No spring chicken

Wedding season has arrived. Or, more accurately, hen do season is in full swing, shortly to be followed by wedding season.

Ryan McGuire / Gratisography

Ryan McGuire / Gratisography

This weekend I went to the first hen do of the year.
A late night and more than £150 later, I’ve spent today feeling old, awkward and like a very bright light has been shone on my singledom.
Yep, wedding season is most definitely here.

I was the oldest at this particular hen do by quite some years. At 12 years older than the bride, even my own ‘baby’ sister (she’s an adult mother of two…!) clocks in older.
I knew from the off this one was going to be a challenge. The only two potential other hens I would have known are both married with young children and both sent their best wishes for a great time but declined the invite early on, citing childcare reasons.
I had eyed up the cat wondering if I could get away with the same, but really, us single girls have no choice but to rock up, smile broadly and attempt to rock it out with the youngsters.

A day and night on the town with a group of mid-twenties girls I’d never met before was going to take some energy. I’d had an early night in preparation, secretly stashed some flat shoes for when it all got too much and planned to break the diet and nosh some carbs to help with the alcohol.

Except in the end I probably could have drunk them all under the table and instead they caught me out in a way I was neither prepared nor equipped to deal with.
The non-stop conversation topic wasn’t strippers or alcohol shots or nightclubs or man-horror-stories – it was weddings. Their weddings. Their engagements. Their engagement rings.
In a room where I was a decade older than my nearest contemporary, I was not just the only singleton, I was the only one not married, engaged or pregnant. Two had been engaged since Valentines Day, one was a newly-wed, one was three months pregnant, one was married with a five-month old and one was married with a two-year-old.

One by one the how-we-met and how-he-proposed stories flowed. One by one, I counted down the moments until it would be my turn.
“That’s not an engagement ring, is it?” one of them cleverly deduced from the genuine 100% cut-glass sparkler I wear on the middle finger of my left hand.

And that’s where the inevitable began. Even when you say with a smile that you’re single, when you don’t apologise for it and don’t look ashamed, the responses are the same: “Don’t worry! You’ll find someone!” and “I thought I’d be single forever too!”
And then if you make the hideous error of saying it really is ok and you’re quite happy single – which I did, because the prosecco had taken my brain away – nobody believes you anyway.
My personal favourite from the night was when a newly-engaged 24-year-old who was annoyingly beautiful and had the self-assurance only a 24-year-old can, placed her hand over mine, smiled gently and told me about her cousin who despite being 35 had recently found a man and they were all feeling hopeful it might work out this time, even though he’s a divorcee, so I shouldn’t worry, it really is never too late.
Oh phew. Thank goodness for that reassuring little tale.

It’s nights like this that serve to remind me that no matter how much I have worked hard to not give in to stereotypes and feel ‘less than’, that it doesn’t matter I’ve never made it up the aisle – to so many people there is only one way to live a life and the sooner I become more like them the better for all of us.
Momentarily, I thought about mentioning divorce rates, or pointing out that being single doesn’t actually count as deviant behaviour, but I didn’t.
As usual, I smiled back, quipped that her lovely story shows there’s hope for us all and changed the subject.

And this morning I woke up with the cat asleep next to me. But I also woke up feeling more alone than usual, a little bit like a weirdo and a lot like if I stared in the mirror long enough, I’d work out what was wrong with me.
I might have felt like the old-bird of the hen do, but age doesn’t automatically make you tough old-bird and it’s going to take me a while before I feel like shaking a tail-feather again – hopefully before round two at the wedding.

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Stepping Over A Line

picjumbo.com_IMG_1162

It’s been a long time since I felt myself ‘drawn’ to a man, nearly two years now, but I know myself well enough to know that often, not always, I have a ‘type’.
And recently, one of those ‘types’ has arrived at another office I regularly visit for work.

Tall, confident, sure of himself to the point of being a little cocky, well spoken and interesting – enter the Alpha male.
Having been in a place where I’ve avoided even the very idea of being interested in anyone for so long now, it’s taken me a bit by surprise that I’m attracted to this guy.
I’m not sure I think he’s even all that good-looking – oh laws of attraction, you do vex me so!

Obviously the fact that he’s a work colleague means I would never ‘go there’ even if it were mutual (we all only make that mistake once, right?), but, still, I’m drawn to spend time in his company.
He’s several years older than me – at least ten, maybe more – and has been about a bit, travelling around the world before returning back to the UK.

