Not that kind?

So today I’ve decided that Mondays are somehow not hideous enough already and that instead, what I really need to do is lay down in a potential viper pit of a subject – parenthood.

UnsplashSebastian Pichler

Unsplash / Sebastian Pichler

Not parenting, because I know bugger all about that, but parenthood, as in, is it for me?
Not that my life is spilling over with options, but just lately I’ve become more aware of the big four zero being just a couple of years away.
Not that I’m expecting to launch into menopause on the big day itself, but it feels like a milestone year in that department.

But, despite being closer than ever to running out of choices and time, I feel less enthusiastic about the idea of sproglets than I ever have.
A few years ago, I was making jokes about my aching womb playing up every time I saw a newborn. Now, I make all the right socially acceptable (and expected) noises and have a cuddle and sniff their baby-shampoo hair, but if I’m honest, there’s literally nothing going on internally.
The only thought process (other than how adorable their hair smells) is: “yep, you’re really cute and it’s nice to snuggle, but I’ll be ready to give you back in approximately two minutes.”
And then, nothing.

I have three nephews and a god-daughter and I love them all, truly and deeply. A calendar of their grinning faces sits on my desk and I’m running out of fridge space for their paintings, and usually when I see them they end up squirming to get down because I’ve hugged them too long.
And when I get a text from a sister asking when I’m next popping round because the small ones keep looking for me out the window because they want to play, it’s lovely.
I go and we play and we laugh and their funny questions pluck my heartstrings so much I swear they can hear it.
And then they get tired and grumpy and fight with each other or drop their food or won’t eat it and then the sis takes over and it all just looks like crowd control and hard work and nobody’s having any fun and frankly I want to go home.

Families on beaches make me think the same thing – all you seem to hear is “no, don’t eat that” “no, you’ve had one” “in a minute” “don’t do that to your brother” “say sorry, right now!” and a million other things. Every time a parent sits down, they’re up again in seconds, removing sand from mouths or shells from ears or parting warring siblings. That book they’ve optimistically brought never gets read, their holiday appears to just be an extended version of the work of home life, but with fewer props and the perpetual fear of someone drowning.

A male friend said to me a while back, “I’ve seen it, and it just looks like endless drudge”.
I wouldn’t go quite so far, but it has made me ask a lot of questions about whether I’m the parenting type.
A colleague is due back from maternity leave in a couple of weeks and popped in to the office the other day. Another colleague asked her how she felt about coming back after a year away and she instantly said “I can’t wait. I can’t do, do, this, endlessly.”
Everyone else cooed over the baby and I smiled vaguely and chatted a bit, but really, I was just wondering when it would be polite to turn back to my work and crack on.

I can’t help but wonder what it is that makes people choose to go down the baby route.
Obviously once you have them they become the most important part of your life.
But I mean before that, long before there are any real human beings, long before there’s a name or a personality or nappies or love – way before that.
What’s the thing that goes ‘ping’ in your head and makes you decide that’s what you want?
And I ask without judgement – it’s a genuine question.
Because there is no pinging going on over here, literally nothing. It’s like that part of me has flatlined and there’s zero reaction to cute baby pictures, zero pull to meet a man I’d start a family with – just, nothing.

Animals breed out of instinct, but why do people? We have choices, so what governs how we make them?
Has evolution created a species that also breeds out of instinct but doesn’t realise it or thinks we’re too clever for that?
Are humans hardwired to want to create new life? Even though we can look around and see that booming populations don’t actually need any new additions?
Do some of us lose that hardwiring?

Facebook is always a fascinating showcase of family life. Endless pictures of family trips to the seaside or baby’s first puke or new school uniforms.
And then you catch up with friends and their smile isn’t nearly so broad (until they capture your catch up for social sharing) and the children aren’t nearly so darling.
Nobody ever posts a Facebook album entitled Little Johnny’s Top Ten Tantrums or That Day I Was So Tired I Hated Everybody.
Why do we only ever see the sanitised version?
It’s a bit like the rest of life I guess. I’ve never posted an album entitled That Weekend The Only Conversation Was From The Cat.

There seems to be a real divide amongst parents. There are those who chirrup endlessly about the best days of your life, the endless happiness, the perfect days of gazing into your baby’s eyes.
But there are also those who are brave enough to be a bit more honest. Who tell it like it is, knackered warts and all. And those are the ones I believe, because frankly it looks knackering.
You only have to do a quick Google search to find all the blogs devoted to telling you how it really is – and I believe them!
Which brings me back to why do people do it? And why don’t I want to? Of the children I know, I like the little dudes, I pass zero judgement on other people’s choices and I ask them not to pass judgement on me.

