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.”

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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!

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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.

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?

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?

Link

Covering my ears

Deutsche Fotothek

Deutsche Fotothek

I know they’ve been around for a while now, but I’m still bemused by the baffling array of subjects that BuzzFeed manage to make lists about.

Mostly, I just ignore them when they appear on Facebook etc, but today I came across a list of 24 things not to say to someone single.
Before I even clicked the link, I knew I could guess what some of them would be and, of course, the list was entertainingly predictable.

Many of these are things I have heard so many times that whilst the list is funny, it can really get me down.
A few, ahem, ‘favourites’ from the list are here (together with what’s happening in my head when I hear them):

Number 2 – It’ll happen when you least expect it.
Why? Because there’s loads of great blokes out there, just waiting for me to stop expecting it before they show themselves? Are we playing hide and seek?

Number 5 – Are you seeing anyone?
This one bugs me so much that it is a candidate for a future post of its own. Seriously, it seems like it’s the only question that anyone ever has on their minds. I can guarantee it is usually the first thing I’m asked. Why? Why is it THE most important thing you could find out about me today?

Number 6 – You should try online dating….
The reaction of the guy in the picture says it all.

Number 13 – You’re just too picky
Too picky? TOO picky? I’m sorry, are you so desperate for me to be in a relationship that you’d have me settle for someone who isn’t right for me? Do single people offend you that much?

Number 14 – Just don’t turn into a crazy cat lady.
Some might say that ship has sailed. I on the other hand, would say yes, I have a cat. Millions of people have cats. Why when it’s a single woman are we put in a ‘crazy cat lady’ box? It’s a pet, it doesn’t make me any more crazy than the 10 other people in my street who have a cat.

Number 18 – You have to love yourself before you can love someone else.
Oh please. What a big pile of wank. Does anyone even know what that means? This one also assumes that every single person is miserable, ALL of the time and as soon as we cheer the hell up, Mr or Mrs Right will leap out of the woodwork.

Ooh I’ve got more and more cross just writing this post!
For a very silly BuzzFeed list, it is worryingly accurate. It is also a window into the world of comments I get, pretty much every week, from people who ask me about my relationship status (I try to have more interesting conversations) and then feel the need to judge or make empty platitudes.

Good work on a good list BuzzFeed, I salute you.
Everyone else? Maybe you could enquire after my health, my job, my home, my thoughts on world affairs, my family, my interests, my thoughts on the weather. Ask me what book I’m reading, what film I last saw, where I’m going on holiday.
Come on, there’s a whole world out there of more interesting stuff to talk about.

I almost forgot – here’s the link: http://www.buzzfeed.com/ashleyperez/24-things-single-people-are-tired-of-hearing

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.