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.

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.

The L Word

Bank holiday weekends. A time for family, loved ones, couples and some ‘home’ time.

Or, when you’re single, a time that makes you feel a little bit isolated and that a light is shining on your alone’ness.

This May bank holiday, I felt more alone and acutely aware of my single status than I have in a while. It felt like every other person I know was out and about doing couple things or family things or getting engaged or some other thing that indicated they were loved/wanted/needed.

This weekend just gone, I found myself for the most part spending it in my own company. It’s not often that whole weekends go by where I realise I have no plans. Thankfully, I am blessed with many good friends, but there is something about that extra day that seems to throw on a different light.

So, I did housework, sat on my bum, watched tv, did some reading, and basically waited for Tuesday to come around so I could go back to work.
And then I got an email from another single friend which basically said “thank goodness that’s over” and what a dull Bank Holiday Monday they’d had. (Dammit, if only we’d arranged to meet up!).

A couple of emails later, I decided to drop the bomb, to make the confession of a social faux pas. I took a deep breath and typed: “You know, I think I might be lonely.”
Even writing it this second time feels like I’ve confessed to something deeply socially unacceptable, as though ‘lonely’ is the last bastion of things one must not admit to being.

And my friend, always a source of smiles,, just replied with: “Loneliness is my default position, everything I do is to stave it off!”
There was I, feeling like I’d confessed to torturing puppies, and they just instantly acknowledged my feelings, confessed to the same and made me feel like less of loser.
Isn’t it amazing, the difference it makes when someone doesn’t try to solve your problems or offer blank platitudes, but just acknowledges them?

I’ve been thinking a lot since, about that how difficult it felt to admit to loneliness.
Why does it feel like such a weakness or failure? Is that just in my head or do other people feel it too?
My previous post, about social media and how it only shows us a snapshot of people’s lives, feeds into this question. For those of us feeling lonely, to log onto Facebook and see a stream of photos and posts of people having family fun or doing couple’y things only reinforces the idea that everyone else is at a party you haven’t been invited to.
But is everyone else partying it up? Or does it just look like that from a distance?

Even in uptight Britain it feels like we’ve finally learnt how to talk about depression or mental illness without flinching and running away, and thank goodness for that.
But loneliness? No, that’s still unacceptable. Even admitting to having time on your hands feels like you’re letting the side down in some way.
Is it that we’re supposed to never be alone now, thanks to social media and having a hundreds of ‘friends’?
Is Western society still much more conservative and stuck in its ways that we like to admit?

I’m really curious about this concept of loneliness and why, in 2014, does it still feel not ok?

Looking Up, In, Out

This video has been shared by lots of people on Facebook today, mainly with very positive reactions, and I found it very thought-provoking.


Ultimately it is a piece that is saying we spend too much time interacting on social media and miss out on real interactions too often.
Obviously the fact that most of us have seen the video through Facebook and now I’m writing about it on a blog puts us on something of a sticky wicket if we’re planning to have a rant about social media. But I’m not planning that.

The video makes its own point about social media, but it did get me thinking about how authentic the images we have of peoples lives are.
I guess many of us are guilty of at some point or other looking at somebody else and feeling envious about some element of their lives. But how much do we ever really know about somebody else?
Facebook for example is swimming in photos of smiley happy faces and people having good times, and you could be forgiven for thinking those smiley happy people lead perfect charmed lives.
But few of us ever post the bad stuff – the argument we had with someone, that thing the other-half did that really annoyed us, the negative messages we tell ourselves when we look in the mirror, our fears, insecurities and worries.

Someone once said something similar to me about family albums, several years ago and long before Facebook. They pointed out that family photo albums are full of pictures of people smiling and looking happy, even if ten minutes before there’d been a row, or the kids had been shouted at.
They said that soon as a camera is out, we all smile on cue, creating a visual history that doesn’t really reflect the truth of just living.
I’d never really thought about photos that way before. But now that we all have so much more access to those family albums thanks to social media and our cameras and phones mean we can retake the photo over and over until we’re happy with it, how truly authentic is anything we see?

I can’t remember where I read it first, but I always try to remember now the phrase “don’t judge your insides by somebody else’s outsides”.
It’s really simple, but it reminds me that it is easy to look at someone else’s life and make assumptions based on the bits of it they let you see, but of course you never really know what keeps them awake at night.
I wonder how much nicer people would treat each other if we all remembered that most of us are carrying some kind of pain or sadness or fear that we keep well hidden?

So, whilst the debate about the video’s social media commentary vs its posting on social media isn’t one I want to get into, I am grateful for the reminder it has given me that we only ever see what other people choose to allow us to see, and that it is rarely the full picture.