Which is why it’s a true question – is there some hardwiring I short-circuited? Or am I not as alone in the ‘not-for-me’ camp as I sometimes feel?

Advertisements

Where’s my oyster?

So I realised today that it is already May 31st, which means it’s June tomorrow, which means we’re sort of half-way through the year.

And with summer apparently here now (someone tell the weather, please), I also realised I have yet to make any holiday plans for this year and I haven’t had any time off work since Christmas – no wonder I’m so tired!

So I’ve started to think about holiday destinations and ideas and am trying to challenge myself to be brave and try something new. I always put on quite a good show of being fearless and undaunted, but the truth always catches me out in the end and I’m exposed as a big old wimp.

Circumstances are somewhat different this year than usual, as my travelling buddy of the last couple of summers is in a new relationship and making plans with the new love. In fact, this year I find myself in a situation where anybody I would normally plan a holiday with is no longer single and planning a couples trip instead.
So I’m left with two choices – stay home and feel sorry for myself, or be brave and go it alone.

John Cobb / Unsplash

John Cobb / Unsplash

Despite being a massive wimp, I do want to go away this summer, so that means it’s time to man-up and start being a bit braver.
So, today I’ve been thinking a lot about all the people out there who are alone like me, but who just get on with it and go places and see things and do things, and I want to be more like them.
There are entire holiday companies created for the solo traveller, whether they want some help planning an itinerary before they jump on that plane or whether it’s a group holiday that brings together fellow solos – it’s not like I don’t have choices.

And yet despite being single for quite some time now, I have never really travelled alone. I once piggy-backed a friend’s work trip to Prague and spent a surprisingly happy couple of days exploring the city on my own. I was a bag of nerves at the prospect of heading out alone in a strange city, but I ended up having a wonderful time. And last summer I spent the day wandering the streets of Bologna alone when my travelling companion felt ropey and wanted to sleep it off. Again – nothing bad happened!
And that’s it – those are my solitary experiences of solo foreign travel. For someone who spends so much time alone, it’s weird when I see it written down like that.

So now, the prospect of spending an entire holiday alone feels hugely daunting and I get that weird, non-specific, undefinable fear that something bad might happen even though the sane part of my brain knows that literally thousands of people manage it perfectly fine, every year in every country of the world!
I read things by the likes of Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat Pray Love, who continues to be an inspirational woman, I watched the film Wild, about Cheryl Strayed and was blown away by her determination and bravery. And yet I Know I am not like them, I’m not brave – I wonder if perhaps they would even consider packing a bag and going off somewhere a ‘brave’ thing to do.

Today I’ve been looking at the websites for two very similar travel companies – Intrepid and Explore – which both offer group holidays, which I would guess are mostly targeted at solo travellers. Something like this feels like the most likely option for me this year, and yet somehow still feels daunting.
So I’ve been reminding myself of some of Elizabeth Gilbert’s advice today too, and I found this picture, which I’d seen before on her Facebook page and it seemed timely to me today. I absolutely don’t own this picture, Elizabeth Gilbert does, so I hope that reposting it here is ok, because it represents the kind of inspiration I need right now, along with some of the words she posted alongside it:
“So that’s my prayer for you all — not that you will become fearless, but that you will always be SLIGHTLY more curious about the world than you are frightened of it.”

11101827_829247837157333_2371591515395999851_n

That is what I need to keep in mind – to acknowledge a fear, but not to let it control me.

So, if anyone has any top tips for a first-time solo traveller, I would LOVE to hear them – destinations, travel companies, planning tips – anything would be most welcome!

Fifth wheel keep on turning

I’ve never particularly been a fan of Tina Turner, but ever since the weekend, a version of Proud Mary, with the lyrics wrong, has been stuck in my head.

105H (2)

Ryan McGuire / Gratisography

I’d had plans to meet up with two girlfriends for dinner and drinks on Saturday night and was looking forward to seeing them both. One has been married several years and the other is the friend who married this June and whose wedding I took a deep breath and went to alone.

