choice I felt a hundred years older, and had no faith in my own choices.

From then on my go to move for any choice which carried a real consequence was to survey all my friends, until someone offered up an option that seemed manageable. I then decided to defer all my future life choices to that person, hoping they would just live my life for me because I was so terrible at it.

This was not a plan.

My  decision making is non-existent in relationships. The people pleaser in me comes out then all of a sudden every decision I make revolves around making someone else happy. I’m always looking after someone else’s tree, or eating the fruit they hand to me. When you are offering that much power over your life to the wrong person it has disastrous results.

Over the years, I have met so many people that would happily micromanage my life for me, and a few that returned the decision to me. Thank you to the latter for withholding judgement, and forcing me to adult. I feel like I am doing it more now than ever.

After my last break up I was bothered that no one had warned me about the immaturity and drama that came with him, as if I could have been better informed in my decision making. Transparency wouldn’t have changed anything. I would have given him the same chance. It had been my choice to make.

It had made me laugh when he informed me that I had no right break up with him without consulting him. He didn’t seem to grasp that I was allowed to make my own decisions. Maybe because I had spent a year letting him sway all of mine.

I still hadn’t understood there was so much power in a choice.

I empathise with Esther’s anxiety about making the wrong choice. I have to remind myself it’s equally bad to randomly choose anything, or to make do with the options people give you. It’s such a fine balance. So dependent on luck.

At 35 trying to get into a writing position is hard. I get told I am brave a lot, which makes me feel like I have some kind of terminal illness. Stupidity perhaps. I am sometimes overwhelmed with panic and shake that tree hard, scrambling to see what options I have managed to shake down. But that isn’t the way I want to live life, and I calm down soon enough.

My choices are simpler these days. I am learning to have more faith in myself.

I have to just trust my tree still has a few good figs left.

Image from Zen Pencils.com Check the site for the full illustrated extract from The Bell Jar.