Today, whilst driving and then walking to meet a colleague, we swapped war stories about some of our life’s disasters and found some similarities.
He waved his hand around nonchalantly whilst he told me about the house he’d sunk his money into in France, and the woman who’d walked out on him.
After, he strode forward whilst telling me about the woman who’d stalked him and needed police intervention.
Running his fingers through his hair, he described the motorcycle accident that had almost cost his life.

He slowed the pace and lowered his hand when I mentioned the man who’d threatened to kill me.
He stood stock still whilst I tried to articulate the man who’d messed with my head so badly, and left me so unsure of who I am, that I can’t always find words to explain it.
We shared a wry smile and a raised eyebrow when I described the man I called my boyfriend, whose girlfriend had phoned me at work to ask what was happening between me and her boyfriend.

I have no idea if there is chemistry between us, but in the last few weeks I’ve felt we’ve sought each other out at meetings or before and after.
I know that if there is chemistry, nothing will ever come of it. It can’t.
I know that all the bad men I described were just as Alpha as he is.
I know that just thinking about something that would never happen gave me goosebumps nonetheless.

I know that entering this slightly familiar territory, hearing these different-but-the-same experiences, it feels like walking into an old bombing range – there’s an air of excitement, but you also risk stepping on explosives too.

Going it alone

This week, I received my fourth wedding invitation of the year.
It’s unusual, having so many in one year.
And there is always a slight mixture of feelings when I open the envelope and find the invite inside.

Victor Hanacek / PicJumbo

There is a mixture of happiness for the couple to see their plans progressing, delight to have been invited to be a part of their special day and, it pains me to admit, just a twinge of sadness that it is unlikely to ever be me sending the invitations.

Of the four, I’ve been to one so far, with a group of friends. Two of the remaining weddings are of people I also share several friends with and will be going along in a group.
The other is the wedding of a wonderful friend whom I have known a long time, but have never really shared a wider friendship group with. At her wedding, there will be one other person I know, who will be attending with her husband.
It is this wedding that is playing on my mind.

The bride-to-be is one of the most beautiful people I have ever met, both inside and out and I treasure her friendship. We have that sort of friendship where actually we rarely see other (and I’m yet to meet her fiance) but when we do meet up, it’s like no time has passed at all.
So when she handed me the invitation to her wedding, which is late next month, over lunch one Saturday, I was thrilled.

Ever since that Saturday many weeks ago, I’ve been mulling over whether to show up alone to a wedding where I know virtually no-one but the bride, or whether to find someone to join me, just so I don’t have to go alone.
Despite knowing I’m single, she had been kind enough to add a ‘plus one’ to my invitation, and said it would be fine to bring a friend.

Part of me has been tempted to ask a friend along, which of course then just makes two people who don’t know anybody else, but makes it easier for me so I don’t have to go alone.
The other half of me has thought “no, you should go alone, what’s the big deal?”

And yet, it does feel like a massive deal, like it’s some kind of failure to turn up to a wedding – a celebration of love and togetherness – alone.
It feels like I’m saying “you know that thing you have? The love, the happiness? I don’t have that.”

Going to a wedding, a wedding, alone. Perhaps I should wear a dunce hat.
As we celebrate love and joy and share in a very special day, I’ll be doing so at the same time as knowing I do not have that love in my life, that when it comes to relationships, I’ve never quite got it right.

Viktor Hanacek / PicJumbo

I know that I can walk into the ceremony alone, that I can take a seat, that I can watch with happiness as my beautiful friend says her vows.
I’m also pretty sure that when evening comes and there is dancing, and couples and groups of friends take to the floor, that I can slink away unnoticed.
It is all the many moments in between that it pains me to admit I’m dreading.

You know the bit just after the ceremony but before the meal and speeches, where everyone has drinks and conversation and the wedding party have their pictures taken? I’m not looking forward to that bit.
I have to either stand and be alone, hide in the loo, or become that cliche lonely person who makes conversation with whoever wasn’t able to to avoid eye contact and look away quick enough.

I think the meal will be ok, because I expect I’ll be seated on a table with the one other person I know (and her husband who I’ve never met). Except they don’t know anyone else either, so will be looking out for each other.
And what if having a single person has mucked up the symmetry of table plans?

And you know the bit after the meal? After the speeches? Where people go the bar, chat, laugh? The bit where it’s too early for dancing but the meal is over?
I’m not looking forward to that bit.
I’m not a massively shy person, but I also think I have enough social grace to know when people aren’t really looking to make a new friend, or chat to a lonely-looking stranger – and I think weddings probably fall into that category.