On Saturday morning, one sent me a text to confirm which restaurant she’d booked, and by the way, she’d realised she’d forgotten to tell me the husbands were coming too.
My heart sank. My night with friends was going to be an evening of feeling the odd one out, making the seating layout awkward, arriving alone, leaving alone, and generally feeling like a massive gooseberry.
One husband, I’ve met once (at the June wedding) the other I’ve also met once, when he was the groom at the June wedding, and likewise that’s the only time they’d previously met too.

Despite a sinking disappointment, I responded with a cheery ‘looking forward to it!’ lie and then spent the rest of the day dreading it.
By early evening, I’d realised that I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind to pretend I wouldn’t feel like a loser going to dinner with two couples and sent my friend an honest text – apologising for being a party pooper, but that I was going to stay in, was feeling a bit like a fifth wheel and didn’t want to make ‘couples night’ awkward.
She said she was disappointed but understood, we’ve exchanged a few messages since and all is well.

But since the weekend I’ve been left with a strange and unsettled feeling.

Was I being a bit pathetic by not going? Or had my friends both forgotten what it was like to be the one who had to rock up alone and then stare into their food when husbands/wives were focused on each other?
I mentioned it to some other friends on Sunday and their instant reaction was that it had all been pretty insensitive and I should have been told earlier, rather than finding out Saturday morning and leaving me the option of looking either a) like a sulky singleton or b) smiling through a fairly grim evening for the sake of saving face.

I don’t think either friend would ever be deliberately thoughtless or insensitive, it’s just not their way, but I wonder how quickly the social safety of coupledom makes you forget the lonely minefield of navigating everything alone?

I have other friends who are couples and who I’d call both of them friends, and it never feels awkward being around them. So perhaps this occasion was partly so dreadful because I know neither husband, they didn’t know each other and so the evening wouldn’t have the relaxed, easy atmosphere of established friends.

So many social occasions feel like fire-walking when you have to go it alone and you don’t have the carefree easiness of your twenties to fall back on, when most of those around you were single too.
There’s a time when you realise you’ve hit the tipping point and the nights when you have to put on your best brave face and walk into a room like you’re delighted to be alone in a sea of couples outweighs the nights when you and a couple of friends chat your way through a bottle of wine and nobody cares whether its a cat or husband waiting at home.

I try so hard to resist the social stereotypes that assume that a happy life only comes in a twinpack.
Most of the time, I do have a happy life and I am fortunate that I have lots of very lovely friends to spend very lovely times with.
So why was Saturday a step too far?
Why was being the fifth wheel something I just couldn’t manage this time around?
And are we supposed to be honest when we’re feeling a bit punctured and worn, or slap a smile on and keep on turning up anyway?

Thank you for the music

So it took me about ten seconds to Google some info about a subject that will come as absolutely no surprise to anyone, ever:
It has been scientifically proven that music affects our emotions and mood.

No shit Sherlock!!

The nerd in me wants to research this link between emotion and music and try to understand it more, but seriously, am I really going to tell anyone in this blog anything they don’t already know? (Click for more, here, if you must)
There’s the science, which is undoubtedly interesting and important, and then there’s just the reality – the raw, tangible, undeniable, goosebumps, tears, smiles or memories we all get when a certain song comes on the radio or we dig out a CD just to hear it (yes, I still listen to CD’s).

Today, the song Wonderwall, by Oasis, came onto the radio and instantly I was taken back in time to the man I spent ten years with, from 17 to 27. He was a huge Oasis fan and whilst he wasn’t a classic romantic, he used to tell me that it was ‘our’ song in his mind. It was his version of giving me roses, and I loved him for it.

So here’s some songs that trigger memories/feelings/times and places in my mind.
I’d love to hear some feedback about what songs are important to other people.

The OCD in me is quietly agonising about whether I should post these three songs in some sort of order (chronological? importance? type of emotion?) but I’m fighting that, and am just going with whatever comes to mind first.

All I See Is You – Dusty Springfield
So yes, I know that Dusty had her heyday WAY before my time, but goodness me, I love her. Her voice, oh, that voice that conveys a thousand emotions in a word. She captivates me in a way I can’t explain.
I sing this song, in the car, every few days, It’s about him, the one who broke me. The one I loved more than anything on this earth. The one who walked away.
The lyrics say it all – they say everything.
“The days have come and gone since you were here,” and yes, “In every way, all I see is you.”

