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.

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.

Image

An oldie but a goodie

I sometimes get a bit of fatigue with all the inspirational quotes and motivational messages that float around on the internet.

Sometimes, seeing something is exactly what I need just to break a thought pattern in the moment, other times, it just seems like more endless quotes.

But, this simple (and well-shared!) image is one I actually choose to come back to over and again.

Magic

Making changes in life, challenging myself, doing things differently and confronting fears are all things I find I shy away from. So, every now and then it helps me to say to myself “ahem, remember this?”

It doesn’t always result in me leaping off in a different direction, but it does help me to remember that whilst staying in my comfort zone is easy, that alone isn’t a good enough reason to stay there.

Finding a direction

So it’s now been a couple of weeks since I started this blog and whilst I’ve been going through the process of setting it up, thinking about what to write about etc, I’ve found myself getting somewhat confused about my identity.

Where to tread?

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve discovered a huge community of bloggers that I hadn’t known would be there, I’ve discovered the absolutely vast range of things people write about and the world suddenly seems so much bigger than it did before!

I wanted to blog about life as a single-woman in her mid-thirties, because it’s the element of my life that makes me feel the most like the odd-one-out, or ‘different’ to the people around me in my life, it’s the element of my life I feel so very aware of.
Being single at my age isn’t necessarily an awful thing, and I’m by no means miserable, but it does feel like there’s a spotlight shining on the fact there’s nobody at my side.

Setting up my blog Twitter account (@shelfblog) felt like something I had to do, but in doing so, I’ve found myself getting more confused and less sure of who I am, what I think or what I want to be writing about or saying.
For example, I’ve selected to follow quite a few feminist twitter accounts, like Vagenda magazine, Everyday Sexism etc. And I previously blogged about the No More Page 3 campaign which I believe strongly in.

Except now I wonder whether instead of navel-gazing about my own life and what it’s like to go through life alone, should I instead be lifting up my sword and going into battle alongside campaigners?
These are people who are campaigning for the good of my fellow women, and when I read about the level of abuse hurled at them just for doing do, I realise they are brave as well as outspoken.
Twitter led me to an article about a woman who had received the most disgusting threats and abuse, just for being a feminist, just for speaking out about equality. I read it and cried.
Twitter suddenly seems like an online portal for bullying and nastiness.

It has really made me wonder about my own approach, and whether I should (or am even able to) be as strong and outspoken as these women.
I’ve always thought of myself as a feminist, but I’ve never been a campaigner.

How far do you have to go in standing up for what you believe in? Is just believing in equality enough? Or if you’re not actively joining in the fight, are you just paying it lip-service?
But do I abandon all the thoughts and feelings that originally led me to want to blog? Because they aren’t going to go away any time soon.

I have signed up for the next Blogging U challenge and want to devote more time to exploring other blogs, discovering how other writers find their voice, set the tone for their site, discover who they are through their writing and stay on course and on topic to achieve the goals they have set for themselves.

I hope that through this I will find my way through some of the fog that seems to have descended and left me feeling a bit like I can’t see the wood for the trees.

I would, of course, absolutely love to hear from any more experienced bloggers with insight to share.

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?