Back to school

Unsplash / Lizzy Gadd

Unsplash / Lizzy Gadd

I may be 30-ahem-something and schooldays may be a fading memory, but even now, the looming arrival of September always feels more like the start of a new year than January 1st does.

The start of a new school term was always such a major event of the year and brought noticeable and tangible change, from those early primary school days in your brand new uniform, to the spotty teenage years, all the way through to your first move away from home and arrival at university.
The limp, cold and hungover arrival of new years day still seems mediocre in comparison.

I decided to take a summer holiday from blogging, not because I’d been at it so long or so prolifically that I was in need of a break, but because I’d begun to wonder if it was doing me much good.
Writing posts, sharing your thoughts and receiving friendly feedback is often a tonic.
But, I had found that I was starting to think about many things in a way I hadn’t for a while.
Writing blog posts about my single status was making me feel both comforted and like I was finding kindred spirits out there, at the same time as drilling down into emotions that weren’t especially fun.
There were times when I felt worse having expressed or admitted to something than I did before I started. Perhaps the need to keep reviewing my world to generate content meant I was thinking deeper or focusing on things in a way that wasn’t always helpful.

So, I’ve had summer off, I’ve been to parties, I’ve drunk a bit too much, a friend and I enjoyed a jaunt around Italy for a couple of weeks, I’ve survived being the single-girl at a wedding and I’ve had a bit of a mental and emotional ‘regroup’.

And so now, with the arrival of a new school term, and what feels like the start of a new year, I can’t think of a better time to re-connect with the blogging habit and start exploring a new way of writing, or thinking or exploring my world.

I wanted to blog as a positive action, not to moan or feel sorry for myself and whilst I think I have so far largely avoided those pitfalls, I was perhaps in danger of falling into them.
A holiday has been good, but I’m feeling ready to break out into a new term and crack open the digital pencil case.

So, hello, again.

Not going out

In keeping with the general idea that I often find it easier in life to think about what I don’t want or don’t like than what I do, it’s probably worth setting the tone of what the blog is (or isn’t) intended to be.

What it definitely isn’t, is another of those ‘my hilarious tales of dating!’ or ‘my hilarious single life’ blogs. I think there are quite enough of those already.

Having said that, when you’re thirty-something and single, it’s impossible for the very fact of your singledom not to impact hugely on your life and how you live it. So, I do intend to write about how life from the single-shelf looks.
It’s more likely to be about navigating my through a society where it feels like everyone else is coupled up, than those ‘oh-so-funny’ stories about my dates.
And you certainly see a different view of many of those happy couples when you’re on the shelf.

But, you know, single life doesn’t mean miserable life, it just means different to many of the other people I know.
And I’m not saying everyone is coupled up and I’m the only one making it through the single life. But perhaps there’s a disproportionate number of couples in my life.

Single life also doesn’t mean that everything you do is about dating or relationships, but it does mean you do an awful lot of things alone, where other people do them in a couple or as a family.
You plan things alone, you deal with life’s difficulties alone, you go places alone.
On a Saturday night, when you have no plans, you’re a singleton staying in with nothing to do – not a cosy couple spending the evening ‘chilling’ together.

So your solitude changes you, makes you see the world from a different view. The world sees you differently too. You’re not quite one of them yet, you haven’t quite grown-up, or made it, or achieved what is expected.
Not one person, ever, responds to the news that no, you’re not seeing anyone, with “great!”.
Instead, there’s a rush of “you’ll meet someone!” or “your perfect man is just around the corner!” or “I don’t understand why a girl like you is still single?”.
It is always, always, received as a negative state. A waiting room if you will.
I challenge anyone who lives with the endless stream of vague pity, sympathetic smiles and empty platitudes that you didn’t ask for, not to feel just a teeny tiny bit bitter and pissed off.

So, yes, being on the shelf doesn’t mean you spend your life roaming around desperately looking for a mate, but your singleness does mark you out as different in some way and dealing with all of life’s nooks and crannies alone does feel lonely sometimes.

So, I guess that’s what this blog is about, just going through life as one of the alone ones and seeing the world from a shelf that is just that little bit unconventional.

On the shelf

There is, apparently, no such thing as ‘normal’.
Ask everyone in a group to define or describe what normal means, and they’ll either all come up with something different, or in the process they’ll realise there are so many variations in us all that they’ll realise themselves that there’s no such thing.

The more I go through life, the more I discover just how many of us are striving to be ‘normal’, or to attain a version of life or ourselves that somehow fits with that label.
Equally, how many of us mentally beat up ourselves up over the feeling, or fear, that we do not meet the requirements to be ‘normal’?

So much of film, television and social conditioning would tell us that normal means being married, either with children or dreaming of them, owning your own home, having a job, having a wonderful group of friends, having it goddam all.

How many people don’t fit that mould though? Does that mean you’re scuppered if you’re, say, gay, or childless, or unemployed or lonely?
Are those of us who don’t fit the mould destined to be social outcasts? Just because we don’t fit into some vague stereotype of a ‘normal’ that many of us would struggle to even describe?

Even writing this, I am increasingly aware of just how hard it is to describe normal.
And yet, I know that if I could describe it, I wouldn’t be it.

Someone once said to me that it can be way too hard and overwhelming to ever be able to describe what you do want from a romantic partner and instead it is much easier to work out what you don’t want and then take it from there.
So using the same theory, I can’t describe what I think normal is, but I can think of the ways whatever normal is, I am not it.
I am mid-thirties, I am single, I am not dating, I’m not especially bothered if I ever get married and decidedly unsure if I ever want children. I enjoy my own company and yet I feel lonely sometimes too. I work hard, and yet I’ve never thought of myself as career-obsessed. I am not thin, I am not fat. I am not ugly, I am not beautiful. I have friends, I have few close friends in a similar situation to me.

In many respects, I feel like I have been left on the shelf in life. Like everyone around me has found some magic formula for happiness or love or whatever-it-is.
In contrast, I go through each day trying that bit too hard or feeling that bit too lost. I watch others from a distance, wondering if it will always be from a distance, if I’ll always be left sitting on the shelf, waiting for it all to change.

I go through life, every day questioning myself about a myriad of things, reminding myself that if I were a bit more normal I might not feel quite so much like I don’t fit in.
And then I think ‘oooh, I’ll write a blog’ and I start my first post making it all about how I’m not normal and then I realise I can’t even describe normal to start with.

Becoming a blogger about something I can’t even describe. Brilliant.
That’s not normal – right?