I previously wrote about feeling like other women don’t like the single-girl near their husbands at parties. I’ve never been to a wedding alone before, but I would guess that amongst the guests, it is a time when that feeling of being a couple is especially important, a time when a ‘keen to chat’ other guest is probably least welcome in your clique.

On the one hand, I feel like there will be a few pairs of eyes, looking at me and pitying me whilst at the same time feeling glad they are not the one who turned up alone.
On the other hand, I also know that most people are too busy getting on with their own day to be preoccupied with how you are living yours.
And yet I’m terrified I’ll either cope by getting really drunk and will say something ridiculously Bridget Jones-esque during dinner conversation, or that I’ll end up clock watching until the time when I can say polite goodbyes without seeming rude or ungrateful for my invitation.

Perhaps if the bride wasn’t a woman who was kind and lovely to her core.
Perhaps if I wasn’t truly excited to see her so happy.
Perhaps if I wasn’t so delighted to have been invited to be a part of the day.
Then, perhaps I wouldn’t feel quite so anxious or wouldn’t care about how this day will pan out, because maybe I wouldn’t care about going.
But I do care, I want to see my friend enjoying her big day and I’ll be damned if my own sense of loneliness will overtake that.

I tell myself that I will be a beacon of modern, independent womanhood, that I am perfectly fine just as I am thank you very much and that I push my shoulders back and be proud, not ashamed, of who I am.
More likely, is that I’ll keep thinking I should go and stand in the corner for getting it all so very wrong.

I am perfectly happy going to the cinema or theatre, or even to a restaurant on my own, and yet, more than any other social occasion, there is something about going to a wedding alone that seems especially like a sad indictment of your own failure to find the love or companionship that this day celebrates.

A Moral Maze

I went to see the film The Other Woman a few days ago and it reminded me of an incident that happened a couple of years ago.

I mentioned in a previous post that I’d once had a relationship with a guy (five months) before I found out he had a girlfriend (seven years).
I met the guy – let’s call him Bozo – through a mutual hobby and we started seeing each other fairly regularly, and then it actually all moved very fast and we were seeing each other very often and he was making all sorts of declarations about love etc. I’ve never been one to rush these things and I think it frustrated him because he perceived it that I was holding back on him.
He also told me that he’d recently broken up with a girlfriend, so I guess I was keen not to be the fall-back girl.
Aside from feeling a bit bulldozed by him, I didn’t have any reason to be suspicious.

Until I was at work one day – yep, AT WORK – and my phone rang, and a voice asked me what was going on between me and her boyfriend.
She introduced herself as Bozo’s girlfriend and wanted to know what was happening between us.
There followed a somewhat lengthy phone call where she wanted to know in grim detail what had been happening over the last five months.
It turned out they were taking some time out, she had gone to stay with her parents and believed that he was home alone every night. And when the arsehole wasn’t with me, he was with her. What a guy!

Despite this being one of the weirdest phone calls I’ve ever taken, I should mention that she actually seemed like a really nice girl. She knew that I didn’t have a clue what was going on, she didn’t shout, she didn’t swear, she didn’t blame me, she just wanted to know the facts.
Don’t get me wrong, this was no scene from a Cameron Diaz movie, but I did end up putting the phone down thinking that she seemed like someone I’d be friends with in another world and I admired her bravery and level head.

Aside from being pretty hurt by Bozo and saddened to have been nothing more than an unwitting mistress, I walked away from that mess with my head high knowing I hadn’t deliberately done anything to hurt anyone.
I have never spoken to him again and never intend to.
I believe she stayed with him and have seen them together at hobby-related social occasions. We give each other a wide berth and effectively pretend each other isn’t in the room. I imagine that whilst she never blamed me, I don’t suppose she wants to see all that much of me either.

But this incident has had me thinking. At what stage, if ever, should you tell someone their other half is a cheater and a liar?
I wrote in my previous post that there has been a number of married or attached men who have tried it on with me, thinking that because I’m single, I’m happy to sleep with another woman’s husband/boyfriend.
Each one of these men has been sent packing (obviously!) but I must admit it has made me feel bad for the wife/girlfriend who probably doesn’t have a clue what a shithead she is with.
I’ve never said anything to any of them, because to tell someone their other half cracked on to you feels almost vindictive, like playground bitchiness that would cause upset between them deliberately.
Or is it a dis-service to not flag up to someone ‘hey, he’s shithead’?

You obviously won’t be the last one he tries it with and eventually she’s going to discover he’s been sleeping with someone else.
So should you speak out or stay the hell out of it?
Is there a difference between another woman you know? Or one you’ve never met?