Do You Realise? – The Flaming Lips
Call me weird, but I imagine this song playing at my funeral, with pictures of all the amazingly wonderful people in my life. Like it is my chance to finally point out to them how beautiful they are, and they don’t get to argue back with a whole load of ‘yeah, but’ because we’re all programmed not to take compliments.
Does anyone really realise how wonderful they are? Are we all too busy putting ourselves down and feeling angsty to notice?
I look at my friends and think “wow”, so many amazing people, and how much time do we really take to recognise that? Is it so bad to notice how massively cool we are?

To Sheila – The Smashing Pumpkins
I have no idea who Sheila is, but gosh, to have someone write a song like this, for you.
I just think this is the most beautiful song ever written. I love The Smashing Pumpkins, and Billy Corgan’s voice is extraordinary. I’d say this is my favourite song, ever.
Can you just imagine, just one person in your life, thinking enough of you to write this song?
This song?

Room with a view

Room with a viewHowling wind, tall grasses, a sky that can change in just moments from sparkling blue to threateningly black, and a sea air so salty you can taste it on your lips even if you don’t make it as far as the shore.

These are things that I think of when I imagine the place that I sometimes escape to.

It is a nature reserve on the coast that to some is desolate and lonely, but to me it is a place where the air somehow has more oxygen, where I can spend a few hours or a whole day and feel like my lungs – and some of my soul – have been cleansed.

There are some places that when you go on your own, can make you feel even more alone, or repressed by your solitude. And others, that even though they are large and rambling and exposed and bleak and you don’t see another person for ages, somehow make you feel cocooned, welcomed, like a part of the landscape, part of the nature, even if for just a short time.

Walking through boggy, marshy and salty ground full of pot-holes and mud that sticks your boots, should make you feel unwelcome, as though the earth is pushing you away.
And yet here, picking your way through the grasses, stopping to watch a hare leaping ahead of you, or birds in search of food for their young, hearing the squelch of your boots in the mud, here, it feels like the place is saying “come, see what I have, experience who I am, join us, for however long you can”.

And so I don’t feel alone there, I don’t care that I’m alone.
I want to feel the grasses and lick the salt on my lips and strain to hear the waves and keep striding forward, keep breathing in the welcome.

At home, alone, I am a tiny invisible speck that nobody sees.
There, I am still tiny and alone and yet a part of it, drawn into it, with lungs full of clean air and a head that loves the cold wind blowing right through it, blowing away cobwebs of loneliness and the shroud worn by the alone.

Odd One Out

The dawning realisation that pretty much all of my friends are either coupled up or married is one of the things that led me to start blogging.
A throwaway comment from someone that I’d been ‘left on the shelf’ (thanks) has echoed its way through my mind.

New Old Stock

New Old Stock

I lamented this during a “moany” day to a work colleague, and they looked at me blankly and pointed out that maybe I needed some different friends.
Now, not to suggest I don’t like my existing friends, but I take on board the fact that for the vast majority of them, life has moved in a different direction to mine.

So, it has made me realise that perhaps I need to start branching out in some new directions.
The realisation that I need to maybe join a new club or two, take up a new hobby or two, go to a new place or two.
Maybe meeting a new person or two will make me less of the odd one out.
So far, so simple.

Until I sat down to start researching what I might like to do and drew an absolute blank.
Should I do some kind of class? (which all seem to be starting in September – months away!)
Should I take up a new sport? (I am SO rubbish at sport)
Should I join a walking club? (Two left feet…)
Should I find a book club? (Why is there no book club locally???)

On the one hand, choosing to find a new interest seems exciting and liberating.
On the other, I already feel a little bit exhausted at the knowledge that once again not only do I have to find a group that I hope will have a me-shaped space in it, I’ll also have to walk into a room on my own, introduce myself to people on my own, smile and not show my nerves on my own, and hope that someone is friendly…
Just like walking into a wedding alone, there’s something about walking into a new place alone that is scary.

And what exactly to do? It feels like the world is my oyster, until I actually start to try to research it and find myself drawing a lot of blanks.
I sat there yesterday, staring a the Google search page, thinking I didn’t even know what to search for.

Perhaps there’s a correlation between the scary bit and the blanks?
Maybe if I wasn’t feeling a bit scared, there would be a whole host of opportunities?

36 and in need of new friends.
Is it me or is that as rubbish as I think it is?
I’d love to know how fellow singletons keep busy and meet new people.
Does anyone know the secret?