If you knew someone was planning to burgle someone else’s house and steal their most precious things, would you tell them in advance? Or wait for it to happen and then show sympathy for something you could have prevented?

The Other Woman

The longer you’re single, and the older you get, the more you learn just how often the appearance of a devoted and happy relationship can be just that, an appearance.

Something I’ve increasingly noticed is that when you’re the single one, women don’t like you talking to their husbands, presumably because they’re convinced you’re after him.
Spend any amount of time talking to a man at a party or social occasion and you can do a mental countdown for the time it will take for the wife or girlfriend to appear at their side.
This appearance virtually always plays out in one way – she will always stand next to him, and more often than not link arms or touch his hair, she will smile and outwardly look delighted to see you but there will always be a slight air of something else (panic? a warning?), the three of you will engage in polite conversation for a minute or two and then either she will find a reason for them to move on, or, dying in the awkwardness of it all, you make your excuses and slink off as though you had been caught doing something wrong.

marital infidelity concept. Love triangle passion hate

It doesn’t seem to make any difference whether these are people you already know or if they are new acquaintances.
Even when they are a couple that you think of as having it really together, you still get that look from the woman that essentially makes it clear they think you’re after their man.
None of them ever stop to consider that just because you’re single, it doesn’t mean you’d sleep (or even flirt) with a married man. Why, is that there so often that assumption that our standards or sense of self-worth is so low that we’d stoop to that kind of behaviour?
Of course, I know there are single girls who probably would, but there are plenty of married women going where they shouldn’t too.
I can be persuaded to put up with ‘the look’ from women who don’t know me, although frankly it still pisses me off, but from those who do? That’s just really poor.

What the poor loves don’t realise – or don’t want to – is that more often than not, it’s not the single girl they should be concerned about, it’s their husband.
Depressingly often, these family men are incapable of holding a conversation without their eyes doing a quick sweep up and down every now and then. I’d say I dress reasonably conservatively, and yet often their eyeline seems to be several inches below my face…
Or there are the other men, the ones who greet you with a polite hug, but leave their hand on your waist that bit too long, or the ones you catch having a discreet ‘look’ when you’re chatting in a group or who you notice watching you on the dancefloor.

I went to a wedding a few weeks back with a group of friends which includes a couple who’ve been married about a year. It was the evening and the dancing had got a bit silly and we were all laughing and enjoying ourselves, it was great.
And then there was that tiny moment where you catch the husband checking you out and he doesn’t stop even though he knows you’ve seen him, and then you notice that the wife has spotted it too and she shoots you a look as though it’s your fault.
None of you say anything and the whole thing is over in less than ten seconds but you know that the only acceptable thing for you to now do is make an excuse to leave the dancefloor.
And then you see them again a couple of weeks later and everything between them is great – it always is, they are a great couple – and yet she’s just a tiny bit cold with you.

But much worse than the ones whose eyes linger longer than they should, is the fact that I’ve really noticed an increase in the number of married or attached men who try it on, looking for some no-strings fun.
There’s a few who are worthy of posts (case studies?) of their own, but it never fails to shock me how willing men are to cheat, and that they assume that will be ok with you, because you’re single.
In the last year, there has been two married men (one my age with a young son, and one in his fifties), one engaged guy (several years younger, called me cougar….) and one single-dad with a girlfriend who have approached me looking for some extra-curricular activity.
Add to that the fact that my last boyfriend cheated on me more than once (shame on me for giving him the chance) and that a couple of years ago I had a five-month relationship with a guy who turned out to have secret girlfriend of seven years, whilst another guy was recently trying it on until I discovered he had a girlfriend, and there’s some pretty damning evidence for the behaviour of some men.

I don’t feel I should have to offer this explanation, but there could well be someone reading this who thinks maybe I’m the kind who seems like I’d be ‘up for it’.
Well, I think I’m actually pretty boring! I don’t go out drinking and pulling men, I’ve never had a one-night stand and have never knowingly been involved with someone who is attached.
If I had a reputation for those things, then who knows how many more would try it on?

I’m not interested in other women’s husbands or boyfriends.
Don’t laugh, but I also have a sort of personal belief in the ‘sisterhood’ – a belief that as women we should be looking out for each other, not making life harder.
Men treat us badly enough, surely as women the least we can do is treat each other with kindness and not do things that we know would cause upset or harm?

So why, just because I am single, do I sometimes feel like enemy number one in other women’s eyes?